“What do you want?” Aleric yelled out to them. They either didn’t hear or had no desire to answer because they approached us slowly without hesitation.
It was clear what their intention was. “Aleric?” I called out nervously. “What’s wrong with them?” I could see from here that something was off. Wrong. Their clothes were dishevelled and they looked like they hadn’t seen a proper bath in years. But not just that, they were also giving off some sort of weird vibe. Like they were sick…
“They look like rogues,” Aleric said, moving closer to my side to get into a defensive position. “You need to get out of here.”
“You’re joking, right?” I snapped. “I can handle myself in a fight, Aleric. What do you think I’ve been doing all these months?”
But his explanation made sense given their appearance. Normally, anyone who left a pack could be accepted into another after due process and screening. So, this meant that the remainder of those not accepted, those who had failed that process, were usually criminals banished.
They became rogues. But rogues were actually pretty hard to come by these days since territories had expanded so much. There wasn’t really any one place they could stay for long without being driven out by the pack in charge.
Something that made me wonder how they’d managed to make it so far into the Golden Blade territory, especially without being seen… and why they had come out of hiding to target us. “Why aren‘t they shifted?” I asked, warily eyeing them off as they paced around us.
There were four of them in total, each a fully grown male, and yet not one of them was in their wolf form. I could also see that one was far more muscular than the others and noted he was the one to be most careful of.
They were sizing us up, watching what we were doing carefully, and we were doing the same. Each side waiting for the other to move first.
“If I were to take a guess…,” Aleric said, looking around. “I would say it’s to help hide their scent in getting this far. Running past the boundary in wolf form would be picked up faster by the patrols.
The fur leaves a stronger scent.” I hadn’t realised that was a real thing, but then again, I‘d never dealt with rogues before, nor had I taken the time to notice the difference in potency back when I’d had my stronger sense o f smell.
fanlanmathing naging in my brain rnar
The whole situation seemed wrong though. I could feel something there was something obvious I wasn’t realising. But I had to push it aside, knowing I needed to
focus on what was in front of me if I didn‘t want to get killed. “You need to leave the minute there is an opening,” Aleric said. “Aleric!” I yelled angrily. “Enough!” And then one of them finally came forward, charging towards me. I moved to face him, ready for when he got closer, but Aleric was quicker.
He lunged forward and had him on the ground within seconds with a powerful hit to the rogue’s head
There was no hesitation in Aleric‘s movements. Everything he did was confident and fluid.
So much power displayed as tackled the rogue down, the man‘s head hitting the ground with such impact that there was no hope he had survived. He had died immediately.
This enraged the others, seeing the death of their comrade occur so fast. They advanced quickly on us before we’d even had a moment to get our bearings. Two went for Aleric, the largest of the bunch being one of them. The third ran towards me, but I was ready.
He swung his arm out to catch me in the face, but I moved back and dodged it effortlessly. His movements were sluggish compared to my father and Cai, but his body was more built, more muscled. I knew getting an effective hit on him would be hard and would need to focus on his weak points.
Next to me, Aleric was fighting off the other two. His main focus was on the larger one but he was having to keep his defence up against the second rogue as well.
He didn‘t look to be in any trouble, or at least he didn‘t show it, but I could also see he wasn’t making much progress against either of them in terms of offensive attack.
Before me, the man was still continuing his aggressive approach. But I wasn‘t letting him anywhere near me. I abruptly leapt backwards, catching him off guard as he tilted off–balance; the momentum of his flying fist having sent him forwards.
I took the opportunity and managed to get my leg up with enough force to kick him back the way he came, my foot connecting with his face with enough power to hear a crunch. I assumed it was his nose.
He fell flat to the ground behind him and I quickly jumped on him, not wanting to miss the chance to finish him off. But blow after blow against him, I found I wasn’t having any success. He was neither staying still nor passing out.
…But then I saw it.
His hand twitching towards something at his side, and for a brief second, I swore I saw a flash of the moonlight catch on a metal surface. Immediately, I realised what he was planning.
Still straddling him, I quickly moved my hand to where he was reaching. However, he had a firm grip on it now and was refusing to let go. I didn‘t let this sway my determination though.
I let go for only a second. Just enough to punch him as hard as I could in the nose, allowing for his hand to loosen, and quickly I unsheathed the dagger he had concealed there.
I didn’t even hesitate or pause.
No, I immediately embedded it directly into his chest…
…And finally, he stopped moving. I sighed out in relief, knowing I‘d stopped at least one of them and could help Aleric fight now. But then everything happened so quickly.
Too fast for me to have done anything about it. I stood up, inspecting the body below me for movement, when suddenly I heard a panicked voice behind me. “Aria!” Aleric yelled.
I instantly spun to where I’d heard his voice but found he was closer than I’d thought. In fact, his back was now directly in front of me, obscuring my view completely of whatever was happening… …And all I proceeded to hear was a grunt, the sound of flesh being sliced open… followed by Aleric moving his arms in a forceful movement that created a sickening snapping noise. I realised what had happened straight away.
I moved quickly, desperate to see for myself, and pushed my way forward to witness the scene before me.
Aleric stood there frozen, a knife in his stomach, with the body of a dead rogue before him; their head turned to an unnatural angle.
…And I screamed.
I screamed out over what I was seeing. Because I realised what had been nagging me this whole time.
It wasn’t because of the rogues, or why they were here. It was because this was my vision. This was where it took place. The tree line, the dimly lit pathway. All of it.
This was where Aleric died.
