Thorn (Werewolf)

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Chapter Thirty-Four

My eyes open and I can only see the ground through the blurry particles. I think that I’m upside down. I can feel a hand tightly restraining me to someone’s shoulder. The ground is moving slowly. I’m too weak to keep my eyes open but I wake up when I’m thrown onto the floor.

My hands are tied at my stomach. My mouth is bound tightly. Sky and Dominic are still conscious, their hands are tied with thick rope behind their backs. We’re still in the woods so I know that it’s not Lyle’s men. We’d be on the road travelling back to the palace if they were.

Humans wouldn’t be able to subdue the siblings this easily so that only leaves one other possibility.

The man that hit me crouches down and strokes my cheek. I flinch away from him, trying to straddle my body in any direction.

“Now what’s a beautiful human like you doing traveling with two werewolves?” he says. He lifts me from the ground and pins me against the tree. Sky and Dominic start struggling through their restraints but their captures smack them, knocking Sky to the floor. The man looks back to them and then to me. “They’re protective over you. Interesting.”

My eyes narrow as he grabs at my waist. I’ve seen that look before and I’m not going to be a victim of it again. I curve my restrained hands into semi-fists and I plunge them into his hard stomach. It winds him for a second but not enough to do damage. His nostrils flare and he smacks the side of my cheek. His hands grab my arms to keep me from falling over and he shoves me hard into the tree. I cry out through the gag.

“What the hell are you doing?” a voice growls.

A tall, lean man with shoulder-length light hair storms towards us. He is flanked by several others, a mixture of men and women. They remain in the background with their arms folded.

“She was travelling with them,” my attacker says. “She’s human. I thought it best to restrain-”

The light-haired man pushes my attacker out of the way and reaches out for my chest. He pulls on the chain and studies the seal. His golden eyes flick up to mine. He turns to glare at the dumbfounded man while holding the seal in his hand.

“I didn’t know,” the man says. “They were in our territory.”

“So you thought you’d beat them and have some fun with them?” the light-haired man demands. “We haven’t smelt any other werewolf packs around here. That means she’s Cole’s mate!”

“I’m sorry, Malachi.” The man drops to his knees.

Malachi—the alpha I assume—kicks the man’s chest so forcefully that he cries out. “Get him out of my sight. Now!”

The attacker is dragged away by two large men. Malachi diverts his attention to the other four werewolves that have positioned themselves behind Sky and Dominic. They are so fearful that they don’t even defend themselves, they just run away.

“Release them,” Malachi says. He pulls a blade out from his pants and grabs my arm. He cuts the rope free and then yanks apart the gag from within my mouth. “I offer my sincerest apologies for the way you were treated. Please inform your mate that he will be dealt with accordingly or I can tell him myself.”

“Is this how you usually treat people that you don’t know?” Sky says. “We were just cutting through here.”

“Again, my apologies,” Malachi says. The wind blows my hair sideways and Malachi is close enough to react to the scent. “Interesting,” he mutters. He gathers a section of my hair in his palm gently and sniffs it. “I thought you were human but you’re not. Are you a half breed?”

“No,” I say.

“Hm.” He drops my hair and backs up a few paces. “Has Cole sent you to negotiate terms of our deal?”

“What deal?” Sky asks.

“The trade. Our weapons for your herbs.” The silence confuses him and he looks back to me. “You don’t know what I’m talking about. Whose mate are you?”

I’m reluctant to share that. I don’t trust him. I’m not sure how many enemies Thorn made a century ago but I know that descendants carry grudges.

“Can you tell me anything?” he says. “Is he close by? Should we move on? We’ve only been here a day so if these woods are claimed by your pack then we’ll respect that.”

I look at Sky and Dominic. They aren’t very helpful. I am being stared at by so many werewolves that it’s unsettling.

“I’m just going to throw out a crazy idea here,” he says. “Are you lost? I don’t know the area that well but I’m meeting with Cole later if you want to join me. I’m sure he can locate your pack.”

“No,” Sky says, rushing forwards. “You can’t tell Cole that you saw us.”

“Okay.” Malachi nods, keeping his gaze on only me. “Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re afraid of Cole. Why?”

