Chapter 43 - Stone (Part 1)
Dread washed over Stone as the howl rose high and sharp before falling away to silence.
In the moments leading up to the interruption, Stone couldn’t have been more proud. Aubree’s lycan form was as unique and beautiful as she was. Her fur coat was glossy and rich in color with a soft white belly. She was average in size, but that hardly mattered. She was his beautiful blessing given to him a second time.
His body ached alongside hers, but it was an all too familiar feeling to him. Pain was the essence of life. That was the beauty of it.
“You see?” he had demanded to the Council members lurking in the shadows of the forest as she finished her shift and was gradually easing back down to a calm state. “She has been blessed by the Goddess. A human no more, but a lycan and my mate.”
That damned howl interrupted the Council members before they could speak as they emerged from the forest. The moonlight reflected off their irises as they turned their attention skyward and listened.
Growls reverberated around Stone as he clutched Aubree closer to his chest. Her exhaustion still seeped into him as the pain lifted.
The wind picked up, gently at first, then began to build until the tops of the trees swayed and groaned. Clouds drifted in from the west, carried by the wind, with rain saturating the air.
Amora stepped forward and stopped between him and the Council as her luminous eyes gazed up at the sky.
“She is displeased,” Amora announced as another howl rang out through the night. “The Council has shamed Her and the enemies of the Blauwald Pack have interrupted the blessings She has bestowed.”
Every one of the Council members fell to one knee, their heads bowed to the moon’s face. In Lykostroya, they asked for forgiveness.
Lowering her head, Amora turned to the Council and growled, pointing a finger with an elongating nail at them. Her eyes glowed blue-white as her lips curled back in a snarl. Power radiated from her flesh, rising up like smoke, curling and twisting around her.
Gunner fell to his knees and prompted everyone in the mind-link to follow.
[Bow your heads. We are not worthy to gaze upon Her,] he commanded.
“You bring shame in my name,” Amora declared in a voice that was not her own as everyone now bowed before her in submission. “I did not give the Code. I did not fill your minds and hearts with a thirst for power. I blessed you all and you turned your backs on me, so I took away my blessings. Instead of seeking me out, you thus turned your backs on your brothers and sisters. How dare you!”
She lowered her finger as the Council members whimpered, the wind pulling at their hair and clothing.
“How many more of my blessings will you deny? How many times will you punish your brothers and sisters before you listen to a word uttered from their lips—words that I have given them myself to say?”
“H-How could we believe, Goddess?” Rumius asked. “How could we tell Truth from lies?”
“I have given Mero my eye to decipher Truth, and still you denied!”
Stone peeked up briefly before looking away once more.
Amora’s face twisted in anger. Her cheeks hollowed. Her canines descended. The faint aura around her brightened. Reaching out her hand, Rumius flew up into the air, his hands clutching his throat as he came to a stop before her.
Everyone stared up, wide-eyed at her as Rumius choked and sputtered. Fear thickened the air as everyone struggled to draw more of it into their lungs.
Stone pressed Aubree’s muzzle against his chest, knowing that she was completely overwhelmed and trying to shield her from the Goddess’ wrath.
“You betray your own. The only greater shame than that is betraying me,” the Goddess within Amora said. “You have one chance.”
He collapsed to the ground, gasping, as the aura surrounding Amora faded and the light blinked out from her eyes. She wavered, rocking on her heels for a moment before she was able to gather her bearings.
“There’s not much time,” she said, almost breathless. “The vampires draw closer. Hundreds of them. They have slaughtered the two warriors hunting them already.”
Curses mixed with growls rumbled around Stone as he squeezed his eyes shut and buried his nose into the fur on top of Aubree’s head.
This should have been a time to celebrate. A time of joy.
Instead, he had to do what he hoped he’d never have to do.
[Gawain,] he mentally called out to his son.
Gavin hurried to his side as Stone brushed his fingers through Aubree’s soft fur. She whined in confusion under him as he pushed back his conflicting emotions.
[Lock her in the safe room and make sure she’s comfortable.]
Gavin nodded and when Stone shifted his weight, he felt her poke against his mental barriers weakly.
[What’s going on?]
He pressed his lips to her head. [I’m sorry, Love, but we need to move you someplace safe. Carina’s army is coming.]
She cursed. [Not now.]
[I’m afraid so. Gawain is going to help you. I have to lead the pack into battle. It will be quiet in the safe room so you can adjust in peace.]
[How can I adjust when I will feel everything that happens to you?] The note of worry in her tone clenched his heart.
[Fear not, Love. I have you to come back to. Nothing can stop me.]
Kissing her head once more, he shifted her in his arms as Gavin reached down to take her.
She was a lot heavier now than before, at least double her weight, but Gavin could manage.
Her muscles were still soft and weak, slowly hardening and strengthening, but they didn’t have time to wait for that. In addition to being untrained, she would only be in harm’s way if they didn’t move her.
He watched with a heavy heart as his son carried his mate into the house. Hanging his head, he sent a silent prayer of protection to the Goddess for Aubree’s safety and well-being.
A hand squeezed his shoulder. [She’ll be fine. Lead on, Alpha.]
Stone looked up at his brother-in-law before rising to his feet next to him.
That was the crux of being Alpha—there was no time to dwell on concerns that weakened you. You had to be strong, take a deep breath, and lead on.
Gwen and Gunner were watching the Council members with emotionless expressions as he turned his attention back to them. They were still on their knees, heads bowed, and shoulders slumped.
They stank of shame, humiliation, and regret.
Amora stepped next to him, catching his blues with hers and a hint of a smile gracing her lips. “How shall we proceed from here, Alpha?”
He wanted to hug the female who raised him and share a few moments of confidential conversation, but that would have to wait. Her question didn’t pertain to the impending threat, he knew, but rather to the Council members bowing before him.
“We fight,” he replied. “I don’t care what they do with themselves. We have been able to manage on our own thus far—”
“We will fight alongside your pack, Alpha,” Rumius announced. “We have but one chance.”
Alistair sniffed but said nothing.
If what the Goddess revealed to Amora was true, both Rosmi Maana warriors were dead and hundreds of vampires were swarming toward them.
They had no time to argue and they needed all the help they could get.
“We accept your appeal,” he said. “There is a valley one mile north of here. We will draw the vampires there to fight. Gawain and Guinevere will stay here and guard the pack house. I don’t doubt it will be a target.”
As the Council members rose to their feet, Alistair cracked his knuckles. “I love this part.”
He took off to the trees before stripping down and shifting with Gunner on his heels and the Council members following.
“I’m happy for you, Sten,” Amora said as soon as the Council members were out of sight.
“It’s Stone now, Amora-maw,” he said catching her gaze after glancing over at the house. “And thank you.”
He pulled Gwen in for a quick kiss on her forehead before he ran to the trees and shifted, Amora trailing behind him.