The Haunting Hour (TWH #2)

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ix. see you again

Winterstorm Palace

Moscow, Russia

AMALIA DIDN’T SPEAK the whole way back.

Upon their arrival, the former mercenaries of the now-fallen Division of Supernatural Defense informed the quartet that they’d secured the Winterstorm coven stronghold and located Amalia’s mother.

Aleksandra Romanov was waiting for them in her office.

The last thing Amalia wanted to do is going and entertain her mother’s mocking words and cryptic speech--she was still reeling from the words of the dryad in the Khimki forest. It played over and over again in a loop and Amalia couldn’t tell what she feared more: the dryad’s words stopping or the fallout she’d have when she finally dealt with what it all meant.

I lost my best friend, Amalia thought miserably. It’s been six months and I still can’t deal.

“Amalia.”

The necromancer looked up at Ross whose brown eyes were studying her intently with worry. “We can handle your mom if you want to...”

Scream? Break a few things? Cry? Amalia hopelessly tried to fill in the gap left by his unfinished statement.

“She won’t give you the time of day,” She heard herself say hollowly. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Ross and Samuel shared an apprehensive look before following after the guards, Zander right behind them with a steely gaze. As much as Amalia wanted to power through it, something Zander had become an expert at, she couldn’t--not anymore.

With every step she took, tears threatened to fall and her breathing was shaky and uneven at best. All this time, she’d muffled the pain with an unhealthy obsession and desperation for her magic.

She never gave herself the chance to mourn her friend. Maybe if she had shed a tear, or gone to the funeral, or visited her grave, or stopped pretending like Zara being gone wasn’t her fault for being too weak to take on Laura herself...

God, this is such bullshit.

Amalia didn’t even notice that they were walking into her mother’s dimly lit office until she was face-to-face with a woman whose biggest regret was having a child in the first place.

“Amalia,” Aleksandra said with false warmness. “Ya vizhu, ty vse yeshche sostavlyayesh’ plokhuyu kompaniyu.” She gave Zander, Ross, and Samuel a side-eye before continuing.

“Ah, you brought a conjurer this time,” Her switch to English was flawless. “Can’t say I’m pleased to see a Polaris warlock in my home.”

Amalia resisted the urge to make a snarky response and instead plastered a tight-lipped smile on her face. ”Privet mama. Kak pozhivayete?"

“I’m doing well dear,” Her mother replied coolly. “What brings you to my doors? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we’re in the middle of a war.”

Amalia didn’t blink at the bitting tone in her final sentence. “We’re aware.”

Aleksandra let out a humorless laugh, “Are you? Hiding away in another dimension gives you an accurate sense of what’s happening on Earth? Interesting.”

“Andromeda says you haven’t reported in,” Ross cuts in, causing the Winterstorm head to direct her stare at him. “We just need an update.”

A flicker of rage crosses her bright azure eyes and Amalia holds her breath for her mother’s response.

"Like I said,” She begins with controlled anger. “I’m in the middle of a war. Securing the palace and keeping the supernaturals in my charge safe is my utmost priority. I don’t have time to discuss my troubles with a chelovek.”

Ordinarily, Aleksandra’s dismissal of Andromeda would’ve been expected by Amalia. She was aware that while her mother still respected Andromeda as Counselor Supreme (Aleksandra was not a part of the Circle, thank God), Aleksandra did not like the idea of reporting to someone that wasn’t supernatural.

But there was something in her voice that Amalia had only heard once before.

Fear.

“You said ‘supernaturals in your charge’,” Samuel questions from the other corner of the room. “Are you housing more than Winterstorm necromancers?”

Aleksandra seemed reluctant to give a werewolf the time of day, but she sighed out a clipped response. “Yes. Over the past few months, many of the werewolf packs and demigod houses in Russia have come to Winterstorm for aid.”

Her voice softened slightly as she continued. “I couldn’t turn them away after hearing what those abominations did to their friends, their families.”

“You’re talking about Leviathan’s demons possessing them,” Zander supplies.

Aleksandra lets out an amused breath, “It’s more than that. They didn’t just possess their brothers and sisters. The demons forced them to kill their own lovers and children, burned down their homes, embodied their worst fears.”

The four of them went still as they heard one of the most formidable witches in the world detail the horrifying experiences supernaturals across the continent were facing at the hands of Leviathan.

