CHAPTER 7 – THE FORGETFUL GIRL

  Nothing quite illustrated the differences between the Vancouver pack and the Island family as much as Orin’s suit. Custom tailored, the grey and black wool designs were lavishly modern, and equally expensive. It shimmered, light playing off of it to draw attention to his muscular physique. His beautiful wife Siobhan was draped gracefully over his right arm, a pencil skirt and fitted blouse hugging her every curve and perfectly matching his suit. Each step of her glossy stiletto heels echoed loudly against the floors, announcing her every move. Her body and dress appeared as more of an extension of his wardrobe than that of an individual person. From the look of disdain on her face, it was clear how she felt about this entire trip. Orin merely smirked, the grin of a man who felt he held all the cards in his hand.
  Mirroring his father’s image, Vince followed obediently behind them. Their similar features, and the fact that his body would never surpass his father’s age, left the two looking more like twins than father and son. Vince’s had more of an aggressive bearing, setting him apart from his father. Where Orin’s every gesture had been collected, his walk almost graceful.
  Jesse followed them in, he had accompanied the small party after retrieving them up from the airport. Of the Island pack, he was dissimilar from those in Victoria, enjoying a modern and lavish lifestyle. He was also the only one who could handle being alone in a car with them for the lengthy drive. Slipping through the door behind them, he silently headed towards the kitchen.
  Rowland stood alone waiting in the entrance hall, clothed in a traditional attire of vibrantly coloured cloth and armor, a heavy gold torc resting at his throat. His clothing paid homage to the rites passed down from Alpha to Alpha over the centuries, embroidered with a shimmering thread to tell the tale of his family and his specific lineage. Where the Vancouver pack members appeared more like glass and steel, Rowland’s garb evoked images of the ancient forests which nurtured their ancestors.
  Greeting them with a stoic expression, Rowland felt there was no point in pretending he had affections where there were none. These people were a branch of their family, and for that, he would retain proper customs, but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy it or even pretend to. Rowland was, after all, a man of duty.
  Orin’s forced smile grew wide as he appraised his surroundings with the critical eye of an investment realtor, a side profession he entertained in Vancouver as a sort of hobby. Everything he came across was regarded as a potential asset or benefit, and his expression suggested he found the house lacking in capacity. “Ahh, Rowland. I keep forgetting what a… rustic habitat you keep over here.” With a firm grip, he placed his hand on Rowland’s shoulder as he came alongside him, his face now pleasantly neutral. “You really should come to the mainland and see what more civilized people are doing this century,” he said, smiling. “I could show you some amazing buildings available right in the heart of Vancouver. With modern security systems, the pack could live safely, without the need to drive into the middle of nowhere just to Change.”
  High above, dressed in a similar fashion to Rowland, Keryn appeared on the upper balcony. Her one hand was resting around the pommel of the sword at her side, as she looked down onto the main entrance with a cold gaze. The upsurge of animosity she brought with her emanated across the room, allowing Orin to spot her instantly. He lifted his face to greet her, “How lovely to see you again, my dear. You’re becoming as beautiful as your enchanting mother.” With am mock sadness his expression fell. “Oh that’s right, it’s a pity you never knew her.”
  Keryn’s hand tensed around the sword’s hilt, as she fought to keep her emotions in check. A whitening around her knuckles clearly showed her struggle, as her hands instinctively clenched tighter.
  “Do you even know how to use that poorly-wrought stick at your side little pup?” Orin chuckled, “I hear your father won’t even let you train. Let me tell you, there is no excuse for anyone in my pack to not be trained. I’ll make you an offer right now, come back to Vancouver with us, and I will train you myself alongside my heir.”
  The look of disgust on Keryn’s face was evident. Despite her voice being barely a whisper, the whole room heard as she breathed the words, “The Gods would need to strike me dead before I would willingly train with you.”
  “HA! Until that day, I think it’s better for you to scamper back to your quarters before you hurt yourself.” Turning back to Rowland, he continued, “See! Already I am teaching your younger members the value of being able to defend themselves. There really is much you could learn from a visit to Vancouver, to see how I run things there.”
