Disguise

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Sawdust

Flora’s POV

“You mean to say that he’s been carrying out these experiments for two years?!” Grey nearly roared and startled the poor girl. Isla frantically looked at me, hoping that I would bring some sense of calm into the room and I shot him a warning glare. Grudgingly, he sat back into his chair, but at the edge of his seat, waiting to swallow whatever she had to tell us next. His hands clenched the sides and I already knew that the wood was cracking under his grip.

Isla looked at him warily before she turned and focused her attention back onto her thumbs. “So one day, I was left in charge of several cultures all alone. It was generally two of us working around the clock, another healer. He was from a european pack himself and he wanted to take the night off because he had found his mate and he needed to speak to her pack Alpha to let her leave her pack and join his.” Her eyes crinkled slightly when she thought of this other scientist on the job with her. They must have been fast friends.

Cole leaned forward, “Do you happen to remember his name? And what pack he belonged to?”

She shook her head in dismay, “No, sorry. We were both instructed not to do this from Deta and the woman. I was Deta’s representative in the process and the man was her’s.” I sighed, so many mysterious people in this story! Were we ever going to catch a break? Cole nodded without dropping any hints, while Grey just clutched his chair harder. I looked at his tightly wrapped hands warily.

“And this woman you keep mentioning, she never told you her name either, right?” Isla just nodded.

“Didn’t you think of all this as too suspicious? Why all the secrecy?” I asked her in concern. These were major red flags! She nodded vigorously, “I did! I thought that it was all too much! They didn’t tell us anything about where the blood cultures were coming from, but we could obviously judge that it wasn’t a human’s. We had the weekends to ourselves. Each culture took five days to prepare and analyse so we’d work from Monday to Friday and take the weekends off to roam around. They’d give us enough money and everything.” She paused for a breath, “So eventually I asked Alpha Deta why it was such a high priority and hushed. He told me that they were making something special...on the King’s orders.” I heard collective gasps from Cole and Grey but she didn’t stop now.

“They said that it was all approved and even got the official seal on some of the documents, so then I believed him. He seemed so sincere too.” She said simply.

“So what happened? The day you were alone in the lab?” I asked, feeling the tension build. I could feel their fury just by sitting next to them, it was only a miracle that they were sitting as calmly as they were.

Isla hesitated as she got back to her original story before this tangent. I nodded at her to go on, trying my best to seem both stern but also reassuring. “I was with the cultures and it was almost time to test them, but there was an accident and ..... I set the lab on fire.” She cringed as she said the words, but continued without a break, her eyes getting slightly misty. “I was obviously fired. They told me to pack my bags and go home. Apparently they’d stocked the rest of the cultures to be tested .. and those were destroyed too. She was furious with me, and Deta but mostly with me. I remember hearing them argue when I was packing up my stuff in the lab. She said she’d been administering a low ‘test’-” She made air quotations - ” dose and now they wouldn’t have any supply. Everything would need to be started again. All their hard work just down the drain. I felt really guilty, I wanted to fix this or at least apologize to the King or something like that but I didn’t. I packed my bags and left.”

“Do you remember where the office is located? Or anything about it?” Cole asked her in an almost demanding tone and she shook her head. “I do, but there is no point, it’s not there anymore. There is no trace of anything there anymore. I know because I sent someone to check on it myself just a few days ago. That’s when all the mess started.”

I raised an eyebrow and she held up her hands, asking for me to listen to her explanation and just wait. Then the hands went back to twiddling each other. “A month ago when I was home - my pack - a knock on my door broke all the peace that I had. It was the other healer, his name for me was Zehn - obviously fake but that was the only identity I had of him - he was panting and cut and looked like he had run all the way from Europe to my door.”

