Chapter 1: Long Live the King
The King growled and slammed his fist against his desk, “Fifteen years, full funding, full resources, and this is all you have to show for?! Absolutely nothing?!”
The Panther lowered his head in submission, “I apologize, Sire, but we have looked everywhere for the cub and have found no trace of her anywhere, much less alive.”
Donovan hissed through his teeth, “Then look harder. That little brat has to be out there somewhere, I don’t care if you bring back a picture of a rotting corpse or a skeleton. I want results. Now leave and go do something productive and useful.”
The Panther and the three other shifters with him bowed and exited the room quietly.
“My love, why fret over your brother’s missing child? It’s been fifteen years, she has to be dead by now.” A voice off to the side purred.
He looked over to where his wife stood by the window overlooking the palace grounds. She slinked her way over to him and draped herself on his side.
He closed his eyes, annoyed at having to explain himself again, “We don’t know that for sure. I need to know if she’s dead. With the possibility of her still being alive, my claim to the throne is invalid. Then all of this would be lost,” He whirled around and grabbed his wife by the throat, “And the only way my claim would be solidified is if you give me an heir, but you have failed to even give me that!” He tossed her aside, her body slamming up against the wall and crumbling to the floor.
“I-I-I’m sorry my love, I’ve tried-“ She whimpered, curling in on herself and averting her eyes, voice small and thick with fear.
He roared at her, feeling his claws and teeth lengthening, “I am not your love. I am your Alpha you stupid bitch! You don’t even deserve to be called bitch, because a true bitch breeds” He stalked over to her, pulling her up by her neck and snapping his teeth close to her face.
She struggled to breathe and croaked out, “I’m…I’m sorry Alpha.”
He tightened his grip, his claws pricking her skin and drawing blood, “So should I find another bitch to carry my heir? One stronger than your pathetic existence, one that will spread her legs for me and breed my son, one that wont lose every single child I put in her?!”
He snarled and tightened his hand around her neck. He could feel his shift very close to taking over, being fueled by the thick waves of fear rolling off his wife. She was terrified of him, her eyes wide and her hands struggling to free her from his death grip. His snarl turned into a grin as he enjoyed how she struggled to get away, how fragile she felt under his claws, how with one flex of his hand he could kill her.
“Alpha…please...” She went limp, eyes submitting to him.
With a growl, he released his hold on her, watching with red eyes as she slumped down to the ground. She kept her eyes down but bared her throat, the ultimate sign of submission a wolf could give. He let out a low rumble, pleased by how easily she would submit to him. He ran a clawed hand along her throat, enjoying the slight tremble of fear she gave.
“I’m sorry sweetheart, I let my temper get the best of me. But you must understand, I need you to breed an heir, that’s the only way we can continue to be King and Queen. The other Kingdoms keep asking questions about the death of my brother, about the legitimacy of my reign, they won’t surrender to me. I have to take them by force, which spills so much precious shifter blood, if I had an heir, they would bow down to me without hesitation, and chant “Long live King Donovan, long live the Prince”. Isn’t that what you want, sweetheart? To be praised as the Queen that provided the next heir?” He purred, kneeling down to his wife, petting her hair and pulling her into his lap.
She curled into his touch, “I try my Alpha. I try to bear your heir…I will try harder for you, my King.”
He cradled her like a baby, and stood up, easily lifting her with him, “You need your rest before we try again. I need my Queen to be fully rested and healthy to carry my son.”
His wife was curled against his chest, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Donovan rumbled low in his throat and carried her out of his study to the hallway. Servants saw him and quickly averted their eyes and bowed to him as he made his way to his room. A fox maid he had never seen before opened the door for him, head bowed and stance submissive. He placed his wife on their bed, tucking the blankets around her and placing a brief kiss on her forehead.
“I expect my Queen to be well rested when I return. I will be back after dinner, you are to ask the servants for your food and stay here at all times, understood?” Donovan raised an eyebrow, trying to read her expression if she was going to continue to be submissive, or if she was going to have to be put back in her place again.
She continued to look down at the comforter, “Yes, Alpha.”
He exited the room and locked the door behind him, “Make sure she doesn’t leave this room, bring her lunch and dinner and use the servant’s entrance for fuck’s sake. I will be back late, make sure my dinner is brought here instead of the dining hall,” He commanded the young fox standing next to his door.
The fox nodded and bowed her head, “I understand, Alpha. Is there anything else you would like me to do?”
Donovan touched the young girl’s cheek and forced her to lift her head and meet his eyes, “Such a pretty and submissive young thing. You’re new here aren’t you? What do I call you?”
Her expression paled and heartbeat quickened, “Vixen, your majesty. I just arrived yesterday…to replace the other maid that fell.”
Donovan smiled, remembering the memory vividly, “Ah yes, such a shame that the human fell. They’re so breakable…but you my sweet Vixen. You aren’t so breakable are you?,” He hummed and continued to stroke her cheek, seemingly in a trance by how soft her skin was, “No…if only you were the right species to breed my heir…but I can’t have a Halfling ruling my kingdom…no matter, I can still have my fun with you.” He grabbed her chin roughly, eliciting a gasp from her and the sweet smell of fear to taint the air.
“Donovan! Let the poor girl go, we barely have enough help as it is. I don’t want you scaring off another one.” A voice called out to him from the stairs.
He let out a low growl before letting go of the maid, “Jameson, why don’t you ever let me have my fun?”
Jameson walked up to him with a smile plastered on his face, “Because it is my job to make sure your…appetite doesn’t get you in trouble.” The Spark was dressed professionally, a black suit with a small pendant signifying his status as the King’s Spark. “Run along little one. Do as you’re told before the big, bad wolf eats you up.”
The fox bowed and quickly disappeared down the hallway. Donovan’s gaze followed her until Jameson cleared his throat.
“Yes, Jameson?” He bit out, annoyed at his adviser.
“Deadlines my King, deadlines. Lots to do in so little time, you will have more time later to harass your servants but for now, if you may follow me we have a guest in the downstairs study.” With a snap of his fingers, a large booklet appeared in his hands. He opened it and began rambling off the meetings and press coverage they would have to do that day.
