Mage's Fire

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Nine: Riley

I woke up that night to the sound of tapping on my window. For an instant, I was taken back to August, on the night when I was bitten. Nadia had come to get me, stealing me away on some adventure to follow her father and the rest of the police as they went searching for a dead body. If we hadn’t gone out that night, we wouldn’t be in the situation we were in now.

Despite the war with the Wolf Valley Pack, I didn’t regret one second of my new life since Dominic bit me. I fought it at first, but after my first full moon, I grew to love being a werewolf. Running through the forest at night, the cool, mountain air blowing through my fur, the sensation of pine needles and fresh, wet earth underneath my paws… it was better than being drunk at any party Nadia had ever dragged me to.

I laughed softly. Thanks to my new, high metabolism as a wolf, I burned through the alcohol before it ever hit my system. Unless I drank enough to take down an entire NFL football team, I’d never get drunk again.

The tapping sound on my window came again. I looked up, but no one was there. In the darkness, I saw the tiny shape of a rock flying through the air before tapping my window again. Growling in frustration, I shifted around in my bed until I was on my hands and knees. I crawled over to the window, thinking it was Nadia. Due to the recent fights we’ve been having with the other pack, we had decided to forego on any night adventures until further notice.

I threw my window open and stuck my head out. Just like seven months ago, a rock hit the center of my forehead as I did so. I snarled and hissed out, “Nadia, what are you—oh.”

It wasn’t Nadia. In fact, it was the last person I had ever expected to see again. Kai. Even though it had been two days since I met him, I was starting to think the entire exchange had all been a dream.

He was wearing a smug smirk on his face, his lips pulled up in a strangely endearing way. He waved lazily up at me and said, “Good evening, Silver Wolf! Let’s go for a run.”

I sighed. “Kai,” I muttered. “It’s late, I just ran, and I have school in the morning.”

He nodded. “I understand,” he said. “I promise it won’t take long. I just want to introduce you to my pack.”

I narrowed my eyes. “This can’t wait until tomorrow?”

He shook his head. “Afraid not,” he said. “Get dressed, and let’s go.”

I frowned. “If we’re running, why do I need to change?”

He laughed, doubling over as he placed his hands on his knees. When he finally straightened, his eyes were glowing. “Oh, pup,” he drawled. “You have a lot to learn. Just get dressed, and put some running shoes on.”

I growled as I pulled away from the window. I wanted to just shut my window and go back to bed, but something told me this werewolf was just as stubborn as I was. So, without much choice, I crawled out of bed and made my way to my dresser.

A minute later, I was wearing leggings, a hoodie, and my cross country shoes. I tied my hair back into a ponytail, flashbacks of that night in August flooding my mind. I shoved them aside and returned to the window. I climbed out, then closed the window until there was only a sliver down at the bottom. I made my way to the edge and leaped off, landing silently on the grass below.

Even though I was annoyed, I couldn’t help but smile. Back when I was human, that fall would have broken an ankle. I used to make my way over to the shed, then make my way down slowly. Now, as a werewolf, it would take a lot more than a small jump from the roof to hurt me.

Kai grinned as well, his glowing eyes shadowed by his disheveled hair. I took a moment to assess him—he was wearing black sweats, running shoes, and a dark gray hoodie. He jerked his head to the forest and said, “Come on, let’s go.”

He took off at a jog. I easily fell into step beside him, the familiar motions coming to me as easily as breathing. For as long as I could remember, I loved exercise of all kinds, even when I had asthma. I had to take special care of myself during that time, and I was never allowed to push myself too hard. Now, even just running as a human, I couldn’t ignore the rush of power I felt at the fact that I could go on forever.

“So,” Kai started lazily. “How’s school going now that you’re back from spring break?”

I glanced at him from the corner of my eye. He had a light, easy-going smile on his face, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. I faced forward again and said, “It’s fine.”

He nodded. “And your friend? Nadia, right? How’s her magic training going?”

I stumbled as he asked the question. I quickly regained my balance, then looked directly at him. “How did you know about that?”

He laughed. “Just assume that I know everything,” he said. “So? How is it going?”

