Leader of the Pack Ch. 22bysecretme©
Jenna watched the others all head in different directions. She knew she wouldn't be missed. She hadn't been wanted in the first place. She stopped and looked at herself in a large mirror on the wall. She studied her curves, her hips, her breasts. She looked at her eyes and her full lips. Her heart was racing with excitement. She looked back in the direction that everyone had come from to see if there was anyone else around.
When she was confident she wouldn't be seen, she headed for the front door. Jenna let herself out and couldn't help the little jog in her step as she headed for her jeep. She pulled out her phone as she got into the car and texted Maon to let him know to expect her before morning.
Cullen and Cadifor mounted the stairs and headed for the third floor. Cadifor led the way through the richly decorated halls to another wing of the manor. Cullen nodded respectfully as the passed a couple Council members in the hall. The Council stayed in a separate area from the rest of the lycans who came to the meeting. It was nice seeing the men and woman acting like real people, talking to each other, and interacting as opposed to staring ominously down their noses in silence. Cullen had been one of the few alphas invited back on occasion.
They all watched with interest as Cadifor led Cullen to a great room where a number of women were seated and talking quietly. Makeda stood and walked over to them, eyeing Cadifor. "You're meeting over," she asked as she slid an arm around Cadifor's back and pressed against him. Every time Cullen had seen her it had been from a distance and always with a powerful lycan.
Makeda was incredibly beautiful. She had dark skin, long raven hair, and nearly solid black eyes. She was wearing a black sweater that clung to her ample breasts and was just short of her black jeans so that her stomach showed in the gap. She was barefoot and there were gold rings on her toes. Cullen could scent lycan on her. She virtually radiated it. Cullen got a strange Yin Yang impression as he looked at the nearly albino Cadifor standing next to the raven beauty.
"Mmm," she cooed. "I like your friend," she said with a strong African accent and smiled winningly at Cullen. For one brief instant Cullen had to remind himself that he had his own beauty waiting back at the den.
Cadifor grinned. "Unfortunately for him he is taken, finally."
"Shame," she said and winked at Cullen. "Perhaps you could ask permission." She placed a finger to the corner of her mouth and bit it gently as she continued to eye Cullen. "Cadifor doesn't mind when I bring extra friends to bed." Soft, seductive amber swirled in the depths of her eyes.
He laughed as shook his head. "I already know the answer to that. Try me again in a few decades once she's gotten used to the way of things in pack life. Even then I'll not guarantee she'll be willing to share."
Makeda gave a pouting face and looked back to Cadifor who just shrugged at her. "I'll deal with you later. I have business to complete. I need to speak with Nora." Knowing the sound of dismissal the Makeda eyed him then left to rejoin the others.
Cullen considered the group. "Council mates?"
Cadifor looked over the women. "Most of them. There are some of our guests as well."
After some quiet talking an ancient looking woman stood from the small seated group. A young woman appeared from nowhere and followed her as the old woman walked toward Cullen and Cadifor. The girl seemed ready to catch the older woman if she were to fall. Cullen studied her as she approached. Patience and time seemed to emanate from her. She had iridescent blue eyes. Cullen felt as though she knew his mind the instant she made eye contact with him. Her long silver white hair was in an intricate braid down her back. She was wearing a simple tan linen dress that hung to her ankles. Across her shoulder and cinched at one side of her hip with a silver knot broach was a sash of green, blue, tan, and black tartan.
She smiled at Cadifor and Cullen in a grandmotherly way. "I was told you wished to see me. Am I to be introduced to the striking young man who has the women so enamored?"
Cadifor nodded respectfully and Cullen imitated the gesture. "This," Cadifor said, "is Cullen Arnauk. We spoke of him."
"Ah, the one who has stolen away Brinah's granddaughter. Perhaps then she will not be completely lost to us," Nora said with a sparkle in her eye.
"Cullen," Cadifor continued, "this is Nora Mong Senach."
Cullen considered what she had said. "Then I can assume that what I've heard about the Circle having eyes and ears everywhere is true?"
Nora's eyes seemed to bore through him. But she didn't answer his question.
Cullen wondered if she was reading his mind. "How do you know of me and Aislinn?"
