Mage's Fire

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Three: Riley

I snapped my head back and forth, turning my body as the twins continued to circle me. Then, as one, they lunged toward me. I dodged out of Simon’s way, but Sierra caught me in the chest. I grunted as she shoved me against the ground, snapping her jaws for my throat. I held her off, screaming out as I started to shift.

My bones started to break, shifting and readjusting underneath my skin. I growled in pain, snarling as my face elongated into a silvery snout with a dark, black nose at the end. My tailbone grew out, while muscles and fur shifted and appeared over the bones. My clothes ripped as my body grew too big for them, and within seconds I had shifted from a poor, endangered girl to a giant, fierce, snarling alpha wolf.

I used my powerful back legs to shove Sierra off of me, throwing her several feet into the air. She yelped as she hit a tree, several of her bones snapping at the impact. She snarled in pain, stumbling around as she struggled for breath.

Deciding that she’d be out for several moments while her ribs healed, I spun around to meet Simon as he charged at me. Our chests barreled into each other and we rose up on our hind legs, using our front legs to scratch and claw at each other. We snarled, snapping at each other’s throats. I turned my body at the last second, letting him catch the thick ruff of fur between his teeth. I snarled in pain, pushing forward off my back legs as I threw my weight on top of him.

Simon grunted as I collapsed on top of him, crushing him to the ground. I bent down, grabbing his fur between my teeth. I snarled and started dragging him, struggling as he fought against me.

Suddenly, Sierra was crashing into my side, throwing me off her brother. I rolled over, landing on my paws as I was forced down a short hill. I gathered my muscles underneath me, tensing them before I sprang forward and met her in mid-air. We tumbled down the hill some more, and when we finally landed at the bottom, we both sprang to our feet. We started circling one another, snarling and snapping in each other’s direction.

We both froze, one paw lifted in the air ahead of us, when a low, deep howl echoed through the forest. I gave her a quizzical expression, but she only shook her huge head. There was a rustle in the trees to my right, and we both snapped our heads around to gaze into the darkness.

A pair of yellow-green eyes glowed at us in the darkness. They blinked, and then two more pairs of eyes appeared out of the darkness. All three pairs of eyes blinked, and then the wolves emerged from the forest.

All three of them were much larger than any other werewolf I had ever seen. The two on the sides were varying shades of brown, tan, and black. One was bigger than the other, and he was also darker. The wolf in the front and center of the formation, however, was black. Dominic had black fur, but it had been a dull, matted, dusty color. This wolf’s fur was as black as the night sky, lacking of any stars. His eyes were green, with glowing flecks of gold in them.

Sierra’s entire demeanor suddenly changed. She whimpered and laid her ears flat against her head, tucking her tail between her legs. The dark tawny-colored wolf stopped in front of her, snarling viciously. His fur puffed out, his ears turning forward as his thick, bushy tail stood straight up behind him. Sierra whined again, digging her head into the ground as she rolled over onto her back.

There was a scuffling sound at the top of the hill. I snapped my head around, my eyes widening as a huge, smoky gray wolf dragged Simon by the scruff of his neck. The wolf jerked his head, sending Simon tumbling down the hill. When he landed, the other tawny wolf stood over him, snarling as her tail and fur stood up straight.

The gray wolf made his way lazily down the hill, watching the scene before him with bored, blue-gold eyes. I watched him for a moment, fascinated by the way his muscles rippled underneath his skin like water. Then I snapped my head back around, finding myself face-to-face with the black wolf.

He stood a good head taller than me. His fur was sticking out, his ears pointing towards me and his tail standing up straight, curving slightly at the tip. He growled low in his chest, pulling his black lips back to snarl softly. The alpha in me refused to submit. I stood as straight and as tall as I could, raising my own tail and puffing my chest out. I snarled back, refusing to step down. After all, this was my territory.

After a moment, the wolf stopped snarling. He started to release a series of strange, chuffing sounds, and it took me a moment to realize he was laughing.

He continued to laugh as his body shifted and changed right before my eyes. I took several shocked steps back, surprised that his bones hardly made any noise as they shifted back to human form.

The young man standing before me couldn’t be older than seventeen. He had hair as black as his fur, which hadn’t been cut in a while. It fell over his green and gold eyes, shadowing them in a mischievous mystery. Being that he was naked now, I tried to avoid looking at his body, but I couldn’t ignore how strong and broad his shoulders were, how large his arms and chest were. He was still laughing as he shifted to human form, causing his washboard abs to roll with laughter.

After he had finished laughing, he looked up at me and said, “It’s an honor to finally meet you, Riley Black. To the Guardians, you’re known as the ‘Silver Wolf’.” He looked me up and down, taking in my pure white, silvery fur. He chuckled again and said, “Why don’t you change back? We need to talk.”

I growled softly, but did as he said. I thought of being human, of having hands and feet. My claws dug into the earth, turning into fingers as my bones snapped and shifted back into place. I hissed in slight pain, but then that was it. I was human again.

