Chapter 10: Census
I only have minutes to myself before a maid knocks on the door. I’m clutching the bed sheets tightly in my hands, my heart pounding in my chest as I think about what I said to Alpha Kaine just moments before.
Was she here to throw me in solitary confinement to be tortured to the brink of death only to be brought back like John or to truly test me like he said he would? I wouldn’t be surprised if he just sent a hitman to off me at this point to make sure I was out of his hair for good.
The maid doesn’t knock again, walking in wordlessly with a sheer white gown in one hand. She purses her lips at me, before stopping to sniff the air with a frown. I’m human, this she knows. One breath is all it took to make the diagnosis. There was no need for a test to prove it but if that was the price of John’s freedom I would oblige happily.
“Do you know what to do?” she asks me, draping the gown over the small bench placed at the end of the bed. I nod slowly, taking the fabric into my fingers. It doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. No undergarments or shoes are to be worn to the test.
Originally it was to keep people from bringing in any sort of weapon to fight the wolves as a means to keep them from shifting on instinct. I think the reasoning has changed. Now it’s some garbage about being closer to the earth when you die.
“Yes. I’ve done some reading,” I tell her. It seems to be enough for her, she leaves me in peace to change and closes the door softly behind her as she does so. I make use of the mirror to the side of the room, near the door.
The practice was old and outdated. The last case of known testing was several years ago and it was allegedly done by King Slethius himself. There are no records on who was tested or if they survived but the testing ceremony was ruled as dark and useless in today’s society. Alpha Kaine knows this, which is why he was so hell bent on not letting me do it.
It’s so like the Alpha to let his people rule him more than he rules them. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that some of Alpha Kaine’s most trusted advisors report directly to the King and don’t have any allegiance to swear to their Alpha at all. If Alpha Kaine steps out of line, even for a moment, his father would know.
And God forbid he upset the King that rules over us all. No one would be spared from his wrath.
I’d read books about King Slethius’s battles. With his bride, he was undefeated. As one of the select few in the land with a mate bond to speak of it doesn’t surprise me that he is much stronger than the rest of us. A chill runs through my body as I pull the small gown over my head.
It barely reaches my knees, stopping just centimeters before them. Instead of sleeves, the dress has spaghetti straps that barely hold the thing up. I don’t know what I’m expecting from the test. If I am going to die, shouldn’t I prepare myself for it in some way?
My hand pauses on the door handle and I look at myself in the mirror again. My eyes are bloodshot and my skin pales in comparison to my darker locks that frame my face. I lick my lips, running a finger over the caked dead skin once before I step through the door.
Alpha Kaine doesn’t wait outside the door to escort me to the forest clearing like tradition claims an Alpha would. I imagine it’s his twisted way of trying not to acknowledge my existence in this whole thing so he can continue to play the caring Alpha in front of his District members.
“I’m supposed to show you the clearing,” a woman says, stepping forward to lead the way without even hearing a response from me.
“I thought the Alpha was supposed to show me to the clearing and say a few prayers to the Goddess over me,” I tell her as I trail behind slowly. “I read about it in books I found in his library.” I get no answer, only a hard jab in the back by one of the guards that stand at the end of the halls every day of their lives.
“Keep walking,” he mutters to me. His partner says nothing, walking alongside me, a hand resting on my forearm, ready to restrain me at a moments notice should I fight back. But I won’t.
I wanted this. I asked for this. Why would I fight them?
We walk for only a few minutes, making one turn when we reach the end of the hall before we walk straight until we reach a door leading outside. Trees line the building and District members line the trees.
It shouldn’t surprise me that word has spread around the District of testing taking place in the clearing. There hasn’t been one in several years and only the highest ranking Lycans are allowed to attend and participate in the testing ritual.
When it was practiced regularly, invitations were passed around like trophies, boasts were told to guests and friends that they had been invited to make a scratch on someone who was deemed a criminal and only wanted to prove themselves. The deeper the cut in the skin, the greater the service to the District, the stronger the Lycan.
If a noble make the final death blow a party was held where that noble would sit side by side with the Alpha of their District where they would sit side by side the Alpha like equals.
