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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - 22. Chapter 22

Preparations are underway. Are they going to be enough??

Asa tried not to worry, but he couldn’t help it. They'd been back in Montana for four days, each feeling like a month. Huntington still hadn’t made a move, and the wait was eating at all of them. He stood in the hall, slumped against the wall, and listened as his friends bickered.

Even Sebastian was testy. “Knock it off,” he ordered when Hunter griped for the hundredth time. “Stay focused. We can’t be arguing among ourselves. We must be ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

Hunter bowed his head and bared his neck. “I’m sorry, Alpha. We’re impatient and worried about our families.”

Sebastian had evacuated the vulnerable pack mates: Rosalie, Silas, Tyler’s family, and Kellan’s mom and siblings. Reilly’s little sister, Channon, wanted to stay, but Sebastian ordered her to get in the minivan Kellan’s mom was driving. Tears flowed freely as the last van departed. Asa and Caleb didn’t have the chance to say their goodbyes, which was disappointing.

Vann was among the last group to leave. Asa knew his mate was heartbroken that he didn’t have the chance to talk with the boy. At least they knew he and the others would be safe in Texas. Giles assured them the ranch was in lockdown. No one was allowed outside alone. If they ventured out, they had strict orders to stay within sight of the main house, and the youngsters needed an adult chaperone for any foray outside. Trips to town for supplies were limited to once a week. The security systems Ben and Zev implemented were monitored twenty-four-seven.

Asa needed a distraction, so he went to the front porch and called Corbin to check in.

“How are things going up there?” his friend asked.

“So-so. We’re as ready as we can be. Sebastian has us honing our skills every day.”

“But?”

“But everyone is on edge and sick of waiting, sick of training, and just plain sick of each other.”

Corbin hummed. “I hope you guys aren’t exhausted. You’ll need every ounce of energy to fight Huntington.”

“It’s fine,” Asa assured him. “We’re training hard but mostly getting enough rest. Sebastian is one smart cookie. He wouldn’t jeopardize our chances of defeating the nasty cat. How are the boys doing?”

Laughter filled his ears, and Corbin replied, “Our trio has befriended a certain shifter named Vann. The Three Musketeers have become the Fantastic Four. If they plant one more whoopie cushion on my favorite chair, I swear I will throttle them.”

Asa could vividly picture the boys causing mayhem, and it made him crack up. “It sounds like they’re doing great.”

“They really are. Our boys have taken a shine to Vann. I hope he stays with us after this shit ends and Caleb has a chance to talk to him. He’s an awesome kid. I don’t think Caleb needs to worry. I’m confident Vann will take the news in stride. I’ve never seen a kid his age so empathetic. Luke or I escort him while he does his barn chores, and we noticed he took over Hank and Eclipse’s care when he discovered they belonged to Caleb.”

“I’m relieved everyone is safe, and our boys have taken Vann under their wings. Caleb will be happy to hear how well Vann has settled in and that his babies are being, um, babied. Thank you for watching out for them.”

“It’s a pleasure having the kids here. Be careful. We need you and Caleb to come back to us safe and sound."

Asa knew he couldn’t make that promise, but he did the next best thing. “We’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

He wrapped up the call, making Corbin promise to hug the boys for them, and went in search of his mate. Caleb was sitting on the back deck, staring out over the meadow.

“Hey, you.” He slid onto Caleb’s lap and kissed the top of his head. “I spoke to Corbin, and it appears our boys have corrupted your son.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah, something about whoopie cushions and total catastrophic destruction.”

Caleb laughed, his eyes alight with happiness. "I believe it. Our wolves don't like being cooped up, especially the juveniles. Poor Corbin." He sighed. “I miss them.”

“I do, too. Huntington better make his move soon. We need our boys back.”

Caleb hugged him tight. They sat in silence as the sun slipped behind the trees and enjoyed the calm before the storm.

