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Soulbound ‡ feral

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 9

WARNING FOR SENSITIVE READERS: This chapter contains descriptions of extreme violence. Please read with caution if you are bothered by such things.

They exist in another dimension from us, but can appear in this dimension whenever they have a reason to. See, it's like there are many levels, many dimensions. When our time in this one is finished, we move on to the next, but the Big Man (Chiye-Tanka) can go between. The Big Man comes from Creator. He's our big brother, kind of looks out for us.

-- Ray Owen, son of a Dakota spiritual leader

"Your noses are keener than mine. What story do they tell you?" Hota whispered.

Donny crept forward another foot and pushed his snout out into the wind blowing up from the valley. He sniffed carefully, then growled and morphed into a naked teen. Turning over, he looked up at Hota and Connor and said, "The Blooded. More than one. And humans."

Hota peered down into the valley. The light from a half-moon bathed the buildings below in weak blue light. Nothing moved, and no sound came from the dark cabins. But the faint stench of vampires was clearly emanating from this place, and there could only be one reason for vampires to live in such a remote location, so far from their feeding supply. "Wait here," Hota whispered.

Connor shifted from wolf to man-wolf. His eyes glittered with anticipation. "We're going with you," he growled.

Hota sighed as he shook his head slowly. "You have helped me track them down, but now it is my place to finish the hunt."

Connor shifted fully into human form. The anticipation in his eyes changed into sadness. "They killed my family too, Hota."

"This I know, little brother." Hota pushed back from the edge of the cliff and stared at the two young werewolves before him. "But these are not bull elks we hunt. They are not even cougars or coyotes. They are very dangerous."

"Another reason we need to be there," Connor stated firmly.

Hota looked down at his feet. "I ask you to stay and let me do this alone. I could not bear to lose more of my family."

Donny frowned. "What do you mean?"

Hota glanced up and looked from Donny to Connor. "One of my other names… one we haven't talked about yet… one of my names is Chiye-Tanka. It means Big Man. Among the Oyate, they say Big Man moves from this life to the next. They say he talks to Creator and comes to this world to watch over the living, for he is their big brother, their protector, their guide."

Hota sighed in resignation. "I did try to keep my people safe, so that is why they called me Chiye-Tanka, but I am not Chiye-Tanka. I never asked for that legend to be carried to my door and laid at my feet. I tried for years to tell my people I was not Chiye-Tanka, but they only laughed and said I had to be. I was such a good protector for them…" Hota's voice cracked as his eyes filled with tears. "Until that night when I failed in my duties to keep my own family safe. I am not Chiye-Tanka. I have no supernatural powers. If you follow me, I cannot keep you safe. So I ask now to be your guide. Listen to my advice. Stay here, little brothers. I will go below alone and deal with these creatures. I will send them from this life to the next."

"And we will help you!" Connor insisted.

Hota's voice was equally firm. "It will be very dangerous. You have never fought vampires, and these will be desperate. They will hold nothing back, and I cannot protect you if you do not stay here. You are now my brothers, and I would not have you die tonight."

"We aren't the ones who are going to die tonight," Connor replied, shifting to man-wolf, then his wolf form. He turned his shaggy head toward Donny and growled low in his chest.

Donny nodded and changed into a wolf, turning and running down the side of the hill, heading for a small grove of pines where he rapidly disappeared.

Connor followed, circling to the north to come in from the back side of the cabins below.

Hota watched them go, then shrugged and changed into a bear. His massive body lurched into a shuffling lope as he headed down the hill, straight for the front door of the main building.

It was a simple matter to find a lone human, if you knew where to look. There was always one in a dark alley, passed out in a drunken daze, but Ignatius Caedes hated the bitter taste of their blood. He could afford to be picky. The better place to look was in a small house, preferably without a dog to sound the alarm and create unnecessary complications. Small houses usually meant single people living alone. And this house looked perfect. No scent of dog in the yard. No lights inside. A locked door to give the illusion of safety.

