“KEEP YOUR SWORD up, Melana!” Xaleb’s order was barely decipherable over the sound of their weapons clashing. “If I were an Arlet warrior, you’d be dead by now.” The validity of his words dripped with scarlet poison.
Melana grit her teeth and heeded his warning, ignoring the burn that flashed beneath the skin of her forearms. Without another thought, she blocked his next attack and danced out of range, internally thanking her muscles for their instinctual memory in a time of chaos. Her heart slammed against her rib cage as she struggled to regain a steady breathing pattern.
The two siblings circled one another, their silver eyes scanning the other for any telling of weakness. The training room was silent save for the sounds of their labored breaths.
Outside, the arching sky churned an ominous iron gray as a brewing storm rolled in from the East. Whistling cries of wind slammed against the window, tree branches scratching across the polished glass with the same manner of estranged ghosts. But Melana refused to lose focus. Not now.
She had too much at stake, too much to prove.
“You’ve gotten better,” Xaleb muttered an offhand comment as his gaze dropped to her feet before flickering back up to her hands. “I’m impressed.” His taunting smile was underlaid with toxins.
The young girl recognized the intent behind his words from yards away. “You can’t distract me,” she huffed. Melana lunged, aiming for his free hand. Frustration boiled beneath the bones of her torso.
Her elder brother chuckled as he angled his body, deflecting the attack with an ease that partly annoyed her. He hummed as he swung the flat of his blade against her rib cage. “It seems that I’ve already succeeded, Mel.”
The seventeen year old resisted the urge to roll her eyes and instead settled for stabbing in his general direction. Just as expected, Xaleb leaped away, which was exactly what she wanted. Two steps forward, lightning speed, and she slashed from the other direction.
Her elder brother grunted and loosened his hips, narrowly dodging the blow. Once he was successfully out of range, his eyes narrowed at her.
Smug and triumphant, Melana brushed her white hair from her eyes, running her fingers over the crown of her head and wiping away the drops of sweat that adorned her temple. “The Aspians have left you cocky, Xaleb.” She couldn’t keep the satisfaction from underlying her words.
The twenty five year old snickered at her reaction. He paused briefly, dragging his hand through his dark curls before refocusing his pale irises on his opponent. “If I didn’t know any better,” Xaleb drawled as their swords clashed. His left eyebrow tugged upwards when the edge of his weapon came in contact with the hilt of her own. He twisted his blade and pressed downwards, making it impossible for Melana to maintain her hold on it.
The sword clattered to the floor, leaving her defenseless.
She grimaced as the point of his weapon pressed lightly against her throat, the coolness of the metal stinging her skin. As always, she had spoken too soon. Xaleb, despite the fact that he had been away from home for the past five months, had bested her. Again.
Xaleb’s face broke into a grin, his teeth blinding. “I would say you were only bitter at the prospect of losing. Not that I could ever blame you, of course.” It was his turn to be smug now. “The student always yearns to best her teacher.”
She angled her chin away from his sword and growled, stepping out of reach. The young girl smoothed the sweat-plastered hairs away from the heated skin of her forehead before she addressed her brother’s cockiness. “Don’t taunt me, Xaleb.”
Melana could practically hear his grin widening when he spoke. “You make it entirely too easy, little sister. Honestly, you should laugh more.” He took a few steps closer to her, near enough that she could feel both the warmth of his body rolling off of his skin in waves and the oscillating drum of his heart beat.
She couldn’t keep from rolling her eyes and biting back a smile as Xaleb’s sweat-slicked arm came to rest across her shoulders. Her glance tugged upwards to meet his. “Richmond’s been rubbing off on me, I apologize.” Her words gave no truth to any remorse.
But he knew that, and his response reflected as such. “No need,” he squeezed her shoulder while sliding his sword into its scabbard. “Someone had to keep you company while I was gone, and I guess Richmond was the best of a poor lot.”
