I paced nervously around the communal waiting, located area just outside the meeting hall. Every step in unison with the seconds that ticked by on the clock on the wall, my breathing and heart racing so loud it was only increasing my anxiety.
The meeting was planned, everything was ready. All that was left was Aleric. Any minute now he would be walking through that door with the news that would decide my fate. How strange that once again I would be finding myself tempting death in the hands of Aleric; though now relying on him as my saviour, not my executioner. Though I had to admit, I would be lying if I didn‘t acknowledge that he had been doing that very thing anyway these last few months.
But no, I wouldn‘t be killed. I had to believe in Tytus‘ own thirst for power should the worst–case scenario come to play. I had to believe that my value outweighed my death… at least for now.
Around me were several other people. I could see a few Elders that arrived early were convening to the side, quietly chatting, however it was the faces of many unranked individuals that I noticed the most. They were the men and women who had heard the news that war was potentially before us, the very people who would be laying their lives on the line for us. And yet the administrative assistant was unable t o tell them anything. They were unranked, their status not high enough to have input in the very thing that would potentially kill them… kill their family, their friends… their children.
They weren‘t deemed important enough.
“This is insane! We have a right to know!” a man shouted.
“Yeah!” a few yelled around him.
The tensions had been rising in the room for several minutes now but I could see the nervousness in the administrative assistant‘s face. The group of individuals were slowly becoming a crowd as many more gathered around from outside to find answers.
They were scared. Who could blame them? I would be too if it was my life being used as fodder on the front line because of decisions made higher up; because of decisions I‘d have no say in. But fear makes people do dumb, insane things… things like launching yourself at the admin assistant who genuinely didn‘t know anything. Who was probably just as scared as the group gathering around them.
The man grabbed the assistant‘s shirt, bringing their face up to eye level.
“Tell us what is really happening!” he yelled again.
“I–I don‘t have that i–information. I just work at the f–front desk,” they stammered out.
The crowd wasn’t pleased with this reply. Grumbles and jeering were voiced throughout the people as they were now at a loss of where to look next.
How had Aleric dealt with this in the past? Was it because they feared him more when he became Alpha than they feared the enemy waiting for them? Or did they respect him, knowing that his ability to lead and his prowess in battle were enough to inspire? I couldn‘t recall a single situation like this ever having happened in the past under his command.
But immediately, the discrepancy in the timelines was explained, answering the question in my mind.
“For a year now you have controlled us, forced us into strict safety protocols with the fear of being killed b y rogues. For Goddess‘ sake, some girl was killed in the park just down the road from town. Now you expect us to go to war! We haven‘t even been allowed to freely live our lives again yet and now you expect us to hand them over to you.”
“H–1 can‘t help you. The orders for those protocols came from the Elders. They are the ones who create the template and present it for implementation. I just relay information based on those templates provided.”
Silence hung in the air as the crowd took that information in slowly. Not because it was difficult to understand, but because there were Elders present. Elders who were now increasingly becoming painfully aware of what was happening around them. I saw as their faces transitioned to ones of people worried for their own safety. They were very clearly outnumbered; their positions always having been safe out of respect, rather than them holding any true authority to command others in the way that ranked members d 0.
“You!” the man yelled out to them.
He seemed to be the one leading this charge. So much anger inside him and yet so incredibly stupid what he was doing. He‘d already laid a hand on the admin assistant. It shouldn‘t have been that difficult to realise that he was going to be punished severely for this, not to mention the repercussions if he didn‘t stop now. Attacking the Elders would be a death sentence.
And then I saw it. That glimpse in his eye of no longer caring, darkening as his wolf came forward. He was really going to attack.
He took two steps forward, his body poised and then
“Enough!” I yelled out to him, layering my voice thick with what Beta heir authority I had.
It wasn‘t dangerous for me to use this tone as it was my own natural one, not derived from my marking. It was enough to command the unranked in this circumstance,
The man stopped, frozen in place from my order, and turned his face to look at me. His eyes were dark and wild, his wolf on the verge of emerging. He really was about to give up his life for this, I could see clearly how serious he was.
Around us the room had gone silent, my voice having brought utter quiet to everyone in the area. They were too scared to move, too worried I would punish them for stepping out of line.
“…Enough,” I repeated, more gently as I walked towards the man. “I know you are tired, I know you are scared. We all are. None of us want to lose the people we love.”
“You sit back, privileged in your birth rank, and yet have the audacity to say that,” he spat back.
The crowd shuffled uncomfortably. I could feel they all agreed but didn‘t want to voice their approval.
“You‘re right, I am privileged,” I said. “But I am also like you. I have people I love, people I fight for. And when it comes to war, even the ranked members are there fighting with you. Hell, it might very well be my father who doesn‘t return next time. I, too, would grieve just as you would your family.”
