The morning marbled skies of white and grey had shattered into a vivid cornflower blue, almost as if a single petal had been stretched so wide around the world until it encompassed the globe completely. I stared at the silken wisps drifting idly above me - or perhaps they were woven with silver, not silk; clouds spun with the finest of threads, so delicate as they wafted and struggled not to blush and gleam at the pleasant caress of the sun.
With casual elegance, the light remained seated on its throne in the sky, hanging precariously by threads strung up from the heavens. The sun glowed in recognition of my wandering eye and its ghostly, delicate strings wavered. At the almost imperceptible motion, the air rippled with warmth around me. Every inch of my skin tingled as the sunbeams peppered me with a round of kisses, ones that had heat snaking the length of my legs, neck, and forearms until it felt as if I were pinned under its gaze.
A trapped breath softly escaped my lips.
I raised a hand to the sky and let my hand listlessly pass over the sun. I held it there and squinted. Rays of gold sept through the cracks of my fingers and melted over my face, bathing me in a scorching pool of dying summer heat. Autumn was already creeping in.
As my fingers danced above me, a forlorn smile crossed my lips at the coruscating of the light which only added to its spell.
How I wished I could join the sun up there.
To serve a being such as that, with its golden arms and divine hands and its beaming, gracious smiles, its resolve never waning in the approach of nightfall for I knew it would return the next day...
And the next day.
And the day after that.
“I wish I could be with you,” I whispered, a soft muttering that I prayed only the bees would hear as they passed over my head. One hummed in acknowledgment, or so I hoped, and an empty sigh left my lungs with-
The sky blanched. The blue petal grew haggard and sickly at the familiar voice as it entered the air like a whip, sensing the danger forthcoming; it crumpled, shrivelled, retreated at the sound and my fantastical dreamland was erased as soon as it had been born.
I scrambled from the ground, fingers pressing against dry mud, and brushed and straightened the crinkles of my uniform. Streaks of dirt stained the back of the creamy skirt but the fresh ones only added to the old. That didn’t stop the irritation from momentarily striking me though. “Mierda,” I hissed to myself before taking off in the direction of Elder Yovel’s voice.
Wiping the silt from my hands, I had no time to wince as my fingers brushed hastily over the bruises on my palms - deep, throbbing and purpling to the morbid colour of pansies. They ached as I hurried across the open grounds and the grass crisped and flattened at my every footstep, no longer an army of green but a dying battalion of golds and browns.
Worry enclosed my heart in a fist and I hastened, almost tripping.
“Excuse me,” I uttered meekly as familiar faces abruptly came into view: they were accompanied by the familiar upturning of noses as I sidled past; familiar wrinkles of their upper lips as they twisted into snarls of displeasure; and of course, those familiar eyes.
They burned with disgust at the sight of an Omega.
In the eyes of an ordinary wolf, their status pledging for luxuries I could only ever attain in daydreams, I was nothing more than a bunion at the cracked heel of one’s foot.
Perhaps less than that.
Something snapped inside me at those recognisable expressions, snapped like brittle glass no matter how many times I saw them. The shards of hurt tore at my guts as they brushed me by. The world suddenly seemed... colder.
I almost seized up at the voice.
“Mierda,” I whispered again, my surroundings reassembling to draw me back to reality.
Pushing the black curls out of my face, I followed the hedge that bordered the side of the pack house, internally preparing myself for the chastising I was about to receive. The faint clanging of pots became boisterous as I approached the backdoor that had been propped open. I chewed the inside of my cheek, my gaze drifting inside.
Elder Yovel hovered by the stove, her thin lips wriggling like a pair of worms diverting themselves in the rain. Her appearance of an old woman - with skin so fragile that even the lightest of touches may cause rupture and her wispy hair hardly concealing her pink, frail scalp - was nothing but a deception. Vicious and headstrong like that of an angered boar, with a tongue so sharp that she could split you in two if the woman deemed you to be worth her time, I knew better than to cause trouble.
The sight of the cane held behind her back in one snowy, wrinkled hand forced a grimace to crawl upon my mouth; the grain of the golden wood eddied and swirled like a hurrying brook falling over cascades in its haste. My palms smarted at the memory of that cane slapping against their once smooth and supple skin, leaving red, burning welts in their passing.
