There was smoke everywhere. It clouded the night air, sticking to my lungs, and my skin. My eyes burned as the ashes fell all around me. My lungs were tight, my breath coming out in gasps as I struggled to suck in oxygen. Pain was ricocheting across my body. There was a ringing in my ears and everything seemed to be spinning as I grappled to sit up off the ground.
“River,” I tried to gasp, since he had been the one closest to me right before the blast, the first blast. I briefly remembered there being a second one before I’d passed out.
Nothing but a croak came out as I called out his name.
A deep, wracking cough burst out of me, and I collapsed back to the ground as I struggled to get ahold of myself.
After what seemed like hours of torture, my coughing finally stopped and I was able to sit back up and examine my surroundings.
And when my eyes cleared, and the world stopped spinning…a scream got caught in my throat.
The extravagant mansion and the lush jungle was gone.
In its place was scorched ruin.
My mind was having trouble comprehending what I was seeing. I remembered my guys—the guys, appearing out of nowhere and ripping people apart…and then the explosion.
“Hendrix,” I tried to scream as panic swarmed in my stomach. “River! Caspian!”
Where were they?
I stumbled to my feet, ash puffing up from the ground as I moved. I was faintly aware of warm liquid dripping down my face–blood, I assumed, based on the fact that a drum seemed to be beating in my brain–but I couldn’t find it in myself to care how badly I was hurt.
I had to find them.
I kicked something on the ground that began to roll away from me. It took me a second to realize that it was a charred skull. A scream belted out of me, the sound tearing at my tender throat. When I really paid attention to what was around me, I quickly realized that I could see lumps of burnt carcasses…everywhere. Flames licked at some of the clothes of the still bodies, and I could make out features on some of the faces.
But others I couldn’t.
Were some of those bodies…them?
A sharp sob burst from my lips as I scanned the bodies, shuffling towards them hysterically as I searched for anything I recognized. But some of the bodies were too badly burned for me to make anything out.
“Heeelp me,” a voice croaked from somewhere nearby, scaring the crap out of me.
I limped a few steps and realized that it was the witch, Astoria. She was lying on the ground, half of her stuck under a large tree trunk that had fallen to the ground, what looked like a letter opener stuck in one eye while her other one stared at the world around her in shock and disbelief that this was her fate. Her arm was charred and bloody. I didn’t think there would be any magic that could bring that back.
Her unhurt grey eye met mine, and there was no sign of the hate it had carried before; there was only desperation.
My wolf was demanding that I leave her there, and I did take a step away.
“Ple-ase…” she croaked out, and I froze. I was desperate to search for the guys, but I was pretty sure this would haunt me if I didn’t try and help her.
I darted towards the trunk and pushed on it as hard as I could, her gasps of pain heavy in my ears. The tree didn’t move. Frowning, I bent down to see if parts of the branches were stuck in the ground or something.
Nothing was stuck in the ground. A branch was stuck in her. Going right through her stomach.
“I don’t know what to do,” I told her softly, and she whimpered, tears falling down her face, creating streaks through the ash that covered her skin.
“Ple-ase,” she rasped again. “Ju-st…take it out.”
She was dead either way. It was obvious. The least I could do was free her from the tree—I was just hoping it didn’t take any entrails out of her.
I pushed again, but the problem was that now that her magic was gone, my pain that had been hidden before was growing. The blast had only made it worse. Every push was agonizing.
Grabbing a rock, I began to saw at the base of the branch since my pushing wasn’t going well with it connected. My muscles burned, sweat dripping down my face as I worked. After what seemed like forever, the branch snapped, and I was able to heave the tree away.
“This is going to hurt,” I warned, yanking on the branch and pulling it out. The squelching sound when I did wasn’t a good sign. You didn’t have to be a doctor to know that. Even with how bad it must have hurt, her scream was feeble.
Blood was streaming out of her midsection. I put my hands there, trying to slow the flow, but it just kept going. She moved the hand that wasn’t burnt over mine.
She didn’t speak. But she didn’t need to. Her words were written in her gaze. Any rage I’d felt against her before disappeared as I watched the light fade from her face. In her last moments, she’d been so fucking…relieved. Relieved to say goodbye to what she’d become.
It was awful.
I was shaky when I stood up from her still body, the dizziness in my head getting worse.
My steps were shaky as I continued my search. They had to be here. They were magical, right? That whole almost drowning in the lake thing had to have given them the power to withstand the blast.
It had to.
Palm trees had fallen everywhere from the blast, and I had to carefully make my way across fallen pieces as I frantically searched for them. All the while, my ears rang and my head spun.
The air around me had been eerily quiet—not even the birds were chirping—so when I heard a loud whirring sound, my senses went on red alert.
The sound grew louder and I began to walk towards it, thinking I could hide in the tree line if it was something dangerous.
As I got close to the shore and peered onto the beach, I saw that the sound had been from motor boats. Ten of them. Armed men in uniforms I recognized from the government were pouring out of the boats…guns drawn.
I hid behind the tree, my pulse hammering in my throat. Squeezing my eyes closed, I tried to think of what I should do. I’d never been given a reason specifically to distrust the government—besides the whole Reject Island thing. They usually left the packs alone and allowed them to rule over themselves, but what would they be doing here?
All of a sudden, voices were right behind me, and I bolted forward, deciding on the fly that I didn’t want them to discover me. I needed to find my men. And I didn’t think the government was going to be very helpful with that. Despite the power that Hendrix, River, and Caspian held, I didn’t think they would be crying if the most powerful warlords in the country were suddenly dead and out of their hair.
“There! Stop!” a voice cried as I took off into the trees. Footsteps thundered after me. With my injuries, I wasn’t fast, and a second later I was tackled to the jungle floor, my bones pounding from the impact.
The soldier yanked my arms behind me, and I hissed in pain as my burn scars and the wounds on my back stretched. “Stop struggling. We’re here to help,” he ordered soothingly, but it didn’t do much for me since he was currently on top of me…restraining me.
“Hendrix,” I screamed, every cell in my body desperate for him to appear with a roar from behind the trees.
But he didn’t come.