“Friendship,” I stand first, within a large twig hut, big enough for thirty people sitting with crossed legs, holding wooden bowls. Within the middle of the room is a large fire pit, which gives light to the dinner, “It’s about co-operation,” I improvise for my mates as I believe I will be the one to keep my cool while Poppy sits next to me, picking meat off rabbit bones. The mages eat meat raw. A lot of their hands were red, which wasn’t discomforting at all... “Not just co-operation,” I glance down to Chase and Baden, whom recline back on the dirty hut floor while declining multiple offers of food from the mages, “Like-minds, similar interests, supporting one another, helping one another. That’s what friendship is.”
“Advantage, did you define that as well?” Poppy asks me to continue, hoping for my answer to satisfy. The Elders all stare at us as if we are extremely disappointing and strange creatures, even if I speak with my bluffed confidence, “Tell us what advantage means, Maia Royale.”
“Advantage,” I gulp and hold my breath as I scramble for the right words.
“Advanced skills,” Baden murmurs under his breath and I catch the words.
“Advanced skills,” I mimic, quickly exhaling and inhaling as I scramble together more thoughts with the helpful prompt, “As everyone has abilities, if you have better... ideas and... and actions... I’m sorry. Um. Plans. You know. Um. Basically what I’m trying to say is advantage is being better a-and...” I quickly lose my confidence as my thoughts scramble too much, but Poppy jumps on my show of weakness to raise her hand and add in more depth to my speech.
“So, child,” she chuckles to herself, “Why don’t you tell me the correlation between friendship and advantage?”
“A pack,” I blurt, “Of werewolves. Everyone is friendly within the pack. You are an advantage being in a pack -”
“Friendly?” Poppy asks, disapproving of my speech, “Are you sure about that?”
“Werewolves must know their place in the pack, for the pack to work well, to the have the best advantage,” Chase helps out here. I look at him and nod.
“Exactly,” Poppy is happy with this suggestion, “You need to know your place.”
I open my mouth to respond but I also decide to bite my tongue.
Poppy was subtlety trying to suggest something.
“I wish to speak,” I hear a gravely old voice and I look up to see the most wrinkled man, dressed in a black robe, pulling down his hood to reveal an old, weathered frame. He seems ancient, “I am Elder Raven Bear,” he does not smile, but instead frowns, “Please answer this question, Maia Royale of the disgraced Pack Crescent. Do you know your place?”
“...what do you mean?” I whisper this, glancing down at Poppy for confirmation.
She smirks and ignores my pleading gaze. Instead, she nods at the Elder Raven Bear with an all knowing look.
“Do you know your place?” he repeats the question.
I stay silent, as I’m unsure what he is referring to.
I was not in a pack yet... and I was also confused as to why he insulted me in front of my face.
Elder Raven Bear called the Crescent pack disgraced. Which was technically true and widely accepted, but he didn’t have to say it.
“I am Elder Sword Fish,” another one speaks, beside Elder Raven Bear. This one is a woman and she pulls down her hood to reveal another very old face, “Do you wish to insult us with your silence?”
I hesitate and the same thing happens.
Another Elder speaks.
“Do you submit to the ways of the hierarchy of wolves?”
“Are you aware you are seen as weak and insufficient?”
“You are disconnected from the way, how do you wish to fix this?”
“Do you know what a Beta-Omega is?”
“Darling,” Poppy is last, after a barrage of questions, “Are you weak at heart and slow with your tongue?”
I can even hear Chase and Baden chuckling at the random attack on me. However, it’s a nervous laughter.
Their chuckles, apparently, cause the Elders to glare at them next.
“These statements are for the three corrupted,” Elder Raven Bear turns the degrading questions that were originally directed at me, back towards Baden and Chase, “Are these young Alpha werewolves aware of there demise? You will all die quickly!”
“...shit,” Chase elbows Baden and the contact stirs extra energy in the air through the abrupt and sudden silence.
“Do not touch... disgusting beasts,” Poppy snarls at Baden and Chase.
Suddenly the nervous humour is gone.
My shaken core is filled with enraged fire and even Chase and Baden lose any semblance of peace.
