Rhydian tensed and froze where he stood. He was on his way to school on Friday morning, running through the woods, but something wasn't right. He recognized the smell in the air, and the realization made his stomach twist in anxiety. Alric was here.
As much as he wanted to ignore his leader, he knew that if Alric was letting himself be sensed so easily that meant he wanted to talk. And it would be better if Rhydian got the conversation out of the way now, before he ran into Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or even worse, Maddy herself.
So he followed the scent of his alpha, tracking him until he spotted Alric in the woods. He wore a red flannel shirt with a tan vest as usual, and his brown hair was matted and filled with leaves. If that wasn't an indicator that Alric wasn't tame, one could easily tell by the wild look in his eyes.
"Boy," Alric spat, as Rhydian approached. "What news do you have?"
"Nothing really," Rhydian shrugged. "I'm here, I'm spending time with Maddy, and I'm doing everything you asked."
"Good," Alric said sharply, his eyes gazing at Rhydian warily. "You look like one of them again. A tame."
"Well, I have to fit in," Rhydian defended. "What did you expect when you sent me back to the human world?"
Alric growled at Rhydian, and Rhydian backed up slightly.
"The pack grows more restless each day," Alric frowned. "Their ideas are spreading like poison. There is even talk of getting other packs involve."
"Well, control them!" Rhydian cried. "You're the alpha, why don't you do your job for once-"
Rhydian was cut off, as Alric grabbed him by the neck and shoved him into a tree. Rhydian clawed at his throat, trying to pull of Alric's hands off, but he knew it was no use.
"Do not speak to me like I am your equal," Alric hissed. "I am your alpha! Your leader!"
He finally released his hand, and Rhydian gasped for air. He brought his hand up to his neck, rubbing it gently.
"How's Jana?" Rhydian asked, trying to bring up something that Alric wouldn't get mad about.
"She's is still angry," Alric replied, his face softening considerably. "And she misses you for some reason."
"Tell her I miss her as well," Rhydian replied. "And my mom and brother. I'm assuming you'll be going back now that you've checked up on me."
"You assume wrong," Alric hissed. "I've come for the girl as well. I need her now."
"You told me I would have more time," Rhydian scowled, and his breathing sped up as he grew more anxious. "That I could get her used to the idea first. We're barely friends at the moment."
"And who's fault is that?" Alric sneered. "You asked me not to force her into anything and I agreed. But I need the girl to start visiting the pack, if you expect your plan to work."
"She has a name!" Rhydian growled. "Her name is Maddy, and you can't just ask me to make her drop everything for our pack."
"She'll be a part of our pack soon enough," Alric huffed.
"But not yet," Rhydian insisted. "Not for three more years."
"I've explained to you before, what I'll do if this doesn't work, haven't I?" Alric asked, in a low and dangerous voice. "I will not let the pack turn against me. I will stand by them, no matter what it costs me."
Rhydian felt his stomach clench again, and he knew what Alric meant.
"I'll bring it up with her today," Rhydian sighed. "But it might take me a while to convince her. How long do I have?"
"I'll expect you in two weeks," Alric grinned. "If not, I'll return...and I won't be alone."
Maddy sighed as she looked out the window of her family's car. She felt absolutely awful today. Her teeth, her gums, her ears, and her head were a throbbing with pain. She hadn't even been in the mood to run this morning, which is why her mom was driving her to school. Her dad had told her that all of her symptoms had to do with her upcoming transformation, but she just didn't understand it. If turning into a wolf was supposed to make her stronger, then why did she feel so awful?
"Are you sure you want to do this, Pet?" Maddy's mom asked her, for the fifth time this morning. "I can email Mr. Jeffries and tell him you're sick."
"I'll be fine, Mam," Maddy sighed. "I already told you, I really need to be there for Shannon tonight. If I don't make it to school, then I definitely can't make monster hunting."
"She's still going on about that monster?" Maddy's mom asked. "You're not encouraging it, are you?"
"I have to tell her I believe her!" Maddy exclaimed. "Tom and I, we're the only ones who don't think she's entirely crazy."
"Alright," her mom sighed, as they pulled up at the school. "Just make sure you never give her any evidence. Can you imagine what would happen if she found out the truth?"
Maddy shuddered at the thought. Shannon would become even more obsessed if she found out about wolfbloods. Not to mention the extensive research she'd want to conduct.
