Fresh corpses littered the ground down below. The sun beamed down on them, glinting off of the blood stained grass. I knew I was being watched, so I kept my face as stoic as I could manage. I had to appear as impassive.
Make them intrigued. Interested enough to talk to me.
GrassTail wolves lingered about, gloating over their victory. Some eyes flashed up occasionally to where I sat on the hill. I could practically taste the curiosity, but the smell of death was stronger.
“Lennet,” a male voice called, using my fake name. I knew immediately who it was, a strong sinking feeling appearing in my stomach. Mante.
Squinting my eyes against the sun, I angle my body to peer at Mante. The zeta in training was easy on the eyes, chiseled muscle on display. His brown hair was ruffled, patches of facial hair beginning to grow. I wanted to turn my lip up in disgust, but instead I gave him a smile.
There isn’t a single scratch on him, which tells me more than I need to know.
Mante returns my smile in a full blown grin, subtly trying to puff his chest out. “Mante,” I greet him, his last name rolling off of my tongue. Mante comes closer, bringing the smell of battle with him. “I see that you’ve won.” A smirk forms on my lips, knowing that all I’m doing is patting his ego on the back.
He only laughs, not needing to confirm or deny what I’d said. Without my offering, he seats himself next to me, close enough for our arms to brush against each other. I can feel his eyes on the side of my face before they lower, taking in my full appearance.
I don’t need to look at him to know the pride he is feeling. He believes he’s won over the mysterious visitor. Unfortunately for him, my wolf is very far from interested.
My eyes snag on some females down below, huddled off to the side, whispering amongst each other. Apparently, I was not the only female to come and watch this show of dominance. I couldn’t help but pity the BlueRock wolves.
They’d deserved their death, no doubt, for attacking a stronger pack than them. I pitied their fallen. Their bodies wouldn’t be retrieved, nor sent to the Moon.
At least GrassTail’s new alpha would be feeling more welcome, a fresh victory under his belt. As it was, he was barely holding the ropes for this pack with the tips of his claws.
At last, my attention comes back to Mante. He might as well be drooling with the way he’s looking at me. The sudden urge to snarl at him comes to mind, but I suppress it. “Shouldn’t you be down there with them, Mante?” I lift a brow at him. “Gloating in your great victory?”
I lean myself back onto a propped elbow, exposing my upper half to sunlight. A strand of my hair is caught in the wind, touching Mante’s cheek. I watch as the muscle in his jaw tightens, pupils dilating before returning to normal.
“You’re right,” he agrees. “You should come with me. It’s time you get more comfortable with GrassTail.” His eyes are on the wisp of hair, still floating in the breeze. My mind freezes for a moment, fighting to keep my mask on. I don’t like the implication in what he’d said.
“Alright,” I give in to him, knowing that I shouldn’t. Mante was too attached to me, more than what I was used to. He’d be crushed when I inevitably left.
The grin returns to his face, making him appear almost boyish. If I wasn’t here to spy on GrassTail, I could imagine myself coming to like him. He’s on his feet right away, extending a hand down to me. After a moment, I take his hand, accepting his help.
Mante leads me to the gathered wolves below, their heads turning at our appearance. It doesn’t escape my eyes the way their attention flickers between us, noting the closeness between our bodies.
Be a good sport, I remind myself, forcing a smile on my face.
I can see that Mante will eventually make a decent zeta; congratulating his warriors, patting their backs. Their faces hold new forming respect for him.
From the corner of my eye, I watch as one of GrassTail’s lower packs, GrassHeart, slowly slinks away, without acknowledgement or appreciation. I can’t help the sudden anger in my chest, furious with GrassTail. Their leadership over their lesser packs was appalling.
No one else seems to see or mind what I’ve seen. Mante’s eyes only flash in their direction once, but he’s too preoccupied to truly care. I have to bite my tongue from saying something out of line to him. I held no rank or authority here, my opinion was not welcome.
Mante’s fingers find my hand again as if he’s won the ability to touch it again. I clench my hand into a fist, hoping it sends him a clear message. I won’t embarrass him, but his touch was unwanted. His brows furrow at me, but he takes the hint, keeping his hand to himself.
