“Pride and Love met on the field of battle and Love bowed to his unworthy foe. ‘What would you have Pride?’ Love asked. ‘Victory and Renown,’ answered Pride. ‘At what cost?’ Was Love’s question. Pride fell dead in answer. Pride Dies in the face of Love’s honesty. ‘Wake up’ said Love, and anointed Pride with lips of forgiveness and faith. Pride opened his eyes and blinked at the brightness. Pride is reborn from the ashes of learning.”
- Imohe duAnda, Fables of Human Emotion.
The ragged pack began to stumble back into place, some running in from long distances and others bounding down from trees. Mick felt herself being pulled along to stand behind the Altar. It was a waist high stone slab. A body long shiver overtook her at the sight of it and she felt Mat’s hand squeeze hers in response. He looked at her askance and she shook her head at him. She couldn’t talk about it. Not here and now.
They stood there and waited while the Fenrir and Lilly came to stand at their sides. Once everyone was settled Fagan gave a signal with his hand and they waited some more.
Her muscles tensed on and off and she had to consciously relax over and over. Aftershocks or anticipation, she didn’t know which. The pack was cowed. Most stood with eyes averted as if to look at them directly would be an insult. Standing in front of a contrite pack was almost too much for her.
She jumped at the word and shot Mat a dirty look. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to him talking in her mind.
Will you be punished?
He smiled slightly. It was my right to take retribution for the harming of my mate. The laws allow that.
Mick gripped both of his hands in hers, trying desperately to release the tension and worry that filled her. Mat said he wouldn’t be punished for what he’d done. Could she believe him? Would he lie to her?
Are you sure? His hand squeezed hers.
Baby…He tried to kill you. Do you understand? They took you that night and tried to make you so terrified that you’d run at the sight of me. But that didn’t work. So they sent Edan to bite you. A growl rumbled from his chest and Mick brought a hand to his shoulder.
Did they know…
Then…he sent Edan to…kill me?
Yes! His magic whipped in the air a moment leaving a stinging trail on her skin.
But how can you know he won’t try to kill you Mat? He has to know doesn’t he?
He might try. Mat’s mind-voice was grim. But not right now. The entire pack bears witness. I am in the right. The law is clear. I could kill them all if I chose.
She gripped his hand in both of hers, fighting too much for her own peace of mind to worry over his.
She noticed movement coming from the left of the crowd. At the same time the wolves parted to make a walkway. From a distance there were two figures coming towards them. The first looked like a female. Even from a distance you could see the gentle sway of generous hips.
As they came closer Mick made out what she was seeing. She gripped Mat’s hand, because somehow she knew it would be bad to show what she felt. Behind the woman, crawled a thing that she couldn’t name.
It wasn’t a man, but neither was it a wolf. Its body was hairless, but its skin looked as if it should have had fur, like a dog looks when it is sheared. The legs and arms were disproportionate. The legs too long and the arms too short, but the back rounded and elongated forcing it to walk on all fours. The thing had a short tail tucked between its legs that were spotted with patches of mangy fur.
Its uneven gate was a gross parody of the walk of a true Nineve. As it walked it kept its head down, and Mick was glad because, somehow she knew that the worst was yet to come. Finally they stopped in front of them and stood there in silence.
“Edan,” the Fenrir said and his voice seemed as gentle as it was quiet.
She stiffened at the name and her grip on Mat doubled in intensity. This was Edan? It couldn’t be. She waited, her heart beating in uncertain anticipation for the thing to raise its head.
“Edan,” the woman said and she looked at Mick for the first time since they arrived.
She was small, like Mick was, but more delicate. Her hair was a cerulean black that fell well down her back. She averted her eyes so Mick didn’t have a clear view of her face. Mick wondered who she was, but in the face of Edan’s appearance she soon forgot the question.
It seemed to breathe deeper at hearing his name, then jerking as if waking from sleep, he looked up. As his head lifted he shifted his weight and stood on his hind legs.
His paws stretched forward as a dog’s would when he stood up, but the similarities ended there. Unable to help it, Mick took a step back and felt Mat’s restraining hand in hers. She forced her eyes to look at it, and they teared in response.
