It was a cool day with some rain clouds building to the East. Isabel had talked Eva into letting her help teach the children once a week. Today she had planned through the Alphas to take the children into the woods close to the cabins. She was teaching them about plant growth and how different flowers and herbs thrived better out in their environments.
It had been a wonderful morning of lessons and they’d even gotten to gather different examples from the woods. Now everyone was seated eating lunch and the few that were finished were running and playing. She had invited Eva to come out to lunch with them since it was a lovely day.
“How is Evan settling in? It must be very different than what he’s used to. I haven’t really spent much time with him, but from what I see the man seems a little overwhelmed by the Pack at times.” She had Aaron’s head in her lap. He was reading a favorite book while eating a sandwich. The teenage ginger tended not to go running off with the others and he’d always enjoyed Izzy’s presence, even when she was babysitting them as kids. He and his brother, Michael were the youngest of Eva’s kids – at least until the next set were born. Eva was getting bigger and bigger. It kind of saddened her that having children had been a recent argument between herself and Largros. It hadn’t really ended well.
“He’s only been around a few weeks and he keeps finding reasons to go back off. I know he’s been helping with Devon’s and Sebastian’s investigations of Coven Eriksson, but it’s a bit more than that. Unlike Avery, I don’t think he’ll ever be used to Pack life. It frightens me. But all I can do is try to make things bearable for him.” Eva tapped Aaron’s foot. “Go off now and play with your brothers. We need a bit, sweetie.”
Aaron’s bright eyes smiled at his mama before he nodded. Her second ginger was up, giving the book back to Izzy before he stuffed his mouth with the other half of his sandwich and ran off to find his brothers.
“Oh, my goddess, I never know what to expect out of him,” she giggled. Sometimes he was rough and tumble and sometimes he was quiet and studious.
Seeing the way Izzy watch the boy and kind of pout made Eva pause. “What’s the matter, Isabel? I know you have to get in so many hours with teaching and wanted the experience with it, but I could swear that party girl just disappears when she’s around my pups. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Izzy gave a longing sigh then shook her head, “Its nothing.. look how big your boys have gotten…” She smiled, but then paused when something caught her eye.
“What’s wrong?” the hair on the back of Eva’s neck stood when she saw Izzy suddenly become distracted on something.
“No don’t look, not yet. I don’t think he’s alone.” She continued to smile as she helped Eva get up from her seated position. Her hand reached for the long stick she’d found to hike through the woods with. “I’m going to call the children in and I want you to walk with them towards that cave. Please don’t argue Eva, you can’t afford to get hurt, you have babies on the way and young ones to look after.”
“Izzy,” She was going to say she could defend herself, but then she looked at her round belly and remembered that they had her pups and her little niece and nephew out here as well. No. This wasn’t about her and being stubborn. This was about keeping the pups safe. If something had spooked Izzy, she needed to heed that warning. “…be careful.” Eva began walking.
Standing up Isabel whistled sharply, “Come on kiddos time to pack up and head on before it rains.” She laughed and touched a head here and there as they sped by.
“Awwww…” Ryker came up first. He was definitely the outdoorsy, wild-child among them. He hated going in and made sure they knew it every time he had to leave the woods.
“Don’t worry! We’ll take the other trails, just follow me!” Eva tried to make it sound planned that they would be going in the opposite direction from home. She had no choice. She could tell by scent that they had been cut off by at least 2 people. They didn’t smell familiar at all. She just hoped Gareth would be willing to take them in. She hadn’t talked to him in a few weeks. But the feral lycan seemed to enjoy having visits and he also seemed very happy to have the pups around his home.
It was when the group started moving towards the cave that the strangers showed themselves. It was more than one…
There were three of them and Isabel screamed, “RUN! Eva go! Get to the cave!” When one of the boys turned to face the attackers Isabel turned to go after him. She swung the stick and cracked one of the men on the back of the head and when he turned her way she struck him as hard as she could against his face. The sound of bone crunching could be heard as he dropped to his knees clutching his bleeding face. She hit him hard on head again and watched him fall flat and not move anymore.
“Run pups! Go to Gareth’s Cave! You know where to go!” Eva knew she’d never be able to keep up, but dammit she’d try. The brush was thick, as was the tall grass in the field leading up to the magical enclosure ahead.
The eldest two, Terry and Ryker were each 16 and had already been taught how to shift and were just still new to it. But they came from in front of her to pass her and took up defensive positions, like they had been taught by their elders. Everything in Eva screamed that she should be defending, too, but her hand covered her abdomen and she whined a frustrated sound. Seeing Aaron and Michael – both12 and their little cousins both 7 ahead, she pointed forward and snarled at them. “Don’t look back! Keep going to Gareth! Now!”
