Emma looked so casual as she walked beside me, smiling and still joking. The glasses from Jarod’s tablet truly did look really good on her. Regina appeared determined, something I could understand far better when heading to kill someone. I wished I knew Emma’s secret to remaining so cheerful, but now wasn’t the time to ask. For once, I didn’t allow the girls to enter first after opening the door. If Luke were to jump out at us, I wanted to be able to shield them from his attack. Looking around, I saw no sign of Luke, but I certainly did see another reason why attacking during the day was to our advantage. Even with the sun shining brightly outside, the factory seemed slightly dark. With no power, this place would be pitch black at night. Knowing that a killer could be lurking in any of the shadows added to the eeriness of the large, darkened room. I was certain my nightmares of similar places — rooms filled with boxes, crates, and machinery — were affecting my assessment as well. Perhaps I should have tried sleeping just a little longer last night. I felt Regina grab my hand, the familiar feel of her long fingers was unmistakable, so I squeezed gently to try comforting her without taking my eyes off what lay ahead. I hesitated, undecided about where we should head. If we ducked behind the numerous obstacles, he wouldn’t be able to see us as easily, but we wouldn’t have room to dodge away from his powerful blows. Where were you Luke?
I focused on the energy and was caught off-guard at how Emma’s arms glowed with it. Despite her laughter and smiles, she had been fully prepared all along. I hadn’t realized before that her bracelets were living plants. The twins had cautioned Regina and Emma not to try the spells I had been shown, saying neither of the girls could put enough power into them yet to strike down a werelion. They were to help keep Luke off-balance, so I would have time to finish him. Ai had shown me how to create focused streams of air or water capable of slicing through steel with enough energy put into them. Mai had shown me numerous ways to kill with fire, from setting someone directly on fire to launching intense bolts of fire at targets. I had destroyed countless fruits and vegetables under their watchful eyes, but I still felt queasy when I thought of using such spells on Luke. Yet here I stood, planning on doing precisely that if we found him. I started guiding the girls out into the open. Our odds were better if we had even an extra second to prepare our spells. Forming a triangle with our backs, we looked around, straining our eyes and ears to find him. “Got ya!” yelled Emma as vines shot from her bracelets, quickly dragging someone into the light. I swallowed hard before saying, “That’s not Luke.”
The werelion’s mane was shorter and lighter in color than Luke’s had been. Even bound in vines, the beast grinned up at us, allowing us to see its enormous, sharp canines. Then the beast roared and was answered by many. “RUN!” yelled the twins in unison over my headset. Werelions were ripping out of the numerous crates, and others were leaping down from above us. “We can’t,” said Emma, “The entire pride’s here, surrounding us.” They all started charging us, so I took energy from Emma’s arms and made a circle of fire ten feet out from us. I felt like vomiting when Emma used her vines to move the one she held into my flames. The werelion’s scream was as deafening as it was horrible. I started to form a second spell when Regina came crashing into me. I turned toward her as I fell and watched as her head was swiped by a werelion that had lept over my fire. I could see in slow motion as another was leaping at Emma’s back. She had turned to face and bind the one from which Regina had shielded me. I hugged Regina in my arms and threw the one leaping at Emma off course with a quick spell. Maybe Emma could survive this. I couldn’t. I wasn’t going to leave Regina behind and there was so much blood pouring from her head.
An intense cold swept over me and smothered my flames. An enormous figure in a tattered black cloak was floating above me, and I knew Death. My entire body was shaking, and I could hardly take a breath to scream. Even if my lungs would have permitted the scream, it would have been lost in the howling wind and chorus of frightened yelps from the wearlions as they tried stopping their charge. A drop of water fell from Death’s hood to join the stream of tears on my face. Death’s scythe with its undulating shadow for a blade raised up, and the werelions all fell. Then Death vanished. Time jumped back to normal as Emma hit the ground, the glasses falling from her face. “EMMA!” I called, but she didn’t respond. I reached a hand over to her wrist and felt her pulse. When I looked back at Regina to tell her Emma was fine, I found that her head had turned from my movement. I could see all too clearly how much was missing. The werelion’s claw had rent her head clear to her brain. I hugged her tightly and heard a horrible wail that couldn’t be me, but I was crying too much to see. I had thought we were executioners come to carry out a sentence. I didn’t truly appreciate the danger here. Who would have believed that Death was real?
