“…What‘s her name?” I found myself asking politely, though I didn‘t really feel present.
Truthfully, I didn‘t feel much of anything. My body had gone completely numb, falling into autopilot responses as I struggled to come to terms with what Cai had just told me.
He found his mate.
But he was only nineteen. He shouldn‘t have found her so soon.
‘Caius knight dies at the age of twenty–one with no Luna, mate or child‘. That was the future for Cail had known. Yet somehow this timeline had changed enough that he had met her earlier.
It was a cruel slap in the face as reality reminded me, once more, that it would refuse to ever let me be happy. Even for just the few years I thought I might have had with him.
“Caitlyn,” he replied awkwardly. “She seems… nice. Sweet.”
‘Nice? Really? That was the best he could say about the woman who was supposedly his other half? His soul mate?
I wanted to ask him how they met but a part of me couldn‘t bear to hear any more details. Knowing her name would be enough.
“Aria,” he said, tilting my chin up to look at him, to meet his golden eyes. “It doesn‘t change anything for me… I still want to be with you.”
Instantly, my body tensed, the gears in my head finally starting to kick back into reality. His words managed to trigger a pain inside me that I was all too familiar with, something I had tried so hard to push to the furthest part of my mind. It was almost exactly like it was in the past.
…Except I wasn‘t the girl being abandoned by her mate anymore.
No, now I was being set up to become Thea.
“No,” I said flatly, grabbing the keys and dagger by my side to leave. “No, I‘m not doing this.”
“Aria, wait. Talk to me.”
I stood up and started to walk towards the car but Cai quickly rushed to stand in my way.
“Aria, please. Can we just talk about this for a second?”
“No, this was dumb from the beginning,” I said. “And I‘m not just referring to us. I mean this whole plan for my escape too. It‘s rushed and clumsy.”
“We‘ve got everything sorted. We‘ll get you back to the Silver Lake and take care of you.”
There it was again. No insinuation of moving me, no mention of Iris or the rebellion. As if he thought everyone wasn‘t going to just assume that the Silver Lake was the first place I‘d go.
“Tell me, Cai, what exactly was the plan? Do you even have one?” I asked, folding my arms over my chest. “I was under the impression you were working with Iris for this but I‘m quickly realising that maybe that‘s not the case.”
He frowned. “Why would I be in contact with Iris for this? I haven‘t seen her since last year.”
A cynical laugh escaped my lips. “This is actually ridiculous. The first place Tytus is going to look is the Silver Lake, especially once Aleric is forced to confess that info. Then we‘re back to square one; avoiding a war between two territories because of me.”
“Then we‘ll move you,” he argued. “We can go somewhere else until it‘s safe.”
“Just the three of us, yeah?” I snapped back snarkily. “You, me, and Caitlyn?”
His face flashed with pain but I didn‘t feel bad. He should have never touched me tonight knowing he had someone bonded to him. I was too familiar with the anguish of seeing your mate with another.
“I‘ll figure it out myself. Go home, Cai,” I said, stepping past him to continue walking to the car.
Either out of stupidity or desperation, I felt as Cai then grabbed my wrist and tried to pull me to face him once more.
But I was angry. No, I was pissed. Not because he had a mate; that was always going to be a possibility and I had already accepted that. No, I was pissed because he still had the audacity to look at me and tell me that he wanted me, knowing someone was waiting for him, knowing my history and how I‘d lived through this exact situation already once.
And so when he reached out to grab me, my instincts got the better of me.
Though much slower than my Beta heir days, I still managed to quickly bring the dagger up and hold it up to his throat.
“Don‘t touch me,” I growled.
His eyes went wide in surprise but I didn‘t waver. In truth, we both knew he could very easily swat my hand away without any issue whatsoever, but the sentiment was now there. The intention was clear. This was my message to him.
“You wouldn‘t,” he said, his eyes flicking back and forth from my face to the knife.
A challenge. Maybe his words had meant to come off as appealing to the side of me that still cared for him, but now they only came off as though he wanted to test that loyalty.
…And instantly, my hand tightened on the blade.
“You think I wouldn‘t do it?” I asked him, my eyes narrowing with the threat. “You‘re so sure, Cai?”
