It’s totally surreal being escorted through enemy territory. Baden, Chase and I arrive at the Mage’s sanctuary by early afternoon. They live in a small village, women and men totally covered head to toe in purple robes. Multiple people are praying to a dead tree by the lake, while most of the other Mages are in classes within shabby looking huts.
We’re taken around camp and asked to keep quiet as their lives are explained.
Poppy shows Baden, Chase and I the way of the Mages.
It starts relatively tame.
The vibe of the camp is quiet yet powerful. It is the reason why Baden, Chase and I do not talk as we are shown around ‘town’.
I appreciate the silence from the Alpha werewolves on our lengthy tour. It must take some practice, considering the words out of Poppy’s mouth consistently seem provocative.
It’s almost as if she wants us to react with violence.
She’ll occasionally criticise us for having mangy hair, touching our faces with dirty hands if we scratch an itch, or she’ll point out that our eyes wander from the subject at hand.
The brocher made it sound like this excursion was in part, an adventure. Aka, fun.
It felt like the exact opposite. Oppression seemed to be real and the fact that we were not one of their own kind, seemed to disgust most of the Mages we passed by.
They hated us for being different and Poppy was enjoying critiquing everything about us.
I half expected her to start commenting on the way we breathed in and out.
Fortunately, by this stage the sun is finally setting and Poppy has escorted us to the edge of the camp, where the forest begins.
Baden looks ready to run in his fur, while Chase is thin lipped, as if narrowly holding back some smart ass comments.
As for me, my cheeks actually hurt from fake smiling so much.
I’ve been trying my best to be a good guest for these strange people.
“An hour break,” Poppy holds out her hand and stands to the side, as if tempting us to run before she has even finished her farewell, “Before you eat dinner with our Elders. I would suggest waiting for the clouds to pass over the moon. That is when we expect you to make your way back. For now, explore the forest and reflect with each other upon these two topics. Define friendship. Define advantage. Then, when you return you will discuss your thoughts with the Elders over dinner before you’re separated into your own tents. Blankets and pillows will be provided. I will see you all soon. Think hard, dearest wolves. I am interested to hear your answers. It will determine your private lessons tomorrow,” without waiting for us to respond, Poppy glides between us and quickly retreats.
After 4 long hours, we finally have some semblance of peace.
“Let’s walk,” I whisper as I take the lead, “Slowly... as if we aren’t running for our sanity.”
“Am I the only one that is creeped out about this whole experience so far?” Chase asks from just behind me.
Baden refuses to speak and we walk another couple of minutes before we start to run, in synch without speaking.
Hoping over logs, sliding through dry leaves and lunging up hills. We keep going until we find a special spot. Two trees intertwine and seem to form steps up into the tree tops.
“Let’s talk in the trees,” I suggest, being the first to jump up.
I feel momentarily important as I lead the Alpha’s to our final destination.
The three of us climb to the top and settle on seperate branches between the two trees which grew inches apart. We awkwardly look at one another and wait for the first to speak their mind.
Our real thoughts.
“Was it just me...” Baden leans across a thick branch and scoffs as he runs a hand through his hair, “Or did that camp... give off aggressive vibes? My hairs were all on end. I felt this need to attack.”
“Spot on,” Chase instantly agrees.
“So that is why you were both silent?” I ask, “I thought you both agreed to submit to their teachings.”
“That was just us controlling our instincts, naive little wolf,” Chase smirks at me, “You, on the other hand, seemed right at home.”
“I was trying hard to agree with everything they said,” I explain.
“We can’t go back there,” Baden interrupts, “Or I will munch into someone’s neck.”
“What are you, half vampire?” Chase shakes his head in disapproval and pauses as he considers his next words, before adding, “I want to go back. I want to see what your father sent us here for. Perhaps we’re all being set up for a slaughter. A scarifice? They’ll blame our deaths on an accidental drowning.”
“Why would you want to go back to confirm that?” I snap in exhausted frustration, “Why don’t we just find a place in the forest to sleep, head back to Half-Moon Academy and explain the mages were just too weird. It’s like being introduced to a cult. We weren’t welcome. Every couple of minutes, Poppy scolded us for no reason. Something is so off about this place.”
