“I think of you. When darkness swirls around me, raging like a turbulent storm; when the very breath I take seems to tax my soul; when despair is my constant shadow; I think of you. I hear your voice, I smell your scent, and I feel your skin upon my own. Your pain is my pain; your fear my constant companion. Even though all hope seems to have fled from the world leaving only despair, still, I think of you.” ~ Sally Morgan
Darkness enveloped her. She couldn’t move her limbs, even though her brain was telling them to move. But she could feel. She could feel pain, panic, fear, anger, hate, rage and many more emotions that she knew did not belong to her. Jacque tried to think back to what her last memory had been. She had been walking through the forest and then she had walked into a pond. Bloody hell she thought, I walked into a freaking pond? She remembered thinking at the time that it was the best idea she had ever had. She just knew that if she went into the water she would find peace.
Well that plan didn’t work out too well. Fane was gone; he was hurting and she couldn’t reach him. She could feel him, sense him through their bond, but she couldn’t talk to him.
She couldn’t open her eyes, couldn’t talk, but she could breathe. That had to be a good thing right? She was trying to focus on the positive, but the more she felt Fane’s despair, the further the positive slipped from her grasp.
She could even hear her friends’ voices. She had heard Jen’s declaration to kick Mona’s ass and had wanted to join in the howl. She had felt her wolf drawn to the surface, but she was just as paralyzed as Jacque. She remembered Mona possessing her, causing her body to betray her. She remembered Mona seizing control of her voice and using it to speak and that had flat out pissed her off. She had pushed with everything left inside her to get the witch out of her mind. It had used up all of her energy and for a while she felt like she was drifting further from the living into the shadow world. But she had refused to drift off into the emptiness without a fight. She would not go quietly, not as long as drew breath, not as long as her heart pumped blood throughout her frozen body.
She knew Mona had done something to her and she just kept hoping that Rachel, Peri, and Sally could figure out a way to fix it. She needed to be able to help them because she didn’t know how much longer their mates could last in the hell Mona had sent them to endure. She didn’t know how long before the state of their mates began to affect their bodies. If they died, then the girls were all dead as well.
Sally sat staring off into the forest. They had been walking for what seemed like weeks, though it had only been a few days. It was dark, but night had not yet fallen. Clouds relentlessly blocked the sun. Winter seemed to be clinging to the land as the evil that Mona was weaving continued to take over more and more of their world. Sally wondered if others noticed. Did the humans who knew nothing of the supernatural world sense the evil that was bleeding into the earth—evil that would destroy them all?
Alina had told them that the bond didn’t work in the In-Between but somehow, she felt Costin. She couldn’t communicate with him, but she felt his emotions. It was exhausting and terrifying but she wouldn’t wish it away. She would rather feel something, anything, than nothing at all. She wondered if he could feel her, if he knew that she was seeking a way to get him back. Did he truly know what he meant to her? Had she told him? She began to doubt herself, doubt the bond between them. She felt so inadequate as his mate. He was so confident, so funny and full of life and she felt so bland next to him. He so openly expressed his feelings for her, continually telling her how much he loved her and she shied away like a child. Her head fell forward into her hands as she felt the weight of reality descend upon her like the nightfall. It covered her in doubt and fear and she felt despair like she had never known.
“Sally,” she heard the gentle voice behind her and turned to see Alina standing there. Strong, secure, sure Alina. How could Sally even dream that she could be that kind of mate to Costin?
“Sally, stop this,” Alina told her firmly.
“I can feel him Alina,” Sally told her, her voice tight. “How can I feel him?”
Alina shook her head as she took a seat on the rock next to the healer.
“I don’t know. I can feel Vasile as well and it shouldn’t be possible. We shouldn’t be able to sense them at all. The only thing I can come up with is that Mona is somehow allowing the contact, but it’s one sided. I can’t reach out to him.”
Sally nodded. “I keep trying to tell him it’s okay, but he’s lost in some horrible terror. I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Alina wrapped an arm around Sally and pulled her close.
“We have to fight the despair that is coming through the bond. Mona’s goal must be to debilitate us with the emotions our mates are feeling. As much I would like to know what Vasile is going through so that I could help him, if I knew I would be of no use to him.”
Jen came into view as she walked around to stand in front of them.
“I talked with Decebel.”
Their heads snapped up and the other females were on their feet.
“What?” The question came from each of them.
“I was dreaming, but I know it was real. He was calling for me and he answered me when I spoke to him.” Jen’s voice shook with emotion.
“What did he say?” Crina asked cautiously, not really sure if she wanted to know.
Jen shook her head as she let out a shuddering breath. “He was broken. I’ve never heard such fright and pain. He said he couldn’t watch it again. He said he was trying to stop him from touching me.”
“They are seeing their worst fears,” Peri told them from where she leaned against a tree staring off into the forest. “You know what your males fear.” She left the statement hanging.
Alina nodded. “The ultimate horror for our males would be for them to have to watch another male touch us, to see us in pain, to watch us die horrible deaths.”
