What are they feeding you? Soup? Crasuel says. Come on, girl. You’re acting like this is your first night as a wolf.
I scowl as I plunge myself into a harder run to catch up to him. Thorn and the others have given up trying to match our speed. We’re at least a mile in front. It is.
Really? You’ve never seen Thorn in transition?
You don’t know? I say.
I was a human before tonight. Thorn transferred his transition into me. This sort of gateway opens and he can activate my wolf gene through it. It’s complicated to explain but that’s why he’s human and I’m a wolf.
I reach his side and we twist ourselves in opposite directions to avoid a tree, we come back together a second later and our paws are in sync until Crasuel eventually slows to a walk. I mimic his speed and we stop.
You were human? he asks. We knew there was something different about you when you were born but we didn’t believe that you’d grow up that way. We thought you would have your senses and your strength. That you’d be protected. When Sky and Dominic said that they found you that day of the eclipse, I just assumed they meant in wolf form.
No. I glance away as his amber eyes burn into me. I was human, running from my old life. Thorn saved me. I owe him everything.
That’s why he didn’t kill you.
I think being mated was a huge part of it too, I say. The curse is broken now. Thorn and his pack are free.
Yes, I heard some of them talking about the curse being broken. I don’t really want to think about what you had to go through for that to happen. He sits and takes a deep breath, twisting his head to the nearing vibrations. Does he make you happy?
Ridiculously happy. I know that you’ve grown up being taught to hate him but he had his reasons for killing Atticus. Good reasons.
Crasuel smiles through his wolf form. I never doubted that. Atticus was a complicated alpha. He fell in love with a woman that promised him power. The most dangerous kind of mating bond. Thorn was protecting the humans. If it wasn’t for the fact that I knew he’d kill any of her descendants on sight then I would have shaken his hand a long time ago.
Thorn makes an appearance through the set of trees in the distance and shakes his head at us as he runs.
There’s still time, I say.
I’ll think about it.
“Are you two trying to win a medal or something?” Thorn shouts.
It’s such a shame, Crasuel says.
I snap my eyes back to his. What is?
Your wolves will never meet.
Crasuel takes off again, disappearing over a cliff. I am suddenly frozen. I’ve never thought about that but he’s right. My wolf and Thorn’s wolf will never meet. I will never run with him through the forest like I’ve just done with my father. Our speed will never match.
“Devon, are you okay?”
I snap out of it and I force my body to move forwards. Thorn jumps up to top of the cliff like he’s on a trampoline. I catch up to Crasuel a few seconds later. My body accidentally bangs into his and I receive a weird shock. An electric shock. It pulses over my body like I’m alight with sparks.
I can hear vibrations up ahead, we are heading towards a large group of soldiers. He’s about to run straight into a firing squad. Slow down. They’ll hear you.
I need you to trust me. When I say stop, I need you to stop.
Devon, just do it.
I stare at his black fur that is starting to ignite with strange azure sparks. It’s like he’s being electrocuted but he can’t feel it. I shake my head, wondering if I’m imagining this. He orders me to stop, it’s direct and loud in my mind. Almost frantic.
My front paws slide across the ground as I make a sudden halt. Crasuel carries on and runs right into the damn clearing. Dozens of soldiers are there, they see him immediately, their guns pointing right at him. I hold my breath as the air fills with their bullets. My ears sting from the blaring, pounding noise.
Crasuel dives right through the air, his wolf scales at least twenty feet before his paws come crashing down and the whole field lights up with blue sparks. Thorn almost trips over his own feet when he witnesses it. He has to hold on to the top of my head to steady himself.
“Dad!” Sky screams.
She tries to run past me and I grab on to the back of her shirt with my teeth, yanking her backwards until Thorn restrains her.
The light before us is so bright. I don’t know what’s happening but only one thing can be possible: magic. I hear the drop of guns simultaneously. The sound of soldiers’ teeth chattering and their bodies trembling before they collapse to the ground in fits of electrocution.
“You didn’t tell us that your father was a fucking active witch!” Kira says.
“He isn’t,” Sky says. She’s in as much disbelief as the rest of us. “Why didn’t he tell us?”
“Because he couldn’t,” Dominic says. “It was too dangerous.”
I keep my eyes on Crasuel, he is panting breathlessly. The sparks gradually fade from his skin and I start walking towards him. The soldiers are dead. He took out half of the damn army with one strike. It’s taken a lot from him. He collapses into my side and I use my weight to keep him upright until Thorn takes over. I can the smell the blood on him. Some of the bullets hit him but he doesn’t seem phased by the wounds. His dizziness seems to be caused more by the magic usage.
“I can’t believe you never told us!” Sky yells as she ignores my cautious stare and kneels down at his side. “You said that we could cast a few spells to lift some leaves with time but that was more than a damn leaf spell!”
“It was pretty cool though,” Pal says, looking around the clearing with excitement.
Are you okay? I whisper. You’ve been hit.
I’ll be fine. Can you tell your mate to stop touching me?