The words droned out to background noise as he studied the portraits along the hallway. All the past Kings and Queens looked down on him, their eyes staring blankly back at the pair as they made their way to the study. Donovan paused as he reached his brother’s portrait, steely brown eyes holding him in place. His brother was dressed in his uniform, making his tanned skin appear darker as the dark blue jacket and slacks blended with his skin. Marcus’ medals were pinned on his chest, his rank and shifting form on his arm, a dark furred cape draped on one shoulder, and his crown shining brightly on his head. His brother was standing with a hand resting on his wife’s shoulder. A fair skinned woman with pale hazel eyes, her long dark hair pulled back, revealing her heart shaped face and slender neck. She was dressed in a lavish gown made of royal blue cloth to match her husband’s uniform. Her crown laid delicately on her head, and a soft smile on her lips.
Donovan hated both of them.
“King Marcus and Queen Mae, a tragedy they were lost so soon into their reign, so young and full of life. Shame they didn’t have a child, but then I would be advising a child…no matter, I don’t like children anyway. And can you imagine having all of the Kingdoms united under a child’s rule? Headache after headache, and the crown would have either been rich or bled dry.” Jameson never lifted his eyes from the agenda in his hands, merely rambling his thoughts to avoid complete silence.
“The child would have been of age by now, you wouldn’t be advising a child but a ruler of a united kingdom to wage a war against the rebels. Jameson, are you trying to anger me?” Donovan turned his gaze from the portrait to the Spark standing next to him.
Jameson flicked his eyes up to the King, snapping the booklet shut and tucking it under his arm, “Not intentionally, but you could have at least clued me into your grand plan to murder your brother and his supposedly dead wife so that I could create a nice front for you. Instead, you acted on your own and now here we are, meeting with the Tacoma Princess to beg her to unite with us to go up against the Greenland King and continue your rampage across the land until you are King of everything. This could have been much easier with much less bloodshed and much less headaches on my part, Donovan.”
He growled, “Watch your tone with me, Spark. I am still your King.”
Jameson rolled his eyes, “You don’t scare me, Donovan. And you would be dead without me. Need I remind you, I was the one who helped you poison your father, locate your brother, and keep your mother locked in a tower? I’m the only reason why your pretty little head is still on your shoulders with a crown on it. Without me, you would have been over thrown three times and killed about a hundred more times, twenty-five of those by your own mother. Go ahead, kill me, and see how long you will survive.”
Donovan swallowed hard, without the clever Spark, he would be killed in an instant. He owed much of his success and power to his advisor, and while everyone else was replaceable, Jameson wasn’t. “Why are we meeting with the Tacoma brat instead of the King?”
His advisor sighed, clearly annoyed that everything he said had no effect on the power hungry king, “King Ryder and Queen Ann are busy dealing with matters in their own kingdom. They sent Amelia so that she may gain experience to take over when her parents step down. Amelia is a Halfling, half fox and half human and you are not to comment. She may seem young and impressionable, but she has her mother’s wit and her father’s sharp tongue. If we want Tacoma, we have to be civil, Donny.”
He growled and continued down the hallway, his cape fluttering out behind him, “And after we meet with the Halfling?”
Jameson caught up quickly, opening the agenda again, “Let’s see, after Amelia we have to plan your birthday tournament at the King’s Arena, I have a list of fighters for you to choose from, and they are a really great bunch if I do say so myself. Then we break for lunch, have an interview about the anniversary of the death of your brother, and a meeting with the council about the treaties with the other kingdoms. After the meeting you are free to do as you wish, but please do keep away from the young girl.”
The King rolled his eyes, he hated having to put up his front of a heart broken little brother and cry false tears for Marcus. But having to deal with fake emotions and with the dusty, old, Council of Elders, Donovan wished he could kill them all with a swipe of his claws. “Having to deal with all of the treaties falling through, I haven’t been able to keep up with the askar fights like I normally do. And you know how much I love my askars, make sure you clear that week of the tournament Jameson. I want to be completely dedicated to the fights, not distracted by any of this mess with the kingdoms. Bring the folder of the fighters to the Dining Hall, I’ll look them over while I enjoy my meal. Cut the amount of time I have to spend in the interview and I will meet with the Council as they wish.”
His Spark quickly noted the changes and called over a servant that was standing off to the side. “Take this to the reporter in the throne room, and tell the chefs in the kitchen to have lunch served in the Hall.”
Once they were alone, they continued in silence down until they came up to the closed door of one of the various studies located in the palace. Donovan hesitated, not wanting to go in and beg the Halfling just yet. He took a deep breath and calmed his inner wolf, silencing all the rumbling growls in the back of his mind. He could feel Jameson’s eyes observing him, hand on the doorknob, waiting to see the façade King appear.
He nodded once at Jameson, signaling him he was ready. Jameson opened the door and held it open for Donovan to walk through. He saw the Halfling princess laughing and speaking to the guards about a recent scandal dealing with a prince from the Rantock Islands. He focused his gaze on the guards and cleared his throat, catching the attention of the room.
“Princess Amelia, are these guards bothering you?” Donovan’s voice chilled the air in the room.
The guards stiffened, immediately bowing and returning to their positions near the doors and windows. He flicked his attention to the princess, seeing her once warm smile harden into what Donovan called “the royal smile”. The Halfling was fair skinned, with her red hair was in soft curls, framing her face and making her green eyes appear colder. She smoothed out the folds of her dress, but her eyes never leaving Donovan’s. She was going to be a challenge.
“King Donovan, no these guards were not bothering me at all. They were merely keeping me company while I waited. I assume you did not expect to find me here?” She addressed him, her smile never wavering, and becoming more and more confident that she had caught the King off guard.
Donovan strode to the desk and sat down in his seat, gesturing for Amelia to take the chair in front of his. “Oh no, I was well aware of your presence here rather than your parents. Jameson could sense you the minute you walked in the door; it’s rather handy having a Spark as an assistant. Please, sit. We have lots to discuss, with so little time.”
He noticed her confidence slip a little as she sat in front of him, her hands clasped in her lap. “My father mentioned a treaty that you were proposing. A temporary treaty, giving you full use of my army so that you may overthrow King Bishop from Greenland?”
Donovan smiled coldly, “Yes that is correct, but it is not yet your army, Miss Amelia. You are not yet Queen.” He enjoyed the game the little Halfling started.
