*Swear your oath,” I said, my eyes narrowing at the man before me.
His body still lowered in submission, he placed a hand over his chest in respect.
“I, Alpha Tristan Green, of the Onyx Rock, hereby pledge my pack to the alliance offered by Alpha Ariadne of the Winter Mist. May our packs continue to prosper together under your guidance and protection.”
Satisfied with his words, I stood up and walked over to clasp my hand in his.
And with that, another pack had joined the alliance. Though, more accurately, another had sworn to continue their alliance. Something that was seemingly slow going lately, the days dragging out
So much so, it was hard to believe that two months had already gone by.
Two months since I‘d killed Tytus, imprisoned Aleric, and became Alpha of the Winter Mist.
And things were… okay.
Not to say I was doing anything wrong. On the contrary, I had the pack running like clockwork, making us more efficient than ever before.
No, the issues were laid more externally. Specifically, other packs,
I had been prepared for opposition to my rise in rank however, it seemed I‘d miscalculated just how many would be against pledging to an alliance with a female Alpha.
The ways of our kind were apparently still too archaic, too set in stone with old beliefs.
But I‘d been wearing them down slowly.
Little by little, I was showing them why it was in their best interest to continue, proving I was far more fearsome than most had believed. Not the helpless Saintess I‘d initially built my brand to be… but rather a foe you didn‘t want to find yourself suddenly facing.
The only issue was there were still so many packs left to go. There wasn‘t one simple way to get them all to agree at once so it had been a painstakingly slow process.
“You‘ll have access to your supply route again within the day.” I continued to the Alpha, my lips slowly twitching into a triumphant smile. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“Now they‘ll never forget how easy it was for us to cut them off. How much they still need our support,’ the voice said inside.
And I agreed.
The Alpha didn‘t stick around for much longer once the requirements for the alliance had been finalized. Not that I blamed him. I was far too busy to care though, needing to focus on other problems.
Behind the scenes of my new operation these last few months, Iris had been utilising her network of followers across the country to support me but, since hardly any of those extended to the ranked members of those packs, the results were not instant. Not to say those contacts didn‘t have their other uses though. Uses like uncovering information for me on their packs‘ weaker points.
It hadn‘t been hard to figure out that most of these Alphas were never going to respect me unless I forced them into some sort of submission. Proof that I really was as formidable as the new rumors had hinted a . All they had wanted to see was a young, naive girl… right up until I suddenly had their whole pack in a checkmate.
Some were still trying to play a waiting game though, holding off to see if I would crumble under the new responsibility. They wanted me to prove them right, prove that I wasn‘t cut out for this. A gamble that some were even now risking their own packs for. Though soon they would start to feel what the loss of our alliance meant.
I wasn‘t entirely ignorant though. I knew under the surface that even my own pack was somewhat divided. They were forced to respect me because of the Alpha bond but I knew what some of them were thinking deep down. Or, at least, what some of them were hoping for.
…Hoping for the rising of their Alpha heir.
The one who had been living within a cell these last two months.
If only they knew the kind of person he really was.
“This is going too slow,” I grumbled to Elder Luke as we entered back into my office. “At this rate, we‘ll start declining too far in status if we can‘t make enough progress.”
“I don‘t disagree,” he said, grabbing a few documents from the desk.
“I just… I don‘t get it,” I said, sighing in my chair. “I know it‘s only been two months but I thought by now we‘d be seeing a small upward trend of people joining. Except it‘s stayed about the same. It‘s almost like … like they‘re dragging their feet. I get that they‘re waiting for me to slip up but this is just getting ridiculous.”
“It is harder to break traditions than you might believe,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
Though it wasn‘t of any comfort to hear that.
“Let me see the list,” I said, holding my hand out for the documents he‘d been looking after for me. “We‘re missing something, I‘m sure.”
But it was as I scanned the list of packs still pending for the alliance that I frowned, surprised over what I saw.
“…Is this completely accurate?” I asked sceptically, continuing to flick through the pages to ensure it hadn‘t been mistakenly written in the wrong section.
“Yes, Alpha,” he answered.
But that couldn‘t be right… could it?
“This is saying the Silver Lake pack still hasn‘t sent word about whether they‘ll join or not.”
“That is correct.”
I finally looked up, dragging my eyes away from the page, though now only further confused. “But… why? mean… have they provided a reason? I didn‘t think they, of all people, would reject my extension for friendship.”
