I lasted a week before I started to get restless, wondering how much longer I‘d need to wait before my body could finally cope again.
But surely a week was long enough, right? Enough that I would be allowed to begin what I wanted to?
And so I quickly grabbed the clipboard at the end of my bed, the one that was for my medical chart, and flipped the pages over to start writing on the blank side.
…And I closed my eyes, concentrating as I gave myself over to the old side of me that knew how to effectively strategise an enemy.
It took several hours over the course of three days before I finally finished. To be safe, I only worked within small windows every day, choosing to do so between when I would get another dose of pain medication and when I would need to let myself sleep. This was something delicate and I knew I needed t o be at my most relaxed for it to work.
By the time I was done, it was an in–depth timeline of everything since I‘d been reborn. Correlating the different events to everything I knew Thea had done, and then using those to theorise why it had been done the way it had been. Even in the moments she hadn‘t done something, I was still able to use it to better understand it all.
… This was it.
This was a 101 guide to Thea over the last four years
Now I just needed to have a meeting with the others to let them know. Something I was sure Aleric would be less than pleased with considering I was meant to still be resting.
I knew the time window was perfect. This would be my only chance until tomorrow.
…Not to mention, that thing* had finally arrived earlier.
And so I threw my legs over the side of the bed, getting slowly dressed into some normal clothes, and started heading towards the meeting hall. Knowing Aleric, he was probably going to be there this time of the day.
“Where are you going?” a voice then said behind me, making me jump in surprise.
| quickly turned around to see Brayden there, right outside my hospital room.
“… To see Aleric,” I replied, my voice a little tense at seeing him.
It was because of him.
If he had just done what he was told, none of this would have happened.
But as I looked at him more closely, I noticed how he looked exhausted. He had dark circles under his eyes and didn‘t have that normal confident air about him that used to annoy me so much.
“You‘re not supposed to be leaving your room,” he said. “Aleric was pretty strict on that.”
“So, you follow orders now?” | replied back a bit coldly.
And I sighed, clearing my head. I needed to remember that there was no reason for me to get angry now.
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“..I‘m sorry, Arla,” he said, his face crumbling a bit 10 show how quilty he felt, “I didn‘t. I didn‘t realise. I Just wanted to stop her from getting away. If I‘d known she was going to do that 10 you, I never would have engaged in battle. I feel terrible.”
“Don‘t apologise to me,” I said. “Just.. learn and do better.”
And with that, I turned around, continuing on iny way to where I wanted to go.
“W–wait! Aria, seriously! We‘ve got this whole place on lockdown because you‘re injured. You can‘t just leave. Please. I don‘t want you to get hurt again because of me.”
“Brayden,” I said calmly, turning back around to face him. “Stop If I thought I couldn‘t cope with this then I would still be in bed. I‘ve been stuck inside for over a week now. If you‘re so scared of Aleríc, just accompany me to the meeting hall yourself.”
And so he did just that, though begrudgingly. Going as far as to drive me himself with several other
wasn‘t complaining though. Whilst I was pretty sure that Thea wouldn‘t publicly attack m e on my way there in broad daylight, it didn’t mean the extra precautions weren‘t necessary.
“…What are you trying to say?” I heard Aleric‘s voice speak from the other side of the meeting hall‘s door
I had followed his scent to one of the smaller adjoined meeting rooms and found the door slightly ajar, allowing for me to hear inside.
“I‘m saying we should consider hiding her somewhere else for a while,” Cai‘s voice then replied, “You‘re basically using all your available people to just keep her safe right now. Clearly, Thea knows where she is o r she wouldn‘t keep sending rogue attacks along the border to split your people and weaken your defences. It won‘t be long before you‘re fighting a battle from both within and outside.”
“I‘m not saying you‘re wrong but–.” Aleric‘s voice then cut off abruptly mid–sentence, followed only seconds later by a disappointed sigh.
“...Come in, Aria,” he finished.
I‘d forgotten how sharp his senses were. Sharper than anyone else‘s.
| slowly pushed the door open and entered, finding the two of them alone as they discussed the current issues the pack was facing Things they‘d obviously been keeping from me while I was resting. And they were probably right to do so. If I‘d known we had been suffering attacks because of me, I probably wouldn‘t have been able to sit by as idly as I had been.
