Tales Of A Shifter (P1) - The Meeting

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Chapter 36 - New Life

Chapter 36

Ezekiel traversed the darkness at a steady sprint behind the rest of his brothers and his father that lead the way. The supple grass pulled and tugged at his legs, snapping as he continued to move further into the Clan Lands with his family. The nearly inescapable scent of pine colored all of the soft breezes that stirred the forests around them. Cricket call and the steely moon light above, gave ambiance to the calm night but for the most part Ezekiel and his family roamed the darkness in relative silence.

Ezekiel easily kept up with his brothers, at times pulling ahead or racing along Nate whose two tones eyes nearly reflected the moon in the sky as they began to glow.

And as all of them tracked along the path that their father traveled, he quickly realized that instead of traveling to the west where the dead moose’s had been found their father was leading them to the southern part of their Lands. Ezekiel knew that four or five miles to the south laid the southern village, which was home to nearly fifteen Shifter families, three fields and one farm.

Having lived in the Leopard Lands his whole life Ezekiel was very familiar with the layout and distance needed to travel before he arrived at each of the villages inside of the Clan as well as some of the outlying structures built between some of them. So the moment he spotted the large wooden cabin stationed a few miles off the out skirts of the slumbering southern village he wasn’t surprised. Soft light in the windows alerted Ezekiel to the fact that the occupants inside were awake, and as Ezekiel and his family closed the distance towards the large wooden home, the front door was thrown open and two bodies moved into the light on the front of the vast wooden porch.

And before he knew it Ezekiel was looking at his cousins. The last two Guardians in the Leopard Clan.

“Erin! Drin!” Ezekiel called out as they dashed the rest of the way across the field and stopped on the lager dirt path that lead directly to the wood pouch that his cousins were standing on. His brothers and father took a moment to catch their breaths. Something he barely felt the need to do. So leaving them behind him he raced up the steps and engulfed the last two members of his family.

Erin was a tall willow, 17 years old and 5′10 with the legs and arms of an amazon, long thin and defined in the jeans and blue sweater that she wore. A few soft appealing curves filed out her tall figure, short brown hair and a heart shaped face.

A tear drop chin, small hazel eyes and a gentle mouth completed her soft features, which quickly spread into a beautiful smile of surprise when Ezekiel hugged her softly and placed a kiss to her temple.

“Ezekiel!” Erin began as she pulled back slightly. “I missed you, where have you been.”

To that question Ezekiel had only one reply. “I’ve been kind of busy.”

Drin, his cousin’s mate, and Ezekiel’s cousin-in-Law by Shifter law, waited until Ezekiel and Erin had swapped appropriate pleasantries before he took Ezekiel’s hand in a friendly shake and let Ezekiel tussle his hair a bit before he moved back.

Drin seemed a little stiff to Ezekiel as they pulled apart, all though the younger Guardian had always been a little ridged when it came to anyone except his beloved Mate.

Drin was a short, buff boy compared to his more willowy and slender Mate.

Barely older than 17 as well, with sharp blue eyes, black curly hair cut close to his head and a flat nose. He, unlike many of the men in the village, had very little height but Ezekiels cousin didn’t seem to be effected by this much.

If anything Drin was more confident because of his size and even though all of the men in Ezekiels household outweighed him and out stood him Drin had emerged from more than one fight with his head held high. But this was not to say that Drin was cocky or spent his time picking fights, like Ezekiel’s brother Lander did. In fact Ezekiel knew his Cousin in Law was awfully accommodating, much like Erin was. He welcomed company, enjoyed a simple conversation and rarely had a hiss or a snarl to dish out.

He was beyond reproach as far as Ezekiel was concerned an so even though he sensed the odd tension circling about the couple as he greeted them Ezekiel found himself ignoring it.

Instead He took a few moment to converse before his father could cut in.

His father talked beneath the pouch light, which unlike the lights in Ezekiel’s home were fueled by electricity instead of candle light and as they exchanged more words his eyes were ensnared by the twin points of gold light on the couples hands.

Both youths now wore rings on their right hands.

Rings that were in fact only a few months old, because Erin and Drin were newlywed.

In fact the rings were just as new as the Mating Marks that wrapped around their right and left wrists like inked on black bands.

Normally only an inch or two in width, the mate Mark’s bled through the skin soon after two mates claimed each other in the ceremony of thier people or in private.

The Marks often appeared only on the wrists of the Mates, but in other cases the Marks could appear on other parts of a Mated Pairs Skin.

