#Chapter 37 The Eros Pack
The mountains seem to go on forever. I never realized how much distance is between the pack territories until now. Of course, most people don’t travel on foot anymore. In a car the journey would probably take a day or two, on foot it drags on for two weeks.
I might enjoy the adventure more if my situation was different. The landscapes around me are beyond compare, but I cannot enjoy their beauty – not when I’m constantly looking over my shoulder.
I know everyone in Elysium thinks I’m dead, but part of me is still afraid Arabella might be coming after me. Was she fooled like all the others? Was she watching when my mysterious rescuer carried me from the flames?
Though I’m no closer to understanding who saved me, I know this is the only explanation for my survival. I was unconscious and on the verge of death; somebody had to have braved the fire to rescue me.
My first thought was Odette, but I don’t think she would have taken me from Elysium and left me in the forest. Yet she and Arabella are the only ones who knew I was at the cabin. In one brief moment of insanity I even considered the possibility that Arabella returned for me out of sudden remorse, or perhaps more likely, to instigate some sort of cruel mind game.
Of course, evil mistresses aren’t my only concern on the road to Eros. There’s also rogues and bandits to fear. Without a pack to govern the land, crime and violence rule all neutral territories. No one is safe where anarchy reigns, but especially women traveling without protection.
The hikers who came to my aid when I first woke in the forest, a pair of Vega wolves named Chloe and Annie, have been nothing but lovely to me. They lent me clothes and shared their supplies, even changing their planned route in order to help me reach my destination. Though I haven’t shared my story with them, or even revealed my true name, they have not pried.
It seems this is one of those unspoken bonds of womanhood; we do not need to know why one of our fellows is on the run to help them. We all understand the reasons women might need to flee far too well.
When at last we cross the final ridge of the mountains and the Eros territory spreads out on the horizon, we all share a sigh of relief. “We‘re almost there.” Chloe wraps an arm around my shoulders. By this time tomorrow we’ll be over the border.”
Just hang on one more day,” Annie says, appearing on my other side. “Then you can sleep for a week.”
I haven’t told either woman that I’m pregnant, but the baby made its survival known in the same way it’s marked is presence from the day I conceived. I’ve been so ill on the journey that I’ve avoided having to explain to Chloe and Annie that I don’t have a wolf. I haven’t been in any state to contribute to the hunting or camp labor, and I’m certain they know the truth.
In the end, I don’t have to wait another day to reach safety. Just before dusk, as we’re forging a low water crossing, the sounds of approaching wolves send us into high alert. We bolt together to stand in a tight ring in the middle of the water, communicating possible escape routes with our eyes.
Just as we‘re about to dive into the river, I smell a familiar blend of sea mist and sandalwood, and throw out my arms to stop my friends from fleeing. “Wait.”
The huge shifters who burst through the trees are all in their animal forms, and though I’ve never seen Drake’s wolf, I’d recognize his bright green eyes anywhere. They widen to saucers when he sees me, and he transforms immediately, hurtling toward me through the water and throwing his arms around me.
“Oh my god, I thought you were dead.” He breathes against my neck.
“Drake,” I gasp, my feet swinging around his calves, “I can’t breathe.”
“Oops!” He returns me to the ground, “I’m sorry. It’s just – Selene, I went to your funeral. That’s where we were coming from.” He explains, gesturing to the men around him. “We just stopped for a run because we’ve been stuck in the car all day.”
“Selene?” Chloe and Annie say in unison. This is not the name I gave them.
Shooting them an apologetic look, I turn back to Drake. “As far as anyone is concerned, I am dead.” I answer firmly. “And I need to stay that way.”
The Eros pack territory is about as different from Nova lands as a place could be. Settled among the tidal forests and salt marshes of the Western coast, their capital Asphodel is a true marvel of engineering. A floating city, dissected by hundreds of saltwater canals and intertwined with living bridges woven from mangrove roots, it feels wild and wondrous in a way the caves of Elysium never did.
Under the mountains life felt dark and cramped, no matter how beautiful the exteriors or near the forest. Nothing ever changed or shifted; how could it when the city was literally set in stone? Here the ground beneath my feet is different one moment from the next, and the oscillating tide breathes life into every corner of the marsh.