He was a monstrosity. The face malformed, the eyes too large, the mouth extended into a half muzzle, filled with jagged teeth. The skin on his body hung loosely and pooled at his belly to form an unnaturally large set of genitals.
The urge to look away was so strong that Mick began to tremble. Mat must have sensed her resolve breaking because he turned her away and pulled her around the altar. It was a short break, because soon they arrived directly in front of Edan. Her tears began to flow freely and her stomach tightened in protest.
Standing in front of him she could sense the waves of pain radiating from his tortured form. Oh goddess. What had happened to him? The question must have been in her eyes because Mat moved to say something. Before he could the woman looked up and speared Mick with her gaze. Such hatred. Loathing burned from her eyes.
In the space between one moment and the next her body hit Mat’s with a loud clanking of flesh against flesh. He’d stepped between them. As he held the woman a loud noise began to emanate from Edan. After a while Mick recognized it as a ragged wine produced from a half human throat. The woman stopped struggling immediately. She bowed her head.
“Fix it. You did this. You FIX IT!”
Mick couldn’t help it she shuddered in response and incomprehension. She had done …this?
“Yes,” Mateo answered quietly his hands attempting to sooth the woman even as he restrained her. “When they found you…” he paused as if considering his words. “ They found him later, and they knew that he had bitten you. It is against pack law, but the punishment would have been death. This was much worse. This is... an abomination.”
She’d been in a coma for a month, but Edan had been turned into this? Mick’s knees disappeared and she crumpled to the ground. Such pain came from Edan it was almost overwhelming in its potency. It became mixed with hers and her stomach convulsed in nausea.
Harthen Earth Daughter. So they’d know that she was turned all this time? They’d know because Edan was proof.
No. They thought the change didn’t take in you. How else could you have survived? Mat’s mind-voice was solemn. Now they realize their mistake.
She struggled to her feet and forced herself to look at Edan. It was all too much to take in. Plots within plots. Had they really sent Edan to kill her? No Sosyè had ever survived a werewolf bite. She couldn’t believe it. Now they wanted her to fix the damage she’d done.
Could she fix it? She could heal. Could direct the body energy to reform, but this? She didn’t know what this was. She had to probe him to see and to do that she needed physical contact. As she approached the wrongness of him was an acrid taste on the back of her tongue. Mick looked into his eyes, and in that misshapen form she recognized the man she had known before.
She would give her life to make this right. She removed her shirt just as she reached him. The Nineve seemed to tighten around her in a wall of protection. The closer she got the more acutely she felt his pain.
The Sosyè in her was screaming her head off at the sight of this atrocity that her power had been the cause of. She didn’t understand it, but in her heart she knew it was true. Nature had a direction and when that flow was interrupted the results were unimaginably bad. Edan had broken that flow when he had bitten her.
The division and transformation of a powerful soul had powerful results. Her tears were a river, but they were also a balm for her battered emotions. What tears could Edan cry? The morbid thought sat in her mind like a guilty weight, and her sorrow almost drowned her.
Mick’s hands reached his shoulders of their own accord and spread down his arms to grip his paws. His skin there was soft with a firm undertone, and he was warm. At first contact his pain screamed at her but in time it began to dull into a more constant hum. Edan’s breathing began to come more naturally with her touch. He swayed forward and she took him into her.
The furtü arose immediately and Mick accepted it, directing the healing currents from her body into his. The furtü was Harthen’s gift, the power created in the Sosyè as penance for the terrible deeds of the Fae Noh. The powerful beings hadn’t known of the true power of charity, the purpose set forth by the High God. The furtü was the embodiment of that power, the ability to give emotional healing through the very essence of the being.
She was Sosyè; she couldn’t deny the need that was born in her as the very purpose of her creation. She took the furtü and poured it into Edan along with the power of healing. There was recoil as her power hit him and then they fell. Air rushed past them transporting them to the source of the wrong. To the night he’d bitten her. In memory they would find the cure.
When she surfaced from the storm she was on her stomach with Edan at her back. She could feel the hardness of him against her thighs as he moved down her body with his tongue. He tasted her.
Suddenly there was a sharp pain and she floated in emotional confusion. Then rising like a wave of fire, her entire body began to vibrate. She convulsed with the burning pain and lost sense of everything except the pulsing origin of her suffering. She felt herself slipping through her hands and she knew if it didn’t end soon she would fall so far that she wouldn’t be found.
