“Aleric…,” I cried, feeling completely useless.
This wasn‘t good. This was really, really not good.
And worse, even on the small possibility that this wasn‘t Thea‘s doing, there was no chance she didn‘t already know by now. Either way, I was wasting time being stuck inside this vision.
I needed to get out. Now.
| slapped at my cheeks, wishing more than anything to break out, but it was no use. I wasn‘t really ‘here‘s o there was no physical pain trigger.
A snapping sound then came from somewhere in the distance, and I immediately looked up towards it. It sounded like someone had stepped on a branch further into the woods.
I wasn‘t the only one who noticed either as Aleric also detected something, walking cautiously towards it. It didn‘t leave me many options in what I could do next… I had to follow him.
We walked for maybe a few minutes, deathly silent the entire time, before a clearing came up ahead. I knew this had to be it. The place where it would happen.
He took two steps, assessed the area, and then
A wolf tackled into Aleric, sending them both flying to the ground as the beast began to growl and bite at him. But it was more unfortunate for the wolf, if anything, since something like that wasn‘t nearly enough to keep Aleric down… and he swiftly proved my point.
Without much effort on Aleric‘s end, he managed to easily take care of the wolf, twisting its neck, and finishing him within seconds. He hadn‘t even broken a sweat by it, let alone exerted himself in any way.
…But was that really it? That seemed a little… too easy.
Not enough to warrant a vision anyway.
Though, of course, I didn‘t need to wait long to find out.
Aleric must have sensed whatever it was since he immediately prepared himself, looking around the area as if expecting something to jump out.
But it wasn‘t just ‘someone‘.
No, for lack of a better word, it was a small army. At least five or six dozen people suddenly emerged from the trees into the large clearing ahead; some shifted, some not. All of them either armed or ready to fight… against just Aleric. The odds were not in his favour.
But, to my surprise, Aleric didn‘t even seem remotely phased. His face was completely calm as he assessed the situation, his eyes scanning the area as if taking internal notes of exactly where everyone was. And, with a final small sigh, he rolled his shoulders back and stretched his neck from side to side.
The enemy was either taken aback by his collected manner or, at least, were waiting to see what he‘d do next. It meant they knew who he was, knew what he was capable of as they didn‘t dare rush in. But they wouldn‘t want to hold their breath if they were waiting for Aleric to blindly rush in and stan. He wasn‘t that stupid.
A minute or two passed with both sides still cautiously evaluating the other. It dragged on almost to the point of being ridiculous before, finally, Aleric reached down and grabbed a rock, lightly tossing it within his hand as he got a feel for its weight. And of the few who weren‘t shifted, I could see their expressions become tenser, as if expecting him to finally attack.
…Only Aleric didn‘t need to use the rock as a close combat weapon. Instead, he promptly took a step back with one foot, twisted his body… and threw the rock with so much force it immediately hit the closest wolf.
They bled out almost instantly, the rock cutting into the flesh by their neck. There hadn‘t been remotely enough time for the wolf to react to the impending projectile.
Judging from the reaction of the crowd, none of them had anticipated Aleric to throw it with that* much speed and power. But it was apparently the final straw for them. Quickly, they all started to charge at him, the woods erupting in a chorus of cries and growls.
Five wolves came at Aleric first from all sides, trying to impede his ability to dodge, but he swiftly kicked back three and took two out without any trouble, finishing the other three easily by the time they‘d recovered to charge him again.
This must have enraged the group, having seen him just take out five of their men so effortlessly, and several more advanced on him. In fact, Aleric became almost a blur as he rapidly defended and attacked.
Regardless of the direction or their approach, he was always ready and anticipating their next move. It was the exact reason Aleric and I were somewhat balanced when fighting now; where I could literally sense his next move from my ties to foresight, Aleric, on the other hand, was such a skilled fighter with insanely keen senses that he was able to predict the next moved based on body language alone. In such a large–scale event as this, it was easy to see just how powerful he was.
This was his true ability, both natural and from his lineage. It made me wonder if he‘d just been going easy on me up until now.
By the time he‘d taken out approximately twenty enemies, I could tell he was finally starting to properly try. Not to say he was getting tired, but I knew it would probably become difficult to finish off the remaining fifty or so enemies still waiting to have their go.
On… and on… and on the battle went. Twenty… twenty–five… thirty… forty. He worked through each opponent methodically and never slowed… but when there were finally only around fifteen enemies remaining, I could see he was reaching his limit.
He looked… exhausted. Now covered in dust, blood and sweat, he heaved at the air as he awaited the next attack. But his eyes were still as sharp and focused as when the fight had started. He might have been tired, but he was still ready to keep going regardless.
I knew he would probably shift soon. Now the numbers had lowered, he would be able to take advantage o f his wolf to manage the open space better and conserve strength, utilising the extra stealth to pick off
remaining enemies and kill any who tried to run. It was something the opposition probably realised too as they paused for a minute to reassess the situation.
…And another stalemate ensued.
The majority of their numbers were now dead or too injured to continue and yet Aleric was still standing with barely more than a few surface scratches. Surely, they had to realise they weren‘t a match, right?