“No shit, but let’s find out more before we run,” Chase snaps at me and Baden also fires up at the same time.
“You can both kiss my ass, I’m not returning to their camp,” Baden snarls.
“I said I don’t want to go back!” I hiss back at Baden while Chase snaps off a twig and throws it at Baden’s face playfully. However, Baden smacks it away and snarls. He doesn’t find the move funny.
“Pussy,” Chase smirks, “You’re scared of them.”
“I’m not scared, I have values - I don’t associate with Mages. They’re fucking weird,” Baden snaps back.
“I already worked it out,” Chase adds, chuckling, “This is about the future Prime Alpha. Who can tolerate other cultures better. Who can negotiate peace between different people within the same territory. Looks like you’re already out. You break too easy, Baden. You got a temper that works against you.”
“I don’t want to be Prime Alpha, genius. But I know I’d be a better lead than you for that position if it came down to it. Life isn’t a game - it’s a fucking shit show.”
“Do you need a hug, Baden?” Chase asks, moving his foot along my branch, he makes his boot brush against Baden’s shoes.
It’s a slight gesture.
For some reason, it’s apparently aggressive.
Because Baden can’t handle it.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” Baden pulls his leg back.
“Don’t swear in front of our mate, you brute,” Chase scoffs.
“I don’t care if you swear, I’m a fucking adult,” I snarl also, “Both of you shut up, we don’t have all night to argue. What’s the plan? Originally we assumed this was disapproval of our three way mating bond... now, Chase, you’re suggesting it’s to do with who is more likely to become the Prime Alpha?”
“Oh, it’s everything,” Chase adds, “Who’s stronger, more talented, more cool headed?” Chase points between Baden and himself, while Baden listens tentatively with a raised brow. He looks ready to get into a fist fight, “But it’s not just that,” Chase nods at me, “It’s you too.”
“What about me?” I ask.
“Who would you pick?” Chase asks, “Me... or Baden? Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly ill intent here. At the end of this trip, one of us is going to get cut open, that’s for sure,” Chase sounds super confident of this fact, “The important facts are the reasons behind what the adults are all talking about. The future of werewolves. Clearly we’re the pinnacle point. The Prime Alpha’s son, Baden, the charismatic rival that everyone loves, me... and the forbidden mate, from an enemy territory and an enemy pack. That’s you. We’re the talk of the town. I’m fine with being famous. The question is... Maia... who do you choose?”
“I don’t think that... well... I don’t think that’s relevant. If you’re both my mates, why would I choose anyone?” I ask. I glance at Baden and I’m shocked to see him staring at me intensely.
For the first time, he’s not just glancing at me with amusement or indifference. He almost looks... jealous.
Baden is clearly nervous about what I’m really thinking.
“Come on, be honest,” Chase is smooth and knocks his foot into mine next, “Who do you lean towards most? My bet is whoever you reject - get’s killed.”
“You have a ridiculous imagination,” I snarl, “Just shut up. You think you know what you’re talking about, but you don’t!”
“I think you lean towards me,” Chase slowly smirks, “...don’t you, Maia?”
“Put your cock back in your pants,” Baden can’t help himself, his fist clenches a small branch so hard it snaps - betraying the extent of his emotion.
“I’m just asking a question, geez,” Chase holds up an innocent hand to his chest, “...Maia?”
“I will not answer something so ridiculous,” I scoff back.
“You’re still on your Heat, you know why?” Chase adds, distracting me from rejecting his question. This time he goes about his objective, in a round about manner, “Baden and I have been hard all day with you right there... unable to get what we could. Release.”
“Ew,” I whisper, automatically. It makes Chase laugh, while Baden just looks at the moon, uncomfortable.
“We don’t have time for this,” Baden growls low.
“Of course we do,” Chase interrupts, “Maia Royale. Tell me - us - your thoughts. You don’t talk about yourself much, do you? Where are you from? What do you want? What are your aspirations? Why do you have no friends? Why do you keep your thoughts in? Why do you keep avoiding my eyes? Maia?”
