I felt a stab of jealousy when I saw Nyx pull Clarke into a final kiss and then caress her ass. She used to do something like that with me every time we were the last to leave a room. I perversely rewound the footage and started watching it again. Clarke putting down the statue and then having a make out session with my Nyx. But, Nyx wasn’t mine anymore. I had seen to that. We may still be bondmates, but we were no longer each other’s loves.
“How many times have you watched that, Lexa,” a voice said from the doorway, making me jump.
I turned around and saw my old teacher standing in the door.
“Just the once,” I lied.
She didn’t buy it, which meant that she’d been standing there for long enough to see me watch and then rewind.
“You no longer have a claim on her, Lexa,” she said as she came to sit beside me in front of the monitors. “You made sure of it during your grief. My question is why didn’t you kill her?”
“I, I couldn’t,” I admitted. “I love, loved, her and I couldn’t bear it to mourn one more person.”
“You gave her a fate worse than death by doing so.”
“Worse than death?”
“You tore her away from her home, her family, her friends. You made sure that she could never return. You denied her the right to mourn the loss of her brother. You broke her heart by not believing her. By being swayed by your grief and the hatred who bore ill will towards her.”
“The facts were irrefutable. There were no indications that Ice Pack had ever crossed that border. Only her marks and teeth were found. On my family…”
“And yet she cannot recall that truth. Instead, she remains adamant that she left her post to only return to find the Ice Pack laying waste to those that were under her command. She sees the facts, but she can’t understand how she could have ever done something like that or why she would.”
“Are you saying that she was manipulated?”
“She could very well have been. You know as well as I do that there are drugs that can manipulate the mind. That there are telepaths who can change someone’s reality and make them see things that aren’t really there. Instead, you chose to believe that she killed your sisters and was marrying you only to remove the Devereux line from being de Pakstoka and place her lineage in that position instead.”
“That was the only rational gain that could have pushed her.”
“Her family has served yours for generations, Lexa. Not once have they shown disloyalty or sought to usurp your family. Not even feeling the need to start a Pack of their own. Her least of all. She devoted her whole life to your family. To you. Why would she be willing to throw that all away just to lay claim to a title none of them ever desired?”
“But it’s the only thing that makes sense,” I yelled. “Why else lie about an attack when there was none. Why else claim no memory of the act. Why else would she kill my sisters.”
“Why would she kill her own brother? The Allistars have always been a tight knit family. Why wouldn’t she have saved him?”
“To make her story more believable, of course.”
“You’re just feeding me the same lines that had been whispered in your ear, Lexa. The question is, now that it’s been 8 years, do you still believe in those lines?”
I looked at her and studied her face. I saw no malice, even though she was their ally. I only saw a teacher who was trying to help a student understand a difficult problem. So, I thought about it.
“I don’t know what the truth is anymore, Indra,” I admitted. “It all made sense at the time. Even now it makes sense.”
“And yet she avoids you, remains professional, and hasn’t sought out to reconnect with her family or her friends. She hasn’t tried to besmirch your name or your family’s. She hasn’t bemoaned about the injustice of it all. She hasn’t claimed that she was framed. She hasn’t done anything to turn the pack against you. Does she even wish to rejoin the pack when this is over?”
I shook my head sadly, “She claims to only want the money and to be able to visit what was once her home. Why would she not want to rejoin the pack? To belong to something again?”
“Why would she want her motives questioned if she chose to do so? Why would she want to constantly look over her shoulder? Why would she want to put her family at risk? Why would she want to place you at risk?”
“She doesn’t want to because it’s safer?”
“I can’t answer that question. What would she even do if she did rejoin the pack. She was trained to be your Second. She has trained to become the best Enforcer on the East Coast. Do you really think she would be happy as a scout or out on patrol? Would she even be allowed to do so? What would the Council be willing to allow her to do for the rest of her life?”
“I need to go,” I said suddenly and stood up to leave.
“Before you go, one more thought for you to think about. Gustus’ family has always been jealous of the relationship between the Allistars and the Devereuxs. Now, the family has moved up the food chain since you chose Gustus as your Second. The Allistars no longer wish anything to do with Clifton. And Gustus nearly killed her on the way to the border, even though you expressly forbade it. Who really had more to gain?”
