The bright rays of the sun warmed the burning red ground and there was not a cloud in the shiny blue sky. An overbearing heat cast itself upon the land, its dryness enough to render throats scratchy.
The only sound of relief came from the river unleashing its rage upon the rocks, creating a soothing melody.
Footsteps echoed in the forest, branches crackling under heavy weights. They were traveling at rapid speed, leaving nature undisturbed and their location secret. They ventured further and further until… they all came to a halt.
Two fingers were pointed to the left and they all nodded, resuming their hunt. They all went by in a flash: the final prize was close. Past those trees, past that trail, was a herd of deer. For many summers now the animals regrouped there which made it easy for them to provide food for the pack.
Once they were close enough, they prepared to initiate their attack. As it was custom, his father led the way. His long black hair was wrapped in a ponytail, swaying with each move he made. The blue paint across his cheeks was melting under the burning sun, leaking down to his jaw.
His father’s green eyes searched the horizon, his bare back on full display, showing the black ink that covered his back: a wolf. Once he finally came to a stop, he slowly parted the leaves blocking their view to reveal…
In the fresh grass, where live deer should be standing, were carcasses and blood stains covering the whole area. Someone came before them and stole their meal. The man tilted his head to the side and his eyes became cold while he frowned upon the scene.
Magnus′ conclusion was the same as his father’s. He could tell from the look in his eyes. It was them, the panthers.
He watched as his father’s grip tightened around his lance before he snapped his head in direction of their people.
“We head back.”
A few of them appeared to be surprised but they listened and headed back nonetheless. This time, they were not quiet when they began walking. Everyone kept a certain speed and remained behind their leader - everyone except him.
Walking side by side made it difficult to not show his heritage. Same long black hair, same green eyes. Their only difference was in their status. His father was the Alpha and he was the second in command. He was permitted to wear the war paint, but his was purple.
He had hoped to converse with his father, but it was evident by his rapid pace that anger brewed inside him. “Did they do it?”
“Their wretched scent was all over the place.”
His nose had also twitched in disgust, but part of him had prayed it was a lingering scent, not an undeniable proof of things to come. The wretched panthers were destroying their territories and stealing what did not belong to them.
Their pack moved closer to theirs winters ago but until recently they had not stepped over the boundaries. Lately, they were stealing, killing, and stalking around their pack. It was obvious something needed to be done about them but their pack was faced with a problem; their numbers were too small.
Panthers stuck together, all of them, creating a large army of panthers. Wolves on the other hand spread into different groups and packs all over the region. It was helpful because they preferred smaller packs but in this situation, it was a nuisance.
Weaker, stronger, it matter not. The panthers′ number advantage was too great and they could not counter it. They would keep on taking and stealing until they had two choices: fight or flee.
They would refuse to be weak. This was theirs. It had been theirs for centuries. The panthers couldn’t have their territories.
“We cannot ignore this.”
“I know,” his father replied, his face still twisted into a frown. “We will discuss it with the pack.”
“But if we leave now –”
“Son. Enough. We will wait until our return to the pack.”
Magnus pressed his lips together, fairly aggravated before politely nodding. He allowed his father to walk past him and then resumed moving forward again. He respected his father since he was the leader but he did not enjoy this display of weakness.
His father’s slow actions were the reason they had gotten to that point. Laurus had chosen to trust them. He had chosen to believe that they would respect their word and never venture past the invisible boundaries.
He should have known better.
The panthers laughed at them by taking their meat, their animals - and they would walk away without doing anything, without even bringing food back for their pack. They were a mockery, a joke.
People would lose faith in their leader and then they would never stand a chance.
“What did you tell father this time?”
“It is none of your business, little brother.”
He didn’t need Domini to taunt him. His brother wouldn’t understand. He didn’t have aspirations, he didn’t have a future. He was the second son. If their father failed, none of the pressure or expectations fell on him. He walked through life as though it was a breeze. Nothing mattered to Domini.
As a son of the Alpha, Domini could wear paint - but he opted not to do that. He disregarded this tradition like he disregarded many others. His brother kept his black hair in a braid, but he had cut it many times in the past. Another show of disrespect. Long hair showed success. When his brother would cut his hair, he would disrespect their Alpha by appearing weak.
But he never cared about that.
Because he never had to be anybody.
“Magnus,” he said trying to taunt him, an elbow jabbing him in the ribs.
Magnus’ annoyance increased but he did not turn his head to glance at his little brother: he refused to give him the satisfaction “Domini, would you cease talking?”
