A.N.: For Morning Star88 and akashichin, the latest instalment. Akashi, I will definitely be putting in more romance/smut, and Bethany will be waaaaay better than runtling Emma. Actually, that'll be a plot-point, that Bethany can't be bought the way Lachlain gave Emma a credit-card and said, "Shop till I drop," and she decided she'd stay in Kinevane!




She had read the promise on his lips—"You're mine", felt a soul-deep connection sizzling through her entire body as he grasped her hand in his huge, warm paw; the moment broke when an earthquake trembled, his eyes firing ice-blue as he gazed upwards, discerning the precarious ceiling, and she swore he bit out a curse before scanning the shelves—Bethany squatted to pick up the axe she had dropped by the feet of the headless body of the Sorceri she had killed…the women! the little girl! what happened to them?—the Lykae snagged what appeared to be his own sword; his eyelids drooped heavily with blatant relief, and he unhooked the strap from the end of the sheath, buckling it around his hips, his sword-hand gripping the hilt firmly as he held out his other to her, his eyes returning to that mesmerising gold.

She placed her hand in his once more, feeling ice melt away as she shivered, his heat transferring to her; never more attuned to her own body than since this place, she felt…different. She felt alive. She didn't feel lethargic, pain-drenched and miserable. She had dreamt of him…the male who had thrust an agonisingly huge erection against her as she'd desperately sought to ease her own ache—who'd let her nip and suckle his lip—How embarrassing, she blushed—and who'd clapped his hands on her ass with enough force to make her feel it for days, but how delicious had it felt, not a spanking but…a message. Mine, it had seemed to claim. She had dreamed of him, woken aching to be filled and touched and kissed everywhere, wanting his big hands on her, needing something to fill the empty ache between her thighs…and there he'd been, gazing at her with such blatant appreciation, she had felt drugged by the unfamiliar attention.

And the sight of his erection straining against his denims… He was likely huge. And Bethany had ached to rip those jeans away from him, unfamiliar urges thrashing through her, her fangs throbbing, to see, to touch, to feel that heat and the strain, to lick… She sighed, her good mood dissipating…lick… She followed him out of the storage-room, her body still thrumming with…vitality. She felt so good, she felt…as she had before she had been brought here. Alive. Strong, and excited. Not deadened from captivity, pain and neglect. Yes…she felt alive.


Something was thrumming through her veins, besides lust…had she been drugged? She didn't think so. Anyway, no drug could make her feel this good after being vivisected and smacked across a room, nicked by blades after crushing a metal bookcase, a ceiling raining plaster down on her.

His hold on her hand tightened briefly as they exited Chase's office, like a warning; he glanced over his shoulder, locking eyes with her, a warning? A promise. They would get out of this—he would get her out of this. And she'd have to follow his lead, no letting distractions get in the way.

"Ready?" His lips were lovely.

She swallowed, giving herself a mental shake, taking in the new heights the level of carnage had reached inside the research ward; she glanced at the Lykae, and nodded. He indicated a countdown with his fingers, pointing out the direction they were headed, and she took a deep breath, nodding, glancing at his fingers…

Three…wonder what those fingers'd feel like inside me—two…mind outta your panties, Bethany Brayden!—one…

They ran. Or, strode quick as they could over the debris of dismembered bodies, collapsed ceiling, dead monsters, crushed weapons, shards of metal and glass, flaming rafters, smouldering fires, slipping and sliding over the gristle coating the cement; the Lykae kept his shoulders back, hand on his sword-hilt, just in case, appearing to scent the air for approaching danger, changing their course several times, pinning her against a wall, hand clapped over her mouth until a band of Wendigos had passed, clawing at each other to get to a bloodbath in another passage; the Lykae was leading them to the exit; seconds before they reached it, he reached out, plucking the hood of her jacket up, carefully tucking it over her head, pulling the toggle so the hood couldn't be whipped back. This thoughtful gesture made her go all warm and gooey, smiling shyly, at least…before they stepped through the hole blasted through an exterior wall.


Not just rain. A true storm. Thunder, lightning—more than she had ever seen—torrential rain falling not just vertically, but hitting them horizontally, the wind so strong she was nearly knocked straight off her feet, goose-bumps rising all over her body, rain leaking down her boots, soaking her socks, her bare legs frozen…though she had to admit, the cold soothed the seeping ache of her grazed shin.

