Walking in a darkness I knew well, I saw a light coming from a fire in the distance. The smell of burning wood flooded my senses.
My body pulsed, drawing me into them.
A group of people was dancing around the fire.They sang and smiled as the vaguely familiar music vibrated in the night air.
My mind sifted through my memories, trying to figure out the tune, when a fragile breeze suddenly brushed my face, reminding me. It was a song my sister always sang to when she was in a good mood.
My gaze roamed over each face, blurred by the burning light of the flame. Being among them made me feel relaxed as if I had come home.
My legs kept moving forward, the feel of the grass on my skin filled me with anticipation, I suddenly stopped.
There he was again. His silhouette was a quiet shadow. Always around.
I had the strange feeling that I had known him all my life. He was a mystery, and I could not look away.
His presence possessed a dominant force that drew me to him.
As always, whenever I saw him, his black shirt, rolled up to his elbows, revealed his muscular forearms. His hands were hidden in the pockets of his trousers. But instead of noticing my presence, his gaze was fixed on the fire.
Instinctively I moved closer. I stood right in front of him, the colossal campfire between us. My eyes were unwilling to leave him.
"Look at me." I thought my voice would be louder, loud enough for him to hear me, but in the end, it was no more than a whisper. But as if he had heard me, his eyes obeyed my plea.
The second he looked at me, the fire went out. I was surrounded by darkness, and the loud sound of a beating heart.
My eyes flew open, making me realize where I really was.
I was in my room and not there with him.
It was that damn dream again.
I got out of bed and put aside the thin duvet that covered my body and walked to the kitchen to take some pills. I went back and tried to sleep again.
A few hours later, my wolf, Neali, grumbled awake in my head, urging me to get up.
I lived in an isolated village in the Mortal Realm, called Crossbreed Land, the only place where half-breeds from all realms live together without problems.
My father and mother were not of the same kind. Mum was a she-wolf, while our father was a warlock. Two people from different worlds. Yet fate paired them together. Despite the enmity that exists between the two kingdoms, nothing prevented them from accepting each other.
Many years ago, a war broke out between the Realm of the Witches and the Realm of the Lycans. No one knows why the bloody conflict took place. A fact that has been kept secret until now. Only few knew about it, but they were loyal enough to the Lycan King not to spread rumors.
Almost two hundred years had passed, and the two realms had been coexisting in a civilized manner so far. But the hatred and resentment they had for each other ran deep. Especially the Lycans.
When our parents met at a fair in Belfast, that instant connection changed everything for them. They couldn’t bear to be apart and decided to leave their families and move here.
Neither kingdom allowed my parents to live as mates in their territories. No one wanted the half-bloods they would procreate to walk among their own people.
It wasn't just the witches and Lycans who didn't want half-breeds.
The Vampires, the Fae and the Dragon Shifters strictly forbade it. Half-bloods were considered lesser beings.
“Mum and dad’s flight arrives in an hour,” my elder sister, Maeve, reminded me as I stumbled into the kitchen, still groggy.
Our parents have been going back and forth from the Lycan Realm for years.
Mother had always been a teacher of History of the Seven Kingdoms. And though at first, the Alpha King did not approve of her staying in the Realm with her mate, a few years ago, he invited her back to teach at one of the pack schools.
At least, at least he offered her some kind of apology by inviting her to return to her original home with her warlock mate.
“I had that dream again” I sighed.
“Really, again? What happened this time?”
"It was the same place. In a meadow, near the forest. I don't know. It's confusing."
"Was he there?"
I nodded. "There was a bonfire, and people were dancing to that Omnia song you like so much, and then I saw him again through the flames. I felt the same as always... that he was someone I was waiting for all my life... to recognize me."
“Did he approach you this time? Did you see his eyes?”
“No, he just stared at me, but every time I wake up, I cannot remember his face,”
“Do you want me to look into your memories and see if I can find that dream?” Maeve put her coffee down on the table.
"No, this is just a dream. I'm not going to waste my time trying to track down a stranger who may not exist."
