Roses and Fangs

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[FIFTEEN]

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Rosebud wiped her eyes. She had now been crying for four hours straight. As the distance increased between, she and Valdus, her heart too seemed to get sadder and sadder. She wanted to jump out of the car and run back to the Capitol. Valdus had been so insensitive, he didn’t even say goodbye, nor did he come to see her off.

Rosebud was thoroughly upset. It had been over twenty hours since she had left for her diplomatic tour and they were nearing the first division: Blue Mountain Division. The division lay on the edge of the realms in the middle of snowy and daunting Lycan ranges. They held the most ferocious wolves in the kingdom with their ruthless disposition and thick furs and large muscular bodies. Valerio explained that they were almost as big and muscular as Valdus.

Rosebud took a napkin and gently wiped her face and looked down at the file before her. She had already read it numerous time, but as they neared the division, her heart seemed to speed up. The wolves of the Blue Mountain may daunt her, and she didn’t want that. She tried to hold her own and come across as an ambassador for peace and harmony in the realm.

The car stopped in front of a large gate. It was the official entrance for the Blue Moon Pack and the Blue Moon divisions. Names of the divisions were after the packs that headed it. A group of men stood at the gateway. Rosebud turned to Valerio. His eyes were steely and resolute, and lips set in a straight line.

“Beta Valerio, we have arrived, should I get out of the car?” Rosebud picked up her purse, “I don’t want to keep them waiting.”

“You can keep them waiting, my Queen. They have no choice.”

Rosebud furrowed her brows and turned to Ramona.

“I think we should step out,” Ramona said, “we have to be approachable.”

Valerio all but snarled at Ramona.

“Don’t get angsty, Beta Valerio. We must be alert, not anxious.” Rosebud gave Valerio an encouraging smile; she had to keep them together even though her anxiety was building up.

The driver hopped out of the car and opened the door. Rosebud said a quick prayer to the Moon Goddess and stepped out. The snow under her boots crunched, and Valerio quickly came to her side. Her gown was heavy and thick, made especially for the colder months. Ramona wrapped her coat around her body even as her teeth continued to chatter.

“Beta Valerio, you are so warm,” Rosebud walked towards the gate, hand in the crook of Valerio’s arm. He stood tall and stern as they walked towards the bunch of men.

They looked vicious, with thick parkas wrapped around them and boots strapped tightly. The one in the centre seemed especially ferocious. Rosebud instantly knew that he was the head of the division: Alpha Zachariah Amoux. He was tall and bulked up. His blonde hair was tied in a knot. He had those pale blue eyes hardened with years and years of struggle. Rosebud could also see the tattoos sneak upon his neck.

Rosebud’s eyes met with Alpha Zachariah’s with gentle hesitation and affection; her naturally enchanting personality seemed to hit him because the gaze softened immediately.

“It isn’t fair,” Zachariah said, “for the king to send his sweetest emissary to do the dirtiest work.”

Rosebud didn’t say anything, but the tension dropped a little, and she let a smile come across her lips. It was small, and her plush lips were redder than usual, and it broke the remaining tension. Her nose reddened like an apple and the Alpha and his subordinates dropped on their knees.

“We welcome you to the Blue Mountain Division,” Alpha Zachariah said.

“A hundred blessings to all of you,” Rosebud said, “please rise.”

The men rose to their feet, and Rosebud stepped inside the division.

“It is an honour to have you here, my Queen. Although it is a rather clever move on the King’s part,”

“Why do you say that Alpha Zachariah?”

“Look around you, my Queen. This place is not fit for a gentlewoman like you. Even the fires don’t warm up. Why do you think its people will?”

The smile on Rosebud’s lips dropped, but she maintained her composure.

“And you would’ve warmed up to the King?” Rosebud asked.

Alpha Zachariah raised his brow.

“I don’t think so. I want to have good relations with every pack in the realm, Alpha Amoux. I want us to grow,” Rosebud turned to Valerio, he nodded with approval, “the last hundred years have pushed us back. I want to move forward. With you. Each one of you.”

“Very well,” Alpha Zachariah said, “let me start by taking you to our packhouse. That’s where you shall be housed.”

“What about the guest house?” Valerio asked.

“Royal Beta, our division does not have enough funds to pay for electricity and water.” Alpha Zachariah’s eyes were cold. “With the high tax rates and high unemployability rates, the packs have had to cut some costs.”

“That’s alright, Alpha Zachariah. We will stay wherever you want us to.” Rosebud gave a quick smile to calm the situation.

“Believe me, my Queen. I would’ve kept you at a very nice place, but we don’t have the finances. Hopefully, a tour of the pack will make you realise.”

Rosebud sat in her SUV with Valerio beside her. She rolled down the window as the car drove inside the division. The roads lay broken and peppered with potholes. The ride was not at all smooth. The vehicle which Alpha Zachariah used was ahead of them, and it was in a very rickety condition. Rosebud turned to Valerio; he was sombre.