The Lykae scented the air again, his eyes blazing that eerie ice-blue she was quickly becoming infatuated with, enthralled every time his eyes flickered from that rich, decadent gold to icy, incandescent topaz, and started running down the slope unerringly in one specific direction. Shadows ran in other directions, none approaching them, each wanting escape. Bethany followed the Lykae, revelling in the feeling of being able to stretch her legs, to run…she loved to run, her favourite part about baseball, stealing home while the outfielders struggled to chase after her hit…she went running with Thad every day, for miles and miles…

Miss him

Free. She was free. She could see her twin-brother again… The thought made her chest ache with a pain her vivisection had never managed to make her feel.

They may be stuck on this island, but this was the first time in months Bethany had been out in the fresh air…and she suddenly realised why Thad pouted over doing wind-sprints during practice. She hadn't exercised properly for months; her yoga with Jazira had kept her a little toned and more bendy than she'd ever been, she guessed, and while she was comatose Jazira and Paris had done stretches for her, circulating her blood, but there was nothing like full-out exertion, the burn in her legs, the searing feeling in her lungs as she gulped deep breaths, the spray of the rain icy against her face, the cold cutting so deep. She was alive. And she was free.

And she was running hand-in-hand with the most attractive male she could ever have imagined.

An explosion rocked the ground beneath their feet, making her lose her footing; stumbling, she glanced back—and tried to yell out, eyes wide, trying to pick up the pace and dart out of the way as an enormous stone plummeted toward them from the mountain that had risen from the inside the facility out and up, surrounded by great whirling vortexes of flame from that fire-Sorceri… Whoa

The Lykae shoved her out of the way at the last minute, sending her flying. She bit the grass, water splashing her face, the fragrance of the fresh grass heaven to her, her chest aching but protected by the armoured vest from the impact, and her booted feet scrambled for purchase against the slick grass, butt in the air, shoving herself upright, struggling to balance the pack, whirling around to spy the—her Lykae was stuck, his leg pinned beneath the stone, big as he was tall, his staggeringly handsome face grimacing in pain, unable to shift it due to his torque, his black claws raking the glass as his eyes flashed in fury.

Shit, she swore, glancing around, terrified they would be attacked—she bit her lip, clutching her axe tight in one hand, assessing the tone. As he twisted and glared with those eerie topaz eyes, fangs sharp, his lips moved with an order she ignored; he looked furious for about a split-second, before she squatted right beside him; he looked stunned, his jaw dropping, golden eyes wide as they honed on her ass, as she bent and dug her free hand beneath the stone… Vampires were strong, Jazira said; whatever Bethany was…she carried this heavy pack, no trouble, she'd pulverised that door, prised a woman's head from her shoulders with her bare hands…and they didn't have time to spare digging or searching for somebody to help…Pravus soldiers would behead him on principal for being a Vertas leader…if Wendigos found him they'd suck the marrow from his bones while he watched…

She inhaled deeply, sighed, and lifted. She flung the boulder away as if it were no heavier than her old school book-bag. She blinked, stunned, and the Lykae's jaw dropped again.

So…she was strong. Cool.

With her lineage undetermined, Jazira had said there was no telling what Bethany could do. Any kind of Lore halfling always had their unique quirks…

She offered the Lykae a hand, and he dazedly accepted the offer, his features a mask of surprise, gazing at her with those decadent golden eyes; she helped haul his huge body upright; his leg was bloody, his jeans tattered, and, looking him up and down for more injuries, she realised how much weight he'd lost since the first time she had seen him. And he was shirtless…

Her fangs ached. The image of Jazira riding Paris suddenly flashed through her mind, and her fangs sharpened with aggression as she wondered who'd serviced him before their jailbreak…

He grabbed her free hand, eyes flickering ice-blue as he took in her expression, and led her off, toward the woods… Running, running, through storm-ravaged woods, ever in an upwards incline; Bethany loved it, but she was…tired; she was out of shape; and she was injured… The Lykae seemed set on following a specific path, clearing brush with his claws to guide her through a path he himself made, up the forest-carpeted incline, away from the Order's facility, now the site of a minor apocalypse, bomb-blasts rocking the ground even as the storm raged, soaking her to the skin, until her little fangs chattered without cease.

