The girl goddess was gone, her scent all that remained. Eiophon cursed Lothonos’s interference. The other god had deliberately delayed him in leaving the Levian palace. Now he knew why.
Eiophon contorted his body into that of his favored hunting beast, the wolf. Though she thought her little trick hid her from him, her scent was all he needed to find her anywhere in Gaia.
He loped off into the mystical woods on the edge of the lake that surrounded Levia. He would find her. The hunt just made it that much more interesting.
He tracked her faster than the speed of wind, through the Canadian wilderness and south into the country below. Snow, sleet, rain, and sun—he experienced it all in his path.
Only when he had reached the land called Colorado did he stop. She was near. The girl goddess would soon be his to punish as she so deserved.
He went incorporeal, drifting above the trees as the girl goddess’s scent grew stronger. She had always smelled of orchids, and it was a fragrance he had grown more than accustomed to in the last three millennia.
He rematerialized on the side of a mountain, lifted his face to the moon and howled, both a threat and a triumphant. His call was answered, an acknowledgement of one of his people.
Eiophon headed in that direction. It was time his people knew what he expected of them.
Kennera fought tears. The wolves surrounding her had one plan for her, and with her reduced strength, she could provide little resistance.
They did not know who she was and she was not about to tell them. They would turn her over to their god and her plan would be finished before it actually began.
The wolves of the Redd Gothan pack were dirty and they had mean spirits that she had no trouble seeing. They had not recognized her, and for that she was so grateful. But that made her angry on her people’s behalf; they thought her a young Dardaptoan female theirs for the taking. Vulnerable. Unprotected.
Once she regained some of her power—turning to mist drained her so drastically and she had not fed in three thousand years, so it was far worse—she would show them what a goddess could do. Even a Dardaptoan one.
But first she had to get free of the ropes they had used to bind her. Her hands were tied behind her back, her feet together at the ankles. They had gagged her with something, too.
She watched them for several long moments, learning of them what she could.
Redd Gothan was filthy. Had she ever seen a wolf so dirty, even in the ages before her confinement? She had watched many of his Kind through the centuries—those whom she had paired with her people through the years. Those wolves had been exemplary of character, strong and loyal. Loving to their mates, even.
Redd Gothan and his wolves seemed more like monsters and criminals, and for the first time, Kennera felt actual fear of Gaian subjects.
Before, she had only felt fear of other gods. Iastucia and Eiophon, mostly. And if these wolves did not release her soon, Eiophon would find her, and all of her planning and all of her work would be all for naught.
Kennera closed her eyes and summoned every bit of her flagging power. With it she could dissolve herself almost incorporeal. It would leave her vulnerable to the wolf god if he found her, but she had little choice. In an almost incorporeal state, she could slip her hands and feet through the bonds the wolves used against her. She tested with her ankles first.
The sharp bite of foreign bindings slicing through her skin had her eyes burning and her breath stuttering. She had not known it would hurt so much. And she still had her hands to free.
A cry slipped out from beneath the gag.
The wolf he watched was a handsome specimen, though Eiophon knew he was once a mere human. Strange that one of the girl goddess’s early curses granted his people the ability to convert others to their Kind, while her own people had such difficulty completing the same task.
Randall Taniss showed little signs of his human ancestry. The male was tall and strong. He stood on the mountain overlooking the home of several of the girl goddess’s people.
He had a desolate expression on his face. Despite his mission, the wolf sparked Eiophon’s curiosity. He approached the wolf stealthily, but the other much younger wolf tensed as if he sensed Eiophon’s presence.
“Hello Wolf Taniss. I mean no harm.” Eiophon stepped from the shadows so the other male could see him. “I am merely tracking a female this night.”
“Good luck with that.” Taniss eyed him with caution. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No, that we cannot say. I have not met many of my people in…recent times. I have been occupied for some three millennia.”
“Is that so? That would make you the god, then.” Taniss tensed even more, though he did not step away.
“Eiophon Lupoi, yes.” Eiophon nodded, impressed with the thirty year old wolf’s courage. “What seeks you on this hill this night?”
“My mate.” Taniss stared down at the city lights in the distance. “She is there.” He pointed toward a brighter light in the center of the city. “She hides from me. Keeps from me.”
“Unacceptable. What reasons?”
“She is Dardaptoan, and I terrify her. And at first I did not want her. And I said as much.”
“Dardaptoan? How is that possible?” Had he missed so much in the last centuries? How often did such a crossing occur?
