I sat atop a tree, looking down at those who would be fighting for our survival today.
Any minute now we‘d be leaving, shifting and beginning our journey to the camp near the Silver Lake pack. With this many people, it was agreed that going on foot would be best, knowing that travelling via roads added more time and allowed for a predictable ambush.
And there was no denying we had many people. After the final count, we numbered around two hundred strong warriors ready for battle today.
… Ready for war.
I sighed, the wind gently catching in my hair as I stared at all of their faces. I wouldn‘t forget what they looked like this time. No, this time I sent our men to war, I would remember them all, committing their appearance to memory and fighting alongside them to the end.
On this day, I wasn‘t Ariadne Chrysalis, the former Luna of the Winter Mist. Always hiding behind my desk as I allowed our people to die without questions or guilt.
Today, I was Aria the Saintess, the Alpha of the Winter Mist. Someone willing to die as I weighed the risks and acknowledged the impact it held for, not only me, but all of the people before me as well.
Let this be the first and last war I ever see in this lifetime.
I was meant to be getting angry, to be emotionally charging in. The whole plan was hinging on that. Except this morning, I couldn‘t help but feel impossibly calm. Almost… serene. As if this was all inevitable. Truthfully, it felt somehow eerily familiar. I wonder why?
And with another moment of thought, it came to me. Acceptance. This was how I‘d felt right before I‘d been killed in my past life, when I‘d placed my head upon the wooden stump willingly for my execution. The acknowledgement that I couldn‘t stop my death from occurring. It was as if my body knew today was probably my expiration date, without anything even being confirmed yet.
Perhaps this tranquillity was a good thing though. Thea needed to be within a certain distance to directly mess with me and she‘d probably already left to make her own preparations at the camp. Now it seemed almost quiet inside. If anything, these were the last moments I‘d have to myself before I‘d need to resume my role. To become the person expected of me.
… But what I wouldn‘t give to just go back to the cabin in the woods.
I guess it all had to end someday. Would I be allowed to see Myra again inside the Abyss?
The warriors below then started to get restless, shuffling as their whispering became louder and louder. I could feel their anxiety and nerves radiating off them, making them more uneasy as every second passed.
But it was their glances of scepticism that were the hardest to ignore. Many of them didn’t want me as an Alpha, I knew that. Aleric had always been the poster child for what a strong Alpha looked like, groomed since birth to fit that role. I was merely a usurper to some, a Luna who didn‘t know her place.
Stealing the role by invoking Selene‘s name and authority. Locking Aleric away had surely not secured me any favour either. But regardless of their personal feelings, we needed to band together today if we wanted to survive.
Suddenly, Alexander appeared then at the bottom of my tree, looking up at me expectantly.
I knew what this meant.
…It was time.
I quickly jumped down to meet him and he nodded his acknowledgment.
“Oliver has everything here under control?” I asked.
Brayden‘s father, Gamma Oliver, was the only ranked member we had that possessed enough experience to be trusted with the pack in our absence. It was true that I‘d prefer him on the battlefield, but I needed someone at home to protect our most vulnerable whilst we were gone. This left me with Alexander and Brayden as my right-hand people to help coordinate.
“Everything is prepared,” he confirmed. “We‘re ready to leave on your order.”
Well, I guess we should get this over with.
“Everyone!” I then shouted to the crowd, stepping towards them.
Silence immediately fell as they all turned to look at me, holding mixed expressions.
“I‘m sure many of you are nervous or maybe even conflicted about what we‘re doing today,” I started, meeting a few eyes. “…And I don‘t blame you. But there isn‘t any reason to fear what is ahead for us. Help me and I promise to help you as much as physically can.”
Judging just by their reactions alone, I could tell many of them still didn‘t believe me, and I quietly sighed.
“I know some of you are probably wishing Aleric and I‘s positions were swapped,” I continued. “Make no mistake, I‘m entirely aware that some of you don‘t like me. I know I‘m not perfect. However, today I‘m not asking for you to ‘like‘ me, but I am asking for something that is going to be far more difficult than any rogue you will face.”
I paused to gauge their response, proceeding only once I felt they were still following.
“…I‘m asking for your trust,” I said. “Trust that I‘m sending you out there today with only good intentions, committing fully to live and die by your side. We‘re fighting to save Aleric, to retrieve back someone who the majority of you know personally.
Despite your individual feelings towards me, it‘s imperative that we don‘t lose focus on the purpose for why we‘re fighting today. Because you‘re not fighting for me. Today, we go to war to save one of our own, one of our fellow pack members… we‘re fighting for our future.”
Let them interpret that last part how they will. All that mattered was they remained focused on what needed to be done. And, with a few howls and cheers, I was pleased to see my words had gotten through to at least some of them.
With one last look towards Brayden and Alexander, I gave the final nod for everyone to shift into their wolves.
…And into the woods we went, beginning our journey.
Whilst we ran, I carried several supplies and clothes in a bag for when we arrived. The three of us ranked, and several other chosen warriors, would be fighting on two legs in order to coordinate the numbers, separating into different units that communicated with each other. With any luck though, the fighting itself would be minimal.