Ezekiel didn’t know much about them...nor did he think about the Marks often, but he knew what they were still highly regarded. The Marks were mysterious thick band of freckles that roses around the mated Shifters wrists and remained until death. Binding two Shufters and declaring them untouchable to all others.

To be so young Ezekile was happy for his cousins. Drin was an orphan. Erin too.

Ezekiel dint know what happened to Drin’s parents, but he knew that Erin’s mother and father Ezekiels own aunt and step-uncle, had died in a fire many years ago, when she was still very young.

But Erin was never alone with her cousins and uncles ruling the village.

For a while she only had Ezekiels family to care for her, but she soon met Drin in elementary school.

From there they had been neigh inseparable. And through it all Ezekiel had taken on raising them beside his father and mother, who supported them financially, but because of age and Clan duties had very little time for fun activities.

It was only six months past that Erin and Drin had offically become Mates, married by the Clan Head himself and they had become newly appointed Guardians only a few months after that.

Being Guardians was a craft and responsibility that both of the young Shifters had barely managed to master, or come fully into on their own as of yet.

Besides even though they were now on par with the brothers in the village and held all the same power that Ezekiel and his family held Ezekiel just couldn’t treat them professionally.

With a mischievous hiss he rushed them both and crushed to to him again in a second affectionate hug that made both Guardians squirm and giggle for him.

With the both of them wrapped against his chest....he still just saw the little kids that he had watched grow to their current point. Thier laughter filled the space and Ezekiel laughed to simply happy to be with them.

The moment Ezekiel pulled back and hopped down the steps to stand next to Nate, Lander was on Erin next.

Walter continued to hang back in the darkness unseen for the moment. He made no moves to embrace her but did smile at her though.

It was swift knowledge that All of the brothers adored Erin, and welcomed Drin into their family happily much like a brother. Even though Ezekiel was the main one that had mentored them and tutored them in school they all wanted to see the young mates flourish.

“Hello baby girl, you ready to howl at the moon with the rest of us.” Lander teased, flashing his canines in a playful display so unlike him that Ezekiel could only shake his head. She was the only woman beside his mother that Ezekiel had ever know his brother to be so cuddly with.

“Umm, yes?” Erin said shyly then laughed when Lander gave her a giant hug of bearish proportions, nearly making the girl disappear despite her height.

Suddenly Lander released her and grabbed her slim wrist. Jerking her forwards he exclaimed. “All right! You and me against the rest of these punks. We’re gonna bag us the skin of whatever we find if it kills me!”

" Hey! Lander calm down...let her go before she falls... ” Drin said rigidly. He swiftly walked beside them and growled. “Stop pulling on her....”

Lander laughed him off, completely ignoring the stiff undertone to his body language that Ezekiel was finally starting to register as aggression.

“Aw shut it Drin....me and the lil lady have got a date with some dead moose. You can just go hunt with Ezekiel...like a good lol newbie. ”

Drin and Lander barely got along, so for the most part Ezekiel ignored the exchange until Drin’s snarling voice cut across the night.

“Im warning you! Stop being so rough with her dammit!” he demanded as he slapped his hand down on Landers wrist, hauling him to an abrupt stop as he went to pull Erin down the porch.

Lander hissed as he turned fully toward Drin, the smile on his face a moment ago....melting into a sharp glare.

“I’m not being rough with her you little pimple.” He growled. “What the hell’s wrong with you tonight anyway?”

“Nothing....just be careful.”
Sensing all of the brothers looking at him, Drin visibly reined himself in by releasing Landers wrist, but Ezekiel noticed that instead of pulling back, he steeped partly between Lander and Erin, not breaking Landers hold, but standing in the way of her going down the steps. “Erin isn’t feeling well so dont push her around...”

“Yeah okay....whatever! You can’t control her life and make her stay in the house all the time, just because you’re Mates Drin. She’s got a life! She’ll be fine!” Lander sneered at him completely blowing Drin’s displeasure off.

He began guiding Erin closer to the edge of the steps once more, pulling his arm away from Drin’s grasp. “Common lil Cuz...we’ve got some killing to do!” Lander growled as he took Erin’s wrist and tried to haul her down the steps with him even more wild and playful.

“Uhhh umm... Wait! Lander hold up... We have something to tell you guys.” Erin said.

