Bane (Page 18)
He barked a laugh, “What do I have against them? I don’t know, everything! They’re the reason why the vamps started the camps. Bane are the reason why we were hunted, and the damn bloodsuckers can’t sustain their own race. Since the Bane were banished, the number of humans has dwindled to nothing. Bane are the reason for our suffering, and there is no way in Hell I’m letting you influence Cassie more than you already have. Leave, or we’ll do what we do to your kind.” His voice was hard, his words clipped.
“Cole, stop. She’s not Bane.” Cassie was worried. Her dark eyes shifted between the two, her hand reaching for her brother’s arm, but he shirked her off.
Kahli glared at Cole, his detest for vampires was incorrigible, but his venom for the Bane seemed misplaced. They had no choice, much as the humans who were corralled into camps.
“There’s one way to find out,” Cole growled.
“Everyone burns when you drop a match on them, Cole. Don’t be stupid.” Cassie was nearly shouting, her slender body vibrating with anger, the poodle coat shook like it was alive. “This might be the last day I’m alive and I’m not spending it like this.” They both turned to look at her. “Don’t you think that I knew this was coming? As soon as the snow fell deep enough to prove I’m not worth the blood flowing through my veins, I knew I’d die. It was a matter of time. There are only so many times I can narrowly avoid bleeding to death anyway…”
Cole cut her off, “The King shouldn’t have—”
“But he did,” Cassie snapped back, squaring her shoulders. There was no trace of the light-hearted girl from this morning. Her eyes were wide and glassy, her lips pinched into a scowl. “And this is my last day. My minutes are marked and I’m not wasting them standing here with you two arguing. End this. Now.” Cassie breathed hard, her gasps turning white as she exhaled, “And, she’s not Bane. I know she’s not. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Cole scoffed, “If she’s not Bane, they’d have fed from her by now! The vampires would have tried to mate her, bleed her, and used her blood for transfusions by now, but they didn’t, Cass. Think about it!”
Rage pinched Cassie’s pretty face, “No! You think about it!” She jabbed her slender finger into his chest. Cole was shocked, his jaw hanging open like he couldn’t believe that the girl had backbone. “I just told you that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’s human and you won’t listen. I don’t care what the vamps do or what they don’t do. Maybe they plan on draining her, mating her, or using her as a distillery for the rich. I don’t care!” Tears streaked her cheeks, “Today’s about me! It’s my time—my final hours—and I won’t spend them like this.” Tears streaked her face. Folding her arms over her chest, she said, “Accept Kahli or leave.”
Cole’s jaw dropped, “Cass, you can’t mean that.”
Staring at Cassie, Cole didn’t blink. He stood there frozen like he was made of ice. Finally he blinked and nodded once. Without glancing at Kahli, he took his sister in his arms, kissed her forehead, and walked away, leaving them on their own.
“I’m sorry,” Kahli breathed, watching Cole’s figure disappear into the glittering snow.
She shrugged, “He has a chip on his shoulder that’s gonna get him killed. He doesn’t recognize who are his friends and who are his enemies anymore. And I won’t be alive long enough to help him.”
Kahli shook her head. Turning to Cassie, she said, “Yes you will. I’m not letting today end the way you think it will.”
“I don’t have the energy to hope. Not anymore. I knew this day was coming for a while now, Kahli. I’ve accepted it. You should, too. We should just go back to the palace and hand me over. All of you are risking your lives, and there’s no reason for it. Not when we know things will turn out like they always do. It’s just my time…”
Kahli wanted to shake some sense into her, but she gritted her teeth instead. Every inch of her body was frozen. But when she shook, it was from anger, not cold. “It’s not your time and it’s not going to happen. And I’m not walking away like Cole just did. Come on, let’s knock off some more of this list. It’s nearly lunchtime. I shoved some food into my coat before I realized what was going on today. We can eat it and find some more of the stuff on the list.”
That perked Cassie up. The food was forbidden, but who would know? They swallowed some nutrient bars that Kahli had taken from their room. She’d been stashing food, making sure she had enough on her to escape without starving. Bodies used more calories in the cold to maintain body temperature. Hunger was an issue.
So far their bag was about half full. It was a scavenger hunt to find things that vampires had no use for. It was purely a test of strength. So far they had rocks, bark, wood, coal, and a coveted iced apple from the Queen’s northern orchid. Climbing trees was an asset today, Kahli thought. They were making a circle around the palace grounds, so that Cassie wouldn’t have to double back for anything. Kahli was getting weary and didn’t really want to either.
Just as they finished their forbidden lunch, they heard voices. Kahli held her gloved finger to her lips. Cassie ducked behind a snow drift and Kahli quickly followed. Three girls were coming into view. They walked side-by-side. The girls held an identical bag filled with things from the list, no doubt. Kahli’s brain was spinning wildly, forming a plan. If they had gotten the things from the top of the list, as she presumed they did, then it might be possible to do more good than she originally thought. If they had half the list in that bag, there was no question of Cassie’s safety. Stealing their pack was risky, but Kahli felt it was worth it. It would leave them with half a day to find the flag. It was a double safety net and Kahli wanted it.
