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Today kicks off my A-Z Wilds Duology Challenge! Since it’s also the first Sunday of the month I wrote a short story for the letter A.

Because I didn’t want to go into spoiler territory, most everything I publish through the month of November will either take place before the beginning of the duology or will be irrelevant timeline-wise.

Animal Instincts takes place when De’vii (one of the leads in the novels) is about fourteen. De’vii and his two dogs, Fel and Sou, are mainstays in the duology. Te’iil is De’vii’s immediate cousin and is a minor character in Song for the Wilds (Book II). Si’raa is a new character I made up specifically for this story…so don’t get attached.

So without further ado, I give you…

Animal Instincts

The hunt never felt so good as when he ran with those he trusted. With his dogs, Fel and Sou, that trust had been implicit since they’d been gestating within their dam. With Te’iil, the trust stemmed from years of growing up together, knowing and believing Te’iil and his pack would come to De’vii’s aid if necessary. And knowing just as surely Te’iil would attempt to steal the kill right out from under De’vii’s teeth.

With Si’raa though… Si’raa was a different matter altogether. One De’vii hadn’t yet figured out.

The fresh scent of the underbrush filled the air. The lightly dripping leaves, drooping from the heaviness of the last dredges of the rainy season, brushed De’vii’s shoulders as he ran. His small pack—the steady Fel and the bloodthirsty Sou—ran to his either side, Sou slightly ahead, his eagerness an aphrodisiac affecting De’vii’s mind.

Si’raa and his three dogs trailed behind. His footsteps heavy on the dirt. His breathing harsh within the light pattering of droplets falling from the canopy. De’vii’s concentration split between the scent of the spindleleg they hunted and the need to know exactly where Si’raa was at all times. He chalked it up to that lack of trust, a burden during the hunt, forcing him to watch his back.

De’vii caught up with Te’iil as they reached the edge of the river, the growth along the embankment thick in front of them and the water beyond reflecting the violet and blue gaslights back into the dark sky. The Fade Stars were barely visible, hovering above the trees as they crawled their way down the heavens toward the unseen horizon.

Te’iil crouched and sniffed the ground with one of his dogs, then crinkled his nose and glanced up at De’vii. “It went straight into the reeds by the smell of it.”

De’vii snorted. “Of course it did.”

He made a show of examining the heavy reed growth and the thick stretches of ilarms—those annoying obnoxious flowers that made everything smell the same. Spindlelegs were generally tall enough to be visible poking out of the brush, but not always. This one had the stench of a male, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be a younger male, antlers not yet fully formed, chest hair still only a frail spattering of heavier coloring.

When Si’raa stopped beside them, De’vii didn’t look at him, but snarled out, “Stop breathing so loud. It’s hard enough to smell the damn beast with so many ilarms around, we don’t need you making it impossible to hear as well.”

Si’raa made a sound of confusion, a breathless sound of confusion as if the short run had been too fast for him. “I’m not breathing any louder than you,” he protested.

De’vii turned his head to share a commiserating glance with Te’iil, but Te’iil didn’t return it, instead looking at De’vii with a curious expression on his face. So De’vii turned further to scowl at Si’raa. “We going to fast for you? Need to slow to a pup’s pace?”

Si’raa glared at him, long lashes lowering and dark eyes flashing. “I’m not a pup.”

Te’iil stood with a noise of exasperation. “It knows enough to thrash through the ilarms to mess with its scent. I guess it could have crossed the river here as well.” But Te’iil sounded doubtful.

“Too wide,” said De’vii.

Te’iil cocked his head, then nodded in agreement.

“But it’s shallow all along this stretch,” said Si’raa. “It doesn’t get deeper until up ahead when it joins with the other tributary.”

“Thank you,” said De’vii mockingly, finding a perverse pleasure when he saw Si’raa’s lip curl in another snarl. “But spindlelegs aren’t going to head through fast-flowing water unless they’re desperate—which it isn’t—or the banks are close enough together to make the risk worth it.”

“Plus,” added Te’iil, “with the end of the rain it’s likely deeper than the last time you were here.”

When Si’raa murmured in understanding, De’vii chuckled. “What? Didn’t know the flash floods were the reason your dam and sire keep you far from the river every year?”

Around them, Si’raa’s three dogs growled in warning, but De’vii only chuckled again.

Te’iil suddenly stepped between them and nodded toward the west. “Met’s picked up the scent. West of here, upriver. The scent’s hard to get a good grip on because of the ilarms, but it’s definitely there. Come on.”

He took off at a slight angle away from the river, his other dog at his heels and Sou keeping pace. As Si’raa turned to follow, he feinted at De’vii, probably in revenge for the pup comment. In that split second, De’vii bared his teeth and reacted, already seeing the attack aborting through Fel’s eyes, but not caring that Si’raa didn’t plan on landing the blow. With a quick twist of his body and well-aimed kick to Si’raa’s calf, he ruined Si’raa’s balance enough to shove him to the ground.

