There was only one choice.
Only one that would allow me to salvage what little I did have left. I‘d already burnt bridges, destroyed faith… ruined any chance of having the life I used to so desperately crave.
I couldn‘t necessarily fix what I‘d already done but I once used to believe that more bloodshed wasn‘t the way to solve the past, and that was probably still true now. Even if Thea made it harder to see things that way.
No, I needed to save him… even if it proved more difficult than worthwhile.
Calm down and think. I needed to consider this very carefully.
There was always a logical explanation for these things when analysed, some sort of strategy. She could mess with my emotions and how I perceived things, but she couldn‘t change the hard facts.
They were there if I just focused enough. I just needed to push past what I felt I needed to do, and concentrate on what the situation was actually telling me to do.
I needed to put myself in her shoes… and see the incentive behind her actions.
And so, I quickly closed my eyes and tried to see myself as her, thinking through what her decisions might have been that led her here, to this very moment….
…I entered the vault and grabbed the sword because I need it to break the protection… but I’m caught. The young boy who came with Aria isn‘t with her but instead is in the weapons section… but maybe I wanted that to be the case. Maybe I waited so long because I needed to catch him alone.‘
‘I don‘t kill him… because there is something else I require to break the protection. Something Aria has or is located next to. If that wasn‘t the case, I would have just disposed of him and attacked her immediately. But, no, I need him alive and to come with me because I still can‘t injure her directly; I need collateral. Something to use as a shield… someone to be a hostage.‘
‘l approach Aria with the boy and talk to her… Partly because I want to… partly because there is another reason. I try to force her into a situation where she has two options; to attack me or to flee.‘
… Why though? Am I gambling that Aria will do one over the other? And how would either them help me?‘
| opened my eyes again and looked at the scene in front of me, frowning in thought. Without more key information, I wasn‘t sure which path was the one she was betting on. Both of them were plausible and yet had their own issues.
… But then I realised something. Something I was overlooking….
She was talking to me.
It might not be in my head anymore but it was still the same thing she‘d always done; bringing up memories, making me lose hope… trying to make me scared and angry. Her weapon of choice was, and always has been, her voice.
So maybe I didn‘t need to know which one she ‘wanted‘ me to do. Maybe all I needed to know was which one she didn‘t.
…Which left only one thing I could do.
“I surrender,” I suddenly said, standing up from the table in defeat.
A look of surprise and confusion immediately crossed her and Brayden‘s faces… though Brayden‘s erring more on the side of terror than shock.
“I surrender,” I repeated. “You got me. I‘m contained in silver, underground, my bodyguard hostage… What am I supposed to do? You win.”
“What is this? You don‘t care whether I kill him, is that it?” she said and proceeded to throw Brayden to the ground before her, sword still pointed to his throat. “You think I won‘t?”
I paused for a second, taking in her abrupt reaction calmly. “No… I don‘t doubt that you will. I just don‘t know what you expect me to do here.
I‘ve fought long enough, am both mentally and physically drained to my limit. I surrender, Thea. You win. Give Selene my regards when you finally face her.”
Hesitation. She‘s hesitating, unsure what to do here. But, more importantly, it proved my theory correct; she couldn‘t hurt me yet. Which meant she couldn‘t kill Brayden either, her only leverage against me. Not yet anyway
She had tried to push me to act out of emotion, to elicit a reaction that would make me flee or attack her. Which meant there was only one option left.
By process of elimination, surrendering was the only thing! could do, the only thing I knew she didn‘t* want me to do. I was basically having to read myself and do the opposite of what I felt I was being persuaded to do.
‘Your move, Thea.‘
Quickly, she then looked around the room, scanning the area around us before her eyes finally settled on a book stacked by the table. Was that what she was after? A book? But why would a creature as old as time need a book?
I didn‘t get a chance to think on it more though as suddenly she kicked Brayden towards me, sending him flying across the ground.
So that was it… she was going to try and run. I called her bluff and she couldn‘t do anything else.
True to my assumption, she instantly turned around and started sprinting towards the exit. But she made a fatal mistake though, one crucial error….
She kept Brayden alive.
“Brayden!” I yelled. “Get up. You need to shift and follow her. Do not engage in combat. You are to follow her only.”
She must have thought I‘d waste time to make sure he was okay first but that was a bad assumption. We weren‘t civilians. We were trained, ranked members in one of the most elite packs in the whole country. If a kick to the gut was enough to keep us down, we didn‘t deserve the title. Sure, Brayden might be annoying and arrogant, but he had been trained since he was a child to handle more pain than that.
And he didn‘t disappoint.
Brayden quickly got up to his feet and, without saying another word, ran after her, shifting mid–air to take advantage of the better speed and senses.
Now for the hard part.
I looked down gravely at the handcuffs encircling my wrist and gritted my teeth. This was not going to be pleasant.
And I cried out in pain, all the while wasting no time in sliding the handcuffs over my now dislocated thumb.
