Chapter 8

Eben is already at Cory's house by the time Drystan gets there. His can smell his warm scent in the air. The bass beat of the music makes listening somewhat difficult, but if he listens closely, Drystan can pick out Eben's familiar voice tone, talking to someone.

"I know you," a girl says. "You're in my chem class."

"Yes," Eben replies. "I sit in the back."

"Have a beer!"

"Thanks?" Eben sounds puzzled. Drystan wishes they were outside, so he could actually see him.

Drystan grumbles unhappily at that. Eben shouldn't be drinking. He's supposed to be werewolf hunting. Drystan stalks the perimeter, just outside the fence. There are a lot of people on the other side, some outside and some inside the house. He hopes Eben doesn't have trouble finding the other werewolf.

He tunes back in to Eben's conversation.

"What's out back?" The boy is asking.

"Swimming pool. Why haven't I noticed you before? You're kind of hot."

Drystan whines, claws at the ground uncomfortably.

"Well. I don't normally dress like this, so if it's the clothes that's doing it for you…"

Clothes? What clothes? It must not be the clothes he'd been wearing before the sun set. Drystan resists the urge to hop the fence and find out for himself.

"Maybe a little," she admits. "It's kind of the whole package, really. And you have very pretty brown eyes."

"Thank you. So do you."

Drystan huffs and pointedly turns his attention elsewhere. If Eben won't find Madison, Drystan will just have to do it himself.

He doesn't have to search long. He catches her scent outside, around the back of the house. The stench of chlorine is thick in the air here, so this must be where the swimming pool is. After a moment's hesitation—he doesn't want to be seen—he gives in to the urge to jump on top of the brick fence separating him from the humans. He's still safely hidden amongst the shadows, so he settles himself down along the fence and blinks at the dancing humans, head cocked curiously. He'd never gone to a house party. Never understood the point of them. He can't actually get drunk. The music is always too loud at parties—or in clubs and bars—and the people all stink like liquor and sweat. The flashing lights make it difficult for his sensitive eyes to see, and crowds have always made him uncomfortable. He was only ever fond of spending his time around pack.

He lays eyes on a familiar platinum blonde head, and he would've known it was Madison even if he didn't know her face. The cloying, musky scent of a new werewolf is like an invisible cloud around her. It's not that strange that she hasn't turned yet. It's different for everyone. Drystan counts himself lucky that Caleb turned early. Being in the presence of an alpha may have had something to do with it, and Drystan briefly ponders the notion that his presence here now might push her own shift along. Otherwise, it might be after midnight before she transforms. Essentially, it could be a really long night. He really has no way of knowing.

He's pulled from his musings when a fresh whiff of magic catches his attention. He blinks in surprise, then slinks a little closer to see Eben being pulled through the crowd by a small blonde girl in too-short shorts. He growls lowly, but his rational mind tells him he can't go over and rip the girl's throat out for touching the sorcerer. Bad things happen when he gives in to urges like that, so he refrains.

"I don't really know what I'm doing," Eben says, looking stiff and uncomfortable as the girl presses in close.

"You're doing fine! You've just got to feel the music. Let it lead you."

Eben seems to mull that over, and Drystan can all but see the cogs turning in his head. After a beat too long, he shakes himself and says, "Yeah, I don't know how to do that."

"Here, it's like this." She steps closer, and Drystan bares his teeth when she rolls her hips. Her only saving grace is that it's obvious to Drystan that Eben is paying more attention to the couple behind her, keeping his eyes trained on a platinum blonde in a short dress dancing with her boyfriend. Ah, so that's Cory.

Drystan alternates between watching Eben sway stiffly with the girl and drain his beer, and Madison and Cory dissolve into an argument. Drystan doesn't bother listening to what the argument is about, but he catches enough words of it to know that Cory is jealous of some guy she was talking to earlier that evening. Drystan sympathizes.

He turns to glare at the Eben and the girl again, only to see that they've stopped dancing so she can chat with her friends. Eben nods absently, watching Madison. Drystan follows his gaze in time to see Madison clutch her stomach. Cory grabs her arm, and she shoves him. Drystan straightens when the boy falls back into the swimming pool. Madison runs for a side door in the fence, and Eben goes to follow her.

