Chapter Thirty-Eight

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"Luke," I screamed, my voice echoing through the stillness of the shadowy woods. "She's going after Riley and Elena. Luke, we have to go home."

Please hear me, please, please, please. That one word hammered through my head, blotting out all other thought, panic swamping my mind so hard I could barely see where I was going. My foot caught in a dip in the ground and I stumbled forward, flinging out my hands to stop myself.

A strong arm caught me. I blinked and focused on Luke's face.

"What's going on?" he cried.

"Rachel...the rogues..." I gasped. "They're going after Riley and Elena."

Horror spread across Luke's face, a mirror image of my own gut-wrenching dread.

"Where are the others?" I cried.

The part of my brain that could still think logically noted that we didn't know how many vampires were working for Rachel, which meant we had no idea what we were up against. If Luke and I rushed in without backup, we could find ourselves completely overwhelmed.

Rachel flashed out of the shadows, her blonde hair streaking behind her. She knocked into Luke and he flew backwards, crashing into a tree. Rachel stalked towards him, fangs glinting, claws like daggers at the ends of her fingers. I grabbed her arm, wrenching it away from Luke, but she swung with the momentum and swiped her claws at my face. I barely dodged. Luke came up behind her and she jabbed a hard elbow into his stomach. He doubled over and she hit him again, her palm snapping up into his face.

"Kiara, go," Luke gasped. He grabbed Rachel by both arms, pulling her back as she started to go for me.

"I'm not leaving you," I cried, pulling a knife from my belt. I slashed at Rachel's chest, but she swung around with impossible strength and speed, and I barely missed slicing open Luke's back.

Rachel threw Luke off, snarling like a wild animal. When I saw her like this, lips peeling back from sharp fangs, face contorted with savagery, eyes flashing like hellfire, I could understand why, however long ago this all started, people had started hunting vampires. Rachel symbolised everything that hunters had ever feared and loathed.

She charged at Luke and he met her mid-leap, tackling her to the ground. The two vampires rolled over, snarling and tearing at each other. They moved too fast for me to dart in and help.

Suddenly Luke had the advantage, pinning Rachel to the ground, and twisting her arms behind her back. She growled and snapped and writhed, churning up dirt and leaves beneath her thrashing body. The muscles in Luke's arms stood out with the effort of trying to keep her pinned.

"Kiara, get home and help them," he cried.

I hesitated. The back of Rachel's neck was exposed, a slice of white skin peeking between the mass of blonde hair. All I had to do was run forward and plunge my knife into her neck –

"Kiara, please."

Rachel reared up, breaking Luke's hold on her. She lunged at me but he caught her around the waist, bringing her crashing back down to the ground. Over her thrashing form, his eyes met mine, dark with terrible fear. Elena could fight, but she couldn't take on an entire gang of vampires by herself. If I stayed to help Luke, it would be too late to save Riley and Elena. If I went to save them, and Luke was left to fight Rachel alone, she might kill him.

Every cell in my body screamed at me to leap into the fight and knife the bitch that was hurting my boyfriend. But Elena and Riley needed me more than Luke did. If I let them down out of my own selfishness, I wasn't sure I'd ever forgive myself.

I ran and left Luke, and it was the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.

I called out to the others as I ran, hoping that they would either follow the sound of my voice, or locate the fight I'd left behind and go to help Luke. I'd told them all to position themselves where they could run out and help if anyone needed it, and I had to trust that's what they had done.

They could be following me now and I wouldn't hear it over the crashing of my heart and the frenzied rasp of breath in my lungs.

As I ran, I prayed.

Elena had to be alright. She might look pretty and delicate but she could hold her own against a threat. Riley wasn't trained to fight but if she was cornered, she'd fight back. She'd never go down easily.

But that wasn't enough, not against a pack of vicious rogue vampires.

I thought I was running as fast as I could already go, but when an image of Elena and Riley, bleeding and broken, seared my mind, I found speed I never knew I had. I tore through the woods, leaves slapping my face, branches tugging at my hair, until I exploded onto the streets of Dalwick.

Despite the terror invading me, I had just enough presence of mind to slide the knife back into my belt, and arrange my jacket so that it hid the blade. I couldn't afford anyone to see me running around waving a knife.

My feet pounded on the pavement and the rhythm was matched by the please, please, please throbbing through my head. I couldn't be too late. I wouldn't be too late. I'd get home and Riley and Elena and would be fine and –

My feet stumbled, shock almost sending me to my knees. The clan's house stood in front of me, the familiar walls and curtain-darkened windows...the front door hanging open...

For a moment I couldn't move. I wanted to believe that one of my friends had somehow beaten me here, but the thin thread of hope was obliterated by a rising tide of dread.

"No," I whispered.

That one word galvanised me into action and I raced across the street, fumbling at my belt for a knife. Fear clawed along my skin, the sense of absolute wrongness. Something was here. Something had invaded the place I'd come to think of as home. If that something had hurt the people I loved – I couldn't finish that thought.

I stepped through the open doorway, knife gripped tightly in one hand. The house was silent and still around me, but the air held a whisper of danger. I inched down the hallway, placing each foot with caution so the floorboards didn't creak under my weight. A yellow bar of light peeped from under the kitchen door, and I edged towards it, tension singing through my muscles. I couldn't hear anything; the house was like a mausoleum, but that didn't fool me. Something was here and I wasn't stupid enough to let my guard down just because I couldn't see the threat.

Reaching out, I pushed open the door.

My heart leaped into my throat.

Elena lay on the kitchen floor, bloody and unmoving.

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