It was at least a few minutes before I raised my head from the forest floor, spitting dirt out of my mouth, and saw Devon standing next to me holding my rucksack in his hands- he must've run back for it (he must've run damn fast!). He had already Changed back and was dressed- thank goodness. Unsteadily I took the rucksack and crawled behind a tree to change, limbs shaking.
When I emerged- fully dressed, thank god- he was sitting on the roots of a soaring pine tree, expression serious for once, which was a blessing in itself. I don't think I could've handled a jolly persona at the moment. It was much easier to concentrate in human form though- as wolves we were ruled by basic instinct more than anything else.
"Katie." He said seriously, looking me full in the face. "What just happened there?"
I rubbed my face with my hands, leaving dirt smudges all over it, and flumped onto another root. I didn't think I could talk, so I used the pack-bond instead, sending him an image of us running through the forest and a picture of Bryn looking angry.
It didn't work.
"Bryn can wait. What happened back there?"
"Oh, so now you can ignore Bryn?" I asked bitterly. I wished I had my knives with me; I felt like cutting up something.
"This is important." I raised my head and met his eyes; they were storm-grey and absolutely serious. I felt a strange quiver shudder through me, then sighed in defeat.
"I...I don't know what's been happening. It's only happened once- yesterday during the Run."
"Aah, so that's where you went."
"You noticed I was gone?" It was stupid, I know, but I felt absurdly pleased that at least one person had noticed my absence, even if it was Devon.
I shook myself mentally and continued, marshalling my thoughts carefully.
"It comes on suddenly- like one minute I'm fine and the next...I'm not. I can't think of anything that would bring it on. Silver? I'm not wearing any- I think I'd know otherwise. I dunno...but for the moment, I'm a freak."
"Silver would be a good one..." he said thoughtfully. Silver was toxic to most Weres- the half-blooded ones anyway. The person sitting in front- sadly- was not, however. Let him rub it in.
"I'm not laughing at you!" He said quickly, reading my expression. "I'm just trying to understand, and then we can help you."
Silence fell for a few moments, leaving both of us wrapped in our own thoughts. I could feel Alex's alarm from Cedar Ridge, and sent him a quick reassuring thought before he said anything to anyone. Getting things off your chest actually did help- it was surprising actually, but maybe that was just me. Maybe the faulty Changing issues were 'just me' too. Maybe I was alone, a freak just like I'd said. Would I have to leave the pack? My stomach lurched horribly at the thought.
"...do you want to know, then?"
Devon's voice filtered into my thoughts light sunlight through the canopy of leaves above us- slowly. "Wh-what?"
"I said I'd better tell you about Lucas."
"Oh?" Excitement throbbed through me suddenly, getting rid of the worries more effectively than anything else. Then suspicion followed, hot on its heels.
"And- why are you doing this now?"
Damn my stupid mouth! Why did it have to say something like that- he'd never tell me anything now!
But he just smiled.
"You've shared a worry- have one of mine. We'll go halves."
"That's a weird take on it."
"Isn't it just." He smiled- half bitterly and half gently. I suspected he was taking pity on me, and scowled inwardly. Then I waited for him to continue.
It took a while. It looked like Devon was gathering his thoughts- if that was the case, his brain must work at a snail's pace! I fidgeted impatiently on the ground, all thoughts of my plight (almost) banished completely from my mind.
"Lucas..." he began slowly, about a minute later. I leaned forward eagerly, anxious to hear.
"Lucas...was a Were, like us. He came from Shay's'- the word came out with a hint of growl "-pack. He found his way to Cedar Ridge- he had been tortured horribly- and wanted Bryn to take him in. Whatever the cost."
"And did she?" I was already fascinated, intrigued by the new side of pack history opening up in front of me. Would Bryn have done it? Surely she would have...
"Yes. But in the meantime our pack was almost destroyed by a coven of super-naturals and then by Shay's. Bryn saved us- and Lucas- but it was too late."
Devon's voice sharpened with a memory of bitterness. "For all that, Lucas was a trap...he wanted complete authority and challenged the alpha."
"He did what?"
Challenged the alpha? Our alpha? My pack-sense thrummed with outrage.
"Yeah, I know. But Bryn, she won..."
I could already see where this was going, and I didn't like what I saw. Was it possible? The only way to win a challenge, after all, was...
"She sent Lucas to sleep. Forever."
My Bryn? She'd always seemed so big-sisterly to me...not capable of murder like that. But the wolf in me that saw sense- any threat to the alpha had to be disposed of as soon as possible.
