I search the cellar until everything in sight is turned upside down. While I make a mess of the space, Kane and the betas wait outside. Counting and recounting, and recounting the pups once more, hoping that we’d made a mistake. But it turns out we can’t change the simple rules of math.
I climb the steps two at a time and kick the doors open with every ounce of frustration, splitting the wood in half with my strength. Everyone watches me expectantly. I shake my head and kill their hope. “She has split them all up,” I announce, climbing out of the cellar. “That bitch is taunting us.”
Derek sighs and recounts the pups out loud for the tenth time. “We are still missing five from our side.” This is bad.
“And seven from ours,” Andrew adds. This is really, really bad.
We all know the risks, but no one voices them. It won’t be long before Cassandra tries to contact these covens, only to find they are dead. She would make the pups pay the price for it. I can’t let that happen. I won’t let it happen.
“Any survivors from this coven?”
“There is one, but I don’t think you’ll get much out of her. She’s gone off to left field,” Kane remarks, pointing to the house. I don’t waste any time and walk inside the house.
No personal belongings or furniture take up any space in the house. The only evidence of living is a blood-drawn pentagram on the wood floor and an odd witch’s totem in the middle of the backroom, where Louisa has the witch tied to a chair.
Louisa clutches her dagger as the witch throws her head back and laughs hysterically as if she isn’t seconds away from meeting the devil himself. Louisa firmly grips her collar and tips her chin up, pointing the dagger to her neck. “Where is Cassandra Jamerson? And where is she hiding the rest of the pups?” Louisa demands, digging the sharp blade into her skin.
A string of blood begins to trickle down the lunatics’ neck, but she doesn’t seem to care. Instead, she smiles in Louisa’s face and leans into the dagger, cutting herself but not enough to do damage. “Go ahead and kill me, you fucking priestess! I’ll tell you nothing!” She spats. It’s enough to get my demon worked up and pushing to the surface.
I grip both sides of the chair and stare deep into the witch’s eyes, letting my demon power emanate. “One last chance. Tell me where Cassandra is, and I’ll let you go,” I offer with a deep growl. Her eyes fall to the floor, and she stops laughing. Good. She feels intimidated.
The witch doesn’t have much time to reconsider before a portal opens behind Louisa and me. We both turn around quickly to see smoke filling the air. The smoke clears, and two figures stand before us. There is a man I do not recognize, but the woman beside him I’ve known my whole life. I squint, almost not believing my eyes.
“Hope I wasn’t missed too much,” Sylvia smiles. But the truth is I missed her more than she realizes. I sigh a deep breath of relief because the sight of my second mother makes this situation feel a little less shitty. She always knows what’s best in these situations. And I have a gut feeling that’s why she’s here now.
Louisa glances at the man standing beside Sylvia. Recognition and a small smile lighting up her face. “Sorcerer Prine, is that you?”
The tall, older man steps forward. “It is I, head priestess of Salem coven.” Louisa bows while I stand and watch them awkwardly. Suddenly, I’m being smacked in the stomach by Louisa, who is sending me death glares. I shrug my shoulders cluelessly.
“Sorcerer Prine is one of the greatest warlocks of our time. He has been around for a long time. Even longer than Sylvia,” Louisa informs, and the lightbulb goes off in my head. I bow and apologize for my lack of respect to the knowledgeable sorcerer who is old as dirt.
“I’ve been communicating with Sorcerer Prine over Astrid’s situation. He is here to help you,” Sylvia says, re-opening the portal with an apologetic smile. I tap my foot to refrain from throwing my hands up in frustration.
“You’re leaving already?”
“I’m afraid I can’t stay. There are very urgent matters that need my attention soon.” My mate needs your help! I want to scream as loud as my lungs will allow, but she slants her head to the side and gives me a knowing look. “Arlo, I’ve seen a lot of things, and I know that you are more than capable. Believe in yourself the way that I do.” Sorcerer Prine listens closely to every word she says.
Despite the presence of someone of a higher power, I almost get on my knees and beg her to stay. She knows how all of this will end, but she refuses to tell me. She cannot tell me. Asking her to give me all the answers is asking her to break all the rules that she has sworn not to do. It could negatively alter the future.
I nod and watch her disappear into the portal. Guess I’ll take what I can get from the old guy.
“So, what can you tell us about Cassandra Jamerson?” Louisa asks, getting straight down to business. He doesn’t answer her question right away. Instead, he moves to the pentagram behind us and inspects it thoroughly.
The sorcerer takes his time to inspect the witch’s totem. He pays no mind to the lunatic hollering profanities at him. He doesn’t even flinch when she spits in his direction and screams at the top of her lungs. Sorcerer Prine is super chill. However, Louisa is not so chill.
