I was so unfathomably tired of death.
The pale rider and I knew each other intimately. We were partners in a dance I no longer remembered the movements for, one I wished would end already but knew never would.
There were so many fallen wolves. So many families to contact, so many devastating blows to land.
Just as many, if not more, witches littered the ground.
They had friends, I’m sure. Families that would wonder where they were or if they were ever coming back. They would be mourned by someone, somewhere.
It had taken me months to no longer have nightmares of my father’s severed head tumbling from his shoulders, rolling across the ground in a sea of blood.
Every time I escaped the pull of a nightmare, a new one sprouted in its place, brought on by all of the death and carnage.
Even now, after all these months, I couldn’t even look at grass without seeing flashes of it covered in blood.
I kept to Asher’s side, shifting between human and wolf as I killed in both forms.
Each life I took broke something inside of me that could never be fixed.
Asher was horrifically elegant in his wolf form, slashing throats and sinking his teeth into anything that wielded magic.
He knew the dance moves, knew death much longer than I had. There were rare beings in this world born and bred to send people to the other side.
Asher was one of these beings. The more I killed and slaughtered, the faster I realized that I was not.
So, I piggybacked off his strength and ferocity, letting his one-track mind smother my feelings of regret and doubt.
We searched through the sea of crimson high and low looking for Ember, but she wasn’t here.
I used my magic sparingly, diffusing some of the more powerful witches before they had a chance to kill any more of our warriors. I’d just slashed through a miniature f*cking tornado when I hesitated.
The witch that had conjured it was a child, barely a pre-teen.
Her face was round, her cheeks plump and flushed with blood. The rise and fall of her chest were heavy, spattered with blood that could’ve easily been hers or someone else’s.
Seeing my hesitation, she blinked in surprise. Her l!ps opened to form a small ‘o, and her fingers twitched like she wasn’t sure what to do next.
Staring at her through Maya’s eyes, all I could think was that she wasn’t supposed to be here, fighting on a battlefield against trained warriors.
She should be starting high-school, frantic and on the verge of tears as she tried, again and again, to pick the perfect outfit for her first day.
Worried about crappy boyfriends and finding a best friend to spill all her secrets to.
I couldn’t kill her, and my hesitation almost cost me.
All of the innocence drained from her face as she twisted it into a sneer. Asher’s voice bellowed through the mind link just in time.
Lola, watch out!
I rolled to the left, partially thrown by Asher as he barreled into the witch creeping up behind me, a curved blade in her upraised hand.
Before I could cry out or tell them to stop, a wolf with wheat-colored fur tackled the young witch and crushed her neck in its maw.
The warrior dropped the dying girl and was onto the next witch, going through the same motions as everyone else.
What the f*ck was that, Lola?” Asher panted, letting out a huff of hot air from his snout. You would’ve died if I hadn’t warned you in time.
I didn’íook at him. I couldn’t. The girl wás layng there, gurgling as she choked on her own blood. Within seconds the Tight faded from her eyes, and the future she deserved was ripped out from beneath her feet.
Look at her, Asher.’ I whispered. ‘She’s a child.’
Asher turned his massive head and stared the girl down, his tail twitching as he saw the truth for himself.
Despite his strength, he had a heart just like anyone else, and I could feel it ache for the girl. It was his nature as an Alpha that led him to straighten his spine and hold his head high.
Yes, she is a child.’ He replied softly. ‘A child trained to kill.
I’m tired of killing.’ I closed my eyes, hearing nothing but the carnage that surrounded us.
Asher’s tail curled against mine, and I had no choice but to face him when he brushed his snout along my neck. His voice circled my head, full of such warmth and understanding that I wanted to cry.
Then stop it. You have the power, Lola. Use it.
Some part of me must’ve been waiting for permission, or perhaps support, because the moment I had Asher’s approval, magic crackled and filled my cells with power.
I wanted the killing to stop, and I knew just how to end it.
Tessa came to nind, and I used the image of her locked away in a cell as inspiration for what came next.
The ground exploded, sending clumps of dirt and stone scattering in all directions. It stung as it pelted my face and arms, but the clothes I kept as I shifted into my human form, protected the rest of my body.
Roots propelled upwards from the ground, twisting as they climbed higher and higher above our heads. Each one moved on my command, an extension of my body that reminded me of having over a dozen extra limbs.
