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    astone2292
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Cernunnos - 20. Chapter 20

The order was clear and no one dared to defy it. Cyn and Shea took off to the left, the Turbins went another direction, and Arric ran behind the nearest tree. Cursing himself mentally, the Alpha nursed his injured pride. How did Cyn know? I didn’t smell a thing, let alone feel anything in my instincts! A hunter. Growling to himself, the wolf’s thoughts flew. This can be no coincidence! A hunter near the site of a cernunnos attack?

A loud gunshot sounded from the vicinity of the hunter. He’s not aiming at me! I need to move! Peeking out, he saw the distance between the hunter and himself. If I get closer, I can strike. Arric darted between the trees, changing directions sporadically. After the third tree hop, another shot rang out, followed by a thud against the tree he was hiding behind. He sees me. I only hope the others have the same plan of attack!

Shea heard the shots and decided to strategize. This is what all that training was for, I guess! I’ve never run into a hunter before, but it seems like a simple problem. Close in until the gunner runs and attack them when an opening presents itself. He turned and saw Cyn behind another tree to his rear. Shea watched the deer quake in fear with eyes wide. He needs to calm down! He’ll go running off in the middle of the gunfire! Snorting, he warned the buck to stay put. A third shot echoed in the forest and a solid sound came from the tree his boyfriend was hiding behind. They’re after Cyn! Turning back to the gunner, Shea could only make a single assumption. It’s one of the three! He glanced to the left and saw Arric darting swiftly between the trees. Alpha has the same idea. Where are the Turbins?

A bark came from the Alpha; a warning. Sniffing the air himself, he came up with a faint trace. I smell it, but I wouldn’t have noticed the silver in the air if he hadn’t said something. He quickly let out a loud bark, informing the others We must move carefully! One bullet and we’ll be in deep shit!

Focusing on the task at hand, Shea advanced to the next tree. Waiting for another shot to ring out, he let out a loud snarl, followed by a series of rabid barks. To a shifter’s ears, they were just simple warnings to stop, but the sounds could strike fear into any human’s heart. Another shot rang out with a corresponding thud in front of Arric’s tree. The white wolf seemed nearly unphased as the Alpha took the opportunity to advance again. So, he’s waiting for a shot to go. Good idea.

Shot after shot, the wolves flanked the gunner. From the corner of his vision, Shea finally found Jaime off to his right and was pleased with his position. I’m fairly certain with his focus on us, the shooter doesn’t see him! But where is Kara? The three wolves waited for another shot, but the forest was silent. A move needs to be made. Shea darted his head from behind his cover and quickly retreated in hopes of faking out the gunman. Minutes passed and the stalemate was growing tiresome.

The commander turned to Arric as the Alpha’s patience was being tested. Growling loudly, it was Arric’s turn to throw nasty insults and a slew of vicious barks. Turning to Jaime, the auburn wolf seems ready to make a move. Shea woofed, instructing him to stay put.

The attention of the four shifters was grabbed as a prideful howl permeated through the woods. Shea recognized the claim of victory. Kara! Did...did she get him? He peeked from the side for a moment, only to retract his head. Letting loose a resounding bark, he demanded for Kara to speak or reveal herself.

Another resounding howl confirmed Shea's suspicion. That's her. She got him! Coming from behind his cover, Shea trotted towards the gunman's nest, followed by the other shifters. As they got close, Kara met them halfway and led them to the body. Approaching the prone and bloody body, the commander and Alpha surveyed it while Jaime took charge of policing the area.

With one sniff, Arric confirmed the identity of their attacker. Marric. The three have become two now. Observing the way Marric died, he grunted approval towards Kara and her bite to his neck. He wouldn't have had a chance to shift. She snapped his neck, as well as severing a jugular. It's a shame he died instantly.

The Alpha began his shift back into his human form. Once standing on his two feet, he knelt over the body and began rummaging through the backpack nearby. The lycan found what he was looking for. Cell phone. We can at least know what kind of messages Marric was sending. Digging further into the pack, Arric kept finding more and more useful things. “Jaime, shift so you can strap this bag to me. We need to head back. Marric’s phone will be enough to get us further than the scene itself. Agreed?”

Shea nodded as Jaime shifted into his human form as Arric reverted to his white wolf. With the new bag attached, Jaime’s wolf came back out. Reverting back to the original formation with Cyn and Kara to the front, the red-haired wolf took a roaming position. They retraced their path. Cyn kept his eyes peeled the entire time. His instincts were working in overdrive. I barely caught that rifle’s glint! If...if I hadn’t said anything, who knows what would have happened! He turned to see Kara running with bloodstains on her muzzle, and mentally thought of the remaining team members that escaped his vision.

His mind stopped on Sheamus. Thoughts could not be formed of hypothetical outcomes. Thinking of the large man he met at the hospital, Cyn’s heart pulled. He’s been there for me this entire time. I don’t think I could have handled seeing him hurt.

