They say that death has many faces. The god of death has many more.
But then again, so do I.
I can be a rich noble, a homeless beggar, a warrior, young or old. I can hide for years as a criminal or a deranged prisoner or deep undercover as a blacksmith for my enemies. I do whatever it takes to get a job done.
Today, I was playing the part of a traveling merchant. I’d been roaming through the wilds for more than a month now, moving from one small village to the next. I was deep in uncharted territory. Many of the places I was passing through now weren’t even marked on a map, but that didn’t much matter.
My mission was to follow the Recruiter and observe him. If given the opportunity, I was also tasked with ending him. I rode my mount through the tall ancient trees, moving in silence as I followed the evidence of the Recruiter’s last known path.
A broken twig here.
A series of hoof prints there.
A stray footstep that left behind a crushed leaf.
The signs were there, and I knew how to follow them.
Something was different tonight though. He’d traveled deep into the forest and I hadn’t seen another sign of human life for days.
I didn’t really know where we were anymore, so I clicked my tongue, and my horse came to a stop. I jumped off and climbed up one of the towering trees next to me, wanting to get a better vantage point in order to track him through this uncharted land.
Higher and higher I climbed and as soon as I could see above the treetops that covered the rolling hills all around me, I paused and looked out into the distance. The air was thinner up here at the high point I’d chosen, but there was a chilling mist whipping through the breeze that felt invigorating in its own way.
Just a few miles to the east was a towering range of mountains, rising up high into the sky. Clouds swallowed the peaks, cloaking each mountain in a hazy fog. The range formed a crescent shape, circling all around the heavy forest like a vision of the moon in the sky.
“Let me go…!” a woman shrieked. A scream and a series of whimpers followed. It sounded like she was hurt.
My ears perked up and I stood motionless. It took me a moment to pin down the location somewhere to the south, but once I was sure of it, I swiftly climbed back down to the ground. With vigilant haste, I untied my horse and swung my body up into the saddle. I clicked my tongue, urging him to run. Soon, the hooves of my stallion pounded loudly into the dirt, but there was nothing that could be done to hide that. I had to move fast and abandon most of the caution I typically operated with if I wanted to rescue her from whatever had attacked her. I didn’t know her identity, but that didn’t matter. I would help a woman in need.
Within minutes, I closed in on a clearing. I dismounted as quietly as I could manage, ensuring that my boots landed noiselessly on a pillow of plush green moss, then knelt down beside my horse, feeling a restless quiver tremble beneath his skin. I placed my hand firmly against his throat as a token of comfort and he stilled.
“Easy now, Dandelion,” I whispered. He stepped from one foot to the other, jostling his head nervously from side to side before kneeling down before me. “Good horse,” I added, scratching his nose gently in reward. He neighed softly in return. He was the most reliable and faithful horse a man could ask for. I was glad that fate had brought me to his stall the day I’d been forced to leave the city of Kingsworth to follow my enemy.
I crept forward to the edge of the clearing. At first, I didn’t think anyone was there, but then I drew my eyes upward to see a woman caught in what appeared to be a hunting trap of some sort. She was hanging completely upside down from a rope sling that had likely been hidden amongst the leaves on the forest floor.
“Fucking hell,” she spat, and I snorted a bit in amusement. A feisty little captive then. “What the fuck is something like this doing out here?” she muttered, and I had to press my lips firmly together to keep myself from laughing out loud.
Her long strawberry blonde hair hung down so low that it almost touched the ground. If she was right side up, it would probably just barely reach her waist. I swallowed heavily as my eyes danced over her body. I’d have to be dead not to notice how beautiful she was.
She was small and lean, but her breasts were quite full and her hips decadently curvy. She was wearing a tunic made out of well-worn-in brown leather embroidered with white stitching, but it hugged her body like a glove. When I looked more closely at the pattern, I could see that it was an elegantly sewn image of a dragon. Her pants were thick cotton and her boots laced up the expanse of her calf, likely worn to protect her legs as she moved through the woods. A thick brown belt around her hips was completed with a knife and a water skin, as well as a few other small things. As she swung around, I was afforded a delicious view of the fullness of her bottom and it made my cock hard as a rock almost instantly.