I swung my arms to the left, and the number I wanted to follow obeyed. The rest I sent to the right, pinpointing exactly who I wanted to snare.
Left and right witches were lifted into the sky, their arms pinned to their torsos as the roots wrapped around them, securing each one tightly.
I lowered my arms, dragging the ones I’d captured down to the ground where they remained pinned in place. Witches scrambled to escape the roots I commanded left and right.
I began to tire so quickly that I had to bite my tongue to keep from crying out when they began retreating.
Blood coated my teeth from where I’d pierced my tongue, but I held on until the witches were driven back into the forest, chased far away from the pack’s boundary line.
The moment the last one vanished into the forest, the town erupted in an orchestra of deafening howls.
Snouts were turned towards the sky and victories were bellowed in the only song we know how to sing. When the howling had finally ceased and silence took over, I felt a hand touch my shoulder.
Swaying on two feet, I peered up at Asher, losing myself in the proud smile that graced his face.
You did it.” He said, his voice oozing with warmth.
I scanned the witches I managed to capture. There had been a few that managed to escape with the help of the others, but it didn’t matter.
The point of this was to end the fight, to stop the senseless killing. We had six witches that would now occupy the prison cells. They had information, I was sure of it, but I couldn’t justify torturing it out of them.
I thought using my magic was supposed to get easier.” I grumbled. “It feels like it’s getting harder.”
You‘ve been using it a lot lately.” Asher frowned.
I’m going to have to keep using it. I’ve got a town of Vampire’s to protect, remember?” I chuckled weakly, “Tell Cordelia we’re going to need more Hemlock…lots of it.”
Even though my body felt like it weighed a ton, there was still work to do. Once the Hemlock was delivered, we administered doses to the witches and brought them to their own holding cells in different parts of the underground prison.
The witches hadn’t even made it inside the building, which would’ve been comforting if we knew that was all their numbers.
No way would they send every last one of them to rescue another witch, even if she was an elemental.
When we went down to the level that housed Tessa’s cell, we found a few warriors still lingering in the halls.
Asher dispatched them and gave them orders to watch over the other witches and one by one they scattered.
Before we even opened the door to the observation room, I could hear Zeke’svoice inside.
“The witches retreated.” Was all he said.
Tessa’s voice came out as a whisper.
How many are dead?”
This question, Asher answered. He walked briskly, wrenching open the cell door and glowering down at Tessa with an intensity that made her flinch.
How many are dead? Are you referring to the witches I have to burn or the werewolves whose families I have to return them to?” He asked coldly.
Even Zeke knew not to intervene, and stepped off to the side to watch Tessa, his expression utterly blank.
Those witches have family too, you know.” Tessa replied bitterly.
Asher’s laugh was dry and brittle.
That’s comforting considering some of those itches were children. I don’t know about you or your Blood Witch, but I would never send children to fight my battles.” He snarled.
The sheer venom in his voice made the hairs along my arms lift. A hot wave of pride rolled through me because this vicious, ruthless Alpha was mine.
“We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing who fights for us.” Tessa spat.
My people have been hunted for centuries by the humans and not a single Vampire or Werewolf stepped in to help.”
“So, because the Vampire’s and Werewolves of the past failed your people, that gives you a right to kill them all?” Zeke scoffed, then shook his head.
He stared at Tessa with such disappointment my heart spasmed.
What did I do to get paired with someone like you?”
Without another word or glance in her direction, Zeke left.
“My numbers are not infinite by any means, but I stand by my word. No child on my lands, Vampire or Werewolf, will ever step foot on a battleground.” Asher said coolly.
“I noticed your sister wasn’t with the others. That means she was most likely attacking the safe haven. Care to explain why she wasn’t here to rescue you herself?”
Tessa pursed her l!ps. “Ember’s power makes her valuable. She’d do anything to rescue me, but she can’t risk herself getting captured in the process.”
Asher crouched down low so that he and Tessa were face-to-face.
Your leader places value on people based on what they can do for her and how well they serve her. It’s why she’ll fail in the end.
There isn’t a single man, woman, or child on my lands that I wouldn’t risk my life for, because all life is valuable. Even yours, no matter how badly you choose to waste it.”