“Before the times of change, still is it so:
By a divine instinct men's minds mistrust
Ensuing dangers; as by proof, we see
The waters swell before a boisterous storm.”
- William Shakespeare (Richard III)
"The Fae Noh were shining beings coated in the misery of failure and the knowledge that there were those among them who had forsaken the old ways. The time had come for them to be punished, and many of them knew not the lash of retribution. They would be scattered from the earth, and the old magic with them. For a blessing had been cast upon the young earth daughter, Harthen, earthly keeper of the spirit of the One God. That blessing was their doom."
-Imohe duAnda, The verse of Qui-eye Tan
She missed him.
Mick’s hand pressed to her chest, just a few spaces from her heart. She saw his face in her mind, and relived the terror and confusion she’d felt just before she’d left him. All she’d wanted was to reach for him, to take him inside her the way he’d needed. All she’d been able to do was run.
And now this? It brought it home, reminding her of the feeling of loss she’d felt for every moment of the last week. She fought the need to reach for him, to travel down the thin remnant of the bond that they’d tried to form. Her eyes watered, sorrow at the scene before her and the need for a mate she hardly knew mixing together.
Mick pressed dirty palms to her eye sockets. No matter how hard she pressed the images were still there, burned into her retinas.
This was the third call she'd been on this week.
Her breath hitched as she looked around, and swallowed. This was bad, probably the worst thing she'd ever seen. Strange things had been happening lately. The MagKaen were charged, and different than she'd ever felt before. The other two calls had been the same type of thing, MagKaen attacking humans.
This went further than either of the previous calls. Pushed that old climate meter from mere mischief to outright mayhem. Mick covered her face quickly, cupping her palm over her mouth and nose in an effort to stem the sudden need to gag.
She closed her eyes tight, flinching. This was like walking into a bathroom at a bus station. You just never knew how bad it could be until you actually saw it. She shook her head clearing the needless thoughts and forcing her mind not to wander off too far.
She had a job to do.
Mick took a step forward. Her shoes made a wet slopping sound as she lifted her foot, trailing droplets of scarlet onto the only clean area of the cave floor. There was almost nowhere she could step. She squatted down where she was, careful not to make contact with the wall beside her. A spell slid through her, the smooth earthly tones of the tongue revealing themselves almost without being bidden.
Her power rose, a cool breeze bringing cleansing air and earth on the cusp of a gently undulating wave. It slid from her weile, her center of power, moving through her cells then outward toward the carnage that littered the rustic floors. Her fingers danced in the muggy air, pushing through the copper tinted aroma of savage gruesome death.
She formed the magic, letting it slide from her fingers until it took structure and intent. A wispy white fog rose above the carnage sliding around severed body parts and still pools of blood until the cave floor was almost completely hidden.
She pushed harder feeling the cleansing flow of earth and air wash through her over-sensitized flesh and infuse the mystic fog with more fuel. Taking a deep breath she let her hands rise and followed them to her feet drawing the dying images from the remnants of life that had been left behind.
There was a gentle tug as the magic took over and her hands fell to her sides. It didn't take long, it never did when death was so fresh and violence still buzzed in the air. Forms climbed from the fog, standing just above their final resting place, bodies sculpting out of mist, seeming to take on life in the details of form and shape.
There were two men and one woman standing there, their faces a blank mask. Mick couldn't make out coloring, but every other detail was there just as if they were still alive. They were like white marble floating above a sea of gore. She recognized them immediately.
They were young, just barely out of high school. Students at the local community college out for an evening hike in the mountains. They'd been missing for five days. It had been all over the news for a while but had just as quickly faded from the lime light. She looked away, gripping her hands into fists and biting her bottom lip until it hurt. She had a job to do.
Mick's hands only shook a little as she reached for the ribbon of time that hovered just above her head where the spell had released. Taking it between index and thumb she pulled steadily until the forms before her began to move in a choppy sort of live action rewind. Closing her eyes, she waited until the ribbon grew taught in her hand signaling that she'd reached the beginning of what remained. Letting her eyelids lift slowly, she breathed a sigh at the empty cave. And then let go.
