“What’s wrong with you?”
I don’t look at Kira but I imagine she’s just witnessed my strange and spontaneous panting. Every time Devon is in trouble or afraid, I feel it. She was fine after the last time it happened so maybe I should just put my faith in her. Knowing she’s at risk and not being able to do anything about it is worse than allowing her to have stayed.
“Shadow wants to talk to you.”
“Really? That’s new.”
She rolls her eyes and walks away. I follow her. We’re a mile from the camp and I’ve been hiding out because I couldn’t deal with Lucias’ ranting anymore. Shadow waits for us with a large bag. I hope that’s what I think it is.
“Is that the painkiller?” I say, swiping the bag from him. Kira scoffs at my rudeness but I don’t care. I look inside, inspecting the dozens of packets of herbs.
“There should be enough for everyone,” Shadow says. “If you want my advice, take it tonight.”
I squint. “Why would we take it tonight when Cole is attacking tomorrow?”
Shadow sighs and looks away. I’m almost ready to beat it out of him but Kira gets there before me.
“The humans are attacking the mountain tonight. Cole is trying to do a deal with another pack to secure us weapons but he hasn’t returned yet.” He drops his eyes to the ground. There’s more.
“What else?” I say.
“A group brought the siblings back earlier. They were unconscious. Your mate wasn’t with them.”
That isn’t a coincidence. I felt her fear and pain a few moments ago. I knew there was more to it. I rub my chin and I start backtracking because I’m very close to wanting to punch something and he’s the only viable victim.
“Has Cole killed her?” Kira whispers.
“I don’t know. They said that the last thing that they remember was being at Malese’s home and then they woke up on the mountain.”
They found Malese? I told Devon not to go looking for her, that it was dangerous. What the hell was she thinking?
“I said that I’d talk to you first. They were worried that you’d react badly.”
I flick my eyes up. “Where are they?”
He starts pointing and I start running before he can finish his sentence. They run after me. I swipe some branches out of my way and I charge over to the siblings who are waiting nervously against a tree.
“Thorn,” Dominic says. “There was nothing that we could do, we-”
I grab his shirt and I slam his back into the tree. My shoulder pushes back and I clench my hand into a fist.
“Stop!” Sky says. “It wasn’t his fault. He tried to convince her not to go in there. It was my fault. Blame me.”
Dominic squirms a little, his eyes fearfully staring at my fist that is inches from his face. I let him go, turning to Sky.
“You were supposed to protect her,” I say. “You couldn’t even keep her safe for a few days!”
“Devon isn’t a child, Thorn,” Kira says. “She can make her own choices.”
“Shut up!” I shout. I take deep breaths, distancing myself from them. “Does Cole have her?”
“We think so,” Sky says. “He must have sent us back here. We didn’t know that the weapons were to fight against a human army. The entire mountain is panicked. That’s how we managed to slip out to come down here. If Cole doesn’t have those weapons then that’s a good thing. He’ll keep Devon alive for leverage. They won’t attack if one of their own is being held hostage.”
“If Cole doesn’t return with her then I promise we will go back out there and find her,” Dominic says. “But in the meantime, you need to get your pack ready.” He passes me a bag like the one that’s already in my hand. “It’s the cure. It’ll stop them from transitioning tonight as long as they take it before sunset. Get your hands on some guns and you might stand a chance.”
“Take it back to them.” I give the bag to Kira.
Her eyes soften with sadness. “You’re not taking it?”
“I have to know that she’s safe.”
“She isn’t, Thorn. None of us are! That army isn’t just coming to wipe out the mountain. They’re coming for all of us. We have maybe three guns between thirty of us. How the hell is that…?” Kira’s head twists over mine.
“Do you hear that?” Sky says.
I listen like the rest of them as a set of vibrations come running towards us from the west. The vibrations are weighted as human but they’re running too fast to be human.
“One of yours?” I ask Shadow.
He shakes his head. “I told them to stay on the mountain. One of yours?”
“Everyone’s back at the camp,” Kira says.
“It could be Cole,” Sky says fearfully.
My teeth snarl. “I hope it is.”
The vibrations slow down but there are more of them heading this way. Lots more. Shadow drifts to Kira’s side and takes her hand. So much for her rejecting him. I knew he’d talk her out of it. Sky and Dominic cower into the tree.
A man with blonde hair walks through the clearing. He places his hands up in a surrender position.
