Chapter Thirty-Eight

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We couldn't run through the woods as fast as I wanted to. The trees were all thickly-leaved, and their interlocking branches blocked out all but the smallest trickles of moonlight. I'd run this way before, and if we tried going full-speed through the maze of bushes, branches, and upraised tree-roots, someone was going to trip and hurt themselves. We didn't have time for that.

As I spotted Luke slipping fluidly between the trees, I envied him his superior night-vision.

"What are you doing here?" I asked Marc, as we jogged side by side through the trees.

Luke darted around a cluster of bushes and fell into a steady pace on my other side. Marc might be here to help, but it was clear that Luke had no intention of leaving me alone with anyone, especially not a former hunter who had re-materialised out of nowhere.

"Clara and Ava said you left," I added.

Saying Ava's name brought the now-familiar stab of pain to my battered heart. Marc didn't even know she was dead. He probably thought that Noah and Ava and Clara all still lived in the team's house together.

Somehow I couldn't bring myself to tell him the truth.

"After you went off to live with the vampires, it got me thinking," Marc said, ducking under a low-hanging branch. "Noah was always the one who kept persuading me that vamps were bloodthirsty monsters, but I was starting to realise that that didn't add up. If vamps were as bad as he always said, how come a whole clan of them let you move in and never hurt a hair on your head? How come they all came to your defence when that Madeleine woman kidnapped you? It didn't make sense." He ducked another branch; I was short enough to just jog under it. "So I started investigating vampires for myself, trying to see them through fresh eyes rather than just listening to everything Noah told me."

"That's why you left," Clara guessed, drawing level with us on Luke's other side. Her lithe, black-clad body almost blended with the shadows.

Marc nodded. "I didn't want to go, but I couldn't think for myself with Noah still in the house, still spewing his venom."

I'd never heard Marc talk like that about Noah. Immediate family aside, he was the longest-running member of our former team, and the only person that Noah had ever called a friend. But friendships could be broken. Noah's blind hatred and stubborn refusal to change really had driven away every single person he'd ever had any sort of link to.

"You could at least have told us you were going. Why didn't you?" Clara asked.

"Don't know, really." It was too dark to properly see Marc's expression, but there was an apologetic note in his voice. "I needed some space to think and I thought that meant getting away from you all."

Clara didn't say anything to that, and I wondered if she minded. When she'd been a part of the team, she'd more or less kept herself to herself. She'd shared the house with us and she'd accompanied us on hunting missions, but she'd never been friends with any of us. But that didn't mean she hadn't cared. I knew that now. There was a lot more to Clara than met the eye, and it wasn't unreasonable to assume that Marc's abrupt departure might have hurt her in some way.

"Anyway, once I started looking at things objectively, I realised Kiara was right. Not all vamps are evil. Some of them are, sure, and those are the ones that I still plan to hunt down, but they're not all the same," Marc said. "It wasn't easy shaking off everything I thought I knew, and starting again, but I'm glad I did."

"But how did you know to come back here?" I asked.

"That Rachel woman wasn't exactly subtle about spreading word of her schemes, and she didn't make any secret of the fact that she wanted you dead. Anyone even remotely connected to the vampire world knew that something big was happening in Dalwick."

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