The Rise

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Chapter One

Three.

We surrounded the pack house. Some Protectors were plastered against the building, others were waiting patiently in the forest to attack – yellow eyes glowing in the darkness.

Two.

I pressed my ear to the front door, listening for whispers, cries, screams. Twenty people – twenty Challengers were inside. My eyes fluttered close as I summoned my wolves. It was now or never.

One.

Valerio kicked open the door. We infiltrated the building. My white wolf spirit ran up the stairs, his hind legs destroying the wood. He ran down a hallway and out of my sight, and I let him.

My black wolf followed me toward the voices. A Challenger roared from behind one of the doors downstairs. It flew open. Bubbles foamed in his mouth, his eyes black. He lunged in my direction. But my wolf jumped in front of me and sunk his canines into his throat.

The Challenger screeched, immediately falling to the ground. My wolf ran back to me, his tail wagging. We both watched the Challenger's flesh slowly dissipate into dust by my wolf's bite mark. He squirmed. He shrieked. Then he died.

One by one Challengers sprinted out of rooms, down hallways, baring their teeth. My black wolf charged after them, biting into their throats. Just once. That's all it took. One touch from Black and they would double over in pain, clutching their throats, trying to stop the darkness from eating away their flesh.

I recognized the pain on their faces; it was the same pain I felt when Damon was in my arms, his heart slowly rotting in his chest. It was dread. It was agony. It was hopelessness.

And I didn't feel one ounce of sympathy for them. They deserved this.

When Black killed the last one, his ears perked up and he turned toward the steps. I followed him up the stairs, keeping up with his quick pace. He ran into one of the rooms, howling. White was in the room, licking a pup's wound until it was healed. Other pups stood around her, petting her soft coat.

Valerio took a few pups by the hand. They waved to my wolves as they left the room. For the first time tonight, I smiled at the two. Black was nuzzling White's neck, awarding her for a job well done.

They reminded me of me and Luca, best friends, and of me and Damon, fated lovers. But what didn't remind me of those two nowadays. Both of those men, who I used to know, are dead. Luca, figuratively. Damon, literally.

After Black and White loved each other up, I held out my hands for them. Each rubbed against a different palm, and they dissolved into my body. I walked down to Valerio and the other Protectors who were each caring for a pup.

"Where to next?" I asked, hands on hips.

Valerio grimaced. "I think we should take the rest of the day off. We all need a bit of rest."

My heart sunk. I wanted to tear down more Challenger hideouts. Since Aeron leftit has been much easier to find them. We hadn't been sidetracked by possible hideouts in the city and I hadn't been distracted by a god who kept trying to get me in bed.

But although it was easier, everyone was working longer than they should have. Groups of Protectors were still looking for Luca with no success. We had tens of Protectors surrounding the pack house at all times. Everyone was doing as much as they could. And they were getting a bit grumping doing it.

I nodded to Valerio. "Let's take a day to ourselves. We can't work efficiently if everybody is tired and cranky."

We safely delivered the pups back to their families and rode back to the pack house. Valerio was quiet for most of the ride, but he kept tapping his thumb against the steering wheel and gazing over at me. "What's wrong?" I said.

"I think you should go visit Samuel."

I gulped, my stomach turning. I hadn't seen him since Damon's funeral. We were so busy with everything – the pups, finding Luca, finding Aeron, figuring out information on this divine. If I had time, I would've gone.

But that was a lie. I had purposely not been back to Dam—Samuel's pack. My reasons were, for the most part, selfish reasons. I hated the grave look etched on everyone's face there. I couldn't help feeling like everyone blamed me for his death. And it was right of them to blame me.

It was my fault. I trusted Aeron blindly. I was senseless and naïve, stupidly thinking that we weren't making any progress because the Divine was too strong and not because he was working with her.

I didn't want to go because I didn't want them to hurt any more either. His pack had been through so much, from Damon's dad forcing them into poverty to the pup nappings; I didn't want my presence to remind them of the death of their alpha. They didn't deserve it.