Her eyes hardened, “I do believe they are still just as much my army as they are my parent’s army. It’s why they were comfortable with sending me, rather than postponing this meeting, Your Highness. Now, I do believe the use of my army is only beneficial to one side, and that is yours. Why should my kingdom help yours if this is your war, not mine.”
He leaned back in his chair, “I merely wish to unite the kingdoms as my brother had wanted. This land was never meant to stand alone, not with the increase of attacks of the Roanoke clan. Together we stand a chance to finally eliminate our common enemy. With them gone, all of the exports and imports will no longer be harassed or stolen by those thieves. Plus your forests will be safe to begin the lumber industry again. That can’t be accomplished without Tacoma’s help. Besides, do you really want Sir Bishop to continue the weapons trade between his armory and the Roanokes?”
She nodded once, “You bring up valid points, but do you have proof that Greenland is supplying the Roanokes? My father heard that it was you funneling them weapons.”
He raised an eyebrow, “And where did that rumor come from?” He glanced at Jameson who was standing off to the side, watching the encounter closely. Jameson caught his glance and nodded, opening the drawer in which the swords he planted on a Roanoke were stored.
Amelia noticed the movement and focused her attention on Jameson, “We heard the servants talking one night. It appears one of yours transferred with one of mine. We thought nothing of it at first, but it doesn’t harm anyone to be safe.”
Jameson placed the weapons on the desk in between them. “These were confiscated two days ago from the port, three of them tried to hijack a ship headed to the Islands. Notice the markings on the pommel? Traditional Roanoke markings, nothing different, it was the markings on the blade itself that we found interesting. Normally, blacksmiths leave their own mark when making the blade, and when they are stolen, the blades are reheated and the mark hammered out. These had the Greenland court blacksmith symbol still stamped on to them, and when we questioned the hijackers, all they said was that “Bishop sent his greetings” and refused to speak.”
Donovan waved Jameson away after his explanation, “So you see Miss Amelia, it is not I who supplies the Roanokes, but Bishop. If he continues with this, it won’t be long before he declares war and allies with the Roanokes. And I will not stand down to a King who works with thieves.”
Amelia nodded again, “I’m sorry King Donovan, I didn’t mean to offend you, but you do have very valid points. If you wish to have access to my army, you must understand that my kingdom will not unite with you. I will not surrender my crown to you. You may use my army but that is all. And you will only be using half of my army, I do not see why you would need full use of mine if you have yours and the Terra’s army under your command.”
Donovan was fuming internally, he needed Tacoma weak and vulnerable in order for his plan to work, “While you are correct that I have Terra under my command, they are still not too fond of having a new leader. Terra and Greenland worked closely with one another for centuries, I am afraid loyalties will be tested, and I will lose that battle. It is easier for me to command an army that has orders given by their leader to temporarily follow me, rather than force another army to listen.”
Amelia stood, “I suggest you bring Terra’s army here then and begin training. The terms of our treaty are as follows; King Donovan of Malmore will be allowed the use of half of the Tacoma army for the duration of his war against Greenland. He is not allowed to replace any of my commanding officers with his, but is allowed to have them train with his men and trade tactics. King Ryder and Queen Ann will not fund, but merely supply the war with men. Once the war is over and should King Donovan succeed, he is allowed first pick of the best lumber provided by the Tacoma lands, so long as we are not taxed for using his ports to export our product.”
Donovan curled his hands into fists, but kept his voice and smile in place, standing so that he towered over the Halfling, “Seeing as I have no place to argue, I accept the terms of your treaty, on one condition. I take 10 percent of your income from your exports. Treat it as an apology for thinking I was the one who funneled weapons to the Roanoke clan.”
The Princess flashed her dull orange eyes, extended her claw and sliced across her hand, “Fair enough, do we have an agreement?”
He mirrored her actions, flashing his red eyes to show his dominance, “Jameson, bring the document. We have an agreement.”
Jameson brought over the document to the table, muttering a few words and causing the document to glow. The scent of magic wrapped around Donovan and Amelia, causing their eyes to glow bright and the shadows of their other forms to reveal themselves. Behind Donovan stood the outline of a large black wolf, red eyes glowing fierce and a snarl etched into his muzzle. Behind Amelia was an outline of orange, signifying she was a Halfling fox. The two royals each placed their cut palm on the document; the magic pulled the blood down to their names and burned into the contract. A chill ran through Donovan, his wolf howling at the flow of magic through his veins.
A loud snap startled the wolf out of his trance, turning and growling at the Spark standing beside him. The Spark eyed Donovan before snapping his fingers again, sealing the magic and ending the spell. The wolf retreated back to its resting place, rumbling at the back of Donovan’s mind. The Halfling’s eyes returned to their emerald color, a hint of fear tinged her scent, making Donovan’s mouth water.
“Is something bothering you, Princess? You seem frightened. Have you not done a blood treaty before?” He grinned, taking his seat once again as Jameson stepped away from the desk.
She sat down slowly, her eyes fixated on Donovan, “I had heard stories, King Donovan, of your…massive wolf.”
His eyes flashed red again, enjoying her inability to regain her composure, “Ah yes, I hope it lived to expectations. I would be more than happy to show you exactly what I look like in my wolf form, would you like to see?”
Amelia’s eyes widened in fear, she opened her mouth to speak before Donovan interrupted, “No? Well then, perhaps another time. I’m afraid, Miss Amelia, that I have other prior engagements that need attending. The work of a King is never finished. Please feel free to explore the grounds, or to ask my chef to make you a meal, I’m sure the guards are more than eager to escort you. Pleasure meeting you Princess, I hope we do meet again.”
He stood and strode out of the room, leaving the Halfling sitting stunned in the room. Jameson followed him out, closing the door behind him and walking fast to keep up with the King.
“Well you handled that fairly well, besides scaring the Princess half to death! Dammit Donovan we talked about this!” Jameson scolded him, brow furrowing as he stepped in front of him to try and stop him in his path.
Donovan growled at Jameson, pushing past him, “You called up the spell Jameson. You know that kind of magic forces us to show our other forms. And the Halfling doesn’t have any other form; all she is used to seeing is the weak, pathetic fox form of her father. She doesn’t know what a real Alpha looks like, and now she does. That isn’t my fault, that is on you!”
