“Zene, where are we going?” Sammy asked breathlessly.
The girls held hands as they ran through the crowds.
“We’re going to find someone I met when I first came,” Zene glanced backwards at Sammy.
“Will they help?”
Zene looked forward, “I don’t think he’ll mean to.”
Zene pulled Sammy into an alley to duck behind a building. Zene peered carefully up the road, “there he is.”
“Who is he?” Sammy peeked out.
Sammy mimicked Zene’s lowered tone, “do you really think he knows where Krista is?”
“I dunno. But, if this Lugon is behind people being taken, then that guy knows something.”
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” Sammy gripped her arm. “Maybe we should run it past the guys.”
Zene shook her head, “if it’s mostly girls going missing, we gotta have a girl.”
“Bryn,” Sammy pulled at her arm!
“What about him?” Zene paused.
“Well,” Sammy looked sheepish, “since Bryn is a guy in a girl’s body. If he dresses like one, I’m sure he could sneak in with you.”
“A girl’s body?” Zene looked thoughtfully at her memories.
“You didn’t know?” deep concern pulled Sammy’s bottom teeth between her teeth.
“He’s never said anything,” she shrugged. Then a small laugh lifted her features, “that conversation by the fire makes a lot more sense now.”
“Are you mad?”
“Why?” she couldn’t understand the question. “Bryn should be happy. That’s what matters.”
Relief softened Sammy’s face, only to be replaced with a touch of uncertainty, “he doesn’t know that I know.”
“Is this a secret Bryn wants to keep?”
“Yah,” Sammy nodded softly.
“Then we’ll keep it for him till he’s ready.” Zene looked up the road. Her smile waned, “can you get back to the others on your own?”
“What are you going to do?” Sammy once again gripped her hand in fear!
“Bryn knows I’m an Elemental. Remind him of that. I’ll find a way to get Krista back.” She pulled Sammy into a hug.
“Zene,” Sammy lightly held the embrace. Her uncertainty about this plan was easily heard.
“I think Bryn could use someone bold and adventurous like you in his life! Keep with him, if he’s truly in your heart,” she said earnestly.
“Really?” Sammy’s hope soared!
“Get back to him as quick as you can. And don’t let him scold you for this. It’s my plan,” she reminded. “I’ll be back with Krista. Promise!”
With that Zene ran off into the crowd. Concerned, Sammy whispered the words, “good luck!”
Zene would need those wishes, she knew that. Worry and wind pulled tears to the corners of her eyes. The running pulled a flush to her cheeks. As she drew closer, she slowed her pace and turned about. Worried eyes searched the crowd. Clenched hands portrayed unease she genuinely felt.
“Zene?” his hands were upon her shoulders.
She jumped as she turned! Her hands lowered to her waist, “Conor!”
“I wasn’t expecting that I’d see you again.” His eyes were cool as he questioned, “what happened?”
Grey eyes danced. In her mind, she heard the boys explaining why the truth was the easiest lie.
‘Keep it simple and let them fill in the blanks ‘cuz they will.’
She held Conor’s gaze, “I saw my friend down the road. I ran over there.”
Her gaze fell. The soft pad of her thumb brushed away the tears resting in her eyes.
“You didn’t find her, did you?” Conor assumed.
Her hair caught the fading sunlight as she shook her head, “just a boy. I kept looking, but the town is so big!”
“You got lost,” he nodded.
“I don’t know where I am,” she turned pleading eyes up to him.
Conor’s cool smile emerged, “you’re with me again. It’s getting late. Why don’t we get you somewhere secure for the night.”
It wasn’t a request. His hand at her back pulled her forward. Over her shoulder she looked.
“Coming?” he urged.
Sammy wasn’t in sight. She lifted her gaze to Conor. And with a nod, they were off.
“The town is a very big place to be for a small-town girl,” Conor explained. His hand upon her back was firm. This time, it seemed, he wasn’t willing to let go of her.
She looked about at the faces of the people around them. Some carried on about their day, oblivious to the situation. Or perhaps, simply uncaring. Some tossed looks her way. And yet others were quick to look anywhere else but at the two of them.
