by Jane Doe
Invisible claws latched onto a part of me that was much deeper than mere flesh and bone, wrapping and coiling like the scaled body of a snake. The pleasure soured, and as spasm after spasm rocked my body, I tasted its foulness on my tongue.
I was entangled in it’s grasp, powerless even though mere seconds ago I k****d an entire group of witches with my mind.
The way it split my thoughts like a deck of cards, shuffling through them before turning each one over to inspect it felt like a violation.
Everything hurt. The pain was so consuming that I couldn’t tell which parts of me were still intact. My skin bd from the silver tipped arrows, stung from the slices in my flesh, and bd because every movement I made jostled the quills protruding from my back.
The forest was growing darker, the shadows dancing around the edges of my vision. They thrashed and writhed, their whispers just out of reach. It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t the forest that was growing dim, slowly draining of color.
It was me. My strength was failing, and I didn’t have nearly enough to fight off the dark magic while also keeping myself from bleeding out.
A splash of crimson blossomed in my peripherals like the petals of a wilted rose.
An idea came to mind, one that would’ve made me sick if I weren’t standing on d***h’s precipice.
When I looked back on this moment, I wouldn’t remember digging my fingers into the dirt to propel myself forward. I wouldn’t be able to recall the feeling of dirt and stone getting wedged under my nails, packed into my wounds as I slid along the forest floor.
What I would remember is the moment I reached her, the witch that shot me.
I’d remember sinking my teeth into her neck, tearing into her flesh with human canine teeth. They were so dull compared to Maya’s, so terrible at slashing through flesh that it was almost a chore to get to what little blood remained in her body.
I swallowed and swallowed, drinking the liquid strength that poured from her body in a sea of red.
My skin began to itch horribly as the wound on my side, where I’d been grazed by an arrow, began knitting itself together. The ones on my back were another story all together. I couldn’t reach to pull the arrows out of my flesh, and I didn’t have enough strength for my magic to get the job done.
“Shadows, I need your help.” I croaked, wincing at how sore my throat felt.
Help…help……help… They whispered in dozens of overlapping voices.
I clenched my hands into fists, unable to look at the stain on my skin and those unnerving veins that crawled up my fingers like poisonous spider webs.
“Can you get rid of this—this evil inside of me?” I tried not to beg them, but I was terrified.
I thought I was slowly becoming comfortable with magic, but this was a wake-up call that showed me just how little I actually knew.
Each word ached like I’d swallowed mouthfuls of glass, but I forced them out regardless. The shadows writhed at the sound of my voice beckoning them closer. To anyone else, it would’ve looked ordinary. Similar to how shadows dance along the walls in a dimly lit room. If they looked closer they might see the hundreds of tendrils all curling around one another, all speaking in their high-pitched whispers.
Yesss…we can help you, master. We can take the darknesss.
My sigh of relief sounded more like a sob, melting the tension in my shoulders until they slumped. The shadows weren’t done, though. Their voices shot out from all sides of the forest, all of them saying the same thing.
It will be painful, master. So very painful… They warned.
I closed my eyes and steadied myself. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt pain, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Anything—anything was better than this evil magic peeling apart the layers of my brain. No matter how bad it was, I’d endure it.
“Do it. Do it now and you can have the d**d witch’s blood.” I whispered.
As I anticipated, the promise of magical blood sent the shadows into a frenzy of excitement. All at once they shot out from the cover of the forest, slinking from behind trees and untangling themselves from the brush. Like leaches bloated with the anticipation of blood, they flung themselves at me.
It was like every shadow in the forest had come.
They moved so fast that I didn’t even have time to cover my face. Darkness flooded my vision, the impenetrable kind that blocked out every single one of your senses and left you wondering if this was what d***h were like.
The pain wasn’t instant, but it did come without warning.
I’d been encased in the Shadows, hearing only their chatter when every muscle in my body contracted and every bone flexed. My mouth opened but no scream came out, only excruciating silence. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The Shadows continued to writhe all along my body. They had no feel to them other than this icy coldness licking at my skin. When one slithered up my neck and forced its way into my mouth, I let out a choked shriek. Another followed, and another, and another.
Only when I began to thrash did I realize that the Shadows covering my body were there for a reason.
I couldn’t move a muscle.
They had trapped me. Caged me in with their bodies and made me their prisoner.
You mustn’t fight usss…
Yeah, like that was easy when I could feel my throat expanding, forced to take in the frigid cold. Time passed languidly, each second stretching on longer than the next. There was ice seeping into my bones, using the wounds the dark magic gouged in my body and mind as pathways. I could tell when they made contact with it.
More importantly, I felt how desperate it was to stay.
Agony swallowed my every thought as its claws sank into my soul and held on for dear life, screeching and roaring against the Shadows that continued to coax it away.
It was worse than anything I’d ever felt. Worse than crashing a car, feeling the rattle your bones and your skull crush your brain.
Worse than the crackle and bn of flame licking at be skin.
