F O R T Y - S I X
It took me twenty minutes to find the Chief, mainly because this place was built like a damn labyrinth.
Hell, I didn’t even have this much trouble navigating the Minotaur’s Labyrinth and that place only had torches as light sources.
When I finally found the Chief, he was on his dock gutting some large, freaky looking fish.
“Piscë are nasty creatures to look at” he murmured from his low position “But they sure taste good when Halyn tops it on her fry bread.”
I cocked my head to the side “Fry bread?”
He made a tsk and glanced up at me “You’ve never had Fry bread?”
I shook my head “Can’t say that I have.”
“You new wolves need to brush up on your ancestry” He tsked again “You don’t know what you’re missing out on.”
He sighed and then stood from his perch on the dock “Something tells me that you didn’t come here to have me berate you about losing your roots, did you Honiahaka?”
I shook my head in ‘No’
“Very well” he leaned against the dock railing “Ask me the questions I see burning in your eyes Honiahaka.”
“What does it mean to be a Guardian and why were we chosen?” I leaned against the railing and watched the Chief contemplate my questions, his stoic face remaining impossibly serene.
“You get to the point” His lips twitched “Don’t you?”
I shrugged “No time to waste in situations like these.”
“The Matthews were chosen because we have always had an affinity with what the world could not fully understand” he said “Before we were granted with our own Wolf Advisers by the Spirits, we knew that there was more to this world than our own beliefs and faith systems.”
He gaze at her when he spoke those words but it was like he was looking past her, focusing just enough to remember the past but not become fully engulfed in it.
“The Matthews Pack were the only real choice to guard the Gate” he said “All the other Clans before us, rather they be supernatural or not, gave into the temptation that the Prisoners had to offer.”
“What made the Matthews so special?” I asked “Why were they able to resist the temptation?”
His lip twitched up into a millimeter smile which softened his whole face in a way that made him more welcoming.
“That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves for centuries” he said with a twinkle in his eye “Some of the Pack thinks it’s because of our wolves and other think it’s because we’re more in tuned with our Spiritual faith.”
“But you don’t believe those reasons, do you?”
He shook his head “No, I don’t.”
“I mean, they could definitely be a possibility of why we were able to resist the temptation” he leaned back “But I don’t think they’re the main reason.”
“Weren’t you one of the first Guardians?” I arched an eyebrow “Shouldn’t you know why our family was able to resist?”
“I was the first Guardian” he corrected “But that doesn’t mean I know why we were able to resist while other were not.”
I deflated “So the only reason we were chosen as these Guardians was because we were able to resist temptation?”
He shrugged “Among other things.”
“Such as...?” I pressed for more information.
He grinned at me “Things that you will find out once you’ve lived a long and hopefully happy life.”
My eyebrow shot up to my hairline “Hopefully happy?”
“Something troubles you, Honiahaka” He nodded “Your Wolf is restless and pacing so much that my Wolf is starting to become anxious.”
“You can feel my Wolf?” I gaped at him.
“And I can see her too” He nodded “She is a strong warrior. A little wild but strong. A good fit for you.”
“A boy troubles you deeply” he murmured suddenly, looking rather uncomfortable with the turn of conversation “It is interfering with your spiritual connection with your Wolf.”
My mouth nearly dropped to the floor at his words.
I must have had “Pathetic Lovesick Loser” tattooed on my forehead because nobody, and I mean nobody, could have guessed that the troubles I was having were because of my Mate.
“Josephina told you” I narrowed my eyes “But why would she tell you if she warned me that your were an unemotional Wolfbot?”
He choked on a laugh “A what?”
“An unemotional Wolf Robot that is incapable of feeling human emotions” I explained “She said that you hated crybabies.”
He cocked his head to the side “My daughter said that?”
“And are you currently crying?”
I shook my head ‘No’
“While it is true that I don’t handle emotions in the same ways that my Mate and Daughters do,” he said cheekily “I do understand that newly Mated couples do have their issues.”
