Chapter Thirty One
I stood outside the Elder’s housing estate, staring up at the large black iron gates in front of m e. They were intricate yet terrifying at the same time, but I knew what laid behind them would be even more nerve-wracking.
The doorman saw me and recognised who I was immediately, opening the gates without needing to identify myself or even speak. I entered quietly, heading towards the fate I knew would be waiting for me just inside the lavishly large building. The Elders were a group hand-selected and were only seven in total. A majority vote of both ranked and existing Elders was required to initiate any new members into the council and the process was quite strict. They all had to be over a certain age and bring some sort of credibility or merit to contribute to the betterment of the pack’s future. The only exception to this rigorous selection process was the retired ranked members who were almost always guaranteed a position if one was available… and if they were able to live to the minimum age requirement.
I stepped inside and couldn’t help but gasp a little at how extravagant the interior was. A better description for this place would have been a mansion, not a house. Everywhere I could see was filled with expensive furniture and decorations. I’d never had a reason to come here in the past and so seeing it for the first time was startling. I had no idea they were living in such luxury. “Ariadne,” a deep voice called beside me. I turned my head and saw that Elder Luke was waiting for me, standing by the door for when I would arrive.
In comparison to the other Elders, Elder Luke was by far the youngest member with dark greying hair and light stubble across his jaw; he was never one for keeping a tidy appearance. His intellect had been a shoo-in for the council position, one which had become available not long after his minimum age requirement had been met.
He was always considered a pioneer for innovation and a change in how we looked at things. I n fact, he was one of the first Elders to ever recommend me to join the table for strategy meetings. However, this ended up becoming one of the things the other Elders disliked about him. His modern approach to issues sometimes interfered with the more traditional ideas of the older members.
I bowed my head to show my respect. “Hello, Elder Luke,” I greeted.
In this instance, Elder Luke held a status higher than my own now I was no longer a Luna. But I knew inside that I would have shown him the correct revere he deserved regardless. I always admired his ability to logically find solutions, even before I’d become Luna. He had been one o f the people I had studied the work of in-depth during my years of strategy research. Ik that a part of who I was today was owed to him.
When I had started my journey of becoming the pack’s leading strategist, Elder Luke had actually been the one who had previously held the title. I always wondered if inside he was mildly bitter about it, but he never indicated he felt that like that in the slightest. I respected
him deeply though. If there was one person in the past who could have been considered close t o being my equal on this subject, it was him.
He waved off my formality, smiling, and motioned for me to follow him down a hallway.
Every room we passed was just as fancy as the last. I found that, of the rooms which had their doors open, all of the spaces were taken up for personal offices and meeting rooms. It made m e wonder just how big the place was if we hadn’t even seen the personal living quarters on this route.
After a few more twists and turns, we eventually ended up in a large but tidy looking office. Unlike the others, there were minimal personal items and more of a focus on the papers and books that lined the walls and desk.
“My office,” he announced and gestured for me to enter. I stepped inside, taking in the sheer amount of books that surrounded me. I thought I had read every academic book in the pack’s library collection, but my eyes caught titles in here that I’d never seen before. It had been so long since I’d felt that rush of excitement that came with wanting to learn. If I could have even one afternoon alone in this office, I would be ecstatic.
“It’s a large collection,” I praised. “How did you manage to find some of these? I see several limited edition copies of books I thought were lost to our kind many years ago.” “You have a good eye.” He noted before smiling slyly. “I have come to find ways of acquiring books that would otherwise seem impossible.”
I wanted to press him further for details, mostly so I could attempt to do the same, but I felt h e probably wouldn’t go around telling his secrets to a young teenager. Maybe one day I’d be able to persuade him to tell me.
“Please take a seat.”
I walked over to a wide fabric stool where normally a visitor chair would have been placed. I knew this one would have been arranged so that Elder Luke would be able to inspect my mark with ease, removing the obstacle of a backrest interfering with the process. “So, Ariadne,” he started. “How are you feeling?”
The question caught me off guard a little. I hadn’t expected him to delay with idle chit-chat.
“Oh, um, please call me Aria. I’m doing well thanks. Yourself?”
He smiled. “I’m doing well too. I’m also feeling incredibly honoured. I hear you specifically requested that I assist you with this confirmation today.” His dark eyes had been watching me carefully since we’d entered the office, always holding this glint of careful questioning in them. I knew he would be studying me closely to figure out who I was and why I had this mark, because I would have been doing the same thing in his position. I had already prepared myself to be examined like a test subject for this process. After all, no one had held this mark for over a millennium.
“That’s correct,” I replied.
“May I ask what made you come to this decision? You don’t have to answer if you do not wish t o though. This is a question stemming from pure curiosity, not anything to do with why we
are here today.” I took several moments to think about how best to reply. ‘Because you proved in my past lifet o not be an a*****e like most of the others’? ‘Because you’re the only one who didn’t try to kill me’? I didn’t end up saying any of those options, of course. “Ah… I heard you are a logical thinker like myself. I trust you to be unbiased during our procedure today.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “I wasn’t aware that I had a reputation already given I’ve only been an Elder for a year now.” I silently cursed in my head. I’d forgotten to calculate in that I wasn’t supposed to know anything about him yet. The cases he worked on wouldn’t be published for at least another two years.
