Today, we have a side story about a few of the children from Sumeria's Sons. The lead up to this flash fiction starts in Dreams of the Forgotten. Theo Sullivan, Tristan's ex-mate and twin flame, had passed away at the end of Songs of the Earth. By Lycan law, the his dependents are Tristan's responsibility. Theo had 3 children and a mate who come to live near Tristan and Ushna. On a visit to the mayor of Clearwater, Tristan and Ushna happened upon a fight in progress. Justus and his sisters, Neoma and Dawn (all three 8 years old), were caught in an alley by a couple of twelve year old bullies, Ira and Marek. The fight was broken up and Tristan discovered that Theo's mate had abandoned the children. Tristan and Ushna take the children in. Tristan then scheduled a meeting with Ira and Marek's parent to get down to the bottom of the bullying. It was discovered that Ira's parents were a part of nefarious organization and Ira's father was a True Blood posing as a Lycan. (True Bloods were direct descendants of Enkidu, one of the Lycan's ancestors.) Ira's father was a real ass, angry with Ira for asking for asylum from his parents, and he taunted Ira about whether Ira would be a Lycan or True Blood prey.
In Dragon's Eye, Tristan was saved by five True Bloods. In gratitude, Tristan brings them back to the ranch, hoping to learn more about the True Bloods. Ira and Marek came to the ranch to spend time with Justus and his sisters... There is where this short story starts.
This takes place between the end of Dragon's Eye and the beginning of Releasing Chaos. Enjoy!
Copyright Lexi Ander
Meeting a True Blood
"They're coming!" Dawn called excitedly from the front of the house.
Justus wiped his wet hands on the dish towel before handing it to Neoma. Then he glanced at Neoma's mother, Mary Jane, waiting for her dismissal. Ira and Marek were coming to stay the week. Justus and his sisters had scrambled to complete all their chores so that when the boys arrived they didn't have to wait to play.
"Good job," Mary Jane said with the ghost of a smile. "Now, go and have fun."
Justus ran out of the kitchen before she could even finish speaking. Upon seeing Justus and Neoma leaving the kitchen, Dawn jumped up and down as she opened the front door. Justus followed, close on her heels. A maroon sedan came down the driveway and he could barely contain his excitement as Mr. Gillander parked the car.
Marek and Ira piled out of the backseat, nearly ending up in a pile in their hurried rush, their eagerness palpable.
"Hello, Mr. Gillander. Mary Jane is in the kitchen," Dawn said as she ran by, reminding Justus of his manners.
Skidding to a halt in front of Marek's dad, he said, "Hey, Mr. Gillander, thanks for bringing them."
Mr. Gillander chuckled and messed Justus's hair before he bent so Neoma could claim her customary hug. "Don't get into too much mischief," he warned before heading into the house.
After Ira's parents had been arrested for treason, Marek's family had taken Ira in. They treated Ira as if he was their own. As Uncle Tristan had ruled, Ira and Marek spent time with Justus and his sisters which started a tentative relationship. Months later, they were all friends and Ira and Marek still visited on a regular basis.
When Uncle Tristan had heard that Ira and Marek turned twelve but hadn't had their first change, he visited the Gillander's. Justus had gone with Uncle Tristan, carefully watching as Uncle Tristan interact with his friends. Like other Lycans, Justus sensed the output of raw alpha power that rolled off Uncle Tristan in soothing waves. Justus had met several other alphas, but none exuded as much energy and his uncle who was the future king of the Lycans, Alpha of all alphas. Except perhaps Corey, but Corey somehow hid his essence causing others to believe he wasn't as powerful. Justus desperately wanted to learn how to do the same one day.
Uncle Tristan had gathered Ira and Marek close, the Gillander's looking on with worried expressions.
"Not all pups change when they turn twelve," Uncle Tristan had murmured. He held each boy by their neck, his power rising.
Justus sensed this uncle probing his friends. He wished he could see, to know how Uncle Tristan wielded his power, wanting the ability to do the same when he grew up.
Uncle Tristan made a small noise and smiled. "They are both very close. Why don't they come stay at the ranch for a week or so? They can join the monthly hunt and, if they change before then, we don't have to worry about a human seeing them."