Then, the twenty five year old withdrew from the embrace and picked up the abandoned weapon that lay on the floors. “Now,” Xaleb held it out to her and offered another smile, albeit more taunting than the last. “Less talking, more training. I’ve been away at the border for far too long, and I’m behind with your lessons.”
She accepted it and they resumed their routine of circling each other, eyeing one another in the same manner a predator would its prey. “Cadmus and Ivy have been keeping me company though, so don’t worry.”
Her brother rolled his eyes, as if refusing to believe she had uttered those words with serious intent. “You say that as if Iven is barely competent. It’s a shock that you got him away from moonshine long enough to pick up a sword.”
Melana swallowed down a snicker. “I didn’t. He just lets me hack away at dummies dressed in the clothes left by his weekly companions.”
She pressed on, undeterred. “It’s amusing, really. And surprisingly helpful. It’s amazing what slicing through black lace with your sword can do for your technique.”
His frown deepened. “I wouldn’t touch those clothes with a ten foot spear.”
She breathed out a puff of amusement-tainted air and whacked his sides with the flat of her sword, mirroring his previous actions. Xaleb danced out of reach and their weapons clashed once more.
After a few moments spent parrying and attacking, the pair finally separated. Melana took this as her chance to continue their conversation, albeit slightly breathless. “That’s why I’m braver than you are, Xaleb.”
“You’re hilarious, Melana. I’ve almost forgotten how much so,” was his cheeky response.
Just before their swords could meet in attack once more, a knock at the door halted their movements. Two pairs of silver eyes turned to see a servant boy with pinked cheeks staring at Melana.
The seventeen year old frowned for a moment before glancing down at her clothes. Her pants, skintight, clung to her thighs and calves both in nature and from sweat. Her loose shirt draped from her collarbone, probably exposing more than what was proper for an Alpha’s daughter.
Despite the fact that she hated it, shame began to creep its way from her the pits of her gut to her chest. Melana suddenly felt exposed, internally forever cursing Denza for its silly ideals of what was socially morally right and what was not.
Always her knight in shining armor, Xaleb stepped in front of her, a scowl crossing over his lips. The servant boy finally looked up, his face reddening even more at the realization of getting caught.
Her elder brother spoke cooly. “State your business.”
The younger boy stuttered over his words. “The... the Alpha has re-requested an audience with... with you, sir.”
Xaleb hummed, the rumbling in his chest telling Melana that he was highly dissatisfied. “And as for my sister?”
The servant boy bowed. “I was not aware that she would be in here, sir. I have received no messages for her.” He then straightened only to angle his body towards Melana and descend into a steep bow again. “Forgive me, my lady.” Before she could respond, he was already hurrying out the door- the flush in his cheeks never fading.
Melana huffed when he was finally gone, sliding her sword into its scabbard. “You’d think they’d never seen a girl’s legs before.” In spite of her words, shame was still present in her mind, making itself known by the sudden influx of heat that assaulted her skin.
Xaleb chuckled while mirroring her actions. “Well to be fair, it isn’t exactly customary for a girl to be sword fighting anyways. Even less so just a few hours before the Ball.” A brief pause as a thoughtful look crossed over his face. “Plus, he couldn’t have been older than 13. It probably wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that he hadn’t seen a girl’s legs before.”
She rolled her eyes but couldn’t exactly argue with his logic. She never could. Silver irises disappeared behind eyelids as her eyelashes brushed against the upper curve of her cheeks. Melana exhaled and stretched, finally registering the soreness in her muscles.
“Hey,” Xaleb’s voice caused her to open her eyes again. He pressed a hand to her shoulder, an eye narrowing. “You’ve been slacking off,” he murmured, regarding her arms.
“And what makes you say that?” She folded said arms across her chest, disliking the validity behind the accusation.
“Your arms have lost definition since I first left. It’s obvious.”
