Aiden sat in his cell without noise. It had been hours since his meeting with Jenny and Sora’s episode, yet it still circulated in his mind. No matter how many times I ask the question I still don’t know what happened. She was fine, maybe a little moody but that’s understandable, and then she was writhing on the ground.
Eric had to be the trigger. He showed up and then it happened. That other Vulpes looked very scared; whatever happened, it didn’t look good. Why, why does this always happen to me? Everything happens around me; it must be the Firebird curse. Now I don’t know if she’s alive or dead.
Eric’s reaction, though… He was totally caught off-guard. Obviously, it wasn’t his intent for that to happen, but he seemed to know something about it. I’ve seen his expressions enough to know that, and he wasn’t happy. Not only that, but he endangered his entire pack by breaking into the holding area. What’s he thinking? Does he not need them if he can get Sora’s latent power?
He backed off against that Vulpes’ friend. He must be strong to make Eric back down, although I haven’t given him any feathers for a few days now, and his fight with that dragon drained every bit of power he’s built up. He must be feeling the loss in strength, maybe that’s why he’s so erratic, though he’s always been fairly unpredictable.
Lying down on the hard bed, he looked up into the black ceiling. I hope Sora’s alright. She seemed a little off before Eric came when I was talking with Jenny. Aiden groaned. Of course, we were supposed to be looking for her dad and friend! I just butted in and asked her to drop it to speak to Jenny, one of the bullies that tormented her for years. Of course, she’d be angry … but why didn’t she say anything?
Thoroughly baffled by her actions, he shifted directive. Jenny doesn’t know what happened to Kari, even Devin’s MIA. She and the rest of Eric’s pack were stuck together with touch-sensitive shock restraints. These people seem to be cruel in their methods, especially with what Sora said, and most of the werewolves are forced to stay with him.
Brow furrowing, he berated himself. Again, my thoughts return to Sora! What is it about her that keeps my brain so unfocused? She’s pretty and cute as Vulpes usually are, a Founder at that. She’s witty and fun, but again … she’s a Vulpes; it’s in her nature to have that kind of personality.
Sighing, he whispered, “Then again … at the graveyard…” That’s right, that’s where my mind turned to her. Her image imprinted in my head, falling from that tree, her stunned tear struck face, and the way she made me feel … like I wasn’t alone. That’s probably another part of her empathic abilities, though…
His heart burned, body tingling with energy as Aiden cleared his throat and adjusted his focus, hand running through his hair. “No, Vulpes are inherently sensual and charm those that come in contact with them … anyone.”
It’s nothing but physical attraction from her inherent nature and Vulpes physiology. Rolling to his side, Aiden looked into the darkness, his mind conjuring images of Sora. But—what if it’s not?
Time stretched in the emptiness as his mind wrestled with his thoughts and feelings, but he straightened as the door bolts began to release and light flooded the room.
Blinking and shielding his vision, he looked up to find a tall, dark silhouette; breathing in, he sighed, “Eric.”
A woman spoke from behind Eric. “I have charmed the observation staff of this district, but I am tired. You have a limited time to do what you need.”
As Eric’s features came into focus Aiden found himself wondering if this was the man he’d known all his life. Eric had a look in his face that he’d never seen before. He seemed entirely at ease; it never crossed his mind that he’d see Eric at peace.
A half smile lit Eric’s cheeks which Aiden couldn’t identify. “Aiden, it’s good to see you. You must be starved.”
Licking his lips, Aiden shrugged. “Yeah, I’m a bit hungry. Would you mind filling me in on what’s going on?”
Motioning, Eric said, “Come out real quick.”
Clearing his throat, Aiden followed his instruction. Getting to his feet, he walked past Eric. A tall black haired woman he didn’t recognize stood stiffly outside. She quizzically looked him over before asking, “He’s a Firebird?”
Aiden’s muscles locked, but Eric put his hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Aiden. Can you produce a feather for me?”
His lips bunched to the side as he stared at the floor. That wasn’t a command … he asked if I could?
Clenching his fist, he concentrated. That request has been a daily routine in my life for so many years … When did I stop feeling numb to it? Since Sora bumped into me? No, when she linked emotions with me … when I felt her true sentiments.
He felt himself already calling upon his energy out of habit, shaping it into a corporal state. Hesitantly he opened his fist to glare at the dazzling brilliance of his formed energy, multicolored lights dancing around the space.