She turned to hear fighting. The smells were all around, now. Were they cutting her off? Shifting wasn’t something that was good, considering her condition, but Eva was panicked. She had no choice. Taking a deep breath, she let herself shift so that she could howl for help before it was too late.
The Alpha moved back toward the fighting. She could see Ryker tearing into someone, but then that one shifted, too… he was… he was lycan? She darted into the fight immediately, grabbing the thing by the scruff of the neck and tossing him off of her son. She barked her orders to them, trying to get them to keep going with the others. She could see Ryker growl back at her to go and so she finally did. Terry jumped past to nip at the one that had apparently been behind her. They really were surrounding them? She howled again, hoping Gareth or some of the others were close enough to help.
As she ran with her pups, she could see where she knew the magical barrier was up ahead. If they could make it into that… Gareth would definitely be there to help. He just couldn’t get out of it. Eva was slowing down. She couldn’t help it. She was in her wolf form and heavy with human-sized pups. She could still hear Izzy yelling and fighting. And she could hear the sounds of the enemies tracking them, not far behind. That’s when she heard a tangle to the left of her, closer to where the path would have led for the little ones. Eva moved to try and get to them, but she was cut off by the big black wolf. Had they made it into … yes.. They were in the barrier. It was Gareth.
Eva barked in low lycan, letting him know they needed help. She couldn’t fight like this. She needed him to help Terry, Izzy and the others – if he could.
The big black wolf rumbled to her, sniffed to make sure she was alright and then took off to the barrier to help as best he could until help arrived.
Ryker was at her right and helping support her as they continued to walk toward the cave. From much further down the side of the mountain and hills came the responding howls, letting them know help was on the way. She had to trust in everyone else. The pain moving through her body was too intense. She stumbled and the world spun and went black.
Gareth pounced on one that was bleeding from his face and grabbing him by the neck he bore down until he heard the snap of bone. Flinging the body away he went for the next one as his nephew bit and ripped at another one. He howled for help and heard responses.
When Devon and Sen pulled up with the truckload of goods from town, they were laughing and in a good mood. Derek pulled up next to them, ready to deliver the load of moonwine and other spirits used by the pack for ceremonies. He got out and was about to greet them when they all heard the howls.
“Eva… the pups..” there was a dangerous rumble from the big man.
Sen met Devon’s gaze for a split second before Devon shifted and took off, Derek hot on his right side. Sen ran as fast as he could away from the cabins so he could shift. The big black dragon took to the air and found himself faced with quite a surprise. Inea, in her pale colored dragon form, was hovering over Gareth’s area and then landed within the enclosure he knew to be there.
Something smelled off here. Inea had heard Gar and had come as quick as she could. ~ Why does it smell? What has happened? ~ She landed and looked around the area. Her draconic senses told her magic had been in use here, from more than one source. And portaling magic. Shifting, she looked to her best friend, the big black wolf. “Gareth! What happened?!” she went running for him.
Gareth rumbled at so many invading his area. He paced before the cave protecting it from enemies. He shared images with Inea of what he’d witnessed which wasn’t much. The children were screaming and running into his cave passing through his barriers. Eva was fighting and had shifted to wolf form. Then there was the little redhead and the dark haired human holding the robed attackers off unaware all they needed to do was cross the barrier. He had to watch as the attackers finally caught the boy and bundled him up along with the female as she wouldn’t let him go! They were throwing up a portal and running into it to vanish.
Entering the area Devon rumbled at his brother to get him to move. His pups rushed out to him and Devon bundled them all close to look over. “Terry… Ryker where’s Terrance?”
“Papa they took him.. tried to take all of us but he and Izzy fought em… mama did too but I made her come in here.” He looked scared and worried for his twin. “Gotta help them papa, we gotta get them back!” He wiped his face and glanced at the big black wolf. “He tried to help Terry and Izzy, but he couldn’t reach ‘em.”
Inea confirmed the story. “He saw the kids and got one of the attackers. They stayed out of his range. How did they get into here? I mean, it probably saved them, but I thought the barriers were secure from anyone except a very small few?” Inea asked Devon as she put her hand on Gareth’s shoulder, hoping to calm him a bit.
“It’s a safety precaution only a few knew of. If our pups are frightened and fear for their lives they can cross the barrier. I know Gareth wouldn’t hurt the pups.” He was looking around the place even as he soothed his pups. “Watch em for me, I gotta check my mate.”
“Come to me,” Inea motioned for the kids to come over to her and Gareth. “Had I known there was such a danger I would have been more prepared. Who would be so bold as to attack in packlands?” Inea saw Senias come back over the rise of the hill in his dragon form and begin to land. “Shield your eyes!”
Gently Devon lifted Eva’s form into his arms and stood up. He turned away from the wind and dust to shield Eva from it as well.
