Aaliyah, Skeagan, and Valentina sat around the Prey brothers’ room, intently discussing the situation with the missing teens. Skeagan and Val had updated Aaliyah on their discovery at the abandoned gas station. They were now trying to decide their best next move. Foremost in their minds were the pros and cons of bringing in adult help.
There was a sudden knock on the door leading out to the patio. The glass almost shattered under the urgent hand slamming against it. A silence filled the room as everyone turned to look at who was causing the commotion. Evann stood outside, his bloody face illuminated in the red light of the setting sun. He looked ghoulish, with dark circles under his eyes and cracked lips. His hair was rumpled and had twigs and leaves sticking out of it. His clothes were ripped, almost to shreds in some places, and smeared with dark stains that could have been dirt or blood—probably both. He slumped against the door frame, as if he had used the last of his energy to knock on the glass.
The teens in the room looked at each other in confusion. Valentina was the first to move. She bolted for the door and swung it open. Evann fell forward, and she struggled to catch him. Skeagan hurried across the room to help her. Together, they helped the boy shuffle over to Logan’s bed, were he collapsed with a groan. The action reminded Skeagan of a few days earlier when he carried his unconscious brother to this same bed. He studied Evann’s face, looking for any clues as to what had happened to him—and to his brother.
“Evann? Evann, can you talk to me?” Valentina was on her knees, one hand on Evann’s bruised and dirty cheek. “He needs water.” She looked up at Skeagan, her brown eyes filling with tears.
Skeagan felt stupid for just standing there. He looked over at his sister, who stood back from the others, her arms crossed. Clearly, she was suspicious of the situation. “Can you help?” Skeagan asked, exasperated. Slowly, she unfolded her arms, “What can I do?”
“I don’t know? Water, I guess.” He looked back at the boy on the bed. Evann had rolled onto his back and was groaning quietly.
“What happened, Evann? Where have you been?” Valentina asked.
His cracked lips moved but no sound came out. He frowned as if in pain and opened his eyes. They moved around as if he was looking for something. He found Skeagan, their eyes locked. He tried to speak again but still nothing. Aaliyah walked up with a glass of water and damp cloth. She held out both to Valentina.
“Thank you,” the girl murmured as she took them. “Skeagan, can you help me lift his head up?”
Holding the cup for her friend, she helped Evann sip some of the water. He closed his eyes to swallow then opened them and looked directly at Skeagan. “Logan,” his voice was low and husky, causing the younger boy to lean close. His arm was still under Evann’s head, as if cradling him.
Evann struggled to keep speaking, “Logan. He’s – hurt – they’ll kill him.” He started coughing and Skeagan lifted him up so Valentina could give him another drink. As she was about to pull it away, Evann raised a hand to stop her. He kept drinking until the glass was empty then took a long breath.
Holding onto Skeagan, he struggled into a sitting position and looked around at the others. “We have to hurry.” His voice was still low, but gaining in strength. “When they realize I’m gone…”
Aaliyah spoke, and her voice had a tremor to it that Skeagan had never heard before. “Where is our brother? What has happened to him.”
Evann looked at her, “I’m so sorry. I tried to protect him…there’s just so many. And I’m still learning to control it.” He was rambling, his thoughts disconnected and jumbled.
She blinked back tears, “Is Logan hurt?”
“Yes.” Evann’s eyebrows furrowed. “Very badly, I’m afraid. I thought he was indestructible, but the wolves...they knew how to really hurt him.”
Skeagan’s mind was racing. Everything he had seen and smelled the last few days had been like loose Lego pieces in his head, just a mixed up pile of blocks. Now they were snapping together, building an image, “The Leathers aren’t just a biker gang, are they?” He looked at Evann. “They’re lycan…werewolves.”
“Yes,” Evann replied quietly.
“And you…you’re a lycan, too?”
The girls made sounds of surprise.
“What?!” Valentina demanded, “Since when?”