The woman breathed a coo of awe and spoke in a heavily accented voice. “So this is a feather from a Firebird. It is not Spiritual Energy, but something else. If I am correct?”
Eric put forth his hand to stop the woman from touching it. “Yes, it is not spiritual energy, and you should not touch it. Fate tends to curse those that touch a Firebird’s feather without consent.”
Aiden looked away and held it up for Eric. Aiden frowned as Eric’s rough palm closed Aiden’s fingers. “Reabsorb the energy. I don’t need it at this point.”
Aiden looked up into Eric’s eyes with shock, they’d changed so much, stunned, he absorbed the energy on command. He couldn’t find any of the burning coals that used to reside there; instead, there was wholeness, a sense of purpose and belonging, but incredible sorrow.
What’s changed? Is this really Eric or a trick? No, it has to be him, I couldn’t deny his order.
Turning to the woman, Eric asked, “Is everything prepared?”
The woman looked jaded and suspicious. “Yes, but I still do not understand how you knew about Benjamin’s plans when I did not and why you chose this course of action? Why is this so important to me? I would think your actions would be the exact opposite, and much more flamboyant.”
Eric patted Aiden on the back but stared down at the woman. “I gave you what you wanted; the location is yours. Now, give me what I want.” The woman nervously took a step back and nodded. Turning, Eric said, “Let’s go, Aiden.”
Following, Aiden asked, “Where to?”
* * *
Kari forced herself awake as her consciousness flickered. She was still tied to the pillars, but now her captors had added cushioned belt restraints and medical equipment that pumped some kind of liquid into her system. It had taken them hours, but they’d forced her to eat, and the French woman had been by to question her about things she didn’t know.
She now sat comfortably in an armchair that was tethered to the pillars. She was held with cushioned restraints with the golden thread loosely tied around her body, keeping her in check; she hated the forbearance. She’d exhausted most of her excess strength against her brother, and now the threads drained her physical energy completely.
Kari’s vision silently followed several people that were checking her bonds and setting up new equipment. She’d seethed her brother’s name for hours, and it only proved to consume her mentally. The rage was still there, the coals would never go out, though she could do nothing but simmer and wait.
She heard the elevator slide to a stop without much interest until Eric’s scent carried to her. Teeth grinding together, she waited, lips abruptly dry and her mouth stiff; Kari’s head lifted in confusion as Aiden’s odor wafted in as well. Eric finally found his energy bank; it won’t be long until he makes his move. Is that why he’s here?
She grimaced as Diane joined them, and it took another minute before they reached her.
Aiden rushed over and examined her. “Are you alright, Kari?”
Lips peeling back with contempt as she glared at her brother and working down a meager pool of saliva, she turned to Aiden and said, “I’ve been better. Where’s Jenny?” Her eyes left Aiden to follow her brother as he talked lowly with one of the men.
“Is it ready?”
Focus returning to Aiden, she listened to what he knew. “Jenny’s with Eric’s werewolves. Most seemed kind of beaten, but Jenny was holding out. She wanted to know where you were. After Eric broke into their holding room, they were moved somewhere else; I’m not sure where.”
Kari’s teeth began sliding against each other as her vision returned to her brother, identifying the scents between the group. You can always make a situation worse than it has to be. With all his talk about patience and there being more than just raw power, he’s just a hypocrite. He’s no more patient than I am, even less.
As Aiden moved closer to look at her restraints, Kari’s muscles tightened, and she centered on him. “You were with Sora?”
Easing back, Aiden looked at her with a concerned expression, which confused Kari. “Yeah, she found me, set me free, and we went to meet Jenny—that’s when your brother crashed the party.”
Kari looked down at the ground. Sora set him free—why? Does he know Sora somehow? Her scent is more potent now, that oddly fragrant smell that tickles my throat. “Oh, and what happened?”
Her eyes jumped up to Aiden as she heard him swallow. “She—grew another tail, a tail of spiritual energy; it was so intense that even Eric backed off, then she fell through the floor. I haven’t seen her since.”
She bit her cheek, taking blood. What’s been happening? She suddenly grows her second tail, and it’s of pure spiritual energy? Why so soon, shouldn’t it take over a hundred years? Vulpes are supposed to grow their powers in doubles; they reach a barrier and can’t pass it until meeting with…
Her nose creased. “Was there another Vulpes there? I smell one.”
Aiden shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking, and yes there was another Vulpes, but it wasn’t one of the two Founders. There’s a two-tailed Húli Jīng. Although, she has one black tail—and one white tail.”
