In The Shadows

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Five

My body collided harshly with the forest ground beneath me. I groaned as sharp pain shot up my back. This was the sixth time in a matter of minutes that I had been slammed to the ground. I knew I'd asked for this, that I knew this is what it would be like, but damn, this hurt a lot. I blinked to clear the stars from my vision.

"On your feet little brat." Coda barked at me, kicking my side when I wasn't moving fast enough.

I got to my feet and faced him, ready to go again.

Coda looked at me disdainfully. "What did I tell you about your stance?" He demanded. "Fix it!" He snarled, making me flinch.

I spread out my legs and angled my feet for a stronger stance. Once again I tried to hook my leg around his ankle and pull it out from underneath him but I was too slow. In less than a second, Coda hooked my own leg, pulling me towards his body and sent me flying over his shoulder to the ground. "That's enough of that for the day. Take a lap in the lake to cool down. Then go help the other apprentices split wood." He dismissed me, walking away, leaving me on the ground.

Instead of taking a lap in the lake like he had ordered, I allowed myself to float there, enjoying what was left of the summer sun before autumn came to steal it away. The lake would start to freeze this far north and I wondered what Coda would have me do instead. Climbing out of the lake I leisurely made my way to the timber pit, allowing myself time to dry.

Without acknowledging the other apprentices I grabbed the axe and helped them split wood. Tomorrow we would need to stack it all in preparation for winter that came all too fast.

The young wolves shot me scathing looks.

"Why is she here? She's not even a real apprentice."

"So embarrassing, her father is so unlucky to have such a worthless child."

"She's a human, not even a wolf."

"She should have been kicked out of the pack."

Instead of confronting these hurtful statements I let them fuel my anger, making my swings more powerful, splitting the log in one swing when normally it took me at least three. When the wood had been all cut, I put my ax away and walked back to my house. I would never be worthy in their eyes. I would never have any place in this pack. Not unless I could beat them. I couldn't be nearly as strong or fast or good at fighting, I had to be better. I had to beat them at every single thing to establish rank in this pack. I wouldn't do that with only my daily sessions with Coda. I had to practice on my own, I had to learn more than Coda would teach me.

As the days continued my lessons with Coda always ended the same, with me on the ground, staring up into his disapproving face. So I started running on my own time, conditioning my body so that I had more time with Coda to learn fighting techniques. I volunteered to help in every pack matter whether it was cleaning fish or stacking wood, or chopping it. I cleaned the training yard and helped with every pack dinner on the weekends. I did everything I could to earn a sanding. The best way to do that was not to let people forget about me. When I was always present, they couldn't ignore my existence. They could grumbled and complain, or mutter under their breath that I didn't belong, but they could no longer ignore me. I even thought I saw the glimmer of approval in Coda's eyes as I walked past him carrying two sacks full of herbs and plants that I had gathered from the woods for the healers.

Although I wasn't ever able to take Coda down they way he did me time and time again, I had earned his approval to learn something new. Every day we would come back to old things before visiting new things. I was nearly fifteen now, having spent a little over two years as Coda's apprentice, longer than anyone had thought possible. I'd suffered many injuries including broken bones and even a bruised windpipe when Coda had suffocated me in one of our lessons because I had refused to quit. My father had yelled at him for that one, but he never spoke a word about my other injuries.

My fire still was as bright as the day that I had accepted my father's proposal. No matter what Coda put me through, I always came out stronger the next day, even more determined than I had been. But it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough that I was progressing, that I was becoming a person to the pack be it a good thing or bad. I wanted to be respected as the daughter of an alpha would be. So I pushed myself. I spent every second of my days training, eating, helping, or sleeping. My training didn't just involve physical activity, I had to exercise my brain and expand my knowledge, I walked every inch of our territory, with company of course, and memorized where everything in our territory was and made sure I could find my way to anywhere from anywhere in our territory.

My training with Coda only grew more difficult. As I grew older Coda stopped instructing me, only slamming me to the ground without telling me what to do or what to fix. I grew annoyed when we practiced the same thing for three straight weeks until I figured out what he wanted myself, by experimenting.

"Are you going to ever tell me what I'm doing wrong and how to fix it?" I snapped at him angrily when he had me pinned to the ground by my throat, his canines extended ready to tear out my throat for the thirty fourth time today.

"When you don't end up on your back staring up at the sky, you're doing it right. If not, you're doing it wrong, so figure it out and fix it."

"How am I supposed to know what to fix if you won't tell me?"

"Your opponent won't tell you the best way to defeat them or the mistakes you are making. You have seconds to figure if you're doing something wrong on the battle field and even less time to fix your wrongs."

"Are you ever going to let me win?"

"Will your enemy ever just let you win?" He snapped irritably back. "No. So close your trap and stop yapping. If you want to stop getting tossed on your ass then you'll have to defeat me. Win fair and square or there's no point to it at all." He kicked me in the ribs. "Now get up, you've already waisted two minutes just lying there."

