8 – ONLY TWENTY-ONE

  January 02, 2011

  Although Devon always had a morbid taste for horror films, nothing had prepared her mind for this. Each part of the body refused to move, even her breath and thoughts were frozen in shock. Unable to tear her eyes away, Devon watched as the skin on Rowland’s arm split; a sickening splash as the wet mass of it fell to the hardwood floor. As a tremor coursed through her body, Devon felt as if she was falling; waking from a dream. A small gasp escaped while the gun slipped from her shaking grip. Rowland did not give it a chance to hit the ground, he stepped forward, catching the revolver with his bloody claws.
  Claws. He has fucking claws. Devon’s brain stuttered, trying to catch up with what she was seeing. How did it come to this? She had returned to Derrick’s apartment to get the gun and say her goodbye’s before heading into Sooke. A mission to hunt down the assholes responsible for this, and now here she was gaping at one of them, unable to fathom exactly what she was seeing.
  Instead of backing away to the door, Rowland remained in front of her, looking her in the eyes. “Take it.” His voice was steady and reassuring as he held the gun out in his open palm.
  Glancing from Rowland’s face, to his claws, and back again, she tried to figure out what to do. The gun was the only thing that gave her a feeling of safety, and in her state of shock she had lost it. Carefully she reached out, keeping her eyes fixated on him as she gingerly plucked the weapon from his paw. There was no movement made by him, Rowland stood perfectly still, as though he were coaxing a nervous pup to eat from his hand. A webbing of sticky residue smeared along her fingers as she grappled with the gun, jumping back away from his reach.
  “I know this has not been the best way for us to be introduced to each other. Yet I can promise you, there is nothing to fear from me.”
  Everything changed, his words were nothing but air to her ears. Devon’s nose had caught his musky scent, the same one she associated with the worst night of her life. The smell coming from the gun intensified as if it were some kind of sick joke taunting her. Devon remembered how that smell tainted the air while Derrick lay dying in her arms. It pulled her mind out from its protective state and into an instant hatred for Rowland.
  Without hesitating she lifted the gun, pinning the barrel against his chest. “You did this! You killed Derrick, you son of a bitch! How dare you stand here, with your bullshit words and your smug look? You killed them both, and then you tried to kill me!” There was nothing in his expression, no attempt to deny her accusations, a calmness that only angered her further.
  Devon winced as her arms began to shake violently. Just like in the bathroom, a heat coursed through her body. It felt as though her blood had been laced with slivers of glass, pinpricks of pain slithering inside her veins. Despite the chill in the apartment from the broken balcony door sweat broke out across her forehead. “What’s happening to me?” she gasped.
  Rowland reached forward, reclaiming the gun from Devon in her now panicked state. She fought to breathe through the pain, desperate to hold on to her safety net after getting it back from him once already. The blood and mucus let it easily slide out of her grasp as her fingers refused to obey her mind. He tossed it gently onto the chair behind him. “Devon you have to stop this!” Rowland grabbed onto her upper arms with his one human hand and the other his transformed paw.
  Something inside Devon broke as his claws touched her. Every reason she had to be cautious of him was overshadowed by surging anger. Both of her arms pulled up and through his, breaking their grasp. With a swift upward motion she lifted her foot, impacting his crotch and causing Rowland to pitch forward; head slightly bowed as she kneed him hard in the face. Devon’s hit sent him flying backward, knocking over the chair. Her body worked instinctively, faster than she could think. Each leg bent into a crouch while Devon’s eyes found their target; springing forward she pinned Rowland to the ground.
  The assault seemed to unlock something in him, and for the first time his calm demeanor broke. Rowland grabbed her hands at the wrist, pushing her fists away from his face. An uncontrolled snarl came out before he began shouting at her.
  “You think you’re blameless in all of this! You weren’t supposed to be there, this gift was meant for Derrick, not you!” In his rage, he shook her forcefully. “Why couldn’t you have listened to him and just stayed away, he would be alive, and that security guard would be home with his wife and child.” His voice broke slightly, “The blood from my mouth is equally on your hands.”
  There was truth in his words that struck through to her. Beyond his anger, she could hear a remorse which she had not been expecting. Devon pulled away, breaking free of his grip as she made an attempt for the door.
  Rowland grabbed her ankle causing her to fall forward onto the floor. “I can’t let you leave, not like this.” He pulled her back, sliding her beside him, taking hold of her arms once more.
  “Don’t touch me!” She kicked out his leg, rolling him over onto his back. Both of Devon’s hands pushed towards Rowland’s throat as he struggled to hold her back. Pain resurged through her, localized in her arms and giving her the strength to wrap her hands around his neck. Snarling, she focused on the pain, using it to fuel her determination. Each finger burned terribly as they began to split apart, tears raced up her arms causing her skin to bulge; ripping apart the fabric of her jacket. Out from the bottoms of her sleeves, blood cascaded through the shredded material and across the back of her hands.