Evann’s head was down, as if he were embarrassed. “One of them changed me. The Leathers, I mean.” He took a deep breath and looked up, “I met a guy at a dive bar in the next town. He seemed cool, you know? But, things got weird, his buddies showed up. Next thing I know, I wake up naked in the woods with no memory of the night before. But there was blood…a lot of it.” He grimaced, pained by the memory. “Logan found me that week. He knew what was happening to me, tried to explain that I was transforming at night, and…hurting people. He refused to leave my side after that. Every night, we would hang out together, and he would try to help me not change. Alcohol helped…and was a lot of fun.” He smiled a little and Valentina smacked his arm.
“And he was protecting you from the Leathers.” Skeagan cut in angrily, “I was there the other night, when they jumped you outside that club. If they had turned, we could have been slaughtered!”
“Guys, we don’t have time for this!” Aaliyah shouted. “Logan needs help!”
“Can you take us to him?” Valentina looked at her friend. “How are you feeling?”
“The gang is hunting tonight.” Evann scooted to the edge of the bed. “Thank you, Val, I’m better. We really do need to go. There will be a couple guards, but most of the gang should be gone. I think we can sneak him out, but it’s not going to be easy.”
The Leather's Hangout
It was dark outside. The sun had slipped behind the mountains and sucked away the light. A few stars freckled the blackness overhead. They would be the only evidence of the universe until the sun broke over the horizon. Aaliyah sat in the back seat of Valentina’s Volkswagen, with her head resting against the cool glass of the window. The convertible top was up, to keep out the chilly night air, so she looked at the stars through the window. Her thoughts were as dark as the sky. What if they were too late? What if they couldn’t save Logan?
They had decided as a group to not alert Mrs. Prey or Grandfather of the rescue attempt. They all had cell phones if things got really bad. Aaliyah was now second guessing that decision. She couldn’t help but think maybe this was a bad idea. Various scenarios played out in her head—each seemed worse than the previous with a greater chance of ending disastrously.
Evann shifted in the seat next to her, and she turned towards him. He was staring straight ahead, one arm wrapped protectively around his middle. It was hard to discern his emotions. She studied his face in the sporadic light provided by passing cars. This was her first time meeting the boy, and honestly, her opinion was tainted by Skeagan’s retelling of the past few months. She tried to reorganize her thoughts, incorporating the new information from Evann’s version of the story. Logan was a good guy, but as a brother he could be irritating. She often found it difficult to understand why either of her brothers made the choices they did. However, she had a memory of Logan once standing up for her when an older cousin was bullying her. Maybe this was similar to that situation? For some reason, her older brother had felt protective of this lycan teen. At the moment, it was hard for her to feel much more than anger fueled by worry for her brother’s safety, but a small part of her was thankful that Evann was at least trying to help save him. Maybe he wasn’t all bad.
Evann cleared his throat and leaned forward to talk to Val, who was driving, “You’ll want to slow down. There’s a dirt road up here. It’s kind of hidden by overgrowth, but I’ll show you.”
A few minutes later, they were on a bumpy road going straight into the woods.
“This is creepy,” Skeagan muttered, trying to see anything in the shadowy trees outside.
Aaliya asked, “Should we turn off the headlights?”
“It will be impossible to not run into a tree!” Val answered.
Evann spoke up, “There’s a place up ahead where you can pull off and hide the car. I think we should go the rest of the way on foot.”
“Let’s turn the car around so we can get out of here fast.” Aaliyah suggested.
“Maybe you should try turning around. This road isn’t even a road—it’s just dirt and holes!”
“Are you sure the gang is out hunting?” Skeagan asked, still staring into the woods.
Evann replied, “Yes, I’m sure of it.”
Something in his voice caused Aaliyah to look at the other teen quickly, “Evann, who are they hunting for? Is it you?”
Skeagan groaned, “Of course they are! I should have thought of that. They’re going to follow us here!”
“No they’re not.” Val sounded proud as she put the car in park and turned off the ignition. “At least, not easily. This car has a spell on it that keeps people from following it. I’m not sure exactly how the magic works, but it confuses anyone who tries to follow it.”