“Just. Shut. Up!” I answer Chase while looking away, pretending to scan the ground for any wandering mages, “I refuse to be interrogated. I hardly know you.”
An awkward silence ensues.
But it’s broken by the unexpected.
“You know what, I agree,” Baden breaks the ice, “What’s with you and all your secrets, Maia?”
“Excuse me?” I almost go off at Baden when he asks me this with such frustration and disgust.
“You don’t give anything away, do you?” Baden tries to bait me into answering.
“The little wolf is full of secrets, it seems,” Chase adds, “Are you a virgin?”
“She sure is, I already asked her that question,” Baden blows my cover.
“Fuck both of you,” I snap, while Chase tries to keep in a chuckle.
“She’s uncomfortable when she’s the focus of the discussion,” Chase keeps prodding.
They both do, like a team - they seem to decide I shall be the focus of their built up frustration.
“Maia Royale,” Baden continues, “Tell us a secret.”
“Go on,” Chase encourages me, “Anything. Give us something.”
“I refuse,” I don’t even have to think about my answer, “Next question?”
“Nah, questions are too boring,” Chase pretends to pout and slowly turns his head to catch Baden’s curious eye, “She can talk the talk but can our mate walk the walk?”
“That was terrible banter,” I try not to scoff too loudly.
“Oh come on, Maia,” Chase continues, “Let’s all play a game, we’re sitting in a tree, and lovers in a tree only do one thing,” Chase tries to hold in his grin.
“You’re such a loser, Chase,” Baden sides with me on this, “...but I’m in,” until he says that and he shrugs like it’s no big deal, “We have privacy, briefly, so let’s find out who’s the best kisser. Who’s better at locking lips?”
“You’ll both get erections when our saliva mixes and it’s just going to be awkward as fuck-” I try to be witty this time but Chase buds in.
“I’m all up for awkward sex in a tree, anything to relieve this -” Chase glances down and Baden actually snorts, smiling, just a little.
They were getting too comfortable and I was starting to get on edge.
Games could turn serious at any point with wolves.
I did not want to lose my virginity in a tree.
Fuck that shit.
“What were we meant to be discussing?” I ask, forcing on a professional tone as I gulp and try to banish the thoughts of mating from my mind as multiple scenarios flash through my brain, “I believe we had to define two words... friendship...? and advantage?”
Now, an awkward silence really does settle upon all our shoulders.
Precisely because Chase and Baden are both looking at me with heavy longing gazes... as if they’re thinking about the same scenarios that were just flashing through my own mind.
"Seriously,” I add, my voice weak and my laugh just as broken “Ha... so... L-Let’s go back and impress the mages?” I look up at the sky and I see the first hint of clouds rolling in towards the moon, “Shit, well, time flies, doesn’t it? Let’s get going.”
“Sure,” Chase murmurs... too quietly.
“Mmmhmm,” Baden also shrugs.
A few more intense seconds pass when no one moves, but then eventually Baden slips down to the branch below, Chase winks at me and follows Baden... finally, I have to catch my breath before I also tag along.
Needless to say, we had not discussed what we were meant to discuss in our break.
Friendship was clearly the last thing on all our minds.
However, we were about to find out why it was so important to Poppy and the other Elder Mages that we focus on that particular topic; friendship.
Let’s just say keeping in our emotions, was about to become an impossibility when we confronted the real issue at hand.
The very issue we had been trying to work out.
Our destined three way love, although new and strange even for the three of us... was not so new to everyone else around us.
It just simply wasn’t accepted.
In fact, as we were about to learn, it was the exact opposite to all the leaders around us. Wolves. Mages. Mortals. Even vampires.
It was a quirky kind of love.
But it was also considered one word: wrong.
Just like my upbringing, I still could not find peace or a place to fit in.
Not only was I from a pack no one recognised - but soon I’d find out the mating bond I was destined to have? Was also forbidden.
Sometimes, you just can’t win.
You have to face the consequences.
And then you do whatever the hell you can to survive.