Aleric didn’t look reassured by the answer I’d given but he let me go anyway, the two of us walking back over to where Thea was laughably pretending to act scared.
I scoffed at her appearance, much to the curiosity of the warriors standing around.
Aleric ignored me and walked up to her, crouching so they were eye level. And even though I felt the urge to murder Thea more than anything in that moment, I couldn‘t help but feel a pang of distress echo inside me seeing the two of them so close together again. I knew it wasn’t remotely the same as in the past and I shouldn’t care anymore, but the reaction was involuntary. It was just more fuel for the pain I was nurturing inside. “Your name is Thea, correct?” Aleric asked.
She just nodded, her eyes wide with fear as she looked around at everyone surrounding her.
“We’ve been trying to locate you for almost a week now. Where have you been?”
Her voice was exactly the same as how I remembered it. I couldn‘t help but wonder just how good it would feel once I stopped her from being able to speak ever again. “I was attacked. Me and another girl,” she started, sounding nervous. “I think her name was Myra? She introduced herself at the shops and offered to show me around town. But that‘s when we were attacked… It was at a park down the street… a group of men came out of nowhere and… and killed the girl in front of me.”
“Why did they spare you then?”
Her eyes watered up as she began to cry. “I don‘t know… but they took me to a camp somewhere. A cave. Tied me up and beat me. But I didn‘t want to die there in the dark. I waited until they went out for food and twisted my way out of the ropes by shifting. I–I think I‘ve dislocated my ankle. It was so dark though… I didn‘t know where I was… I’ve been walking aimlessly in the woods for days now, trying to find help.”
I snorted. It was all so rehearsed, even the tears. As if the numerous patrols wouldn’t have found her in that time she was allegedly alone in the woods. The entire pack was on high alert scouring the area for rogues and didn‘t see her? And what was that about shifting? I swore Thea had only been a year older than me. Was she lying about that too?
“I was so scared,” she sobbed. “I thought I was going to die. I was only meant to be here a few days and should have been home by now. Please… help me.” “And where might ‘home‘ be, Thea? Which pack?” I asked smugly, unphased by her charade unlike the others around me. This was the Thea I remembered; the manipulator. I could see how her words were making the warriors look mildly sympathetic to her situation. It was infuriating.
But I knew she would have to come clean though. There were only two answers to my question; she was either a rogue or she would be caught in a lie when no pack would be able to verify her identity.
“I don‘t belong to any pack…,” she said, turning her eyes to me. “I was mistakenly adopted and raised by humans. I’ve been trying to navigate how this all works and have only just stumbled into this world recently. I‘m sorry, I still don‘t really understand much. Did I do something wrong? Was I not meant to come here? I was only trying to find my birth family.”
I clenched my jaw, livid at everything that sugary-sweet sounding voice was saying.
“Lies! Tell them the truth!” If that were true, then there was no way she could have avoided the private investigator for as long as she did.
Thea’s eyes widened more as she flinched away from me. “I–I‘m sorry?”
“You think I’m going to let you get away with killing Myra and waltz into this pack? I know what you are. You can’t use those tricks on me.”
The story she was suggesting wasn’t necessarily an impossible occurrence, but it was incredibly rare and almost unheard of. And she knew it. She purposely chose that background because it meant we wouldn’t be able to verify with complete certainty who she was… and it meant I couldn’t pin her for being a rogue in the criminal sense.
It was all so bullshit. It sounded more like the plot to one of Myra’s old fantasy books than anything real. As if she were a poor, average girl who just woke up one day to discover she wasn’t like all the other humans. Was this the same storyline she had fed Aleric in the previous timeline? Did he take pity on her initially? “Aria!” Aleric yelled at me. “Enough!”
“Oh, you‘re taking her side?” I laughed, turning my glower to him. “What a surprise there.”
“I‘m not taking anyone‘s side! I‘m just trying to do my job and understand what’s happened. Something that you’re making incredibly difficult to do!” He got up and the two of us stood in each other’s faces once more, a furious silence between us creating tension.
“…F**k you, Aleric,” I finally spat out slowly, glaring up at him dead in the eye.
