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She was standing in the middle of the forest. Devil’s Wood. The canopy above blocked out light from the stars and moon, but it seemed tonight the forest floor was even darker than usual. Voices whispered all around her. Old and withered. These were no concern to her as they were always there whenever she listened for them. It was the others that had her hackles rising. She started walking forward. Shapes that darted through the trees, both human and not. Presences she was starting to recognize. Witch. Vampire. Something else…
Everything shifted all at once. Now she was at school. Yet it wasn’t quite school. The halls were patched together with different eras, different PLACES. A door that was supposed to be a classroom opened up in to a bedroom from some decade long ago. Down one end of the hall she could see the Devil’s Wood. And on the other…
Smoke was starting to rise everywhere and she started coughing. Footsteps down the hall with no owner. She ran as she always did.
The sudden sound. The crushing feeling of her own life being wretched out.
Julian awoke with a start, exhaling an annoyed sigh as she rolled over to glance at the clock. It wasn’t even midnight yet. Great. That was even worse than normal. She could thank the fact her stomach was growling, most likely. Maybe if she hadn’t skipped dinner she could have gotten a few more hours.
Grumbling to herself she pushed back the covers and rolled out of bed. Julian made a silent trek downstairs and to the kitchen. Her inspection of the fridge came up with nothing but a half empty quart of milk and Chinese takeout that PROBABLY didn’t need to be in there anymore. She grabbed the milk, forgoing the glass for drinking right out of the carton until there was nothing left but empty cardboard. Who was going to complain?
Julian eyed the microwave clock, her mouth twisting to a thoughtful frown. If she took something she might be able to fall back asleep and actually GET some sleep before morning. Trying to tip-toe as quietly as possible, she made her way back in to the living room only casting Leo a curious glance to see if he was still on the couch. Satisfied he was still asleep, she stopped by a desk nestled beneath the window and shifted around the stack of books and other random papers until she found a pair of bottles. One was something from Ms. Lucinda ‘for moments of anxiety’ she NEVER remembered to take, and the other was sleeping caplets that tasted like chalky condensed hell.
Maybe she’d just go make a cup of coffee and stay up after all.
Just as Julian was prepared to turn her back, a dark shape flickered past the window.
Or so she thought. But when her vision focused and she peered through the glass, there was nothing in sight but gently swaying branches and a dimly-lit suburban street. No traffic at this time of night- she was in the wrong part of town for that- but it might have been the passing of a car. Though you’d think she might have heard the engine, would have seen the headlights as well as the shadow.
That, of course, was when there was a sharp electronic hum from across the room, and then voices from the television:
“-more footage of tonight’s lunar eclipse, live from North Mountain Laurel. We’re on the edge of the Whelan property, right in the heart of the forest known as ‘Devil’s Wood’. Sounds pretty appropriate for the night of a blood moon, wouldn’t you say Tom?”
“Absolutely, Karen. You know, there’s been a lot of talk about this particular blood moon. Have you heard about it?”
It looked like Leo had woken up. And turned on the news, for whatever reason; weird. Leo didn’t seem like the news-watching type.
But when Julian’s eyes fell on the couch, Leo was still mostly covered by her ancestor’s ratty afghan. He hadn’t budged. He was still asleep.
This was EXACTLY why she didn’t like it when it was dark. Creepy things happened in the dark.
Or she was still dreaming.
She glanced away from the TV back at the window and then to the TV again. She WASN’T still sleeping was she? Moments like this made it hard to tell.
Devil’s Wood. A Blood Moon.
She watched for a moment, chewing in to her cheek and wondering why anyone would want to go prowling out in those woods in the middle of the night. Even for an eclipse. What was a blood moon anyway? Julian eased her way across the floor, pressing the OFF button on the TV quickly and snatching back her hand as if she were afraid something was going to jump out of the screen. Dream, hallucinations, live premonitions or whatever it was, at least ONE of them should be allowed to sleep in peace tonight.
As nice as the sentiment was, it turned out that Julian was too late. She could hear the couch cushions depress and creak behind her.
“…Jules?” Leo asked, his voice bogged down by sleep and confusion and that stupid blanket. “What- the fuuuuck am I doing here?”
The afghan was shoved to the floor in a plush pile, and he sat bolt upright, his hair mussed and his eyes glazed over like a zombie’s. His t-shirt had hiked up a few inches sometime while he’d been sleeping, but it dropped back down as soon as he was semi-vertical. The fabric was still sticking to his skin, though. It was immediately obvious that he’d been sweating through his clothes all evening.
Three things happened, then, in quick succession:
1. As he started to regain something resembling consciousness, his eyes zeroed in on Julian.
2. He inhaled sharply. It looked almost involuntary, like he was having an asthma attack.
3. Leo slid right off the couch and onto the floor.
His hands flew up to either side of his head, fingertips pushing into his temples, and he uttered several incredibly choice words that practically burned Julian’s ears.
Oh good, if he was awake she would at least not have to be freaked out by anything.
And of course that hope was dashed in a split second when he went sliding to the floor.
She hated when she was right about something being wrong.
Julian moved quickly to kneel next to him, almost reaching out to pull one of his hands away from his head to examine, but deciding that likely wouldn’t be helpful. He was still covered in sweat, meaning a little bit of sleep wasn’t helping whatever was wrong.
“Tell me what’s the matter.” she ordered. There was a firmness to her tone that suggested she had this all under control and knew exactly what she was doing. Unfortunately, the look on her face betrayed just how concerned she was. To top it off there a sinking feeling, that if she weren’t dreaming, a shadow outside and a flicker inside did not bode well. And this was not something she could just bring up casually if Leo was going to topple over dead any moment.
“Get out of my face,” he snapped at her- except he sounded more tense and upset than angry- and scooted back an entire foot across the floor. He went really still… not breathing still… and stayed that way for about thirty seconds before his shoulders and chest started heaving again.
“I’m fine,” he muttered after a minute, raking his fingers through his hair. “Everything’s fine. It’s fine. I’m just a huge fucking dumbass. No big deal.”
He wasn’t looking at Julian. He was also curled and cramped in an awkward position against the couch, a position which was so awkward that it shredded any doubt about it: he was avoiding touching her.
“Lie.” she responded simply. Julian did not want to go through the I’m Fine, It’s Fine, We’re all Fine dance again. Nor did she want to have another moment where she freaked out and panicked and felt completely useless, leaving other people to take care of everything. She could freak out and start screaming later! She especially didn’t like he was calling himself a dumbass instead of throwing insults her way. That was a huge flashing sign of trouble.
Her knees were both resting on the floor and she was leaning back to sit on her feet. Julian didn’t inch closer. She picked up quickly that would be a bad idea, she just wasn’t sure why yet beyond He’s going to flip his shit. Julian settled for pointing a finger at him. Trying to keep her usual torrents of fear under control. Only one person could freak out at a time and if it was going to be him, it couldn’t be her!
“You have to tell me what’s wrong with you. So I can fix it and focus on the-” she held her hands up at her head wiggling her fingers in the way that was now her official psychic mojo signal. “The thing, the whatever it is. And don’t you dare argue with me about it!”
“You can’t fix it. I’m stuck like this until sun-up.” He laughed, but it sounded forced and not quite as steady as his usual chuckle. “It’s kind of a weather-related thing. Well, that and the fact that I’m starving. That doesn’t help.”
His eyes flicked up suddenly to her face.
“And you are not helping me with that right now,” he warned, flat-out, as if he suspected she was about to make just such a suggestion. “So don’t you even think about it, Jules.”
“I’d like to avoid being a midnight snack.” she muttered, eyeing him carefully. Julian had no desire to offer herself up as a cheeseburger to a vampire that looked like he was going to lose it. …Well, there was the slight concern that she would if she NEEDED to. But he seemed to be getting himself back under control, if barely.
Some of her tension eased, but she looked ready to jump up and in to action at the slightest hint of necessity. She went silent for a moment, her gaze finally leaving him to slowly wander over to the TV.
“Blood moon.” she mumbled softly, then as it was dawning on her she leaned forward slightly, staring him down like she thought he’d try to get out of answering. “What is a blood moon? Why is it a big deal?”
“It’s just a fancy turn of phrase for when the Earth gets between the sun and the moon and makes for a lunar eclipse. Scientifically speaking anyway.” He fidgeted on the floor. It sort of looked like he was staring at her throat now, but maybe that was just her imagination? “As far as vampires and… one or two other things… are concerned, stuff stops being so scientific and starts being really uncomfortable.”
He was definitely staring at her. But not just her neck. His gaze trailed up and down, away and then back again, and right on up to Julian’s ceiling.
“The thing is,” he began, and winced. “The thing is-”
A very sudden and loud pounding on the door interrupted him.
The more he stared, the more she squinted at him, and the longer he took to spit it out, the more she leaned forward and frowned. Then with one loud pounding, her whole premise of being brave and under control was ruined by the way she jumped and made a squeaky hrrph! sound. With absolute horror she thought it would be Walter. She wasn’t having good luck with surprise appearances these days. Who else would be lurking around in the middle of the night?
No, no more scared Julian. If Leo had to deal with the vampire version of PMS tonight, she was going to do the asskicking. Especially if it was Walter. She pushed herself up off the floor, painted on her toughest expression (which really wasn’t anything more than her biting in to her lip and trying not to look frightened), and stalked towards the door. On the way she grabbed a heavy looking brass candlestick off a shelf. Julian always thought the things were a waste of space and never understood why her mom kept them. But now she finally understood how handy they could be.
Julian unlocked the door and swung it open, candle stick ready to crack whomever it was right in the face if they made a sudden move. She really should have looked out the peep hole first, but she was so focused on trying not to be scared, common sense decided to take a break.
“Jules,” she could hear Leo call out, just before she reached for the doorknob. His voice cracked. “Wait-”
But her adrenaline was already getting the upper hand, and when Julian answered the door…
All of the lights in the house cut out.
A dark figure loomed on the front porch, silhouetted against the lights from the street; the porch light had gone out along with the rest. It surged forward almost as soon as she got the door open. Julian felt clammy hands wrap around her upper arms.
Not the lights.
The second the lights went out all the bravery she had escaped right out the door. Julian nearly dropped her weapon at the touch of cold hands, her body stiffening up and washing over with cold terror. She SHRIEKED. Here was a nightmare in the flesh walking through her front door. Tonight she died.
Oh hell no.
“Nuuunununu!” Her battle cry wasn’t nearly as strong and intimidating as her inner voice, but the fight kicked back in. Protect the house, protect the Leo, protect herself! She was going to die, but she’d do it cracking their skull open first! Julian’s grip tightened on her candlestick as she pushed herself back and went swinging.
“Julian!” Michael. That was Michael’s voice. “Julian, calm down, it’s me.”
Her swing missed… barely. Strong arms crushed her against the figure’s chest- against Michael’s chest, because it was Michael. His heart was hammering behind his rib cage. Probably because she’d just tried to brain him with a candlestick.
But judging by what happened next, he wasn’t angry with her.
Michael’s hands moved down to her waist, long fingers pressing right above her hips, and then he picked her clear off the floor. With her feet still dangling in the air, he pulled her close again… and his lips were suddenly on hers, and it was about a million times less chaste than she was used to from oh-so-gentlemanly Michael.
Michael? Her candle stick hit the floor at the sound of his voice, but it still took another moment for it to register that this was really him and not someone barging in to murder everyone in sight.
“Y-” By the time it did and she tried to speak he was kissing her. That was a wild and alarming sudden feeling. Had it been any other moment, Julian would have been thrilled. Kissed him back and been so very happy he wanted amp things up with a little heat and passion. But not while she was terrified and it was the middle of the night, why the hell was he pounding on her door in the middle of the night?
“Rgh!” She pulled away gasping. She was furious, and it was by sheer crazy self control that she didn’t swat at him and demand he set her down. That didn’t stop her from looking like she might actually hit him, though.
“You scared the shit out of me!” It also seemed to affect her ability to sound like a lady so her old fashioned boyfriend wasn’t scandalized.
“I didn’t mean to,” he placated her, still leaning toward her a little bit. Michael always tended to hover, but this was quite a bit closer than he generally got. He moved to kiss her cheek instead of her lips, lingering.
“You weren’t answering your phone and neither was Leo,” Michael went on. His fingers inched up her sides another fraction. “I was worried. I- couldn’t help myself.”
There was a certain note of despair in that admission, like he’d just revealed a terrible secret. There was a strange light in his eyes that Julian had never seen before.
“Put her down,” a second voice interrupted with a snarl.
Leo had made his way over and was gripping the molding of the living room doorway so hard that his knuckles were turning white. His shoulders were tense and eyes blazing as he stared Michael down.
“Excuse me?” growled Michael, going rigid. “Who do you think you are? And what do you think you’re doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question, you disgusting piece of-”
“ENOUGH.” she interrupted with a tone that broached no argument. Julian was starting to get the bigger picture now. Science or magic, a Blood Moon meant something along the lines of impulse control for vampires. Which meant, between the two of them, she was currently caught in between being eaten alive or kissed to death. Neither of which sounded all that great when she was scared, mad, and exhausted. Luckily, this was FINALLY something she had plenty of experience in. Being the peacemaker when two people were trying to kill each other.
“Put me down.” Another order that would allow for zero argument. Cause if he didn’t she WAS going to hit him, and Julian knew they would both feel very badly about that tomorrow.
“I told him he could stay here. He needed sleep.” she explained.
“He can sleep at home,” argued Michael, “away from you.”
He did put Julian down, though he didn’t let go of her; his arm looped around her waist, drawing her close to his chest. His lips were pressed into a thin line of displeasure. It wasn’t clear whether he was noticing Julian’s different tune at all or just not commenting.
