THERON

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FIVE.

I squint my eyes against the bright light. It’s all-consuming. Glaring and radiant, it surrounds me as far as the eye can see. I can’t remember how I got here or even where here is exactly, but I feel warm and happy... at peace.

“Where am I?” I murmur, mostly to myself since I don’t detect another presence... but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one here watching me.

“With me, Lucan, where you have always belonged,” a soft, feminine voice whispers my name, calling for my attention. Her words echo around the empty space, reverberating through my soul, and leaving me wanting more.

A flash of luminescence dims the bright light around me, zooming straight into the chest of a being that magically appears before me. Like looking into the sun, I have to shield my vision, the visitant emanating a light way too bright for my werewolf eyes to gaze upon. They burn and tear up against such a scintillating glow.

The realization of my situation comes about full force but my instincts take over before I’ve even made the connection. My body loses all attachment to my brain. Intent on going its own way, I fall to my knees and bow my head because there was only one deity I recognize—only one benevolent being I pray to and this one before me was most definitely her. “Moon Goddess,” I address, breathlessly.

“My love,” her fingers caress my face, her touch pouring forth such warmth and love that I want nothing more than to stay in this moment forever with my Goddess. However, when she lifts my face and her eyes meet mine, I lose all train of thought. Confusion and happiness spin through my body like a tornado, destroying my insides and making me question my sanity. “Never bow to me, for you and I are on the same level—even here. You may call me the name you know me best as,” she whispers as she kisses my forehead.

“Elena?” I ask dubiously.

Her eyes are big and brown, just as I remember. They twinkle with kindness and adoration, reminding me of when we first met—the moment we realized we were mates. There is a healthy pink glow to her cheeks, contrasting with her fair skin. Her long blonde locks hang over her shoulders, the same natural waves she always had, cascading towards her bosom. “Yes, my love,” she smiles and nods her head in affirmation, those brown eyes brimming with tears of joy. “I have missed you so much,” she whispers.

Forgetting my manners and lost in a moment I have been yearning for over a decade, I grab the sides of her face and pull her lips to mine. I’ve not kissed her in so long I almost forgot what it feels like. Still, a heat burst through my chest, awakening my senses and tickling my whole body with electricity. She tastes of the same apples and brown sugar that I had always known.

My Elena.

She holds tight to my hands upon her face as we pull away. The fire her kiss leaves upon my lips lingers, growing colder with every centimeter of the distance between us. “How... why?” I ask, eyes wide and searching.

“Reincarnation,” she replies as if it is the easiest and only explanation there is to be given. “Call it a favor for a dear friend,” she shrugs casually. Apparently, that’s the only answer she is going to give me right now. And while I need more information, my mind likes to take things in steps. Everything has a process—one at a time, put into a neat little box and then moved down the assembly line. So naturally, I have to fill one box with answers first before I move on to another.

The most obvious and pressing question is, “Am I dead?”

“That is a term commonly used, yes. But it should be thought of as eternal life, not death,” Her smile never falters, her expression remaining the same.

Though I am happy to be reunited with my mate, my next thought, the next box on the line, throws me into a panic. If I’m dead, what happens to my daughter? My breath hitches, my voice frantic, “Lina?!” When I last saw her she was being dragged into the woods by a hunter...

Elena pulls me into an embrace, my head resting against her chest. “Shhh, my sweet. She is safe with Theron. He is her guard now.” She runs her soft fingers through my hair, igniting those familiar sparks that splinter through my body, like lightning. But her words do not allow me to become calm under her touch.

“WHAT?!” I pull away, looking at her incredulously, “No! You think he can protect her? He’s been gone for almost sixteen years! He abandoned her!” I will not turn down my level of anger and annoyance. Theron, of all wolves, does not deserve my daughter. The reasoning behind his departure didn’t matter after so long. It was too long! I was the one left to deal with Lina in the aftermath. I was the one that had to answer all her inquiries and I was the one that held her when she cried and slept by her side until she fell asleep because ′the bed is colder without Theron.′

He left.

