1. The Accident
Four Years Ago
The Alpha knew something had gone horribly wrong. There was a storm raging above him causing trees in the forest to almost bend in half with the intensity of the wind. Rain was coming down in sheets and the Alpha was caught unprepared. Suddenly, there was a pinch of pain, so sudden and unexpected it steals your breath, followed by a searing slice of agony through his soul. He gasped and fell to his knees in the middle of the muddy forest, clutching his chest. There was no one around to witness his pain, the devastation of an Alpha losing his mate. He was alone.
The beta from the Cold Moon pack was tasked with the inevitable duty of telling his Alpha, Declan McCann, that his mate had died. The beta should have saved his breath. Declan knew. He knew that his mate had perished in the storm. The details were irrelevant. She left, and left him with a 4-month-old pup to raise. It didn’t matter that Ella was his chosen mate—Declan had not found his fated. They spent their lives together and assuming they were each other’s destiny, that their fate was to choose their love each day and to keep choosing it. Together, they were a completed pair. Ella was his partner, his love, his mate, the mother to their pup, and Luna to their pack.
The consequences from a mate’s death were well known within the werewolf community, but no one talks about the emptiness—the shell the living mate becomes. The agony is highlighted, sure. The loneliness, the feeling of abandonment, the ripping apart of a piece of your soul? It’s all discussed. But no one talks about the emptiness. The façade erected trying to rebuild and survive. False smiles and insincere laughter that persist to ease the discomfort of those around the one who experienced the death. What happens when there’s nothing left, when the surviving mate is an empty vessel because of loss?
Declan stood expressionless, in shock, at Ella’s funeral. His father conducted the service, even though, Declan, as Alpha, should have. Declan’s only memory from the day? The fvcking rain that would not stop. Eventually, the cries of his son pulled Declan from his daze. Someone thrusted a warm bottle into Declan’s hands as he cuddled the pup under his raincoat, trying in vain to keep the baby warm and dry. As he suckled the bottle, the pup quieted.
“At least he found comfort,” Declan thought bitterly, realizing he was going back to a cold bed where he would be alone, forever. His only hope, only attempt to survive was to ensure that the pup lived, that he didn’t forget his mother, that the pup became the Alpha he was destined to become. Declan’s own desperate unhappiness was secondary to ensuring his son’s and his pack’s survival.
After the funeral and during the ensuing years, Declan raged against the universe and warred against the fates that oversaw such a cruel turn of events. Who thinks a pup doesn’t need their mother? What kind of Spirit of the Moon sees a baby and renders it motherless? Leaves a vacuum in the heart of the pack where the Luna resides? What sort of Goddess allows such misery?
Ella’s death left Declan a broken man. How do you put the pieces back together when there are none left to find?
Everly double checked her gear. A major storm front was moving in and she was heading out to track it. As a graduate student studying climate change, and a storm tracker, heading out to catch the big storm was a rush and this one was going to be a doozy. Plus, a storm was a great way to mask her powers and throw whoever was tracking her this time off the trail. It was exhausting, hiding herself from the world. Keeping her few friends at arms-length, constantly looking over her shoulder. Everly had more identities than she could count since her mom died. Her aunt and her coven having done everything they knew to do to keep her safe. Thus far, they had succeeded. Everly came from a long line of powerful witches. The women in her family were bestowed with the ability to use light and dark magic with no consequence, without being consumed, and she was the last of them—of the Gray witches.
The trouble with her particular kind of magic is that it left a specific signature and those tracking Everly knew how to find it. One of the first skills she learned was to cloak her magic, hiding it from the world and those who hunted her. She had become so good at it by now, that it was barely perceptible unless you were right next to her or knew what to look for. Periodically, Everly had to drop the cloaking or the hidden magic would be too strong and harm her person. It was a natural consequence of hiding one’s true nature. She shook her arms out a little and imagined her second skin, tightening it in a little closer, taking a few deep breaths to calm the rush from using a little power.
The last time Everly had to use any real magic was last year. Her aunt’s coven was contacted about a familiar dark magical signature discovered by a coven in the Pacific Northwest. Shadows of the Dark, the black magical collaborative that had long hunted the women in Everly’s family tree, were manipulating rogue werewolves into forming some sort of human trafficking ring, the purposes unknown.
A pack of werewolves had rescued most of the innocents, but the local coven wanted to ensure that the dark magic had been eliminated. Everly was asked to assist by her aunt, given Everly’s unique skill set. One low level member from Shadows of the Dark was discovered and Everly dealt with her. By exterminating this threat to light magic, Everly provided yet another blow to the dark magic sect in a generations long game of cat and mouse that would ultimately result in a final confrontation.
