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Midnight Awakening (Chapter Twenty-nine)

Elise heard women's voices as she strolled the corridor on her way out of Tegan's quarters. The muffled laughter and easy conversation drew her, reminding her of the friendships she had enjoyed in the Darkhaven, when her life had seemed so full. Although she didn't feel as empty as she had in recent months, there was still a space in her heart that was open–a small void that made her miss being part of a community.

She didn't know what the other females would think of her. Although it seemed years ago to her, it was only a handful of days since the confrontation she'd had with Tegan in front of the Order–when he'd publicly suggested she find a willing male to be her blood Host without the sanctity of a vow. He'd only done it to push her away, but if the Breedmates here at the compound had heard about it, she was probably a subject of pity with them, if not scorn. There were few females in the Darkhavens who would be able to look her in the eye after something like that.

As she neared the open door of the room where the warriors' mates had gathered, Elise prepared herself for cautious greetings and the quiet whispers that were sure to begin once she had passed.

Elise, welcome back! Gabrielle exclaimed the instant her kind brown eyes lit on her. We heard you and Tegan had just come back. I was actually about to go and find you. Do you want to join us?

The women had a nice little repast of fruits and cheeses spread out on the coffee table in the center of the cozy library. Tess was putting down small plates and there was already an extra one waiting for Elise. Savannah stood in front of a dark cherry sideboard, pulling a cork from a bottle of chilled white wine. She looked over at Elise and smiled as she began pouring into several long- stemmed glasses.

Want some? she asked.

Okay. Elise walked into the inviting chamber and accepted the glass from Savannah's outstretched hand. Thank you.

The awkwardness she expected didn't happen. As soon as she settled in with the women, Elise was bombarded with questions about the trip, about what she and Tegan were able to uncover, and about where things stood with regard to Petrov Odolf and the journal Marek had been so determined to get his hands on.

They weren't interested in gossip or scandal, and Elise found herself falling into an easy conversation with all three of the intelligent, savvy women. She told them all she knew, relating the details of Tegan's and her visits to the containment facility.

She had just begun to tell them about the writings Irina had given her when Tess put down her wineglass, her brows knit in a frown.

What happened to your face? You're bruised.

Elise nodded, idly touching the tenderness that still lingered in her cheek and jaw. Oh. A Minion did that.

My God, Savannah gasped, her concern echoed by Gabrielle and Tess as well.

Does it hurt? Tess asked, moving around the table and kneeling next to Elise.

It did at first. It's not so bad now.

Let me see. She carefully tilted Elise's head. When her hand came to rest on the bruise, Elise felt a warm tingle spreading from the female's palm to the tips of her fingers. Dante's mate had worked her healing touch on Elise before, but that didn't make her marvel at Tess's talent any less. The trauma of the injury faded away, muting until not even the slightest twinge of discomfort remained.

Elise let herself sink into the peaceful sensation that swept over her as Tess drew her hand away. Your skill is amazing.

The pretty female shrugged her shoulder as if uncomfortable with the praise. There are some things that are beyond my ability. I can't take away scars or correct wounds that have already healed on their own. Some damage is irreversible. I'm learning that with Rio.

Savannah reached over to squeeze Tess's hand. He's doing a lot better since you've been working with him. The fact that he's even out of bed at all is due mostly to you. No, it's pure rage that drives him, Tess said. My being able to heal some of his physical wounds is only incidental.

Rio was injured in a Rogue ambush last summer, Gabrielle explained to Elise. He got pretty messed up from exploding shrapnel, but the worst of it was when he found out that his Breedmate had set the Order up for the attack.

Elise's heart twisted at the very idea. How awful.

Yeah, it was. Eva betrayed Rio and the others to Marek. In exchange, Lucan was to be the primary target of the explosion. Lucan was supposed to die that night, but the bomb only injured him. He and Rio were hit, but Rio took the worst of the impact. Gabrielle took a sip of her wine, her gaze sober, reflective. I was there when Eva confessed what she'd done…and when she proceeded to take her own life.

Those were some dark days, Savannah said. It was really hard losing Eva like that. I thought she was a friend. What she did to Rio and to the others is unforgivable.

Rio certainly won't let it go, Tess added. Dante and I are really concerned about him. I wonder sometimes if he's too far gone–you know, on the inside. When I work with him, there are times I feel like I'm looking at an armed grenade that's just waiting for an excuse to go off.

Savannah exhaled a wry laugh. Pretty bad when Rio makes Tegan look like a poster boy for normal and well-adjusted.

Elise glanced down, feeling her cheeks heat up at the mention of Tegan. When she looked up again, it was to find Gabrielle watching her. He wasn't too terrifying in Berlin, was he? Tegan doesn't make it easy for anyone to be around him. No. No, he was fine, actually, Elise said, rising to his defense. He was kind and protective…well, and frustratingly complicated. He's the most intense man I've ever known. And he is…so much more than people might think.