As they arrived back at the pair of sedans, Jaime was the first to shift as he needed to remove everyone’s backpacks. Once Shea’s was removed, the commander’s body began to change. He then focused on detaching Cyn’s harness and whispered so only the deer could hear, “You were amazing out there, Cyn. I’m...I’m so proud of how far you’ve come.” The lycan looked up to the cernunnos’ wide irises. For the first time, Shea paid attention to the color of a deer’s eyes. I’ve always thought they were black! The pupil is just that big. Nearing the edge of the thin brown fur on Cyn’s face, Shea stared at the thin and brown ring surrounding the enormous pupils.

Just as Shea unlatched the harness strap around the buck’s neck, his neck was nudged by Cyn’s wet nose. “Thanks. I...I like you too, little man.” With the backpack removed, Shea expected the cernunnos to transform back into the short and cute man, but the deer remained. “You really like being a deer, don’t you?” Cyn snorted and Shea gently raised his hand to stroke the side of the neck. “I don’t blame you. I love running around in the woods. Maybe soon, when we aren’t dealing with this craziness, we can go running together. Does that sound like fun?”

Picturing the two running in the forest delighted Cyn to no end. He dipped his head slightly, being careful to avoid hurting Sheamus with his antlers, and snorted heavily. The buck took a few steps in reverse, allowing Shea’s hands to fall to his side, and silently shifted. Watching in awe, Shea forgot he was still naked as a cold breeze blew below his hips. With Cyn finishing his transformation, the lycan quickly opened the buck’s pack to brandish their clothes. The chilled fabric was not pleasant to feel as the clothes were thrown on. Beginning to shiver, Shea quickly started his car and cranked up the heat.

“Nice work, everyone!” Arric’s usual strong tone faltered as the Alpha felt the frigid wind. “Cyn. Most impressive by spotting the enemy. How did you know he was there?”

Pulling his new jacket on and zipping it as high as possible, Cyn’s voice shivered, “I...I just knew. Something felt off, so I looked...and-and saw the gun.”

“You’re saying it was your instincts?” Arric watched the smaller man nod. That’s crazy! I’m already blown away by his ability to shift silently, but to have animal instincts on that high of a frequency? Is this a common trait with cernunnos, or do all deer have this? The Alpha stepped forward and stretched out his hand to Cyn. “Your instincts may have saved someone’s life today, young fawn. Today will not go unnoticed.”

Cyn stared at the hand for a moment before seeing Shea nod behind the Alpha. Lifting his own, Cyn’s hand met Arric’s tight grip. “Th-thank you, Arric.”

“Let’s head back to the manor. We need to have the cell phone analyzed. I’m also certain everyone has earned the rest of the evening off. Turbins!” Jaime and Kara had just put their clothes back on as they stood at attention from their Alpha’s shout. “You’re invited to dinner at the manor tonight. Unless plans have been made, I suggest you attend.”

“Yes, Alpha.” The mated couple spoke simultaneously. With everyone clothed, the shifters piled into the vehicles and journeyed back to the manor.

Along the way, Shea couldn’t keep his hand off of Cyn’s. So much has happened! The mission was an incredible success, but I just can’t get over Cyn! The little guy was so fearless today. He was shaky when the gunfire started and I won’t blame him. “You okay, Cyn?”

The deer’s brown eyes met Shea. He couldn’t figure out his own emotions. On one hand, he was thrilled with being included in the adventure, but the other hand is what scared him. Those three. They really do want to hurt me! Flashes of the limp body came to mind and he shivered, “I’m fine. I just...I guess I didn’t believe you when you said they wanted to hurt me.”

“I’m sorry this happened today. I could tell Arric was just as surprised as we were. It’s bad when the Alpha didn’t notice Marric before you mentioned there being a hunter.” Squeezing the smaller hand, Shea had a knot forming in his stomach. “I’m just glad you weren’t hurt.”

Cyn looked down to the larger hand and admired the squeeze. He sat and decided to return the squeeze, "You and Arric are strong leaders. I wanted to be useful."

"You were beyond useful, Cyn! You saved us from someone being injured or worse. Arric might be too proud to say it, but you were the star of this mission."

"But Kara killed the hunter. That's more than what I did."

Shea shook his head as he kept his eyes on the road. "She is trained to be the offensive member of our team. She did her job. You were meant to be the assisting tracker. To spot a rifle scope from our location was remarkable!"

Hearing praise directed his way was a new experience and Cyn's cheeks grew rosy in color. "I just...I just did what any herd member would do."

Back to the herd mentality? “Well, it might shock you to hear this, but your actions weren’t any different from a pack member’s.” Shea curled a smile on the left side of his face. “Other than formations and duties, there’s not much difference between a pack of wolves and a herd of deer.”

Cyn gawked at his boyfriend. I...I acted like a wolf pack member? “Is there much of a difference?”

