Authors: A.D. Ryan
It sounded in an instant, but I decapitated him at almost the exact same time. Cordelia looked panicked as I grabbed the lone key from my pocket, and when I held my hand out to her, she appeared frozen.
“We don’t have a lot of time,” I told her, bolting toward the door to set us free.
I squinted against the bright beam of sunlight that shot through the door as I flung it open, and a cold blast of air met my face and arms, chilling and exciting me all at once. It literally stole my breath for a second before I recovered. One small step and I would be outside this place for good. I could smell dusk, so I knew we had to act fast.
Behind us, several vampires were running beyond the doors, so I reached for Cordelia once more. “It’s now or never.”
Glancing around like a nervous rabbit about to be eaten, her heart beating rapidly, she made her choice.
ordelia gripped my hand tightly as we raced outside. Looking around, my eyes still adjusting to the bright light, I noticed we were somewhere near the base of a mountain. My theory had been right all along. I heard shouting behind us as I pulled Cordelia to a stop and unlocked her collar. With the sun still out, we still had a little bit of time before they came after us. I knew we wouldn’t have too long, though. The colors in the sky hinted at dusk, which meant the vampires would be free to follow us sooner than I’d like.
The lock clicked open with ease, and I kept my attention on what was going on inside while I removed my own collar and dropped it to the ground. I turned to Cordelia, whose eyes were wide and frightened, and I held her face in my hands. “We need to shift,” I explained. She opened her mouth to argue, but I shook my head. There was a loud bang beyond the door, making me jump and look behind us. We were still alone, so I locked eyes with her again and tried to convince her.
“I know it’s scary, and you probably think you can’t do it, but we have to. We’re faster on all fours. Lower to the ground. It makes it easier to weave and go under things.” Cordelia nodded slowly. “Think about them. Think about what they might do if they catch us.” Her skin warmed beneath my palms, and I smiled, heart hammering with excitement. “Good.” Footsteps sounded over the concrete floors inside. “Now,
Cordelia and I took off. “We need to split up,” I hissed.
“N-no,” she said, her voice thin and out of breath.
“If we stay together, they’ll catch us both.” I inhaled deeply, hoping to catch the scent of a member of the Pack. Nothing, but I would keep trying. I stopped again, chancing a look behind us, and I pulled Cordelia close, burying my nose in her hair and inhaling deeply. I committed her scent to memory and then looked her dead in the eyes. “Shift. Hide. Find a way to cover your tracks—use other animals if you have to. Stay hidden until I find you. Don’t come out no matter what you hear, do you understand? I
come for you.”
“Okay,” she whimpered, her hazel eyes glistening with tears.
Smiling, I pressed my lips to her forehead. “Good. Now, go. Try to track the scent of the Pack. They’ll be out searching. I know it.” I didn’t really know for sure; I was just hoping. It was all I could do to keep myself going at this point.
I watched as Cordelia ran down the slope and toward the woods. She slipped on a couple patches of ice, but quickly righted herself. I tried to wait until she was hidden within the forest before I took off, but what I heard next rattled me.
I jumped, instinctively moving to run before I remembered I was still bathed in the last light of day. Instead, I turned around and locked eyes with my brother, who remained hidden in the shadows beyond the threshold of his sacred compound. I smirked confidently before bringing two fingers to my forehead and saluting him, and then I turned to get a head start before the sun set. I’d made it about two yards before I felt my temperature rise. Another yard and my bones started to realign. I felt my tension lessen as the shift came easily, and I tried to relax and let the wolf guide me the rest of the way.
I had just opened myself up to the change when I felt a sting in my right ass cheek. My first thought was that I’d been stung by a bee, but then I remembered it was the dead of winter. Still running, I turned my head and found a familiar-looking pink tuft sticking to the back pocket of my jeans. My vision blurred a little, and I stumbled as I yanked it from my ass and threw it to the ground. I could feel the effects of the tranquilizer, but I tried to shake it off. I couldn’t let it take me down.
