The closer I got to my room, the worse the destruction got. My heart pounded at the thought my scent had led them right to the secret door I’d come out of. My bed was a mess of splinters and shredded cloth. There was a werewolf still clawing at the mattress; he ran away as soon as I lifted my axe.
“Great Æsir…” I breathed as I took in the ruins of the wall.
It hardly looked like it had been a wall at all, and the door barely hung on its hinges. the hallways that were supposed to be hidden were a mess of scraps, and I could hear the yelps and growls of werewolves among the screaming and shouting further away. Larsa followed me as I tracked the sounds of Leila’s voice. Another scream had me running even faster.
“That was her, wasn’t it?” Larsa asked in Swedish.
“Yeah,” I replied. “She–” I gasped, trying to choose which hallway to take next.
I didn’t hear the claws scraping on the floor behind us. I don’t know how Larsa noticed it, but than the Æsir he was with me, because there was a werewolf approaching us from behind. Larsa reached into his pouch and tossed the small object he pulled from it into the air. It hit the ceiling and burst into a small rain-shower.
“Water?” I asked him incredulously. “That’s hardly going to stop it.”
“Hey, I don’t know what all of them do!”
As much as I wanted to give him credit for that, the werewolf was already shaking the water off like a wet dog. It was growling, too. I positioned myself between it and Larsa and readied my axe. It snarled and lunged at me; I rose my axe swiftly to meet its leaping body. In the same moment, Larsa tossed up another of his magic items– I would have to ask later what they were made of– and dozens of stones of various sizes rain down on it. The werewolf whimpered and fell to the ground.
“Let’s go!” I said, still in Swedish.
We ran through the halls, following the shouting of Leila and Evander, and eventually reached the top of a narrow stairway. There were two werewolves there, one whose for was more brown, the other mostly gray. They snarled at me.
“Out of my way!” I commanded them.
They didn’t seem to care about my axe. Nor my anger. They thought it was enough that they were each bigger than me. Well, I didn’t care are their size; I was going to defend Leila.
Larsa sent up a beam of blinding light, and when the werewolves cowered and his their eyes, I charged. The brown werewolf whimpered an collapsed. I turned to the other one to find it enraged– drooling, teeth bared, growled at me in fury. I didn’t have time to raise my axe before it leaped on me. I heard Larsa scream as I fell backwards onto the stairs. The wolf snapped at my face, only missing because of the flames that erupted with the next magical item Larsa through.
“Lord Stefan!” I heard Evander call.
I tilted my head back to look down at him. Seeing him upside-down was dizzying, and my body ached where the wooden stairs dug in. The werewolf’s weight made it hard to breathe, and the fire would soon make that even worse.
“Larsa,” Evander called, “find a light blue gem! It will look just like ice, for that is what it creates!”
“Ice,” Larsa repeated nervously. “Ice… yeah… okay… royal blue is water, light blue is ice…”
It took several anguished moments for him to find what he was looking for. The werewolf drool and snapped at me, and I squirmed to avoid it as best I could. Then I realized that I was blanket in translucent light, shades of blue in the form of magical crests covering my body. Evander held his cane towards me somewhat like a wizard’s staff, focusing whatever ability he had on me.
At last, Larsa threw up the gem Evander had told him to, and a spear of ice plunged through the werewolf’s body. It yelped and and fell stiffly against the wall, where frost spread out from its frozen body– which also managed to put of the small flames. Evander’s magic had somehow prevented the ice from affecting me, so I was left gasping on the stairs.
As I tried to catch my breath, I saw that this part of the hidden passages let out into the main foyer. It was as wrecked as the rest of the house. Brom was rushing down the main stairway towards Evander. Jean-Marc was draped weakly over his back, barely conscious.
“Larsa,” I croaked, reaching up a hand for help.
He came down a few steps to take my hand, and Evander came up to help support me and get me to my feet without falling the rest of the way down. Once we were on the ground floor, together, I looked around.
“Did Tobias find you guys?” Larsa asked. “He was going to take him a healing potion.”
“He did,” Brom confirmed with a nod. “I found him next to Jean-Marc, who’d been left on the floor.”
“What about Erik and Xanthus?” I asked.
“I have no idea; they were already gone when I got there.”
In an instant, I turned back to Evander. “Did they came down here? Where is Leila– they didn’t take her, did they?!”
He shook his head. “It was the werewolves.”
“The werewolves took her?!” I was practically screeching. “Is she okay? Where did they go?”
He glanced over at the broken front door. “They won’t hurt her, if they can help it. Whatever they want with her, they’ll need her alive and unharmed.”
“Are you just letting them take her?! Why are you need following them?”
Evander met my look of fury evenly. “It happened just as you met those werewolves at the top of the stairs.”
Outside, several werewolves howled together, and then more joined in, and then even more.
“Great Æsir, what is going on out there?” I dashed outside in mere seconds. I didn’t care who did or didn’t follow me; I was going to go after whoever had Leila.