I turn to Poppy and without a word I raise my hand to strike her across the face. It’s an act of emotion, but before my hand even makes contact, she unexpectedly raises a hand and grabs my wrist.
“...good,” Poppy blurts out, staring me down. For the first time today, she smiles, “Much better.”
I jerk out of her grip and pull back to stand with Chase and Baden, who are ripping off their shirts to prepare to turn.
“We’re done with this bull shit,” Chase snarls next, “Let us leave or we’re shifting. Even if you stop us. It won’t be without blood.”
“I’ve seen them fight, they’re fasting then your spells,” I add, trying to sound confident, “You’re the most judgmental, horrible people we’ve ever met.”
The Elders remain silent, allowing Poppy to represent them.
She separates into five versions of herself, slowly walking out to surround us with silent and small steps.
“You will not return to Half-Moon Academy until we’ve taught you three the lessons we were paid to teach,” Poppy’s explains, “...paid well. The fact we welcomed you here, is something you should be grovelling in thanks for.”
“Why the hell would we be thankful for the way we’ve been treated so far?” I ask, completely overwhelmed and confused, “Mages kill wolves. You kill any creature that lives and breathes - for extra power. How do we know we’re safe here?”
“Now you’ve asked a smart question,” Elder Raven Bear gets to his feet, speaking now as Poppy comes in closer and reaches out her hands, murmuring under her breath.
As Chase, Baden and I shuffle apart, ready to pounce if need be - all our ankles get stuck.
When I look down, dead roots have sprung out of the ground and locked down around our feet and ankles, securing us in place.
“We should have run when we had the chance,” Baden hisses to Chase and I.
“Useless musings, that time doesn’t exist any longer,” Elder Raven Bear hops forward, with one lame leg, “The present is all that matters. The lessons for tomorrow will correspond accordingly...” he smiles a little as the other Elders also stand to crowd around behind him.
He faces us as Poppy keeps us enclosed within her five identical forms.
“What lessons?” I ask, boldly, catching Elder Raven Bear’s attention.
“You will all be separated,” he responds, with a calm nod, “You will be restrained,” he looks me over, “While this happens, your Alpha mates will be put into... situations. You will find a way to save their lives, or one of their lives. It’s your choice. It will come down to what things you choose to take advantage of. Friendship will be important. Romance... not so much,” I am confused but I am picking apart certain words.
Friendship. Advantage. Romance. Deadly situations.
“Our three way mating bond is not accepted,” I add, raising a brow, “Is this what it comes down to?”
“It’s abhorred,” Poppy agrees.
“Precisely, young soul,” Elder Raven Bear loses his smile, before sighing, “Put them in their place, dear Poppy. We will converse after you’ve put them all into their separate areas in preparation for tomorrow.”
Poppy jumps forward and grabs each one of us.
I struggle and growl low in my throat, but Poppy restrains me with ridiculous physical strength.
When I look over, I see Baden and Chase both have blind folds pulled aggressively over their eyes and their arms are help behind their back. For some reason, Poppy holds incredible strength, able to restrain us like dogs on a leash.
One version of Poppy holds my elbows behind me as she forces me away, breaking the roots from my ankles, she escorts me out of the large hut first.
“Why is this happening?” I keep asking this, over and over, “Why?!”
I don’t get an answer right away. First, I get every gaze within the camp, staring at me as Poppy drags me to the lake, where I see a small cage, a little submerged in water due to a semi low tide.
The door to the cage is open.
The closer I get to the cage, the more I try to pull away.
At the last second I struggle wildly with no hope, but then my bare feet touch the water.
I instantly lose my physical strength. Like a drain, my knees quiver first before I fall. Pulled by my hair, Poppy helps me into the cage, where I collapse onto my side.
My cheek hits the water, my nose and mouth just out of the liquid enough to breathe.
I suck in deep paniced breaths, trying to stay conscious... but in a matter of seconds, I was losing all hope of fighting my way out of this.
“Friendship and advantage,” Poppy whispers this to me, right before I black out.