It hadn’t been in long enough to drop me, so I hoped my body would metabolize the drug quickly so I could keep moving. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for my vision to clear, and I assumed the trace amounts were starting to release from my bloodstream.
I refocused on the change, visualizing each part of the transformation and inviting the wolf forward. She didn’t respond. She didn’t even flinch.
What the hell was going on?
That was when a tingle started to spread through my ass, warming as it moved outward. Then it itched and went numb. I recognized the feeling immediately; it was exactly how I felt every time I’d touch the bars to the cage I’d been held in or inhaled the nitrate from my collar.
They laced the sedative with silver nitrate. I knew it wasn’t enough to kill me, because Bobby had no use for me dead, but it was exactly enough to keep my wolf in submission. As much as I hated the idea, I was going to have to continue on my own until the silver left my system.
I kept running, following Cordelia’s scent for a bit before I veered off course. I tried to stay in the general area so we didn’t wind up with too much space between us. It would make finding her later a little easier.
Night descended as I raced through the trees, still unable to shift. My heart raced as I darted in and around the trees, and blood pounded in my ears. I relied on my sense of smell to guide me to areas that might mask my scent. Pine trees, areas that had been marked by wild animals. I hoped it could keep them off my trail long enough to make it through the night.
Quickened footsteps moved through the forest all around me, and one whiff told me it was the vampires. Frantic, I tripped over an unearthed tree root. My hands shot out, and I slammed into a tree, slicing my hand open. The distinct coppery smell of my blood hit me, and I was just about to wipe it on my pant legs when I had an idea.
I swiped my palm over the tree trunk, leaving a smear of my blood on it. When I pulled my hand back, the inch-long cut was already starting to mend itself together. This would make my plan difficult, so I used my other hand and forced the cut open again, fresh blood rising to the surface. I raced to the next tree and pressed more blood into it, then proceeded to leave droplets in the white snow and on the bare branches along a path.
Once I’d left a trail, I tried to devise a plan that would allow me to stay hidden. I needed to find a place to hide until daybreak, but I would have to mask my scent.
A loud hiss startled me, and I turned around quickly. There, not three feet from me was a skunk. The smaller animal’s smell was unpleasant and potent, even though it hadn’t sprayed. Its bushy black and white tail was raised in warning as it narrowed its eyes at me, but I just held my hands up and backed away slowly. Being sprayed by a skunk was not on my bucket list. I was trying to hide, not draw attention to myself.
That was when it hit me: they were looking for a wolf, not a skunk. Maybe I could follow this little critter and hide in its den—assuming it lived in a shelter big enough to share.
Frozen in place, I waited for the animal to turn and leave. It only took a few seconds before the skunk turned around and waddled away, its huge tail trailing behind it. I crept behind it slowly, shuffling my feet so there were no obvious footprints, and I waited for it to show me its hiding place. It led me to a small entrance that had been dug into the side of a smaller-sized hillock. I doubted I’d be able to fit, so after it crawled inside, I started moving some of the frozen earth away and slipped inside, barely fitting through as it was. I smoothed the entrance quickly to keep my handprints from showing, and then I moved inside slowly so as not to startle the skunk—or any others that might be living there, too.
The animal seemed a little startled by my presence when it turned around and found me in its home, but I found that if I kept my distance and looked away from it, we would be able to get along just fine. It wasn’t very large in here, so I had to stay crouched or sitting in order to be somewhat comfortable. I stayed hidden in the shadows, surrounded by the powerful smell of this tiny creature, and I hoped that just following it here and being near it would keep me safe until sunrise.
A rustling from just outside the tiny little alcove caught my attention, and I pressed myself closer to the wall and into the shadows. I concentrated on keeping my breaths even and quiet and my heart from racing. It wasn’t an easy feat, especially when they stopped right outside—about five feet from my hiding place.
