Chapter One

“It seems to me the pack has been…lacking in its…discretion around the humans, Xanthippe. They are beginning to notice, and if anything should ever become known to the outside world… Well we know the Masters would be quite unhappy and you would be deemed responsible for the outrage.”

“Tread with caution, Lissy; you know how I have a very low level of patience for those who waste my time lately. And it really is best to respect your superiors…” I paused my pacing to flash my fangs in her direction, allowing a low growl to escape my throat at the same time. She bowed her head and stumbled backwards away from me. “I have full control over my pack. I won’t allow them to expose anything. If you doubt my abilities, I would be glad to give you a demonstration.”

Lissy kept her eyes downcast as she said, “No, Xanthippe. I have nothing but confidence in your abilities. There is no need for a demonstration. I should not have spoken at all, my apologies.”

“Ohh,” I sighed, “I never get to demonstrate…” Mock disappointment leaked into my voice. “Now I think it best we head back to the Manor, don’t you? I’d imagine the rest of Nea Epoche is awaiting our return.”

I shifted into my preferred form, then turned and watched her until she did the same. She followed behind me quietly, afraid of angering me further in such an unpredictable state.

I did not generally enjoy having to play the role of the Bitch, but someone had to do it to keep everyone in line, so as alpha, that job fell on my shoulders. I was responsible for everything that happened within my pack, thus I treated them like they were my children for the most part. I admit I could be a bit harsher than necessary at times, but I needed to keep them tough and on their toes. They would be worthless if they were all soft and sensitive. The Masters needed warriors, protectors–not lap dogs.

Lissy trailed close behind me as I sauntered slowly back to the Lupus Estate where the Lupus Genos packs had built Genos Manor hundreds of years ago. Each generation of Lupus Genos produced a new pack of Servuscaelians with a new alpha. My pack was known as Lupus Genos “Nea Epoche.” I was known as Xanthippe, the Alpha.

As the generation before us exited its prime, they began losing their shape-shifting abilities and moved out of Genos Manor. Currently, only one generational pack from Lupus Genos lived in the Manor.

The Genos Manor was invariably the largest castle on the largest estate anyone had ever seen. Even those who had lived like royalty in castles before they came across Genos Manor could not help but stare in amazement at its vastness and incomprehensible beauty. Its regality caught everyone by surprise. It was built hidden among mountains, unable to be reached by any vehicle –land, air, or otherwise- the only way to access it was by a several mile trek through the forests. Built on land bordering between, but not owned by either, Romania or Bulgaria, Genos Manor was heard of by very few people, and the majority of the small population that had knowledge of it stayed away in fear because they had heard the stories of “the man in the Manor.”

These stories were spread by us, of course, simply to keep people away, but they told of an elderly man who had been trapped in the Manor during its construction. He hadn’t left the castle since and whenever a hiker or traveler or other human of sorts wandered onto his estate, he would let the dogs run wild and order them to attack. These dogs were the biggest, most beautiful anyone had ever seen, regal like the Manor itself, yet charming. They resembled the wild wolves of the forests but were much larger and looked like they had been sculpted by God in heaven due to the perfection in their faces and fluidity in their gates. When they approached the intruder, the human was so awestruck by the majestic beasts that he did not see Death coming, and if he did, he handed himself over to them willingly, believing a creature of that level of beauty must certainly be divine and that it would be right to give himself to them.

Extra privacy precautions had also been taken besides just the story, however. A high wall was built around the entire perimeter of the estate, a quarter of a mile high and fourteen and three-hundred-seventy-six thousandths feet thick, built entirely of granite and marble. Each block of stone was hand-chosen by our ancestors long ago as they built this wall one stone at a time, slaving in the heat of the sun and in the dark of the night until the wall was built. Their blood was in this soil, on this wall, their heart and soul poured out into this with mind-blowing dedication and it paid off. Their sacrifices to build this wall to protect their future home and future generations’ home enchanted the wall, which kept the estate concealed and protected from all evils unless someone on the inside permitted the evil to pass through the enchantment. Unfortunately, none of the Servuscaelians knew of this amazing enchantment because the Masters thought it could prove to be a threat if they were informed of their potential power to let all Hell break lose, hence it was kept a secret.

