|Heart Over Fang: Lone Wolf
Author: Charismattia PM
Valsa had every intention of loving her child. She was the only one who would, so she wanted to make her love count. Too bad she can't keep her promise. Now Renai must survive in a harsh world, but will she choose to live with heart or by fang?Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Drama - Chapters: 6 - Words: 26,247 - Published: 05-05-12 - id: 3019594
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Chapter Six: Caged Cub, Gifted Girl
A sudden scratching noise startled Renai from her restless slumber, heart pounding furiously as her body was forced from deep sleep into abrupt wakefulness. Groggily, Renai flicked her eyelids open, blearily registering the world around her. She lay upon a shiny, silver surface, uncomfortable in its extreme coolness, and felt the chilly late morning air brush across her body, causing a shiver to run up her spine. Renai curled into herself as trembles wracked her frame and goose bumps danced their way across the skin of her forearms.
"Mama," she whined in a barely audible mumble, closing her eyes once more as she tried to return to sleep. "It's cold. Close the window ... "
But her mother made no response, and the biting wind continued unabated. Renai pulled her knees even closer to her chest, letting out a desperate whimper as she tucked her freezing fingers underneath her armpits and hugged her torso to keep warm.
Again, the scratching noise resounded, interrupting her almost successful attempt at falling back asleep. With an angry growl, Renai shot up from her resting spot, narrowed golden eyes searching for the perpetrator of the sounds. It didn't take long for Renai to forget the annoyance, however, as she got her first true glimpse of her surroundings.
Her eyes widened as Renai looked upon the metal rods in front of her. Quickly looking to her left side, she was confronted with another row of gleaming silver poles. Confused and slightly afraid, Renai desperately turned in a tight circle, taking in two other sets of shining gray obstructions. Her confusion turned to horror as Renai realized she was completely surrounded by four walls of unbreakable metal bars.
"What's going on?" Renai muttered in frightened disbelief.
She glanced down, noting the shiny gray metal beneath her feet, then frantically looked up, hoping to catch a glimpse of a way out of her prison. Another thick sheet of impenetrable metal stared back at her.
Renai's heart beat a heavy staccato against her chest, and her breaths came in sudden, painful gusts, ripping from her lungs before she even had the chance to inhale. Terrified eyes widened in pain and fear as a hyperventilating Renai clawed at her chest and throat and tugged viciously at loose, sleep tangled locks.
I'm trapped, Renai's mind screamed. Where's Mama?
Suddenly, memories from last night stormed their way across Renai's vision, images of her mother's harsh words rampaging through her thoughts in quick succession.
"Don't call me Mama. I'm not your mama anymore, Renai. And you cannot be my child."
Renai remembered calling out for her mother, begging her to come back so they could both go home and forget that awful day had ever happened. She remembered telling her mother that she loved her, and couldn't help but flinch as she recalled her mother's harsh reply.
"Well, I don't love you. How could anyone love such a monster?"
And then, her mother had just disappeared into the night, leaving Renai to those awful people. She had clawed desperately at their clinging hands, pulling vainly in an attempt to follow after her mother. At one point, Renai had managed to free herself, allowed herself to honestly believe that she might be able to reunite with her mother, and that those awful words that had slipped from her mother's mouth had all been a dream. In the next instant, her hope was stolen from her, and she had fallen unconscious, only to wake up alone in some freezing cage.
Mama called me a monster, Renai despaired, letting out a sniffle as her eyes began to water.
Why'd Mama say that? Renai screamed in her mind, desperate questions racing to be answered. Why can't Mama love me?
Frantically, Renai scrambled across the slick cage floor, slipping once in her desperation. She firmly grabbed hold of the metal bars, hissing at their coldness against her already cool palm. Her chilled fingers, numb and reddened from being exposed to the biting late fall air, pried ineffectively at the freezing rods, hoping in vain that they would magically loosen and she would be freed.
However, the bars refused to even rattle in their fastenings, being made to withstand the harshest of attacks from animals far larger and more dangerous than the small girl. Giving one last futile tug, Renai wailed in disappointment and slunk back into the darkest corner of the cage, drawing her legs to her chest and tucking her head against her knees.
A small whimper escaped her as Renai realized that she was all alone, that her mother had abandoned her to these people, who had cruelly placed her in a cage like some wild beast.
"Why, Mama?" she moaned bitterly, tears swimming in her eyes.
