Mage's Fire

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One: Riley

“Why an arrow?” Nadia asked for the millionth time. I sighed in frustration, turning my head to position it better on my arms as I looked up at her. She was wearing a smirk on her face, her arms crossed over her chest as she lounged lazily in the chair.

The tattoo gun whirred on my other side as the artist placed the needles to prepare it. My skin tingled at the sound, while butterflies decided to have a conga in my stomach. It was the last day of spring break, and we were at a closed tattoo shop so I could get my first one.

“How does an arrow go forward?” I asked her. She frowned and thought a moment, then shook her head. I grinned and said, “The only way to make an arrow shoot forward is to pull it back. Then, when there’s no room left to draw back on the string, you let go, and it shoots forward. That’s why I’m choosing an arrow.”

Nadia frowned. “I still don’t get it,” she murmured, annoyance oozing from her in waves. I chuckled, earning a sharp glare from her.

“You have to go through hell in order to get the good things you want out of life,” I said. “Sometimes, you have to be pulled back before you can shoot forward .”

She nodded, though I could tell she was still confused. Deciding to let her think on it, I turned my head and looked back at the tattoo artist. He was a tough, biker-looking guy named Ted. He was the local tattoo artist, as well as the artist for the Wolf Valley Pack. Drew and Eddie had told me about him some time ago, said that the Campbell twins, Sierra and Simon, had gone to him for tattoos of their own in the past.

“Are you ready?” Ted asked. I nodded and shifted around one final time, getting myself more comfortable. My skin jerked as he pressed the gun against my skin, and then the machine started whirring and needles were being poked repeatedly into my skin. I hissed, my nails growing and digging into the skin of my palms. I growled in pain, gritting my teeth to stop myself from crying out. I knew that it would hurt, but I didn’t know it would be this bad…

As he worked, Ted spoke to me, saying, “This hurts more than it would if you were human. I’m using different needles, these ones sharper and bigger. I’m also using a different kind of ink, infused with a mage’s magic. That way, your body doesn’t refuse the ink, and when it heals you’ll still have your tattoo.”

“Great,” I groaned. In order to distract myself from the pain, I focused on Nadia’s wildflower and cold mountain air scent. I allowed it to wrap around me like a blanket, sighing before I said, “Mage? What’s that?” I had a feeling a real mage wasn’t like the ones you’d find in Dungeons and Dragons. I also dimly remembered hearing it from somewhere.

“They’re like witches,” Ted answered softly, his mind obviously far away as he focused on his work. “Except while witches draw their magic and power from nature or spirits or even darker forces, mages are born with their magic. They can control the elements, though each mage has a deeper, special connection to one. They all have a wonderful ability called magefire, which can be used for destruction or creation.”

“That’s right,” Nadia said. When I gave her a confused look she said, “Sierra told us about them, when we went to see Donovan.”

I frowned, remembering that day all too well. After being bitten and turned into a werewolf, Donovan Campbell tried to bribe me with money and college scholarships in order to get me into his pack. While we were waiting for him to come get me, we sat in the library with Sierra, where she revealed that other supernatural creatures existed in the world.

I hung onto Ted’s and Nadia’s words like a lifeline, breathing shallowly through my nose and out of my mouth. Sweat and leather and ink and wildflowers and mountain air hung around me, assaulting my nostrils, and every emotion and scent was enough to cause a headache.

The needle gun stopped and Ted asked, “Are you okay? Do you want to take a break, or should we keep going?”

“Keep going,” I hissed, biting my lip to keep myself from screaming. I wanted nothing more than to stop, but I was afraid that if I took a break, I might not have been able to keep going.

Ted sighed but did as I asked. He flipped the gun back on, then the needles started stabbing into my back again and again.

“Okay, tell me what you think!” Ted boomed proudly, the gun shutting off. My eyes flew open and I looked over my shoulder at him, then I craned my neck to try and get a peek at the tattoo. I only saw the barest tip of the arrow, so I placed my hands on either side of the bed and pushed myself up, snarling softly as a dull pain spread throughout my back.

I moved over to a tall mirror on the wall, holding my jacket to my chest to keep myself covered. I turned my back to the mirror, looking over to take a look at the tattoo.

The arrowhead was facing upwards, and the entire tattoo was designed to look like a Native American arrow, complete with small, intricate geometric designs. There were tiny pictures of wolves and the moon in the shaft, and the feathers for the fetchings were long and flowing.

“So?” Ted asked. “What do you think? Do I need to fix anything?”

I smiled. “It’s perfect,” I said.

After pulling a loose, lightweight jacket over my shoulders, and after Ted gave me a pamphlet that detailed caring for a tattoo, I paid and made sure to leave Ted a nice, sixty dollar tip. Nadia and I left the tattoo shop, climbed up into the Beast, Nadia’s red ’03 Jeep Wrangler, and headed out onto the street.

Rain fell heavily on the windshield as we drove. I sat with my back straight, keeping it away from the seat. I could already feel the tattoo beginning to heal, the ink making its way into my skin and bloodstream.