The wolves chant and talk amongst themselves, their pride heavy in the air. A feast will be held tonight, in honor of their victory. A weaker pack, but I can appreciate their victory with them.
My attention comes back to the present as Mante is introducing me to his friends. Sons of high rankings. A soon to be beta and gamma. Uneasiness settles in my stomach, uncomfortable with what Mante is doing. The last thing I wanted was the attention from high ranks.
Fighting to keep control of my nerves, I give them a shy smile, tucking my hair behind an ear. Their eyes track the movement of my hand. “Hello,” I greet them, satisfying Mante. “I’m Lennet.”
The beta’s son, Peveril, dips his head, a greeting I’m not worthy of. “Lennet,” he repeats, eyes narrowing in a flirty way. “It’s nice to meet you.” If his introduction was any indication, Peveril would make a terrible beta. Flaunting and trying to impress strange females, while Eastridge, son of the gamma, could barely stand his ground beside him.
“As it is you,” I return his sentiment, dipping my head and biting my tongue from revealing my thoughts. If this was GrassTail’s future high rankings, they were doomed. Mante resumes their earlier conversation, clearly trying to get their attention off of me. He’d made a mistake, and now they were interested in what he coveted.
I’m barely listening to their conversation as I skim over the area around us, watching GrassTail. Eastridge is excitedly murmuring about his coming gamma ceremony. His father had already stepped down.
Something catches my eye. While the GrassTail males are celebrating, one face sticks out. The group around him are talking, boastful grins plastered across their faces while his is somber, hateful eyes glaring at the back of the soon to be gamma’s head. I catch his attention, giving him an encouraging smile.
If anything, he’d be doing GrassTail a favor by removing this male as their gamma.
A grin spreads across the male’s face, easily enticed by my encouragement. Without another moment’s hesitation, he pushes his way through the crowd, his eyes on mine the entire time, before stopping at our group. Eastridge turns, a snarl on his lips at this male’s offensive closeness.
“Lennet,” Mante leans down to whisper into my ear. “Let’s give them space,” he urges me. I realize then that Mante and I were the only ones who hadn’t stepped away.
Nodding at him, I dip my head to both wolves before allowing Mante to lead me into the safety of the rest. They’d formed a small circle around Eastridge and the stranger, eager to see what was happening.
The stranger’s eyes find mine once more, nodding to me as if he were saying this is for you. Mante’s attention is on me. He didn’t miss the interaction I’d shared with this male, but he’d hold his tongue for now.
Peveril places a comforting hand on Eastridge’s shoulder, who is shaking despite himself. I must have missed the first exchanged words, because the stranger then snarls at Eastridge. “Do you accept?”
“I accept,” Eastridge signs his life away.
Peveril steps away and the clash begins. It’s clear before it even began who the winner was. Eastridge may have his blood, but he will be the last of it for his weakness. The stranger is the first to draw blood, his stance offensive while Eastridge takes defense. Weak.
I have no interest to continue watching when I already know the outcome. I take a step away from Mante, pausing to see if he objects. He hardly notices, which means I am dismissed.
No one notices my departure anyways. My job isn’t to watch petty fights, but to learn.
Stepping away, I notice a group of females standing slightly far off from the group watching the fight. To any other eyes, it would be assumed they aren’t speaking of anything important. But with my experience, it’s always the females that held the juicy bits.
I change how I look quickly. Tucking my hair behind my ears, holding my arms to my chest tightly. Alone, weaker than them. They eye me as I approach but I’m welcomed. Mostly I want them to think I just need to look like I’m fitting somewhere, and the hint is taken.
Their conversation quickly resumes, leaving me out of it. Wary eyes jump between me and the other females, clearly worried I’d overhear. Wanting to seem disinterested, I turn my head, looking anywhere but at them.
“My mate has been telling me that his dad and Alpha Herek are planning on taking a chunk out of MistFang’s territory soon,” one of the females whispers hurriedly, as if she was worried someone would hear.
“Don’t be an idiot,” another harshly whispers back. “And tell your mate that as well. While you’re at it, tell Herek that as well. That fool just got the position and he plans on attacking MistFang?” She scoffs. “Might as well just burn down GrassTail as a whole. It’d be the same result.”
