The Heart of The Forest 2.04

Shadows Rise

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[Valcrest Forest | Lunaris 14th, 2525 | Mid Afternoon]

Dani staggered down the path. Red stained several spots on the back of her tunic. Quickly forming bruises added to existing aches in her muscles. Air from a cold winter breeze bit at her sweat-drenched clothes causing an occasional shiver down her spine. Lena dragged her out of bed before sunrise for training that morning. The dye pellets initially created for their game; modified into heavier projectiles, were now sturdy enough to leave welts upon impact, and Dani was far from thrilled with the change.

Lena hadn’t told her much about their mother’s reaction—or the ensuing arguments with Eldric’s father—following their little dye battle, but had cracked down harder and harder on training over the course of the following weeks. The looming threat of hanging upside down was also a constant thought in the back of Dani’s mind. She knew Lena hadn’t forgotten that; Lena never forgot anything.

The increased intensity as of late made it all the more strange when Lena ended their session early. Even their milder training sessions normally went uninterrupted until sundown. Lena’s silence on the walk back to camp didn’t invite many questions, but she was tense, something in her eyes appeared different. “Did something happen? You don’t seem . . . Are you alright?”

Lena shook her head, purposely walking at a pace that left Dani lagging behind. “I’m fine. I just . . . I’m not having a good day. We might need to take a break tomorrow too. And I mean an actual break this time. No games.”

Dani nodded, feeling more apprehensive. Lena wasn’t one to admit she was unwell; or allow anyone to see it. “Have you been sleeping okay?”

“More or less. I don’t know.” Lena muttered, one hand going over her eyes.

“You don’t know if you’ve been sleeping?” Dani jogged forward to catch up and reach out for her sister’s hand. “Hey.”

Lena jerked and pulled her hand away. “I’m fine. Just keep walking, please.”

Dani flinched and let her hand drop helplessly to her side. Lena didn’t wait for her to catch up and this time she didn’t try to, hanging several steps back as she followed her sister back to camp.

[Alpha’s Cabin | Lunaris 14, 2525 |Evening]

Dani parted ways with Lena as soon as they arrived in camp. Her sister sequestered herself in her cabin, and after washing and changing her clothes, Dani shut herself off in her room, as well. The Alpha’s cabin was undisturbed for the greater part of the afternoon. Occasionally, her mother would come in to discuss a contract, or settle a dispute, and shut her door so she wouldn’t be able to overhear. While she would be otherwise inclined to act on her curiosity, she found herself uninterested in the clan’s affairs this time.

Dani wasn’t as prone to losing herself in books as Lena was, but when she needed, or wanted, a distraction; her ‘go-to’ was to search for one that grasped her attention and kept hold. Lena had the best books in her cabin, but since she couldn’t go there, Dani settled for something off her mother’s shelf.

All of the books in the Alpha’s cabin concerned the Wolfpack’s history. Some told tales that may or not have been embellished, others were journals written by former Alphas. Dani had read them all by now. Most of them were far from what one expected from the leader of an assassin clan; average thoughts, mundane day-to-day events. One of the oldest journals she’d read contained detailed instructions on how to make the perfect bowl of oatmeal and talked excessively about whatever flowers were being grown in the back garden at the time. As uninteresting a read as it all was, it was also equally fascinating.

Every clan-born Wolf grew up hearing that “the Alpha’s word is law” and it was their role to lead and protect the clan. While that position commanded respect and placed the full extent of the Wolfpack’s power onto this one person’s hands, it also placed upon them the full weight of several hundred lives. It would be difficult to imagine any regular person enduring such a burden or wielding such power without losing some core aspect of what made them a human being. Power corrupts, leadership isolates, and yet . . . those journals detailed simple, uninteresting, and undoubtedly human aspects of those people’s lives. The things they thought about when the Alpha’s cabin was closed off to the rest of the world. The parts of themselves they needed to hide behind a mask of invulnerability. And if her mother kept a journal hidden somewhere, Dani genuinely wondered what it might contain.

The flicker of a match startled her out of her thoughts. She dropped her book and sat up just as a small flame came alive, illuminating her mother’s face.

“Your candle burned out,” she smiled, “you’ll strain your eyes if you continue pretending to read in the dark.”

Dani picked up the book with a soft groan, the movement disturbing aches from her morning training. “I just got a little distracted.”

Her mother nodded, replacing the leftover wax on her nightstand with a freshly lit candle. “Whose journal is that?”