Instead of leaving as one would expect, Everly transferred her studies to the local university and stuck around after finding how much she loved this part of the country. Plus, Shadows of the Dark would never expect Everly to stay so close to where she had practiced magic. She had a bit of a reprieve in the endless hunt for her power and gift.
Before leaving for her campsite, Everly sent a quick text to her aunt letting her know that she would be off the grid for a few days. Everly was never truly off the grid, but she kept her magic deeply cloaked and only brought it forth when absolutely necessary. It lessened her risk and had kept her alive to this point. She had been away from the Coven for several years, not wanting to put them in danger since she was tracked, but she missed her family. Even her aunt would be surprised at how powerful Everly had become.
With each storm Everly tracked, she used the cover of the swirling winds, rain, or snow to hone her craft, perfecting her gifts as she had been taught. When the dark forces finally caught up with her, she would be ready and she would end them, bringing the magical world back into balance. It was Everly’s destiny, her fate.
Everly loathed Shadows of the Dark, not just because they had murdered her mother. The organization represented the worst version of the blackest magic. It would stop at nothing to gain power; killing, torturing, and maiming anyone and anything that got in its way. The human trafficking ring was just the latest in a series of atrocities for which the group was responsible. Their leader, Neesa, was particularly cruel and known for sucking the life force from whatever source was convenient whenever she wanted. The group was driven by one goal: complete dominion of all magical beings by whatever means necessary. Thus far, they had failed at almost every turn largely due to the work of a loose knit network of white magic covens scattered around the country. The world would be an infinitely better place once this dark group met their end.
Loading her car, she headed to the trailhead. Everly loved living in the Northwest, right on the border with Canada—while technically she lived in Washington State, she was close to Idaho and Victoria, Canada. The weather was perfect for her; slightly gray and overcast most of the time with frequent storms. It was the middle of winter and she was heading up the mountains for the incoming blizzard. As an experienced camper, Everly wasn’t worried. She was hoping the storm would provide the final round of data she needed to complete her research and finish her Master’s degree. Plus, she had a few spells she wanted to try, as well as manipulating the elements a bit, and she was looking forward to dropping her cloaking for a few days, letting her magic air out, so to speak.
Everly parked at the trailhead and hiked into the mountains for a couple of miles. The temperature steadily dropped and the first flakes of snow started to fall. It was beautiful. She loved the stillness of the forest at the first signs of snow—like nature itself was exhaling and taking a pause. Lifting her head, she stuck out her tongue to catch a few snowflakes. Once the wind picked up, she could drop her cloaking and let her magic free. In the meantime, she chanted one of her favorite centering mantras, taught to her by her mom when Everly was young:
Morning light so bright;
Air in which I delight;
Spare me from this fright;
Protect me from the night.
The wind picked up and she dropped her cloaking with an exhale. She wiggled her hands and toes, feeling the freedom that came with her unrestrained power. Everly had picked a place protected by a cliff with a small cave to camp for a few nights, figuring it would be sheltered from the worst of the storm. It had a good ledge where she could place her equipment and get the readings she needed. The snow was coming down heavily at this point, and she was still a mile or so from the campsite. Stopping to check her GPS, she didn’t realize she was so close to a steep embankment.
A sudden gust of wind caught Everly’s pack and she lost her balance, yelling as she rolled down the hill with her pack, twisting her ankle horribly in the process. Once she stopped rolling, Everly laid on her back to catch her breath. Slowly, she wiggled her fingers, hands, and arms. Nothing seemed hurt too badly. Then she started with her toes, gasping when she tried to move her left ankle. It was clearly injured. Fortunately, nothing else seemed broken or damaged. She managed to lose her GPS in the tumble, but she wasn’t that far from the trail so she wasn’t too concerned. The more pressing need was some sort of shelter so she could ride out the storm to get back to her car.
Looking around, she found a suitable branch to act as a crutch. Hefting her pack onto her back, she headed in the direction of the car, hoping to find shelter before she reached it. It was slow going and her ankle was throbbing horribly, but she was making steady progress. Eventually, Everly found a small overhang that was protected from the wind. Fortuitously, there were some small branches that had blown in so she was able to build a small fire. By the time she settled in, her ankle was aching badly.
Everly used a small spell to ease the swelling and pain in her ankle. There were some rules prohibiting the use of magic for one’s personal gain, but this felt like an appropriate exception. She didn’t even bother to try and check her equipment as she was in no position to track any weather trends. Hungry and cold by this point, Everly was too tired and sore to warm up water for the soup packet she brought along. Without a doubt, she was a mess with mud and sticks tangled in her hair, but she was mostly fine. Tonight, that was all that mattered. Everly snuggled into her sleeping bag and let the wind and fire lull her into a fitful sleep.