“That’s not my home,” seethed Leo, his hands balling into fists. “And fuck you, Michael. How can you just sit there and play kissyface right now? Are you stupid, or just getting off on this?”
“I’m not going to hurt her,” Michael replied frostily. “I’m not an animal. Just because you have the self-restraint of a child doesn’t mean that’s the norm, Leo.”
Julian wasn’t so sure Michael had any self restraint right now either. She expected these things out of Leo because he was always candid about his feelings concerning Michael. But hearing Michael spit it back out was surprising. He also did not seem to noticed she was trying to untangle herself from him, when normally he was so observant about everything.
“Amazingly, I actually agree with Leo. In fact-” Julian finally managed to pull herself away and very quickly stooped to pick up her candlestick. She held it out in front of her, pointing at the both of them with it. “We’re going to set some ground rules, just for tonight.”
“The first rule: No one steps within an arm’s length of Julian.” she pointed at herself with the brass. “I know neither of you want to hurt me, but I’m scared and anxious and it is purely so I don’t clobber one of you over the head with this. Got it?”
She didn’t wait for the agreement. “Second rule: Neither of you can go within arm’s length of each other either. You try to kill each other in my house, I am never letting you back in it.”
Julian waited a moment to let that sink in, then she was gesturing at the ceiling with her candle stick. “…now can someone please, please, please fix my lights?” The bossy voice was gone, and now it was down to pleading. She NEEDED her lights back. If she had to spend all night in the dark with two pissy vampires, she’d lose her mind!
“I’m not leaving you alone with him,” Michael and Leo said in unison. At a different time and under different circumstances, it might have been funny.
“Well done.” Michael was torn between glaring daggers at Leo and sending longing glances in Julian’s direction. “What have you been telling her, Leo?”
“Nothing. I can’t, remember?” Leo chimed back, all fake sweetness.
Which… was a really weird thing to say. But before anyone could touch that comment with a ten foot pole, Leo let out an irritated huff.
“I can fix the lights,” he offered, scratching the back of his neck. “Where’s your fuse box, Jules?”
Suddenly, Michael frowned.
“It’s not storming,” he observed slowly, with a building sense of urgency. “And there aren’t any outages in the neighborhood. Your neighbor’s lights are on. Julian, what were you doing before the power went out?”
Julian wanted to laugh, but it was really just one of those nervous stress laughs you did when you were incredibly uncomfortable. Just Leo alone seemed manageable, or even just Michael alone. But the two of them together like this felt like a bomb that could go off at any moment.
“They went out just as I was opening the door and you scared the hell out of me.” she murmured first, still sounding incredibly annoyed by that. She hadn’t lowered her brass weapon and stepped back far enough to where she was now leaning against the stair banister. It seemed she planned to stay on guard all night if she had to.
“Hmm. Before that I was asking Leo what’s wrong with him. Before THAT ahm…” her mouth twist and she looked unsure of herself. “The TV came on by itself and I turned it off. It was weird. Two journalists were out covering the eclipse in the woods.” She bit in to her lip, now frowning.
“I was dreaming about the woods before I woke up.”
“…Yeah, I don’t like the sound of that,” Leo was the first to voice what both vampires were obviously thinking. For the first time all night, the glance they shared wasn’t of the mutually lethal variety.
“Julian,” Michael said carefully, “I think we should leave. We can go to my house.”
“Orrr we could NOT be idiotic horror movie cliches, and go somewhere nice and public?” suggested Leo.
“Enough!” And just like that, the short-lived truce was broken. Michael looked downright livid. “Why do you always have to question everything I say, just because it’s me? Don’t you ever stop to think that I’m acting in your best-”
“Poor little Violet.”
“Matthew had to bury her by the stream. Says he’s going to tear out the murderer’s throat.”
“Poor little Violet…”
The whispers started out faint, but grew louder and louder with each new voice. The temperature in the house had plummeted; even Leo was shivering and Michael had gone pale.
“Both of you come with me. Now,” ordered Michael, and broke both of Julian’s rules in one go when he took each of them by the wrist and pulled them bodily out the front door. It was strange enough that he was being grabby with Leo; what was scarier was that Leo was letting him.
Julian was so out of her depth. THEY were scared and that was even worse than knowing the voices she recognized from her dream were now in her house. She was still chilled, even now being led away by Michael. She cast a look over her shoulder back at the house, with morbid curiosity to see if they would be followed, but hoping not to see a thing.
The candlestick was still squeezed tight in her hand and Julian bitterly thought even a knife or a gun wouldn’t do her much good against spirits. She still might have felt better if she had something more dangerous.
“What!” she gasped, only barely getting the one word out. She meant to ask something along the lines of What the hell is going on, but the a new realization was creeping it’s way up her spine. What else was a psychic good for besides telling fortunes? They talk to dead people. Dead people that have something very important they want to say.
And these did not seem like they had something NICE to say.
Don’t black out. Don’t black out. Don’t black out.
In the distance, there was a strange keening noise. At first it sounded sort of like an air raid siren, but it was much too organic. Something living was making that sound.
“No,” Michael answered Leo’s stilted outburst. “It can’t be. It’s an eclipse.”
“What the fuck is going on, Michael?” Leo stopped and dug his heels in. One of his hands had latched on to Julian’s, worming in past the candlestick to reach her fingers- because no one could remember her ground rules for more than five minutes- and so the three of them formed a little ring of linked hands on Julian’s front lawn. “I know it’s a blood moon and weird shit always happens, but this is taking the cake.”
“This isn’t anything to do with you, is it?” The accusation was sharp. Leo’s fingers pulled out of Michael’s like he’d been burned, his eyes bright with suspicion.
“No.” Michael sounded like he’d been slapped. “I didn’t- No.”
Or was it I didn’t know?
“We have to check this out. You know we do. And where we’ve got to go.” Grimacing, Leo glanced at Julian. “Jules, you up for working your mojo?”
“She can’t,” blurted Michael. His hand tightened on Julian’s. A moment later, he shook his head. “…She needs to be somewhere safe. She’s dealt with more than enough for one night.”
Was NO ONE going to respect the rules? At the moment, though, she wasn’t going to complain. There was a strange comfort in knowing she had a hold of both of them. Julian glanced back and forth between the two as they argued, her brows furrowing as she tried to decipher what wasn’t being said. There was A LOT. More than she could get to with fear tainting the present moment.
“I can.” She finally said. “We have to, don’t we? Especially if it’s something bad. I can’t go home.” she gestured towards the house with Michael’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Julian didn’t know where the bravado was coming from. She didn’t believe she could run across the street right now, let alone use the psychic mojo and do it well. But, they were freaking out. They needed her to be strong.
“Just. …Don’t let anything happen to me.” It was Leo she looked at, which might have seemed strange. But Leo knew best what she meant by happen to.
“I won’t,” Michael promised her, his voice fierce.
But it was Leo who caught her eye and gave a short, sharp little nod, and Leo’s thumb that rubbed a small circle on her palm under the cover of the candlestick. His gaze skittered away almost immediately, and he swallowed, but he didn’t pull his hand from hers.
“I’ll drive,” he volunteered, pulling his keys out of his pocket and twirling them on his finger. “Better my baby than your flashy bullshit. Besides, you drive like a grandpa, Mike.”
Surprisingly, Michael didn’t argue. He followed along to the car in silence and only broke their daisy chain of hands to help Julian into the backseat of the Mustang alongside him- necessitating that Leo relinquish Julian’s fingers as well.
“Hang tight, boys and girls,” Leo shot over his shoulder. He lifted his eyes to the rear view mirror, making a face at his passengers. Just when it seemed he was doing better, that sick sheen was back on his skin; his hair was sticking to his forehead. “This is going to be awful. Let’s try not to die tonight.”
“That’s encouraging.” she mumbled in the back seat. She squeezed and twist the brass in her hands. Looking down at it with a frown as if it were the source of all her problems. This is not going to be useful anymore… The blasted thing was for enforcing her rules, which were already completely out the window. Not that it was even important. Julian was simply trying to focus on something mundane instead of feeding off their tension. She leaned forward, stashing it under Leo’s seat. Maybe it would come in handy later, like the next time he called her annoying.
Sitting back and slightly turning towards Michael, her hands balled up in her lap. She examined his face, almost sorry she had been so furious over him showing up so suddenly. But… it wasn’t him showing up without warning that made her so mad. She should have known. Not because of her psychic feelings. HE should have told her about the Blood Moon and what would happen to them. This was something she should have known in case something went wrong.
“When are you going to tell me more than just vague allusions to things? Did you think a night that affects you like this wouldn’t be important to me?” Maybe she was short tempered due to lack of sleep, the never ending surges of terror and adrenaline. Maybe being angry was easier than sitting in silence and worrying about what they were going to do.
“That night you told me you were vampires I asked for the truth, I didn’t just mean when it was convenient. I don’t even know where we’re going.” Some of the heat went out by the end of her rant, hinting that she didn’t quite have herself together as she was trying to convey.
“Where are we going?”
It was Michael who answered.
“Where they want us to go,” he murmured. As Leo took off like a bat out of hell, Michael turned to watch the scenery fly past the window. “We’re going to where Violet Whelan died, one hundred and twenty years ago in the woods on her family’s land.”
He sighed, tipping his head back against the headrest.
“Julian, I’ve told you before that there are things I’m not ready to talk about yet. And this… I didn’t mean for this to happen. I tried to get a hold of you tonight so that I could explain where I was, but when I couldn’t reach you or Leo…” His voice turned hard. “Leo should not have been at your house.”
“I forgot,” Leo answered shortly.
“You forgot?” Michael growled. He leaned forward as if he might grab Leo and shake him, but then seemed to think better of it. “…Julian. I promise you, we can discuss this tomorrow. When things have calmed down.”
“Waiting to tell me things at last minute when it’s no longer avoidable is not gonna fly. I can’t believe both of you are so-” Urgh! She wanted this before, didn’t she? To let them talk about stuff when they were ‘ready’ to? When they were comfortable and could trust her? But waiting for them to be ready was apparently going to lead to situations like this, where she was woefully unprepared for vampire madness and a ghosts in the woods.
We’re going to the woods?
Once that set in, her heart skipped a few beats and for a split second she glanced at the door handle seriously considering fling the door open and jumping right out. On a normal day the woods were eerie. After a vision filled with all kinds of things, Julian had a feeling the Devil’s Wood was the last place they should be if they wanted to stay in one piece.
“That’s not going to be-” Hrmm. She couldn’t chicken out about it now. They couldn’t keep it together if she got upset. Tomorrow she could be angry and scared. As long as she didn’t DIE, there was tomorrow. Julian adjusted her tone, something softer.
“Then tell me what I need to know for right now.” A girl that died a hundred twenty years ago in the wood. Murderer. Monster. …Julian was not going to like the answers. She knew this.
“The lady’s making sense, Mike,” Leo chimed in from the front seat. He glanced backward, giving his cousin a bitter grin. “Why don’t you-”
Something slammed into the front end of the car hard enough to shatter the windshield.
Braking hard, Leo swerved; the nose of the Mustang dipped and then bounced back up with a shudder. Leo spewed a stream of profanity and pulled over to the side of the road.
Bits of glass were everywhere. Michael had managed to get hold of Leo’s unworn coat and throw it over Julian in about three seconds, so she escaped unscathed, but there were shards all across her lap and in Michael’s hair.
“Julian, are you alright?” Michael demanded, his hand brushing her cheek.
“Unless her legs are broken, we should seriously bounce,” interrupted Leo. “Right now.”
Wincing, he pried his hands off of the steering wheel and stretched his fingers. Bloody chips of glass slipped from his skin and rained down onto the floor board. Out of the hole where the windshield used to be, Julian could see a large dent on top of the hood. Whatever had hit them had hit them from above.
Julian was starting to think she wasn’t just being over dramatic about the going to die thing. In fact, she was starting to think it might actually happen tonight. With the rate things were escalating, if they stepped out of the car, they’d probably get mauled by a bear or a wolf. Wouldn’t it be ironic if instead of getting chewed on by vampire, it was some rabid animal instead.
“I’m alive. For now.” She muttered, still a little unsure. Julian shifted her legs to make sure they were indeed not broken. Glass went tumbling everywhere, but as far as she could see there were no cuts. She was stiff and aching, but unhurt.
I don’t want to get out of the car. She almost said it out loud and Julian had to fight back the urge to give Michael a pitiful look and beg him to take her ANYWHERE. She might not have been able to quell it entirely. Her gave broke away from Michael’s as she shook the glass off Leo’s jacket and shoved her arms in to it. If other flying projectiles came at her, at least it would offer better protection than the clothes she fell asleep in.
“This is why we’re supposed to obey traffic laws, Leo.” She finally said. Her voice was shakey, but at least she didn’t sound hysterical. Her questions about what was going on were now completely out of mind. All Julian wanted to do was make it through the next few minutes.
Leo didn’t answer her. He was busy scanning the treeline, still shaking out his hands. Julian could actually see the wounds closing up.
“Did you see which way it went?” he asked.
“It was too fast.” Michael shook his head, wrapping an arm around Julian’s waist. His palm rested on her stomach, his thumb brushing slightly over the fabric of her shirt. “I don’t think it’s coming back. I think it was chasing something.”
“Lovely.” Groaning, Leo ran his fingers through his hair with both hands, combing traces of red into the strands. “We should still get moving. It’s not like they’re loners. Fuuuuck, my car though…”
“You’ll fix it. We’re going,” ordered Michael. “Julian is frightened.”
A strange look crossed Leo’s face. He pivoted on his heels and started heading off the road toward the trees.
Michael leaned in to speak in Julian’s ear, his breath hot.
