Waverly braced her hand against the dashboard, the tips of her fingers digging slightly into the plastic as the SUV came to a sudden halt with its bumper inches away from a fall of rocks, snow and a sizable tree that were blocking the narrow mountain road.
A strange, building rumble mingled with the scent of fresh wood and earth sent a primal fissure of fear shooting up her spine even before she saw the wave of debris tumbling down the steep slope towards them. “Nic!”
Nicole didn’t even question. She threw the SUV into reverse and prayed that the wheels didn’t spin on the icy road as she put her foot on the accelerator. Gravel and dirt pattered off the hood and bumper and the wheel jerked in her hands as a football-sized rock skimmed past the tyre but given the size of the boulders and trees that flew by, Nicole would take a wheel balance and a few dinks to the paintwork any day.
“You okay?” Unfastening her seatbelt as the SUV juddered to a spluttering halt, Nicole leaned in closer across the gap between their seats to Waverly, checking her over carefully.
Capturing Nicole’s hands as they reached for her face, Waverly pressed lingering, reassuring kisses to the warm skin of her palms. “I’m fine…”
“Yeah, peachy back here too, Red. Thanks for asking.”
Waverly rolled her eyes as Wynonna, accompanied by an inordinate amount of grunting and groaning, scrambled up from the floor where she had no doubt been tossed when Nicole had had to slam the brakes on in the first place. “That, sis, is what happens when you lay down in a moving vehicle.”
“There are seatbelts for a reason, Earp.” Nicole pointed out. And god knows she had warned her but Wynonna had obviously taken advantage of her focus on the road and not the child in the back.
“It’s all your fault, GrannyHaught! Your driving is soooo boring… usually… it always rocks me to sleep.”
Nicole turned in her seat to make sure that Waverly’s sister could see her eye roll in the dim interior of the SUV. “Well, next time we’re hunting a vampire you can catch a ride with Gus. How does that sound?”
“Frankly… terrifying!” Wynonna recoiled in mock horror. “Swear I found grey hairs the last time she drove me anywhere. Though, don’t tell her I said that… I value my life and our lifetime supply of tomatoes!”
“I’m trying to persuade Uncle Curtis to try his hand at growing mushrooms.”
Nicole climbed out of the vehicle while Waverly and Wynonna bantered back and forth… as in Waverly tried to defend her fondness for mushrooms on everything while Wynonna made gagging noises. She cast her eyes at the rock fall that had blocked their progress by vehicle. It was possible that it was perfectly natural… rocks fell. And where one fall happened it was highly likely that it left a weakness in the area that could lead to more… right?
They were also tracking down a vampire that no doubt wouldn’t care to have a trio of Werewolves on his light stealing ass so Nicole wasn’t going to take any chances. Natural or unnatural, they needed to get moving before more rocks headed their way or worse… they got delayed and Miller found Bulshar’s ring.
“How much further to the mine?” Propping her hip against the side of the SUV, Wynonna watched as Nicole popped open the door and checked through the climbing supplies she’d thrown into the trunk.
“Hmm,” Nicole paused, looking around to judge just how far they had come. “We’re about ten miles out along this road and then from there’s a mile or so trek to the entrance.”
“And as the Wolf runs?”
“Ohhh,” Nicole smirked. “Well, it’s much closer that way but… well, I hope you like it rough...”
“I know I do.” Waverly butted in with a smirk.
“Ew! Dude, stop oversharing!” Wynonna grimaced at the reminder that her baby sister had sex... Which she knew but that didn’t mean she wanted reminding of it all the time.
“Waves! I mean that the trek is rough!” Nicole blushed.
“I know that… What did you two think I was talking about?” Waverly asked with a false innocence that was good enough to leave the two Alphas spluttering until they caught on.
“Oh my God!” Wynonna slapped at Waverly’s shoulder. “Kinda wish Doc had been with us for that, he would have lost his moustache.”
While Nicole enjoyed Doc’s company in general and he was a hell of a person to have at her back… she for one was glad that he wasn’t there and wished that Waverly and Wynonna weren’t there either for that matter. And it wasn’t even Miller that Nicole was worried about.
It was the ring.