  Rowland’s eyes widened in panic as the blood poured down his neck. “Devon”… he choked out, trying to warn her. “You have…to stop…you could kill someone.”
His statement amplified her fear and confusion, these two emotions overtaking her rage. Devon released him, her legs moved her backward until she stopped sitting upright from Rowland. Fear turned to panic as she realized what was happening. She could see the small tears split across her hands and fingers as blood oozed out from the skin.
  Rowland scrambled to his knees, gasping. His hands reached out, stopping just before he grabbed her shoulders, remembering what happened before. Instead, he used his words, his calm voice attempting to bring her terror down between her gasps for air. “Devon, you must calm yourself, please. Your emotions are causing you to change. You can stop it, but you must still your mind. Breathe.” He inhaled deeply, motioning for Devon to do the same. “Breathe with me Devon. Just breathe,” he continued to coach her, his voice becoming a soft monotone and his words paced out as though he was leading a meditation.
  Gasping for air, Devon’s mind whirled as she tried to ground herself in what was happening. It was evident that Rowland had not injured her in their struggle. This pain was coming from underneath her cracking flesh, throbbing deep with pressure. In a silent scream her eyes brimming with tears, her mouth stretched open as she bore witness to horror in front of her. Black and pointed, several claws began to break through her fingertips. Each casing of skin around her digits peeled back, dropping away the human flesh and exposing her black clawed hands.
  Without hesitation Rowland took Devon’s face with his hands, forcing her eyes to lock onto his. “You can change them back. Devon, you can make them human again. Just focus on me, and do not look at them. If you fully turn, innocent people could be hurt, and I know you wouldn’t want that. Please…do not do what I did the night Derrick died.”
  Her head nodded, this last admission was what she needed to hear.
  “Just breathe, take in deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and envision your human hands and how the skin felt along them. Concentrate on slowing down your heart rate.”
  Devon hesitated before closing them. It was difficult to trust him, but she did not want to become like him either. She filled her lungs slowly with air, exhaling through her mouth. Her racing heart slowed as she concentrated on feeling the air stretch her lungs before she slowly released it. She felt Rowland’s hands drop away from her face, while her arms began to tingle as they repaired themselves.
  “You can open your eyes now.”
  Devon looked out upon her new skin, blood-soaked and shining. They were human and upon the carpet the fur that was once there, was dissolving away into piles of liquid.
  Their conversation played across in her mind. This gift was for Derrick. Why couldn’t you have listened to him and just stayed away? Her tears welled up, as she looked over into Rowland’s eyes.
  “I was pregnant,” she whispered. “That’s why…” the words choked off in a sob as the tears now streamed down her cheeks.
  “I…I’m sorry,” this was not enough, but they were the only words he could stammer out.
  Devon wept openly. She no longer cared that Rowland sat watching in his own grief-stricken silence.
  After a moment, Rowland began to speak. “We can’t stay here. We would be lucky if our struggle went unnoticed.”
  Having wept away some of her grief, Devon’s tears subsided while her mind began to clear. She didn’t want to look at him and kept her gaze upon Rowland’s exposed claws. Thinking he was part of a cult or conspiracy was crazy enough, but this was unthinkable. Whatever kind of monster he was, he wasn’t trying to justify laying the blame on her any longer. Still, she couldn’t look past that he killed the man she loved and somehow turned her into this creature.
  “What am I?” she whispered; mouth salty with the taste of tears.
  Rowland crouched before her as he lowered his voice, any sign of fight had fully drained away. “If you come back to the house with me, I promise that everything will be explained. Our window here is short, and leaving you here by yourself would be an unwise move. It will take you time to master your change, and I can’t risk your emotions getting the better of you; you’ve seen what can happen.”
  Devon might have been subdued by the shock of her own partial transformation, but she also knew that she had nowhere left to go. Going to her father’s was a card not on the table. This was a game she did not know how to play, and Rowland was the one who held the rule book.
  He lifted her bag from the floor and slung it over his shoulder before offering his still human hand to help her up. Devon accepted and knew by taking his hand there would be no turning back.
  “Are you ready?” Rowland asked her.
  “One last thing.” Down the hall, she headed to the bedroom to retrieve a photo from the nightstand. At the time this was her least favorite photo that Derrick had taken of them. In it they had just woken up, hair disheveled, still curled in the blankets. He loved it, the night before he called things off, Derrick told her that it reminded him of a time when he was free of the world. The context of his words was lost until now, and now this photo would hold the same mean for Devon. She kept it close, as with her own apartment, Devon knew she wouldn’t be coming back here again.

