‘Reach for it…
I dug deep within myself, searching where I had felt that familiar energy first stem from. Before it used to always feel like it was just out of arm‘s length, as if only the tip of my fingernail could graze it, but now it felt as though I needed several more appendages just to get anywhere near it.
But it was there. I had to believe that it hadn‘t just been my imagination.
Stretch just a little further…‘
But then I exhaled quickly in release, panting from the strain it had caused to my body.
I‘d been sitting on my bed practising ever since arriving back at my guest lodgings. However, since starting over an hour ago, there had been little to show in progress.
I knew there had to be a trick to this, some sort of internal cue to summon it. Elder Luke had mentioned that this energy was something that could be trained but I was now trying to accomplish it with a severe handicap. So naturally, a part of me was kicking myself for not learning this prior to the collar.
I threw myself backwards on the bed, laying down in defeat. This was becoming infuriating, not to mention exhausting. How was I meant to practice something if I couldn‘t even begin to grasp it? This
stupid energy that was a byproduct of my curse.
Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried again once more, digging as deep as physically possible.
Grab it already. It‘s there. It‘s literally right there.’
Just grab it!
... And then I felt it.
My eyes immediately flew open as I felt the energy weakly pulse inside me.
Just a dim flickering. Not much, but just enough to know it was there.
| gritted my teeth, fighting against all the different forces working against me… the collar, my now weaker body, the pure effort required to just utilise the energy itself… but it wasn‘t enough.
| exhaled once more in release, heaving at the air around me.
It was gone. Gone just as quickly as it had shown itself.
But I couldn‘t discredit the noticeable differences and how they were definitely better when compared to my past experiences. There was no dizziness… no nosebleeds… no nausea. Not yet at least. It was mostly just aching and exhaustion from the attempts.
What had been the trigger? My frustration? …Emotion? I supposed that made sense. All the times it had come to me in the past were under circumstances of higher emotional investment. But would knowing that actually make it any easier?
For now, I just needed to repeat this over and over again until I trained my body to grasp it on will, each time trying to hold it for a few seconds longer.
And so, even though I knew how much it was probably going to hurt, I smiled at the excruciatingly slow grind ahead of me.
How naive of me to think that at one point i‘d thoughi squats were bad
“What the hell happened to you?” Aletic asked the next morning, eyeing off my appearance
1 yawned but managed to bow my head in greeting per protocol
“Good morning,” I said sleepily. “I didn‘t get much rest. Sorry for all of the fuss.”
“I thought you were dead,” he said with all seriousness
I‘d ended up staying up all night practising, pushing myself to my limit, before finally passing out sometime in the early morning My exhaustion had been so bad though that an attendant had to enter my guest lodgings with a master key after I‘d failed to answer the door. Apparently. Alenc had nearly smashed it down from knocking and had thought something had happened to me
In actuality, I was just dead to the world sleeping.
“I‘m sorry,” I repeated, though this time trying to make it sound more genuine.
He sighed but his shoulders didn‘t relax. “It‘s fine. Grab your stuff and let‘s get going.”
I wondered whether this had scared him off from ever bringing me with him again but I went back inside t o pack without questioning it. Truthfully, I wasn‘t even sure if I ever wanted to go to another meeting like this again but knew it was best not to push my luck whilst he was like this. I could tell that what I‘d done had really struck a nerve with him.
The drive back was mostly quiet with small talk in between. He seemed to have settled down a little since the morning but my sleepless night was quickly catching up to me. Every inch of my body was aching for my bed
..And so, without much energy left to resist, I eventually drifted off to sleep in the car.
“Aria,” a voice called out to me.
I stirred but didn‘t want to move, my eyelids heavy with exhaustion.
“Aria, get up,” it repeated. “We‘re here.”
I grumbled but slowly forced myself awake to see Aleric in the car beside me.
“Come on. You can sleep inside,” he said, unbuckling his seatbelt and getting out.
Begrudgingly, I followed behind him, my moves sluggish. Though part of my reluctance siemmed from weighing up whether it would be better to stay in the car as opposed to returning to my room.
Several warriors and pack members stared as we entered but I did my best to ignore them. All of them probably had a plethora of questions that I didn‘t care to answer. Instead, I followed silently behind Aleric all the way until we made it to the main floor, our quarters opposite ends.
This was it. What would happen when I went back in there? Would I never want to leave again?
I stared at the threshold of my room, eyeing the door off sceptically. I felt sick inside just thinking about this place.
Aleric then came up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Tomorrow morning,” he reassured. “I promise I‘ll talk to Tytus first thing in the morning. Hopefully, he won‘t care whether you remain in the Luna quarters and we can get you moved out quickly.”
Chapter Sixty Nine
I mutely nodded but still remained uneasy. And whilst it wasn‘t this* Aleric‘s fault, his presence probably wasn‘t making the situation any better given the circumstances of why I hated this place.