The scratching resumed its frenzied pace, but Renai tried to ignore it, too focused on the pain in her heart to worry about her surroundings. She dug her face further into her knees in hopes of drowning out the annoying sound, but the scratching only seemed to get louder.
I told you to run away ... should have listened! a raspy voice uttered, echoing on the wind.
Renai gave a start, lifting her head from her knees and glancing nervously outside her cage. In the dim light of the early winter sun, the graveyard of isolated pens she had investigated last night was slightly less eerie, but still depressing and dreary.
She shuffled to the edge of the cage, scrambling anxiously across the freezing metal floor and latching her fingers around the steel bars there.
"Hello?" Renai whispered, pressing her cheeks against the cage's bars and peering outside the pen for the owner of the mysterious voice.
Just like the night before, no one was around. She could make out the one-eyed lion in the pen to her left. He lazily looked at her before he shook his tangled red mane and let out a tongue-rolling yawn, stretching his front paws and flexing his sharp claws. With one last disdainful look, the large cat turned his head away from Renai, as if telling her he could care less about her and to mind her own business.
Renai removed her eyes from the back of the old lion, turning instead to her right side, where the furious scratching had once again picked up. There, in the pen next to hers, was the same old silver wolf from last night, a hind leg vigorously rubbing at the dirty, mangy fur on his shoulder, his long, pink tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth and his electric blue eyes rolled up in pleasure.
"Eh?" Renai muttered, a dubious look on her face as she contemplated the scrawny old wolf before her.
Ahh ... that feels good ... the rough voice echoed again.
The almost emaciated frame of the silver wolf shivered in pleasure, a deep rumble rattling around in his chest.
"Did you just talk, wolf?" Renai asked, feeling ridiculous for even considering the possibility of an animal conversing with her.
Suddenly, the wolf stilled, his back leg poised at his shoulder and his head cocked slightly to the side. Electric blue orbs focused on Renai's face, staring steadily into her unusual golden eyes for several minutes. Renai began to fidget where she sat upon cold metal, unnerved by the wolf's strangely intelligent gaze. However, the wolf did not answer her back, and Renai felt embarrassed. For a moment there, she had almost expected the wolf to speak.
Closing her eyes and letting out a disappointed sigh, Renai slumped her shoulders and clung to the chilly bars in defeat, deciding to give up on finding the owner of the elusive voice. She stared dully back at the old silver wolf, whose eerily wise eyes seemed to still be sizing her up. After what felt like forever, the wolf blinked his blue orbs once, pulling his tongue back into his mouth and closing his snout. He slowly sat back up onto his hind legs, inching his way up into a sitting position at the front of his cage until he towered over the huddled Renai.
Heh ... guess so. Or you could just be imagining things, the voice said as the wolf continued to stare straight at Renai, his eyes boring into hers.
"But, how can I understand you?" Renai wondered, cocking her head to the side in question. "You're wolf. I'm human."
The wolf just let out a quiet snort and bared his teeth at Renai in an unrepentant grin.
Human, you say. Hmm ... I think not, pup.
"Of course I'm human. What else would I be?" Renai blurted out, affronted.
What else, indeed, the wolf mumbled, his wise eyes filling with warmth as he took in the young girl before him.
You don't smell quite human, pup, his voice filtered into her mind telepathically.
Renai discreetly sniffed at the skin of her hand, wondering what he was talking about. She could only catch a whiff of peppermint stick and the harsh tang of metal from where she had been touching the cage bars. She looked back to the old wolf, questions dancing in her eyes.
"Then what do I smell like?" Renai demanded.
The silver wolf chuckled, his eyes aglow with laughter as he watched her sniff herself. Renai growled low at him, embarrassed that he had caught her out. He just gazed knowingly at Renai, growling slightly back at her in a gentle reprimand.
Careful, pup, he muttered. I've seen far more years than you have. You should respect your elders, you know.
He continued to stare her down, impressing his message upon her, until she lowered her eyes slightly in contrition and uttered a barely audible apology. The old wolf nodded his head in acknowledgment before deciding to answer her earlier question.
You smell like wolf, pup, his deep, rough voice replied.
Gnashing her teeth in frustration, Renai bit out a strangled, "I don't smell like wolf! I'm human. I'm normal!"
Her rant became quieter as she continued her impassioned speech, until her last words were but a whisper. Unable to face the old wolf, she turned away and blinked the tears from her eyes.
"I just want to be normal ... then mama would come back for me," she muttered dejectedly, resting her forehead against the cold pen, her body giving a forceful shudder.