I‘d prepared myself for this situation years ago but it didn‘t lessen the pain. After being sent to my death i n handcuffs already once before, I made a point of learning how to escape from them in this life should I ever find myself in another life–threatening emergency.
I‘d told myself that, if they were going to send me to the trial grounds again, it wasn‘t going to be while wearing them. Luckily for me, werewolf anatomy meant our joints were a bit more flexible thanks to our ability to shift.
Immediately. I felt my strength return to me, now free of the silver. A small part of me wondered if maybe I should be thanking Cai for the cuffs instead of the old silver collar… After all, it wasn‘t as though I could dislocate my head.
There was one major drawback in doing this though. It meant one of my hands were now out of commission.
I would only be able to defend myself with just my left; hand that wasn‘t my dominant one. It also meant I couldn‘t shift right now as running with only three good legs wasn‘t going to be any faster.
But I sprang into action nevertheless, chasing after the scents of both Brayden and Thea as it led me towards the exit.
I could only assume that if she‘d managed to sneak in here, that she had some way of staying hidden this whole time. That she‘d found an entrance that wasn‘t through the packhouse door upstairs. This meant I couldn‘t rely on her hopefully being slowed by warriors upstairs because she probably wasn‘t going to be running past any.
But when I was almost back at the vault entrance, I heard it. Loud growls and snapping noises coming from just outside. It sounded as though Brayden had engaged in battle, despite my clear instruction, not to get involved. The idiot was just meant to follow her, not attack her.
“Brayden!” I yelled as I made it outside, only to see Thea had him cornered.
He was on the defensive but that wasn‘t going to work now. He would need to shift back if he was planning to do close combat like that. Wolf form was better for battle when you had a large number of allies within an open space.
The only issue was that if he tried to shift now, Thea would just use that time he was transitioning to make her move.
“Don‘t shift!” I ordered as I quickly approached.
But I was a second too late.
Brayden had already realised that his wolf wasn‘t going to be enough to win and started to shift before I could get the words out.
And, just as I had predicted, Thea didn‘t look like she was going to wait. She‘d already made the error of letting him live once, I doubted she was going to do that twice.
She pulled the sword up, ready to strike, waiting for the moment he‘d be mid–transition as that would be when he was weakest…
And, as she did so, Brayden‘s face then turned to me as he shifted, finally realising his mistake.
Full of terror as it was too late to stop what he had already started.
The look of a man who knew he was about to die.
And so I did the only thing I thought would work….
At the last moment, before she brought the sword down, I threw myself in front of Brayden, using myself as a shield. If she needed the book inside then it meant she still wasn‘t going to be able to touch me, it meant that
The sword pierced right through my shoulder, slicing into me as though I were made of butter.
And I stared in shock. Frozen in place.
I stared from where the sword was embedded inside me… up to where Thea was looking down at me with the biggest smile on her face.
Of course, I‘d sensed the attack but that didn‘t mean I expected it to be fulfilled. In fact, I didn‘t understand how this was possible at all. I‘d thought through everything so carefully.
If she‘d been able to hurt me this entire time then why had she waited so long? Why had she bothered to capture Brayden and flee when I tried to surrender?
And then the pain finally hit me.
I screamed out and fell to my knees, tears starting to fall down my face. The silver mixed in with the injury was one of the most excruciating things I‘d ever felt.
Perhaps it had been a blessing that this sword had killed me with just one strike in the past. Death would have been a kinder result than this pain.
…But maybe that wish would be a reality soon enough.
“Aria!” Brayden yelled, now finished with his shift.
He tried to lean me against the wall for support but the sword made that difficult.
“Let me help with that,” Thea then said and quickly pulled the blade back out, forcing another cry of paint o to escape my lips.
So it really was over then. My expiration date was finally here.
I knew what would happen now. With the blade removed, I would start to lose too much blood before I had time to heal.
The poison from the silver would prevent my accelerated healing from closing the wound quickly. So even if she decided not to finish the job herself, the silver would do the rest for her.
With what strength I could muster, I then grabbed Brayden‘s shirt with my one good hand and pulled him down to look me in the eyes, forcing contact so he wouldn‘t be able to refuse me. That there would be no questioning my very clear order this time.
“Get. Out. Of. Here,” I commanded through gritted teeth, pouring as much authority into it as I could.
This whole situation had been a mess from the beginning with odds stacked against me. I‘d wanted so badly for it to be possible to retrieve both the sword and save Brayden. But it resulted in just the way I‘d expected; I really couldn‘t have it both ways.
The blade then came swinging down towards Brayden and I quickly kicked his legs out from under him, forcing him to hit the ground just as he narrowly avoided her attack. The difference in speed between the two of them was obvious.
There was no chance Brayden would be able to take her on by himself. He couldn‘t even see her attacks coming, let alone defend against them. Thea was far stronger than even an Alpha. A Gamma heir alone would be too weak.
“I said get out of here, idiot! Now!” I yelled again.
And, with one final look of hesitation towards me, he finally carried out my instructions, jumping back and shifting mid–air to escape up the stairs.
