Landon had barely placed the steaming mug of peppermint tea in my outstretched hands when the scream came. In the Silverridge pack, it was common to be serenaded by the excited shrieks of children playing together in the early evening. However, the sun had set several hours ago and this scream did not elicit the familiar feeling of warmth. Instead it sent such a chill up my spine that my hairs stood tall, my skin prickling. With no more than a quick glance at Landon I could see he felt the same. Wordlessly, we both rose from the old settee and hesitantly advanced to the front window. I quietly placed my mug of tea down on the small table beside the window before dimming the lantern by the stairs to get a clearer view outside. The floor creaked gently under my feet as I moved to stand beside Landon.
The pack land appeared empty. Although it was several hours after dinnertime, it was rare for our courtyard to be so desolate. It was eerie. We waited in mutual silence for another scream or a movement to draw our attention towards something. Anything. Nothing came.
I reached out my left hand and entwined my fingers with Landon’s. I could only imagine what must have been running through his head at that moment. He was the Beta of the Silverridge pack and was one of the few members of the pack who was knew of the warnings and threats of violence from the rogues. Unfortunately, in regards to these warnings, Landon seemed to be the only member of council with any semblance of common sense. All of the other prolific members of the pack council denied the verity of the words, and had stated that if they were true, they rogues could never be strong enough to break through pack security. Landon tried to put up a fight, especially with Aaron, our Alpha, but ultimately the decision was out of his hands.
He told me everything despite being sworn to secrecy. He believed that if the threats were real, they would be able to do much more damage than anyone could anticipate. Despite his duty to handle this kind of information carefully, he agreed that we should do as much for the vulnerable members of our pack as we could, at least until the threat no longer loomed. As I was one of two teachers in our pack, Landon -rightly- thought it wise for me to encourage the children to go straight home after school every day and spend more time inside with their families. It was the most I was able to do without spreading any unnecessary panic around the pack. Rogues had a sweet spot for children. Their growing minds were so malleable, simple to mold and shape. When it came to recruiting, it was significantly easier to poison the mind of a cub than to break the mind of a wolf.
Landon squeezed my hand and tugged me closer to him, the two of us still hidden behind the maroon window curtain. He secured his strong hands at my waist as he turned me towards him before wrapping his arms around me and pressing his soft cheek to my temple.
“Keep watch at the window. I need to grab my knife,” he whispered. “I’ll grab your bow, too. Don’t make a sound, my love.” He quickly pressed his lips to my forehead and turned to soundlessly sprint up the stairs.
The moment he was out of sight, I returned my attention to the window and meticulously scanned the courtyard, watching for any signs of movement. The outdoor lamps cast a somber illumination over the dry grass in the courtyard. Everything had gone silent. There was no visual indication where the original scream could have come from, and no curious wolves outside to investigate. It was like a ghost town, eerily quiet for this time of night, especially in our area.
Due to Landon’s position, our home was only a few minutes’ walk from Aaron’s Alpha residence. It was the house given to Landon because of his position, but without kids, living in the four-bedroom home felt similar to wearing clothes a few sizes too big. Our courtyards were typically packed until the late hours of the evening when everyone reached that unspoken agreement to pack it in for the night. Alpha Aaron was usually with the group of pouting children begging for more pack time. The week had also been particularly warm for November, so most of the pack had taken advantage of the unseasonable weather. Even this night was clear, the soft halo of the new moon looming unobscured.
I tried to remember the direction that I heard the scream come from. Our pack was not particularly large, so if it had come from within the community, it would have been heard anywhere on the residential pack ground. Yet there was no movement coming from the central complex. Aaron had to have heard it, but why had he not sent anyone? Landon would have linked him by now since he hadn’t reached out to us. Why hadn’t the pack heard anything?
I almost screamed when I felt a hand on my left hip. Spinning around I met Landon’s dark chocolate eyes. My panic evaporated swiftly, replaced with the familiar comfort I felt in Landon’s presence. My eyes wandered down to his mouth to see his lips pressed tight in a serious line. Landon rarely held any tension in his face. Even in times of extreme stress, he typically maintained a cool sense of neutrality. I had only seen that mask crack twice before.
“What is it?” I breathed, the panic creeping back in.
Landon pulled me into his arms again and held me tightly, running his hand up and down my back. His nose was in my loose hair, and he inhaled deeply.
“Willow,” he whispered, and my whole body stiffened. He seldom called me by my full first name. Not unless it was something important. In fact, he used the name so rarely that there was still a beat of confusion before my brain associated that name with myself. I was Will. I had always been Will, even to my parents. My heart hammered in my chest as he spoke his next words. “I can’t link with Aaron.”
I felt like I was going to be sick. Even miles away he could always use the mind link to communicate with Aaron, and Aaron with him. I could think of only two scenarios in which a mind link could be lost, and that was if one of the wolves was a significant distance away, typically over an hour’s run, or if the wolf was dead.
Aaron was the strongest Alpha I had ever known. He couldn’t be dead, especially without anyone else being alerted to it. Why wouldn’t he have called for help?