“You’ve lost your things,” he pointed out.
She looked up, “I know where I put them down.”
“They’re long gone now,” he waved the matter off.
She nodded simply.
“No matter. You’ll be quite warm where I’m taking you,” he assured.
And yet the assurance didn’t leave her feeling warm. She held her elbows and spoke with a soft voice, “I’m often cold.”
His look held a mild question.
Looking ahead, she asked, “where are we going?”
“To see a contact of mine.”
“A friend?” she asked with a small smile.
Conor scoffed, “just a contact.”
“You don’t like them?”
His hand at her back pressed deeper, urging her forward with more speed. His tone cautioned, “don’t worry about it. I’ll be sure that you’re taken care of.”
“What are you saying?” Bryn held the book that Zene had carried here.
Sammy picked up the jackets, folding them lightly over her arm, “she said that she met some guy when she first arrived. She thinks he might know where Krista is. Or at least, he may know who this Lugon is.”
“Oh man,” Reis moaned.
“Bad idea,” Chad shook his head.
“Why didn’t you stop her?” Bryn demanded, his head swivelling between Chad and Sammy.
“I wasn’t here to,” Chad defended.
“Dumbass,” Reis muttered behind his hand.
“You were supposed to be!” Bryn reminded angrily.
“I guess we won’t need that dress now,” Reis lifted his head.
“Not now,” the snarl sent Reis back a pace. Bryn turned sharply to Sammy, “you gave your word you wouldn’t leave her side.”
“Bryn,” Chad cautioned.
Bryn threw his ferocious gaze across the room. A panicked looked washed over Chad.
Softly, Sammy uttered, “she said you can’t get mad at me because it was her idea.”
“What?” Bryn snapped back around.
Tears falling over Sammy’s round cheeks pulled the anger out of Bryn. Tentatively he reached out, but hesitated to touch the girl.
Eyes to the ground, Sammy explained, “she said that she was the only one that could help, so she had to. She said you should remember who she is. I couldn’t talk her out of it. I’m sorry, Bryn!”
The fight was gone now. In its place, remorse shone from saddened eyes. “It’s not your fault Sammy. I’m sorry I yelled.”
The light of hope returned to her young features. Sammy had a tight hold of Bryn’s arm, “she also said that I should stay by your side because I’m good for you!”
There was a look of surprised concern on Bryn’s face. The two others hid laughter.
Night was falling, and the worry Zene held was very, very real! The crowds of Market Street were long behind she and Conor. Though only marginally less busy, the docks held a much different atmosphere. Rough souls scarred and angry at a life that didn’t favor anyone. Few looks were directly given, but the feeling of being watched was heavy in the air. The slightest misstep promised a painful ending.
The hand at her back remained firm in guiding her. Conor wasn’t much compared to those that surrounded them. Yet, despite his fancy attire and smaller stature, he remained untouched. At the door to a simple building, Conor stopped. Though he didn’t knock, the door was opened. A very thickly muscled man with small, angry eyes stood on the other side. Nothing was said. He simply stepped aside to allow Conor and Zene to enter. At Conor’s direction they entered.
A wooden warehouse filled with crates, boxes, and barrels. Rough men roughly handled the materials. Much was said, little was listened to. Zene looked about. She’d never seen the likes before. They were largely ignored.
“This way,” Conor led her up a flight of stairs that were easy to see through. She watched the men below go about their business.
To the right of the top of the stairs, a large room glowed warmly with firelight. That warmth was deceptive. Zene held her arms as Conor pushed through the door. Several men stood within the room. One at the desk was pouring over books. Thick fingers moved a quill pen about the paper to his right. Dark green eyes danced about between the books and his paper. Focused anger was the expression he wore.
“I’ve another for the books,” Conor stated coldly.
Without looking up the man behind the desk replied, “it’ll be on the next settlement. You’re too late for today’s countings, Conor.”
“Have I ever been in a rush?” he snarled back.
“Practically every damned time,” heavy hands pounded down upon the desk as he finally looked up. The eyes moved to Zene, and the expression moved to one of appreciation. “A step up this time.”
