A Leader Must Rise

Chapter 2: Mrs Bennett\'s Riddle

Hair standing on end, a shiver racked Arias frail frame. A winter breeze kissed her bruised skin as she glanced left and right, her heart thumping as the minutes ticked by. A howl sounded in the distance, and terror froze her veins. It was time. She took off running, her trembling limbs barely keeping her upright.

Don look, just run, she thought. She ran in a zig-zag pattern, her body protesting with each turn. She whimpered as she heard the first set of paws, followed by another and another until they surrounded her. A sob escaped her as glowing eyes came alongside her. They surged forward, disappearing for a moment before reappearing several meters in front of her. She shouted as she stumbled to a stop. Turning on her heels, she realises she was surrounded. Tears poured down her cheeks; pleas tumbled out of her as giant wolves stalked towards her. Nothing phased them. She glanced around wildly, looking for a chance to escape. She froze as one wolf turned to her, teeth bared and eyes crazed. Her breathing quickened, her heart beating faster. The wolf lunged.

Aria woke with a scream as the wolfs teeth ripped into her shoulder. She flailed under her sheets, the pain in her shoulder as real as it was then. She gasped as she pawed at her chest, her heart hammering as awareness slowly returned to her.

Calm down. That was years ago, it doesn happen anymore, Aria tried to reassure herself, but her limbs continued to tremble. Except, her fear was more potent. She collapsed into the bedding, the memories wreaking havoc on her body. Her wolf, Sapphire whined inside her. She pulled on their bond until Aria was safe on their shared space. The scratchy sheets turned into soft grass, a warm if somewhat skinny body pressed against her. Wolf and human curled around each other as much as their injuries would allow, providing the comfort and reassurance they desperately needed.

…thank you, Aria whispered. Sapphire licked Arias foot in response. I hate them.

Agreed, Sapphire growled, ut what I hate more was not being there for you when you needed me.

Saph, I was eleven; most pups don get their wolves until they
e twelve.

I know, but its the principle of the thing… she said, and Aria hummed in response. At least they no longer hunt you.

…I think I prefer the hunting, Aria shuddered and brought her knees closer to her chest. In that nightmare, the hunting wasn the only thing that happened to her. A werewolf offered to bring her back to the house; the others left without a word. Aria returned three hours later. That werewolf wasn subtle in dragging her around; everyone knew what he did. Except for Andrew, the pack kept it secret from him, especially since it became a regular thing.

That was the worst thing they could do. No child should have to go through that, Sapphire seethed, canines bared as the memories played out on the floating screen. She growled at it, and the memories paused, fading out into a blank image.

Aria laid against Sapphire for a few minutes, gazing around their haven. She smiled as the gentle breeze caressed her skin, the vines of the weeping willows and the flowing grass swayed with it. This place was their sanctuary, a special place all shifters had with their animals. It was created by magic—a separate plain between living and death—tying human and beast together. This plain was where the animals lived while their human hosts were in control and where the host retreated when the roles were reversed. The screen was the only way for the animal or human to see what was happening when the other was in control. This plain was also the wolves of the pack share. When a wolf joins a pack, their sanctuaries connects to the combined fields of the group. It was where mind-link existed, but the only werewolf Aria and Sapphire recognised as a packmate was her twin.

Aria tilted her head, spotting where border where Sapphires plain ended and where her twins began. She spied James silky white fur immediately, but he was sound asleep.

Want me to wake them? Sapphire offered.

No, let them sleep. Andrew and James worry about us enough… Aria said. We can keep living like this, though. Sapphire huffed in agreement, laying her head on her paws.

Sierra and Killian found a home with the Blood Moon pack after their dispute with their brother-in-law. They raised their three pups undisturbed until rogues attacked when the twins were ten and Justin twelve. They died in their attempt to protect their children and the alphas only child, Chase. Unfortunately, Justin blamed Aria, and her abuse started. He tried manipulating Andrew into not caring for her but settled with threats against both of them if Justin didn get his way. Chase was indifferent altogether, but in the beginning, Aria did have memories of him looking guilty. He never participated in Arias abuse, but he didn do anything to relieve it either, preferring to ignore her together.

Andrew did manage to ease her suffering two years later, but one wolf pup against a pack of two hundred, he could only do so much. Aria was thankful he argued for her to have a decent room at least. Like most stories shes read, her situation couldve been worse.

