Chapter 21 - Stone (Part 1)
She stared at him, her eyes growing larger as his words filled her mind.
He needed her to understand. And the only way for that was to explain everything.
[You’ve seen my brand. My mark of disgrace. Brandings are all the same and made on the back with silver. Fur will not grow there, so even in our lycan forms, other packs will see the brand of an exile. Not only that, but word travels fast about exiles. Everyone in North America and Europe knows who I am. Wherever I go, I will be met with hostility. I cannot even enter Europe without prior invitation.]
He rubbed her arms, even though he was the one who needed the reassurance.
[This is the truth; the real reason we came to America. We were forced out. We had to start over. We had no other choice. No one would take in an exile. Once an exile, always an exile.]
He swallowed, lowering his gaze. [This is my biggest burden and shame to carry. Everyone in this pack carries it because of me. Other packs avoid us because of me. We built this together. This pack. This territory. This home. We came here with nothing but the clothes on our backs. Everyone who lives under this roof... They’re all I have. And they gave up everything to stay by my side. I owe them my life. I will die for them, and I know they would do the same for me, and each other.]
He continued to rub her arms as she listened quietly. [That is why Alpha Eramis and Luna Elena were so hard on me. Not only was it because you are human, but they know my past. They know of my mistakes. They had to keep me in line.]
“How?” she asked in a breathy whisper. It was all she could manage from the jumble of thoughts and questions whirling around in her head as she tried to understand what he was saying.
“How... did this all happen?”
He debated telling her. Would she understand?
Swallowing, he risked meeting her gaze and asked, [Can I show you?]
[With my memories. Can I show you why I was exiled?]
She took a shaky breath as her thoughts tumbled over each other. Her eyes lingered on his, studying them and the tension in his face before she agreed.
Reaching up with both hands, he brushed her tangled hair back behind her ears with his fingers and pulled her forehead to his and pushed his memories onto her.
Darkness surrounded them as a much younger version of himself trudged through the slushy streets of a muddy little town. The moon was blanketed in clouds as a few snowflakes tumbled carelessly to the earth. The only light came from the tavern, where loud drunken voices continued to bark out into the night.
He pulled his cloak tighter around him in an attempt to cover his fingers numbed by the cold. A sack hung over his shoulder from the tannery.
His companions, a younger, leaner Gunner and the Beta of their pack likewise carried sacks of tanned and dyed hides, threads and needles for clothing to be made. Their breaths puffed out of their mouths in curling wisps to avoid inhaling the smoke that seeped from between cracks and doors in the buildings around them in an effort to keep the residents warm for the night.
[We should have come earlier,] Gunner mentally said.
[Darkness sets in earlier this time of year,] the Beta reminded him. [The sooner we get out of here, the warmer we will be.]
He meant, the sooner they could shift into their wolves.
Voices caught Stone’s attention. Male voices. A handful of them. And a single female’s, begging them for something.
Stone couldn’t help but listen and try to decipher the words. He hadn’t mastered the language of the humans yet, but he could pick up on tone easily. The female sounded terrified, while the males were drunk with malicious intent.
He growled under his breath.
[Relax, pup,] the Beta warned.
The female screamed and began protesting as a scuffle broke out. The males barked in laughter as the female whimpered and cried.
He couldn’t see them, but he could make out which direction the noise was coming from.
He lunged forward, but the Beta grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.
[We cannot interfere with human affairs,] he asserted.
[But they’re hurting her!] he protested.
The woman cried out again, slightly muffled this time, as a male started whispering something. His voice was too far away and slurred by alcohol for Stone to even try and make sense of it. A few of the other males chimed in, laughing amongst themselves as the female gave a little cry of pain.
Stone growled lowly and shook off the Beta’s hand.
They started on their way again, the noises getting closer. The hairs on his arms stood on end and he clenched his cloak tighter with his fists. He ground his teeth together as he forced himself to keep walking. He pulled up his mental barriers, as his thoughts raged within him as he tried to drown out the terrible sounds of the woman crying and one of the males grunting.
Until they passed the dark, narrow alley that the noises were echoing from, and he couldn’t stop himself.
The sack fell from his back as he rushed into the darkness.
He ripped through the males gathered around and threw them behind him as he shifted into his beast. One of them held a lit torch that fell to the mud and went out. They couldn’t see what was going on, but they quickly scattered like cockroaches as he grabbed the male pinning the female down and pulled him off her. He threw the pathetic excuse for a human being against the ground a few yards away as the woman screamed in terror.
He lunged for the male. He was filth. A monster. Like the humans that killed his parents.
He wanted to slaughter monsters like this.
Anyone who did such shameful things deserved to die.
[Sten!] Gunner grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, pinning him against a wall. [Control yourself!]
Shrieking, the woman ran off as the Beta rushed to the male sprawled out on the ground.
Blood spilled into the muck around them but without a heartbeat, it was clear that the human was dead—his neck snapped and his skull cracked.
Stone withdrew the memory as his fingers slipped down through Aubree’s tangled tresses.
[That was before the Bubonic Plague. I was young and prone to acting out. But I couldn’t understand why humans could rape, abuse, and murder each other for no reason at all. And I won’t lie. A part of me wanted to kill him. Even though I knew it was wrong to use my strength against him, the way he used that female...]
He growled. [She was someone’s daughter, for Goddess’ sake! If anyone so much as tried that on Guinevere—]
[She’d castrate him before he’d even get a chance,] Aubree interrupted.
He looked into her eyes as she touched his cheek.
She frowned at him. [You were exiled for that? You were only trying to help that woman.]
[No, Love. I wasn’t exiled for that. I should have been executed for killing that male, but given the circumstances, I was pardoned. Given a second chance. But it didn’t go unpunished. I was beaten and whipped repeatedly. Made an example of. I had to prove myself worthy of being a member of the pack again.]
Her brows pulled together in confusion. [Then, what happened that resulted in your exile?]
He lowered his gaze. The all too familiar twist of guilt taking hold of him, as it always did. [An accident... that even I cannot forgive myself for.]
Anxiety seeped in as she chewed on her lip. [Will you show me that too?]
He pushed the guilt down. [If you wish.]
He pulled her forehead to his again. Inhaled and exhaled. [When we moved here, it was during a period of civil unrest throughout Europe. 1848.]