  Rowland’s expression darkened in a frown of disapproval; as he had expected, the strain of having to deal with these people already weighed heavily on his shoulders. Everyone in his pack had suffered occasions such as this and knew Orin seemed to take pleasure in infuriating them. The only thing to be done was to push on. Rowland looked again at the consistent expression of contempt coming from Siobhan, and the grin on Vince’s smug face. The sooner he was rid of them, the better.
  “Follow me, this conversation is best suited to take place in the council chamber,” Rowland said, as he pushed open the heavy doors, leading them on into the circular room. As he passed under the balcony, he shot a meaningful look at Keryn. It was a mystery why she had insisted on being here for this, yet since she was, he needed her to fall in line and not let Orin antagonize her emotions any further.
  As they entered the main hall, the Druid was already seated in his usual place, while Smith prowled along the wall behind him. Keryn remained along the upper balcony, unwilling to enter yet needing to hear what was said. Curiosity over Devon’s fate won out over her desire to vent her frustrations in her room. With her dignity intact, she held back any tears she might be tempted to shed, unwilling to give Orin the pleasure of seeing the physical evidence of the pain his words had created.
  Rowland motioned for everyone to seat themselves in the great stone chairs, as he took his rightful place at the head of the table beside the Druid. Sitting as near the exit as possible, Siobhan perched herself on the edge of a chair. Like an antique doll, her posture was perfectly straight. Vince chose to stand protectively behind his mother, while Smith took a similar stance at the back of the Druid’s chair. Both guards facing off at opposite ends of the room, protecting who they deemed most valuable. Once the others were seated, Orin took up directly opposite to Rowland. To a casual observer, it would have appeared that Orin was the one holding court.
  Siobhan regarded Smith across the table, cocking her head slightly as though deciding whether a delicacy was worth devouring. It was the first time her eyes showed anything other than disdain since entering the house. “You look well, old friend,” she taunted with a small smile.
  His back stiffened, glowering back at her across the table. “Friends? Since the day you left this family, friends is something we will never be,” he answered roughly.
  “Oh come now, bitterness never weighs well over time,” she said, though it was evident to everyone she wanted nothing more than to arouse old grudges.
  Everything was proceeding like clockwork, Rowland had never understood the other pack’s pleasure in such cruelty. This kind of repetitive banter was sadly unoriginal, and he knew that Siobhan was the only person who could genuinely undermine Smith’s composure: knowing just what buttons to push. With a hand gesture and a meaningful look, Rowland signaled Smith to not allow the conversation to proceed. The situation was already fragile, and their heated exchange could shatter it beyond the point of mending. Rowland’s family were burdened with enough, the last thing needed was Smith’s loss of dignity eroding their morale. “Let us address the issue that has brought these two houses together,” he began before anyone else could interject.
  Orin interrupted immediately. “What, no further pleasantries?” he asked. “What happened to protocol? You are always such a gracious host, offering drinks and a toast to continued peace!”
  The level of indignation that had been implied, turned Rowland’s stomach. Every visit he would smile politely at Orin’s condescension’s, not out of submission, but for duty and laws since passed. And, if he admitted it, out of hope that one day the descendants of these two families would be able to come together under one roof. “I feel it would be prudent to get on with business right away, this time,” he answered with a slight bowing of the head. “We all know that Derrick was killed during the transition to Alpha on the Solstice Eclipse.”
  “So you bit a little girl instead,” Siobhan interrupted, chuckling. “Tragic, but no more than could be expected from the Alphas of your line.” Obediently, Vince began to chuckle along with his mother.
  This time, Rowland’s instinct got the best of his manners, and he rose from his chair, growling and baring his teeth. Insubordination was something he did not suffer lightly, and her comments had crossed that line. Vince stepped forward, ready to intercept on his mother’s behalf, the smirk on his face replaced with a fierce challenge of his own.
  “Oh Rowland, you are so predictable,” Siobhan laughed, as the Victoria Alpha struggled to regain control of his temper.
