A hand stroked my face, gently, almost lovingly. Will. He thought I never knew, but I could feel it when he watched me sleep, those few times we had actually slept. Instead of finding it creepy, I seemed to find it endearing, like he was giving up sleep and his own comfort because he couldn’t take his eyes off of me. I felt his gaze now and another soft brush of my cheek led its hand down to my neck, where its gentle touch shot pain into my shoulder.
Slowly, I opened my eyes, and looked up to see Chuck, looking down at me. His eyes were on my neck and chest, not noticing that I was now awake.
The last few minutes before I passed out quickly returned to me. I had almost been murdered, tortured certainly, and then stuck like a cow with a scalding brand. Quickly closing my eyes again, I tried to feel Will and came up blank. We were divided, just as I suspected was the purpose of the incantation. I felt a surge of rage but quickly fought to quell it before it took root. My position had not changed, I was still in a cell inside a cave. Assumedly, Diana was still here and under threat, so I couldn’t go guns blazing to get out of here, yet.
I opened my eyes again to watch Chuck, still unaware I was conscious. He was looking at my body, someone had taken off my riding jacket and my shirt had ridden up my stomach while I was laying on the cot. Where the hell had his sudden amorous and savior-like love come from that had pushed him down this path? It couldn’t be that one time we made out in junior year. We had both had partners since then, him many more than just my Chad. He had always had playful passes, but nothing I took seriously. He was the entertainer in our group, the attention seeker. What had changed?
Me. I had changed, I had some power and sass to go with it, and I realized Chuck had always loved power. He had dated professors, aspiring musicians, even a minor politician once. But now he was exposed to real, tangible power. It was primitive, older, and it seemed he wanted in on it but without bringing anything to the table. I had an idea of where this was going for him, how this was going to end. Chuck was certainly going to die.
But there was nothing I could do to alter whatever hand he dealt himself, now all I could deal with was my own. His eyes were still on my shoulder and seemed like they were about to wander down my body.
“You know, breaking me off from William isn’t going to magically make me fall in love with you,” I spoke softly, but the edge to my voice was nearly screaming at him.
His eyes flew up to mine, now open and watching his hand as it traveled down and pulled my shirt down to my hips.
“I know. But you still have a lot to learn, and I’m patient.” Bringing a cloth to my neck, he tenderly pressed down on my open wound and I was reminded that I had just nearly been killed for reasons unknown.
Propping myself up on my elbows, I felt sore everywhere, my ribs where he had squeezed me tight, my jaw he had gripped, the curve of my spine as I tried to twist out of his hold.
“Chuck, what is this about? I deserve some answers at this point. Hell, I deserve a whole cheat sheet with them. I am not a good Witch yet, am still in the dark about wolves, and I didn't know much about my dad before he passed away. I am no use to anyone here.”
Chuck’s jaw set and he sighed.
“I don’t know it all yet, but the people you live with on the commune... they are not good people, Kel.”
My body stiffened and he pressed on, seeing my unwillingness to believe anything he said.
“Kel, they have killed people.” That did it, he had been fed lies through this whole thing and seemed he was now a source of second hand gossip.
“Of all the fucking nerve you people have. Sneaking into a peaceful coven on their night of celebration and murdering them. They aren’t good people?! Wake up, Chuck! You guys are the villains in this story!” My ire started to pick up at his stupidity and accusations when the light bulb above glowed brighter for a moment.
Had they not done their research and discovered that we didn’t actually devil worship? I mean, I had been clueless and naive about it only up until the other day. Chuck, always one to be oblivious to anyone else, now to my anger continued on,
“It also has something to do with your dad…”
At that moment, the cell door opened and Arawn came in holding a muffin in one hand and a red metal box with a first aid symbol in the other.
“Now Charles, that isn’t your story to tell.”
Chuck sprung to his feet and squared them as a solider at attention would.
Flicking his head back outside the door, Arawn asked him,
“Why don’t you go and get ready with the others?” And looking back down on me, Chuck gave a brief smile, barely hitting his cheeks, before walking out.
Arawn strode in confidently, taking a place on the cot next to me, I cringed and scooted a little to make sure our bodies didn’t touch. Raising the box to my eye level,
“Sorry, dear, but our field medic is quite busy right now with some surgery, so I’ve been tasked to take care of that wound,” gesturing to my shoulder and I looked at it. It was ugly and raw to the muscle. Open wounds easily led to infections, I hated this man, but I wouldn’t let myself die.
Sitting, I pulled my shirt off my shoulder more and tilted my head to the side, giving a clear invitation for his ministrations. In return, he gave a fatherly smile and handed me the muffin, laying down the tin and started to unpack it. Devouring the muffin, a moment later a cool sensation came over the wound and I unconsciously sighed with relief I didn’t know I needed. The room was quiet for a few moments, a woman’s voice sounding from somewhere far away outside the door, reminding me of why I came in the first place.
“Where is my cousin?”
“She will be in shortly.”