I know, but our seventeenth birthday was last week, maybe well find our mate today.

Im beginning think its a childhood dream.

Our seventeenth birthday was last week, Aria. Not all werewolves find their mates immediately.

True, Aria sounded crestfallen, but she smiled at the lingering hope in Sapphires eyes. Chase wasn only a childhood friend to the Knight pups, but he was also Arias love interest. Despite him not helping her, Arias and Sapphires feelings never dissipated. They hoped that Chase and his wolf, Levi was their soulmate. He returned from a two-week trip last night, she praying that her hope wasn misplaced.

Aria sighed at the train of thought and slowly sat up. Sapphire whined, already knowing what she was going to say.

We should get ready for the day.

Sapphire was silent for a moment before she muttered, Fine.

Aria patted her shoulder in agreement. She straightened and closed her eyes, imagining her soul stepping back into her body. Her muscles twitched and jerked as she came too, the sun shining directly into her eyes.

Ah, goddamn sun, she muttered and paused. Wait, sun?! Aria glanced at her alarm clock and blanched at the time. 6.01.

Go! Sapphire yelled, and Aria rushed to get ready, pulling the first set of baggy clothing she could find. She just finished tightening her belt when her door banged open. She whimpered as Justin stepped into the room menacingly. Sapphire was torn between whining in betrayal or growling in defiance, but Aria had to lower her eyes out of respect. Imminent pain blossomed in her cheek, the force of the blow sending her to the floor.

Did you think you could get away with this? he asked, gripping her arm and forcing her into a wall. Despite her scream of pain, she had to hold in Sapphire responding growl. The pack doesn know that Aria had shifted, let alone that she had an alpha wolf. To keep that fact a secret, she had to appear as shiftless. Chases parents could perceive her as a threat to him and their pack; they would gladly remove her if that came true.

Someone turned off my alarm, Justin, please—ah! Aria screamed as she was hit with another backhand.

Thats always the excuse with you, its pathetic. If you don start moving that ugly ass of yours, you
e going to regret being born, Justin seethed before storming out of the room. Aria frail frame shook with pain, rage and the desire to make him submit.

Saph, don , Aria pleaded.

He needs to learn his place.

I know, but don shift. My body can handle it, Sapphire realising the effect of her anger, and she relaxed. Aria ceased shivering. Thank you.

I hate hiding, Aria. Im a god damn alpha yet Im hiding like an omega, she growled.

Do you think I don ? I hate hiding my true self; to act differently than what I am and I hate the fact its become so easy.

I know this, Aria but one of these days—

I know, Im all in for ripping every one of these **ers a new one, and giving Justin a good hiding, Aria interrupted her, baring her teeth as she stood. For now, lets put on a good show. Sapphire growled as Aria adjusted her shirt and left the safety of her room. She rushed to the dining hall, almost reaching the kitchen when a foot caught hers. The room burst into laughter as she hit the floor.

Watch where you
e going, slut, the packs whore, Kara said.

I wonder if this bitch has a mirror, Sapphire retorted. Aria bit her tongue as she hurried to start breakfast. She tasted blood as they laughed and praised her enemy. Tears swelled in both pain and anger as they continued to mock her; awful, vulgar names followed her as she moved around. Working by herself was a common occurrence, she quickly mastered the culinary arts while the pack harassed her with an order after order. But it doesn stop her sighing in relief when the morning rush was over.

Not stopping to do the dishes, she grabbed an apple and dashed back to her room. She didn get much further than the dining hall door when someone stopped her with a yank of her hair.

Where do you think you
e going? There are dishes to be done, Kara said. Aria shouted as she yanked on her hair again, dragging her back into the hall. Kara threw her to the floor, a wicked smile plastered on her face as she pointed to the swaying stack.

So, get started, Kara said. Trembling, Aria stood and reached for the first plate. She paused, though, a wonderous scent drifted into the room. It was spice with a hint of citrus, flora and the woods. It made Arias insides melt. Both ladies turned at the same time, Aria having to swallow her gasp at the delicious sight. She nearly swallowed her tongue as her eyes travelled from Chases black and white vans, up to his fitted black jeans, white shirt and black denim jacket. His eyes briefly met Arias before he flinched at Karas high-pitched shout.

