Chapter 13 – THE BOOK – Dakota

DAKOTA

I think I sat there for about an hour, at least, on the ground, surrounded by a ton of flowers that had decided to come and visit me, while I absentmindedly pet Rex. The little boy inside needed me. I could feel it, and I wasn’t sure how I could feel it. The same way I could feel it with everyone else lately. Everyone I came across, I could feel pain. I could feel their need for love and affection, for healing. It was just too much, too many people. Even that James guy needed me, although he seemed to want to protect me more than anything. I hated that my powers were coming in. I felt like I was in puberty all over again. It took everything in me to not freak out. Like the other night when I wanted some candy and Sage had the audacity to tell me I needed to stay fit. Then the house shook. I knew that had been me. And I’m pretty sure it was the earth shaking, not the house.

I felt James close, still watching over me. I needed a friend right now. I needed him to not be so distant with me. I swallowed hard. “James?” Silence ensued. I closed my eyes and pulled Rex closer to me. He went willingly. “James, please. I just… I need someone to talk to.” I sat like that for a few minutes before I felt a drop on my head, then a tear fall down my cheek. That was when he came to me. Still unkempt and aloof, but far more open than he had ever been before.

Still clad in pretty basic clothing, he came to sit beside me. He was within arm’s length but wouldn’t get much closer. I turned to him and smiled. “Thanks.”

To my surprise, he smiled back. “No problem.”

We sat like that for a while, in silence while Rex slowly fell asleep. When he did, he turned into a little boy. A handsome little boy with brown hair and golden skin. “I didn’t know that Zeos changed when they sleep.”

“They only change from the shape they’re in if they feel comfortable. If we fall asleep in our animal form, when we don’t feel comfortable or safe, we’ll stay that way.”

“So he trusts me?” I turned to James and beamed at the idea. This little guy, this boy who was so terrified that he hadn’t changed since his father’s death, had finally felt comfortable enough with me that his body allowed him to change. “That’s the most amazing thing I think I’ve ever done.”

James gave a strained chuckle. “See, you can do more than just make grass grow.”

It brought me back to the reality of it all. “I haven’t told Sage this yet, but…” he sat there waiting for me, knowing I would say it when I was ready but not seeming to be in a hurry to hear it. I didn’t know if it was because he didn’t want to know or he was afraid of the outcome. “I can feel things. From the people I meet.”

“What is it you’re feeling?”

I shrugged and looked away. “It’s like a part of me is able to see what they need, or feel it. I know when someone is hurting inside and, to be honest, it scares the shit out of me. I know my powers are growing. I can feel them. But I don’t know what it means, what I’m supposed to do with it.”

“I can’t help you with that part, Dakota. What I will tell you is that, from what I have witnessed, helping people will become a compulsion for you. You’ll crave it.” James gently wiped the tear away and turned my head towards him.

“You need me, too, James. I can feel your pain.”

He smiled solemnly. “I know and I’m sorry for that.“ He took a deep breath and looked towards the path that lead to the house. “Your abilities are gonna be more than any other Guardian in history, Dakota. I know that for a fact, which is why it’s so important for you to hone them now. Those men, they want you. They’re not gonna stop until they have you, either. So, even though it’s scary, and the path seems too hard and unforgiving, you need to work towards control. You need to be stronger than they bargained for.” His lip quivered. “They won’t expect you to be strong so fast. Let those bastards underestimate you.”

“So you’re saying I should jump off that cliff?” I asked with dry sarcasm.

James laughed an almost genuine laugh. “No. I would kill Sage if something happened to you.” I don’t know why it felt so good to know he cared that much, but I felt a girlish squeal rise up that I had to fight to squash. He leaned against the the fallen tree behind us and relaxed. “But Just try, okay?”

“Can I try in a couple hours?” He nodded but didn’t look at me. I leaned against the tree with him. “James?” He hummed a recognition. “Can you just…” I didn’t know how to articulate what I needed, or why I was allowing myself to be so vulnerable around him. James felt safe, he felt like love, the kind that makes you feel protected and cared for.

I didn’t have to tell him what I needed. He reached around and pulled me to him. His thin body was surprisingly comforting and I found myself nuzzling into his embrace. I sighed and whispered a thanks.

