You can read the story from the start here
Rhys tapped on Mark’s office door. “Are you there, boss?”
“Come in,” Mark said. He ran a tired hand over his face and waved Rhys to a seat. “Did you get away from the new site okay?”
“Everything’s going fine,” Rhys said, sitting down. “The wiring is finally up to code on the new build and the bathroom rebuilds at the hotel are going as planned. The business is doing fine. You can concentrate on Claire. How is she doing?”
Mark grimaced. “She had a bad night,” he said. “And I don’t think that she’s being honest about how much she’s hurting.”
“I’m sorry, boss,” Rhys said. “I wish there was something we could do.”
“The world doesn’t stop, though, does it,” Mark said. “You’ve kept the business on track, and I’m grateful. But now we have some pack business. I want you to let the lads know that we need to take down a pack of strays near Otley.”
Rhys frowned. “I’ve been hearing some stuff about that,” he said. “And a few of the lads were wondering when we were going up there. They need dealing with.”
Mark scowled. “What are they saying? That I can’t keep up with stuff? I’m still the pack leader, and I make the decisions.” He glared at the younger werewolf opposite him. “So I’m leading everyone tonight. We’ll have a sniff around, put down any strays that won’t behave and then get a few beers at the clubhouse.”
Rhys looked at his uncle thoughtfully. “Perhaps I should lead them,” he said. “If Claire’s not well, then you should be with her at home.”
“Claire is going to be staying with the women at the clubhouse,” Mark said. “Lord Marius has been talking about some sort of stone, I don’t know. He said that it had been pulled out of a barrow. The elfen are always getting their panties in a twist over stuff, but I want the women and cubs to be safe.”
Rhys searched for the right words. “Boss, you know that we’re loyal to you, and I don’t want to show disrespect, but you’re not the same as you were. I mean, you’ve been caught up with Claire and everything,” he said. “You’ve got run down and you’re not getting any younger.”
“I can still knock the fur off you, or any other cub in this pack,” Mark snarled. “And don’t you forget it! Do you think that I’m going to step aside for some whelp that barely knows up from down just because I’ve got some issues. I’m still the head of this pack and this trip will be a good chance to remind people. Tell everyone that we’re meeting at the clubhouse and that we’ll be leaving at 7pm – sharp!”
Mark watched his nephew leave and then waited for a moment. His excellent hearing picked up the sound of Rhys’ car leaving the car park and nodded to himself. After checking that his wife was asleep, he let his secretary know that he was going out and then climbed into his well-kept Range Rover. He didn’t trust the Knights Templar, and he wasn’t going to let Lord Marius push into a pack matter. But there were other people he could ask. He drove up to the speed limit but in complete control and, after a quick stop at the supermarket, was soon pulling up at the bottom of the lane that led to Violet’s cottage.
Violet looked like she had been crying when she opened the door. “I’m not feeling very well today,” she said. “Perhaps you should come back later.”
“I’ve brought gifts,” Mark said, holding up a cloth bag. “I’ve brought Muscovado sugar, vodka and a plant.” He handed over a rather bedraggled supermarket African violet, followed by the bag.
Violet looked at him warily. “I suppose you can come in,” she said. “But I don’t know if I can grant any boons.” Her expression softened a little. “But I may have some teas that could help Claire. They won’t cure anything,” she hastened to add. “But they may make her feel a little better.”
Mark managed a strained smile. “That’s appreciated,” he said. “But I think you can grant boons. I want to hear about the Orache Stone.”
Violet stared at him, frozen on the doorstep. She took a deep breath and then stepped back to let Mark in. “Come in and sit down,” she said. “I’ll make you a cup of tea without obligation. I need a moment to think.”
Mark followed her in and looked around. The cottage was darker and dustier than he remembered, but it was still warm and calm. He sat in a comfortable armchair near the fire and leant back against the crocheted throw. “Thank you,” he said.
Violet held a finger to her lips and then bustled around, swinging the kettle over the fire in the hearth and then bustling around with mugs and teabags. She sniffed the pack of muscovado sugar and shivered in a type of pleasure before putting it on a shelf in an alcove. The large bottle of vodka was quickly slipped into a pail of cold water and the plant was tenderly misted with water and placed in a brighter corner. Then she poured the hot water into the mugs and, after adding milk to Mark’s mug, set them down on the cluttered table next to Mark. “Wait there one moment,” she said. “I’ll be straight back.” Then she vanished.