On the ground was a quiver of arrows, but most of them had tumbled out so that they were askew all around her now. Beside them was a skillfully made bow. It was nothing fancy, but it would certainly get the job done. She was a hunter of some kind, out here all alone caught up in someone’s well-hidden snare.
The breeze swept through the clearing and her scent whipped around my face. I sucked in a breath of astonishment.
She was an omega. An unclaimed one, to be precise.
My inner alpha reared his head at such a prize.
Holy gods. What a fucking temptation.
Being around an omega was one thing, but a virgin one… That was something else entirely.
She struggled in the rope, trying to swing herself upward so that she could release the loop around her ankle. On her first try, she got close, but couldn’t relieve the pressure on the rope around her ankle to free herself. Then her hand dove to her belt and she brandished her knife, desperately attempting to lift herself up high enough so that she could cut the rope that held her captive. While her efforts were admirable, it soon became clear that she would be unable to free herself and she was going to need someone’s help to get out of it.
Someone like me.
For a long moment, I gathered myself. I couldn’t rush into this without mentally preparing myself to be close to a woman like her. It was written into my DNA to want her, to need to claim her, mark her, and knot her as mine, but now was not the time for that.
There were far more important things at stake now. The world was on the cusp of a Second Great War. There wasn’t time for the instinctual taking of an omega by an alpha. I couldn’t allow myself the privilege.
If I was going to do this, I was going to have to resist her.
I moved to take a small step forward, but the bushes rustled on the opposite side of the clearing and a flash of a very familiar red color caught my eye. I stopped immediately. That color could only mean one thing and that didn’t mean anything good for the tiny omega. She was about to find herself knee deep in a hornet’s nest with no possible way out.
The Cult of the Blood Moon was going to take her.
The blood-red color of the Recruiter’s cultist robes came into full view mere seconds later. I hunched down in the shrubbery, hiding myself as he walked into the clearing. He was staring right at her like he’d caught the biggest trophy of the day.
I decided that I didn’t like the way he was looking at her. Not one bit.
“Here in the wilds, it’s survival of the fittest, isn’t it?” the Recruiter purred ominously, and the omega stilled. She turned her head, pale eyes flashing in the moonlight.
Her irises appeared like they were icy blue, or maybe even the color of freshly blooming lavender. I couldn’t be certain, but I found that I couldn’t look away. There was anger and a veiled sadness there, but the most obvious thing of all was her sheer pride.
I knew omegas were strong. This one looked like another thing entirely.
“Who the fuck are you?” she spat.
“Someone very unfortunate for the likes of a lone omega like yourself,” the Recruiter replied.
“What do you mean?” she asked. She never stopped struggling in those ropes. In the moonlight, the rippling tension in her muscles was strangely beautiful and I found myself watching her far more than I did him.
“You’ve hidden yourself away here in the forest for a very long time. You made a crucial mistake though. You trusted other people. You hunted for them, fed them, and cared for them in exchange for a bed to sleep in from time to time, but you didn’t know how rare a prize like you is, did you?” he continued.
She finally stilled, realization creeping over her at his words.
“Everyone has a price, Revna, be it a particular amount of coin or the threat of death at the sharp edge of a knife. Everyone,” he answered coldly.
“Who was it?”
“That is not of your concern, omega,” he replied. “I knew where you were going to hunt tonight. I bought that information, used it to capture you, and now you’re mine to do with as I please.”
She struggled harder, wildly swinging her knife in the Recruiter’s direction and missing by a large margin. I had to give her credit; most people would be quivering and begging for mercy from a situation like this. True to her omega nature though, she wouldn’t give in without a fight.
And truth be told, it was making my cock very hard to behold.
I breathed in deeply, her scent swimming around me like a fog that refused to lift. It was decadent and wonderful, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
My alpha wanted her. Badly.
“Fuck off. Let me go,” she demanded. This time, she swung and arched her body toward him, gracefully curling herself into a ball before she exploded in a flurry of movement. The blade slipped just beneath the bottom of his mask, nicking his throat and slicing a large tear in his robes that dipped down to his collarbone. He stilled and laughed cruelly before he took a bold step toward her. There was nowhere for her to run.