  No words were exchanged on the sixty-minute ride back to Sooke. Instead, she reflected on the heated exchange that happened back in the apartment. Could it have been her fault that Derrick and Jackson were dead? Maybe if she hadn’t gone back to the island, they would still be alive? How did Derrick fit into all of this?
  Just past the sign welcoming them to Sooke, Devon ran her hand up and down her forearm. Aside from the dried crusts of blood, her skin was smooth and soft; void from any signs of what happened earlier. Was this what happened to her missing tattoo?
  Her head began to ache; so many questions. All she could do was dab the tears away with the arm of her jacket as they formed. Devon was sick of crying and tired of the circular conversation looping through her mind. Hopefully, she would receive the answers that had been promised and make some sense to this nightmare.

  The silence of the drive back also gave Rowland time to think about his next steps, and how precarious their family’s position was. It gave him hope that even after her outburst, the last thing the girl wanted was to harm anyone. This was a good sign that the mixture of Alpha wolf and alpha personality had not turned her rabid.
  The raw emotions she showed as she explained her pregnancy had unnerved him. He knew his response had not been sufficient, but in the face of such pain, his own grief at the loss of his heir seemed to pale in comparison. This was something better handled by Jenn or Keryn. Surely they would be better at comforting her. Mentally he added it to his growing checklist of things that needed to be done to help ease Devon into the family.
  It was evident that she was still angry and hurting, but she seemed to want more of an explanation. Rowland was hopeful that the pieces of his plans were falling into place. After all, he didn’t need her to befriend him, or even like him. He just needed for her to not consider him an enemy for long enough for her to take his place.

  Closer to the Sooke potholes Rowland finally broke his silence. “We are almost home.”
  We; this one single word uttered during the drive told her volumes.
  North of the potholes, Rowland turned at a decaying wooden post. Its number too worn from weather and age to read, leading along a dirt road with no official street sign.
  God, it’s like something out of Deliverance, she thought, as the low hanging branches scratched against the roof of the SUV.
  About ten minutes in, far from the road, they came upon a clearing that contained the main grounds. There hadn’t really been much of a chance when she glimpsed it that night. Yet in the light of day, the sheer size of the house astonished her. Devon believed that she was running for her life across that field. Over her left shoulder, she glanced at Rowland, remembering just who she had been fleeing from. No turning back now, she thought.
  The house was reminiscent of a small European castle with rough log beams, large stone pieces, and massive glass windows. A strange feature not usually seen, was that the house had been built into the side of a hill; looming several stories over the clearing. Bright moss clung to the horizontal surfaces, cutting a green path between the gray of the rocks and the overcast sky.
  As they pulled up, Rowland stopped the car just outside the two doors that led into the house. “Do you need a minute before we go in?”
  “You could say that. I’m going need some answers before I agree to go in there with you,” she replied.
  “Fair enough, ask away.”
  Devon was surprised, expecting some kind of refusal instead. “Okay.” Taking a deep breath, she turned to look him square in the eye. “What’s the deal here? Will I be locked in a room again? I came here on my own free will to find answers, and I refuse to be treated like some kind of prisoner.”
  Rowland gripped the steering wheel looking forward out the window, the only movement made was the slight nodding of his head. She could tell he was only now deciding the terms of her return, as he assessed her questions.
  “You were never meant to be a prisoner that night,” he finally said. “Devon this is your home now, once you know your way around, no access shall be denied. The only stipulation I have is that you will not to go into town, not yet.”
  How could she not be mistrusting after everything that had happened? Whether she was still in danger or a danger to herself, Devon nodded. “Fine.”
  “You won’t find answers sitting out here in the car,” he said, opening his door. “Keryn, who you met before, is waiting inside the council room with her father and the Druid.
  “I don’t really have a choice in this, do I?” Devon had realized on the beach that morning that no matter where she went all roads would lead back here.
  “No,” he answered bluntly, stepping out onto the gravel path. “You saw what happened at Derrick’s.”
  “I just need a moment.” She let Rowland go toward the house as she flipped down the mirror to assess her appearance. Thankfully her eyes were no longer red and puffy from crying, and her hair was fixed with some minor rearranging. Devon licked the back of her hand, wiping away the last bits of dried blood from her cheek. With her game face on, she was ready to present herself with as much confidence as she could drum up. Fear wasn’t an option in the face of potential adversaries. All that mattered were the answers, and she was ready for whatever they might be.
  Outside the truck, Rowland stood waiting for her, patiently holding the door open. Above them, a light drizzle had started, typical for this time of year. It wasn’t raining hard enough for Devon to get wet, but it did bring to life the rich scent of the spongy moss all around her. Head held high, she walked past him with all certainty, behaving as though this was her interrogation and not the other way around.

