“F#ck!” I yelled in frustration as I threw yet another folder of files to the ground. “It’s been months now, Aleric, and we’re still no better off than when we started.”
Aleric was seated by the windowsill of our small office area, papers of his own in hand that he’d been reviewing. He seemed used to my small occasional outbursts these days and usually ignored them, but today he just turned his face to me, raising a sole eyebrow as if to silently ask ‘really’?.
I buried my face in my hands, utterly exhausted and not needing his further judgment. When was the last time I’d slept peacefully? Before Myra’s death?
After Cai was taken in, days had turned into weeks, which had turned into months, all with little change.
My seventeenth birthday had passed without celebration, or even with any sort of acknowledgement. How could I while Cai remained imprisoned when I’d promised to clear his name quickly?
The allegations had ended up being a lot worse than we first anticipated. It soon became known that he wasn’t just under investigation for the weapon theft and warrior attack; he was also under suspicion of working with the rogues. Something that, if proven true, would possibly link him to the death of Myra as well.
Apparently back when Aleric and I were ambushed, an independent internal review began into how the information might have leaked to give our exact whereabouts. The case ran for a while and was even almost dropped as being a coincidence when the rogues were discovered living in the cave on our territory.
Their extensive knowledge of our river systems and their ability to establish themselves without being found, all in addition to the already suspicious Golden Blade pack attack, meant that a case was being made to suggest inside help.
And right now they were all pointing fingers at Cai. Someone who had extensive knowledge of the territory having lived here for a year on exchange, who would have connections to ranked members he’d befriended during that time, and who would benefit from the downfall of our pack in the future.
After all, in my previous life, it was because of Cai’s father asking for a reduction in tax that ended in his beheading. The Silver Lake was already rising in power now and soon would be almost on par with the Winter Mist as equals. It would just be a matter of time before they’d be asking for that reduction.
As for the silver dagger, no one had been able to provide a clear motive as to why Cai tried to steal it back, but the running theory currently was revolving around how the dagger originated from the rogues. Some were even speculating that there was missed evidence on the dagger linking the murder of Myra to Cai; one of the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard.
The only reason Cai hadn’t gone to trial yet was due to both Aleric and I petitioning Alpha Tytus for an extension in order to uncover further evidence. Or more so because I had been harassing Tytus so frequently it was almost to the point of being banned from meetings.
And so, after months of filtering through reports, files and alibis as to where Cai had been and what he’d been doing, we were getting to the end of our sources to continue the investigation.
Tracking down reliable witnesses to confirm his presence was difficult since the Golden Blade attack took place back when Cai was travelling. Even Cai was unsure exactly where he was at certain dates and times.
All the while this was going on, tensions between the Silver Lake pack and the Winter Mist continued to rise. Alpha Tobias, Cai’s father, was furious his only son was currently locked up under false allegations; allegations Tytus was standing strong on until proven innocent.
Letters had been going back and forth for some months between the territories and everyone could tell that negotiations were finally getting to breaking point. Soon, the one thing we had all been trying to avoid would possibly be coming to fruition…
It was something I was still determined to prevent at all costs though.
And, as for Thea? Well, there was almost an unspoken ceasefire between us for now. For whatever reason, she hadn’t ended up telling anyone that I’d attempted to murder her or that I had been the one to possess the dagger. In fact, she had been living under pack protection all these months due to her ‘rogue attack’, as if she were too scared to go back to her home.
She wasn’t formally one of us, but it was more like a visa of sorts granting her permission to stay for her safety.
In exchange for her silence, I hadn’t pursued any further investigation into her yet. The information she possessed could have easily been used against me to create the very scenario we were currently avoiding; something I was sure she knew.
Somehow I had a feeling that if I pushed her the wrong way right now, she would be taking me down with her. Whatever she was planning though, evidently it wasn’t time urgent since she hadn’t made a move.
In fact, it seemed more like she was enjoying herself as watched me scrambling to fix what I’d done, as if I were her biggest form of entertainment right now.
