A Gift from the Goddess Chapter 88

“Please forgive me, Alpha,” I heard Elder Luke quietly mutter behind me before he quickly closed the meeting hall doors.

And suddenly I was locked in here. With them.

“Aleric… Cai,” I said cautiously, my hand already moving slowly towards my dagger. “Didn‘t expect to find either of you here of all places.”

Not only had someone broken Aleric out of the cells but they‘d also succeeded in getting Cai over the border without my knowledge. And I knew, without needing to think too hard on it, that only Elder Luke was capable of something like this.

My mind was already racing with what was going on, analysing their movements carefully to ensure ! wasn‘t taken off guard. If they were under Thea‘s influence then they might try to kill me. I couldn‘t think of any other reason for why they would have trapped me like this.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way,” Aleric said, taking a step forward.

And, immediately, I unsheathed my dagger and held it up defensively. They were mistaken if they thought I would go down easily.

“Who‘s blood is that?” Cai then asked, bringing Aleric‘s attention to it as well.

“None of your business,” I bit back.

“…What the hell have you done, Aria?” Aleric growled. “Is that Lucy‘s scent I can smell on you?”

“Nothing you wouldn‘t do, Aleric,” I snapped, taking a few steps forward cautiously.

I heard him then sigh quietly at that and look towards Cai. “We‘re going to have to go with Plan B.”

And quickly, I got into a crouch and readied myself. “What is this? Did you just tell me that Lucy was a spy to throw me off your trail? Didn‘t want me to suspect you of working with Thea anymore so you could organise this? Are you all in on this? Elder Luke too? All of you working for her?”

“Not everyone is your enemy, Aria,” Aleric said. “You‘re sick and you don‘t even realise it.”

I laughed at that. “Oh, I‘m sick? How about the person who murdered my parents?” I asked before turning towards Cai. “Or the person who slept with the creature trying to kill us? Did you just forget that taking me out is just one step closer to your own death?”

“We‘re not trying to kill you, Aria. We‘re trying to help you.”

«But then I saw it. A flash image of him charging at me, throwing me to the ground and ripping out my

throat. Almost as vivid as a vision… but different.

“I knew it! You‘re lying!” I yelled, adjusting my stance. “Always lying! You think I‘m going to let my defences down this time? I won‘t be taken out so easily anymore. There‘s no silver collar to hold me back now,”

“You should kill them before they kill you,‘ the voice said. “Maybe there is a way to take their abilities. If we could gatekeep all three lineages then there wouldn‘t be any need for them. No more liabilities.‘

I was too focused on the situation at hand but I knew that what she was saying sounded too risky. We weren‘t a God and even if I could take their abilities, I wouldn‘t even know how to go about doing that.

Just try it, she said. ‘Before they get to you first. Before they make the choice for you.‘

Cai ended up being the first one to move, charging from the right, but I sensed his movement perfectly. He was aiming to tackle me to the ground but he was mistaken if he thought something like that would

work on me. Aleric‘s distraction of talking to me wasn‘t going to be anywhere near enough to get the drop on me.

Instantly, his body flew past as he missed me entirely and I quickly turned to be ready for a counter.

He was still too slow though. In the month since I‘d last seen him, it looked as though he‘d regained the majority of his strength but he wasn‘t yet back at his peak. I knew what Cai was capable of on his best day and this wasn‘t it.

He tried several more attempts at landing a hit on me to no avail. In fact, it was useless for him to even try since I could sense his attacks seconds before he moved.

“That‘s not going to work on her,” Aleric then shouted from the side, moving in to flank behind me. “She can foresee your movements.”

“Evidently,” Cai replied dryly, not taking his eyes off me.

“Scared, Cai?” I asked and faked a lunge forward. He immediately jumped backwards defensively causing me to laugh.

But the humour was cut short as I felt Aleric attempting to take advantage of the mild distraction.

“Nice try,” I said and moved back just as Aleric‘s hands tried to grab me.

He‘d left himself open by doing this though and, utilising his proximity, I quickly brought my knife up to get a hit on his arm, hoping to maim him. However, he was almost as fast as me, managing to move out of the way to avoid in time,

The whole thing was reminiscent of the day before my birthday when we‘d been sparring in the gym. Except neither of us had things holding us back now. For what I was lacking in brute strength and extensive fighting knowledge, I was able to make up for in speed and foresight. And, unlike him, I was actually armed.

The dance began as we both attacked and countered each other, now almost perfectly balanced and in sync. It was impossible to say who had the upper hand as everything moved in a blur. Perhaps it might have even gone on forever… but then I felt it;

Cai coming in from the side, deciding to finally interfere.