Si’raa let out a surprised yelp, then De’vii dodged dogteeth, he and Fel growling at Si’raa’s dogs until they backed off. De’vii smirked down at him, a sense of superiority overwhelming him enough he felt a stir in his groin and an answering excitement along his nerves. Si’raa growled a challenge as he twisted to get his feet under him, one hand squeezing the dirt, the other drifting backward as if prepping for a punch.

“Not now,” said De’vii. “Otherwise Te’iil will take the kill.”

Si’raa hesitated, his growl faltering. Then he gave a grudging nod and lunged past De’vii. An irresistible urge took over De’vii as Si’raa came close enough to attack, leaving his bare neck exposed and his side open. De’vii slammed into Si’raa’s shoulder as Fel darted into Si’raa’s path. Then De’vii spun and sprinted after Te’iil before Si’raa even hit the ground. But he heard the satisfying sound of Si’raa shouting a curse right before he smashed into the gnarled roots of a nearby tree.

“You damfucking piece of dogshit!”

De’vii only laughed and picked up his pace, the sound of his own heartbeat echoing in his ears excitedly even before one of Te’iil’s dogs began to howl, a sure sign that Te’iil had began the hunt in earnest, their kill finally in sight. He ducked under a fallen, but caught tree, and bent forward to sprint up a short hill. When he reached the precipice, he leapt the shallow slice in the ground, narrowly avoiding a landing within a tiny gurgling offshoot from the river. As Fel cut to the left to head off the spindleleg, De’vii heard Si’raa land heavily behind him.

With a quick motion to the southwest, more west than south, he related what Sou sent back, “Te’iil has it heading that way.” Si’raa only answered with a growl, making De’vii smile to himself and respond, “If you can’t handle the pace, fall back, pup.”

“What in the six planes has gotten into you?” snapped Si’raa, his voice far less breathless and far more angry than it’d been before.

What had gotten into him? He wasn’t normally this challenging with Si’raa, mostly because Si’raa tended to follow De’vii and Te’iil’s lead in the hunt.

A year younger, with dam and sire still alive to watch over him, Si’raa hadn’t had the harshness in his life both De’vii and Te’iil had suffered through, making him less sure, less confident. Yet, he’d never been a pushover. Not in the fight. Not in the hunt. And he’d kept his own, even if he wasn’t quite as fast.

De’vii wasn’t sure what goaded him on, but now that he’d started, he couldn’t seem to stop gnawing on Si’raa’s patience like a bitch in heat.

Fel let out a happy yip, the sound echoing in De’vii’s mind, reminding him of the way his body had been tingling whenever Si’raa got too close, his scent overpowering, his features claiming De’vii’s attention.

Oh.

Oh.

De’vii almost stumbled, managing to catch himself by speeding up just a tad so the roll his ankle took turned into another couple of steps in quick succession. He shook his head at himself, suddenly embarrassed that Si’raa might have seen that. It made sense now. All his concentration torn, a huge part of him wanting to know where Si’raa was, what he looked like, how he was doing.

With another shake of his head at himself, De’vii purposefully tried to stop paying attention to Si’raa. Tried to force himself to not feel the vibrations of Si’raa’s footsteps or the sounds of his passage off to De’vii’s left. Unfortunately, the more he tried to forget about Si’raa’s presence, the more he became acutely aware of it.

He cut his gaze sideways when Si’raa turned, allowing him to catch a glimpse of Si’raa gracefully ducking under a mass of vines. De’vii stared as Si’raa wove back and forth between the trees, finding his gaze caught.

Running began to feel uncomfortable. Not only that, but Si’raa must have smelled something because he threw a confused glance over his shoulder, obviously wondering why De’vii had dropped back. Dark’s honest truth, he didn’t know either, so he growled at himself, and then at Si’raa, who now looked even more confused as he dodged around a huge tree. Then De’vii pulled away again.

A moment later the spindleleg’s scent, frail though it was, hit Fel. The dog barked loudly and sent an echo of the smell within their collective consciousness. Sou picked it up, tested it, then sent back a fleeting image of the spindleleg darting through the forest. It made precious little sound, its hooves kicking up leaves as it disappeared, Sou and both of Te’iil’s dogs racing to cut it off.

Te’iil shouted unintelligibly. Probably thinking the kill was his. De’vii released a snarl and altered his direction yet again when Sou sprinted around to head off the spindleleg’s escape. With a low, manic laugh, De’vii and Fel broke through a heavy section of brush just in time to split and attack the spindleleg from two fronts.