In truth, I knew he was right. There was no way I would actually do it and he was trying to call that bluff. But in that moment, I sure as hell didn‘t feel like being underestimated.
Because to serve that torture upon another young girl, to repeat that cycle… the very fact he could even ask that of me made me feel sick. It made me regret so many of my actions and question why I had let things even get this far to begin with.
And it was a reminder of who I really was, what I was actually capable of, something he was apparently still blissfully unaware of.
‘Never forget where I came from. Never forget why I‘m here.‘
He frowned in confusion but I didn‘t wait. With my spare hand, I grabbed at his shirt and pulled his torso down so I could speak directly into his ear.
“You know… I‘ve done it before,” I whispered. “You shouldn‘t test someone who has killed more people than you have.”
“What? …What are you talking about?”
“Lied to you, Cai,” I confessed. “I lied so I didn‘t scare you away. But do you want to know the truth? The real truth? You see, I knew you in the past, Caius Knight, Alpha of the Silver Lake. Our packs were at war for months, neither one gaining the upper hand… and then you died. At the age of twenty-one, you died alone. No mate. No children. And do you know why?”
I pulled my lace away just enough so I could look him in the eye. “Because of me,” I said. “I was your dooth. I killed you. I did it for my own political advantage….”
My breathing then became heavier, my heart pounding loudly in my chest as I confessed the words! never wanted him to hear. “… I did it for my family‘s honour… I did it to make up for my own failures as a
mate would give me even a fraction of the attention he had so brutally deprived me off! That was what your life was wortii, Cai. That is why I killed you. For me.”
We remained still as neither of us spoke, just my words hanging in the open as he slowly took it all in.
But I needed him to hear this. To realise the full gravity of who I really was. I needed him to understand that he didn‘t really have feelings for me, just a version of me I‘d let him see. Not some young, tormented girl he met in high school… but a killer.
Someone who had wiped more territories off the map just from within her own quarters, than he had ever visited from his entire time travelling the country.
Truthfully, I should have done this a long time ago. But had been too weak to go through with it; to sever that tie that had become a lifeline for me. Cai had become a symbol in my head of what I had always hoped my life would become. The dream of a perfect future with someone I could love.
However, it was just that; a dream. An illusion. And it was time to wake up and acknowledge that this wasn‘t a fantasy, that being with him was always something that was never going to end well. Because now look at where we are.
It was time for us to let go of that delusion and prevent a cycle from repeating.
“Aria…,” he said, gently trying to move the dagger away.
It was so typical of him to not just force it out of my hand and push me away already. He could have overpowered me within seconds without any effort on his part… but he was trying not to hurt me, Somehow after everything I said, he was still acting as if he cared.
And so I pressed the knife in further, trying to prove my point. Because, even though I didn‘t want to, needed him to at least believe I would, to take me seriously, and it seemed this was the only way he was going to realise that.
“Do you want to make it two for two?” I asked darkly.
Immediately, he let his hand fall back to his side, acknowledging that there was nothing he could do to change the situation.
And yet searching his face, I couldn‘t help but wonder how incredibly naive it was of him to still look at me with those eyes. As if I hadn‘t just confessed to murdering him. As if a part of him actually still wanted to be with me.
But the damage was done, I knew that. He would be at least smart enough to realise that he should let me go. Or at least take this as my confirmation that I didn‘t want to be involved with him anymore; even though a part of my mind was still screaming at me to take it all back, to find a way to still be with him… to not let go of my dream.
I quickly pulled away from him, taking a few steps backwards to create some distance.
“…Go home, Cai,” I said, my voice finally betraying my exhaustion. “Go home and be an honourable man to your mate.”
And then I left.
Into the car, the key in the ignition, and I left.
I didn‘t know where to go, yet I realised that all paths ahead were likely the wrong choice. And so I just drove. Without a destination, into the dark, and with my eyes threatening to overflow with tears at any second.
But there was no time to relax or give in to the pain just yet… because I needed to think.
And so, doing my best to compartmentalize the aching inside, I tried to focus on what to do now.
To go home meant risking my life once more to the mercy of assassins and Tytus, yet to run away meant risking my life to the mercy of the world… and Tytus. There was no safety for me.
Not really. Maybe if I could get in contact with Iris I could try and find a way into the network she had spoken about.