Ignatius walked to the back door and peered inside. He saw a dark kitchen, bathed in the blue light of the half-moon behind him. A quick glance gave him all he needed to see. He disappeared and reappeared inside the house, next to the table. He sniffed. The scents in the house were simple, that of a single human, a female.

He glided through a doorway into a dark hall, his long, silver hair fluttering out behind his pale, muscular body. Walking quietly down the hall, he paused and peered through an open door into a small bathroom. He wrinkled his nose at the smell of perfumes and scented candles.

Continuing down the hall, he found the next door led to a bedroom. The dark form on the bed was covered in a light blanket. The shape moved slightly, breathing deeply in sleep.

Never to wake.

He moved forward to take what he wanted, what he needed. It was his right. He was Ignatius Caedes, Lord of Carnage, ancient rogue vampire and beholden to no vampire Covenant and their ridiculous restrictions. He leaned down and began to dine.

Had there been any observers watching that night, they would have seen an enormous white grizzly bear loping down the path leading to the first cabin, where he slowed to a walk and then his body rippled as it transformed into that of a tall, muscular man with white hair falling to his shoulders. The man walked up the door, opened it, and peered inside. It was empty.

He walked quickly to the next cabin and glanced through a window. His eyes widened slightly at what he saw. Biting his lip, Hota turned to look for the boys. He saw Donny nearby, though it was hard to pick out the boy's furry form in the shadows of a nearby bush. Hota peered around the corner of the cabin and saw Connor waiting behind the cabin, his mouth hanging open slightly, his fangs dripping, his eyes glittering in the moonlight.

Hota motioned to Connor, then pointed at the cabin holding up three fingers, urging Connor to wait where he was.

Connor nodded, eyes shining in anticipation.

Hota turned back to face the door of the cabin. His body rippled and swelled into his massive bear form. With one swipe of an enormous paw, he smashed the door open and rushed inside, roaring in fury.

There were shouts of surprise, panic, alarm. Then screams and angry yells. The sounds of mayhem moved deeper into the cabin, with furniture crashing and breaking.

A vampire appeared suddenly outside the cabin, looking around him with concern. Two others appeared next to him.

"A bear?" one asked.

"More likely a werebear," another replied. "It's too large for a grizzly."

"Then it's that damned Sioux warrior, hunting us again."

"And he's alone. We'll kill him this time and be done with him. Where's Ignatius?"

The first vampire frowned and said, "He went out an hour ago. Said he was sated, but I bet he went into town."

"Damn!" the other vampire exclaimed. "Perfect. He disappears when we need him the most. Well, we can still kill this bear. Prove we're better than Ignatius gives us credit for."

"I say we leave. Wait for Ignatius to come back and then get the hell out of here."

"Are you afraid of one bear?"

"One werebear. A big ass werebear."

The first vampire pushed his face into his companion's and snarled. "He's alone. There are three of us. We can take him."

Walking slowly around the cabin, a large red wolf came into view. Its lips were curled up, and a low rumble came from deep in its chest.

The vampires saw the wolf and hesitated. "Apparently the bear isn't alone," one said.

"FIne. We kill the wolf first, then the bear."

The vampires disappeared and reappeared next to Connor, surrounding him, reaching out to grab him, but Connor quickly transformed into man-wolf form and began lashing out with long claws, ripping the closest vampire's face open from his ear to his mouth. The vampire screamed a blood-curdling howl and leapt out of range as the other two grabbed Connor's arms and forced him down on his back in the dirt.

"Hold him still while I twist his fucking head off," the third vampire shouted, blood dripping down the side of his neck. He leaned over Connor, who was struggling unsuccessfully to get free. As strong as Connor was, the two vampires working together were stronger and held Connor down. The last vampire, the side of his face a bloody mess, looked down at Connor with a mocking sneer. "Do you know what we do with werewolves who stick their fucking snouts in our business? Do you?"

Connor lifted his head and snapped at the vampire's face.

The vampire pulled back and laughed. "He has spirit, this one. Almost as much as those lycans we killed a few years back. You remember how the bitch snapped at me as I broke her neck?"

