**4 weeks since last chapter (3 ½ months since Hycinth left)**
I watched Hycinth from the corner of my eye. True to her word, she was doing all of the things I wanted her to. She got up, dressed, went to work and then went home. But she was only going through the motions. There was no happiness in her expression, ever. I didn’t think she’d even smiled since we left Leander.
She’d opened up a few more times about her pain and grief. We were making progress, slow, but progress. I could see her opinion start to sway. She wanted to fix what was wrong inside of her, but she just didn’t know quite how to get there. And even if she did, she feared it was already too late to get Leander back. I didn’t think so. That male would do anything for her...in the same way I would do anything for my mate one day. It would be painful for both of them, but they could get through it. I had to believe that. But her self-criticism and self-doubt kept her bound up unable to break free.
And we were getting too close to her delivery for my comfort. I hadn’t been successful in finding a Healer.
“Are you finished with your station?” Hycinth interrupted my internal worrying. She was wrapping up cleaning her tattoo equipment.
“Yeah, I’m done,” I replied. “I’m just waiting for you.”
“Okay,” she murmured, moving around the reclining leather chair to adjust the seating. “Just give me five more minutes.”
The bell tinkled an announcement that the door behind me had opened. My nostrils flared and I instantly spun around my body quivering on full alert—Wolf!
I let out a snapping snarl of warning and repositioned myself in front of Hycinth who stood frozen with wide eyes.
But the older shewolf standing in the doorway was unaffected by my aggressive posturing. She simply nodded politely and took another few steps into the room so that the door could close behind her.
“What do you want?” I growled. There had to be a reason she showed up. It couldn’t be random. And she certainly didn’t look like she was in the market for a tattoo.
Disregarding me altogether, she spoke to Hycinth over my shoulder, “Your child will not be who she is destined to be...without the influence of her father.”
All of the air went out of the room...
What the hell was happening?
Hycinth stepped to my side. “She?” Hycinth’s eyes glistened as she stared at the stranger. She instinctually wrapped her arms around her belly, protecting the little life inside.
The woman continued, deadly serious, still assessing Hycinth with her too-knowledgeable gaze. “Yes...and her army will be born with her.”
Her army? What the fuck?
Hycinth’s hands trembled. She was just as confused as I was. She also feared for her unborn child.
“Wait just a damn minute. What are you saying?” I demanded. This Wolf had another thing coming if she thought she could come in there and spout whatever nonsense she wanted. “Who the fuck are you exactly?”
“My name is Memoree,” the older Wolf stated simply.
Oooh...understanding lit my expression. Tension ran down my spine. I had never met her, but I knew her name and stated flatly, “You’re an Oracle.”
Hycinth’s attention snapped to me, shock evident in her features. I gritted my teeth. We had to be very careful. Few Oracles existed. I’d only ever heard of two, and safely dealing with one was tenuous at best. Their powers were not fully known or understood as they did not reside within any pack but on the peripheral. They existed on the edges. And they were certainly never meant to be trifled with. She looked harmless enough, but I had no intention of being deceived by her benign appearance.
“May I sit down?” She was the epitome of calm.
At this point, we really didn’t have a choice. I motioned toward the waiting-area seating that contained for comfortable chairs and mumbled, “Yes. Please...”
Following my lead, the Oracle crossed the room and easily relaxed in one of the upholstered chairs, adjusting her long flowing skirt to cross her legs comfortably. Smoothing a stray strand of silvery hair away from her face, she rested her hands in her lap. Bright green irises settled on Hycinth as she sat across from her.
I preferred to stand.
If this was going to be a fight, particularly when we were so handicapped as to be fighting against an Oracle, I wasn’t going to be caught sitting down. I asked stiffly, “What do you know about my sister?”
She turned her gaze to me. “Very little, actually. I’m not here for her.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” my nervousness caused an edge to my voice.
Again, the strange shewolf didn’t seem affected. She simply nodded toward Hycinth’s rounded belly. “It has never been about the female but the life she carries inside.”
Her answer didn’t make me feel any better. Hycinth also didn’t like her response. She stiffened in her chair, tightening her arms around her belly.
“What does that mean?” I asked through clenched teeth.
“Everything that has led up to this point...every choice, every decision...has been to ensure this second-chance baby lives.”
“Second-chance baby?” Hycinth breathed the same question on my mind. Nothing this woman said made sense.
“Yes. That first child was ripped from this world, murdered in cold blood, a beautiful light snuffed out.” Her eyes fixed on Hycinth’s stomach. “She has come to take her place, to fulfill her destiny.”
“What?” Hycinth gasped, her heart racing in her chest.
“What the hell?” I didn’t like how this conversation was affecting my sister. I placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and demanded harshly, “What first -child are you talking about and who killed her?!”
A great sadness came across the Oracle’s face. “Her name is no longer important.”