“They told me that you’re a great and powerful witch, that you’ve leveled fields and left towns in famine, that plagues follow you and that your mere presence leaves stillborn babies behind in your wake,” he murmured.
“I’m not a witch,” she spat.
“That’s not what the town of Lothinsa whispers. They tell me you should have been burned at the stake for your crimes,” he said in return and she stilled. A flash of pain crossed her features and I found myself watching her more closely after that.
“I didn’t do anything,” she shouted, and I stared at her even more intensely.
“What would they do if they knew where you were? Where you’d run off to since the day that you murdered your parents?”
“I didn’t kill them,” she snarled fiercely. Her entire face was red with anger. If he came close enough, I was sure that she would rip into him with just her teeth.
“No? Then were did that fire come from? It was pouring that day. No natural fire would burn in those conditions,” he said suggestively, and my eyes narrowed in her direction.
“I…” she began.
There were rumors of such women out in the wilds, but I hadn’t believed them. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I believed them now, although I’d never seen or heard of anyone with eyes like hers before. Maybe there were grains of truth to those rumors or maybe they were just old wives’ tales.
“They were relieved to know someone like me was looking for you, that I’d find you and deal with you the way you should have been so many years ago,” he added, and she growled so ferociously in his direction that it made the hair on the back of my arms stand on end. It made me want to remind her of her proper place before an alpha myself.
“Your life is no longer yours, Revna. It never was and it’s about time that sank into your thick omega skull,” he snapped as he stepped toward her. She moved to stab at him again, endless snarls of open challenge escaping her lips, but that didn’t stop the cultist from moving even closer to her.
I wanted to snap his neck for even putting his hands on her.
The Recruiter grabbed at her wrist and bent it backwards viciously enough to make her cry out. I resisted the urge to rush forward as she yelped in pain, trying to fight him as he hurt her. He twisted it harder, and she was forced to let go of the knife. Her subsequent cry of pain tore at my heart as the blade drove downward into the dirt beneath her, its tip sinking just far enough so that it would remain firmly out of her reach.
“You bastard!” she screeched. To her credit, she didn’t give up then either. She punched at him as she swung there, connecting with his flesh multiple times until he stepped just out of her reach with a cruel knowing smirk.
He wasted no time in fully subduing her after her little stunt. He reached beneath his robes and brought out a bundle of rope, staring at her with cruel purpose. She fought him, but he eventually captured both of her wrists and lashed them behind her back. He made sure she was firmly bound before he walked away to a nearby tree trunk. The base of the rope was wrapped around it and he swiftly slashed it with a knife.
This next part was going to hurt.
She crashed down onto her shoulder with a resounding cry, but she recovered quickly and rolled into the fall as much as she could. She huffed as if the air had been forced from her lungs several times and struggled to draw in a full breath. I could see her fighting to work her wrists free of his knots, but the rope he’d tied her with was strong and thick. Even an alpha would have difficulty tearing it apart.
She’d be unable to break it. I was sure of it.
I wanted to reach out and rescue her but doing so would reveal myself to the Recruiter. I’d fail my mission before it ever really began. I couldn’t do that.
I had to figure out what he was up to out here in the wilds in the first place.
There was too much at stake for me to fail my mission over the sake of a single omega woman, even one as beautiful as her. I gritted my teeth and held myself back even though a very real part of me wanted to race forward and protect her. It was a part of me that I was going to have to work hard to resist.
The Recruiter wasted no time in slinging her over his shoulder and she struggled as much as she possibly could to get away. He chuckled quietly at her fruitless fighting as he strode over to the edge of the clearing.
I hated that he was touching her. It made me want to break his neck.
When the opportune moment finally came, I was going to enjoy doing just that.
With a low whistle, the cultist called his own horse to him. A black stallion answered with a soft neigh and obediently strode into the clearing, waiting patiently for the man to approach.
In a rush, the Recruiter tossed Revna over the horse’s back. Hastily, he tied her to the saddle, ensuring that she wouldn’t slip off in some poorly executed escape attempt that she likely was going to try next. It meant that she wouldn’t hurt herself, but even I knew a ride like that wouldn’t be easy. She would be very sore by the end of the day.