There really was no way of forgetting about the damn thing but as they had been at an impasse when it came to destroying it, Nicole had done her best to do just that.
She didn’t want to be near it. She didn’t want anyone, friend or foe, near it.
Out of all the options they had gone through though. What they were doing was the best. They had felt the power of the ring... Yes, it had kicked their asses but they knew what to expect. Anyone else would be going in blind and they barely trusted themselves to be able to resist the rings call.
So while they headed for the mine to see if that really been Miller’s destination, the others had been given tasks of their own.
The Harpies would be even more hindered if they attempted to go into the mines so they patrolled the skies above where they were best suited for fighting while everyone else was taking care of the forests and checking on Purgatory and handing out more of Raven’s toys.
“So, what’s the plan are we running the road or cutting through the trees?”
Lifting her head, Nicole looked through the trees, her every sense on high alert for danger of any kind. Now they were out in the open she was getting more… Not much, just the faintest hint of a musty scent that reminded her of dank caves and bat guano laced with the stench of rotten blood that had her lips curling in anger and disgust.
At the very least, Miller and the bats had flown over that area, which meant that they were on a direct path to the mines. The smell could also mean that the rock falls had been deliberate.
“Through the trees, I think the sooner we get up there the better.” As she spoke, Nicole stripped off her outer layer of clothing until she was clad only in her Yiska attire. Stepping away from the SUV to give herself room, she changed into her full wolf form.
Wynonna’s Yiska clothing looked little different from her usual outfits, all dark leather and attitude. Waverly’s was as far different from her usual preferred clothing as it was possible to get but it still looked every bit as amazing on her. Nicole barely got a glimpse of it as they stripped out of what would be destroyed by the changes of their shape and size before they dropped to all fours and shook out their coats in the frigid winter air.
Picking up the bag of all their equipment, Nicole slung it over her shoulder. It was easy enough for her to handle in that form and even if she needed to change down for any reason she was more used to running with the shifting weight of it on her back. Not that she liked it but she was used to it and they weren’t.
“Ready?” Getting nods off them both, Nicole led the way into the trees.
The cold air bit at her nose and ears, whistling through the trees hard enough to sting her eyes and worm its way through the thick protection of her coat. They were on a dangerous mission, tracking down a vampire of all things. Moving across a treacherous landscape where they couldn’t see from step to step what lay beneath the snow blanketing the ground.
As nimble as they were on their feet it didn’t matter when what looked like a flat piece of ground turned out to be hiding a five-foot drop… as Wynonna found out for herself and ended up face planting into the deep snow.
And with every stumbling step they were being buffeted by what was promising to be just the start of one of the worst Calgary winters.
And Nicole felt alive.
Until a sudden rumble started up when they were only a matter of minutes into their trek.
Ears twitching, Nicole tracked the sound over to her left where a tall, humanoid shaped figure built of inky shadow darted back into the trees. His movements flitting and jerky like watching a movie with frames missing and as he vanished from sight, Nicole was just left with an afterimage of his eyes glowing from the trees as he looked back at the massive boulder he had displaced.
It was far enough away to be of no real danger to them as it slid and gathered speed down the slope but Nicole got a niggling feeling that rapidly built into wailing alarm bells and ended with the grinding crunch of boulder against metal.
Nicole winced in sympathy, building a picture in her mind as the sound built. Metal, rock and rubber scraped across the road and tumbled over the edge into a cacophony of thuds and grinding bangs as metal tumbled end over end, crashing against rocks and earth as it picked up speed on the steep slopes. The sound faded with distance and finally came to an end as metal collided with trees and roosting birds shot up into the evening sky with cries of protest.
Slipping back into her human form, Wynonna edged closer to the shell-shocked looking Alpha. “Dude, was that…?”
“Yes,” Nicole moaned… in mourning for yet another P.S.D. vehicle. “Nedley will cut our budget so much I’ll end up doing patrol on a bicycle.”
“Haught… With all due respect, I think you’re being a little optimistic. If you’re lucky you’ll get a new pair of boots once a year.” Chortling at Nicole’s overly dramatic glare, Wynonna ruffled the fur between Nicole’s ears and danced out of the way on four paws once more before her friend could retaliate.