He was free. He was safe.
“That was stupid of you.” Thea commented as she watched him leave. “Wouldn‘t the smarter thing be for him to try and save you?”
“And just let him die?” I asked. “Wouldn‘t make any of this worth it if he just got instantly cut down. He doesn‘t stand a chance against you in one-on–one combat. We both know that.”
If we were going to start the apocalypse then let it not be completely in vain. If Brayden lived then maybe I could die with at least some redemption. It was just one person‘s life but maybe it would be the one good thing I could accomplish before I left.
I never thought this would be how I finally went though. Who would have guessed that I would end up dying for the asshole who testified against me in my trial? Someone who, in this life, had made my time just as miserable with every interaction.
Who had stupidly ran into battle when I‘d expressly told him not to, knowing full well that her strength outweighed both of ours combined.
“Tell me then,” I said, pushing myself backwards to sit more upright. I was trying to use the wall to put pressure on my exit wound whilst I held the front, but I knew that was a futile hope. No one could survive this injury. “What was it then? I‘m assuming the book you brought to my attention was just a ruse?”
Her smile grew smugger as she looked down at me. “Correct.”
So she did that to lull me into a false sense of security. Made me think that the piece she needed to break the protection was still incomplete so I would act more confidently. But then what had changed between the moment she‘d fled to when she had cut me down?
“I‘m going to die any minute. Are you really going to drag this out for suspense? Just tell me already.”
“Do you know what the protective curse actually entails?”
I sighed at her refusal to just give me a straight answer. “It stipulates that you cannot directly wound those of us who come from the original lineages.”
“Right. And I didn‘t.”
I frowned at her confused. She sliced into me like it was nothing. How was that not a direct attack on me? Was it just because my head was becoming light that I wasn‘t able to see what she was getting at?
“It wasn‘t a direct attack on you,” she said, answering the question in my mind. “It was a direct attack on the boy. You willingly stepped in between him and the sword of your own volition. Just as I wanted you to do from the beginning.”
And I slowly started to see how it fit perfectly with her actions inside the vault up until now. She had been trying to get me to attack her all along, wanting me to fall on the sword myself. But that meant…
“It means that this was the missing piece,” she answered. “Selene did her best to make the curse almost like an impenetrable loop; something that would basically guarantee her protection from me.
In order to break it, I had to shed blood from one of the mortal children, and do so by the sword that first forged the curse. But the curse stipulated that I couldn‘t directly spill your blood.
Therefore it seems impossible, a never–ending cycle of being unable to complete the requirements. Except, over the many years, I finally theorised two ways around it.
Ways I don‘t think even Selene considered when she initially created this dumb riddle”
She then moved the blade and held the point to my chest.
‘The first way I thought of was to use one of the children. You all, by proxy, hold a piece of me inside you, so if I were to have one of you shed the blood of another on my behalf, this would, theoretically, mean that I have completed the criteria to break it.
It also seemed like the easiest method if I could just get you all to turn on each other.”
So that‘s how she succeeded in my first life. She had Aleric finish me off, framing me for a crime that was punishable by death and waited for the ceremonial sword to be used. With Cai and I both dead, and the curse broken, it would have been easy enough to finish off Aleric by herself.
She had to be extremely careful with that method though which was probably why she took so long to do it. If she had me killed off without breaking the curse, it would have been incredibly difficult for her to finish off Aleric. He would have become almost untouchable with no other lineages surviving.
“But you seemed to figure out that plan once Selene got involved and showed you our past. A surprise to even myself given her aversion to intervention.
Regardless, I did my best to make you mistrust her, to make you turn on the others despite that, but evidently, it wasn‘t enough.
I was forced to completely back out of that strategy once you realised it was actually me manipulating you the whole time.”
“And the second…,” I panted, my breathing becoming more shallow as I grew weaker. “The second was to have one of the children stand in the middle of your attack, right? To willingly accept the blow of the sword even though you‘re not intentionally directing it at them.”
“So what now then?” I asked weakly. “What are you going to do once you‘ve taken back your power from me?”
“I‘m taking more than just ‘my‘ power back,” she said, crouching down to eye level. “I‘m taking that piece of Selene too, snatching it away before she can come to retrieve your soul.
Her affinity for prophecy was always far better than my own, a testament to how it‘s manifested inside of you, a mere mortal. The other two won‘t really stand much of a chance once I acquire that.”
Would she have full control over it unlike me? Seeing the future had always been unpredictable and I‘d just accepted that it was something I would never have command over.
Thea on the other hand, having been born with the power, would probably have the strength required to harness it the way it needed to be.
And she was right. Aleric and Cai really wouldn‘t stand a chance against an enemy who could predict their every move. Especially now the curse was broken.
They were as good as dead as soon as I was gone.
Thea then stood back up, breaking me from my thoughts, and quickly positioned the sword‘s point against my chest once more.
“Any last words?” she asked.
And I looked up at her face. Well, since I was going to die anyway….