To Hell and Back - 13 | iii

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It wasn't the first time Marx was losing a member of his pack. When Lochlan died, he felt the rift in his heart. When Dempsey died, the rift was more a fissure. This new loss felt like a tear through his soul. It left his insides feeling raw, a numb echo spreading through him. He laid on the ground his mind unable to wrap itself around the loss, rebelling against the reality of what had happened. There had to be a mistake. Was that possible? Logic and emotion waged war in his mind. No, there was no mistake. One of his own was dead.

All around him, the others crowded in asking what was wrong. He couldn't tell them. He couldn't find the words. Soon all their voices fused into an indistinguishable hum. They grew further away, the world around him seeming to dim. Over him, a familiar face materialized. Celeste. She stood there in all her beauty beaming down at him, the smile not extinguishing the sadness in her eyes. He wanted to apologize; the words lost in his mind. Anchored around his grief was the heavy weight of remorse chained there by Marx's guilt. Celeste crouched down brushing her fingers along his cheek.

"It is not your fault," she said.

Wasn't it? Of all the blame, he took upon his shoulders this one was born from his mistakes. His failure. His doing. It was his fault.

"Dwelling on the past will do no good. Get up; it's time for you to end this. Do this for him."

Her image faded, the world reshaping around him again. Marx sat up. Beside him was Martha, brows knitted together in worry.

"Marx? What happened?" she asked. "Talk to us."

"Where is Ava?" Daniel strode into view. He was furious, his eyes blazing blue. "Where is she?"

Marx got to his feet. "I do not know," he answered.

That was not the answer Daniel wanted. He opened his mouth to speak, closing it as he gathered himself. He was fuming. Marx could not blame him. In a calmer voice, Daniel asked, "Why did she not come back with you?"

"We got blindsided. Ava got us out of there, but I don't know what happened to her."

"I have to go there," Daniel said. "We have to go to Hedgewood."

"We will go nowhere with you, imposter."

Daniel squared his shoulder, straightening to his full height at the defiant voice that came from behind him. He turned to face the man who said it. Behind the man were the other members of Sven's pack. Marx took a step forward meaning to squash the matter when Vescovi placed a hand on his chest to stop him.

"Let Daniel handle it," Vescovi said to him. "For as long as he is in Sven's body, those men are his to control."

Marx understood what Vescovi was saying. In a war like this, they needed as many claws and teeth as they could find. Bred for war Sven's men were assets just as much as his body was proving to be.

Daniel stomped over to the group of men. "I have had just about enough," Daniel said to the man who called him an imposter.

By the sound of it, the argument had started long before Marx got there. Daniel stopped inches from the man's face, both standing at the same height. Both tense and coiled for a fight.

"Do you want to challenge me?" was Daniel's question.

The other man growled his eyes going solid gold. "You are not Sven. You are not our Alpha," the man said. The others grunted their agreement.

"We are one," Daniel replied. "I am no more pleased about it than you are but that is what it is. Challenge me or obey."

The man opened his mouth to speak, and Marx chimed in. "Think wisely," he said. "You are either with us or against us."

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