“I’m only doing this for you, I hope you know that!” I shouted down the hall as I rushed to finish applying my makeup, the time of our departure quickly nearing.
“I know, I know! Thank you so much sis, I love you!” Kaidence’s voice was barely audible, but I smiled and shook my head. Ah, well, whatever. At least it made her happy.
I finished applying my blusher, smoothed down my dress, and turned to look in the ornate full-body mirror. I wore a floor length rose gold ball gown, adorned with shiny embroidered leaves and flowers that shone in the light and spread all over the dress. Added sequins and gems gave it an extra sparkle when I spun and the light caught the fake, multifaceted gems. I smiled as I turned, taking a good look at my ginger hair, styled into an evening bun with pink flower pins woven in. I met my own amber eyes in the mirror and grinned. “I daresay I look quite nice.” I announced to no one in particular, but was surprised to receive a reply.
“Nice is a mild word, Tove.” I whirled, nearly falling over in the process, as I recognised the voice of the pack’s beta, Artemus.
“B-Beta Artemus.” I stammered, surprised as I looked at him. He was also dressed for the ball, wearing charcoal black checked trousers and a matching waistcoat over a pure white shirt that was accented with a stark red tie. His usually slightly curly black hair was brushed and gelled back into a neater, short pompadour.
“I swear, you’ve grown up too fast.” he smiled, walking in and looking me up and down before leaning down to peck my cheek. “You’ll trick everyone there into thinking you’re an alpha, you’re so pretty.” he chuckled.
I let out a loud laugh and shook my head. Artemus was just like a brother, someone I admired but saw as pretty much family. He loved to act older than me though, despite being the same age.
“You flatter me. An omega like me could never pass for having the natural beauty of an alpha.”
“You sell yourself short. Get out there and knock ’em down, Tove. You deserve to find a good mate.”
I smile, “You know I’m only going for Kaidence’s sake, I don’t care to seek out a mate.”
“I know, but still. I hope you meet him.”
“Me too.” another, deeper voice sounded from my doorway.
I turned and smiled, giving a quick little bow. “Alpha Silas, good evening.” As he was expected to make an appearance at the ball, he was dressed similarly, but he wore a deep blue tux over a white shirt and his long auburn hair was tied into a low ponytail that was very neatly combed back. His face was clean shaven, too, which was odd for Silas; he almost always had neatly kept stubble.
He rolled his eyes, “Tch, I told you to stop doing that. Just call me Silas.” he strode over, and reached out to my head then stopped. “I was going to ruffle your hair, but I think you’d kill me.”
“After the two hours it took me to get this right, yes, I would. Regardless of treason.” I said with a deadpanned look, then all three of us burst out laughing.
Silas was one of the nicest men I knew. His father had passed away last year, leaving his twenty-four year old son to handle running the pack. Silas settled into the role with grief but determination, and followed the example set for him by his father. He treated us all nicely, as family and equals. Why shouldn’t he? The only reason not to, would be if someone forgot their position, and that doesn’t really happen in our pack. I mean, sure, sometimes I got a little bit of a beating. A slap across the back of my head, a pinch on the arm, but these were rare and usually only from the more arrogant pack members. Our pack strived to not let our animal emotions rule us. We were more of a community or family, a small part of Jackson Hole in Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park. We blended in well so that no humans questioned us, and the nearby forestland gave perfect cover for our other activities.
We were shapeshifters, Werewolves if you will, though we controlled our form. Sometimes, when we were all in wolf form, things got out of hand and I and the omega male in our pack, Flint, received a roughing that left us with scars, but everyone worked to make sure our wolf sides didn’t cause things to escalate that way. It got easier as we all got older.
Now, whether omega, beta or delta, we were all treated kindly. I never once felt bad for my position in the pack. In fact, I was proud of it. I was the one who made them all laugh, who kept the pack morale high. I picked up loose jobs, I watched the children from time to time. Best of all though, my duties allowed me a decent amount of free time. Other members, like the beta or general packmembers, often had more jobs to do. It was a happy existence, one that offered me the time to pursue whatever I wanted in life.
“Siiiiissss!” Kaidence ran in, “Help me zip my dress, I ca-” she stopped short upon seeing Artemus and Silas in my room. “A-alpha.” she nodded, rather than bow, as her dress would have likely slipped down if she had. She turned to Artemus and gulped, cheeks turning a rosy red. She had a crush on Artemus, but was convinced nothing could ever come of it and often despaired about this fact. She nodded at him, then turned to me with a pleading look. I sighed and smiled, walking over to zip her dress up at the back.