“In price, I assume you mean,” Conor retorted.
Zene looked up at him.
The man stood up from the desk. The others in the room watched the exchange with interest. Zene stepped back, her gaze drawn to the man approaching her. Conor’s firm grip upon her arm brought her attention back to him.
“Conor?” her eyes danced in worry.
Conor wouldn’t address her. His focus was the man, “small-town girl, inexperienced, fresh.”
“Appears so, but looks can be deceiving. Just look at you,” the man laughed at Conor’s expense.
Conor brought a knife out of nowhere. It was levelled at the man’s neck. No one in the room moved to help. “You should pay more attention to the abilities of the one you do business with, Arden.”
There was a nervous gulp from the man called Arden which moved the Adam’s apple dangerously close to the sharp blade.
Belying the nervous droplet of sweat running down the side of his face, Arden attempted to sound calm and controlling, “be careful what throat you aim to cut. Without me…”
“Without you, Lugon would appoint a new bean counter,” Conor called him out. Lowering the knife, Conor returned it to the hidden sheath it had come from. “She is worth more than your days wage. And for your arrogance, you will pay me half the sum for her up front.”
“You do not call the shots here, rich boy,” Arden opposed the demand.
Conor’s hand was at her arm when she lightly took a step from his side. Pain made her eyes dance.
“Double the sum,” Conor ordered.
“The fuck she’s worth that!” Arden’s face was red! “Looks alone ain’t enough, and you know it. Most the buyers are looking for meek and terrified. She ain’t even shed a tear.”
“Last I checked, you aren’t the one on the selling floor,” Conor pointed out as he took a step towards Arden. Zene had no choice but to follow along. “Double the sum of the regular girls.”
“You’re selling people?” Zene’s soft voice held disappointment.
Both men looked down at her. In fact, all the eyes in the room were upon her registering differing levels of confused shock.
“You’re worse than the guards at the prison.”
“Prison?” Arden held a smug look that he’d turned to Conor.
“What?” Conor’s eye looked ready to twitch.
When she didn’t offer up an explanation, Conor turned her about. The back of her shirt was lifted revealing the truth.
The smug look on Arden’s face shone clearly in his tone, “looks like whip marks. She’s fresh, hey?”
As she was spun back about, Conor slapped her across the face. The hit had come as a surprise to her. Unable to catch herself, Zene fell to the ground, a hand lightly upon her cheek.
“Hadn’t thought to check, did you?” Arden laughed.
“Regular price, settle-up the same as always,” Arden took back control. He waved to the men nearby.
One of the men came forward to pick her up off the floor.
To the man holding her, Arden gave his orders, “add her to the shipment leaving at dawn.”
She was led away forcibly. Conor, it appeared, had more to say to Arden. Over her shoulder, the best she could, she looked upon him. There wasn’t even a glance back her direction.
“So, my gut was right,” she mused softly. As she faced forward once more, a small smile warmed her.
Back outside no one lent her even a glance. She looked out at the water with the small ships. There wasn’t much water here, though in the dark it was impossible to tell how deep the river was. Wagons, carts, and rickety wooden stands lined the long and narrow street which mimicked the river. Along the questionable docks, torches provided light for people to work by. That warm light bounced off the surface of the water seen through gaps in the wooden slats of the docks.
She was taken past it all. At the corner of the building holding Arden and Conor, they turned right. This took them further from the docks. Submissively, she walked along. It wasn’t far down the alley that any remaining glimpse of light was eliminated. Until, at the end of the long building, flickering firelight danced. Voices let her know that soon they would have company.
“Oh hoh, feisty little ‘un, ey?” the laughter was raucous. “She ain’ got no breasts, but sure fights like she does!”
“I like the feisty ones. Maybe we keep this one around, just fer a bit.”
They came around the corner. Amid three men, a young girl was being held up by her wrists. She’d been tossed through the dirt. Her simple dress was ripped in several places, dirt was caked onto her clothing and her face. Golden brown eyes danced with fear disguised as anger. She struggled to be released from the cruel grip she was held in. She would not be able to stop the men.
