A Gift from the Goddess Chapter 75

…I could just ask her,’ I thought to myself, staring in the mirror at my reflection

After that night, Aleric and I had agreed that we needed to come up with a plan on how to free myself from the collar… as well as remove Tytus as Alpha in the process. For obvious reasons, allowing him to proceed with marking me was out of the question, regardless of the terms Aleric and I were on now. And so we’d conceded that it was time. Time for Tytus to step down, allowing for proper change.

…But now that just left us with having to think of a way to actually achieve that.

I’d spent hours already pouring over different ideas, but was mostly coming up empty. All of them either wouldn’t work or were morally questionable.

… Which was how it eventually led me to be staring at my reflection, contemplating something I normally never would have considered.

To ask my former self for her help.

The girl I hadn’t heard speak to me in months, yet was still a part of me. No, wait… that wasn’t quite right… She was me. Just a part of me that my brain had conjured up, creating a separate entity for me to be able to live with myself and everything I‘d done.

‘She would be better suited for this,‘ I thought, touching my cheek. ‘She always had an idea or strategy to resolve stubborn problems in the past. And time deadlines just made her work more efficiently.‘

…But did I even want her help?

She had been an instrument of chaos that was wielded by a madman. The only thing she truly knew was how to succeed by any means possible. No matter the cost. No matter who it killed along the way. So long as her Aleric would just acknowledge her existence.

I didn‘t want things to go back down that route. Just because Aleric and I were working together again, it didn‘t mean that I would allow for things to repeat. I’d already learnt the hard way that sometimes the easiest solutions in politics were only going to weave further conflicts later.

But he had given me an oath. I needed to believe that he would keep his word. It was true that I still absolutely certain that he wouldn‘t suddenly switch one day, but didn‘t I technically know this Aleric better? Couldn‘t I at least give him the benefit of the doubt?

We‘d now spent more time together in this life than we ever had in the past. I had been able to learn firsthand of his capacity for patience, for kindness, for doing what he thought was right, even if it hurt him. I‘d learnt his humor, his laugh….

They were little luxuries I‘d never been permitted to see before this life. Things that made him suddenly much more human instead of the monster I used to perceive him to be.

And so I sighed, stepping away from the mirror.

No, I needed to do this on my own.

But how did I ever manage to think of such elaborate plans in the past? I‘d brought an entire country to its knees… and yet I was struggling with one Alpha? Was it because I still felt tied to Tytus, my Alpha, even after everything he‘d done?

But I knew that wasn’t true. I’d been thinking about it for a while now but, the night I had broken free of Aleric’s Alpha order to stay away from Thea, had been the same night I might have inadvertently freed myself a little from Tytus too. I definitely still felt the connection to the pack. It‘s just that his hold over me was now… lessoned. A quirk of my marking, I was sure.

Documents were sprawled all over my dining room table, bits of information I’d asked Aleric and Lucy to acquire for me since I was no longer up to date with the current affairs in the country. Or maybe it was just that some of my information wasn‘t quite relevant yet, the incidents have not yet occurred,

And so I stared at the pages before me, contemplating over the very familiar layout I hadn’t seen in such a long time.

…And, finally, I thought of the answer to the question i’d asked myself earlier.

Like a game.

She used to look at war and politics like a puzzle, something to be solved that held a reward for her at the end of it. Night after night she would sit at her desk… imagining it all in her head … being able to see and predict how certain people would react… where they might move. She would utilise everything and everyone available in order to get her the result Aleric wanted.

…But I didn’t want to do that. I’d already vowed once to never fall into that mentality again after the last war; the war that made me realise Aleric had just been using me the entire time. The war that made me realise that my pieces on the board were actual living, breathing people.

So was that why I was holding myself back still? Fear of the damage I was capable of? Of becoming ther” once more?

It was true that, since coming back, I had dabbled in petty strategy now and then, but I hadn‘t done anything near the scale I used to do in the past. Since returning, I‘d tested Lucy‘s loyalty with ‘poisoned’ tea, exploited governments, set up minor traps for potential spies.

But I hadn‘t done anything overly significant. Not really. And I think a part of the reason may have been because of that promise to myself… that promise to not let myself become that person again.

