She watched him as he huddled into Spike’s side, his face a study in sorrow and grief. The whisper in her head she’d come to associate with the dog’s mental voice was a soothing litany of reminding him he was on safe ground and in sanctuary.
Den came to stand by her side, his hand brushing against hers. She curled her fingers absently into his and felt the unvoiced question floating in his mind through their bond. Sighing heavily, she stepped forward, tugging him with her.
“I hate children.” He muttered to no one in particular but let her pull him with her as she knelt down in front of the young man who didn’t look much older than her.
Green eyes met brown and his breath hitched in his chest.
“What is your name?” She asked softly.
“Stevens.” He replied, his tone hitching on unshed tears. “Corporal Stevens.”
“No. Your name.”
He blinked at her for a moment and Spike turned to nose him gently on the cheek. The whisper in her mind was chiding and encouraging all at the same time.
“Jon.” He swallowed, eyeing her warily. “Jon Stevens.”
Den sighed heavily as she raised her hands and placed her palms against the boy’s cheeks. Jon stiffened, but Spike’s mental command to hold fast kept him still as she leaned forward to gaze deep into his eyes. A strangled noise escaped his throat as her eyes bled into a muted silver.
“Why does she want this one?” A deeply amused voice asked from her lips.
“I couldn’t tell you.” Den snorted. “May be he reminds her of someone. And her father did bind him to someone under her command, whether he realizes it or not.”
“Ah, yes. Spike. Who didn’t seem to object.”
*No, I did not.* Spike responded drily. *I did not think it would interfere in my place in our squad.*
“Ah.” The voice was, if possible, further amused and the silver eyes focused with sudden intensity on Jon’s face. “So, tell me, Boy, what do you think about this vessel?”
“Excuse me?” Jon sputtered, eyes wide. “You’re not human, are you?”
“She is. I, well, I suppose I am not. Tell me, Child, do you not know who I am?”
“I thought you’d be taller, and well, you know, not have breasts.”
Delighted, masculine laughter bubbled from her chest as in the surrounding yard excited howls and yelps of ecstasy started up again as his presence became more pronounced.
Jon took a deep shuddering breath, feeling something start to burn deep within his belly. He took a moment to really look at the girl holding his face in her hands. Almost absently he noticed she had freckles across her nose and silver streaks at her temples. What hair he could see under the hat she wore was strawberry blonde, rather like the general’s had been. He could feel the battle hardened aura that settled over her like a cloak. He tasted grief, loss and the memories of horror on the battlefield. Then, with some surprise, he tasted the familiar bond that tied her to the mage beside her. Then he felt, more than saw the outrage of Commander Canidae, felt the older man being restrained, and regarded her with puzzlement for a moment before focusing on her smiling lips. The thought zinged into his head that they looked like they might taste like strawberries and in the next moment, he’d leaned forward to see if it were true.
Dawn came back to herself, feeling his kiss on her lips. She blinked in shock, but didn’t move. She heard Den sigh in exasperation then shivered as a tongue brushed her bottom lip. She responded, then suddenly felt herself growling and pushing him back against the tree he sat against, shuddering and feeling as if she needed to devour him in some manner.
Someone roared in anger and she felt herself plucked up off his lap. Without even thinking about it, she twisted in the hold and struck out, sending the person stumbling backward. With a snarl, she started forward to subdue them, then stopped as Tremayne’s voice roared out in her mind. She snapped to attention and her vision cleared. She blinked in confusion at her father as he stood there, glaring back at her.
“Well, this is all very interesting, but do you mind explaining what the hell is going on?” Tremayne asked in a mild tone as a crowd gathered in the yard. He cocked his head at her, his gaze sweeping her from head to toe. “Dawn?”
“I don’t know.” She replied, feeling herself start to shudder and shake despite her efforts to remain at attention. She felt Jon rise to his feet and tasted the burning of an angered alpha. She heard a muted snarl and felt Den’s magic buzzing in the back of her head.
“Do find someplace where the children can go.” Den snorted in a caustic tone of voice. “I won’t be able to hold him for long and Spike will help him if you don’t do something in the next five minutes.”
“She’s too young!” Robert snarled back.
“She’s a commander in her own right and Anubis Chosen!” Den ground out in return. “Who do you think led us all that time we were coming here? She took command from the very first moment we met! Even that damned dog of yours acknowledged her as the head of our pack! She’s chosen the boy! He’s obviously agreed! Now, get the hell out of the way!”
Angel solved any further disagreement by simply appearing in front of Dawn and placing her hands on both her and Jon and then all three of them simply vanished. Tremayne slapped a palm over his face and swore.
“I am getting too old for this shit!” He yelled in frustration. “Damnit! Bella just gave birth and I’m tired. All of you go find something quiet to do or by all that is holy, I will turn the lot of you into frogs!”
Robert started to snarl, but Kara appeared and slapped him upside the back of the head. He whirled, startled. She merely raised an eyebrow at him and he glanced up to see Talsien watching him with an amused expression, arms crossed over his chest.
“She’s too young.” He stated plaintively.
“The cubling is no longer a cubling.” Talsien shrugged. “And the youngling the dragon brought back is a fitting mate for her. His alpha chose him as her successor. Did you not see this?”
“His alpha gave him the symbol of her leadership and trusted him to make sure she did not turn. Among my tribe, this is how we let our pack know who is next in line for alpha. Your cub is a battle born alpha. He is a fit mate for her. Their cubs will be strong and fierce. Like our own will be when you sire them with Kara. Like my own is.”
