Authors: Sophia Sharp
She looked around the tree again, and saw the woman stood in the same spot, stil looking around. Laura felt a flood of relief wash over her. The woman didn’t know where she was. Which meant she stil had the element of surprise on her side.
Suddenly a new thought occurred to her. It was very likely that the woman was
her. Or at least, not taking Laura as seriously as Laura was taking her. Which meant that just maybe, with a little bit of luck…
Laura reached down and picked up a smal rock. On a count of three, she threw it far into the forest. It flew through the air away from her, then hit a tree trunk and fel down, rol ing over some of the dead leaves and other foliage on the ground. The sound it made was barely audible, but to Laura’s ears – and to the woman’s ears – it might have been as loud as a roaring avalanche.
Laura held her breath. She hoped the woman would be arrogant enough to take the bait. If she thought that it had been
who carelessly made the noise, perhaps by misplacing her step somewhere in that direction…
Laura heard movement. The woman started walking, and from the noise she made, Laura could tel it was in the direction of the rock. It had worked!
The woman vampire was moving towards the place the stone had fal en, and it meant Laura could, if she timed it right, take her by surprise.
Laura pressed herself closer against the tree and edged a quarter of the way around. She snuck a peak, and saw the back of the woman vampire just passing her post. Laura breathed in deeply, searchingly, seeing if she could pick up even the hint of a scent… and nothing came. From this close, Laura’s olfactory sense
to be developed enough for her to smel the woman, if she had a scent. But she smel ed nothing. Which meant that there
no scent, and likely there wasn’t one on Laura, either. Laura stayed stil for a second, then looked over her other shoulder. The woman had now moved past the tree, and was crouched as if stalking prey. Little did she know how wrong she was.
With al the force she could muster, Laura jumped her. She landed forceful y against the woman’s back, knocking her off balance, and at the same time smashed her first into the side of the woman’s head. The woman tried to flip over, to fight Laura off, but it was too late. Blow after blow connected – hard, uncompromising jabs that made Laura’s entire body shake with effort. But they were working. The woman shielded herself to fight them off, but it was too late. Another hit connected, and then another, and another, until final y the woman’s arms fel down weakly and her eyes glazed up.
Laura realized she was breathing hard. She looked at her fists, and saw that they were bloody. But it wasn’t her blood. It looked like her knuckles – in fact, al her bones – had hardened enough for her to do serious damage. The woman lay limp under her. A smal amount of blood had started to pool around the woman’s head, where she had sustained the most injury.
Laura stood. The woman groaned, and weakly rol ed over. Laura felt no pity for her. She had taken Gray, hurt Alexander, and
to hunt after her. Anger started to boil up again – anger tinged with an animal madness. The woman lay motionless, but she was stil breathing. Laura felt anger. Anger at the woman for trying to take her. Anger at Logan for abandoning her. Anger at the elders, and al the
for chasing after her. Laura’s heart started to beat with a renewed vigor, and that familiar feeding instinct started ebbing to life.
Laura let it take over. Snarling, she threw herself viciously at the woman’s neck. The woman, glancing up weakly at the noise, realized at the last moment under groggy eyes what was happening. She shrieked out in horror, but Laura’s teeth had already sunk deep into her neck.
Laura rushed back to where she had come from. She felt completely reinvigorated. An energy as she never experienced before beat through every limb of her body. It gave her strength, and agility, and quickness, and enhancements in everything she could possible imagine. She felt, for the first time, truly alive. Anything she remembered before was but a pale comparison to the seductive essence of her being, now.
She raced through the woods, going two, three,
times faster than the fastest she had ever gone. She was faster now than she had been in the dream world. And al her senses felt like they had kicked into overdrive.
She could see the fine detail on every needle in the evergreens around her, notice every single blade of grass under her feet. With her eyes closed, she could have scaled the highest tree in her vicinity, and come back down, without a single misstep. She could say, instinctively, the precise distance between her and every single item of nature she could see –
and in a flash she could be right beside it, too. Her body trembled with elation. She had known hunger before, but now she knew satiation. She had no idea how she managed before taking blood; how s h e
before taking blood. Life after the transformation, no matter how augmented it may have seemed compared to being human, was the dot of a reflection from a mirror a hundred yards away compared to how she felt, now. She felt like she could run for ages without stopping, like she could swim across the Pacific Ocean without giving it a second thought.
. And that power was not there before. Not in the same way. She felt now as if she had been freed from a tight cage, and for the first time al owed to spread her beautiful, strong wings. And she used those wings to soar on the highest updraft, to achieve a feeling of unmitigated delight with herself and her place in the world.
She ran, and let her instincts take her back to Alexander. Truly, it was like she could see and sense every grain of every matter of material in the world –
and sense her place in relation to it. She was seeing the matrix, and loving every minute of it.
She ran back, into the clearing where she had left Alexander. And Gray. What she saw when she got there was not at al what she expected.