“Dakota?” I opened my eyes and looked around. Rex was in wolf form, staring at me curiously while James was looking down, trying to get my attention. I squinted up at him. “You fell asleep. Sorry, but Rex is hungry, I think, and so am I. Are you ready to head back?” I almost protested when my stomach gurgled loudly. He laughed. “I’m taking that as a ’yes’. Come on.”

Something was different about James, I realized as we headed back. The weight he always carried with him seemed a little less, and I even caught a smile from time to time. “You gonna come in and eat with me?” I asked casually while secretly praying he would agree.

“I don’t know about that, Dakota.”

He needs to eat more than anyone here. And I really didn’t want to stop being around him. “Oh, come on. Don’t leave me to deal with Sage all alone. Please? I’ll let you bite him if he pisses me off.”

He laughed. “I’m a Hawk.”

“Okay, fine. You can peck his eyes out.” He laughed again and that time it seemed to actually reach his eyes. “Is that a yes?”

He glanced over at me as we continued our long walk back. “Okay, I’ll eat with you.”

Chapter 13 – THE BOOK – Sage

SAGE

“I’m not doing that.”

“Come on, Dakota. You can’t say that to every suggestion.” I rolled my eyes.

She laughed. “You’re seriously gonna roll your eyes right now? You literally just told me to jump off a cliff… and meant it!”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, well, either result would make me happy.”

Okay, that pushed a few too many buttons. She stood up with her lips pressed tightly together and poured her ice cold fucking water all over me. “You asshole!”

She turned and walked quickly away, towards the forest. Not surprising. “Dakota stop.” I went after her while trying to shake some of the water off of me. “It was a joke. Why are you taking it so seriously?”

“Why?!” She practically screamed back at me as she kept walking. “You’re not the one that everyone keeps staring at, the one that everyone is expecting to do some magic trick like I’m some freak!” I saw Rex running towards her. She didn’t even flinch. She knew he was there for her. That he would probably bite me if he thought she wanted him to.

Another body came from the trees, bounding down the path. His wild hair and unkempt look seemed to make his malnourished body even more intimidating, not that I’d ever admit it. He walked past her and stopped in front of me. “You’re done here.”

I ground my teeth and stopped. “We need to work.”

He stepped closer to me and that was when I realized that he had actually bathed. “You will leave my sister alone.” He said the words softly, yet with such firmness that I actually did take a step back. “She’ll be back when she’s ready.”

I looked up at the sun. It was still pretty early. I had worked her pretty hard yesterday evening and I had made her go for a jog this morning before we started going through the notes that Denni had left for us. “Fine. But I would like to try something today.”

“When she’s ready, not you.” He turned and walked away, slipping soundlessly into the trees. “I’ll take good care of her Wolf. Now leave.” The last words filtered through the dense woods and I had to stand there for a moment, fighting the urge to follow.

“Fuck.” I tapped my fingers rapidly on my leg, then turned and walked back to the deck. Denni and Corey stood there waiting for me. Their heads tilted curiously. “She needed a break.”

“From what?” Corey asked as he sat down with coffee and a handful of papers.

“From me.”

Denni and Corey both started laughing. It wasn’t that funny. “Big shocker. Are you trying to big brother her or fuck her?” Corey sat down and grinned as his question resonated in my brain.

“What?!” I asked with disgust. Denni smacked him upside the head, but not without laughing herself.

She looked at me innocently. “Oh, come on. You rarely have a middle ground. You try to control everything and everyone.”

“I do not.” I clipped the words bitterly as I sat down to go through more notes. “Just help me figure this shit out.”

“Actually,” Denni started as she sat the baby monitor on the table, “I was thinking about that. What if what Moiragetes meant was to use more than one element?”

I pursued my lips in thought for a moment. “You think that’s it?”

“Could be. Not to look too deeply into that cobra, but maybe…” she stopped and looked around before leaning in to whisper, “maybe it means exactly what we think it means.”

“A God?”

“Goddess, you mean?” Corey interjected. We both looked at him. “Well, we know Hawthorne isn’t part God, right? And that’s how they’re related, through their father, so it would have to mean that her mother was either a Goddess or part Goddess.”