“Someone had been chasing him?” I asked, and she replied, “Not chasing, hunting.” Her words sent a chill down my spine. “He fainted right at my door - still don’t know how he found out my real name and where I lived but I took him in anyway. Healed his wounds as best I could and then prayed that he woke up. Twenty days later, he did.” She paused to take another breath, her eyes were watery and I didn’t push her. Cole opened his mouth to usher her on but I shook my head at him.

After taking a moment to gather herself she said, “and then he told me the craziest thing. He said that they didn’t work for the crown, he said that it was all an inside job. We weren’t looking for common cures at all, no. What we had actually been doing was to try to replicate the release of similar endorphins to those of when you touched your mate.”

All hell broke loose. Cole swore loudly and the door to the room banged open with a loud growl. Sienna and the others jumped in, furious and red faced. Isla let out a startled scream before looking at all of us in alarm. She looked at me, betrayal etched in her face and I knew I had very little time before things went downhill.

“They’re not going to hurt you!” I shouted loudly, looking more at the others than at Isla herself. Everyone was still looking like they were out for blood and I jumped out of my chair and stepped protectively in front of her. “They’re just angry. Werewolves have a short temper,” I told her, making sure she heard me. She gave them another look from behind me, angry and breathing fire, but not specifically towards her.

“How dare they! How dare anyone try to mess with what the moon goddess has made specially for us!” Sienna screamed, and I nodded in understanding. If there was anything that was set in stone in werewolf culture it was the utmost respect for your mates, and the absolution that the concept brought on. Next to her Daniella was equally furious, “When I get my hands on Deta and that woman I swear to the Goddess I will personally rip them apart to shreds!” I believed her a hundred percent.

Isla relaxed a little and dropped her defensive stance, nodding at me to indicate that she trusted me, if not them. “Atticus! Comb through everything of Deta’s again! With a fine tooth! Go over all his acquaintances from three years ago because that’s where we should have started!” Barked Grey and the dutiful man made his way out of the room without a word.

“You better complete the rest of this story.” I told her with a dark face, eyeing Grey. “Before these people decide to destroy the room.” Grey was clutching a part of the wooden chair he had been sitting on, the rest had flown a couple feet behind him, in a broken heap from the impact.

Daniella let out a frustrated scream before she abruptly took off. Nobody stopped her, she needed the run.

“Does anyone else need to get out of here?” I asked clearly, making sure everyone heard me and they all shook their head.

“Let’s just sit on the floor.” Sienna grit out and settled down right where she was. Isla sat down too, and I sat very close to her. A sudden realization struck me and I turned to look at the skinny survivor. “You were faking the whole thing weren’t you? Just now when you didn’t talk to people all these days.”

She gave me a rueful smile. “I had to get to the King directly, you see. I didn’t trust anyone. But when you told me that you were the Queen..” I stared at her in wonder, I had to give this girl a lot more credit than before. Smart woman. The others showed something akin to respect as well, before Cole cut in to the moment, “What happened then?”

“He woke up frantic. He figured it out one day, when he accidentally saw some papers and it raised his suspicions. He began conducting his own research on the side. He took some of his own blood, and some of a normal wolf - who don’t have the mating reaction. He figured out what they were doing and then - then he got caught.” Her voice broke and she struggled to reign her emotions as she tried to speak. I raised my hand and patted her gently on the back, “There there, you’re safe now.” I comforted softly and she nodded.

“They-they killed his mate. You remember the one who he went to meet when the lab burned down? You - I saw him. You should have seen him. The only thing keeping him sane was the fact that he needed to alert the crown. It was painful to watch him pine for her and get nothing. I tried to help as best as I could but it was all useless! Useless! What kind of people kill someone’s mate just to get to them!” She cried angrily, not even hiding the free flow of her emotions now. “He told me everything. They’d been trying to subtly administer the doses to the King!”

“I’m going to fucking kill Deta.” Cole swore, his words laced with malice.

“Deta? Alpha Deta is innocent!” Isla said suddenly and all of us had her full attention now. “What do you mean?” Sienna and I said at the same time and she looked away from us to the window outside.

