“Don’t you think it’s time we take her off the sedatives?” Connor said to the camera, waving at the lens outside the panic room. “It’s been five days, Rowland. Today is the final day of Alban Arthuan – we need to wake her.”
Connor’s concern was evident from the sound of his voice, but it was the expression on his face that filled Rowland with pangs of uncertainty. Brow creased with worry, the younger man’s features were reminiscent of a Greek hero locked within a tragic myth.
From her perch at the windowsill, Keryn joined the conversation. “Yesterday was the most awkward day of Yule I’ve ever attended. The silence in the great hall was deafening.” Her attempt to break the tense subject was unsuccessful, evidenced by the tightening of Rowland’s shoulders.
Connor instantly discarded his gloomy expression in favor of laughter. “I’m glad that’s not how Christmas always is when I’m gone,” he chuckled. No matter what he was feeling, there was always room to feel something more. It was one of the things Keryn appreciated most in him, as he was often able to break the tension emanating from Rowland. She sometimes wondered if Connor did it intentionally to keep morale up when Rowland’s moods were impacting the pack.
With a weak smile, a little of her own worry was relieved by her pack mate’s sympathetic nature. Keryn enjoyed it, though she knew the moment would pass as quickly as it had come.
Sure enough, their mirth quickly turned serious. “The family needs your guidance, Rowland.” Second in command, it was Connor’s unspoken task to be straight with him; to keep their sullen pack leader focused when necessary. Over the centuries of their friendship, he had learned there were moments when he had to push quite hard. He sensed this was one of those days.
“I only wish I had more time,” Rowland sighed, frustrated. “Or a vision, something to work with.”
“We don’t have any more time. Orin is aware of the girl — it’s been all over the news for days. Your invite to the other family is set tomorrow, and our family needs to know what your next move is.” Connor’s voice was gently sympathetic, although his words were stern. Keryn knew he was still holding back, unsure whether or not to reveal the full extent of what he needed to say. Deciding against being diplomatic, Connor believed it may just be the catalyst Rowland required. “I was waiting for a better moment to tell you, but I got a phone call this morning at the house. It was from Orin’s weasel of a son, on behalf of his father. Orin has accepted the meeting with you to discuss the future of our family’s state of affairs. Rowland, Orin knows.”
Even from across the room, Keryn could see a quivering pulse along Rowland’s temple at the mention of Orin’s name. He stared intensely into the monitor before him as though willing the answers he needed to appear on the screen. Orin…
Abruptly he stood, sending the chair crashing into the wall behind him.
Not sure what was needed of her, Keryn hopped down off the windowsill stepping closer towards him. “Rowland, what is it?” Without hesitation, he pushed the desk, sliding it halfway across the room in his haste. Though Devon was bedridden below with a stream of sedatives, the thunder of Rowland’s boots on the stairs should have been enough to wake anyone. Shocked at the sudden change in his mood, she turned to follow.
Connor was unsure of his motivations but knew better as he stood aside. Completely enraged, Rowland spun the lock on the steel door hard enough to send a burst of sparks showering down onto the cement at his feet. Just a step or two behind him, Keryn covered her ears at the piercing grind of metal on metal.
Rowland tore across the cell, grabbing the unconscious wolf by the shoulders.
“Rowland, no!” Keryn grabbed at his arms trying to pull him off.
Connor placed his arms around her waist, wrenching her back. Despite her smaller size, she possessed a similar strength, and they struggled together like a tangled chain of arms and legs. Within a few moments, Keryn’s grip slipped, her fingers not strong enough to withstand being caught between her two pack mates. They stumbled backwards, sending both the drip stand and IV solution clattering to the ground.
“You weren’t supposed to be there; you weren’t supposed to be the one!” Rowland choked out in his rage. At his breaking point, his violent shaking of Devon ripped the needle free from her arm. All of his confusion from the last few days had hardened into this single point.
Keryn pushed against the arms wrapped around her, trying to free herself, but he just gripped tighter keeping her out of reach. Connor always believed that if they couldn’t trust Rowland’s judgment, they were lost already.
As their Alpha vented himself, they watched in horror as a section of the wolf’s hide tore away from under the pressure of Rowland’s grip. Pale strips of smooth flesh were exposed, bloody and bare. Caught in his own dismay, he released Devon allowing her body to fall backward onto the thick plastic mattress cover. Slowly he stepped back from the bed, tossing the hide that had come away in his grasp. The sickening splat as it hit the tile floor could be heard above the trio’s stunned silence as Devon’s body began to thrash violently.