I cleared my throat, trying to keep my uncomfortable blush at bay.
“Can we go back to my questions please?” I pleaded desperately “I have a few more to ask before our time is up.”
He chuckled “Very well.”
“Before I ask you about this gate,” I murmured “I had a question that has been nagging me since I’ve begun this journey.”
He nodded for me to continue.
“The monsters I’ve faced, Arachne, Lycaon, and the Minotaur all referenced a ’key” I said, biting the hangnail on my thumb “With the exception of the Minotaur, they all thought that I had this ‘so called’ key. What did they mean by that?”
His posture changed so fast that if I wasn’t studying his every move intensely, I would have missed the slight tension in his shoulders and neck.
“A key?” he asked solemnly “They mentioned a key?”
He let out a curse in an unfamiliar language, at least I think it was a curse, before straightening his spine and walking towards his house on the dry land.
“Where are you going!” I called after him.
“To research” he called back, the gray at his temples shining silver in the sun “If this key is what I think it is then we are all going to be in big trouble.”
“Wait!” I cried out “I had one more question!”
He paused and then turned back to face me, his face showing his irritation at my interruption.
“Yes?” he asked somewhat impatiently.
“Where is this so called gate?” I asked loudly “I’ve been here for an hour and traveled through the whole town and still haven’t seen this thing!”
He smiled and then pointed to something beyond me.
I glanced over my shoulder and found him pointing at the lake.
“That’s the problem with the new generational wolves” he said “You’re looking for something that you think is going to smack you in the face, not really understanding that what you’ve been searching for has been under your nose this entire time.”
With those parting words, he left me to my own devices on his dock with the weird chopped up looking fishes.
Curiosity, my longest friend and enemy, got the best of me.
When I peaked over the edge of the railing, I gasped in equal parts shock, surprise, and horror.
Below the depths of the lake water was a huge coliseum like dome with metallic bars so intricately woven together it looked like it was a painstakingly impossible task to open it. Slung across those bars were thirteen translucent chains that shimmered like lightening in a heavy storm.
Surrounding the coliseum were -after a few moments of deciphering what I was truly looking at- thirteen tridents that were crafted out of different materials that looked like they were created solely from commodities found in the ocean, like shells, oceanic animal bones, and precious stones.
Finally, hovering strategically between the chains and tridents; above the coliseum, was thirteen skulls with malicious looking expressions marring their bony features. Hellfire was coming out of every orifice of the skulls which made them look even more sinister. There were carvings engraved on the tops of them, symbols that I couldn’t make out for the life of me.
The longer that I gazed at the Gate, the more the twisting feeling in my gut grew.
This key (ironically) was the answer to everything that us happening here and I had the feeling that whatever the Chief knew about this key was something that would change our lives forever.
I was so focused on trying to make it back outside the barrier and relay what I’ve learned from the Chief to Zephyr, that I didn’t take note of my surroundings.
Which was evident when I rammed into a soft body.
The woman grunted as we were both knocked down to the floor by the force of our collision.
“Whoa!” she laughed as she stood up “Where’s the fire?”
“I’m so sorry” I apologized as I stood and wiped the dirt of the pants “I was lost in my thoughts.”
“No problem” she smiled, pushing back some of her curly red strands behind her ear “I’ve done that before too.”
“Still...” I smiled sheepishly “I should have watched where I was going.”
“It’s really not a problem” she smiled back, holding out her hand to me “I’m Jordan Daisy Weiss, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Serenity” I shook, my eyebrow raising a bit “You not a Matthews?”
“I’m a Matthews” She shook her head “I just didn’t know until I...you know...”
She trailed off, closing her eyes and sticking her tongue out and slicing a finger across her neck that signaled her dying.“Well, that is one unique way to find out, I guess” I took in our surroundings “To wake up here after you died and see people going about their days like they were still living.”
“Imagine my surprise when I realized that there really was an afterlife?” She snorted “I would apologize to my Nan if she was here but unfortunately for her, she wasn’t a Matthews.”
