“If we’d never met, I think I would have known my life wasn’t complete. And I would have wandered the world in search of you, even if I didn’t know who I was looking for.”
― Nicholas Sparks
In the eyes of most children everything is bright, colorful and fantastic. I like to believe it’s because their hearts and minds are open for the world. There’s nothing comparable to the unadulterated happiness they feel, and their laughs or their smiles.
I once was that child... I was joyful, and I listened to what I was told without thinking anything of it.
All was bliss, until I started listening to their words.
“Runaways are cowards, and a disgrace to the pack. This is your duty, and your honor. Fail... and you pay in your family’s blood.”
It’s our first lesson in school, straight after introductions. They nailed it into our brains since six years old. I never thought differently until the day I turned twelve. No longer could I ignore the sound of my pack’s hungry bellies and blame it on people who ran away years before. I saw that we had no choices, and that all freedoms and free thought had been stolen without our knowledge.
We can’t question authority, and we most definitely cannot question our rulers.
“Alphas always choose.”
Ironically, I don’t know if I should feel deprived. I’ve never known anything different.
“Healthy, pretty girls always get chosen. Be a 10.”
I can’t run, and I can’t hide. Invisibility is the only way to fly under the radar, which is why I’m just normal.
And any male will be damned if they want me because of such. They would never pick me without my consent, because I refused to stand out. Who would want a normal wolf as their chosen mate?
Settling for anything less than my true mate is not an option. They could take anything else, but not that...
“Kyra, don’t get so lost in your thoughts,” Jett teases me, and elbows me so hard that he nearly takes out a rib. You could rarely catch my brother being serious, and now was no exception.
“Screw off, you’ve been going to the Mating Ball for the last three years,” I shot back instantly. There is no doubt that I was wound up like a ten-day clock. I can’t help but think that Jett’s mate will be extremely lucky. He’s a delta, so it’s unlikely that any higher-ranking males will choose her before him.
Unfortunately, the Mating Ball is like an auction, but for mates. Men always do the bidding, and women are always the prize. Females are ranked, and then chosen by the men in an orderly fashion with the highest ranking wolves picking first. It’s an annual event, and all the wolves in the kingdom attend.
“It’s no biggie Ky. This every year, and it’s always fine,” He patted my shoulder as he tries to comfort me. Jett doesn’t see his ignorance, but I can’t blame him for being brainwashed. I’ve tried to express my opinion multiple times to no avail.
“I don’t know, Jett... I’m scared. I might dislike Hayden and Cayden but I don’t wanna leave those two behind. Families should never be forced to part,” I shutter, thinking about being chosen. Jett is the only brother I actively talk to, because he’s willing to overlook my differing opinions. The twins, Hayden and Cayden refuse to understand or respect my beliefs. Even though I can’t stand them, I love them and understand that it’s all a product of circumstance.
My father, on the other hand, is a different issue entirely...
“Ky, if you have an issue just find me... and don’t think about that stuff. I know we may disagree, but the Ball is getting to your head and upsetting you. I don’t like it when you’re distressed,” He mutters, and in a rare display of affection he wraps his arms around me. Our hug is brief, as the car we’re in pulls up to a curb. “I never thought I would say this, but I wish you were ugly,” He groans as I push my face into his chest. “I can’t help but be worried,” Jett sighs, and so much concern is laced in his eyes.
“I don’t know if I’m insulted or grateful,” I sigh, not quite agreeing with his declaration of me being “pretty”. My looks don’t hold a candle to some girls, who all look like they fell straight out of the heavens.
Jett opens the door for me, and helps me out. I am careful not to trip over the dress my mother chose for me; a strapless pastel pink gown with a beaded bodice. Miraculously, it fit perfectly despite her choosing it before I was born.
I never got to meet her.
The royal castle stands dauntingly in front of us, looming over the guests who entered the main door. The turrets seem to touch the clouds, and the dark stone seems to have an ethereal glow. Before I have time to marvel some more, Jett takes both of our suitcases and leads us inside the front gates. I grab tight to his jacket so that I don’t lose him while he’s navigating through the crowd. The throng of people is so thick that I can’t see anything until we approach a counter.
The view behind the counter was stunning. The moonlight glistened through the foyer, and reflected off of the tall ceilings. All of the wallpaper was cream, and had golden trellises as accents. The counter was quartz, and it seemed to twinkle in the room. Over ten women stood behind it, and none looked a day over thirty. I’m sure they’re much older, but it’s impossible to tell because all members of the royal court are immortal.
We approached the desk slowly, navigating the crowd as we moved to stand in front of one of the women. My brother handed the luggage to her, and nodded once before speaking up.
“Kyra and Jett Bailey.”
“Okay... One second,” was all she said before she turned around and started to rummage through papers. When she found the one she was looking for, she turned around and greeted us with a smile. ‘Tara’, as her tag read, took a card out and began to scribble. She begins to rifle through a stack of papers. They look like a collection of medical and academic reports.
