Ever since Aleric and I had been attacked by rogues at the Golden Blade pack, we had been assisting with the investigation into what had actually happened.
The whole thing had seemed so weirdly targeted. Why did they decide to come out of hiding? Was it a purposeful attack on Aleric and I? And, most importantly, had someone leaked information since they knew we would be there? Needless to say, the entire Winter Mist was furious about the whole thing and had demanded answers that the Golden Blade didn’t have. They were just as confused by the entire ordeal as w e were. Because of that, they were forced to cooperate with us during our investigation; much t o their displeasure, I was sure. It had been months since we’d had any leads though. There also hadn’t been any trace of a camp on their territory, making us believe they probably had no intention of staying in the area for long when they attacked. This was news that only made the whole thing even more worrisome.
The incident had severely shaken me as well. Not just because of Aleric, but because it made m e realise just how quickly I could feel unprepared in battle. My advantage in a fight had always been defence tactics, but the rogues gave me a shocking awakening to how sometimes survival meant being able to complete a finishing blow… something my current strength seemed to be
lacking, as evident from the rogue who didn’t stay down during our fight.
Because of this, I had started carrying one of their silver daggers on me to give myself the upper hand if I was ever in that situation again. Specifically… the knife they‘d pulled out of Aleric. The other one had already been locked up in evidence before I could get my hands on it and they were pretty hard to come by without prior approval. But more importantly, I found the whole thing weirdly symbolic to look at whenever I strapped the sheath around my leg. It was something that could kill our kind so easily… yet it had been a moment in my life I’d chosen a path to save a life instead.
However, the fact that rogues had two of these in their possession was crazy in itself. The silver that was used to easily poison, restrain and kill our kind was no ordinary thing and was referred to as silver ‘kissed by moonlight’. Its properties included being able to stop the inflicted from being able to use their abilities; whether that be silver handcuffs to stop shifting and strength, or a knife to stop healing. The way the ore was handled before being crafted was a closely guarded secret and I’d heard was also very difficult to execute; knowledge reserved strictly to Elders and a select few only.
And so, whilst handcuffs were a staple within most packs, a knife was far harder to come by since many refused to forge them; this being due to their incredibly deadly potential. Of course, I took advantage of the situation to acquire one for myself because of that. But it did raise several questions about how the rogues managed to get their hands on them to begin with.
“You alright?” a voice yelled out. I felt that I could have died of a heart attack, almost falling over from shock
I’d been stuck in my own thoughts so deeply that I hadn‘t even realised Aleric had arrived at work before me.
I couldn’t deny that seeing him after I saw Thea last night felt kind of strange. Like I knew things were wrong. I’d now changed the timeline so much to something new and unpredictable that I was blind in many areas to what would happen next. Something I wasn’t used to feeling after having a literal ability to see the future sometimes. But it did tell me one thing; that Thea knew I was after her. I could only imagine she showed herself last night to send me a message that she was aware I had been looking for her. 1 wondered why she might have thought I was doing that. Did she maybe have the plan to take over as Luna already when she discovered I was tracking her? Did she even realise that I didn‘t want the Luna position? That I‘m not even a threat other than the fact I’m technically Aleric’s fated mate? Not that she could prove that either.
This posed an interesting line of questions to go through my head though. If she hadn’t discovered I was looking for her, would she have even come after me this time around? or could she have become Luna, and I a Beta, without all the drama? Had there been a chance that Thea could have changed for the better, just like Aleric seemed to have? …Or, more troubling, a part of me wondered if it was irrelevant who she was this time. That maybe it was actually revenge I was after… not self-preservation. I looked at Aleric and he seemed… the same. He looked tired. Most likely from the big event the night before. But he didn‘t look like someone who had just met a girl he was romantically interested in and he wasn’t treating me any differently. The latter being something I had to remind myself. Especially since that old instinct to stay away from him was building itself up inside my chest again. Thea was a painful reminder of the past, something I’d been doing so well to overcome lately.
I took a deep breath and forced a smile on my face.
“Hey, yeah! I‘m fine!” I said, probably a little too cheerily. I knew I needed to quickly change the topic away from me. “You look like you had a long night.”
To be honest, I was surprised he even made it in today. I remembered my first shift; I was exhausted to the point of not wanting to leave my bed.
…Or maybe that was because I’d been depressed, not wanting to see Aleric again after the disaster that was my shifting ceremony. “Yeah. But it was good,” he said with a yawn. He was leaning over some files on the table and looked about ready for a nap. “I’m sure it was. How are the new claws?” He just raised an eyebrow at me. “I‘m itching to try them out properly.” I laughed and walked past him to put my bag down in the little office area we had. “We might have a lead by the way.” “Oh, yeah?” I asked. senast ARANYA TETAP
ENUETTE DE VITE V PRESTO I went to Aleric’s side to look at whatever he was examining and found a few field reports from border patrol.
But next to me, I noticed him then sniff at the air.
“Ah, sorry. I came straight from the gym and didn’t have time for a shower,” I apologised, laughing as I quickly stepped away. “That’s probably an assault on your new senses.” Only he looked confused. “It‘s not that.”
I smiled and went to retrieve my bag again. “It’s all good. I was going to take a shower when I got here anyway but I didn’t expect you to be in so early. Let me go do that real quick and I’ll meet you outside in ten?”
“Hey, Aria… did you see Cai today?” he asked, making me stop dead in my tracks at the doorway. I was startled that he could tell. I was pretty sure I’d only lightly brushed past Cai to leave the gym and otherwise hadn’t touched him. “Briefly… why?” “…No reason, just surprised. Last I saw of you two, you were slapping him in the face.” I felt my cheeks burn. “Oh. Right.” What could I say? We didn‘t exactly make up but it felt weird to be discussing what happened with Cai to Aleric. “He stopped by the gym and tried to apologise again for being an a*s. I took the free food and left it at that.”
