Chapter One

 

Sneak peak of Whispering Ember - Vargr #3

 

Hati raced through the woods with Finn. They’d been bitten five months apart, yet Hati couldn’t keep up, even though Finn had been bitten last. Finn had always been faster. Having risen the famous black Vargr, Hati was still no match to his Alpha trainee partner.

Sneaking up on people? Finn didn’t stand a chance.

Finn exited the woods a full minute before Hati. “Seriously, Mr. Famous Name. Push harder.”

Hati made a face, making his friend laugh. They made it back to the center of their pack town. The square was lively with pups, and his little sisters raced to meet him, so he lobbed them into the air one by one. “How was school?”

“Boring!” Sara exclaimed.

“I liked it,” Maria said. “We have a fun teacher, and she tells fun stories.”

“You! Are doing the dishes!” Hati’s twin brother, Joachim, exclaimed, pointing at him as he sauntered over.

“What? Why?”

“Because you forgot to pick them up at school.”

“That’s tomorrow.”

“Wednesday?”

“Yeah.”

Joachim looked unimpressed. “Today’s Wednesday.”

Hati looked at Finn.

“Yeah, today’s Wednesday,” Finn said.

“Oops. Okay, dishes.”

“Man, that gotta suck,” Janus said. “The famous Hati. Doing dishes.”

Hati put his sister down and went to the pup, two years shy of his rise, and grabbed his shoulder. He then squeezed enough to cause pain. “If I wasn’t an Alpha, I’d punch you. You could chew your food on the way out with your teeth knocked that far back. There’s nothing degrading about kitchen duty because it’s part of what makes the pack function when we’re luckily out of Omegas.” He let go and stalked into the center building, calming himself. He disliked that pack member on a regular basis, and they’d had so many fights growing up.

A pup ran to him. “Hati, Hati, I made a snowman!”

Hati blinked. “But it’s May! Where’s the snow?”

“In the box my mom got.”

That made no sense. “Show me.” Hati let the six-year-old drag him to a table where Styrofoam had been grated and glued into a snowman. Nose and all. And painted. “Oh. Cool! I especially like the top hat.”

“Is Hati strong enough to pull all of us on a sleigh?”

“Let’s…try that out at winter,” Hati said. Coming around from massive pain next to his Pack Alpha, Tage, and being told he was Hati had set his life up for…disaster. He felt woefully underequipped to be famous. Yeah, he was an Alpha in training, but he wasn’t even the best. He was the dreamer with the least drive in all things Alpha—except prosperity among pups.

And he pulled a pack. What they followed, he had no idea because he had no ember. He just felt…split. He currently had a wonderful girlfriend. Human. She had no idea. They’d been together for nine months when he rose the famous black Vargr. Explaining his touring wasn’t easy.

He was a celebrity, and he hated it. Except the pups. He loved that he got to play with pups in all those packs.

When he ran, he just wanted to run. Everywhere. He wanted the freedom to play. And he loved the ocean. He dreamed of running the coastline of Denmark. Run into the ocean and frolic around. He dreamed of running it in Vargr or feral form.

What the hell did his weak Alpha drive have to say for the Vargr people? Sure, he was good enough at fighting, but that was about it. He was drowning under the added expectations just because he turned out to have black fur.

Of course he’d known of the lore before then—it was their history, after all. He’d been schooled vigorously in them since his rise. He didn’t see himself capable of any of it. In fact, he just wanted to sit with the pups and make pearl necklaces, Styrofoam snowmen, and magic-doe gingerbread houses.

He wasn’t the warrior described in the lore. He was a kindergarten teacher. At least that was what he was aiming for. Pups. Kids. Fun. To see them grow smarter and secure in themselves was the highlight of his life and the best investment in the future imaginable.

Tage entered the room and waved him over. “Need you and Finn alone.”

Ugh. Hati praised the pup for his snowman and followed Tage. The serious expression on the Pack Alpha soon sobered him up, though.

“What’s up, Alpha?” Finn asked.

“News. And it’s not good.” Tage didn’t even look back as he stalked to their meeting hall. The three other Alphas were already seated, but they’d been joined by their Regional Alpha, Verner.

Hati and Finn nodded, recognizing him, then sat.

“A little over eight weeks ago, Geri Freki made an attack on a Sköll Hati group in the south region,” Verner said. “They claimed trial by combat, and Sköll Hati lost.” Hati and Finn glanced at each other. “Two days ago, a trial by combat was seen through in the mid-east region of Jutland after a Geri Freki attack on pups.”

“Pups?” Finn asked.

Hati growled. “How young.”

“This is where it gets fun.” Verner grinned. “Two of those pups were Alpha trainees. One laid out a bitten Alpha. Their Pack Alpha then tore out the throat of the Geri Freki Pack Alpha, meaning he claimed an entire pack of Geri Freki.”

“Where’s the fun?” Hati asked.

“An Alpha trainee laying out a bitten Alpha!” Finn exclaimed and punched Hati’s shoulder. “That’s fucking funny!”

“No, it’s impressive, considering we know Geri Freki fight far more than we do,” Hati said.