“Ask their goddess. All I know is that she is mine. And I want her. Now.”
“Did the mating occur, then?” His Kind had to mate within thirty-six hours of finding each other or no children could ever be born. It was one of the girl goddess’s early curses. She had originally cursed his people to be sterile if mating did not occur immediately upon meeting. But immediate mating was often not practical, and for two hundred years—the time it took him to realize what the girl had done—his people’s new pairs had dwindled drastically.
He had been able to modify the curse to give his people a thirty-six hour stretch of time to consummate their pairing.
“It occurred. And now she carries twins. And fears me even more because no Dardaptoan female has safely carried twins in over two thousand years.”
A particularly potent curse of Eiophon’s—retaliation for one of her early curses—had been to make the Dardaptoan females nearly as weak as humans. A later curse had prevented the Dardaptoans from having medical care even as sophisticated as the humans. Had he so cursed some of his own people to lose their mates or their pups, then?
Before he could respond, a feminine cry of intense pain sounded from less than a mile away. A feminine cry he recognized as hers.
She had not meant to let the sound escape, but it had. It brought the wolves, betas from Redd Gothan’s pack, to her side.
They questioned where she had gone—her pain must have granted her the extra power she needed to dematerialize completely. It was a false hope; she could not hold the mist for much longer.
She dropped into complete corporeal form at the wolves’ feet. Several shouted and jumped back. The leader reached out a foot and pushed her over onto her back.
Were she at full power, she would have rendered him to dust. No mere Lupoiux treated a deity with such disrespect. But she had not even the energy to tell him so.
Her eyes closed; she just needed a moment to rest. If she got her strength back she could subdue one of the creatures long enough to feed from him.
With an infusion of blood, especially blood from the semimortal—those who were not truly immortal, but extremely long lived—she would have enough strength to escape these…animals.
A howl rang out, the sound low, powerful, and chilling. Godlike. She trembled even more fiercely. Him.
He was coming for her, and once he found her it was all over for her people. She could not let him find her.
She pulled herself to her feet as quickly as she could and grabbed the nearest wolfling. He was young, barely twenty years and still thin with adolescence. Her fangs sank deep, pulling almost all the blood from the youth. She dropped him with the care that one who kidnapped defenseless Dardaptoan women deserved.
His blood was just what she needed. She turned to Redd Gothan where he stood several feet away, watching her with lust and psychopathy in his eyes. “The god Eiophon comes for me. He is your god, and he is wrathful. You had best not be found here when he comes. You are poor and slovenly, with malice in your hearts. You lie and cheat, instead of fighting your battles with honor. He will not be pleased with you. Go, now, while you can.”
She would use their mingled scents to confuse the wolf god. Hopefully that would be all it would take for her to elude him once again.
The wolf Taniss kept pace with Eiophon and at any other time the deity would have found that remarkable. Now all he could think about was his mate’s cry, and how agonized it had been. Who had hurt her? Why?
When he found the fool responsible it would prove more painful than anyone could imagine.
As for his female, he would tuck her against him and reassure her that he would use all of his strength and power to protect her from animals that would hurt her.
He had thought of her for many centuries, imagining her to be soft and delicate with a rod of inner strength running through her. Her hair would be red, with a soft gleam of gold running through it. Her eyes green like the Gaian forests he had run through as a youthful god.
She would be beautiful and his, and they would spend their days mating and enjoying one another.
He would kill whoever had harmed her.
The wolves scattered from the camp when he sprang through them. They were unremarkable, filthy and ragged. His mind processed this though he focused on the beasts little. His female was near and needing him.
Several males were clustered around something near the back of the camp. That was where Eiophon headed. The Taniss wolf was still at his side.
A blonde woman lay at the male wolves’ feet. Her hair was tangled, matted with leaves and grass. They had dragged her somewhere. She faced away from Eiophon.
She looked so delicate and frail, her garment draping fragile shoulders and narrow hips. She was not moving.
The largest wolf reached out a leg and signed his death warrant. He kicked her in the side and she rolled to her back.
Eiophon reared back and howled, both at the wolves surrounding her and because he could not believe what he saw before him.
It was not his mate on the ground before him needing him to save her…it was the girl goddess. It made little sense to him why she would draw him here with her scent.
The girl goddess cried out again, the sound tearing through Eiophon’s head and heart. And then it made sense to him in a horrific way.
The mate he had so longed for those three thousand years had been closer than he had ever known.