At her sides, Zene’s hands curled into fists. The beginnings of her light entered her narrowed gaze.
All that stopped when the man at her side spoke to the men, “get these with the others.”
The three nodded curtly with no argument. Seemed the larger man directing her was someone they paid mind to. Roughly, she was tossed forward to the men. The young girl in the torn dress was released from the hold they had her in.
“They leave at dawn,” the man stated this and then turned to leave.
The three men they were left to suddenly became bold once the largest was gone from sight. The one holding the younger girl a moment ago, turned a creepy smile in their direction.
“We’ve got till dawn, boys. What shall we do?”
“This one got breasts,” the second pointed out. He was circling the two of them.
The young girl in the dress stepped closer to Zene. In her eyes, tears began to well.
Zene knelt so that she could address the little girl, “these men won’t hurt you.”
“No,” the first laughed, “it ain’t pain we want.”
“Just a little pleasure,” the third completed the thought.
Zene ignored them. She picked up the little girl’s hand, “what’s your name?”
“Uhm, C-Cara,” a little voice for a little girl.
Zene smiled, “I’m Zene.”
“And I’m growing flaccid,” the first began undoing his pants. “One of ya hold booby here.”
“An’ while you do that, I’ll take feisty for a ride,” the second made short work of the order.
“Stay by my side, Cara, ok?” Zene asked.
The little girl nodded mutely. There was a flash of light from Zene’s eyes, and then the torchlight was gone!
Zene slammed her fist shut. In the darkness, the man who claimed little Cara was gone. Not a single trace was left of him. Palm open again, she pushed her hand away as though she were shoving something heavy. The third man was pulled away by something unseen. They all heard a heavy impact followed by a painful moan.
The first pulled a blade. It trembled in his hand as he danced about, “what’s going on. Who’s there?”
Slowly, Zene stood up. The light in her eyes caught the man’s attention for it was the only thing visible beyond shadows. Two fingers pointed towards the man, two curled lightly towards herself, the thumb relaxed, and palm facing the sky, Zene lifted her hand. In his, the blade he clung to shook.
“What the fuck are you?” he demanded with a voice that trembled.
Zene stood still, the light in her eye grew brighter.
“What the,” the man flinched violently. He turned about, “what’s happening? What is this? Get off me!”
“Even here plants grow,” she told little Cara. “They are little. Little is often overlooked. But no matter how small, every life matters.”
The man was dancing about, slapping away at the plants which crawled up and around his body now. Cara watched with wide eyes.
Zene twisted her hand and the man stopped moving suddenly. She moved past him to retrieve one of the torches which still glowed very faintly. A small breeze was enough to ignite it once again. This torch she gave to Cara, who hadn’t left her side.
With a warm smile, she let Cara know, “if he says or does anything you don’t like, you can light his butt on fire. Ok?”
Though the tears hadn’t vanished, Cara’s worried expression did. With a small laugh she nodded agreement. The torch was held up carefully with both hands.
“What do you think…”
She glared at him and the little vines she talked about closed in on his mouth, pursing his lips and rendering him unable to speak.
“Where are the others like us?” she stood between him and Cara.
He glared at her. But his fear was still easy to see. Easier with the torch light.
Her left hand rose. His gaze grew wider. The loose fingers of her hand curled into a fist and her wrist twisted. Pain lit up his face. Tears touched his eyes. And he struggled with everything he had.
“Where are they?” she asked again, her tone mild.
His gaze flickered to the right. Ahead in the darkness.
“Let’s go,” she spoke.
The man, not of his own accord, began to move.
Next to her, Cara softly asked, “what did your little plants do that made him cry?”
The man glared mutely at them.
Zene smiled as she looked down, “those little vines have great strength in them. My sister got her finger twisted up in them one time. The tip turned all purple. She said it hurt a lot.”
“Was she okay?” Cara was worried!
“Yah,” Zene assured with a smile. “I asked the vines to let her go.”
“So, they’re nice plants?” Cara was curious.
“Very,” she nodded. To the man, she asked, “where are we going?”
