by Jane Doe
“You’re wondering how we’ve managed to stay on your lands this entire time without anyone noticing.” Ember spoke softly, Angelica’s hand clutched in her own as she led the child in between houses to where the backyard was.
Tall picket fences divided the properties, each one the same uniform shape, height, and color. With the moon as our guide, Ember led us to the back of the property, right where the forest met the neatly trimmed grass.
“She’s not the only one wondering that.” Brandon muttered sourly, casting a glare in Ember’s direction. “This entire time I thought you brought me to some witchy village.”
“Freya told me to bring you to her, and this just so happened to be where she was.” Ember fired back.
Angelica giggled, watching the two of them with curious eyes that shimmered brightly even in the dark. My only option was to intervene before they could descend into a full-blown argument. We’d be here all night if that was the case.
“How have you been able to stay here for so long without anyone noticing? Someone should’ve been able to pick up mine and Brandon’s scents.” I said, wondering why even now I failed to pick anything up.
Right as we reached the forest line, Ember tugged Angelica to a stop. The little girl whipped around, a knowing grin on her face.
“You don’t have to cloak the house anymore, Angelica. If we’re going to play, you’ll need all your strength, yeah?” Ember said, lowering herself to the girl’s height.
Angelica tapped her chin in thought for a moment before nodding, a look of agreement on her cherub face.
“Okay.” She giggled.
The air around Angelica began to shimmer, like it had been embedded with shards of diamond. It grazed the bare skin of my arms, sending little electrical pulses of magic through my flesh. Angelica waved her hands, a self-satisfied smile on her face when the space surrounding the house and fence began to ripple and change.
The entire length of the fence began to darken in color. Splotches of mold grew across the wood like wisps of moss. A quiet grinding sound filled the air as some began to crack and splinter. The baby blue paneling of the house changed as well, warping as spiderwebs of mildew began crawling across its surface. The shudders began to fall, their paint peeling as the scraps fluttered to the ground.
Even the grass began to change. It wasn’t perfectly trimmed, identical to every other house in the neighborhood.Weeds sprouted in heavy clusters, growing higher and higher until they practically reached our knees. Poor Angelica was swallowed by them, only her head of golden hair visible through the grass.
As the child giggled and clapped her hands, I understood.
“It was all an illusion. That’s why Angelica was in the house. She was keeping us hidden.” I said, somewhat amazed. There was one thing bothering me, though. “What happened to this place? It’s practically falling apart. None of the other houses in the neighborhood are like this.”
‘Using dark magic leaves a stain on you. I’m sure you already know this, but it’s like a poison. It doesn’t matter where you are, that poison seeps into everything…even houses.” Ember said, her voice low and ominous. She peeled her eyes away from the house, and as she did so, they glowed like two warm coals. She spoke in a whisper that Angelica failed to hear, “…let’s get going before Freya comes back. She won’t hesitate to kill us all once she finds out I let you and Brandon go.”
Now that my strength was slowly on the mend, I had just enough to reach out to Asher. The connection between us wasn’t at its strongest, but it was enough to get the message across.
‘Asher, I’m sure you’re pissed and wondering where the hell I am, but I’m here. I’m alive and safe…for the most part. All of that aside there’s something I need you to do for me.’
Awareness blasted down the bond with a speed that made my skull rattle. I could practically feel his eyes turn my way, centering down the length of the bond where my presence called out to his.
‘You are in so much trouble.’ He growled. The sound was low and danced along the mate-bond, forcing a shudder down my spine that sent my thoughts veering in the wrong direction. Holding the connection was sapping the little strength I had. Asher, sensing the drop in my energy, quickly replied. ‘Where are you and what do you need me to do?’
‘Gather everyone and meet me back at the house. Don’t tell them I’m coming, make something up. I’m bringing—’
I barely managed to get those words out before losing my grip on the link between us. Asher’s voice faded into nothingness, it’s absence a reminder that I hadn’t been able to mention Ember and Angelica. I’d have to make it known quickly they were not to be harmed.
Keeping Holly’s betrayal to myself, as stupid as it was, had been completely intentional. It could easily cost me my life, but despite what she had done, I didn’t want any harm to come to her.
I’d make a decision, but I needed to look her in her eyes as I did it.
“We’re meeting everyone at the house.” I told Brandon, who replied with a curt nod.
