Chapter 1: Max
[This is an excerpt]
“I’m going ahead,” Max told the others through the mind link. Increasing his speed as he dashed through the trees, it almost felt like he was flying. He knew that running like that on such terrain was dangerous, but losing any more time could end up in a bloody disaster.
“Max, you can’t fight them all alone!” Logan, his beta, snarled in his head. “Slow down! We can’t catch up with you. You can’t get yourself hurt over this!”
“I’m not stopping. You better hurry,” Maxwell replied, ignoring the annoyance and worry he sensed from his second-in-command. The rest of the warriors were restless too, and he could tell they were just as eager to get there and help.
Max focused his attention on his surroundings, crouching down and jumping over a wide stream with fast running water. White foam coated the surface, with big waves splashing around. He landed on the other side, just barely. Gritting his teeth and glaring at the current, he realized that was going to delay them even more.
“River ahead. Spread out to find a way to cross,” he told the others, then continued onward. Logan shouted for him not to go alone again, but he ignored it. He had barely made fifty steps when he finally caught their scent. Violent and foul, thе rogues smelled even more feral than usual. The question was: what got them all here together?
Max had no time to ponder over that problem because he noticed a big brown figure approaching him from the left. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t stop with the speed he was moving. He jumped, his feet bouncing off the trunk of one of the trees, and narrowly avoided the wolf that had almost rammed into him.
The rogue tried to change direction and continue after him, but ended up crashing into the side of a tree, rolling a few times before scrambling to its feet and giving chase. By then, Max had jumped back onto the ground and was sprinting forward again. He couldn’t allow himself to be cornered here; he needed to get to the others first.
He noticed a second wolf join his pursuer, so now there were two dark shadows that were eagerly trying to catch up, but little by little, they fell behind. Their eyes were red, full of thirst for blood and violence, and there was saliva dripping from their mouths. Judging by their state, their rationality was already too far gone. He knew that even if he incapacitated them, he wouldn’t be able to turn them back into humans. And with their violent streak and inability to fall in line when facing stronger opponents, there was only one way to stop them.
“Got through the river?” he asked the others.
“Just now,” Logan replied instantly. “Where are…?”
“Two rogues ahead. Kill them quickly,” Max ordered, and a few howls echoed through the forest, confirming the order was received. He continued on, ignoring the snarls behind him, when he noticed the third wolf. It was coming from the opposite direction, running at full speed directly towards Max. Its gray muzzle was stained with red around the mouth while its crimson eyes shone excitedly, as if the creature could already taste Max’s blood.
Maxwell jumped at the same time the other wolf did. The two clashed in the air, fell to the ground, and rolled a few times. Max’s size allowed him to land on top of the rogue and sink his nails into the beast’s chest. Before the rogue had the time to retaliate, Max’s teeth clicked around its neck and tore it apart. Warm blood splattered over him, even more spilling from the exposed throat, and for a second, Max stared at the wild eyes locked on him. He then jumped over the convulsing body and continuing on his way.
He arrived at the compound a couple of minutes later, with screams and howls filling his ears even before the buildings came into view. Once the trees were gone and he leaped into the meadow where the packhouse was supposed to be located, Max paused for a second to assess the situation.
People in wolf and human forms were running frantically around and trying to stay away from the fight that was happening in the village square. There was a large group of wolves engaging the rogues and trying to keep them in one place, but their numbers were quickly dwindling under the constant onslaught of the mad creatures. There was even a human with a rifle standing on the rooftop of one of the single-floor buildings, but he had a problem aiming since everyone was constantly moving and there were too many bodies clammed together.
The man with the weapon finally made the shot and hit one of the rogues in the thigh, catching the wolf’s attention. Barely showing any signs of being in pain, the rogue pounced on the roof with three long, powerful jumps and toppled the man to the ground, tearing his chest and face apart.
Max sped forward, jumping on the back of another of the remaining rogues while it was trying to get to the neck of its opponent after pushing him to the ground. Max sunk his teeth into the rogue’s shoulder, throwing him off its victim and finishing the feral wolf before the creature could get up and retaliate.
Max glanced down at the other werewolf that lay on his back, still staring in shock and relief. He then jumped over him and rammed into another rogue, who was just biting into the body of a much smaller gray wolf. The rogue rolled over but quickly got to its feet, bloodthirsty eyes locking on Max. He allowed himself a single moment to look down at the gray wolf, only to realize the shifter lay still and unmoving, dark eyes staring unseeingly at the sky.
A familiar howl echoed through the valley, and Max turned his head.
“Hurry,” he urged them as he took a step back, watching as a second rogue joined the one that was standing nearby. Both were baring their teeth and letting out threatening growls as they watched Max. There were four left from what he could see and the other two were still busy elsewhere, so this was good. He just needed to keep those two’s attention for another minute until reinforcements arrived.
