A note from your humble author: Hey everyone. Just a reminder that if anyone has a moment to spare and would like to help me out, I still desperately need Amazon and/or Goodreads reviews before book 2 goes live. Especially after receiving a couple of sub-par reviews for book 2 on Goodreads from people who didn't even read the book (I'll never use NetGalley to hand out ARCs again. The whole experience has had me feeling very low). I would be more than happy to hook you up with an exclusive sexy Lord Anshar cut scene as my way of saying thank you. Those who have taken me up on the offer have really enjoyed it. And to those who have given me a review, from the bottom of my heart - thank you!
Halea dried her eyes on the sleeve of her green robe as she stood just outside the tree-dwelling door and struggled to compose herself before climbing down and making her way back.
Varg had reluctantly agreed that she could close their bond during her interrogation sessions with Lord Anshar. It was never a pleasant experience, and there was nothing her mate could do to help her, except be there to comfort her when she was through.
Opening their bond was like being allowed to breathe again after the suffocating time spent within the isolated tree, and she could sense that Varg was coming.
"Did you get him to speak this time?" Varg asked as he approached, seemingly from nowhere, and she could tell that he had become impatient and came to collect her. Even though Lord Anshar was trapped, Varg still did not trust the dragon and had insisted that the mirror be kept as far away from the den as possible.
She nodded and leaned against his muscular chest for comfort, and he wrapped his arms around her, his warmth a soothing balm on her jangled nerves.
"He seems better today."
Varg regarded her with a raised eyebrow, her emotional distress suggested otherwise.
"I mean, he talked. He really talked to me. He showed himself too. His wound has healed, and he looks okay…just sad."
"What's wrong?" he asked sensing a dark cloud over her thoughts.
"He said he's not going to help us. He swore on the gods that he would never sacrifice again."
"Then we don't need him. The next time a priestess comes, send him back with them and be rid of him. He's only tormenting you."
"I can't do that, Varg. Tiamet wants me to save him. Maybe it's just the madness talking. One moment he's there, and the next he's gone again. He says the voice that used to torment him hasn't spoken since being within the mirror, but he's clearly still not well. Whether he hears it anymore or not, it's left a lasting effect, and I have to try and snap him out of it. He's our only hope."
As much as Varg wanted to argue that the dragon had made his vow and it didn't matter whether or not he still heard from his imaginary friend, he couldn't. Halea wanted hope. Her goddess had not spoken or appeared before her since the day the dragon was caught, but she was convinced that Tiamet's intervention was a sign that something could yet be done. He wasn't sure if he believed that or not, but he forced himself to remain optimistic for her sake. As much as he disliked having that accursed object within his lands or that bastard around his mate, if believing that Anshar could change gave her hope, he would endure it.
She looked up at him with eyes imploring for him to understand, and he was defeated.
"If you really believe there's a chance, keep trying. Things have been calmer, I'm sure we'll hold out," he said while running his fingers through dark golden hair.
Winter had only begun when they brought the mirror to the lycan territory and now the season was coming to a close. A few melting and muddy piles of snow still littered the ground beneath the trees, but spring was not far away. During the long winter, Varg and Halea had taken out a group of their best warriors every time a demon threatened their lands and swiftly eliminated them. They had only seen two tears in all that time, and thankfully, there had been no injuries from dark weapons. The activity from the Chaos Dimension seemed to be diminished, but Halea suspected it was only the calm before the storm, and Varg hoped that she was wrong.
Mama Dragon had left their territory with the coming of winter, taking her therian companion with her. She would not return until later in the spring, but Halea was more than capable of protecting the lycan lands in her stead.
"I guess you're done working on the house for today. How is it coming along?" she asked, hoping to change the subject to something more pleasant.
Varg's smile revealed his gleaming white fangs as he detected her eager curiosity. He hadn't allowed her to see any of his construction efforts. He wanted the completed tree-house to be a surprise, but his secrecy also made her nervous. She was constantly accusing him of going overboard, and she wouldn't have been wrong, but he was confident the finished home would win her favor. It was keeping the rest of the pack quiet that was the real challenge. Against his orders, many had peeked, and he knew they were gossiping. His only concern was that someone would spoil the surprise for Halea, but thankfully, most knew better than to risk his anger by ruining his plans.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" he teased with a deep laugh before leading her back towards the den.
"Yes, damn it, I would! You're up to something terrible, I just know it."
