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Chapter 4

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    Maria Catalina Higuera

He didn’t respond to my cries as I kneeled beside him, his blood soaking my clothes. I couldn't even begin to take in all of his wounds, all the damage. One of his eyes had been yanked out of its socket along with a good chunk of flesh, leaving a huge hole on one side of his face. His entire body was bruised, cut, and bloodied, his torso looked like somebody had taken all his organs out and tried to put them back in without knowing what they were doing. One of his arms was missing, yanked out so violently it took part of his shoulder with it.

The longer I looked, the worse it got. I would have thrown up if I had anything to throw up, instead, I screamed in between sobbing, I wanted to hold him, but I was too scared to touch him and hurt him even more - I wasn’t even sure how he was still alive, he looked more like a piece of ground-up meat than a human. What had happened? Who could have done this? The rational part of me should have been afraid, but at the moment my whole being was consumed with grief that was quickly turning to white-hot anger. Just let them show up, I thought to myself, I would do worse to them than what they had done to my father.

He stirred softly, his remaining hand tightening around something he was holding in his fist. “Dad?” I asked, but no response came. Carefully I leaned over him and pried his broken and bloody finger open, revealing what he had been holding on to. It was a small, laminated picture of me. I was around 7, and I still vividly remember the day he had taken it; we had just moved to another area and I had wanted to go to the small kids' park that the neighborhood had.

The winter day had been beautiful, and he and I had walked hand in hand to the park. It was so cold outside no other kids were playing there, something that had disappointed me as I climbed around alone. Dad must have noticed my gloomy face because he started making funny faces at me from below until I forgot all about being angry as I couldn't hold myself back from laughing. I never quite realized when he took it, only that later on I would notice he had laminated and carried it in his wallet.

A little picture of me laughing, that’s what he had been holding on to even as he lay dying. A fresh wave of sobs shook my body but this time I tried to get myself under control. An ambulance couldn't help my dad, but maybe somebody else could. I brought my phone out with the full intention of calling the mysterious number but my dad’s hand stopped me, grabbing onto my wrist with surprising strength as his one remaining eye snapped open to look at me.

“Asher?” he asked, his voice little more than a raspy whisper, blood bubbling from his mouth. “Yes it's me, dad” I said, gripping his hand, my voice breaking as I spoke; “I'm sorry I couldn't get here before… I’m sorry, but it's okay, you are going to be okay”. I wasn’t sure who of the two I was trying to reassure with my words, but my dad clearly wasn’t buying it. “Listen to me Asher.” he said, his chest, or what remained of it, rising and falling unsteadily and he tried to breathe, “You have to run… I’m… I’m only the bait… They are coming for you… Run”.

I shook my head vigorously, tightening my grip on his hand. “I'm not leaving without you.” He coughed violently, saliva and clots of blood flying from his mouth. “Asher…” he said, his voice sounding weaker, “Look at me… I'm dying and nothing you do can fix that.” The hand I was holding me pushed me back several feet, “Go, Asher… Please… I'm begging you… If you love me, you will get the hell out of here.”

“No”, I shouted, grabbing onto his hand again, “I'm not going anywhere without you” I screamed, sobbing at him, even as I could feel his strength draining away. His eye looked at me sharply; “You stubborn boy… Sometimes I hate just how much you are like me”, he whispered, his hand freeing itself from my grasp only to caress my face, a single tear rolling down from his eye, “That was just… just what I told my mother when she lay dying many years ago.”

He paused, trying to catch his breath; “But just like how she said goodbye to me, our time to part has come.” He coughed again, a rattling sound coming from his chest. “It was a joy raising you, Asher…” he said, his voice shaky; “I love you so much, but this… this is goodbye.” His hand fell away from my face and I caught it before it could hit the floor, his eye had closed and in that moment I knew that his next breath would be his last.

I felt like something shattered within me, time seemed to slow down and my marking began burning, a sensation that morphed into a tingling feeling that began at the back of my neck and spread down my body following the path of my markings that began to glow with bright yellow light, visible even through my clothes. From the hand that still held my father I could feel the energy passing out of me and into him, the wounds in his hand glowed yellow and then healed, the effect spreading all down his arm and to his body.

With wonder I stood still, allowing energy to flow from me and into him, tendrils of yellow light flowing down his veins, healing everything in their path - even his missing arm was being mended, the outline of the limb first formed by light, then skin, bone and muscle forming around it. I wasn’t sure for how long it lasted, only that before I knew it his hand-pulled free from my grasp. He sat up slowly, looking down at his healed torso, moving his new arm, not even a scar remained anywhere on his body. “Asher…”, he said, wide-eyed, turning to look back at me. “Dad”, I breathed, fresh tears coming down my face as I tried to hug him but he pulled away, and didn’t even allow me to touch him. “Turn it off”, he said, sounding almost angry.

“What?” I asked, confused, and hurt at his rejection. I wanted to move after him but found that my legs wouldn't support my weight. “Your power Asher”, he said with urgency in his voice, “Depower, quickly”. His words made me realize that my markings were still glowing, the tingling feeling now pooling all across my body as I no longer had anything to pour it into. “I… I don't know how”, I said, my voice coming out scared. He kneeled in front of me but not close enough for me to reach out and touch him. “It’s okay… Just breath in, calm yourself down, deep breaths.”

It was hard but I did as he said, not having realized just how close to hyperventilating I had been, slowly the tingling began to become weaker and weaker the more I controlled my breathing, trying to slow down my heart that was still racing, making me feel like I had a small bird trapped inside my chest, fluttering around, desperately trying get out. Gradually the energy crawled back where it had come from, the last remnant of it fading in the back of my neck and with it, my markings stopped glowing completely.

I tried to get up again, to reach out for my father, but the world swam in my eyes making me nauseous and I realized just how tired I felt, my muscles wouldn't even support my weight, I was completely drained. It turned out, however, that I didn’t have to move to reach him, before I knew it he had wrapped me in a hug so fierce I felt like my ribs would collapse.

