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"Tabitha, stop!” Theo called through the trees.

 

At the thought of Amias, she began pelting through the forest, disregarding any consequences. In that moment, Tabitha came to a resolution; Amias was her friend.

 

 

“No, Theo. He helped us, now we help him.” She powered forwards.

 

“And how are you going to help him by ploughing headfirst into a nest of vampires? Getting yourself killed isn’t going to help him. He said finish the potion, then get...”

 

“I can’t just go!” Tabitha shouted desperately. She stopped, turning on her heels to face Theo. “We can’t leave him, Theo. I can’t...” She trailed off, choking on her own words.

 

Without realising it, Amias was the reason she made this trip. He was the vampire she needed to find.

 

“Amias is good.” She managed to say through the lump that was building in her throat. “If I leave him... He is fighting against those monsters, the kind that killed my mother. If I let him die, who knows how many more they’ll kill.”

 

“Tabs...”

 

“Can’t you see that I have to do this?”

 

Theo bit his lip, staring at the determination on Tabitha’s face.

 

“I can’t let you just go running in there.” He said, finally. “I’ll have to come with you.”

 

A tear spilled from Tabitha’s eye. Hastily, she wiped it away, smiling gratefully at Theo. He smiled back, taking Tabitha’s hand in his and giving it a familiar squeeze.

 

“We have to hurry.” She said.

 

Together now, they moved quickly and quietly through the forest, running back to the place of their last encounter with Stingere. Crouched behind a nearby tree, Tabitha could see the severed end of rope, swinging from where she’d cut Theo down. The clearing below it was empty.

 

“Okay, so they’re not here.” Theo said obviously.

 

“Yes, I see that, Theophilus.”

 

He smirked at her. Moving out from behind the tree, Tabitha began to spin, looking in every direction for any sign of a struggle.

 

“Alright, well we keep going. We have to...”

 

“Shhh!” Theo interrupted. He was gazing into the distance, his hand held aloft towards Tabitha.

 

“Don’t shush me, we have to find...”

 

“Shh Tabitha!” He scurried forward, cupping his hand over Tabitha’s mouth, muffling her protests. “Do you hear that?”

 

“No.” Tabitha huffed, prying Theo’s hand away.

 

“There was something.”

 

His eyes were fixed on the far trees. To Tabitha, the forest around them was quiet.

 

“This way.” Clearly hearing something Tabitha couldn’t, he bolted deeper into the forest.

 

Tabitha, not missing a beat, followed close behind him. She trailed him in confusion, straining her ears to hear anything other than the sound of their hurried footsteps.

 

“Theo, what is it?” Tabitha whispered as Theo paused, looking from side to side, choosing their next direction.

 

“Do you really not hear it?”

 

“No!” She hissed, getting frustrated. “What is it?”

 

Theo’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Almost like, a whimper.”

 

Then came a sound that Tabitha could hear; an unmistakable cry of someone in agony. It echoed through the still forest, sending shivers down Tabitha’s spine. Theo and Tabitha locked eyes and sprinted off towards scream. In her panic, Tabitha was tumbling over her own feet, tripping on roots and stones. Theo grabbed her arm to keep her balanced, when a figure stumbled from behind a tree, collapsing in front of them.

 

Amias’ pale body lay spread across the forest floor as he crumpled at their feet.

 

“Amias!” Tabitha dropped to her knees, moving the blonde hair from his face.

 

He couldn’t speak, only groaning in reply, pain contorting his face. Looking across his fragile form, blood was oozing from his wounds before Tabitha’s eyes. His shirt was torn with long slash marks and the fabric that was left was stained a dark red.

 

Shaking, Tabitha turned to Theo, who had moved to Amias’ head, resting it in his lap.

 

“I need Dittany.”

 

“Tabs, we don’t have any,” he replied softly.

 

“Well we have to heal him,” her voice was growing louder as her distress bubbled over, “We can’t ... we have to ... something!”

 

She looked down at Amias’, his eyes shut tight, twitching with each jab of pain spreading from his wounds. In that moment, Tabitha thought he looked so helpless, so human.

 

“We have to get him out of here.” She said firmly. “Theo, help me lift him up.”

 

Slinging his arm over her shoulder, Amias let out a small moan.

 

Not even knowing if he could hear her, Tabitha reassured him, “You’re going to be okay.” Quietly, she whispered to herself, “It’s going to be okay.”

 

With Theo supporting Amias’ other side, they rose to their feet, trudging forward under the weight of his body.

 

Suddenly, Tabitha’s heart sank, as the echoing sound of slow, clapping hands rang from behind them. Craning her neck, Tabitha peered over her shoulder to see Stingere, bloodied and scarred, emerging from the trees, a wicked grin spreading across his face.

 

“You came back.” He said slowly.

 

His smile was growing wider, exposing his jagged fangs, that were now discoloured with red blood. Noticing Tabitha’s gaze, he licked a drop from his teeth, taunting her.

 

“You should’ve stayed away, girlie.” He sneered. “You didn’t have to worry about him. We take good care of our own, don’t we boys?”

 

As he raised his voice, his followers appeared one by one, stepping out from behind trees, eyeing Tabitha and Theo hungrily. Tabitha snapped back to Stingere.

 

“He’s not one of you,” she said defiantly.

 

“Is that what you think?” He cackled, “You don’t know a thing about him.”

 

“I know about you.” She spat back at him. “I know what kind of monster you are, and I know that he is nothing like you.”

 

A nerve twitched in Stingere’s face. The sneering smile was gone from his face, replaced by an ice-cold menace as he took a step towards Tabitha.

 

“Did you know, that I could kill you in an instant, without even batting an eye?”

 

Staring, unblinking, into the glowing void of his penetrating scarlet eyes, Tabitha heard herself speak without thinking.

 

“I don’t doubt it.”

 

His ridiculing smile had now turned to an angry snarl, grating his teeth at Tabitha’s defiance. He moved towards her, his clawed hand outstretched when a blast of red light sent him flying backwards. Tabitha turned in surprise to see Theo’s wand aloft, the word stupefy having just escaped his lips.

 

“He said he was going to kill you!” Theo said defensively at her disbelief.

 

Before Tabitha could respond, a nearby vampire lunged forward, grabbing Theo’s arm. Tabitha immediately drew her wand, blasting it away before it could inflict any damage. But more vampires had begun to circle them.

 

These creatures cloaked in black closed in around them, hissing and growling as they prepared to attack. Pressing her back to Amias, Tabitha braced for the oncoming hoard, her wand locked in her steady hand. With her free hand, she reached back until she connected with Theo’s side. Matching her movement, Theo copied with his non-wand hand, protecting Amias between them.

 

Tabitha’s eyes were fixed on Stingere’s crumpled form just beyond the circling vampires. Taking a deep breath, she watched him clamber to his feet, scraping and kicking against the dirt, like a bull preparing to charge. He stamped his foot down, letting out a bloodcurdling roar as he lurched forward. Tabitha lifted her wand to attack, when out of her peripherals, she caught the flash of apparition.

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