Copyright © 2016 by Alsey Grayland
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(0) The Leash Of Regret
A new day and a new dawn, raindrops that are no longer splattering the dusk, everything is quiet. The sun is flicking its rays behind the rooftop of the house. I'm staying outside of that home where I grew in.
My body is shaking like that of a little juvenile scared for her life, for with the dawn comes another challenge she must face.
The man is inside that house. He's resting now that the battle has been won. He's content with his victory as we all have been brought to our knees in surrender.
Fear for my people is gripping my chest. Father's gone and, with him, our strength has left us. I am the last one who can stop them but I no longer have the means to fight any of the invaders.
The males have surely been killed, the females and younger ones will, in the best case scenario, be enslaved under this new rule. A stranger has risen to be our new Alpha and no one knows what he will be to us. Will he turn into a protector after his pack assimilates us, or will we be killed one by one?
Why did they come? Why did they disrupt our peaceful lives? No one knows.
Turning my gaze upwards, I watch the window of the room I know he's staying at. I've seen him watching me from there last night and although it's still too early for him to be observing me, I know he will come to glance at me eventually.
Hours pass until I see him pulling the curtains open and standing behind the windowpane. Studying me with his cold eyes, there's not a single muscle on his face that moves to form an expression. It stays as glacial as the man himself is. What is he thinking as he's gazing down at me?
I don't know. I'm not sure I want to find out.
A few minutes later, he drops the curtain back, hiding from view behind it. Soon after I can already hear the first sounds of the life inside the house.
His timbre comes soft but commanding to my ears as he gives his men orders about what needs to be done. Every once and then I can catch a few words but never full phrases, never the whole meaning of what he's telling them.
He is the first to come out of the house, followed by another man. Hayden, I remember the name he called him last night as the other men who dragged me out here called him 'Beta'.
His skin seems lighter in the dawn of the day, a chocolate brown that has made it hard for my eyes to make much of his features in the dark, but now I can see them clearly.
A narrow jaw, full lips with a strong, almost thick nose above and two eyes that look like dark honey. A small scar is sitting on the left half of his forehead, his dark hair cut so low it does nothing to cover it.
A memento of a battle he carries with pride like all moon children do.
Turning my eyes toward the other man, he's the bigger threat to me, the one I know I can never defeat. He's a different kind of Alpha, not like my step-dad who's always been gentle with his pack, liberal if you wish.
Regan is the kind of man who terrifies. It's not how he looks, it's not how he talks, it's the kind of thing you feel in your gut and just can't explain. Is it the look in his forest green eyes? Is it something about that face that looks like one of those models who pose for the covers of men's magazines? I don't know what it is but I've seen enough from him to know what lays underneath that beauty and that playfully innocent look of his.
What kind of man will come and kill others without a second thought? What kind of man will tie a girl to a pole in the storm? What kind of man will watch as she bleeds in the mud and freezes in the cold?
I am that girl but he isn't that man. No - he's that monster.
He halts in front of me, watching me for a few minutes without actually saying anything. I stare back, try to find any hint of what he's planned for me. Eyes trailing from head to toe, when I notice the collar he's holding in his hand I know I don't need to look further.
It looks like a leash with which you're going to collar a disobedient dog, however, there is no such around here. Only the three of us and the wolves inside the house.
"Stand up," he says.
I can only stare at the leather collar in his hand. A chain is connected to it, dangling down from his loose grip.
Is he really going to collar me? Then what?
I notice the movement but I don't react until I feel his other hand taking a grasp of my hair and pulling me up.
"I. Said. Stand. Up." he grits out in my face. He's so close that his scent it everywhere. Clean and fresh, he smells like a man who's just come out of the shower. Soap and toothpaste.
"You will obey when I give you orders, little girl," he adds in a grave voice that makes my knees tremble.
I try to stay still and hide my fear but it's so hard when he's so close. It almost feels like standing alone against a storm.
"Just say the words. Spare me the trouble of having to discipline you. Spare yourself more pain, Scarlet. You know you want to do it." He goes on, nearly cooing the words.
Does he think I can do this? Does he know what he's asking?
I want to believe his words but I can't. I was not raised to trust monsters. I was not trained to betray my own.
Eying the collar one last time, I strengthen my spine, bracing myself for what's to come.
"You know what? You can shove your orders where the sun doesn't shine, Alpha!" I spit at his face, making him blink with shock. "I'd rather die than acknowledge you as an Alpha. You're not my Alpha and you'll never be."
He backs away from me, fixating those eyes of his on me as I watch the muscles on his jaw shift as if he's chewing on the same realization his mind seems to have trouble grasping. I can say he never expected this, but then what did he?
He couldn't have thought he'll break me with no effort.
"You just made the biggest mistake in your life, mutt," he whispers, wiping off the spit with his free hand before it comes back to my hair, pulling it so hard that I'm forced to tilt my head back and show him my neck.
"Hold her," I hear him say to his beta and the other man's hand comes in place of his.
I feel the collar being placed around my neck, not just leather but metal beads poking my skin as he fastens it. I want to struggle and fight that hold but with hands chained behind my back and the Beta holding me in position this is an impossible task for my already weakened body.
Instead, I accept my fate silently and soon after the collar is done, the chain connected to my shackles is being removed by the other man.
"Now, move," the monster says tugging on the leash. "We are going to take a walk through your lovely hometown."