The silver wolf gazed softly upon the hurting Renai, eyes filled with sorrow and compassion. A low rumble resounded in his chest, directed at the slumped form in the other cage. Its soft and warm quality reminded Renai of a cat's purr, only a little bit more rough and throaty. The sound raced through her veins and warmed her aching heart. Renai took a deep breath, peering up through her lashes at the wise, old wolf and giving him a hesitant smile.
I know it's hard, pup, and I know you're hurting, but there are just some things you can't change, no matter how much you wish for them. You being a wolf is one of them, he stated in his soothing monotone.
The words were true, filled with wisdom, but they were not the words Renai wanted to hear. She just wanted to go home and be with her mama, maybe baking some cookies or curled up on her cozy window seat reading in the library. Renai turned her head away from the old wolf, knowing he was right, but unable to forget about what her mother had done to her.
I realize this is not what you were hoping to hear, pup, but you need to listen to me now, he urged.
Giving an angry huff, Renai crossed her arms over her chest and refused to look at the wolf, occasionally sending a heated glare at him with her now amber eyes.
The wolf gazed patiently at Renai, quietly waiting until he had her attention once more. When she still refused to listen to him after several minutes, the wolf released a long, drawn-out sigh and licked his parched snout.
I could really use some water right about now, the old wolf muttered in his raspy voice, startling Renai and making her glance over her shoulder in his direction.
She silently watched as the wolf got up on all fours and circled the cage a few times before settling back down on the floor of his pen, laying his head on his outstretched paws and closing his eyes. Her eyes fixed on his belly, watching as his prominent ribs moved in and out with each breath he took, horrified at the sickening display.
Feeling her stare, the old wolf peeked an eye open and glanced at Renai. Jumping as she noticed him looking at her, Renai tore her eyes away from his unnaturally scrawny frame in slight shame. His calm gaze remained locked with hers, warm and grandfatherly. For some reason, she felt a connection with this old wolf, her senses flooding with warmth and the newfound possibility of happiness. She had never known a grandparent's love, but maybe it felt something like the comfort of this wolf's warm gaze.
"Hey, you never told me your name. I can't just keep calling you wolf, you know," Renai said, a slightly desperate, hopeful smile on her lips.
Maybe that's because you never told me yours, pup, the old wolf replied, opening both his eyes as he assessed Renai.
Hmm ... seems young ones can still teach us old ones a thing or two every now and again, he admitted with a slight grin.
I suppose you might be here for a while. It would probably be a good idea to introduce ourselves, huh? the old wolf contemplated.
Renai just nodded her head a little, worried about his comment about her being stuck here, but still wanting to know this interesting old wolf.
Name's Adolpham. Yours? Adolpham asked.
"Renai," she quietly answered, nervously shifting in her seat on the cage floor.
Unfamiliar with how to interact with people other than her mother and stepfather, Renai wondered what to say next. An awkward pause filled the air, one that unnerved Renai but did not seem to bother Adolpham. He just yawned, licked his lips once, and then closed his eyes once more. Renai was just about to break the silence, opening her mouth as if to speak, when the wolf interrupted her attempt.
Quiet, now, he spoke in his rough voice. Let an old dog rest.
Renai fidgeted once again where she sat, upset at his abrupt words. She hoped Adolpham was not angry with her. She did not want to be a nuisance to him, as he was the only one she could talk to now. Her mama had left her all alone, and she did not know what to think anymore. Did her mother hate her now? Would she ever come back for Renai?
So many questions raced through her mind, demanding answers she was unable to give. Renai whimpered, clamping her hands over her ears in a futile effort to shut out her thoughts, squeezing her eyes closed as if in pain.
Adolpham, sniffing her distress on the wind and hearing her whimper, opened his tired eyes and partially lifted his head.
Hey, now, pup. Try to get some sleep. It'll do you good, refresh your mind, Adolpham said, hoping to calm Renai. Maybe you'll wake up later on feeling better.
Renai nodded her head stiffly but made no move to lie down. She stared straight ahead at nothing as she agonized over her mother's departure, flashes of her mother's turned back and her harsh last words echoing in her mind. Renai barely registered Adolpham's soft, disheartened sigh, or the rustle of his body as he shifted his paws and laid his head back down.
Who knows how long she would have sat there, her body numb and her thoughts rushing madly in her overworked brain, if it were not for a gust of wind blowing through the bars of her cage and waking her from her trance. Renai shivered uncontrollably, wrapping her arms tightly about her small body and clutching at her tunic, unsuccessfully trying to keep warm.
