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I twiddled my fingers as we walked through the woods, my boots squishing the dampened dirt. I looked in the trees. I hugged myself and felt an arm wrap around my shoulders.

Phillip pulled me against his side, kissing my head. “It’ll be okay. I promise it will be okay.”

I rubbed my face, sighing. “What if it isn’t? What if it’s another pack waiting to kill us? I’m not strong enough to do this again. I just want to enjoy being with you until we have to fight over and over.”

He nodded, smiling. “It is. I know so.”

That didn’t calm my nerves. Nothing could get rid of the stress.

We approached the pack house. Everyone was gathered outside in a circle and my body shook as the crowd made way for us—or more likely for me.

I stopped inside the circle, looking at Blake. Kara stood beside him, watching my every move.

I tried to rub away the chills on my arms. “Who is it? Who’s waging war on us because Phillip and I love each other?”

Kara narrowed her eyes but not in a glaring kind of way. She cleared her throat, speaking, “Jason Astere is your brother, correct?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You were born as twins to Aviva Roth and John Astere. Is that right?”

I nodded, adding on, “Yes.”

“Is it true that your parents were a human and a werewolf?” She continued to question me.

What was this even about?

“It’s true. They were in love and were killed for it.”

Kara asked again, “Is it true that your mother and your brother are werewolves?”

“It is.”

Kara looked at Blake, nodding her head.

Blake took a deep breath, looking at everyone. “We are going to let the games begin. Jessie has volunteered to go against Shani in the games as her opponent.” Looking at me, he asked, “do you accept Jessie as your opponent?”

I looked at her and saw a genuine smile sitting on her face. “I do.” This all seemed so formal. Were wolves always like this? And what was this about?

“Alright.” He pulled Jessie forward. “There are going to be four different levels. You must pass all of them. The first level involves blindfolds. You both have to run through the forest blindfolded, using only your instincts to guide you.”

He folded up some bandanas, tying them around our eyes. “This will test your determination.”

“Determination for what?” I asked.

I turned my head and jumped when he yelled, “Go! You have ten minutes to make it to the river.”

I heard Jessie’s feet take off running. I had to listen to my instincts, following my senses to the river. I put my arms out, beginning in a jog. I moved around trees and smiled to myself as I swiveled around the woods.

My ears were open as I listened for the rushing river somewhere along. I cried out as my shoulder hit a tree, sending me down. I rubbed it, getting off the ground before I lost more time.

My feet carried me and the only senses I had to support me were touching, smelling, and hearing.

I could smell the cool, crisp waters before I heard the rapids. My hands came in contact with rough tree bark as I dodged my whole body from running into it.

The river was getting closer and I didn’t dare speed up. If I sped up, I risked falling into the water.

Coming upon the soft riverbank, I stopped and took off my blindfold. I looked around the area, seeing no sign of Jessie.

I widened my eyes as she came running out of the trees. I grabbed her before she ran into the water that threatened to drag her in. She ripped her blindfold off and breathed heavily before giving me a look. “Thank you.”

I shrugged. “Don’t mention it.”

The woods were my home. The water was my sanctuary.

It wasn’t long before Blake and Kara came to us. Blake crossed his arms, nodding his head. “Impressive. Who arrived first?”

Before I could answer, Jessie did, “Shani. She saved me from running into the river.” I was surprised by the fact that she was honest. Jessie and I got off on a rough start.

Kara smiled at me. “That’s the first test done. The second test is much longer. You have twenty-four hours to prove to us that you are disciplined. This next challenge involves your ability to give up those things you love. Food, drinks, and entertainment. We will keep you in a room for twenty-four hours. We want to to see if you have what it takes. There will be a button for you to press if you give up.”

I nodded and swallowed. No food and drinks for twenty-four hours? Could I do that? I wouldn’t die. I’d just be really hungry and thirsty.

They led me back to the room at the pack house. They put me inside and started my timer. I sat down on the floor, looking at my hands. What was I supposed to do in this room for twenty-four hours? This would be the most boring day of my life, and for what? I wasn’t even sure what I was agreeing to.

After a few hours of staring at the wall, my stomach grumbled. I was getting to that point already. It took only another hour for the pain to settle in. My body was begging to be fed and I refused to feed it.

I would do so much for bacon right now but I wasn’t doing anything. I was sitting here and staring at a wall.

I agreed to these games for no reason that I knew of. Maybe it was because I wanted to listen to the pack and show them that I’d be worthy. Maybe I was doing it for Phillip and Jason. They wanted me to go through with these games.

In just a few more hours, my stomach pains would dissipate. My stomach would give up and accept its fate but at this moment, it wasn’t doing that. It was punishing me for taking away the one thing it loved most. Food.

I laid down on my stomach, trying to help with the pain. It had worked on stomachaches in the past and I was hoping it would work now.

The pain was what kept me awake. The cold air in this room kept me awake. It wasn’t too cold for me to freeze but it was cold enough to make me not want to sleep. It didn’t allow my eyelids to grow heavy. It kept my body in shaking mode to warm myself.

The hours dragged by and my mouth lost all moisture. I was desperate for some water.

I glanced up at the red button on the wall, small but noticeable in such an empty room. It taunted me. It begged me to push it and give up on this game. I could not do something like that.

My eyes eventually grew tired of being open and they wanted to close. Sleep wanted to take over. I wasn’t sure if I could sleep. Would that defeat the whole purpose of discipline?