"Brinah has joined the ancients now. Her knowledge has been added to those of us who know how to find her. I believe Aislinn has talents that lie there as well."
Cullen knew immediately that this was going to be one of those conversations that involved a lot of nothing being said. He readied his brain for innuendo overload. "I was given a message for you."
Nora's smile had Cullen wondering if she could read his mind again. "And where did your message come from?"
"Aislinn dreamed it," he said reluctantly. He didn't like the way she had suggested that the Circle may have access to Aislinn through him somehow. He assumed through the new alliance that seemed to be forming.
"You don't trust me," she said as she stared at him. "There is nothing you could tell me she is capable of that would surprise me or make her important enough for us to attempt to take her from you. All our people have the ability to choose the life they wish. She has already made her choice. What is your message to me?"
Cullen breathed a bit easier. But he still didn't like it. He didn't know if Aislinn would want to take advantage of the ability to learn about the druids now. Even if they didn't try to take her from him, he was faced with the sudden realization that she may want to go. Cullen growled. He hated uncertainty. "Aislinn was told in a vision to find Nora Senach and tell her that they were using bone dust of a dire wolf. She figured that you would know what the message meant."
Nora's eyes took on a weary sadness that was almost palpable. "Yes, I think I do know. It is a shame that Rafe brought our peoples back together in this way. I would have preferred a less destructive reunion. Ah, but the fates do as they please. What do you think that means Lord Arnauk? I believe you've been puzzling over it since you were told to tell me."
Cullen cleared his throat and looked at Cadifor who nodded his unspoken permission to speak freely. "Knowing Jenna, she'd have no use for werecats. She'd also have no desire to make anything stronger than her. She wants to take up where her father left off, in her own warped way. If she has the books and Rafe's notes and has kidnapped a group of people capable of making use of them, and she's doing something with dire wolves. I'd say she was looking for a way to increase her own power." He looked at Cadifor who was already coming round to the conclusion that Cullen had reasoned out and was starting to take on that pissed appearance again. "My guess is she's trying to get them to make her into something more physically powerful than she is. Then she'd be able to hold her position against anyone in the pack. Question is if she will stop there."
Cadifor growled. "An entire Tairneach pack of what? Dire lycans?"
"That's what Aislinn suggested," Cullen said.
Cadifor paced away and then back again. He looked over at Nora. "A way to stop this?"
"That depends on how far she has gotten. The men and women missing are more than capable of doing what is suggested. Traditionally it takes time and patience to create a were. However, Rafe seems to have found a way to shorten the process."
Cullen growled. "He wanted the stone circle for that. So does that mean Jenna's invading now?"
Nora considered for a moment. "He used the ley lines to turn himself. Imbuing yourself with great power is a dangerous process. With the ley lines Jenna's process could be made less painful or she could be made stronger. But as long as she's using someone else to turn her it's not necessary. I don't believe the men and women who have been taken to help her will volunteer information. But if she asks about the ley lines they won't lie to her. It would make it easier and safer to do. It also depends on what exactly she wants and how well they were able to adjust the compound creation to work from bone dust instead of blood. That makes matters more complex and increases the risk to the. But she's collected the correct people to accomplish it."
Cullen looked at Cadifor. "You keep Jenna here. I'll take my men to the Tairneach manor and get the muin books before she accomplishes whatever she's doing."
"No," Cadifor growled. "I told you nothing that involves the Pack Council. The laws are the only things that keep our power here. Jenna has not technically done anything wrong that we can prove. Kidnapping and theft aren't strong enough reasons for the Pack Council to become directly involved. All we have is innuendo and guess work based on visions and druids. Imagine the justification given to the alphas and how they'll take it if the Tairneach clan is disbanded and handed over to the Arnauk because we though Jenna Tairneach might be doing something that might result in her attacking someone else," Cadifor ranted.
Nora shook her head. "My friend if you wait for her to do what you think is happening there will be death instead of explanation. What's worse is that her actions will have sparked the imaginations with ideas that have long since been buried so deep no one considers them possible. There truly is nothing more dangerous than a mind open to infinite possibility when mingled with untempered ambition."