“Oh Asher”, he whispered, “Asher…”

Shakily I hugged him back, crying again on his shoulder, not believing that he was real, that somehow he was still alive and with me. I wished I could have held on to him for longer but he quickly pulled away. “We have to go.” He said, urgency in his voice as he got up. “You just sent a huge flare to them, they know you are here”. I tried to get up again but failed miserably, “What… Who is them?” I said, slurring my words, it was becoming increasingly hard to keep my eyes open. “It doesn’t matter right now”, he said, running through the bloody hallway and to our coat closet that had somehow survived the worst of the disaster, from there he pulled two thick long black jackets and two army green rucksacks.

He deposited one of the bags beside me and a jacket on my lap, “Just hold on for a little longer”, he said, “We will be out of here in no time”. Weakly I nodded at him, the movement making me even dizzier. He grabbed my phone from the floor, wiped the blood from the screen, and was in the middle of dealing a number when his eyes went wide. “How did you get here?”, he asked suddenly. “Uh…” I said, my brain slowly processing what he had said, “I… Uh… A friend drove me… Why?” His eyes turned sharply towards the door, and I followed his line of sight just in time to see the moment Deaneries fully pushing the door open - apparently she had gotten tired of waiting and despite what I had told her, had followed me here.

The color completely left her skin as she saw the horror scene that was our house, her face morphed into a mask of pure horror as she clutched her phone in her hands. We probably weren't helping the picture either, I was sitting on the floor, covered in blood and probably looking ready to pass out while my dad's clothes were next to non-existence, torn in some many places they hung around his body like fishing nets, and he was also very much dipped in blood from head to toe.

I expected her to scream to run out like a mad man, bringing down the entire neighborhood on us, instead, she just kept looking at me without blinking. She tried to say something but the words wouldn't come out, her lips shaking uncontrollably in pure shock. Before either my dad or I could react her eyes rolled to the back of her head and she fell backward, her head hitting the porch with a loud thud, her phone falling out of her hands and bouncing several times landing feet away from her now unconscious form.

My dad immediately ran towards her, for a second I was scared he would hurt her, but he simply grabbed another coat from the closer, wrapped it around her and carried her inside and towards me. “I take it this is your friend?” He asked. “Yes… that's Daenerys.” I answered, making an effort to try and focus my vision. As if awoken by me mentioning her name her eyes fully snapped open, she took one look at my father, who was carrying her bridal style, and screamed, trying to wrestle herself off his grip.

Her efforts, however, were fruitless; I heard an electrical pop, and my father's markings illuminated briefly, his with white-blue energy. It lasted less than a second, but it was enough to make Daenerys spasm and then go limp in my father's arms. “What did you do?” I asked, scared that he may have hurt her. “Just knocked her out”, he assured me, handing her over to me. I took her in my arms, unsteadily, but managed to hold on to her as my father went up the stairs and came back down less than five minutes later. He had put on clothes again though his skin was still covered in blood and he held a small paper sack in one hand. “Let's go”, he said, picking up both our bags and offering me a hand to get up.

“What are we going to do with her?”, I asked, concerned for my friend's safety, still holding on to her. “We are leaving her here”, My father said, taking her from my arms at my refusal to let her go. I frowned, “What… we can't just leave her here… and… she saw both of us… she is going to think we murdered somebody.” Dad only shook his head; “Don't worry about her memories, I already took care of it”. I shook my head, “No… We can't leave her here… not like this… In here.” I said, looking around at the bloodied room. He pinched the bridge of his nose, “Fine, I'll leave her in your room, it's clean in there.” Before he could move I grabbed onto his pants leg, “But she will still be alone.. and unconscious, what if something happened to her? What if somebody hurts her?” “Asher we don't have the time for this.” he said, pulling free from my grasp. “She will wake up in less than half an hour, she will be fine.”

I wanted to argue further, but he was already walking up the stairs leaving me behind, unable to follow him. He was back in less than a minute, his arms empty. He grabbed our two bags, the two jackets, and kneeled in front of me holding a zipped-up hoodie in his hands. “Here,” He said, helping me to put it on, making me feel like a little boy again. Not that I could complain, I could hardly keep myself awake. It took me a second to realize it was one of his own hoodies instead of mine but I didn’t mention it as he pulled me to my feet, placing one of my arms around his shoulder practically supporting all of my weight as we walked towards the front door.

The moment we stepped outside he threw the hood of my jacket on, as well as his, in an attempt to cover our bloody faces, I realized. “Uh, dad?” I asked as we walked down the porch stairs and onto the sidewalk, “Aren't we going to take the car?” I asked, looking back at our closed garage door. He shook his head, accelerating our pace making it just short of running, “It's impregnated with our scent…” he said, “Too risky”. I frowned, trying to catch a glimpse of his face through the hood, “Then what are we…” the words died in my mouth as we got closer and closer to Daenerys parked buggy and I realized what my father was about to do.

“We aren’t-” I began, hoping I was misreading the situation but dad simply brought out the keys to the car, keys I recognized because of the black pom-pom keychain. He clicked them, unlocking the car. “We can't use our car,” he said, “But fortunately, your friend was kind enough to leave hers behind.”

A bump in the road was what finally woke me up, making me hit my head against the car window. Slowly I opened my eyes, snapping to attention, surprised when I realized the sky outside my window was pitch black, it had still been early afternoon when I went to sleep.

“Where are we?” I asked my father, who was behind the wheel. He looked over at me briefly, the car's dashboard clock marked 1 a.m and the street was almost completely deserted, snow covering the sides of it, along with thick winter forest. “We are in the middle of Ontario”, He said. So Canada, I thought, we were in Canada, somehow I had slept all the way from Illinois to here, little less than ten hours. “There's food in the back seat”, he offered, still not taking his eyes from the road. He didn't have to tell me twice, I reached back and brought out several bags of fast food, grease stains on the paper bags. The food was cold but I didn't care much as I devoured it, barely noticing what I was eating. All I thought about was getting rid of the pain in my stomach.

“So…” I began after I had begun to slow down, “... Where are we going?”