“Wait, what? Magic?” Aaliyah spun her head to look at the other girl then groaned and held a hand to her neck, “Okay, no more surprises people, you’re giving me whiplash. But please, explain about the magic. Are you a witch or something?”
“Yeah, exactly that.” Val replied.
“Well, that could be helpful!” Aaliyah said, clearly impressed.
“Glad you approve.” Val snapped back.
Evann cleared his throat, “Are you two done? Okay, so the Leathers gang hides out in this large cabin. It’s just down the road from here. There will be at least two guards inside, but maybe more. Logan is probably down in the basement.”
“Cabin in the woods. Kid in the basement. This whole thing is like a bad horror movie.” Val quipped.
“Only, it’s the monster that needs saved,” Skeagan said grimly.
Aaliyah looked around at the small group of teens, “We can do this! We just need to work together.”
She caught her little brother’s eyes and offered a smile. He took a deep breath and smiled back.
As they climbed out of the car, the vampires smelled the air. The lingering smell of wolf was everywhere, but none of it smelled too fresh. No scouts seemed to be active in the woods. Maybe Val’s spell was working and nobody had followed them—Aaliyah hoped this was true. She let Evann lead the way since he was the only one who had been here before. A light wind made the branches overhead scrape together producing an eerie moaning sound. Aaliyah pulled her cloak closer about her. They picked their way through the trees, trying to make as little noise as possible. Low branches reached out to grab their arms and legs, snagging on their clothes.
At last, the cabin came into view. It was a large, two-story structure that loomed ominously in clearing. Pine trees circled around it, as if trying to creep up on the structure. Bluish light came from some of the downstairs windows, casting odd shadows around the yard. Evann beckoned for everyone to keep moving and led the way to the back of the house. “There’s no outside entrance to the basement,” he whispered. “We have to go in through the back door.”
He was about to step out of the trees when a bright light filled the clearing, illuminating the cabin and surrounding area. Aaliyah looked up towards the sky, but she already knew what she would find. The moon had finally risen, round and white. A full moon that looked impossibly large out here away from the lights of the city. All eyes went to Evann, who had both arms wrapped around himself. He groaned loudly, his face contorted painfully.
“Watch out!” Aaliyah grabbed for her brother’s jacket and pulled him backward.
They couldn’t look away as Evann’s body twisted, bones stretching his skin grotesquely. His arms lengthened and he dropped to his hands and knees. Large claws ripped through the toes of his sneakers, followed by his feet bursting out—only, they weren’t feet. They were paws, covered in a dark fur. The same fur was quickly covering his entire body. His back and neck had widened. His skull had grown wider and flatter. His ears had been pushed up so they now sat closer to the top of his head and were also covered in fur. At last, the transformation seemed complete, and the creature sat hunched over, breathing heavily. It was bigger than a wolf, taller with broad shoulders.
Val shifted, as if to move toward her friend. Skeagan stepped forward to stop her, crushing dried pine needles under his feet. They both froze and stared at the creature. Slowly, it turned its head to reveal an open snout, sharp teeth bared. Its eyes glowed bright yellow in the dark fur of the face.
Val gasped, “You’re a bear!”
The creature moved then, and the teens walked backwards away from it. It stood on its hind legs and raised its front paws in the air, claws extended. It was massive, standing at almost seven feet. Then it roared, deep and bellowing. The trees shook, and the teens fell backward.
So much for sneaking in, Aaliyah thought. She could hear movement coming from the house, as the guards scrabbled to see what the commotion was.
In a moment, the back door swung open to reveal a burly form silhouetted by the light from inside. “What’s going on out there?” a gruff voice barked.
Evann turned towards the cabin and dropped to all fours, ready to charge.
“We have to work fast!” Val said, she had jumped to her feet. Violet energy sparked around her fingers as she moved them to create a spell, “I’ll hold back Evann. You grab the biker while he’s distracted. Ready?”
Aaliyah stood up, “Let’s do this!”
