Thirty-Four

Everything was chaos.

Grey couldn’t remember what happened immediately after the arrow appeared in her father’s chest. She didn’t understand how something like that could even happen—and then the whole clearing had erupted in chaos as a group of what could only be hunters filled the clearing, arrows flying around. In fact, she was so shocked by everything that for a long moment she couldn’t even move.

Thankfully, Teddy was there. He tackled her to the ground as another arrow flew over them—right where she’d been only a moment before. He latched onto her arm, his vicelike grip painful. “We need to move,” he commanded, and she could feel the trickle of his new alpha abilities in his voice. If she’d been a beta, she knew she would have been compelled to listen. As it was, she wasn’t a beta but the command still did the trick. She nodded and he pulled her to her feet; apparently, he’d managed to get the ribbon intertwining both of their hands off in the seconds immediately following her father’s death.

Because it was very clear that he was, in fact, dead. She could see his empty eyes staring at her, face frozen in shock. She had to tear her gaze away or she wouldn’t be able to carry on; it would break her. “What the hell is going on?” she gasped.

“I don’t know,” Teddy ground out through his teeth and she could see how much strain it was for him to be here, to remain human with all this stress happening around him. “But we have to leave. This way.”

Teddy pulled her towards the trees. A body of another council member went down beside them and they had to skirt around it. Grey knew the man; he’d always been really nice to her and had given her a bouquet of flowers during her last play because her father couldn’t make it and her mother didn’t care, but he didn’t want her to feel alone or forgotten on her big night. She pulled her eyes off of him, too, fighting back tears as everything which had seemed so full of promise just moments ago was suddenly destroyed. The two of them kept close to the ground, hoping that the arrows would continue to fly above them and the chaos from the other fleeing council members and wedding guests would cover their escape; they couldn’t afford to be compassionate in their worry for others, far too concerned with their own survival.

They almost made it to the trees. Ten more feet, and they might have been able to transform and blend into the forestry and disappear. But they weren’t so lucky. A pair of booted feet stepped immediately into their path and Grey looked up to see who had blocked their path.

“Impossible,” she choked, because that’s what it was.

“You’re dead,” Teddy added, because the man standing before them was none other than Shepherd and he was very much alive.

“Don’t be too angry with Barrett,” Shepherd said. “To his credit, he really did think I was dead. Right up until I proved him wrong by jumping him. He put up quite the fight as I strangled the life out of him.”

“No…” Teddy said, and she could feel his pain at the news through their new bond. Barrett may have been a newer member, and mysterious, but he had been a part of Teddy’s pack—a part that hadn’t been evil like Shepherd. Packs stuck together, no matter what. And Teddy hadn’t been there. “You son of a bitch!”

The shouted words were all the warning Grey got before Teddy let go of her arm and launched himself at Shepherd, hands braced to return the favor of strangling Shepherd. But Shepherd laughed—actually laughed—and side-stepped easily, kicking the back of Teddy’s leg and sending him to the ground with a sharp howl; Grey heard the snap as the bone broke.

“Ah, Grey, beautiful as ever,” Shepherd said, kneeling down in front of her as Teddy gasped and heaved in pain, clutching his broken leg. Shepherd’s hand moved to cup Grey’s chin and she jerked it away, spitting in his face.

“Don’t touch me.”

“Just as willful as ever, too,” Shepherd said, clicking his tongue disdainfully. “I thought your mother might have taught you better in my absence.”

Something in Grey’s expression must have given her away, because then Shepherd laughed again. “She didn’t tell you she was part of this whole thing? An unwilling one, admittedly, but when I promised your safety she was helpful enough. A mother’s love knows no bounds, after all.”

Grey felt nauseous. She thought maybe her mother knew something about what was going on, but she’d never thought the woman capable of betrayal on this level. She wanted to feel pity, or at least gratitude that her mother had been trying to protect her, but she could feel only contempt for the woman who bore her.

“Leave her alone,” Teddy said, and he was already pulling himself up.

“Teddy, no, please—“ Grey said, but Shepherd slapped her and the words died as the blood filled her mouth.

“You’ll speak when spoken to,” Shepherd said. “If the man wants another round, I’m happy to give it to him.”

Shepherd turned his back on her, nails lengthening as his own transformation started to take hold. Teddy managed to pull himself up despite the crookedness of his wounded leg. “I’m not the same little boy I once was,” Teddy warned.

