Wade stepped through the portal into the clearing, only a hundred meters or so inside Avengard's forest. He wasn't too fond of the nephilim's form of trans-dimensional travel, it left him feeling disoriented for a moment or two, he much preferred the exhilaration of punching through the dimensional barrier in his dragon form. But, for practical reasons, everyone returning to Fey this morning, returned together.
Shaking his head to clear the last of his light-headedness, Wade grabbed his sister's hand and pulled her to one side as the next of the returned travellers stepped through. Brin's groan was almost as pitiful as it was annoying, and he took another step back just in case the combination of disorientation and her self induced hangover, caused her to hurl. His night had already been ruined by the Shade, he didn't want his new shoes ruined too. There was no way he was going through the whole ordeal of shopping for another pair for the wedding.
Next through was Raif, followed by Seth, Ky, Vaughn and his Lemurian entourage, then the nephilim from Dun Turidd, Eytan, Gallan, Jacob and another few nephilim whose names temporarily escaped his befuddled brain, and lastly, Gwynn, who closed the portal behind him. This collective bunch were normally a rowdy lot, but this morning they were uncustomarily quiet, and they all shared the same expression,…pursed lips and creased foreheads lined with concern.
This wasn't the way Wade had hoped the day after his bucks party would be. He'd planned on lazing about and reminiscing on all the fun. Of course things didn't go quite to plan. He was getting used to that though. Instead, his energy would be focused on tracking down this new demon threat quickly and eliminating it. If he had to postpone his wedding again, he feared Yasmin might just call the whole thing off, permanently. That wasn't an option he was willing to accept.
Through the trees a pair of Avengard soldiers stepped into the clearing, their hands resting uneasily on the hilt of their swords. Wade and Raif shared a kindred look.
"We're going to have to increase the number of guards around the forest," Raif said, voicing their mutual thought. Wade's grunt was barely a reply but a reply nonetheless.
"My lord, I realise you have barely had a chance to get your bearings, but your presence is required in the citadel." The guards bowed in greeting, directing their message to Raif, whose response was to replication of Wade's grunt, adding a resigned sigh at the end.
"I'll catch up with you all shortly and we can finish our meeting?" Raif asked, looking mainly at Gwynn and Vaughn.
"I'd like to hang around, but if these new demons are in the west, they could be somewhere in Lemuria, I really need to get back and find out what's happening," Vaughn replied.
"Why don't we catch up in a couple of days then, and if anything urgent comes up before then, let us know."
"Deal." Vaughn and Raif shook hands. "Gwynn, I don't suppose you can open a portal for me to get home, could you? I could fly but…." Vaughn didn't finish the sentence, there was no need. They all knew an eight hour flight back to Lemuria wasn't a good option right now.
"I'll take you," Doran cut in before Gwynn could reply. "I haven't seen my sister in awhile, I'm sure Layla hasn't changed too much, just yet," he said, giving Vaughn a sly grin.
At the mention of Layla, Jacob's attention sharpened, although he didn't understand the sly inference about her changing. It was obviously a family in-joke of some kind, but it piqued his curiosity. Not that he was going to learn anything more today, he figured. Unless, he could find a way to get to Lemuria too. Yeah right, like that was going to happen. Not after that halfwit Shade announced its presence so spectacularly last night, and that arsewipe lycan pup lived to divulge his plans. Well, no one except him knew it was his plans, and as pissed off as he was about losing the opportunity to put those plans in motion, now wasn't the time to make any bold moves and show his hand to his enemy.
Jacob prided himself on being a patient man, another couple of weeks wouldn't make much difference, he'd waited a hundred years already. Nonetheless, his anger burned inside him, blistering his thoughts with hatred, which in turn flamed the fires in his already scorched soul.