“Not like this!” Keryn burst out, arms extending towards the transforming wolf. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Devon was emerging from her animal form; it shifted away from her body like a broken chrysalis. The snout began to crumple in on itself, and her palms pushed and pulled against her face. Devon, unable to breathe, instinctively slid her hands beneath a tear at the neckline; effortlessly pulling the lifeless skin away. Finally, the barrier of suffocating fur and flesh was removed as she gasped, filling her lungs with air.
As a human reborn for the first time, she blindly tossed the face over the side of the bed; it hit the floor with a wet slap. Naked and dripping, she trembled while sitting upright on the mattress. All around her the fur and flesh began to fall away, dissolving into piles of sludge. Devon was fully conscious of the sensations of her new body after her long sleep. Her hands made an exploratory tour of her face, like a blind person seeing someone for the first time. The trio stood frozen, barely breathing as they waited for what would come next.
Devon’s eyelids flared open, stark voids in the gore dripping off of her features. Her dark pupils focused instantly on the blood glistening all over. Both eyes slowly moved to Rowland, as he hovered closest to her perch on the bed, settling on his hands. They were as red with blood as her own, triggering something primal within her. Faster than anyone could respond, she lunged off the bed at Rowland, screaming with rage.
There was no chance for Rowland to even move. She grabbed his jacket, spinning him with all of her force, releasing him into the air. Rowland soared across the room with a crash, his body impacted hard into Keryn and Connor, sending them all sprawling past the open doorway. Desperately he shoved the two young wolves off of him, trying to regain control of the situation. The three of them clambered back to their feet as Rowland pushed the iron door shut before Devon could follow.
Only a split second later, she slammed hard against it from the other side. Her new strength forced it back against them, opening it several inches. Through the crack, they were able to hear the extent of her unbridled screams.
“Help me!” Rowland cried.
Connor came to his aid, bracing against Rowland’s other side. Both men heaved with all their strength, giving Keryn enough time to turn the wheel of the sliding lock. None of them dared to move so long as the heavy door was shaking under Devon’s powerful blows. They had all known to expect anything, but her level of ferocity still left them stupefied.
Abruptly the attacks stopped, and the reverberations of the door quieted. As the silence hovered around them, Rowland began to slowly back away. He pointed at Connor and Keryn to remain propped up against it. Both of them were breathing raggedly, waiting for the next wave. As the minutes stretched out and the pounding and the noise failed to start up again, Connor whispered to Rowland, “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know, but hopefully, she is unconscious again,” he whispered back. “Wait here, I’m going to check the camera while Connor, you continue to hold the door with Keryn. We can’t let her escape.” Rowland made his way quietly up the stairs with delicate movements, desperately hoping that even if she heard him, her silence was a sign of submission instead of tactical ferocity. While he had managed to contain the outburst, this time, he knew she would just get stronger the longer she was alive. He suddenly knew how wolf alphas in the wild felt when young members of their pack started to challenge their authority.
Inside the office, he lifted the collapsed monitor back into place while moving the camera in a slow pan from the bed to the inner door. The area on the screen was unhindered, the only sign of Devon was a trail bloody footprints leading to the other side of the room. Against the far corner, the camera found her. Huddled with her back up against the metal wall, she was visibly weeping. As tight as her one arm could, she pulled her body close, attempting to cover herself with the other. All of the terror and confusion were clear to him even through the grainy it’s grainy lens.
Rowland’s heart dropped; this was not what he intended for a first impression. His hand hovered over the intercom button on his desk, as his mind searched desperately for the right words to say. Finally, he pressed it, and instantly her body tensed to the sound of the open static.
“Who’s there?” she called out to the empty room, head raised and listening.
Rowland couldn’t answer. What he thought of a moment ago had left him, and he found his tongue heavy as his mind raced.
“Where am I?” Her voice cracked over the microphone as he watched her pull her knees up closer to her chest.
“Devon, you are safe.” Finally, Rowland’s words began to find a way through his lips.
“Bullshit!” She shook as a fresh outbreak of sobs choked her voice. “There’s blood… everywhere! What… what have you done to me?!”
It was hard to match this distraught girl before him with the one who had just thrown him across a room like a rag doll. “There is a lot we need to explain to you. I just need you to calm down before I can send someone in.”
