Creda was alert as she walked through the misty forest. She had opted for a pair of breeches and a white shirt rather than her dress just in case she had to fight The Bear King and his tribe. If it had not been for her hitting a dead end in finding her father, she wouldn’t be here. She didn’t feel like she needed the help of the shifter and wasn’t sure why her father would so easily trust such a dangerous creature. She had thought of turning back multiple times, but the thought of her father staying the captive of vampires drove her forward. She gritted her teeth. She had begged him to take her, but he had refused, saying it was too dangerous even for her. She had argued with him, he had argued back, their last words had been angry and she had regretted it. It was the sudden complete silence that brought her out of her musings and she reached inside her shirt sleeves, pulling out the twin daggers as she came to a stop. She was being watched, she could feel the eyes boring into her.
“Show yourselves.” She demanded, her eyes searching the forest. “I mean it, show yourselves or I’ll come for you.”
By the size of the group, she knew she had come upon scouts. There were three men and a woman, all dressed in browns and greens to blend in with the woods around them. “Why are you here human?” The woman asked, her dark brown eyes boring into Creda’s blue ones. She was obviously displeased.
“I have come to see your king.” Creda answered, ready to fight all four of them.
They all looked her over. “Why do you think the king would speak to one such as you?”
“I was sent here by Alexander Avonaco, your king knows him.”
The bears shared a look. “If you are a friend of Hunter Avonaco, then Armel will see you.” One of the males said and the female looked about ready to pop.
“Are you kidding Dov, she could be lying, she could kill our king in an instant.”
The bear named Dov snorted. “Put a leash on your jealousy.” Dov’s pale green eyes met Creda’s. “We will take you, please put your weapons away, we will not hurt you. The king would have our pelts.”
Creda looked them over the slipped her daggers back on their sheaths, but did not snap them closed. She wanted to be able to pull them out in an instant if she needed too. Dov gave her a small smile then turned away. The other males followed, but the female paused for a moment to give her a death glare. She wondered if the king was mated to this one or if it was just wishful thinking on the female’s part. “Why have you come here anyway?” The female asked as they walked, her voice full of disgust.
“That is something I will only discuss with your king.”
“And that is your right.” Dov said, interrupting the female. “It must be serious for you to come to us and we shall respect your privacy. Only tell us what you wish, we will not force the information out of you.” Creda had a feeling that this bear was Armel’s second in command. Dov carried himself with great authority and the other males seemed to greatly respect him.
She was glad Dov was there so she wouldn’t have to deal with more from this woman than she needed to. She had come with no interest in anything romantic with this man, she didn’t even really trust him. This woman had nothing to fear so may aswell relax. Jealousy was often a blind emotion though so Creda knew there would be little sense in trying to explain to her the lengths of her disinterest in Armel. She knew the travel had been longer than it seemed but she had been able to relax knowing completely she was going the right way.
Dov brought her right to Armel and explained who she was. “you’ve grown a fair bit. Has it really been so long since I’ve seen your father?”
“Yes, I heard you met me a few times when I was a baby. I’m twenty three now but more importantly I need to speak with you in private.”
“You are the daughter of a good friend, of course.”
“but sir” The woman complained and he gave her a look that silenced her before waving Creda to follow.
Armel placed a hand on her lower back, making a little jolt run through her body. She tried to ignore the sensation as she allowed him to guide her into a large building with a bear paw carved into the door. The floor inside was dirt and there was a round hole in the ceiling. A fire burned in the center of the room just beneath the hole and torches lined the wall. At the back of the room was a large throne with pelts draped over it for cushions. “This is the throne room.” He said as she looked around at all the decorations.
“We put a lot of work into it. We hold ceremonies and meeting here as well.” He smiled warmly at her. “So, what did you need?”
“About three weeks ago my father went after a pack of vampires who had been kidnapping people from a village. There were a couple of bodies found completely drained. When he didn’t return, I sent a letter to the village elder and received one back saying my father had been taken during an altercation with the vampires. I went there, but I couldn’t find him. I looked everywhere, scoured the woods, but found nothing.” She felt herself start to tear up and took a deep breath. “He told me to come here if anything ever happened.”