I noticed she didn’t answer my second question, but she went on before I could press her on the topic, her next words just as confusing as her last. “The future you carry in your belly was created from her ashes.”
My brows slammed together. A dead baby, killed in cold blood, destiny, and now ashes??
“Is that a m-metaphor?” Hycinth asked in confusion.
I sure as hell hoped so...
...but I was wrong.
Memoree replied softly, “No...it is quite literal.”
My Wolf rose up inside of me. He didn’t like the anxiety rolling off of Hycinth in waves. He tried to reach out to Hycinth’s Wolf but she remained silent as always. I hissed, ”How is that even possible?”
“My sister had the skill to perform such a transfer.” Her lips tilted up just a little, a hint of fondness in her expression.
“Who exactly is your sister?” I demanded.
“Mimi?!” Hycinth gasped. “Mimi is your sister? Is she an Oracle too?”
“No. Sadly, she did not inherit our mother’s gifts. But that does not mean she is without power.”
I felt like I needed to sit down, but my brain was too stuck on the bizarre conversation to be able to tell my legs what to do.
“The violet and cerulean smoke?!” Hycinth breathed. She seemed to understand more than I did. I had no idea what the hell colored smoke she was talking about.
The Oracle nodded in approval. “Yes. That is correct. You bore his child at that moment.”
Hycinth’s mouth dropped open. It took her a minute to close it. The shock never left her expression as she asked incredulously, “Are you telling me that was when Leander got me pregnant...even before we had sex?!”
What she said sounded like nonsense, but I had no details on the ceremony preparation, so for the moment, I just listened.
The older shewolf nodded again.
“Does it always h-happen that way for the mating ceremony?” Hycinth stuttered.
“No. Never has it happened in such a manner. Usually, conception occurs during intercourse.”
Hycinth blinked, stunned silent, finally out of questions.
“This smoke that you are referring to, the thing that got Hycinth pregnant...what was in it?” I asked skeptically.
“Leander’s semen was the main ingredient...as well as other components.”
“And ashes from this first baby?” I clarified. I was beginning to understand what she was trying to say, but that just sounded too fantastical.
“Yes,” she acknowledged.
“You had no right to interfere in nature in that way!” I snarled. What the hell had they done to Hycinth?
Not losing a bit of calm, the Oracle replied, “In this instance, I had every right. Destiny had to be put back on course. No other bloodline would do.”
“Bloodline? What the hell bloodline are you talking about?” I snapped.
“It isn’t important,” she brushed off the question and fixed her attention on Hycinth again. “I came here to tell you, for your child to reach her fullest potential, she needs her father’s influence. What you do with that information is your choice.”
She stood to leave, the conversation clearly over. A large part of me was still confused as hell but another felt relief. She’d only wanted to talk. I could handle that as long as she left peacefully.
“Wait!” Hycinth put her hand out.
The Oracle hesitated and then settled back down in the chair, looking at her expectantly
Hycinth twisted her hands together. Hope and nervousness painting her expression in equal measures. “Um, I’m not sure if we can ask...but since you’re here...d-do you know who Lucky’s mate is?”
Eagerness welled up at me. I hadn’t thought to even ask, but what if this shewolf knew? Was it possible? She certainly had bizarre knowledge. Would she tell me?
But just as quickly as hope grew in my chest, it deflated like a balloon because, for the first time, the Oracle’s expression appeared stricken. She gazed at me with sadness in her eyes. “I’m sorry, young Wolf, your mate is no longer of this world,” she said softly, but nothing could lessen the impact of her statement.
“No!” Hycinth sobbed. “That can’t be true!”
The Oracles’ words were like a stake in my heart. I stood frozen, unable to believe I’d heard her correctly. My throat had gone dry. I swallowed thickly and could barely get the words out, “W-What happened...to her?”
“Sometimes the truth does not set us free. Knowledge can strike its own lethal blow,” she replied cryptically.
“That’s not an answer!” I growled fiercely. My hands clenched into fists, fury burning a hole in my chest, never to be filled again. Breath came from my lungs, but I no longer fit the definition of living because I was empty inside. I had nothing left to lose. “You can’t just come in here and spout some shit like that and not give me every last damn detail!”
Resignation filled her expression, the sorrow in her eyes becoming more profound.
Dread filled me. It tangled up and suffocated what little heart I had left. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever she said next was going to destroy me...and I was right.
Exhaling, she spoke softly, “The male...you called father...killed her.”
That was it...
I couldn’t stand upright any longer.
...all crashed over me, threatening to drown me.
I couldn’t breathe...
I fell, crashing to my knees, not even noticing the ricochet of pain in my legs at the impact.
“No! That can’t be true!” I was on the floor, but Hycinth jumped to her feet, her hands in fierce animation. “You say that as if Daddy knew the shewolf was Luca’s mate. There’s no way he could have known. Even Lucky didn’t know who she was! He wouldn’t hurt Luca like that...he couldn’t...” she trailed off, her voice catching with emotion because the Oracle’s face remained impassive, transparent.
