CW: Adult language, Violence, & Death
Day/Time: Sunday, 5:16 a.m.
Current state of mind: Bored & restless
What are you wearing? Jeans, t-shirt, & cardigan
What are you listening to? In the Woods Somewhere by Hozier
What are you drinking? Spiced apple sangria
Where are you? In my bedroom
“Sometimes in life, your situation will keep repeating itself until you learn your lesson.” – Brigette Nicole
Two years ago
I was being watched. The stares of the dead and the damned pressed heavy on my back, their soulless eyes glaring at me from behind the blanket of trees. The spirits didn’t want me there. Hell, I didn’t want to be there. I could think of a hundred different ways I’d rather spend my Friday night than traipsing through a haunted forest just to send a bunch of ghouls packing. But there I was.
“Something’s off,” Holly muttered beside me.
I glanced around, noting the unnatural stillness that had permeated the woods. We were the only two moving, the only two making a sound, the fallen leaves crunching beneath our booted feet. Other than that, everything remained eerily silent. I shivered as a wave of cold unease washed over me, seeping deep into my marrow, and chilling me to my core. “It’s way too quiet.”
Holly nodded. “I think whatever was released is charging up.”
“Awesome,” I grumbled. But I felt it. Felt the subtle shift in energy, the frosty air growing thick with malevolent magic. It was an ominous warning—one last chance for us to turn and run. But that wasn’t happening. I wasn’t the type that ran from things that went bump in the night. I fought them. Killed them. Sent them right back into the fiery pits of the Underworld. I’d be damned if I was going to be scared off by a bunch of ghosts or whatever the hell was lurking in those midnight shadows.
“You should try Nick again,” Holly said, her breath puffing out in a wispy white cloud.
I should, but I didn’t want to bug my brother—not while he was busy fighting some cemetery demon and her army of demonic corpses. One call—one text—one mental intrusion could be the distraction that could get him hurt. I shook my head. “No. Nick said he’d call once he was done.”
“Riss.” Holly’s tone was firm, like there was no debate to be had.
I wasn’t going to argue with her. There was no discussion to be had. No negotiating. My reckless stupidity had already killed one of my brothers. I wasn’t about to lose another. Besides, it wasn’t like we couldn’t handle a few sinister spirits on our own. It’s not like we hadn’t been on this nightmare ride before. Hell, we’d faced worse and survived. We’d survive this. “Relax. We’ll be fine—”
“Down!” Holly shoved me to the ground. My body hit the cold dirt as a murder of crows dove straight at us.
Shit. I covered my head. The birds flittered over me in a fit of fury, their angry caws resounding throughout the frigid air. The ground pulsed beneath me as if it had its own heartbeat, like the soil and everything beneath was about to break free of its confines. I climbed to all fours, shoving my palms beneath the damp leaves and poured my magic into the frost-laden ground, willing the pulsing to stop. And while the earth’s palpitations settled, the trees came to life—their skeletal limbs groaning as they curled and stretched like they wanted to capture us in their gnarled clutches.
Holly leaped to her feet. “I don’t think they want us here.”
I joined her in the vertical routine. My heart pounded in my chest, my powers pumped in my veins, ready to kick some ghostly ass. “I don’t give a damn what they want.”
“Maybe we should head back—”
“Do you seriously think they’ll just let us walk out of here and chill in our car while we wait for backup?” I asked, catching movement from the corner of my eye.
A mass of thorny vines slithered across the path like snakes, hissing and circling around our feet, ready to strike. Holly and I traded glances. Our magic flared, fire flowed from our palms, burning the branchy reptiles until they were nothing more than a heap of ash.
Holly huffed out a breath. “We’re not dealing with witch spirits.”
“No,” I agreed. This wasn’t the work of the thirteen witches that’d been cursed to live out their eternity in the forest. They had magic, but nothing on this scale. This was different. Powerful. Malicious. We were dealing with demons, but I didn’t know what kind or how many there were. I just knew they were strong and needed to be stopped. “We need to get to that clearing, seal that portal, and send these assholes back to whatever hellscape they came from.”
“They’re gonna try to kill us,” Holly said.
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to kill them first, won’t we?”
Holly opened her mouth, but before she could utter a single word, the ground erupted beneath us. We flew backwards, crash-landing in a pile of twigs and leaves, dirt and pebbles raining down on our heads. The terrain rumbled and buckled, splitting in two. Smoke billowed up from the expanding crevice, the stench of acrid sulfur stinging my nostrils. I coughed, choking back the bitter bile that coated my throat.
I stumbled to my feet, steadying myself against a withered oak, and reached for Holly. She clasped my outstretched hand, pulling herself up. The two of us didn’t say a damn thing—we didn’t need to—we knew what we had to do. It was time to seal that fucking gateway.
Holly and I took off, booking it towards the clearing—which was a ways away. Earsplitting cackles rang out all around us, taunting us as we ran.
The path rolled and swelled; quaking and crumbling below us, turning the trail into a diabolical obstacle course. The wind howled, whipping through the trees, turning broken branches into missiles. It was like we were part of some sick and twisted action-adventure game—dodging projectiles and hurdling over toppled trees and splintered earth.
A rock clipped me in the shoulder, and another grazed my head. But I barely registered the pain. My adrenaline and magic worked in sync—fueling me, propelling me forward while dulling any aches and discomfort. My body was on autopilot. My senses were on high alert and hyper focused on my one and only goal—getting to that clearing.
Thump-thump. My heart hammered in my ears. Thump-thump.
Just a few more steps.
Holly and I darted out into the opening like a couple of marathon runners who’d just finished the race from hell. Too bad we didn’t have time to rest. Just up ahead—off to the side of the murky pond—three witches lain motionless on the forest floor. It didn’t take a genius to figure out they were dead. But Holly, the do-gooder, rushed over to them anyway.
