Physical sensations were the first to break through the fog in his mind.
The hardness of the tanned leather couch beneath him, the smell of the aromatic oil burning in the lamps, and the sound of the rain overhead. Then the slow realisation that there was no moisture touching his skin brought the vague notion that he was under the cover of a roof and no longer out in the open.
As he lay there, awareness came back to him through layers of consciousness. Images floated through his mind, separate yet somehow connected. One memory stayed for longer than the others. He had been held immobile whilst the thick oozing liquid had been poured down his throat. For a few seconds he could taste it again, sweetly bitter, the aftertaste of mistletoe, making him gag, but he had not been allowed to retch. His throat had been stroked and then water had been forced down. They had bound his arms and legs then to await the effects of the drug.
Only his mind flitted in and out of consciousness, his body was still, numb and heavy. Somewhere in his mind the knowledge lurked that the drug was designed to produce that effect, that it was used to keep the body still and the mind clear, so that the chosen would be fully aware when they went to meet the gods, and the priests could see into their eyes as they completed the sacrifice. It was obvious that too much had been used on him, because his mind wasn't clear, the fog shrouded his thoughts.
Voices. Hard, strange voices. He became aware of the voices. His confusion deepened because he couldn't understand what they were saying. Hard, angry, male voices making alien sounds, speaking an alien tongue. Where was the comforting lilt of his people? Fear coiled in his stomach like a restless serpent until awareness fled.
The next time he heard the voices, his brain sharpened, clicked into focus. Suddenly he knew who these strangers were. Some of the rapidly spoken words became clear. It was hard to concentrate but the words began to make sense and he could just understand that they were waiting for the Alpha General to arrive to make the decision. Before he could find out what the decision was, the drug overwhelmed him again.
In the silence, he flitted in and out of consciousness, until he felt the strange hands on his body, strong, determined but not ungentle. He wanted to protest when one of those hands slipped under his tunic and probed briefly between his legs but after a startled pause, it didn't linger and he couldn't focus long enough to even whimper his distress. His left shoulder was bared. Cold air skimmed his flesh raising goosebumps and he felt his left nipple pucker in the chilly air.
Then he heard a grunt of understanding. A soothing, liquid voice different to the rest spoke in his tongue "You are safe Dear One, do not be afraid."
Then the soothing voice became harder, speaking in a tongue not his own, but the strange words were clearer than those he had heard before.
This was the voice of one of his people, not one of the Strangers. He forced herself to listen and concentrate upon the words.
"He bares the mark, the royal tattoo; he is an omega of the Sheriff's household. Perhaps even a son. It would not be wise to harm him"
A fierce foreign voice growled quickly in response
"You impious savage, we saved him from your barbaric priests, we will do what we ..."
The harsh voice was interrupted before he could finish.
"Enough Jackson" Two words cut through the seething anger with a power which electrified the very air. Elemental, masculine Alpha power as if derived from the very gods themselves, a power which invaded the omega's weakened and defenceless body.
It shivered through him, caressing his nerve endings as he lay there unable to move. The vibrant, dark voice spoke softly but held the attention of those present as nothing else had.
"Alpha General, we did not realise you had returned" the once fierce voice stuttered like an unsure youth in front of his stern father.
"Is that something a good soldier should admit Whittemore?" the General asked on a weary sigh, then demanded implacably "Report"
Before the soldier could open his mouth, the General held up his hand to stay his words. In the obedient silence, he turned to study the swarthy Mage.
"Deaton, explain why this boy lies in my tent, as one dead."
There was a pause as the man turned his attention from one soldier to another. The imperturbable Mage replied slowly and deliberately.
"We came across the sacrificial grove on patrol. He was there with the Druids. The Druids are dead. He lives yet. He is of the Beacon Hill clan and ward. Ruling clan blood, he has the royal tattoo."
There was a short unwilling bark of laughter from the imposing figure of the General.
"I thought you Mages were poets and bards" mocked the Alpha.
"Only in the language of the Gods" was the prompt, fluid and unflinchingly insulting reply.
A hiss of outrage erupted from the others in the room, but the Alpha General merely laughed harder. He could enjoy the Mage's disrespectful wit, as no other would dare to speak to him in that fashion and it was refreshing. As soon as he tired of it, the Alpha would ensure that the slit in the Mage's throat from one of his claws would silence the irritation for ever.
The omega struggled to combat the effects of the drug. The voice of power, he must see his face. He forced his eyelids open, and as they tried to focus in the dim light of the tent, the boy saw shadowy outlines of men, ghostly images that flickered and wavered.
Deaton the Mage was easily distinguished, despite his difficulty in focussing. Large, muscular, fully attired in the proper manner. The others seemed younger and stockier, beside the Mage but he couldn't bring them into focus. He tried to find the voice of power but knew he was still too weak.