She was definitely still on the cusp—a true immortal wouldn't be feeling the elements the way she was right now; of course, she'd have healed from her vivisection overnight… Her Lykae led her on, the heat emanating from his hand searing her skin as he clutched hers, pausing now and then to help her over washouts and fallen tree-trunks, labouring over the upward, rocky terrain, buffeted by the gale, the rain hampering their vision…at least hers. He didn't seem to care about the rain, his bare chest, his limp, but if she stumbled, or made a tiny noise of fatigue or pain, he would stop, eyes wide; he would cradle her face in his huge, calloused palms, gazing so deeply into her eyes she thought he tried to read her thoughts, and he would give her the tiniest of butterfly kisses, against the tip of her nose, her cheekbones, her lips, even giving her lower-lip a nip, the way she had teased him, when she'd stumbled, nearly twisting her ankle in a rabbit-hole.

Each kiss made her blood pump, her heart racing, and that tiny kick of adrenaline helped her push on, up the slope of a mountain.

Never been on a mountain before, she thought, but she was too cold, too wet, too tired, too aching and too miserable to enjoy that she was ticking off one of the entries on her list of life experiences.

If she got off this island, she'd have an eternity to tick things off that list…heck, she guessed she no longer had any kind of excuse not to work her way through the literary classics as she'd always promised herself she would. She could go travelling…

She couldn't go home, she knew that.

She still couldn't figure who'd snitched and brought her here in the first place, but she knew things would be hell of complicated if she went back to Harley. Besides…could she really face the town after what happened?

She wondered how her family was taking it…whether they thought… She wondered if they missed her, were worried about her. Their family had already lost so much, with her daddy dying so suddenly. It had changed everything. Thad had been man of the house since they were kids, and he took his job real serious; she hoped he was keeping Mama and Gram together. They were Texan women, after all…Southern belles…steel magnolias and all that, but, heck, her Mama could get real emotional.

She'd vowed never to watch Titanic with her Mama ever again; she just didn't get it.

Suddenly, Bethany craved their battered old sofa, with the hand-crocheted afghan thrown across the back, their scarred coffee-table piled with magazines, nail-polish bottles, Thad's football, Gram's sewing and glasses of sweet-tea, packets of Redvines, Dots and M&Ms, homemade Brigadeiros she was famous for, a bowl of popcorn and sweating cans of soda, a movie playing on their grainy old TV… She'd endeavour to try and get through Titanic one more time if only she could get off this island and curl into bed with Mama, the way she had as a little girl, the way she still did when she was upset at the girls' taunting at school.

She knew Thad would be taking care of Mama and Gram. Her twin-brother was her whole world, her sweet superhero; until now she hadn't ever parted from him, not in her entire life. The only time they'd spent apart was overnight slumber-parties at Melanie's, or in the last few years, football-camp. She loved her brother, her best-friend; and she missed him like a severed limb…

She wondered how he'd handle learning what'd happened to her here…

As the Lykae Uilleam MacRieve helped her clamber up a steep, rocky incline, Bethany eyed him, instinctively knowing Thad would appreciate this male's concern and care for her, protecting her…even if he'd go crazy if he got a hint of what the Lykae wanted to do to her…

Jazira had hinted at what a Lykae's sexual appetite was like…insatiable

She appreciated what he was doing for her, too, knowing everybody could've just left her to the dogs, saving themselves…he had searched her out in Chase's office, stopped her getting crushed by a boulder that had to have hurt him bad…but he never slowed, never paused to grimace and rub his leg, despite his limp.

The incline levelled out after what seemed an age, and after what seemed another age, along a gently-inclined, craggy path, they reached a large ledge, trimmed with trees, the tips whipping in the gale but the rest of the area sheltered from the wind—and she shivered, her instincts flaring, just as Uilleam gripped the hilt of his sword, seeing glowing eyes, hulking figures…in the darkness, she could see, noticed—Paris! Jazira!

They weren't alone—none of their companions had their torques removed. Vertas soldiers! Most were male, a few females conspicuous in their mini-skirts, pointed ears and staggering beauty, and a lot of them were armed with weapons they must have taken from other immortals, or from the storage-room. Paris bore an enormous sword, and Jazira had managed to find herself a machete. Cool.

Happiness flared for an instant when she spied Jazira and Paris—they were both bleeding, but their injuries weren't major, and their faces lit with relieved smiles when they saw her staggering into the clearing beside Uilleam.

