The alphas all stood just within the cover of the trees. Their eyes were glued on the hundreds of wolves before them. Today was the day of The Culling, and the wolves were showing promise. “Daddy,” a soft voice broke the silence and the men looked to their left, “why are they fighting?” She was pointing to two men who looked like they were fighting to the death.
“Well sweetheart,” the man beside her spoke as he kneeled down to her level, “they’re both trying for the position as a Royal Guard.” The alphas recognized the man as Beta Rivers from First Death. He was attending today in place for his alpha whose mate was giving birth to a son. “It’s the highest position wolves like we could ever hope to achieve.”
“I could do it Dad,when I get older.” Something in the girl’s voice made the alphas look back at her. The determined set of her jaw and the spark in her eyes told them that she was serious. “I don’t doubt that you could sweetheart. But you don’t have to worry about that for a long time.” He gave his daughter a smile and stood back up, conversation forgotten. His eyes were once again on the wolves before him, looking for possible new pack mates to take back to his alpha.
The little girl crossed her arms, but her feelings didn’t show on her face. She had learned early on that a good Beta never showed their emotions, no matter the situation. But she knew that her older brother Lincoln would one day hold that title. Suddenly, the girl felt as if she was being watched. Slowly she turned around and her eyes landed on a man standing deeper in the woods than the others. She could tell that he was an alpha as well by the way he held himself.
Without looking at her father, she quickly made her way towards him. They just stood there for several moments, and then he spoke. “So you wish to become a Guard.”
“It’s a hard and demanding job, being a Guard for the Royal family.” The girl shrugged, her eyes not leaving her father’s back. Silence fell between them for almost an hour. The man spoke again, but this time he let his eyes drop to the girl beside him. “A guard has to be able to hide in plain sight. This allows them to keep an eye on their charge and also for potential danger.” The girl smiled up at him and then pointed at a tree not too far from the two of them. “You mean like him?”
The man was surprised, as well as his guard, but he didn’t let it show. “Correct. The next thing a guard needs to know, of course, is how to fight anything and every threat presented. They have to be strong, both mentally and physically. A guard has to be able to withstand anything thrown their way. The best way to ensure this is to train both the human side and the wolf side; two strong halves make an almost undefeatable whole. Because if they fail, it could mean death for those they are assigned to protect.”
The little girl nodded her head at his words, burning everything he was telling her into her memory so she wouldn’t forget later on. “What else does a guard have to do?” She asked the man, her eyes shining bright with determination. “A guard has to be able to follow orders without complaint. But above all else, a guard has to betrust-worthy, loyal, helpful, caring and honest.”
“I can do it. You just wait and see.” The man chuckled softly at her. “I’ll hold you to that.” He turned to leave, but stopped and pulled a small necklace from around his neck. Kneeling in front of her, he slipped it around her neck. “You have a very long and hard road ahead of you, little one, but this will remind you that I believe in you; that you’re not alone.” The little girl looked down at the proud looking wolf that bore the royal crest and threw her arms around the man’s neck.
“Thank you. I won’t let you down.” She whispered to him before running towards her father, slipping the necklace under her shirt. The man watched for several seconds before he spoke softly. “I want monthly updates of the girl on my desk the first of every month.”
“It will be done my king.” A low voice answered and the king turned to leave. He had hardly ever been proven wrong in his judgment, but only time would tell if the young girl would make it or not. He, for one, believed that she would. The king nodded and quickly disappeared into the forest.
~6 Months Later~
Beta Rivers stood in his study looking out of his window. His daughter had returned from The Culling, a changed girl. Sure, she was a six-year-old girl, but her personality had shown itself full force. She was a wild, almost uncontrollable at times, child. But in the six months, she had settled down and gotten more serious.
“Do it again Lincoln.” She yelled at her brother as she scrambled up from the ground. “I’m tired Phoebe. We’ve been at this for hours. What do you say about going and seeing if Mom has any cookies ready?” Beta Rivers watched as his daughter’s face became blank. “No Lincoln. I have to train.”
Suddenly, two she-wolves about Lincoln’s age walked by and called out to him. He turned towards them and waved; his attention fully on them. Rivers laughed at his son’s mistake. Phoebe saw her opening and charged forward. The move that Lincoln had been showing her all afternoon was executed perfectly as Lincoln’s body flipped through the air and hit the ground hard. The girls laughed and hurried on their way.
“Alright shortstop, training is over. We do have to eat you know.” Lincoln said as he slowly stood up and shook his head. He too had noticed the change in his little sister, but he made no comment about it. Phoebehuffed,but quickly smiled when she caught the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Phoebe threw a smile over her shoulder at her sixteen year old brother as she raced towards the back door. Her father shook his head in awe. His daughter had changed for sure. She listened to him and his mate more,didn’t talk back when he told her to do something. The first time that happened startled him greatly. He didn’t know what to make of her idea of becoming a Royal Guard, but for now, he’d just let her go. There was no harm in letting a little child dream big.