The wind hit them as Sen came in and landed in his dragon form. Then, he shifted. “Everybody here and safe?” Senias asked. “I saw where someone had used a portal near the Great Oak. They shouldn’t be able to out here. Something in the magic shifted… ”
“They snatched Terrance, Sen… they got one of our pups.” It was taking everything that Devon had not to lose it. He wanted to snap and rip the attackers apart. But there were no attackers present, so he forced himself to stay calm enough.
“Izzy… she protected us, but she only knew about the cave, not the barrier.” Eva had shifted back but her body once she had lost consciousness and it was not pleased with her for the treatment. Her hand went to her abdomen. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. She felt so damned useless right then.
“Nothin’ to be sorry for darlin’.” Devon rumbled to his mate.
“Izzy?” Derek’s heart sank. He looked out to the side. More of the pack and family were coming up.
“Izzy was with us, it was lesson day for her. She comes every week,” Aaron, tear-streaked face told them. His brother Mical put an arm over his twin’s shoulder and Ryker was behind both of them. Their cousins were still nearer to Gareth and Inea.
“I need to take the pups and Eva back to the cabin, post guards and then we are hunting ‘em down and getting Terry and Izzy back.” There were no ifs, ands, or buts – they would get theirs back and those that took them would suffer.
“We can help, pop,” Ryan offered. He had come up from below.
“I know son.” Devon rumbled to one of their eldest.
“We’ll continue. I’ll get the ones I need here while you settle them.” Senias and Devon had worked on plenty of plots together. This one was personal, but the Tasker tried to keep that emotion down. “Gar, take me to where they were to begin with,” he looked at the big black wolf. As soon as he got a huff and the more feral lycan took off, he was right behind him.
“Devon, they’ve never been to the other side! They don’t know enough… why would this happen?” she struggled to get down from his arms so she could pull her little ones to her protectively. She took in each of their scents, those of her niece and nephew as well. She was so glad their sister hadn’t been with them. The poor things were literally shaking. They’d been through similar before on the other side. They were supposed to be safe here!
“We’re gonna find out,” Inea promised before walking toward where Sen and Gareth had gone.
Hugging his mate and their young, Devon rumbled in the old tongue to her a promise to bring their pup back and make those that dared touch him pay. Others from the pack were now gathering to find out what had happened, including some of their older pups.
“Ryan, you and Lecia take yer mama and the other pups back to the house. Make sure everybody’s taken care of,” Devon could count on Ryan and his girl to help out in all of this. They were the pair that never planned to leave the packlands. Eva held Lecia’s hand and walked with the girl back to the trails with her brood of pups all around them. Ryan even picked up his mama when he saw she was in some pain. He didn’t like that at all.
Devon watched them make their way back down the hill before he stepped away from them and took off running up the hill to the others. His was a look of pure determination. When he came to the first body, he stopped and looked to the two dragons that had been part of their pack for centuries and his feral brother.
“Let’s go find my pup Sen.” The voice was not the calm, patient, friendly one of the Alpha they all knew and loved. This was the lycan warrior that that tore down its prey until there was nothing left.
“I’d love to, but I’m not going to it half-cocked, brother. I want to know what we’ve got going on, here. How did they get here? How did they get past pack? Past my wards?” Senias was crouched over the body of the one that had apparently gotten too close to Gareth. He lifted one of the arms and growled. Tattoos… and they were quite recognizable. Some were just like what were on Evan’s arms. Inea was not far off, looking over the other trails and magic residue left behind. He pulled out his phone and called Russ.
“Russ, I need you right now.”
“Yeah so does the three warm bodies here.” Hungover and still half asleep Russ rolled a cigarette and lit it before looking at his watch. It was his day off he didn’t have to be polite, “Damn man it’s not even noon what’s so important?” He stared at the pile of clothes and tried to discern his from the others.
When he got the usual snark, Sen put it plain, “Emergency. I think we put too much pressure on Eriksson. Theysnuck up onto the packlands this morning; attacked your mama and the other pups while they were out with Izzy. Your little brother Terry was taken while he was defending the others – Isabel Matthews, too. I don’t know how they got onto the land, but I’m going to figure it out. You’re the best tracker I know, Russ and this is family. So get here to me, now.”
“On it.” When it came to family Russ would jump through hoops, even if he was a jackass any other time.
The phone call was over and done. Sen didn’t keep him around for his social skills. He was kept because he was the best at what he did and that wasn’t his vanity talking it was pure fact. Nudging a bare foot that was hanging off the bed Russ spoke soft and low while he tugged his jeans on and sought out his shirt, “Need a ride to ya pop’s and then you can return to our sleepin beauties.” The fact that Russ was leaving his bike with them would say how serious this was for the lycan.