In the end she’d opened her channels and called the power of the earth to contain her spirit. The power over took her, bathing her in a wash of light and she fell unconscious in the face of its force.
She woke from the dream with a start or maybe it was her back hitting the tree. When the tree put its arms around her Mick realized she’d hit something more. Her eyes felt covered in plastic. The more she struggled to clear them, the harder it was to see. Her head was a weight she could hardly shoulder and her arms lay at her sides limp and useless.
The hands moved down her body protectively, firming her stomach with easy strokes. They were large and square. Man’s hands, but they seemed wrong. She gave herself a mental shake staring at the hands that held her. She’d assumed it was Mat holding her, but these were not her mate’s hands.
She stiffened in spirit only because her body wasn’t responding to directions just yet. Drawing a difficult breath she forced air through her wind pipe in an effort to speak. What came out was more a drawn out cough than the sentence she’d been aiming for.
Somehow she was understood because who ever held her leaned close to her ear and said, “Hey Mick”.
The voice was ragged but she recognized the speaker right away. Edan. Edan had hands! They slumped to the ground. Mick wavered between awake and disembodied, but she knew the arms that carried her away were Mat’s.
She was sweet, his mate. Even the wolf rumbled in appreciation as Mat laid her gently on his bed. He hadn’t expected that. These last few days, had been like a honey moon. They’d been inseparable, and he’d been beside her and inside her about as often as he could.
A groan escaped him and he felt himself go from semi hard to rock in a matter of moments. He loved sliding into the tight wetness of her sex, but he’d admit that he’d be relieved when her fertile time had passed. It would be nice to sleep with her without the ever present mind numbing lust.
She didn’t stir as he kissed her gently on the lips and pulled the light blanket up to her shoulders. He ran his hands through the soft hair and liked that it curled around his finger as if it sought his touch. For the first time ever, Mat felt contentment settle inside him. He wanted to lay down with her, but resisted the urge. She wouldn’t get any rest that way.
There was a shimmer of power behind him and he turned to greet his friend.
“Angiras.” The little man bowed low, his forehead almost touching the floor. The ever present sword moved with him as if a part of his body, even resting in the holster he carried on his back. Mat gestured toward the door, and they moved silently to the other room. He let the door swing shut behind him before raising an eyebrow at the domovoi.
“I am to tell you that the rogue will be executed in the old way tomorrow.”
Mat frowned. Why would the Fenrir choose such a gruesome end? It seemed like overkill to go through so much trouble. It would be a slow and agonizing death. He thought of the way Edan had held his mate, and anger bubbled inside him. This was the wolf who had turned his mate. The wolf who had almost killed her.
Fisting his hands Mat turned and found the nearest chair. He took a moment to get his emotions under control. His wolf was restless, near to whining to return to the female that slept in the next room. Not even the thought of the traitor could stir him from his focus.
“My mate will not be happy. Her heart is soft, she will try to stop it.”
“She must not Mat.” The icy eyes were serious, intent as if trying to convey more meaning than the words alone. “She must not interfere in pack law.”
“I don’t want her harmed either.”
“No. There are those that would take any opportunity to harm her. They must not get one.”
The Fenra, Lilly. Mat ran a weary hand over his face. His alpha’s mate would need to assert her dominance over any new female in the pack. That one cared more about power than anything else. In that she and the Fenrir were united. No threats to their power base were tolerated. That was the reason he’d tried to prevent Mat from finding his mate.
“We are no threat to them.” His friend nodded understanding more than was said. “I can never be alpha, I honor the old ways and the laws of Modeen.”
“I know friend. Your mate does not know our ways. Be careful she doesn’t make a challenge she cannot survive. I think the Fenra would take any opportunity to be rid of her. A male Angiras is useful, controllable. A female is a threat that must be squashed. A mated pair….” He shook his head, the tiny war braids swaying slightly around his face.
Mat understood. His place in the pack was not of a trusted ally, but of a tolerated tool. The alpha had use for him, but he had never embraced him, and had prevented the rest of the Nineve from accepting him. Mat was kept as tradition, and out of respect for the wishes of the old ones. An Angiras had been second in the Nineve clan for seven generations. His father had held the position before him, and his grandfather before that.
