THERON

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ONE.

Catalina sat on the wooden floor, mindlessly playing with her dolls. The fireplace crackled and popped in front of her, tinting her young cheeks a rosy pink. She might have been a little too warm in her fuzzy socks and flannel pajamas but she was reluctant to move away from the flames. The heat emanating from this spot held a promise of comfort and safety that lovingly embraced her and calmed her nerves.

Outside, a storm was brewing. Harsh winds and wicked snow were set to engulf their cabin. Being so secluded and deep in the high mountains would inevitably trap them inside for days.

Glancing out the window, she bit her bottom lip. Stupid weather! It’s not that she hated the snow nor the cold per se, it was more the fact that the horrible white stuff blanketed her beautiful earth, hiding away her precious foliage and wildlife until It saw fit to slowly ease up Its torturous ways and disappear until the same time next year. It was a game Snow liked to play and no matter how vehemently Catalina refused to participate, Snow never listened.

It enjoyed her discomfort.

Standing up, she slowly made her way to the window to peer outside. The sight did not please her. Snow had sent down Its confetti in the form of big, fluffy white flakes, signaling Its welcome home party. Catalina frowned—what an arrogant, pompous devil Snow was to assume she missed It enough for such a celebration.

Jerkface.

Falling to the ground heavily, in a thick, white canvas, it had already hidden any trace of green on the ground below. “Daddy...” she whimpered, “it’s snowing.”

Catalina had never been afraid of the weather. At six years old, she was a brave little girl with a wild spirit. So much so, that she almost felt bad for her father—she had given him plenty of grief in her short span of life on this planet. But tonight, this storm made her small body tremble with anxiety and foreboding.

Something was coming.

Lucan Bakkas raised his eyes from his open book and smiled fondly at his daughter, “It is.” Whether this was confirmation of the snow or the something, she didn’t know and she didn’t desire to ask, though she hoped it wasn’t the latter.

Catalina’s frown deepened, her brows furrowed in annoyance. Her doe-like brown eyes pleaded with him, “Make Snow stop.” She no longer appreciated Its yearly play and no matter how often she voiced it, Snow never listened. Lina was always taught to listen to her father... maybe Snow would listen as well.

Lucan chuckled, amused by his little spitfire. Truth be told, he would give her the world if he could, but demanding Mother Nature halt her devious ways were not among the things he could even remotely provide Catalina. Closing his book and setting it on the end table beside his leather chair, he motioned for her by patting his lap, “Come here, Lina.”

The tiny blonde huffed, begrudgingly stomping over to her father and crawling on his lap. He pulled her to his chest, giving her body a quick squeeze. “Do you remember what we talked about?” He asked softly. Lina’s little pink lips pursed as she struggled to pull the memory from her consciousness. Lucan watched intently as his daughter’s eyes glazed over, recalling their previous discussion and he knew, without a doubt, the moment she remembered as her dark brown eyes flickered to life, focusing on him and him alone. A shadow of a smile played upon the corner of her father’s mouth, “And what did we say?” Giving a quick and determined nod of her head, Lina recited, “It was for the best, so Nature had no choice but to do it.”

Lucan’s heart felt warm and full as he patted her small thigh, “Good girl. It is not for us to question Mother Nature’s will—”

“—Only to bask in her magnanimous gifts,” Lina finished his sentence, her voice soft and quiet. The worst feeling for his wildflower was containment from the outside. Without the ground underneath her bare toes, she was sullen, lost, and a bit cranky. Her spirit could never be caged for she would surely wither and die like any living, breathing being would. She was like the wind, willful and stubborn, going any and every which way she pleased. He couldn’t help but share in her misery, as he knew very well the pain of not being able to feel the sweet soil beneath him.