“I could almost feel sorry for Miller now.”
“Wynonna was wearing her favourite jacket. When she remembers that it went down with your SUV she’ll take it out on him.”
“Ohhh, the one with the fringes?”
“Mmmhmm.” Waverly nodded. “Hey, why do you think he’s sticking around to toss rocks at us? Not complaining but I thought he would have been in the mine by now.”
“I was wondering that myself. His bats weren’t with him either… but I guess maybe if they’re a part of him he might only use them as a scare tactic?”
“A very effective one,” Waverly shuddered at the memory of their wings flapping around her face. She was smart, she knew that something that size couldn’t have done much harm and bats, in general, did a lot of good. But there was still a tiny part of her that got squirrely and wanted to hide behind Nicole just thinking about them.
And those shit-tickets hadn’t been normal! Damn it! Miller had used them to probe into the house to search for weaknesses and spread fear.
“Oh! Naw!? But?”
“What did you just think of, Waves?” Usually, Waverly’s thoughts were as clear as anything for Nicole to read, sometimes whether she wanted to or not is Waverly was stressed. Right then though her mind was racing and thoughts were tumbling through Nicole’s mind too fast for her to catch and making her giddy.
Wynonna turned back around as Nicole used her voice instead of carrying on her conversation with Waverly in their usual annoyingly sweet and secret way. Not that it was all that secretive that they were talking with their minds when they always seemed to get that giggly, barf-inducing, heart eyes thing going on… especially Nicole.
Rather than talk, Waverly kept moving, bounding and stumbling through the snow until Nicole grabbed her shoulders and held her in place.
“We need to keep moving!”
“I know, and we will. But, speak first. Please.”
Waverly wanted to argue but one glance into Nicole’s eyes and the concern filling them and also Wynonna’s made her take a breath. She changed, feeling Nicole’s massive clawed hands gently adjusting to the shape of her body.
“What’s going on, Babygirl?”
“I think the reason we just saw Miller and not his bats is because he’s sent them ahead.”
“Back to Purgatory?”
“To the mine. What better to search in the dark? This way he keeps anyone coming up here from getting close until they find Bulshar’s ring for him.”
“Shit! Sometimes Waves, I hate the way that big brain of yours works!” Wynonna growled.
“I know. It’s probably a stupid idea-“
“Stupid?” Wynonna snorted. “I wish! It makes far too much sense.”
“I agree.” Nicole didn’t like what Waverly had worked out but speaking it and having her idea validated by them seemed to have given Waverly’s mind peace and focus again.
“So, can we get moving now?”
“Seeing as he targeted the SUV…” Nicole sighed, “I think for now we can assume that he thought we were still in it…”
“Or he just really hated your car…” Wynonna smirked.
“Let’s go with him not knowing we weren’t in it, huh? Point is, if he thinks we went down with it we’ve got a bit of an advantage for now so let’s not waste it.”
“You’re the one still chatting, Red.”
“You are such an ass, Wynonna.”
“Nope, I’m taking that back. Your ass is no longer top-shelf… middle at best, maybe even bargain bin. Now change and let’s move… Then maybe when we find Miller you can ask if he had a grudge on my car or your jacket.”
Her ass insulted, the death of her beloved jacket rubbed in her face, Wynonna stared at Nicole’s retreating back and nodded appreciatively. “Damn, Haught! I love when you’re mean! Hey! Hold on… what about Peacemaker?”
“Your gun? You know that thing isn’t very accurate, right?”
Nicole stopped, her teasing dropping away as she saw Wynonna’s worried expression and felt Waverly’s concern and pain. “Don’t worry, Earp. Got Peacemaker right here,” she tapped the bag of equipment she was carrying reassuringly.
“Really? You better not be shittin’ me, Red.”
“Nope, it’s safe. You can’t use it in the mine though.” She warned.
“What? Why not?”
“There could be gasses built up down there and I prefer to keep explosions down to one a week and would really rather not risk having a spark setting any gas off in our faces.”
“Good point there, Red. Extra crispy is so not a look I am eager to sport any time soon.”
