Wolf Pact - By Melissa de la Cruz


Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.

Edward Albee


His earliest memory was of the collar around his neck. Itchy, heavy, tight. From the beginning he wanted it off. It reminded him every day that he was born a slave.

He was a wolf, a beast of hell, a captive, but for now his will and his mind were his own. He had family to protect, brothers and sisters from his den who shared his fate. Taken from their mothers at birth, the pups bonded together and as they grew, he led them to think the unthinkable, that one day, they might break free of their chains.

Freedom was a faraway dream, though. The future was far more likely to hold horrors he couldn't even imagine. Every wolf was turned into a hellhound on their eighteenth moon day, as young wolves turned too early ran the risk of death. So the masters waited until they were strong enough for the change. When he turned eighteen, his life would be over. He would lose his identity, his soul. His every thought and action would be controlled by Romulus, the Hound of Hounds, the Great Beast of Hell.

One day during his sixteenth year, Master Corvinus pulled him aside. Corvinus was their battle sergeant, and like the rest of the masters, he was a former angel, banished from Paradise, a veteran of the War of Heaven. Corvinus was the one who exercised them in the pits, who monitored their progress, who put their names on the lists.

Corvinus had noticed his talent at a recent battle, how he had been able to dodge his adversary's blows with graceful precision - as if he knew where they would land before they did, as if he could see one or two or even three seconds ahead - and the fight had been over before the bell finished ringing.

His name was put on the top of the lists, and he made his way up through the tournaments, through the pits. He kept winning. Every round. He beat them all. Gorg the giant, so called because he was bigger than any of them; Odoff the giant-killer, because he was the first who bested Gorg; Varg; Tatius; Aelia, the vicious she-wolf with the long claws; Drusus; Evander. He had just had to win one more round for the top prize.

But to his shock, he was bested at the trials and not made alpha. After his defeat, he waited for them to come and take him away. He waited, but no one came. The masters seemed to have forgotten about him.

Not so. Instead of killing him, Corvinus brought him before the general.

Romulus was a massive creature, fearsome, with glinting crimson eyes and silver pupils; he was more than human yet not quite wolf, a startling combination of both, as all hellhounds were. Romulus studied him. "Regardless of your performance in the arena, they tell me you are the one. That once you've shed the wolf skin for hellhound form, you will be a mighty warrior, one of the strongest Hell has ever known. The Dark Prince himself has seen it. Lucifer has entreated me to make you my heir. We shall not wait until your eighteenth moon day to make you one of us."

Never, he whispered to himself afterward.

Never what? Ahramin asked. She was the oldest wolf in their den, the fiercest of the she-wolves. Beautiful, dangerous.

I'm never going to be a hound. I'll die before they turn me.

And how are you going to do that? She motioned to the collar he wore, the one all the wolves wore. That collar will keep you from self-destructing. The masters don't like to waste a good dog.

Once they were hellhounds they would assume their true form, they would walk upright, they would speak the language of the masters. They would carry black swords and wear armor. They were the dogs of war, Hell's army, and Lucifer, it was said, was preparing a grand campaign.

That was his fate; that was the fate of all wolves.

But there had to be a way out. Since his defeat, he had not been lazy. He spent his time watching the hounds. There's a sword, he told her. I saw it. An archangel's sword. The hounds stole it, but it's here, they keep it at the armory. It can break our collars. We can escape. We can leave this place.

Ahramin looked skeptical.

Trust me.

He spent the