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Soulbound ‡ feral

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 10

Fate and destiny go hand in hand. It is impossible to change our destiny. Only the path upon which we walk to reach our destination alters. If we should stray from that path, fate will take control and guide us in the right direction.

-- From Darkness & Light by J. A. Belfield

Hota's chant rose and fell, the words covering them like a warm blanket on a cold night.

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

As the final words of the chant faded away, Donny asked, "What does it mean?"

Hota raised his eyes to meet Donny's. "It is a chant to Creator. Asking him to take in our loved ones who have gone before us. Asking him to give peace to those of us who remain behind."

Connor wiped his eyes with his arm and sniffed. "How can we have peace as long as that bastard is still alive?"

Donny jerked his head sharply in agreement. "There will never be peace as long as any of the Blooded live. We should hunt them all down. Only then can the Pack be safe."

Hota climbed to his feet and stood looking down on the two teens, his hands on his hips. "Killing gives birth to more killing. The hunter kills only as necessary, to feed or protect his family. And when he brings down his prey, he is thankful for the sacrifice made that he and his family might live. What you now describe is a different hunt altogether. It is a hunt of vengeance and malice and destruction. It is a hunt I will not help you with."

Donny looked all around them. Blood and gore littered the ground where the dead vampire bodies lay broken and torn. "Then why did we do this? Tonight?"

"To stop the killing," Hota whispered. "To stop feral vampires. But I will not join you in a hunt of all vampires."

Donny laughed bitterly. "So you're saying these vampires were bad and other vampires are good?"

Hota chuckled. "I would not say that any vampire is good. That is not often their nature. But most vampires are disciplined, following rules of their own making. These were not. These were wild and uncontrolled. They had to die, for the safety of us all."

Donny snorted. "I still say it would better if we killed every one of them."

Connor looked up and shook his head slowly from side to side. "No, Donny. Hota is right. What we did tonight was necessary, but I don't want to be part of a blood feud with every vampire."

Donny wasn't convinced by Connor's words. "But you both heard him. The one who got away. He said he'll be back. That he'll do it again and again, as long as he lives."

"Yes," Hota agreed, "that one will be a continuing problem, and I think we will want allies to deal with him."

"Who?" Donny demanded. "Who will we ask to help?"

A frightened wail came from inside the shattered cabin behind them. They all three turned to see a naked woman standing in the hole Hota had made in the side of the cabin. She was staring at the bodies of the vampires scattered on the ground, and her eyes were wide with fear. She held her hand over her mouth, struggling not to scream.

"We will need much help here," Hota stated, walking slowly toward the woman with his hands held out to the side, open to show he was no threat.

It hadn't been easy to calm the woman down. But with a blanket wrapped around her body and Donny assuring her over and over that everything was going to be fine, she finally relaxed enough to fall into an uneasy sleep. The rest of the human slaves were comatose, still recovering from being used as sexual playthings by the vampires.

Hota searched through the cabins until he found a cell phone.

"What are you going to do with that?" Connor asked.

"Call for help," Hota calmly replied.

Hota punched a number into the phone from memory, then held it to his ear.

"Hello, Minerva. This is Hota. I found your rogues… Holed up in an isolated valley near Baker's Gulch. I'll send you the GPS coordinates later… Four of them. Three are dead. One escaped. He called himself Ignatius Caedes… Then you are familiar with the name?… Minerva, there are also humans here, apparently kept as slaves by the rogues… Yes, that would be helpful… That is good." Hota disconnected the call and looked up to see Connor and Donny staring at him.

"What is it, wolflings?"

Donny grinned. "You use a cell phone? And GPS too?"

Hota frowned. "I know all about modern technology. You think because I am an old Lakota warrior that I do not use such things?"

Donny chuckled and shook his head. "No. I thought you wouldn't know how to use GPS because you're a werebear."

Connor bit his lip to avoid laughing. "I don't know how to use GPS, Hota. Never needed it as a wild wolf living in the forests."

Hota smiled at the two boys. "Then watch as an old bear teaches young wolves a trick or two." He pulled up the GPS app on the phone, pinged their location, then forwarded it via text message to Minerva Smyth, the leader of the vampires in Agony, North Dakota. "Minerva will know what to do here. She will also help us hunt down this Ignatius Caedes, wherever he has decided to hide. He is as dangerous to vampires as he is to lycans."

"Are you going to keep hunting him?" Connor asked.

"I must," Hota replied with a grunt. "It is my destiny."

"Then I'm going with you," Connor stated.

