Rain poured gently over the sullen crowd gathered within the large circular field of the central pack house. She felt the cold water trail down her face in rivulets, getting caught in her long thick lashes.
The gentle curls at the tips of her silver-white hair were soaked straight as water trickled down to the small of her back. The fabric of her dress was sticking to her. It was freezing, but she didn't feel it much. The cold had numbed her.
Words boomed harshly by a voice laced with fury over the crowd, easily heard over the consistent patter of the rain. Not that she heard his words, even with the seriousness of the situation.
Something else had taken her wolf's full focus.
Lo stared at the large male who stood behind the shouting Alpha on the raised platform in front of the packhouse.
The females around her were all knelt on the ground with their heads deeply bowed and tilted to the side, their hair tucked over a shoulder so their necks remained exposed, hands planted on the ground in front of them.
It was the tradition in her pack in the presence of their Alpha.
They were never to make eye contact, never to speak unless spoken to. Lo knew the rules well, she had a submissive gentle nature; her mother often told her this; even before the ways of the pack were forced upon her.
So whatever was compelling her to break every rule instilled inside her, even to go against her very nature, she couldn't understand.
The urge to cast her eyes downward was thwarted by the urge to stare at this striking male who stood so stoically beside the gathered Alphas. Her heart wouldn't stop pounding and despite the numbing cold, she felt a flush of heat pink her pale skin.
He was immense, even compared to the imposing statures of the three Alphas around him. It was obvious he was no Alpha considering he was not regarded as one by the others gathered, but he radiated the power of one.
An Alpha's son, an Alpha heir, he had to be.
His short dark brown hair was flattened by the rain as he stood nude upon the platform. It was obvious he was fresh out of a shift; the rain had not yet washed the remnants of blood that trickled down his front from the recent battle.
Lo followed the trail of the reddened droplets down his heavily muscled form, every line of him was masculine. She wasn't even shy to observe his impressive maleness between his legs. The wolven people were comfortable in the way nature made them.
They were animals, and nudity was part of life. They preferred it, especially after a shift. The cold did not seem to bother him.
Lo pulled her attention back up to his face where a scar ran up the right side, starting from his strong jawline and slanted upward to the bridge of his nose, giving him a rough and rugged appearance. A mark like that on a wolf could have only been left by silver. It made him look fierce, like a warrior.
Strength is what she saw in him. Even from a distance, he had the greenest eyes she'd ever seen. She was only sixteen, weeks away from seventeen, and she was not yet known to males, but for the first time in her life, this male stirred her in a way that made her want to be.
Lo forcibly shook herself from her daze and flicked a glance to her own Alpha. Alpha Alik Orlov. He was bound and collared and being forced to kneel in front of the shouting Alpha by two Betas. A total of three Alpha and Beta pairs stood upon the platform, all from different woodland packs.
It was strange and unheard of for woodland packs to cooperate. Even as naive as she was, she knew that. Everyone knew that. The woodland wolf packs were always the most vicious. She didn't understand it.
The confusion of everything was still heavy in her mind. The chaos, the screaming only moments before. They had been invaded... their alpha, beta, and enforcers defeated. The bodies of the fallen were strewn all across the fields around them.
Death hung heavy in the air, even dulled by the rain. And all three pack's enforcers surrounded them. The sheer number was startling.
The pack didn't stand a chance.
Not that she felt remorse for those who had died. She felt nothing for the males of this pack.
Even though she was born here... she never once thought of them as her pack. Not with the way they were treated...
Lo focused on Alpha Orlov for a moment, and even in the state he was in, he still frightened her. His eyes were dark and wild, furious, almost crazed. His wolf was fully present.
The collar he wore contained embedded silver and a Liga, witchcraft burned into the dried skin of a wolven brethren. Lo always found them sickening, but they were used regularly in her pack. The cursed collar trapped a wolf in whatever form it was put on in.
The fact that his eyes held a feral glaze at all with the suppression of his wolf was a testament to his Alpha strength. The collar would not have allowed a lesser wolf to even have that.
His crazed angry eyes crossed over her for a moment, and Lo shuddered and dropped her gaze. If somehow he were to get out of this predicament, the pack would feel his full wraith. To be forced into that position as an Alpha was the gravest of offenses.
Alphas never knelt, ever.
They were beneath no one. She couldn't even imagine the fury he'd exhibit if released, for an Alpha to recover from this humiliation, the penalty for everyone who saw him in this vulnerable state would be harsh. He would surely make them all feel it.
If they survived his wraith at all.
Lo tightened her hands into fists on the muddy ground in front of her when she felt his fierce gaze linger on her. It was as if it burned. Even bound, he still frightened her. He never ceased to frighten her...
Even though he was also her father.
She carefully risked a glance at her mother beside her. She was tense; her hands clenched into fists in her lap. She didn't look at her; she kept her head down.
They shared the same traits. Silver-white hair and crystal blue eyes. Even their marks of fate were nearly the same. Beneath their right eyes, it was unique to every wolf. A light, nearly whitish mark.