Cullen rolled his eyes and walked away from them. He was more concerned with the immediate threat posed to his pack if Jenna turned the Tairneach into horror movie lycans and released them on his territory. "I'm not just going to sit and wait for her to hang herself. Jenna's not stupid enough to go without a plan. If we keep waiting then the Arnauk will be destroyed and that will be the Pack Council's justification for involvement. Don't ask me to allow that Cadifor. You know I won't. She made veiled threats already. The only reason she worked with me to kill Rafe was because it was to her advantage. But her original reason for teaming up with him was because she believed he would be able to set her up to take me out. She doesn't just want to be Tarirneach alpha. She's out to prove that she deserves to be. And for whatever reason she's targeted me and my pack as her means to that end."
Cadifor growled. He agreed with Cullen. But there would be no convincing the Council of this.
"Perhaps," Nora suggested. "The solution is to plan for the worst."
Cullen glared at her. "I'll not run and hide either druid. Brinah tried that one already."
Nora smiled at him. "I'm too old and have known too many lycans to think that you'd be willing to hide anywhere. No. I'm suggesting that the Arnauk prepare for war if you believe one is coming."
Cullen looked at Cadifor and then shook his head. "The only way to prepare for an army of lycans who were already my equal and may now be double or triple in strength would be to double or triple my numbers. I can't import reinforcements from other packs without Pack Council approval." He snarled at Cadifor.
Cadifor's eyes lite up like fire and he began laughing. Cullen growled at him. "I don't get the joke."
"Don't be so single minded my friend," Cadifor said with a wicked grin. "No you can't bring in reinforcements without Council approval. And you'll never get approval for war footing on the grounds that we have. But you can invite other packs to a mating ceremony. Considering you're about to mate to a druid and we are encouraging diplomatic relations, perhaps we can discreetly increase your number. We import people to stay on the reservation in anticipation of the ceremony. I don't think Jenna would be fool enough to attack if she knows what we've done. But we don't have to invite the Tairneach. Then when she chooses her moment or if we provoke one, you'll have the men you need available."
Cullen was still considering the plan. "Do you truly believe we could triple my pack number without her finding out?"
Nora placed a hand on Cullen's arm. "There are ways of keeping people from finding things out."
"I don't think Aislinn will like this," he said.
Cadifor started laughing again. "You truly are gone over that woman. I never thought I'd see the day." He ran his hand through his hair and grinned. "This is going to be interesting. I can't wait to taste her."
Cadifor smiled wider when Cullen growled possessively. "I think you have enough females to taste around here."
"Alright, I'll behave. But for now you and I need to revise your guest list." Cadifor looked to Nora. "Is there a secret you need to teach us in order to prevent Jenna from finding out what we're doing?"
Nora chuckled at him. Her smile made her whole face wrinkle. She didn't appear to do anything but a man with striking blue eyes and an overly efficient look about him appeared from nowhere. He bowed to Nora and then looked to Cullen and Cadifor.
"This," Nora said, "is Malik. He'll make sure that the messages and phone calls you make only reach the people who you wish." Malik nodded to Nora.
Cadifor considered the appearance they were trying to give. "Would it be appropriate to invite Senach to the mating? The female is your bloodline."
Nora smiled again. "I'll provide you with a list of those who might be appropriate." She looked at the unhappy look on Cullen's face. But he wasn't arguing. "I'll make sure that they will all be people who can either be of use to Aislinn or will be helpful in the fight."
Cullen growled. "I thought druids didn't fight."
"We don't start fights. But we long ago arranged to be capable of defending ourselves. You are all proof of that."
Jenna skipped up the steps to the front door of her home early that morning without a single sign of the fact that she'd had no sleep. The door opened for her and her heels clicked on the marble, echoing down the hallway as she headed for the basement.
Maon came down the main stairwell. He was rubbing sleep out of his eyes. He'd left standing orders to notify him the instant Jenna arrived. He was only half dressed as he descended the stairs to follow her to the basement.
Jenna spared him a smoldering look. If he had done as well as he said then she would give him his reward in the middle of the great room if he wanted. A guard opened the door to the basement for her and she headed into the basement with a gleam in her eyes.
