My wolf barely made it. I had stood back whilst Eros said an emotional goodbye to Violet, knowing that I had said the best goodbye I possibly could have. She knew the risks, but she understood that there was no way we could wait. We had to do this tonight; we had to get to Antheia before any real damage could come to her. We had all felt the shattering of the bond, but we had to hope and pray this wasn't our baby girl. I had to hope that our wolves would be howling their anguish if it was her.
But we all knew, if it wasn't her, there was only one other member of the pack that we could have lost.
None of us said it out loud, each of us choosing to believe that there was an explanation for what we had felt. No matter what way we looked at it, we had lost a vital member of the pack today.
As Violet had hugged Eros, her eyes met mine over his shoulder and I had simply given her a small smile and a wink, watching the blush as it ran over her cheeks and brightened her eyes.
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and it amazed me that even after all these years she was still as affected by me as she had been the day we had met. I would return to her and we would live the rest of our lives together. I had promised her forever, and I wasn’t going to break that promise easily.
As soon as Eros had finished, we shifted into our wolves, my body screaming in protest as wounds that had only just begun to heal were ripped open. Eros glanced at the blood coating the fur on my stomach but didn’t mention anything. I had given a good speech earlier about being a strong man and allowing your emotions to be free, but he knew I was proud. I would not admit that I was struggling. Not at a time like this.
I was an Alpha through and through. My pack came first, and my family came above all else.
I would have tome to lick my wounds later. Right now Antheia was the only thing that mattered to me and I could be missing limbs for all I cared. It wouldn’t stop me from doing what I needed to do.
That’s not to say it came easy. Many times on our run to Jeremy’s pack my wolf had stumbled, his legs buckling as he struggled to support our huge form. We relied on Eros and his heightened senses as my wolf was using every ounce of his power just to keep us standing.
My fur soon became plastered to my skin, giving me the sleek appearance of the panthers themselves. Eros glanced at me and tried to slow his run, but I nipped at his legs, too exhausted to mind-link with him. He got the message and picked his speed up once again.
The thunderous pounding of our paws across the land was all that could be heard throughout the night as we gave it all we had. Eros both surprised and amazed me with the way he was able to detect the trail and follow it, the scent getting stronger and stronger until I was able to pick it up with just my human senses. Not that he needed my help at this point, but I was glad to be able to offer some assistance and not feel completely useless.
It wasn’t long before the huge packhouse began to loom on the horizon and so we shifted into our human skins, pulling on the clothes that had been in the backpacks around our necks. I pulled out my water bottle and after a very quick drink, I poured it over my head to try to rid the stench of sweat that was coating me.
I saw Eros extend his hand and push his bottle under my nose, but I shoved it away.
“Dad,” he scolded, “there’s no shame in admitting help and a good Alpha puts the needs of others before himself. Wasn’t that one of the first things you taught me? Allow me to do this, take the water. You need it more than me right now.”
I smiled my thanks, taking long, grateful gulps from the bottle.
“Are you ready?” He asked once I had drank the last few drops.
“Let’s do this.”
We crept around the border of the pack. We weren’t planning on a stealth attack; we wanted everyone here to know exactly who we were and why we had come tonight but we knew that in order to get into the centre of the pack, the guards surrounding the entrance needed to be the first to be taken out.
It didn’t take us long. It seemed Jeremy wanted to keep his little creations to himself for a while, and so the men at the gates were regular panthers who barely saw us coming before we snapped their necks like twigs and entered the compound.
The moment we entered, the world seemed to stand still. I stayed close to my dad’s side, instinctively protecting him as everyone froze in place and turned to face us.
“Where is Antheia?” My dad roared, his voice echoing between the buildings. I held back a grin as the authority in his voice sent a shiver through the pack. “You have thirty seconds to tell me where my daughter is. “Twenty-nine... twenty-eight...” the crowd murmured amongst themselves, knowing what was coming if he was permitted to get to zero, but none of them would speak up against their Alpha. Or maybe they couldn’t.
It seemed my dad had the same thought, “if you are under Alpha orders not to reveal anything, I suggest you find a way to break this. I can tell by the look in your eyes you know who I am and what I’m capable of. I can assure you that every male in this pack will be slaughtered if my daughter is not returned to me immediately. You have five seconds... four...”
The sound of feet drowned his countdown out, slamming against the floor, feet that rushed in our direction. “Ahh, the cavalry is here,” he grinned when he noticed the warriors take up stance in front of us
“Leave here,” the one at the front hissed, spit flying from his mouth.
My dad simply shrugged, giving me a slight nod as he did so. “Zero... game on boys.”
