I woke to the tang of blood in my mouth. and the stinging pain of something sharp prodding me in the
“Agh.” I hissed in pain.
Turning onto my side, which wasn’t any better, I felt around blindly for the perpetrator. My fingers froze
when I registered the gritty substance covering the floor-the ground, I mean.
It was dirt, scraggly and moist as it became compacted under my nails. Just about every muscle in my
body ached like I’d ran a marathon. I tried to push past that pain, stretching out my senses until my eyes
decided too corporate.
Cold lapped at my bare skin, grazing places that should’ve been covered by clothing but most definitely
weren’t. If I had to guess, I might’ve assumed I was outside somewhere but that couldn’t be possible.
Other than the heavy pants of my breathing, there was nothing but silence. If I were outside, I should’ve
been able to hear crickets chirping and leaves crunching beneath the feet of the smaller forest dwellers.
There was none of that, not even the whoosh of wind passing through treetops.
My fingers trailed over something long and hard, and I grunted as I finally found the object that had been
“What the hell? Is that a twig?” I grunted, smacking my lips as I struggled to speak.
The tang of blood coating my tongue felt… off. There was something abnormal about it, but I couldn’t
pinpoint it at the moment. 2
It was a stick in my hand, I was sure of it.
The surface was rough like bark, but damp as though the early morning mist had already passed
Finally, I was able to crack my eyes open. The only source of light was the silver marble hovering in the
sky, making it easy to adjust to my surroundings. My eyes latched onto the stick in my hand, only it
wasn’t a stick.
I gasped, flinging the jagged femur bone into a patch of brush.
Bits of bloody flesh clung to my fingertips, picking up dirt as I scrambled onto all fours and whipped my
No, this can’t be what she saw. 1
They were everywhere, scattered in a perfect ring around where I’d woken up. Animals, dead animals.
Their blood watered the earth, soaking it in a sea of crimson so severe that even the starving soil failed
to soak it all up.
The most sickening part-the part that twisted my stomach into knots and filled my mouth with the acrid
taste of bile, was that most of them weren’t even whole.
Their corpses had been torn to shreds, limbs ripped from torsos and heads clawed from the rest of their
There were pieces of deer, elk, foxes, even a couple of bears. Fucking bears.
Peaking out from in between flashes of crimson were the milky white shards of broken bones. Among the
mix was the femur bone I threw.
Even though it was right in front of me, my eyes struggled to grasp what I saw. The information simply
wasn’t registering, smothered by shock and the realization that the blood in my mouth wasn’t human
It was animal blood, and from the taste, it had come from more than one.
A stag’s head sat just five feet away from my face, its milky eyes burning into me. Its stare felt
accusatory, like it knew what I had done before I did. The sprawling
network of its horns were coated in blood, matching the jagged piece of its spinal column that protruded
from its shredded neck.
I didn’t begin shaking until a flash of red hit my peripheral and I dared to look down.
What sent me into a panic wasn’t that I was naked, but that I was covered in blood. My neck, all the way
down to the pads of my feet was coated in the flaky, drying substance.
‘Asher!’ I called out on instinct. ‘Fuck, Asher. You need to answer me, you need to answer me now.’
Again, I scrambled, but there was nowhere to go without stepping over the mutilated bits of animal
Silence rang down the mate-bond in loud, consuming waves. The words I shouted-screamed down the
bond were smothered by a wall of pure agony, of horror so strong that my body chose to revolt and spew
every vile thing I’d eaten onto the forest floor.
“Oh, Goddess.” I cried out, staring at my blood-covered face in the pool of my own vomit.
It reeked so bad, carrying the same ungodly stench as the decapitated animals. I knew the truth, and
there was nothing I could do but accept it and let it smother me.
I hadn’t just killed these animals. I’d slaughtered them, and then, to make matters even worse, I’d eaten
No matter how much I begged and pleaded, Asher wasn’t answering. My words weren’t even getting
across. I knew if I didn’t do something soon, I’d be so inconsolable that I’d no longer be able to focus.
