tagNonHumanSeeking Eternity Ch. 07

Seeking Eternity Ch. 07

bysilver_firefly©

This is dedicated to the readers who stuck with me and expressed support during my long hiatus. Thank you very much. SF

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The sound of a slamming door reverberated through the house. With a heavy sigh, Amélie put down the book she was reading. Her moment of peace and quiet was obviously at an end: the master of the house had returned, and so had the air of doom that seemed to cling onto him these past few days.

Making as little noise as possible, she slipped out of the library and down the stairs. She had known Ashford for so long, and when he was in one of these moods, even a single whisper could bring down his wrath upon her head; it would be better, then, to leave him alone until his sanity returned.

For Amélie earnestly believed that her brother had lost his mind. Ever since Raine's disappearance, Ashford had been chewing their heads off with orders to find her, and their lack of success was not helping his moods.

Amélie headed for the front door and was surprised to find both Adam and Ross outside, their faces grim and drawn as they stared straight ahead into the darkness of the street.

"What goes?" she asked, firmly closing the door behind her. Not that it would keep Ashford from hearing them, but no matter; he could attack them here if it would please him. "Is anything amiss?"

"Things are quickly sliding down to hell," Ross answered with a huge sigh.

She frowned. "How come?"

"Ashford just attacked a wolf," Adam answered. When Amélie cocked an eyebrow, he added, "Cassandra Norwood."

To hell, indeed, Amélie thought. She had never been fond of the old bitch, but even she was not foolish enough to threaten the uneasy peace between vampires and wolves by perpetrating an attack. However tempting the idea was, however much Cassandra deserved some form of punishment for all the things that she had done, an attack on a wolf was an attack on its pack, and if knowledge of it reached the Council of the Wolves, Amélie could almost sense the certainty of war.

Clearly, Ashford's insanity was graver than she had initially thought.

"Why on earth did he do that?" she blurted out.

"Well..." Ross flinched. "Territorial claim?"

Fuck. Amélie took a seat on the porch swing and rubbed her face. She dearly wanted to keep heaping the blame on Ashford's head, but where territory was concerned, she had her brother's back. It was one thing to abduct Raine and keep her away from vampires; it was another to take her and bed her when she had already been claimed. Amélie had been in the same situation once; decades later, here she was, still unable to forgive the woman who had taken her man away.

"Do we know which wolf touched Raine?" she asked.

"There's only one wolf in Ambercrest who will be bold enough to do it," Ross said quietly, pertaining to the leader of the pack.

Amélie was not convinced. "Have you seen the pack? There's a reason why Ashford approached Ambercrest. It's not only because Raine's only existing family belongs to it, or because we are on Ambercrest lands; it's mainly because there are a lot of strong wolves in that pack."

"But there's only one wolf who has a history with Raine," Ross explained. "Or did you think she would sleep around like a bitch?"

Amélie refrained from pointing out that, being a female wolf, Raine was a bitch -- or half-bitch, to be precise. Besides, the woman had been claimed, and she ought to feel the pull of her bond with Ashford when faced with the possibility of another lover. If Raine had indeed slept with another man, then something powerful must be at work here. Amélie could only think of a few things that could overshadow the pull of the special connection between claimant and claimed.

"Did you say history?" Amélie backtracked, wondering if she had misheard Ross.

"Yes, he did," Adam chimed in. "Raine had unknowingly encountered a wolf before."

"Nicholas James Collbreed, Ambercrest alpha," Ross said, "although, of course, he was not yet leader of the pack when the two of them met."

Amélie narrowed her eyes. That would explain a lot of things, not the least of which was the response of Raine's body to Ashford's claim. Sleeping with Ashford should not have necessarily awoken Raine's wolf -- but it had, probably because her wolf had been biding its time for years, and the touch of a vampire -- a wolf's mortal enemy -- forced the beast to rear its head. Either that, or...

She shook her head, unwilling to think of the other possible and more likely reason. It was all cause and effect, Amélie thought. Not that she could say such a thing to Ashford. Her brother might kill her if she did. After all, what choice did Ashford have but to claim the girl? Granted, he should not have given Raine his heart, but even Amélie knew that that was unintentional.