Melana made a sound at the back of her throat and ignored the heat that climbed up her neck, embarrassed because she had been caught. “Well, as you said- it isn’t customary for a girl like me to be training at all. Muscle is pretty hard to hide with the clothes that I typically wear. I was just being... wise.”
Xaleb’s expression looked like he was preparing to protest.
The seventeen year old bit back a grin and pushed him gently towards the door. “You really shouldn’t keep Momma waiting. It’s probably something important.”
Her brother’s train of thought was seemingly lost as he hummed in acknowledgment and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, his lips brushing against her white hair. “I’ll see you later, Mel.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you too.” She couldn’t swallow down her grin this time. Melana watched as he ambled out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
Of all the mandatory, formal occasions that the Constance family were obligated to attend yearly, the Moonshine Ball was Melana’s favorite.
The seventeen year old couldn’t keep from (immaturely) kicking her feet as her pale eyes flickered from the shimmery navy blue fabric of her evening gown to the blurry night sky that sped past her window. She bit her lip.
“Just smile already... before you combust.” A sharp poke into her sides pulled her attention from the window just in time to see Cadmus, the youngest of her five older brothers, rolling his ice-blue eyes in her direction.
Melana grinned cheekily at him and returned the eye roll. “I know what you’re trying to do and I’ll have you know that I won’t be apologizing for-”
Alpha Constance shot them both a harsh glare and pulled the phone away from her ear. “Speak quieter or don’t speak at all.” Her silver hair shone beneath the moonlight in the same manner that stars did, but her dark eyes were cold. Momentarily.
Melana snickered behind her hand at Cadmus’s grumbling response. “Who pissed in her cereal this morning? We weren’t even that loud.”
She shouldn’t have laughed. She knew that to be true. It was clear that their mother was most likely trying to iron out the latest scandal that had occurred between the Laico and Denza Clans while preparing for the front lines. And she knew that if it wasn’t addressed accordingly, the prospect of war would become that much more realistic.
Although, the prospect of war had been realistic for years. And it was all due to the strengthening advances of Arlet and Cian.
But on the other hand, Melana was unable to withhold herself from laughing at the expression that had crossed over Alpha Constance’s face. It was comical. Or well... it was comical to the ones who were desensitized to it. After all, their mother’s glare was still capable of withering the most arrogant nobles.
Briares, their eldest brother and sibling, frowned in their direction. “Grow up, Caddy.” Then, his dark eyes fell to Melana after his arms folded across his chest. “And please don’t encourage him, Mel.”
“Encouraging me is what Mel does best. Haven’t you heard?” Cadmus grinned, his words laden with his trademark sarcasm. The eighteen-year-old boy pressed on. “She’s my partner-in-crime,” a brief pause, before, “Or whatever the hell Ivy called us last week.”
Alpha Constance tossed them another warning glare, this time supported by their father’s narrowed ice-blue eyes.
Melana shoved her brother in the shoulder while biting back another smile. and turned back towards the window, twirling her white hair between her fingers. “You’re despicable.”
“One of my few talents, yes. How did you know? Did you control my mind and force me to spill all my secrets?”
She found no response for that other than a slightly-annoyed “Shut up,” and instead decided to keep her gaze lit upon the blurred eventide arches dappled with silver stars. The pale face of the moon lured her attention until her surroundings faded away and the teenager was left alone to her thoughts.
Upon reflection, she could never really decide why the Moonshine Ball was her favorite. It was, in essence, a political gathering of the nine clans. Or rather, the upper class of said clans. Everyone who was anyone attended.
Even the Arlets would make their appearance... eventually. Their daunting crimson hoods and intimidating masks always found their way into the hall, effectively killing the party spirit. But even so, Melana loved the Moonshine Ball. From the dancing, to the people-observing, to the eavesdropping on current news spouted off by drunk leaders from the Asteri and Eron Clans, the formal night always proved to become one of her favorite memories.
And it seemed that this year’s Ball, so far, would not be any different.
