I prayed to the fates that morning. I pleaded for their favor.
I was terrified all the same.
My heart pounded in my chest as I adjusted the hood of my long gray cloak for what felt like the millionth time. Shoulders brushed against mine as I tentatively strolled through the gates of Valgertha. I muttered a quiet apology, trying to disguise the feminine sound of my voice with a deeper one. Even though I was pretty sure that the guards posted at either side were more concerned with the people coming into the city than those leaving its gates, it still made me anxious. I was worried that my absence had already been noticed, that Queen Freya had come to find me and found my chambers empty or that the sweet maid Ariana who had been attending my quarters had realized that my bed was unslept in since I had been gathering supplies all night.
The guards shouted out behind me and I froze. I turned my head and was careful to keep my face covered in case they recognized me or were already looking for an omega on the run. I was a political refugee, rescued from the hands of an abusive alpha and brought into the foreign city of Valgertha, and they hadn’t given me a choice about any of it. They’d given me the best medical care, food, and living quarters, but it was all an elaborate ruse to cover up the fact that I was still their captive.
I wished that they’d just left me bound to the wall where they’d found me, but Freya heard none of my protests, nor did the alpha Floki who carried me most of the way. I’d been weak before, battered and beaten by King Thranar’s hands, but now I was much stronger.
There’d been guards posted at my doors every night. If I left my chambers, there was a man who tailed me everywhere I went unless I was in the company of another maidservant or the queen herself. It had been tremendously difficult losing him today, but I’d used the crowds at the Central Market to hide and duck out into dark alleyways in order to make my escape. I’d waited a long time to see if he had followed, but after more than an hour, I hadn’t seen his large dark form anywhere. I’d decided that I needed to get out of the city and back home to Ravenrath.
“Stop. Don’t take another step,” the guards roared, and I swallowed heavily. Had I been discovered? Were they looking for me already? Had they circulated my picture amongst the guards? Was it too late?
I prayed it wasn’t so. I hoped the guards didn’t know what I looked like.
I lifted my eyes only to see a rather drunken Valgerthian warrior stumbling through the gates. I had to stifle a laugh as I watched him amble into the city, swinging his sword back and forth as if he was fighting some terribly dangerous monster that wasn’t actually there. I hadn’t planned it, but he was creating quite an elaborate diversion and I swiftly took advantage of the opportunity he presented. With haste, I adjusted myself by tying my hood a bit tighter and tried to act as if I wasn’t the most suspicious person in the world. I hoped against hope that I was doing a good enough job to fool anyone watching, that their eyes would just pass over me without a second thought. Just like everyone else around me, I shook my head and laughed at the drunken display the man was putting on before turning back toward the city gates and the wilds that lay beyond it.
The walls rose high to each side of me, formidable defenses that would challenge even the greatest army to break through. I counted at least five guards on either side appointed to protect the gates, each of them armed to the teeth.
I knew enough about Valgertha to know that none of them would miss once they zeroed in on a target. This was a warrior city. The people here lived and died by the sword. It was an honor for them to die on the battlefield. They believed it brought them closer to the gods, that it gave them glory in the afterlife.
I had a dagger hidden inside my boot, but I wasn’t a trained soldier like they were. I wasn’t weak, but I wouldn’t be able to beat warriors like them in a fight, no matter how crafty I made myself out to be.
“Put the sword down, Arden!” one of the guards yelled and I huffed in amusement. Apparently, they were familiar enough with the swordsman to know him by name and I was worried for nothing. They hadn’t noticed me. I was still safe. I took a deep breath, drawing in one lungful of air after another until my heart beat at a more normal pace.
There weren’t a lot of people leaving the city at this time of day, but I did my best to tail a few of the larger groups without being detected. Before long, I had made it quite a way down the road and the ancient trees of the forest were looming high overhead. Thick tree trunks that were more than ten times the diameter of my waist rose far above me, shrouding me in deep shade and protecting me from the harsh rays of the sun. I watched as the rest of the travelers continued on down the road while I stepped into the forest. I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I disappeared into the shadows and the people of Valgertha would never see me again.
