Taking a few rapid steps backwards, Vincent’s heart sunk as the bald man from the grocery store parking lot appeared out of nowhere. His wolf was growling inside his head as the two shadow mages faced each other. It...it's him! That guy from the parking lot!
Make distance! Too close!
Right! Vincent leapt backwards to create a few yards between him and the creepy bald man. His instincts were demanding him to attack, but he kept the needs sequestered. There was no sign of hostility coming from the monk, so Vincent rationalized by giving no threatening actions. What...what is this guy doing here? And for that fact, who the Hell is he?
The monk took a moment to smile, and then bowed at the hip towards Vincent. Okay...giving a sign of respect. Can he tell that I’m a shifter, too?
“Not quite, young mage.” Vincent widened his eyes as he heard the soft and gentle voice piercing the silent shadowy world. He...he heard my thoughts? “That would be correct. Do not be disturbed by my appearance here, although, I would not blame you.”
Vincent’s stomach became queasy, and felt his body growing more tense as the monk spoke. He knew he couldn’t speak thoughts in his head, as this stranger could read his mind. Gathering up his courage, Vincent knew he had to speak. “Forgive my bluntness, but who are you? And how can you read my mind?”
Folding his hands together and lapping them in front of his tunic, the monk merely closed his eyes and grinned in pure peacefulness. “Ah, it is I who should seek forgiveness, young shadow mage. I regret coming to you so abruptly, but I couldn’t find any other way to speak with you.”
Seeing the true innocence in the man’s attitude and speech dialect, Vincent’s instincts began to back off. But that didn’t stop the mage from being nervous beyond belief. “No...that...this is fine.”
“Modest. You are a very kind soul. To answer your questions...I am Yakob, and, as it is obvious, a mage of the shadows. To bring light to what happened earlier, I also am a mage of telepathy. No thoughts are kept secret from me, but I do my best to mind my own.”
Knowing the man’s name helped calm his nerves, but Vincent’s mind demanded more information. “You seem pretty calm, Yakob. I’m still...a little shaky about seeing you.”
“I would imagine! The moment I felt your aura, I was rather intrigued.” Yakob noticed a muddled look on the younger man’s face. “You do know you emit an aura, correct?”
“I...I didn’t know I had a strong one, if that’s what you mean. My teacher gives off a very strong one, but I...do I have one?” Vincent began trying to mentally search himself. I’m giving off an aura? What’s it like? Is it weak or strong?
A very light giggled was muffled behind Yakob’s open palm in front of his mouth. “My, yes. You do have an aura, just as I do. And it is fairly...oh, how do I say this?”
Vincent watched the monk struggle to find a word, as if he were dancing around a dictionary. “Uhh, Yakob. I know we just met, but you can say what you mean to say. It would take a lot to offend or bother me.”
“Ah. Very well then. Well, your aura is rather...pungent.”
Pungent? Do...does it stink? “Oh, dear Gods, no.” Another laugh was hushed in Yakob’s hand. “No. I meant that it is very apparent in the eyes of an adept mage. From what I can tell, and have seen, you are a very capable mage.”
“Seen? You’ve seen me?”
Yakob’s eyebrows furrowed. Taking an unintended sniff, Vincent blinked wildly as he realized his instincts caused him to recognize the smell of guilt. “Hey, Yakob.” The monk looked up and met Vincent’s stare. “I’m not mad, okay. I just would like to know why you’re here...and why you’re interested in me as of late.”
Smiling meekly and bowing once more, the monk gave a nod. “Yes, of course. My apologies. As I said, I felt your aura as I was traversing the world through the shadows. I feel the need to be truthful. I’ve been keeping my eyes on you for about a week now.” Vincent took a deep breath and understood what that meant. So he’s seen me train with Elaine a couple of times, as well as meet with Stefan. “That is correct, young one.” Vincent closed his eyes, remembering that thoughts were not sacred.
“Correct, how? To see my training, or meeting with Stefan.”
“Both of them. I was unaware you are...connected to Mr. Gregoro.”
The use of a formal name slightly agitated Vincent and his wolf. “Mister? Are you implying you show respect to that monster?” When faced with a drop of Vincent’s anger, Yakob placed one foot behind the other.
“Monster? Has...has he done something to you?”
“He killed my parents.”
Yakob clutched his stomach and bent over slightly, as if a punch had landed. Vincent cocked his head to the side, noticing that the monk was obviously affected by this bit of news. “Oh. Young man, I am dearly sorry. No. That word means nothing to how I feel for your loss. I don’t believe a word could be strong enough to share how I feel for you. To elaborate, I’ve met with Mis...no. Stefan. I can not give him that title any longer. I’ve met with Stefan many years ago, and we share a small history.” Vincent watched the monk struggling to cope with his own inner thoughts, but reaffirmed his attention when Yakob furrowed his brows once more. “I was the one who taught him.”
