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Ghost hides no more

[cross posted were_ghost and blood_quarter ]

(Private Post)

Ghost liked his night with René. He really liked it. Which is why he was standing beside his Indian in his boat shed. That night might end up being a one-night stand, though he sincerely hoped not for it had definitely awakened something in him besides his beast and his lust. The experience confirmed that he wanted to live again not just exist and the only way that was going to happen was to face what was hanging over his head - namely a death sentence.

Ghost was a strong wolf, leader quality, and the last six months had seen him cowering in the swamps of Louisiana. No more. He was not responsible for the death of his mate, the sweet Lucinda. That overbearing cur of a werewolf, Mitch, was the real killer. The leader of Salmo-Priest Wilderness pack had the whole pack fooled in to thinking that Ghost was a rabid dog. Ghost bore some of the responsible for the other pack members’ reaction. His loner status gave them little insight into his real character. His size and erratic behavior fueled the speculation so when Mitch had produced his carefully doctored evidence it didn’t take much for the other weres to fall for his version of the events. Ghost was convicted of his mate’s murder and Mitch ordered Ghost’s death.

Ghost could not let that happen. He had a solemn responsible to fulfill. He had to see the next Ghost birthed. Besides he would throw himself in the ocean or down the deepest hole before he’d let a scoundrel like Mitch hang his hide on the wall.

Ghost packed his bedroll, some dried meat and the strongest coffee he could brew and headed north. It would take him longer for the return journey than his hasty flight six months previous. He needed to arrive in top fighting form. Losing was not an option. He would fight every male member of the pack if he had to. He’d leave New Orleans behind and take up leadership of the pack if necessary but he would not lose. That thought saddened him. Ghost had just found the beautiful René - A mere human who despite his size could match him in the bedroom. He wanted to see the beautiful young man again and go a few more rounds. Maybe then he might find out what bolster his extraordinary energy.

The miles and days flew by. Ghost stopped in a town at noon and a wooded or isolated spot each night. He would dine on the local fare for lunch and hunt the local wildlife in the evening then bed down as a wolf. He would use the bedroll only if he needed to sleep near humans.

On day six his nose picked up the distinct stench of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness pack. Mitch prouded himself in keeping unaccepted creatures away by announcing the pack’s presence to every other were within a 100 mile radius. The puritanical leader believed in the distinct separation of the different were species. Ghost would have never considered joining such a pack until he saw Lucinda. She snared and enthralled him with her mere presence. Now to think that any future son of his would have spent even a year within Mitch’s reign of superiority and biased is unconscionable. Ghost had very little contact with other were species but he knew they existed and had value like the wolves. He had sensed that in New Orleans the weres lived in peace with one another and none were forced to join the pack if they choose to live solitary.

Ghost stashed his bike in an old ranger post before ascending into the pack’s true range. Confusion. The scent had been strong on the borders but grew weaker the further he ventured in to the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains. The air was sluggish and the game nervous. There was the taint of spilt blood on the breeze.

Ghost stopped cold. He reached out with his senses. The scent of blood was growing. His nostrils flared collecting the molecules riding on the air currents. It was old blood, several days at least, and there was a lot of it.

A war? No, Mitch kept the pack far enough from any other weres. Perhaps some rival moved into the area. Wait, could someone have discovered Mitch’s deception and challenged the arrogant SOB. That could have thrown the pack into civil war. There were those who didn’t care for Mitch’s politics, and others who followed him like a wet-behind-the-ear whelp.

Ghost advanced cautiously now. He used all his powers of camouflage to mask his passage through the silent land. The one thing he couldn’t disguise was his scent. Another were might not be able to see him but they could smell him. A good roll in the leaves might reduce that risk but he had a feeling that he didn’t have the time.

The smell got stronger and stronger the farther he ventured in the heart of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness pack lands. It got so bad that it threatened to overwhelm him. A bandana tied over his nose and mouth lessened the effect on his sensitive nose and allowed him to continue.

Ghost took several more steps and a shiver went down his spine. He could feel them now. They were dying. His mate’s family and the rest of the pack were dying. Their pitiful whines stung his ears.

He increased his speed, caution thrown aside. He may have been an outsider to Mitch and a few pathetic sycophants, but while courting Lucinda he had gotten to know the best of the pack. To think that weres he would have called family might be seriously hurt tore at him.

He darted through the forest and up into the lower range hills where the pack’s caves were hidden. The wildlife would have scattered at his approach if they hadn’t already fled when the violence had broken out.

Ghost found the first of the victims at the fringe of the pack’s sacred inner circle. It was two males: a couple of Mitch’s favorite cronies, Alex and Brad. Their throats had been ripped out and their bodies run through by broken branches. They were left hanging from the trees like pathetic puppets whose strings had been cut. If it was not so horrific, Ghost might have found some satisfaction in their deaths. The two had almost caught him when he fled the pack lands six months ago. They would have been happy to see him cut down.