"Of course I am, but you'll love it anyway. You'll just have to be patient. Spring is nearly here, and better weather means I can make faster progress."
"I'm sorry if I'm impatient, but you've got me so wound up, plus after a long winter of living almost entirely in caves and caverns, I'm dying to see what the sky looks like again," she grumbled.
When winter set in with all its freezing winds and harsh snow, they lycans had abandoned their outdoor fire pits and retreated within the vast caverns of their mountains. The caverns also had fire pits, and were cozy in their own way, and beautiful with their veins of gold and shimmering stalactites, but being enclosed all the time got tiring after a while. She longed for soft spring grass and fresh green leaves, wildflowers, and skies as blue as Varg's eyes. Batsuba's medical training was far more boring during the winter as well. Without fresh herbs to study and gather, Halea was left with lectures, musty tombs, anatomy lessons, and house calls. The house calls weren't so bad. Alongside Batsuba, she had finally managed to help deliver three new cubs, and she had cried each and every time. Giving birth was difficult, and the male mates were unbearable, but to see a new life come into the world filled her with unparalleled joy. She understood why Batsuba never grew tired of it, and her heart ached with unspoken longing.
"It looks like that," he said while pointing up, but she slapped his arm.
"You know what I mean, you mangy wolf," she laughed as Varg wrapped one arm lovingly around her shoulders.
"I suppose, I had better hurry. I'd like to get our home finished before the Spring Moon Festival. There's going to be a lot of work to do between now and then."
For lycans, the first full moon after the spring equinox symbolized the birth of a new year. Everyone would gather outside, even if it wasn't always entirely warm enough yet, and make huge bonfires. The entire week before the full moon was one long celebration. Ale and wine would flow, and there would be song and dance and storytellers recounting histories and epic tales of days long past. Prayers would be offered to the wolf gods, asking them to bless the hunts for the new year and there would be sports and games. After a long winter of being cooped up inside, many lycans longed to stretch their legs and exert themselves. There would be wrestling matches, fights, of the refereed variety, races, and an archery competition. The entire week before the celebration would be dedicated to competitive hunting challenges to see which teams could bring in the most fresh meat for the festival feast.
Varg had been in charge of managing the preparations for the festival every year since his father died, but thankfully all the lycans pitched in to help. Halea knew this and had been waiting for a good time to discuss the matter with him.
"Varg, let me manage the festival this year. Please."
He was a little surprised by her request. Typically, it was the Wolfmother's duty to orchestrate such social functions, but he had never wanted to force the responsibility onto his human mate. He had hoped that she would come around to performing some of the roles expected of her position, but if not, he would not ask it of her. Halea had struggled to be accepted by his people, and earning her place in the pack had not come easy. When he first mated her, he had tried to shelter her from the brutal ways of wolves, but his overprotective nature had caused her more harm than good. In the end, she had been forced to fight and exercise the might of her will against those who opposed her, and at long last, she seemed to command the respect that she truly deserved. He was incredibly proud of how far she had come and how much she had accomplished. Even her healer training with Batsuba severed to make her a valuable and revered Wolfmother. He wouldn't have dared to ask for more, but now she was freely offering to share the burden of alpha leadership, and his heart swelled so much it almost choked him.
"Are you sure? It is a lot of work. You don't have to force yourself to do anything if you're not ready yet."
"I can do this!" she stated with confidence that immediately halted her mate and made him catch her in his arms. "I've been thinking about it a lot lately. You work so hard for everyone here, and I should support you more. I said before, I want to be a real Wolfmother. You deserve a mate who is also a partner."
"Halea, you are already more than I deserve," he argued as he held her close and lovingly looked down on her shining face, the soft light through the bare trees revealing the last remnants of her childhood freckles.
She smiled warmly up at him. His words could not mask the elation she sensed from him through their bond. The pride. The love.
"What, you think I can't manage a party?"
"You can do anything," he breathed as his face leaned down towards hers drawing their lips close together. Their hands found each other and twined together.
"Well, then the matter is settled. I'm in charge. You can just worry about the hunts, and I'll take care of everything else. In fact, while you were busy building our house, I've already gathered several volunteers. We're going to have the best Spring Moon Festival ever!"
"You've been busy behind my back," he said in an amused tone as he nuzzled her nose and he could hear the sound of her heart as it fluttered against her ribs.