But that was the final straw for him.
“Leave! Now!” he roared. “You‘re off this case. Go home and cool your head.” I wanted to dispute it, to scream back at him, but I could feel this wasn‘t an ordinary demand. He‘d actually had the audacity to Alpha order me away. I could feel the wave of authority wash over me as it tried to command my movements. I didn‘t try to fight it though… I knew well enough that I would need to obey or it would only cause pain until I conformed. “Oh, and Aria?” he called just as I‘d turned my back. I didn’t turn around, choosing to remain still until he spoke. “Don’t think for a second I’m letting you anywhere near her while you’re like this. You’re banned from seeing Thea until advised otherwise from upper ranks.”
I didn’t acknowledge his order and immediately walked off instead.
“A*****e,” I angrily whispered to myself as I left. “Sympathising with the murderous b***h… I guess some things haven’t changed.”
But with every step I took, the anxiety of leaving her behind started to make it harder to keep going; the prospect of her escaping once more terrifying me. I needed to find a way around the Alpha order to get my hands on her. There had to be a way.
I didn’t manage to make it to my car though before my father caught my attention. I was extremely relieved to see him. He was the only other person who could possibly understand how messed up this situation all was and I knew I could trust him.
“Father!” I yelled out, running to him.
“Aria?” he greeted, confused. “What’s wrong? What‘s happened?” “It’s Thea. They’ve found her,” I said, grasping onto his arm desperately. “But Aleric has banned me from seeing her. You can’t let her get away. Please. Please… She’s too dangerous.”
His eyes regarded me warily as he was silent in thought. He knew who she was and I’d briefly already explained to him in private my conclusion about her hand in Myra’s death a day or so earlier. Surely, he would realise just how important this was? Not just for avenging Myra’s death, but to possibly save me in the future too. Possibly to save countless others.
“Please!” I said louder when he still hadn‘t replied.
He clenched his jaw before finally giving me a small nod. “I‘ll do everything I can. Don’t worry.
I exhaled in relief. At least one person would help. I felt like I was going insane being the only person who understood just how dire our situation was. Especially if she was working with the rogues. Who knew what she was actually capable o
I shakily nodded my head and let go of his arm reluctantly. “You look tired, Aria. Go home and rest for a bit,” he said. “I’ll let you know what happens once I’m done here.”
“Right. Yeah. Okay…,” I mumbled.
There was nothing else I could do here and I was still under orders to return home. Maybe it would be okay to rest for just a little bit?
But when I returned home, I found I was only more restless; unable to stay still as I waited for my father to inform me of what had happened. I paced by the stairs, looking out towards the front door constantly. It was almost as if by some miracle my stares would somehow speed up time until he’d come home. I felt I should be doing something. Anything. Not just standing around waiting. Not just standing around until Thea made her next move. Was it going to be the Aleric play next? Was this the part where she finally tries and wins him over to ultimately turn him against me?
…But would Aleric really do that again in this timeline? We‘d come so far that I‘d thought things could be different this time. That we could be equals in our contribution to the pack, not enemies. He‘d shown so much respect to me since I‘d become Beta heir that I was now finding it difficult to believe he wouldn‘t trust me when I said Thea was dangerous.
However, if the worst -case scenario came to fruition, I knew that if he tried to revert back to the Aleric of the past, I wouldn‘t stand by and accept it this time. All the training, all the hard work, it hadn’t been for nothing. I wasn’t afraid of standing up to him anymore. I wasn’t afraid to fight back
“Aria,” a voice suddenly came from the door.
I’d somehow been concentrating so hard that I hadn’t heard the front door open. My father stood there, a serious expression on his face that I couldn‘t decipher.
“How did it go?” I asked without even a greeting. I could feel my heart beating fast in my chest over whatever it was he had to say.
“Ah…,” he started, clearing his throat. “Well, she is being taken to the hospital for her injuries to be looked over.” I laughed. “Why would a prisoner be allowed access to the pack hospital? Couldn‘t they just treat her sore foot from inside her cell?”
But he didn’t reciprocate my humour, averting his eyes.
