I know it's been awhile and I'm sorry for that. Life has to come first and I'm graduating soon so I focused a lot on school and getting my act together. I hope people can forgive me on taking this long. I know its not perfect but the things that happened in this story had to happen so I could move on and get to the awesome stuff. I promise to have chapter 5 soon. I've already begun work on it. =)
The Half-Moon Tribe: The Four Moons IV
I was in a lot of trouble.
"You killed Reyna!" The voice said over me. I hadn't expected anything like what just happened; I had been on my feet and only found myself flat on my back from a push of energy, and not only that, I had something around my neck. My eyes still weren't clear but my sense of danger was screaming at me to get the hell outta here! That same sense had saved my life about five times in the last two years.
I shook my head a little bit and saw Renin, the Beta-Mage to Arch's pack, standing over me. His face was wet with tears. His typically amber eyes looked swollen and the fur along his cheeks and muzzle damp with thin rivulets. His hands were clutching his staff, a long pole with a crescent moon shape on the end just wide enough for a neck to be in, around my neck. The ends were very sharp and thankfully he hadn't cut my neck in the process of attempting to kill me.
Instinctual urge kicked in and my hands lifted upwards and grasped the staff just below the moon and tried to pull it upwards. Sadly, gravity was not on my side and Renin was leaning his weight down onto the staff. I felt the curve of the wood push down into my neck and nearly choke me. I coughed loudly and felt my ears slowly flick backwards.
"I'm going to kill you! Reyna hated you and I hate you too!" Renin screamed and the energy crackled around him. I knew jack squat about magic but I had seen it done more times around me in the last few weeks then in my whole life. I knew the whole pack considered Renin some kind of prodigy, someone with enough strength that he could have been Alpha-Mage himself. I had been shown that you could see magic if you just relaxed your eyes a little bit and tried to look past the person.
I didn't need to do that now.
Renin was forcing out every drop of his power and it was ruining the ground. I could hear the ground behind my head crack, I could feel the air pushing away from his body, and I had no idea why he was summoning up so much magic into his body. I had been told that when a mage does this it usually meant a destructive spell. I gasped for air again as he pushed harder, the wood of the staff remaining nice and solid because Renin willed it so. The jewel tied to the base of the moon was dangling in front of my eyes and glowing brightly, a faint ringing sound echoing as the ether-like waves whipped it about gently, like a bell with no ringer. I had no idea why Renin tied the magic stone to the base of the moon but it was supposed to help his magic I heard someone say once in passing. Right now I was more focused on loosing my head.
"Renin!" I heard someone shout from behind me. I tried to look but I couldn't see them. "Stop this! Get off him!"
"No!" Renin said and looked up to the mystery person. "He's the reason Reyna's dead! He's the reason all this is happening! He has to die!"
"I said GET OFF HIM!" There was a rush of energy and heat. I sucked in a quick breath of cold air as the heat washed over me and pushed Renin backwards. I saw the young mage, who was around my age for crying out loud, pushed off me after a mild struggle. He ripped his staff up out of the ground and flew backwards, laying on his back with a heavy thud. I coughed and rubbed my neck and stood up slowly and looked over to see who it was who had pushed him off me. It was, of course, Arch. Knight in shining armor as always. He was flanked by a strider and two scouts, Ezia for one, and even a mage who I had no idea who was. He was white. Was he one of those wolves from the other packs?
"Thanks Archie, I was getting--"
"SILENCE!" Arch roared in my direction as the heat was pushed at me like a solid wave. I groaned as I was flung backwards and fell right next to Renin. I coughed and rubbed my chest. At least I wasn't going to be sick from that heat again. it still hurt, let me make that very clear. I didn't want to admit it then or now but Arch was one of the scariest guys I had met. How do you even wrap your mind around someone who can kill you with a thought? I always kept him at arms length because of that and made sure to never push him too far. I did like living.
I looked up and saw Arch stalking forward. He bent down and hauled Renin up by his robes and held him up to his face, staring the small mage in the eyes. "Reyna dying is...troubling, but you're disgracing her by acting irrationally, Renin. Collect yourself."
"Arch!" Renin pleaded, his hands holding Arch's wrist as he dangled there and looked right into his eyes. "He's the one! He's the reason they're in the woods!"
"What do you mean?" Ezia said as she walked over to me and kneeled. I saw she was armed. For some reason the scouts enjoyed fist-like weapons. Ezia's hands were clad in black gloves with spiked points along the fingers and between the knuckles. Even larger spikes on the top knuckles. She touched my shoulder but it wasn't to help me up, it was to keep me down.
"The invaders," Renin said, looking down at me as best he could from his position of being held. "They're Severed Moon! They're the disgraced pack!"
I saw Arch's ears flick a bit and then look at me. "Is this true?"
"I don't know what the Severed Moon is!" I said as I tried to get up. Ezia held me down though. I growled at her and batted at her arm. "Look, let me go! I don't go for girls anyway. I don't know what Renin or that invader is talking about! I'm from Roll Hill village! That doesn't sound anything like Severed Moon to me. Then again, you savages have a unique way of talking..."
"Jack!" Arch said in my direction. "Shut up."
I did as I was told. Arch looked back to Renin and stared at him with those strong amber eyes. Those eyes always unnerved me. I played a lot of card games and Arch had one of those faces you could never read no matter how hard you tried. He had mastered a face of passiveness and if he showed emotion it was because he wanted you to see it. I wanted to hustle people with Arch. I'd make a fortune.
"Go on, Renin."
"Thank you," Renin said as he was let down onto his feet and rubbed his neck. "The blood mage said that he was from Zane's kingdom, and that they're from the displaced Severed Moon. The fourth moon who left the woods so many centuries ago."
"And because of that," Ezia said as she looked down at me. "They should be unable to enter the woods and not get lost."