Then pulled back, twisting her wrist and trying to pull away, something Ezekiel didn’t miss the significance of. Their cousin was a very willing and gentle soul. Even though she had the body of an amazon. She rarely went against the will of anyone around her. Lander didnt get the hint and release her fast enough though.

And suddenly Drin growled, his eyes glowing icy blue as the Leopard inside crawled to the surface. Faster than Lander could react, Drin slammed his palms against his chest and nearly threw Lander to the ground as he stumbled backwards down the steps and was forced to release Erin’s hand to.stop his fall.

“Don’t touch her again!” Drin spat in the moments before Lander managed to catch his balance and he pushed Erin behind him as Lander hissed back.

“Wait....Drin... Lander....Calm down!” Erin tried to interject along with Ezekiel and Nate.

“All right guys....cool it.” Ezekiel hissed steeping towards them, as he caught the darkening light in both of the Shifters gazes.

“Yeah....Lander calm down, just walk away...” Nate put in behind him.

Without another word Landers claws and eyes Shifted. He growled at Drin.

A deep throated growl more beast then Drin could ever hope to match, but the boy didn’t back down if anything Ezekiel watched him egg on Lander by curling back his lips and flashing him with a set of thick fangs. Both Males fully in a dominate mindset.

It was such a sure sign of aggression that Ezekiel knew that a fight was just on the fringes.

“HEY! Stop it right Now!” Ezekiel called, his arm on Landers wrist and his snarling voice snapping the tension for a few second.

He didn’t pull or tug or Lander arm though, he simply, held him to his spot. Anything else on Ezekiels part would only escalate the problem, but just then it wasn’t his responsibility to intervene.

Mantilo who had stepped away to speak to Lander marched back into the fray. Fully aware of the shift in the air, he marched up out of the dark back drop beyond the pouches light and growled his displeasure. Hard and heavy.

His calm brown eyes took in the entire situation in a second.

“DRIN! LANDER...stand down. Take a breath!” He growled, but still Lander and Drin hissed, eyes locked.

Ezekiel knew it would take just the smallest twitch before they had two adult Leopards slashing and ripping at each other, until one submitted. He tightened his hold on Landers arm, he let tranquil thoughts run from his body into his brother trying to combat the violence, but not entirely sure if he could stop the inevitable, but knowing that he was one of the only reasons the two men weren’t already at each other’s throats.

“Are you boys listening to me!!!?” Mantilo hissed, his tone going down a level unnaturally, yellow light bleeding into his irises, in the night, with his Leopard staring them down, it was hard to deny that this man was in charge.

“I forbid you to Shift in front of me!” Mantilo roared marching up behind Lander and putting a large boot down on the bottom step. “Reign it in! Right now! And if anyone here makes another move, you’re going to answer to me!” He said it softly, seriously, glaring at Drin, then at Lander. The soft crackle and pop of heat around his skin signaling how close the beast inside was to emerging. “Don’t try me....”

A second passed as Mantilo’s voice and demeanor settled over the Shifters around him. Bending their anger to his will, his dominance. Drin and Lander visibly fought against it, both men flinching away from his eyes and proximity, turning their glowing gazes away from each other.

Drin almost visibly trembled with unused adrenaline from nearly shifting. His blue eyes averted from Lander and Mantilo completely. A sullen silence over taking him.

“Fuck off of me...” Lander hissed rudely at Ezekiel.

With a nonchalant shrug Lander threw Ezekiels hand off and instantly pulled in his claws and the aggressive glow in his green eyes back under his control.

Ezekiel moved back, leaving Lander on the last step, beside his father. He strolled to stand beside Nate and as the awkward transition stole the seconds, Lander and Drin delved into childish silence. Mantilo finally shook his head.

“I want an answer. What was all that about? Anybody.....?” Mantilo put out to his sons, in a frustrated tone, barely back to normal as the Leopard still lurked near the surface of his own skin.

Lander and Drin snapped out of their sullen silences at the same time. They hissed, pointed and opened their mouths to throw insults, but Erin cut it off.

“It was my fault.” Erin put in lifting a hand in the air.

She spoke quiet but confident over the two Shifters, stepping from behind Drin and looking right at Lander.

“I’m sorry Lander, don’t be upset with us please. “She began, pulling her hands together and wringing them in a fashion similar to Ezekiel’s mother. “I’m sure Drin just got a little worked up because....well Drin was worried about me going out with you guys tonight. Hes been asking me to tell you for a while now but I was too scared....”

