I’ve been doing a daily blogging challenge for the month of November where I post short fiction pieces as teasers for my upcoming release, Haunt of the Wilds. Today, I’ve gotten to P, and since De’vii’s pack is so important to him in the books, I decided to give you a real introduction to his dogs. However, instead of writing new words as I’ve done for most of the letters, below is an actual excerpt taken straight from Haunt of the Wilds. Enjoy!
Haunt of the Wilds Excerpt
He’d barely been on watch for an hour, Rid, Wress and Leam all making the rounds in the run-down streets attempting to sniff through the heavy scent of fire and smoke, when the door to the house squeaked open. He didn’t move from where he had propped himself up against the only standing pole that had used to serve as part of the railing. Didn’t need to. A full third of his dogs were facing that direction. And all of them, including De’vii, recognized Caliebb’s scent before he even stepped outside. Mott came running despite the fact she had been circling the nearby rotting buildings with Ens and Wit.
“What are you doing up?” asked De’vii.
Caliebb came to stand next to him, one hand trailing the worn and cracked wood railing. “Wes sort of took over Epsie’s other side and I couldn’t get comfortable.”
De’vii started to straighten, alarm sparking in his body and his mind stretching out to grab a hold of every member of his pack. “Wes is sleeping with Epsie?” Sou was already on his feet and pouncing for the door.
“It’s fine,” said Caliebb. He reached over, looking as if he was about to grab De’vii before he snatched his hand back and shoved it into his pocket. “Mi’saa has a couple of her dogs standing guard over Epsie’s nonexistent virtue. And quite frankly, I don’t think Wes is so bad as to attempt to seduce her when she’s hurting.”
De’vii didn’t share Caliebb’s same optimism over Wes’s character, but he did settle back against the wood, knowing Mi’saa was awake and would be relieving him as soon as she was done caring for her pack. Sou stalled at the door, muzzle swinging toward Caliebb before he flopped down next to Fel on the leaning porch.
“You should be in there too,” said De’vii, turning just enough so he wasn’t completely blocking Caliebb out.
Caliebb tapped the broken railing. “I told you, I couldn’t get comfortable.”
De’vii hummed to himself and turned his attention toward the glow in the distance where the fire was burning itself out. He’d exchanged a glance with Mi’saa over the conversation they’d overheard between Caliebb and Epsie, but it wouldn’t have changed anything if it were true. Besides, he was firmly in Epsie’s camp. Mage springs were simply too useful to be throwing them away, no matter the price. Long term, a spring could make Founteinn far more money than a single, high-paying job could. Stev might be controlling and arrogant, but he had yet to seem stupid. At least not about the business end of things.
Maybe Caliebb just needed to get some more sleep, fill his head with more brains than dust to realize just how good he had it in comparison to most of the six planes. Leam snarled at that thought. De’vii snorted at the large dog, feeling Leam was more irritated for the reference to stupidity than anything else.
“What’s it like where you’re from?” asked Caliebb suddenly.
Caliebb nodded. “Less friendly, I’d assume, as well.”
“That depends on who you are.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Is it less friendly for you?”
De’vii considered him. “What are you hounding for?”
Caliebb ran a hand through his hair and De’vii couldn’t help but notice how the ash had left gray streaks in it and splotchy smudges all over his face. The same color as the circles under his eyes, making it look as if his entire body was going as brittle as the forest.
“I can’t sleep. I’m just looking for conversation. Can you handle that or is it too much effort on your part?”
Before he could answer, De’vii found himself staring as Mott leapt the staircase and circled Caliebb’s legs, nipping at his calf before lifting her head to nuzzle against his stomach. Caliebb sucked in a breath and De’vii caught a tendril of fear in his scent.
“You’re not suddenly scared of her, are you?” He laughed to cover his shock at Mott’s behavior.
He tested her mind, finding the strain of wildness that seemed to be ever-present in her recently. She flaunted her apathy to his concern, rubbing harder against Caliebb as if she wanted to own the man, to leave De’vii and switch to a new master. She seemed to be struggling with the idea that Caliebb could have died tonight, worried more for him than the rest of the pack put together. Ah, and now she had the gall to say it was because she trusted her pack to take care of themselves. De’vii swallowed down a snarl, fists shaking so bad he crossed his arms to hide it.
“Of course not. Thought maybe you’d get mad again for touching her,” said Caliebb. He was carefully keeping his hands up by his chest, assumedly so he wouldn’t accidently brush Mott. De’vii found himself appreciating the gesture despite everything.
He felt a thread of his anger slink away when Mott didn’t seem to be getting any worse. Yet, if he didn’t allow it now, it would become blatantly obvious Mott was wild. So he attempted a friendly grin. “I gave permission earlier. She was just busy.”