… So long as everything went to plan.
As we travelled, I focused on what I needed to do. To prepare myself and delve into that negative emotion Thea would be expecting. Festering in the thoughts she would be implanting into me.
I‘m going to kill her today. I swear by it.‘
It took a few hours before we arrived, a howl being sent into the air by one of our scouting wolves in front to alert us. They were the most familiar with these lands so their knowledge here was crucial.
Un ahead. I could see a clearing opening up into a large field. This would be the furthest we‘d go for now.
Currently, we were still obscured by the woods but I could smell that these lands were occupied by many more people. Hundreds of rogues if Sophie‘s words were to be believed. I could even faintly make out the sound of their people if I focused enough.
… They were waiting for us.
Aleric would be here somewhere. I just needed to get to him.
Would Thea be standing with the fodder she sent for slaughter? Or would I need to dig her out of the dirt like the worm she was?
I quickly shifted back and started changing into my clothes. They were specifically designed with both agility and protection in mind and I was pleased with the result. I could feel the small protective padding I n key areas but none of which would slow me down in any way.
And as for weaponry…?
I pulled out three silver daggers, my original dagger Thea had once taken, a standard one from the armoury… and a new one I’d had specially made for today. Each was then strapped to my body. One on my thigh, another by my hip, and the last by my shin. Areas I could refer to for quick access if needed.
“Are you sure about this?” Alexander asked, coming up behind me.
And I nodded. “I want nothing more than to see Thea finally pay today. Locking me up wouldn‘t even be enough to stop me right now.”
‘I wonder what the blood of a Goddess does to the dirt. Or does it become as meaningless as her existence upon exit? How will it feel for her to die by a mortal‘s hand?‘
I started walking towards the clearing, several eyes watching me as I moved. “Tell everyone to stand back until I give the order. I want to make it very clear that no one is to intervene, regardless of how much danger they think I might be in.”
I could feel his confliction as he walked with me, but he accepted my instructions nevertheless,
‘This is far enough,” I said to him, implying he shouldn‘t follow me any further. “…I‘m going in.”
And I turned to face the battlefield.
…Are you listening to me, Thea? Do you feel how much hatred I hold for you? See how far I‘m willing to go just to kill you?‘
I started walking into the open clearing, immediately seeing as the opposite side started to move. Almost as if a wave of wolf bodies came out of the trees to greet me.
There really was a significant amount of them. Possibly a hundred or so more than even Sophie told us.
‘Will you be too scared to face me today? I came all this way to finally finish this. Winner takes all.
…Surely, you‘re not afraid of a child, are you?‘
More and more rogue wolves came out from the trees, slowly making their way towards me, but I didn‘t remotely falter or slow down. I kept walking to them with my head held high.
‘Think of how easy it will be to track down Cai once you retrieve your foresight back, Thea. Though be sure to tell the weasel that I‘ll be making his afterlife more unpleasant than the Abyss for abandoning me.‘
I‘d been purposely preparing myself for this. Refusing to engage in anything that might weaken me so I could divert all of my attention to this very moment.
…They just needed to come a little closer.
However, abruptly, they then stopped further than I would have liked, clearly unnerved by my lonesome self standing against an entire army; now four or five hundred strong.
“What are you so scared of?” I yelled out to the few that were in earshot. “Aren‘t your orders to retrieve m y body for your ‘witch?”
They looked between each other apprehensively, weighing up what to do, before one finally came forward. The largest of the wolves near the front, clearly one of their best fighters if their size and confidence was anything to go by.
…And they charged towards me.
I saw as they went in for a fast lunge, almost feeling insulted that they would think that would actually work, and easily side–stepped them as I dodged the attack. Only I didn‘t leave it at just that.
No, without missing a beat, I drew the dagger at my hip… and instantly embedded it into the side of their throat as they moved past me, going in for a swift kill. I only pulled it back out to clean the blade against m y clothes. It had been far too easy.
Unfortunately for them, I‘d moved too quick for them to even react, their gross underestimation of me proving lethal. And whilst I‘d expected someone to approach me in this manner, I hadn‘t expected them to be that* careless.
So much for them looking like a competent fighter.
Their death had served a purpose though; one I was pleased to see had worked. The rogues all started to advance on me again, now seeing that I meant business and wouldn‘t be taken down easily.
…And I took a deep breath, watching their approach carefully as every step they took reminded me of my mission.
‘What I did today, I was doing for me… for Aleric…‘
…For Myra… for C–..
Just a few more steps. It was almost time.
…For my parents who couldn‘t return home..
…For the people I hurt whilst Thea controlled me.‘
So close now. I could feel myself begin to shake from adrenaline.
…For the future of those who will be here after I am gone.’
d quickly closed the last few feet, making me within lunging range of their front line, and squared my body up to prepare.
It was now or never.
I took one last deep breath and….
“SUBMIT AND KNEEL BEFORE ME!”
I screamed the order out into the air at the top of my lungs so loudly that I was sure majority of their numbers had to have heard it. They needed to have.