This kind of pain never truly left. It erased everything I was and ever could be, taking away every memory until there was only pain, pain, pain. I thought it would never end, that I’d be trapped in this hellscape forever. Eternally punished for the things I’d done and didn’t do.
Suddenly, the hold the dark magic had over me lessened, and the Shadows surged at the momentary blip of weakness.
Its claws were ripped away, swallowed by the shadows that then spewed from my mouth in a geyser of putrid darkness.
When the Shadows released me and I could once again see, the first thing I did other than wheeze and gasp for air was stare down at my hands.
They looked normal. My skin was once again unblemished, and those creepy veins were gone. It was like they’d never been there, but I knew otherwise. I could still feel the wound it clawed through me to get to my soul. It wasn’t physical, but it was there.
As the Shadows left, slithering along the forest floor to lap up every droplet of the witches’ blood that was spilled, their whispers lingered.
We wisssh to warn you, master. Every time you draw dark magic into your body, the more difficult it becomes to get rid of it…
…eventually, it will consssume you.
There wasn’t time to dwell on their warning because a few feet away stood familiar face. A wolf made purely of shadow, its head cocked and curiosity shimmering in its rich eyes.
“What the h**l was that?” Breyona asked after shifting back into her human form.
“Long story…lots of pain. Oh, I think I’m going to be sick.” I groaned. “I can’t shift, not with these arrows in my back.”
She hissed between clenched teeth, circling around to the half a dozen arrows spattered around my spine. None had managed to hit it, but there was this painful scratching sensation in my right lung that made me worried one was close to piercing it. Her face paled, lightening in increments until it looked translucent and pulled taut with worry.
Lightly, she peeled back the shredded f***s of my shirt and gingerly touched one. I tried not to recoil at the hot wave of pain that dug into my flesh, but I must’ve made some sound because she quickly apologized and backed away.
“It’s alright. I…I drank some of the witch’s blood, so the wounds aren’t bleeding anymore. They’ve scabbed over the shaft of the arrows, which is great for now, but it’s going to be a pain when they come out.” I grimaced, definitely not looking forward to that. “What I need right now is to get back and help fight.”
“The fight is over, Lola. There wasn’t much of one left when Brandon and the group of warriors from Bran’s old pack got here.” She replied, but something tugging at my gut told me she was leaving out a lot of details.
I swallowed, wishing I had cold glass of water—or blood. “Did we lose anyone?”
“Actually, no. Mason did break his arm, and somehow Clara sensed it with her witchy mojo, but they’re both safe. Asher’s…a bit stressed out considering you’ve been gone this long, but I let him know I found you and that you’re alive. Oh, and Dina’s looking for you, but that part can wait.” She said, but her voice was much too nonchalant considering everything that happened.
Suddenly, her eyes glossed over. A whopping three seconds passed before she shook her head and said, “Actually, never mind. It can’t wait. We need to get you out of here.”
I stared at her somewhat dumbfounded before pulling myself together. Before she could shift back into her wolf, an idea sprung to mind.
“That shadow transport thing you do. Think I can hitch a ride?”
She contemplated my question then lifted her shoulder in a half-shrug. “In theory, it should work.”
“Then let’s test this theory, shall we? The sooner the better because if I don’t get some blood in me, I am going to pass out.”
“Let’s do this.” Determination brightened her eyes. As she began to shift, she called out one last time. “Oops, I almost forgot. We captured one of the witches—the elemental girl.”
Before I could ask which one, she landed on four feet and charged at where I stood.
Traveling via Shadows felt a lot like being folded in a million bed sheets. Each one was a new place or point in time. More than a few seemed to tangle around my ankles, but Breyona slipped through each one with ease, pulling me along with her. The forest twisted into nothingness around us, only to untwist and reveal that we were now somewhere else.
I wasn’t the slightest bit embarrassed when we landed in the middle of the street, and I doubled over to puke my guts out.
Breyona, still in wolf form, gave me a look that plainly conveyed her disgust. I swear she was trying to curl her lip, but since she had a long snout instead of her button nose it didn’t translate correctly.
“Don’t look at me like that. You have any idea how it feels to travel through the Shadows when you’re not made of them yourself?” I grunted, spitting out the rancid taste of vomit and blood in my mouth.
As much as I needed another hour or two to fully recover from the nausea alone, time was of the essence.
We’d landed smack dab in the middle of town, only ten feet away from an altercation of some sort. First, I noticed Tessa at the very center of it all. Her hands were bound behind her back, and she was sporting a pretty nasty g**h on her forehead. The blood it oozed was rich and carried notes of gardenia and rose.
I spat a second time when saliva pooled in my mouth.
Tessa was on her back, staring down the snout of a wolf the color of storm clouds. Several shades darker than Mason’s wolf, this particular wolf wasn’t the least bit familiar.
“That one of the warriors from Bran’s pack?” I asked Breyona, who had once again shifted into her human form.
“Nope.” She popped the word in between her lips. “That’s Dina.”
Alpha Asher by Jane Doe
Author: Jane Doe
Native Language: English