It was Vincent’s turn to feel afflicted. He...this guy taught Stefan? Gods! “You...you taught…”
“Yes. And for that, I must declare the termination of his affiliation with my teachings. He has strayed from the mantra that I gave him. ‘To use our power for spiritual gain, but personal neutrality.’ I believe this power we share is a gift, but can be construed as a malicious one.”
Vincent felt the power of the monk’s taught statement. It’s...the same as mine! I just want to make the affinity something to be proud of, and not feared. “And that is why I’ve attached myself to you, young mage. You do not inflict fear into the souls of this world. Your goal in life is a noble one, and I find myself in a perilous position.”
Perilous? “How so?”
“I was met with similar sincerity from Stefan all those years ago. Three decades, to be precise. But now I find that he has fallen from that grace I believed he possessed.” The monk once more stared innocently at Vincent. “You...share that sincerity, but as I watched you, I now see nothing but kindness within you. My choice now is, indeed, perilous.” Taking a light step forward, closing the distance between him and Vincent. “Do I dare take another chance?”
“A chance...to turn a mage into someone for the betterment of the world...or to bring further chaos among the innocent.” Gulping, Vincent felt for the monk. His own student...Jeez, I didn’t think of that for him. Stefan said he would use his power for the better, but turns around to do the opposite. “Yes, your thoughts are correct. My situation is very much a gamble.” Taking one more step forward, Yakob couldn’t help but revel in the aura that stood before him. “You...yes, I can already tell that you are much different than Stefan was when he approached me. I feel your auras. Your frost...clairvoyance...and shadow. They aren’t...malleable. No. They are strong. Full of convictions. Ones that empower your very being.
“If you would have me, I offer my services.”
The air from his mouth escaped in a hurry. Vincent couldn’t believe what he just heard. He...wants to teach me? How to use my shadows?
What is it, bud?
Instinct say no...but also say yes.
Yeah, I’m getting that too. What does that mean?
Not know. He teach Stefan. Don’t like.
I know, but...who else? It’s not like we have much of an option.
A low rumble echoed through the shifter’s mind. Know. Yes.
Alright then. “Yakob…”
“I must have missed something. But...there are...two minds in your head?” Yakob kept a curious look on his face as he stared at Vincent.
“Oh. Yeah.” A smile blossomed on Vincent’s face and rubbed the back of his head. “I’m a shifter. Well...yeah, that’s who I am now. I was a human, but I met the local Alpha, and turns out we are destined mates.”
Yakob’s jaw dropped, but swooped back up into a grin. “That is wondrous! A gift from the Go-” His face froze. I felt something strange when I came across him this time. I wonder. “I am...actually ashamed right now. But...could I have your name, young mage?”
A chuckle left Vincent’s mouth and bent his head down. All this time, and he didn’t know my name? That’s funny! “I’m Vincent Bolton.” He saw a flash of recognition come from the monk’s eyes. “Did...that name ring a bell?”
Oh, yes. Yes, it did, young mage. “It did. And I believe I need to be more open with you, Vincent. But I believe your...mate, was it? I think he’s on his way out here.”
Blinking rapidly, Vincent tried to come to Yakob’s conclusion. “How do you-”
“Vinnie?! You around here?” The mage and monk turned to Mason, who came out of the house doorway and bellowed for his mate. The Alpha scanned the property, but didn’t find a visual. Sniffing, he knew Vincent was around, or had been here recently. Where could that little cutie be?
Turning back to Yakob, Vincent almost demanded an explanation. “How did you know he was coming?”
Once more, Yakob had a cheesy grin on his face. “I suppose that would be one of the first lessons I would be teaching you...that is, if you’d have me.”
Decision time. “Yes. I think that would be wise.” Vincent took a few steps forward and closed the gap. He offered his hand out for a shake, and was met. His hands are so soft...but so warm!
“Thank you for the compliment.” Vincent closed his eyes to subtly roll them, falling for the inner thought trap once more. “I hate to be prude, but would you be bothered if I met your mate? He seems like a gentle...giant.”
Vincent curled a smile and nodded. He showed himself out of the shadows, and was met with the neck hair-tingling sensation of Mason gazing. “Hey, big guy. So, I got some big news.”
Mason stepped forward from the porch, nearly about to dig his phone out to text his little mate. “Um, okay? I was only gone for a few minutes. What could have-”
The words stopped dead in their tracks as Yakob appeared from the shadows, causing a startling growl from the larger wolf. “Mace! Calm down! He’s fine!” Hearing his mate’s commands, Mason halted his verbal assault, but kept an imposing stance. “This is Yakob. And you need to stand down, big guy. Do you see any signs of us fighting?” Earning a slow shake of the head from the brown eyed man, Vincent put his hands on his hips. “Then show our friend some kindness. He means well.”