She wiped her nose on the side of her arm, not responding to him. It only served to smear the gore around more, and she fixated on her bloody skin.
“Devon? Do you hear me?” he asked. “The blood is not from what you think, you are not physically injured. Look at the ceiling. If you want to wash the blood away, just pull the chain and a shower head will appear over the drain in the floor.”
Taking into consideration what he was saying, she couldn’t physically feel any pain, or see any cuts. Still, this did not bring her any comfort; those words were clearly coming from the person who had put her here in the first place. Devon had always relied on her ability to read people, and it was a skill that had saved her more than once. How could she trust this faceless voice if he wouldn’t even look her in the eyes as he said it? Then again, what other choices did she have?
Devon considered for a long moment, caught between the desire to stay where she was and the desire to be clean. Completely overwhelmed by the stickiness and the ripe coppery smell all around her, she finally caved to his suggestion. Keeping her one arm tight across her breasts, with the last shred of humility, she crawled over to the grate on the floor; trying to shield her nakedness from the camera’s view. Tiny hairs rose as her skin crawled with a sense of exposure and vulnerability. The most violating part was being aware that she could be seen without knowing who was watching from outside the room. A fresh wave of tears threatened to overtake her, and she fought them down.
Each foot slipped against the blood as she pushed herself unsteadily to her feet. Devon gave a sharp pull as she wrapped her hand around the chain above her head. From inside the ceiling, the shower head lowered, releasing a spray of warm water across the entire room. It pattered loudly against the plastic mattress, washing all the dissolved tissue and blood towards the drain in a thick soup. There was some truth in the words spoken to her, Devon could see there were no wounds responsible for all this blood. Then whose blood is it? Was it from me? Sharp pain creased across her brow as the thoughts turned her inward. I threw that man across the room. Did I hurt someone? What did I do?
While Devon washed away the blood, Rowland called down to Keryn to ready some provisions to bring in for her.
Once the flow of water ran clear, she pulled the chain again to stop the shower.
“Devon?” Instantly the intercom crackled back into life. “May I send a young woman in with some clothing for you?” It was the same voice as before. “Devon, I need you to put yourself against the wall furthest from the door. Her name is Keryn, and she has something for you to wear, towels and some bedding.”
“Fine, but only her,” Devon shouted. Limited in her options, she did as he said, walking back against the wall. This tiny moment of respite from being clean turned under, transforming into a sickening panic. Why was she being held captive in here? Oh god, this is really happening. The grinding of the metal door made her cringe as it was hauled open by her visitor.
At least what the voice said was true. So far, anyway. The girl who entered the room was around Devon’s height, and her passive stance didn’t seem at all threatening. In fact, she seemed slightly more scared than Devon herself; if that were even possible. Cradled in her arms, the frail girl hugged the supplies to her chest as though to shield herself; the way a child might use their own stuffed toy.
They both stood to study one another for a moment, Devon judged the distance to the door and the chances of getting past the girl. Then what? There were at least two other men in the house which she would have to bypass before escaping. Before her plan grew any further, the girl began to stammer out her words. “Here, let me wipe off that mattress for you.” She pulled one of the towels away from the pile with one arm and crossed the room to swipe it over the water that pooled on the plastic cover. Once a spot had been cleared for the other items, she neatly set them down. To Devon, it was evident that without the armload of fabric, the girl seemed lost at what to do next. Finally, she stooped down to pick up one of the towels, holding it out to her like a peace offering.
“Please, take it. I’m here to help.” Both of her eyes respectfully kept their view above Devon’s neckline, filled with embarrassment and compassion for her situation.
Devon didn’t know how this girl came to be here, but her kindness struck something within her. Keryn stepped closer, allowing Devon enough distance to comfortably reach out with one hand and accept the towel; wrapping it quickly around herself.
Respectfully, the girl was already moving away from Devon, giving her the space she needed. “I’m so sorry you had to wake up this way. You must be terrified,” she said.
Devon didn’t respond. Instead, she just stood watching and gauging the girl’s actions.
“I understand. This is a lot to take in. I’ll leave you to get ready and hopefully we can clear all this up for you.” She crossed the distance to the door, but before she could turn to leave, Devon finally spoke.
“Where am I? How did I get here?”
