"A woman is like a tea bag- you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
I wake up just as Roman's warm body pulls away from mine on the couch, my eyes softly fluttering open to be greeted with his bare chest. Another night wasted away seeking comfort from a man whom I want nothing to do with yet I don't feel the usual pang of guilt ripple through me. I fell asleep, sound and sturdy without any problems of the real world weighing down on me and so did he, the couch acting as neutral ground for us both to escape the realities of our lives and experience some semblance of comfort.
"I have to go and get ready soon, are you hungry?" He asks and I tilt my head up to look into his bright blue eyes.
"No," I answer and he nods.
"I'll send you the schedule the Beta's drafted out for today and its up to you if you'd like to attend any earlier than the ceremony," he says formally, the broken man from last night swiftly replaced with an Alpha.
"So there's nothing I can do to change your mind? You're just going to kill an innocent man and there is nothing I can do to stop it," I say and his expression falters, sadness overcoming him for a split second before he becomes stony once more.
"I want to be the man you deserve, one you can love, but my priorities as an Alpha come before that. Sometimes leaders have to do what is right even if it hurts them to do so," he argues and I narrow my eyes.
"It won't work, never in history has killing people for their crimes worked as a deterrent. For all you know you could be putting an end to the life of an innocent person," I say dejectedly, not that there's much point trying to fight him at this point. Maybe I just secretly crave getting the last word in.
"We work on a different system, lying to someone above you in a pack system is physically impossible Maeve, not if you're under an Alpha command. And the way I see it, if a criminal dies then he can't commit anymore crimes, call it a preventative measure if you will,"
"A preventative measure? How can you be so cruel?" I spit out and he shoots me a firm look.
"Believe it or not it isn't that hard for an evil tyrant," he mocks, giving up any effort to persuade me of his ways and moving from the room in an angry swirl before I can debate any further. I don't waste a second after I'm sure he has left the room and instead spring up from the couch, storming back up into my room to get my phone.
"I need your help." I ask into the phone, my voice as urgent and desperate as the situation demands.
"Luna, what's going on?" Astrid's voice responds in surprise.
"You said once before that you were on my side and that you'd help me if I needed you to and that time has come. This is serious Astrid, I need your help as a Beta, as a friend," I plead and silence greets me as I hold my breath, my heart pounding into my ribcage with increasing fervour.
"What's happened?" She asks in a hushed tone.
"The trials. I'm sure you're well aware of what's going to happen today and I need your help to go and see someone before they die. This is important, so so so important and you are the only person I can even make contact with to help me get to them so please," I beg and silence drifts on the other end again. A shuffling sounds and my stomach sinks in the anticipation and I honestly wait for the phone on the other end to be thrust into the hands of my enraged mate.
"Maeve?" She asks and I let a sigh of relief rush out of my body.
"I'm still here,"
"Who do you need to see?" She asks and I could cry as the small spark of hope that had been long extinguished sparks up within me.
"He was a member of my Umbra. His name's Teo."
Astrid's hand flies to the slight swell on her stomach and her fingers move up to her mouth as she bites down onto them nervously. Her eyes flick around the barren corridor before she nods forwards, motioning to an exit leading outside.
"There's an access point to the dungeons out that door about a mile into the forrest. You should see guards patrolling around the entry way so you'll have to find some way to convince them that you're allowed down there," she huffs out and I look at her startled.
"Are you not coming?" I ask, my brows furrowed in concern.
"Theres no way I'm going into a dungeon, not in my condition, Jayce would loose his mind. You're on your own from here on in I'm afraid," she says and I nod, she's gotten me this far at least. Getting past my guards and making it through to this point alone was genius and I couldn't have done it without her.
"That's understandable," I comment and she looks at me with fear, "I'll be okay, thank you, this really means a lot," I say with sincerity.
"Look, Maeve, I don't know what you're planning but whatever it is, be careful. I've known Roman for a long time now and he is truly not a bad person once you get to know him, I get that our way of life is different to yours and that it's hard to understand but he's trying. He really is," she pleads and I gulp.
"I know," I admit, looking to the ground briefly before meeting her gaze. "Him and I... we are just too different and I'm afraid that the term opposites attract apply only to physics in this case,"
She lets out a sigh, her hand moving over her baby bump in a smooth circular motion. "Just stay safe okay?"
"I will," I promise, although I doubt she believes me.