I stood up, straightening to my full five-foot-seven height. Even in human form, with both of us standing straight, the black werewolf stood half a head taller than me. I swallowed thickly, trying to choke down the lump in my throat. It took me a second to realize I was terrified. These werewolves obviously weren’t part of the Wolf Valley Pack, and yet the twins deferred to them as soon as they arrived.

Suddenly self-conscious, I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to cover myself. I don’t know why I felt so naked and exposed right then—I had seen Drew and Eddie naked hundreds of times in the past few months, and they’ve seen me. What was wrong with me?

Before I had made the decision to shift back and run off into the woods, the mystery werewolf held his hand out in front of him towards me and smiled. “I’m Kai,” he said. I stared at his hand, then back up at his face, narrowing my eyes. He chuckled and said, “It’s all right, I get it. A strange werewolf comes onto your territory, and you don’t know how to react. That’s just fine, you’ll learn the rules soon enough.”

“What rules?” I asked.

He laughed. “Of our world, of course!” he exclaimed. “What, you thought that there were just several packs of werewolves out in the world, as well as any other supernatural creature, and that we just… coexist with humans? Oh, pup… you have much to learn.”

He started to walk slowly in a circle, keeping me in the center. I turned with him, refusing to leave my back to him. He grinned and said, “There are thousands of species of supernatural creatures in the world, and each one of them has its own hierarchy. For werewolves, there are packs, as you know. But then there’s one pack who… protects the others.”

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

Kai’s smile grew. “My friends and I, we’re Guardians. We observe everything that happens in the world, and we keep the packs safe. And our secret.”

I didn’t need to ask what “our secret” was. It was the fact that we were what we were. If the entire human populace were to know that the supernatural existed, there would be mass panic and chaos.

“We’ve been keeping the secret,” I said, casting a look over at the twins. In response, they bared their fangs and snarled at me.

Kai laughed. Some of the humor left his face, being replaced by annoyance. “What, you call the fights that happen between your two packs ‘keeping the secret’? Howling and snarling and fighting? No, it’s drawing attention. Not just from the locals, either.”

I frowned. “What do you—? Oh.” Hunters. There was a family of hunters in Wolf Valley, and while I knew Jack Bryan and the rest of his family didn’t hunt the supernatural just for thrills, I knew there were hunters out there that did.

Kai turned away from me, his attention now on the two blonde werewolves. “Leave now,” he snarled. “Leave the Silver Wolf’s territory, and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t trespass again.”

Kai nodded once to his wolves and they stepped away from the twins, still snarling. Sierra and Simon snarled in my direction one final time, then they shot up to their feet and sped away.

I narrowed my eyes at Kai. “Why did you do that?” I asked.

He shrugged. “One of the lesser known rules,” he said. “Your pack is small, unable to defend yourselves against an older, larger pack. Part of the reason we’re here is to protect you.”

I scoffed, rolling my shoulders back. My arms were still crossed over my chest, a small barrier between myself and these werewolves. “We’re fine, thanks,” I growled.

Kai laughed. “Alpha or not,” he said, “those two would have eventually torn you apart. You have three wolves total in your pack. Now, it’s enough to officially be a pack, but it’s not nearly enough to protect yourselves.” His deep green eyes flicked over my body one more time, then he chuckled once and said, “We’d better let you go now. You have school tomorrow, and I believe you have a curfew.”

My eyes widened and I spluttered. “But—”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Silver Wolf.” Kai flashed me a mock salute, then he bent over as his bones shifted and cracked. Within seconds, he had shifted into wolf form. He shook out his neck, then gave me one final look. He barked once, then shot off into the woods, quickly followed by his three pack members.

I blinked briefly in surprise. After the shock had worn off, I hiked back up the hill, quickly covering the distance that once would have left me winded and reaching for my inhaler.

I reached the pile of my torn, shredded clothes. I crouched and rifled through them, searching for anything that was salvageable. I managed to slip on my shredded jeans and sweater, but my shoes and everything else was completely destroyed.

I searched through the darkness for my phone. When I found it, the screen was cracked, and the battery was dead.

“Dammit,” I swore as I stood up. I slipped the phone into my back pocket, grabbed the remaining scraps of my clothes, then I set off at a jog back to my house.

The lights were still out when I came home. My guard went up as I approached, silently making my way up the front steps. I could sense that something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I sniffed the air, trying to detect any hints of danger. There was nothing.

I slowly opened the door, creeping inside. As I shut the door behind me and the lock clicked, the light flashed on and I screamed.

The thought to shift briefly passed through my mind before I realized the danger before me. I sighed and dropped my shoulders, leaning back against the front door. I dropped my head back, looking over at Aunt Kate. She was standing at the bottom of the stairs in front of the door, arms crossed over her chest and a furious expression on her face.

“Hi, Kate,” I murmured.

She mm’d in disapproval. “You’re late.”

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