THERON

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EIGHTEEN.

Hope is an idiotic thing.

It forces us to cling to illusions, to live in a world of fantasies and daydreams.

Hope causes us to entertain lies, further extending our torment long past its expiration date...

Just like I am currently doing—checking every room in this house on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, Theron hadn’t really left.

It isn’t until DeLoren appears in front of me that I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Hope is a fucking bitch.

“Lina,” he gently calls my name, a tone DeLoren is not exactly known for... that should have been my first clue. It’s in this very moment, the moment where our eyes connect, my worst fear is confirmed. But because of that cunt named Hope I still have to hear it...

I fiddle with my fingers, wringing my hands like a stupid dish towel. It takes a good, miserable, twenty seconds before he finally shoves the rest of that metaphorical knife into whatever small amount of space is left within my heart.

“He isn’t here.”

Fuck you, Hope.

I don’t want to fall apart again. I never want to appear weak and emotional in front of any of the Originals. Though Theron had seen me at my worst on more than one occasion, that’s okay—he’s my best friend.

Or was.

I’m not sure best friends usually rendezvous between the sheets.

But DeLoren is a different story. I remember him from long ago, but I don’t actually know him so I still consider him an Ancient by all accounts; A being deserving of cautious respect. However, with Theron gone and my heart thoroughly hurting, DeLoren being who he is doesn’t matter anymore.

I’m not ashamed of my crumbling face.

I just don’t care.

Strong arms envelop me, embracing the waterworks without complaint or hesitation. “I’m sorry,” he buries his face in my hair. I can sense the disappointment, the sadness he also feels... I am not the only one who lost a friend, after all.

What I did not expect was an additional hug from another Ancient.

“Fuck yeah! A Lina sam’mich!” Kai cries excitedly as he squashes me between him and DeLoren. In this particular “sandwich” I feel less like the meat and more like the condiments—oozing out all sides by the pressurized squeezing of two overly clingy Ancients.

“I hear... h-h-humans nurse their pain with... ice cream,” DeLoren stammers, almost as if such a thought physically hurts him to even speak of, “I could get you a... what... What do girls like? A carton? A tub?”

“Pint. It’s a pint, you idiot!” Kai shakes his head, dumbfounded, “Classless brute.”

It’s the screen door slamming that breaks up our somewhat tender moment.

Marius is frozen in the doorway, his phone clutched in one hand. He is the only Ancient that I can’t read. Unless he’s speaking his mind, his face remains stoned, revealing nothing.

“And where have you been?” DeLoren’s voice shatters the stillness that had previously followed Marius into the mill. I’m ashamed to say that in my current state of mind I hadn’t even noticed his absence. Thinking back on what Theron had said about him, I wonder now how much of his silent demeanor comes from sadness and frustration and how much is just him.

Marius squares his shoulders, “I’ve been on the phone with the council, discussing ways to get our brother back.”

“Uh-oh,” I hear Kai huff under his breath, his tone a taunting warning.

“Why? Why do you continue to do that?” DeLoren raises his voice, the timbre vibrating the small mill, “We created the council! We don’t need their fucking permission for anything! Or have you forgotten who runs the show around here?”

Marius slides a hand down his face, a small gesture I recognize as frustration, “I remember quite well. I also remember we created them because we needed outside guidance. We are too close... too biased.”

"No. They were created to handle petty, everyday bullshit we couldn’t be bothered with. That’s it! You spend too much time enamored with Uriah and his cronies that you don’t even see what’s right in front of you! But go on, let’s hear all about what the mighty council suggested we do about Theron!”

Marius hesitates, mulling over what had just been said. I don’t know his relationship with the council or who Uriah is, specifically, but it hasn’t escaped my notice that every time there’s a problem, Marius’ first choice is to call the council. Clearing his throat he finally speaks, “They said it was too dangerous and—”

DeLoren throws his hands up in the air, annoyed, “Well, of course, they did!”

“Now, DeLoren—”

But DeLoren isn’t having any of it, “Don’t you dare use that fucking dad voice on me! It’s high time the council remembers their place. They answer us! Not the other way around! You call them back right now and tell them to fuck off!”

“Theron left on his own accord,” Marius reminds him.

DeLoren whirls around, glaring daggers, “And Theron’s a stupid asshole.”

I cannot argue that.

“A stupid asshole that sacrificed himself to spare us—to save our kin...” Marius insists, stepping forward to close the gap between them. I gape at him, not sure what he’s thinking. DeLoren is already on edge, a powder keg ready to blow, and here Marius is, cornering him.