I sat slowly down at the desk in front of me, my eyes scanning over all the documents before me, my hands moving over the pages. It felt almost exactly the same as in the past, the words calling out to me, offering to help me see what I needed to. Think what I needed to.

…But we could do it the right way this time, right? Find a solution that didn‘t entail hurting everyone else in the process to just get what we wanted?

And so I closed my eyes… and broke yet another one of my promises to myself. 1

“…Do you know what wolfsbane is?” I asked Aleric, a few days later.

We were walking in the garden outside, the sun high above us, both of us enjoying the fresh air.

I’d sent him a personal request asking that he take a walk with me today. Though that wasn’t to say didn’t have other reasons for the abrupt invitation either.

“…You mean like… the poison?” he asked confused, looking at me with concern.

I smiled. “Yeah, that‘s the one.”

“…Are we still discussing the plan to remove Tytus as Alpha?”

I laughed. “Yes, we are. Don’t worry, it‘s not what you think. Are you familiar with what it actually does? Wolfsbane?”

“Do I look like a doctor?” he replied rhetorically. “All I know is to avoid it. It literally says everything I need to know about it within the name.”

“Okay, well, I‘m not the greatest with herbalism, so don‘t quote me here, but the interesting thing about wolfsbane is that it slows your heart down… to the point of being lethal if not careful,“ I explained. “In werewolves that lethal point is a hell of a lot quicker, which is why it’s so dangerous for us. But in small doses, it actually works similarly to silver. It moves inside us, slowing us down, making us weaker.

Making us more.. compliant.”

“That‘s your plan? You want to poison him?”

“Well, no… that’s not my plan. Not the entire plan, at least,” I corrected slowly. “Just a part of the pan.”

“You just admitted to me, right before suggesting this, that you weren’t great at herbalism,” he pointed out. “And you want to somehow administer him with a dosage so accurate that it doesn’t kill him…just weakens him? And then what?”

“Just wait a second, okay? I’m getting there,” I said, taking a moment to touch one of the flowers we were passing. It was coming into autumn so I knew they’d all be dying soon.

The colder air was already coming in much sooner than anticipated, as evident in how it cooled the metal collar around my neck.

“You said that you weren’t a doctor, but let‘s not forget who is,” I continued. “For my plan to work, we have to involve more people than just us. It’s impossible not to.

At the very least to take over we’d need the general support of the pack but, in particular, there are also several individuals who are critical for helping us reach this goal. Like for example, in this instance with the wolfsbane… someone like my mother would be required.”

He stopped in his tracks to look at me, frowning. “Aria… are you sure? Your mother? What happens if something goes wrong?”

I chewed the inside of my cheek, thinking about it again. “She is the best person for the job… maybe the only person given her position as head doctor. Besides, even if I tried to get someone else, she would likely just insist on doing it anyway. We also can‘t forget that we need to stick exclusively to people we can trust. The only way I foresee my plan becoming dangerous in any way at all is if someone leaks it too soon… hence why we need my mother.”

He held my gaze for another few seconds before finally looking away, continuing to walk.

“Okay, fine… So then how will that work?” he asked.

“I‘ll have my mother send out a memo to Tytus requesting his presence at an annual check–up; something that is mandatory for Alphas if issued,” I proceeded. “According to the documents you managed to get your hands on for me, he hasn‘t had his yearly check–up yet.

Once he arrives, my mother will then administer the wolfsbane, which will hopefully be mixed in with something else to prolong the effects a little bit. This will then mean that, come the next day of my eighteenth birthday, he will be weakened. But just a small enough dosage for what we need it for. It‘s important he doesn‘t instantly feel a noticeable difference.”

“Your birthday? You really want to wait until your birthday in a few months to remove him? Isn‘t that… cutting it a bit close?”

“Unfortunately, we don‘t have a choice,” I said. “The only plan that guarantees Tytus will get out of this unscathed revolves around me having my collar removed first; something that is going to be impossible prior to my birthday. He keeps the key on him at all times so the only chance we‘re going to get is in that small moment between him removing the collar… and when he expects you to mark me.”

“…And then what?”

I stopped and turned to face him directly. “…And then I order him to revoke his title and hand the pack over to us. Maybe even exile him to live out his life somewhere else far away from the Winter Mist so he doesn’t interfere.”