“Father?” I pressed. I could feel something was wrong here. “It‘s just until they take her to the cells, right? For further interrogation?” He sighed. “Aria… —.”
I recognised that tone. It was the tone he used when he was about to say something difficult. “No,” I cut him off, almost in disbelief. I took a step away from him. “No, do not tell me they’re treating her as a victim of the rogues.” “Aria, there was no evide—.” “No!” I yelled. “No, she killed Myra. Hell, she killed me, and you couldn‘t even get her in handcuffs? Do you really not give a s**t?”
“Enough!” he snapped at my attitude. “There is no evidence she‘s involved, Aria, and you know it! Unless you want to come forward and tell the entire council your past, then we‘ll need to figure something else out.” “You know I can‘t do that! They’ll think I‘m insane and lock me up!” “Then this is the best you‘re going to get!” he concluded, rubbing his face out of frustration. “So, that‘s it? We‘re just going to let her wander into the pack and do what she wants?” “No, no, of course not,” he said, his voice almost scolding me. “Don‘t be stupid. She‘ll be under the watch of a warrior whilst she undergoes treatment.” “Stupid? You‘re calling *me* stupid?” I scoffed. “I‘m not the one who let a murderer get first class medical treatment in our own pack. At least take some ownership that you messed up
“What did you want me to do, Aria?” he snapped back, taking several steps towards me. “Huh? If you think they‘ll lock you up for saying you were brought back to life, what do you think they’ll do to me when I start going against the logical line of thinking here? What do you think they’ll do to me when I imprison the girl whose public image is currently that of a victim? And not just to me, but to your mother?”
“From what I can tell, you‘re not in any immediate danger so long as she is under watch. But w e, your family, do not have that luxury if I act out, Aria.”
“I can’t believe you actually think I‘m not in danger so long as she draws breath, regardless of wherever she is. It’s like you didn’t even listen when I told you what happened in the past. She’s a goddamn murderer. Her influence stretches further than doing the deed herself. She didn’t need the sword in her hand last time to kill me with her words.”
“Did you even hear what I just said? My behaviour and actions affect more than just you, Aria. Do you not care what happens to your mother and I? We can figure this out but you need to cool down first. Stop thinking about yourself and look at this problem constructively.” “…So, you’re calling me selfish?” I summed up slowly, a sarcastic tone to my voice. “Fine. Sure. *I’m* being selfish. I‘m *so* sorry. I‘m sorry for acting out passionately… so the rest of u s don’t die!”
“I’m not doing this now,” he finally said, defeated. “You‘ve had a traumatic day and had to bury someone you loved; something I really am sorry you had to experience. I’m going to ignore all the hurtful things you‘ve said to me and pass off your irrational behaviour right now as dealing with your grief.”
I opened my mouth to speak but he held his hand up to stop me.
“I have to go meet with Tytus now. He‘s expecting me and I‘m already late. Just… pull yourself together, Aria. You’re smarter than this.”
He left me angrily glaring at the closed door where he had just stood, staring daggers at it as if my father could somehow feel it on the other side.
I completely understood how sometimes I‘d done things in my own best interest. I could even understand how those wrong decisions had led to fatal mistakes; like in Myra‘s case. But pushing for Thea‘s death wasn‘t one of the things I’d consider myself selfish for. I was doing i t not only for me, but for all of us. I didn‘t know for sure what would cause the complete annihilation of our kind, but I knew that if it occurs only once I die, then it‘s logical to believe that stopping Thea is imperative to that plan. And I knew that if I was being truly selfish, I wouldn‘t have stayed with Aleric for as long as I did in the past, just to help the pack. 1
I knew that if I was being truly selfish, I wouldn‘t have chosen to come back to life, putting myself at risk of reliving that nightmare, just to save everyone.
I knew that if I was being truly selfish, I wouldn‘t have worked tirelessly every day since being brought back, changing the people around me and their old traditions wherever possible, just to prevent the future.
I knew that if I was being truly selfish, I wouldn’t have… I wouldn’t have…
And then a thought came to me. If I was going to be labelled as selfish anyway, then why did it really matter? And I walked out the door, knowing exactly what I wanted to do.