The walk to the lota’s den was a long struggle. Connoway took it like a sport and walked slowly with me, making sure to support my weight. Blood had leaked out of my mouth from the broken ribs and onto Connoway’s shoulder.
The entrance to the lota’s den was crowded by overgrown plants and weeds, a thick earthy smell hanging around. Connoway removed my arm from around his shoulders and left to knock on the door, leaving me to cradle my ribs with my good arm. The door opened a few moments later.
Through the slightly opened door stood a female who looked even younger than me. At first glance to Connoway, her expression soured. A knowing look passed between Connoway and the lota before Connoway awkwardly gestured in my direction. The frown on her face deepened before she opened the door wider and gestured me in. “Come on.”
Connoway made a move to help me inside before the lota pressed a hand against his chest. “You’re not necessary anymore, thank you though. Send Kirch my regards.” Her eyes met mine with an impatience. “Well?”
Grunting in response to her, I shuffled into her home. Inside was much tidier than the overgrown plants that loomed outside her windows. The entrance led to a grand living room, openly connecting to her medical room. The door shut heavily behind me.
“Have a seat.”
I made my way over to her medical room and situated myself on the white table, my legs hanging limply over the edge. The lota rustled about her home, picking out herbs.
“You the newbie rouge?” She called from somewhere in another room.
“I’m not a rouge, I’m a wanderer. I haven’t chosen a pack yet.” I responded weakly.
She hummed and came back into the grand room, her arms full of jars containing different plants. She began her work, crushing the herbs and mixing them together. “I’m assuming Kirch?”
“You guessed it. Is he infamous for sending unfortunate souls to you?”
The lota laughed in response, continuing her work. The aroma of the plants was becoming too thick to breathe in, though she didn’t seem to mind. “What’s your name again?”
“Lennet.” I glanced around her room. The shelves were mostly empty, giving the room an overall stale feeling. “Are you new?”
“New to the pack? No, no. But we recently. . . Lost our other lota. And I am her replacement.” Her tone hinted at something she wasn’t letting on, but I could assume.
At last Stovall turned around, leaving her concoction on the counter behind her. Her eyes wandered me, assessing the damage. She hummed again. “Alright Lennet, take a deep breath for me.”
Complying, I took as deep of a breath that my ribs would allow me to. The lungs crackled and popped with the fluid that was inside them. Stovall made a sound and nodded, as if confirming something to herself. “Lay back.”
Shuffling myself more onto the table, I leaned back painfully until my back met the cold, white surface. Stovall pulled out a rolling chair and sat on it, coming to my side. Without much mercy, she prodded my side, feeling for the breaks in my ribs. It took everything in me to not cry out.
Next she picked up my broken arm, her fingers running the length to find the break.
“Kirch really did ya in, huh?”
“Yeah I guess. It was some agenda that the Alpha gave him. Something about my worth.” The pain was clogging my brain, making it hard to think. “I think I pissed him off.”
“Alpha Blackford?” She laughed. “No, he’s pissed off at everything. His only agenda is making the moon equally pissed off.”
My ears perked while listening to her talk. She wasn’t demeaning, but it was strange to hear a lota speak of an alpha in such a way.
“What’s the deal now?” I asked, my eyes staring up at the white ceiling.
“Well, you’re going to need to eat this.” She gestured at the mixed herbs behind her. “It’s just to help the pain, though I doubt you really need it. You seem to be healing quite quickly. I’m assuming you have some strong blood in you.” Stovall paused, considering me. “Give it a week and you’ll be ready to be up and training again. Bet you’re regretting staying here, huh?”
Stovall spun around and handed me the bowl. Weakly I sat up, looking down into the bowl. The strong sent made me scrunch my nose, my wolf wanting to turn away from the offensive smell. Almost forgetting myself I responded, “A little yes, but it seems like this will be worth the effort. You have a strong pack.”
The lota’s eyes flashed to mine, something sparking behind them. She huffed instead of responding and began collecting her jars. She went to put them back into their collective rooms but considered again, and placed them on the shelves in the room.
