The chirping of birds soothes the mind, as we head slowly to a serene patch of the forest. We slowly shift back into our human forms, dressing ourselves with some of the spare clothes brought along for the hunt, tied to our wolves’ rear legs. As we keep walking, there is an unease in the air and I can see that Grace is awkwardly waiting to tell me… something. She’s clearly uncomfortable with that, so I pick up the pace, until we finally reach a quieter spot, surrounded by huge trees. I can hear a river running near by which gives us much-needed privacy, and my feet feel the humming of the ground, as a thunderstorm is rumbling in the distance. Taking a short breath, I ask Grace:
“So, what did you want to talk about? I can see you’re quite eager to tell me.”
“Okay, Em. I hope you know that I love you, and this comes from a place of worry, but…”
I raise an eyebrow and wait for Grace’s next words, patiently.
“It seems, at least to me, as of late, that, well, Accalia and Arthur are not affectionate with each other, and I am afraid that the others can see it too… You see, the hunt is supposed to bring the pack together, unify us, train us to work together. Yet, you two seem to avoid each other like the plague.”
“I see…”. Grace sees it, and probably the rest of the pack can see it too. If it’s her, then I can be honest: “… it’s true, what you told me. Thank you for bringing this up as it’s been eating at me. It’s quite embarassing, but when discussing some details about the, uhm, execution earlier today, me and Edward didn’t really see eye to eye. During the conversation, he ended up using an Alpha Command on me.”
“I understand”, Grace speaks softly, but I interrupt her:
“No, Grace. That’s not it. I… resisted his command. I just did it so naturally, without thinking, that it was borderline disrespectful. I can’t even begin to imagine what Edward is thinking. He’s so distant now, and I hate it. I hate that I resisted him so effortlessly, I just want to be with him, but I made it all awkward now, and now you can see it, and maybe the whole pack, and maybe Edward won’t ever forgive me. This is all just too much”. Tears start welling up in my eyes, as a confused Grace comes to comfort me, hugging me tightly.
“Hey, it’s gonna be alright, Em. He’ll come around to it, I mean, you’re the queen after all. He should be proud to have a powerful mate by his side. Of course he’s confused, he’s been not only an Alpha, but the Alpha King at that, all his life, used to never being talked back to. I promise, everything will turn out fine. Even if it won’t, we’ll work it out somehow. We’ll start our own pack if we need to!”
She said all these things with so much conviction that I remained almost speechless for a moment. Resisting the King’s Alpha command is unheard of, yet Grace accepted it as easily as breathing. Finally, I find my words to reply:
“Th-thank you, Grace. I- really appreciate you talking some sense into me”, I say, still sniffling, trying to compose myself. As I try to change the subject, someone mind-links me, as I hear an unsettling message:
“Attention, pack members! It seems a number of rogues have breached the perimeter of the territory and have been spotted through the forest. Please be advised, stay with your group and be on high alert! Start making your way back into the village. Pack Warriors, head towards your stations and backup the border patrols.”
“Did you also get that?” Grace asks.
“Yeah, we should head back. We’ll pick up the conversation another time. Now, let’s carefully go back to the group, they must be worried! Especially since we wandered a bit far…”
We begin making our way to the group, as the sound of the river fades into the background, but the thunderstorm seems to be getting closer. I keep thinking back to my conversation with Grace, back to what happened with Edward. Is everything really going to turn out well? I turn to Grace to get reassured once more by her warm smile. But I get to see it only for a second, when a shadow quickly appears and Grace vanishes from my sight. I hear a thud and turn my head to see her body, motionless, bleeding over a carpet of fallen leaves, with branches from the tree she hit, emerging from different areas of her body. A tall, muscular figure stands beside her, claws extended, with a wicked grin. “What the hell just happened? I’ve been so absorbed in my own thoughts that I failed to hear or smell this rogue…” I can hear Grace’s heartbeats getting more and more quiet, opposite to my heart which starts racing and I clasp my head, thinking: “No, no, no, this cannot be! Why?!! Why Grace?! Who would do such a thing…”
Blood is dripping on the soft, white snow, as the gentle flakes of winter cover the forest into the serene night. Her body goes limp, as the dark figure’s claws drip the freshly drawn blood onto the snow. The maid is dead. But why? Wait, not a maid, this is Grace. And it’s autumn, it cannot be snowing. Is this some sort of sick joke? Why am I seeing these things at a time like this? Is the universe really this twisted? I lay in a trance, away from my body. A young girl in the snow. An adult Emily, looking emptily at what was once Grace’s body. “Take her and run!” The soft voice of a woman echoes inside my head, as I see my maid’s body.
A white wolf appears where the helpless girl once stood. Its savagery and brutality make quick work of the dark figure. It howls and squeals in utter pain, while getting torn to shreds. The rampage, both now and then, I look upon it from my trance, strangely away from everything. The same voice from before echoes again in my mind, as Accalia finishes mauling the wicked rogue.
“Make sure you keep Emily safe! Goodbye, my beautiful, beautiful pup! We’ll meet soon, okay? Mommy and daddy will be right there with you…”. This is the same figure I saw in my dream… my mother. I remember her now, faintly. The maid was my parents’. They were talking about a war, and I was being sent away, to safety.
Why am I remembering all of this now? The pain comes to the surface harder than ever before, and I let out a primal howl, surpassing even the meek rumblings of the now imminent thunderstorm. The only person that truly cared for me, brought to this miserable state, in nothing but a matter of seconds. Grace opens her mouth weakly, as I hurriedly shift back into my human form. I try to return the hug from before, tigher than ever. The rain has begun falling, but my tears are streaming faster and louder.
“Don’t speak! Please, please, just stay awake. You’re going to be ok, hang on for a bit longer, help is coming!” I try to beg Grace, even though I know, after assessing her wounds superficially, that nothing can make this situation ok.
“Em… You’re… doing great… Everything will … cough … be alrigth…”
“I promise, just, stay awake for a bit longer, it’s gonna be okay, Grace, please!”
But there was no response. I hug her ever so tighter, hoping to feel a pulse, a semblance of a beating heart. Nothing greets my touch, but the cold emptiness of death. Grace’s blank eyes staring into nothing.
“Emily, two more rogues are getting closer. Fast.” Accalia’s voice echoes in a far, far part of my head. Her voice is not calm and serene this time, but I do not care. Grace’s hand is getting colder in my own and her blood is washed away slowly by the rain. There truly is nothing but pain left in my soul. I decide to let go, with a final howl of sorrow towards the moon, as I collapse next to Grace. I hear splashing sounds as paws hit the wet ground, but there’s no fight left in me. My consciousness begins to slowly fade, and I feel warm, strangely.