Shaking my head, I nail my feet to the ground. I won't let him do this. Whoever has been left of my own pack should never see me like this.
He ignores it and turns his back to me, starting to walk in the direction of the town all the while pulling on that chain and I can do nothing but trip and fall behind him.
He doesn't stop. Not even for a moment.
This is no longer the town I can recognize. My home has turned to ruins.
There are no bodies laying on the ground, just a few marks of dried off blood where the fighting has taken place but they are being washed away too.
I can see people gathered here and there, cleaning up the mess that his pack has left as his own are watching them while they work. Women and juveniles, the youngest are somewhere else.
As we trek into town, I feel them. Angry stares directed at me. They never stop the work they've been assigned but they are watching us, secretly glancing this way with expressions that are stricken with horror.
He keeps tugging on the leash, bringing me further into that shame that is now so much more than just a feeling inside my chest. It's everywhere, filling the air around me like something tangible I can touch if I had my hands free.
I know they blame me for failing them but how do they see him? Do they see a promise in him or is it just the monster they keep tracking with their eyes? What is it exactly that they think now?
Turning around the corner, we step into the town's main street. Several meters down the street he stops in front of a lamp post along the walkway and secures the long chain around it. It's not like I can escape with so many of his own wolves infiltrated my home but he's not taking any chances.
He places two fingers in his mouth and a loud whistle sounds across the street.
Whoever hasn't yet seen us is giving us now all their attention.
"Come here," he shouts, his voice echoing through the silent street.
I watch as the people stop what they are doing and walk our way. Slowly as if they are walking to their death. My gaze travels to one and then another of my packmates, it can't linger long on any of them.
He takes a step away from where I am as we both wait for the last to make their way here and gather around the post.
Several minutes later, a big crowd of women and juveniles is clustered around us. I know each one of them, some are even my friends. Having been trained to take over my pack once Father retired means I had to know all of the wolves we've been responsible for. But now, Father hasn't just retired, he's dead and I'm no longer the one to take over this pack. We have our new Alpha now. An impostor.
"Was this your future Alpha?" he asks the crowd in a low, soft voice.
I can see the surprise on their faces. He shouldn't have known about me but he's not stupid. After what happened, he's probably guessed that only an Alpha-in-training will fight beside the current ruler of a pack.
And I've fought. I've flanked my father when they came into this territory despite the fact that no other juvenile has joined in the fight of the grown-up men.
He chuckles. "I guess she was, wasn't she? But the real question is - are you willing to risk your lives for her?"
He's silent for a few moments and I can see how that threat is sinking in. My own people are scared for themselves now and there's no one to protect them from this person who has come and taken what was theirs. I am the one who should have done that after my father was killed but I am as incapacitated as he is, even if I'm still alive.
"She won't accept me as the new Alpha and this is something I can't let just slip. I've tried, though, but she's just..." Words trailing off, he gives me an evil grin before he goes on. "Perhaps, you, little ones, will get through. You see, she needs to learn a lesson before I get more upset and change my decision to spare you."
I look at each and every face in the crowd, waiting for their decision. None of us really knows what he's demanding but I want them to do it. They should do it to be safe even if that means to kill me. I deserve it for not being able to protect them. I deserve the blame and I deserve the hate.
"What do you choose?" he asks and I watch the crowd reacting to his words now. Some turn away from me, others step closer to me, shielding me with their bodies from him.
Someone touches the hands that are shackled behind my back. I don't know who does it but when I whip my head around and meet Alex' eyes, she nods at me so I know she's the one who did.
"No, no. This won't work." He shakes his head. "I guess I should give you a demonstration first." He cocks a brow, fixing my friend under his stare.
"Norman," he calls out. "You like blondes, don't you?"
A wolf, one of his warriors, comes forth only to shake his head. "Her hair's too long. She looks too innocent."
I can feel Alex shaking next to me, yet she's keeping her head up.
"Cut it then," he says. "Daryl, come help him."
The men make their way into the cluster, pushing off their way the people who have formed a living shield in front of me.
Norman, the one who has come forth first, is bulkier than the other one. His head is shaved and showing the skin underneath that is adorned with tattoos and making him look like a man you won't want to meet in the dark of night. Daryl, however, has one of these baby faces that makes any man look a few years younger than his actual age. Only a few scars on his dark skin show that he's older than he looks and no longer a juvenile.
Daryl takes a grip of my friend as Norman grasps a few strands of her platinum hair, reaching for his knife.
A cry makes his way out of my chest as I watch the man cuts it almost to the roots. She has been growing that hair for as long as I've known her and now all of it has been cut off.
Alex doesn't scream while Norman is executing the task. It must hurt her since he's using a knife to do it but she never shows it. She stands straight, not even struggling in the other man's arms.
"We won't bow to you, Alpha," I say to him. "We might be weaker than you but we won't bow to an impostor."
"I guess I'll need to make you then," Regan says. "Norman, take this one away. You know what to do."
I watch the other man let my friend go as Norman drags her toward one of the houses nearby. What is he going to do to her?
"Now, who's going to do the honors and teach this one a lesson in submission?"
A long silence follows his words until, at last, a boy, no older than ten, steps out of the crowd that's gathered against the few ones who are still siding with me. His body is shaking, his face so pale it doesn't look like the one of a child who's been carelessly playing out in the sun. Hate, anger, all things you would never expect to see on a young face are easily readable on his.