“Any trace of them?” one of them snarled, and it only took me a second to recognize the voice as Bobby’s. My lips curled back in response, but I contained the growl I felt bubbling in my gut.
“No. Jessica’s gone after the kid, but the bitch is still out there. I tracked her scent to a mile from here, but then lost it.”
Bobby let out a fierce scream, and all I could do was smile. I moved my head a little to glance out of the den opening and saw two sets of legs. I recognized Bobby’s shoes from the day he snatched me up in the woods. He remained still while the other turned to walk away, but in an instant, the other moved back toward Bobby so quickly, I could only assume he had been yanked in that direction.
“Keep looking,” Bobby said through gritted teeth. “If you don’t find her by sunup, you’re ash. Understood?”
I didn’t hear the other vampire’s response, but Bobby released him and he stumbled away while Bobby continued to pace in front of my hiding spot. He stopped at the mouth of the den again, facing away from it, and I shrunk back into the shadows, even moving a little deeper into the cave. Just in case.
“I’ll find her, Brooke,” he said confidently as though he knew exactly where I was. “I’ll find you, too. You seem to forget, I can sense you. The man whose soul used to inhabit this body might be long-dead, but we still share that connection. Even if you don’t want to admit it.” A pause. “You’re close, and I know you can hear me. If I find the girl first, I plan to slit her tiny little throat and bathe in her blood. If you surrender, I’ll let her live—hell, I’ll let her be free. What do you say, Brooke?”
I considered his offer if it meant saving Cordelia’s life. If I escaped once, I could escape again, right? They might amp up security, but I could work around it. Maybe I could play him the way he tried to play me. Gain his trust, make him think I wanted him to turn me into a hybrid, and then I would rip his goddamn head off…
I couldn’t stomach the idea of anything else happening to Cordelia at the hands of my deranged brother, so I moved slowly, about to announce myself when all of a sudden I heard a wolf howl. It was a wolf I’d never heard before, and the feeling that zipped through my veins told me it was Cordelia.
“Last chance,” Bobby said, hoping to draw me out. “Won’t be long before we find her…”
I knew he was right, so I took another awkward step forward while still crouching, I was barely three feet from the entrance when I heard it: three more howls. My stomach flipped and tears of relief and happiness burned my eyes when I recognized them as Vince, Jackson, and Nick.
They’d found us. They never gave up.
slunk back into my hiding place, knowing that the Pack would find Cordelia before Bobby’s team of freaks. I would wait here until they found me or until dawn. I felt pretty safe either way.
Bobby released a cry of frustration before taking off in the direction the howls came from. My hands and feet twitched with the anticipation of being reunited with my pack again, but I kept myself rooted in place, just in case Bobby or one of his kind were waiting for me to make an appearance.
Fighting against my flight instinct was difficult, so I hugged my knees to my chest and pressed my face into them, my left foot bouncing. I waited—I didn’t know how long, but I waited. It couldn’t have been more than an hour or two, but I felt fairly confident that they’d moved on, so I slowly made my way for the entrance of the den, thanked the sleeping skunk for its hospitality, and then made sure the coast was clear before I began to worm my way out of the small hole.
I was halfway out when I thought I heard something, and I froze, my eyes darting all around to try and catch a glimpse of whatever was out there. When I didn’t see anything, I extracted myself another couple inches, and gasped in alarm when something whipped by my face. I fell back into the hole a little bit, hoping to stay out of reach, but then laughed at myself and placed a hand over my racing heart when I saw the tail end of a deer gracefully bounding away from me.
Once I was calm, I exited the den and made my way for the thicker trees carefully. Out in the more open areas, I was a target; at least deep in the woods, I had a better chance of hiding while making my way toward freedom.
I inhaled deeply, trying to bypass the scent of the skunk that still lingered in the air. I picked up faint traces of the vampires, but I went beyond that and tried to smell Cordelia or one of my packmates. I caught a whisper of Cordelia’s scent, but it was so faint she either hadn’t been here since we first escaped or her scent was being carried on a breeze.