“Thank you so much, Tove.” Kaidence hushed, still flushed a bright pink.
I smiled and nodded, then stepped back and gazed at her appraisingly. An emerald green ball gown that matched her bright green eyes, her dark blonde hair in delicate curls, half pinned up, and her makeup tasteful and sparse, all completed by a necklace with a sapphire at the center. “Mum’s necklace…” I smiled softly, “It suits you, Kaid.”
“Y-you don’t mind? I know you like it, you can have it-”
“It’s fine, Kaid.” I assured her. “It suits you best, and mum did leave me her charm bracelet. Now we both have something.”
Silas smiled, and took that moment to politely interrupt. “Are you girls ready to go then? The ball will start soon. Artemus will drive you, you need the chaperone.”
“Hey, I’m nineteen, I don’t need a chaperone.” I huffed, but Silas gave me a stern look and I was quickly silenced.
“Your age is irrelevant, this is your first mating ball, both of you. Having someone you know and trust there won’t be a bad thing. Besides, Kaidence is seventeen.”
“But, alpha, Artemus is only nineteen, and I’m eighteen in two months.” Kaidence timidly pointed out.
“Yes, but I know I can trust him. Plus, he’s legally an adult, you are not.”
Kaidence let out of a scoff of indignation, “I’m trustworthy!” she cried out, resulting simply in a chuckle.
I smiled, “May I ask, if Artemus is coming with us, why doesn’t he participate in the ball?”
Silas looked at Artemus for a moment, who shifted from foot to foot. After a moment, Artemus sighed and said, “I’ve actually already experienced the mate pull.” he looked at me, then at my sister, holding eye contact for a moment. “But she’s… Well, unattainable. If she had felt it too, I would know already. But I also don’t care to let her know so she can reject me.”
“O-oh…” I looked at Artemus sadly, “Art, I’m so s-”
“Don’t you dare say it.” he snapped suddenly, eyes flashing, “I don’t want your goddamned pity, Tove. I’m just fine. I will come to terms with it eventually, and when I think we can both handle it, I will tell her and she will reject me and we will both continue living our lives. I will move on. It is just hard right now.”
I nodded slowly, dropping my head submissively to my beta. “I’m sorry.”
He nodded, but suddenly Kaidence stepped close and hugged him. I didn’t hear what she said, because she whispered it so quickly, but Artemus’ expression went from angry to sad, to slightly hopeful before he gently pushed her away and lightly patted her on the head. “Kaidie, thank you for the sentiment, but I doubt it. Now, you both have mates to hopefully find. I’ll meet you outside in five minutes by the car, be quick.”
To our surprise, Artemus’ mother was coming along for the ride. However, as soon as we started driving, we discovered the reason.
“Now, sweethearts, since your parents sadly aren’t here to do this for you, I must. Do you remember your classes at school on mates?” Mrs Griffin asked from the front passenger seat.
“Yes.” we both gave our affirmation.
“Recite the main points.”
I exchanged a glance with Kaidence, then shrugged. “The mate pull is not a forever bond, just a suggestion. It is our instincts saying ‘this person might be a good match’. We aren’t sure how it came to be during our evolution, but our leading scientists theorise that it was due to falling populations. If three men all fall for the same women, then those men are therefore off the market, and only one of them will actually be able to become that women’s partner, if any. And vice versa. This means that there are less people available to produce offspring, because they’re too busy hunting after someone they can’t have. So it is theorised that the mate pull evolved from our wolf side, to try and help us quickly find the right person and someone who would be a good match for life. It generally doesn’t appear until we are about 17, so that we are mature enough for a relationship it might lead into.” I explained in perhaps way too much depth, but I and Kaidence had been fascinated by this when we were told by the tribe elders. Although I aspired to be a nurse specifically, science in general had always interested me, and if I was given a chance to ramble about our science? I leapt at it.
Kaidence picked up where I left off. “The mate pull is not permanent, or fatal. If you feel someone isn’t right, you can reject them. This doesn’t involve any kind of physical violence, simply the words - when said with conviction, not faked - the pull will be negated. For some people the mate pull might form again later for a different potential match, for others, it means they will have to navigate on their own to find a good match. Uhm, what else…”
“It isn’t always mutual.” I suggested.
“Oh, yeah,” Kaidence nodded, “Just because you feel the mate pull towards someone, doesn’t mean they feel it towards you. And the other way around, too. In this case, if it isn’t going to work out, it is kindest for you to reject them so they can move on.”