Before they continued their hike in earnest, Wynonna turned back and watched the displaced birds starting to settle back into the tree where Nicole’s SUV was no doubt in a crumpled heap. “Damn… I’m going to miss that jacket,” she sighed.
“I’ll buy you a new one Earp. Now come on, let’s move.”
Wynonna grinned as she changed and loped through the snow at her sister’s side. Depending on how the rest of the day went… and her mood… she might let Nicole off the hook about her jacket. After all, she did still have five more of the exact same kind still at home. That one had been her favourite though.
Following Nicole’s gesture, they spread out amongst the trees as they moved. Even as she kept and careful eye on every shadow, Waverly paid just as much attention to Wynonna and Nicole’s positions. Though, she was glad of her connection with Nicole and all her other senses as, despite her size and colour, Nicole had a way of just blending into the trees that was startling and beautiful to watch.
It was no wonder she had had so much trouble finding her when she had been lost to her wolf.
“Maybe I wanted you to find me.”
As the trees thinned out nearer the mine, they pulled back together as a group and stayed out of sight on the edge. There was no way to make it across to the mine entrance undetected if Miller or his fluttery minions were keeping watch.
Nicole slid the equipment bag off her shoulder and set it on the ground between them. “Are you two sure you’re okay with this next part?”
“Dropping down a long assed rope into a dark mine shaft? What’s not to love?” Wynonna scoffed quietly.
Rolling her eyes, Nicole pulled out the harnesses for them to put on… ignoring Wynonna’s suggestive teasing about Waverly being very adept with a harness before checked them out when they were done.
“I’m not leaving it up here where someone else can get it,” Wynonna assured Nicole as her fingers found where she had sneaked Peacemaker into her boot and sent her eyebrow climbing. “Clarke treated it with some Nympth magic shit and what better way to test if it works?”
“Fine. Just try not to blow us up,” Nicole begged Wynonna gruffly… not at all comforted by the smirk of triumph that lit her face.
Nicole ran her fingers across the straps of Waverly’s harness, making sure that there was nothing to snag even though she could already see that there wasn’t. She just needed the contact.
“When we get there, I’ll go down ahead to secure the area just in case there’s anything waiting for us. It’s a long drop so no matter what you hear going on, don’t rush your descent and try not to change unless it’s absolutely necessary. Landing in Wolf form will snap your legs if you’re too high.”
“And if it becomes ‘necessary’? Say, oh, maybe if Miller isn’t down there and he cuts our ropes from above?”
“Then you shout and I will catch you.”
Wynonna nodded at the look in Nicole’s eyes and held back any further questions. She knew Nicole well. She would keep her word and catch them if anything happened… And if she wasn’t there to catch them, it would only be because she was dead.
“Right,” Wynonna gave Nicole’s shoulder a hug and pressed a kiss to Waverly’s forehead and hoped more than anything they would know just how much they meant to her. “Let’s do this.”
Nodding, Nicole gave the land between them and the mine entrance one last look and motioned for them to move out.
They kept low, moving as quickly and quietly as they could. Right then, quickness rather than stealth was the most important… which was lucky as each clink of the metallic attachments on their harnesses rang out like a dinner gong to Nicole’s sensitive ears.
With a burst of speed, she made it into the mine and to the shaft before the others. They were only seconds behind but it gave her the chance to take a quick look down the shaft and start securing the ropes. It was faster than the first time she had been there as she had left rigging and securing points in place hidden from view and before long they were all set.
“Twelve or six brakes, three descends,” she quietly reminded them of the necessary hand positions.
“Wait.” Grabbing Nicole by the collar as she turned to see what was wrong, Waverly surged up on her toes and claimed Nicole’s lips in a searing kiss that left her with a thoroughly dazed expression on her face as she touched her kiss-swollen lips like they were still tingling.
“Wow.” Nicole breathed in wonder. Clearing her throat at the look Wynonna was throwing her, Nicole quickly swung herself into position and dropped down into the darkness.