I thought about that, wondering, if Corey was right, which goddess out of the hundreds it could possibly be. But Dakota did have something unique about her. Her eyes. Her amber eyes were so intense, you would think they had their own internal light. Only one time in my life have I seen eyes like that. Damn. He might just be right. “She’s gonna freak out if you tell her that.”

“Tell her what?”

We all turned around to see Jerome standing at the edge of the deck. He had his face clear of wild hair, while still leaving a slight shadow, and his clothes looked new and far more stylish than usual. “Hey there. You going on a date tonight?”

He looked at me and smiled. “Nah, I just decided to clean up a little. No sense in letting this nice package go to waste.” For a man that’s supposed to be more in tune with earth and all that crap, he sure was pretty quick to boast about his good looks.

“Careful, Bear. One day, someone’s gonna come along and deflate that little bubble.”

“It’s a pretty big bubble to burst, Sage.” He gave me a malicious stare and sat down at one of the empty tables. “So, I hear you’re trying to figure out this whole ‘unlock her powers’ thing. Any luck?”

“Yeah, not really. Every time I suggest something to her, she shoots it down.”

“Maybe you should try this little thing called ‘finesse’. Works for me.” He laughed and then leaned forward, glancing at the notes that Denni had made. “Where’d you get all this information from?”

“Moiragetes, himself. Gave it to Dakota to give to me.” He looked up at me and I knew then exactly why he had dressed up. He wanted her. I felt my jaw clench. “I was taking a nap, Moiragetes showed up and gave her the book. Interesting, huh?”

“You two were napping together? How cute.”

“They weren’t napping together,” Corey explained with a loud chuckle. “He was pissing her off again and Moiragetes came around and knocked his ass out so he could have a talk with her.”

“You’re really good at pissing her off, I hear.” I began tapping my fingers again, harder this time. Jerome laughed. “Alright, let’s just take a step back and go over what we know. How about you three fill me in on where we’re at.”

Discouragement and Courage

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to not get discouraged. My weight loss has slowed down a lot, and that need for instant gratification tends to weigh heavily in my mind. I catch myself wanting to find some cure all pill, or an extreme weight loss diet in order to shed an extreme amount of weight in a short time. And why? I think I might be getting addicted to the attention I have been receiving. I want people to see me. I want people to be proud of me. Is that because deep down I’m still not proud of myself? Am I stuck on a boulder in the path to self love? It’s how it feels. I feel stuck. I feel self hatred coming back full force in my mind. I am becoming increasingly dependent on the opinion of others to keep me going. I need to stop it, but I don’t know how. I started an Instagram page to document my progress, this life altering journey I am on. Today, I noticed that I had lost 8 followers in the course of an evening and I got extremely upset. I began to wonder what I had done wrong to make them leave? Was it the post about watching “The Greatest Showman”? Was it because I posted one too many selfies? Were my photos not professional enough? I wanted answers desperately this morning. I wanted to know what it was that I needed to fix in order for those people to come back. Then it dawned on me… WHAT?!?!?! My inner voice began talking at this point, and this is what she said:Excuse me, you’re upset about what? Because some complete strangers that you don’t even know who they are, where they live, what their life is like, decided to stop following you? You literally know nothing about them, and you’re ready to jump off the fucking deep end in order to impress them?! What is that going to accomplish? How is that going to make your life richer? How is that going to make you happy? You still can’t even look in the mirror without finding something to criticize. Do you think that these people value you? That they will improve your self worth? No, they won’t. This Instagram page wasn’t meant to be about how many followers you got, or how many likes you received. This was supposed to be for you. A virtual journal that you could look back on, and something that you hoped would one day inspire someone else to make those positive changes in their life, too. You are not responsible for their happiness. You are responsible for yours. Stop looking at those likes, or how many followers you have. Stop worrying about being liked by others and get back to learning to like yourself. One day, you’ll find that the self love that you were seeking will be there, because of your own strength and determination, not because of strangers on the internet. Get back to why you started this in the first place. Get back to learning how to love yourself. She was right, on all accounts. My inner voice is a very strong woman. I think I need to let her talk more often. So starting today, I’m gonna work on posting pictures that I like, not ones that I think others will like. So what should that be? 🤔Eh, I guess we’ll find out!

