Authors: Kate Rudolph
Mel lay her head against his shoulder, "Let's remember a condom next time." She stood on wobbly legs, but didn't let him go.
Luke smiled, "This was a hell of a way to wake up."
"Don't get used to it," Mel warned. "I'm not a morning person."
His smile got even wider. It wasn't a declaration of love, but it was something. "We still need to try the bed." But they had no time that morning.
They washed together in the shower, Luke helping Mel wash her hair, Mel soaping him off. And only once the water got cold did they get out. Mel was off to patrol the woods once more and Luke had to go into town to prepare for the oncoming battle.
If he had been another man, he would have gladly laid in bed all day, making love to Mel. But he was an alpha, and they both had their duties.
This trip into the woods was not nearly as pleasant as the last one. And Mel was including the vampire attack in her assessment. Maya's grand idea had been to hike out four miles into the woods rather than take one of the ATVs.
The stony silence was almost a blessing.
After their interlude in the shower, Mel went back to her room for a change of clothes. By the time she came down for breakfast, Maya was waiting for her, her face suffused with frustration.
Mel hadn't known that she had been waiting, but that hardly stopped Maya from holding it against her. But Mel hadn't lived to please anyone but herself for a very long time, and she wasn't going to let Maya walk over her. So she took her time eating her bagel and then insisted on changing her shoes.
It added at least ten minutes and filled Mel with childish glee.
But Maya tried to one-up Mel's pettiness by taking them through the densest brush, walking just far enough ahead to let dozens of branches swat at Mel as she made her way through the thick greenery.
After thirty minutes of nearly running through the forest, Mel had enough. "What's your problem?" She knew she sounded frustrated.
Maya stopped, her bright red hair the only way Mel could keep her in sight. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Mel pushed aside a particularly thick branch to bring herself equal to the lioness. "I thought we were supposed to be allies or whatever now." She wasn't sure what they were, or what they would be when this was all over.
"Allies don't steal from us."
Mel threw her hands up. "It wasn't anything personal."
Maya took a threatening step towards Mel. "You think that makes it alright? If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be on the brink of war." She poked a finger towards Mel's chest, but kept it a few inches from actually poking her.
"No," Mel stepped toward her until her chest bumped against Mel's hand. "If it weren't for me, you'd be dead already. I'm to only reason that you knew trouble was coming."
"So you've made yourself the hero, how wonderful." She pressed her finger firmly into Mel's chest before pulling away, but she didn't take a step back. If Maya was Luke, they would have been close enough to kiss. As it was, aggression was the only thing in the air between them.
"Is this jealousy?" Mel asked. "Did I take the place you wanted?" She didn't mean to go there, but something about Maya was rubbing her the wrong way.
But Maya surprised her by tipping her head back and laughing. "Oh, my silly, silly girl. I've never needed to fuck my way--"
Mel didn't let her finish. Her fist went flying before she even decided to fight, but it took Maya by surprise, hitting her on the side of her skull and forcing her to bend sideways and take a step back.Maya spit out a mix of blood and saliva and straightened, wiping at her mouth with her thumb. "Oh, it's on."
She rushed Mel so fast that Mel was on her ass before she realized she was under attack. But that didn't last long. Mel wasn't normally a fighter, but she could hold her own when it was life or death. And though she and Maya were fighting for the same pack against Ava and her coven, Mel wasn't under any misconception that they would be anywhere near friends once this all was over.
This was a fight of pure instinct and pent up rage. It poured through Mel and she let it flow, pounding her fists against Maya, rolling in the dirt, and not feeling the pain of the blows that landed.
They rolled in the dirt, neither able to claim dominance over the other. When Mel landed on her back, she pulled her legs in close and kicked out, launching Maya several feet back to where she slammed into the trunk of a nearby oak.
Mel let out a scream and charged at her, but Maya was ready for it and swept Mel's legs out from under her. She landed on top, straddling Mel's waist. Maya's red hair was a tangled mess around her face, making her look more demon than human. Mel reached up and dug her hands deep, pulling as hard as she could, making Maya yelp.
They weren't using claws. As angry as both of them were, as desperate to have this out, neither was willing to escalate it to that level. Once their claws came out, only one of them would walk away.
Besides, it would take far too long to shift properly, and whoever did it first would be vulnerable to attack in the meantime.
Mel struggled out from under Maya and kicked her again. Maya must have tripped over a branch because she fell backwards and then down a ravine behind the trees.
The fight was over.
Neither of them had won.
Mel stayed where she was, waiting for Maya to climb back up. When several minutes passed, she grew concerned. She could still hear Maya moving, so she wasn't dead, but she might have been stuck. Of course, Mel knew that Maya would drop dead before asking for Mel's help. Mel wanted to let her stew a little longer, but they had work to do and every minute they wasted was another minute that Ava could bring the hurt down on them.
So she walked to the edge of the ravine and looked down. No wonder Maya hadn't come back up. She's found an expired witch's circle – a spot where a witch or group of witches had performed magic. And by the look of the burnt out plants, it had been done recently.
Mel sat on the edge of the ravine and eased herself down, half-sliding in the dirt. She walked over to Maya, beginning to feel every bruise and cut that had just been inflicted upon her.
"This is witch crap," Maya announced.
Mel nodded, "Probably looking for the Well."
"This is too close to the house. One of our patrols should have sensed them." It wasn't arrogance. Four miles from Luke's house, in the heart of the pack territory, was far too close for the witches to make it without detection.
"There are spells that mask scent," Mel said. "They don't work for long, though."
