Author's Note: A very 'bleh' but necessary chapter (in my opinion :P) Again, just because this was a quick update, don't expect the next one to be too!
Hands found their way to the copper's body and caressed her hair reassuringly. Words begged and pleaded to be heard by broken ears. Blankets wrapped around the torn and bloodied body that wanted nothing more but to stay snuggled in her father's still warm body. However, that wasn't possible, as someone was lifting the body into their own arms and clinging to it. The copper barely recognised her own mother – with blood dried into her hair from her own head wound, and her tears rolling down her face.
The voices were so far away, and hardly understandable through the high pitched screaming through the copper's head.
"Imelda you have to change!"
Even the copper knew that it was an awful idea; changing in the state she was in would be unbearable. Plus, couldn't she just lay here and wait until death took her to meet with her father again?
"Imelda, I'm begging you!"
A shaking and cold hand turned the copper's head until she was gazing up at the familiar face of the Champion. No, not Champion. Lowell.
Tears streaked down his face as he kept his eyes fixated on her – maybe he was trying his best not to look at his own alpha's carcass? He didn't try to say anything more, just looked at her pleadingly as he pulled the blankets tighter around the copper's destroyed body. She couldn't stand to see him like that; it was like adding the moon's influence to an already mad wolf.
So I changed.
No one could help me, I knew that much. But I also knew, as my human mind began to take more control back, that Lowell was right: changing was the only thing that would keep me alive; if I didn't the healing process wouldn't even begin and I might bleed to death. And it was alive that I had to be. I had to be alive to fix this mess.
My screams of agony ripped through the air, mixing with that constantly draining note and the weeping of my mother behind me. Spasms and shudders rippled through my body, only adding to the excruciating pain and leaving my hands frantically grasping at Lowell's shirt for support. His hand clasped around my own, and pressed it against his lips as he clenched his eyes – apparently finding watching me go through this almost as difficult as I found it. It took so much longer than usual, and all I wanted as I cried and shrieked was for death's merciful hand to take me away from it all.
I remember my first ever transformation when I was little. Werewolves can change from the moment they are born; but it's dangerous for the younger babies when they are still going through development to hop between two different species – hence why the alpha forces his will upon you to hold back changing until you reach around five years of age. By then your growth has slowed, and you're more able to keep a grasp on your inner wolf without the alpha's help. The days leading up to the Prize's first transformation had been filled with excitement and preparation, so of course I was a bouncing ball of energy when I woke up on the fateful morning. I'd woken up early and bounded into my parent's bedroom to wake them up; Mum seemed slightly annoyed I hadn't waited until six o clock like she'd told me to, but Dad was just as excited as I was – I don't think he'd spelt himself.
As tradition, my parents and Connell took me out into Pine Valley's woodland; the rest of the pack waiting anxiously by my house for news. Once we were far enough in, we split up; Dad and Connell waiting whilst Mum and I moved further in ourselves. There, she dressed me in a long dress that matched the copper of my hair – the dress that had been sown and prepared by all the females in our group combined – and wrapped silver bangles around my wrists and ankles. It's a common myth that we can only be killed by silver, so the silver has always been a little joke between wolves. Once ready, she returned to where my father and brother waited, leaving me to the mercy of the trees alone.
The bond that links to children under five is always a little out of bounds for the pack; the only people allowed access to it being the alpha and the baby's parents, and even then it's in moderation. It's so the baby can identify their own thoughts and feelings without having to differ itself from everyone else. The fifth birthday isn't just for transformation, it's the day that your bond opens up and you truly connect with everyone else. With two amazing things expected to happen, it was no reason this was always the most anticipated birthday for were-children.
Dad broke through to me first - more because he was alpha than my father – but nothing special happened particularly. He gave me the ok to change.
That first transformation is always horrifically painful when you don't expect your body to burn with both fire and ice; but the moment my little copper paws touched the ground, I'd shot off at a breath-taking speed that made me forget every little pain I'd felt through that time. That first run was a feeling I've never forgotten, but it's also one that I've never felt again. Looking back, I think that's when I first realised I was different: the moment I enjoyed running more than I enjoyed bonding with my pack truly. People told me that the change is amazing, but nothing compares to the bond that explodes in your mind afterwards with your pack. I never felt an explosion; it was more like someone turning on a light switch, that's all. Though I'd never told anyone that.
That was what memory came to my mind as I lay there gripping Lowell's hand and howling in anguish. Until finally, at last, everything went black.