Sebastian and his Sentinels, along with Wayne, created teams and utilized the strengths of each pack member. He and Caleb practiced with the group, acting out a myriad of scenarios Huntington might throw at them. They trained for hours every day until defense and offense maneuvers were ingrained into their muscle memory.

Ben and Zev had returned with the contingency of volunteers from Texas, and it was a relief to have everyone back where they belonged. Asa knew Caleb was worried about the rest of their pack in Texas, but at the same time, he knew without a doubt that Giles would protect them.

“Hey,” Caleb said as they returned to their suite the next day. “How ‘bout a hot shower, and then I’ll give you a back rub?”

Asa closed his eyes and sighed dramatically. “That sounds amazing. Was it me, or was Wayne extra brutal with drills today?”

Caleb chuckled humorlessly. “Nope. He was extra-something, alright. Extra-crispy is more like it. The shower will do us both good.”

Asa couldn’t argue. Indeed, the nearly scalding water beating on his overworked muscles did wonders to help speed up his body’s healing ability. By the time they were free of dirt and dried sweat, he no longer sported deep bruises and multiple scrapes and cuts. The deep ache that plagued him all day disappeared.

An hour later, his muscles were relaxed, and he and Caleb basked in the aftermath of mutual blowjobs. Asa’s head rested in the nook created by the bend of Caleb’s arm and shoulder. He felt safe and cherished. In return, he gently caressed his mate’s chest, absently playing with the coarse patch of hair smattered across his pecs.

Caleb let out a sign of contentment and kissed Asa’s temple. “Sebastian texted. He wants a strategy meeting first thing tomorrow morning. I think he’s considering an offensive strike.”

Asa shook his head. “That’s not good. If we strike, it means losing the home-field advantage.”

“Sebastian’s well aware of it. But we might not have a choice. This shit needs to end. We have to bring Huntington down before he creates more of those monstrosities. He’s playing with us by making us wait, and I don’t like it.”

“I agree. Let’s hope someone comes up with a better idea than us going to Russia.”

Even though it was early, they dressed and went to the kitchen to pilfer some leftovers from the fridge before turning in. After a day of strenuous activity and a belly full of food, sleep came instantly.

The morning dawned cool and crisp. Fall colors were starting to paint the trees at the higher elevations. During their training sessions, there were occasional sightings of black bears foraging in the forest in preparation for the oncoming cold weather. Herds of elk and wild bison grazed the lower meadows, fattening themselves to improve their chances of winter survival. Life in the wild went on, business as usual, oblivious to the worries the shifters felt.

Sebastian’s strategy team assembled in the dining room. Reilly, Hunter, Kellan, Ben, Zev, Wayne, Elijah, Ashton, Tyler, and Austin rounded out the roster. Asa thought of them as the first-string players. Sebastian would fill in other key members of the pack later.

When everyone was seated, Sebastian addressed them.

“Thank you all for being on time. As everyone is aware, there hasn’t been movement or any indication from Huntington’s base of an imminent attack. It doesn’t mean he’s not planning one, but it looks like he’s waiting for us to make the first move. That’s the last thing we want. So, if anyone has any brilliant ideas to draw him out, I’d love to hear them.”

Asa bit his bottom lip. Early this morning, before Caleb was awake, he had an idea. He wasn’t sure it would work, but he supposed it wouldn’t hurt to mention it and get the Alpha’s opinion, so he spoke up.

“We need a lure. Huntington thinks he has the better hand right now and is willing to wait for us to get fed up and strike first. He doesn’t know we can defeat his so-called super soldiers. The only way to get him to call is to up the ante. We need to put something in the pot he can’t resist.”

“What would that be?” Sebastian asked.

Asa glanced nervously at his mate.

Caleb nodded almost imperceptively. “Me."

Sebastian blew out a breath. “Oh, shit.”

The room became a beehive of murmurs and whispers.

“Oh, shit is right,” declared Reilly.