That meeting had happened a couple days ago, and Justus had been looked forward to having the extra company. The mood of the adults could be intense at times, causing a constant itch that urged him to run in his wolf form. But he ignored the prodding, refusing to get too far away from Randy. After Randy had disappeared for over six months, the nagging fear his Twin Flame would disappear again kept Justus awake most nights.
"Stop daydreaming and come on!" Neoma grabbed and pulled Justus along.
Ira, Marek, and Dawn were running to the hay barn. He and Neoma hurried to catch up. The five of them spent the rest of the afternoon playing, trying not to make a nuisance of themselves and garnering the unwanted attention of the adults. Justus did sneak away a few times to check on Randy, but he spent the majority of the day outside with his friend. When evening rolled around, Justus fell into the blanket fort erected in the corner of Randy's room so exhausted that he slept the night through without dreaming.
When the next morning rolled around, the five of them ate in the warrior's cafeteria with Christie and Mary Jane. Justus was eating quickly but not so fast that he was admonished. He was excited to get back outside for another day of playing. The air of the afeteria was filled with the low murmur of conversation from the warriors and magi. A sweet scent wafted through the room and the talking died down until it ceased completely. Every Lycan sat up and glanced toward the door where the True Bloods, the five Cimmaron brothers, entered. Gradually, conversation started again, but the wolves remained watchful.
"Who are they?" Ira asked, his black hair flopping into his amber eyes. He sniffed the air and Justus waited for his reaction before answering.
When Ira only seemed curious, he replied, "They are the True Blood royals, princes I think. Ace and his brothers saved Uncle Tristan from being captured."
"True Blood's like… like, my dad?" Ira asked, his hand trembling as he put his fork down on his plate.
Justus frowned, knowing what Ira asked and wanting to disagree. The Cimmaron's were different from the nasty man and woman who'd raised Ira.
Marek leaned in, his intent gaze on Ira. "Your dad was a jerk and a traitor to the tribe," he replied softly.
Justus glanced around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation. Dawn and Neoma were talking animatedly to Mary Jane and Christie. The warriors sitting around them were paying more attention to the Cimarron's than to what they were eating.
"Yeah, but, he said I would—"
Justus made a negative noise. "Uncle Tristan told you that you would be a wolf. It's one of Shamash's blessings; our wolves will always breed true."
"But what if being True Blood is the reason why I haven't changed?" Ira said in a rush, fear in his voice. "I'm only half Lycan. What if—"
"Uncle Tristan said—"
"But what if he's wrong?"
Uncle Tristan wasn't but Justus couldn't find the words that would reassure his friend. Instead, he turned his attention back to his food. He wished he could soothe Ira but had a feeling that the only thing to help Ira was to finally change. Then he would see he had nothing to worry about.
After he finished eating, Justus made a plate for Randy and ran it back to the house. He would have stayed but Stan ushered him out, urging him to go play since Randy still slept. Stepping out the back door, Justus saw the Cimarron brothers were following the trail that led to the river. The pasture running along the south side of the waterway was where the wolves ran when they needed out. Uncle Tristan made sure the horses and cattle were kept at the opposite end of the ranch so there would be no accidental chasing of the cows. "No use tempting mischief," Uncle Tristan had said.
Justus was ready to bound off the porch and find his friends when he caught a glimpse of Ira sneaking along behind the Cimarron brothers. Worried, Justus followed, not bothering to hide himself. Ira was too focused on the Cimarrons to notice he was being tracked.
The trail bisected the grassy pasture. The land transitioned from plains to colorful, red dirt arroyos and deep washes the closer to the river. The banks were shielded by a thick copse of trees that followed the edge of the water that seemed to swallow the Cimarrons as they crossed into the shade. Ira hesitated at the edge, and Justus hurried to catch up deciding he should find out why Ira wanted to spy on the True Bloods. But before he could call out or reach his friend, Ira plunged into the foliage. Justus rolled his eyes at the loud non-stealthy sounds Ira mane. Really, could Ira announce his presence any louder? If the Cimarrons didn't know they were being followed, they did now.
Under the boughs shading Justus from the sun, the brush was thick enough he couldn't see too far ahead. But following the tracks wasn't hard and something Justus was good at. When he finally caught up to his friend, Justus stopped at the unexpected sight. Strangely, Ira wasn't hiding behind a tree or peeking around it, but had his forehead pressed into the rough bark of an old oak. Purposely making noise so he wouldn't startle Ira, Justus cautiously approached.
