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.Irma, want to do the honors?”Irma leaned back in her chair with a sigh.Mary-Lou noticed the tightness about her eyes, the tremble in her fingers as they tapped a nervous dance against the table top; the older woman was exhausted.Yet, the grin Irma offered the room at large was triumphant, powerful – Mary-Lou felt her doubts and fears melt away in the face of her mother’s confidence.“We found a record of the prophecy,” Irma began, “your prophecy, Mary-Lou.In a book long thought lost and only just returned to our kind.We have Cara’s mother to thank for its recovery – Natalia’s selflessness, her willingness to sacrifice a year of her life for a family that is not her own, will be long remembered by me and mine.” Cara blushed in pride, bowing her head in silent acceptance of the older woman’s gratitude.“The book is in Latin,” Irma continued, “and badly damaged from decades of careless handling.Most of its writing does not pertain to us; in fact, a great many of its pages are dedicated to gardening, of which its author appears to have been very fond.The prophecy, if you can believe it, was an afterthought – a scribbled passage in the margins of a marmalade recipe of some sort.” Irma grinned, “Decoding it was a right pain.”“Why would Daphne be so careless?” Mary-Lou wondered, “And what is the use of reading her prophecy in Latin, if you have already heard it first-hand?”Irma shook her head.“Daphne did not write this book,” she said.“Do you truly believe that she was the only seer in existence, or that the fate of the Shifter Tribes is so negligible of an issue that no other with that gift would predict your coming? The book – a journal, actually – belonged to an Old One who lived in Rome, hundreds of years ago.He was extremely gifted, a man in service of several Emperors.” Irma smiled, bemused, “He lived through the fall of an empire, and all he thought worthy of record was a seed planting schedule, a couple of dozen recipes, and a single prophecy.”“It took several nights of increasingly painful internet research and a couple of asthma-inducing dictionaries,” Jonathon explained, “but we were able to translate the full passage with a great deal of accuracy.”“Tell us what it says!” Cara enthused, bouncing slightly on her bent legs.“I was about to,” Jonathon smiled at the younger woman, charmed by her cheerfulness.He then cleared his throat and bent his head over a simple notebook, voice growing serious and even as he read:“A hundred and seventy five summers from today, a child will be born on the night Winter becomes Spring.She will be frail in body but strong in heart.Within human flesh, she will hold a power greater than any our kind can claim.Follow her, and reap the happiness and health sown by her steps.Deny her, and watch chaos and despair rain upon the heads of our children.To her who reads my hand, so many summers from now: Beware.There is much evil in this world, but there is more good.Do not lose your way in the cruelness of others.Stand strong and right, surround yourself with kin of sound mind and heart.Build a family and lead with virtue in a time of drought.These words are my gift and farewell to you.”Mary-Lou barely breathed as Jonathon spoke – barely moved or thought at all, her focus on her father’s voice too complete to allow for distractions.There was power in his words, a certain rightness she could not describe but felt, deep and true.In that moment, with the words of a dead man echoing in her ears, Mary-Lou finally grasped the enormity of what lay before her.“Are you alright?” Jonas rumbled in her ear, concerned blue eyes sweeping over her face.Mary-Lou was terrified.“I am fine,” she forced out, then stronger, “I am.”“Did you hear?” Cara jumped to her feet, bounced closer until she stood beside Mary-Lou’s chair.“You need to build a pack! That’s the key, the secret – and you already have us! We are so going to kick those bastards’ asses!”“I don’t understand,” Mary-Lou muttered, dazed by both Cara’s exuberance and the jumble of unknown terms, “We are a – a pack? What does that mean?”“A pack is not unlike a family,” Jonathon explained.“It is a self-contained, self-sustaining group of people who live by a shared set of values and beliefs.A pack can be as small as a single family, or large enough to populate an entire town.Usually, packs are built around familial ties or a common form – Wolves in particular tend to group with kin Shifters – but nowadays, ragtag collectives of friends are not uncommon.”“How does a pack work?” Mary-Lou asked.Her mind was buzzing with the new information, fitting bits and pieces of things she had noticed over her few days into the Cabin into the brand new framework the knowledge provided.“Can one person belong in two packs?”“Observant,” Sasha praised.“Some packs have rigid hierarchies: An alpha pair at the top, followed by however many betas and a few omegas.Others are more lenient, allowing alphas to coexist within a single pack or lacking a leader altogether.Such packs are less stable, more given to change or disintegration – but that is not always a bad thing.” Something flashed in Sasha’s eyes, a spark of anger that spoke of an untold story.“As laid back as a pack may be, however,” the man continued, “you can only belong to one pack at a time.”“It’s the bond,” Cara explained, “The connection that forms between pack mates as they share each other’s space and worries.It links our souls, makes us more attuned to pack-mates in need – basic survival.”“How can you be my pack, then,” Mary-Lou questioned, “When you have your own?”“Pack bonds are not unbreakable,” Cara shrugged.“The size of a pack and the happiness of its members within it determine the strength of their connection to each other.My pack is all of two people, and my mother travels much too often,” the girl sighed, a bit sadly, “I will always be connected to her, but the bond itself was not difficult to break.” She smiled tentatively at Mary-Lou, then wider when Mary-Lou smiled back.“I am alone,” Jonas offered next.Mary-Lou laced their fingers together, asking noother questions.“And I,” Sasha said calmly in the resulting silence, “Am sick and tired of dealing with pale, whiny bastards all day long.They can well find another alpha.”Jonas barked out a surprised laugh, stretching a muscular arm behind Mary-Lou to lightly punch the other man’s shoulder.“The old farts are in, too!” Nicholas crowed, unapologetic in the face of Irma and Jonathon’s scandalized grins.Like that, the tension broke and smiles lighted the table [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]