Connor froze. Looking up at the vampire above him, his mind instantly returned to that fateful night when he was five. Though he had dashed through the house to run away, he had managed to catch a quick glimpse of the one bending over his mother's broken body. The face of that one then matched the face above him now. One and the same. The one who'd killed his mother was now trying to kill him too.

Connor stopped struggling. He couldn't fight them. His heart froze in fear and his mind screamed in terror, the terror of a five-year-old child once again. After all this time, they had returned to find him and kill him. The mother and father he loved so much, whom he missed with all his heart, would soon be rejoined with him in death. He shifted into human form and closed his eyes, shaking with fear, waiting for death to take him.

Donny's ghostly shadow moved in the darkness of a nearby cabin. With surprising speed, he dashed forward, a dark brown blur bursting into the open, leaping through the air and crashing into one of the vampires who held Connor down. The force of Donny's charge knocked the vampire aside and sent him rolling across the ground. Donny then turned to the vampire with the mangled face. With a furious snarl, Donny launched himself at the bleeding vampire, who scrambled backward to avoid the jaws slicing the air inches from his face. Donny snapped and snarled, trying to finish the job Connor had begun.

Connor opened his eyes in surprise. He saw the vampires scrambling in confusion, suddenly finding themselves facing two werewolves. Connor's heart pounded and his fear was replaced with fury. With only one vampire now holding him down, Connor quickly shifted into werewolf form and yanked himself free. With long slashing swings of his arms, he ripped the vampire's shirt and tore into his chest, slicing it open. But the wounds weren't deep and the vampire charged Connor, grabbing him around the chest and tackling him to the ground. The other vampire, who'd been temporarily stunned by Donny's charge, was now up and leaping onto Connor, grabbing at Connor's arms and helping to pin Connor down once more. Connor snarled and snapped, struggling to make a vampire pay before his own life was demanded of him.

One of the vampires holding Connor shouted, "Finish him before the bear finds us." The other vampire hissed and darted his head down to rip out the throat of the werewolf fool who had dared to attack them.

The wall of the cabin next to them exploded as Hota crashed through, sending timber flying in every direction. Roaring with fury, Hota's mighty paw caught the nearest vampire solidly in the side, sending him flying through the air with his side ripped open and his intestines spilling out.

The other vampire looked up at Hota in shock as Hota's mouth opened wide and his jaws snapped shut on the vampire's skull, crushing it in one massive bite. Hota shook his head from side to side, tearing the vampire's head from his body and spitting it out to roll away across the bloody ground. The now headless corpse collapsed onto Connor, who shoved it away and leapt to his feet, looking for Donny.

Donny and the last vampire were in a desperate battle, trying to find a weakness in each other's defenses. The vampire had Donny down on his back, attempting to choke him. Donny's jaws were snapping on air. His hind legs were against the vampire's stomach, kicking to try to get him off.

The vampire turned and saw Hota and Connor sprinting toward him. He saw the bloody bodies of his fellow vampires nearby and knew this was one battle he couldn't win. Damned fools. They should have left when they had the chance. Then returned with Ignatius to destroy these lycan fuckers.

No matter. It was time to leave. And quickly. His eyes lost focus as he concentrated on a safe spot high up in the hills. He tried to jump there, but a sudden pain in his arm broke his concentration. He cried out and looked down. Donny's jaws were locked on the flesh of his arm, holding him tight, preventing him from teleporting away.

Connor leapt through the air, mouth agape, and struck the vampire in the side, knocking him off Donny. Connor's snapping jaws closed around the vampire's neck, crushing his windpipe. Like every other beast Connor had killed, he clamped down, waiting as the vampire gasped for breath, struggling, fighting, failing. The red glow in the vampire's eyes faded as death finally claimed him.

Connor shook the vampire violently. When the vampire did not respond, Connor released his bite and dropped the lifeless body. Standing over the dead vampire, Connor panted, ready to charge in if necessary, but the vampire didn't move.

Connor backed up a step and changed into a man. He turned to Donny and asked, "You okay?"