“Let me go, you fucking monster,” she snarled. The mask that hid the cultist’s face kept his expression mostly a mystery, but I could tell he was smirking by the way his eyes crinkled the tiniest bit at the corners. He was quite proud of himself for capturing the likes of her.
“Your days of freedom are over, omega. It’s about time you got used to that. A commodity like you is worth a great deal out here. An omega is one thing. A virgin omega is a whole lot more. But a virgin omega with eyes the color of amethysts is an especially rare and valuable sort of thing indeed,” he answered, still sounding so immensely pleased with himself.
Arrogant cultist bastard.
A man like him deserved to have his innards ripped out from his belly. A man like him deserved to be left to die all alone as he bled out into the dirt.
“You plan to sell me,” she growled. There was a hint of relief that passed over her face at that. I could already see her mind working. She’d have plenty of future opportunities with which she might be able to escape.
“I’ve got the perfect buyer,” he replied arrogantly.
“I’ll murder you in your sleep,” she spat.
“I’d like to see you try,” he answered with a laugh.
He swung up into the saddle beside her and flicked the reins against the stallion’s neck. The horse stepped forward in a rush and headed in the direction of the mountains.
It was time for me to follow suit.
I told myself I was simply doing what my mission demanded of me.
Even I knew that was a lie.
I was following because I wanted her.
I crept backwards through the thick brush, returning to Dandelion and climbing up onto his back as quickly as I could. I clicked my tongue and he slowly stood up from his kneeling position at my command. Carefully, I urged him forward and the two of us took off after the cultist.
I rode late into the night, not stopping when the moon set on the horizon, and I didn’t slow when the sun began to rise between the cliffs of the mountains. I didn’t hesitate to keep riding even when the clouds billowed through the sky or when the rain began to fall in fat droplets all around me. I trekked through the forest on the back of my horse and tread even more carefully when the brush started to thin out.
The trail across the open cliff sides of the mountains was especially dangerous, taking several days. I stayed back much further than usual so that the cultist wouldn’t spot me against the rock face. I had to be cautious, but I knew that he kept Revna tied to the back of his horse for much of the journey. I only saw him take her down when he stopped to rest at night. Mercifully, he’d taken the hands bound behind her back and tied them in front of her, but I never saw him let her go free from his ropes.
I was relieved when we finally managed to journey down the mountains, rather than continue to scale them. The strong winds blew in my direction, constantly surrounding me in her scent. Although it left me in a perpetual state of painful arousal, I was relieved to sense it because it meant she was still alive.
I looked ahead, seeing a walled city in the distance. I’d first glimpsed it from atop the cliffs, although it was even more impressive from ground level.
I found myself transfixed by the sight. I’d never seen anything like it.
Most cities were surrounded by a defensive wall, but this one had more than one. In fact, there were four of them evenly spaced with what appeared to be separate districts in between each of them. The first wall was a very tall outer ring made of pristinely white stone, but there were three more inside the interior, each one every bit as tall as the others. The interior of the outer ring seemed to consist of dilapidated and somewhat crumbling buildings. In contrast, the central ring had some of the most extravagant structures I’d ever had the opportunity to behold. The city structure was strange enough to make me question its purpose. I couldn’t figure out if they were trying to protect themselves from something that wanted to get in or if they wanted to keep something inside its massive walls.
In my journey through the mountains, I’d lost sight of the cultist, but I followed the evidence of his presence all the same. I was only a few hours behind him at any given point. He wouldn’t escape the likes of me.
I rode down to the base of the mountains, following the remaining signs of the Recruiter’s journey. It was clear to me that he had never wavered from his path and that he was heading directly for that walled city. Would he sell his captive omega there? Was this simply a stopping point on the way to his true destination?
There were still too many questions I needed to find the answers to before I tore his head from his shoulders just like he deserved.
I kept telling myself I was simply following him because it was my mission, that I needed to find out why he’d traveled so far out into the wilds, but I knew it was something else.
I wanted the little omega charge tied to the back to his horse. Her scent called to me and the more I followed it, the harder it was to ignore. I couldn’t allow myself to give into temptation.
But by the gods, I wanted to.