I turned my attention forward. We were in the forest now, and without any light from the new moon above, we had to be careful, even with our heightened sight. “It’s fine,” I replied, smiling as I thought back to Nadia’s earlier phone call. She had been ecstatic, sounding genuinely happy for the first time I could remember. Ever since Dominic bit her, she seemed distant, even if she didn’t intend to be.

“Where are you taking me, anyway?” I asked. I dodged around a tree, immediately jumping over a fallen log in the process.

“To wear my pack and I are staying for now,” he said.

I growled. “Well, that’s vague,” I said. “How do I know you’re not just taking me into the woods to kill me?”

He laughed. “Trust me, I’m not. Besides, that would be against my orders, anyway.”

“Oh?” I asked. “And what are your orders?”

“Like I said the other night,” he said. “To protect you and your pack. Donovan is breaking so many rules right now, picking a fight with the Silver Wolf and her pack.”

“What does that mean?” I asked in an exasperated tone. “The ‘Silver Wolf’? You keep calling me that, and Donovan called me that once.” It was after I killed Dominic. I had gone to visit my parents’ graves for the first time since the funeral, and after I poured my heart out and told them everything, Donovan had appeared.

He laughed. “Oh, the treaty was only in place until my brother was dead. Now that he’s gone, our treaty no longer stands. You can still keep your territory, for as long as you’re able to protect it. I’ll even wait until your friend is recovered.” a dark look crossed his face as he said, “You’ve taken things from me. You took my omegas, and you’ve humiliated me and my pack. Other packs nearby laugh at us and scorn us. For some reason, they all seem to believe in you.”

I frowned. “Why?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

He chuckled. “The Silver Wolf,” he said, “has finally brought an end to the Mad Wolf’s reign.” He advanced towards me, his teeth sharpening into fangs and his eyes glowing as he said, “I will not be bested by some sixteen-year-old girl!”

I had wondered briefly what he meant by that, but at the time, I was too worried about Nadia to think about anything else. Now, with Kai calling me the “Silver Wolf,” I wanted to know what that was about.

“It’s what we call you,” he said.

“And who’s ‘we’?” I asked.

He shrugged. “The rest of the Guardians,” he said. “As well as the alphas in the north-west region of America.”

“Uh-huh,” I murmured. “And what does it mean?”

“The Silver Wolf is a legend,” he said. “Whenever our kind comes into dark, terrible times, the Silver Wolf appears to lead the rest of us. The last time we had a Silver Wolf was back when werewolves were being hunted to near-extinction over in France.”

I laughed. “You’re serious?” I asked. “Me, leading the entire race of werewolves? I’m barely managing the war I’m in right now.”

He shrugged. “I’ve never really been one to believe in myths and legends,” he said. He glanced over at me, his eyes glowing in the darkness as he added, “But I can’t deny that your silver-white fur is some kind of sign.”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure,” I grumbled.

We continued to run for a few more moments before Kai suddenly said, “What have you experienced so far as a werewolf in human form?”

“Um, other than the fact that I’m stronger and faster and my senses are heightened?”

He nodded. “Okay, that answers that,” he said. “Did you know you can run as fast as your wolf form when you’re human?”

At that, I snapped my head around to stare at him with wide eyes. “You’re lying,” I said, the barest hint of a joking tone to my voice. When I ran at full speed as a wolf, the woods blurred all around me.

He laughed. “Scout’s honor,” he said.

“How?” I asked, eager to know.

“You just do it,” he said. And with that, he put on a burst of speed, his dark form blurring as he seemed to blend into the dark woods. Soon, he had all but disappeared.

I stared after where he had disappeared, shocked. After a few seconds, I decided to try it. I imagined the speed that came to me so easily when I was a human, lengthening my strides to match what was in my head. Soon, the woods around me started to blur, the wind whipping my face as I ran.

I followed Kai’s scent. It was a strange mixture of campfire smoke, pine needles, and mountain air. It was strangely intoxicating, and I inhaled deep lungfuls of it as I followed him.

Kai laughed as I caught up to him. “You’re fast,” he said. “You’re probably faster than Kayla.”

I had no idea who Kayla was. At the moment, all that mattered was the speed, the exhilarated feeling that rushed through my blood. We turned uphill, running up the side of West Mountain. I frowned as we approached one of the lots just outside of my territory, farther west than the territory line ended.

