Chapter seventeen – Finale, part two
Chapter seventeen – Finale, part two
My gods, guys, I am so sorry for the delay! This was supposed to be brought online over a week ago. I can’t believe it has taken me so long to write this! It took two weeks! Two full weeks! 0.o
Of course, there’s dozens of small reasons as to why it took so long, but that’s both boring to hear for you guys and no real excuse, so, I’ll just say I’m very sorry. >.<
Anyway- this is the last “official” chapter in Raven’s generation. I hope you’ve all enjoyed her story as much as I have. There will be some questions left unanswered, but they are most likely part of the bigger story, so I’ll end up adressing them in the future. =)
My breathing was shallow. In a crouching position, I hid close to the ground as I watched the dark bricked building in the distance. It was a depressing sight, fit for something that was meant as a prison. Even though most of the cells were supposed to be empty, there seemed to be a high number of guards present. And I knew the reason why.
Somewhere in there, they were keeping Selene.
I diverted my gaze from the front entrance as the disposable cell phone in my pocket began to buzz. I was immediately grateful for the fact that I had put it on vibrate before, and yanked it out of my pocket.
‘Tybalt?’ I replied, in a hushed tone. Just a few minutes ago, I’d left him behind in his hideout and charged on alone. He wasn’t happy with that, but he knew that he couldn’t stop me, either.
‘What is it?’
‘Are you at the prison yet?’ his voice sounded through the device.
‘Yes. I’m waiting for the right moment.’
‘Don’t go in on your own! Derek just hid the mother in the outskirts like we agreed on, and they’re all on their way here now. We should wait, think of a strategy-‘
‘We have a strategy,’ I whispered back. ‘Get the girl back and flee into the mountains up north, where we’ll make all three of them disappear. Waiting here for the sun to rise is not an option, Tybalt!’
‘We have only a few hours until sunrise. If we want this to work, I need to get in there nów.’
I could hear Tybalt opening his mouth to protest again, but before he could get out a single word, I’d hit the cancel button on my phone and ended the call. In the far distance, the man standing guard turned around and walked inside, probably to be switched out by another guard soon. Now was my chance. I probably wouldn’t get an opportunity like this again tonight.
Slowly, I made my way over around the old trees and shrubs surrounding the prison. The trick now was to be stealthy. If anyone saw me before I had the chance to sneak up on the next guard on duty, all elements of surprise that I had would instantly disappear. Worse even – if anyone saw me and hit the alarm before I entered, there would be no way that I could get to Selene in time.
Fortunately, the new guard didn’t seem ready for duty. Fully in sight, he yawned and stretched his body. That was good. Taking him out would be easier if the man was tired to begin with. I smiled slightly and snuck up on the entrance, tiptoeing my way to the guard and approaching him from behind.
With a decisive blow, I struck him on the back of his head. The guard never saw it coming and took the full hit, groaning softly as he fell to the floor. Of course, a blow this hard wouldn’t kill him. At the most, it would knock him out for an hour or so. But that was just what I wanted; enough time to get in there, find Selene and hightail it out without anyone sounding the alarm. The chances of me actually pulling that off were slim… but I was off to a good start.
To make sure that no one would see him too soon, I dragged the man’s body to a blind corner in the building. He was heavy, but the adrenaline made it feel like I was pulling along a feather. In his pocket, I could see a set of cell door keys. I quickly grabbed them. Those would let me into the building, but which one did I need?
Just as I wanted to take closer look, something happened that made my heart stop. The front door opened, and I could hear footsteps headed right to where I was. Another guard, or whoever it was, started talking to the knocked-out man next to me as he turned the corner.
‘Kale, you forgot your-‘
I froze. He froze. In that one tiny second, our eyes made contact and I knew that it was over. My chance was ruined. He’d sound the alarm or scream, and that meant the exact same thing as more guards would come rushing in that I wouldn’t be able to overpower on my own.
I’d failed. Again.
And then something amazing happened. A brown flash shot out from behind the corner, but instead of going towards me like I’d thought it would, it went straight to the guard. Derek grabbed the man by the shoulder and planted his knee in his stomach, with such force that he fell to the ground instantly. A second knock to the head, and that was another guard down.
‘Derek?!’ I gasped loudly. ‘Tybalt? Where did you guys come from?’
‘Darn, it Raven, why do you always have to do everything on your own?!’ Derek yelled back.
