This was it.
The city was bustling with life. Cars honked noisily and whizzed by on the hot asphalt, people walked down the cracked cement sidewalks, some with friends, others with cell phones in hand, and others with dogs. Zade and Annabelle walked down the street, amazed by the life there. Although they weren’t completely naïve to the way things worked (the old village remained up to date on the ways of outsiders), they were still quite astonished having now the chance to observe it in person, with their own eyes and ears—to experience it with their own senses.
They’d been there for a few days already, settling in nicely at a condo (thanks to Annabelle’s innocent charm that convinced the old man who owned it to let them stay, as long as they worked and cleaned up, their rent was infinitely cheaper.) Annabelle chose to sell Shayde and Obsidian for a hefty price to the old man’s grandson Abel, who owned a farm about fifteen miles south of the city. Zade and Annabelle had gotten identification cards, and with the money Annabelle had received from selling her horses, they bought some new clothes. They were in search of jobs outside of the condo though to bring in money for food and whatever else they needed, like furniture that Zade couldn’t fashion out of wood.
After a long fourth day in the city, now somewhat accustomed to the way things worked around here, the two settled into the local bar. O’Neil’s was its name, and it was dimly lit with the golden glow of spotlights above the bar counter and nothing more. Behind the smooth dark counter were three women, all of which were plainly dressed and purely average looking. As soon as Zade and Annabelle sat down on the two end stools, a woman with a long, thin face and sleek black hair as dark as a crow’s feathers approached only Zade, capturing his attention by knocking on the counter in front of him.
“Pick your poison,” she said alluringly, gesturing behind her to the racks of liquor. Zade chuckled and looked pointedly at Annabelle, secretly asking if she wanted anything. She shook her head minutely and giggled as he kissed her tenderly on the forehead.
“Whisky,” he said slowly, eyeing the woman peculiarly. She set his teeth on edge, and he protectively laced his arm around Annabelle’s waist, urging her closer to him. The woman’s eyes shot down to their entwined hands and then without a word fetched a glass and some whisky for Zade. Once poured, she slid it over to him, a stoic expression plastered on her face. Zade swore he recognized those hazel eyes, so he pushed himself to ask her name.
“Vesta,” she replied, holding her hand out. Zade, not wanting to be rude, pulled his hand away from Annabelle’s and shook Vesta’s firmly. A ripple of painful electricity shot through Zade and he instantly retracted his hand and wrapped it around his shot of whisky. He held it for what seemed like ten years but it was only a few seconds. He sniffed the air covertly, and then wrinkled his nose in distaste. Vesta continued to make pleasant conversation with Annabelle while Zade resisted the animal urge to rip the woman’s throat out.
He was no fool; he smelled the wolfsbane as soon as she poured it in his drink. He pretended that nothing was going on, for Annabelle’s sake, but did not drink his whisky.
“On second thought,” Annabelle said, “I think I’ll take his whisky. It doesn’t look like he’s gonna drink it.” With a suppressed laugh, she gripped it tight, put it to her lips, and downed the shot, feeling the warm, tingly burn as it trailed down her throat. Annabelle coughed abruptly and then smiled sheepishly.
“I was never much of a drinker,” she admitted, patting Zade’s leg once. “Right Zade?”
He nodded rigidly, focusing all of his attention on Vesta. After a few more minutes of listening to Annabelle and Vesta talk excitedly about something (Zade wasn’t really paying any attention), the conversation suddenly twisted from innocuous to dangerous.
“Do you guys believe in werewolves and stuff?” Vesta asked, deliberately glaring at Zade.
Annabelle snorted. “Of course not, that’s silly,” she said, and Zade grimaced a bit. Vesta noticed his uneasiness with the topic, and Zade noticed that Vesta noticed, and immediately decided that there was a definite problem with that.
“I think it’d be pretty cool to be a werewolf, don’t you think Zade?” Vesta intentionally directed the question to him, a malicious smile spreading over her thin, dry lips.
“The knowledge of his nature would burden everyone he loved,” Zade said, glowering at Vesta, narrowing his eyes into suspicious slits. “So I don’t think it’d be cool to be one.”
Vesta’s face fell ever-so-slightly. Annabelle yawned and suggested that they go home now. She tossed Vesta a five for the whisky and got on her feet, sliding smoothly off of the bar stool. Vesta seemed genuinely disappointed when Zade agreed and both moved towards the door.
“I’ll meet you out there in a second, I’ve got to use the bathroom before we go,” Zade murmured to Annabelle, who nodded and waited for him outside. Zade, not caring if he was breaking some kind of code, walked into the back rooms, knowing she would follow. And she did.
“Nice touch with the wolfsbane, witch,” Zade said through gritted teeth. Vesta smirked devilishly.
“I thought so, mutt.”
“You really shouldn’t insult me,” he warned Vesta, the inner beast’s wildness glimmering behind his eyes.
“And you really shouldn’t be with her,” she muttered. “You’re an uncivilized monster; you could kill her.”
Zade scoffed. “I’d never hurt Bella. And as far as being an uncivilized monster, I’m sure you fall into that category as well.” He turned to the swinging door. “Now stay away from Bella. And stay away from me. Or I will hunt you down and rip you apart limb by limb.”
Vesta cackled, her laughter reverberating off of the walls menacingly. “I’m sure you’d like that, lycan. Just know that you and Annabelle?—it’ll never work out. And when you realize that, or when she realizes what you are, whichever comes first, you’ll think it wise to join me. The non-gifted humans will wage war against us—against the gifted. We need our numbers—”
Zade huffed incredulously. “Gifted? You think this is a gift? There’s a reason it’s called the Moonlight Curse. And I will not oppose Annabelle in any war firstly because there is no war,” he stifled another laugh, “ and secondly, I would never stray from her side and leave her unprotected.”
Zade pushed the door open swiftly.
"How foolishly romantic," Vesta said as the door closed and swung back open. Vesta hissed and caught his wrist before giving him the chance to leave.
“You will see me again.”
That was all she said, but Zade knew it was true. After all, she was a witch, and if she hadn’t cast a hex on him or on Annabelle already, she surely would in the future. And she’d make sure that Zade joined her on the gifted side, even if she had to hurt him.
Because truly, pain convinces all.