He didn’t come back.

He is not worthy in my book.

Elena throws her beautiful head back and laughs, a joyous, melodious sound I once took pleasure in each and every second we were together. This has not changed either. “Of course he would always return! He is pulled to her, like a moth to a flame, and she to him, though their reasoning for such may differ... there is mutual love there.”

I’m sorry... what?!

My confusion is growing into something more... something akin to frustration. “I don’t understand,” I huff. “You just made it sound like they are mates but the Ancients do not have mates. Theron cannot attach himself to my daughter—she is of wolf blood! She has a predestined mate!”

“No, she does not have a mate. She has a choice, just like I did.”

My heart falls.

A choice?

What did that mean?

Elena and I are not mates?

I am being duped...

“I know that look, Lucan,” she scolds, interrupting my bewilderment, “don’t go jumping to conclusions before I have a chance to explain. We just reunited and I do not feel like kicking our forever off with an argument.”

“Fine,” I snap bitterly, “explain then.” Maybe I’m jumping the gun but can she blame me? A Goddess is standing before me, looking suspiciously like my dead wife and similarly claiming to be exactly her. Now she is speaking like she knows Theron, the slayer of beasts, the torturer of innocents, has intertwined his heart with my daughter’s?

I refuse to blindly believe it.

“Sit,” she sighs and motions to a two-top table that I swear had not been there earlier, “we have much to discuss, you and I.”

I obey, though begrudgingly. I am very much starting to doubt this whole interaction.

I must be dreaming.

“I may have been too rash when I was younger... too proud,” She mumbles as she sits down across from me. Her eyes meet mine, a look of pleading to them as if she desperately wants me to understand her words. “When Theron performed the death kill of my last, beloved Druid, I was enraged. You can’t begin to imagine the heartbreak I went through watching my people, my worshippers, slain before my very eyes! Never once did they beg for their lives! They called out to me—screamed for me to avenge them, not spare them. And in my adoration for them, I vowed to do just that.”

“So,” Elena leans back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest, “that’s what I did. Consumed by my fury, I not only cursed Theron and his men’s forms, but their very soul as well. I made it so they would never find peace, never experience love or even the close bond of friendship outside of themselves. Any kin they may produce was purely for my own amusement. I giggled at the thought of every child that came from their loins carrying the same curse. I was... young and reckless,” she smiles, sadly. “But, as time went on, I began to love my creations. The problem was, all wolves and lycans stemmed from only three Originals so I needed to do something to keep the bloodlines pure. Inbreeding would be very... inconvenient,” she covers my hands with her soft, small fingers and proceeds, “The concept of mates was then executed as a way of ensuring this. Specific wolves and lycans were chosen to be paired for the sake of just that—breeding purposes.”

“But love is--”

"Love is a choice. The mating bond is not,” she insists. I heard what she said but I’m not following. I had been taught since a young age, it was deeply imprinted into our very being that the mating bond is sacred. My Goddess is dispelling this theory and now, I feel lost.

Elena, sensing my disbelief, continues, “The bond you felt with me, the first time you saw my face, the first time you inhaled my scent was to reel you in. It is a push, stemming from desire—a primal instinct that recognizes on a very deep level that our DNA is compatible and the children we will bear will be healthy and beautiful. That is the reason for the pull. You do not automatically fall in love... at least not real, passionate, sacrificial love. Love is a choice a bonded pair can make but it is not a mindless given.”

“But I loved you,” I whisper. I did and I still do. With all of my being. I fell hard and fast when we first met... I thought that was what mates did.

“And I you,” Elena caresses my face, a reassuring smile on hers. “I chose to fall in love with you and I did, over and over again many times. Yes, you were my mate, the perfect match to impregnate me with Catalina and I accepted that. But the more I got to know you, the more I saw the man you are, the more my decision became clear: I would love you and I would do it unconditionally. It was my choice, as it was yours from the very beginning. You were just too disillusioned by the distorted concept of the mating bond to notice it was your free will all along.”

“So, you’re saying we can fall in love just like humans?”

