“Lola-Lola, wait! Where are you going?” Breyona called out, her voice echoing down the empty hallway.
I turned, remembering that I actually didn’t know where I was going. All I knew was that I needed to do something, anything to smother the pain holding me in its serrated grip.
Where was Cordelia’s body found?” I asked impatiently.
Beneath the pain, a small wave of guilt washed over me. Thịs wasn’t Breyona’s fault. She’d been through just as much as I had, and it wasn’t right to take my frustrations out on her.
I-I can just take you there if you want. I’m meeting up with Giovanni anyway…you know, to help find Asher.” She tacked the second part on quietly.
It was a bit grating the way everyone was walking on eggshells around me, like I was a bomb whose timer was slowly ticking away. Staring into Breyona’s eyes, watching the warm flecks of brown deepen in color, made me realize that since her parents were murdered, that was how everyone’s been treating her as well.
If there was one person who understood, it was Breyona.
“Perfect. Let’s go.” I replied, softening my tone.
I had to bite back a snarl when a wave of pain vibrated down the mate-bond.
Even without grandma’s side of things, I would’ve never believed that Asher had…had done what he did of his own accord. It went against everything he believed in and stood for. More than anything I wanted to soothe his pain, but all I could hear were my dad’s words rattling in my skull.
I needed to find the witch first, then I would go to Asher.
I’d take every ounce of his pain, piece every broken shard back together again and bind them with the love I had for him. Love that hadn’t faded in the slightest despite the fact that his body was the weapon that killed my brother.
“If you guys find Asher, keep him safe for me, okay? Tell him I know what happened and that it wasn’t his fault.”
Breyona’s grief-stricken eyes softened as she nodded. of course, Lola.”
Once outside, Breyona was quick to shift and bend the shadows around our forms, propelling us through darkness that spat us out nearly fifteen minutes away from the hospital.
We stood in the mulch of a children’s playground, and while I didn’t recognize the jungle gym, I did recognize the surrounding park. The clusters of square hedges and yellow wildflowers stood out like a beacon, even in the dark.
I lost track of how many times I’d passed this place on the way to speak with Tessa in the prison cells.
The bright paint of the slide and monkey bars was muted by the cover of darkness radiating from the forest. During the day, the park was downright cheery. There would always be families out and about, pushing strollers and toting around squealing children.
I’d never seen the place so desolate before, so ominous in a way I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
The swings that swayed lightly in the breeze were in need of oiling, squeaking in tune to the merry-go-round, creating a song that sounded like a banshee’s wail.
Breyona cleared her throat, s*cking my attention away our surroundings. She shifted from foot to foot, shuddering from the cold breeze even though her werewolf genes protected her from the brunt of it.
“Her body was found in a clearing just ahead. It’s barely a minute walk inside the forest line, but you’l know it once you see it.” She said, her voice gradually quieting until it became a whisper.
There’s…there’s still a lot of blood.”
I wanted to tell Breyona not to worry about me and that I’d be safe, but the moment I locked eyes with the shadows lingering along the forests edge, words escaped me. I turned away from my best- friend and headed in the direction she pointed me in feeling the air shift when she finally left.
Please be careful, Lola.”
It was the last thing I heard Breyona say, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t make promises that were so easily broken.
Slipping between a small gap in the trees, I thought about how much things had changed and how being careful was no longer an option.
The crunch of leaves beneath my feet silenced my thoughts, and with every branch I stepped on, the image of a blood-crusted femur bone would flash in my mind. I kept my eyes peeled, staring through the darkness, embracing every cell in my body that reminded me what I was: A f*cking predator.
In a way, I was all but daring a witch to come out and attack me.
It truly wasn’t a long walk to find where Cordelia lost her life, but I had a feeling my sense of time was skewed by grief.
There was a small clearing up ahead, barely large enough to fit two full-grown wolves. Moonlight streamed down on the patch of grass, illuminating the large spot of blood that had long ago soaked into the earth.
