“Can you believe that she was once the Teacher’s favourite?” Astrea heard a female voice echoing above her head. She made an effort to open her eyes but only saw three blurry silhouettes watching her from the top of the silver pit where she had spent the last several months as the punishment for her betrayal.
She’d hoped that the Firstborn warriors were done with her, but apparently not. It was nighttime, and her ex-colleagues made time to visit her every so often to watch and enjoy her suffering. Apparently, it was at the top of this summer’s to-do list.
“Was?” One of the women scoffed loudly. “If it were any of us that stabbed the Master in the back like that, we would have been dead months ago. Don’t get it wrong, Astrea Sade was and still is very much his favourite. The Teacher has held her here for four months. Why would he keep her alive for so long if he was just going to kill her in the end?”
Now they’d grabbed her attention. Was it four months already? She’d stopped counting somewhere after her hundred days milestone. Simply because she had no energy to carve new tally marks on the wall anymore. Thick silver was draining her wolf’s strength, making them poisoned and weaker than ever, at the same time preventing her from regeneration. She was stuck here, hurting and shocked she lasted that long. Anyone else would have been dead by now.
There was only one plus side. Her torture would probably be over soon. She couldn’t eat or drink anymore and, frankly, saw no reason to fight for her life.
Nevertheless, she had no regrets. Maybe they’d branded her as a traitor, but if she had gone through with her last task, she would have been betraying herself. Every time she closed her eyes, she remembered the choice she made while infiltrating the Luna Trials, an event where the Northern Lycan King was choosing his Luna.
That mission was very different from all the others she’d been given before.
Usually, she was sent to make a quick kill or act as a spy somewhere for a short while. But that time… That time she had to live with those people for weeks, stay close to them, get to know them.
It didn’t help that, at first, her task did not require killing anyone. So, she got to know everyone safely, weeding out the information for her Teacher but also enjoying herself in the process. At some point, pretending to be everyone’s friend stopped feeling false. She quickly came to realise that she liked these people. They were kind, noble in heart, passionate, and so alive. Living her whole life on the Firstborn island, where her Teacher trained them as fierce heartless warriors, his assassins and spies, she was deprived of what the Northerners had. Seeing true love stories unwrap before her eyes and true friendships forming, she couldn’t help but succumb to the charm.
That’s why when she received the order to kill everyone at the Luna ceremony, she couldn’t go through with it.
She was faced with a choice. To take the lives of everyone she liked and continue her path as her Teacher’s favourite, his Dragonfly or– Disobey him for the first time ever and give those people in the North a chance.
Astrea chose the latter. She hoped they used that chance wisely because she was the one now paying for it.
“They say that he comes to look at her every night,” one of the girls whispered, but Astrea heard her. Even if he did, she personally never saw him. The last thing she felt right now was her Teacher’s favour.
There was only one unbreakable rule on the island. Everyone had to obey the Teacher.
Sadly, this was the one rule she couldn’t follow anymore.
“I heard they are going to execute her next week, though,” the third woman muttered with an impassive face. “I personally think this long punishment was to demonstrate to all of us that no one is safe. Not even her. If you betray the Teacher and the Firstborn, you are doomed no matter who you are!”
None of the three visitors uttered another word as they watched her lying on the silver-layered ground, restrained in chains which prevented her injuries from healing, giving her the slowest death possible.
At least they were right about something. Their Teacher… that man was too heartless and too cruel to forgive anyone. At least, in all the years she’d spent by his side, she hadn’t seen him show mercy to anyone.
“I say it’s good that she is down there!” The first one broke the silence again. “She never deserved to be the leader of the Dragonfly squad in the first place. I still fail to understand what’s so special about her! Yes, she was not a bad assassin, but she always lacked discipline!”
“Speaking of Dragonflies,” one of them, a brunette, hummed as her brow quirked up, “if she dies, her spot in the Dragonfly squad would be free, right?”