To have a 'mark of fate,' beneath their right eye, as the wolven people called it, meant they had a soulmate, a kindred spirit that their wolves would recognize as their other half. A true mate, 'gifted'or 'fated.'
A soul that was truly made for them in every way. Her mother would often talk of them. The stories of fated mates were among her favorite stories her mother told her from her homelands.
Her mother was from the mountain packs of the winter wolves, far from this woodland pack they now called home.
Her mother had been among those stolen from their true packs and brought there to be forcibly bred. Alpha Orlov was ruthless. He didn't believe in making connections with others, he believed in dominating them.
Wolves were meant to be social creatures, but the Alpha did not encourage affection. He did not encourage love. He encouraged fear.
He would raid and kill weaker packs and steal their females or kidnap any females who were unfortunate to be away from the safety of their packs.
Her mother had suffered that fate. An opportunistic moment that changed her life forever.
And it brought Lo into being in the worst possible way.
But her mother did not love her less because of it. Her mother was not broken like the females they lived among. She taught Lo to keep her head down, to stay quiet, to not fight back or be defiant. It was how to stay unnoticed and unharmed.
The very reason Lo was not like the other females born there, was because of her mother's quiet defiance of telling her stories and teaching her the ways of the mountain.
In the quiet of the night as they lay in bed, she told Lo of the winter wolves, of her family. Lo had ten uncles, countless cousins, and grandparents who would love her. Her mother told her everything about them.
Lo felt as if she knew them already...
Her mother would often talk of someday finding a way back to them, and the possibility that they could someday be rescued. Lo clung on to that hope ever since she was a child.
Her wolf longed for the mountains. Longed for the cooler weather that her wolf was made for.
Lo absently brought a hand up to touch her mating mark directly above her heart, it was different than the mark of fate upon their face that all wolves could see.
The mating mark was something special they shared with their mates. It could be anywhere on their bodies, and it was a distinct pattern shared only among the fated pair. Her mark would match her mate's, and only his.
Her mother often said the placement suited her, because of her gentleness.
Lo inadvertently glanced up at the brunette male on the stage again. Something kept drawing her eyes to him. He shifted his weight suddenly and his hand moved to rub over the left side of his chest up onto his shoulder.
Lo felt heat flow through her in an odd way. She quickly dropped her hand and looked away.
Having a mate was a dream she had long since given up on.
Alpha Orlov saw no sanctity in matehood.
Once of age, no female was allowed to refuse a male who wanted her. No male was allowed to keep their mates to themselves. The females were a shared commodity to be used like objects for the soul purpose of expanding their population.
None dared to disobey those orders from fear of the harsh punishments that were dealt out in that very square. So most just chose not to mate in the pack. It would have just made their lives harder.
Lo knew a mate was a dream she would never get...
Lo carefully glanced to the foot of the male that stood beside them. His name was Balor. He was the male who often claimed her mother at night when the Alpha did not call her to his quarters.
He was strong in that sense, able to fight off others who sought her out, he was an enforcer, among the strongest, not that he had rank. He was just a brutish foot soldier.
He had found them almost immediately when they were dragged out of the pack house where they were all instructed to go if there was ever an attack. He now stood domineeringly over them. Like he had a claim on them.
He always acted that way. He would often mark around their cabin when doing his patrols. Like he owned them.
She hated his scent. It was among so many things she hated there...
She and her mother's genes were from a colder climate, they held more weight than their lithe woodland counterparts. For the mountain wolf females, it especially showed in the form of curves.
Her mother had been a favorite of the males for that reason. And especially a favorite of Balor's. She often heard him remark about it.
Lo hated that her mother was coveted by so many. Hated what she was forced to listen to because of her inhuman hearing.
Hated that Balor had begun to look at her lustfully too now that she was nearly of age...
She lived each day in fear knowing what would happen when she came of age. Females were deemed breedable once they had their first heats. Typically... that was around the age of seventeen.
She knew she didn't have long left of being untouched
...but now this attack changed everything. Or at least she hoped it did. Her eyes once more flicked to the large brunette male on the stage.
Balor shifted his weight, clearly in anger and nervousness. It brought her attention back to him. Lo smelled very little blood on him... he must have escaped the thick of the battle somehow.
Balor tensed again, and it was obvious he was being bothered by what was being said on stage, but Lo didn't dare look at his face. She could count on one hand how many times she'd done so. The backhands she received kept her from ever wanting to do it again.
Lo glanced back to male on the stage. His arms were crossed now, and his mouth had taken on a stern line. Lo didn't understand why she felt so compelled to look at him, despite all her teaching of never looking upon a male's face, especially one of rank. But somehow, he didn't frighten her.
And she kept feeling warm every time she did.
Lo finally looked to the shouting Alpha who stood before the others, but she could only look for a moment, because it made her gut wrench in protest.
Lo dropped her gaze, but even from what she saw, the resemblance struck her then. That must be the brunette male's father. Finally, she forced herself to focus on what he was saying.
