**This picks up exactly where the last episode left off. And we finally have a conclusion. If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, make sure you check them out first. Enjoy!**
Chaos erupted. Where a moment before Owen stood beside me, there was now a wolf in a t-shirt and kicking out of jeans. A translucent shield, faintly blue, erupted between us and the rest of the council, and I knew it was Aeron’s doing. I was peripherally aware of shouting, subconsciously registered my mother’s voice, but the words didn’t register. Mage globes flared around the room.
But I was strangely calm.
Before walking into this room, I’d been nervous and worried. But now that the High Mage had made her proclamation and the tension was so high it was about to snap, I felt nothing but peace. When I thought back on this later, I would probably realize I was going into shock. If I survived, that was.
“Carla, sit down.”
The whip-crack of a voice cut through everything and an uneasy silence settled in. The High Mage whipped her head sideways, staring at a wizened old man with cotton candy wisps of hair gracing his very wrinkled scalp. Out of everyone on the council, he was the only one sitting calmly like the room hadn’t exploded around him. His gnarled fingers, knobbly with arthritis, were folded before him, and his sharp gray eyes were focused on the High Mage.
“Elder Elwyn,” she began, her voice barely restrained rage. But he held up one of those hands, and her mouth snapped shut. I wasn’t entirely sure it was of her own volition.
“As you recall, the vote must be unanimous. This is by our own tightly held rules.” Elwyn’s voice was soft and slightly shaky, but he seemed wholly unconcerned. “And while there were twelve votes in favor of your ludicrous declaration, I have yet to vote.”
He tilted his head in my direction, and it might have been the reflection off Aeron’s shield, but I could swear he winked at me. some of the feeling came back into my limbs, and it was only then that I realized I’d gone numb. With increasing increments, I came back to myself. Owen’s snarls reached my ears, though it was low, and I glanced down to see the his protective stance. I curled my fingers in his scruff, and he pushed closer to me, but still kept himself between me and everyone else.
“Gareth Evans, state your case,” Elwyn said in that same tone.
A thousand thoughts ran through my head and I couldn’t sort through them. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I knew I was either walking out of here with my mate, or I wasn’t, and there was nothing I could say to defend myself. Because I didn’t need a defense.
“I’m not sure what you want me to say.” My voice didn’t shake and I was strangely proud of that. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t deserve the charges the High Mage—” And if there was venom in the words I couldn’t be blamed, “—has leveled against me. I have tried to call a familiar for years, and it finally happened. Because the magic needed to wait until my familiar and mate was of age to join me. I’m not sure what the problem is.”
“The problem,” Elder Elwyn said, as though we were having a normal conversation. “Is that it takes agency from another being.”
I cocked my head. “But doesn’t the familiar bond do that no matter what? All familiars are sentient creatures, even if they aren’t humans. At least in my case, I can have a conversation with mine in the same language and we can discuss everything. If anything, my bond is more equal than any of yours.”
A murmured went up through the crowd, and I vaguely heard some grumbling agreement. The High Mage, however, would have killed me with nothing but her gaze if she could. I would have been incinerated judging by the fire in her eyes.
“The inherent power in your bond—”
“Oh.” Sudden clarity had me interrupting the High Mage, something I would have never done. Her fingers twitched, her mage glob flaring, and her ferret twittered angrily at me for the intrusion. But I didn’t care. “Oh, I get it now.”
Owen shifted. It only took two blinks, and he was suddenly a man. His shirt barely covered his ass, and though he kept his back to me, I was sure his parts were hanging out for the world to see. I grumbled at that—no one should see him but me—but Owen didn’t seem to care.
I put my hand on his lower back. “They’re scared I’ll try to take their power or some such nonsense.”
His head tilted and he shot me a quick, confused glance over his shoulder. “But you don’t care about that shit.”
I didn’t bother to remind him to watch his language in this hall. At this point, I didn’t care either. “No, I don’t. I don’t care about their politics at all.” I hummed as I thought. “You have several family members who are bonded to witches. Let’s move there. We don’t need this.”
Owen nodded. “I’m down with that. If you’re sure. We’ll discuss it.”
“What about me?” Aeron asked from my right.
“You can come too,” both Owen and I said at the same time.
Aeron’s grin was blinding. “Well, all right then.”
“Mr. Evans.” Elwyn’s voice cut through our conversation, and the three of us turned to give the old man our attention.
“Am I to understand you’re willing to leave the area?”
I nodded. “Sure. I don’t need…this.” I waved my hand to encompass all that was happening.
He studied me for a long moment. “Well, then this is moot isn’t it?”
The High Mage’s nostrils flared and I was pretty sure she was about to combust. Instead, she breathed deeply and drew down her magic. I could still see it sparking at her fingertips, but she was no longer on the verge of annihilating me.
“The exile stand. You have 48 hours to remove yourself from the district. Should you remain, or return, your magic will be stripped and your bond broken. You will be imprisioned.”
I opened my mouth to argue, or point out the idiocy and hypocrisy of it, but then realized I didn’t want to. Nothing was keeping me here. I loved my house, sure, but I could love another one. My family didn’t care about me, except for my brother, and I had no close friends. All I needed was my mate and my brother to be happy. I could make a new life somewhere else if I had them. My mate, of course, I knew wouldn’t leave my side. So I glanced at Aeron.
“You’re coming, right?”
“Of course.” He nodded, just once, and his expression was determined.
“Great.” I turned my back on the council, knowing that Aeron and Owen would keep us safe as we left. It took no time to get outside and only when we were back at the SUV did I start to shake. Owen pulled me close and then got us both into the backseat where he could hold me.
I blew out a stuttering breath and tried for a laugh. “Well. That was anticlimactic.”
Owen growled as he nuzzled my neck. “Only in that I expected a fight. You were amazing. So calm and collected.”
“Shock,” I muttered, burrowing closer. I needed his warmth. Owen had no problem obliging me, practically pulling me into his lap. If we weren’t in a moving car, I would have climbed him like a tree. But as it was, I was happy to just be wrapped up in his arms. This fast, and he was already my rock. I’d be scared about that except for our bond.
Aeron turned on the engine and put the car in drive. It wasn’t until we were at least a few miles away before he let out a chuckle.
“What?” I finally lifted my head but pressed into Owen when he placed a kiss on my head. I loved that he couldn’t stop touching me.
“Guess we’re starting a new adventure, huh?” He took the opportunity of a red light to turn around and give me an eyebrow waggle. Remy, who’d been silent up till now, let out a happy squawk and bobbed his head.
I couldn’t help the grin that bloomed my lips. I turned to see an answering smile gracing Owen’s. I kissed him, slow and sweet, but filled with the promise of what was to come.
“Yeah,” I said, a foreign but welcome contentment suffusing me. “Yeah. We are.”