Half Breed – Chapter 23 – excerpt

I thought hard until my brain hurt. Until my throat grew more hoarse from the screams and the rain had no choice but to listen to me. Then the wind picked up, shoving the rain against the trees so hard that they stripped them of their bark, stripping them of the magic.

“Hey, sexy. You’re looking pretty good.” Cody grinned wide and looked me up and down. “You do have some luscious hips, don’t you?”

I snarled at the sack of shit. “Where’s my pack mate?”

His eyebrows lifted, “Oh, your pack mate? You’re in a pack now?” He laughed, “How cute.”

I walked towards him, “Give him back.”

He shrugged. “Fine.” From behind him, three men walked out, Chayton’s lifeless body being dragged between two of them. I wanted to cry at the sight but I fought back the emotion with anger. Bitterness. The need for revenge. “It’s you I wanted, anyway.”

I grinned wryly, “Yeah, well, you can’t have me, either.” My lips turned to a snarl. “Now give him back to me.” Cody smiled and all I could think about was smacking that smug look off his perfect little face.

The men came up to me, equally annoying expressions. I looked to Chayton and felt anger well up inside. No. It was more than anger. Hatred, raw and deep, for the man that had done this to him.

Patches of hair had been ripped from his head, his face beaten and bloodied. A steady stream of blood dripped from his mouth. Deep purple marks welled up on his throat where they had strangled him. His shirt had been removed and signs of bruising and severe swelling marred his skin.

How had no one else noticed this? How is it that, with all the security out here, there’s no one around that heard the commotion? I looked up to Cody with the question on my lips. He laughed, “Oh, are you curious about how we got away with this? I had help.”

“What kind of help?”

He grinned wider, “The kind that helps to ensure my deeds go unnoticed until I deem for them to be otherwise.”

I sucked in a deep breath and held my hands out to take him from them. The men stepped away and let Chayton’s limp body fall to the ground. A tear rimmed my eyes and it took everything in me not to let it out.

I fell to the ground and felt for his pulse. I could still see the lifeless tendril that blinked with only the faintest hint of hope. I ran my hand along his swollen cheek and thought. What was I going to do? Chayton needed me, but I knew that Cody wasn’t about to let me help him. He wanted me.

Yeah. He wanted me. He used Chayton. I looked up to Cody with unmitigated fury. “Why him?”

“Why not? He was easy. I wasn’t looking to get my ass handed to me by that fucking cat roaming around. I just wanted your attention.”

I had been too overwhelmed with pain and anger to realize that three more men had emerged from the trees and flanked my back. I passed a side-long glance to them then turned back to Cody. “What do you want from me?”

He grinned. “I need your help to get myself and my associates to our destination.”

I sent him a wicked glance. “Foten Kullarna.”

“You’ve been studying, haven’t you?” His eyes shot up with surprise. “What else do you know?”

I heard a man’s voice in the distance, calling my name, then Chayton’s. If he was right, they wouldn’t find us. I would be taken without a second thought and Chayton would be left here to die. So what do I do?

The sky above us grumbled. I looked up curiously. How much control did I have over these elements? I looked around and searched quickly for signs of magical markers, something that I could get rid of.

“I know you’re playing with vampires,” I stated with forced coolness.

He laughed. “Nice choice of words.” He sobered and I chanced a quick glance at a tree while testing Chayton’s heartbeat and my mental hold on him. “They think they’re playing me. Can you believe that?” A few trees behind him had what looked like hieroglyphs written with a sparkling blue substance. “I didn’t have to hurt the kid, you know.”

“Yeah?” I asked sarcastically, still holding Chayton’s spirit to his body. That was what I was doing, I realized, as I clung harder to the tendril that was so uniquely him. The men moved closer to me. “So, why did you? Why did you push this kid to the brink of death?”

He sighed, shaking is head as if I were a child that had a knack for disappointing him. “First off, if you hadn’t run off, we wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. Second,” He came to stand beside Chayton’s body and squatted to our level. I instinctively covered his body with my own. Cody put his hands up in defeat. “Point taken.”

