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Chapter 3

  • Cold sweat tickled my spine. This felt even worse than the moment the drug treatment center employees chased me around my backyard. I knew they just wanted to lock me up, and I still gave it my best to escape them, but now that I had no proof I wouldn’t become food for the forest beasts, I was frantic.
  • The psychos were standing next to each other in a circle, as still as statues, and those familiar black masks covered their entire faces. When lights started gleaming consecutively from left to right in every one of them, I flinched and sucked in a breath. They were holding candles! My guts wrenched at the insanity of these people. They were way worse than the druggies in rehab!
  • I battled my chains, wanting to at least move the chair a bit. If only I could crawl on the ground like a bug and find my safety. Or Jude. Did he have any idea what was going on here? What if these loonies were his classmates?
  • “Ugh,” I grunted as the chain bit into my arms and bruised them.
  • My eyes watered, and I whirled my head around in heart-wrenching desperation. I gawked when I noticed the stage-like space on my right. It was placed into the circle, next to some trees, and a few of these creeps stood behind it. Goosebumps appeared on my flesh. There was a huge dark red wooden beam stuck into the ground and a few torches lighting the soil on each of its sides. It didn’t look like a stake prepared for a witch or some bullshit. There were no sticks under it. And I wasn’t tied to it. So, that was a relief.
  • I examined it. It was big and rough-looking, but its highest part made me frown. Something weird gleamed on top of it. A shape I couldn’t really catch from this distance. I believed there was something like a twisted cross that had another figure below it. My brows knitted. It looked like a… star.
  • Then I noticed the ground next to me wasn’t as damp as when they’d kidnapped me. How long had I been unconscious? A whimper of misery shook my exposed chest, and I sucked in a breath when I noticed that a few of the hooded figures were leading a bare-chested man to the wooden beam. They were chanting that weird spell as the candles in their hands enlightened their gruesome masks. The stranger behind them had a lean muscular body and was wearing white pants. And his mask… It was the same model as the rest, but this one was red-colored with white slits around the eyes. His head was turned forward, his shoulders pulled back, as he followed them to the stage.
  • “Hey!” I called out to him and jerked on my chair. When he didn’t acknowledge my presence, I yelled, louder this time, “Hey! You!”
  • The man flinched and slowly turned his head to me. I rounded my eyes, hope making my arms tense.
  • “Yes, you! The man in the red mask! Cou—” My words were interrupted when one of the masked people put something in my mouth. I wanted to gag as I realized what it was. One of those BDSM toys they used to silence the partner and keep their mouth shut.
  • I fought against my restraints, but the person behind me locked the belt around my head and disappeared somewhere out of my view. Turning my gaze to the only active party around, I gawked at the naked man, who was now kneeling in front of the high beam, his back turned to me. His head was lifted up to stare at the wide wooden item, and his arms were hanging by his sides. The taut muscles on his back shifted when one of the cult members approached him and gave him a round cup. It had a strange bronze color and illuminated the glow of the candles around.
  • The man in front of the beam grabbed the bronze cup and removed his mask with a hand, throwing it on the ground. I inhaled sharply when I noticed his features—black wavy hair, sharp jaw and eyes, and… he seemed to be around my age! My heart stopped for a moment as I battled these discoveries. Were these people really university students?! Were they a part of Pinewood Prestige University? What if Jude was here?
  • I rattled my bones on the chair, but of course, nothing happened. The people around me were still chanting some bullshit while the kneeling guy drank from the cup. He was so eager to engulf the whole liquid that it started sliding down his jaw and throat. I tried to scream when I saw what it was. Red.
  • While he was gulping it down like a thirsty dog—water, a lightning shook the sky and painted everything white for a split second. My eyes widened, not sure if I was seeing right, when a deformed figure appeared over the wooden beam and the man drinking the red liquid. It was black with scrawny, reddish limbs that sent my guts into overdrive. It looked like it had only bones and skin. Nothing between them. Bile of puke rushed through my already trembling throat.
  • The man started shaking and gasping as his body shuddered in effort. He fell on his fours and bent his head down, leaning it on the cold ground. It seemed like he was in so much pain that his body couldn’t bear it. His limbs almost buckled a few times, but he groaned and kept them straight. This whole view made me fight harder to escape the chains. I didn’t even care about the pain they caused me. What had he drunk? What were they doing to him?
  • Was I next?
  • My throat burned as I kept screaming and thrashing on the chair. I didn’t want to die! Especially not like this!
  • Two figures approached him as he stood, imprisoned in his misery. They were carrying two buckets which they lifted and poured over the man’s back. Red liquid slid down his head, shoulders, torso, until it made him all crimson. And the way the liquid moved on his body… it wasn’t just colored water. It was something else.
  • My insides exploded in primal fear and panic. Just as the chair I was on finally started to fall, released from whatever was holding it so well to the ground, something pulled it back up. There were two gloved hands by my shoulders, keeping me in place and making sure I wouldn’t tumble to the side. Their roughness touched my icy skin, and I let out a soft cry, absolutely out of my mind. I hoped the thing that slid down my own chin wasn’t blood. I couldn’t control the quakes of my body as the mind-blowing dread made me push my tongue into my teeth even more than the ball in my mouth required. It stung so hard, but it couldn’t compare to the view in front of me. Was I living through a real horror movie?
  • This was all a joke, wasn’t it? It had to be. My parents and Jude had found out about my plans and decided to work together as a punishment I tried to run away. It was all just a prank! But as I repeated these words in my mind, the bloodied man stood up and turned in my direction. He was still alive! They hadn’t poisoned him! The chanting around me became louder, and my body stiffened as I watched him take the first step. To me.
  • My stomach clenched in dread as his abominable figure approached me. There was barely a spot left unmarked by the red liquid on him. The stench of blood filled my nostrils, and I gagged, praying to all the possible gods that existed to let me get out alive.
  • The stranger’s blue eyes blinked at me as he cleaned the blood off his eyelids and threw what was stuck on his fingers in the grass.
  • I forgot all cold. My veins were boiling, and my limbs were as hot as an iron. I wanted out of here! Come on, rehab was better, even with all the people who had lost touch with the real world and had developed mental disorders! Everything was better than this right now!
  • Mom, Dad, even your company was worth it!
  • The man opened his mouth to speak and lifted his crimson hand to point at me. His blue horrific gaze was fixed on me and left me breathless. I couldn’t hear anything he said or did because that familiar bag was put over my head with an unfamiliar smell making me drowsy.
  • And before I knew it, my body fell limp again.