"That's true," Renin said as he rubbed his face with his open palms, sniffling quietly. "But Reyna told me ancient magic doesn't always go away. There are spells on all of us and our children which are placed on us at birth, at conception. Its part of us and our families forever. One of those spells is the pack sensitivity."
"What's that?" Arch asked, his arms crossing over his chest. "Reyna never spoke of such spells to me."
"It's not...it's hard to explain. Why talk about the blessings on all of us? We never have to worry about being in these woods. But we're all blessed with magic that lets us get through the protective magic because we're blessed by the gods." Renin said as he rubbed his eyes. Was he really still going to cry? Baby. "When the Severed Moon left the woods they didn't lose all their blessings. The Gods were angry at them for leaving the woods forever, of course, but they did not disgrace the children of the woods completely."
"What do they still have?" Ezia said, pushing me down harder into the earth.
"When one of their own is lost they can sense them. It only works in the woods." Renin said as he looked right at me. "Jack is, apparently, a descendant of the All Moon Tribe, what we call the Severed Moon; the group of wolves who wanted more than what the Elim woods had to offer. They wanted the lands to the west which we are told to never spend a long time in as the God's grace does not reach there. When they left the Gods cried and forbid them to ever enter the woods again, saddened their children wouldn't listen to them."
"But they found Jack," Arch said. "How is that possible if they were cast out of the woods?"
"They can sense their own in here. I suppose the Gods did it to protect them. If they got lost in the woods they could go in and find their own and then quickly leave before getting terribly lost and die. The problem is the Severed Moon knows this and is using it to their advantage."
"They're using Jack like a signal," Ezia said. "Like when we scout use smoke signals to signal to the others to either converge or disperse from a location."
"Right," Renin said, sniffling again as he wiped his tears from his eyes. "They want to find Jack. They want to find our home, Arch. They are moving soldiers into the woods and following the magical tether that Jack is signaling to others of his pack. They will find our home and they will do whatever they want."
"What do they want?" Arch said, growling. He stalked over to me. "What do your people want with the Half-Moon?"
"I don't know!" I said, pushing away from Ezia and standing up. "I never heard any of this garbage until JUST NOW! You're also getting your information from someone whose blubbering over the death of an old lady and not thinking clearly! Ask him what the mage did to me!" I was scared now. I had no idea what was going on with these wolves and this other pack, but I knew that it was nothing good. The problem was that if they didn't believe me they would probably kill me to keep themselves safe. They didn't like dealing with the group of people outside the woods that they called the Outsiders.
"He...attacked Jack. Knocked him out and cast him aside as if he were driftwood." Renin admitted. "He wanted Wolf's Wisdom, Arch. When Reyna died it appeared like a crystal and I took it into my body."
"I know," Arch said calmly and spared a glance to Renin. "We all sensed it. Slayn and Chance are guarding the temple. I gave them permission to use their Gifts if they need to. Its too risky right now to simply fall back to my judgement. Besides, Reyna used hers without asking and it probably saved all of your lives."
"Arch," I said firmly and looked up at him. "I don't know what's going on. I never even SAW Zane or anyone from the palace. I've never even been to the capital cities. Orphans aren't allowed!"
"You're an orphan?" Ezia said and looked at me curiously. "And they don't let you where you have family?"
"It doesn't work like it does here!" I said, rubbing the back of my head in exasperation. Sometimes these people could be so wonderful but they were clueless about how the real world worked. "Where I'm from when you lose your family you're nothing. I should be dead. I only lived because some old lady took me in. Watched and raised me until I was 9 and then she died from a flu in the winter. Then I wandered a bit...did some things and then you found me on the boarder cities." I cut a lot of information out. Why tell my sob story to a bunch of people who were considering killing me? Best save that card for later. "No one would take me as an apprentice and I couldn't join the military because I have no family--no honor. It's hard to explain. The best thing I could do was hope to work on a farm but I hate the countryside. So I do what I do best."
"You gamble and cheat." Ezia said flatly.
"Right," I said to her with a little grin. I saw her just shake her head and roll her eyes. "But whenever I talked to anyone with a military or royal crest it was usually to smack me away from getting anywhere or to get out of their face. I don't like the crown anymore than you do!"
"He's lying!" Renin said at me and pointed at me. "They know OF Jack. How would they know of him and he be clueless? Come on, Jack." Renin said with a mildly angry sneer on his face. "Aren't you the master of lies? This one's terrible."
I sighed and shook my head. "That's the problem," I said calmly. "I tell the truth most of the time and people always assume I'm lying." I was mildly embellishing. I told a lot of little fibs and warped stories but that shouldn't condemn me to a life of a liar.
"You do make it hard to trust you," Ezia said, and looked at Arch. "But he's not that bad at lying. I believe him. I think he may just be bait. Scouts do it all the time to lure out enemies. He may just have been the unfortunate number drawn."
"Thank you," I said to Ezia and took her hand. I moved to kiss it but she brought it out of my grasp quickly and smacked me on the back of the head hard enough to make me stumble. "Ow."
"That doesn't make sense!" Renin said with a growl. "He was there in the inn when WE were. And he said he was there randomly. How could that happen?"
"Good question," Arch said and looked at me. "But these are questions to be asked by the Council. We need to get back home."
I didn't know what to make of that. But I was still alive. I knew Renin wasn't going to be the only one out for my blood.
We arrived at the temple an hour later. Arch had carried me on his back and the moment we entered the clearing a group of people were waiting for us. Slayn was standing there in his new clothing. He wore his traditional blue loincloth but around his neck and shoulder was a matching long blue scarf. He wore leather gauntlets that held small blades linked into them. A last ditch weapon perhaps? On his chest was a strap of throwing knives. On his hips were his new daggers, leather straps around his thighs with the sheaths pressed firmly to his flesh and fur. Now I knew why the end of his daggers were all circular. He could easily slip his finger into the hole and draw it with a simple wrist flick. He was prepared for battle.
