Chapter 2. Game-changer.

3148 Words
“Don’t you growl at me!” Elene ordered the Southerner, trying to avoid looking at him at the same time. “I’ll give it my best,” he said, his breathing suspiciously ragged. She did not like this one bit. The first rays of the rising sun illuminated the sky as hundreds of colourful hot air balloons floated in the air. Elene saw how other people were having the times of their lives flying around them. All the while, she was stuck with the man she loathed the most. “I’m sure it was a joke about mates,” Forrest told her as if he was trying to reassure her, but his voice seemed… off. “It better be,” she muttered, counting the seconds until the flight was over. Now that she was thinking about it, it could be worse. She could be stuck with, let’s say, Gideon and Riannon making out again. At least she did not have to pretend in front of Romero. However, when it got too quiet, she couldn’t help but check what was going on with the Southern Alpha. Forrest looked slightly pale despite his bronze skin, not taking his eyes off her. Elene furrowed her brows. What was he up to now? “It’s — you,” he breathed out, and a shiver ran down the princess’ spine. He looked at her with so much longing that her breathing hitched. Elene wasn’t sure how to respond. What was he doing? What did he mean? “Don’t you feel it?” Forrest asked, a hint of sadness in his voice. He looked so broken. Her lips parted slightly, shock paralysing her just for a few moments. It couldn’t be… Bia? She called her wolf but could sense that her beast was as startled as she was. Could they really be mates? The Southerner held her gaze for a minute until he threw his head back again and let out a hearty laugh. “You should see your face!” he snorted through tears. “You know what I feel?” she seethed. “I feel you are an enormous jerk!” Elene turned back away, trying to calm down her racing heart. That was close. “Oh, come on! Lighten up, Princess. Have some fun!” Romero leaned over the edge of their basket. “At least we can relax knowing we are not mates, right?” “Bullet dodged,” she commented dryly. “Don’t be too upset,” he teased her. “Why would I?” She arched her brow at him. “I would have rejected you, anyway. Royals don’t mate with—” The smile faded from his lips. She didn’t say it, but he knew what she meant. His mother was an Omega and a lover of an Alpha from the South. Although he was lucky enough to have Alpha blood as a result, he was still lowborn and was not considered pure by shifter standards. “It may come as a shock to you, but I don’t dream of being mated to a stuck-up princess who is hung up on someone else’s husband either,” he retorted, watching with delight as she pressed her plump lips together in annoyance. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the Moon Goddess will mate you to an equal,” she sneered at him and turned away. “A Tau, or maybe a Sigma if you are lucky.” “You mean someone nice and hardworking?” He chuckled. “Yes, please.” Elene decided not to grace that with a reply. What could he know about her life? Nothing. Just like everyone else, he assumed she only had to look pretty and smile when required, maybe run a charity or two. He did not know the extent of what she had to go through when her parents died, and her brother became a young King without proper advisors. So many people tried to take advantage of them that Elene had to mature very quickly. . Although Kai was always protecting her, she had to protect him too. No matter the price. To her relief, Forrest found something interesting to look at on the other side of their basket. They landed in about an hour, and Elene threw off her shoes to be able to escape first. She jumped off the basket even before it touched the ground. Not thinking twice, she picked up her shoes and stormed towards King Devoss, determined to get what she came here for. Not too princess-like, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Elene found him in a lavish tent, talking to the most beautiful woman she had ever seen, with long brown hair and eyes anyone could lose oneself in. However, the princess did not care because she had been there for days, and the King brushed her off every time she tried to speak to him. Tomorrow was time to leave, and she couldn’t return to her brother empty-handed. Not when her country was accused of terrorism and attacking its neighbour while they were completely innocent. “Your Majesty,” she interjected right in the middle of their conversation. “May I speak to you in private?” “Could this—” Devoss was about to brush her off again. “Wait?” she guessed his answer with an indifferent expression painting her face. “No, absolutely not. I am afraid it’s an urgent matter.” “But we are in the middle of celebrating!” He looked at her with begging eyes, as if he was a child and not a King responsible for so many lives. “We’ve been celebrating five days, and this is officially day six now since the sun is rising,” she pointed out. “Time to work.” “You Northerners have to learn how to have some fun!” He muttered but then nodded toward his enormous modern palace built into a mountain. Elene still struggled to understand how this was built so well because it definitely defied a few laws of nature her tutors taught her, but she knew better than to waste the precious opportunity on trivial matters. She finally felt confident that she would have a chance to negotiate a deal after all. From the corner of her eye, Elene noticed Forrest walking in their direction, but the woman King Devoss was