“You didn’t believe in the afterlife?” I asked, shuffling my feet.
She shook her head “The way I was raised, in a neighborhood like mine, you start to lose hope that an afterlife exists for someone like you.”
I frowned “You didn’t come from a good home?”
“My Nan and Pop Pop did what they could” She shrugged “But when you Momma leaves you to become a Married Man’s Mistress, and you don’t know who your Daddy is, their’s only so much they can do with limited resources to keep you on the straight and narrow.”
She gestured for me to follow her and I did, intrigued with her story.
“Did you ever find out who your Dad was?” I asked “I mean, he has to be here if he died right? All Matthews come here when they die.”
“I did” She said softly “But I haven’t spoke to him yet.”
“Why not?” I all but squawked “If he’s here, then what are you waiting for?”
“His whole family is here” she said quietly “His true mate and their kids are here. I don’t know how to approach him.”
I paused “How long have you been here for?”
“Since 1922” she smiled when I gaped at her “I died when I was twenty-two.”
“You’re that old?”
“Geez thanks,” she rolled her eyes “Way to make me feel better.”
“That’s not what I meant” I shook my head “It’s just...you’re so...hip?”
“Hip?” She laughed “Whose the old one now?”
“How did you die?” I asked wincing at my insensitive tone “If you don’t mind me asking?”
“Back then, there was a lot more supernatural creatures that roamed the human world” Her eyes turned wistful “And since I didn’t know what I was until it was too late, I ended up trusting the wrong supernatural being.”
“They killed you?” I asked in shock.
“And you didn’t heal?”
“I never even shifted before” she shook my head “When I was dying, my Wolf tried to shift to protect me but couldn’t. The Chief said that since I wasn’t surrounded by my kin, since I lived in the inner city, she didn’t know that shifting could accelerate the dying process.”
I gasped “I’m so sorry.”
She gave me a soft smile “I’m not.”
“Although my life was cut short, I managed to do some pretty amazing things” she smiled “I lived life to the fullest, no matter what card life dealt me.”
“Now enough about me” she lead me towards the familiar row of houses I saw when walking with Josephina “What had you so wrapped up in the brain of yours that made you near me plow me over to death?”
Heat filled my cheeks “I really am sorry about that by the way.”
She laughed and poked my ribs “I was just pulling your leg.”
“I know” I sighed “But it’s nothing.”
“So it doesn’t have anything to do with that big scary gate underneath the Chief’s lake house?”
My head snapped to her “You know about that?”
“Girl, I’m one of the Guardians that deals with that gate directly” She raised an eyebrow “The Chief asked me to escort you back to your friend before my shift.”
“That’s why you were heading my way.”
“Yes” she said, nodding her head “Is this friend of yours the reason why you’re here?”
“How do you know I’m not here because I died?” I asked.
“Because we would feel it.”
“Feel when another one of our Clan passes over” she touched her heart “Every time someone dies, our hearts squeeze tight for about thirty seconds, momentarily robbing us of our breath. The last time that happened, your Uncle joined us.”
My own heart panged at the information of how close, even after death, the Matthews Pack was to one another.
“I’m here because I need something” I said cautiously “Something that will make itself known to us when the time is right.”
“And does your friend know what this something is?”
“I don’t think so” I shook my head “But he’s keeping something from me. I can feel it.”
She squinted at me as we ended up at the Matthews Elysium border.
“Is this friend of yours your true Mate?”
“What?” I asked, shocked that another person came to that conclusion just by staring at me.
“He is” I said, no point in lying to her since apparently everyone knew my lovesick troubles “But I don’t see how him being my Mate is relevant.”
“Oh my sweet Serenity” she cupped my face with her right hand “That fact is the most pertinent information of all.”
“Why?” I asked defensively “Why would me having a mate be so important?”
“Because one Matthews made the mistake of trusting someone they shouldn’t have” she said, her eyes dimming sadly “I don’t want to see another one end up down here because they were fooled into believing a lie.”