The smaller male stumbled into the cave from the darkness that hovered at the edge of the small cavern. He looked back, his mouth opening as if calling to someone still coming behind him. His back was to her and Mick could see a tear at the edge of his t-shirt as if it had been caught on something as he ran.
He turned in her direction looking through her as he moved towards the small entrance. Tate. His name jumped into her mind as she saw him fall to one knee and quickly right himself as he turned again toward the darkness. His shoulders hunched and veins lined the sides of his neck as he seemed to scream for his companions.
He kept looking towards the mouth of the cave as if he wanted to keep running but loyalty to his friends kept him from leaving.
Tate Donovan, math major, nineteen years old. His mother was the most distraught, on the news segments Mick'd seen. She'd been almost inconsolable. Sorrow was a thick rush in Mick's chest. She blinked several times and wiped wetness from her cheeks forcing herself to watch the scene before her.
Tate turned again, and took several steps back towards the darkness until he almost disappeared. A few moments passed and then the other two came out of the hole, the woman supporting the other man as he limped on an obviously broken leg.
Lacy Markman and Jonathan Wilks. Eighteen and nineteen, both political science majors. Lacy was a much younger version of her mother, but you could see the cool lines of her father settled in her even features as well. Her eyes were wide, with the glossy look that often came when someone had suffered extreme shock. Jonathan kept his head down obviously in pain, as he struggled to make it to the daylight that beckoned from the entrance.
They were halfway there before they were stopped. Mick shivered at the sight that came tumbling from the cave after the trio. She gave a horrified gasp her hand reaching for her gun, as if it weren't already too late to help them. Her stomach lurched and then cramped into a knot that bent her at the waist. Still she refused to look away.
Their incisors were elongated and pointed. The lust for blood made a grisly mask of their faces. They were... Red Dwarves? She'd seen sketches of them, but since they lived in caverns deep in the earth it wasn't normal that she'd run across them. They were savage, more like goblins than their much more peaceful cousins the Gray Dwarves. Red Dwarves were ruled by violence, an insatiable need to hunt, and to kill. Who the heck had let these guys out?
There were six in all. They surrounded the three students their mouths opening as their hands gestured in rough brisk movements. Irises an opaque milky gray surrounded pupils as red as fire. They had varying hair from pale to dark. Skin that was grizzled, folded and dirty. Thick fingers curved into claws that looked as sharp as daggers and just as long. They were a nightmare, gargoyles come to sudden terrifying life.
Mick blinked steadily, forcing her feet to be rooted to the spot. But she wanted to run. She wanted to pick up the three students and run as far and as fast as she could. Instead she forced herself to bare witness. Forced herself not to scream in frustration and anguish at the situation. She shivered looking around the cave in sudden awareness. If a band of Red Dwarves had made it to the surface there would be a killing rampage the likes of which the humans had never seen.
She had been hoping for a bear, or even a rabid pack of wolves. Normal wolves of course, not the were kind. As Mick watched she felt that hope dwindle like the last few gusts of a sandstorm in the night. There would be no justice for these. She'd hoped to give them that at least, to give those parents a reason, and a how to cling to over the next few long years. When she'd been called in she'd known she could do at least that. She'd been wrong.
The dwarves overtook their prey with inhuman strength and speed, falling on them like ravenous animals. They were a killing band. It was obvious in the clear herding that was managed by the largest of the group. There'd been attacks before within the MagKaen, but never this way.
Never the senseless massacre of innocents.
She almost couldn't believe what she was seeing. The students were driven to the far side of the cave, and she watched in horrified silence as they were systematically torn limb from limb, and eaten like a roasted hog on a spit. Blood splattered, painting grotesque patterns on the cave floor and walls.
Mick covered her mouth swallowing again and again. However much she wanted to turn away, she wouldn't. She'd stand for these dead as if they were her own. It was the least that she could do.