Armel reached out and patted her head. She wanted to pull away, but there was something oddly familiar about his touch and it made her freeze. “Oh Creda, I’m so sorry. What can I do?” He sounded so sincere, but she was still wary of him.
“I need you to help me find him. Your nose is better than mine and your bears are better at searching the woods than I. I’m hoping you’ll see or smell something I didn’t.”
“Of course, anything little one. I’ll need to get things in order so someone can watch my people while I am gone. Then I must gather Dov and the other elite.”
“Bear tribes have elite soldiers. Dov is my second and I guess you could call him captain of the elite. He and the others who brought you here are all elite soldiers.”
“So they’ve had training.”
He searched her gaze. “You don’t trust us. We’re shifters Creda, not monsters. I bring my best so we can quickly find your father. None of them would dare lay a finger on you. You are under my protection.”
“My father hasn’t seen you in a long time. He trusted the man he knew last time he saw you, people change”
“I will gain your trust as we do this together. I can understand your reluctance to just take your fathers word. I will get things in order and we will go”
“Just out of curiosity why do you care if I trust you? Your relationship is with my father” Armel smiled “I still consider your father a good friend of mine. Not only that, I just know I’d like you to trust me. I feel a connection to you despite barely knowing the woman you are” She hoped him saying stuff like that wouldn’t make that female too much harder to deal with on this journey. Without Armel expressing things like that she had been nothing but a pain the whole way here.
She guessed though she must be able to control herself or he wouldn’t keep her in such a position. That or her skills more than made up for it, either worked for her. She only had to work with them until her father was safe. Getting him back was worth dealing with anything she had to.
“Please make yourself at home Creda, I’ll only be a moment.” He guided her back outside. “Feel free to explore the village. Everyone here knows your father and greatly respects him.”
“How long will it take?”
“Not long, I promise. Meet me back here.”
He smiled warmly at her and gently patted her head. “I’ll make everything right little one, I promise.”
She felt her cheeks heat and would have swatted his hand away if he had not turned and left her. She looked around at the village, at the curious eyes that watched her and felt a little embarrassed they had seen their king showing her any sort of affection. She didn’t want them getting the wrong idea, but she wasn’t sure if correcting them would resort in some sort of altercation. She cleared her throat and started slowly around the village. Armel went to the house of one of the oldest bears in his tribe. The man had been there when Armel’s father and grandfather had both ruled the tribe. He was tall and thickly built, looking more like a bear than anyone else. Despite his size, he was actually quite gentle and often offered guidance.
“Armel, it’s good to see you.”
“I have some business to attend to, I wanted to ask you to please watch over the tribe in my absence. Alexander Avonaco has been taken and I must accompany his daughter to rescue him. I’ll be taking the elite.”
“You have nothing to worry about, do what you must, I’ll keep things in order.”
thank you” He now went to talk to his elite and give Stacy the normal talking to he gave her when they had to work with a woman. She was to be nice and reign in her jealousy because they would never be together no matter how much she wanted it. He hated she made him do this but if he didn’t he knew she would be a bitch to Creda the entire time. He had his talk to her then told the other men what was up. It was a separate thing because he always spared her the embarrassment of him doing it in front of the others though he was sure they knew. He wished Stacy would just grow up so they wouldn’t have to deal with this at all.
He headed back and was happy to see Creda waiting for him. He hated the look of distress on her face, but he was glad she had obviously met no opposition in the village. “I hope you haven’t been here long.” He said, catching her attention.
“Just got back actually, are you…” a little girl ran up to them and Creda paused as she looked down into the child’s dark eyes. “Hello.” The little girl’s hands were behind her back and she looked shyly down at her feet.
Armel chuckled and squatted down so he was eye to eye with her. “Do you have something for Creda?” He asked gently and the girl nodded. “May she have it?” The girl nodded and revealed the leather bracelet she had hidden. “May I?” She handed to him and he patted her head then she took off. He stood, his attention going to Creda. “Rose quartz.” He showed her the bracelet. “Let me put it on for you, it’s good luck.”
“Alright.” She held out her wrist and he wrapped it around and tied it. It took up most of her wrist, but felt comfortable. He let his hands linger for a moment before pulling away, giving her goosebumps.
