I’m licking the wounds of Baden and Chase as they both lose consciousness, sleeping to recover quickly in our little hide out, after they dragged themselves undercover. I whimper uncontrollably as I try to clean any infection, while hoping my miniature werewolf form can heat them enough.
An hour later, I quiet my whimpering when I hear the sounds of leaves crunching and twigs snapping.
Feet, human feet.
I hold my breath and then pant quietly, in a panic as I wait.
Who would find us from the Feast of Wolvenshire, only to taunt us when they found the three of us, so weak?
“Where are they?” I hear a whiney complaint from Siren.
“I have a good nose, shut up, bitch,” Charlotte snaps back.
The fact these two idiots have come searching for more gossip, strikes the wrong nerve in me. My fur rises and I leap out of the small overhanging boulder, lit by the blood moon’s red light, I pivot around, my nose sniffing their overpowering rose perfumed scents getting closer.
I see them about to stumble past a few more trees into the clearing and I don’t even give them a warning growl as I pounce, snarling.
“Oh, shit!” Siren squeals and ducks while I snap my jaws around Charlotte’s blonde hair, knocking her to the ground and snarling over her face as I rip out a bunch of her precious long braid.
"Bitch, get off me!” Charlotte looks genuinely terrified but tries to act tough.
“Maia, no!” I hear a sweet voice as Chloe comes sprinting into the clearing, her hands up in a surrender, “Maia, please, we’ve come to help!”
Growling in disbelief, I back off Charlotte and scan my gaze over the three girls.
They are all holding knapsacks. What the hell?
“Baden!” I hear a male behind me and I turn with a paw raised, confused and worried sick - until I realise it’s just Corey leaning under the boulder and inspecting my two injured mates.
"Please believe us, Maia, and hear us out,” Chloe begs me and I keep backing up, eyeing them all wearily as I scurry behind a tree and transform back into my human form.
I rip off two ferns before someone grumbles and throws me a spare dress. I peak around the trunk to see Charlotte avoiding my gaze and backing off submissively.
This was so odd!
What in the Moon was going on?
I grab the blue short dress and shimmy it on before pouncing around the trunk and noticing Corey has dropped a bigger back pack by the boulders.
“What do you want?” I ask, my voice harsh after crying in my wolf form.
Charlotte stands with Siren, linking arms and holding their chins high while Chloe steps forward, sighing deeply.
“The Prime Alpha told everyone to give the cold shoulder to Baden, Chase and you at the Feast tonight,” Chloe explains, “No one was allowed to interact with you. We all knew what that meant.”
“Banishment,” I spit the word out, feeling sick.
“Girls,” Chloe glares back at the two best friends, ”Say it.”
“Maia Royale...” Siren starts off, gulping, “We apologise.”
“Charlotte?” Chloe snaps next.
“...sorry,” she avoids my gaze.
“For what?” Chloe doesn’t give them an inch.
“We spread the gossip about... Baden and Chase... and you,” Siren continues, holding my gaze, she licks her pink lips and thinks carefully before finishing off, “We aren’t going back. We’re here to join your pack and leave the Academy.”
“All of you?” I ask, shocked.
“Yes,” Corey speaks up just as Chloe also answers in unison. Corey doesn’t face me as he uses a balm while bandaging up Baden first, “Maia, not to be puny at a time like this... but none of you will be left to the wolves, on your own. I won’t allow it.”
"We won’t,” Chloe adds, “Baden is like family... I know he is my ex, but, please don’t hold that against me, Maia... we are aware you three are bonded. We have no issue with it. In fact, most wolves at the Academy don’t even care except for a few obnoxious ones, or older ones.”
“I just don’t understand why you two came,” I turn to Siren and Charlotte and they glance at one another nervously.
“Baden’s always stood up for us,” Charlotte explains.
“...and you’re now important to us because you are their life blood as they are yours,” Siren shrugs.
“I decided we should trek towards Noble Metropolis,” Chloe explains, “My family has multiple residences. We can crash in an empty Pack House.”
“Oh...” I trail off as Chloe approaches me, palm out.