“I’m going to be sick,” Samuel muttered when Aleksandra explained that many of the werewolves that had been possessed had been transformed into what she called demony volki or demon wolves.

Zander swore under his breath when Aleksandra stopped in her tale. “Where the fuck is Marcus? Tracking Leviathan is clearly a waste of time. We need to find him and put him down. People are suffering.”

Aleksandra looked slightly impressed at Zander’s defiance of Andromeda’s plans and, surprisingly, Amalia was also impressed.

“Marcus Aventhelia is dead,” Aleksandra told them gravely. “My scouts discovered his body a few moons ago by accident while searching the Caucasus Mountains for more wolfpacks.”

Amalia paled considerably. “T-That doesn’t make any sense because if Marcus is dead. Then...”

“Who’s been controlling Leviathan’s demons?” Ross finished in horror.

Aleksandra looked at the young supernaturals with a tired expression. For the first time in a while, Amalia could see how old her mother was through the mask of impeccable beauty and agelessness she wore daily.

Amalia could see that in nearly all hundred years of her existence, Aleksandra had never seen anything like this before.

Now Amalia was scared.


“Why didn’t you tell Andromeda that Marcus is dead?”

Aleksandra had taken pity on the four teenagers and abruptly suggested that they get settled into the castle. She had other things to attend to apart from reliving the horror stories she had been told by the refugees.

Andromeda could wait another day or two for answers.

Potentially, even longer. Aleksandra and the remainder of the Winterstorm coven (their numbers had dwindled from five hundred strong to fifty or so) were inexperienced with helping non-Winterstorm supernaturals adjust and settle in.

She had never attended an Academy since the concept hadn’t been around when she was a young girl, but her daughter and her friends were living proof that different species of magic could be...comfortable around each other.

Their curriculum also included learning the biology and psychology of different species of witches, various breeds of werewolves, and houses of demigods. If anyone could help with the current onboarding process, it would be them.

That would give her time to prepare the coven for the next attack by the demon army closing in around the Winterstorm Palace.

“I just found out less than twelve hours ago when the scouts dragged his frozen body through my doors,” Aleksandra countered snappily as they walked down the residential part of the palace. “One of my more skilled necromancers is investigating the cause and date of death. I’d rather Andromeda have all the details.”

“How long ago do you think Marcus died?” Amalia asked her mother in a lower tone.

Aleksandra heaved another sigh, “Judging by what I saw of the body, I’d be safe to assume between six and eight months ago.”

“Whoever did it was clever enough to dump the body in a frozen wasteland,” Ross mused from behind the mother-daughter pair. “This was a planned assassination. But Laura Hien was the only person we know of that wanted Marcus dead.”

“And she didn’t get to do it,” Zander added bitterly. “So, who else would kill him?”

Samuel snorted a humorless laugh, “Leviathan. He could’ve easily instructed one of the demons to take him out before they crossed over from Hell.”

“Marcus was his go-to man on Earth. Why would he do that?” Amalia questioned.

Aleksandra caught on to Samuel’s point, “‘All warfare is based on deception’.”

"The Art of War,” The werewolf explained as they turned a hallway. “The most likely explanation is that all this time, Marcus was deluded into thinking Leviathan was working for him. Once Marcus outlived his usefulness, he killed him.”

Aleksandra allowed a small, impressed smile to cross her pale features. “Smart wolf, but the question remains: why is Marcus no longer of use to Leviathan?”

Samuel doesn’t say anything and they stop in front of a set of wooden double doors with a handcrafted golden design.

“Your suite from your last visit,” Aleksandra presented to the room to them. “Get some sleep. We’ll talk more in the morning. Good night.”

With that, she walked away, and, for the first time since she was a child, Amalia didn’t feel like her mother was a stranger.



“We have to tell Andromeda.”

“Are you being serious right now? What good would it be telling Andromeda without concrete information?”

“She can use this t-to to figure out a plan!”

“Andromeda has had six goddamn months to come up with a plan! Now Marcus is dead, and based on your reaction, she hasn’t planned for that.”

“I agree with Ross, Zander. We can present what Winterstorm comes up with to Andromeda and, hopefully, she’ll back it.”

“You can’t be serious--”

“Would all of you shut the fuck up?!”