Mark waited as patiently as he could for the next fifteen minutes, sipping the excellent tea and enjoying the crackle of the fire. He knew Violet couldn’t be rushed. She’d been fading for a while now, he knew, but she could give him the answers he needed. He looked up as she returned and was shocked at how pale she looked. “Are you okay?” he asked, standing up.
Violet nodded. “I’m fine and I have made some choices,” she said. “The Orache Stone was a great evil. A truly desperate evil and the elfen who made it was tortured for a year and a day before he died. And that was the right thing,” she added. “There was a lot of blood spilled. But things were different then. It’s true that the wolfkind, the werewolves, were the ones who had the stone, and I think that it calls most to them.” She sank down on her chair and gazed at the fire. “The Orache Stone grants great power and authority. Lord Skyrack took the name of its creator, but I remember something of them. They knew so much and it was, I think, perhaps as much of a mistake as it was malice.” She sighed softly and took a small sip of her tea. “The Orache Stone grants power, that much I remember. And it can bring truly great power. In return, it takes its owner’s soul, scrap by scrap and sending them gradually insane.”
“It sounds more like a curse than a blessing,” Mark said as he sat back down again.
“It was,” Violet said softly. For a moment her face twisted as she struggled to recall events three thousand years old. “It wasn’t given to the pack leader,” she said. “But to a wolf named…” She looked at Mark and he could see the blue haze in her eyes. “They were called Verak, and they had always been fretful. They were never strong enough to challenge for the leadership but always envious of power. They used the power of the Orache Stone and took the pack in a bloody fight. But it didn’t stop there. Because of the hunger for power, Verak took over a neighbouring pack as well, in Leodis, where you are now, and were talking about taking over the villages of men. But the Orache Stone took too much of their soul and they went mad. A woman named…” Once again Violet paused. “I think that she was called Ina or Ena, stole it from Verak as he foamed at his mouth. She also wanted power. She took many lovers and she ripped the throats out of any that opposed her. The stone’s power grew, and Ina’s mind failed and her daughter took it, and I don’t know if I ever knew her name. But before she had a chance to truly lose her soul, Bron came.” Violet shivered. “He gave her a chance to give up the stone, and when she didn’t, he killed her.”
Mark slowly and carefully moved over to place a gentle hand on Violet’s shoulder. “I can see that you loved Bron.”
Violet’s mouth twisted. “I loved him, I always loved him, even after I thought that he was dead. But he turned away from me. He was faithful to her even though he didn’t love her. He stayed away from me. Then he died slowly.” A tear slid down Violet’s cheek.
“I’m so sorry,” Mark said. “I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories.”
“And now that he is back in that new, fresh, vigorous body, he is holding back because Gareth has eyes for a mortal, a normal,” Violet said bitterly. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I wouldn’t love him so much if he didn’t have so much honour in him, so much steel in his soul.” She shook her head and forced a smile. “But enough of me and my old and dusty sorrows. I may be fading but I can still make a few guesses about your request. You want to know if the Orache Stone can heal Claire.”
“I could never hide anything from you,” Mark said.
Violet patted his cheek. “I always had a soft spot for a werewolf,” she said. She looked thoughtful, then away and into the fire. “I don’t know if it can heal Claire,” she said. “But I know it has more power than the elfen intended. And I’m not sure about their intention.” She leaned forward and put another log on the fire, watching it settle into the embers. “The people who held the Orache Stone before only wanted power. You have power, and you only want healing for Claire. You may be able to turn the power to healing.”
“You think that there’s even a chance?” Mark asked.
Violet nodded. “I can hear how desperate you are. There is a chance, but no guarantee. And you could still lose your soul, your mind, if you don’t stop soon enough. It’s a lot of risk for no certainty.” She looked at him. “But you would do anything for Claire, wouldn’t you? Just like Bron would for me, before he obeyed his father. If you get the Orache Stone, I’ll help you redirect the power. Away from Lord Marius, I’m probably the only one that can do this.” She held up an imperative finger. “But you must do everything you can to get Carli Sykes out of Bron’s life. Get one of your young dogs to seduce her, get her compromised. Break her car so she can’t meet him or sabotage her job.” Violet turned and looked hard into Mark’s eyes. “If necessary, kill her. Because the deal is that you get Claire, and I get Bron. Do you understand this bargain?”
Mark met her gaze without flinching. “For Claire,” he said. “I understand.”