The portal took us from the flower barn to the White entrance, cutting out my trek through the crowd and the anxiety of seeing everyone preparing for battle.
Henry tugged at my arm. “Did it work?”
“We landed a few feet from the entrance. It’s not glowing yet. A hundred people or more are waiting.”
Leo walked up and slapped Henry on the arm, startling him. “Hey man, sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Henry exhaled and put his fist up to Leo, who quickly pounded it. “There is a ton of people. It’s insane. I’ll stay with Henry if you need to mingle. You want a beer, man?” Leo winked at me and led Henry to a nearby ice chest.
Dagen was nowhere to be found, and neither were my parents. Rafferty emerged from the crowd dressed in jeans and a plain black shirt with a wide smirk on his face.
“Dagen is planning on murdering all of hell to save you.”
“You asked me not to break him, but his wolf claimed mine. I’m not sure what folklore nonsense to file that under.”
“It’s not nonsense. They told me you have my mother’s gift.” Rafferty motioned for my hand and pressed my palm to his chest. I could feel his body relax.
I was suddenly standing alone in the forest at night.
“Holy shit, I ported back out. Hello?” No one answered, but a horse and rider came into view.
A young man fell to the ground stabbing himself in the leg with his sword. He cursed in Gaelic, and I heard Dagen’s voice. The bushes and trees looked black in the moonlight. All was quiet except the nocturnal creatures looking for breakfast.
He took a swig off the pouch tied to his pack and poured some liquid on his wound. Sitting on the narrow bank of a shallow creek, he sobbed indecipherable words while removing rounded stones from a mound of earth.
The lifeless hand of a woman fell into a ray of moonlight. The light beige cloth wrapped around the body matched her skin. Her belly was distended while the rest of her features remained slender and elegant even in decay.
Golden brown curls spilled out onto the mud. Dagen sucked in a deep sobbing breath before pulling a short knife from his belt and cutting the tendril from the corpse, saving it in his pocket.
He sat with the open grave, brushing the dirt from her skin. The air felt cold and wet. I didn’t want to watch him unravel anymore.
Her corpse twitched, not an uncommon thing in the days after death. Her limbs were supple, rigor faded. The false appearance of life seemed to confuse him. Dagen pulled the wrappings from her body and carried her into the river. She was long dead, and so was the child she carried inside her.
Her body gently met the stream. Dagen pulled a knife from his belt. He sat with the knife in his hands for a few minutes before carefully cutting her belly open and pulling out the child—rinsing the clotted blood off the tiny infant in the stream. A boy was tethered to his mother by the very thing that strangled him. He looked like a pearl with dark hair and lifeless limbs.
The eyes I watched this vision through were my father’s. He walked out of the shadows, helped Dagen wrap the baby next to his mother’s breast, and buried the pair in her grave. Daylight came. Dagen’s face was masked in her decomposing blood. My father coaxed him back on his horse and led him away.
The gruesome vision faded.
I felt my own perspiration dotted skin and the heat of the warm summer night.
“You watched him suffer?”
“He needed to know she was carrying a son. Most of all, he needed to know she was dead. He was younger than you are now.”
“My God, why show me? That memory wasn’t yours to share.”
“She was his last wolf claimed—she broke him. In the end, we reburied their bodies in secret, so he would stop trying to die next to them every year. I can’t do it again.”
“You ask for your benefit, not his.”
“For yours, for mine, for his. What does it matter?”
“This is why my mother kept me from you. You have no humanity left inside you.” I turned and took a step away from Rafferty.
“No, don’t turn from me. I will see you alive in the Grove before the worms take your body. You are a MacTernan.”
“Have a beer and wait for the pretty lights to shine out of the trees.” I patted my seething birth father on the shoulder. “I hope you are a better father for my death than you were in my life.”
Rafferty stood and peered into my eyes. He slapped my arm hard enough to leave a mark and yelled out something between a growl and jumble of gibberish. All the fighters in the area yelled back the same.
“Your portal awaits, dear daughter.” The lights beamed through the tree branches—people shuffling to the front line stirred up a thick cloud of dirt.
“Too bad, you won’t see my monster. You would stop calling me daughter. Have your witch ready.” Rafferty kissed my hand roughly and walked back into the crowd.
I prayed Dagen was waiting at the entrance. Everyone I passed on the way back slapped my arm in the same place with a big smile.
Malou and her witches stood on one side of the trees. Kate and her witches stood at the other. I walked straight to Kate and gave her a long, hard hug. She nestled her face in my ear. “Pax is here with Emma’s group.”
“Thank you. I didn’t get to look for Pax.” Kate straightened my top, brushed my hair off my face, and centered my talismans.
Henry’s hand clumsily found my arm. “Alerie, are you all right?”