Only… I remembered then that I wasn‘t watching this live.
I‘d become so engrossed in watching the fight that I‘d almost forgotten what this was. A vision.
And that meant there would be no happy ending here,
‘Wake up,’ I internally screamed at myself, wanting more than anything to snap out of it already
But then a man walked forward.
Unlike the others, he didn‘t look afraid. He didn‘t cower or act cautious… No, the only way to describe him was that he looked… unstable.
With wide eyes and nose flaring, he approached Aleric, seeming completely out of it. A man possessed in how he moved. Was it from witnessing all his comrades mercilessly die or from something else?
Aleric quickly focused in on him, watching carefully for when he‘d attack.
But… something didn‘t feel right. Something about him, about how he was acting….
‘Wake up, wake up, wake up.‘
He slowly reached behind him, grabbing something from his pocket…
‘Wake up, c‘mon already!”
…Pulling out a metal looking object, something that made everyone in the area look at him confused; even his fellow allies. None of us apparently had ever seen it before… Which only made me more worried.
‘ WAKE UP
He lifted it up, pointing it directly towards Aleric…
‘WAKE UP ALREADY.’
A small flash of light emitted from the device before sounding off a deafening noise in its wake. The birds in the area immediately flew off, fleeing as fast as possible. It was loud enough to make me fall backwards to the ground in surprise, along with several of the enemies too. Like me, they were taken off guard just as much as I was.
…And then silence fell.
Silent enough to hear a pin drop.
“Not a single person moved as we all stared in shock, wondering what the hell had just happened….
…Something that was only broken as Aleric then suddenly groaned… and fell to his knees.
I quickly got back up to my feet and ran toward him… only I couldn‘t touch him. I wasn‘t really here. This wasn‘t really real… not yet anyway.
He was bleeding from his shoulder though I hadn‘t seen any knife or weapon thrown towards him. Yet there was so much blood. From just one tiny hole. What the hell could do something like that?
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” one of the other enemies yelled.
I turned around to see that the man who‘d just yelled had grabbed the crazy one with the metal object, shoving him around.
“Are you trying to have the Goddess smite us? Have the entire country hunt us? What would possess you to wield a forbidden human weapon?”
…Human weapon? So this was… this was something banned from our species. This was the highest offence he could have committed; a crime that jeopardised our way of life and the entire country. This went beyond pack wars and petty disputes, but was something deemed to be taboo by our kind as a whole; a pact to remain hidden and safe from the outside human world. Regardless of whether he belonged to a pack or was a rogue… no one would ever dare to overstep that line.
The crazed man began to laugh, clearly out of it as he watched Aleric suffer with amusement.
“I fear that witch more than I do the Goddess,” he said. “It was her will that I wield this weapon. This is the only way to earn my redemption.”
“Even if we survive this now, we will die anyway thanks to what you‘ve just done. You‘re delusional if you think the witch is going to protect you when people find out about this.”
But he simply smiled, his body shaking from laughing. “Then I die knowing I did all I could to survive this world. A rogue‘s life is one filled with only tragedy. Just look at the fate of our fellow brothers surrounding US.”
The second man looked disgusted by him yet scared all at once. Even for someone planning to hurt Aleric moments ago, it was abundantly clear that some things were too far.
“Our orders were to ‘capture‘ him. Capture. Not ‘kill,” a different rogue interjected.
Though despite those orders, all of them were arguing whilst Aleric continued to bleed out.
“Why isn‘t he healing?” one of them finally chimed in.
“… It‘s a silver bullet,” the insane man explained. “The witch had it prepared specifically for this.”
So, it was Thea‘s idea. Of course. Only she would be brazen enough to bend the very morals of our kind. And who could say what she‘d even done to the man? She could have easily preyed on a weaker willed mind and turned them into this*. Made them see what she wanted them to. Was this who she had been manipulating whilst I‘d been out of her reach?
“…Oh, Goddess…” one man said, beginning to pray.
“Enough, we don‘t have time for this,” the second man snapped. “Regardless of the means, we‘ve got him now. We can‘t change what‘s already happened.”
“What about the other one? The girl?”
“If this one could kill so many of us with his bare hands alone… I don‘t particularly feel like fighting the Saintess who, up until recently, was also considered an Alpha of that cursed Winter Mist. I’ve heard rumours that she‘s as crazy as she is dangerous.”
“…Aria…,” I heard Aleric then softly whisper.
| quickly looked back towards him as he gritted his teeth, applying pressure to his wound.
“…Aria… if you see this, don‘t come for me.”
I felt myself tense up from shock. Was it just sheer luck or did he actually correctly guess I would witness the battle?
And not just that, but he wanted me to leave him. As if such a thing was possible. The very second this vision was over, I would make it to him in time… with two of us and my knowledge, they wouldn‘t have a chance.
“We‘re done. The witch said we only needed one and to focus on the male. Grab him and let‘s get the hell out of here already.”
“–Aria. Don‘t. Think it through clearly.”