There was a mumble which accompanied an angry look.
She shrugged, “you can look. We’ll follow your gaze.”
There was a roll of his eyes, but some subtle persuasion from Zene got him looking pointedly in the direction they should go in. The plants twisted. Some released as news ones took over to move him in the direction he indicated. Next to her, Cara carefully held the torch. There were small buildings and narrow passages. Uncomfortable wasn’t a strong enough word, and yet Zene held an outward calm.
And then the man’s gaze seemed to take them to a strange building. Not very tall, but rather long. There were no windows and only one door. A large one with a very heavy lock to keep it secure.
Zene looked in question at the man. The best he could, he nodded. She looked back, “so this is it?”
Lightly she touched the door. Cold, hard, and metal. Eyes wide, her expression said that she’d never seen the likes before. Her hand touched the lock. It was heavy. Her fingers almost didn’t show as she held it. It dropped with a clank as she stood back. The nervous wonder gone from her face. The mark in her eye glowed brighter. The little vines in the area came to her call. Her left hand waved over the lock and tendrils followed the invisible path. The thickness of the vines grew, increasing their strength. The lock held, but only for a moment or two. Then, piece by piece, the lock began to break apart. Crumbling to the ground.
Lips pursed, pose awkward and uncomfortable, the man next to them gulped nervously. Zene gave a smile that was reminiscent of Nevetes’. Her hand moved forward to physically remove the little of the lock which remained. Using all her strength, she pulled at the large door which swung outwards.
It was Cara and her torch that shed light upon the truth. Inside the strange building, a group of people waited in fear. Dirt covered them, but the abuse wasn’t hidden. Clothing was torn, heavy dirt smudged their skin, sweat dripped from bodies that were dehydrated. Tears were all but dry.
Cara stepped forward. An unimposing little figure with a torch, but she was their savior this night. In her small voice, she beckoned them out, “it’s okay. We don’t have to stay. Zene stopped the bad men.”
She looked over her shoulder towards the main building with worry. Pulling up a smile, she turned back, “there’s still others about. But no one stays here tonight. We’re leaving together.”
No one moved beyond some uncertain shuffling.
After a silent moment, Cara spoke up as firmly as she could, “chop, chop!” She moved further inside to take the nearest by the hand.
“We can’t,” said a voice from further back.
The girl that took Cara’s hand tried to stand. Her long brown hair fell forward as she stumbled. Cara’s light showed why. Her ankle was badly injured. Bruised, sprained, and possibly broken. More showed the wounds they carried. Warm firelight couldn’t ward off the chill of fear Cara’s expression showed.
There were nearly a dozen inside. All injured. Zene looked at the man. Her fear turned to resolve. The vines grew thicker. She would not risk him fighting his way out.
She moved inside, “I will heal your injuries. And then we all leave together. Okay?”
Next to Cara and the girl she’d tried to help, she knelt. Fear was in the gaze.
“My name is Zene. I’m looking for someone named Krista. Reis sent me.”
From behind her, a small voice said, “my brother.”
The young woman moved towards her. Hands wringing together at the height of her stomach, the girl wanted to know, “how do you know my brother?”
“I’m a friend of Bryn’s,” she smiled assurance. To the girl before her, “this won’t hurt at all, but might be a bit scary. It’s okay if you want to close your eyes.”
The light in her eyes grew as she began her work.
Time would pass and the moon would move further in the sky before Zene was done. But by the light of Cara’s torch, Zene undid the damage inflicted by cruel men.
As the last bowed with thanks, Krista knelt next to Zene, “are you alright?”
There were many similarities between Krista and her brother. Zene looked into eyes that were very much alike.
From the ground she sat upon, Zene nodded with the strongest smile she could summon, “a little tired. Can you gather the others? We need to leave.”
“Of course,” Krista stood up, her left hand resting in a light fist. She moved off, softly calling to the group.
Zene looked down at her hand. It shook badly. The light in her eyes was nearly gone now, but she wouldn’t have left anyone behind. Looking up at the group prompted her. Hands on the ground beneath her shoulders, Zene struggled to stand. Using the walls of what she viewed as a cage, she was able to move to the front. Moonlight and Cara’s torch were the only sources of light. She looked with worry at the torch just before her eyes moved towards the building holding the men.