Robert fisted both hands at his eyes in frustration then dropped him to find his entire troop staring at him with interest. They regarded Kara and Talsien, then him. He felt a collective wave of approval and a shifting in his awareness of them that immediately placed both Kara and Talsien at the top of their hierarchy as co-commanders with him. He groaned in exasperation and felt Tremayne’s wry amusement.
In a room in Ian’s keep, Dawn shivered as Jon pulled her down with him on the bed beneath them. She could sense his confusion as well as his overwhelming need for her. Her confusion was just as great as was her need. When he rested his forehead against hers and she felt that same pressure against her mind she had when she’d bonded with Den, she closed her eyes and let him in.
“Oh.” He said in a tone of wonder that made her eyes fly open and meet his. He smiled tentatively at her and she returned it hesitantly. “Mine?”
“Yours.” She agreed in a hoarse voice, swallowing hard.
This time, he was slower and more careful as he kissed her. And when she growled and took over, he happily complied.
In the main hall, Ian grimaced and closed off his awareness of the two younglings Angel had unceremoniously deposited into her old room. He sighed and gazed at his heir as she paced to and fro, her eyes red flames and her aura full of worry.
*They are fine.* He soothed.
“She’s only 16, Ian.” Angel replied in a weary voice. “And I’m tired of this crap. Do you know Bella gave birth to eight dogs of war today? That she is a true dog of war herself?”
*I had my suspicions when I felt her bond with Tremayne, but I couldn’t be sure.*
“And you, you idiot! You told Raphael and Murien it was ok for them to court Maeve!”
*Of course I did. They are the only ones I would trust to court her properly! Did she choose one of them?*
Angel stopped her pacing and shot him a withering look. In the back of his mind, Ian heard the delighted laughter of his long dead lover.
“She chose both of them.” She snorted. “Ian, I love you, but you are so clueless about females!”
*No dragon has ever had two mates.* He mused softly.
“I ordered them to submit to her as if they were going to be her personal royal body slaves.”
*YOU DID WHAT?*
“They didn’t seem to mind. Of course, I could have done without Mom showing me the picture of them talking dirty to her in draconic in front of her. Maeve seemed to like it, though. Mom left them to it. The Faye are making sure they are kept supplied with fresh meat as long as needed.”
Ian sank into a chair, covering his face with one hand. When he looked up again, his expression was worried.
*Angelique, there are things you need to know about Maeve.* He stated gravely.
She snorted and waved her hand at him dismissively.
“I know all about what happened.” She replied in a wry tone. “Lexxie showed me. She also showed me your sister isn’t quite as powerless as you think she is. She is her mother’s daughter in spades, save for the fact she is fiercely dedicated to the light. She loves Uncle Tremayne and thinks of my brother and sister as her own. Gabriele adores her. If she herself hadn’t sworn herself to my service, I might have been a bit worried about her mental health, with her wanting a mate and children of her own as much as she did. Donnie told me about what happened with the Original Black Dragon squad Tremayne was in and how they accidentally bonded and what happened when Caleb and Lerin were killed. That bond was fixed when my stubborn uncle bonded with Bella and they finished it properly. I’m pretty sure Maeve is finding that out right now and when they finally come up for air, she’s going to be so tickled pink it’ll get downright sickening. Dad is already making plans for a dragon nursery and more attachments to the house.”
Ian stared up at her, his mouth hanging open, then he snapped it shut as she folded her arms around herself, her face starting to crumple. He was up and enfolding her in his arms in an instant, holding her as she wept silently.
*I am so sorry.* He soothed. *I wish I could take this from you and bear it for you. My dear one, I love you as if you were my own hatchling. You will not be alone in this.*
“I know.” She sniffled against his shoulder. “Sometimes, I just wish I could be normal, you know?”
*How utterly boring life would be if you were.*
Angel choked out a watery laugh and Ian hugged her against him. He sent a mental command to his guard to notify the kitchens to prepare a meal of her favorite foods and then maneuvered her to sit with him, letting her take what comfort she could. He also sent a private notice to Kat that Angel was with him. He got back a sad, resigned acknowledgement and hoped the older woman would take care of herself properly this time.
Alternate Universes: Dark Side
She twitched and shivered, causing the fingers buried in the scruff of her neck to tighten. The hold was familiar with its iron willed strength, yet it held a deep, loving concern as well. A rumbling growl vibrated through her chest as the faint scents of death, decay and fire reached her sensitive nose. It earned her a gentle, yet commanding shake from the fingers, so she squelched the urge to let the growl grow into a full snarl. The fingers tugged on her scruff and she let them lead her quietly back to where the other ones waited.
She tried to grasp the wisping thoughts and memories that flitted through her chaotic mind as she let her gaze flit over the figures crouched in the gathering shadows of night. Part of her felt she should be able to know who they were. If she tried to concentrate on it too long, her head would begin to ache fiercely and the strange sounds would rattle in her throat, causing the fingers in her scruff to pull up and the soft, soothing voice that went with them would become anxious and the scents would change from calm confidence to tears and grief.
So, she’d learned not to think about it too much or too long. She didn’t know why, but the idea that she could cause pain to the one who’s fingers grasped her scruff was something she wanted to avoid at all costs.
The rangy dog with the others who waited watched her warily as she was urged to sit down. She squatted, still not used to the way her body felt all wrong. It was as if she knew how to sit, but something about her current form wasn’t what she was used to. Her head twinged and she sighed, letting the thought go.
She turned her head and tucked her chin over the shoulder of the dog, sighing wearily, eyes closing. She felt him tense, then slowly relax his muscles.