‘I- I don’t-‘
‘If you’d let me finish that call,’ Tybalt said, cutting off my sentence, ‘you’d know that Derek was almost here already and we could have infiltrated together. I’m really pissed at you now, Raven.’
‘I’m sorry. I was too hasty. Thank you for having my back, guys.’
With that, his angry expression disappeared and Tybalt gave me a wink. ‘Always.’
Derek dropped the fallen guard and made his way over to the front door. Pushing it open slowly, he first peeked into the hallway before throwing the word: ‘clear!’ over his shoulder and sneaking in. Tybalt and I followed right behind him.
‘Hold up,’ Tybalt muttered, as we snuck past the first row of steel doors. He pointed to the room to our left, frowning. ‘In there.’
I followed his gaze and saw a couch full of guards watching television. There were two more on the other side of the room, engaged in a lively match of chess. I knew what Tybalt was trying to say. If we somehow made the alarm go off, all of them would come charging towards us. Five guards at once was too much, even for us.
‘Wait here,’ Tybalt whispered, before turning around and running right back out of the building. I exchanged confused glances with Derek. What on Maker was he up to?
Our unspoken question was soon answered. After a few minutes, Tybalt came running back with a big, wooden cart wheel. It looked old, but sturdy enough to withstand a few hits.
‘We don’t hold ‘em in long like this, but it might be just long enough,’ Tybalt explained, and placed the cart wheel over the door knobs. The wheel slid down, getting stuck between the metal.
‘Genius, Tybalt!’ I praised him. ‘Come on. Let’s keep going while we still have surprise on our side.’
And with that, our search could begin. As I’d thought, most of the open cells were empty. There was only one person imprisoned, and he was sleeping on the floor so heavily that I suspected it was because of public drunkenness. There were also no guards, and I knew that they would not be keeping a vampire here. Selene would be downstairs, in one of the isolation cells.
But strangely enough, those too were empty.
‘Boss, what if she’s not here?’ I heard Derek ask from behind me, as he walked backwards to cover our rear. ‘What if they’ve already taken her?’
‘She has to be here,’ I said sharply. The thought of being too late was unbearable. ‘She has to-‘
And then I saw her. Behind a thick, steel door, a tiny glowing figure crouched on the floor. Selene was curled up into a ball in the far corner of the room, her head facing downwards in a way that reminded me of ostriches hiding their head in the sand when they were scared to death. She was wearing nothing more than her thin bloomer, and from behind the glass I could see her tiny frame shivering.
‘Selene!’ I called, trying not to make my voice too loud as I pounded on the door separating us. She heard me; with a jolt, the toddler lifted her head from the stone floor and faced towards the glass. The frightened look in her eyes filled me with rage. What had they been doing to her?!
As soon as she saw me, however, the look of fear got replaced by recognition. Her mouth moved, but I couldn’t hear her through the glass.
‘Don’t worry, we’re going to get you out of there!’
‘And we better hurry,’ Tybalt added, pointing at the speaker above our heads. Running towards the door, I hadn’t noticed it yet, but the alarm had gone off. The light shone a bright crimson across the corridor, and instinctively I knew that reinforcements would be on their way soon.
‘Looks like the guy we knocked out had a fast recovery,’ Derek said, grabbing the lump of keys that we’d snatched from the desk back upstairs. He threw them to me, after which I started fitting random keys into the keyhole. We were lucky; at the second key, the lock opened.
‘Mama?’ Selene said, but went right back to fear as she saw Derek’s military boots walking into the room after me. I quickly bowed down and scooped her up into my arms. She smelled just as I remembered her; sweet and innocent. But that scent was now mixed with the smell of fear as she shuddered in my arms.
‘It’s okay,’ I cooed. ‘That’s Derek, remember? He’s going to help us get out.’
‘Long time no see, kiddo,’ Derek smiled at her. Selene relaxed in my arms and placed her head on my shoulder, holding on to me with her tiny hands.
‘They threw a child in a tiny cold cell with nothing to keep her warm?’ Derek had lost his smile as soon as the toddler looked away and gazed down on her, in obvious dismay. ‘Those bastards. That’s unforgivable.’
‘They think she’s a killer vampire.’
‘I don’t care! It’s still unforgivable.’
