Fur and Feathers


Chapter One


The moonlight splashed over my body, caressing it in a small moment of soothing welcome, then the pain came. I released a hoarse cry as my body began changing, starting wit my legs. My bare feet morphed into massive paws with fierce talons on them, and my human legs transformed into the slim hindquarters of a wolf. I snarled as my voice box began to transform, and threw my large cloak off to the side as my muscles grew, becoming more pronounced and dog-like. A snout grew from my face, and my long, black hair shrunk back into my skull while more black hair sprouted from my nude body, covering it once again. A furry tail sprouted from behind me, the fur the same midnight-black as the rest of me. My ears became wolfish and my hearing much more acute as my face became that of a canine's. The muscles on my body shifted about some more, obscuring my womanly figure almost beyond recognition. Finally, the pain of transforming died away, and I knew it was complete.

I looked up to the sky with fiery orange eyes, my gaze fixing on the moon. With my enhanced vision, everything seemed like a cloudy daylight rather than the pitch black of midnight, and the moon was an imitation of the sun. I howled at it in praise of my transformation, as was customary for all werewolves to do. With my head tilted upward, I sniffed the air cautiously, trying to catch the scent of where any of my pack had bounded off to in a hurry. That was the problem with sleeping in: you had to catch up with everyone else later.

Finally, I caught the scent of my pack, and got down on all fours to bound off into the forest as fast as I could, eager to be with them. I paced my running easily as my paws propelled me forward; my breathing regulated quickly so that I drew in measured pants of air. Loping in the woods was always easy enough, and eventually I caught up with my pack. There were eleven others comprising the hunting party tonight, only a small portion of all the werewolves in our den. We always split up the group hunting amongst everyone evenly.

I trotted up alongside a shaggy, brown haired wolf, and looked to him respectfully as we all wandered silently through the forest. The wolf looked back at me, his grey eyes commuting only one message: "You're late." I looked away from him shamefully, and let myself fall towards the back of the group, where I most likely belonged for my error.

Suddenly, the pack came to a halt, and our grey-eyed leader stood up on his hind legs, sniffing the air quietly. The rest of us watched and waited, listening for any sign of what he smelled. He stooped down in front of him, and picked up something in his clawed hand. Our leader turned to us, and held the object high for everyone to see. It was a pearly white feather. A breeze came along, but instead of releasing the object to the wind, like some would have been tempted to do, he put it between his teeth and gnawed it savagely before swallowing, destroying a possible scent trail that the object could have become. That was why this man was our leader. He thought of everything that could help keep us alive.

The breeze shifted once again, and now everyone cocked their heads to the air to sniff, catching a very distinct scent. Someone growled, and we all got to our hind legs, preparing for the worst as a circle was formed. We all had our backs to one another, trusting everyone in the hunting party as much as we would trust ourselves. My fangs were bared, and my claws outstretched in anticipation.

There was not much warning. A twig snapped, and an arrow came rushing down on us only to be caught by a fierce claw and snapped in half. Then, chaos broke out. Two of the hunters sprang from the circle, obviously spotting a target, and people screamed as the hunters rendered flesh from bone. War cries were let up from our foes, and they crashed through the trees to attack us. There were eight of them, all armed and winged.

I snarled, and leapt upon the one that had chosen me as a target. I knocked the useless bird out of the air, and they shouted in surprise at my strength. Most werewolves could not have leapt up at him like that, but I had to have one good attribute.

The winged man crawled away from me and sprang to his feet, brandishing a sword. I stood on my hind legs and roared fiercely and he snapped his wings out to their full span, the white and grey feathers rustling against each other. He flapped them tauntingly, and I sprang forward in attack. The man thought I would go for his head, but I went low at the last moment and slashed up at his sword arm. My claws came in contact with skin, and cut a deep gash through his muscles. The man roared in pain and quickly transferred the sword to his uninjured arm. He attempted to swipe down on my back, but I scurried under his massive wings and behind him to get another good slash in at his back.

My enemy lurched forward from the force of the attack, and I stood, planning on finishing him off. I reached around from behind and slashed a large chunk of his throat away with my bloodied claws. With an eerie cry, my enemy fell forward, dead and defeated. I howled up at the sky in victory, thanking the heavens for blessing me with strength.

With that foe vanquished, I turned my attention to the rest of the battle only to find that everyone was already finishing off the last of the enemy. The birds had attacked with fewer numbers, meaning that they had already started the fight with a disadvantage. Why they had disturbed our hunting party was beyond me. The last of the birds were killed, and we all milled about while the leader went about to check and see if anyone was hurt. While he did this, I turned my attention to my fallen foe. The man had been young, foolish. His face, once handsome most likely, was smeared in blood and his own ruined skin.

The people who had attacked us all looked to be young. They were most likely a group of newly trained soldiers kicked out of the big Airan nest to go prove themselves. I did not understand the system the Airans chose to live their lives by, but that did not matter. What mattered was that they were at war with our werewolf clan and would kill one of us sooner than look at us.

A low bark broke me from my musings, and I looked to my side to see hard grey eyes glaring at me. The leader glanced at me, and then looked over to a wolf that stood on their hind legs, nursing a broken forepaw. Clearly I was supposed to escort the injured wolf back to the den, most likely as punishment for being late. I nodded my wolfish head in understanding, and prowled over to the fellow hunter. The wolf and I set off back towards the cave, progress being slow because of the injured paw. The other wolf had a light, chestnut colored hair, and soft blue eyes. I easily identified who it was and had to suppress a whine as we trotted along in silence.

