Beautiful Madness by Laken Cane
The elders didn’t punish me for letting the serial killer— Sam Keller—go. As a matter of fact, they barely spoke of it at all, and that was because they believed I’d made a mistake I would soon rectify. Apparently, they were always one step ahead of me. They bided their time, waiting for what they thought was coming.
It made me nervous, and I continued wearing the bracelet they gave me.
Just in case.
Not even Ael, the big wolf elder, gave me shit about it when he began training me. He seemed happy kicking my ass for any reason.
The Council’s “training room” was magnificent. It was not only vast, but magical, and every time I looked around I saw something new. It wasn’t a room as much as it was an ever-changing land.
Right now we were in a desert in the middle of the day, and the sun beat mercilessly down on my sweating body. The floor was sand, the ceiling was the sky, and as far as I could see was more of the same. When I’d arrived this morning, though, I’d found myself in the middle of a cool, thick forest.
“You’re afraid of yourself,” the wolf elder said, curling his lip. “I cannot work with a pup who shrinks from her pain.”
I picked myself up off the ground where he had—with an almost casual gesture—thrown me. I glared at him. “I’m not afraid of pain,” I said, through clenched teeth. “Mine or anyone else’s. I’m afraid of my…” But I shut my mouth before the words escaped.
His laugh was loud and rough, as full of contempt as his ancient stare. “Your madness? Oh, we know, little pup. We know very well what you fear.”
Ti, the golden elder, had wanted me to embrace my madness—my inner psycho, as I thought of it. She believed the parts of me I kept separate would better serve me if I would only combine, accept, and love them.
I meant to. I really did. But deep down I was terrified I would never learn to control what was inside me. “I’m afraid she’ll get the upper hand,” I told Ael. “I’m afraid she will take me over and…” I shrugged. “That I’ll go crazy, in the end. I’m afraid I won’t be the same person, that I won’t care anymore.”
Dammit. How could I accurately describe what I meant without sounding like the cringing, shrinking pup he believed me to be?
“And therein lies your dilemma,” he said, crossing his arms. “There is no “she.” There is only you. You seem to believe you have multiple people living inside you. All parts of you—your rage, your joy, your terror, your magic, your wolf—they are you.” He stopped and took a breath, frustration in his eyes. “You came out of the womb twisted, Kait Silver, and your childhood has warped your thinking. These things were beyond your control, but you have control now, and now is what matters. You cannot grow or move away from your past or your fears until you understand this.”
“My past,” I said, stretching my tired right arm. “I’ve come to terms with my father’s death and the way it happened. I killed the man who beat him to death.” But even as I said it, a familiar rage rose inside me, and my throat thickened with tears.
“That is only part of your damage, pup, and you have come to terms with nothing. Your father is your hero—but you did not see him. You did not know him.”
“Don’t talk about my father,” I snarled. “You didn’t know him.” Maybe something softened in his stare, but I didn’t want his damn pity. I growled and sent a blast of power at him, but it was guided by rage and insecurity and only bounced off his shoulder.
Still, it was a hit, something I hadn’t managed to do all morning, and he immediately lifted his hand to squeeze the injured arm.
“Shit,” I said, immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, Elder.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Fear,” he said. “It will kill you in the end.”
I stiffened my spine. “You’re training me to call and control my power—not smack you around with it.” We’d been at it for hours, and as far as I could tell, I hadn’t learned to do anything but fall well.
I’d thought he might call in some wolves to fight me, the way he’d sent them to fight me on the night I’d taken Farrow. But no. It wasn’t going to be that easy.
“I know you can fight,” he said, when I’d complained. “You are here to learn your power—and yourself.”
“I expected more on your first session,” he told me now. He was enormous in his furs, Muscular and strong despite his incredible age, his shaggy hair unbound and trailing down his broad back. He held his mysterious and powerful staff in his huge hand and never lost his grip on it, no matter how many times he slapped me with his power. “Return next week and we will try again.”
He didn’t sound as though he expected much then, either, and that just pissed me off. I was better than that. I was strong. I had power, power that had exploded out of me and knocked me on my ass, but that power hadn’t been something I’d deliberately called. I’d sent it to the sky, true, but I had to admit that was because I couldn’t pull it back in. I couldn’t play with it, gentle it, mold it. It was messy and deadly and if I wasn’t careful, I would kill someone I didn’t mean to kill.
All morning I’d been trying to feel it, to bring it to the surface—but other than the little string of power I’d spat at the elder, there’d been nothing.
He believed that meant I was weak.
Maybe I did, too.
I was disgusted that my emotions fueled my power. Not just my emotions, but rage-filled, terror-driven, psychotic break sort of emotions. He knew it, too, and that was likely why he was both contemptuous and throwing me on my ass, hoping for a little anger to induce my magic.
