Lan loved interacting. Exploring. Chatting.
It was perfectly normal for a wolf. A Lycan.
What was bizarre was his interest in those outside the pack. On any given night, Lan could be found on cliffsides, hilltops, and at tree lines, gazing at city lights. He openly fantasized about strolling streets and befriending Humans. If given the opportunity, he’d probably converse with fiends from all different walks of existence.
Needless to say, other wolves found him distasteful. Perhaps if he had the pedigree to be that bold and freewheeling, they wouldn’t mind it as much. Unfortunately, he was born at the lowest rung of society and that sort of behavior simply wouldn’t do.
Frivolous. Useless. An absolute drain on resources.
As to be expected, his pack leader readily tossed him out when he reached maturity. There was only one place for existences like Lan. If things went well, perhaps he would experience something akin to happiness. If they didn’t, at least their world wouldn’t have to care for him anymore.
And so, Lan’s fur was cleaned until it shone under moonlight. His claws were shaved down to blunt edges and his snout was muzzled. It was the picture of beauty. Submission. Someone that could still be useful despite everything.
Lan didn’t react, simply turning his head away from the broker.
“They’re all small,” his pack leader scoffed. “Just take him already. We’ve been waiting for this day since he arrived.”
The broker waved a careless hand, reaching around to grab Lan’s scruff. His thick fingers smelled disgusting and Lan was already thinking about the moment he could wash off the stench. “Your pack is a real mess.” He laughed harshly, shoving Lan toward a woman who was steadily chaining a line of wolves together. “Who would’ve thought your mate would turn out a pitiful whore with a soon-to-be whore child. Fucking a Human because you couldn’t get—”
Lan flinched at the sound of snarling and fighting. The woman clipping him to the others barely acknowledged it though, blank eyes gazing through him. He glanced in the direction of his now ex-pack leader, but they had already taken the scuffle into the trees.
Well, it wasn’t his business.
“Valentine’s pack will have first choice among you lot.” She rattled their chains, bringing them to attention as they were led through the trees to a waiting vehicle. Without a backward glance to her vanished associate, she continued speaking, “Work hard to get in their good graces, and maybe you’ll have an easy life with the main family.”
Lan hopped up to the bed of the pickup truck, resting his head against the warm metal frame. The others crowded around him, tails swaying anxiously. The woman was their guide and she climbed up after them, perching on the edge of the truck as it rolled down the dark dirt road.
Her features were sharp but not exactly cold. Just solemn. Guarded. The face of someone who stood above others. An alpha. She dropped the chains in her hand, watching them all carefully. “Everyone in Val’s pack has the luxury of claiming those they favor. With ten members though, a good handful of you will be left out.”
It was a generous assessment. There were around twenty of them, including Lan. What were the chances every member in the main family wanting one of them?
She adjusted her leather jacket, fur-lined collar rippling in the wind. “The three branch packs will then have second choice. Chances of being chosen will drop though. Resources are lower among these smaller packs, so usually only their alpha will take one of you in.” Gold eyes glinted in the darkness. “Those left behind will have to fend for themselves.”
Lan could practically taste anxiety in the air. Were they really nervous? Hadn’t they all spent life until now being shunned? Waiting for the day they were collected and distributed? Maybe they had been lucky in their little packs. Maybe they had alphas and kin who were kind and loved them despite the uselessness of their existence.
The ride continued in relative silence, but the closer they got to their destination, the noisier his companions grew. Lan was surprised their guide hadn’t hit one of them yet. Without even seeing her wolf form, it was obvious she had a high status. Maybe she was even a pack leader.
Valentine headed the largest wolfpack in Europe, but there were still other packs that lurked through the dark. Doing this type of unsavory favor for Valentine surely kept up good relations.
Lan closed his eyes, enjoying the rush of cool wind.
Whatever happened next couldn’t be worse than the suffocating life he’d led so far.
“We’ll be arriving soon.” Her voice brought everyone to attention, ears perked and tails stilling. “Val has requested three days and nights to allow his packmates sufficient time to make their choices. During that period, you’ll be given plenty of opportunities to please them.”
She tugged a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, lighting one up as if this were a casual affair and not a matter of life and death for many of them. “A word of advice, refusing a packmate will do little for you.”
A plume of white smoke burst from her lips. “Whatever gentle lies your kin may have told you until now are simply that. Lies. Your value as a packmate is less than zero. Val and his branches are doing charity work by taking you in.”
Lan shifted around, finally too annoyed by the thumping of another wolf’s tail against his back to stay still.
The truck slowed down as it veered onto a narrow road. Tree branches hung over them and Lan reluctantly pulled his head in before one could hit him. All around, low whimpers and growls grew louder.
She took a long drag, cigarette burning bright in the darkness. “Remember little ones,” she murmured, “your happiest future will be here. Become excellent stress-relievers. Impress them with your bodies and silly talents.”
Lan watched her smile and wondered if it felt as dead as it looked. She twirled the chains around her fist as the truck jerked to a halt. “Lastly, make them utterly forget that you’re sterile, filthy failures.”
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