They might not be hunting anymore but he preferred if they kept themselves silent. Now that he was aware of the panthers’ disgusting boldness, he did not put it past them to be lurking around their pack.
What else were they doing undetected? How were they spying on them?
Magnus preferred to remain alert on the off chance that they would have to protect themselves. It was not as though someone as foolish as his little brother could comprehend this concept.
All he could do was keep an eye out, ignore Domini and pray that his father would see the truth in front of him - before it was too late.
The night had been near, darkness swallowing the sky by the time they had returned without a bounty. Magnus heard the faint whispers as they returned empty-handed, but no one dared to speak or ask.
No one would speak ill of their Alpha - or his sons. Despite the harshness of time, they provided for the pack, they kept them safe.
They retain respect for his father and they feared him in a sense. It was enough - for now. His father had vanished upon their return and had yet to re-emerge. It left Magnus in charge of ensuring the food they had stocked was distributed equally among the pack members.
He did that, waiting for the moment his father would have the generousness of including him in the plans. He didn’t like being sidelined. He didn’t want someone else to fix this. It was too late to fix it. They needed to act.
“Still throwing a fit?”
Magnus glanced to the side, watching as his brother smirked. “Find something else to do.”
“Why? This is much more entertaining.”
It was not an order, it was not a greeting. His father was reprimanding him for his behavior - and only him. As always.
“Laurus,” a short black-haired man interrupted as he reached their side.
It was enough to pull his father’s attention away from him. “Empty the circle, Yosef, we have much to discuss.”
A quick nod was offered before Yosef proceeded to follow his father’s orders. “Domini, return to your mate as well.”
Domini raised an eyebrow. “Father?”
Laurus silenced his son by raising a finger. “You are not part of this. Only your brother is.”
A glare was thrown Magnus’ way but Domini contained his anger in front of the Alpha. Still, he remained where he stood until his father walked away.
“Some of us have the privilege of returning to our woman.”
Magnus glanced at him from the corner of his eyes, with a fire lightening up the orbs of his eyes. Yes, his little brother took a mate before he did. However, it was because whomever Domini married did not matter.
Magnus would replace his father once he would pass away and become the next Alpha; he had to find a strong female who would provide healthy heirs. It was part of his duties and responsibilities. A concept that was completely foreign to his little brother.
He was not jealous of his younger brother but he could remember the day when Domini took Sasha as his mate to be a painful one. His brother was free to take whichever woman he wished while Magnus had to take whichever woman his father approved of.
A mate was for more than just bear cubs; she would have to be his companion and once he would become Alpha, she would be the person right underneath him. He did not wish to despise that person yet he could not help but feel like the one his father would pick… would not be right.
Since it was decided for him he could not go against it. Traditions and rules were made for a reason and he could not defy them.
“Some of us did not mate the first whore that we met.”
Before anything occurred, a firm voice came through. “Domini.”
Both brothers turned their heads to the left only to quickly bow slightly. “Mother,” they both said in unison.
Walking their way was their mother Laila, a frown on her face. Her long black hair was braided and decorated with hundreds of beads, some blues, and some red. A simple, long white dress covered her body, the sleeves hanging low, showing peaks of skin.
She extended her arm towards her youngest son and revealed swirls of ink on her inner left arm. “Do as your father said.”
Domini did not throw another glance at Magnus before obeying his mother. Their father was the Alpha but their mother was to be held to the same kind of respect. Both of them respected their mother much more than their father.
And so, Magnus did not dare to disrespect his mother Laila by looking away and kept his glance focused on her. Laila was his second mother, as his first one perished when he was nothing but a cub.
If a mate died, her family had to provide a sister or another relative to replace her. All children she would bear were considered children of the deceased female. Thus, Laila was their mother by title but she was simply the vessel that carried Willow’s children.
Laila walked closer to him until she was able to put a hand against his cheek. She ran her thumb over his skin. “It is difficult for him. You are the firstborn.”
Although Laila was a loving and nurturing mother to him, he was not looked after as much as Domini. Instead, at a very young age, his father took him during hunts and battles and showed him the true colors of the world from the beginning.
He was left alone in the forest, abandoned by everyone, and forced to find his way back.
He was the firstborn of the Alpha; if he failed at such a task, he would not have deserved to live. Even though he was barely over seven summers, Magnus returned to the pack. It came with the price of a few scars and permanent wounds but his pride was great and he even received approval from his pack.
Ever since then, however, he was held to another standard and always had to do better.
“I know, mother.”