"So am I," Donny added.

Hota sighed. "I permitted you to come with me this far, but hunting Ignatius is my destiny, not yours. The two of you have another calling, and you cannot deny it any longer."

"What are you talking about, Hota?" Connor asked.

"Destiny cannot be avoided," Hota explained. "You can travel over strange paths, seeking another end to your story, but all paths will eventually lead you back to the place where you belong. The only question is: How long will it take before you accept your calling?"

Connor frowned. "But I don't know what my calling is!"

"No?" Hota asked. "You honestly do not know? Or are you denying what your heart has been telling you all along?"

Connor stared at Hota, eyes locked in challenge. Connor eventually blinked and looked down. Hota was right. Connor had known for some time what he should do, and having Donny come after him only made it clear where Connor should be.

He glanced up at Hota and whimpered, "But I want to help you."

Hota placed his hands on Connor's shoulders and squeezed gently. "Then go home. Build an army. One day I will call upon you and your army to help me defeat this foe."

Connor nodded, grinning lopsidedly. "Okay, Chiye-Tanka. I hear you."

Hota grinned back. "This one time, I accept that name. Listen to your elder brother. Go home and be ready to come when I need you."

Connor turned to Donny. "I'm going back. To the Pack. We both are."

Donny clasped Connor's forearm. "It's about time you figured it out."

Connor chuckled. "You were just waiting for me to decide?"

Donny nodded. "It's where we belong. I knew you'd realize that if I gave you time."

Hota placed the cell phone on the table. "We should leave now, wolflings. The Agony vampires will be here soon. To clean all this up. We should be gone when they arrive."

Hota changed into a bear, knocking the table over with a crash. He walked through the small cabin, shoving chairs aside with his wide body, apparently unconcerned by the mess he left in his wake.

In the still morning air, with the smell of fish cooking over the coals of the fire, Hota studied the two teens sitting across the fire from him. They were licking their fingers and bumping shoulders, laughing and excited. They were obviously eager to return home.

"Before you go," Hota softly said, "I would like to give you something."

They looked up, eyes shining with anticipation. "What is it?" Connor asked.

"A gift from your elder brother," Hota said. He stood to his feet and motioned for the boys to stand also. Approaching Donny first, Hota leaned in and whispered in his hear, "Niya. That is your secret name. Niya, the ghost, for when you hunt, the prey does not see you until it is too late." Turning to Connor, Hota placed his lips next to Connor's ear and whispered, "Your secret name is Napayshni, which means courageous." Hota moved back a step and spoke to both of them. "You may decide to share your secret names with each other, but secret names are not for everyone to know." Hota turned and began gathering up his gear and loading it into a large sack.

Connor swallowed hard. "Well. I guess we should head out now. Unless you need us to help you pack or something."

Hota grunted and smiled. Standing up again, he turned to face Connor and Donny. "There is one last blessing I wish to give you." Holding his hands out toward the two boys, Hota chanted, "Amáyuštaŋ po."

The two teens looked at each other, then back at Hota. "What's it mean?" Donny asked.

"It means… Get your hairy asses out of my camp," Hota replied.

Both boys started laughing.

Connor moved forward and threw his arms around Hota, hugging him. "Goodbye, big brother. I will see you again when you call for me."

Connor pulled away and wiped his eyes, struggling not to cry.

Donny walked forward and hugged Hota. "You're one bad ass bear, old man."

Hota slugged Donny gently on the side of the face, then pushed him gently away and motioned for the two to be on their way.

They changed into wolves and started trotting down the hill, headed south.

Hota raised his hands one final time and shouted, "Ȟ'ahíya wóglaka po. Good journey, boys."

The entire Silvermane Pack was gathered at the Lodge for an end-of-summer celebration. The days were turning cool. Nights were chilly. Fall was upon them, and winter wouldn't be far behind. The pups were excited, driving the adults to distraction with their antics, but it was to be expected. School would begin next week, so this would be the last opportunity for them to be wild and free.

While the adults watched from the landing above, the pups cavorted on the grass in front of the Lodge. Jacob Byrne was holding a football over his head while the shorter boys jumped and tried to take it from him. Joshua Byrne was laughing, thinking about helping them, when he saw the two wolves coming out of the forest. One with dark red fur. The other brown with a golden band around his neck.

The two wolves stopped at the edge of the clearing and waited.

All the pups stopped their play and turned to stare.

The conversation among the adults stopped. In the sudden silence, Andreas Finnigan stood up and walked slowly down the steps from the landing and across the grassy lawn to stand in front of the two wolves.

