The Rise

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Chapter Seventeen

“Stop it.” Nakida plopped down next to me on the couch and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “This isn’t your fault.”

Aaisha sat on the floor and leaned over the coffee table in front of her food. With one hand, she plunged her spoon into the juicy red watermelon that she cut in half this morning. With the other, she held a chicken wing that was coated in hot sauce. The juice and the sauce were smeared together on her lips. “Yeah, you didn’t know he was your daddy.”

I glared at her. “Do you have to keep bringing it up?”

She shrugged her shoulders, biting the chicken wing. “Everyone’s thinkin’ it. I’m just the only one who’ll say it.”

Nakida pulled me closer. “Don’t listen to her. Nobody is thinking about that.”

Aaisha raised a sharp brow, giving her a y’all-lying look, and turned back to her food.

“Samuel’s pack. Now,” Valerio said urgently through the mind-link.

My heart lurched. Samuel’s pack. We must’ve done the right thing by increasing security at his pack. If Valerio seemed this urgent, the Hunter must be there. I just hoped we could get to her before she escaped.

After ordering Nakida to make sure Aaisha didn’t cover this house in dirty daddy jokes when I was gone, I closed my eyes and teleported to his pack.

When I arrived in the backyard, Valerio was running from the woods to retrieve me. A deep gash laid across his face, spewing blood. The blonde fur on his back was stained red. I didn’t ask what happened, instead I followed him through the woods.

A group of Protectors had surrounded the small cabin that I stayed in when Damon died. It was the same cabin I had seen in my vision, the one that was surrounded by a sea of blood. And, just by glancing at all of my wolves, that sea of blood seemed and smelt so real.

Each wolf was wounded, some worse than others. The blood from their wounds was dripping off of them and soaking into the dirt.

I pressed my lips together. “Are any Protectors in there?”

“No, she is in there with three Challengers,” Valerio linked.

I stepped forward, ready to finally end this, but Valerio nipped at my ankle, holding me back. “Don’t just rush in there.”

For once, I stopped and carefully thought through a plan, the best damn plan I could create in less than a minute. I knelt to the ground and held out my palms, releasing Black and White. My fingers grazed against their snouts. “You know what to do.”

Black turned around, his tail swinging angrily. He bared his teeth and growled at the cabin. White stood by his side, tall and content.

After quickly splitting the Protectors into three groups, one that would continue to surround the house, one that would find and protect the pup or pups being drained inside of it, and one to fight with me. I slowly approached the door.

Valerio placed his ear to the door and nodded to me. I gazed back at the others. This was it. We were going to finally end this madness.

Within three seconds, Valerio forced himself through the locked door, breaking it off its hinges. Two Challengers who stood in front of the hallway sprinted toward us, but my Protectors eliminated them immediately.

We continued down the hallway. Valerio and I knew this place from the inside out. There was a door to the basement to our left, the bathroom to our right, and the master bedroom right in front of us.

I ordered two Protectors to check the basement for pups or other Challengers while Valerio quietly opened the bathroom door. A single pup was crouched in the corner of the bathtub, silent tears streaming down his face.

A Protector entered to take him to safety while we continued to the master bedroom. The stench of blood seeped under the door. My heart raced as I paused.

I was hoping that I was wrong about the conclusion I came to yesterday. I really, really wanted to be wrong. I didn’t want Luca to be behind this door. I didn’t want to see him ruthlessly murdering a poor pup. To go from an alpha who loved his people to someone who drained and slaughtered pups… that was heartbreaking.

Before I could stop myself, I pushed open and stared at Luca. In the center of the room, his hand was wrapped around a pup’s throat. His claws had lodged themselves deep within the boy’s flesh.

His gaze snapped to mine. Those eyes - those same green eyes from the wolf from the Oak tree - stared at me, except these eyes glowed brighter and harsher than I’ve ever seen. With their pure intensity and hatred, they burned into me.

I didn’t understand any of this. Why would he tell me where he was going to attack? Did she tell him to? Did she want me to come find her and fight her?

Luca growled at me. I shook my head. No. This wasn’t Luca. This was the Hunter.

She held the pup into the air like it weighed nothing as she glared at me. “Luna, after all these years, are you finally willing to fight me?” She cackled. “Why’d it take you so long?”

“Put the pup down,” I ordered, but I didn’t move. She was capable of snapping his neck and killing him without a care in the world. But I cared.

Suddenly, the skin on her shoulder began to harden into brown wood-like flakes, similar to bark. It quickly travelled down her arm, racing to poison the pup.

I lunged toward her, ripping the pup from her grasp and replacing his throat with my arm. Before I could save myself, the bark pierced my skin and slowly began infecting the surrounding area. I shrieked and pulled away. My arm was pulsing so violently that I could barely think straight. It almost stung worse than my entire ascension.

The Protectors pulled the child away, ushering him out of the room.

“Everyone out,” I demanded. Like my fight with Aeron, this was about to turn ugly. Nobody else was going to suffer for this.

Valerio stayed by my side. I didn’t spare him a glance. Instead I kept my eyes trained on the Hunter. “Out Valerio. Now.” When he didn’t move, I took a deep breath. “I’m not going to order you again.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Valerio said. “We’re a team.”

Her fingers glowed a bright green. Smoke slowly emerged from them.

A rush of power pulsed through my veins until my whole body was drowning in it. I would stop this.

With a single raise of her fingertips, the smoke rushed out of them and filled the space around her. And when the smoke - that aura - surrounded her completely vines emerged from her nails.

She pointed his finger at me, and a vine swung out from it. I ducked, letting the vine plunge through the wall behind me. She cursed and lunged forward, the green aura following her. Her finger-tips pointed around, trying to catch me, but each time I teleported out of the way.

But one of the vines caught me and wrapped around my chest, tightening and tightening until I could barely breathe. Valerio leapt forward, trying to stop her, but she flicked her hand toward him, and he went flying into the side of the wall.

Film after film of white light washed over my vision. From the corner of my eye, I could see Black quietly approach Luca from behind, ready to attack. Before my vision went completely white, I nodded to him.

A pain split through my chest and my mark glowed. The vine that covered it began to disintegrate. She screamed as the vine continued to disappear.

Black lunged forward and sunk his teeth into her back, avoiding any place that the bark affected. She howled, transformed into Luca’s wolf, and leapt through the window. Glass rained down onto Valerio who was still recovering from his push.

He growled as it sliced into his skin and made him transform into his human.

“White!” I yelled. She ran into the room and immediately began licking Valerio’s wounds. I didn’t spare a single second. Instead, I jumped through the window. When I made it outside, three Protectors were lying on the ground, one clutching his throat, another shaking his arm, the last with his throat hanging from his neck.

No Luca. No Hunter.

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