“When I open the doors, you are going to walk out in front of me,” the woman says to me. “You will walk to the clearing and kneel with your back to the District members. When they attack, you will not fight back. You will not shift. You will take the pain until the Alpha deems you as truly human. Then he and only he can put an end to your suffering. If he does not tell the wolves to stop, they have been instructed to tear you limb from limb. Do you accept the risks?” I nod, feeling my chest constrict painfully as several nerves wash over me like a gentle rain.
“I accept the risks and welcome the test. I have nothing to hide and if this is what it takes to gain the trust of the District members so be it.” I hear the guard behind me snicker under his breath as the door opens in front of me.
With their heightened senses, the people turn to me with curious eyes. Some have even brought their children to witness the historical event that they had only read about in books. Fathers hoisted their young on their shoulders as mothers held the hands of the older toddlers, pointing and whispering at me as I walk by.
I was the talk of the town for the second time since John and I were caught by the Alpha and his band of Lycans.
“Will she survive, mother?” a young girl asks, her pigtails swinging in the wind as she turns to address her mother. The mother purses her lips but doesn’t answer her, looking into my eyes and tilting her head. The older Lycans were just as curious as to their young.
“Anita Goldstein is a fugitive with a suspected allegiance to the King of Rogues. Today we test her in the ways my father used to test his subjects all those years ago to see if she truly is who she says she is, a lowly human with no family to call her own. Should her feral side emerge as the instinct to protect herself takes over, we will kill her immediately. Should she handle the tests and be spared...” I look at him as I drop to my knees, my hair falling in front of my face as I let my hands rest in front of me. “We’ll see,” he finishes.
“When the test begins each female Lycan invited to leave their mark will have the chance to do their worst to the Lycan in question. There will be no mercy, only stop if the Alpha orders you to do so. It is his word and his alone that you will follow,” Enforcer Cyrus says.
Guards step forward from the edges of the crowd, twelve of them carry a torch that they skewer into the ground around me before another steps up behind them to light it. Both sets then return to their state in the crowd, equally eager to watch the test but standing by in case they need to step forward to defend the District members.
“This time, we have invited thirty female Lycans to make their marks. These Lycans have all been instructed to remain in their skin forms but not to suppress their feral urges that they may use on the girl. The test will begin in thirty seconds,” he tells the crowd.
Women around the circle emerge, rolling up their sleeves and stripping off their dresses to reveal more sporty attire. Some pass along children to neighbors, others get in a stance so they have the best chance of getting to me first to land the first blow.
I close my eyes and drown out the countdown, my heartbeat drumming loudly in my ears. The crowd whispers as they hear my pulse quicken. Some mistake it for nerves that my secret affiliation with the Rogues will be found out when I shift in front of them, others feel pity for me that I’m going through with such a harsh thing like this.
I clench my fists and bury my face in my knees, trying my best not to cry. I’m scared. Scared of death and all the pain I am about to endure. I turn my face and look at Alpha Kaine. His face is hard as he stares at Enforcer Cyrus, his eyes shifting to look at all of the District members that have rallied to watch my suffering.
When Enforcer Cyrus blows the horn Alpha Kaine’s eyes snap to me. His face doesn’t change, his usual absent gaze focuses on me carefully as he watches the females charge me. One moves into my line of vision, throwing punches left an right as another kicks me from behind.
They land several hits to my face and back before moving on to my legs and arms. No one dares to get within two feet of me for fear that I will shift and send them all flying back within an instant. Enforcer Cyrus leans back against a tree, a smirk on his face as he watches them aim for my neck, pulling my hair so hard several strands come loose from my scalp.
Another female steps forward, using her heel to kick me in the nose. An audible crack echoes off the trees in the small clearing and everyone stands up straight, leaning forward to see both the damage that she had done to my face and my reaction to all of it.
I leave my hands on the grass, pulling several blades into my clenched fists to distract me from the pain. My nose is broken, this I’m almost sure of as blood trickles from my nostrils, seeping through the small gap between my lips.
The girl stops her assault on me, as do the rest of the females as they search my face for signs of anything. They look into my eyes to see if they see the spirit of a wolf behind my irises, then they check my nose for any signs of accelerated healing.
I look behind them to Alpha Kaine, begging him to notice my pain and end my suffering. He waves his arm at the women. “What are you standing around for? I have not ordered the test to end. Continue, please," he says, Enforcer Cyrus giddy as a schoolboy beside him.
What a fucking bastard.