I‘d poured all of my emotion into the command, feeding it every ounce of energy I had inside to make it work. This was a crucial part of my plan today that I needed to successfully execute.
… The plan to even the numbers.
And I wasn‘t disappointed with the results.
Line after line, after line, I saw as many of the rogues began to fall to their knees in submission, unable to deny the authority carried within my order. It was one that held the weight of a Saintess, carrying a piece of Selene as l invoked her power. This was my right as was given by the Goddess who rebirthed our kind.
Those closest to me were completely helpless and buckled under the pressure, as was to be expected. I assumed they would be the most disposable members of their army, the ones Thea wouldn‘t have bothered to put much time or effort into recruiting. But those that were positioned further out were harder to influence.
Either from being out of hearing range or too manipulated by Thea‘s own command, the bulk of the remaining army was now only two hundred or so strong, less than half of their original total force. For what it was worth though, it had still been a success.
…And I immediately fell to the ground from exhaustion, trying to catch my breath.
Growling and barking started from the remaining rogues surrounding me, wasting no time in charging at me. I‘d anticipated for a moment of confusion as they took in what had just occurred, but clearly, they were smarter than I‘d given them credit for.
It seemed there was no time for even the smallest of breaks.
Shakily, I got back to my feet and held my ground, confident that if I was dying today, it wasn‘t going to be by the hand of a rogue.
But before I could make my first move, suddenly a hand was on my shoulder pausing me.
…And a wave of our own warriors suddenly swarmed past me as they engaged in battle, swiftly starting to take down the remaining rogues.
“Are you okay?” he asked, never taking his eyes off the enemy in front of us.
I wiped away some blood dripping from my nose. “Don‘t worry about me.”
It had been a while since that had happened, usually occurring after I‘d strained myself too much from my ability. Though I guess I‘d never tried to command over four hundred pack–less wolves before.
Brayden then approached, his expression carefully analysing the battle happening around us.
“I need you both to go back to your units,” I instructed, realising their presence here was only going to negatively impact us. “You don‘t need to protect me. I can still fight.”
And they both nodded their heads, knowing better than to argue with me right now.
“Oh, and Brayden?” | quickly added before he could go.
He turned back to look at me attentively.
‘Today is your day to prove me wrong,” I said, meeting his gaze directly. “Prove to me that you are actually fit to become Gamma of this pack one day.”
And he nodded his head once more, leaving to join his unit in battle.
Once gone, I stared at the remaining rogues still kneeling. I didn‘t have enough energy in me to order this many people again. If they were to remove themselves from this battle now, it would need to be of their own volition.
They were more of a hindrance to the fighting than of any help in their current position, taking up too much room on the battleground.
But I did feel bad for them, if only a little bit. All the rogues I‘d heard speak until now had mentioned that they found themselves on Thea‘s side due to the possibility of a new life. Just how bad was it being a rogue that they would open themselves up to such danger?
“For those of you who are here on the promise of salvation,” I said to the crowd kneeling, “I proposition to you a chance at sanctuary should you leave this battle now. If you wish to contribute to society again, I can give you my word that you will have shelter and food, even if that‘s not within the Winter Mist.
What I offer to you today is the opportunity to redeem yourselves and build a new home with the assistance ! can extend to you… Resources, guidance, an alliance. Things that even many established packs in this country would jump at the chance to receive from us.”
I could only imagine what crimes some of these people must have committed in their life. However, if they were desperate enough to die in order to escape their reality, then it had to be worth giving them a better deal to remove them from this battle. To better our odds of surviving today and eliminate any chance of Thea overriding my order.
…And not just that either, but I knew people could change. I had firsthand experience of that very fact.
“What you‘ve been told is a lie,” I continued. “Handing me over to Thea will not give you what you desire, I promise you that. All it will accomplish is your own destruction. She is working against you, not with you. And not just the rogues, but all of us.
Regardless of whether you hail from a pack or not, she is working towards the ultimate demise of our entire species. Even if you don‘t wish to establish a new home, implore you to not find yourself on the wrong side of history here today. Leave… leave now before it‘s too late.”
I saw as many of their faces showed confliction, unsure of whether to trust me, and I held my breath tentatively. Would it be enough?
But sure enough, one after another they slowly started to rise to their feet, walking away from the battle and into the woods. They made their choice.
I quietly exhaled in relief, my heart still racing.
Now that they had been taken care of, I looked up towards the fight happening further back. It seemed things were going smoothly with minimal casualties so far, but I knew that could easily change without warning.
And then my eyes caught it.
A figure standing to the side, shrouded in the shadows provided by the trees.
There was only one person it could be, one person who would be so casually standing back to watch what was happening without much concern.
Now the real battle begins.
I immediately moved to approach but, before I could even take two steps, I was abruptly stopped by her voice in my head, freezing me from moving even another inch.
Words that shook me to my core, filling me with cold dread.
The very thing I‘d feared more than anything. …. Reckless of you to rush into war for a man already dead,‘ she whispered.