Was Cai holding a grudge because of what happened between us? It seemed so petty to bring in personal problems when it was both of our packs at stake. Unprofessional even.
And it meant something far worse too….
But Elder Luke‘s mouth turned downward. “Well, after Caius was imprisoned here for so many months, to the point of almost inciting a war, I can‘t really blame Alpha Tobias for his logic.”
“But that was Tytus‘ doing, not mine,” I argued. “I was the one trying to free Cai that entire time. I was the one working day and night to prevent that war.”
“Right… that may be true,” he said slowly. “However, and forgive me for saying this, but, were you not the reason why he was imprisoned to begin with? Was it not due to your actions that the misunderstanding originally arose?”
I bit the inside of my cheek, knowing he was right.
‘The Silver Lake has risen in rank enough to where an alliance would only aid in avoiding war,” Elder Luke continued. “If we were to fall in status now, they would just stand to gain becoming the next powerhouse pack within our region. They have the least to lose by declining our offer… Alpha, apologies, but…”
“I already know what you‘re going to say,” I interjected. “I know what path you‘ve calculated ahead and I see it too. I know what this means.”
Because the effects were far worse than one would initially think.
And it would explain why there was so much push back to join the alliance right now, even putting aside prejudice.
… They were waiting to see if the Silver Lake would rise up, challenging us for our position.
Essentially, if the Silver Lake refused to join now, we‘d be looking at a power struggle between us. The other packs within the previous alliance would need to choose a side and, in doing so, they would be deciding who would next become the strongest territory; gaining the ability to manage and impose taxes as they wished.
But it wasn‘t just that. If we really did fail to regain our position, the Winter Mist would then only have two options.
Either we submitted to the Silver Lake, hoping that they didn‘t refuse our request to fall under the umbrella of their alliance. Though, I was uncertain whether Tobias would even accept that.
Or, more devastatingly, it would mean our pack would be outcasted. Without the support of an alliance to strengthen us, we wouldn‘t be able to maintain our status for long. It meant putting ourselves in the hands of Alpha Tobias to decide our fate; leaving us defenceless to the snowballing side effects that followed.
It meant potentially the death of our pack.
So I knew what might lay ahead for us. I saw what Elder Luke did.
Either I had to convince them to join us now… or we‘d have to implement an approach that had the best chance of success. A path that reduced the most risk of ending up in that vulnerable position.
An all in or nothing approach since, if we failed to acquire the numbers within the alliance, it would be almost impossible to win anyway.
The best time would be when the packs were still being divided between us, before any one territory could become a clear victor. It would be only during that moment that we would still be able to utilise the entirety of the alliance network we still had. Because once everyone had abandoned us, the battle would already be lost
The question now was whether or not we could convince the Silver Lake to join back into our alliance, avoiding that outcome entirely.
“This makes things… more complicated,” I mused aloud. “Has anyone had any official confirmation yet? Any indication for when we‘ll receive their answer?”
“Not yet. Though Tobias has been busy these days, handling rogue disputes along their northern border.”
“Okay, fine, then ask for a meeting with Cai,” I replied. “He is able to represent the pack in these matters,
even if he can make the final say. He‘ll have enough sense to realise this won‘t benefit either of us S katter everything we‘ve been through, he will be able to help his father see reason.”
Weltladdach out and request his attention on the matter already, Several times, in fact,” Elder Luke started the response was that he didn‘t want to get involved as he is ‘unwell. Evidently, sick enough to b avoiding this for almost five months.”
That such a nerve
Seriously? What are we children?” I asked, incredulously. “This feels so… so immature.”
I knew we didn’t leave things on the best of terms, but making excuses to get out of dealing with something so entically important seemed ridiculous.
On the other hand though, I wondered if this was because of his mate. Because she didn‘t want us to meet again given our history?
Well, whether or not his excuse is true, I‘m unable to verify,” Elder Luke said. “Though I would agree that this does appear to be… a less than ideal response.”
I stood up and paced a few steps by the window, thinking of what to do in this situation. However, there weren t many options here.
Technically their beta could also represent the pack if they were available. The only problem was that this indecision of theirs was due to personal history so my best chance at success was to appeal directly to Cai He was the only one who would be able to sway Tobias on this.
Send a message to Cai from me. Tell him… tell him that I need his help,” I said. “I want a meeting before the end of the month, Luke. ‘No‘ is not an option.”
Elder Luke simply bowed his head, acknowledging my order.