Jen growled and her eyes narrowed as she realized what they were saying. “Are you telling me that Decebel is watching me be raped?”
Alina nodded while gasps echoed across the group.
“And more than likely he is probably watching you give birth with horrific outcomes.” Peri added.
Alina growled. “Not helping Perizada.”
Peri shrugged. “Anger is motivation. The males of your race are intense. I don’t think we will ever fully grasp just how much they feel for their mates. They will not last long with their sanity intact if they continue to have to watch their greatest fears and insecurities played out like a broken reel. Their wolves will soon take over and they will become feral.”
Elle stepped forward, glaring at Peri. “Why don’t you just tell us it’s hopeless since you’re passing out all the warm fuzzies? Damn Peri, these aren’t just wolves to us anymore. That’s my mate, mine, being tortured. I don’t know him all that well and yes he scares the hell out of me but you telling me that he’s going to lose his freaking mind and be lost to me is not helping.”
“Shut the front door,” Jen laughed. “Elle just put fairy Peri in her place.”
“Not helping Jen,” Sally murmured.
“Psht,” Jen waved Sally off. “When have you ever known me to try to be helpful in situations where chicks are about to break out into a cat fight,” she paused thoughtfully. “Well in this case it would be a fairy fight, but you get my drift.”
“Would you freaking grow up?” Sally snarled at her best friend. Their mouths gaped open at the uncharacteristic meanness in Sally’s voice.
Jen’s eyes narrowed as she glared at the healer. “Need I remind you that I am your Alpha? I could wipe the floor with your gypsy ass, not to mention I am pregnant and very temperamental. Do not push me Sally.”
“ENOUGH!” Peri’s voice shook the ground around them and their heads all snapped to look at the high Fae who stood tall in all her glory. Light shined around her. She met the eyes of each woman, letting them see the power that rolled through her.
“If you want to crush each other before the battle even begins then by all means have at it. Don’t come crying to me when Desdemona turns your feral mates loose on this world only to have you join them by their sides as you rip innocent lives apart.”
The night was silent as the females considered Peri’s words.
“Just to be clear, would a bitch slap be considered crushing?” Sally smiled innocently.
Jen rolled her eyes. “I liked you better when you were more likely to sing Lean On Me than Another One Bites the Dust.”
Alina stood up and folded her arms across her chest as she watched Peri’s Fey form recede.
“What are we doing Peri? How long are we going to wander around the forest?”
“I’m not wandering aimlessly if that’s what you’re worried about. There is a method to my madness.”
“Just as long as you are aware that you are bat crap mad,” Jen muttered.
Peri ignored the jab and continued. “At this point there is only one person who can help us and he is likely to prove difficult to find.”
“Who?” Alina asked.
“King Cypher.” Peri’s voice rang with a tone of dread at the name of the King.
“What exactly is he King of?” Sally asked.
“The Warlocks,” Alina answered before Peri could.
“Seriously?” Jen snorted. “Warlocks?”
“You all might want to sit down for what I have to tell you.” Peri resumed her place against the tree and waited for them all to take a seat. Sally and Jen sat down on a fallen limb, while Alina, Crina, Cynthia and Elle all sat at various spots with their backs leaned against trees. Jacque lay covered in warm blankets a few feet away, motionless as death except from her quiet breaths.
“Yes Jen, Warlocks are real and Cypher is their King. He has been their King for a very, very long time. Like all of the supernaturals in the human realm their magic is waning. He grows weaker by the year and his race is dwindling. Like any of us, he is weaker without a mate and he has only recently found his.”
“So he’s found one?” Sally asked.
Peri nodded, the look on her face was apprehensive.
“Why do I get the feeling we aren’t going to like who this mate is?” Jen muttered.
“Cypher is not a bad person, but he is in a difficult place. He needs to protect the future of his race and so he made a deal with Desdemona. Cypher is the only being who knows how to open the Veil to the underworld. In exchange for this deed, Mona promised him a mate. For her part of the bargain, she delivered Lilly Pierce to the King.”
A chorus of disbelief rippled through the circle of woman as they took in the information Peri had just shared.
“Is she okay?” Crina asked.
“She is fine,” Alina was the one who answered. Their heads all whipped around to look at the Alpha.
“You knew?” Sally gasped. “You knew and didn’t tell us?”
“Vasile advised me not to and you know when an Alpha advises what he is really saying is don’t or else.”
“Vasile wouldn’t have done anything to you,” Elle stood up.
“No, but I set an example for the other wolves. And Vasile had his reasons for keeping the information to himself. Lilly is safe. Cypher has not hurt her.”
“And who’s to say that he won’t?” Cynthia asked.
“Cypher won’t hurt her because he loves her and has chosen her as his mate.” Peri looked at Jen and then at Sally. “I have one of the guardian Fae with him and she has reported to me that he has no intention of helping Mona. Lilly has talked some sense in to him.”
“You trust him?” Jen asked the Fae.