A blonde female, tall and lithe, emanating strength and predatory grace in every languid movement, strode forward, embracing Uilleam MacRieve like a brother; they exchanged a few words, but Bethany couldn't read their lips. Gaelic, she remembered; Jazira had told her the Lykae still spoke their ancient dialect.

Scottish, she thought; she had never met a foreigner. Harley was a small town tucked in Texas, for God's sake. She had never been anywhere in her life, and nobody ever went to Harley unless they had to.

The female was uncommonly pretty, frozen into her immortality in her mid-to-late twenties, her face a beautiful, wide oval with high, broad cheekbones, sumptuous lips lush yet firm, and her wide, large almond-shaped eyes flickered ice-blue one moment, then an entrancing whisky-amber the next; brazen laughter-lines fanned from the corners of her eyes, tanned eternally into her skin, but at the moment she was drenched and miserable.

The female's eyes flickered ice-blue the way Uilleam's did, and her expression became animated, blissful and proud one moment as she glanced at Bethany with a vivid smile, devastated the next, her lips parting, incredible whisky-amber eyes widening. After a moment, she called something over her shoulder to some of the horned males—Vertas demons, Bethany realised; and, when Uilleam squeezed her hand subtly and started off after the blonde female, she noticed the woman was also armed, an enormous sword strapped across her back, the kind of thing Bethany would recognise from Strider in Lord of the Rings, with two curious blades strapped to her front, with handles, as if she'd grip them in her fingers, lethal blades curving down her forearms while knuckle-dusters protected her fingers from blows against immortal bone-structure. The hilt of her sword was incredibly beautiful, decorative etching and inlays shining and glinting in the moonlight as it fought past the rain. Somehow, the moonlight managed to shimmer over the female's face—and that of Bethany's protector.

Uilleam MacRieve had his face turned to the moon, the most relaxed she had yet seen him, basking in its light the way others drenched themselves in the sun's rays. The moonlight seemed to caress his features, lovingly stroking the high cheekbones, strong jaw, limning his rain-spiked lashes… A Lykae, she thought, both seemingly worshipping and being worshipped by the silvery moon that called to his kind alone.

"You made it out!" Jazira cooed, throwing her arms around the giant halfling, so little compared to the Texan, she managed to catch her around the waist, an enormous pack strapped to her back impeding a true embrace. Distracted by the chaos in the facility, they had lost track of each other; Jazira had been cornered by dregs of the Lore and amphibious shifters wanting to pick off their Vertas mammal-shifter enemies, and they'd figured this little immortal in her cute pink suede booties was an easy target. Fools!

And Paris had sensed something on the air as soon as the glass had fractured, diving to eviscerate any male who thought to take a female against her will; his lifeblood, he could never stand seeing a female hurt. He had followed his instincts into the fray, searching, ending humans here and there, dropping immortals as they fed and raped in the smoke-shadowed corners of the ward, until he had come across…her.

He didn't know anything about this world, was stunned at the extent of 'mythical' creatures and true monsters housed in the facility, grateful to Jazira for educating him as much as the incredibly tall—incredibly leggy—girl they'd taken on as a sort of pet, like the sea-monkeys he'd once given Torin. But when he saw the immense Lykae Uilleam MacRieve, who'd apparently decided Bethany was his—he recognised the harrowing ice-blue flicker of his eyes was the same as the hue his female's eyes flickered with strong emotion.

A female Lykae… The strongest and most brutal race in the entire Lore. Wonderful. His boys would get a kick out of that…no docile little human for him, lolling about in his bed, waiting for him!

Thank the gods, he thought, eyeing the female, something bubbling up hungrily from his stomach as his cock distended further, hard to an agonising degree despite the icy rain searing through his jeans.

She had to be his… Nothing, not in three thousand years of life, had consumed him so wholly as the need to find this female. For a millennia-old incubus who took multiple lovers at least thrice daily…that this female's scent had saturated every cell in his being, that the image of her fighting fang-and-claw against enormous winged demons and scaled shifters, their blood coating her, eyes flashing that harrowing topaz, her incredible hair flying, had his cock harder than it had ever been, his body thrumming with the need to touch and sate her…it was a brand-new and highly-uncomfortable obsession.