*…Cass?* The voice was soft, as if from far away. She opened her eyes, but didn’t move.
“Is that my name?” The guttural sounding words were foreign to her ears, but she found saying them was something of a relief.
The fingers in her scruff spasmed, tightened and then a face was peering into her own. The expression on it sent a wave of something through her and she blinked.
“Cassidy?” The voice was soft, scared and hopeful all at the same time.
Something inside her acknowledged that name so she blinked again, lifted her head and pressed her cheek against the other’s, sighing softly. The fingers in her scruff loosened their hold for a moment, then slowly began scratching behind her ears.
“Good girl, Cassidy. Good girl.” The voice was sad and full of tears again.
“She’s starting to stabilize a little bit.” Another voice was soft and encouraging. “It might just take some more time, is all.”
“Has this ever happened before?” Someone else asked in bewilderment.
*If it has, then the priests probably killed them before anyone could find out.* This voice made her snap her head around and growl.
She knew the massive dog behind her, she was sure of it. Knew him and did not like him. In an instant, she’d leapt, tearing free of the fingers at her scruff and bowling him over, teeth at his throat, snarling in rage.
He lay beneath her and made no move to fight her off of him. She stilled for a moment and he further exposed his throat to her. She tightened her hold for a moment, growling fiercely, then sat back on her haunches, staring down at him. He rolled carefully to his feet, shook himself then very carefully extended his muzzle and licked her underneath her chin. In response, she growled, but then licked him across his nose. With that, she turned her back on him and went back to the other dog, settling herself down with her chin over his shoulder again.
“What the hell was that?” Someone whispered fiercely.
*Cassidy claiming the right of Alpha.* Came the voice of the massive dog again. *Or whatever it is Cassidy has become.*
“But Ceasar, you’re the ranking dog!”
“I don’t think rank is something to be concerned about right now, Jason.” The original voice stated wearily and the fingers were back in her scruff again. “We’ve got to figure out where we are and how we’re going to survive.”
“We won’t survive long if we keep her with us.”
*Jason, I will personally rip out your throat if you try to hurt her.* The voice that had been named Caesar stated calmly. *Eowyn was my human and Cassidy is still the mother of my sons and I value her more than I do some lackey of the High Council. .*
Someone let out a snicker. The fingers in her scruff scratched and petted and something inside her was amused, but she was sure it wasn’t this Cassidy they were calling her. She sighed again and closed her eyes.
Twin flames of red filled her inner vision, filling her with longing. She sighed heavily again, letting her mind reach for them.
Inside Dragon’s Keep, Angel sat up, coming awake with a gasp. She frowned, feeling the lingering remnants of something trying to find her. It felt a lot like Kara, but it wasn’t. She felt Isis in the back of her mind, a sleepy rumble of inquiry.
*I’m not sure.* She sent back in reply as she got out of bed and reached for her clothes. *Wake Torin and Larl. I think I can find it again.*
*Mother not going to let you go running off alone.* Isis grumbled but sent her compliance.
Angel snorted as she finished pulling on her boots and crossed to the door. She opened it, only to come face to face with a frowning Dawn, a sleepy Jon behind her.
“Where are you going?” Dawn asked in a tone that reminded Angel of her uncle.
“Goddess, Ian is right, you are a mini-Tremayne.” Angel snorted and slipped past her. She was unsurprised to hear Dawn following along behind her. “If you must know, something is very near the North Woods. It’s looking for me.”
“Which doesn’t mean it’s safe. You’re going to need an escort.”
“Escort?” Jon yawned. “Where are we going?”
“The north woods.” Dawn grunted. “Full battle gear. Tell Spike to wake Den up and be ready to go. Full outfit for long scout. And see if the Black Dragons can tear themselves away from Mauve long enough for air support. Oh, and-“
Angel let out a screech of frustration and rounded on Dawn, stopping the other girl dead in her tracks. Angel glared into a calm face that regarded her with one raised eyebrow. For a moment, neither one moved, then Angel raised up to her full height, mouth firming into a stubborn line.
“You’re not to bother Mauve’s clutch right now.” She said in an even tone. “We’ll take Bridget. She’s used to working with Larl’s pack and Torin.”
“In that case, you’ll need your Sword thane, too.” Dawn replied, crossing her arms over her chest implacably. “And that horn face he’s always with. And Wiley. Those three never go anywhere without each other.”
“Q3 is not a ‘horn face’, he’s a unicorn.”
“I’m aware of that. But if he gets to call me ‘the battle axe’, I get to call him ‘the horn face’. And I’d rather have those three at my back if the shit gets hot and heavy. They can be trusted to stay calm. Den is a good medic and fits in with them. Stevens and Spike can take our flank and I can take point while your squad takes the rear.”
Angel took in a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm the urge to scream in frustration. She was vaguely aware of Ian standing behind her in the hallway and felt his amusement. She turned her head to glare at him and he smiled at her benignly.
*She is a good battle commander.* He shrugged unapologetically. *I’ve already alerted Bridget. She’s already in your mother’s courtyard waiting with Selwen.*
“Selwen?” She blinked in confusion.
*Her youngest egg mate. He’s new to hedge duty and she felt he’d benefit from some ‘field time’ as she called it.*
“Can they do that thing you do and turn into people?” Dawn asked with a frown.
*No. They are too young.* Ian shook his head.
“Hm. Well, then, they can do air support if we need them that way. Otherwise, I want them well out of range of sight to any enemy. Let’s get back and get a look at a map, then we can decide what our transport is going to be. If that’s alright with you, my Queen?”
Angel took in a deep breath and glared at Dawn once more.