“Just stay with me,” he told her. “You’ll be safe.”
Don’t tell him I’m scared!
She WAS, but. Maybe it wasn’t that he said it but the WAY he said it. Michael wasn’t acting like himself – or rather, he was acting more like himself? Fueled by the lack of impulse control and no longer concerned about appearances, or second guessing, or holding back?
This would be glorious new territory if they weren’t right in the middle of something crazy.
This feels weird.
His every thought and concern was directed at her, despite the fact something HUGE (that apparently didn’t travel alone, what the crap?!) just smashed the hell out of Leo’s car. If she thought about the glass and the blood, and how that could have been SO much worse, she’d lose the little bit of control she did have. No, it was definitely better to manage what she COULD deal with.
Julian took Michael’s hand and squeezed it, turning to face him and hold up a single finger. Normally she wouldn’t dare use this tone with him, but this was a special exception. “I will be safe. But you have to focus. Don’t try to kill anyone,” by anyone she meant Leo. Killing his cousin seemed pretty high on the shitty things that could happen list. “And don’t worry too much about me.” she offered him her best TOTALLY NOT SCARED winning smile, tugging him by the hand to follow Leo before he got too far and she lost HIM.
She was now heading in to the woods in yesterday’s dance clothes, the old flats she used as slippers around the house, Leo’s pilfered jacket, and with a very touchy vampire boyfriend. There was no way this could get any worse.
Julian was wrong.
It was dark and still between the pines. Unnaturally still. The only noises were their breathing and the soft crunch of pine needles beneath their feet. There were no crickets, no owls, no unidentified skittering sounds in the dark. Julian’s eyes eventually adjusted to the lack of light, but even so she could hardly see a foot in front of her face.
Leo and Michael, though, seemed to know where they were going… whether it was a vampire thing, or perhaps just familiarity with the area was hard to say. Leo stayed up ahead, darting between trees. Michael kept to Julian’s side like glue, his fingers twined with hers. Neither spoke. There was a weighty presence in the air around them that seemed to whisper, Don’t break the silence.
But something did.
At first, it sounded like an animal. But the noise quickly morphed into a recognizable scream. It couldn’t have been close by, but it was loud and piercing enough that Leo clapped his hands over his ears. And it kept going.
“Shit, is that-” Leo began, just before a dark shape came rushing out of the woods and tackled him to the forest floor.
Julian wasn’t sure what was more unnerving. The fact that she could barely see and was wandering around aimlessly in the dark, or the fact the it was so silent but not really silent. Combined together was a mix she would have nightmares about forever. The only thing that made it tolerable was having a good grip on Michael, and the faint silhouette of Leo up ahead.
Until that silhouette hit the ground with an even LARGER, furrier one.
Sonofabitch is that a wolf?!
She was going to have to stop thinking things. Because thinking things seemed to MAKE things happen sometimes. She shouldn’t have left that brass candlestick in Leo’s car. Wolves, unlike ghosts, were plenty solid enough to clonk on the head and this one was going to eat Leo.
Julian let go of Michael’s hand, almost ready to spring on the back of a wolf. Luckily she thought twice about that. Tackling a wolf would get HER eaten. Instead, she stooped to snatch up a good sized rock from the ground and chucked it at the wolf. Her aim wasn’t great in the dark, but the beast was weirdly ginormous and hard to miss.
“HEY. DON’T BITE.”
One day she was going to come up with better things to say while under pressure.
“Don’t kill it,” Michael was shouting, even before Julian slipped away from him- and so it must have been directed at Leo, who was wrestling on the ground with the wolf, teeth bared. It was the first time Julian had seen his fangs out; it was hard to see in the dark, but they were prominent enough for her to notice. He didn’t seem to be actually trying to bite the wolf, though…
But it sure looked like the wolf was trying to bite his face off. It snapped and snarled, straining against Leo’s grapple.
Until Julian’s rock made impact with its flank.
The wolf yelped, and all at once it rippled from head to toe. There was a horrible twisting noise, and the wolf shape melted into something else.
“What the fuck is going on?!” asked a new- slightly gravelly- voice, as the thing on top of Leo used its hands holy fuck it had hands to try and keep Leo pinned.
“You can ask me that without your junk touching me, can’t you?” demanded Leo, shoving at the naked holy fuck he was naked guy sitting on top of him.
Wait. Was that Dylan McLean?
Werewolf. Of course, a werewolf. Psychics, vampires, witches, ghosts, why NOT a werewolf!
“And suddenly the world makes SO much more sense.” she finally said out loud. It was hard to tell if that was sarcasm or sincerity as she let out a rush of breath. All the tension and fear seemed to melt out of her body at once, her head tilting back to give the sky a weary why is this my life sort of stare. Being afraid seemed a bit pointless when there was a naked werewolf struggling with a cranky vampire on the forest floor. This was absurd!
“Get off him already! Why don’t YOU- Tell me wh-” Julian bit in to her lip, her hands were out, fingers splayed as she gestured awkwardly towards him. Even in the dark, it wasn’t hard at all to get a real good eyeful, and it was far too difficult to take him serious like this. Despite him having just tried to chomp Leo’s head off. Her gaze then went to Leo who was most definitely fangy, and almost as startling Dylan.
Julian squeezed her eyes shut, and that expression like she wanted to strangle someone was on her face again. But instead of her hands being out ready to strangle, they balled up in to fists with one finger pointing at Dylan.
“Words now. Explain. Quickly, please!”
“YOU explain!” Dylan retaliated. “What the hell are you doing out in the woods with a couple of vampires?”
Leo elbowed him, which led to a brief scuffle before the two boys practically shoved each other apart. Dylan scrambled backward, attempting to cover himself awkwardly and glaring at both of Julian’s companions.
“Julian is with me.” Michael was eyeing Dylan with equal suspicion. “I take it you know each other?”
“From school. I graduated last year, same as-”
“Me,” another voice cut in.
Julian knew that voice, too.
A young man stepped out of the shadows of the trees to their left. He tossed a bundle of clothes at Dylan, then crossed his arms and cast a piercing gaze around at the small gathering. Behind him, more shapes emerged from the gloom- some human, others not.
“You’re not supposed to be out here,” Caleb Whelan told them. “Not even you, Julian.”
“Caleb?” Oh holy shit. Everything was falling in to place. Julian was struck silent, blinking dumbfounded and at a loss for words. It really DID make so much sense. Everything Angela thought was completely off base. Caleb leaving was bigger than her. There were so many little inklings trying to pop in to her head, that Julian couldn’t focus on any of them. Too much was happening at once. Too many people and too many thoughts.
“You HAVE to tell her. You HAVE to.” It figured her bestie’s romantic drama was the one thing she was able to latch on to. “Angela is-”
“Caaaaleeeeeeeb, I looked but I couldn’t find L- Oh, Hi Julian!” Silvia appeared out of nowhere, barefoot and twigs in her hair, and then froze with her eyes wide. “Julian! Uhm,… Uh oh.” She cast her wide-eyed stare at Caleb. The girl now looked like she knew she was in a great deal of trouble. And she clearly was NOT supposed to be out there either, because she seemed to startle the wolf she snuck up next to.
“Is EVERYONE in Silent Pines involved in dubious supernatural gambits?!” Julian exclaimed in exasperation.
“Shut up Dylan,” growled Caleb. “And get dressed, my SISTER is here.”
At once, Dylan went mum and turned his back on both of the girls, kicking his way into the pants that Caleb had brought him. Meanwhile, Caleb was scowling between Julian and Silvia like he wasn’t sure who to argue with first.
He settled on Michael instead.
“What are you doing out here, Hightower? This is Whelan property.” Caleb had always been pretty intense- that was probably why Angela liked him- but right now he was radiating intensity and looking like he was ready to jump Michael at a moment’s notice. “You know our rules.”
“I suspect it’s the same reason you’re out here,” challenged Michael. He stepped forward, taking Julian’s hand. “You want to know what’s going on. Why some of you are shifting when you shouldn’t be, why the dead are speaking. The source of that scream. Our goals are the same.”
The scream which had, at some point in the past minute’s chaos, faded away.
“Oh, really?” Caleb didn’t look impressed. “Why shouldn’t I believe that you’re the ones to blame?”
“Jules can vouch for us,” chimed in Leo, grimacing as he got to his feet and dusted himself off. “Can’t you, Jules?”
At the nickname, Caleb’s brow furrowed. His eyes slid to Julian in question, then narrowed when he caught her fingers in Michael’s.
“Uh huh. We were having a grand old time of making no fighting and biting rules before my house got invaded by ghosts.” Julian was going to give every last one of them hell. She wasn’t fond of secrets, for the specific reason that she was TERRIBLE at keeping them. How was she not supposed to talk about this?
Michael took her hand and she could see the twitch in Caleb’s features. Her face flushed and she probably looked like she swallowed a frog. Julian knew EXACTLY what he was thinking. Werewolves apparently had a No Trespass pact with Vampires, or at least with Michael and not only was she running around the woods with the enemy, she was very obviously with the enemy. The next time they ran in to each other, she was going to get the disapproving glare and a long lecture.
“As much as I like scrambling around in the woods with people that can eat me, I would kinda like to get the bigger scarier problem out of the way.” Then silently she mouthed We’re NOT talking about this right now. at Caleb, subtly pointing at herself and Michael.
During this exchange Silvia had inched her way over to Caleb’s side. She knew about Michael for weeks, but was completely unaware about the other. This was the coolest thing in the entire world. She leaned to whisper at Caleb. “I TOLD you. She is like a super mega alpha.”
“NOTHING! Can I come hunting too? Caleb please, Caleb, Caleb pleeeeaaaase let me come on the hunt!”
“Absolutely not,” her brother told her. For a minute it looked like he was going to pick her up and throw her over his shoulder, but instead he pointed straight in the direction of the road. “Go home, Silvia. It’s not safe out here.”
“It’s not really safe at home either. Not with the ghosts…”
“Shut up, Dylan.”
“Yessir,” Dylan backpedaled, yanking his t-shirt over his head and falling in line behind Caleb. “I can take her home. Keep an eye on her.”
“You do that.” Caleb turned back to Julian and Michael. “I don’t like this. Let me make that clear.”
“Pretty sure you have, buddy,” put in Leo, as he moved in to stand with the other two. His fangs had mostly withdrawn, but he still looked… wired. His hair was a mess, tousled from the scuffle with Dylan and matted with blood and sweat and bits of leaves or glass. “Look, Jules is right. We’re wasting time here. You going to let us do our thing, or do you want to have fewer numbers to tackle whatever we’re dealing with here?”
While Silvia was giving Dylan a look that suggested he was going to have to WRESTLE HER in order to get her home, Julian was already taking a deep breath and compartmentalizing. It was the same concept as Leo’s impromptu lesson at the mall. She just had to push out the wolves, thoughts of Caleb and Angela, worrying about Leo looking like hell ran him over, and Michael… that required having to release his hand.
Once she did she pulled in another breath and started walking. Somewhere during their bickering the tenseness had returned, and fuck if SHE knew where she was going and what they were even going to do. This was her now working on instinct. Find the problem, fix the problem, go to bed.
“He’s going to help, he knows why.” Once she passed Caleb she turned around, still walking backwards and just narrowly missing stepping on someone’s tail and tripping over a bush. “To revisit Julian’s Rules of The Blood Moon: No one is going to bite anyone. No one is going to kill anyone. No one is going to pounce, tackle, nip, maim, molest, or otherwise attempt to ANNOY Julian, or I am going to spill the secrets of every last one of you. That’s right, Boris Faust. Especially you.” She pointed at a wolf. It wasn’t even someone she personally knew, which made the threat sink in all the more. Whatever Boris’ secret was, it was a good one.
Contrary to her threats, Leo was grinning by the end of her speech. “I love it when you get all bossy, Jules.”
“It’s kinda hot,” Dylan commented brightly, just as he managed to get Silvia into a headlock.
“Shut up, Dylan,” Caleb repeated, in a long-suffering voice, at the same time as Michael’s irritable “Shut up, Leo.”
The vampire and the werewolf looked at each other, equally unamused and unhappy that they’d shared what might be considered a bonding moment.
“…We spread out,” Caleb began dictating, and Julian knew that meant he’d accepted her terms. “We go in groups of three. The three of you can go as one unit and my people will make up the rest. Dylan, we’ll see you and Silvia back at the house.”
“Aye-aye, captain!” Dylan started to drag Silvia away.
“Agreed,” said Michael. “We’ll work better that way. How shall we contact you when we find something?”
“There’s these things called cell phones, gramps,” supplied Leo. “They’re like talky tin cans without the wire, so you can walk around with them.”
“I don’t have his number, Leo,” snapped Michael. “And I told you to be quiet.”
“This isn’t FAIR! I never get to do ANYTHING!” Silvia’s complaints slowly faded out of ear shot, only followed by a loud grunt from Dylan as he struggled to drag her towards home without getting anything seriously injured.
While Michael and Leo were giving each other the evil eye (Julian was pointedly ignoring both Dylan and Leo’s commentary) she approached Caleb and snatched his phone from his pocket. Her own phone was back at the house, still sitting on her nightstand, so she put in Michael’s number and Leo’s too just in case. …she was probably going to regret it later, but it was the best plan.
“There. I still remember yours.” Julian moved away and only got a few steps before she paused, having to turn back. A world weary expression on her features, and the most apologetic grimace. “And Caleb, I am really, really sorry for this, but I HAVE to.”
And then she full fist socked him right in the face.
It was like punching a brick wall and she immediately wished she had considered the whole werewolf thing before she did it. But she didn’t cringe. …at least not until after she had already turned away and started marching. Shaking out her now bruised knuckles and mouthing curse words at the sky.