just talking to stepped in his way, stalling him. She turned to glance at Elene just briefly and winked at her, which made the princess send her a grateful smile. King Devoss tried to distract her with conversations about the interior design and some paintings on the walls, but she politely reminded him of the urgency of her matter each time, bringing him back to business. Finally, they reached his private office and only when the doors behind them closed did Elene breathe out in relief, realising they could finally speak privately. “Your Majesty,” she started, but Devoss waved his hand to stop her. “No formalities, please.” He shook his head, his tone shifting from its usual playful cadence to one of solemnity in mere seconds. “I know why you are here, so let’s not waste any time.” That was a change for the best. “Well, I can assure you that no one in the North is responsible for the explosion in the capital of the Eastern Republic, and—” “I know that,” he sighed. “I was there when it happened, and I am sure the North had nothing to do with the explosion. The projected flag was just a decoy to make you guys look bad." Elene exhaled a sigh of relief—the situation was in her favour now. Or was it? Despite knowing the truth, the King of the East behaved like he knew nothing in public. He conducted himself as if the unfolding events bore no connection to him or his country. A doubt crept to the depths of her mind. Could the East be behind the explosion? “If you know the truth, why do you simply watch when the South accuses us?" she asked sternly. "Their General struts around here as if expecting our contrition." "Because it doesn't matter what any of us say since we don't have any proof to back it up," Devoss interrupted her, and she pursed her lips. How could one prove they didn't do something when everything was pointing at them? Besides, the signals the King was sending her were very hard to read. "On the contrary, your support would be incredibly valuable for us," Elene argued. "If the South knew whose side you are on—" "Oh, they know," Devoss assured her. "The problem is — they don't care." For the first time, Elene wasn't sure what to reply. She moved to the seat before her and settled into it uninvited. "They will have to care." She furrowed her brows. "A war isn't good for anyone. We don't want to fight, but if we are put into a position where we have to, the South will be the one regretting their choices. My only concern is the people." "Don't be too rash, Princess." Devoss tilted his head. “Everyone knows how many Changed Ones there are in the North and the West. Don't you think it's suspicious that the South is still not afraid of going to war against you?” She and her brother had already been thinking about this. The South was too arrogant and too persistent. Surely, they had to know that the Changed Ones possessed powers above and beyond regular shifters. Why weren’t they afraid of the confrontation? Elene slowly raised her eyes back to the king, arching her brow slightly. “You know something.” “I suspect something,” he admitted. "Care to share?" She tapped her fingers nervously over the armrest of her chair, swearing inwardly at herself for not being able to hide her anxiety. "I am afraid if I tell you now, you wouldn't believe me," Devoss shrugged. "Try me," Elene suggested calmly. She was used to people underestimating her. “Maybe another time,” the King smiled and leaned back against his seat, stretching his arms. “But for now, I have something better for you.” “How so?” The princess arched her brow. “Please note that I went into a lot of trouble to get it, and technically, I am not asking for anything in return.” Now he had her attention. “Go on.” Elene held the Easterner’s gaze confidently and his lips stretched into a smirk. “I like you, Princess,” he said all of a sudden, standing up. “I’ve spent days wondering if you were the right person to trust and I think I made the right choice.” She said nothing since she was still puzzled by his strange behaviour. “Follow me,” he added and strolled out of the room, his long red cape with golden ornaments rustling over the floor. Elene bit her tongue so as not to comment on how uncomfortable walking around in that ridiculous thing must be. However, Devoss didn’t seem to struggle with it at all. He moved like a swan on water, putting her, an actual trained princess, to shame with his grace. “Where are we going again?” she asked when he turned into his private wing, the place that was forbidden to any guests all this time. “Tell me, Elene, what are you ready to do to save your Kingdom’s reputation?” the King asked, and everything inside her recoiled. What was he really asking? Questions like that were never simple in her world. She was beginning to regret being so impulsive and leaving her guard, Claire, behind. Kai was warning her not to stay alone with anyone she did not fully trust, but she had to have this conversation. What if there really was something that could help them avoid the war and save their people? They’d had enough battles for a lifetime and as their princess, she wanted to give them that. In the meantime, the King looked at her expectantly, the corners of his lips dancing as if he knew more about her than she could imagine. It was time to answer his question. “I am Elene Fionnlagh, the Princess of the Northern Lycan Kingdom, the only sister of King Kai Fionnlagh. I am ready to do what it takes, but—” “Very well,” Devoss interrupted her. “That means I made the right choice.” “A choice?” Elene