“We are ready when you are Creda.”
“then lets go please.” The group of six set on their way. They weren’t far along when Creda spoke “Thank you for just coming like this”
“Your father is my friend. This is what friends do. I wish you trusted me. I didn’t take your father for a bad judge of character”
“He normally isn’t but anybody can be deceived. Nobody is immune to it”
“True” Stacy eyed her intensely from the behind. Creda could feel it but felt the best way to handle her was to not react. She continued talking to Armel as they walked on. He was surprisingly easy to keep a conversation going with.
“So, how exactly did you meet my father?”
“We were hunting the same rogue bear. We came upon each other and we knew what the other was instantly. I was ready to fight, as was he, but when neither of us made a move we formed a very tentative alliance. We were suspicious of each other, waiting for an attack. In the time it took us to hunt down and kill that bear, we bonded. He talked at length about you and your mother. He lamented losing her. but saw you as his greatest gift. He is a good man, a man you can turn your back too and never have to worry about being stabbed in it.”
“I’m surprised he invited you home. That was always one of the big rules, never let them follow you home.”
“It was about mutual trust. I allowed him into the village and though my people were wary at first, they came to enjoy his company. He said it was only fair I get to visit him. I only came by a couple of times, I didn’t wish to cause him or you any trouble.”
“I wish you would have actually come when I was old enough to remember you”
“It keeps me busy being the leader. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you. I didn’t know I had been away so long. That also comes with immortality. The passing of time means less so you keep less track of it”
“Makes sense, it’s crazy you look so young. I’d take you for my age” He smiled, feeling happy to get a compliment from her. She was so beautiful and wise like her father. It was probably only his fear and love as a father that made him not bring her to his last job. She would have been a good aide to him.
“Let me know if you need a break Creda, we can always hunt fot you if you’re hungry and the others have water if you need it.”
“I’m fine, being trained to hunt gave me loads of stamina. My father said if you ever have to run then you should be able to outrun your pursuer no matter the species.”
He smiled. “Your father was always smart.”
“I hope he’s okay. I know he’s good at what he does, but he should have taken me.” She swallowed. “I was so mad when he left, I hope he can forgive me.”
He stopped and pulled her into a hug, his hand stroking her hair. “Your father loves you Creda, you are his only child and I doubt he would hold words said in the heat of the moment against you, I’m sure he knew you didn’t mean it.”
She actually felt better being held by him and she let herself relax for just a moment. She wanted to cry, but instead she just stood still. After a moment she pulled back and took a deep breath. “Thank you, sorry.”
“It’s okay to be upset and if you ever need to talk, I will gladly listen.”
Her heart was already starting to soften to him. She almost smiled before starting to walk forward again. When they finally made it to where her dad had been Armel took the lead with two of his elite, making the others stay behind Creda so nothing could surprise her from behind. He would find his old friend and he wouldn’t let anything lay a finger on Creda while he did it. She kept looking all around in hopes she might spot somthing helpful she hadn’t spotted last time. It was better than just following
“Fan out.” He ordered the others and took her hand. “I know you’re a hunter and probably a good one considering your parentage, but if things go wrong, do not risk your life for us, focus on yourself. We’ll be fine.”
“You expect me to give your back to the enemy?”
“We are much faster than you would think, especially in our human forms. The others were trained from a young age to fight. Their fathers and grandfathers were elite soldiers.” He glanced at her. “Even Stacy is formidable, though she often loses her temper.”
Creda grinned and whispered. “I noticed, she seems to have her eye on you.”
“It’s not happening, not now and not ever. I need a mate compatible with me and she isn’t. My queen should be able to help her people, not snap and rage at them when things don’t go her way.” He came to a stop, his head tipping to the side as he listened.
“What is it?”
He continued on, senses completely open. “Just twigs falling from trees.” The breeze changed direction and he froze, his nose flaring. “That smell.”
“It’s blood.” He whistled as he headed for the scent. It didn’t smell strong so was probably old. The small patch they found looked like someone probably fell there, but it wasn’t big so it didn’t look fatal. He let her go and squatted down, brushing leaves aside.