The mountainous terrain surrounding their small cottage was a blessing in disguise, really. He never imagined he would pass down his love of the wild to his first and only child for her mother, his wife, had never cared for the great outdoors. But Lucan, being madly in love, sacrificed his happiness and wellbeing by joining her in the city. However, the day after she had unexpectedly passed, he relocated deep in the mountains of Tennessee. At the time, it was more out of desperation to protect Catalina than anything but, if nothing else good ever came of it, at least his daughter was happy.

Well, maybe not right now, but that was beside the point.

The wind whipped and whistled outside of their lonely cabin in the woods, slamming its forceful nature loudly against the wooden frames. “Don’t like Snow,” Lina pouted. Lucan, amused by his child’s personification of the weather, softly rubbed her back and rocked her in his strong arms, “I know, sweetheart, but it is the natural order of things. How can It resist visiting Its favorite girl once a year? Snow misses you when It’s gone.”

The child sighed, dejectedly. It never occurred to her that Snow may be visiting just to catch up. Why It would ever miss her was beyond her as her feelings towards the devilish thing were quite opposite, “Why? I don’t like Snow. I don’t miss It.”

“Just because you do not reciprocate Its fondness for you, doesn’t mean It will not still desire to see you. After all, I guess you are kind of cute,” Lucan bemused, tapping a finger lightly on her small nose. Lina giggled and swatted her father’s hand away, “I am cute! The cutest-ed ever!”

Lucan grinned in response, thanking the Goddess that she looked more like her mother than him. Not that he was a bad-looking guy, but he only wished to see his late wife every day, and now, with Lina almost her spitting image, he could.

His whole world was cuddled up next to him and these were the moments he cherished most, for he knew, as she aged, they would become less and less frequent. Her life, her essence, would change and he prayed nightly that she would never experience the pain of knowing what lay beyond their small sanctuary.

***

Lucan sipped his coffee, letting the bitter taste quell his uneasiness. Sinking further into his chair, he mindlessly watched the flames roar with ferocity, nestled safely with its confined brick prison. His body was tense and despite the warmth from the fireplace, his bones felt chilled—a coldness that ran the length of his spine in sporadic waves, reminding him that something was coming.

Lucan was not as young as he used to be and while the unyielding urge to run was suffocating him, he could do nothing about it. His life was no longer just his, but his and Lina’s. Protecting her was all that kept him in his chair, and even that was a hard feat as he yearned to stay beside her, sleeping right next to her bed to keep an eye on her. He did not wish even the slightest for her to be far from his sight. However, beside her would do him little good if he couldn’t prevent the “something” from entering their home.

No, keeping Lina ignorant of the outside world was best for now. She was too young to be burdened with such immense danger. So whatever came, he would deal with it on his own and his daughter would be none the wiser, sleeping soundly in her bed dreaming of puppies and rainbows.

So lost was he in his thoughts, he almost didn’t hear the faint howl off in the distance, outside his wooden confines. But he did... or rather, he thought he did. His head instinctually snapped away from the fireplace, towards the door, effectively breaking him from his trance. He allowed that instinct to take over, consuming his human form, heightening his sense of hearing. Staring at the front door, he tried to block out the sounds of the crackling fire and the forceful winds that whipped around his little cabin.

Time dragged on, though he didn’t know how long, with nothing but silence. Just as he was about to give up, another howl broke through the reverie, piercing his ears and stabbing his heart. It was a sad and mournful sound, emanating from desperation and pain. While Lucan knew very well what creature made such a sound, he couldn’t ignore it. Something deep and primal within him forced him to his feet to help.

He hated the lack of control his body surrendered to under such command but Lucan had never been ranked high enough with his people to deny that force. If he was correct in his evaluation of this powerful call to assist, he knew even an Alpha would not be able to ignore it. It was just the natural order of things as Alphas were not the most dominant being of their kind, though most didn’t know it.

