Chapter 12: An Unlikely Encounter
Upon the news that we would be standing our ground, I insisted on more training lessons with Damien. At first, he objected, but then he finally accepted the fact that if they were coming for anyone first, it would be the only one capable of producing heirs.
Two sweaty hours passed by, and when I finally collapsed on the ground out of pure weakness, he ceased. He rushed over to me with a glass of water, brushing my hair back from my face.
“I’m pushing you too hard,” he said.
“I have three days to learn what you’ve learned over the past 26 years, so yes, I’m pushing myself,” I grumbled. He rested a hand on my shoulder, pushing me softly back against the mirror.
“Something else is going on with you. I’ve seen this with other soldiers; you’re trying to distract yourself from something else.”
I felt my palms grow sweatier than they already were, and I bounced to my feet as I began to remove the wraps from my hand. He had a confused expression on his face. I was supposed to confide in him, but I couldn’t, certainly not about this. Before he had a chance to interrogate me further, I ducked out of the training room to go shower. Just as I peeled out the door, I slammed into a hard chest and peered up to meet Xander’s eyes.
Just a couple days of being well fed, the light in his eyes had reappeared, and his witty one-liners were back, much to Damien’s chagrin.
“Finishing your session early? I have some little brother bonding to do,” he said.
“He’s tense, so good luck with that,” I scoffed.
“From what I recall, you’re pretty good at reducing a man’s tension,” his eyes grazed up and down my body.
I smacked him across his shoulder, shooting a daring look back at Damien before brushing past him. He was beginning to grow less and less secretive with his comments, and I was about to lose it. Following my shower, I was combing my hair at my vanity with the window cast open. My gaze lingered into the woods right outside the gate that tightly hugged the palace walls, and I saw Ella standing in the sunlight-stricken canopies. There was no mistake to be made; she was staring straight at me.
My attention was drawn back from her as I heard footsteps approaching, and I flattened out my shirt to see Lyon standing in the doorway, looking all-knowing.
“Afternoon, stranger,” I grinned, trying to hide my discomfort.
He stepped in, closing the door behind him and I knew I was about to get a talking to.
“You and Xander are getting closer, I see,” was all he said.
“He lives here, so yeah, we’ve been seeing more of each other,” I shrugged, starting to braid my hair.
“Not close in proximity,” he rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“You can’t just come in here and throw around accusations,” I diverted. “We have three days to prepare for Ella and her rogues.”
“I have a theory,” he frowned.
“Go on,” I encouraged.
“What if Xander wasn’t released ‘just because’? What if he’s working on Ella, and they broke the curse weeks ago, and they were just waiting for the right moment to let him infiltrate but the second she gets here he’s going to be King Xander again—”
“Do you hear yourself?” I laughed. “Did you take some new experimental club drug or something?”
“You know it takes an extreme amount of alcohol and drugs to infiltrate a werewolf’s system,” he frowned at my joking accusation.
“I believe there’s werewolves out there making 50% alcohol just to get drunk, and drugs potent enough to actually intoxicate you,” I dismissed.
“Wow, even I can’t get to you, is this a love affair Cyan? You know what will happen if Damien finds out—”
“There’s nothing to find out,” I hissed, closing the distance between us. Despite our height difference, he never saw me angry, so he took a step back. “If you want to throw around false accusations and start a civil war in the middle of another one, go right ahead. Watch how quickly Ella takes out all four of us.”
Without another word, I flipped my braid behind my head and yanked open the door, marching off. Leave it to Lyon to be loyal for nearly two years, just to throw it away all because of a whisper. I could only imagine how he would have confronted me if he caught me like the maid did. I snuck down to the training room, watching Damien and Xander through the pane of glass.
They were using each other like punching bags, and it made me realize how truly easy Damien went on me. I could tell just by watching them that Damien and Xander had been training together for years before their fallout. They could anticipate each others styles, and while that was impressive now, neither of them could anticipate Ella.
I continued down the hallway, slipping right past the front gate, and rounded the side of the palace where I saw Ella waiting, patiently, hid just behind the tree line.
“Patrols will catch you,” I said.
“I’m only seen when I want to be seen,” she smiled.
“Why have you been stalking me? Upset that you sent me to Xander to die and it didn’t work out?”
“How cute,” she said, “Everything that happened was intentional, darling.”
That took me off guard. Everything about her did; the way she remained unwavering despite my attempts at intimidation, the way she always seemed one step ahead. No wonder she was in Xander’s inner circle. I felt my skin begin to crawl at the probable fact that they had probably spent multiple nights in bed together.
“What’s your angle, then?” I turned my nose up at her.