I wake up in dry sand. I stretch, confused... until my feet hit metal and my head hits something equally hard and disconcerting. I jerk up and feel the cage around me. I am under the sun, bone dry, still in the lake bed... but the water has now stretched out even further.
Sitting next to me, is Poppy. She sits on a log, reading a book and sipping tea. Her hair is one big mess, decorated with wolf teeth. She wears a coat of wolf fur.
For a split second, I believe Chase and Baden have been killed.
“No,” I rasp out, my throat dry as I catch her attention.
As she casually looks over at me within the cage, closing her book... I look towards the camp. For a brief moment... I am relieved. Chase and Baden are alive and I can see them.
Except... they’re not exactly safe.
They’re both tied up to poles on seperate pyres.
It’s already burning at the bottom. It’s burning slow. They both look weak and panicked, but they are both blind folded.
So, I know they can smell smoke, but they can’t see it.
At least they weren’t dead.
“This was meant to be a fun adventurous trip! You lied to us!” I snarl at Poppy, but she shakes her head, opens her book and sighs in disappointment.
She even turns her back on me a bit by shuffling along her seat.
My mind races.
She whispered these words to me before I blacked out.
“A-are you trying to trick me into asking for your help?” I blurt out, my lungs constricting with stress, my stomach rumbling with anxiety and lack of fuel, “How am I meant to get out of here? How am I meant to ask you for help when you put me in here?”
“Why are you panicking?” Poppy asks, without looking at me.
She takes a slow relaxed sip of her tea.
She wanted me... to relax.
“You’re crazy!” I yell this at her impulsively.
“Why are you letting fury consume your words and actions?” Poppy asks.
“I’m in a fucking cage, I can’t act, can I -?” I shut my lips.
This was one big test.
For a period of two minutes, which feels like an eternity, my eyes skitter between the slowly burning pyres and Poppy... she is still relaxed, reading a book.
As I try to think deeply, even though I think swiftly, it still feels like it’s not quick enough.
I wasn’t grasping something obvious, something I was missing completely.
A harmless excursion. Mages. Lessons. Death. Degradation. Friendship. Advantage. Poppy.
I was in a cage.
I was told to save both of my mates.
Why was this happening?
They were paid.
Why did the Prime Alpha say ‘save my son’ to one of the mages as we were taken away?
Why was I being mocked by Poppy?
What was the last question I was asked by Elder Raven Bear?
Do I know my place?
Right now I was in a cage, about to watch Baden and Chase burn... for doing nothing.
“We haven’t done anything to you, why is this happening?” I ask this strangely calmly, while my eyes rest on Baden and Chase, tied to the wood in the middle of the camp, “What is the secret meaning behind all this? Please... Poppy... give me a hint.”
At first she says nothing.
But then I hear her slam the book shut.
“You think this is wrong...” Poppy speaks, her back still turned towards me as she raises her head and also gazes at Baden and Chase.
“Yes,” I respond, less aggressively.
“You think this is not right?” Poppy repeats.
“Yes,” I answer, a little more impatiently.
“What are you going to do about it?” Poppy asks, “Do you know your place?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You do understand,” Poppy contradicts me, “I know you understand because you tried so hard yesterday to please me with your smiles. You were a good girl yesterday. You knew your place. You were respectful. That is a good start.”
“Is this a game or a lesson?” I ask, taking note of what she has said.
“A very smart question. It’s a lesson, Maia,” Poppy finally turns a little bit towards me, still not facing me completely, “Why don’t you tell me what you have observed?”
“A very conservative bunch of p-”
“Stop right there,” Poppy turns to me, “Conservative. How can mages be conservative?”
“You have so many rules,” I whisper.
“Why?” Poppy asks, “We know our place,” she says this nonchalantly and shrugs, “How do werewolves view mages? How does the world view witches and warlocks?”
“Dangerous. Mean. Evil. Powerful,” I spit out the first words I can think of as quickly as possible.
“Why aren’t we all dead?” Poppy asks.
“You live here, away from everyone,” I explain.
“We are feared but we survive,” now Poppy turns to me a bit more, finally catching my gaze, “We are strong but we stray from civilisation. We have power but we hide our skin, and mask our emotions.”
