THERON

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SIX.

While Lucan and DeLoren drowned on and on and bored him to death, Theron laid with Lina in the grassy field between the forest and the cabin. He was positioned on his back, paws up to his chest as he wondered why he had never before taken the time to stare at the expansive sky above his head.

Oh, that’s right—he was too busy consumed by his depression and desperation to notice much of the world around him.

He now realized what exactly he had been missing as he listened intently to Lina who was insistent upon making up stories about the clouds that floated above them against the background of the sapphire sky. “See that one, Theron? The flower?” She pointed out a cloud she claimed was a flower, though he thought it resembled more of a penis.

He would never correct her though.

“A prince thought she was the best flower,” she threw her arms up, animatedly, “and loved her above all the rest so the flower grew strong and pretty. Other flowers were jealous but he promised her she was special.” She clapped her hands together and raised her eyebrows in elation as she was about to reveal the flowers ‘happy ending.’ Theron, of course, knew there was no such thing as a happy ending but she was still young and not yet affected by the cruelties of the world. He had already succumbed to the fact that eventually, her pain would subsequently become his. “Oh! And one day—one day, she turned into a girl! They fell in love and had twenty thousand kids!”

Theron snickered.

Twenty thousand, huh?

Ouch.

Lina turned to him. Rising to her knees, she knelt in front of his huge head. Her hands gripped the sides of his jaws, pulling his snout close to her face. He froze as he felt her smooshing his cheeks together in earnesty. She stared him straight in the eyes, keeping him stunned with her sudden aggressiveness, “You’re like the flower and I’m like the prince! Someday, you’ll turn into a boy and we will fall in love and live happily ever after!” She grinned and kissed his marking.

He now thought that maybe she was a bit too optimistic. At this age, she wouldn’t understand that the possibility of marrying him was out of the question. Ever. Though he did feel honored to have gained this adoration from her in such a short amount of time.

"Theron?" DeLoren linked him, ”You need to hear this."

"I’m listening,” he grumbled, regretfully, eyeing Lina as she drifted away from him towards the forest. She seemed to have a very short attention span.

He knew it wasn’t a father or brother or lover kind of relationship that had formed between him and Lina—it was friendship. While he would consider DeLoren, Marius, and Kai his friends, they had never attempted to break down his walls. They always gave him space, keeping him at arm’s length because they knew him. Lina, on the other hand, was aware of very little when it came to his personality; her youth and innocence not caring about the truth. Her admiration was unconditional and something he had never been granted the pleasure of experiencing.

"Elena was my mate,” Lucan began as Theron sauntered over to them. ”As is normal for mates, things spiraled quickly. We were married and Elena was pregnant. I followed her to the city... quite odd for a wolf, I know, but she preferred such chaos to the reverie of the woods.” Lucan ran a hand through his blonde hair, his steely eyes trained on Lina by the tree line, chasing a butterfly. “She told me once she felt safer among thousands of nameless faces. At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that she was trying to blend in... Disappearing within the crowd. Maybe I was blinded by my love for her... so deep in, that I never realized she was running from something... someone...”

Lucan now had Theron’s attention. His head turned back to Lina’s father. What would she be running from? He took a wild guess, ”Her pack?” He knew next to nothing about pack life but could only assume it wasn’t out of the question to think that a wolf would flee from their pack. Rogues became rogues in all different ways. ”No. I don’t think so. She never spoke of a pack, actually,” with a loud exhale, Lucan leaned back in his patio chair.

Lucan fiddled with his fingernails before finally continuing, ”The day Elena was murdered, she had come to me, insisting that she always wanted me to put Catalina first, no matter what. She made me promise to keep Lina safe. If it ever came down to a choice between her and Lina, I was to pick Lina. Always. At the time, I just thought it was her motherly instinct and brushed it off. Looking back now, I see where her desperation came from. Catalina is different, you both suspect this.” Lucan, sinking further down in his chair, took another swing of the beer in his hand before continuing, ”You feel it—you sense it. She isn’t a normal werewolf. She pulls at you... like a magnet. You can’t help but want to be near her. Protect her. Never let her out of your sight.”