  Orin lifted his hand, managing to seem somehow bored amongst the rising energy, as his son reluctantly desisted. “Tsk, tsk, do not let the truth hurt,” he said, waving the finger of his upraised hand in Rowland’s direction. “Really? A fragile, helpless girl? You won’t even train that poor whelp of Smith’s, and yet you think a girl can be your successor? You know as well as I do that biting a female with the purpose of making her into an Alpha is strictly forbidden.”
  Rowland sensed Smith bristling at the comment and spoke up before an argument could begin. “I respect the choices made by members of my family, and yes the Gods were generous giving her to us. By giving, I mean that I didn’t bite her.” Rowland responded bluntly, carefully returning to his chair. He took solace in watching the self-satisfied smile on Orin’s face become rigid. Clearly, Orin had not heard the details of Devon’s transformation, and this gave Rowland hope that not all was lost.
  “Do you take me for a fool?” Orin challenged his statement. “If you did not bite her, how did she come to be?”
  “What I take you for is irrelevant. The girl transferred saliva from Derrick bite, into a wound that she suffered while I was dispatching the security guard. By the time I finished with him, she had already transformed.”
  Orin’s demeanor was more guarded now. For once he was not prepared, this outcome had not been one he anticipated. Siobhan glanced sharply at her mate as she gripped the stone armrest tightly. She was aware that the upper hand may be slipping away, but Orin held his nonchalant manner, still feeling that his position was reasonably secure.
  “These petty details and talks of Gods are of no consequence,” he replied with a dismissive gesture, “there still cannot be an Alpha female wolf leading your pack. It’s our way and the way of our ancestors. As you keep reminding me, we must abide by the ways of our ancestors.” Licking his lips as though about to dive in for the kill, he continued, “Unless you are willing to break the treaty, and end our time of peace?” Orin leaned forward in his chair, elbows resting on the table to glare at Rowland over his clasped hands.
  A cold silence filled the room, as everyone held their breath waiting for the response. Rowland beamed at the suggestion of war, a sight that sent a tremor of unease through the visitors. Clearly, this had been the goal for their visit, and now Orin’s hand was tipped with such a bold statement.
  “Again the Gods are truly generous,” he responded. “Lucky for us all, Orin, she is not a female wolf.”
  Orin’s tenuous smile crumpled, eyes darkening. “Enough with these riddles!” he hissed. “Explain yourself.”
  “I’d be delighted to,” Rowland answered with genuine enthusiasm. “It seems that the DNA of an Alpha carries not only memories and character traits but also the physical characteristics of the biting party as well. An Alpha male wolf results in another Alpha male wolf, whether the recipient of the DNA transfer is female in the human state or not.”
  Orin and his party were aghast hearing this, too stunned to fall back on sarcasm or retaliate in any way. Siobhan became still as a statue, her face a mask of passive marble beneath her perfectly coifed hair. Vince appeared pale, looking to his parents for some cue on what to do next while his father blustered to recover the upper hand.
  “I don’t believe you.” Orin hissed, hands fidgeting as though looking for a way to hold them steady. “Are you seriously trying to tell me that she is only female while human, and male as a wolf?” Looking back through his own Alpha memories, he searched for some answer or hint that this was possible. Surely this was some kind of trick.
  “I thought you might say that.” Rowland pulled from his pocket his cell phone holding it up eye level to Orin’s face as he began to play the video footage taken of Devon’s transformation at the safe house. This was something that surprised the members of his own family, but it was a card Rowland felt he needed to play. Even on the small screen, the details were unmistakable if one was looking for them.
  “Well, this is a fascinating, a very intriguing life form indeed. And unexpected, I might add.” Orin’s voice was barely a whisper, as though he had forgotten about everyone else in the room while watching. Mesmerized at the blood soaked girl frozen on the screen as the video ended, his anger seemingly evaporated with this revelation.
  “She is very much of my own wolf form when she is changed, and therefore, still an appropriate candidate for a pack leader,” Rowland assured them smoothly. After a moment to allow all of it to sink in, he continued, “So you see, no laws have been broken. I did not bite a female with the intent of passing on the Alpha, and Devon is not a female wolf.”
  “Does the girl even know what she is? Does she know what you have robbed of her?” Siobhan broke out defensively. Stunned, everyone turned to look in her direction.