I had to get back home. I had to make sure that my daughter was alright, that they hadn’t hurt her because I’d been taken against my will away from Ravenrath.
Very powerful people had held sway of my life ever since she’d been born. In exchange for my full cooperation, she had been allowed to live. I had done what a queen should never have done. I had given the king a daughter and not a son. I had been punished for it time and time again, but despite Thranar’s constant efforts, I hadn’t borne him a child since. And now that he was dead, I never would.
I didn’t know if the next appointed king would kill her since her very existence threatened his reign. Should my daughter ever give birth to her own son, he would have a claim to the throne and to a king, that was very dangerous indeed.
For all I knew, she could already be dead.
I stifled a cry.
I started to run, shrubbery smacking against my arms and scratching through the thin fabric of my hooded cape. I shrugged it up higher and the hood fell back. No longer in danger of being spotted, I let my hood stay where it was. I needed to make as much headway as I could tonight before the sun set on the horizon.
I had to get back before the Cult decided to do something to my daughter because they no longer had me.
The walk seemed endless. I’d made this journey once before, but the alpha with me had already known the way. This time I got lost several times and had to wait for the light of the moon and the stars to guide my way. Once a long time ago, someone had told me that I could use the moss growing on the soil below in order to determine my direction, but it grew everywhere in these ancient woods. The ground was laden with it and it seemed to me that there was no rhyme or reason to its growth pattern. Along the way, I ate several varieties of berries and mushrooms that I recognized as safe to eat in order to stem off the pangs of hunger.
The solitude was oppressive for a great while. The only sounds that surrounded me were the gentle hum of bugs and the musical songs of the birds for the longest time. On the third day, I had stopped for the evening to build a small fire and cook a small rabbit that I’d found caught in a hunter’s snare along the way. Using my small dagger, I skinned the animal and placed it on a skewer, leaving it to roast over the heat while I gathered extra wood and some soft moss to prepare a comfortable bed for myself for the night.
I was gathering firewood at the edge of the clearing when I reached for a long branch and heard a soft mewl. A pair of glowing feline-like red eyes met mine, unblinking and curious. I sensed no danger, just simply an inquisitive and inquiring creature, but in the darkness, I couldn’t quite tell what it was.
“Hi, there,” I whispered softly, hoping that the sound of my voice wouldn’t scare the little woodland animal. Tentatively, I reached out, placing my palm up in order to present myself as nonthreateningly as I could.
The small thing edged forward a bit and I was able to see its shadow under the light of the full moon that was just breaking through some of the foliage above us. It had small horns that curved down toward its mouth, although the tips were rounded and appeared to still be growing. Its nose was small and demure like a kitten’s. It mewled again and I could see sharp little white canines lining its jaw. The little thing walked on four paws with lengthy claws that dug into the ground. It took one step and then two. I leaned down on the ground and the deafening sound of a twig cracking under my palms echoed all around me.
The creature halted and all of a sudden, its body glowed bright red as if fire pumped inside its veins. As soon as it did that, I knew what it was.
My people called it a skotaur, the mythical fire-beast of the wilds. This one was only about the size of a small goat, but they grew much, much larger, towering far above the likes of men. It was said that some of the oldest ones in existence were even more enormous than the height of a tree, but I’d never seen one like that.
This one must be very young, practically a newborn, which meant that its mother wouldn’t be far. I froze and lifted my gaze to the trees all around me, searching for the hint of a red glow in the shadow. I saw nothing, not even the slightest twinge of red coloring amongst the darkness.
Wild skotaur mothers were known to ferociously protect their young if they sensed even the hint of a threat. I was in serious trouble if the mother was close.
Carefully, I walked backwards one step at a time, taking care to be as silent as possible so that I didn’t alert the young skotaur. For a moment, the youngling appeared curious still, but when another branch broke under my foot, the small thing hissed so loudly that gooseflesh rose on my arms and a chill of fear raced down my spine.
A much louder growl rumbled in the distance and I lost all control of my terror. I rushed and turned to run, knowing that I needed to put as much space between me and the skotaur pup as possible.