When I finally woke up, I was lying in my old bed, in my old room, staring at the same old ceiling I'd grown up under. For a moment I wondered if everything that had happened over the past few weeks had just been a dream, and I was only grounded yesterday.
But then the pain returned.
I didn't scream this time, just gritted my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut so tightly they started watering.
A warm hand on my arm brought me back to my senses, leaving me to pry open my eyes slightly and try to work out who it was that had been sitting beside me silently.
Mum's eyes were red and bloodshot; as if she'd only just stopped crying after days and days. For all I knew, it might have been days since... since...
"How are you feeling, Lupita?" she asked with a small smile – though her voice was echoing through my head quietly, mixed in with that never ending screech.
Opening my mouth, I tried to form the sounds and words but nothing came out. She must have understood what I meant through my contorted face as she immediately turned away to pick up some sort of flannel that had been by her feet; proceeding to wipe the side of my face with it. The luke-warm water stung on whatever injury was there, but I knew Mum knew what she was doing after so many years of healing our kind.
I just stared up at the ceiling as tears swarmed my eyes and blurred the world around yet again. I couldn't work out which parts of me ached and which were still ok, probably due to the overwhelming pain in my chest, so I just lay still and silent.
There was a knock on the door and Mum looked over to talk to whoever was behind it – I didn't even try to turn my head to see who was there.
Over the next few days or so, I kept drifting in and out of consciousness; each time I woke up Mum would be right there to smile at me and ask how I was doing. I stayed silent each time. Over time, the screeching in my head dulled alongside some of the pain, but nothing seemed to help how dead I felt inside. Mum's familiar caring hand would stroke my hair and Connell sometime stood by and joke about something, once or twice it was Lowell with me instead – though he didn't say much. No matter who was there, I couldn't find any will within me that would make me stir from this half-life. My head felt empty; no matter who I felt reaching towards me in the bond, I'd push them back for the beautiful silence. Soon enough, whoever it had been leant to just leave me alone. The closest I'd remembered to this feeling of solitude was the short space of time between breaking my bond with Pine Valley and connecting with Cayden.
Cayden... he was never there. I wanted to ask where he was, why he wasn't the one by my side, but each time the name came to mind it would just bring a new batch of tears with it.
It was rather dark in the room when I opened my eyes again and knew I wouldn't fall back into the seclusion of sleep again. It was the first time I'd woken up and found Mum not by my side – not even Connell or Lowell were anywhere in sight. That deafening high pitched sound was gone now, but I could tell there was still something not right. Cautiously, I tested my arms and found them stiff but useable, and forced them to push me up into a sitting position. As soon as I was up, my head fell into my waiting palm; dizziness and a pounding need for water leaving me frozen. However, as soon as my bare fingers touched my head I knew something was seriously wrong.
Moving my hand slightly to feel that foreign fabric on my head, I slowly began to panic. The bandage was circling around my head and crossing down to hold padding over my right ear.
Or at least, where my right ear should have been.
A yelp of horror caught in my throat as my hand became eyes for me to survey the damage to the side of my head with. When I pulled it away at least, I saw it had scratched some dry blood off my cheek – releasing yet another suppressed sob. Holding out my arms in front of me, I scanned over all the huge bruises and cuts that covered them – one particular nasty bite that was hidden under a bloodied bandage on my forearm. Arms shaking, I dragged the covers off the bed completely to reveal the damage they hid away from my terrified eyes. I sat in nothing but my underwear; a bandage covering most of my stomach, horrific bruises down my ribs – which were awfully tender, my right leg in a cast. An actual cast. No wonder I could barely move it.
The door creaked, and as my head snapped round – as if I expected someone to leap in and attack me – I spotted Lowell entering quietly and bringing the door to a careful close behind him. His eyes met mine and he seemed to relax suddenly.
"Thank god you're up..." His eyes fell downcast, and he moved over to pick the covers off the floor to throw them back over my disfigured body. It was like he could hardly look at me.
"Shall I get you a shirt or something?" he asked, motioning to the bra I was sitting in. He'd seen me totally naked before, so I couldn't help but feel slightly confused as to why he was uncomfortable about my underwear; clothes were just a human hassle in our world.
Then I realised. It wasn't my underwear that was making him awkward, it was my injuries.
"Sure," I finally said in nothing but a hoarse whisper – though he'd already begun digging through my wardrobe before I'd even answered. He'd picked on of the many over-sized tops, and helped me get it on as best as he could without causing me any more pain. When that obstacle was passed, he sat down on the chair that Mum had been using and let his head fall into his hands.
"Lowell?" I asked shakily; like some child that needed comfort off their upset parents.