He looked for an opening and I sensed his next move, but I was only just able to miss it by a second. Taking on just one at a time might have given me the slightest chance of victory… but two?

And it ended up being just as difficult as I thought. The only thing giving me a real edge now was the knife, both of them having to give a clear radius to avoid that. If they managed to disarm me I knew it would be over.

… The strange thing though was that neither of them had shifted. Taking them on in human form was only giving me the better advantage. I knew that if they were both to take their wolf forms I would be in trouble; my own wolf now lacking in strength since her absence.

“Kill them both,‘ the voice instructed frantically inside my head.

‘Do it. Before it‘s too late.‘

‘Do it.’

“Shut up!” I screamed back aloud in frustration.

It was never–ending. Never enough. Never stopping. I couldn‘t take much more. I just wanted my head to be mine again and mine alone.

“Who are you talking to?” Cai asked, closer behind me than I realised.

But I didn‘t reply

Instead, I just immediately turned around to lunge and, using my elbow to strike his jaw, I sent him straight to the ground with a thud. The impact alone had probably hurt more than my attack.

But I didn‘t waste time after that and quickly jumped on top of him, using my weight to pin his arms down.

I needed to be fast because I knew he was probably capable of overpowering me in overall strength again; him having recovered enough for at least that much. However, truthfully, I found it a little surprising when he was barely struggling against me.

“Aria,” he yelled urgently, his golden eyes locking with mine. “Stop. This isn‘t you.”

And I felt that wave of electricity in the air, trying to persuade me to stop. That same energy he’d manipulated me with for years.

…And I tightened my grip on my dagger.

Do it kill him. We can defeat Thea once we have his power.‘

…And positioned my hand.

‘FINISH IT. …And

“NO!” a voice yelled from behind me…

…And a wall of muscle quickly tackled me off Cai, sending us both flying along the ground and sliding several feet away.

I pushed and shoved against Aleric‘s grip but he was putting everything into this. It was almost impossible to free myself.

But I had something he didn‘t, something to give me the advantage here; my dagger.

And, as quickly as I could, I brought it up… Angling it and…

“Enough, Aria!” Aleric ordered and he disarmed the knife from me, throwing it as far away as possible.” Enough.”

It was over.

“Do it then,” | spat, still wriggling in a futile attempt to escape. “Get it over with. Kill me. Just like my parents, Aleric. Is that the kind of ‘help‘ you had in mind? Is that how you helped them?”

He growled and pushed my shoulders back down again to try and stop me from struggling.

“Yes, it is actually!” he said furiously. “That is exactly how I helped them. I saved them!”

“Stop it!” | screamed back. “You honestly think that what you did helped them? Do you just see their murder as some sort of messed up reversed logic where you‘re actually the hero? I bet that was Thea‘s doing. I bet she made you think that what you did was just–.”

“Your parents are alive, Aria!” he shouted, cutting me off. “That‘s what I mean by saving them!”

Immediately, my body stilled, shocked at what he‘d just told me.

“No…,” I said. “No, you‘re lying. You‘re just lying so I let my guard down.”

“Why would I need to do that? I could just finish you off now if I wanted to.”

“I saw their bodies, Aleric,” I argued. “I saw their blood on you. How can you possibly expect me to believe you?”

“If you actually saw their blood then tell me… where were their wounds?”

And I stopped for a second. Had there actually been wounds? I‘d seen their lifeless forms in my mother‘s office but I couldn‘t recall ever seeing where the blood would have come from. I‘d just put two and two together when I saw Aleric‘s hands.

“That blood belonged to a spy, Aria. Someone posing as one of the warriors,” he continued when I didn‘t answer. “He came down to the office with me when Tytus ordered for your mother to be detained. Except he didn‘t try to bring her in. Instead, he tried to kill her.”

“Then why were they dead on the ground?”

“They‘re not dead,” he stressed again. “They just looked that way. After the attack, your father came bursting in, having heard the news about your mother, and found me with the body of the spy. We concluded that he was going to try and frame me for killing your mother… so we let them all think that it worked.

If Thea was going after your family then we all agreed it was safer for them to be thought dead rather than alive, or at least until we could remove Tytus for full control. Your mother then quickly dosed your father and herself with a drug to give them the appearance of being deceased; obviously working well enough to fool even you. But they‘re both alive, Aria.

Your father has been protecting them in a safe location outside the pack all these months, waiting for me to give them the okay to come back.”

I looked at him, battling inside over whether I should believe him or not. On the one hand, I was struggling with how it contradicted what I thought I saw… but on the other hand, I really wanted it to be true. i

“… Then why wouldn‘t you tell me sooner?” I argued.

‘When could I?! When did you even give me the slightest chance to? I‘ve seen you once in over three months and it was after I was holding yet another spy hostage.”