Mason let a long exhale out of his nose. Suppose he’s right. Guess I should apologize. “Oh, that won’t be necessary, Mister Alpha.” Widening his eyes, Mason shot his head back up to the small monk. Did this...aw, Hell, not again!
Yakob heard that, and only let a small head movement show. But his head was swimming by that last thought. Again? Slightly turning his head to Vincent, the monk kept a thoughtful smile on his face. These two are definitely interesting. “I do apologize. Allow me to introduce myself.” Yakob folded his hands into a prayer position and bowed to Mason. “I am Yakob. As you saw, I am a mage of shadows and of telepathy.”
“Gotcha. So, thoughts are going to be read?” Yakob nodded towards Mason. “And...why are you here on my farm?”
“Mace.” Hearing his mate’s stern voice come out caused Mason to shove his hands in his denim pockets.
“Sorry, pup.” Going back to the monk, Mason did his best to play nice. “Sorry. Just not used to strangers popping out of the ground. But if Vinnie says you’re a friend, then you are welcome in my territory.”
Learning of his welcomed status to the area, Yakob could only feel relieved and smiled at the larger man. “I am most gracious! And I do offer my apologies for treading on your lands, Alpha shifter. I was traveling, and your mate’s aura caught my attention. We were discussing many things while in the shadows.”
Looking at Vincent, Mason still carried his apprehensions of the new shadow mage. But the Alpha knew that Vincent was warming up to the monk, so he thought it would be best to do the same. He stepped forward and extended his hand. “I’m Mason Wilson. Alpha of the Owensville County Pack. And as long as Vinnie considers you a friend, there’s no need for titles around here.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mason. I’ve only met a handful of Alpha shifters in my days, and you carry yourself well. Almost in a similar fashion to one I met several years ago in New York.”
The curliest of smirks formed on both Mason and Vincent. Mason let out a loud outburst of laughter. “You’re talking about Tierney, right?”
“Alpha Scott? You are acquainted?”
“Hell, he’s in town until this afternoon! Close friends to our pack.” The news of a long-lost friend caused much happiness to the monk. “We can probably meet up for an early lunch, if you wish to see him before he leaves.”
“Nothing would please me more! I’ve only had a few conversations with him, but he was a delight to my people.”
Vincent caught interest in the conversation as Yakob mentioned his personal life. “Your people?”
“Yes. I’m a member of a clan of monks. We reside in a small formation of mountains, high in the Appalachians near Vermont. Every now and again, we send a couple of monks to the city for supplies, and I was invited to converse with the local Alpha of the nearby territory. He was very warm, but I could see how he could be a commanding force.”
Mason’s opinion of the monk had changed drastically over the course of the last sentences. “Well, if Ty met with you, then you’re alright in my books. Let me give him a call and arrange a luncheon.” Vincent and Yakob nodded at Mason, and as the big wolf turned to make his phone call, the shadow mages grinned at each other.
“Well, he likes you.”
Yakob let out another hidden giggle. “I am glad! He seems very intimidating.”
“Yeah, but I can get him to bring the tough guy act down. It’s so cool that you know Ty! He’ll probably tell you when we see him, but he’s retiring soon, and he’s going to move here by the end of the year.”
Vincent could tell Yakob had mixed feelings about Tierney’s move. “Interesting. Do...do you all know who would be taking over that land in regards to shifters?”
“Yeah. His name is Cyrus, and he’s here too. They came in to see me for my Turning Day.”
“Yeah! I just turned into a wolf shifter last night. It was my first time turning into a wolf.”
A gasp came from the monk, and nearly bounced in joy. “What a wonderful moment to behold! Congratulations to you, young mage! Or, should I say young shifter?”
Letting a chuckle leave his lips, Vincent reassured the monk to call him by his name. Mason came back to the group and confirmed lunch plans at JD’s Diner, much to Vincent’s delight. It had been so long since he went to his favorite restaurant. But a thought came to his mind. “Yakob. Where would you be staying if you plan on training me?”
Plan on what now? “Training?” Darting his eyes between the mages, Mason put the pieces together. “Yakob, you are going to train Vincent on shadow magic?”
Nodding to Mason, the monk gave a smile. “Yes. Vincent agreed to it. But to answer the young mage’s question, I will be returning to my monastery. I have duties and obligations to attend to.”
Vincent shot a raised eyebrow towards Mason, and the pair instantly understood each other. Mason smirked and returned his attention to Yakob. “Well, should you ever need a place to lay your head while training my mate, you are welcome to our guest room.”