“You really are in the safest place you could be.” The girl looked close to tears and desperate to get away. She gripped tight around her elbows, holding herself in much the same way Devon had a few moments before, as though she could hide behind her own arms. “I know it seems far from it, but it’s true. If I could somehow go back and change it, I would. You were never meant to wake up like that.”
To hide them, Devon averted her eyes from the girl as tears began to fall. This moment was the one Keryn needed, as she backed herself out the door and locked it behind her. How strange it was, Devon thought, that a girl so delicate could maneuver the heavy door with such ease.
Without hesitation, Devon got dressed in the generic black sweatshirt and pants. There was a sheet in the stack of provisions, and she draped it across the mattress, unwilling to deny herself what little comfort she could. Along the bed, Devon curled herself into a ball staring at the door with her back to the camera. Still unwilling to accept this reality for what it is, she closed her eyes tight; attempting to wake from this nightmare of a situation. Desperately she searched her mind for any clues about what had happened. She was still locked in the grip of shock and anxiety until her eyelids began to soften while her mind began to drift, unaware of the odorless gas filling the room.
Inside the monitor room, Keryn gave Rowland a sharp look of concern as she watched the cloudy vapor slowly descend. “What is that?” she asked.
“It’s something we created in secret, a particular type of anesthetic and sedative mix. Fatal to humans, but enough to work on us.”
“How do you know it will work on her? She’s an alpha, not just a wolf like us?”
“Your father has tested it on me several times. I wouldn’t use it on her unless I knew it was safe.”
“Why would you even create such a thing?” Keryn’s fear of the gas was evident in her voice.
“Not for you child, or anyone else in our family for that matter. It was only kept secret as a last possible resort in dealing with other problems we have.”
Connor nodded, knowing exactly who his leader was referring to.
“I don’t need to remind Connor, but I will remind you that this topic is forbidden,” Rowland said, eyes gazing over Keryn as she nodded back.
“Speaking of other problems,” Connor said, “what do you want to do about Orin coming?”
Rowland’s frown deepened as his frustration began to return. If only for a moment, Devon’s transformation had taken his mind away from the challenges at hand.
“You know he’s not going hold off coming if we ask now,” Connor went on. “Alban Arthuan will be over, leaving us nothing to hide behind. Orin will show up here tomorrow morning. He wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to rub this in our faces.”
“Rowland, Connor is right. Something has to be done.”
Of course, he was. Despite his reluctance to acknowledge the complication out loud, all of Rowland’s mental preparation had been building up to this. “Connor, I need you to stay here and watch over her while I prepare the family,” he instructed. “Besides, Orin will not know she has awoken. Wolves can slumber for a week, and the change can be very gradual. I have never heard of, nor seen someone change so quickly. So far, at least, I’m not seeing any signs of violent behavior from her.”
Connor was astonished. “She threw us like we were toy dolls!”
“She was terrified!” Keryn spoke up.
Rowland nodded his head without looking at her. “Yes that she was, but even so she should not be this strong so soon.” A worried tone had crept into his voice.
“Then what are we supposed to do with her?” Asked Keryn
“We don’t have a choice, and neither does she. That girl becomes a part of this family as my successor, or we all suffer the consequences.”
Reminiscent of those once found in great fortresses, the grand doors to the main hall were a testament to the family’s history. Made from solid oak, every inch of wood was intricately carved with scenes of historical events and legendary figures of centuries past.
Just beyond these stories sat the people whose ancestry had been laid out inside a border of Celtic knot work and runic script. Each of them waited in tense silence, gathered together on carved stone chairs inside the circular room. Up through the bronze grate beneath their feet, a cool draft carried the rich scent of the earth. The collection of lavish tapestries surrounding the chamber did little to dampen the strain seeping out from within the stone walls. Much like the doors, the metal floor was fashioned into a fantastical knot work of wolves interconnecting with different symbols. This whole metal floor suspended the group above a wide pit, leading twenty-five feet into the ground. Below each of the chairs, a stone tunnel branched out like the spokes of a wheel into a massive array of catacombs.
Different family members shifted pensively in their chairs, any half-hearted chatter now long abandoned as their leader finally entered the room. Under the light of the stars that shone down through the domed glass, Rowland took his seat at the far end of the round hall, before surveying his pack seated around him.
His voice took over as the echo of his footfalls waned. “Some of you know, tragedy has fallen upon this house.” Tension deepened as his words hung heavy in the air. “For those who do not know, Derrick is dead, and will not be taking his place by my side as your next Alpha.”