She felt the room go quiet. Three pairs of female eyes were rooted on her now, each of the warriors' mates staring at her as fire shot into her face.

Elise, Gabrielle said slowly, her eyes brightening with understanding. You and Tegan…really?

Before she could stammer out an admission, she was pulled into the female's happy embrace. The two other Breedmates took turns congratulating her as well, making her tear up at the instant circle of sisterhood that they were so willing to accept her into.

It was through a moist, bleary gaze that Elise got her first glimpse of the tapestry that hung on the far corner wall of the library. The colors of the medieval setting were dazzling, depicting a knight on horseback as richly as if it were paint on canvas.

The intricacy of the needlework was extraordinary…familiar.

And unmistakable.

She'd seen a similarly intricate piece when she'd met with Irina Odolf. The embroidery that had been wrapped around the stack of letters Irina had found.

That weaving, she said, hardly able to breathe. Where did it come from?

It's Lucan's, Gabrielle said. It was made for him in the 1300s. A long time ago, when the Order was still new.

Elise's pulse kicked into an excited tempo. Who made it, do you know? Um, a woman named Kassia, Gabrielle said. She was a Breedmate to one of the Order's original members. Lucan says her talent with needle and thread was unmatched, which you can see from the detail in this piece alone. According to him, this was the last weaving Kassia made, and her most stunning work. That's Lucan on the warhorse–

May I look at it? Elise asked, standing up and walking over to see it up close.

On a distant hill behind the knight on the rearing stallion, a castle smoldered under a thin sliver of a moon. A crescent moon.

And beneath the horse's hooves lay a trampled field, rutted with deep tracts of earth.

castle and croft shall come

together under the crescent moon

The strange riddle played through her mind, carried there in Petrov Odolf 's tormented voice.

It couldn't be…could it?

Elise ran her hand over the delicate stitches of the tapestry's detailed border. All of it had been woven with such deliberate care. And in the lower right corner was the weaver's mark–a Breedmate symbol, just like the one she'd seen on the embroidery Irina showed her–sewn into the design.

Was there a message hidden somewhere in here?

Hidden here all this time?

What is it, Elise? Gabrielle came up behind her. Is something wrong?

Elise's heart was racing. Would it be all right if we took this down from the wall? I guess so…yeah, sure. She got up on the cushioned chair situated next to the tapestry and reached up to lift the piece from its hanging mount on the wall. Gabrielle held the tapestry gingerly in her hands. What do you want me to do with it?

Lay it flat, please.

I'll clear the table, Savannah said, and she and Tess went to work quickly removing the food and dishes to make space. Okay, here you go.

Elise trailed Gabrielle as she spread the tapestry out. She studied the piece in silence for a moment, remembering the rest of the cryptic verse:

to the borderlands east turn

your eye

at the cross lies truth

I'd like to try something. I will need to fold the cloth, but I promise I'll be very careful.

At Gabrielle's agreeing nod, Elise brought the top of the tapestry toward the center of the design, then lifted the bottom of the piece and folded them so that the castle and the field below Lucan's mount met.

Castle and croft shall come together under the crescent moon,' she murmured, watching as the two meeting portions of the design formed a new picture.

It looks like some kind of mountain range, Tess said, as a distinctly shaped rock formation became visible within the stitches. How did you know to do that?

The Odolf journal contained odd scribblings–the same weird phrases that Petrov Odolf became obsessed with in the weeks before he went mad with Bloodlust and turned Rogue. The same phrases that his brother had written before he went Rogue. My God…it seemed like a puzzle we were never going to solve.

Gabrielle's eyes were wide. You mean this tapestry is somehow linked to all of that?

I think it must be, Elise whispered. She looked back down at the folded design. To the borderlands east turn your eye…' Maybe if we turn the tapestry to the left?

She pivoted the weaving ninety degrees, so that the top border was facing east. The folded center was running vertical now. And within the design emerged another–one that hadn't been obviously visible until held at this new angle. The faint outline of a cross was stitched into the tapestry, and in the center of it was a single word spelled out in the threads.

Praha,' Elise read aloud, astonished that a voice from so long ago was suddenly speaking through the silk and canvas of her work. The secret, whatever it is, is in Prague.

That's incredible, Savannah gasped.

She reached out and ran her fingertips over the hidden text. No sooner had they skimmed the stitches when the female drew her hand back as if she'd been burned.

Oh, my God. Her dark brown eyes were stricken and wide. She pressed her hand down onto the fabric again, holding it there in grave silence.

Savannah, what do you feel?

When she finally spoke, her voice was airless with dread. This tapestry has a few more secrets to tell.

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