With newfound delight, Yakob grinned and stepped forward to shake Mason's hand once more. "Your offer is thoughtful. I believe I may stay a time or two when necessary."
"Good! Are you hungry, Yakob? Tierney said he could eat anytime."
"I am. My fasting period ended a few hours ago." Mason nodded and shot Tierney a quick message to meet at the diner in fifteen minutes.
"Alright. Let's hop in the truck and head over. I could use a bite."
Vincent realized he could as well, although they had just eaten. Am I really hungry again? The three headed for Mason's truck and made their way to the diner. Pulling into the parking lot and stepping out of the vehicle, Mason and Vincent noticed that Yakob remained by the truck for a moment. "Coming?"
Looking up, Yakob smiled and nodded. "Yes. It appears Alpha Scott has brought an entourage."
Vincent smelled the air and found traces of some familiar scents. "Yeah...the whole New York squad is here, too." Jealous of the monk's foresight, Vincent kept the thought of wanting to learn this power to himself. "You're going to need to teach me that soon."
As the crew walked up the lot, Yakob laughed at the remark. "You were able to tell they were here, young shifter. But knowing that skill proves useful if some scents aren't strong enough." Vincent understood the power behind the mystery skill and urged him to want to learn it even sooner. Mason opened the door for his mate and the monk, and Vincent quickly found the booth where Tierney and his company were sat at.
"Hey, Ty!" Vincent couldn't help himself but yell and wave at the Alpha. Tierney quickly turned his head around to see the smaller Alpha, smiled and waved over the group. But as they got closer, Tierney has to double take at the monk.
"Yakob? Is that you?" As he was on the outside of the booth, the New Yorker rose from his seat and sized the smaller monk, reaffirming his vision. "My Gods, it is! Mace said he was bringing a friend of mine, but I had no clue it was going to be you!"
The monk smiled cheerfully and embraced Tierney in a hug. "Yes, Alpha Scott. I was roaming around the land, discovered the young Vincent, and his mate stated you were here. This is amazing!" Even with his soft voice, the surrounding shifters could tell the monk was beyond delighted.
Tierney looked at the circular booth and saw not all seven people would fit and asked a nearby waitress if it would be fine to move a table and three chairs over. The waitress nodded and Mason and Vincent began moving furniture. With everyone seated, Tierney began introductions. "Yakob, this is my Enforcer, Dirk Wescott. And this is my Beta, Kaplan Alvey. And my replacement as Alpha to NYSP, Cyrus Vonder."
Yakob swiftly exchanged pleasantries with the group, but kept his eyes on Cyrus. "I am to assume you possess the title of Alpha, Mister Vonder?"
An unkempt giggle came from the panda. "Yes, but I am not an officially in charge of the pack yet. And please, do call me Cyrus." Returning the interested glare, Cyrus couldn't help himself. “And pardon my intrusiveness, but...you wouldn’t happen to be a mage, would you?”
“Yes, I am. Just as you are one. I admit, you kept it very well managed, but just a bit is seeping out.” Yakob pointed at Kaplan’s arm, as it was resting near Cyrus’. Vincent caught what the monk was referring to, and was slightly disappointed in himself for not noticing. Kap’s...arm hair is standing straight up! “I commend you on your energy manipulation, Cyrus. Not to be intrusive myself, but I recommend a little bit of meditation on your flow.” What is...Yakob talking about? Turning his attention to Vincent, Yakob could only smile. “And to what affinity I own...I have the telepathy and shadow affinities.”
Tierney and Cyrus gave the monk their undivided attention, but Tierney was the first to speak. “Yakob? Is this true? You’ve never shared that with me.”
Bowing his head slightly to offer his sympathy, Yakob confirmed. “Yes, and my apologies, Alpha Scott. I never saw a reason to reveal that to you. But, after speaking and seeing Vincent’s magic, I feel that I should be more...open about having it. I only hope that this doesn’t disturb any of the agreements our monks share with your pack.”
Shaking his head, Tierney felt the need to deescalate the scene. “No, no. I was just a little surprised hearing it. I don’t judge anyone by their magical abilities, as Vincent can attest. Knowing this changes nothing, Yakob. And I’m rather sure Cyrus wouldn’t change anything either when he takes NYSP.”
Cyrus nodded and gave the monk a sincere smile. “Absolutely. I am unaware of the details of the conversation, but rest assured, a friend of Tierney’s is a friend of mine. You have my full support.”
“I am gracious of your continued dedication to my monastery. When I go back this evening, I’ll inform everyone of the upcoming leadership change.” Yakob scanned the others seated in the booth, but rested his eyes on Dirk. “You...Dirk, was it?”