I nodded curtly and all but ran to my room. I shut the door behind me and leaned heavily against it as Indra’s words echoed in my head. I don’t really remember that time after the attack. What was said or what was done. All I remembered was the grief and anger. And the constant whispering in my ears.
What Indra said was true. The Allistar family had served mine for generations without a hint of wanting more power. They were happy serving de Pakstoka. They felt it was their responsibility and duty to make sure the Devereux line stayed in power.
Nyx only ever had my best interests in mind. She’d shown it time and time again, ever since we were little kids running around. She always protected me. She and her brother always looked out for me and my sisters. As her mother protected mine. I remember that I had to pester her to admit that she loved me and when she finally admitted it, I only saw truth in her eyes. She even felt that accepting my proposal would make the relationship between de Pakstoka and Second become compromised. And yet somehow I had won her over.
I sighed in frustration and walked over to the mantel and took down the statue she had made for me, like she had for Clarke and the pack leader. She rarely made statues. She had said that she only made them for the people that she felt were important to her. People that she really cared about.
I ran my fingers over the curves of the two women that lay in a field of fire. Their body’s entwined as they made love. It was us. It showed the depth of her love for me. She even called it “Woman in Love.” It was an engagement gift. I couldn’t make myself get rid of it or hide it away. Even after everything.
When I saw her sitting in the office, it was like time had never moved forward. She sat as she had many times before, even in the same armchair. She spoke with clarity, with honesty as she had always done when we spoke. She was still breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted her and when she looked at me, I thought she still wanted me. That was why I felt that pang of jealousy. I wanted her. I wanted to claim her again as mine.
But time had gone forward and as it always does, everything changes. I didn’t know that Gustus had left her for dead just on the other side of the border. I thought she’d be grateful that I’d spared her life. That her family would have been grateful. Neither one had.
I put the statue back on the mantel and walked over to the windows to look out over the backyard. Indra had been right that Gustus’s family had always been jealous of the families’ relationship. They had been a fourth tiered family. Now, they were first tiered. They had most definitely moved up on the food chain and lorded it over everyone. Thinking that they were above them. I had chosen Gustus because he was strong, capable and willing to become my Second. None of the other first tiered families wanted to. Not even the second or third tiered. None of them had felt worthy enough to step into the shoes of the Allistar family. The Allistar family had set the bar high and no one thought they’d ever come close to reaching that bar. None.
After Nyx’s banishment, many families had removed themselves from Clifton and joined the Allistars in the south. It was their way of protesting the punishment and the refusal to execute Nyx. Even though they had faith in her, they would have rather seen her die then banished. I didn’t understand it.
A knock sounded on the door, drawing me out of my thoughts and I called out, “Enter.”
The door opened to reveal Gustus.
“What is it, Gustus?”
He bowed his head before he said, “The Council has convened and are waiting for you.”
“Have you had word from Nyx?”
“No, Pakstoka. The only word I have received is that Daniela and David were on their way back with Jessamine’s body and William.”
I was confused, because her brother Charlie should have been the one to accompany her, not William.
“Why is William accompanying Jessamine’s body and not Charlie?”
“They only said that he was involved in an incident during the Running of the Harvest Moon.”
“Thank you, Gustus. Please inform the Council that I will be there shortly.”
He bowed his head again and replied, “Yes, Pakstoka.”
He left and closed the door behind him.
I waited a moment before I made my way quickly back to Ben’s lab. I knocked and Ben looked up at me.
“Is there something that I can do for you, Ms. Devereux?”
“Yes there is actually. Can you contact Nyx or Gaia for me?”
“Of course,” he replied and turned on the radio and called for either one of them.
Gaia answered and he handed me the headphones.
“Gaia, can you tell me why William is escorting Jessamine’s body instead of Charlie?”
