Excerpt from Erato: Book 2 of the Sophia Katsaros Series
Wolves know nothing of revenge. They know love, they know fear and anger, and they know sorrow. The great black wolf that had been born as one of three was now alone. And yes, he knew sorrow well.
For three days he traveled, losing himself to the rhythms of the wolf. This was the way his life had begun and it was easy to revert. In wolf form the beast ruled. The man was repressed, relegated to the role of observer. The longer he stayed in wolf form the more dispassionate that man became, slowly dissolving into the recesses of the wolf’s mind until humanity was nothing but an elusive dream.
In 5,000 years this was the first time he had ever been alone. Oh, he and his brothers had separated for short periods of time, to hunt, to fight, to mate. But those times were always short-lived and tempered with the assurance that one or the other would return soon. There was no assurance this time, and for that, the wolf grieved.
He traveled north as it seemed the thing to do. Skirting the Great Lakes to the forests beyond where the stench of mankind lessened. He hunted, and slept, and ran. His world narrowed to the now, for a wolf did not ponder the future. The ache of loss began to diminish as the wild called. He heeded its siren song and joined a pack that had lost its alpha. The female needed a mate, but did not find the beta favorable and so resisted him.
When the great black wolf appeared she supplicated herself and whimpered low in her throat in submission. The grey beta challenged the black though the cinder beast was twice his size. The battle was soon over. The grey left bleeding in the snow.
For the next several days he ran with the pack and mated with the female. On the seventh day, his third with the pack, he took them out hunting. They were hungry and winter would soon be upon them. They needed to eat and store up fat to make it through the lean months when food would be scarce.
During his travels he had passed many fields full of fat cows. And that was where he led them. Three young males, his female, and her two daughters. This pack was lean, hunting had been hard for them and they were hungry. Raised in captivity they had been ‘re-wilded’. But there is a difference between not being caged and being wild. They were struggling. He knew what it mean to be wild and he would teach them.
As the sun set and the moon’s cool fire reflected upon the blanket of snow he began their first lesson. The females fanned to his left, he would take the males. They circled the herd looking for the youngest or the weakest. The bovines huddled together for warmth, their breath misting in the chill. Content in the illusion of safety afford by fences, they slept.
Complacency. It was a man’s word, but the wolf knew it well. In the wild prey slept with one ear twitching, listening for the sound of predators on the hunt. Even the hunters never truly let their guard down. Complacency would feed the pack this night.
At twice the size of the other wolves, his ebony coat made him stand out against the blazing whiteness of the snow. If this had been a herd of deer he would never have been able to get so close. As it was, his jaws were closing around the young cow’s neck before the rest even noticed he was there.
She was white with black spots, and young. Her meat would be tender, and her blood potent. She tried to cry out, a lowing of agony. In the still of the night the herd erupted. Stampeding.
The youngest of the male wolves howled when his foot was trampled. His yelp of pain caused the females to come running. His mother was the alpha, she cared for him. But if the young male could not walk, even she would leave him behind. The young wolf knew this and struggled to stand. The black wolf saw his struggle, the inner man nodded and approved and thought that the pup would make a good alpha someday if he survived his foolishness.
With combined effort the small pack dragged the cow into the forest and fed. Crows gathered in the trees as dawn appeared. Turkey vultures circled overhead waiting for the pack to disperse. As the sky changed from pink to blue and the moon hid her face once more, the pack ran together seeking a safe place to sleep off their feast.
They awoke covered with a dusting of snow that added an ethereal incandescence to everything it touched. The black wolf’s fur was tipped with diamond while his small grey female had been painted with frost.
The youngest of the pack woke first, bounding through the snow. He watched them, letting his tongue loll out of his mouth in a wolfish grin. His female stirred and rubbed her flank against him in greeting. As the winter sun shared its meager warmth they played and romped, yipping in happiness and the success of the previous hunt.
A wolf does not keep time. He notices the days, but does not count their passing. With each dawn he took them hunting. They found deer, fleet footed-rabbits along with an unfortunate fox who dared to encroach upon their territory.
He taught them to hunt geese, and search for warm places to sleep. He wrestled with the males and taught them to fight. The youngest with the injured paw was the most skilled. And, as the black had surmised, he would make a strong alpha. The black focused on this wolf, teaching him, training him. Showing him what it meant to be wild. What it meant to be wolf.
And then one evening when the landscape became a nighttime spectrum of greys they made their way back to the farm. The cows had been penned closer to the homestead. The great black wolf did not like this, but years of experience made him bold.
The females circled round, and the males advanced on the herd. The wind shifted, a cow snorted and bellowed, waking the rest. In their panic they trampled the new fallen snow into the mud, narrowly missing the wolves that ran among them.
Suddenly, night was flooded with light and the boom of a gunshot rent the air. The youngest wolf cried out and fell to the ground. A grey blot on the pristine snow. The females panicked and ran towards their Alpha. He barked at them, but they didn't understand the warning through their fear. Another shot rang out and his mate joined her son in death.
He snarled low then, and snapped at the remaining females urging them to run for the trees. The two males ran with them. The black looked back towards the house and snarled.
Once more a shot echoed in the night. Pain ripped through his thigh, splattering the snow with crimson drops. He howled, stumbled and fell. Rolling to his feet he followed his pack. He glanced back once towards his mate. She had been a good mate and he would mourn her.