Caleb already explained the mentality behind Huntington’s deep-seated hatred of him. Asa hadn’t been there when Cassiel revealed how Huntington had an affair with Vann’s mother and thought the boy was his child. It’s the reason the lion shifter targeted Caleb and poisoned him, which played a big part in compromising his mental health. The resulting effect on his decision-making capabilities contributed to his betrayal of his pack and subsequent banishment. After Asa’s escape and the theft of one of the lion shifter’s monstrosities, there was no way Huntington still didn’t hold a grudge.

“So, how do we take advantage of the situation?” Sebastian asked.

Looking apologetically at his mate, Asa replied, “By dangling Caleb and Vann in front of him.”

Reilly shook his head. “No way!” Several others echoed the sentiment.

“Hear him out,” said Caleb. “My mate wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think the idea had merit. Unless someone has a better solution, shut up and listen.”

Asa couldn’t hide his smile. He loved his mate’s bossy side and knew Caleb would always have his back. “I don’t mean literally. It won’t be easy. We’ll need Cassiel’s help, I’m afraid.”

“Why don’t you explain your plan?” Sebastian instructed. “Tell us what you propose.”

Asa looked around the room and shifted from foot to foot. He was acutely aware that all eyes were on him. “Okay. From what Caleb told me, it was the Fae court jester, Puck, who was really at fault for what went down. It was his interference with Vann’s original pack that led to the dispute that killed everyone, including Vann’s mother.”

Sebastian nodded in confirmation.

“While I was captive, Huntington mentioned wanting Caleb to witness Vann being torn apart by his giant reptile things. What if we ask Cassiel to facilitate an offer Huntington couldn’t refuse? Puck is known for creating chaos just for the fun of it. If he were to tell Huntington about a way to get to Vann, don’t you think the narcissistic bastard would jump all over it? He still holds a grudge, and I don’t think he would hesitate at a chance to hurt Caleb.”

The room was silent until Caleb spoke. “I think it will work if we can get Cassiel to agree. Huntington hates me enough to come here if he thinks he can use Vann to hurt me. Is there any way he knows we sent Vann to Texas?”

“No,” Sebastian replied. “We had them leave at night, and the vans were loaded under the portico. They also staggered their departures. Huntington wouldn’t have seen anything if he had satellites overhead.”

“Then there’s no way for Huntington to know Vann is in Texas,” Caleb replied. “It’s the only plan that makes sense."

Asa squeezed Caleb’s knee, thankful for his mate’s support.

Sebastian stroked the layer of stubble on his chin. “I don’t like it, but I think you’re right. It appeals to Huntington’s vanity and desire to hurt. Does anyone have any other ideas?”

When no one offered any alternate options, the Alpha sighed. “I need more details. How do we lure Huntington here?”

“We need to get Puck to contact Huntington under the ruse of wanting to retaliate against Cassiel for getting him into hot water with the King over the initial situation with Vann’s birth pack. I think if he tells Huntington there’s an easy way to breach the territory through the northeast quadrant and that Vann often slips away by himself, he’ll jump on the chance to strike first.”

Sebastian chewed his bottom lip. “Hunter, bring up the topography of that quadrant.”

It took Hunter a few minutes to pull up the Google Maps image of the area and display it on the big-screen TV. They stared at the rough, mountainous terrain with a narrow pass providing access to a heavily forested expanse.

“That will be perfect if he takes the bait,” said Sebastian. “I’ll contact Cassiel. In the meantime, continue training and brainstorming. We’re going to need every advantage we can get.”

After Sebastian left to call Cassiel, Reilly addressed the group. “He’s right. We need to target our strengths and exploit Huntington’s weaknesses. Why don’t we put our heads together and see what we can come up with? Wayne, will you ask Jack to bring Enya and Donovan over? If two heads are better than one, more might be able to figure out what angles we can best use.”

Asa buckled in for the long haul. They spent hours sharing ideas and analyzing everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Enya would play an instrumental role in eliminating the reptile crossbreeds.

“Why don’t you guys shroud the area in darkness?” she suggested to Elijah, Tyler, and the twins. “Taking away their visual reference will probably freak them out, especially if it happens suddenly. They won’t know what hit them.”