“Yes, it always seems to be my fault doesn’t it. My apologies my king, it won’t happen again.” His voice dripped with sarcasm as he followed the king down the hallway to the stairs that lead to the Dining hall.
“Attitude Jameson. I understand I may have crossed the line, but she needed to understand whom she was dealing with. The little Halfling brat, she thought she was in the position to push me around and make the treaty. Now she will know better than to test the wolf.” Donovan continued down the stairs, lecturing Jameson who followed closely behind.
“All I will say is, be careful Donovan. We have enough royals and councils questioning us as it is. We don’t need any more questions.” He said as they reached the bottom level of the palace.
“I am careful. Now do you have that potion, Jameson? The last one still resulted in a miscarriage, that’s four miscarriages since we started with the fertility potion. I need an heir before more questions are asked about my legitimacy, especially if our little problem is still out there.” Donovan entered the Hall, watching the servants scurry away as they finished setting the table.
Jameson sat down next to him, pulling out a vial from his pocket, “Yes, this is as powerful as they come, but you have to wait a week. That’s the only way it will work, if you give it to her now and fuck her senseless, the spell will self destruct and kill her. It needs time to be absorbed into her body and adapt itself to her. By the time the full moon rolls around, she should be fine for breeding.”
He took the vial and studied the purple liquid inside, “Pity, I wanted to fuck her senseless after dinner tonight. Must I wait a week? If she dies, I could just find another girl willing to spread her legs for me, it wouldn’t be hard.”
Jameson began serving himself pieces of the ham that was sliced for them, “You can do whatever you want before you give her that potion, but I do not want to deal with another cover up. And besides, you would legally have to wait one year before taking another wife remember? If you sire any heirs before that one year, they are bastard children who can’t take the thrown.”
He frowned and placed the vial in his pocket before serving himself, “Ah, right. That pesky little tradition, dusty old council still refuses to revoke it, but they were all for Halfling rights. Stupid old shifters, most of them aren’t even coherent enough to wipe themselves.” He cut up the ham, savoring the flavor that covered his tongue. He remembered when caught the boar on a hunt, the feeling of his teeth sinking into the boar’s neck, and blood spilling into his muzzle. His wolf rumbled in delight, eager for another hunt.
“Donovan, here are the profiles for the Askars for your tournament. Plenty from our own kingdom, and quite a few from the surrounding kingdoms, including one I find that would be interesting to have present at the tournament. But it is your birthday after all, so the final decision is up to you.” He slid the folders over to Donovan, before continuing on with his meal.
He wiped his hands and picked up the folders, thumbing through every shifter before reaching a wolf. “Who is she?”
Jameson looked over and swallowed before answering, “She’s the one that I found interesting to have at the tournament. They call her the Wolf Queen, or the Moon-Kissed Wolf, I’ve even heard the She-Wolf from Hell as ridiculous as it is. Her name is Siberia, she’s a wolf from Albany, not too far from here actually. Her Trainer is August, a Spark of old magic. He’s very fair to all of his Askars, and trains them hard, never had one this incredible for a while though. He’s very “new age” unfortunately, one of the first Trainers to start the campaign for Askar rights.”
Donovan raised an eyebrow, “How do you know all of this?” He continued to study the Askar’s fighting history and breeding history. She was born into the Askar life, and has been fighting since she was a young cub. A purebred with a white wolf as full shift, she had gone up against fighters with twice the amount of experience and came out victorious in the arenas.
A sigh left the Spark’s lips as he took a sip of wine, “August is family to me. He and his sister Rainbow, cousins of mine, my Aunt was very…traditional when it came to naming her children. For being the odd one of the family, he is fairly successful with his Askars, he knows how to spot talent and harness it.”
He chewed on is food thoughtfully, something about this wolf’s features made him want to recognize her, “Interesting…I’m curious to see how she fairs in the tournament, I want her.” He set aside her folder then continued looking at the rest, his eyes landing on the thick folder of a bear, “And this one, kills in four fights, lost only two, a Bear from Terra, putting her against him as an opening match would be just thrilling.”
Jameson took the folder from Donovan’s hands, “I would say this is more of an ending match than an opening my King. But it is your birthday, you may do whatever you wish.”
He skimmed through the rest of them, “Perhaps you are right, but I do want to see them in the Arena together, make them the third match. Put her up against the Lion from the Isles, and the Bear against a Snake from the Icecaps for the opening match. The rest we will match as they go. I want all of these except for the Tiger from Greenland, the Fox from Monal, and the two Wolves from Rossen. They are too weak for my taste, and no Greenland fighter will be allowed into my arena. No Greenland representatives, understood?”
“Of course, I will send out the list immediately. We have more preparation to do for your birthday tournament, but now that the Askar’s are chosen, the rest I can do on my own. What will the starting bets be? And the theme for the opening ball and Askar reveal?” Jameson pulled out a pen, blew on the tip, causing a ripple of oak to fill the air and placed the pen on the paper. The pen began to flow over the paper; writing down what Jameson directed it to write through the spell.
He sat back, pushing away his plate and snapping his fingers, a signal to his servants that he was done, “Make it interesting, something to do with bloodlines, or showing their form through attire. Trainers must wear formal clothing as always. And starting bets…50, I’m sure they can afford that.”
The pen scribbled away, “Anything else come to mind? Otherwise its time for your interview.”
He shook his head and stood, “Let’s get this ridiculous thing over with, cry over my dead brother, deal with incompetent council, and fuck my wife before I give her this potion. Am I missing anything, Jameson?”
Jameson stood, grabbing the pen and folders from the table, “Harass the young fox?”
“Ah yes, my new play thing, send her to the guest room next to mine at midnight. After all, I have to wait a week before breeding my wife and a King has needs. I wonder what her fox looks like, perhaps small and dainty, or a fully mature Vixen as her name states.” His words began to turn to growls the more he thought about what he wanted to do to the young girl.
“Donovan, your stench is killing my nose. Quit thinking of how you’re going to claim the girl and put your mask back on, the reporters are waiting in the thrown room. And where the hell is your crown?” Jameson looked around before spotting a maid trying to sneak away back into the kitchen, “You! Maid! Go get the King his crown, it’s in the upstairs study, here, follow this tracker, it will lead you to it. Hurry!” A ball of blue light flew out of the palm of his hand, the smell of oak once again returning to the air. The light sped out of the room, causing the maid to shift into her Tiger form and bound after it on all fours.
