The story, the characters, the plot, and all of the things contained herein are MINE. I will not tolerate plagiarism.
All right, so this one is rated M. But hold up before some of you run off in protest. This rating change is mostly because of the graphically violent nature of later chapters (I justify this by saying that they're werewolves--any fight they're going to get in is going to be bloody). There will also be some mature sexual content. Because of the nature of one of the plot threads, it's somewhat unavoidable, but I don't have any intentions to give this the full out lemon treatment. If that happens (and the chance of that is well below one percent), you guys will get every warning possible first.
Now that you've bothered reading all of that, go ahead and read the chapter.
The boy was sitting framed in the shafts of moonlight coming in through the canopy of tree branches overhead. His long, black hair obscured his face, but Eris could tell by his hunched shoulders and his scent that he was upset. His torso and feet were bare, but on his bottom half he wore on a pair of loose, knee-length pants kept up by a belt fashioned out of a length of rope.
Eris approached cautiously. "Rafe," she said again and then, more empathetically she added, "Brother?"
When he then finally looked at her she bit her lip and shut her eyes. The entire right side of his face had been badly marred. The blood had long dried, but his eye was completely swollen shut and the bone was exposed over his brow.
"It's not your fault that father is dead, Rafe," Eris murmured and she climbed up onto the rock beside him. She made it a point to look him in the eye, steeling herself against the ghastly sight of his injury. "It's not—"
"I could have fought," he cut her own, his voice husky and wrought with emotion. "I should have fought, but instead I hid and I backed down like a bitch!"
Eris' fists clenched at her sides. "Father would have never expected you to fight."
"I was his beta!"
The girl closed her eyes again and looked away. "We do not have time for this," she muttered. "We need to gather Taka, Cael, Daci, and Lya and leave this place. I will look at your wound in the morning. Come on."
She hopped off of the rock and took a few steps before glancing back at him. Rafe seemed to hesitate for a moment but then slid off of the rock and began to follow.
"Father always favored you," Rafe murmured as they walked.
His lumbering steps stirred the underbrush and Eris caught the scent of blood. She was glad that it was too dark to make out the details of the earth. She had no doubt that every fallen leaf and branch was coated in a fresh splattering of blood.
"That is why he made you Beta," she joked in an attempt to keep her mind off of the situation at hand.
Rafe smiled but it seemed empty. "He made me Beta because I'm a male. You're the better hunter, the better fighter…"
"The second can hardly be determined fairly," she interrupted. "I have fought very few people."
"You have bested me on several occasions," Rafe argued. "You were always the better choice for Beta."
Eris stopped cold and then turned to look him square in the eye. "I was not a choice."
Rafe seemed to mull this over for several moments and then stepped forward, lifting his hands to her head. She flinched but did not pull away when he leaned in close enough to place a delicate kiss upon her forehead. His palms felt sticky with his own blood. "I am sorry for everything Eris."
Eris jumped awake at the voice with her heart beating wildly in chest and her mind racing. For as familiar as the dream was, her reaction was always the same. She had hoped that eventually its effect would fade…
"Look what I got!"
Taka was flailing a bloody hare around by its ears, grinning broadly for ear-to-ear, revealing his mouthful of fangs. His hands, feet, and clothes were covered in mud and blood and his dirty, brown hair hung forward in his eyes and framed his round, boyish face.
"Yeah, look at that," Eris murmured sleepily as she reached out to take the poor creature's mangled body from her brother. "You were pretty rough on this one."
Taka pouted and slumped back on his heels. "C'mon!" he moaned. "I got it for you! I know you hate hunting in the morning."
Eris rubbed her eyes sleepily as she pulled her legs free of her blankets and got to her feet. "I do appreciate that," she said, reaching out to ruffle his hair. "Where's Cael?"
Taka rolled his eyes. "Outside reading his book."
"Well go get his bow and then find him. In the mean while, you can clean this and have Daci and Lya cook it for you." She tossed the rabbit back at him and he caught the creature in his mouth before scampering out of the room.
Mornings finally had their routine since they had finally found a safe place where they could sleep at night on a regular basis. It wasn't exactly norm for their kind to pick one location and settle, but for Eris there was safety in constancy. Wandering had nearly torn their little pack apart as it had put everyone on edge and forced them to live chaotically, forcing the to constant adapt to something new night after night.
So, even as the distant sound of Lya and Daci fighting it out over a hair comb drifted to Eris' ears, she couldn't help but feel at ease. This was home
Eris lit a candle near her bedside and then reached for the water basin nearby. After washing her face, hands, and feet, she raked her fingers through her snowy white hair and then crossed the small room to dress. She paused for a moment to look into the dirty mirror on the wall, just able to make out her features in the half-light. In so many ways she still looked like a pup and that annoyed her.
Pushing aside her vanity, Eris got dressed, pulling on a pair of breeches and a short, animal skin vest held closed in the front by lacing. Then, as she stepped out of the room, she pulled her belt from a peg protruding from the wall and fastened it around her hips, feeling even better as the familiar weight of her daggers settled against her hips.