The rogues grabbed at Aleric and pulled him to his feet, wasting no time to badly bandage the wound and handcuff his hands behind his back.
‘WAKE UP ALREADY. WAKE UP. WAKE UP. WAKE UP
‘WAKE UP. WAKE UP:
My eyes flew open and I gasped at the air, finally free from the horrific experience.
Truthfully, I definitely felt weakened… but not enough that I would be completely useless in a fight. I had become strong enough to withstand the energy it stole from me, though that didn‘t make it any easier.
I got to my feet and sprinted out the door, instantly shifting mid–air into my wolf form, and started bee-lining it towards where Aleric was. His scent was unmistakable as I followed it, pushing myself to go faster and faster….
Going as quickly as I could, all the while focusing on nothing else except getting to him. Making it there before
I came to a halt so quickly that I fell to the ground, tumbling along the rocky dirt several feet before finally stopping
…I was too late.
No… no, no, this couldn‘t be happening.
And I shifted back, tears filling my eyes as my body shook.
How much further into the woods was he? Another five minutes? Another fifteen?
What was I meant to do?
If I made it there and Aleric was already in handcuffs, then it would make things considerably more difficult. They could use him as a hostage to make me comply, threatening to hurt him further. Not to mention, they also still had that weapon. Whatever it was, it had been so quick that I hadn‘t even seen what it did to Aleric. How was I meant to fight against something like that? Something completely unknown? I probably wouldn‘t even be able to get a word out before it hit me.
…So, was I just meant to leave him then?
No, that was unthinkable. Regardless of the consequences, saving him was all that mattered. It was the only thing I cared about.
‘“…Aria. Don‘t. Think it through clearly.“‘
| swatted back my tears angrily. He was right. I didn‘t want to do the logical thing because it hurt too much … but he‘d already figured out what the cost of losing here was. And it was extremely pricey.
The rogues mentioned that they were sent by Thea and their orders were to capture one of us. Only one, with the focus on Aleric.
This told me one thing, and one thing only.
They wanted to use him as bait.
I could assume her goal was to send me back into an emotional frenzy in my attempt to rescue him. With us at her mercy, she could do what she wanted.
And, for all I knew, there were others waiting in the woods that I hadn‘t seen too, waiting with different orders for when I‘d arrive.
But this was possibly my only saving grace too. It meant she couldn‘t kill him yet. Aleric was more useful to her alive than dead so she could lure us in.
And, unlike my ability, Aleric‘s wouldn‘t make it near impossible to defeat her should she acquire his power. More strength wasn‘t going to significantly tip the power balance in her favour like my foresight would.
…So, this was what Aleric meant by don‘t follow. He‘d calculated that his life wasn‘t worth risking the chance of Thea acquiring my ability. That it really would be game over if she got her hands on me. Not just for both of us, but for everyone. Our whole species.
…He‘d valued his own life less than everyone else‘s. Something that broke me a little inside to even think about
But knowing the safest thing to do here didn‘t make it any easier.
Even the very thought of letting him go was destroying me. How was I meant to remain calm when they had him? When Thea would be getting her hands on him to do whatever she wanted? She might not kill him, but I doubted she would make his stay very pleasant.
Was I meant to just sit back and ignore that?
“F#CK,” I screamed out in frustration, hitting the ground with my fist.
I was so sick of sacrificing everything because of interference outside my control. Giving up my life for a Goddess that had never shown me gratitude. I never asked to be born into this lineage, never wanted to be reborn again even.
…I should have just let them all burn. Take my chances now to try and kill the rogues. Rescue Aleric. Run away with him and never turn back. Run so far that, even without the ring, Thea still wouldn‘t be able to find me.
Screw this world and the constant demands of me. I was done.
l instantly inhaled deeply, hearing Aleric‘s voice in my head to remind me to control myself.
… This was her influence, still rooted inside. The very thing I‘d be training against. Yet I‘d almost fallen prey to it once again.
It was true that Aleric was now in a deadly situation but there were still things worth fighting for. My parents, for one. Living to hopefully see them again without putting them in danger. Elder Luke and Alexander too. hell, even Brayden didn‘t deserve to die.
I needed to separate myself from her and focus instead.
But even in times like this where I couldn‘t completely trust myself, I knew I could trust Aleric. He‘d been a voice of reason to help cut through the mess Thea created inside me.
So, despite the fact that every ounce of my being was screaming at me to run in there and save him… I had to trust him now more than ever. Trust that my first assessment was correct. And that was telling me not to follow.
It was the ‘logical‘ thing to do… even though it killed me to even consider it.
And so I stood up, forcing my legs to move one after the other back towards the cottage, back towards the Winter Mist
The opposite direction from Aleric, from the very being I‘d found happiness with.
The best decision here was the one that was hardest to make. The decision where I left to formulate a plan instead of giving in to exactly what Thea wanted.
I needed to focus. To stay composed. To push out every single one of my doubts and vulnerabilities because that was going to make saving him impossible.
And with every step away from him I took… I detached myself a little bit more.
It was time to form a strategy and finally fight back.