Once the wall was built to claim the land that was to be the Lupus Genos Estate, the Servuscaelians began to construct the Manor itself. A beautiful castle with stone walls, sculpted entirely of the blackest onyx they could find, with huge columns imitating typical Roman structures, and balconies off many of the higher rooms; Gothic stained glass windows and high ceilings and arches, and hand carved heavy wooden doors with wrought iron bolts and hinges made it an image of dark perfection. The grounds were kept immaculate; gardens were grown all around. Vegetables and herbs were in abundance. Vervain was clearly one of the most prized of all the growth, as it was the focus of almost every garden. Nearly every type of flower imaginable was growing beautifully. A brick walkway led us to the front door. Even with the incredible strength of a Servuscaelian (which many humans mistakenly assume to be werewolves though we are clearly more civilized and attractive–if I might say without sounding conceited) it still took effort to open the heavy door to let us into the front corridor.

The walls were lined with wooden stakes of varying sizes, along with shields and other weapons and bunches of dry herbs such as vervain and wolfsbane. There were closets, rooms, hidden passages and other corridors branching away from this main corridor. There were winding staircases and French double-doors frequently in the internal layout of the Manor. Even for someone who visited or lived in the Manor on a daily basis, it would have been unbelievably simple to lose one’s way traveling from one part of the castle to another.

Lissy was still learning her way around the Manor, and she was careful to pay attention to the turns we were taking and the rooms we were passing as we meandered through the labyrinth of halls. The paintings and statues were still unsettling to her as she was not yet used to having their demonic eyes on her at all times. The reason my ancestors decided to have paintings of tortured souls and statues of evil creatures is a concept I believed I would never quite understand. Perhaps the idea of art had changed so drastically since the Gothic Era, or perhaps there were stories behind the paintings and statues of which I had not yet learned. It really did not bother me anymore, so I simply brushed it aside and thought nothing of them at the time. We passed the artillery, filled with more wooden stakes, silver daggers, shields, and other unique weapons. We took a left down the next corridor and continued straight. I glanced back at Lissy every so often. I loved seeing the awestruck look in our visitors’ eyes as they toured the Manor, it was one thing of which I would never grow tired. Many described it as a type of reverse dream where one knows logically that it is real, but cannot help but be surprised every time one sees its majesty and the realization sets in again that this place, these things, and these people, are all a reality, not just a figment of one’s imagination.

We finally arrived at the room I had been guiding her towards, the Nea Epoche common room. In contrast to the rest of the traditional angular rooms of the Manor, all the Genos common rooms were circular. There were three in total in the Manor, just in case of the possibility that there might be three generational packs all living together at the same time. The original thought was that only two of them would be occupied at the same time, and the last one would remain empty for the Masters if they decided to live in the Manor with the packs.

The Nea Epoche common room was dressed in amethyst and onyx, with throw pillows and furniture of coordinating colors and elegance to match the radiance of the polished gems covering the walls. All other members of Nea Epoche were waiting in the Common for our return, as I had expected.

Rena, one of my clan’s house servants, was over by the bookshelves. She pushed her thick rimmed glasses up the bridge of her nose with a quiet sniffle as she pulled a book off the shelf. A frown settled across her lips as she inspected the spine of the book.

“No good,” she said, “This is no good at all.”

She stroked the book’s spine gently, and the frayed edges of the leather cover began to flex. The pages of the book rippled slightly, and she continued stroking it as she whispered under her breath. A smile crossed her face when the book began to purr.

“There you go,” she said to the book, “All better. I don’t even know how you ended up like that in the first place, but at least you’re all better now, right?”