“Julian!” Michael was on her heels, his tone all shock. “What were you thinking? Let me see your hand.”
“She was defending her friend’s honor,” said Leo. He glanced back over his shoulder at Caleb, who hadn’t moved a muscle. “And it was kind of awesome. Nicely done, Jules.”
The frown Michael gave him was downright forbidding. He plucked up Julian’s fingers, checking them over even as they moved away from the wolf pack and deeper into the woods. Leo scoffed and rolled his eyes, but said nothing more. Behind them, the wolves were splitting up and heading out in other directions.
“I’m impressed,” admitted Michael, finally satisfied that she wasn’t broken. “But Julian, please be careful. Werewolves are… temperamental. You shouldn’t provoke them.”
“Consider it a lesson well learned. Do not punch a werewolf.” she muttered. It was starting to throb, she was probably lucky she hadn’t broken her fingers in the process. But Caleb deserved it, no matter what his reasons were, or his intentions. He shouldn’t have left things with Angela the way he did. And Angela would never of had the heart to punch him herself. Someone had to do it.
Although the next time she needed to punch someone with a jaw made of steel, she would ask Leo. He’d probably enjoy that.
“They should be worried about me getting temperamental.” That came out a little more surly than she intended, but damnit. At this point she had every right to be. Michael would understand.
“Give me your phone.” she swatted at Leo, barely waiting long enough for him to comply before she snatched it to add Caleb’s number. After a moment when she managed to wrangle her scowling and her tone, she gave Michael much softer look. He couldn’t be doing much better than she was tonight.
“What am I following? The ghosts? A place? Cthulhu?” Whatever it was, it was tugging. She didn’t have to watch her feet or think about it (in fact not thinking about it helped a lot), but there was too much going on the woods for her to discern what it was. They were lucky she was even still walking by herself, let alone using psychic juju.
“That’s a good question,” muttered Leo. “Problem is, we have too many leads to follow right now. We already know where the ghosts want us to go, but it’s not ghosts that are fucking with blood moon mojo. And then that scream might be related… but it might be something else.”
“One thing at a time,” said Michael. He took a deep breath, obviously trying to smooth the frustration out of his features- but it just wasn’t working for him tonight. “The ghosts are what brought us here. The matter of the wolves is troubling, but it’s not our concern. The scream has stopped; we might be too late there, but we should investigate anyway. We should focus on the first or the last.”
“I’m betting the ghosts might be trying to get our attention for a reason. That could be the source, or at least give us an idea of what we’re dealing with.”
“Or they’re simply following their own desires,” argued Michael. “The scream is a better lead.”
Leo stopped, circling around to block Michael’s path.
“Afraid?” he asked- taunted, really. “Don’t want to face the past?”
Julian shoved her hands in her pockets (well, Leo’s coat pockets) glancing between the two of them as they spoke. She worried the inside of her cheek with her teeth, trying to think things through. Angela was a lot better at this. Putting puzzle pieces together with obscure bits of information. Snooping. Julian just… knew what she knew.
Maybe that was what they needed.
“Before I woke, and I was dreaming – there was no scream. There was the woods and the voices in the trees.” Now she also knew many of the shadows she saw were the wolves also searching. But the important part was the voices. “They’re trying to talk to me. …or to you, maybe. Hmm.” She went silent again, now chewing in to her lip and vaguely staring at a pile of twigs nearby. There was something to the way everything blended together. From one place to another. One time to another.
“It’s all sort of connected.” she mumbled her thoughts out loud to herself. “Then, now and later. We’re going to have to talk to ghosts, one way or the other.” Julian didn’t seem to pleased about that at all, but was resigned to their fate. …It was Michael she was now concerned about, and giving a curious, worried expression.
“I could do it without you, if you want me to. I know that it’s hard for you, and it’s not easy to go back to painful things. …I might need a flashlight, but I can do it. I just punched a werewolf, I’m not afraid of ghosts.” That was a big fat LIE. But Michael probably had a lot more to fear from a ghost than she did.
“No,” was Michael’s answer. Totally ignoring his cousin, he turned to face her. He gripped Julian’s arms firmly, shaking his head as he met her eyes. “I won’t let you do that without me, Julian. We’ll go together.”
He was leaning in toward her, his eyes on her lips now. If Julian didn’t stop him, she was definitely going to get kissed again.
Over Michael’s shoulder, Julian could see Leo wince and turn his back on them. It looked kind of like he was holding his hand up over his mouth, like he was miming being sick at them. Although it wasn’t as if Michael could see…
Julian leaned backwards and her hand clamped over Michael’s mouth. There was an apologetic cringe. One, because she had to use her bruised hand and that hurt, but more importantly it was a really dorky and NOT smooth way to prevent a kiss from your eclipse-drunk boyfriend. She would absolutely love to get a second chance at a good, wild kiss. But now wasn’t the right time.
And maybe, just maybe, a teeny tiny little bit of her was uncomfortable with the affection while Leo was standing behind him seeming completely disturbed. Not that she cared at all what Leo thought about their relationship. It wasn’t any of his business, and she didn’t-
Julian squeezed her eyes shut for a split second and let out a quick, frustrated breath. When she opened them again, she removed her hand from Michael’s mouth and cast a sheepish smile. “Tomorrow. The rules, remember? For now the ghosts.” She pointed over her shoulder in the direction that felt right.
“You’re right,” said Michael, although it wasn’t with much enthusiasm. His expression told her he’d be arguing about this if it were less spooky circumstances. Which was… also new. Michael sometimes disagreed, of course, but he never argued.
“Good. Let’s go.” That was Leo, who stalked past them to take point position again. He snapped a dead branch in half to clear the path, ducking under a partly-fallen tree. “Can’t wait to rustle up some spirits.”
He didn’t seem to need Julian to tell him where to go.
“We’re not far from the stream now,” Michael told Julian, confirming that he had a pretty good idea of where they were headed, too. Glancing ahead at Leo, he lowered his voice. “Julian… No matter what happens tonight, please. Promise you’ll trust me.”
It was then Julian realized she was about to learn the hard truths. The sorts of things Leo so willingly admitted, Michael was afraid to say, and she knew happened, because she wasn’t a complete idiot. Things she had so delicately avoided asking him about, as it was going to be hard to swallow no matter how much she cared about him. Michael didn’t want to talk to those ghosts because he knew what they told her would change her perception of him.
“I promise that you can trust me.” she assured him, reaching out to take his hand and squeeze it. “I’ll still be here tomorrow.”
“Though I might not EVER want to go for a walk in the woods again.” Cringing again as they drew closer to the stream. There was that tingling eerie feeling of skin prickling. She squeezed his hand tighter. “I do trust you.” she finally said, tilting her head towards him and smiling. It didn’t last for long though, before she was pausing and glancing over her shoulder with a frown.
Nearby something was lurking, stepping it’s way through the underbrush and the crunchy leaves with a surprising amount of silence.
When Julian looked forward again, Leo had vanished.
It didn’t take long to relocate him, though. There was a rustling and a crash in the woods behind Julian and Michael; somehow- no doubt due to vampire speed or whatever- Leo had gotten all the way around them during the brief time Julian had looked away.
And he’d found something… or someone.
“Gotcha!” she heard him say. “Well heeeello, what have we here?”
A moment later he popped back out of the brushes, a familiar-looking face peeking out from under his arm as he toted the culprit into view.
“I knew vampires were fast, but I didn’t know they were THAT fast.” exclaimed Silvia, who didn’t seem all that perturbed about being carted under someone’s arm as if she were nothing more than a sack of beans. In fact, she looked like this was pretty much the daily norm for her. She was now covered in even MORE twigs, dirt and leaves which suggested she had a pretty physical scuffle with Dylan.
Julian sighed. Poor Dylan. This was not going to be good for anyone. “Your brother is going to KILL me.”
“Probably not. He listens to you just like everyone else does! I TOLD him you were an Alpha, but he didn’t believe me. I guess because Margrit and Angela are like, so much more Alpha like, but no, you are the Alpha that controls the Alphas and now you have VAMPIRES in your pack! That’s so cool!” At this point Silvia realized she was being carted around and no longer appreciated the free ride. She started rolling and twisting and wiggling to get free. Much like her sneakiness, she was especially adept at being wiggly.
“We’re not supposed to like vampires at all, but you trust them, so I’ll trust them. Maybe.” she stopped her squirming to give Leo the evil eye. “I don’t know you yet. You better let go of me before I bite you.”
“I bite back,” Leo reminded her, smirking. But he set her down nonetheless, shoving his hands in his pockets and giving her a once-over. “Christ. You’re a Whelan, maybe, but you’re not a wolf. You’re gonna get yourself killed, kid.”
“Leo,” Michael warned.
“What? It’s true,” objected Leo. “Sorry, am I touching a nerve?”
He shot Julian a look. “Well, fearless Alpha? What do we do with the stowaway? Do I keelhaul her? What the hell is keelhauling, anyway?”
“I AM a wolf. …or at least I will be! I was trying to get the bite tonight since they are all running around in a panic and freaking out. But even kicking Dylan in the nuts didn’t do the trick.” Silvia straightened her shirt, but didn’t even bother trying to get the debris out of her hair. She looked wild and perfectly content with it.
“You are talking way too fast. You realize I didn’t even know there were werewolves until a few minutes ago.” Julian worried her cheek again. “Caleb wants you at home, I’m sure there’s really good reasons for that.”
Silvia scoffed, balling her hands in to fists at her sides and looking more like a petulant child than a teenage girl. “It’s only because they think I CAN’T be a wolf just because I’m smaller than everyone. But they’re wrong.” She finally unballed her fists only to rest them on her hips, she puffed up seeming proud of herself. “They can’t find me unless I want them to. I climb in the trees, and they’re all dumb don’t even THINK to stick their noses up there. AND I’m scrappy. AND I’m super stealthy and quiet.”
Quiet was definitely not what Silvia was right this moment.
Julian could see Silvia wasn’t quite getting the just found out my friends are werewolves so I don’t know what you’re talking about hint. But that was okay, as Silvia had the special super power of being so bright and talkative that she made you forget you were supposed to be worried about something.
She also realized they couldn’t let her go running out in the woods trying to get herself werewolf bitten. Leo was right. Silvia WOULD get herself killed.
“Would you like to come ghost hunting, Silvia?” Julian didn’t sound all that sure about the suggestion. But the only other option was making Leo or Michael take her back, and she didn’t want those two out of her sight either. She managed to get away from Dylan, surely Silvia wouldn’t be too much trouble with a pair of vampires and a psychic.
“OH MY GOD YES. I’m so glad we can talk about wolf things now. This is going to be SO cool! I can tell you about the pack, and you can tell me about the vampires, we’ll catch some ghosts, and Caleb will let me be a wolf.” Without knowing what direction they were supposed to be going, she was already hopping forward and skipping past them.
“Whoaaa, not so fast there, tiger.” Thank God for Leo and vampire reflexes! He zipped forward to intercept Silvia again, pulling a move Julian was familiar with: blocking her path with outstretched arms. “You want to be in a pack so bad, you need to learn to fall in line. Stick close to me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Michael interrupted, brushing past them. He was bathed at once in moonlight from a break overhead in the canopy. “We’re already here.”
Leo turned his head to look over his shoulder, a queer look on his face, and went very still.
The stream that wound through Whelan property was wide and dark, deep despite this year’s slight drought. Now that they were close, Julian could hear the soft surge of the water as it flowed through and around the black rocks rising out of its depths.
Something was floating in the middle of the stream.
“Poor little Violet,” whispered a voice, directly into Julian’s ear. “Only fourteen. Murder, murder, MURDER.”
An ice cold shill ran through her. Nope. NOPE! Nooope! Julian was supposed to talk to ghosts not deal with dead bodies. This was ending right now and she was going home immediately. The moment she could get her feet to move.
“Whoa.” Silvia was now rising on her toes trying to peer over Leo’s arms. Her eyes were as wide as saucers and she wasn’t even the slightest bit freaked out. “What is that. Is that a body? Is it a GHOST body? Wait- what if it’s still alive. I’mma get it out.”
Julian darted forward and grabbed the back of Silvia’s shirt before she went ducking under Leo’s arm and doing just that. “Don’t. You need to stay still. And quiet.” In fact, Julian get a grip on Silvia’s shirt, just in case. Her gaze then met Leo’s. She was just barely keeping the terror off her expression, mouthing with a breath: I’m not sure I can do this.
Leo’s mouth was pressed in a tight line as he met her eyes. He lowered his arms to his sides, holding her gaze, and then jerkily reached up to cup her chin in one hand.
Yes you can, he mouthed back.
“Keep your eyes on me,” he added aloud. “Don’t look anywhere else.”
Out of the corner of her eye, though, Julian could still see Michael kneeling on the bank and reaching out a hand towards the black shape in the water. There was a loud splash, and he recoiled.
Leo was at his side in a flash, grabbing hold of Michael and hauling him out of the way as whatever it was surged up from the surface of the stream and stood.
It was a girl.
At least, it was what was left of one. The dress she wore was waterlogged, ragged and stained. Her long dark hair was bedraggled and patchy, and there was a gaping hole in her torso. She lifted her head, slowly, and the curtain of her tresses fell back to reveal a tear-streaked face too pale for life.
She looked remarkably like Silvia.
“Why did you do it?” she sobbed weakly, blood-filled eyes staring blankly forward. “Why?”
Julian should have listened. She should have just kept her eyes on Leo and not dared to glance anywhere else. Because once she caught sight of that girl, she was falling right out of herself. Like in the mausoleum, everything was trying to phase out of focus. Her hand slapped against her torso expecting to find shredded skin and the spongy sticky feeling of exposed organs. She could feel it already. Sharp and throbbing. Hear the screaming.
