This takes place between the end of Dragon's Eye and the beginning of Releasing Chaos. Enjoy!
Copyright Lexi Ander
Justus sat on the front porch between Ira and Marek, eating a popsicle while they waited for Uncle Tristan to call for them. Tonight, the full moon would rise. Lycans weren't commanded by the moon's cycles, but the full moon was a hunter's moon, all the better to run by when the pack came together to run.
"Do you think we will actually shift?" Marek asked as he pushed his blond hair from his eyes. He was large for a twelve-year-old. Those born to be warriors usually were, making both Marek and Ira much bigger than Justus. They were also three years older than him, but even with the size difference he sensed he could take them down whereas almost a year ago he couldn't. His wolf chuffed in agreement with absolute certainty. Much had changed within Justus since his wolf had surfaced early. Some of it, like the dreams, he was still trying to figure out.
Ira rolled his shoulders. "Something is different. My skin feels too tight."
"I've been that way for weeks now," Marek groused, rubbing his forearms. "It means nothing."
"Uncle Tristan says—"
"Uncle Tristan, Uncle Tristan, Uncle Tristan," Marek snapped. "All you can do is repeat things he says. How does he know just by scenting us that we will change? I don't believe it."
A growl of warning rumbled up from Justus's chest and both Marek and Ira startled. This was something else that had changed. The two had been at the ranch for almost a week. With each passing day, Justus's sense of them had changed. His wolf recognized they were… in many ways, his two friends weren't as strong as he was. Ira and Marek whimpered. When Justus's gaze met Marek's, Marek dropped his eyes.
"Uncle Tristan is our supreme Alpha, Alpha of all alphas and future king. He knows what he is talking about. If he says you'll change tonight then you will." As far as Justus was concerned Uncle Tristan was always right. He never said anything he didn't mean, ever.
Marek looked as if he wanted to argue but Justus ignored him, glancing over his shoulder. He'd sensed Uncle Tristan for the last couple of minutes, his alpha energy rolling over Justus in soothing waves of comfort.
"Are you ready?" Uncle Tristan asked through the screen door. Marek and Ira jumped again suddenly looking sheepish.
Uncle Tristan matched Justus's grin. He didn't know how Marek and Ira were so nose blind to miss Uncle Tristan scent. Perhaps they were too on edge to notice anything other than their own worries.
"I am," Justus responded, standing.
Uncle Tristan exited the house and Justus followed him around the side of the building. He didn't glance back at his friends but heard them scramble to follow. The sun kissed the horizon as they walked to the back pasture where the tribe would change and run. Around them, groups joined them on the track to the river. With each step, Justus's wolf pranced with excitement. They loved to run with the other wolves.
By the time they arrived, some of the tribe had already disrobed and were waiting. Justus hurried over and shed his clothes, dropping them in a pile near Corey's. Ira and Marek glanced around, their awe plain to see. They'd hadn't been to a group run yet. Justus remembered his first time, how he felt like he ran with only left paws, but still he had been exhilarated.
When he smelled Ace Cimarron and his brothers, Justus turned to watch them join Uncle Tristan. He sensed the tension they carried. The five brothers hadn't transformed in front of the tribe before. Earlier in the week, they had shown themselves as a favor to Ira, but only Justus and a few other guards had been in attendance. Today there would be more than fifty wolves participating in the run. Would the other Lycans smell prey and give chase? Or would they feel the same protectiveness that Justus did?
He hurried back to Uncle Tristan, barely noticing that Ira and Marek had disrobed and followed close on his heels.
"Until the tribe gets used to you, stay close to us." Uncle Tristan was saying to Ace as he gestured to Uncle Ushna, Uncle Brian, and Corey. "I don't expect any trouble, though."
"We haven't changed in front of so many before. Chicago doesn't give us a lot of space to be free in our animal form. We get together on father's preserve once a year to run as a herd, but this," Ace gestured not to the Lycans waiting to change but the open range. "So much space makes us nervous. We will probably stay in the middle of the tribe where we will feel the safest."
Huh? Justus hadn't thought the pasture would be so scary to them. He figured Ace would want to run the length of it and stretch his legs.
"Hello, little brother," Ace said to Ira. "I am honored to attend your first change."
Ira rubbed at his hairline where a nub for an immature horn hid. "Ah… Thank you. Would you mind if Marek and I stayed near you through the run?"
Ace glanced to Uncle Tristan as if gauging his reaction before he said, "Certainly."
Ira stood straighter and even gave a small nervous smile.
Justus didn't see what Uncle Tristan did to signal the people to change, but he felt the power. The wild magic that resided in every Lycan unleash as the crowd shed their human form. There was no popping of joints, breaking of bone, or stretching of skin. Uncle Tristan always talked about falling into his wolf shape. As Justus watched he could understand why. His people leaned forward, and by the time they touched their hands to the ground they had paws and were shaking out their fur.
Justus held on to his human shape, resisting the call of the wild magic. But Ira and Marek could not resist that much energy which beckoned forth their beast. They too dropped on all fours, their new fur ruffled by the night breeze coming off the prairie.
Ace knelt before Ira whose wolf pelt was as black as his hair. Ira bent his head and allowed Ace to feel the nubs that signaled he would one day have a curl of a horn around his ears. Ira's head was bowed as he stared at the ground, the scent of his nervousness and need tainting the air like a spritz of lemon.
"Hello, little brother, I see you," Ace said, his tone conveying acceptance and a hint of awe. When he moved to the side, each one of Ace's brothers dropped to a knee and recited the same words, as if they performed a ritual.
When they finished, the Cimarron brothers all changed, the air filling with the scent of prey. Justus straightened and stepped between them and the pack, watching for anyone who might mean the brothers harm. Not that he could have taken on a full-grown wolf, but he could divert their attention until Uncle Tristan took care of the situation. Justus was relieved when all he saw was curiosity from the other wolves.
He didn't jump when Uncle Tristan laid a hand on his shoulder. "Always the protector."
Justus felt uncomfortable under Uncle Tristan's intense scrutiny, unsure if he was supposed to say something in return. When he glanced around, only Stan, Corey, Uncle Tristan, Uncle Brian, and Uncle Ushna were unchanged.
"Come on it is your turn. Then we run." It wasn't the command in Uncle Tristan's tone but the power of his shift that pulled Justus along for his change.
Justus and his wolf settled into their skin with harmony. They sighed as they shook out their fur, happy when their alpha stood still, allowing them to rub against him. Corey raised his voice and the tribe echoed his howl. The Cimarron brothers waded through the wolves, enduring playful rubs and curious sniffing. Ira and Marek followed, Marek's lighter coat gleaming in the moonlight. With Ira's dark fur he practically disappeared into the shadows as they paced next to Ace. Justus made a wide circuit around them eyeing each tribe member as he passed. His tail high in the air as he willed everyone to know he would protect the True Bloods with tooth and claw. He huffed at the indulgent wolfy grins and took position ahead of the Cimarrons, following Uncle Tristan.
Soon the tribe lost interest in the True Bloods, and fanned out. Some played, others chase jackrabbits, flushing them from hiding. The Cimarrons stretch their legs and yes, they ran with a haunting grace that whispered to Justus, as if to say, "We remember you."
He didn't know what to think of the strange, fleeting thoughts. Instead he ran, yipping when Ira and Marek joined him. There was nothing better than being in wolf form, surrounded by his tribe, and basking in the glances of approval his alpha shot his way. He howled at the moon, giving voice to his joy, swelling with satisfaction when others answered his call.
Thank you for stopping by and reading!!