Their home wasn't much. They had built it into the side of a hill, surrounding on all sides by forest, and while the kitchen and basic living area were immediately accessible via the front door, the other rooms were carefully hidden under a trap door in a back room.
"Eris! Taka got blood everywhere!" Lya complained upon her sister's appearance in the kitchen. "Why do you let him do that?"
Eris shrugged as she took a biscuit from the plate at the center of the table. Lya and Daci weren't fighters or hunters, but they cooked—it was their only practical application. "He likes to show me his kills," she said. "Besides, you should be grateful that he hunts as much as he does. You two would be out food otherwise."
Daci pouted and then she and Lya swept their black curls out of their eyes with delicate flicks of their wrists, mirroring each other. "You'd let us starve?"
Eris shrugged. Of course she wouldn't, but it was better if neither of them knew that for certain. Maybe that singular grain of doubt would force them to finally make themselves useful in some capacity outside of the kitchen, which wasn't entirely necessary anyways. Even though they all preferred cooked meat, it wasn't as if they couldn't eat it raw.
But, feeling a little guilty, she kissed them both on the cheek and thanked them for breakfast. With her conscious sated, she headed for the door. The less time she hung around, the less she'd inevitably have to apologize for.
Outside, the sunlight was bright and wonderfully warm against her skin and the morning air was crisp and sweet. It had been at least a week since the last frost and already there were signs of life stirring in the trees and the grass—spring was nearly upon them. She relished the very thought. Winter's hold had finally been broken.
"Cael?" Eris called as she made her way down the hillside towards the woods.
Cael was lounging on a branch overhead, one leg daggling off the side and his back propped against the trunk. He was tall, nearly a head taller than Eris, but slender and rather feminine for a male. His face was a sculptor's dream as his features were all so pretty and delicate that they earned him ridicule from Taka and envy from the twins. Like Eris', his hair was snowy white and he wore it uncombed and a little long with stray pieces splayed messily over his forehead.
On the same branch there was muddy and bloody Taka, who was watching a squirrel jump around in the higher branches, kicking his feet lazily, and generally being ignored by Cael, who seemed rather absorbed in his book.
"Oy!" Eris shouted, turning their attention on her. "Cael, let's move. Taka, go back to the house."
"Aw, can't I come with?" Taka demanded with a pout. "I want to go on a hunt!"
The girl groaned. "Just go back to the house!"
Taka pouted as he tipped backwards off of the branch, turned a rather graceful somersault, and then landed on his feet. "It isn't fair! He isn't even your Beta! I am!"
"You also scare away the deer," Cael snorted as he dropped down beside his little brother. "Just go back to the house and stay out of the way."
Taka looked dejected and with a sigh Eris reached out to ruffle his hair. "If we catch anything, I'll let you gut it."
"I'll hold you to that!" Taka snapped, pointing a finger at her accusingly before turning and stalking away.
Cael watched Taka until the boy disappeared into the brush and then looked to this sister. "We're not really going for a hunt, are we?"
Eris shook her head. "In a little while. We need a few things from town."
Beckmoor was a short run from their usual hunting grounds. It rested at the apex of a natural harbor and thus flourished, despite being such a small and isolated little village. For the most part, the residents were human and while some held hatred for the local wolf packs, others were open and friendly enough—with the Beckmoor Pack at least.
Eris had been careful to keep up the alliances that her father had first forged with those in town. She maintained them through trading, running errands, and sometimes escorting the incoming and outgoing merchant wagons. It made the winters, which could be harsh and unforgiving, that much easier.
"There she is!"
Eris let out a muffled squeak when upon stepping into the local tavern Herrick, the owner, swept her up in a bone-crushing hug. The man was easily a few heads taller than Cael and his massive frame seemed to make the tavern itself seem small. "It's good to see you too," she choked out.
The man dropped her and then reached out and slapped Cael on the back, throwing the boy forward. "Herrick," Cael coughed in welcome.
Herrick chuckled as he appraised the boy with a fatherly stare. "Yer getting prettier every day, boy. Are you tryin' to get a girl or make 'em jealous?"
Cael sniffed in offense and then jerked away from Eris when she reached up tickled his chin with her fingers. "Yes, our little princess is blossoming into quite the beauty," she taunted.
"So, what can I do for you?" Herrick asked through his amusement. "I ain't seen hide nor hair of you in some time."
"We just wanted to see if you had any jobs available for us," Eris replied as she pulled herself up onto a bar stool.
The man made a face as he moved with long, lumbering steps to stand behind the bar. "I don' think so," he murmured. "But you could check by the harbor. They's always lookin' for help this time o' tha season, what with all the ships stoppin' on their way down tha coast."
The pair nodded and without a word Cael stood up from his seat and made his way to the door. "Anything else?" Eris asked.
Herrick shrugged his massive shoulder. "Not that I recall. How has your lot been doin'? And where's that little bastard you always have hangin' about? I've a few turkeys I'll let him gut if he'd like."