"Have you consulted the Oracles? Surely they would know what she is." Asked DeLoren. Theron agreed. It was a good idea to seek out the Oracles. The information would be extremely enlightening and trustworthy as Oracles were not allowed to bend the truth, naturally.

Lucan shook his head, sullen, ”I can’t trust anyone to keep her secret... whatever that may be.”

“But you trust us?" DeLoren raised his brow in skepticism. ”No,” Lucan motioned his head towards Theron, ”I trust him.” Theron gulped. He trusted himself with Lina but knowing Lucan did as well felt like a ton of unwanted pressure that Theron was not accustomed to. He had only ever looked out for himself, he didn’t know how to do more than that. As much as he wanted to make sure Lina’s life was easy, painless, and safe, those had only ever been his own survival instincts. Being responsible for someone else seemed like a daunting task now. But... Him and her, he had to remind himself.

Lucan’s eyes focused on Theron’s with intensity, ”Even now, I know you’re dreading to leave her side. The urge to be near her is strong... magical, almost. You feel something unexplainable around her... happy, I guess, though it seems like too simple of a word to describe it." Lucan chuckled, bitterly, ”Imagine how other supernatural beings would perceive her... use her? I can’t let that happen." Theron growled at the thought but conceded that it was true. The reason Lina was so secluded from the rest of the world was because of her magnetism. She was special and that put her in danger more than most.

Lucan closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. He wanted nothing more than to forget what happened. He desperately hoped to never have to retell the tale, but these were the Ancients. While he didn’t know DeLoren for long, Theron seemed to have Lina’s best interests in mind. He came to trust that the Original would never cause her intentional harm. Hearing DeLoren relay his brother’s experience that brought him to Lucan’s cabin, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was some sort of connection there. He knew one day he would have to share his heartbreak, though he never assumed it would be so soon.

He cleared his throat before explaining, ”We had just celebrated Lina’s first birthday. Low on baby food and other supplies, Elena left to go to the store. She didn’t make it far before returning." A deep growl resounded in Lucan’s chest, his eyes hardened as he recalled the night he lost half of his soul, ”She came barging through the door of the apartment, frantic—yelling at me that we needed to leave. In my confusion and need for an explanation, I delayed our getaway too long... I asked too many questions." He hung his head in agony and defeat. He had lived with this guilt every day. Every single fucking day, he wondered how different his life would be if he had followed her directions without question. Elena might still be alive today.

He swallowed hard before going on, knowing this was the hardest part, ”Men came... human men. There were four or five in black tactical gear, holding weapons, of course, and one in an expensive gray suit, unarmed. There was something about that guy that seemed off. He spoke to her as if they knew each other, though Elena had never mentioned him in all our time together.”

Lucan balled his fists in his lap, anger consuming him in anticipation of what was next to be said, ”He wanted my mate... demanded she come with him and they would allow Lina and I to leave, unharmed. It seemed that Elena didn’t trust his word, though. That must have been the exact time when the gray suit decided if he couldn’t take her willingly, he wouldn’t. The fight she was putting up must have been too exhausting and time consuming for him. Lina and I escaped when the firefight started, per Elena’s wish. I never saw her go down but I felt our bond shatter. I knew she was gone."

Theron understood the rogue was hurting, reliving such a traumatic experience but his concern lay more for Lina, losing her mother at such a young age. His only solace was that she didn’t remember what had happened.

A burning fire began to rage within his body, desiring to kill the man who took Lina’s mother away from her. He would find him and he would torture him thoroughly before ending his life with glee. He might even bring that bastard’s head to Lina on a silver platter afterward. She deserved revenge and he desperately felt he could obtain that for her. As his anger consumed him, he clenched his jaws, gritting his deadly canines, ”Do you know who he is? Do you remember what he looked like?"