Inside, it was hard not to be overcome by the exquisite beauty of the main entrance. Everything her eyes gazed upon was like being transported into another time in history. This house was worlds beyond any of the places she has been fostered as a child or seen as an adult.
  To her right, a large staircase ascended along a curved wall, up onto a balcony overlooking the room. Its banisters were crafted from polished oak, and its spindles were thin panels, all carved with painstaking detail. She wondered idly whether they were carved by hand, assuming that they were. Elegant floor to ceiling tapestries covered the walls of the spacious foyer, each told stories of battles and ancient landscapes. Devon shuddered. Pinpricks of gooseflesh ran up the back of her neck, followed by a strange sense of déjà vu. Enough to disorientate her mentally, but not enough to show any other outward signs of being affected. Devon didn’t need to look over to know that Rowland would be watching her every move.
  Recessed under the balcony were two large doors, both elaborately carved like the spindles along the banister. Despite being impressed, Devon focused on making sure that her game face did not falter as Rowland pulled the doors open so that she could enter.
  Inside, above the council room, was a glass domed ceiling that let the outside light fill the space. Nestled between grand tapestries were ledges sticking out of small alcoves, all displaying large metal candle holders, for when night would come. Around the middle, she could see several stone chairs set around the center of the floor.
  Devon was left standing in the middle of the room as Rowland made his way across to the furthest chair. Three additional people stood at attention, taking their places only once Rowland had taken his seat. To his right, the imposing bearded man sat, followed by the others. How could she forget meeting this giant man the night she first awoke in this house? Nothing about his attitude had changed. Just as before, he sat there assessing Devon with his arm crossed, glaring down at her. The slender girl she had met the night she awakened, Keryn, smiled shyly. The friendliness in her eyes alleviated some of the animosity Devon could sense from whom she assumed was the girl’s father. It gave her comfort seeing Keryn again. She was also relieved not to be the only woman in this meeting.
  By Rowland’s left was a face that filled her with conflicting emotions that she didn’t fully understand. The old man’s intricately woven braids hung down, spilling over his lap and down the side of his chair. Devon found herself frightened yet drawn to him; his intensity stemmed from something more otherworldly. Unlike Keryn’s father, this man was surrounded by hidden mysteries. After several seconds she finally realizes that this was the man who startled her in the window the night of her escape. His eyes held the same detached stare, their paleness and the way they drifted off the things around him made her wonder. Was it possible that he could no longer see? If so, it would be something Devon would treat delicately. By his age and title of Druid, Devon knew that he held great importance amongst them.
  “Hello again.” Keryn broke the silence in the room with a smile and wave.
  Devon returned the gesture, remembering how timid and kind the girl had been at their last meeting. Knowing what she did, there was no doubt that the girl had been truthful when she claimed that she could not divulge any information that night. Her original assumption that the girl was some kind of brainwashed prisoner of this group had changed. This was definitely a girl born and raised here, but was that any different? Time would answer that question.
  Never one to enjoy uncomfortable silences, Devon broke in, establishing her ground by hitting them with a question first. “I came here to find out what the hell is going on. So, which one of you wants to go first?”
  To Devon’s surprise, it was the Druid that first to answer. As if to bring his words closer, he leaned forward gracefully to address her. His voice was soft, its resonance harmoniously seeped into her as he spoke. “This is your new home child, and we are your new family.”
  “My family? That’s a stretch. What family takes you captive and locks you up against your will?”
  “The one that seeks to protect you from yourself. We are small in numbers, but we are the only family who will accept you for who you are and what you forever will be.”
  “I have a father.” Devon was not going to let them forget of her own clan of two. “His name is Mark, and he would accept me no matter what I am.”
  “Your father and the rest of the world have believed you to be dead since the night of the accident. When you first shed the remnants of your human skin, you also shed your former life. This is the only time your skin remains intact. At least as much as it can, when it was torn from your body by the change.” The Druid raised his head, the long hair framing his face like a cowl. Those eyes she once thought were sightless pierced into her; how wrong she had been. Her mind flashed back to an old photo of the Russian mystic Rasputin and how his eyes seemed to burn through time right off the page. That paled in comparison to staring into the eyes of the druid; feeling as though her very soul was being seared by his gaze. His intensity unnerved her, and yet she could not look away.
  Rowland spoke next, breaking the spell. “It should have been done in privacy, here in the house. It is the only time evidence of our change is left for mortal eyes, and unfortunately, yours was left behind. The police have only been looking for the rest of you, your corpse. Since no human can survive without their skin. Devon, you must leave your father to mourn,” he said with a touch of sadness in his voice. “He cannot know about your new life.”