Nicole descended quickly. The rope burning through her gloves as she applied just enough pressure to stop herself from free falling. Using her senses, she kept an eye on the ground to check for danger, ready to shift and attack at a moment’s notice. Then with inches to spare, she pulled down on the brake line. Bouncing to a halt, she straightened up and quickly got herself free of her equipment and out of the way for Waverly and Wynonna to join her at a more sedate pace.
Waverly was almost vibrating with excitement, a huge grin on her face as she stepped out of her harness. Wynonna, on the other hand, was a little green around the gills and looked like she wanted to kiss the ground beneath her feet.
“That was fun.”
“I think I’m going to barf.” Wynonna moaned.
“Not a fan of heights, Earp?”
“Not a fan of putting my trust in a flimsy piece of rope.”
“Maybe you would like free solo climbing then.”
“Free solo? Are those the nutters that climb without ropes?”
“Yep,” Nicole popped the ‘p’ as Wynonna baulked and grabbed the ‘flimsy’ rope to her breast like it was her new best friend.
Holding up a finger for quiet, Nicole tilted her head, honing in on a distant sound. “We’re definitely not alone down here,” she whispered even quieter than before.
“Vampire or bat?”
“Both, I think… And closer to where I hid the ring than I would like.”
The thought of Miller getting his hands on Bulshar’s ring terrified Nicole. The thought of being near it herself was equally as terrifying. But, to prevent one, she knew they had to get close and quickly.
They raced through the pitch black darkness of the tunnels. Their four feet giving them speed and agility as they ducked under collapsed beams and hurdled over debris.
As they went deeper, bats swirled around them, clawing for their faces and clinging to their body’s but they kept going, fear of what the ring could do fuelling their pace in a way that the brand of fear that Miller gave off could affect.
The sight of Miller ahead of them in the tunnel ripped a snarl from deep inside Nicole. Muscles bunching she dug in deep, finding every last bit of speed as she raced towards him as he reached into the wall where she had hidden the box containing Bulshar’s ring.
Waverly’s breath caught in her throat as Nicole launched herself at the Vampire, her body a missile of solid muscle… that passed straight through Miller as he turned to smoke around her.
The box clattered to the ground as Nicole dug in her claws enough to gain purchase and turn. She bounced off the wall and tried to sweep the box up as he turned to smoke around her again but he caught her, using her speed and weight against them as he tossed her down the tunnel straight into Waverly and Wynonna.
Nicole changed at the last moment, lessening the impact of her much larger body against theirs at the risk of her own. Her shoulder took the brunt of the fall as she crashed into the wall but she could smell and feel the blood running down her face from where her head had made contact too.
Shaking the cobwebs loose she looked to see how the others had fared. Wynonna was up already, her legs unsteady as she pulled Peacemaker from her clothing where her Yiska clothing had protected it from her change. Nicole tried to call out to warn her impetuous friend about gasses but Wynonna was already pulling the trigger before she could find her voice.
Wynonna pulled the trigger but the expected and beloved bark of the weapon and solid kickback never came. Instead, there was a hollow sounding click. She cocked and fired again and again but time after time there was just a click as Miller used his powers to snuff out the spark that would have sent the bullets flying towards his twisted visage.
“Son of a ugly mother fucking bitch!” Wynonna growled out in frustration.
With Waverly on her heels, Wynonna hurled herself down the tunnel through the waves of fear Miller was pumping out, Wynonna leapt and changed in mid-air. She felt sure he would turn to smoke again but as long as he was doing that he didn’t seem capable of focusing enough to pick up the box and Waverly would be able to.
And he did turn to smoke. Wynonna felt the coldness of it as she sailed through where his torso had been. But as she landed all she heard was Waverly scream. And as she turned she added her own scream to her sister’s as she saw her dangling from his grasp with his teeth sunk into the crook of her neck.
Nicole surged to her feet and raced towards the glow of Miller’s eyes. He watched her every step, a sick glee in his eyes that only faded as she grabbed Waverly and he turned to smoke again as they passed through him.
“Enough of this!” Before they could recover their feet again, Miller snatched the box off the ground and ripped it open to reveal his prize. Dimly he was aware of the Wolves writhing, screaming on the ground but he cared less. “Finally!”
“No! Miller! Whatever Bulshar has got over you, whatever he is promising, it’s not worth it!”