“Was that really necessary? I don’t need that awful thing to cry about my brother.” He rolled his eyes before stiffening at the scent that entered the room.
“It’s the only thing that reminds them you’re their King. An awful thing is what is wearing the crown, not the crown itself. You are no true heir to the throne, your father felt sorry for you, but I knew from the moment you were born there was darkness in your wolf that your brother did not have. You were never meant to be King. It should be Marcus’ heir ruling the kingdom, not my second son.” A low, growling voice came from behind.
Donovan faced the Wolf that entered the room, the Tiger that had gone to fetch the crown was cowering next to her back in her human form, “Mother, always a pleasure to see you. What are you doing out of your room?”
“This Tiger tripped the iron circle you laid at my door when she ran past it to find the crown. I thought now with my newfound freedom, I could see what else you have done to ruin the family name. Or perhaps you have finally decided to kill me? That would be pleasant, I could haunt your pathetic ass from the grave.” His mother tossed the crown at his feet.
Jameson flicked his wrist, his magic catching the crown before it landed at Donovan’s feet, “Marilyn, I believe it is time for you to return to your room. You are feeling exhausted, why don’t you allow this maid to escort you back?” The sharp scent of moss filled the air as Jameson’s voice was layered thick with his magic.
Marilyn growled and bared her sharpened teeth at the Spark, “Don’t use your mind magic on me, Spark. I will rip your throat out with my teeth. I know your tricks, and I know what you have been feeding me to weaken me. Is this really what you have dwindled down to, Donovan? Using your Spark to keep me complacent? If you were a real wolf you would have killed me yourself. But no, you poisoned your father to kill him slowly, caused your brother to take his Mate and cub into hiding, ambushed your brother and killed him with your guards, and kept me locked away in a room because without me, no one would trust you. You’re a pathetic excuse of a son, not even a wolf, I should have killed you at birth.”
A roar vibrated Donovan’s entire being. His claws lengthened, teeth bared, and eyes burning bright red. His skin was tingling as he tried to hold back his full shift, “How dare you speak to your king that way! I spared your life! You should be thanking me. All those years you favored Marcus over me, all those years you cooed over him because of his wolf and his heart and his plan for the kingdom. All of those years and you never once wanted me, you should’ve been the first one I killed.”
The older woman growled, shoving the Tiger and Spark out of her way effortlessly, standing toe to toe with her son, “Here I am, kill me. Do it. I dare you to. I favored your brother because he was my son. He stood up for you, protected you, cared for you, and you had him killed because you were jealous. He was my pride and joy and you murdered him. If you’re going to kill me, do it now. At least I will be with my family.”
Rumbling growls rolled through Donovan, he clenched his fists, but didn’t move to strike his mother. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. As much as he wanted to, everything he did, he did it for her approval, to show how much of a wolf he was compared to his brother. “Get out.”
His mother searched his eyes, claws and fangs receding, “I knew it. You are no son of mine. Tiger! Take me back to my room, the King is too much of a pup to deal with his mother.”
The tigress bowed and followed the Queen Regent out of the room, shutting the door silently. The room was tense, the only sounds were the continued rumblings coming from Donovan’s chest.
Jameson eyed the King warily, seeing how close he was to losing control, “My King…” He was answered with a growl, and immediately clicked his jaw shut.
Donovan was seeing red, his wolf was growling, skin crawling. He wanted nothing more than to give into the shift and run through the palace grounds and sink his teeth into whatever crossed his path, be it shifter, human, or animal. “Cancel everything, tell them I’m ill. I’m going to hunt, I’m going to fuck my wife, and I’m going to kill my mother.”
The Spark spoke quietly, “Is that really such a good idea, Donovan? People will ask questions…more kingdoms will resist.”
Another roar ripped through his throat, “Let them ask. Let them resist. I will show them who I really am. I will show them the Alpha that my brother never was. I will show them at the tournament, I will challenge the winner, and I will slaughter them in front of all of the kingdoms. Do you understand me?!”
“Yes, my King, as you wish. But I must insist that you calm yourself before you make any other decisions, you aren’t thinking clearly and are going to ruin everything we have done so far.” Jameson began layering magic onto his voice.
In a flash, Donovan had his hand curled around Jameson’s throat, “Are you using magic on me? Are you trying to influence your King?!”
Jameson snapped his fingers, sending a spell swirling around Donovan.
He let go of him, coughing and growling as the sharp smell of moss suffocated him. He roared and let his control go, his bones morphing and skin sprouting fur. A large black wolf dropped to all four in front of Jameson, the head of the wolf reaching midchest to the Spark. Donovan was snarling at his advisor, furious that he caused him to fully shift inside the palace.
Jameson straightened his suit as he addressed the snarling wolf in front of him, “I apologize your Highness, force of habit. But there, go up and soil your wife the way you really want to, go and hunt the cute little bunnies hiding by the forest, kill your mother if you want. Do what you wish and I will handle the rest, I will tell the council and the reporters that you have fallen ill. You will thank me later.”
Donovan growled, to furious to say anything else. He went over to his clothes and nosed the vial out of his pocket, he picked it up gingerly before prowling out of the room. He snarled at anyone that crossed his path, ears flat on his head, tail flicking and fur bristled. His claws clicked on the floor as he made his way up the stairs and to his room. The young fox maid’s eyes widened as she saw his hulking form make his towards her. The sweet scent of fear tinted the air again, he rumbled, pleased by his affect on her.
Open the door young one. He projected his thoughts out to her.
She bowed her head and opened the door, heart beat slightly rising, and the fear become stronger as he passed her, making sure he curled his tail around her leg.
His wife was still fast asleep, curled under the blankets. He placed the vial on the night-stand next to her and nudged at her sleeping figure with his nose. She let out a sigh but curled tighter, not waking from her slumber. He let out a wolfish grin and padded out to the hallway. Come my sweet Vixen, show me your fox form, and let me get to know you better.
Hazel eyes tore open as the young girl awoke screaming, ripping the covers off and her claws extending in fear. Her wolf-familiar barreled into her room, teeth bared and snarling, with her mother behind him.
“Siberia, sweetheart what happened?” Mary lit the candle by her night-stand and sat on the bed, but kept enough space as to not frighten the girl any more.