Conversation continued around him for a few moments longer, none of which registered in his preoccupied mind. Blah blah this,…blah blah that. Whatever. As they broke off into their respective groups to go their separate ways, Jacob offered his automated congenial responses to the rounds of good-byes, and followed his father, Eytan and the other nephilim, toward the portal to Dun Turidd. All the while he watched Vaughn from the corner of his eye as he stepped through Doran's portal to Lemuria, his fingers clutching at the small coin in his pocket. It was no ordinary coin however, it was a charm which, when dipped into a bowl of water, allowed him to scry and speak with Morganna directly. And, boy, did he have a lot to tell her today.
Raif and Seth set off toward the citadel, following the soldiers at a brisk pace. When Ky moved to follow, Wade grabbed his arm to stop him. He held him there in silence until he was sure there was no one within ear shot before he spoke.
"What's up Ky, you haven't been yourself since last night. And, don't try and tell me that Shade rattled you, that's pure bullshit. You know you can tell me anything so, what's up?"
Ky heaved a heavy sigh, shoving his hands in his pockets he stared down at his shoes. "It's the second Sunday in the month," he replied.
It took Wade a moment but the importance of that day finally clicked. "Market day."
"Yes. Branwen will be helping her father today," he said wistfully, his eyes shifting toward the city, so near and yet, so far.
Walking slowly, they made their way to the citadel, the nearer they got, the louder the hustle and bustle of the market drifted toward them on the warm morning breeze. And, the more agitated Ky became. Wade eyed him carefully, he'd seen him like this before, several times. Each time he'd disappear into the wilderness for weeks at a time. As far as he was concerned, that wasn't an option he was prepared to let Ky take this time. Maybe it was selfish, but he had planned of having all his brothers partake in his wedding.
"How long has it been since you last saw her?" Wade asked.
"Too long. Some days I feel like I might actually lose my mind from the separation, especially on days like today. I can feel her near, and my dragon claws at me to go to her. But I can't."
"Why not? Would you go and see her if you could?"
"In a heartbeat. But, like I said, I can't. Her father is always watching her when they're at the market."
"What if he was called away on other business? Would you make the most of his absence?"
"I like the way you're talking, but how?"
"Leave that to me," Wade grinned slyly.
A short while later when their plan was in place, Wade slapped Ky on the shoulder to send him on his way toward the market. At the same time, both Raif and Seth appeared from the citadel and headed toward him.
"Where's Ky going in such a hurry, did we miss something?" Raif asked. He would've been concerned there was another pending disaster somewhere in the city, if it wasn't for Wade's rather curious commiserative expression.
Wade debated for a moment whether or not to share the one secret his youngest brother had asked him to keep, and after see-sawing to and fro, he finally decided his brother had suffered in silence long enough. "Well, it's like this. Ky is off to see his mate."
"Okay, back-up. What the fuck are you talking about?" Seth blurted, his face scrunching in confusion, drawing his eyebrows down to shadow his eyes. Beside him, Raif's equally surprised expression lifted his eyebrow so high, Wade was convinced they might lift high enough to join his hairline.
"Ky has a mate? Who is she, and how is it we didn't know?" Raif snapped irritably.
"Who? Branwen, the cloth merchant's daughter. That Branwen?" Seth asked.
"That's the one," Wade nodded.
"Huh, that explains it," Seth grinned, seemingly chuffed by his answer.
"What, has Ky done something more odd than usual that this revelation explains something to you?" Raif asked testily.
"Pfft, no. I've been trying to get Branwen to go out with me, and she keeps knocking me back. I thought I was losing my charm," he laughed.
"You're keen on her too?" Wade asked. Seth looked at his brother and quirked up an brow. "Ah, I see. You attracted to her tits and arse."
"What can I say, I'm a simple man," Seth shrugged, offering them a simpering grin.
Wade shook his head at his brother, levelling him with a tempered glare. "You know, one day a woman is going to come along and tip your life upside down too. Just you wait." Beside him Raif just nodded his agreement to Wade's assumption.
"Keep dreaming. I'm one bachelor who isn't going to be tamed by any woman. I'm having too much fun to be tied down to just one."
"Famous last words," Raif chuckled.