He sighed like he didn’t quite want to answer, but had to; “Greenland.” “Greenland?” I repeated, “Why? seems really out of the way”. A car zoomed by us, probably breaking the speed limit, “You will be safe there”, he answered simply. His words worried me, because he had said “you”, not “us”, reminding me of what had happened today, why we were on the run in the first place. “Dad what happened to you?” I asked, “Who hurt you?” He sighed, shaking his head; “It's better if we don't talk about them here”, he answered, “They have ears everywhere, mentioning them could draw their attention.” He must have noticed my discontent at his answer, because he proceeded to explain a little more, “They want to exterminate us, Asher,” he said, “They are strong and capable and ride huge beasts who can easily kill us.”

Up until today it had been hard to imagine anything being able to kill one of us, but after what had happened to my father the possibility seemed very real. “How… How do they look?” I asked tentatively. He frowned; “Human… they are probably more human looking than us Asher, in a crowd you wouldn’t be able to pick one out, but they are there, always watching, searching for their prey.” His words sent a shiver down my spine. “And they found you…” I whispered softly, not a question but a statement, “And it's probably my fault… They didn’t want you, didn’t they? They wanted me…”

He lapsed into silence for a while, as if thinking of how to answer, “They were looking for you”, he confirmed, “Your scent is very strong… Even though I tried to hide you as best as I could. Even putting you in school wasn’t enough and you couldn't have changed anything Asher, they have been on our trail for years, they just finally managed to catch up, it was inevitable.” I knew he was trying to not make me feel guilty about the entire thing, but even if what he said made logical sense I still felt responsible for what had happened to him. My only comfort was in that, somehow, I had managed to bring him back from the brink of death - something I still wasn’t sure how I had managed to accomplish.

“Why do they hunt us?” I asked, suddenly angry at these mysterious entities. “What do they want from us?” He seemed to almost flinch at the question; I could tell it was a sensitive topic. “Because we aren’t human, Asher”, he finally said, “Our ancestors… made mistakes, abused their power, and after they were defeated their descendants have been hunted down in fear that we will rise again to power.” Only part of his explanation registered with me, my mind having gotten stuck on the not being human part; I had always known I was different, understood that the things I could do were far from normal, but never I had always thought of myself as being human, just a different type, enhanced somehow. Part of me had always suspected it, but getting confirmation was still a lot to take in.

For some reason my mind wandered back to Dan, and how we had left her alone in the house. I wondered if she was okay, I wondered what she thought had happened to her, and above all I hoped she wouldn’t hate me, not that it looked like we would ever get the chance to see each other again. I still felt guilty for taking her car, not that dad had given me much of a choice; He had dumped me in the passenger seat and before I could even think of getting out he had started the car and we were driving away.

I also thought of Jake, of his stupid jokes and antics, and that under it all, he was a loving and caring person who put others ahead of himself. I thought of Emma, wrestling with the wig that day, of Emilia delivering an outanding perfomace in spite of her shyness, of Theo, Yuki, Jordan, Aiden, Margarita, Brandon… and last of all, I thought of Sara, the image of her beutifull face sending a pang of pain through my chest. I would never get to see any of them again, and I realized why my mind had instantly thought of all of them.

During the one week we had been together, I had felt more normal than any other time in my life. Spending time with them almost made me forget about the weirdness of my life, made me feel human; and now it was all gone, popped like a frail buble in the wind, one you knew wouldn't last, but had still hoped you could watch and enjoy for a little while longer.

“So what are we?” I asked again, after a while, sounding surprisingly calm despite the turmoil inside my head. “Not here,” he said, looking around at the forest. “We already risked too much, spoke too openly.” I really couldn't see how talking about something in the middle of a highway going at almost a hundred miles an hour was dangerous - but then again, I was in the dark about a lot of stuff. “You also have to be careful about when to use your abilities.” My father added; “When we use our soul power, it's like sending a huge flare to them telling them exactly where we are.”

“Huh?” I asked, abruptly snapping out of my thoughts. “Soul power?” “When your markings shine,” he explained, “that power comes from your heart, but we call it soul energy.... Yours was yellow, so you are healer.” Well that explained a lot, I thought, but I still felt like something was nagging me about his explanation, I just couldn't put my finger on it. “I'll explain more later on.” He promised me, “About yourself, and where we are going, but we need to be careful for now. Keep your hearing sharp, if they are approaching, you will hear something that sounds like a giant heart beating, it’s impossible to miss”.

I wanted to continue our conversation, now that I had finally begun to get some answers. It seemed almost cruel to just dangle the full explanation just uot of my reach, but I also could understand my father's concern, his fear for our safety. The picture of his broken and bloodied form was still fresh in my mind, a reminder of just what could happen if we messed up even the slightest bit. If I was patient, I would get my answers, but now it was time to work.

I expanded my hearing range to its maximum, gritting my teeth as I filtered through all the noise, keeping myself alert to anything abnormal; “Count on me.” I told my dad; “I won't let anything cach us by surprise ever again”.

More than 20 hours later, I could finally smell the sea, as we were but a few miles away from our destination, well not quite, but the end of our trip by land. A road sign written in french announced that we were less than 5 miles away from the small town of Bouctouche.

I was tired, which was weird since I hadn’t done anything except sit in a car and listen to our surroundings, I couldn't even imagine how dad was feeling, considering he had driven all twenty-something hours of the trip, but he had assure me that he was used to doing this. That, and that I had poured enough energy into him to keep him awake for a week. It was the middle of the day and the sun shone brightly above us; in this area there wasn’t much snow, most of it being in dirty piles on the sides of the road. The forest was mostly full of evergreens, but there were also other types of trees that were almost completely bare, as was to be expected considering how close to winter we were.

I rubbed my left arm subconsciously were, hours ago, after we had scrubbed the blood off of ourselves as best we could at a rest stop, dad had taken a sharpie and writen the coordinates 66.9395° N, 53.6734° W on my skin, telling me that in the event we got separated, that was the town where I need to head to. “Once you are there, just ask anybody to point you towards the Den.” he said; “Find the place and tell them I sent you.”

I had nodded along to his instructions, committing them to memory, but I still had no intention of us getting separated at any point during this trip, not if I could help it. Dad had insisted we wore the thick winter jackets, explaining that inside the various secret pockets there was a stack of U.S and Canadian dollars, in addition to fake identities for me. Apparently he had been preparing a contingency plan for this type of situation.