"Maybe you're dreaming about your mate," she said with a shrug.
While I was born a werewolf, my sister inherited our father's magic. She was good at manipulating dreams. She could make you remember them, learn things, and control them.
"I think I've given up. Maybe by now he's given up too."
“Look, do not ever give up on finding him. That man is your other half."
"Maeve, I'm honestly afraid to meet him, after what happened to you..." I felt stupid at that moment when I tried to mention her past. Her gaze turned somber, her expression grave.
“My situation was different, Nala. Mine was a human, and you know that humans don’t feel the bond like us. I am divorced, yes, and I suffered a lot when I discovered he was cheating on me, but I regret nothing.”
I looked at her, thinking about it.
"Now can you please let me help you," she asked exasperated.
“Fine,” I replied, giving in, she was too persuasive when she was in one of her good moods. No one could say no to her. Maybe it was part of the magic.
We usually did these rituals in her bedroom. She shut all the blinds and started lighting candles, red ones when it was a matter of the heart, as she liked to call it.
When we were younger, Maeve needed spellbooks, but now that she had grown up and practiced, under the guidance of our father, the spellbooks were neatly lined up on the big floor to ceiling bookshelf.
Maeve brought her rose quartz crystal and a few others I did not recognize and arranged them in a circle between us.
We sat, eyes closed facing each other, on a pair of comfy velvet pillows.
I never knew what to do during these rituals, so I usually just stayed quiet and let Maeve lead. While I was technically a cross breed, I had not demonstrated any magical powers, I mean beyond the whole werewolf thing of course.
Maeve took a few deep breaths, rubbed her palms together gently, and placed them on both my temples. She muttered spells under her breath, but I could not make out the words. At first, her hands felt cold, but with every whisper that came out of her mouth her hands got warmer and warmer. It wasn’t an uncomfortable warmth, but it did make my skin tingle. It felt like her hands were merging with my head. Then she went quiet.
She gave me a small smile and continued, "I can feel his power. And even though I can't see his face, he seems quite alive. As if he’s been trapped in the same dream as you."
"What can you see when you try and look at his face?" I asked.
"It’s a blur. I can see him standing up. His black shirt and black trousers. His hair as black as a raven. It’s hard to see. It's weird, I feel like something is blocking me."
Silence filled the moment. Leaving us in thought for a few seconds. Suddenly she snapped back into the room, her arms dropping from my head.
"While I couldn't see his face, I can say that man looks damn good. Can you imagine if he’s your mate? Let me tell you something, my dear,” Maeve went on, "the sex with your mate is the best thing you'll ever experience in this life," she winked at me.
Just then, we heard the front door shut. I perked my wolf ears up trying to hear better.
“Mom and dad,” I exclaimed.
Maeve and I both ran downstairs to greet our parents. We were met with the warmest embraces. It was nice to have them back.
As usual, my sister cooked a delicious meal, and then we went to the terrace for coffee and tea.
"I wish you could both come with us next time,” my mother said, “King Alaric's land is beautiful. Everything is so green and fresh. You would love it."
“So when will you leave again?” Maeve asked.
“Oh, Mae, we just got here, and you want us to leave so soon?” Mae was the nickname mom used for my sister. Although my mum knew Maeve hated it, she still called her that from time to time.
“Elenor, I didn't mean it that way. It was just a question,” Maeve knew that calling her by her first name would annoy her. Maeve was a little spiteful like that.
“Well, I think we will be leaving again in a couple of weeks,” dad replied, smiling at mom, who shook her head at Maeve's attitude.
“So soon?” I asked him.
“Yes,” my mother jumped in, “your father and I were invited to a royal ball.”
"Any particular reason for this party?" I asked after taking a sip of my raspberry tea.
Mom shrugged, "just to entertain from what I heard. Nothing special. These Lycans do love a good party."
"That king has no worries at all. He lives in his fine castle, bossing everyone around all day and partying," I said wryly.
"Hasn't he met his mate yet?" my sister cut in.