He flew forward, jumping on the monster that had hissed at him. He wrapped his legs around his waist to take the strain off the wound in his stomach. Without missing a beat, he grabbed the back of his head and sank his teeth into his face, spitting his nose onto the ground with a sickening squelch. I took my cue from there, ignoring the agonising wails as my dad stuck his fingers in the hole he had just made and proceeded to rip the monster’s face open, tearing his skin apart in two big folds.
I charged at the next warrior, ducking down low and skidding across the ground as they tried to team up, aiming for my head as they swung their arms at me with huge claws extended from their fingers.
I shifted my own claws, slicing at the back of one of their ankles as deep as I could and watched in satisfaction as every step he took caused the tear to open up further, the muscle pulsating as the oxygen in the air hit it.
The other warrior let out a snarl of frustration and came for me again, slicing his claws along my face until blood pooled over my lips.
I ignored the white-hot sting of pain that shattered through me as I rolled onto my back and kicked my legs out, knocking him onto his stomach and sending him careening across the dirt.
I felt myself being hauled up as my dad dragged me to my feet, standing back to back with me as we surveyed the monsters that were still left.
I saw my dad hesitate slightly as his gaze went to the women and children that had nowhere to go, that had no choice but to witness what was happening, and I knew my dad was having the same thoughts as I was. What sort of Alpha didn’t even provide a safe room for when the pack was under attack?
It was at that moment that we knew we had to end this as quickly as possible. I had heard enough of my dad’s childhood stories to know that there were some things that you couldn’t unsee or recover from. I could feel the anguish pouring from him. He didn't remember first-hand what had happened at the DragonHeart pack, but he had heard enough stories to know that his entire pack had been slaughtered, or they had committed suicide.
Many of the mothers had killed their own children, injecting them with a lethal mix of cyanide and wolfsbane - cyanide to kill the human, wolfsbane to kill the wolf. We could live without our wolves, and some who found themselves mated to a human chose to euthanize their wolves so they could live a normal human life, aging at the same time as their mate. However, for most wolves, this was an unspeakable crime. Our wolves were an extension of ourselves, and without them it's almost as though we were living a half life. The human could also be killed, although this was more rare. The wolf would simply become like any other wolf in the wild, however since they were brought up with their humans, without them they would soon turn feral, often being killed by one thing or another in the end. If you were going to commit suicide, you had to make sure both the human and the wolf was killed.
Knowing my dad was suffering from an assault of guilt, I knew we had to get this over and done with as soon as possible. We each took on three of the monsters, and I drew on the memories of the training my dad had provided me with. I sliced, cut, maimed and stabbed at everyone that came near me. Blood covered my body, some my own as they managed to hit me with a few of their own claws, but the blood was mainly theirs.
We were a blur, rushing from one move to the next, not caring where we hit so long as we did some damage.
Piece by piece, we sliced off chunks of flesh, spat out bloody chunks as we bit down with our huge canines.
We were down to the last monster when we heard the scream and a woman begging and pleading with us. “Please,” she whispered, keeping her head low to the ground and showing us her neck as she submitted to us. “Your daughter she’s...” she gasped with pain, the veins in her neck protruding as she experienced mind-numbing terror and fear as well as agonising aches as she fought against her Alpha’s orders.
I let my dad take the reins on this one, knowing he had more experience than me. He hurried towards her, leaving me to keep my eyes on the monster that was kneeling before me.
“Don’t speak,” he ordered her, soothing her as she began to tremble in fear. “Point. Where is she? The pain will disappear if you just point. Your Alpha told you not to tell me where Antheia is. I understand breaking an Alpha's order is agonising pain, but you are not telling me if you point. Trust me, sweetheart. When you've been an Alpha as long as I have, you come to realise there are always loopholes. Alpha orders have to be extremely specific in order to work. Just point, and everything will be okay.”
She simply pointed downwards, and I knew where she meant. The dungeons. Antheia was below the packhouse in the dungeons.
“Please,” she whispered once more. “Please have mercy on us. We would have told you if we could. Please, spare my son.”
I looked over to where a small boy was hiding behind a pile of clothing that his mother had been holding just seconds earlier. His huge wide eyes peaked out from the side as he sucked his thumb and looked at us in absolute terror.
My dad gave a loud sigh, “we will not harm you, or your son. We will not harm any woman and child here, of that, I can promise you. I’m sorry for what you’ve had to witness here. It was not my intention that they would put you in the middle. We are not here to kill mindlessly, I just want my daughter back. I’m sure as a parent yourself, you can understand that,” she nodded again and rushed back to her son, scooping him up into her arms.
"Thank you," she whispered back to my dad, her nose pressed into the top of her son's head.
"There's no need to thank us. If you could do us one favour?"
"Spread the word. Let everyone here know that we are not here to kill. If we come across any of those disgusting creatures, we will kill them on site. Anyone else is safe, so long as they don't get in our way or provide any resistance. Go to your homes. Stay safe."