Avalon was at his side. He was wearing his typical red bandanna but he was also wearing a pauldron on his right shoulder. It was connected to his belt by a strap crossing down across his chest to a thicker belt where his sword hung. He had his traditional sword on his back and a heavier looking loincloth on his waist. He looked far more fierce in this extra armor. Both of them did. The couple had been given all kinds of gifts for their Joining and these seemed to be some of them.
"Slayn," Arch said as he put me down on the ground. "The reports are confirmed about Reyna. I want you to send striders to Apollo and Ender. Get them or their second in command here right away. I want you here though so send your best." Arch was walking and the group of wolves followed. Chance jogged up, his heavy axe on his back and a look of worry on his face.
"Ezia," Arch said as he looked over at her. "Get the message to the visiting Alpha Males. Siro and the Warboz need to be briefed on this. Tell them we will hold a Meeting of the Alpha by twilight. I want all their questions answered. Offer striders to them for messages to be couriered to their people. Ask them to put their packs on standby." Arch looked down to the white wolf following with the black ear. His hand moved out and grasped his shoulder. "Kaliko, as much as I don't want to send you away right now, this is Half-Moon business until Siro involves you."
"I understand," Kaliko said and nodded gently. "I'll go back to my room. Don't worry about me." He said with a smile and walked off.
When Kaliko was out of ear shot he looked to Ezia. "I want Scouts listening on the two Alpha Male. I know they're allies but I don't want to take any risk. They're getting all the information and giving very little. They may have intel they're witholding from us for whatever reason. Use your best scouts that can remain hidden. I don't care how they stay hidden just do it."
"Yes, Alpha," Ezia said we were walking up the steps. "If they're found out?"
"They won't be if you pick the right people," Arch said calmly as he pushed the huge double doors into the temple's main level. The glowing trees in front of us with the cascading waterfall were beautiful and I usually spared a moment to look at it. Not right now as were heading down a hallway toward the Council chambers.
"Chance," Arch said. "Jack is to have a warrior guarding him at all times. I don't know or care for who, just get someone. He's going to be with me mostly but the extra security can't hurt."
"Yes, Arch." I heard Chance say. Yay I get a bodyguard. That could either lead to a lot of fun or a huge headache. I was betting on the headache. Warrior males were more problem then they were worth.
"Renin," Arch said as he pushed the huge double doors to the council chambers open. "I want you to find a way to dull the blessing of the Gods on Jack. Find a way to weaken their ability to sense him. Use Wisdom if you have to. I want our home protected. I want everyone prepared. Strengthen the defensive ring of the Scout outposts and have striders work in teams of two. Do not scare anyone with the mobilization, either. I just want a show of force. I want striders stationed at the scout outposts as well." Arch seemed to be going down some mental check list. When the Alphas had their orders he dismissed them from the council room.
Now it was time for Arch and I to talk.
The moment the doors closed behind me I knew I was in trouble. Arch whirled around and growled, his eyes burning with some of that magic I knew he had. Ever since Arch's fire had made me sick I had made it a mission to never be near him again when he used it. Now I was stuck in the council room and had nowhere to run.
"All right Jack," Arch said as he stalked his way over to me, his hand moving and bracing itself against the wall behind me. I could feel the heat radiating off his body as he stirred the fire deep within him. Thankfully he didn't product it forward and into me. It just felt hot. "No more games, no more tricks. Tell me what happened!"
I stared up at him and tried to slip to the left, but the arm on that side of Arch slammed into the door, effectively trapping me between his arms. I had no choice but to look up at him. "I told you all ready." I said calmly, gulping and wondering if I was going to die.
"Bullshit!" He said, and moved his arms and glared down at me. "You're always weaving little lies and little tricks. I've had weeks to watch you, Jack. You operate under all sorts of little lies. I want the truth!"
I sighed and crossed my arms over my chest. I knew how to handle Arch. Don't be afraid of him. Don't let him see that he could boss you around. That was how you handled these huge guys who had nothing but power their whole lives. Arch was no better than the random guard who had bullied me back in the cities. "That's the problem with lying, Arch! No one actually believes me when I'm telling the truth!"
Arch sneered. "At least you admit you can't tell the truth. You're a brat, a whelp, and an insult to everyone here who is fighting to protect you. People are dying because of you, Jack. Reyna died!" Arch said with a slightly raised voice, his eyes still glowing red. "Now tell me what you know!"
"I don't know! I never even saw the Emperor! I only ever saw the outer walls of the capital! Why does he even WANT you wolves? Compared to you guys he lives in luxury!" I protested with an angry tone to my voice. I was yelling back. I yelled when I was angry. At least I didn't stomp my foot.
Arch growled and his hand moved out and I felt a spark of pain cross my muzzle and I winced, holding it. He grabbed me by my arm and dragged me to the huge table and then let go of my arm only to grasp the back of my head and point it downward at the table in front of me.
The table was a circular stone table with a unique mural cut into the stone. It was cut into four sections with a large circle in the middle. In the four quadrants were four moon symbols. One was a half moon, the other was a full moon, another was what looked like a blacked out moon and another a moon with clouds floating in front of it in a faint haze. At the center of the table was the crescent moon that everyone wore in these tribes. Arch held me there with his large palm and then spun me around until the small of my back was pushed into the stone table behind me.
"THIS is why he's interested. Everyone here knows the Outsider Wolves are the displaced tribe. The tribe that fell from grace and turned their back on everything the Gods stood for!" Arch said with a furious tone. "A long time ago there were four main tribes of the forest, the Half-Moon, the End-Moon, the Full-Moon and finally the All-Moon. This temple was the center of that trinity and no one lived here like we do today. This was a sacred place where people like Renin were common place. Where the Gods came and talked to us." Arch said with an angry growl, still holding me steady.
