“Miss?” a voice called out to me. My vision had slowly faded after the shocking realisation of what was happening, and I looked up to see Lucy leaning over me. “Aria?” she called again, worried enough to drop the honorifics. I blinked several times, coming back to reality, but I could still feel my entire body shaking. ‘I was going to kill Aleric.’ The thought kept repeating itself in my head and I didn’t know what to do. In the past, my visions had shown me things caused by others that I needed to stop. But this time… this time it was me causing harm. How could things become so bad between us… that I ended up wanting t o kill him?
“Aria?” Lucy called again.
“Lucy… sorry,” was all I could say, letting her know I was fine.
“Miss, you scared me!”
She threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly. It was nice to know that even after all the hell and extra duties I gave her, she still seemed to care about me. “I’m sorry,” I said and wrapped an arm around her in return, still in shock.
After a few moments of hugging, she finally pulled away.
“What happened to you? It was like you were passed out… but your eyes were open.”
“Oh…,” I said. I had forgotten how freaky it looked to onlookers. I knew that if I told her the truth, it would be too difficult and emotional for me to go into detail right then. But at the same time, I couldn‘t tell her it was nothing. Because obviously, it wasn’t nothing. It was the same predicament I’d found myself in with Cai last year. To give too little detail and I’d be sent to the hospital for a full check–up, yet to say too much would only b e more trouble.
“…It‘s a side effect of the mark,” I finally said. “It gives me nightmares sometimes when I become stressed.”
I told her the same line I’d once fed Cai and hoped it would satisfy her enough to leave me be.
But she only looked at me as if she had so many questions, like nothing I‘d said was making sense, and in all honesty, I couldn‘t disagree with that reaction. But I couldn‘t give her any more answers for now. Not yet anyway. “Come on, Miss,” she said finally, helping me to my feet. “Let’s get you into bed so you can lie
She must have known me well enough by now to realise I had secrets I couldn’t tell her. After everything she’d helped me with since coming back, how could she not? By pushing aside her
doubts and questions, I was eternally grateful that she was able to leave the topic be for now. “… Thank you, Lucy.” She held me by the hand and helped me up the stairs to my room, my body still trembling slightly at the graphic scene I’d just lived through. So, when my head finally hit the pillow, allowing me to relax, I was happy for just the small amount of peace it gave me. “Stay here a moment, Miss,” Lucy said once she was satisfied I was comfortable. “I‘ll be back i na minute.” I frowned. “Where are you going, Lucy?” “Oh, I need to inform the Alpha heir you’re okay,” she said. “He was the one who came and found me. He said something was wrong with you and that he thought it would be best to leave it to me.”
“…Where is he?” I asked, hesitant about whether I actually wanted to know the answer. “He’s been waiting in the parlour,” she replied. “I‘m just going to go down and let him know you’re fine so he can head home… maybe make you a cup of tea whilst I‘m there.” I tensed up immediately. I could have sworn he‘d left but, after thinking it through, I realised I never actually saw him leave. It was just the sound of his footsteps walking away I’d heard right before the vision. …So… he had gone to Lucy to ask her to help me? And was waiting in the parlour this whole time?
And then I realised what may have been going through his head. Did he think it was like the last time with Cai? He saw me breaking down again before him and, the last time that happened, he knew it was because of him. Cai had rescued me then… did that mean Aleric left because he thought he was the cause of my stress? It wasn’t necessarily incorrect, but the real reason I’d been unable to get a hold of myself to answer him wasn’t because of his presence. It was because of the vision that was slowly about t o make me pass out. “Okay…,” I finally managed to say, allowing her to go. The minute Lucy left though, I realised that I was now alone in my own thoughts… and it wasn’t a pleasant place. So much had happened tonight, so many mixed emotions. Aleric had shown me a side of him I‘d never seen before, someone who felt vulnerable. It was something I was struggling to come to terms with since, the image of him inside my head, was one that had been cemented over years of suffering. But could I have been making that image a reality by projecting my fears onto him so early? It wasn’t until hours later that I finally managed to push all my thoughts away, trying my best to shut my mind off, until, finally, I fell asleep. And from then on, things between Aleric and I… were weird.
Not weird in a bad way, just… weird. Or, at least, I was.
I found I didn’t know how to act around him anymore. Was I changing him further by being so afraid? But then when I did talk to him, I wondered what could possibly happen in the future t o make me finally snap and kill him.