“Would it matter if I said no?” She snorted and was rewarded with a shrug.
“You’re the Queen. It’s my job to protect you, even from yourself.”
Angel sighed and took the other girl’s wrist in her left hand and Jon’s in her right. She resolutely ignored Ian’s grin and concentrated on trans locating them to her mother’s kitchen.
Cassidy. One of her names was Cassidy. She awoke between one heart beat and the next with that thought firmly in her mind. It filled her with a vague happiness and she wanted to wag her tail.
In the next moment, she was sitting up and craning her head around to look down at her back, for she could not feel her tail. She stared for a moment, then reached with her hands to feel the furred yet tailless rump, stopped, then stared again, this time in shock at the fact that she had hands. A strange noise assaulted her ears and in the next moment, the fingers her back in her scruff and that face was before her own again.
“Shhh.” The voice was soft yet broken with grief. “Shhh, Mama, don’t cry. It’s ok. It’s ok. Hush now.”
Mama. That one word sent an electrifying jolt through her entire system and she froze. For a moment, she did not even blink, then her gaze focused on the features before her eyes with laser like clarity.
“Bri…anna…my..cub.” The words were almost torture to form, but she got them out. The Cassidy in her mind acknowledged them with agreement and a fierceness that let her know they loved this person and would die for her. She brought her hands up to place them on the sides of the girl’s face, calming the Cassidy’s shock and horror at the sight of fur and claws. “Love…you.”
The girl choked on a heartbroken sob, but hugged her hard. She blinked a moment, then remembered how to place her arms and hold the girl to her. A massive canine head entered her field of vision and she blinked again.
*Eowyn?* His voice was soft and hesitant and his nose cold as he touched it to hers.
“Head hurts.” She whispered, reaching fingers to touch his face. “What..happened?”
*You don’t remember?*
Inside her mind the Cassidy rose up and growled. She sighed, struggling to focus, but Caesar nudged her gently.
*No. Cassidy is right. Not now. You need to sleep. We have a long way to go tomorrow. Rest.*
She sighed again and closed her eyes, letting the Cassidy take over.
Caesar backed away at the soft growl that vibrated through the air. He sat on his haunches as Brianna soothed the being in front of her and urged her to lie back down. When whatever it was that Cassidy and his human was becoming was calmed again, he went to Brianna and leaned against her side.
*Oh, Gods.* She sent privately. *What do I do?*
*What you have been* He sighed in reply. *You are the only one she responds to.*
*She’s my mother, Caesar! What the hell happened to her?*
*I do not know. We were separated. Her last order to me was to guard you if she couldn’t.*
*Is that why you dragged me out of Dad’s house like that?*
*Yes. She did not trust him to keep you safe.*
*I don’t know. Her last assignment was with the council guard and General Antilly. I knew Eowyn had found her through our bond and then there was suddenly a blankness. I could not feel her and thought she was dead, so I followed the last order I was given.*
*The others just followed you?*
*Jacks and Stanis have been with us since the start of the war. Larry lost his bonded recently and was supposed to get a new one. Jason was with the detachment of priests sent to evaluate our squad. The girl, well, I do not know where she came from. Aside from her telling us what happened to Cassidy and Eowyn, she’s not said. She seems more comfortable with you.*
*I don’t know her. She won’t even tell me her name. But she’s the one who said I needed to treat Mom like a skittish puppy. I think she’s been around a trainer. She’s good with the wounds too.*
*She can be trusted and that is what matters. We will need that if we are to survive crossing into Faye lands.*
*Are you completely sure we need to go into the woods?*
*I see no other choice. The council is dead, the army is in a complete disarray and being overwhelmed at every turn by those..things. The only safe place seems to be those woods. Those things won’t go near them.*
*But the stories…*
*Are just stories.*
*And if we run into the Faye?*
*Then, we surrender to them and beg mercy. Do you honestly believe their Queen is the monster the council said she is?*
Brianna slipped her arm over his back and hugged him to her side. He could feel her trembling.
*You said the priests probably killed anyone like my mother is now if it happened before, right?* She asked softly.
*I believe that if this has happened before, then the priests would label it an abomination and kill them outright, yes.* Caesar sighed heavily.
*And what do you think?*
*I think that something happened to make Eowyn and Cassidy bond like that. It was probably in the heat of battle and both of them did what they thought needed doing at the time. There was no right or wrong involved, just need. If Anubis allowed it, then, I do not see a problem with it. If it were an abomination, Anubis would have prevented it.*
*Then, the Red Queen is not a monster. The monster was the council.*
Caesar let out the equivalent of a saddened chuckle. In all his years of service, the rational of the young still never failed to amaze him.
*Get some rest.* He stated in a tone that brooked no disobedience. *I will stand watch.*
Brianna nodded, then shifted and crawled over to Eowyn’s side. Caesar watched her lie down by her mother’s side and carefully drape an arm over the older woman’s body. He was unsurprised to see Eowyn/Cassidy shift around and envelop the girl into her furred arms, pulling her up close and tucking her in the way a mother does a babe. He caught the faint sound of Brianna stifling a sob, then turned his attention back to his watch.
The next day saw them at the border of the Northern Faye held lands. The faint sounds of gunfire and battle could be heard even before they topped the ridge. Brianna was hard pressed to hold Eowyn/Cassidy as they came to a halt to stare down at the carnage below them. Caesar barked an order to stand fast even as Jacks and Stanis called his attention to the fact that there were dog soldiers below them, fighting in a combined melee with the walking dead things and what looked to be remains of the council’s army.
