Chapter 3 - Tiberius (Part 1)
The word repeated over and over in Tiberius’ head as he held the sleeping form of his mate in his arms.
Finally, he found her.
Finally, his search was over.
It wasn’t too late. He still had time to fix things and set everything right. The next lunar eclipse was approaching, he could feel it in his bones, but it was still a few months off. Surely, that would be enough time.
Easing himself down to his knees, the earth a soft, rich cushion after hours spent running along the rocky shoreline of rivers and creeks, and held her close. He pressed his nose into the curve of her neck, closed his eyes, and relished in the feel of her, the softness of her, and the subtle violet scent of her.
Whimpers erupted as his soul cried in joy.
Throwing his head back, he howled his praises and thanks to the moon. The sound of it breaking him down even more as he licked her sleeping face.
Her nose scrunched up and he huffed a half chuckle.
She was perfect. Perfect.
But something was off. He knew it. He saw it and felt it the moment she fell from the tree and he caught her in his arms. She shook violently all over. He had to hold her tight to keep her from slipping and hurting herself.
He couldn’t tell what was wrong. The stench of vampire blood clung to his fur and saturated the air around him. There was a hint of a musk, one that he recognized and made his blood run cold.
It can’t be…
He pressed his nose against her chest and inhaled a deep breath, concentrating on the mixture of smells around him and searching for a trace of the one he feared most.
There. Like a drop of acid on the delicate petal of a violet, there it was. The touch of death feeding off her soul.
He shook his head, no. It couldn’t be true. He was smelling himself on her. That had to be it. He’d touched her and tainted her scent with his own.
Then why did she have a seizure up in that tree? Why hadn’t she shifted and killed that vampire instead of being drawn away from her pack, shoved, and strangled?
Wolfsbane? Silver, perhaps?
A strand of dark hair escaped her loose ponytail and he brushed it away from her face gently with a claw.
So fragile and delicate, and yet a war waged within her only moments ago. She needed to be protected. She needed him to be strong. She needed him to fix this.
Instinct gripped him and he rose up on his hind legs and carried her unconscious body in both arms in search of shelter.
He would get the answers to his questions later. Her well-being came first.
Following the creek, he saw a dark cabin on the left side. Overgrown vegetation and trees surrounded it, making it almost hidden from view.
Something about it made his skin crawl and he turned away from it. There had to be something else.
He followed the creek a few more miles before it split in two directions. Sniffing the nearby vegetation, he followed the creek that split two territories and merged into a larger river. Traveling between territories was the only option for now.
He would find out from her where her pack was when she woke up. If he took her into one territory and it wasn’t her pack’s they could both be attacked.
Or worse, she could be taken away from him.
He couldn’t let that happen.
Picking up his pace, he ran through the shallows of the river, paying attention to borders and avoiding them. Ignoring the rocks and pebbles that cut and pierced the rough and hardened pads of his feet as he went, focused only on finding shelter to rest.
Soon, the sky in the east was lightening, draping pink over the horizon and he pushed himself forward despite the ache and exhaustion of his body.
His thoughts roamed on how to handle the situation at hand.
He couldn’t shift back into his human form. Hadn’t been able to in… How many years had it been now?
His throat rumbled in agitation.
The details didn’t matter.
He’d played out the images in his mind, the words he had planned to say when he found his mate for years, but now he wasn’t sure how to tell her.
He couldn’t shift. He couldn’t even shift his throat muscles enough to speak like he once could.
He had to try. He had to try to tell her the truth because he couldn’t lose her. Not now. Not ever.
She had to understand.
He’d been cursed. Years ago, he couldn’t even fathom how long ago it had been, a witch placed a curse on him.
He didn’t believe it at first because it didn’t have an immediate effect. Then, as time wore on, he found it harder to shift. More painful each time until he couldn’t stand the pain any longer. He remained in his beast form, not wanting to go through the pain again, until months later, he tried to shift and couldn’t.
He was stuck.
And he loathed every moment of it.
Passing by a farm, he spotted an abandoned storage shed far away from the main house, barns, and sheds across the farmland. The wilderness around the river appeared to have swallowed up the ten-foot-squared shack with twenty-yards separating it from the field. Ten to twenty-year-old trees surrounded it with tall grasses and weeds blanketing the ground and ivy crawling up the south side.
Being close to the river, it was raised up off the ground on stilts with wide cracks between the wooden boards of the structure. Half the roof was missing, but it would do for now.
With the sun peeking above the horizon, he set his mate down on a soft bed of grass. She shivered at his absence and curled up into a ball to stay warm.
A whimper crawled up his throat and he forced himself away to inspect the weathered structure.
No human traces surrounded it, not even a farm dog, and that put him at ease. There were the usual signature animal scents—birds, mice, squirrels, raccoons—but nothing to concern him.
Glancing back at his mate still curled up, he stepped into the shack on all fours and wrinkled his nose.
Decay struck him. Rotten floorboards and broken shelves lined one wall covered in animal droppings. He stepped cautiously inside to test the strength of the floor that sloped in the center.
This would have satisfied him for a day, but not for his mate.
What choice did he have? The sun was rising. He could not slip through the countryside as easily.
They’ll find you and take her away…
He brushed the rat droppings away with his paws. There was nothing inside the building to use, just some old, broken fishing gear covered in spider webs, so he went out and pulled an armful of tall grasses and weeds to make a bed. He set them down in the corner and pulled more, making three trips so that she could be comfortable.
Once satisfied, he bathed himself in the creek, washing away pounds of dirt and grime and dried blood caught in his fur.
He still stank and he growled in frustration. The stink of his curse was over-powering.
Checking back on his sleeping mate, he dried off in a patch of wildflowers, hoping they would cover-up his stench.
Lying on his back, he looked up to the sky as it brightened to a pastel shade of blue and purple. Birds sang in the nearby trees, undisturbed by his presence until he rolled over onto his stomach and fell silent for a moment before starting up again. His eyes grew heavy, but he pushed himself up and returned to his mate.
Scooping her back up into his arms, she stirred a little as he carefully carried her into the shelter and set her down on the bed of green before curling up around her.
Closing his eyes, he pressed his nose to her neck.
Please, give me a chance.