Getting over myself, I dipped my fingers into the bowl and scooped out the crushed herbs and reluctantly began chewing them. Almost immediately I gagged but forced myself to keep them down.
Stovall reached into a drawer and pulled out a sling, holding it out to me. She helped me place my arm into the sling, putting the strap over my neck.
“Thank you, Stovall.”
Without looking at me she left the room to do her own things. I heard her call from somewhere to return in a week. With that, I was alone. Gingerly I helped myself down from the table. The herbs seemed to be working fast, much of my strength returning to me.
As I made my way to the door, I couldn’t help but glance around her home. It smelled stale, the scent of another wolf still lingering in the corners. By the small fireplace were a few pictures of a younger female. In one I recognized the face of the zeta.
A stillness filled the house, signaling that she was listening for my departure. With that as my cue, I opened the heavy wooden door and stepped outside into the much fresher morning afternoon air. A cool breeze blew by, cooling the sweat and blood on my exposed skin.
At the edge of the garden was Connoway, his feet awkwardly kicking at the pebbles on the ground. Hearing me he stopped and came over to help me.
“I’m fine, I got it.” I shrugged his efforts off.
“Fine with me. You’re sweaty anyways.” He rolled his shoulders. “Kirch wants to talk to you.”
I groaned inwardly, making Connoway laugh. “You’ll be alright Lennet.”
Connoway started off back to the training grounds, forcing me to follow him. The rocks felt warm under my feet, heated from the sun. At the edge of the grounds stood Kirch once again, his bare skin glistening.
“Ah, Lennet, how are you feeling?” He laughed at his own joke, and didn’t wait for my response. “Come with me, we have some things to discuss. You’re dismissed, Connoway.” Connoway nodded in thanks and departed.
Kirch moved to replace Connoway in helping me, but retracted his arm when a low snarl bubbled in my chest. I coughed and sputtered on the snarl, blood having come back into my mouth. My wolf didn’t want to be touched.
The zeta laughed again at the sight of blood on my lips. “Have it your way.”
Kirch started off on a pace too fast for me to match, and didn’t glance back at me once. I muttered to myself, mulling once again that I was sent here after only being home for one night. Damn NightBlood, and Alpha Crossfield could be damned too.
Kirch abruptly stopped, causing me to walk into his sweaty back. He didn’t seem to notice. The zeta’s attention was in front of him. Before I could even smell him, I sensed him. Even Kirch stood a little taller, righting himself.
Stepping out from behind Kirch, I stood a foot behind him and kept my gaze lowered.
“Zeta Kirch.” His voice said, creeping down my spine. “And Lennet.” There was something off in his voice.
“Greetings, Alpha.” The zeta stood tall next to me, presenting himself. “You wished to see us, and here we are.”
“Let’s walk.” Alpha Blackford responded, already walking off. Something about these damn men. I thought to myself. Always walking off.
Ignoring the pain I caught up with them both, the alpha already seeming to have started the conversation. The zeta nodded and responded quietly to him.
“What do you think?” I overheard him ask.
“She’s had some training, got a lot of fight in her. Forced me to break her arm.” Kirch chuckled even at the memory. Blackford rolled his shoulders, considering what he’d said.
“How long until you can continue, Lennet?” He directed his voice behind him, where I walked a few paces slower.
“About a week.” My gaze caught a male walking some distance away, keeping pace with us. His head was turned away, but something told me he was listening.
The alpha snorted at my answer. My fur bristled instinctively, ready to defend myself. The alpha never stopped his pace, but gave a low growl that had my wolf stopping in her tracks. Kirch shot a grin over his shoulder at me.
My wolf, who was normally very aggressive and dominating, seemed sated around this male. Maybe it was his presence, someone she finally deemed above her. Mentally I scoffed at myself, recalling my alpha’s words. Pup.
Kirch and Blackford continued their conversation, speaking lowly enough to make it clear that my ears were not welcome. Taking that as my dismissal, I separated from them and took a look around, hoping to find a large group to submerge into.