The closer we got to town the more he relaxed, which also served to calm me down, it seemed we weren’t in as much danger now. My stomach rumble, reminding me it had been a while since we last ate, I was about to ask dad if we were going to eat in town when it suddenly hit me, the same sharp pain in my head I had felt before I seen that vision of the bloody curtains, of the tragedy in my home. I gripped my head in agony, bending over on the seat as I now realized part of why dad's explanation of my ability hadn’t fully made sense, or at least was missing information, if I was a healer then why was I getting visions out of nowhere?

Much like last time my vision became blurry and images flash before my eyes, images that I couldn't fully comprehend, only a few glimpses, a white harpoon flying through the air, a huge black beast dragging a body through the forest, and again, the last picture was the most clear, that of our car, Dan’s small blue buggy, thrown upside down, completely ruined and bent out of shape, a bloody trail leading away from it.

“Stop!” I shouted as soon as my head had cleared, something that was unnecessary as dad had already come to a death halt in the middle of the street. “What is it?” he asked me, gripping my shoulder anxiously; “What did you see?” I grabbed on to my door handle, “We have to get out-”, I began to say but got interrupted by a sudden pounding sound, so loud it made me cringe as I felt like the very noise was trying to break me in half.

I only saw the moment dad’s eyes widened in fear, how he reached out to try to shield me with his body as a giant black blur hit the side of our car sending it crashing into the forest with such strength that the trees broke upon impact. It all happened so fast and at the same time so slowly as we crashed through the forest, the car folding around us like it was a sheet of paper.

When we finally came to a stop we were ten meters away from the main road, the car, or what remained of it, was upside down, which meant we were also hanging down from our seat belts. I turned my head to looked toward the road, only to witness a terrifying sight, there was a huge beast standing in the middle of it, the only word I could think to describe it was a dragon, covered from head to toe in tick black armor, it must had been the size of a large truck with spikes behind its head and on the tip of its long flat tail. It seemed to have no mouth or eyes but that only made it more terrifying.

The world seemed to freeze as the creature caught sight of us, despite its lack of eyes I almost felt like it was looking into my very soul, sending a shiver down my spine, for what seemed seconds, but also an eternity we only looked at each other in silent challenge. Just as fast as it had happened, the spell broke and I unbuckled my seatbelt as the creature charged towards us like a barreling mountain of destruction, its form blurring with speed, and, before I knew it, before I could even brace myself, it was upon us.

I tried to scramble myself out of the car, but it was too late. Its huge head reached through the passenger door, the metal creaking as the beast broke it like wet paper. Now that I found myself, quite literally, face to face with it I realized, with horror, that it did, in fact, have a mouth full of razor-sharp black teeth that were about to dig into my leg. The air around me suddenly illuminated, a booming sound followed, along with the smell of ozone and the creature reeled back, making a sound like creaking metal, as it was struck by a bolt of lightning that had come from inside the car.

Surprised, I turned back to look at my father. He was kneeling down on the roof of the car, which was technically the floor for us at the moment, his hand extended toward the creature, his marking glowing. “That will only stun it, we have to run!”, he shouted, pulling me by the arm and out of the car from his side. “What is that thing?”, I asked out of breath as I crouched behind the car and he peeked over the side tentatively, his arm sparkling with electricity. “A desolation”, he said, as he suddenly ducked, just in time for a giant spiky tail to miss his head; “We aren’t getting back that way!” He determined, quite unnecessarily, since I had already arrived at the same conclusion.

He grabbed my hand, dragging me along as he took off running in the opposite direction from the road and toward the deeper forest. “This is the only chance we have.” He shouted, pushing the pace. The thing had now fully recovered from the electrical shock, this evident by the way it jumped on top of what remained of the car, its thick arms crushing it to bits. “Don’t look back”, my father said, “We need to-” the word died in his chest as a whizzing sound filled the air and suddenly pain erupted all across my body, dropping me to the floor.

It only took me a few seconds to realize what had happened. Harpoons, three of them, had pierced me, one through the leg, one on the shoulder, and one through my abdomen, but that wasn’t the worst of it. What fully paralyzed me, and made me gasp for breath, was the pain - it was like nothing I've experienced before. It was a vicious, piercing, throbbing pain that spread like acid through my veins. Were the harpoons poisoned? That was the only explanation I could come up with, it was like having a fire lodged inside of me, consuming me from the inside.

Desperately, I tried to pull the one on my shoulder out, screaming in between gritted teeth as I tried to get it out, but it was of little use. Besides me I could hear my father also struggling, there was a harpoon loge into his leg, but instead of freeing himself, he reached out, trying to reach me, help me pull the harpoons free. Before he could even touch me he was yanked back violently, the harpoon line pulling him back, much like a fisherman pulling back their catch, and much like most fishes, we were helpless, I couldn't even see by whom or how he was being pulled away from me. “Dad!”, I shouted, even as another harpoon pierced his other leg, further immobilizing him.

Around us, the forest came alive with movement, dark figures dashing from tree to tree. Several of them ran toward me, allowing me to get my first real glance at them. Much like my father had said they were human-shaped, if their features were the same I couldn't tell, all of them were wearing thick black armor that covered them from head to toe, making them all the more terrifying. They carried bone-white swords and moved with surprising speed, which also meant they would reach me in seconds. With newfound desperation I tried to struggle free of the harpoons but immediately the lines tensed, pulling me in several directions at the same time, making the pain so much worse to the point where I could no longer struggle, it was so painful I couldn't even gather enough air to scream.

Helplessly I observed as several of them surrounded me, my heart racing a thousand miles per hour in fear. I couldn't see their eyes, their faces covered by armor, but I could still feel their hate emanating like poison, sending me one clear message: I was going to die. One of them, the biggest of the group, lifted his white sword high over me, right over my heart. I wanted to close my eyes out of fear of what was to come, but a part of me wanted to appreciate every last moment that I had left, even if it meant looking up at my executioner's weapon.

