I groaned as I pulled into my driveway. Dad was home. I had managed to avoid him since he and Gramma told me I was a mage, but now it seemed that there would be no avoiding him. I sighed, took a moment to collect myself, then opened the door. I helped Delta out of the Beast, and after letting him take a quick potty break in the front lawn, he and I entered the house together.
I planned on blowing straight by the living room and kitchen, heading straight upstairs to my bedroom. But Dad had another idea.
“Nadia?” he called from the living room. “N, would you come here, please?”
I sighed. “Just a sec,” I called. I unhooked the leash from Delta’s collar, and after allowing him to roam free, I made my way into the living room.
He was sitting on the couch, a series of files spread out over the coffee table. Having learned his lesson back when I was in middle school, he reached over and grabbed a large piece of cardboard, placing it over the files. Normally, I would have smiled at the small act. But not now. I was still pissed with him.
He gestured to the couch, then looked back up at me. “Can we talk?” he asked.
I sighed, throwing myself onto the couch and folding up my arms. “What’s there to talk about?” I snapped.
Now it was his turn to sigh. “Nadia, I know you’re mad at me, and you have every right to. Just… give me a chance to explain myself. Please?”
I said nothing. He took that as an invitation to continue, so he said, “I’m sorry I had Gramma put a spell on you to lock your magic away. I shouldn’t have done that. You have to understand, I didn’t grow up in the world of the supernatural. I only learned of its existence when your mother and I were dating. I’ve seen some terrible things, and I didn’t want you to be faced with those same evils, the same darkness. I was terrified, and when your mother died… well, we never had a chance to talk about it. Although, I think that if she had survived, then we wouldn’t have had your magic locked away.”
“Do you think,” I said, “that if I did have my magic, I might have been able to protect myself against Dominic? To protect Kate?” I looked over at him. I wanted to see his face when he answered.
He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I have no doubt about it. I only wish now that I had never had that spell put on you. Like I said, I was afraid. I thought that if I kept that part of you locked away, made sure you lived a normal life, then nothing bad would happen to you. I regret that decision, and I see now just how wrong I was.” He looked over at me with an earnest expression.
I sighed. “You’re right,” I said. “You shouldn’t have done that. But… I understand why you did it. It’s a dark, scary world out there, and you thought you could protect me forever. But I’m not a little girl anymore, Dad. I’m turning seventeen soon, and I’m not going to be in Wolf Valley forever.”
He nodded again. “I know,” he said. “God only knows how much I know that now.” After a moment of silence, he smiled over at me and said, “So… does this mean I’m out of the doghouse?”
I laughed. “Yeah, I suppose I forgive you.”
Dad stood and I did as well. He wrapped me up in his warm embrace, and as I squeezed him back, he said, “You might not be a little girl anymore, but you’ll always be my little girl.”
My feet thudded softly against the wet earth as I ran, Riley by my side. Cross country was long over, but Riley and I liked to continue our occasional morning runs along the soft trails close to town. We both had always preferred trail running to the road, seeing as how it was easier on our joints. Besides, it had a better view.
I had always been athletic. Playing sports, mainly soccer, all throughout school had given me a lean build, even if I did always appear scrawny. With spring coming and people peeling off layers to accommodate the warmer weather, everyone would see that I wasn’t so scrawny anymore.
Neither was Riley. She had always been slightly bigger than me, with broader shoulders, but the past six months of martial arts training with Jack had changed us both in ways we never thought possible. We both looked like we had grown thicker in muscle, especially in the legs and ass area. That was thanks to the tortue Jack put us through, torture called “stances.” With the additional upper body workouts, I noticed in the mirror that my arms and back had more muscle definition as well. A month ago, I saw what looked like the beginning of a six pack.
Training in martial arts helped me to feel strong and powerful. My new training regime in magic made me feel invincible. It was almost enough to chase away the nightmares. Not completely, but almost.
“So,” I said as we came around a bend in the trail. “Are you going to let the Guardians run with you on Sunday?” Sunday night was the next full moon, as well as Riley’s next measurement. The first full moon after she was bitten, she had come up to just below my chest. Now, she was nearly as tall as I was.
“I don’t know,” she said, her breathing slow and even compared to my slight breathlessness. I was pushing myself today, relishing in the feeling of pushing my body past what it thought it could do.
I was about to ask her another question, but I was abruptly cut off as a harsh, feral snarl ripped through the air. We slid to a stop, scanning the woods around us. For a brief instant, I was back in the woods in August, about to come face-to-face with Dominic.
But I wasn’t facing Dominic. There was a wolf on the trail ahead of us, his brown fur dull and matted. It seemed short, making him look skinny and sick. I automatically took a step back, glancing over at Riley. Her eyes were glowing as she stared at the wolf, her face revealing no expression. I looked back to the wolf, unsurprised to find that his completely yellow eyes were glowing as well.
“Rye?” I asked softly, unsure as to what to do. Just then, the werewolf snarled and leaped forward, racing down the trail towards us.
“Nadia, get back!” Riley screamed. She hunched over as she shifted, her clothes ripping as she turned into a wolf. She snarled at the other wolf as he charged, warning him to stop. He didn’t listen.
In one, powerful movement, Riley gathered her muscles and charged forward to meet him. He tried to jump over her to get to me, but she jumped and caught his back leg in her teeth. He yelped as he fell, and at the same time, a sickening crack filled the air.
With one leg broken, the brown wolf turned and threw himself at Riley, claws and teeth flashing. Riley ducked and shoved up against his chest, throwing him back into a tree. More bones broke, most likely his ribs, and then he fell to the group in a heap, gasping for breath.
Riley barked at me, legs spread out as she braced herself for her next move. She barked again. Run! She didn’t have to tell me a third time. I turned and took off, kicking up dirt as I raced away.
I sprinted through the woods, refusing to look back behind me. There was a flash of silver and white, and then I saw Riley running at my side. She constantly looked over her shoulder, making sure that the other werewolf didn’t follow. We didn’t stop until we reached my house.
We hopped the fence separating my backyard from the woods. As soon as we were on the other side, Riley collapsed to the ground, panting for breath. I forced myself to walk three laps around the perimeter of the yard, keeping my breaths slow and even. What do you know, I thought. Jack was right. Those breathing exercises did save my life.
As I approached the back door, I said to Riley with broken, shallow breaths, “I’ll be… right back… with some clothes… for you.”
She nodded weakly, still panting heavily. When I stepped through the door, I was surprised to find that Delta was barking wildly in the hall. When he saw me, he whimpered and raced over, sliding into my legs as he tried to stop.
Gramma came around the corner, her eyes wide. “What happened?” she asked.
Using the wall for support, I gasped out, “Rogue werewolf… in the woods. Riley… fought him off.” I took a moment to catch my breath, and when I could finally speak in one sentence, I said, “Gramma, I need you to do something.”
“What is it?” she asked, taking a step forward, ready to check me for injuries.
Giving her a firm expression, I said, “I need you to teach me how to use magefire.”