It ended much quicker than imagined, the images fading into the darkness as the dwarves retreated back to wherever they'd come from. The mist left just as easily as it had come leaving the scattered remnants of vivid life that she'd discovered what felt like hours before.
Mick turned her back on the scene bumping her head as she was sick. Her stomach rebelled against her body forcing anything that even resembled food to leave her. Her hands found her knees, gripping the dusty denim while she took deep gulps of death tainted air.
Her breath was a harsh echo in the cave as she struggled with emotions too strong to put aside. She stood gingerly wiping her mouth and turned just in time to see a ghost of movement slither through the dark of the cave. Suddenly her mind was clear, her hand gripping the rune carved handle of her glock.
Maybe there was something she could do.
♥ ♥ ♥
The wolf woke with urgency beating through its body. His mate was hurting. Must protect. His body was weak, an immobile prison. He needed to heal. Needed the power that awoke with the other so that he could go to her. The wolf struggled to wake the other, howling inside their body, fighting to leave the healing sleep.
Mat’s eyes refused to open. At the end of it he’d thought they’d never open again. He’d come too close to death. His mate deserved better than that. He turned his head and shuddered at the sudden shaft of pain that gushed through his body. He wasn’t healed yet. No where near.
His wolf was upset, its worry settled into Mat’s sluggish mind. His mate was…? She was hurting. His muscles tensed struggling to heed his commands but failing to overcome the half healed injuries he’d sustained.
“Can’t. Forbidden.” His voice was rough and gravelly. He’d tuned out for the last five hits. Did they mangle his voice box?
His wolf was insistent. It never spoke to him this often.
He strained, trying to roll to his side. Mat’s breaths were heaving in and out of his lungs before he gave up. He tried to call his power but he could hardly concentrate for the pain. Besides healing yourself when you were almost dead was almost as dangerous as healing someone else who was almost dead. Not Advisable.
“You’re awake!” Surprise lightened his friend’s voice.
“I have no idea how you are awake right now. You almost died my friend.” There was sadness in the voice.
Mat didn’t have the energy to respond. He believed it. The way he felt, he still had one foot on the wrong side of death.
“Mate. Hurt.” That was the wolf. More a growl than human speech.
There was light bright enough that he saw it through his eyelids. Then an electric jolt that felt like an ice cold lighting strike. Mat stood up dropping the stained sheet from his body. His vision returned all at once.
“You’re wanted in the tribunal.”
“Tribunal? No I have to go. My mate is…she’s…”
“The alpha requires it.”
Pack law. He needed to see her. How long had passed? Would he survive another punishment? Looking at the blood stained mattress, he didn’t think so.
“How? Healing isn’t allowed for punishment.”
“Fagan had a change of heart. We should go.”
Mat wanted to ask what it was that he saw in Kaye’s eyes. More had gone on than the domovoi had admitted. Shit. Just what he needed. Dressing quickly Mat looked around for his shoes.
He found the thin bond that connecting him to Michaela. Sadness, heavy and dark reflected back at him. Where was she?
“My mate is …upset Kaye. I have to go.”
“You cannot my friend. We must go.”
The small male placed a gentle palm to Mat’s knee. There was the sound of wind at his ears and in a blink they were standing at the Tribunal.
Fagan turned glancing briefly at Mat.
“Good. Now that we are all here… ”
Mat turned finding himself crowded between several of his higher ranking pack mates. What was this? He glanced at Kaye but the male was turned away from him, staring towards the tree line.
“Some of you might know that our Angiras has taken a mate.” He paused a moment to look at Mat. “To honor his mating I have allowed him to be healed. I’m sure we are all happy for him.”
There was a surge in emotion that flowed through the pack bonds. One of their own had found completion and there was genuine happiness at the news. Mat was grateful, feeling the weight of his connection with the pack more than ever. Not all of the wolves agreed with the alpha.
He’s covering his ass.
Mat glanced at Kaye, a bit surprised at the anger that transmitted from the domovoi’s mind.