She turns away from me with a small smile and heads back in the direction we came from, no spark to her step as per usual. Maybe in order to get my spark I have to stamp someone else's out. I push open the door leading outside and a rush of adrenaline pulses through me.
I'm outside. Outside, alone, free. I know that if I kept walking as far as I could go someone would be waiting at the end, be it border patrol or Roman himself and that very fact is a deterrent enough for me to stick to my task. Besides, as Roman would gladly point out, where could I go? I have no map, no food, no guidance, nothing out there in the real world. And even if I did, how could I go to a rebel base housing who knows how many "criminals" for Roman to just track me down and kill every single one of them.
If I'm going to get out of here I need to think practically and practically, I'm not going to get out of here for some time yet. Bolting amidst a crisis could provide me an opportunity but what would it make me if I abandoned plans that could transform the poverty people suffer through into something at least fair? This isn't a situation where I can just up and leave whenever I feel like it and just forget about my past to live out my days happily in a cottage somewhere with the man I love. I wish my life was a fairytale but it's not. The big bad wolf isn't dressing up as grandma to fulfil his agenda, he's got an entire army of big bad wolves at his disposal instead and relying on my one hunter to save me is pointless. The only person who can save me is me and I'm not about to sit locked up in a tower braiding my hair waiting for someone to rescue me. If I'm stuck here for the time being then I may as well do something useful.
Getting out, getting away from Roman is going to take baby steps and it's going to take trust and building authentic trust with a person you've already betrayed isn't an easy task. Especially considering I have no choice but to break his trust right now as I go on a quest to try and free his prized prisoner. He wants me to stop sneaking around behind his back but sneaking around is all I have.
"Hey you! Stop right there!" I halt in my tracks, my head shooting up to see an armed guard walking towards me with his gun ready. The second his gaze catches mine he drops his weapon and approaches with complete caution. "Luna? What are you doing here?" He asks warily.
"I need entry into the prisons." My voice doesn't falter one bit and his brows scrunch up.
"The prisons?" He questions and I nod my head firmly, enacting a gulp. "Why haven't you taken the main entrance?"
"That is none of your concern. I need to get into the prisons and I am ordering you to give me passage, I don't have a whole lot of time on my hands so I'd appreciate it if you stoped questioning my authority and let me pass." The lines in his mocha skin smooth out instantly and he gives me a firm nod, putting on his warrior front through his eyes tell me that what I just said scared him shitless.
"Yes, of course Luna, right this way," he says and I almost pity the guy. Does he seriously have to just accept someone speaking so rudely to him like a mindless clone?
"Thank you," I add, as a common courtesy for the poor guy and he guides me through the woods without uttering another word. We come to a small building, so small it could pass as one of those portable toilets they used to have at festivals and the guard stood next to it goes rigid as he sees me.
"Luna, what brings you here?" He asks skeptically and I look to the guard stood next to me with a displeased look. They will most definitely leave this interaction thinking that their Luna is a complete utter bitch but if they can accept Roman for it then it shouldn't be too much of a problem.
"The Luna needs to enter the prisons on official business," thank you young foolish guard.
"With all due respect, I was informed that the Luna was to be accompanied outside of the palace walls," he says, his eyes flicking behind me.
"Roman has lifted me of my guards, I suppose he trusts men like you to do your job well enough in protecting the pack from infiltration," I say, asserting my dominance in the use of their Alpha's first name, something they will never be able to use to him. Both their chests swell slightly with pride and the tall man nods at me.
"Of course, do you need to be accompanied to your destination in the prisons, Luna," he asks dutifully, his soldier hat back on straight.
"Yes actually, I'd like you to bring me to the cells containing the people who worked to kidnap me. There are some loose ends I need to tie up before the ceremony," I say and he nods.
"Of course, right this way, Luna," he punches in a code so elaborate I can't even keep up with the sequence let alone remember it.
"Thank you," I say as he holds the door open for me and I begin a descent into the dungeon. I expect cobwebs and screams of terror but all I'm met with is clean concrete footing and bright overhead lights.
"It's very... clean down here," I comment and the guard behind me closes the door, shuffling down the stairs onto the neat hallway next to me.
"Yes," he coughs, "The Alpha had all holding facilities renovated a couple years back,"
I look around me to the silver doors all shut with large locks, big enough to tell me that they are holding in creatures that aren't human. I gulp and keep moving past the doors, a chill creeping up my spine.
