Mage's Fire

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Eighteen: Nadia

“I mean, how could I have forgotten about our birthdays?”

Riley sighed heavily, leaning back against her seat. I laughed as we turned onto my street. “Hey, I forgot, too,” I said. Could anyone really blame us? The past several months have been extremely stressful.

Riley and I had our birthdays so close together, if we were from the same womb, we would have been twins. She was born on March 20th at 11:57 p.m., and I was born on March 21st at 12:03 a.m. With just six minutes separating us, it was amazing to think how we never became friends until second grade. We had seen each other, obviously. Wolf Valley Elementary was so small, they only had one teacher for each grade, so we’ve been going to school together since forever.

I pulled into the driveway at home, pleasantly surprised—and happy—to see Drew’s car and Jack’s motorcycle parked on the street. Kate’s car was parked right behind Drew’s. I frowned. I still hadn’t figured out why Kate hated me so much now, and I had done my best to avoid her as much as possible.

As Riley and I stepped out of the Beast, laughter and music wafted over to us from my backyard. I smiled over at Riley, and we made our way around the house to the gates.

“Happy birthday!” six voices chorused as we stepped into the backyard. I laughed at the magnificent display of streamers set up all around the backyard, complete with white Christmas lights that Dad must have dug up from the basement. There was a Happy Birthday banner strung up on the side of the house, and spread out on the table on the covered back porch was a giant birthday cake, supplies to make sandwiches, drinks, and other goodies.

Riley and I laughed in glee as everyone surrounded us to give out hugs. Delta barked when we came through, jumping up and putting his paws on my stomach to get my attention. Everyone was smiling and happy, and for once, I could forget about the craziness going on outside of my backyard.

Nothing too crazy happened. We gathered around the cake, the birthday song was sung to us, and we had cake. We ate and laughed with one another, we played games, and we listened to music.

I knew that werewolves ate a lot. They have an enhanced metabolism, but… holy shit, they can eat. Riley, Drew, and Eddie all consumed at least five gigantic sandwiches, as well as two giant bowls full of chips, and three slices of cake each, not to mention all of the snacks that were also out on the table.

At some point, we ran out of drinks. Dad started to go back inside to get more from the fridge, but I stood up and said, “I’ll get them.”

He grinned. “Okay.”

While I stepped inside, I sensed someone following me. I ignored it, my skin crawling. There was only one person here who made me feel that way.

It wasn’t until I had gathered eight bottles of Coke, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper in my arms that I finally turned around to face Kate. She looked like she wanted to say something, but she kept biting her tongue and looking away.

“What is it?” I demanded.

She sighed and reached out to take some of the drinks. “Here, let me help—”

I jerked away. “What do you want?” I snapped.

She sighed again. “Look, I just… I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

I nearly dropped the bottles in surprise. In order to make sure that I didn’t do that, I set them on the table before turning back to her, crossing my arms in front of my chest. I know that experts say that it’s a coping mechanism, and that it showed to others that you weren’t confident, but I didn’t really care right then.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

She laughed. “You know what I mean,” she said. “The past ten months, I’ve been… I’ve been horrible to you.”

I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, you sure did,” I snapped. My veins started throbbing, my blood boiling in rage. She used to love me. Back when Riley’s parents were alive, Kate would frequently visit, and she loved me as much as she did Riley. After my mom died, Kate was one of the maternal figures I had accepted into my life. After she became Riley’s legal guardian, she treated me like I was dirt. I had tried to brush it off, chalk it up to grief, but after this went on for three months, I decided that I’d had enough.

She sighed. “Look, I don’t hate you, Nadia. Far from it.”

“Then why treat me like shit?” I demanded. “Why would you make me feel like shit?”

She groaned and rubbed the back of her neck, leaning against the counter. “It’s not because I hate you. It’s… all summer, Riley wouldn’t give me the time of day. She’d only confide in you, and when I tried to talk to her, she’d blow me off to go party with you.”

I raised my eyebrows. “So you treated me like crap all year because I was there for my best friend?”

She sighed. “Not exactly,” she said. “I… I was hurt that Riley wouldn’t spend time with me, and that she gave all of her attention to you.

“Look…” Kate pushed off the counter and took one step towards me, half-turned to the back door. “I’m sorry about everything I’ve put you through. I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch. I just… I was hurt, and I didn’t know what else to do. So, can we start over? Please?”

I sighed as I looked over at Kate. Her eyes were wet with tears, and she seemed to be holding herself together by just a thread. I sighed again and said, “If you want to start over, then I need you to do something first.”

She nodded vigorously. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, absolutely. What is it?”

I grinned as I reached over and held out two of the soda bottles. “Help me carry these out?”

She laughed and took them, as well as two more bottles I offered her. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I can do that.”

Later that night, we were about to open presents when the doorbell rang. Delta, who was sitting at my feet, raised his head and growled softly. I reached down and rubbed his ears while Dad went to answer the door.

Minutes later, he returned, but he wasn’t alone. Sierra was with him. My breath caught in my throat when I saw her with her hair tied back in a neat ponytail, wearing skinny jeans, Converse, and a shirt with her black leather jacket. She was carrying two packages: one of them a small black jewelry box, and the other was a little bigger with brown paper wrapping around it.

“Sierra,” I breathed. The other wolves sent murderous glares her way, but I was curious. What was she doing here?

She smiled at Dad. “Thanks for letting me crash the party,” she said.

He nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Any friend of Nadia’s is welcome here.”

She smiled again. After lowering herself into the empty chair next to me, Delta rose and hurried over, sniffing her furiously. He had grown a lot in the past week and a half, though he was still small. I had no doubt that he’d be a fearless companion when he was older.