"- son, Tristan Amery, has lawfully earned the right to lead you as my Gamma, he defeated your Alpha. You will address him as Gamma Amery. You are now a territory of the Lykaia pack. You will pledge your loyalty to me, Alpha Ivan Amery, and you will become a part of my pack." Alpha Amery continued.
Tristan... his name was Tristan. It settled in her mind as a pleasant thought.
"My females are not required to kneel; they are treated equally, they are valued. The atrocities committed against you here will never be repeated. But make no mistake, you will still bow your heads to me, you will respect my authority in all things, but I will not abuse my power as this pathetic excuse of an Alpha did. Your lives are your own.
To show you my sincerity in this matter, and for the horrors you have suffered here... for those of you forcibly taken from your homes, when everything has settled, I will allow you to return to your packs, if they still stand and you so wish." The Alpha's voice boomed over the crowd.
Lo noticed Balor tense even more beside her, but she suddenly found it hard to focus on him. A strange feeling bloomed inside her. A foreign feeling. One she rarely ever felt, not while living there.
The thought occurred to Lo that she may get to see their homelands. The mountains... the ones her wolf longed for in the stories her mother would tell her.
That deep-seated ache Lo had always felt could potentially be quelled. Was this Alpha saying... they would be able to leave this hell behind them?
Despite the coldness of the rain, a warmth started spreading in her chest.
This Alpha would truly allow them to leave?
No one ever left. To even try meant suffering a horrible death... that fear was what kept her mother from trying for so many years.
Lo could hardly believe it.
She may get to see the mountains... She could meet her grandparents... her mother's people. Maybe she would have cousins. A family...
So many thoughts raced through her mind. So many things she knew were out of reach to her moments before, had suddenly became a reality.
Lo glanced once more at Alpha Amery, an excitement was settling inside her, but when she carefully glanced at the wolves beside her, it didn't seem to be shared...
Her mind returned to the morning. All the screaming and panic. It seemed so far away now.
It felt like hours before they were dragged out by an enemy pack's enforcers to join the others in the square. The whole thing had felt surreal, even now.
The smell of blood and death still hung heavy in the air despite the rain dulling it, but it hardly scared her. She'd been desensitized to it.
The smell of suffering and death always hung in the air there. The square was where the Alpha dealt out his punishments. He was feared for a reason. No age or gender was safe from him. It kept them all in line.
And a death full of suffering was one of those punishments.
Even with the rain, the sour smell of fear heavily scented the air. It was clear none of the others shared in her sudden excitement. Lo wondered if they were too broken to understand the meaning of his words. The scent of terror was almost making her sick.
How little these intruders knew of what they'd endured living there...
Lo looked at her mother. She was still tense, her hands fisted in her lap, her head down.
"I understand harsh punishments were inflicted here in this very square by this pitiful male that kneels before you now." Alpha Amery's voice boomed.
Lo glanced up as the two Betas began dragging Alpha Orlov toward the whipping post erected in the center of the platform. Those who stood beside it moved out of their way. Lo began to breath heavy. Her insides tightened unpleasantly. Suddenly, she knew where this was going...
"For his actions against the very code we Alphas live by, he will be punished in the same fashion, with the same curtesy he bestowed upon you all." Alpha Amery yelled.
Lo dropped her head and closed her eyes. The moment she heard the clinking of chains, and the dragging of the whip against the wet boards of the platform, she clamped her muddy hands over her ears. She may have been desensitized to death, but she still couldn't handle the suffering.
With her heightened hearing, not even the muffling of her hands spared her from hearing the first crack of silver-encrusted leather hitting flesh. She jerked uncomfortably and tried her hardest to think of anything else.
She'd only felt the bite of that whip once, and the faded scars on her back felt as if they burned with each harsh strike of flesh she couldn't drown out.
Feeling that horrid sting just once made the pain forever vividly seared into her memory.
Hot tears began to mingle with the cold rain that dripped down her face. Lo concentrated on the sound of her own heavy breathing as she tried her best to drown out the horrible sound of flesh stripping. It took the Alpha a long time to finally release an agonized cry.
It felt like it lasted forever.
"Our attack and appropriation of this land was just and sanctioned by all six of the remaining woodland packs. We are all now bound by treaty.
There will be no more war between us, an agreement that would not have been made possible if it weren't for our collective hatred for this male before us now." Alpha Amery spoke loudly with force behind his words.
Lo glanced up, easing her hands off her ears. She furrowed her brow in confusion. Even sheltered as she was from the rest of their world, Lo knew full well all woodland packs preyed on each other. For land and for food.
Her mother told her they rarely established lasting connections, sometimes cease-fire treaties, usually after mating arrangements between highly ranked pack members, but never alliances. She knew she was witnessing a momentous moment among the wolves of their region.
"The days of packs preying on weaker ones for no other reason than for personal gain is over. We have grown beyond that. We must take lessons from our dessert counterparts, from our mountain brethren. They have come together as one, and if we still stand apart, we will be the weaker; we will be vulnerable." Alpha Amery shouted.
