In The Shadows

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Two

Dust flew up everywhere around the apprentice who had been flipped over the shoulder of his master and into the dirt with a heavy thud. He groaned and flung his arm over his eyes. "Is it lunch time yet?"

His master stood over him, amusement in his eyes as he held out a hand for the young wolf. "We've only started an hour ago. You've got awhile kid."

I enjoyed watching the other apprentices train. I learned a lot just by listening to them teach and watching. I watched the teachers mostly but I would also occasionally sneak a glance at the apprentices to see what they were doing wrong. The apprentices hated it when I watched them. I could sense their aggression when they passed me. They thought I was judging them when I had no skills at all. They thought I had no place in being around them when I wasn't even a wolf.

I curled my legs into my chest, wrapping my arms around my legs and resting my chin on my knees. I didn't let their loathing looks dissuade me though. This was as close as I would ever get to warrior training. I sighed and continued to watch, watching Judah, the apprentice try over and over again until he finally did it right.

"Why sit here and lament, hmm?" A croaky voice quipped from behind me.

I lifted my head to see Cami, an elderly Native American woman who stood at four foot eight, hunched over her large walking stick raising a bushy brow at me. The feathers and beads in her gray hair shifted over her back as she hobbled towards me.

"I'm not allowed to train with them. I can't be an apprentice so I haven't got a master."

Cami puckered out her lips. "Nonsense. You legs." She poked my curled up legs with the end of her stick. "You brains." She tapped the side of her head with the stick. "Why no train?" She shook her head. "You like them. Nothing different. Why not learn like them?"

"Because I have no wolf. I can't—"

"No matter! No matter!" She scolded me, brandishing her cane and shaking it wildly. "They have no wolf either! They still train!" She poked me hard in the chest with her walking stick. "You same." She poked me again. "If you want to train, you fight to be allowed." Her broken English was the clearest words I had ever heard.

She was right! I was just like them. They didn't have their wolves now either. Of course they had their werewolf traits, of speed strength and senses, but I could still learn too!

"Young people, stupid." I heard Cami mutter as she shuffled away, her small frame making it's way back to the Elder's tent.

A bright smile lit up my face as I stood. The old lady was right! Why hadn't I seen this before? Why hadn't I fought for this!

I marched my way down to the the fishing docks where my father and other members of the pack were rebuilding the storage sheds for the coming winter. My father was prying decaying boards from the sides of the sheds and tossing them on the pile, his beta assisting him. I walked over to the pile of soon to be fire wood and stood directly in front of the beta as he dropped his board down in front of me.

I raised my head and look him straight in the eyes, squaring my shoulders and trying to exude confidence. "I need to speak with the alpha." I said loud enough for my father to hear me.

The beta raised a brow in question at my formal address of my father. I didn't want to speak with my father though, I'd spoken to him time and time again to let me train but he always said no. This was the only way I could get what I want. By asking him as my alpha, by holding him to his title as leader of the pack I knew I could twist his arm into letting me have this. As alpha he had to look out for the pack, as our leader he needed to do everything to keep it safe, and training me gave him one more warrior, no matter how pathetic I might be.

I had the same reason for addressing my father so formally as I did for approaching his beta. Coda, was my father's second in command, if my father wasn't around to give orders, Coda had permission to call the shots. If I wanted to speak with the alpha, I needed to get through him first.

Coda twisted around and glanced at my father questioningly. A small nod of my father's head gave him the permission to let me through. The beta stepped aside and allowed me a path to my father. I strode over to him with a purpose, hoping I managed to get my walk at least half as intimidating as my father's.

"Alpha, I request that you permit me to train with the other apprentices. I know that it is against standard tradition but I wish only to train myself in this form. I ask that you allow me this as too make me stronger so that I am not such a liability."

"No, Cleo. You don't need to know how to fight."

I resisted the urge to grind my teeth together. I had expected him to deny my request, but now I wouldn't stop until I got him to say yes. "With all due respect alpha, but a warrior watching over me, is one less warrior fighting on the front lines. I don't ask that you allow me to become a warrior, I simply want to learn how to defend myself and others if need be. Please give me a chance."

He shook his head, "No, Cleo, your mother would hate me if I did this."