We exited the tiny cell, back into the corridor. The noise of the alarm was ear-wrenching, and I expected to see guards with guns running around the corner any second now. We had to get out of here, fast.
‘Listen, Selene, we’re going to play a game,’ I said hastily to her, while skipping down the path with Derek and Tybalt. Selene’s eyes lit up at the word in the same way that her brother’s did.
Derek shot me a confused look, but I knew that I had to do this.
‘Yeah. It’s tag. We’re playing tag with the men in uniforms, and if they tag us, they win. But if we get away without them seeing us, then we win. So be quiet and don’t let them hear you, okay?’
It wasn’t that far from the truth, other than them probably killing us if we got caught. But I had to keep her from panicking at the wrong time, and this was the only way I knew that would work.
We were too late! With only a few meters left to the room with the room with the staircase, a guard came charging out of the hallway parallel to us. He seemed dumbstruck for a second as he looked upon us, and then reached down to his side.
Without thinking, I threw Selene over my shoulder and dropped to the floor, sweeping my leg in a circle and slamming the guard’s legs out from under him. With a loud THUD, he fell to the ground. I was on top of him right away and delivered a final blow to his head. Just like that, he was out cold.
‘A little warning next time?!’ yelled Derek from behind me, who had just barely managed to catch the toddler. But Selene was giggling, thinking this was just part of the game. Exactly as planned.
‘Sorry,’ I said, smiling back. ‘I needed my hands free.’
He scowled, but held onto Selene as we made our way upstairs. In the upper prison block, it was chaos. The guards in the room that we’d blocked were pounding on the door so hard that the whole frame was shaking. It wouldn’t be long before they’d make their way outside. We sprinted past the room (Tybalt couldn’t resist grinning as he looked at their furious faces) and were already halfway the main prison block when the next wave of guards came in.
As I dashed forward and went for the first guard’s face, I saw Selene flying through the air next to me. Derek had thrown her like a pitcher threw his ball during a baseball match. She soared across the room and almost slammed head-first into Tybalt, who managed to catch her gently at the very last second.
‘Careful!’ he yelled back at Derek, who shrugged and grabbed another guard, planting his knee straight into his stomach. The third guard went down just as quickly, after which a problem came in.
A big, blonde-haired bloke came running in, with a shining silver gun placed firm in his hand. He didn’t even take the time to see who we were and aimed the weapon straight at the person that was standing out most in this room – Selene.
I reacted before my brain even had time to think. With a mighty swoop, I lifted my leg from the ground and crashed it straight between his legs.
The man was taken completely by surprise and let out a high-pitched scream, dropping the weapon on the floor. Derek quickly picked it up. He looked almost sympathetic as the guard sank to the ground, unable to move anymore. That was one less guard to come after us.
‘Ouch, man. That looked… painful.’
‘He’ll be fine,’ Tybalt said. ‘But he won’t be making babies any time soon, that’s for sure.’
‘Come on!’ I yelled at them, gesturing towards the door. ‘We’re almost there!’
They nodded, and followed right behind me as we all dashed towards the next corridor. The ear-wrenching alarm had stopped, but the emergency lights above our heads were still flashing red. I frowned while running as I tried to calculate how many guards we could still encounter. So far, the three of us had taken out six of them, if you counted the guards stationed at the front door. There were another five trapped in the room we’d just passed, and a tiny prison like this would not be able to accommodate more than fifteen guards, even with a vampire as prisoner. If we were lucky, the rest of the way would be free.
With that in mind, I yanked open the door leading to the front corridor and charged in.
Of course, we weren’t lucky.
‘H-Hao?’ Tybalt gasped, as he came to a full stop behind me. He had seen our former partner at the same time that I had, and the confusion in his voice said enough about his expression. I merely stared. Hao was standing in the center of the corridor, completely blocking our way to the exit.
A microsecond after we’d charged in, Derek came crashing after us. He saw Hao, but instead of stopping dead in our tracks like Tybalt and me, he picked up speed. Pushing his head forward like a bull in attack mode, I could see that he planned to knock Hao right off his feet and force his way through. But by being so hasty, he was missing something crucial.
Hao was holding a gun.
I reached out and grabbed Derek’s shirt just in time. At the same moment that Hao raised the hand with the gun, I latched onto Derek, pulling him back with all the strength that I had.
‘What are yóú doing here?’ Derek sneered, the venom dripping off his voice. He didn’t seem one bit impressed by the weapon in Hao’s fingers.