Those of the group who were hearing this for the first time sat in stunned silence until the sound of children crying rang out through the room. Following behind it came the shocked murmur of questioning voices.
“This has never happened in the history of succession amongst our kind,” he waited while the group fell back into a momentary silence for the loss of their future leader. The glow of candlelight flickered across their faces, as they looked to him for answers. “The Gods have been cruel and kind, not all is lost in this awful tragedy,” he said. “Someone was changed that night.”
Bolstered by the closeness of her mate now holding her hand, and the two small children that clung to her as they wept, a woman with hair that rivaled the orange glow of the candle’s flame spoke up. “Who, Rowland?” Jenn asked.
“Devon.” He knew the name would require no explanation.
Her eyes grew large, vast moons in the shadows of the hall. “My ears must be deceiving me in my age, did you say Devon?” she asked in disbelief. “His… girlfriend? But, a female alpha… I thought that was forbidden!” She glanced, finding an accord from the faces nodding around her.
“Yes, Devon wasn’t supposed to be there, from what we knew, she was in Vancouver with her father. As for the laws, they are unbroken; I did not bite her,” he answered.
Jenn’s raised eyebrow showed further explanation was required.
“The girl essentially created herself. When Devon interrupted the ritual, she transferred my DNA from Derrick’s bite into a wound I had given her.”
“The security guard…” Jenn gasped. “I saw something in the paper, but I didn’t read the whole article.”
“Yes, this is all over the media. I’m aware of the shame I have brought upon myself and the danger I have put this family in. Allowing her to live was not my choice, by the time I reached her she had already changed. Leaving the body of a wolf laying there would have further complicated the issue.” He allowed them all a moment to absorb the facts and look at it from another perspective.
“What does the Druid have to say?” asked a thin young man, his pale face hanging in the gloom. “I thought the Druid knew everything.”
Motionless until now, the Druid stirred in his chair lifting his arm to point at the young wolf. Before he could answer, the Alpha raised a hand to silence him. Rowland wasn’t interested in qualifying how much or how little the Druid knew, in this or any other matter, even though the lack of visions had unnerved him as well. The only thing that mattered now was to bring the pack into an agreement with the inevitability of the situation. “Jesse,” he answered with a firmness in his voice, “the Druid believes that the Gods made these events come to pass. If they wanted a different outcome or Derrick to be the Alpha, the events of that night would have played out differently. Faith in our Gods is needed now more than ever, especially if we are going to keep this family together.”
Jenn’s husband, John, a police officer for the surrounding Sooke region, began to speak. “This whole situation has put more attention on us than we’ve ever known. I’m doing my best to steer the Sooke police away and keep the investigation in Downtown Victoria where Derrick and Devon both lived. They’re still looking for a body, an d won’t stop with so many unanswered questions. Lots of people are suggesting to sweep the woods around Sooke, assuming her body might have been dumped. This case has become pretty high-profile, and I don’t see this going away anytime soon. Our only saving grace is that the team working this case in Victoria are making connections between this incident and the missing Goldstream girls from last year.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Rowland asked.
“It means we need to be more cautious. I think it would be best to spend less time at this main house and more time at our own individual residences.”
Rowland nodded. He was always grateful for John’s input on the workings of the outside world through the eyes of the police department.
Jenn, on the other hand, turned sharply in her chair, sizing up her mate with new eyes. “You knew about this? Why didn’t you tell me? Was I the only one who wasn’t invited to this secret assembly?”
“You’re not the only one.” Jesse waved his hand across the room, as unimpressed as Jenn was. No one seemed to notice the bitterness in his words.
As John opened his mouth to speak, Rowland intercepted, not allowing this to turn into a marital spat between the man and his spouse. “He was forbidden to tell anyone, by both the police and myself,” he said, giving Jenn a moment to relinquish her misgivings. “As for the girl,” he went on, bringing the conversation back to the current events, “for now, she will be looked at as our next Alpha. Without a successor, this family would have to merge with the Vancouver pack, and you would all be under the rule of Orin’s successor when I pass. However amicable our current arrangement with them may be, I know that no one in this family would want that.”