With a single leap, she and Skeagan stood on either side of the biker. Behind them, there was the sound of electricity snapping, and an acrid odor filled the air. Evann’s brute strength and size caught Valentina off guard, and she almost dropped the spell. Gritting her teeth and digging her Converse sneakers into the ground, she strained to hold onto the werebear that her friend had turned to into. The strings of violet energy pulsated and sparked as they coiled around one of his legs. As he pulled, she knew she could not hold on for long.
Aaliyah looked over at her brother. He was no longer a studious, fourteen-year old. His pupils were dilated, making his eyes look inhumanly black. His fang teeth had grown elongated and protruded from his mouth in an animalistic way, intended to strike fear into other creatures. His slender hands were held like claws in front of him, ready to attack. She knew her appearance was similar; this was the hunter side of their kind on display. Gone was the calm, polished exterior they presented to the world. It was replaced by something wild and dangerous. An ancient part of their nature that was as impressive as it was horrifying. With a panther-like snarl, Aaliyah jumped forward. Before the man knew what was coming, the young vampires slammed into him with a force that would have crushed a smaller human. Aaliyah sank her fangs into the hairy neck, as the lycan tried to change. Being careful not to drink any of the blood, she allowed her saliva to seep into the puncture marks. Almost instantly, the creature went limp. They stepped back and watched him roll down the three steps to the ground where he lay still.
“That was awesome!” Skeagan pumped a fist.
“Hey, guys! Maybe congratulate each other later?” Val called.
They turned just in time to see the werebear lurch forward, pulling Val off her feet. With a loud pop, the spell was broken and the violet tendrils of electricity fizzled away. Aaliyah and Skeagan braced for an impact, but instead, Evann charged around the corner of the house. There was a shout from someone out of sight, and they heard Evann roar. While Skeagan ran over to Valentina, Aaliyah dashed around to the side of the house. She found the werebear standing on his hind legs, holding up one of the gang members by the throat. The woman twisted and turned, kicking out at the creature. The werebear grabbed her head, with his other massive paw, and let out a threatening growl.
“Evann, no!” Aaliyah yelled. Sprinting forward, she leaped towards the cabin and kicked off from the rough logs. She landed high on his back, and her hands clutched at the dark fur. She sank her fangs deep into his neck, the fur filling her mouth. It made her gag, but she pushed through until she tasted flesh. The creature let out a roar, throwing the biker away. The woman slammed into a tree and was knocked unconscious. The werebear clawed at his back, turning in a circle and trying to reach Aaliyah. She held on tight, and after a few seconds, the creature slumped to the ground. Aaliyah jumped away and began coughing, trying to spit out the fur lodged in her throat.
Almost immediately, the creature began to shrink and lose its fur. Slowly, a figure began to form that resembled Evann. His body twitched and contorted with sickening sounds of tissue stretching and bones crunching back into their human places. He remained unconscious. Skeagan and Valentina had come around the corner during this transformation. She slowly walked over and knelt beside the still form of her friend. His human form looked frail and pitiful lying naked in the dirt. He was face down, and she turned his head so he could breathe.
“I’ll stay here with him.” She looked at the others, “Go find your brother!”
Aaliyah and Skeagan glanced at each other then ran to the back door. She entered first, sniffing carefully and listening for any more lycan guards in the cabin. Once again, Skeagan found himself walking through someone else’s empty house. It still felt weird, but this time, he was in vamp mode and felt less vulnerable. Plus, he had a clear focus—finding his brother.
“Basement doors are usually in the kitchen,” Aaliyah said, looking around the room. “There, maybe that’s it.” She walked over to a door and yanked it open, cracking the wood. The bolt, that had been securing it, went flying across the room. The teens stood for a moment looking at the single wooden stair behind the door. Everything beyond that was shrouded in darkness. A cool, musty breeze wafted up from the room below, causing Skeagan to sneeze.
“I smell Logan!” he said, rubbing the back of his hand across his nose.
“Gross, you should get a tissue,” Aaliyah replied, before stepping through the doorway.