“Charlie wished to stay and help the camp’s Pakstoka and I allowed it. William is escorting the body because he tried to take advantage of their Pakstoka and when she rebuffed him, he tried again several times before she brought him down. Cass and Phillip vouched for the incident and were both there when William was castrated for his crimes. In fact, it was Phillip that performed the castration.”
I seethed with anger as she told me. William had broken cardinal law. He would pay for attacking another pack leader. I’d make sure of it.
“Thank you, Gaia, for letting me know. He will pay dearly for his crimes, I promise you that.”
“Are you done with the camp?”
“Not yet. We’re still waiting on confirmation that our antidote works on slowing the spread of the antitoxin. Last I checked, they were heading down to see the test.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Roughly half an hour ago. I’m not sure what’s taking so long. She’s been rather silent.”
I looked over at Ben and he nodded to confirm.
I sighed and said, “Inform Ben immediately once she makes contact with you. I’m about to head in to speak with the Council and I need as much information as I can get.”
“Yes, Pakstoka,” she replied.
I ended the communication and looked at Ben, “Is there a way to inform me, without drawing attention to us?”
“Of course,” he said smiling and held out a small earpiece. “Put this in your ear and I can speak with you directly. It’s two way though, so I’ll be able to hear the Council Meeting. If you wish I can draw up a quick non disclosure agreement for you?”
“That won’t be necessary, Ben. In fact, if you can relay the talks to Nyx. I want to have her as informed as she can be.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll make sure that she stays informed.”
“Good, man,” I said as I clapped him on the back.
He inclined his head and I headed to the Council Room.
The room was once a small ballroom before the apocalypse and the décor showed it. Chandeliers hung from each corner of the room. The ceiling featured a crown molding of running wolves chasing each other. The middle of the ceiling was recessed and bordered with more wolves. In between the molding and the border was simple scrollwork with no real design. On the wall facing outward, there were a series floor to ceiling french door interspersed with candle sconces. On the opposite side was a huge fireplace, the mantel featuring wolves in the scrollwork. Over the fireplace hung a painter’s rendition of the Capitoline Wolf. The walls were done in a plain blue grey wallpaper that went ¾’s of a way down and the last ¼ was simple plaster with a mold running the borders. There were three doors that led to other parts of the house and the floor was different types of wood laid out in a geometric design.
In the middle of the room was the Council table. A simple, utilitarian U shape where the Council members sat along both lengths while myself, Gustus, and Indra sat at the bottom of the U.
Everyone stood as I entered and waited patiently as I made my way to my seat. Once I stood in front of it, I inclined my head and we sat down. They sat a fraction of a second after I did. I looked around the room and took note of everyone’s body language. It was varied and I saw boredom, nervousness, displeasure, and curiosity.
“Thank you for coming here today, Council Members,” I said into the quiet room. “We’re here to discuss the situation that is currently happening in Manassas. But first let us give thanks to Mother Earth for providing us with her wisdom, courage, and strength to guide our Pack and keep them safe.”
We all inclined our heads with closed eyes for a moment then we turned to the business at hand.
“As we know, Manassas has been empty of people since we emerged after the apocalypse. It remained so, because of rumors that it was haunted and thought to harbor bad luck. Recently, a group of invaders entered the town and set up a camp with a little over 100 people. We finally have an answer as to who these people are and where they came from. They are the descendants of the original residents of Manassas.”
Quiet murmuring filled the room as they took this in.
“Where have they been this entire time,” the member representing the north asked.
“They have been living in a bunker underneath the town hall,” I replied.
“If they lived there all this time and weren’t subjected to the radiation as our ancestors were, does that mean they are humans,” the member of the southeast asked.
“Yes, much to my dismay. The majority of the residents are indeed human, though somehow there is a small pack of 13 werewolves and 9 mages. It also means that by rights of occupation, the last 83 years they have resided within the bunker means that they own Manassas.”
“That’s preposterous,” the member of the west cried out. “Humans cannot own any property! We all know this. The Coalition has decreed it so.”
“Now, hold on Silas,” I replied calmly. “I’m not saying that the humans own Manassas. The pack and the mages do. There just so happens to be a large number of humans within the camp.”
“Oh,” he said as he leaned back in his chair, “my apologies, Pakstoka.”