“Well, with that,” Aleric said suddenly, breaking me from my thoughts, “It’s time to get going. We’ve got errands to run, remember? Are you coming today”?
I stared at the piles of documents overcrowding my small desk with resignation. Though most of them I’d already sifted through, I knew I should begin looking through them again in case I’d missed anything the first time.
“Ah, I can’t…,” I said. “Are you able to take Alexander instead”?
He rubbed at his eyes as he stood up to stretch. We’d been at this for hours already and I knew he was just as tired as me.
“Your cousin is starting to drive me insane, I hope you know that. He thinks we’re best friends now because I’ve been giving so many of your shifts to him.
Barely gives me space to breathe. I wonder if he realises that I can’t actually interfere with the results of the Beta heir trial once you’re eighteen.”
I gave him a small apologetic half smile. “I’m sorry… I just feel like maybe I’m still missing something here.”
“Yeah, yeah, do what you have to,” he muttered, grabbing his things to go. “If I murder your cousin though it’s on you.”
He left after that, leaving me alone in the office.
There hadn’t been any more rogue sightings recently but that was both a good and bad thing. Whilst I didn’t like the idea of anyone getting hurt, any new information on them would have been nice to help build this case for Cai.
But I did find it odd how quiet everything was suddenly. It was almost as if they were waiting for something or someone to give them instructions. A someone I was sure was Thea.
Her presence around here was stressful enough without the possibility of there being an inside spy within the pack.
A spy that I knew at least couldn’t be Thea since she wasn’t in the pack during the original events. This meant that it had to be someone else feeding her that information.
And I realised then that instead of proving Cai’s innocence, maybe I should have been focusing on finding a culprit for the mole. It would be easy enough to also pin the missing dagger on them if they were proven to be working with the rogues.
My mind instantly went to the memory of Doctor Andrews in the cave where I’d killed him. How did he end up joining the pack if he was originally a rogue? If he had somehow managed to infiltrate us, then didn’t that mean there could be others? Others who maybe were associated with the rogues without my knowledge?
I quickly grabbed my notepad and started writing. It was a list of names of everyone I could remember in my past life that had an impact on the events leading to my death. It wasn’t a particularly long list from what I was able to recall but it was enough.
And, in the end, it became a list of five names…
Jonathan, the warrior who found the herbs under my bed and testified against me in the trial. I barely knew anything about him in this life and rarely saw him around.
He seemed like a good possibility all things considered for being a former rogue or having connections to them due to the mystery surrounding him. But I had to admit, it seemed unfair to accuse someone of something so serious based purely on my lack of information.
Sophie, my old attendant who I already knew threw me under the bus during the trial to save herself. Or so I thought. Wasn’t there the possibility she was working with Thea the entire time? She had better access to me than most and would have had information about me that no one else would know. The problem was I hadn’t seen Sophie once since coming back.
And though she could just be off living in a different pack currently, this didn’t discount her as being a rogue either. Regardless though, it did, unfortunately, mean she most likely wasn’t the inside spy given she was yet to show herself once in the pack yet.
Brayden, the current Gamma heir who had also testified against me in the trial and recalled how cruel I’d acted towards Thea. I didn’t particularly like adding a ranked member to the list but I had to admit it was weird how he always defended Thea and not his Luna.
His father Oliver was also a prime example of the old traditional type wolf who hated to let me speak. I didn’t have a clear motive as to why he would betray me in my past life but Brayden could potentially be a suspect in the current one after I humiliated his father a few years ago.
But seeing Brayden’s name forced me to consider further something I hated to admit; that being a ranked member also gave them easy access to information that most wouldn’t. This was especially true in regards to intel surrounding the whereabouts of the Alpha and Beta heirs.
And with that reasoning, I regrettably added two more names;
Alexander, my own cousin, and William, my uncle. Alexander didn’t testify against me in the trial but there was a motive; both in this life and the previous. In the past, he would have benefitted from me being dethroned as it would have impacted my father severely.