I curled my hands into fists protectively and clasped them behind my back.
“I’m here, Elder Yovel.”
The woman turned at my words and I tried not to visibly recoil at the venom brimming in her pale blue eyes, about as pale as the sky that had been drained of all colour upon hearing her voice.
“Where have you been, girl?” she snarled. I bowed my head out of instinct, my hair falling forward in an attempt to shield me from her minacious glare. Too afraid to speak out against the Elder, the other servants furiously worked away at the glutinous dough for tonight’s dinner, lips sealed and trembling. I didn’t blame them.
“I’m sorry, Elder Yovel. I was… I lost track of time when I was taking meals to the little ones and stayed out too long,” I said, gradually quieting as I registered the rising flush of anger in her cheeks.
“You were feeding those brats again?”
“Brats?” I questioned and raised my head slightly. How could she say that about such sweethearts? “Losing their mother doesn’t make them brats. It’s been four days, Elder, and no one has taken them in. The eldest is only seven, and the youngest is but two moons old.”
“How is that any of your concern?” she snapped, her spiteful tongue darting out to attack my resolve. “You are an Omega. It’s not your place to involve yourself in the matters of the Alpha’s subjects, no matter how young or vulnerable you think they are. Alpha Dominic will attend to them when he deems it fit. He has enough on his plate and he doesn’t need a troublesome girl stealing from the pack’s food reserves to add to his burden. Now tell me, what food did you take?”
Averting my gaze at the mention of the Alpha, I bit down on my cheek.
“I didn’t steal anything,” I said in a trembling whisper.
“I didn’t steal anything,” I repeated more firmly this time, although there was an unerasable, soft edge to my tone. “Last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast… I saved mine for them.”
Swallowing, I dug my teeth harder into the soft flesh of my cheek and straightened my back. Elder Yovel was staring at me, scrutinising me with a pair of beady, critical eyes.
Her grip on the cane in front of her tightened, white fingers coiling like slender snakes around the handle, and I watched her raise it above her. My face screwed up into one of awaited agony and I shakily held out my blotchy, purple palms, already aware of what was coming. The crimson rage flooding her cheeks coursed all the way down to her stick and I turned my head, awaiting the familiar strike against my hands-
Only for a head of unruly, brown curls to appear before me.
My eyes widened at the sight of Elliot, his broad shoulders shielding me from the onslaught of the woman’s gaze. Hands still trembling, I hesitantly lowered them to my sides and an uneven breath tumbled from my lips. I licked them nervously. A moment of silence had consumed the kitchen at the boy’s interruption, the low crackling and hissing of the stove only enhancing the sinister absence of sound.
“Elliot,” said the Elder slowly, a harsh, unforgiving bitterness residing at the tip of her tongue. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Forgive me, Elder, but Alpha Dominic has requested that dinner be served in no less than an hour. He’s expecting guests from Grimfur Manes this evening and… considering how we’re already lacking in staff, I think you’ll be needing Natalia’s hands more than ever, don’t you?”
Elliot’s tone held a delicate twist of maturity and roguish charm, perfectly weighted against one another. Whether it was his voice or his scent, he resembled the gentle lapping of ocean waves against burning beach sands - soothing, healing, a comfort that I didn’t know I needed until he was there. I fisted the material of my dress in both hands, thundering heart easing its pace slowly, slowly.
“...Alpha Dominic told you this?” replied Elder Yovel.
Fearful doubt clouded her words.
“Shall I return to him and ask him to confirm it?” he asked, voice rising like a crest of the sea. Her eyes narrowed momentarily to slits. “Although I don’t think Alpha would be pleased to hear his servant questioning his decisions on behalf of a mistress.”
There was something so innocently honest about his voice that I almost burst out into laughter. He was evidently ridiculing her - his statement dripping with mockery - and yet Elder Yovel was rendered helpless at her Alpha’s request.
Agitatedly, her lips thinned while I watched her from over Elliot’s shoulder, her pasty blue eyes analyzing the both of us. They zoned in on me and for a moment, I thought she was about to push the boy aside and beat me senseless, whether the Alpha liked it or not.
But, tension escaped my heart, weedling out of my ribs as she turned from us and gripped her cane behind her back.
“Get to work, Natalia.”