It was pathetic and embarrassing.
But without desperation and the fear that I or someone I loved was about to die, my power just lay quietly deep inside, mocking me.
Ael stared down at me—even at 5’10 I was short next to the huge, hulking, and ancient wolf—frustration peeking through his icy eyes. But abruptly, his stare cleared and he grinned.
That grin caused me to take a step back, because there was something distinctly cruel in it. I knew immediately he was going to do something I wouldn’t like. The wolf elder played dirty, and he didn’t seem to like me to begin with.
“You simply need consistent practice,” he told me. “Both in controlling your emotions and calling your power. I have been too easy on you today, attempting to stir you by causing you physical pain. But you only fear emotional pain. So I will cause you some, over and over, until you can begin to call your power. Then we will work on controlling your temper and emotions.” He turned and gestured, and a holographic image of my father wavered around ten yards from where I stood.
“That’s some trick,” I said calmly, but my heart was heavy in my chest.
“The training room is set up for our sessions,” he told me. “Whatever I need to use to train you is here—I have only to call it. Your mind needs to be untangled, pup, and the way to do that is to chop at it with a sharp blade.”
“So now you’re my therapist, too.” I laughed, and honestly, it didn’t sound too hollow. “You really are an asshole, aren’t you?”
He shrugged one massive shoulder, then pointed at the image. “When you manage to bring your power, direct the stream at Daniel Silver. If you turn it on me again, I will spank you, and you will not like it.” The lines in his face deepened when he gave a pleased smirk.
I wouldn’t have put it past the elder to literally spank me, though maybe he meant it in a different way. I wasn’t taking a chance with that shit. I swallowed hard. “Maybe we should try again next week.”
He roared with laughter, though as far as I could see, there wasn’t a damn thing funny. “No, pup, I think we will continue our session.” All humor dropped from his voice. The look in his eyes never changed. “Your father. Look at him, not me.”
I sighed but did as he demanded.
“Say hello to daddy,” the old wolf whispered.
“You’re the creepiest fuck I’ve ever met,” I snarled, then immediately attempted to tamp down the rising rage. What the hell was wrong with me?
I stared at the image, and the longer I stared, the less it looked like a spirit wavering in the distance, and the more it looked like my father come back to life. Grief swirled in my chest and rose to my eyes, and familiar rage gripped my heart.
“So much of you is wrapped up in your memories of this man,” Ael murmured. “And memories you can feel but not see. You must accept the truth, pup, but to do that, you must first understand it.”
I tightened my hands into fists and took a few steps toward the image of my father, but the elder quickly stopped me. Maybe the closer I got, the less real he would look. And I needed to keep reminding myself of that. He wasn’t real.
He was dead. Long dead. I would never see him again, and certainly not like this.
“You didn’t save me,” my father said. “Why did you let them kill me?”
I stuffed my fist against my mouth as I backed away, fighting nausea. “No,” I cried. “I won’t do this. Get the fuck out of my head, Elder. I’m done.”
I turned to walk away, but my father appeared in front of me. No matter where I turned, he was there. He was always just fucking there.
I did not want to face the pain of my childhood. My failures. I didn’t want to bring it all up. Everything about my past needed to stay where it was—hidden in the shadows. And that was exactly why I didn’t want to talk to my mother. I didn’t want to know what it was she might tell me. What she might make me remember.
“Coward,” the wolf elder said. “Face it. See it. Kill it, Kait Silver. You are no longer that child.”
“I don’t want to,” I said, as though he were wrong, and I was still that child.
“I know,” he replied, gently. “But you will.”
I stared at the image, because my only other choice was to close my eyes, and I was sick of not facing my fears, honestly. I wasn’t sure why, but I began to feel safe enough to do it there—even though that particular elder seemed to dislike me immensely, and even though the council was…dark.
“What is your first memory of your father?” someone asked, and it wasn’t the wolf elder. It was Ti, the golden woman.
I didn’t take my stare off my father, though—I was certain I no longer could.
“Don’t think about it,” Ti said. “Open your mouth and let the memory out.”
I wasn’t aware I had a first memory of my father until I began speaking. Part of me knew the golden female was in my head, that there was magic, that I was about to remember things I didn’t want to remember.
I did not want to hate my father. He was my hero, whether he should have been or not. He’d saved me. From what, I did not know.
“I was maybe three years old,” I said. “I’d been running, and I fell and cut my knee. My father came to help me up and wiped away the blood with his hand.” And I was almost giddy with relief. That was a good memory. It proved my father wasn’t a monster.
“But why were you running?” The wolf elder asked, his voice little more than a murmur, smooth and dark and quiet.
Of course they knew. They knew what was in my head because the vampire elder had shoved his hand inside my chest, and maybe I had no secrets. Not from them.
And just like that, I remembered the rest of the story.