  Rowland had been enjoying his advantage of surprise, but now he was the one caught off guard by her question. “She… fell back into a deep sleep immediately after this. Being a new kind of Alpha, going through the change will be unique. As soon as she awakens, she will be trained and educated in our ways.” The words sounded inadequate even to him, but he had no other explanation without risking everything. After all, if she was found unsuitable when she awoke… He stifled the thought. Now was not the time to dwell on what-ifs. Devon would be Alpha, and he needed to convince Orin of that.
  “This is typical of your family legacy,” Siobhan spat, even her mate regarded her with surprise. No one had expected her to take the side of the absent fledgling at all. Everyone gathered were shocked to see her do so with such conviction as she continued on.
  “You do know that she’s going to see you as monsters. You took everything she ever cared about away from her, and you expect her to just wake up and begin doing your bidding like a good little girl?” Her eyes blazed, confident in her own righteousness. “Women these days are not as subservient as you are used to.”
  Rowland opened his mouth to retaliate against her accusations. Instead, he closed his lips and took a deep breath. “The Gods have shown no visions or signs that they are displeased with the results of that night. Indirectly, she did this to herself. I have broken no laws since I did not inflict my bite on her, and she is not a female wolf.” Repeating his statement, Rowland wasn’t sure if he was trying to convince her, or himself.
  Siobhan’s eyes began to well up. “Your Gods? They may not have spoken out against it… but they certainly did not foretell it. There are more than just your Gods to ask!”
  The Druid watched her curiously as she grappled with her fury, trying desperately to regain her composure.
  Orin affected a nervous laugh. “Oh, what a mother she is, her maternal instincts always sitting at the ready,” he joked. The hard glance he gave her showed his disproval at this unsanctioned outburst. She met his eyes, and for a brief second, he was able to see the raw emotion behind them before her internal guards went back up. Siobhan often defied him, but she was always in full control. He watched as her face once more became the granite mask he was accustomed to.
  What he saw unnerved him, and to cover his shock he turned his gaze back to Rowland. “I, for one, would very much like to see this new creation of yours.” He gave his host an expectant look, knowing that this request was sure to make Rowland uneasy.
  “Of course,” came the only diplomatic response he could give. “That day will come after she has awoken from her sleep. She must be eased into our world and her duties. Might I suggest that we host a ceremony to welcome our children on the neutral ground? If it pleases you, we could hold it in Devonshire, on the family lands?”
  Orin grinned his approval more for Rowland’s passive loyalty than for the arrangements themselves. “I always love an opportunity to travel. This would please me to no end to finally meet your new “son” when he… she, is ready.”
  “Then it’s settled.” Rowland nodded, glad there would be no argument from Orin in regards to overseeing Devon earlier than he would have preferred. “Will you and your family be needing accommodations tonight? We have aired out and prepared quarters for you.”
  Still listening from the balcony above, Keryn gripped the banister hearing Rowland’s offer. No, no, no, no. She silently pleaded.
  Orin looked around the room, his lips pursed with an almost sour taste. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he answered. “I’ve think I’ve had enough of the country. We’ll be taking our plane back to the mainland straight after this. Besides,” he said, gloating, “my new son awoke last night, and will be in need of my guidance.”
  Rising from his chair, Orin signalled to all that he felt this meeting was over. His family slowly followed behind towards the double doors. “I hope your … son, daughter… creation – will be awake soon. You must let me know right away how she takes it.”
  Rowland rose, ushering his guests out. Opening the doors, a gust of wind blew through the entryway. The forest around them was quiet and waiting, the sky a uniform grey, common for this time of year. He inhaled deeply, the scent of earth, cedar, and pines calming his nerves.
  Jesse, having eaten while everyone else talked, had snuck back outside and was already waiting in the car to take them home. Siobhan glanced back at Rowland, releasing one final glare before the group ushered its way out the door. Her son, dutifully trying to show his loyalty to his mother, silently bared his fangs towards the source of her discomfort. It was an immature gesture, like a child sticking its tongue out, and she quickly put a stop to it. Straightening her spine, she turned her back on those left in the hall. Rowland watched them retreat; the trio’s sleek outfits matching the overcast sky, framed by the ancient oak doorframe.