"However, the All Moon didn't like their portion of the forest. THey knew battling with other species in the woods was forbidden and they figured they could go outside the woods, to the west, where the Gods said their power could not go. They were warned but they didn't care. They wanted to expand and see the world, and the Gods let them. When they left they lost the protection of the woods, the sense of unity, the caste we're all born into! They could never return and they lost the Gifts like my Alpha have. They lost everything and they longed for it. Many tried to return only to be lost in the woods forever, dying of starvation or thirst. The gods scorned them for their imputence that this paradise they'd given them wasn't enough."
I listened, stunned, and for once I was quiet.
"Some of the blessings remained since the Gods were not cruel creatures, Jack. One of them is to sense their own. You. YOU!" Arch said with a shake to my arm. "You ARE an All-Moon child, what we call the Severed Moon! They are sensing you and THINK ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE! Arch roared loudly and threw me to the floor.
I grunted as I hit my shoulder onto the stone, and winced as I stood up. I stared at Arch and shook with rage. "I don't know anything about this...Severed Moon, Zane, or any kind of magic! I swear I don't know any of this!"
"Liar!" Arch said, grabbing one of the chairs and throwing it across the room as he advanced on me. I began to back up out of terror. "You're a liar and a thief, and I have every authority to beat the truth out of you if I have to, Jack. You will never lie again if I can have my way."
I kept backing up until my back touched the cold stone wall behind me. I gasped softly and saw Arch less than twenty feet from me. Just as I was sure he was going to do something with his fire the chamber doors swung open.
To my surprise Chance rushed in, followed by Avalon. Chance was moving fast and quickly grabbed Arch by his shoulder. Avalon stepped in front of me. Neither of them had their weapons drawn but both looked serious.
"Arch!" Chance growled loudly as he held the black wolf's arms. "Calm down."
"Reyna is dead, Chance." Arch said coldly, looking to his Alpha Warrior. "I need to know what he knows. Everyone is at risk because of him."
"He's an innocent, a child." Chance said through gritted teeth. "You also brought him here against his will. Explain how he could plan all that."
I saw Arch ponder this for a moment and then shook his head, his hand lifting some to grab Chance's forearm to try and pry it off. When it didn't work he growled. "Let me go, Chance. I promise to not kill him. I promise to even go gentle."
"No," Chance said flatly.
"What?" Arch said in surprise. That rocked him to his core it seemed. I don't think I had ever seen Arch so surprised. He narrowed his eyes. "That's an order, Chance. Stand down."
"No, Arch," Chance began. "I may be your Alpha-Warrior but I am also the Beta-Male. My role as Beta-Male is beyond any other duty. I protect and care for the children of our tribe, and you are fighting a boy with no chance of defending himself."
"Hey I--" I began but Avalon shot his hand out and slammed his white palm around my muzzle, holding me quiet.
"If you insist on pushing him for information you do it in front of me. I knew you were going to become emotional. I sent your orders forward, Alpha. Now let me do my duty. Dismiss me from my pack duty and I will step down from anything with power in your tribe, Arch." Chance threatened. Everyone knew Chance was the second strongest to Arch and knew more than Arch in terms of combat. If Chance became just a rank and file soldier for the tribe they would be very weak during a huge crisis.
I saw Chance turn toward me and walk over. His hand shot out and grabbed my wrist, yanking my arm up into the air and forced me to stand on my toes with a wince. I brought my other arm around to strike at him but I was only grabbed by his other hand.
"Hey!" I exclaimed, glaring at the same moment "I thought you were on my side!"
"Don't get me wrong, boy," Chance said with a voice so deep that it sounded like a growl more than speech. "My duty is to protect the cubs of this pack but I'm also here to protect the pack. If I find any evidence that you helped them in anyway kill Reyna I will flay your hide myself."
I gulped, but then looked at Arch. What was I supposed to say to this? Chance was just following some honor code of protecting kids and Arch was emotional. These few weeks I had come to depend on Arch to always be in my corner, at least enough to protect me enough that I wouldn't get more than a simple punishment. Now where was I at? I had no one believing in me and I felt the walls closing in on me. For the first time in weeks I felt alone again and I hated it.
"I didn't do anything but follow her and Renin because I wanted to see what they do, and where they were going. I was curious."
"Jack," Arch said as he stepped up as Chance put me down on my feet. "My job is to make sure everyone here is safe. Right now I have my wolves, my people, running around making sure we're safe. I have Siro and the Warboz and I summoned Ender and Apollo here. Things like this just don't happen, it's not done. My own command structure is weak. Ezia is a new Alpha-Scout and while she's qualified she doesn't have much experience in the position yet. Renin is the newly named Mage-Alpha and he's emotionally unbalanced because Reyna, someone who has pretty much raised him since his parents died, is dead. He's also barely older than you are and doesn't know the world or the responsibilities of being an adult. Slayn is married and emotionally linked to Avalon here. As much as I know he'll do his duty to the fullest his heart will cloud his judgments and his actions in the slightest ways. He's also new to his position. Chance here is my oldest friend and standing between me from punishing you. My Alpha, my lieutenants as you would say, are either inexperienced or emotionally compromised from being objective. I'M emotionally compromised. Reyna... she advised the old Alpha, my mentor and someone I consider a father." Arch's hand slid out and it fell right against my shoulder, giving it a squeeze as he stared down at me. "All this instability at the worst time. Jack, I just don't think you know how serious this is. And if you helped..."
I was furious. They were still blaming for all this and I was done with it. I snarled and slapped Arch's hand from my shoulder and yelled at the top of my lungs. "I HATE you! YOU took me here! You kidnapped me and stripped me of everything I knew! TELL ME WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO!! Do you think I'm that skilled? That I was able to piss you off enough that I knew you'd take me here?"
