I stare at my reflection in the mirror, but it's like staring at a stranger.
I still have the same blonde hair, that I have pulled into a neat bun for tonight. I still have the same hazel eyes, though they are red-rimmed from all the tears. Yet, I feel completely different.
The white summer dress flows nicely down to my knees and the white flats complete the look.
We don't wear black to funerals. We don't even call them funerals, we call it a release.
A soft knock on my door pulls my attention away from the mirror and towards Jake who poked his head in.
His white pants and button down shirt only make the red in his eyes more noticeable. Just the sight of him, ready for the release has tears spring to my eyes.
Jake closes the distance between us quickly pulling me into my arms.
"I'm so sorry, Hails. This is all my fault." my mumbles into my hair, his voice breaking a little.
I pull away and grip his face in my hands, my thumbs wiping the tears as they fall.
I try to search my mind for words but nothing is coming to me. So I settle on shaking my head back and forth.
"You don't even know what happened out there! It's all my fault that Cade is gone!" he pulls out of my grip and runs his hands through his hair, tugging on the ends.
"So tell me because I refuse to believe any of this is your fault." my voice is barely above a whisper.
Jake looks at me and I no longer see the same sixteen-year-old looking back.
Instead, a frightened and heartbroken child stares back at me. I hate seeing my brother this way. Everything is just so messed up.
I don't want to know what happened. Hearing the details won't make me feel better but I know that Jake is not to blame. Until he tells me what happens, he will always believe he is.
"It was chaos when we got there. There were so many that we all just jumped in where we could." Jake deflated onto the edge of the bed, his head hung into his hands.
"Eventually, we started to gain the upper hand. Some ran off and some stayed until the end. I had turned around to start heading back when one jumped from the trees." His voice broke and tears fell from his eyes as he relived what happened.
"Cade jumped in and took the bite aimed at me. I didn't even see the rogue before Cade got there! They rolled away and I ran to jump in but when I got there, Cade was on the ground and the rogue had shifted human. I'll never forget that fucking smirk he gave me before he ran! I wanted to chase him, but I couldn't leave Cade. Had I paid more attention, noticed that there was one more..."
I walked toward Jake and he crumpled into me as soon as I was close enough. His head buried into my stomach and I held him as he cried.
"It's not your fault," I whispered over and over again as I stroked my hand down his hair.
He shook his head but remained quiet, hopefully because he knew I was right. It wasn't his fault.
Everyone thought there were no more rogues. Cade's a hero and looked at Jake like a little brother.
He died protecting his loved ones and I'm sure that he would do it again if given the choice. That's just the kind of guy Cade was.
My wolf whimpered and another sorrowful howl filled my head before she retreated to the back of my mind.
"You'll be a better Alpha than I could have been," Jake mumbles, pulling away to wipe his face with his hands.
I move to sit next to him on the bed, my head resting on his shoulder.
"I don't want the title anymore. It's yours now." What's the point of having the Alpha title if my mate isn't here to share it with me?
"What kind of Alpha will I be if I didn't even know there was one left?" he scoffs, glancing down to look at me.
I pull my head from his shoulder and stare him straight in the eyes so he can see that I mean what I'm about to say.
"You'll be a great Alpha because you will learn from this and be better next time." I pretend to wipe the dust off his shoulders and straighten his shirt.
"We don't want to be late for the release." I kiss his forehead and stand up, offering him my hand.
The walk to the clearing was, unfortunately, beautiful. Why can't things be grey and gloomy when I am sad? Why does it have to be so beautiful like it's mocking my heartache?
The sun is begin to decend behind the mountains and the moon is rising in the sky. The clearing is filled with the pack, mostly in wolf form.
It is customary for the Alpha and mourning families to be in human form to oversee the release.
My eyes immediately lock on Alex, holding his weeping mother as Mason carries a crying Hannah in his arms. I want to go over there and hug them, but I know that they need their family time and I don't want to impose.
Still, the sight of Alex trying to be strong for his mom sends another shatter to my already fragile heart and I have to look away.
I focus on Jake and some warriors as they put more wood on the growing fire. The fire glows in the darkness of the night, creating dancing shadows among the trees.
I can remember a time when the shadows use to scare me. I would cling to my dads' leg because he would always protect me from scary things.
Until one day he told me that the shadows were the spirits of wolves who had already passed, coming to greet the newly released souls and lead them to the Moon Goddess.
"Evening everyone. I wish we were meeting tonight under different circumstances." my dad's alpha voice rings through the trees and everyone goes silent.
I watch as he sweeps his eyes over the entire pack, taking in faces and gathering the strength to continue. It is never easy to lose a wolf in a pack, especially under these circumstances.
"Four wolves lost their lives defending us against an attack. Although four seems like such a small number, it has a huge impact on us. We lost brothers, fathers, mates, and friends that can never be replaced nor forgotten. Tonight, we release them to the Moon Goddess and ask that she give them the peace they deserve." A tear rolls down my dads' cheek as he speaks.
He didn't turn away or hide in embarrassment like most Alpha's might do. Instead, he let his pack see that the loss hurt him and he is the strongest Alpha I know because of it.
He bows his head slightly. A sign of respect to the lost wolves and their families as well as signaling the release to begin.
Three men approach the fire, carrying the body of their loved one wrapped in a white sheet.
One by one, they place the body in the flames and cries from the families fill the silence, until there is only one left.
I watch in silent heartbreak as a devastated Mason appears, holding tightly to Cade as he approached the fire.
He stands by the flames, his tears glistening in the firelight and I force my eyes away. I can't watch so I focus on the shimmering stars and bright moon looking down on us.
"Give him peace," I whisper into the night as Sam's cries grow louder.
With the last soul released, the wolves start to howl. One long sorrowful howl for each soul sent to the Moon Goddess.