“Oh, a new one. I’m just writing down your ranking cards love, don’t worry,” Tara smiles. I don’t understand why she isn’t bothered by the whole thing, but I manage to muster a small smile.
“O-kay... Why doesn’t he get one?” I ask, nodding to my brother. She gives me a questionable glance, before continuing to look through the papers.
“Men don’t need them,” Jett whispers into my ear, and I have to fight my face from crunching in disdain.
After a few minutes of standing awkwardly, Tara gives my card back. School was extremely vague when teaching about the ranking section, so I don’t know what to expect when I look down.
Health - 9.5/10
Strength - 7/10
Beauty - 10/10
Intellect - 9/10
Personality - 4/10
I almost get sick when I read it over.
I most definitely will never be able to find my true mate. Why does society force me to be unhappy?
I looked up at his face to see Jett with a stoic face. It’s serious, because there’s always mirth in his eyes. While he’s guiding me away, I am almost positive I heard him muttering something about keeping a better eye on me.
“I have to leave you here. All the guys have to go to a different room. I’ll see you soon, I promise,” Jett whispers hurriedly into my ear. He stops in front of a door, and gestures for me to go inside.
“Okay... I love you,” I whisper back, hugging him before I go through the double doors. The only relief from my panic was to look at the sight before me. There’s no doubt in my mind that this room is more stunning than the last.
Elaborate firefly lights fill the room with a glass ceiling that showed the stars. The moon and galaxy is on full display to the women. Subconsciously, a wide grin forms on my face. It falls when gravity takes me back to earth.
The room is dense with other girls. My anxiety makes me feel claustrophobic, so I make my way to the corner, avoiding the dance floor towards the far end and the long tables in the center. An elaborate stage is the centerpiece of the room. Soft music was coming from somewhere over to my right, but too many people obstructed my view so it’s origins remained unknown.
I beelined for a grouping of plush sofas; the only thing remotely comforting in the whole room. Girls were already there, but my desperate need to escape outweighed any social anxiety.
“Is this your first time?” A petite ginger with a jade green dress asks. Her hair is long, and frames her ethereal face. She’s perfection placed in a small body.
And I’m the ten? There’s no way.
“Yeah. Pretty easy to tell?” I laugh coarsely, breaking the silence and easing myself into conversation.
“No. Well... maybe? Yeah, it is, can’t lie. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine!” She rambles so quickly that I’m barely able to catch all of her words. She pauses for a breath before she continues. “I’m Olivia, it’s lovely to meet you.”
“I’m Kyra. Is this your first year?” I ask, opting to forget about the world through conversation.
“First... But I’ve seen it before... it’s really different every year. I live in the castle. It’s always the same rooms and all, but the decorations are completely redone. So are all the events and festivities. Other than the ‘main one’, that is,” Olivia smiles softly. I nod along to what she’s saying, and I turn to look at the room once more.
“Well, it’s magnificent... I could never tire of the decor,” I sigh.
“You have that look in your eyes. I’ve seen it before,” She says, wrinkling her pert noise slightly. I see pity in her gaze.
“The look that says it’s tearing you apart to be here. You want more than the prospect of a controlled future,” Olivia says so softly that it’s almost a whisper. I’m amazed by her ability to read people. She’s so perceptive that it’s frightening for those who wish to hide something.
“I don’t want to live with someone who isn’t my true mate for the rest of my life,” I murmur, and she nods in agreement.
“I’ve seen it happen before, and they’re usually miserable,” She nods, and her suspicious glance around the room warns me.
We’re treading on dangerous waters.
“We can’t get out of that... but thank god Prince Cassius would never pick me or anyone else that isn’t her. Even though he’s quite a rake, I doubt that he’d ever pick someone who isn’t his true mate. It’s his only redeeming quality,” Olivia whispers back, and I quirk a brow.
“The Prince? I’m not too terribly informed on the royal family. My father prefers to keep me in the dark,” I ask, hoping she’ll elaborate.
“An only child. From what I’ve heard and seen, he’s extremely... privileged. He insists everything is done his way. Word is that he’s a stick in the mud, and a stick up the ass,”
“With that personality, I don’t doubt it.”
“Touché,” She grins, and the conversation shifts to other topics. The evening begins to pass rather quickly while we discuss our favorite foods, colors, books, movies, and other menial things.
Who knew that she could actually hate her red hair? It’s so stunning that it’s hard to believe.
When I turn to look at the clock behind me, I see that it’s already 11:55.
Five minutes until midnight.
I prod Olivia, and point to the clock. Her face turns white, but she manages to keep a strong composure.
Unable to tell if I’m cracking, I pull my emotions together before the double doors pull open.
Per tradition, the women and men were separated for festivities. Every year, the events differ, but the Choosing portion always happens at midnight.
11:59 is when all of the men enter the room.
A minute left, and I still couldn’t feel him.
I started to panic.