The sun had barely risen from behind the cityscape as we drove away from the hustle and bustle of my old life. Rays of early morning sun bounced off Alice's bright red hair and lit her freckled face up like porcelin. She didn't seem to notice that I was looking at her, driving through the last remaining stoplights with a pinched, worried look on her face.
The city buildings turned all too quickly into lush green trees and cabins that reminded me of the town in which I was born. Highways and open fields didn't exist out here, only forest that hid buildings and concealed secrets for the safety of our people. There were a set of gates around the Ravenswood County that had state of the art security, and as we passed by, both Alice and I had to show our tribal tattoos to the tall men who loomed over our car.
The huge, dark haired guy that examined the tattoo on my wrist- a black wolf with its snout up, outlined in an electric blue to represent the color of my unknown mate's eyes- gave a small chuckle, before shaking his head as if to get rid of a funny thought.
They let us through, giving us a piercing gaze as they watched us pull away, and the iron gates slid closed behind us before we got swallowed up by the green foliage.
"Ravenswood territory." I said, leaning back in my seat even farther. The gates protected us, everyone who was part of the pack lived inside them. It was over 50 km across either way, with the town in the middle and the Pack House, home to the Ravenswood family, to the north.
The forest started to thin considerably, and instead of harsh gravel, smooth pavement led the rest of the way to town.
"Anything new and interesting in town?" I asked, giving my cousin an unimpressed eyebrow raise.
"Same as ever, Beth." Alice told me, giving me a small smile.
"Of course." I nodded. Why does that not surprise me?
Alice O'Conner was only a little more than a year older than me, she had just turned 19, and was in her first year of a healing course at the Ravenswood Hospital. She had dark blue eyes framed by long lashes and fiery red hair, with a small nose that branded a small piercing on the side and her ears had four earrings on each. Alice was tough, yet as petite as they come.
I was honestly happy to be living with her; she had been my best friend since we were little, and she had no mate yet either, though by her tattoo he wasn't in our pack. No Ravenswood wolf had yellow eyes, it was certain, as our ansestors had blue and green eyes. Most Ravenswood wolves were also pack mated, meaning their mates were found among other Ravenswood wolves. It was rare to have any other eye colour than blue or green, but even then... no yellow eyes.
Alice turned at the first stoplight in town, which made me sigh in relief. I didn't want to go through town yet. What if I recognized someone? What if someone recognized me? I'd skip out on awkward reniouns for now if I could.
She took us down a dirt road to the East part of Ravenswood. This wing of the country was for the important pack members. Besides the Alphas, beta and third in commands, of course, who lived at the pack house. This wing has held our family for generations, and consisted of the healers, teachers, and the fourth and fifth in command. It always has. And once I turn 18, I'll have to either become a healer or teacher, like Alice, or continue down the fourth in command train my family has had for a long time. Unless, of course, I find my mate.
The South wing held the shop owners, farmers, builders, and the lower members of the pack, but not nearly the very least.
That was the West wing. They were the Omegas. They were the people in the pack who worked on the farms and in the stores, but they still had an education and were treated fairly. They also had the chance to become farm or store owners if they were trustworthy, and could even become healers if they were gifted. But those were rare cases, and most Omegas accepted that someone needed to be at the bottom. And if they still were treated fairly and equally by the pack despite their heritage, then werewolves were generally good natured about the structure of our pack.
Alice pulled up to a two story cottage with a porch that covered the entire front of the home. The trees that surrounded the place were lush and over green, and the dirt path that led to the door was mixed with heavy rocks. When I stepped out of the car, a gust of wind sent the smell of vanilla and wood towards me. My wolf screamed to be let loose, but I held myself. This wasn't an unfamiliar home; it was our Grandmother's years ago, and the smell was one all O'Conner households had. It made me want to cry, as it brought back so many memories.
My feet scraped the gravel road for a minute, before I was hit with another rush of fresh wind, making my nose, and my wolf, go crazy. I forgot how free it was out in Ravenswood County.
"Yo, Baby-cheeks. Come help me with your stuff!" Alice called to me, and I smiled at her, before running and grabbing my suitcase from the back of her tiny blue car.
"Don't call me that." I protested, carrying the heavy bag by the handle.
"I can do what I want. I'm your guardian now. Never thought this day would come, huh?" Alice said, a sad look crossing her face.
I shook my head. Growing up, me and Alice were best friends. Inseparable. And being only a year apart, we never thought she would ever have to take care of me. Heck, we never thought my parents would die at such a young age, even if they were part of the scandalous Council.
Alice walked ahead of me to unlock the doors and as the door swung open, I felt faint. Tears weld up in my eyes, and I tried to blink them back. My arms dropped the suitcase I was so tightly holding, and my eyes locked on the back wall of the house, my legs carrying my without my will. I almost couldn't resist the urge to run, but when I was there, I ran my hands along the chipped, rough wood, of each single picture frame.
Tears ran down my cheeks, and I felt my heart jump out of my chest. There were old pictures of my parents. One was before I was born, when they were at a party in the Alpha's house. The huge wood mansion was high above them as they drank beers, laughing and cheering. My father took my mother by the waist, giving her a loving kiss. Another was a high school memory of Aunt Chrystal and Uncle Luke, Alice's parents, with my parents. They sat on the large staircase at Ravenswood High, cards and money in their hands. I was never deprived of their poker stories.
The last was when I was little, and I let my eyes linger a little longer on this one. I had tried to crawl away from my parents, but my mother took me by the stomach and held me close, kissing me on the cheek. My dad ruffled my long curls, and we posed for the picture. Once the flash went off, the memory repeated itself.
"Where'd you get these?" I asked, my eyes closing to stop the fresh wave of water that ran all too quickly down my face.
Alice wrapped her arms around my back, giving me a warm hug. "They were left for grandmother by your parents. But all her pictures were free for all to take, and I liked these best."
"Thanks." Was all I could say. I knew, no matter what she told me, she took these to make me feel better, to remember the happy life my parents had.
"Go for a run."
I shook my head. I wasn't in good enough condition. If I was too upset, I could be stuck in wolf form for a long time, unable to change back.
But she rubbed my arms, giving me one last hug. The gesture sent my wolf crazy, needing to be free from the sadness. "Go."