Elijah took it a step further and proposed constantly shapeshifting and taking on other pack members' appearances to confuse the enemy. Tyler, Ashton, and Austin promised to practice their shadow-shifting skills.

Asa thought it was an excellent idea. “What if Caleb and I added our light shifting to the mix? I know how to concentrate my light in such a way as to be blinding. I can teach Caleb. If we could alternate blanketing an area with darkness and light, it might have the same seizure-inducing effect as rapidly blinking strobe lights could have. Hopefully, it would incapacitate some gator-vamps long enough for Enya to neutralize them.”

“That’s an excellent idea!” praised Donovan. “We need to let all our people know they should close one eye if they feel sensitive to the strobe effect. It’s too bad we don’t have an air shifter on our side. Cooler temperatures would slow down the reptilian metabolism.”

The group continued passing ideas back and forth for several hours until they felt comfortable with the tricks they considered using against Huntington and his troops. There was enough in their arsenal to assure the lion shifter would be caught off guard at least once or twice. Everyone was looking forward to pissing him off.

Before they broke for the night, Sebastian informed them Cassiel would speak to his father and get permission to utilize Puck, knowing the practical joker couldn’t disobey a direct order from his king. He and Caleb were exhausted when they fell straight into bed. Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. It was lights out as soon as their heads hit the pillows.

Morning came much quicker than any of them wanted.

Now that they had an actual plan, everyone was anxious to implement it. Sebastian’s friend, Lex, still monitored the satellite imagery from Huntington’s hideout and reported increased movement within the camp. He was also keeping an eye on the airfield three hundred miles north and had noticed the arrival of a Boeing 747-400 yesterday.

There was only one reason the world’s second-largest passenger plane was parked on the tarmac of a remote airfield in the middle of Russia’s eastern wilderness. The total human population within five hundred square miles couldn’t fill the six-hundred and sixty seats the plane held. It was a wonder the runway was long enough for the giant plane, but Lex explained how the Soviets used the airstrip for military cargo planes during the Cold War. Huntington was getting his ducks in a row, which indicated his impatience. In other words, he was in a prime mood to fall into their trap.

“Cassiel convinced his father to allow Puck to participate in our plan,” Sebastian said during a quick debriefing. “I’m sure the Fae King is going along for the entertainment factor, not some deep-seated need to help us, but it doesn’t matter. It worked. Puck dangled Caleb and Vann, telling Huntington there was a weak spot in our defenses. He also let it drop that we are sending the two to an undisclosed location for their protection, and he needs to move quickly. Lex is monitoring a truck convoy heading toward the airfield. I’m sure Huntington isn’t about to land at Great Falls, so I have scouts watching three private airfields within a six-hour drive with runways long enough to land a plane that big. The closest is three hours from here, so we’ll have, at minimum, that amount of time to get into positions once we confirm where they land. I’m stepping up patrols as of right now.”

“When can we anticipate his arrival?” Hunter asked.

“Realistically, the soonest would be tomorrow afternoon. I’m more inclined to believe he’ll wait until after dark.”

A murmur swept through the room as they whispered among themselves.

“Settle!” the Alpha commanded, taking control as only he could. “There’s no sense speculating details. We’ve planned and trained for as many scenarios as possible. We can be reasonably assured that Huntington will follow Puck’s advice and breach the property through the northeast quadrant. Our sentries are in place, and Cassiel will reposition most of the dryads and pixies to that area. I have faith you are ready for the task ahead.”

Asa admired the no-nonsense way Sebastian had of controlling any situation. Immediately, everyone felt at ease knowing their Alpha was confident with their preparations, although plenty of work and other things still needed to be prepped before Huntington showed up. The northeast part of the territory was the most rugged. It would be easy for Huntington to breach, but it was also an ideal spot to defend. The terrain gave them an advantage of positioning themselves behind rocky outcroppings and thick vegetation. Huntington’s soldiers would be exposed as they crested the ridge and advanced into the territory, making them easy targets. Still, it would be challenging.

