A quiet knock at my door woke me up. I was instantly met with the sleeping face of my mate which caused a smile to spread across my face. Until I realized no one could find out about this yet. There was another knock followed by Cleo's soft voice, "Sitka? Can I come in?"
I was on my feet, tossing the sheets over my now awake and panicking mate. I quickly pulled on clothing and released a surplus of beta pheromones so strong they would hide any scent of Winter. I ripped open the door, quickly stepping out of my room and closing the door behind me.
Cleo coughed, my pheromones overwhelming her from the flood that exited my room in just the few seconds it had taken for me to open and close my door. "By the moon Sitka, your room is suffocating with your scent."
"Sorry," I apologized and stopped releasing waves of beta pheromones from my body, "bad habit." I had to always scent mark and claim whatever place I was sleeping in to deter possible vengeful werewolves from disturbing my sleep.
Cleo accepted my excuse with a tight smile of understanding. "Well I just wanted to invite you to have breakfast with Hakota, Elias and I."
"Oh um..." I looked at my door on instinct. I almost blurted out that I had to attend to my mate first before catching myself. My eyes snapped back to my alpha, my heart thundering in my chest in fear she would catch my blunder.
"You don't have to feel pressured, you can rest more if you'd like. You look like you didn't get much sleep last night." Cleo reached out a hand and tried to smooth the bags under my eyes away. "I can make you tea to help you sleep if it's still a problem for you." Luckily my alpha misunderstood the reason behind my lack of sleep.
"Yeah," I croaked out, "that would be great."
Cleo nodded, her lips pressed into a flat line as she brushed my hair back with her fingers, "We're glad you're back," she said to me softly, gently taking hold of my face in her hands and bending me down so that she could place a kiss on my forehead. "Come if you want," she told me, pulling back, "you are always more than welcome."
"Thank you," I replied with all of sincerity I felt. "Really Cleo, thank you."
The female only gave my hand a squeeze before leaving. I sagged against my door, blowing out a long breath of relief. When my pulse was back to a normal tempo I re-entered my room. Winter was sitting up in my bed, her long hair covering her naked breasts. "We're lucky that was my mom and not Kieran. He wouldn't have knocked."
I rubbed the back of my neck sheepishly. "Right. I'll remember to start locking the door."
"And I'll pick up some perfumes today," Winter added.
Perfume was a word used to describe a variety of scent concealers. They were a relatively new thing, designed in the Lunar Kingdom to cover a scent with a different smell. The purpose had originally been a variety of sweet smells a female could use to give herself a whole new scent, the perfume strong enough to cover an original scent. It did cause a problem for females trying to find a mate so it was only really used by mated females. After, the perfume had been redesigned as a spray to also cover a thick scent in a room as well as on a person. Really the perfumes just made it easier for people to cheat on each other and hide their affairs.
Because unlike with lycans, werewolves were paired by Fate and mated to their best genetic matches. Werewolves didn't always pair with a mate like for those whom were gay. For them it was impossible to get a same sex mate because it wasn't optimal for reproduction. Others simply fell in love before meeting their mate. However, werewolves also fell out of love so affairs weren't abnormal for them, hence the usefulness for the perfumes.
"I'm going to shower," Winter told me.
"But we have to talk about Jeko," I reminded her.
Tossing the sheets aside Winter padded over to the connecting bathroom. "You go to breakfast, I have some things to take care of. We have plenty of time to talk later."
"Yeah," I flopped onto the bed, "alright." I was desperate to get Jeko out of the way as soon as possible but rushing through things would create mistakes and we simply couldn't afford mistakes when regarding the Forest Kingdom.
When Winter was finished she quietly left, giving me a kiss before sneaking out.
Cleaning the room thoroughly of all traces of her, I took care of the sheets myself and aired out the room, showering to erase the final scent of her. By the time I finally made it to breakfast, my alphas had finished and apparently had given up waiting for me. Hungry, I sat down at the empty table that hosted several different trays of fruit, cheese, bread, raw vegetables, meat and pastries.
I plunked down into a chair and picked up a pear. Taking a few bites, the door opened to admit another late comer. It was a teenaged boy with dark brown and coppery streaked hair. He strolled into the dining hall and pulled out the chair next to me, dropping into it like a dead weight before picking up a bagel.
I'd never seen the boy before but knowing there was only one teenaged boy in the pack, I knew it had to be Malik. The son of Terrin and Syn was not normal and that was going beyond my deduction from the stories I had heard of him. For one, I couldn't define his race. He felt like a hunter more than a werewolf but the werewolf overshadowed the little bit of lycan I sensed. More than even that, he was pinning me with his creepy white eyes, a dark gray ring around the edges of his irises.