"I'm not asking you as my father, I am asking the alpha as a member of the pack. Let me do this. Let me learn." I had hope that training might awaken my wolf. Sometimes it took a large sense of endangerment for a wolf to awaken. "I want to be worthy of this pack."

I saw the inner conflict within my father. His protective side was fighting with his alpha nature to gain a possible warrior. I could see in his eyes that he was fighting a losing battle when he clenched his hands into fists, the veins on his neck popping out as his wolf tried to take over him. "Only the first half Cleo. You can learn how to defend yourself, this much I will permit." He exhaled a breath through his nose and unclenched his fists. "I am going to regret this." He muttered to himself before turning back to his work.

A huge smile spread across my face. Tonight would be the night I had dreamed of for years! I would finally undergo the apprenticeship ceremony and start the process of becoming a warrior for my pack.

A low growl rumbled from my father's throat. The board he was prying from the house snapped in half. He threw the broken and splintered half, down on the ground and turned to me with blazing eyes. "Oh no, Cleo. You won't be getting any ceremony because you are not becoming a warrior. Think of it like taking a defense class. Nothing more and nothing less."

My heart sank in my chest at the reminder. I suppose it was better than nothing but it was still a far cry from what I had wanted. "I understand, alpha." Would I even be getting a master at all, or were the warriors to trade off everyday and I was to become a job that the alpha assigned, like border patrol?

"You may be right, Cleo." He answered my thought. "It's not fair for me to ask a warrior to become your master when you won't become a warrior in return."

"Grey would—"

"No!" He snarled at me. "Grey would baby you. If you are to do this you will be doing it my way. You need someone who will push you until you break. Who will train you harder than any of the other apprentices. You will not be given special treatment because you lack the werewolf genes, am I understood?"

I nodded eagerly, happy at any chance to learn how to fight. "I thank you alpha."

"Oh no, you don't want to be thanking me, Cleo, because your master will be Coda."

My heart stumbled over a beat in my chest before it continued at a much more rapid pace than before. Coda was my father's beta, an alpha of his own right. If my father hadn't been the alpha Coda would have taken over. The beta was cruel and cold, he had dropped three apprentices in his time, never completing their training because he considered them too weak to become warriors. His methods were relentless, he did not go easy on the young wolves, he treated them like ideal threats and it wasn't uncommon for his apprentices to have a broken bone after practice. But I wouldn't heal like them. I had no wolf genes, I would heal as slowly and delicately as any human and Coda would not care.

My father could sense my hesitation. "You don't have to train at all, of course." He reminded me.

So this was his plan, I bristled with rage. He was trying to scare me out of it. And if that didn't work he believed Coda would. But he wouldn't, neither of them would deter me from this. Even if Coda proclaimed me unworthy I would keep coming back, demanding our lessons continue. This was my one and only chance.

"I accept." I replied, holding my ground. "Alpha," I said nodding to my father, "Master," I acknowledged Coda, "I look forward to starting tomorrow." Before I could even turn around Coda stopped me.

"Tomorrow? Oh no little pup, you'll be starting right now." My father shot him a look, his eyes narrowed at Coda's eagerness to begin. I suppose my father was a bit wary of Coda leaping at the chance to be in charge of me. "You can start by hauling these to the timber pit." He nodded to the pile of wood in front of me. "And when you finish with that, you can take the rest of the piles."

My eyes slowly wandered around the fishing docks to see five identical piles to this one.

"Hurry up now, you'll want to get this done before sundown or doing it in the dark will be much more difficult."

Confusion spread across my face, my brow furrowing. Before dark? It wasn't even high noon yet! The wood would all be carried to the timber pit hours before dusk.

"I am glad that you have such high faith in yourself, as you will be doing this all by yourself without any tools or equipment but your hands and feet to help you."

I paled. Do this all by myself? I was twelve, almost thirteen with no wolf attributes! The full grown warriors could do this no problem, they wouldn't even brake a sweat. But carrying one of these boards all the way to the fire pit by myself would take me at least ten minutes. There was no way I could finish this task before dark by myself!

"Daylight is burning." Coda reminded me, showing me a feral smile, his sharp canine teeth all showing.

Deep in my bones I knew I would hate Coda. He would make me regret this every minute of every day, but I would prove to him one way or another that I was not to be taken for granted. I would train harder than any other wolves and I would become better than each of them one day and prove my worth to this pack and to my father, that I was a force to be reckoned with.

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