I was shaking, holding Regina tightly against me as Mai used a spell to move Regina’s blood back into her body. Jarod had arrived not long after the twins, looking as white as fresh snow. I could easily picture Regina laying in a pile of snow, the redness of her blood spreading out from her. I was aware of Ai carrying Emma out of the building. Jarod and Mai were both talking to me, but I couldn’t understand them. Didn’t they see Regina was dead? Why weren’t they getting an ambulance? I don’t know how long I sat there, rocking Regina in my arms, but I was startled when Regina’s blood started to flow again. When men arrived with a tiger in tow, I got myself to ask what was happening. Mai brushed my hair back as Ai touched my shoulder. Then they said together, “Don’t worry, James. Rest.” How could I possibly rest right now? Did they just expect me to lay down and sleep while waiting for… My head was feeling funny, and my eyes were growing heavy. I kissed Regina’s blonde head, away from the blood soaking it, and then felt my body go limp. I didn’t fall backward, precisely. I felt like I floated into a dream where I was being carried on a cloud.
I sat up quickly, feeling disoriented as I took in the sight of my room at Somerset Estate. Had I dreamt it all? “You’re fine, dear. You don’t have to get up,” said mother, who had a chair by my bed. She had been crying recently. Father came over and sat by me on my bed. “Can I get you anything, son?” he asked. Tears welled up, blurring my vision. I hadn’t dreamt Regina’s death. Why else would my parents be here? “What happened?” I inquired. “One of those twins called us and told us that Regina had been attacked by that tiger which escaped from the zoo two nights ago. They told us how brave you were, trying to save her.” explained father. Mother hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing more you could have done.” A cover up. Regina died saving my life, and the twins covered it up. I felt so angry, but all I could do was cry into mother’s shoulder. I squeezed her tight, not knowing what to say even after I could speak. The twins were probably trying to protect people, especially if Emma explained what really happened. I shuddered involuntarily as I remembered Death.
Days passed. Emma had fainted after seeing Death, and the twins claimed that they had heard Death was real. They insisted that what we saw was in fact “Death’s daughter” though, and not Death himself. Jarod hadn’t seen Death at all. He had told me “I saw Emma turning to face the one werelion, and then all of the electronics went haywire. I could hear those terrible sounds from out in Mila though. Death, er Death’s daughter, took all of the body’s though. There wasn’t blood, hair, or anything! It happened in seconds!” Whether Death, Death’s daughter, or some other entity, Emma and I were saved by it, but that was one debt I was scared to repay. Ai and Mai were different over the past few days. I hadn’t expected Regina’s death to hit them so hard, but their sarcasm and twisted humor had vanished. They apologized frequently, constantly trying to explain that they hadn’t known the whole pride would be there. I didn’t want their explanations. I wanted Regina back. I wanted to be able to ask her out, to take her on a date, and to see her smile again. I should have just given in to her desires and dated her years ago. Now she was dead, and I could never tell her how much I truly cared about her.
Regina’s funeral sickened me. The secretary, not Mr. Smith, had ordered Regina’s cremation, selected the urn, and made the other funeral arrangements. I wondered if Regina’s father would have even shown up if his various business partners weren’t there. Had the man even grieved at all? I was so very angry, but I knew better than to lash out with my fists. When asked to speak, I did my best to expound how completely amazing Regina was. I told of her numerous achievements, of how she was constantly helping others, and of the countless things we would never get to see her do now due to this tragedy. I only hoped Mr. Smith could at least feel guilt over missing so much of his daughter’s life. I left immediately after the urn was placed in the Smith family tomb on Mr. Smith’s estate. If I was going to stop more tragic deaths like this, I needed to train harder. I told Mila to have Aaliyah transfer what she could of my clients to Jarod and asked for my schedule to be kept empty for now. I needed all the time I could get to better myself. I couldn’t count on Death’s daughter to be watching over me all the time, and I quite frankly didn’t want to see her ever again. I still felt queasy when I thought of her. Next time, I would be the one who kept the killers at bay.