He rested his arms on his knees as he continued. “Second, if he had just called you out here as I suggested, I wouldn’t have had to use quite so much force.” He looked down somberly. “I had a feeling you had integrated yourself into your pack. You wouldn’t be able to resist a fallen pack member.”

Thunder rumbled again. The lightning must not be that close, but was the storm close enough for it to rain? I tried to keep the conversation going, “he’s loyal.”

I began chanting in my mind for rain. Picturing hurricane-like rainfall that rushed through the trees and cleared the trees of the markings that had to be what kept the others from finding us. “He’s stupid.” Corey spat, snarling at the defiance. “You want him to live, then come with me.”

I laughed indignantly. “Are you fucking serious right now? I’m the only thing keeping him alive right now, and you think me leaving is going to help him?!” I felt a raindrop smack my cheek. Cody looked up and cursed. “What’s the matter? Did you not realize that you’d almost killed him, or are you just pissed that I’m not that stupid?”

“Shut the fuck up, Dakota.” His baby face was red with anger as he looked back up at the sky. That’s when it dawned on me. Sage thinks he’s a guardian, too. I breathed heavily, determination fueling my resistance. The way he looked up to the sky, I knew exactly what he was doing. If he, in fact, was a guardian that could control water, that is. But then, so can I.

But my powers, whatever the hell they were, were helping me to keep Chayton alive. Did I have the power to control the water and hold onto his spirit? I ignored the men around me, who seemed to have come closer in clear defensive stances, and tried to feel the magic inside of me. I knew there was something there. There had to be. How else had I been able to find Chayton? Fuck. Why did they have to come now?

Wait… why now? I looked to Cody. “How’d you know?”

Cody didn’t take his eyes from the ground. “An earthquake and a rush of guardian magic is a pretty fucking good way to tell some shit happened, Dakota. I’m not an idiot.”

He knew I’d be weak. How long had he hidden out here? And what kind of damn magic is this that keeps anyone from finding us? Cody grinned and I realized it was because he was controlling the rain to keep it from hitting us. I snarled. He was not about to win this.

Just as Cody turned to continue his ridiculous proposal, I dug my toes into the ground, having the innate need to be as close to the earth as I could possibly get. The free hand that didn’t hold the gaping wound on Chatyon’s ribs dug into the ground as well, and I focused. I imagined myself, using the anger and the bitterness that Cody elicited and used it as a slingshot, pulling the water from the sky as I continued to keep Chayton tethered to me.

Then a drop fell. Then twenty more drops. And before Cody realized that he had lost the battle of control, rain began to fall so fast and hard, it created a near whiteout. The rain fell as Cody yelled loudly for the men to grab me. I snarled my lips and dug my feet and hand in deeper, trying to solidify my hold. A guttural scream escaped my mouth as rain drenched me. And around me, I spotted three trees that had the markings. There was definitely more. I just knew it, but I was hoping that it would act like a salt barrier. If you break the circle, you break the magic.

I thought hard until my brain hurt. Until my throat grew more hoarse from the screams and the rain had no choice but to listen to me. Then the wind picked up, shoving the rain against the trees so hard that they stripped them of their bark, stripping them of the magic.

I stopped my mind. I stopped the fight with the rain as a man hauled me from the ground, and in every bone in my body, I pulled all the energy I could and screamed louder than I ever have before. “Sage!”

Because I knew he was out here. He was a protector. He was a protector, not just of me, but of Chayton. Another scream left my lips and the man holding me wrapped his arm around my mouth and nose. Fuck. I can’t fucking breath! Is he trying to kill me? I closed my eyes and checked on Chayton’s life force. It was still there, only weak. But if this guy didn’t let me breath soon, I would pass out and Chayton would die. I began to kick and swing my limbs. I really should have tried harder in those damn defense lessons Sage was trying to teach me.

Sage! Please Sage, Chayton’s dying! Hurry! I had forgotten about my psychic link to him and suddenly began to frantically scream out to him. Please! I swear I’ll do better in my lessons. I swear I’ll stop giving you attitude, just help him!

Get ready to run. It was the only warning I had before a large, red wolf flew through the air.