swallowed uncomfortably, hearing the same word again and still unsure what he was talking about. What did he choose her for? “You see, I came to acquire something very special,” he teased her. “Something that will prove the North’s innocence.” “Excuse me?” she gasped. He had proof all this time and hadn’t said a word? “What is it?” Maybe Devoss found the traces of the bombs used in the Southern capital or got his hands on footage incriminating someone else? Maybe he caught the ones who activated the detonators, and this nightmare would soon be over? “Something that requires a reliable person to deliver it to the Alpha Convocation in the South,” Devoss informed her bluntly, opening double doors with a fingerprint. The East was surprising her more and more. “Deliver?” Elene furrowed her brows. “You want me to deliver the proof?” “It’s for the sake of your country, is it not?” The King shrugged, and she found no arguments against it. “They need to see it with their eyes. Right there in their own territory. It’s a total and complete game-changer. Trust me.” It wasn’t perfect, and Kai wouldn’t be happy if she left straight for the South now, but as long as she could put an end to the burgeoning war, she had to try. After all, her brother already had an heir. Now Elene was officially disposable and she could afford to take the risk. “I will need all the information first, of course,” she decided to play hard to get because it still wasn’t clear what the East was getting out of all of it. They walked through a dark corridor to another set of doors, and Devoss waved his hand, using magic this time. Elene’s eyes darted to him. “Are you also a Changed One?” she asked, noticing how he tried to suppress a smile. “We can use that term, I guess,” he chuckled after a short pause. “Anyway, I hope you got a great gift in the Battle of the Avalanche. Fenrir knows you will need it.” Elene froze. Here it was again. Around a year ago, her Kingdom faced a devastating attack by enemies, starting a war. Luckily, the Wolf God Fenrir intervened and blessed the Northern warriors together with their allies. He made them stronger and helped them win, but the miracles did not end there. Months later, the survivors of the final battle began to notice changes in themselves. Sometimes, they were subtle at first, yet soon, everyone she knew found themselves with the consequences of divine favour. The Northerners and Westerners on their side began to discover divine gifts. Gradually, it became clear that almost everyone who fought that day now possessed a special power. Some could wield elements, some could heal others, some could create illusions, while others could turn invisible. The list went on. All her friends had a gift now, their reward for bravery and loyalty on that day they were supposed to die. Even her maid could read minds now, and she was on the battlefield not to fight but to drag the wounded to the first aid camp. Everyone seemed so happy with their blessings, and it completely changed the political game as the rumours spread. However, one warrior had not received any special powers. Just one out of everyone. We don’t need a special power, Bia grunted, feeling Elene’s distress. We are already outstanding as it is. And strong. Fenrir did not forget us. He simply decided we were already strong enough. Yeah, sure. Elene rolled her eyes. They’d already had this conversation many times, and it still stung. Some of her friends had trouble identifying their gifts; at first, she thought this was her problem, too. But days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Everyone discovered their gifts. Everyone but her. It was a hard pill to swallow. Once again, she wasn’t chosen. Once again, she was discarded and forgotten. The princess who was supposed to help her brother and his wife lead the country was considered less deserving than a castle maid. That hurt. Especially since everyone assumed she was one of the Changed Ones, too. After all, they knew she was fighting right next to Queen Savannah in the very centre of the battle. “So, what is your gift, exactly?” Devoss was working on door number three, allowing it to scan his eye. “It’s probably something good!” “Oh, it’s good,” Elene forced the words out of herself, “but it’s a secret.” “And here I thought we were getting friendly,” the Easterner playfully pouted his lips. “Don’t worry, it will not disappoint,” she lied, and he watched her closely for a few seconds. “Of course not,” the man hummed to himself as the last door finally unlocked. Elene was astonished by the level of security here. “I think you are perfect for this mission,” the fox smirked and gestured for her to walk inside first. “After you, Princess.” Elene stepped into a spacious, well-lit room with glass walls, the bright morning light blinding her. “What is thi—” She did not get to finish her sentence because a large glass vase flew straight into her head. Not thinking twice, Elene elongated her claws and broke it into pieces at the last moment. “So, I guess your gift is not shielding,” Devoss carefully walked between the shards of glass as if trying to protect his shoes. His cape was now wrapped around him extravagantly not to be torn. Elene realised the fox expected this kind of greeting. “I hate you!” she heard a piercing voice and met a pair of angry blue eyes. “What the hell?” she glared at the King, who did not feel guilty for tricking her. “Princess Elene, meet the Game-changer!” He flashed her a pearly white smile.
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