His eyes narrowed slightly, trying to fully understand what I was suggesting. “But… Aria, no offence, but I was there the last time you tried ordering someone. It took you several attempts and it left you almost passing out on the floor. And that was just against an unranked warrior. How do you expect to use that against Tytus, an Alpha?”

” I‘ve been practising,” I admitted, a little guilty for forgetting to mention it earlier,

Surprise instantly crossed his features and I didn‘t blame him. Honestly, it still surprised me too that I was capable of accessing the ability, especially given the collar should have made it impossible,

“I don‘t know how it works,” I quickly explained, “just that I can still feel it. Though… it’s a lot harder. Like trying to filter a water dam through a funnel. But I can still do it, or rather, I can still practice it. It’s just that I’ll need to have the collar taken off first before… before I can remove the funnel and harness the dam instead, if you get what I mean.”

“And you said that this plan was only dangerous if it gets leaked? You‘re literally betting everything on the small chance you can accomplish something you‘ve never done before. Something you can’t even test out prior to the day.”

“Well… I mean, there are several things I’m implementing to increase the success rate,” i defended. “Like, for example, the wolfsbane should make him a bit more susceptible to the command even if I‘m not at full capacity… but you’re also incorrectly assuming a little here. I never said that I was betting everything on this. I’m not stupid enough to put all of my eggs in one basket. Technically… there is a Plan B as well.”

He stood studying my face, waiting for me to proceed.

“I said that there was only one plan which guarantees Tytus abdicates the position unhurt. Unfortunately, Plan B is not as pleasant as that. Actually, it‘s where you come in.”

“…You don‘t actually mean–.”

“… You‘ll need to challenge him directly,” I finished for him.

“Aria… are you nuts? You want me to kill him?”

My eyes widened. “What? No! No, you don‘t need to do anything as drastic as that,” I hurriedly corrected.” No, technically, if you read the laws of challenging an Alpha, they state you are only required to incapacitate him. It‘ll be even easier because of the wolfsbane too.

But, in the event that I can‘t pull off the command, then you‘ll need to challenge him, Aleric. There‘s literally no other choice. If you don‘t then I doubt he‘ll even permit you to go through with the original punishment of marking me.

Currently, he just sees me as only a threat to your future. What do you think he‘s going to do to me when he sees me as trying to threaten his?”

I could tell he was slowly realising that what I was telling him was the truth, that it really was the only viable backup plan. And, whilst I also knew their relationship wasn‘t the greatest, it was still something wished I didn’t have to ask of him. Because at the end of the day, Tytus was still his Alpha… he was still his father

“…Fine. I‘ll do it,” he agreed. “But I‘m only agreeing because I want to put my faith in you that Plan A works.”

I laughed. “It‘s good to keep positive thoughts like that,” I said, brushing off the pressure he was trying to place back on me.

The packhouse then came back into sight ahead. We‘d almost returned to the main area where other people would see us. Even from here, I could tell there were a few members out and about.

“Oh… and one more thing,” I added, now subconsciously playing with the collar. “In order to mitigate the fallout after we take over, we need to start working on public image immediately. I‘m sure there will be some who don’t agree with our more… forceful methods of title succession.

We‘ll need to start preparing the narrative as soon as possible so it won‘t be as negative once the time comes. The goal is to show people that removing Tytus early is the right thing to do. To help them see our side. That’s the only way that people will even begin to entertain the ideas we‘re proposing.”

Or, more accurately, the only way they’ll probably completely accept me,

” I assume that‘s the actual reason for why you invited me out here today then,” he said before his eyes lowered to where my hand was touching the metal around my neck. “And why you‘re finally letting people see that.”

It was something I’d been procrastinating all morning. I‘d stood by my door for the longest time, trying to find any reason to put off leaving without my scarf. But we were running out of time, and even rumours needed time to travel.

“Building a narrative…,” I reiterated. “Like… Tytus enjoys chaining a Saintess who did nothing wrong. He likes… proving he is better than the Goddess herself by imprisoning her earthly embodiment.”

Aleric scoffed and looked at me amused. “You’re hardly innocent… and you don’t even believe that Goddess crap. You told me yourself that the whole ‘faith in the Goddess’ thing is basically a scam.”

