Chapter Three

I was so cold. My cheeks and hands were numb where they pressed into the snow. My head pounded and my vision was tinged with black. It was a wonder I awoke at all in these conditions, since it felt like my lungs were filled with cotton.

Despite the pain, I had to stay on the ground and silent to observe as much as I could. It was apparent, even without sight, that I was outside, because I was never too keen on keeping a foot of snow on my bedroom floor, and I didn't think anyone else was, either. The bitter breeze bit at my exposed skin (which was a lot, since I had not expected to be abducted in the middle of the night, and therefore thought it best to sleep in my sweatpants and an old Killers t-shirt. At least I could uphold my great taste in music while I was killed and dumped into a sewer). I tried opening my eyes as much as they could, but the throbbing pain still blocked my sight for the most part. I could vaguely see a collection of dark shapes scattered throughout the landscape. Most of them were the size of a child or teenager curled into a ball. Some looked like people standing with other objects. Either I was in a serial killer's collection of bodies, or a graveyard. Same thing, really.

None of the hundreds of books I read in a year could have prepared me for this. It was unwise to jump up and start shouting, since I was weak, cold, and disoriented. I strained my ears to listen. Whispers drifted above the wind that came at me from behind. Female and male voices, seemingly older than the average horror movie children. If I concentrated enough, and shoved the pain down for a bit, I could hear them.

"Are you sure this is the one, Cynthia?" A deep voice asked. I assumed it was a boy.

Cynthia didn't seem very pleased to be doubted. "Of course it is," she hissed in a higher, feminine voice. The kind of voice that comes with a pair of full lips and smoky eyeshadow. "Have she ever been wrong, Graham? Jesus, it's not her first time." I pictured her crossing her arms, or putting her hands on her hips. Judging from her third person pronouns, I assumed it wasn't actually Cynthia that had spoke, but a girl that had stood up for her.

"Can we get this over with, please?" Another boy asked. He seemed less confident than the others to be standing around in a graveyard with a presumably dead body. He must have been new. "Let's wake him up and be on our way." Definitely new, unless they didn't plan to kill me.

A soft, almost bored sounding female voice responded. "He's been awake the whole conversation, you idiot." Graham cursed under his breath. I thought they were coming towards me, but I couldn't hear the slightest crunch in the snow from footsteps. Suddenly there were strong hands on the back of my shirt, pulling me up. I stifled a groan, my stomach threatening to launch all of it's contents with impressive trajectory. I was pulled to my feet, though the hands didn't let me go– which was for the best, since I was in no state to support my own damn skeleton at the moment. I opened my eyes again despite the pain, and widened them at what I saw.

Three teenagers (in the range of sixteen to college age, I'd say) were in front of me. A skinny boy covered in light blue freckles with shaggy whitish hair. A full figured, but short, girl with light auburn hair and, as I had guessed, full lips. She had her arms crossed tightly over her chest. The third person took my breath away for two reasons: One, she was beautiful. Two, she was the girl that had literally taken my breath away and almost killed me at the library. Her skin was much paler now, but still a shade or two darker than the others. Her hair was still pitch black. She was sitting on a gravestone coolly, her hands out behind her. They were all ghostly pale for their respective races, and all of them had the glowing white eyes. The big one, Graham, had to be the one holding me. I struggled to stay in control, letting my eyes close to a normal, somewhat nonchalant, amount. "What the fuck?" It came out more as a pitiful question than the rugged, response I had aimed for.

"Cute," Not-Cynthia chuckled. "Welcome Canaan, to our celebration of your death." I was alarmed. Could it be that I was dead? Was that what they were? Were they ghosts of some sort? I had never really cared much about death before. I knew it had been coming, since we all die eventually. But it was supposed to be after I retired from being a professor, an author. Oh god–whom I had never sworn to before then– was I dead?

"You're not quite dead yet," Graham said. His voice hurt my ears. The other guy looked a bit sheepish but he tried to chuckle like he enjoyed killing innocent teenage boys. Maybe they had gotten him, too.

I had no choice but to repeat myself. "What the fuck? Who the fuck are you people?" I usually never swore. It was a bad habit, and I already had enough of those. But this called for a few f-bombs here and there.

Cynthia stood up gracefully. I was attracted to a dead girl who wanted to murder me. My type was a weird one, apparently. She briskly walked towards me until she was about a foot away. She crossed her arms, and looked me in the eyes with hers. We were about the same height. I braced myself for another suffocation, but it never came. Their glowing eyes were quite mesmerizing.

"Here's the deal," she said, enunciating. "You're marked–Don't look so confused. Haven't the fucking "Mystery Gang" told you? No?" Cynthia laughed and looked over her shoulder. "They didn't tell him! Canaan, you were marked. That's why Dollie talked to you in the first place. Trust me, she's not looking for a boyfriend. She's a scout for their team. But the thing is," she paused, a smile tugging at her lips, "we need you for ours. I'm a scout too, you see, and I found you. And now we have you, and you're going to be on our side. Capiche?" She sounded almost bored, but still proud, like I was a trophy she had stolen from her enemies.

I understood as much as I could. Both "teams" needed me. It looked like a fair fight without me–four against four–but I gave an advantage to whoever I joined. "May I ask what the game is?"

She paused, tilting her head. "They didn't tell you anything." She leaned in, smiling, her eyes bright. Our faces were only inches away, but I doubted we were about to kiss. "You'll find out soon enough. Graham, put him on the slab."

Graham swung me around and dropped me not-so-gently onto a hunk of concrete. A grave, I realized, marked with a giant open book of stone. An held onto it, crying and reading. Holy shit, it was too cliché. I would have shaken my head in distaste, but the world was spinning to much. "Lilith, would you mind preparing him?" Cynthia asked.

Lilith agreed and leaned over me. She smelled like flowers and nature after a storm. Did they have perfume in the afterlife? She smiled at me sadly, almost apologetically, as she ran her hand over my chest and took a hold of my shirt. Her touch was light, and warmer than I had expected. She ripped it open and I closed my eyes in dismay. I had gotten myself in between a battle of the dead and the living. Now I was about to be sacrificed. Nice job, Canaan.

They were probably going to slash my heart open, I realized. I was going to die. The scrawnier guy (I had yet to learn his name) was polishing something, and I made an educated assumption that it was a blade. I was right. Yay, me. He came towards me as Lilith and Graham took hold of my arms and legs. "This is so stupid," I cried under my breath. I at least wanted to die in a cool way, not slapped onto a plate (or book) and sliced into like a steak. Graham snorted and Lilith looked away.

Cynthia stood behind the guy, her hand on his shoulder. Jealousy bloomed in my stomach, which was ridiculous because they were all psychos about to kill me. He seemed smug as she whispered to him.

"Okay, Jakob, cut an 'x' right over his heart," she purred, sliding her hand down to over his heart, "just like yours." I was offended that they were having the amateur kill me. He settled the knife on my skin, which stung from the cold. It was about a foot long, and certainly for ceremonies. It was a wicked silver and very sharp. I closed my eyes and let out a breath, the blade digging in from the movement. This was it. I apologized to my parents for wishing I wasn't their child numerous times. I apologized to Lily for leaving her alone. They wouldn't see me ever again. They would think I had run off and left them. Oh, Lily, I'm so sorry, I thought. I felt the blade tear my flesh in a straight, diagonal line over my heart. The pain was awful. Warmth ran from the cut and over my skin–blood. The tip of the knife pressed down to make the second slash, before disappearing. It clattered off the slab and landed softly into the snow.

"Step away from him," Erik hissed, his hand around Jakob's throat. "Or I'll kill you all all over again."