I always craved battle. Ever since I was young I wished to grip a sword, be strong and steady with the weapon and, most importantly, fight with and for my pack. After the fight in Romania, I knew I'd jumped into the world of blood and torn flesh too early, but, yet, I knew I had to be here.
And when I said "here" I meant standing beside Michael just beyond the houses to where Mircea could be sensed. We hadn't seen them yet, nor picked up an up-close-and-personal scent, but I'd be stupid to think he wasn't far away. If anything, he was watching us from the shadows.
"Is he waiting for us to make the first move?" Michael asked; his eyes moving all around in search of what could not be seen.
"No," Dorothea and I voiced in unison. I glanced back at her. Instantly her blue, silver eyes snapped to mine. There was a look of understand that passed between us. It seemed that we were the only two who grasped how our enemy truly worked. She was standing by Alex, and was looking at him when she continued, "No, he'll be the one to start things."
All around me, the pack tensed.
When Dorothea spoke the name of the crazed wolf, it seemed that every male in the pack had heard her; though that seemed impossible even for werewolf hearing abilities. Yet, they'd all came. Within minutes we'd gathered, assessed the situation, and marched out… though not technically marched, of course. In fact, we were even in their usual battalion.
The males were scattered about; clustering in groups of three and four. Michael and I led with Alex and Dorothea right there. They sped up slightly as we got into the thick grove, until I was sandwiched between two protective wolves; Michael and Dorothea.
But, even surrounded by my family, I was not safe.
I was not alright. Nothing was alright.
As we descended further into the dark trees, I was reminded of the dreams I'd been plagued with for the last countless nights. Since we came back from Romania, I've seen Mircea's face every time I closed my eyes and allowed myself to fall into darkness. Now, it seemed that my nightmares were coming true. That thought alone made me tense.
My mind wanted to dwell on the things Dorothea told me, but I couldn't concentrate on them; though I knew they were important. My job as a born female was to, in a sense; keep the peace. I'd seen her do that before. At the Alpha meeting she'd displayed her power and practically had the males at her feet. She'd made it look so easy. Her eyes; just by looking into her eyes I'd wanted to do anything to please her.
Was it possible that I could do that?
Did I do that now?
There were times when, thinking back, it appeared that I did. The countless fights I had with Nathaniel, alone, proved that I had a special knack for calming pissed off werewolves. I'd survived that. If I could stay alive while facing that Durand, there shouldn't be too much that I can't do.
I just had to figure out how to do that.
But, the problem was that Mircea wasn't normal. He was a dictator. I knew he was a werewolf. But what else was he? His scent was off, strange, and was too tainted with the smell of his Hell Hounds for me to know if something else had blended with his blood. He couldn't just be a werewolf, though. It wasn't possible. Just by looking at him, I could tell that he's wolf had been mixed with something else. Was he a Hell Hound? Was he a Vampire… no, I knew he wasn't a blood sucker. Of that I knew for sure.
That was, however, the only thing I knew about him. Well, that and the fact that he liked to have control. He liked and wanted power. He was driven into madness on his search for power; that's how important it was to him.
Maybe, I could use that.
Before my thoughts could go any further, I felt my company stiffen until they were no longer moving. Immediately I fell into a loose fighting stance. Tension worked its way up my muscles until I was practically trembling from the amount of pressure I was exerting onto my body.
I took this time to try and find what made everyone around me go rigid. I got the answer as soon as I breathed in. Hell Hounds; there were a lot of them and they were close; so close I was suffocating in their stench.
Then, though the putrid scent of beasts, I picked up the very scent whose owner had me plotting.
None of us were disappointed; for our senses had been correct. Mircea stepped out of the shadows. As always his almost feminine beauty was in perfect condition. Though he should have been pissed and foaming at the mouth like his body guards, he was utterly calm. Not a piece of his ensemble was out of place; not his black garments, not his coal hair, nor his expression of indifference.
The amount of perfection shook me to my core; scaring me more than the beasts I could hear growling savagely just beyond him.
I gripped my sword and moved to step forward, gulping back my fear so I could do what must be done, but Dorothea touched my arm. She must have known what I was planning to do; though how she did that I don't know. But, she did nonetheless. With a gentle but firm push, she kept me at my Beta's side. And, because this was Dorothea and my wolf took her word as law, I listened and stayed put… for the moment anyway.
Truthfully, I wanted to see what her plan was.
Once I knew where I could help out at, then I'd be right up there with her hoping to end what has torn my pack apart.
I was clutching my sword with white knuckles, barely breathing, as I watched my Alpha and Dorothea step out of our cluster and into the opening of the clearing. The moon shone down on them. I hoped the glorious Moon was on our side and would aid us; give us strength in every way she possibly could.