Lina’s father raised his brows, eyeing Theron warily, ”I’m sorry to say I didn’t memorize all his features. I do remember he was older, with salt and pepper hair and a full, neatly trimmed beard. Dead eyes... I don’t recall the color. What burns in my mind was the badge attached to his suit. A symbol. The triple moon goddess.”

Theron snarled in fury. He knew that symbol. He knew it very well. It was burnt into his memory since he had seen it every day, multiple times a day, in that fucking hell hole he was forced into. “The same symbol the scientists at the facility wore,” Theron voiced his internal monologue.

DeLoren’s eyes widened at the revelation they were coming to. How coincidental that the same man who murdered Lina’s mother was the same one who worked for the company that had captured his brother. He had a feeling that the symbol meant something, something important but for the life of him, he couldn’t visualize what this emblem looked like, “What exactly is this symbol?"

"From left to right it is the waxing crescent, the full moon, and then the waning crescent. Essentially, the maiden, the mother, and the crone. In paganism, it represents the cycle of life—birth, death, and rebirth." Theron replied, rolling his large brown eyes in exasperation. As old as they were, all four of them should have a shit ton of knowledge about anything and everything. Of course, Theron had spent his time as an immortal differently than his brothers but of all things they were expected to be knowledgeable in, the moon goddess should be one of them. She was the one who cursed them, after all.

Lucan proceeded to elaborate, ”The waxing crescent, the maiden, is birth. She is youth, purity, and naivete. Childlike, she represents new beginnings. The full moon, the mother, is love... teaching the giving and receiving of such. Therefore the waning crescent, crone, is death. She represents the acceptance that without death there is no birth. She is fulfillment and wisdom.

"Well, ain’t that some deep shit.” DeLoren looked to Theron in unabated astonishment and confusion, ”Why didn’t we know about this?"

"You didn’t know because you spent more time between a pagan’s legs than in the pages of their books,” Theron mumbled.

DeLoren grinned slyly, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, ”And what glorious study sessions they were."

***

Minutes after Catalina fell asleep, Lucan, DeLoren, and Theron were sitting in the kitchen. The Ancients had shifted into their human form, dressed only in borrowed sweats from Lucan. Placed in front of them on the kitchen table was DeLoren’s cellphone; Marius on speakerphone.

Theron tapped his fingers on the table, considering their next move. He wanted revenge but he also wanted answers. What was the purpose of capturing werewolves? Experimenting on them? What were these humans looking for? Why the triple moon goddess symbol? Who was the man that killed Elena? How was Lina connected to all this? More importantly, where could he find those sons of bitches?

“We need to meet at the safe house in Kentucky,” Theron stated. They had safe houses in varying states to provide them a place to stay while traveling. Though they had money, and plenty of it, it seemed like a waste to pay for hotels as often as was needed. They traveled quite frequently. This had come in handy more times than not for Theron, personally. “Marius, get a hold of Kai, I want him there too. DeLoren will head out in the morning and do some recon, while I tie up a few loose ends here,” Naturally, he was referring to Lina but they didn’t need to know that. “I’ll catch up with you guys in three days.”

How was he supposed to tell his new friend he was leaving? He could promise her he would return, as he knew he would, but he didn’t know how long he would be gone. He refused to properly meet her until this threat was terminated. It could take years in all honesty. He needed time to gather his thoughts and consider the best way to break this news. It’s not like six year olds were known for their grasp of understanding.

“Got it,” Marius’s deep voice resounded from the other side, “Any idea which Alphas are missing pack members?”

Theron snickered quite loudly. He had no clue which scents belonged to what packs. Marius knew this but apparently needed reminding, “Brother, how long have you known me? I have nothing to do with the packs, even if I recognized the scents, I wouldn’t know the names of the packs’ or their Alphas.”

Marius chuckled, “It was worth a shot.”

“We should probably convene with the council,” DeLoren interjected, “It would be much faster to call a mandatory meeting with all the Alphas and ask than to do a one on one with each individual pack.”

It was a good suggestion, however, that would leave the packs more vulnerable to attacks from whatever this triple moon goddess group was. Betas certainly would be expected to handle such emergencies as they arise, but Alphas were way more powerful and intimidating, assuring safety to their members more so than their second in command possibly could.