His keen hearing picked up other noises. Squirrels jabbering in at the higher boughs. The trickle of water over river rock. The low murmur of voices. Justus scented the warriors who were tasked with keeping an eye on the Cimarrons. But there were other barely discernible sounds… He glanced back and caught a quick glimpse of a white T-shirt that was out of place in the foliage of greens and browns. Cowboys who reported solely to Randy who had volunteered to stayed behind to guard him all those months ago hadn't stopped watching over him even though Randy had returned. Justus always felt shy when he considered approaching one of them. From what Justus understood, those men were related to Randy and very loyal, but Justus wasn't sure what they thought about him.
Pushing his wayward thoughts aside, he refocused on his friend. Ira's eyes were squeezed shut and he breathed in soft nervous pants. Beyond Ira, the Cimarron brothers could clearly see Justus and Ira. They warily watched from a small clearing next to the water. Justus sensed Ira's pain and he wanted to help. Gathering his courage, Justus moved past Ira and approached the five True Bloods. He hadn't spoken to them before, so asking them for a favor felt strange. He was sure it was somehow bad manners, but he still hoped they would hear him out.
Wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans, he approached Ace, the oldest of the five brothers. They said nothing when Justus stopped in front of them. For a second, he faltered, not sure how to start. His dad would smile so Justus put on his best grin. Uncle Tristan would introduce himself. Justus held out his hand. Ace took it, showing dimples when Ace grinned back.
"Hi, I'm Justus Sullivan and that is my friend, Ira." Feeling the need to be honest, Justus pointed to the location of the two hiding wolves. "And in case you didn't know, that is Helios and Robert." He pretended he didn't hear the exasperated animal groans. Then he hooked his thumb in the opposite direction. "Over there are a couple of the ranch hands who followed me."
Ace's smile widened. "Is that so?"
Justus nodded, considering how to proceed once the easy part was done. "None of us meant to intrude on your privacy. Well, Helios and Robert did."
Ace's deep brown eyes held a glint of amusement, as if he was laughing even though he still only grinned. "Already knew that."
"Ah… I was hoping you could help me out. Well, not me but my friend, Ira." Ace's gaze flicked to where Ira stood, who now looked as if he wanted to hide on the other side of the tree trunk. Ira's eyes were huge, silently asking Justus what in the world was he doing. He waved for Ira to approach which Ira ignored.
"What sort of help does your friend need?" Ace asked, concern diming his smile.
"His dad is a True Blood and his mom is a Lycan. Mr. Weatherby was real mean to Ira the last time he saw Ira, and he told Ira lies. Could Ira see you shift so that he'll know…" Justus didn't know exactly what Ira needed to know because Ira hadn't said. Instinct told Justus that would help Ira if he saw and interacted with Ace.
Ace motioned for Ira to approach. Justus refrained from rolling his eyes when Ira came forward. He could have come when Justus motioned, but Justus refrained from saying anything to his friend.
"Have you seen a True Blood's natural form?" Ace asked.
"Natural form?" Ira squeaked.
"The father of our people, Enkidu, his first form was an animal. He lived in the wild and ran with herds of ancient elk and deer though he was still different from them. Singular. Later he became… almost human."
Ira moved closer, his eyes locked on Ace as he drank down every word Ace spoke. "Almost human? What does that mean?"
"His feet were hooves and his haunches weren't like human legs but furred and thickly muscled. He also kept his curl of horns." Ace grinned when Ira looked down at Ace's feet. Justus looked too, curious. "The human in us has given his descendants human legs and feet. But a very few of my people have horn nubs in their human form."
Justus's eyes suddenly began to burn and he closed them, pressing his thumb and finger to them as he tried to figure out where the burst of overwhelming sorrow had come from. He could almost imagine running alongside the thundering herd, hear the rumble of hundreds of hooves as they moved across grassy plains. What would it feel like to be in sync in such surroundings?
An old and weary voice inside him whispered, "Wonderful."
When he opened his eyes, he brushed at a tear that tried to escape. Neither Ira nor Ace noticed he struggled with an emotion he was hesitant to name. Instead, Ira had reached up and parted his hair, revealing two raised nubs.
