Grey was officially glad to say that the student center had become something of a nostalgic place for her already. It was where she’d met Alex, where all of this began. She could hardly believe how everything had connected. And now, she was going to get to marry Teddy. Which meant she could pursue the relationship with Alex that she wanted. She could explore her feelings, find out how deep they went. And Teddy…Teddy could actually tell Julian how he felt. Because with her on the council, she’d never let them go after him.
It was all starting to feel too good to be true. Which, of course, meant that it was.
Today’s meeting at the student center was not a pleasure visit. It was a war council. She had thought that their part in all of this was over, but apparently it wasn’t. Teddy wanted the distraction, and Kol and Alex still wanted answers. And like it or not, Grey was the only alpha (even if she was technically without a pack of her own) who they trusted enough to share information with. It seemed that no matter what, her destiny was intertwined with this war.
She just hoped they’d be able to prevent it.
On her way out of the house, however, her mother caught her. “Grey, I want to talk to you.”
“If you’re trying to talk me out of this marriage to Teddy, it’s not going to work,” Grey said. “It’s the best of both worlds—I get to marry someone I don’t hate and you get a daughter on the council.”
“But you don’t seem to understand the ramifications,” Lupe said. She looked worse than Grey had ever remembered seeing her. Her hair was falling out of its ponytail, dark bags under her eyes speaking of sleepless nights. Even her clothes seemed more threadbare than usual.
“Mom,” Grey began, eyebrows scrunching up. “What is going on with you?’
“You don’t understand,” Lupe repeated. “There’s things…you need to get out of this. Of everything. You should run, as far and as fast as you can, away from here.”
Grey stared at her mother. In her entire life, she had never seen her mother so rattled. She looked half-crazed, desperate for Grey to listen. But the idea of leaving home, of leaving everything that she had always known, that was the craziest thing she had ever heard. “Mom, I can’t leave. My whole life is here.”
“Grey…” Lupe tried again. Her hand was clutching Grey’s arm so tightly, her nails were starting to puncture her skin.
“You’re hurting me,” Grey said.
“Take Teddy. Take Julian. Take whoever you need. But you can’t stay here.”
Grey finally managed to pull her arm out of her mother’s grip. She was honestly starting to feel afraid in a way she hadn’t since she was a child, scared of the dark. It was a quiet dread, the kind that settles into your bones and freezes your heart inside. As the woman crumpled to the ground, Grey knelt as well, taking her shoulders and forcing her mother to look at her. She smelled of booze. Since when did her mother drink? “What are you talking about? Why can’t I stay here?”
Lupe just shook her head, then covered her face with her hands. It was clear that Grey wasn’t getting any sense out of her for the rest of the day, so she helped pull her mother to her feet and took her upstairs to bed. After she tucked her in, Grey left the house and headed to the student center, heart and mind heavy with what little she understood of what had just transpired.
She was the last to arrive, and her boys all stood at once from the table they had been sitting at in deference. It was an odd sight, being greeted like that. As if she were someone special; as if she truly mattered.
But her mother’s words just kept echoing in her head. Run. As far and as fast as you can. Would they run with her if she asked them? Julian couldn’t, she knew. But if he could…would he run with her too?
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Teddy said, pulling a chair out for her.
She took it gratefully. “That’s because I kind of have,” she said.
“Well, that’s hardly unusual. It is the most haunted city in America,” Alex said, almost hopefully. As if by joking, he could make whatever she had seen less scary. It only half-worked, but she was thankful for the attempt and offered him a smile for it.
“It’s my mom,” she said.
“You’re mom’s a ghost?” Kol said.
“No,” Grey said, giving a long-suffering sigh. “But she looked like one. Teddy, you know my mom. She’s never less than put together. Today, she was drunk.”
“Like, for real?” Teddy said, eyes bugging out in surprise.
“Yes. Do you remember her ever drinking? In her life?”
“It’s cute that you have a long enough history together that you can compare notes on Grey’s mom, but what does that have to do with what we have going on here?” Kol prompted.
“Maybe everything,” Grey said. “She was saying these crazy things.”
“Like what?” Alex asked, leaning forward.
“She told me to run. To take whoever I needed with me and get away from here,” Grey said. “She’s never said anything like that before.”
“So, what? She was drunk. People say a lot of weird things when they’re drinking,” Kol said. “Trust me, I know.”
“No, I get that,” Grey said. “But she sounded like she knew something. She didn’t say it in as many words but…I think she knows about this plot.”
