Before the Fall

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Chapter 38

Three months ago, northern Washington wilderness…

At last, at last! They had laid eyes on the healing wolf. The handler reported back that two of his rogues had died on site, but that a third had been well enough to drag itself back to the checkpoint and reveal that it had seen the gray-eyed wolf. Unfortunately, that was all the information they were able to get, but it was more than they’d ever had before.

It seems that little Miss Grace Holt had found her way back to her family after all.

The task ahead is now to comb the forest to see if she remains in the woodlands or if she has managed to integrate into the Atwood pack. It would be far easier to capture a single wolf than take on an entire pack, but Silas has the advantage of Alpha Jackson on his side. Bloodthirsty Charles Rene Jackson, convinced he will become an emperor of his nation when Silas passes the healing wolf back into his custody.

It remains to be seen whether or not Silas will fulfill his end of the bargain or not, but that is of no concern at the moment. Silas’ whole world will recalibrate when he has his sight back and his daughter has full range of motion in her leg.

Ah, but he digresses. Alpha Jackson is far more used to battle than Silas is. The pack Silas had been in before they exiled him had been peaceful, not unlike most of the west and midwest of the United States. Their aversion to anything remotely unbecoming is the reason he was exiled--they couldn’t handle his brilliance because it was”cruel” and “violent” to study rogues in the way he was.

Alpha Jackson is starting to pressure Silas to step back and let him plan the whole of the battle, seeing as Silas won’t be able to participate--but Silas will have no part in any plan that involves him standing aside and putting his fate into someone else’s hand. He will be front and center when the time comes. He refuses to stay back with the weak.

Pride goeth before the fall, they say, and Silas is nothing if not a proud man. But that’s okay. He’ll just have to prove them wrong. He’ll prove them all wrong.

:::::

Present day, Atwood territory…

His father walks forward confidently with Slate and the other appointed wolves flanking him. Slate’s focus is lasered. The objective is to protect both territory and inhabitants, in opposite order. They have plans and contingency plans and backup plans and strategies developed for every possibility they could think of.

The planning stage of the game is over. All that’s left is execution--double entendre hopefully not applicable.

They reach the previously chosen location deep in the north western thickets of forest in relation to the Atwood property. If they’ve accurately estimated the location of the enemy camps, the place they’ve chosen for battle is about a mile away from that faction, leaving several miles between them and the pack’s property.

Soon, everyone is settled and in place, confirmed through the bond by Asher. If the battle is happening on an East/West trajectory, they’ve got small troops hidden a fair distance away to the North and South, respectively to the right and left of central battlegrounds.

The Alpha wastes no more time and lifts his voice to howl, deep and piercing.

Silence. Not surprising.

The Alpha howls again.

Silence. Not unexpected but not expected.

Howl.

Silence for a few moments and then…

A chorus of returning howls envelops them.

Then it’s just a matter of waiting. Waiting for what, they don’t know. But waiting nonetheless.

Slowly a group of men and women approaches, headed by two men. One blonde and dark eyed and the other tall and milky eyed with scars in the shape of claws ripping through his face. Slate hears some murmuring from his pack--it’s very hard to scar a werewolf. It’s been known to happen, but it’s rare.

“Hello.” The blonde one says. “We must admit, we were not expecting a communion tonight, but I suppose we’re here now. My name is Alpha Anderson and my compatriot is Silas Weaver. Are we to assume you,” he gestures at the head of the pack’s group, “are Alpha Atwood?”

Something about that doesn’t sit right with him. He can’t tell what exactly they’re lying about, but they’re either hiding something or lying to their faces.

“You are.” Alpha Atwood says. “And I believe I have a right to know what you’re doing in my territory unannounced.”

Alpha Anderson narrows his eyes and opens his mouth to retort, but Silas clumsily puts a hand on his shoulder. “Alpha Atwood,” Silas nearly croons. “We intend to harm no one. But I do believe there is something...or someone you are harboring whose services we would like to use.”

Slate and his father and the others had discussed this--whether or not to give away that Gray is a part of their pack. There were too many variables, so the Alpha was to read the room and give away only what he needed to. Slate is interested to hear what his father will choose to say.

Alpha Atwood hums in acknowledgment. “I believe you already aware that a woman with unique powers is a part of our pack, so I won’t play dumb with you, out of respect. But, as I’m sure you understand, we had no choice but to assume that your intentions are not...savory, based on the way you have approached this situation with your men. You are obviously prepared to use force.”

“Alpha,” Silas says, harder this time. Then he exhales and drops his head, his whole body slumping. When he looks up again and his face is pleading, Slate knows immediately he’s full of crap. Whatever he has to say has no credibility. “Do you have a daughter?”

When Slate sees his father tense like he’s trying not to roll his eyes, he knows the Alpha sees through the act as easily as Slate. Nevertheless, he humors man. “I do.”

Silas nods. “Then you’ll understand when I say I have suffered every day I have to see my little girl struggle to walk long distances, have to use a cane even for short distances, and deal with chronic pain in her leg from a freak accident when she was young. I’ve looked all over for specialists and doctors and no one could help--until now. All I want is for my daughter to walk again, Alpha.”

Alpha Atwood sizes the man up. “Okay, let’s assume my packmate is able to heal your daughter--what next? I would expect--” he continues over the interrupting supplications of their adversaries, “I would expect that she would be able to return home and continue to live her normal life.”

