The Rise

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Chapter Twenty-Four

Two Protectors and two pups. Dark green vines were wrapped perfectly around their bodies, like they were a damn present for me to unwrap once I found them.

I swallowed the bile in my throat. “When were they killed?”

“We suspect anywhere between three and four am.”

I turned around facing my Protectors, eyeing them closely and trying to keep my cool. “How did they get in without us knowing?”

A woman stepped forward. “They were on a mission outside of our territory. Two of the guards were protecting the Woman on the Mountain.”

“And the pups?” I asked, turning back to small lifeless bodies. We had only uncovered their faces, which were still completely intact. No scratches or senses of struggles. But I knew that the Hunter was more brutal than that. I was terrified to uncover their bodies.

“We still need to identify them.”

I took a deep breath and held out my hand. “Someone get me a knife.”

When Valerio placed a knife in my hand, I knelt and cut through the vines, one by one. My lips trembled as I stared down at the horrific scene in front of me. The pup was mutilated, her guts completely removed leaving nothing but a hollow shell. It was only the first body and I already wanted to stop.

Each one was worse than the last. I almost couldn’t get through it, but I persevered. I needed to for my wolves.

Once we finished and the bodies were taken for examining, I walked through the woods.

And I walked and walked and walked, not uttering a single word, until I was by the Great Oak. I didn’t know if I was waiting for Luca to meet me here so we could chat or so I could kill him. Right now, as great of a friend he once was, I wanted to destroy him for doing this to innocent pups.

It wasn’t really him, but I couldn’t tell a difference anymore.

Death after death after death. It didn’t stop. The killing didn’t stop. The drainings didn’t stop. It didn’t get easier either. It was damn hard every single time, not only on my heart, but on my soul too.

Because I was absolutely useless as the Wolves’ goddess, people have died and will continue to die. I have done nothing. I could do nothing. I was so lost and alone. It was killing me slowly. It was sucking the life out of me - death by death, draining by draining.

We tried so fucking hard to make progress and then, something like this happens. How could everyone still have trust in me? I shook my head. No wonder why the Challengers formed. The moon goddesses have been so useless to their own species.

I clenched my jaw, trying to hold back the hot and angry tears that were threatening to slip. The ground where Luca usually left clues to when the murders would happen was completely empty. So, with the heel of my foot, I stomped into it.

Childish? Yes. Worth it? No.

I dug my nails into the bark on the tree and leaned my forehead against it. The tears were rushing down my cheeks. Why? Why was this happening? Why wasn’t I strong enough to sense her when she was around?

My knees gave out. I collapsed onto the ground with my head resting against the tree. My body heaved up and down as small and silent hiccups escaped my lips.

Useless. Useless. Useless.

“Mae,” Valerio said from behind me.

I wrapped my arms around my body to stop it from shaking. “I’m fine, Valerio.”

Twigs snapped and leaves crunched as he approached me. His fingers grazed against my mid-back ever-so-lightly. “No, you’re not.”

“I’m fine,” I snapped, yanking myself away from him. I stood and walked a few feet away from him, back still turned. The tears hadn’t stopped, no matter how hard I tried.

“Please,” Valerio pleaded, stepping closer to me. He grabbed my hand, then proceeded to pull me toward him.

I pushed him away, pressing my palms hard into his chest. “Stop it! I’m fine.”

Valerio continued to pull me toward him as I pushed him away. He didn’t stop until his arms enveloped me. And, for some reason, when they did I stopped fighting him.

There, in his arms, I felt safe. He never judged me for my actions or my lack of action, and he always, always protected me from threats whether they were from other divinities or from my own mind.

I buried my face in Valerio’s neck, trying to get him closer. He held me so tight that I could feel his heart beating against my chest.

When I calmed down enough, Valerio pulled back slightly and gently placed his hands on the side of my head. “Mae, you’re stronger than this.” He placed his forehead against mine.

“People keep dying, Valerio.” I shook my head, but he steadied it in his hands. “I can’t stop it.”

“We will stop it.”

“Everyone before me has tried and everyone has failed. What makes you think that we will stop it?”

He paused and brushed his fingers against the side of my face. “Because you’re stronger than the rest.”

I pushed him away again. “Don’t give me that bullshit excuse.”

Valerio grabbed my waist and stopped me from running away again. He gazed into my eyes. The departing moon bounced of them in a way that reminded me of the moon against the ocean at night - rocking back and forth, emotions moving in and out. “It’s not an excuse,” he said quietly.

“It doesn’t matter how strong I am.” She always had one over on me. She knew exactly how to hit me where it hurt. “Give me a good reason why we will defeat them Valerio.”

“Your strength brings us together, Mae. I don’t understand how you don’t see that. All of us – all of our friends – will die for you because they know you’ll be fighting as hard as you can to keep them safe.”

“But—”

“You have done it since the first night I met you.”

I thought back to that night at the restaurant when Dad insulted Valerio for being a werewolf. I was so sick of his rude behavior toward them. I was willing to tell my Dad how I felt, no matter the consequences. Now that seemed nothing compared to what I had been through.

“You would’ve lost this fight a long time ago if you didn’t have your perseverance,” he started, his voice softening with each word. He took a breath and smiled. “You know, I actually love leading under you. It’s the first time in my whole life that I felt like my opinion mattered – hell, like I mattered.”

I frowned. Mother didn’t care too much about her Protectors and Valerio’s father was a shit of a person.

“Every day I wake up happy.”

“Really?”

His smile slowly faded and was replaced with a serious expression. “You have that kind of effect on everyone...” His voice was quiet. “And if it’s not everyone, it’s definitely me.”

A/N Read up to chapter 62 on Patreon today <3

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