Drystan hops down from his perch and trots after them. This is the whole reason he's out tonight. It's about damn time. He was starting to lose IQ points listening to drunken teenagers try to have meaningful conversations.

"Madison!" Eben shouts, chasing after her, toward the trees.

She spins sharply. "What do you want? Go away!"

"I can help you." Eben holds up placating hands, inching closer.

"I don't need your help!" She screams, and her eyes flash neon green. Eben stops dead. "Leave me alone!"

"Madison, please." Eben raises both hands and eases closer.

She snarls, and Drystan knows it's time. She's turning.

"Oh, shit," Eben breathes.

Drystan moves closer. Madison rips her dress and drops to all fours, sprouting white blonde hair across her body. She bares her teeth at Eben, and her claws gouge the earth beneath her. Eben's pulse is pounding in Drystan's sensitive ears, but he's showing no outward signs of fear. That's good. She wouldn't be able to fight in the instinct to chase if he ran now. They're too close to the other humans.

"Madison, stop it!" Eben shouts, pointing like a parent disciplining a child.

Madison lunges for him.

Now Eben runs, and that's good, although he stumbles. Drystan sprints for her, pushing his body to its limits. He launches himself toward her, tackling her midair before she can reach Eben. The landing tears them apart, and Drystan climbs to his feet before the white wolf can recover. He leaps at her before she can stand, because she's still growling and there's fury in her green eyes.

He gets his mouth around her throat and bites down, but she doesn't submit. Her claws open gashes in his underbelly. The pain momentarily stuns him, because most young wolves don't fight against an alpha's hold. She slips free of his jaws, and he feels the wounds seal shut. Drystan licks the blood from his mouth and takes a step forward—.

An invisible string yanks them apart, and Drystan hits the ground some fifteen feet from where they were fighting. When he raises his head, he sees Madison received similar treatment. When he gets to his feet, he feels something press against him, holding him in place. A glance to the side shows him Eben, holding a hand out toward him. Eben is keeping him in place? For what? Saving his life? Drystan huffs.

Their attention returns to Madison when the white wolf gets to her feet. She snarls at Eben—what she perceives to be the weaker opponent.

"Madison, don't!" He shouts when she ducks her head, showing her teeth. "I don't want to hurt you!"

She leaps for him. Drystan struggles against the power holding him still, but Eben doesn't let up, even as he raises his other hand to do defend himself from Madison.

It's unnecessary. Drystan senses the other alpha before he sees him, standing in the shadow of the trees. He's in human form, wearing a hood that conceals his face. He throws out a chain that wraps itself around Madison's legs, midair—with magic, no doubt. When he wrenches back on the chains, Madison goes down hard, roaring in pain as the silver burns her legs.

Drystan lunges for him, but Eben's stupid magic holds him still. He plants his feet and pushes against the barrier, despite how useless it feels. Eben's magic is solid.

"No!" Eben screams, starting forward. Madison swipes at him with her claws, and Eben goes down. It's close, and Drystan fears he was hit until he sees Eben raise up on his elbows to stare at them, horror in his eyes as the other sorcerer waves his hand and Madison writhes in pain.

She's forced back into her human form, and the sorcerer drags her backwards. He gets another chain around her neck and pulls her up, dragging her against him.

"No!" Eben shouts again, getting to his feet. He runs toward them, but he's barely even with Drystan when the sorcerer waves his hand and something hits Eben right in the chest, clothes-lining him. His feet fly out from under him, and Drystan knows he'll be feeling that particular fall in the morning.

Drystan fights the magic binding him still. Despite being wounded, Eben hasn't relented. Drystan feels a flare of pride that rivals his frustration and rage.

"No, no, no," Eben groans into the grass, and then he suddenly looks up at him. Right at Drystan. "Drystan?"

Drystan snaps his teeth. It's about damn time. Eben waves the magic away as he breaks into a run toward the forest. Drystan is quick on his heels, drawing even with him as they pass the tree line.