As his sword made its way toward my chest my eyes were suddenly blinded by a flash of light so bright for a second I thought the world had turned white, I felt a shiver go down my spine, and a great booming followed, the smell of ozone and cooked flesh suddenly impregnating the air. The sword stopped in mid-air, as its wielder fell to the ground, along with all the others surrounding me, the lines that had been holding me were no longer tense. All around me smoking bodies laid, around seven of them, all of them dead.

My father emerged from the patch of forest where he had been dragged off to, no longer attached to the harpoons. Now all he had was the deep wounds they had left in his legs. Nobody pursued him, which let me know that this attacker had fared the same as the one lying at my feet. The wounds on his legs were deep and ugly, showing no indication of healing. I wasn’t sure how he was walking so steadily, considering the size of his wounds but that was far from being the most usual thing about his appearance. He was glowing, his entire form emanated white blue electric light, and the epicenter was his heart, it was like a miniature cyanine blue sun inside his chest, beating with energy, his eyes glowing almost white.

The sight was so awe-inspiring that for a second I forgot I was trying to get free, up until I heard a metallic clicking sound behind me, a sound I could already identify. I barely dodged in time as a giant armored, dragon-like hand almost turned me into roadkill. The Desolation was right behind me, somehow it had stayed out of my father's shooting range, and riding on top of its back were two more soldiers, the sole survivors of the deadly electrical blast, their armor was different, more intricate and both wore black capes, making it easy enough to figure out that this were the leaders, and the most dangerous ones.

A hand grabbed my jacket from behind and roughly threw me several meters away from the creature and its two riders. Even before I landed I knew who it was. My father, now stood in the place where I had been seconds ago, placing himself in between me and them. He turned to look back at me giving me a look of which I immediately understood the meaning, “I'll hold them back, you run”. I gritted my teeth, shoving my fingers into the flesh around my shoulder, digging deeper, my fingers becoming slippery as I grabbed the harpoon, and finally, with a great deal of struggling, pulled it free. Unfortunately, thanks to its three-hooked design it also pulled along with it flesh, bone, and muscle, leaving a huge hole on my shoulder, that oddly enough hurt less than actually having the thing inside.

“I'm not leaving you!” I shouted to my father as I desperately tried to pull the other harpoon out of my leg, encouraged by my first success, using my nails to dig through the flesh. Despite my best efforts, this one had gone in deeper, and it was probably lodged in my bone. Getting it out was taking too long, I thought desperately, only pausing briefly to steal glances at the developing fight. Somehow my dad was managing to hold his own against the huge beast, though he was getting torn open in the process, already I could see several deep claw wounds all across his body as he doge and attack the things, pummeling it with electrified fists and kicks that had little effect except to annoy it. What he was more effective with was dodging - he was moving so fast he seem to blink in and out of existence, probably the only reason why he was still alive but the more wounded he got the weaker he would get, and sooner or later he wouldn't be able to doge.

With newfound urgency, I grabbed one of the fallen soldiers' swords, despite how much it hurt to hold, and forced myself to steady my shaking hand as I used its tip to dig around the harpoon practically cutting a chunk of my leg of to get the damn thing loose and finally out, only one more to go. I sensed movement behind me but couldn't manage to quite react in time to avoid the sword coming for my head. The blade dug deep into my neck coming close to severing my spinal cord, it was only my reflexes that saved me as I jumped back with all my strength crashing through several trees, the sword still embedded in my neck, sending fresh waves of agony through me. It took me a few seconds to get my bearing back, my hand closing around the offending blade and pulling out, immediately applying pressure to the wound it left behind to it in an attempt to stop the pouring river of blood that came down my neck. This wasn’t good, I wouldn't last long losing this amount of blood.

Remembering how I had healed my father I tried to use my power, to summon it, but either I didn’t know how to use it, or something was blocking it somehow. Before I could try and think of a solution, from above me, a figure jumped down for me, no doubt one of the riders, and the one that had tried to take my head off seconds ago. Stepping aside to avoid him I crouched into a fighting position, even as I could feel even more blood gushing from the wound the moment I took my hands off. Thanks to my natural resistance I couldn't feel the effect of the blood loss yet but give it a while and I would begin to slow down, I need to finish this quickly. The harpoon loge in my abdomen burned and throbbed like crazy but I did my best to ignore it as I launched myself at the tall dark figure, putting all of my strength and speed into it.

To my surprise they went down easily, flying through the air several meters and crashing against nearly three, making the entire thing shudder, snow falling from its branches and onto them. For a second I stood still, surprised that it had been so simple, an effect I quickly shook off, at the sound of the soldier’s beating heart - they were still alive, still a danger. I jumped on top of them, their armor crumbling under my feet upon landing, and I could hear them gasp for breath. Furiously I began to pull pieces of their armor off, pulling pieces of flesh along with the metal plates, making them scream, the first noise I had heard from them.

I wasn’t sure what would be the quickest way to kill them, but I decided that I should probably break their neck. All I had to do was remove some more of the armor and I could easily do it. They struggled furiously against me, but their strength compared to mine was insignificant as I peeled their armor away piece by piece until I could finally see the pale skin of their neck.. “Monster!” They shouted at me, the lower half of their face now visible, pearly white teeth snarling at me, “You are all monsters! Go back to hell from where you came from!” They said, spitting on my face, an action that only made my anger boil over.

I put one hand around their neck, deciding to crush their windpipe instead of my previous plan. A dark part of me wanted to see them suffer as they suffocated to death, the part of me that remembered what they had done to my father. I could feel their pulse in between my fingers, the warmth from their skin, I could see the fear in their face, even with half of it covered, their life was in my hands, the feeling was almog exhilarating. A sudden pounding sound stopped me, so powerful it made me see double, made me want to desperately claw my brain out as all my muscles went limp.

I felt myself get thrown off, the soldier having finally struggled free from my grip, they grabbed me by the hair dragging me along the ground even as I weakly tried to struggle free, despite my strength quickly leaving my body, seemingly absorbed by that pounding noise. As he dragged me along I caught a glimpse of my father, he was on the ground, covered in deep gashes and bite wounds that, despite looking serious, shouldn't have been enough to bring him down, meaning whatever the noise was he was feeling the effects too. The Desolation placed one giant hand on top of his chest as he tried to get up, making me realize the beast was glowing, from within the fissure of its armor white light poured out, pounding at the same rythm of the awful noise.

