I scanned the forest around me, watching our left flank while Jack covered the right. I held my Bowie in my right hand, the left hovering by my leg, waiting for me to summon my magic. I watched the forest around me, waiting for any sign of danger.
“So,” Jack murmured as we stepped over a fallen tree. “How’d it go with Sierra?”
I frowned and looked over at him from the corner of my eye. He was smiling, keeping his eyes straight ahead.
I chuckled and said, “Fine. We, uh… Right now, we’re staying friends. She wants to be with me, but we’re taking things slow for now, so that I can adjust to being… you know.” Gay.
He nodded. “That’s good,” he said. He looked over at me and said, “I’m happy for you.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
We continued our hike through the woods in silence, still searching for any danger. Just as I thought there wouldn’t be any, I was knocked off my feet by a sonic blast. The sound traveled through the trees, sending me flying. I grunted as I was thrown against a tree, and my knife flew out of my hands.
I groaned, rolling over to push myself to my feet. My head spun, my vision shifting in and out of focus. I blinked several times, then swung my head around to search for Jack.
“Jack!” I called. My heart stopped for a moment, frozen in fear, when I heard him groaning some distance away. I sighed in relief and hurried over, summoning fire to my palm so I could see.
Jack was pushing himself to his feet by the time I arrived, holding onto the side of his head. He had blood trailing down the side of his face from where he had hit a rock. He blinked several times, swaying slightly. I reached my free hand out, wrapping an arm around his waist to keep him from falling.
“What was that?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I have no—” He was cut off by the sound of wolves howling. We both froze, listening to the sounds of pain, anger, and fear. I shared a glance with Jack, and then we both stumbled through the woods, heading towards the sounds.
I came to an abrupt halt, staggering under Jack’s weight as he sagged against me. Standing in the middle of the trail ahead of us was Colin.
“Well, well, well,” he murmured, leaning lazily against a tree as he crossed his arms over his chest. “This is such a pleasant surprise.”
“Colin,” I growled. His eyes nearly glowed in the darkness they were so bright. “What do you want?”
He took a step forward and I raised my hand, my fire the only thing between us. He smirked and said, “Why, little mage! I want you, of course.”
I laughed. “What, for your stupid little rebellion? Not a fucking chance in hell.”
He laughed. “Oh, but you’ll come around,” he said. “They all do.”
He took another step towards me. I turned so that I was between him and Jack. I risked a quick glance at my friend, my heart dropping at how his eyes were rolling into the back of his head. I gently set him down, then spun back around to face Colin. I summoned magefire to my other hand, letting the flames from both lick and dance up my arms.
Colin grinned. “Nadia,” he murmured, sending chills up and down my spine. “I really don’t want to hurt your friend. So, why don’t you just come with me?” He held a hand out, the smile still plastered onto his face.
Fire welled up inside of me. I let it build up, adding fuel to the fire and magefire on my arms. I stepped forward, shifting into a front stance as I aimed two punches at him, sending balls of fire and magefire at him. He easily ducked the fire, but the magefire hit him square in the chest, sending him onto the forest floor.
He laughed as he pushed himself back up to his feet, grunting in pain. “That was good, little mage,” he said. A dark look crossed his face and he growled, “But not good enough.”
He quickly knelt to one knee, slamming his fist into the ground. I watched, horrified, as his hand and arm was swallowed up, and then the earth was rippling outwards, sending me to my knees. I grunted as I tried to regain stability, pushing myself back to my feet. The earth shook again, and I was falling onto my hip.
He stepped forward, his foot stomping into the ground. The earth underneath me shook, and then I was being sent flying through the air. I grunted as I landed, my head narrowly missing a tree trunk. When I looked back at Colin, I saw that he was gone.
I swung my head around, my heart dropping when I saw that Colin had moved to where Jack was. He pressed a deadly looking knife to Jack’s throat, the other gripping tightly onto his hair. Jack was reaching back with both hands, his head tilted back to try and avoid the blade as he held onto Colin’s arms tightly.
“Now, little mage,” Colin snarled. “Come with me, and I won’t kill your friend.”
My heart was racing wildly in my chest now. I thought back to what Colin just did, displaying his obvious talents as an earth mage. A crazy idea came to my mind just then, and I hoped that it would work. I pushed myself to my feet, glaring at Colin as I spat out through gritted teeth, “Let. Him. Go!”
On the last syllable, I stomped my right foot into the ground. Instantly, the earth reacted to my fear and anger, and when I summoned it, it listened to me. The ground opened up underneath Colin’s feet and he cried out in surprise, releasing Jack and the knife. Jack rolled away, slamming his back against a nearby tree as he turned to watch what happened to Colin.
The earth sucked his legs in, then his torso. Colin reached out to grab a nearby bush, gripping tightly onto the branches. He cried out in pain, then shot me a venomous glare.
“This won’t hold me forever,” he promised. “I’ll get out, and when I do, I’m coming for you.”
I raised my chin, glaring down at him. “Do it,” I said. “I’ll be right here.”
He glared at me, then spat onto the ground at my feet just as the earth sucked him in. The ground closed up and I fell to my knees, my body trembling.
“Nadia!” Jack called. He hurried over to me, stumbling as he moved. He must have a concussion, I thought as he dropped himself onto his knees beside me.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
I nodded. “I’m fine,” I said. “Come on, we should go see what happened.”
He nodded and helped me to my feet. We leaned on each other as we stumbled through the woods, heading to where we heard wolves howling. As we went, I looked at him and said, “Jack?”
“Hmm?” He murmured.
“Don’t tell Riley about what happened,” I said. “In fact, don’t tell anyone.”
He jerked his head around to stare at me, eyes wide. “Why not?” He demanded.
I sighed. “They have enough on their plates,” I said. “I don’t want them to worry about this unless it’s too much for me to handle.”
He clenched his jaw, obviously displeased at my request. Finally, he sighed and said, “Fine. I won’t say anything, but you’ll have to.”
I nodded. “I know,” I said. God knew that I knew it, but I still didn’t want to bring it up. Not just yet.
As we continued hiking through the woods, everything suddenly became too quiet. We stopped and I tilted my head, listening for any sound I could catch. After a moment, I heard huge bodies crashing through the trees, then Kai, Koda, Sierra, and the others were suddenly there, gasping for breath.
Kai and Sierra shifted back to human form. I blushed, refusing to look at Sierra’s body as she and Kai stepped towards us.
“What happened?” Sierra asked, her worried gaze taking in the sight of Jack and I.
He and I exchanged a quick glance before I looked back at her, saying, “We ran into a wolf,” I said. “We chased him off, but he left us in pretty bad shape.”
Sierra’s eyes widened as she glanced back at Kai. “I thought we were surrounded by all of them back there,” she said.
He growled. “Apparently not,” he said.
I frowned as I glanced around at the other wolves. “Where’s Riley?” I asked.
Koda whimpered, driving his head into the ground. Drew and Eddie snarled, their claws digging into the earth. I glanced back at Kai, who had a dark look on his face.
“They took her,” he snarled.