After he finished sniffing her, Delta licked her hand and then sat between us, his ears pricked forward. He looked up at me, panting happily as if to say, Did I do a good job?

Gramma laughed. “Well, if a werewolf can pass Delta’s test, then they’re more than welcome.”

Sierra blinked in surprise. “How’d you know—?”

“I’m a mage, dear,” Gramma said. “I know a lot of things. Now, I believe it’s time for the birthday girls to open their presents?”

“Yes!” Kate exclaimed, clapping her hands together once. “We have to start with mine first, though. Nadia, here you go.”

She handed me a small, slim box. I took it, giving her a smile. She grinned back, and I peeled the top off. Inside were two vouchers to a full-body massage from a local masseuse in town. I laughed and looked up at her. “Thank you, Kate,” I said. “After running through those woods for months, and between magic and martial arts training, I definitely need this. Thank you.”

She nodded. “You’re very welcome,” she said. She handed Riley a small box and, before releasing it, gave her niece a fierce look. “Now, before I give this to you, I do not like the idea of it. But, it was your father’s wish that you get it when you turned seventeen.”

She frowned, confused. After Kate nodded once and released the box, Riley tore the lid off and gasped as she pulled out a set of keys. “No way,” she breathed.

“What is it?” Drew asked.

“Keys, dumbass,” Eddie muttered. Drew flicked his ear and Riley laughed.

“Yeah, they’re keys to my dad’s motorcycle,” she said. “He was fixing it up so he could ride it again. He had just finished it before… well, you know.”

Tears sprung to Riley’s eyes and she looked up at Kate. “Thank you,” she said.

Kate grinned. “Your parents and I both had a part of this,” she said. “Your parents, your dad especially, wanted you to have the bike. Since I’m your guardian for one more year, I decided that my gift would be me following your parents' wishes.”

The night went on like this. Eddie and Drew had gotten both me and Riley friendship charm bracelets, the first charms being tiny wolves howling. Dad got me a voucher for a free tune-up for the beast, and Jack gave us both a custom made silver pocket knife, with wooden handles that each had their own design. Riley’s had a carving of a wolf in the woods howling at the moon, while mine had protection symbols from different faiths carved into the wood.

Gramma gave Riley and I each a wrapped gift that felt suspiciously like a book. She smiled and said, “Riley, my gift isn’t anything fancy. It’s just a journal, but I hope it proves to be useful to you in the future. And Nadia…”

Gramma turned to me and said, “For you, I’ve decided to give you your mother’s spellbook. It has every spell she’s ever used in there, some of them spells that she created herself. There’s only so much I can teach you, but I hope this can help to take you farther than I can.”

Riley and I grinned at each other and then tore into our presents. Riley’s journal was simple, with a wooden front and back with a wolf carved into the front cover. My mother’s spell book looked similar to the tome that Sierra had given me, but instead of a tree, there was an image of flames carved into the front cover. I looked up at Gramma and she said, “Your mother was a fire mage as well, and many of these spells cater to fire.”

I smiled. “Thank you, Gramma,” I said.

She nodded. Sierra cleared her throat and said, “I guess it’s my turn.”

I was shocked. “You got us presents?” I asked.

She grinned. “Yeah,” she said.

“How’d you even know it’s our birthday?” Riley demanded. She had narrowed her eyes when Sierra spoke, but she didn’t seem as pissed as earlier.

Sierra shrugged. “I may or may not have broken into the counselor’s office,” she said.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Dad said.

Sierra laughed. “Sounds like a plan,” she said. She handed Riley the smaller box, but before she could open it, Sierra said, “Riley, I want to say that I’m sorry for the past five months. I hope you understand that I was just following orders. I, uh… I’m an omega now, so I had no choice. But I want you to know, I’m done following orders. After all of this is over, I’m not going to do what he says anymore.”

Riley frowned. “Why not? What are you going to do?”

Sierra’s eyes flicked to me for a moment before returning to the alpha. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll figure it out when the time comes. But if you’ll allow me, I still want to run with you until we catch Dominic’s pack.”

After a moment, Riley nodded. “Okay,” she said. Sierra sighed, almost with relief, and leaned back in her seat while Riley opened the present. It was a necklace, a black cord with a silver wolf’s fang on it. Riley grinned and slipped it over her head. “Thank you, Sierra,” she said.

Sierra nodded, then she turned to me. “Here you go,” she said. I took it and tore the brown paper off of it, gasping when I saw what lay inside. It was a book, with a leather front and back cover. It was blank, but it came with a small package of sketching pencils inside.

“The pages are blank,” she said. “So, you can use it as a sketchbook, journal, or even a spellbook. You could even combine the three if you wanted.”

I smiled and looked up at her. “Thank you, Sierra,” I said. “I love it.”

She smiled, and her eyes lit up. My heart warmed at the sight. After seeing Sierra be miserable for months, it was great to see an old part of herself come back.

Just then, there was furious knocking on the front door. I frowned when a serious look crossed Dad’s face. He stood and went inside to open the door. I heard a frantic voice that sounded like Deputy Simmons, and though I couldn’t make out the words, I knew something was wrong. I looked at the wolves, who all wore matching expressions of worry, fear, and anger.

“What is it?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

“It’s the pack,” Sierra answered. “They’re growing bold.”

“What is it?” I asked again. Across the table from me, Jack straightened in his seat.

Riley sighed. “A report just came in,” she said. “Some wildlife rangers found a dead couple on one of the trails earlier. They’ve been shredded apart, and from the tracks around the bodies, it had to be at least two or three wolves.”

I groaned and leaned back in my chair. “Shit,” I muttered. That seemed to be the entire statement of the year.

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