“He’s trying to kill me,” I say.

“We left his pack,” Sky says. “Her pack lives close to his. He’ll use the weapons to kill them.”

Malachi squints his eyes and rubs his chin thoughtfully. “So you ran away seeking help? Is your alpha out of control?”

“Yes,” Sky says. “He’s murderous. Dangerous. Do not make the deal with him. He will not give you the herb. He has always betrayed those that he deals with.”

Malachi looks down at the ground. He listens to Sky but he won’t look at her. “Hm.”

“We’ve come too far to go back now, Malachi,” a woman says. “Jesse needs that herb. He is hours from death. We have to get them. Today.”

“Wait.” I push myself forwards. “The healing herb? That’s what you need?”

Malachi nods. “We are making the trade today.”

“You don’t need to. I have those herbs with me.” I look down at the ground. My bag is gone. I must have dropped it during the attack. “Sky.”

She starts running. “On it.”

“You have the herb that will save his life?” Malachi asks me. “Why would you help us? We attacked you.”

“You didn’t,” I say. I look at Dominic and I smile for a moment. “I know that alphas and pack members are not always the same.”

“You are more understanding than others. Though I am sure your mate will not see it that way. If he decides to retaliate then inform him that I will be willing to give up your attacker’s life.”

“That won’t be necessary,” I say. I’m a little uncomfortable that he’d even mention it. Sky returns with my bag and I search inside for the herb. “I just have one condition. If I help you then I need your word that you won’t give Cole those weapons.”

“I have no reason to go through with the trade if the herb works,” he says. “So yes. You have my word. This way.”

The werewolves move aside to let us walk through. Sky and Dominic jog to my side and they stay close, keeping their eyes on the movements of the pack that are following behind us.

“Thorn gave you those herbs for an emergency,” Sky whispers. “You shouldn’t waste it on a stranger.”

“Shush,” I mutter.

Malachi takes us to the edge of a hilltop. Below, dozens and dozens of curious eyes stare up at us. Some of them are making fires or preparing meat while others are emerging out of pop-up tents carrying clothing. He uprooted his entire pack just for this one deal that Cole wouldn’t have even honoured.

We climb down the steep hill and Malachi holds my arm to steady my balance while the other werewolves have no problem with scaling it and beat us to the bottom. I wonder why he is paying me the most attention and not the siblings. Is it because of the seal? Maybe he’s overcompensating for what his pack member did. If I wasn’t wearing the seal then would he still be acting this way?

The community are wary. Conversations come to a stop as we walk around their temporary homes.

“I heard that you both put up a good fight,” Malachi says to the siblings. “We could use fighters like that in our community.”

“Is that a serious offer?” Dominic says.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but you’re truants, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s a serious offer.”

I smile at them. It’s a good offer, one I hope that they’ll consider. Dominic seems to have already made his mind up but Sky is conflicted. I saw how happy she was in the club last night. The pack life and the woods are all they’ve ever known. She’s ready for the change but he isn’t.

A stack of clanking bags captures my attention. I look into the middle of a firepit to see a giant pile of bags with all kinds of guns and dangerous looking weapons hanging out of them. Two werewolves sit guard around them.

“What do you need?” Malachi says.

“I’ll need a bowl with water and something to mix it with.”

He flicks his finger at a woman and she nods before scurrying away.

Malachi takes me into a tent that is too small for the siblings to enter so they remain outside. He crouches down against the side of a very sick teenage boy. Jesse lays on his back, his face is soaked from a fever. He seems conscious but he isn’t reacting to us.

“What happened to him?”

Malachi pulls down on the quilt that is covering the boy’s torso. There are deep stab wounds all over his stomach. The skin around the wounds have turned black. The blackness is spreading towards his chest in aggressive lines.

“He was stabbed with something poisonous,” Malachi says. “The infection is spreading and we can’t stop it or slow it down. He hasn’t transitioned since it happened. This is his last chance.”

“No pressure,” I say.

The woman returns and passes the bowl through the doorway. I thank her before gently removing the plants and dropping them into the water. I use the blunt end of a stick to crush them and mix them until it creates a thick, green paste.