"How many criminals are kept down here?" I ask and he shrugs.
"It changes, most of the time prisoners only come in for temporary holding to learn their lessons. A lot of delinquents and trouble makers mostly but there are larger complexes further away from the pack that hold people of more serious danger," he answers and I nod my head as he points down another hallway, leading us closer to our destination.
A loud bang followed by manic laughter sounds from on of the iron doors next to us and I flinch away, my brows furrowing. Two guards round the corner as I inspect the holding cell, a male and female and they both look at me startled before lowering their gaze and bowing their heads slightly.
"That prisoner is being escorted tomorrow, messed around with one too many herbs I'm afraid," he says solemnly, shaking his head. "The prisoners your after are right around this corner."
Sure enough, we round the bed to a complex of thick glass cells, all lined with a flat cot and a toilet. I scour for Teo amongst the cells, walking past each one to see an unfamiliar face. "Well look who it is, our little hero." My head snaps to the side and everything stops as I stare into a cell and Wren stares straight back out.
"Leave us," I say to the guard who takes one second to sense the animosity and promptly nods.
"Will you need me to escort you out?" He asks and I shake my head, staring straight at Wren as he leaves the two of us.
"I thought the rumours of you stepping into your role were absurd but it seems I was wrong," she says and rage consumes me.
"How could you?" I spit, edging closer to the glass barrier. Her face doesn't flinch, doesn't show any signs of remorse or regret and I want to reach in and pummel her.
"I did what I had to for the greater good of humanity, her life was an obstacle in the way of a goal too important to give up. In a war, people die," she responds.
"An obstacle? You shot a child, a kid who you roped into your own agenda and then disposed of when it didn't suit you," I seethe, her unaffected gaze only angering me more.
"And you think your precious mate wouldn't have killed her too?" She pushes and my lip raises in a snarl.
"No, I don't think he would've."
"Does it look like he's sparing any of us?" She laughs, shaking her head, "take a look around you, Maeve, these people are all on death row under his command,"
"If these people are anything like you then I'm not so sure it's a terrible thing," I rebuke and her eyes darken.
"You foolish, foolish girl. I should've aimed that gun at you instead and saved us all the trouble." I move so my face is nearly pressed against the glass and lower my voice, my eyes squinting at her tattered, pitiful self.
"You would've saved me a whole lot of trouble."
"The hunters aren't finished, the humans are going to fight back and get rid of the plague of wolves before they kill us all and I don't care how many cowardly little girls have to die for us to get there."
"I am going to enjoy every second of watching you and I hope that in your final moments of suffering you think of me and you think of Lucy and all the other cowardly little girls whose lives you'll never have the chance of ending." I spell out and turn from her cell, ignoring her yells at me to come back and let her out. I suppose that was her agenda all along, make me feel bad enough about failing her corrupt cause that I'd free her from her death. A small part of me reaches out to be the bigger person and try to get her out of there but its overshadowed by the burning need for revenge, for justice. As Roman so bluntly put it, if she's dead then she can't kill anymore Lucy's.
Teo. I need to find Teo before whoever is supposed to be looking out for me finds out that I'm not there because he is probably the only being in this hell hole deserving of my time. I walk past more glass cells, past the people shooting me dirty looks or trying to get me to come into their cell for a good time and stop once I notice the very end cell and the figure sat hunched over on the floor. My steps become faster and I knock on the window, Teo's strawberry blond hair snapping up. My hand shoot over my mouth as I stare at the shell of the once warrior, his muscle mass has reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was yet only two metres away form him lays a plate of untouched food.
"Teo," I breathe out, my brows furrowing as he turns his back to me.
"Go away, Luna," he says, his head hung low in shame.
"No, no Teo I'm here to help you, get up we don't have much time," I rush out, looking at him through wide eyes.
"I don't deserve it, I suppose Roman sent you here to get me to change my terms of punishment but what I want still stands. Go away, Luna," he repeats and I shake my head fervently, my palm resting out on the clear surface between us.
"No, Teo what do you mean? You don't deserve to be killed, you were helping me," I rush out and he looks to me at this, his own head mimicking mine.
"You don't get it, these people... these people," he starts, his face going a ghostly white.
"They tried to help me, Teo, help get me out of a life like the one your mom has. Think about her, how will she feel if she has to see you know, how will your family feel, Teo come on," I plead and he flinches at this.
