The Cost of War
Alpha Sven’s POV
I walked out of the Pack House with my mate at my side, holding hands as we looked out on the aftermath of war. Wounded wolves were making their way back, the nurses doing triage, taking the seriously injured in first. First aid kits were open everywhere, as warriors tended to their own using their first responder training.
We walked among the men, a hand of thanks here, holding a hand there. Our own Pack members leaning on their Alphas for comfort, and thanking our allied wolves for their sacrifices. The wounded stopped coming, and that is where the reality of the day became clear.
Men carrying the dead, some over a shoulder, others in body bags or on stretchers. We laid them out on the grass near the long driveway, away from the wounded. Grown men broke down in tears, falling to their knees as they found their friends, their brothers, even their sons among the dead. Linnea led me forward as we comforted and embraced those grieving over the fallen. Alpha Stan and the Betas of the Allied Packs joined as well. I got a call, looking at the number I stepped away from everyone to take it. “Alpha Michael,” I said. “How are they doing?”
“They are comforting the mates and families of the lost,” he said, “But not as many as we feared. My men have checked our territory and linked up with yours at the battlefield. The threat is past, and your people are eager to return.”
I linked my man in the security center, who agreed that the territory was safe. “How did they get in?”
“We had pulled almost all our men back to the Pack House in order to protect them all, since they wouldn’t fit into our safe room. Their vehicles ran the forest road and parked, they are still there. Our patrol came upon the cars after the attack had begun.” He paused for a moment. “My men with you said the attack was in progress, so I did not interfere. I sent men to secure the vehicles, the rest stayed home.”
“You protected our vulnerable, and together we beat them,” I said. “Keep the vehicles, if they are rentals return them so we don’t attract attention. Tell our people they may return.”
“I will drive some back myself, I think we need to discuss a few things before the Council gets here.”
“I agree. See you soon, Michael.” I was already getting another call, my shoulders fell as I looked at the caller ID. “Alpha Sven,” I said.
“Hold for Council Chair Steele, sir,” the woman said. A moment later there was a click. “Alpha Hirkkel, I understand you recovered your mate from the St. Petersburg Pack today,” he said.
“Yes sir, and she’s doing fine, just needs some rest. This isn’t a good time, sir, we’re recovering from the attack. Beta Shura gathered several hundred wolves and attacked us, the battle just ended about a half hour ago,” I said.
“Yes, we did, thanks to our allies and Jessie Donato. We captured Beta Shura and a dozen others, we have them in our cells. I was going to call you tonight and request a Council trial.”
I could hear some cheers in the background. “That is indeed good news, Alpha. Did you take many casualties?”
“Twenty-one dead, thirty-one injured. We’re still counting the enemy dead. Most are rogues, but there are some from other Packs mixed in. Our intelligence said the Beta cast a wide net, offering cash, land and plunder since he wanted Jessie’s body and my death.”
“Jessie is all right?”
“She exhausted herself, sir. She will recover, but I think we need a few days to allow her to wake up.”
“Wow. All right, we will convene the Council trial at your Pack House in three days, I will inform the North American Packs and the European Chair. I’m sure they’ll send a representative since he’s Yuri’s Beta.”
I looked out at the people on the lawn, the crying families, the blood. “Tomorrow night we send our fallen to the Moon, Alpha. I cannot take visitors for the trial until the next day.”
“Save me a room, Sven, I’ll be there with my mate in the morning. These men deserve my presence.” This was an honor being given, to have the senior Alpha of the continent at the funeral. “You did well, Alpha.”
“Thank you, sir.” He hung up and I went back to comforting our Packs.
Beta John’s POV
The Pack House was quiet, the wolves had left after dinner to travel to the ceremonial field for the memorial service. Jessie was still unconscious, and I stayed behind with her tucked into my side in bed. I’d barely left her since she collapsed of magical exhaustion on the battlefield, taking my meals in our room, only apart long enough to shower and shave.
Alpha Stan and Beta Peter had left after the battle, returning with the bodies of two St. Croix Pack warriors and their men. Both of the dead were unmated, but that was no consolation to their grieving families. Alpha Sven had endowed scholarship funds in their names and provided each allied Pack with a generous portion of the money he had swindled Yuri out of to help care for the families and the injured. It was a wise move, helping to cement the relationships with his allies.
“Uhhh…” I heard as her body twitched. I looked down, she was opening her eyes and moving her face on my shoulder. I turned the television off and slid down so I could see her as she woke. “John…”
“Hey baby, how are you feeling?”
“Tired.” She looked around, expanding her senses. “Where is everybody?”
“The funeral is tonight for the Pack’s dead,” I said. “Two already returned home with Alpha Stan, and six more to their home Packs. The thirteen dead from this Pack will be sent to the moon shortly.”
