Julia, I know you’re probably freaking out right now and I’m terribly sorry that I chose to do it this way, but on the bright side, your boyfriend is not going to be hurt. As your first test, you just have to find him. And then you can take him and leave. No one is danger. This test is meant for me to be able to track how well you can control your senses. Hearing, sight, smell, so on. That way we’ll know how to start your training later. Again: sorry that this will probably worry you, but it’s simply something I do for everyone. Don’t worry about him getting hurt; he’ll be fine. Good luck.
“Julia,” Kai repeats. I lower my shaking hand and look up at him. His face looks shadowed with the dim lighting of the bathroom overhead. “What does this mean? Who’s Marcus to you?”
I sigh and rub my face in my hands. “Look, I don’t want anything to do with him, but . . he’s my alpha. I’m his delta, apparently. Not too sure what that is yet. He bit me less than a week ago, and he’s been bothering my family since. I don’t know why, and I was just gonna keep away from him, but . . now I have to find him. I’m sorry, I–I didn’t think he’d drag Elijah into this. I’ll find him.” Kai nods and take Elijah’s phone from me, sliding into his back pocket. He doesn’t look very confused, or angry, like I would expect, which makes me think he already knew something before this. I furrow my brows at him. “Do you–do you know him?”
A man walks into the bathroom as I say that. He glances between us, squinting, then walks around us and into a stall. Kai grabs my arm and pulls me toward the exit, so I latch onto Milton and pull him along too. We scoot out of the way of the bathrooms before he lets go, now in as much privacy as we can get at a place like this.
I feel a tug on my jeans and look down. “What happened to Elijah?” Milton asks, his big, innocent brown eyes peering up at me. I smile and rub my hands through his hair.
“We’ll find him,” I answer. I go back to Kai. “So do you know him?”
“Yeah, well, I mean . . I know of him,” he says. “He’s not someone I’m about to get involved with. And I don’t want him near my brother either. But we can talk about that later. Right now we need to find him. Do you believe what he wrote about not wanting to hurt Elijah?”
I consider it, then shake my head. “No. I think that he doesn’t intend to, but from what I’ve seen, he has a temper. If Elijah says something that sets him of . . . it could end badly.”
“Okay,” he says, nodding. He closes his eyes, in deep thought about something. “Okay, unless you have another idea, we’re gonna have to do as Marcus suggested and track him by scent.” He looks at me hopefully, but I shake my head no. I’m panicking on the inside because I have no idea how to find Elijah, but I make sure no one can tell.
All I can see is Elijah getting attacked, being hurt. I can see him being choked, thrown against a wall like was. If something goes wrong, he could get hurt. It’ll be all my fault. There’s no telling how Elijah feels about all this after everything with his dad and . . . I have to find him. Now. As soon as I do, I’m going to beat the hell out of Marcus for doing this to him. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me because of it; I will kill him if I have to.
“How do we do this?” I ask. Kai opens his mouth but is interrupted by Milton before he can say anything.
“I want to help.” I look down at him and it hits me that we don’t have anybody to leave him with. We can’t involve him in this. We need to leave him somewhere, with somebody. Just not with us.
“We can’t keep him with us,” I explain to Kai. “It’s dangerous, he could get hurt, and–and I definitely don’t want him to see anything.”
Kai nods, agreeing with me as Milton protests. “I agree, but what am I supposed to do with him? I don’t know anyone here. I have nowhere to take him.”
I close my eyes so I can think better. I desperately want to run my fingers through my hair, pace, or punch something to get my frustration out, but I remain calm. I can’t let it show, and having a meltdown will not help. I’ve already done it once on front of Kai and I do not plan on coming off as worthless. I can handle this. I can handle this.
“Okay,” I announce, coming to a decision. “Marcus wants me, so you can’t just show up there without me. He’ll find who you are, and what you are, and then you’ll be putting both you and your brothers in danger. So I’ll go alone. Show me what to do, and while I hunt down Elijah, you can take Milton to my house. My sister can watch him until we get back. Give me Elijah’s phone.” I hold my hand out and he passes it over. “Your number’s on this, correct?”
“Okay. As soon as I find Elijah, I will call you and tell you where we are. Or if you get done first, you can call me and we’ll meet up and find him together.”
He stares at me with his brown eyes, the same as Milton’s but without the innocence. “I’m not letting you go alone,” he says. “He’s my brother and I’ll go find him. You take Milton. I’m the one who has the experience.” My patience has run plum out, so I find myself grabbing his shirt and pulling him down so that he’s eye-level with me. Our faces are mere centimeters apart.