"Alexander," The dark haired man greeted my Alpha. Beside me, I felt Michael's muscles lurch at the sound of the enemy's voice. Without thinking, I pressed my side up against his. He didn't glance at me. His eyes were strictly trailed on his father. But, I felt him lean into me as well.
Partially hidden in the shadows of the trees, I wondered if Mircea could see me. I knew he sensed me, but did he know exactly where I was?
Other than the sounds of the Hell Hounds deep in the trees, it was silent. No one dared move from their safe positions, at least not until they were ordered. I barely dared to breathe.
Then, Mircea's voice filled the woods, "You, female, you seem familiar."
"I should hope so," Dorothy's American, Southern accent was no longer light, gentle, and completely elegant. Now it was lethal; firm and deadly. She was just threatening Mircea with her very tone. After hearing it, I doubted she'd need to threaten him any other way. That edge in her voice sent a shiver up my own spine and I knew I wasn't the one she was going after. "We're related, after all."
The temperature dropped until it felt about 20 below. A violent shiver worked its way up my body until my teeth were chattering. My clothes and coat, though warm, now seemed redundant.
Michael shifted beside me; faking a lunge. He hated waiting also.
There was a moment when I thought he'd break our cover. His teeth were bared. I turned my attention to what held his gaze so captivated and saw that Mircea had closed in the space between him and our Alpha. But, I couldn't help notice that our enemy's attention was not on Alex. He was staring very intently at Dorothea's face.
"I always wondered when I'd be seeing you again," Mircea's voice was rough, "Catalina."
"You shouldn't sound so pleased about my visit." Dorothea snapped. "In fact, you should be running away with your tail tucked between your legs."
What happened next surprised me. Mircea laughed. Deep and rich, the sound echoed in the forest until I was sure even the hibernating bears heard him. "Why would I do that, Lady? You should be the one who is afraid. I, after all, am a direct descendant to the man who held you captive for decades."
I was the one to jump forward as Mircea got close enough to the silver eyed Texan so his nose was practically touching her cheek. Michael grabbed my arm, but we were both growling as we smelled a flicker of fear.
But, as soon as I smelled it, it was gone. Now, all I could sense was strength and anger.
Obviously he'd pissed Dorothea off. That was stupid, I thought. But, I couldn't help be worried. I'd seen her face earlier when she talked about her past with Vladimir the Impaler. I'd heard the waver in her voice. I'd heard the bitterness in her tone. She, of course, felt many different emotions concerning that time of her life. Was one of those emotions fear?
I prayed I was wrong.
And, the Moon answered graciously.
I should have known better than to think Dorothea was afraid of the black haired man. I hadn't known Dorothea long; we'd met twice and spent only hours together, but it didn't take long for someone to see the strength radiating from her. She was truly a warrior. No one was ever going to scare her or make her cower again.
A moment past before the sound of a bone cracking hit the otherwise silent woods.
I jumped at the sound, but it took me a moment to figure out what happened. Dorothea had moved so fast and recovered before I'd even known she'd moved. Turning in a tight circle, she'd slammed her elbow in the joint between Mircea's neck and shoulder; which had effectively dislocated and made that sickening sound.
Once the first hit had been delivered; Michael and I weren't the only ones to jump from our hiding places in the shadows. Leaping over the brush, I sprinted across the snow covered ground.
Mircea's outraged roar alerted his hounds and then, without any formal announcement, the battle began.
Running from the woods, as if they'd suddenly been released systematically from a cage, came at least ten Hell Hounds. Truthfully, I'd lost count of them. They ran fast, hit hard, and didn't hesitate before delivering a blow.
Before I could lose my nerve, I started to Dorothea. It was time we ended this for real; her pain as well as mine. I couldn't stand having another nightmare about Mircea taking me as his prisoner again… and I was sure Dorothea's night terrors weren't very different from mine; though they were dealing with a different man.
A hand gripped my arm before I could move three paces.
"Stay behind me," Michael growled out. In the moonlight I could see his eyes were a sea of gold. This was his wolf speaking to me now.
For the first time in our relationship, I didn't rip my arm out of his grasp. I didn't smack him or start an argument. Despite the chaos around us, I told him as evenly as I could, "I have to do this, Michael."
His eyes locked on mine for a split second. A Hell Hounds was coming at him; I could see if in the corner of my eye. He could see it too, I knew as he'd tensed. He gave me a tight nod and I could see something had changed in his expression.
The word had barely left his lips before I ran.
The field that had once been a sanctuary to many of us was now covered in the stench and reality of blood. Trying my best to ignore it and the fight surrounding me, I made a bee line to Dorothea. Alex had taken to keeping our enemies away from her, while she was speaking to the reason for all of us being here.