He turned toward the broken male tethered to the whipping pole. Lo couldn't even look at her father in that state. It made her sick.
"Alik Orlov, your despicable actions have led you to this fate. Your title as Alpha is hereby stripped. You have abused your pack members and your power as an Alpha and among the most criminal of all... you've sickeningly twisted our most sacred of traditions. For this alone, I sentence you Alik Orlov to death." Amery snarled.
A strange wave of restless stirring ripped through the crowd around her, but no one spoke a word.
"But first... I have one more matter to attend, one I want this male to witness." Alpha Amery spoke with hate laced in his tone.
His eyes snapped briefly to Alpha Orlov who was slumped on his knees, barely holding himself up. Even with his flesh stripped, muscle exposed, he still managed to keep himself upright.
"I have a confession. Twenty-six years ago, I made a mistake. I stood before another pack, much like I stand before you all now, except I was only a Gamma then. My father executed another Alpha that abused his power... but being a gentler male then, I took pity upon that Alpha's only offspring and asked my father to spare him.
My father allowed me to make the decision on what to do with that pack. I let anyone who didn't wish to join us leave, to go rogue or join other packs, I didn't care. I felt I had dealt out justice, and I had selfishly focused on my own accomplishment.
It never occurred to me then... that I would make not only a grave error for all of you... but for my own family, for my fellow Alphas that stand beside me now." The Alpha paused in his speech. He took several slow breaths before he continued.
"My attack on this territory wasn't wholly unselfish. This male slaughtered my daughter and her family in the worst imaginable ways... he also took important people of Alpha Barrette and Alpha Gaudin who stand beside me now, and then foolishly believed he would not be hunted down. I called a blood debt, it was this above all... that brought me to be standing here now. We sought retribution.
But it goes without saying that this is my fault, for allowing that same abuse of power to start another vicious cycle. Allowing that fourteen-year-old male to live is on me. Allowing this pathetic excuse for a wolf, for an Alpha, to live, is on me. Allowing him to gather his father's followers and form another pack, a larger one, and to become even WORSE than his father, that is on me.
My daughter's death, her mate and my young grandsons, and the death of so many others... is on my hands.
Everything you have endured... came at the cost of my naivety. I should never have allowed his bloodline to continue. For this... I apologize. I will not make that same mistake twice." The Alpha's tone had grown darker.
Lo's heart began to pound as his words began to sink in. The excitement she felt earlier, of maybe seeing the mountains her wolf so longed for... of seeing family... of being free with her mother, was starting to crash down on her in icy waves.
She could feel herself start to tremble. She knew what he was about to say next.
"Bring me all this male's offspring." The Alpha snarled. Lo's world froze. Her wide blue eyes immediately sought out the brown-haired male behind the Alpha who hadn't said a word.
She didn't know what caused her gaze to snap to him first at the threat to her life, she felt the pull of the wolf inside her to go to him; something inside her was telling her he'd protect her, but she didn't move.
The look on his face, as he stared straight ahead, was of solemn indifference.
What was she thinking? Why would he care?
Lo's heart pounded harder as she cast a frantic glance at her mother. She had expected to see fright, to see some kind of shocked reaction, but her mother was breathing hard, her head still down. Her wet silver-white hair curtained her face.
Lo glanced down at her hands. They were clenched so hard her knuckles had gone white. How long had she been posturing like that? Lo reached out to touch her, and her mother jerked as if she'd been burned. Her eyes snapped up to Lo, and Lo frowned in confusion at the fierce wolf glaze in her eyes.
"Mom..." Lo whispered. She didn't know what was going on, but something told her it had nothing to do with the Alpha's recent words. It seemed like her mother wasn't even listening.
Her mother had been tense since they were brought to the square, her head down. Lo knew this, but she had assumed it was nervousness.
"He's... my mate..." Her mother whispered in a husky voice, her body leaning forward to press more weight into her fisted hands as her gaze snapped up to focus hard on something directly ahead of them. Her wet hair clung to her cheeks and forehead, making her look almost crazed.
The wolf glaze in her eyes had grown fiercer, it was clear she was losing control of her wolf. Lo pulled in a hard breath when she noticed Balor snapped his head in their direction. He hadn't missed her whispered words.
Lo cast a frantic glance toward the stage, trying to gauge who her mother was looking at, and her breath caught when she realized she was staring directly at Alpha Amery.
"Mark my words, if they are not produced, and you force me to order them found, it will be far worse. I intend it to be merciful, but only if obeyed." Alpha Amery snarled harshly, his gaze scanning the crowd that had not moved at all at his command.
Lo took several hard breaths. She was torn between trying to focus on what was happening on the stage and trying to calm her mother.
"Please mom... you have to-" Lo began.
"YOU WILL-" Alpha Amery's voice became enraged when still no one moved, but he was swiftly cut off as her mother shot to her feet despite Lo's attempt to grab her arm and prevent her. Lo's eyes went wide as she snapped her gaze to the Alpha.