Alexander was sitting down, shoulders slumped, right on the ground. His legs were sprawled out in front of him, and he looked to be breathing hard. But at least he was breathing. There were no signs of any others. Quickly, she looked around, searching for Gray – and found him, alive and wel – if a bit shaken
– hiding behind a tree. She would tend to him as soon as she figured out what had happened here. In a spit second, she was beside Alexander.
“Hey,” she said gently, as she placed a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her – and she gasped. His face was bruised, like he had taken a beating. But there were no others signs of damage. “What happened?” she asked with concern fil ing her voice.
“I beat them off,” he said heavily. His words slurred a bit, in a strange way.
“Are you alright?” she asked, kneeling down to look at his face. He shook her away.
“My pride is what is most wounded. Everything else – it is no concern. My body wil heal, and I wil recover. I am sorry you had to face her alone. Although – from the look of you – you fared a tad bit better than I.”
“I fought against one,” she reminded him gently,
“while you took on three.”
“Dirty fighters,” he mumbled. “They would jump on any weakness you exhibit like starving coyotes on a meat carcass.”
“But you beat them off?”
“A pyrrhic victory. As soon as I took one of the brothers down, Korver jumped me from behind. While brothers down, Korver jumped me from behind. While I struggled to get out of his grip, the other boy…wel , he did
.” Alexander motioned over his face. “But Korver was slower than me, and arrogant. He did not shield when he should have. I took him down… and the boy ran, carrying his brother with him. Korver begged for me to let him go, promised he wouldn’t speak of what happened here to anyone, to not give our location away. I strongly doubt the worth of his word, but it may buy as a few days, yet.”
“A few days before what?”
“Before al the other packs are alerted to where we are, as are the elders.”
“But they won’t be able to find us, right? If we’re careful, they can’t track us… can they?”
we’re careful,” Alexander said. “But it wil be difficult.”
“We can do it,” Laura said with a strong resolve.
“I know we can.”
“Easy to have such confidence when you’re young and haven’t seen the world,” he muttered.
“Nothing. Help me up.” He started to get up, using one hand to push himself off the ground, and Laura took his other arm. But as soon as her hand gripped his arm, he grimaced and shied back.
“What?” Laura said worriedly. “What’s wrong?”
that arm,” Alexander hissed. He sounded… angry?
“Sorry,” Laura said. “That’s the shoulder where you took the arrow, isn’t it?”
Alexander grunted in reply.
“Let me look at the wound.”
“No.” Alexander spat the word. “It is nothing. The bit of a fly. It wil heal on its own.”
like nothing,” Laura said, getting frustrated, “when I took your arm. Take your shirt off, and let me see.”
“I told you, it’s fine.”
“Let me see, or I’l rip your shirt off myself.”
“Hah!” Alexander barked a laugh. “You’d like to do that, wouldn’t you?”
“What?” Laura frowned at him. He wasn’t acting like himself. And the slur had gotten worse. He sounded… almost like he was drunk. “Take your shirt off, and let me see the wound.”
“No,” Alexander said again. Petulantly. Laura rol ed her eyes, and gripped his bad arm with her hand. He grimaced in pain, but before he could say anything, she had him pinned to the ground. Once there, it was only a smal matter of lifting his shirt over his head. Laura moved fast, faster than he could have possibly expected, and before she knew it he sat in front of her with his shirt off.
“There,” he spat. “Are you happy, now?”
“No,” Laura breathed softly. The wound looked terrible. The blood that had gushed out of it original y stained Alexander’s entire upper arm and chest, but that had since dried off. The gnash itself was stil moist, and it bubbled in a thick, black substance. A scab had started to form, but it barely crusted around the outside, and once it met the black substance, it just stopped.
“This is no ordinary wound,” Laura said. She had taken a first aid class, once, as required by her school, and could tel a badly infected cut when she saw one. This one looked much, much worse. But how so much could have happened in so short a time… to a
no less… she had no idea.
“What are you talking about?” Alexander asked.
“You’re wrong. It feels
“Real y?” Laura raised an eyebrow and
squeezed the bicep on his bad arm with her hand. Alexander grunted and started breathing faster in pain. She let go.
“So it hurts a little,” Alexander conceded angrily.
“It wil heal, like I said.”
“Have you seen it?”
“Have you looked at it, yourself?”
“What kind of a stupid question is that? Of course I’ve—” he cut off as his gaze came to rest on his shoulder. On seeing it, his eyes widened warily.
“You’re right,” he breathed, concern clear in his voice. For the first time since she had come back, he spoke the same way as she remembered. “It should not be like that.”
“What do you think happened?”
what happened,” Alexander replied gravely. “It makes sense, now…”
“What does? Alexander? Alexander!”
He looked at her. “I think it was no ordinary arrow. No, to have done so much, it had to have been laced.”
“Laced? Laced with what?”
Laura’s head spun. What could be poison to a vampire? For the little she knew, it seemed al were nearly immortal beasts, living for generations at a time and never slowing down.