"I'm sorry. This shouldn't have happened. I was meant to talk to Jack before Cayden got here. But... I couldn't make him listen."
Hearing Dad and Cayden's names in the same sentence left me gasping for air slightly. Lowell wasn't meant to be upset. He was meant to be my stupid friend that always smiled and laughed. I was meant to be the one to bring him down, not the other way round. I stretched out my hand and wrapped it around his wrist, forcing him to pull his hands away so he'd look at me.
"It's not your fault," I told him.
"You know they'll kill him right?"
Another sob caught in my throat.
"You know that they won't listen to anything you say now. Not after... not after what he did. He's signed his own death certificate. And you can't step in the middle of it anymore." Lowell's words sounded more like a plea than a warning. I already understood of course; Cayden had done the unthinkable, and Pine Valley would have to get their justice. A life for a life: it was the way our kind had always worked.
"It wasn't his fault though," My voice resembled that of a pouting child. "You know he only did it to protect me! It's not his fault that his wolf –"
"Everyone can control their wolf Imelda! You still believe that bull?" Lowell was yelling – but his eyes gave him away; he knew the truth, he just knew it was pointless believing in it now. I dropped my gaze; everything he did and said was basically to try and keep me from stepping in and causing more problems for myself. "You need to remember he killed our alpha!"
"And he killed my Dad!"
The sudden power in my voice shocked him until he actually sat back in his seat. I could feel the tears building again, but I didn't let them distract me.
"You don't think I'm angry? You don't think I'm hurt? I may have broken away from you guys, but he was still my Dad. I want my own back just as much as you do. I just know that killing Cayden isn't the way to do it."
"Then what do you suggest? We give him a slap on the wrist and warm him not to kill anyone else or we'll have to ground him? This is the only way we'll get our rightful justice!"
"I'M HIS ALPHA!"
That shut Lowell up.
"You want your justice? Take it out on me. If you won't do that, then let me deal with Cayden's punishment. I'm the only unbiased one around here."
Another knock on the door put a halt on our argument; both of our eyes swivelled to see who was going to enter, but no one did. This seemed to mean more to Lowell than me, as he stood up and made his way over – opening the door and slipping out before someone else came in and replaced him.
I've never been so happy to see Delta's calm and caring face. As soon as the door clicked shut behind her the tears released and she flung her arms around me like a mother. She hushed me, and rocked me back and forth slightly; comforting me in the only way she could. The moment her skin touched mine, I felt the bond flicker back to life. It was like someone had just opened a floodgate; all my built up feelings and emotions gushed out into Delta's mind and went from one member of our pack to another. It eased me, having all those people take on a little of what I felt, and taking on their emotions too. This was something only they could have done.
When she at last pulled back from me – kneeling on the floor and staring up at me with her pale eyes expectedly, brushing away the tears from my cheeks as they finally begun to slow.
"I couldn't save him," I whispered to her.
"No one could have, sweetheart." The words were meant to be comforting, but it only pulled at my heart more.
"He killed my Dad," I sobbed.
Delta just nodded; she knew, she knew everything that had happened, and I had no idea how.
"My Dad, Delta. What am I meant to do now?" Right now, I didn't care about the all out war that Pine Valley had declared on Cayden, nor the fact their alpha was dead. All I cared about was my father. All I wanted was my Dad to be here to hug me and let me know everything was all right. The last thing I'd done was fight him. And now I'd never get the chance to apologise for all I'd done. I'd never be able to tell him how much I loved him.
It was selfish, oh so very selfish, but I didn't care. Just this once, right here in this room with no one but Delta to see, I wanted to be a selfish child who wanted her Dad back. No speak of 'alpha'. No pack waiting to depend on me. No Cayden lost and alone somewhere. Just a teenage girl and the selfish wish for her Dad to come back.
That quiet moment passed all too quickly, and the tentative probing into my mind told me we were no longer alone.
Sniffing away the last remaining tears, I wiped my face of as much evidence I could, before running a hand through my hair – which was coated in grim from days of being bedridden – and looked over to the door, whilst opening up the bond even bigger.
Charlie entered once he realised I was allowing him, and stood small yet strong in the doorway. His face serious and without a hint of the smile he usually wore. He didn't need to say anything; I already knew we had to leave soon.
After receiving my nod, Charlie set about placing my into a bag he found on top of my wardrobe. He hesitated slightly before finally seeming to decide to throw other possessions in as well – a few old photo frames, the odd trinket, but staying clear of any electrical appliance. I couldn't help but smile sadly at that; it seemed that I really was entering cave-style living for good now.