“Why?” I ask, “Why are you telling me all this?”
“A lesson,” Poppy looks at me like I’m stupid, “Ask me the right questions and you’ll get the answer you’re looking for.”
“Why do you want to kill us?” I ask.
“That’s a stupid question,” Poppy smirks.
“Why are Baden and Chase about to be burned to death?” I ask this with a neutral, controlled tone. I had to hold in my emotions.
“Slightly better question... but not what I was looking for... listen, we are teaching you, Maia,” she adds.
“Forcing me to believe what you want to believe, is more like it,” I add, “I get the vibe you don’t like the fact I’m mated to both of them.”
“Correction, no one likes it,” Poppy waits for my explosive reaction.
Instead, I see a spark in her gaze.
“That’s the root of all this,” I add, “We are not accepted.”
“Congratulations, that was the first hurdle,” Poppy nods, actually seeming excited by my revelation.
“So what is the lesson?” I ask.
“You answered it. You aren’t and will not be accepted,” Poppy explains.
“Not necessarily true,” I add.
“Alpha and Beta, not Alpha and Alpha and Beta... that is too rare to be accepted. You are abhorred,” Poppy explains, “You are feared. You are not accepted. What’s the next hurdle?”
“How to get my mates off those burning pyres,” I snap, “What else?”
“Survival,” Poppy adds, shrugging like it’s no big deal, “Any other questions, dearest?”
“Will you let me out of this cage?” I ask.
“Yes,” Poppy nods, winking at me, “...if you’re my friend...”
“I’m your friend, please let me out,” I say the words, hoping she’ll just act.
“Don’t you want to know the rest of the lesson?” she asks, raising a brow at me.
“Sure,” I purse my lips, flinching inside when I see the flames flick higher at the corner of my gaze.
“When I let you out, go to Elder Raven Bear and ask which flames you want extinguished,” Poppy explains.
“What the hell?” I ask, “You want me to save one of them?”
“I want you to work this out-” Poppy says this and bites her tongue... as if she has said too much.
“Let me out,” I ask.
Poppy waits a moment that feels another eternity, before she stands up and releases the latch on the cage.
The door falls open, allowing me freedom.
I scramble out, jump to my feet and glance back at Poppy before I run to my mates.
I guess I should say thank you.
At first I shake my head, as if I’m being ridiculous for even considering thanking Poppy.
So, I turn and I run...
...but then I find myself halting.
I glance behind me.
“Thank you!” I call out, confused why I even give her that much credit when this was one messed up situation.
Poppy’s thin lips smile again and she nods in approval.
When I turn back to the pyres.
The flames are already out.
Mages approach Baden and Chase... releasing them in literally seconds.
“The lesson wasn’t just about friendship or advantage,” I nearly jump out of my skin as I turn back to Poppy, who has magically appeared right behind me.
She holds out her wrist and shows me a crescent shaped tattoo.
“I’m so confused,” I murmur, “What the hell is going on?”
“The mages don’t want to kill you, Maia,” Poppy explains, “They want to protect you. Although the Prime Alpha doesn’t know. We are not on his side. We’re on yours. And we need to teach you to be strong. To face judgement. Humiliation. The concept of death. Rejection. We’re also allies of Pack Crescent. At least we were... back when they were strong. The bond was never broken. Therefore... you are our ally, Maia.”
“There has to be more to it than that,” I add, in disbelief, even as my heart beats more easy... relaxed now that Chase and Baden were being freed.
“We have a strong belief,” Poppy adds, with a wink and a smile.
“Which is?” I ask, hoping it’s not too messed up.
And it’s not too bad... but it is interesting.
“Power comes in threes,” she explains, “We respect it. We’re just teaching you how to cope with it... when everyone else will reject your destiny. People do not like change. We’re strengthening your mind,” Poppy adds, “It’s as harmless as that.”
I read her eyes, shining with good intent.
...I believe she is telling the truth.
*Note: Advanced episodes of 'Alpha's Rule' are released on the Radish Fiction App for 2 weeks before they are released on here and Wattpad*