“But,” he said continuing, “I am glad you feel at ease with me. It will make things easier today. I admit, I’ve also been meaning to talk to you, Aria, so I’m grateful we now have this opportunity.” Talk to me? What would he need to talk to me about? “I was obviously present during your Alpha summons a few months ago. I heard your recommendation for handling the Jade Moon pack predicament.” I tensed up immediately. I’d been so focused during that meeting on trying to help that I’d forgotten that the person who would think of the strategy one day was in that very room. “We seem to think very similarly. I wanted to praise you for your outstanding advice and maturity shown.” I exhaled quietly in relief. Of course, I had nothing to worry about. There was no way he could have known it was originally his idea… because he, himself, hadn’t even thought of it yet. I did feel a bit guilty though. In a roundabout way, I had taken credit for something he had achieved. “I’m not sure if anyone told you,” he said, “but you ended up being correct about it all. It was, i n fact, the Jade Moon pack, and the wolf in custody had been a ranked member. Alpha Tytus ended up carrying out your plan exactly as you had said. The entire negotiation with the other pack went smoothly and without a single casualty. If no one has thanked you yet, then let me b e the first to extend our thanks on behalf of the pack.” I realised then that I’d completely forgotten to follow up on what happened with the Jade Moon pack. There had been no reason for me to feel stressed or uncertain since I already knew it would work. Though, hearing now that it had been successful still gave me a sense of comfort. Everyone who had died previously during the Jade Moon debacle would still be alive right now. “But, I feel we’ve digressed enough… shall we begin with the confirmation?” I swallowed nervously and nodded my head. Elder Luke stood up and walked behind me, laying a book down beside me that surprisingly seemed to consist of information on Goddess marks. It was far more detailed than any of the books I’d vaguely seen on the subject in the past.
Knowing he would require to see my back today, I had purposely worn a dress with a back zipper. He waited patiently as I brushed my hair to the side, unzipping the back of the dress just enough for him to see but not enough for me to feel completely exposed. I was thankful that he allowed me to keep my dignity while I did everything and didn’t handle me more than was necessary
With gentle hands, he then tucked the dress into itself a little in order to have a clear view of the mark. I hadn’t thought of it before, but was this situation awkward for him? He was alone with a fourteen year old girl, one who was exposing her back to him. However, if he did feel uncomfortable, he didn’t show it. He just diligently went about comparing the silver double crescent mark to the book next to me without any hesitation. After several minutes had passed, he finally stepped back and exhaled a little in surprise. “You know, I had my doubts that this was authentic,” he said, walking back around to face me. I zipped my dress back up as he spoke and adjusted my hair to fall around my shoulders once more. “You seemed so reluctant to get the confirmation done that I thought maybe your family was making the entire thing up.” I frowned. Was this what all the Elders had thought? “But I can see this is clearly the real deal,” he concluded. “You have been marked by the Goddess herself. I must confess, I’ve always been partially sceptical she was even real. But seeing you here now, with that mark… well it’s a bit hard to deny it.”
I was surprised to hear that an Elder of all people doubted the legitimacy of the deity our kind had worshipped since the beginning of our existence. Though Elder Luke had always been a little different and put his trust in knowledge rather than faith.
“So, what do you plan to do about this?” he asked finally.
“‘Do’ about it?” I repeated, confused. “Well, since it’s authentic, I can now only assume you procrastinated having this confirmation done because you knew the ramifications involved with it.” I debated over whether I should confide in him. Being an Elder he would disagree over my plans to abandon my future Luna position… but at the same time, I knew he’d proven to put bias aside time and time again. “Honestly, I’m unsure,” I started, choosing to trust him. “I have no intention of taking over the pack to replace Aleric’s authority. But I also know that I cannot become Luna, or rather I don’t want to become Luna more than anything. I’m aware that this doesn’t leave me with many choices though. I will be hunted down from the shadows if I prove a threat, but I’m sure no one will believe me when I say I have no desire to be Luna, even if I promise to serve without that title.”
He leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest in thought. “I find it a little strange to hear that you don’t wish to take up the offer of becoming Luna. You would easily be granted the position regardless of whether you and Aleric become fated mates, ” he said. “However, I can see in your eyes that this decision of yours is deeply personal and final as of right now. I won’t push you further on it.”
And this was why I had chosen Elder Luke. He wouldn’t push an agenda on me and was even speaking to me like an equal despite my age. “Elder Luke…,” I said hesitantly. “I want you to know I respect you immensely and so… if you were me… what would you do?”
He raised an eyebrow at me once more, the question sparking his appetite for solving difficult problems, I was sure. “Such an interesting question to ask. What would I do…?” He mused. “Well… as an Elder, it is m y duty to always speak in the best interest for the future of this pack. And that best interest is for you to become our Luna.” My heart sank. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to help me. It would be against his position as an Elder to not stand by the prophecy his colleagues had predicted. “However,” he continued, “if we are speaking casually, from one academic to another, there is an answer that I’m surprised you haven’t thought of yourself yet.” Was there really an answer so obvious the whole time? I quickly tried to wrack my brain to see whatever he saw, something that was apparently so clear to him.
He leaned in closer, looking at me with all seriousness.
“Well… you are the Beta’s daughter, are you not?”
I stared at him, not understanding where he was going with this. “…So just pledge your allegiance to Aleric… and become his Beta.”