The beast jerked, first toward De’vii, then between him and Fel and finally back the way it’d come, narrowly avoiding getting one of Te’iil’s dogs on its back. Fel took off after it, both him and Sou to either side of the beast, nipping at its heels, growling low in their throats. The excitement raging through their combined consciousness spurred De’vii on, gave him tunnel vision for the hunt, the kill already as good as his. Te’iil’s sound of frustration behind him only goaded him on.

Fel scraped the spindleleg with his teeth, tasting blood and fur and fresh dirt. De’vii laughed and sprinted left as Sou leapt forward on the spindleleg’s right to scare it in De’vii’s direction. So close. De’vii readied to attack in conjunction with Fel, the two of them mentally together, focused so tightly De’vii didn’t know which of them had thought up the plan.

As the spindleleg turned directly into De’vii and Fel and the euphoria of the kill began to sing in De’vii’s veins, he caught a motion behind him. Then he went tumbling, a weight on his back. Teeth grazed his shoulder as he fell and Si’raa’s scent washed over him. De’vii lifted his arm and jabbed backward with his elbow as he landed. He rolled and grabbed for Si’raa, but Si’raa’s weight had already lifted. Sou send an image of him doing a somersault forward and gracefully reaching his feet at the end.

De’vii looked up in time to see Si’raa and Te’iil giving chase to the spindleleg, Si’raa with a satisfied smirk and Te’iil without bothering to acknowledge De’vii’s spill. Nice of him, figured De’vii with an internal snarl.

With a growl of fury, De’vii scrambled upright. But this time when he took off on the hunt, his gaze focused in on Si’raa rather than the spindleleg. At first he didn’t even realize his endgame had altered so dramatically, not until Sou changed position, putting the three of them in a perfect formation to take Si’raa down.

As realization fell over him, De’vii couldn’t help the shot of excited adrenaline from pulsing through him and his dogs. So instead of switching their formation to incorporate the spindleleg, De’vii went with it. They drew close, the sounds of baying dogs surrounding them, spreading through the forest, the scent of sweat and lingering rainwater heavy in the air.

Then, when Si’raa turned to avoid Fel’s path, De’vii lunged, caught Si’raa around the waist and dumped them both to the ground. They hit hard enough for Si’raa to grunt. De’vii bit down on Si’raa’s upper arm, getting a mouthful of fabric and flesh as he fought to force Si’raa onto his back.

“Dam’s tits! Get off me!”

Si’raa bucked, his backside managing to rub against De’vii in a way that had him choking on his own spit. His bite lost its sharpness, enough so Si’raa twisted his arm out of range in an attempt to escape, throwing wet dirt across the fronds in front of them. De’vii snarled and grabbed his wrist, starting a real struggle when Si’raa realized De’vii didn’t plan on releasing him.

The two of them rolled and kicked across the dirt, dampening their clothes and leaving a trail even a pup could follow. Si’raa snapped his teeth at De’vii’s neck. De’vii actually made real contact against Si’raa’s chest, biting down and eliciting a strange snarl-groan from the other boy. The sound made De’vii shudder, but in an oddly good way. Si’raa then hit De’vii in the head, making his ears ring and his mind dazed. In that moment, Si’raa flipped then completely, getting on top, forcing De’vii’s head against an exposed root, the gnarled twisting wood pressing against his temple.

But Si’raa didn’t take the opportunity to leave De’vii with another mortifying loss. Instead, he growled and leaned in, their bodies pressed tightly together, their hands clutching at each other’s arms and shoulders, fingers curled and digging into flesh. De’vii barely registered that his skin was beginning to feel the dampness of the ground through his pants because he was far too preoccupied with how pleasant Si’raa’s weight felt.

“What has gotten into you?” demanded Si’raa.

“I don’t know,” said De’vii on a snarl.

He arched, feinted left with a twist of his wrist and a jab of his elbow, then lurched up, scraping the side of his head against the exposed root. They ended up in a partial sitting position, Si’raa seated directly on De’vii, his eyes wide in surprise.

As one, they both looked down.

Si’raa swallowed, his grip losing some of its harshness. De’vii shuddered again and this time the feeling coursing through his body was less odd and more welcoming. When he shifted, putting a fractional amount of friction and pressure against them both, Si’raa gasped. De’vii tightened his grip, anticipating another battle.

A small clump of dirt fell from his shoulder and bounced off Si’raa’s knuckles while they sat locked together. They waited, as if each expecting the other to make the next move.

But De’vii wasn’t sure what to do. He had Sou and Fel clamoring in his mind, Fel flashing images of dogs rutting, but one was female and Si’raa was decidedly not female. So De’vii shot back mentally that Fel’s way wouldn’t work, it wasn’t possible. Fel snorted at him and sent back an image of the spindleleg being herded toward the river by Te’iil’s dogs.

“Te’iil will…” De’vii licked his lips. “Take the kill,” he finished.