“Listen to me, you dingleberry,” I hiss. “You cannot go alone, or else Marcus will likely come after you. I have to be the one. And I can guarantee you that I’m not going to stop so I can take Milton home. We are wasting precious time by discussing this. I am going to find Elijah, with or without you, so you can either agree with me and we can work together, or we can work apart and hope one of us finds him first.” He glares into my eyes so long that I begin to think he’s too stubborn to agree with me, but he finally succumbs.
“Fine,” he says through gritted teeth. “But whenever you find him, wait for me to get there before you go inside, if it’s a building. Now let go of my shirt.” He pries my hand off his shirt. My emotional side tells me to scream at him, tell him there’s no way I’m stopping to wait on him, but my logical side tells me it will be faster if I just go ahead and agree with him. That’s the part I choose to listen to, though I’m not actually going to wait for him.
“Okay, whatever,” I state. “Now show me how to do this.”
I steal someone’s bike by the entrance and ride off in the direction that I believe Elijah’s scent leads. I can’t ride in a car or else I won’t be able to smell, and sprinting will draw too much attention to myself. I want to run so bad it hurts. But at least I get to ride this bike. That’s a miracle in itself. Plus, I couldn’t exactly enjoy the run right now anyway.
I gave Kai directions to my house before he left with a protesting Milton to leave him with Logan temporarily. I left her a short message explaining that it’s an emergency, though I’m sure I sounded like a crazy person. I’m sure she’s going to be upset at me until I can explain myself thoroughly, but I do think that she’ll comply.
The whole “tracking by scent” thing is actually pretty easy, I find. I basically knew how to do it already; I just lacked the focus. It’s not near as hard as I thought it would be, and I can smell things that are miles away. I’ve been trying to tune out all the new smells and sounds that have been affecting me when instead, I should have been using the extra help. All I needed to do was embrace it and then it comes naturally to me.
I can still smell the the different foods and people from the festival by the time I get several miles away. I ignore that and focus on Elijah’s scent, even though I never realized he had a scent before today. Sure, he smelt like laundry detergent, cologne, or whatever he had on, but I didn’t realize he had an actual scent until now. And I’m following that scent to wherever it leads me.
At the least, this gives me hope that all the werewolf stuff won’t be as hard as I thought it would be. If I can control my sense of smell and my hearing this easily, then surely I could handle the emotions and myself in general just as easily, right? With a little help like Kai gave me earlier, it should be easy. I hope.
Focus on finding Elijah. His scent is getting stronger. Wait, where am I? I look around and realize that I’ve gone into the abandoned part of town. Empty warehouses, crumbling buildings, old houses. I guess if I was going to kidnap someone, this would be the place to take them. I pedal harder as the aroma grows stronger, dropping my bike and sprinting once I recognize what building it’s coming from.
The large warehouse looms high above me, at least two or three stories high. I can see broken windows near the top. I run over and fumble with the large door in the front, trying to slide it open, but it refuses to budge. I’m getting ready to search for another entrance when I remember Kai. I quickly figure out the address, text it to him, then put the phone on silent and back into my pocket. I’m taking no chance of it going off at the wrong time.
I have to find him, I have to find him, I have to find him. Please let him be okay. I race around the side of the building and find a side door. Upon grabbing the doorknob I find that it’s locked too. The door bangs around in the frame before I let it go. Anxiety and adrenaline rushes through me once again, and I take a step to search for another way in. There’s gotta be another way in. There’s gotta be . . . There.
An old ladder runs up the side of the building, passing some broken windows at the top. I don’t even consider the fact that it’s so high up when I jump onto the ladder and begin to scale the building. I don’t look down, don’t think about the height I must be at at all. All I can think about is that Elijah is inside there because of me and I have to find him. The next rung breaks as I grab it with my hand and it catches me off balance for a moment. My heart explodes in my chest and I dangle for a split second before grabbing the one above it. I chuck the broken one to the ground and keep going.
When I reach the broken windows, I don’t stop to prepare myself. If I do, I know I’ll end up doubting myself and back out. Instead, I put all thoughts aside and grab onto the window sill, ignoring the broken shards of glass. I swing away from the ladder, dangling in mid-air once again. Pulling myself through is the easiest thing I’ve done all day. I land crouched down on my feet, not fully aware of what I just did.
