Authors: Winifred Lacroix
The wolves finally stopped only a few feet from Catherine and stopped. "What do you want?" It was Mary she was screaming, tears were running down her face, and Catherine remembered that fear and she turned to Mary, hoping to comfort her, to make the pain stop, to help her.
"You want food? You fuckers want food?" Mary grabbed her and Catherine's eyes widened. Mary shoved her forward, causing Catherine to fall to her hands and knees. The golden wolf moved toward the fallen blonde, twigs and dirt digging into her hands and knees "There you go! Eat up!"
"You okay?" a voice said in front of her.
She looked up to see Shawn in front of her extending a hand. "You were great," he smiled as she grabbed it, he pulled her up and dusted off her hands gently "Okay?"
Cat nodded and looked over at the golden wolf that was watching patiently with concern.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no need to fear," Shawn said walking past her "You are to be our guests tonight, so if you'll kindly stop cowering, me and Gwennie will get you to our residence."
Cat reached out to stroke the golden wolf's muzzle and the beautiful creature closed his eyes at the touch and sat down. She stroked his fur and placed her cheek against his and closed her eyes, he was hers. She breathed in deeply, he smelled like cedar wood.
"I've brought the cloaks alpha,” John said, breaking the moment between them
Catherine stepped back away from the wolf and turned to see Ivan who was buttoning an ornate silver clasp at the top of his cloak, he caught her staring "We wear cloaks so nothing it damaged when we transform, cheaper."
"I was worried." She breathed finally, all the traumatic events of the night were over and she felt it all catch up with her, her eyes beginning to fill with tears.
Ivan looked alarmed and pulled her against him "You did you job, Cat."
"You got shot, I felt it, are you okay?" She grabbed his arm and turned it over to see that the wound was completely gone.
"It's gone now, don't fear Cat, you did your job." He kissed her gently and pulled her hood back up "Stay warm"
She pushed her hood back up so she could see what Shawn and Gwen were doing, and it seemed like they were tying up the people who had harmed Ivan with a worn rope, wrists together and then they would tie the next person onto the same rope to form a chain. The women were crying and the men were pleading.
"What's going on?" She asked Ivan who was tying his boots back on; John was standing on the other side quietly.
"We completed patrol, these are the sacrifices"
"What does that mean?"
"To the sages, these are the sacrifices to the forest."
"To kill?" Catherine felt her heart drop, these people were going to be murdered and she helped these wolves round them up like a sheepdog.
"None of my business what the sages do, but we have to deliver them."
"Ivan we can't-"
"We can and we must. That is our punishment" Peter cut in behind them he kissed Catherine on her head and she stared up at him in horror "I was going to tell you earlier. Did they hurt you?" His tone changed from authoritative to concerned as he checked her shoulder but frowned when he saw fresh bruises blossoming on her upper arm from where the man had grabbed her before, he brushed against them gently and when she winced away his eyes narrowed. "Ivan, I am disappointed that you put Catherine in danger once again, she and I were not meant to be part of this tonight."
"It’s not my fault alpha, everyone has guns lately. I didn't realize-"
Peter growled in disapproval before turning towards the hostages that were flanked by Gwen and Shawn "You," it was halfway between a growl and a roar and the balding Kevin was slammed up against a wall, emitting a strangled cry, she saw Peter's hand around the man's throat. "What did you do to my Catherine?"
He didn't speak, just gasped like a fish out of water, the color draining out of his face "You bitch," Mary suddenly spat "You were just bait! We should have never helped you!"
"Please I didn't know!" Catherine cried out but Ivan shoved her behind him.
"Quiet! You will not speak to her unless you have no use for your tongue." Peter dropped Kevin who was barely conscious and gasping for air on his knees, he was surrounded by his companions immediately
"I knew this would happen, you shouldn't have come." Ivan muttered
Peter walked past them "That's an odd thing to say to the girl that saved your hide." he hissed and grabbed Cat.
