No, no, no, no…
No, this couldn‘t be happening.
I‘d been so guarded against everyone else that I hadn‘t seen the real issue sinking its teeth within me the entire time.
“Aria?” Aleric asked again, grabbing onto my shoulders to steady me.
But I recoiled quickly away, taking a few shaky steps away.
“No, don‘t… don‘t touch me. I‘m… I‘m not…,” I said disjointedly, unable to even finish my sentence in my current state.
“Are you okay?”
‘What if he‘s just trying to gain your trust,‘I heard her say inside.
‘What if he‘s lying to you.‘
‘What if he‘s going to betray you again?‘
Over and over, her voice started to fill my head. All the things she‘d told me once before now beginning to overlap until it was the only thing I could hear. As if I were in the middle of a crowded room filled with people shouting.
‘You could pull the knife out. No one would even know it was you. They‘d say it was the rogues.‘
“You did the right thing. Either way, this is the best thing for us.‘
‘We made a vow. Myra‘s death was a result of making that same mistake once more.‘
‘Kill her. Kill her now. Strangle her until the light dies from her eyes.’
“Stop!” I shouted, covering my hands over my ears. “Stop, please! Get out of my head! Get out!”
‘He trapped us, degraded us, tried to force us into a union… and then had our parents kil–.‘
– They don‘t respect you enough. You should make them kneel. All of them. It would force them to acknowledge yo-‘
–Don‘t need them. Aleric was, and always will be, our undoing. He was our beginning and our end. Time does not change t
‘-Offer us nothing but lies, all stemming from a new personal vendetta. Look at how he continues to deny everything even though we heard the evide
‘–And is in league with her? What if Cai just wants you to think he isn‘t on her side so you‘ll open up and let him steer you in the wrong direc–?‘
“STOP! STOP! STOP!” I yelled as I fell to my knees, the onslaught of imagery and voices filling my head too overwhelming to cope with.
I couldn‘t hear anything else, couldn‘t see anything else. There was now only one thing.
There was just Thea.
‘–What if that piece is the only thing sustaining us? We were meant to be dead. We don‘t even belong in this timel–,
––Going to die either way. You need to act now! Selene is the enem
‘–know it‘s the right thing to do. You need to end this now. Kill Lucy
–Should kill them before they kill you. No more liabilities. Just try it-‘
–––Do it. Kill him
And I began screaming.
Somehow louder than even the voices in my head, I screamed a piercing shriek into the air, wishing more than anything that all of this would just end.
My brain now felt as though it was completely on fire, burning me up from the inside as it struggled to compensate for the sheer amount of chaos happening internally.
“Aria! Aria! Talk to me!” | vaguely heard Aleric yell once my scream had subsided.
But I couldn‘t reply, couldn‘t find my voice as she continued to swarm my mind. Showing me every step I‘d made in my journey of becoming her pawn.
“Cai, get in here! I need help! She‘s convulsing. We need to get her to the hospital.”
And I wasn‘t sure exactly what happened next but I had never been so grateful for everything to cease.
…And, finally, everything went black.
When I eventually awoke, I felt cold everywhere.
The feeling of crisp bed sheets welcomed me along with the smell of strong chemicals filling my nose. A scent I was instantly familiar with.
I was in the hospital.
“Alpha?” a voice asked and I finally opened my eyes slowly to see Elder Luke.
It felt as though I were waking up without enough rest, my body still incredibly sore and exhausted everywhere. But inside I felt worse than I did outside. As if my mind had been put through a shredder.
However, putting aside her mental assault on me, the new discovery also left so many unanswered questions in its wake. So many conflictions about myself that I wasn‘t sure how to get the answers to.
Like… just how much of ‘me‘ was still here… and how much was the version that Thea had moulded me into?
I still didn‘t feel the weight of my actions as I probably should have; I didn‘t have that sense of guilt or sickness in the pit of my stomach to tell me I was wrong. To me, the things I‘d done had felt justified, as though I could see the rationality behind those decisions.
So was Cai right? Was I devoid of compassion and morality now?
…Was that permanent?
“…How… how long?” | asked, my throat still raw enough to force a cough from me.
He walked to the side of the bed and handed me a glass of water. A welcome relief.
“Not too long,” he answered. “Perhaps a day.”
A whole day? And I still felt this tired? It really was worse than I initially thought. Though, the silver handcuffs around my wrist probably weren‘t helping with that.
“From what Alpha Aleric has told me, I presume that Thea has been meddling with your mind a little? He mentioned you were screaming for something to get out of your head.”
I winced at the rank title he gave to Aleric, a reminder of my own inadequacies. It was a sore spot, for sure, but I had to remember that it was for the best given my current situation. We would need to discuss i t further, but I had to assume we would be running with our original plan for split ownership… one day.