“Pietra.” Dani closed the book and sat up, setting it aside. “I hadn’t realized it was dark already.”

Claire shook her head, taking a seat at the edge of Sarah’s bed. “Who needs to write so many pages about composting?”

“Who needs to give every single peony in their garden a name?” Dani laughed softly, but it faded into a sigh. She knew her mother wasn’t sitting down to talk about why someone would name a peony Alfred. “Did you talk to Lena?”

Claire’s shoulders sagged with her next breath. “Briefly. She was feeling quite drained and wanted to sleep. I’ll go check on her again in the morning. If this continues we may need to consider reassigning you.”

“What? Why? I thought she was just having headaches again.”

“It’s more complicated than that, Daniela. Helena’s enlightenment has the potential to cause great harm should it get out of hand. The night she awakened . . . The majority of the encampment was affected. The only reason they’re not wary of her is they’re not able to fully remember. Some can only remember headaches; a nose bleed at most, but according to the White Shadows’ leader at the time, they’re lucky they aren’t catatonic. He’s been very vocal that your sister shouldn’t be here at all. That we are not equipped to handle such a powerful telepath.”

Dani frowned. “I don’t understand. I thought Lena could read memories. How is that dangerous?”

“I’m not an expert myself, but according to Jon Witters, the area of the mind where memories are stored is both essential and fragile. In the simplest possible terms, if someone who doesn’t know or has little control of what they’re doing rummages through there, it could cause irreversible damage. Normally, a telepath shouldn’t have the ability to reach that area of the mind without actively trying.”

“And Lena is.”

“Yes. Apparently, she should be able to train herself and keep it in check, but she admits that she has been struggling as of late.” Claire’s eyes scanned the room. Sarah had pinned drawings on the walls. They were supposed to be on her side of the room only, but, of course, they started to cross over to Dani’s side. “There’s nothing definite yet, but if she’s unable to fully control her ability, I’ll need to take the clan’s well-being into consideration.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, if that were the case, Helena wouldn’t be able to remain with the Wolfpack. She’s an adult and I can’t make her, but I would strongly suggest that she go to the White Shadows camp on a more permanent basis.”

Dani frowned, clutching the book in her lap. “I know that you . . . You have to protect the clan first, but . . .”

“It’s not just for the clan’s safety. If your sister were to unintentionally harm someone, I know she wouldn’t forgive herself. Not to mention the toll this is taking on her health.” Claire stood up to closely inspect one of the drawings. “It’s not what I want, but I need to consider that perhaps the Wolfpack isn’t the best environment for your sister. The camp is constantly crowded, there’s been too much tension lately. Hostility even. And there’s no way to predict how this sort of pressure will continue to affect her mental state. Do you understand that?”

“I understand. I just don’t want her to leave.” Dani stood as well, following her mother’s gaze to the drawing on the wall. “Who would you reassign me to?”

“Lena suggested Emmett.” Claire tilted her head and squinted at the drawing. “Is this a giant chicken?”

“I think it’s supposed to be a dragon, but I’m not sure. She gets offended if you ask what they are.” A hint of amusement crossed Dani’s eyes but faded quickly. “Is this why you called Emmett back?”

“It was one reason out of many. The staff at the Inns needed to be replaced for safety reasons.” Claire frowned at the drawing. “It has feathers.”

“They’re scales.” Dani’s response lacked any trace of humor now. “I don’t want Emmett as an Instructor.”

“Recruits don’t get to pick and choose their Instructors, Daniela. I assigned you to your sister as a Recruit and if she’s unable to see it through, I will assign you to another Instructor of my choosing.”

Dani frowned, but her mother’s shift in tone made clear this wasn’t a matter open for discussion. “Yes, Alpha.”

Claire drew a soft breath. “Your father always used to tell me I shouldn’t worry today about things that may or not happen tomorrow.”

“Easier said than done.”

“It is. Especially when worrying about the future is such a significant part of your job.” Claire’s gaze traversed the walls, from one sheet of paper to another until it reached the map pinned to the wall behind Dani’s bed. Their camp was dead in the center, the surrounding forest spreading around it, freshly drawn paths and colored markers sprinkled throughout. Ever since Dani was little she would tell whoever was willing to listen that she was going to know every inch of the forest someday. When she turned twelve, Claire had put up the map on her wall. It was in her daughter’s nature to explore and; like it or not, Claire knew she would. This way she could see where she’d gone. “You’ll understand better someday.”

“When I become Alpha?”