The muscled bear nodded. He had some resentment towards the human monk, but was beginning to slowly tear down his selfish walls. “Yes.”
“Interesting...if I may, could I touch your palm?”
Squinting his eyes, Dirk’s walls slowly began rebuilding themselves. “May I ask why?”
“You...aren’t a mage. But...there is something.” All eyes now turned to the bear, who now had his eyes widened at the proposed inkling of information.
Tierney leaned forward. “Trust him, my Delta. He is a very wise man.” After receiving a consolation from his Alpha, Dirk reluctantly opened his palm towards the monk. Yakob gently latched one hand to the underside of the large hand, and merely placed his index finger in the center of Dirk’s palm.
The monk held his eyes closed, but the shifters sitting across from Yakob could see his eyes darting in every direction possible. “Yes...yes...very interesting.” Opening his eyes, the monk held a light smile, and stared deeply into the eyes of the Enforcer. He then turned to face Tierney. “Alpha Scott. If a favor could be done for me?”
“Spend some time with this one. Preferably...next to an open flame. Have him meditate on how the fire feels to him...and his soul.”
Everyone was blinking wildly, sharing glances between the monk and the Enforcer. But Dirk was the first to mutter. “Am...Am I…?”
“I believe so. Your energy is hidden deep. Your energy is surrounded by passion, but locked behind dark doors. I have no intention of asking your history, Mister Wescott...but I recommend you should do some thinking on those moments close to your mind.” Yakob resigned his back to the wooden chair, and began catching his breath. “Forgive me. Reading one’s magical entity can be tiresome.”
Vincent was speechless. He just watched his new teacher read someone’s energy. And that someone was Dirk! He’s...going to be a fire mage? “Dirk! I’m so happy for you!” Everyone else began giving the bear praise, along with a pat on the back from Kaplan, who sat next to his friend.
Dirk smiled, but his mind was running itself insane. Holy shit! Fire mage? That’s just...insane! “Believe me, Mister Wescott.” The bear’s attention was brought back to the monk. “It isn’t insane. Even an elderly person may come across an affinity. It can happen to anyone, and at any given time. My advice for you and Alpha Scott is merely to speed up the process. If you don’t adhere to my words, it may take almost a decade for your magic to come. Meditate every day, especially near some sort of fire...and you may see it in as little as a year from now.” The monk took a long sigh and grinned once more. “Also, please do remember I can hear thoughts around me. It has an off switch, but I find the most amusing phrases in life reside in one’s mind.”
With a nod, Dirk began reflecting on his newfound information. As he focused on his heartbeat, he felt a small flicker. The bear felt as if he was given a cub to nurture and develop. “I will do my best, Yakob. And Alpha, when can we begin?”
Tierney grinned and looked at his future fellow fire mage. “I’m free this evening. Swing by the apartment and I’ll start up the fireplace. I’m very proud of you, Dirk, and I’ll be happy to teach you everything I know.” Leaning in once more, the wolf decided to tug on the bear’s heartstrings. “You do know that this means you’ll have to do a Mage’s Dance, right?”
What?! Oh, fuck! The monk couldn’t help but burst into a fit of laughter. Calling the attention of the group, aside from Dirk’s furrowed brows, the monk apologized once again. As the laughter was soon forgotten, the waitress brought more menus for Mason, Vincent, and Yakob. The Alpha couple knew what they were ordering, but the monk began having a difficult time. As the waitress passed by again, Yakob asked for her to point out any vegetarian options. Once enlightened, the monk settled on a very large salad and some toasted bread.
Tierney couldn’t help but converse with the monk. “So...Yakob. Are you here to train Vincent?”
“Yes. We haven’t discussed much in detail, but he has accepted my offer. I believe he will make a fine student. But, as I sit and learn more about the group here, the more I am learning about him as well.” Yakob shifted his body and faced Vincent more directly. “You showed some confusion when I spoke with Cyrus on energy manipulation. Do you know what that means?”
Vincent shook his head. “No, I don’t. I haven’t had much of a trainer, other than Miss Elaine. She’s been teaching me how to use my frost affinity.”
“Hmm...and how has that been fairing?”
Mason chuckled. “From the looks of it, great! He keeps whooping our Enforcer in every sparring match.”
Delighted by his student’s combat skills, he pressed further. “Enforcer? Is he talented?”
Vincent nodded. “Yeah. He gave me a hard time when we first started sparring. I never fought a shifter in their animal form before that. But...well, he tries his best.” The statement earned a hearty laugh from the whole table.
“You all...seem to be a healthy band of shifters. I’ve never seen such a bond between friends. I would almost call it a brotherhood.”
As Mason gazed upon the residents of the table, he could not agree more. “Yep. I hope you all know that you’re not just my friends, but I consider you all my family.”