She took a shaky breath and looked at her mother, curling closer to her, “The same nightmare, being chased through the woods but being only a pup and unable to defend myself.”
Mary took the shaken girl into her arms and smoothed out her hair, tucking her head under her chin. “Its just nerves little one, August has been working all of us hard these past few weeks for the King’s tournament qualifiers. You and Malia have high chances of being chosen, and it’s the first time he has had an Askar be considered for the tournament, much less two.”
Siberia ran her fingers through her familiars fur, feeling him start to rumble a purr to help calm her. “It just felt so real…what if it’s a sign that I’m not ready for the tournament? That I am not going to be chosen?”
Mary pulled Siberia away and looked at the young wolf in the eyes, “You are a powerful Askar, you have not lost a fight and have more kills than any other Askar here. You are more than ready.”
She closed her eyes and quelled her fear, letting her eyes burn their bright yellow. “I’m sorry mother, for showing weakness. It won’t happen again.”
Mary sighed and squeezed Siberia’s shoulders, the girl had been through too much already. “It’s all right love, I forget how young you are, you are wiser beyond your years.”
A horn blared outside, signaling the start of the day and meant to rouse the other Askars for training. The pair could hear the others around them beginning to wake up and dawn their armor for training. Kane’s ears flicked at the movement and rose to all fours, nuzzling his soul bond and pressed his thoughts to hers; Come Sia, you have to get ready for the day. August may love you, but even he won’t be tolerant of tardiness.
She stood and made her way to the foot of her bed where the trunk containing her training armor was, “Do you know what August has planned for today?”
Mary made her way behind her and began to braid her hair back, “Not really, he mentioned new Askars but I’m not entirely certain. Perhaps sparring to get the new Askars acquainted and test their skills and abilities.” She finished the braid and squeezed her daughter’s shoulder, leaving her to get ready herself.
Siberia let out a breath and finished wrapping her wrists, her soul bond watching her closely. What is it Kane? I can see the smoke coming out from your ears.
His ears flicked back, embarrassed for being caught, I’ve been hearing whispers from other familiars, they sense a change is coming, a big one. I feel it as well…and I’m afraid that the frequency of your nightmares-
Kane enough, I don’t want to hear about this superstition. I understand you want to keep me safe, but a nightmare is just a nightmare. I don’t want to hear anymore about this, do you understand me? He ducked his head down but remained silent, she felt a pang of guilt for being harsh to her best friend and sent love through their bond.
I didn’t mean to be so harsh, but I can’t lose focus and worry over a feeling that may not happen. Now come, we have a long day of training ahead of us.
The pair walked out of the cottage and into the field that separated the main house from the Askar housing, the others were already falling into ranks awaiting August’s arrival. The elder Askars stood off to the side, her mother included, keeping a watchful eye on the younger fighters. Killian winked at her and moved aside so that she could take her place. Siberia rolled her eyes and stood at attention with Kane sitting at her feet. Killian has wanted to court her since she came of age, but as Askars they did not have that privilege, unless they were retired to sire a line and she had a long life in the arena before that happened.
Malia and a few stragglers came running out of the other cottages, quickly joining the line up before August walked out of the main house. Malia’s familiar, an eagle, soared out from above and intentionally smacked her with a wing before settling on her shoulder.
Sia smirked and whispered, “You’re late.”
Malia shot a glare at her, “I couldn’t sleep. I was up all night worrying about the qualifying matches…but from what I heard, you didn’t sleep well either.”
A cold stone dropped into Sibera’s stomach, she opened her mouth to retaliate but the door to the main house opened and the scent of citrus drifted out to the crowd. The elders took their ranks as August made his way out to them, dressed in his black armor with the Spark insignia on his chest, and silver hair slicked back. He stood in front of his Askars, eyes taking note of who was present, “Rowan, I understand this is only your first week here, but that does not exempt you from being tardy to formation. Your previous trainer warned me of this and I will not tolerate it. Two week probation with extra duties after training, should you fail even that you will be retired to house servant. Understood?”
Siberia looked to the side where the boy stood, his head ducked low and his fox familiar doing the same.
“Now that the matter is settled, we have news to celebrate! Siberia, as today is your nineteenth birthday, it is my honor to congratulate you for being one of the twelve Askars selected to compete in the Kings tournament.” August couldn’t hold his smile back as he announced the news.
She beamed back at him and felt the other Askars begin to hoist her up into the air, tossing her and chanting her name. You earned it Siberia, I am so proud of you. August’s thoughts brushed hers and left her feeling warm and bubbly.
“Alright enough, enough. Put her down, I need her in one piece so she may actually compete in the tournament. Ranks everyone, back in your ranks.” August called out, attempting to quell the excitement every Askar was feeling, “I have four new Askars joining us later this evening, but until then a warm up lap through the woods and then to the main house for breakfast. No shifting! Familiars, with me. Dismissed.”
Siberia took off into the woods, flying through, feeling lighter than ever. Killian fell into place next to her, “Well congrats miss chosen one, you’ve certainly earned it. Imagine how much our pups will go for when you’re crowned King’s Champion.”
She let out a laugh, “You’re quite sure of yourself aren’t you? Give it up Killian, it’s going to be quite a while before I’m retired to sire. And it’s not when, but if I am Champion. I am going up against other top fighters, not from just our Kingdom but from the surrounding kingdoms as well. Who knows what their skill level is like?”
Killian smirked as they vaulted over a fallen tree, “You need more confidence Siberia, besides, we’re a perfect match for a breeding pair. You’re a pure white wolf at shift, and I am silver-grey, our pups will be beautiful. And you really think August is going to keep you in the Arena if you are Champion? I’d say that is a perfect way to end your career. He would make more off you as a sire than as an Askar, no one wants to fight a champion, but everyone wants a champions pups.”
She snarled at his comment and poured on the speed, leaving Killian behind easily. Kane, did you hear any of that?
I wouldn’t worry about that Sia. Killian is just a dog in heat wanting to mount anything that moves. Even if August wanted to retire you as a sire, he would choose someone much more worthy than Killian. Kane reassured her and tugged on their bond to ease her worry.