  “Why? Why can’t he?” She protested.
  “Because if he did, you would be forcing the same changes onto him that were forced onto you.” Rowland took the moment to clarify himself. “Human beings are not ready to have their sciences or their religions to be taken away from them. If the general public found out about us and what we can do, it could bring war and devastation beyond anything you’ve experienced in your short span of years. Beyond anything in human history.” His voice grew stronger with emphasis. “If your father knew, he would have to join this family.”
  “Or?” asked Devon
  “We have our ways, and unfortunately, death is one of them. This is not just about protecting this family, it’s about preserving the balance of society.”
  Devon had no doubts that Rowland actually believed what he was saying. “You keep talking about human beings as if there is a difference. I’m still a human being.” She couldn’t see how this small group of people could really be as important as they made themselves out to be. The things she had seen so far had astonished and confused her, but there had to be some rational explanation for it all.
  “We aren’t human beings, Devon. Not anymore.”
  She raised a skeptical brow… “We’re not…. okay, so then what are we?”
  Keryn chose her answer as delicately as she could. “The modern term is werewolves.”
  Werewolves? The word lingered for a moment in in the air, was she serious? Devon looked over at Keryn, unsure whether to laugh or lose her composure. There was a limit to what she could take and right now, Devon was in no frame of mind for jokes. Instead, she waited quietly letting her skeptical expression say it all.
  It was apparent to Devon that the girl felt foolish in her description.
  Now that she had said it, Keryn quickly struggled to explain herself before Devon decided to walk from the room. “Well, obviously not the kind you see in the movies. We’re not savages without some form of conscious choice.”
  Smith grunted with disgust as he looked Devon over, finally deciding to take his place in the discussion. “Those kinds of wolves are put down like rabid dogs. We do not allow abominations such as those a chance to breathe.” He said as he scowled at Devon.
  Keryn rolled her eyes at her father’s void of tact to an already tense moment.
  Rowland cleared his throat giving Smith a look of warning. “What Keryn is trying to say is that those tales and legends are based on us, or at least part of them.
  “So you are telling me that I’m a werewolf? You are all werewolves?” She looked into Rowland’s eyes hoping for him to give her something legitimate to work with, something that could make sense to what she was being told.
  “You began to transform Devon…”
  “What?” Smith looked angered as he pulled his weapon.
  “Stand down!” Rowland roared, lifting his hand to Smith. “Partially. She was able to repress her transformation and change back. Devon, look at me; your mortal way of thinking is trying to shield you from the truth. You must look inside. What we are telling you is the truth, just release the doubt you are struggling with and see it for what it is.”
  “Then explain why it happened in the middle of the day? I thought werewolves only changed on the full moon?”
  “Alpha Wolves are different. Alphas are the leaders of a family, and we are the only kind that can change at will.”
  “We?” Devon asked.
  “Yes, you and I. That night, during the eclipse when I… injured you. My saliva from the initial bite must have transferred into your wound.”
  Devon could feel her pulse rising as she relived the panic and pain of that terrible night. Still emotionally wrung out from their earlier encounter, she was grateful that Rowland was skirting around mentioning Derrick’s death. On top of everything else being discussed, her grief was still fresh and unresolved. Dignity was all she had against them now, and anything about Derrick would provoke tears in front of these people, something she was struggling to avoid.
  “What does that even mean? That I’m supposed to lead a family of…” she still struggled with the word, “werewolves?!” No one spoke, each set of eyes around the room looked at her offering no contradiction to her question. “I can’t lead a family of werewolves…Jesus, I had a life before all of this happened, I’m twenty-one for christ’s sakes.
  “No,” Rowland began to speak. “Not a family, Devon. You were chosen to lead this family when I am gone.”
  There it was. She stared at the four faces across from her. Each reflecting back how they felt about this, but none of them denying it. No one was going to jump out and disclose this whole thing as some elaborate hoax. Derrick was dead, these people are werewolves, and she is somehow expected to lead them.
  Why couldn’t it be a psychotic break? That would be an easier thing to accept than this. Rowland was right; Devon saw herself change with her own eyes. Nothing about that could be denied.
  “Gone? Wait, what do you mean gone?” she asked. “Decided it was time for a vacation? A little getaway to ease your mind after killing my boyfriend?” Moments ago she was grateful that he avoided the subject, and now here she was, displaying the elephant in all its anguish. And not just displaying it, but wielding it to regain the upper hand as she watched the grief flicker across Rowland’s eyes. If she needed to acknowledge this reality, then to hell with it. This man was part of the reason Derrick was dead, and there was no way of avoiding that fact. Why does he get to evade ownership of his actions in front of the people judging Devon based on hers?
