The front door of the cabin was wide open, so Daniel and Harper ducked off the trail before they could be spotted. Under the cover of trees, they crept closer to the cabin.
Both of them were so focused on the cabin, trying to get a glimpse of what was happening inside of it, that they weren’t watching enough where they were going. Daniel stepped on something and slipped, falling to his knees in a wet puddle.
He’d caught himself from falling on his face by putting his hand out, and when he lifted it, he had something stuck to his palm. It reminded Harper of a dead worm, but it was too thick.
He looked down, and he noticed it before Harper. Daniel jumped, moving away from the dead body as quickly as he could, and wiped his hand clean on his pants. That was when Harper finally looked down and saw Bernie.
Bernie McAllister lay on his back, his stomach torn open, with some of his intestines hanging out.
A scream started in her throat, but before it could escape completely, Daniel had his hand over her mouth. He pressed her back against the trunk of a large oak tree.
“You can’t scream,” Daniel whispered, and Harper nodded, so he removed his hand.
The truth was that Harper didn’t even want to scream. She wanted to sob and run over to Bernie. This was the same old man who had taken care of her during the worst part of her childhood. He’d been nothing but kind to her, and he’d been gutted like a fish.
Thankfully, between Daniel blocking her line of sight and the darkness underneath the trees, she hadn’t been able to get a really good look at Bernie. But she’d seen enough to know he was dead.
Behind them, in the cabin, there was a loud banging, and someone shouting. Harper instantly recognized it as Gemma crying out. That helped her push back the tragedy of Bernie’s killing and focus on saving her sister. She turned to run in blindly, but Daniel kept her pinned against the tree.
“We have to get Gemma now,” Harper said.
“I promise I won’t let her get hurt, but we can’t just run in there. They tore open a grown man. We can’t go in unarmed.”
Harper wanted to disagree with him, but he was right. As much as she wanted to burst through the front door that second and grab Gemma, she knew what those girls were capable of. And if she went in unprepared, she would just end up getting Gemma, Daniel, Alex, and herself killed.
Off to the back of Bernie’s cabin was a large shed, and because he lived alone on an island, he never bothered to lock it. Daniel opened it, but it was pitch-dark inside without a light. He felt around for anything he could use as a weapon and nearly stabbed himself with a pitchfork.
He handed that to Harper but continued searching for something for himself. Then Gemma began to scream, and Harper couldn’t wait any longer. She bolted toward the front door of the cabin, and Daniel took off after her.
Penn stepped back from Gemma, and for one brief second Gemma felt some relief. Then Penn turned around, putting her back to Gemma. Her wings almost eclipsed Gemma’s view. Gemma was crouched on the floor, and she could see Alex lying across the room from her, completely unconscious.
“Leave him alone!” Gemma scrambled to her feet.
She charged at Penn, but Penn unfurled a wing. It swung back, smacking into Gemma with such force that she went flying and crashed into a wall. Seemingly without even trying, Penn had tossed her aside. She was too powerful for Gemma to fight, at least as a human.
Gemma tried to will herself to turn into the same bird monster as Penn was, but she couldn’t. No matter how hard she clenched her fists or strained herself, her form remained the same.
“You have to leave behind your mortal life,” Penn said, turning back to look at her. She tilted her head to the side, and her fangs didn’t completely come together when she spoke. They were too jagged to ever truly close.
“I’ll leave behind anything you want,” Gemma said. “Just don’t hurt him.”
“This is what we do, though. This is part of being a siren.” Using one of her long talons, Penn pointed to Alex. “And since you refuse to give him up, what better way to teach you how to be a siren than by eating him?”
“It’s really not so bad,” Lexi chimed in. She and Thea were standing off to the side of the room, still in their normal human shapes. “It sounds disgusting at first, but it’s really amazing once you start.”
“It’s not about being gross. He’s a person,” Gemma said, trying to remain calm. “You can’t just kill him.”
“Yeah, actually, we can,” Thea said drily. “We have to, in fact.”
“I know, I know.” Lexi made a sad face, like she was empathizing with Gemma about a bad haircut instead of how morally reprehensible murder was. “But people die all the time. They’re so fragile that we’re really doing them a favor. When we kill them, they don’t suffer. They welcome death. And Penn’s right. Most guys are assholes, and they’re asking for it anyway.”
“Alex isn’t asking for it! He never hurt anybody!” Gemma fought back tears, but she was beginning to realize how futile it was to try reasoning with them. “Okay, you win!”
Penn exchanged a look with Thea, then looked curiously at Gemma.
“We’ve already won, Gemma,” Penn said.
“You’re right.” Gemma stepped toward her, staring straight up into her reptilian eyes. “I don’t know how to kill myself. Or you. Not yet. But if you hurt him, if you lay one claw on his head, I will make it my life’s mission to destroy us all.”
Penn narrowed her eyes and made a throaty growl.
“But if you leave him alone, I will go with you willingly,” Gemma promised. “I’ll do whatever you ask, whenever you ask, until the end of time. I will join you, and I will be your slave. Just please, leave him.”
Penn seemed to consider this for a moment, then turned to Thea and Lexi.
“It would be nice to have a slave.” Thea shrugged. “And we just ate, so I’m not that hungry.”
Penn let out a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Very well.”
“Holy shit!” Harper shouted, and Gemma turned to see her sister standing in the doorway of the cabin.
She had a pitchfork in her hand, as if meaning to stab anyone who stood between her and her sister, but she froze when she saw the monster standing there. Daniel was right behind her, and he stood there gaping until Penn turned toward them.
Penn opened her mouth, letting out a loud squawk, and that spurred Daniel into action. He grabbed the pitchfork from Harper and ran around her. Lexi rushed at him. Before she could tackle him, Daniel hit her in the stomach with the handle of the pitchfork, and she stumbled back.