I looked to him, his focus on the bed, cutting up bandages and strips of elastic. He was a handsome man, dark hair but fair skin, salt and peppered at the temples. He carried himself in a way any man would envy, strong, and confident that it would never fail him. He had to be at least 50 but may be relied on his fair skin to let him look younger than his years. The first and second time we had met, he was in jeans and a button up shirt with a casual blazer over. Now, it was cargo pants with an empty tactical utility belt and a thermal long sleeve shirt. I looked him up and down once more, for all of his ‘dears’ and ‘sweethearts’, I got a distinct feeling that this was the most dangerous man I had ever met. Worse than the man who had previously leeched air out of me.
But this man, he kept the congenial smile on his face, and was trying to make me comfortable despite letting that animal at me. For all the threat he posed to the Blue Moon Pack and Hunter Valley Coven, it was becoming clearer that he really wasn’t going to harm me any more than what had already happened.
“Where are you from?”
Pressing a gauze to my shoulder, he replied.
“Scotland, a little island called Skye.”
“Pretty far from home? Why did you come to America? Surely there are things you can hunt back there?”
He leaned back to assess his work on my shoulder.
“Many things. And I did for years, but I came to a stalemate. I could have stayed there a while and seen it through, but my wife convinced me to give the states a try so she could come and finish up something of her own. And really, marriage is always about negotiation, right?” He looked up to my face and gave a genuine smile.
Married? Psychotic Hunters married?
He started to plaster the gauze down with tape.
“So we packed up shop, took our company global, started to recruit and train men here, then slowly began to do what we did best.”
I looked at him warily. This felt like an ending to a horror movie, the villain spilling his secrets and inner workings. Why the hell was he telling me this? Shaking my head,
“Look, that is very nice and all, but what does this have to do with me?”
He frowned and gaped his mouth, I cut him off,
“And no more of this ’waiting for the boss’ crap. You let that man torture and nearly kill me, take some goddamn responsibility here.”
The amicable smile left his face as I chastised and he became serious,
“What do you know of your father?”
Back to Ewan, a ghost whom it seemed many people still currently thought about. He had said as much before leaving me at the whim to the two attackers, but I had other things to focus on at the time. Still, he wanted to give me answers, so I was going to be truthful.
“He was a good man, good father at least. He wasn’t perfect, but he taught me how to play rugby, let me do things in my own time, never set hard limits. Always took my side when my mom and I would fight.” I stared down at the floor now,
“He didn’t deserve to die the way he did, he was a good man.”
The cot beside me shifted and it felt like my captor wanted to hold my hand on consolation, instead, he retorted,
“He was also a wolf,”
I nodded, nothing new there, though it would have been nice to know it 27 years earlier.
“...an Alpha wolf,” I raised my eyes to him, puzzled.
“Like, of a pack?”
“Like, of the oldest pack in Wales, where the strain of lycanthropy originated.”
Okay, my father was an Alpha, thinking about his physical build, that wasn’t really a surprise from what I knew of Weres. The bigger ones usually were higher up on the food chain, and, he had been big and definitely fit. My face must not have been shocked enough for Arawn though and he continued.
“If there was ever a version of royalty in the Were culture, it would have been from his family.”
I paused, well that was news. Weres had their version of royalty? The concept that anything was held in high regard to a race that was literally animals half of the time, was almost humorous. I gave a chuckle at the thought,
“Okay, so again, what does this have to do with now? Whatever my father was, he still died like a normal man, no amount of ‘royal blood’ could save him from a good old fashion house fire.”
Arawn clearly didn’t like my humor, didn’t appreciate that he was giving me answers and I wasn’t enthralled with every word he was spouting. He put one last piece of medical tape on my shoulder and patted it down with a little too much force.
“Yes, well, unfortunately for you, before he met your mother, he made some promises to powerful people. Promises that you need to fulfill.”
What the fuck? These Hunters actually expected me to fulfill a thirty year IOU of a deceased wolf who never let his own daughter in on his secret? I was about to tell the man where he could fulfill his own promise, but a faint scream from outside hit my ears and I stopped mid sentence. Arawn couldn’t hear it, it was too far away in the cave system. But I would recognize that scream anywhere.
Heat flared in my body and I turned to him, angry and starting to twitch with it.
“What are you doing to my cousin?”
He frowned and looked down at his watch.
“Ah, yes, they might be finished by now.” My hands started to scrunch, and I realized I had been remiss this whole time. I shouldn’t have been getting this assholes life story, rather figuring out how to get out of here. I stood up and went to the door, leaving Arawn on the cot and tried the door. It opened easily and I began to walk out, when there was suddenly a broad flat blade at my stomach. I looked down and saw one of their signature machetes poking me, gently. A man dressed in a tactical outfit like Arawn was holding it, and our eyes met.
“Ms. Jones, please go back inside.” Prodding me a little more, I backed away and into the cell. Arawn on the bed, unmoved, was giving me a grim smile. I shrugged,
“Worth a try.”