"No, but you could have been--"
"I never met the Emperor! I never saw the capital! I wasn't allowed in! No records, no papers, no one telling the guards I wasn't some begging vagrant, which I was! Don't act like I'm some genius 'cause I'm not! I'm just a kid!"
"Be that as it may," Arch said. "Tell me what I'm supposed to do? Your people are in our woods. They're invading, Jack. They want to get here, to you. Should I send you back?"
"I don't want to go!" I said at the top of my lungs and shook my head. "GOD I hate you! No one listens to me and no one seems to think I may actually like it here. I'm telling you everything I know!"
"Jack," Avalon said but I had enough of this. I just wrenched my arm away from him and ran toward the window. I spun around to face the three warriors and stared at the three of them. "I've cooperated. I never ran away. I never did anything but listen and obey. I may have back talked but this is the best place in my life. I'm not going to fuck it up because some Emperor told me to." With that I grabbed the ledge of the window and lifted myself over the side of it, and hung there, right as Arch ran up. "FIND me when YOU calm down. You always told me that I would be treated fairly here." I let go of the ledge and slid down the side of the marble, grabbing onto the sides of the protruding pillar, thinking it would be enough to get to the bottom of the temple. However the temple was slick and the stone far smoother than I expected. I ended up more falling then sliding and landed on my butt right at the bottom. I saw Arch glaring at me from the window, but I didn't give him much of a chance to do anything. I got up onto my feet and then ran along the side of the temple, not bothering to look back. Arch could find me if he wanted to and I was mad. He knew better than to argue with me while I was angry.
I ended up rounding the corner and skidding in the damp ground. It had rained the night before and the forest absorbed water. I nearly tumbled but found my balance and took off running. At least that was the plan until I bumped into someone hard enough it made me stumble backwards and nearly fell into the wet ground.
"Hey!" I shouted. "Watch where you're going!"
When I landed on my ass I looked up, expecting to have run into a Warrior or something. Much to my surprise the man who I had hit was not much bigger than me. "Hey!" I said with an annoyed groan as I staggered up to my feet and dusted off my thighs. "Watch where I'm going next time!"
The wolf in front of me was clearly a strider. He looked too much like Slayn and Raz, the only two striders I really ever talked to. He was shorter than the one male Scout I kept meeting and taller than Renin. His fur was a silvery blue and a white streak across the top of his nose and muzzle and came up at a point right between his eyes. His eyes were a blazing orange color that stood out so much against his pelt. I gave him a quick glance over and saw he wore a heavy looking orange loincloth made out of what looked like leather and linen. He had three pouches hanging from his belt and wore wrappings around his feet and palms. Unlike Slayn's, his ended at the ankle and the wrists where the Alpha-Strider's always seemed to go up to his elbows and knees.
"Eh?" The man said and looked confused for a moment before tilting his head to the side. I watched his expression change from a look of utter confusion to a smirk of amusement. "Last I checked everyone's responsible for their own collisions."
"Yeah, well, you missed the update from the council. Everyone's to get out of my way when I'm running at break neck speed." I said with a mocking tone. I wasn't sure why someone was going to screw with me. Letís see how this plays out.
"I did?" The man asked and looked shocked. It was so over the top that anyone would have known he was acting. It made me sigh. "I'll talk to Slayn right away, your Alpha-ness. Please, tell me what I can do to make it up to you." The wolf bowed in a very Outsider fashion that made me smirk for a moment.
WAIT! I was mad. I wasn't going to let this guy just make me laugh. I growled and shoved him. I saw him stumble a bit and straighten up. "Stop teasing me!"
The man sighed and rolled his shoulder before responding. He had patience. I'll give him that. "Just relax, okay? I'm having some fun. I'm not making fun of you. Though you should really be able to take it from what I hear." He stepped forward and just held his hand out to shake mine. "I'm Cirus, Strider-Delta."
I didn't shake. I was angry and this man was going to get all the attention! "What? Why do you think I should be able to handle it?!"
"You're Jack, aren't you?" Cirus said with a blank face now that the smirk was gone. "Arch's little pet from the Outside. Though not really pet, but you're definitely not used to us. I hear how you gamble and cheat the warriors and grin while you do it. You also don't get afraid when Arch yells at you."
"FIRST OF ALL!" I shouted, stepping up close and looking up at Cirus' face. "I'm no one's pet! I was taken against my will and I'm kept here against my will! I'm making the best of my situation."
"Huh. Funny." The strider said, grinning again as he rubbed his chin.
I growled. "What? What what what?!"
"You didn't say what I was expecting. I was ready for "I don't want to be here' but you do. I see it in your eyes when you talk about it. You like it here."
My eyes widened. Yeah. I liked it here but I didn't let on that I did. I may have enjoyed myself and liked things like fresh, warm food every day and warm blankets and someone to talk to who didn't treat me like a disease but... was I really showing people with just my expressions and actions?
"Shut...up." I said through gritted teeth and sighed as I looked over my shoulder at the temple. I was sure someone was coming down to find me. However I knew they weren't going to come running to hunt me down. Arch didn't run after me and neither would Chance or Avalon.
"Not having a lot of fun in the temple?" Cirus asked, making me turn my head again and pay attention to him. "Hmm. Want to get away from all this?" He said and motioned to the temple with his hand. "I don't have a home anywhere as nice as the temple but you won't be around anyone with a title of alpha for awhile."
I thought about it. What would it hurt? If anyone hurt me they would be in trouble with Chance and Arch. I still had the order looming over my head that any problems resulting in me were to be taken directly to him. Chance had also put his honor on the line in defending me as a cub, as much as I didn't like that. I knew I was safe. "Fine," I admitted. "But if it smells..."
"Oh, we bathe. Unlike your warrior friends. Follow me."