Donny, still on his back on the ground, shifted into man form and sat up. "I'm fine." He held up one arm, dripping with blood from a nasty gash. "Just a nasty bite, and it's already closing up."

They both turned to look at Hota. He was now standing before them, his thick, muscular body spattered with blood from breaking through the wall of the cabin. The cuts were healing quickly and now he was looking around cautiously for more vampires, though they were all down and no longer moving. "Good," Hota grunted. "Three dead, and that's all I counted inside the cabin. I would have been here sooner, but I had to check several rooms."

Connor shivered, realizing how close he'd come to dying that night. "It's okay, Hota. You came when I needed you. You saved me."

Hota, his eyes sad, nodded. "I warned you they were dangerous."

Donny threw his arm around Connor and hugged him from the side. "Not as dangerous as lycans," Donny said with a grin.

Hota finally smiled back, his eyes sparkling. "Yes, we are. You did well tonight, little brothers. I am proud of you both."

Connor nodded at Donny, and together they walked up to Hota, who pulled them into a tight hug.

It was done. Finally finished.

Connor pressed his face against Hota's warm shoulder. He felt his eyes burning and gritted his teeth to stop the tears. With an angry snarl, Connor said, "I recognized one of them. The one I killed. He was standing over my mom when I ran out of our house nine years ago." Connor, his breath coming in short gasps now, exclaimed, "He killed her! He killed my mother, Hota, but I killed him. I killed the bastard."

Hota sighed and pulled Connor into a tight hug. Rubbing gently on Connor's back, Hota replied. "It is over now, little brother. They will never hurt anyone else."

"Really?" a menacing voice snarled from nearby.

Hota, Connor and Donny turned quickly and found a tall man with long silver hair standing thirty feet away. His skin was pale in the moonlight, alabaster white. His eyes glowed red.

He sneered at them and said, "You say it's over? What makes you think that? You think killing a few of my worthless minions will stop me. I'm Ignatius Caedes! Nothing stops me."

He pointed with disgust at the bloody corpse of one of the vampires, its entrails staining the ground around it. "This…" He sneered at the mangled corpse and laughed, before continuing. "This can be replaced. I'll find others like them. Vampires who enjoy taking what is our right, who refuse to be bound by human law or vampire doctrines. I'll teach them to spread carnage in this world, and we'll kill again."

Ignatius turned his head to face Connor and mockingly asked, "The next time we kill, will it be a werewolf family foolishly living all alone in the woods?"

Connor's eyes filled with tears but he didn't reply, so Ignatius turned towards Hota and smiled. "Or perhaps I should visit the Oyate again. They taste wonderful. And their screams of fear are music to my ears. Such a peaceful people, the Lakota. They give you no resistance whatsoever when you drain their blood." Ignatius smiled wickedly and his eyes flashed in defiance.

Hota began walking slowly toward Ignatius, saying nothing in reply.

Ignatius scoffed. "This is not over. You don't get to decide that. As long as Ignatius Caedes stalks the shadows, death comes with Blooded fangs." He snapped his fingers and disappeared before Hota could reach him.

Hota stared at the spot where Ignatius had stood. Gone again. Escaped and living to continue his evil existence. Well then. The Hunt would continue. With a resigned shrug, he turned to see how the boys were reacting.

Connor fell to his knees, shaking his head in disbelief. Donny knelt behind Connor and wrapped him in his arms, holding him tight.

Hota slowly moved up next to the boys and fell to his knees in the dirt in front of them them. He placed one hand on the shoulder of each boy, bowed his head, and began chanting.

Though Connor and Donny didn't understand the words of the chant, they felt soothed by the cadence rising into the moonlit sky. Later that night, Hota repeated the chant, this time translating so the two boys could understand the words as well.

Have pity on me
Have pity on me
Have pity on me
I'm sending my plea
Today I walk the earth
I want to live on
I'm sending my plea

Welcome them home
Welcome them home
Welcome them home
My lost family
They walk the heavens
In Creator's light
My lost family

Give us peace
Give us peace
Give us peace
We send our plea
We who walk the earth
We who hunt alone
We send our plea

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