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Dark Moon (Chapter Thirty-Five)

Embrace the power. Complete the quest. The answer lies in you.

The words came out of the darkness, in a voice I didn't recognize. I awoke to a whole new world – a beautiful place, full of color and light and scent. People and animals meandered about, enjoying the sun that sparkled on clear water. The lion with the lamb, black people with white, I even saw a coyote resting his head on the feathered breast of a chicken.

"Where am I?"

"You are in the Land of Souls."

A woman separated from those lounging near the water and walked toward me. Tall, slim, her hair was flowing black with only a trace of silver. Her face defied time; her eyes were dark, clear, and honest.

Her white T-shirt was tucked into a long colorful skirt. She wore a ring on each finger and on two of her toes. Three earrings hung from each ear and bracelets jangled around her slim wrists.

"Am I dead?"

"No." Her smile was gentle. She took my hand. "But I am."

"You're Cora." Her brows lifted. "Will spoke of you."

Her expression became both fond and sad. "He's a good boy, and I miss him. Tell him all that I have is his."

"He'll like that." I considered the beautiful, dead old woman. "You engineered everything, didn't you?"

"Lydia told me what she had planned." Cora shrugged. "I planned better."

"You gave me strength."

"No. The strength was always yours. The talisman was merely an instrument that allowed you to access it." She brushed her hands together. "Now, I promised you the truth."

"You did?"

"Embrace what you are, discover the secret you seek."

"That was you?"

She nodded.

"Why didn't you just tell me who the bad guys were?"

"The Land of Souls doesn't work that way. Only through accepting yourself could you ever become whole and learn the truth."

I wasn't sure I could handle any more truth.

"Because you defeated the one who ended my days, I can grant you the answer to a single question. All you need do is ask."

There was only one question I'd ever wanted the answer to.

"What is the cure for lycanthropy?"

"You don't wish to know how to cure yourself?"

"Isn't it the same thing?"

"The cure for one will not cure the other. You are different. You must choose."

Myself or all the werewolves? Once the decision would have been easy. I had loathed what I was, would have done anything to remove the curse, cure the virus. But I'd learned a lot in the past few days.

Edward might hate me, but that was his problem. I no longer did. I could help people, save lives.

Nic hadn't run screaming. Yet. However, he could when he discovered I might never be cured.

I paused to think, but I didn't really have to. I couldn't choose an easy life over hundreds, thousands of deaths. I just couldn't.

"Them, not me," I said.

"You wish to have the power to remove the demon and make werewolves human again?"

"Yes."

"A sacrifice," Cora murmured. "For the good of mankind. In the end, you will be blessed."

She took me by the hand. When she released me, a pentagram remained, stark black against the pale of my palm.

"Mark of the wolf," she told me. "The power to heal."

"How?"

"The gift was always in you. You fought what you were. You refused to embrace the beast. Relying on science to turn back the tide of magic." Cora shook her head. "There is no cure that comes from a bottle."

"But science made the monsters. Or at least some of them."

"Hate makes monsters. Those who worshipped the sign of the beast attempted to bring about Doomsday, and they failed."

"Nazis? The swastika?"

"No one should call forth powers they do not understand."

"I'll be able to cure werewolves now?"

"You are woman and wolf – human and inhuman. Only you can touch them and make them whole."

The Land of Souls shimmered, faded, and was gone.

"Elise?"

I opened my eyes.

Either the sun was setting or a storm was coming. The ravine was shadowed, cool, a bit spooky. I could smell blood, a lot of it, along with wolves, people.

How long had I been –

Where had I been?

Nic, who was on his knees at my side, leaned over and kissed me. A thorough kiss, both sweet and seductive. I lifted my arms and wrapped them around his neck.

"Can we save the pornographic video for later? I got questions."

That was Jessie's voice. When had she gotten here?

Nic lifted his head, touched my cheek. There were shadows in his eyes that hadn't been there before.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"You were dead."

"Was not."

"You didn't have a pulse." Jessie leaned over and put her finger to my neck. "You do now."

I slapped her hand away. "I saw Cora in the Land of Souls."

Everyone went silent. Jessie and Nic exchanged glances. I could tell by their expressions they thought I'd lost my mind. Maybe I had. I'd been hit hard enough to jiggle my brain.

"Cora," I began, but stopped when Jessie pointed her .44 at my head.

"What's on your hand?"

I blinked at the black pentagram glistening starkly in the half-light. The Land of Souls hadn't been a dream after all.

"Cora touched me and there it was."

"Last time there was a tattoo like that it was on a Weendigo," Jessie said. "I hate those guys."

Nic slid in front of Jessie's .44. "Put the gun down."

"Hey!" I tugged on his arm. "She isn't going to shoot me."

"Damn straight I will, Doc. I'm not going through that Weendigo shit again, even for you."