Her mother's sudden movement had caught his eye. She didn't know what she expected to see, but she certainly didn't expect the enraged Alpha's face to melt from fury to a look of stunned disbelief.
The rain became oddly loud in the heavy silence that followed. A shocked stillness had settled over the crowd.
"Neve." Balor snarled possessively, but her mother didn't seem to even notice him. She was staring hard at the male on the stage. Lo felt panic well inside her, she was uncertain what to do. Fear spiked through her chest when she saw Alpha Amery take several steps forward to the edge of the platform.
She could see the glaze of his wolf start to take over his eyes as he stared hard at her mother, but the look wasn't hostile. It was both intense and gentle. An emotion Lo had never seen before on a male's face.
"Father..." She heard Tristan speak for the first time, deep and rough. It sent a shiver through her, but she couldn't concentrate on him now. The threat to her life seemed to fade into the background as she stared at her mother. She had never seen that expression on her face.
It was relief, it was joy, sadness, longing... all in one expression.
The lost years she had with him, all the pain she suffered, seemed to freeze in that singular expression.
Warm tears poured down her cheeks as she stood frozen there. Alpha Amery took a hard breath, and with a smooth gait swiftly leapt off the stage and quickly moved toward her. People scurried out of his way as the domineering male stalked by them.
"BALOR!" Alpha Orlov suddenly shouted from his place slumped in the chains. Lo's gaze snapped to him on the stage. His enraged eyes were on them now, even as broken as he was.
"KILL HER!" Alpha Orlov snarled his Alpha command. A command that could not be disobeyed. Before she could even comprehend what that meant, Lo heard the sudden snarl. The next moments seemed to all happen in slow motion.
Lo felt herself shoved aside as Balor's beast tore past her. She hit the ground hard. The air was knocked out of her. The scent of blood hit her, and it took her a moment to realize the warmth of it had splattered across her face and arms. Lo sucked in a panicked breath at the scent.
It was her mother's blood.
"NO!" Lo shrieked. Her mother hadn't even had time to shift before Balor pounced on her, but he wasn't on her long. Another wolf tackled him off, a much larger wolf radiating furious authority. It was Alpha Amery.
Lo froze from her place on the ground the moment her mother came into sight as the larger wolves tumbled away. The vicious snarling only a few feet away faded into the background at the sight before her.
Blood seeped into the muddied ground around her. Lo's stomach tightened and churned.
The world seemed to stand still as she stared at her mother unmoving on the ground...
Lo quickly crawled to her mother's side. The wound on her neck and shoulder was gushing blood at an alarming pace. Lo shakily struggled to push her flesh together enough for her to heal, but to her horror he'd ripped her apart too much; there was no putting this back together.
Her mother took several gurgled breaths and choked on her own blood. Lo's eyes filled with tears as she tried her hardest to put pressure without cutting off what little airway she had left.
Her mother's crystal eyes were beginning to glaze over as she struggled to breathe. They locked gazes, and Lo started to sob. Tears began to stream down the corners of her mother's eyes as they stared at each other. Neve tried to bring a hand up to touch Lo's cheek, but she'd grown too weak.
"No..." Lo choked on her sob as she leaned in to nuzzle her mother's forehead, and it was just as agonized sobs began to uncontrollably pour out of her that she was roughly jerked away.
Lo hit the muddy ground hard again. She immediately shoved up but froze when she saw Alpha Amery kneeling on the ground before her mother now. He was cradling her carefully in his arms.
The look on his face was pure agony as he carefully held her head. They were staring at each other. More tears poured out of her mother's eyes.
To Lo's horror, she saw her chest not expanding. It was clear she could no longer breathe. She was suffocating, drowning in her own blood.
Alpha Amery pulled her close, his face nuzzling against hers.
"I failed you; I'm sorry." His tone was barely above a whisper, his voice broken, it was a shadow of what she had heard him sound like just moments before. Lo sobbed harder as she saw her mother weakly look toward her. They locked gazes, and the pain of the moment tore through her chest.
Her mother's gaze was one of apology... and love.
Lo could barely breathe through her sobs as she heard her mother's heart slow and finally stop, the life fading from her crystal blue eyes. Lo cried out in agony as she crumpled to the wet ground. Blood was all over her, her mother's blood. Her mother was gone.
She'd left her there alone...
Everything around them had gone deathly quiet; even the rain seemed to have slowed. It made the sound of her heartbreak sickeningly loud. The scent of death in the air was fresh.
Lo made fists into the muddied ground, and it wasn't until she noticed Alpha Amery gently lay her mother back onto the ground that she looked up at him through her swollen eyes.
He was staring at her hard now, his eyes still fiercely wolf-glazed. She knew what he saw. She was the mirror image of her mother. Her parentage was unmistakable; she carried both her parent's scents.
Alpha Amery's empty angry eyes would have frightened her if she weren't so consumed by grief.