The book hummed affectionately until she stopped petting it and put it back on the shelf in its proper place.

“I’ll never understand how you do that,” Tinka, another servant, said as she stitched tassels onto the bottom of the velvet curtains.

Rena pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose again and blushed deeply.

“Oh,” she said, “It’s nothing special… Anyone could do it.”

“Not really,” Tinka said, “It’s like you have a connection with the books, like you know them personally. They always talk to you. They never talk to me. Never!”

“It’s probably just because I spend more time with them,” replied Rena.

“Bookworm,” muttered Banter from across the room.

“Don’t worry, you’re an adorable bookworm,” said Porky as he swooped in and kissed Rena on the cheek.

Banter rolled his eyes. “That’s gross.”

“You’re just bitter towards love because you lost the girl to Zander,” said Porky with a laugh.

“Hell yeah, I’m bitter! I crafted the perfect match and then Zander had to swoop in and ruin it. Like seriously?” Banter groaned to himself as memories of the past enveloped him.

“Did I hear my name?” Zander said, “How nice of you all to have me on your minds?”

He pulled a parchment scrap out of his trouser pocket and crumpled it into a ball to throw at Banter.

“Banter is still bitter over the loss of his match,” Porky said.

Zander laughed a bit too hard, then stopped abruptly with a straight face.

“I’m going to tell you something you need to hear, Banter. Are you ready?” Zander said. He paused for dramatic effect, then spoke very slowly, as if he was letting the other servant in on an important secret. “Grow a pair, and get over it.”

Smudge, my own servant, whacked Zander on the arm.

“Bad, Zander!” she reprimanded, “You do not treat other people like that! If he is still grieving, he is still grieving. Gloating is not attractive to anyone.”

She stared at him with her enormous, disapproving eyes.

“I’m sorry, my beautiful girl. I was trying to help him, I really was.”

She continued to stare at him.

“I was being an ass,” he finally admitted.

“That’s what I thought,” she said, “Now please apologize to him.”

Zander turned to Banter, who was now beside himself with laughter.

“I am,” Zander began, “deeply sorry for telling you what you needed to hear.”

“I completely forgive you,” Banter said, just as mocking as Zander’s apology.

“Thank you, both of you,” Smudge said.

The house servants were small, fragile looking creatures, but they were quite intelligent and friendly beings. Elflike, with small, pointed ears and petite skeletal structures, they had the tiniest noses, and large eyes. The great majority of the elven population had blue eyes, but it was not out of the ordinary for a few to have green or brown. They wore the most peculiar little outfits. It seemed to me that it was a uniform of sorts. They each wore a small pointed hat atop their heads, and the females each wore a pink frock and white apron with her long hair plated straight down their back and a few wispy ringlets by her ears. The males wore brown pants with a green button down shirt. Both males and females wore tan leather booties on their feet with knee high stockings. They were quiet creatures, often times only speaking when spoken to, and always acting to benefit their owners. They were regarded by all other intelligent, non-human creatures as a type of lower life form, and they were able to be bought but never traded. Once an elf came into one’s possession, it was loyal to its master for the remainder of its life. However, despite the fact that these creatures dwelled even lower on the social ladder than Servuscaelians like myself, who in turn dwell lower than the Lords and Ladies, they still ranked significantly higher than the repulsive species known as humans.

Raven insisted on sitting properly on the couch in her human form rather than as a wolf like the rest of the pack. She was quite appropriately named if one cared to describe her appearance with an animal. Rather than the curvy, well-muscled bodies like the other female wolves, she had a slender build much like a bird. Her short, blue-black hair was tied back out of her face, but baby hairs refused to stay with the rest and consequently fell in front of her eyes and feathered outwards like a halo. She waved in Rena’s direction, summoning her servant to her.

“Rena, dear, could you find a book for me? I finished this one,” she said as she handed Rena the book that had been resting on her thigh, “And I need another. Preferably something about human cultures. Maybe religion–it’s just so fascinating, you know.”