“I have known Cypher for a long time. He is a good man and only wants what is best for his people. He made a poor choice, but the Fates have given him a second chance with Lilly.”
“Yes and we should all trust the Fates,” Jen growled.
“I need you all to know that he isn’t holding Lilly against her will. She wants to be with him.”
“He isn’t green with horns or anything is he?” Sally’s face scrunched up as she asked.
Peri laughed. “No, he is actually quite handsome.”
Jen cocked her head to the side and frowned at Peri. “Wait. Why is he going to be hard to find if you have one of your fairies with him?”
“Because he is very powerful. Even though he is weakening, he has the ability to shield himself from those who wish to find him. Even though my Fae is with him, I have no way of knowing where they are. I cannot flash to her and Cyn, the guardian, cannot flash to me. It’s really quite inconvenient.” Peri added in a tone that indicated that she felt very put out by the King.
The women fell silent as the day wore on and the darkness of night began to fall. Alina and Crina hunted and brought back small game for them to eat. Then they each, one by one, lay down for the night. They had set up a schedule for someone to sit with Jacque and rotated throughout the night. Jen was first this night. Just when Jen was about to take up her vigil next to her friend, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. It was Cynthia.
“The doctor side in me is coming out and I need to know how you are doing Jen.”
Jen smiled hesitantly. She was excited about her and Decebel’s baby, but it was also a source of pain. Jen plopped on the ground and Cynthia sat across from her, legs folded in front of her, elbows leaned on her knees. She waited patiently for Jen to answer.
“I feel fine physically,” her hand instinctively went to her abdomen. “I haven’t even been sick, no pain, no weird other female problems I’d rather not describe.”
Cynthia laughed. “As long as there isn’t anything weird, you don’t have to describe it. How do your moods seem to you?”
“At times I feel a little out of control, like I can’t decide if I’m okay or a mess, you know? Then other times I feel like everything is going to be fine. Dec will be back, he will fix this whole problem with the Fates and we’ll have a healthy baby girl.” Jen looked down at the ground, absentmindedly tracing a design in the dirt. “Those are the thoughts I have to cling to.” She met Cynthia’s gaze and tried to smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes, “I’ll let you know if there’s a problem, okay?”
Cynthia returned the smile. “Okay, but when you start getting farther along, we will have to start doing physical exams.”
Jen shrugged. “I’m no stranger to taking off my clothes doc.”
Cynthia chuckled as she stood and headed off to her makeshift bed. Jen looked down at the dirt where she had been tracing with her finger and her eyes filled with tears as she saw she had drawn the markings that covered Decebel’s skin.
She turned away from the drawing to face Jacque and took her hand. She held it between her own, rubbing it, probably more for her comfort than Jacque’s. She looked at her redheaded friend and her heart ached to see her in such a helpless state. She stared pushing her will at Jacque as if that would be enough to make her open her eyes. If Fane were here he would be going crazy; but he wasn’t. None of their mates were, and for the first time in her life, she felt alone. She needed Decebel, no matter how much it bothered her to need him, she did. She needed his strength and his comfort. She needed his brooding presence so that she would have someone to be sarcastic with and know that he would be able to take it. She needed to hear him tell her that she would be okay, their baby would be okay. She needed him to tell her when it was time to shut the hell up. As her fear rose so did her sarcasm and irritability and she knew that none of the others deserved that right now.
“Damn you Desdemona for taking him from me,” she muttered into the cold, dark night. Her eyes narrowed and she looked out into the forest, wishing that the witch would come walking out in all her evil glory. Jen never though she was capable of being cruel, but she decided then and there that she would peel the flesh from Desdemona’s writhing body while she still lived. Was she a little bloodthirsty? Maybe, but then the witch had taken her mate, putting him in danger and causing him immeasurable suffering; for that alone she had signed her death warrant, not to mention all the other atrocities she had already committed in her long, meaningless life.
“Jacque where are you?” She asked her friend. “I want you to know that I will take care of you, always Jac. And I’m going to give you hell for lying there on your back while we do all the work.” Jen snorted out laughter to herself as she thought of the remark Jacque would give her in response to that comment.
Her heart sunk as she continued to watch Jacque’s steady breathing, but no other life was apparent in her. She wanted to run. She wanted to shed the human skin and let her wolf run free, howling at the pain that she felt for the loss of everything. Jen missed her parents and she smiled to herself, realizing that this was a feeling that she had never felt before. But when she stood to lose something that she had never imagined losing, she admitted that she didn’t want to lose them, no matter how tense their relationship had always been.
She continued to sit staring into the night, a lone sentry guarding her friends. Part of her was eager to go to sleep, hoping to hear from her mate again, but another part of her dreaded hearing the desperation in his usually calm, secure voice. He needed her just as badly as she needed him and here she sat, unable to do a damn thing for him. She growled in frustration and gradually all the ugliness of her reality set in and took root in her heart. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, giving into the monster of defeat. If only for a little while, she would let herself be weak, let herself fall apart while there was no one to watch.