“Thank you for the warning my friend.” He stood, bowing low as the domovoi had done earlier.
“You’re welcome. Tell your mate I said hello.” Kaye smiled as his magic swirled around him in a shimmering wave. And then he was gone.
Mat forced himself to remain still. Fought the rage that burned from deep inside him threatening to take his sanity. His hands flashed and there were claws where his fingernails had been. The sound of ripping fabric brought him bounding off the couch. He stopped at the far wall, drawing fiery air into his lungs in rapid gulps.
Your mate is all, son. His father’s voice.
The anguish was still as raw and as fresh as it had been that day. You must protect her at all costs. Even from herself. It had been the last thing his dad had said to him. He’d been dead less than twenty four hours later. Both parents gone within two days.
Mat realized that he was kneading that place over his heart and forced his hand to still. At least it was a hand again, and not a claw. He had to protect his female. From anyone who would do her harm. Even from herself.
For once Mat was grateful that the bond wasn’t complete. If it was Mick would be completely under the dominion of the Fenrir. Her body would be a conduit to the pack’s seat of power. She wasn’t strong enough yet to resist the call. She’d be completely vulnerable to the Fenra’s commands. He shivered at the thought of it. His alpha’s mate was one icy bitch, and she never played by the rules.
You didn’t say no to the heads of the Nineve clan. For most wolves it was physically impossible. For an Angiras…well there was a reason that Fagan hadn’t wanted Mat to find his mate. As alpha he commanded the power of the pack, but he held Mateo with loyalty and honor more than anything else.
Mat had always been aware that Fagan was afraid of his power, afraid that he couldn’t stand against it if he needed to. And that fear must have turned to hatred long ago. It was the only explanation. If Fagan got the chance, he’d kill them both quickly and quietly. He’d take any opportunity to hurt Mat.
Mat couldn’t let that happen. He would protect his mate. His father hadn’t been able to protect his mother, and he had paid the ultimate price. Mat would be damned if he’d relive his father’s mistakes.
The doorknob was cool in his hand as he moved into the room where his mate rested. He looked at her, so small and fragile as she slept, and caught his breath at the feelings that sprang from his chest.
He felt like he’d loved her since the day he’d been born. She was everything he’d ever needed and more. The perfect complement to him in every way. As was Sarasette to Modeen. The sacred words left a soft moment of space in his mind.
His mate would not thank him for what he was about to do, but they would survive it, and that was what mattered the most. He’d do anything to keep her safe and unharmed. Until she understood the ways of the pack and was able to protect herself, he would have to do that for her.
Cool waves of power whispered over his skin, flowing from his weile and misting from the charged air around him. He was tempted by her lips, almost losing his nerve as he traced a finger over the moist invitation of the plump lower curve. Cupping her cheeks in both palms he rested his forehead against hers as he let his magic overwhelm hers. Her breath hitched a moment but even in sleep she trusted him, and she soon gave over to his influence.
Please forgive me.
Mick awoke as if from an endless nightmare. It didn’t help that she was alone and in the dark. Rolling over carefully she did a mental check to make sure that nothing was missing. There was an immediate sense of wrongness. The image of a hulking figure outlined in shadow shot through her consciousness.
A harbinger of danger.
Mick lurched to her feet and immediately listed to the side, stumbling until hitting something solid with her shoulder. Time to go. There was an underlying urgency, the need to flee strong, shivering from instincts long ignored. Here mind felt sluggish, like thinking with quicksand in her head. No matter how much she struggled she just kept sinking into blackness.
Her mind cleared a little and she opened herself to the power. Trembling lips formed the non-letters of an elvish cloaking spell as she visualized the tower of dimension in the center of her power weile. She repeated the spell four times building her minuscule resources with each rendition. With each word the lines of power were drawn, settling in the air around her.
Something was wrong. The lines were weak almost nonexistent, her power coming in thin spurts as if her channels were blocked or shut.
She finished the spell with index to thumb on both hands drawing the cloak across her front. Her eyes closed for a moment. Nothing. No magic shimmered against her skin; no spark tickled the back of her neck. Her breath was suddenly shallow. Eyes flicked open and she stared hard trying to penetrate the darkness around her.