“The Alpha pup is under the conquering Pack Alpha of Sköll Hati,” Verner said. “Not my region, but they’re in the top ten of prosperity, so he clearly doesn’t keep it at fighting there. The fight was quite impressive, though. And so’s the Alpha pup.” Verner looked at Finn. “He’s one of the early embers.”

Hati looked at Finn. So was he. He then looked at Tage. “You still look for who’ll rise as Sköll. Considering I have no ember, are you only looking among the embers?”

“Not all of us are religious about the prophecy,” Tage said. “The regions got six awoken embers all pulling the majority or all of their pup bonds. Finn did that here.”

Unless Hati ran against him. Hati always wondered about that.

“Considering Hati does that without an ember, maybe look there?” Finn suggested.

“It takes an ember to ignite one,” Verner said. “At least that’s the lore, and it’s seen enough to be true among true Alpha mate bonds.”

“Who’s the Alpha pup? What did he pull at AT run?” Tage asked.

Verner shrugged. “He didn’t attend.”

“What?” Tage sat back. “Why not.”

“Quote.” Verner sat forward, folding his hands. “I’m not ready.”

Hati didn’t know if the Alpha was smart or frightened. “Who’s this Alpha trainee?”

“Matt. Eighteen. And his ember has burned angrily for almost two years.”

“That’s a long time,” Tage said, wide-eyed. “Do you know his pull?”

“All of his pack. Even some bitten.”

Finn turned his head slowly, looking at Hati, impressed. “That’s pretty good.”

“Will he attend next year?” Tage asked.

Verner nodded. “Yes. Because then he’ll be at first attendee age.”

“What does his ember want? Does he know that?” Tage asked.

“It whispers enough for him to make out some of it. United we stand, divided we fall.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound ominous at all,” Finn said.

“That’s not all it whispers. But my reason for being here is that Pack Alpha Steffen conquered a Geri Freki pack of eleven Vargr.” Verner looked at Tage. “Train for trial by combat. That’s the new rule of law. Concede or keep going. Steffen didn’t concede like most expected. Being the only conquering Alpha among Sköll Hati, I can’t imagine why the others even imagined he would. It’s a miracle he won. And survived.”

Hati sat back. He hurt inside. He’d done that for years. Feeling empty and split.

“Should Hati go there next?” Finn asked.

“No, I’m thinking with Steffen having to merge with Geri Freki, then keeping the symbol of us out of there would be for the best while they acclimatize,” Tage said.

“I agree,” Verner said.

“But that region is next,” Hati said. “Do I visit all other packs but his? Or do we go down the west coast to the south region, then across the islands? Save them for last?”

Verner nodded. “That at least gives Steffen time. His pack was top three for the past six years in prosperity. Merging with Geri Freki, he’s at one thirty-seven.”

“Yeah, that’s one helluva drop,” Hati said.

“Yeah.” Verner nodded. “I think he’ll rise. He has so far. Let’s just hope he doesn’t win an AT race on his property this year. Going to Regional Alpha Tristan’s pack will remain on schedule. But we’ll reduce the schedule of individual pack visits to one-third to avoid making it glaringly obvious that we’re staying away from Steffen’s.”

“What’s the excuse?” Finn asked.

Hati favored Finn asking. He hated feeling like a show and tell just because his fur had turned out to be shiny black. Hell, he even felt self-conscious about it.

“So many packs, so little time,” Verner said. “Regional Alpha Tristan has been warned. After having just watched his best friend survive a trial by combat that none of us foresaw, then…Tristan’s pack’s busy, too. He’ll call it short on being busy.”

Geri Freki. Hati had almost no experience with them. He knew what they’d been taught in Alpha training, and he didn’t like their I’m better than you because…someone said so reasoning. Them merging with a Sköll Hati pack? That had to cause waves. He didn’t want to add to troubles like that.

“Hati, you’ve pulled an eighty percent run in a race,” Verner said. “Those numbers are only seen among Alphas rising for Regional Alphas. I did on my third year. This is your second.”

“What did your ember whisper about, Regional Alpha?” Hati asked.

“Security in numbers. Trust in numbers. We stand together, and we can achieve anything.”

Hati smiled. But he had no ember. He had no idea how he pulled anyone. He was a dreamer with no clear vision. He had no idea why he’d been born a black wolf. In fact, if ever asked, he’d have expected Finn to rise one of the famous colors, but he was as gray as his mother.

Hati now got extra attention in schooling that had nothing to do with what he loved. Pups. If he could play all day, he would. Tell stories. Or listen to stories. Build stuff. Fantasy games. He loved those.

His human girlfriend was in the teachers’ college, too. They’d become teachers and help guide the minds of tomorrow. She was ignorant of the Vargr, but she loved kids and wanted an entire football team of her own, adamant about also adopting to give less fortunate children a better lot in life. He admired her greatly for that.

“I’ve begun training Beta protectors,” Verner said. “And that’s of course unofficial.”

Tage sighed and nodded as he crossed his arms and scooted down in his chair. That was his deep-thinking expression, and everybody remained quiet for the next few minutes, waiting. Tage then looked at Hati. “Clear your weekends. Both of you. We start a new training regime.”

Fuck! It seemed prosperity would soon need Hati to step up.

The rift in his soul, where an Alpha’s ember should be whispering, grew.