Renai started as she realized she had not really answered Adolpham. She quickly cast a contrite glance in his direction, intending to apologize to him, but he was already asleep.
Another gust of wind tore through her cage, causing Renai to shudder once again, this time blowing on her chilled fingers as well. Puffs of air appeared from her lips as she breathed warm air onto her reddened digits. Feeling miserable, Renai sent a frustrated glare over at the old wolf, wondering how he could stand the cold.
The harsh breeze surged across his fur, standing it on end in unrelenting waves, but Adolpham did not even flinch. Muttering in disgust, Renai turned her back to the wind and huddled against her knees.
An image of Adolpham's thick fur popped into her mind, reminding her of her own wolf form. She recalled the luxuriousness of her own fur, and how warm it could be. With a sudden groan, Renai slapped her forehead. Of course! How could I have forgotten about the wolf!
Clearing her mind and concentrating only on what her wolf form looked and felt like, Renai forced her human body to transform. With a sudden burst of white light, fur sprouted across her skin, her mouth and nose elongating into a snout. Within no time at all, her human body was replaced by the familiarity of the small, white wolf pup.
Wasting not a second more, Renai paced her cage on all fours, claws clacking and scrambling across the cool, slick surface beneath her paws. She laid down on the gleaming silver floor, curling into a ball and resting her snout on her front legs just as the old wolf had done. Within minutes, her eyes fluttered closed and she fell into sleep, dreaming of her mama running in the garden and playing with Renai, two sets of laughter ringing through the air.
Renai had been staring at the back wall of one of the surrounding tents for what felt like hours, one of her furry front legs lazily dangling outside the bars of her pen and occasionally batting at the air in boredom. Dull golden eyes gazed blankly at the fat red and orange striped material before her as if mesmerized.
She had woken up hours ago, immediately searching for Adolpham, but he was still asleep. Renai had then spent the next hour carefully cataloging her surroundings as she waited for the silver canine to wake. The area was extremely small, consisting of four metal cages on rusted wheels, only one of them empty. The ground was covered in sparse patches of brittle, yellowed grass mixed with bare sections of frozen, light brown dirt.
It had been close to a full day since she had been in this prison, since her mother had left her to these mad people, and the night was closing in around the tiny, secluded nook of forgotten cages. Renai had yet to see one of the circus workers, and she had been left here without food or water. Someone must have removed her coat and gloves before putting her in the cage last night, as she had woken up without their warmth. Even her bag of treats had been taken from her. The young wolf pup slowly flopped onto her back, accidentally pinning her fluffy tail beneath her and letting out a yelp.
With a small, furred paw draped across her muzzle, Renai sent a sluggish glance out the other side of her cage. Spotting a lone water pump and wooden bucket directly across from her cage, the white-blonde pup licked her parched lips and gave a quiet whine. Though the circus performers frightened her dreadfully, Renai wished that one would turn up right now. It had been close to a day since she had eaten anything, and even longer since she had anything to drink. Her throat was beginning to feel scratchy, her stomach rumbling slightly.
Another whimper passed her throat as she stared at the leaky water faucet, where a constant slow rain of water dripped out onto the ground below. Disgruntled, Renai huffed slightly and flipped back over to stare at the red and orange stripes, her paw once again batting at the air outside her pen, with nothing to do but watch as the shadows lengthened and night began to fall.
A gentle rumbling from the old wolf in the next cage caught Renai's attention several minutes later, and she wondered when Adolpham had woken up. With a grin of anticipation, Renai hurriedly flipped onto her back once again, anxious to finally talk to someone. The grin quickly faded from her expression as she spotted a young girl, black-haired and bearing a dark tan, in front of Adolpham's cage. From her bright, striped clothing and the small emblem on her shirt, Renai could tell this girl, who looked to have seen only five summers, was a member of the circus.
Warily, Renai kept a close eye on the girl, debating whether or not she should draw attention to herself. On the one hand, the girl might be able to find her some food and get her a drink of water. She might even be willing to let Renai go. On the other hand, if Renai gained the smaller child's notice, the girl could turn out to be just like the other performers and treat her harshly. Renai decided to stay quiet for the moment, studying the girl from the darker corner of her cage.
The girl reached through the bars of Adolpham's pen, lightly scratching behind his ears and occasionally petting the thick fur coat on his neck and shoulders. Adolpham's eyes were partially open, his head still laying on his paws and his gaze fixed steadily on the young girl in front of him. She continued to caress his dirty, matted fur, uncaring of the grime that quickly coated her hand.