“You think your mom is involved somehow?” Alex asked.
“I don’t know. When she first told me that my arranged match was Shepherd, she stressed that something was starting and she wanted me to consider it for my safety. I didn’t think anything of it at the time; I figured she was just trying to convince me that she knew best—you know, typical mom stuff. But then Shepherd went missing and now he’s dying. Do you think it’s a coincidence that right after Shepherd is found, half-dead and dying, my mom starts drinking and then tells me to run away? Because I sure don’t.”
“We need to find out what she knows, then,” Teddy said, suddenly sure. “If there’s even a slight chance that she knows what’s coming, we can stop it.”
“Do you really think we have it in us?” Alex asked. “To stop something like this? We barely managed to take down that demon.”
“Do we have a choice?” Teddy asked.
“Yes, actually,” Kol said. “We have a choice. But there’s only one right one.”
“Try and stop it?” Grey suggested.
Kol nodded. “Try and stop it,” he agreed.
“Then I guess that’s what we’ll have to do,” Alex said. “How do we get your mom to tell us what she knows?”
“I don’t know,” Grey admitted. “But she was wrecked when I left so I’m going to talk to my dad first. See what he can tell us. He’s on the council, so it would be good to know what they’re doing about it already.”
“I’ll check with Ulfric and Barrett,” Teddy said. “See what they have on Shepherd’s condition. Maybe how they did it could help us figure out just who we’re dealing with. Some well-known Hunters have very specific methods and poisoning like this seems pretty methodical.”
“Agreed. Give me what you find out and I’ll do some research on known Hunters, whether they’re in the area, what they might have to gain from doing all this,” Alex said.
“And I’m just going to take a nap,” Kol said.
“Kol,” Alex said, punching him in the shoulder.
“What?” Kol rubbed his shoulder absently.
“You said there was only one right choice,” Alex said.
“Yeah, but nobody ever accused me of making good choices,” Kol said.
At the pointed glares he received from everyone, however, he sighed and shrugged. “Fine. I’ll do more animal reconnaissance. You happy?”
“Depends. Do you mean that you’re going to turn into a cat and nap anyway, or do you plan on getting some actual information?” Teddy asked.
“I’ll get information,” Kol said. “Sheesh, you guys are exhausting.”
“So that’s it, then?” Grey said. “We’re going to go our separate ways, gather intel…”
“Unless there are any other ideas?” Teddy asked.
Nobody had anything else to add, so they all stood as one and headed towards the front door of the student center. As the others split off to go their separate ways, Grey hesitated outside, looking up at the sky. It was getting cloudy and dark, a late summer storm brewing. A distant rumble of thunder sent a shiver through her.
Suddenly, Alex slipped his hand in hers. She turned to him, startled, and offered him a smile of gratitude.
“Scared of storms?” he asked.
“Maybe a little,” she admitted. “Ever since I was a little girl, they make me uneasy. In my experience, they’re often omens of bad things to come.”
“That’s awful superstitious,” he said.
“And this is an awful supernatural town,” she returned.
“Why don’t we go somewhere? Somewhere loud, so it’ll drown out the storm?” Alex suggested.
“Where did you have in mind?”
“How about…an underground club?”
“You’re kidding,” Grey returned, glancing up at him in surprise. “Aren’t we supposed to be…I dunno…researching?”
“Well, when do you get to see your dad next?” he asked.
“Not until tomorrow, probably,” she said, wondering where he was going with this.
“And when will Teddy go and see Ulfric and Barrett?”
“Not sure,” Grey said. “He’s a bit of a procrastinator. He might hurry, though, since he’s looking for ways to distract himself.”
“Then I don’t see how we can carry on right now,” Alex pointed out. “Without your dad’s input or the information about Shepherd, we don’t have a starting point for our research. We may as well go and have a little fun.”
“Isn’t it kind of early for that kind of thing?” Grey asked, though she felt a thrill of excitement at the idea of doing something spontaneously.
“Are you kidding? It’s literally underground. There is no night and day down there—just never ending dancing. And, it’s a fairy club. Maybe we’ll overhear something?”
“You think?” Grey asked, now even more excited. She’d never been to a fairy club before, though she had heard that they often accepted outsiders and members from other species. Of course, they often tricked them into staying forever, but it had always sounded like a thrill.
“Yes, I think,” Alex said, grinning. “Shall we?”
“Let’s go,” Grey agreed, and the two hurried to their vehicle. Grey could hardly wait.