Marked Excerpt

Marked by Odin – Chapter 1

Gunni sniffed several times, his muzzle lifted high. The cold air tickled the labyrinthine passages of his nose. Scents of fear and pain assaulted him, even from a few hundred feet away. Brand had sent him ahead to scout the Vancouver brood, and what he had to report was not encouraging. Madness was the best way to describe the events taking place in the valley below him.

He’d been raised in a relatively modern brood that shared a city with humans and blended in with them whenever possible. The chaos in front of him reminded him of the barbaric history of their kind that he’d heard about, but never imagined still existed. One female was dragged across the dirty snow between two dwellings. Her white-blond hair reminded him of Alice. The ache of her loss was still agonizing. Gods, how he missed her.

Gunni had trouble quelling the urge to run in and rescue another female set upon by male who laughed every time she screamed. Half a dozen males fought in the central clearing in front of an old-style longhouse for a haunch of meat that was quickly forgotten amid the violence of the exchange.

Going down there wouldn’t solve anything, and he would end up in an altercation where he would be vastly outnumbered. He was supposed to observe and report back to Brand, not try to resolve the issues himself. He knew that, and yet, turning his back was one of the hardest things he’d ever done.

The first few steps were the worst, but once he got up to speed, the joy of running through the winter night spurred him onward. He covered ground swiftly, his four paws chewing up the miles almost without effort.

The land was beautiful and more untouched than any place he’d ever known. Located in the mountains a few hours north and west of Vancouver and tucked away at the edge of a provincial park, the brood compound was a strangely anachronistic oasis of wildness in the modern world they inhabited. Though he’d been raised in what he’d thought a rural area, the wolf within him often pined for the expansive forests and hillsides.

He didn’t slow when he crossed the east-bound lanes of the divided highway. The light coating of new snow made the blacktop slick. He traversed the median in two jumps and emerged onto the west-bound lanes. Too late, he heard the squeal of tires. He turned and saw headlights closing with alarming speed.

He didn’t feel the pain of the impact. One moment, he was aware, and the next instant, he wasn’t.

* * *

Brand strode back and forth across the threadbare rug in the small living room of the rented cabin, swearing every time he turned around to go the other way. Gunni was late, very late. To make matters worse, Brand couldn’t tell through the brood bond if something was wrong. The brood he’d inherited from his half-brother, Ansvarr, was a seething mass of pain and anger. From twenty miles away, he couldn’t tell one member from another, so he had no idea if Gunni was in trouble or not.

His mate, Dagny, watched him from a well-worn armchair, her gray eyes following his path back and forth across the room. “Should we go look for him?” Her calm expression belied the turmoil that tumbled through their mating bond.

“If I get much closer, they’ll feel me. I’d rather they had as little chance to prepare as possible.”

“I could go.”

He stopped pacing and faced her. “There’s no way in Helheim I’m letting you anywhere near there without me.”

“I took care of myself for a long time before you came into my life.” Irritation hardened her voice.

Brand crouched in front of her and put a hand on her knee. “I couldn’t prevent what happened to you before, but I won’t let you go into that den of brutality by yourself now. I can feel their sickness from here.”

Dagny held his gaze. “I don’t want you to take your anger over what Ansvarr did to me out on them.” He moved to stand, but she grabbed his hands and held them tightly. “You can teach them so much more with tolerance than you can with violence.”

“My sire believed aggression was the only way to control the broods. Savagery has been bred into us for too many generations for more subtle leadership to move them now. Geir ruled for longer than anyone else since our escape from the barbarians.”

“You aren’t him.” She touched his face. “Ruling that way would destroy you.”

He looked down at where she cradled his hands in her lap. “That’s why I avoided this for so long. I’m not strong enough for what has to be done.”

“Your inability to be cruel isn’t a weakness, Brand.” She lifted his chin. “You’re strong enough to do it another way.”

“What if he was right, and brutality really is the only way?”

Dagny shrugged. “If violence is what it takes to lead them, they’re better off tearing themselves apart than having you subjugate them.”

Brand pulled her into his arms. “Okay. We try it my way, whatever that is.”

* * *

Gunni awoke slowly, clawing his way into consciousness through a thick haze. He couldn’t smell anything, and opening his eyes was proving difficult.

“It’s unbelievable, Cass. I can’t even figure how he’s alive, never mind how he’s unhurt. He must have flown thirty feet before landing.” The male voice sounded muffled, as if Gunni had cotton in his ears.

“I’m not convinced he’s not hurt. There’s a lot of blood. Can you stop babbling for a minute so I can finish my examination?” a female voice replied.

Gunni assumed the voice belonged to the unknown Cass. He didn’t recognize either voice, so he kept as still as possible, hoping they didn’t notice that he was conscious. A pair of hands moved up his right foreleg. He was sore all over, but he didn’t think any of the damage was beyond his ability to heal. The big trouble was that he didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten there.

He assumed the two people in the room with him were human, but how had he been captured? He went over what they’d said again. A flash of memory came: headlights bearing down on him through the gently falling snow. He’d been hit by a car while on his way back to Brand.

After checking his legs, Cass started feeling along his ribcage. Her hands moved with a confidence that made her a doctor, or more likely, a veterinarian, since he was in wolf form. The deft fingers moved up his neck, carefully examining his spine.

“Take the towel off of him. I need to check his skull,” Cass said.

“You sure? I figured it was safer with all those teeth wrapped up.”

“He’s still out. If he was awake, he would have started flailing by now. We’ll put a muzzle on him before he wakes up.”

The muffling of his senses abruptly went away with the removal of the towel. The harsh smell of antiseptic hit his nose with his first unhindered breath. Though he was tempted to jump up and try to get away, he was fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to get out of the room, never mind the building, in wolf form. He remained limp, pretending to be unconscious, when the woman thumbed back his right eyelid and flashed a bright light into his eye. She checked his skull carefully, then fit a muzzle around his head.

After making one more pass of his spine, Cass stepped away, and the sound of running water filled the room. “I don’t have any idea how this guy got so lucky, but I can’t find a damn thing wrong with him beyond a few scrapes. You must not have been going as fast as you thought.”

“I was going at least…” The man paused. “Never mind that. What am I going to do with him?”

“You’re not doing anything with him, Trevor. He’s not a stray dog. I’ll call around and see if one of the local wildlife rehabilitators will take him in. Help me get him into the kennel for now.”

When they lifted him, Gunni cracked one eye open to get an idea of where he was being held. They carried him out of the exam room and down a tiled hallway that amplified their footsteps. At the end of the corridor, they pushed through a heavy pair of swinging doors that led to an area where several dogs barked. They manhandled him into a crate barely big enough for him to stand and turn around in, and latched the door.

“Hopefully, I can get someone to come get him before he wakes up,” Cass said.

After the pair left the room, he jumped to his feet and stretched. Though he felt as if he’d been run through a washing cycle, no bones seemed to be broken. Thankfully, he’d healed most of the damage while unconscious. He examined the latch of the crate. He couldn’t possibly work it open with his paws or mouth from inside the crate. Transforming back to human form within the confines of the small container would also be impossible. He finally laid his head on his paws and settled in to wait.

Copyright© 2012 by Coral Moore All rights reserved.