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Embers curse prime wolf, p.9
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       Ember's Curse (Prime Wolf), p.9

           Gena D. Lutz
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  Orea stared at me for a moment and then said, "I will allow you one question."

  I didn't hesitate. Even though my question was simple, I really needed to know the answer. It was imperative to fix whatever damage I had inadvertently caused.

  "What was my offense?" I asked.

  From here on out all I could do was answer the queen’s questions. If I didn't answer them to her satisfaction, well then to quote Brando, I'd be ‘sleeping with the fishes’. All of us would be.

  "What is the second rule in the oath your pack made to me all those centuries ago, child?"

  Well this answer was easy. Those rules had been drilled into every wolf’s head even before they could talk.

  "Never bring humans to the island," I said automatically.

  "So you are familiar with the rule then, yes?"

  "Yes," I answered her. What in the world could she be getting at? I thought.

  "Then tell me, She-wolf. Why is there one in our midst?" she asked sternly.

  Orea lifted her arm with a grace only a true ruler could deliver and swirled her fingers in three slow circles in the air. She then pointed to the lake. The still water began to ripple and a wave of light flashed over the surface. It was almost blinding. When my vision cleared, I spotted the tops of three heads emerging from the water. Their faces were as white as a porcelain doll’s with lips as blue as a cerulean sky. All of them had hair the lightest of blonde. The nymphs slid out of the water, their naked bodies shined from the light beaming underneath them, and then it began to slowly recede. When they finally stood on dry land, the light was gone.

  "Bring me the human," Orea ordered at her subjects, and without hesitation, the three nymphs walked gracefully in the direction of Collin’s truck.

  "There aren't any humans with us," I exclaimed.

  I felt panic begin to build up inside of me. I took several short breaths to try to calm myself down. Nobody in that vehicle could defend themselves from the predators that were heading their way.

  Orea looked at me and shook her head in disapproval. "Are you going to add lies to your list of wrong doings as well?"

  I tried to listen to what she was saying. It was actually the wisest course of action, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the nymphs. They were closing in on the truck quickly and I was forced to do nothing but watch and see how things were going to play out.

  I couldn't tell the three beings apart from one another. They positioned themselves in front of the truck. All three stood in calm identical poses. Their arms were outstretched in front of them, palms out. They began to slowly open their mouths and a whistling hum escaped from between their lips. The sound was everything and nothing at all. It rang in my ears with shallow purpose, it was not meant for me. That hypnotic melody spun from the lips of the Hydriads was focused solely on the truck’s occupants.

  One by one, my friends exited the truck. Their faces held no trace of emotion while their bodies moved mindlessly. It was a scary sight to behold. They were being completely controlled by the lulling hum. When they reached the triplets, their bodies jerked to a stop. In unison, the nymphs took a step forward. The song continued to flow from their lips and their straight, lithe arms remained in front of them. They had only one person in their sights now. One of them waved a hand in front of Harper’s face and she fell to the ground. The remaining two proceeded to follow suit until only the person that Orea claimed to be human remained standing. Two of the nymphs took hold of each one of his arms and led him, behind their sister, over to us.

  "The human as you requested, my queen," the pale creatures said together as if using one voice. It seemed like they did everything in tandem. It was really creepy.

  "I don't understand," I said to Collin, who was now standing right up against me. He grabbed my hand and pulled me even closer. With a hardly hidden fear in his eyes, he leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Oh my God, Ember...she is right."

  "What your mate has just realized, too late I must add," Orea began to say while she placed her hand on Brady’s face. She lightly traced over his cheek and then pinched his chin between two elegantly long fingers and proceeded to stare into his vacant eyes. "Your friend here hasn't fully transitioned yet...therefore, he is still half human."

  "You have got to be kidding me," I said, shaking my head. "I had no clue that there was an in-between state. I would never have brought him here had I known."

  "Even if what you say is true, it still doesn't change the fact that the oath has been broken this night, foolish girl."