" She can’t go out there.” Drin stated boldly cutting in. “And I don’t want Erin participating in anymore hunting. I got aggravated when Lander tried to drag her out.”

“Well I know you worry but she’s safe with us.” Mantilo began, as Lander scoffed at Drin. His tone leveled out, both calm and irritated. “We’ve been out before on hunts Drin and everything was fine....”

“No....Erin’s not safe! She isn’t going out!” Drin hissed at their father, nearly making Ezekiel’s heart skip a beat.

Drin was far too young, to be taking such an strong tone with any Shifter as old and strong as Ezekiel’s father. But apparently caught up in his odd jumpy behavior, Drin didn’t seem to notice his affront and kept on talking.

“Right now she’s got to stay here and so do I. So I’m sorry you made the trip out to get us, but were sitting this one out...” Drin slowed then stopped and swallowed hard, as he met Mantilo’s yellow gaze across the pouch steps.

Ezekiel felt for him.

Few men starred down his father or disappointed him. Ezekiel knew that, even as his son, Mantilo had a very shallow pool for tolerance.

“She’s not going out on the hunt tonight and neither am I.” Drin repeated. His tone growing stronger as he talked.

A beat passed.and Mantilo could only sigh.

“Your wrong Drin. You are both Guardians now. Something you begged me to take you into. If I call on you, you know it is your duty to answer and assist me.” Mantilo asserted outlining one of the most basic parts of a Guardians duties to not only the village, but the Clan Head that governed it.

“Are you rescinding your oaths to me? Why have me ordain you as my Guardians if you didn’t intend to stay the course!? If you were not going to be true to the duty entrusted to you!?” Mantilo snarled at the both of them obviously upset.

“Um.....well we didn’t mean to...but...I.” Erin attempted to explain, but Mantilo over rode her.

“Fine, if you dont mean to stop being Guardians then let’s move past this... The night is growing short and our prey is waiting.” Mantilo sighed stepping up the pouch and trying to take both of their arms in his heavy hands and guide them off the pouch.

“No!” Drin snarled, once more showing very little respect for their father and stepping between Erin and Lander and now Mantilo hissing up a protective storm. “She’s not going hunting! She’s in a delicate place right now. Stop!”

“Whoa! Hey Drin calm down....were not going to force her to go.” Ezekiel tried to placate him. He didn’t know what was making the youth so snappy, especially since his cousin-in-law had always been a good kid, but he didn’t want to make him anymore jumpy then he already was.

“A delicate situation? What the hell does that mean?” Lander hissed in a tone far less rational then Ezekiel’s. He out stood and outweighed their younger cousin by a foot, but Ezekiel’s blond hair’d brother seemed to sense the tension in Drin’s stance and kept his distance.

Ezekiel caught the tension between the couple as they once more exchanged private looks. As they struggled to answer Landers demanding question.

Ezekiel came to their rescue, hoping to put his Cousins at ease. “Hey guys it’s all right.” He shrugged slightly. “Were not upset or anything.....Just tell us what’s going on.”

Suddenly as if a small damn had broken in her heart Erin put a hand over her mouth, her eyes misty and exclaimed. “I just realized..... I’m pregnant!” she blurted and sobbed the news in a voice filled with excitement....but also colored with apprehension. Silence swept the group.

And Ezekiel knew why. They were young, at least by Shifter standards, both of them had only just experienced their first Shifts a year ago. So the aging process was only just now starting to slow. In mortal and Shifter society age was different. For the most part aging was a normal process. Year by year growth similar to mortals, until puberty hit the Shifter. Then the Shift a few months or years later and from that point on the Shifters age progression slowed, as the beast inside awakened, poured into life and energy into the Shifters soul and they became one being. In mortal society, Ezekiel and his brothers were only a few years older than their cousins. But unlike Ezekiel and his brothers who merely appeared to be young, at least by mortal standards, Drina and Erin were barely past their first Shift.

In most cases in Shifter society, age was relative, a Shifter that appeared to be in their prime could in fact be nearly fifty years old. But in Erin and Drin’s cases they were little more than cubs....teens.

After that announcement, a moment of awkward silence passed over the brother and their father. A moment in which Lander retreated a few steps from Drin’s space, Ezekiel and Nate shared looks of surprise and Mantilo suddenly rushed Ezekiel’s cousins and nearly took them off their feet.

“Congratulations!” Drin nearly mewled in fear as Mantilo wrapped both of them up against his chest and let out a roar of happiness and pride.