No self-respecting vampire would deliberately choose to fall in love with a wolf, she thought bitterly.

But now that it had happened, what was left for her to do? She could not just leave Ashford to deal with this problem alone. Amélie owed her brother too much, and it was about time she started paying him back. Besides, she might have a way of reaching out to Raine.

It was time to call on some old friends and call in some long-standing favours.

*****

Nicholas looked outside the window toward the stretch of land that made up the Collbreed mansion's backyard. The lush garden that was immediately against the house had been his mother's pride -- a reminder of the sweet and gentle soul that held their family together before her untimely death. Beyond that lay the woods considered to be the heart of Ambercrest territory, in the middle of which was a vast meadow where Nicholas used to spend most of his time as a child to escape his father's wrath.

He knew this land very well -- a territory that had been ruled by his ancestors since time immemorial. This was where generations upon generations of Ambercrest alphas had been born and raised to become leaders of the pack. If given the chance, this was where he would like to raise his own children -- but only if he could start a family with the woman of his choosing.

He turned to look at that woman, who was peacefully sleeping on his bed. He had insisted on taking Raine to the Collbreed mansion to be able to take care of her better. It had not been easy convincing Cassandra to let her granddaughter go, but Nicholas would not be deterred when he had set his mind on anything, so the older wolf had no choice but to acquiesce.

Raine had been exhausted these past three days, and why not? Nicholas had been quite merciless in training her. He had asked her to run as fast as she could for as long as she could, always goading her to continue whenever she was about to collapse from exhaustion. Most wolves would come out when their human forms were under such kind of pressure, but Raine was obviously not like most wolves.

When Cassandra asked for help, the woman thought that what Raine needed was someone to be with her as she quadruped. As the days went by, however, Nicholas found out that what Raine needed was someone who could completely coax her wolf out. Her transformations always stopped in the early stages, and although Nicholas was able to help her make such transformations painless, nothing he had done could push Raine to completely turn.

Nicholas spent the next few moments watching Raine. He wanted to touch her -- to kiss her -- before leaving, but experience had taught him that he would only end up waking her. And that was the last thing he should do. As the past three nights had shown him, a fully awake Raine Amethyst Reinhart would be bent upon seduction, and he was much too enthralled with her to resist her advances. So he contented himself with just looking at her, wondering how much longer he would be able to keep her.

The answer, of course, depended on how the congress of elders would react to his revelation. Raine's whereabouts would not be unknown forever, and with the Council of the Wolves slowly closing in and the vampires building an army, he knew that time was running out. He needed all the allies he could get, and get them he would, by whatever means necessary.

Cassandra was waiting by the car when he finally stepped outside the mansion, her face a mirror of concern. She bowed her head to him -- a perfunctory act that Nicholas had finally gotten used to after three years of leading the pack. Of course, when around those who did not know about the existence of wolves, they skipped these formalities, but here in the middle of Ambercrest territory, it seemed as though not bowing before the alpha was a sign of utmost disrespect -- to Nicholas's chagrin.

He acknowledged her with a nod and automatically found himself by the passenger side, opening the door for her. Cassandra flashed a smile of gratitude before ducking inside and waiting for him to slip into the driver's seat.

"Are you certain you would like to do this?" she asked hesitantly when Nicholas started the engine.

Nicholas swallowed down a grin, opting for a passive expression that was meant to appease his present company. It occurred to him that, despite the bow, the first thing that escaped Cassandra's lips showed a total lack of confidence that would have mortified most wolves. Not so Cassandra Norwood. Then again, it was this side of her personality that prompted Nicholas to ask her to become the head of the congress of elders in the first place.

"We have no other choice, Cassandra," he answered, slowly driving toward the open gates of the mansion. "We need the congress's help if we are to succeed in helping Raine."

The old woman nodded distractedly. "But there are those who will think that it is unwise to keep Raine away from the Council."

"Of course there are," Nicholas agreed. "I hardly expect them to believe otherwise. Even I know the dangers of keeping secrets from the Council. But how many do you think would openly criticize my decision in this matter?"

Cassandra took a guess. "More than half of the congress members?"