Even though the haze of pain I came to a quick conclusion - the creature was producing the noise, it was the only logical explanation, somehow it was weakening us, rendering us useless, not that the realization could help my situation much. It only got worse the closer we got to the Desolation, we were done for, my dad was completely helpless under the foot of the thing, and soon I would probably suffer the same fate, if we were going to get out I needed to do something and fast, time was running out. Coming to a decision, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and with all the strength I could manage, reached out and grabbed one of the many swords scattered across the ground

Before the soldier could react I shoved the blade right through them, armor and all. Judging by the noise of surprise they made I could tell they hadn’t expected for me to even be able to move, much less attack them. I myself wasn’t sure how I was doing it but desperation is a hell of a drug. I didn’t wait to see if that was enough to kill them, I wasn’t about to be taking any chances. One good blow to the neck was enough, and their limb form fell at my feet, their mouth opened in a silent scream. I wondered if I was supposed to feel something like guilt, or regret, maybe even sadness at having taken a life for the first time, but I felt nothing, just numbness.

Unsteadily I walked away from them, trying to get far away from the noise, from its influence. I grabbed another sword, my hand throbbing with pain as soon as I touched it. I was quickly running out of blood, the precious liquid draining away from the wound on my neck weakening me by the second. I didn’t know where the other rider was, which worried me, If I tried to fight now, I would probably lose. I knew there was only one thing left to try, I looked down at my stomach, carefully studying the deep harpoon wound, making some silent calculation as I took a deep breath, steadying the hand that held the sword before using it to slash my own abdomen open.

I wasn’t sure if it was either that I was going into shock, or that I was already in so much pain that it couldn't get worse, but I hardly felt it as the blade cut me open. I couldn't even feel it as I reached inside the wound, moving my own organs out of the way until my hand closed securely around the hooked weapon. If my theory was wrong then I was probably about to wound myself beyond recovery, and the blood loss would kill me, but on the other hand if I didn’t do this it would allow them to capture me, and that also ended up with my death, so there was nothing to lose.

The harpoon brought out organs, muscle, and flesh along with it, destroying everything in its path as I pulled it free in one quick motion, hoping to get it over faster. I could taste the metallic flavor of blood in my mouth, a mouthful of it, and more crawling up my throat, a clear sign that I had just complealty scrambled my internal organs - there was no going back.

One chance, I had one chance.

For several terrifying seconds I couldn't feel anything, only the numbness as my body began shutting down, the lack of blood and internal damage in a silent competition as to who could kill me first, my legs giving out, no longer capable of supporting my weight. “Asher!” My father screamed from where he was several meters aways, his cry making me realize that the other remaining rider was coming towards me, bloodied sword held ready. Come on, come on, I told myself, even as I felt all hope evaporating as the realization hit me, we were done for, despite us having struggled as hard as we could we were now both on the ground, helpless, awaiting our inevitable fate. Despite my promises, I had failed my father, I couldn't help to protect him, hell he was in this chaos because he was trying to save me, he could have easily run away, but he had tried to hold them back alone, to give me chance, and I had completely ruined it, now we were both going to die.

I hadn’t had time to cry during the entire fight, not even because of the pain, but now I allowed it, feeling bitter tears swell up in my eyes and pour down my face as I allowed myself to fall into complete despondency - there was no longer any use in struggling, no use in fighting. “You can do it” a female voice whispered, making me turn my head slowly to look toward the direction the voice had come from. A young woman sat beside me, seemingly having appeared out of thin air. She wore a pretty sky blue sundress, something looking very out of place in the cold Canadian forest. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail making her almost look like a high schooler despite her probably being in her early twenties, but what stood out about her was her markings, she had the same markings as me and my father, and like ours, hers started in the back of her neck and went around her left shoulder but stopped shy of reaching her arm.

“You can do it, Asher.” She repeated, smiling softly at me, grey eyes twinkling as she observed me. Her face was oddly familiar, I just couldn't place it, but that was the least of my worries, seeing as to how now I was imagining people, hallucinating, my brain probably running really low on blood. “The power is within you.” she assured me; “Fight the Desolation, beat its power, push it back, you are the only one who can”. Faintly, I could hear the step of the rider getting closer and closer to me; “I… I can't, I don't know how.” I told the woman, by this point not caring much if I was talking to an illusion or not, it was better than dying alone.

She passed a hand through my hair in a motherly gesture, “It's okay, it's okay, don't fret child, let me help you”, she said, placing one hand on my bloodied chest, right over my heart. Around us time seemed to slow down, the world disappearing into white nothingness. All I could feel now was the pounding sound coming from the Desolation, how it invaded every cell of my body, feeding off on my energy, weakening me, but along with it, sparking in the background, there was another power coursing through me, one that was my own.

I felt the energy, could practically taste it, as I realized just how familiar it was, how it felt like I had done this millions of times, and I knew exactly what I had to do. I called to it, and it responded, expanding all across my body, fighting against the Desolation, slowly pushing it back, and out, freeing me from its hold. The world came back into focus around me, a tingling feeling coming from my markings as they glowed bright yellow, healing my wounds, and giving me my strength back. The woman was gone, not even a trace of her left, making me even more convinced I had imagined her, but just in case, I sent her a silent thank you for helping me out. A soft, oddly warm breeze ruffled my hair, and maeby I had completely lost it, but I swore I heard the wind whispering as it flew by, “You’re welcome dear”.

The remaining rider had paused - they observed me, the last of my wounds closing. I could sense hesitation coming from them, no longer full of all the confidence they had carried themselves with while I was on the ground. Before I could give them the chance to try anything, I jumped at them, punching through their armor and into the soft flesh it protected. My first went straight through them, coming out on the other side, covered in gore. I heard them scream a sound only partially muffled by their mask, their last sound as they took a few last desperate breaths before going limp, their heart no longer beating.