“What do we do? We need to get you an antidote. Right?” He didn’t reply. “Right?”
He shook his head slowly. “The arrow was meant for you, but I was the one who got hit. There is only one substance I have heard of… read of, many years ago… that could produce such a wound. And from what I know – there is no cure.”
Laura gasped. Did that mean… did that mean he would just get worse? Was there enough poison for it to be
? The hole in his shoulder looked terrible. Beyond healing. But they could do something. Right?
“Can we isolate it?” Laura asked. “Make sure the poison doesn’t spread, something like that?”
“It’s already hit the bloodstream,” Alexander said. He laughed rueful y. “I know its effects. First, the mind goes. Then the body breaks out in fever. Some can fight it off for longer than others, but left untreated… like I said. There is no cure.”
“We must be able to do something!” Laura exclaimed.
Alexander met her gaze calmly. “I wil try to fight it, Laura, but… I don’t know how long I can. If I… start to act differently, speak to you differently… know it is the poison taking hold. It is not who I am.”
Laura shook her head. “That’s nonsense. You’l heal. You can last against it.”
Alexander nodded in thought. “There is… one potential saving grace.”
“Yes?” Laura asked, eager to find out more. “Tel me, what is it?”
“The poison comes from a plant that is very rare. It is impossible to obtain, now – the species went extinct over two hundred years ago. I suspect that al the poison Korver’s pack had was placed on the tip of that arrowhead. And that is what we have to pin our hopes on. That they did not have enough for it be lethal.”
“So what do we do now?” Laura asked.
“First,” Alexander said, “give me my shirt back. There’s no point for you to be exposed to the wound and be reminded of it endlessly.” He shot her a smile. “Better for me to put up the appearance of ful health.”
Laura smiled weakly, and retrieved his shirt. She helped him pul it over the bad arm, and he winced every time it moved.
“Next, we’re close to Nakusp. I should be able to walk—” he pushed himself up with effort, and stood on his two feet. He wavered for a second before catching his balance, then stood straight. “But unfortunately, I won’t be able to run with you.”
“That’s fine,” Laura said. She was more worried about his health than getting to town quickly.
“If I estimate our distance correctly, we should be able to get to Nakusp by nightfal , even with me in my current… state. It’l be good to enter town at that time anyway, to avoid any attention from the townspeople.”
Laura nodded in agreement. “Once there, we can find a place of refuge – somewhere we can stay –
and I’l tel you how to get to the archive.”
“What about your arm?”
“We’l see,” Alexander said. “There are some herbs I know that might stave off the poison – but they herbs I know that might stave off the poison – but they won’t rid my body of it completely.”
“Can I find them here?” Laura asked. “Tel me what they look like, and I’l get them for you.”
Alexander shook his head. “No. They’re not indigenous to this forest. The only way to get them is in Nakusp. The native tribes that live there, they have a healing woman – or, they should – and she is usual y one skil ed with herbs and medicines. You wil seek her out for me tomorrow, and see what she has.”
“Alright,” Laura nodded, determined to find the herbs for him. “I can do that.”
“Now there’s one more thing we need to address.”
“This pack that just attacked us. Since you’re the one who came back, and not Korver’s wife, I assume you were able to best her?” Laura tilted her head in agreement. “It’s a devastating blow to their pride to be defeated by only two others. Because of that, I think Korver might keep his word for longer than I initial y expected. When his wife comes to them, she wil be angry, and looking for revenge. She is the one we have to worry about. But I think Korver wil be able to restrain her, at least so we have more than a few days in which to search through the archive in peace.”
In spite of herself, Laura gulped. Korver’s wife wa s
, and Laura had taken her blood. What would Korver do when he and his boys found the body? She doubted he would keep his word, then. But she resolved not to say anything about it to Alexander. He had enough to worry about with his shoulder, right now.
“And there is also the issue of our arrival. Or, rather,
control over yourself on our arrival. It wil be… difficult… for you to be amongst so many humans, since you haven’t fed yet. We wil have to plan your first feeding so it attracts only minimal. We wil not be able to do it right away, unfortunately. You wil struggle, but you have to hold on. If word gets out that a murder occurred in the smal community on the day two newcomers arrive, wel … it would not bode wel for us. It is likely the other
would quickly hear of it, and put two and two together to discover our location.”
“I can control myself,” Laura promised him. With the newly-taken vampire blood pulsing through her veins, with her first feeding out of the way, she should be as immune to the cal of human blood as… wel , as she ever could be.
“Good,” Alexander sighed. He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again. “I saw Gray behind a tree. You should go tend to him. I do not think he was hurt, only scared.”
Laura nodded. If she had even the slightest concern that Gray was hurt, she would have attended to him a long time ago. But she had an overwhelming certainty within her – somehow – that he was not. And she knew that Alexander
They would need to get to town quickly, and she would need to seek out the healing woman to attain the herbs… whatever they were. With a bit of luck, she hoped they could stave off the poison’s spread.