Tierney and Cyrus collectively nodded and raised their soda glasses. “Hear, hear!” The Alphas shared cheesy grins as Tierney spoke further. “Seeing how this will be my home soon, I would be remiss if I didn’t say the same.” Dirk could only nod his head as he smiled. Kaplan shared a light grin as well, but was brought closer to the panda into an embrace, causing a larger smile.
The group’s waitress and another staff member brought out their food. Most of the shifters ordered very large burgers, aside from Kaplan ordering a club sandwich and Yakob getting his salad. As the group ate, small talk was made, laughs were shared, and plans for the future were made. Vincent was only halfway through his burger when he decided to bring up the upcoming trip to New York. “So, Ty. Got everything set for us to come visit?”
“Yes! You two will have the option of staying with me, or I can have a pack-owned hotel reserved for you. With you two being Alphas, it would be the presidential suite, and it’s within walking distance of both my apartment and several shopping areas.”
Looking at his mate, Vincent sought for Mason’s opinion. “Whatcha think, big guy?”
“Either sound fine by me. Ty, you sure you can handle us in your apartment?”
Tierney let out a deep chortle from his throat. “I can make sure there are several sets of spare sheets available, if that’s what you’re asking.” Seeing Vincent’s face grow ten shades of pink, the two wolven Alphas laughed. “Then I think it’s settled. You’ll be staying with me. And I’ll make sure I find my noise-canceling headphones.”
Everyone gave their snickers and giggles as Vincent slid his hand down his face in an attempt to wipe away his embarrassment. “Hey, c’mon now, pup.” The deep and sultry voice of his mate caused his emotions to turn bright. “I don’t care who knows that we get it on. All I know is that we have each other and it will always be that way.” Mason latched on to Vincent’s hand by the forefingers and lifted them to his lips, where a light kiss was planted.
“Sometimes I forget how much of a romantic you are. But when you put it like that, I don’t care either, Mace. I’m ready to announce to the world that you make me so satisfied.” The sentence caused a low growl to vibrate in Mason’s chest. “As much as I want to drag you into the bathroom stall, not in front of our new friend, big guy.” After hearing the tease getting shot down, Mason took a pouty face from Vincent’s playbook and went back to his burger. Several laughs and giggles permeated from the table as the group finished their meals.
Feeling stuffed, Vincent reflected on the day’s events so far. One thing was brought back to his attention, as it was drawn away from the earlier conversation. “Yakob, so...what is energy manipulation?”
Holding his full stomach, Yakob smiled. “It is the focus of channeling the magical energy, both inside of you, and all around. It is a vital skill to learn, as I believe the two Alpha mages here can attest to.” Tierney and Cyrus both nodded towards Vincent. “It can help you show your power as a bluff or a threat. But it also gives you the ability to conceal your aura. Like how I noticed Cyrus’ lightning affinity on Kaplan’s arm.”
A giggle was hidden behind Cyrus’ closed lips. “Yes. It appears I’ve grown a little rusty.”
Looking down to his empty plate in thought, Vincent understood. “So how when I first met Ty, it’s why I couldn’t tell he was a fire mage. He only let down his energy to make the area warmer to show me a little of his power.”
“Precisely, young mage. It is essential for covert tactics, as well as being around someone who you wouldn’t know that could be out to get you.” Yakob kept his smile as he explained. “Different affinities’ auras react in different ways in the world. Lightning gives off a minuscule electric current that can cause one’s hair to stand. Fire and Frost can alter a room’s temperature by several degrees. But it’s when we get to the rarer affinities that they become even more subtle. Clairvoyance and Telepathy don’t offer much of an aura, as they focus on a being’s senses. When in the presence of a clairvoyant mage, you might start to feel the back of your eyes becoming sore, like how a migraine would affect you. Telepathy is the same with the back of the brain.”
Learning the differences, Vincent couldn’t help but interrupt. “And...the shadow affinity?”
“Yes. There are actually multiple signs for a shadow-affinitied mage. You’ll discover that a shadow mage’s lingering shadows will be darker than someone who isn’t. Observe.” The monk hovered his arm above the table, and asked Tierney to do the same. With both men’s arms out, the signal was clear. Yakob’s shadow was several shades darker on the table. “There is also the natural presence of a shadow mage. Despite the malignancy of the affinity’s reputation, other people feel a natural calmness when around the shadow affinity. Can you all recall that feeling before we arrived at the diner?”
All but Kaplan noticed the difference. The Beta felt a little left out, but Cyrus swiftly latched onto the wolf’s hand. “Don’t worry about that, my little pup. I can help you learn a little about manipulation and awareness.”
Kaplan leaned his head back up to his boyfriend with a sense of renewal. “Really? You wouldn’t mind?”