Theron opened his mouth to speak but it was as if Marius had read his mind, “I think that’s a bit drastic, D. I understand the need for instant answers but with all the Alphas in one place, it opens up the pack for attacks. Maybe we should send a message out instead?” Marius suggested, “Request only those affected by taken members, maybe?”

DeLoren sighed and ran his large hand through his hair and down his beard, “Yeah. Okay.” Theron smirked knowing DeLoren hated to have his ideas shot down, even if only partially.

“Can you and Kai look into this triple moon organization? Have him hack their system... see what they’re about,” Theron inquired. “If we can somehow breach their firewall, it’s possible we can figure out their motivation. Maybe their end game?” Theron may not have an interest in this day and age’s technology, but Kai did. He was younger than the other three and his mindset was still that of a young adult. He taught them the basics of cellphone and computer usage but anything beyond that had wound up pointless and frustrating. All in all, they were just old men set in their ways compared to Kai.

Theron was fine with that.

He couldn’t imagine having a social media page. Who would follow him anyways? He imagined this Tweeter—no, maybe it was Twitter? Whatever. Anyway, what would he share? Hash marks of his kills? With a limit on characters, they wouldn’t all fit. ”Another one bites the dust?" The CIA, NSA, FBI, and any other ridiculous, unnecessary, secret, American government agency would reign fire down on his ass for sure. Instagram a selfie? Hell, he never smiled. Facebook a picture of his latest meal? Yeah, that wouldn’t go over well considering all the possible gore. Nah, he was good.

That was Kai’s world, not his.

“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Marius replied. “Good. See you in a few days,” Theron said, overwhelmingly unexcited. It’s not that he didn’t want to see his brothers, he just wished it was under better circumstances. Maybe he should take them up on their insistence of visiting every Christmas...

DeLoren added, “Watch your six, bro.”

“Same,” and Marius disconnected the call.

Lucan, Theron, and DeLoren sat in silence for a while before Lucan couldn’t take it anymore, “What about Lina? What should I do?”

Theron glanced at him, the desperation in his eyes was duly noted, this facility was too close to home for comfortability. What should he do? Lucan was only one man and not nearly powerful enough as a rogue to protect Lina by himself. Theron had plans to assign Marius elsewhere and DeLoren would accompany Theron in his search for retribution. That only left one Ancient that didn’t play a role yet. “I’ll send Kai to keep an eye on her,” he mumbled. It wasn’t his first option by any means but it was all he could manage while he took care of more pressing matters.

Lucan opened his mouth to protest but Theron waved his hand nonchalantly, effectively cutting him off, “I just want someone here as back up. Kai can notify me if a threat arises. Otherwise, you will do nothing but resume your role as her overprotective, helicopter father.”

Lucan glared at Theron, deadpanning, “Great. Another Ancient Lina will get attached to.”

Theron snarled, “The fuck if she will!” DeLoren and Lucan jumped in their chairs, wide-eyed and startled. Theron did not mean to come off so ferociously but there was absolutely no possible way, here on earth or below in hell, that he would allow Kai to communicate one single, solitary word to Lina. It wasn’t that Theron was jealous—though maybe he was a little... Kai was charming with his boyish good looks and carefree attitude. He also carried less guilt and resentment for what the moon goddess had done to them, accepting and making peace with it long ago. He was a likable kid if Theron was being honest. But therein lay the problem: Kai was dutiful in his role as an Ancient but immature, irresponsible, and selfish as a human. Theron could already imagine twelve hundred thousand different ways Kai could corrupt Lina and he refused to take that risk. Therefore, Kai would be assigned only as a watchdog—a safety measure if you will, and Theron had no problem commanding him to stay hidden from Lina, moving only in the shadows. Taking a deep breath and regaining his composure, he assured Lucan, “Trust me when I say he will not be a fucking problem. She will never see him.”

Because if Kai was just stupid enough to disobey, Theron would show him exactly how he earned his notorious reputation all those years ago.

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