Si’raa let out a shuddering breath and nodded shakily. “We should go.”

But when he shifted, he sent another pleasant feeling through De’vii’s groin. Si’raa must have felt it too because he immediately froze, his thighs tense and part of his weight pushed into De’vii from where he’d been using De’vii for leverage to stand.

“I—” Si’raa didn’t look as if he knew what to do. He remained frozen in that awkward position, his eyes wide and the sweet, sweet smell of arousal filtering from his pores.

Sou growled something about wanting the kill. Fel mocked De’vii over his hesitation, his trepidation. De’vii snapped at him mentally, annoyed Fel would use a word so close to fear. Because he was not afraid of Si’raa. Not in the least. He refused to be scared of whatever this was.

De’vii released a little growl, causing Si’raa to glance up, startled. Then De’vii pushed Fel and Sou’s laughter to the back of his mind and twisted so he could land on top of Si’raa. This time Si’raa didn’t curse at him. He didn’t just go along with De’vii’s lead either, so they struggled, a mock fight taking them through thick pink-edged fronds that slapped at their backs as they bent the stalks in their commotion.

Yet, Si’raa didn’t seem desperate to get away. His bites were far more like playful nips from puphood days. His grip, while hard, never returned to the harshness it’d been at first. And De’vii felt himself responding quickly, his own teeth finding skin to bruise, but not truly tear, his own hands holding tightly, but not so greatly he might break Si’raa’s bones.

Wet dirt clung to Si’raa’s hair and smeared against his cheek. De’vii chuckled at the sight, uncaring that he probably looked worse. The nearby howls of their packs helping to bring down the spindleleg spurred them on, but in no way made De’vii want to stop the hunt he was already on, the one that required his full attention, the one that would end without a bloody kill at the end.

Sou scoffed at that thought, telling him that without a bloody kill than the damn fight wasn’t worth it. So De’vii sunk his teeth into the exposed flesh on Si’raa’s arm, right above his elbow. When he tasted a trace of blood and felt Si’raa grunt in pain he let up marginally though he didn’t stop the dogfight. He fumbled for Si’raa’s arms, pushed against his body, desire pumping him higher and higher until Si’raa released another of those strange snarl-groans and began to shake beneath him.

De’vii lifted his head in time to see Si’raa’s face contort, then almost choked again when a strong scent filled the air, overpowering the smell of dogs, of sweat or blood or spindlelegs or the river. All of it faded into the background, leaving Si’raa in the foreground alone, his scent enveloping De’vii like a thick, enclosing blanket.

And when Si’raa bucked, slamming their lower halves together roughly, De’vii suddenly felt ripped from his own mind, his thoughts, normally so smoothly integrated with Fel’s and Sou’s, became a roughened mess of ancestral-bitch-dam-fucking-fuck-yes-dark-take-him. He remained in that state for long, long seconds, then settled against Si’raa, feeling sore and sensitive and shaky.

Si’raa shoved him off a few moments later. De’vii allowed it, collapsing into the soil to stare into the pink-edged fronds and the still-dripping canopy beyond. In the distance, Te’iil’s pack howled in triumph, though it couldn’t compare to the intense satisfaction De’vii felt, the rapid beating of his heart making him feel as if victory had been his rather than Te’iil’s.

“Guess the kill is gone,” said Si’raa in a breathless voice.

De’vii made a noncommittal noise, uncaring. What he’d just claimed had trumped Te’iil’s lame spindleleg any day, especially considering Te’iil hadn’t had to compete with De’vii for that kill so if he tried to brag, oh, De’vii would cut him down a few notches.

“That was…” started Si’raa.

His scent hovered heavy around them. It made De’vii want to start all over again. Run along the riverbank, chase Si’raa down just to catch him again. He blinked, surprised at the desire running rampant through his veins.

“Fun,” he finished for Si’raa.

“Yeah.”

They washed in the river, De’vii getting a good long look at anything he wanted as Si’raa scrubbed himself with his hands. And he did look. Unrepentantly. They didn’t touch again, but the tension between them sat high, but with a distinct lack of derision.

After, they found Te’iil. He had allowed the packs to tear into the spindleleg, making the skin worthless, but he had cut the mid-sized antlers from the beast’s head. He held them up for Si’raa and De’vii to see as they approached.

“Where have you two been? I didn’t even have competition for this kill.”

“Just means you should be embarrassed to be proud of it,” said De’vii with a smirk.

Te’iil grimaced, took a breath to respond, then paused, glancing between De’vii and Si’raa. He gave a tentative sniff, then a stronger one. His eyebrows rose. “We were on a hunt,” he protested.

De’vii let his smirk spread. “So was I.”

Haunt of The Wilds eBook Cover

HAUNT OF THE WILDS
The Wilds Duology: Book I
On Pre-order Now

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