“When you become a mother.” Claire allowed a small smirk to break through. “Or do you think dealing with the three of you is easier than dealing with that lot out there? No, kiddo. At least the clan listens to me.”

Dani shook her head. “Don’t know if I’m ever having any kids. Sounds like such a hassle.”

“Some days are better than others.” Claire turned to look at Dani, traces of exhaustion visible underneath her smile. “I promised your sister I’d come to the dining hall tonight. Are you hungry?”

Dani hummed, taking a gander out the window and seeing nothing but the darkness of the surrounding forest. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and completely forgotten about it. “No, but suppose I should eat something anyway. Is Sarah with dad?”

“Yes. They should be waiting for us now.”

Dani nodded and quickly snuffed out the candle beside her bed. The only remaining light now emanating from the office. “Good, let’s go. If you’re there maybe Sarah won’t try to steal my dessert this time.”

[Wolves Camp | Lunaris 17th, 2525 | Midday]

Lena woke to a soft rasp on her bedroom door. The light peering from the slits on her drawn curtains was bright enough to attack her eyes even through closed lids. She mumbled out a harsh curse she wasn’t awake enough to hold back and a soft burst of laughter answered from the living room. “I’m telling mom you said that.”

“Sarah?” Lena rasped. She had been in and out of it for the past few days and her mind was still fighting the pull of reality. “Why are you here?”

“Mom said I could bring you food. Are you coming out?”

“Give me a minute.” Her voice was hoarse from disuse and trying to cough it away turned into a small fit. Lena opened her eyes with a groan. Consciousness brought back the feeling of needles piercing her temples and the back of her skull. “You know the date?”

“Uhm . . . It’s the 17th, I think.”

“Lunaris still?”

“Yes.” Sarah’s voice was a mix of amusement and worry. “Did you think you slept for a month?”

“Just checking.” Lena forced a deep breath, situating her limbs required concentration and getting out of bed took longer than the one minute she had asked for. She sat up, blinking the blurriness away from her eyes and forcing one breath after another until the room stopped swaying across her vision. Only then was she able to stand and make her way out of the room. “Hey.”

“Hi.” Sarah weakly smiled. “I brought you some food. There’s water right here,” she held up a full cup of water.

Lena took the water and took a small sip, clearing the discomfort in her throat with another small cough before taking a longer sip. “Why did mom let you come here?”

“I was going to either way.” Sarah’s tone was decisive. Far more decisive than any nine-year-old had a right to be. “You look horrible.”

“And I feel worse, but . . .” Lena coerced a thin smile through another sip of water. “This helps, thank you.”

Sarah nodded, though she didn’t seem convinced. “I brought you some food. There’s some stew, some rice, and bread.”

Lena’s nod reflected her sister’s as she put her empty water cup on the table and staggered to find her kettle and fill it up. Starting the fireplace also took longer than normal, but she managed to stoke a decent flame. She took a seat at the table and focused on the bowl of stew and rice her sister had brought. The threads of steam emanating from the food smelled appetizing. Lena wasn’t usually enthusiastic about food, but the beef, potatoes, mushroom, and thyme made for an irresistible combination. It took restraint to dig into it slowly. The first spoonful soothed what felt like week-old hunger pains and a satisfied grunt escaped past her lips. She continued to pace herself, but her focus remained fixed on the food until the kettle started to steam.

“You really wolfed that down, huh?”

Lena was so focused on easing her own discomfort she forgot Sarah was still standing there. She flinched, pausing in her tea preparation to glance at her sister. “Have you been holding on to that pun the entire time I was eating?”

“I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Sarah’s smile was genuinely proud and Lena couldn’t help but laugh at her lame pun. “You have Dani’s sense of humor. Twins help me.” Her laughter gradually faded into an exhausted sigh as she finished making her cup of tea. “Don’t you have tutoring today?”

“Uhm, not really.”

Lena hummed, returning to the table with her cup of tea. “I know that tone. Did you get in trouble?”

“I might have yelled at Dahlia a little . . .” The sentence trailed into an inaudible mutter.

“What was that?”

“And threw a ink bottle at her head.” Her admission was barely audible. “She sent me home and she told mom. They had a whole meeting over it.”

Lena frowned. “That’s not like you. What prompted this?”

Sarah averted her gaze and shrugged.

“Sarah, what happened?”

“She said maybe I’ll be more teachable after you leave.” Sarah mumbled, eyes cast on the floorboards.

Lena coughed into her tea cup and set it down. “Excuse me, she said what?”