  The sisters pulled Brady back to them. They nodded their heads at the queen as if in answer to a silent order, and then walked away.

  "Where are you taking him?" Collin’s voice boomed with authority. "He is in my custody and has to answer to our laws before you can detain him."

  Collin! Are you nuts? No one talks to the queen that way and lives!

  I felt a tight squeeze around my hand. It was Collin gripping it firmly. I had forgotten we were still holding hands.

  Trust me, Darling. She is the queen of her water world. But remember, I am also the equivalent of a king in mine.

  "You dare question me, Alpha?" Orea asked. Her words trickled out softly. I could feel the beginning of an even deadlier song than the one before, welling up from between her lips.

  I fell immediately to the ground on one knee. I had to get her attention off of Collin before he got us all killed, even if it meant going against the very dominant wolf seething with anger inside of me. Therefore, with a bowed head, I quickly stammered, "He doesn't understand our rules’ Your Majesty. Please keep that in mind."

  "You show great restraint, She-wolf. Maybe you're not as foolish as I had first thought…unlike your mate."

  An eerie silence filled the air around us. All I could hear were the soft even breaths of my glamoured friends several feet away from me, sprawled out on the ground, and the slow beat of Collin’s heart. Somehow, he was keeping it together. I couldn't say the same for myself.

  Orea looked over at Collin with piercing eyes. A small muscle in her cheek twitched. It was a slight movement, barely noticeable, but I noticed it. Maybe she wasn't as unshakeable as I'd initially thought. It made me wonder what could possibly have her on edge.

  "Protocol does state that leaders of certain...shall we say "groups" have to follow specific guidelines when dealing with each other. I will give you that, Alpha," she said with a smirk.

  "But what makes you so confident that I wouldn't just clean up this little mess myself? No one would be the wiser."

  I sure hope you know what you're doing, Collin, I sent to him in warning.

  There is only one way to find out. It doesn't seem like we have a choice anyways.

  Your confidence is inspiring.

  Woman, just let me concentrate.

  I growled in response to his last message. I just hoped we lived long enough for me to make him pay for that chauvinistic tone later.

  Collin jumped from our private conversation right back into the one he was having with Orea. I growled silently to myself with more promises of retribution, as I watched his face change from casual observance to one filled with boyish charm.

  "Orea," he said with a devilish smile, "I'm sure we can work something out so that we're all satisfied with the outcome. There is no need to butt heads over an unintentional slight."

  The queen tapped her index finger on her cheek. She stared off into the distance while deep in thought. She held that pose for a moment and then a smile slowly crept across her face.

  "I propose a trade," she said, "I have been guardian of this lake for almost 500 years. In three months’ time, our world will be open to the Dark Plain. We will be overrun by vampires; the sheer number would be staggering. I could use your help."

  Without waiting for an answer, Orea walked over to the edge of the water. She knelt down and dipped her hand into it and then closed her eyes. Silver lashes that fanned over the edges of her cheekbones gave way to two solid tea
rs, one from each eye. They slid down her pale face and landed with a soft 'plop' into the water. "I am Orea, Queen of the Hydriads," she began to chant in a low tone. "As it is my right, I call upon the element of water. In return for your favor, I give freely my soul tears."

  The water rippled out in small circular waves, from where the tears had landed. The ground beneath my feet started to shake; it sent small tremors up my legs. With her free hand, Orea started to draw designs with the tip of her index finger, over the water’s surface. I couldn't make out what she was drawing. As soon as she finished swirling a design, the water would wash it away. The earth shook a second time but this quake was stronger. I fell against Collin and he quickly grabbed hold of me and drew me securely against him.

  Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut after all, he said.

  No, this is something else entirely. I have only heard about this through pack legend, it's just like my grandmother described it.

  I could feel Collin dive into my mind and begin to rifle through my memories. When he found, and played back, the one where I was told about the original oath between Orea and my pack, he pulled back out. He then let out a heavy breath; he now knew what was going on.