He had followed his instincts, instincts he hadn't known he had, to seek out that female he had sensed…he wanted to make her his… The pure animalistic aggression he had witnessed when she fought made him shiver—with lust; he had never seen a female fight so viciously…he hadn't really seen females fight at all, knew he had never been able to handle their pain—seeing it, or delivering it—in Olympia, when he had guarded the god Zeus; he had always been the one his brothers-by-circumstance sent in to seduce information out of female insurgents… Tough work, but someone had to do it…

But the way she had fought, so feral, vicious, the way her body had moved, she wasn't like any female he had ever had before…and, if she had her way, he wouldn't have her.

She'd made that clear, her face becoming so gentle, so guileless after the fight was won, her eyes flickering over him, displaying her interest for a split-second before she had winced, a tiny frown creasing her brow; she had strode away, leaving him rocked by the scent of her self-denied interest lingering on the air, the sight of her delicate little nipples as they had budded against her top at the sight of him, that glorious hair tumbling in gentle waves, blood-spattered, to her bottom.

Now he gazed at her across the clearing as she introduced the 'Vertas' shifters and horned demons still wearing their torques; the Lykae seemed to recognise some, had knocked back beers and played rugby with others, had even warred side-by-side with two, and they all gazed curiously at the halfling.

Paris glanced at Jazira, who kept her eyes on the pass into this clearing, her arm draped through Bethany's as the young girl—she did look terribly young, her face pale, drenched, her beautiful cascade of heavy curls hidden in the hood of her jacket, shivering, her incredibly long legs bare, one of them grazed from a fall—eyed everyone, trying to discern what was happening as much as her limitations allowed. She couldn't hear, couldn't speak, but she had gotten stronger day by day, while Paris slowly died of sexual starvation.

"So, what's happening?" one of the demons asked.

"The Queen of Stone is dead," Uilleam remarked, feeling bereft without the halfling's hand in his own, his beast stirring; she stood off to the side with the leopard-shifter, watching them all quietly, almost unassumingly. He indicated Bethany with a nod of his head, "The lass tore her head off, I think with her bare claws."

"The halfling killed a Sorceri queen?"

"Emberine will be coming for her," another demon remarked darkly, casting a sympathetic glance at Bethany.

"Those two never separated for centuries," the fox-shifter—an incredibly comely redhead—remarked, yawning. "If Portia is dead, Ember will have witnessed the assassination…and since the halfling is untouched…I wonder why…"

"Do we still no' ken what she is?" Ailith asked, her gentle voice musical, familiar; Uilleam had watched her grow up, an incredibly beautiful Lymon—the daughter of the clan's eldest Elder, and her rage-demon mate—gentle but unbending, utterly creative and gifted, but feral when provoked.

Màiri will be going mad searching for her, Uilleam thought, eyeing the lass. The circumstances of Màiri's recent widowhood had been cause for great sorrow and fury among the clan, all the more so due to the complicated relationship of Madsyn's assassin…after losing her latest mate—older than time, it was said Màiri had lost many mates over the millennia, always outliving them, too strong to follow their fates—Màiri would be as any other Lykae was in her position; completely and utterly protective of the family she had left. In this case, her bairns by Madsyn, ranging in age from nearly seven-hundred to newborn.

And Ailith, second-born and one of a set of twins like Uilleam himself, was the favourite of both her parents. Centuries old, she was incredibly beautiful, and all in the clan loved her, despite being other…though, by all accounts, she took after her Lykae mother.

"No' a clue," Uilleam said, glancing over at Bethany again…still there… "But she's strong. A stone big as I am tall landed on my leg as we ran from the facility—she plucked it off me as if it were no more'n a rugby-ball."

"She wears no torque," one of the shifters observed.

"I found her in the storage-room beside Chase's office, scented Fegley—Emberine had burned him tae ashes, o' course," Uilleam said, a shiver going through him…why hadn't Ember eviscerated Bethany for murdering her centuries-long companion—and rumoured lover? "She probably used his thumb-print before the Sorceri incinerated him."

"Where do we go from here?" a nymph yawned, stretching; several demons eyed her jutting breasts, nipples pearled against the soaked fabric of her top, but Uilleam frowned impatiently, thinking back to a year ago when his cousin Garreth had declared he had no liking for nymphs. What had Uilleam teasingly replied? "Any being that sports a penis likes nymphs". Garreth had declared them too easy. After that annual rugby-match against the demons, when Garreth had first scented his mate, things had devolved into an orgy; Uilleam himself had eagerly taken three nymphs. Now he couldn't remember the appeal.

