A small breeze tickles through the trees leaving in its wake a chill and the scent of blood. Squatting down, I survey the leaf-littered ground, searching for any sign of disturbance. Nothing looks out of place, no leaves turned over or dirt that looks freshly dug. I pop back up and walk deeper into the woods.
I use my enhanced hearing to listen for sounds that are out of place. Branches creak in the wind, the scratching of small paws skittering up the trees as squirrels go about their normal play. Closing my eyes, I focus on my sense of smell. The breeze picks up as the air swirls around, tossing dead leaves through the forest with gusto.
There it is again. The scent of blood. My eyes fly open as I follow the smell cautiously. I find myself along a small embankment of rocks and a quaint babbling stream. Upon coming closer, I see dried drops of blood on the rock bed. This explains why the scent was so faint.
Someone had a meal here, probably of squirrel or mouse variety. I slowly spin, taking in the surrounding area. The little opening is lit by the midday sun, affording it more heat than the rest of the woods. It’s peaceful here, a small solitude from the dreariness of the dark woods I will enter back into soon enough. But for now, I can afford a break to enjoy these fleeting moments of silence and peace.
I lower my hood and remove my blade from my back, placing it down next to a rock. Then I take out my canteen and slowly fill it up in the clear, cool stream. The water flows effortlessly over the rocks, casting small shadows from the sun’s heavy gaze. I close my eyes, trying to memorize the sound, storing it away for a day when I need to center myself and escape the reality that is my life.
I carry the weight of life and death on my shoulders. More often than not, the weight feels as though it is too much to bear. For six years, I have worked my way to the top of the field I stumbled upon as a kid. Six years of death and security for the werewolf community that once spurned and hated me. Life sure has a funny way of changing people.
The sound of crashing brambles and snapping twigs puts me on high alert as low growls echo through the woods. An enormous wolf of gray and black flies past me, leaving in its wake the smell of fresh blood. Yipping and snarling sounds from behind as I run up the rocks, propelling myself into the trees.
I sprint along the branches, leaping and bounding from tree to tree, keeping pace with the wolves on the chase. The dull shine of their coat informs me they are rogues. Only those in a pack have the sheen of a shiny wolf’s coat, a sort of luster that shows their wolf is at full strength and protected by a pack.
The chase stops abruptly when the gray wolf comes to a halt, spinning around to face his aggressors, shifting into his human form so he can communicate. He stands tall and strong, not an ounce of fear radiating from him as he speaks with his booming voice.
“I am Alpha Wade, of the Moon Shadow Pack. Your fight is with me and not my pack. What is it you want?” He says.
His voice resonates through the whole of the forest with such authority even the trees get chills. One by one, the lanky wolves shift into men and women standing and stepping forward. I hadn’t noticed how many more had come until they step forward, their naked bodies looking creamy and pale against the shadows of the woods. One with a menacing scar across his chest and blood coming from his head steps closer to the alpha.
“We know who you are.” He asks, smiling wickedly as he tsks, sizing his opponent up. “You wouldn’t want to go down easily, would you?”
Alpha Wade steps forward. His chest glistens with a mixture of sweat and blood as the sun peeks through the branches of the trees. It highlights his impeccable muscular stature that has me raising a brow as I look him over. He is easily the fittest wolf I’ve had to guard in the past few years. It’s admittedly a refreshing change of pace.
“Not a chance in hell.” He chuckles, his voice low and gravelly. Then he shifts into his massive wolf, lunging for the leader.
He is fast enough to sink his teeth into the rogue’s front leg mid-shift and toss him against the tree I am in as if the rogue were a small toy. Within a moment, the sounds of howls erupt into the midday air and eight wolves descend on the alpha at once. He jumps and dodges, nipping here and biting there.
I watch in awe, impressed by his agility and strength. Though his fighting style is not perfect. He appears to be slower and weaker on his left one side. Out of nowhere, a smaller brown wolf lunges from the shadows, clawing at his chest as he goes up on his hind legs to avoid her full force. His left leg seems to fold out from under him as he yelps and falls to the ground, the small wolf pulverizing his chest with bite after bite.
The rules state I am not to fight unless it is for the Alpha I am guarding, and I am not sworn in as the new Alpha’s guardian until the ceremony of acceptance. But I suppose I can’t get ‘accepted’ if I let my new subject die while I watch. Standing, I take only a second to breathe deep and step off the branch, landing with a light thud on the ground.
Rising, I pull my hood over my head and prepare myself. I reach back for my blade and shock floods through me when I don’t find it. The wolves take notice of me and stop, turning to face me. Their hunger and desire to kill is their defining personality trait as they leave the limp and barely conscious alpha and stalk me.
Sighing heavily at my rookie mistake of taking off my weapon of choice, I reach down to either side of my thighs and grab hold of my wide-bladed daggers. These will have to do until I can retrieve my blade. Alpha Wade shifts to his human shape, crawling to a tree stump to right himself. I will admit he is brave and doesn’t give up, but this man is one with a death wish.
“Leave her!” He shouts to the wolves, who know he will no longer be fun to fight. They can’t fight the pull of the excitement of new prey. I laugh at the Alphas’ cute attempt to protect me. He has no idea how unnecessary it is.
“Well, are we going to dance all day, or are you filthy dogs going to take down the tiny weak woman?” I say, taunting them. The two wolves at the front growl angrily and lunge for me. I smile in anticipation.
I spin to the right, easily missing the first wolf’s lunge as I bury my blade into its spine, dragging it the length of its back. Without so much as a yelp, it falls to the dirt with a wet thud. The other wolf soars over me as I reach up, grabbing its hind leg with the dagger planting it deep into its muscle.
Grunting with the effort, I whip it around to change its current direction to that of a collision course with two wolves who watch in horror. A growl comes from behind my right side as an angry wolf leaps for me. I extend my leg, landing a powerful kick on the wolf’s chest cavity with such force the cracks resound through the trees. Three other wolves stalk me and I can’t help but smile. Rogues seem to never learn.
“Oh, come on then. I have places I need to be,”
A massive howl sounds out through the woods, followed by many more. The rogue’s ears perk up and they spin to gauge how far away the pack warriors are. They whine and then look at each other, trying to decide what to do next.
“Sorry boys,” I say. “Looks like we will have to have a rematch another time.”
The rogues turn running off into the woods with no proper direction in mind. I can hear the steady sound of Alpha Wade's men closing in. Smiling and offering a wave to the Alpha, I break into a dead sprint, heading back towards the stream bank to grab my sword. I have only a certain amount of time to get cleaned up and prepared. After all, I have a meeting with the Alpha.