Chapter 20 ♕
My claw shot forward and clung around the witch her neck before the remnants of my scream had died out in the distance. I pulled her toward me so hard that the chains around her wrists became tight. I saw a fleeting look of pain brush her face, but the sense of satisfaction was far from the burning rage I felt.
Sacrifice. They wanted to use my mate as a sacrifice.
Images of Magnolia filled my head. These last few days might may have been the happiest of my life, even though nothing had actually happened yet.
Still I could see that she had started to relax more and more in my presence. She walked next to me in the hallway, looked me in the eye as we talked, and once I accidentally ran my hand across hers and she didn’t flinch. Instead, she had just laughed and took my hand in hers.
Since my parents had passed away, that meant their title had automatically passed down to me. The council, appointed by my parents during their reign, had temporarily taken over from me while I was hastily chasing those filthy traitors. But now that I had returned it was apparently immediately expected that I would take up my responsibilities. And it made me extremely annoyed.
Not only did I suddenly have meetings, inspections, or briefings every day that required my attendance, but I was also forced to deal with the problem that witches had been trying to cross the border to my land almost every night in the last week.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen that coming. I knew exactly what rank Giselle was holding in her coven and to what lengths they would go to get her back. They wanted nothing more than to return their beloved leader.
They just picked the wrong time. I wasn’t normally known for my patience, but every time they tried to tread my ground, I was forced to leave my mate in the middle of the night. And that was the last thing I wanted to do. It has taken me a godly amount of energy every time to make sure that neither Maximus nor I was driven insane in the absence of our mate.
It was as if my entire personality changed when I was with her. I was more tolerant, more thoughtful and most of all, calmer. But as soon as she disappeared, all the old habits came back. Then I was that murderous, crazy maniac again.
And right now, she was not here.
And so I tightened the grip I had around the throat of the witch, causing her to gasp for air. I felt the pleasure going through my body. I enjoyed killing. The control it gave me over the situation. It was up to me what I did with the power that was transferred to me. Would I give them mercy or end their lives brutally.
The darkness around us that seemed to be getting closer. A cold, humorless laugh escaped my mouth. My claws were buried so deep in her skin that blood ran from the wounds.
The color had disappeared from her face. My laugh deepened as her efforts to free herself grew more desperate. It was pointless of her to even try. The chains on her arms and legs prevented any movement and with my claw buried in her throat, she was completely at my mercy.
“Not that I would ever allow such a thing. So think of this next question as pure curiosity,” I said in the same tone as my laugh, “what makes you think my mate is the solution to the problems you envision with your disgusting coven?”.
I didn’t show anything, but my stomach tightened inside, waiting for her answer. Where did that witch get the ridiculous idea that Magnolia, my defenseless and naive mate, could have anything to do with an ancient ritual that she and her coven performed?
Before the witch could say anything, or even before I gave her a chance to breathe, I could feel it happening. I didn’t know what caused it. It was supposed to be impossible. But apparently it didn’t matter that the walls of this dungeon were covered with powerful spells. There was no magic on this planet strong enough to turn off my senses when it came to her.
I felt her approach with every nerve in my body.
The only explanation I could think of as to why she was down here was that she had heard me scream when Giselle made her claim that they would take my mate from me. But we were so deep underground that the only way for her to have heard me was that she was on the same level.
What the hell had she been doing in the hidden passages under the castle?
Although the question haunted my mind, I didn’t have time to dwell on it. I felt her coming closer. Part of me, Maximus to be exact, prompted me to end the life of the witch right now, before Magnolia saw all of this.
So much was happening at the same time that I couldn’t think straight. It didn’t help that my mate was around, which made it harder to think clearly all together. Maximus tried to take advantage of this and forced our canines out. He fully supported his own efforts to kill this witch. I felt him slowly step forward.
She saw it too.
Giselle made a noise that sounded like a combination of coughing and laughing. “Are you sure you want to do that?” her voice said husky. It was almost astonishing that she was still able to speak as I was currently closing her entire airway.
“Are you sure you want to expose your innocent mate to this barbaric side of you? The side that everyone fears. Where everyone runs away from” she said straight to my face.
I was in conflict. And that was exactly why Giselle had that ghastly grin on her face. Even though she was the one chained to the wall, I was the one trapped in a corner.
But then the scent of blooming magnolias drifted into my nostrils and my muscles tightened. It was well known that newly discovered mates had trouble being separated from each other for long periods of time.
I had already considered it unbearable for the past few nights. But then I had reacted out to the witches every time and that had never been more than an hour. But now I hadn’t seen her since that afternoon. I had longed for her ever since.
For the past week I had to hold back every second of the day. It was against my primitive instincts that I still hadn’t marked her and it drove me mad. But I had to force myself to be patient. This was a delicate matter. One wrong move and everything could be lost. And I wouldn’t lose her.
