Tytus smiled between Alexander and I, clearly eager for whatever was about to ensue. In response, I couldn‘t help but squirm a little under his gaze.
Naturally, my father had to leave me to sit by Tytus given his rank. I watched him go and tried to not outwardly express just how nervous I was about him leaving me.
But he needed to show that he was unbiased in this decision, and I needed to show that I didn’t require my father to fight my battles for me.
“Okay, Aria,” Tytus started. “Why don‘t you begin by telling us why you’re here today?”
It was clear by those selected to attend that they all knew already what I was about to say, and yet he wanted to hear it from me anyway.
Once again, I found myself having to tread carefully, stuck in the game I knew Tytus was laying out for me. I knew he wanted me to become Luna but I didn’t know yet what he thought of my desire to be Beta.
Would it be enough for him to feel I was contained and not a threat? Or did he see through my plan to make myself immune, trapping his son should he ever cross me? “Alpha, I’m here today to appeal a process that has for too long been an outdated tradition of our kind,” I spoke out confidently. I knew if he sensed any weakness in me that it would be game over.
“I am here today to request you hear out my petition to succeed my father in his role as Beta when the time comes.”
There was a small murmur amongst the Elders but it wasn’t their whispers that worried me; it was the feeling of a cold stare on me, something I was too familiar with.
I spared a glance to the Alpha’s right for only a moment and caught Aleric’s eye. As I‘d thought, he wasn‘t happy with my announcement and was staring daggers at me.
My natural instinct was to shy away and submit to his icy gaze, but I held my own, only breaking eye contact to return my attention to the Alpha.
“Mmm… definitely an intriguing prospect coming from you, young Aria,” he mused. “And Alexander? What say you about all of this?”
“My son is the most qualified person in this pack to succeed my older brother upon his retirement,” my Uncle William replied.
“I believe I was asking Alexander, not you, William.”
Tytus stared down sharply at my uncle enough to make him bow his head apologetically. The awkward silence that fell was only broken moments later by Alexander clearing his throat, clearly nervous over how badly this had already started.
“Alpha, it would be my greatest honour to support our pack by becoming Beta one day. I am at the service of you, Aleric and our fellow pack members.” Tytus inhaled deeply in thought having listened to the replies on both sides. His eyes then turned back to me.
“Aria, tell me something…,” he said, reclining into his chair. “The last time we spoke you mentioned having no desire for the Luna position… or any other role of substantial authority
for that matter. What has finally changed your mind?”
I looked to my father and saw him nod at me in encouragement. “…My father has, Alpha,” I said after a pause in thought. “He has shown me the kind of strength I am capable of possessing and how my body doesn’t need to define who I am allowed to become.”
It wasn’t a lie but it wasn’t the entire truth. If it hadn’t been for my father accepting who I was, who I am, and who I could be, there would have been no possible way I would be standing here now before Tytus.
His training over this last month had proven to me that I was capable of changing who I was if I worked hard enough. That there was no reason to let others choose my fate for me; not even a Goddess. “I am the only direct descendant of the house of Chrysalis,” I continued.
“As you know, we have been the only family for hundreds of generations now to produce Betas time and time again. Our family’s wits and strength have guaranteed our position, never failing in any challenge issued for our rank. It is our family‘s right to hand over this title to the next in line.”
“Ridiculous!” Uncle William called out. “By your logic then, there should be no issue if my son takes over. We are your family too, after all.”
“Your son is not the direct descendant of this house,” I reminded him. “…I am.”
“Alpha, you’re not actually listening to this are you?” he laughed. “There has never been a female Beta, and for good reason too.
They do not have the strength required to defend the pack against larger male wolves. By extension, my Alexander is still of Beta blood and already started his training over a year ago. To jeopardize our pack’s safety for the sake of taking a chance on her is ridiculous. We have a perfectly good heir right here.”
He patted his son on the back who looked embarrassed that his father was still speaking on his behalf.
But I could barely pay attention to anything he was doing as my blood began to boil. His arrogance and blatant disrespect for me was evident. Without even knowing what I was capable of, he had already written me off for the sake of his own greed.
He most likely only wanted his son to become Beta to better his own chances of being accepted as an Elder one day. Anything to feel important, for once.
I stepped towards him, a fire now burning within me, and spoke of the one thing I knew he would not be able to refute. It was something I had never wanted to use, something I had refused to invoke before now, but I knew that it was my best hope.
When it came to breaking old habits of stubborn fools, sometimes you needed to take extreme measures. “Need I remind you who I am, uncle?” I yelled out, a chill in my words. Instantly, the room became dead silent.
My sudden stride towards Uncle William had also been enough to scare him backwards, even though I was still several feet away. His face was no longer laughing. “I am not some silly girl with hopeless ambitions as you may think,” I snapped. “I am Ariadne the Saintess, the marked. The chosen. I was selected by the Goddess herself and a piece of her lives within me.
I embody her will, her desires… and yet you are here, merely an insignificant unranked member of our pack, trying to tell me that my succession is not possible because of the gen!tals I possess?” His face had paled considerably as he stared at me, unable to make even a single reply.
