The werewolves acting as guards did not recognize me for obvious reasons and wouldn't let me through, sensing how powerful and potentially dangerous I was.
"For the last time," I said now getting annoyed, "I am a lycan and I am Hakota's beta. Let me through."
The werewolves shifted nervously, muttering amongst themselves before one took off.
I sighed, "This all could've been avoided," I told them before attacking. The five of them didn't stand a chance against me but luckily for them I wasn't trying to kill anyone today. I ripped the spear from the one, jabbing the blunt end into the gut and the one behind me before sweeping the third's legs out from under him and then punching the fourth in the face with enough force to knock him out.
I rose a brow at the fifth werewolf who looked at his fallen comrades and then me who had disabled them in a span of seconds. "Do you believe me now? Who else but a lycan could—"
"Hunter! Rogue assassin Hunter!" He screamed at the top of his lungs to alert the entire guard.
It took me a second to fully process what ridiculous conclusion he come to, but by then the werewolf who'd left earlier was returning with reinforcements.
"For the love of the moon," I muttered, getting back into a fighting stance as fifteen werewolves rushed me. Some of them had spears which were a pain in the ass to deal with when I had to be careful not to actually hurt them. I got really annoyed though when one of the spears grazed my arm, cutting me. "Now you're just pissing me off," I growled and seized the one by the throat, lifting him off the ground before throwing him into three others.
"Stop!" An authoritative voice called out.
I turned to see a male and female coming towards me. I didn't recognize them but I could sense that they were lycans.
"Who are you?" The male growled, looking at the damage I had done and stepping slightly in front of the female.
My initial thought was they were mates but seeing only the male had the mating scars I withdrew my conclusion.
"My name is—"
"He's a Hunter!" One of the werewolves interrupted me.
"He's an assassin!" Another piped up.
The lycans' eyes glowed in anger, assuming I was a threat.
"You shut up," I snarled, tossing the spear in my hand to the ground and giving the werewolves a glare so icy they both gulped and trembled. Then turning to the lycans I said, "my name is Sitka, I'm the beta of the lycan pack."
The lycans looked at each other before the female stepped forward, "prove it."
I groaned in frustration, "Fine, here's your proof I'm not a Hunter." I grabbed a werewolf who squeaked like a mouse as I brought my claws over to his throat and made a shallow cut on the side of his neck before throwing him to the lycans. "Look, no venom."
"Could be a Spider," the male mumbled, looking from the wind to me with a skeptical look.
"A Spider?" I hissed. "We wipes them out during the Lunar War. There are no Spiders and even if there were, they die in a matter of days!"
"You could have been newly made."
"Oh for the love of Lune!" I barked, "Just go get me one of your alphas, either will do. Hell, I'll even take that annoying mate of Syn's, or better yet Syn himself!"
Instead of just doing as I requested, the lycans both went on the defensive. "Do you think we're stupid?" The female snarled, "like we would give up our alphas on a silver platter to you."
I clinched my teeth and balled my hands into fists, "Goddamnit Lune, you're really enjoying screwing with me right now." Raising my voice I addressed the lycans again, "Look kids, I'd really not like to see my pack members for the first time in twenty years and have to explain to them why I knocked their kid unconscious."
"Your arrogance is unsightly," the female hissed and I immediately knew she was Innoko's daughter because there was only one female I knew who could pass down such a hateful tone to her offspring. "Two lycans are very different than a few dozen werewolves."
"Yeah, I know," I responded dryly, "and it's not arrogance when I know that taking the pair of you down won't be a problem."
"You—!" The female ran at me despite the warning of the male.
I easily grabbed her fist and held her where she was, "Which daughter are you anyway?" I asked her, "I hope your sister inherited Roshan's temper as you seem to have gotten your mother's bitchy attitude. I'm sure you were the moodiest teenager in existence." The female shrieked outrage and I smirked, "Maybe you're Cleo's daughter, but I doubt Hakota would have let this attitude pass."
"Let me go!" She screeched, flailing her other fist in an attempt to free herself.
"Really, you can't get free?" I mocked her, "And here I believed you were an almighty lycan."
"Nahta, Milo, what is going on here? The guards said that an assassin entered the castle. Have you..." the male's words trailed off as he saw me. "Sitka?" Breathed the lycan that was the mirror image of his alpha father.