“I think she‘s been in here for a long time,” I answered. “Truthfully, I don‘t even know for sure how deep her influence goes. When I discovered from Selene that Thea was once the Goddess of Sight, I assumed her ability of perception manipulation was a little bit more straightforward like with the mate bond and Cai. Instead, it seems far more complicated. She presented herself as being a part of me, slowly lulling m e into a false sense of trust. It‘s been three years that she‘s been whispering to me, manipulating me to see things the way she wanted me to. She would always come to me at my most vulnerable moments.”
Elder Luke nodded his head thoughtfully, listening carefully to my explanation. I took that to mean Aleric had told him about Thea‘s identity already; information I divulged back when he was still in the cells. What he probably wasn‘t expecting though was for me to name drop Selene. But if he was surprised or shocked at all, he didn‘t outwardly show it.
“Alpha, if I may…,” he started, his eyes full of a keen curiosity. “I can‘t help but wonder that, for a being who has so much power at her disposa.. why did she not just kill you when you were younger, if that is her goal? Seems strange to go about this in such an indirect way.”
“She can‘t,” I answered. “There is a very long, very in–depth explanation for why, one that revolves around the origin of our kind. Simply put though… Thea wants revenge on Selene and is trying to regain the abilities stolen from her. Those abilities being the same ones you once spoke to me about; the ones possessed by the original lineages. In order to protect Thea from simply killing us to get them back, Selene placed a curse that would prevent her from spilling the blood of the chosen children protecting them.”
He frowned, deep in thought over my words as he digested what I‘d told him. If only he was able to see what Selene had shown me. He was the kind of person who would relish in that sort of knowledge.
“And did she explain to you how the curse can be broken?” he asked, catching me off guard.
“… What do you mean?”
“Well… nothing is completely invulnerable. I imagine that, since Thea‘s attempt of having you all to turn on each other has failed, perhaps she will find another method to achieve her goal?”
I hadn‘t considered that. Was there a way for Thea to break the protection? In the past I was fairly sure she hadn‘t ever accomplished such a thing, having relied on Aleric to do her dirty work… but then that didn‘t explain how she dealt with him.
With the other two lineages gone, how did she plan on retrieving Aleric‘s last ability without directly killing him?
And I tensed up immediately over the revelation.
…It meant that there was possibly a loophole.
Perhaps things weren‘t as safe as I initially believed.
“No, you‘re right…,” I said, still in thought. “There probably is something about the curse I don‘t know about, something Selene didn‘t tell me.”
But since information like that would have assisted us immensely in our defence against Thea, I couldn‘t help but wonder why Selene wouldn‘t divulge that information. Did the answer negatively impact her in some way?
“In my experience, I have found that things are rarely ever one–sided,” he said. “Something remarkable enough as to protect you on such a large scale would surely have some sort of weakness. Nothing in life i s perfect.”
It would be in line with what I already knew about the Gods, reconfirming that there was definitely a correlation between benefit and impact.…
Like when I would use my ability, it used to drain me significantly to the point of passing out. It took a loto f training before I could tolerate the energy it required from me.
And when Selene created our kind and rebirthed the mortal children, it resulted in them becoming cursed by the moon; sharing their bodies with a wolf.
Even the mate bond wasn‘t perfect. It would give us immense bliss but, if it were to ever be formally broken, it would also cause us immense pain. And that was without taking the marking process into consideration. A bond–breaking occurring after one was marked would have a high chance of making the parties perish. Higher risk, higher reward.
Nothing was without fault, just as Elder Luke said.
“You‘ll need to excuse me, Alpha,” he then said, breaking me from my thoughts. “There is a meeting soon and I am required to attend. I would very much like to continue this conversation at a later date though.”
“A meeting now?” | asked, quickly sitting up in the bed. “Where is it? The meeting hall?”
“…Yes, Alpha,” he answered hesitantly.
“Give me five minutes and we can go together.”
But as I started getting out of bed to retrieve the clean clothes left for me, I noticed Elder Luke was still looking at me with an unsure expression. Almost as though he wanted to say something to me.
“What is it?” I asked, frowning at his reaction. “Can‘t I attend my own pack‘s meeting?”
But he simply bowed his head. “You may do as you wish.”
I did my best not to feel insulted at the silent insinuation and, instead, focused on getting ready instead. M y body still felt tender everywhere but, true to my word, I managed to leave with him for the meeting before too long had passed.
The meeting seemed to have already started by the time we arrived. The ranked members and council in attendance were in deep conversation related to pack affairs and I did my best to quietly enter. A futile attempt in itself. The room went completely silent the moment I entered through the door.
“Aria,” Aleric greeted, a note of surprise in his voice. “You‘re here.”
“Yep, I‘m here,” I repeated.
But Aleric approached me before I could make it too far, intercepting me after I‘d taken only a few steps through the door.
“…Are you sure you want to be here?” he asked quietly, directing me to face away from the group. “Are you feeling better?”
“I‘m feeling well enough to be here. We‘ve got a lot of work ahead and I want to be a part of that.”
“Well… it‘s just… You know,” he said, an awkwardness to his words.
“I ‘know‘ what?” I pressed, my eyes narrowing.