She opened her mouth to speak but stopped when I brought my finger up to my lips. The thunder of combat boots sounded outside the door, never once stopping as they continued down the hall. I gave Brandon a confused look, but it was Clara who spoke.
“They aren’t allowed to come into the dancers’ rooms…” She swallowed.
I could feel her slender throat move beneath my hand. The glitter on her cheeks sparkled every time she looked between Brandon and me.
‘Lola, I’m at the gas station. Fill me in, what’s going on?’ Asher’s voice broke through my thoughts, like two streams merging into one.
‘Found his friend, going to get some answers. I don’t have time to explain everything, but once we’re safe. I’ll give you a run down.’ I promised him, holding back a sigh as his grounding presence washed over me, reminding me to stay fearless and in control.
I’d been looking at Brandon when I felt a prickling sense of awareness crawl up my spine, like someone had grazed the back of my head with their fingers. I narrowed my eyes at the witch, positive she had used some kind of magic on me when the feeling vanished.
“Alright, we found your friend. Now what?” I asked, waiting for something anything to happen. Once I was sure I felt no different, I pushed the issue from my mind to deal with later.
“Your guess is as good as mine, I didn’t think we’d make it this far. I’m definitely getting blacklisted after this.”
My head snapped towards him, and I stared at him in disbelief. I’m not sure why I was so surprised, everything he did was on a poorly calculated whim. He proved that much by kidnapping me instead of taking me to a d**n hospital.
“You stormed all the way here with no plan and your biggest worry is getting blacklisted from the club?” I scoffed.
“It’s a really good club, and I did have a plan. Find Clara and ask why she ghosted me when you and Asher came back into town.” He replied, fully convincing me there was no way he was the son of an Alpha.
I wondered if there was a time when Brandon took anything seriously. The way he had laughed as we ran, it sounded like he was having the time of his life. I knew that I was going to be the one to get us out of here, and that fact only made me resent him more.
“I won’t let Asher k**l you. That honor is going to me.” I promised him, frowning at the girl whose throat I had pinned to the wall.
“Look, I’m sure you’re nice and all, but you’re coming with us. We’re bound to get caught if we stay here. I’m positive there’s an exit back here, so lead the way, Clara.”
I wrapped my hand hard enough around her wrist to bruise, keeping my nails elongated to remind her that one swipe was all it took.
Not a single part of me enjoyed this, digging my nails into this girl’s skin as she led us down the hall, but I could feel how jittery she was and knew that she’d take off if my grip slipped in the slightest. Something had her thoroughly freaked out, and it wasn’t me.
I liked to think Brandon was taking my promise seriously. His eyes scanned each door, drifting down the hall to search for any movement. The slightest sound and he would turn his head.
I hesitated when my stomach unexpectedly dropped, the silence that stretched down hall after hall was suddenly unsettling. The sound of music and cheering, it was so distant that it no longer felt real.
The feeling persisted, even when I spotted the flickering exit sign hung from the ceiling at the end of the hall. Just below it was a metal door propped open with a cinderblock. The scent of stale cigarettes and days old garbage hit me the moment we stepped outside.
We stood in a narrow alley way lined with garbage bags stacked on top of one another. Half were bursting at the seams, with little claw marks dragged down the sides. I looked around, listening for the rats that had torn open so many of these bags. I heard nothing; not rats, or the sigh of a gentle breeze.
“Somethings wrong.” I said the words out loud the same moment Maya said them in my head.
“I can feel it too…” Clara whispered.
Brandon was smart to look worried, “can your witchy senses be a little more specific?”
We crept out of the alley way, emerging onto the same street Brandon had parked on-or I thought it was. I looked down the street and spotted the 24-hr laundry mat. The neon sign had been turned off, along with every light inside. The door that had been propped open was now shut.
“Aw, come on!” Brandon’s voice echoed, making Clara and I jump.
“Keep quiet.” I hissed, “we just said something doesn’t feel right-“
I noticed it then, the reason for Brandon’s outburst. This was the street we had parked on, only his car wasn’t where we left it. I wasn’t above stealing a car, not when this sinking feeling in my stomach told me to hurry up and get moving, but there wasn’t a single car in sight.
Brandon threw his hands in the air, but his voice was significantly quieter this time. “I just upgraded the exhaust.”
“S***w your exhaust-“
I was cut off by Clara’s low whimper. Both Brandon and I noticed her stiff posture, the way her jaw was clenched and eyes wide as she stared down the street.
There were two hooded figures almost a hundred feet away, standing beneath the golden glow of a streetlight. All could see were the dark clothing they wore, and the pale skin of their hands as they hung at the figure’s sides.