“She said I’ll be more teachable after you leave.” The statement carried a note of anger the second time around.

“She said that to your face?”

“In front of the entire class.” Sarah sighed. “I know I shouldn’t have gotten angry, but . . .”

“Oh, I’m having a word with Dahlia. I want to see her say that to my face.”

“Mom handled it, somehow, I’m going back to tutoring tomorrow. Don’t go yell at her too.”

“She had no right saying that to you.” Lena muttered, glaring at her tea cup.

“I tried asking Dani about it . . . What’s happening to you. She didn’t know how to explain it.”

Lena took a long drink of warm tea with a disgruntled rasp. “I don’t blame her, it’s complicated even for me.” She put the tea cup down with a weak smile. “I promise, I’ll be alright, Sarah. I just needed to slow down and get some sleep.”

“Don’t lie to me.” Sarah looked up and shot Lena a scolding glare. “I’m nine! I’m not an idiot, Lena. I know it’s not just that.”

“My enlightenment is complicated, it’s difficult to control, and if I can’t control it then it can be dangerous. To myself and people around me.”

“Dangerous how? I thought you could see people’s memories.”

“I can do that, yes, but it’s not just that.” Lena groaned, rubbing her forehead. “Do you know how,” she paused to think of an example, “when you reach your hand into the lake it feels like there’s a barrier of sorts on the surface of the water? And you need to push through it?”

Sarah nodded thoughtfully. “Yes.”

“Alright, well, if I walk in a crowd of people, I can see memories of things that happened to them recently or are related to something they’re thinking about at that moment. Doing that is superficial. It’s like touching that barrier in the water. Unless the person is really paying attention; it’s just a small ripple, they won’t even notice it happening. And it definitely can’t hurt them. But most memories, the ones you’re not thinking about, the ones you’re not even sure you have, those are in a much deeper part of the mind. And messing with those; especially if you don’t know what you’re doing, would be like dive bombing into a bathtub. All the water would spill out and you’d probably crash on the bottom and hurt yourself.”

Sarah’s expression twisted as the image formed in her mind. “Has it ever happened?”

“Twice. The first time I didn’t understand what was happening. The second time I did, I just didn’t know how to stop. No one was permanently harmed, but the risk was there. It still is.”

“How can you do that without knowing it?”

“I don’t know how I do it. Not yet. I can kind of feel it starting, but I don’t know why it happens. The White Shadows don’t know how it happens either.” Lena frowned, picking up her spoon and scraping the bottom of her empty bowl with it. “Their leader told me that telepathy is one of those abilities that can manifest in all sorts of ways, and a lot of them are particular to the individual, so he couldn’t just tell me how mine works. It’s on me to figure that out.”

“That sounds rough.” Sarah mumbled, watching the spoon stir the air inside the bowl. “You said you can feel it starting. How . . . How does it feel?”

“Numb, floaty . . . Like being here and being somewhere else at the same time.” Sarah nodded, falling silent, gaze still fixed on the empty bowl and Lena sighed, letting the spoon drop. “Sarah, I’m going to be okay. Alright? I promise.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Pft, of course I know that. I know everything. You can ask Dahlia if you don’t believe me. She’ll tell you all about what a know-it-all I am.”

Sarah shook her head, but the trace of a smile started to form. “That’s a lot nicer than what she actually calls you.”

“I know, but it’s not my fault if she has a problem taking criticism. If she spent more time reading and less time antagonizing children she’d be better at her job.”

Sarah laughed. “You’re starting to sound better. I’m glad.” A small sigh followed suit. “I should head back. Mom gave me chores, you know, as punishment. I better get started.”

“You should probably do that. I’m going to get some more sleep today, but I’ll be around tomorrow. Then people can pretend not to stare and whisper behind my back about where the hell I’ve been the past few days.”

“I’m sure they’ll have fun with that.” Sarah walked around the table to give Lena a tight hug, smirking as she let go. “You should probably, uhm, you know . . . Consider a bath too. I mean, the river’s right there. Take a dip, maybe? Just a thought.”

Lena snorted. “I hope mom makes you clean the latrines.”

“Harsh. I’m just trying to help.” The smirk turned into a grin. “Dahlia’s right, you are a bitch.”

“And proud of it. Now, seriously, you better be off. If mom has to come and get you she will make you scrub the crappers.”

Sarah chuckled, but left the cabin in a hurry. It was unlike her to get into trouble like this, but she’d heard more than enough horror stories from her sisters. Even if she didn’t think her mother would put her on latrine duty, it wasn’t a risk she was willing to take.

