Prologue

January 17, 2008 Mackenzie Valley Judgment

The eyes of my family bored into my back, and I hunched my shoulders defensively. They surrounded me, silent and judging. Their features—some snarling, some cold, and others anguished—were eerily alighted by the circle of torches. The woods around all of us were dark, and disconcertingly silent. The creatures knew of our presence and feared it, as they should.

Mark stood above me, beautiful and cold, on the Stone. His eyes shone yellow, and he had exchanged his human teeth for his menacing fangs. I met his stare, hating and defying his silent condescension. But, after a long moment, I was the one to drop my gaze. Hoping for some kind of help, I glanced at my father.

"Do you have any idea what you've done?" Uncle Richard bellowed at me, breaking the quiet at last. His words sliced through the air like the downward stroke of a knife. I gritted my teeth. Blurting out the wrong words then would only serve to have my pendant taken away, and I couldn't have that happen.

"I was… wrong to leave Mackenzie," I muttered. "To go to them… and I'm sorry."

"Wrong to leave, were you?" my uncle hissed. Fur was sprouting all over his body as he spoke. "Wrong to leave? You've destroyed us! The humans are already here, sniffing around! All that we've worked for, all that we had—"

"Enough, Richard," Mark said sharply.

Richard turned his glare on him. "Shut your mouth, pup. She deserves what she gets, and more. Judgment must be issued."

Mark snarled, and my uncle cringed. I took a step back as Mark jumped off the Stone. He brushed past me, and I held my breath against the scent that touched my nose: the smell of the forest, of wind, of sex. Mark was a wolf of many inclinations, and did not necessarily follow all the rules of the Pack.

The dark Pack member leaped through the air, wearing his pelt before he hit the ground. There was no great flash, no sound or obvious indication of what had just transpired. One moment there was a dark young man in the air, and then the next a black wolf towered over Richard.

My uncle was less skilled in his change, and he stumbled back on a root, tumbling to the hard ground. Mark leaped on him, and Richard cried out in fear. The Pack merely watched and did not offer assistance. Events like this were never interfered; status was something sacred and only between two wolves. The exception to this was if a new leader was to be elected; then every male in the Pack would fight.

"Do you challenge me?" Mark asked Uncle Richard in a deep, gravelly voice, his paws on each side of his head. While Mark was not the leader—the Pack had no definite leader yet, since our last Alpha died a month ago—he was above my uncle. The older man, scowling, eyes full of fear, shook his head in the negative. As he was already laying on his back, my uncle merely lifted up his paws, changing completely to present his belly.

Satisfied by the sign of submission, Mark backed off. He did not bother changing back to his human form. Instead, he sat down next to Derrick and resumed staring at me. I presented my back to him, facing my cousins. Their faces alone told me that most were not willing to compromise. I did not know what else I could say. Promises were never made in the Pack, because they were considered ineffectual and unneeded. I had nothing to offer.

Uncle Richard did not dare speak again, but a telling vein bulged in his red forehead. I again looked pleadingly at my father. He sighed, raking a hand through his gray hair.

"Gen, I…" He looked away. I bit my lip. Even he could not bear the sight of me.

"In one thing Richard is right: Judgment must be passed," my aunt Cornelia said. I resisted growing my own fangs and claws, and throwing myself at her. She had never liked me, and I had never hated her more than at this moment.

Then came the vote, led by Cornelia. Three choices. Three options. I could only stand and wait. "Those in favor of banishment?" she called, raising her hand towards the round orb of the moon. Pelts were being thrown on everywhere, and soon Pack, not family, was around me. Pendants glowed like small stars on their chests, in colors of red, green, blue, and white. I remained as I was.

Several howls rose and fell quickly.

"Those in favor of forgiveness?" she continued.

My stomach clenched when there were only a few cries from the Pack.

Then came the last, the final judgment. And from the wolves that were still waiting to cast their vote, I already knew my fate.

"Those in favor of death."

I did not look to see who wanted this. I gazed at my feet, blinking back tears. The Pack's baying rose to the moon, bloodthirsty and anticipating. I hummed to myself to stop my ears from defining whose howls could be heard. I could identify many, if I so chose.

But I didn't want to know.

Aunt Cornelia lowered her hand. "Judgment has been passed," she announced. The entire Pack, as was tradition, howled in unison after the words had been uttered. Some howled in grief, some in tribulation, some in exaltation. My aunt made her calls with the rest.

Then came a moment of silence. No one would look at me; I was a Shamed One. An outcast, a traitor. No longer Pack.

My aunt, a trace of a satisfied smile on her wrinkled face, finally turned to me. She regarded me with her faded blue eyes. "Tomorrow night, when the full moon rises," she whispered. "Genny Soren will be put to death on the Stone."

I did not plead for mercy, as part of me wanted to. Instead, I straightened my spine and glared at her. My white pendant began to glow, warm and light against my skin. But I resisted the Calling.

"You are no relation of mine," Cornelia told me in a hard voice. I lifted my chin.

"You never were a relation of mine," I said coldly. "And I hope your pelt rots in the sun." It was an insult of the worst kind. The old woman stiffened, and the Pack whispered amongst each other in low, shocked tones.

"Your death will be long and painful!" she shouted. "You will not die on the Stone, as have other wolves. You will die in shame. We will go back to the ruins tomorrow, where this human destroyed us!"

The howls rose again, and I closed my eyes.