‘I came here… to guard that thing,’ Hao responded. His eyes flicked over to Selene, and I saw his hand twitch. My body responded instantly. I threw myself between him and Tybalt, at the same time that Hao aimed his gun at the toddler. He’d already placed his finger on the trigger, but flinched when he saw me blocking his path.
‘Get out of the way, m’am,’ Hao said softly.
‘No. Hao, lower your weapon.’
‘I should have done this at the very moment when I first saw them,’ he whispered feverishly. ‘I should have gotten rid of them both right in that house. Then everything would still be normal. Then you wouldn’t have been possessed.’
‘We’re not possessed, you idiot!’ Derek yelled, with Tybalt frowning worriedly in the background. But Hao didn’t listen. I could see him shaking, and there was a panicked expression in his eyes that I had not seen on him before.
‘Just put the gun down, and we can talk about this,’ Tybalt offered.
Something was off about Hao. He was acting desperate, something that was very out of character for him. I looked at his gun and noticed three things. The first was that he had removed his finger from the trigger, causing me to regain a little bit of hope. His hands were shaking, too. But it was the weapon itself that bothered me. His firearm looked nothing like the ones that we’d received from the military. No, this was an old gun, one that had gone through quite a lot already, judging from the dents and scratches on the metal. Hao’s personal gun. His own. And the only reason he could have for taking his own gun with him was that he no longer was in possession of the other one.
They’d taken his badge away. Probably placed him under house arrest just after we’d gotten away, until he had proven to the higher-ups that he was not a traitor, as well. But he’d disobeyed the General’s orders and followed Selene here. Planning to murder her… but to save us.
Hao, too, was risking everything.
He violently shook his head. ‘No. I’m… I’m not losing any more friends. Not like this. I won’t.’
Finally, I understood.
‘Hao, look at me,’ I said softly. ‘I know what you’re thinking. I know what you’re going through, I really do. You’re thinking that you’re about to lose all of us, just like you’ve lost someone before. Just like Yurick and I have. It’s eating you alive because you feel like there’s nothing you can do to make things go back to normal.’
As I talked into him, looking straight into his chestnut brown eyes, I could see that my words were finally coming through. His expression was still desperate, but differently. He looked lost, as if he could not make up his mind.
‘You’re going after these children because that is the only solution that you can come up with. In your mind, killing them will solve everything. But that is where you’re wrong, Hao. I know that this is really difficult. But I want you to think about the possibility that they are the ones that we need to protect, instead of having to protect others against them. They’re just children, Hao. Whatever they might become in the future doesn’t matter.’
‘How can you be so sure?’ Hao whispered. ‘How can you know that they won’t turn against you the minute that you’re no longer of value to them? Raven, how can you trust those two?’
A silence fell. Looking directly at Hao, I waited a few seconds before finally opening my mouth. When I spoke, it came straight from my heart.
‘Because I can tell who the real monsters are.’
That hit home. I saw that it did. Slowly, Hao turned his weapon away from me and Selene. His arm was shaking uncontrollably and it clearly cost him all of his self-control not to raise the gun again, but it was enough. I took a few steps towards him, until I was close enough for Hao to touch.
‘I’m going to ask something very difficult of you, Hao,’ I continued. ‘I’m going to ask you to let us pass. You don’t trust that child in Tybalt’s arms, and you never will, I know that. But think back. Do you remember what I’ve said to all of you during our very first mission, all those months ago?’
‘I do,’ Hao muttered. ‘You said… to believe in your comrades… to trust them.’
‘That’s right. I’ve entrusted you with my life on that day, and from that day onward. And I still would. You’re a dear comrade of mine, Hao, and I trust you. But I need you to do the same for me. Please. Even if you can’t place your faith in that child, at least place your faith in me. I need you to trust me, Hao, like you’ve trusted me before. I need you to let us through.’
Slowly, the hand that was holding his weapon stopped shaking. Hao’s face fell, and he broke eye contact with me as he looked away, to a spot on my left. I was holding my breath, and judging from the complete silence behind me, so were Derek and Tybalt.
‘There’s no one at the left side of the building now,’ Hao finally muttered. ‘I think the car parked behind the bushes there belongs to Yurick. Reinforcements will be here in two minutes, Raven… if you’re fast, you can outrun them.’