“Those are Dragon’s reach troops!” Jason squealed out with hatred. “I order you to go annihilate them!”
Caesar watched the battle for a moment, marking who was giving orders to the dog soldiers and the Dragon’s reach troops.
*Brianna, let your mother go.* Caesar ordered softly, then gave Jacks and Stanis a look. Without a word, they flowed forward even as Brianna let go of the hold she had on Eowyn/Cassidy. He then flicked an ear at Larry, who, without a word, drew his knife, grabbed Jason’s forehead and drew the blade across the younger man’s throat. Caesar expected the other girl to perhaps scream, but all she did was disdainfully step to one side as the man’s body hit the ground. She wiped at the spray of blood on her face, flicked her fingers and stepped forward to Brianna’s side.
“Good riddance.” She snorted and placed her arm around a trembling and white faced Brianna. “My name’s Karen. Come on. They’ll need medics when they are done.”
Caesar watched them for a moment, then flowed down the ridge to join his squad.
“Damnit!” Dawn roared out as she shot an incoming enemy in the face with her pistol. “Stevens! Close that gap! If any of these idiots get to Angel I will personally flay you alive! And where the fuck is our air support?”
“She won’t stay put!” He roared back at her. “And the dragons are busy on our flank!”
Dawn swore again, roared out another order, felt Den’s magic crawl over her skin and looked up to see him and the little slip of a woman Tremayne had said was a guardian, hands joined, surrounded by the rock wolves that had insisted on coming with Angel. She felt his intent and swore as the feeling of being jerked off her feet washed over her. She hit her knees in reality, but still managed to bring her weapon up and fire at the deviant lurching toward her. The crack boom she associated with a gate being brought into being rattled her teeth and she knew they would have reinforcements coming through within minutes. She fought the nausea threatening to overwhelm her and climbed back to her feet. She swore again at the sight of Angel, surrounded by fighting, a shield of black something on one arm and a sword of burning white hot flames in the other, eyes twin pillars of eerie red, Torin at her back in his elven form, holding a shield around them that kept the bullets being fired at them out. Her eyes fell upon the one enemy soldier she marked as the leader.
“Sandberg!” She roared out both verbally and mentally to the sniper her father had insisted she take along if he wasn’t allowed to go. “Take that fucker out!”
She watched Sandberg start to comply, then her breath caught in her throat at what came leaping through the air toward the target.
“Sandberg! CHECK FIRE! CHECK FIRE!” She screamed out, knowing she’d be too late.
The fingers had let go of her scruff. With an almost insane roar, she was off like a shot down the ridge, instinctively knowing where she had to go. Her body didn’t seem so awkward anymore as she charged down the hill in leaps and bounds, her focus on the malignant energy she could literally taste coming from the right flank of the battle. Hatred welled up inside her like a hot boiling tide as she saw his face. Memory flooded her brain and she howled her fury as she leapt for his throat. She saw the recognition on his horror stricken face, saw the gun he tried to bring to bear, and then her teeth had ripped his throat out.
Blood sprayed her fur, but she didn’t stop or try to check her momentum as she fisted her hands in his hair and literally ripped his head from his body. She howled again, centering her focus on the rest of the malignant energy she could feel and began ripping into it. She could feel Caesar at her side and when they came to the last of the malignancy, he surged forward ahead of her, roaring out a command for her to fall back. She hesitated, seeing the human go down beneath his snapping, snarling fangs. The Eowyn recoiled in horror and the Cassidy took full control.
She turned on the remaining soldiers, human and dog alike and roared out a ringing order in the voice of an Alpha. The dogs all fell back cowering while their partners lowered their weapons. One or two of the full human soldiers looked like they would disobey her direct order, and she saw Stanis calmly shoot them in the back of the head.
She roared out a challenge and was not surprised when no one stepped forward to dispute her claiming full command of the troops before her. She waited until Stanis came to stand beside her with Jacks and a blood spattered Caesar, then turned her back on them to face the line of Dragon’s Reach troops that now stood at the ready, weapons drawn and pointed at her. Her eyes swept them, then came to rest upon the one she’d sought only in her dreams.
Her breath caught in her throat. The girl wasn’t much older than her cub, but she was every inch a magnificent queen, and her flaming red eyes were the most beautiful thing Eowyn/Cassidy had ever seen.
Pain rippled through her then, and she looked down at her belly in surprise. She pressed her hand to the wound and it came away bloody.
“Well, spit.” She muttered in a hoarse voice, sinking to her knees. “I am sorry, my Queen.”
Someone was at her side then, holding her in their arms while someone else barked out commands for the medics. She sighed softly and in her mind the Cassidy acknowledged they’d completed their mission. She let the blackness edging her vision encompass her.
“Goddamnit!” Dawn swore, pressing her hand down upon the wound on the were’s belly. “DEN!”
“He’s out cold.” Angel’s voice hovered above her and she looked up into red eyes.
“Well, she’s going to bleed out if you don’t do something.”
“No, she’s not.” A voice stated firmly and someone else’s hands were shoving Dawn out of the way. “Bri, come on, my kit!”
Dawn blinked and stared at a face she thought long dead.
“Karen?” She said in a near whisper.
“Hi, Dawn.” Karen acknowledged grimly. “I don’t have time for you right now. You’re in my way. Go find me someone who can seal this wound while I stop the bleeding. I’m not strong enough to yet.”
Without a word, Angel knelt down and covered Karen’s hands with her own, red eyes meeting green.
“Take what you need.” She commanded.
Karen hesitated for a moment, then nodded.