Delta helped me out of bed and surveyed the damage to my leg, until I decided that it had healed well enough for me to walk on by now. It seemed as though Delta was about to transform in order to slice away the constricting cast, but I was one step faster.
My shaking hands tore away the cast with a cruel rip. Both Delta and Charlie stopped to watch me in surprise. My face was set into a solid frown, and my eyebrows furrowed as I stared down at the nasty cuts that had been hidden by the cast. I felt immediately better; throwing all my anger and aggression into that cast had been the right thing to do, even if it did terrify the others slightly. My alpha strength was back, and stronger than ever.
Charlie threw me a pair of jogging pants he'd grabbed from a drawer and I caught them at lightning speed before pulling them on at a much slower and cautious rate. He also offered me a pair of trainers, but I shook my head – I wanted to walk bare foot, it was always made me feel freer.
As I walked forward, Delta stepped right behind me and held onto my arm carefully in case I needed support; my limp was pretty bad, and my leg certainly hurt, but it was nothing compared to what I'd been through the past few days. I was more concerned about the state of my ear and why the only noises seemed to be coming from my left. Charlie flung the bag over his shoulders and followed silently; his ever watchful eyes taking in every possible threat to me so he could remove it as need (even if that threat was a rogue pencil I almost stepped on).
The stairs were the worst part, and Delta had to pull my arm over her shoulders and half-carry me down them, but once that was over I was faced with the uncertain face of Connell as his hand twitched in irritation at seeing these strangers so close to me.
"You should stay and get better," he said pointedly when his eyes finally land on me.
"My pack needs their alpha," I retorted, though my tone was soft.
Even so, he flinched slightly at the words. "You need to heal more."
We moved close enough for me to place my hand on his cheek. His eyes were red and a top of heavy bags and his green eyes were rimmed in an ever so slight amount of black as the alpha inside him slowly began to prepare to take over. "You look just like Dad, you know?"
The words seemed to hit him hard, and he pulled my head closer until our foreheads touched. There he whispered the words only meant for me, "I need you right now. I need my sister."
"I know... And that's why I'm sorry," Pulling away again, I looked him right in the eye – knowing he'd be seeing the same black rim around my iris that I saw around his. "But you'll understand the second Mum steps down."
He clearly didn't care about understanding, and I doubted he actually wanted to take Dad's role yet, but nevertheless he'd know soon enough. I couldn't see Mum anywhere, and that upset me a little – I didn't want to leave without apologising to her, but something told me I couldn't linger here any longer. I moved to the front door, and rested my palm on the cool metal handle, then pulled it open.
The moonlight was all there was to see by outside, but the steps up to our house were suddenly flooded with the light pouring out from our hall lamp. As I looked out to the people that stood out waiting for me, a gasp escaped my lips.
They were all there, surrounded by the suspicious Pine Valley members, all looking uncomfortable and upset, and all turning to face me as they felt my surprise. I hadn't realised until now, but in that moment I knew that I hadn't been alone all this time I'd been hovering between reality and dreams. They'd been here the whole time.
The calls brought my eyes to little Tango as he stood beside his parents – wiping his tired and tear filled eyes, and reaching out to me with his other hand. Those little fingers extended as much as possible as if there were miles between him and me. Honestly, it felt like miles.
I couldn't help but leave Delta's hold and limp down the steps towards them all – my bond reaching out to them just like Tango's little hands. In the end, I think the little boy realised how difficult I was finding moving, and he ran forward to throw himself into my weak arms. He was closely followed by the twins, and they all buried their scared faces into me as I knelt on the floor before them. One by one, the others approached; first Echo, then Lima, one by one until all twenty-five of us were huddled together for support.
All of them turned their desperate and lost expressions my way – looking for direction and answers that I couldn't give them. The temporary alpha they'd put their faith in had vanished without a trace, the real alpha that wasn't ready to lead yet had almost been taken from them too; and now they were on foreign and portentously dangerous territory, needing their Alpha.
For the first time, I truly felt the weight of my title.
A sudden apprehension passed through the bond from all of the pack, leaving the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Everyone moved aside, providing my with a direct line of sight to my mother standing opposite – behind her, the whole of Pine Valley's pack either glaring or staring in shock.
"Imelda," she nodded, without a hint of motherly love about her.
"Celine," I replied – hoping that the use of her first name showed I meant business if she did.
"I believe we have some things to... discuss." Her tone seemed odd, and ever so slightly threatening. Standing up, I pushed the children aside to whichever of Silent Breeze's adults were close enough.
"I guess so."