“That’s Malachi,” says Sky. “The alpha that was going to trade the weapons to Cole.”
Devon told me about him. She sounded like she trusted him. By Sky and Dominic’s reaction, they don’t.
“What is he doing here?” Kira says.
“Let’s ask him.”
I walk towards the mysterious alpha and we meet halfway. His people stay back in the trees, observing from a distance.
“Are you Thorn?”
“So you know that I’m telling the truth.” He reveals something dusty and grey in his hands. It’s my book. The one that I gave to Devon. I run my hands over it slowly. “She really is quite something.”
“She told you to come here?”
“Yes, she was supposed to meet us. She saved one of my pack members so I owed her.” He flicks his hand behind him and a man walks towards us carrying a large bag that even he is struggling to hold. “The weapons that you need to fight Cole.” Malachi rubs his chin regretfully. “I told Devon that I would join our forces but this doesn’t feel like my fight. I have interfered with a war between two alphas before and it did not end well. I hope the weapons can pay my debt.”
What he really means is that he won’t go against Cole because he might need access to his rare herbs in the future and there’s no chance of him getting them if Cole sees him fighting on my side. It’s a strategy that I’d use too.
I kneel down at the large bag, pulling the zip across. Holy shit. Kira walks closer too. She picks out a powerful launcher and studies it with excitement.
“I was wrong about her. The girl came through.”
Malachi clears his throat. “There’s more.” More of his pack cross the clearing with heavy bags, dropping them at my feet. “GPS trackers. Spy equipment. Poisons. They are not labelled so make sure your pack does not confuse them for herbal remedies.”
“Where did you get all of this?”
“I have some very powerful contacts around the world. I hope this is the beginning of an alliance.”
“You said that you spoke to Devon? That she was on her way here?”
Malachi nods. “She was texting someone and then she got picked up from the motel.”
I try to conceal my sudden discomfort but it projects out of me as bright as light. “Motel?”
“Coan,” Sky says. “Her brother. He gave her a phone thing. He must have brought her back to the town.”
“Why were you with her at a motel?” I say, unable to let that part go.
“Cole had some sinister ideas about how to get those weapons,” Malachi says. “I saved her from him but it’s possible that he might have followed them.” He lifts his eyes to the sky. “We have to get back before the transition starts. Good luck. It’s an honour to meet you in the flesh.”
I narrow my eyes as he and his pack leaves. The weapons will be a huge advantage against Cole and the human army but Devon is still missing. Maybe she did make it to the woods but she got lost. There are dozens of explanations and possibilities and none of them are good if she is not beside me.
“Take the weapons back to the camp,” I say to Kira. I point my eyes to the siblings. “Take them with you.”
“No,” Sky says. “If you’re going to look for her then we are coming with you.”
“You’ll slow me down.”
“No, we won’t.”
“Go back to the camp and wait for me. That’s an order.” My alpha authority is slipping out but Sky and Dominic are not obligated to follow it. Yet, they do. They close their mouths and pick up a bag each.
Kira grabs my arm. “Thorn, we need you. Take the cure.”
I wish I could. I’ve been dreaming about that damn cure for decades. If I don’t take it then I’ll be stuck in my wolf form during one of the most weaponized attacks we’ve ever encountered. If I do take it then I’ll lose my chance to find Devon.
“Get the children to the cave,” I say. “I’ll be back soon.”
I start jogging which turns into a fast and desperate sprint. I go to the highest hills first, trying to search for her from a height perspective. All I can see is Malachi and his pack miles ahead.
This is impossible. I cover miles and miles but I find nothing. There’s no scent of her anywhere. I can’t make it to our camp before sunset. I hope that she’s there. She’s smart enough to know how to survive the night if it’s compromised.
I follow one of the trails that leads up to the human road. Many, many vibrations up there. There are hundreds of them. I manage to avoid being seen and I approach the road from the far end. I watch the soldiers from a long distance as they study large maps on top of car bonnets and convey the best routes to take.
I almost feel sorry for them. They have no idea what they’re about to invade on. I don’t give a damn about Cole or his pack—bar Devon’s family—but the community is close to the base of the mountain.
I could do nothing. Without weapons, even werewolves wouldn’t stand much of a chance against this. But is that the type of alpha that I want to be? The kind of man? Sky and Dominic are proof that not all of them are as guilty as Cole. Some of them are kids—trapped and brainwashed. Plus, Devon’s father is still imprisoned on that mountain. He must be heavily guarded if even Shadow couldn’t release him.