I acted on instinct. Hao had barely finished his sentence when I stepped forward, grabbed his arm and pressed my lips against his. I could feel Hao freeze, but then his moment of shock had passed and he returned the kiss, gently caressing my mouth and sending tingles through my body.
Finally, I pulled back. The physical contact had left him breathless. I briefly squeezed his arm, looking into the chestnut eyes one last time before walking past him. A single whisper left my lips.
‘Thank you… my friend.’
‘Over there!’ Derek yelled, pointing at a spot between the bushes. I followed his arm and saw the roof of what I identified as the car that Yurick had “borrowed” from the Military. Before, I had been afraid of bugs and tracking devices, until he had assured me that it was safe. Now, my heart jumped at the mere sight of it. Yurick had placed it masterfully, making the vehicle unspottable from the direction of the prison.
Now, we might actually make it out.
‘What took you guys so long?’ Yurick said, as soon as he noticed the crowd running towards him. ‘I could have taken a nap here and still would have been on time!’
‘Shut up and start the engines,’ Derek yelled back. ‘We have one minute to get out of here!’
‘Selene! Is she okay?!’
Nikola moved in on Tybalt, but I grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him back.
‘She’s fine. But we need to get out of here, now.’
‘Well, what are we waiting for? Everybody in!’ Derek yelled, and opened the door to the passenger’s seats. He grabbed Nikola by the collar of his shirt, throwing him in first. Tybalt, still holding Selene tightly, followed right away. The red alarm inside of the building was still shattering our eardrums, and in the far distance, I could see yellow lights coming closer to us. Within moments, the reinforcements would arrive.
‘Hold on tight!’ Yurick yelled, who had seated himself behind the wheel. A few pressed buttons later and we were racing out into the open, with slipping tires and a speed that was so high, I got slammed into the back of my seat.
‘Easy!’ Tybalt yelled from behind me. Yurick merely laughed, stepping on the gas even more. Within seconds, the prison had disappeared from sight as we hightailed it down the road.
‘Where did you say you left the mother?’ Tybalt asked Derek, his voice a little shaken from the insane speed in which Yurick was driving. ‘We have to go get her on our way out.’
‘She’s waiting at the outskirts,’ Derek replied. ‘right on our route. We just need to get there before something else does.’
‘And… what’s in the box over there?’
‘Our disappearing act,’ Yurick responded. Tybalt raised his eyebrows suspiciously.
‘Don’t ask. You’ll just get nervous. Just make sure you do as I say when the time comes, all right?’
‘They’ve spotted us!’ Derek suddenly yelled. ‘You better step on that gas pedal, Yurick!’
Quickly, I turned my head and looked out through the back window. True enough. The lights, that had been so far away just moments ago, had already caught up to us. There were three armored cars chasing down our tail, and if I squinted my eyes, I could see some heavy weaponry in the back of the first one. This was definitely not good.
‘Can’t you go any faster?’ I yelled at Yurick, who frowned and shook his head.
‘We won’t lose them on the road!’
‘What do we do, then?!’ Derek screamed, barely hearable above the roaring of the engines. ‘Kindly ask them if they’d take a wrong turn here?!’
Suddenly, I could see a shift in Yurick’s body language. He tensed up, looking at me through the corner of his eye. We made eye contact. And then he grabbed the shifting rod, yanked his foot off the breaks and yelled:
‘Grab on to something! NOW!’
And then he yanked on the wheel.
With a sharp twist, the car shot off the road and into the dirt and shrubs that preceded the hilltops of Zephyr Hills. Everyone inside was flung across the seats, crashing into the doors and into each other. I could hear Nikola and Derek screaming from shock. But Yurick knew what he was doing. He eased up on the wheel, not touching the breaks or the gas as he slowly pulled the car straight. A few seconds later we were yards away from the road and maneuvering between tree trunks like a professional cross country racer.
‘You’re insane!’ Derek screamed, but with a great amount of respect in his voice. ‘Not bad, kid!’
Behind us, the other cars had a lot more trouble pulling off the same stunt that Yurick had. Two of them managed to follow us, but they had to slow down and that gave us a lot of distance to get away from them. Yurick seemed to think the exact same thing as me. He placed his foot firmly on the gas, speeding up to the vehicle to its maximum. Trees flashed by so close to the sides that I could have touched them, had the window been open.
