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Soulbound ‡ feral

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 3

"You know," he said, "every time a vampire says he doesn't believe in lycanthropes, a werewolf bursts into flames."

-- From New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

Click. Click. Click. The sound of Minerva Smyth's heels on the marble floor of the courthouse reverberated off the walls like a hammer striking coffin nails, sealing a corpse in its forever home.

Her mood matched.

The man walking next to her was wisely keeping his mouth shut. Edward Finton was Minerva's mate, but mostly for the sake of appearances. She didn't need him, and she certainly didn't seek his bed most nights. But he remained faithful to her, or at least, faithful to the power she wielded as the Executor of the Smyth Covenant of vampires.

At the moment, Minerva was seriously considering wielding that power. But as was usually her custom, she restrained herself in deference to what was best for the Covenant. It still didn't change the fact that she wanted to rip some unsuspecting creature to shreds. Why now, when everything was going so smoothly, had those boys decided to start acting up?

Gregor was probably behind it all. Xavier was more circumspect and thoughtful, and he would make a good second-in-command for her one day. But Gregor… he was brash and wild, always thinking with his fangs instead of his head.

"Are you quite certain?" Minerva asked for the third time that morning.

Edward bobbed his head quickly up and down. "I received the phone call from Sebastian. He's been keeping an eye on them at the boarding school, as you requested. Very reliable, that one."

Minerva stopped in the middle of the hall and turned slowly to face Edward.

He stopped as well and gulped, realizing his mistake. Prattling on about unnecessary details irritated the Executor. And no one wanted her to be irritated.

Edward hurriedly added, "Sebastian said the cousins threw a party in the dormitory common room. Gregor managed to sneak in several girls. One of them was the daughter of the school governor. Police broke it up at 3 a.m. Most everyone was drunk and naked. No one had been bitten, but there was evidence of sexual activity."

"What activity?" Minerva asked, her voice glacial.

"Sexual emissions coating most of the furniture," Edward squeaked.

Minerva closed her eyes.

Edward waited for the explosion.

Minerva turned and stomped down the hallway. Click. Click. Click. More nails in the coffin.

Speaking over her shoulder, she snapped, "Bring them all here. We'll enroll Gregor and Xavier in Agony High School as ninth graders. They appear young enough. Let them endure geography and social studies for a few years and perhaps they'll learn restraint."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll make the arrangements right away."

"I'll change the courthouse records to reflect that Xavier is our adopted son. Gregor can be what he is: Xavier's troublesome cousin who happens to live with us."

"Of course, ma'am."

Edward hesitated long enough that it caught Minerva's attention. She turned. "Yes. What is it?"

"The lads have never been around lycans."

Minerva sneered. "Lycans are insignificant. We own the town. We've been running things for forty years, so I see no reason to worry. For that matter, every vampire should have to deal with lycans at some point in his life, if only so he can know his place as master. It will do Xavier and Gregor good to deal with lycans."

"The high school has made Sean Allen the football coach."

Minerva shrugged and asked rhetorically, "Would a vampire be better in that position? Put Karena in as band director. She can keep an eye on things and ensure the lycans are behaving themselves."

Sean Allen knocked on the doorframe to get Andreas' attention. Andreas looked up from the paperwork on his desk, relieved for the interruption. He hated bookkeeping.

"Got a minute," Sean asked.

Andreas grunted and stood up. "Of course. What do ya' need?"

"Something you should see." Sean turned and led the way out the front door of the Lodge. On the broad lawn in front, naked teen boys were running, shouting, and chasing each other. It appeared to be a game of some kind, a mixture of football and wild game hunting.

The lads lined up like football players prepared for a play, but most of the boys were on defense. Connor waited ten feet away with only one other player on his team, Donny, who was prepared to hike the ball to Connor. Connor motioned for the ball, and Donny hiked it. Then, to Andreas' surprise, Donny switched sides and joined the defensive players, who all launched themselves at Connor.

Faster than the eye could follow, Connor shifted into werewolf form, leaping in and out of the grasp of the other teens, dodging left and right to avoid Ethan and Jacob, hurtling over Dillon and tossing Joshua behind him. Jacob and Caleb worked together to corner Connor against a tree, but Connor shifted into wolf form, grabbed the ball in his mouth, and ran between them, causing them to crack heads as they tried to grab him. Connor loped to the far side of the lawn and shifted back into human form, holding the football above his head triumphantly. The rest of the boys, holding sore arms and skulls, ran down to join him.

"I want him on the team," Sean said, turning to face Andreas. "With Connor as the quarterback, no one will be able to stop us."

"He doesn't speak, Sean," Andreas reminded his beta. "How will he call audibles and yell out the snap cadence?"

Sean frowned. "Well… I'll put him on defense. As a monster back."

Andreas chuckled. "Appropriate. And what of the Blooded?"

