Mage's Fire

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Thirteen: Riley

Seeing as it was Saturday, Nadia and I had plans to do absolutely nothing that day. Our war seemingly on hold for the moment, and after the incident with the wild werewolf that morning, we decided that we needed it.

Kai Brennan, it seemed, had other plans.

I had just stepped out of the shower connected to my bedroom and dressed in a clean set of leggings and a baggy T-shirt when Nadia screamed loudly. I rushed out of the bathroom, adrenaline already pumping through my veins when I realized what caused her to scream.

Kai was crouched on the roof overhang outside my second window by my desk. Nadia was sitting on my bed, breathing heavily with a hand pressed to her chest. I sighed and made my way over to the window. Kai was smirking at me, but it wasn’t a smug smile. At least, I didn’t think it was.

I unlatched the window and pushed it open, stepping aside so he could crawl through. “You are so lucky that Kate is at work pulling a double.” She had texted me that morning to let me know, then assured me that she was fine and not to worry. She hadn’t worked a double shift since the incident with Dominic, but one of the other nurses called in sick, and Kate was more than happy to cover for her.

Kai shrugged and smiled. “I’m sure she’d love me,” he said.

I frowned. I wasn’t so sure. Ever since the “date” I had with Jack at the beginning of the year, I hadn’t expressed any interest in dating. I hadn’t really given it much thought, either. I was too focused on trying to survive through high school while fighting a war.

As Kai glanced between Nadia and I, his smile faded into a frown. He took a step towards me, asking, “What happened? Are you okay?”

Remembering last night, I stepped away, heat rising to my cheeks. I cleared my throat and said, “Yeah, we’re okay now. There was a rogue werewolf out on the trail during our run this morning.”

Kai’s expression darkened at the news. “It’s likely a scout,” he said. His eyes searched my face for a moment, and he seemed to be contemplating something. Finally, he said, “Why don’t you two spend the day with me today? The other Guardians are out patrolling the mountains east of Wolf Valley, and they won’t be back until tomorrow night.”

My eyes widened. “Um, well, we were…” I trailed off, completely at a loss for words now. What the hell was wrong with me?

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Nadia glancing between us, her eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment she stood and said, “I think I’ll sit this one out.”

I shot a frantic look over at her. “You sure?” I asked, my voice rising in pitch. Kai chuckled softly so that only I could hear him, and I wanted to roundhouse kick him in the nuts.

She grinned. “Yeah,” she said. “I want to start training Delta soon, anyway. He’s a smart puppy, so I think I’ll start today.” She glanced over at Kai and said, “I’m going to train him to be an attack-guard dog.”

For the first time since stepping into my room, Kai looked at her. He smiled and said, “That sounds like it’ll be fun.”

Nadia beamed. “Yes, it will be!” she declared. She waved at us as she stepped out into the hall. “See ya, Rye.”

“N, wait!” I called. She hurried away, her giggles floating up the stairs to me as she descended. I listened as she raced outside, climbed into the Beast, turned the engine, and drove away.

I turned back to Kai, my temperature rising. Here I was, alone in my room with him. Again. Why the hell was I feeling so flustered around him?

He grinned, one corner of his mouth lifting up higher than the other. I stared a little too long, and when I caught myself, I jerked my gaze away, looking up at his eyes. That was an even worse mistake, because they were glowing with a mischievous glint in them. “Like what you see?” he asked.

I scoffed, turning away to hide the blush that spread over my cheeks. He chuckled and said, “Well, what do you want to do today?”

I shrugged. “I was gonna just be lazy with Nadia all day, but…”

He nodded. “Sorry I chased her away,” he said. I grunted in response, crossing my arms and looking anywhere but at him. I felt him move away from me, so I turned to see what he was doing.

“Did you make these?” he asked, gesturing to the paintings hanging from my wall. There was one painting, right over my desk, showing a white wolf in the woods at night, her face tilted up to the full moon as she howled. The other was a self-portrait of Nadia and I, one copied from a picture of us. We were freshman, about to take our first steps up the stairs outside of Wolf Valley High. We had our hands clasped together, raised high above our heads before taking the plunge into high school.