I immediately let go of the female as the young male that I had last seen when he was but eight years old ran to me and embraced me. "Sitka you're back!" He clung onto me, not ashamed to hug me like a child would. "My dad will be ecstatic!" He beamed up at me as he pulled away
"Kieran you've grown so much," I said, my voice catching in my throat. I was so grateful to see his bright smile. "A shame your hair never did lighten up though," I teased him, ruffling the brunette locks he'd inherited from his mother.
"Don't say that in front of Mom," he warned me, "she's still bitter that the other two got Dad's hair and eyes."
"I guess that the stronger genes won out in the end anyway," I taunted him with a grin.
Kieran punched my shoulder, "Are you calling my Mom and I weak?"
"Are you going to prove it to me otherwise pup?" I asked the son of my alphas. Kieran really did remind me of his father when we were younger. And I was so glad that he knew how to smile, that he could smile. I was grateful the next generation wouldn't have to grow up like we did, that they had each other from the start.
My eyes slid over to the sulking female who blew a strand of her blood red hair from her face as she scowled. Despite our first encounter, I still couldn't help but feel my heart warm towards my pack member's child.
So to show my affection, I picked on her. Tuning my attention back to Kieran but making my words loud enough for her to hear I added, "Perhaps you could actually land a hit unlike Innoko's daughter."
The female whipped her head up to glower at me. "You—!" She seethed before whirling to Kieran and whining, "Is it true? Is he really our beta?"
"Well I'm certainly not a rogue hunter come to assassinate Hakota and Cleo," I answered flatly.
Nahta flushed in embarrassment, "Fine, ill admit that may have been a bit far-fetched," she conceded.
"Well," Kieran clapped his hands together and them rubbed them together vigorously, "let's not just all stand here, your return has been long-awaited Sitka, and there are people you have to meet." The young male lead me with the other two lycans trailing behind us into the castle and then into the grand dining room I had not stepped foot in for twenty years. "Sit and wait if you will, it's almost time for my mother's weekly pack dinners."
"I know," I said softly. I had picked this date and time to arrive in hopes that the alpha female kept up with the tradition. I understood it would be the easiest way for me to see them again all at once and just get the reuniting out of the way.
"Right, well," Kieran said, taking a seat in the chair closest to me, disregarding the tag on the plate that clearly reserved the spot for a 'Mathias' and then gestured for me to sit in the chair that was claimed for Cahatta. "As we wait, tell me about your travels."
I would have winced if it weren't for his excited tone. He seemed to be unaware of the true purpose of my absence but Kieran looked so happy and eager, I couldn't let my own depressed state dampen his, so I tried to think of something that he would find interesting. "I fought a bear," I said to which he leaned forward in anticipation of the story.
"And...?" He asked when I failed to elaborate.
"And I won," I finished.
It took several seconds of silence before the male realized that was the entire story. He flopped back in his chair and let out a low whistle, "Wow, your story telling skills are horrible. Mom and dad aren't going to let you get away with, 'I fought a bear and won' as your twenty year summary."
I rubbed at the back of my neck, "Yeah, I figured," I admitted.
"So? Come on, Sitka, give me something," he pleaded.
"Oh lay off Kieran," Nahta scolded him, plopping down into her own spot. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe he doesn't want to have to repeat everything a thousand times? Lune," she rolled her eyes, "just be patient and wait for everyone else."
Kieran made a face at her before turning to me and muttering for her to hear, "If you can't tell already, bossy Nahta thinks she's the alpha female around here."
Nahta scoffed, but glanced at me in time to catch my grateful smile. Embarrassed, that I understood her effort to help me she mumbled, "damn why is everyone always late?"
"Avoiding you," Kieran taunted.
The female tossed her red hair over shoulder, "Sometimes I think Elias is older than you, Kieran. Honestly, you are still such a child."
Rather than feeling uncomfortable in the midst of their arguing, or exasperated like Milo who was looking at them with a bored expression like these arguments were an every day thing between the pair, I found it heart warming.
The doors swung open, and my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach, I slowly turned around to see a young couple enter hand in hand. Matching mating scars were on their necks. I knew the familiar brown eyes of the female, and stood from her spot.
She halted, looking confused for a moment at my presence before she recalled who I was. "Oh my Lune," she breathed, dropping her mate's hand.