I turned and looked at the last remaining rogue who was staring at me expectantly; the largest one of the bunch. But he couldn‘t have known what was waiting for him. It was like my body lost control and I moved faster than I had ever before, faster than I had ever thought possible.
And before he could even register where I was, I had climbed my way up him, swinging myself around his torso until I sat upon his shoulders.
He didn’t even get a chance to lay a finger on me before I had snapped his neck, his body crumpling to the ground under me. I didn‘t turn to inspect my handiwork this time though. Instead, I immediately left him and ran to Aleric.
His face was so pale as he looked down at the knife below him in surprise. I could see him start to go into shock over what had happened, his hand feebly reaching towards the knife but not touching it.
And then he began to sway, his legs starting to give out. I rushed forward to catch him before he fell to the ground, his head managing to land against my shoulder. My legs had almost buckled under the weight of him but somehow I kept standing.
I wanted to be sick, the sound of my heart beating so loudly in my ears that I felt like I was going to go insane. Everything was happening just as the vision had told me, but I had gotten it wrong. So wrong. It hadn’t shown me the rogues. It hadn’t shown me the battle.
All it had given me was the way he died. I could feel the tip of the knife in his stomach as he rested against me and knew what would happen next.
He would push himself off me just as I grabbed at the hilt, making himself bleed out slowly to his death
But it was strange though. A knife like this shouldn‘t have hurt Aleric so badly. His accelerated healing should have meant that, whilst he would be wounded badly, he shouldn‘t bleed to death from it. So, what could have possibly caused what happened in my vision?
And then I realised it only left one possibility.
Before I could test anything though, Aleric suddenly gr0aned and I felt him begin to shift his weight. He was just about to push himself off me, but I quickly held onto him, preventing the vision from becoming reality. “Woah, wait, wait, wait,” I quickly instructed, stopping him. “Just slowly. I‘m going to help lay you down.”
As gently as I could, I lowered Aleric to the ground until he was finally laying flat. “Aria…,” he mumbled, his hand reaching towards the stab wound. “Don’t touch it,” I ordered, though I wasn’t sure if he could hear me. I firmly placed his hand by his side just in case. I didn’t waste any more time after that and knew I needed to confirm my theory.
Quickly, I began to inspect him. I pushed his skin down the blade just enough that I could squeeze my fingertip onto the surface, and immediately I felt the mild burn upon contact. As I had suspected, the knife was made of special silver. My heart sank. On a surface level against our skin, the silver would only cause mild irritation.
But embedded into someone like this…? Well, there was no way he’d be able to heal himself. Even though he was not of age to shift yet, the silver would still stop his wolf DNA from accelerating the little healing ability he did have, keeping the wound open.
And even if I removed the knife now, it would still take several hours before his skin would start to recover. This meant the best option was to leave the knife inside him… but even then, if it’s left in too long, it could also poison him. I could only assume this was why I had seen the vision; so I knew not to take the knife out yet.
Removing it now would just cause him to bleed out quickly, but leaving it in for a bit longer may buy him some time It was clear Aleric would need serious medical attention to survive. Something that I wasn’t completely sure how to go about getting for him.
And then something came to me. Something familiar yet foreign.
It was a voice coming from a small part of my mind. The voice of someone I’d been working to bury deep inside me since coming back.
And it spoke to me, convincing me to do something I would have never considered. … You could just pull the knife out,‘ the voice said quietly. I looked down at Aleric’s body, shocked that a part of me had even thought of doing that.
How could I willingly kill him after everything that had just happened? ‘You would be saving the lives of thousands if you did it,‘it continued. ‘No one would even know it was you. They’d say it was the rogues.’
…And I realised it was true.
If I pulled the knife out this very second and let him die, no one would even know, and it would guarantee avoiding a future where he would tyrannically reign over the entire country.
So many people would live. Countless families would never have to learn the heartbreak of losing a loved one from a needless war for power.
My hand twitched at my side over the thought of doing it. It would be so easy. I could redeem myself for those I’d hurt in my past because of him.
But as I looked up at his face, oddly peaceful now he‘d fallen unconscious, I wondered over what lay ahead for him. Wasn’t it possible to change his future just as I was now changing mine?
‘You saw him in that council room,‘ the voice said. “You saw he is still the same man deep inside.’
But the more I thought about it, the more I became conflicted.
…And I realised that, no, what I had thought was wrong.
I mentally shook off the thoughts inside me. I knew that wasn’t the same. Back in that room, he’d acted out of a just cause of trying to defend me, not out of lust for power. He showed me he was capable of good even if he went about it the wrong way.
And so, I knew what I had to do.
I stood up, running a few steps towards the main building, and screamed. I screamed as loud as I possibly could, over and over again, pleading for someone to come help. And even when my throat burned, I still didn‘t stop. Thankfully, help arrived fairly quickly.
The warriors rushed to his side and began inspecting the wound, but their faces didn‘t look hopeful. I tried to tune them out but it was hard not to listen when they were talking about his low chances of survival.
And as I continued to watch over him, terrified that Aleric wasn’t going to make it, I scolded myself for having even considered something so abominable. Because in my head, I knew he was capable of changing.
He had been willing to die for me, to shield me from having a knife plunged into my back. How could I even begin to doubt that he couldn’t become a better man?
…But I couldn’t help but think of one other reason also. Though whilst it was not nearly as important, there was one other thing that had been stuck in my mind the entire time the warriors worked over him.
And that was that he had called me Aria for the very first time.