Rena smiled adoringly at Raven and said, “Of course, I’d be happy to find something for you.”

A large russet brown wolf raised his head from Raven’s lap and nudged her hand.

“I didn’t forget about you, Pistos,” Raven said to her mate. She ran her fingers down his snout and tapped the top of his nose. He exhaled loudly. His dark eyes looked up at her from under thick lashes, pushing his eyebrows up as well, which gave his face an amusingly expressive appearance.

Demi lounged on the bench seat across the room beneath the large stained glass window. Her fur was long, shaggy, and pure white. She leapt to the floor with grace, and stood up, morphing into her human form as she did. As a human she looked like the typical Swede: blonde hair, blue eyed, fair skinned with an everlasting, pink flush in her cheeks. Tinka handed her a glass of water, and she drank it down in one continuous action. Then she handed the glass back to Tinka and smiled.

“Do you have any snacks on hand?” Demi asked her servant.

“That depends what you are in the mood for,” Tinka said, “Something small or something substantial?”

“Just something small, to curb the hunger until dinner.”

Tinka snapped her fingers, and several biscuits appeared in Demi’s hand, along with a stick of venison jerky.

“Perfect,” said Demi, “I appreciate it.”

Bane, who had been lurking in a shadowy corner of the room, far from the windows, rose to his feet at the smell of food. Demi became suddenly defensive and snarled at him. He snarled in return, faded into a low, drawn out growl, snapped in her direction, then turned and laid in the shadows again. A couple pieces of venison jerky suddenly appeared in front of him, and he swallowed them both whole without question.

“You’re a pig,” said Demi.

Bane’s lips curled back over his fangs, and his ears flattened against his head. He crouched low to the ground, as if preparing to lunge at her, then relaxed and made snuffling sounds, as if he was imitating a hog.

“What an ass…” Demi said with a roll of her eyes as she turned to Eromai, who had just approached from the other side of the room. He did not reply to her comment, but took a seat patiently by the door awaiting my return.

As soon as Eromai had joined Nea Epoche, we had imprinted on each other. Imprinting was the strongest bond able to be formed by any creature on Earth. In imprinting, it did not matter what the other wolf did or what was going on around oneself, because once one imprints, the only matter of importance to one becomes the object of one’s imprinting. Although imprinting occurred very infrequently, Raven and Pistos were also bonded in this way, which meant Nea Epoche contained not one, but two imprinted pairs.

Seeing Eromai waiting for me, my stress and frustration began to melt away. He shook his head, and his ears flopped around, sending his sandy-colored fur flying.

Meto caught wind of my arrival and came running up to me, tongue lolling out of his mouth, tail wagging like a fool. His brown and white patched fur gave him the appearance of nothing more than a domesticated house dog greeting its owner when he came home from work rather than the fearsome wolf he was supposed to be. Bane made eye contact with me, then flashed a wry smile in my direction. I shook my head and turned away as I attempted to suppress my own smile.

Eromai growled at the young pup and snapped at his side and shoulders. Meto still refused to back away from me, so Eromai snapped at his face. I bared my teeth at the pup and snarled, demanding my space. I did not want his affections. I had my own mate. Obviously I neither wanted nor needed another.

Upon realizing that I was here in my human form, Nea Epoche phased into humans to match me. Eromai put his arm around my waist and pulled me close in a rough manner. He kissed the top of my head, and I allowed myself to sink into his embrace.

“Where have you been, Xanthippe?” he asked me.

“I have been out with Lissy,” I said, “It seems she is concerned about the ‘lack of discretion’ we all seem to be exhibiting in the presence of humans.” I allowed the air quotes to leak into my voice as I mocked my pup.

“No need to be rude,” he said, “I was just wondering.”

“I wasn’t being rude, I was just– there is someone at the door.” I broke off mid-sentence and quickly slipped back into my wolf form. I exited to answer the door.