The armoured vest strapped over his mate's front concealed the treasures he so longed to see for the first time, tempting him, teasing him, that he still didn't know his female's figure…now the possibilities of discovering every inch of that supple flesh had him shivering, but not from the storm.

"That facility was modern," Uilleam observed, glancing over his shoulder, squinting across the forest now probably teeming with Wendigos, to the hint of chaos that marked the facility's location—explosions blazed, gunfire chattering, shrieks echoing eerily on the wind as the gale picked up. "If the mortals have been using this island awhile, they will have old buildings. Ailith—"

"I ran up ahead," Ailith said, tucking a lock of golden hair from her face as the wind buffeted them. She gestured at a shirtless male in the back of the group, holding up a bleeding succubus; the beast raged, Uilleam's sword out before they could blink, eyes blazing; Vincente. The guard the immortals all secretly preferred—a hand on his upper-arm made Uilleam freeze, both from the wet, icy touch, and from the realisation it was his mate touching him. He glanced at her; Bethany rubbed her thumb gently against his bare bicep, nibbling her lower-lip, her expression gentle but enigmatic as she gazed at Vincente, unassuming, almost…bashful.

The Instinct might've said something like, She doesn't want to see him harmed. And because his mate bid it, Uilleam would have to let the mortal live.

"Vincente is with us," the succubus said simply. She was not one of the pod of succubae that had attacked him—she would be dead, of course, but she looked remarkably…well-fucked.

Ailith lifted her chin slightly, an expressive movement Uilleam recognised; it said she couldn't be arsed to punish the mortal, and they didn't have the time to argue over who got to dismember him, anyway; "He claims there is what looks tae be an abandoned monastery up the mountain. The path's all but destroyed, long neglected, but we can follow it."

"Ugh. Monks," the nymph grimaced. They would go against everything the nymphs stood for, Uilleam thought.

"Is it secure?" Uilleam demanded of the mortal.

"I went up a few days ago, in case something like this happened," he replied, his voice accented and rich. "It is dry, protected from the elements. But we will have to walk several days to reach it—at least, humans would. It is twenty miles from the coast…a little over forty miles from here." Uilleam swore, glancing at Bethany; her wee fangs were chattering despite her efforts to keep her jaw clamped. Could she make it?

"And where do we camp out for the night?" one of the demons asked.

"This island is crawling with Pravus—and armies of ghouls and Wendigo besides," Uilleam shivered. He hated ghouls and Wendigos. "They'll seek tae pick us off one by one if they can. Moving targets are harder tae hit." He again glanced at Bethany. Could she handle the exertion, with her injured body? And not yet immortal. "We should start moving now."

"We must find a way off this island before noon on Friday," the mortal said, and Uilleam did a double-take, frowning at the specificity.

"And why is that?" the leopard-shifter asked.

"The Order will bomb the island," Vincente said simply. The mortal wasn't one to mince words. Good, Uilleam thought. And he didn't appear terrified of them, another point in his favour. The succubus obviously had claim to him, but they would cut him down if he slowed their progress. "Incendiaries should already have been detonated all over the island." He checked his watch. "They're nearly an hour overdue."

"Technopaths probably disarmed them," the succubus gasped, grimacing at her arm, a deep laceration showing glimpses of bone. The mortal turned to her, concerned; one touch from his big hand had the succubus melting, relaxing, forgetting her pain.

"Then we have six days," Ailith said softly, her eyes widening; she glanced at Vincente. "Yes?"

"Yes," Vincente nodded.

"And how do we get off this godsforsaken island?" the fox-shifter inquired. "I've a hankering for a Philly-cheese steak sandwich and I am way overdue for a date with a hot piece of storm-demon ass." Uilleam's stomach rumbled…steak

"With all this Lore energy in one place, I'm sure any who've been scrying for us will feel the distruption," Uilleam said.

"I thought Lykae didn't ally with witches," one of the shifters said dubiously.

"My cousin Bowe has since wed the Awaited One," Uilleam said, and eyebrows rose, lips parting in surprise on a few. Aye, his witch-hating cousin Bowen had married a twenty-something college drop-out who was the most powerful witch alive—now a sorceress, the Queen of Reflections. "And as Mariketa is best-friends with the witch Carrow Graie, the lass will likely be tearing her hair out to find her, all the House will."

