I fell in with the crowd. Bodies were shuffling and pressing against one another as I slid through their ranks. Every one of these bodies could be pouncing on me in mere moments. My heart rate went through the roof at the thought.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” I heard from the platform where Marcus stood by his throne. He raised his arms towards the crowd with a glistening smile. “My friends and neighbors! The time has come to renew our Pack Accords.”
My eyes frantically scanned the ballroom, looking for any place that might give me some advantage. There. The balcony. As I weaved in and out of the groups of people, Marcus delved into the history of the Accords. How the treaty was meant to hold the packs together. It was supposed to unite us against common enemies, strengthen our formidability and form us into one nation of werewolves. The whole speech was blasphemous coming from the Alpha King.
As Marcus carried on in his elegant history lecture, I finally pushed through the last line of people. My feet were trying their best to move quickly despite the heels that impeded their progress. I gathered the skirt of my dress in my hands and ascended the back staircase that took me up to the balcony where I had watched another speech from another time. Ryker’s commencement of The Howling. The beginning of a tumultuous, frustrating, exciting journey that was about to fall into flames.
I braced myself against to railing, looking over all the people below me. How was I going to get everyone’s attention? Hey, look up here! I have a sinister tale to tell!
I could see the heads of Sami, Lia and Soren nervously looking around the room, preparing for the bomb that would soon drop. Ryker stood off to the side of the platform, looking painfully sexy in a black tux. Marcus was gathering the Alphas now. They were making their way to the platform, forming a semi-circle around a long stretch of parchment. It was deathly quiet.
I let my howl ring through the room, bouncing off the walls. The amplified sound made several people clasp their hands over their ears. The Alphas looked around the room until their eyes travelled up to where I stood. I saw Marcus’ eyes flash as his jaw clenched. Slowly, the crowd followed their gazes to me, and I met their confused stares with determination.
This was it. Everyone’s attention was on me. I took my chance before Marcus could seize control again.
“Eight years ago, you all suffered tragedy and loss at the hands of an enemy.” My voice was clear and strong.
“Rot in hell!”
“SILENCE!” A new layer of power gripped my vocal cords and the crowd below me flinched as my father’s Alpha nature flowed through me. I could feel his essence as I embraced the noble blood that ran through my veins.
Marcus was already giving orders to his Gamma and Delta. Royal Beta Alistair stood close by with his wife Elaine and the brat. Larken’s little hand was clutched tightly in his mother’s and I could see him looking up at me mesmerized. I would have to make this quick.
“My name is Asenna Lupei, daughter of Alpha Killian Lupei.” Gasps came from the multitude of faces. “I am here to clear my people’s name and rewrite the blasphemous history that has been told to you.”
The Royal Gamma and Delta were pushing their way through the masses.
“Eight years ago, you were deceived. You were attacked and your loved one’s killed, but it was not my people! The Spartans did not concern themselves with the other packs! We had not ventured from our home in nearly a decade! My father never spoke of ambition or overthrowing your Royal Alpha. We fought with honor, meeting our enemies head on. We didn’t hide in the bushes and wait to ambush lone targets.”
My eyes were focused on Marcus in the deadliest glare I could manage.
“Enough!” Marcus shouted. His order fell on deaf ears.
“We were in a period of peace. Until your king and his leaders came with an army and slaughtered everyone in their path. Men. Women. Children. Nobody was safe. They set fire to our houses. They gunned down mothers as they fled with their babies. They massacred husbands and wives as they fought to protect each other. And after the bloodbath was finished, your king, Marcus Sandoval, ordered his closest soldiers to execute all witnesses- including his own men.”
Marcus was red with rage. Any scrap of level-headed composure had been lost. He looked wildly at Ryker, who stood with crossed arms and averted eyes.
Eyes were darting all around the room, whispers rising to my ears. Marcus’ henchmen had made it to the edge of the ballroom and were heading toward the staircase.
“It was Marcus who led the assault on your borders. It was Marcus who murdered your friends and family. Your King- the one who is sworn to protect you! He is the reason for your loss and hatred. He let his jealousy and fear of the Spartan wolves destroy not only my people, but yours as well!”
I could hear the thundering steps coming. I braced, ready to phase.