"A pentagram with one point ascendant represents good." Edward's voice – my grandfather's voice – drifted across the ravine. "Two points ascendant means evil."

Jessie leaned in close, squinting at my palm. "One up – guess you aren't Satan's handmaiden after all."

I rolled my eyes, wincing at the pain the movement caused in my head. Struggling to sit, I glanced in Edward's direction.

All of the werewolves from the basement, save one, were on the ground, dead bodies still smoking.

Edward guarded the remaining lycanthrope, rifle nearly touching the guy's nose.

"How did you manage to arrive in the nick of time?" I asked Jessie.

"Will had a bad feeling." She shrugged, kicked the ground. "His feelings come true a lot. When he went to talk to the wigwam guy, I headed here." She lifted her gaze to mine. "Lucky I did."

The witchie wolves surrounded what was left of Billy. Even though he'd deserved what he got, my eyes still shied away from the remains.

Wait a second. Someone was missing.

"Where's Lydia?"

"Poof," Jessie said. "We got a little busy with…" Her nod indicated the werewolves, Billy, me. "When we looked, she was gone. Though Edward did find something interesting in her pocket before she left."

Jessie held out her hand. In it lay a set of dentures and a bottle of clear liquid.

"Okay, I'll bite."

Jessie snorted at my pathetic pun.

"What the hell is that?"

"We couldn't figure out how the bodies were being bitten by a werewolf in human form when Damien said there was no evidence of a werewolf in Fairhaven."

"How were they?"

"They weren't – not really. We think Lydia made an impression of Billy's teeth, collected his saliva, then did the deed herself."

"Why Billy?"

"The usual reason, most likely, power. He was loaded with it. I figure Lydia didn't want to release him if she didn't have to. That guy was whacked."

"But the compound blew up, he got out, came here, and she had no choice but to work with him."

"Great minds," Jessie agreed, and glanced at the bloody grass. "Guess we'll never know the truth for sure, but it all fits."

"Lydia's going to try and rule the world again," I said.

"They always do. But we'll be here to stop her. Unless I have to shoot you in the head. Tell the tale, Doc."

Quickly I explained my journey to the Land of Souls.

"You've been wasting your time and the government's money? All you had to do was touch them, and they'd be human?"

"Not exactly." I frowned. "I've touched a few werewolves. Got a headache. Never cured one."

"So what's special now. The mark?"

"No." As my mind cleared, everything Cora had said began to combine with all that I'd learned, all that I knew. "Not the mark, but what it represents. Embracing my power, the magic, and my beast gave me strength and led me to the truth."

"I guess that makes as much sense as anything," Jessie said. "So why don't we find out if that brand-new fashion accessory works?"

I followed Jessie's gaze to the werewolf Edward held under the gun. "Okay."

"Wait." Nic put a hand on my shoulder. "Maybe you should rest first. Who knows what might happen?"

"Exactly, G-man. Who knows what might happen? She's the most powerful werewolf now. I don't know about you, but that makes me mighty nervous."

"She was the most powerful werewolf all along," Nic said.

I glanced at the witchie wolves. "He's right."

Jessie aimed her gun and so did Edward. No moss on them.

"What the hell?" Nic asked.

"She commands the witchie wolf army," Edward murmured. "They are indestructible."

"So if I'm of a mind to rule the world – "

"You can," Jessie finished.

However, I'd never been big on world domination.

"Wait for me in the Land of Souls," I said.

Before the last word left my mouth, the witchie wolves began to fade. Flesh and bone became ghost, ghost became shadow, and then they were gone.

"Oookay," Jessie muttered. "They can't be killed, but they can be commanded to wait in heaven. Works for me." She lowered her gun. "Let's move on. I want to know if that pentagram is good or evil – "

"She just proved she's not evil," Nic said. "She got rid of the witchies."

"That proved she's the most powerful. I don't like it."

"I'm not wild about it myself," I murmured.

"And if she's evil, you shoot her?" Nic asked.

Jessie merely turned a bland gaze in his direction. Stupid question.

"I won't let you."

"You won't have anything to say about it."

Nic's hand crept toward his gun and I put mine on his. "I'm not evil. She won't kill me. And this is going to work. Watch."

I got to my feet, managed not to wobble. This day, this week, hell, this life, was taking a lot out of me.

I crossed the ravine, skirting the mess that had been

Billy. The last werewolf from the basement, Jack Mc-Grady, stared at me in fear.

"No!" He tried to skitter back.

Edward thrust him forward. "Do it."

"I don't want to be human," Jack shouted.

"Would you rather be dead?" Edward shoved the barrel of a rifle into Jack's ear.

Jack was just a kid. He'd had his whole life ahead of him – in 1955. Since then, he'd made a career of ending other kids' lives. I didn't feel an ounce of guilt over using him as my guinea pig.

Reaching out, I placed my tattooed palm against his forehead.

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