“Yes! Love is a universal concept, it has no boundaries, no rules. You love who you love because you see past their flaws, you accept their weaknesses, and support their strengths. Like yin and yang, love is meant to balance—one is not complete without the other and neither is one below or above. The term ‘unconditional love’ lives within that very concept.”

“What does this have to do with Lina and the Ancient?”

“I was concerned you would never ask!” Elena brightly smiles at me, “It is my favor to Catalina.”

“Why would...” and then it all made sense... well, most of it anyway. If Elena is the Moon Goddess reincarnated, then that would mean Lina is a reincarnation as well. She is the ′dear friend′ Elena was doing a favor for! Excited by my new revelation, I can’t contain myself, “Tell me!” I knew there was something special about Lina, something different from a regular wolf, and now, I have that explanation.

“Catalina is my ward. My favorite actually, but don’t tell her that,” she chuckles, “though I assume she suspects as much now.” Elena had a far-off look in her eyes, staring down at our intertwined hands, she spoke softly, “In my disgust for the four men I cursed, I was intent on leaving them to their own demise. I had exacted my revenge and saw no need to carry on worrying about them. However, being the beasts they were, they presented an unknown danger to humans... we had no idea what they would do once they discovered the extent of their new powers. In my annoyance, I assigned them watchers. Coincidentally, or fatefully, whichever you want to believe, Catalina was given Theron.”

I can’t help the gasp that escapes my throat, “She watched everything he did?” I still feel as if Lina is my daughter, regardless of what I’ve just been told. I am less than pleased knowing she had witnessed each and every one of Theron’s accused indiscretions. How gruesome for my little girl...

“That she did, from the very beginning,” Elena bobs her head. “After a while, I believed she began to sympathize with him. He was rageful, hurt... depressed. As females, we are unfortunately ingrained to want to heal those around us and she very badly wanted to help Theron. I, on the other hand, did not believe he could be saved.”

Me neither.

“Do you now? Believe he can change?” I am curious but, mostly, I need to know. If he’s so close to Lina, what kind of danger is she in?

There was a time I trusted in him, I was certain he wouldn’t harm her... but that had been such a long time ago. Lina is older now and Theron has not yet met the woman she’s become. She’s no longer a sweet, six-year-old girl.

No... my little spitfire will push every button Theron has. I know this because she’s done the same to me. Could he contain his anger enough to deal with a stubborn girl like Lina?

I have my doubts.

Elena shrugs, a sly smile on her face, “Maybe. It is yet to be seen but she has stirred something inside him that was long ago thought to be dead and gone.”

“So why is a deity like herself earthbound now?”

“Ah, yes, almost got off topic didn’t we?” She giggles, flipping her hair over her shoulder. She leans in, “When I refused to allow Catalina’s interference, she became withdrawn. After a few millennia, I could no longer bear it. She was only a shell of her former self and rarely smiled anymore. She hardly ate, she didn’t speak, she didn’t sleep... All she did was watch Theron, which only tore her apart more. And, as it would happen, something was brewing in the background—an unseen threat born from a terrible mistake I made right after cursing the Ancients. I needed that threat eliminated... so, a plan was presented.”

I furrow my brows, not liking the sneaky way she threw that last part into the mix, “Wait, what threat?”

Elena frowns, her once happy eyes grew cold and lifeless, “I will get to that in a minute.”

Catalina and I made a deal. If Theron could learn to love, to fall into true love, I would lift his curse. Since she was so insistent that he could change, she was allowed to help him do just that. Her memories were wiped and she was to be sent to earth when I became pregnant.”

“Lina is going to make him fall in love... with her?” Nope. I did not like that one bit.

“Oh, Lucan, no!” She laughs at me as if it is the silliest notion in the world. “Have you not been paying attention to anything I have said? You cannot make someone fall in love—Lina cannot force Theron to love her, that would be his choice, thus, the proof that he is, in fact, worthy of redemption.”

