In the Shadows

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Forty Three

When I finally managed to drag myself up the stairs of the prison and out of the building into the courtyard I was nearly blinded with the light. It was high noon, the sun just minutes away from reaching its highest point. I lifted a hand to shield my eyes as I squinted, waiting for my eyes to adjust.

The courtyard was surrounded on all four sides by towering stone walls reaching four stories. Balconies overlooked the sandy courtyard, large archways showing the way down hallways. Trees and vines decorated the outskirts of the courtyard but the center was a sandpit that looked ready for a duel, or an execution. This building was not part of my world, of any of the forest kingdom. We were definitely in the old kingdom where our base values were sacrificed for our carnal need of power and status within a pack system.

The lycans were all lined up, forced to their knees in a line, shoulder to shoulder, with hunters separating each of them. Their heads were not bowed, rather their heads were lifted proudly showing they did not fear death. Sani was next to Frayah whose mix-matched eyes immediately found mine. I looked away, moving to find Innoko who looked forward, her eyes passing through the other hunters and werewolves as if they didn't exist. Roshan was also looking at me, his eyes boring into my soul. I felt as though he could see right through me, know exactly what I was thinking. When he gave me a slight nod, so tiny it was nearly unnoticeable, I knew he did in fact know what I was about to do. I nodded back and took in the sight of the twins, bloody and battered like all the others. Denahi was missing a chunk of his ear and Keni had a large slice across his cheek that was festering with the hunter toxins. Sitka was the same as ever, glaring straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge anyone as if they were unworthy to even be in his line of sight. His eyes were still clouded with the effects of the poison but I knew he'd rather not see as everyone he cared about was slaughtered in front of him. Lastly my eyes landed on Syn, my closest friend of all the lycans. I could see the regret in his eyes. He never told Terrin about being his mate but perhaps it was better that way. Terrin was safe and that was what mattered most to him.

Hakota was forced to his knees before my father, his head forced down by the firm grip my father had on the back of his head. My father's claws were out, ready to rip out every organ in my mate's body like he had long desired to do so. Hakota had many new gashes over his body, green ooze leaking out of the wounds. He would die soon from the overdose of toxins if my father didn't finish him first.

I knew my father was waiting until the sun reached its highest peak before beginning the slaughter of the last of the lycans which meant I had to act now.

I took all of three steps before two hunters had grabbed me. "Get off me!" I snarled at them, digging my claws into their arms.

My father didn't even turn. "Release her," was all he said.

I felt eight pairs of eyes snap over to me as the hunters slowly let go. Rolling my shoulders back and raising my chin high, I addressed my father in a strong and confident voice. "Eric Farland, I challenge you for the position of alpha." The words seemed silly coming from my mouth and didn't sound nearly as dramatic as they had in my head but still a challenge was a challenge and every alpha had to answer or forfeit their title.

My father didn't even seem surprised. He let go of Hakota, placing his hand on top of my mate's head, petting him like a dog. "Stupid girl," Eric hissed, "even when I gave you a chance to live." He shrugged and slashed another set of three deep cuts across the back of my mate's shoulder, causing Hakota to fall forward and grit through the pain.

When my father left his post, Coda came to take his place, standing guard over Hakota.

"I always hoped you'd get more of my brains and less of your mother's fighting spirit and insubordination but you always were your mother's daughter."

I kicked off my shoes as my father lost his jacket. We began to circle each other and the whole thing was very surreal. I felt like it was just another sparring match, not a fight to the death. My heart rate remained calm and steady as my claws came out, ready to inflict pain.

My father made the first move, swiping at my legs. I easily dodged out of the way, returning a swipe of my own. We played with each other testing speed strength and reflexes. Getting a gage of your opponent's fighting style and trying to find any noticeable weakness they had was half the battle. Knowing your enemy was crucial to survival and planning counterattacks. When things finally started to pick up and Eric started to go for my vital points my heartbeat started to quicken.

I deflected and ducked, playing on the defense and making sure to avoid his claws at whatever cost. Fighting while under his toxins would be impossible. My father started to pick up speed, kicking out one of my legs. I didn't resist and fell to one knee to avoid a break and was back on my feet, jumping away from his fatal swipe at my neck.

My father faked an attack to my left and delivered a kick to my stomach instead. I gasped as the air left me, struggling to regain a breath as Eric gained the upper hand. He hooked his claws into my hip, tearing at the flesh there while shooting me full of his toxins. I cried out and lashed out blindly, trying to land a hit on him before my vision went blurry. My father easily moved out of the way of each of my attacks and soon I was blind.

Fighting with all my senses was hard enough but losing one was detrimental. My father easily took my down pinning me under his foot. "Do you hear that?" He asked me. It was dead silent but my ears picked up a pained grunting and panting from my mate. "That's the sound of my toxins eating him alive from the inside out. Take it all in Cleo. This is your fault. A lot of people have died and will die because of you." His foot pressed harder between my shoulder blades. "All because you couldn't do one simple thing."

I blocked out my father, focusing on the breathing of my mate, noting how each second his breaths grew raspier and shallower as he slowly died.

My lycan mate was dying as my hunter father killed me. I was part hunter, part lycan. My past belonged to the hunters but my future belonged to the lycans. I was of both worlds and I would not let one part of me overshadow the other. With a roar I pressed back against my father, flipping over onto my back and sinking my claws into his ankle.