“You know nothing of death, child,” he sneered. “Your family is all alive and well. I had to watch my father go to war when I was barely old enough to remember him. He never returned.”
The small irony of his statement wasn‘t lost on me but, in this life, I knew where he was coming from. From his perspective, I could see how it might seem that way. Normal people weren‘t reincarnated
“…I know death,” I finally said calmly. “That girl you so tastefully mentioned before during your outburst was my best friend. An unranked girl, a seemingly unimportant one in the grand scheme of this hierarchy. And she was murdered, her body left for me to find. But she is not ‘some girl‘ as you so nicely phrased… and you have no right to use her death for your complaints. She has a name and she deserves to be remembered as such.”
I could see a flash of guilt cross his face as he calmed down, slowly getting control of his emotions finally
“…Her name was Myra,” i continued, “She loved books and shopping… and she genuinely cared for every person she met. But, most importantly, she was loved… loved by me, loved by her parents, and loved by every other person who had the privilege of meeting her. She is more important than just some girl,” !
I stepped back and turned my attention to the entire crowd, raising my voice for them all to hear.
“But it isn‘t just Myra. All of you are important. All of you are worthy and deserve to know what the higher ups choose to do with your lives. Because when it comes to war, there is no rank. There is only life… and death. Every single one of us will become the same when we die on that field, our blood nourishment for the ground, our souls with the Goddess. So I can only hope that, should the day come that you‘re asked to lay down your lives for this pack, that the reason will be to protect the people you love. That we love. We are one pack, one family. We will grieve as such no matter which family they belong to.”
I could see the confusion spread on their faces as they tried to interpret what I was saying. What I was confirming…
“There will be no war with the Silver Lake pack announced today,” I declared. “…I give you my word.”
No one spoke and no one moved. They all looked at me with mixed expressions, unsure which were appropriate.
But finally, a voice spoke out from the back, a woman pushing her way to the front of the crowd.
“Saintess,” she said; kneeling before me.
Panic gripped me. This wasn‘t the response I had wanted or asked for. If anything this made things more awkward for my current predicament.
“What? No… Please, don‘t do th–.”
My voice was cut off as another person came forward, addressing me also as Saintess before they, too, were kneeling beside the woman. And then another… and another… and another. And soon the entire crowd of unranked were kneeling before me.
“Please stand up,” I begged desperately. “There‘s no need for this.”
The few Elders present were watching me with wary expressions that I knew would be accompanied by thoughts that were not in my favour. I couldn‘t think of a worse situation to find myself in given the events that would soon be taking place.
“You are blessed by the Goddess‘ hand. May she keep you safe,” the first woman said. “For it is within your presence, guided by our Great Mother, that we must ask of you to keep us safe. Praise be our Saintess.”
“Praise be our Saintess,” the crowd began to echo around her.
I was about to ask them once more to stand but suddenly I could feel the sensation of eyes burning into me, different from the people already here. And, instinctively, I looked up to the door.
To the door where Aleric stood, watching as the people knelt before me.
He held my gaze only a moment though, walking across the room towards where the meeting hall was instead, without glancing back.
“Uhh.. rise and be blessed. Return to your families in peace,” I awkwardly said to the crowd, hoping it sounded devout enough for them to be finally satisfied and leave already.
Chapas Saly Twa
However, I didn‘t wait to check. Quickly, I spun on my heel without another word and walked off in the direction I saw Aleric go. I had bigger issues now.
“F**k, f**k, f**k, f**k,” i frantically kept whispering to myself while I walked as fast as I could.
I‘d thought things couldn‘t have been worse with the Elders present, but I‘d obviously been wrong. Aleric showing up at that exact moment was a thousand times worse, only second to if Tytus himself had seen. I couldn‘t do anything though, the people didn‘t listen to me when I‘d asked them to stand. I didn‘t want or ask for that.
I walked down a hallway in the direction of the main meeting hall and finally found Aleric standing at the end, his face completely unreadable. Somehow that was infinitely more disconcerting than if he was showing anger, irritation… anything. Literally showing any emotion right then would have been nice.
He pointed towards a room on the side, indicating for me to enter, and I did so without complaint. It was a room usually used for dignitaries of foreign territories to allow them a private place to wait before a meeting. –
“I don‘t… I didn‘t…” I fumbled. “I just tried to get them to calm down. I didn‘t ask–,”
He held a hand up to indicate I should stop and I immediately shut my mouth.
“We don‘t have time for that,” he said, his tone not betraying how he felt on the topic in the slightest. “… Jonathan is missing.”