I brought my arm out of their abdomen, their body falling to the ground in a heap at my feet, again it had been easy, too easy, to kill one of them. Heck, my father alone had taken care of most of their group, I thought they would have been stronger, more resistant, but it was like mice trying to hunt a lion, and it made me understand something. They weren’t strong alone, not even in numbers could they pose a threat - their true power lay in the Desolations, their beasts, without them, and that mysterious white material that could pierce our skin, they were barely above a normal human.

I turned to look back at the monster, it still held my father under one paw, still shining, weakening him. If I could just get it to move so I could get him, we could still make a run for it. As if reading my thought the beast threw its massive head back, producing a sound like snaping metal, the noise resonating for several miles. “Asher”, my father grunted from under the beast's hold, “You.. .have… to run, it called for backup. Soon… we will be… surrounded”. “I won't leave you”, I said, walking closer, taunting the monster, to see if it would take a bite at me, but it refused to move. “Come on”, I said, punching its armored chest with all my strength, which did close to nothing, except burning my hand the moment it got close to the light that emanated from it, and almost getting my head bitten off.

“It's no use Asher…” My father said, from under the immense weight, as I could hear, in the distance, more people approaching, along with the heavy footsteps of huge creatures, more Desolations without a doubt. “Run…” my father repeated, “It's only holding me… to keep you here.” I grunted, making another attempt to move the thing, kicking it this time, but with little result. “I can't leave you here!” I said, increasingly desperate as the footsteps grew closer. “They will kill you.” My father shook his head, “No… they want you… not me, as long as you are alive… they will allow me to live.” “I dont care!” I shouted, my voice breaking; “I can't leave you behind!” “It's okay, Asher”, he said gently, “You won't be able to fight the other Desolations, we will get captured and killed but if you run… I still have a chance to survive”.

The footsteps were getting closer and closer, time was running out, and a horrible decision loomed over me. “Listen to me Asher,” he said, “You will rescue me okay? Go look for help, go to the Den, they will help you, we will be together again…” He gritted his teeth as the beast increased the pressure on his chest, “But remember… that I only live as… long… as you are alive…” He grimaced in pain. “I… I can't do this without you!” I said, giving up on punching the thing, as it was unmovable. He smiled, despite the pain he must have been in. “Yes you can Asher, you are stronger than you know… that's why I trust you to recuse me.” In the distance I could now see the silhouettes moving through the trees, coming from the direction of the road - time was up.

What I should do was obvious, but it was also the hardest of the two choices. It hurt, every muscle in my being refusing to move and run away, leaving my father behind, but I had to, for his sake. “I...I promise I'll find you”, I said to my father, holding back tears, putting on a brave face, “I'll rescue you…count on me”. He smiled softly, an expression of relief in his face, “I'll be waiting for you Asher...one day, we will be together again….count on it”. The first of the beasts burst from the forest, charging towards us. I felt like a coward, like the worst piece of trash in the universe but I still took off running in the opposite direction with everything I had.

Even in my hurry I couldn't stop myself from turning one last time to look at my father, just in time to see his face twist in pain, an expression that he had probably been holding back from showing in front of me. The sight broke my heart, shattered me, almost made me stop, made me turn back, but I had made a promise and I was going to fulfill it. With tears pouring down my face, and a deep pain in my heart, I ran into the forest getting farther and farther away from my father with every step, the image of his pained face engraved in my mind, my promise to rescue him pushing me to go faster, to get away from the beast that now pursued me at a speed that shouldn't be capable for a thing that size.

He had promised that we would be togetherr again one day…, a promise I held onto, but until then, and for the first time in my life, I was on my own. I could hear my heart beating wildly inside my chest as I ran, dodging around trees and scrambling up and down the slopes of the terrain. For some reason I was moving faster than I usually could manage, jumping with more strength, it seemed as a side effect of me keeping my healing power active, when it had nothing to heal it enhanced my physical abilities and especially my stamina.

Behind me, less than fifty meters away, I could hear the things hot on my trail. There were three of them, non bothering to dodge anything, they were barreling through the forest, shredding trees, rocks, and anything else that got on their way under their feet. Dad had told me that for as long as I had my ability active it would make it a lot easier for them to track me, but on the other hand, if I deactivated it, I would significantly slow down, and then they would more likely catch on to me, or even worse, if they got closer they could use their nullifying ability.

I had managed to counteract the effect of one, and it had been next to impossible. I really didn't want to try my luck with the tree at the same time. Would they attack me if I was in public? I wonder, dad had put me in school for a reason, maybe not only to hide my scent but because I would be constantly supervised by normal humans, surrounded by them. If I was to run into a populated area, covered in blood and being chased by three creatures looking like something straight out of the book of revelation it was easy enough to figure out which side the humans would take. I sniffed the air, amplifying my hearing that was luckily enhanced by my healing. We weren’t that far from town when we got attacked, but I was also going in the completely opposite direction at the moment, the soft bustling sound and smells of human civilization getting further, but changing my course would also mean turning around and running towards the beats, that or trying to go around them and risk getting corralled.

As I ran, unsure of what to do, I wished, more than anything, that my dad was with me, he would have figure out what to do, gotten us out of this situation somehow...but he wasn’t here, I was alone, I didn’t even have an ability I could use to fight, I thought, looking down at my glowing yellow marks, I was only a healer… Further ahead I could hear the loud roaring of moving water, a river by the sound of it. I knew that the Bouctouche river passed very close to the road, I had heard it as we drove, but this wasn’t the Bouctouche, since I was running in the opposite direction, but it could be a tributary that led to it.

A crazy idea surfaced in my head as I ran, fueled by my lack of options. Turning around and facing the Desolations was out of the question, I could try to run to another town, but the closest significant settlement was far away, which just gave my pursuers more of a chance to catch up with me, or worse, call in even more back up. Coming to a decision I pushed my pace, the trees blurring around me and even with my healing I could feel my muscles straining themselves, my lungs burning, I couldn't keep up this pace for long. “Just a little bit more”, I told myself, the sound of my own pounding heart filling my ears as I pushed myself to my limits, “Just a little bit more…”. The effort began to pay off, I was pulling away from the beasts, now they were a few more meters away, and little by litle I was leaving them more and more behind.