We pulled up to the pack house and got out of the car. "I can go with you," Valerio said softly, hand squeezing my shoulder.

I saw Nakida peek through one of the windows, hair in a bob of tight curls. A wide smile appeared on her face, then she disappeared.

"No," I said. "Nakida is waiting for you."

The front door opened and she stood in the middle of it. She nodded to me, "Moon Goddess."

A smile tugged onto my lips. "How many times do I have to tell you to stop bowing?"

"It's just out of respect."

"You're my friend, Nakida. Valerio doesn't bow to me."

She smiled. "That's because Valerio is a naughty boy." She winked at Valerio, causing his cheeks to turn pink. And I was pretty sure that was my cue to go. Nakida was probably take her naughty boy to the naughty bed and do naughty things to him.

I watched them disappear into the pack house, Valerio's arm curled around Nakida's waist, and frowned. My fingers grazed against Damon's mark. A vision of him and Samuel laughing appeared in my mind. It was like he was urging me to go too.

After a few moments of debating, I closed my eyes, thinking of Samuel's pack house. I appeared in the kitchen. Samuel was stirring a pot of spaghetti on the stove. He was humming to himself.

I stood to the side, not wanting to disrupt him. He transferred the pasta from the pot to a bowl and turned around, eyes widening when he saw me. "Mae."

"Samuel."

"You're here." He paused for a moment, then smiled. "Do you want some?" Before I could respond, he turned back around and made me a bowl. "Here." He held it out.

I smiled softly at him, feeling a bit shy. We sat at the table, eating in silence. "I'm sorry I haven't visited you," I said, pushing away my empty bowl. "How's everything going?"

"The pack is good, but its lonely around here without him."

"Do you need anything?"

Samuel fidgeted, something he had never really done. He scratched the back of his head, making eye contact with me. "It'd be nice to have you visit more often."

I frowned. I didn't mean to make him feel lonely. I just didn't want him to hurt anymore.

"The whole pack would like that," he said.

"Really?"

He nodded. "You're their goddess, and you're still their Luna." My gaze dropped to the table, my heart tightening. Samuel grabbed my hand. "You'll always be their Luna." I gave him a shaky smile.

After putting our dishes in the sink, Samuel led me to the training grounds. He told me that they were hosting a bonfire tonight; it's something they've been doing since Damon's passing. Group therapy, he called it.

When we arrived, my heart raced. He really wasn't kidding when he said everyone was going to be there. I hoped they still accepted me like Samuel said they would; I hoped I wouldn't bring them bad memories.

A pup saw me, his eyes wide. "Luna!" He sprinted over to me, pumping his little legs back and forth. He flung his arms around my legs. Within moments, everyone turned around to see me too. I heard a few oofs and ows, pups pushing people out of the way to run toward me. Soon a swarm of toothless smiles surrounded me.

Throughout the night, a few stuck with me. Small hands grabbing my fingers. I even played a game of Brawl with them which Damon had described as wrestling and football and tag all in one. It was a grueling game and by the end of it I was drenched in layers of sweat. Let me just say, it was definitely way more aggressive than I thought.

I didn't know what that man taught these pups, but I was glad that he did. Brawl made them strong, physically and mentally, and it gave them a chance to bond with each other. They'd grow up to be a strong cohesive pack, and that's exactly what we needed right now.

After the game, I chatted with their parents whose spirits seemed to be lifted. They wore bright smiles and they didn't seem as miserable anymore. I even smiled a bit. Damon was gone, but his spirit was still alive. It was in his pack and it was in me.

At the end of the night, I watched the pack. Content - that's how I would describe them. I savored the moment because all I knew was that this was the calm before the storm.

A/N

FINALLY!

Tell me your thoughts on this chapter.

What do you hope the outcome of this book is/your predictions?

Alright, part of Mae's vision will be explained next chapter, so don't freak out that it's not addressed here.

Ps. Don't hate me but updates might be every 1.5-2 weeks. I'm going to be editing The Marking for my agent so I can (hopefully) get it published (someday)!

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