‘We’re almost there,’ Yurick shouted to the rest of the car, his face pulled into a frown of concentration. ‘You know what to do, kiddo?’
‘Yes!’ Nikola shouted back. I could see him moving closer to the box in the back, and wondered what crazy plan Yurick had come up with. It did not once cross my mind to doubt him, however. Pulling off things like this was what had earned him his place in the team in the first place.
‘Get ready, guys!’
A few yards behind them, the remaining two army vehicles charged their way through the wild shrubs and bushes in pursuit of their target. Reams of dirt were kicked up as their tires rapidly dug their way into the soft ground. The two cars were radio contacted with each other, and moved swiftly and simultaneously.
But even with their experience, the change from road to soil had slowed them down enough to lose track of the car that they were chasing. The men inside were confused, slowing down a little.
‘They must be headed for the mountains,’ their voices sounded over the radio. ‘Don’t let them leave these hills! Head for the eastern pass-‘
And that’s when it happened. All sounds from the men and the cars were overthrown by a huge, deafening explosion. A fiery light spread across the hilltops, blinding the men in the cars and forcing them to stop. It was like, for a second, the whole world was engulfed by flames. The explosion’s heat surged right through the armored car’s shell, making the men flinch from shock.
It took a full minute for one of them to open his mouth.
‘That… was that…?’
‘They blew themselves up…?’ the blue car’s driver mumbled.
‘I don’t… what the fudge just happened?’
No one knew the answer. The piercing light from the flames hurt their eyes and made it hard for them to think. But all of them knew what this meant.
No one was able to survive a blast like that.
‘Ready for what?!’ Derek screamed to the front seat.
‘Nikola, did you press the button? Okay, everyone, take off your seatbelts and move to the door! This thing is going to blow up in twenty seconds!’
I saw Yurick remove his feet from the pedals and turn on autopilot and suddenly I knew what he was going to do. Clutching my hand around the door handle, I yelled back:
‘Pull Nikola and Selene out with you! On the count of three, we’ll jump!’
‘What the fudge do you mean we’ll-‘
I yanked the door open and threw myself out. For a tiny second, my body was floating through the air, after which I hit the ground so hard that the impact almost knocked me out. All the air was squeezed from my lungs as I landed flat on my stomach. My chin hit the soil, making me bite my cheek and I was instantly grateful that there hadn’t been a rock where I’d come down. My vision was blurry, but I could hear other things falling flat on the ground as the car raced onward on its own.
‘Is… is everyone all right?’ I gasped, eventually. ‘Did everyone get out?’
I rubbed my eyes, trying to make my vision come back faster. Nikola was lying next to me. He seemed unharmed, as I could see him moving closer towards the bushes. I pushed myself up and was just about to say something to him when the sound of tires coming closer sounded in my ears. Alarmed, I pressed myself flat against the ground again.
Not even three seconds later, the vehicles passed by. They charged right past us, unknowing of the fact that we were there. Or at least, I hoped that they didn’t know. Nikola was shivering next to me; I knew that he was scared to death of them finding us again. But the cars passed, and soon the sound of their engines had faded away into the night.
Our trick had worked.
‘Seems like we fooled ‘em,’ I heard from the left. ‘Can’t stay here, though. We’ll be sitting ducks like this.’
I heard the snapping of twigs, a slap and someone squeaking: ‘Ouch!’
‘There, all better. Get up, old man.’
‘Ugh… shut up, junior…’ Derek moaned back. ‘What were you thinking, kicking us out of a car while driving more than-‘
The rest of his sentence was lost in a giant explosion, a few hills north from where we were. I could feel the flames’ heat even all the way over here, and the light was blinding. I instantly knew that it was our car that had just been blown to bits.
‘A bomb?!’ Tybalt yelled, making it known that he too had managed to get out in time. ‘You placed a fudging dirty bomb in the back of that car?! What were you thinking?! It could have gone off from the bumps in the road! We could have died instantly!’
‘Of course not,’ Yurick sneered. ‘I know how to make a proper bomb, Tybalt. It wouldn’t go off from a tiny bump in the road. Besides, this was the best way to make us all disappear.’
‘What do you mean?’ I muttered, crouching back up.
‘Think about it. If we get away now, they’ll think we’ll have died in that explosion. With that amount of force, they wouldn’t be able to find a body anyway. It’s the perfect setup for someone to disappear.’