“They’re not being foolish, Kook,” the first speaks again. Subtle changes in body language tells me she has everyone’s attention now. “You can’t tell anyone I told you this. . . ” She trails off.
“Spit it out,” another says.
“Alpha Herek will have the help of Alpha Javenson.” SteelPaw.
This piece of information was everything I’d been waiting for. Months of integrating myself in this pack had finally paid off. I could go home.
Herek had unknowingly been betrayed by his own pack, likely by someone who sits at his table and shared his meals. My heart raced in my chest, nails digging into my biceps to keep myself in check. Can’t go running right away.
A ferocious howl of victory startles me from my thoughts. Turning my head to see where it came from, my eyes lock with the stranger. From his lips hangs the throat of Eastridge, who lays at his feet, blood seeping into the grass. He’d won his place as gamma.
“Gamma Dann,” his name and title are called out. Everyone’s, including mine, head dips in acknowledgement to him.
His eyes never leave me but I turn away from him. The females are eyeing me and the interaction. I soured my welcome by making them uncomfortable. They had probably been close to Eastridge.
I suppose it’s a good thing that Mante dragged me out to the field. I’ve taken the bite out of this pack and it’s time to return to mine. I dip my head once again, departing from the females.
Mante finds me once more, his arm snaking underneath mine to grab my forearm. “Come,” he murmurs in my ear, hot breath fanning over my hair. He knows I had something to do with the challenge. “Alpha Herek has invited you to his table tonight.”
My breath catches in my throat. It’s an honor that scares me; I’d done nothing to deserve to be at his table. I look behind me, but everyone has begun to trickle back towards the pack house for the feast. Gamma Dann is gone, and no one else will come to my rescue.
Giving Mante a simple nod, I murmur, “Alright.”
This time he doesn’t reach for my hand, but we walk back towards the pack house together. The territory of GrassTail is beautiful. Large open fields that slope into the mountainside, neighbors to MistFang.
The sun was beginning to set, illuminating the territory in one last show of bright amber light. I paused for a moment, wanting to take in the sight. Winter was weeks away, today would likely be the last warm day we’d have for a while.
A glare from Mante had me moving again.
The pack house was full of wolves, the noise of them bordering on overwhelming. They were all engaged in conversation, laughing as they mingled. There was nothing quite like winning a battle.
More than a few pair of eyes lingered on my skin as Mante led me through them. I was nothing more than a stranger to them, the interest the zeta in training had for me was concerning. If anything, Mante’s interest made me more unwelcome.
Mante finally stopped after leading me through more doors than I could count. One last door was before us, otherwise unassuming. But I knew what was on the other side of it. My stomach twisted in on itself, anxiety building.
Sharing one final look, Mante stepped forward, opening the door for me. Steadying myself, I stepped inside. Heads turned as I entered, the conversation coming to a halt.
A large table sat in the middle of the room, filled with food. My mouth almost watered at the wonderful sight of it. Someone’s throat cleared, and the conversation resumed, although much quieter than before.
Mante closed the door behind me, his hand coming to my lower back. I wanted to protest his touch, but held myself back. Now was not the time to make a scene.
He led me to my seat, almost near the end of the table, opposite of where Herek sat. I’d been avoiding looking at him since I entered, but it was hard. I could feel his attention on me, goosebumps raising my skin.
“Welcome Lennet.” The alpha’s voice met my ears. It was gentle, not at all what I’d been expecting. The table fell silent as he spoke. “I’ve heard much about you from Mante here.”
“Alpha Herek.” My head lowered, staring at my hands in my lap. “It is an honor for me to be here. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he responded. I could hear the sarcasm in his voice. I raised my head, but didn’t dare meet his eyes. The table was drenched in the silence he left.
Even Herek seemed unhappy with the silence. He gave an exaggerated sigh before picking up his knife, taking his time to cut the first piece of meat. He brought the meat to his mouth, slowly eating it. It was customary for the alpha to have the first bite of the meal.
Next, he reached for his glass, lifting it, but not putting it to his lips. Instead, he toasted, “To the future. May Luna Tail find us soon.” The sarcasm in his voice hadn’t left, a smirk on his lips, attention still on me.