He looked like he wanted to ask something else but decided to remain silent, just nodding instead.
Very quickly, the room was then filled with a weird awkward air as neither of us knew how to navigate this conversation topic further. We just stared at one another uncomfortably. “…Okay,” I started, breaking the silence. “Wel… I’m going to go have a shower. I’ll meet you outside?” “Yep,” he replied instantly and quickly turned back to the papers on the table, grateful for the topic change. “Yep.” I repeated the word to myself and left immediately. Ten minutes later, we were in Aleric’s car on our way to the southside of the Winter Mist’s territory. Apparently, there had been a rogue sighting on our very own land and we were going to aid in the search to see if we could find anything.
“Do we know anything else about the sighting?” I asked as we pulled up on the side of the road.
The journey had only taken about twenty minutes to arrive but we would need to go on foot from here. The rogue was spotted by a patrolling wolf in the woods nearby. “Not really. They said it was probably just one… but they couldn’t tell for sure how many.” Side
I frowned as I grabbed my backpack from the car. “Seems sort of strange given how dishevelled the ones we saw looked. You‘d think they would stink and be easy to track.”
Aleric just shrugged. “They managed to get into the Golden Blade just fine. We‘ll go have a look anyway. Most of the patrols have already combed through here but we’re just going to give it a quick once over.” Though ‘quick’ turned out to be an inaccurate statement in the end.
We ended up being in the woods for over two hours searching but hadn’t managed to find anything. Not a single track or scent.
I was thankful that at least one of us was able to shift now though. Aleric remained in his human form since mastering a wolf in a day was almost impossible, but the stronger senses were definitely coming in handy for the job at hand. I was pretty sure I would have gone in a circle by now had he not been keeping track of where we’d been.
“I’m not seeing anything, Aleric,” I finally sighed in defeat. He frowned. “I just don’t see how that’s possible. We have to be missing something.” I went and sat down by a stream that was running by us, splashing some of the cold water against my face. It felt nice after all the walking we’d been doing. “I don’t know… maybe they have a way of sneaking in or masking their scent?” But just as I spoke the words aloud, something then caught my eye.
“Like what?” he asked. “Like…,” I said slowly, moving to inspect the rock closer. “Symbols carved along the water to tell them where to go?”
The stream here was a part of a much larger network of multiple rivers that connected our territory to the neighbouring ones. It was incredibly vast and veined out in all sorts of directions.
Aleric moved to my side and crouched down to see what I was looking at. “You wouldn’t be able to trace their scent easily… and it would be like a maze trying to follow anyone without knowing the way… that‘s f*****g brilliant, Aria.” I smiled in excitement and turned to look up at Aleric… only to find him much closer than I had expected, him already looking directly at me. He appeared to be just as genuinely excited a s me… and, for a split second, I almost forgot how those green eyes used to terrify me so much.
…But the eye contact proceeded to last a little *too* long. “…Follow the stones?” I asked, breaking the weird air again.
“Yep,” he replied quickly and stood up. “…Yep,” I whispered to myself, following after him.
We walked downstream for some time, following the trail of symbols carved into the rocks. It was pretty smart of them to have figured this out. They must have ended up being seen by patrol as they went out to hunt for food. Because of that, it was impossible to know how long Mason
they’d actually been hanging out around here. We ended up walking for another ten minutes or so before we could finally see what looked to be a small cave nestled just out of the way. If we hadn‘t been following the symbols, it was likely we would have completely missed it. “Can you tell if anyone might be inside?” I asked as we peered cautiously into the entrance, Aleric sniffed at the air, trying to focus. “It‘s still too hard with all the water.” I nodded in thought. This meant that we were going to need to go in blind and alone. If we left now to get help, then we’d be taking the risk of them discovering our scents and moving before we returned. This was our only chance at getting real answers. I looked around, searching for anything odd, but nothing seemed out of place, at least. I suppose that was all part of the point in throwing people off though. Aleric looked to me and we both silently acknowledged it was time to enter. Inside was deceptively larger than it had appeared outside… and it was damp. But surprisingly, i t wasn’t the smell of mould or moisture that was the most off–putting. There was definitely something far more pungent in the air that I didn’t need a stronger sense of smell for. I almost felt bad for Aleric as he was probably already overwhelmed enough for one day without this.
We continued to walk for some time in the dimly lit system. Only bits of natural light and the dying flames of a few torches further in were lighting the way. “Up ahead,” Aleric then suddenly warned quietly. I could only just make out something bright ahead where the cave opened up to a larger space.
“What is it?”
“Looks like… a camp,” he whispered, squinting his eyes. “Don‘t let your guard down.” I nodded and we kept walking. When we got to the large area it definitely looked like multiple people had been living there. Maybe even for months. It was a full–on settlement for lack of a better word, equipped with basic beds and furniture. Articles of clothing and even a few books were scattered around too.
“No wonder I can’t smell anything,” Aleric said after a few minutes, kicking over a bin full of putrid meat. There looked to be several others scattered around too which I could only imagine held the same contents. “F*****g disgusting.”
I wrinkled my nose as I continued to look around the room. It was obviously the source of the overbearing smell we’d been experiencing the entire time we’d been in here. How desperate were the rogues that they were having to rely on spoiled meat at times to survive? …But why would they even bother when they were in a forest with a river so close? Surely, they had other options to try first if they were that hungry? And then I realised exactly why one might keep rancid spoiled meat around.
…To hide a scent.
“Aleric!” I screamed. He looked up surprised at my abrupt outburst… but it was too late.
Because suddenly a wolf came flying out of nowhere and tackled Aleric to the ground. It was an ambush.