"How did the topic switch to me? I want to know about Ky and Branwen."
"Definitely. I have no interest in hearing about Seth's sexcapades. I want to know how long Ky's known Branwen is his mate, and why didn't I know about it?" Raif demanded.
"How long ago did Ky start spending so much time in the wilderness?" Wade said, answering with a question.
Raif gave this some thought. "He's always been a bit of a loner, but…I suppose about fifty years, why? Are you saying that's when he discovered his bond to her?"
"What the fuck?" Seth blurted.
"Branwen's father is very insistent that they wait until she reaches her maturity before he can claim her."
"And when will that be?" Raif asked, his own foul mood mellowing in light of this incredible news. He was a mated man himself, he couldn't imaging how hard it must be for Ky to know who his mate was, but be unable to claim her. To have an incomplete bond, it must be tearing him apart inside. Not to mention the torture his dragon would be going through. After further thought, Raif was surprised his brother was still sane.
"Not for another twenty years."
"Fuck!" both Raif and Seth exclaimed at the same time.
"And why didn't he tell us? Why didn't you?" Raif asked.
"He didn't want anyone to pity him, and he asked me specifically not to tell anyone, not even you."
"How did you find out?"
Wade looked at his eldest brother for a moment. "It's your job to rule this land, it's mine to know what's happening in it, so you can do your job," he told him. "Speaking of which, why did the guards drag you away so urgently?"
"Hellhounds. It seems they're on the move. Somehow they've left Lemuria and crossed Hadrian's Straight, and they're now in our lands. They've been zig-zagging across the western border and causing havoc in some of the outer farming villages. Nothing major, a few slaughtered sheep and cattle, and they've scared the crap out of a few villages when they've wandered through the streets."
"That's a worry. Have they haven't attacked anyone?" Wade asked.
"No, which is odd since we know how aggressive they can be. Something else too, he villagers have all said the hounds look like they're hunting for something."
"I don't know whether to be relieved or concerned. What are they hunting?" Wade asked.
"That's the fifty-million dollar question." Seth replied. "Does it piss you off that we knew about it before you?"
"A bit," Wade replied honestly.
"Good." With that Seth turned away and headed back inside the citadel, feeling relieved that he'd been spared the noose of finding a mate. And, for the first time he regretted all the shit he'd been hanging on his younger brother for all his quirky ways. Now that he understood the cause of his peculiarities, he felt sorry for the poor sucker.
"It seems I've learned two things this morning," Raif looked at Wade who just raised an eyebrow. "Ky drew the short straw when it comes to finding a mate, and hellhounds are good swimmers." Hadrian's Strait was deep and treacherous, with deadly currants and even deadlier watery occupants. Plus, even at its narrowest point it was still a good ten miles wide. "Do you think we can help Ky?"
"What do you have in mind?" Wade asked curiously.
"You do have a wedding coming up, I think we may need a few extra hands to help out, don't you?"
"I believe you might be right."
Ky rounded the street corner and there she was. Branwen. The breath in his lungs caught as his heart decided to go into arrhythmia. And just like that the levity of his good mood was both heightened by relief and shoved aside by raw, possessive lust, almost simultaneously. Putting more speed into his step he approached her family's market stall, narrowly side stepping slower moving patrons in the crowded city street. Stepping under the shaded annex of the marquee, he easily leapt over the table laden with saleable wares. Impulsively, Ky grabbed her about the waist, pulling her hard against his body and laying a determined kiss on her lips, delighting in her squeal of surprise.
"Ky?" Branwen's voice rose an octave in confused elation, followed by a quiet hiss of, "What the Hell are you doing here? If my father sees you, he'll have kittens."
"Don't worry, I waited until he left, and I've got someone keeping watch. Your father will never know I was here. Promise."
Maybe she was being a drama queen, but seeing Ky standing there was like,…like,… Cue the slow motion avalanche of conflicting, irrational thoughts and emotions, accompanied by an imminent panic attack. Her heart palpated wildly beneath her ribcage before sinking into the pit of her stomach.