The room I’ve pulled myself into is completely empty and smells like mildew. It’s eerily silent. As I slowly raise to my feet, all I can hear is my own heartbeat thudding in my chest. For the first time, it hits me how much danger I’m putting myself in right now. I can’t trust Marcus; he could’ve easily been lying to me. But I also know that I don’t care about any of that, as long as i find and protect Elijah.
I ignore the unsettling feeling in my chest and shake myself out of my stupor. Focus on his scent. He’s close.
“Elijah!” I yell. My voice echoes, bouncing across the walls and back to me. I step forward hesitantly, but then realize I’m being irrational and wasting time. I yank the door in the room open to find a long hallway extending with doors on either side. Take a breath, you’re fine. Just find Elijah. Easy as pie. You got this. I sniff, stepping out and turning to the left. A set of stairs leading down lies at the end, and I race down them. Elijah’s scent grows stronger so I know I’m going the right way.
“Elijah!” My brain pounds against the sides of my head. God, I have a fucking headache. I must have been ignoring it before, but I’m feeling it now. I reach the bottom level and follow his scent down another hallway. It opens up at the end here the entrance is, a room big enough to fit three of my houses in. It’s coming from the right. My head pivots in its direction and I see a sizable concrete door next to me, after the hallway’s wall ends and there’s a corner for me to turn down. That’s where it’s coming from. That’s where Elijah is.
I run to the door, now finding that it’s two doors instead of one, side by side. I latch onto the handles and pull. Locked. Elijah’s scent is overwhelming now; I know that he is in there. And yet I still can’t get to him. The doors are a good ten feet wide and eight feet tall, as well as being incredibly heavy or else I’d try knocking them down.
“Elijah! Elijah!” I pound on the doors desperately with my fists, screaming. My fear fades into anger and worry. I’m so close. I’m so close. “Open the door! OPEN THE DAMN DOOR!”
A quiet voice speaks up from the other side, probably right next to the door. “Julia,” he starts. Marcus. “You’ve done good so far. I’m not going to hurt him, okay? Calm down. This is only a test. Just a test. There’s only one last thing you need to do and then you can take him and leave. There’s a key. I hid it for you to find. You used your sense of smell to get here, now you have to use your hearing to leave. The key is in a box with a machine sending off high frequency radio waves. Tune in your hearing and you’ll hear it. Then you can find the key that unlocks these doors and you’re welcome to leave. Again, Julia: don’t panic. Do you believe me when I say that no one needs to get hurt?”
My breathing continues to come out heavily, but I manage to think rationally long enough to answer him. “No. You attacked me simply because of a smart-aleck comment I made. You’re very easy to set off. Why would I believe that you won’t hurt him? Or anything you say, for that matter?” He doesn’t answer at first. All I hear is the sound my breathing and our heartbeats–Elijah’s, Marcus’s, and mine.
After a moment or two, he finally answers. “Well, that’ll change soon enough. Good luck, Julia. Focus on the waves.”
Anger and desperation wells up in me and words get lodged in my throat. I take a few deep breaths until I can take control of myself, leaning against the door. I close my eyes and rest the palm of my hand against it, as if that’ll bring me closer to Elijah.
“I’m so sorry, Elijah. I’m sorry I got you into this. I’ll find the key. I’m gonna get you out. I love you.” I don’t get a response and I don’t expect one. Surprisingly enough. His heart rate seems to be going steady, calmer even than mine. I expected it to be rapid and out of control. The eerie calmness of it worries me more than it would have had it been beating quickly. With that, I back away, my eyes still shut. You got this, Julia. You got this. Just focus on your hearing. It’s just like trying to find a scent. Focus. My hearing sharpens, so the heartbeats and breathing sounds get louder, but no radio waves.
Then, I hear something. Still not radio waves, but it does seem significant. A fourth heartbeat, coming from another room. I’m assuming it’s one of Marcus’s goons. It doesn’t sound like the person is moving, and I can’t figure out where it’s coming from anyway, so I choose to disregard it for now. I spend another minute listening intently before I get angry, sighing.
“I can’t hear anything,” I call out, annoyed. “This isn’t working.”
“Yes, you can. Give it some time,” Marcus returns. I feel a spark light inside me and before I register what I’m doing, I’m snarling and slamming my fist into the door. I sound like an animal. Pain erupts in my hand, but it doesn’t affect me much and it fades away just as quickly. I try focusing on the sound again, but come up with nothing. I can hear the wind blowing outside, birds’ wings flapping, a piece of crumpled paper rolling down the street, but not a damn radio wave. I guess that’s kind of the point of this test, but it’s pissing me off.
