The Mating Games

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Chapter 1

We were dying.

Barren land and women attested to that. Our crops had been worn out, our trade had almost come to a complete stop, and our members were desperate to transfer. Bodies were piling up due to the fact we did not have the time to bury all of them and their families refused to see them burned. Rogues preyed on us every chance they could and even when they didn’t, their presence was always here.

Black Moon pack, what used to be considered one of the best packs in the world, was watching their numbers and their pride get destroyed. We had been so far up that this sudden downfall was dizzying. We used to worry about where we would put all of our excess and now we worried about where we were going to get it. The lack of supplies affected even the strongest.

My father was getting weaker, too, and would eventually no longer be able to lead the pack into battles. I knew my time was coming. I could no longer be content with sitting on the sidelines, providing words of comfort to those who needed it but never truly reassuring. I could no longer be in the background waiting until it was convenient to appear. It was time to be in the spotlight and prove myself by showing what I had learned.

Their faith relied on my reassurances, their fate on my actions. Father was gone so often that as his only child it was my responsibility to take over his role. But my becoming alpha would not be enough to save our pack.

Because we were dying. And it would take a miracle to defeat our enemies.

The rogue attacks had began as simple scuffles across border territories, but those were only distractions. They learned our fighting methods, patrol schedule, and storage locations. And by the time we had noticed-and figured out a solution- a quarter of our warriors had died.

We were the second largest pack in the world before the attacks started. Now we were the fourth, a small amount separating us from dropping down to fifth. It was pathetic. We used to pride ourselves on our warriors but no more warriors were being born. The female population was underwhelming, and we could not force them to train and there were few volunteers.

So trainings became harsh and constant, and I was the one who led them. I critiqued every movement of every member, fought every male I could, and even travelled to other packs for as long as possible to learn their methods. I became our most important weapon.

I trained hard enough to put packs of males to shame, hard enough to defend this pack on my own if I needed to. But my time on the battlefield was scarce. It was harrowing enough to have one leader on the field, impossible to let another.

But I couldn’t secure our safety simply by becoming alpha. I couldn’t secure our safety if I managed to single handedly defeat the rogues because there would always be more attacks.

I could secure it, however, by having a heir, someone the power could go to if something were to happen to me. I could secure it by mating with an alpha and merging our packs. And I would do it if that was what was deemed necessary for the success of my pack.

So, here I was sitting in my father’s office discussing my application to the annual Mating Games.

“No.”

My father’s rejection to my proposal didn’t come as a shock to me. I was his little girl, and he didn’t want me to grow up. But I had grown up more than he was willing to admit. His absence forced me to mature, to really put the pack before myself. I could no longer consider my personal preferences when I made decisions. I had to look from the perspective of mothers, fathers, mates, and even enemies.

It was mentally exhausting but so rewarding to see the trust and compassion I received in return. I loved my pack and in turn they loved me.

“You know there is no other way.” It was awful to admit and it felt even worse. It felt like betrayal, like I was telling everyone everything that had been done to prevent this didn’t work, didn’t matter. “It isn’t optimal but you told me that sometimes sacrifices have to be made.”

“This is not what I meant.” His voice was firm and unrelenting, but I could tell it would be easy to persuade him. After all, the pack came first. Even before his daughter’s happiness. “If you go there is no guarantee you will be able to come back.”

“I have the right to ask my mate to leave his pack. And if he chooses not to then perhaps he does not deserve me.” It was uncommon to ask the male to abandon his pack to live in the females but it was not unheard of. Granted, it was rare that the male agreed to it, but they probably were not asked by an alpha who had thousands of people depending on her.

“You are an alpha so who is to say your mate will not be an alpha, as well? A beta? A warrior who is binded to his word?” He brought up logical points, points that I was not even going to try to argue with him over. I could only be hopeful.

“If my mate is an alpha then I will humbly ask him to combine our packs. If he disagrees, I will take a new mate.” Pack before myself. “If he is a beta then I will ask the Alpha permission to take him back with me. If he refuses, I will take a new mate. If he is a warrior, I will ask his pack if it is okay for him to break his word to lead beside me. If they refuse, I will take a new mate.” There was always going to be another option, sometimes less than desirable but another choice nonetheless.

Taking a new mate had become more common over the past twenty years, convenience becoming absolutely necessary. The older generations always watched on with disappointment. “What a shame,” they would say. “They will never know what it feels like.”

I had only heard stories about true mates, obviously having not experiencing it myself. But from what I could discern, the bond was one of the most magical things you could experience in your lifetime. The true bond, that is. But true bonds were becoming rarer and rarer because of the dwindling participants in the mating games and the overall disinterest. There were plenty fish in the sea, so why waste time on one shrimp when you could be feasting on salmon? Her best friend of seven years had told her. Less than three months later, she had met her mate while he was on a business trip. She about took my head of when I had brought up her previous comment.

“If he is not an alpha, a beta, a warrior, what good will he bring the pack? What good will leaving for weeks have if there is not an appropriate match made?” He thought he had me, I could see it in his eyes. He thought that whatever rebuttal I had could not possibly persuade him. But I had one card that I had yet to play.

The guilt card.

“A son. You would get a son. The pack would get a son.” My words hit home- for both of us. It was no secret males were preferred when handing over an alpha position. And despite proving myself a countless number of times, I knew my father would still prefer a boy in my place. The pack would still prefer a male.

The packs betrayal hurt more than anything else. At least with my father I could use the excuse that I was his only daughter, of course he wouldn’t want to put me in harms way. But with the pack, the people I swore to put before myself, the people I risked my life constantly for, they wanted a male because they didn’t feel one hundred percent safe with a female.

My father regarded me with sad eyes and what he deemed to be an even sadder solution. “Do you really want to go?” No, I wanted to say. But I really don’t think I have another option.

“Yes.” My word was final, something that had only recently become a thing. My entire life I had listened to my father but the last couple of months, my father had been listening to me.

“Are you sure? The Games are brutal, and if you do not find your mate then males will fight for you. And if you do not accept them then you will have to defeat them yourself. Are you prepared for that?” There was a hint of fear in his voice but I could not focus on it. I could only focus on the trust he had placed in me to carry out my word, to come home with a male by my side.

“I can defeat you now, can’t I? And you’re one of the strongest wolves today.” My words were meant to reassure him but instead they were reassuring me. You can do this, you can do this.

“My dear Sophia,” he started, a grim tone appearing. “Believe me when I say that there are far more formidable opponents and for your sake, I hope you never encounter them.”

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