I ran hard, but as I heard the brush breaking behind me, I knew that it was already too late. The mother had been alerted to my presence and she would do anything to protect her child. I rushed through the brush of the forest, not caring as the branches scraped at my face and whipped at my arms, likely leaving welts behind that wouldn’t fade for hours if not days. I didn’t care. Instead, I just kept moving.
My heart pounded so loudly that I feared it would beat right out of my throat. Blood rushed through my ears so much so that it sounded like there was a wave crashing nearby and I raced even faster than I ever thought possible. I pushed and I pushed and still, I could hear the mother skotaur behind me. She was closing in, no matter how rapidly I sped through the forest.
It was at that moment that I realized that the inevitable was going to happen. The mother was going to catch me and tear me apart. Her growls were ominously loud behind me and echoed noisily enough so that it felt like the very ground was quaking beneath my feet. A keening sound escaped my throat, one of raw terror, and everything inside me burst with adrenaline as I ran as hard as I could.
Still she closed in. Soon, I could feel her fiery breath kissing the back of my neck.
It wouldn’t be long now. Odiyen, I pray my death be swift.
Her snarl rumbled the very marrow in my bones and my foot caught on a tree root that had been hidden by a pile of leaves. I tumbled forward, crashing down onto my hands and knees. I hardly even noticed that I’d skinned my knee or that my palms scraped against a sharp stone. I felt nothing but the fear of my inevitable death. I rolled to face her, trying to die with a least a little shred of dignity. I tried to be strong, but it was hard when there was a beast like her about to tear me apart.
I stared up into her angry, ferocious gaze. Her threatening growls were still just as loud, if not shriller than before now that she had captured me. I swallowed nervously, staring up at her and waiting for what came next. Her upper lip rolled back, revealing a much larger set of teeth than her young pup and I absently wondered if she’d bite through my throat or eviscerate my belly with her wickedly long and sharp claws. Maybe she’d do both.
“Please,” I begged. “I didn’t mean any harm to your baby.” I didn’t know if she even understood human language, but I had to try.
There was a faint rustling noise in the forest to my right, but I didn’t look. I was too preoccupied with the angry eyes of the skotaur glaring down at me while I thought through every possible scenario of how she might kill me. The sounds got louder, and I was only vaguely aware that it sounded like boots crunching through the brush. I wasn’t too proud to call for help. No one faced down a skotaur alone and walked away with their life.
“Please! Help me!” I cried. My voice trembled with raw fear and my fingers dug into the dirt beneath me as if holding onto it would offer me some semblance of protection.
I knew that it wouldn’t.
A man cleared his throat and I could tell that he wasn’t very far away. I half expected him to ask my name or to offer some sort of assistance at my obvious distress, but when the mother snarled even more loudly, a very cold and icy realization crawled over my skin, leaving me even more fearful than before.
This wasn’t a wild skotaur. This was his and right now he could either order her to leave me be or kill me where I lay.
My life was in his hands.
Two nights ago, the Ghost had visited my chambers and given me the most important mission of my life. I’d been relaxing by the fire, smoking a rather nice cigar I’d been given as a gift for successfully infiltrating and putting an end to a group of malicious individuals that had been trying to establish the beginnings of the omega trade here in Valgertha. I’d been tasked with stopping those men and with the help of the alphas that I’d placed throughout the city, we’d successfully captured, interrogated, and then disposed of all involved.
As expected, those men had been low-ranking members of the Cult of the Blood Moon, a heinous organization that worshipped Odiyen, the god of death. They would stop at nothing to achieve their goals, be it the sale or murder of precious omega women or the forced labor of betas and alphas, and it didn’t stop there.
A knock sounded on my door and I sighed heavily. As the Sage of Oslin, my work really never ended. I took one last heavy draw of my cigar and casually blew a perfectly defined smoke ring into the air. The person at the door banged a bit more loudly this time and I finally pushed myself out of my leather armchair and answered it.
Icy blue eyes met mine.
It was the Ghost. All I could see were his eyes through his ornately carved mask, but that was all I’d ever seen of him. I’d never seen his face.