~5 Years Later~
Phoebe stood in the training yard, her eyes glued on the man in front of her. Everyone around them had all stopped to watch the Beta’s daughter spar with the top warrior. But she had no idea. All of her attention was focused on predicting his next move. Suddenly, her eyes caught the faintest hint of movement on his left side and she jumped backwards just as his foot swept through the air.
Her sudden movement startled the man for a brief second, but that was all she needed. His concentration was thrown off just long enough for Phoebe to rush forward, land two right punches, and a roundhouse kick. The crowd watched on baited breath as the warrior fell to the ground and Phoebe quickly pinned him. Laughter and applause erupted and Phoebe helped the man back up to his feet. “Thank you for sparing with me today.” Her tone was respectful as she slowly bowed her head a little.
“No need to thankmePhoebe. You’re getting better. I think it won’t be long before you’ll be able to easily beat me.” She beamed at his praise before quickly making her way into the forest. The past five years had been tough on her, but to her, it would all be worth it the day she reached her goal. She might only be eleven years old, but she didn’t let that stop her. Phoebe had her mind set on only one goal, and nothing would stop her from reaching it. As she flew through the forest making almost no sound, her fingers found their way to the necklace that she never took off.
An hour later, a tired and worn out Phoebe entered her home. She could hear the laughter of her parents coming from the kitchen, but she just made her way towards the stairs. “Phoebe, is that you sweetheart?” Her mother called out. “Yes ma’am. I’m just heading up to my room to shower.”
“Alright, just make sure you come back down and eat.”
“I will Mom.” Twenty minutes later, feeling refreshed after the hot shower, Phoebe entered the kitchen. Giving her parents a smile; she quickly took her seat and fixed herself a plate. “How did training go today?” The question came from Lincoln. “It went well. Warrior Spears says that I’m getting better.” Her father’s head snapped up as his eyes met hers. “You sparred with Spears?”
“Yes sir.” Phoebe froze, waiting for a reprimand, but none came. Beta Rivers resumed eating, but his mind was turning. It had been five years since he took her to The Culling, and now he was regretting it. He missed the little spit fire his daughter used to be. But he could tell that this was her dream, and he would be hanged if he was going to try and talk her out of something that her heart was set on. Slowly, his eyes landed on his oldest son. Lincoln had just turned twenty-one, and it was about time for him to take over.
The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. Phoebe had no clue that her father had decided to give the title to Lincoln a few years early so that he could help oversee her training. He swore to his-self that if she really wanted to try for a position as a Royal Guard, he would make sure that he gave it his all to make sure she would survive the challenges of getting to The Culling so she could try. But he couldn’t know that the Fates had other plans. Three weeks later, a large group of rogues attacked First Death, and Beta Francis Rivers was killed.
Many miles away, sitting in his office, King Stone picked up the latest report. Quickly, he opened the folder and started reading. He was glad to see that she was making progress. When he came across the section that told him of her father’s passing, his heart went out to the young wolf. He knew how hard it was when you lost your father at a young age. But what he didn’t know was that the loss of her father had made Phoebe Rivers only more determined to one day belong among the Royal Guards.
~5 Years Later~
Sixteen year oldPhoebe lay on the forest floor writhing in pain. A soft whimper now and then would slip from her lips, but other than that, she made no noise. Suddenly, the forest was filled with the sounds of bones breaking, and her family watched as she began to shift. Slowly, limb by limb, the change began to take over her. Finally, half an hour later, a sliver-black wolf laid where Phoebe’s human body once was.
Phoebe, are you alright?Her alpha stepped from the trees and linked with her. They all watched as the she-wolf stood and shook her coat out.I’ve never been better Alpha.Phoebe bowed her head in respect.Your father would be proud of you. Welcome to the pack.Phoebe’s wolf threw her head backwards and let out a happy howl that was soon joined with the rest of her pack mates. Now that she had shifted, her training would be able to be taken to a tougher level.
King Stone had just stepped into his office when someone knocked on his door. “Come in.”
“Here you are my king. It’s the latest report on the girl.”
“Thank you John.” The king gave his guard a smile and the man quickly left. Although, the king knew that the man hadn’t gone too far. It was, after all, his duty to protect his king. Taking a seat in his chair, the folder opened in his hands. “Ah, so you shifted young one. And it would appear that your wolf is strong. Good.” His eyes scanned the pages as he quickly got up to date on Phoebe’s training and what not.