The rogues shot forward without warning, jumping on him together. Max slammed his paw into one of them, nails digging into the wild wolf’s face and pinning it to the ground. The other one jumped him from behind, dragging its nails over Max’s back. Max twirled around and bit its leg, and tossed it to the ground. His teeth locked around the rogue’s neck and he twisted it abruptly until he heard a loud crack. The body grew limp in his grip and he dropped it to the ground just as the sounds of his warriors approaching reached his ears.
“Help! Help! Quickly, please help!” A female voice rose above the mayhem and Max looked around, eyes stopping on a frantic middle-aged woman who was trying to get somebody’s attention. He reached her in two jumps, and she let out a squeal as his wolf form loomed over her. She shook off her stupor, her panicked look returning. “There! There is another one at the sanctum, trying to break in! The children are there! Quickly!”
Max looked in the direction she was pointing, immediately spotting the big red wolf that was slamming its body into the double doors of the small white building. The sound of wood breaking filled his ears, and even before the doors dropped to the ground, he was already running. A chorus of screams echoed through the sanctum, and the red rogue snarled, taking a step through the threshold. The screams grew louder, sounding even more terrified.
Max growled and the red rogue’s head snapped toward him, a pair of pale orange eyes staring with loathing. The rogue turned around, forgetting about its initial targets, and attacked him without hesitation.
“We have one that still stands a chance,” Max sent the thought to his beta. “Bring it here.”
The red wolf was big, especially for a female. She was also extremely fast, but her thirst for blood was making her reckless. She tried to go for his neck, paws extended as if to sink her nails into his body for a better grip. Max moved out of her way, using her poor balance to turn the tables on her. After a few failed attempts at biting him, he finally pinned her to the ground, but she kept thrashing against him even though his paw was firmly pressing her neck down, threatening to break it.
He looked around impatiently just in time to see Logan and another of his warriors running towards him. Logan slowed down and shifted into a human while the warrior behind him caught up in wolf form. The wolf had a rifle attached to his back, which Logan swiftly took off and aimed at the rogue. He shot three darts into her body and in just a few seconds, her struggle died down and she passed out. Max looked around the place to confirm the other rogues were no longer a threat and noticed that all of them were already lying still on the ground. While his warriors were standing on guard, even though the enemy was subdued, the rest of the community was shifting into humans, rushing to help the wounded.
Max shifted back into human, stepping away from the red wolf. A sharp pain spread through his body, and he glanced over his shoulder at the deep gashes running down his back. The cuts were already closing and there was no more blood seeping out of the deep scratches, so it was just a matter of time before they healed on their own.
“I told you you’ll get yourself hurt,” Logan murmured as he stopped next to him, glancing at the wound and grimacing. “You’re the strongest person I know, Max, but you’re not invincible.”
“If I hadn’t done it, the body count would have been much higher,” Max replied quietly while glancing towards the sanctum where a group of children had piled up at the entrance, peeking outside with fear. Logan sighed, but dropped the subject.
The place had drastically quieted even though there were just as many people outside as before, if not even more. They were all staring at them until a tall, bearded man pushed his way through the crowd, heading towards Max.
Logan and the others tensed as they watched him draw near, but Max just waited patiently while the other alpha stopped in front of him. They had just spoken on the phone twice, but he looked much older than Max imagined him — he was at least thirty years Max’s senior, with gray slowly creeping in on his temples. He was a couple of inches shorter, too, and despite his good physique, it was clear his power was slowly waning.
The bearded man stared at him for a second before lowering his head in quiet submission. The rest of his pack reacted immediately, all following their alpha’s lead.
“Thank you for responding to our call for help, even after how I treated you the last time we spoke,” the bearded man said, head still down. “If it weren’t for you, it could have been more of us lying dead right now.”
“Raise your head,” Max said, and the other alpha did it immediately, a look of relief passing through his face. “There is no need to bow to me. Asking for help is not a weakness. Only a strong man can admit when he needs help.”
“Wise words for such a young man,” the bearded man said with a smile.
“That’s what my father used to say,” Max laughed bitterly, remembering all the times he had heard those words from his father as he was scolding him for this or that. Max extended his hand, offering it to the other man. “Maxwell Black, Alpha of the Whitecrest Pack.”
“Jeremiah Davis, Alpha of the Silverton pack. Please allow me to offer you my hospitality and deepest gratitude,” he replied. “Let’s go inside. If any of your people are hurt, we have a few doctors, so they will take care of your wounds. I’ll arrange for rooms for you to rest while I take care of my pack and later we can have that talk we discussed on the phone. I think I have more to say now.”