I tried to shake off the thought.
"So who's Maddy?"
"She was in the pack originally. She... fell in love...with Lucas. Then, when he died, she decided to leave. We don't know what happened to her. For all we know, she could've died herself."
There was silence in the trees for a while, apart from the swishing of the wind. Both of us were wrapped up in our own thoughts- me, pondering the mystery of Lucas, and Devon...thinking about other things. There were only so many times that you could brood over a mystery that had happened when you were one, though, and finally, I'd had enough.
"Shall we carry on this race, then?"
Devon jumped and looked upwards, then smiled wickedly. With relief, I saw that he looked like the old Devon- the annoying, not-very-sincere one. "Baby, I could beat you any time."
I snorted. Then considered whether I could change. I was determined to try, though- I wasn't ever going to be seen as helpless!
"Give me a minute."
I darted behind the tree and stuffed my clothes into my rucksack. Then I took a deep breath- and with relief, the rippling pain spasmed through me and I fell to all fours. Maybe this thing was temperamental?
I took my pack in my teeth- no point in running back for it- and emerged from behind the tree to join Devon, and finish the patrol as quickly as possible.
On our way back, I dropped the pack next to the wooden wall of my house, and prepared to shift back into human form.
You...alright now, Katie? I turned¸ surprised: it was Devon- sounding a lot less sure than he normally did.
Yeah, fine. An awkward silence fell. It was weird, having a secret that Devon McAllister shared with you. What if he told? Thanks to your expert nursing skills- how about a career in medicine? Maybe those were to wrong words to relieve the tension: Devon then huffed, and turned away. I sighed. Great work, Katie.
The pack was in a high state of alert when I got back- tension lay thick in the air as I strode through Cedar Ridge. But I was too wound up now- any more tense and I'd snap like a bowstring- so I swung by the cafe on the way back.
The familiar, comforting smell of roasting coffee and sharp disinfectant washed over me as soon as I walked through the door, relaxing me almost instantly. The bartender- and friend, Dorothea- waved at me whilst simultaneously managing to juggle beer glasses in the other hand. I grinned and waved back, then headed for the bar, where a group of Weres who were passing through were chatting. I knew all of their names: Yale, Snake, Jaimes...they were good company, and always managed to entrance me with tales of the outside.
"Hey, Katkin." Dorothea grinned, setting down the tumblers with pinpoint precision on the scarred work surface.
"How's it going?"
"Tensely? What's the matter in Cedar Ridge?" The tall one, a brown-eyed Were named Jaimes asked, and I bit my lip. Friendly was all very well, but it wasn't good giving away our position to potential enemies. It was Dotty, of course- she had a knack of making you tell the truth whether you wanted to or not.
"None of your beeswax." I replied lightly, sliding into the barstool beside them and trying to look unthreatening- possibly the best move where a band of touchy mammoth super naturals were concerned. I felt their eyes rove over me, and flinched. Female Weres were rare things as we had to be born with a male twin, otherwise we died. I was the only 'natural' female in Cedar Ridge; the rest had been viciously turned by a homicidal Were when I was about 6 months old. That made Cedar Ridge a focal point for male Weres who wanted a chance to court the females; we were stronger than human females and could potentially bear many more children. Ugh. If I was going for the love angle, of course.
"Aah, stingy as a wasp nest as usual." Heavily bearded Yale leant back in his chair, hand on his heart, defusing the situation somewhat.
"Stop teasing." Scolded Dotty, smiling nevertheless.
"You going to be here long?" I asked the group at large.
"Dunno." Jaimes shrugged, pinning me with his azure eyes.
"I'll be gone by next week. What do you want to know today, young one?" That was Snake, speaking from the shadows. He was younger- hardly a good estimate of age, as we lived indefinitely- and a positive well of information about the outside, so naturally I gravitated towards his fantastical tales as much as possible.
"What do you know..." I tapped my chin thoughtfully, trying not to give anything away. "...about Maddy?"
I tried to shut my pack-bond link off as much as possible; the last thing we needed now was more suspicion. That might stop Devon from telling me anymore, too.
"Maddy?" Surprise coloured Snake's tone, and he pinched the bridge of his nose. Beside me, Dorothea sucked in a quick gasp, then moved off down the counter. She was probably going to tell another pack member what I was up to- and I couldn't let that happen.
"Dotty!" I called, raising my voice. "Can I have a drink?"