The Ghost led the Alpha Brotherhood. I served him as the Sage of a branch of the Brotherhood intended to worship and honor Oslin, the god of the fates. I’d been a part of it since I was a teenager, born to an omega given to an alpha that had served the Brotherhood well. This was in my blood and had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember.
The Alpha Brotherhood had a single mission: to keep the balance between order and chaos so that the world didn’t fall into ruin. It was the will of the gods and we did our best to uphold it in everything we did. Our members had infiltrated nearly every city on the planet, from the domed city of Tharia to my home of Valgertha and even farther away in the villages that dotted the coastline. Our reach was exceedingly vast and the only people that stood against us were the Cult of the Blood Moon.
We were at war with them. It had been that way for hundreds of years. Recently though, it felt like things were beginning to escalate, leaving me wondering if the Second Great War wasn’t far away. I feared that it might be approaching.
The Ghost turned toward me and my gaze perused along the elegant design of his mask. I had one of my own, a wolf with a contemplative expression, but his was that much more ornate. His wolf looked openly angry, teeth gaping in a vicious snarl that spoke to his position in the Brotherhood. There was an intricate crown of grape leaves at the top of the mask, decorated with purple and dark green gemstones indicative of blooming flowers atop his head. He was the only one with a mask like that, representing his role as the leader of the Alpha Brotherhood.
“Sage Vikar,” he said softly in greeting.
“I welcome you, Ghost,” I replied respectfully. I didn’t know his name. It didn’t matter. If I was ever captured by the Cult, I wouldn’t be able to reveal his identity. The only people I knew by name or face were those who I led directly myself. Our work was dangerous and important and that required a certain amount of secrecy to keep it safe from those that threatened to end us all.
He sat down in front of the fire and I took a seat in the armchair next to him. He was wearing the black cloak that we all wore to disguise our identities when we were called together in a gathering. I could see just a hint of his light blond hair beneath the hood, but when he adjusted it once more, it was gone.
It had been some time since the Ghost had visited me in private.
As Sage, I was one of his most trusted allies and a visit like this in the middle of the night could only mean one thing.
I was about to be assigned a very important mission, one that only I was to be privy to and one that I was going to be trusted to complete all on my own.
The Ghost cleared his throat.
“I’ve come to you, Vikar, today for a very special reason,” he began.
I nodded, keeping my silence. I reached for my cigar and took another long draw, waiting for him to continue.
“In the recent battles between Valgertha and the nearby city of Ravenrath, there was a war prize that was taken and kept secret except to those of the Branch of Zymos. King Thranar had in his possession an unbonded omega. She was captured in battle and brought back to the safety of our city,” he explained.
I kept my silence, deciding to listen first and ask questions later.
“He was a cruel alpha to her, Vikar. I’m aware of many of her injuries, both old and new. Thranar was a disgrace to the alpha name,” he spat, turning his furious eyes toward the fire.
“What would you have me do?” I finally asked.
“She is going to be a difficult target, but Thranar was undoubtedly a high-ranking member of the Cult,” he explained. “This omega likely knows more, but she’s been very tight-lipped about everything, even to the queen who rescued her. It is not outside the realm of possibilities that she is a member herself or that she’s aware of a number of other very powerful members or really anything at all.”
“Would you have me torture her to find out?” I asked. I hoped that he wouldn’t ask that of me. I had no qualms interrogating dangerous men, but I’d never put my hands on a woman in that way and I had no intentions of doing so. However, at the end of the day, I served the Brotherhood and I would do as I was told.
“No. I wouldn’t ask that of you. You know as well as I that we do not do such things. Instead, you may break her in the way that only an alpha can. She is unbonded and unclaimed. Now that she is in our hands, I am granting her to you. She will be yours and it is your responsibility to find out what she knows, whether you put her over your knee or flat on her back,” he commanded.
I licked my lips. It was a tremendous honor to be granted an omega. As a member of the Brotherhood, we weren’t allowed to pair bond to another. I’d never taken an omega of my own. It was a right that was granted by only the most powerful and it seemed now that I had finally earned the privilege of taking my very own mate.