"How—did you get out?" Eben gasps as they run.

Drystan glances over at him. Please. Like he was going to let Eben handle a new werewolf alone. Eben should know him better than that. After that, they just run.

He's not really surprised by how deeply into the forest they have to go before they reach the sorcerer and Madison. This magician is powerful; he would have to be, to evade the entire Lowell pack for so long. None of his family members had ever gotten as close as he is now, until they themselves were captured and killed by their prey.

Through the darkness, Drystan can see the soft light of candles and hear Madison moaning in pain. She doesn't sound fully conscious. He's sure, if she was, she would be screaming. When they breach the clearing where the ritualistic circle is set up, Eben leaps for the circle itself, kicking one of the candles away and lifting up the silver circle around Madison.

Drystan lunges for the cloaked figure at Madison's head. He's so close. If he can just get near enough to sink his teeth in, this could all be over. His family would finally be avenged.

The sorcerer flicks a hand at him, and a wave of power catches Drystan in midair, throwing him backwards. His back hits a tree, and he feels his spine snap. The breath is knocked from his lungs, which is the only reason why he doesn't howl in pain. On the ground, he can't move. He's paralyzed from the break down, until it heals. His front paws claw the earth in front of him. He can't be immobilized right now. The sorcerer is right there.

All he can do is watch while the sorcerer and Eben exchange magical blows. The sorcerer gets one hit in, and then Eben meets his next attack with one of his own.

"You can't have her!" He screams. "You can't have any of them!"

The sorcerer's head tilts. Drystan wishes he could see his face. He seems to be regarding Eben with something akin to…curiosity?

"This is my town!" Eben continues stubbornly. "I won't let you hurt anyone in it."

The sorcerer unleashes a blast of fire, but Eben blocks it with a spell of his own. Drystan knows that particular protection spell intimately. He remembers coming up against it when he and Eben first met.

He struggles to his feet, dragging himself up by his front paws. His back legs feel weak, but the feeling is back. He's barely turned blazing eyes on the sorcerer when the dark figure waves a hand at him. Drystan doesn't have time to react; something blows him backwards with the force of a tornado. His head slams into the tree behind him, and everything goes dark.

When he comes to, the sorcerer is gone. He shakes himself, checking over his injuries. His back seems fine, and his headache is fading fast.

But the sorcerer got away.

Drystan bites back the snarl he wants to emit and turns to look at Eben. The boy has seen better days, holding himself stiffly and glancing around nervously, hands raised to attack anything unexpected. After a beat, he turns to deal with Madison.

She's a little out of it, until she rolls her head to one side and sees Drystan standing there. Her scream is shrill and grating. Drystan's ears flick backwards reflexively, and if he could cringe, he would. She kicks Eben in the chest in her haste to get away, and he falls back on his bottom, winded.

Drystan watches bemusedly as he scrambles after her, saying, "It's okay, it's okay! We're here to help!"

"That—what is that?! What's going on?"

"That's… That's a werewolf," Eben admits, turning around to look at him. "But he's totally harmless! Like a big puppy, really."

Drystan takes that as his cue. While he's no one's house pet, he's controlled enough to prove he's friendly in this form, when he lacks the vocal chords to just say so. Eben's heartbeat hastens when Drystan invades his personal space. The alpha gives in to the urge to press his nose against the boy's chest, inhaling the fresh, tingling scent of magic, the salty scent of perspiration, the warm, sweet scent of Eben. He presses a huge paw against Eben's thigh, feeling the warmth of the muscle the flexes slightly at the touch, and leans up to lick Eben's throat. He's been given permission to do that before. He assumes it's okay if he does it again. Eben's hands tentatively touch the top of his head, just in front of his pointed ears. When they dig in, near the place where his head smashed against the tree, he rumbles happily, tail swishing despite his best efforts.

"See? You don't have to be afraid of him."

Drystan pulls back, and Madison nods weakly.

"Come on. We've got to go. It's not safe out here." Eben rises and helps Madison up, then gives her his shirts to cover herself with. Drystan supposes nudity isn't something humans are comfortable with.