"I can keep an eye on him most of the time, but he will have to be taught to deal with them sooner or later. They seem to be set on staying in Agony, so we've no choice but to handle that business."

Andreas grunted. "Still not sure that's wise, Sean. With the lad not speaking, it'll be difficult enough for him without that extra burden." Andreas paused and his brows furrowed in thought. "It would fun to watch him play football. I'd enjoy that." He shook his head. "But I still think high school is much too dangerous a place for a werewolf."

Sean held his tongue. Connor really would be asset on the team this year; however, you couldn't argue with Andreas and change his mind. It had to be his idea.

Andreas grinned at Sean, knowing what his beta was thinking. "Fine. I'll talk to Gabi and see what she believes is best."

Sean pumped his fist in excitement. It was going to be a great year for the Agony High Cougars.

Holding the football above his head, Connor howled, which naturally set the other boys off, who joined him in a ringing chorus. Then Connor laughed and began running around the lawn, shifting in and out of wolf form, sometimes pausing halfway between the two in his wolfboy body, dazzling them all with his lycan skill. The other lads tried to imitate him. It wasn't easy, but they were getting better at it. Soon they were all running about, switching forms, tearing up the grass and baying.

Sean snorted. "We thought we'd tame him. But it looks like he's turning them all feral."

"Indeed it does," Andreas replied, shaking his head.

Dennis squealed and jumped behind Ethan. Connor, now fully a boy, held his cock in his hands and arched his back, sending a spray of urine at the other two boys. They yelped and tried to leap away, but both caught splashes of pee on their legs.

"What are ya' doing?" Ethan yelled.

Donny laughed and grabbed his own cock, concentrating for a moment before sending a golden arc at Jacob and Dillon, who were wrestling on the ground.

With screeches and howls, soon all the boys were trying to pee on each other, laughing when they couldn't summon up any more urine for the task at hand and could only stand pointing their cocks at one other and futilely squeezing.

Sean and Andreas watched, shaking their heads at the antics of the teens. "Marking their territory now?" Sean asked rhetorically.

"Time to end this," Andreas said. He stomped down the hill and stopped in front of the wild pack of boys. "Enough, lads," Andreas snapped.

The boys stopped running about and stood quietly before Andreas, waiting to see what he wanted. Connor walked to the front, standing between Andreas and the others.

"You boys have played enough today," Andreas said. "Time to stop the shenanigans. A pack cannot afford to be wild and untamed, not when there is danger to be faced together. You've had your fun, but now it's time you learned discipline."

Connor stared at Andreas, confused. He couldn't see anything wrong with their games. They were growing closer and learning to work together. But the other teens bowed their heads, some whining softly. Connor heard their whimpers and felt his protective instincts stirring. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He growled, deep in his chest, and shifted into werewolf form, now towering over Andreas.

Andreas squinted at the powerful red werewolf in front of him, then summoned up his own beast. With a mighty roar, Andreas became an enormous man-wolf, splitting his clothes open as his body swelled and grew. Dark black fur covered his massive, muscled form. He was Connor's equal in height, but slightly broader in the chest and waist. And his fangs were longer, dripping with authority.

Andreas curled his lips and snarled. The message was clear. Back off, pup.

Connor snarled back, standing his ground. This is my pack. You back off.

The two lycans faced each other, neither giving ground.

Andreas shifted back into human form, turning to look at Sean with a slight grin. Andreas turned back to Connor and said, "You have spunk, pup. I'll give ya' that. But you need to learn your place in the Pack, Connor. I'm the Alpha. I call the shots, not because I'm a tyrant, but because we need a leader who decides what's best for the Pack. The Pack can only have one Alpha, and I'm it. It's for their good. For their safety. Do ya' understand, lad?"

Connor nodded his shaggy head and shifted back into human form. "Yes, Pa."

Andreas' eyes widened in surprise. "So you can speak?"

Connor nodded again, then burst into tears and ran off into the woods.

"Connor!" Donny shouted, running after him.

When the other boys started to give chase, Andreas called them back. "Let those two sort it out. You lads get dressed and head inside. Gabi will have a snack of some kind, no doubt." Andreas stared at the point where Connor and Donny had disappeared, wondering what had set Connor off.

The rest of the boys searched for their clothing and began getting dressed, casting worried glances at the forest, wondering where Connor and Donny had gone.

"Connor!" Donny shouted, then shifted fully into wolf form to sniff the trail and searched for his packmate. In the shade of a rocky outcropping, Donny found Connor sitting quietly, tears running down his face. Donny shifted into human form and walked slowly forward. "You okay, Connor?"

Connor shook his head slightly from side to side.

"What's wrong?" Donny asked.

Connor turned his back on Donny, squeezing his body into a tight ball and wrapping his arms protectively around himself.

Donny slowly crept up on Connor, not wanting to send him hurtling off into the woods again. Ever so gradually, Donny sat down next to Connor. And he waited.

Connor's body shook from time to time. There were soft sobs and sniffles.