Connor and Donny changed into teen boys and looked up at Andreas, who was scowling at them. They waited.

Andreas frowned. "So you've returned?"

Connor nodded.

Andreas growled, "I put you both out of the Pack when you left. You know that, right?"

Connor nodded again. Donny moved closer to Connor, standing just behind him and to one side.

Andreas studied the powerful young man before him. Andreas leaned in slightly and sniffed. There was a difference in Connor's scent now, and Andreas was pleased with what he smelled. "You've found what you were looking for then?" Andreas asked.

Connor nodded. "I did, Pa."

Andreas turned to Donny. "Are you committed to follow this one? To accept his fate?"

Donny gulped and nodded. "I am."

Andreas smiled. They'd both found what they were looking for, or so it seemed. He gestured with a head nod back toward the others. "Go back to your Pack, wolflings. Welcome home."

Connor was driving the old Dodge pickup with Caleb, Ethan and Donny squeezed in next to him. Jacob, Joshua, Dillon and Dennis were piled in the bed, whooping and shouting and slapping their hands on the side of the truck as Connor drove them all down the highway toward Agony, North Dakota, for their first day of school.

Connor was nervous. He knew what to expect. The other boys had filled him in, but his heart was still pounding in his chest. His fingers were white knuckled on the steering wheel as he drove, but his foot was firm on the accelerator. Whatever his future held, he was determined to stalk it and bring it down. He was still wild. Still a werewolf.

Turning onto the last street leading to the school, Donny shouted, "WAIT!"

Connor looked over, frowning. "What is it?"

"SHIT! I almost forgot," Donny cried, reaching into his shirt pocket and fumbling around. He pulled out an old eight-track cassette and held it up. "Our dads used to listen to these growing up, and I know this old truck has a cassette deck."

Donny reached across Ethan and Caleb and stuck the cassette into the player, cranking the volume on the stereo up as high as it would go.

Music pounded from the speakers, buzzing as the music blasted out.

Guess who just got back todayThem wild-eyed boys that had been awayHaven't changed, hadn't much to sayBut, man, I still think them cats are crazy

"What's that?" Connor yelled over the music.

Donny laughed and replied, "It's a song the oldies like. It's called 'The Boys are Back in Town' by some ancient rock band called Thin Lizzy!" The music continued blaring from the old pickup's speakers.

They were asking if you were aroundHow you was, where you could be foundTold them you were living downtownDriving all the old men crazy

As Connor turned the corner and pulled into the high school parking lot the chorus of the song boomed out.

The boys are back in town! The boys are back in town!I said, the boys are back in town! The boys are back in town!The boys are back in town!

Pulling to a stop, Connor shut off the truck and the music died. The wereboys clambered out the truck, laughing and shoving and giving each other high-fives.

In the shade of the gymnasium, Xavier stood with a small group of vampires, watching the antics of Connor and his friends. "Who are they?" Xavier asked.

Regina, one of vampires who had attended school in Agony for a few years, said with a sneer, "Flea-bitten lycans. We've had to endure their stench for too long, because the Council won't stop them from attending school here."

"Who's the tall one?" Xavier asked.

Regina glanced over and saw where Xavier was looking. She peered back at Xavier and said, "He's new. I've heard his name is Connor, and naturally, he'll be playing football. He won't be in any of the classes you are taking, Xavier." She giggled and smirked at Xavier.

Xavier frowned. "Why do you say that, Regina?"

Regina shrugged and giggled again.

Ignoring the foolish young vampire, Xavier turned back to watch Connor carrying on with his friends. There was something about this Connor, something that made Xavier's heart pound. It was a familiar sensation, one he hadn't felt for over a century. Confused, Xavier deliberately turned his back on Connor and tried to sort out why he felt so strangely affected by the muscular werewolf.

Before Xavier turned away, Connor saw him. It was the same thin, pale teen Connor had seen once before, standing in the bleachers during the football scrimmage. Though Connor didn't know it at the time, his own heart was pounding the same as Xavier's and his mind was feeling the same jumbled confusion. In a vain attempt to ignore both his heart and his mind, Connor turned to his friends and shouted, "Let's go, lads!"

Connor, with his head held high, led them onto the school grounds, his Pack behind him each step of the way.

Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the decision to move forward in spite of that fear.

-- From Blood Feud by K. R. Fraser

Why go for something cold and dead, when you can have something hot and panting?

-- From Scent by K. R. Smith

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