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

In Deep Shift

 

by Aimee Easterling

 

Copyright © 2015 by Aimee Easterling.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.  The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
Read more about my books at www.wetknee.com.

 

Author's note

Chronologically,
In Deep Shift
takes place after
Bloodling Wolf
and before
Shiftless
, when Wolfie is 22 years old and has been the leader of his own pack for nearly a third of his short life. As a result, this novelette will make sense if read at any point in the series after
Bloodling Wolf
.

I should also mention that I owe this story's first line to
The Druid Song
by the Bobs, a funny and beautiful a cappella ditty that lines up perfectly with Wolfie's sense of humor. Yes, Wolfie's statement is a paraphrase only....

 

 

Chapter 1

If pee falls in the forest, and no one's there...should I care?

Chase and I clearly fell on opposing sides of this philosophical conundrum, as evidenced by how quickly my milk brother shifted into human form and donned a scowl upon smelling the intruder's scent mark.

I, on the other hand, was more interested in teasing out exactly who had come to call rather than in getting offended at the trespass.
Lone male werewolf, halfway to adulthood and skulking around the edges of our territory
, reported my sensitive lupine nose. And, for a moment, I considered going out of my way to track the outpack shifter down, feeding him a meal if nothing else before letting him continue on his way.

Or maybe I should give the kid a clue that most alphas wouldn't be as long-suffering as I am when they catch a strange male sniffing after their girls?
Because that's what the outpack shifter had been looking for—unmated females. I could smell the lust and yearning in his urine deposit.

Okay, sure, so every teenage boy has his mind in the gutter. But most at least possessed an iota of self-preservation that would prevent them from marking across an alpha's own peed-upon cairns. The trespasser might as well have included his phone number and "Call me for a good time" while he was at it—I'd definitely recognize the kid next time I saw him in person.

My father or brother would have been seeing red right about this time, but I instead found the situation increasingly hilarious as I followed the stranger's minuscule stream of urine from mark to mark. Some over-zealous wolf pup thinking he could challenge my boundaries? I could tell from his scent that the invader was barely old enough to shift, probably a gangling fifteen year old whose human face was covered with acne and who still stumbled over his own lupine feet. The kid would be lucky if he didn't drizzle urine all over himself while trying to figure out how to lift a leg and direct the stream.

I huffed out a canine laugh at the mental image, but my companion Chase just scowled. "You can't really let him get away with that," my milk brother chastened me quietly, laying one hand upon my lupine ears and shaking me none too gently. Chase wasn't an alpha, which meant that he didn't actually care about whose dick was the longest, but he still spent an inordinate amount of time looking out for my dignity. Good thing too since someone had to do it...and that person certainly wasn't going to be me.

On the other hand, while I preferred patrolling our boundaries in lupine form, this conversation was getting too complicated for ear flicks and whines. So I lunged upwards, hands forming out of paws and snout receding in the time it took to turn back legs into...well, just legs.

"Let him get away with what?" I asked my best friend, still grinning at the cheeky bastard who had passed by here only a few hours earlier. "Get away with urinating on a few stones in the woods? I think I'll survive the threat to my manhood."

Chase swatted my bare shoulder, and I responded by grabbing his neck and giving him a noogie. Yeah, yeah, I know. Real mature. In my defense, Chase and I weren't much more than pups ourselves, despite the fact that I was ostensibly the alpha of our little band of runaways. Seven years after leading a heaping handful of disgruntled shifters away from our home pack, Chase's mother Tia still made most of the day-to-day decisions for our clan. And although I was the one saddled with the title "alpha," no one kidded themselves that I was any more than a symbol. The bloodling son of our previous alpha—who better to prove that each member of our new pack was judged on the basis of his or her own merits rather than on vagaries of birth? But nobody really expected a bloodling to get involved in the day-to-day running of our pack, and I saw no reason to raise their expectations any higher.

A figurehead. Now there's a job I could get behind. Standing on the prow of a ship buck naked and letting everyone admire me—sounded like a pretty good life.