Chasey!

Quick, grab a knife, Sapphire said.

Whatever for?

So, we can remove her tongue.

Don tempt me, Aria said as Kara strutted over to him. Aria glanced at her before admiring his chiselled jawline and his baby blue eyes. They narrowed at the nickname, but his expression was carefully blank.

Aria, get ready for school, Chase said.

But she needs to do the dishes, Chasey, Kara complained.

This is from my parents, Kara, Aria cannot be late anymore. Some of the human teachers are getting suspicious, theyve already called them with concerns and have threatened to call child services if there isn any improvement.

But she was late for kitchen duty, she needs a punishment, Kara pouted and pawed his chest. Bowing her head, Aria missed how Chase tensed.

Then she goes without breakfast, he said and turned towards Aria. You
e still here? She released an embarrassing squeak at being spoken too, and she was quick to leave. She tried sneaking the apple out, but Chase grabbed it before she could. Their fingers grazed before the barest of seconds, but it was enough. Tingles spread across her fingertips, a white noise filled her eyes, and for a split second, it was only them two. The moment shattered as Chase snatched the fruit away and Kara pushed her from behind.

You heard him. Now, get a move on before I break something, Kara said. Arias lip twitched into a snarl, her hands clenching with fury. She managed to duck her head in time but not before sneaking a glance at Chase. His look of indifference haunted her as she ran to her room, not even noticing Andrew as she rushed passed.

Why didn he do anything? I know the touch was brief, but surely he knows we were mates? Aria asked. She frowned when she didn receive a reply. She waited until she reached the safety of her room, mentally nudging her wolf into the present.

Saph, did you hear me?

I heard you, Aria frowned at Sapphires sad and fearful tone.

Whats wrong?

Chase and Levi are our mates; Levi knew when they turned seventeen.

Then why aren you happy? This is what we wanted. Wait, Levi knew when they were seventeen? Why didn they stop the abuse if they knew?!

Chase doesn know; he still doesn know. Levi has kept us a secret from his human.

Goddess, why? Does he not want us?

No, quite the opposite. Levis afraid of what Chase would do with the information, Sapphire said. It took a while for Aria to respond to this bit of information.

Hes scared hell reject us?

…I don know. The touch was so brief, I only got a mess of confused emotions, but that might be the most logical answer, Sapphire replied. Aria slid down the door, tears threatening to spill over. At least it won be an official rejection.

I don think I would call that a comforting thought, Aria mumbled. Official rejections are slightly different from a standard rejection. The phrasing of each was similar, only the word official was added, and while both will break a mating bond, the official loses all chance of reviving it in the future. The only way to restore a mating bond from an official rejection was to seek a royal or ask a priest to seek the Moon Goddess approval. The only drawback with an official rejection, both human and the animal must agree. If they don , they
e physically incapable of uttering the rejection.

Maybe not, but at least Levi wants us. That has to count for something, right?

Despite the situation, warmth bloomed in Arias chest and on her cheeks. A small smile graced her lips, nodding as those five words bounced around in her head.

He wants us, she whispered in her exhilaration but tensed as a stray through hit her, and an ill feeling building in her chest. Sapphire whimpered at what the implication of it meant.

But what happens when Chase realises who we are to him? What happens to us if he rejects us? Aria added mentally.

I-I guess we leave. We only stayed around because we hung on the hope that Chase was our mate. If he does reject us, we no longer have a reason to stay, and Andrew wouldn let us leave without him.

Someone knocked at her door. Aria waited for a moment, and another two knocks came in quick session. She sighed and moved away to let Andrew in. He locked the door behind him before pulling Aria into his arms. She hid into the crook of his neck, tears rolling down her cheeks. Andrew hugged her tighter, picking her up and making themselves comfortable on her bed. He placed the brown paper bag down to gently drag Aria away to see her correctly, moving a lock of hair behind her ear.

What happened, A? You
e not usually late, even if someone turned your alarm off, Andrew asked.

Nightmare, Aria whispered. She shivered when she felt James react to her words, hearing him growled and rub against Sapphire in comfort. Andrew smiled sadly, offering comforting as well by squeezing her arms.

Did anything else happen? You don cry from a nightmare.