Nicholas let out the grin that he was holding back. "Your confidence in my power of persuasion is rather flattering."

The old woman shrugged. "We've got to be realistic. You know how hard it will be to convince the elders to change the opinions that they must already have on the matter."

"It will probably be difficult," Nicholas said, not conceding the point, "but it is not impossible." When Cassandra raised a skeptical eyebrow, Nicholas's grin widened. "Ah, Cassandra. Do you seriously believe that the elders will refuse my request?"

His question made Cassandra pause.

Nicholas understood. The congress of elders existed so that they could advise the leader regarding matters of importance to the whole pack, voicing out the concerns and opinions of the larger community of elders within the pack. It is for this reason that the congress could definitely refuse the alpha's request. But his question was not if they could; he was asking if they would.

Knowing what she knew about the past of their pack, Cassandra must also recognize the magnitude of the debt that the elders owed. They had all given him their words after that one dark episode not so long ago, and Nicholas intended to remind them of the oaths that they had spoken.

Finally, he would put his advisory team's honour to the test.

*****

Dr. Rebecca Lee stared at Johanna from beyond the glass wall that was meant, in equal parts, to contain the prisoner and to keep the observers safe. Today, Johanna had the full array of medications pumped into her bloodstream, courtesy of another doctor who worked for Michael Gilford. Rebecca could only imagine how Johanna was suffering, but the female wolf was, as always, unbreakable. There was nothing on Johanna's countenance to suggest that she actually felt any pain.

Rebecca hid the sudden flash of irritation on her face by looking at the notepad that she always carried whenever she found herself on this side of the glass wall. She did not want Johanna to see the extent of the hatred that she felt, lest the woman started clamming up.

It took Rebecca every ounce of self-control to avoid hurting Johanna whenever she was administering -- or not -- the drugs that were supposed to give the female wolf pain. And who could blame her? She had loved Dr. James Reinhart deeply, and it was on Johanna's account that the man lost his life. Time had not healed Rebecca's wounds; in fact, they seemed to have festered, giving her much more reason to detest the woman who now stared defiantly at the group behind the glass wall.

Yet, Rebecca could not deny that she loved Johanna, and deeply, too -- perhaps as much as she had loved James, if not more. No amount of pain or hatred could overpower the sense of love and loyalty that she felt for the female wolf. Johanna had always been her dearest friend and ally, in spite of -- and sometimes, perhaps even because of -- the drastic turn of events that would have torn apart a friendship not as strong as theirs.

Beside her, Michael Gilford spoke. "She will never break, will she?"

Rebecca looked at the younger man, wondering what manner of depraved life he had lived for him to stomach the kind of torture that he subjected Johanna to. Not even Reginald Gilford on his most cruel and most frustrated mood was brutal enough to do to Johanna what Michael Gilford was doing now. The fact that Johanna had never given the man the satisfaction of seeing her reduced to a pleading mess delighted Rebecca to no end. It served him right to seek pleasure and be denied.

"If she were capable of breaking, she would have broken a long time ago," Rebecca replied, dragging her gaze back to her friend. "I warned you, didn't I?"

"Yes, yes," Gilford said impatiently. "And you are certain that the drugs work?"

"Yes," Rebecca answered steadily. One day, she would enjoy injecting the torture serum into Michael Gilford's bloodstream, so that he might understand how painful the effects were to the receiving agent. Then he could question the effectiveness of her invention, and Rebecca would gladly increase the dosage to accommodate his pleasure.

As of yet, however, such plans would not work, so she satisfied herself with watching as Gilford leaned forward, against the low rail just below the glass window. His face reflected the frustration that he felt. "What am I going to do with her?"

Rebecca heaved a frustrated sigh -- a dramatic show of emotion meant to tell the man that she was getting tired of catering to his whims. "What do you want from her, anyway?"

"Many things," Gilford replied. "Answers, most of them. Where is her pack? What is their motive? Are they friends or foe? And, most important of all, why is she so interested in Raine?"

A mother is always interested in her child, Rebecca thought, turning back to Johanna, who must have heard the man's answer. "I warned you, Gilford. You are going about this the wrong way."

