Imperial Affliction

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Chapter 7

*Soren’s P.O.V.*

Gathering the soldiers who would be assisting in tonight’s shift kept me occupied and I couldn’t keep tabs on Zenobia. The questions she asked before I left her concerned me. I’m not sure what prompted me to give her my mother’s necklace, but it just seemed right. The gash that lay along her hairline having stood out against her fiery hair, lashed into my heart as if branding the same wound onto me.

There was a connection there. I knew I cared for her, but I didn’t realize how deep that feeling went until she had clung to me as I carried her from the dungeons, her weak silhouette weighted against me as I had rushed her quietly to my quarters. She had been so light, barely enough to make my muscles strain.

The smell of her had intoxicated me, but the scent of her blood made mine boil with rage. At the memory of it, my wolf interjected.

He hurt her again, My wolf growled.

... Yes. I know.

One of these days we won’t find her bloody and broken. We will find her lifeless. One of these days he will take it too far for her to return from.

I KNOW! I was practically screaming in frustration. We don’t have the time to worry about it now, we have to make it through this Full Moon. We make it through this Full Moon, we can try to figure a way to help her.

There is something about her I can’t... I can’t seem to break through. Do you feel it? The pull?

I stationed my men at the different guard posts, instructing them on the procedures. Armed them with several weapons, including diluted wolfsbane filled sacks that would act as a protection bomb against any rogues should there be any attempted assassinations. They each took two sacks with leather gloved hands. Tying them to their waists, they were in position and ready.

I knew what he was talking about. I did feel a pull to her. A sort of magnetism, almost like her presence drew me in. An ache formed in my chest as I recalled all the times I had seen her bruised or injured.

It always sent me into a fury.

I feel the pull. But I don’t know what it means. She has no wolf, she hasn’t made the change so she couldn’t be our mate.

He grumbled lowly back to me, just as confused as I was.

Making my way towards Garridan’s secluded barrack, I walked into the room and laid my eyes on the Prince. His dark blonde hair stuck to his sweaty brow, lines visible in his face. Pain laced his body as his breathing came out in shallow pants. The moon was almost at its highest position in the midnight sky, signaling the transformation’s peak was upon us.

I could feel my own body almost rigid in anticipation, my wolf wanting to break through my skin and take over. But as this was my Alpha King’s heir, I had to ensure his protection was absolute. We had only minutes now until the moon reached its peak, so I focused my gaze back to Garridan.

He was haunched over on his knees, his claws starting to distend from his finger nails beds. My eyes flickered to his face and saw that his canines were extended as well. Good, the transformation was starting.

His panting became more rigid as the first bone broke and started the realignment.

CRACK

His shoulder blade distorted with a sickening crack, and realigned, breaking into it’s new postion.

CRACK

Garridan’s back ankle snapped at an unnatural angle before rebreaking.

CRACK. CRACK. CRACK.

He threw his head back with a howl of absolute agony escaping his lips, eyes widening in terror, flashing a bright silver as his wolf was melding into his human form, starting to make the final connections. Bone after bone breaking, realigning, and breaking again. DNA fusing unto one single unit, one being until finally, the fur started to sprout across his body.

Blood was oozing from his skin as the fur jutted out for the first time, bursting through the surface across every inch of his body.

The last, and maybe most excruciating part, was his face. His jaw bone broke and the snout of his wolf transformed, replacing his human features. A loud thud sounded and the heavy panting was more relaxed, exhausted, as his human frame was gone.

A big wolf lay in his place.

Glancing out the small window from his barrack, I saw the moon had settled into the highest position and looked back to see that Garridan’s wolf lay whimpering, licking the blood from his fur and ravenously looking around for water. I nodded my head towards the guard to my left who promptly set a water basin in front of the large beige wolf.

He stared around apprehensively, his senses on high alert for any threats. After sensing that we were none, he lapped it up furiously, splashing water out everywhere in his haste.

“Keep guard on us at all times. I am going to shift to mind link him. We need to get him up to speed as quickly as possible. Any sign of weakness in the Alpha King’s son will be taken advantage of.”

I heard the snapping and breaking of bones slowing from the other barracks; a few taking their last breaths, their body’s rejecting the shift. I felt a change, a pressure, in my mind as I felt more wolves joining the pack.

My mind flickered to Zenobia, hoping that wherever she was and whatever she was doing, she was safe. I would find her as soon as this Full Moon passed and Prince Garridan was safe. Taking the shirt off over my head and slipping my trousers off, I crouched down to eye level with Garridan’s wolf, bowing in a sign of respect and submission as I felt my body shift.

Shifting was almost painless now, aside from the bolt of fire that licked up my spine as the change started. For only a few mere seconds did it feel like fire spread throughout my veins, encasing my bones as they broke and religned. It was almost effortless.

My grey wolf came forward on all fours, bowing in respect once more to our Prince. I quickly reached my mind out to his, making the link.

“My prince, can you hear me?”

I saw his wolf’s ears perk up and his eyes flick in my direction. A sort of grunt came weakly from his wolf.

“Reach out to me with your mind, my prince.”

