In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2) (3 page)

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
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But my amusement ended abruptly when I caught another familiar aroma drifting on the breeze beneath my brother's, a scent that I certainly hadn't expected to discover at All-Pack. Apple cider and cinnamon, just like the outpack drifter who had peed upon my cairns.

And I didn't even need to hear the young werewolf yelp before I smelled his outpouring of pain and despair.

 

 

Chapter 3

"Perhaps you should've thought twice before trespassing."

Despite recent promises to my milk brother, the outpack drifter's scent had drawn me in like a bee to honey. As a result, I'd been unable to resist slipping past the guards' defenses and sidling closer to the dark corner of Justin's campsite where the drifter was being held, which is why I could now make out Justin's words so clearly. And as I listened, I noticed that my blood brother's voice had deepened since I last heard him speak...but that his words were just as harsh as I recalled.

As were his actions. The poor kid—because I could see now that the drifter hadn't yet achieved his full height—was strung up by a chain slung over a low branch and then manacled to the drifter's wrists, forcing the teenager to stand on tiptoes to prevent his arms from being wrenched out of their sockets.
Who brings manacles to All-Pack?
I pondered, then answered my own question:
A new alpha wanting to throw his weight around as much as possible and hoping the other packs will think twice before giving him a hard time.

Sure enough, although nearby shifters were sneaking glances toward the cries of pain emanating from this dark corner of the Young encampment, no one else had come close to offer assistance to the drifter. After all, Justin was technically within his rights in punishing the trespasser, even if his actions were distasteful. Presumably, the drifter had wandered onto Justin's land soon after leaving mine, and my blood brother had been unwilling to let the minor infraction slide. As alpha, Justin possessed free rein to do everything up to and including putting the kid to death...although that last punishment seemed unbearably harsh for such a young shifter who'd acted stupidly rather than with malice aforethought.

I couldn't see what was going on quite as clearly as I could hear the results, but the snap of a twig followed by a moan proved that my blood brother was quite willing to go beyond humiliation and into physical punishment to get his way. On the other hand, although painful, the slash of a twig was unlikely to do much lasting harm to Justin's prisoner.
Big brother is toying with the poor kid
, I realized.
But to what end?

"Are you willing to tell me why you came sniffing around my pack
now
?" Justin demanded as the kid cringed away from his captor. I'd slunk a little closer, careful to stay downwind and to keep my lupine form shielded by the winter-bare shrubbery around me. But it soon became evident that I needn't have bothered with subterfuge. Justin was too intent upon his own prey to realize that he was being hunted in turn.

"Did my brother send you?" the alpha continued, slapping the twig switch against one open hand in irritation that his questions weren't being answered. Before him, the kid merely shook his head wearily but refused to speak.

Ah, so
that's
his point.
Somehow or other, Justin had found out where the drifter had begun his trespassing career, and had probably gotten it into his paranoid brain that I'd sent the boy his way as a spy. What, exactly, I was supposed to want to discover about my brother was beyond me, but a flash of guilt sent a shiver down my spine despite the fur standing between me and the cold night. Chase had been right, as usual. I
should
have tracked the drifter down before he dug himself deeper into trouble. Suddenly, this teenager felt even more like my responsibility than he had previously, and I resolved to stop this charade as soon as possible.

Okay, who was I kidding? The second I smelled the teenager's happy-go-lucky scent charring into the flavor of burnt apple pie in the night air, I knew that I was going to break my vow to my milk brother and would end up getting us all into trouble. The question was, how to free the kid without bringing Justin's entire army down around my pack's ears?

"Nothing to say?" Justin asked as I stood pondering my options. The alpha continued to pace around the bound prisoner, and for the first time in seven years, I was treated to a glimpse of my blood brother's face.

I stifled a gasp. Chief Wilder hadn't been kidding. Watching Justin move through the moonlight was a bit like seeing myself in a fun-house mirror. On the surface, we looked so similar that we could have been twins, from our dark hair cut short above our broad shoulders down to long, lean legs. I suspected that if we stood back to back, Justin might be an inch taller than me now, but the physical differences were too minor to really notice.