"So, we just have to stay alive until the House of Witches can find this island?" one of the shifters frowned. "Sounds like a bang-up plan."

"If you've a better idea, we'd love tae hear it," Uilleam glowered, his eyes flashing. "We should start for the monastery now. In numbers such as we are, the Pravus will likely need tae strategise how best tae ambush us, and we all know moving targets are harder tae hit."

"Aye, and ken the monastery will no' be empty if others pick up the trail; we canna linger if we wish tae reach it," Ailith said. "If we doona claim it we canna think of taking it by force, no' with these ungodly torques, and your halfling looks like she needs shelter and rest."

"Aye," Uilleam nodded, "and she is injured, I need tae patch her up, get some food in her."

"I wouldn't worry about the food," the leopard-shifter remarked. "Bethany hasn't eaten a thing since she's been here."

"How's tha' possible?" Uilleam frowned. Even vampires needed to drink fresh blood…and she was a baby, too; she would need sustenance to survive, let alone to replenish her strength.

"Dunno, must be part of her lineage," the shifter shrugged.

"How long's she been here, anyway?" Uilleam asked, frowning. How long was my mate caged like an animal?

"Six months, give or take a few weeks," the shifter shrugged. Six months! Uilleam's fangs sharpened with aggression. Six months she had endured life in that ward, watching tortured prisoners being dragged past, seen some of the basest atrocities Uilleam himself had ever seen visited on other Loreans.

"Up the mountain, then?" Ailith said, glancing around, shooting him a wary frown, telling him to tamp back the beast—because he couldn't do anything to unleash it. The moon was far from full—he had missed the full moon, stuck in that ungodsly prison with this bluidy torque diminishing his power, interfering with the moon's influence… And only the full moon had more sway than any mystical forces on a Lykae male in his prime who'd yet to claim his mate…

"We could chance the woods and push through, shaving time from our journey," one of the demons grunted, wincing as he felt a deep gouge in his thigh, leaning heavily on his sword—the ultimate sign of weakness.

"I, for one, doona wish tae be the plaything of a Wendigo this night," Uilleam remarked. No, he'd rather be doing something else…his gaze flickered to Bethany, who was shivering, her pretty fangs chattering, her face so pale.

"I'm starving," the fox-shifter grumbled, scenting the air delicately; her eyes went hooded as she gazed longingly at Bethany. "She has food."

"Come on, we need tae get moving," Uilleam said, checking their surroundings, a pang aching through his chest…the Instinct was truly silent, no whispered warnings or advice. Silence. "We can stop for food in a few hours, when we've put some distance between us and the facility…there were hordes of Wendigo, and I could see the glow of ghouls lightin' up the place, as well as Emberine's fire."

"How do we do this, then?" one of the shifters asked. They all seemed to turn to Uilleam, expecting him to lead them…well, he had once been General of his own army, back when the Lykae had had the numbers. He had fought alongside two of the demons present when he had been General, they probably remembered his skill.

"Ailith on point with Vincente; you will lead the way," Uilleam said, sizing up the demons, the nymph already getting cosy with one of the shifters, the two female shifters, one fox, one leopard—one's sense of smell would come in handy; and he had seen the lethal fangs on the leopard when she had fought off three crocodilae shifters—the bleeding succubus, the male shifters and the handsome incubus whose gaze kept flickering to lovely Ailith, his expression alternately bewildered and lustful, mesmerised.

Though Ailith had never noticed, that look wasn't unusual to see on a male's face whenever she walked past; wholly lovely, humble and shy, Ailith still didn't comprehend that males would do anything to have her. So the incubus had taken a fancy to Ailith? Good luck, friend, Uilleam thought; Ailith was notorious for remaining single; she was still wounded from the male who had betrayed her centuries ago.

Uilleam couldn't imagine anything coming between him and Munro; but then, neither of them had ever been in love. And Ailith's twin-sister Agnes had betrayed her with the demon male Ailith had loved; it'd broken Ailith's heart, and the twin's deceit had caused a rift in the family. Agnes had moved to Canada centuries ago when Lachlain had disappeared, no longer welcome with her mate anywhere near Ailith—or their mother Màiri. No Lykae would deny another their mate; but it didn't mean Agnes was forgiven. Agnes and the demon had broken Ailith; Màiri allowed the male to live, but did not speak to Agnes.