“You honor me greatly, Ghost,” I whispered hoarsely, still astounded at this unexpected turn of events.
“It’s a long overdue one, Vikar. Your loyalty should have been rewarded long ago and I apologize for that,” he answered. I shook my head.
“Thank you. There is no need for apologies. I was only doing my duty,” I replied softly.
For a while, he was quiet, watching the flames flicker in the hearth.
“Her name is Luna,” he finally said.
I tasted her name on my tongue. It was perfection. My future mate.
For days I followed her, learning about every aspect of her routine. I watched her take walks through the garden with the queen and how she smiled at her maidservants when they stoked her fire or changed the sheets on her bed. In silence, I learned of her kindhearted nature and smiled when she insisted on helping a young child in need, no matter if they fell and scraped their knees or dropped a bite of food on the sidewalk.
I always saw a faraway look in her eyes when she walked away from those children and I quietly wondered if she’d lost someone of her own in the past.
I silently observed her, wanting to know everything about her before I pressed for answers of my own. There was a certain beautiful and peaceful innocence to the way she moved and interacted with others.
The Ghost had told me of the wounds she’d suffered. If Thranar wasn’t dead already, I would have ripped his head from his shoulders myself. She didn’t even bear my mark yet, and still I wanted to protect her. I would have my hands on her and soon, but I would bide my time until I understood her better before I took her for myself.
She was an omega and I was an alpha. I was a predator and she my prey.
It was in my nature to take an omega for myself. Simply by being in my presence, her body would react to mine, eventually forcing her into estrous if the time was right. She’d beg me for my cock and the relief that only an alpha’s knot would bring her. Her legs would drip with slick, preparing her body for the rough mating that she was meant to take. It was instinct and when I was ready, I would bond her to me for the rest of our lives, linking us together forever as one.
She was a beautiful little thing with a figure that spoke to her omega status. She was small and slender, but I knew she was strong. I would tower over her with ease at well over six and a half feet. I was also at least double her size, if not more than that.
There was a certain amount of reservation in the way she interacted with others and I knew she was doing her best to hide the feisty, fiery nature that was characteristic of an omega. I could see the intelligence in her soft emerald eyes, in the way she quietly looked out in the distance toward Ravenrath when she thought no one else was looking.
She knew something more than she was letting on. I was sure of it.
At first, it was just a few furtive glances in the nearby city’s direction. After that, it began to escalate. I noticed that she was stealing food and supplies, filling water skins when she thought no one was looking and asking questions that she shouldn’t when she thought she was alone with her wait staff. She moved around the castle at all hours of the night and when she was ready, she packed a bag and set out when the sun was low on the horizon.
I followed her as she made her way out of the castle and through the city gates into the shadows of the forest.
She was going back, even though she was safe in the warrior city of Valgertha. The man who’d claimed her yet never bonded her was dead. Ravenrath was likely still in shambles and still, she wanted to return for reasons unknown.
Before I was through with her, she’d tell me everything and then I’d make her mine in the most primal way imaginable. She’d scream my name as she took every last inch of my cock, over and over again until her heat finally abated and her womb was full of my seed.
I looked forward to the moment when she finally realized what was happening.
I kept my mind busy with fantasies of her on her knees before me, begging for relief, as I tailed her through the forest. It was clear that she wasn’t quite sure of the way and that she hadn’t had much experience in the ways of the wilds, because she missed every single sign that the skotaur mother had left behind, from her paw prints in the dirt to the singed leaves that marked her journeys through the trees.
Skotaurs were dangerous beasts, but they could be tamed, even the wild ones if you knew how to handle them.
I’d heard her screams and knew immediately what had happened. Unlike Luna, I’d seen the smaller prints from the young skotaur pup alongside the mother’s. Within moments, the warning growls from the threatened female echoed throughout the forest and I rushed to Luna’s aid. When I finally found her, she was flat on her back staring straight up into the eyes of the mother and I cleared my throat. The skotaur stilled.
I recognized her.