"I have a point to prove," she confessed with a smile as his lips slowly began to trail down the side of her face with the faintest of touches that ignited sparks beneath her skin.
"You don't have to prove yourself to me. The gods couldn't have granted me a better mate. You're everything I ever wanted and everything I could ever need. I love you, Halea," he spoke before softly teasing her lips with his and savoring the way she slowly opened her mouth in response. Her warm tongue met his as passion flowed between them through their bond and his chest vibrated as a low growl of satisfaction passed through him and ignited her deepest desires. The scent of her arousal permeated the air and he grew hard with need as the edges of his vibrant blue eyes turned red.
The howl of a wolf cried out from the den and Varg was forced to break their kiss with a growl of frustration.
"Did they find another demon?" she asked.
"No. It's a runner – from the southern pack. I guess we better go," he grumbled as he took her by the hand, and together they made their way back down towards the den.
When they reached the den, many had gathered to greet Ralph, the southern wolf, and he had already been escorted to Varg's fire pit and was being offered food and drink after his long run. When Varg and Halea approached, he stood up and bowed his head respectfully, waiting to be acknowledged.
"Halea, this is Ralph," Varg introduced. Ralph had been at the last gathering but hadn't seen Halea since she mated Varg. "Welcome, brother. What brings you this far north?" he asked before sitting in his usual seat at the pit and encouraging Halea to join him at his side.
Ralph looked a little uncomfortable at the human Wolfmother's presence, but he sat back down across from his king and another lycan approached and offered them all something to drink. Halea politely refused, but after Ralph's cup had been refilled and Varg was given a tankard of ale, the southern wolf got right to the point of his visit.
"Thank you for seeing me, Alpha Varg." There was a slight moment of pause before he added; "And Wolfmother Halea. Thank you both for your hospitality. It's been a long run, but the gods were merciful and granted me good weather for my journey. I come bearing a message."
"I've been expecting this. So, when shall I expect my cousin?" asked Varg.
"Alpha Raoul wishes to formally request a wolf gathering so that he may present himself before you and the council. The Spring Moon Festival is next month, and he believes this would be the most ideal opportunity to bring all the packs together."
Varg sensed Halea growing anxious beside him, and he swore he heard her heart skip a beat.
"I'm sorry if this spoils your plans," Varg said to Halea. "I know four packs together all at once, is far more than you bargained for and you don't have to manage it if it's too much."
"No," she quickly interjected. "No, I said I want to do this, and nothing is stopping me. You're right; a whole gathering is a lot, but I can do it. It might be more difficult, a lot more difficult, but I'll see it through. My volunteers will help me, and Batsuba will be with me, and besides, you need to finish our house. Don't pretend like you wouldn't just love showing off to all the other packs and you won't have time to finish it if you have to manage a gathering and a festival. Please, Varg, let me handle it. I'll be okay."
"If you're sure?"
"Very," she said with a firm nod.
Ralph watched his supreme alpha's interaction in amusement. He didn't know much about humans and had barely caught a glimpse of Halea at the last wolf gathering, but she was undoubtedly an alpha bitch. Suddenly Varg's choice seemed to make a little more sense.
"Then shall I return with a message that the gathering is to be held here on the Spring Moon Festival?" asked Ralph.
"Yes. I'll send runners to spread the news to the northern and eastern packs before they get too far invested into their own festival preparations," confirmed Varg before turning to address his mate. "Halea, there will be more runners over the next few weeks bringing messages from the other packs who will want to coordinate with you for the festival."
"I'll be ready," she replied.
He smiled brilliantly at her and squeezed her hand in appreciation. Any remaining fear she harbored dissipated at his open display of confidence in her abilities.
"Are you sure it's safe to come out of hiding?" asked Priestess Pauline as she stoked her campfire.
"I don't think Lord Anshar is going anywhere. Tiamet helped Halea to seal him within the mirror, and I'm not even certain how he'll get back out again. Priestesses have always closed dimensions, I never knew they could open them," Samesa replied as she finished the last of her tea and was grateful for its comforting warmth. Rufus had found her during the winter and delivered a message from Mama Dragon about Lord Anshar's miraculous capture. She had never heard of the Goddess personally intervening before, and deep down it made her afraid. They were not in a good situation if the gods were getting involved. She had spent the majority of the winter searching for her fellow priestesses and spreading the news. Mama Dragon was also out in the wilds doing the same thing, and Rufus would often visit with information about the location of the hidden priestesses. They no longer had a base of operation or a leader, and the time might come when they would all be needed.