There were three men sitting about the basement. Two of them were in chains. Jenna looked at Maon in confusion. "I thought you said that it was ready. What is this?"
Maon nodded. "It is ready. But it took several volunteers to get it right. The first attempt," Maon pointed to a boy who was sitting in the corner in several layers of chains. "He didn't exactly volunteer. It worked, but at the sacrifice of intellect. I didn't think you'd want that. So I put them back to work. They made some adjustments and Raol tried the next batch. You promise a man that he'll gain strength better than any current alpha and he'll volunteer for anything. Raol was better. But his coordination wasn't what it should be and he's not happy about that. It took six men to get him down here. He's not happy." Maon signaled the third man. He was waiting for his turn. "Devon, however, is still fine, so far."
Devon approached them and bowed his head to Jenna and Maon. "Mistress," he said shakily.
"What's wrong? What do you mean so far?" Jenna said to Maon without taking her eyes off Devon.
"It was exceedingly painful. He writhed for hours. And the change itself is painful enough to cause screaming and a recovery time after it's done. He's still recovering. The druids said that it's a flaw they have no solution for. There's a price for what we're asking them to do."
"Rafe managed a muin polar bear lion thing without recovery time," Jenna snarled. "I want to see," she demanded.
Devon swallowed. He didn't want to go through that again. The pain was almost enough to cause him to never wish to change to any lycan form again.
"Now," Jenna demanded.
Maon gave him a look that reinforced Jenna's command and Devon stepped back from the two of them. As he began to change the cracking of bones was audible and his screams filled the room. The boy in the corner of the room stood up on his hands and knees and followed his lead like an agitated pet dog following its master. The two men howled in agony as their bodies rearranged. The sickening sounds of cracking bodies echoed up the stairs and people on the floor above them stared at each other in horror as they listened to the results of their mighty alpha's experiment.
The change took far longer than any change Jenna had ever witnessed. Even children on their first attempt could manage better. The men writhed on the floor. Tears gathered in the corners of their eyes and when they finally completed the shift they lay whimpering on the cold wooden panels of the floor trembling.
Jenna smiled at the result. Although the process had sickened her the end product was perfect. The boy in the corner had turned into a wolf three times larger both in height and width than any lycan she had ever seen.
He snarled and growled when she approached and Maon held her back. "There's a reason he's chained. Though he does seem to do as Devon tells him. There must be some kind of primal connection."
Jenna walked over to Devon. He had propped himself against the wall. He was in his hybrid form. He found that it was less painful than shifting all the way to his wolf. Sitting against the wall Devon was still shoulder high on Jenna. If he stood she would only come to his chest. He was built stockier than a standard lycan and he was more barrel-chested. He had virtually no neck; the muscles were thicker. He was panting and fighting off sharp pains that still shot through him. But he was definitely larger, stronger, and more formidable than any lycan she had ever seen. She stared into his eyes with excitement.
Jenna ran a hand across his check and then leaned in and kissed his muzzle. "You're perfect," she said softly as she stared into his swirling amber eyes. She stood up and turned to Maon. "Take me to the druids."
He led her upstairs to the room that he had put the druids in. It smelled foul, like burning flesh. Jenna nearly gagged as she entered the room. She sneered and put her hand over her face. Jacob and the others were seated in chairs, hunched over in exhaustion. Maon had ordered them to make as much of the stuff as they could and they had not been allowed to sleep or stop all night. They were so tired that Jenna and Maon's entrance didn't encourage them to budge even at risk of another beating.
"Ah," Jenna said sympathetically. She was too happy about the fact that she was so close to be angry right now. "It seems that my mad scientists need a nap. The first one to tell me how Rafe was able to manage his transformation without being in all the pain that the poor men in the basement are in gets to go to bed."
The druids looked at each other. They were truly beyond caring. Jacob sat back in his chair and called over to the woman on the far side of the room. She was in worse shape than the men. She was older and hadn't adjusted to their situation as well. "Cerdwyn," Jacob said. She looked up and Jenna could see the tear stains on her face. "Tell her, Cerdwyn. She'll let you go to bed." The resignation in his voice and the look on the woman's face almost plucked at what was left of Jenna's conscience.