I’d raised her.
Her name was Bayla. I’d found her abandoned at the edges of the wilds when she was no more than just a pup. I took her into my home and cared for her, bottle feeding her every four hours until she was old enough to feed herself. When she’d finally grown to be as large as a warhorse, I’d led her back into the forest and set her free. She and I had met several times as she grew into her full size, and now I was overjoyed to see that she had a pup of her own. Not only had she survived out here, but she appeared to be thriving.
“Bayla,” I whispered, and the skotaur swung her tail from side to side in warning. “Leave her be. That little thing couldn’t mean your son any harm,” I continued, taking care to keep my tone gentle and nonthreatening. Skotaurs showcased distinctly feline behaviors and even the most well-trained ones could turn on their humans, but they always gave warning signs.
“Come. Show him to me,” I guided softly, and her fiery eyes finally connected with mine, blazing with fury at the omega’s audacity. A quiet mewling sounded to my right and I knelt down, watching as a very young male pup emerged out of the brush. He was no more than two weeks old from what I could tell.
Bayla removed the single paw that was holding Luna captive. Exceedingly slowly, she sat back on her haunches and haughtily appraised me for a very long moment before she decided to join me. I didn’t move toward her young. Instead, I held out my hand to her and she cocked her head to the side. I smirked, remembering just how temperamental she could be. In the end though, I knew she’d come to me. She always did.
When she finally started toward me, I grinned widely, welcoming her with open arms.
“You’ve grown to be quite fierce, little Bayla,” I murmured. She purred softly and I reached for her curved horn, petting her the way she used to adore when she was small. Her purr grew louder, just as I had expected.
Out of the corner of my eyes, the small form of my omega began to move and Bayla quickly hissed in warning.
“Don’t move, Luna. Bayla has yet to decide if you’re worth killing. I suggest that you don’t give her a reason,” I said, and Luna’s expression tensed with frustration. She was very much out of control and that knowledge was making my cock very hard right now.
Luna stilled, lowering herself back to the ground. What she didn’t know was that running from a skotaur often triggered them into action. Had she stopped, knelt before her, and lowered her head, Bayla wouldn’t have gone after her.
“You do not know the ways of the wilds, do you, omega?” I asked her, and she grimaced.
“I can make my way just fine,” she scoffed, and I chuckled.
“Can you now?” I murmured, taking my time to caress Bayla’s horns and making her purr for me in the meantime. Luna glared from the skotaur to me and I reveled in the knowledge that I could tame this fiery beast while she could not.
What she didn’t realize is that I was going to be taming her next. She’d been given to me and I was going to take her.
My cock throbbed with need.
I imagined her naked and wet and begging for my cock.
She glared back at me with as much ire as she could manage, and I simply smiled in return.
“Come. Take my hand, Luna,” I demanded gently.
“How the hell do you know my name?” she asked with a confused and deeply suspicious frown.
“It does not matter how. Now take it before Bayla is convinced you are an enemy and in fact dinner for her and her pup tonight,” I commanded, more firmly this time. There was a flurry of indecision that passed quickly over Luna’s face before she decided her life was more important than whatever I was after and she slowly rose to her feet.
“Keep your head down. Don’t look in Bayla’s direction,” I instructed, and I was pleased to see her obey. Her tiny fingers took mine, and for a second I was awestruck by how much smaller hers were than mine.
“Bayla, meet Luna,” I said softly, and Bayla made a noise that was halfway between a snarl and a purr. “Be nice now. She didn’t mean any harm to your son,” I chided her carefully and Bayla sighed. She’d always had a fiery personality and I was happy to see that hadn’t changed in the years since I’d seen her last.
“Nice to meet you,” Luna whispered tentatively, and Bayla huffed a bit. Luna mimicked my petting motion on the skotaur’s horn, and she finally relaxed under the omega’s cautious touch. All the while, Luna kept her eyes on me, suspicious and anxiously watching for the moment I looked away so that she could make her escape.
Little did she know she wasn’t going to be getting away from me.
Now that I had my hands on her, I was never going to let her go. She was mine.