I ducked as Jack swung a hit at me. As soon as I came up, I tapped him quickly in the side with a two-hit uppercut combo. Before he could turn on me, I ducked out of the way again.
He grinned as we circled each other on the mat. “You’ve gotten better,” he said.
I exhaled sharply and grinned back. “I’ve been practicing.” Before I uttered the last syllable, I swung my leg out with a crescent kick, aiming for his head. He ducked out of the way and I turned with the momentum of the kick, allowing myself to move back farther to create distance.
He stepped up quickly, kicking at me with his front leg. Before he could extend it, I moved in and pushed both hands down to block him, then quickly raised my hand to tap him on the side of the head with a backfist.
It was Monday morning, and instead of having a pack meeting, everyone decided to sleep in. I was feeling anxious about the dream last night, so I called Jack and asked if I could train with him. Now here we were, dressed in sweats and tank tops, complete with wraps on our hands so that we didn’t hurt each other.
We continued to spar for a few more minutes before he called out for a water break. I walked around the edge of the mat with him, sipping water and keeping my breathing even.
“So, how did yesterday go?” he asked. I had told him about my magefire session before Gramma and I went up to the peak. I grinned. I wanted to save my news and tell Riley first, but I was too excited to keep it to myself any longer.
“It was great!” I exclaimed. “Look at this.”
I stopped and set my water on the ground. I turned towards him, holding my palms out. I inhaled deeply, and seconds later, I had summoned magefire.
Jack’s eyes went wide and his jaw fell open slightly. He looked up at me, then back down at the magefire. I extinguished the flames, then I summoned every ounce of heat I could from my belly. Almost immediately, fire had appeared, lighting the room up more than the lights overhead could.
He gasped softly in amazement. “You’re a fire mage?” he whispered.
I put the fire out. “Yeah,” I said. “Great, huh?”
He laughed. “Yeah,” he said. “Great, and very useful…”
He trailed off and his eyes grew thoughtful. I tilted my head and gave him a funny look. “What’s going through that head of yours?” I asked. After months of training with him and just hanging out, I had gotten to know him well, such as when the wheels were turning in his head. Just like now.
He shook his head. “Nothing, nothing…”
Well, now I was curious. I crossed my arms over my chest and narrowed my eyes at him. He sighed and said, “Look, you’ve become an incredible fighter these past few months, and you’ve been reading lore books and doing research.”
I laughed. He was right. After resolving the Dominic situation, I thought back to what Sierra had told me, about how all of the creatures that existed in folklore was real. Part of hanging out with Jack was doing research. I lost count of the number of hours I spent at his house reading and researching, learning everything I could about the supernatural.
“Not only that, but you’re a mage as well,” he continued. “And I was just thinking… you’d be a great hunter.”
I blinked and took a step back, shocked. Me… a hunter? I had never really given it thought before.
“Why do you think that?” I asked.
He shrugged. “You’re smart and resourceful. When you don’t know something, you go through every length possible to learn about it. You’re fierce and loyal, and very protective of those you love.”
I had to hold back a snort at that. Yes, I was loyal and I loved my friends, but how could I protect them? Three of them were werewolves, and the other was a hunter. How could I do anything to help protect them? I was a mage, yes, and I could summon my own fire, but… would that be enough?
I looked up at him. He had a fierce expression on his face as he said, “You’re strong. Don’t ever doubt yourself, okay? You can do anything you want to do.”
I chuckled softly. “Do you really think I could be a hunter?”
Without hesitation, he said, “Yes. Absolutely. It’s not glamorous or anything, but hunters make it work with their daily lives. My parents do, at least.”
I nodded, my mind far away. I thought of myself a few years into the future, with a decent, flexible career. Along with that, I pictured myself hunting some evil creature preying on innocent lives. I was strong and powerful. I was invincible.
Smiling at the thought, I asked, “Are there mages who are hunters?”
He nodded. “Sure,” he said. “I’ve met a few growing up, and they’re all excellent at their job.”
I started to say something else, but just then my alarm went off. Time to go home, shower, and get ready for school. I sighed and said, “I gotta go. See you at school.”
He nodded. As I picked up my bag and started to go up the stairs, Jack called out, “Nadia?”
I turned back to him. He ran his fingers through his hair and said, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but… just think about what I said. I really believe you’d be a kickass hunter.”
I grinned. “Thanks,” I said. After waving goodbye, I turned and climbed up the stairs.
Later at lunch, Sierra sat right next to me before Drew could. Heat rushed through me at her presence, and it must have done the same to Drew, but with an entirely different effect. The werewolf snarled, her light green and gold eyes glowing in fury. “You’re in my seat, bitch.”
Sierra gave her a look, then shrugged and turned away. “Grow up, pup,” she said. “I’m here to talk to your alpha.”
Riley, who had been lifting a forkful of homemade spaghetti to her mouth, dropped her fork and glared at Sierra. Kai narrowed his eyes, annoyed.
“What is it, Sierra?” Riley snapped.
Sierra leaned forward and hissed out, “Why didn’t you tell my father about Dominic’s pack?”
Riley straightened, placing both hands down on the table. She trembled with rage as she spit out, “What makes you think that I want to go anywhere near your father, let alone his territory?”
Sierra jammed a finger into the table as she said, “Because there’s a pack of rogue werewolves!” she exclaimed. “When something like that happens, you’re supposed to alert every nearby pack.”