We slowed as we neared an expensive, modern-looking cabin. It had two floors, the bottom section being squarish. Up on the second floor, however, the roof tapered into an A-frame, with the entire front of the top floor jutting outward in the shape of a spear. Instead of log walls, it had windows. There were four cars parked out front, but it was too dark to determine the makes or models of any of them. That, and I simply didn’t care at the moment.

We walked across the dirt parking area, heading to the front door. Kai stepped up onto the porch first, smiling at me as he opened the door for me. “Welcome to mi casa,” he said. I rolled my eyes at him, but I stepped inside.

The bottom floor was very similar to Sheriff Belmont’s cabin. We entered a mudroom, where a wooden post was nailed horizontally into the wall to our right. Curved hooks jutted out from it, some of them occupied by coats and jackets. Straight ahead of us was the living room, to the right was the kitchen and dining room area, and to the left was a door leading to what smelled like the bathroom.

“Kayla! Finn! Bas!” Kai called as he shut the door behind us. “Come meet the Silver Wolf!”

I sighed. “Please stop calling me that,” I grumbled. I stepped forward into the living room, Kai close behind.

There was pounding steps from up above, then three werewolves stepped into the living room. Two of them were male, and one was a female. The tallest of the three had ashy blonde hair, with the blue-gold eyes of the stormy gray wolf from the woods. The other two looked enough alike that they could be siblings. They both had brown hair, the brother’s hair just a shade darker than the girl’s. Her eyes were hazel, with the normal gold flecks that all werewolves had, and his eyes were brown and gold

Kai grinned as he stepped forward, holding an arm out to them. “Guys, this is Riley,” he said. I couldn’t hold back the snort. So he does know my real name, I thought bitterly.

Kai pointed to the girl first, then her brother, then the third wolf. “Riley, this is Kayla, her brother Finn, and Sebastian, but we call him Bas.”

Bas had a sour expression on his face. Finn smiled and waved a friendly hand to me, but Kayla lunged forward and threw her arms around me. I grunted as she hit me full force, staggering back a step.

Kai laughed. “Sorry about her,” he said. “Kayla loves to give hugs.”

Kayla laughed and pulled away. “Sorry,” she said, “but he’s right.”

I nodded. “Okay, then…” I stepped away, my senses on high alert. I realized then that I was in a completely different territory, with a totally different pack. Shit.

Kai laughed when he saw my face. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “As Guardians, we technically don’t belong to any pack. This is neutral territory.”

“Uh-huh,” I muttered, deciding for the moment to trust my gut. Pack or no pack, these wolves knew each other well, and one wrong move from me would send them tearing for my throat.

“Why don’t we sit down?” Kai suggested. “There’s a lot we need to talk about.”

I laughed. “You mean, other than you wanting me to meet your ‘pack’?” I asked.

Finn nodded, answering for Kai. “Yes,” he said.

I took another step back, frowning. The happy-go-lucky expression had faded from Kai’s face. Now, he looked stern and serious. So did the other wolves.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Let’s sit down,” Bas said. “In the dining room, perhaps?”

Everyone nodded and made their way to the living room. Left once again with no choice, I followed them.

The dining room and kitchen were separated by a sleek, granite island. The cupboards were made of dark cherry wood, and the fridge, stove, and oven were made from some kind of chrome material. The large, grand dining table and chairs were also made from dark cherry wood, with intricate carvings and designs etched into the wood. Kai sat at one end of the table, with Bas at the other. Finn and Kayla sat on one side, and I resigned myself to sitting in the other chair next to Kai.

“We don’t know how to tell you what’s next gently,” Kai said, “so we’re just gonna be blunt about it.”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded.

“As you know,” Kayla cut in, “Dominic has been on a spree of biting and killing humans to create his own pack for years.”

I nodded bitterly. “I’m well aware,” I snarled. To emphasize my point, I pulled down the edge of my hoodie, revealing the silvery scar that was permanently embedded into my left shoulder. It was where Dominic had bitten me.

Kayla nodded. “Well, of all the humans he’s bitten, ninety percent of them died, succumbing to the fever. But the other ten percent, those who survived and were turned… they became loyal followers.”