I needed to shift. My sense of smell was even stronger as a wolf.
Glancing around, I made sure I was alone. I smelled for the vampires, but got nothing, so I crouched down and focused on the transformation. My temperature rose as expected, I felt the tension in my muscles, but when I tried to force the realignment of my bones, nothing happened. I tried again, but the wolf was still anaesthetized. I could feel her there, just below the surface, trying to come forward, but sadly, she just wasn’t able to.
That silver had really done a number on me.
Giving up, I got up and moved. Staying in one place for too long would be stupid. I decided to try and follow Cordelia’s scent. If the Pack heard her howling earlier, it was likely they’d already found her. She was my best hope of getting back to them. Of getting back to Nick.
I stopped several times to pick up her scent, following when it grew stronger. I still hadn’t caught the scent of the others—or the vampires, thankfully—nor did I really recognize where I was. Nothing seemed familiar, which didn’t come as too much of a surprise considering I hadn’t lived near the mountains too long.
Her scent got stronger as I moved further east, and it propelled me forward, my focus solely on finding her before anything bad could happen. I was so focused on my mission that I wasn’t paying attention to anything else, so the two vampires that dropped down on me from the treetops caught me by surprise.
I fell to the ground with a grunt, my right shoulder dislocating when one of them landed on it.
“Told you we’d find her,” one of them—a male that might have been attractive in his human life—said. His brown hair was stylishly cut, his face angular in all the right ways, and his eyes a deep shade of blue. It was his smell that rendered all of that null and void.
“Stupid bitch,” the girl said, kicking me in the ribs. “Thought you could get away, huh?” She kicked me again, this time lower and more toward my stomach. The impact left me both breathless and nauseous. The snow on the ground was cold on my face, helping to ease the nausea slightly, but the tightness in my belly refused to relent.
“You guys must hate being so weak,” I mumbled against the ground.
“Excuse me?” the guy said, kneeling down until he was almost level with me. As if he needed to prove something, he grabbed my hair and hauled me up until our eyes met. “Last I checked, you were the one on the ground at
I scoffed. “Yeah, because you jumped me and then kicked me while I was already down.” His eyes narrowed and I felt the wolf come to life inside me. The silver must have been wearing off…or maybe she just took pleasure in pissing these freaks off. “I guarantee you wouldn’t stand a chance in a fair fight.”
He looked around with a laugh. “Fair? There’s one of you and two of us. Seems the odds might not be in your favor.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Actually, sounds about right. Or did my dear old brother fail to mention, not only did I take out your precious queen, but several of your brethren all by my lonesome. The two of you losers don’t stand a damn chance.”
My taunting did exactly what I’d hoped. With a rage-filled scream, he hauled me to my feet by my hair and pushed me back against a tree. “Oh, that’s how you want to play, bitch?”
“Caleb, maybe we should just take her back to the compound,” the girl said, irritating both Caleb and myself. She was clearly threatened by what I’d said, but I hated that she was just so willing to avoid the fight just in case. Chicken.
“We can rough her up a little first,” he said, advancing on me while cracking his knuckles. “We can tell the boss she fought us and we were just trying to subdue her.”
“Well, you can
,” I said, forcing myself to stand up straight regardless of the blinding pain shooting through my body from my shoulder. “You won’t get the chance to see him again, though. I promise you. You’ll be ash before you even feel the first break in your neck.”
As I’d hoped, my threat got under his skin, and he charged toward me, fist clenched and headed straight for my face. I ducked out of the way and twisted, using my good arm and slamming my palm into his elbow, bending it inward the same way I’d done to Karl’s in the pit a few weeks ago.
He howled in pain, his arm hanging loosely at his side and his eyes burning with rage that would have frightened anyone else. Not me, though. I’d seen it before, and it surprisingly no longer affected me in that way.