I cannot imagine that beast loving anyone or anything. He’s too deep in his own despair to notice anything around him. He connected with Lina only because of the reincarnated remnants she carried of the Goddess herself. His feelings are not real or by choice—just like a mating bond, her scent, her allurement, was inevitable.

“Don’t be such a negative Nancy, my love! When you have been around as long as I, you learn that not everything is set in stone.”

“Fine,” I grumble, “continue.”

Elena rolls her eyes, “Same old Lucan. Anyway, this brings me to the second part of the story—my mistake. If Theron achieves these deep feelings for Catalina, it also gives him something to fight for and I need him to fight. My Ancients have to be united as one for what is to come. They are most powerful together.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is a war brewing,” she sighs. “If not put in check, it will cause a mass extinction of my werewolves and lycans. Your kind may have started as a hateful joke, but I have grown quite fond of my lovely creations and their adoration for me. I weep for every one that I lose and I cannot stand to lose anymore.”

“Are you referring to Superlunar Industries?” Kai had informed me of what they had discovered after Theron’s capture but I did not fathom it would turn into something more dangerous to our species.

“Yes. Currently, Superlunar is experimenting on my children. Discovering their strengths and splicing their DNA to create a monstrous new breed... one that can’t be defeated by silver or wolf’s bane alone.”

I blink in surprise, “For what reason? Why would they do that? How do they even know about us?”

Fuck those boxes, my mind is spinning now and there is no hope of slowing it down.

“Why do humans do what they do? For the money, power, world domination... war? How much could they profit from creating the perfect superhuman warrior to grace those frontlines? All they need to do is alter the sperm of my most powerful wolves and lycans, then implant them into a willing female or grow them in a dish, who knows what they fuck they’re doing.”

“Fuck me,” The Ancients are terrifying enough on their own, if Superlunar Industries now had DNA belonging to Theron... I shudder to think of the result that could come from that monstrosity.

“No, fuck us. Because the consequences of such a beast would be the ultimate destruction of every living thing that resides on our planet. Everything will perish, it has been foreseen.”

“And your mistake was...”

“I created a fifth immortal,” she drops her eyes in shame and I’m in shock. No written word speaks of such an incident. I don’t believe it, “Another Ancient?!”

She swallows before finally meeting my gaze once more, a lump forming in her throat as her eyes begin to tear up. It must have been one hell of a mistake. “Yes and no. They came to be at the same time but were not given the same curse. They are not werewolf or lycan, but a deity of my own making and they are the driving force behind Superlunar.”

“Arthur Grimes is immortal?”

“No, he is just a tool... a means to an end.”

But I’m not done yet, there was one remaining question that seemed so important... I have to know what the connection is. I have to ask, “And the Triple Moon Goddess symbol?”

“Ah, that is a little treat, no?” Her smile is bitter but mischievous, “Irony, coincidence, destiny... fate? Call it whichever you choose. ”

“What do you mean?”

“It is quite funny, don’t you think? How that symbol coincides with Theron’s story—his redemption,” Elena eyes me, warily. I stare at her, a blank expression on my face because that’s exactly what I’m feeling at this moment, “I’m not following.”

“Catalina has the wolf form of an Ancient, does she not? The symbol upon her head—”

“The waxing moon,” I interrupt.

“A mark that describes her and her role in his life fittingly—” she adds.

“She is the maiden?” I about choke on my spit. What was the meaning of this? How had I not connected the dots before?

“Exactly! She is youth, purity, naïveté—she is his new beginning! I, therefore, am the full moon, the mother. I invited him to give and receive love. It’s quite a sign from Fate,” she quirks.

“Wow! That is....” I was so close to shutting the book on this, certain the story had been delved into deep enough. Mind blown, I almost forgot about the third symbol, the one that she had not explained yet, “wait, the waning moon, Crone...”

She nods, dolefully, “She is the end to his story, the wisdom that comes from experience and fulfillment.”

“If Lina is the embodiment of the maiden, and you are the mother, then who is Crone?”

Elena is silent, shame casts darkness over her features and her eyes harden once more, “My fatal mistake.”

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