He knew I’d taken a mate…
He knew and he tried to kill you for it. He knows it looks bad, and it’s against pack law to keep a wolf from his mate. I made sure he remembered that. Made sure he knew that everyone would know what he’d tried to do.
Thank you my friend. I am in your debt.
The domovoi nodded in response turning as the crowd parted at a distance to reveal two high elves walking towards the front.
“I’ve called the tribunal to discuss an important issue.” There was a rustle as the crowd shifted. “We’ve received an emissary from the elves…”
Anger surged through Mat, red and burning. He lost time for a moment, fighting his wolf, fighting to control the overwhelming need to rage and howl.
It was her anger he was feeling, but it was strong, unnaturally so. There was a savage tinge to it, an animalistic undertone that he’d never detected in her before. It called to his wolf, inciting him to action. He needed to go to her. To protect her.
Mat’s gaze turned towards the brown haired elf as she walked toward them. He took a step back, meaning to blend behind his pack mates. The cool wave of compulsion overtook him just as he turned. He couldn’t move, every muscle frozen in place as if he’d been turned to stone.
His wolf was lulled for a moment, cowed by the irresistible surge of pack power. Several pack mates that stood close to him looked him over in question. They must have felt the swell in power, though they would have no idea what it was.
There was only one in the pack powerful enough to hold him. The alpha wasn’t cowed by Kaye’s threats. Mat tested the lines of power that surrounded him and flinched internally at the intensity of rage behind them. At that moment his mate’s anger heaved again and the two foreign emotions reverberated through Mat ravaging his mind in a wave of frenzy.
The power of the pack held him like a statue, squeezing him between his need for his mate and the wolf’s need to obey his alpha. Mick’s emotions lulled a moment later and Fagan’s seemed to settle around him again. Mat’s vision returned revealing a conversation going on between his alpha and the two elves.
How much had he missed?
“… times are changing wolf. There are those among the MagKaen who are ready to cast off the cloak of secrecy…”
There was a rumble from the crowd and Mat picked up a mix of feelings through the pack bond. There was fear there and also outrage. What was happening?
Pain sliced through his wrist, a brand of power climbing up his arm in a web of icy sharp heat. His hand was…. Sorrow… anger… guilt… despair. So many feelings crashing into him through his mate bond stirring his wolf into a mindless frenzy.
Mat’s wolf howled through him ramming against Fagan’s hold on them. The conversation halted around them the burning gaze of his alpha falling over him a moment before it began again.
Go! Save! The wolf scrambled inside him, struggling to overcome the need to obey his superior’s command. Mat agreed with his other half. The need to find his mate seethed through his blood, threatening his hold on sanity. But he couldn’t defy his alpha’s will. It would mean treason, a death sentence that would tear apart his entire world.
Pack law forbid the use of magic against the pack. To free himself he would have to. He’d be a rogue, hunted by his pack, an enemy from now on. But it was also against pack law to keep a wolf from his mate. Mat’s own anger brought a rumbling growl from is immobile chest. He felt Fagan’s hold on him, recognized the flimsy quality of the power in comparison to his own. There was good reason for his alpha to fear him.
Mat’s mate was hurt, in danger, and there was no one on this planet that would keep him from going to her. The cool tones of earth magic played over his skin loosing the hold of the were-power that surrounded him.
Don’t do it Mat.
A firm hand rested against his hip.
I know my friend. But let me.
The smell of copper was suddenly ripe in Mat’s nose. It was the smell of dwarven power in its rawest form. The power of metal and rock and earth rolled together. The domovoi were a solitary branch of the dwarven race, but also one of the most powerful.
There was a moment of suspension while the cold touch of foreign magic settled over the hot flow of wolven power. Then Mat was free. He didn’t stop to think of the consequences. Didn’t think of anything other than getting to his mate. He stepped behind his pack mates, moving quickly and silently through the throng.
His power coursed through him barely restrained. He tapped the thin filament of the bond between him and Michaela. In the next moment, he was gone.