Her smile was bright but it hid a small darkness. “Now, proceed. Do not make your father wait.”
Magnus nodded before pulling away from his mother’s touch. He followed the orders from both of his parents and joined the four people that stood in the circle around the burning fire.
He moved between his father and Hans, an elder member of the pack. Once he came to a full stop, the members looked away from him and focused their attention on the fire.
Hans opened his hand and proceeded to throw dark auburn leaves into the fire which caused it to produce a dark grey, almost blueish smoke. Then, he mumbled a quick incantation before facing his Alpha again.
“You may begin,” he addressed Laurus.
Laurus raised his arms in the air, waiting a few seconds with his eyes closed before pressing the palms of his hands together. “Friends,” he began, “it seems the panthers have begun to invade our territories. They have stolen our brothers, they have eaten our animals and they are taking our lands.”
He took a step forward. “We have respected the peace. We allowed them close to our pack and we did not disturb them. They have done nothing but unleash death and suffering upon us. This problem can no longer be ignored. We will be cowards if we do not face them. They will destroy us.”
“The panthers outnumber us,” Elrich said with his green eyes glimmering. “We cannot go against them or we will perish.”
Laurus raised his hand. “I am aware of this. This is why we must have this discussion.” He slowly turned his head to look at his son. “Magnus. You can now speak your mind.”
Magnus straightened his back, feeling the gaze of his peers upon him. Since his father had disregarded him earlier, he had not thought that he would be allowed to speak his mind.
He would not let this moment be wasted.
“We cannot attack them at full force but perhaps we could surprise them.”
“Plan an attack?” Julis inquired, hesitation obvious in his voice.
Magnus nodded before rapidly turning to point towards the forest. “This is our land; we know it better than them. If we plan properly we could outsmart them.”
Elrich shook his head. “It is too dangerous. Smartness means nothing if they can overpower us with their numbers.”
Magnus felt his anger rise within him. Why did they refuse to understand that strategy could free them from the panthers? The longer they waited, the more the panthers’ numbers would grow. They did not have the luxury of time.
They did, however, have the advantage of the knowledge of the territories. They knew every creek, every river, every tree. These territories flourished under their care. Their pack grew and in return so did the land.
The mistake was to allow the panthers to settle near them in the first place. They should have taken drastic actions from the start.
“We could increase our numbers,” Hans quietly pointed out.
His words attracted everyone’s attention. Heads were turned and eyes were focused on the oldest member of the pack before he began speaking. His eyes were closed and he inhaled some of the blue smoke spreading from the fire as if it would help him speak his mind.
“We are not the only wolf pack in the area. There are four others that we know of. One of them could be reached within a few nights if we hurry.”
Laurus offered a gesture of gratitude towards Hans by touching his left shoulder with his hand and then slowly extending it towards him. “Yes, friend. If we could only double our numbers with another pack our victory could be assured.”
The others seemed to agree since they nodded their heads and bent forward repeatedly.
“I, Magnus, Domini, and Yosef shall depart at sunrise. We will meet with the pack leader and discuss our troubles with them. Does such a decision please us all?”
“Now,” Hans began as he reached for a pile of green powder on the floor. “We thank the Gods for their help.” Once he finished speaking his sentence, he threw the powder upon the fire which immediately extinguished it.
They all pressed three fingers on the left side of their head and remained in complete silence. Once the fire completely died out and the tiny threads of smoke ceased to spread, they opened their eyes. The members dissipated except for Laurus and Magnus.
The Alpha walked near Magnus and put a hand on the side of his shoulder. “Be ready tomorrow. We will have to be vigilant.”
Laurus nodded and he slipped his hand away before heading in direction of their castle, probably to join Laila who was waiting for him. Meanwhile, Magnus stood there, unable to move. The wind picked up and tangled his hair with the one earring he wore on his right ear.
It was a long thread and on the end of it was a small shiny purple stone. His mother’s. His first mother. It was to be passed on to the one that would become his mate.
However, a mate was not a concern on his mind. What rather upset him was the way his father was treating him. Since he was next in line to be Alpha, he should have been given more responsibilities and he should be consulted more.
His father did not even grace him with an answer to his plan and did not ask him personally if he thought joining forces with another pack was a wise idea.
He clenched his hand into a fist; he did not enjoy the idea of having his father doubt his abilities. He was respectful, stoic, and most likely the strongest one in his pack. He should not be treated as if he was nothing more than a senseless cub.
He felt his honor being tarnished each time his father treated him like a commoner.
Magnus could only hope that this trip would be his chance to prove himself.