Siberia closed off her mind and let her instinct take over, flying through the woods and finishing the lap with no other thought than just running. As she neared the main house, the scent of ham reached her nose and she began to sprint the last half mile until she felt a body slam into her knocking her off course. She tumbled and caught her balance, landing on all fours, searching for her attacker. A low growl came from her left, Rowan slinked from the behind the foliage, teeth bared.
Siberia bared her teeth and stood, “Rowan stand down.”
He let out a loud growl, “You should have died years ago.” His body shifted and in front of her stood a large black bear. This wasn’t the Rowan she knew.
The bear lunged after her, claws swiping and missing as she dodged the attack. She launched herself over him and landed on his back, swiping at his neck with her claws attempting to sever the spine. Kane! I’m being attacked in the woods, alert August!
He bucked up and knocked her off his back, sending her slamming into a tree. A silver wolf flew out from behind her and attacked the bear at full force, followed by large eagle and two lions. The forest around them parted and vines grew from the earth, surrounding and trapping the bear in a cocoon.
“Back away all of you!” August growled, his eyes glowing a brilliant purple, “Who are you? Shift now and reveal your true self!”
A roar left the bear and in the cocoon was now a tan man with dark hair and scars littering his face, “I am no one.” The man began convulsing and foaming at the mouth.
“No, no, no, no!” August waved his hands sending balls of magic to save the shifter’s life, but they all ricocheted off his body and hit the trees around him. The sharp scent of mint hit Siberia’s nose, magic was behind the shifter’s death, which means a Spark had to have scent this shifter to kill her.
“Everyone back to the main house.” August growled at the Askars around him, all hesitant to leave their Trainer behind. “Now!”
Killian walked over to Siberia and held out a hand to help her up. Kane ran up out of nowhere and growled at him, standing between Killian and Siberia. Tobias, Killian’s familiar, snarled at Kane and stood toe to toe with him.
“Enough you two, he just wants to help.” Siberia took his hand and pulled herself up from the ground, the two familiars still eyeing each other but calmed down some.
The Askars were all on alert, forming ranks around Siberia to protect her in case of another attack. Killian attempted to talk to her, but she just shook her head, not trusting her voice or the woods until they reached the main house. They filed into the waiting room, murmurs as to what happened swirled around her.
August burst into the room, his magic crackling around him, “Siberia, are you hurt? What happened?”
She shook her head, “No. I was ahead of everyone else, I only had half a mile before hitting the threshold of the house, when Rowan…or whoever that was slammed into me. He said…he said that I should have died years ago and that’s when he shifted into a bear and attacked me.”
He closed his eyes, magic crackling even louder, “It must be another Askar sent here by a jealous Trainer who didn’t get his own fighter into the tournament. From now on, no one is to train in the woods without wards. Understood? Killian, take your trainees and scan the woods. Malia, be my eyes with two other eagles. Jackson, take four bears and come with me. The rest of you in your barracks until I send word.”
The crowd began moving around her, but Siberia remained planted in her spot, “August, let me go with you, I caught his scent before the magic covered it, I can track it to where he came from-“
“No. You will not leave this house until I know the threat has been eliminated. Siberia you are too valuable to even put yourself in that position.” August’s eyes flashed.
She snarled, “I don’t care about being chosen, August I want to help. I’m the best fighter you have you said so yourself.”
He snapped his fingers and magic swirled around her, trying to put her to sleep, “Sia…it’s much more than that.”
She tried fighting the effects of the spell, “You…you’re…magic-“
August cupped her cheek, “Please don’t make this harder than it already is…Siberia sleep.”
The world around her went black.
Siberia felt a cold nose on her forehead, and Kane’s thoughts attempting to break through the thick fog from August’s magic.
Siberia…wake up…Sia come on…it’s safe now.
She forced her eyes open and was met with the sight of a tawny snout and golden yellow eyes. She blinked a couple times and attempted to sit up, the world spinning with the after effects of magic.
“Easy Siberia, August was a little heavy handed on his magic.” Malia walked into the room, arms crossed and eagle perched on her shoulder.
Kane jumped on the bed and went behind her to help her up, “You think? He used enough on me to knock out the whole team.”
“He just wants his little Champion safe, you are the star of the team after all,” wrinkling her nose, tone dripping in envy.
“If you’re just here to be bitter about the selection then leave. You know as well as I do that it is up to King Donovan to select whom he wants for the tournament, and his Spark is the one that pulls the Askars from the qualifiers. We’re sisters, don’t let this petty tournament pull us apart.” Kicking her legs over the bed to stand up.
A sigh came from the doorway, “You’re right, I’m sorry. August is looking for you, the shifter that attacked you seems to be linked to the Roanoke Clan but he has more information for you. He’s in the downstairs study.”
She stood up slowly, Kane following her every movement to make sure she was steady. I’m fine Kane, don’t worry.
I’m not taking anymore risks with you, I should have been there to protect you against the attack.
Fighting is my life, I would have been fine but he caught me off guard with the way he shifted. I already feel the after effects of the magic wearing off. Rolling her shoulders, she set out into the hallway with Kane’s claws clicking behind her. She took her time looking at the hallway around her, never spending more time in here than to collect the new Askars from the guest quarters. Every inch of the hallway had something to with nature, from the various planters with herbs and flowers, to the art that depicted scenery of lavish forests. Most Sparks needed to feel and be close to nature as their magic stemmed from the Earth itself, August definitely being one of those Sparks.
The staircase was at the end of the hall that lead down to the lower level of the main house. This level she was used to, the kitchen and dinning room were located on this level and August was adamant on having “team meals” to make sure all Askars felt more like a family than just individual fighters. Vines with jasmine flowers grew along the bannister of the staircase, the slight thrum of magic in every inch of the house. Turning the corner, she made her way to the office, standing at the doorway watching August yell at a communication orb.
“Cut the bullshit, Jameson, these Roanokes attacked my Askars, one of them being a tournament competitor. And you’re telling me that you won’t send ANY soldiers to guard my grounds?” His eyes flashed purple, as they flicked up at her, holding up one finger to signal ‘one moment’.
A smooth voice came from the orb, “August, you have a small army of Askars, retire some to become guards, you don’t need resources from the King as he is currently handling the Clan situation. I apologize for your Askar and hope that she is able to compete. Good Day.”
The orb fizzled out and he slammed his hand against his desk, his anger rolling off in waves, changing the scent of the room and making her inner wolf raise it’s head, eager for a fight.