“This is not good, Beta Valerio. This is not good.”

“I agree, my Queen. My memories of this pack are from a century ago. King Brandon made these roads and to think that there hasn’t been any development. I will have to look at the financials of the pack.”

“I will appoint a Warrior. I will ask him to click pictures and make videos and send it directly to the King. Maybe Valdus will rethink the amount he has sent with me. We need big schemes and lots of money.” Rosebud bit her lip in worry. “The treasury is overflowing with money, why did the previous regiment not make any improvements.”

“The previous regiment was self-centred and alienated from the subjects, my Queen.” Valerio looked outside as well. “We have to reverse that, at any cost. We need investment programmes, start new businesses, promote education and so much more.”

“I feel awful about wearing this gown and driving in this luxurious car.”

“Don’t, my Queen. You are not at fault here. You represent the ideal which every member of this realm must reach.”

Rosebud didn’t respond, but the car stopped, and when she looked up, she gasped. A large building stood in front of them, its use to probably be a very nice looking structure but it wasn’t anymore. The windows were broken, and the building could use a renovation. It looked like a house meant for those below the poverty line. And maybe it was. When the Alpha of the pack himself looked so haggard, what would the rest of the pack look like?

Rosebud stepped out of the car and walked towards the entrance of the door. Alpha Zachariah stood with a stoic expression; he opened the door of the Pack House and walked inside. Rosebud followed him. The main hall looked crowded with pack members. Everyone tried to take a look at the new Queen. They gave her glimpses of awe, longing and even hunger; Rosebud, in turn, looked at their simple and everyday clothes. Even the ones who seemed slightly more well-off wore austerely simple clothing.

“Hello,” Rosebud whispered.

One by one, everyone started to drop to their knees. They were collectively bowing to the beacon of hope and progress. There were hunger and desperation in their eyes. Rosebud’s eyes teared up, and she turned to Valerio. He understood what she wanted to say and gave a nod of approval.

“Thank you for this very warm welcome. It is so good to see all of you.” Rosebud started, nobody said anything. She turned to Alpha Zachariah, and he looked slightly pissed.

“These are not the conditions I was hoping to see any of you in, trust me. For a very long period of my life, I was in a blissful and abundant state. I was unaware of the things happening in my realm. However, upon moving to the Palace with our King, I came across the harsh reality. I came across the sufferings that each one of you went through, and I have to be honest: I cannot imagine living like this. And just because all of are, doesn’t mean you continue to.”

Pin drop silence.

“Alpha Zachariah,” Rosebud turned to him, “you said even the fires in your division don’t warm up. And I was told back in Capitol that the wolves of the Blue Mountain Division are just as ferocious and ruthless as the Lycan Ranges in which they reside. Is this true?”

“It is, my Queen. Once upon a time, the wolves of our division would make the best warriors.”

“Well, maybe that time is returning. From this moment forth, I promise that The Blue Mountain Division will be a paragon of prosperity and progress. I promise to make the ferocious Lycan Ranges a beautiful Winter Wonderland. Each one of you will have warm homes.”

A smile stretched across Alpha Zachariah’s lips.

“Not just an emissary, Alpha Zachariah,” Rosebud smiled.

“My Queen,” Alpha Zachariah bowed again.

“And the first project is repairing the Pack House. The heart and pride of every pack.”

Loud claps and hoots filled the room. The vibrations were high, and the energy raised. Everything seemed to be aligned correctly. Little kids ran to Rosebud, and she bent down to hug them all. Rosebud gently closed her eyes and spoke a spell of good blessings and pure energy. A particularly fat baby of about two with eyes like blue crystals seemed to be taken by Rosebud. She picked him and kissed his full cheeks.

“My son, Romulus, my Queen,” Alpha Zachariah said.

“Oh, Alpha, he is the cutest!” Rosebud cried with delight, “his eyes are just like yours, but I think the hair seems to be like his mother? Where may she be?”

The light in Alpha Zachariah’s eyes dimmed, and Rosebud understood.

“My Queen,” Ramona whispered, “due to the roster system of allotting mates, many soulmates were forced to get into relationships with other wolves. Since that union was against the nature of the universe, it was fraught with major problems. Many females die at childbirth, my Queen. Their bodies cannot take the strain of being mated to someone else.”

Rosebud gasped, and she looked at the beautiful Romulus in her arms. She hugged him tightly. His lovely baby scent was heady and soft.

“Don’t spoil him, my Queen.” Alpha Zachariah’s gentle chides didn’t have any effect on her. “The boy is using his charms on you.”

“Let him, Alpha. Romulus is just so adorable,”

Romulus gave a big smile, and his eyes glittered.

Valerio stepped forward with an official file in his hand. He cleared his room and silence descended upon the room.

“Before the tour starts. I have a message from the King himself. He has made a few changes to the existing rules and regulations, and they are effective immediately. Please listen carefully.”

Everyone stared at Beta Valerio with a returned sense of apprehension.

“The King sends his greeting and blessings to all of you.