“When an alpha dies,” Finn said, “the rest of the pack can feel it. It’s a horrible, gut-wrenching pain, and it’s very difficult to overcome.”

“And if the alpha was mad and psychotic,” Bas continued, “then the rest of the pack is that way, too.”

I frowned. “I’m lost,” I said.

Kai nodded to Kayla. She stood and disappeared for a moment. When she returned, she was carrying several newspapers in her hands. She set them on the table before me, then returned to my seat. I glanced over at Kai, but he nodded to the papers. I picked up the first one, reading the headline: “Several Hikers Attacked In Eastern Wyoming.”

I frowned again. “What is this?” I asked.

“Dominic’s pack,” Kai said.

It took a moment for realization to hit. When it finally did, I gasped and dropped the newspaper as if it was a hot piece of coal. “Wait a minute,” I gasped out. “You mean to tell me that this is his pack hurting people?”

Kai nodded. “Read more,” he said. He leaned back in his seat, his muscles shifting underneath his hoodie as he folded his arms. I hastily tore my gaze away, rifling through the other papers. I read headlines and brief portions of articles talking about lone wolves and packs of wolves attacking hikers, campers, fishermen… there was one detailed article about how a pack of three wolves even went on a rampage through a small town in South Dakota.

I stared up at the Guardians, my eyes wide. “How many wolves are in his pack?” I asked.

“Seven,” Finn responded. “That we know of, anyway. They’ll get together occasionally, then they’ll split off. It’s been extremely difficult for us to track them.”

“But,” Kayla went on, “we’ve found a pattern in their travels. They keep looping and twisting randomly, but they’re making a steady line west.”

“Right here to Wolf Valley,” Kai said.

“Why?” I asked. Deep down, though, I had a feeling I knew the answer. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, though, because the thought was too terrifying.

“Because of you,” Bas said. “You killed their alpha, and now they want revenge.”

“But he was crazy!” I exclaimed. “I’m sure he’s ruined many lives out there. Why are they getting so bent out of shape?”

Bas laughed, though there was no humor in the sound. “You don’t get it,” he said. “Normal packs aren’t as free as yours. There are alphas who have a strong will, and they will force it on anyone they can. Dominic was that kind of alpha. His one goal, his every waking thought, consisted of nothing but coming to Wolf Valley, killing his brother and his pack, and claiming it for himself, with his own pack right behind him.”

“There’s also the bond,” Kai continued. “The one between the alpha and every other member of the pack. Everything the alpha does literally reflects on the rest of the pack. If the alpha is good, the pack is, too. If the alpha is psychotic and mad, then the pack is as well.”

I groaned, dropping my head onto the tabletop. Great, I thought. For five months, I’ve been fighting for my life against the Wolf Valley Pack. Now, I had to fight against two packs? Even if the second pack was only seven members strong, it still greatly outnumbered my own.

“Riley,” Kai murmured. I lifted my head to meet his intense gaze. He was resting his arms against the table, leaning towards me. “When we met, I told you we were sent here to protect you and your pack. It’s not just Donovan’s pack we’re here to protect you from, but Dominic’s as well.”

I leaned back in my seat, sighing heavily. I suddenly felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally. This is ridiculous, I thought. I was sixteen, for crying out loud! I was supposed to be worrying about school and sports, about which guys were hottest in school. I was supposed to be going out on dates, going to dances, worrying about junior prom, maybe even a part-time job so I could start saving for a mode of transportation for myself. Instead, here I was, struggling to survive because I was a fucking werewolf.

For the first time since being bitten, I hated myself.

“Riley.”

I looked over at Kai. He had an earnest expression on his face, as if he could see how dead I felt. “I promise, we won’t let anything happen to your pack, or to you. Not only do you have the word of the Guardian’s, but you have my personal promise.”

I nodded. “Okay,” I said, though my voice sounded flat.

He nodded. “Okay,” he echoed. He cleared his throat and stood up, stretching and twisting his back. “It’s late,” he said. “Come on, I’ll give you a ride home.”

I stood and followed him to the door, my feet dragging. As we were stepping through the door, Kayla called out, “Bye, Riley! See you at school tomorrow!”

The door shut behind us. I blinked, still processing what she had said. I looked up at Kai, annoyed that he had a smug expression on his face. “What did she say?” I asked.

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