My thoughts went wild.
Magnolia had seen the terrifying things Maximus was capable of. She had seen with her own eyes to what end he would go in order to achieve his goal. But she didn’t associate that with me yet.
Someone had come into my life who didn’t immediately saw me as the monster straight out of a nightmare. I wanted Magnolia to get to know a different side of me. The side I had yet to meet myself, but could be, for her.
The conflict continued fiercely.
Also Maximus didn’t make things much better by throwing threats at my head. I tried hard to force him back, so I could think, but in the end the decision was made for me when the heavy door was thrown open and the room filled with her wonderful sweet scent.
As if I was burned I immediately let go of the witch her throat and stepped back. Although I didn’t turn around. Instead I clenched my claws into fists and felt the frustration take over. I hesitated, waited too long.
Now Magnolia had seen exactly what things I was capable of. What horrible environments I kept my victims in while letting them fear what end awaited them.
A whole second passed, in which I envisioned myself the most horrible scenarios. But then out of nowhere I heard footsteps running and felt two warm hands on my face.
“Alaric, are you okay?!” her voice sounded frightened.
It took a while for her words to sink in. Apparently I couldn’t answer because I just stood there unmoved. I just stared straight into her eyes, which didn’t seem to want to let go of mine for a second.
“Say something,” she urged me.
“I- I’m fine,” I said, stammering.
What the hell was happening? I never stammered. Also there was nothing left of the conflict I had felt just before. Instead, I was completely stunned.
As I looked her closely, I saw that her whole reaction seemed to have been instinctive. She had indeed heard me scream, and then immediately came to see if there was something wrong with me. It didn’t even seem to bother her that she had to go through the most dreaded corridors of this whole damn castle for that.
I felt a warm feeling spread inside me as I looked down at my mate who seemed to try to calm her pounding heartbeat. After my answer, Magnolia seemed to be able to relax a bit again. She let her hands slide off my face and her shoulders drop a little. She let out her breath. Then a deep breath escaped her mouth.
I felt a tender smile take over my face. She looked up at me again and immediately her cheeks turned bright red. Even I could assert that I had never smiled at her like this before, or at anyone for that matter.
The sound of chains got through to us and I responded without thinking. The next moment I had put my arms around Magnolia and pressed her tightly against me, just as Giselle’s arms reached the spot where my mate had stood a second before.
I tightened my jaw. I had been so absorbed by Magnolia that I had forgotten what threat was in the room. I could beat myself up to get my mate within reach of the enemy. Magnolia had fallen into my chest, and I let my arms slide even more tightly around her.
“Keep your filthy hands off her,” I snapped with such hatred in my voice that I could feel my mate tremble under my touch. I immediately gave her an affectionate rub on her upper arms to make her feel comfortable again.
However, I kept my eyes on the woman in front of me. Giselle just stared at us with a look in her eyes that resembled a fascination. Her head tilted slightly to the side and the grin on her face widened. She seemed to find the whole situation only amusing.
“I just wanted to see your mate up close, your highness. It is true what they say about her. She is a unique beauty indeed,” Giselle said sneeringly.
Magnolia petrified under my touch, which I found strange. It was as if Giselle’s voice was doing something to her. She then turned slowly. It was as if she had been so focused on me upon entering that she hadn’t noticed Giselle at all.
She now stood with her back to my chest and focused her full attention on the witch. “I remember you,” she said, in a voice I didn’t recognize. I tried to see her face, but it was hidden in the shadows. Giselle seemed to be able to see her face just fine, as some of her amusements seemed to be diminishing, though she made a good effort to mask it.
I frowned. I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t like it.
“Has my recent performance prevented you from sleeping at night?” Giselle said in a voice as if speaking to a child, “if that’s the case, I’m very sorry”.
Maggie said nothing. But I could imagine her staring at Giselle without any emotion. She then took a step forward, out of my embrace, towards Giselle. I wanted to stop her, but I suddenly seemed unable to move.
There were no windows nearby, in the room or in the hallways. But still I felt a cold gust of wind rise. I felt my body react and knew what was happening. I may have been immune to it, but I had walked this planet long enough to know what it felt like to be under the duress of magic. And that was exactly what was happening right now.
Once Magnolia was out of my reach, I felt my muscles relax and I could move again. But when I tried to step forward and take Magnolia back into my arms, something stopped me. It was as if a wall had formed between me and my mate, although I could still see her.
I could see she was not herself. Her muscles tense, even her smell was different. It was as if it was reinforced by something. As if instead of just one Magnolia, I could smell hundreds of them.
Something wasn’t right. This room should be designed against all kinds of magic. Giselle could not have caused this. If that had been the case, she would have used her magic in previous situations to free herself. That made the only other possibility, my Mate.