One comment made him confused, however. For the most part, werewolves were a healthy lot. Only a very serious sickness could get them down, and that’s not including the use of poisons like wolf's bane, silver, and a few other unmentionables. Phoebe had been in the pack hospital five times since the last report. He could only hope that the girl wasn’t sick.
Phoebe lay in the soundproof cell, her body rigid. Just outside the door stood her alpha and the doctor, keeping a very watchful eye on the young girl. They watched as Phoebe threw her head backwards, but not letting the scream they knew that was tearing at her lips, out. “How strong did you make the dose this timePhil?”
The alpha softly asked the doctor, his eyes not once leaving Phoebe. “I only went up one ounce. As it is, Phoebe’s body seems to be immune to almost four times the lethal dose of liquid silver and wolf's bane. Why does she do it, Alpha?” The doctor asked.
“The only answer I have for you is it’s her drive to become a guard. She wants to be able to withstand any kind of attempt to render her useless and unable to protect whoever is placed under her watch.” The doctor nodded. “In three days, if she doesn’t have any side effects of this, she wants to try and slowly build up immunity to several other things. Do I have your approval, Alpha?”
The older man let out a sigh. “You do. Only because I know that she’d try to do it on her own, and might make a mistake that would kill her.”Alpha, have you seen my sister?Lincoln linked with his alpha and he had to make up an excuse. He knew that if her brother knew what his younger sister was doing, the girl would be forbidden to do it.She’s helping the doctor right now. Do you need her for something?
No sir. I was just checking up on her.And the alpha knew why. Ever since the death of their father, Phoebe had changed even more. The effort and determination that she was already putting into her training and the like, was increased almost tenfold, causing Lincoln to become worried about the girl more often. Ten minutes later, the doctor opened the door and entered the room. He quickly took Phoebe’s vitals before helping her stand.
“You should take it easy for the next day or so Phoebe. If you notice anything off, you come to me right away. It could mean the difference of life and death.” Phoebe nodded her head in agreement. She knew that the doctor wasn’t joking. Nodding at her alpha, she slowly made her way up out of the basement and to her house. Both she and her wolf were weaker than a newborn pup, but it would soon be worth it all.
~5 Years Later~
21 year old Phoebe stood in her tent. The sounds of the people just feet away seemed louder than she had remembered. The past fifteen years had indeed been hard and brutal, but she had survived. She had made it to The Culling. The tent flap opened and Lincoln entered. “Are you sure you want to do this Phoebe?”
Her eyes met his and she gave him one of her rare smiles. “I’m positive Lincoln. I have been dreaming of this day since I was six.”
“I know.” Lincoln chuckled softly and hugged her. “I have faith in you, little one. You’ll make it.”
“I know I will.” She whispered as she pulled the familiar necklace out and slowly rubbed her thumb over the small wolf. It was a habit that Lincoln had seen her do hundreds of times over the years. Bringing his thoughts to the present, he handed her the number that had been assigned to her. It allowed the alphas and other wolves to know who was who. And it made identification easier.
After she was ready, Phoebe followed her brother out of the tent and towards the grounds about half a mile away. “Your fight is in two hours. I asked around and managed to learn that you’ll be facing the Beta of Red Cliff. You need to watch out for his left hook.” Phoebe nodded, soaking up the advice. When they reached the grounds, Phoebe took in a deep breath. Her eyes began to scan the crowd when they landed on a man that looked familiar.
He was sitting on the platform that was reserved for the Royal Family. Beside him sat a woman in her late forties, but she was still breath-taking. Instantly, Phoebe knew that this was the King and Queen. As if feeling her eyes on them, the King looked out and met her gaze. He gave her a smile and she slowly returned it. She wasn’t sure that he was the same man she had met fifteen years ago.
The two hours passed by quickly, and before she knew it, Phoebe found herself being led to the ring where all wolves who were vying for a spot in the Guards were to fight. She could feel the stares when the others realized that she was a woman. Almost immediately, the whispers started. But Phoebe just blocked them out. She couldn’t allow anything to break her concentration.
“The next two wolves that wish to join the Royal Guards is Beta Geoffrey Ochoa from pack Red Cliff, and his opponent, Phoebe Rivers of First Death.” The announcer called out and instantly, the crowds surrounding them fell silent. The name Rivers was familiar and they knew that if she was anything like her brother and father, this promised to be a fight worth watching. So far, Geoffrey had been undefeated. But if Phoebe were to take him down, the spot was hers.
With a quick handshake, both fighters quickly got into position and began circling each other. Phoebe made herself block out everything and everyone around her as she focused on the man before her. She could tell that he was getting tired. After all, he had been fighting all day. Phoebe also noticed that he was keeping his right arm lower and closer to his ribs. They must have been hurt in his last fight, and this was an advantage that she could use.