“If I find out you betrayed me, I’ll use the last seconds of my life burning someone you love to a crisp. Got it?”
Ember hissed under her breath, her eyes flashing viciously.
“Got it.” I replied, sighing heavily.
Ember and Brandon were either going to flourish together or destroy the world. There would be no in between.
On that positive note, the four of us slipped into the forest, the muddy earth squelching beneath our feet. The whisper of cold air against my skin was a pleasant reminder that I was no longer locked in a basement, counting down the seconds until my body was no I longer my own.
Well, I was still counting seconds, but this way I felt like I was doing something to prevent it.
“Angelica, time to start the game. I need you to hide the four of us, and our scents. Think you can do that?” Ember called out.
Just a few feet up ahead, Angelica and Brandon carved a path through the forest. The child had a hold of Brandon’s shirt, using him to keep her balance over the rocky terrain. Whenever she hit a patch of mud and slid, she’d grab onto Brandon, nearly taking him down with her. The shrill notes of her giggles cut through the thick silence of the forest, accompanied by Brandon’s disgruntled mumbles and curses.
“Sure can!” She sang happily. If Angelica understood what was going on, she didn’t let it show. With her free hand, she made a series of gestures, Waving it through the darkness like she was trying to catch a butterfly. Just like back at the house, the air around us began to shimmer, charged with the metallic tang of magic.
I glanced up at her, my stomach turning as a dark thought popped into my head.
“She wouldn’t hurt Angelica, would she? I mean, she’s just a child. She can’t possibly understand everything that’s going on.”
Ember didn’t answer my question right away. She held out her hand and blew softly into her palm. A small ball of flame sputtered to life, illuminating where we stood in the darkness. The light flickered and waned, dancing as its casted shadows along Ember’s high cheekbones and plump lips.
“Angelica’s situation is…unique. She and her sister are both exceptionally skilled with illusions, and since they’re so young, it makes them easy to manipulate. Freya cherishes three things: power, beauty, and youth. She uses her power to grant herself beauty and youth, but it’s just a cheap imitation of the real thing. Now when she finds the real thing, like Angelica and her sister, she likes to hold onto it.” She explained with a scowl.
“Is that why Angelica looks like a living baby-doll?” I said, watching the child in question.
“She bounced in every puddle we came across, splashing dirt flecked water in every direction. Her lace-trimmed socks quickly turned brown, as did the hem of her dress, but she barely seemed to notice. If anything, she looked to be having the time of her life.
“It’s exactly why she looks like a living baby-doll, and no matter how much time Freya puts into dressing her up, she still wouldn’t hesitate to take her out if it meant achieving our—her goals. She would’ve called it “a necessary sacrifice.” It…It never sat right with me, but who was I to say anything?” Ember’s voice quickly dropped in volume until I had to strain to make out her words.
The longer I looked at her and the fire dancing in her eyes, the more I thought I saw the girl beneath that blazing exterior. It could’ve been wishful thinking, but I wanted to believe that for the first time, Ember was questioning her attachment to the Blood Witch and whether or not it was what she wanted.
By some stroke of luck, we made it to the house in one piece. The forest had been unnaturally quiet the entire time, as though all manner of creatures were avoiding us. Even the shadows made themselves scarce.
Sometime along the way I noticed this strange sensation take form. It seemed to pop up out of nowhere, looming over my shoulder and pressing at my back. Once I noticed it there, I couldn’t force myself to stop thinking about it. The closer we got to the house and to my mate, the heavier it became, breathing down my neck.
It got to the point where I swore I could smell its sour breath curling over my shoulder. That was where I drew the line.
I must’ve made a sound or shuddered because Ember quickly cocked her head in my direction, a look that bordered on concern crossing her face.
She was nervous. I could tell by the way she twisted her fingers. She’d done it back in the basement when she’d been debating on whether or not to join our side.
We were close, having just stepped out of the thickest part of the forest into what was technically my back yard. The field that stretched out before us was large, but not so much so that I couldn’t see the patio and the lights shining from the house. My gut told me Asher was outside, peering into the darkness as he waited for me.
Words couldn’t express how much I missed him, or how nervous I was to see the look of disappointment on his face knowing what I had tried to do much as I wanted to regret trying to bring my brother back, I couldn’t. Even though it had failed, I got to see Sean one last time.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Let’s get going.”
Alpha Asher by Jane Doe
Author: Jane Doe
Native Language: English