He munched on his bagel, blatantly staring at me. The young boy had my instincts pricked in alarm, telling me he was dangerous and was to be treated with caution.
The boy did not look away from me once as he leisurely ate his bagel. Dusting his hands free of the crumbs once he finished, he stood and left, not even offering me a word of explanation for his odd behavior. I looked down at the half eaten pear in my hand, the uneasiness roiling in my stomach. I couldn't help but wonder what the hell Syn and Terrin had been thinking when they adopted the strange boy. He was something different and new, and the unknown was dangerous.
I was suddenly very alarmed when I recalled that he enjoyed meddling in pack affairs. He was from the Forest Kingdom after all. What if he held loyalty to them over his adoptive parents and the pack that took him in? How could Hakota be so calm about Malik playing around with the Forest Kingdom like it was just some game? I knew my alpha had to feel the same things I did when in front of the boy.
My anxiety only increased when later in the day I caught him looking at me again but perhaps caught wasn't really the correct word because he wasn't even trying to hide the fact was staring at me. Those off-putting white eyes simply followed me, watching me.
Throughout the day our encounters continued, no more than a few minutes long each, but growing increasingly creepier for me. He wasn't even following me was what I found to be the strangest thing about our interactions. He was always already at whatever place I moved to, if anything I looked like the stalker.
Even in the company of other lycans, he was not deterred from his soul-stripping examination.
When Winter wanted to talk about Jeko, finally finding an excuse to need to talk to me without it looking suspicious, I had to put it off, something telling me that Malik would be watching and listening.
Worse, every time I thought to confront him he would always walk away before I could open my mouth to confront him or take a step towards him. When I could take it no longer and waited for our next encounter to demand an explanation, he was nowhere to be found. Like he knew I wouldn't let him get away the next time, he disappeared.
Needing answers, I sought out Terrin and Syn but the pair had left the castle and would be gone for the next several days to take care of border matters. Most of the pack was busy doing their jobs, Cahtta, Milo and Iris worked with the castle guard. They trained in different scenarios and ran through simulations and they practiced fighting skills and tactical defense. Innoko oversaw the castle guard as the head.
Kieran naturally followed his parents around and so did Nahta as front running beta for Kieran. The twins and their mate worked as treasurers, dealing with finances. Elias was a student, Roshan acting as his teacher and although technically Malik was also supposed to be at the lessons, he never deigned to show up. Winter was training to be a diplomat, often also with her parents and dealing with Forest Kingdom and Lunar Kingdom matters beside her alphas.
As for me, I didn't really know what to do or where to fit in as so much has changed in twenty years. I used to do everything, overseeing or assisting in all matters because we had been so short staffed. Now I just felt that I was encroaching on other's territory.
Defeated by the exhausting day in which I had literally done nothing, I went to my room to take a much-needed nap only to feel my sleepiness vanish when I saw the teenaged boy who'd been haunting me all day leaning against my door with his hands in his pockets.
He gave me a lazy grin, lifting a hand in a wave.
"What do you want?" I asked, stopping more than an arms length away.
Malik shrugged, "Nothing, just curious."
"Your method of satisfying your curiosity needs to be addressed," I grumbled.
The boy grinned, "I was just feeling you out first. Besides the method of observation is the surest way to collect true information."
"So have you satisfied your curiosity?" I asked him dryly. I didn't appreciate being stalked, especially with this whole mate issue I was going through.
"While observing is powerful, there are only some things you can find out through asking."
"So ask," I commanded flatly, my eyes burning holes into his white ones.
My glare did nothing to ruffle him. "You first beta," he replied languidly, "I know you must have some questions."
I crossed my arms, having no desire to humor him but the teenaged boy had no intention of leaving me alone until I played his game. "Alright, fine, what are you?" I started with.
Malik shrugged, "I don't know. Something akin to the Spiders you fought in the Lunar Wars."
"You have venom?" I questioned, wondering how closely related he was to the hunters.
The boy flashed his claws, "Want to check for yourself?"
There was no need to do so as I could see the venom vein in his claws. I ignored his wiggling fingers that dared me to test for myself, "How are you alive? Who created you?"
Malik retracted his claws and crossed his arms. "The Forest Kingdom created me. They used Lunar research to continue experimenting in hopes of being successful during the uprising. As for why I am alive, I don't know, I'm looking for the answer myself."