“I have to weave part of us into her.” She muttered, staring down. “I saw them merge into one being. I don’t quite know what it’s called, but I know I can do the same thing with us to save them. Is that ok?”
Angel gave her a sad smile, closed her eyes and inhaled.
“Khan, if you wouldn’t mind showing this one how to weave into our pack?” She stated out loud.
*Of course, my Queen.* Came Khan’s voice across mental ears. Karen let out a gasp then frowned in concentration and focused on the task at hand.
Later, when two camps had been set up, the dead dealt with and the wounded seen to, Dawn watched as Angel took the oaths of those who had chosen to come back to Dragon’s Reach with them. The rest who were electing to stay in the former council lands were sitting to one side with Larl, Rhia, Kat and Ian, drafting out a treaty. She saw her father talking with the squad of dog soldiers that had come with the were currently being looked after by the medics as well as the ones they’d been fighting. She looked over to the edge of camp near the medical tent and saw Karen with the younger girl, Brianna. Both of them looked to be in some sort of shock.
*The cubling is. The weaver not so much.* Spike said into her mind with a shrug.
“She’s the one we left at your mother’s clinic, isn’t she?” Den asked quietly.
“Yeah. That’s Karen.” Dawn acknowledged. “I thought for sure she was dead.”
“It would seem the clinic staff that survived put her to work.”
With that Dawn crossed over to where the two girls were, intending to debrief them. Karen saw her coming and slipped a protective arm around Brianna’s shoulders.
“I thought you were dead.” Dawn stated without preamble.
“I thought you were, too.” Karen responded evenly. “You left me.”
“I tried to get you to come with us. It wasn’t safe to stay there.”
“No kidding. But, looks like we both made it.”
“Yeah. So, you said you saw them merge. What happened?”
Karen hesitated, looking down at Brianna, who merely nodded.
“I told Bri.” She stated quietly. “One minute, I was with the medical staff that was being assigned to what remained of the council, the next all hell broke loose. An explosion went off in the main compound. When we could get back on our feet, the council building was leveled and it was chaos. The team I was on was scattered. I went toward the worst of the damage, where I figured they’d be. I saw three of the high command leaving. They were shooting the medics so I hid. When they were gone, I went to see if there were any survivors. I found General Antilly’s aide and this big wolf dog all curled up together, like they’d been trying to protect someone else. She was muttering something about it had to be their choice and it was the only way they could complete their mission. She was mortally wounded, the dog looked like it was ok, just knocked around pretty good. I heard someone say yes and then the next thing I knew, it looked like this silver fog came up out of the aide’s body and wrapped around the dog. The dog started howling like crazy and turned into that…being..but it was like in slow motion and sounded like wood breaking. It didn’t even see me there when it was done. It took off and I figured my best chance was to follow it, so I grabbed what I could and ran after it…her. Not long after that, it found Brianna and the soldiers with her, so I stayed with them. Going with them was better than not.”
Without a word, Dawn reached out and pulled Karen into a hard hug. Karen let out a squawk of surprise, pulling Brianna with her. At first, she stiffened, then found herself relaxing into her former best friend’s embrace and slipping her own arms up around leather clad shoulders. She found herself beginning to shake and cry silently.
Dawn placed her forehead against Karen’s, feeling tears trickle down her own cheeks. The tingling feeling she was beginning to associate with being an avatar of Anubis swept over her and she brought her hands up to cup Karen’s cheeks.
“Child, look at me.” The voice coming from Dawn’s lips was masculine and Karen could only stare in shocked wonder at the muted silver gaze that locked on her own. “She would not have left you if you had given her a choice. She loved you. Can you forgive her? Can you love her again, even with her dark side?”
“I never stopped.” Karen whispered in reply, her fingers tracing a line on Dawn’s cheek. “She’s my best friend, my sister I never had.”
“Then, Child, I give you a task. You are to go with them and learn their ways. You are to care for Brianna and what her mother has become. You are to submit to my chosen and the War Queen. You will find they care deeply for those they mark as pack. Can you do this?”
“Yes, I can.”
Karen watched as amusement seemed to flicker in the silver gaze and was unsurprised when cool lips touched hers in a chaste kiss. She let out a squeak as a zing of electricity went through her, stinging. Then she was looking into Dawn’s normal gaze once more.
“I really hate it when he does that.” She sighed, resting her forehead against Karen’s again for a moment before stepping back. She tilted her head to one side, then gave a rueful snort of laughter and touched a finger to Karen’s chin. “I hope you like silver.”
“”What?” Karen blinked.
“Wow.” Brianna stated in a quiet voice of awe. “You’ve got a silver heart right under your lip. That’s kinda cool looking. Can I have one too?”
Dawn groaned as she felt a wave of amusement wash over her. When she could blink and was in control again, she felt like slapping a palm over her face as Brianna now had a silver rune on her chin in the exact same spot as Karen.
“It means strength.” She sighed out, watching Karen trace a finger over it.
“I see you’ve been busy.” Angel’s voice was amused as she came up behind them. “Gathering a pack of your own, are we?”
“More like Anubis is recruiting into yours.” Dawn snorted, crossing her arms over her chest. “Dad is about to implode. Did you do something about the dog soldiers we came in contact with today?”
“Your dad is upset? How can you tell?”
“Watch his left hand. When he twitches his thumb a lot, he’s about 5 seconds away from a meltdown. It’s been going at top speed for the last half hour.”
“Hunh. So that’s why Talsien is shadowing him like that and why Kara seems like she’s trying hard not to laugh.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“I suppose not. I need you and Spike and Den.”
“What are we doing?”