But the bond between these Originals will never fail to surprise me.

DeLoren slumps, anger replaced by anguish. His voice is thick, gritty with emotion as he calms himself enough to understand what Marius is trying to say, “So because he went willingly they will do nothing?”

“Yes.”

“How suspiciously convenient,” he sighs.

“On the contrary, it isn’t willingly if he was blackmailed into doing so,” Kai interjects.

Marius and DeLoren ignore him, staring at each other in some sort of silent conversation.

Kai huffs with a shake of his head, “No respect.”

“Mark my words, Marius,” DeLoren pulls himself together, “your council is corrupt. Theron didn’t trust them and neither do I. For a second, I beg you, just consider what they have to gain by getting rid of Theron. I promise you he won’t be the last of us to disappear from a seat the council no longer wishes to fill.”

Marius refuses to listen, “Disloyalty is not our way. You need to trust that the council has our best interests in mind... and Theron knows what he is doing.”

“We’ll get him back,” Rhys states confidently.

I raise my eyebrows in bewilderment.

How had I missed him sneaking in?

Did he use the back door?

But time seems to speed up, interrupting my thoughts, everything happening so fast and in my weakened, emotional state, my brain has difficulty catching up with my eyes.

One second I am standing beside Kai, happy to see Rhys hadn’t abandoned us too, and then suddenly there are three Ancients growling and snarling in front of me, creating a curious barrier between me and Rhys.

I don’t understand their protective stance.

I have no idea why they’re threatening my friend.

It isn’t until the smell of hot cinnamon hits my nose that it all makes sense because Rhys... well, he does not smell like cinnamon.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! It’s not what you guys think!” Rhys insists. While I trust Rhys with my life, I know exactly whose scent wafts beside him and the wolf in me roars gleefully at the idea of vengeance.

Pushing through the blockade of Originals, my eyes confirm my suspicions.

“Alex,” I snarl.

I don’t care that his hands are up in some sort of attempt at making him appear harmless and innocent beside my human friend. And I certainly do not give one single fuck as to why he’s here. He had taken enough from me and in my current fragile state, cool heads are not going to prevail.

He’s here.

Right in front of me.

Ready for the taking.

And I do not hold back.

“LINA, STOP!” Rhys screams as he steps before the hunter, ready and willing to take the teeth I have been saving specifically for Alex Grimes’s throat.

It’s not Rhys’s demand that halts my murderous rage.

I can claim that my wolf is out of control, that I have no say in slaying Rhys to get to my primary target. He is my friend and I love him but at this time he is standing between me and my prey and I am too blinded by fury to be concerned with his safety... I am all animal now.

If he dies with Alex then so be it.

If three Ancients did not step in and hold me back, I’d kill Rhys without incertitude, saving remorse for later.

I know it’s wrong.

I know losing another friend will further wound me... pull me farther into the pit of no return.

I know it.

But somewhere in the last few hours, I have lost myself... too much grief in too much time. It seems I only need a trigger and one just so happened to walk straight into my current home.

The switch flips.

My dark side and my human side collide as one, dancing under the full moon—both trying to lead in an unwinnable battle for my soul. With Theron gone, I have nothing left... no reason to carry on.

No reason to fight.

An all-consuming hatred now possesses me. It is deep, dark, and unrelenting. The continuous smell of cinnamon burns my nostrils, fueling my anger and despair. It’s like an itch I can’t scratch, a constant poking inside my brain that overstimulates my senses and begs for even the slightest bit of release.

A release promised by a bloody Alex laying dead at my feet.

I am aware of the fact that he isn’t the only one to blame for my broken life. The list is lengthy and I’ll eventually get Superlunar and their boss, who I just know is Crone...

But presently, Alex is the only one standing before me, presenting himself as a damn cow for slaughter.

My world now runs only in red and I don’t fight it.

I don’t want to.

It’s only DeLoren, Kai, and Marius that dare to leash me.

Thick, silver chains wrap around me, burning my skin. Flashes of the dead Alpha spin through my mind... the same chains that still hold Xavier’s scent. My wolf snarls against the snug restraints and whimpers every time that fucking silver sizzles and sears my flesh, dropping me to the floor and prolonging my agony.

I try to breathe through it, but the animal inside me fights tooth and nail.

In and out, I tell myself.

Slow and steady, I coach.

But it isn’t working.

Marius crouches beside me. “Lina,” his tone is gentle, smooth, and soothing, “listen to me. Follow my voice.” The rageful beast in me halts, cocking its head in interest. “You are Catalina Bakkas, daughter of Lucan and Elena Bakkas,” he starts.