“If I told you my secret plan, it wouldn’t be much of a secret would it?” Her dazzling smile did not fade. “As you told me before, patrols will catch me, so I best be on my merry way.”
As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone. I didn’t give myself time to get dragged away by the patrols for being out of bounds, and snuck back inside. I slightly frowned upon how easy it was to get in and out of that gate. If the Queen could come and go as she pleased, what was to stop Ella from coming in undetected? Goosebumps rippled over my skin as I realized that it was the exact kind of message she wanted to portray; I thought I was safe with two guards outside my windowless bedroom, but she could swoop in at any moment and slit my throat in my sleep.
With one last shiver, I was kitchen-bound to get a glass of water. I emerged to discover that Damien and Xander are already there…laughing?
They looked up, spotting my wide eyes which only encouraged their laughter.
“The hell is going on?” I looked at them distrustfully.
“Like I told you before, dear, little brother bonding.”
I waited for Damien’s heated response, but when I saw nothing, I huffed back at him.
“You know we used to be close once upon a full moon.”
“Plus, punching the living daylights out of him helps,” Damien shrugged.
I didn’t understand the sight that was unraveling before me. It felt strange of me to think of Damien’s family as anything less than estranged. I wondered what it was like, before their father went mad, before their mother was slaughtered before their eyes. Shaking the morbid thought, I turned on my heel and headed back out of the kitchen.
After the sun had gone down, I sought to wander the halls while Damien was in the shower. I dodged Alessia’s room, knowing that was where he would look for me first. I was dead set on his office, but muffled sniffles stopped my dead in my tracks.
Eyeing up the door, I realized that they were coming from the library. I didn’t knock, merely cracked open the door so I could get a look inside. I saw Xander doubled over on the elegantly upholstered couches, attempting to cry silently.
Slipping inside, I closed the door softly behind me and spooked him a little when I dipped on the other side of the couch.
“Hi,” I said.
“I thought I was hidden,” I could tell he was partially yelling at himself.
“It’s okay, no one else heard. I just wanted to make sure that you were okay.”
“I just…today was the first time I was normal with Damien in nearly three years. It reminded me of before, and I couldn’t keep it together.”
“You don’t always have to keep it together,” I tried to comfort. When I reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, he inched away from me.
“Kings don’t lose it like this, Cyan. Do you think my brother’s crying in the shower right now?” The words were snarled.
“Chill, Xander. You’re not King, you don’t need to pretend to be strong for anyone.”
He looked up at me, almost if he’d been caught like a deer in headlights. Quickly shaking the expression, he looked back to the ground and fiddled with a rubber band around his wrist.
“Has he ever shown you them?”
“Shown me who? We never leave the palace.”
I felt the sadness dripping in my own voice, but didn’t mull over it for long before he interlocked my fingers with his and started through the hallway with me. Thankfully, no one saw us as I continually tried to wriggle from his grasp. He brought me through the garden and up over the hill into the gated park that was behind it. At least, for the past year and a half I thought it was a park. It turned out to be a cemetery of sorts, with rolling hills of headstones.
I was speechless.
He continued to lead me down a winding cobblestone path until we got to what looked like a palace in and of itself. I saw upon closer inspection that it was the family tomb, the royal tomb. I dug my heels into the ground, refusing to move further. He looked back to me with soft, longing eyes.
“Come,” he said.
“I can’t, I’m not…” I’m not worthy.
“You’re family now, Cyan; in one way or another.”
I gave him a soft smile, placing my hand back into his as I followed him inside. Marbles stretched up the sides of the mausoleum in long strips, with columns to match. Latin was carved into the top of the stone perched over two sculpted tombs.
Beatus ille qui iacet hic princeps est homini lupinotuum pectinem et luna, lupus mater pueri. Patrem et matrem et Damiani, et Fertur Averell.
“What does that say?” I whispered the words, pointing up to the etching.
“Blessed is the one who lies here, ruler to werewolf man and Luna mother of the wolf children. Father and mother to Xander and Damien Averell,” he recited, as if knowing it by heart.
I merely nodded, not really sure of what to say. My eyes lowered, landing on the graves of Xander’s mother and father.
“She spent years trying to get away from him, and even in death she’s stuck beside him,” Xander muttered.
“What happens to your kind, in the afterlife?” I couldn’t help the words as they tumbled out of my mouth. He stroked his hand over his mother’s tomb with adoration, glaring at his father’s all the while. I couldn’t help but ask; I had to know how Ace had come to visit me.
“We separate from our wolf at death. We become the human part of ourselves, the dulled down version of who we were in this life. We go to the land of the Moon Goddess, probably the one you got to see when you visited her. Our wolf becomes our companion, and we can live in peace without our animalistic side threatening to bubble to the surface.”
