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Martyrdom

‘Get up, Diana!’  A familiar voice screamed in my head.

There was no mistaking the tone, or the urgency that lay within it. 

‘Cole??’ Trembling still from the pain of loss, my mind raced. 

‘Get up! If he finds you here he will end you!! GO! NOW!’ He screamed at me.

Unsure of what was happening, guided only by the sound of my friend, I sprinted back to the alcove, my brain was frozen by the sound of a voice I knew to be of someone dead.

Breathing hard, I stopped at the velvet cushions, tears pouring down my face. 

'Cole?' I asked to the open air.

'Yes, I'm sorry Diana. I had to.  They aren't our enemies.'

'What do you mean?'

'I can't stay here, the surge bought me only a little bit of time to stick around. Look for my chest, then find her. Ravyn.' Like a whooshing in the wind,  his voice disappeared and so did the energy that came with him.

"Cole?" I asked out loud. 

"It's actually, Nicolai," said a voice from behind me.

Taken aback I turned around quickly, finding the King’s eyes sternly watching me.

"I'm sorry, my King. It's Cole." I stuttered.

His face darkened,  brows furrows before he grabbed my hand and pulled me downstairs muttering "We need to find the body."

Outside was darker than what I had been used to for the longest time. There were no stars, no moon, no light up above. 

The blackness looked like I felt, empty and alone.

With a stranger’s fingers clutched onto mine we followed the sounds of wolves baying to a lonely sky, their cries anguished, scared.

They need their Alpha.

Letting go of Nicolai’s hand, I grabbed my dagger from my belt, wiped away the tears that ran down my face, and took the lead.

“Stay behind me.” I said sternly, “We don’t know how many are out there.”

My still teary eyes scanned the nearby trees and grounds for any sign of movement or disturbance.

“Cole saw something when we got here, he went to investigate. I shouldn’t have let him go alone.” I mumbled out loud.

“He knew what he was getting himself into. They’re vicious.” Nicolai said through snarled lips.

“What are they?” I stopped dead, turning suddenly to Nicolai, brazenly questioning the King. “What do they want from us? You barely tell us anything. If we knew more, perhaps we could protect ourselves better?” I pleaded.

“You can't, not from them. Believe it or not, I’m trying to protect you. Your people are powerful, and there are some out there that don’t like that.” He responded vaguely. 

With a sigh, I nodded.

He’s lying. I immediately thought.

“You don’t believe me. You distrust your King?” Nicolai’s voice had taken on a note of poison as he said this.

My heart kicked into high gear. Can he hear my thoughts now?

“I can’t hear your thoughts, not word for word. But I can pick up on the tone of them. And I would watch my tone in the presence of the King who protects you.” He stepped closer to me, this time his fingers creeping slowly around my waist before he pulled me to him. 

His body crashed into mine as his lips neared my ear, he whispered.  “I would really hate to see you on the receiving end of one of my bad tempers.” Releasing me slowly he continued his little speech. “Now, shall we dispense with the pretenses and go look for your dead Beta? I hear them a little ahead, in the east.” Taking the lead now, he walked ahead of me, leaving me stunned behind me, shivers of terror radiation through me.  

Laying in what looked like a peaceful position, we had found him.

His face was pale, his body seemingly untouched.

Around him my people knelt in respect, awaiting my arrival. Alexis waited nearby to report what they had found, her face grave, the usual defiant glint in her eyes put out.

“We couldn’t find anything, anyone. There are no wounds on him at all. There’s no way to determine how he died before an autopsy.” She spoke in a monotone, emotionless and dead inside.

“Thank you, Alexis.” I strode past her, feeling much the same before I knelt beside Cole. My hand reached out to take his within it.

“By the grace and light of our merciful Moon, we commit your spirit. Our friend, our brother, our warrior. May you rest amongst the stars.” I spoke ceremoniously.

“May you rest amongst the stars.” The wolves repeated in monotoned unison.

“Let this day, let this loss of our soldier be a reminder of the threat we face,” Nicolai spoke without an announcement. My insides churned at the thought of an outsider partaking in our sacred goodbye.

“If ever you had doubts, let this be the moment for you to remember that your King, is doing what is best. For all of us. Goodbye.” He knelt beside me and briefly placed his hand on Cole’s heart, letting a small surge of energy go through him. A surge he didn't think I would notice.

His face changed, his lips curled in a nasty way it usually did when he doesn't get what he wants. Trying hard to focus only on Cole, I let the moment pass, eagerly awaiting the moment I could analyze this when I was a safe distance from the King.

“We need to leave now, Diana.” He spoke softly to me, in a tone one would presume was gentle and reassuring, but I knew he was not asking, it was a command.

I nodded to the team and three of my strongest men emerged to carry Cole home so that we could give him a proper burial. 

I spent the drive back fighting with myself, fighting back anger, confusion, hate, hiding them all deep within my mourning. 

Cole’s death was not an accident, and it was not murder either. Something was going on, he knew it. 

Nicoli kept an annoyingly close watch on me during the drive back, his eyes seemed to hover only on my face, never wavering, always searching for a slip in my mask. 

“I’m sorry for your loss, Chief,” he said suddenly, breaking the terribly loud silence. 

“Thank you, my King.” 

“I noticed that Cole didn't look too well before we left tonight. Do you still think it was a wise decision to let him partake of this task?” his voice questioned, a hint of blame in his words.

“Yes. Cole was an excellent soldier and a wise Beta. As you said, he knew what he was getting into.” I replied, not taking his bait to anger me.

“Good. As long as you have no regrets in your decision,” he responded.

“I have no regrets,” I said through gritted teeth. 

There was no other relief that could compare to the King retiring to his room for the night and leaving the wolves to grieve. As a community, we huddled together in our designated field meant for last rites. While building up Cole’s funeral pyre, the wolves began to hum the simple, somber song as part of our letting go ritual. 

Being Alpha, it was my job to light the pyre. With my torch in hand, I walked forward to say goodbye. 

“I remember your message, every word of it. I will find her, I will find the chest. You died for something. I wish you had told me what. But you know what I know. Nicolai is hiding something, his power source is much greater than anything we would have guessed. I’m going to find it, and I’m going to destroy it. This, I promise you.” I said to the shape of a body wrapped in white satin before I placed the burning torch next to it.

Flames engulfed the fire, the smoke from which reached high into the heavens, a sign of escape from this earthly torture.

Cole was gone.

But I was not.

And I would be damned if I let anyone else die for a tyrant’s cause.

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