Astrea watched them in amusement, not showing that she’d heard them at all. Why did everyone think that being in the Dragonfly squad was some sort of a prize? She didn’t enjoy a single day in it, and, technically, she was their leader. All they did was train and go on missions. Mostly alone, so it made no sense why they were called a squad. Their special dragonfly tattoos were all that they had in common.
“Probably,” one of the women at the top hummed to herself. “If she dies, her place will be up for grabs.”
“Imagine if she is pardoned instead, though,” another one suggested, and this time, the silence between them became heavy. Astrea sensed it with her skin. This was the moment they’d decide whether to kill her now or not.
No one on the island liked her before. They sure as hell hated her now. After all, when she pretended to poison the mating ceremony in the North instead of actually poisoning them, she had to flee for her life. The Teacher sent several groups of Firstborn warriors after her, and for days, they were chasing her. Most of them were dead now because she took their lives while defending herself. She was that good. She almost managed to reach the Eastern border when they managed to overpower her. There were too many of them, and she was exhausted after days of the chase.
Astrea still remembered staring at the little strip of desert, miles away from where they caught her, and imagining what could have been if she had reached the Rogue Kingdom. She still remembered a dark creature in the distance that watched her from that free land. That was the last thing she remembered before the pit.
“It’s a windy night,” the second woman spoke again. “If a rock was to fall straight on her head and smash it accidentally, no one could be blamed.”
“And then the Dragonflies will definitely need one more to fill the ranks. Maybe two, considering that Astrea killed one of their own when she was on the run.”
“No one would miss this traitor,” the third one chimed in.
For a few seconds, everything got quiet again, and Astrea was disappointed that maybe they’d changed their minds. After months in the silver pit, death would have been mercy.
However, the three women came back with impressive boulders in their hands. Her werewolf vision was weak now, but Astrea still could feel their murderous intent. Her instincts were not dead.
She did her best not to move for them. After all, her death would be her freedom. But the first rock hit her shoulder, cracking it and bringing more pain. She cried out more out of frustration than hurt. That was nowhere near a fatal blow. Couldn’t they do better?
“Oh, look, she is awake,” one of her supposed killers let out an ugly laugh. “It’s going to be more fun!”
“Shut up,” another growled. “We need to be quick and quiet.”
“Don’t even think about it!” A new voice sounded on the ground above, and this time Astrea’s whole body shivered at the recognition.
Her ward Niki. The one she trained personally and had protected since she’d gotten to the Firstborn island. Her only true friend.
No, Moon Goddess, please no! Niki was not supposed to be here! She’d begged her not to come here anymore!
“And if I think about it, what will you do?” One of the three Firstborns pivoted to glare at Niki, who had a tote bag in her hand. She probably brought food and water again in an attempt to feed her.
She shouldn’t have come! Astrea had begged her not to. A lump formed in the she-wolf’s throat. Niki was so close to her Ascension. It would have been best for her to break their ties and make everyone forget that there was ever a connection between them.
But this was her ward’s only weakness. Niki still had too much kindness and compassion left in her. It would make it much harder for her to become a cold-blooded murderer.
It was best for Niki to dissociate herself from her traitor mentor, but she still came to see her every day.
“You are not hurting her!” Niki insisted, dropping the bag and balling her fists. Astrea felt her dry eyes burning with tears. She would get herself in trouble!
“Kid, just walk away and pretend you didn’t see anything!” One of the women suggested.
“No, you just walk away or, rest assured that everyone will know what you were doing here today!” Niki growled, and Astrea closed her eyes, knowing it was the end of her hopes. This was the last thing she should have told those three. Now they couldn’t let Niki go…
“Or we can kill you and the traitor and then pretend we caught you trying to kill her.” One of the Firstborn suggested. “No one will ever know what actually happened. Not to mention that my ward will have less competition at Ascension if you are out.”