The agony in my heart testified to the truth—the Oracle hadn’t spoken a lie.
I understood now...
The constant ache, the gaping hole, in my heart was there for a reason. I’d always assumed the devastation inside me was a result of striving to find my other half. But it wasn’t. My consciousness hadn’t known the truth, but my soul did—the loss I’d felt for so many years was grief...
...I’d been grieving a woman I’d never known.
The realization hit me like a sucker punch to my chest. I hunched forward and dropped my head into my hands. “Noooo!!” the wail came from deep in my throat, my Wolf echoing a howl of his own. He was frantic in my head, in denial, begging me to do something, to fix this.
But what could I do?
There was nothing...
...just nothing I could do.
My shoulders shook as I sobbed into my hands, my body curled into a ball on my knees as I rocked back and forth.
Hycinth dropped to her knees in front of me and clung to me, holding on for dear life as her tears streamed down her cheeks, mixing with my own.
Minutes went by...
Abruptly, Hycinth lifted her head and screamed at the other Wolf, “Why?! Why would he do that? Why kill Luca’s mate?!”
“For you,” the Oracle stated quietly.
Hycinth froze, her face a mask of horror. She gasped for breath, “Nooo!”
I turned to Memoree, her words shocking enough to momentarily stop my tears. I sat back on my haunches. I still didn’t possess the physical strength to get up. Wiping the tears off my cheeks with the back of my hands, I asked gruffly, “What do you mean?”
As much as I knew she spoke the truth, there were so many things unexplained. Hycinth was right. I didn’t even know who my mate was. How could our father have known? And if he did, why did he...?
I couldn’t even finish the thought in my mind.
“The minute he saw Leander shift for the first time, he knew Leander was Hycinth’s mate.”
Leander? What did Leander have to do with this?
“How...?” Hycinth whimpered. “How did he know that?”
“Because the markings on Leander’s Wolf matched the stuffed toy I’d given your mother when you were young.”
“M-my stuffed animal? The one she gave me when I was four?”
“The very one,” Memoree acknowledged with a nod. “It was meant to be a sign for you. I’d hoped you would overcome the barriers of war and hatred that surrounded you to see the truth. You were always meant to be with Leander. It was your destiny.”
“It was my d-destiny...” Hycinth’s bottom lip trembled. “...but not now?”
“That remains to be seen,” the Oracle hedged, her unwillingness to definitively answer was clear. “You have taken a dangerous path, one that is not without heartache and pain. In life, we are free to choose...but there are always consequences to our choices.”
Silent tears fell down Hycinth’s cheeks.
“What does Leander being Hycinth’s mate have to do with my m-mate?” I asked, still confused at what she was trying to say.
The Oracle’s wise gaze shifted back to Hycinth. “Your father refused to accept Leander for you, so a plan was put in motion to eliminate him. And in his place, he decided your mate should be—”
“Me...” I cut her off, the breath leaving my chest in a whoosh, finally seeing the bigger picture.
The older shewolf returned her attention to me. “Yes, young wolf. He knew how close you both were. He figured if he removed both of your mates, it was only a matter of time before you chose each other.”
Hycinth made a pained sound. I met her grief-stricken eyes. She was trembling uncontrollably. What was this revelation, this devastating stress, doing to the life of her unborn pup? I didn’t know the answer. I spread my knees wide and shifted a few inches forward so that she was in between my legs, and gathered her into my arms.
“No!” she cried, trying to pull away. “I don’t d-deserve...your l-love. It’s my f-fault!”
She was no match for my strength. “Fuck that!” I hissed. I’d already lost everyone else. I wasn’t losing her too. “You’re not going to take responsibility for that bastard’s behavior!”
Hycinth went limp in my arms, her head hung low, body still shaking with tears.
I rested my chin on the top of her hair, all of my strength gone and asked the Oracle, “How did he know?”
Memoree sighed heavily, “Your mother consulted another Oracle. They knew better than to ask me with that sort of intention. Also, neither of them trusted me since I’d been the one to give them the wolf toy.”
Hycinth’s head came up, just as stunned as I was by this new terrible revelation. “Our m-mother...was a part of this too?” I gasped, betrayal twisting like a knife in my chest.
Memoree nodded sadly. “When I knew they planned to go down this path, I warned her the price for their actions would be high...but she didn’t heed my counsel.”
I slumped a little lower, not sure how much more I could take. “W-what was her name?” I whispered brokenly.
“Madison,” the older shewolf spoke the name softly.
... the name reverberated through my chest.
The unbearable truth washed over me. My mate was gone. I’ve never even seen her, but I missed her so fucking much.
“Oh, Lucky...I-I’m so sorry!” Hycinth sobbed.
I wasn’t even sure how to respond.
Now I just felt numb...