Inside, on the other hand, Justin's wolf looked nothing like my own. My blood brother's animal half was greedily taking in the sight of the prisoner's pain. And when the drifter whimpered, Justin's wolf raised its snout into a triumphant—if silent—howl.

My own nostrils flared in response, and I had to force myself to drop down into a crouch and to close my eyes rather than leaping to the prisoner's defense immediately. So I heard rather than saw my brother's open-handed slap striking the drifter's cheek.

The action was another taunt and was so typical of my brother, Justin's way of saying that the prisoner wasn't man enough to handle a real punch. Also as usual, the older alpha appeared to have underestimated his opponent, because the kid's voice didn't shake when he finally spoke.

"I
told
you already that I don't know your brother from Adam," the drifter said, and he sounded so much like Chase that I opened my eyes to make sure my friend hadn't followed me out into the dark night. Nope, it was still just Justin and the pimply-faced youngster present. Although, when I peered closer, I saw that the boy's wolf wasn't as cowed as I might have supposed. Instead, the animal seemed to be biding its time, waiting for a chance to break away and flee into the night.

It was then that I decided to be brave and stupid and get the boy out before morning. I didn't want to wait until Justin managed to break the kid's spirit...or until the drifter got on my brother's last nerve and turned the torture session into an execution. And, to my delight, it looked like Justin was going to give me just the opportunity I craved.

"How about I let you
hang out
in the cold and think about whether that's your final answer, hmm?" Justin said at last, chuckling slightly at his own pun. The laugh was fake, though, proving that the alpha was as annoyed as I'd been impressed by his prisoner's mettle.

When no pleas were forthcoming, Justin turned on his heel and stalked out of the clearing, passing a pair of guards who had been stationed thirty feet away in order to keep a clearly incapacitated prisoner in line. These shifters weren't as heartless as their master, though, and both sneaked glances back at the strung-up teenager before one gathered his courage, cleared his throat, and halted Justin with a single word.

"Chief?" the shifter asked, then clearly wished he hadn't when Justin's cold glare sent the shifter's wolf cowering beneath his skin.

"
What?
" my brother demanded, tapping one foot impatiently at having his grand exit delayed. Once again, I rose to my feet and padded a little closer so I could hear the exchange more clearly. Not that I needed proximity to feel Justin's annoyance filling the air.

"Um, well..." In the face of Justin's annoyance, the guard clearly wished that he hadn't bothered his alpha in the first place, and he shot a glance toward his partner in hopes of being bailed out. The latter was an older man, probably twice my brother's age, but he seemed no more willing to stand up to Justin's wrath than the first shifter had been.

"
Well
...?" Justin prompted, and I shivered again at the coldness emanating from my brother's lips. Didn't he realize that you saved that kind of set-down for when it was really needed? No point in wasting alpha compulsion when a loyal guard simply wanted to ask a question.

No, apparently my brother didn't realize that. Over the years, I'd come to the conclusion that there were two ways to keep a werewolf pack in line—loyalty or fear. Justin had clearly chosen the latter route because he growled now, the deep rumble ripping through the night air. Before him, both guards lowered their eyes to the ground and turned their necks to the side in a show of instant submission, and the tension in my brother's form eased at last. Nothing like a little kowtowing to float a bully's boat.

With my brother's wolf no longer poised to spring for his own guards' throats, the younger shifter was finally able to speak. "I just wondered if we should give the prisoner any food or water," he said quickly, showing that the shifter possessed the ounce of compassion that my brother lacked.

Looking back over my shoulder at the dangling drifter, I could tell that the boy hadn't enjoyed access to either form of sustenance in quite some time. But Justin didn't seem to think refusing his prisoner the basic elements of survival was inhumane. "Why waste food on a cur that will be in the ground tomorrow?" he asked rhetorically, raising his voice to ensure the words carried to the boy he'd just left behind. Then, pointing silently at the guards' posts, my brother walked away, leaving his underlings to exchange glances then to turn their heads away from the clearing so they weren't forced to witness the kid's pain.