  "She wants to make an oath with us," he said.

  "She doesn’t just want to do it; she is doing it, Collin."

  "She-wolf, come to me," Orea ordered. She still held her eyes closed and was faced towards the lake, so she didn't see my face go pail or my body go rigid, but Collin certainly felt my fear. His arms gripped tighter around my body but I patted them reassuringly.

  "I'll be okay," I said. "There is no turning back now. If something happens, grab everyone and get out of here."

  Collin spun me around in his arms. I could feel his heart pounding hard against my chest. He took my face in between his hands and smashed his lips hard against mine. When he pulled away, he gave me the softest look.

  "Either we all leave here together or none of us do."

  I didn't have a good enough response to what he had just said. I was touched by it, speechless, but all I could think about was keeping him and my friends safe. So with that thought in mind, I pulled myself out of his arms. I straightened my shoulders and dug deep inside of me for the courage to move my legs, and by placing one heavy foot in front of the other, I walked over to the queen. It would have been so easy for me to turn and run, but I couldn't do that. I wasn't built that way. Fear was meant to be stared down and beaten to within an inch of its life. It was the only way I knew how to deal with such an inconvenient emotion. That left me with only two options: make a deal with Orea, or watch my mate and close friends get dragged into the murky blue.

  Chapter 10

  All the nerves in my body were on edge. Well, maybe not all of them. I'm sure there might have been a brave neuron or two all suited up in armor, ready for battle, giving me the fortitude to keep moving forward toward the queen. A small chill over took me the closer I got to her, so I grabbed both ends of my jacket and pulled them tightly together. Since it wasn't the actual temperature giving me such a frosty feeling, the added cover didn't help.

  "I thought wolves were supposed to be quick on their feet," Orea said impatiently. "You’re as slow as molasses. Get over here. No harm will befall you."

  I picked up the pace and reached her side after only a few more steps. She motioned for me to kneel next to her and I complied without question.

  "Place your hand into the water next to mine," she said causally. I wasn't as calm as she was at all.

  My hand shook a little bit as I sunk it into the water. As soon as it was fully emerged, something slimy wrapped tightly around it and I had to pull back against a slight tug.

  "What the...?"

  "Don't worry, child. Just take what the lake has to offer you."

  I relaxed my body and opened my tightly fisted hand. As soon as I freed my grip, I felt a slender object placed into it. Orea grabbed my arm and pulled it free of the water. I looked down to see the object that had been given to me. Nestled in my palm was something that looked like a dagger. A dagger that was fully composed of solid ice, all the way down to its handle. What the most surprising thing of all was, somehow the ice weapon wasn't cold to the touch, just a bit cool.

  "What am I supposed to do with this?" I asked her nervously.

  Orea took the dagger from me. She grabbed my hand and turned it so my palm was facing up. Without any warning, she pressed the blade’s sharp point into my skin and a red line, of what felt like fire, was left in its wake. A small river of blood trickled out of the shallow cut and pooled over the side of my hand, falling into the lake. I tried to yank my hand from hers but she merely squeezed more tightly around my wrist so I couldn't move it.

  "This is necessary if you want to save your human," she said, glaring at me. The look she gave was serious but didn't seem to hold any malice. The stern slash of her mouth had actually softened, and if I wasn't mistaken, I could spy a shadow of kindness in the depths of her eyes. It made me think that there might be a chance she wanted to help me and my friends, but I couldn't for the life of me think of one reason why she would want to. The last time I checked, it was her that Collin and I should be worried about. Maybe it was just the rules and traditions that bound and limited her actions that were the real threat to us.

  "Alright, I'll cooperate. But I have to know what I'm committing myself to first," I said to her.

  "Patience, Wolf. You're about to find out."

  I stared at my cut for a moment. Blood continued to flow unbidden. I was beginning to feel a little light headed from the loss. "If we could do this before I bleed out, that'd be great," I said.

