Nightshade Page 27

I shook my head. Was that a flash of disappointment in his eyes? “You’ve been reading too many comics, Shay.”

His lips cut into a thin smile. “So then tell me what makes a Guardian. I mean besides your origin story.”

“Well, we can be made the usual way. I have parents and a younger brother.” He looked surprised and I laughed. “But our families function differently. There isn’t a fall in love, get married, have children formula. New Guardian packs are planned well in advance. But if there is a sudden call for Guardians, they can be made. Alphas can turn humans.”

“An alpha?” He wandered back over to his pack, searching through it until he pulled out a granola bar.

“Pack leader.” I stood still, watching him.

“Are you an alpha? You act like you’re in charge. And you referred to Bryn as your ‘second.’”

“I am.” His careful observations pleased me.

“How do you turn a human?” He beckoned to me again, patting the earth next to him.

“A bite and an incantation.” I walked slowly toward Shay.

He glanced up at me, his eyes filled with a mixture of fear and interest.

“Don’t get any ideas. I only bite to kill.” I shook my head, smiling when he recoiled. “Turning a human only happens if there is a dire need for Guardians and there isn’t time to wait for a pack to raise their young. Guardians who are made, not born, don’t have innate comfort in both their forms. It takes a while for them to make the adjustment. But if they’re needed, they’re needed.”

“What do you mean ‘if they’re needed’?”

I settled on the ground near him. “We’re warriors. Wars make casualties. But there hasn’t been that desperate a situation for several centuries.”

“Who can order you to make new Guardians?” he asked.

I bit my lip. “My mistress.”

“Your mistress?” He stopped unwrapping the bar.

“Lumine Nightshade. You know her. She was with Efron on Friday night, in the office.”

Shay nodded, but his eyes were troubled.

“She has authority over my pack,” I continued. “The Nightshades.”

“Your pack?” he murmured. “Is there more than one?”

“There are two,” I said. “The other is Efron’s pack. The Banes.”

“How many Guardians are there?” he asked.

“Fifty wolves in each pack, more or less,” I replied, and he whistled, leaning back on his elbows. “The packs always start small and are allowed to grow over time if the alphas prove capable warriors and leaders.”

“Do I know any of them?” He gave up on the idea of a snack, shoving his granola bar back into his bag.

“You’ve probably seen some of the adults around, but you wouldn’t be able to recognize them unless they shifted in front of you, and that isn’t allowed,” I said. “The younger wolves all go to our school. The Nightshades are my friends, and lately we’ve been hanging out with the younger Banes.”

Pieces of knowledge locked together, transforming his expression. “Ren Laroche and his gang.”

“Gang?” I tore a fistful of grass from the earth and showered Shay in dirt and decaying greens.

“Well, you guys all kind of act like it.” He brushed debris from his sweater, shook soil from his hair.

“We’re wolves, not a gang,” I said. “Besides, Ren’s friends and mine—the Nightshades—we’re just the kids. Our parents and the other mature wolves are the true packs. They run all the weekday and night patrols of the mountain. We just take over day shifts on the weekends.”

He paled. “So that’s why if I’d been up here any other day of the week . . .”

“You’d be dead,” I finished.

“Right.” He leaned back, watching clouds move above us. “So why two packs?”

“The Banes patrol the western face and we patrol the east,” I said. “But the patterns will change soon.”

“Why is that?” He didn’t look at me.

“The Keepers are sending a third pack into the mix.”

Shay sat up. “A third pack? Where are they coming from?”

I looked away, suddenly self-conscious. “Not from anywhere else. It’s going to be a union of the young wolves from the two packs that already exist. The next generation of Banes and Nightshades. We’re the new pack. Right now it’s just the ten of us. Like I said, the packs always start out small; we’ll have to prove ourselves before new wolves are added to our ranks.”

“Calla.” The ferocity in his tone drew my gaze back to him. He’d pressed his fingers into the earth, whitening his knuckles. “Why do you keep saying ‘we’?”

“Ren and I are the alphas of our generation. We’ll lead the new pack.”

His brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”

My cheeks grew hot. I reached for my braid, twisting it in my hand. “What do you know about wolves?”

“Bigger, stronger dogs?” He blanched at my baleful stare. “Sorry. I know nothing.”

“Okay,” I said, fumbling for the simplest explanation. “So, our social bonds are incredibly strong and revolve around loyalty to the pack alphas. Two alphas mate and rule over their pack. Each alpha has a beta, which is like our second in command. Bryn is mine. Dax is Ren’s. The rest of the pack falls in line accordingly and follows our orders. The bonds of affection within the pack make us fierce, the warriors we need to be. That’s how we move through the world and how we fulfill our duties to the Keepers.” I smiled wryly. “And probably why you think we act like a gang.”

Shay didn’t laugh. “So how did you decide to make this new pack?”

“I didn’t. The Keepers are the only ones who can order the formation of a new pack.”

“But you just said that two alphas mate to create a new pack?” His voice quaked.

I nodded, feeling the heat in my cheeks spill down my neck and arms. I have to tell him; he has to know. But I didn’t want to. I was sure he’d stop touching me as soon as he knew the truth, and that thought made me feel empty.

“You can’t tell me that you’re going to . . . mate”—he choked on the word—“with Ren Laroche because you’ve been ordered to.”

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