After getting cleaned up Cirus had showed me to where he lived. It was down the Strider Road as I liked to call it. The lines upon lines of tents of various sizes and colors was a place Arch very rarely went and I didn't like wandering places where he didn't usually go. I didn't realize then but the striders often sought Arch out.
Cirus' home was, as I expected, a tent. It was large though. Much too large to be living by himself. He held the flaps open for me and I saw he indeed had tent mates. The tent was circular and large with an open roof near the center peak of the tent so that the large fire in the center could expel the smoke. I also knew those openings could be closed over for when they wanted complete covering. There were no small rooms like with Slayn's old tent that I had been in twice. Instead there seemed to be folding screens up that gave some kind of idea of privacy. The floor was lined with thick furs that warmed my toes and pillows were here and there, scattered about almost haphazardly. I saw large mounds of blankets and a low table on the back half of the tent. It looked homey.
Two others rose up from the floor of the tent and one stretched. I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the flickering orange lighting as I saw they all looked to be about Cirus' age, which was young. One was a cinnamon colored wolf and the other was a solid steel grey color. Both were naked but quickly slipped a loincloth on around their waists. Cirus chuckled and slipped past me after he sealed the tent up. "You two putting on clothes for the Alpha's pet?"
"Pet?" I said with a faint growl to my voice.
"Not so much a pet as a favorite," The cinnamon colored wolf said as he stepped close to me and grinned. Like Cirus they were all half a head taller than me. "I'm Bane."
"And I'm Cort, and I apologize for my friends. They don't really have any manners since they got their promotions." The grey wolf grinned and clasped my shoulder in his palm. I was surprised at how rough it felt. The only one who had hands like that was Slayn. Their Alpha-Strider.
"Hey, I invited him over. The least you two could do is offer him something." Cirus said with a roll of his shoulders.
"Anything for the Alpha's pet." Bane said and walked over to grab a waterskin. He came over and handed it to me. I decided to be polite and took a mouthful of the liquid only to cough!
"What the hell is this?!" I said and cleared my throat again. "Burns!"
"It's a drink the End-Mooners brought with them." Bane said with a teasing grin. "You didn't throw up. That's impressive. I saw a warrior lose himself from one mouthful."
"Yeah, well," I said as I rubbed my muzzle with the back of my paw. "I'm better than most warriors."
"Ballsey," Cort said with a laugh and a flop into a pile of blankets on the floor. "So Ci, why is he here?"
"He looked like he could use some friends outside of the Temple. He climbed out that large window from the council room and slid down to the ground without breaking an arm or a foot. Ego seems bruised though."
"Wait," Bane said as he took the waterskin back from me and a sip. I watched him wince as it burned. "That wall's designed to be impossible to climb. Even Slayn and Ezia can't climb it."
"He went down, not up," Cirus said with a shrug. "Still, he managed to. He's got some talent."
"Thank you," I said with a grin and looked at all three of them. "One of many. So what are your...ranks?" I was still confused about their ranking system. Everyone had one but it wasn't as clear once you got away from the Council Members.
"We're the three Delta-Striders." Cort said with a smile. "We share the rank."
I must have looked confused because Cirus spoke up after Cort. "There's only one Alpha-Whatever, and one Beta-Whatever. Each Alpha can pick to have one or two gammas, and then there's three delta...and below that the ranks swell. Delta work in groups of three. We're kind of like--"
"Slayn's backup when Raz and Ghor are busy." Cort said. "Ghor is his Gamma and usually always out in the field with the scouts. I don't think he's even been back in months..."
"Which is why Raz does everything now that our Alpha found that warrior to snuggle with." Bane said with a grin. "Though Slayn really can pick 'em."
"Who? Avalon?" I asked. I didn't realize until now that maybe not everyone got to see their leaders as often as I had. I'd seen Avalon and Slayn hold hands, cuddle, kiss, and I swear I saw Avalon grope Slayn's ass once. But that was always in the temple. When I was in the town I was usually with someone important.
"Yup!" Bane said with a feral grin on his muzzle. "Big, powerful, and as close to Arch and Chance as you're gonna get! Slayn always had his eye on Arch but that ship sailed. Avalon is his world now."
"I heard Avalon got a special bed made so they wouldn't break it." Cort added.
"He's a warrior, he'd brag like that. Remember when you slept with that one warrior? She wouldn't shut up about your stamina."
"Hey, male warriors don't seem to go multiple rounds." Cirus said with a smirk. "That's where we come in. I'm not complaining."
I smiled. Why was I smiling? Since being here the only group of people I'd really known were the men and women in Arch's closest confidence. I had met some of the warriors when Chance had watched me for a day and I liked them but this... this felt different. I was smiling at their jokes and nodding to their comments.
They were regular wolves in this tribe and they were happy. I didn't realize it until now but people here were happy people. Sure everyone had bad days, Reyna used to enjoy making my life miserable and I in turn hers, but people here for the most part seemed to just enjoy life. Cirus, Cort, and Bane, regular men who probably didn't see their Alpha-Strider all that often were just gossiping about the people in charge and not in a spiteful way. Growing up I had heard so many people angry with a governor or the Emperor, but no one had said a bad comment about Arch or Slayn or anyone. They didn't seem afraid of them and while Arch was pretty scary when he was angry he never took that anger out on his people.
I had shifted to lie down on my side and pulled a pillow close to my head and felt myself dozing. I think I was just about to fall asleep when I heard a grunt from the other side of the tent. My eyes opened and I saw Bane stand up.
"Ah," Bane said as he rubbed his rear end. "I really should have gone running today. Lounging about is for the old."
"Or the feeble," Cort said with a smirk. We all watched as the tent flap was opened up. Bane tensed for a moment and I saw Cort's ears flick forward all the way, straining to hear what was happening outside.
"Bane?" Cirus said as he stood up but he didn't make it to the door in time. Bane stepped to the side and let through who had been standing there.