Uilleam had not liked Ailith's rowdy, attention-seeking twin anyway, was glad it was Ailith still living on the grounds of Kinevane. Bashful, more solitary than most Lykae, but self-possessed, she was nevertheless a complete darling, always sweet, surrounded by bairns from the village, and her own siblings, whom she adored. She was kind; but she was notorious for her long-fuse, and the devastating aftermath when she lost her temper. Uilleam had seen her fight in the last Accession—her first, when she had been a young lass—and couldn't name another female he'd rather have here to aid him in protecting his mate. Unless it was her mother, Màiri the Mauler.

Ailith was loyal to a fault: that loyalty had broken her heart centuries ago, but it also meant she would do anything for Uilleam, to help him protect his mate, as he would have her, had she someone of like value here… Judging by the way the incubus gazed at her, Uilleam wondered…

Shaking his head slightly, he focused; separating the shifters, the demons and the females into small clusters, assessing their strengths and grouping them so each vulnerability was accounted for and amended, he put Bethany in the middle of the procession, the females in front and back, the males bringing up the rear, those with the best senses taking turns to scout the path, the surrounding forest.

"Ales," Uilleam said, before they set off, and the affectionately-dubbed "Lymon" turned to him. He addressed her in Gaelic; "The Instinct tells you anything…I want to know…"

"Aye, then," Ailith nodded, her expression flickering to that heartbreaking sympathy she had shown him earlier, when she had delightedly congratulated him—the rumours throughout the ward had reached her ears that Uilleam had found his mate; and that he had found her in so fair a lass pleased Ailith.

She had asked what his Instinct said about the halfling, and Uilleam had had to confess…his Instinct was gone. Destroyed.

Her features had gone stark, devastated; to be denied the comforting presence of the Instinct was a painful thought. It was a painful reality. Ailith had murmured sorrowfully, "Ken we'll do anything tae help you get it back, Will."

"And you'd best hope you stay alive long enough tae get home," Uilleam added, as Ailith turned back to lead the party alongside the mortal. "Or your mother shall have my hide for her hearth."

"Aye, she would," Ailith said, her smile wistful, longing; all Lykae families were close-knit, but their recent tragedy had brought Màiri's pack of hell-raising bairns even closer to their ancient mum. Especially Ailith, who had adored and idolised her dad… He was a good man, Madsyn, Uilleam thought sadly. The clan missed the rage-demon prince as they would one of their own.

Ailith strolled to the front of their congregation, ever unhurried, and she and the mortal started off. Uilleam was relieved that it rained still, if only that their scents might be obscured by the storm, to make it all the more difficult for enemies to track them. Not that it'd help much against the supernatural senses of those without their torques, but it might give them a little bit of a head-start…

Offering his hand out to Bethany, she gave a tiny curl of her lips, and reached to take his hand. She was cold. He could see goose-bumps all over her bare legs. He had barely felt the cold, now glancing down and realising he hadn't replaced his shirt after removing the tatters of his old one, ripped by a now-dead succubus intent on raping him for strength… Never again, he thought darkly.

When his mate's sultry eyes—vivid with every flash of lightning that rocked the mountain—flicked to his chest, her gaze softening from the tension cold radiated through her, warm and lusty, his shoulders shot back.

Oh well. Gives my poppet something pretty tae look at in this miserable storm, he thought humbly. He asked her, drawing her attention so she could read his lips, "Do you want to stop and change clothing?"

She signed her response, shaking her head with a miserable lilt of her lips.

"She says they'd only get soaked," the leopard-shifter translated, eyeing Bethany's hands.

"Aye, then," Uilleam sighed. But as soon as they stopped, he'd figure out a way to warm her up…his blood heated at the thought…and then you'll get some proper clothes on her, Will, so she does no' die of hypothermia, aye? Canna be thinking of your cock when your mate needs you.

His mate

A.N.: So, chapter seven, and we've caught up with Paris and Jazira, and I've introduced Ailith, one of my favourite OCs I created ages ago, just hadn't got round to putting into a story; she's the best, most expensive jeweller/goldsmith/weaponsmith in the Lore. Her father is another of my OC characters, the middle-brother of Rydstrom and Cadeon, Madsyn Woede. More on that later.