In a blink of an eye, Phoebe’s head moved to her right just seconds before Geoffrey’s left fist flashed forward. Her right hand slammed against his jaw and was quickly followed by a left to the right side ribs. And the fight was on. Geoffrey managed to land the next two hits, but they didn’t seem to faze Phoebe in the least.
Round after round, Phoebe punched and tested the man in front of her. Geoffrey was looking worse as each round passed, but he refused to give up. Phoebe had dried blood on her white loose shirt from the broken nose that Geoffrey had given her. And her body was covered in cuts, bruises and blood as well. But she paid no attention to any of it.
Finally, after seven rounds and five hours of fighting, Phoebe saw an opening. Geoffrey’s footing was unstable, and she could tell that he was having a little trouble seeing. Faking a left hook, she jabbed him with two solid hard right crosses and then a roundhouse kick. The crowd was silent as they watched Geoffrey’s body spin around and fall to the ground.
Standing back from him, but keeping her stance, Phoebe waited for the doctor to reach them. Quickly, the man knelt beside the unconscious Beta. Several moments later, he stood up and whispered something into the announcer’s ears. “The winner by a knockout is Phoebe Rivers.” The crowd went crazy as Lincoln jumped into the ring and hugged his sister. A small smile was the only thing that showed Phoebe was proud of herself.
“I never doubted you for a second there, little one.” Lincoln whispered into her ear as he let her go. “And I know that Dad would be proud of you right now.” Lincoln led his sister back to her tent to get cleaned up before the celebration later that evening. “It’s going to be difficult to get used to you not being there Phoebe. But I want you to know that whenever I get the chance, I’ll come and visit. And there’s always letters and phone calls.”
“I promise to stay in touch Lincoln.” With sad smiles, the two of them slowly made their way through the happy crowd to the banquet hall. The food was excellent, but Phoebe didn’t eat much. Maybe it was her nerves or the fact that in the morning, she’d have to say goodbye to her brother and start a new chapter of her life alone.
From his seat at the head table, King Stone kept an eye on Phoebe. “Is that the girl Matthew?” His mate softly asked, looking at the girl as well. He slowly nodded. “I met her here fifteen years ago. You should have seen her then Helen. She had no clue who I was, but she told me that she would one day be a member of the Royal Guard, and here she is.”
“She’s quite determined, I’d say that for her.”
“That she is.” The king chuckled. He then proceeded to tell his mate a few of the things that had been reported back to him that Phoebe had down over the years. The queen found herself laughing at the antics of a younger Phoebe. “I’d like to meet her Matthew.”
“And so you shall my love. Once the feast is over, we will go to her tent and you’ll see for yourself what a treasure our Guards received today.” True to his word, after the feast had ended, the king slowly led his mate to Phoebe’s tent. Clearing his throat, the king called out. “Permission to enter?”
“Granted,” Phoebe answered and turned just in time to see the royal couple step into her tent. Instantly, Phoebe bowed deeply before them. “Stand my dear.” The queen spoke as she watched the girl before her. As Phoebe stood back up, her eyes landed on the king. They were surprised when a small smile appeared on her face. She reached up and slowly tugged a necklace from around her neck. “I believe this belongs to you, my king.”
He took it from her and slipped it into his pocket. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” He told her. Phoebe noticed the confused look on the queen’s face, so she spoke. “When I was six years old, my father had to attend The Culling in my alpha’s place. I saw for the first time the Royal Guards and decided that I would one day join them.
“I met a man that day, up on Alpha Lookout. I didn’t know who he was, but he told me what it meant to be a guard; the work and dedication that went into it. I took everything that he said to heart. And then he gave me a necklace and told me that whenever I felt like giving up, the necklace would let me know that I wasn’t alone, that someone believed in me.
“I owe my success to him.” Her eyes fell back on the king and she bowed her head. The three of them spoke for several hours until the queen noticed how late it was getting. Quickly, the royal couple took their leave and hurried back to the castle. Phoebe would need her rest to face the trials that would come in the morning.
Crown Prince Darcy Stone stood in his room staring out of his window. Today, he had come across his mate’s scent, but no matter how hard he looked, he didn’t find her. He was twenty-five and his father’s youngest son. His brothers didn’t want the title, so it fell upon him to take it.
A deep sigh left him as his eyes fell upon the tents of the wolves that had shown up for this year’s Culling. It was just yesterday that he was thinking about asking one of the young women he knew to marry him, to give him and the kingdom an heir. But now that he knew that his mate was out there somewhere, he knew that he couldn’t do that to her. He had to find her.