“How do you run?” I wonder aloud, gaping at the floating docks forming an endless maze through the city. The Eros wolves are known for their speed, but I cannot comprehend how they could develop such skills without solid land.
Drake grins widely, “There’s a reason we’re the fastest pack on the continent.” He boasts good-naturedly, “When you spend your life running on water, running on land is child’s play.”
Laughing feels so foreign to me, “But don’t you get frustrated having to always stay on paths, and what about hunting?”
“Well we do go inland sometimes.” He allows, nodding toward the water on our left. “But there’s plenty to hunt here.” At that moment a large velvety snout breaks the surface of the blue-green lagoon, followed by gentle eyes and a very round body.
My eyes dart back and forth between the animal and Drake. “What is that?”
“We call them sea-cows.” Drake explains, chuckling at the expression on my face.
“You eat them?!” I exclaim, horrified that they would harm such a peaceful looking creature.
“I’m only teasing.” He admits, then shifts his predatory eyes to the mangroves on the other side of the canal. “The crocodiles on the other hand.”
I gaze at the huge reptile, suddenly understanding how the Eros pack earned its reputation for being so tough. They aren’t the best fighters on land, but I’d be willing to bet they own that title in the water.
“I had no idea…” I admit, positively reveling in the sights around me, “I’ve never been anywhere but Elysium.”
“The world is full of amazing places.” Drake agrees, “you can go anywhere now.”
I shake my head. “I’m in the same position I was three years ago. I’m free but I have nothing.” I sigh, “This wasn’t how I planned on leaving.”
“It doesn’t have to be the same.” He replies as we stroll through the wetlands, “I’ll help you get started, anywhere you wish. I’d like you to stay here,” He confesses with a wink, “but if you want to go somewhere else, I’ll take you. We’ll get you settled, find you a job – you can build your own future, rather than depending on a man to provide it.”
“I still don’t understand why you would do that for me.” I reveal doubtfully. The last time I asked, he didn’t really give me an answer. He simply redirected with a question about my inability to trust.
“Because I can’t think of anyone alive more deserving of help.” Drake responds simply. And because I believe you could be anything you put your mind to, if you simply had the opportunity. The Eros pack can always use more good people.”
I study him for a long moment, from his raven hair and emerald eyes, to his disarming smile and chiseled body. After a minute or so, I find the courage to ask, “What’s wrong with you?”
“What?” He blinks.
“This all sounds too good to be true.” I sigh. “No one is this nice.”
Drake frowns, “I guess I’m just going to have to prove you wrong.”
Chloe and Annie are waiting for us in front of the Eros Pack House, an enormous palazzo towering over the city center. Unlike Elysium there are no skyscrapers or buildings at different elevations in Asphodel. The entire city floats at the same level, making the pack house visible from anywhere in the marsh.
“We’ll have to choose a new name for you.” Drake ponders as we stroll across a living bridge, “I take it you were already using one with your Vega friends.”
“Yes, although I think you let that cat out of the bag.” I tease, “I told them my name is Celeste.” “I like it.” Drake compliments, “And it’s close enough to Selene that it shouldn’t be hard for either of us to remember.”
“Your men will know.” I remind him.
“They won’t tell.” He promises, “I’ve already given orders to take your real identity to their graves.” My shoulders untense at this news, even as his next words tangle my nerves once more. “I take it Bastien never found out about the baby?”
“No.” I confirm. A question which has been gnawing at my mind since reuniting with Drake finally works its way out of my mouth “Did he… how did he seem, at the funeral?”
When Drake won’t meet my gaze, I know I’m not going to like the answer. “Actually, he wasn’t there.”
His words hit me like a punch to the gut. “He didn’t even go to my funeral?”
“And that’s not all.” He exhales heavily, “The news is all over Elysium: Bastien’s about to marry Arabella, and apparently they aren’t even waiting for the mourning period to end. Rumor has it they’re moving so quickly because… well,” He trails off, rubbing the back of his neck.
Understanding dawns on me from the awkward expression on his face, “She’s pregnant too.”