I moved through the forest quietly, like my training had taught me. This wasn’t training, this was for real.
He focused on following Derek’s path through the trees and undergrowth. “Stay with me and don’t do anything unless I tell you,” the older warrior told him through the bond.
“Yes sir,” I replied. I couldn’t afford to screw anything up my first time out with the rest of the warriors of the Blood Moon Pack. At eighteen and having just completed the first phase of my Pack Warrior training, I was on probationary status.
“Keep your mouth shut, your eyes open and your mind focused on the task,” my father had told me when I joined the other men. He was a Pack Beta, now in charge of training. He had returned from battle a decade ago missing his left arm, the bite having removed it just above the elbow. The pelt of the rogue wolf that had jumped him while he was fighting another now hung over the fireplace at home. He had killed both, then stuck the stump into hot coals to stop the bleeding. The Alpha had to order him to return home as the battle continued.
I was going to follow in the footsteps of a badass like him, I thought as I smiled.
I was still memorizing the scents of the adults spread around the woods alongside us as we raced to the meeting spot. Our Pack organization separated the trainees from the rest of the Pack for the first two years. After your first shift around age sixteen, all males and females were sent to barracks and training grounds in a remote area of the territory. Dad told me it was to eliminate distractions and keep parents from becoming “a pain in his ass” about things. Conditions were spartan there, you had a bunk, a communal shower and bathroom, and a footlocker.
Training was difficult, of the twenty in his class, only eight had graduated to Apprentice Warrior. The ones who dropped out were also dropped in Pack status; they became the Omegas. The lowest official Pack rank, they were responsible for cooking, cleaning, laundry and other menial tasks. They were higher only than the Unranked (the children who hadn’t shifted or were in training) and the Pack slaves.
It didn’t matter who your parents were. Your rank had to be earned, and the training was the first step. If you were washed out, you became an Omega. You were stuck there until your classmates graduated before you could apply to go to training again. Fail twice, and the Omega rank became permanent.
Pack life was all about rank and dominance; it determined your job, your living conditions, your pay and even your mate. Mates were chosen. The humans had their fairy tales of destined mates, but reality was more like the way a real wolf pack operated. The stronger males had their pick of the females, and they always chose the strongest one they could get. If you wanted to be Alpha, you had to beat out everyone else, and your prize was the strongest and most dominant female by your side.
Competition was fierce, and highly competitive. Even within our class, pairings had started to form, although mating was not allowed until you were both eighteen.
No one of high rank would mate with an Omega, heck, even Omegas were hesitant to mate with each other. They all hoped for someone better once they climbed the ladder.
“Get your head back in the game,” Derek snapped after I stepped on a branch, causing the snap to echo through the forest. “One more fuckup like that and I’ll send you home.”
I shook my head and concentrated on the run. I hadn’t been told what was going on, and I wasn’t expected to know. Our Alpha was leading our group, that was enough. We crested a hill ten minutes later, a large field stretched out below us with a stream cutting through the middle. On the other side, three men stood with their arms crossed, looking at us with disdain.
“Warriors stay at the treeline, Beta, Gamma, with me,” Alpha Max Connell thundered over the link. Derek had stopped and shifted ahead of me, so I came up next to him and did the same. The thirty warriors with us spread out along the treeline, our focus on the men on the other side of the stream that made up the eastern edge of our territory.
“Who are they,” I whispered as I looked over the enemy.
“Rogues,” he replied. “A big group of them. We’ve been scenting them for the last week near the borders.”
Wendy moved over and stood next to us. She was in my class, and was a good friend. She was a decent warrior, never the top of her class in brains or skill, but she wouldn’t ever give up. She was found six years ago in a human orphanage, abandoned at birth and had bounced in and out of foster homes until they stopped trying to place her. When my father sensed her, he arranged for a Pack family to adopt her. She hadn’t even known she was a werewolf.
My father wasn’t a compassionate man, but he knew she had to join a Pack soon or be killed. Allowing her first Shift to occur among the humans couldn’t be allowed.
I looked her over; she was about five-foot ten, with a solid build and straight black hair to her shoulder blades. She had filled out nicely in the time we were in training, and had already caught the eye of several older Warriors. So far, she had resisted their advances. When I asked her why, she said that she needed to find out how high in rank she could reach before she settled down with a mate.
No one really knew what she was capable of, since we had no idea who her parents were.
“They don’t look like much,” Wendy said a she looked across the field. I could see why she would think that, the two dozen men across from us were dirty and unprofessional. Their clothes were tattered, teeth yellowed, hair greasy. I could smell their foul odor from here.
“Don’t let looks fool you,” Derek said. “Rogues like this have scraped a life together in conditions you can’t imagine. They are tough, sneaky as hell and dirty fighters. Never take them for granted.”
I nodded, remembering my father’s hatred of them. “So why don’t we attack?”
“Alpha asked them for this meeting, he is honor bound to accept the truce for it.” I snorted; honor among rogues? You may as well talk about virtue among whores, or honesty among politicians.
“It doesn’t matter,” Wendy said, “We’re here to protect the Alpha.” She moved back to her spot, keeping her eyes on the rogues the whole time.
“I want you to attack the Silver Moon pack and kill their Alphas,” Alpha Max said. My head shot up; the Silver Moon pack were allies, they were to the south of us. Why?
