Now that he’s reached his age of maturity, otter shifter Noah is ready for his migration, where he’ll travel down the Pacific coast in search of a new place to call home and hopefully find his mate. He has only barely begun when he comes across Herm, another otter, who has his paw tangled up in a wire. He’s hurt and they need help, so Noah calls his cousin. With Denali’s help, Noah and Herm are put up in an empty house while Herm heals up enough to continue on his way.
But the waters aren’t safe for otters, not with a couple of rogue orcas making trouble for them, and as the disappearances increase, Noah realizes they’re all in danger. He’s sure that Herm is his mate, whether the grumpy old otter wants to admit it or not, and Noah knows he must do anything to protect them both, especially when trouble decides to invite itself in.
Despite the rain pelting painfully against his naked back, Noah continued to strip out of his clothes and toss them onto the rocks beside him. His otter family would come get his things once he was in the water. The waves in front of him were choppy, and he probably should have gone back inside and waited for another time to make his migration, but the call was boiling in his blood. He had to swim south along the coastline, only stopping to rest in the kelp forests. He had to go explore. He’d reached his maturity, and now it was time for him to go out into the world. A day might not have changed anything for him, but his migration was strong as it beckoned him, and ignoring that siren’s call would only leave him even more restless than he’d been since morning.
Once he stripped off all his clothes, he stretched his arms over his head. It was time. He was practically jumping in his excitement. His great migration. His rite of passage. His—
The bright flash of lightning close by shook him out of his thoughts. Once he was under water, the seas would be calmer. He could really relax then.
Shifting was easy. It was just a matter of thinking of one form and moving his body into that shape. Nothing to it, really. Only the thunder around him and the increasingly rough waves made him a little uncertain. The next roll of thunder came on the heels of the last, but in that brief time he shifted, leaving his human form behind.
“I have to do this. It’s time. Now suck it up,” Noah, now in otter form, muttered to himself as he bounced along the slippery rocks. As soon as he was close enough to the water he slipped in, hardly making a splash, and then he dove deep until the force of the waves wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been at the surface.
The lightning made brilliant bursts of bright colors above him as Noah swam down. Within moments the water around him stilled, making his passage easier. The pull of his migratory urge yanked him to the south. The thick kelp forest provided him cover as he swam, carefully avoiding sharks and killer whales that prowled the waters for any easy prey. It didn’t take him long to leave the storm and his family’s territory behind.
The loud, raucous cries of seagulls pulled Noah from sleep the next morning. The bright morning sunlight illuminated sheer cliffs to his right. Unwrapping the strands of kelp he’d put around his waist before falling asleep, he dove toward the seabed, following the kelp to reach the bottom that much faster. A large shoal of clams spread out before him. He selected a large one, along with a good sized rock, and swam back to the surface.
By the time he had several clams in him, he was ready to continue on his way. The waves were gentle since the storm had blown itself out. Noah stayed near the surface and followed the cool Pacific current south. It had been a long time since he’d spent much time in the ocean. His family tended to frown on extended ocean visits, preferring for members to spend more time in the lakes and streams around the territory in an effort to prevent conflicts with any of the other shifter clans in the area. The ocean was so freeing. Noah wondered why more otters didn’t take off and spend time beyond their migration out on open water. But he didn’t know that they actually didn’t. Not for sure, anyway. He just knew what his clan did, and he was learning that his clan was a bit more backward than he’d believed possible.
A taste of fresh water hit Noah as he swam along near the end of his second day. After studying the maps of the area he’d be traveling through, and counting off the rivers he tasted, he figured he was passing the Alsea River, in Oregon. He pushed himself further out to sea, not wanting to deal with humans until he had to. He was immersing himself in his otter self. The farther he could stay away from people, the better.
A splashing nearby combined with a high-pitched cry for help drew his attention. Noah swam toward the sound. The sharp tang of oil in the water made him wrinkle his nose. A boat had passed by recently.
“Help, over here!” The voice had the decided clip of an otter to it.
Noah swam faster. The splashing sounded more frantic than he’d ever heard an otter of his clan sound. When we drew close enough, he spotted a large male otter bobbing up and down in the waves, trying to reach the closed kelp fronds, but being stopped by something just a few feet away.
“I’m here!” Noah shouted, hoping his presence would help calm the other otter.
“Quickly. I need help,” the other otter demanded. “I’m caught.”
“Where?” Noah asked. He swam up and bumped heads with the other male. There was something familiar about him, but Noah couldn’t put his finger on it.
“My hind leg,” snapped the other otter. “I tried to get loose, but it’s on too tight.”
“What is it?” Noah put his paw on the male’s hand, trying to be reassuring.
“I don’t know. I went down after a clam and got caught up in something. It hurts. Felt like metal.” He shook his paw out of Noah’s. “Go down and look at it for yourself.”