Night of the Silver Eclipse
I felt sleep fading from me, receding and escaping like the ocean tide being pulled back out to sea. I fought it, digging in my heels and grasping with my fingers, but with no more effect than grasping a fistful of sand. Sleep trickled through my fingers and found its way back to the ether.
I batted my eyelids and shifted, the sensation of dull aching and heavy weariness making its way to my newly-woken brain. To combat the numbness in my left buttcheek, I stretched. My bare leg slid across the slick warm texture of wolf fur, one of the many pelts that blanketed my bed, and the cool sole of my foot made contact with warm skin. Jori made a mewling noise in her sleep, and curled away from my freezing toes. I yawned, and the soft sounds of breathing came to my ears, accompanied by the thwump-thwump of multiple heartbeats from the several sleeping young women in my bed. After a moment, I counted three.
Jori, Kayanni and Ilyana, my nose told me. My... handmaidens, for lack of a better term. Claiming leadership over a millenia-old pack of werewolves had given me more responsibility and youthful devotion than I'd reckoned for at the time. I felt movement in my stomach, and a sudden pinch in my bladder shoved me solidly into the wide-awake column. I sighed, and sat up, disentangling myself gently from the protective teenagers. Ilyanna shifted restlessly at the loss of my warmth, but a soothing hand from Jori stole around her waist, and they both fell back to soundless sleep. I gave them a half-smile, and made my escape to the bathroom next door to do the necessary things.
Unwilling to face the ensnaring tangle of arms and legs and feet in my gigantic antique fourposter bed, I turned right instead of left and made my way down the long hall to the kitchen. Even at this late hour, the hall was lit by dimly muted lights in ten foot intervals halfway up the walls. Although I didn't need it, werewolves having the excellent predatory night vision that we do, the warm orange light was comforting and familiar. It similarly lit every hall in the large, old stone labyrinth of a building that was the pack's family compound, and my childhood home.
I followed my nose to the kitchen, and rounded the last corner to see my best friend already sitting up to the black granite island counter, her long brown hair falling in soft waves and her delicate, purple-tipped toes swinging inches above the marble floor from her perch on a four-foot tall mahogany barstool. Seeing me, she hooked one of said feet around the leg of the next nearest stool and pulled it out from under the island's lip, patting the seat invitingly. I waddled over and pulled my weighted-down self up onto it. Mischa looked at me and grinned, moving her arm to reveal what I'd smelled from down the hall. The hidden stash of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream.
"Looking for the good stuff?" She asked, sliding the tub of ice cream over so it sat evenly between us. I tugged it over more solidly into my territory, and nicked the spoon right out of her hand.
"Oh yeah," I agreed, shoveling in and starting to lick my ginormous scoop off the spoon like an ice cream cone. Mischa swatted my arm playfully, and reached for more silverware(that was actually stainless steel) from a jar on the counter.
"They keeping you awake, again?" Mischa asked, flicking her spoon toward my slightly swollen abdomen. I glanced down with her and sighed, feigning frustration, but a smile tugged at the corner of my mouth.
"Yeah." I patted the seven-month bump. "Wild and restless. Just like their father."
Mischa smiled with me, and gave her spoon another lick. "Still sure they're boys then, are you?"
"Oh, positive." I stuck my spoon bowl-first back into the ice cream and leaned back, using my hands to trace outlines on the white cotton tshirt covering my belly. "This one," I said, indicating Baby A, "always starts the trouble. I can feel him kicking around, squirming and moving, until he jostles his brother." I circled a spot on the other side of my stomach, for Baby B. "Then the other one wakes up. And he comes out swinging. I don't know what he does in there, put it puts and end to things for a good few hours, at least."
Mischa laughed and put out a hand. "Here, let me feel."
I took her hand and guided it to the place on my stomach that felt like a small dominance fight was erupting inside. After a few moments Mischa pulled her hand back, smiling.
"I don't know," She told me, "I think that's a big sister in there, putting her brother in his place."
I rubbed my belly, and smirked. "Could be," I admitted. "She probably takes after her mother."