"I won't tell her," Maddy sighed. "Goodbye."
She hopped out of the car, and instantly winced at the throb that jolted through her body. Spending the night out on the moors was starting to look worse and worse. As she walked towards school, she immediately spotted Rhydian waiting for her. He had a nervous expression on his face, as he hurried over to her.
"Maddy, I really need to tell you something," he said, and Maddy winced in pain.
"Not so loud!" she exclaimed. "You're making me head hurt even worse."
"Are you sick?" Rhydian asked frowning. "I didn't realize it was possible to be sick before a full moon."
"It's my jaw and my head that hurt the worst," Maddy sighed.
"Oh," Rhydian nodded, in recognition. "It's just the stress of your first transformation. I remember how awful it was for me. But the best way to get rid of it is to run."
"I don't think I can even walk, much less run," Maddy groaned. "Anyway, what were you going to ask me?"
"Okay, so hear me out," Rhydian started, and Maddy immediately became anxious. No good news ever came when a sentence started like that. "I know we've decided to be friends, and I'm actually really happy about that. And I'm not trying to pressure you into something more. I just wanted to know if maybe, only if you wanted to, you'd like to meet my mom and my pack?"
Maddy was utterly startled by his proposition. They had just started getting along, and now he wanted her to meet his pack? It wasn't that she had anything against the idea, it was just a bit strange and sudden.
"Why would I need to be meeting your pack?" Maddy asked. "I mean, we're researching a way to get out of this betrothal for a reason."
"Yeah, I know," Rhydian replied. "But in the meantime, I thought maybe you and the pack could start to build trust between each other. That way, even if we're not getting married, there wouldn't be bad blood between our packs."
"So this is more about your plan create bonds between tame and wild wolfbloods, then introducing me to your family?" Maddy questioned, and Rhydian nodded. "All right then. I really don't see any harm in that."
"Really?" Rhydian asked, smiling at her.
"Yeah," Maddy smiled back. "And while we're there, we can ask if any of your pack members know how to break our union!"
Rhydian's smile feel from his face, and instead he wore a look of worry and fear. He was quiet for a moment, as if contemplating what to say, until he finally sighed.
"Maddy, you can't talk to any member of the pack about breaking the union," he started. "Alric is the one who formed it in the first place, and he wants it to be kept. Think of what will happen if he finds out your plans."
"Alric promised to leave my parents and Stoneybridge alone, if my parents agreed to this union," Maddy huffed. "They've agreed, so now he can't touch us. I don't think they ever promised not to break the union later."
"You don't know Alric," Rhydian said gravely. "He won't see it the same way you do. He won't listen to your reasons! Alric is a wild wolfblood, and an alpha. It's too dangerous to risk it."
"But you told me that you did research of your own," Maddy accused him. "Was he okay with that?"
"He only allowed it because he knew I wouldn't find anything," Rhydian sighed, his temper flaring. "Maddy, can't you just trust me on this? My pack won't hold the answers you're looking for."
"Fine," Maddy finally relented, when she saw the desperate look on Rhydian's face. "But don't think this means I'm giving up! We still have a lot more books to read through."
"Of course not," Rhydian smiled in relief. "Because we couldn't use our time for important things, like studying."
"This research is important," Maddy growls, playfully shoving Rhydian's shoulder. "Owe!"
Now even her wrists and ankles hurt. She really was starting to hate her first transformation.
"Are you sure you should be going out tonight?" Rhydian asked. "We could ask Shannon to wait until next week, once your transformation is over."
"I've already explain this to my parents," Maddy sighed. "There's no way I'm letting Shan down. Not after the way I've acted so far this week."
"Alright," Rhydian relented. "And I am sorry, for not helping you mend things with your mates yesterday."
"Oh, I noticed you looked really sorry," Maddy scoffed sarcastically. "That's why you looked so amused."
"I wasn't laughed because they were mad at you," Rhydian said, trying not to smile. "I was laughing at the feelings that Tom was giving off."
"What are you on about?" Maddy asked. "You can scent feelings?"
"Not exactly," Rhydian replied, surprised that Maddy didn't know. "I guess it must be a wild thing, but people give off different scents when they feel different emotions. Yesterday, Tom was feeling jealous."
