That just happened to be when Jack walked in, and he set off an entirely different chain of events than what Peter had in mind.
That’s what kept me coming back out in the woods, even with the full understanding of what we were up against. I thought that Peter might really listen to me, and even if he didn’t, I had to try.
We walked through the woods in silence, but I knew when we got closer to the lycan homeland. Ezra walked faster but made sure his steps matched mine. He looked around more and kept incredibly close to me, so sometimes I was almost tripping over him.
Ezra would risk anything for Peter, but he didn’t feel the same way about me risking everything. In the hotel today before we left, he asked if I wanted to stay behind. I said no, but he continued recommending it until I refused to talk about it anymore.
We were going back to the exact area the lycans had warned us away from, but that had to be where Peter was, assuming that Peter was still alive.
“Shouldn’t we be calling his name or something?” I asked when the silence and the search became too much for me.
Ezra shook his head, and I ducked underneath a low-hanging branch. The one thing I could say for this was that I was getting a lot more nimble and agile. I wasn’t getting as tired out as I used to, and I hadn’t been quite as hungry. If nothing else, this would get me through vampire boot camp.
“I just don’t think we’re doing that much,” I said, keeping my words hushed. “We’re just wandering around the trees. How are we supposed to find Peter? You have this carefully calculated plan of where to look, but when we get here, we don’t even do anything.”
“They can’t know we’re looking.” Ezra was barely loud enough to be heard over the crunch of our boots in the snow.
“I get that, but Peter has to know. Or how else will we find him?”
“Smell him. Hear him. See him.” He shrugged but slowed, almost pausing to look at me. “Can you still… feel him?”
Whenever I had been around Peter before, my body automatically pulled towards him. My natural inclination had been to be with him, and that would be really helpful in a search party.
“I don’t know,” I said, although I didn’t think so.
If I thought about Peter or talked about him, I didn’t get all fluttery and intense anymore. I have a bond with Jack, and I feel things like that for him, which means that I probably can’t for Peter anymore.
“Oh well.” His pace picked up again, and I scampered behind him to catch up. “We’ll find him anyway.”
We passed over the river where we had met the lycan, and my heart skipped. He glanced back at me, and I hated that he could hear my heart. I could tell he was about to ask me if I wanted to turn back, but I shook my head and insisted we plow ahead.
Hopefully, Ezra tracked better than I did, because I couldn’t even smell the lycan anymore. They smelled of animals that lived outside, like reindeer but not. There was something edgier about the lycan scent, like livestock and… road kill.
A branch cracked loud enough that even a human could hear, and I whirled towards it. Ezra moved in front of me, his posture defensive.
It had been an hour since we passed the river, so we were well into their territory, and we had yet to see any animals. I inhaled deeply, but I could only smell the cold. Snow. Trees. Dirt. Maybe an owl…
A flap of wings followed by the rustle of branches, and I saw a large owl take flight in front of the moon. Relief washed over me, but Ezra didn’t relax at all. If anything he tensed up more, and then I heard something else too.
The soft crunch of footsteps in the snow, softer than hooves, softer than shoes. Barefoot.
- 7 -
In the moonlight, I saw the lycan. Several yards ahead of us, he walked towards us with his hands held up, the sign of surrender.
It was Leif, the kind one with large brown eyes. He wore the same clothes he did the other day, and they appeared even dirtier. Ezra, on the other hand, looked dapper for a midnight hike. He wore a black cashmere sweater with a thick collar, but in most ways, Ezra appeared to be an entirely different species than Leif.
“I’m alone,” Leif announced as he got closer to us.
Leif stopped a few feet in front of us, but that was still much closer than I’d like. Ezra kept his body partially blocking mine, shielding me.
“I am alone. I know you don’t trust me, but it’s the truth,” Leif said.
He sounded American or maybe Canadian. He pushed a strand of his thick hair off his forehead and chewed his lip. His eyes roamed around us, unsure of where to let them settle, and he glanced up at that moon.
“They’re in Sweden, hunting,” Leif continued, as if we had asked. “Dodge was convinced that we’d scared you away, so they left.”
“But you weren’t?” Ezra asked, and his stance grew more rigid. Leif shrugged in response and lowered his eyes to the ground. “Is that why you stayed behind? To see if we came back?”
“Maybe,” Leif said, then quickly added, “But not like you think.”
“You don’t know what I think,” Ezra said evenly.
Leif shifted and looked at the moon again. Rubbing his arm, he looked like he wanted to say but couldn’t find the words.
“You’re after Peter, aren’t you?” Leif asked, and I stiffened. “I’m not out to get him. He killed my brother, but it was self-defense. Krist had a temper and…
“Peter had no business being here,” Leif went on. “He was ‘trying out’ for the pack, but that’s not how it works. Gunnar put him through all these tests, and Krist was one of them. But Peter started winning…” He looked apologetic, his eyes wide and sincere. “It wasn’t fair what they did to him. What they’re still doing to him.”
“Still?” The fear in Ezra’s voice made me wince.
My head swam with images, and Ezra had seen far worse than I had. He knew what true torture could be for a vampire.
“He’s alive. He’s okay.” Leif’s voice cracked on the last word.
“What are they doing? Where is he?” Ezra demanded in a low growl, and Leif shrunk back. Any pretense that Ezra had of submitting to the lycans was over.
I didn’t think scaring Leif worked to our benefit, so I put a hand on Ezra’s arm. Reluctantly, he responded and took a step back. Leif nodded his appreciation and stood up taller.
“I don’t know exactly,” Leif said. “They’ve been hunting him.”