“Good.” Mrs Griffin nodded, “What else?”
“The mate pull doesn’t give you a ‘right’ to someone, they still have the right to choose. It you wanna, you can outright ignore the pull and pick someone else. In that kind of case, it will eventually fade. This is because the pull is flawed, and sometimes picks the worst possible candidate. In that case, it is sad, but reject them and wait for them to reject you and move on. The pull is not the be all and end all of everything. It is just a helping hand.” This was a recited mantra, something we were taught as children (in far simpler, more child friendly terms, of course) in a hope to completely stomp out the old ways of claiming, marking and mating.
“Good, you girls know what you’re doing.” Mrs Griffin smiled brightly, “I can hardly believe you’re all grown up. I mean, Kaidence, you truly do look like the young beta woman you are. I hope you find your mate. And you, Tove! No one would ever guess you were just a plain omega!”
I knew it was intended as a compliment, so outwardly I smiled. But I wanted to slump in my seat and mutter something rude. Plain omega. Yes, I know. I’m no stunner. My red hair and freckles had earned me much bullying as a child, and my eyes stood out too starkly against the paleness of my skin. There was nothing impressive or beautiful about me. The only thing about my appearance that was memorable was perhaps my eyes. The rest of me, was, indeed, plain. But still! She didn’t have to tell me! I already knew!
Meanwhile, Kaidence was beaming from the praise she was given. And I couldn’t ruin that for her by being miserable. She truly did look beautiful, and lived up to her position, so I couldn’t hold that against her. I was proud of her actually. My sister was the beta female of the pack! My sister! I was so happy for her. She was originally an omega like me, but somehow she rose the ranks through working hard and being trustworthy. I was glad for it, she deserved it. I tried not to think about the fact that if her mate was her status or above, she would have to leave the pack. You couldn’t have two alpha males or two beta males. It was different for those who lay between the ranks, and omegas. We weren’t as important. But there was a specific hierarchy that was important when it came to alphas and betas. Typically there could only be an alpha male and alpha female couple, and a beta male and beta female, though they didn’t have to be a couple.
I found myself hoping her mate would lay between the ranks.
When we arrived at the ball, I was stunned by its beauty. There was a huge hall with the wooden doors open wide for people to walk in and I could see tables upon tables, carefully set up and ready for people to be seated - I could already see a few new couples sat enjoying a meal, getting to know each other. I caught a glimpse of a dance floor, and felt a burst of excitement in my chest. Dancing! I loved dancing! That would make this night genuinely fun while I watched Kaidence try to find her mate.
“Thanks so much for advising us on the way, Mrs Griffin.” Kaidence said, quickly opening her door and slipping out the car. “We’ll remember it all, I promise.” and with that, she eagerly headed towards the hall, leaving me fumbling with my seatbelt and shouting for her to wait up. To my surprise, Artemus practically flung himself out of the car after her, catching up in seconds and grabbing her wrist. I thanked his mother then slipped out of the car as well, while Mrs Griffin moved into the driver’s seat to go park the car elsewhere. I watched Artemus grab my sister’s shoulders and look at her intensely, and the way her eyes went wide and she visibly shivered surprised me. I edged closer and just caught the words “...bastards like that, you come to me, okay?”
Kaidence nodded and smiled at Artemus, but she seemed shaken, “Of course, Artemus. I promise.” she stood stock still as he let his hands slide down her arms then let go of her. I caught up with my sister, and we linked arms quickly, heading inside ahead of Artemus.
“What was that about?” I whispered.
“He warned me that if any men get pushy, I’m to go to him.” Kaidence’s voice shook.
“Okay…but why are you so shaken, then?”
“I…it’s nothing.” Kaidence gave me a light smile then started to gush about how beautiful the hall was, and I decided to let it drop.
An hour into the mating ball, I was on the dance floor moving to the music on my own despite all the couples around me. Kaidence was wandering around, hoping the pull would lead her to someone. I was having fun, I had to admit.
I was never too worried about finding a mate. It wasn’t something that I was going to work to do. If he’s out there, I’ll find him, I’m sure.
So when I felt a sudden sensation, like the drag of a magnet, causing me to stumble and nearly fall as I danced, I was shocked. I say ‘nearly’ fall, because two strong hands gripped my shoulders and I kid you not, I felt something akin to an electrical surge. I gasped and flinched away from the person the hands belonged to, whirling to face him, and when I did, my legs nearly gave out.