Uh… Aria scratched her neck nervously, glancing at everything but him. Andrew patiently waited for Aria to collect herself, but he stiffened when she spoke the words he never thought would go together.

Chase is my mate.

…Im sorry, what? Andrew had to shake his head and stared at his sister, wishing for her to take the words back. When she didn , he cursed and asked when she found out.

This morning, when he took my food.

If he rejects you, A, Andrew paused, his anger and hatred simmering to the surface, Im done. Ill leave the pack, and Im taking you with me. With all the abuse they put you through, that will be the last straw.

You mean that?

Yes, I…I can handle seeing you all skin and bones, and I can treat you like your invisible any longer, he frowned angrily then, growling his next words, and if they officially reject you, I swear Im going to kill him. Aria sighed and lowered her head until their foreheads touched.

They won .

How do you know that? Wait, if your mate is Chase, shouldn he have known on his seventeenth birthday?

Levi knew, but he didn tell Chase.

Goddess, why?

Hes scared of what Chase will do, Aria said. At Andrew displeased frown, she quickly added, Levi wants us, Sapphire said he does, but hes not sure how Chase will react. In his way, hes protected us from an early rejection.

Or he could have saved you from all this abuse.

Andrew.

All right, all right, he surrendered.

…Could you stay close today though? Ive got that feeling, Aria said hesitantly, and Andrew cursed, placing her on the mattress and handing her the paper bag. She began eating the banana as he started searching through her wardrobe.

What are you doing?

Packing. I don know how, but every time you get those feelings, something bad always happens. Maybe Im overly cautious, but if Chase does reject you, I rather leave the instant he does. Ah huh! Found ya.

Aria frowned as he pulled a green duffle bag from the top shelf and started throwing in clothes and other necessities.

What about you? she asked.

Ill pack as well. Chase and Justin left already thinking I left an assignment behind. Ill grab a map too, curtesy of Alpha Jack.

Andrew!

What? Hes not even here. The alpha and the Luna left on an errand this morning. Aria raised a brow at him before shaking her head, smiling wilfully.

And where are we going, Mr Thief?

White Warriors. Theyll be able to provide us with the training we need, and itll be the last place they expect us to go, Andrew said as he gestured to his warriors mark on his right shoulder. Aria briefly touched her shoulder. Warriors are a different breed of werewolf; they
e stronger, faster, and have more agility than regular wolves. They
e a formidable force, and they protect the race as a whole. They also provide aid and training to packs which need it against rogues, hunters or other supernatural races.

Chases baby blue eyes flashed behind her eyes and uncertainly entered her.

Do you think you can betray them for me?

Andrew paused to kneel in front of her, taking her hands in his and said, Aria, you are my alpha. My loyalty and devotion belong to you first and foremost. Aria smiled and nuzzled him. She released another squeak when he picked her up and marched her to the wardrobe.

Now, finish getting ready. Ill drive you, he said.

Theyll hurt you.

I don care.

I do. I don want them to hurt you, Aria said.

They wouldn dare.

You know thats bullshit.

I hate pretending that I don care about you,

I know, she whispered. Andrew was quiet for a moment before sighing, his sad expression turning into determination.

Aria sighed and said, Deal.

Promise me youll immediately tell me if he rejects you?

I promise.

Thank you. Get ready, meet me in the woods in five minutes, he said, and Aria nodded. Andrew left after that as Aria changed into clothing more suitable for her size and rushed outside. A few adults glared at her as she passed, but she ignored them until she was far out of their sight. It was a few minutes before his blue Honda Accord pulls up. She sneered at the ordinary exterior but hopped into the passenger seat. Both Aria and Andrew hated the car, instead of being into fancy sports models but Justin insisted safety over style.

They travelled in silence, both too deep in thought to banter as they usually would. Yet, when Aria and Andrew came close to the school grounds, Aria pointed to just ahead of them.

Drop me off here, she said. Andrew sighed as he pulled over.

Tell me when you get on campus, he said.

I will, she replied as she leaned over to kiss his cheek.

We love you, Ari, Andrew whispered.

We love you too, Aria replied. She waved him off until he was out of sight before she entered the woods. She arrived at the school gates a few minutes later, pausing at the edge of the tree line.

Ready? she asked.

Not a chance in hell, Sapphire replied.

Well, here goes nothing.

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