Miller narrowed his eyes at the redheaded Wolf. Bulshar’s vile offspring! His lip curled dismissively at how weak and pathetic she was.
“Bulshar?” He spat the vile name out.
“Stupid Wolf! I’m not working for Bulshar! He killed all my children and nearly killed me too! You think you can stop me? Look at you cowering before me! You are as weak as your Father and I’m not even wearing it yet! With it, I will finally be able to be rid of Bulshar, the Harpies and anyone else that stands in my way! I will blanket the earth in an eternal darkness! No one will be able to stop me or stand against me!”
Nicole clawed at the ground, nails splitting and tearing as she tried to anchor herself under the onslaught of the ring. How could he be so unaffected? Could he not hear its lulling call… feel its fingers digging into his brain demanding that he should slip it on to his finger the way she did?
God, but it wanted her so badly!
It wanted her to be the one.
To wear it.
To take control.
Promising her all the power she needed to protect the people she loved and all of her kind from abuse and persecution.
And all she had to do was…
Gritting her teeth against the pain, Waverly grabbed for Nicole as she started clawing her way across the ground. Her fingers slipped and found purchase on one of the buckles that looped around her thigh.
She pulled back and scrambled forwards at the same time. Pinning Nicole with her own body as she clawed her way over her in an effort to stop her. The anguished cries ripping from Nicole’s soul ripped at her mind and sent tears streaming from her eyes but Waverly held fast as Nicole thrashed around under her, wiggling around so she could push against her with hands torn and bleeding from her clawing.
If Nicole had been fighting back with a clear mind, Waverly knew she would have been thrown easily but her desperate desire to be close made her more than a match for Nicole’s uncoordinated movements.
Waverly grasped Nicole’s face between her hands, desperately trying to still it’s thrashing and banging against the floor as she arched back, her brown eyes wild and tinged with red as she looked at the ring in Miller’s hand as though she would die if she didn’t get it.
“Nicole!” She shouted it urgently, screaming it inches away from Nicole’s face with barely a flicker of acknowledgement from Nicole.
Like a switch being thrown, Nicole’s body grew still under her, the bone snapping tension leaving her on a shuddering breath. “Hey there, pretty girl.” Waverly lulled gently into her mind as her eyes met and locked upon her.
Feeling like she had been underwater holding her breath for too long Nicole rose up, following the gentle voice in her mind and the twin pools of loving hazel waiting for her. Lifting a trembling hand she reached for the smiling vision awaiting her.
The joy burst across Waverly’s face in a joyous smile of relief and spread through Nicole’s mind, pushing aside the effects of the ring like the sun chasing away the shadows.
Her beautiful shining light. Her mate. The mother of their children. Brilliant, loving, the best of them. Nicole wanted to protect her but she didn’t want to control her. She didn’t want to control anyone.
It felt like hours must have past while she was drowning under the demands of the ring but as she made it almost upright with Waverly and Wynonna’s help she realised that next to no time had passed.
But they were still too late.
“No!” Nicole reached out a hand beseechingly but with a look of triumph, Miller slid the cursed ring onto a bony finger.
His laugh of triumph was cut short as a look of confusion crossed his misshapen face. He clawed and tugged frantically at the ring, a ragged, animalistic scream bouncing off the tunnel walls.
It happened quickly, too fast for them to do anything but watch, but every moment was seared into Nicole’s mind as Miller was ripped apart, shredded inside out before their eyes. So completely that there was no blood and with such force that they were blown back by a shockwave of power as the ring seemed to drop out of thin air and rolled to a rest at the top of Nicole’s boot.
Nicole recoiled backwards away from it as far as she could as it morphed and settled into a more feminine size and style and Nicole didn’t need to look or check to know that it would fit her finger perfectly. She could hear the ring starting up again, gently trying to get her to pick it up and take ownership.
Once more it was Waverly that saved her. That saved them all. Snatching up the protective box, she flipped the ring into it and slammed it shut before Nicole could even find her voice to tell her not to touch it.
“Why-? What in the hell did that thing do to him?”
“The ring wasn’t meant to be used by a Vampire. It was made for Bulshar… Now it wants me.”