Kari shook her tired head. “I don’t even want to put thought into that fox.” Eyes shifting from Aiden to Eric, she whispered, “What’s he planning?”
Sighing, Aiden scratched the back of his head. “I don’t know, honestly. He told me I couldn’t interfere, though…” He turned to stare at Eric. “He’s been acting strange since he got me out … he’s—different.”
Kari frowned as Aiden hesitated. “He gave—he gave me back my feather. He didn’t consume it.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Kari whispered, though she knew Eric could hear them. “What would he gain from that? He needs your power to survive.”
Shrugging, Aiden said, “I don’t know. He’s been silent almost the entire time, and that woman over there seems to be hanging on his every word.”
Kari was even more bewildered. “Diane? That woman’s supposed to be some big shot, what’s Eric done?”
They both cut their conversation as Eric walked up to them. Kari had never heard this patient of a tone come from her brother. “Things will be made clear in time.”
The fire in Kari’s heart stoked. How can he be so calm? I want to rip his jaw from his skull!
One of the men came over to him. “It’s all set up to that one laptop.” He gestured to a set of monitors that had been placed in front of Kari’s chair.
“That’s everything I need. You all can go back to your stations,” Eric instructed.
Everyone but Diane left. She positioned herself beside Aiden, waiting for Eric to continue. She had the scent of curiosity.
Eric eyed her for a moment before saying, “I wanted to show you something, Sister.” Moving to the laptop, he pressed the enter key. All the monitors lit up and started alternating between camera feeds. Multiple sections were shown per monitor, but the center showed only a single pane, Jenny.
Swallowing nervously, Kari asked, “What’s going on, Eric?”
He stayed silent as the video continued to play. Five minutes passed in stillness, Jenny was lying in a bed, blankly staring up at the ceiling in a ten by ten cell.
Kari’s vision kept shifting to her brother, but he continued to watch the screens emotionlessly, nothing shifting beneath his eyes. What kind of game is this? It seems he’s gotten Diane under his thumb, and all he does is set up some monitoring equipment. This isn’t like him at all.
Her focus returned to the monitor with growing concern, attention soon snatched by a side monitor as a group of men walked into view; they were heavily armed and moved with purpose before stopping outside a cell and waited.
Talking lowly amongst themselves, the soldiers appeared to be confirming something, and a minute later, a terse elderly man made his way across the ramps.
“Eric, what are you planning?”
Still, he stayed silent, and Aiden seemed totally bewildered but naturally, he knew better than to question Eric too much.
Diane sniffed as she watched the wrinkle-ridden man approach the guards, his voice was audibly irritated. “Why can’t Diane do this? She made the initial hypothesis, and I haven’t gotten a wink of sleep in the past thirty hours.”
One of the men commented back. “Diane’s asleep. Something about using a lot of magic, and, shockingly, she’s been more cautious lately, I believe she’d cause trouble.”
Kari caught Diane’s scowl from the corner of her vision, and she sniffed sharply. “Of course, I’d object. It was an early hypothesis…”
The guards began opening the door, and her focus flipped back to the center feed, the door to Jenny’s cell began to open. Nervous jitters ebbed into her stomach. What do they want with Jenny? Why would Eric want me to see this? What’s his plan? Is this the start of his breakout scheme?
The company of men swarmed in, making Jenny back into the corner of her bed. She didn’t look frightened, just weary. The men held their guns at the ready and waited as the elderly man slowly walked in.
Taking out a tablet, the man began playing with it. He stopped for a moment and read silently. “A Germanic werewolf, Jenny, the only pure-blooded Germanic found in over two centuries. You’re quite the rare breed these days. It is fascinating that you’d stay back during the battles as your human slaves did all the dirty work.”
Kari was confused. “That’s not true. What about your pack? Aren’t they pure-blooded as well?”
Eric’s voice was soft and calm. “You never really questioned what happened around you, Kari. Just like the child, you are; always taking everything at face value. No, the other werewolves are close, but not pure-blooded.” Annoyed by his response, Kari didn’t pursue the topic.
The old man seemed to be reading again, before lifting an eyebrow. “You are the only Werewolf among the entirety found that has the infectious gene. According to U.S. records, every one of these werewolves has been turned within three years. Does that make you their sole creator?”
Jenny went stiff, and Kari’s body went numb. Teeth grinding together, Kari yelled, “That’s not true. You turned them!”
She was caught off-guard as Eric calmly shook his head. “You never asked the question. The truth is all too plain, Sister.”