I meet Thorn’s eyes and I flick my head. He understands and distances himself. Crasuel shakes his fur and takes a few steps, he’s unsteady but he doesn’t collapse. Sky jogs after him while ranting.
“Who the hell did we just let out of a cage?” Kira mutters.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid of their genetics, too.”
“He just took out a hundred soldiers at once, Thorn.” Kira glares after Crasuel with astoundment. “Witches are unpredictable—not to mention mental.”
I scoff. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I had hope that Thorn would defend my father, and my own genetics, but he looks as concerned as Kira. I understand their distrust and anxiety when it comes to witchcraft but this is different. Isn’t it?
The moment my father calls me, I run to his side. I have no choice in it. I assumed that my wolf was tied to Thorn’s pack but my father is my alpha also. While in this wolf form, I cannot ignore a call from him. I belong to them both.
“There are at least five,” Balan says as she inspects my father’s coat. Sky is biting on her nail while Dominic watches from afar. “One is deep. I’ll have to remove them in the morning.”
“You could have died!” Sky attempts to get our father’s attention but he just snorts and looks away. “Don’t snort at me. This is not over.”
Was she this annoying with you?
It’s just because she cares, I say.
Our bodies are built to withstand weapons and assault. Even in our human forms it would take a lot of bullets to put us down. Always go for the head or throat.
He’s educating me on the best ways to kill our own kind. I don’t know how to feel about that but I take it in. It isn’t exactly an advantage. The other werewolves will go for our heads and throats too.
We walk across the field. Running is dangerous now as Cole could be close. We enter the woods again, our eyes scanning each and every tree top. Crasuel walks away from me and presses his nose to the ground.
The humans went this way. They were tracking something.
I follow him down a small hill and we leap over a flowing river. We seem to pick up Cole’s scent at the same time and we turn right simultaneously. I can smell dozens of wolf scents, and blood. Lots and lots of blood.
We enter a wide clearing of a small field; my eyes fall on the lifeless corpses of the fallen soldiers. I walk over so many bodies that it makes me nauseous and I have to close my eyes. It doesn’t faze Crasuel or any of the others. They walk through the clearing without so much as a gasp.
At the end of the clearing, around a dozen giant wolves emerge from the trees. We all stop and I hear their weapons activate. Cole walks out in his human form along with a small group of werewolves that have a knife to my mother’s throat.
“I warned you,” Cole says, talking directly to my father. “I told you that if you ever stood against us then I’d slaughter every single one of your family.” Cole yanks my mother forward and presses the blade into her throat. “I’m a little conflicted about this one. She doesn’t share your warped genetics. But the rest of you are abominations!”
Crasuel growls threateningly, his large fangs snapping at Cole’s direction. Thorn walks around us slowly.
“If you kill her then we will blow you off this mountain.”
“You think I’m afraid of your weapons?” Cole says. “Do your worst. We can’t feel a damn thing.”
“Neither can we. Let her go or we blast you straight to hell.”
Tell him to do it, my father says.
What? But our mother, she’s-
I can protect her from the blast. Only for a few seconds. It might be our only chance. Do it.
Thorn meets my eyes immediately. I nod my head at him. I didn’t think he’d understand but he does. Thorn takes a deep breath and looks back to Kira who is holding the launcher over her shoulder.
“Kira, do it,” he whispers.
“No,” she says.
Cole stares right at Kira, who is holding the launcher with so much doubt that we can all sense it. Her gaze is locked to a young man that is standing on the other side of Cole, her finger won’t even move toward the trigger. Cole is looking between them.
“Kira,” Thorn says. “Give it to me.”
“No.” She shakes her head, a single tear running down her cheek.
What is happening? Why won’t she pull the trigger?
I don’t know, I say.
Whatever appears to be happening, Cole works it out first. He pushes my mother back into a group that restrain her and then he stabs the man in the stomach. Kira’s cries turn into a wailing, desperate scream.
“Fucking traitor.” Cole stabs him again and then kicks him across the field towards us.
Kira runs and drops to his side. The rest of us edge closer, we form a barricade around them as Thorn tries to yank his sister away. The man is still alive—barely—and he clutches his bleeding stomach as Thorn helps him to his feet.
“Let that be a warning to any of you that attempt to betray me,” Cole yells to the werewolves that are witnessing the man’s almost-death with just as much as shock. “I don’t give second chances. He was dumb enough to mate with one of them so now he’ll die as one of them.”
“What is wrong with you!” Sky cries. “Shadow didn’t deserve that. You are destroying this pack!”
“What are you going to do about it, blondie? Your disgusting bloodline will end tonight and our pack will be stronger than ever.”
“My father is the blood alpha of this pack,” Sky yells to her conflicted pack. “He is here to reclaim his title. We won't live our lives in fear of you any longer. You all have a choice to stay loyal to Cole or to pledge your loyalty to the rightful alpha. Join us.”
A few of the werewolves in wolf forms move forwards but Cole’s glare halts them. “Take another step and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
“You can’t keep controlling them like this,” Thorn says. “They can’t ignore a command from their blood alpha.”