"We've all been fine and Taka is at home with the girls, hopefully," she replied. "He's too much trouble to bring to town all the time."
"I see," Herrick murmured. "How are you holding up?"
Eris shrugged. "Fine. Why do you ask?"
The man shifted a little, looking uneasy and hesitant. "I just worry about you," he said. "It ain't right—you havin' ta break your back to watch out for 'em. It ain't what your Father woulda wanted."
"Probably not," she agreed, staring at her feet. "I should probably get going, Herrick. We told the others that we were going hunting and they're going to expect some meat when we return."
Herrick nodded and without saying another word, the girl got up and made her way to the door.
Of course this wasn't what her father had wanted for her. He had wanted Rafe to succeed him—his oldest son. It was what was traditional and expected: only males could lead packs. Females were to submit, to serve, and to bear pups.
But Rafe had left and Cael had refused to succeed him. Who else was there but her?
Pushing the thoughts from her mind, Eris made her way down the streets, intent on finishing her errands and then making it to the hunting grounds before too much daylight was wasted.
Eris growled as she trudged home. It had begun to rain shortly after she had settled in to hunt and as the torrent grew heavier and heavier, it became that much more impossible to navigate the forest. The underbrush hid deep mud puddles that she sunk into and the thunder was almost deafening. Storms were not unheard of in the area, especially at the beginning of spring, and they were often abrupt and unpredictable, making the situation that much more annoying. It had been sunny when she left town!
The girl spun around quickly, nearly falling over into a mud puddle when she abrupt came face-to-face with Taka, who was hanging upside down from a tree branch. He grinned at her brightly. "Taka!" she scolded. "What are you doing?"
"Cael came back hours ago," the boy explained, dropping down from the branch and landing gracefully on his feet. He was draped in a heavy coat with the hood pulled up to direct the water away from his face. Without a word he tossed a bundle of cloth at Eris. "I did good right? I tracked you in the rain and everything!"
Not such a difficult feat with the miles of tracks she had left behind, she thought as she let the bundle unravel itself. Her coat. She smiled and reached out to pat him on the head. "Yeah, you did a good job, Taka," she said. She slipped her coat on over her damp clothes and pulled the hood into place before carefully fastening the buttons. "I hope no one was looking forward to any meat. It started to rain just after I settled in to hunt."
"Cael brought back a few pheasants," Taka replied. He licked his lips and then offered her a smile. "We saved you some."
Eris nodded but she hadn't heard him. Faintly, through the roar of the rain and the occasional rumble of thunder, she could make out footsteps splashing through the underbrush. They were uneven, as if whoever it was had been injured. The scent of blood reached her nose next, confirming her suspicions, and for it to stick out even in this torrent, it must have been a lot of blood.
"Taka," Eris murmured.
"I hear it," he said quietly.
Their eyes met briefly and the girl nodded toward the tree nearest to them as she slid her hands through the slits that ran up either side of her coat and drew her daggers. Without making a sound, Taka leapt up onto the tree and scurried into one of the lowest branches. Eris readied herself when she heard the footsteps coming closer, even though her instincts told her that she wasn't in any real danger. The smell of blood was getting stronger and stronger and as the footsteps got closer, she could tell now that there were just two. It was not a wounded animal that would come after her in its panic.
"Eris," Taka whispered.
She motioned at him to quiet down and then frowned when she saw the figure of a man appear through the rain. A hand reached out to steady a large, cloak-bound body against a tree and now, with the man not a stone's throw from her, she could hear his heavy, labored breathing and grunts of pain.
Eris lunged forward without a second thought when he hit his knees, her knives quickly sheathed and Taka on her heels. His weight slumped in her arms and she struggled for a moment under the strain before laying him onto his back. It was impossible to tell from where exactly he was bleeding in the dark and touch didn't help either as his clothes were all soaking wet. However, when she pressed upon his chest and earned a loud groan of protest, she knew that things were very serious.
Taka, although he looked worried, also looked excited and he was beaming when Eris looked to him. "Can we keep him?!"
Well, first of all I started this AGES ago and it's going to be my first attempt at a story with some conscious feminist effort. I felt the need to write this because so many female characters I run across nowadays are weak and they always seem to be submissive and dependent upon the men around them, which, to say the least, annoys me. Typically this can't even be justified by the time period the story is set in. Also, since I wrote this ages ago, it's not up to snuff with my current material so it's lacking detail. I'll try to remedy that.
Secondly, this is being posted because it's the first thing I've been able to write after a long dry spell and I'm hoping that it'll give me some drive to finish my next chapter of Willa. Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm not going to update Willa anymore, so please, REVIEW this. I'd like to know what you think.
Thirdly, they're werewolves (kind of-- just without the need for the full moon, so they're more like shape shifters). Yeah, I know I don't really mention that outright, but I also don't want to beat you guys over the head with it (which makes me wonder why I'm even including this in as a note).
Sooo please, please, please review review review!