The girl came at me next, screeching at a decibel that might render me momentarily deaf. The wolf wasn’t a fan, and it forced me toward her quickly. I wrapped my good arm around her neck and held her head firmly, yanking it to one side roughly and holding Caleb’s murderous glare as his partner’s body fell to the ground, turning to ash on her descent. I let her head crumble in my arm before brushing the remains of her from my hand onto my pants, and then I gripped my shoulder and popped it back into place on the first try.
I advanced on Caleb slowly, and I could see the fear in his eyes behind his anger. He didn’t seem the type to give up, and I admired that—as much as I could admire anything about a vampire, anyway.
Once I was about a foot away from him, his eyes moved to my left, and a cocky smile formed on his thin lips. Awareness prickled up my spine, and when I turned my head in the direction he was looking, I saw three more vampires approaching fast.
“You’re weak and exhausted, bitch,” he snarled, a little of his confidence returning. “There’s no way you can take us all on… Not alone, anyway.”
Deep down, I knew he was right, and panic started to take hold. I wouldn’t go down without a fight, but I was definitely afraid of the outcome. I braced myself for the impact.
“She’s not alone,” a deep, familiar voice said from behind me, renewing my confidence and faith a hundred times over.
My head whipped around so fast, pain ripped through my reset shoulder. “Jackson,” I said, relieved and beyond happy to see him. The wolf sprung to life again, and my temperature started to rise. I felt closer to the change, and I knew it could happen at any time if I needed it to.
“Hey, kid,” he greeted nonchalantly, stopping once he reached my side. “We’ve been looking all over for you.”
Our foes looked between the two of us, likely gauging whether or not they stood a chance. Jackson was much taller and broader than I was, so they likely saw him as a much larger threat. The two of us had to be a little more intimidating than just him…especially since I had just taken one of them down with a dislocated shoulder and barely a blink.
I shrugged, his blasé demeanor rubbing off on me as we stared down four salivating vampires. “You know me. Took a walk, got kidnapped. Found a missing werewolf.”
His head snapped toward me, and I chanced a glance up. “You didn’t know? I thought you’d find her by now.” He remained silent, turning his focus back to the vampires as they advanced. “I found Cordelia. She’s out here somewhere, hiding.”
The first vampire sprang forward, lunging for Jackson as the second one followed suit. With a growl, Jackson fought the two of them, and I was just about to take on the other two when he beheaded one of them and tossed the other into the ones waiting.
He turned to me, eyes wide with disbelief. “Go,” he ordered.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“What? I can’t just
you,” I argued as the three vampires righted themselves and attacked us. I pushed the one that reached for me away and was about to lunge for it when Jackson killed another one and kicked the other between the legs.
“Find her. Get her back to the manor. I’m right behind you.” They lunged for him again. I was apparently no longer a threat.
“GO!” he shouted, and I didn’t contest.
I ran as fast as I could to the east, picking up her scent and moving faster. I heard crunching snow and snapping branches just off the path I was on, so I ran faster and faster. The fever burned hotter with every step, but the wolf was still unable to fully emerge. It was frustrating, and I was beginning to lose steam in this body.
From the sound of the footsteps and breaking twigs, it sounded like whoever was chasing me was right on my ass. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up. My legs and lungs burned, and my vision was starting to go dark from exhaustion and over-exertion. I wouldn’t be able to run much longer, so I knew I would have to turn around and fight my pursuer.
Taking a couple more steps, I steeled my resolve and prayed that the wolf was strong enough to help me. I took a deep breath before skidding to a stop. I was ready to take on however many vampires were here to capture me. I wouldn’t go back. I would die before they took me back to that place to be experimented on like some kind of lab rat.
My fingers curled at my sides, my claws splitting through the tips much to my surprise, and I released a feral snarl that scared even me. A second passed before my tracker stepped out of hiding, and the minute I saw who it was, my legs went limp as I fell to my knees, unable to go on any longer.