I was panting by the time I had put an extra couple of meters between them and me. Now they were around seventy meters behind me, still flattening the forest in their wake with no signs of slowing down or giving up the chase. I wish I could have put more distance between us, considering what I was about to do but I hardly had a choice, no matter how much I pushed it I was at my limit. Ahead of me I could see a small canyon with bare rock walls, the sound of roaring water echoing all across it. I tried not to imagine the foaming rapids that were probably awaiting me at the end of the long drop. Turning my healing off wasn’t as hard as the last time, which was a relief considering the circumstances. I now had a better grasp of the energy within me, of how it felt, which made it easier to stop using it, the hard part was running without it.

I stumbled and almost fell to the ground the moment my marks stopped shining, desperately gasping for breath as I tried to maintain a good speed. Even as my entire body was protesting the strain. I was sure that if I slowed down even the slightest bit I would fall and not get up again. Dad had told me they could track my sould energy, but also my scent, turning off my power wouldn’t necessarily stop them from finding me, but at least it would help, now I just hoped the watter did the rest of the trick. With one final burst of speed I jumped over the ledge realizing as I flew over the river just how narrow it was down there, the river forced into a fiver meter channel, its watter roaring furiously, white rapids bubbling all across it.

I took one final look at the sky as I felt toward the boiling water, it was so clear, so blue, so beautiful... it seems hard to believe that terrible thing could happen on such a gorgeous day, it didn’t seem fair, the sky should have been cloudy, dark to match my sadness, my anger, but instead the sun shown cheerfully, the birds sang happily around me, like the world was perfect, like I wasn’t running for my live, like my father hadn’t been taken from me...

Before I knew it I hit the water below, the current pushing me along like I was little more than a twig that had dared to defy the mythy river. With some effort I took one final gulp of air and then allowed the current to swipe me along, the image of the bright afternoon sun shining over me was the last image I saw as my head went underwater.

Vaguely I felt myself hit something hard, more rocks I thought, not bothering to open my eyes, I was too weak...too tired all I wanted to do was go to sleep, I ignore the part of my mind that was screaming at me to open my eyes, trying to remind me that I was forgetting something important. Again the river current made me hit something, more rocks...I thought I had left all of those behind the moment the tributary had dumped me into the way larger and calmer Boutuche river… well, they didn't hurt nearly as much as in the rapid so- whait that was it! the river, I was in the river.

I snapped my eyes open, around me the world was a dark green bluish color and murky, I was still underwater, deep one, I turned to look around me, trying to figure out what I had bumped against, hoping it would me something human built, something to show me that I had finally reached Boutruche, or another river town because I couldn't hold on any longer, my lungs burn like crazy from having held my breath for so long, I was dizzy, disoriented, if I didn’t surface soon I would pass out and probably drown.

At least the water trick had seem to work, since I wasn’t dead, or between the jaws of a desolation, I had hoped that their heavy armor would stop them from following me in the water, that and that it would help to mask my scent or so I hoped, I wasn’t sure whether they work like traking dogs or if it was something completely different. It took me a few seconds to weakly maneuver myself around in the current to be able to see all my surroundings in turn, forcing myself to remain calm as I scan the water, a large piece of wood drifting by me.

At first I thought it was a log, I had seen and bumped into several through my journey, but this one was floating curiously, up right, not moving very much...and looking around it I realized there was more of them, and that those weren’t logs, but a concreted foundations, the ones used in bridges.

I realized with alarm that the current was pulling me further away from them and I swam desperately against it, using whatever little streng I had to cling onto one one of the cement columns and slowly climb it, my fingers digging into the concrete as I struggled to get a grip on the almost perfectly smooth surface, the current still hell bent on carrying me along on its way to the ocean.

My hand almost crushed the wooden beam when material suddenly changed from concrete to wood, my hand finally above water, and with it, I could finally pull myself out of the murky river.

I had never appreciated being able to breathe more than in those first few seconds when my head was above water, greedily gulpin down a mouth of sweet, sweet air, easing the pain in my lungs, the pounding in my head, clearing it. With new found strength I climb the rest of the way up the brigue, which turned out the be a wooden pedestrian one, the old railing creaking as I swung over them and fell in a heap on the other side, laying on my back for a few second, still taking deep breaths, water dripping from my clothes and hair anto the wooden planks.

“Oh my…”, a female voice gasped a few feet to my right, making me turn my head sharply in that direction, so preoccupied with being able to breathe again I hadn’t even bothered to check if there were humans close by...not my brightest moment. An elderly couple stood less than ten feet away from me, both dress in thick jackets, hats and gloves, the man held a digital camera in his hand and looked like he had been in the middle of taking a picture of his wife with the scenery when I had suddenly emerge from the river like Jonah from the sea; I also probably looked like a fish had vomited me.

“Good afternoon”, I called, not sure of what elses to say, cringing at how raspy my voice sounded, making it come out lower, and more threatening than I had intended. “Just...doing some fishing…” I added, waving toward the river with one hand, a comment that clearly didn’t help the situation at all as they both stared petrified at me. Slowly I sat up and both took several steps back, the man placing a protective arm around his wife.

The river water had pretty much washed away all the blood from my skin and hair, but the white shirt under my jacket was still stained with it as well as my jeans, not to mention that all my clothes were torn from the fight and then my trip down the less than gentle rapids.

“Well...then....I'll get going”, I said, getting up and walking in the opposite direction as them, hoping they wouldn't call the police on me, the last thing I needed was a run down with the law. The wooden plank below my feet cracked softly as I walked along, the river water I had been in less than five minutes ago flowing below it. The old but well constructed bridge went all across the wide river, the scene was quite picturesque and I could see why it would attract the occasional tourist, but I hardly paid attention to it, my eyes fixed beyond it and on the grass field on the other side and the path among them that would eventually lead me to town.

I had gotten lucky; I couldn't sense any attackers close by but I wasn’t in the mood to push my luck, my father's life depended on me getting to my destination in one piece and I had no intention of failing him.