“Nonsense. I have time for my favorite Beta. And it will be useful for you to learn. I’d like for you to know when I’m around.” Cyrus leaned his forehead to the side of Kaplan’s and nuzzled the wolf’s neck. “And that will be more often than you think...my little pup.” The Alpha could tell he got the Beta’s emotions all flustered as the head rested on the panda’s shoulder while repositioning himself below the table.
The checks for the table was brought by the waitress with the comment to take our time. As Mason, Tierney, and Cyrus began pulling out their wallets, Vincent pulled out his phone and found that he had a missed call from Caleb. He responded with a text. ‘Sorry I missed your call, what’s up G-man?’
A message was quickly sent back. ‘Wondering where you and Mace are. Not at house or Lei’s?’
‘No, JDs. Will be home soon. We have company with us.’
‘New York pack?’
‘No, new person. He’s cool tho.’
‘Alright. I’m at the house.’ Smiling at the fact the Enforcer was waiting on him, Vincent turned to Mason. “Hey, Caleb’s waiting for us at the house.”
Mason nodded and turned to the New York crew. “You all are welcome to come over as well.”
In response, Tierney shook his head with a frown. “I’m afraid we can’t. We need to pack and prepare for our flight. But we’ll be seeing each other very soon in my territory.” As the shifters all rose from their seats, hugs and embraces were shared with one another. Vincent made it his mission to confront Cyrus with something that he had on his mind for several hours now, but needed to keep it away from Tierney.
“Cyrus?” Vincent noticed that Tierney was heading up to the register counter with the others, so he uttered the most silent of whispers.
“What is it, Mister Bolton? It seems something is on your mind.” The panda was slightly confused at the secrecy, but he knew none of the other shifters could hear their conversation.
Nodding, Vincent gave Cyrus an endearing embrace. “I want to properly thank you.”
The panda lifted his head slightly back and an eyebrow raised as he made an assumption. “If this is about last night...my young shifter, it was merely my duty to assist. And in all honesty, it was something I had never encountered before. So it is you I have to thank.”
“I have been to a few Turning Days that produced an Alpha shifter. But seeing both that, and the hybrid form being born in the same night...well, that was a new experience. I imagine that you don’t remember much of it, but you couldn’t lay a claw on me. Pardon me for saying so, but I was more than capable of mopping the floor with your hybrid, despite using your shadow magic.”
“Are...are you serious?” Vincent knew Cyrus was a strong shifter, but never anticipated to be able to handle a three-affinitied hybrid, especially one that was out of control. “I’m having a hard time believing that, sir.”
A low giggle left Cyrus’ lips. “I know we haven’t had much time to truly get to know each other, but I’ve been around a time or two. Even Tierney would have a rough time with me. Perhaps you might want to spar with me as well next week while you are in town?” The panda could tell the offer caused a sense of excitement in the young shifter. “I’ll take that as a yes. But I will give you this fair warning…” Cyrus bent down to whisper in the mage’s ear. “...you stand no chance. Either against Tierney, or myself.”
The shadow mage was shook at the intimidation factor, but his wolf was ready to howl at the challenge. “Then I guess I better use my week wisely, then.” With a quick flash of the two Alpha’s eyes, their challenge was set. The two casually strolled towards the check-out counter as Tierney and Mason were standing together, sharing hushed words.
Tierney darted his eyes between Cyrus and Vincent and smirked. “And just what were you two talking about so covertly?”
Vincent flashed his blue eyes at the Alpha and chuffed. “Just getting to know Cyrus a bit better. By the way, he says he can mop the floor with you.”
The panda’s jaw dropped at the smaller shifter as Vincent casually walked away from the potential bloodbath. “Why you...well, as true as that is, that’s just rude to say.” Catching a raised eyebrow from the New York Alpha, Cyrus could only giggle. “Oh, Tierney...you couldn’t even get close enough to land a punch.”
“Don’t have to. I could torch some toes.” Tierney wasn’t backing down, but knew this was neither the time or place. “I think when we get back, we need to have a little showdown.”
“Oh, I thought it wasn’t needed to best you to take the Alpha throne.” Cyrus gave a wink with his glowing emerald eyes and slyly moved along outside of the diner. “But I will accept your challenge, provided we don’t get carried away.” With a nod from the red-eyed wolf, the Alpha duo walked to their car.
It was Vincent’s turn to tease. “And just was that about, you two? I could smell the air from out here.”
Tierney gave a deep laugh, giving his future sparring partner a menacing glare. “Aren’t you a little troublemaker? Now I got two spars coming up to get ready for.”
“You, poor thing. I got three!” The whole group turned in confusion, and caused Vincent to give Dirk a smug grin. “Don’t forget about our little tussle, Dirk. You agreed to a challenge back at the airport when we first met.”