She stumbled forward using the wall as a balance beam. Reaching fingers hit another wall and she walked across letting it lead her through the blackness. Her hands touched a different surface, not the smooth paint of a wall but the grooved wood of a door. Fumbling she found the knob and turned. It opened and a crack of light seeped into her impaired vision.
The tiny bit of light was blinding but Mick continued toward it tripping in the doorway and falling to her knees. She took the light inside her, absorbing its radiant energy, bending it to her design.
She began to chant the cloaking spell again, her lips clumsily forming the elvish sounds. She focused on the rhythm of the chant letting the air just touch the tip of her tongue with each syllable. She ended in a long breath. Nothing. The icy fingers of panic began to stir in her stomach. What was wrong with her?
Wheezing, she clutched at her chest as it struggled to rise and fall. All her faculties were failing one at a time. Her vision was blurry, her hands fumbling in the carpet beneath her. Breath came harsh in her lungs feeling like sand abrading delicate inner tissue.
Moaning she labored to gain control of herself. The panic spiraled outward making her muscles quiver and tense uncontrollably. She tried the spell again but fumbled the last verse, her hands weakening beneath her weight forcing her to lie in a heap.
It can’t be.
The words repeated in her mind over and over. Fear and disbelief circling around her like prowling tigers. Her breath caught in a sob and she dropped her shields, opening all her channels at once. Her heart skipped a beat.
She screamed in metaphysical pain and the deepest most morbid fear she had ever experienced. It was like waking up blind and deaf. She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs felt like they were being pressured into non-existence. She was dying.
The gentle rumble of Mat’s voice was a cool bastion in an isle of fire. She clung to the tone searching for a foothold to pull herself from the mire of this nightmare.
Again that word.
Mat? Silence. “Mat!”
I’m coming baby.
She waited in agony. Waiting for the voice to come back, to sooth her ragged soul. The hysteria threatened to overwhelm her again and then he was there. Strong arms wrapped around her waist lifting her into the light.
“What’s wrong with me,” she whispered. Her eyes felt glued shut, but her breathing was getting easier.
“Shhhhhh. Kebi.” She felt him gather her close, the Sosyèn endearment rolling off his tongue to caress her ears. His presence was a balm against her confusion. She immediately felt calm, the panic seeping to the background leaving her limp against him. Her head lolled against his shoulder and she gave up trying to see. Some time passed, she didn’t know how long.
Hm? She grunted into Mat’s neck.
“You are fine you know?” She felt his gentle hands as he turned her face toward his, shivered in pleasure at the feel of his warm lips at the corner of her mouth. “I bound you.”
Her body seized. She scrambled weakly clawing to be away from him. Her eyes snapped open. Her vision was much clearer but there was a fuzz around the edges of everything. They were in Mat’s room at the werewolf compound. She stumbled back from his outstretched arms; crab walking until she hit the opposite wall. Her breath became more labored the farther she got from him.
“You bound me?” the madness was back threatening to beat down the walls of her sanity. “You bound me!” the screech had Mat wincing even as he came for her. She pushed his hands back but didn’t have the strength to hold him at bay.
“Shhh, Kebi, shhh. It’s ok, it’s just for a little while.” He rocked her as you would a small child, all the while crooning endearments and words of encouragement. Slowly the shock and terror began to wear off. She felt empty, a shell with breath and form. She would never be whole again.
“How could you?” His eyes were the only thing she could see. They took up her whole span of vision blocking out his body and hers. They were still, the green an untouched pond in a forgotten grotto.
The Nanas had bound her the night the Nineve had taken her. The helplessness she’d felt then, the terror, assaulted her each a blow that ripped her trust for him to shreds. He’d known. How could he have done this?
She looked into his eyes and horror so stark it was painful welled from her memories. It was a black impenetrable swamp that strangled their connection, forcing her to see her mate as if for the first time. He was no mate of hers. He couldn’t be.
The realization cut, tearing at the hope she’d unwittingly built around him. The hope that she’d finally found someone she could trust. She felt that hope die inside her and wanted to scream in the agony of its loss. She looked into his eyes and tried not to let him know that her heart was bleeding.