"Hello Cahatta," I greeted softly, opening my arms. The female fell into them, hugging me tightly. A low growl came from the male behind her. She pulled away from me at the sound, "Sitka, this is my mate, Mathias," she gestured to the chocolate brown haired male, "Mathias this is our beta, Sitka."
Immediately he stopped growling, realizing I was no threat to his mate and his jealousy subsided. He clasped my offered hand in a firm shake. "Sorry about that," he said.
"Don't worry about it," I replied, "it's a natural reaction."
Not that I would know, never having a mate to get jealous over myself.
"Does Hakota know you've come back?" Cahatta asked. Her voice was so like her mother's. Gentle and soothing like a summer breeze.
"No," I answered shaking my head, "just the people in this room."
The female took her seat with her mate beside her, "It will be so nice to finally have the last chair filled. Our dinners have always felt a little empty with your place set but no one there to use it."
"You guys kept my spot?" I asked, something tugging in my chest.
"Of course," Kieran spoke up, "Mom always sets your plate out. Just because you weren't here didn't mean you weren't a member of our pack any longer. These dinners are a way for us all to come together and that includes you, Sitka."
The moment of collective silence was disturbed as the doors once again banged open, "Damn I'm starving! What's on the menu tonight Sis?" Sasha asked his twin as he stretched his arms above his head, striding over to his seat at the opposite end of the table and throwing himself into the chair beside Milo who was still waiting for his mate to arrive.
The female sighed, "For the hundredth time, Sasha, I'm not the one in charge of these things."
Her brother finally looked up and saw me beside her, "Oh shit," he whispered, his eyes going wide. "You're still alive?"
"What kind of dumb ass question is that?" Kieran demanded to which Nahta answered, "The question only a dumbass would ask."
"Sitka, shit," the male said again in awe, "does Hakota know?"
"Don't you think if Hakota knew he'd be here?" Nahta drawled.
The male shrugged, "Yeah, I guess that makes more sense, but holy sh—"
"Sasha!" Frayah's voice scolded from outside the door that was abruptly swung open once again, only for a little boy to scurry through in tears. The little squirt ran over to the accused male and clung onto him.
"You left me alone!" He wailed, fat tears rolling down his face.
Sasha hugged the crying boy in confusion, "Huh? What? I didn't leave you alone."
"You never found me," the sandy blonde haired boy sobbed.
"Oh shit, Elias, I'm so sorry! I forgot we were playing hide and seek."
"You idiot," Milo punched the male next to him.
Frayah stood by the door that automatically swung closed once opened with a disappointed parental scowl directed at her son who was on the other side of the room. "I dread to see the day you have kids of your own," she scolded him as her mate stepped up beside her.
"Yeah," Sasha looked down at the youngest son of his alphas in guilt. "Um...hey, look who's back!" He pointed at me, directing all of the attention away from him and over to me.
Frayah and Sani followed his finger over to me before their mouths dropped open, gaping in shock. Neither of them had a chance to say a word before three more Lycans walked in, Innoko, Roshan and their first daughter Yana.
Suddenly with five more pairs of eyes on me, I felt constricted. Maybe dealing with them one at a time would have been better than all at once like this. "Listen, I know what you're all going to say," I started because I knew they were probably angry that I had left them all without a word. Only Hakota had known of my departure and the reason for it. Judging by the fact that Kieran didn't seem to know that I had left to find my mate, it seemed Hakota had kept his promise and not told anyone why I left. I hadn't wanted to say goodbyes because I hand planned to come back and I felt that a farewell might dissuade me from leaving. Hence I had stolen off like a thief in the night without a trace. "And I'm not going to apologize for leaving because it was something that I had to do."
"Sitka," Frayah started with a sad smile, "we all knew that you were unhappy. We are not going to begrudge you for taking care of yourself. You've taken care of us for so long, it would be selfish to ask you to ignore yourself in our favor once again." The other lycans nodded in agreement, one by one embracing me in a hug, welcoming me back.
While they all gave me a look of sadness and joyfulness, I noticed that Roshan looked particularly troubled. His otherworldly eyes looked through me as if he was seeing my future and when they returned to normal, grief was written across his face. I almost demanded him to tell me what he had just seen but he only whispered, "It's good to have you back, Sitka. And we'll brace whatever storm comes together. You have this pack to help you."