Here was this seemingly insignificant room, these walls of no importance. And yet they held more weight over me than I‘d ever dare to admit aloud. Why was it that this place continued to drain me more than anything else these days? Ironically, it felt as though the quarters were living rent free inside my head rather than the reverse.
‘Screw it,‘ I finally decided. ‘I am not her and I will not cower.’
I pushed the door open then and took a second to take it all in. The overly familiar scenery, scents, sensations…
And I pushed it as far back as I could.
If I could summon the literal authority of a goddamn Goddess, then there was no way I was going to let a room destroy me.
Stronger. My goal was to get stronger. And it had already started.
First a room, then Thea, then maybe a revolution. Hopefully, within all of that, I could also prevent an apocalypse in the process. It was just baby steps. Should be easy enough, right?
“Thanks,” I said to Aleric, my tone dismissing him. “I‘ll be okay from here.”
He looked at me hesitantly, as if weighing up whether he should insist on staying or not, but he finally nodded, accepting my request.
“Aright,” he said, his hand on the door. “Have a good rest and I‘ll see you tomorrow.”
“You keep coming around so often and I‘ll start thinking you have no friends,” I joked.
He smiled. “Unfortunately, just one very annoying one.”
I missed our conversations like this. Our real ones. It honestly felt like we hadn‘t spoken naturally to one another since back when I was still a Beta heir. This trip had been a nice reminder of what it felt like to speak freely again. Though not entirely free. Not as freely as I had spoken to Cai…
‘Nope. I‘m not going there.‘
I shook off the thoughts quickly and threw my bag down by the door, walking towards my room.
If there was one thing that she*, my past self, had been right about, it was that getting involved with someone romantically had ended up being a mistake. I‘d been broken already once and had stupidly dragged myself back into that pit of pain willingly. Just for a touch, a glance, a glimpse into what it would feel like to be happy.
“I‘m talking about you,” I whispered to the mirror on the wall, my eyes narrowing. “I‘m telling you that you were right. At least about one thing. Are you not even going to gloat a little?”
However, there was still no reply and only silence greeted me. It was nice not having her fogging up my head anymore but I wasn‘t under any false pretence. Even though my make–up covered up the worst of m y exhaustion, I knew she would still be there somewhere. She was always there.
Speaking of exhaustion, I knew it was time to train. No good wasting time with my looming birthday only months away
I knew I‘d have to speak to Aleric soon about possibly resuming my physical training, even though I was fully aware that I would still remain weak no matter how much I worked out. But even a strong human was still better than a weak one. Surely it wouldn‘t be that hard to pick up again?
Chapter Sixty Nine
But as for right now, I had to continue with the harder of the two. The one that drained me more than just physically
Settling into my bed, I continued the training I had started the night before, slowly holding the energy inside me for longer periods of time. And whilst it may have only been a few seconds, I was happy with m y improvement
However, for all the motivation I felt to keep going, the exhaustion finally became too much sometime after dark. I‘d had two nights of minimal sleep and my body was already overworked thanks to the new discovery I‘d found within myself.
And so, with barely any strength left inside… I passed out.
… That is until I was suddenly awoken by the sound of my front door clicking open, a creak groaning out a sit swung open.
My eyes flew open and instantly went to check the time via the clock on my bedside table.
It was after two o‘clock in the morning. Why would anyone be here this late?
I jumped out of bed and threw a robe over my nightgown. If this was an attendant then they were about to have hell to pay for waking me without good reason.
“…Lucy?” I called out.
Only the sound of someone‘s footsteps greeted me.
This was bad. This was really bad.
Immediately, I crouched down and held my breath, trying desperately to listen to the darkness around m e. But I knew the unfortunate reality was that they would be able to see me easily with their better vision. Hell, maybe they could even hear the sound of my heart pumping hard in my chest from adrenaline.
Options. What were my options?
Run? No, there was no way I‘d be fast enough. Hide? Nope, they probably could see me right now anyway. Order them to stand down? No, that option was way too risky and would probably not work given how much I‘d exhausted my body earlier,
Scream then. I had to scream. If Aleric was in his room, he would be able to hear me and get here faster than anyone else.
Topened my mouth and quickly inhaled as much as I could within my lungs.
But then a hand suddenly came from out of the darkness and clamped my mouth quickly shut, a wall of muscle encircling around my body. He‘d appeared from thin air; my senses having failed entirely to alert m e to his location.
| squirmed and wriggled in his grip, hopelessly fighting against him, but I knew it was pointless. By even werewolf standards, this guy was built impossibly large. Maybe even larger than some of our pack‘s best warriors. And right now I didn‘t even qualify for standard strength.
Who the hell was this guy?