"Of course, of course..." her voice trailed off as she hurried to complete her task.
“Eros,” my dad said firmly. “Stay here. If Jeremy comes out, I need you to link me. Talk to them, find out some more information about where Sophia could be. I’ll go and get Antheia.”
“No, no buts. Stay. Please.”
I nodded, not knowing what else to say. My dad had a haunted look in his eyes and I had no idea what had caused it but I knew that he was fighting something within himself, he didn’t need me making things more difficult. I would speak to the women, find out more about what had been happening here and place my trust in him that he would find Sophia as soon as he had rescued Antheia.
I headed straight for the basement, following the scent of Antheia that had been stronger the moment I entered the packhouse. My wolf came to life with a bit more strength, giving me the final bit of energy I needed to track the smell to the large doors that were hidden in a dark corner.
The basement was eerily quiet, but I easily detected the signs of a struggle that had been here earlier. I saw the claw marks on the ground, indicating that someone had been dragged away against their will. My eyes easily saw the dust around the claw marks that told me that they were fresh and undisturbed.
I remained still, listening.
I heard the whimpering.
With my heart in my throat, I followed the sounds of my daughter’s struggle, mentally gearing myself up for what I was about to see.
Nothing, nothing could have prepared me for what I found. I held back the bile that rushed to my throat as I ran over to her, grabbing the metal bars of her cage and pulled them apart with all my strength, bending them enough so I could climb through.
A feral roar escaped my voice before I could stop it. I cried out, throwing my fists against the wall as the tears came to my eyes, and then I hurried over to my daughter.
Antheia lay on the floor, her arms shackled to the wall. Her legs had shifted enough to let me know that she had tried to change into her wolf's skin, but something had stopped her. Faeces surrounded her as she released her bowels in fear. Her poor face morphed into that of half-wolf, half-human.
Her skin was completely bare, so I ripped off my shirt and covered her with it, hoping my scent would soothe her, hoping it would be strong enough to get through to her and let her know that I was here to help, she was safe now.
I held back the tears as I got closer and was able to confirm what I had already scented at the door. I stroked my hand over the fur on her shoulders, already feeling that it was a different texture to that of her wolf. I tipped her head gently to the side, kissing her forehead as she whimpered with pain and examined the swollen pin-prick on her neck.
The bastard had injected her with bear DNA and her body was rejecting the change. She wouldn’t survive this, not if we didn’t drain her blood immediately and prevent the change from taking hold of her any further.
I laid her back on the floor as gently as I could before I grabbed hold of her shackles and ripped them from the wall.
I scooped her up into my arms, cradling her gently against my chest, burying her face into my skin so that she smelled my wolf. She began to thrash around, protecting herself even when she had no fight left in her until the scent of me invaded her senses and she relaxed once more.
The bastard would pay for this. If it was the last thing I did, I would see that he left this world regretting everything he had ever done.
“What the fuck happened?” I almost sobbed when I saw my dad approaching with Antheia in his arms. He looked down at his baby, a smile of pride on his face.
“She gave them everything she had. She’s our little fighter.”
“Dad...” I hesitated, “is she... she’s going to be okay, right? Tell me she’s okay.”
He looked up at me, his eyes brimming with tears. “Get her home, son, back to your mother. You call the healer as soon as you’re there. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
No. No this couldn’t be real. Antheia would survive this. He wasn’t saying what I thought he was. “She’s going to be okay...”
He carefully placed her in my arms. “Home. Get the healer and make sure Antheia is with her mother. Tell them she has been injected with bear DNA and it needs extracting. I won’t lie, son, it doesn’t look good. Get her home, get her safe. I will find Sophia for you, I promise."
"Dad, if Antheia is alive, that means Sophia--"
"Stop it, Eros. Sophia is here, I can sense it. I’ll bring her back to you."
"We felt someone die!" I was nearly hysterical, knowing what I had felt, knowing I had lost my mate.
"Shut the fuck up and listen to me!" My dad snapped. "We would have been told if Sophia had died. The woman would have told us. You just take care of your sister. If she’s going to join the Moon Goddess in paradise, she will do it in your mother’s arms. You are the future of the BloodMoon pack, be the leader I always knew you would be! Now go!” He yelled, turning away from me after he gave Antheia one last kiss, stroking the hair away from her forehead and murmuring how much he loved her.
I didn’t hesitate any longer. I ran with Antheia as fast as I could. The entire way there I whispered stories to her from our childhood together, told her how proud I was of her, reminded her of how strong and independent she was. How she amazed us all every single day. We were just outside the pack borders when I called for my mum and the healer to come and get us.
I looked down at Antheia and saw the small smile on her face as she scented where she was. She sighed in contentment; the breath rattling through her small body before she went still.
I fell to my knees and screamed. Please don’t let it end like this!