Louisa steps to the witch and looks up guiltily, “Forgive me, Sorceror, but she’s useless to us now,” she says, effortlessly slicing the witch’s throat. Blood splats, and I drop my shoulders, relieved. She was starting to get on my nerves with all that hollering.
Prine blows out the black candles surrounding the pentagram and removes the totem. He shakes his head in disbelief as he looks at the totem. “Cassandra Jamerson used to be one of my best students. I taught her for many years, so I’ve become quite familiar with her work. She has trained these witches well. Had I known about her corruptive behavior, I would have turned her away the second we met.”
He shakes his head as he stares at the totem, wondering where he went wrong. His face says he feels responsible for Cassandra’s actions, and I want to scold him for not seeing the red flags sooner. But now isn’t the time to be playing the blame game. I need answers.
“Where is she, sorcerer Prine? And why do you think she is willing to pay half a million dollars for my mate’s death?”
Sorcerer Prine looks up contemplatively, “Have you heard of the bestial cult?”
Louisa wrinkles her forehead. “Yes. My father worked on their case when I was a young girl. He never liked to talk about it in front of my sister and me. But we used to sneak into his office and read the reports in his filing cabinet. I had nightmares for months after reading them and seeing the photographs. They target pregnant women and children for their rituals. It’s sickening…how they torture their victims,” she shudders at the memory, “What does that have to do with Cassandra?”
“The cult was formed when I was in the early stages of my sorcery career,” Sorcerer Prine explains, breaking apart the odd-shaped bones of the totem. “They started small, only attacking innocents when a ritual called for it. But over time, they became greedier, and the killings were every day, every hour. Countless lives were lost, and the humans were becoming suspicious.”
“So the witch council gathered as many warlocks as possible to take them down. And like your father, I was assigned to work with them once they’d been captured. The plan was never to kill them, but to hospitalize them and try to understand their minds.”
I watch as he carefully breaks the bones like they’re the most delicate thing he’s ever held. He’s trying to get to the center. Something is wrapped inside a dirty cloth.
“I remember this one woman, particularly that I worked with. A powerful shapeshifter but a strange woman she was. Very strange. Throughout our time together, she never spoke a word. Not once. The conversations were always one-sided, and, in the end, I gave up on trying to save her. She eventually committed suicide, and the only family she left behind was her eight-year-old daughter. One of the victims of the cult…Cassandra Jamerson.”
Sorcerer Prine breaks the last piece of bone and holds the cloth in his hand. Louisa and I exchange a look, not liking how this story is going. But we continue to give our undivided attention. He digs through his back pocket with one hand and pulls out a picture. He hands us the picture of a woman with long red hair and freckles, a picture of Cassandra Jamerson.
“Cassandra grew very close to me and vice versa. My wife and I took her under our wing. She was good back then, even though she faced trauma. I thought she would be different from her mother, but she started to become obsessed with the beliefs of the bestial cult. And the obsession turned for the worst.”
“So, this is personal for you,” I say, annoyed, putting the picture in my pocket. Did he really think I was going to feel sorry for her? “I’m sorry that you got close to a psychopath, but I won’t spare her life on the count of sympathy. She has stolen our pups and tried to kill my mate.”
“Saving her life is not my intention. She is far beyond saving. I’m trying to tell you about the importance behind all of this and how it connects to your mate,” he says, unwrapping the cloth but not enough to expose it. I grimace because whatever he is holding smells awful.
“Do you know why they are named the bestial cult?”
“Why?” Louisa asks, intrigued.
“Because they are worshippers of the mother of beasts and what they like to call, their true mother. They have dedicated their lives to the demoness who believes that she will bring the great war between Gods and Devils one day. They believe she will rule all the realms. And nothing will stop her from taking the future.”
“When Cassandra was young, she always talked about seeing a man who could turn into a wolf. She said he was the alpha who formed the cult. The first mortal to believe in Lamashtu,” Sorcerer Prine steps closer to me and opens the cloth wider. There are teeth, hair, and a picture inside. Everything becomes clear to me.
Jackson Blackburn formed the bestial cult. Cassandra Jamerson is the current leader of that cult. She is aware of the curse of the River Ash females. She wants to fulfill the curse and kill my mate to prove her loyalty to her true mother.
I stare at the picture of Astrid that’s lying underneath the hair and teeth. Rage and heat fill my chest. I clench my burning fist, and the items vanish.
That bitch is praying to the wrong person. She’s gonna need a miracle from the Gods once I find her.