“You wanna stay over tonight?” I asked Nadia when we were a few blocks away from my house. It was just after nine, and I was starting to get nervous. Ever since I nearly died while killing Dominic, Aunt Kate had been a nervous wreck. After finally adjusting to the fact that her niece was a werewolf, and after Nadia recovered from the bite, Kate had given me a strict nine-thirty curfew on weekdays, and then ten o’clock on weekends. I knew I’d get home in time for curfew, but I still didn’t want to risk incurring her wrath.

Nadia was shaking her head before I had finished speaking. “Sorry,” she said. “I’d love to, but I can’t. My grandmother’s coming in tonight.”

I blinked. “That’s today? Shit, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

Nadia laughed. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not like we’re being hunted by a mad, psychotic werewolf, right?”

We shared a laugh, thinking back to the beginning of the year. I still couldn’t believe the entire thing happened within two months. At the beginning of the year, I was a shy, quiet, timid little girl with asthma who was too afraid to do anything. Now, I was an alpha werewolf, with my own pack. Granted, the larger pack that had been in place for generations hated my guts and wanted me dead, but I wasn’t afraid anymore. Not like how I used to be.

We pulled up in front of my house, the Beast’s engine competing with the roaring thunder. I stared up at my house, noticing that the lights were off. I frowned. Strange… I thought. Kate was normally awake at this time, ensuring that I came home and met curfew. Was she asleep? There was just no way.

I turned my head to smile at Nadia. She smiled back, though it seemed forced, almost like she was hiding something. I frowned and turned farther in the seat, squaring my body off with hers. “Hey,” I said, hissing as my back twinged painfully. I groaned softly and pushed the pain to the back of my mind, turning my attention back to her. “You okay?” I asked.

She nodded, though her eyes seemed distant. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just tíred is all.”

I frowned, narrowing my eyes as her heart rate started to beat faster. I was about to confront her about the lie, but then I decided against it. Something about her expression told me I didn’t want to know what was going through her head… yet.

I sighed and put my hand on the door. “Okay,” I said. “Get some sleep. See you at school tomorrow.”

She grinned, seemingly relieved. “See ya tomorrow,” she said, forcing the cheeriness into her voice.

I opened the door and slid out of the Beast, hissing as my back ached again. I turned to close the door, but before I did I stared at Nadia, willing her to look at me. When she finally turned her gaze over to me, I smiled and said, “I love you. You know that, right?”

She smiled, and for the first time that night, it seemed genuine. “I love you, too,” she said.

I smiled wider, then stepped back and closed the door. After I had turned my back and started making my way up the stairs to my front door, Nadia pulled away from the curb and sped off, the Beast roaring into the night.

As soon as my hand touched the doorknob, an all too familiar scent washed over my nose. I inhaled deeply, snarling as I turned my head to the forest. I briefly considered leaving it alone, all in order to prevent Kate’s wrath, but I couldn’t. They knew they were trespassing, and they knew the consequences.

My stomach churned as I stepped away from the door, hopping over the railing as I headed off to the woods. I landed silently on the rain-soaked lawn, then I was off, sprinting across the yard to the woods. My back screamed in protest, but I ignored it, pressing forward.

I had barely made it fifty feet into the woods before a giant, blonde wolf barreled into me. I grunted as I rolled with the wolf, driving my knees and elbows into the animal. The wolf snarled, lunging for my throat. I grabbed hold of its scruff, grunting as I was thrown onto my back. The wolf snarled and snapped at me, still trying for my throat. I growled, showing my fangs as I barely managed to hold it off of me. I kicked my legs out, then drove my knee up into the wolf’s belly.

The wolf yelped, pushing off of me as it danced away. I lunged to my feet, my body shivering as it threatened to shift. A second blonde wolf appeared and I spun around to face it, snarling as it stopped several inches in front of me.

The twins, I thought venomously as the Campbell twins, Sierra and Simon, started to circle around me, snarling and snapping their jaws at me. I half-expected Drew and Eddie, my betas, to appear out of the darkness of the woods, racing to my side. Then I remembered that Eddie was at home studying for some big test coming up, and Drew was off in Michigan for spring break visiting family.

The two werewolves continued to circle around me, their blue, gold-flecked eyes glowing in the darkness. My heart raced wildly, and though I hated to admit it, fear made my blood run cold. Every instinct screamed at me to turn, to shift into wolf form and tear these two apart. I could do it, too. I was strong enough, and I was ruthless enough.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t shift. I had been practicing for months, and I could shift with almost no pain. However, it still took me a long time to shift. Only thirty seconds, but that was twenty-five seconds too slow. The twins had been born werewolves, and they had been shifting since before they could walk. Drew and Eddie were bitten like I was, but they had been werewolves longer than me, and so had been shifting longer than I had. If I tried to shift now, Sierra and Simon would tear me apart.

I was outnumbered and, at the moment, horribly outmatched. I snapped my head around, turning my body around quickly so that I had both werewolves on either side of me, keeping them away from my back. They snapped and snarled at me, saliva dripping from their fangs as they searched for an opening.

Shit, I thought.

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