I shrugged. “They don’t need to know that. They just need to believe it. Honestly, the more pious they are, the easier it’s going to be for people to accept our mutual co–alpha ship.”

We’d walked up to the packhouse then and proceeded to start heading back upstairs to where our quarters were. Along the way, several curious faces of pack members had turned to look at my new accessory, something that fed perfectly into my plan.

“…Are you still worried about that?” he asked. “About… if something happens and things don’t turn out the way we agreed?”

He was asking me if I was still worried whether he would betray me. The answer was, of course, yes. How could I not be? It was something that was on my mind almost every waking second.

Everything that I was doing, everything I was planning, all of it hinged on him honouring the pact we’d made. Even the very trust I was putting in him to help me execute this strategy was already too much. After all, the second Tytus found out about any of this, I would be screwed.

But it was a gamble I‘d told myself I would take and I needed to see it through to the end. The benefits of eliminating civil war with Aleric outweighed the alternatives, and it gave me the position I needed in order to start focusing on stopping Thea instead. Stop… Whatever the hell she was planning. Something I still had no intel on.

| paused to then look at him, my expression becoming more serious than any of the prior conversations we‘d already had.

“…You already know my answer to that, Aleric.”

And quickly, I continued walking up the stairs, not wanting to discuss it any further.

“Alright then. So what‘s the next thing I can help with?” he asked once we’d arrived back at my quarters.

I pulled out a key and slotted it into the shiny new lock that was fitted onto my door, pushing it open. Only Lucy, Aleric and I had access to my quarters now, as it should have been from the start. And, to my relief, it decreased the necessity of needing constant babysitters.

“I’ve already sent a few letters out, but… here,” I said and handed him a large pile of papers that had been sitting on my table inside. “This is for you.”

“What is it?” he asked, inspecting the pages curiously.

“A compilation of important things that have happened, of things that are currently happening, and of things that may happen in the future. I’ve also sorted it by date order. Not in the way you’re probably thinking though. What I mean is that I‘ve sorted it in the order of things that require your attention right now, through to things that you probably don’t need to worry about for another few years. Unfortunately,

the majority of these are things only you can accomplish right now since I don’t presently hold any rank within the pack. There isn’t a way for me to justify my involvement without looking suspicious.”

“… You managed to do all of this in a few days?”

“It’s probably still a bit incomplete,” I admitted, eying off the pile. “Though I‘ll let you know if I add anything else to it as I think of it. For now, at least, it’s a starting point. If we can tackle some of the bigger items then it’ll make the first year or so easier on-… what is that?”

Something then caught my attention behind his head, making me lose my train of thought.

It was books. A lot of them. Almost as if a whole shelf of the library had been moved in here.

“Oh… I noticed a while ago that the books you had were just collecting dust despite you having nothing to do,” he said, a little awkwardly. “I don’t know… was just a bit weird since I know you liked reading so much. But everything sort of clicked when you told me you used to live in here. Thought you might want some new things to read instead.”

…He was trying to give me a gift. Or… sort of. It was a gift, in a weird ‘probably stole these from the library’ kind of way.

And they were definitely from the library. I recognised all the titles immediately, could even almost remember exactly where they would be placed on the shelves. After all, I‘d already read all of these books too.

….However, the sentiment was there and I appreciated it. Building good rapport with Aleric was only going to work in my favour for the future.

“Oh… Thank you,” I said, giving him a small smile. “I‘ll be sure to read them when I get a chance.”

But his eyes narrowed immediately.

“You‘ve already read these too,” he stated, exposing me instantly.

“What? No. They look great, thank you.” “Aria… Seriously.”

I sighed, “Look, truthfully, you‘d probably have a hard time trying to find something in the pack I haven‘t already read. Once upon a time, I had more free time than I knew what to do with. It doesn‘t mean that I don’t appreciate the gesture though.”

“Isn‘t there anywhere else? Any other libraries or collections? Surely there has to be something,” he said, adamant on following through with this.

…But was there actually anywhere else that had books I hadn’t read?

And suddenly a thought came to me; a way to solve one of the issues I‘d been mulling on. Something that I needed to confirm before I could start working on the next part of my plan.