‘By faking our deaths?’ I gasped. But nonetheless, I was impressed. Yurick was right. If they thought that we’d all died, there would be no reason to hunt down Nikola and Selene anymore. By killing them… we’d be able to set them free. Literally.
‘It’s… it’s not far to the point where Elynn is waiting,’ Derek finally muttered. ‘We should go. They can’t track us with the heat from that bomb, but when the flames die down, we don’t want to be anywhere near here.’
‘Let’s go, then!’
Titling my head to the left, I could see Tybalt pick up Selene from the ground. She was whimpering, but seemed otherwise all right. He must have shielded her during the fall, like Derek probably shielded Nikola.
‘Come on, little redhead. It’s time to go see your mother.’
‘Mama?’ Selene muttered, perking up her head from the ground.
‘That’s right. Mama.’
In the end, the run towards our meeting point turned out to be longer than we thought. Running through the hills was tiring, even for trained soldiers like us. Not to mention Nikola, who was still a child. I expected him to collapse any minute, but he kept up well. At first I thought it must have been his vampire genes, but it might also have been the thought of finally meeting his mother that kept him going for so long.
But, in the end, it proved to be too much.
‘Can… can we rest?’ Nikola gasped, at the tail of the group. I slowed down immediately and the men soon followed my example, switching from running to a slow walking pace. And when that proved to be too much as well, the group stopped completely.
‘I’m sorry,’ Nikola puffed. ‘I know we need to keep going.’
‘That’s all right, kid,’ Derek said. He was looking at a spot behind our backs. ‘We’re already here.’
I followed his gaze, looking between two thick bushes. There was a path to the river that seemed well-hidden; the perfect hiding place. But the interesting thing there wasn’t the path.
‘It’s really her,’ I said, a smile creeping up on my face. ‘Now we know where your sister got her pretty face. She looks just like her.’
‘What are you talking about…?’ Nikola muttered, and then it hit him. With a sharp twitch, he twisted his body around to stare at the point that we were all looking at. A young woman, in her late twenties, cautiously came forward from behind the bushes. Her hair and facial shape was exactly the same as Selene’s, and I instantly knew that this was Elynn Hunt- Nikola and Selene’s mother.
The two stood there for a while, frozen, while they looked each other in the eyes. The silence was loaded with tension and for one horrible second, I thought that the two didn’t recognize each other.
‘Nikola?!’ miss Hunt then yelled, followed by a much louder scream from the boy.
He jumped, charging at the woman like a bow from an arrow. She sunk down on one knee and held her arms wide open, catching him in an embrace. I could see both of them pressing the other against them as tightly as they could, afraid that they would vanish otherwise.
‘It’s you,’ Nikola sniffed, burying his face into her reddish curls. ‘It’s really you. You’re really here…’
‘My baby.’ Elynn was sobbing just as much. The force from Nikola crashing into her had knocked her over, but she ignored it and let her back lean against the tree bark as she kissed Nikola on his cheeks. ‘You’ve grown so much. I thought I’d never seen you again… I’ve missed you so much.’
‘I’ve missed you too. I did just as you said, mother. I’ve protected Selene, just as you told me. But… it’s been so hard…’
I could see his shoulders shaking as he finally let himself go. Big, wet tears dripped down his face and landed on the blue fabric of Elynn’s shirt, leaving dark stains. His mother was crying just as much. It made me want to wrap my arms around the both of them and weep as well, but I knew that I was not wanted there. Nikola finally had his mother back. His family was complete again. That meant that I was… no longer needed. It was what I had been working towards the whole time, but now, it made me feel strangely empty.
‘…Selene?’ Elynn finally muttered, in between sobs. ‘Where is… where is she?’
‘Right here,’ I smiled, placing her down on the ground on her feet. ‘Here she comes. Walk to mummy, sweetie.’
Elynn beamed at me, clapping her hands and spreading her arms in order to let Selene in. The toddler was giggling, eager to walk towards the woman that she, too, seemed to recognize. But right before she waddled away on her tiny legs, Selene turned around and faced me. Her tiny hand clasped my thumb as she looked up at me with eyes full of trust.
‘Thank you, Rawen.’
I fought back my own tears as Selene waddled over to her birthmother, falling right into her arms. Elynn lifted her from the ground and spun her around in the air, before pressing her against her heart just as she’d done with Nikola.