“Do you accept us as a part of your new pack?” Chloe asks.
“Do we have a name for our pack?” Siren interjects, anxiously brushing her straight brown hair off her shoulders, hoping I don’t reject them.
“Not yet,” I grab Chloe’s hand and shake hers first.
“Matriarch,” Chloe introduces her title formally, “These two are worthy, I promise you they aren’t that bad.”
“Fang Bearers,” Charlotte and Siren are next, holding out both their hands. I grimace as I shake there’s one by one.
“Fighters, huh?” I wonder out loud, if a little rudely.
“Yes,” Charlotte hisses, offended, “We get as horny for fights as we do for sex. Don’t judge us.”
“Like you didn’t judge them?” I snarl back.
“Girls, please, now is not the time,” Corey calls out, standing up after bandaging Chase last. Corey walks over to me, the oldest wolf here, he is probably in his late 20′s, “Maia, do you accept me too?” he asks needlessly as he holds out his hand. I shake it and squeeze it in thanks for helping Baden and Chase with their wounds.
I smile weakly and back off away from the new pack members as I sulk my way back to my mates. I sit between their sleeping forms and watch as Chloe tries to mother over Siren and Charlotte, while Corey also tries to reason.
I was uncomfortable about who had showed up. But at the same time, I was also relieved. We needed help. This was unexpected help... but to have allies in the dark, it certainly wasn’t a bad thing.
I run my hands through Baden and Chase’s lush brown fur, matted with rain and blood. I massage their necks, while I wait for the others to come over.
Corey turns first to let out a dramatic sigh, striding towards the overhanging boulder, he sits down on the wet grass wearing jeans and a black top, followed by the three girls.
They are all silent as they watch me, waiting for an order... I suppose.
“You should all know something before you decide helping us is a good idea,” I start, knowing exactly what I’m going to warn them about, “At the Mage’s camp, for the ‘excursion’ I was given an ancient weapon. One you all should know about. The Golden Claw - it adorns me and it’s stuck on me. It’s only visible in my wolf form,” I explain, holding up my right hand and wiggling my middle finger.
“So you can kill vampires with one swipe?” Chloe asks, shocked.
"Why did they give that to you?" Siren asks, a little too rude for my taste.
"Why do you say it like that?" I snarl back.
“I’m just asking a question,” Siren snaps.
"Please,” Corey holds up a hand, “In that case, you can’t be in wolf form in Noble Metropolis,” he advises me with true stress in his gaze, “One hint you have that on you, and vampires will flock to kill you.”
“I understand that,” I gulp and let out a slow exhale, “...you girls,” I direct the conversation back to them, “Are you sure you want to give up study, because to be around us could mean death is always lurking around the corner.”
“Fang Bearers crave misadventure,” Charlotte explains for me while untying her broken braid. I do notice the girls all wear simple dresses, easy to navigate in and throw off if they needed to transform.
They really had come to help. Had planned to.
“What task was bestowed upon you when you were given the Golden Claw?” Corey asks me. He is trying to sound curious, but I know he is praying not to hear certain names fall past my lips.
“You will not like it,” I whisper.
“First,” Chloe holds up a hand, silencing me. I feel a little offended, until she quickly adds, “Let’s all make a pact right now, that no matter what names Maia says next... we don’t back down. That’s not what packs do. This isn’t fun and games at the Academy. Okay... so... agreed?” Chloe gets a nod from Corey and impatient nods from Charlotte and Siren.
“Devron, Alchemy and Septor,” I speak lightly.
Corey groans, closing his eyes. Charlotte and Siren fake laugh and Chloe’s eyes widen.
“What?” Chloe almost hisses, “The three most dangerous vampires in Cave City?”
“Vampire Lords,” I make it more official, “The worst and most powerful. In fact... I think they already know I have the Golden Claw. Vampires possessed the bodies of... well... it’s a long story, but I was targeted by travelling vampire souls who tried to kill me, mere hours after receiving the Claw...”
