A World of New by Bella Forrest, now you can read online.
The mutants’ flames billowed down. Although I began to descend the tree, my mind remained at the top, beneath the night sky, where Victoria had disappeared. It kept posing the same question… Why?
I touched down on the ground, narrowly dodging falling branches and flames, and launched through the undergrowth. Through the rapidly descending smog, I could make out Brucella and Dane reaching the foothills up ahead.
Somebody must have sounded an alarm inside the mountain, because wolves were already piling out. Everything was a blur of chaos as everyone raced for their lives from the mutants.
“Bastien!” Brucella yelled to me. “Stay with us!” She had reached her husband and was surrounded by a number of other Northstones.
I turned away from her in disgust. Even if every single wolf here tonight was incinerated, I would hardly shed a tear. None of them felt like family. None of them felt like friends. My primary concern would be the fate of my home country with so many of the most influential tribes wiped out.
Brucella continued to bark for me, but her voice became drowned out by the wind whipping against my ears as I lurched toward a swathe of trees still untouched by fire. As always, I felt as if I could not move fast enough.
The sudden scrambling of the wolves had mutants flying in all directions, but I did not look back. I continued surging forward, away from Brucella. Away from Dane. Away from the Northstones.
Away from that girl… wherever she is now.
I felt crippled. Wounded. Confused. All I wanted was to get away. From everyone and everything, familiar and unfamiliar. I wanted the world around me to vanish.
As I shot deeper into the woods, the darkness enshrouding me felt soothing. My feet digging into the soil beneath me, I shut down my mind and focused on the only constants I had left in my life. Constants that nobody could take away. My strength. My speed.
Running as a lone wolf, I managed to shake off the mutants who had been hovering above me. The pounding of their wings and their fearsome cries dissolved in the distance.
I did not stop until I arrived at a beach. A beach that was once an old port of the Woodlands, abandoned several decades ago in favor of a new one further south. A number of old boats bobbed on the shoreline, fastened together by rope. I raced over to a small one and chewed off its binding, separating it from the rest. Then I waded into the water, pushing the boat deeper with my head, until it was deep enough to begin its own course over the waves. I leapt inside and stood on the old rickety deck, gazing back at the island. An orange glow touched the sky in the distance, even as anguished howling pierced the night.
As the waves carried me further and further away, I wondered whether this would be my life from now on. Running, running. Always running.
Running and alone.
When my parents returned me to our treehouse, I could no longer stifle my emotions. I hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. Gripping the edges of the sink, I breathed heavily. And then the tears fell—a drizzle at first, then a downpour. I did not want my parents to see me. I did not want them to ask me why I was so affected. The pain was still so fresh. I did not feel ready to talk about it.
But I could not have expected my mother to stay out as I broke down.
She knocked at the door before sliding it open and stepping inside. “Oh, honey,” she said, lowering and gathering me in her arms. “What’s wrong?”
Everything felt wrong in that moment. The world that we lived in, where criminals disguised as protectors reigned supreme. Being doubted and blamed for those bastards’ atrocities. And Bastien’s life. What would become of him? What might have already become of him?
My mother sat next to me on the carpet and clutched my hands, giving them a squeeze. “Tell me, Vicky,” she coaxed.
Something about the expression in my mother’s violet-blue eyes made me melt. Her deep concern. Her love.
Suddenly I realized I did not want to hold everything back. I wanted to tell her the truth—partly in an attempt to make sense of my own thoughts and feelings, which were currently caught in a storm.
I brushed against my eyes. “Bastien,” I began. “He doubts me… He thinks what happened could be all my fault.” If Brucella has managed to sink her claws into him deep enough, I thought bitterly. “I didn’t get time to explain.” And now I don’t know if I will ever get time. I was praying that he would remember that my parents had stopped by his cousin’s, and that he would suspect that Detrius was the culprit in all of this. But I did not know how much Bastien really knew about hunter technology. He had been brought up in a world of swords, spears, bows and arrows. Would the idea of a tracker even enter his mind? The Blackhalls’ lair still looked medieval. There were no external signs of the hunters’ influence there yet.
My mother kissed the back of my hand. “He seems to be a resilient young man. If anybody has a chance of surviving, I’m sure it’s him.”
How could I explain to my mother? Physically Bastien was strong and powerful. Brutally so. But inside… he was soft. He was in a vulnerable place in his life. I had been a lifeline to him in the aftermath of his family’s slaughter. And the thought of him believing that I could have betrayed him, played on his emotions at a time when he was most weak, cut me to the core.
I had spent enough time around the Northstones to see that they were no family to him. Now he would be all alone, assuming he was even still alive. Even if he had somehow managed to flee from the hunters, what would become of his life? If he and the Northstones survived, would he eventually succumb to Brucella and marry his cousin, whom he did not love in the slightest? Would he just settle down into the path of least resistance? Would that spark, that fire I’d so admired in him, fizzle out?