602 It’s Not Yours

A second root pierced Ashleigh's body, and the Dark Queen lifted her off the ground, bringing her close.

She tilted her head, looking over Ashleigh with consideration.

'You cannot break your oath!' one of the alphas shouted.

The Dark Queen sighed.

"Of course not," she replied, dropping Ashleigh to the ground. "She's weakened… now's the time, boys."

One long tendril pulled away from the Dark Queen's body as she felt the presence of the three alphas move deeper inside Ashleigh's mind. The tendril sat hovering just above Ashleigh and ready to pierce her chest.

"Though… if you are simply not fast enough to take control of the body… and it bled out…" she whispered. "It wouldn't be my fault that it died."

The tendril shot forward, stabbing Ashleigh once, twice. Then, as she prepared to send it a third time, the Dark Queen screamed in agony as she was suddenly surprised by the burning of one of her roots. She quickly spun back as Caleb dragged his sword through the second root.

The Dark Queen screamed again as the blackened root withered and curled toward her body. Caleb ran forward to the last root, still connected to the golden road.

She tried to release it, to pull it away before he could destroy it.

The root lifted off the ground, sliding back from the hole it had created in the road. The Dark Queen tried to reel it in before he could reach it, but Caleb would not let her.

He dashed forward and sliced through the root. The Dark Queen's howling scream echoed through the tunnel.

The golden light of the tunnel brightened and solidified around them. Caleb could not hear or speak to Lily, but he knew she was relieved.

"You damn dog!' the Dark Queen screamed.

Caleb turned to face her just as she neared him. Her hand was made of sharp vines that extended out toward him. She moved faster than he had anticipated. She caught him by the throat and forced him back against the wall of the golden tunnel.

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To his dismay, the sword fell from his hand as his back slammed into the wall, and a burning pain spread through his body. Her hand at his throat was rough, the vines moving along his skin, rubbing and burning as she held him in place.

She was only holding him now, he could swallow and breathe, but it was becoming difficult.

More vines shot out from her body. One stabbed into his forearm, drawing a hissing groan from him. The others stretched out to hold him in place. His legs and arms locked against the wall as the wooden face stared angrily at him.

"You are a pest!" she rasped furiously. "I will destroy you. Tear your limbs from your body slowly. Let you feel every moment of your flesh, muscle, and bone being separated."

Caleb clenched his jaw and swallowed. He was still trying to move his arms and legs, still trying to set himself free.

"But first," she hissed. "I will let you watch as your mate is cast into the deadlands before your eyes. She will become a puppet for those angry ghosts inside."

Caleb growled.

The Dark Queen laughed.

"Growl all you want," she whispered. "There is nothing you can do to save her…."


Ashleigh sat in the snow. Her legs were crossed, and her eyes were closed. She took slow deep breaths of the cold mountain air.

When Lily had warned her about the Dark Queen's ability to speak with and influence the dead, she had insisted that Ashleigh could never use the rage to confront the Queen.

The alphas were angry and domineering. They were precisely the kind of people the Dark Queen had surrounded herself with. People who were so focused on gaining power and winning they would have no problem betraying another to get it.ραпdα `nᴏνɐ| сom

The Dark Queen, of course, would not be able to resist the temptation of taking Ashleigh's power from her, of goading the alphas into destroying Ashleigh from within.

The conversation had been short, but it was enough to plant an idea in Ashleigh's mind.

'What would happen if I did use the rage against her?' Ashleigh asked as she approached the mountainside with the karambit in her hand. They had just received the report of the fae arriving in Summer, and Ashleigh was preparing to open the gate.

Lily focused on Ashleigh with concern.

'You can't!' she shouted.

Ashleigh sighed.

'I'm not saying I plan to,' she said. 'I am asking, what would happen? What would she do? What could she do?'

Lily drew in a heavy breath.

'The power that you draw on to use the Berserker Rage, it's not yours, exactly,' she began. 'I told you before about your ancestors, the echoes of the past. How you Berserkers are taking the shadows of your ancestors inside of you. That means they are a part of you.'

Ashleigh listened closely.

'Because of your ability to hear and speak with them, it makes you more vulnerable. That's why the alphas could split away from the rest of your ancestors. They know you hear them, and they maintain their individual thoughts and wishes. Their anger. When you tap into that power, you are giving them control.'

Ashleigh felt her heart quicken. Though she had always lost control during her moments of rage, she never considered the idea of someone else controlling her.

'If the Dark Queen could speak with them, interact with them. She could convince them to kill you.'

'Kill me?' Ashleigh asked. 'But if I die… wouldn't they as well?'

'Not if they just kill your mind. If they overwhelm your consciousness and take control of your body. It is possible that they would be able to simply take over. Just like what she did to Loki.'

Ashleigh didn't get the chance to ask any more questions. The gate needed to be opened, and the people of Summer needed to be saved.

But, when Ashleigh and Caleb discussed the need to distract the Dark Queen, Ashleigh knew immediately what to do. There was no way the Dark Queen could ignore such a tempting offer.

It was a risk, a huge risk.

There was no time to explain her plan to him, and when Caleb understood the risk, she felt his fear. She felt the panic in his heart from the cold place where she sat and waited.

"Trust me…" she whispered to him.

Though his fear was not abated, and his panic was still there, he didn't refuse. Instead, his fear fueled his anger, and she felt his trust.

She knew that Caleb would finish his task. Now she needed to prepare for her own.

The temperature around her dropped. She opened her eyes to see that the grey sky above her had turned dark and red. Her body had suffered a decisive blow, perhaps more than one.

A low growl came from behind her and then another.

Ashleigh looked back over her shoulder as the third wolf came down the path to stand beside the others.

Three giant wolves, double-coated, in greys and whites. Winter wolves.

The alphas of the past.