"You've no idea what you've done!" Mircea's disturbingly smooth voice met my ears as I closed up the distance between us.
"On the contrary, I have every idea." Dorothea replied, just as smooth, "I'm stopping another crusade."
He was laughing again; but this time there was no humor evident in his tone. He and Dorothea were circling each other; as a predator did to its prey. "You believe you can kill me? You couldn't even kill the man who imprisoned you? You hated him, didn't you? Do you hate me as much? Do you have the hatred for me to run that blade through my heart?"
I watched them; trying my best to move so I was always at Mircea's back. I didn't want him to see me yet. I didn't want to be noticed
"You seem to be under the impression that everyone is ruled by hate." Dorothea told him; her eyes locked on his. I wasn't even sure if she'd see me yet. "I did hate Vladimir. He took everything from me. Even when I knew he was dead, it seemed I was ruled by him. But, you: I don't hate you. I pity you."
Mircea snarled, "How dare you!"
"How dare you." Dorothea spat back. Her tone was just as, if not more, intimidating than Mircea's yet she didn't have to raise her voice. "You have no care for anyone; not even yourself. You only want to dominate everyone."
"That's what males do. We dominate."
As I sidestepped, to keep myself behind Mircea at all times, the sheath of my sword bumped against my leg; reminding me of my purpose; of my strength and my abilities. I couldn't be ruled by fear forever. Just like my mom and Dorothea, I had to face the obstacles that stood in my way; no matter how much they made me shake and want to hide.
I couldn't hide from my fears.
I couldn't hide from this anymore.
I couldn't hide from him.
And, I didn't want to. Though I was scared and hardly breathing, I didn't want to run anyway anymore. There was no way I'd ever be able to live with myself if I fled from this scene and allowed these beasts to roam my land and hurt my family.
"And that is why thrones always diminish; why reigning leaders fall and parish; because it's not meant to be like that." Dorothea grounded out. "Males aren't supposed to dominate. They're supposed to protect."
That's when Dorothea's crystal clear, silver and blue wise eyes flickered back to me.
She must have just noticed me; for her eyes widened a fraction as they settled on my face. That's when their circling stopped. Flinching back, I pulled my blade from its cover. The black haired man whirled around. His eyes found mine instantly.
Drawing up my blade, the man lunged forward; a sadistic smirk dominating his expression.
Dorothea's voice cut through the battlefield, "NO! STOP!"
And just like that a power covered the field. It was like the cool white rays of the moon had stretched out onto the whole opening and was now lulling everyone into peace. Dorothea grabbed Mircea's arm and jerked him around.
Her eyes were as cold as ice as she said, "Do it now, Elaine."
With that, I found my footing. Her words calmed me, but were not effecting me, not as an Alpha's demand would, as I lifted my blade and moved to strike.
One Month Later
"Elaine," The brunette looked up from her computer at the sound of her father's gruff voice. Though he was now more himself, he was still a deeply scarred man. Mentally and physically he was still weak. But, he was taking one step at a time. Since he'd lost his Hell Hound, he'd just been trying to get back in touch with his gentler side. I'd heard him tell Mom that he never wanted to feel that kind of rage again.
"Yeah, dad?" I called out; half rising out my chair.
I sent the email to Sebastian and then jogged downstairs. Dad was looking way better than he had been in that cage. He was still gruff and rough around the edges, and his eyes were duller than she'd seen in her life, but he was her dad again… or he was becoming her dad again. "Thanks."
Sending her a light grin, he gave her the phone, "It's Dorothea."
Automatically, I was grinning as I answered, "Hi Dorothea,"
"Hello Darlin'," She told me; her accent no less distinct and powerful over a long distance connecting. She has since returned to her home in the states; but we've been talking quite a bit since she left Europe. Whether through email or the phone, we've talked at least once a day since her last visit. "I'm glad to hear that you've decided to come here."
My insides jumped a little; excited and nervous.
In three days I was leaving my home and heading across the sea to stay with Dorothea. She was going to train me; teach me to be just as commanding and calm as her. I couldn't wait, but I couldn't say I wasn't anxious.
I'd left home before. Years prior, I lived with Nathaniel, but now I was not only leaving my bedroom I was leaving the country.
"Has Sasha decided who will accompany you?" Dorothea's smooth voice pulled me from my thoughts.
Shaking my head, I leaned back against the couch. "No, he wants me to choose."
"I'm surprised you don't already know who you'll pick."
In a way, I knew who I wanted to come with me. But, I knew it was a long shot. I didn't want to ask in fear that he'd say no. This pack was everything.
If he came with me, we'd only be gone a few months, but I didn't know if he'd been willing to do that or not. But, I knew, without a doubt, that I did want Michael to be the one who sat with me on the plane and was with me during my training.