“We’re going to fix the Were bond between Cassidy and Eowyn. But, I figured it would be better if there was someone neutral in the mix they could identify with as a dog soldier squad.”
“Uh-hunh. And you picked me why?”
“That nifty little thing where Anubis likes to use you to come visit.”
“Joy. Well, come on then. I’m not getting any younger.”
Angel snorted, casually reached out and took Brianna’s hand in hers and then led them off toward the medical tent. Dawn was unsurprised when Donnie ghosted out of the darkness to fall in beside them with Wiley and Q3. She got a brief nudge from the unicorn and gave him a gentle pat on his nose in return. She could feel Karen’s muted awe at the knowledge that kin clan were members of the War Queen’s entourage and Brianna’s fascination with Wiley. She marked the way Donnie’s eyes tracked the younger girl and felt another wave of amusement as something in her stated they would partner each other perfectly.
*Anubis likes to play matchmaker, doesn’t he?* Angel’s wry sending was private for her alone. She sent back the mental equivalent of a shrug, focusing instead on the being lying between Kat and Rhia. Den and Spike were already there, as well, Jon hovering in the background.
“Babygirl, I don’t like this.” Kat stated with a frown.
“You don’t have to like it, Mom.” Angel sighed out. “You just have to stay out of it.”
“Ouch.” Rhia stated with a sad smirk. “I think that means we get to keep our noses out of this one.”
“I’m not leaving.”
“I don’t want you to, mama.” Angel sighed. “But, I’m the one who has to do this. She was focused on me, not you.”
“And what about them?” Kat gestured to Dawn, Karen and Brianna, as well as the others behind them.
“Dog soldiers need dog soldiers.” Dawn shrugged. “They need to see that the War Queen will be a good commander.”
Kat frowned even more at that, but subsided as Rhia touched her arm and pulled her off to one side to watch.
Angel knelt down above the were’s head. Dawn watched as Den and the little soldier, Neville, flanked her, their hands going out to settle on her shoulders. Donnie moved to one side with Wiley as Q3 merely poked a nose into the tent to observe. Stevens moved to the other side with Spike and without even being asked, Dawn knelt at the feet of the Cassidy/Eowyn, placing her hands on furry ankles.
In the next instant, she found herself in a landscape of swirling mists. She stood there for a moment, listening for any sounds whatsoever and looking around for Angel.
A low snarl was her only warning. She caught the ruff of the wolf dog that leapt out of the mist as it went for her throat. They went down in a tangle of limbs and snapping, snarling teeth. A second later, a booted foot slammed into her ribs.
“Get off of her!” A woman snarled out and another kick caught her in the back as Dawn brought up a leather clad forearm for the wolf dog to clamp down on. She grunted in pain, but rolled with the hit, only to get another kick to the ribs again.
“Damnit! SpIke! Stevens!” She roared. “Get this crazy bitch off me!”
A wave of exasperated amusement rolled through her mental awareness and suddenly the enraged woman was busy with Stevens as Spike hit the wolf dog from the side.
Cassidy grunted in surprise as the huge German Shepard bowled her off her legs. She lost her hold on the strange female and turned to deal with the other dog. She let out a a yelp of surprise and mild pain as a strong hand caught her scruff and slammed her into the ground hard. In the next instant, an iron grip held her down by the throat and a warning snarl sent shivers up her spine as she tried to scrabble for a way to fight back.
“I don’t think my chosen is in the mood for your stubbornness, Cubling.” An amused masculine voice froze her struggles cold.
She rolled her eyes to the side and saw that Eowyn was pinned on her belly, the larger male soldier holding her in place with a hard knee to her back. Another male stood to one side, head tilted, regarding the scene with burning silver eyes. A younger female with flaming red eyes stepped gracefully out of the mist to stand beside him. A frightened whine escaped her throat then.
“I’m fucking hot, tired, and sore and I need a damned bath.” Dawn snarked, giving Cassidy a rough shake. “I’ve got zombie goo in places I didn’t know it could go and blood all over my leathers. You biting first and asking questions never is going to snap my last nerve, so behave or else!”
“A bit cranky, are we, then, Commander?” Stevens grunted as he leaned even harder on Eowyn’s back. “Guess we’ll have to fix that with some hot chow and the river after we’re done here.”
Eowyn went still, then turned her head to look at Dawn, wide eyed.
“Commander?” She asked hoarsely. “You’re dog soldiers?”
“Yeah.” Stevens replied cheerfully. “Commander Canidae gets a bit cranky after a battle if we don’t feed her.”
“Her? Commander Canidae is a man!”
“He’s my dad.” Dawn snorted, staring down at Cassidy. “And he made General. I got a battlefield command. The queen decided I’d keep it and my squad.”
*Queen? You serve the Queen?* Cassidy sent in a strong tone.
“Yes, they do.” Angel’s voice was gentle as she glided forward through the mist. “And, if I am not mistaken, you were searching for me. You’ve found me.”
*The mission! Did we finish the mission?* Cassidy’s voice was urgent and she began to struggle again.
“If you mean did you finish killing the last of the human council that was corrupted, yes, you did.”
“Caesar killed Henry.” Eowyn’s voice was subdued and full of pain.
Cassidy relaxed beneath Dawn’s fingers then, shuddering in relief.
*Then we are done.* She sighed in relief.
“Well, no, not quite.” Angel sighed and gestured for Dawn to release the dog. Stevens took that as his cue to let Eowyn go and back off to stand next to them. “You were wounded and we bonded you into my pack in order to heal you.”