“I’m sorry Sia for knocking you out so hard, I had to make sure you were completely asleep before leaving you. I thought it was just another Askar but…it seems our King’s troubles have finally hit us.” He ran his hand through his hair, waving his other hand to get paper and pen out of his drawer, pen flying across and scribbling down whatever was on his mind.
“The Roanoakes seem to be getting braver, I thought they were just at the borders?” She took a step inside, hesitant to get any closer due to the amount of magic that was flying around.
Letting out a deep sigh, “In theory, but in reality the Clan is only getting stronger and gaining ground, my contacts in the other Kingdoms report the same thing. They have been getting funding from somewhere and are terrorizing everyone who stands in their way. I’m hoping the Lady Arin in Rantock will be willing to move up our trade deal. Sires for her and guards for me. Trust me when I say Sia, she had her eye set on you and wanted to give me 12 of her best guards for just you. But you my dear, will never leave these grounds, I promise you that.”
“August why are you trading for more guards? We have plenty Askars here that can be retired for guards.” Feeling Kane bump her leg with the news that August would never trade her.
“Extra precaution Siberia, we will be traveling a lot these next coming days. The others will have no issue protecting the house. But these guards are specifically for you. Stirling is not like any other city you have competed in before, it’s the capital of Malmore, hundreds if not thousands of people will be flooding in to see this tournament. It’s not a risk I am willing to take. And Lady Arin specializes in guards, most of the royal guards came from her training facility. You will have the upmost protection.” His blue eyes warranted no argument.
Siberia nodded, “That’s understandable I think…when will I being training for the tournament?”
August smirked, “We leave in one week to begin the tournament tour, ending with the reveal ball. Then a week of training, and then the tournament begins. New armor is being made for you, along with a gown for the ball. Now before you complain, it won’t be a normal gown, you will still feel comfortable. Gwen will take you to try on the practice gown so you can get the feel of it and will teach you proper etiquette for the ball.” He grabbed his things and placed a hand on her shoulder as he went to leave, “I have faith in you Sia, you will learn quickly.”
A mousy girl with red hair appeared at her side, she bowed her head, “Lady Siberia, if you would please follow me.”
She blinked at being called ‘lady’, “It’s just Siberia, I’m an Askar, far from a lady. Who are you?” The pair left the study and went back up the stairs to the room Sia was in.
“Apologies miss, I am a lady’s maid from the palace. I help the Queen prepare for public appearances and train other lady’s maids. August brought me here to help train you to be a proper lady.” She stopped, eyes widening when she realized what she said, “Not that you aren’t a lady miss, I just meant-”
“I understand what you meant, fighting is what I do and it’s what I’m good at. Being presentable for the King is definitely not my strong suit.” She cut off the maid from her flustering apology. They entered the room and she froze, eyes immediately laying on the three gowns on the bed.
Gwen made her way to the bed and pulled the first one up, a lavish gown with an armor bodice, flowing golden skirts and a golden circlet with wings. “This belonged to an Eagle competing in the previous tournament. She was about your build; this should fit you, perhaps a bit snug. Shall we try this on miss?”
You’re supposed to wear that? Kane sat by her feet, cocking his head at the dress.
Apparently. “Must we start with that ridiculous thing? Can’t we go over etiquette first?” She took a hesitant step towards the maid, afraid to look at the other gowns.
She giggled and put the golden gown down, “Well miss, in order for me to teach you the etiquette you must have the gown on first to learn how to walk in it. Perhaps this one is a bit too much for the practice. How about this one?” She held up a red and gold gown, a large lion on the bodice with the tail wrapping around the skirts of the dress.
Well that’s not better, but it’s certainly not worst. “I suppose…” Sia stepped closer to the girl and she began to take her armor off until she was left in her underclothes.
Gwen held the dress out and Siberia stepped into the skirts, immediately feeling restricted by the skirts. The bodice was pulled up and Siberia nearly attacked the girl when the laces of the corset were tightened, managing to only snarl at the girl and dig her claws into bannister of the bed.
“I’m sorry miss, have you not worn a corset before?” The girl continued to pull at the laces for a moment.
“Never, corsets are not very functional when it comes to fighting in the arena.” She growled out. Kane huffed out a laugh and settled down his amusement coming through the bond.
“Corsets may not be functional but you do look beautiful in that gown.” A voice came from behind her.
Oh no. “Killian, what are you doing here?” She turned to face him, hiding her embarrassment with anger.
Killian’s face flushed and arousal came off of him, “August sent me to guard you while you practice out on the grounds.”
She bared her teeth, “How kind of you, but I don’t need protection. Come Gwen.” Could you smell that? Disgusting.
I can’t entirely blame him. But if he does anything, he won’t be able to sire any lines. Kane let out a little growl.
She tried to storm her way out of the room, only finding that she was having trouble moving with the immense amount of fabric around her legs. Gwen ran up behind her and gathered her skirts giving her a little more freedom to make her way down the stairs and out onto the grounds.
The bustle of the others training stopped as all eyes laid on her, arousal coming from most of the men and awe coming from the females. She was an Askar, she was used to the eyes of hundreds of people on her, but she had never felt more uncomfortable in her life.
Gwen whispered in her ear, “Shoulders back, head tall, and be confident, miss. Believe you are a queen.”
She straightened herself as if she was preparing for a battle and stared at her comrades around her with a fixated gaze. She still felt uncomfortable, but she was able to hold her own. Her inner wolf rumbled at the attention, she felt like an Alpha.
August turned and smiled, “Alright enough everyone, back to your training.” He made his way over to them, “Good starting work, Gwen. I like the look of this dress from the top, but the skirts and silhouette is all wrong for you Sia…don’t worry I have something in mind for you.” He waved his hand and her hair flowed around her, breaking free from her braid. “Hmm, definitely better this way, make notes of this Gwen for when we style her for the ball. Carry on, I shall meet with you both later.”
Siberia looked at Gwen, “There’s more to learn?”
She gave a sheepish smile, “Oh yes, miss. We have to teach you how to walk, eat, and dance like a lady.”
Killian snorted behind them, “Teach Siberia to be a lady? You’re better off teaching Kane how to fly. She’s a warrior, she does not know how to be gentle.”
She growled at Killian, “I can do it, how hard can it be?”