‘My sweet little girl… I’m so glad that you’re safe. I missed you… do you remember me? I’m your mother, did you know that?’
I knew that she knew.
‘Raven… are you crying?’ Derek muttered softly next to me.
‘Of course not. Shut up.’
Derek merely smiled, walking past me and towards the newly reunited family, who barely seemed to notice our presence anymore.
‘Told you you could trust me,’ Derek joked, winking at the woman. Elynn let out a relieved laugh, cradling her daughter.
‘Thank you, Derek. And… everyone else. You have… no idea how much this means to me. I thought that I would never see them again, ever. I thought that I’d be ripped away from them until I died… and you found them for me. You brought them back. I won’t ever… be able to repay you for that.’
‘You have some special children there,’ Tybalt said. ‘They’re a real handful, too. So don’t lose them a second time, will you?’
‘I won’t,’ she smiled. ‘I promise. We’ll go far, far away from here… to where no one can find us. If there’s a place like that… then that’s where we’ll go.’
‘I’ll make sure to keep the vampires off your trail,’ I said. ‘For as long as I can. I won’t be able to hold them off forever… but maybe just long enough to let you disappear for good.’
‘Thank you,’ Elynn whispered, fresh tears falling down her cheeks. Thank you, Raven. Thank you…’
‘There’s a boat not far from here,’ Derek said, drawing Elynn’s attention back. ‘With supplies and some tools. We’ll take that upstream from here, into the mountains. I’ll be with you for the first part of the road. After that, you’re on your own, as promised.’
Elynn nodded and gestured for Nikola to follow her, after which all four of them started walking away from me. To see them leave like that, so suddenly, without even saying goodbye, did something to me. Suddenly I couldn’t stop the tears from falling anymore.
I remembered all the days in my old house. How I taught them to play, how they’d warmed up to me, and that day in the snow… We’d been through so much together. Without realizing it, I’d gotten so attached to these children… maybe too attached. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet. I couldn’t.
But… I had to. The whole purpose had been to reunite them with their mother, and send them off on a new life together. They deserved as much. This is how it was meant to be. I had no reason, no right to hold them back, even…
Even if I loved them.
Suddenly, Nikola stopped walking. He seemed to be debating with himself for a second, before turning around and running straight back into my arms. I was surprised, but my arms automatically wrapped themselves around his figure, pulling him close.
‘You really found her,’ Nikola whispered. ‘You really found her, Raven.’
‘Of course I did,’ I muttered back. ‘I promised, remember? And I always fulfill my promises. But I’d like a promise from you in return, Nikola.’
Slowly, I opened my arms again and moved backwards, until I could look at his face.
‘I want you to promise that you’ll look after those two. Grow up to be strong, and don’t let anyone come between you and your family again. Keep them safe, you hear?’
‘I promise,’ Nikola said, with a serious expression on his face. His bright, orange eyes reflected the moon shining down on us from above.
‘But Raven… I want to see you as family too. Is that… allowed?’
‘Of course,’ I smiled, caressing his cheek with my fingers. ‘Hearing you say that makes me very happy, Nikola… I love you.’
He smiled, hugging me once more.
‘I love you, too.’
‘Nikola!’ Elynn called from the side of the river. ‘We’re leaving! Hurry up!’
He pulled away from me, but not enough to stop the hug, and whispered in my ear:
‘We’ll protect you, too, Raven. I promise. As soon as Selene and me are big enough… we’ll go after him. We’ll stop the curse from spreading. We will. We’ll protect you… and what’s inside of you.’
‘What?’ I whispered, letting him slip out of my hands as the meaning of those words struck in my mind. Unconsciously, my hands travelled to the lower part of my stomach.
‘Goodbye, Raven,’ Nikola laughed, flashing his fangs at me one last time. ‘We’ll never, ever forget you.’
And with that, he was gone. I silently watched as the two children boarded the small boat in the river. Derek went below deck and Elynn followed him, carrying Selene. But Nikola stayed upstairs, his gaze on me. I gave him a tiny smile. We stayed that way, smiling in unison at each other, until the boat finally dissapeared behind the hills. Soon, even the trail that they’d left behind in the river had faded away.
They were gone. They were really gone. And if everything went well… I’d probably never see them again.
But… it was all right that way.
Because this was how it was meant to be.