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Chapter 6

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My backyard was full of werewolves.

Our servants had mowed acres of lawn for the occasion, and the freshly flattened fields were slowly but surely filling with a mind-boggling mixture of people and wolves. A steady stream of vehicles filed along the single road leading to the mansion, only to be redirected by estate staff into an adjacent field. The underground parking lot must already be full, I thought with a stab of apprehension. There was only one thing my father could need from so many of our kind, and it definitely wasn't good for our race in the long run.

Those in human form wore clothes of all cuts and colours, although there was one feature that persisted: the emblems of their respective district packs, cleverly displayed through an assortment of unassuming accessories. Those who could afford it wore shifting leathers, dyed various colours. It looked like someone had taken a rainbow and screwed it up in their fist, only to throw the mangled remains at my feet like trash.

The wind shifted, relieving me of the peoples' clashing scents. Gold and black flitted within me in response to sentences mangled by the distance. I felt my good eye narrow the tiniest amount, wondering what rumours were being given life today.

"We-well," Sophie stuttered, wiping sweaty palms on the thighs of her jeans. It seemed I wasn't the only one who found the crowd a touch overwhelming. "Here we are. Your father..."

"Is on the veranda," I said, demonstrating that my eyes were, in fact, fully functional.

I thought I caught a flash of indignation on her face, but when I turned around, it became apparent that her flaring nostrils were simply a symptom of her anxiety — one of many.

"Thank you for your services. They are no longer required," I said, careful not to fall victim to the heels she'd convinced me to don as I made my way to the veranda. Thankfully, the summer heat had baked the earth hard, making it a relatively easy crossing.

By the time I assumed my usual position at Ford's left shoulder — that of the advisor to the throne — I could make out strains of the crowd's speculative chatter.

"What happened to subservient girls? Back in the day..."

"Look at that awful bruise. They say the vampires did it..."

"... the same eyes... that ugly yellow..."

Charles arrived, distracting me from the harsh words of the commoners. While he was technically eligible for a senior's discount card, the City Beta possessed the fitness of a man in his prime. Not only physical fitness, which was evident in his compact frame, but mental fitness as well; he made a scrupulous assessment of our environment, as he assumed the vacant space on my father's right. When his attention finally landed on me, Charles' mouth twisted with something unsettlingly close to remorse.

"You look nice," was all he said, looking pointedly ahead.

I frowned, vaguely aware of the black-clad City Pack members as they filed into formation behind us on the deck. What was all that about?

A servant brought Father a hand-held microphone. "Welcome to Melbourne," he said the moment he grasped it, without even testing if it was on. "Many of you are from the rural reaches of Victoria, and I thank you for responding to my summons with such haste."

My worst fears were being realised. Father had summoned all the district packs in the state that owed him allegiance. The last time I'd checked, there were almost three-thousand werewolves of age registered in our domain. That was three-thousand prospective soldiers, more than enough to cause a ruckus that could alert humanity to the secret existence of our shadow nation.

"For generations, the vampire race has tried our patience," Father declared, confirming my suspicions. "They encroach on our territories, filch our resources, and their foolish mistakes have jeopardised our secret existence time and time again. We have graciously shared our city with them, in spite of the danger they pose to our society. We repeatedly forgive their transgressions, yet they show zero gratitude or remorse. Do we deserve their disrespect?"

The crowd told him what he wanted to hear.

"For years we kept the peace, because it was the safest option for our people. That is no longer the case. Last night, London Irephang led a force that ambushed the Melbourne City Heir Pack on one of their routine patrols. This attack resulted in the death of my only son."

The death of a celebrity was a disturbingly powerful thing. People who'd never met my brother wailed, shouted, sobbed and blew their noses. Somewhere towards the back, a wolf howled in mourning. The evidence of their distress made me feel sick. Arthur had been my brother, my friend — not theirs. There must have been something wrong with me, if it was so easy for them to express their grief, but I couldn't manage a single tear.

"They murdered my child," Father moaned, voice cracking on the last word. I had to admit it was a nice touch. "Your children could be next. Nothing will stop them, unless we do."

The people hung on his every word. Ford Nightshade was an excellent motivational speaker, and it was going to get us all killed.

"Are you willing to court death to keep the vampires in our city?" he asked the crowd, yellow eyes blazing. "Should we die, so that they might live?"

"No!"

"It's us or them. Which race do you want to survive?"

"Ours!"

"Then we go to war!" the City Alpha roared.

Little specks of spittle launched from his mouth. Sun hit the droplets as they sprayed in all directions, a minute explosion of the spectrum. I watched them fall victim to gravity with the same disgusted fascination I harboured for the way he worked the crowd.

"To war!" the people shouted, the words curdling under centuries of passionately cultivated hatred. Even children partook of the chant, innocent throats expressing murderous intent. The resulting sound was chilling. "To war!"

"Yes, to war," my father agreed, suddenly calm again. "Together we will drive the vampires from our city and reclaim our old territories. But in order for this to work, we need stability in our ranks," he warned. "Fighting amongst ourselves will only leave us prone to attack. It is for this reason that I introduce a new law: defiance of your alpha, no matter how petty, is now punishable by death."

My swollen eye twitched. Even though Father was looking dutifully ahead, I could almost feel the way his thoughts revolved around me. I was certain that I was the catalyst for this new, severe law. I would have to tread carefully from now on.

"Martial law will only last as long as the war," Father reassured the crowd, noting their uneasiness. "Is it not a trivial cost, especially when compared to the gain of our victory? Isn't the destruction of all vampires in our city worth it?"

The response was a little more hesitant this time, but as always, the people told him what he wanted to hear. "Yes!"

"We will win this war," Father said, utterly certain. "We will ensure the safety of our families and take back what is ours. We will become our own people once more, free from the oppression of vampires for as long as we walk this earth!"

Another cheer went up, making my ears ring. I was just resigning myself to the discomfort when Father made a sudden cutting motion with his hand. Silence fell at once, as if he'd sliced their very vocal cords.

"But that isn't the only reason I have gathered you here today."

I blinked stupidly. It wasn't?

"Though the battle for freedom takes priority, there is another important event I would like all of you to attend. This event would serve as a reminder that some of the most joyous experiences in life can occur amidst pain and struggle."

Wise words, I thought sourly. I knew he was delaying the announcement on purpose to build anticipation. It wasn't often he left me out of the loop, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Much to my consternation, I couldn't fathom what his news was.

"And so it is with great pleasure that I invite you to attend the upcoming wedding of my only surviving heir, Chance Ivory Nightshade. May you wish her happiness and good luck for many years to come with her new husband."

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by A.J. Scurrah
@AJSCURRAH
Chance Nightshade, daughter of the Melbourne City Alpha, will avenge...
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