“With all due respect, Alpha,” Alpha Anderson says, “don’t you think the girl would rather live a fulfilling life healing the sick and wounded?”

Slate has been watching Silas closely, pegging him as the more dangerous of the two if only because of his lack of predictability, and sees that he is quite clearly angry with his ally’s words. As well he should be.

“With all due respect, Alpha Jackson,” Alpha Atwood says (and ah, yes, there it is, thinks Slate. Clever of his Dad to recognize the smarmy face of the Alpha of the Holts’ home pack. Of course they had looked the man up. Slate is more disappointed he hadn’t caught it right away.), “I do believe that she should be able to make her own decisions, and I do not trust you not to abuse her, so I am going to have to ask you to leave.”

Silas clamps a clawed hand on Alpha Jackson’s shoulder and tightens it until he draws blood. “Alpha Atwood, I apologize for my partner’s offensive comments. Would you please just let the woman heal my daughter?”

Alpha Atwood considers this for a moment, surely considering that Gray would actually be more than happy to heal an innocent girl, but the question of her father’s intentions colors the possibility negatively. “Perhaps if you bring your daughter out, we can escort her back to our land and she can be healed and returned to you and then you all can return home.”

Silas clenches his jaw. “Alpha,” he says with a rough undertone, “as I’m sure you understand, I am reluctant to let my daughter into foreign territory by herself.”

“That is the most I can offer you, sir, under the circumstances you have presented me with,” he gestures to the conglomeration of men and women flanking him and Alpha Jackson.

“Silas’ wife is human, Alpha,” Alpha Jackson begins, “perhaps she could accompany--”

No.” Silas bursts out. It’s then that Slate realizes how twisted this man’s mind has become. Maybe at first his intentions were pure, but now he has resorted to using his daughter as a tool to get himself healed, Slate is sure. Whether it’s the blindness, however much time he has spent with rogues, or simply the fact that he has aged bitterly, he has no ability to be reasoned with anymore. Slate sends to Asher in a flash, Get ready, we’re going to need you.

Silas takes a deep breath and grits out, “Alpha, as you can see, I have been afflicted for some years as well and would be so grateful…” Silas trails off like he can’t even bear hearing the sound of his own voice begging.

“I’m sorry, Si--”

“Attack! Find the girl!”

All hell breaks loose at Silas’ command. The men and women in his immediate entourage leap forward and attack the Atwood pack, but then it seems like wolves are coming out of the woodwork. Everywhere Slate looks, there are crazed wolves running recklessly through the forest and beyond.

Slate engages with a woman with a mean sneer and takes a superficial swipe to the arm as he thinks. The only people here in the clearing are Silas and his men and Slate and his packmates, which totals ten or twelve people. It seems like all the other wolves from Silas’ side are dismissing them entirely and racing past them, eastward toward the Atwood’s property. Slate has no doubt they’re racing to get to Gray first.

Slate can imagine the massacre that would happen if Silas’ rogues reached her hideout first. And how many people and homes and livelihoods would be in ruins if they made it to the big property

It’s a good thing Gray’s hideout is actually somewhere in town with another pack member. And it’s a good thing the Atwoods had made sure to clear out the entire property and relocate every individual to a similar set up. And it’s a good thing they planned for the possibility that the rogue wolves would head straight for the property and that Asher and his groups knew to wait until it looked like the majority of wolves were going to race past and converge to the middle to chase and attack them from behind where they wouldn’t be expecting it. And of course, how lucky are they that they thought to leave a strong core of fighters at the edges of the property to hold off the intruders until Asher’s groups could fully descend?

Not lucky at all. There was no luck involved in the hours and days of planning and stress that went into this day.

Slate eventually finds an opening to take down his attacker and slashes through a vital artery that will put her on her back and likely bleed out before she can heal. Slate takes a quick survey of his immediate surroundings and jumps in on an entanglement that involves Alpha Jackson and one of Slate’s packmates, Adrian. The Alpha almost has Adrian down when Slate rips him off. Once faced with two wolves, Alpha Jackson trades another few blows before he finds himself outmatched and scrabbles around to find purchase on the forest floor so he can get his legs under him and flee.

“Retreat!” He yells without looking back.

At that, a few of the men leave the clearing and follow after their leader, leaving a lopsided fight in favor of the Atwoods.

Jackson!” Slate hears Silas roaring. A few choice swear words accompany the word, “Coward!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Slate sees his father engage Silas, who swipes madly all around himself helplessly. Alpha Atwood pins him to the ground and shouts. “You can still call off your men and leave, Silas! Go back home to your little girl!”

When Silas roars hard enough that spittle hits Alpha Atwood’s face, Slate’s father quiets his noise and puts him out of his suffering. Once Silas goes down, the remaining men and women in the forest falter and turn tail and run. The only enemy left in the vicinity is the woman Slate had felled, still lying on the forest floor holding her leg and trying to slow the bleeding. Slate feels a knife of guilt shove through his heart at the knowledge that if he had just fended her off a little longer, she might have fled with her comrades and her life.

Adrian, the man who’d been fighting Alpha Jackson when Slate freed himself from his attacker, sees him staring and grips Slate hard on the shoulder and shakes him a little. “Alpha Jackson was stronger than me. I needed you and she was in your way.” Adrian shakes him again and then pulls Slate along with him. “Now let’s go protect our home!”

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