"Jealous?" Maddy asked, frowning. "Because he thought that I was becoming better friends with you then him, right?"
"Something like that," Rhydian smirked, smiling to himself.
Maddy contemplated whether she should ask, the question that was burning in her mind. She didn't want Rhydian to think that she wanted to spend even more time with him, but she was interested in how his senses were more attuned than hers.
"Do you think you could teach me?" she finally asked. "To sense emotions like you do?"
"I don't know," Rhydian teased. "It might take away from our research.
"Rhydian..." Maddy growled, but he just smiled at her.
"Of course I'll teach you," Rhydian said. "I think we should wait until after the full moon though."
"I agree," Maddy replied, and she grabbed her head. "Ugh! Why won't everything stop hurting!"
The school day went by extremely slowly for Maddy, and though Rhydian tried to comfort her, nothing seemed to help. Every click of a pen, or turn of a paper, had her senses on high alert. It was driving her crazy!
Tom seemed to notice her behavior, but he didn't try to press Maddy about what was wrong. Shannon on the other hand, seemed completely oblivious to Maddy's discomfort. She went on and on about her plans for the night, and how she finally planned to catch the beast.
By the time school was over, Maddy was completely ready to just go home and crash on her bed. She knew, however, that she wouldn't be getting sleep for a while longer.
"So," Shannon said, as the four of them exited the school building. "Do you guys need to go home and get your supplies, or are you going to come over right now?"
"I need to get my boots and change out of my uniform," Maddy replied. "The boys should to."
"What exactly do we need to wear?" Rhydian asked. "Aren't we just hanging out in the woods?"
"Having out in the woods!" Shannon cried.
"Calm down, Shan," Maddy said, trying to contain her laughter. "Rhydian doesn't know how important this is to you."
"Well he should!" Shannon exclaimed. "Rhydian, this is my mission in life! To catch this beast, and prove to the world that I'm not crazy. And tonight, is going to be the night that I get proof!"
"She says that every time," Tom muttered under his breath, and Shannon glared at him.
"I do not," she defended. "And I just have a feeling that tonight's special."
After Shannon had detailed exactly what the boys should bring, they all went their separate ways. Maddy had told Rhydian that she would meet him at his house after she had collected her things, so that she could show him the way to Shannon's. She knew he could probably find it himself, since his senses seemed to be so attuned, but she wouldn't mind walking with him.
When she had gotten home, her mom had given her a wolfblood potion which would hopefully help her pre-transformation pains. It smelled horrible, but it was better than nothing.
Maddy's dad dropped her off at Rhydian's current home, where he was living with his foster parents. She saw that Rhydian wasn't outside yet, so she went to knock on the door.
"Hello?" a woman with curly black hair asked, as she opened the door. "Can I help you?"
"Oh, I'm Maddy," Maddy replied. "I'm here for Rhydian."
"Maddy...as in Maddy Smith," the women asked, and Maddy nodded. "Oh, I've heard so much about you."
"Rhydian's mentioned me?" Maddy asked, as she felt her face go red.
Her mind was whirling, as she wondered what he would have said. With the way she had acted towards him at first, she doubted that he had many good things to say. Yet this woman seemed completely pleased to see her.
"Yes, you're one of the only friends he's talked about," the woman said with a slight frown. "Oh how rude of me! I Mrs. Vaughan. Won't you come in?"
Maddy thanked her and walked inside the house. It wasn't a very large home, but it seemed cozy and well put together.
"Is Rhydian here?" Maddy asked.
"He's up in his room," Mrs. Vaughan. "Would you like to go grab him?"
"Sure," Maddy smiled.
"It's just up the stairs. First door on the left."
Maddy followed, Mrs. Vaughan's directions, and when she got to the door she knocked three times. She heard Rhydian yell that it was okay to enter, so she pushed the door open.
"Maddy," Rhydian sputtered, looking surprised. "I don't realize you were here already."
Maddy ignored his comment, as her focus were trained on the dozens of drawing in his room. They were amazing, posted all over the walls and mostly without color. Maddy walked right past Rhydian, and went to look closer.
"I didn't know you could draw," Maddy said, as she turned back to him. "These are amazing."
"They're kind of private," Rhydian replied nervously. "I actually didn't realize you were going to come in so…"
"Oh! I'm sorry," Maddy immediately said, realizing she had invaded his privacy. "I don't realize. I can go wait for you downstairs, if you'd prefer."