Brandon inched backwards until he stood at my side, “…well, that’s not creepy or anything. You think those are the as that took my car?”
Suddenly Clara gasped and tried to pull away, only she wasn’t trying to run but instead positioned herself behind Brandon and me.
“…you know what, just keep me from getting k****d and I’ll tell you what I know.” She stammered.
What worried me was her sudden shift from wanting to run to begging for protection…as if she knew that running from those two would end badly.
“Are they after you?”‘ I frowned, trying to find the reason for her fear if she weren’t the one being hunted.
Her eyes never left the two strangers, “no, they’re after you.”
The streetlight closest to us turned off, followed by the next one and the next one.
“They’re witches…” Brandon trailed off, his voice uneasy.
Clara glared at Brandon, but the fierce expression was ruined by her fear, “did you really think you could bring her here without someone noticing?”
Little by little the street was plunged into absolute darkness, increasing the feeling in my gut until I was one hundred percent sure of its source. The only streetlamp still lit was the one the strangers stood beneath, and within half a second, that one went out too.
I took a step back, unable to peer through the darkness that had swallowed the witch’s whole.
‘Twenty feet closer than they’d been standing, a small ball of flame appeared out of thin air, crackling from the sudden rush of oxygen. It was the size of a softball and appeared to be growing bigger.
“Woah, what kind of magic is that?” Brandon asked the same moment I realized the ball of flame wasn’t growing bigger, it was just getting closer.
Clara’s jaw went slack as she shouted, ” elementals!”
I grabbed hold of Brandon’s shirt and took off down the street to our right, letting go only when I could hear the heavy thud of his feet behind me, Clara had slipped out of my grasp, but I knew she wouldn’t try to escape.
I understood exactly why she wouldn’t have survived on her own when the compacted ball of fire hit where we’d been standing, sending a plume of flame nearly six feet into the air. It was like the street had been doused in gasoline.
After a few turns and a shortcut down an alley, we were able to stop. I spotted a few cars here and there. Most were rusted pieces of scrap metal limping on their last legs. We’d be better off shifting and carrying Clara on our backs.
‘Not happening. I’m no horse.’ Maya bristled, her grumbled complaints fading into the background of my mind.
“Why haven’t the human police been called?” I asked, “someone had to see that fire out there.”
“In this part of the city, you hear something like that you stay away from your windows and turn your television up. You don’t call the cops.” Clara shook her head, searching with her eyes as she caught her breath. “We can’t run from them, they’ll find us before long…oh, I knew I should’ve called out today…”
“You’re a witch too. Why don’t you do something?” Brandon asked Clara, who frowned.
“My magic doesn’t work that way.” She shook her head. I caught the reluctance in her eyes and knew she was holding back when she tacked on, “…I have to be up close to do anything, and they’ll k**l me before I get the chance.”
“Why can’t we run from them? What is an elemental?” I asked a bit harsher than I meant to, but I could hear the manic quiver in her voice and knew that it would only get worse the more flustered she became.
“It’s a rare type of magic…so rare that any witches able to use it are taken as kids…sent away to train.” There was more to the story,
I could tell from the tone of her voice but now wasn’t the time to ask. “…and they wouldn’t send elementals after you if they didn’t have another witch tracking your location.”
They were just trying to tire us out, wear us down until we slipped up and eventually got caught. She was right, running only bought us a handful of seconds.
“If we can’t run, what can we do? I…can’t use my magic right now.” I could feel panic bubble and threaten to rise, but I had kept my cool too many times to give up now. “We have no weapons, nothing at our disposal. Only our wolves and…”
The word slipped past my lips as I caught sight of the writhing tendrils of darkness slithering down the alley way, “…the shadows…”
I’d realized too late that they weren’t running towards me, but away from the sudden ball of flame that shot down the alley, illuminating every crappy backyard and rat-infested dumpster it passed. At the other end of the alley, the second stranger stood.
There was no flaming projectile thrown away, only the sickening snap and crack of the asphalt splitting open, making the ground tremble as it neared closer.
“Through the backyard!” Brandon shouted, and without warning he grabbed Clara by the waist and tossed her over the chain-link fence to our right.
I felt the dull sting of metal digging into my hands as I flung myself over and grabbed Clara’s arm before she could fall.
We avoided the scattered toys that littered the backyard, jumping the front fence just as another flaming projectile was thrown our way.
This one hit the fence we had just hopped over. We stood so close that I could feel the heat lick at my cheeks and forehead. Wasting no time, we took off again, turning corners and darting down alleyways to throw them off.
I felt Clara’s hand brush my shoulder as we ran and turned my head to glance at her.
“Shadows…you can control the shadows.” She panted; her voice held just a flicker of hope. “…use them, use them before they catch us.”