Kari’s stomach twisted as the man continued to speak to Jenny. “There seems to be blood relation between you and the,” he paused with narrowed eyes, “hybrid, Eric. Though hard to map correctly, multiple tests have confirmed it.”
Kari’s own words didn’t seem real to her. “Jenny—is your half-sister?”
A soft sigh came from Eric’s nostrils. “You’d be shocked to know that Jenny and I are more related by blood than I to you. Did you ever wonder how you found another Germanic werewolf in Miami? Why she became friends with you?”
It was hard to breathe; links clicked together as her brother spelled it out.
“Lori, her very primitive and incomplete transformation—Jenny’s fault, because she wasn’t careful with a simple water bottle—that opened the door to several experiments I did with how much of her saliva was needed to infect humans.
“Why do you think she became such good friends with you, trying to mediate between us? Because I was the one that forced her to be your friend—at least in the beginning.”
“You’re lying,” Kari’s throat constricted as the scene continued.
The part that jumbled and tangled Kari’s emotions was Eric’s tone; he didn’t sound pleased with his deception or sorrowful. It was like he was evenly recounting a typical day’s activity.
“I had her follow you when you left mom’s sanctuary—after I killed my father, of course—and took the link of Alpha…
“How did I gain another pack after killing and eating my father? Why do you think I let you go about playing school? Why did Lori suddenly find you and reveal what she was so soon after you entered the city?” He let the information crush Kari’s psyche before saying, “Jenny was my spy.”
Kari shook her head, jaw locked shut, but Eric wouldn’t let her process it. “It’s understandable—why you’d block out the truth—Jenny was your first true friend after Tiri. But some things run deeper than friendship or even family, like the ties to an Alpha, which I became after killing my father.”
Just as the information about Jenny’s betrayal began sinking in, Eric threw another curveball. “Although—it began tearing Jenny apart after a while; she truly wanted to be your friend.”
Eric’s eyes didn’t leave the screen as the old man continued to berate Jenny with questions she wouldn’t answer. “That’s why I took her away from you, to try and break her of those feelings.”
Kari didn’t know what to think—Jenny deceived her—she was Eric’s sister by blood, a part of his pack, yet she wanted to be her friend badly enough to make Eric worry. No! It all still goes back to Eric! Eric is to blame, for everything!
She was about to curse Eric; when he spoke again—in a tone that chilled her—he sounded in grief. “I never wanted to make this decision, but there’s no other way for it to start … I couldn’t have stopped it … I would have lost you both in the end.”
Eric patted Aiden on the back as they began walking back toward the elevators, and Diane followed with a fascinated grin.
In a horrified tone, Aiden whispered, “You can’t mean…”
He cut off as Eric’s hand rested on his shoulder.
Kari was speechless as she tried to puzzle out what her brother meant; only the speakers played in the following silence, the slow voice of the old man. “There is a legend that says if the source of the infection dies, the reproductions will also decay due to the blood link. Let’s test that theory.”
Kari’s heart froze as she looked back to find the old man leaving. Her eyes centered on Jenny’s ashen face as the men fired. A void blackened her soul as she watched the incident, emotion and thought fed into it in a confused mess.
Her first and last friend had been taken away from her … She was alone again.
* * *
Aiden entered the elevator beside Eric. I was ordered not to tell Kari anything in the beginning. Why would Eric suddenly tell her now … in this way? None of his actions make sense?
Diane looked thoroughly amused and intrigued by the exchange. “Why did you make her watch her step-sister’s death? Why would you allow it in the first place … I’m sure I would have been able to convince Benjamine to postpone it.”
Frowning with concern, Aiden looked sideways to find tears falling down Eric’s cheeks. It was the first time he’d ever seen him cry. Aiden cleared his throat. “She’ll never forgive you for that—can you ever forgive yourself?”
Eric’s arm came up to wipe at his tears, and his placid expression returned. Clearing his voice, he muttered, “I know, but now the link is severed. They don’t understand the bond between a Germanic werewolf and their turned.”
Aiden glanced away, looking down at the floor. His stomach was tight, and he didn’t want to think of what they did to Jenny so he wouldn’t throw up his earlier meal. He’d known her most his life.
Was Eric crying because of what he did to Kari, or because he let his sister get murdered? Perhaps both, but one thing is sure; Eric’s changed. I’ve wanted him to change, but … I didn’t once think he would turn out like this. What happened to him? What’s his plan?