He hadn't heard the footsteps come closer but he felt the aura surround him, arrogantly expecting his surrender. He knew it was the Alpha. Such strength called to him, wouldn't let him sink back into the depths of the drug, he drew on his weary spark and focused his will as he had been taught, and then widened his eyes.
He felt the Alpha loom above him; he had the height and bulk of a Master Mage. The Alpha's hand came into the range of his vision. Strong, blunt fingers, browned from a foreign sun took hold of his chin and turned his face towards him. The omega felt the imprint of those fingers down to his very bones and fire licked through his belly. This was impossible, no other Alpha had effected him in this way and then the voice of power echoed through his brain, sinew and blood, suddenly it was hard to breathe.
He could feel the onset of an attack of fear so great that he began to think he was dying. Until the Mage chanted the calming mantra the Omega had been taught since he was a small child, body breath mind, body breath mind, body breath mind and gently touched the boy's neck to reinforce the chant as if the Mage knew that he didn't have the strength or attention span to do it himself.
The Omega felt his anxious body begin to relax, and he now had time to focus on the huge Alpha werewolf. He was desperate to see his face, and when his vision finally cleared, the boy's beautiful brown eyes widened with terror.
Three bands of metal split the Alpha General's face, only his green eyes showed any life as they flickered to red and they bored into his very soul.
Instinctively he tried to scream but he couldn't even open his mouth. The scream raged inside him desperate for release but no sound came from his throat, he was dead, he must be, he was in one of the hells with his throat cut or his tongue torn out.
A solitary tear slid down his cheek and onto the Alpha's forefinger, as his red eyes bore into the Omega, claiming him. The Omega lost the battle for consciousness and slid back into the twilight world of the drug, those hypnotic red eyes following him there.
The General studied the boy impassively as he removed his helmet and handed it to the kneeling servant waiting for him. He had watched the boy's silent struggle, seen the desperation and terror in the soft brown eyes until those same pretty eyes had glazed over and he had fainted, had felt the warmth of the boy's tear as it flowed across his finger.
Underneath the grime and the vivid darkening bruises his skin was pale as the delicious cream of the Alpha's homeland and soft so very soft. Blessed with the beauty marks of the gods, little black dots which teased and tantalised their way across the boy's slim lithe form.The Omega's braided hair was as dark and soothing as the depths of the mating caves in his native land.
His features were delicate but his chin was strong, determined and his soft pink lips full and stubborn.
The Alpha found himself ready to smile at the beautiful picture the boy made, a reaction which appalled him enough that his scowl stayed in place, conscious always of his watching audience.
The tunic the boy wore was longer than that commonly worn by the Human tribe's people of this area. It looked ceremonial. It was white but decorated in those circular symbols the humans used for everything.
He was taller than most of the Omegas male or female the Alpha had ever seen before but then Mage protected humans were tall (grew like weeds according to Whittemore, the Alpha thought with amusement)
The Omega's body was firm, strong and the ripped tunic displayed the round thrust and proud point of his left nipple, which was the distinctive Omega shape for the suckling of their young, and the pleasuring of their Alphas, and ensured he would not be mistaken for a Beta.
He wore no brigga, the leg coverings favoured by this particular group of humans, his legs were bare, long and sleek.
The Alpha General idly wondered if the tribe's Omegas were kept bare legged for the convenience of their Alphas, but one look at the face of the large Mage standing protectively over the drugged boy changed his mind about asking the question.
The Alpha General almost stiffened with shock as he realised that the most important thing that crossed his mind about this situation was that if he collared this Omega as his, he would keep him without clothes at all. He could actually feel himself harden at the thought of the naked boy. For the first time since the army had left his homeland, he was feeling arousal. Impossible.
He began to get angry, this was foolishness, he wasn't interested in some Omega from a backward human tribe who probably didn't even know how to read and would not be able to run the homestead and pack of an Alpha unlike the properly groomed Omegas of the Empire.
He scowled ferociously. He didn't have the luxury of such thoughts or physical reactions in this bleak place. He was the living representative of the Alpha Werewolf Emperor who wanted this pathetic land and its forests with a desperation that he had never understood when the Hale Empire already had to deal with the pockets of rebellion like the criminals to the north.
He shook off his musings, thoughts bordering uncomfortably on treason but Peter, the 12th Hale Emperor, by the gracious benevolence of the beautiful moon Goddess of the night, and his maternal Uncle, already knew his opinions, which was why he had ended up in this Gods forsaken accursed land.