Skeagan rolled his eyes and followed her. Their heightened senses allowed them to see, even with little to no light. It was one of the things that made vampires such deadly hunters. Tonight, however, it was being used to rescue, not kill.
Aaliyah strained to hear breathing or any sign that her brother was still alive. The basement felt large. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, a hall came into view. Hands up in case of a surprise attack, she began to walk slowly down the passage. Doors opened off the hall on either side of her. They were ajar, and she glanced in hurriedly as she passed each one. There was no sign of her brother in any of them, until she reached the last door. It was a heavy, wooden door, thicker than the rest and bolted closed, but she could still pick up Logan’s scent. Stepping back, she raised her foot and slammed her boot into the door. The wood cracked, but held.
“Skeagan!” she called, forgetting to be cautious, anxious to reach her brother. “Skeagan, we have to break down this door.”
He was a few steps behind her, checking one of the other rooms, “Did you see what was in here?”
“Please, help!” Aaliyah prepared to kick the door again.
Skeagan hurried to her, and together, they slammed into the door. There was a splintering sound as the wood cracked in half. Aaliyah shoved her shoulder against it and the door gave away completely, pieces clattering to the ground. She stood, breathing heavily, and looked around the dark space. At first, the room appeared empty then she saw the form lying in the corner. He was curled up, his back to the door. She hurried over and knelt down next to the older teen. Gently rolling him over, she lay a hand against his bruised and bloody face. Her ears picked out his heart, beating faintly. He felt so cold, and her breath caught in her throat. What monsters would treat someone like this?
Skeagan stood behind her, looking down at their brother. Just a day ago, he had been so angry at Logan. Now, seeing the older teen laying here limp and beaten, all he could feel was remorse. Their fight in the bathroom kept replaying in his head. It hadn’t really sunk in at the time, but now he remembered the way his big brother had cried. Why hadn’t he been more understanding? He loved Logan, why hadn’t he told him that? Maybe then he wouldn’t have run away and wouldn’t be lying here in this dirty basement, right now.
Aaliyah’s voice broke into his thoughts, “We need to get him out of here. Do you think it’s safe to move him? I can’t tell where he is injured.”
“I don’t know. But we can’t just let him lay there.”
“We’ll just have to risk it.” Aaliyah scooped her hands under Logan’s body and lifted him with little effort. Never had she been more thankful for vampire strength. “Let’s go, lead the way, Skeagan.”
The boy nodded and began walking. As they passed the room he had been examining earlier, he stopped. “Give me a minute,” he said, then stepped through the doorway.
“We don’t have time! What are you doing?”
Skeagan reappeared almost immediately, holding up an IV bag of clear liquid, “I don’t know what this is, but there are a lot of them in there.” He shoved the bag in his coat pocket, and they continued upstairs.
The kitchen seemed the same as they walked out of the cold darkness of the basement. However, Skeagan felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck. He looked around warily, ready for an ambush. Then they both heard it—the distant roar of motorcycle engines! The siblings exchanged looks of panic, and began sprinting for the back door. Skeagan leaped outside and dashed around the corner. Valentina stood next to Evann’s body. She had taken off her hoody and laid it over him in attempt to protect him from the winter night. As Skeagan came around the corner, her brown eyes met his, and she read his fear.
“They’re coming, aren’t they?”
Skeagan didn’t have to answer, in the next second the motorcycles were close enough that even the witch could hear.
“We have to get to the car and get out of here,” he said.
She nodded, and began looking in her bag for the car keys.
Aaliyah came around the corner carrying Logan. She glanced at the unconscious teen on the ground, “Grab him and let’s go!”
Skeagan sighed as he bent down to pick up the other boy. He grimaced at the awkward situation, bracing the limp form over one shoulder. He didn’t enjoy having a naked butt so close to his face.
It took some maneuvering to get everybody in the little car. Skeagan wound up sitting between the two unconscious teens, with Val and Aaliyah in the front seat. Val started the car and put it in gear, but Aaliyah put a hand on her arm before she could accelerate.