I looked at Derek and he shook his head. “Not your problem, boy, you’re a Warrior not an Alpha.” I looked down at the ground; using rogues to attack a Pack wasn’t honorable.
The rogue leader put his hands on his hips and laughed. “Why would I do that for you?”
“You can take their women.” It always came down to that.
“I can take yours, they are a lot closer and most of your warriors are here, not protecting them.” I could sense the tension rising among the warriors, many of whom had mates back at the Pack house.
“You could try, but I have a better idea.” He kicked a rock at his foot. “On Monday, the Silver Moon Beta and half his warriors will be coming to my territory for joint training. The Alpha is not coming, his mate is nearing her due date and he won’t let her out of the house or leave her behind. It’s his first son, I hear.” He laughed a little. “They won’t be able to withstand you, and when the ones here try to rush back to their Pack, my warriors and I will kill them too. All that will be left is the land and the women; I offer you all the women and half the land.”
“It doesn’t do much good if the surrounding Packs decide to attack me after,” he said.
“Ah, but I can help there too. You’ve clearly got Alpha power; your men need a safe place to work from. I can convince the others to give your new Pack a shot, since you would no longer be rogues but a real Pack.”
I could hear the chatter through the bond about the fate that awaited the women of that Pack. Rogues were brutal with women, taking what they wanted and leaving dead and damaged behind. The thought of any Pack being destroyed in that manner caused my fists to tighten in anger.
“I don’t want land,” the rogue leader said, “I have no patience to defend it. I’ll take the women, of course, and your help in delaying a counter-attack. You take the land, I want money.”
“How much are you thinking?”
“Five million. Cash.” I expected this to be a problem, but instead Max stuck out his hand and shook the rogue’s hand.
The rogue leader stepped back towards his men, then turned around. “One more thing.” We all looked at him. “We have been travelling for days, and my men need relief. You need to show you are to be trusted to hold up your end of the bargain as well.”
“What do you want,” Alpha Max replied.
“I want a woman, a slave for us to take with us and use. A virgin.”
The Betas paled, Max showed no reaction. “I can have one here in an hour, our slaves are back at the pack house.” It was true, we had a half-dozen women who had been captured from other Packs. They were below the unranked, given the most demeaning tasks and who knows what else. They never came in contact with the children or the student warriors.
“I’m leaving now,” he replied. “I’ll take her.” He pointed at Wendy, who was shaking in fear. I moved over towards her, taking a position in front.
Alpha Max turned and looked. “Wendy.” She looked at him in horror, I could see in her face that she couldn’t believe this was happening. “Come here.” Command laced his voice, she couldn’t help but obey as the reality of her fate showed on her face. She moved forward stiffly, trying in vain to hold back tears.
The Alpha was sentencing her to a horrible death; the men would not hold back, would not be gentle, and would not stop until she was dead. Maybe not even then. She kept walking, however, until she was standing in front of her Alpha. He looked at her without emotion, not even regret. “Wendy Williams, you are banished from the Blood Moon Pack and all ties with us are broken.” She screamed in agony as the bonds broke, dropping to her knees, her hands pulling at her hair. The rogues didn’t wait, two grabbed her and dragged her back to their side. Before I could react she was bent over a fallen log, her limbs being tied down, as two lines formed to use her now naked body.
“NO!” I shouted out at the top of my lungs. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS. SHE HASN’T DONE ANYTHING TO DESERVE THIS.” I started to move forward down the hill towards my Alpha and his Betas. Derek tried to grab me, but I shook free and ran forward. I closed off the Pack links; all the people telling me to be quiet and go back home, were just so much noise. I was listening only to my conscience and the sound of angry blood flowing through my veins. A few steps later and I was standing in front of Alpha Max, who looked ready to explode.
“DO NOT QUESTION ME, I AM ALPHA!” He roared out at me, his dominance rolling in waves. The warriors immediately submitted, dropping their eyes to the ground and exposing their necks. I looked him in the eye, challenging him. I was angry as hell, scared to death and yet I stood there in front of him. My wolf was fighting the command to submit with everything he had.
I snuck a look at Wendy; they had already started to rape her, the tears falling down her face as she struggled in vain to free herself. It was too late to save her innocence.
“A real Alpha protects his Pack members, he doesn’t give them up for THAT!” I pointed at what was going on. No one else looked, not wanting to be involved. She was no longer Pack, they didn’t want to see or remember what was happening, and they sure as hell weren’t going to feel responsible for it.
I called my wolf forward, a process that took ten seconds. Max shifted into his hybrid form in less than a second, a shift honed by years of practice I didn’t have. His body grew until he stood eight feet tall. Fur sprouted and bones realigned, the sound like a machine gun in my ears. Claws extended from his fingers as his face changed, razor sharp teeth pushed through gums as his face extended.
I hadn’t even dropped to all fours before his shift was done.
With a furious growl, his hand swept out and the claws tore through my throat.
I didn’t feel pain at first, I didn’t feel anything. I fell to the ground bonelessly, the smack of my flesh on the rocks echoing in my hearing. I could see the blood spraying out on the ground in time with my weakening heart. I looked over at Wendy, she was crying out to me, tears streaming down her face, until a man moved in front of her and shoved himself down her throat.
My breath gurgled out and blackness overtook me as I died.