He quickly withdrew his foot but it was too late. The damage had been done and my venom was already beginning to course through his body. Using my other senses like I had been trained, I delivered attack upon attack, landing as many blows as he deflected. His claws continued to scratch and scrape at me but already my body was neutralizing his toxins, my own overpowering his. My vision slowly cleared, allowing me the upper advantage.

I kept half of my focus on Hakota, monitoring him while also trying to defeat my father. When Hakota stopped breathing, nothing but ending my father mattered. With a burst of rage I lunged for my father, my claws sinking into his neck as I throttled him. "You will die for what you did. I am ending this ridiculous feud between hunters and lycans right now."

My father laugh, the sound a mere gurgle as blood drained from his mouth. "This isn't over, hell it has just begun. I've planted the seed and now all you can do is watch it grow."

It was easy to end his life, to snap his neck and tear out his heart just to be sure. He was my father, but I felt nothing for him. He'd never treated me like family, so I wouldn't grieve for him.

I walked over to my mate, getting down on my knees before his curled up form. Coda took a step back allowing me room. I bit into the major artery of my wrist and pulled Hakota's head back, my fingers digging into his hair as I forced my wrist to his lips. I force-fed him my blood not withdrawing as he latched onto me of his own will. His claws dug into my arm but I only bit back the hiss, gritting my teeth as he began to take huge gulps.

When I tried to pull away he only pulled back, sucking faster. I began to get lightheaded and woozy, loosing the battle between us. Coda was the one who forced us apart, standing between my mate and I as Hakota ran an arm across his bloody mouth. His eyes were completely consumed with black but little by little the blue began to fade in.

I grabbed onto Coda for support when I began to stumble as I stood. Hakota got to his feet slowly, his body didn't even sway, quite a feat for having been practically dead but a few moments ago.

"Let the lycans go," I mumbled out, my grip tightening on Coda.

My mentor stiffened, "What?"

"Let the lycans go," I repeated. "No more death. This has gone on long enough and I will not see this stupid feud take more lives. So let the lycans go, Coda." My voice rose with each word and hardened.

The hunter hesitated just for a moment before I shouted, "Now!"

The hunters scrambled to unchain the other lycans, allowing the enemy to their feet.

Everyone stayed where they were, unsure what to do next. The tension could have been cut with a knife and I waited along with everyone else for someone to make the first move.

Roshan was the first to move. He took his mate's hand and together they left the courtyard. The twins followed on their heels and so did the other mated pair. Sitka and Syn remained, looking towards their alpha for orders.

"Leave us." Hakota growled, his eyes trained on me.

Sitka made a step forward, ready to argue but Syn pulled him back, giving him a warning look. Grudgingly Sitka left, looking over his shoulder numerous times.

I flicked my head to the other hunters and werewolves that were now under my command. "Move." They waisted no time in following my orders, heading in the opposite direction of the lycans. Coda was the last to leave, shooting me a concerned look but I didn't bother to return a silent order.

Soon it was just Hakota and I. Two alphas, two mates, two enemies.

"This changes absolutely nothing," Hakota was the first to speak.

The words crushed my heart but I kept my face blank. "I didn't betray you Hakota."

My mate scoffed, "You always called me the liar Cleo, but now we know that it's really the other way around. Don't bother trying to convince me this wasn't some power play you had planned. I was never good enough for you. You always wanted this, the respect, the power." He spat out a mouthful of blood on the sand. "Well now you have it." He reaches out a hand, brushing a strand of hair behind my ear, "but I won't allow you to hold onto it." Suddenly his hand was wrapped around my throat and lifting me off the ground. I grabbed at his fingers and tried to pry them off. "You are weak Cleo. You let emotion get the better of you. You forget who your enemies are, what it is you want, who to trust." He grip tightened and began to squeeze the air from my lungs. "You disgust me Cleo and I can't fathom what I did to get a mate like you."

I slapped at his hands as my eyes started to roll back, the last bit of oxygen leaving me. He'd gone from spilling out his guts and confessing his love for me to telling me how much he loathed me. The love and adoration was gone and now all I could see was the burning hatred. He hated me and he was going to kill me himself.

"That mark on your neck means nothing. As far as I'm concerned it is my biggest regret and my greatest lesson." With that he sealed his mouth over the marked skin, sinking his teeth into my neck and pulled. When he tore off his mark, taking a large chunk of my throat with it, all I felt was my heart shriveling up in my chest. The pain in my neck was nothing to the pain I felt in my chest.

Hakota spat out my flesh and blood, dropping me the moment he had done what he wanted to do.

My mate looked down at me, nothing but disgust and hatred in his eyes. He watched as the blood pooled around me, not even blinking at the gruesome sight of my throat half ripped out.

The light was fading, everything around me growing darker. My breathing grew shallower and I knew I was about to die. And just before everything went dark I saw Hakota turn his back on me and begin to walk away. My last sight was of my mate, covered in blood, some of it mine, leaving me to die without a single regret. My heart couldn't break any more as it was already shattered into a billion pieces but I still loved him with every broken piece.

And that's when it really hit me. I was in love with Hakota and I never got to tell him. He would never believe I had not betrayed him, that I never planned for any of this. I was a traitor in his eyes, a piece of garbage, the backstabbing monster that he believed hunters to be. I'd never get a chance to prove him wrong. I would die knowing he hated me.

I closed my eyes then, accepting all of this as I took in one final breath and then let go. I stopped holding on and drifted away into nothingness.

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