  Rowland glanced away from her as though her words had physically struck him. “We spoke of this in anger already, let us not repeat that conversation now. Derrick wasn’t supposed to die; this is a tragedy that everyone in this room is suffering from. Not just you.”
  “Even if I believe you, and what I saw today, it doesn’t matter. You have the wrong girl for the job. Besides, if you created me, why not just make another Alpha and they can take my place?”
  Rowland looked at her with a hint of distress while his brow furrowed, searching for his answer. As he shifted forward in his chair, Devon could tell by his look that he had placed all his bets on her.
  “It’s complicated. There are only certain times that an Alpha can be created. If it were that simple, do you think we would even be having this conversation?”
  “Complicated? I think we are beyond complicated,” she reminded him.
  “You’re right, we are. It was two years’ prior that the Druid had his first vision of Derrick, something this family has been waiting a long time for. Also in that vision, he saw that lunar eclipse falling on the winter solstice alongside our Yule celebrations combined with the annual fire festival.”
  “Fine, unravel the hocus pocus and go bite someone else on the next solstice.”
  Keryn gave her a look of sympathy. “We can’t just make it happen whenever we want to, this kind of vision only happens every three hundred and fifty years, give or take. There is a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice coming up again, but not for a while.”
  “Oh yeah? And that would be when?” Devon asked.
  “Eighty-three years from now…sorry, I guess that’s not very helpful.” She trailed off with a nervous smile.
  Although she knew Keryn was only trying to help in her own awkward way, Devon looked at her as if she were speaking in tongues.
  “I told you, this gift was meant for Derrick. We took great lengths in preparing him for what’s to come,” Rowland cut in with a touch of impatience.
  “Wait, back up here. Are you saying that he knew about all of you?’ She shook her head in disbelief. “No, no…that’s not possible. Derrick would have told me. We shared everything together!”
  “He was forbidden to divulge that information to you, or anyone else for that matter,” Rowland said. “We had made an agreement. At a later time, he would bring you into the family as his mate. There are protocols in place that have to be followed.”
  “Oh, you two decided that, did you? He broke up with me. What’s to say I would have taken him back? And what if I had said no to him? Would you have used one of your ways and killed me? Or would I be where I am now? Standing here, being told that I have no choice but to accept it? That’s a pretty fucked way to go around finding your mates.” Devon reeled slightly, realizing as the words tumbled out of her mouth that Derrick had broken up with her, “So is that why he called things off with me so close to the full moon, part of your protocols?”
  “Derrick decided it was the best way to keep you safe and out of range while he transformed. He believed that after he changed he would be able to persuade you to come back to him. We are not monsters Devon. The way we are created takes a lot of planning. On top of a unanimous acceptance from the members of this house and full acceptance from the person in question. During that time if you had said no, we could have removed the memories of the time spent here and returned you to your human life.”
  “My memories?” Devon looked at the ground, calculating the numbers in her head. Eleven days. “Wait, is that why I can’t remember anything before I woke up here in that room?” Devon’s voice began to rise, trying desperately to quell her fear. “Jesus Christ, you took my memories? What the hell did you people do to me?”
  Keryn looked aghast, shaking her head. “I was there the night you woke up, I swear nothing was done to you. You came to, changing from wolf to human. It was awful, you were covered in blood and severely traumatized by the sight of it. You were awake for an hour, tops; the rest of the time you were sleeping.” Her eyes were full of sorrow.
  “None of this adds up, how could I be sleeping for that many days?” Devon’s mind struggled with this information, she was definitely not ready to process her memories being taken from her.
  “It’s just a natural response to the change, nothing sinister,” she explained. “Your body and the new DNA have to finish merging, rebuilding the human into the wolf. It’s a complicated process that we don’t fully understand. I… We made sure you were kept clean and comfortable the entire time. I promise nothing perverted happened, I made sure that you were treated with our full respect.”
  As well thought out as her explanation may have sounded, Devon was not ready to let go of the anger she felt from having her mind violated. Not wanting to release it on Keryn, the only person here who had shown genuine concern for her, Devon turned her focus towards her father. The man had hardly spoken, yet made no attempt to hide his vexed disposition as he kept his eyes fixated on her every movement.
  “Ok, what’s your story?” she asked irritably. “You’ve been pretty quiet so far, sitting there giving me the stink eye. Your hand hasn’t left that weapon since I arrived; scared of a little girl?”
  The giant merely grimaced. She could see his knuckles whiten slightly as he gripped the leather handle of his hammer, and then deliberately released it to cross his arms. After a short silence, she could tell that he had no intention of responding to her question.
  Keryn bit her lip with an embarrassed smile. “This is my father, he’s not normally this inhospitable.”