“There is no healing what we did.” Eowyn snorted. “I am dead. Cassidy agreed to join with my spirit so we could finish our mission. It’s just a matter of time before she dies, too.”
“No, it’s not.”
A sudden vision of Torin and Donovan played out in the mists and Dawn felt a certain satisfaction as Eowyn’s jaw dropped in shock as Cassidy tucked her tail under her tightly, her ears flattening. Visions of Kara, Talsien and the others from Dog Valley played out as well. Cassidy slunk over to huddle into Eowyn’s side.
“The priests were full of shit.” Dawn stated bluntly. “If you don’t fight the merging of your souls, you’ll both survive. It’s not an abomination. I am Anubis’ avatar on this earth and I say it is a blessing of our God that you were allowed to even do it in the first place. Anubis heard your prayers, even if you did not know you were praying at the time.”
“Brianna has been chosen to serve Anubis as well.” Angel stated softly. A vision of Brianna appeared, complete with the silver rune on her chin. Eowyn gasped out loud, then began weeping softly. “She will need her mother. She will need Cassidy as well. The choice is yours to make. Merge and come home to Dragon’s reach or continue to fight it and die.”
Cassidy shivered and whined as Eowyn knelt down beside her. Anubis stepped forward then and placed one hand on Cassidy’s head and one on Eowyn’s. Silver light snaked down and around them both and flared up brightly.
Dawn came back to herself, blinking and shivering with reaction. She fell back onto her rump, breathing hard as if she’d been running for miles. A mug of hot something was pressed into her hands and she looked up into Larl’s concerned face.
“Drink it all down, kid.” Larl said softly. “It’ll taste vile, but you need it.”
Dawn drank and nearly choked. It was vile, but she drank it all, then held out the mug again. Someone laughed but it was refilled and she drank the second mug down just as quick, feeling her strength return. She looked up with a scowl as she heard “Tremayne Jr.” and was met with Rhia sticking her tongue out at her. She snorted and turned her attention to the were in front of her.
A lovely wolf dog lay before her, shuddering and whining piteously. Angel was slumped back in her mother’s arms, unconscious. Den and Neville were collapsed beside them. Wiley lay with his nose pressed against the wolf dog’s and Dawn could hear the snatches of soothing mental voices in the back of her head. Donnie was kneeling beside them, breathing hard and shaking, drinking his own mug of whatever the vile brew was she’d just downed. Stevens and Spike were holding each other up and both of them shot her looks of exhaustion.
“She’s got a silver mask around her eyes.” Donnie stated hoarsely.
“Yeah. Anubis blessed them.” Dawn grunted.
“We were in there a long time. It’s second watch already.” Stevens said quietly.
Dawn grunted and shoved herself to her feet. She waved off concerned protests and all but staggered out of the tent, nearly running into Brianna and Karen. She held the tent flap open and was unsurprised when both girls darted right in. She shook her head and headed for the fire at the center of the encampment.
Tremayne was there, talking quietly with her father. He broke off when he spotted her. He regarded her with a measuring look, then reached down and pulled a pot off its warmer and poured the liquid into the cup he was holding then stretched it out to her. She took it and then drank a long sip, savoring the bitter flavor of the coffee.
“You look like a hippogriff yakked all over you.” He stated without preamble, then sniffed disparagingly. “Smell like it too.”
“Thank you.” Dawn replied wryly, noting the way her father seemed to be holding his tongue while his thumb began twitching.
“Wasn’t a compliment.”
“I’m aware. But since everyone keeps calling me ‘Tremayne Jr.’, I find it amusing to think that in order for you to know what being yakked on by a hippogriff looks and smells like, you’ve had an up close and personal experience with it and gotten caught at it.”
“You know, you’re starting to get a little too cheeky. I liked it better when you were quiet and just followed orders.”
“You said that was boring.”
“I may rethink that.”
Dawn snorted, then gazed pointedly at her dad’s twitching fingers.
“Well, General?” She stated mildly, meeting his gaze with steady look of her own.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” He bawled out in a tone of strident anger. “You went into a battle with no intel, no reconnaissance and no plan! You could have gotten everyone under your command killed! You could have gotten killed!”
Dawn noted Tremayne merely crossed his arms over his chest, watching intently. She heard snatches of exasperation from Stevens and Spike and ignored them, focusing on her father.
“Sir, with all due respect, we had intel and reconnaissance from the dragons.” She began, then held up a hand when he would have burst out with another comment. He subsided with a glare. “The intel was such that we had to make a hard decision right then and there. Go in and face possible hostilities from our own or let them get overwhelmed by the deviants. My Queen chose to go in and I saw the right of her orders. The dog soldiers recognized us as Dragon’s reach troops and thought we were attacking them, not reinforcing them. When we tried to remedy that misunderstanding, their command structure ordered them to kill the Queen. We were not about to let that happen so we called down a gate for emergency reinforcements. Then another squad came in from the ridge with an alpha that eliminated the high council’s command structure and took command of the remaining dog soldiers. Hostilities ceased between us and the dog soldiers and we were able to mop up the remaining deviants. I stand by my decision to support the orders of my Queen in this, Sir. And, with all due respect, I am under General Tremayne’s command, not yours, so if you have an issue with my performance of my duties, you will need to take it up with him. Sir. Now, if that is all, I still have my troops and myself to see to.”
With that, Dawn turned and looked at Tremayne questioningly. He shrugged and then waved her away. She shot him a salute then turned on her heel and stalked away towards the other camp fires where she knew the rest of the people and kin clan she’d commanded earlier would be. She rolled her eyes at the parting shot Tremayne sent to her.
*Welcome to the dark side, Commander.*