8. Arrows and Elders

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A couple of days had passed by since their fight, a couple of days since she saw him. Every thought of Ryder seemed to send a wave of hurt and confusion through Athena. So, she sought out all possible ways to keep him out her head, from honing her archery and sword fighting skills in the morning to exploring the mountains by noon and reading books in the library in the evening. While it didn't help much, she was able to learn a lot of new things and also meet a lot of new people.

Today, she was heading to the training grounds as the Blacksmith's son, Luca, approached her.

"Good morning Athena. Father has made the new bolts you asked for. He sent me here to tell you they are ready."

"Thank you, Luca. I will come there as soon as possible. How is everything at the forge?" she asked, looking at the young, well-built man with dark hair, fair skin and startling blue eyes in front of her. She had bumped into him when she stormed off into the mountains after her little fight with Ryder. She remembered the embarrassing encounter as clear as day.

"All is well, thank you for asking. I have to get going now or Father will make me work longer today," he said, running his fingers through his hair and smiling shyly. "And before I forget, I was given this by one of the guards to give to you." He quickly took out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Athena.

"Thank you. I guess I will see you soon then," she said smiling as she watched him take off into the mountains. She looked at the paper in her hand and saw a message written in a beautiful cursive hand.

Meet me at the entrance of the mountain as soon as you get this message.

We need to talk.

-Ryder

She stared at it as if the paper had grown two horns.

He is ordering me around again! Very well then, let me see what he wants.

Gripping her sword, she walked into the mountains, through the dimly lit tunnels, and towards the entrance.

Athena shielded her eyes from the bright light as she reached the mouth of the cave, and waited for a while as her eyes adjusted to the outside world. The sight of a big, beautiful golden wolf in front of her greeted her.

'Ryder.' she said, nodding.

'Athena, walk with me.'

'No.'

The wolf tilted its head at her and moved a little closer to her.

'Come.' He said again, gently but sternly, nudging her arm with his nose. 'I have to show you something. Something that I hope will make you understand.' He said as he started walking into the forest.

Giving in to her arising curiosity, which she knew would soon be the death of her before beheading or disease, she followed him, the sounds of animals, big and small greeting her ears, ones that were dangerous and ones that were not, but strangely, she wasn't frightened. Instead, she felt one with all of them, like they were a part of her.

'Your father was a great man.' Ryder spoke up suddenly, shaking Athena out of reverie.

She narrowed her eyes as she replied, 'You said you didn't know him.'

'I don't, but I am taking you to someone who did know him. My father.' He said as he led them to a cave near a small creek that joined the main river. The air got stiffer and harder for Athena to breathe with every step she took towards it. Ryder stopped and stood still in front of the cave for a while before signalling Athena to follow him inside. She barely took two steps before a roar echoed through the cave.

A black wolf walked out of the cave. Power emanated with each step he took, causing Athena to look down for a second before she forced herself to look back at the wolf. 'Daughter of the wolves.' A deep melodious voice echoed in her head. She felt the same power surge through her, as she looked into its eyes. 'For long have I waited to meet the offspring of Wolfborn. But now that the time has arrived, I see that it isn't the best indeed. You have your Father's arrogance and stride, youngling. It fills me with immense pain and joy to see you here and now, but time is slipping through our fingers as we speak. I see that you are brimming with questions. Ask, and I will try my best to answer them.'

"What is your name and how did you know my father?" she asked, trying not to quiver under those ice blue eyes that were regarding her.

'Azazel. Your father was my Alliant, just as you are my son's.'

"What if I don't want to be this? An Alliant? What if I don't want any part of this and I am willing to sacrifice everything I would gain by choosing this path to go back to the life I used to lead?"

'Athena, that life never existed. I was the one who asked Ryder to leave you with Lazarus and Miriam soon after your father died. He didn't want to, as he knew that you and he were Alliants, but he also knew that you weren't safe here. A lot of people sacrificed their lives to save you. And forsaking this would mean you are forsaking that sacrifice.'

"But I didn't ask for any of this," she whispered into the air. Azazel regarded her silently as she sucked in her breath and made up her mind before announcing,"I will help, but only to clean my slate. After doing so, I am leaving for good. Promise me you won't come after me ever again and you will leave me to live my life the way I want to live it. And so, all I am asking now is for answers, answers that your son has been very much unwilling to give me."

'I can only promise you that some of those answers can only be revealed with the passing of time, Athena. As for you leaving, you will be in too deep to leave whether you accept your fate or not. It will be easier for you if you do accept it. You are Queen now, Athena if it hasn't occurred to you already. Ryder's duty is to prepare, guide and be by your side. You now have your own people to guide. This has been your destiny ever since the day you were born. Lazarus and Miriam knew that you were a child with a great history and meant to do wonders. If not for you, at the very least, do this for them. We will protect them from all those who wish to harm them, but as for you, there is no turning back now. This is your journey. Your road to travel, your war to fight and your place to find. Your Fate.'

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