I entered the clearing, skirting around the edges of the blood stain. Unable to help myself, an image of Cordelia came to mind, her lying helpless and wounded as she bled out.
My eyes fell shut as another wave of pain wracked my body. This time it wasn’t from the mate-bond, but from myself. I silently wondered how much more a heart could take before it seized up and stopped working all together.
Cordelia and I weren’t close. In fact, we barely had anything more than a student-teacher relationship, but she was someone I trusted someone I looked up to and wanted good things for. There was a kindness to her, an inner light that reminded me of my grandma in so many ways.
To know that this was where she died, cold and alone, only brought more pain. .your fault, Lola.’ The irritating voice in the back of my head whispered, its words like freshly sharpened razor blades against my skin. ‘All your fault.’
I was seconds away from fully descending into madness by telling it to shut the f*ck up when the shadows, who had been watching my every move since leaving the hospital, whispered in my ear.
‘Over there..by the tree.
The shadows hadn’t spoken a word the entire trek through the forest, choosing to keep their distance even more so than usual. I had a strong inkling that they could sense how close to the edge I was, and knew that with every passing second, my foot came closer and closer to slipping.
Tendrils of shadow slithered along the forest floor, gathering around the base of a particular tree. It was bigger than the rest, its roots more pronounced as they crawled across the earth, but that wasn’t what caught my attention.
There was a groove along one of the longer roots, a hint of the tree’s pale flesh peeking through its bark.
I had no choice but to step in her blood, wincing as I did so, to get a closer look.
It’s a sigil.” Maya whispered.
This was the first I’d heard from her since waking up in the forest. I’d almost thought she was unaffected by what happened, but hearing her voice and how weak it sounded, I knew that wasn’t the case.
Maya was afraid, terrified that there was some possibility, no matter how small, that we were the ones who killed Cordelia.
The realization made my stomach drop, but I couldn’t vomit here, not where she lost her life.
The cold wetness of her blood seeping into the knees of the sweatpants I wore was sickening, but I had to get closer to make out the faint network of lines crisscrossing one another.
It was jagged and rushed, but the more I stared at it, the more it looked like a crescent moon with a constellation as it’s background.
As I pressed my fingertips against its rough surface, a rush of magic tickled my skin.
My eyes fell shut as a gust of frigid wind passed through, ruffling my hair, and sending it scattering over my shoulders.
Carried on the wind was a voice. Or perhaps, an echo of a voice.
“Cordelia?!” My eyes snapped open, darting around the clearing but there was no one here.
I removed my fingers from the sigil and the wind didn’tjust die down, it vanished altogether. This had to be part of the magic she’d put into the sigil, which meant I needed to shut off my frazzled thoughts and listen.
For the second time, I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers against the carving. Another gust of wind passed through, cutting through the sweatshirt I wore and chilling me down to the bone.
When Cordelia’s voice drifted by, I didn’t recoil.
Instead, I let it soak into my skin. It snuffed my other thoughts out one by one, like the flame of a candle. Her voice grew louder, and I clung to every last word.
“Lola, this will be our last lesson together, for as you already know, I no longer walk this earth. This sigil will let you see the truth, a truth others have fought to conceal. I must warn you; this spell is as brutal as my death and if you choose to accept it’s magic, you will feel every second of my pain.”
I didn’t even have to think about it. All I knew was that ignoring this in fear of the pain would be the biggest injustice I’d ever done to Cordelia, and she deserved so much more than that.
Show me…” I whispered; my voice carried away by the wind. “I’m ready.”
“You’re going to think you’re the one dying, that it’s your soul that’s floating away but I assure you, it is not. When the pain becomes too much, you must remember one thing. You are alive, Lola. You are among the living, and you still have work to do.”
The world fell out from beneath my knees like water s*cked down a drain, spiraling into the furthest reaches of the dark.
There was no more wind, no more blood seeping into my p*nts, only silence.
Then, like my soul had been plucked from my body and tossed into another, I blinked and was somewhere else entirely.