For a moment, I allowed my mind to wander to thoughts of a life at sea. Had werewolves ever sailed the open ocean? If I found myself shipwrecked, would I be able to dive off the floating debris and catch a shark? Maybe hitchhike a ride on a dolphin while two-legged?

"Wolfie?" Chase asked, bringing my attention back to our woodland patrol duty. "Are we going to hunt the stranger down or not?"

Reluctantly, I allowed the imagined salt wind to fade, then I rolled my eyes in lieu of answering. Vanquishing a fifteen-year-old didn't sound like nearly as much fun as hunting sharks. So I just shook my head, squirted a solid stream of my own urine over top of the stranger's, and fell back down onto four legs before turning my nose toward home.

And even though he clearly disagreed with my decision, Chase didn't push the topic. Instead, he followed suit, donning fur and trotting in my footsteps as we high-tailed it back toward our clan's little village. I could smell Tia's cookies baking from a mile away, and if we galloped, we were likely to arrive just as dessert came hot out of the oven.

 

***

 

But the sight that greeted us back home was less enticing than the milk and cookies my companion and I had raced out of the woods to consume. Instead, we came shoving and yipping through the door...and stopped dead at the sight of our entire pack congregated within Tia's living room.

There at the center of the drama stood my uncle Oscar, an envelope gripped between thumb and forefinger and his nose wrinkled up in distaste.
He looks like a housewife lifting
a trapped mouse by the tail before flinging it out the door
, I thought. And then, despite the tense emotions of the shifters around me, my attention wandered off on a tangent.
Mmmm, mouse. Their little bones crunch so deliciously, and their tender hearts taste like the world's freshest pâté....

Actually, in wolf form, mouse sounded much nicer than cookies. Perhaps I had time before dinner to go out and rustle a few vermin out of the shed? Just an appetizer—it really wouldn't ruin my appetite for the main course....

Chase's human hand fell lightly atop my lupine ears and I knew the gentle touch was meant to remind me of my role within the pack. Immediately, the memory of fresh mouse fled from my taste buds and a much less pleasant aroma wafted into my nostrils to take its place.

Justin—blood brother. Just who I don't want to see. Or, rather—smell.

I growled despite myself, eyes scanning the room before they fell upon the offending missive in my uncle's hands. Wasn't it just like my big brother to send a letter rather than facing me head on? I hadn't set eyes upon Justin for approximately a third of my life, but seven years didn't seem like nearly enough distance to place between us. What was the big hurry? Couldn't my big brother wait to see me at our next family reunion—you know, the one scheduled to occur when hell froze over?

Taking a deep breath, I ignored my building irritability and curiosity and instead focused on the needs of my pack. In a perfect world, I would follow Chase's lead and turn two-legged so I could soothe the worried emotions swirling around me...and also so I could read the letter clenched in my uncle's hard grip. Because, even though my lupine nose could pick out Justin's signature aroma from several feet away, the words on the envelope seemed to scatter as I looked toward them, and I couldn't so much as read my own name.

On the other hand, I knew that I wouldn't be able to provide the strength my pack needed if I regained humanity right then. Not with my unfortunate tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve while two-legged. I'd like to think that I'd matured enough to keep my temper in check around my worried pack mates, but I was bound to at least wince at my brother's taunt.

Because taunt it must be. Justin would never send a letter just to shoot the breeze, nor would he offer assistance in keeping my young pack fed and happy. No, my dear older brother would have found a way to stick a knife into my back, and this letter would be the twist of the handle that took out my heart.

Luckily, Chase possessed the acting skills that I sorely lacked. So when my friend glanced my way, human head tilted to one side, I lifted my lupine chin in agreement and watched as my milk brother accepted the letter out of Oscar's hands.

Every eye in the room was now trained on my milk brother as Chase tore through the flap of the envelope and pulled out the letter itself. The scent of my blood brother grew stronger in the air as Chase read silently, Tia and Oscar perusing the letter over his shoulder. I watched the trio with a predator's eye, analyzing the letter's contents through the minute expressions flitting across their faces, and by the way strong emotions changed each shifter's scent. Chase's nostrils flared with what I suspected was outrage on my behalf, while Tia's eyes squinted together in anticipation of my pain. But no one else noticed the signs of distress beneath the readers' clenched jaws and quiet demeanor—unlike me, my family possessed nerves of steel and knew when to keep their tension hidden deep inside.