“It sent off a warning pulse of magic that the undead can sense,” Corey picks up a stick and draws in the dirt, “The moment it was passed on, it bonded to your hand... the most despised and dangerous werewolf was created. Boom. A pulse would have only been felt by the lords. The ones you spoke of. You’re from Cave City,” he starts drawing the locations in the dirt, Moon Territory, Noble Metropolis... Cave City... “Do you know much about their habits, Maia?”
“I’ve only heard rumours growing up. Devron is the most depraved, he traffics young mortals into slavery, but other than that I’ve never seen his face. Septor has a gang of vampires that runs around the city, getting blood money off whoever they can while making sure vampires rule every corner, every shop... but Alchemy, he’s the only vampire that delves into mage’s magic. He favours the blood of mages. He has a harem of females, I believe. Concubines... who all love him dearly, at least that is what the stories are in the streets,” I shiver with the memory of that horrible place, “My Pack was donating their blood for money. A couple of times I got caught alone... and I was...” I suck in a breath.
Vampires had held me down and taken my blood, directly from my neck with their fangs. One time they left me for dead in the gutter outside the Pack House my old pack had been squatting in. I had to crawl inside and heal myself. Vampires didn’t just take blood, if they bite you, they poison you to weaken your body and mind for at least a few days afterwards; in case they need to lurk around and use you again.
“...Maia...?” Corey seems to repeat my name too many times, “Are you okay?”
“I’m... fine,” an outright lie. Chloe looks worried, like she wants to comfort me.
Siren and Charlotte stand up, “We’ll patrol,” they skulk off and Chloe eventually stands up, brushing her knees off... I know she wants to scurry forward and give me a hug.
“Please. Don’t,” I growl and Chloe halts, looking confused before she takes a step back.
“I’ll see if I can find any berries or something,” she murmurs.
Corey remains and when the girls are gone, I gulp... I try to deny the emotions coursing through me... but I can’t hold it in any longer. I burst into tears - only worse because I thought of all those memories I had truly come to believe I’d never have to think about ever again.
I had studied hard for my scholarship to get out of that hell hole. Hoping to never interact with vampires again.
“I’m sorry, Maia, I shouldn’t have dug up old memories,” Corey is watches me cry, awkwardly, but I just shake my head.
“...no... it’s okay... it’s fine...” I suck in a broken breath and angrily wipe my cheeks, “I’m just fed up with hard times. I just wanted one year where I could study and be safe. Instead, my pack crossed territories and got set for execution. I was handed two mates, an ancient weapon... and... and... now we’re all banished.”
I shut my mouth.
Self-pity. I had dwelled in it for so long when I was a child. I didn’t want to experience that all consuming defeat. The kind that made you think courage wasn’t possible, or that I was truly worth nothing.
“...a big heart will get you hurt,” Corey suddenly speaks, out of the blue, when I thought he wouldn’t know what to say... he boosts my confidence, “But a big heart is all you need to overcome these hurdles. Think of everything you’ve gained. Power. Mates. Friends. A Pack. And freedom. What could be better than that, Maia?”
“Thanks...” I smile weakly and he gets to his feet last.
“When the sun breaks, we should get going,” Corey moves off and I’m left with the heaving fur of Baden and Chase sleeping soundly while the blood moon dips everything in red.
I lean into Baden’s side, my eyes getting heavy, my feet curled under Chase’s stomach.
I was conflicted and hit by strong feelings when they all turned up.
At first I had thought I was angry.
But now as I fall sleep, I realise I’m just overwhelmed with relief.
All a wolf needed was a pack to get through... and now for the first time, I belonged in a pack of wolves who, apparently, cared about my future.
Part of me doesn’t want to believe it, but I take it.
In fact, it felt like a blessing from Wolvenshire. Maybe this new pack was a gift... or maybe a shield... to help the one who held the responsibility of the Golden Claw... I go with that reasoning. It was the easiest one to believe, to think I was worthy of friends was a bit far fetched in my mind right now. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t grateful. I was. I just barely knew how to appropriately react around people who wanted to be around me.
Hopefully soon I’d work out how to be strong for them too... and of course... for Baden and Chase as well.