Artemis knew what he was looking for. “He’ll be ok. He’s strong,” she promised.
His body along with his mind came to the consensus of not looking away from the leaves riddled with mystery. Sol could slip out of them any second.
“The void is strong too.”
Sol was mortal now. If he listened to his thoughts for too long... he might try to kill himself and the Moon Goddess might not intervene.
“You’re worried.” Artemis pointed out.
Raiden looked at a bush once it shuffled, expecting Sol to emerge from it. The movement turned out to be another trick of the wind.
With a throat that felt like it was about to cave in on itself, he replied, “yes. He is my brother.”
It wasn’t blood that made them family. Their bond was far past cells, atoms, anything among the realm of physical matter. No werewolf— including Artemis, would be able to empathize like Raiden and Sol did. The two lycans drank the unrefined whiskey of suffering and felt its sourness burn down their throats and permanently settle in their gut.
They understood each other. People that claimed to know what pain meant often had no idea what they were talking about. Only cursed bastards like lycans knew how much the small word had to offer. Pain may only have four letters but there is nothing short about the agony it brings to your life.
He looked down at the note in his hand and then walked over to Artemis’ backdoor. After positioning it against the wood, he secured it with a pin.
He read the note a final time before turning his back on it.
Avoid the void.
I am here with you.
“Oh, hi dad. I didn’t know you were coming.”
Lukas shrugged. “I didn’t want to miss out on the fun.”
“Okay, let’s roll out!” Zena ordered with a clap of her hands.
This confused the group. “Where’s the car, babe?” Lukas pointed out what they were all wondering.
“About that...” Zena grinned. “I was thinking that we could run to the state border and drive from there. It will help us bond.”
Bond? Lukas would spit on the word if he could.
He frowned at Raiden but looked away before his rudeness was noticed. Upsetting Artemis would equate upsetting Zena and upsetting Zena equated... he shuddered.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea...” Artemis drew out skeptically. She knew that Raiden was insecure about his lycan.
“I arranged everything with our neighboring alphas. They’re ok with us running through their territory. Now come on!” Zena snatched Artemis’ arm and began guiding her away.
Artemis managed to shoot Raiden an apologetic smile before she disappeared behind a tree.
Only awkwardness and the men remained in the open field. Having nothing nice to say, they wordlessly turned their backs on each other and began undressing.
Raiden rarely shifted into his lycan form. He hated how morbid it looked. With hesitation, he allowed his skin to recede and his body to elongate from its six feet of height to eight.
When he was no longer man, he turned to face Lukas and his judgments. The male alpha was openly assessing him. As usual, he didn’t look impressed by what Raiden had to offer.
Their eye contact was interrupted by the sound of paws bouncing off the ground. Raiden sank to his four legs as Artemis and Zena approached. They equally stood at around four feet and their brown coats were a shade apart.
More wolf than human, Artemis leaped to his side and caressed her snout against his shoulder. This was the first time her wolf touched him and based off her brisk tail-swinging, she was overjoyed.
Wolves couldn’t verbally communicate with their human side since they were primal animals, but they could relay their emotions to their human. Raiden didn’t really understand how the were-human connection worked since lycans were designed differently. His lycan side didn’t communicate at all with his human side. Only the human had a consciousness while the lycan was static.
He remained still as Artemis’ wolf doted on him, mainly because Lukas would probably intervene if he tried to return the affection.
With a bark, Zena took off and led the run. Artemis playfully licked his snout before chasing after the female alpha. Raiden watched her go for a few seconds before he gave into the chase.
The group went on for hours. Although Artemis’ wolf was tempted to play, she knew there were bigger matters at hand than nipping at her mate in hopes of turning him on and starting the mating ritual regardless if her parents spectated or not.
The run murmured some relaxation to everyone’s nerves but the spell it had on Artemis broke once they entered Chicago. Her unforgiving demand for vengeance kicked peace in the face and welcomed back her earlier rage.
With her family following her and the afternoon sun paving her way, she confidently walked up the steps of the Council’s headquarters.
Zena had to pull some strings to get the Councilmembers to clear their schedule but she got it done. The group strolled into the room graced by the nine Councilmembers. While Lukas and Zena got comfortable on a chair, Artemis and Raiden chose to stand.
“Good afternoon,” The head Councilmember— Vance, greeted. The scowl on his elderly face made it hard to believe his goodwill. It looked like there wasn’t anything good about his afternoon.
“Good afternoon,” Artemis mirrored. “Thank you for agreeing to meet us on such short notice.”
“Yes well, Alpha Zena was quite adamant that we granted you this meeting,” a Councilwoman retorted with a tightness in her tone that went unappreciated.
“Sheryll, please,” Zena slipped in. “My pack has brought millions to your table and my daughter risked her life to eliminate a human trafficking ring. Thirty minutes of your time hardly makes up for any of this,” she shrugged carelessly.
“Moving on,” Artemis interjected before the situation could escalate. “We’re here to ask that you reconsider your rejection of my mate’s installment into the pack. My gut tells me that your decision was influenced by religion and I want to be the first to remind you of how immoral this is. I get that you’re angry because he hurt Luna, but Raiden has already received her divine forgiveness so why are we even having this conversation?”
Vance shook his head dismissively. “Alpha Artemis, the decision stands.”
“So that’s it? We came all the way here and you shut us down without even addressing my points?”
“Listen, you’re a young—”
The adjective made her stand straighter. “I have no interest in your condescending comments, Councilmember. I’m here to receive coherent answers to my questions and that is all.”
Raiden took a step closer to Artemis, disliking how distraught she was. Beneath his worry roared an undercurrent of appreciation for her defensiveness. He didn’t need anyone to fight his battles but it was heartwarming to see her care so much about his honor.
“You received your answers in that letter you were mailed,” Vance countered. All of the Councilmembers remained silent, agreeing with him.
“The mates you’re trying to split deserve more than some ink slobbered on a sheet of paper,” she managed to grit out. “Trust me, Vance. It’s within your best interest to accept my deal: Give Raiden one month to prove that he can assimilate into werewolf society. At least then you’ll have a chance to justifiably kick him out if he fails.”
Vance crooked his head. “And why would I agree to that?”
There was a malicious texture in his voice that announced how little respect he had for their mate bond. Seeing Raiden receive so much disregard after everything he endured made something deep within her snap.
Without thinking, her right hand flew back and found refuge between Raiden’s legs.
With his cock in a secure grip, she said, “because if you don’t then I’ll use this to complete the mate bond and pop out a few hybrid were-lycan babies. Your only shot at getting rid of Raiden is by giving him the one month I’m requesting and hoping that he messes up.”
A thud followed her words.
She looked at the spot Lukas had been seated and found him crumpled on the ground, knocked out from shock.
Her eyes traveled to Zena who paid her unconscious mate no mind. A grin adorned her face and her fingers were intertwined with delight. Unlike Lukas, she was thoroughly content with the topic of grandchildren.
“Artemis,” a pained masculine voice rumbled from behind her.
“Can you please... release me?”
It took her a second to remember her hand’s location.