I knew better than to say anything back to him. I got to my feet and we resumed again. I walked out of practice that day with a bruised rib and a broken finger.

The healers at the medic huts became my acquaintances after my many trips to their huts. I wouldn't call them my friends, but they were the most decent members of the pack towards me. Or maybe they just pitied me and all of the injuries I received from Coda. Either way, I knew they wouldn't poison me instead of heal me, so I guess that was good.

"I'm amazed your fingers aren't crooked and bent like they ought to be, after this many breaks." Gabbi was saying to me as she splinted my broken ring finger.

I looked down at my long elegant fingers, my nails weren't very pretty but I didn't care much as they always got broken and had dirt collected under them. "Maybe good healing was the only werewolf trait I'll ever have." I joked bitterly.

Gabbi didn't reply, not wanting to offend me. I was still the daughter of the alpha after all. I escorted myself out of the hut when Gabbi had finished and made my way over to the fire ring where many of the juvenile wolves hung out. I sat down on one of the many rows of benches and stared up at the sky, watching the clouds.

I liked the clouds, because they twisted, bent and broke off to form their own unique shape. They didn't let the other clouds control them and they were always changing. They represented people in a way. Everyone was a different unique person. While some broke away, others joined to make one big shape. Even then they always changed as they moved along.

"Ooh look who it is, the little warrior wannabe." Sylva mocked.

I blocked her out, she always hated me the worst, even though I didn't know why. I'd never even spoken to her before. The bench was pulled out from under me and I landed on the ground in a heap. Instead of picking a fight I stood and dusted myself off, then I walked away without a word.

Coda knew they bullied me every chance they got, he would only give me a look when he saw bruises he hadn't inflicted, but he didn't push it, seeing I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want him to pity me, I could take care of a few immature wolves. Grey and my father on the other hand, didn't leave it alone. My father always told me to stand up to them and get them to stop, while my Grey wanted to be the one to pound a lesson into them. I didn't let him though. I told Grey that if he butted in I wouldn't speak to him again. So now I was left to deal with it on my own.

I had only fought back once and that had been a little over a month ago. I had punched Gabe in the stomach and elbowed Kyle in the throat. Before I could get any further they had all jumped on me, shoving me to the bottom of the pile where they all got their hits on me until I blacked out. I vowed that I would never let that happen again that the next time I stood against them I would have them all immobile on the ground.

So I ignored them, pretending they didn't exist and went to find something to occupy my mind other than the thought of hurting them.

"Did we give you permission to leave, little human?" One of the other wolves sneered, using his speed to get in front of me and shove me back. I had expected it though, and he didn't move me very far due to my firm stance.

"I don't need your permission." I replied blandly, bored even, I was tired of this.

"Oh so it speaks." One of the other she-wolves said.

"What makes you think you can speak back to us? Is it because the beta trains you? Do you think that makes you better than the rest of us? You're nothing but a human, even an omega would be above you."

"Thank you for notifying me that I'm a human, Sylva, I was completely unaware until you so kindly enlightened me." I smarted back, sarcasm dripping from my words.

She let her hand fly, smacking it into my cheek. Thankfully no blood was drawn because her claws hadn't been out but I knew that three red welts now adorned my face.

I smirked back at her, not even fazed by her attack. "If you want to do that, Sylva, do it right." I snarled and let my own hand fly, I dug my nails into her cheek, making sure I drew blood. I was satisfied to see three red gashes on the side of her face. Before anyone could react, I slammed my elbow back into the wolf behind me and launched myself on top of him like Coda had taught me, seizing his head and slamming it on the ground so he lost consciousness. It was one of Coda's many lessons. If I didn't kill my enemy I had better make sure they were unable to get back up to stab me in the back.

Kyle was next, earning a knee to his groin, a cheap shot but effective and a hard jab to his windpipe making him fall backwards, gaping like a fish out of water as he tried to breath. The girl on my right and Gabe attack me at the same time. I got a hard punch to the side of my face, directly along my cheekbone and another fist drilled into my stomach, driving the breath out of me. I gasped, trying to quickly regain my breath before bring my hand up to catch the next fist aimed for my ribs. I crushed the female's hand, feeling the bones crunch beneath my fingers. She howled and jumped away from me, nursing her injured hand. From behind me my leg was violently kicked forward, causing my leg to buckle as pain shot up through it. I backhanded Gabe across the face, who was about to bite into my neck and slammed my fist into his temple, knocking him out cold.

I stood up straight then, facing Sylva. "Remember who you speak to the next time you open your mouth." I hissed at her. "I have my father's blood running through me, don't you ever forget that." I limped back to my house, bursting with pride at my accomplishment. The element of surprise may have been on my side, but I had still won. And one victory was all it took to get them to leave me alone.

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