Way to fucking remind me about my dead parents, Marius.

I snap at the memory, lashing out in the hope I land on flesh and muscle. But the wisest of the Ancient is fast and nimble... too prepared to dodge as if it isn’t his first rodeo.

“Ah-ah,” he scolds me like a naughty dog. His eyes narrow, focused only on me. Time ticks by as he patiently waits for me to process his displeasure. “Breathe, Lina, breathe,” he chants. “You are Catalina Bakkas, daughter of Lucan and Elena Bakkas.”

The animal within me only whines now... the pain of my dead parents overshadowing my rage.

“You are kind. You are compassionate. You are strong. You are a fighter, a warrior... a leader. A deity. You are powerful beyond measure and you love just as fiercely. You are Catalina Bakkas, daughter of Lucan and Elena Bakkas. You are kind. You are compassionate. You are strong... you are a fighter, a warrior...” Marius repeats the same lines, over and over.

Always calm.

Always patient.

I let his voice carry me, pulling me out of the red haze and into reality once more.

My breathing steadies.

My heart rate slows.

My wolf tucks tail and saunters off.

Reality slowly sucks me back in and I find myself staring into the colorfully swirling eyes of an Ancient. Even though they are not that of Theron, they still have a similar effect.

“Good girl, Lina. Keep breathing,” he strokes my hair. “Do you know why your beast took control?”

Oh, I remember... The stench of hot cinnamon still fills the room.

“Alex,” I growl. My voice layered, mixed with that of human me and feral me.

Marius nods in understanding, “Alex is here.”

“Kill Alex,” my animal side pushes forth.

“Ah-ah!” He reprimands once more. “We will not kill Alex. We will instead listen to what he—”

“NO!” I roar in fury. I do not wish to hear Alex speak.

I want screams.

Pain.

Blood.

I want—

“You are Catalina Bakkas, daughter of Lucan and Elena Bakkas. You are kind. You are compassionate—”

“STOP!” I cry out, my normal voice returning to me in the process. The Ancient winces at my agony, tears now streaming down my face.

I plead with him, “Why?”

Marius repositions himself, his hand moving to grasp my shoulder, “He will take us to Theron.”

Theron.

My mate.

Mine.

I look to Alex, the boy with the green eyes; green eyes that presently stare at me in terrified wariness. Whether this is because he is so close to being ripped apart or because he has seen the darkest side of me, I don’t know. He gulps before he finally manifests the courage to speak, “I want to help.”

I snort, distrustful in his sudden switch of allegiance.

“Honest,” he assures me.

I raise an eyebrow, scanning him cautiously, “And why would you want to do that?”

“Because I want you to kill my Aunt...” He inhales sharply. His green eyes burning into me, flames alight with fear and determination, ”and me.”

***

The schematics of Superlunar are tricky.

Firstly, the perimeter is a problem. Which, in all honesty, is not unexpected. Black ops crews contracted with the deep state government stand watch, guns loaded with the very bullets that could possibly be our demise:

Silver.

Wolfsbane.

Canine distemper.

You know, the “good stuff...”

Once we get past that, our next issue is getting inside.

All entrances and exits require a passkey and are excessively guarded. After Theron’s escape, the old team was replaced (well... technically, murdered, but specifics mattered not at the moment) and new security measures were put in place.

Without a keycard, no door will open.

Hollywood Land makes it seem so simple. In the movies you can just shoot the door lock and BAM—you’re in. Unfortunately, we are in real life and real life is never that simple.

The lock system is designed with a fail-safe in place so shooting the lock to get in does nothing but keep the door permanently shut. We’ll need finesse to get into the building... luck if we want to remain undetected.

Alex can give us a rough idea of where Theron might be held but guarantee us nothing. We’ll have to find him ourselves, which will take time.

And then there’s the tintsey, tiny issue of Crone...

“My Aunt has always had control,” Alex explains, “her hatred of your kind only brought my uncle and her closer. Their marriage is based on a mutual agreement. He would work the science and she would finance that work. However, over the last few years, their motives split in different directions. He wants the decimation of all lycanthropes, while she wants just one.”

We all know who that “one” is.

Alex purses his lips, chewing the inside of his mouth, “She became obsessed and neurotic. Her temperament is sporadic, at best. When I failed to acquire you, to lure him to us, she injected me with my uncle’s experimental serum... I then became the monster I spent years dedicated to hunting.”

Kai chuckles sarcastically, “Excuse us if we don’t show sympathy.”