He is the blood alpha. The rightful leader and descendant of Atticus. Cole is an intruder on that legacy. There could be still be a way to salvage something.
The sky is turning an orange colour as the sun starts to set. I place my hand out to the barrier and I receive a familiar electric shock in return. I drift away from the road as the first set of pains sting my stomach.
The transition usually takes a few minutes but I can prolong it purposely. I only started doing that when our connection formed. Enduring agony for her isn’t even a confliction. I fall against a tree and I keep my eyes on the road.
I know that I’m connected to her when that mysterious gateway appears. That’s good. She’s alive at least. But all I can see is darkness from her side.
Talk to me. Where are you?
Is it really you?
It’s me. Open your eyes.
No. I can’t, she says.
Why? Are you blindfolded? Is Cole with you?
I receive a set of sobs. No. Not Cole. I’m at the palace.
Devon. Open your eyes. Please.
My hand snaps and I hold it as a very clear image enters my mind. I’m looking right at Lyle, his lips are pressing into her stomach. She moves her attention to her wrists, pulling slightly to show me that she can’t move.
What has he done to you?
I’m sedated. I can’t move, Thorn. I can’t. . . I can’t fight. No. No. No.
Lyle has fingers gripped around her pants and is dragging them down her legs. I charge back to the road, trying to punch my way through the fucking barrier again. My entire body is breaking and snapping and moulding but I keep on punching.
Stop, she says. The humans are attacking. Protect Sky and Dominic, please.
I collapse to my knees, my fingers grazing the barrier more gently. They’re safe. Malachi brought the weapons. You saved them.
Oh, thank god. Go be with them. They need you.
I shake my head, clenching my jaw. I see Lyle kissing her legs and I close my eyes. The gateway is becoming stronger, calling to me so loudly that I cannot ignore it anymore. She might hate me for this. But she can hate me when she’s safe.
I’m sorry, I say.
It’s not your fault.
Not for that. For this.
I open the gateway. I’ve never truly known what it might do but I’m starting to work it out. Her wolf gene did trigger when she watched me in transition, it just triggered through me. That’s why she could feel the affects of the mating bond.
What are you doing? she demands. Thorn, stop! Stop!
I can’t stop. I think I know what the gateway does now. You’re going to transition. It’s going to be okay.
I look down to my completely normal, human hand which has snapped back. Devon looks to hers and her bones push through the skin. Lyle stops his violation and stares at her. I can only imagine that she’s just screamed right through the sedation.
It hurts, she yells at me. Make it stop. I can’t handle it.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, baby. I wipe my eyes. I know how much pain I am causing her, the first time is always the worst. You can handle it. I promise you. The gene is activated, even in transition you have the senses and strength of a werewolf.
I can’t do it. Thorn, I can’t breathe. My chest.
Your heartbeat will increase rapidly. It’ll feel like a heart attack. Just focus on my voice, okay? You have to fight. You can do it. You can break those restraints.
The last thing that I see from her end is Lyle backing away from the bed before her eyes close and the connection ends. That’s impossible. She can’t have transitioned that fast. Did she shut me out?
Devon? Let me back in! Let me. . .
My thoughts stop as I stare down at my foot. My foot that is touching the edge of the road. I lift my hand, my fingers tremble as I place it straight through the barrier that I’ve just somehow crossed.
The curse is broken. I’m free? But that’s not right. Because in order for that to be true, Devon would have to be. . . dead.
I would have had to cause her death and that’s not possible. I shake my head. The denial is instant but the fact that I can walk across the fucking road is confirmation. I break out into a run along the concrete ground that I haven’t ran on in a very long time.
The palace is half a mile away. I run the distance in no time at all. It’s heavily guarded. I walk around it instead, looking for a better entry point that won’t end in gunfire. I scale a twenty-foot fence and I land in a very neat and colourful garden. Sensory lights turn on immediately. I throw myself against the wall of the palace, sticking to the dark.
I know that she was in a bedroom but there must be a thousand bedrooms in this place. I smash my fist into a window and I slide inside a vacant room. I check the hallway; the good news is that there are less soldiers given that they are all gathered at the woods. I wait for a guard to pass me before I sneak towards a staircase.
Her scent is unmistakeable. The moment I smell it, I just want to stay there and treasure it. I don’t know what I’m going to be walking into. I just know that she can’t be dead. I didn’t go through all of this to lose her now.