Shit. We didn’t have time to play magical medical rescue squad—not that there was anyone to rescue, judging by the look of those eviscerated corpses. And Holly knew that—or I thought she did. My bad.
“Holly!” I chased after her. “Stop!”
And she stopped. Right in the fucking middle of the three blood-soaked bodies. Holly heaved out a sigh. “Fuck.”
“That about covers it,” I mumbled, casting my gaze away from the ravaged corpses. It wasn’t that I was grossed out by all that carnage—hell, I’d seen worse—I just didn’t see the point in focusing on the dead. There was nothing we could do to save them—nothing we could do to bring them back. Not without some serious consequences.
They’d sealed their fates when they opened that portal—signed their souls over to the very demons they’d set free to be damned for eternity. Unless Nick pulled some strings. But I couldn’t think about all that—not when the fine hairs on my neck pricked in warning.
A fine mist swept over the landscape as a trio of night wraiths emerged from the periphery of towering pines and thick trees. They floated forward, their white eyes honing in on us like our souls were their next meal.
I tossed a glance at Holly, who was busy setting up a circle composed of salt, candles, and crystals, while muttering an ancient incantation under her breath. Good. She’d already started the spell.
I planted my feet, flames bursting from my palms, ensconcing my hands as the silver-haired bitches closed in on us. Wraiths hated fire and it was the perfect way to distract them while Holly worked that spell.
“What the hell are you doing?” Holly demanded, grabbing my arm.
“I’m going to flambé the bitches.” I glared at her, pulling free of her grip. “What does it look like?”
“Fire can’t kill them,” she hissed, her lilac eyes burning into mine. “You know that.”
“Duh.” I shifted my attention to the gruesome threesome, flashing them a sadistic smile. “But it’ll hurt like a motherfucker.” My grin widened, along with my stance. “Isn’t that right, ladies?”
The three wraiths paused, like they were considering my threat—which wasn’t a threat—or a warning. It was a promise.
They lunged at the same time I launched two back-to-back fireballs. They evaded the flying flames, but I was just as relentless—just as vicious as they were. I hurled fireball after fireball as the wraiths flew at me, shrieking and attacking with their dagger-like claws. I eluded their blows as they eluded mine. It was an intricate but deadly dance—one I was determined to win.
Two wraiths charged at me from each side. I stretched my arms out, nailing them both with a steady stream of fire. The silver-haired bitches sailed backwards into the woods—their agonizing screeches were like music to my fucking soul.
Two ghouls down. One to go.
Once Holly sealed that portal, we’d be—
Shit. That gateway should’ve sealed by now. I whirled around towards the pond. Holly was down, her body coated in crimson—her sweater and wool coat shredded to pieces.
Fuck. I needed to help her—needed to get her out of there. Then I was gonna slaughter every motherfucking wraith in that gods-damned forest right before I burned it all down.
I rushed over to Holly, my knees hitting the icy grass. As soon as I’d knelt beside her, I’d sensed it—smelled it—evil. Pure fucking evil. Ready to finish these bitches off, I sprang to my feet and spun around—a sudden, searing pain stabbing my gut. I pressed my palm against my abdomen, feeling the warm stickiness of my own blood.
I staggered back as a wraith appeared in front of me; her decaying lips turning up in a satisfying grin. Like she’d won. Little did she know, my blood was poison to her. Little did she know that my blood could—and would—destroy her.
I tackled the bitch, pinning her against the ground. I shoved my bloody palm against her mouth, reciting an old spell, and watched with immense satisfaction as she turned fully and permanently corporeal. She thrashed against my hold, digging her sharp claws into my side. But I didn’t relent. Her smoky skin gradually evaporated like dust in the wind. Until there was nothing left.
Exhausted, I collapsed—the cold grass soothing my hot skin. My vision faded, my hearing ebbed as the world around me spun and faded. But I couldn’t sleep. Not yet. I had to help Holly… had to get her help.
I woke up twenty-seven hours later. The steady beeping of the heart monitor was enough to drive me insane. I blinked my eyes open, the hospital room slowly coming into focus. My baby sister was curled up in an oversized recliner—a flannel blanket covering most of her body and head. Nick was there too, leaning against the wall and drinking what looked like—and smelled like freshly brewed coffee.
“How you feeling?” Nick crossed the room, setting the steaming mug down on the bedside table.
What the hell was I doing in the Coven’s infirmary? I rubbed my temples, hoping to relieve the throbbing in my head. “What happened?” I croaked, struggling to find my memories in the midst of the thick fog encompassing my brain.
“You don’t remember?” He frowned, pressing his palm against my forehead.
I shook my head, fighting through the haze in my mind.
Nick sat down in the chair by my bed and told me what happened. As he talked, my memories flooded back. The forest. The wraiths. Holly.
“Holly?” I sat up—a little too fast—the room spinning around me like I was on a speeding carousel.
“Holly’s okay.” Nick eased me back against the pillows. “She’s recovering in the next room.”
I closed my eyes, swallowing past the lump that had taken residence in my throat. I should’ve felt relieved—and I did—somewhat, but the guilt gnawed at me, reminding me of my failures. I should’ve listened to Holly. We should’ve turned back—hell, we shouldn’t have gone into those woods in the first place. We should’ve stayed in the parking lot and waited for backup. But my pride—my reckless fucking bravado had gotten the best of me. Again.
That’s the thing about hindsight—it gives you clarity after the fact—it makes you confront your mistakes in hopes you’ll never repeat them again. It was a hard lesson learned. Or so, I’d thought.
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