Needless to say, his foreboding words put me on edge and I remained standing, swallowing thickly as they all took their seats, Yana falling in between her sister and mate, and Innoko and Roshan across from them, Frayah and her mate pulling out the chairs closest to the doors on the right side.
Everyone looked at me like I was Lune herself among them, making me feel increasingly uncomfortable until Denahi, Keni, their mate, Flicka, and their two daughters, Iris and Galay arrived to break the silence. Well, the twins didn't talk verbally of course but their daughters greeted me as well as their mate, the reconciliation brief but sweet. The family sat together all side by side between Frayah and Nahta, filling up all of the chairs on the right side of the table.
I didn't move to wait at my spot on Hakota's right, feeling undeserving of the place beside my alpha whom I had abandoned, so I waited with Kieran by my side at the foot of the table by Chatta and Mathias. Much to my relief, Nahta tried to start conversation to make me feel less awkward even though the talking around me was obviously forced. It didn't make me feel any better when they all kept glancing my way.
"Forget it Syn, I'm not going to waste anymore time searching for him when he obviously doesn't want to be found. And just so you know, you can be the one who yells at him later because I'm sick and tired about always having to be the mean Dad," Terrin nagged at his mate as he pushed through the doors with the tall male at his heels. Terrin looked at the empty head of the table and sighed in relief, "Thank the Moon we aren't the last ones again. Cleo promised to kick my ass if we were late again, even thought it's always your fault we're late," he grumbled. Syn only smiled down loving at his mate, somehow finding Terrin's complaining to be adorable. "What's everyone so quiet for?" The male then asked, seeming to realize his mouth was the only one moving.
"Sitka," Syn gasped.
"Sitka?" Terrin repeated as his mate grabbed his shoulders and rotated him to face me. "Holy shit! Sitka!" He pretty much replicated Sasha's earlier reaction. "Oh damn, this is going to be an interesting dinner and for once it's not our son who'll be the center of attention."
"Sitka," Syn said, gently pushing his mate aside to wrap an arm around me, "How have you been?" He asked softly.
I hugged him back, "It's been hard," I admitted, "and I don't think it's going to get any easier."
"It will, Sitka," he promised me, "I didn't think it would either but it did."
I looked over his shoulder to his mate. It had looked hopeless for Syn for a time but then he got his mate, and now they had a son who was apparently a handful and not willing to make an appearance tonight. For me though, it didn't look like I would ever get a mate, so I doubted blue skies were ahead in my near future.
Syn patted my shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze of reassurance before grabbing his mate's hand and leading them to the table, pulling out the chair for Terrin before seating himself.
I could sense my alpha's approach before she enter through the opposite set of doors that came from the kitchen and not the main hallway. "Sorry for the delay," Cleo said as she pushed a cart full of trays into the room with three other werewolves doing the same behind her. Her eyes immediately zoned in on her empty mate's spot in disapproval, "I'm going to kill him when he gets here," she grumbled, starting by plating her youngest son, Elias, and working down from the head of the table. "Honestly, as alpha he should be the first one here always," she continued as she set a plate before Sasha who licked his lips hungrily. I'd never seen a lycan so eager to eat a salad before. "I even lied and told him I moved dinner up and hour so he'd finally get here on time but he still managed to be late." She skipped over my spot and her mate's before clicking her tongue. "And Kieran is late too? As if looking like his father wasn't enough now he has to copy his tardiness too?"
"Hey!" Kieran protested, leaving me standing awkwardly as he walked down the line of chairs to his mother, grabbing the plate from her hand and setting it at his place. "I was one of the first ones here!"
Cleo pinched his cheek, "What are you doing standing all the way down there for then?"
Kieran glanced at me then, "Mom," he started, grabbing the next salad plate, "we have a very long awaited member here with us today."
Cleo looked down at the plate in her son's hands. "You don't mean..."
Kieran smiled warmly at his mother and set the salad plate down in my spot, "This plate isn't going to be empty anymore."
I took that as my cue to stop hiding behind Mathias and stepped forward. Cleo gasped and put a hand over her mouth, tears filling her eyes. She stepped forward, "My beta," she gasped.
I felt tears of my own pressing against the back of my eyes. Despite our rough start, Cleo and I had grown very close after the Lycan Wars. When she became the sole alpha of our pack and trusted me to help her run the pack in Hakota's absence I had grown a lot of respect for the woman. In the following years after, the pull between beta and alpha strengthened. Although not as strong as it was between Hakota and I, it was significantly greater than what I felt for some of my other pack mates.