“Nadia painted those for me,” I said, moving to stand by him as he stared at the painting of the wolf. Of me. “She worked on them for two months, then gave them to me for Christmas.”

He nodded. “They’re really good,” he said.

I smiled. “She loves to paint,” I said. “She used to always have a sketchpad with her, too, drawing every chance she got. Lately, though, things have changed…”

I trailed off. I didn’t need to say anything—he seemed to understand what I meant. After several moments of us saying nothing, Kai broke the silence with, “Has anyone told you about your wolf’s eye?”

I frowned. “I’m going to play it safe and assume you’re not talking about my actual eye, right?”

He laughed. “I guess that answers my question,” he said. “Come on, I want to show you something.”

I stared down at the hand he held out for me. I glanced up at his face, which was split into a wide grin. Just like last night, I felt a strange sensation in my chest, pulling me towards him. Without thinking, I placed my hand in his. “All right,” I said. “But we’re taking the front door.”

We drove in Kai’s car up into the mountains. Shortly after passing the lot that he and the Guardians were occupying, he turned left onto a road that I had never seen before. As we drove deeper into the mountains, the trees grew larger and wilder. A light fog drifted across the road as we drove, giving the woods a slightly eerie feel to it.

Kai pulled off the road onto a dirt parking area, with a trailhead nestled gently between two trees. I saw the beginning of it start to twist and curve its way through the woods, surrounded by a floor of moss, until it disappeared from sight completely.

“Let’s go,” Kai chirped, grinning over at me before hopping out of the car. I stepped out as well, inhaling the cool, wet air. I shut my eyes, listening to the soft sound of a breeze blowing gently through the pine needles overhead. When I opened my eyes again, I saw that Kai was waiting for me at the trailhead. He watched me with his head tilted, eyes glowing softly. I followed after him.

The trail was just big enough for two people to walk side-by-side. As we strolled along the trail, following the dips and curves, I couldn’t help but glance at him every now and then. He seemed different here, with just us and nature being the only things left to exist in the world. He didn’t look like he was in pain, and he wasn’t carrying that snarky, too-confident look on his face. For the first time since meeting him, he seemed peaceful.

We had been walking for nearly half an hour when the trail turned, opening up onto a rocky overlook before curving away into the trees again. Drawn by the brief glimpse before me, I left the trail, making my way to the edge.

I gasped softly at the sight before me. Stretched out in every direction were tall, jagged mountains covered in pine trees. Snippets of fog drifted over different sections of the forest, and nestled down at the bottom of a small valley was a lake. It took me to recognize it as Wolf’s Head Lake. I had never seen it from this view before; it had always been down at the bottom, right at the water’s edge. Tourists and locals alike flocked down there during the summer, enjoying the cool water on warm days.

“What do you think?” Kai asked.

“It’s beautiful,” I breathed.

He didn’t say anything. I glanced over at him, surprised to find that he was standing inches away from me. I shivered, somewhat unnerved at how silently he could move.

He stared down at me, his eyes searching every line of my face. My cheeks burned up under his gaze, but I didn’t try to look away. I was too busy staring at him as well. Before I knew it, we had started to drift closer to each other, drawn by some magnetic force.

The trance was broken when a chipmunk raced by us. I gasped and jerked away, my chest heaving as I struggled to breathe. Kai cleared his throat, looking anywhere but at me. His eyes landed on something behind me and he jerked his head in that direction. “That’ll work for what I want,” he said.

I turned to see what he was talking about. Not too far from us was a small clearing, covered in moss and wildflowers. Kai moved on, stepping towards the clearing. I followed, curious to see what he was about to do.

When I caught up to him he had crouched down, his right hand pressed into the earth. He smiled as I approached, reaching towards me with his other hand. “Come here,” he said.

I did as he said, crouching down right beside him. He took my hand in his and my skin tingled where he touched me. He pressed my hand against the earth and said, “Close your eyes and breathe in deeply.”

I was confused, but I did it anyway. I inhaled the scents of the forest around me, the sweet smell of pine, moss, the faraway water from the lake, cold mountain air, campfire smoke… I allowed it to wrap around me like a blanket, keeping me safe and warm.

“Good,” Kai murmured. “Now, what do you hear? Smell? What can you taste in the air?”