The next body was that of young Peter, an adolescent were who shouldn’t have been on guard duty. Ghost could see where Peter had made scratches in the tree bark, a sure sign of boredom. The poor whelp hadn’t seen death coming. The rest of the bodies were clustered around the entrance to the caves. At first glance it didn’t look like anyone had been spared, but Ghost could hear the whimpers of pain emanating from deeper in the caverns. Someone was alive, but for how long he couldn’t guess. There was another scent too. Not pack. Perhaps a rival pack had taken out his home pack, but there were no unknown bodies among the corpses.

Ghost zigzagged across the clearing, trying desperately to not step on a bloody limb or shattered skull. There had been enough violence; he would not add to it in their death. Inside, the scene was appalling. It sickened him. Most of the bodies were females or pups. Disgust gave way to rage. They were all dead, all dead, cut down as they sought the security of the impenetrable rock. The rage flared and multiplied and threatened to score his very soul.

Lying in the middle of the carnage was Mitch, his body partially covered by that of a female. His stiff fingers were tangled in the she wolf’s hair. Her mane of sable curls obscured her features. Ghost circled around the bodies until he came alongside the slain woman. He reached out with shaking fingers and swept the hair from her eyes. Ghost growled. It was Lucinda’s sister, Laina, and she was pregnant. It looked like Mitch had used her as a shield, though it did him no good. It just delayed the inevitable. He was just as dead as the others. He was ripped open from breast to groin. Ghost should have felt some loss for one of his species but he only felt anger for the former leader’s cowardice.

Ghost yanked the fragile body away from Mitch. He didn’t deserve to share the same space with something so pure even in death. He lifted the female’s swollen body into his arms and gently transferred her to one of the chiseled ledges along the wall. He was as tender with her as if she and her unborn still breathed. He gently straightened her limbs and smoothed her hair. He remembered that she had always been so particular about her hair when in her human form. The simple ritual helped to temper his rage.

He paused. Who had done this? Who could callously slaughter innocent pups and pregnant females? The moans of pain reminded him that not all had died in violence. Ghost left the female in peace, skirted the bloody remains of the pack and moved down the rear tunnel toward the direction of the pained sounds. He could do nothing for those outside or in the outer chamber right now. They were dead. He would think of how to bury them after he helped those who still lived.

He found six young males in a side storage chamber. All of them were bleeding. Two had the presence of mind to shift in order to aid their recovery. The others were either licking their wounds or caring for another. The males were all just barely adults. They were not warriors but they were no longer pups. Mitch would have assigned them to a master teacher who would teach them how to hunt and defend the pack. They were strong but would have backed down before a superior force. The pack had obviously been attacked by a superior force. Strange that the foreign scent he detected throughout the cave was of a single variety. Could a single entity have done all this damage?

Ghost approached slowly, not wanting to spook the traumatized weres. When he was close enough he noticed that one of the survivors had a white streak on his muzzle. The same marking as his dear Lucinda. It was her nephew, Lucius. His mother was the female that Ghost had laid out in the outer chamber.

“Ghost?” Another young male limped over to the newcomer.

“Traitor!” shouted another. The young male pushed the injured were out of the way and launched himself at Ghost. It might have been a better attack if the much younger male hadn’t been bleeding from several serious slashes across his belly. The loss of blood and lack of fresh food and water had taken their toll. Add to that the young male’s inexperience, and sidestepping the charge was child’s play. Ghost reversed direction as soon as the male passed him and then locked his arms around the enraged were’s torso. The young male growled and struggled in Ghost’s hold. Ghost tightened his grip, putting pressure on the tender wounds. The were cried out in pain but didn’t still. He struggled more. Ghost could appreciate the youthful determination. The young were would need it in the days and weeks ahead. If the whelp lived he would be a fine member of some new pack. Ghost had some contacts. If these males didn’t wish to continue the pack he would help them to find new ones.

The whelp wiggled again. “Be still,” Ghost growled low in his ear. “You only aggravate your wounds.” The alpha tone of his voice acted like a drench of cold water. The young man ceased his struggles. Ghost did let up the pressure but he didn’t release his hold. The young man tensed up again and then twisted violently, freeing himself.

“Why should I? You did this! You did this to us!” he bellowed.

Ghost sighed. “I did nothing”.

Ghost looked around the room at the others. One face showed disgust and another hurt and confusion. He didn’t know who had caused this but he would find out and avenge it.

The young were turned and dropped into a crouch. His panting was audible in the small space. “You have destroyed us. She came for you and when she learned that you had been placed under a death sentence she attacked.”

