The sound of her name jolted Autumn awake, her eyes snapping open to focus on the clock. "Crap," she muttered, scrambling out of bed in a frenzy. She darted around her room, gathering clean clothes and everything she needed for the day ahead.
"Crap, crap, crap, crap..." she mumbled to herself, pulling a T-shirt over her head before rushing out of the room and down the stairs.
Luna Joella raised an eyebrow as Autumn skidded into the kitchen. "Nice of you to join us," she drawled.
"I'm sorry, Luna. My alarm must have—"
"I don't want excuses, Autumn. Finish the pack's breakfast, and then get on with your chores. We have a busy day today," Joella interrupted, her voice dismissive as she turned and left the kitchen.
Autumn managed to cook breakfast just in time for the meal to begin. As pack members filed in, she handed them their plates and then set about cleaning up the kitchen.
"What are you still doing in here?" Joella barked, striding back into the room.
"I was just finishing up the dishes. Is there something you need?" Autumn asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
Joella huffed, handing her a list. "Here are some additional tasks I need done today, on top of your usual chores, of course."
Autumn scanned the list, her eyes widening in disbelief. "There must be thirty things on here. There's no way I'll get this all done today."
"Well then, you better get started, dear, because I expect it to be done," Joella said with a smirk. "Oh, and rein in that attitude. It'll get you in trouble."
Lowering her head in submission, Autumn bit back a retort. She knew that if she looked Joella in the eyes, the defiance and irritation in her face would be all too clear.
Sitting at the kitchen island, Autumn took a moment to strategize how she would tackle the seemingly endless list of chores. After a few minutes, she sighed and got to work, knowing she didn't have much of a choice.
It had been four years since Autumn's parents had died, leaving her with their massive debts to the alpha and the pack. She had been twenty at the time, in the middle of her second year of college. The alpha had pulled her out of school, telling her she had to work off her parents' debts. And so, here she was, still cleaning toilets and cooking every meal in the pack house.
Autumn managed to complete most of Joella's list before she had to stop and prepare dinner. She walked into the kitchen looking disheveled, her hair falling out of its ponytail and her shirt stained with various substances. Leaning against the counter, she took a deep breath and allowed herself a moment to dream of the day she would leave this place and never have to do another person's chores again.
She had just started on dinner when alarm bells began to ring. Confused, she watched as pack members rushed around in a panic. Following the chaos, she finally managed to grab hold of someone. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Alpha Warner defied the treaty. He just attacked the Red Moon Pack, and now they're on their way to our borders," the girl said, her voice trembling with fear before she ran off.
Autumn stood frozen, her mind racing. Breaking a treaty was bad enough, but breaking the treaty with Red Moon? That treaty had been made by the alpha king himself. Defying the king would mean severe punishment for the entire pack.
"What were you thinking, Warner?!" she heard Joella's voice from down the hall. Autumn quickly ducked behind a wall, not wanting to be seen. She had heard rumors about King Elijah, and if they were all going to die, she wanted to know why.
"Joella, not now! There are too many things in motion," Alpha Warner replied in a hushed tone.
"Warner, you know what he'll do. Why would you break the treaty so openly? I thought we had a plan!" Joella's voice was laced with concern.
"Red Moon just..." Warner trailed off.
"Just what?" Joella snapped. "Is this some power play? Did you do this to try and take over their pack quickly? Because I thought we had a strategy!"
"Their land is our land, Joella! They stole it from us and then convinced King Elijah to let them keep it!" Alpha Warner growled.
"If you attacked them, then it means you thought you could win. So whatever you're doing, do it fast. As soon as Elijah hears about this, it's all of our heads," Joella whispered urgently.
Anger bubbled up inside Autumn as she realized their alpha had risked everything for a few dozen acres of land. She huffed, preparing to return to the kitchen when a hand grabbed her arm. She spun around to find Joella glaring at her.
"Luna..." Autumn murmured, lowering her head.
"Were you spying on us, Autumn?" Joella hissed.
"No, Luna. I was just finishing up the list you gave me," Autumn replied quietly.
"Ha! Not likely," Joella scoffed, dragging Autumn up the stairs and down the hall to her small room. She shoved her inside and slammed the door shut. "What you heard will never leave your lips. Now you will stay in here until this is all figured out," she warned, locking the door behind her.
Frowning, Autumn decided to make the most of her unexpected free time. She took a long, hot shower to wash away the grime from her day of chores, then pulled on a large T-shirt and crawled into bed.
She tried to sleep, but the sounds of fighting in the distance kept her awake. The pack's mind-link was in chaos, filled with yells, commands, and cries for help. The pack was at war, and it was only a matter of time before the warriors returned, injured and exhausted from their battle at the border.
As she finally drifted off to sleep, Autumn couldn't help but wonder what would happen when the king found out.
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