  In the distance, the final crunches of gravel under tires faded away, signalling their departure from the property line. Rowland returned to his pack mates in the stillness of the council chamber, each of them silent and alone with their thoughts. Even a short meeting such as this one drained his energy, a sigh of exhaustion escaped his lips.
  Keryn had joined them, her arms wrapped tightly around her father, finally releasing the tears she had been holding back. The giant simply held her, the act of providing her comfort serving a dual purpose to soothe his rage. Unreadable as always, the Druid gazed off with his stoic expression.
  None one wanted to be the first to voice their concerns, yet each of them was aware that the meeting had gone far too easy.

  Within the darkness of the room, the Druid sat vigil, measuring the passage of time by the rise and fall of Devon’s breath. This girl was a new curiosity in a long lifetime of impossible things, he wondered what might become of someone with such unforeseen beginnings. He watched her face, waiting for the right moment. She had slept peacefully during her transit from the safe house, and now his magic was ready for her; hopefully she was ready for it. It had been centuries since anything of this magnitude had happened to alter the balance of their lives, and those had been such difficult times…
  Across from her supine form, Rowland reached out to wrap both of his hands around her forearm with a firm grip. Deep inside her dream, her eyelids flickered: now was his moment. Clockwise the Druid stirred the oak branch round the stone bowl, centered in his lap. A dark mixture of half-congealed blood and herbs began to boil as the Druid spoke the words. Quiet at first, his chanting barely a whisper, growing in volume as he called upon his ancient arts. Leaning over the bedside, he lifted the wand above her, its tip now glowing like an ember in the dimness. With it, he traced several symbols down her forehead, his words willing the spell to penetrate deep into her slumbering mind. While the glow began to fade, the blood symbols began to sink their way into her skin, leaving not a trace.
  Both of his withered hands shook with age and effort as the magic did its work. This level of enchantment pushed him to his limits, something he had not done in over a century.
  The wait was short lived. After a few moments, the mixture resurfaced from the center of Devon’s forehead, bringing the memories with it. It bubbled out black and thick, as it began to creep toward her eyes, looking for a way back in. He quickly stabbed at it with the wand, its end starting to smoke at the contact, igniting the memories into blue flame. Like a serpent defending itself, it fought back, thrashing about as it tried to find safety. In its effort the dark blood climbed onto the wood in ropey tendrils, burning as it went. This was just as the Druid wanted as he moved the wand from Devon and placed it against the bridge of Rowland’s nose. It took its escape, gripping its way off the wood and into the sockets of each eye. He cried out as Devon’s fear and terror penetrated into his conscious mind. His anguish didn’t stop until every bit of pain subsided and only tears of reliving Devon’s feelings of that night flowed across his cheeks. The Druid’s chant grew softer as the blue light flickered and died until neither flame or tendril was left.
  Half of the oak branch was charred black with burnt blood and cinder. Not taking any chances for the memories to catch life, he leaned away from Rowland snapping the branch in two. Both of the pieces were tossed into the stone bowl, as he carefully lifted it from his lap and placed it gently on her stomach.
  Back and forth, his hands moved over the bowl while once more chanting, his pitch growing louder. Again, the blood began to boil, and an acrid smell filled the room. Devon’s body shuddered and trembled, both sleeping girl and concoction responding to the rhythm of his words. Rowland let go of Devon as he held his hands tightly against the side of his temple as agony overtook him.
  “Do not let go of the girl!” The Druid demanded.
  Rowland forced his hands back, grasping onto Devon’s arm and the spell began to peak; both side tables and bed began to lift and sway, sending objects skittering to the floor. The spell reached its climax, as the contents of the bowl erupted with brilliant flame in the darkness of the room. As her back arched and fell, so did the furniture against the floor. For a moment it seemed to be gone as quickly as it came. From out of the bowl, a snake of smoke trailing in the aftermath drifted its way toward Devon. These remaining memories were in search of a home and the emotions that were severed from it. Several inches from her mouth the snake found an invisible barrier; the Druid’s magic blocking the way into its original host. Rowland screamed in waves of pain as his jaw opened, the snakes head turned sharply, rapidly moving to its new target. Into his mouth, the serpent of memories slid, causing Rowland eyes to fill black. His arms dropped limply to his side as his body lurched against the foreign intruder. Hunched forward, he pulled the last of it in with a long gasping breath, releasing his grip on Devon’s arm as he slid to the floor.