“It’s time to go. Cara, leave the torch here.”
“She’s right, sweetie,” Krista knelt next to Cara. The torch was passed over easily at Krista’s gentle touch. “You can hold my hand. We’ll go together.”
Cara took the proffered hand. The others followed Krista and Cara. At the last, Zene stepped out into the night. The man she’d imprisoned in the vines was still there. The vines hadn’t been asked to let go. Without force or her command, they would remain. There was a glare accompanied by angry mutterings from pursed lips. The smallest flash lit her eyes and the man went from unintelligible threats to panicked discomfort.
Behind them they left the man and the torch burning out upon a cold ground inside a box.
“We don’t even know where we’re going,” Reis pulled Bryn back by the arm.
“I don’t care if we have to search the entire city one block at a time,” he pulled his arm away with force.
“Or,” Reis took the arm back, “we use our heads and find her quicker.”
“What do you mean, Reis?” Sammy was nearly out of breath.
“Shady people doing shady things. Where are they going to be able to do that?” he asked the group.
There were several shaking heads.
One of them shaking was Chad, “I can think of five.”
“Well, five is still better than the entire city,” Reis lifted his hands and shrugged.
“We could split up,” Chad seemed doubtful.
With a wave of his hand, Bryn stopped that thought from fully forming, “no way! We are staying together.”
“Agreed,” Reis nodded.
“Uh huh,” Sammy looked concerned. She took Bryn’s arm.
“Then, we start looking for a needle in a pile of needles,” Chad shrugged.
Worry had a firm grip on Bryn. At his side, Sammy held tightly to his arm. Reis nodded his head and they once again started running.
“We have to keep going,” Krista urged.
Zene’s shoulder dug into a brick wall as she leaned against it. Worry had her eyes looking back over their shoulders. They weren’t safe. Not yet. And there was as a truth she couldn’t ignore any longer.
“Go on ahead,” she smiled at the younger woman.
“I’m going to make sure no one’s coming behind us. I’ll catch up,” a warm smile gave encouragement.
“Is someone there?” fear drew Krista’s eyes behind them.
“Go on,” Zene said lightly. “Get them to your brother.”
Krista held her eyes for a moment. Fear had them dancing. But Zene was sure and steady. Finally, Krista nodded. To the others she spoke, “keep moving everyone. We’re not that far now.”
But it was still a ways. Zene smiled as she watched them go. As they disappeared around a corner, Zene let out a sigh, her back falling heavily into the brick wall. Exhaustion dropped her shoulders and caused her legs to tremble. There was nowhere she would trust to sit in this alley. And so, she stood still with her back against the wall and her face turned away from where the others had gone. A bead of sweat trickled slowly down the side of her face.
A hollow clink of an empty jar rolling on the ground drew her eyes towards the sound. It had come from the direction the others had gone. She looked about, but there was no other sound. Aware of her vulnerability, Zene moved away from the wall. Tired legs trembled and the first steps were shaky. She looked back over her shoulder.
A figure standing behind her stole her breath and her strength! She stumbled back. A punishing grip took a hold of her arm. Her feet skimmed the ground as her other arm spun about hoping to stop what felt like a fall. A strong force slammed her back into the unforgiving brick wall. Her head bounced painfully. The air from her lungs escaped causing her to cough. The back of a hand struck her across the cheek to force her head to the left which caused tears to spring to her eyes.
There was a hand covering her mouth. A blade pressed against her stomach. Narrowed eyes held her frightened gaze, “you caused me a lot of trouble tonight. Who are you?”
The hand was lifted enough to allow her to speak when he felt confident that she would listen. Her voice shook, “you’re L-Lugon.”
His smile was evil, “very few have the guts to say my name out loud. No one’s had the guts to take my property from me.”
“They’re people…” His hand held her mouth shut again.
“Shh-shh,” he told her. “Like pigs in a pen, they are just property.”