“What about the Morrigan chick Cassiel mentioned?” asked Reilly.

“She’s not a chick,” countered Elijah. “She’s an Irish Goddess associated with war and destruction and is considered the guardian of prophecy and magic. It’s thought that she is the harbinger of death or victory.”

“What do we do if she shows up?” Tyler inquired.

Sebastian squared his shoulders. “Hope she’s on our side.”

Heavy silence shrouded the room. Asa sent a silent prayer to whatever gods there were that his friends and pack-mates would reign as victors.

Nervous energy rippled through everyone as they gathered together in the lodge’s dining room for one last meal. The atmosphere was uncharacteristically somber. Instead of the usual boisterous conversations, they spoke in low tones and hushed whispers. Everyone was fully aware that once the battle started, some of them wouldn’t survive. No one wanted to think about who might not be with them when it was over.

Asa, Caleb, and a few others stayed and helped Sandi and Wayne clean up and shut down the kitchen. He couldn’t help his thoughts straying to their new family in Texas. Asa hoped they could return soon and that their loved ones would be there to welcome them home. The remaining shifters broke off into smaller cliques, each spending their remaining free time with those most important to them. Couples stole away to relish what might be one last night in each other’s arms. Friends consoled one another reassuringly.

A short while later, Sebastian received a text from Nat Chusi. The Anaconda shifter was close and requested permission to enter the territory. Roberto Mata, the grizzly bear shifter, and Andrew Faulkner, the hawk shifter, accompanied her.

“Greetings,” Nat proclaimed as she approached the front porch with Roberto and Andrew behind her. “It’s good to see you.”

“Welcome,” replied Sebastian as he swept his arm out cordially. “Come on in. I wasn’t sure you would make it. We have a lot to catch up on.”

Inside, the Alpha introduced the Council members to everyone who hadn’t met them, including Asa, and then brought their guests up to speed. Nat blanched, visibly shaken at the description of Huntington’s so-called super soldiers. Addressing Enya, Nat asked, “You are certain you can kill them?”

Enya’s grin was nothing short of terrifying in its intensity. Her eyes glowed bright yellow-orange as she retorted, “Would you like a demonstration?”

Asa heard Nat inhale sharply and admired her courage when she acknowledged Enya’s boldness with a sharp nod of respect. “That won’t be necessary.”

Andrew stepped in and‌ intervened. “It’s good to have you on our side, Enya. We appreciate your help.”

The fire shifter shot Nat a brief glowy-eyed look before acquiescing and sitting on a loveseat, tucking her legs under her.

Sebastian shook his head. Asa was glad Caleb was no longer the Alpha of a pack. It was like being the principal of a middle school and dealing with a bunch of hormonal pre-teens. He shuddered at the thought.

Over the next couple of hours, Sebastian caught Nat, Roberto, and Andrew up on the plan for the upcoming battle. Everyone agreed Huntington’s attack was imminent. They were as ready as they could be. It was the waiting that had them on edge.

“Get some rest,” he ordered. “We need to be sharp, not exhausted.”

Only time would tell what was in store for them. Sandi showed their guests to their rooms before she and Wayne returned to the lodge with Elijah, Tyler, and the twins. He and Caleb silently retired to their room. Sebastian, Reilly, Hunter, Kellan, Ben, and Zev weren’t far behind. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce how the couples would spend the remainder of the night.

The following morning, the entire pack was on high alert. Every remaining shifter had their assignment. Wayne had teams assigned to patrol every corner of the territory, even though they knew where Huntington was most likely to make his assault. It was better to be safe than sorry. Mostly, everyone could only wait, practice more drills, and be ready at a moment’s notice.

Sebastian sequestered his first string team at the main house, needing them to stay close. Everything seemed eerily quiet without the usual hustle and bustle of activity in the house. Even his hourly briefings were given in uncharacteristic hushed tones.

It was midmorning when things finally changed.