Looking at us now, no one would have been able to believe that we had loathed each other for so long and I had wished for her death.
Placing her hands on either side of my face she kissed my cheeks. "Did you find them?" She asked as she pulled away to look me in the eyes.
A tear finally fell as I shook my head, feeling my heart cracking.
The female pulled me back into a hug and whispered into my ear, "Never is a long time but forever is longer," she recited my chant. "I'll repeat it for you as long as you need until you can start to do it yourself again."
"Thank you," I croaked, pulling away from her.
The alpha female placed a hand on my back, gently guiding me into my chair and then kissing my cheek again before she finished plating the first course, the other werewolves assisting her.
"No Malik today?" She asked as she at last took her place.
Terrin stabbed a carrot angrily with his fork, obviously annoyed with his son. Syn gazed down at his mate who was murdering the poor orange vegetable he was probably picturing as his son. "Don't look at me," Terrin told his mate, when Syn didn't answer Cleo's question. "He's your son. You're the nice Dad, you explain why he won't be attending tonight."
Sighing, Syn set down his fork and looked towards the alpha female who had a brow risen in interest. "I caught Malik intercepting Forest Kingdom reports. I found he'd been doing it for weeks and he'd even sent back false orders to our border watchers under Hakota's name."
Terrin slammed his fork down, "I told him Syn! I told him that Forest Kingdom matters are not his to play around with to entertain himself. I sat him down and told him he was crossing the line. He's fourteen years old, why is he like this at fourteen?" He put his head in his hands, "I don't understand."
Syn put a comforting hand on his mate's back and rubbed it in soothing circles, "I don't know Terrin, but I'll talk to him when he comes back."
I looked at the other faces around the table, shocked myself but this news but no one else seemed surprised that a mere fourteen year old boy was meddling in something so dangerous. Even more curious, is that they didn't seem particularly concerned. Kieran just puffed out his cheeks, his eyes bulging as he absently stabbed at the lettuce leaves. In fact, everyone seemed to be very interested in the meal before them.
"Is this normal?" I asked him in a lowered tone.
He nodded, blowing out a breath and tightly responding, "Yeah. That is very...Malik. Let's just say he is peculiar in a way best described as–"
"Before you scold me again about being the last one to arrive when I'm the alpha," Hakota suddenly burst through the kitchen doors looking disoriented and frazzled, "let me just explain that I was taking care of Malik's false orders and getting everything sorted out." The distracted alpha set a hand on my shoulder without thinking as he explained himself to his mate, "Also Winter and Jeko are..." Hakota then looked down at his hand rested on my shoulder, frowning for a moment as if knowing there was something off about the sight, "...going to be late"
He squeezed my shoulder as if checking to see if it was real, before twisting his head to meet my eyes. "Someone please tell me this stress hasn't driven me into The Wild and I'm seeing false apparitions again."
"I'm real, Hakota," I told him, getting to my feet, "I'm really here." Squeezing my eyes shut I pulled him into my arms, holding my closest friend and alpha close. "I'm sorry it took me so long, old friend."
"Don't," he breathed, "don't apologize to me."
"I didn't find my mate," I wept, "I didn't find them Hakota and I'm breaking apart without anything to hold me together."
"We will hold you together," he said, a hand on the back of my head, keeping my face pressed into his shoulder to hide my tears from the others. "We are here for you Sitka. I am here for you, do you understand? I will keep you together until your mate comes and takes you from me."
"I almost came back," I admitted, "So many times I almost just did it, Hakota. I should have done it, maybe if I came back earlier I could have salvaged some hope."
"They'll come Sitka," he consoled me, "your mate will come." Distantly I could hear the doors open once more to emit who I could only guess were the last two members of the lycan pack. "Don't give up yet. You didn't give up on me, so don't you dare give up on yourself."
I felt a presence behind us, and composed myself to face them, turning away from my alpha, blinking away my tears.
"Dad who is this?" The female with the exact same shade of Hakota's hair questioned her father. But then her eyes fluttered from her father to mine and I felt a piercing pain stab through my heart. I nearly choked on my next breath as I understood then what was standing before me.
My mate was right in front of me, I had finally found her but I had already lost her.
Because the male standing next to her had mating scars on his neck that matched the ones on my mate's perfectly.