He was dressed in a deep grey tux, with a gold shimmery tie to finish off the look. His face was almost acorn shaped, but his jawline was defined where it needed to be. His features were well balanced and centred on his face, and he had the most beautiful shade of brown almond eyes I had ever seen, accentuated by long, dark lashes. He was somewhat tan, and at a glance, he clearly had Asian blood. His hair was black and medium length, but it was swept back and ever so slightly gelled to keep it that way throughout the night. As my eyes explored his face, I noticed an uneven bump in his nose that suggested a break somewhere in the past, and that his ears were pierced at the lobes and the top, with silver hoops decorating them. Then, his lips. They were pale pink, and looked so, so...supple…
“-miss?” he spoke, snapping me out of my stupor. I gazed at him blankly, mesmerised. Even his voice sounded beautiful. It was so quiet, and it was clear that he was a softly spoken man, yet he did not mumble. He has a slight accent, Asian in some way, but it didn’t hinder him, No, he only sounded attractive. I struggled to catch every word, but it only made me focus on him more.
“Miss? Are you alright?”
I realised with a flush that I was staring, quite blatantly, and I think rushed words out in an attempt to ease the situation but my tongue had other ideas to speak what my soul felt, as opposed to my brain. “You’re fucking stunning.” I whispered, then gasped. Oh gods. Oh gods. Moon Goddess save me. Star Goddesses swallow me into the sky. I was just about to apologise when he chuckled and answered me softly.
“I was about to say the same thing to you.”
I staggered. I quite literally staggered, and the beautiful man before me stepped forward and quickly grabbed my elbows before I could fall. Blinking several times and taking a minute to collect myself, I asked, “You...you’re serious?”
He chuckled, a sound I could only describe as comforting, and said in that same soft tone, “Of course I am, who would joke about such a thing? You’re beautiful.” he blushed slightly as he said this, smiling at her gently. “Can I let go, or will you fall again?”
I felt heat rise to the tips of my ears and I shook my head vigorously, “No, no, I won’t fall. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright.” he slowly released me and stepped back a little, giving me space to breathe. “My name is Lee Kang-Dae, but you can call me Kang if you like. I know Korean names are confusing to non-Koreans. Oh, and Lee is my family name, not my given name, but Korean name order is like, different...uhm, I’m babbling.” he laughed nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.
I smiled. That was cute. “I’m Tove Sanders. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I curtsied slightly, and beamed at him. What was this strange pounding of my heart, and this feeling that made me want to get closer to him? It was distracting. “U-uhm…” I began with a stutter. “Do you, um-...” I took a breath. “Do you feel this, um- the, the- this.” I gestured at my chest wildly and then at the space between us both. “Like...how do I describe it...it’s this...this…”
“Pulling sensation?” he finished for me quietly.
“Yes, that’s exactly it!” I exclaimed, then my heart stopped, “Oh. Wait.”
I noticed him tense, and he took a sharp breath. “Yes…?”
“You-you...you mean, we...this...this is the mate pull?”
“I-I imagine so. It feels like how everyone always describes.” he seemed worried.
“Oh my. I...I need to sit down.” I stumbled towards one of the benches at the edge of the big hall and slumped into it. I had found my mate? The person the Goddesses have picked for me, who my instincts think is my best match? Kang-Dae situated himself next to me, watching me intently. “This must be a mistake.” I whispered.
I sensed the way he flinched. His pitiful tone of voice made me look at him as he quietly said, “O-oh? What...what makes you say that?” his Adam’s Apple bobbed.
“You’re too perfect for me, there’s no way this is right.” I shook my head, “I can’t be destined to be with someone like you.”
“Wh-what?” he sputtered.
“L-look at yourself! You- You’re handsome, you’re polite, you seem very sweet so far. The Goddesses couldn’t possibly think I deserve you.” I was in shock, I think. Looking back at it, in hindsight, I was being ridiculous. But I hadn’t expected to find my mate at all, nevermind that night.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Kang-Dae berated me immediately, “If anyone doesn’t deserve anyone, it’s I who doesn’t deserve you. Such a beautiful woman is worth more than a lowly omega like me. Besides that, you shouldn’t put yourself down, no matter who you face. Be proud of being you!”
I gaped at him, “You’re an omega?”
“Yes. I know that’s probably not what you’d like-”
“I’m an omega!” I interrupted him in my excitement. “Oh my goddess, you must be joking. We’re actually the same rank?” I started to feel hopeful.
“No way?” he laughed in disbelief and suddenly gasped my hands, “That’s wonderful! Tove, if you’re willing, I’d love to take you on a date tomorrow. Let’s find out if we really are compatible?” he was smiling hopefully.