The tension between her alpha and beta was thick enough to cut with a knife; with one on either side of her she wondered when they fought it out if she would be caught in the middle? John walked behind the three of them followed by the sad procession of sacrifices. She didn't realize just how far they had gotten away from the compound until they had to walk back. Catherine stared at her feet, how was she going to live with herself knowing that she had led four people to her death? Her whole time with these werewolves had led to so many deaths, how many more would there be? "My Catherine, sacrifices are something that must be made for our safety." Peter said quietly, his voice warm and sympathetic.
"It has been that way for generations, we must make blood sacrifices to the forest. The creature that owns these woods only lets us live here if we give him sacrifices. If we please the creature, he will give us protection. The mystics are the only ones who can give to the creature. Just remember who tossed you to the wolves and shot Ivan, they are not good people. They should be honored to keep the woods at peace."
"But people still!" She cried hoping somehow he'd understand her and let them go, she was frustrated and upset, she didn't want anyone to get hurt, not Ivan, not herself, not these people. She could see Peter tensing beside her, was she getting through to him? "Just let them go, please Peter!"
"If I let them go, someone else must pay with their blood, and my clan has no blood to spare Catherine" his voice was so low it was almost sinister.
Catherine shrunk away from him and ran into John who was walking too close behind her, he held her hand loosely as they hung behind the irritable pair of wolves. "They had wanted to spare you, but you had to come, that was the punishment, exposing you to this before your changing. It puts stress on everyone when you are this way, my alpha" John's voice was barely a whisper "Please be strong for us."
"Shhh, just walk for awhile, we reach the sages soon"
The sages it seemed were not in the compound, if memory served her right, but rather in another place. She heard, every so often, one of the sacrifices wail in despair and Shawn threatening them to be quiet. She stared up at the canopy through the trees and wondered if somehow she could convince the sages to spare them. If there were anything she could do to prevent harm to these people she would try to do it. Catherine was adamant; no blood would be spilled tonight. Satisfied with her plan she picked up the pace, John eyed her warily, noticing the sudden mood change.
"Be careful my alpha, the sages are not to be messed with." John whispered, he seemed to know what she was planning, and squeezed her hand, Peter looked back at her and she looked away, still upset at him for using her.
They continued another hour or so before the trees began bending towards each other ever so slightly, each one more than the last, creating a tunnel in the forest, soon the trees were doubled over in an archway of leaves and branches, becoming denser until it was almost a solid wall of wood. It eventually became so dark that Catherine reached her hand out to prevent her from running into the sides and after another minute she ran right into the back of Ivan who had stopped.
"Who approaches?" asked a muffled voice somewhere in the dark, the voice seemed to be coming from all around her, she grabbed Ivan's cloak to steady her.
"We have brought tribute to the sages this night." Peter replied and she heard the distinctive click of a door unlocking and suddenly dim candlelight emerged as the door opened. A short, frail, elderly man was standing in a black friar robe holding the door open. He had no hair and couldn't stand up straight.
"Welcome back, masters." his voice was warm much like the room they entered, it was a long hallway lit with hundreds of white candles. As they passed him, he stared at Catherine with a curious eye "and a new miss!"
The floor was worn marble, she could barely see the design under the dirt, the place looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in decades but it was all so barely illuminated that she was sure that most people didn't notice. At the end of the hall was a spiral staircase that seemed to go up into the ceiling, as they ascended she looked down to watch the procession behind her, the prisoners watched their feet but did not say a word. Shawn must have succeeded in quieting them down. They reached the top and opened another set of doors into a huge room, it was almost a cathedral, with high vaulted ceilings and an altar at the far end, there was nothing else in the room. Peter suddenly picked up his gait and walked faster, there was not much light in here and no windows, and the illumination from the hanging candelabras barely reached the floor.
He stopped at the altar and did not speak a word. Catherine was pushed forward by John to stand beside him; she looked over at Ivan who had stepped backwards. The altar was a long bed made of the same marble as the floors; it was white, with long veins of black running through it. Unlike the floors it was polished and pristine. It shined gently in the candlelight of the two candelabras that flanked it.