If William really did want Alexander to succeed as Beta, then doing anything to remove or discredit my father as soon as possible would have worked in their favour. And then there was the present day. In this life, I was a direct threat to Alexander acquiring that title all by myself. How far would they be willing to go for it?
I stared at the list in front of me, knowing that it was a long shot that any of these would pay off. There was always the possibility that none of these people were involved and I was just wasting my time. But could I take that chance?
…And so I came up with a plan.
Everyone, except for Sophie, I had access to. All I needed to do was trick them into revealing themselves. If I tried to force them out of hiding then I could only assume that they would dig themselves down deeper, unwilling to confess. This left limited options.
Looks like I was clocking into work after all.
Within the hour I had caught up with Aleric and Alexander who were at the packhouse checking in with the advisors. Both of them looked bored and I could sympathise with the less than thrilling workload. I felt a little guilty knowing I’d skipped out on doing it myself.
“Aleric!” I called out, a small sense of urgency in my voice.
He turned to me and I could see the confusion register on his face immediately. “…Aria?”
Alexander was also surprised to see me but he came across as more curious than anything.
“Thank Goddess I found you,” I said animatedly. “I’ve had a breakthrough. We need to talk as soon as possible.”
“What? Now? What about?”
“No, not here,” I replied, scanning my eyes around the room.
There were a few people around but it was only the three of us in earshot. I wouldn’t need to worry about anyone else overhearing us.
“…It’s about Thea,” I whispered. “I think I’ve figured out how she… did that thing and I can prove it too.”
Aleric’s eyes widened. “What? How”?
“Shhh,” I hushed, his voice being a tad too loud. “Not here, I said. We’ll meet tonight at that clearing in the woods… you know that one that is sort of near the school?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
“Perfect,” I said, smiling. “This is going to be huge, I promise. We’re going to take her down.”
“What’s all this about?” Alexander asked, his curiosity now completely peaked.
“Oh, don’t worry about it. Just a lead from that old case we were working on,” I replied casually. “Anyway, I’ve got to go… but I’ll see you tonight, Aleric?”
“Yeah, that’s fine, just let me know what time.”
His words were cut off abruptly as I suddenly pulled him into my arms to hug him.
I could feel as his body had turned entirely rigid against me, too shocked to move. His uncertainty as to how to respond was evident.
“Amazing!” I said pulling away quickly as if nothing was off. “I’ll see you there at around nine then!”
I turned around without waiting for a reply, an excited pep in my step, and headed back to my car without delay.
“Bye Aleric! By Alexander!” I called out over my shoulder.
Now I just needed to wait for tonight.
The time waiting around until nine went by fast.
I’d spent the rest of the day around town in public… but I’d been on edge, watching my back the entire time. Somehow though, even with all that nervousness, I couldn’t help but be excited over the outcome of the meeting that night.
If everything went to plan, then we might come one step closer to freeing Cai and possibly exposing the spy.
I sat on a rock within the clearing, appearing relaxed to any onlookers. What they wouldn’t see was that my leg was poised underneath me to kick off and dodge any attacks at a seconds notice if anyone tried anything.
Everything was eerily quiet for a long time, almost too quiet, before my ears finally picked up on the distinct sound of paws against the dirt and dried leaves around me.
I wasn’t alarmed though. Instead, I sighed out in mild annoyance and relaxed my body.
True to my initial thought, several minutes later I watched as Aleric came out from a nearby tree, pulling on a shirt he must have stashed there before shifting.
“No one here,” he called out, walking up to me. “I’ve checked the surrounding area at least three times.”
“So you found my note,” I said, smiling slightly.
“…Yes, was a bit hard to miss when you suddenly touched my ass during a hug.”
I shrugged. “At least you found it. I had to get it to you without Alexander realising. I didn’t think he would notice me slip it into your back pocket that way.”
“Well, I doubted it would be him anyway.”
“True… but can’t be too careful, right?” I said with a small sigh. “One out of three though. We still have two more to go. How did everything with Brayden go?