I started to smell more than before. The scent of wet earth beneath my hand, the intoxicating aroma of the wildflowers in the clearing, Kai… I heard small animals and insects crawling along the ground searching for food, the subtle hoofbeats of a herd of deer off in the distance. I could taste everything that I smelled, everything laying thick and heavy on my tongue.

“Now, extend your senses into the roots of the earth. I want you to stretch them out, and find Drew and Eddie. Nadia as well, if you can.”

My brows furrowed together, breaking my concentration for a brief instant. He must have seen the confusion on my face, because Kai said, “Think of your pack members. Feel the bond that you have with them, then use that and push it into the earth. Follow it until you can find them.”

I imagined steel cables, three of them, extending from me and connecting me to my friends. I followed the center cable, and I felt a rush jolt through my body, almost as if I was flying. The trees were flashing by me as I sped through the forest, back to the road, and down the mountain. I followed it until I had reached Wolf Valley, then it started to twist and turn. Eventually, the other cables intersected the one I was following, making it extremely difficult to concentrate. I pushed forward, and the next thing I knew, I seemed to be floating in the local grocery store, hovering right above Nadia. I breathed out a laugh, and then the connection broke.

I fell back onto my ass as I was suddenly thrown back into my body. My eyes flew open and I gasped for breath, my heart racing uncontrollably. I glanced over at Kai, who had a successful smile on his face. “What… was that?” I breathed out.

He laughed. “That was your wolf’s eye,” he said. “At least, that’s what the Guardians like to call it. Every pack has its own term for it. See, everyone in the pack is connected, and using the earth, you can follow that connection to find each other if you’re ever lost.”

I grinned. “That was amazing!” I exclaimed.

“There’s so much that we can do,” he said. “A lot of those who are bitten think that being a werewolf compared to being a human is a curse. There are some born wolves who think that as well, but the truth is, we’re more connected to nature than most other creatures out there, both supernatural and normal.”

He lowered himself onto his butt beside me, drawing his knees up enough so that he could rest his arms on them. He looked over at me, still smiling.

“Why did you show me that?” I asked. “And why are you telling me any of this?”

He observed me for a moment before glancing away into the forest. After several moments of silence, he said, “I keep thinking back to the other night, when I showed you how to run, and then when I told you about Dominic’s pack. You just looked so defeated, and to be honest, I kind of saw myself in you.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?” I asked.

He sighed and bowed his head. “I used to hate what I was,” he said softly. “I used to hate being a werewolf. I was this powerful, invincible creature, and it still wasn’t enough to save some of the people I loved. I felt powerless, and I hated myself for it.”

I shifted closer to him, stopping when there were a few inches between us. I cleared my throat and said, “What changed?”

He grinned at my question. “My mentor,” he said. “He taught me some of the things I’m teaching you now, things that I never learned because my parents never had the chance to teach me. He taught me how to connect to the earth, to nature.” He finally glanced over at me and said, “I’m hoping that you can eventually come to the same realization I did.”

I smiled. Unable to resist myself, I rested my head on his shoulder. He turned his head, laying his chin on top of my head. He was right. I have been hating myself all week, feeling hopeless, powerless. This new threat of a mad pack coming after me for revenge… it was terrifying to think about, and I hated the fact that I may have placed some of my loved ones in danger.

After the short train ride to self-hatred, I was starting to love being a werewolf again. Just being up here in the mountains with Kai, surrounded by the sounds and smells of the forest… it was the most peaceful I had felt in a long time. It almost made me forget about the rogue werewolf that morning.

“We should get going,” I said. “It’s about to get late, and I have a lot of homework to catch up on.”

Kai groaned in protest. After a moment, he pulled away and in one smooth, easy motion, He rose to his feet. He turned and smiled down at me, holding his hand out to me. I laughed and took it, allowing him to help me to my feet.

When I straightened, there was barely any space between us. My breath caught in my throat and my skin felt like it was on fire. He stared down at me, eyes glowing as they matched mine. With great difficulty, I cleared my throat and took a step back. I nervously brushed a strand of loose hair behind my ear, then turned and made my way back to the trail. After a moment, I heard him follow after me.

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