"Master Votkinsk, I see you are back so soon." came a voice and she turned around to see a tall willowy man, in a velvet cloak much like her own but in a deep navy, approach them. His hair was long and white, it fell over his shoulders. He looked just as old as Peter even though she could tell somehow that he was much older. "And you have brought me a new girl?"
"She is not here for you, sage." She could tell he was already irritated with this man "This is my mate, Catherine."
The sage ran his thumb down her jawline gently and tilted her head up to meet his gaze "I see, so much power for such a small mortal body."
Catherine looked away and the sage chuckled, dropping his hand from her face. "What have you brought me?"
"Only four tonight." Ivan replied this time and the sage shot him a disapproving look.
"A low number for you, I am disappointed, but it is almost the winter." the sage sighed
Shawn tugged Kevin who was worse for wear and yet still bewildered by his surroundings towards the altar, bringing the rest of the chain gang with them. "And no virgins, we barely have anything worthwhile for tribute tonight"
"Overdramatic as always," a second voice replied a man in forest green joined him, he looked almost identical to the first sage, his hair the same length, his features as gaunt and well defined as the first. "You can't have dessert for every dinner."
Catherine eyed him warily. "This is my brother Theo, mistress Catherine, and I am Leo, and we are the sages."
"A new girl? Thrown in with Votkinsk's clan? A pity."
Ivan growled behind her at the comment.
"Can we begin now?" Peter replied impatiently
Theo gently grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips. "What a beautiful lady, what are you doing with these dogs?"
"She's the Helian" Leo told his brother.
Theo's eyes widened, even in the low light they were an emerald green that glowed. "She hasn't even changed yet, how can you be so sure?"
"You must be getting senile in your old age, anyone can tell"
Theo tugged her away from the alpha towards the altar and his brother "do you knows much about us Catherine?"
"No, no, just that you are sages."
"We are" they chimed together
"We are forest sages, disciples of nature. We preside-" Theo began
"And protect" Leo interjected
"The forest you are in! And sometimes," he reached into her hair and pulled a small twig and she watched it grow and blossom until it was a branch full of leaves "we help things along."
"Oh!" she gasped after the small display of magic
"You're cute when you're surprised" Leo grabbed her hand and pulled her closer to him, the sages were so kind. Surely they weren't going to take any lives tonight; maybe they would just enslave them instead?
Theo grabbed a long silver blade and brandished it, cutting free Kevin, the portly, and bruised man and bringing him to the altar. "First one, lucky you!"
"Please, please don't hurt me" he struggled against the sage who seemed to barely have a grip on him and led him to the altar "what are you doing? No! No!" his screams echoed in the mostly empty room, making him twice as loud, it hurt Catherine’s ears, it hurt her heart.
"Stop!" she cried out, her voice shrill, and piercing to the point where everyone did stop including the hostage "Please, please don't hurt him, I can't let you!"
"Don't be selfish my Helian friend, we must have sacrifice, or the forest no longer is protected! The lord of the forest demands sacrifice!"
"Wh-what?" how did the forest depend on the blood of innocents, her mind raced, this didn't make any sense.
"No one hunts anymore, animals have no predators, and barely anything dies…" Theo sighed and looked over at Kevin who was barely holding himself up, his legs shaking as they both stood next to the altar. "We must restore balance and with new life comes new death. Only blood begets birth."
Peter was openly concerned, he made a motion towards the altar but Catherine was faster, she grabbed the knife's blade and sliced open her hand, hissing as she felt the metal cut through her skin, red liquid ran down the blade of the dagger, dripping on the floor "if only blood begets birth, let them go."
Theo stared at her, his eyes wide in shock "Catherine, you don't know what you've done!" Peter screamed and went to move but a hand motion stopped him, stopped everyone
Kevin was sobbing on his knees next to Theo "I would expect no less from a Helian. You are right." the green sage moved the sword out of her hand, more blood dripping from the open wound on her hand. He turned her hand so that her palm was open, a deep red cut was visible in the candlelight, the Theo dipped his finger in her blood and sighed happily "Helian blood is the rarest delicacy, I take it this is your first blood ritual?"