I laughed cynically at his pathetic appearance. “I didn‘t realise our deity’s decrees would be met with such exclusive prerequisites these days. Since when have we held more faith in outdated procedures over the word of our great mother, Selene?”
I was obviously embellishing the truth a little. The Goddess, Selene, had made it clear her chosen fate for me was actually to be by Aleric’s side as Luna. But it wasn’t as if she was going to come down here and fact check me herself, nor would there be anyone in this room qualified to disagree with me.
At the end of the day, she gave me the power to choose my own destiny, and this is what I had decided to do with it.
I knew too well how she wouldn’t interfere with the choices her children made, having lived through that abandoned hell myself. Finally, I was able to exploit that system for myself.
“Aria,” Tytus said with a tone of warning. “You’ve made your point.” I peeled my eyes off William’s pitiful face only to turn back to the Alpha. “So, it would seem we have an interesting predicament here,” Tytus continued, deep in thought.
He then turned to my father who had been watching me tear into William, a mild amusement in his eyes the entire time. “Jarred, I imagine you wouldn’t have let her come in here today without having at least some trust in her capability to handle the job.
So, tell us, what is your personal experience with Aria that would persuade us to put our faith in her?” My father turned toward me as he spoke. “Her ability is commendable in almost all aspects, Alpha,” he started.
“She has already proven to me in a short amount of time that, not only does she hold an acute mind for all traits a leader should possess, but her talent in fighting has already far surpassed any expectations I could have possibly had for her age.”
“What good is your expectations when she will be knocked flat on her back the minute she is in a real battle, possibly even with a ranked male warrior?” my Uncle William chimed in, finally having found his voice again.
Unlike me, my father managed to keep his emotions mostly in check at his younger brother’s tasteless remark, choosing to only narrow his eyes just enough that most would have missed i
“She may not be as physically strong as your male fighters, sure,” he replied, “but I think you‘ll find that they will be lucky to just land a hit on her. Her agility and speed are like no other warrior I’ve ever seen. With continued training, I believe she may even become one of the best fighters in our pack.”
“It’s great to hear she takes after her old man,” Tytus said kindly. “…But before we get to making a decision on this, let’s not forget to address one of the largest obstacles still here in this room.”
His tone and mannerism then suddenly changed almost instantly, scrutinising me where I stood.
“Aria has been prophesied to, not only be my son’s mate, but has also been foretold to bring u
s great success should she accept that union. If we all choose to grant Aria her wish in this ambition of hers, then we must accept that we may lose that advantage as a possible side effect.”
“Alpha,” I interrupted, “with all due respect, I have already given you my word that I will act only in the interest of the pack to see us succeed.
There is no reason to force any romantic union between Aleric and I when I am fully capable of fulfilling my duties – regardless of whether that be ranked or unranked. However, I feel becoming Beta would be the best compromise for us both, would it not?”
I turned to look at Aleric and almost immediately regretted it. He was frowning in confusion, his eyes glaring at me.
I wasn’t able to stop the slight tremor that went down my spine. But I didn’t have time to mull on his behaviour for long as the Alpha spoke once more. “Very well, Aria,” he conceded.
“I will entertain the possibility that perhaps there is no real reason for you to be joined via mate bond. Perhaps the prophecy was misunderstood and it was merely pointing at the fact you both would hold positions of power to lead us forward.”
Another murmur went out amongst the Elders. I knew they didn’t agree with this interpretation at all, some of them having been actually present at the time when they allegedly came to this revelation of my future.
“I think I‘d like to take this to a vote,” Tytus finally concluded. “Aria, William, Alexander… please step outside for a moment whilst we converse. Both the discussion and the votes made from here on out will remain confidential from all involved parties.”
The three of us bowed and made our way out of the room.
The entire time we stood outside the door, Uncle William regarded me warily. I could tell he wanted to start an argument with me, his mouth opening and closing several times, but every time he was about to speak, he would just deflate again. A part of me wanted to smirk at how cowardly his true colours were.
Alexander on the other hand was silent, looking almost tired. I could only assume he was exhausted by his father’s continued attempts at pushing something onto him that he seemed to not particularly care about either way.
I assumed he was happy enough to accept the role, but he was lacking the same drive of ambition that I held. In a twisted way, it could be perceived as my uncle attempting to live through his son; wanting something for him that he had always been denied.
I wondered if Alexander was ever able to free himself of his father over the years I became Luna
It felt like an eternity waiting for the council to decide. As every second ticked past, the more nervous I became. I ended up leaning against the wall, eyes closed in thought, while I reviewed everything that had just happened in my mind.
However, next to me, my uncle had begun pacing nervously, something I was finding increasingly more annoying by the minute.
Some may say it was a good sign though, I told myself. If there had been a strong majority either way, then the voting would have been over already.
The fact that it had dragged out, for what felt like an hour now, could only mean that they were having trouble reaching a final decision.
And then, suddenly, the doors opened behind us.
We all looked up towards the Elder who stood there, their face completely unreadable. “Thank you all for your patience,” they said. “You can come in now…” “…We’ve reached a verdict.