Still Donny waited.

Eventually, Connor stopped crying and turned to face Donny. He gave Donny a lopsided, apologetic grin. "You think I'm a big baby?"

Donny shook his head. "Nah. But I'm really confused, and I'm wondering what the hell is going on. You've been able to talk all this time, but you haven't said a word. Why not?"

Connor's eyes filled with tears again. He blinked, sending hot streams down his cheeks. "Talking kills."

Donny frowned. "I don't understand. What do mean? Talking kills?"

"I was told to be quiet and not say a word. I tried. I really did. But when they broke down the door, I screamed and yelled for momma. That's when they found us." Connor's eyes were glazed over as though he was in another place, trapped in a memory. His hands fell into his lap, shaking uncontrollably.

Donny reached out and took Connor's hands, squeezing them tight. "It's okay, Connor. I'm here with you now. Whatever happened, you can tell me."

Connor's eyes slowly refocused on Donny's face. He blinked and said, "It was a long time ago. I was five, I think." His face lost its normally ruddy complexion, and he turned pale. "Poppa told us to hide in the cellar. Momma wrapped me up in a blanket and carried me down there. It was dark, and I was so scared. Poppa told us to be quiet. No talking. He'd be back. Momma held me tight and whispered over and over in my ear to be as quiet as I could. No talking."

Connor began panting, but Donny squeezed his hands hard and said, "Connor, I've got you, brother. You don't have to tell me anything else."

Connor blinked and his breathing slowed down. "I know, Donny. But I gotta tell someone. I can't keep it inside anymore." He looked over Donny's shoulder, as though he was seeing another place and time, and he started talking again. "We heard noises. Yells and screams from outside. Poppa's voice snarling. Then silence. The door to our house shattered and we heard footsteps inside our house, walking around above us, knocking the table over. I screamed, 'Momma!' They heard me and ripped open the door to the cellar. Momma changed into a wolf and rushed them. They… they…" Connor burst into tears and began convulsively crying.

Donny grabbed Connor in a tight hug, pulling the bigger lad into his arms and holding him tight, rocking him from side to side.

Connor's tears soaked Donny's shoulder as he gasped, "I changed into a wolf and ran up the stairs. I ran past Momma. What was left of her. They tried to catch me, but I was too fast for them. I ran out into the woods and saw Poppa's body. I kept running. I didn't stop. I kept running, and I found a place to hide. I stopped talking. Because when you talk, people die. No talking. Just running. Just running and hiding."

Donny found himself crying too as he held Connor and felt the raw agony pouring out of his packmate.

With the moon rising well up in the nighttime sky, Donny and Connor finally returned to the Lodge. Their arms were wrapped around each other's waists, and they were talking softly as they walked.

Andreas, Sean and Gabi watched from the front steps of the Lodge. They had sent most of the other boys home hours ago, assuming rightly that it would be best if Connor and Donny had a quiet reception when they returned. Sean's son Dillon was the only one still at the Lodge, and he was asleep in one of the spare rooms.

Connor saw the three adults waiting for them. He took a deep breath and, with Donny's encouragement, walked up and stopped before them. "Ma. Pa. I need to tell you something."

Gabi struggled to hold in her tears, thinking to herself, 'He called me Ma.' Instead, she softly said, "Of course, dear. Come inside. I've made blood pudding. You and Donny can have a bit while you tell us whatever you have to say."

After listening to Connor's story, Gabi bedded the two teens down together in Connor's room. Somehow, spooning up behind Donny and holding him securely in his arms made Connor feel safe. He was once again in his place as the protector of the Pack, no longer the frightened boy running for his life through the woods. Connor fell quickly into a satisfying sleep, nuzzling his head into the back of Donny's neck.

Gabi closed the door on Connor's room and walked silently down the hall to join the two men in the study.

"They're asleep?" Andreas asked.

Gabi nodded, accepting a glass of brandy from Andreas. "Worn to the point of collapse," Gabi said.

"Not surprising," Sean said. "What a mess. And the lad was only five when it happened. It's a wonder he survived."

Andreas nodded. "Probably the handiwork of the Blooded, but we'll never be able to prove it."

"What's the point?" Gabi asked. "We can't do anything about it."

Andreas snarled, frustrated at having his hands tied in the matter, but the needs of the Pack overruled the desire for revenge. "Not at this time, we can't. But one day. One day… they'll pay. They'll pay for moving into Agony and slowly taking it over. They'll pay for what they did to Connor's family. They'll pay for all the harm they've caused over the centuries to every lycan Pack."

Gabi sighed. Would there ever come a time when vampires and werewolves weren't at war? It seemed such a foolish waste. She sipped her brandy, sending up a quick prayer for an end to the hostilities between their people. Until that day came…

Gabi shook her head. Until then, she would fight to protect this pup who had landed in her lap, giving her own lifeblood if necessary, like his mother had nine years ago.

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