Leaning against the door, I begin to slide down to the floor, resting my arms on my knees. I sigh and decided to check Elijah’s phone. Three missed calls and four texts from Kai. I can already guess what they’re going to say so I don’t bother looking at them. It’s been twenty-five minutes since I sent Kai the address. He should be showing up anytime now, but that doesn’t solve the problem. I still need to find the key.
“Elijah,” I say, turning my head toward the doors. “I’m trying, okay? I’ll get in there. Just hold on.” There’s nothing in response so I don’t know if he hears me, or if he’s even awake, but I hope that he does.
“Julia, you can shift if you need to,” Marcus says. The thing is, it’s taking all the willpower I have right now not to shift because I’m so angry. It’s gotten to the point that I can’t even focus on the sounds anymore, but I’m afraid if I do shift I won’t be in my right mind. But what other choice is there?
I push myself to the feet and shut my eyes, keeping them shut until I’m sure that I’ve completely shifted over. When I open them, my vision is different again so I know that my eyes are glowing. It’s almost the same as before, except now the colors are different. They seem almost . . glazed over, if that makes any sense. Since it was so dark in here before, I can actually see a little bit better now. I didn’t even realize how dark it was, but now it’s better. I wonder if this is how dogs see? Or something similar?
I try not to dwell on the flood of emotions rising up inside me, or the massive headache resonating in my head. I tell myself to just go by instinct and listen to the sounds around me. And it works. I hear a quiet ringing sound in my ears, just barely loud enough for me to pick up on. I’m not completely sure it’s the radio waves that I’m looking for, but it’s something, so I follow it. Up the stairs, down the hallway, and into the second door on the right. The sound has gotten louder, which makes me think this is the room it’s coming from. I gradually step in, but the room appears to be empty so I just walk normally. I take several steps and the sound grows louder. Several more, and it grows louder again. I keep going like that until the sound gets quieter and I realize I must have passed it.
I backtrack a yard or two and feel something beneath my feet. A vibration, almost. I squat down and the sound gets louder. It’s coming from underneath me, but . . it wasn’t on the first floor. How is that possible? As I focus my eyes on the floor, I notice that it’s not cement in here–it’s wood. Wood panels. That’s it, I realize. It’s underneath the panels.
I tear off a panel in front of me, find it empty, and reach for the one behind it. It opens up to a small alcove where someone could hide something in it, like Marcus did. Inside is is some kind of radio with a small key next to it. Relief foods through me and I shut the radio off. Smiling, I reach for the key, but I suddenly hear a creak behind me and I recall the extra heartbeat I heard earlier. I forgot about it.
I whip around and latch onto someone’s throat before I can even get a good look at them. It’s a man, probably in his mid-to-late twenties with jet black hair combed sideways across his head. I’ve never seen him before, I know that much. My claws seep into the sides of his throat as I hold him away from me with one hand.
“Relax, I’m just here to make sure you don’t do anything. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” he says. He smiles at me, but something about him sets me on edge and I don’t like it.
I smile back at him and sink my claws in deeper, enjoying the rush of adrenaline I get. “I bet.” I can feel the muscles in his neck tensing up and feel it move around my claws as it tries to heal. I pull my arm back and sling him forward. He hits the ground and slides into a wall that’s around fifteen away from me. Blood seeps its way up my arm and splatters onto my clothing. For some reason, I don’t really have any thoughts in my brain; I don’t comprehend what’s going on. I’m acting purely on emotion and instinct, like an animal or baby would. Which means if I’m enjoying something, I will continue to do it no matter what it is. And right now that means attacking whoever this man is.
My mouth pulls back in a huge smile, my elongated canines poking out. He struggles to pull himself off the ground as I step closer. I see his eyes glowing bright yellow, like Tiffany’s did. I don’t what his natural eye color is. As I get closer, my eyes take in more of his features. He has a rectangular face with an abnormally wide nose and a defined jawline, though I wouldn’t go as far as to say he’s attractive.
I’m gonna tear his throat out. That’ll show Marcus that he needs to leave me and my family alone. He'll--
“Julia, what are you doing?” Seeing Kai’s familiar face in the doorway and his shocked tone stops me in my tracks. What . . what am I doing? I look down at my blood-stained hands and recoil at the thought of what I was about to do. Shame rushes through me, as well as a tiny bit of relief when I think that at least Elijah didn’t see this.
“Nothing.” I shake my head, making my headache even worse. My vision returns to normal and I feel my claws retracting. The man I attacked gets up now, and Kai turns to him.