Her eyes moved from frightened to argumentative. His hand kept her from speaking.
He laughed at her, “life is life. Is that your idealism? You are chattel. Somehow you cut the lock on the gate. That cost me a lot of money, and a hit to my reputation. So, both crimes you will pay for. Tenfold.”
The blade at her stomach pressed deeper.
“The severity of your punishment will be determined by your next actions. You will tell me your name and how you did it.”
The hand at her mouth moved out the smallest increment. Holding his gaze, she bit down with all her might onto the palm.
The man cried out a curse! She had drawn blood. His grip on her weakened and so she tried to run. Angry eyes flashed and a fist connected with her stomach. Once again, she was without a breath. Tears fell to the ground. Her right shoulder was gripped just before she was slammed back into the wall. This time, his left hand held her chin in a punishing grip. Her lips pursed of his will. She couldn’t get out more than a whimper.
“I could have sold you,” his hot breath was on her cheek. “Painted you up and made some money back from you.”
His knee moved up between her legs, forcing her off the ground. The bricks at her back dug into her shoulders. Her trembling hands tried to pull at his wrist.
Pressing into her, “now, you’re going to come back to my home.”
The blade he held began lifting the hem of her shirt. A thin line of blood followed. She whimpered.
“I will cut you up very slowly. Bleed you so that all you can do is lie there feeling every imaginative way I can think of to hurt you. And when I finally feel that you’ve paid enough, I’ll give you to my men at the warehouse. It’ll be good to remind other would-be heroes what the price is when I’m crossed.”
She struggled. It was no use. His power was greater than hers. From within her eyes the light sparked. And quickly fizzled. She’d used too much in healing the others. There was nothing left for her. The blade moved slowly up her stomach, cutting in a little deeper and drawing out more pleasure in Lugon’s face. Tears fell off her cheeks as she turned her head away. She stared off into the distance. Weakly, her hands pushed at his shoulders.
A bare fist appeared in the wall next to her face. The impact left a crater and revealed the power of the one behind it. Her eyes moved up a charcoal grey sleeve hugging toned muscles. Hope lifted her brows. Confusion held Lugon’s eyes wide. A set of claws appeared on his face a moment before he was tossed roughly across the alley, leaving Zene to fall lightly to her feet.
Relief filled her eyes with tears! Dark red eyes stared with anger down at her. His body leaned in close enfolding her as she fell into his chest. They held each other tight. His slow and steady heartbeat comforted her. His arms held her. His body protected her.
“Nevetes,” she breathed his name.
“I told you not to use your powers, idiot,” he held her close.
She pulled back, wanting to see his face. His hand touched her cheek where she’d been struck. His gentle touch removed any pain and pulled her eyes closed, her tears falling to his hand.
“What the..?” Lugon was pulling himself out of the rubble that had fallen when he’d hit the wall.
She flinched. Nevetes’ look shifted to malice and he moved to intercept.
“Don’t!” she pled, her grip tightening.
Annoyance filled his eyes, “protecting that?”
She couldn’t stop a tremulous smile, “you, dummy.”
Patiently, his look questioned her.
“It’s my fault,” her gaze dropped. “My mess.”
Nevetes’ claws ran lightly through her hair, “only fair I clean it up since you cleaned up mine.”
Confusion drew a furrow along her brow until understanding surfaced and worry lit her eyes, “the tower! You went back? Was he there?”
“Gone,” he confirmed.
Lugon fell out of the rubble he’d been tossed roughly into. He stumbled to his feet, using his knees to support his arms.
“What’s the story here?” Nevetes was unconcerned.
“I came to find someone. Someone he had others kidnap. His name is Lugon. There’s guards here.”
He heard the worry. “Like at the mountain?”
Soft was her nod, “like them, but not them.”
Lugon was glaring at the two of them. From the ground he picked up his knife.
Watching Lugon, she spoke to Nevetes, “they’re taking people from their families.”
The tears fell as Nevetes wrapped his arms around her back. He held her close, “you’re such a pain.”