I opened my mouth to gush a ‘yes’, feeling more excited than I had ever expected to, when I felt a rumble through the hall and heard a low, deafeningly loud growl. I and Kang-Dae were on our feet standing to attention in seconds. That was an alpha’s growl, which commanded attention. We exchanged worried, confused looks at the malicious feeling that now seemed to emanate through the ballroom. Then, I heard a word in the growl.
“Mate.” it was a man’s voice, possessive and demanding, and when I heard the voice of the woman responding, my heart stopped.
Kaidence. That was Kaidence.
“Mine. You are mine.”
I couldn’t see what was happening because there were many people between I and them, but I heard Kaidence scream and then shriek, “Put me down! Fucking let me go, you frea-” she cried out in pain, and that broke the spell. I tore off, racing towards her voice and shoving people aside, bunching my dress up in my hand so that I could run without falling. When I stumbled, I stopped to kick my heels off and continued forcing my way through the crowd until my eyes found them.
Kaidence was slung over a tall, muscular man’s shoulder, his arm wrapped over her back and his hand resting on her ass in a way that made me want to rip it off. She was screaming, struggling for all she was worth, but he didn’t even flinch. He was an alpha, and had natural strength she and I couldn’t contend with. That didn’t stop me from charging the bastard, though.
“Get your hands off my sister!” I snarled, barrelling into his side and actually throwing him off balance enough that he stumbled and his grip loosened. Kaidence flipped out of his arm and crashed to the floor, landing heavily. I barely had time to glance at her because a large hand closed around my throat and I was lifted into the air, immediately unable to breath. I clawed at the alpha’s hand, but it was no use. I cried to kick him, but I couldn’t reach. I gasped for air.
“How dare you, you little wench.” he squeezed tighter, “What right do you have to touch me?”
“That’s...my...si...ster...that’s...why...y-ou...bas...tard…” I wheezed out, and anger flashed in his eyes. He threw me to the floor with such force that I bashed my head and saw white lights dance before my eyes. I blurrily recognised his fist nearing my face, but a man’s voice screaming “NO” sounded to my left and then someone had thrown themself over me, and an abdomen was against my face instead. I heard a gasp and a groan, and I could only imagine the punch had landed on this man instead.
“A-alpha, p-please don’t hurt her.” Was that Kang-Dae’s voice?
“Lee? You? Who the fuck is this?”
“M-my mate, alpha, sir.” That was definitely Kang-Dae. He pushed himself up, and I was able to breathe again, though my vision still blurred with dancing lights and he was still hunched over me, protecting me.
“Your mate? Well, your fucking whore attacked me, so she’s gotta pay the price.”
Whore!? I was about to rasp out a curse when Kang-Dae spoke fiercely. “Don’t you call her that.”
“Or what!?” the alpha punched Kang-Dae again, and this time the poor man collapsed on top of me. I had heard a distinct crack, but I didn’t have time to worry about Kang-Dae because I heard my sister screaming again as the alpha grabbed her violently and started to drag her with him, towards the back exit of the hall.
“NO! LEAVE HER ALONE! FUCK! KANG-DAE, GET OFF ME!” I shoved at him and he rolled off of me. Scrambling to my feet, I took after the alpha, and tackled him again, from behind. This time, he lost his balance entirely and fell forward. By now the entire ballroom was in a frenzy, some people screaming, others trying to find another alpha to stop this mess, and others simply watching. I didn’t take a moment to watch. I snatched Kaidence’s hand and turned to bolt, but I only got a couple of feet away when a hand grasped my hair and threw me to the floor. Pain exploded through my head and I couldn’t see the man who leaned over me, but I knew what was coming. “L-leave her alone, you don’t own her, you bastard.” I managed to croak, but then he clenched my hair and pulled my head up before smashing it into the ground again. I screamed loudly in pain.
“She is MINE! MY mate! She is coming home with me whether you-” another smash. “like it-” with the third impact of my head against the ground, I could feel my consciousness fading. “or not-” I expected to pass out then, but someone stopped him. I wasn’t sure who. I just know the hand released my hair, and I heard Kaidence scream Artemus’ name. Everything started to fade out of focus as I heard a scuffle evolve into a fight, and more screaming from Kaidence. I fought to stay awake as I felt someone’s presence beside me, and heard someone whispering my name fervently. I was distantly aware of the warm, wet feeling coating my scalp and soaking my hair. I was desperately aware of that my sister needed me, and so I fought to stay awake, croaking her name one last time before I knew nothing of the world.