Voices drifted over the snow, hushed, “…doesn’t even know how to play. They can’t win anyway. We already have their flag. You should have seen Jess’ face when we took it. Her and Taylor were in a rage.”
Cassie and Kahli’s eyes met, but neither spoke. The others were too close. Voices drifted, and echoed in strange ways in the frosty air.
A guy’s voice laughed, “Well, I’m not taking any chances. That red-headed girl wasn’t there. That means she could have filled their bag full of stuff by now, or captured our flag.”
Two feminine voices erupted in laughter, “They can’t even get to our flag! And that wild girl is a savage. She probably ran off to lick herself in the orchards.” More laugher.
Kahli let their insults roll off. She recognized the voice, it was her roommate Missy, the one that was up at first light this morning. They weren’t moving quickly, but if she didn’t act now, Kahli would lose the opportunity. They had no idea she was there, a stone’s throw away, hidden by a massive pile of snow. Kahli put her fingers to her lips and pointed at Cassie, indicating that she should stay put. Cassie huffed, but nodded. Cassie shifted, changing her position so that she could watch Kahli move away from the drift. Kahli crouched, moving quickly and silently, coming around behind the group. Before they knew what happened, Kahli had snuck up behind them. Rushing at her, Kahli grabbed Missy by her neck and pressed a make-shift shiv into the side, careful not to bleed her.
“Bet you wish I was in the orchards right now,” Kahli said utterly calm. Missy was completely still, her companions shocked into silence. Kahli smiled widely. This was cruel, but there was no way she was letting Cassie die tonight. And their little group sure as hell didn’t seem like the weaker of the two. Kahli lifted the bag off of Missy’s hip, “I’ll just borrow this for a little while.”
“You can’t steal the items from the other team!” Missy’s voice was indignant. Kahli slid the pointed tip down her pale throat, careful not to scratch the girl. Missy hated Kahli’s guts and thought the wild girl would kill her and not think twice about it. Missy stiffened.
Kahli kept the weapon on Missy, “As far as I know, this is a survival test, and I have every intention of surviving. I’m not going back empty-handed. You are.” She shoved the girl forward to stand with her team. “Walk away. Now.”
Her pretty face turned into an angry sneer, “Or you’ll what?”
Kahli repeated the rumor’s she’d heard, “I gutted a pack of wolves with my bare hands. What do you think I could do to the lot of you with a shiv made of ice? The question isn’t what I’ll do—it’s do you want to live?” Kahli’s stance was stiff, waiting for one of them to attack, but they didn’t. The three of them remained silent for a moment, but the more Kahli spoke, the more spooked they became. Before Kahli asked her final question, fear flooded their eyes. Silence followed. Tension made the air feel warmer, though it was freezing outside. To speed things up Kahli stamped her foot at them, and the other team scattered like mice.
When they were out of sight, she called to Cassie, “Come on. We need to put our loot together and see what’s left. Hopefully this is everything.” Cassie’s face lit up.
When they combined he contents of both packs, Cassie and Kahli had everything from the list. Kahli discarded the duplicate items, burying them under the snow so the other team couldn’t find them, and swung the pack over her shoulder. It wasn’t too heavy. When she handled the items, looking them over, she’d made a plan, but Kahli had to make sure Cassie was safe. She also had to be certain that the bag made it back to the palace.
Cassie was so ecstatic that she had trouble not jumping up and down. The girl was so full of life. It made Kahli’s head hurt to think Cassie almost died today, that she still might if things went poorly before they made it back to the palace.
“Kahli, do you know what this means?” Cassie’s voice trembled, her mittens pressed against her lips. It wasn’t until that moment that Kahli really looked at her friend. Cassie thought she was going to die, and she’d made peace with it, but part of her couldn’t accept it. Now she was trembling with excitement. She’d see another sunrise and another snowfall. Tonight would not be her final evening amongst the living.
Kahli smiled softly at her, and placed a hand on her shoulder, “I know. I’m glad we got everything… But I’m done yet.”
Cassie’s smile faded, “What? What do you mean?”
“I need you to take this,” Kahli extended the pack toward Cassie, “Take it back to the palace. Tell Jess we got everything. The other team said she was already defeated. I guess our entire team is already inside, huh?”
Cassie nodded and then shook her head, “Yes, they probably are, but what are you planning on doing? The guards are everywhere. It may have looked like we were alone today, but we weren’t. If you actually harmed one of the other girls, they would have appeared and thrown you to the Queen for sentencing. They’re here Kahli—all around us. There’s no way out.” Cassie was certain that Kahli meant to escape. She knew the other girl wouldn’t stay long, but this wasn’t the time to leave. They were surrounded, even if Kahli couldn’t tell. A few years ago one of her friends tried to take off. Cassie saw first-hand what happened to him. She didn’t want that to happen to Kahli. She looked worriedly at Kahli, hoping she wouldn’t do anything stupid.