And, somehow, Aleric had just handed me the perfect way to do it. “Actually…,” I said, speaking slowly in thought, “…there is one place…”

…I could just ask her,’i thought to myself, staring in the mirror at my reflection

After that night, Aleric and I had agreed that we needed to come up with a plan on how to free myself from the collar… as well as remove Tytus as Alpha in the process. For obvious reasons, allowing him to proceed with marking me was out of the question, regardless of the terms Aleric and I were on now. And so we’d conceded that it was time. Time for Tytus to step down, allowing for proper change.

…But now that just left us with having to think of a way to actually achieve that.

I’d spent hours already pouring over different ideas, but was mostly coming up empty. All of them either wouldn’t work or were morally questionable.

… Which was how it eventually led me to be staring at my reflection, contemplating something I normally never would have considered.

To ask my former self for her help.

The girl I hadn’t heard speak to me in months, yet was still a part of me. No, wait… that wasn’t quite right… She was me. Just a part of me that my brain had conjured up, creating a separate entity for me to be able to live with myself and everything I‘d done.

‘She would be better suited for this,‘ I thought, touching my cheek. ‘She always had an idea or strategy to resolve stubborn problems in the past. And time deadlines just made her work more efficiently.‘

…But did I even want her help?

She had been an instrument of chaos that was wielded by a madman. The only thing she truly knew was how to succeed by any means possible. No matter the cost. No matter who it killed along the way. So long as her Aleric would just acknowledge her existence.

I didn‘t want things to go back down that route. Just because Aleric and I were working together again, it didn‘t mean that I would allow for things to repeat. I’d already learnt the hard way that sometimes the easiest solutions in politics were only going to weave further conflicts later.

But he had given me an oath. I needed to believe that he would keep his word. It was true that I still absolutely certain that he wouldn‘t suddenly switch one day, but didn‘t I technically know this Aleric better? Couldn‘t I at least give him the benefit of the doubt? We‘d now spent more time together in this life than we ever had in the past. I had been able to learn first hand of his capacity for patience, for kindness, for doing what he thought was right, even if it hurt him. I‘d learnt his humour, his laugh….

They were little luxuries I‘d never been permitted to see before this life. Things that made him suddenly much more human instead of the monster I used to perceive him to be.

And so I sighed, stepping away from the mirror.

No, I needed to do this on my own.

But how did I ever manage to think of such elaborate plans in the past? I‘d brought an entire country to its knees… and yet I was struggling with one Alpha? Was it because I still felt tied to Tytus, my Alpha, even after everything he‘d done?

But I knew that wasn’t true. I’d been thinking about it for a while now but, the night I had broken free of Aleric’s Alpha order to stay away from Thea, had been the same night I might have inadvertently freed myself a little from Tytus too. I definitely still felt the connection to the pack. It‘s just that his hold over me was now… lessoned. A quirk of my marking, I was sure.

Documents were sprawled all over my dining room table, bits of information i’d asked Aleric and Lucy to

acquire for me since I was no longer up to date with the current affairs in the country. Or maybe it was just that some of my information wasn‘t quite relevant yet, the incidents having not yet occurred,

And so i stared at the pages before me, contemplating over the very familiar layout I hadn’t geen in such a long time.

…And, finally, I thought of the answer to the question i’d asked myself earlier.

Like a game.

She used to look at war and politics like a puzzle, something to be solved that held a reward for her at the end of it. Night after night she would sit at her desk… imagining it all in her head … being able to see and predict how certain people would react… where they might move. She would utilise everything and everyone available in order to get her the result Aleric wanted.

…But I didn’t want to do that. I’d already vowed once to never fall into that mentality again after the last war; the war that made me realise Aleric had just been using me the entire time. The war that made me realise that my pieces on the board were actual living, breathing people.

So was that why I was holding myself back still? Fear of the damage I was capable of? Of becoming ther” once more?

It was true that, since coming back, I had dabbled in petty strategy now and then, but I hadn‘t done anything near the scale I used to do in the past. Since returning, I‘d tested Lucy‘s loyalty with ‘poisoned’ tea, exploited governments, set up minor traps for potential spies. But I hadn‘t done anything overly significant. Not really. And I think a part of the reason may have been because of that promise to myself… that promise to not let myself become that person again.