All the air I‘d been clutching onto inside my chest instantly escaped me as it felt as though a blow had been struck.
“…He didn‘t show up at the packhouse today,” he continued. “I was waiting there for over an hour. When h e didn‘t turn up on time, I went by his house but no one had seen him since he left to go on duty this morning.”
“…Has anyone been by to check on Thea yet?” I asked.
“… Yes.” He turned his face, averting his eyes from me. “She‘s gone, Aria. I‘m sorry. We found her scent trail travelling over the border.”
My hand shot out towards the table next to me as I used it to support myself from falling over.
This was it. My last lifeline was gone. And yet I couldn‘t help the bubble of laughter that left my lips. First just a slow chuckle, breathy and barely audible, before finally increasing to an eruption of full laughter.
“...Aria?” Aleric asked concerned, watching me like I was insane.
He was probably right. I was about to lose my entire freedom… and yet it was the small victory that pushed me on.
“Aria, we‘ll try and find Jonathan,” he said, trying to reassure me. “We can postpone the meeting for a little longer and have everyone working on the search. Maybe we can prove he was involved still.”
“Don‘t bother looking for him,” I said, smiling. “He was working with Thea. She just confirmed it.”
“What? How do you know?”
“Thea likes to boast, she likes to do things to prove that she‘s one step ahead of me. Like how she left Myra‘s body with a note. If he really were an innocent in all of this, she would have taken the added risk to leave his body somewhere I would find it so I‘d know it was my fault.”
Her frantic response of running over the border meant only one thing; she was unprepared for what I‘d done.
Me trovined, trying to understand where I was coming from you think tesdead? How do yo2018 didn‘t just run with her? That he‘s just hiding out some here until its safe to 0:00 tetorte?
“Because he‘s 100 muchola liability to be left alive. If we got our hands on him then there‘s no way de would trust him enough to remain silent. She knows better than to leare correo eletate
especially if he knows the names of others involved with all of this
“…So why are you happy? We‘ve lost. We‘re out of time That was your last chance of freedom oreron,
I met his gaze and held it as tears formed in my ges. “Well, ito bittersweet, isn‘t t?fira figures something out that Thea underestimated me on i presented one of heroes to be in a publicorers mate and she got spoored. She killed a pack member and ran. Once they finally find his body in a fer days, she won‘t ever be able to show her face here again. She‘s gone..she‘s rea gore Shes here coming back to the Winter Mist.”
I was sure that if I hadn‘t already lived a prior life, it would have been almost impossible to con Jonathan was a spy. They would have covered his tracks well. Thea knen what I was trying to te her by sending him; that I knew about his secret. She probably ran in complete confusion vierhontigured it out. There was no investigation, no warning, it would look as though I plucked his name out of thinat. And not knowing how I did would be eating at her.
“…But there will still be rogues… still be maybe others infiltrated inside the pack
A tear fell down my face. “Oh, I know... but it‘s the small victories, I suppose. Need something to be optimistic about when you‘re about to confess treason to your Alpha And Thea publicly recognised as an enemy to the pack? Well… that‘s the best darnn thing I‘ve heard in months
I swatted the tear off my face quickly before raising my head up with confidence. The meeting would be starting soon and Goddess knew I needed every ounce of strength inside of me to get through these neri few hours… possibly next few years. If I was lucky.
Though I suppose… Such is life.
I pushed myself upright, squaring my shoulders and walked to the door. But, as I reached out to the handle, I felt Aleric‘s hand touch mine, pausing me.
“Aria,” he whispered, his face closer to mine than I realised…..Don‘t do this. Please.”
I stared into his green eyes. So different to the ones I once knew, but still hiding things I‘d probably never know. Did seeing me with the unranked earlier spark thoughts of possible insurrection again? Did he mistrust me now? From his perspective, it looked as though I was gathering followers. Any convincingid managed to do earlier was probably completely down the drain now.
I pulled my hand away, clearing my throat before I spoke.
“There will be no war with the Silver Lake pack announced today,” I said, repeating the words from earlier.
It was the vow I‘d made to the innocent pack members, the silent promise I‘d made to Cai years ago when I‘d discovered who he really was.
There will be no war with the Silver Lake pack.
Not today. Not ever.
And so, when I finally found myself looking into the eyes of Alpha Tytus himself, surrounded by every Elder and ranked member of our pack, I knew there was only one way out.
“Alpha,” I greeted, bowing my head in respect. “I‘ve requested your presence here today so that i may help prevent a needless war. What I bring to you is evidence that Caius Knight is innocent.”
I took a shaky breath in, meeting his eyes that were full of cold curiosity. The eyes that always made me want to squirm away. “Alpha… I am here today to confess my crimes of treason.”