“He didn’t know about any of this either. I went to confront him, wrote to him saying that I was going to expose everything and I was giving him a chance to admit it before. I was careful, I used all the precautions, the scent was masked, nobody knew where I was as I pretended to leave my pack grounds.” She continued. “He went ahead and asked her - the other woman and she responded saying that this was all a lie. That the man in my basement was delusional because his mate had died in some unfortunate circumstances. Deta believed her and insisted that he should meet me so he can give me the explanation.” She sighed, rubbing her eyes and wiping her face.

“I realized it was a mistake way too late. He met me and gave me all the information. Told me everything he knew and she had told him. I didn’t give him a decision but I told him that this was all fishy anyway. I was alert the whole time, making sure that I wasn’t followed and everything. Alpha Deta had even gone ahead and told my pack that he needed my assistance again so they didn’t come to my clinic and discover a werewolf not in their pack on their territory.”

“But he didn’t know that I was being followed. They’d followed him to get to me, and then followed me to get to their only living loose end who knew everything. That day I got home and changed his bandages. They’d inflicted him so heavily with silver that some wounds would still take nearly a month to heal. An anxious call from Deta sealed our fate.”

“I knew when I saw his name pop up on my screen in the middle of the night that things were over for us. The door was cracked open silently, and I masked my scent immediately. From the hall - where Zehn was - two quick bullets was all it took. A quick death, as if he was nothing but a mild obstruction. Was it just that simple to take someone’s life? I was sure the bullets were silver. I knew that they were three of them. I couldn’t save him. I stood there just beyond the bedroom door and saw the life leave him while I stood there.” She wasn’t crying anymore, but the remorse weighing so heavily on her fragile shoulders broke something in me and tears fell down my cheeks. Grey’s jaws were set in a hard line and Cole looked away, angry but morose. Sienna was looking straight down, turning the remaining pieces of the wood chair into sawdust - her own way of dealing.

“So, I ran. I ran all the way from my pack till here, hoping that Deta would be able to help me but.. I got caught. I ended up escaping from them with serious injuries and passed out somewhere in the forest until you and your friend found me..the next day. I think they believed that I was dead and left.” She finished.

Silence settled over us. Each of us linking everything that had happened with what she said.

“This explains everything.” Grey whispered, not seeming happy that we finally had an explanation at all. I nodded, it was true but then...

“I think it’s safe to assume that Brianna is involved.” Grey concluded and everyone except Isla nodded. Isla wasn’t paying attention anymore and I just knew she was replaying those terrifying memories all over again. Such a young girl and what had happened? They were monsters. A burning hatred ran through me, and I recognized it as everyone else’s loathing, fueling my own. This was going to be a wild manhunt. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Reece would take it, and Hank - oh god. This was his sister!

Deta, we needed to find and protect him immediately.

“Deta probably ran away without a trace to protect his own pack, his mate. Like Ilsa, he knew he could trust nobody.” Grey surmised, putting little pieces together. “They probably got to him and threatened him with the same consequences if he said anything. Maybe seeing Ilsa on that stretcher made him change his mind and that’s why, eventually he came to the hotel.”

Nobody said anything for a minute and Grey got up. “Reece is here. We need to tell him.” His tone was barely controlled, only a fool would consider him as put together. All of us got up as well.

“You can rest now, if we have any more questions then we’ll call you.” Cole told her kindly and she nodded. She looked like this whole thing had made her ten years older. Just as we were about to step out, I turned my head and asked her what was bothering me.

“So how did you know I was the right Queen? What if I wasn’t his true mate?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked me back, almost surprised that I even suggested it and I shook my head. Everyone around me gave me small smiles.

“It’s because you’re human.” She said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah, they wouldn't put a human as the decoy mate, right? You had to be the one the moon goddess chose.” She elaborated, and I understood.

“I guess being human might just save a lot of lives.” Sienna mused.

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