Caliebb nodded and the corner of his lips curled up slowly, turning into the sweetest tiny smile De’vii had ever seen, reaching all the way to the man’s gold-flecked green eyes. The rest of De’vii’s anger dissipated at the sight and he watched as Caliebb reached down and lightly touched Mott between the ears, scratching when Mott made a noise in her throat and pressed into his palm.
Dam’s tits, she was shameless. So utterly and completely shameless in her fickleness. Even when Wit had found a liking to Caliebb he hadn’t had the taste of wildness in his mind beating to get out, nor had he ever thought to disobey De’vii. Maybe this sexy bit of wildness Caliebb exuded was all an illusion, that it was Mott’s own nature catching up to her. She hadn’t been his, after all. Never truly.
Caliebb knelt down and leaned into Mott, his fingers trailing over her thick coat. “Would you tell me about them? Your pack?” asked Caliebb, glancing up at De’vii.
De’vii didn’t answer immediately. They stared into the broken, overgrown street and the forest beyond in a surprisingly comfortable silence, listening to the cries of the evening scavenger birds carry on. He could smell the exhaustion on Caliebb underneath all the soot and blood. Could sense a lack of tension, as if Caliebb wasn’t really expecting anything at all. Which made De’vii incredibly more willing to talk. Well, he was never not willing to brag about his pack; most people just didn’t want to hear it.
“I ran in the wilds south of the Braken,” he started.
Caliebb lifted his eyebrows. “I have no idea what that even means.”
De’vii gave a sardonic smile. “Neither does most of Nebrae.” He let his smile morph to one more friendly and continued as he pointed out the now half-asleep dogs. “Sou and Fel were two of a late litter dropped in my sire’s pack. Fel’s a natural leader. Knows his pack, knows how to keep them in line. You could say Sou is his second. Cocky as all get out, most aggressive fighter in the bunch, though part of that is because he doesn’t always think before he enters a fray.”
Sou let out a whine and Fel made a sound in the back of his throat that De’vii knew was his humored agreement of De’vii’s assessment.
“It’s true, Sou,” said De’vii.
Sou snapped his jaw shut and pretended to ignore them all. Caliebb gave a single soft laugh, the sound reverberating into De’vii’s groin. He shifted quickly and returned his attention to the smoldering fire in the forest as he went on.
“I made a trade with another wild houndmaster, well, it was two of them, but that’s too confusing to try to explain. My part of the deal was the next litter their best bitch dropped. From that I got Kat, Wress, Leam and Rid. They were pissed about Leam, his coloring was what they’d been hoping for, all deep rusty red. He’s pretty laidback even after I got into a fight with the owners of his dam. However, he chose me over them and I’m eternally thankful for he’s a breath of fresh air when the others are fighting amongst themselves, too apathetic to join in seriously.
“Kat is the sensible one. Watched and took Sou’s fierceness in a fight and Fel’s ability to lead. She’s a beaut when she fights because of it. Muscle and smarts. It means she knows when to back down, when to retreat, when to take off sides. She can assist just as well as take the front, but she’s no coward.” He gave Kat a warm smile then. “She took a heavy hit for the team last year on a job and lost her womb to infection. Almost lost her completely, but she managed to hold on till I found a real vet.”
De’vii paused then, giving Caliebb a sideways glance to see if he was actually paying attention. He was staring at Kat. Kat stared back hard and though her posture said she didn’t mind him watching, De’vii doubted Caliebb could tell she didn’t mean to scare him.
After a moment, Caliebb broke first and turned to De’vii. “That’s it? What about the rest?”
De’vii smiled. “Sif was a single trade. She was too docile for her dam and wasn’t getting enough to eat at her tits because the others were too pushy. I traded Kat’s first litter for Sif, giving Sif not only every teat Kat had, but also the best teacher she could have ever asked for.”
“You traded an entire litter for one?” asked Caliebb in disbelief.
“All males. Needed another female. She’s still a sweet thing.” He leaned down to rub Sif’s back, carefully avoiding the thin lacerations she’d received earlier. “And she’ll have beautiful pups with this mottled gray and black coat when she’s ready.”
“She hasn’t had any yet?” The disbelief turned into something more, but De’vii couldn’t read it.
De’vii shook his head. “Nebraean dogs aren’t like yours. They’re called nocturn hounds by some. The darkened by others. They have a few unflattering things they are called by people of different planes, most notably lama fer agaron, a Lucean phrase that means ‘the crazed and the ugly.’ You can see why we don’t particularly like that one. Though really those are others’ terms to differentiate native Nebraean hounds from the pathetic things you call dogs here. Even your wild wolves can’t come close to what nocturn hounds are. It took five years for Kat to be ready and that’s extremely early. Sif here is in her seventh year and it might be ten before she chooses her first mate. It’s up to her.”