I gaped back at her like a fish and was tempted to nod vigorously in agreement to her request, but I realised she wasn’t facing me anymore. I uttered a swift, “Yes, Elder Yovel,” and stepped to the cupboards, almost as an attempt to bury myself inside.
Pretending to examine the shelves and appear preoccupied, I waited until the terrifying woman had stepped out of view before I finally allowed myself to breathe. Still stunned by the confrontation moments ago, I glanced around with wide eyes at the other Omegas who had already returned to work, brushing off the incident as if it were nothing but a flea, before my gaze found Elliot’s.
“Ellie,” I hissed, not so subtly waving him over. In faux bemusement, he furrowed his brows, looked side to side, and pointed at his chest.
“Me?” he mouthed.
I shot him a glare across the kitchen, however, my attempt at being intimidating must have had the opposite effect on Elliot as his mouth playfully tilted upwards. Taking his sweet time, he made his way over to me, hands buried in his pockets and his shoulders laxed without a care. I had to resist reaching over and yanking him by the arm to hurry the boy up, and so I resorted at gnawing on the flesh of my inner cheek. Once he’d reached me, I frowned deeply at him.
Elliot and I hadn’t always been friends. I could vividly remember our first encounter as prepubescent kids: how he’d plucked my headband from my hair and worn it on his wrist, and yet insisted that it was his. It was a stupid first impression. But, the day I found him making a flower crown for his sister, gaze transfixed on the silken buttercups in hand as he picked and threaded them from a field set aflame with gold, my view of him changed.
He turned out to be much softer than he first appeared.
The boy’s amiable demeanour served him well in gaining the Alpha’s favour as I grew up beside him. Although he certainly had a wicked streak and enjoyed testing the boundaries of status through subtle defiance, he soon rose up the ranks and was given the honour of serving Alpha Dominic himself.
His Omega status was removed.
But... I couldn’t afford to envy him.
With those eyes that were softly woven with a chorus of spirited green threads, and those cheeks that were dappled with various hues of brown - freckles - as chaotic as autumn leaves, there was no point in resenting Elliot. He would always make me laugh in the end.
“Why did you do that?” I said hushedly, peering over his shoulder to ensure that the formidable woman was truly out of sight.
I scowled at him.
A light, breathy chuckle left him. “The least you could do is thank me, Natty,” he replied, the evident mirth in his gaze only enhancing the vibrancy of his irises.
“I’m being serious,” I insisted. He sighed at me and pushed his hair back with one hand, keeping his fingers buried in his locks. “You can’t keep lying to Elder Yovel or you’re going to get caught one day and you know it… don’t look at me like that. You know I’m telling the truth!”
All of a sudden, a hand was being planted on my head. Warm, slender fingers held me in place, his palm resting contentedly on my crown, and Elliot’s mouth quirked into a grin.
“It wasn’t a lie,” he whispered, eyes gleaming. Then, he tilted his head to the side. “...For once.”
While he seemed enthralled by the kinks of my black curls, slipping his fingers through the loops, I stared up at him with a slackened jaw. “So, Alpha Dominic really invited Grimfur Manes for dinner?” I asked and Elliot hummed in agreement. “But why? I thought we weren’t on the best terms with them after last winter’s attack.”
“Well, from what I’ve heard, there are rumours going around about Shadow Pack.”
I paused, curious eyes rising to his. “The Shadow Pack?” I inquired quietly and he nodded, almost off-handedly. “What about them?”
Elliot seemed taken aback as he studied me, demonstrated by the rising of both brows. “Didn’t you know?”
“That their Alpha-”
“It seems neither of you paid heed to my earlier instructions.”
Elder Yovel hovered by the doorway, lips curled in livid disdain as she regarded the both of us. In hand, she held the cane that she tapped with certain hardness against her palm.
Noting the tangible threat lodged between her hands, I was the first to break away, muttering soft apologies under my breath while Elliot cast me one final glance on his way out. He offered the Elder a charming smile and passed her by; I remained wedged by the counter’s corner, busying my hands with myriads of utensils, hyper aware of Yovel’s steady and indignant stare on my back.
A fraction of a second passed like an eon, until finally the Elder pivoted and disappeared from the doorway, leaving the kitchen to stir on its own.
I puffed my cheeks into those of a puffer fish and released a breath.
That was close.
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