She turned around, frowning at me. "Now?"
"Yeah- I'm thirsty."
She grimaced, but couldn't let the loners figure get suspicious- I had known that. Slowly, unwillingly, she moved up the counter towards us and reached under the bar for a glass.
"Anyway, Snake." I continued, smiling a little at my quick-thinking. "What can you tell me about Maddy?"
"Where d'you hear the name?" That was Ridley, and he was just as curious as the rest of them.
"In passing. I only heard a bit- that's why I wanted to know some more."
I knew I was taking a risk, in plain view of Dorothea, but I had to know more. She'd only just started filling up the glass- I had around half a minute more, if that.
"Well...the story of Maddy and Lucas has kinda become legend. I was with the Cedar Ridge pack only last week and they told me about it."
"Why were you there?" I interjected hastily.
"Had some unfinished business there." He said casually. "It was a dark time for your pack- for all the packs." Snake still had his finger pinched between his eyes; reciting it like a well-known fairytale- the cadences rose and fell like water.
"Maddy was abducted by a murderous Were named Andreo, and was his slave for...how many years? Eleven? Then when she became part of your pack- Cedar Ridge- she was there for the time when Lucas came and asked for sanctuary, disturbing the fragile peace between us, setting the trap. She fell in love with Lucas...then when he was killed, she left Cedar Ridge. She wanted to find peace with herself."
Snake trailed off for a second, leaving me time to sneak a peek at Dorothea. She was staring at Snake too, wide-eyed. Ha! Had she fallen under the spell of the storytelling too? Nobody could resist his way with words!
"There have been many stories about what she did whilst packless." Oh- Snake had started up again. "She crossed the desert, raised over a million by climbing Everest- and gave it all away, by the way. Eventually she took up with another pack." His voice twisted a bit at the end, breaking the spell.
"What other pack did she join?" I asked, eager to know more. If it wasn't too far away, we could go and visit her!
That's enough! Dorothea's voice wormed into my consciousness, tense and worried. Let it go, Katie. It's not your business- it happened seventeen years ago!
What about that letter then, Dotty? Didn't you hear about that?
Silence. Apparently, she had.
Snake opened his eyes, as though he could hear the exchange between us. They were almost black, the black of a bottomless hole. I stared at them, trying to read his expression. The other Weres were, too- they'd been caught up in the storytelling too. What were they thinking? It was so irritating not to know!
Snake opened his mouth. "She joined-"
"Aah!" I clutched my head as a thunderous voice blasted through my head, filling it with pain, not to mention a headache.
Then the unmistakeable presence of the alpha swept through me with the force of a hurricane.
What, said Bryn with deceptive calmness, the HELL do you think you're doing, Katherine?
I winced at the sound of my full name- a very good indicator that trouble was on the way. A bit late now, though.
I was... I scrambled frantically for an excuse, leaning away from the force of the anger directed my way. My eyes lighted on Lake, whose lips were curled back in a snarl, and Devon, who looked like he was having difficulty repressing one.
Dorothea! She must have contacted Bryn using the pack-link- I hadn't thought she'd do that, as she used the link so rarely. No!
I glanced around at the cafe- most of the room had gone silent, looking at us. Snake was watching, eyes wide, but he was the only one: the others were trying not to look anywhere near us.
I'm waiting, Katherine.
I tried again. I was...just chatting.
Bryn actually did snarl then- it rolled around the cafe like a breaking wave, and everyone within a 5 metre radius- including me- either whined or cringed as the force of the alpha's power broke over them.
Get. Out. Now.
I took a chance. Not until you tell me about Maddy.
Bryn's expression went from incredulous to disappointed to furious in a heartbeat, and she gestured towards Devon, who came forwards, looking almost regretful. What? She was going to have him throw me out?
I wasn't going to give them the satisfaction.
Leaping from my seat, I almost sprinted out the room in fury, cheeks flooded scarlet with humiliation. Traitor. I thought furiously at Devon, sending the thought out towards him like a slap. As I yanked open the door- the hinges creaking alarmingly- I chanced a glance back at the silent restaurant.
Bryn was in the centre, dominating the scene of silent shock, radiating ferocity. My eyes skittered over her and landed on Snake. He glanced back, then, very slowly, mouthed Callum.
But I had to go now; otherwise who knew what my furious pack leader would do. Glancing longingly behind me, I left the silent cafe and headed outside into the day. The clouds had misted over now; the sky was dull and lifeless, the opposite to my simmering temper.