"Wonderful." Maya edged around the circle, staying out of the main ring. It was about ten feet wide and nearly bare of vegetation. It looked almost like someone had set the entire thing on fire, but it abruptly stopped with plants half-charred in a perfect circle. "So is this the Well? Did they find it?"
Mel shook her head. She crouched down and traced her fingers through the dark, dry dirt. It had rained a few days ago, but the dirt here was bone dry. Another after-effect of whatever spell they'd used.
She looked back up at Maya and her heart jumped, beating rapidly. "Maya, freeze!" A vine had snaked its way down one of the trees and ran over Maya's foot. The werelioness hadn't even noticed.
But Mel recognized the sickly yellow-green of that vine, and she could almost taste the foul magic in the air. And luckily for both of them, Maya held still.
"Look down," Mel instructed, keeping her voice even, "But don't move an inch."
Maya looked down and then back up at Mel, "It's a vine." She didn't sound impressed, but she didn't move.
"It's magic," Mel explained. "And as soon as you try to get it off you, it's going to dig in and string you up." Mel remembered the yank of one as it had grabbed onto her when she'd been a child. She'd been left to hang for more than a day before Krista snuck out and set her free.
"It looks like a normal vine." Maya was trying to either convince Mel or herself.
"I grew up around witches, okay?" Mel didn't want to have this argument. "So please just trust me on this."
Maya nodded. "What do I do?"
Without a witch to deflect the spell, the only way to escape was to act quickly before the magic could take hold. "Do you have a knife?" Mel hadn't brought a weapon. Normally her claws were more than enough.
Maya crouched down and her left foot slipped, skidding a few inches behind her. But it was her right foot covered by the vine and she held steady. She rolled up her jean leg and pulled a knife out of the sheath. It was four inches with a black handle and small hilt.
She could have killed Mel anytime during their fight.
Mel didn't let herself dwell on it. Dwelling would only get them killed. She edged around the circle and took the knife from Maya. "I'm going to cut the vine, and I need you up and out of the ravine in three seconds." She put steel in her voice because she had no idea if this would work.
"What about you?" Maya asked.
"I'm limber, it’ll be fine."
Maya raised her eyebrows, skeptical. But she didn't argue.
"It'll be a count of three. Go on three. Got it?" At Maya's nod, Mel took a deep breath. "One. Two." She swung down quickly, slicing through the thick vine where it was plastered to the tree. "Three!"
Maya ran, vaulting up the edge and rolling up back onto the path. Mel didn't watch, instead flipping backwards and taking off in the other direction.
She heard a huge blast and after a second felt a jolt force her back. She whipped around, but the circle looked just as it had.
That wasn't a magic blast.
Maya ran over to her, "Jesus! What the fuck did you do?"
But Mel was shaking her head and getting up. She handed the knife blindly back to Maya. "That wasn't me. That was in town."
Through the dense trees, they couldn't see anything, but the smell of soot was already in the air and it was eerily quiet, the animals gone silent.
Without another word, Mel and Maya took off running towards the direction of the blast.
The blast knocked Luke back and sent loose twigs flying. One scraped across his cheek, tearing a gash that started to bleed. But he barely felt it. His ears were ringing from the power of the explosion and it had triggered a headache so bad it was difficult to see.
But he got up. He'd been walking alone at the edge of the woods and there would be other people, both pack members and the human citizens of Eagle Creek, who would need his help.
As he made his way towards the south, his mind was racing. The explosion had come from that direction, where the main bridge out of town. It was the fastest way to the interstate, crossing over a deep gorge over the river. He knew without checking that it had been the bridge that had blown.
It had to be the witches. His only other idea was that a tanker truck had blown up, but that would be too much of a coincidence. For some reason, they were trying to trap him and his people inside the limits of Eagle Creek.
Sinclair found him a few minutes later. The two of them had gone out into the woods to scout out a minor evacuation route. Brynne and Jonas were in town preparing EC's for an emergency meeting. The townsfolk didn't know what the pack was, but they understood enough to follow its orders when danger was afoot.
The older man was filthy with dirt clinging to his beard, but he appeared unhurt. "The bridge," was the first thing he said.
Luke nodded. "Looks like the battle's about to come to us." Luke brushed some dirt off of his shirt. "I need you to go check it out," he told Sinclair. "Is the bridge passable? What caused the explosion? Are there a dozen witches chanting destruction upon Colorado? Stay out of sight."
Sinclair nodded and was off without another word. Luke headed back into town.
This couldn't be the witch’s declaration of war. If they were allied with the vampires, they would wait until nightfall to attack. It would be foolish to attack when their forces were not at full capacity. Unlike the legends said, vampires could function during daylight, but the sun sapped their powers. Normally they had the speed and strength of shapeshifters along with limited psychic abilities. But in the sunlight they were no stronger than humans and their mental capabilities were dimmed to the point of non-existence.
It had been a sunny day when Luke went into the woods, but a gloom hung over the town by the time he escaped the cover of the trees. He could feel the clouds hanging heavy in the sky, ready to vomit forth a deluge of water.
This wasn't natural. And with the overcast sky, it would be dark enough for the vampires to attack with their power intact.
Luke sped up, running into town.
It was chaos. A car was on fire in the middle of the street. Half a dozen people were sprinting away from it. There were dozens of panicking humans, running towards their homes or cars, but no visible threat.
Their panic was contagious and he found himself glancing behind himself, unable to shake the feeling that he was being watched, stalked. None of his senses were picking up anything. There was no imminent threat, but sweat beaded on his brow and his heart sped up.