Another breeze blew through my hair, the trees bordering the field shaking their leaves. Off in the distance stood a group of people, mingling about with plates of food.
My stomach rumbled at the sight.
Remembering the man before, I looked around again and couldn’t find him. He’d disappeared. Kirch and Blackford had stopped walking, and were deep in conversation. They both paused and glanced at me, considering me. Something about his gaze settled underneath my skin.
Feeling excluded, I made my way over to the group. My ribs ached deeply, quickening my pace so I could rest sooner. A few females standing at the edge of the group eyed me warily, bristling their fur. Noted.
Suddenly I began to miss home with a stronger intensity. This was already the hardest place I’d been assigned to. This pack was secluded and on edge, as if preparing themselves for something. And I was definitely not welcome here.
Shaking the thoughts from my head, I slipped into an image I’d practiced many times before. Small, vulnerable, and alone. It helped that I was injured. Taking another look around, I found a younger looking male talking to his group of friends, laughing about something. Easy to pick off.
“Hi, I’m Lennet. Is there food here?” I asked a male, taking him out of the conversation he was having.
His eyes wandered my frame, taking in my appearance. His broad shoulders relaxed, his stance becoming less offensive. He pushed his long, brown hair out of his face. “Oh uh yeah. Right over there. Just grab a plate and get what you want.” He gestured over to a tent I hadn’t seen before. “I’m Wexley by the way.”
“Thank you so much. I’m starving.” I giggled nervously at him, playing on his juvenile emotions.
“I saw you on the grounds this morning with Kirch. You did good.” A smile crept across his face.
“Doesn’t really feel like it.” I looked down at my feet.
He laughed quietly. “Come on, lets get you some food.” He tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans and awkwardly nodded over to the food table. My wolf somewhat liked him. A respectful male.
We broke off from his group of friends and made our way to the table. Sparing a look behind me, I found that the alpha and zeta still had their heads turned in my direction, along with the small cluster of women. Unease settled in my stomach.
Wexley grabbed a plate for me and started picking a variety of foods for me. The man behind the table looked to Wexley, disapproval evident. “A third plate? Really Wexley?”
“Nobody was asking for your opinion, Harn, and it’s not for me. It’s for, uh, what did you say your name was again?” Wexley and Harn turned to look at me.
“Lennet.” I pursed my lips. Harn’s gaze traveled down to my sling, noticing how I favored one side over the other. He sighed reluctantly and sat back into his seat, waving a dismissal hand to continue grabbing food.
Wexley rolled his eyes at me, still smiling in my direction.
My appetite was lost from this male’s quick progression. Keeping the lighthearted look on my face, I accepted the plate from him with my good hand.
“We can go find somewhere to sit and talk, if you’d like?” He asked quietly, his eyes already searching for a place.
“Yeah, I’d really like that. I’m new, don’t really know anyone.” I smiled up at him.
The smile spread further on his face, and I heard a groan from behind me. Turning around, it was one of the females, still watching the interaction. She was displaying clear disgust at Wexley.
“Don’t mind my sister. She thinks she’s popular, when nobody really cares.” The end of his sentence was louder, meant for her to hear. She stuck her tongue out at him and spun back around to ignore us. “Real cute.”
Wexley led me to a grassy spot shaded by a large oak tree. The trunk was covered in green, soft looking moss. The grass littered by its fallen leaves, shades of orange and red. I glanced around me, wondering how I was going to sit down.
“Oh, I uh- sorry. Here.” He took my plate from my hand and attempted to try and help me sit but awkwardly retreated when I waved him off. Reaching my arm behind me and using the trunk for support, I slowly lowered myself into the grass.
Wexley sat a few feet from me, giving me my space. He handed my plate back to me and allowed me to pick at my food in silence.
Hoping to get some information out of him I said, “So Wexley.”
“Yeah?” He wasn’t looking at me, he was looking off at the group of wolves. His knees were bunched up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them.
“Tell me about yourself.”
His brown eyes met mine again, and I was rewarded with another smile. “Alright.”