“J-julian. I don’t think I want to hunt ghosts any more.” Silvia whimpered out.
That brought Julian back to the present. She grasped Silvia’s hand tightly and pulled her a step behind her. Then she set her stare on Leo and kept it on him. She couldn’t get lost in another dead person’s memory, not again. At least if she did, he would know what to do.
“You-” Jesus Christ. What was she even supposed to say to a ghost? Hi, my name is Julian, how are you doing this fine Blood Moon night? “Violet, you don’t have to cry anymore. And you are scaring your great times twenty grand cousin. You want to talk and not scare her, don’t you?” Yeah, not the greatest starting point, but she was trying not to freak out here!
“She’s my cousin?” hissed a squeaky Silvia, peeking from behind her.
“She is Violet Whelan.”
“I want him to say it,” Violet answered, wavering. She flickered like television static at the edges of Julian’s vision. “I want him to say what he did.”
“They never caught who did it-“
“-Must have been a monster.”
“We all know who it was.”
“The boy was always strange…”
“Stay away from him,” the ghost wept. “He’s a monster.”
“Leo,” Michael spoke up, taking two steps backward. His face was drawn, eyes shut. “I don’t think I can…”
“This needs to be over with, Michael,” Leo answered grimly. His grip was tight on Michael’s arm. “Whether you like it or not.”
“W-what are they talking about, Julian?”
Silvia now had a death grip (haaa, there went the nervous inner laughter) on her hand and Julian was kind of grateful. She just wished it wasn’t the hand she punched the girl’s brother with. Julian winced, though it wasn’t from the pain. Violet may have been the only one she could see, but there were so many others. Anger that had been simmering for a very, very long time.
“Violet was killed here a very long time ago.” Julian mumbled softly over her shoulder to Silvia. “She won’t be able to rest until she gets what she needs.” she said a few octaves louder. “…someone will get hurt if she doesn’t. There are others. Lots of others.” This hurt. Empathy for a dead little girl, and twisting mixed up feelings about Michael. Because it was Michael. She hadn’t been so naive to think he never hurt or killed someone, she knew he must have. But seeing it and feeling it right here and now made it REAL. Not just a vague bunch of words about the past.
“You’re right,” said Michael. He sucked in a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry, Violet. I’m so sorry that he did this to you. I should have stopped him.”
“Tell her, Leo.” Michael wrested his arm free of Leo’s grasp, opening his eyes to stare at his cousin sadly. “Say what you did.”
There was a brief pause as Leo locked eyes with Michael. The ghost of Violet Whelan stood silent in the background.
Leo threw back his head and laughed, turning away and rubbing his face with a blood-smudged hand. His other hand dropped to his stomach, like he was pressing down on an open wound.
“Alright,” he said, voice muffled. “I killed her. I killed Violet Whelan.”
“Why?” asked Violet, her head tilting towards Michael. As if in a twisted pantomime of Leo’s motions, she lifted her own fingers to the hole in her gut. “Why, why, why?”
“What.” Her voice was flat and Julian was floored. This wasn’t- It didn’t feel like-
“You KILLED my ancestor?!” shouted Silvia, who was now untangling herself from Julian and taking a step forward with fists balled at her sides. There was an odd mix of horror and and anger flittering across her features. She looked ready to leap forward and try ripping him apart, but she must of had a tiny bit of sense because she was hesitating.
Julian didn’t stop her. How could she feel something with so much certainty and then find out she was so completely and utterly wrong? Leo killed the girl. Why would he LAUGH about this. It’s not as if she doubted it could be true. But why would he not have said so from the beginning? Everything felt wrong. She was wrong.
“WHY? Hmng.” Julian repeated the question, followed by a strangled sort of sound. She could find out exactly why. No, no, no. She couldn’t go there, she didn’t want to feel that. Her hands rose up to her head, getting lost in her hair as she squeezed her eyes shut. She couldn’t control this. Why did she think she could do this.
“I’m sorry,” Michael repeated, reaching out for Leo. “I’m so sorry. It was all my fault.”
“Fuck you Michael,” Leo spat back, followed by another hysterical giggle. He shrank away from Michael’s searching hand. “You don’t get to-”
“But it’s true,” Michael went on. He had a desperate look on his face now, his eyes wide. “If it weren’t for me, you’d have never done it. I could have prevented the whole thing. She adored you, she was so young-”
Leo made a noise like a wounded animal.
The next thing Julian knew, Michael and Leo both were toppling back into the stream, crashing right through Violet Whelan’s apparition- which melted away, scattering like dust. Leo was on top of Michael, doing an excellent job of shoving Michael’s head under the water even as Michael struggled against him.
“You don’t get to talk about her,” Leo was practically shrieking. “You son-of-a-bitch!”
There were so many lies. They both withheld the truth from her. Why couldn’t they have just explained it from the start? Why would they even bring her here, let her have her misconceptions and get everything all jumbled? What use was she? Julian couldn’t get the questions to stop, and she was slipping further. But instead of flashes of memories all she was getting was bitter bitter rage. It was contagious and she was just as angry. Pressing her fingers harder in to her skull because it was pounding so hard that she was starting to see spots even behind closed eyelids.
A pair of small hands grabbed on to her arm and shook her. “Julian! I don’t know what to do. Should I bite them? JULIAN!”
“I don’t know! I can’t do anything!”
“Yes you can! You’re the alpha! You always know exactly what to do!”
That was the hugest load of crap Julian had ever heard. Because it was pretty clear that she did not. But when she opened her eyes, to see Silvia staring up at her confused and nearly in tears. Julian really had no choice. She groaned, pushing past Silvia to rush to the water’s edge. She couldn’t swim. She didn’t know how deep that water could be, and she had done such a good job of not dying tonight so far. There was no going in after them to pull them apart.
“REMEMBER THE RULES.” she screamed at them both. “I’M VERY PISSED OFF AND I SWEAR TO GOD IF YOU DON’T QUIT IT AND GET OUT OF THAT FUCKING STREAM I AM NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN. EVER.”
Mid-scuffle, Leo lifted his head.
His blue eyes were angry, that was for sure, but beyond that they looked… hollowed out. He was only barely meeting her eye. All the color had gone out of his complexion, making him look almost as much a ghost as Violet Whelan. His face was wet… probably with splashes from the stream.
He dropped Michael and clambered to his feet.
“Guess now it’s out there,” he choked. “I told you…”
One more time, his eyes went back to Julian. Like he was waiting for something.
But then he swore, kicking his foot through the stream, and marched out onto the bank, leaving Michael to help himself. He didn’t stop there, either; he kept going, heading back into the treeline.
What was that look? There was something more there. Just another example of things they weren’t saying.
“Leo-” Julian took a step to follow him, but stopped herself. She was stuck between the both of them. She could only handle one at a time, and she couldn’t leave Silvia alone. She took a few steps back towards the stream cursing under her breath at Leo’s retreating form. Then she finally turned.
She chose Michael. After all, she was pissed at him more.
Julian didn’t even wait for him to pick himself up. She stomped her foot at the side of the bank, still shouting. “All I ever asked for was the truth and honesty from you. From both of you! You are not innocent in this. Leaving out details and only telling half-truths is NOT being honest! You asked me to trust you, and then let me find out things LIKE THIS? How did you think this was going to play out!?”
Silvia found herself in a very awkward and confusing position. This was not her fight. The one she wanted to bite was getting away. Yet, this was a really good lesson in how you handle vampires. …or boyfriends. Vampire boyfriends! “Do you want me to call Caleb?”
“Yes. Call Caleb.”
“I asked you to trust me because I knew this would happen,” blurted Michael, wringing water out of his shirt as he waded out of the stream and onto the grass. “Because I- I- Julian, I don’t want to lose you. I can’t lose anyone else.”
For once, perfect Michael looked anything but perfect. He was soaked, his hair and clothes disheveled and dripping. His expression was wild, frantic. His fingers twitched like he was about to reach for her, but then he withdrew them.
“This isn’t me,” he rasped. “I’m not…”
Michael’s hands were trembling.
Silvia was already pulling out a little phone and texting her brother.
I SAW A ? WHELAN. IT WAS SCARY BUT COOL. JULIAN IS GOING TO KILL HER BF. PLS HELP ❤
Julian was definitely having less than friendly thoughts. “You didn’t tell me because WHY? I’d be pissed with Leo? I’m always pissed at Leo! Because you think you are in charge over everything and everyone and that I’d blame you for what Leo does? That doesn’t make ANY sense.” He always did everything so perfectly, had to have everything go perfect. Tried to be in control with everything going just right. …and here he was fraying at the edges. He had no control over anything and was completely falling apart.
“Hmmrgg!” she growled, squeezing her eyes shut and stomping her foot again. “I can’t feel sorry for you! I don’t want to. I can’t-.. hrrg.” She did though. Julian spent the entire night on the brink of losing it, she knew exactly what it felt like to think everything was slipping through your fingers. She was so angry, and her trust was betrayed. She couldn’t trust them, and now she couldn’t trust herself either. But she didn’t want to fight…
Her resolve melted and she caved. Exhaustion won out in the end and with a frustrated, conceding breath she sighed. “You can’t keep things from me. If I ever think you are lying to me again…” she didn’t finish the sentence, giving him a pleading look and hoping he understood how important this was.
“I never meant to hurt you. Please believe me,” he urged her, holding his hands up in surrender. “I just… You don’t understand what it’s like, to watch your best friend change like that. To watch him grow to hate you. To wish you dead. Don’t you see, Julian, I can’t think straight when it comes to him. Or when it comes to you.”
He pressed his hands over his eyes, hanging his head.
“Ask him about Sadie,” he told Julian. “Ask him what I did. You should hear it from him.”
Sadie. That explains the other day… She now knew the source of Leo’s shut down. Of course after tonight, they might be right back where they started. Julian doubted he would be brooding on her couch when she got home. She looked down and then shoved her hands in to the pockets of Leo’s jacket. She had a hostage. He wouldn’t be able to avoid her forever.
Julian itched to reach out and sooth his worries, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. All of those conflicting feelings were still there. Maybe she was wrong about about who killed Violet Whelan, and maybe she was a shitty psychic after all. But she was ready to believe her boyfriend was a murderer. There was something seriously wrong with that. There was something wrong with her.
“I am going home with Silvia.” she finally said. “I won’t make it to school, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Julian, wait.” Michael bit his lip, lowering his hands from his face. “We set the spirits to rest, but we still don’t know what stirred them up in the first place. Or what caused the Whelan pack to start shifting on an eclipse, or any of it. And… Leo is still out here.”
He frowned suddenly.
“Ghosts,” he murmured. “That scream. A dead girl in the woods, a blood moon… This is a spell.
“Julian, I know you’re angry.” Michael moved to Silvia’s side, placing a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “But I think I understand what’s going on, and I need you and Silvia to help me stop it. Can you do that?”
Silvia’s face lit up and she was already bouncing softly on her feet. The girl didn’t have to say a word, it was clear that she thought this was an EXCELLENT idea. Apparently she had forgotten just how freaky the ghost business was. “Witches.” she said in a hushed, awed whisper. “Julian, wiiitches! Please, please, please! I can hunt and retrieve the vampire too!”
Are you fucking kidding me? is what she would have said if this was Leo. Not that it wasn’t already painted all over her face. Her confidence was shaken. Julian didn’t think she COULD help. The appalled annoyance faded to insecure hesitation. Finally she nodded her head. She promised her help, and told them she could do it. She had to at least keep trying.
“…Alright.” she finally responded. “…but I don’t think taking Silvia is a good idea.”
“What? No! Please! I SWEAR I’ll handled witches way better than ghosts! They’re not already dead and stuff.”
“And what am I supposed to tell your brother?”
“Oh! Right!” Silvia whipped her phone out again and thumbed another text.
NVM. BF STILL LIVES. GONNA HUNT WITCHES NOW! DON’T NEED ANY HELP. ILU.
“There! Sent.” She held it up for Julian to read.
Oh god. He’s gotta be furious. I am going to die at the hands of my best friends werewolf exboyfriend.
“Give me that.” Julian snatched the phone. They didn’t need Silvia sending any more terribly phrased texts. “Lets get this over with.”
“Silvia knows these woods better than I do,” Michael pointed out. He stepped away from Silvia, leaning close to Julian and lowering his voice. “And she’s safer with us than with someone who lets her slip away. I think it might be her they’re after, Julian. That’s why the ghosts came to you, what it has to do with Violet’s death. They were trying to warn you that Silvia is in danger.”
He cast a searching look around at the trees.
“We have to stop them,” he insisted. “Whatever they’re up to… they’re not finished.”
That shook her out of her dark mood. It could make sense, with the context of her dream. The wolves, the voices, a spell… And Silvia looked so much like Violet. That could just be the coincidence of family genetics. But how often did coincidence happen these days?
Yet… her impressions of things were totally off point tonight.
Julian grimaced, but nodded in agreement. “We’ll take care of it.” Silvia was determined to run wild in the woods antagonizing her brother and his wolves. She really would be safer with her, Michael and Leo.
“I think he went this way.” Silvia said near a tree, her nose pointed up in the air as she took a deep breath. “Nope, it was this way.” She hopped off in the other direction.
“I have an easier idea.” Julian mumbled, pulled Silvia’s phone back out. Her knack for remembering phone numbers was getting a lot of use tonight.
You can’t abandon me now. I can’t do this without you. Especially if you want your jacket back without me using Angela’s bedazzler on it.
She didn’t get an immediate response.
“Silvia, listen to me,” Michael was saying meanwhile, trying to coax Silvia into giving him her attention. He wasn’t having much luck. “Are there any large clearings around here? Or… there used to be an old apple tree upstream from here. Is it still there?”