Wait...oh, fuck! I did, didn’t I? Aw, Hell. Now he’s an Alpha shifter with his crazy magic powers. I’m gonna get stomped! “I can’t back out of a challenge, but I think we know who will be the victor in that fight.”
A hard clap on the back caused the bear to put his foot forward to stop his unwanted momentum. “That’s no way to get yourself pumped for a fight.” Tierney came from the corner of the bear’s eye. “Besides, from what I gathered from Lei...Vincent can use his magic all day, but if you get up close, he has nothing.” With a devious smirk, Tierney backed off, and Dirk felt a new surge of confidence.
Oh, Ty! Why’d you have to go and do that? Now my warm up just got a little more difficult! Yakob couldn’t help but step up behind Vincent and gently lay his hand on his pupil’s shoulder. “Oh...so my student will be taking on three grown shifters? And you say we have a week? We can get a lot done in such a short amount of time.” Stepping forward and giving Vincent a serious glare. “How bad do you want to win? Even if it is just one of these matches?”
“I want it. Even beating Dirk would be great. But...I really want to knock Ty down a peg.” At the comment, Tierney crossed his arms and relished in his new rivalry. He really thinks he has a shot? But the monk shot his head around to face the Alpha, and carried a stern intention with it. Fuck...he looks serious.
I am serious. And he does have a shot. Tierney’s face lost a shade of color as he heard the monk’s voice in his head. Do not count this one out. He has power. And I plan on tapping it. You will be his first true challenge. Make it a learning one...as his friend. Tierney simply nodded at the monk, understanding that it was no longer a simple rivalry, but a lesson for the young shifter. If his monk friend was Vincent’s teacher, then the upcoming duel would be more intense than anticipated.
“Then...as my pupil.” Yakob got in Vincent’s face with the utmost seriousness. “...do as I teach, and you will win. But that means we start now, and we won’t stop until I say so. We will only stop for eating and small breaks for sleeping. Do you understand?”
Vincent was blown away at the hidden personality of the friendly monk, but he welcomed it. I really needed this kick in the ass. If I’m going to take down Stefan, I need every push, shove, and second of this.
Now, that is the spirit!
Yes. I will push you to your limits. You will want to quit. You will want to cry, and you will want to tell me to go away. But you need to get much...much stronger if you wish to face that Alpha, let alone Stefan.
Vincent’s heart dropped. Y...you mean? Stefan is stronger than Tierney?
By two-fold, easily. I would even have doubts that the other Alpha could stand a chance. The breath was sapped from his lungs. But you...have what it takes. I just need to break you, then put you back together properly.
The younger mage stared at the ground with wide eyes. His thoughts were swimming in the idealization of being so far behind Stefan. But when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand, he found his muse. Vincent had to beat Stefan. For his parents, and for Mason. With a fire burning in his heart, his wolf began a long-winded howl within his mind, signing his approval.
You want this, bud? You’ll be going through this Hell with me.
Yes! We team. We need stronger. Do it! Hearing his wolf’s confirmation. Vincent shot his head up to meet Tierney’s burning red glare. He knew it was a simple stare, but his instincts forced his frost blue irises to burn equally as bright. The challenge had been started, and neither wolf was going to back down. Vincent gritted his teeth. He felt them move around, but his emotions were riding on a high that couldn’t be satiated. The muscles on both sides of his nose began twitching and so did some of his shoulder tendons. Power coursed through his body and he had no intention of letting go of it.
Vincent grinned and opened his lips. Tierney’s eyes lost their color and went back to his green irises. He...his teeth! They’re...they’re wolven! Watching the Alpha before him blinked, Vincent knew he just won his challenge. As he let loose a few ragged breaths from his mouth, Vincent darted his eyes to his teacher.
“Let’s get started.”
I am struggling to decide how to start this final note. Hell, tears are already rushing down my face. I thought I had a few more chapters left in me. But, like an author, I never knew where this ride would end. I even made a blog post saying I had a few chapters left to go. But nope. This is it. This was it. I couldn't pass up the confrontation. The build-up to the trip to New York, and all the many things that will happen there. It was a dramatic ending. Just as I wanted. And I took it.
There are too many people to thank as I save this entry. To everyone that read, commented, and followed this story the second it hit this website...thank you. To everyone who commented along the way...thank you. To everyone who just straight-up binged this thing...you're crazy, but thank you. Thank you, to everyone!
I hope you enjoyed reading Love in the Shadows, and continue onto the sequel, Rising in the Shadows! It's currently in progress, so enjoy following along! Feel free to head back to the main page and drop a review and recommendation for other readers to get an insight on what to expect.