"Like these?" Ira's voice wavered.
Ace and his brothers stepped forward, a couple of them grinned with delight.
"Alpha Janick," Ira stammered, "says I smell like wolf, that when I change, I will be a Lycan, but I have these. And I'm half True Blood through my father. And I don't know… I'm afraid of what I'll become."
Ira didn't pull away when Ace touched the exposed baby horn. "You will be you," Ace said when he stepped back.
"What?" Ira's large eyes shimmered with unshed tears.
Justus grinned. Those were the words he had trouble finding. Ira would still be the same person no matter what. No matter what form Ira took after, Justus would still be Ira's friend.
When Ace saw Justus smiling, he nodded. Returning his gaze to Ira, Ace said, "Why do you have to be one or the other? You carry the blood of two regal lines and you will probably bear the markings of both."
"So I'm going to be a wolf?" Ira recovered the knobs with his hair.
"I do smell wolf on you, but I also scent how you are also kin."
If possible, Ira looked more miserable than he had before. "But when I change, where will I belong? I don't want to be alone."
Ace's frown was full of concern. "Do you not have a place now?" He glanced at Justus and Justus nodded because Ira wasn't an outcast.
"But when I change, I might be different." Ira worried his lip with his teeth.
"Ira," Justus said to get his friend's attention. "Your dad told you lies. Marek and the Gillanders love you no matter what. Neoma and Dawn and I will always call you friend. We won't leave you either. And Uncle Tristan has claimed you as part of his tribe. We all belong to him." If Justus saw Mr. Weatherby again, he was going to bite him on the butt for making Ira doubt everything.
"And you are also a brother to the True Bloods," Ace added.
"You don't know me," Ira said incredulously.
"I don't have to in order to welcome you into my circle. In our culture, we often are invited to the first change of young from families we aren't familiar with. They are added to our personal collective, connecting the families together." When Ira looked confused, Ace said, "It's something similar to being a godfather. I can smell that your change is near and I would be honored to be a witness, thereby connecting you to my family."
Ira's bottom lip trembled. "You would do that?"
Ace smiled fondly at Ira. Instead of answering the question, he asked, "Would you like to see me change?"
Ira nodded mutely. Justus stepped away, but not because he felt like an outsider. On the contrary, even though this bonding moment was between Ira and Ace, Justus already felt connected, anticipating what would come, as if he'd been waiting for many lifetimes to see the form of a True Blood. If not for the dreams he'd been having for a year, Justus would have thought he was going crazy and be tempted to tell Uncle Tristan. When he slept, Justus was somebody else, living in another time and place. The person was like him, but not. Over the last few weeks, Justus was beginning to understand who exactly he dreamed about.
Sitting at the base of the old tree, Justus joined by Helios and Robert, both still in their wolf form. After they laid on either side of him, Justus sank his hands into their soft fur, needing the soothing sensation, the grounding their touch brought.
Ace and his brothers disrobed and changed without preamble. The scent of wild magic grew strong as short fawn-colored fur cover their bodies. The joints of their legs suggested they could run on all four limbs even though they continued to stand upright. Justus recalled his bestiary anatomy lessons. What most people assumed was a reversed knee joint was actually a heel and ankle. Ace's hands shortened, his fingertips becoming blunt and square. The True Blood form was very different from Justus's wolf, but he saw graceful lines and a body that proclaimed Ace could run for hours and not be short of breath.
Closing his eyes, Justus inhaled. The scent of prey stronger now the Cimarrons had changed, but instead of calling his wolf to hunt, a protectiveness surged through him. When he opened his eyes, Ace and his brothers were staring at him. Their faces were flat, their nose short and triangular. Beneath that, their lips were thin and dark brown against their golden pelt.
"What do you smell?" Ace asked, nose tilted as he softly snuffled the air.
Justus looked at Ira, chagrined because he'd forgotten his friend was still there. This whole encounter had been for Ira's sake, but Justus had gleaned something for himself. He spoke the truth that had been buried in his soul. "They smell like home." His wolf chuffed in agreement.
Ace cocked his head to the side and grinned, showing square, blunt teeth. "Then I greet you, brother wolf."
Thank you for stopping by and reading!!