After a minute, though, a sharp ping of a text alert brought Julian’s focus back to the phone.
There’s something wrong with you, Jules.
“Silvia, that’s just a squirrel… Come back.”
“I knew it was a squirrel.” Silvia responded and stopped walking just long enough to turn around and stick her tongue out at Michael. Then her hands were on her hips as she thought about his suggestions. “There’s more than one clearing, so you have to be more specific. And apple trees! There’s LOTS of apple trees. But I know where there is a huuuuuge one!” She pointed towards some distance in the dark, bounce twice on her feet and started in that new direction.
The message ping had Julian sighing in relief. She wasn’t sure if she could take another few days of Leo avoiding her. She was still MAD, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want to talk to him.
Send. She chewed in to her bottom lip, hesitantly tapping the screen with her thumbs before she added more.
Which is exactly why you have to come back. Who else is going to call me a stupid girl until I get it all right?
“Hey Julian, you’re walking all weird.” Silvia was still leading the way, ever so often spinning to walk backwards to make sure she hadn’t left them behind.
“What?” Julian looked up from the phone. “Oh. I fell in class. Then I fell off a ladder. Then vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and psychic bullshit happened. It’s fine.”
“A psychic! So that’s what it is! I was hoping you would be a wolf too, but psychic makes a lot more sense. I don’t know any psychics either. Pretty much just wolves and more wolves. A BUTTLOAD of wolves.” she stopped suddenly, point in to the distance again. “Is that the tree?” It was way too dark for Julian to see that far, but Silvia figured Michael would.
“Yes. That’s the one.” Michael turned to Julian again, holding out his hand. From the way he was looking at her, it was obvious he was hoping she would take it. “Julian, I don’t like this… I’m sorry to ask you, but I need you to try and sense if anything is up ahead.”
Ping. Another text.
You’re not stupid.
I’ll be there.
Fuzzy warm feelings. Both of them were way too good at getting her to forget just how much she wanted to sock them in the face.
Which was exactly why Julian didn’t take Michael’s hand.
“No touching. Or all I’ll think about is you.” she admitted, finally casting a smile, even if it didn’t quite reach her eyes. Maybe that was her entire problem tonight? All she could think about was Michael and touching him was a direct link contact. He dominated her thoughts and attention every time she tried to user her psychic mojo. It was the exact opposite of working with Leo, where she was overwhelmed with every imaginable detail out of the ether. Even the ones she wasn’t supposed to reach.
Julian shoved her hands in the jacket pockets again and squeezed her eyes shut. Rocking ever so slightly on her heels as she tried to feel it out.
“Is she doing the psychic stuff?” Silvia popped up next to Michael, watching Julian curiously.
“Sorry!” Silvia whispered.
Julian frowned and her brows furrowed. Silvia was distracting too. How come she could banter back and forth with Leo and not even think about it, but here she had silence and all she was getting was trees and more trees.
Sunlight. It was warm, but thanks to a soft breeze it was comfortable. The woods looked different. Thinner brush, smaller, younger trees. There only the one apple tree, the limbs creaking softly every time the wind blew…
“I know you’re up there!” a light voice chirped, breezy and carefree. “You cannot hide from me!”
The owner of the voice rushed out of the treeline, scrambling to the foot of the great apple tree. It was a young girl; she was wearing an old-fashioned yellow dress, her black hair pinned in curls at the back of her head.
“You’re getting too old for this, Pip.” That voice Julian would recognize anywhere… much the same as she would the face that peered down from between the branches. “Go home before your passel of brothers comes and finds you chasing after a man in the woods.”
“I shan’t go home and you can’t make me!” The girl stomped her foot. “I’m not afraid of my brothers.”
Leo smiled, his eyes sparkling. “True. You’re not afraid of anything, and that’s the problem.”
Nicknames, always with the nicknames. Her mouth twist to the side and she was going to argue more. Julian didn’t realize at first that it wasn’t her. This was a vision. A memory. …this was not what she was after! Julian swayed on her feet. She needed the Leo of right NOW, not the Leo of then. Wait, she wasn’t supposed to be latching on to Leo at all.
Silvia’s eyes got wider. Julian didn’t realize how expressive she was. Something interesting was happening! And it took all of her effort to be silent. Which meant she was bouncing, and ever so often darting a quick look at Michael to see if they were even allowed to do anything.
Michael put his arm in front of Silvia, shaking his head.
“Let her be,” he whispered, although his expression bore a hint of uncertainty.
“Come down here at once!” demanded the girl- Pip?- as she circled the base of the tree, her face still turned up toward Leo.
“No,” Leo answered at once. “I’m hiding from silly girls. Speaking of silly girls, what have you done with my sister?”
“I left her behind with Adelia and Era. They’ll keep her so turned about with their nonsense that she won’t think to look for me,” sniffed Pip. “And if you’re not coming down, then I shall have to come up!”
Despite Leo’s sound of protest, Pip began to shuck off her shoes, hike up her skirt, and scale the tree’s trunk. She clambered onto one branch, then another with practiced ease.
“You’re going to fall,” Leo told her, swinging his legs over the side of his perch and giving her an exasperated look. “And your brothers will blame me.”
She laughed, balancing on the branch below him with one foot. “Then you had best catch me!”
“Pip, that’s not funny-”
“Catch me, Leo!” she sang, and windmilled her arms, teetering dangerously.
He reached down to grab her around the waist, panic flashing across his face. But she was still giggling as he hauled her up onto his lap and scowled at her.
“You’re going to be the death of me, Violet Whelan,” he told her.
“No,” she argued, tilting her head- and Julian finally could see her face, fresh and full of life and smiling. “I’m going to get bigger and prettier and then you’re going to marry me. You’ll see!”
“What in hell-” Julian hadn’t meant to say that out loud. She also had no idea where it came from and what she was supposed to do with it. Other than the fact she was feeling a great deal of remorse for this adorable dead girl and complete and utter confusion on how two people could go from that to murder. It was cementing her initial gut feelings that something wasn’t right. But she wasn’t sure what to think or believe. Nothing made sense any more.
“It- Sorry, that wasn’t-” She sighed, tilting her head back to glare at the sky. “I’m trying.”
Silvia shifted impatiently. “I could just go sneak up and check. It would only take a minute or two.”
“No,” said Michael. “We need to know what we’re dealing with. Julian, if you can’t, I understand. I can-”
A great black trunk, twisted with age. A dark figure kneeling on red-streaked grass. A wolf’s skull, the top caved in as if struck with something solid and heavy. A silver bowl filled with sludge.
A lifeless figure slumped against the tree.
Faces, in flashes. First Leo’s, then Silvia’s- but it was bleeding in and out of Violet’s. Another she didn’t recognize… and one she did.
“Walter.” She knew it just by that sudden feeling of all the air in her lungs going ice cold and how it almost seemed to physically shove her. Had she been moving, she would have stumbled. As she was now, stationary and tense, she just had to lean forward to get herself breathing again. From the very start of the night she had been worried Walter was lurking around, and here he was. Definitely up to something.
Maybe I am not so off the mark with everything after all…
Julian didn’t know what it all meant and how it was all connected – yet. The fact there were unknown faces was unnerving. But she did know he had issues with her, Michael and Leo. Talked to Margrit and now Silvia could be involved.
“I’m going to kick that guy’s ass!” she growled, turning to march off. Julian didn’t get farther than two steps before she stopped suddenly. If Michael was right and Silvia was the one in danger, they were now leading her right towards it. She spun back around to face them again, a conflicted expression across her features.
“I don’t think this is a good idea. He nearly killed you once already, and if Violet is connected and if she is connected,” She paused to point at Silvia, “that him we should be staying away from is definitely Walter. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Silvia had no idea what was going on, but this sounded like she was about to get booted out of the adventure AGAIN just because no one thought she was strong enough. “But that’s exactly why we SHOULD go! We’re all just going to be in danger, anyway, why don’t we just go knock him out now before he does anything else. I’m not afraid of bruises and spells and dumb witches. You’re just gonna send me away and try to go by yourself and not have any backup!”
Julian blinked, her face going a bit red as she argued back. “I was NOT.”
“You were too! That’s what Alphas always do! They try to protect the pack by taking on things by themselves and then they DIE because a lone wolf is a weak wolf. The pack is what makes you strong and we’re a pack!”
“You-” Julian silenced, then gave an exasperated sigh. “You’re too clever for your own good. But you’ve also been completely disobeying your brother and running around in the woods ALONE, so you’re not getting to make the choices.”
Julian earned the most surly pout anyone had ever seen. Silvia huffed and crossed her arms, but didn’t argue any further.
“What do we do?” Julian finally asked Michael. “We need to know, but…”
“What you need is a ‘witch expert’.”
This time, Julian wasn’t hearing echoes. Leo- the Leo of here and now- slid into their path, leaning an elbow on a low-hanging branch. His posture was casual, but it was a little too casual… tense rather than loose. It looked like he’d found somewhere to wash up; his face and arms were scrubbed clean. Weirdly, though, there were still blood smears on the back of his right hand.
Michael just looked at him.
“Did you say this was Walter?” Leo went on, avoiding Michael’s eye. “Figures. Now that you put it in perspective, this whole thing stinks of death magic. Or worse. There’ll be a ritual circle, something to bind the spell…”
“Uuuggh You guys talk about things too much! We can sneak in and the vampires can do the speedy thing and break some necks and then we’ll break the spells and stuff. It’ll take TWO MINUTES.” Silvia complained, although not she was sniffing her nose in Leo’s direction as if that would tell her where he’d been.
Julian pointed at Silvia for her to shush, but it was Leo she was staring at. She wasn’t even trying to be subtle anymore. The instant relief to see him, the squinting of her eyes as she looked him over, and finally the silent willed communication that could have been anything from I’m going to kill you., We need to talk., or Don’t you dare leave again. depending on who was interpreting.
“There’s Walter. I don’t think he is alone, at least I don’t think he was alone. I’m not really sure.” she admitted. Julian couldn’t be sure of anything right now. “There’s a lot of blood over grass… aahm-” she furrowed her brows trying to pluck out the pieces that were clear enough. “Wolf skull… a silver bowl with STUFF in it.”
“Wolf skull! See, now this wolf business. I’M GOING.” Silvia huffed and started marching.
“What’s he trying to accomplish?” Michael wondered aloud. He was one step ahead of Silvia, leading the way towards the clearing where the apple tree stood. “If the spell isn’t complete, if these are all just symptoms of something bigger… what does the finished spell do?”
“It’s not about us,” answered Leo, although he wasn’t looking at his cousin. He wasn’t really looking at Julian, either. Julian could practically hear him not looking at her. “Silvia is right. This is about the wolves. We weren’t affected by the spell; the wolves were. We’re not far from the biggest and oldest cemetery in town, but it’s the Whelan dead that are making noise. And he’s got a wolf skull and silver inside the circle. That’s what we need to focus on. Wolf stuff.”
He paused, steps faltering.
“Walter never mentioned werewolves, did he?” he asked, and finally, finally Julian saw blue eyes.
“Walter never said much of anything besides ‘vampires suck’ and ‘better off dead little girl’.” Julian replied, balling up her hands in the jacket pockets. She watch Michael and Silvia take lead and frowned. Hopefully Michael would be quick enough to stop her from trying to tackle a witch, or worse. Then she turned that frown to Leo.
She opened her mouth to say something – and stopped. Huffing with frustration, she finally just reached out to grab his wrist and started tugging him along with her to follow the others.
“Maybe, since this is wolf stuff, we should be calling Caleb. I’m not exactly ready for a Wizard Duel with Walter.”
“Walter is not ready for a WOLF DUEL with me! Um… who the heck is Walter anyway and what is his problem?” Silvia eyeballed Michael for the answer, just barely keeping a skip out of her gait. It was the middle of the night and she was STILL bouncing with energy. “I’d get it if he was like, pissed off at vampires, but we never do ANYTHING.”
At first, Leo dug his heels in- but it was only for a moment, and then he was letting Julian lead him without any fuss.
Michael, on the other hand, took clear issue with Silvia’s statement.
“So it’s alright to hate vampires, then?” he asked snappishly, a muscle in his jaw tightening. “Because we’re no good, of course. You know, I’ve met more werewolves than you have, Silvia Whelan. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume they’re all morally upstanding.”
“…Walter is a guy we’ve run into a couple times now,” Leo chimed in, his voice light. “Practitioner of death magic. Likes killing shop ladies, being bossy, and having pissing contests with vampires- which he loses, just so we’re clear. He seems to like Jules but also thinks she would be better off dead than dating Michael… so you know, he’s not all bad.”
Despite his flippant potshot at his cousin, something was definitely getting under Leo’s skin. Julian could feel a rapidly jackhammering pulse beneath her fingers.
Julian could actually feel Leo’s pulse, his heart was pounding so bad. Which, she really didn’t blame considering the circumstances. Facing the ghost of the person you killed. ..someone you very obviously cared so much about prior to the fact. There HAD to more to it. She wasn’t going to get a chance to ask for awhile. But the psychic mojo seemed to do as it pleased tonight. She glanced down where she was gripping his wrist. All she had to do was-
“You never hear nice stories about vampires. But everyone LOVES wolves. Jacob was a lot more popular than Edward.” Silvia retorted, mirroring Michael’s affront.
Well that ended her trail of thought in an instant. Julian choked trying to hold a snicker back and nearly tripped in the process, which resulted in a squeezing of Leo’s wrist in that split second she re-caught her balance. If they weren’t about to have a forest tango with witch that enjoyed killing people with death magic, she would have enjoyed the distraction of a stupid conversation with real actual vampires and werewolves about Twilight.