Lo could do nothing but sob as she stared at the face of her mother, frozen forever in death. Alpha Amery's jaw tightened as he stood. Enforcers stood around them now; they must have swarmed them during the brief fight.
"Separate the males from the females." He spoke with deathly calm, his tone so cold it sent a shiver through her. Lo sunk further into the ground, burying her face in her arms. She finally gained control of her sobs, but she couldn't stop her tears.
They flowed out of her in an unending torrent of pain.
Vaguely, she heard the commotion around her. It sounded like some were fighting against the enforcers. But she didn't care. None of it mattered.
Her mother was dead.
Alpha Amery's voice sounded again, and Lo was unsettled to hear it from directly above her.
"Kill them all." He commanded with his Alpha authority. Lo snapped her head up in horror when she heard the screams of the females around her. She stared in shock as the males of her pack were torn apart by Alpha Amery's enforcers.
He had no mercy, every male, even the male pups. Lo's numbness deepened. She didn't even cover her ears. She stared in blank shock.
When the screams had stopped, only the sound of heartbroken sobs from the mother's sounded above the rain's pattering. The sickening scent of fear, death and grief filled the air around them.
"Bring her..." Alpha Amery snarled. Lo didn't resist as an enforcer hauled her out of the mud and half-dragged half-carried her toward the stage behind him.
The height of her emotions had hit some kind of breaking point inside her. She felt nothing but numbness as she was brought up onto the stage and set down gently onto her knees. Lo kept her head down.
Silent tears continued to pour out of her to mingle with the rain that dripped down her face in steady rivulets.
"I will only ask once more." Alpha Amery spoke with deathly calm. The quiet seething anger was more frightening than his shouting. Many of the females were sobbing quietly.
"Where are the rest of this male's offspring?" Alpha Amery snarled. For a moment, no one spoke. Lo didn't even bother glancing up. She didn't bother speaking. It didn't matter.
"She is our Alpha's only offspring. He had no others but her." A meek voice spoke, an older female by the sound of her. Lo stared hard at the wooden boards.
Lo had been Alpha Orlov's greatest shame. To have only a female and no male heirs. Despite his attempts to have more children, it never happened. Strong Alpha lines tended to have mostly males and lots of pups.
Her mother often told her she was special because of that.
What good it did her now.
Alpha Amery turned. Lo kept her eyes down, even when she felt the burn of his gaze. Another tense moment of silence followed before he turned back to the kneeling females.
"The rest of you have two choices. Pledge your loyalty to me... or die." He spoke coldly. Obviously, his earlier words were revoked. This male was now lethal. Gone was the reasonable Alpha from before.
His mate's death had taken all kindness from him.
Lo felt what he felt, it was inside her too. He'd lost the half of his soul he'd never gotten a chance to know, and she lost the only one who mattered to her in this world.
Empty is what she felt.
She did not know him, but she shared something with this Alpha at that moment...
No one moved, Lo glanced briefly toward the crowd and noticed most females hadn't even moved from their kneeling positions. It was so ingrained in them, even as they stared at their dead males.
Many were crying, even if the males of the pack had been cruel, they were all they knew, and they were still their fathers, brothers, and sons.
"I SAID-" Alpha Amery snarled with vicious authority, but he was abruptly cut off.
"You no longer have to fear for your lives. You no longer have to fear punishment. The horror of this life ends now, with this. If you wish to allow us to grant you this, stand now and come forward. I guarantee you, you will never be forced against your will again.
But if you would rather join your males who did nothing but abuse and suppress you, by all means... stay kneeling and accept that fate." Tristan's deep fierce voice spoke loud and firm.
Though his words sounded noble, his tone sounded vicious. Alpha Amery's fury rolled off him in waves at being cut off. Lo took a slow breath; even upon hearing Tristan's voice, her grief overpowered whatever other emotion she would have felt from it. She still didn't look up.
"Tristan-" Alpha Amery snarled.
"I have been given sovereign over this territory, as you decreed; these females are mine to decide what to do with. You have already dispatched half of the wolves I was to take charge of, allow me to decide what to do with the rest." Tristan spoke harshly, too harshly for him to be speaking to his Alpha.
He sounded angry. Although he was not yet Alpha, he certainly portrayed the anger of one. A tense moment of silence followed. She could feel the Alpha authority radiating off him and the other Alphas on the stage, it was distressing to her wolf, it made her slump down further.
In the state she was in, it only amplified her grief. Lo glanced up to lock eyes on her mother's lifeless body lying in the mud. Two enforcers stood beside her, clearly guarding. But she didn't want her there. She didn't want her to be left like that. Why can't they move her out of the rain?
It's then that she noticed several females shakily stand and approach the stage. Lo just stayed knelt there, numb to everything that was happening. She watched with empty eyes as females began to attempt to give Alpha Amery their loyalty.
It was not a simple thing to do, especially since the Alpha they served and feared still lived and was glaring hatefully at them from his place in chains. One must irrevocably mean it.
And this Alpha just ordered their family slaughtered.