Fuck, what spells did I know that could get help here? Not many. That is probably why they felt comfortable bringing me down here, I was an equivalent of a child. I could scream and shout and cause a ruckus, but they could just lock me in the room, secure that I was incapable of doing anything of real consequence. Well, I could start frying brains, just like the man in the alleyway, but it seemed like that was a method that would cost me too much later on, and I still had to get Diana safely out of here.
I started to pace, really looking at the cell I was in, Arawn watching me in silence, keeping me company.
The walls were all the original dirt, looking like it had been recently excavated. A few light bulbs had been strung in from the main hallway and nailed into the walls, and there was a blinking camera in the ceiling corner. A few roots from the trees on the surface had made their way down here and were straggling out of a few spots of the ceiling. Some were just like threads, but others were thicker, around wrist size, and whoever had dug these walls had left them protrude, rather than cutting them.
Another of Diana’s screams penetrated the cell, now loud enough for Arawn to hear. He shifted on the cot, still looking relatively calm. My eyes widened in fear for her, but also anger that she, a pregnant woman would have to scream like that. I rounded on him, ready to release my fury in some way I couldn’t think of, he beat me to it though by raising his hands.
“Relax, both she and the baby are fine. She is in a little pain, probably, but the screaming is more emotional, I bet.”
Diana wailed again outside, and I couldn’t tell if he was right or not, but they were definitely bringing her back this way. Keeping my focus on the door, I spoke clearly so he could hear me at the back of the room.
“Just remember, she is your insurance.”
There was a beat of silence. Heavy footsteps were coming closer to the room, but he calmly responded.
“Well, not just her, the baby too, surely?”
I turned on him, what the fuck did that mean? The door now squeaked open and a heavy set man was holding Diana in his arms, bridal style. Her head tilted back, looking up to the ceiling, and with tears streaming down her face, she looked like she was rearing up for another scream. He came in and laid her down gently on the other cot. She let out a wail, but Arawn was right, this wasn’t from pain exactly. The man retreated back out the door and I looked down at my cousin in horror, the simple nightgown she was now in had some dirt and smears of blood on it. Holding her stomach, she now looked up at me, eyes and face puffy from the sheer amount of emotion running through it. Through the sniffles, she sobbed out to me.
“Kel,...they took her.”
I looked down at her stomach, now noticing that it wasn’t so rotund.
They had cut out my cousin’s baby.
C-sectioned her out of her mother’s body.
I turned to Arawn, now standing, and lunged at him with my hands shaped into claws, a primal display of the aggression I felt. He caught me easily and maneuvered to hold my left arm behind my back in a locking brace, his stomach pressing up against my back. His head came to my ear and we both faced Diana in the intimate position.
“Now Kelly, calm down. Both ladies are okay. They are just separated now.”
I hissed back at him
“You fucking psycho, I really didn’t understand the depth of insanity here, but I get it now.”
The bulbs in the room flared with light and I felt the air charge in the room with my anger. Fuck. Diana looked up at me in terror, probably remembering that night on the hill where I burned everyone.
I let out a deep breath and did the techniques Gran taught me. A few moments later, the lights returned back to normal. Arawn still held me bound and I told him, knowing it was useless.
“Bring her to us.”
Instead of chuckling as I expected, he said in what was supposed to be a comforting voice,
“Don’t worry, she is safe and healthy and our medic is taking care of her. She will eventually be given back. I promise.”
At his words, Diana propped herself up, only to fall back in pain. Her hands flew to her lower stomach, and blood started to seep onto her nightgown from underneath. The patch grew larger and I struggled in Arawn’s grip.
“Please, let me go to her,” I whispered behind my shoulder, pleading.
His hands let go of their strong grip and I kneeled down by my cousin. Looking her in the eye and pushing back some of her golden hair, I told her,
“I’m going to look, okay?”
Through tears, she nodded and I lifted the nightgown up past her groin, to her stomach. A large gash, about half a foot was now at the bottom of her abdomen. It had been stitched up but looked like a rush job from a beginner seamstress. I gasped,
“Who the fuck did this? Was he blind?” I shrilled at the man behind me. Blood was now seeping from various spots along the wound, and the puffy red parts of it told me it was heavily inflamed, inside and out.
I turned my head around to see Arawn looking down, his lips pursed, as if intrigued by a puzzle.
“It was the first C-section of our medic, though he did study up on it and well, but there was bound to be a little roughness to it.”
My eyes widened in disbelief and it was only the grip of Diana’s hand that planted me in the spot. Grabbing her other hand, I scooted up to her face.
“Dee, it doesn’t look good. Do you know any incantations that might help? I’m... I’m just not up to that yet.”
She vehemently shook her head.
“Not without any of my roots or herbs. I just… I can’t even think, Kel.” She let out another tampered whimper. She was in pain, serious pain.
“Dee, come on, please think, there has to be something you can think of…?”
The door to the outside hallway opened up and a woman’s voice, smooth and unruffled, came floating in as if on a breeze meant just for me.
“Now come Kelly, you could fix Diana up in a jiff…”
Through my own tears I looked over to the door, and saw a very much alive Jolene Jones, my deceased mother, strut in as if she owned the place.
“...if you just put a little heart into it.”