“You could have told me then. You could have told me in the cells after she left.”

He sighed. “I‘m just trying to protect them, the same as I have been this entire time,” he answered, his voice calming down a little. “…Only now I‘ve had to protect them from you. I knew it the second you walked into the cells, Aria… you‘re sick. And you don‘t even know it.”

I started struggling again under him, trying to move free.

First he tells me a story about my parents being alive, now he was trying to say that I was the problem. That my parents actually needed protection from me?

“No… no, no, there‘s nothing wrong with me,” I said, wriggling in his grasp. “You‘re wrong. You‘re just being used by Thea. You‘re–.”

“Snap out of it already!”

And I stilled once more, looking up at him wide–eyed. He had that serious expression about him, the same one that made me want to believe him. Like something tugging at me inside to listen.

“Fine, you don‘t believe me? You‘re so sure that you‘re fine, right?” he asked and pulled himself back upright, allowing for me to sit up. Risky considering I could have made a run for it. “Just see for yourself then.”

And then he grabbed my arm forcefully and stretched it out between us, his grip tight as he held it in place.

“Hey! W–what are you doing,” I said, trying to pull it back. “Stop.”

“Look Aria,” he ordered and he proceeded to slide his hand down the inside of my arm along my skin.

“I don‘t… I don‘t know what I’m meant to be looking at. Your hand? My arm?”

“You‘re eighteen, Aria,” he said as if that was going to make things any clearer.

“And…?”

But he just sighed, obviously unimpressed by my answer. “And what happens after your eighteenth?”

“I frowned in thought, looking at where he was still holding my arm. What was he talking about? Shifting maybe? Was he referring to how my wolf was absent? What would that have to do with my arm though?

…But then I finally realised what he was referring to.

…And a cold feeling of dread quickly spread throughout my whole body.

“Wait… No…,” I whispered in shock and grabbed back at his arm frantically, touching his skin over and over again. “No, no, why can‘t … Why isn‘t it there?”

Selene had said there was no changing it, that it was set in stone the moment of our conception. So where was it? I knew what this was supposed to feel like, I‘d lived a life of knowing the exact sensations that should be there.

But there was nothing.

Aleric was my mate… and I couldn‘t feel the mate bond.

“…Where is it?!” I asked, panic filling my voice. “Why can‘t I feel it?!”

And I quickly looked up into his eyes, full of sadness as he quietly watched me, and everything came crashing down. Just his look alone was enough to tell me that, whatever this was, it really was just my side who couldn‘t feel it. That I was the problem.

No sparks, no pull, no feeling of relief from being near him.

Just… nothing.

…And a tear fell down my cheek as I held his gaze.

“…What‘s wrong with me?”

I hadn‘t thought about it much since I already knew from my prior life that we were mates. I‘d lived four years already knowing he was tied to me so it just felt like any other day.

Somehow between everything that happened with Tytus, with my parents, with losing my wolf, with becoming Alpha… it just slipped my mind. Something so important and yet I‘d forgotten in between all the chaos.

But then why wasn‘t it there? Why couldn‘t I feel it?

Was I actually sick?

…And I realised that if I really was the problem, if something really was wrong with me, didn‘t that mean Aleric was maybe telling the truth? Were my parents alive?

It started to feel as though I couldn‘t breathe and I began questioning everything that had happened over the last few months, instantly overwhelming me

“The second you walked into the cells, it was like all of my anger and frustration just immediately evaporated. Almost as though the world just completely stopped. and there was only you,” he said quietly.

“It was like nothing else I‘d ever experienced and words couldn‘t come close to properly describing it. You‘d already told me previously that we were going to be mates but I guess I just didn‘t expect for it to feel like… that.”

I knew what he was talking about even though I hadn‘t felt it in this life. I could still vividly recall the first time I‘d seen him in the past, how it was meant to feel and how world–changing it was.

But then he took a deep breath, his jaw tightening “Except the person who entered was acting as though nothing was different, as though we hadn‘t just felt the most intense emotional pull of our lives, forcing us to gravitate to one another.

Instead, you just looked at me coldly, speaking words that I would have never expected you to say. Behaving in a way I didn‘t even recognise to be you anymore. And I knew something was wrong.”

“I–I‘m so confused,” I said, frowning. “I don‘t understand how this happened. Why I can‘t see you as ––”

And I immediately remembered where I‘d heard something like this before this ability to affect one‘s perception of the mate bond. After all, they‘d done something similar, yet the exact opposite, to Cai.

Thea.

But it wasn‘t the same as him and I didn‘t have Thea hanging around… so how was it she was able to manipulate me this much?