I sat slowly down at the desk in front of me, my eyes scanning over all the documents before me, my hands moving over the pages. It felt almost exactly the same as in the past, the words calling out to me, offering to help me see what I needed to. Think what I needed to.

…But we could do it the right way this time, right? Find a solution that didn‘t entail hurting everyone else in the process to just get what we wanted?

And so I closed my eyes… and broke yet another one of my promises to myself. 1

“…Do you know what wolfsbane is?” I asked Aleric, a few days later.

We were walking in the garden outside, the sun high above us, both of us enjoying the fresh air.

I’d sent him a personal request asking that he take a walk with me today. Though that wasn’t to say didn’t have other reasons for the abrupt invitation either.

“…You mean like… the poison?” he asked confused, looking at me with concern.

I smiled. “Yeah, that‘s the one.”

“…Are we still discussing the plan to remove Tytus as Alpha?”

I laughed. “Yes, we are. Don’t worry, it‘s not what you think. Are you familiar with what it actually does? Wolfsbane?”

“Do I look like a doctor?” he replied rhetorically. “All I know is to avoid it. It literally says everything I need to know about it within the name.”

“Okay, well, I‘m not the greatest with herbalism, so don‘t quote me here, but the interesting thing about wolfsbane is that it slows your heart down… to the point of being lethal if not careful,“ | explained. “In werewolves that lethal point is a hell of a lot quicker, which is why it’s so dangerous for us. But in small doses, it actually works similarly to silver. It moves inside us, slowing us down, making us weaker.

Making us more.. compliant.”

“That‘s your plan? You want to poison him?”

“Well, no… that’s not my plan. Not the entire plan, at least,” I corrected slowly. “Just a part of the pan.”

“You just admitted to me, right before suggesting this, that you weren’t great at herbalism,” he pointed out. “And you want to somehow administer him with a dosage so accurate that it doesn’t kill him…just weakens him? And then what?”

“Just wait a second, okay? I’m getting there,” I said, taking a moment to touch one of the flowers we were passing. It was coming into autumn so I knew they’d all be dying soon. The colder air was already coming in much sooner than anticipated, as evident in how it cooled the metal collar around my neck.

“You said that you weren’t a doctor, but let‘s not forget who is,” I continued. “For my plan to work, we have to involve more people than just us. It’s impossible not to.

At the very least to take over we’d need the general support of the pack but, in particular, there are also several individuals who are critical for helping us reach this goal. Like for example, in this instance with the wolfsbane… someone like my mother would be required.”

He stopped in his tracks to look at me, frowning. “Aria… are you sure? Your mother? What happens if something goes wrong?”

I chewed the inside of my cheek, thinking about it again. “She is the best person for the job… maybe the only person given her position as head doctor. Besides, even if I tried to get someone else, she would likely just insist on doing it anyway. We also can‘t forget that we need to stick exclusively to people we can trust.

The only way I foresee my plan becoming dangerous in any way at all is if someone leaks it too soon… hence why we need my mother.”

He held my gaze for another few seconds before finally looking away, continuing to walk.

“Okay, fine… So then how will that work?” he asked.

“I‘ll have my mother send out a memo to Tytus requesting his presence at an annual check–up; something that is mandatory for Alphas if issued,” I proceeded. “According to the documents you managed to get your hands on for me, he hasn‘t had his yearly check–up yet.

Once he arrives, my mother will then administer the wolfsbane, which will hopefully be mixed in with something else to prolong the effects a little bit. This will then mean that, come the next day of my eighteenth birthday, he will be weakened.

But just a small enough dosage for what we need it for. It‘s important he doesn‘t instantly feel a noticeable difference.”

“Your birthday? You really want to wait until your birthday in a few months to remove him? Isn‘t that… cutting it a bit close?”

“Unfortunately, we don‘t have a choice,” I said. “The only plan that guarantees Tytus will get out of this unscathed revolves around me having my collar removed first; something that is going to be impossible prior to my birthday. He keeps the key on him at all times so the only chance we‘re going to get is in that small moment between him removing the collar… and when he expects you to mark me.”

“…And then what?”

I stopped and turned to face him directly. “…And then I order him to revoke his title and hand the pack over to us. Maybe even exile him to live out his life somewhere else far away from the Winter Mist so he doesn’t interfere.”