“I am my father’s daughter, and I will have justice for my Pack.”
My eyes remained locked with Marcus’ as my wolf erupted from my body. I let out a deafening howl of vengeance and tore off through the halls of the manor. My large frame was now feeling very confined within these walls. My ears swiveled backward as two wolves rushed after me. I snarled as my paws scrambled against the hardwood floors, pushing myself forward.
Their bodies slammed against one another as they tried to run side by side. The commotion made the pictures on the walls clatter to the floor. I skidded around a corner, my back feet sliding, and ran down one of the side hallways, my two assailants slipping and fumbling after me. I focused on the end of the hallway- my closest escape route- a wide bay window.
A burst of adrenaline-fueled strength ripped through my body as I plunged myself headfirst into the glass. I tucked my nose and screwed my eyes shut as I crashed through, sending shards raining down. It was a two-story drop. When my paws touched down on the ground my momentum caused me to lose my balance, sending me rolling across the grass. I felt the hot, needle-like sensation of the broken glass slicing my skin beneath my fur.
I didn’t have time to waste. Rushing to get my feet back beneath me, I let my legs carry me away from the manor in haste. Howls echoed behind me and I knew I needed to get out of Royal territory and fast. I didn’t look back to see if I was still being followed. I didn’t look back to see if there was any fighting. I did just what I had done eight years ago- what both my father and Ryker had told me to do.
I finally slowed down when I got to the lake. Soren had agreed that this would be far enough away to give me a moment to gather myself and prepare for my long, aimless journey. I dug through the bushes until I found my rucksack. I had left behind a gaudy, gleaming city with every finery I could ask for and had now returned to my minimalist existence.
The air around me was now freezing and the icy breeze was blowing my fur back and forth. Winter was settling in. The moon reflected clearly off the lake, the light illuminating the trees with a faint glow.
Ryker’s face was in the forefront of my mind. It was here that we had realized our mating bond. It was here that I first felt the pull of his body and the comfort of his presence. Now he was back in Varcolac, in the middle of whatever scene I had left behind. I hoped he would be safe, that he wouldn’t be the target of his father’s rage. Ryker was strong, but Marcus had followers that would obey his every order. He would be outnumbered.
I looked up to the moon with pleading eyes.
Please let him be safe. Protect him. I prayed with a heavy heart.
A strong gust of wind sent ripples over the water and a soft glow began to form above the lake’s surface. The orb of light came towards me, hovering gently before unfolding into the misty figure of a woman. Wisps of vapor emanated from her as she smiled down at me.
“Do not fear for your beloved, dear Asenna.” She cooed. “He is stronger than he realizes and will come into his own soon enough.”
You. It was her, the being that had guided me on this suicidal quest.
“You’ve done well, my child.” The Moon Goddess’s voice was velvety soft.
I shifted my weight between my paws uncomfortably, a slight whine emanating from me. I’m worried that it won’t make a difference. I spoke the truth, but what if they didn’t believe me? I voiced through my thoughts.
The Goddess gave me an understanding look, her milky white eyes sympathetic. “Whether they believe your words or not, you have planted the seed of doubt in their minds. Change does not happen easily, and wars are not won in a day.”
War? What war? I asked her.
“This was only your first step, my dear.” She said with a tilt of her head. “The false Alpha must pay for his crimes against my children. Tonight, the first blow was struck, and he will retaliate. You must be ready.”
What am I supposed to do? I am only one wolf. I can’t take on the Royal Pack and their allies alone. She must be insane. There was no way a wolf stood a chance with those odds, even a Spartan.
Impatient annoyance flashed across her face, her snowy hair whipping wildly in the wind. “You doubt your ability? You doubt the strength that lives on in you from every Spartan dating back to antiquity? You doubt the plans that I have for you?” Her voice was now rough, like the jagged tip of an arrow.
I shrunk back from her, fearing the deity in front of me. She came closer to me, laying her translucent hand against my cheek. My fur felt cool where she touched me, like she was made of ice. Small flecks of white began to drift down around us in flurries carried by the wind. Snow.
“Gather your strength, my child.” The Goddess said gently, staring at me with her strange eyes. “It’s time for you to return home.”