"Sally, what are you doing?" Jen asked in a rush.
"I saw you sneak out. I can help. I know what to do once we find the herb. It has to be ground up in a certain way."
Marianna squinted at her. "What do you mean?"
"The small leaves have to be separated and soaked in warm salt water to draw the healing properties out. If you just crush the plant and mix it in water it won't be worth anything."
"Fine, but be careful," Jen growled.
"Oh, you're one to talk about being careful," Sally snapped back.
Marianna started walking more quickly and Jen and Sally had to lengthen their strides to keep up.
"We're probably going to have to walk quite a ways. I'm thinking if we split up then we'll probably find it more quickly."
"Divide and conquer, sounds like a plan."
"Sally, you go far left," Marianna told her and pointed in the direction she meant. "Jen, you go far right, and I will go straight. You're looking for a plant with dusky green leaves and a purple bloom."
"Dusky and purple. Okay, let's do this." Jen headed in the direction Marianna had instructed.
She shined her flashlight across the ground, side to side, sweeping across the shrubbery. All the while muttering, "purple, purple, dusky, dusky," under her breath.
Jen had been walking for a half hour when she felt a shiver go down her spine. She stopped mid-stride and slowly turned in a circle. Looking into the trees, she shined the light into the foliage. Someone was following her. No, someone was stalking her.
"Who's there?" Jen continued to shine the light and she strained her eyes, trying to pierce the darkness.
Suddenly a dark form lunged at her. She dropped the flashlight to put her hands up and protect her face. She was hit roughly, knocking the breath from her lungs. Her head snapped back and she heard a crack as her skull struck something hard. The last thing she saw before blackness consumed her was sharp teeth and glowing eyes.
The wolf that was Marianna grabbed Jen's pant leg and began pulling her deeper into the mountains. She dragged her steadily for several miles to the deep cavern she had found. The wolf set Jen's supine form right at the edge of the cavern. Marianna then phased back to her human form.
Marianna shivered at the loss of her fur, but quickly shook it off and grabbed the buckets of wolf urine that Thad insisted she take, the ones she'd hidden the day before. She made it back to Jen's side just as Jen was beginning to moan and come to.
"Bloody hell," Jen groaned.
"I'm sorry, Jen. I'm sorry, but I have to do this." Marianna pushed Jen's legs over the edge of the cavern.
Jen gasped and her arms came flailing out as she reached to grab something, anything. Marianna gave another shove and Jen slid over the edge. Her stomach scraped against the stone as her shirt slid up; her nails tore as she scrambled to grab anything to keep her from falling.
Jen slid further and further, her feet pushing into any rock that might give her a foothold. Eventually she felt a protruding root and grabbed it, holding desperately onto the lifeline. She looked up and could just barely see Marianna in the darkness, leaning over the edge, a bucket of something in hand.
"Why are you doing this?" Jen asked, her voice tight with fear and the strain of holding on.
"You wouldn't understand." Marianna had tears streaming down her cheeks. "You have your mate. How could you possibly understand?"
"Try me," Jen snarled.
Marianna wiped her tears away. "I was in love. He was human."
Jen's mouth dropped open. "But what about your mate?"
"What about him," Marianna spat. "I don't see him. Do you, Jen? Who knows how long until I find him. It could take centuries, yet Vasile expects me to live alone, empty."
"He knows that only your mate will make the emptiness go away, Marianna," Jen said gently, trying to reason with the enraged she-wolf.
"I was happy with Drey. He made me laugh." Marianna's eyes clouded over as memories filled her mind. Then her face darkened. "Vasile found out and had Drey shipped off to the U.S. I was forbidden to see him, or any other human. The only way I can be with Drey is to no longer be under Vasile."
"Did you poison him?" Jen's eyes widened as her breath quickened.
"No. Thad did. Thad agreed to let me join his pack, and if I didn't find my mate among them, he agreed to let me go to the U.S. to find Drey. He told me I had to get rid of you. He figures getting rid of you will take care of the Beta as well. Decebel will either be killed by fighting Thad's pack or he will die searching for your body. He has plans for Fane, as well – they will be implemented in time."
Jen couldn't believe what she was hearing. Her arms were getting tired and beginning to shake. She had to try to get Marianna to change her mind somehow.
"Marianna, you don't have to do this. You could let me go and just leave. I won't tell anyone."
Marianna laughed. "Thad would kill me if I didn't finish the task he has given me. I'm sorry, Jen. I really liked you, but I love Drey and I won't spend my life hoping for a mate that I may never find."
She began to tip the bucket of liquid and Jen gagged as the stench hit her nose a second before the cold fluid drenched her. Jen sputtered and coughed, trying to keep it from her mouth.
"I am sorry about the urine, but Thad insisted," Marianna told her as she picked up another bucket and poured it. "He said it would cover your scent and it would take longer for them to find you."
Jen's hands began to slide as the root she was holding onto became slick from the urine. She tried to muffle the cry that came out when she slipped, only gaining her grasp at the last second.
"You would do anything to be with Decebel, Jen. That's what I have to do to be with Drey."
"Decebel is my mate, Marianna. It's not the same. You won't be satisfied with the human," Jen tried again, but knew it was hopeless as Marianna stood.
"I have to go, I don’t want them to come looking for me. I pray your death will be quick so you won't suffer." And then she was gone.
Jen stared up into the darkness, realizing just before her hands slipped free that she was going to die. A tear slipped down her cheek as her grip loosened against her will. She cried out hoarsely as she fell. It wasn't as deep as she thought, the fall didn't last long, but it didn't soften the landing. She hit the ground hard and once again, darkness took over.