His eyes narrowed slightly, trying to fully understand what I was suggesting. “But… Aria, no offence, but I was there the last time you tried ordering someone. It took you several attempts and it left you almost passing out on the floor. And that was just against an unranked warrior. How do you expect to use that against Tytus, an Alpha?”

” I‘ve been practising,” I admitted, a little guilty for forgetting to mention it earlier,

Surprise instantly crossed his features and I didn‘t blame him. Honestly, it still surprised me too that I was capable of accessing the ability, especially given the collar should have made it impossible,

“I don‘t know how it works,” I quickly explained, “just that I can still feel it. Though… it’s a lot harder. Like trying to filter a water dam through a funnel. But I can still do it, or rather, I can still practice it. It’s just that I’ll need to have the collar taken off first before… before I can remove the funnel and harness the dam instead, if you get what I mean.”

“And you said that this plan was only dangerous if it gets leaked? You‘re literally betting everything on the small chance you can accomplish something you‘ve never done before. Something you can’t even test out prior to the day.”

“Well… I mean, there are several things I’m implementing to increase the success rate,” I defended. “Like, for example, the wolfsbane should make him a bit more susceptible to the command even if I‘m not at full capacity… but you’re also incorrectly assuming a little here. I never said that I was betting everything on this. I’m not stupid enough to put all of my eggs in one basket. Technically… there is a Plan B as well.”

He stood studying my face, waiting for me to proceed.

“I said that there was only one plan which guarantees Tytus abdicates the position unhurt. Unfortunately, Plan B is not as pleasant as that. Actually, it‘s where you come in.”

“…You don‘t actually mean–.”

“… You‘ll need to challenge him directly,” I finished for him.

“Aria… are you nuts? You want me to kill him?”

My eyes widened. “What? No! No, you don‘t need to do anything as drastic as that,” I hurriedly corrected.” No, technically, if you read the laws of challenging an Alpha, they state you are only required to incapacitate him. It‘ll be even easier because of the wolfsbane too.

But, in the event that I can‘t pull off the command, then you‘ll need to challenge him, Aleric. There‘s literally no other choice. If you don‘t then I doubt he‘ll even permit you to go through with the original punishment of marking me. Currently, he just sees me as only a threat to your future. What do you think he‘s going to do to me when he sees me as trying to threaten his?”

I could tell he was slowly realising that what I was telling him was the truth, that it really was the only viable backup plan. And, whilst I also knew their relationship wasn‘t the greatest, it was still something wished I didn’t have to ask of him. Because at the end of the day, Tytus was still his Alpha… he was still his father

“…Fine. I‘ll do it,” he agreed. “But I‘m only agreeing because I want to put my faith in you that Plan A works.”

I laughed. “It‘s good to keep positive thoughts like that,” I said, brushing off the pressure he was trying to place back on me.

The packhouse then came back into sight ahead. We‘d almost returned to the main area where other people would see us. Even from here, I could tell there were a few members out and about.

“Oh… and one more thing,” I added, now subconsciously playing with the collar. “In order to mitigate the fallout after we take over, we need to start working on public image immediately. I‘m sure there will be some who don’t agree with our more… forceful methods of title succession.

We‘ll need to start preparing the narrative as soon as possible so it won‘t be as negative once the time comes. The goal is to show people that removing Tytus early is the right thing to do.

To help them see our side. That’s the only way that people will even begin to entertain the ideas we‘re proposing.”

Or, more accurately, the only way they’ll probably completely accept me,

” I assume that‘s the actual reason for why you invited me out here today then,” he said before his eyes lowered to where my hand was touching the metal around my neck. “And why you‘re finally letting people see that.”

It was something I’d been procrastinating all morning. I‘d stood by my door for the longest time, trying to find any reason to put off leaving without my scarf. But we were running out of time, and even rumours needed time to travel.

“Building a narrative…,” I reiterated. “Like… Tytus enjoys chaining a Saintess who did nothing wrong. He likes… proving he is better than the Goddess herself by imprisoning her earthly embodiment.”

Aleric scoffed and looked at me amused. “You’re hardly innocent… and you don’t even believe that Goddess crap. You told me yourself that the whole ‘faith in the Goddess’ thing is basically a scam.”