Nearly two dozen werewolves occupied the open field that spread out before the manor house. Some were running, others positioned strategically so that they could attack where they were needed. I could hear Leila’s screams coming from the cluster that was running down the road.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I run towards the stables, moving faster than I’d ever moved before. I burst through the doors, shouting out my demands. “Sleipnir! Get me Sleipnir!”
Within minutes, we were outside, galloping after the werewolves. I didn’t have time for a saddle; I could ride just fine without one. As we raced after Leila, another pair of werewolves drew up on either side of us. I looked to my left and saw Erik on the monster’s back; Xanthus rode the one to my right.
“Dammit,” I muttered to myself.
“You want her so badly that you’ll dive into any sort of danger,” Xanthus noted in his arrogant tone. “You’d walk through fire for her, wouldn’t you?”
“Shut up,” I snarled, and focused on urged Sleipnir to run even faster.
In my periphery, I noticed that the centaurs had taken to the field as well, some of them carrying Brom, Aubré, and the others with them.
“If you know what it means to burn for someone, you’ll understand why my master needs her,” Erik hissed.
“You have no right to force her into anything!” I shouted at him.
Xanthus directed his werewolf to try getting in front of Sleipnir, which backfired immediately; they were knocked over and left to roll in the grass until their momentum was spent.
“Stop him, Erik!” Xanthus called as we went on running. “The wolves need to get her to Matthias!”
“I shall not fail my master,” Erik hissed. He leaped from the werewolf’s back and onto mine.
Sleipnir almost stumbled from the change in weight and force, but managed to recover. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the vampire off.
“Such a powerful smell,” Erik seethed as his arms wrapped around my shoulders and torso form behind. He pulled my hair away from my neck and buried his face in it. “I shall enjoy drinking from such a strong, hot body.”
“Get off!” I demanded.
He didn’t listen, of course, and went on licking my skin before piercing it with his teeth. I screamed and twisted my entire body, forcing both of us off Sleipnir’s back. Erik hit the ground first, his back slamming down hard in the dust and pebbles of the road. He still held my body against his, bringing it down on himself. The jarring landing gave me the chance to break of of his grip and scramble a few feet away. Blood was gushing out of my neck, and I pulled a handkerchief from one of my pockets to compress the wound.
“Oh, that was delicious,” Erik said. he got to his feet slowly, fluidly, watching me as he moved. “I must have more!”
“No!” I forced myself to get up and move away from him.
Eric followed, laughing at what must have seemed to him to be frantic reactions. He was starting to move faster when I notice a creating running towards us from the direction of the stables. It was hard to tell at first, with the dark of the night, but when it got closer, I realized it was the moose I’d seen earlier. Evander and Larsa were both on its back, the faun directing it and Larsa preparing magic gems to throw.
The earth beneath Erik shook, then cracked, then shifted again, preventing him from getting closer to me. Another gem, and vines burst from the ground and wrapped around his legs. He tried to pull free of them, but more grew out, and soon his wrists and waist were also entangled.
Evander pulled the moose to a stop next to me. “It’s much harder to look out for your safety when you rush out so suddenly, Lord Stefan.”
I glared up at him. “I don’t care. You should be chasing after Leila, not me!”
“I can’t let you fall in this battle,” Evander told me and he slid off of the moose and accepted one of the vials from Larsa. “Erik would have utterly consumed you if he could; he doesn’t regard you the same way they do Leila. Come, let me see your wound.”
Evander ignored my cold look and placed a hand over mind. He gently pulled the handkerchief away from my neck.
“He only got enough to get a taste of me,” I grumbled.
“I see,” Evander murmured he opened the vial of rosy potion and placed a couple drops on each bite mark, then had me drink the rest of it. “He wants more, I’m certain. We’ll make sure he doesn’t get any, though.”
The wounds tingled where he’d put the potion. I felt the blood stop flowing and the pain subside, and looked to him in surprise. “I thought I had to drink it for it to work.”
He smiled warmly. “When you drink it, the potion heals the parts of your body that need it most. Applied directly to wounds, it works much faster.”
“Topical and ingestible… heh.” I felt the soreness of my bruises start to fade as well; getting knocked over several times that evening had not been a pleasant experience, especially with all the stairs involved. “Okay, I’m fine now– let’s focus on Leila!”
I looked up and gazed around the field. The last few vampires and werewolves ran out of the manor house, chased by Nikolai and a couple guards. Closer to the woods, wolves were howling, and most of the ones still in the field started heading that way, leaving behind their fight with the centaurs and other men. Sleipnir had curved around to come back to me, and I leaped onto his back.
Evander had already formed a magic barrier around Erik; if he managed to get out of the vines, he still wouldn’t be able to do much unless Evander released him.
“Larsa, can you ride the moose and follow Stefan?” the faun asked.
“Yeah,” Larsa replied with a nod. “It shouldn’t be too different from the reindeer I’ve ridden back home.”
“Be careful; protect him, but don’t try to fight. Just keep the wolves off of him so he can get to Leila.”