  “Yeah, I’m still trying to process that one,” she said. “So, why the anger towards me old man? I haven’t even met you before, so what gives you the…”
  “I don’t trust you,” Smith cut her off, appearing as though he would like nothing more than to rise to her challenge and put her in her place.
  “Well, that feeling is mutual, so I guess we’re even.” Devon crossed her arms, mimicking his pose and returning his glare.
  “Oh, I haven’t even begun to make this even. Alphas are created from betas, like your boyfriend who should be standing here. You, on the other hand, are something forbidden to be created.”
  “Smith!” Rowland snapped, but his bark was too late.
  “Forbidden to be created? So I’m nothing but a massive fuck up for you?”
  Rowland sighed, clearly hesitating at delving into this topic. “What Smith means, is that I am forbidden when creating a new Alpha to bite someone who is an alpha personality type. In our past, someone was made with an aggressive bloodline and the results were detrimental to our kind and the countless human lives that followed. This mix, let his lust for war and power cloud his reason; unable to be tamed. Fifteen hundred years ago both families created a treaty to make sure that this type of Alpha never rules again. These rules have kept us alive and hidden for over two thousand years.”
  Learning about these elaborate stories was astonishing. How could these people have existed since the dark ages and never been caught? No matter what happened in their past, she was certain on one point. “That’s not the kind of person I am. Nothing inside my mind has changed since the night you attacked me, especially not the thirst for blood or war.”
  “So you expect us to believe that you would not seek revenge, then?” Smith snorted with condescension as he stood up from his chair. Never mind her belief in werewolves, Devon would have an easier time believing that this man descended from giants. Something in his eyes gleamed as they focused on her face. He challenged her, stabbing his finger in the air towards Rowland. “That man sitting there killed your lover and stripped you of being with your father, and that hasn’t fueled any thoughts of vengeance?” Within a couple strides, Smith had cleared the room, looming over her as he huffed angrily into his beard; waiting for her answer.
  “Well, come on.” His voice was taunted her. “Where are your thoughts of retribution? You must feel like ripping us all apart for what we’ve taken from you. No one would fault you for it.”
  Devon stepped toward him, muscles flexing for a fight; she fixated on him with an unwavering stare. Of course, she felt all of those things and more. In her bag was a loaded gun, her intention had been to come here and use it to get answers for this madness. Her fingers itched to pull it out and point it in his smug face. After all, Smith was right. Rowland had killed Derrick and Jackson. Didn’t justice demand for someone to be punished?
  With a deep breath, she held her place. After everything she had witnessed, no matter how tempting that path may be, she knew it wasn’t that simple anymore. Still, she wasn’t going to give Smith the satisfaction of taking such a baited discussion. In every new foster home she entered there was always one person like him; a bully resenting her presence or marking their territory by drawing lines in the sand. Lines Devon was never afraid to cross. Werewolf or not, Smith was all too human in this regard.
  Before she could respond, the doors of the council room opened. Smith’s eyes flickered away from Devon, and she could see his scowl grow deeper. While she had not taken his bait to act in vengeance, she also had not lost ground. Experience and instinct told her that this was not the last time Smith would challenge her.
  Devon turned from her stare-down, wondering what, or who else she would need to confront today. In through the doors sauntered a slim young man whom she immediately recognized from the day before. He was the same young man who had helped catch her bag while fleeing down the fire escape from her old apartment. Her mind numbed in the overwhelming sensation that she was reaching her limits for what she could face today. “You?” was all she could muster at the shock of seeing him amongst these people.
  “Well I see you’ve met Smith,” he smirked. “Getting along nicely, I trust? His hospitality skills always give me the warm fuzzies.”
  Smith snorted through his nose as he dropped back to his chair. The moment to rile Devon into a frenzy had been spoiled.
  While she was thankful that his interruption had sent Smith back into his corner, she wondered what he was doing here.
  Rowland smiled for the first time, “I see you two have met then.”
  Devon had a sense that Rowland was just as happy for the intrusion as she was.
  “Well, how could anyone forget a wildly romantic encounter in a back alley downtown,” the newcomer joked.
  “You wish.” Devon’s laughter sounded a little hysterical even to herself, as she quickly fought to get a hold of her nerves. There was no way that this was a coincidence. She could think of only one explanation for why this guy was here, which meant that she had been under surveillance the entire time she had been out of this house. No wonder Rowland found her so easily.
  His grin flashed across to Devon. “Sorry sweetheart, as I already explained it to you, you’re just not my type. If you get my drift?” After waving his eyebrows at her in response to his suggestion, he turned and presented himself to Rowland. With an obviously sarcastic and over the top manner, he gave an extravagant bow. “I hope you don’t mind that I crashed the party. From what I could hear outside, it seems to be going better than I expected.”