Irritation crossed Michael Gilford's face as he turned around to face her squarely. "You don't have to remind me every time."

Rebecca only shook her head and distracted herself with the notepad. The younger man did not understand how the strongest emotions worked -- how love and loyalty trumped fear and pain time and time again. It was why Michael would never be as cruel and cunning as his father, Reginald. The late head of the slayer society had befriended Johanna, insisting that the female wolf was not a prisoner but a guest in his household. Knowing the lie for what it was, Johanna had played along until she genuinely began caring for the man as a friend. It was a pity that Rebecca had had to kill him: the love that Reginald Gilford began to feel for Johanna was second to none -- with the exception, of course, of Raine's father.

Not for the first time, Rebecca felt a tug of jealousy at the thought of how loved Johanna had always been. Johanna had parents who loved her dearly and who put everything on the line -- their lives included -- for the protection of their daughter. James had also loved Johanna with a passion that was only equaled by his love for research, and he died for Johanna, too. Even Rebecca was willing to lay down her life for her friend, much like how Raine's father had done all those years ago.

Yes, Johanna always inspired love in the people she came in contact with, while Rebecca knew that there were three people who loved her enough to make sacrifices for her. James had been one, Johanna was another: the former had died a long time ago, and the latter was currently in prison. But there was a third person whose love Rebecca could count on, and it was through him that Johanna's plan would be set in motion.

As Michael Gilford turned his back on Rebecca once again, the doctor nodded her head almost imperceptibly, trusting that Johanna was keeping an eye out for it. Rebecca would find Melisande for the wolf, and then she would be free of this place forever.

*****

Cassandra walked into a quiet room full of some of the strongest and wisest members of the Ambercrest pack. The other members of the congress -- ten in all -- were seated around the conference table, each of them seemingly lost in thought. She looked at them one by one, acknowledging the nods that they directed her way, before taking her seat at the farther end of the table.

Normally, Cassandra would sit at the end near the door, but Nicholas was bound to join them any minute, and the most prominent place always belonged to the alpha. It was a privilege that came with power -- the same privilege that Cassandra would only be too willing to surrender if given the chance.

She had met with the members of the congress countless of times before; she knew first-hand how difficult it was to get them to take up her position. There were, of course, those who had her back for good or ill: Henry Cadwell, Fiona Macgregor, and Josiah Ridley. Then there were those whose opinions could be swayed depending on the situation: Mary Elizabeth Wallace, Jacob Avery, Timothy Bingham, and Melanie Forrester. But then there were those who seemed to be always opposed to her, no matter what the cause.

Cassandra looked at them now, wondering if Collbreed would be able to convince them. After all, anything that had to do with Raine also had to do with her, the grandmother.

Victor Hartwell was Vice-President of Titan-Argentum, the man to whom Cassandra entrusted the future of their company should anything ill befall her. When it came to business, the two of them thought alike, but in all matters pack-related, they were always on opposite ends. Strangely enough, they were still on friendly terms, despite the wedge created between them by the death of Cassandra's husband, Thomas, who was Victor's best friend.

Sitting beside Victor and in deep conversation with Melanie Forrester was Conrad Randall -- probably the most influential member of the congress of elders. Hailing from a family whose name was as old as that of the Collbreeds, Conrad was among the most respected in the pack. Many had thought that he would be head of the congress when Nicholas took over, but for reasons that might have to do with his grandson Tristan, Conrad lost the position, which was one of the many reasons why he was always disagreeing with Cassandra. Of course, the enmity Conrad felt ran deeper than petty competition for status, and that was part of why Cassandra was worried that even Collbreed would not be able to win Conrad over.

Finally, there was Catherine Norwood-Ackerworth, the only member of the congress who was not on speaking terms with Cassandra. Not that Cassandra blamed her. Catherine -- five years Cassandra's senior -- was Thomas's younger sister, and she still blamed Cassandra for the fate of her brother. For years, Cassandra had wondered if Catherine knew the extent of her betrayal of Thomas. As close as the Norwood siblings had been, it would not be a wonder if Thomas had told Catherine everything, but it would also imply that Catherine had betrayed her brother -- which Cassandra doubted the woman ever would.

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