“You don’t think he’s…”
“No,” he said as the other bears joined them, “this was probably from the initial attack. Perhaps a head wound, but not serious.” He stood upright. “Spread out and search for a trail, call to us when you find it.” He ordered and the others left again, Stacy glaring at her.
Armel reclaimed her hand and gently tugged so she moved closer to him. She was too consumed with worry for her dad to notice it but it was comforting for him to hold her hand this way. Soon Stacey called for them “and this is why I put up with her childishness” he said to Creda then they went towards the sound of her call. Once Armel had the path too he lifted Creda into his arms so they could go as fast as they were able.
Armel could smell Alexander much better now and he called for them to slow down and walk quietly as they got closer. The lair of a vampire was always dangerous, especially when they worked in packs. They often set magical traps that could prove lethal if you didn’t step carefully. “Creda, you have studied vampires with your father, I would like you to take the lead on disarming any traps they have set.” He whispered close to her ear, his warm breath stirring up her hair and giving her goosebumps.
“Alright.” She whispered back and he sat her down.
“Please be careful, I would hate to see you harmed.”
She blushed. “I’ll be fine.” She pulled her daggers out and moved silently forward, her eyes and ears open. Her father had taught her how to spot a vampire’s traps. Sometimes they used nature to their bidding, setting up animals as alarms or vines as a hindrance. Sometimes they even employed humans. Their favorite was often a trap that caused a hunter’s body to freeze up. You would be left helpless and when the sun fell they would come for you and drink you dry. Her father had told her many stories of other hunters who had rushed head long into a lair without looking first. It almost always ended in death.
She expertly cleared all the traps they had laid out without, as far as she knew, alerting the vampires inside they were there. She motioned for Armel and the others to come and they listened. They came forward stealthily, all still careful just in case. They would be sleeping now but Vampires were powerful creatures who had amazing hearing. They carefully made their way inside. Armel could hear they were all sleeping. As far as he could tell not a one stirred.
He tapped Creda’s shoulder and she looked at him. He then tapped his nose and pointed. She nodded, understanding he had scented her father. She followed his direction to head down stairs, moving slowing and pausing on each step. When she made it to the bottom she could barely see, but she thought there was a cell in the back. She turned to Armel and whispered. “There’s a cell.”
“He’s in there, his scent is strong.”
“I need the others waiting upstairs. Opening the cell will be loud.” He nodded and signaled to the others to go back and wait. He followed Creda across the room, ready to pull her back if this was a trap. When she was standing before the cell door, she sheathed examined it. It was made of sturdy wood with iron bars for a window.
“Let me.” He grabbed the handle and wrenched the door open. It was incredibly loud and they both hurried inside. He could see Alexander laying there unconscious and he quickly lifted him. “Let’s go.”
They could hear that a fight had started upstairs and Creda yelled for them to run as she recalled one of the spells her father had had her memorize. It was for fire and she used it to set their lair ablaze. She sprinted out after Armel and his bears, hearing the screams of the vampires. She looked ahead, happy to see her father being carried on Armel’s shoulder. She swore to herself she would pay him back. They stopped for a break when they were sure they were far enough away, Creda sheathing her daggers as Armel propped her father up against a tree.
“Is he alive?”
“Yes, just unconscious. It seems they took his blood. He has bite marks on his neck and wrists.”
“Bastards.” She dropped down and gently pushed hair off her father’s forehead. “You better take me next time.”
“He’s tough, he’ll pull through.” Armel said as he sat down next to her. “He’s like a bear, tough as…” She leaned over and kissed him, surpring him. When she pulled she was blushing. “What was that for?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know how to thank you.” She felt herself become more embarrassed because that brief touch had sent another exciting shock through her. He grabbed her chin and made her look at him.
“I feel it too little one. Perhaps we should discuss it once we reach the village.”
His eyes burned with such happiness and desire. It was hard to speak which was a first for her. He let her go, knowing she understood without a worded answer. Back at the village Armel laid her father in a room. He looked so unhealthy. Neither of them expected they took any better care of him than they had to to keep him alive. He had one of his people go in to be there when he woke then he took Creda into his own room to talk to her about their obviously mutual feelings. She was nervous but glad he seemed to feel the connection as well. “first, I’ve been anxiously waiting for a chance to kiss you again Creda. You took me by surprise so I didn’t really get to enjoy that kiss” He slowly pulled her into him and framed her face with his hands.