“And what exactly IS the plan if and when we run in to Walter?” she asked instead. Thank god for Silvia. What was she even thinking, actually considering prying and poking and stealing out memories? What sort of person did that!
Silvia turned around to bounce backwards and held up her hand to count things off her fingers. “FIRST, we catch him. That’ll be super easy if we sneak. Pow, splat, got him. Step two – we rough him up a bit and make him tell us everything! And then, if he doesn’t tell us anything you can read his mind.”
Julian’s mouth twisted to the side, and a peculiar expression crossed her face. “I’m not sure I can do it like that…”
“Have you ever tried”
“Erm-” You mean like ALMOST JUST NOW? “Not exactly…”
“Oh. Well, HE doesn’t know that. So we’ll threaten him anyway. And finally – we tie him up and present him to the pack. Where I will be rewarded for my excellent work and you guys can go back to doing whatever weird things you were doing!”
“We stop him,” said Michael, at the same time as Leo replied, “We kill him.”
There was a brief, tense moment as the two stared at each other.
“…Like that’s not what you meant too.” Leo was the first to break the silence. It was the first time he’d directly acknowledged Michael since knocking him into the stream, and he didn’t look particularly pleased to be doing it. He twisted his wrist like he was trying to break Julian’s hold- although he should have been able to do that easily if he wanted to, shouldn’t he?
“He’s dangerous, Leo. And Julian mentioned he might not be alone. We can’t just rush in and expect-”
“Not what I’m suggesting. I’m thinking something more like a distraction. One person to lure him out, at least one more to keep him busy, and at least one person to dispel the ritual.” Leo glanced at Julian, then at Silvia. “I know what arrangement I think works best for that, but I’m open to other ideas.”
“I guess we’re just gonna go ahead and break all the rules tonight.” Julian muttered. She didn’t want to KILL someone, even if that someone was Walter the Murder Witch. Maybe they were all used to dead bodies, but didn’t they also just have a grim and sad reminder about why it was wrong to kill people?
There was reality that Walter wasn’t going to have that hesitation about killing any of them, though. Julian finally released Leo’s wrist and shoved her hands back in to the jacket’s pockets. She was clearly uncomfortable with the sort-of plan, but she wasn’t arguing. It would happen how it happened, and she’d do whatever was necessary to make sure none of them died.
Silvia raised her hand. “I want to keep him busy!”
“Not a chance.” Leo shut down that idea immediately, to no one’s surprise. “You’re human. Whelan-bred, which comes with some perks, but nothing that will help you against a witch. You’re also what, fifteen? Maybe? And way too interested in proving yourself. Trying to prove yourself gets you dead.”
“Leo or I should be the one handling Walter,” agreed Michael. “It’s not safe for you or Julian. Silvia, you should wait here-”
“No,” interrupted Leo. “We need all hands on deck for this. Silvia’s got a part to play here.”
“…You can’t be serious,” said Michael, flatly. “You missed that part of the conversation, Leo, but you’re not stupid. You must know she’s what they need to complete the spell. You’d be giving them what they want.”
“All the more reason that she’s the best choice. And what else are we going to do with her? She can do this. It’s her or Jules, Michael. I’m the only one who knows enough to mess up the altar, so you’ll have to take Walter.
“Jules can take any place she wants in this scenario,” he continued, folding his arms over his chest. “She can play bait, and Silvia will come with me. She can help you fight Walter. Or she can come with me and help break up the spell. It’s her choice, not yours.”
Michael looked like he’d swallowed a frog.
“Well, Julian?” he asked. His eyes were lowered to the ground. “What do you want to do?”
This would be easier if she were a witch and not a psychic. Or a vampire. Or a werewolf. Or anything OTHER than a psychic. All she was really good for was-
Sonofabitch, I am a goddamned PSYCHIC.
Julian narrowed her eyes at Silvia first, the girl freezing like a wild animal cause in a beam of light. Julian chewed in to the side of her cheek, making Silvia all the more antsy when nothing was said or explained. Finally Silvia just cracked. “WHAT! Oh, what!? Don’t be creepy about it!”
“You’re safest with Leo.” Julian responded, looking a little bit distressed. Her face had paled a bit, but her resolve was coming back quickly. “You have to do EXACTLY what he tells you do to. Don’t deviate, or we’re gonna die. And I don’t mean by Walter. Your brother will KILL US if anything happens to you. He’ll drown me in the river, rip Michael’s heart out, and Leo will get poked full of holes for days with wolf teeth until there’s nothing left but bones for them to chew on. Got it?”
“Y-you aren’t serious? Are you? Is that… is that a premonition?”
“I don’t know. Does it sound like something your brother might do to the people that got his little sister killed?”
Silvia just squeaked.
Julian took in a deep breath. “I’ll bait and distract Walter. I’m at the very least, really good at being confusing.” she grumbled.
“You heard the lady. Come on, puppy,” Leo told Silvia, taking her by the hand and setting out again. “We’re circling around back and waiting to make our move.”
Julian was left alone with Michael. The clearing wasn’t far now; the tree was visible behind him in the distance, massive and twisted.
“I’ll be right behind you, Julian.” He lifted his head. His hands were balled into fists at his side. “I will always be right behind you. And I will never let anyone hurt you. Remember that… whatever you think of me.”
“Don’t be dramatic now, Michael. Those are the kinds of things people say right before someone dies.” It was grim and wicked sort of joke to make, and definitely not the sort of humor she used around him. But it was appropriate, because holy shit, she was about to do something insane.
Julian stepped forward until she was beside him, then paused. She almost reached out to grasp his fingers, but hesitated and pulled her hand back. This was going to require all her attention on Walter.
“I need you to wait as long as possible and not let him know you’re there. Otherwise I won’t be a very good distraction. Help me when I really, really need it.” Which probably won’t take too long. she thought wryly. She started walking again, turning to walk backwards for a short moment and finally offering a REAL smile. “I’m not going to be mad forever. After all, I might only have ten minutes left to live.”
And thus, Julian marched towards the giant twisted tree of inevitable death, pulling Silvia’s cellphone out of her pocket and typing a phrase in to it’s browser search bar.
As her thumb pressed against the screen, her vision suddenly swam.
An indistinct figure kneeling on the ground at the foot of the tree, surrounded by blood, reaching up toward the sky with a thin, pale arm. Michael’s face, twisted in shock.
Walter, but he was surrounded in sunlight. Incongruent with the rest of the scene. Blood on his chest. Leo, hands covered in more blood. “I didn’t do it,” Leo whispered, turning to stare straight at Julian. “Don’t let him die.”
Back in the present, Julian reached the edge of the clearing.
Just like in her visions, there was someone crouched beneath the apple tree, shrouded in a hooded black robe. They kept reaching up to a dark shape that was propped against the tree, taking something and leaning back down to work over a pile of objects lying in the dirt.
“It’s a body,” Michael confirmed, leaning in to speak in hushed tones against her ear. He kept a thin line of air between them, though; apparently he’d decided to respect her rules at last. “It’s… It’s been an hour or less since… And it’s werewolf.”
This was happening too fast. She didn’t have time to decipher flashes and put them in to context. She was going to have to figure it out as she went and bulldozed through the confusion with hope that it all fell in to place.
Julian took in a deep breath, and with a last fleeting glance at Michael, she stepped in to the clearing. The phone was in one hand, thumb at the ready to hit play.
“I think you are making some really bad life choices tonight.” she called out when she drew close enough.
Oh god. Who-
It wasn’t Walter. She couldn’t see their face yet, but it was lacking that floor-knocking presence that was so recognizably the witch. Julian was mentally prepared for Walter. She had a plan, she knew what she wanted to do. …but that wasn’t going to work if it was someone else. She had forgotten all about the other person.
“You-” Shit, shit, shit. What to do… she would have to wing it. “You aren’t Walter. That’s okay, I guess you’re friends. Maybe you can pass on a message for me. When you’re done with your incredibly scary and confusing looking ritual of evil, I mean.” She hit play on the phone’s screen, then held it out for them to see. A very loud video clip started to play.
“I’m sure it doesn’t make a lot of sense for YOU, but Walter has a problem.”
You had ONE job, Julian. One job.
Julian braced herself for the backlash.
The witch rose to their feet, the shapeless robe billowing around them as it caught in the cold wind that blew through the clearing. Now that Julian was closer, she could make out some of what she was looking at and match it up with her visions. The body of the werewolf was… not in good shape. Someone had gone to town on it with something sharp. There was no face. The bloodstains on the ground weren’t just gore from the murder, either; they were patterns, symbols painted by hand.
“Who are you?” asked the witch. The voice was young, female. So utterly normal that it was uncanny. “How do you know Walter?”
Her heart was pounding so hard that she could hear her blood rushing through her head. There was no face, no face on the body, oh god what is even happening. Julian was so woefully out of her element. She was going to die. The harder her heart beat, the more spots appeared in her vision. She finally just squeezed her eyes shut and tried to rely on other senses.
“Walter is my nemesis.” she replied, breezily. There wasn’t hiding the unsettled undercurrent in her tone. Julian was no good at pretending to not be freaked out. “I had a whole speech for him about my grave,” why did she have to say GRAVE, “disappointment in his terrible behavior, but seeing as he’s not here I’m at a loss of what to do with myself.”
“I suppose I could have a witch battle with you, but I’m a bit more curious about why you’re shredding the face off a werewolf in the middle of the woods.” Julian very deliberately did not introduce herself. Last thing she needed was to add an even SCARIER witch to her list of nemeses. Jesus Christ! Julian didn’t want her face cut off! She shoved her hands in to her coat pockets and pulled it tighter around her frame.
“Maybe we can go for a walk and share stories about Walter and how many people we’ve tried to kill today.”
“I’ve killed one person today,” answered the witch. She moved closer, stepping close to the borders of her circle and pausing just at the edge. Julian could feel her eyes on her, even though the hood obscured her face- a faceless killer for a faceless victim. “How about you?”
It was obviously a rhetorical question. She didn’t wait for Julian’s answer.
“So, what now?” she asked, spreading her arms to the sides and turning her blood-stained palms up toward the night sky. “Are you here to stop me? Or would you like to help?”
Julian almost took a few steps back. She wished it was because of bravery, but she was just scared if she moved that it’d trigger the girl’s predator instinct, and who KNEW what witches did when that happened. More flying knives? Force-choking? Julian finally opened her eyes again, squinting at the cloaked figure. Witches were people and people were easy to hurt, she reminded herself. Plus, who ran around wearing a big cloak these days?
“I don’t make a habit of killing people before the first date.” Her breath was still shaky, but at least this time she spoke with a little more force. Julian raised her hands, mimicking the witch’s stance with a flourish. “I came to stop Walter, but since you’re here, I guess it’s going to be you instead.”
“What’s the etiquette on Witch Fights, anyway? I’m new to this.”
The witch laughed. It was almost a nice laugh, a friendly laugh. It was far from the evil cackle one might expect from a murderous witch in hooded robes. Again, it was just so… normal.
And then she started to chant.
The words meant nothing to Julian, but the sibilant hisses that formed them were definitely not normal. The wind whipped up, tossing Julian’s hair and catching at the witch’s clothing. The woman wrenched one hand up as if she were trying to seize something out of the sky.
“Don’t want to die…”
“Why, why, why?”
“Poor little Violet…”
“Old Barry’s gonna take us for a ride.”
“Tell Christine I love her…”
The sudden cacophony of voices was nearly deafening. It was as if every spirit in Silent Pines were talking over each other at once… and it was Julian they wanted to hear them.
Right as they started, she saw Michael flash by her and tackle the witch to the ground, knocking her down into the grass.
But the voices didn’t stop.
Julian was hoping for the knives. She could DODGE knives. Making a strangled sound, she slapped her hands over her ears. But it wasn’t enough. They weren’t just speaking aloud, it was all piling up in her head as a sea of voices. And worse, with the voices came the emotions. Fear, regret, confusion. Ghost couldn’t just have warm and fuzzy feelings, could they?
She staggered sideways, dropping to her knees when it almost got too much. She was getting nauseous. Julian was vaguely aware of Michael now tussling with the witch, but she couldn’t hear anything but a jumble of phrases and the now hammering of her own heart.
“STOP TALKING ALL AT ONCE.” she shouted. “ONE AT A TIME. One at a time. Be useful!”
Okay, let’s argue with an army of ghosts. This isn’t going to go straight to hell at all.
Amazingly, they actually listened. The whispers and screams died down and were replaced by quieter murmurs and a steady background of staccato sobbing.
“Michael,” one voice spoke up, distinct and clear above the rest.
“Michael?” That was the witch’s voice. “Michael.”
With a shove of her hand at thin air, Michael went flying back ten feet. He didn’t seem hurt when he landed halfway on his back, but his face was pale. Shocked… just like in Julian’s vision.
“Tasha?” he croaked.
Behind them, Julian caught a glimpse of Leo with Silvia in tow, ripping a handful of grass out by the roots as they crouched at the far side of the circle. At Michael’s question, though, his head snapped up.
“Dammit, Michael,” the witch growled, yanking down her hood to reveal a mess of blond curls. Violet Whelan’s sobs of Why, why, why? broke the brief silence before she continued. “You weren’t supposed to be out here tonight.”
“I found your witch! Way to go me.” The sarcasm was thick, and Julian was way too preoccupied to feel properly sorry about it. The ghosts simmering down was a nice surprise, but now she was trying to wrap her head around the fact that Michael’s missing friend is a crazy murder witch. He didn’t seem all that thrilled to find out either.
Yes Violet. Why, why, why?
This was messed up.
And now she was pissed off all over again.