  The bowl was vacant, and not even ash remained. In his now weakened state, the Druid was caught off balance as he promptly rose. Collecting the bowl into his hands, he made his way with frail movements to assist Rowland.

  Keryn had waited, just outside the door, listening to the Druid’s chanting as he performed the memory extraction. Tangled amidst her tears this afternoon was a strange elation she had not been expecting. Devon would stay. True to his word, Rowland had Devon brought to the main house in Sooke shortly after Orin had left. Since then, Keryn had found herself fidgeting and restless, spending her energy choosing the perfect room to air out and prepare for her arrival. Connor was careful, but hadn’t wasted any time bringing her to the house. Keryn hadn’t fully managed to finish before Rowland and the Druid had asked her to leave so they may perform the memory extraction.
  Clean clothes and fresh water sat on the tray beside her, ready for the moment the spell was finished. Not knowing what to expect, she considered getting some snacks as well. The Druid had said that this would be difficult, and she suspected he would need to rebuild his strength. Perhaps there was enough time for her to run to the kitchen to grab something…
  A flash of light filled the hallway, spilling out from the door. Keryn peered around the corner trying to get a glimpse what was going on, just in time to watch the furniture crash back to the floor.
  Devon lay on her back, still dressed in the black sweat suit from the safehouse. The blankets which had been folded appeared to have been kicked off the bed, the sheets around her a tangled mess. Seated on either side of her, both men seemed intensely focused on the strange smoke coiling out of a bowl on her stomach. As Rowland opened his mouth to receive it, Keryn gasped, turning quickly away and clamping a hand firmly over her mouth.
  As the chanting subsided several moments later, her curiosity got the best of her, and once again peered in. Catching the Druid’s eye, he gave her a nod of permission that it was safe to enter. She picked up the tray of provisions, and by the time she had entered, Rowland was shakily getting to his feet. She noticed his hand bracing the chair as though to steady himself. Without hesitation, she offered him a glass of water as she wondered if the smoke had tasted as vile as it looked.
  Dipping a cloth in the cool water, she began wiping sweat from Devon’s brow. “I really hope she doesn’t remember that awful day,” she sighed. “Did it work?” She looked to Rowland, silently pleading it had.
  “Yes,” he closed his eyes searching. “I can see the memories and feel what Devon felt that night. There is no way she would let us in, not if we had left them intact.” He sighed, his shame over his actions still present. What was done was done, though, and at least now he had a second chance to repair the damage.
  Turning back to Devon, Keryn tenderly wiped a stray hair off of her face. “Well, then this was the right decision. Now she’ll have a chance to meet us properly.” She began cleaning up the blankets from the floor, unfolding them to cover her patient.
  Rowland merely nodded, his exhaustion from the day catching up with him. Without saying another word, he followed the Druid out of the room, seeking rest.
  Over the next few days, Keryn spent every waking moment watching Devon as she slept, hoping to be there, to help her transition when she finally woke. Each day she would bring fresh water and use a cloth to wash her as best she could. Quietly she watched as her father fitted the bracelet around her wrist, officially tying Devon to the family. Hours passed as she regaled her sleeping patient with stories of their history, hoping that some of what she said would help ease Devon into her new life, and prepare her for the role of Alpha.
  Keryn knew that whatever choices were made in the first forty-eight hours following her awakening would decide Devon’s fate. She hoped that her presence here now, could influence those decisions and convince Devon to lead the family.

  December 31st, 9:00 pm.

  Keryn burst through the door to Rowland’s office, her body vibrating with excitement. “Happy New Year, Rowland!” Unable to contain herself, she grinned. “She’s awake! She’s finally awake!”