“Because of you, my friend’s birthday has turned into a battlefield. You insulted her and tried to kill her. And when Alaric came and wanted to protect us from you, you attacked him. Called him things I don’t even dare to repeat in my head,” her voice said.
I don’t know what happened, but the next moment the expression on Giselle’s face changed. She was scared and her mouth dropped slightly.
“This whole world is new to me,” Maggie continued, “but even I know people like you don’t deserve to practice magic. You simply don’t have the right”.
I was not able to accurately describe what happened next. Magnolia took another step in her direction, but this time Giselle no longer seemed to enjoy it. She had dropped her mask. All that could be seen on her face now was pure rage mixed with genuine fear. She tried to avoid my mate’s outstretched hand by swinging backwards, but it was no use.
I also seemed unable to move. This was not the effect of magic, this was me. I was just too stunned by the situation. But despite everything, I knew my mate was in no danger. That thought was probably the only reason I wasn’t right behind her to make sure Giselle wasn’t getting anything in her head.
Magnolia was now only inches away from the witch. Her outstretched hand floated motionlessly between them for a moment, but then she laid it against Giselle’s forehead. A moment later her other hand followed, it was pressed against the heart of the witch. I saw Maggie lean her head forward, as if trying to focus on something.
Giselle gave one last deafening cry, but then I saw Magnolia lift her head again and put extra pressure on her hands. Giselle started to tremble. It only took a few seconds, then her body collapsed. Her eyes were closed, her forehead was sweaty and her limbs were bent in strange angles.
The room was instantly quiet.
For a moment I allowed the silence. Mainly because I also needed a moment to recover myself. It was impossible to put into words what had just happened.
“Mags” I then said slowly.
My voice seemed to get through to her as I saw her shoulders tighten. Then she looked at me from over her shoulder. I immediately understood where the fear on Giselle’s face had come from. I was robbed of my breath. I stared right in the eyes of my mate. Those beautiful eyes that I would recognize anywhere were different now. Same, but different.
It could be compared to her scent. The core of it still smelled the same, but only amplified. Her eyes were still the same ocean blue and grass green color, but now seemed to glow in the dark. Her irises were also surrounded by what looked like a golden circle. I took a step in her direction. The wall seemed to have disappeared. I could reach her now.
“Mags,” I said again when I was had noticed she hadn’t replied the first time I said her name. This time she turned her whole body towards me. I could see from her face that she recognized me. That she knew exactly who I was and that my presence brought her calm.
I reached out to her. She looked at my hand almost curiously for a moment, but then she started moving. She took a step closer and put her hand in mine.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Alaric,” she said in a soft voice. I ran my other hand through her hair. “Don’t worry,” I reassured her.
“I’m not worried” she said, “I feel different, but not in a bad way”. At the same time she shook her head slowly. I looked deep into her eyes. They were slowly fading away and returning to their original color. I wanted to ask her what she had just done, but then I saw her expression change.
Her hand slipped out of mine without saying a word. I wanted to protest, but then I felt her put both hands on my chest. I immediately felt warm. When I had taken her in my arms a few moments ago I hadn’t realized that that had been our first hug. The first time we had been really close to each other. Now it happened again, but this time I knew exactly what was happening.
How her hands lay there lasted only a second, then they slid slowly upwards. Her gentle touch almost made me lose control. I wanted to touch her the way she touched me, but forgot the desire and forced myself not to move. Maybe Maggie wanted to see how far she dared to go.
But when her gaze, after inspecting my broad chest for some time, turned back to me, there was no fear in it. Instead, her eyes were half closed and her look was playful.
She was challenging me.
The desire burned through me once I realized that. Still, I decided to let her have her own way, wondering how far she would go. So I clenched my hands into fists, suppressed all desires, and didn’t move.
The more time passed, the more dangerous the game Maggie was playing became. Her hands, meanwhile, were locked in my neck, bringing our faces closer together. Her face gave away that she visibly enjoyed this.
My breathing faltered. This had gone on long enough now, and just as I’d decided to stop the whole thing, Maggie stood on top of her toes and hid her face in my neck. She settled a little deeper into it, causing me to suppress a shiver.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more unbearable, I felt a warmth against perhaps the most sensitive spot on my whole body. The spot on my neck where her mark would one day be. The sign that I belonged to her entirely and her alone.
I petrified where I stood. She was kissing my neck. The warm soft feeling emanated from her lips. It drove me completely mad and I immediately knew that I was no longer in control of myself.
In one smooth motion I intercepted her by closing my hands around her thighs and lifting her into the air. She gave a little startled cry and when I looked at her I immediately saw that her shy side had come up again.
“Okay, that’s it, Mate” I said, “playtime is over”.