"No, not yet," replied Dad.
"There's a rumor going around that he's apparently tired of waiting. Anyway, he hasn't wasted any time, if you know what I mean," my mother pointed out with wide eyes.
“How old is he?” I asked out of curiosity.
“Well, he looks like he’s in his thirties, but nobody really knows what his age is.”
“Could you meet him this time?”
She sighed. "Yes, and I can only say that he is an unusual-looking man. His character honestly leaves much to be desired."
"He was not rude to us, my dear." Dad said to her.
"No. But he wasn't the most polite either. He just greeted us and left, with the excuse that he had urgent matters to attend to. Why don't you girls come with us?"
“Mom, you just said that you two were invited to the Ball, not the whole family.”
She sighed again and gently massaged her temple, like she needed all the patience in the world to deal with us, which was typical of her.
My mother was a free spirit, and stubborn. She had short blonde hair and green eyes that could frighten even the bravest of men.
“Nala, what I am trying to say is that both of you can come with us and enjoy all the festivities.
Even if you may not be able to attend, you can walk around the city, explore a new place.”
"Do you think the King would have a problem with two half-breeds wandering through his territory?" my sister frowned.
"I can talk to him, but I don't think there should be a problem," dad replied.
“Girls, you need some free time to rest. You have been dealing with a lot of work and…divorce.”
Mom looked at my sister with sadness.
The idea didn't seem bad at all. I had never been there before. And maybe this was the only chance.
THREE WEEKS LATER
I had just finished packing my suitcase when my sister knocked on the door.
"What's wrong?" I asked when I saw her head poke in, her brow was furrowed.
"I had one of those dreams last night."
"About what?" I asked her as I zipped up my suitcase.
"About us, about you, Nala."
Her words made me pause. Maeve couldn't only control dreams, sometimes she could see the future through them. Like some kind of premonition.
"And what did you see?"
"I saw you crying, suffering because of someone, and..." she paused.
"And what, Maeve?"
"And I had a feeling it was because of your mate."
"What? Are you sure?"
"You know I'm never a hundred percent sure about these kinds of dreams." She paused and watched my worried expression. "You know what? Forget it. Let's just enjoy this trip."
"Really? After you just told me I'm going to be in pain and crying?"
“Okay we better not worry about this too much,” she said, “make sure you get enough beauty sleep. The last thing we need is for you to be crying, suffering, and sleep deprived. You always have the worst under eye circles.”
When she left my room, I lay in my bed staring at the ceiling for a while. I tried not to think about Maeve’s dream, but it was hard not to. I shut my eyes stubbornly pushing the thoughts out of my head.
I felt tiredness take over my body, pushing my consciousness away and leaving me in darkness.
But the darkness cleared when I was suddenly surrounded by a storm. Black clouds whirled around me. My feet were sinking into something wet and gelatinous. It was mud.
I felt something cold pelt my cheek.
I looked up to the sky, drop after drop began to fall, an unrelenting downpour drenching me.
I started to sink into the mud. Panic shot through my body. The more I struggled, the more I sank. First my ankles, then my knees, my hips, the tips of my fingers. By the time I was shoulder deep in the mud I realized I was not alone.
I heard her before I saw her. A shrill laugh boomed in the air around me. It seemed to resonate in my head.
“I know who you are,” the voice taunted me.
A movement just outside the periphery of my vision caught my eye.
Now neck deep in mud, paralyzed, I noticed figures were rising from the mud. An army emerging from the depths of the muck. These were not just an army of random soldiers. Vampires and witches, and rogues mingled together. It was bizarre. I had never seen so many different creatures in one place before. That’s when I saw her, the silhouette of a female in black at the front. Her body pulsed with an otherworldly energy, but the more I tried to see who she was, the more her face seemed to dilute into the rain.
Suddenly, the army launched into battle. I knew I could do only one thing to get away. I had to sink. The last thing I saw before I was submerged into the mud was the biggest beast I had ever seen running furiously towards my head.