“You‘re not supposed to be here,” Aleric said.
“I know...,” I replied, coming over to sit opposite them at the table. “I feel well enough to walk though.”
“Looks like you‘ve done more than just walk,” he said, staring down at all the pages of writing I was carrying with me.
I bit at the inside of my cheek.
“This is important. This is… everything you need to know about Thea. Everything I was able to figure out. If we really are undergoing attacks then this might be able to help us come up with a better plan”
I looked up to Cai and saw his expression still stony, eyes narrowed. It wasn‘t as bad as it was… but he still didn‘t trust me. Fair enough.
“I just need you all to sit and listen to me for a bit,” I continued. “This is going to take a while but it‘s important you all understand. The only way this works is if we start to trust each other implicitly. Any doubt or concerns over what the others are doing and she‘ll just use that as fuel”
And Cai exhaled, softening his expression enough to tell me he was going to at least give me that much.
“This is a timeline of everything,” I started, laying out the pages in front of me. “I‘ve used the events I‘ve experienced in this lifetime in conjunction with the things I‘ve learnt about Thea‘s history, to try and figure out how she operates. Luckily for us, she unintentionally told me more than she probably should have. I‘ve broken up her weaknesses into three key components; distance, detachment, distraction.”
I grabbed my pen and wrote it down on a fresh page so they could follow along.
“But, firstly, I need to tell you about the abilities themselves,” I said. “You two probably have never tried to figure it out since you‘ve just let it flow naturally. I, on the other hand, wasn‘t that fortunate and had to learn how to control it due to being stuck in the collar. The most important thing to know is that these abilities are primarily powered by emotional energy. The more intense feeling you‘re experiencing, the easier it is to utilise. So, for Aleric, that would usually be in the heat of battle when you‘re in high–stress situations, taking advantage of a heightened ability of strength and better senses, and… for Cai….”
My eyes flicked back up to meet his. “An emotional drive helps create an atmosphere of devotion. It‘s something you probably won‘t understand completely unless you ever meet a proper God in person. Basically, it‘s like an intense pressure to give in and appease them, gravitating without even fully realising it‘s happening. A form of manipulation, even if not intentional.”
And he instantly averted his gaze, realising what I was implying in my explanation.
“Our abilities originate from Thea though – *not* Selene,” I continued, turning back to the pages on the table. “So if that‘s how our abilities work, it‘s logical to assume that it‘s also how hers work too. Which brings me to the first of her weaknesses – ‘detachment‘. All of her moves against me since the beginning were solely aimed at triggering a negative reaction. Because the more emotional I felt in that moment, the easier it was for her to weave her way in and magnify those already existing fears I had. It‘s how she eventually ended up taking over too; waiting until I was completely at rock bottom so I would give in to everything she was saying. Detaching yourself and reducing those spikes in emotional changes will help with keeping her out. The only one of us who doesn‘t need to worry about that one as much… is Cai.”
This seemed to earn me a few confused looks from both of them.
“Thea admitted to me herself that it doesn‘t work on him in the same way it does on me… or, if looking at the previous timeline, Aleric.”
“That can‘t be right,” Cai spoke up finally. “She was messing with me for months. No, actually, it was worse than that. Thinking about it now, it was a few months short of a whole year.”
“Right, but you said so yourself– you didn‘t lose your sanity like I did,” I pointed out. “She can only manipulate you on a surface level because you‘re both too similar. Where hers is an outward focus in swaying others to see things her way, yours is more internal in how people perceive you specifically, both stemming from a manipulation in perception. She said it‘s like two magnets of the same polar, pushing away from each other. I take that to mean she convinced you of the physical effects of the mate–bond, like sparks, scent etc, opposed to you actually *feeling the attachment to her. You sort of never expressed that much interest in her emotionally when you spoke about ‘Caitlyn… something that was truthfully a bad sign from the beginning. If you are ever able to experience a mate bond one day, and I mean a *real one*, you‘ll know exactly what I mean. When that bond is formed… it‘s like nothing else, no one else. It takes over both your body *and* mind – not just one of those.”
And I hesitantly looked up to see Aleric staring at me intensely, making my heart jump a little.