Riley laughed bitterly. “And how was I supposed to know these rules?” she growled. “You and your pack have intentionally kept information from me.”
“If you had joined the pack—” Sierra started, but Riley cut her off.
“It wouldn’t have made a damn difference,” she said. “You’ve kept things from Drew and Eddie as well. You guys made them omegas, and you’ve tormented them at every chance possible. You kept things from them, so why not give me the same treatment?”
Throughout the entire confrontation, the other wolves stayed silent, watching and listening. Drew had huffed and dropped herself on the bench next to Kayla. The Guardians had their eyes narrowed, their focus fixed solely on Sierra. The senior werewolf didn’t look at them, but she could feel their heavy gazes on her. She shifted nervously in her seat, but she pushed on.
“My father’s willing to speak with you on even turns,” he said. “He wants to make another treaty.”
Riley laughed. It was the hysterical type of laughter, a kind of laugh that meant someone had reached their breaking point. “Seriously?” she asked. “The last treaty I made with him, he broke it. He lied to me and deceived me. How do I know he’s not just going to do that again once we’ve dealt with this?”
“He’s sincere,” Sierra said. “He’s way more furious about this rogue pack than he is about you right now. And with the Guardians on your six, I figured…” she trailed off, shivering again. I blinked and drew back in surprise, shocked to see that everything around me looked different. Colors floated around in the air, and when I looked at Sierra, she was surrounded by a haze of orange and red.
I blinked again, and the colors disappeared, everything returning back to normal. I inhaled sharply causing everyone’s eyes to flick towards me. They returned to Riley when she said, “No.”
Sierra’s face paled. “Riley, please, just—”
“I. Said. No.” Riley leaned across the table, her forest green and gold eyes glowing brightly. Her muscles were tense, and she looked like she was ready to leap across the table, shift into wolf form, and rip Sierra’s throat out.
“Riley,” Kai said gently. Instantly, Riley seemed to relax. She glanced back at him and he said, “I think you should meet with him.”
Riley glared at him now. “What?” she asked in a low, dangerous tone.
“This is bigger than a pack rivalry,” he said. “If you bring some pack members, and maybe a Guardian, then we can meet on even, neutral ground. We’ll at least listen to what he has to say.”
Riley started to tremble again. It wasn’t as bad before, but she still had a murderous gleam in her eye. After staring at Kai for several moments, she turned back to Sierra and said, “The Hideout. Three-thirty after school.”
Sierra’s face paled. “He has a meeting business with—”
“I don’t care,” Riley snapped. “If he wants to even think about working with me to stop this pack, he’ll be there. I’m not waiting a second longer.”
She nodded. Then, realizing she was done here, she stood and strode away, her head bowed.
I have no idea what drove me to chase after her. I wanted to find out what was going on with her. She had always been angry with her father, but this time, it seemed different. After muttering “I’ll be right back” to the rest of the table, I stood and chased after her into the hall.
“Sierra!” I called. She refused to look at me, keeping her back turned as she hurried away.
“Hey.” I caught up to her. I grabbed her arm, and something in her snapped. She froze, staring at the floor. When I moved to stand in front of her, I was shocked to see that she was crying.
“Sierra,” I started in a low voice. “What’s going on with you?”
She hitched in a short, sobbing breath as she turned away. “Nothing,” she choked out. “Just stress, is all. On top of the whole rogue pack situation, and then the war with your pack, my dad still hounds me on keeping up with my grades, so it’s kind of a pain to be studying for finals right now.”
That wasn’t everything. I could feel it somehow, a gut-deep sense that something else was going on. “And?” I pressed.
She sighed. When she looked up at me, her gorgeous, blue-gold eyes were red-rimmed and still full of tears. “And I’ve been demoted,” she said.
I frowned. “To what?”
She sighed and a look of shame washed over her face. She turned her head away and whispered, “Omega.”
Now it all made sense. She had always been sure and headstrong before, refusing to take crap from anyone. When she said that she was just “following orders” the day she gave me the book, I was stumped. Now I understood why.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I had seen how Eddie and Drew were treated when they were with the Wolf Valley Pack. Back then, Sierra had been an alpha in her own right. Now, to the rest of the pack, she was nothing, just another body that needed work.
“It’s fine,” she said. “Just another month and a half of this, and then I’m gone. I’m leaving Wolf Valley, and I’m never coming back.”
“There’s nothing that can make you stay?” I asked. For some reason, the thought of her leaving, of never seeing her again… I didn’t see much of her now, but the thought just killed me inside.
Her eyes searched my face, as if she was looking for answers. “Maybe,” she said. “But I guess it all depends on you.”
I frowned. “What does that mean?”
She sighed. “Nothing,” she muttered. “Forget I said anything. Look, I gotta go. Can I call you later? Or text?”
I blinked. “Um, sure,” I said.
She smiled, the first genuine smile I had seen in a while. “Thanks,” she said. Then she surprised me even more by pulling me into a hug. I wrapped my arms around her, hugging her back just as fiercely. Emotions swirled through my chest, some I couldn’t put a name to. Magic and fire burned through my blood and veins, making it difficult to properly gauge how I was feeling.
Sierra pulled away, sniffling as she wiped the tears away. She took a deep breath and smiled at me. “I’ll see you later, Nadia.” Then she brushed by me, stalking down the hall with a shred of the same confidence she used to have.