“What is it?” Starrfire had to extricate himself from Raven. That took a very bendable body and some finesse. When he finally eased out, he wound up crab-walking to the floor near Russell. He reached over and grabbed his boxers and pulled them up his pale legs and then he butt-hopped to get them the rest of the way.
“My lil brother Terry was taken and I need to help find him.” Russ shoved his feet into his boots and looked back at the bed and the sleeping females within it. Starrfire was already pulling on his shirt and grabbing his jeans.
“Yeah, we’re leaving heaven, but this is important.” Starr got up and found the rest of his clothes to pull on. Soon enough, he was concentrating on his drakkar. Then, he cast a portal.
Devon looked up at the portal and who stepped out of it. “Russell?”
“Get everybody out of here! It’s muddlin’ the scents,” Russ was all business as he crushed his cigarette out and walked to where the Tasker stood. He caught the scent of his mother and his siblings, as well as that of his father and uncle.. And older brother…?
“You heard him. Everybody back off!” Senias motioned for those who had gathered and come to help to get to the position downwind and walked there himself, just stayed within range of his apprentice Tasker so that he could hear what he had to say.
“Look, back off at least fifteen feet. I can’t breathe without smellin’ one of ya.” He muttered and growled as he moved to the body and crouched down. He studied the injuries and shook his, “Uncle Gareth got this one, I still smell him.”
“True. and kinda obvious,” Sen whispered.
Pinching his nose Russell mentally counted to twenty before he closed his eyes and let go. Nope, the scent was still there. Russ stood up and looked around while frowning, “It’s Eriksson and I smell Evan, too. Has he been around cause I was smelling mama, pops, uncle, the dragons, the lil brothers, Izzy and faintly smell Evan – which ain’t addin’ up.” Russell watched his father and could see a look come over him that never had before. Good thing his mama wasn’t seeing it.
“Evan, that don’t make sense unless..” That deep, angry growl left his chest as Devon turned back towards the cabins and started walking, then jogging and finally straight out running.
“Do we…” Inea asked, looking to Senias. Should they go stop what was about to happen, was what she was asking without actually asking it.
“No…no we don’t. We work on what we have here. He’ll let us know what they find out soon enough.” Senias returned to moving around the scene and scanning the area for both mundane and magical clues. “We just have to do it without the best whiffer sniffers available.”
Derek had bounced on his feet, but he didn’t move. He turned to look at the dragons and shook his head. “No, I may not be as free as Russ is and I’d never be a Tasker, but I’m as good at tracking as he is, or… I used to be. Just let me know what you need.”
Both dragons looked his way and nodded. The growl from nearby wasn’t anything Derek had even thought about until now. His bright blue eyes turned to face similar eyes that had been overseeing it all. He also let out a rumbling growl. This body was within the barrier. Apparently Izzy and Terry hadn’t made it this far.
The hair down Gareth’s back stood up and he had his teeth bared as Derek drew close to the scene. The big black wolf tested the barrier several times in an attempt find a week point to break through. ~ son of bitch is here! ~ He snarled to Inea as he snapped his teeth at Derek.
“What?! If you’ve got something to actually say, say it! You fucking coward! How many did you let live this time that you should’ve been able to take? But you won’t shift, you piece of…”
“No! This isn’t the place or the time, and you both know better!” Senias’ voice rang out and his anger was thoroughly stoked into a fire. “Both of you help me find the trails I can’t find while your father and brother figure out the connection with Evan. Now.”
With his gaze steadfast on the other lycan, Gareth sniffed the ground and followed the barrier a good 500 feet down from the body. He stopped and paced as he called out to Inea again, ~Magic. Near the old oak. It’s sacred ground… not as many wards. ~
Derek followed Gareth and paused before he got that far. He moved further out, catching Isabel’s scent right off and some blood. Then he smelled Terry. “I know where they were fighting.” He walked from that point downward to where Gareth was standing, looking out and he sniffed the air. Inea and Senias moved toward him. “Goddess, Gar they were right… just a few more feet and they would’ve been with you…” Derek muttered while he bit back his irritation.
“That area near the oaks, that’s where Gar says to look,” Inea spoke to the both of them.
Derek looked back at the big wolf and nodded. “I smell both of them here. It makes sense.” He turned from the barrier area and followed the scent another quarter mile further down the hill to the beautiful oak grove where there were stones etched with the names of the fallen and lost. “And I smell blood trailing from up further. They were grabbed by two and so their scent is strong down this way, too. Stands to reason, if they came in this way, they knew they could get out this way.” Derek shook his head. He looked up at Senias and Inea with a very confused expression as they watched. “Russ is right. He could smell it way up there, damn he’s good, but… I can smell it here. I smell… another magic. It’s not the same as the attackers used. And I smell Evan.”
~ Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2019