“But you’ll just trade her litter away anyway?”
“Not necessarily,” said De’vii. “That’s up to her as well. Dam gets to choose. Always. But they don’t often want to keep their own about. She’ll approve of the owner and pack who takes her pups and if she’s wanting to drop a litter to remain with her, she’ll let me know that too. Just as Kat did when I informed her that Wit and Ens would be the last she’d carry.”
“Wit and Ens are Kat’s then?” Caliebb looked around as if searching for them and De’vii motioned out front where the two mostly grown pups were crossing the street, noses to the ground.
“That’s right. There had been four in that litter, but Kat lost two because of her wounds. They are feisty. Ens a little more than normal. He keeps trying to challenge authority and there isn’t another dog in my pack who hasn’t had to put him in his place a few times. Even Wit can get the best of him, though he pretends he can’t sometimes just so Ens can feel better about himself. Either that or he’s just lazy. Actually, it’s probably the laziness. They’ll probably end up as close as Rid and Wress are.”
Ast jumped up then, throwing herself against De’vii and mock biting his thigh. He rubbed her fiercely and tugged her close, letting her nuzzle Sif sideways away from his feet. “I haven’t forgotten you, love. Ast here, she’s crazy.”
She growled deep in her throat.
“It’s true, love. You are. You are one crazy bitch. Caliebb, you be careful around her, she’s liable to bite straight through when you’re thinking she’s teasing you. She doesn’t tease. Only reason she doesn’t bite me is because she remembers that there are ten other dogs around her that will tear her to pieces if she dares hurt me, and that’s only if I haven’t thrown her against a tree beforehand.”
Caliebb’s eyes widened. “And you let her guard me?”
At the shock in Caliebb’s eyes and the sudden fear in his posture, De’vii threw his head back and laughed, hearing the humor shared by his pack in the recesses of his consciousness.
“It’s not funny, De’vii!”
He shook his head, still laughing somewhat. “Ast is crazy, an absolute terror. But she loves us all. She got tired of being alone. I’m not sure what happened with her old pack, I just know that when I found her she was more than willing to fight hard for her spot in ours. She didn’t understand pack mentality then though, so she chafed, much like Ens does now, but she’s the most passionate out of all of us. She’d die first for any of us, no matter that she might bark and growl at you. It’s just the way she deals, like a gruff exterior that hides all the warm fuzziness inside she doesn’t want to let you see.”
“Oh,” said Caliebb, with about as much relief as he’d had when De’vii had told him he could only die once.
They sat in silence for a long while after that and De’vii was starting to think he’d spooked Caliebb, which, for some reason, disappointed him.
“You never said about Mott,” Caliebb whispered.
His hands were both curled into Mott’s black fur and he’d leaned so his head rested against her shoulder. De’vii stared, wondering how Caliebb could look so small, his body curled such he seemed to be trying to block the world away using Mott as his shield.
This was an eternal mage spring? This human could somehow empower any person he wished, make them ten times more than what they were? Right now, he didn’t seem like much more than the pup De’vii had originally thought he was. His eyes shadowed, his lips tightened and his ash-streaked grain-colored hair limply framing his face.
As he considered what he should tell Caliebb, De’vii watched Wit’s progress as the dog trailed Ens into another street. Mott was, for all extents and purposes, still wild. Would probably always be so. Not exactly what a supposedly civilized houndmaster wanted to get out. Could easily ruin a reputation, make people think he had no control over his dogs, that his consciousness didn’t stretch to include all of them, or if it did, that they could break it at any point.
“De’vii?” asked Caliebb. “Did you hear me?”
De’vii took a breath. “Mott is…was my dam’s.” He opened his mouth to say more, but then, looking at how trusting Caliebb was with her, closed his mouth without saying a word. He wouldn’t ruin that relationship, whatever it was, or Mott would have his entrails. Caliebb trusted her more so than any of the others in his pack. Took some sort of comfort in Mott that De’vii didn’t want to steal from him. So instead he smiled and said softly, “It’s something special to be able to feel echoes of my own dam’s thoughts when I feel Mott.”
Caliebb rewarded him with a tiny smile in return. The second De’vii had seen and both had been turned on him. Oh for fuck’s sake, was he counting them now? Getting harried and wild over a bloody smile. He was probably making the ancestral bitch howl in merriment.
“I bet,” said Caliebb, then he buried his face in Mott’s black fur as if trying to shut something out. Something awful.
No, De’vii wasn’t taking his modicum of comfort from him, whatever in the six planes he needed it for.