At first there was more silence and I could feel the agitation rolling off of him as he struggled to make the link. after a few moments, I felt a bulging pressure in my head.

“Am... am I doing it right?” I heard his weary voice in my head and my wolf nearly sighed in relief. He had made the link.

“Great, you’re doing a great job. How do you feel?”

“Tired... and... and sore. But stronger, better... my wolf, I can hear him. My fever and pain in my gums, they are all gone now.”

“Congratulations, my prince, you have completed your First Shift. Welcome to the pack.”

I offered my neck in a sign of submission to my future King, when a loud crash sounded at the East gate. The scent hit me before I saw anything, and I knew it was time to find Zenobia, even with Prince Garridan in tow.

We were under attack.

And the rogues had invaded.

*Zenobia’s P.O.V.*

I scurried from my feeble “room” and made my way towards the south end of the castle where the rest of the animals, as well as training gear, were kept. The twisting halls and steep stairs brought me up short to the door of the training hall as I took a moment to twist my dress into a knot at my waist, thankful I’d taken Soren’s trousers.

After I secured the knot, I turned and darted out of the doorway, keeping myself low to the ground. Since I was at the opposite end of the barracks, I should be able to get by unnoticed. Everyone would be distracted by the new shifters, especially by my brother Garridan.

I made it to a small gathering of trees, keeping myself low in the brush by the roots trying to keep out of sight. I heard him before I saw him, a Pricolici soldier had made a circle around the castle, checking for any signs of attack. I kept my body as still as possible. He was taller than me, of course, but not so tall that I was at a terrible disadvantage. Besides, he wouldn’t expect my speed or strength.

At the same moment the guard had passed me, a rabbit scurried in front of my path, lightly crunching some leaves as it went by.

Shit. Stupid bunny.

My breath caught as the guard quickly turned on his heel scanning the brush, his eyes finally landing on me. I darted straight at him, heart pounding and landed a swift blow to his gut, and then reaching my other hand around to his throat, quickly cracking his neck to drown out anymore noises. My heart ached as I saw his eyes become lifeless. I hated to take a life, no matter what had been done to me. But there was no turning back now and he was just collateral damage.

Instantly turning on the toes of my feet, I rushed further south into the forest, hoping to get away. As I hurried my pace, it became more apparent that my hindered eyesight put me a huge disadvantage here, in this low brush with nothing but the moonlight.

Where I couldn’t see the uplifted tree roots.

I’d been careful about missing majority of them by feel and quick reflexes, but my knee caught a root that was higher up than I’d anticipated, snagging my trousers. I crashed into the ground and started sliding downward into the thickness of the little forest.

Somehow having found a small creek, I landed abruptly in freezing cold water. My eyes partially adjusted to the midnight darkness that surrounded me. Finding the edge of the little river that ran through it, I pushed myself out of the muddied creekbed, and onto dry land.

As I was wiping the mud on my now soaking wet, “borrowed” trousers, my head snapped up when I felt a new presence. I stood slowly and clasped my hands together, returning warmth to them while I turned to face my intruder.

My gaze dropped to the north east when I saw a figure step out from behind a small cluster of trees. His scent finally hitting my senses, I instantly throwing me into high alert. I knew I handn’t put nearly enough distance between the castle and I.

His scent was sharp and almost burned as I silently breathed it in, nearly choking me in the process. Almost like a thousand tiny knives were slicing up and down my throat. All the hairs on my skin pricked up as I felt him near me. I had to quickly get away from him.

But...

I inhaled deeply once more.

He wasn’t from the castle.

He wasn’t Pricolici, even.

I went to turn my body to run when I heard his gravelly voice reach out to me in the darkness.

“Well, what do we have here?”

I froze.

He began to slowly slink his way towards me, almost like a snake. His striking white hair nearly blending into his skin as he slowly started to come closer. His ruby eyes pierced mine.

He paused, taking in my appearance, his eyes raking over every inch of my body. My cheeks flamed.

I silently cursed myself once more.

Come on, Zenobia... I was trying to talk some sense into myself just as the man started to circle me. Move.

“Oh my, such a unique and strange beauty. What are you, child? Your scent is that of Pricolici, but there is something.. off. Something not quite... right. Something is... missing.”

My wolf, I thought, despair clouding my mind. He didn’t smell my wolf.

Panic began to bubble in my chest as he kept circling closer like a vulture, ready to pounce on its prey and devour at any moment.

He took a deep breath, drinking in my scent like a fine wine. “Yes, Pricolici runs in your veins. It’s strong too, not just any Pricolici blood, either. Strong, authoritive. Alpha, maybe?” He took another deep breath, analyzing my scent further.

Pervert.

My eyes caught a decent sized river rock jutting out from the creek next to my left foot, just within reach. My eyes flickered from the rock back to the man once or twice while I slowly, almost too slowly, inched my way closer to it.

“But what is...” he hesitated, searching for words, which is a feat that apparently didn’t happen quite often judging by the confusion on his face. I saw him close his eyes and take another big whiff.

Ew.

“Yes, something else. There is strange magic in your blood, child.”

My heart stopped.

Strange magic?

I completely forgot the river rock, turning my full attention towards the man only ten feet away from me now.