"You've already seen them," Rhydian shrugged. "So I guess it really doesn't matter now."
There was an awkward silence between them, and despite what her said, Maddy wasn't sure if she could stay or go. She could see that she'd made him uncomfortable, and she could tell why. Some of the drawings seemed quite personal. Like the one the child in a shadowy corner, with two lone figures standing in the background.
"The wolves," Maddy finally said, shattering the silence.
"What?" Rhydian asked her, confused by what she meant.
"I like the drawings of the wolves Maddy clarified. "They're very good. Very realistic."
"Thanks," Rhydian said, smiling. "A lot of them our of my pack. Like this one."
He pointed to a drawing and Maddy went over to look at it. However, the drawing posted next to it was what really caught her attention. It was of a girl, who looked to be around the same age as her, and a wolf.
"Who's this?" Maddy asked, hoping that she wouldn't offend Rhydian with her question.
"Oh, that's one's my friend Jana. In her human form and as a wolf," Rhydian replied.
He said it so nonchalantly, yet Maddy couldn't ignore the twisting sensation in her stomach.
"I thought you didn't have friends," Maddy said stiffly.
"Well I have you, don't I?" he replied.
Somehow his response only made her feel worse.
Rhydian finished collecting his things and they made their way downstairs. Mrs. Vaughan was doing dishes, but looked up at them and smiled.
"Did you find everything you need?" she asked.
"I think so," Rhydian replied, in a cool tone.
"Do you need any snack or anything?" she asked. "I could whip something up quickly-"
"Really, Mrs. Vaughan," Rhydian said sharply, "I'm fine."
"Alright," she frowned. "But if you need anything, be sure to call me. And it was nice meeting you Maddy."
"You too," Maddy replied politely, before they walked out the door.
Maddy was slightly surprised with the way Rhydian had spoken to his foster mom. It wasn't that he had seemed mad or angry, just reserved. She wondered if she could figure out why, without upsetting him.
"So," Maddy started, as they walked towards Shannon's house. "Your foster mom seems nice."
"She's alright," Rhydian shrugged, seeming not to care.
"Do you think you'll keep in contact with her?" Maddy asked. "I mean, once you return to the wild."
"No," he scoffed. "Maddy do you know anything about the foster care system?"
"Not really," Maddy frowned. "I know how it's supposed to work."
Rhydian gave her a wry smile. "The longest I've lasted in a single foster home is six months," he explained. "Maybe I'll last longer, now that I know more about how to control my wolf, but I doubt I'll stay with the Vaughans long."
"But…" Maddy wasn't sure exactly what to see. "Mrs. Vaughan seems so nice. Maybe it will be different with her."
"Maybe," Rhydian said quietly, scowling at the ground.
Maddy hesitated for only a second before she reached out and grabbed Rhydian's hand. Rhydian stopped walking, and looked down at their intertwined fingers in surprise.
"I'm really sorry that you had to go through those things when you were younger," Maddy said honestly. "I really wish I could have helped."
"It's alright, Maddy," Rhydian replied still looked at their hands. "Really it's fine."
Maddy finally seemed to notice the direction of Rhydian's gaze, and she pulled back her hand and blushed. They started walking again, in awkward silence, neither one of them daring to glance at the other.
They both felt relief when Shannon's house came into view, and when they got to the front door, Shannon opened it right away.
"There you two are!" Shannon exclaimed, pulling them inside. "Tom's almost done cooking the burgers, and we need to get going."
"There's burgers?" Rhydian asked, as his eyes lit up with excitement.
"Yes, but not for you," Shannon replied, causing Rhydian to frown. "We will being using them as bait for the beast."
"Is that Rhydian I hear?" Tom called from the kitchen.
"Yes, and Maddy too," Shannon responded.
A few seconds later, Tom had left his post in the kitchen and hurried over to where they were standing. He frowned at Rhydian and Maddy who were standing next to each other.
"You arrived together?" Tom asked.
"Yeah, we walked together from Rhydian's house," Maddy said, oblivious to the way Tom's frown deepened. "So when will the burgers get done?"
"Any minute now," Shannon answered, trying to relive some of the tension in the room. "Everyone get dressed. We have a beast to find!"