Some succeeded, others tried but couldn't. Lo kept her head down as she vaguely listened, she didn't even glance up as Tristan ordered enforcers to take the ones who couldn't declare loyalty inside. The ones who did, were ushered off another direction by other enforcers.
It went on like that for sometime, until there was no one left. The square had become silent. There was no more whimpering or shuffling movement.
Silence and rain.
She heard heavy footsteps in front of her, causing the wood beneath her to creak. Lo looked to his boots, and saw him kneel down, but Lo did not look up.
Even through the rain, the scent of her mother's blood still covered him.
His touch was surprisingly gentle, almost tender as he cupped her face and tilted her head up to look at him. Lo began to shake in terror, tears poured down her face as she emitted a strangled sob and kept her eyes averted from him. She didn't want to look at him.
He leaned in and tried to make her have eye contact, but still she avoided his eyes.
"I'm sorry young one, you are guiltless in this. I will do it quickly, you will feel nothing. You will be with her soon... and maybe, when we meet again, both you and she can forgive me for this." The Alpha spoke.
Lo trembled harder, unable to help her fear. She didn't want to die, but she knew she had no choice. She couldn't fight him, there was no more hope for her, despite the wolf inside her desperately wanting to cry out for the wolf nearby.
"Please... just... please don't leave her in the rain... please take her inside where it's warm." Lo quietly begged through a sob. Ivan's jaw tensed, and he looked to be struggling for a moment.
"I would never leave her there. She will be properly taken care of, as will you. Now close your eyes." He said.
Lo emitted one more soft sob before she closed her eyes tight. She felt his large strong hands carefully slide onto her neck. He leaned in and placed a warm kiss to her forehead. Lo trembled harder, unable to stop the tears from flowing out of her.
She took a shaky breath and tried to think of something, anything, to distract her from the intensifying fear of her impending death.
...a death that did not happen.
A fierce possessive growl pierced the air as the Alpha was suddenly ripped away from her. She would have toppled forward if it hadn't been for the large hands that suddenly yanked her up.
Lo froze as she was enveloped in strong arms and crushed protectively against a hard body.
Everything around her seemed to quickly fade away. All her senses were suddenly overwhelmed, so much feeling slammed into her all at once, and she was overtaken by her wolf's raw emotions. She felt her eyes glaze, her breathing unsteady.
Her body was no longer hers to control. She involuntarily melted against him as she felt his face bury against her neck. He breathed heavily against her, as if memorizing her scent. Lo closed her eyes and nuzzled her face against him, breathing him in as well.
Rain, blood, pine and all male. His scent stirred her in ways she'd never felt before. Her wolf wanted his scent all over her.
Mate... the word was formed by her human mind, but it was the feeling of her wolf she interpreted. The shock of it drowned out everything else she felt.
She felt his hand trail up to fist her wet hair as he fully cradled her against him. The feeling of warmth and safety soothed all the turmoil inside her. She felt suddenly at peace...
Was this a dream? ...or had she already died?
Twisted laughter ripped her harshly from the pleasant moment. She opened her eyes.
No... she wasn't dead or dreaming... the reality of her situation crashed down on her like a harsh wave. The brief reprieve was over.
"Tris-" Alpha Amery growled. But Tristan responded with another fiercely protective growl as his arms tightened around her. It was almost difficult to breathe. He was so much taller than her, he had her hoisted off the ground, supporting her whole body.
Lo instinctively knew he was all wolf at that moment. She could feel the tension in him. If she could see his face, she knew his eyes would be wolf glazed.
He was struggling not to shift.
"It seems my bloodline will live on after all..." Alpha Orlov spoke amidst his dark laughter. He sounded crazed. Lo felt herself start to shake as the fear returned.
"Kill him!" Alpha Amery snarled. Lo didn't look back, she closed her eyes tightly as the scent of blood filled the air, and her father's laughter abruptly cut off.
"Let her go." Alpha Amery snarled his Alpha command so harshly, even Lo felt the need to obey despite not being his subordinate. But Tristan didn't relent. He tightened his hold.
He was too lost to his wolf to even hear his father's command. She could still smell the blood on him. So fresh out of a battle... his feral instincts were fully present.
"Tristan!" His father growled. Lo gently tried to push away from his chest out of fear from the Alpha behind them, but he only tightened his hold. She took a slow breath and looked up at him, but his wolfish eyes were focused angrily on his father.
She could feel the tenseness of his muscles, he was holding himself back with extreme restraint. She could see his canines extended, his expression in a frozen snarl. His arms tightened on her, as if he was using her to calm him enough so he wouldn't go after his father who nearly killed his mate.
Mate... Lo felt her heart flutter at that thought.
Lo's eyes instinctively scanned his chest until her gaze fell on his mating mark near his shoulder. She hadn't seen it from the distance, especially from the blood that covered him.
She stared at the mark just slightly lighter than his skin tone that matched hers, she always thought it looked like the way the moon reflected upon the lake on nights when it was brightest. That gentle waving lines. Lo managed to slowly bring her fingers up to touch it, mesmerized.