The table immediately lit up with excitement at his toast. I hadn’t realized that Mante chose a seat next to mine. He began to fill his plate with various meats and breads, and I followed his lead, thankful the table was deep in conversation once more.
Alpha Herek’s laughter boomed around the table. He threw his head back at something the beta had said. Throughout the dinner, I could feel his gaze on me. Eventually, Alpha Herek leaned over and whispered something to the wolf on his left. Their eyes flickered to me before leaning and whispering to Mante.
I couldn’t help but to be curious. Mante looked flustered, a frown pulling at his lips before turning to me. A vein ticked in his forehead. “Alpha Herek would like to speak with you after dinner.” If I had been chewing, I certainly would’ve choked. My anxiety returned in full force, making the food in front of me look distasteful.
I forced myself to continue eating however, not wanting my nerves to show. The food settled unhappily in my belly. Time was flying by too quickly, plates emptying faster than I’d hoped them to. My demise was getting closer by the second.
Far sooner than I’d hoped, Herek dismissed his table. They slowly trickled out of the room, shooting looks at me as they left. I remained in my seat, fingers interlaced in my lap. After a moment, a new group of wolves entered, quickly clearing away the table.
All the while, Herek and I sat at nearly opposite ends on the table, silent on both parties. With a final click from the closing door, we were alone.
Herek cleared his throat, chair scraping across the floor as he stood. He turned to look out of the dining room windows before closing the blinds, blocking out any onlookers. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. I wanted nothing more than to jump out of my skin and flee.
“You may look up,” he said softly, voice low. Following his command, I lifted my head, allowing my eyes to roam him. He was a strongly built male, broad in the shoulders. He didn’t puff himself out under my attention like Mante had, this male had no need to do that. “I’m so very intrigued by you, Lennet,” the words rolled off his tongue, but it wasn’t seductive. I felt like I was being hunted.
“How so, Alpha Herek?” I questioned, voice shaking despite my best efforts.
My heart jumped in my chest as he took a few steps closer, seating himself on the edge of the table. Mere inches separated us, only amplifying my anxiety. I watched as he lifted his hand, fingers coming to my chin, forcing my head to tilt back, as if he were trying to see my face better. “Exactly how long have you been here, Lennet?”
“Only a few months,” I responded, keeping my eyes away from his.
“And in that time you’ve been witness to me becoming Alpha, and a few battles.” My chin trembled in his harsh grasp. “And helped overthrow poor, weak Gamma Eastridge,” he added in. I opened my mouth to dispute that, but he swiftly cut me off before I could speak. “You’re not at all what I was expecting, but I’m not disappointed.”
“Surely you couldn’t blame something like that on a traveler, Alpha Herek?” This time, I lifted my eyes to meet his, lifting my brows to appear innocent. His mood changed quickly, mumbling something under his breath as his fingers released me.
“What a curiosity you are,” he practically purred to me. “Tempting enough to make someone challenge a Gamma.” The implications in his words were very clear, only adding to my unease. I’d felt unsafe many times in my life, but this man was truly dangerous.
“I’m sorry, Alpha Herek, but is there something you wanted from me?” I kept my voice soft, docile.
“Perhaps,” he mulled, his gaze travelling over my body. I held perfectly still, not wanting to reveal my emotions. His eyes lingered on my hips and thighs. “I take it that you’re going to be moving on soon?”
“Yes,” I nodded, scooting my chair back.
Herek tsked, unhappy with my answer. “Maybe you’d like to stay a little longer?” The suggestion in his words was clear.
Standing, my eyes narrowed to a glare. “I’m saving myself, Alpha Herek. I am not one to sleep around.”
His eyes hardened, something dark rising behind them. Fear gripped me. “Come now. You can’t truly be saying Mante has more to offer than I do?” Rising from my seat, I didn’t respond, throat too thick to form words. “I suppose you should be leaving then,” he gestured with his hand to the door, but I knew it meant more than that. Leave. Now.
Taking my eyes away, I dipped my head one last time before leaving, practically running to my room. I wouldn’t put it past Herek to send wolves after me if I wasn’t gone by morning. Was he sparing me, or did he not know?
It didn’t matter. Either way, I had to leave.