“Who is this? Was he attacking you?”
“I don’t know who it is,” I shrug. The man speaks up for himself right after I get that out, so I have no more room to speak.
“No, of course I wasn’t attacking her,” he exclaims. “I’m just here to make sure nothing goes wrong. I guess I snuck up on her and scared her and she attacked me. That hurt by the way,” he adds, looking at me. His eyes have faded back to a near-black color. I doubt he plans on attacking us, but I’d prefer to not take any chances.
“Leave,” I order, letting my eyes linger on his to get the message through. He walks past Kai, toward the entrance. “And don’t try anything,” I add. This is ridiculous. What is Marcus doing? I knew he was crazy, but I didn't think he was stupid.
“Have you found Elijah?” Kai asks. Worry reflects in his eyes. What happened to me? This is the second time now. I don’t think I want this. I don’t want any of this.
I realize Kai’s still waiting on an answer and I speed up to tell him. “Yeah, yeah, I found him. He’s locked in a room and I had to find the key. It’s over here.” I hurry over and take it from its alcove, sliding it into my pocket.
He stares at me. “You were supposed to wait.”
“Let’s do this later,” I say, and shuffle past him. I fly down the stairs and to the doors with Kai on my heels. A few seconds later and I’ve unlocked the door, and, disappointedly, it swings open outward. I was hoping to shove it forward and hopefully hit Marcus in the head.
My eyes immediately fall on Elijah in the center of the room. He’s tied up with rope and has duct tape over his his mouth. The thick yellow rope wraps around his ankles, with some more around his wrists and back, as if he was going to get away or something. From the view from the doorway, it looks as if he’s the only thing in the room, though I know Marcus is in there somewhere. I ignore that thought and rush over to him, pulling the duct tape off as gently as I can. My head is pounding now, but I ignore that too.
“I’m so sorry, Elijah. I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.” Subconsciously, I notice Kai comes up beside me and crouches down, too, peering at his brother. I stay focused on Elijah. He hasn’t said anything, or even looked at either of us. In fact, he hasn’t moved a bit since I opened the door. His eyes stare straight ahead, almost seeming glazed over. My heart drops in my chest at seeing him like this. He’s not okay.
“Elijah?" I say quietly. His mismatched eyes seem particularly vivid, even with the glazed over look, in the darkness of the room. He doesn’t respond, though Marcus does.
“Yes, um . . . he–he seemed like he had a flashback or something earlier. You might want to take him to a therapist.” He stands behind the door we didn’t open, Kai between us. Now that I’ve found Elijah, I find no reason to hold my anger any longer. I’m not sure I could stop myself in I needed to anyway.
My outrage drives me to my feet and I step toward him. My finger stabs at him through the air, though I’m still five feet away. “What is wrong with you? You–” A stabbing pain shoots through my skull, interrupting me. It feels like it’s tearing apart from the inside out. I lose all train of thought and grab onto my head, hoping to keep it from falling apart. The only thing in my mind is the pain.
Oh, god. God, god, god, god, god, GOD! What is this? My mouth opens and a small, pain-stricken sound leaks out. I’ve never felt pain as intense as this before. Never. Out of everything I’ve been through, this is the worst. It can’t get any worse, I think, barely able to conceive a rational thought.
Yet it does get worse.
Now I scream. I scream at the very top of my lungs and fall onto my knees. I end up curled in a ball on my side, still holding onto my head.
“Julia!” Elijah yells, but I don’t hear him. In fact, I don’t see or hear anything at all. Then, just as suddenly as the pain hit me, it stops. When I reopen my eyes, I’m not with Elijah, Kai, and Marcus anymore. Actually, I’m not in the warehouse at all.
A starry night sky lies ahead of me, and I feel something underneath my fingertips. Dry leaves. I sit up, previously in a reclining position, and find trees all around me. I’m in the woods. What’s going on?
I lift my hands off the ground, but the leaves stick to them for some reason. Before I can look down to see why, my eyes fall on a figure on the ground, merely a few feet away. A dead body. It’s a woman, bloody, and she has scratches and bites all over. She’s torn apart.
I flinch and yank myself back several feet, my legs kicking at the ground. The–the marks. The marks. Those marks all over her–they have to be from an animal. No, not an animal: a werewolf. A werewolf. I–I don’t know how I got here or how long I’ve been gone, but now I realize why my hands are sticky. Because of the blood. It’s all over me. It’s her blood.
What did I do?