It was all-consuming.
Lyndis could feel her heart pounding in her chest, her lungs burned, but she didn’t stop. She didn’t dare stop. She could barely breathe through the fur of the pup in her mouth, but she hardly let it slow her down. She simply followed the two larger wolves in front of her, blindly and without question. She ensured to keep in stride with them. She could hear two pairs of smaller paws following behind her, and a small distance behind them, one more pair of heavier paws.
The wolf in front of her suddenly stopped, and Lyndis nearly ran straight into him. She slid a bit along the soft muddy ground and stopped completely. The two wolves in front of her set down their pup-burdens to catch their breath, and Lyndis did the same, gulping in mouthfuls of air that her lungs desperately craved. Her baby sister, Adalyn, cowered between her legs the moment she was let down, and her baby brother, Andre, Adalyn’s littermate, stumbled toward her to cuddle together. Sophie, Lyndis’s cousin, and Aldrick’s baby daughter stumbled over the mud with her tiny paws to huddle with the other pups. All three pups were barely a year old.
Lyndis looked down at them, checking each with her snout. They were dirty, their fur matted, but she smelled no blood. They were unharmed and relief flooded through her. She glanced up with her sharp eyes when Marius shifted back; his face was ashen as he glanced back to the dark woodland. Julian followed him shortly, but he stayed on his knees. He clearly looked in pain, his fists clenched against the muddy ground, but Lyndis knew he was uninjured. The pain he felt was from nothing physical...
Sylvie, his six-year daughter, moved toward him then, but she stayed in wolf form. She nuzzled against his side, sharing in his pain. Lyndis looked away from them. She hadn’t seen it.. but she heard it. Mavis, her age-mate cousin, and Julian’s eldest daughter.. was dead.
Lyndis felt another’s matted fur brush against her, and glanced back. Iyana, her ten-year-old sister, was pushing close against her. Lyndis could feel her trembling. The one other behind her shifted back as well, and Lyndis glanced back at Serge. He was panting like all the others, but no one was making eye contact. Lyndis finally shifted back herself, kneeling in the mud over the pups. She leaned forward against her arms, trying to fully catch her breath. Lyn felt the full throbbing sting along her side, but she ignored it. Finally, Serge made his way over to his father and sister and collapsed to his knees in the mud beside them.
No one spoke.
A high-pitched frightened female wolf cry sounded out in the far distance, followed shortly by another. They were calling for help. Lyndis glanced up in horror, meeting Marius’s wide eyes. It was their sisters. Lyndis frantically glanced behind them. They must have gone the wrong way when they’d all scattered...
Marius turned to shift and dart back toward them, but Serge quickly tackled him.
“They’re too far! There’s nothing we can-” Serge started in French, struggling to keep him down, but the sound of the howl abruptly cut off. Lyndis felt her chest tighten, she could barely breathe, and the second howl cut off a moment later. Lyndis couldn’t get her breath in fast enough, unable to stop herself from hyperventilating. Marius stopped struggling and just laid there, looking utterly defeated. Serge shoved away from him... and sat there in the mud. Lyndis couldn’t bare looking at their faces... and turned away. Iyana started sobbing beside her. Lyndis could feel the sting of tears building, but she didn’t let them fall.
It was silent for a time, aside from Iyana’s quiet sobbing, and the pups soft mewls of discomfort now and then. They were shivering. The night was cold... Lyndis knew they’d have to get them out of the cold... and soon.
“Is anyone hurt?” Julian spoke in French; his voice broke the heart-breaking silence. No one said anything, even though Lyn still felt the vicious throb along her side. She knew the bullet had just grazed her, it was hardly life-threatening, and at that moment.. she didn’t care. The pain was actually comforting from the numbness that had overtaken her. Julian moved over to her, and she knew he could smell her blood. She didn’t move as he checked her wound, she could feel the small trails of blood dripping down along her hip. It wouldn’t stop bleeding until they could close it, but he didn’t seem overly concerned. The cut was small.
“All of you. Get up.” Julian spoke again, harsher this time. Lyndis glanced up at him. His face was hard.
“We have to get to the rendezvous point. We have to get to the others.” Julian said insistently. His voice sounded hollow. Lyndis swallowed. Her throat felt thick. No one moved.
“GET UP!” Julian growled. Slowly... everyone complied.