The growl he emitted made her jump, and she quickly curled her hand away from him. But he just yanked her closer again, clearly displeased she had pulled away. In her new position, Lo began to look up at his face again, but she froze when her eyes landed on his neck.
There... at the curve of his neck where it met his shoulder, was the bite of a female. A claim mark.
Lo felt something inside her shatter. It was like she physically felt her heart break into pieces. She nearly felt dizzy from it, and she found she couldn't look away from the claim mark on her fated's neck that was made by another female.
He was already mated. To a female who was not his fated.
Who was not her.
A cold numbness spread through her chest from her broken heart, and she felt tears start to trickle down her cheeks against her will. She felt her wolf whimper inside her, the joy she had felt only moments before sank into a cold feeling of betrayal.
He did not search for her. He did not wait for her.
He had the clear marks of those who had the rare precious gift of a mate that so many longed for, and he instead chose to take a chosen mate.
She wasn't worth waiting for...
Lo suddenly wanted away from him, her wolf grew agitated. She tried to shove against his chest but he just held her tighter. She could feel his wolf's panic at her sudden change in manner. Reacting to the rejection of hers.
His full attention turned to her, and one of the Alpha's behind him took advantage of his distraction.
"Noah!" Alpha Amery growled.
Lo gasped as a liga was forced around Tristan's neck, her eyes going wide, two of the betas yanked him back by his shoulders, and she was simultaneously grabbed around the waist and pulled away by another.
She didn't resist, even as she felt herself yanked up against another hard body, the shock of the situation had crashed down on her then.
She was Tristan's fated mate. The son of the Alpha who wanted her dead. Lo's eyes flicked to her mother.
They were the children of fated mates.
How was that possible?
The deep angry growl Alpha Amery made had her body stiffen against him. She could tell he was furious, more than furious. There was uncontrollable rage within him.
"GET THEM INSIDE!" The Alpha snarled as she felt herself effortlessly carried to the pack house. His grip was painful on her ribs.
At the threshold he dropped her to her feet and yanked her through the door. The warmth inside hurt her numbed cold skin and she gasped as she was roughly thrown to the ground. She hit the wooden boards hard with a grunt of pain. Lo took a shaky breath as she stared at the floor beneath her, too afraid to get up.
She was soaked and covered in mud and blood, it quickly began to drip off her into a puddle beneath her. Her hair clung to her face.
She didn't know why she suddenly didn't feel terrified. She knew she should... but all she felt was numb...
All the emotion inside her had become too much. She was reaching a breaking point.
She heard the commotion at the door as the other Alphas, betas, and enforcers fought to keep her mate retrained as they yanked him through the door.
Her mate was that powerful...
Her wolf reacted to his presence, but she refrained from looking at him. She kept her head down.
"Strip!" The angry Alpha above her suddenly commanded. Lo felt a spike of terror run through her as she carefully looked up at him with wide eyes. Tristan fiercely snarled from behind them. A reverberating, rage-filled sound.
"I need to know for sure, I need to see it!" He seemed furious. Lo stared at him in shock. His angry eyes narrowed on her.
"Hold him back!" Alpha Amery growled as he stared at her with hatred. Lo stared at the man who had been so tender to her only a moment before, when he had intended to kill her...
And now... the loathing in his eyes was almost too much to bear. Lo's eyes flicked to the other males there. She was surrounded by males. The other two Alphas, their betas and four enforcers were now in the room.
She couldn't help but tremble in fear.
He impatiently knelt in front of her and Lo could do nothing as he harshly ripped the fabric of her dress from the back and harshly forced her onto her knees. She felt the panic rise inside her and her tearful eyes instinctively sought out Tristan who was now fiercely fighting against the other Alpha's and enforcers to get to her.
His eyes were fully glazed with his wolf, despite the liga, as they all struggled to hold him back. He snarled and tried to shift.
But the liga wouldn't let him.
Lo clung to what little fabric was left at her chest. Ivan shoved her forward as he checked her back. She was shaking with fear. If he had asked, she would have shown him, but now she was too afraid to speak.
He shoved her back again and yanked the small bit of cloth she tried to keep. On her upper chest, right above her heart and at the swell of her breast, was her mate mark.
Alpha Amery fiercely studied it for a moment, before he harshly shoved away from her. Lo toppled to the ground and immediately did her best to cover herself with the torn pieces of fabric as she watched him approach his son. She couldn't stop shaking.
As Alpha Amery looked at Tristan's left shoulder, a look of horror crossed his face. Lo knew it matched hers.
"Ivan, what of my daughter? Our whole treaty was formed around their union!" One of the other Alpha's growled.
"Lock her in the room with the others." Alpha Amery growled back, though he had lost some of the anger. He seemed unsure of what to do.
Lo didn't resist as an enforcer yanked her up by her upper arm and started taking her down the hall. She glanced back over her shoulder and stared at Tristan, still fiercely fighting the others until they rounded a bend, and he dragged her out of sight.