Ezekiel laughed. It was odd and refreshing to see his father, a Shifter who was always so serious and strong let his care for the couple show through. All though Ezekiel knew that his father wouldn’t have taken in the orphans and supported them all this time if he didn’t care about them......it was still nice for Ezekiel and his brothers to see.

“Thank....thank you Mantilo.” Erin stammered slightly as Mantilo’s embrace settled over her and her Mate. As Drin held himself stock still, perhaps paralyzed by Mantilo’s unaccustomed show of affection, Erin happily smiled as she turned her face to the side and wrapped a slender arm around Mantilo’s side to hug him back.

“You’re....not mad? We thought you would be mad.” Drin said, his voice muffled by Mantilo’s hold, but for the most part Ezekiel picked up the question.

“Why would he be mad? Its good news Drin.” Ezekiel asked speaking through his father’s back.

“Well.... it looks bad, were so young and don’t have family beside you guys to support us, the other Shifters won’t like it. They will talk...” Erin explained in a small voice still in her Uncles embrace.

“Forget that stuff.... let them talk like fools. I’m not mad.” Mantilo assured them both as he sat them both free of his embrace, but he kept one arm wrapped around Erin’s shoulders speaking to her on a gentler note. “I know that your age isn’t ideal for something this big, but I know you’ll both be fine. You’re both kind and intelligent individuals, born leaders. You’ll do your best....and you’ll do it well.”

“Besides....” Mantilo began, casting all of his son’s disappointed look. “None of those fools hrre have graced me with any Grans to call my own. Your child will be the first child to carry the name of our family on to the future.”

Mantilo, smiled at Drin, who now seemed to have dropped his aggressive guard. The couple thanked him again.

But Mantilo continued still holding his niece close. “Well don’t thank me just yet....” Mantilo began as he looked down at the girl. “I still want and need both of you to accompany us tonight on this hunt.”

“But...” Erin began softly.

“She can’t go out there its dangerous!” Drin said at the exact same moment.

“Dad...!” Walter interjected on a slight hiss, the first words he had spoken in almost two hours. He seemed unhappy with Mantilos words.

But Mantilo cut all of them off as he released her.

“Calm down!” Mantilo began first looking at Walter, a significant serious look, then he glanced back at his niece.

“Look I’m not saying that Erin will have to participate with running down or capture of anything.....if there is anything to even capture when we hunt tonight But I need her eyes, her nose and her body present.” He said to her “Both of you wanted to be Guardians and it’s a responsibility that you have to be as dedicated to as you are able. You have no reason to refuse....”

“Well....he’s right about that...” Erin began looking at Drin, who had a frown on his young face. “We practically begged Mantilo to appoint us as Guardians in the Village and not two months into it, we want to bail out?”

“Still..I dont want you out in the woods...what if the thing were hunting is dangerous?” Drin began. Turning his blue eyes on her.

Once again Ezekiel interjected. ” Take it easy. We do t k kw what’s out there. BESIDES I’ll stay with you guys and make sure that she stays away from all the action. I’ll protect you both... I’m a tank so you know nothing can get past me unless I’m dead. I’ll be by your side.” At that both Drin and Erin seemed to somewhat relax.

“Ok, well stay back and hang close to Ezekiel....but I hope whatever this thing is that we’re going to be tracking is small. And that it goes down quick and easy.” Erin inserted nervously.

Her brown hair getting temporarily thrown about in a stiff nightly breeze.

“Erin, I wouldn’t send you into danger head first.” Mantilo spoke sharply though Ezekiel felt that he meant his tone to be warm to the young Shifter. “In fact I want both you and Drin to stay back and support. All I require of you tonight is some ground pounding, nothing more.” Mantilo told her softly, assuring her. He obviously didn’t miss the sour expression on Drins face, as he sent Drin a serious look accented by eyes beginning to glow with dominance.

“Look, I don’t like it, but the Western part of these lands are sparse and wide, as you both well know, so more legs will simply cover more ground. You either follow me now or withdraw. Make your choice?”

Mantilo demanded of them, one of the few times that his father had ever felt the obligation to explain himself sitting like a big pink elephant as he, steeped back from the couple and watched them consider his words.

Eventually Drin's face smoothed over...then Erin smiled and as one the two young Mates bowed their heads and called out. “We follow you Clan Head. We Trust no other to lead our way.”

Mantilo hissed in acceptance lifted his voice and called out. “All right then people...let’s go. Form up! Move out! Let the hunt begin!”

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