“Magic? What do you mean there is magic in my blood?” The words left me in a hushed whisper, as if we weren’t the only two standing there.

He clicked his tongue and his eyes widened slightly in shock at my question. I instantly realized this gave him another peg up on me, my mistake, he was trying to trap me.

“You mean, you can’t feel it? You can’t feel the magic pulsing in your blood right now? I can feel it just from where I stand... ”

This man was absolutely ludicrous. Insane. Taunting me...

I was just a freak, a pricolici whose wolf was non existent. A girl whose mother abandoned her, father abuses her, and can’t even make more than one friend, how in the world could there possibly be magi-....

The golden light.

Something clicked in that moment. The golden light I had never seen or felt before. It wasn’t anything a wolf could do. Nor had I ever seen another creature manifest the same energy before. One strong enough to kill a soldier without ever having touched him, and knock more unconscious.

My breaths came in shallow pants as I tried to comprehend what this mysterious stranger was telling me against my own experience. Where did this magic come from? Why did I have it? Did anyone else know?

Shuffling uncomfortably on my feet I dragged my gaze back to his ruby red eyes. He had a curious and excited look on his face when he spoke.

“She carries Pricoloci blood, strong pricolici blood, yet she also hums with strange magic. And she doesn’t even realize what she holds inside her. How... extraordinary.”

Damn my short attention span. He distracted me and he knew it.

His finger rested against his cheek as he had stopped moving, looking directly at me with a curiosity that burned through my soul. When he spoke again, I felt my knees weaken.

“You will make a perfect addition to my collection.”

Collection?

Oh no.

No, no, no.

He smiled a wicked grin, showing all his straight white teeth.

Including two long fangs.

“What are you?” I blurted before I could help myself.

He looked slightly offended as I asked the question, eyebrows raised in a taunting manner. “You mean, you dont know who I am?”

“Should I?” It came out kind of cocky, like I was in a situation to be testing the waters.

Amusement glinted in his eyes as he looked back towards the castle and then towards me once more.

“Never the matter. You will know soon enough, child.”

He stared at me, fangs glistening in the moonlight.

Well, shit.

I whirled around and took off with a renewed sense of urgency, to get as far away from the castle, and this insane man as quickly as possible.

I was about 100 feet away from him when I twisted my head back to see if he was following me. When I didn’t see his figure, I picked up the pace.

Only to be caught dead in my tracks by the hand that seized my throat.

The man stood in front of me, completely relaxed with a mixed look of amusement and anger on his face. His grip on my throat tightened. Clawing at his hand, his hand gave no give.

“Well aren’t you a feisty one. My dear, you are no match for me.”

He threw me 30 feet in the air, my back colliding against a small hill studded with jagged rocks. The breath knocked out of my lungs, and I was left gasping for air.

He lurked towards me, a sinister grin on his face and I felt true fear pierce my heart. He was going to kill me. Or take me away, to another prison. At least with my fathef I knew what to expect. With this creature, it was a world of unknown and I didn’t want to uncover the truth. I would die one way or the other.

My hand found a rock with a razor sharp edge and I lifted it to my other wrist...

He stopped mid stride, face contorting in concentration as his head cocked to the right, as if listening to a whisper in his ear. My heart thudded against my ribs.

“I’m afraid we will have to continue this another time.”

Confused, my eyes shot back to his, noticing that he was retreating towards the west. He gave me one last cynical smirk and then he vanished. He moved so quickly, that if I hadn’t kept my eyes on him, I would have though he had disappeared into thin air.

I felt my entire body slacken in relief and my head spun from the breath I had been holding in. Hot tears leaked from my eyes and my hand dropped the rock that I had clutched so hard, that few drops of blood ran down my arm. I tried to calm my breathing when I heard a loud crash coming from the east side of the castle.

And then I heard the screams.

I knew I should have kept running south, to get as much distance between the castle and I as I could possibly manage at night. But the screams of terror and agony were not of the new shifters. They were from pain and death.

Shakily I rose to my feet, trying to regain my balance.

One of the shifters could have gone rogue with their First Shift, or the castle was under attack.

My mind thought back to Soren, and my half siblings. Even though they all really didn’t know me, or who I was, they were all under attack. I couldn’t turn away when they needed help.

Standing there with my heart torn between freedom and a strange, misplaced feeling of loyalty, I bit my lip trying to decide.

He had hurt me. Broken me so badly that I wonder how I’m still breathing, why my heart still beats. He has nearly isolated me completely. I didn’t have a care whether he lived or died.

But Soren’s gentle eyes and strong face filled my mind as I thought of returning to the castle. His smile that so often graced his face. Soren had helped me even at the risk of his own life without hesitation. He could be hurt, he may need help.

But what could I do?

Stupid, stupid... Why would I go back when I clearly had an opportunity to escape with such a distraction unfolding at the perfect moment. There was nothing back there for me.

Freedom so close I could almost taste it...

When I heard another blood curdling scream, I snapped out of my thoughts and broke off into a sprint through the little forest.

Running back.

Back to the castle...

Back to my prison...

Back to my father...

Straight back to my hell.

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