The boy pushed off the door, circling me like a predator, "My turn now," he said. "Did you leave your pack to find your mate?"
My eyes narrowed, wondering why he wanted to know, "Yes."
"And you didn't find her so you came back."
It wasn't even a question but I still answered, my voice hardening, "Yes."
"And it's true that Roshan has visions of the future?"
"Yes," I said again warily, not liking where this was going.
The boy stopped circling me and looked up at me, flopping his hand about as he continued, "So he might of, say, had a vision of you and your mate and could know who it is?"
"Yes that could be possible." My stomach was twisting itself into knots. I had never even thought of Roshan's gift. He'd always tried so many times to find my mate using his gift but it had never worked before. Was my luck so rotten that it would now that I wish it to remain a secret?
The glow in Malik's eyes sent a bolt of panic through me. He knew something and he was just toying with me now. "So then, hypothetically, I could assume that if Roshan always looks at the alpahs' daughter every time you were mention, that could be because he knows she's your mate?"
The blood roared in my ears, my mouth going dry.
Malik smirked at whatever expression was on my face, delighted he had guessed right. "I see," he said, "so what are you going to do about Jeko then?"
I had Malik by the throat in an instant, slamming him up against the door. "Keep your mouth shut do you hear me?" I snarled in his face, unleashing a surge of powerful pheromones. "My mating bond is not your toy. If you mess around with it you are not going to get away with just a scolding from your Daddies."
Malik's ghostly white eyes met mine, unfazed. Lifting a hand he calmly began to pry my fingers off his neck one by one. "Got it," he replied when he was free of my hold, "but you don't have to worry about me, I'm loyal to the lycans not the Foresters." He patted my shoulder, "By the way, I have something you probably want to see. Follow me beta." Malik's mood had not changed a fraction throughout our encounter. He was unnervingly collected and unconcerned, even when I'd had him by the throat. He hadn't even blinked as I attacked him with my beta pheromones to overwhelm him into submission.
"You know," Malik said as I walked beside him silently to wherever he was taking me, "I think you and I will become good friends. I'm much less annoying than Kieran and less clingy too." I said nothing to that and the boy only smiled.
His words actually brought me to a distant memory, the one where I had first met Hakota. My father had brought us to Hakota's pack because ours was scattered due to the hunter attacks. My mother had been slit from throat to belly, killing my developing sibling growing in her womb a few days shy of delivery.
Hakota was a few years older than me and had already killed his first werewolf at eight years old. The little alpha had always kept to himself, solemn and stoic like the rest of us were having witnessed mass death and bloodshed.
Not even five days of being within the new pack, we were attacked again. Hakota and I had gotten separated during the chaos and were easy targets at such a young age. A werewolf had thought to attack us, thinking it better to kill us now than to let us grow and kill some of them first. I hadn't known how to fight being a six year old, but Hakota hadn't hesitated to take on the werewolf three times his size. He took the bite meant for me and clawed out the eyes of the werewolf when he was trapped in its jaws. He managed to fight his way free but he was severely wounded in his left leg.
When the werewolf launched at him again I sprang on it, madly clawing and catching at it. The blind werewolf had been killed by my hands, finding death from two young lycans who could only shift their claws and teeth.
After, I had dragged Hakota to a hiding spot where we stayed until the other lycans killed the wave of enemies. "You and I will be good friends," he had said to me as I hugged him in the kitchen cabinet I had pulled us into. "You will be my beta and together we will survive."
Malik stopped suddenly, turning to face me with a block of wood in his hand and bringing me out of the memory.
"Why are we in the kitchen?" I asked him, looking around at the enormous cooking space.
Malik didn't answer my question but he shifted the cutting board in his hands and said, "As your friend, I will share my stuff with you." He set the board down and and grabbed a knife, pointing the tip of the blade at me, "but if you tell my dads about my hiding places, we can't be friends anymore." His eyes were deadly serious despite the smile on his face.
I looked at the cutting board he was holding in question.
The boy seemed to take that as agreement and used the knife to pry off the strip of light colored wood that ran in a stripe around the middle of all four edges of the cutting board. Once the slot was open, Malik tipped the wood and a small stack of papers fell into his hands. He handed the papers to me, "Just put it back like you found it when you're done," he told me.
My eyes flicked from the boy to the papers in my hands.
He nodded at them encouragingly, "I'll let you read in peace. Come find me to get the answers to your questions." Shoving his hands in his pockets he strolled out of the kitchen.
Setting the papers down on the counter I flipped over the first page, not expecting what I saw.