The issue was that I knew of only one person, outside of the Winter Mist, who was in contact with Iris, one person who I could trust my life and whereabouts with… and it was the same person I had just threatened with a knife.
But the more I drove away, the more I started to think about the whole situation I was in. The vision, the kidnapping… and the response that was caused in retaliation to those things… and suddenly I saw it all from Thea‘s perspective. The missing link I had been mulling over for the entire afternoon, working desperately to try and figure out why she might have done this.
And the answer was… for this.
For this exact response.
She didn‘t want me dead; that much was clear from how the intruder had behaved in the vision. No, she just wanted me to further separate myself from the pack or leave the Winter Mist entirely. She was creating an atmosphere of fear that would scare me, forcing an emotional reaction to the situation. It was something that wouldn‘t have been difficult for her to work out.
Even if I had been successfully kidnapped, it wouldn‘t have taken long for the pack to find me again; after all, there was barely anywhere in the country where I wouldn‘t be recognised.
Naturally, one could then assume that I would be shaken by the whole ordeal or someone would try to move me elsewhere.
I brought the car slowly to a stop in the middle of the deserted road, my hands tightening on the wheel to the point my knuckles went white.
Because this meant only one thing.
Something I couldn‘t believe I was about to do.
Quickly, I slammed my hands against the steering wheel out of frustration and leaned back in my seat to glare up at the roof.
I didn‘t want to. I really didn‘t want to. I just wanted nothing more than to leave and never come back, to run as far away as possible. To finally be free. But this was why I was here. To change the fate of the future. And if Thea wanted me to stray from the pack? …Well, then I had to do the opposite.
…And that meant going back to the Winter Mist.
Inhaling deeply, I took one last second to calm myself down and push everything aside once more. Composure. Survival. I would make it to my eighteenth, free myself and hopefully figure all this mess out before… before…
My mind recalled Aleric‘s words from earlier, his confession. What was meant to do with that? What did that mean for Tytus‘ order to have him mark me upon my birthday? …What did I even feel towards him anymore? My captor, my mate, my executioner… my friend. If I had never died and only ever met this version of Aleric, where would we be right now?
But just as quickly as I thought on it, I pushed it to the back of my mind along with everything else. I was already at my limit and unable to process anything else for one night. I needed to sleep, to recharge. To come back with a fresh outlook to work on these other problems later.
For the time being, the only thing I actually needed to do was return before anyone noticed my absence.
…And so I turned the car around… heading straight back to my imprisonment. Willingly handing myself back over as a hostage within their hierarchy, a prisoner awaiting their punishment. A collar around my neck as evidence of their shackles.
Thankfully, the trip back was short since I hadn‘t managed to get far. The same warrior was working the border and they allowed me to pass without issue, albeit a little confused to see me. It was a similar situation at the packhouse too.
Whatever scheduling changes Aleric had made to the patrols at the house were still in effect as not a single soul was around upon my return. Perhaps it was the luckiest thing to happen to me all day.
Before too long, I finally found myself back on the floor where my quarters were, staring at the two hallways before me.
To turn left would be to head towards Aleric‘s room where he probably was right now, something I knew was a can of worms | physically couldn‘t deal with right now. And then there was my room to the right, a place that, despite how much I loathed it, was still somewhere I would prefer to be compared to the alternative
It seemed like an easy decision.
I walked towards my quarters, my mind made up, and entered through the broken door that now refused to properly latch close. It didn‘t matter though. For just one night, it would do the job.
But as I entered my room and laid down on my bed, I found that my mind refused to let me rest. I was drained, my body aching, my mind aflame with too much information and emotional stress churning… and yet it denied me even the smallest bit of relief by switching off to sleep.
Not that it mattered in the end.
Whether it was a few minutes or few hours that went by, I couldn‘t be sure, but soon enough I heard the sound of familiar footsteps entering into the quarters, walking towards me.
I didn‘t get up though. No, instead I continue to lay there, too exhausted to make any effort to move.
Because it was the last person I wanted to see right now, someone I had been praying wouldn‘t disturb me until I‘d had time to recover.
But this life offered me no such luxuries.
The bedroom light then abruptly turned on and I slowly opened my eyes to stare up at the ceiling. “…Hi, Aleric,” I greeted quietly.