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Chapter 1

Monday, January 22

(Cole’s POV)

It’s the jarring of the bus as it turns off the main road onto the gravel drive that wakes me from my slumber. It’s been a grueling twelve hour ride from my home pack, Red Fang, southwest to Crimson Dawn. I’ve heard rumors about this pack. Both from those who have visited through the warrior prospect program and just the general rumors that float around about every pack.

It’s one of the hardest packs to get into through the prospect program and a warrior from Red Fang has yet to be offered a position here. Now that I think about it, I don’t think any of our warriors have ever made it into the second run anywhere, at least not during the year and a half since my father started allowing me to attend. This makes me wonder how much of the selection process is based on skill versus the negative rumors that float around.

Crimson Dawn is said to be a strict and unforgiving pack. That, just like my own, it’s easy to find yourself laid over a desk on the receiving end of a thin leather belt. These are the only packs my father allows me to go to. The ones with the harshest reputations for killing rogues and intolerances for anyone weak or different. The rumors I’ve heard about us are no different. That every pack, within the maximum twelve hour drive, sees us as barbaric and cruel. I can’t help but agree as my father is both, at least he is towards me.

Every pack that joins the prospect program has three choices; accept warriors into their training program but don’t send any out, send warriors out to other packs but not accept any in or they do both. After five years of no one from other packs requesting to come to ours for training my father changed his status in the program so that he simply handles warriors from his own pack plus White Fang and White Moon packs. This year is the first time Crescent Moon has joined since we allied with them.

This particular run is the first time that my father has one hundred and twenty wolves between four packs participating, which means we have a full roster of twenty-four wolves, between Red Fang and our newest ally Crescent Moon, on this bus. My understanding is that membership in each costs money and it was cheaper for my father to change to simply sending warriors out then to continue waiting for warriors to come in.

I am the youngest son of Alpha Charles Redmen, the alpha and sole leader of the Red Fang pack. I am the youngest of his six kids. I was born prematurely and, unlike my twin Chloe, struggled to breathe on my own. I guess that’s where everything started. My father wanted nothing to do with a weakling like me. So I became the son he didn’t want, the son he felt was undeserving of my very life.

I yawn and slowly stretch, careful to stifle the yelps desperate to jump from my throat as the injuries from the beating I sustained Saturday night have yet to start healing. I peek outside the large window of the charter bus that had been sent to my pack to pick us up for the ride to Crimson Dawn. It’s the first time I’ve been on one so large and comfortable. To cut down on the amount of time prospects were on the road the council recently mandated that only charter buses could be used on trips over three hours so drivers only had to stop for meal breaks.

The darkness outside adds to my general unease of being away from home. I was one of the first ones on the bus, eager to get away from the place that has never been home for me yet my anxiety spikes every time I enter a new territory. I’ve been to three packs since my father caved and started allowing me out of the territory. The alpha of all three packs were similar to my own, intolerant of my medical and mental health weaknesses. I take a large assortment of medication when I’m able to get my hands on them. I look down at my hands as I feel them start to shake, silently cursing my father for preventing me from walking to Red General where I had several months of asthma and anxiety medication waiting for me. It’s been a grueling three and a half months since I ran out of the majority of my medication. I ran out just two weeks before returning early from the Red Moon pack and it’s been impossible for me to get over to the hospital to pick up more. He has gone out of his way to force me to participate in our private training sessions. At least that’s what he calls it when he talks to the rest of the pack about me.

Even as a young adult I’m subjected to his abuse, his torment. My body still aches constantly from Saturday night’s beating and I haven’t quite shaken off the concussion Andre gave me. Recently, even my oldest brother and his luna have joined in his sick game. All my life I’ve been called weak and undeserving of the alpha title. That his beatings were designed to strengthen me, to teach me how to be the brutal alpha he feels is proper and respectable. He ruined my chances of ever being an alpha when he took a whip to me on my fifteenth birthday. It will be eight years since he changed my life completely in just five more days. On Saturday I will turn twenty-three, not that it matters much. Unlike the rest of my siblings, my birth has never been celebrated.

I know that at five foot ten inches I’m on the small side for an alpha, where the average height is six foot to six foot two inches, but I am not tiny. When I’m in my best condition I’m a stocky but muscular two hundred and twenty pounds. I’ve been to three packs since I’ve started the program. All three packs sent everyone in Red Fang home after only three months and anyone that gets booted early has to wait for the next run to start. Every run is a total of six months with some prospects hopping from one pack to the next for eighteen months before returning home. To my knowledge that has never happened to a Red Fang warrior.

I steady my shaking hands by starting into my most common stim, squeezing my hands into tight fists before relaxing and doing it again. It doesn’t take long, as I absentmindedly look out the window, to develop the calming stimulation that I need to deal with my growing anxiety. Oddly, the last pack I was at, Red Moon, was the first time that I was on medication during the run. It did help with the initial meeting and testing but it wasn’t enough to keep my nightmares away.

The full moon is a blessing as it illuminates the dense forest that borders the long drive into the Crimson Dawn territory. My wolf whines lightly in my head as my peaceful beast has never had the true ability to simply run through the forest as other wolves have. We found out the hard way that I will never be a “normal” werewolf. My father’s hesitance to allow me to join the program makes me wonder if he’s discovered my biggest secret, one that I want no one to know. That the whipping eight years ago permanently damaged the nerves in my lower back, making it impossible for me to shift safely. This has resulted in me doing everything in my own power to keep everyone, both my packmates and anyone involved in the program, from finding out that I’m a non-shifter.

Normally non-shifters are werewolves who are born without their wolves. True non-shifters are quite common in the omega and gamma ranks with about fifty percent of the omega rank being affected. It is extremely rare, only around five percent, to find a non-shifter in the alpha rank and even those that are found tend to be in a similar situation as me, with permanent damage that keeps their shift from being safe.

Their ability to inherit and retain the werewolf’s super fast healing depends on when their injury happens. If it happened before their first shift then their ability to heal remains in a child-like phase. While werewolf pups still heal quickly compared to humans or hi-brids, it still takes four weeks for a pup to heal the same injury that takes an adult only one. Which is the situation I’m in, when in good condition it takes about four weeks for me to heal a broken bone. No matter the circumstances, a non-shifter cannot be a warrior as a non-shifter is just as vulnerable to being easily killed in battle as a pregnant she-wolf or a pup. Fortunately my end goal is not to become a warrior.

My desire is to gain two things and two things alone. I’m using what little training I receive from each pack and creating it into my own self-defense. Since all training is geared towards the shifting wolf I have to modify it to fit my needs but I’m a fast learner and very creative. It’s in this way that I intend to formulate a means of defending myself strictly in my human form. My second goal is finding my mate. The one and only she-wolf that the Moon Goddess has created just for me, my other half.

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