Time had come.
The first blood had been drawn and took the lives of three lycans.
Slaughtered by a familiar face, overwhelmed by jealousy for strength and power, left dead in the streets for their own kin to find.
Innoko had sobbed for hours. She did not leave the street until every stain of her daughter's blood was removed. Yana and her mate Milo were unrecognizable. There was no body left of Milo to burn, his corpse had been torn to pieces, limbs scattered throughout the empty street.
Yana was nothing more than a bloody and raw body, missing most of her skin, her face slashed into bloody ribbons, white bone peaking out from her neck where her throat had viciously been torn out.
Iris had been the first to die. Attacked from behind, her heart torn out from her back. She had died quickly. Then Yana and Milo had fought for their lives and for each other. They had been outnumbered considerably judging by the numerous different footprint left on the cobblestones, painted in lycan blood.
In a narrow alleyway such as this one, they had easily been surrounded, unable to protect their backs as well as their fronts. Watching their mate die before their eyes had probably weighed them down in grief as well as the sight of their dead pack member.
These kids weren't ready for war. They were not equipped to deal with something so brutal.
Only Iris would have the option to be buried in the castle crypt beside lycan ancestors. Yana and Milo had to be burned.
And as we all stood around the fires that claimed their bodies, no one cried.
Every face was solemn, dark expressions covering those of the original eight lycans who hosted more anger than sorrow.
Innoko had finished crying for her daughter long before. Her initial shock the only reason I believed such tears had come in the first place. She was a hardened female and she knew tears would not help Yana and Milo. They would only attempt to soothe herself.
But she didn't want to be soothed. She would not let these deaths go so easily.
None of us would.
The younger kids were angry and their faces could not hide their fury. They wanted revenge for their pack mates. They wanted Jeko's head on a spike for his betrayal.
For them, this was the first time they had experienced such a thing.
They couldn't fully understand that Jeko had never been one of us. They had accepted him into the pack as their brother, he had become a lycan and lived beside them. It didn't matter where he had come from, all that mattered was what he was now.
And he was a traitor. He had killed three lycans for a father that kicked him out and sent him away. He had shunned the open door the lycans had given him into the pack. A chance to start fresh and let go.
He had spurned their gifts and they wanted revenge.
The alphas were blank faced as they watched the fires burn. They understood now that war had been called. They had hoped to avoid it for the fate of their children. The second generation were young and inexperienced and we were few in numbers. Protecting each other would be difficult now.
Cleo had sent Elias away with Coda. The Hunter had left before the funeral. He was playing neutral between the fighting kingdoms but he would take Elias with him to protect the young son of Cleo.
As for Winter, my mate gripping my hand tightly in hers, she was a pale as a ghost. She didn't feel sadness and anger. At least not outwardly, not yet. All she could feel was the guilt. Those three had died because of Jeko, her first mate. They had died because she had ended their bond and with it the only thing keeping the Forest Kingdom at bay.
It was foolish of her to believe it was somehow her fault, that this could have been prevented if she had just stayed with Jeko or never mated him at all.
Eventually the Forest Kingdom would have rebelled anyway. Her mating with Jeko had only delayed it. But regardless of who Jeko was to their King, where he had been raised and who he was loyal to, none of that mattered to those Foresters. He was a lycan now and so his place in the lycan pack mattered not for their gain.
They would have pushed their King to war with us and he would have proclaimed it regardless of his son in the end. As he had told me himself, his son was just a tool, a pawn he was using to get what he wanted.
So this wasn't on Winter's shoulders, it was on all of ours for not killing Jeko before. Even if it would have started the war earlier. The threat of had stilled us, kept us from acting because we were tired of the never ending fighting. We longed for peace, to raise our families without suffering and loss. And so we had fooled ourselves into thinking that with Jeko alive the Forest Kingdom would not act.
We'd known it was a lie but it was a dream we had wished for.
We were awake now, and we were being pushed back into the thing we knew best.
Bloodshed, enemies, grief, anger, and loss.
So we said our goodbyes to our fallen and welcomed the war to come.
Innoko and Syn took over training our younger members. They were cruel, unfair and relentless because the Foresters would play that way. They never allowed Kieran, Nahta and the others to win because the reality was that they were weak and they needed to acknowledge it if they wished to grow stronger.
Terrin, Cleo, and Roshan focused on reconnaissance, Terrin imparting all of his knowledge of his birth place. Detailing customs and the attitude of the Foresters. He knew their weak spots and what they would and wouldn't fight for. He knew what would turn them against each other of make them give up the war. So he planned. He worked for hours trying to discover the most successful plan of attack.
The rest of us worked on strengthening our defenses and finding the werewolves who had killed three of our children and make an example out of them to send back to the Forest Kingdom.
As for Malik, he had yet to divulge anything, to me or anyone else. All I knew was that he was as busy as the rest of us, almost never to be found.
Today was one of the rare days he was present.
He had walked in on Terrin, Hakota, Cleo, and I discussing for the thousandth time what our first move should be. He was waiting patiently by the door, leaning against her wall with his arms crossed as he listened to us argue.
"The rebels won't want our help," Terrin insisted, "using them is a dead end. We shouldn't even be considering them."
They had finally gotten the information of the Foresters opposing the Forest King long after Malik had.
"Then let's attack the rebels," Cleo easily switched tactics. "When the King doesn't help them, more will grow resentful he's letting Foresters die."
"Or they will ally to fight against us, the common enemy," Hakota rebutted, knowing all too well the risks.
"No matter what we do poses risks," I stated the truth flatly. "Gun for the King. He died and we back off, the rebels take control and fight amongst themselves for order."
"He will be expecting that," Cleo said, unconvinced.
It was at this that Malik finally intervened. "Yes, He was suspecting such an attack from us," he interrupted, pushing off the wall and walked over to us. "Which is why I imagine his assassinator took him by surprise," he said to himself, seemingly amused and somewhat impressed.
"What?" Terrin growled out, catching what we all had.
Malik slid his hands into his pockets and cocked his head, his white eyes holding his father's. "The Forest King is dead," he said bluntly, confirming we had heard him right before. "Jeko killed him and took his place."