It had been a few weeks since my nightmare. My days were filled with Council meetings to discuss our supplies for food and defense ideas as Lorelei became an ever growing threat to me and the kingdom overall.
Generally, I sat at the end of the table next to Meara and pretended to listen during these meetings. I knew eventually it would be me sitting at the head of the table, but each time I sat through one of these meetings, it always felt as if we were searching for the same answer:
What could we do to stop an unstoppable force?
Paeris was amazing through it all, even though when he looked at me he could tell I was off in my own world.
When I wasn't sitting through a meeting about our livelihood, I was training with leaders of the Houses to gain control of my powers. I had to admit, while the Council meetings made me want to sleep, the training was something I was used to. I had been raised a warrior and although I didn't shift nearly as much now that the woods were restricted for my safety, I could officially manifest all seven talents - even if I didn't have the control I needed over them.
With each training session, I could see the leaders of the Houses becoming more fearful of me, but each showed me respect and understanding.
Nights were a different story. I had nightmares endlessly of Lorelei and when I wasn't dreaming of her, I was dreaming of darkness taking over my every aspect of life.
The first few nights, I had distracted myself with reading histories of my people. When I wasn't stuck in a book, I was running through the halls to try to exhaust myself to the point that I couldn't dream.
It never worked.
Tonight though, was different. My muscles ached from defense techniques training with Merith and my brain spun at the smell of Paeris laying with his face on my belly, his finger slowly tracing circles across my hips as I played with his hair. For the first night in weeks, I didn't want to run or read.
"What happens if I'm the one that turns dark?" I asked slowly, letting a little bit of my inner fears slide out to Paeris.
"When you spend your life wandering alone in darkness, you will eventually let the darkness become who you are." He said softly, peeking up at me. "You will never stand alone in the shadows like Lorelei has, Ray. I will always fight for you."
"But what happens if you can't fight? Or if you get tired of fighting for me? What if I turn dark despite your efforts?"
"Then I will spend my life trying to bring you back to the light."
The prophecy rang in my ears.
One would turn to darkness, the other would thrive in the light. Both sisters, dark and light - Queen and Guardian - would be responsible to save the other.
"Will you help me?" I asked softly, twisting my fingers in his hair. "I am getting better with mastering it all, but I know I can't do this alone."
Paeris nodded slowly at my plea, though a knock at the door forced him to shoot up in bed, almost as if he were committing a crime. Was this a crime? Were we not supposed to be in bed together?
"Come in!" I called out, burying my face in a pillow. The last thing I wanted to do was see anyone.
"Well hello to you too, grumpy pants." Laurel's voice rang out into the room cheerfully. I peeked out slowly, sighing at the red tasseled dress she was flaunting. "Was I was interrupting something?"
"Well, that's open for debate." I huffed, tossing the pillow beside me. "What do you want, Laurel?" I asked, a bit of bitterness in my tone. I ignored the tension radiating off of Paeris beside the bed.
"Well, I was going to offer to take you out tonight, but if you're too good for my party taste, I can just go on my own." She said slowly, arching an eyebrow delicately.
I had to admit, a party sounded nice, but I couldn't imagine it would be anything like the celebrations I was used to. How crazy could an Elven party really get?
Paeris' excited look was enough to decide for me that we were going.
The dress Laurel chose was definitely not one of my favorites, but I had to admit that I looked fantastic in it. The way the bodice fitted through the waist and flaring out at the hips and hugging my curves with each movement. It was effortlessly classy yet just edgy enough to be considered good enough to go to a secret party in. As I had looked at myself in the mirror earlier, I couldn't tell if this would be a wild time or some kind of trashy tea party.
Now I knew that nothing could prepare you for Laurel's secret get togethers.
Paeris handed me a gold sparkling mask, a wicked smirk on his lips. As if he was finally free after being caged up for too long. I knew that I should feel excited too, as we snuck into the forest and blended in with a group of people our age who were clearly going to the same party from the masks on their faces. Unfortunately, all I could feel was dread.
"This is going to be so much fun!" Laurel whispered excitedly, tugging on my arm to follow her as if I would run away at any moment. To be honest, I was considering it.
The music pounded out of a medium sized building in front of us as people trickled in the doors. I couldn't help but feel a little surprised as I realized that not everyone at this party was pale and blonde.
"There are wolves at this party?" I snapped toward Laurel, knowing now exactly what kind of party this was.
I had heard rumors in the past of elves of Penum throwing wild parties and inviting Pack members under the ruse of a good time. I had never personally been to one - Cage always made sure to tell me about them a little too late, of course - but I had heard stories of fights and sex and a lot of booze. I also had heard a lot about Darklings coming from parties such as these.