I sat up, slapping myself. I could not give in. I wouldn’t.

I would slap myself every time my eyes threatened to surrender to the dream world, or what I called the darkness. It was the one place that made me vulnerable. It could ruin my chance to win this and pass this test. It could destroy my discipline.

I jumped when the door opened, revealing Kara. “I’m surprised. You’ve made it this far. The twenty-four hours are up.”

I looked at her and smiled a bit. I proved to be a disciplined person. “Great. I need a good night’s rest and some food when I wake up if that’s not against the rules now.”

Kara laughed a little and shook her head. “We’ll start you on the next challenge when you’re well-rested and fueled.” She gestured to the doorway.

Taking her advice, I left the room and found my way to a room with a bed. I didn’t care who slept here. It was mine for the night.

I fell onto the sheets, closing my eyes and being swept away where dreams lived. I never appreciated sleep more than at this moment.

“This third level is going to test your loyalty. In this life, people need to be strong. They need to be prepared and able to handle themselves and issues properly. This is a spiritual cleanse, one the Mood Goddess suggests. You first find out your aura and from there we figure out what type of cleanse you need,” Kara explained.

I licked the Cheeto powder from my fingers. “Okay. Sounds easy.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Depending on your aura, maybe. The point of this is to release all negativity. Negativity holds us back. It doesn’t help us in any way.”

“How do I see my aura?”

She grabbed my shoulders and turned me, standing behind me as we faced the mirror. “Squint. Don’t focus on anything. Just squint and observe yourself and color should come through, faint but vibrant.”

I followed her instructions, squinting my eyes and keeping my mind wide open. A faint violet glow appeared to outline my body and I gasped, stepping back. I turned to look at Kara. “Violet. My aura is violet.”

She smiled. “Ah, so that’s absolute. This connects you with your brain. Alright, with violet, the way we want to release that negative energy is with a bath. A saltwater bath.”

She led me to a tub which she had filled with salt and water combined. “I’ll leave you to it for an hour but you’ll need to let go of all your stress and anger. Just let the relaxation hit. Find a happy place.” She slipped out of the room.

I looked at the tub, stripping down to my birthday suit. I stepped into the tub, looking around the room. I sat and laid back, closing my eyes. I relaxed my muscles, keeping my mind blank to let my happy place come in.

The stress of wolf attacks melted away. They slipped off of my body as if they were a skin suit that had nothing to grip.

The hate and anger towards Sawyer and Whitney were tough to handle but I could feel it free my mind. They faded out like a movie screen. Those two could no longer have a grip on me and my life. I controlled this.

When my hour was up, I watched the door open as I pulled my shirt over my head as I finished getting dressed.

Kara smiled at me. “I can see the change. You seem so much lighter and happier. It shows in your eyes. Come with me. We have one last level for you to pass.” She gestured for me to follow her.

I did as told and followed her out of the room, looking around the place. I held my cloak in my arms, wondering if I could put it on yet. I wasn’t sure if this challenge needed me to do without it.

Kara stopped in a big room with one TV. She turned to face me, folding her hands together. “You’re going to prove to us that you’re a protector. We saw what you did for Phillip. There are two parts. You just got rid of your stress, and what does that do? It gives you a better ability to fight against enemies. I want you to test that by watching something that would anger you, then fighting someone to see if you’ve truly let go of that negativity. I want to see you protect.”

I set my cloak aside on the hardwood floor.

I nodded, facing the TV. My balance faltered when the video of Sawyer and Whitney popped up on the screen, proving they were the enemies all along.

I wanted to yell and scream. They had hurt me and Phillip. I watched them bleed. I killed Whitney.

When the video ended, Kara turned to me and motioned for someone to come in. Jessie came into the room and stopped in front of me.

Kara looked at Jessie. “You two will be fighting. Shani just had a spiritual cleansing, but a relived moment of negativity. I want to now test how effective that cleansing was to see if she has what it takes to be a protector.”

Jessie nodded as Kara stepped off to the side.

“You want me to fight Jessie?” I questioned.

“Yes, fight me like a woman. Don’t be afraid. I can handle it,” Jessie said. She got in position. “Once I go down, you win. If you go down, you fail.”

I swallowed, not sure if I could do this. Maybe I could give up now. I couldn’t go through with this. I could not fight someone I’d learned to get along with. It seemed so counterproductive to our relationship.

Phillip’s face flashed in my mind and I was reminded of what I was fighting for. I was fighting for love.

Taking a swing at Jessie, she dodged just before I made contact. She took a swipe at my feet for which I tripped but caught my balance.

I ran and pushed her, earning myself a hard push in return.

Jessie’s fist met my jaw, bringing about immense pain and some blood in my mouth. She was really doing this. So was I.

I made a blow to her gut, causing her to double over. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to upchuck her like that, so instead, I pulled the first move she had pulled on me. I swung my leg at her feet, causing her to fall to the floor. She looked up at me in shock before a smile formed.

I wiped some sweat that had started to form on my forehead. I looked at Blake as he entered the room followed by Jason and Phillip. Kara took her rightful place next to Blake.

Jason helped Jessie from the ground, wrapping his arm around her waist.

I looked at the alpha of the pack. “What the hell is this? Why was I put through these tests?”

Blake glanced at Phillip, both of them smiling at each other. Blake turned to me once more before responding with, “Congratulations, Shani. You’re the first-ever human to join us, the Dark Moon Pack.”

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