The Rise

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Chapter Fifty-Three

After helping Mrs. Braxon settle into a room at the packhouse. Valerio and I went to lunch at the restaurant that Luca warned us about. I asked her to join us, but she told me that place held too many bad memories.

Over lunch, Valerio and I discussed the diminishing number of Protectors. We were slowly defeating Mother Nature and stopping the draining of wolves, but we were losing men and women who supported us.

In the past few weeks, we had lost almost five, including Nakida who turned into a traitor. We needed more Protectors. Becoming a Protector was a goal for almost everyone, so we would have much interest in the positions. But potential candidates needed to meet a certain criteria. They needed to be young to fight with full force, yet mature enough to be able to comprehend the importance of the position. They couldn’t have hidden anything from me or have been associated with the Challengers in any way.

“Here are the list of candidates I have for these positions,” Valerio said, pushing a piece of paper across the table.

I placed my soup spoon down and gazed at the sheet. Ten names. And we only had five to seven open positions.

A few very good warriors from Luca’s old pack were listed. Luca had brought them over a few times when we lived in the apartment, so I knew them personally. I continued to review all of the men and women’s names until I read the last one.

Henry.

Ashur’s brother.

He had been the one I asked to become a protector in my vision a while ago, but I didn’t think that I told Valerio about that.

“Why did you put Ashur’s brother on here?”

Valerio took the file from me and opened it to a page. “One of our Protectors has been visiting their practices just to see how Samuel is doing with running the pack. He noticed how extraordinary Henry was doing.” He handed me the file with a bunch of notes from practice. “I visited one of their practices last week and I agree. He is strong, fast, and smart for his age. I think he’d make an incredible addition to our team.”

After gazing over the notes, I nodded my head. “He’s perfect for the position.”

“Thank you so much for inviting us for dinner,” I said, embracing Ashur’s mother.

“There is no need to thank me! I’m the one that needs to thank you. Over and over and over again.” She opened the door wider so we could enter. “How could I ever repay you?”

Valerio and Aaisha who was holding Lucia walked in after me. Ashur’s mother insisted that we come over for a home-cooked meal since we had been having so much trouble lately. I wanted to decline nicely because we still had so much to do, but Mother Nature hadn’t made any attempt to hurt anyone at the restaurant or at the school yet and Valerio and I had to ask Henry about the position.

Henry bowed his head to me and offered a smile. Valerio held out his hand for the boy – now man – to shake. He gripped Valerio’s hand quite hard. “How have you been, Henry?”

“Much better.” He nodded his head.

I followed them to the dining room. Chicken, broccoli, chips and salsa. Any meal that I could’ve thought of was placed on the large dining table. Hell, I would’ve said we would be set for days but I knew that between the pups, Aaisha, and Samuel, the food would be gone quickly.

Samuel walked into the room with another pot of food. “Hey Mae.”

“Since when do you like cookin’?” Aaisha asked.

Samuel smiled at Ashur’s mother. “Since I was taught by one of the most amazing chefs around how to do it right.”

I wiggled my brows at Ashur’s mother, making her blush a deep red. She turned around, probably trying to calm herself down and yelled into the hallway. “Boys! It’s dinner time!” She turned around and sat on one side of the table, next to Henry.

Small, quick footsteps raced down the hall. Her youngest pup appeared in the doorway and then raced to Samuel’s seat. He slid into it and smirked at Samuel, sticking out his tongue.

I smiled at the exchange between the two and said, “Looks like he got there first, Sammy Boy. Guess you’ll have to sit in one of the only empty seats left.” The only seat left was next to Ashur’s mom.

“Yeah! What Mae said!” the pup cheered.

“Moon Goddess,” his mother corrected, a stern expression on her face.

“I’m sorry... Moon Goddess,” he mumbled, bowing his head.

Valerio placed one forearm on the table and rested the other on the back of my chair. “Henry. Why don’t you get Ashur? Mae and I have something very important to discuss with you both.”

Henry stood briefly. “Ashur! Get in here!”

Ashur walked into the room, his eyes widening like a child’s. “Moon Goddess.” He turned to his mother and placed a kiss on her cheek. “Hey Mama.” Ashur sat down across from me, still smiling. It was weird seeing Ashur in Ayodele’s body. I didn’t know whether to refer to him as Ashur or Ayodele.

Aaisha frowned at Ashur and gazed down at Lucia.

“Moon Goddess!” Ashur said. “I have a question.” He leaned forward in his seat, grabbing a heaping portion of mashed potatoes. “Do you have any cool history books about divines? I really, really want to read them. I read all of the ones at our pack house so far!”

I gazed over at Valerio and raised a brow. “You like learning about divines?”

He took a chicken wing from the middle of the table. “Yeah.”

“Tell me something about them.”

“Well, I know a lot about so many of them. Like the Sun, her name is really Ameilia, but people just call her Sun. Uhm…” He paused for a moment. “I know that the Night God cursed this lady and her whole family on a mountain thousands and thousands of years ago!”

My eyes widened and I gazed over at Samuel. “You have a book about The Woman on the Mountain in the packhouse?”

Samuel furrowed his brows and shook his head. “No.”

I placed my hand on Valerio’s forearm and gazed over at him with wide eyes. “Do you think…”

He smiled at me. “A piece of Ayodele is still here with us?”

I grinned. It made sense. A part of Luca’s soul survived and apparently so did Ayodele’s. This couldn’t have gotten any better. We were originally here to ask Henry about this, but now… now I wanted to ask Ayodele - Ashur. It was only fitting. He sacrificed his life for our species before I could ever award him a proper title and he gave his body to another who needed it.

Valerio placed a hand on my knee. “Mae, would you like to ask?”

“Yes. Yes, I would.” I gazed at the two in front of me. “Henry and Ayodele, we wanted to know if you would like to join the Protectors.”

Their eyes widened, and they nodded immediately. A boyish giggle escaped Ashur’s lips as if he couldn’t believe this was happening. A spark of red and yellow, a spark of Ashur’s soul, glowed within his eyes.

It had only been a week since his soul departed from the scar in my arm; it had only been a week since I met the real Ashur. But it felt like I’d known him for a lifetime. I gazed down at my scar, remembering his laugh echoing through my mind every time my fingers grazed against it.

Ashur’s mother smiled widely, then that same smile dropped from her face. Fear. She was terrified of losing them again.

Becoming a Protector was one of the highest honors a werewolf could achieve, but there was always cons to that life. They were not always protected. They needed to be the protectors.

So many risks were involved. And Ashur’s mother just got her son back. I was sure she was going to take extra precautions to make sure he stays with her for as long as he can.

I leaned across the table, placing a hand on her forearm. “When you are both ready and when your mother agrees, this offer will still stand.”

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