Though it was too horrible to even consider, Cai had been willing to leave his mate for me. Now it seemed that I needed to exploit his affection a little. I still could vividly remember how he‘d looked at me even once I‘d try to scare him away. We might not be romantically involved anymore, but he was the kind of person to try to help even when he shouldn‘t.
With the Silver Lake business now dealt with, I moved to return to my paperwork. However, Elder Luke remained seated, almost as if he had more matters to discuss. Matters that made my body go rigid.
…He was asking for you again today.”
instantly, I gritted my teeth, still too irritated from dealing with Cai to be handling this now.
1 don‘t care,” I replied coldly. “He doesn‘t get to see me until he confesses what he knows about Thea. His refusal to cooperate is just selfish indignation at this point.”
Aleric had been confined to a cell with only Lucy and Elder Luke having direct access to him. Currently, he was our best lead to finding out Thea‘s whereabouts though he was making things exceedingly difficult. Almost stupidly so.
“He still claims to not know anything about her,” he said.
“And ** still know he‘s lying since both Lucy and I heard him mention her,” I said. “The fact he‘s denying even that means he‘s being dishonest about facts we already know.”
“Would it not just be easier to discuss these matters with him in person? Especially since he has asked for you several times now?” Elder Luke offered.
Truthfully, I knew he was right. But it wasn‘t as though I hadn‘t tried.
It took a few weeks after becoming Alpha before I finally built up the courage to go face him. Between what I‘d done and the trauma he caused me, even the thought of seeing him filled me with extreme anxiety.
The problem was that I only made it about as far as his cell room door before I couldn‘t go any further. My whole body had begun shaking so violently to the point I‘d had to sit down, overcome with so much trauma and pain.
And, of course, she didn‘t make that any easier.
The entire time she was whispering to me, telling me to turn back. To leave him to rot in the cell for the rest of his life. Ever since I‘d given myself over and fully acknowledged her presence, it was like she‘d become stronger in her influence over me.
Now even the thought of seeing Aleric made me begin to tremble.
‘He will kill you,‘ the voice inside whispered. ‘He’ll trick you into getting closer… ask that you give him a chance to hear him out and then…‘
As I listened to her words, it was as though I could see it all inside my head. See as his hand would snake out quickly from the bars, grabbing my throat… squeezing slowly until…
A shiver ran down my spine, my hands beginning to shake from the terror she was able to manifest inside me.
‘He can offer us nothing but lies, all stemming from a new personal vendetta. Look at how he continuest o deny everything even though we heard the evidence ourselves.‘
It wasn‘t the first time she‘d done this. In fact, it was just one of several images she‘d been showing me since my birthday. Always the same fear–inducing material she‘d whisper to me over… and over… and over again.
“Anything he can say to me, he can say to you and Lucy,” I reaffirmed, folding my arms over my chest to keep them steady. “There‘s no point in giving him what he wants when he clearly has no intention to tell us the truth.”
Not necessarily a lie… but I knew I wouldn‘t be able to avoid it forever.
At some point, I would need to get it over with.
In the meantime though, I went to work preparing for the worst–case scenario. Things I could actually work on right now. No uncertain, unpredictable issues that only gave me more pain than answers. Just doing what I did best… strategising for a potential war; with the Silver Lake, no less.
I‘d already done it once… how hard could it really be?
But… without Aleric? Maybe harder than I cared to admit. He was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield and a major factor as to why the Silver Lake didn‘t quickly finish us off the first time.
No, this would be a lot more difficult without him. I would need to think of something completely new this time that didn‘t rely on Aleric‘s brute strength.
All of this was just preparation though. The first battle would be in that meeting with Cai where the fates o four packs would rest in our hands.
…Something that didn‘t take too long to organise once he‘d received my message.
As I had thought, he didn‘t waste much time in coming when I‘d personally asked for his help. In fact, it felt like no time at all before that day was finally upon me.
I sat in my office chair, staring intensely at the door in anticipation for what felt like an hour, knowing that at any second he would arrive.
Having not seen him since that night I‘d almost escaped, my chest felt so tight that I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.
But I was here to do my job and, in doing that, I needed to push down any personal feelings I felt on the subject… regardless of what they may be. I had a pack that depended on me now.
So when the door finally opened and Cai walked in, I cleared my head and focused on only the task at hand.
Avoiding the worst–case scenario.
Avoiding a war.
“…Hey, Cai” | greeted in a casual tone. “Been a long time, aye?” And the meeting began.