He shook his head, frowning. “Nothing there either. He didn’t react at all but I’m not sure if that’s just because he was too dense to realise. I don’t even think he has a single original thought of his own if I’m being completely honest. Pretty sure he isn’t even aware of half the things happening in the pack right now.”
I gave a small chuckle even though it was more bad news. Something about Brayden being a complete airhead didn’t surprise me though. However, this did, unfortunately, mean there was only one option left.
And it meant doing the last plan that I had been hoping to avoid.
“…Okay…,” I said reluctantly. “So… Jonathan”?
“Told him to follow up with Thea,” he confirmed. “He’s going to see her tomorrow.”
I nodded. It was a last resort type of plan but I was hoping it would pay off.
“Okay good, I guess. Even if he doesn’t betray you, it will be forcing Thea to lie in order to protect herself.”
“What if she genuinely does have a human family out there”?
“Then it’s still more information than I have right now. Anything is better than nothing.”
Chasing after Thea was breaking the silent ceasefire we’d seemed to have formed, but I felt the payout was worth the risk. My hope was that if the order came from Aleric and not myself, then Thea would have to act accordingly to not expose herself.
This was why I’d spent all of today, and planned to spend all of tomorrow also, out in public. If she had people watching me then she’d have to know that I wasn’t directly involved in Aleric’s decision to query her.
The idea was that Aleric would be following up on her family for when the investigation wrapped up. Only, if Thea had no actual family out there, then it would mean catching her in the lie.
Most importantly though, if Thea ran off before she could be questioned or something seemed off, then we knew Jonathan was in on it and possibly the spy. Aleric had set the order to give the pretence that it was coming from Alpha Tytus, but in reality, it was just the three of us who knew the instructions.
Given the higher up command, Jonathan would be under the false impression that someone else could be accused of leaking the information but he’d be wrong. As soon as Thea or Jonathan acted off, we’d know it was him.
Aleric and I were both in thought for a few moments before a cold breeze finally hit me and I shivered. It was supposed to be getting warmer but the nights remained cold even now. I didn’t mind too much but I certainly didn’t want to hang around here any longer than I needed to.
“Alright,” I said, pushing myself off the rock. “…Guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” he agreed.
We both started walking back to where I’d parked my car, a silence between us as we both continued to mull over the plans ahead.
“Hey, Aria…,” he said, cutting through the quiet that had settled. “How did you come up with these names anyway? Seems sort of random.”
“Oh, um, I mean… investigating the ranked members seems like a natural thing to do. Their access to information is better than most.”
“Okay… sure. But Jonathan? Like I barely know the guy and it seems pretty specific to target him.”
He was right there, it would seem like an odd choice.
“Well… yeah, I mean, I barely know him too,” I said awkwardly. “He gives me a weird vibe, you know? Like he keeps to himself a bit too much?”
Aleric frowned, considering my answer, but he didn’t get the chance to say anything else…
…Because suddenly Alexander was running towards us.
Next to me, I felt as Aleric shifted into a defensive position, ready to attack if need be. This was one of the outcomes we’d set up to expect… but it didn’t feel right.
Alexander looked more panicked than he did aggressive, his body showing no signs of danger.
“…It’s okay,” I said the Aleric, reaching a hand out in front of him to stop any preemptive attack. “He’s not here because of Thea.”
Aleric relaxed slightly but I could still feel his uneasiness as we watched Alexander approach.
“Aleric! Aria!” he called out, greeting us. I could feel the urgency in his voice.
“What are you doing here, Alexander?” I asked. “This was a private meeting.”
He was showing signs of being out of breath. Whatever this was, it was important enough to have run a fair distance to reach us.
“It’s about that case you’re working on for Caius,” he said, bent over to catch his breath. “I thought you’d want to know… something has happened.”
I felt myself freeze, trying to think through everything that could have possibly gone wrong. But there were too many things though. The list was longer than I had time to process.
“…What is it?” I asked, scared to hear the answer.
“It’s the Silver Lake pack…,” he started, looking up to meet my gaze.
“…They’ve declared war.”