Julian scrambled to her feet and insinuated herself between Michael and the witch. “Hi Tasha, I’m Jules. I was under the impression you were supposed to be his friend, not a crazy, ghost summoning, werewolf murdering bitch. SO. Hey. What the hell are you trying to do here.”
“I have never been his friend,” Tasha answered, voice icy and brittle. “Michael doesn’t have friends.”
“Tasha, what are you saying?” Michael was back on his feet, his hand on Julian’s shoulder in a protective grip. He sounded like he’d been punched soundly in the gut. “You can’t mean-”
“Cut the crap, Michael!” she shouted. Her eyes were wide and wild. “You used me! I was your tool, your little pet witch. Well not anymore. Now I’m using you. How does it feel?”
Out of Tasha’s sight, Leo was mouthing something to Silvia. He slunk forward and reached out for the bowl of… whatever it was… that lay in the center of the altar. Just as his fingers touched the rim, something silvery and translucent slammed into him. He fell to the earth like a stone. The bowl tipped over, its contents spilling across the grass at his side.
At the sound, Tasha started to turn.
Shit. Shit shit shit. Julian paled, but she didn’t move. Her fists balled up at her sides. She couldn’t go running to save Leo. She had to trust that he hadn’t just done something massively stupid and gotten himself killed and that Silvia really was as clever as she claimed.
“HEY! I’m still talking to you.” she shouted, trying to draw the witch’s attention back. Julian gently pushed Michael’s hand off her shoulder and took several steps forward. She said she would protect him next time and she meant it. “How dangerous are these ghosts you’ve called up? Pretty scary? Can do nasty things if they’re pissy enough?”
“How many belong to you personally?” she continued, her hand rose and pointed towards the body against the tree. “Just that one? More? If wonder if I asked them nicely if they’d like to have a chat with you, if they’d have anything nice to say. Or do. To you.”
“Murderer, murderer, MURDER,” a chorus of disembodied voices reached a crescendo. That answered that question.
Her face red with anger, Tasha raised her hand like she was about to slap the shit out of Julian. Instead she stood there, shaking and fire-eyed.
“You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, little girl,” she told Julian. “This is bigger than either of us. Older than either of us- older than Michael. Even if I don’t spill Whelan blood tonight, I’ve already won.”
“What have you done, Tasha?” Michael sounded like he knew he wasn’t going to like her answers.
Her smile was ugly.
“The Iron Star still shines beneath the rust,” she sang. “My family comes from here, did you know that? I wasn’t born here, but my mother told me. Silent Pines belongs to us. We are still here. We-”
A knife whizzed past Julian’s head and lodged itself in Tasha’s throat. Her eyes bulged, and with a gurgle, blood started to stream down her chin and neck.
“Blah blah blah,” a voice called from behind Julian. “No one cares, you stupid cunt. Be quiet.”
THIS IS SO EXCITING.
At least it was until Leo hit the dirt.
Before that, though, she was learning so much! Silvia hadn’t been kidding about being a good sneak. She crept through the bushes with Leo without a sound. Knowing just how and where to step to keep from rustling leaves or snapping twigs. She didn’t even start laughing when Julian played her video, and she wanted to so bad! All she did was share a smirk with her new vampire not-friend.
Now she was putting that sneaking to further use. He told her to break the circle and get the skull. Breaking the circle was the easy part. Ripping up clumps of glass, digging dirt and knocking things around. Skittering to the other side to do the same. She even dug up an extra spot or two just in case. When Leo went down, everything went from fun adventure to REAL DANGER. This wasn’t a game anymore. Julian was facing down a witch for her pack. For the Whelan pack. Silvia couldn’t fail!
She spotted the skull and started creeping.
Julian choked back a scream, making squeaky Hrrrmg! that broke through all the bravado she had managed to build up. This was going to be burned in to her brain for the rest of her life. Those eyes and all of that blood. Tears threatened as she glanced up towards the sky trying to take in a deep stilling breath. The fact that he just kept POPPING UP unexpected was what made Walter a million times more scary than he probably deserved.
She let out the breath slowly and turned around.
“You’re a good ten minutes late.” she muttered, that wavering was in her voice again. “I bet you have a lot of ghosts too, Walter.”
“Hello again, Jules.” Walter stood roughly ten feet away from her with his hands on his hips and his head tilted to the side. Instead of the punk rocker getup or the slick suit, tonight he was wearing a wine-colored dress shirt and dark jeans. He didn’t look at all surprised to see her. “Jules, or is it Julian? Julian Hollinger.”
There was a thud as Tasha’s lifeless form collapsed.
“Don’t touch her,” Michael warned him.
“Ah yes, and your vampire knight-in-shining-armor, number two. I owe this one a good solid choking.” He scowled at Michael. “But perhaps another time, when I’m not so very busy. Get out of the way, Jules.”
The terrible, deadening thump behind her made her rock on her heels. But it was him saying her full name that made her cringe. So much for being an anonymous, unfindable teenage girl. This was now the third time she was ruining Walter’s night, and he probably wasn’t going to send her Christmas cards for it.
“How about NO and you go find some other haunted woods to kill people in.” Julian was mimicking him now, placing her hands on her hips. But instead of tilting her head she was staring him down. Or at least TRYING to. He just stabbed someone in the throat, she wasn’t keen on being the third dead body. Not being terrified was getting really hard.
“If we keep running in to each other like this, I’m going to get you killed. So you should probably quit while you’re ahead.”
Meanwhile, a raven haired girl was making very icky faces at a crushed in wolf skull. Her fingers wiggled a bit and hesitated, but she finally snatched it up. Silvia stuffed it under her shirt.
“How about instead, let’s take that suggestion of yours from our first meeting.” He raised an eyebrow. “Everybody walks away tonight, hm? I know both of your… friends… are having problems tonight. Blood moons are a bitch for vampires.”
He leaned around to give Tasha’s body a distasteful sneer.
“Tasha was a naughty girl,” he commented. “All I want to do is clean up her mess. As a token of good faith, as much as I don’t like vampires…”
He did a little wiggle of his fingers. Julian heard Leo gasp and cough, the first sounds he’d made since he’d hit the dirt.
“And you know how I’m a dick about the things I don’t like,” Walter went on, giving Julian a significant glance.
Julian went crimson and for a moment she was at a loss for words. Knowing Leo wasn’t back there dead was a huge relief, but this was a bad deal. There was no way they were going to get away unscathed. Maybe they would walk away tonight, but this was going to be a problem later. A teeny, tiny part of her wondered if killing him would be the best thing to do.
“Okay… We can walk away.” she didn’t sound too sure about it and even cast a dubious glance at Michael. But it was better than finding out how quickly Walter could pick them off. She had the feeling Leo and Michael were lucky the first two times.
“Don’t do any more dick things, Walter. Next time I will have something better than a cute video.”
Michael gave Julian the tiniest of nods, and then he was at the body by the tree in a flash, untying the ropes that bound it to the trunk of the tree.
“Is it Colby?” Leo asked roughly as he rolled over onto his back.
Michael’s face twisted into a grimace as he glanced back at his cousin. That, apparently, was enough.
“Shit.” Rubbing a hand over his face, Leo struggled to sit up. “Shit.”
“All’s well that ends well.” Walter stepped past Julian, squatting down and fussing with Tasha’s robe. He snatched a necklace from around her neck; the chain broke in one swift yank. His hand was around the pendant itself, preventing Julian from getting a good look at it. After pocketing the necklace, he scooped his arms under Tasha’s body and hefted it over his shoulder. “I’ll clean up the wolf, too, if you don’t want to.”
“I’ll handle ‘the wolf’,” retorted Michael viciously, speaking between his teeth.
Julian remained silent, chewing in to her bottom lip and very rigidly watching Walter as he gathered up the dead witch. Slowly she loosened just enough to inch her way to the tree, never turning her back to Walter, until she was standing over Leo and leaning slightly to peer down at him. Satisfied he was in one piece, she glanced over her shoulder and squinted at the line of trees behind them. Silvia was still close and definitely not dead either. Julian was both surprised and glad she was staying hidden and out of sight.
Her arms wrapped tightly over herself, and now it was Walter who got the silent communication. That frown and the narrowing of her eyes.
Leo’s gaze flickered between Julian and Walter, his mouth setting into a disgruntled line. He got to his feet and wrapped an arm around Julian, tugging her in close against his side.
“Come on, Jules,” he told her under his breath. “Let’s get you home.”
“Make sure she’s safe, Leo,” said Michael.
“That’s the idea, Mike.” He tugged at Julian, already angling towards the trees where Silvia sat in wait.
“Be seeing you,” Walter promised with a sarcastic wave.
Julian almost didn’t budge, not wanting to turn around only to have Walter throwing knives in to their backs, but finally she allowed herself to be turned and fell in to step with Leo. That was it, then? The night would end with a dead witch – their apparently traitor friend – their other friend dead, and who the hell knew what all the ghosts were doing now. At some point during that exchange they simmered down back to silence. Julian knew that wouldn’t be the last time she heard from them though.
And what is the Iron Star?
When they reached Silvia’s hiding spot, the girl lept to her feet to join them. “That was awesome!” she hissed, trying to whisper but not doing a very good job. “Not about the bad stuff, that’s pretty sad and I’m sorry that happened, even if you did kill my ancestor. BUT Julian was coooooool. I thought that witch’s head was gonna explode when you threatened to sick her own ghosts on her! AND I got the skull while the vampire was taking a nap.” She turned around to walk backwards and looked down where she still had it stuffed under her shirt. “I’m going to keep it if Caleb lets me.”
Silvia paused, waiting to hear the argument and/or praise from Julian and when that didn’t come she tilted her head with concern. “She’s gonna pass out.”
“No, I’m not.”
“I don’t think she can even SEE me.” she exclaimed, her eyes getting a bit wide.
“Would you cut that out. Here, call your stupid brother.” Julian finally moved, though it was stiff and slow, pulling out Silvia’s phone and passing it to her. She was just too busy trying to breathe and force her feet moving to keep up with Silvia.
Silvia grinned, bouncing on her feet as she shot Caleb a new text.
WE DID IT! THERE WERE GHOSTS AND WITCHES AND A BATTLE AND I HELPED. I’M OKAY TOO AND READY TO GO HOME NOW, SO STOP BEING MAD.
Silvia’s text received a response within moments.
Leo’s arm had migrated away from her shoulder sometime before they’d reached Silvia. He was walking alongside Julian now, uncharacteristically quiet, his hands in his pockets. He kept glancing over at her, though… and when Silvia stepped aside with the phone, he finally opened his mouth.
“…I’m sorry,” he said, so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
Julian stopped in her tracks, blinking at Leo as if this weren’t actually Leo talking to her. “For what?” She asked first, which was a pretty stupid question because she knew at least twenty reasons for tonight alone that he needed to be sorry for. She just didn’t expect him to SAY it.
“Tch. You know you’re going to have to talk to me, right? About all of it and everything. You’re always annoyingly blunt with me, why would you not tell me what was going on tonight? I noticed. I noticed a lot.” Urg. Maybe even noticed too much. Julian rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand. She couldn’t be tired now. They HAD to talk.
Silvia’s giggle at her phone was probably loud enough to alert every wolf in the forest exactly where they were. “Caleb says thank you and that I am the most amazing and useful sister. Do you want to ride a wolf home, Julian? I bet Dylan will do it. He’s dumb enough to say yes.”
“What…?” Either she was phasing out, or Silvia asked her the most ridiculous question she had ever heard. Julian found out when she shook her head to refuse and everything starting spinning. Before she could fight it, her limbs went lax and she slipped towards the forest floor.
[/et_pb_text][et_pb_button admin_label=”Next Chapter” button_url=”https://www.worldofsilentpines.com/black-sun-012-trust/” url_new_window=”off” button_text=”Next Chapter” button_alignment=”right” background_layout=”dark” custom_button=”on” button_bg_color=”#2c3036″ button_letter_spacing=”0″ button_use_icon=”default” button_icon_placement=”right” button_on_hover=”off” button_bg_color_hover=”#484b50″ button_letter_spacing_hover=”0″ button_border_width=”0″ saved_tabs=”all” /][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”1_4″][et_pb_post_title admin_label=”Black Sun Featured” global_module=”240″ title=”off” meta=”off” author=”on” date=”on” categories=”on” comments=”on” featured_image=”on” featured_placement=”below” parallax_effect=”on” parallax_method=”on” text_orientation=”left” text_color=”light” text_background=”off” text_bg_color=”rgba(255,255,255,0.9)” module_bg_color=”rgba(255,255,255,0)” title_all_caps=”off” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” saved_tabs=”all” background_color=”rgba(255,255,255,0)” /][et_pb_text admin_label=”White Night/Black Sun Chapters” saved_tabs=”all” background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” use_border_color=”off” border_color=”#ffffff” border_style=”solid” global_module=”2844″ module_alignment=”left”]
- Black Sun 001: His Name is Michael (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 002: Leo Through the Window (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 003: The Crypt (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 004: The Seventh Star (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 005: DJ Got Us Falling in Love (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 006: Dance Class (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 007: A Real First Date (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 008: Psychic Impressions (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 009: Angela’s Confirmation (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 010: Margrit’s Little Helpers (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 011: Blood Moon (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 012: Trust (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 013: Reconnecting (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 014: Angela’s Bad Date (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 015: Hide and Seek (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 016: A Chat with Mr. Anderson (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 017: Michael’s Birthday (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 018: Vampires and Laundry (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 019: Angela’s Supernatural Silent Pines Flowchart (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 020: Mysterious Ms. Abernathy (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 021: Ride Home (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 022: Ghosts and Festival (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 023: Halloween (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 024: War Council (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 025: All Saint’s Day (Original Draft)
- Black Sun 026: Not Meant to be Together (Original Draft)