[Wolves Camp | Lunaris 24th, 2525 | Afternoon]

The first few training sessions after Lena’s return were light. It took a few days for both of them to get back into the actual swing of things and in that time, Dani tried to pry as much as possible into her sister’s state of mind.

Dani was only six when Lena’s enlightenment awakened. As far back as she could remember, Lena had ‘bad days’ and ‘headaches’. It was so commonplace that until her recent visits to the White Shadows, it hadn’t been something Dani considered worrisome. Lena always did a decent job of shielding her sisters from whatever had been ailing her in the past decade, and Dani could see she wasn’t happy with the multitude of ways those walls had started to crumble. Dani wasn’t a six-year-old anymore and Sarah was already too clever for her own sake at age nine; being vague and brushing away concerns wouldn’t work now the same way it once had.

Rather than the tense silence which Dani grew accustomed to on their walks back from the training grounds, the atmosphere surrounding their walk on this day was one of silent reflection. The aftermath of agility training left Dani feeling sluggish, even without the addition of projectiles or rope traps, and Lena walked in pace with her instead of trekking ahead as she usually would. They were almost at the edge of camp when Dani broke their silence. “Hey, uhm, can I ask you something?”

“Yes.” Lena half smiled. “Is there anything else you’d like to ask?”

Dani rolled her eyes, amusement breaking through an aggravated snort. “Twins sake. I meant to ask if, you know, that day when. . . When you cut training short because you were having a ‘bad day’. . . Were you worried you were gonna hurt me?”

Whatever humor Lena had drawn from her little quip promptly died with the question. “Yes.”

“Has that ever happened before?” Dani’s eyes were on the path. “Mom said that the reason the clan isn’t wary of you is that they don’t remember . . .”

“Yes.” Lena shrugged. “And some of them remember. Emmett is one of them, but Emmett is,” she chuckled, “if you could choose someone to remember the worst thing you’ve ever done, you should pick Emmett. He gives me a hard time about it sometimes, but it’s no different than he would have done before.”

“Who else remembers?”

“Franklin and Adria, although they remembered after the fact. I think, probably a result of their awakenings as well. Franklin is alright with me, Adria not so much. Mom remembers. Tom. There are a couple of workers; they avoid me. You were affected quite heavily, it happened overnight, we shared a room, being a young child and asleep you were more vulnerable than most.” Lena’s expression twisted at the memory. “I was asleep when it happened, I had no idea that I wasn’t just having a nightmare. You were the one who woke me up. Screaming. Of all my memories, that night is still hazy to me. I know Tom picked you up and dragged you out of the room, I remember blood on my fingers and I think it was from a nosebleed; those can happen. I remember I had to wait alone in a room until the White Shadows showed up but I don’t know for how long. More than a day. I remember food trays.”

Dani stopped in her tracks before they were close enough to camp to be overheard. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry I almost killed you?” Lena snorted. “We need to work on your self-worth, kiddo.”

“That wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do that.”

“It still happened. I didn’t try to, didn’t mean to, but the fact of the matter is I did almost kill you that night. And yes, the possibility exists that I could do it again. Which is why mom and I talked about finding you another Instructor.”


“That was my suggestion, yes. Mom might take it or she’ll choose someone else. It’s not up to me.”

Dani scoffed. “That’s just . . . Stupid.”

Lena breathed a tired sigh. “Throwing a hissy fit isn’t going to change anything. I would love to not have been born with this, but I was, and it isn’t going away any time ever. So if I need to leave some day, that’s what will happen. And if you’re not through with your training by then, you’ll have a new Instructor.”

Dani shook her head and continued walking, fists clenched at her sides. “Do you want to leave?”

Lena followed after her sister in the same leisurely pace as before. “Right now? No. Have I thought about it? Yes. Sometimes. I haven’t had the same experience of growing up here as you, or Sarah. I’m the Alpha’s daughter, but not really. When you have doubts about whether or not you belong here; you’re the only one questioning that. If you think you need to prove yourself, I’ve had to do it twenty times over by now.”

“You have!”

“I have. That doesn’t mean I want to keep doing it forever.”

As they entered the camp proper, the tension they thought had gone returned with a vengeance, only now Dani was the one marching several steps ahead of her sister, fists clenched so tight her nails dug into her palms. Lena made no attempt to catch up, choosing to give her space to cool down instead of trying to continue the discussion. She understood why Dani was angry, if anything she had a right to be. No one enjoyed feeling helpless to change their own circumstances.