Well, that was alright. I'd have the boy back down on his feet soon enough, and then he could eat and drink until his belly rebelled.

Once I found a way to get my brother's prisoner to trust me, that was.

 

***

 

Time doesn't flow in quite the same manner for a wolf as it does for a man, so I was neither bored nor impatient as I lay beneath a bush, snout on paws, and watched my blood brother's encampment settle into slumber. Finally, as the moon reached its zenith, the older guard allowed the younger to go to his bed. Then I watched as the patrolling wolves similarly halved their numbers, leaving only two lupines stalking the boundaries of their property to ward off uninvited guests.

As these final two patrollers padded past my hiding place time after time, I couldn't help feeling a bit smug that they hadn't discovered where my scent trail crossed over their boundary line in the first place. But, really, it was my brother's own fault for choosing to settle here amid the trees. Two-legged, I'd had no problem climbing a nearby trunk, then I'd shifted to animal form long enough to leap from one long limb outside the boundary onto another long limb just inside my brother's domain. Only an alpha would have been able to shift back midair the way I had, ensuring that I possessed primate paws ready to grasp the second tree and prevent myself from falling upon reentry. But wasn't All-Pack chock full of alphas? Shouldn't my brother have come just as prepared for an aerial attack as he was for one coming along the ground?

Luckily for Justin, I didn't plan to attack. But I
did
plan to yank big brother's chain...or, rather, to unhook the chain that was currently causing his prisoner so much discomfort.

At last, even the older guard began to drowse at his post, which is when I crept forward on four paws and nudged the drifter's bare foot with my damp nose. (
And what had been the point of taking away the kid's shoes?
I wondered. Just another power play on my brother's part, or did he really think that lack of footwear would prevent an escape by a shifter who could turn wolf in an instant?)

"You..."

I'd known I was taking a gamble by bringing the kid out of his half-slumber before putting the second portion of my plan into action. After all, there was a good chance that the drifter would smell my aroma of pine needles and leaf mold and would mistake me for my brother, raising a ruckus before I was ready for the middle-aged guard to awake.

On the other hand, I could really use the drifter's assistance if both of us were going to walk out of here right under the patrolling werewolves' noses.

"You're...his brother," the drifter finished his sentence, keeping his voice to the barest breath of sound. Yep, this kid possessed far more smarts than Justin had given him credit for. In fact, the youngster was probably considerably more intelligent than my brother—not that I was saying much by that comparison. Justin's intelligence had always been approximately on the level of a chunk of granite, hard as a rock and equally dense.

"Wolfie Young, at your service," I replied, shivering as my fur faded away and exposed my human skin to the bitter night air. "Are you strong enough to shift?"

"Yeah," the kid responded. "But it doesn't do any good. I tried already—the collar keeps me dangling and I just about hanged myself the last time I went wolf."

The boy's words spurred me to look more closely, and I picked out what I'd missed from a distance. My brother had figured that manacles weren't sufficient restraint to keep his prisoner in line and had added a metal collar around the kid's throat. A second chain extended from collar to branch above, and my blood—already simmering at the teenager's mistreatment—came to a boil.

Not that I was surprised by the sight of the hard, metal collar. I'd already figured that the drifter was well and truly trapped or he would've found a way to sneak past the guard and the patrollers without my help. So I simply shrugged and squashed anger at my brother. This kid needed a level-headed rescuer to keep us both on track, so I resolved to take up my beef with Justin at a later date. "Not a problem," I said simply. "What's your name?"

"I'm Wade," the boy answered. "I'd shake your hand, but, well..." He shrugged as best he could with both arms pulled taut above his head, and I had to give the kid credit for insouciance in the face of harsh odds.

BOOK: In Deep Shift: A Wolf Rampant spinoff serial (Bloodling Serial Book 2)
9.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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