"It doesn't matter, I have disgraced them all. You haven't heard the things they've said down here, their plans, what they want to do," he trails off again and stares straight at me. "I was apart of that, I put everyones lives at risk, I put your life at risk," he says and I furrow my brows even further.
"What are you talking about? Teo please, it doesn't matter, you didn't know, I tricked you, if you deserve to be executed then so do I," he stares at me with eyes of desperation.
"I was trained to protect you and I failed, I went against my orders thinking I knew better but I should've listened Maeve, I should've listened," he says.
"No, no, no, no Teo come on, don't be stupid, you made one mistake, you don't deserve death for that. Just think about your family, Teo please," I beg but the look in his eyes are that of a lost man.
"My family would've died, all of them would've died. If these people win, Maeve they'll kill us all, there won't be any chance to say sorry, we'll be annihilated," he whispers out and I begin to shake.
"Teo what are you talking about? They want freedom, that's it," I say
"Freedom for who? If it weren't for the Gamma female putting two and two together in the ceremony they would've kept you captive until you died," he says and my heart drops to the bottom of my stomach, Avery?
"Teo-" His eyes land on something behind me and I don't have to turn around to know who is approaching. A chorus of yells sound off from the glass cells, bouncing around the halls and drowning out the next stream of thoughts I am prepared to string out to convince him to change his deluded mind. A hand grips mine tightly and I try to yank away from it only for a growl to erupt from Roman's chest.
"Teo, please just tell him, tell him that you change your mind and it's not your fault, please," I beg, tears beginning to fall down my face.
"I'm sorry Alpha, I'm so so sorry," he says to the man behind me and a sob releases itself from my body.
"Your fate is in your hands, as pack law states, but you will have until the ceremony to change your mind. Maeve," he says lowly and I push against his hand again.
"Please, Teo don't do this, don't do this Teo," I beg and Romans hand wraps around my waist as he begins to pull me away from the front of Teo's cell.
"No! Roman stop, please don't do this, please just stop," I yell at him as he begins to drag me from the prison, past the cells of inmates who see me attached to my mate and stare at me like they'd kill me if the opportunity arose without a second thought. He pulls me out past guards who turn a blind eye, moving diligently as I try and claw my way back to Teo's cell to get him to change his mind. He drags me up a flight of stairs like I weigh no more than a small child and my fight dies down, the flame driving me to help save Teo reduced to nothing but ash. He wants to die. He blames himself that much that he'd rather face whatever punishment they hand out than live on. The rebels are the good guys, they are the ones fighting against the regime. But annihilation? Were they really planning to kill every last wolf? I don't know if I find it hard to believe or hard to deny and it kills me.
"I know your intentions were pure, Maeve, but venturing down into a prison filled with my enemies? Come on," he says in an exasperated tone, pleading almost.
"He's been drugged," I conclude, it's the only plausible reason as to why someone would willingly sentence themselves to a death like his.
"What? That guard hasn't been drugged, Mae, he isn't thinking rationally I'll give you that but the only influence he's under is his own guilt," Roman explains and I shake my head, rubbing my temples with my fingers to get rid of the thumping stress headache that's arose.
"No, just stop, please just stop. Stop! " I yell at him in frustration and he looks at me taken aback, like a flick has been switched in my mind and my resolve is slowly fading as a result. "I don't want to do this anymore Roman, I don't get it okay? I don't get your life or your culture and I don't want to. Call me naive, call me stupid or selfish or conceited but all I want is to live in a world where things aren't completely fucked up. I don't want to watch people get beheaded for fighting in a cause they believe in and I don't want to be stuck here forever. I just don't want to do this anymore," I yell at him through tear stained cheeks, getting more frustrated as the seconds tick by because I know that no matter how much heart, how much honesty I pour into my words they don't matter.
"Sucks, I get it," I let out a frustrated laugh, "I get it. I get that in order for any kind of change to happen someone has to get hurt and that in this scenario that person is me. I get it and it sucks,"
"Maeve, I'm sorry-"
"Its not your fault. I wish it was your fault because it'd be so much easier if I could just blame you but who am I kidding? This world, this life, is a result of centuries of hate and cruelty and people not caring about how others might be feeling and I'm done with it. This stupid, endless cycle of evil might not end today but I'm not going to stop until its gone and if wearing this damn crown means ruling beside you then so be it."
"Save it. When Wren dies I'm pulling the trigger."
Can people just stop sucking? Please.