When their lips met it was a slow, heart racing kiss that they both got lost in. The room and whole village seemed to fall away, leaving just the two. The world rapidly came back when he broke the kiss. “Now that was much better” he whispered, seeming to be a bit lost in the clouds still.
He chuckled and let one of his arms slip around her waist so he could pull her close. “You’re so beautiful.” He brushed his nose against hers. “I want you to stay here forever.”
He kissed her again and walked her back into his bed. Her heart stuttered when he pushed her down. His fingers laced with hers and he held her pinned there, his lips driving out all reason. “I promise to make you happy if you stay.” He said softly upon parting their lips. All she could do was nod and he looked so pleased, almost victorious. “My heart is already yours Creda.”
“I really…” The bedroom door flew open and she actually jumped.
“Armel, the hunter…” the young man’s eyes looked between them and his cheeks suddenly reddened.
“Yes?” Armel said, sounding slightly irritated at being interrupted.
“S…s…sorry…awake…he’s awake and…and trying to get out of bed. He won’t listen.” He ran out and Armel laughed.
“Not funny, off.” Creda said, even more embarrassed.
“They’re not used to me having someone in here.” He gave her a quick kiss. “We’ll continue later then. We should get to your father before he hurts himself.”
Creda got up once he wasn’t over her anymore. Her heart was still racing as he took her hand again. She enjoyed it until she saw her father and ran to him. She knew she had flown into the hug a little too hard but she couldn’t stop herself “dad”
“I..I told you not to come because I feared for you and then I get myself caught”
“Nobody can do perfectly everytime dad.”
“It’s so good to see you. I didn’t know if you’d actually do as you were told. My hard headed little girl” She smiled “You’re one to talk. You better stay laying down”
“You aren’t, you need to rest my friend” Armel added and her father smiled again “it’s been so long. You look just the way you did last time I saw you” Armel just smiled “I’ve asked your daughter to stay here with me.”
“she wants to?” He asked, looking at his daughter “yeah”
“and here I thought you’d never settle down.”
“they weren’t up to my standards before him” Her dad chuckled “I’m glad you’ve found someone”
“are you going to behave and rest father?”
“I’ll stay right here.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “Don’t make me have Armel get one of his soldiers to watch you. You stay in bed old man.”
Alexander rolled his eyes. “I’m barely in my forties child.”
Armel laughed. “Please stay in bed my friend, I’ll have someone help you get cleaned up and changed.”
“I’m not a helpless little baby.”
“The vampires obviously disagreed.”
He waved his hand. “I was simply biding my time, I had them right where I wanted them.”
“Daddy, let someone help you please and you need to eat and drink something, you’re so pale it’s frightening.”
Alexander sighed. “Alright, stop with the puppy dog eyes. You get that from your mother. I promise I won’t act up.”
She kissed his cheek “thank you dad”
“Thank you for coming after me” Creda left with Armel so her father could rest and Armel made sure two of his elites knew to help Alexander. This wasn’t the sort of thing elites normally did but this was a good friend and the father of the woman he wanted to be with. Creda was perfect to guide his clan by his side. Not to mention she was as beautiful as a mountain range during winter. She was tough, nimble and smart, perfect in so many ways and he was glad she would be his.
Her father stayed long after he was better. Armel tried to convince him to live there with them but he was too attached to his home. It held too many memories to leave but he promised to visit. “I hate how stubborn he is” she said to Armel after her father left “He gave it to you and I love stubborn women” she blushed and didn’t know what to say. He chuckled “I said I love you you know” Her redness increased “I..I love you too”
All of his bears could see how happy he was and even Stacey seemed to be trying to come to terms with it. Maybe she wasn’t as immature as they all thought. It was hard to love someone and not have them love you back and maybe she just needed time to learn how to control her jealousy. All Creda knew was that she was happy and hoped that maybe in later years her father would come stay with them too.
~ The End