Avalon was here.
Everyone who wasn't standing was up on their feet. I remained lying where I was. While Avalon had been helping me in the council room earlier I knew I didn't have to do a damn thing he said and he hadn't done anything but prevent Arch from screaming at me. I rolled my eyes and laid my head down on the soft pillow and ignored the warrior.
"Warrior-Gamma," I heard Cort say with a tone of honest respect. "What can we do for you?"
"Beta," Avalon said as he stepped further into the tent and allowed Bane to close it. "I was just promoted an hour ago by Chance and Arch. The current Warrior-Beta is pregnant and she wished to be removed from the ranks to raise her pup."
I heard a few soft chuckles and the mood must have relaxed since the tone of respect vanished from everyone's voices. "This is Chance's first child. I can see him being very happy, but to get his wife to step down..." Cort said.
"Chance said she was willing to do it, if he promised to help with the children," Avalon said with a mild tone of amusement to his voice. "But anyway, my rank is Warrior-Beta as of now and I am here to find Jack."
"Ya found me," I said and waved a hand into the air and yawned lazily. I made a show of rolling and putting my back to Avalon. "And if you're here to drag me back to Arch you'll have to do just that."
I heard a gruff of annoyance from the red wolf. "Why are you being so disobedient when your life is at risk?"
"Psh," I grunted. "If I were going to be killed Arch would have done it and if he was ready to punish me right now he would have sent more then you to bring in Reyna's killer." I said with a mild sneer to his voice. "I don't come when Arch barks at me. If he wants me he can come here himself."
"Jack," Cirus said, that tense tone returning to his voice. He sounded nervous again. "You do exactly that. He's the Alpha Male."
"And I'm what? A prisoner. Kidnapped and being told I brought down someone impossibly more powerful than me. Yeah, I'm going to come running for a pat on the head."
"Dammit Jack," Avalon said with a growl. "Arch isn't going to kill you! He was angry...we all are, but the tension is calming down and he spent the last few hours with Renin listening to his story. It doesn't add up."
"Oh," I said and rolled over and sat up, grinning. "So when Renin says I'm not a killer it makes it all go away, huh. What about my own word?"
"You're a gambler...you don't follow the rules..." Avalon said with a surprised tone to his voice.
"But when was the last time you caught me lying? The good thing about a good bluff is you keep your word as clean as possible!" I said and shouted at him. "I don't want to get into this with a middle-man because Arch is afraid to talk to me!"
Everyone was silent at that. Yeah, I was the only one who talked bad about Arch. Maybe I was the only one who had any actual reasons to be mad at him.
"You should go," Cirus said with a shake of his head. "Regardless of your feelings he's given you a home here. Fed you, clothed you--"
"I'm almost naked!"
"--clothed you, protected you, and went so far as to look into all this to keep you alive. You owe him that much to go to him."
"I'll not let him hurt you," Avalon said. "I'll put my name and rank against it. Slayn will too."
That surprised me. I saw the three striders look to each other and then nod. It was as if they had come to some agreement without even speaking. "We'll be your witnesses and champions if you want."
"Champions." Bane said flatly. "You can pick someone to fight for you if your name comes up for a challenge. Avalon and Slayn are using their names to protect you from everything but a challenge to the death. If they step in to fight the warriors and striders could become destabilized and each group is now..."
"Calm." Bane said. "But we can fight for you and no one would think the leadership is fighting."
"This is ridiculous," Avalon said as he ran his palm over the top of his head. "No one is going to fight."
"I'll do it if they can come," I said as I stood up. "Otherwise no deal and you can drag me kicking and screaming and make all the scene I can muster, or fetch Arch to do it himself."
The trip back to the Council Room is quick once I get a nod that my new "friends" can come. I don't even know why I really want them there. I guess itís because if Arch decides to hurl fireballs they'll be more people to hide behind. I swallow nervously as Avalon pushes the huge double doors open.
At the council table is pretty much everyone of rank within the pack. Arch in his stone-like throne of a chair, Slayn to his left and Chance to his right. Next to Slayn is Raz, the Strider-Beta who I've talked to more than once. The empty seat next to Chance is, as I assume, for Avalon. Next to Raz is Renin, sitting there in his robes with his staff propped up against the back of his chair. He doesn't look up at me as I enter. I can see the dark patches of fur under his eyes and I know instantly he's been crying. I'd seen him angry but now maybe the grief of loosing Reyna is settling in. On Chance's side of the table there's two empty chairs. Ezia is nowhere to be found.
I hear a whistle behind me. Cort whispers. "I didn't think I'd ever be in here before!"
"Shut it," Cirus says. "Everyone's here, including Slayn."
"Keep talking," I say as the doors shut behind me. "I don't mind. This meeting is for me anyway. " I'm trying to be dominant. Trying to act cool and controlled and uncaring if Arch was the boss here. It scares me to think that I have absolutely no control here. If I want any say in what's going to happen then I'll make due and try to create some control.
Of course the Deltas behind me say nothing. Avalon has walked around and taken his seat next to Chance. I stand there for a moment before stepping closer but it's Cirus who sidesteps me and puts a hand on my shoulder with his body moving in front of mine and stopping me dead.
"Delta," I hear Slayn say with a warning tone. "Be wise to your actions."
"I am, Alpha-Strider." Cirus says with a gulp. He looks to Arch and tightens his grip on my shoulder. "We, the Delta-Striders, put our names forth for Protection against Death."
"Protection against Death..." Chance mutters. "Do you know what that means, pup?"
"It means that we'll die if a sentence for death is carried out against Jack." Cort says. Before I know it all three Delta are in front of me but they left enough room for me to peer through. "We know the laws of the packs."