Lyndis numbly stroked Celie’s damp dirty hair, Aldrick’s eldest daughter at ten years old, as she lay on the table in front of her, whimpering, but her crying was getting weaker. Lyn wouldn’t let herself feel it yet; she knew she had to be strong. There was nothing more they could do for her.
Celie wasn’t going to make it.
Lyndis glanced briefly around the room at her other family members, struggling to save the ones they could and making sure there was someone comforting the ones they couldn’t. She could see Treves, her thirteen-year-old cousin and Celie’s older brother, across the room sitting with another of their sisters, Tessla. He was holding her small three-year-old body in a blanket and talking comfortingly into her ear as her heart faded. Iyana laid with another of Aldrick’s sons, six-year-old Owen.
This all felt so surreal. Just a few hours ago... Lyn had been scolding Owen for something that seemed so insignificant now. He had made her so mad.. and he had been laughing. Now, he lay broken and bloody. She felt her chest tighten a bit when she realized he no longer had a heartbeat.
Lyn fought the flow of tears and glanced back down to Celie’s face. Her eyes were still slightly open, the life clearly fading from them. Her breathing was slowing. She was no longer crying; her energy had faded. Lyn leaned down and pressed her lips firmly to her forehead.
“It’s okay... I’m here. It won’t hurt much longer.” Lyn choked out, feeling her tears slip free and slide down her cheeks onto Celie’s bloodstained face. Celie moved her hand a little, and Lyn griped it tight. She held her until she no longer heard a heartbeat.
“Lyn...” Marius’s voice broke through the immense grief, and she glanced over. His expression had hardened, he was strictly running off the Alpha in him, an emotionless state of duty. He tilted his head in a gesture toward the corner of the room, before gently hoisting up Owen’s small lifeless body and moving him to another room. Lyn glanced to where he spoke. Aldrick was on the floor in the corner, holding his mate. Lyn pursed her lips a bit, feeling her throat tighten. Adalie was still breathing, but just barely. Marion, Lyn’s mother, was kneeling beside them, doing what she could for her in her own state of emotionless Alpha duty. Aldrick looked completely numb as he nuzzled his love’s face. Lyn could hear her weakening heart beat.. and she knew her aunt wasn’t going to make it. Lyndis felt herself slipping further into the numbness; it was too much.
She frowned, uncertain what Marius had been gesturing to her for... until she noticed Sophie trembling against Adalie’s legs in wolf form. The little pup was soaked in her mother’s blood. Lyn took a slow breath, and pushed up, tenderly covering Celie completely with the blanket before moving over to gently pull the terrified little pup into her arms. Aldrick glanced up at her with glassy eyes, before he looked past her to the table where Celie lay, then over to Treves still holding the lifeless body of his second youngest child. Lyn grit her teeth at seeing the overwhelming grief in his eyes, and she turned away to quickly leave the room. She couldn’t be there anymore; there was too much death.
Lyn shoved into another part of the cabin and made for the bathroom. The room was empty, aside from Aurelia, Christophe’s ten-year-old daughter, who sat looking ashen in the corner of the dark room. Lyn had sat her there over an hour ago, knowing she had too much of a gentle soul to handle what was happening in the other room. Aurelia hadn’t moved at all, and nor did she look up as Lyn passed...
Lyn flipped on the light, and ran the facet, waiting for it to warm before sliding the trembling little pup under the water. Lyn held her by a hand against her underbelly as she brushed the other through her blood and dirt-encrusted fur, gently washing it all away. It would be easier if Lyn could get her to shift back, but only a mother had that kind of sway over her pup. Sophie whined a bit, and it made Lyn’s heart tighten all the more. She was calling for Adalie, for her mother... who lay dying in the next room.
Finally, Lyn got her completely clean and dug around the cabinets for a towel. She wrapped her up and immediately went for Aurelia, handing the little bundle over to her before moving back for the door.
Lyn paused for a moment, the scent of death lingered heavy in the air.
With a heavy heart, she made her way back into the room to see what else she could do.
One week later...
“Mom...” Lyndis said gently. They were sitting in the airport. Andre was comfortably seated in her lap, fast asleep, and Adalyn was sleeping in Marion’s arms. Marion stared ahead at nothing. She hadn’t spoken for days. Lyndis frowned when she glanced down at her uneaten meal.