Eben picks her up, one arm beneath her legs, and she gasps in surprise.

"I can walk," she protests. "You're hurt."

Drystan eyes Eben critically. He can't see any visible injuries, but Eben does seem to be holding himself carefully, like something aches. "Your feet will be torn to shreds if you walk out here barefoot. I'm carrying you, and that's all there is to it."

Madison hums in agreement and leans her head on his shoulder. "What's going on?"

They start walking while Eben explains. Drystan sticks close by the boy's side, glancing around the dark forest for signs of trouble.

"You're a werewolf, I'm a sorcerer, this here is Drystan—he's also a werewolf—and that other guy was a werewolf sorcerer who was going to kill you as a werewolf sacrifice in a dark ritual." Said in such a simplistic manner, it sounds ridiculous.

She's quiet for a moment. "I'd think you're joking, but…"

"But you just saw all of it firsthand."

She nods against his collar. "I did. I really did." She looks up at him. "Thank you. You saved my life."

He smiles weakly. "No problem."

Drystan would be irritated at the lack of recognition, if he hadn't spent the majority of the fight on the ground or unconscious. Nobody ever said fighting a sorcerer would be easy. He learned that lesson with Eben, who isn't trying to kill him.

"What am I going to do?" Madison asks brokenly.

"You're going to meet Caleb and Drystan sometime, when they have human vocal chords. Caleb is a werewolf, too. We're trying to deal with that sorcerer guy."

"Have you always been able to do magic?"

He shrugs. "No, but almost always. It's just part of who I am, now."

"Will I become a werewolf again tonight?"

Eben frowns. "I don't know. He did something—some kind of spell, that made you change back. You might be okay for tonight."

"Good. I just want to go home."

"You won't…tell anyone about this, will you? About me, or the werewolf stuff, or what happened tonight?"

"Who would believe me?"

"Well, I'm going to give you my number. If you start feeling like you're going to turn again, you call me. Don't wait. If you start feeling funny at all, call me. Okay?"

"I will," she whispers against his skin. Drystan doesn't like how close her face is to Eben's neck. "Can you take me around the property? I just want to get straight to my car and go home. I don't want anyone to see me."

"Sure."

He isn't sure how long they walk. Time seems irrelevant when he's in wolf form. He's with pack, pack is safe, and that's all that matters. He keeps his eyes trained on the darkness, peering through the trees as far as his heightened sight will allow, staying on guard until they reach the tree line. Eben puts Madison down to get her clothes and shoes, and Eben turns to face him. Drystan doesn't quite leave the shadows provided by the trees. He doesn't want to risk being seen.

"You won't fit in my car," he says. "Can you make it back to the warehouse on your own? I'm going to take her home."

Well, no. Just no. Pack is together. Pack is safe. Pack shouldn't separate now, not when enemies could still be nearby. Because he can't voice any of this, he huffs and tosses his head to the side.

"I'm taking her home, Drystan. Don't argue with me. She's fine for now. She isn't going to turn back, and she's traumatized. She'll be perfectly safe at home."

He sighs. That wasn't at all what he'd meant. Of course the stupid girl can go home. He doesn't care about her. If they separate, something could happen to Eben.

"Go back to the warehouse, okay?" Eben asks softly.

Eben is a sorcerer, he assures himself. Eben can take care of himself. He's proven that much tonight. He's more than proven that.

Drystan nods and moves in close, ducking his head down to press his forehead against Eben's chest, breathing in the complex smells, the sweet and salty and spicy scents he's come to know as Eben.

Mate, his wolf says, and the human in him quails at the thought.

"Be safe. I'll see you soon." He digs his fingers into the thick black fur behind Drystan's ears, and a barely audible rumble leaves Drystan's throat. Eben curls forward and presses his cheek against the top of Drystan's head, embracing him.

Mate, the wolf insists, and the human doesn't know how to argue with the conviction in the feeling.

Eben straightens, and Drystan raises his head to take one last long look at the teen before he turns and disappears in the trees.