"If the rangers have taken the castle as you say, there's no point in returning to Antherose. I haven't seen as many demons or tears, but it's probably better if we stay out here to make sure things don't get so out-of-hand again. I'm relieved though, I'm nearly out of that stuff that hides the way I smell, and not much has had time to grow yet."
"I think you can give that stuff a break for a while," Samesa offered with one of her glowing smiles. "I'll pass on your location to Rufus the next time Mama Dragon sends him my way, and if we need you, we'll know where to find you. Well, I guess I better get going. Chaos waits for no one," she said as she got up with a stretch.
"Have your traps been working? I mean, I know there aren't many demons at the moment, but I swear they haven't been falling for traps the way they used to. I see footprints, but it looks like they know where the traps are and are going around them. You don't think they've learned to read the ancient language, do you?"
Discomfort clouded Samesa's face. She had also noticed the strange behavior. Ever since the last convergence, when Lord Anshar disappeared, the demons had been different. Their forms were less primitive, and they exhibited a heightened intelligence. Where once their senses had been dulled by the sunlight, now, they seemed as lethal in the day as they had once only been at night.
"I don't know, Pauline. Things are a little calmer but no less serious. A storm is coming. All we can do is be on our guard. Maybe after spring gets here and things start growing again, you should keep drinking that scent masking potion, just in case. If they really are getting smarter, it wouldn't hurt to stay one step ahead."
"You're right," Pauline conceded with a nod.
The two priestesses embraced in solidarity before Samesa turned and continued on her way through the forest. She had to cover many more miles before reaching the nearest village, and she dreaded the idea of having to spend another night out in the cold. Her thoughts were troubled as she wandered beneath the trees and she worried about the future. High Priestess Maven had been kept under lock-and-key in the castle dungeon by Favion and Master Uro all winter, and now the rangers were there. They had no leader to guide them. For the first time since she was a child, she felt lost, alone, and afraid.
"Help," a small voice called in the distance.
Samesa snapped out of her brooding thoughts at the shocking sound.
"Please help me. I'm lost, and it's cold. Please, someone, help me."
"A child? Out here in the middle of nowhere?" Samesa thought in horror before rushing through the trees.
There, huddled beneath the trees in a dirty cloak was a young boy, maybe about seven or eight years of age.
"Hey, kid, what are you doing way out here? Where are your parents?" Samesa asked as she approached.
"I'm lost. Please help me. Please," the boy begged as he looked up at her with tear-filled eyes.
Samesa's heart flooded with pity, and she stepped closer to help pull the boy from the ground. When she reached down to help him up, the moment his tiny hand touched her something snapped within her.
Her grandmother bleeding from her throat. Her younger brother being torn to pieces as a demon shredded the flesh from his body and devoured it. Incredible pain as a dark blade sliced into her. Screams of terror as flames rose up to the night sky as her village burned to the ground. Sand dunes that stretched on endlessly. The mirage of her family beckoning to her but always just out of reach. A kind woman with a white face. Seeing endless trees for the first time. Sparring with her mentor. Standing over a grave and saying goodbye.
The pain of her memories being violated forced her to scream out in rebellion just before the invading presence could reach any further into her mind and before she knew it, she was lashing out with the white light of her purification.
"Stop!" she shouted as the powers of Tiamet flowed through her, and suddenly she was standing in the forest again and smoldering before her lay a hideous writhing mass of spindly legs attached to a hairy bulbous body. The warped humanoid face of the child was on the head of the creature and stretching out from its mouth were snapping mandibles. A sharp barb twitched as the beast struggled to move and without a second thought, Samesa called upon her powers again and purified the hideous creature which burst into white flame.
A strange green smoke rose from the charred remains and Samesa watched in horror as it moved through the trees like it knew where it was going, and then it was gone.
A note from your humble author: Damn it, Varg, finish that house already! Oh wait, that's next chapter. lol The creepy spider demons return. What is Chaos up to? You'll just have to keep reading to find out. Same bat time, same bat channel!
8/24/20: The Convergence series is now complete. Wolfmother has been removed in its entirety for publishing. These are sample chapters only. The complete series is now only available in ebook and paperback. Please see my blog to find how you can obtain a copy of the Convergence series.