Soon, Adolpham lifted his muzzle and nudged at the girl's tanned forearm, butting his head against it playfully, as if asking for more affection. The girl only chuckled and continued to scratch behind his ear, light brown eyes filling with amusement as she watched his hind leg rapidly beat against the metal floor of his cage. The old wolf turned his snout into her hand, giving it a warm lick in appreciation.
"You're such a good doggy! You like that, huh?" the girl giggled.
The girl looked around, her eyes lighting up as she took in the water pump a few feet away.
"You thirsty, boy?" she asked in her squeaky, childish voice.
Without waiting for an answer, the black-haired child raced over to the leaky faucet, easily turning on the tap and filling the wooden bucket halfway with cool water. Renai stared desperately at the bucket, wishing she could have some of the water, too. She licked her lips and gave a small groan in disappointment as the girl carried the bucket toward Adolpham's cage, still unaware of Renai's presence.
The raven-haired girl set the bucket down at her feet in front of the old wolf's cage, kneeling beside it to cup a handful of water between her small fingers. She quickly stood to her feet once her palm was full, some of the liquid overflowing as she tried to balance herself. The girl shoved her hand into Adolpham's pen, holding the water close to his snout and offering it to him. He gently bent his head closer to her palm, sniffing hesitantly at the liquid before lapping at the water.
"Taste's good, don't it?" the girl whispered to Adolpham. He answered her with a quiet bark, wagging his tail as he once again began lapping at the water in her hand.
Without realizing, Renai let out a barely audible whine, her desperate eyes transfixed upon the sparkling droplets of water that leaked through the young girl's chubby fingers and onto the ground. Hearing the quiet noise, the girl looked up in curiosity, her warm brown eyes landing on Renai's small, huddled form. She smiled brightly at the blonde wolf pup, never breaking her eyes away from Renai as she bent to scoop up another handful of water and slowly made her way over to Renai's cage.
"Hey there, puppy. I'm Josie. Want some water?" the young girl coaxed in an overly friendly voice, pushing her plump, cupped fingers before Renai's face and accidentally bumping harshly against Renai's snout.
Renai gave a jolt at the startling contact, scrambling backwards across the cage to get away. The young girl refused to budge from her spot outside the pen, instead pushing her cupped hands through the bars of the cage and again offering the rapidly dwindling water to the scared pup.
"C'mere, doggy. Come get the water!" Josie pleaded, shaking her hands at Renai to entice her into coming forward, only succeeding in spilling the majority of the liquid onto the slick floor of the cage.
I'm not a doggy, Renai thought angrily, voicing a sharp, high-pitched bark at the young girl. I'm not a doggy, and I'll prove it!
With that thought in mind, Renai quickly transformed back into her human form in a burst of bright light, sitting on her legs with her hands placed beside each of her knees. She glared at the surprised brown eyes before her, a smirk in place as she took in Josie's gobsmacked expression.
Josie's eyes became wider and wider, her young mind trying to decipher what she had just seen. Josie shook her head to break herself from her stupor, her shoulder length raven hair swinging vigorously from side to side.
"Wow!" the young girl muttered in her childish voice, eyes still wide and glimmering with excitement and wonder.
Renai snorted at the awed expression on the child's face, a small smile gracing her own face at the blatant approval of her shifting abilities. Her heart swelled with happiness and a little bit of pride as she basked in the young girl's adoration. It was the first time that anyone had approved of the fact that she could turn into an animal, and it did not matter in the least to Renai that the first person to accept her as she was ended up being a five year old child.
Giving a small grin to the young child, Renai had just begun to ask the girl if she could have some water when the happy scene was interrupted by a shout from inside one of the nearby tents.
"Josie girl! Where be ye?" a loud, exasperated voice wailed roughly. "Get inside already! Supper's waitin'!"
The young girl's head jerked up at the sound, fixing on the back of the tent adjacent to the leaking water pump before turning back to the open-mouthed Renai.
"Sorry, gotta go, doggy! Mommy wants me!" Josie whispered, taking off down the lone corridor between the tents and quickly disappearing from Renai's sight.
Renai gave a growl at the excited girl's last words.
"I'm not a doggy," Renai muttered, watching the corridor long after the girl was gone. Her head soon shot down as she contemplated the other words Josie had said in parting.
"Mama ... " Renai moaned, throat clogging with unshed tears.