At the mere mention of Orin’s name, most of the pack members grew angry. Jenn placed one pale hand on the head of her son, drawing him closer. Her voice became protective, emerging in the tone of a husky growl. “I’d kill every one of them first. Like hell, I’m letting their ways near my children.” Sophia sniffed hard, and her lip still quivered. Her crying for Derrick was now done; though her grief still shone strongly in her eyes as she lifted her head from her mother’s lap.
Hearing Jenn’s reaction, Rowland’s understanding expression was now a grimace as he nodded his approval. He had hoped that reminding the pack of the consequences of not accepting Devon would bring them all into an agreement. “I have made my decision,” he declared, “and if anyone in this room feels the need to challenge it, speak now.”
There was no objection amongst the family. Their gathered presence was unanimous in its silent acceptance. Each looked to Rowland, resolve growing as they understood how they were all in this together. Only Jesse’s eyes remained downcast, staring at the grate beneath his feet, yet voicing no objections.
“It’s settled then. We have all reviewed the files on Devon that Keryn has compiled, and it was voted that we would bring her into the family over time. It seems she was meant to be with us one way or the other.”
“Speaking of Orin, he and Siobhan will be arriving here tomorrow accompanied by their son Vince. I have told Orin that their party should remain small, in order to avoid attention. This will give our two families a chance to discuss what is to become of Devon. It is important that we maintain the solidarity of our choice to keep Devon as Alpha. This will be crucial in dealing with Orin. Any weakness in our resolve will be an opportunity for him to exploit.”
Jenn’s face became smug with the prospect of thwarting their sister pack’s leader. Catching her eye, Rowland smiled, fully approving.
“It is encouraged, yet you are not expected to attend. Because of the unknown outcome of Devon’s Alpha status, there will be no ceremony tomorrow. It is best to leave her sleeping while she goes through her change, and I will only summon you all here when she is awake. By then we will have decided the best way to introduce her to our world.”
With his hand, Rowland gestured for the Druid to rise as a signal that they were dismissed. The rest of the family stood from their chairs, leaving the room wordlessly with lowered heads, each wrapped up in their own thoughts and fears at the thought of merging with the Vancouver pack. Only the Druid and Smith remained in position beside Rowland, the three of them waiting as their pack members filed through the doors. Along with Keryn, they were the only full-time residents of the house, and the need to stand on ceremony was over now that the meeting was adjourned. When the Druid lowered himself back into his chair, he released his staff into the air, allowing it hover by his side while Smith slowly paced.
“We must bring Devon here tomorrow night,” Rowland announced. “We need to reawaken her as soon as possible.”
Smith stopped abruptly, mid-stride. “I thought she was under sedation? I was amazed that it kept her under for this long, and now it seems you have turned to keeping secrets from your family.”
“Some secrets are worth the risk. Devon is not asleep by virtue of sedation. At least not anymore,” he explained, somewhat cautious. “She sleeps under the gas that you and I tested a few years back.”
“The neurotoxin?” Smith asked, surprised. Sensing there were other things he didn’t know. “She will not wake quickly. You didn’t wake for seven days. What could have happened to result in such a thing?”
Rowland, with his preternatural hearing, knew that all the cars and family members had left the property. There was no need to refrain from telling them both all of what had happened. “This was not my finest hour, my friends. In my rage, she woke up and began to change within seconds. She was vastly traumatized by the whole ordeal and attacked in self-defence. I had no choice. I needed to put her under and keep her there.”
“How could you leave my daughter watching your abomination?” The anger in Smith’s voice was undisguised. He was uneasy with Devon’s existence as a matter of principle, and leaving his only child to guard her only amplified his feeling on the matter at hand.
Rowland lifted his palm, shaking his head, trying to hold off any further objections. “I would not put your daughter’s life in jeopardy; Devon is deeply sedated. Besides, you know Keryn cannot be killed, and she has Connor there with her. The fact is, she is unable to hurt any of us before the new moon.”
“It’s not an injury to any of us that concerns me right now. Let us not be hasty in the confidence of either of our offspring.”
Giving a little thought for whether or not Smith had a point, Rowland did what he knew best, arming himself with the facts and soldiering on with what needed to be done. Debating other people’s foreboding and chasing phantom fears could only be regarded as a waste of time.
“That was why the neurotoxin was required,” he said. “I wasn’t taking any chances. Smith, I need you to get one of your bracelets ready for her. We will be bringing her here tomorrow night, and I am taking every precaution necessary.”