“It’s a win-win.” The three women were circling around Niki , and Astrea couldn’t see everything from where she was laying, her every muscle tense now.
The sounds of a fight reached her ears, and she knew that, although Niki was a great fighter, her chances against three fully ascended Firstborn warriors were slim. They were getting special powers and strength after Ascension. And Niki was still just a trainee.
Seconds ago Astrea wished for nothing more than a quick death, yet now she had a different purpose.
Niki was like a little sister to her. She was family, and she had a whole life ahead of her. She wasn’t supposed to die defending her, and Astrea knew she would do anything in her power to stop this.
Her whole body shivered as she stood up for the first time in a while, leaning against the silver wall that burned her skin. Adrenaline rushed through her bloodstream, and she didn’t feel pain anymore. She had a goal now.
This was probably the last thing she would do in this life, but if she could give Niki a chance, it would be so worth it.
Astrea’s eyes fixated on a pulley system they used to lower her food. She’d thought about this trick quite a few times in the past few months but never found herself strong enough to actually try it.
Today she had no choice as she could smell the blood. Niki’s blood. Two women were holding her ward while the third one was battering her.
Astrea jumped as high as she could, using her legs to push off one side of the pit and then another, swinging the long part of the chain in hopes of grasping the metallic part of the pulley with it and using it to pull herself out. An extremely unrealistic plan, but what was she to do when Niki was up there risking her life for her?
That kid should have walked away and saved herself the trouble.
The first attempt failed, and Astrea fell, hurting herself even more in the process. The bones in her ankle made an unpleasant cracking sound.
Still, the adrenaline coursed through her, so she stood up and repeated everything with a fierce growl of her wolf Nova escaping her as the chain finally wrapped itself over the metal track.
Astrea used her arm muscles to pull her body up, and soon, her palm reached the top of the pit. Right where three ascended Firstborn assassins were beating the cr*p out of Nikki.
Not wasting time, With strength and dumb luck still on her side, Astrea grabbed the foot of the woman closest to her and threw her down the pit, watching her fall at an awkward angle with her head first, a pool of blood immediately forming around her.
That brought the attention of the remaining two to her. Nikki winced, blood trickling down her face. One of the assassins holding her let go, moving towards Astrea.
“Look at this,” she sneered. “She came to us herself—”
The woman was about to kick her when something mighty and dark swept past, grabbing her and carrying her into the dark sky. It happened so fast that none of them had time to react.
The last assailant released Niki, knowing the young girl was the last thing to worry about now. Astrea’s ward fell to the ground, panting desperately.
The dark force returned, taking the last Firstborn with it as Astrea only felt the wind from the impact. Such speed… she knew only one creature capable of that.
The one who put her here.
After all, there was only one unbreakable rule on the island. Always obey the Teacher. And those three just tried breaking it.
Her eyes locked with Niki’s, and her ward tried to crawl to her to give her a hand.
Silly girl… what was she thinking?
Before Niki could do something stupid and be the third one to be killed by the Teacher, Astrea let go, falling freely back to the bottom of the pit.
She hit the silver bottom hard, and this time it really felt like it would be the end. She welcomed it, too tired to fight.
It would be for the best for everyone. Especially Niki, who was now calling her name from the top as Astrea succumbed to darkness.
She was awakened by a loud thump next to her. Her eyes fluttered open and shut, having a hard time seeing the face of the man towering over her, but she recognised the tall figure with broad, muscular shoulders at once.
Joran Nathair, her Teacher and the holder of her fate, knelt beside her and gently brushed his fingers over her cheek.
She couldn’t move, each bone in her body aching, her throat so dry, not a sound could leave it.
“Dragonfly,” her Teacher sighed, scooping her up in his arms, “Just what do I do with you?”
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hi! This book is book III in THE DIVINE WOLVES series by Marissa Gibert
Book I. The Perfect Luna
Book II. The Luna Trials
Book III. The Alpha God's Mate
Book IV TBA
Book V TBA
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