Sighing, I dropped my head.
Dorothea laughed cheerfully, "Don't stress, Darlin'. Everything will be fine."
We talked a few more minutes before hanging up. I'd see her in three days. I could hardly believe that this was real. Meeting and being able to study with another born female was one thing, but going to the United States was a whole other matter. I wondered how different the packs would be over there. I figured they'd be less strict considering we had all the really old wolves over here… well not all as Dorothea proved.
Chewing on my lip in thought, I started into the kitchen.
Cassiel and I talked for hours on end last night. Neither of us had been able to shut up and even when we did, we stayed together. He slept in my room last night. If he was upset about my trip, he didn't show it. In fact, he was already asking if he could come visit. I was all for that and was certain Dorothea wouldn't mind.
That thought made me smile; just imagining the stunts Cassiel and I could perform in the US.
My head snapped up at Michael's voice. Turning slightly, I found him standing behind the kitchen island; his palms were planted against the smooth hard surface; making the muscles of his arms expand.
"Hey Michael," I greeted him in attempt to sound chipper. I didn't think I sounded as happy as I'd meant to, however. Even if I did, it sounded fake to my ears.
But the Beta didn't hound me on it. In fact, he didn't say anything in reply. He merely set his stare on me. My gaze flickered from his hands back up to his face. "Dorothea just called." He stiffened at that, but didn't say anything.
"Michael," I started after a few moments. I'd wanted to approach him about this for days; weeks; ever since Mircea's death. I'd come close many times, but I never could seem to find the right words. But, I was leaving in three days. "You let me go after Mircea that night."
Still, Michael flinched at the mention of our deceased enemy.
"You sound upset about that."
"Just confused," I told him quickly. "You've never allowed me much room before." If any, I added to myself.
It was as if he'd heard the addition. The smallest of grins twitched at his mouth and he pushed himself off the counter. Leaning back against the sink, he ran a hand through his dark locks. "You used your wiles on me."
"It was more than that." I told him sharply; not liking the smell of a lie in the air.
Serious again, Michael said, "Yes, it was."
When he didn't move to say anything else, I pushed. "I've seen that same conversation play out between my parents countless times before. A male's desire to protect, especially his mate, is always strong. But she was always able to get her way…"
I wanted to ask if that's what we were becoming… if that's what we were like, but I couldn't find the courage. I was embarrassed enough by this conversation. Instead, I sighed heavily, and turned to leave.
A hand, firm and familiar, wrapped around my upper arm before I made it to the door. Turning, I saw Michael watching me with near yellow eyes; but they weren't like that because of anger, I could tell.
"What else were you going to say?" He prodded after a moment; keeping his arm securely on my arm.
I gulped. I should have known he'd noticed. There was no point in lying, so I turned my gaze to his ear and continued with a question that made me blush, "Are we mates? Or going to be mates? Or something like that?" Not pausing even for breath, I continued, "I've heard you and Alex talking a lot about how my future is already decided and that my mating status doesn't concern anyone else; you've already got it sorted. Is that because…"
"We'd never be mates if that's what you didn't want."
"I appreciate that." And I did. I'd always hated the fact that they talked about my life; my future without even consulting me. But, it had always excited me also. Me and Michael… the thought ran a shiver up my spine in a good way. "But, are we?"
"I'd love for you to accept me."
I didn't answer flat out with a yes or no, though I already knew my answer. Instead, I said, "Will you come with me to the states? It's only for a few months… I'd feel safer if you went."
He kissed me. Claiming my lips, Michael smiled.
Pulling back he said, "I will."
We stayed wrapped up in each others arms, watching the snow from the kitchen window, until we heard more of the pack entering the house. Holding onto his arm, I said, "You're my hero."
War was what we know. Fighting was second nature to more than half the pack; the majority of the wolves in Europe. Now, the battle we'd been fighting since before I was born was now at an end. Most didn't know what was going to happen. No one knew what was going to happen.
We weren't perfect. We weren't even good yet. All of us had a lot of adjusting to do in order to get used to no looking over your shoulder every time you left your house. But we would be. We'd be more than fine. We'd be great.
At Michael's side, I watched the pack. I knew we'd make it through this. I knew it.
We are pack.
Author's note: Thank you to all of those who stuck with the story and reviewed and yelled at my lazy ass. I know it's been four months of something like that since my last update. I have excuses up the wazoo but I won't go into them. Really, I just hope you like the ending. There is an opening for another story in the series, but I know I won't go into that any time soon. This is my senior year and I have a lot going on (I know, I know, I said I wasn't going into any excuses LOL). I hope you all had a great holiday! Happy New Years!