It was a well known fact that Darklings, like my mother, could temporarily change the way they look outwardly to fool Elves and Wolves to fall for them or do their bidding, but loved ones from their Elven lives could always see the darkness in their eyes.
I wondered how many people were tricked at these parties to do horrible things or were just too numb to care who they were taking home. I shuddered at the thought of my mother hiding among these people, being so close to me. My skin rippled as my wolf protested.
"Paeris, something doesn't feel right.." I said softly, entwining my fingers through his. He brought them to his lips and kissed my fingertips gently. I could feel waves of calm drift over me, but my wolf continued to protest in the back of my mind. It was almost as if she was trying to run away from the party.
Or straight into it.
I couldn't tell if the animalistic part of me was trying to run to someone, to attack, or to run away in fear. My body was not tense, my hair was not on end as it had been before, but my legs felt week and stomach clenched. It reminded me of the familiar feeling of the first night Paeris stayed in my room and any time he touched me.
Apparently my wolf likes the looks of this party more than I do.
"It's okay, Ray. I promise nothing will happen to you." He said softly, his lips brushing over my fingertips again, though this time, they did not carry the extra relaxing effects. "You have been working so hard, Laurel and I just want to see you have a good time. To see that it's not just all about work and worrying."
I sighed at this. I had never been the best at letting loose and having fun. Cage had always called me a stick in the mud when it came to partying, because I typically only agreed to go to make him happy and when I did arrive at a bonfire or dance, I sat alone in the corner the whole time.
"But Lorelei is still out here somewhere." I pressed on, forcing myself to move toward the building as the crowd filtered in the doors in front of me.
Paeris' words were lost by the music as we entered the stone building, enveloped by noise and shouts of excitement and the overwhelming smell of alcohol and sweat.
"Now what do we do?" I called to Laurel as she shimmied to the music, the men around her automatically drawn to her like she was a Goddess.
"We have fun, Ray! That is the whole point of parties!" She called, twisting her arm around one of her onlookers necks as she pulled him into a dance that was borderline nauseating. As I looked around the room, I noticed Laurel was not the only one dancing so suggestively.
I normally wouldn't have been so appalled by this behavior. After all, sex was one of the most powerful sources of all beings - elves and wolves alike - but to see the way some of these elves and wolves looked at one another, something felt wrong. I was completely for a mix of power. It was one of the few things I was positive about wanting to change when I came to power. I entirely believed that, with me as Queen, both Elven and Pack cultures could finally unite. But the glazed looks over so many of my Pack's faces made the bile rise in my throat. I shook my head as I took a step back, bumping into Paeris' strong chest. Was this the work I'd love magic? Or had I always just been blind to what was happening under my nose? Maybe if I had gone to a party with Tarron before, I would have already met Paeris.
"What's wrong?" He asked, his eyebrows pulled together in confusion. "Why do you look like you want to run out of here?" He asked in my ear, his hands moving up my hips. A shiver raced up my spine.
"Because I do! Lorelei is out there, or maybe even in here, and this is..."
"This is where there is no prejudice. Elves and Wolves can do whatever we want here and be with whoever we want here without anyone judging. That's why we wear masks." He said slowly, the weight of his words making my stomach clench. I felt disgusting in that moment. This was a place that I should have been happy to be in, comfortable even, but I was more concerned with people being wrongfully seduced. I knew this had more to do with Lorelei and my father than I wanted to admit.
I nodded to Paeris, relaxing slightly into his body as he swayed against me, pulling my hips flush against his. I closed my eyes, enjoying the beat of the music for the first time since we had arrived at this party. I slowly rocked my body against his, feeling myself let go of my worry and enjoy the sensations rolling through my core when I ground against his thigh. I was finally losing myself in the music, feeling the effects along with everyone else.
"Here, you and I can be together comfortably and not feel like what we're doing is wrong." He said softly into my ear, my eyes shooting open at the words.
"What do you mean?" I demanded, pulling myself away from Paeris slowly. I looked him over, studying his face to see if I had misunderstood him.
"Come on, Ray. You know what I mean..."
"No. I don't, actually." I called pointedly, pulling him only close enough for us to hear one another talk. "Are you saying, because you're pure elf, it's wrong for us to be together?" I offered, raising my eyebrow. The look of defeat on his face said it all. He was ashamed of our relationship.
I could have handled the excuse of royalty and a Council member sleeping together - caring for one another - but this was about our species, I could tell. Our ranks in the status quo.
"Ray, I didn't mean..."
I saw a familiar face move behind Paeris as my blood began to boil, though my wolf seemed to be otherwise distracted by the scent filling my nose: rain and dirt.
"Mind if I cut in?"