I inclined my head, “We also know that 5 teams were sent to Manassas and never returned. The good news is that they are alive, but are their prisoners. The bad news is that Jessamine Valdez was killed through the misconduct of some of the ones that were assigned to guard our pack members.”
Angry roars filled the room and it took the three of us to calm them down.
“Enough,” I yelled “Enough. The criminals that have done this grave injustice are currently locked up in their prison. The reason that they have not been executed or given a severe punishment is because these people are different. The come from a time when rules, laws, and punishments were different. We cannot fault them for that. Am I understood?”
Begrudgingly, they all nodded, but remained quietly seething.
“Will her body be returned to us?”
“Yes. It is being transported back here as we speak. Now, let me circle back around to the humans, because that is our biggest concern. The 100 we see are not the the whole of the population. When the neurotoxin was released after the first team disappeared, there was an unforeseen effect on the humans over the age of 30. As designed, the neurotoxin inhibited those portions of the brain where our powers and telepathy comes from. Instead of inhibiting, the neurotoxin attacked those areas in the humans and spread outward to the rest of the brain, ultimately killing them. In exchange for Jessamine’s body and one other person, we provided their chemist with the recipe for our antidote. I am still waiting for confirmation on whether it slows down the spread of the toxin.”
“Who has been giving you this information and mediating with their camp,” one of members asked.
“I have hired an Enforcer that the Coalition highly recommended, Nyx Allistar.”
The room erupted into a yelling match between those that supported Nyx and those that called for her death.
“Enough,” Gustus bellowed and smack the table with his fist. “de Pakstoka wishes to speak.”
“Thank you, Gustus,” I said and he inclined this head. Turning my attention back to the room, I said, “I have temporarily lifted both the banishment and kill order in order for her to come here. As I have said, the Coalition highly recommended her. The Coalition kindly showed me her track record on the jobs she has done for them and it is impressive. Every job that she has been assigned was a success with minimal damage, if any. As a freelance Enforcer, all of her past clients have raved about her performance and professionalism, and that includes Old Towne’s Garrison Commander. Because of her reputation and the reviews of her past clients, she is the only choice to complete this job without dragging the Coalition into our Territory.”
“You were saying about the humans,” Indra asked bringing the meeting back to the matter at hand.
“Thank you. Now the only thing we may offer up at this time to the Manassas leadership is a cure for those afflicted by the neurotoxin. If we cannot provide them with that, we cannot begin to discuss with them the possibility of ending this situation.”
“Why not just let the humans die,” the northwest council member asked. “In fact, why don’t we just kill them all?”
“We can’t do that,” I replied. “As Ms. Allistar has told myself and Gustus, if we kill such a large population of humans, it will draw the attention of the Coalition. If we let those that have been struck down by the neurotoxin die, then we leave ourselves open to a more lethal conflict. They have only captured our people and through misconduct, killed one of our own. No other lives have been taken and they have only set up a defensive position.”
Ben’s voice sounded in my ear, “Ms. Devereux, the antidote has been a success. It’s slowing down the spread of the neurotoxin, even receding it a bit. Nyx has been able to bring Clarke and the others to our side of thinking. They’d be willing to set up a meeting between themselves and the Pack. The main concern is how to make the humans agreeable to the fact that they are no longer in charge and the fact they are a subspecies.”
I nodded to myself and turned my attention back to the meeting and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’ve just been informed that the antidote is doing what we’ve hoped. It has slowed down the spread of the neurotoxin, bringing there leadership closer to agreeing to a summit. Now the harder task that has to be tackled is how to explain to over a 100 humans that the world they knew is no more. That we exist and have become the apex predators and that they are now considered a subspecies.”
“Do you think their pack and mages are in danger,” asked the southwest member.
“If the humans find out that we exist, yes. There’s more of them then there are of werewolves and mages. It’s a dangerous predicament. One I don’t want to see happen. I’m not willing to put them in danger if we can sway some of the humans onto our side.”
“How do we do that?”
I shook my head, “I do not know, that’s why we are all here. We need a way to get the humans on our side.”