Mischa laughed again, taking the spoon from her mouth, lollipop style. "Spirits save us, I hope not! What kind of beast would SHE fall in love with, and bring home to the pack?"
I grinned at the mention of Lucian, the dominant and powerful Lycan I'd accidentally mated and brought back to my purist loup-garou family. An introduction that had nearly turned fatal. Perhaps not the happiest of memories, I suppose. But it had turned out well, in the end, and if Mischa, of all people, could joke about it with me now, things must be looking up.
At least, I hoped so. A sudden seriousness fell over the both of us, and I set my empty spoon back down on the counter. Mischa pursed her lips knowingly.
"Still no word?" She asked softly. I shook my head no.
"Nothing since yesterday morning." I tried to keep my voice neutral, and free of worry. But Mischa leaned over and took my hand.
While a day, or even two, without contact might be no cause for alarm with regular couples, it is different for our species. A mate bond between wolves is forged physically and mentally, and to a degree, the mated pair become telepathic with each other. It's like being aware of another consciousness in the back of your brain, having access to the other person's feelings and state of mind, and being able to share thoughts when needed.
But that part of my mind had been blank for nearly twenty four hours. And while there were completely harmless reasons that Lucian would have shut off his end temporarily, my mind couldn't help leaping to the most horrifying possibilities.
Lucian had left the pack's stronghold in the Alaskan tundra to return to his own small army of Lycan troops, and disband them. The war between the Children of Corvinus, Lycan and Vampyre, was now over, and the men Lucian had enlisted and turned were left without a purpose. For a few years he had kept them busy hunting down the last members of the vampyre council that had kept them enslaved all those centuries ago, but now that, too, was finished, and it fell to Lucian to set his men free while keeping them from exposing themselves to humans and/or going on a rampaging, pillaging spree.
I honestly had no idea how he planned to accomplish it. But then, with a pack of hundreds to lead and a belly of pups to care for, I had my own plate filled to overflowing. My relationship with Lucian had begun to resemble nothing so much as that of a marriage between monarchs of seperate countries. Countries that didn't get along very well, at that.
I felt Mischa squeeze my hand in hers, and pulled myself away from my brooding. I gave her a reassuring smile, and squeezed back.
"So," I began, "When will you an Riordan be adding to the pack?"
Mischa blushed and turned away, and immediately I wished I had bitten my tongue.
As a recently mated pair of reproductive age, Mischa and Riordan were under a lot of scrutiny already. Our species' numbers had begun to dwindle, and children were considered precious by the entire pack. And I knew they had been trying. Fruitlessly. My bringing it up would be rubbing salt in a raw wound.
I set my jaw, and promised myself not to mention it again, until Mischa had news she wished to share. I knew she felt it was some kind of personal failure on her part.
I had another theory. For nearly a year, after I'd gone away to college, Mischa had found herself in the role of the Alpha's mistress. My uncle, Matthias, had held the position of packmaster in trust for me, until my coming of age. And a vicious sonofabitch he'd been behind closed doors.
Being the Alpha's favorite was considered an honor, and in public Matthias was gracious and loved. So Mischa suffered in silence, and her fast-healing werewolf body hid the scars.
Still, I was certain that that kind of prolonged, repeated trauma would have some ill effects; perhaps mentally as well as physically. I made a mental note to ask Ashai, the pack's healer, to check in with Mischa.
The sound of bare feet on stone echoed to us from down the hall, and we both looked up to see Jori round the corner. She looked shy and still half-asleep, and somewhat embarrassed. No doubt because my sneaky ninja-skills had failed to wake her when I got out of bed. She and the other girls fancied themselves my caregivers and protectors, a role honored by time and tradition in the pack, when the Alpha female was sick or with child. I gave her a small welcoming smile.
Jori reached up to brush her sleep-snarled brown hair out of her eyes, and I finally noticed the object in her hand.
I held out my hand wordlessly, and Jori dropped the cell phone in my palm. She turned around promptly and headed back to bed, but a sudden dark sense of foreboding curled in my gut. I lifted the phone to my ear.
"Hello?" I said, making the greeting a question.
A voice that was both familiar and sickeningly foreign answered me, with four words that chilled my bones.
"Is this the widow?"
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