My dearest subjects,

I am grateful to be the King of this realm, once again. But upon my return, I was deeply saddened by the state of affairs in our realm. Around a hundred years ago, our realm was a force to be reckoned with. Beings would tremble at our mere mention; the power we commanded over everyone was simply awe-inspiring. I want our realm to be that powerful and robust world once again. There are specific changes that I am decreeing, one which every resident of the kingdom must follow:

1. There will be no prohibition on shifting from this moment forth. Anyone can shift at any time. It is in your very nature to be a wolf, to be a beast. To not do so is to deny your true self.

2. The Roster system now stands banned. I thoroughly encourage only soul-mates to be married to another. In the future, grand balls and events will be held to facilitate this process.

3. No tax will be levied for the next year. A significant amount of the tax refund will be credited into the Pack Division Accounts who can further use it for development programmes and investment strategies. The amount is substantial, use it wisely

4. Education is mandated in the state. Every child must be enrolled in school. New syllabus and study material have already been constructed and sent to different schools. To fasten and facilitate the project, I have hired seventy-five teachers from all across the different realms. A good education is a priority. Children buck up; you have a lot to study!

5. Lycans and werewolves are physical creatures. We are connected with land and with the divine. Fighting and hunting are in our blood and to hone these skills, and a warrior course will be started. The syllabus is divided into five levels. Every citizen must at least strive to cross two. And those who complete level five will be inducted into their pack forces and made Deltas. Deltas will further undergo aggressive training to make sure they are equipped with strategizing, security systems and warfare.

6. The religion of the Moon Goddess now stands banned. The teachings of the Goddess will now be revised by the Queen herself and only upon her approval will the prayers be allowed

7. I encourage businesses and entrepreneurship in the realm. Forward your ideas to the Capitol, and we shall help and maybe even invest. Apart from this, a few state-owned agencies will also be opened such as education centres, grocery stores and utility stores amongst others to create a movement in the stagnating economy

I command you to be proactive and hardworking. I command you to be confident in your endeavours. Our realm needs to rise again. We must be those fiery and powerful beings once again! Conquer!

Yours Faithfully,

Alpha King Valdus Maynard Magnar

Valerio folded the scroll and stared at everyone. Shock shone on everyone’s faces. The changes implemented by Valdus were massive. The population had been habituated to live a certain way, albeit oppressive.

“Please don’t be scared,” Valerio voiced Rosebud’s thoughts, “the leaders of this country are here to help you at every step of the way. If you have any problem, please don’t be afraid to voice it. Your King and Queen want to listen to your problem.”

“But if we shift,” a pack member spoke, “will the Moon Goddess not punish us?”

Rosebud stepped forward.

“For the past hundred years, a distorted version of the Moon Goddess’ teachings were taught to all of you. If we stop to shift ourselves, then how will you differentiate yourself from the humans?”

“Mother Evanora said that we must suppress our beasts to be received well in the eyes of the Moon Goddess!” Another Denizen stepped forward.

“We must embrace our beasts, embrace! This is a blessing that has been bestowed upon you! And did Mother Evanora ever suppress her powers to be connected with the Goddess? Did she ever stop being a witch? I am her disciple, her closest disciple. And what she has done to all of you is nothing short of draconian! I implore, please do not suppress your true self!”

The crowd still looked angsty.

“Your Alpha, at my wedding, shifted for the first time in the last hundred years. He last shifted when my husband was the King. I saw each of the Alphas embrace their true selves. I saw them embrace the blessings. Their howls and roars were the true prayers to the Goddess!” Rosebud smiled, “tomorrow morning. Right here. I will read a chapter from the Goddess’ holy book and truly explain you the meaning, and we will then shift, I will assist you. Beta Valerio and our warriors will assist you.”

Rosebud sighed. The faces of the citizens of the Blue Mountain Pack were still unconvinced.

***

“I sensed this place last night.” Carmichael turned to Valdus.

“My father spoke of the secret dungeons and tunnels below this castle.”

Valdus stared at the cemented door. It looked one with the wall of the dungeon, but Valdus could hear faint breaths and whispers.

“I could sense the souls, my King,” Carmichael whispered, “I woke up last night and ran here. We must break this wall down.”

“No need, Carmichael. There is a door.”

Valdus stepped forward and placed it on the door. He brought his hand to the top of the wall and let his claws appear. There was a small hole in the wall.

“I wonder who lies behind the wall.”

Like a key, the wall opened. The cemented wall pushed backwards, and a doorway opened.

“Don’t go inside, my King, I can smell the silver.”

Carmichael stepped forth, letting a floating torch light the way.

“I am stepping inside, Carmichael,” Valdus announced.

Carmichael was stopped midway. His eyes were staring at the wall. Valdus stared at the wall too.

With shackles wrapped around their arms, made of silver, men hung to the walls of the dungeons. Their breaths were difficult and slow, barely alive. Valdus’ eyes widened as he stepped forward to examine one of them.

“Father.”

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