"Irrelevant," Renin says and lifts his head. The boy rubs his eyes with his palm and chokes back a sniffling sound. Pathetic. If he had been in the streets he'd have been raped and killed. Someone dying, even someone like Reyna, doesn't need this many tears. "That protection can only be granted for blood kin or brothers in caste. Jack stands without kin and he has yet to be given a position. Right now he is a guest of the Alpha Male of the Half-Moon Tribe."
"Guest rights then," I say and push my way forward. "Surely there's things there that will protect me from this."
"Guest rights," Chance says and groans. "Young ones assume the most of every situation and typically the worst."
"Jack," Slayn begins. "Talking your way out of punishment isn't what we do. As wolves of the Half-Moon we stand and accept punishment."
"Even if itís wrong?" I snap at him and glare. I put my hands on the table and growl. "You...leaders, you're just as bad as the Emperor and the armies he's trying to send into the woods. You think that you're right all the time! You see things only one way and don't even listen to me when I try to stop you from killing me!"
"Enough!" Arch says and stands up from his throne. His huge, black hands rest on the stone table and he glares across from me. "I had hoped you'd be mature but it seems that you're annoyingly wet behind the ears. By the stars, Jack, I am not going to kill you! I claim you as my son as of this moment."
"You're my son. I am following in Kaudi's teachings and taking you as my son." He sounded so matter of factly. "Renin's story is full of emotion and I listened to it three times. I believe that you are linked to this in some way but I doubt you are able to undermine us so effectively."
"Maybe my heart just wasn't in it?"
I hear Raz and some of the Delta chuckle behind me. Slayn covers his muzzle with his palm and he seems hell bent on just keeping quiet. I sigh and roll my eyes.
Arch huffs, like always, and sits back down. "I'm going to have the mages use their... powers on you, to see what's going on. The best idea that Renin has, besides you being a clever mastermind, is that there's a spell or an object on you that is letting them, somehow, see through the Fog the forest makes that keeps the Outsiders out."
"I've put a dampening spell around your body," Renin said with a grunt as he seemed almost in a daze. "In essence you're cut off from the forest. No blessing is touching you. Only the strongest can get through and those are the ones established when the pack split into the four tribes."
"Jack," I hear Arch say with a quiet grunt. "This isn't going to be easy but we have a problem. The woods are being invaded and we are hosting the Tribe Meeting. We also have Apollo and Ender on the way and this place is going to be dangerous if the worst case scenario happens. The other Alpha could call for your head. I'm not going to let someone hurt you."
"Why did you get so angry with me earlier?"
"Why do you think?" He countered quickly. "Reyna is...was, my friend. Mentor. Advisor, and in a lot of ways a second mother to me. I lost a best friend and companion and I could have prevented it if I was there."
"Arch," Slayn says and then looks to me. "I'm sure you're aware of Arch's power; fire. He's one of four Elements in the world. We don't know much about their uses and their powers but Arch's power came to him because his personality is much like fire. When he's angry and loses control of himself he can become rash and dangerous. But he's also our Alpha Male and knows how to control it."
"So in other words he's prone to temper tantrums." I counter, crossing my arms over my chest.
"Boy," I hear Arch warn with a growl. "The fire in me magnifies my emotions. I don't usually get angry to the point of showing it. It takes a lot of skill to control my fire."
I give up. Trying to figure out this magic crap is giving me a headache. I rub the side of my head and sigh. All this for nothing? Everyone coming this round about way? It's weird to me. I just accept it since...well, part of me is happy I'm Arch's son now.
"So do I call you Dad now?" I ask with a groan. "Papa doesn't seem to fit you."
"You--" Arch began but there's commotion outside. The huge windows to the council chamber are open. I'm already rushing to the window to see what's happening. There's a group of wolves on the grass next to the temple, and what looks like to be a few cats. I can't tell the breeds.
"Ender," Slayn says over my shoulder and jumps onto the ledge of the huge window and grips the wall much like I had before. I see him sliding down the length of the post and hit the ground, rushing over to the group. I see some of group of people running off to somewhere. They look to be in a hurry. Is that a bear?
The rest of us not a strider (every single one of them had gone out the window it seemed) worked our way outside the council chamber. Arch has his arm on my shoulder and is walking very fast, almost dragging me behind him. "Arch, what's happening?"
Arch doesn't look down but he keeps walking at his fast rate. We get to the temple steps and began to walk down. "Ender's hurt."
"Ender? The Alpha of the Jaguar? How do you know?"
"I don't know." Arch says. Chance and Avalon are rushing over as the group parts for Arch. There's Ender, or I assume Ender, laying on the ground and clutching an arm to his chest. The jaguar is handsome, sleek and beautiful but powerful in his own feline way. His body is covered merely by a pair of leather trousers. The arm clutched to his chest looked shaved.. scarred, and a finger is missing. Blood is pouring from it. A bear is crouched behind him and holding him up in a sitting position. I stare at the bear.
"He's from the villages," I state in a bit of shock.
"He's fine," Ender says through a wince. Renin is there and touching his arm with his bare hands. I watch as small bits of green particles fall from his fingers and toward the cuts. "I vouch for him."
"Seems like Alpha are collecting Outsiders," Chance says as he looks to two warriors and points to the woods. The men are off and vanishing into the tree line. I'm still standing.
"What happened?" Arch asks quietly. There's voices behind us. People approaching. One voice sounds angry. The Warboz probably. The End-Moon and Full-Moon are here and their Alpha want answers. I know it.
"The Outsider Emperor," Ender states calmly. "He's in the woods, Arch. And there's more."
We pause for Ender. A cup of water is offered to him by the bear and he drinks it down with a hungry gulp. I stare. The anticipation is driving me mad!
"He's like you, Arch."
"Like me?" Arch asks.
"Not fire. Water. He can move water like you can move fire. My home is gone, Arch. Most of my leopards are dead. He killed them with water. He's on his way here, Arch. What the hell is going on?"
I wanted to know too.
To be continued...