Smith’s vision turned inward, nodding as his mind already moved on to the new task he was given. The giant was, above all, a man of action, and there was nothing more suited to soothe his nerves than the heat of his forge. All had been said. There would be no misgivings from Smith, at least not for the rest of this night.
“If you please,” said Rowland. “I must speak with the Druid while you prepare for the morning.” Smith had already turned to make his leave. His resounding steps echoed throughout the room as his shadow followed, looming larger than life along the curved stone walls.
“Come closer.” From where he sat, the Druid extended his hands towards the pack leader. “Let my eyes see through yours,” he said softly. Rowland came to him, both legs kneeling down as he took place at his feet. As the Druid waved his right hand, the staff quickly returned to his grip. Taking it, he leaned forward and pressed the wood against the Alpha’s forehead, whispering words barely louder than the slow burn of candles along the wall. His eyes grew intensely, and after a moment, he sat back in his chair, nodding. “I see now, it was not as it should have been.”
Rowland looked up into the old man’s face with a teasing smile. “I thought everything was meant to happen the way it happens,” he said. Instead of the typical stoic response, Rowland found something in the Druid’s eyes that he had only seen in distant memories; the awe and bewilderment of a child. “You saw her, my Druid, she was so strong. That little girl threw me as though I were a mere husk… yet I know her reaction was from fear, and not of anger. I could feel her raw emotions. Waking up to all the blood around her and not knowing what she was, anyone would have been frightened.”
“Fear is a good foretelling of what’s to come,” the Druid said. “It shows us that her emotions are intact, as well as her distaste for bloodshed. In this, we must take encouragement.”
Rowland hung his head. He was deeply ashamed to know the Druid had seen the outburst that had caused her such fear. “I need her to trust us, and with my actions, I feel that now she will never be able to. Not with the way things have already happened,” he confided. “I have no idea how to move forward in all of this. The girl knows nothing of what she is, or what is required of an Alpha. Derrick’s journey into our world took over a year’s time, and he was a believer in our ways. It took that long to teach him and have him scarcely prepared, and now I have only a few days with a girl who neither knew of any of this nor wanted it. Is this even possible?”
“It is possible,” the Druid insisted. “We have already witnessed that this girl is an extraordinary creature. Who can say what she may be capable of, given the right teacher?”
“If I were her, I wouldn’t trust me. Not after what happened.” The Alpha raised from his knees as he paced, stabbing his fingers to his temple. He turned to the Druid, “Is there anything you can do?” Rowland asked. “Something stronger than sedation…maybe,” Rowland’s eyes pleading. “Is there a way to start things new with her?”
The Druid arched his pale brow, already following the pack leader’s self-revelation. “You are wondering if memory alteration on an Alpha is possible?” he said.
Rowland nodded, finally a light of hope in his eyes.
“It can be done, but for an Alpha, it requires powerful magic.” The Druid smiled graciously. “Fortunately for this family, I possess the skills required.”
Rowland was fascinated while he stared humbly at the old wizard; even after centuries, he was in awe of his mysterious knowledge. With a graceful movement, the Druid released his staff, sending it to hover between Rowland and himself. Along the gnarled side, a supple new branch broke through, slowly twisting out from its procreator. Without delay, the branch grew slender and tapered to a sharp point, as it was chanted into birth. Concluding his spell, the Druid broke away the new branch as the staff instantly restored itself leaving behind a pristine surface.
“By the eve of tomorrow, the enchantment will be complete. I suggest you use this time wisely in your preparation for Orin,” he said.
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
“With your mind. Rowland, you must sleep and regain your faculties. The slyness of the fox will prey on a weak mind. It will not do to have your consciousness clouded by fatigue during a time such as this.”
Rowland half knelt beside the old man’s chair, taking the Druid’s hands within his own. He was overcome with a feeling, as the surge of hidden energy raced up his arms and into his chest; there was a strength within him that matched the unbreakable power of the oak staff he carried. “Thank you, my wise friend,” the Alpha said, his heart already lighter with the prospect of alleviating even a small amount of his remorse.
“Do not praise what has not yet shown success. The girl will still have to make her choice. She must accept this new existence and choose to lead and protect this family with her life. This is much to ask of someone so young.”
“Devon? She’s not that much younger than Derrick is… was,” Rowland reminded him. “We have to at least try. If not, the outcome will be submission or war.” He released the Druid’s hands and rose from his knee, preoccupied with all that was at stake. Lost in thought, he paced the floor a moment, stroking his beard. When he reached the center of the room, he turned back, facing the Druid once more.