“I don’t expect any,” he waves his hand casually as if it is the last thing on earth that would bother him right now. “Nathaniel made a deal with Theron— one that will assure the safety of werewolves and lycans and my aunt will honor that... so long as she keeps the Ancient. The moment you rescue him, or he leaves, the deal is off. Just a warning.” Alex runs his fingers through his short blonde hair. I can see the war that rages within him... the betrayal of Arthur weighs heavily upon him. And why shouldn’t it? His uncle is all he has left so the decision to feed us information has not been taken lightly. It’s only through desperation and self-hate that he’s even bothering to help us at all. I’m sure he’s aware he’ll die either way but giving us inside info means a quicker, less painful death. “But what you need to know is that my uncle is not privy to this deal.”

“Good,” I respond, “maybe we’ll have the element of surprise.” Maybe we can work this to our benefit. The enemy of my enemy and all...

“She will know you’re there, Lina,” Alex sighs, fidgeting in his chair. He looks to the ceiling for invisible answers, mouthing silent words, before scanning the face of three present Ancients, “She’s not human so do not underestimate her.”

Not human.

Interesting, but not specific enough for my tastes, “What is she?”

Alex shakes his head.

“All I know is that she was also created by your moon goddess, not too long after you guys,” he motions to Marius, DeLoren, and Kai. “Something about preserving a balance? ‘The tie that binds,’ she says. I’m not sure, I’m sorry.”

He doesn’t look sorry.

“She’s an Ancient?” Marius frowns. I can understand his confusion. History had written and rewritten tales of four Ancients—well known to all supernaturals. In a world where legends and myths passed through the population like wildfire, it’s unlikely there would have been a fourth Original that could remain undetected.

Alex shrugs a single shoulder, “Yes and no.” He lightly punches his temple—rapid-fire to his head. I watch him intently. The motions are unnerving, to say the least. There’s something seriously wrong with this guy. “She is immortal but she isn’t a wolf or lycan.”

DeLoren crosses his arms over his massive chest, “Doesn’t matter, man, just tell us how to kill her.”

“I don’t know. How would you kill each other? I assume it would work the same way...”

I eyed DeLoren’s face as it instantly transforms from bored nonchalance to immediate rage, “FUCK!” He slams his hands against the table. The pressed board underneath splinters and caves, crashing down between us as he stomps off.

Immortals cannot be killed easily. Vampires, wolves, and lycans all had weak spots. Decapitation, removal of the heart being the most common—any and all techniques would render them very dead, without question. The body cannot work with a head or a heart. But these options require one to get too close and without knowing exactly what Alex’s aunt is, we won’t be able to predict the means of her demise.

My eyes stray to a very frustrated DeLoren slamming the door behind him as he leaves the mill.

I understand his aggravation.

No Ancient had ever been taken out for a reason—it is too dangerous for one that wished to keep their own life. All I could hope is that the right moment will present itself eventually... but, I also know damn well how finicky Hope is.

Marius and Kai walk away from the table quietly, trailing the same path as DeLoren and leaving me alone with the very being I wanted nothing more than to disembowel minutes before.

’Awkward′ is an understatement.

“I will help you with this fight, but afterward, I expect you to keep your word,” he mumbles.

I swear he mouths that last word, repeatedly.

“Kill you, you mean,” I know exactly what he’s referring to. The deal we have in place is the only reason I tamed my feral side and allowed this meeting. I can be patient knowing the prize is not far from my grasp. However, it seems less appealing to murder someone who actually wants to die, “And why, exactly, am I murdering you at your request?”

“I can’t live like this, Lina,” he groans, “The human body is not meant to house a monster. I feel it clawing at me every day... wanting out... needing to split my body down the middle. It’s literally ripping me apart... it hurts. I just...” Alex gulps, his words too fucking hard for him to swallow, “I just want mercy.”

“Like the mercy you showed humans in Gatlinburg?”

He flinches at my accusation. His hands fly to his hair, pulling at the roots. “Mercy, mercy, mercy,” he whispers miserably. I stare on, perplexed but intrigued. The times I had seen Alex he was quite controlled. Prim and proper. But this... this is different. Given that, it isn’t like I spent a lot of time in his presence but it’s becoming crystal clear Alex Grimes has some ”issues.”

Surprisingly, he hangs his head and silently leaves me to my own devices.

I stare out the window, looking for Rhys to come back with Keeley and Anthony so plans can be set in motion.

But my guilt keeps returning my thoughts to Alex and suddenly revenge doesn’t seem as important to me as pity.

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