“What about the ones that…have unfinished business?”
He gave me a sly look that told me he knew exactly what I was referring to.
“They stay behind, until their loved ones move on, in the In Between.”
We both spared a moment of silence as he kneeled beside his mother, gripping onto the marble for dear life. Finally, he rose to the surface and exited the mausoleum. Giving one last lingering stare, I followed him out. I saw him walking in an opposing direction, and followed after him like a puppy. Where was he going?
He stopped in front of a grave that was dolloped with freshly cut flowers. Confused, I stared from him down to the monument, and felt my heart soften.
Ace Cohen, husband, faithful soldier of the Royal Guard. February 2nd, 2063- June 23rd, 2091
“I never thought he’d do it.”
I jumped back, gripping onto the headstone behind me as Ace manifested in front of me.
“I never thought he’d have the nerve,” I watched his nostrils flare but I knew that he couldn’t hurt Xander. Xander turned, checking me over for injuries.
“Sorry, just a bee,” I said nonchalantly.
“I wish I could tell Alessia how sorry I am, but I know that sorry couldn’t possibly amount to enough,” Xander breathed.
“He’s the reason she was my mate in the first place,” Ace growled. I watched his fists ball up.
“You can’t change the past,” I said, wrapping my arm around his as I leaned into his side. Ace looked me up and down with distaste, crossing his arms across his chest.
“You sound like a cheesy Disney movie,” Xander grinned.
“No, if I was a cheesy Disney movie, I would say something much worse. Like, a dream is a wish your heart makes,” I laughed. “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it,” I echoed the words. “My mother had those words painted over the threshold of our front door, so that every time we’d leave the house, we’d be reminded to do the best that we could.”
“Your mother sounded like an amazing woman,” Xander hummed, pressing a kiss to the top of my head.
“I haven’t seen her in so long.” There was ache in my voice.
“Why not invite her?”
“She and my father were avid werewolf…. disapprovers.” I chose my words tastefully.
“Hunters?” he raised an eyebrow, looking uneasy.
“No, they just wanted to be away from it all, try and act like humans are the only species that still exist. Have you talked to Alessia since you’ve been back?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I can still smell her from a mile away,” he said, “part of my punishment, I guess. I’ve memorized routes to avoid her, the times she eats so that I don’t eat at the same time.”
“Classic high school breakup protocol,” I teased.
“I wish it was that simple,” he chuckled.
He looked down at me, flickering a smile before looking back up.
“You make it stop, you know,” he murmured. I furrowed my brow, confused.
“Make what stop?”
“The rage that I felt the day I did this,” he looked back down at the headstone. “It was triggered by you, but it wasn’t because of you. I felt like I was turning into my father with the way that it consumed me, it was haunting. Everything would set me off, but when I met you, it would fade, just like that,” he snapped his fingers together. “When I lost that, when I lost you, I thought I’d never feel calm again.”
“You never have to go back to that mansion again,” I reminded.
“The alternative is to stay here and watch you continue to be with another man, Cyan. Regardless of this war, I have to leave.”
“You can’t,” I pleaded. I felt myself growing sick with anxiety at the thought of him walking past those palace gates. Once he stepped out of them, he wasn’t under my protection anymore.
“I’m not worried about them using me against you,” he assured. “I would never let that happen. I’m worried that they’ll use me against me. If I get like that again, if rage consumes me that much, I’ll destroy everything in my path without a second thought. Maybe if I leave, enough of them will follow that she won’t even have a chance to hurt you.”
He knew that he was losing me as soon as those words left his lips. I turned around, marching back through the palace. Being here, seeing Ace’s headstone and the burial site of Damien and Xander’s parents that they just happened to neglect telling me about until now, it left me unsettled, and angry. Ella was coming for all of them, and she made it abundantly clear that she was going to try and stay one step ahead of me. I had to turn the tables, and fast.
He raced in after me, only stopping when I reached Damien’s office. I caught the attention of Lyon, who stepped out into the hallway to assess what was going on.
“What’s wrong, did he hurt you?” he eyed me up and down. I saw Damien perk up from his office chair, rounding his desk to see what was going on.
“Arrest him,” I ordered, gesturing behind me.
“Are you kidding me, Cyan?” Xander hissed. “I thought you’d understand.”
“Arrest him,” I reiterated. Lyon looked nervously back to Damien, as if waiting for a cue. “Lyon Holloway, Beta of the Royal Guard, as your Queen I command you to arrest him right now.”
“Did I stutter?” I spat.
“Yes, your highness,” he bowed his head in submission in the first time since I met him. Regardless of how much I disliked it, my close friend and I were alienated.
“You’re going to regret this when she kills us all.”