  Rowland was in no mood for insolence, as his smile fell. “Attendance lacking or not Jesse, you are part of this family, and your voice here matters.”
  The young man turned to her, winking. “See? We’re family now, even if you were my type. It would be like incest or something, which is illegal, and frankly, not my bag.”
  “Big surprise, you’re a werewolf too?” She said, sarcasm coming easily to her despite the fact that her head was spinning.
  “Ta da,” Jesse sang, theatrically waving his hand in the air.
  “Isn’t anyone on this island just a regular person anymore? Next, you’re going to tell me that the barista at the coffee shop is secretly a werewolf as well!” Her limit had been hit, and her composure along with it. This was turning into a circus, with her being the freak everyone comes to gawk at. She had come for answers and now found herself unsure if she believed them. Devon needed time away from this room, these people, and time to figure out what her next move would be. “I’m out,” Devon turned her back to the group, retreating towards the entrance.
  As her hand lifted for the door handle, it began to open. Another man stood on the threshold; his eyes fixed on hers. He was tall and distractingly handsome; Devon couldn’t help but smile as their paths intersected. His gray eyes shifted past her face, while the hairs on the back of her neck began to stand on end from the energy coming off of him. Without blinking, he pulled a small sword from his belt, and in a graceful motion slid forward around her; shielding her body with his. Devon turned to see what prompted the stranger: from across the room, Smith was heading in her direction with his hand gripping the war hammer behind his broad shoulders.
  Rowland rushed out into the middle, intercepting the two men with his hands raised in each direction. “ENOUGH!” he shouted.
  The wave of Rowland’s roar shook Devon where she stood. Both men lowered their weapons and slightly bowed their heads.
  Rowland continued. “Devon, we are not finished talking about this.”
  The stranger looked back at Devon. “Are you ok?” His voice was soft, full of concern. Devon found herself gazing up at him; he was taller than she was, with broad shoulders. The sword was still gripped in his right hand, lowered, but not sheathed. He seemed to be waiting for her answer before fully standing down.
  It struck her that he had not hesitated in coming to her defense, willing to go up against an established family member to protect her. It hadn’t occurred to her until now just how valuable she had become to these people. As Rowland had said, if he could make a new Alpha, then she wouldn’t be here having this conversation.
  Devon nodded at the stranger before addressing Rowland. “I need some air, okay? This is all just a little too much to dump on someone all at once. I’ve just been told werewolves exist, the one person I trusted above everyone else had a whole other life that he lied about, and you expect me to take over your crazy family.”
  Rowland lowered his hands. Smith seemed reluctant as the two men took the opportunity to put away their weapons. During the entire meeting, the old Druid had remained calmly seated as if nothing had happened. Without any signs of fear for his safety, Devon could still tell that his pale eyes hadn’t missed a beat. Still, out of all the members of this family, it was he who intimidated and intrigued her the most.
  “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’m not running away again. It didn’t work the first time remember?” Devon waved the bracelet on her arm at Rowland. “I’m going outside those doors, into that field to think about all of this.”
  Trusting in her new level of importance, she turned and exited the room. Her nameless champion watched her go. Idly she wondered who he was and what prompted him to respond in the manner he did. Those eyes certainly made for a pleasant distraction from all of the reality she had faced so far today.
  Making her way across the field, Devon decided to breach the tree line back into the woods. They would protect her from the gentle rain, as well as from any prying eyes from the house. Inside the shelter of the trees, her head space began to unclutter as she breathed deeply of the fresh air all around her. It would take more than these simple pleasures to deal with everything she was facing, yet she took the moment to pretend, even just for a while that it all stopped existing back within the house.

  How much time had passed was something lost to her. Despite her best efforts to forget, her mind couldn’t shut reality out. Derrick and Jackson were dead, this she was certain and everyone along with her father believed she was too. It would be impossible to return to her old life, not anymore. Why couldn’t they have just been a delusional cult? How strange that her greatest fear yesterday would be a blessing in disuse today.
  What happened in Derrick’s apartment was not a trick or hallucination. Drugs maybe? But how would Rowland have pulled it off? As she entertained the question, Devon’s memories of the pain she felt as her skin split apart reassured her that it had indeed taken place.
  Everything around her seemed more vibrant, the leaves were greener, the sounds intensified, she could almost feel the water in the air as it filled her lungs. The natural world was revealing hidden surprises to her new supernatural senses.
  Perhaps it was the illusion of not being able to see the stone walls in the distance, but Devon felt more at ease in nature than she’d ever felt before. Childhood nightmares of cannibalistic mountain people lived in her imagination, creating a deep-seated fear of the woods that she wouldn’t admit to anyone. How could she be scared of things that didn’t exist outside of films, when now she was a thing of a legend herself?