The three boys arguing in the center of the suite turned to see Amalia sitting cross-legged staring directly into the crackling red-yellow flames roaring in the fireplace.

They’d been debating back and forth what to do with the intel on Marcus’s death since they walked in. Amalia left them to their own devices, but they were interrupting her train of thought. Stopping her from examining the meaning behind the dryad’s words from earlier.

“You were wrong, y’know,” She said drily, not even turning to see if they were still paying her mind. “Laura wasn’t the only person that wanted Marcus underground. Zara wanted it too.”

Her name came out like charcoal, the first time she’d uttered her friend’s name in months. The first time she’d allowed herself to remember her.

“She was willing to die to kill Marcus,” Amalia continued in a broken voice. “Instead she died because of me. Because of us.”

“That’s not--”

"Shut. Up.” Amalia cut off whatever false and pacifying bullshit Samuel was about to spew out. “She only went into the catacombs to save us. She never would’ve fucking been there if we had just fought Matti a little harder. Then we let Laura convince us that our magic was gone, that there was no way out for either of us.”

She laughed humorlessly as fat tears began rolling down her face, reflecting the light of the fire. “I signed her death warrant when I let her go back for you. I should’ve told her to let you go because, at the end of the day, I would rather her be alive than you.”

Every time she saw Zander’s face from that day, or heard his voice, or watched him follow Andromeda around like he was her most important asset, Amalia felt an inexplicable amount of anger and pain and grief.

This was the first time she was vocalizing how much she regretted letting Zara go save Zander’s life from the hands of Laura Hien.

“You think I don’t wish she let me die?” Zander asked angrily. Amalia still didn’t allow herself to turn around, but she heard the pain in his voice. Pain that she didn’t think he was allowed to feel.

“I begged her Amalia! I told her to let me die that night, but she wouldn’t let me go,” His voice started harshly, but it began to shake. “Every fucking night in my dreams I tell her to save herself and every time she still winds up dead! I’m the reason she’s gone, so let me deal with it while you and everyone else move the fuck on!”

“That’s such bullshit.”

Amalia whirled around from her position to face the boys behind her so quickly she thought she’d break.

Samuel had been the one to say it and, judging from his tense posture and clenched fists, he’d been wanting to say his piece since they’d started their back and forth.

“Why the fuck do you two think that you’re the only ones on the planet that cared about her?” He demands in a sharp voice. “For the past six months, you’ve both been playing the most detrimental version of the blame game anyone’s ever seen!”

Samuel spun on his heels to look Amalia dead on. “You’re killing yourself, Amalia. You don’t think we can tell?” The glare was a harsh reprimanding in itself and enough to make Amalia feel the heat of shame rise against her cheeks.

"You don't speak, you barely eat, and you put yourself in danger at every chance you get!"

Amalia looked away soundlessly.

"And you," Samuel's attention was turned to Zander now. "You're not any better. Pretending that her death hasn't affected you and becoming an emotionally unavailable dick isn't a good look on you."

Zander scoffed a mocking laugh. "As opposed to what? Be like you? Sorry, but not all of us have the luxury of turning into a dog and hunting in the woods for weeks."

Samuel resisted the urge to roll his eyes, "I didn't say I'm coping well. But at least I'm not punishing myself when there are other things to worry about."

"What about you, Ross?" Amalia asked emptily. She didn't even bother to look at the pyromancer's face or stance. "Are you going to psychoanalyze us too?"

The room went still. The beats of silence made Amalia think that Ross wasn't going to take the bait. She wanted him to show some sort of emotional response to Zara's death, but out of them all, he seemed to be handling it the best.

"Every night I imagine what would've happened if Sam and I didn't leave."

He sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor of the suite and gazed at the fire from a distance. "We should've been there when she and Lillian went into the catacombs. Instead, we wrote you off and..." Ross let out a bitter laugh before continuing.

"She's stubborn and I should've known that she was going to save you even if it cost her. That was my mistake," His brown eyes flashed a lethal orange color. "But all we can do now is make sure that death wasn't meaningless. Because I know for a fact that'd she kill us if she knew we were still here, six months later, arguing over who misses her more than killing the person responsible."

Ross quickly wiped a stray tear from his face and Amalia immediately felt remorse grow within her chest.

"We'll see her again," Ross says as he stands up and makes his way to the bathroom. "Let's make sure we have a story to tell when we do."

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