She started to get up, I helped her into a sitting position. “No wonder my wolf woke me up. We should be there,” she said. I went to argue, but she was trying to stand. “Help me to the bathroom,” she said.
I helped her to the toilet, then we took a shower. I cleaned her as she sat on the bench built into the back wall, then did her hair. After drying her off and getting her dressed, I carried her to the kitchen and set her at the table. There was plenty of food left over from dinner, and she ate voraciously. I could almost see her energy returning. “We should go,” I said. Our coats were by the door, along with our boots, and we were ready.
It was raining and I grabbed an umbrella from the stand. I could see the fires from the torches and the lights in the distance, and I had her hold the umbrella while I carried her. “What happens at the funeral?”
“All Packs have their own traditions, but the common part is the burning of the bodies,” I said. “We believe it releases their spirits to the Moon, where they wait for another chance at life if they are good or are delivered to the pits of Hell if not.” We were almost there. “It also destroys the body, part of keeping our secret from the humans.”
“Surely you can’t hide all those dead from the humans,” I said.
“There are doctors, medical examiners, and law enforcement in our Packs,” I said. “We work together to keep our secrets. They will die of various causes with the proper paperwork over the next six months, in multiple counties, so we don’t attract attention.”
I carried her out of the trees to the large clearing, it was surrounded on three sides by a small river circling a granite outcrop. On top of the stone, near the cliff, a pyre had been built, and on the pyre were bodies wrapped in white sheets, their faces the only things showing, eyes closed in eternal rest. Alpha Sven and Luna Linnea were standing in front of the pyre, facing the entire Pack and guests, hundreds coming to pay their final respects. I stopped at the back, still holding my mate in my arms as Sven paid tribute to the fallen.
When he was done, he stepped back and thirteen people stepped forward with torches. At the same time, they plunged their torches into the wood at the base of the pyre, starting it alight. The tinder flared, but the rain picked up as well. The fires struggled to catch, and the people started to talk in hushed voices. “Why aren’t they doing something,” she asked me.
“If the fire goes out, it’s a sign Luna is rejecting them.”
“That can’t be happening,” she said. I watched as one of the flames near the left side started to flicker, the family on their knees, praying to Luna. There were gasps as the fire suddenly brightened, one branch catching and spreading to another, until it was hot enough to drive off the moisture from the sky. The same thing started happening along the line; what had looked doomed had become a roaring blaze. In minutes, the entire pyre was alight, flames reaching thirty feet into the air.
The rain stopped, and the clouds parted, a ray of moonlight falling on the stone. Council Chair Robert and the Lunas pulled off their clothes and shifted, soon the entire Pack was doing the same. I set Jessie down, helping her undress before she shifted, then I folded our clothes into our boots and covered them with our jackets. I shifted and stood with her as we watched the bodies be consumed in the raging fire.
Alpha Sven tilted his head back and let out a long, mournful howl. The sound echoed through the clearing, calling our wolves to answer. The next time, the Pack joined in. The pyre started to collapse on itself as we finished, and people shifted back and got dressed again. There was no noise as people started to file back into the woods towards the Pack House, where their lives would be celebrated well into the night.
“Was that you,” I asked her.
“The fire. Did you use your magic?”
She just smiled. “If Luna didn’t want them, nothing I could do would change that.” We entered the Pack House, where we spent the next few hours talking with the others and listening to stories about the lost men. We were both exhausted by the time we got to bed.
Alpha Yuri’s POV
One Night Later
I had just defaulted on the loan from the Sicilians.
I pounded the desk, looking at the account I was going to use to make the payment. The money had been seized by the Russian Police. They were throwing everything at me now, an army of forensic accountants, investigators and informants, all picking at the foundations of my crumbling empire. “It’s all your mate’s fault,” I mumbled as I looked over at Beta Polina.
The tiny woman tensed, her fingers flying over the keyboard. “Blame doesn’t help now, we need a fucking plan beyond hiding in here until the food runs out,” she said. “My mate is on trial in two hours, we need to focus on freeing him and killing Jessie.”
She was right; I still couldn’t believe that Jessie was alive. One of my men had escaped the clusterfuck of an attack and contacted us on the secure line. I almost shifted when he told me that Jessie was alive and well, flying through the sky with fireballs coming from her hands. “We couldn’t fight a witch and their wolves,” he said.
The bitch was a witch.
The whole video was a setup, I’d been played out of billions of rubles by a Hooters girl and a backwoods Alpha. I’d underestimated her, and she now had Pack support and a mate by her side.
I still had one arrow in my quiver, and it was time to fire it at them. I placed the call; he was not happy to hear what I wanted, but I had him by the balls and he knew it. He’d just have to find a way to sneak Shura out from under their noses, and kill Jessie along the way.