“Mom, your food is getting cold..” Lyndis gently urged. Marion finally glanced over at her. Lyndis studied her eyes and frowned. She hated seeing the pain there... Marion took a slow breath and handed Adalyn over to Lyndis. Lyndis adjusted the twins in her arms and watched as Marion picked up her food and started eating. She wasn’t showing yet, but she was pregnant... and Lyn was glad for it because she doubted she’d be so compliant if she weren’t. Lyn glanced over beside her, where Aurelia, Iyana, and Sylvie sat quietly. Lyn hated their silence the most considering their young ages. They were usually so loud and playful. Lyn sighed and glanced to the other side of the terminal to the waiting area across the hall. All their males sat there, looking grim. The grief that emanated from everyone was palpable. Lyn glanced over them all until her eyes fell on Aldrick. He sat looking rather numb beside his only remaining son, Treves. Sophie, his only remaining daughter, was asleep in his arms. Lyn was glad her baby cousin finally found some peace in sleep, the small pup cried constantly now, confused at the lack of her mother. Lyn frowned. Aldrick just lost his mate, Adalie, his son Owen and two daughters, Celie and Tessla, all were so young. His eldest son, Kal, had been killed years before. He’d now lost nearly his whole family.
Lyn couldn’t get the image of him standing numbly, covered in his family’s dried blood in the room where they’d laid them all down in the aftermath of their failed rescue attempts. Every one of them was his, for Mavis, Arianne’s and Milena’s bodies were lost to them. The hunters were always thorough in their cleanups...
She and her mother had gently cleaned them all in preparation for their funeral rites, and despite what they said to Aldrick, he wouldn’t leave the room. Marion decided to give him some time with them, and he spent a few hours in the room alone while the rest of them prepared the funeral pyre. Marion had sent her to check on him, and Lyn had seen him sitting with each of his children. When they finally returned to take them out to the woodland, he was sitting with his mate, holding her one last time. Treves had not wanted to see them, he’d stayed far away from the room, and Sophie was far too young to understand.
Lyn quickly glanced away from him, unable to look at that kind of heartache any longer lest is stir her own...
Lyndis briefly caught eyes with Geoffrey then, he held her gaze for a moment, before looking away. Lyn frowned, she knew her father was hurting, especially with the intense weight of guilt she saw in him. They were his children too.. something Lyn felt her mother had somehow forgotten with how lost she was in her own grief and anger. And on top of the grief of losing their children, they had lost a sister.. and nieces and nephews as well. She knew it made it all so much harder on them, especially Geoffrey. Although her mother was Alpha, she had no true Alpha blood in her. Her father did.. and the Alpha in him was not so forgiving, she knew what he went through each time he felt he failed to protect his pack. He needed his mate more than ever now. Lyn glanced back at Marion. She hated seeing them both like this.
“Mom.. you can’t hate him forever,” Lyn said softly. Marion paused in her eating but said nothing. Lyn sighed.
“Dad’s hurting too... he needs you, as much as you need him,” Lyn said, keeping her voice low. Marion pursed her lips a bit.
“Please... you have to sto-” Lyn began.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Marion said firmly. Lyn stared at her in shock. She and Arianne were nearly the same age, they had been extremely close, and Milena... Lyn had helped raise her along with the rest of the young ones they lost. Mavis had been her age-mate.. they were as close as if they were sisters. She felt tears start to build in her eyes, and quickly diverted her thoughts. She couldn’t even let herself think about any of them. It hurt too much.
“They were my family too. Have you forgotten that?” Lyndis snapped back, letting the grief turn to anger. The two pups in her arms startled awake, and Lyn quickly tried to soothe them, feeling instantly guilty for it. They had been exceptionally jumpy lately, and they couldn’t have them turning into wolves in the middle of a busy airport.
“I’m sorry...” Marion said with a sigh, taking Andre from her. Lyn watched as Marion looked over toward Geoffrey, but he didn’t return her glance. Marion looked away again, and it was silent for a time.
“I just... I don’t have it in me to forgive him. Not yet.” Marion said, and Lyn could hear the strain of emotion in her voice. Lyn knew what her mother meant. Her father had chosen her to protect. He always chose their mother when they were attacked, but this was the first time it had cost them, two children. Lyndis looked away from her, and it went silent for a time.
Finally, she heard the announcement of their flight boarding through the loudspeaker, and they all got up to board.