Thirty minutes passed by until the Constance family car was pulling into the long, winding entrance of the Asteri Palace. The tires of the limousine ran smoothly over polished stone and marble bridges that towered over gentle streams.
Excitement bubbled within her.
Melana couldn’t keep the grin from pulling on the edge of her lips as Cadmus helped her out of the car. She smoothed out any wrinkles in her shimmering dark dress before crossing and clasping her hands before her. She then waited for the family to be announced- as they always were at public events.
“Alpha Calandra Constance and her family, representing the Clan of Denza.”
She doubted she could ever get tired of hearing that, but her patience was wearing thin.
And so, the family entered the Grand Hall and Melana allowed her excitement to be swept away by the sheer beauty that met her gaze upon entry.
She had missed the teardrop chandeliers that glimmered in all shades of blue and seagreen, bathing the entire hall in an underwater-esque aesthetic. She had missed the sounds of the gurgling stream, the smell of freshwater that clung to the air like magic.
But most of all, she had missed the Ball itself.
Despite the fact that her family was relatively early, dozens of clansmen already roamed the white opal floors. Versicolored silken gowns and crisp suits dappled the scene.
Melana grinned. Widely.
If there was one perk that came with being a member of the Constance House, it was this- a guaranteed invitation to the most beautiful social event of the year.
Her family already began to split paths. Her mother and father headed off in the direction of the Laico and Aspian Clan leaders, who seemed to be awaiting them with stern faces. Briares, who was next in line for the Alpha position, ambled in tow.
Xaleb had already made eye contact with an unsuspecting Asteri noblewoman and seemed to be fairly impressed with her turquoise slink dress. Iven headed off towards the bar, most likely deciding he needed a glass or two of moonshine before following Xaleb’s example.
Richmond disappeared into the throngs of people. The seventeen year old could guess that he left in search of a quiet corner to read the book he had brought along and generally avoid the large mass of clansmen that he so despised.
She couldn’t blame him either. She herself planned to do the same, but only after she had made her rounds. For as the only daughter of Alpha Constance, she was cursed with particular social duties that didn’t rest on the shoulders of her five older brothers.
“Hide me!” Cadmus hissed in her ear, dragging her away from an offer of moonshine.
Melana groaned, already having an idea of what the problem was. After her brother had tugged her behind a white opal column, she rolled her eyes. “Who is it now, Caddy?”
The eighteen year old shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. His white hair reflected the blue light overhead, taking on a light cyan shade. “I just accidentally made eye contact with Reyna.”
She frowned. “That Eronese girl from three months ago? Alpha Barric’s second daughter?”
Her brother nodded while making an exasperated sound at the back of his throat. “The very same one.”
Melana folded her arms over her chest. “And what does this have to do with me?”
His jaw dropped. “Make sure she stays away from me!”
“I’ve never spoken a word to her in my entire life. How am I supposed to accomplish that?” Was her sour response.
To think that she was missing out on getting the first taste of refreshments for this?
“Please, Mel,” Cadmus pleaded. His pale eyes flickered closed for a second before he leaned away from the column and scanned the room. Not five seconds passed before he yelped and turned back towards her. “Shit, she’s on her way over! She saw me!”
Melana bit back a smirk. “Boo hoo.” She turned to leave. “This is what happens when you tell a girl you’ll give her the world and then disappear for a month and a half. Fight your own battles, Cadmus. I’ve got rounds to make and food to eat. You know that.”
As she turned away, preparing to leave, he reached for her wrist. His slim fingers were ice cold against her heated skin, and it took everything in her to keep from flinching. “Wait!”
“I’m sorry,” Melana’s voice gave no truth to apology as she stepped out of his grasp and away from the shadow cast by the column. “But you can’t be helped.”
She snickered under her breath as she walked away, passing by Reyna. Cadmus’s outcry of surprise that followed soon afterward was more sweet than bitter.
The Moonshine Ball was her favorite.