“Who? Who attacked you?”

“She called herself Katerina.” The young were fought for breath. His strength gave out and he collapsed. One of the other weres rushed forward but Ghost got there first. He propped up the wounded were and tried to calm him.

Katerina. He knew the name. It was the name given to his great, great, great grandmother. It was the name his father had told him about when he was just a pup. The name of the woman who had visited his grandfather and told him of his heritage. Could it be true that like himself, each generation honored that name and passed it on?

“I know that name,” he murmured, “but why? Why would she do this?” He didn’t know whether he was speaking to the others or just to himself.

The young were struggled to bring his rapid breathing under control. “She blamed us... for your leaving. She said... that we... blocked... your destiny.” When he couldn’t go on, another were took over the tale. “Mitch told her you left on your own. That you had killed Lucinda and then fled.” The were looked around at the others for confirmation. One nodded in agreement, and the other just sighed and remained leaning against the back wall. The were returned his eyes to Ghost’s stern gaze and tried to continue. “She seemed to understand and left us. She was gone for two days. When she returned it was like a lightning strike. It was awful. She was like a demon possessed, sweeping through the strongest of us first. Mitch called the females to him to get them to safety but then she was there. I went down from a swipe to my cousin. She didn’t know what she was doing. She swung at anything that moved. I was dragged back by Lucius and then nothing.’

The young were in Ghost’s lap died a moment later. It was a miracle that he had even been able to challenge Ghost. A howl went up from the storyteller, and others who were still conscious joined in. It was a heartbreaking sound that sheared through the soul.

Ghost remained on the floor cradling the dead were. Another filled in the blanks, telling the part where Mitch and the female conversed. It seemed that she accused Mitch of setting Ghost up, that their leader had been the one to kill Lucinda. The young were had said nothing of this to the others. He was scared of both Mitch and Ghost, so he tended to believe the one that was least threatening.

Young Lucius told Ghost that the demon female had vowed to destroy the whole pack, starting with Mitch, and that their noble leader had called the females to him, not for safety, but to use as a blockade. It seemed incredible that Mitch would do this, but Lucius had seen Mitch grab his own mother and hold her in front of him. She had struggled to protect her swollen belly or shift to her wolf form but she never got the chance. He saw her go down and then his friend fell from a swipe and he knew he needed to take care of him.

Ghost took it all in. The fight, the blood, the betrayal. Obviously if this Katerina was his Russian relative, she knew about the vow to pass on the Ghost genes. It was a sacred priority for their line. Nothing was to get in the way of the next generation. Katerina would have been livid when she learned that Ghost’s attempt to mate had been thwarted by petty jealousy. That would have been enough to justify all that had taken place. Ghost had learned from his father that their Russian ancestor had risked all to pass the special powers on to another were line, and that she intended that her sacrifice not be in vain. Ghost must mate and his offspring must survive to do the same. For Katerina there was no other option.

Ghost moved the wounded weres to another cave so they could rest and get some fresh air and food. That done, he went about the grisly task of moving each of the bodies into the back chambers. He intended to wall them off when he left to keep the bodies from being feasted on by predators or revealing the secrets of the weres in the Salmo-Priest Wilderness. Maybe someday when some explorer discovered the remains, the world would be ready to accept the idea of shape shifters, but until then their secret was safe. All except Mitch. Ghost hurled his pitiful hide into a deep ravine that stayed clogged with snow most of the year. It would be decades if ever before his sorry bones would be unearthed.

In the days afterward, the remaining weres pieced together the events of the attack and other things that they had heard since the time of Lucinda’s death. Ghost was able to convince them of Mitch’s part in the deception. The question now was what to do with the surviving members of the pack. They were still too young to go off on their own. With a bit more training, they could begin again and start a new pack. None of them had ever been to a town, so bringing them back to New Orleans was out of the question. His cabin wasn’t big enough for six male weres and Ghost wasn’t up to babysitting.

Ghost figured his best option was to spend some weeks with them. He moved them to a new cave which was still within Mitch’s former range. He helped them to stake out a territory and set up patrols. Their nearest neighbor wasn’t terribly aggressive, so the small group had a good chance of attracting a rebellious female or two willing to be absorbed into the neighboring pack. Lucius had great strength, and several of the others showed signs of excellent judgment and a willingness to listen. It was not all black and white with them as it had been with Mitch. They had a good chance of not repeating Mitch’s mistakes.

Ghost left them four months after the tragedy. He had learned that Katerina was heading for New Orleans to search for him. They had obviously passed one another when Ghost was heading home. He had a score to settle with her. No one hurt his family, even if he had been rejected and driven off. That was a situation for him to handle. He would teach that Russian bitch what her American cousins were made of.




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