Though, to his credit, Aleric was completely professional despite my awkwardness, and that was something I hadn‘t expected in the slightest. To be honest, I had completely anticipated that he would be angry or even annoyed at how I had behaved at dinner. But he didn’t show any signs of that at all. In fact, he always spoke to me calmly and politely as we worked alongside each other, and I was beyond grateful for that.
It allowed me to continue to throw myself into our work and get my mind off everything. Over time, I even found the small doses of being around him in a work environment were slowly allowing me to heal, and that was far more valuable than anything else. However, it was still a bit strange though. It was a version of Aleric I had only ever witnessed occasionally from afar with others, someone who had never shown their face to me in the past. Was this what it was like to not feel terrified of being around him? Had things really changed so much that I didn’t need to be scared of him losing his temper at any given minute? Though, whenever I thought about it all, the only thing I achieved was in giving myself a headache. I had more questions than I knew what to do with at this point, and knew that only time would be able to give me the answers.
By the time a couple of months had passed since the dinner, I still didn‘t have any better idea o f what was going on. To my dismay though, I found that I was going to be hard-pressed to figure it out soon.
… Because the Alpha had summoned me.
A day later, I found myself standing before Alpha Tytus in the meeting hall, Aleric to my left.
“Alec, Aria,” he greeted. “Thank you for coming to see me.”
We both bowed our heads.
“I’ve asked you both to come here today because of an interesting predicament I found myself in,” he started. “You see, we’ve been in negotiations with another pack for a few months now and they haven’t exactly been making our lives easy.” I frowned. I wasn’t sure what this would have to do with me. At most, my errands consisted of paperwork based tasks or checking in with warriors for status reports. Negotiation input was definitely above my current job requirement. “It seems the Golden Blade pack believe our conditions for the alliance are unsuitable, and are even underestimating the threat we pose.” I could feel Tytus watching me carefully as he spoke, almost as if he was trying to see what was going on inside my brain. “Well… I told them, of course, that our pack was currently revered by the Goddess herself, so therefore the price of the alliance was more than fair. Unsurprisingly, they didn‘t believe me.”
And finally I understood where this was going.
“So I said ‘we have a living Saintess amongst us‘,” Tytus continued. “And, well… they still
didn‘t believe me. So, in conclusion, you will both be going to the Golden Blade pack to act as ambassadors in the negotiations. This treaty is imperative to the Winter Mist so failure is not a n option.”
I had expected this to be the case, but hearing it said aloud still made me shocked,
“Alpha, I‘m not sure that it would be suitable for me to accompany Aleric. I‘m not yet sixteen and I haven’t undertaken my full duties yet,” I argued.
I was sure he was purely doing this to show off and avoid paying more for negotiations, rather than for any real concern he had about the treaty itself. He easily could have just increased the trade agreement benefits without the need to involve me.
But, of course, that wouldn’t have been as fun for him.
“Ah, well, I think we both know you’re perfectly mature enough to handle this,” he replied.” And besides, wouldn’t this be a great first mission for the two of you to undertake?”
Oh, so that’s how it was. He was also using it as a way for Aleric and I to become closer. I had only just gotten somewhat used to talking to Aleric, and now I was supposed to be going on a long-distance trip away with him? I felt sick from the stress of just thinking about it.
“Both of us are not yet of age,” I pointed out. “Do you really think it would be wise to send us alone? Two unshifted ranked heirs would be an easy target for other packs wishing to start a war.” I had posed the question even though I knew nothing would probably change his mind.
He laughed. “Of course, of course, young Aria. You are quite correct. That‘s why I will be sending a few warriors to accompany you.” I internally sighed in defeat. There was no use in trying to persuade him. “Oh, don‘t look so gloomy you two, it‘s going to be fun!” Tytus chuckled. “You‘re going to have a great time, trust me. Just show them the mark, negotiate us a great deal with that intelligent little head of yours, Aria, and you‘ll both be back in no time.” I looked over and, sure enough, Aleric seemed just as unenthusiastic as I did. But it wasn’t the same look as me who was irritated at being used as a p**n for Tytus. No, his face looked almost… sad.
I tried not to think too hard on it for the time being though. If there was one thing these last few months had made me realise, it was that I was spending too much time worrying about what was going on inside Aleric‘s head.
And I had more pressing things to deal with right now. Like how I was going to explain to my parents that their fifteen year old daughter was going o na road trip to a foreign land… with an older teenage boy.