Chapter 1

Roukan rubbed at his biceps, trying to keep warm. Thick flakes of snow swirled around his exposed body. He wanted to transform, but knowing that his clothes would disintegrate, he wouldn't be able to go back into human form. However, instinctively he felt the beast inside him clawing at its cage, demanding to be freed. He was almost numb with cold. He knew that if he moved, he'd feel a million pinpricks of pain in every part of his cold body.

Roukan was large. He was about 6 and a half feet tall, with a largely built body and big bones. His hair was pitch black and long. He had royal blue eyes so blue they could make a grown man cry. Roukan's eyes were not only rich, they were dark. Dark and deep and full of so much that only a skilled soul-reader could know him deep down. His eyes were so rich that in the dark they often glowed, and he resembled his other side. His wild, vicious, beast side. He was the type of man who coated his heart with so many layers of steel that only the strongest empath could empathize with him. He was the sort of man who buried his soul so deep that even he was finding trouble bringing it out again.

Roukan stomped in the 3-foot deep snow. His sentinels had completely abandoned him, and he was furious. They were a pack. They stuck together. And they'd abandoned him in his time of need.

Also, Roukan was not used to being dependent. He was the alpha, the leader of his pack. Had always been there for them. Stood by them when he thought he was going to die. When the flurry of snow had gotten to about 2 feet high, they almost seemed to panic. Roukan had already been furious – his squad didn't panic. They stood as one wall and fought.

Not today, they didn't. They'd all ran off after one thing. Some light they thought they saw. Roukan had called after them. Ordered them to stop. Either the snow drowned him out, or they ignored.

But when he roared, a fierce rumble from the depths of him, coming from not the human but the beast, he knew they'd heard. They'd turned in fear. They called out to him. The wind, the whipping gusts of wind, blocked out their voices. Then they'd turned and left.

Roukan would have followed had he not been injured severely in his left leg. Now he glanced around. What direction had they gone in? He couldn't tell. The snow stung him in his small eyes, whipped painfully at his bare arms, and threated to bite his toes off. Sighing angrily, he let the beast take over. As his human mind was thrown far back, the beast came forward. His body shivered once, then twice. Roukan felt the cold leave him. His back arched suddenly, his muscles spasming. Outside, people would see flashes of light. Roukan felt flashes of pain mixed with longing and pleasure as his body was ripped apart and rearranged into the body of an animal. A beast. He now stood 5 feet tall. His thick, strong tail whipped behind him. He felt full of power, wild, and dangerous. With a deep, tremulous growl, his pitch-black body bounded off in the snow. The only remnant of him, the small speckle of dust his clothing had created.

Brother?!

The huge Panther stopped in its tracks at the sound of a pack mate. He formed a roar deep, from the deepest parts of his soul, and when he let it out, any human nearby would have been petrified.

Roukan!

Yes, it is me. Where are you? He called softly.

It's Kodan. I don't know, Roukan. I'm absolutely lost.

Roukan sniffed the air deeply, searching for the scent of his sentinel commandant, but the cold and snow absorbed it, and his brother was lost in the world.

He padded slightly through the snow.

Kodan, give me a roar so I can locate you.

There was a pause before Kodan's deep cry vibrated the air. As he still roared, Roukan bounded towards the sound. Afar off, he could suddenly see a large black shape, sitting in the snow. A growl of relief rumbled in the back of his throat as he reached his brother.

Roukan. Kodan reverberated deep in his throat as Roukan rubbed his sleek body against his.

Where are the others? He asked after the embrace.

Kodan's bright green eyes flashed with sadness. They fought to the death for you, Roukan. I came back, to get you, so you could help. They protested. Wanted to keep you safe. They're gone. Niko and Tey's bodies are over there. The rest… I don't know where they are, or if they're alive.

Roukan felt as though someone had stabbed his heart with every word uttered by Kodan. But he rose to all fours and with his head held low, growled,

Show me them. The two panthers walked off, slowly, quietly, trudging through the deep snow. They brushed bodies every now and then, a sort of subtle consolation. Sometimes a quiet, mourning purr would rumble deep in the back of either's throat. The snow was threatening to separate them, so they had to stick close and sometimes remind the other that they were still together. As soon as Roukan saw 2 huddled shapes on the white ground, fury bubbled inside him and he bounded towards them. Niko lay on his side. Under him, the snow was a rich red. 2 arrows were buried in him, one in his side, one in his ribcage. Tey's injury was invisible to the naked eye. But the scent of death was rich in Roukan's nose. He struggled with hot tears that burned his eyes as he gently licked Tey's body. Roukan had known Tey from his young childhood. Had stood by him at every point in his life. And he'd found Niko, both of them then teenagers, dying in a pit in the woods near his home. Kodan appeared beside him and nuzzled his side with his nose.

You should have seen them fight, Roukan. They were truly loyal… they loved you.

When Roukan spoke, his voice was so thick with hatred and fury that he could barely speak. Who are the darned bastards who killed them?

Wolves. I think Sirhaan and his pack. We were outnumbered and they were strong. They were warm. Which means they hadn't been out here for hours like we were.

Why would the WhiteFire attack us? They may be hostile, but we haven't done anything to offend them.

Kodan nodded. They seemed to be searching for something. Something that we had, maybe?

And you don't know where they went.

Yes, because I came back to get you.

Roukan was hurting more than he'd ever hurt in his life. His sentinels, his brothers, his only family, were gone. Died for him. And worse, he'd thought they'd been cowards. As they had died fighting for him, he'd thought of how he'd punish them when he caught up. He slowly walked over to Niko, who'd bled more.

We need to give them decent burials.

Tey had a mate. Kodan whispered sadly.

She'll be devastated. Roukan said what Kodan had implied silently. He growled, a loud, vicious whisper. I'm going to find them. And I'm going to rip their eyeballs out before I burn their fur off and leave them to freeze to death. I will avenge them.

Kodan walked over to Roukan and rubbed his cold body against his, consoling his friend. Roukan sighed, leaning against Kodan and letting the fury settle.

And I'll stick by your side every moment of it. Kodan reassured him, rubbing his neck against him. The smell of death grew stronger. To stem the threatening tears, Kodan roared. Roukan joined him after a moment. The brothers sat by each other, bodies touching, heat transferring, sharing their joined grief.

One silent tear hit the snow. It instantly froze.