“The scent is strange,” Malachi murmurs. “It’s strong which is good.”

I smile. “That’s always good.”

I dangle the stick over Jesse’s stomach and he reacts instantly. He pushes his chest up and starts thumping his fists into the thin quilt. Malachi leans over and holds his arms still. He nods at me to continue.

“No!” Jesse screams. “I don’t want it. No!”

“Calm down,” Malachi says. “It’s the fever, he’s pretty out of it. I’ll stop him from attacking you but be quick.”

I trail the paste along his stomach, making sure every open wound is covered before I move on to the black infection lines. The paste is cold, I know that from personal experience. Jesse squeals and struggles endlessly to get out of from under Malachi’s weight. His legs start kicking and he kicks the side of my face. I hold it for a moment as I balance myself.

“Are you okay?”

I nod. I decide to cover his entire torso with it, just to be sure. I mix more of the plant up and I finish with a straight line across his chest.

“Was he stabbed anywhere else?” I say, trying to observe his kicking legs.

“No, just the stomach.”

“That should start working immediately. I was much closer to death than he is and it healed me.”

“What is your name?” he asks me.

I smile. “Devon.”

“Thank you, Devon.” He releases his weight from Jesse’s arms as the boy falls asleep and then he moves closer to me. “May I?”

I don’t understand what he’s asking until I see his finger reaching into the bowl. I nod slowly and I keep my face still as he dabs the paste around my left eye and cheekbone. It must be starting to bruise badly. The contact stings. He removes his finger and studies my injuries.

“I do not condone violence against women no matter what species they are,” he says. “Werewolves heal almost immediately from wounds like this, we hardly even bruise. The human part of you is special. Take care of it.”

“I will.” I clear my throat and I pick apart the plant. “I’ll leave you some of this. You’ll need to repeat the process tomorrow.”

“I think I can manage that.”

“Good luck,” I say. “I hope he recovers.”

I swing the bag over my shoulder and I duck under the tent door. Sky and Dominic are sitting in front of a fire eating sticks of meat. Malachi follows me.

“You’re leaving?” he says. “Why don’t you stay for some food?”

“Thanks but we need to get going.”

“Where are you headed? I’ll escort you.”

“The red forest,” I say.

His chin lifts a little higher. His eyes narrow. “Odd choice.”

“If you allow us a safe passage back through then we’d be grateful.”

He grins. “Of course. We’ll be here for a few days until Jesse recovers. If you change your minds about that offer then you’ll know where to find us.”

“We’ll think about it,” Dominic says.

I wave goodbye to him before turning and heading back up the hill. Sky studies the side of my face and reaches her hand out to touch it. I slap her hand away.

“I don’t trust him,” Sky says.

“You don’t trust anyone,” Dominic says.

“There’s just something about him. The whole pack was weird. And where did they get all of those weapons from? That’s actually terrifying. Sorry but I’m not keen on signing up to an alpha that wouldn’t even look me in the eye or speak to me. He apologized to Devon but where the hell was our apology? We were beaten and tied up too!”

“That’s a good point actually,” he says. “I don’t think he actually looked at me until he gave us the offer and even then it was vague.”

“It’s like he just saw us as numbers. Not actual people with feelings. Cole’s like that.”

“Lets just focus on the positive,” I say. “Cole isn’t getting any weapons.”

“I’d love to agree with you but Cole is extremely tactical,” Sky says. “If he wants something then he’ll get it. He’ll offer Malachi the cure.”

“I think he believed you when you said that he betrays his deals.”

“If he even listened to me,” she mutters. She frantically looks through the back of her pants before she remembers something. “That asshole still has my gun. I’m getting that back.”

Sky rambles on for around another thirty minutes and just when I am very close to snapping, the arrival of something magical makes her fall silent. We stand in a line at the entrance to a set of trees with bright red leaves that give off a dark cloud of auburn smoke.

I’ve never seen trees that colour before. Even the trunks glisten with a shiny redness. We look at each other. All of us wondering if this is a bad idea. It is. It definitely is.

I take a deep breath and I take the first steps into the witch’s territory.

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