Alphas of today were arrogant and naive, considering themselves more like gods than kings... one reason Lucan chose the solidarity life he now lived. Legends might be just stories passed down from one generation to the next but they had roots in truth. While they became nothing more than bedtime stories to scare little pups into submission, Lucan knew better and he refused to be tied to any pack that forgot their history. It was suicidal and Lucan did not wish to die anytime soon. Especially now, with his life’s purpose sleeping upstairs and unaware in her warm, comfy bed.

No, he would not fight this command.

Submitting to the call, his body took control as his mind and free will were shoved to the side, leaving him in a zombie-like state. No brain to think, only a body to move, under someone else’s sway.

Goddess, he hated that feeling.

The biting cold and the whipping wind hit his face like a mack truck. Snowflakes swirled furiously around him, the strong, icy gusts from the blizzard licked his hair in every direction but the one he wanted, smacking into his eyes and blurring and stinging his vision. The snow was three feet deep now and Lucan had to lift his long legs to make each painful step as just wading through it would not get him anywhere. It was already packed tight and frozen over, his feet had to break through it if he wanted to move. He cursed himself for not being more prepared for this. Given, he hadn’t known this particular thing would happen but he should have had enough sense to put on his boots just in case. He had grown lax in his secluded life, becoming lazy and letting his guard down. This could not ever happen again, he needed to stay on his toes for Lina. Unless they froze off, of course, which was just a secondary thought at the moment.

“Here, rogue,” a deep voice inside his head growled, obviously disgusted that it had to rely on a lesser being for help. But Lucan didn’t reply, even though he wanted to defend his existence he knew if he spoke out of turn, his life would quickly cease to exist. Glancing towards the southwest, his sight fell on the massive body of a large, black wolf. Battered, bloody, and obviously too weak to stand, the wolf snarled, looking Lucan directly in the eyes, ”NOW!”

As much as Lucan wanted to tell this wolf where to fuck off too, he also did not want to die, thank you very much.

Trudging through the snow and closing the gap between him, his eyes quickly scanned the marking on the animal’s forehead. He winced as he knew exactly which Ancient this was. The desire to bring such a ruthless being into his home was nonexistent and the bitterness of the wind chill was no longer what caused his tremors.

The beast sighed in aggravation as if sensing Lucan’s resistance, ”Don’t anger me, rogue. I’m without an ounce of patience today." Lucan had no doubt the wolf was being truthful. Assuming what he had read about the Ancients was true, this one must be in dire straights to resort to asking for help. Maybe, when he recovered, he would be gracious enough to let him and his daughter live. Lucan was under command, after all, nothing he did to this being would be of his own free will so that must account for something.

He hoped.

“This is going to hurt,” Lucan warned.

"I’m aware,” the wolf spat in annoyance and impatience.

Taking a deep breath and preparing for what was to come, he hauled the wolf over his shoulders and proceeded to carry him inside. The werewolf snarled, snapped, and whined but did not try to bite and for that, Lucan was thankful.

“You can stay here until you’re healed and then you must leave, Theron. I do not desire any trouble. My only demand while you are here is to not shift in front of my daughter as she will not understand and I plan to keep it that way,” Lucan said, defeatedly.

Theron only grunted in response, too exhausted to speak any longer. But the rogue’s words rang repeatedly through his head. It wasn’t an outlandish request. He could heal just the same in his wolf form... another blessed gift from the Goddess. And though he felt a deep, consuming hatred towards being so broken and helpless at the moment, he would grant the rogue’s wish, as a thank you. Apparently, Theron was in an oddly generous mood.

He blamed the pain.

This was the only time the Ancient could recall ever being appreciative of another were’s actions. Though Theron had often dreamt of death, longed for it even, when the time did come for him, he was unwilling to let go of this torturous existence. The truth of the matter was simple: he was scared of what might await him on the other side and Theron was never scared of anything. Not even the darkness that was now blurring on the outside of his vision and threatening to devour his being. In fact, he welcomed it with open arms.

For Theron was a fighter and loved a good challenge.

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