“Carina, my love, it is time,” Diego whispered against my lips as we kissed.
Guided by the light of the end of the summer moon, the ship had returned. That time had come again and I walked with all elegance of a princess down towards the deepest depths of the castle, clearing my thoughts as I went. My golden gown flowed gracefully around my smooth legs as I descended down the staircase, feeling the cold iron handrail beneath my fingertips. The air grew cooler down here and my warm breath merged with the air, billowing from my lips like white smoke.
My steps echoed around the torch-lit corridor, passing door after door until I came to a halt outside the holding chamber. Memories flashed in my mind's eye and I blinked, shaking myself from my thoughts. I couldn’t break focus, my expression had to remain unreadable, my voice devoid of any emotion. Those were the rules.
My fingers clasped around the iron lock which creaked and clanked as I slid it back, pulling the heavy door open. I allowed my eyes to rest on the familiar scene within the room, unwavering and careful to keep my true feelings concealed. That was of great importance. Fear was necessary for the mating hunt to be a success. I dragged in a composed breath before choosing to speak, ignoring the terrified sobs that came from the women who were huddled in the far corner of the room.
“Welcome, my name is Carina, I mean you no harm. Come, follow me,” the words rolled from my tongue as smooth as velvet, laced with my Spanish accent.
The women obeyed without question, all twelve were trembling with fear.
“Do not be afraid, I was once like you. I too, entered the labyrinth, many years ago. Embrace your destiny, it will make your experiences more pleasurable,” I spoke, hating the cryptic message that had once sent chills down my spine.
As much as my voice was alluring, the words tasted like poison in my mouth. I escorted them to the bathing chambers, with the promise that I would return shortly.
For a brief moment, I hesitated, stopping in the doorway. My fingertips held open the heavy door as if it was made of parchment. The brides in the chambers had to remain focused when bathing the human maidens, some of us taking longer than others to adapt to having inhuman strength. Serena caught my eye with a warm smile and I returned the gesture. My eyes darting to her swollen stomach. She gave me a sharp nod to let me know that she was feeling fine. I had told her not to overexert herself, it was her fifth pregnancy, after all.
My own unborn son fluttered comfortably in my womb. He was to be my fourth. We named our third son, Juan. The baby shall be called Kenyan. Nineteen years had passed since I first came to this island, and for all those years I’d lived happily, contented and loved by my soulmate, my Lycan husband, Diego.
After waiting patiently outside the door, hearing the cries of protests and the raised voices from the maidens, I entered the bathing chambers once more. Again, the room fell into silence. Whether my presence soothed or intimidated, I’ll never know.
“Come, it is time,” I beckoned them to follow me.
I led them through the sand dune trail, then stood aside as the petrified women gathered at the twelve entrances of the labyrinth. I hated that place. Even after all these years, I hated being within such close proximity to it. I waited alongside Queen Alia, as King Liekos welcomed the maidens. Moments after, they were joined by the warriors who had been deemed worthy. One of whom was my eldest son, Rhett.
Alongside him was Fabian, Serena’s eldest son. My face filled with fierce pride at the thought of them finding their brides tonight, and a lone tear escaped my eye.
A warm hand lightly squeezed my shoulder as Diego came and stood proudly beside me. He too had also come to support our son tonight. Serena followed with her husband, Asher. Their hands entwined together as they waited.
Curiosity had me searching my son's face, following the line of his gaze with keen eyes, wondering who he felt drawn too.
I caught a glimpse of him watching a young, fair-haired maiden, closely. Her hair was the colour of pure gold and her pale skin had a scattering of freckles. Her sapphire blue eyes spared him a fleeting glance, but a look of determination was etched across her face as if she had something on her mind of great importance.
Rhett’s eyes were drinking in her essence with a mixture of enchantment and conflict. We had spoken of his fears and I could only hope that the Goddess casts her magic on them tonight.
There, under the light of the end of summer's moon, Diego and I prayed for him. This time to Gideon, the conscience of the labyrinth. We asked that fate show them the same kindness as it had shown to us.
As the rumble of the first horn filled the cool night air, all twelve maidens ran terrified into the entrances.
Time seemed to move too quickly. Each of the twelve Lycan warriors chose their own passages. It wasn’t until my eyes searched for the markings above each stone arch, did I realize that none could be found. Never before, had I paid any attention to this, but then again, I had never waited around after fulfilling my duty.
“The markings are gone.” I turned to Diego, in the hope that he would have the answer.
“Indeed,” he replied, pointing to one of the doorways. “Those are portal doors. The bride chooses the trials. Once the choice is made, it's up to the Lycan to seek out his bride. Once they are inside, it's up to fate,” he explained, placing his arm around my shoulders.
The hour wait was torturous. None of us were allowed to approach the warriors, through fear of interfering with the hunt. I flinched as the sound of the second horn rung into the night.
Rhett turned towards me briefly, sparing me a curt nod before racing off into the dark. The maternal instinct to protect what was mine had me lunging forward, only to be pulled back into the strong, protective arms of my husband.
“Let him go, Carina, it's as it should be. He is the crowned prince of Azkalar-Zar. No harm will befall him, you'll see,” he murmured, resting his chin against the top of my head. “You too should rest well, my love. Tomorrow marks the start of a new era."
I cast him a questioning look. "What new era?"
"We will soon become grandparents,” Diego announced with an air of fierce pride, ignoring my gasp of realization.
The village of Balaeter - Spain.
The young mother knocked firmly on the door of the fisherman’s cottage.
"Hold on a minute!” The eighty-six-year-old man shuffled slowly towards the door. He wasn’t as young as he used to be. His eyesight was failing, and his body was riddled with arthritis.
“Hello?" He called out, wondering who it could be. He didn't often receive visitors out of the blue like this. Once a week, his daughter, Maria and her children would visit. Now that he was a widower, he tended to keep to the confines of his cosy little house.
He peered warily around the door, not recognising the stranger on his doorstep. It was a young woman in her early twenties. She was accompanied by a young boy of around five or six years old.
“Hi, I’m so sorry to bother you, but I was told that an Emilio Pérez lives here," she asked, politely.
“I’m Emilio, that’s me. What can I help you with, my dear?” He replied, curtly.
The woman hesitated whilst clasping hold of an old piece of paper. She looked as if she was trying to find the correct words to use as if this was a delicate situation and she didn't wish to upset him. She could see that he was old and in poor health, and didn’t wish to cause this man any distress. But as a parent herself, she felt as if she had a moral obligation to do the right thing. She would want to know if the situation was reversed.
“Sir, my son found a message that was meant to reach you," she told him as she handed over the parchment.
Emilio reached out a trembling hand, taking the roll of yellowed paper and unrolled it. Through squinted eyes, he strained, reading the slanted handwriting and feeling a wave of buried emotions that sent an ache straight to his heart.
All these years, he had longed for news of his beloved Carina, and now he had it. Despite the gap in his heart that could never be filled, this small token of love from the daughter he lost, gave this dying man peace.
That very same night, he passed away, having been granted the closure he needed in order to let go.
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