The sudden call of her name stopped Lena in her tracks, eyes narrowing as one of the older Instructors beckoned from the unlit fireplace. Hers wasn’t the only head to turn in his direction and she had a sinking feeling that it was a calculated move. Every step in the man’s direction felt like trying to walk across the lake for the first time after it’d frozen over. Unlike Eldric’s father, Wayne Matthison was no hotheaded fool. Of all the Instructors Lena went through in her younger years, he was the only one she had actual respect for. Even if the only thing she had managed to learn from the man was how to win a game of chess. It was far from a bonding experience however, and the man’s intolerance for her insolent behavior hadn’t changed with the passing of time. He opposed her mother’s decision to promote her to Instructor and while he said nothing about it since, his displeasure was well-known. “Matthison.”

“I was wondering if you could assist me with something, if you could spare the time.” Wayne’s tone made no attempt to hide his disposition. He had never been one to make nice with anyone, even if he wanted something from them.

“You want my help? That’s . . .” Lena made no attempt to hold back a scoff. “That’s quite unlike you. Are you well, old man?”

“Oh, yes, I’m well, thank you. A bit of a hard time with this cold weather. The joints don’t work quite as they used to, but otherwise I can’t complain.” The man smiled through his pleasantries. It didn’t reach his eyes, but confirmed Lena’s suspicions that engaging her in full view of others was a calculated move. “As you are well aware, Franklin here is on the brink of graduation. Truly he’s made outstanding progress in the past six months.”

Lena looked past the old Instructor to the boy standing just out of earshot. Franklin was six months younger than Dani. Much like Lena, he was deemed problematic due to a telepathic enlightenment, but unlike Lena, he had thrived under Wayne’s guidance. Under her gaze, Franklin turned his head to look at her, offering a polite nod. The bright glow of his blue eyes indicated that he wasn’t as oblivious to the conversation as he may have appeared. “I see that. I’m sure you must be very proud.”

“Oh, absolutely. There is one problem, however. I would really like to test Frank’s abilities as much as possible before I inform the Alpha that his training is complete. I was wondering if you wouldn’t be interested in volunteering your recruit for a spar.”

“Ah. There it is.” Lena couldn’t help a thread of bitter laughter from escaping. “I don’t think so, Wayne. I’m not volunteering my sister for a spar you’ve already made into a public spectacle by approaching me in the center of camp. I know you take me for an irresponsible moron, but if you think I would compromise all the hard work Dani’s put into her training for the past year because you want to try and prove a point . . . You’ve finally gone senile and my mother would do the clan a service by retiring you.”

Wayne was unfazed by Lena’s visible anger, responding with a calm smile. “I’m not asking you to volunteer your sister, Helena. I’m asking you to volunteer your recruit. Or perhaps you’re not able to see the difference. It’s understandable that you would want to protect your little sister, but that’s far from an Instructor’s job, no? I mean, it is only a spar. Even if Daniela were to lose, it would serve a purpose in her training, would it not?”

“I said no.”

Whispers of what was taking place between them had already begun to circulate across the encampment and a small crowd had formed to watch. Lena was well-aware that this was exactly what Wayne wanted to accomplish. “You’re being childish now.”

Lena crossed her arms over her chest. This was far from a position she wanted to be in, but backing down would only cause more problems later. “If you have something to say about my level of maturity or my competence as an Instructor, take it up with the Alpha, Wayne.”

“I’m quite aware of your mother’s stance on this matter. As she is aware of mine.”

Despite no longer being her Instructor, the note of disapproval still managed to strike a painful chord. As hard as she tried, Lena was unable to keep it from showing in her expression, even if briefly. “Dani’s training is my responsibility, Wayne. I already said no.”

“Let me do it.”

Lena was forced to hold back a groan as she turned to look at her sister. Of course someone had alerted her to the public debate taking place in the center of camp. “No.”

Dani crossed her arms, mirroring her own stance, her blue eyes sharp like daggers. “I can do it. Let me do it.”

Lena held her gaze for a long moment. This could get out of hand quicker than she would be able to mitigate. “Fine. Run to the armory and inform them you have my permission to select a weapon for training purposes.”

Dani nodded and headed in the direction of the armory, ignoring the excited whispers erupting from the crowd around them. Lena drew a deep breath. “Franklin.”

The boy stepped up, greeting her with a respectful nod. “Yes?”

Lena shook her head, offering Franklin a brief pat on the shoulder. “Good luck.”

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