I didn’t give them any more time to talk. Sleipnir and I were already charging across the field, and I threw axes at the wolves who tried to get in my way. As I got closer to the woods, I saw that there was a carriage waiting just within the tree-line; the group of werewolves that had Leila were headed strait towards it. I had to make sure they didn’t get her there.
Xanthus had gotten up and was riding one of the werewolves to follow Leila. When he saw me, he leaped off and ordered the wolf to pounce on Sleipnir. It snarled and leaped, but Sleipnir had already risen onto his hind legs. The werewolf arced back down, and Sleipnir came down, cracking his ribs. He gave one last yelp, and was left behind as Sleipnir ran on.
“You beast!” Xanthus screech at me.
He started running after us, and I threw an axe back at him. “Faster, Sleipnir,” I urged him. “Leila needs us!”
Another shriek passed over the field like a sonic wave. It felt as though it pierced through my skull, and Sleipnir slowed down when he heard it. There were flashes of light behind me, which I assumed were Larsa using the magic gems. Up ahead, werewolves were disappearing into the darkness of the woods. Several of them surrounded the carriage, and I could hear Leila screaming.
“Almost there,” I told myself.
The carriage began rolling into the woods. I shouted for them to stop, to wait, but they ignored me completely. Another cry crossed the field as the last few wolves and vampires slipped between the trees, and the forest seemed to become infinitely darker. Sleipnir carried along the road, determined to follow the carriage even through the darkness, but stopped when Argos blocked his path.
“What the hell are you doing?!” I shout at the centaur whom Sleipnir had narrowly stopped himself from trampling. “I need to help Leila!”
“Not in the weeds at night,” Argos replied. “Look closer.”
I peered into the shadows, trying to figure out what he meant. Larsa followed my gaze, even using white gem to try shedding light into it. There was a brief glimpse of wild animals and hidden monsters, and then the light faded far faster than it should have.
“What…” I breathed.
“It’s shadow magic,” Argos explained. “It’s stronger at night”
“But… You have to have someone who can fight it!”
Evander and some of the others caught up to us as we spoke.
“We’d hardly make any progress through the woods if we tried passing through at night,” the faun said. “It’s best that we avoid the heavy losses it would cost us and go after them in the morning.”
“That’s hours from now!”
“It would take us hours to get through that,” Brom replied, pointing to the forest. I noticed a grayish, cloud-like entity floating through the branches. “We can’t even touch some of the things in there with what we have now.”
“Leila…” I gasped, staring longingly into the darkness.
“She will live,” a voice behind us growled. “Your woman’s life is not at risk, yet you could have killed him!”
I turned around to see Erik approaching, Xanthus leaning on him, half-conscious. My throwing axe had struck on of his horns.
“She didn’t want to go with you!” I seethed.
“Maybe she would have,” Xanthus groaned, “if you’d let her hear us out.”
“First Brielle, and now Leila?” I asked.
“Yes,” Erik said. “Your inability to understand is tiresome. Go back to Earth and let us handle this.”
“Not without Leila!” I snapped.
Brom walked up to Erik and Xanthus. He managed to pull the axe out of his horn. “Tell your master to expect guests,” he told the vampire. “We’re not letting you have her unattended.”
Erik narrowed his eyes at him. “He won’t appreciate the deaths your berserker caused.”
“Why are you point at me?!” I asked “You attacked Jean-Marc’s house!”
Erik scoffed but otherwise ignored me. “My master will expect that you and yours show him the utmost respect.”
Brom seemed unmoved. “Just keep Leila safe he said.”
After that, Erik and Xanthus disappeared into the forest. I tried to follow, but even Sleipnir wouldn’t go.
“Leila…” I whispered. The quiet of the night was starting to sink in, and I could feel my body trembling.
“Is she really going to be okay?” Larsa asked. “What did they take her for that you’re so sure won’t hurt her?”
“I have a few ideas,” Evander told him, “but we shall discuss them later. Lord Stefan, you should come down from your steed.”
“What? No… I…” Then I realized that I was light-headed. My shaking felt worse, by vision blurred, and my body…
Evander’s sigils of light surrounded me even as I felt my body begin to slip. It seemed as though the magic crests carried my down to the ground as gentle as a cloud. They let me lie in the grass ask I tried to catch my breath, but between the cold night air and the way my heartbeat felt as thought it could cause earthquakes, I thought that would never happen. My chest felt tight, and my head was foggy.
“Give him some space,” Larsa told the others as he knelt down beside me. “I think it’s shock or a panic attack or something.”
I felt his hand rubbing my back as he spoke soothing words. I couldn’t hear them clearly anymore. I could hardly even see them. I called Leila’s name one last time before my body became wracked by sobs to bad that I could hardly breathe. They had taken away my light, my queen, and no matter what shadows I was willing to brave for her, I couldn’t rescue her that night. Knowing that, how could I possibly be worthy of her affections even when I did get back to her?