“From what I know, herds tend to bunch together and form a filled circle, of sorts. Wild wolves use a single line system but for our teams, we typically pair up in a line, like how we were today. We didn’t give you too much of a designated role, but you filled the tracker spot with flying colors!”

“What were the other roles?”

“Kara and Arric acted as bodyguards and our main line of both offense and defense. Jaime was purely scouting, and I was there for leading and support.”

Leading? Hearing his boyfriend was the acting leader didn’t sit right with the cernunnos. “If you were leading, why were you behind everyone?”

“That’s a thing with wolves. The leader tends to stay in the rear of formation to keep everyone moving. I can order a change in direction if needed, and if someone begins to slow down, I’m there to urge them to move faster or tell the group to slow down.” From the corner of the wolf’s eyes, he noticed Cyn having a hard time understanding the concept. Maybe an example will help him. “Do you know what a pirate ship looks like?” Watching the deer nod, Shea continued, “Picture one. Where is the steering wheel located?”

As the deer thought of a visual, he quickly responded to the question, “It’s near the...rear.” In a gasp, Cyn completely understood the concept of pack leadership. “You can see how everyone is doing!” The person steering can order the crew around!

The wolf grinned from ear to ear at the moment of brilliance. “That’s right. A deer leader sticks near the front, right?”

“Yes, the head buck will guide the herd to the destination. Where we go is up to him, and the same for food and water.” Cyn twiddled his fingers nervously, “Although I sometimes will eat nuts off the ground as I see them.”

“You must have been a respected member of your herds to be able to sniff out danger like you did.”

The cernunnos’ heart sank as he thought of his roles in all of his herds. “No, I wasn’t. My...my antlers are not worthy of being respected.”

Shea hated the fact he was driving at the moment. He wanted to turn and stare deep into the eyes of the sad man. He...he wasn’t respected? “What do you mean?”

“I only have six points. Every herd I’ve been in, the head buck thought of me as weak. I...I have never won a challenge. I was never deemed fit to mate with any of the females, even though I couldn’t imagine doing that. The fact I wasn’t allowed marked me as the weakest.”

A low growl was kept behind Shea’s closed lips. He could smell that his vocal opinion scared the deer. “I didn’t mean to scare you Cyn, but you are anything but weak!” The statement was calm in volume and stern in tone. “I guarantee Arric would call your lead bucks ignorant for their closed minds. Strength is not everything, and I think you need to know that. If it weren’t for you, our mission would have ended in disaster.”

With furrowed brows, the deer tried to make sense of Shea’s statement. Strength isn’t everything? That...that doesn’t make sense. A deer’s strength and his antlers make up his status. “I don’t get what you’re saying, Sheamus. For cernunnos and wild deer, strength is how status is set. If I can’t win a challenge, then I’m next to nothing.”

“I guess that’s a difference between our species. With lycan, we look at strength, instinct, and intelligence. It’s fine to have all the power in the world, but if you don’t have the brains to make tactical decisions, your pack will fall.”

I get it! That...that is smart! “So, if someone wasn’t strong, they would use their instincts.”

“Just like you did today.” The instant the words left his mouth, Shea saw the biggest smile on Cyn’s face. He’s so happy! I want him to feel this way for as long as possible. A few more turns and Shea parked the car in front of Arric’s manor. His chest pounded like a tribal drum. Cyn kept staring at him with large brown eyes. “Cyn, I want to do something, but I’m...afraid I’ll scare you.”

The deer’s smile faltered, but came back with its original intensity, “You don’t scare me anymore, Sheamus.”

His heart soared as the lycan lifted his hand. Shea gently cupped the side of Cyn’s face, “Good.” The bigger man leaned from his seat and planted his lips on his passenger.

Copyright © 2021 astone2292; All Rights Reserved.
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Now if I only could remember how to do a PM I would be interested in chatting with you as a younger writer about grammar topics. But you must remember that as an 'old fogy' my opinions may be severely out of date. In reference to 'final prepositions', I am reminded of a comment made by Churchill, I believe it was even spoken during a Parliamentary session. "A preposition is something never to end a sentence with."

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When you read Churchills comment, you should also recall that the man was rather well-known as a humorist.

Not ending a statement with a preposition is a ghost of an earlier rule about sentence construction the English inherited from the Latin language. This particular rule stems from the fact that in Latin there is a unique verb form which incorporates the preposition within the verb, so that to include a preposition in a sentence in Latin requires the selection only of the proper verb form, not the addition of another word at any location in the sentence. This makes it impossible in Latin to place the preposition at any place within the sentence, the requirement calls only and solely for the proper choice of verb form.
     So, when writing a sentence in English, the preposition may be inserted into the work at any place the author is comfortable with it appearing. Many authors are at ease with the preposition appearing at the end of a sentence because that is the way spoken English is used.

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Grr now you’ve got me hooked on two of your stories! I love the slow build up of the relationship on this one! 😍

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