No, not yet. I couldn‘t jump down that rabbit hole right now.
I quickly cleared my throat and looked back down at the pages. “The whole thing ended with you just getting sick from her trying to do it anyway. This means you‘re the only one of us who is capable of resisting her internal manipulations and should be able to pick up if she is influencing you in other ways.
Her interference should make you feel sick, something you need 10 start keeping an eye out for as an early warning system. It‘s important to note though that this sickness was something you were only able t o start recovering from once she left the Silver Lake… bringing me to the next weakness; ‘distance‘.”
I wrote the next few notes down before looking up to see Cai had gone completely pale. I took that to mean that I must have correctly figured out his questionable commitment to Caitlyn perfectly, if his reaction was anything to go by.
‘When she was with you full–time in the beginning, Cai, I didn‘t experience any issues with her inside my head. In fact, it was pretty much dead silent and I felt in control for the most part… with one exception; when we met up during what was meant to be my escape. This tells me she is probably limited to a certain range and, possibly, is also limited in how many she can focus on at once. Cai, you mentioned to me in my office that she started leaving for longer periods of time after you started to get more ill… I‘d wager those times she was away from you would match up perfectly to when I was at my worst, moments that took place after I‘d turned eighteen when she was required to be here more. I‘d also guess she never returned to the Silver Lake after I broke the news to you about who ‘Caitlyn‘ really was. She already knew I‘d told you because she would have seen it from me.”
“All of these are good defensive tactics but don‘t really help much should we find ourselves in an actual fight,” Aleric then pointed out. “Fighting is pretty emotionally fuelling and so, really, that would just leave running away. Doesn‘t really help to defeat her.”
“Right,” I agreed. “Which brings me to the last one… ‘distraction‘.”
“How will a diversion help against a creature that can see in your head?” Cai asked.
“The distraction isn‘t external,” | corrected. “It‘s in *hert head. This one was something she gave away during our fight and it was how I managed to keep her guard down. Stupidly, she admitted to me that she considered us pretty similar and, well, though I don‘t like to consider it, it did get me thinking about a few similarities we actually did share. Namely, her own reactions and history.”
I started writing more notes down.
“I met with Selene in person who showed me the entirety of our kind‘s origin,” I continued. “Rather, I saw Thea‘s origin. She used to be pretty normal. Hardworking, dedicated to the people she cared for. She gave up her entire life just to make them happy. But when she was finally at her happiest, everything was ripped away from her. It destroyed her.”
“But if she has nothing left, what can you possibly do to catch her off–guard?”
“That‘s not what I‘m getting at. It‘s her own negative emotions that are her weakness to distract her, just like they were with me. Both of us became blinded, unable to see clearly ahead when things turned bad. Back when Selene robbed her of her powers, she wasn‘t able to use her ability to see ahead because, in that moment, she was solely focused on her revenge. She is her own worst enemy, not to mention arrogant with a bad superiority complex.”
I could still remember that moment in our fight when she had shown her true colours; how it was a mirror image of the way she‘d made me angrily react to things in the past. Seeing the comparison now had made me realise how painfully obvious her influence was.
“So, we just need to get her angry?” Cai asked sceptically
I then sighed, turning my lip in uncertainty. “Truthfully, this last theory of ‘distraction‘ is the most unreliable one I have and that‘s mostly because it could change at any minute without warning. We need t o keep in mind that this weakness could still very easily turn into a strength for her, what with it also stemming from a strong emotional response. If she learns how to overcome her urge to just immediately attack in a pure rage, she could always use that emotional energy to her own benefit instead. Then we‘d probably be in a lot of trouble. I was only able to survive because she lapsed into that overconfident fury
and I just used it to my own advantage. My hope is that old dogs really can‘t learn new tricks; especially when that b***h is thousands of years old and believes they‘re better than us already.”
‘That sounds like a pretty big variable,” Cai said.
“I don‘t disagree,” I said. “It‘s not going to be easy, I know. We definitely still need to figure out a proper plan. However, in the meantime … I was going to say that I didn‘t entirely disagree with what you were saying to Aleric earlier.”
And they both frowned in confusion.