  Orea dipped her hand into the lake. She cupped a handful of water and splashed it over my wound. Several drops of the now pinkish water spilt over my palm and dripped to the ground, and then the queen began to chant melodically, "Her hybrid blood flows freely to feed the earth and water, a fitting sacrifice unto your elemental altar. I seek a pact between dark and earth’s daughter. Hear my call; with death be the price, if one of us shall falter."

  I could feel an electrical current run through my body. The hair on my arms stood up and my mouth went dry.

  "I am here to witness," boomed a voice from beyond. "Claim your oath from the hybrid and quickly. I could easily lose my patience and feed you all to my Harpy instead."

  "What was that?" I asked, looking all around me. I couldn't see where or whom the voice came from. But I could feel the presence of someone strong, and also very magical, judging by the shiver that ran straight up my spine.

  "He is Ash, King of the Meliads, and don't worry. His bark is way worse than his bite," she answered reassuringly while standing up. She held her hand out to me so I could do the same. I took it gratefully. I was still lightheaded from the loss of blood and the little bit of help was useful.

  "But his Harpy on the other hand," she continued on, "let's just say, it's best to keep a good distance from her. She has a bit of an attitude."

  "Now see here Orea, don't go ruining my ghastly reputation just yet," the ghostly voice said. But then, after only a few tense seconds, the king stepped out of a blue flash of light. His dark hair was adorned with a crown of bright green leaves and his tall, well-toned body was covered only by another patch of leaves wrapped around his waist. The garment of foliage crept between his legs and wrapped snuggly around his thighs. I imagine that if I were to meet Adam in the flesh, he would probably look exactly like the King of the Meliads.

  "Before we go any farther, I need your mate to join us," the king said. "If he is to be a part of this too, his oath will be needed."

  "I'd rather leave him out of this if it's all the same to you," I replied. There wasn't any need for both of us to be tied to this craziness, at least that's what I'd hoped.

  "I think it's too late for that, don't you?" he said, gesturing towards Collin. "Just look at your mate. That man is trying his hardest to respect your wishes by staying put. You do know your request
goes against his very nature to protect his mate. He must really love you." I looked over at Collin. He was shifting from one foot to the other and staring daggers at the king and queen. It was obvious that he was more than a little bit agitated.

  I’m okay, Collin, I sent to reassure him. As soon as he heard my voice in his head, he calmed down considerably.

  I'm coming over to you. There's no way I can wait any longer, he sent back to me. His voice sounded ripe with emotions. I guess the king was right. I probably shouldn't have made him wait.

  Alright then, just try and keep your cool. No shifting.

  I switched my attention back over to the king. He was scratching the top of a very odd-looking bird’s head. The animal was perched on his broad shoulder. It looked content to be there. I had failed to notice the creature before; it resembled a grey owl with extremely long talons. Its feathers looked like they were made from leather or maybe suede, but what almost had me screaming my head off like a little girl, was its feminine, human-like, face.

  "Aren't you the cutest Harpy that’s ever been? Yes you are, oh yes you are," the king cooed to his pet. The odd-looking bird rumpled its feathers and rubbed its head up against the praise and affectionate petting. This went on for a little while longer until he noticed me staring dumbfounded at him. He also cast a glance the queen’s way but she seemed unconcerned by his display.

  "Pardon my manners, Ember," he said, throwing a flirtatious wink at the queen, before addressing me. "Let me introduce you to Fresia, my Harpy."

  Fresia's head twisted slowly around until she faced me. It reminded me of the possessed girl in the Exorcist. That's where the resemblance ended. Crease lines formed in between her lavender eyes and she pinched her full mouth closed with a huff.

  "Now, precious, where are your manners? Say ‘hello’ to our new friends," the king said, still petting her feathers softly, but the odd bird wasn't having any of it. She flapped her wings, catching the king in the face with the frantic beat, then flew up into the air and landed in the closest tree. When she settled, she turned up her chin to us and screeched so loud that I had to cover my ears.

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