"You can't do this. Not here, not now. You know how he'll react if he sees you here."
"Maybe not directly, but what if one of the other merchants tells him you were here, huh? What then?"
"I've got that covered too."
"You paid them off?" Branwen couldn't help smirking despite her concern.
"If you don't want to see me, I can leave," he told her teasingly.
"Of course I do, you know I do. But,…"
"No buts. Just enjoy our few minutes together."
How could she argue with him. She'd been dreaming of nothing else for weeks, especially since his brother announced the new date for his wedding. Maybe it was petty, but she couldn't help feeling jealous. It should be her wedding. Except her father insisted on being an old-fashioned arse-mungle about the whole Appropriate Age thing.
Branwen threw her head back and let out a sound of frustration, a growl filled with equal portions lust and annoyance, which sent an instant flush of blood straight to Ky's groin.
Her shrewd gaze fixed on him, as though stripping him down to his very essence, which at this particular point was raw with primal need. Branwen eyed him ardently, taking in every detail. Tall and obscenely muscular, he had a body to die for, and shoulder length wavy dark hair with auburn tints when caught in the sunlight, which any woman would kill for. Add in his ruggedly masculine high cheek bones, square jaw and his dark shade of emerald-green eyes, a perfectly straight nose and a mouth so luscious it would make even angels think wicked thoughts. Mix all that together with a dangerous dose of irresistible sexuality and he was the epitome of masculine beauty.
"You done sizing me up?"
"Not even close," she chuckled enticingly, and Ky lapped up every moment of her attention. A low-level current of energy reverberated in the air between them, something she felt under her skin like a caress, a heartbeat of their bonded souls connection. But it was a bonding that was still incomplete.
Snuggling further into his warm arms as they wrapped around her, Ky braced her securely against his hard frame and let out a wistful sigh.
"One day," she promised. "My father can't keep us apart forever."
"Damn right he can't. The day you come of age is the day we're getting hitched."
"Hitched?" she repeated curiously, pulling back a little to question his meaning.
"Sorry, that's a term they like to use on Earth. It means getting mated or married," he clarified.
"I see. Well, if that's so, I can't wait to get hitched," she grinned. "But, for now you'd better make yourself scarce before my father comes back."
Ky peered out into the street, his sharp eyes scanning for the familiar and dreaded figure of Jovan. Satisfied the coast was still clear, he tipped Branwen's chin up and took her lips in a passionate kiss.
"I had another purpose for coming to see you."
"Oh? You didn't want to kiss me?" she teased.
"More than I wanted to breath," he confessed. "But, we received some disturbing news last night about a new influx of demons who arrived in Fey yesterday. We believe they're somewhere in the west, and I wanted to warn you to be careful."
"I wouldn't worry about it, no demon has ever dared to come into any of our cities. Besides, you said they're in the west and I have no intention of leaving Avengard, especially not before Wade and Yasmin's wedding. So, I guess I'm safe."
"Shades haven't. But, these are scavenger demons."
"I haven't heard of them. What are they after?"
"We don't know yet, and that's what worries me. We know nothing about them, what they want or what they're capable off. Not even what they look like. So, just be careful, please."
Ky drew her in for one last kiss before reluctantly releasing her, replacing his hand about her waist to clutch at his chest, the loss of her touch leaving an instant void in his soul and sucking the breath right from his lungs. If he didn't experience it himself, he never would have believed it possible to feel such strong physical pain every time they parted. It was an unfortunate legacy of their incomplete bonding, one which he planned on rectifying the moment her father gave his consent.
Despite the precautions Ky had taken, posting a lookout down the street and paying off the neighbouring vendors, he didn't think to do the same with the vendor's wives. One of whom in particular, was less than impressed with Ky's covert meeting with Branwen, and even less impressed with the way her husband secretly pocketed Ky's money, no doubt to spend down at the tavern later. What really annoyed her was the fact that her husband clearly thought she wasn't smart enough to notice. Well, she had news for him.