I shrugged. “They don’t need to know that. They just need to believe it. Honestly, the more pious they are, the easier it’s going to be for people to accept our mutual co–alphaship.”

We’d walked up to the packhouse then and proceeded to start heading back upstairs to where our quarters were. Along the way, several curious faces of pack members had turned to look at my new accessory, something that fed perfectly into my plan.

“…Are you still worried about that?” he asked. “About… if something happens and things don’t turn out the way we agreed?”

He was asking me if I was still worried whether he would betray me. The answer was, of course, yes. How could I not be? It was something that was on my mind almost every waking second.

Everything that I was doing, everything I was planning, all of it hinged on him honouring the pact we’d made. Even the very trust I was putting in him to help me execute this strategy was already too much. After all, the second Tytus found out about any of this, I would be screwed.

But it was a gamble I‘d told myself I would take and I needed to see it through to the end. The benefits of eliminating civil war with Aleric outweighed the alternatives, and it gave me the position I needed in order to start focusing on stopping Thea instead. Stop… Whatever the hell she was planning. Something I still had no intel on.

| paused to then look at him, my expression becoming more serious than any of the prior conversations we‘d already had.

“…You already know my answer to that, Aleric.”

And quickly, I continued walking up the stairs, not wanting to discuss it any further.

“Alright then. So what‘s the next thing I can help with?” he asked once we’d arrived back at my quarters.

I pulled out a key and slotted it into the shiny new lock that was fitted onto my door, pushing it open. Only Lucy, Aleric and I had access to my quarters now, as it should have been from the start. And, to my relief, it decreased the necessity of needing constant babysitters.

“I’ve already sent a few letters out, but… here,” I said and handed him a large pile of papers that had been sitting on my table inside. “This is for you.”

“What is it?” he asked, inspecting the pages curiously.

“A compilation of important things that have happened, of things that are currently happening, and of things that may happen in the future. I’ve also sorted it by date order. Not in the way you’re probably thinking though. What I mean is that I‘ve sorted it in the order of things that require your attention right now, through to things that you probably don’t need to worry about for another few years.

Unfortunately,the majority of these are things only you can accomplish right now since I don’t presently hold any rank within the pack. There isn’t a way for me to justify my involvement without looking suspicious.”

“… You managed to do all of this in a few days?”

“It’s probably still a bit incomplete,” I admitted, eying off the pile. “Though I‘ll let you know if I add anything else to it as I think of it. For now, at least, it’s a starting point. If we can tackle some of the bigger items then it’ll make the first year or so easier on-… what is that?”

Something then caught my attention behind his head, making me lose my train of thought.

It was books. A lot of them. Almost as if a whole shelf of the library had been moved in here.

“Oh… I noticed a while ago that the books you had were just collecting dust despite you having nothing to do,” he said, a little awkwardly. “I don’t know… was just a bit weird since I know you liked reading so much. But everything sort of clicked when you told me you used to live in here. Thought you might want some new things to read instead.”

…He was trying to give me a gift. Or… sort of. It was a gift, in a weird ‘probably stole these from the library’ kind of way.

And they were definitely from the library. I recognised all the titles immediately, could even almost remember exactly where they would be placed on the shelves. After all, I‘d already read all of these books too.

….However, the sentiment was there and I appreciated it. Building good rapport with Aleric was only going to work in my favour for the future.

“Oh… Thank you,” I said, giving him a small smile. “I‘ll be sure to read them when I get a chance.”

But his eyes narrowed immediately.

“You‘ve already read these too,” he stated, exposing me instantly.

“What? No. They look great, thank you.” “Aria… Seriously.”

I sighed, “Look, truthfully, you‘d probably have a hard time trying to find something in the pack I haven‘t already read. Once upon a time, I had more free time than I knew what to do with. It doesn‘t mean that I don’t appreciate the gesture though.”

“Isn‘t there anywhere else? Any other libraries or collections? Surely there has to be something,” he said, adamant on following through with this.

…But was there actually anywhere else that had books I hadn’t read?

And suddenly a thought came to me; a way to solve one of the issues I‘d been mulling on. Something that I needed to confirm before I could start working on the next part of my plan.

And, somehow, Aleric had just handed me the perfect way to do it. “Actually…,” I said, speaking slowly in thought, “…there is one place…”

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