Well, if my inner circle could appear so calm while two-legged, then surely I could strive to exude at least as much confidence while in lupine form. I took in a deep breath through my nose, doing my best to calm the adrenaline rush that had tensed my muscles as soon as Justin's scent filled the air, then I sank down into a relaxed sit at the same moment that Chase crouched onto his heels by my side.

My milk brother's intent had clearly been to bring his eyes level with mine, and I suspect that Chase didn't even notice how Justin's note now dangled nearly forgotten in one hand. But all I could really focus on was the scent of gun metal emanating from that paper while Chase informed me that my—and Justin's—father was finally dead.

Good riddance
. I knew I wasn't alone in that sentiment due to the murmurs emanating from the surrounding shifters, their words muted but cautiously joyful. We'd all spent the last seven years looking over our shoulders and expecting to be dragged back to my father's pack at any moment. So learning Chief Young was dead would be a weight off all of our shoulders...until, that is, Oscar prompted Chase to read the second paragraph of the letter aloud.

"
You won't be surprised, I'm sure, that I have stepped into our father's shoes,
" Chase quoted, Justin's harsh words sitting awkwardly on my milk brother's warm voice. "
We all know you're not alpha material, and after all, I
am
the older son.
"

Pausing, Chase let his hand fall onto my ears once again, asking without words whether I really wanted to hear this now, in front of our pack mates, where I'd need to hold onto my emotions with an iron fist.

And, personally, I would have
liked
to burn the letter unread. But a glance in Tia's direction confirmed that we couldn't afford to stick our thumbs up our butts and ignore the implied threat that my blood brother's letter represented.

So I just nuzzled Chase's hand until his eyes dropped back down onto the letter that lay between us. "He wants you to come to All-Pack," Chase continued, not reading now, but summing up the rest of the missive in his own words, likely smoothing over the rough edges while he was at it.

But Oscar once again interrupted. "Don't paraphrase," the older shifter said firmly, his face pinched as if he'd smelled something foul. And not the good kind of foul that a hunting wolf might roll around in to mask his own scent. More like the hurt-your-nose scent of bleach accidentally mixed with ammonia while cleaning out the bathtub—unpleasant and dangerous all at once.

"Okay," Chase said, willing as always to obey even a submissive wolf like my uncle. Still, my milk brother had to pause and gather himself before he was able to read out Justin's final demand:

"
I'll see you at All-Pack, where I expect your full support as I'm sworn in as chief of Clan Young. Don't be late, little brother. Don't betray me, or you'll be sorry.
"

Justin obviously meant the entire letter to be a slight.
Ha!
he was saying.
I always knew I'd take over Dad's job, and, more importantly, his power. You, little brother, will show up at my beck and call, a mere lackey whose worth lies in your ability to increase my status within the packs.

But if my blood brother knew me at all, he'd understand that I'd never wanted his current job. Alpha of a hidebound pack of back-biting uncles and cousins? I'd rather wrestle ten sharks at once while in human form. (Actually, shark-wrestling might be fun....)

And yet, I couldn't help wondering if perhaps the time was finally right to make my own foray into All-Pack politics. Perhaps I was strong enough in my alpha powers to claim this little sliver of land that our clan had been squatting on for the better part of a decade. Perhaps the other alphas were overdue a reminder that the name "Clan Young" didn't refer
only
to my father's—now my brother's—pack.

That thought was enough to still my anger sufficiently that I felt safe shifting back to two legs at last. And as I did so, Uncle Oscar pulled me into a hug. "I'm sorry about your father," he offered, although his scent belied his words. Yes, Oscar was honestly saddened that I'd been hurt by Justin's letter, but he wasn't any sorrier than I was to see the back of that wily old bastard. No worries—I thought the old man was an asshole too.

So I voiced the emotion that lay uppermost in both of our minds. "That old codger?" I replied, letting my eyes scan across the assembled shifters. "He finally got what was coming to him. And I figure it's just about time for my brother to receive his comeuppance as well."

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