“I think you‘re right in what you said,” I repeated. “We probably should send me somewhere away into hiding. At least until I‘ve completely healed. It‘s extremely difficult to keep myself feeling neutral whilst I‘m constantly in pain; something I‘ve been mitigating by timing my work with when I‘ve had another dose of medication. But I can‘t stay medicated forever. The best thing to do will be to force some distance and wait until I‘m able to defend myself again. So long as we can buy some more time, then we can make her start playing our game instead. Use all that time to then think of a plan, to prepare ourselves and, hopefully, make the first move before she realises it‘s happening. Too long have we been fighting against her in the dark, blinded by our own lack of knowledge. Well… we‘ve got an advantage now. Time to use that. Being away from the Winter Mist should also stop her from constantly attacking the borders as well. She wants us to make a quick, rash decision; we need to make sure we do the opposite.”
“But won‘t she be able to just track you down? You said so yourself – she‘s in your head,” Aleric pointed out. “Who‘s to say she doesn‘t have a way of tracing you?”
And I knew he was right. She was definitely connected to me thanks to when I gave myself over to her. I could feel her presence always lurking.
But I‘d thought of something for that too.
“She probably can… but I already came up with a theory to possibly counter that,” I said and pulled something out of my pocket, placing it on the table.
“What is that? A silver ring?”
“I had Elder Luke make it for me after he visited my hospital room a few days ago.”
“What‘s a silver ring going to do? She still managed to get into your head when you had the silver collar, didn‘t she?”
“Right… but this isn‘t ordinary blessed silver,” I explained, picking it back up to show them. “This is made out of the ancient ceremonial sword. The same silver that Selene herself blessed, making it the first–ever rof its kind. The only silver to have not only her life essence, but her direct sanctification too. I had Elder Luke melt it down for me and forge this instead. I‘m hoping that it might be stronger than your average handcuffs and help keep Thea from immediately tracking me down.”
“…Seems risky without any real evidence to support it working,” Cai said.
“I don‘t see why you‘re arguing when it was literally your idea to send me away to begin with,” I replied.
And we glared at each other.
“Enough,” Aleric said, breaking our stare–off. “Even if Thea can‘t track you, it doesn‘t mean it‘s safe for you to just up and leave. What if she does find you? If we have an entire team of warriors protecting you, it will be extremely noticeable regardless of where you‘re hiding Word will get to her immediately.”
“Well, then do you think it‘s better to just leave me here with all of these attacks happening?” I argued. “W e can‘t keep splitting forces from both inside the Winter Mist and outside of it as well, you know this. It‘s not only safer for me if I go, but it‘s also safer for everyone else in the pack too. You two included, since
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she won‘t be able to use me to get secrets I might accidentally leak.”
This apparently caught Cai‘s attention as he looked at me oddly, frowning slightly at what I‘d said.
“…You care about what happens to the pack?”
And I gritted my teeth, looking away. I didn‘t want to make a big deal out of this right now. Mostly, I didn‘t want anyone getting their hopes up by thinking I‘d recovered because I hadn‘t. Not even close. It was better for everyone if they kept thinking I was completely dangerous.
“Well, if you‘re planning on doing this,” Aleric then interjected, probably realising from my reaction that I didn‘t want to talk further. “Then I think the only way we can go about this is if I go with you. I‘m the only one who can protect you as effectively as an entire unit of warriors could, making the whole thing far more covert. Not to mention that it also wouldn‘t hurt to distance myself if she decides to change focus i n your absence.”
“… Then what about the pack?” I argued, shocked by his suggestion. “Someone needs to be here to run the place. They need an Alpha.”
“Then… then I‘ll do that,” Cai cut in hesitantly. “Your Elder Luke and cousin can assist to keep your pack‘s image intact. I‘m the only one who can stay here though without any fear of Thea getting to me. We can just combine the Silver Lake and Winter Mist on a temporary basis. My father doesn‘t need me home right now and this is the best way to ensure the Mist stays protected whilst you‘re gone.”
...And it was as though history was repeating itself; the two territories once again joining. Something they hadn‘t done in centuries.
Now we just had to hope that history didn‘t repeat itself in other ways. That this would be an example of there being good things resulting from repetition.
Because I‘d already seen in one lifetime what Thea‘s victory historically looked like. And that one had ended with all of our deaths.