I latched onto the next face that crossed my mind and cried out to them, praying they would answer.
‘B-Breyona. Breyona, I need you.’
Seconds passed and I clasped my hands over my mouth to hold back another wave of vomit.
‘Lola?! Oh my Goddess-oh my goddess, where are you?’ My best-friends voice echoed in my mind,
silencing my panic long enough for me to respond.
‘I don’t know. Fuck, I don’t know where I am. What happened? How did this happen? I-I was with Asher,
we were together. How did I end up out here?’ I stammered, trying so hard not to lose my shit.
‘You need to let me through to you. Okay, Lola? I’ll be able to tell where you are, and
I’ll use the shadows to come to you. It’s- it’s going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay.’ She chanted, but
the edge in her voice gave me the feeling she was trying to convince us both.
I nodded even though she wasn’t here to see it.
‘Okay. Bring…bring some clothes with you, please.’ I whispered, shutting my eyes, and succumbing to
the maelstrom inside of my head.
It could’ve been minutes or even hours that passed before I felt the air cleave in two as my best-friend
appeared in her shadow beast form. Her paws slammed into the ground, kicking up tendrils of shadow
that evaporated into thin air. The sound of flesh tearing in two was abrupt and made me flinch, but not a
second later a pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders and helped bring me to my feet.
“Lola…” Breyona whispered; her eyes wide as they darted around the ring of slaughtered animals. “…
“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. I can’t remember. Goddess, why can’t I remember?” My voice
Breyona yanked me forward into her arms.
“We’re going to figure this out. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.” She promised, but the
waver in her voice told me she was just as shaken up. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“A—Asher and I, we swam at this lake and had a picnic. Oh, Breyona. He proposed to me.” I managed to
hold back a sob but was powerless to the ragged gasp that clawed at my chest when I looked down at
my left hand and saw it was bare. “The ring, it’s gone. I lost it…”
“We’ll find it, Lola. I’ll scour this entire fucking forest myself, but we will find it.”
She said fiercely, but I was far past listening.
Again, I shouted down the mate-bond only to be met with a wall of blistering pain that threw me out on
“Asher, there’s something wrong with him. I-I think he’s dying, Breyona. I can’t get to him. Oh, he’s in so
much pain.” I cried out, clutching at my stomach and doubling over as absolute devastation tore me in
“Lola, listen to me.” Breyona hardened her grip on my shoulders until I had no choice but to look her in
the eye. “Asher is alive, but-but there’s more important things you need to deal with right now. Do you
With every fiber of my being I wanted to grab her back and scream, “What’s more important than my
mate? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!”
I didn’t, though, because staring into her eyes brought something to my attention, something I might’ve
missed if she hadn’t forced me to get myself together.
Her eyes were bloodshot, the whites tainted pink from the thin veins crawling like earthworms. There
were bags beneath her eyes from lack of sleep, but they were swollen and an angry shade of red.
“You’ve been crying. Breyona…why were you crying?” I whispered, my panic skyrocketing when grief
clouded her eyes and drew tears of silver down her cheeks.
“You’re scaring me, Breyona. Did something happen to Asher? What happened? Tell me. Tell me, now!”
I didn’t realize I was shaking her, or that I’d even put my hands on her to begin with. My vision was
tunneling and all I could make out was her face-her tear- stained face so heavy with loss that I knew, I
just knew, something awful had happened.
“Cordelia…she’s dead, Lola. She was murdered.” Breyona said softly, her lips quivering with each word.
“No, that-that can’t be right.” I gaped, a cold chill passing down my spine. “Why do I feel like you have
more to say? Did- Did more happen?”
“Lola, your grandma and Sean…”
Every word from that point on became a low buzz in my ears, melting into the white noise that flooded
my senses to the point of overload. Disbelief wasn’t a strong enough word to encompass the absolute
denial shocking my system, frying my insides the way lightning crackled along the treetops, cooking the
bark until it turned to white ash.
She couldn’t possibly be right. No, I wouldn’t believe it.
My best-friend was lying.
She had to be.
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