“Wait, they’re almost here. We won’t be able to get out of the driveway.”
The two girls looked at each other in heavy silence. Val’s eyebrows furrowed, trying to think of a way out of the situation. Slowly, she said, “I might have a spell that can help. I have never used it before, but I’ve read about it.”
She reached into her bag and pulled out a very old-looking book with a black, leather cover. Aaliyah and Skeagan looked at it with surprise and curiosity, but they didn’t say anything. Valentina opened the book on her lap and began flipping through the pages. She tried to hurry, while also being gentle with the pages. The parchment was fragile, and she didn’t want to tear anything. After a few pages she said, “Here! This might do it. It’s an invisibility spell, and I’m going to try to project it over the whole car.”
She began uttering words in a language the Preys had never heard before. As she did, she moved her hands together then pulled them apart. The light between her hands was still purplish, like the spell she had used earlier, but it was softer than the electric bolts. This spell was a soft glow, like a nightlight. Still chanting, she held her arms up and spread her hands apart, stretching the light out like ethereal dough. With one last breathy word, she let go and the lavender-colored light filled the cabin of the car with a flash that evaporated quickly.
Valentina looked at Aaliyah then Skeagan. “I don’t know if it worked,” she said in an apologetic tone.
Skeagan smiled at her, “Well, it looked amazing.”
She smiled back then looked to Aaliyah.
“Thanks, Valentina. I know you did your best. Now we just have to hope.”
Headlights illuminated their faces, making the teens squint and turn to look out the windshield. The Leathers had arrived. Dozens of motorcycles were pulling into the driveway with roaring engines. The gang members were whooping and shouting, threatening war cries that filled the quiet woods. Instinctually, the teens ducked down in their seats, trying to hide. Everyone held their breath as the first biker approached. They watched her go by, and it felt like time slowed down. She had one furry fist in the air, and her face had already started contorting into a wolf’s. Her eyes glowed yellow as she turned her head in the direction of the car hidden on the side of the road. Valentina was sure the lycan saw them, but no, she kept moving forward. Maybe their scent had drawn her attention? Val couldn’t be sure, but whatever had made the lycan biker look in their direction was not enough to make her stop. The spell was working to hide them from sight!
After several minutes of bikers riding by, the last one disappeared down the dirt road. The teens breathed a sigh of relief, and Valentina started the car again, “Let’s get out of here!”
As the little Volkswagen pulled onto the highway, the sound of a howl came from the cabin behind them. It hung in the chilly air, like smoke. An angry cry for revenge that sent a shiver down Aaliyah’s spine.
Aaliyah stood in the doorway of the room that had been set up for her brother. Currently, it looked like the most comfortable hospital room in the world. A medical bed had been set up near one of the large windows, and golden sunlight streamed in across Logan’s sleeping figure. He had not regained consciousness since being rescued, and the family doctor was not sure when he would.
In the chair next to the bed, Evann sat with phone in hand. He had recovered quickly from Aaliyah’s bite and, now, seldom left Logan’s bedside. He had shared everything he could remember about the Leathers, even appearing before the Council to testify on their mistreatment of Logan. All the vampire families were coming into town to convene over the issue of the lycan gang. It was bigger than just Logan’s coma. The contents of the IV bag Skeagan had grabbed were a cause of grave concern for the vampires. It was a substance meant to be weaponized against the vampires in some way.
The leader of the Leathers currently remained a mystery to the Council. Whoever was rallying the lycans against the clan must hold a personal grudge, Aaliyah thought. She would not be surprised if the secret was tied into the recent war that had taken her father’s life.
At that moment, Evann looked up, and she offered a small smile. She knew he held himself responsible for Logan’s current condition. Internally, she had forgiven him for his role to play in the events that unfolded. Ultimately, she realized, it had been Logan’s choice to protect the young lycan. After all, Evann hadn’t asked to be changed. The biker gang was the ones who should be held responsible for what they had done to Logan and Evann.
Aaliyah was prepared to do whatever she needed to get justice for her brother.
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