“You’re right, Teddy-boy. You’re so much more. And when I sink my claws into your chest, the blood I originally gave to you will be returned to me and all your new strength with it. I’ll be the most powerful alpha in history, and it’ll all be thanks to that fool Roman and his notion to marry his priceless daughter to my own beta.”

“Grey, get out of here. Find your mother, find any survivors you can, and get someplace safe,” Teddy said.

Then, he gave a wordless howl of rage and let his transformation take hold. It was the fastest Grey had ever seen him change, the least painful. He had purpose—he gave himself to his abilities and trusted they would help rather than hinder him; pride swelled inside of her.

And then Shepherd’s transformation happened in the blink of an eye and everything was sharp yelps and growls as the two began fighting, teeth and claws clashing in a fight Grey hadn’t ever seen the likes of.

She wanted so badly to join in; hated leaving Teddy to this monster by himself. But another part of her knew this was something he had to do; Shepherd had controlled him for so long, taken his life from him. If he couldn’t beat him on his own, she knew he wouldn’t accept it. Besides, there were plenty of others she could sink her teeth into—Shepherd had, after all, brought several friends.

Grey transformed and leapt into battle, taking down one of the attackers with a targeted attack to the back of his calf. He hadn’t expected it and he went down with a shriek. Grey was at his throat an instant later, silencing his shriek before moving on to the next meal.

Blood lust was something she had never truly experienced before. She knew, theoretically, that wolves were violent creatures when provoked, but this was the first time she understood. The feeling of being targeted, cornered, picked off like ducks in an arcade game…it infuriated her. These were her family, her friends. Her own father had been felled. And for what? Some Lycan’s megalomaniacal fantasies?

The fight blurred in a sea of red rage, blood filling her mouth until she wasn’t sure how much of it was her own from earlier and how much was the blood of her enemies; an arrow hit her in one of her shoulders, but she barely felt it and the guy who had done the shooting learned to regret it a moment later—thought admittedly, it was a very short realization because she ended his existence soon after.

By the time the assailants were beating a hasty retreat, Grey was huffing painfully and woozy on her paws, body thrumming with adrenaline. This was what it felt like to be powerful; to destroy those who deserved it. It was intoxicating.

But the victory had been hard won. Her father was dead—maybe her mother, too—and most if not all of the other Lycan Councilmen were dead or dying, their blood soaking the earth. Teddy and Shepherd were nowhere to be seen.

Worry thrummed through her—a wolf’s worry for her mate more than anything resembling a human emotion—and she limped away from the battlefield, desperate to return to his side. She felt it when he started to lose, and the pain that swept through her almost halted her steps. Instead, she hurried, following the scent of Teddy, knowing she was smelling more blood than he ought to have lost.

Please live please live please live please live, she thought manically, then broke through the trees in time to see a horrifying sight.

Teddy was pinned to the earth with both of Shepherd’s paws, and his teeth—already glistening with Teddy’s blood—were poised to rip open his throat.

Grey ran. She had never run so fast in her entire life, but she knew it wouldn’t be enough. Too slow too slow too slow…

She knew she wasn’t going to make it, but she ran anyways, desperation lending more speed than her body had ever handled.

Then several things happened at once. The nearby brush moved, a sleek wolf shooting through the leaves and twigs, and it slammed bodily into Shepherd, sending him careening off of Teddy and into the ground below. Shepherd made a whimper of surprise, then growled and snapped.

Images swept into her mind—the wolf was Ulfric, and he was telling her in no uncertain terms to get Teddy and run as far and as fast as she could because otherwise he wouldn’t survive. She felt his own pain at losing Barrett, realized dimly that they had been very close and had gotten to be almost best friends in the time they’d spent looking after Shepherd, knew that he needed to fight in order to avenge his best friend.

He didn’t plan on surviving, but he could buy them time.

Grey clenched her eyes shut, then transformed into a human. She grabbed Teddy into her arms, felt his numerous injuries, but didn’t have time to treat him. Not here, not now. She had to go. Quickly, she hefted him over her shoulders the way a hunter might carry his game.

“Thank you,” she said to Ulfric, then turned and ran through the trees, heading to the only place she knew of that might be safe: Alex and Kol’s place.

 

 

 

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