“We’ve been notified that Huntington’s plane touched down at the airport in Casper, Wyoming,” Sebastian said. “We weren’t expecting him to land so far away, but nothing surprises me where he’s concerned anymore.”

Hunter drew his brows together. “That’s what? An eight-hour drive? Why would he do that? Moving a few hundred shifters plus a dozen or so unpredictable monsters can't be easy. It doesn’t make sense.”

“What if it’s a decoy?” Elijah speculated. “I wouldn’t put it past Huntington to try to throw us off. He has to know we’re keeping an eye out for him. What’s stopping him from having more than one plane? He could have landed somewhere and split his army.”

“You’re right,” Asa agreed. “Huntington knows the farther out he lands, the more dangerous it will be to get his troops close. I feel he’s trying to pull a fast one on us.”

“You both bring up valid points,” noted Sebastian. “I’ve already considered this and have someone watching the three airports we initially targeted. If I were as devious as Kasar, I’d split my soldiers up and rendezvous at a predetermined location and time.”

Everyone agreed and knew the next few hours were critical. Asa and Caleb took their turn patrolling the territory’s perimeter. Their wolves ran side-by-side for two hours, sniffing the air for signs of any unusual scents that didn’t belong. The animals were in their element, running free with the cool air rippling their fur, especially at the higher elevations.

They stopped briefly in a clearing near the top of one of the smaller mountain peaks, gazing over the valley below, not seeing anything out of place. Asa’s wolf rubbed his body against his mate, seeking comfort. The bigger white wolf licked the smaller wolf’s face reassuringly. Even the animals were on edge and displaying signs of anxiety. No one was exempt from the reality of their situation.

The pair returned to the main house and were relieved by Hunter and Kellan, who took off in the direction they’d come from. Reilly informed them there was still no sign of Huntington.

“Goddamn!” Asa exclaimed. “This is fucking unnerving. I’ve never hated cats so much as I do right now!”

“Really?” Caleb bemused. “I was thinking when this was all over, we could adopt a cute little pussy.”

Asa gagged. There was no multiverse involving him whatsoever where any kind of pussy played a role. Yuck.

Caleb laughed.

He was still snickering when they entered the kitchen and greeted Ben and Zev.

“Any news yet?” Asa asked.

“Nope,” Zev replied. “I’ve got a funny feeling, though. Something’s gonna go down, and soon.

Ben squeezed his mate’s waist and dropped a kiss on his cheek. “We’re ready.”

There wasn’t much else they could do but wait, and everyone was getting sick and tired of doing just that. Asa had never seen such an antsy group before, but he couldn’t blame them. He was just as guilty.

After sitting around doing nothing more exciting than watching paint dry, everyone’s phone chimed with an incoming text.

Sebastian finally summoned them.

They gathered in the huge conference room of the main lodge. It was standing room only with almost six hundred able-bodied shifters in prime condition, ready to defend their territory.

Sebastian stepped onto the platform and up to the podium. He held up an arm to signal silence and get everyone’s attention. Immediately, all conversations halted.

“Thank you for gathering here so quickly,” he started. “Huntington and his army are on the ground. He did exactly what we thought—divided his troops and landed at several smaller airports. They’ve rendezvoused and are en route to the northeast passage. We estimate they’ll be in place within an hour. I’ve decided to roll out Plan A. You have your orders. Let’s go.”

The room transformed into a flurry of activity as shifters divided themselves into prearranged groups. Every group knew what to do and where they needed to be. All the long, hard hours of planning and practice were put into place as the divisions headed out to get into positions.

Asa looked at Caleb as they joined the rest of Sebastian’s first-string team. Therefore, they would be on the front line and in the most danger. His heart leaped into his throat, not for himself, but for his mate. They’d come so far in their relationship, and now everything was at risk. There was no going back.

It was time to do this.

Man your battle stations and don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes.
Copyright © 2023 kbois; All Rights Reserved.
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Thanks to everyone who stuck it out throughout this series. Don't forget to recommend and leave a review! 
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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