As he ran his leg burned. That fire awoke the man that slumbered within. “Shift,” he urged. “The pain will lessen.” He heeded the advice and ran towards a copse of trees. Where a massive black wolf had been, now stood a man. The chill of the night met the heat of his body cloaking him in mist.
A slug of metal fell from his thigh. The bleeding slowed. He shifted again, once more Wolf. But this time the beast did not rule. The man was thinking. Coupled with the strength of the wolf, it was a dangerous combination.
Taking his pack far from the farm he found them a secluded place to sleep and left them there. They would wait for him, but in time they would forget and move on. He had taught them well, and the young wolf would become their alpha. They had also learned to be leery of man. Hopefully, they would be the better for it.
He shifted once more, standing naked and shivering in the snow. A pink scar was all that remained of a wound that was barely more than a day old. He stretched and ran, the snow burning his bare feet. With a powerful stride he leapt as Man, landing as Wolf. Lifting his muzzle he scented the air, changed his course and headed back towards the farm.
His mate had been skinned, her pelt hung on the fence, a warning. He walked up to it, inhaled her scent, still evident over the reek of death, and growled. After a moment he sat back on his haunches, threw back his head, and howled. It was a howl filled with pain, but also a warning. I am here, be afraid.
He found the farmer in the barn. The old man lifted his gun and prepared to shoot. The wolf shifted, rising as man on two legs. The farmer paused. Unable to believe what he was seeing.
“You have hundreds of cattle. What would it have cost you to lose the weakest of those?” The Man asked before he wrapped his hands around the farmer’s neck. The snap of bone echoed in the barn as loud as any gunshot.
The farmer’s wife was next, and then the boy that was tending the herd. When all was quiet save the lowing of cows the Man reminded the Wolf of his brother and the woman that killed him. With a growl he shifted once more and ran back towards the city he had fled.
It took him four days to get back to the city and most of another to find the stash of clothes he had left so that he could walk into his hotel room. A naked man would draw attention. This has been true centuries ago. It was no less true in a day and age when the women often went nearly nude in their day to day lives.
He had never been to America before. The only reason being is that his Alpha never sent him there. The beta claimed America as his territory, and the Pack was content to leave it so. But the brown beta was the Alpha now. He had called them, they went.
It was always strange walking upright after so many days on four paws. He was exhausted, and hungry. The refrigerator in the expensive hotel room their Alpha gave them was stocked with food. He diminished those provisions significantly before falling asleep on the bed, face down.
37 hours later he woke, rested and once more hungry, but he would hunt this night and so left the human food alone. A cell phone lay on the table. Touching the screen he played the message.
“Physius,” said their alpha. “The hunt is off. There has been too much attention. Leave the woman to me. We have lost 5 of our brothers. Do not jeopardize us all for the sake of one.” He ended the message then, deliberately disobeying his alpha. The 4 other brothers did not concern him. If asked he would deny he received the message. The woman was his.
It had begun to snow, a subtle sifting of delicate crystals that blanketed the landscape in powder. The hospital where she worked was only one block over. He made his way there, on foot, as man. He would hunt as Wolf. Hiding in the park across the street he watched as the snow tipped his fur in white. He waited for hours, she never came, but the pup that she spent time with did. The wolf watched the young man. He stood in the cold hugging a young woman. She laughed and pushed her blond hair behind her ear. The wind shifted carrying their conversation to him.
“Thanks for bringing me dinner, Simone. I really appreciate it.”
“Sure, Arthur,” she said smiling again. “ I've got to get back to work. Call me later?”
“See you later,” the pup said. The woman giggled, kissed the man on the cheek and left. The wolf that watched would have liked to hunt the man, but he chose to go after his mate. Just as his mate had been targeted.
Slinking along the shadows he followed her as she walked. The city had lots of alleys to conceal himself. A 200 pound wolf is hard to hide, and easy to see if anyone looked hard enough. No one did. The brain does not want to see such things, and so it doesn't.
She turned a corner, going around to the back of the building where a door said employees only. The light overhead had gone out, casting the alley in gloom. She knocked on the door. “C’mon guys, let me in. I’m freezing out here.” Rummaging in her purse she searched for her keys in the dark, accidentally dropping her purse in the snow that was accumulating. Cursing softly under her breath she knelt to gather her things. The snow had softened his footsteps, but some ancient instinct made her look up. A scream died in her throat as her breath was cut off. He dragged her behind a dumpster just as the door opened.
“Hello, Simone?” A man said. “Anyone here?” he called again. The wolf watched keeping his jaws clamped securely to the woman’s throat. She was already dead, and couldn't cry out. But the beast had control of him, the blood called to him, he couldn't release his kill, and growled low around his prize.
The guard closed the door with a shrug. The wolf opened his jaws, letting the woman’s head fall to the ground with a thud. His stomach rumbled, demanding he eat, so he did.
No, a Wolf knows nothing of revenge, but a Man does.
**This is an excerpt from the upcoming novel Erato. Book 2 of the Sophia Katsaros Series. **
***Lykaia: Book 1 of the Sophia Katsaros Series is available in e-book and paperback at all the major online retailers***