Peter Hale was a fearsome strategist, and he knew that his Alpha nephew Derek was his best warrior General; he would be amused that he was not only getting the human Mage land he wanted but with the added gift of "punishing" his nephew.
Derek's sister Laura, heir apparent to the Emperor had laughed aloud at her brother's predicament and teased him unmercifully that he would be trapped into bonding in this accursed place and therefore be condemned to a human mage mate.
The only, only reason that Derek hadn't killed her where she sat was because her laughter had sounded so much like their beloved mother, the 11th Hale Empress, who had been called to the arms of the gracious goddess with the rest of their immediate family when their summer residence had been attacked by the Argent terrorists. He refused to acknowledge that his older sister could defeat him in a fight.
A low growl issued from the Alpha's throat, which caused his personal guard of his pack mates to tense again. He forced himself to relax; it wouldn't do to allow himself to be distracted in this situation.
Instead he studied the woad design curled round the boy's legs, working its way up from his ankles. He couldn't see where the design came to an end, because of the length of the tunic. An unexpected desire to follow the design to its conclusion was ruthlessly suppressed.
His hands and feet were thin, dainty and oddly clean. On his bare left shoulder, he saw faint traces of the tattoo the Mage had mentioned. Curiously he reached to move more of the ripped tunic and uncovering the rest of the tattoo, ignoring the Mage's aggrieved reaction to his touching the boy. Then he forgot everything as he saw the full tattoo for the first time.
Blue interweaving spirals, it was unmistakeable, a stylised version of the Triskelion, the sacred ancient emblem of the royal Hale lineage. The only humans who were blessed with the sacred emblem were the treasured mates of the Hale pack. It was an instant death sentence for anyone other than a mate to be adorned with the Triskelion. To see it on the flesh of a Mage bred human incensed him and rage rushed through his blood with the force of a blow. He raised his head and howled his fury, immediately his guard dropped as one to their knees, only the foolish Mage stood uncomprehending beside the Omega as the Alpha began to transform, red eyes focused on his prey as he roared with terrifying rage.
His howl and roar had pulled the boy from his drugged state and those doe eyes fixed on the monster emerging beside him.
His almost silent terrified whimper drew the murderous red eyes of the Alpha werewolf towards him and he lay there unable to move but his body shaking involuntarily as he became the focus for the enraged wolf.
He couldn't move, he couldn't run, he couldn't beg for his life, he could only watch as the enormous wolf loomed over his prone body his relentless gaze forcing the boy's eyes to stay open. Terrified tears flowed from his eyes as the Wolf's jaws came to rest against the juncture of his neck and his throat.
He could hear nothing except the Wolf's breathing, and he felt the hot breath against his skin as the Wolf inhaled his scent. Suddenly his body arched involuntarily into a silent scream as he felt the sharp fangs bite into his shoulder just above his tattoo. He was shaking with terror. Oh Gods, he didn't even have the ability to beg the Wolf for a merciful and quick death, those teeth stayed in his shoulder for what seemed like hours as he shook with the pain and terror. Then to his utter shock he was released whilst a rough tongue lapped at his blood and soothed the tearing pain of the bite.
The fearsome Wolf raised his massive head and those red eyes stared again into the traumatised terrified soft eyes of the Omega. The beast growled words the boy did not understand, but the rest of the people watching in terror struck horror did. "Wolf Mate". The Alpha's loyal pack winced as one when they heard the phrase and the way the growl was soft and ended in a whine as the Omega lost the battle for his consciousness again.
Derek's fury knew no bounds as he had the filthy betrayer prone beneath him, he could hear the rabbit fast beat of the omega's heart and taste the terror he exuded which hid the delicate omega pheromones with the delicate scent of the forest that spoke of brambles, dappled sunshine, pine cones, the pattering of wind on the tree leaves and cool lapping streams and running with his mate beside him.
Derek had bitten into the little traitor's shoulder above that blasphemous tattoo intending to destroy the thing before he tore him limb from limb, when the Omega's scent had exploded in on his anger and rage and thirst for blood, and as the first drops of the Omega's blood burst onto his tongue, he stilled in appalled recognition. The next thought that passed with irrelevant alacrity through his brain was that he was going to kill his sister, slowly and over many days so that she suffered as he was now suffering, before his brain caught up with his body's instincts and he recognised his mate on his tongue and the scent he breathed into his lungs.
He stilled until he could trust himself to delicately, softly, carefully remove his fangs from the boy's torn flesh, and gently sealed the wound with his tongue as he took in his mate's life essence and then raised his great head to stare with shame into the terrified eyes of his beautiful omega.
Before the boy could fade back into unconsciousness, Derek growled his claim so that all would know "Wolf Mate" and couldn't restrain a whine as his injured Omega slid once more into the darkness of his own mind.