She pressed her smile into his chest. Eyes closed, she didn’t see the group of five appearing at the beginning of the alley. Lugon hadn’t either. And perhaps he wouldn’t have cared about a small group of young adults searching desperately for their friend. Nevetes’ murderous eyes slid back to the man with the knife.
Lugon’s rage fueled his lunge towards the pair! Perhaps foolishly he underestimated the threat he faced. Two steps forward and Lugon faced Nevetes far sooner than he expected to. Zene watched from a safe distance. The group of five were frozen in fear. Nevetes held Lugon’s throat. There was a choking noise that came from him. The knife fell harmlessly to the ground when he was thrown brutally into the side of a building.
Nevetes’ hard eyes moved back to the group. He addressed the young man who swallowed nervously as the blood red eyes captured him, “get her somewhere safe.”
“Nevetes,” she took an unsteady step forward.
Eyes holding a hint of softness, “I’ll take care of it.”
She smiled gratefully; a touch of guilt and a touch of relief mingling.
“Bryn,” Nevetes called his name coldly.
Bryn nervously jumped forward. He edged around Nevetes. At her side, Bryn wrapped an arm around her back to help hold her up. Reis ran forward to help. They rejoined Chad, Sammy, and Krista. Nevetes watched them go. At the last, Krista took Sammy by the arm and dragged her out of the alley.
Sammy sighed dreamily, “wow!”
Chad chuckled and in an undertone to Bryn said, “I think you’ve been replaced.”
“Shut up,” Bryn muttered miserably. “I’m dead meat!”
They were gone, moving up the road towards safety. Next to him, the debris moved as Lugon regained consciousness. Coughing several times, he dragged himself out of the mess once again. He paused seeing Nevetes’ boots. Slowly, his gaze moved upwards. He saw Nevetes’ pants. His shirt. The muscles of his shoulders. And the narrowed, red-hot gaze that bore down on him.
A choking noise emerged as Lugon was lifted off the ground. The next thing he saw were Nevetes’ fangs. Claws cutting into the soft flesh of his neck drew blood that had Nevetes’ eyes glowing with a dull light. The man’s fear intensified upon realizing that he was at the mercy of a monster much greater than himself.
“I doubt that you’re going to tell me anything useful,” he spoke with a chill in his tone. “But there’s more than one way to get information from a corpse. Do you know how a vampire turns someone?”
A gurgle was the only response. Fear made the blood pump hard as Nevetes fangs plunged deep into the neck. Warm blood pumping itself into his mouth had an interesting way of moving through to his throat. The thrill of the kill pulsed his own blood in response. There was a desperately weak grip that quickly faded as the man began to pass out. It wasn’t an option to stop. A shuddering breath told of the death to the one in his grip. When the blood stopped its flow and the heart beat its last, Nevetes ripped his fangs out sending bits of flesh flying.
Looking with disdain at the corpse, blood coloring his lips, he spoke coldly, “neither do I.”
He left the alley, dragging his kill behind him. Terror-filled screams would soon fill the night.
In the darkness of the dorm room, Nevetes knelt next to Zene. She was asleep alone on a bed. A second bed held the two girls. The three boys awkwardly shared the last, with Bryn curled up on the foot of it. Each of them were out cold. Nevetes’ fingers ran lightly through her hair. He saw the blood staining his claws. It was on his face and covered his clothing.
He claimed the spot next to the bed. His back propped up against the wall. One knee upright for his arm to rest upon. The other folded lightly on the floor in rest. Lightly his eyes slipped shut, and a rare moment of rest came to him.
There was movement next to him. She crawled silently off the bed to take up a spot next to him. Blindly he reached over to the bed and pulled the blanket down. This settled comfortably around her. His arm held her close. Her cheek rested on his shoulder, next to his chest. Both her hands rested lightly upon his relaxed knee.
“Someone died because of me,” her voice was soft in the darkness.
Nevetes held her close, “they all died because of you.”
“They won’t find his body,” silent tears were falling.
Feeling her weakness, Nevetes pressed his lips to the top of her head, “I’m sorry I was late.”
From the bed across the room, Krista silently watched the two of them. In a moment, her eyes closed once again.