“It’s time to leave.” Henry wrapped his arms around me. After a sigh, he slid his fingers over my eyebrows and down the curve of my jaw down my neck.
“Before your aunt’s wedding, looking in the mirror at my dress, I saw our future. It was too perfect. You stood behind me on the phone in your suit—so sexy. I didn’t recognize the woman looking back. She was smiling. I could see sixty years in that mirror. Out of everything losing those years hurts me the most.”
“I can picture it all. Those were the best sixty years of my life.” Henry kissed me. It wasn’t passionate or consoling. It was goodbye.
Leo wrapped his thick arms around us both. “Put your game face on, Darlin.” Leo kissed my neck and seized my ass cheek so hard I thought my pants would rip. “We have shit to kill!” Leo shouted into the air. All the crowd yelled back with him.
Henry wrapped his hand around the back of Leo’s arm, and they walked inside. All the air left my lungs. They were gone.
Malou put her hand on my arm and turned me toward the crowd of men waiting to enter the White. I took a deep breath and felt my fledgling tears dry.
“Thank you all for risking your lives with me today.” I pulled the words from Dagen’s memories. Searching for a blood oath, I rushed past many battles—a long life filled with grave moments like this one.
“My pledge to you is time to kill. I push my carcasses to the right. Stay behind me when you can. Shake off the charred remains so I can see your eyes from above. You have your wolf—my form changes. Know whatever form I take—I am yours—I am of your blood and your Clans. I invite all my clansmen into the White.”
A roar of excitement and a rush of bodies moved into the White.
Across the crowd, Malou’s expression was somber. I stared at her as the wave of men rushed into the trees. When the field cleared, I moved to touch her. She slipped into the entrance leaving me with empty air.
Behind me stood a quiet mass. Vampires with Emma waiting to pick off the demons who escaped the White. Wolves and witches busy with triage waiting to lend aid to the injured. An uncontrollable need to scream came over me.
Rage roared out of my lungs with such a force my entire body shook, bringing me to my knees.
“Breathe in short and exhale long.” Dagen pulled me to my feet. His breath whispered on my neck but couldn’t conjure the feeling of ecstasy I expected. I was numb. “Breathe in, count to four, then breathe out count to eight. Come on, do it with me.” Dagen’s instructions were simple, so I followed them.
He bent down and grabbed a handful of pine needles and dirt and put them in my hand. “If I could give you all the earth, I would. I give you all that I am and all I will ever be. I am your soldier.” Dagen bowed his head. His face looked as young as Leo’s. Dressed in all black, his dark brown hair fell un-styled around his face. A black dragon with red wolf heads looked carved in his cheek.
“There’s no one else in the world but you and me again.”
“Aye, shall we go kill this thing?” Dagen clutched my hand in his and pulled me toward the light.
My mother was yelling my name, but I didn’t look back. My monster took over and stomped into the White with Dagen.
Malou sat with three of her coven at the right of the entrance. I expected a crowd, but the space was sparse. The sound of wings filled the air as all four Powers arrived. They bestowed their blessings on me as Dagen watched in a state of awe. There was no reverence on my part. They were all familiar. I hugged each entity and thanked them for their blessings. Henry was last.
“I tethered my life to Leo. He is quite upset. I explained his death would kill your soul and leave you in darkness.”
“Leo can be as mad as he likes, but he’ll be alive. Thank you, I can relax now.”
Henry put his hands out toward me. “May I?”
I smiled and nodded. Henry ran his hands through my hair and over my shoulders. Energy from his hands burned into my skin like radiation. I looked at him, too scared to talk.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m adding my grace to your body. My gift to you is time and endurance.”
Dagen fell to one knee and bowed his head. I realized how much this experience would shake his faith, but I still couldn’t get over how young he looked.
“Dagen, thank you for serving as her soldier. My gift to you is speed.” The three other angels appeared and granted their protections to Dagen. “Please excuse me. Alerie, wait here.”
Dagen laid his body on a flat area of grass next to the coven members. He winked right before hardening to stone. Leo’s body rested lifelessly on an identical patch of grass a few feet away.
Malou stood. “Which one will you lay next to?”
“I choose the angel?” I looked at Henry hovering high in the air.
Malou shook her head. “You can’t.”
“Can’t I lay by myself?”
“We need to watch all of you at the same time.”
“Put me in the middle, close to Leo.”
“Are you sure,” Malou asked, staring into my eyes.
“Yes. Can you copy Dagen’s dragon on my face?”
“His family crest? He may get the wrong idea—think you care for him more than you do.”
“He wouldn’t be wrong. Put it over my heart as big as you can. It’s for my wolf.” Malou nodded her head. Wet ink pressed against my skin as she drew the image with her fingers and whispery words. I sat between the statues of my sleeping wolves and waited for Henry.