A cloth gag and tape quickly replaced his hand, binding my mouth from making any further attempts to call for help. There was nothing I could do, nowhere I could move, and so he was able to throw me over
his shoulder without any issue whatsoever.
Was this really it? The best I could do?
I could feel he wasn‘t taking me to the front door and that made sense. He wasn‘t about to just waltz out with me over his shoulder. Even at this time of night, there would be people still awake in the packhouse o n patrol. He might have managed to get in here without suspicion, but there was no way he was going to b e able to get me out that way.
So he must be hoping to use the window then. From his direction, I could only assume he was aiming for the one in the living room, the one that would land us within shrubs by the side of the house. But that drop was crazy far. He‘d have to calculate his movements precisely and utilise the piping system all the way down; something already considerably difficult enough without factoring in how he‘ll also be carrying me the entire time. I supposed that was why the largest, most muscled block of a man was chosen for whatever this task was.
He finally arrived at the window and my eyes adjusted to the small light provided by the moon outside. Any second now, I knew he would be angling to open the window… but there was one last thing I could try.
Mustering every ounce of strength inside me, I managed to kick one of my legs free from out of his grasp and, without hesitating for even a second, I brought it straight back down… and out through the window.
The deafening sound of glass shattering came first, slicing through the silence that had been there only moments earlier. It would be enough for most of the house to hear, I knew that. However, chasing only seconds behind this, was the pain accompanying the many tiny gashes now scattered all along my bare foot and shin.
...And, f**k, did it hurt.
“You b***h,” the man hissed, struggling to grab my leg back in his grasp once more.
He was in a hurry now, his leisure of secrecy now robbed of him. Aleric or warriors would be here within seconds and he knew it well. He would need to jump from the window right now or end up facing them head–on.
The man tried to move fast but every time he attempted to go for the window, I would kick my leg out against the wall to make doing so ridiculously difficult for him to accomplish. How much longer could I keep this up?
Seconds ticked by but I kept continuing to elude his grip on my second leg, something only intended to stall for as much time as possible. However, his movements quickly became more forceful, more panicked as a result.
“Come on!” he growled, getting completely fed up with me.
Abruptly, he then paused, his body going completely still for just a second, and I could tell he was listening to something in the distance.
My heart lurched with hope. Someone was coming.
“Fine then,” he said, and grabbed at my waist to pull me off his shoulder.
Was he going to just throw me out the window? …Would I even survive that?
No, I couldn‘t take that chance.
With one last final attempt to stall for time, I wriggled within his grip as much as I physically could, as much as was humanly possible for me to do… only it worked a little too well.
The man unexpectedly lost his grip on me entirely and I quickly fell backwards…
…I fell backwards onto the jagged piece of glass that remained within the broken window frame.
The shard immediately sliced through my back and into my chest without much resistance, and my muffled cries carried out into the room; suppressed from the bindings still covering my mouth,
The pain was unimaginable, worse than anything else I‘d ever experienced. When I had been executed the first time, it had at least been quick, allowing me to pass within seconds. But this…? This was like hell.
This was a literal slow death,
“ARIA?!” a voice then shouted from somewhere.
Aleric‘s voice. It sounded very far away... very muted,
‘See, Aleric? I told you murderers don‘t knock first,‘I thought inside, remembering how we‘d spoken about this only two days before.
Meanwhile, the man next to me was trying to apply pressure to my wound without much success. Seemed almost funny since, not only had he failed to capture me, but I was now also blocking his only viable exit out. I guess it could be considered a small victory, all things considered.
“S**t, s**t, s**t, s**t,” he kept repeating over and over again, fear in his voice,
Silent tears then started to stream down my face as breathing became harder and harder to do. I was getting cold… my throat burning with the overwhelming desire to cough and clear it… as if doing so might help me breathe. But the bindings on my mouth prevented me from doing so, causing me to convulse slightly instead.
‘My lungs… It‘s pierced my lungs,’ I thought internally, realising the horrific truth. ‘They‘re slowly filling with blood.’
“Aria,” Aleric‘s voice then said, his face suddenly right next to mine. “Aria, please!”
Did he finish fighting the intruder already? I was struggling with consciousness, unsure how much time had actually passed due to my lapses. Was the man‘s a quick death… or slow like mine was shaping outt o be?
‘I can‘t breathe…‘
So cold. I was so cold… maybe Aleric could get me a blanket.
‘I can‘t breathe…
And I‘d tried so goddamn hard… yet somehow, in the end, it still wasn‘t good enough.
…I‘m sorry. I‘m so sorry I couldn‘t fix everything. Maybe it will still be enough for everyone to live… Maybe … just maybe … I‘d done at least one thing right to avoid that future…‘
Slowly, I then closed my eyes, the darkness around me no longer being sourced from the time of day… And everything turned black,