“We will wait for Orin and his entourage to leave the island tomorrow, then we will transport her back here to the house. By that time, you should have your enchantment ready. In the safety of the house is where she will be awakened, in one of the old rooms. This will give us the time to observe her for a day or so, and evaluate if she is a threat of not. It will be good to see her reaction, without all the blood, and objectionable state of the change room in the safe house. All of this will help us to decide her outcome.”
He paused, gazing up through the ceiling at the stars that guided their fates. “If she shows signs of violence, then…. we still may have to put her down.”
“Without a successor, Rowland, you know the outcome. Are you ready to start a war for a girl you do not know?”
He locked his eyes with the Druids, his gaze borrowing the gleam of the stars above. “This girl is part of me now, and I will fight to the death to protect our pack. We are not a people of submission,” he said. “I realize our family is what hangs in the balance, but let us hope Orin hasn’t.”
In the grip of his nightmare, Rowland’s fists grasped tightly against the sweat soaked sheets that clung to his skin. Somehow he was aware of the dream, yet still helpless to the imagery that held him prisoner.
He cried out as his sleeping mind was assaulted by distorted memories of his failure, of the night he had lost his new son. Derrick’s lifeless face and the sound of the security guard’s gurgling scream as his hot blood trickled through his fur haunted his mind.
“Such a waste. More innocent lives reduced to collateral damage, in the fall out of your failures.” A woman’s voice hissed in his ear.
Rowland began to fall into darkness, screaming out against the voice. With a thud he hit the pavement, landing crouched, hovering over Devon’s newborn form. Rowland was transformed into his wolf state, breath panting while he gazed over Devon. The calm nature of the wolf mesmerized him as it lay cloaked in ribbons of torn flesh. In the dream’s progression, he was instantly standing, but before he could reach down to pull the wolf up, he was stopped halfway by an angry voice behind him.
“Don’t you dare touch her,” the voice commanded.
Rowland spun, grabbing the stranger who dared attempt to order to an Alpha wolf. In the surrealism of the dream, his powerful body was instantly human again, naked, grasping at the neck of this usurper. Lifting his challenger off his feet, the throat he had sought to dispatch was cold and clammy under the hold of his fingers.
Derricks once beautiful eyes were now dark, sunken into his decaying skin. As he looked down on Rowland, they were now filled with contempt and anger. Rowland fell back, dropping Derrick’s walking corpse and falling onto his knees, shrinking with terror.
“Anyone but her!” Derrick said, voice thundering across the balcony and shaking Rowland. “Anyone but my Devon. You took her away from me, you monster!”
Rowland’s head hung low in shame as he shook it slowly back and forth. He rambled, “She was on the mainland with her father… Jesse made certain of it… She wasn’t supposed to be there!”
“He lies” The strange voice hissed again.
“NO! I would never have done this on purpose! Not to you my son.” Nothing he said could change how desperate his words sounded. Somehow he had to find some way to appease Derrick’s anger. He had to make him see it was the truth. “She must have taken a late ferry and have come straight to your home. You know that the family had to change in a safe pl- ”
“I was so stupid to believe you and your lies,” Derrick spat back, his voice bitter with loathing. “Not only did you steal away my humanity, but now you’ve stripped Devon of hers. She didn’t even have a choice!”
Rowland wept, unable to control his grief, or the humiliation ripping him apart. “I loved you as a father loves a son!” he cried, shuddering with his sobs.
Derrick dropped closer, crouching forward to take Rowland’s face in his hands.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Rowland tried to regain himself, fighting back his tears. The Alpha’s chest seized up with an aching pang of hope that tonight there would be a reconciliation.
As Derrick gazed into him, Rowland felt his words. “You tried to turn me into a monster,” he said, dead eyes burning, “and now she too will be damned. It’s all your fault. Everything you are, everything that’s passed down with this infection, it’s nothing but bullshit. All that you have given her is a curse, and when you die, you will rob Devon of her very essence.”
Derrick stood, leaving Rowland on the ground to wash away Devon’s blood with his tears. “This won’t be the last time I call on you,” he said finally, as he raised his hand, snapping his fingers in the air.
Rowland woke, bolting upright in the darkness, gasping for air. This was the fifth night in a row he’d awaken from this dream. The fifth night Derrick had come to punish him…