By the time her rounds were over, Melana was a bit tired out. She was slowly starting to get sick of the invasive heirs and rude questions that assaulted her left and right whenever she greeted another family. They all asked why she wasn’t mated off yet, as if she had any control over that matter.
Not only that, but the Arlets and Cians had finally joined the celebration- effectively making her uncomfortable. She couldn’t force herself to endure their empty stares hidden behind their intimidating masks any longer, nor could she bear to look at their crimson cloaks that shimmered like poison and moved like blood.
She needed a break. A quiet corner away from everyone. Peace.
That innate longing for solitude was what led her to roam the corridors away from the Grand Hall. She knew where she was going, the Moonshine Ball was held at the Asteri Palace every other year, after all.
Melana twirled a finger along the ends of her blanche hair, her gaze drinking the beautiful art that hung in the hallways. Depictions of past clan leaders- Alphas- and their second in commands, Betas, warmed her heart.
“So beautiful,” she murmured to herself now and again, occasionally stopping in her trek to further inspect a piece.
The drumming beat of her breaths led her past marble statues and framed portraits, not registering the fact that with every step she took, the sounds of the Ball dimmed more and more. It wasn’t until she stood, transfixed, in front of an ornate golden door that she realized she was all alone, away from everyone else.
If she were to be attacked, no one would hear her scream.
But for some reason, the Alpha descendant had no fear. There was an inkling in her spirit, a sixth sense, that had led her to this very spot- she knew that to be true. How? She couldn’t exactly be sure, but she was well aware that unseen forces were always at work.
And then, like a light switch, her eardrums were graced with the soft melodies of what sounded like piano music. The door creaked open, and Melana found herself pushing through timidly, her curiosity reaching its peak.
She peered into the dark room, and not a moment passed before her breath caught in her throat. An intrepid pair of silver eyes fell to a large figure seated in front of a gleaming grand piano, seated in near darkness. But it was the sweeping crimson cloak swept across its shoulders, clasped together by silver and furs, that took her breath away.
An Arlet warrior.
Melana stood, frozen, unsure of what to do. Should she pretend she had never seen him and instead back away from the room, continuing on her journey towards satisfactory solitude? Or would it be better for her to push into the room and further bless her ears with the sweet notes that rose from the instrument?
The music stopped, causing a thin sheen of metaphorical ice to prickle her skin.
The figure straightened in his seat, staring ahead at the wall. “I won’t hurt you,” his words came barely above a whisper, but still she heard it.
Suspicion flamed within her. “How am I supposed to believe that?”
He was an Arlet warrior, one of the many men who fought behind enemy lines and brought destruction to everything she and the other allied Clans held dear. He was an Arlet warrior, one of the many men that reigned death on her people by the orders of Atticus Scarlet. He was an Arlet warrior, a pawn of her greatest enemy.
The figure didn’t respond for several moments, giving her all the answers she needed. But then, just as Melana prepared to back away and ignore the fear that had slowly begun to affect her heartrate, the music resumed.
It was sonically euphoric.
The seventeen year old’s eyes fluttered shut as she allowed the sounds to caress the outer rims of her ears and ensnare her, body and soul. She took another step further into the room, her apprehension momentarily forgotten as she lost herself. One step, two steps, three, four.
“So beautiful,” she murmured to herself. Melana descended onto the bench, sitting right beside the Arlet warrior.
How foolish of you, she wanted to chastise herself.But by the Moon Goddess... if he kills me- this would be a beautiful way to die. An enchanting one.
The pair of them sat there for what seemed to be hours. The figure said nothing, allowing his fingers to do all the talking as he pressed into the gleaming white and black keys that called to her heart. Melana had never heard such beauty.
And then the music paused again, and she found her eyes opening only to glance upwards at the large man who sat beside her.
She couldn’t see his face, could gain no clue as to what collection of features lay beneath his mask. But his eyes were dark, as if pitch and onyx had pooled together to make an ensnaring mix. They stared at each other for minutes; her breaths shallow, his breaths smooth.