The metal sound of closing handcufís broke my deep thought and I looked sharply down to find a pair had been tightened around one of my wrists, immediately draining me from the silver

Cai now stood next to us, his expression completely stony as he stared down at me. Almost as though he were looking at a stranger he detested… and I knew instantly this was his doing

“…What‘s this for?” I asked and began tugging at the metal. “Take this off. Now.”

“No,” he replied flatly.

“Cai… let‘s just try and figure this out first,” Aleric said.

“We both agreed to do this,” Cai snapped back, annoyed. “Don‘t get all soft now just because she‘s close by. That‘s the mate bond messing with you. You know as much as I do just how dangerous she is.”

“That was before…” Aleric said. “Back when I thought she wasn‘t going to listen.”

“She didn‘t listen! She‘s still batshit insane and was ready to attack before we even had a chance to talk. Until we work this all out, we‘re sticking with the original plan.”

“You‘re not doing anything.” I said, anger flaring. “Let me out of these. Right now. This is still my pack and you‘ll show me respect.”

“Or what?!” Cai asked furiously, turning to me. “You‘re going to try and kill me for a third time? Or should w e say fourth if we take into account the first time you held a knife to me? I really, really* tried to give you the benefit of the doubt, Aria, but there is only so much I can take. And let‘s not forget everything else you‘ve done on top of that.”

“Like what?”

“Like enslaving almost half the country and forcing them to submit into an alliance? Like killing Tytus? Lucy? Spy or not, she was your attendant for four years and you didn‘t even look remotely shaken up.

You‘ve gone from being a girl who worked relentlessly to avoid war and needless pain; a girl who wanted nothing more than to change the oppressive system and to create a better world… to this. A cold blooded killer who doesn‘t even trust the ground they stand on, let alone can act rationally. If you could just see yourself clearly, you would agree.”

“Enough, Cai,” Aleric said, standing up to face him. “She‘s sick. You‘ve made your point already.”

“And what if she‘s not?” he asked. “What if you‘re looking into this more than you should be because you just want it to be true? Hoping that the girl we both knew still exists? You know, I had Thea around me for months manipulating an artificial mate bond… doesn‘t mean I forgot how to act sane. Whoever this is, she‘s completely devoid of compassion, rationality… morality.

I looked into her eyes as she was about to kill me before and it was like looking into soulless holes. Not the first time she‘s looked at me like that either.”

“Enough, Cai!” Aleric growled, grabbing his shirt. “You‘re not helping.”

And they both stared at each other, silently furious at one another, until Cai finally sighed.

““I‘m going to go cool off outside,” he said, taking a step back so Aleric would let him go. “But I meant let her out of those cuffs. Seriously. Whether she realises it or not, she‘s clearly one of the most dangerous things out there. Second only to a goddamn mortal Goddess trying to murder us all.”

“Fine,” Aleric conceded. “But I‘m not putting her in the cell. She can sleep in her room guarded.”

…Listening to all of this I felt… helpless. Vulnerable. Unsure of everything I‘d done.

All of my actions had felt… justified. I did what I thought I had to do in order to survive. But they both sounded so outraged by everything, so convinced that I was acting crazy. So was I wrong? Was I so far gone in whatever was wrong with me that I couldn‘t see what I‘d done wrong?

…When I didn‘t feel even the tiniest bit guilty?

It meant either they were wrong… or I was. And I was struggling to cope with everything that the latter would entail. Who could I trust above all else if not myself?

… Three years of making me distrust everyone.

… Three years of convincing me I was better off alone.

…Of convincing me to kill everyone.

And, suddenly, everything I believed to be true instantly fell to pieces around me. I finally realised how Thea had been able to affect the mate bond.

Because it turns out that maybe Aleric had been right. Thea really was closer than any of us realised. Closer than anyone would have ever expected.

In fact, the answer had been right there the entire time.

… Thea was inside my head.

She was the voice I‘d been listening to all these years.

And I quickly realised that I really was the dangerous one.

“Aria?” Aleric asked, worried now from my silence.

But I could barely hear him, my own body starting to shake with the realisation of what I‘d done. What I‘d accomplished because of her.

From the very second she‘d appeared, she had been pushing me away from everyone under the pretence of being a part of me. She used my previous memories and pain against me, manipulating it in a way to make me think they were my own choices.

Hell, even the very first thing she ever tried to get me to do was to pull the knife out of Aleric and let him die. Just how long had she been planning this? How skewed had she warped my perception of everything and everyone around me?

No wonder she was always one step ahead of me.

No wonder it seemed like she wasn‘t making a move all these years.

She didn‘t need to. She didn‘t need to do a single thing.

Because she had me doing it all for her.

She‘d been slowly moulding me into a weapon for years.

…And, suddenly, the sound of her laughter filled my head.

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