“I am their alpha,” Cole screams. “They answer to me!” Cole calms himself and locks his eyes with Thorn. “Kill them.”
His command is to the ones in their wolf forms but they don’t move. Crasuel walks out and cocks his head to the sky, unleashing a mighty and bone-shivering howl. Dozens of the wolves start running towards us. If I wasn’t standing right next to him then I would have responded to his call too.
Some of the wolves attack the human werewolves that have a hold of my mother and she clings to a wolf’s back before he bolts towards us.
“No!” Cole yells. “You will all die for this!”
The wolves stand in formation behind Crasuel. He turns his head to check that Madison is safe before snarling his fangs back at Cole. My mother meets my eyes over Sky’s shoulder and she stares right at me. She recognizes me, I can tell. Her lips twist into a smile.
Thorn’s sudden movements catch Cole’s attention. He dives towards the launcher and aims it right at Cole and the rest of his pack that chose to stand by him. He pulls the trigger but Cole is already running.
I follow his movements into the trees as the blast creates a blaring bang that makes my ears buzz. Half of the earth comes up and blows around us. Most of them are on their knees and covering their ears. I seem to be the only one that can still see Cole vaguely through the trees. I push myself into a run before he gets away.
There’s gunfire behind me. I look over my shoulder to see survivors of the blast attacking the pack with everything they’ve got. I glimpse Thorn for a moment, he stares right at me before he’s tackled by a large man.
I can’t go back. Thorn can take care of himself. Cole is so close to leaving the mountain. He’s fast but I’m faster. He almost makes it to the road. I slide down a hill and I throw my body through the air, my fangs pressing down into the side of his throat. He bends under my weight but swings me sideways and stabs something into my stomach. I don’t feel the pain but I know that something is wrong. He stabs me again and my legs go limp. I collapse to the ground.
“The wolf that cannot transition. Looks like I was wrong,” Cole says. He leans over me and moves his hand through my coat. “Sorry, beauty. It’s a shame, you really are something special.”
Everything in my body is moving inward, becoming smaller and smaller. It happens so fast and I have no control over it. Not only am I dying but I am human again. My skin reacts to the cold and I shiver against the ground. My hand clutches around my stomach and I cough up blood.
“How did you do that? How did you transition back?” Cole starts backing away from me. “If you’re human then. . . fuck.”
Cole tries to run but he only makes it halfway to the road before a giant, black wolf soars out of the trees and tackles him to the floor. I use the remainder of my strength to push myself up to witness Thorn’s fangs ripping through Cole’s flesh. Cole punches him and Thorn becomes unbalanced for a moment. He turns to run but my father blocks his way. The two wolves circle him and Cole is out of exits.
“The girl is minutes from death and you want to throw away your last goodbyes to get even?” Cole says.
They both turn and stare at me. Cole is using it as a distraction and it’s working. He charges at my father with the knife and slices it against his throat. I hear my father whimper before Thorn jumps on Cole’s back and aggressively tears his throat open. I gasp as Cole’s head is thrown out of his mouth and bounces down the hillside.
My mother falls at my side, flanked by a frantic Sky. She takes her fleece off and covers my torso with it, pressing down on my wounds. I’m more concerned about my father than myself. I try to look for him but she forces my head back down. I try again as sweat leaks from my forehead and lands in my eyes. Crasuel is okay, he’s wounded but he’s alive. Thorn starts to come closer until Sky says something so terrifying that he freezes.
“The healing herb is at the other side of the mountain. We’ll never make it in time.”
“We have to try. She’s going to die without it.” My mother pulls me up and places the fleece over my head. I try to speak but all my lips will do is tremble. She carries me in her arms and places me on Thorn’s back. My fingers curl into Thorn’s fur as I cling on for my life. “You’re going to be okay,” my mother says softly before eyeing Thorn. “Run.”
Thorn doesn’t need to be told twice. Crasuel runs first and Thorn follows him at such a speed that I can’t even feel my face anymore. I can feel Thorn’s desperation as though I am one with him. In his wolf form, I have no doubt that he is the fastest being alive. But even that won't be enough.
I’ve already cheated death twice. I can’t imagine that fate would allow a third. It’s my time to go. I rest my face deeper into his soft fur. Into the blanket that once saved my life. My fingers are slipping away. My mind is becoming darker.
“Whatever happens,” I whisper. “We know.”
Thorn starts slowing down, like he can sense what’s about to happen. I slide down his body and I land on a pile of leaves. He whimpers and cries, his nose pressing into my cheek to try and wake me up. The noise breaks my heart.
I’m still conscious. I open my eyes to see tears running down his cheeks. My father doesn’t stick around, he carries on running. Thorn collapses next to me and rubs his face against mine.
“Never be sad,” I say. I use the last of my strength to graze my fingers down the side of his face. “Be happy. Be free.”
My hand drops from his face, not by choice but by something that is out of my control. Thorn’s whine is so loud that it’s almost like a scream. I look into those beautiful, yellow eyes for as long as I can before I have to close them.