And then the Arlet warrior broke the silence. “You must be a Constance.” The baritone of his words sent a heated vibration rumbling through her bones.
Melana tore her gaze from his face, focusing on the gleaming keys and trying her hardest to ignore the sliver of suspicion that swept her psyche.
She was confused.
Why did she feel safe with this man? Why did her spirit feel at ease, as if he were a familiar presence?
The Alpha descendant forced herself to speak, steadying the tremor that underlaid her words. “How did you know?”
He chuckled in response, as if the answer were the simplest matter in the world. When his chest moved in reflection of his amusement, Melana felt the heat rolling off of his body in waves. Her mind screamed at her to run, but her body, her spirit, her senses ached to stay put. It seemed that they knew him, but she herself didn’t.
“Your hair is white,” the Arlet whispered. His fingers brushed over the keys once more, the euphoric sound of song enchanting her yet again. “Only Constances have white hair.”
The way he spoke those words with such certainty, with such assuredness, triggered her following question. “How... how do you know that?”
His answer echoed almost instantly, as if he had been expecting her question. “I’m well aware of my history, Princess Melana. House Constance has been around for a very long time.” His body shifted, his cloak skimming the edge of her silken navy gown.
She found no way to question that. But still... the surety with which he spoke tickled the back of her mind, telling her that she had imperceptibly missed a crucial notion. The pair of them continued on in silence after that.
In that moment, time had no meaning. Melana was unsure if she had been seated beside the Arlet warrior for mere seconds or hours, for she had no way of knowing. It was like a trance, a lullaby, and a potion rolled into one, luring her into the beautiful unknown with no promise of escape or return to reality. But surprisingly, the young girl discovered that she truly didn’t care much.
Finally, the Arlet’s fingers slowed as the melody drew to its finish. When the final note echoed through the dim darkness, Melana turned to the masked warrior that sat beside her and questioned him again. “What’s the title of that piece?”
He paused, as if having to think about it. The man didn’t respond as he stood from the piano bench and drew near to the gated balcony on the other side of the room. For reasons unknown yet appreciated, she didn’t follow him. Right as his hand fell to the brass doorknob, the warrior turned, his cold mask shining in the illumination of the stars. “I call it By the Moonlight.”
She knew he was about to leave, but Melana couldn’t let him. Not yet. She had so many questions... and this stranger, for whatever reason that only the Moon Goddess knew, appeared to be an oasis of wisdom that she yearned to take part in. Why? She was unsure. The Alpha descendant stood from the bench. “And as for its composer?” Her tone came off as a beg.
The Arlet chuckled again after five breathless seconds, the hum of the sound reverberating through the floors. But this time... it was bitter, devoid of warmth or humor or any emotion at all except for discontent. “A monster who was drunk on the moon.” His words rang with melancholy as the balcony doors were swung open, his crimson identifier billowing in the night.
Almost as soon as he had appeared, the Arlet warrior disappeared into the darkness. And as he left, a chilling sensation crept over Melana’s bones as a sweet voice whispered into her mind’s ear.
“The ultimate sacrifice... paid by scarlet... forgiven by blood.”
And as that mantra repeated again and again, seared into the forefront of her conscious, the young Constance couldn’t keep the shocked murmur from spilling over her lips. “I... know you.”
Hello there! Thank you for taking the time to read this story, it truly means a lot. I wanted the prologue to be mysterious, but still insightful enough that it could be read without confusion.
Hopefully, I achieved my goal?
The next chapter will have a lot more detail and such than this (obviously), but I just wanted to set the stage with the prologue by introducing a few of the Clans (Denza, Arlet, Eron, Asteri, Laico) to get you guys better acquainted with them.
Also: I’d like to point out that, again, this STORY DOES NOT FOLLOW the TYPICAL WEREWOLF FORMAT. Common terminology has been skewed in order to fit the world that I’m writing. Please keep that in mind as you’re reading.
Thank you so much for reading!
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