When the two of us got back to the cavern entrance, I picked up my cloak amongst the other discarded ones with my teeth while the other hunter found hers. As we stepped into the cavern and away from the moonlight, we transformed back into our human-like appearances and quickly slipped the cloaks over our nude bodies while walking into a torch-lit cavern hall.

I looked to my companion, now in the form of a slender young woman with short, messy chestnut hair and a swollen, broken wrist. "Uh… shall I escort you to the infirmary Hannah?" I asked her politely.

The shorter woman snorted and moved a bit further away from me as we walked. "No Sasha, it's just a broken bone. I'll be fine in the morning," she rattled off.

"Look, can't we be friends again?" I begged, giving her a pleading look.

"I don't need your pity!" she exclaimed, giving me a warning glare. I saw the anger in her eyes, and whined as I backed off, walking behind her now. Hannah turned down a corridor that led to the infirmary, and I watched her until she turned into a room, her flickering shadow disappearing with her figure.

I growled in frustration and took off for my own room. Hannah and I had once been good friends. But that had all dissolved after one particular mating season where we had both become a little too wound up and a little too drunk and had ended up in bed together. For one night, it had been fine, but I valued Hannah as a friend above anything else, and wanted to keep our relationship at just that. When she tried to bed me again, I told her no, and she got hurt, not to mention extremely embarrassed.

Hannah had thought we were lovers after the one slip up, and had understood that I, like she, did not find anything attractive in men. She had been deeply attracted to me for a long time, and when I told her all we would ever be was friends, she let our friendship drop and began avoiding me out of shame. That had all occurred a few months ago, and I was still unsuccessful at trying to reestablish a friendship, despite trying at every opportunity I got.

I reached my room and washed up, using a ragged towel and a basin of cool water that had been left in there for me. The blood came off my hands easily enough, and after checking the rest of my body for any cuts I may have missed, I decided that I was properly cleaned up enough to put actual clothes on. I dug around in a drawer to a dresser and pulled out all the necessary article of clothing, not really taking time to see what matched with what. Most of the clothing that I owned was made out of fur from the animals that our pack killed. My cloak had been made from the pelt of a large brown bear that I had killed myself, and I folded it with care and stowed away gently after tugging my clothes on. It was customary for every werewolf to own a cloak made from the skin of a large beast they had fought and killed their self. It was like a right of passage for every werewolf who claimed they were ready to join the hunting parties.

With nothing else to do in my room, and a gnawing hunger setting in, I departed in search of the mess hall where I would be allowed one of my three meals a day. If someone ever wanted more than that, they would have to go hunt the food down on their own time. Rarely did a pack member resort to that, for our meals were filling and plentiful. Even during the day, we would have hunters out, looking like an average human with bows and arrows that would hunt down food and take it back to the caverns to add to our stockpiles. These hunters were always the most successful because the Airans never bothered them due to some honor code about attacking an enemy while defenseless.

The Airan honor code was probably the only thing I could understand about their feathered society, considering us werewolves stuck to laws almost as rigid, with sever punishment for breaking them. It was the only way to keep order in our beastly world.

Upon arriving at the mess hall, I quickly went to the kitchen and asked an attendant for one of my meals. Soon enough, the sinewy boy returned with a platter of meat for me to indulge in and a tankard of ale to wash it down with. I easily lifted the platter away, and found a spot to eat that was secluded enough from the others, not feeling like talking with anyone in particular at the moment. The mess hall was large, echo inclined, and filled with many voices at any given time. It was not the best place to be when one wanted to brood, like me. But I would not be found here quite as easily.

Who was I hiding from? It did not matter, because he found me when I was almost done with my meal. A large, muscular man with shaggy brown hair laced with white and hard grey eyes sank down on the bench next to me, a tankard of ale clasped in his own large hand. I pretended to ignore him at first, finishing off the last of my meal in silence. When I had swallowed the last of the rare meat, the man spoke up. "Sasha," he said in a rumbling voice.

"Yes?" I asked innocently, feigning that I had ever ignored him in the past few minutes.

"You were late today," he muttered.

"I overslept," I explained. "It's no big deal."

"Every wolf must pull his share and adhere to the schedules we impose," he growled. "If someone slacks off, then disorder is created, and we cannot survive in disorder."

I looked down at my cleared plate, feeling ashamed. "I'm sorry father," I mumbled.

"Don't be sorry. Just perform better next time," my father scolded. He always said this. And he was always right. He did not need an apology, just improvement. I sighed in frustration. The trouble with having the clan leader as your father as well meant that you had a lot of expectations to uphold. Sometimes I could not help but slack off a little in rebellion. "How is Hannah?" he asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

"Angry," I answered sullenly.

My father sighed, looking down into his tankard. "Sasha, why did you reject her?" Here we go again. "I know that you will not take a man, but why not her? She is such a good soul. It would put my heart at such ease to see you settle down with someone to balance that fiery spirit of yours." My father always talked of this with me. When I first professed that I would not join with a man, he had been a little upset about the prospect of not having any grandchildren, but he had gotten over that fast, and had always hoped that I would end up with kind-hearted Hannah, who was acting so cold to me now.

"She and I are not right for each other father," I explained, knowing that we would probably end up yelling at each other again.

"And have you met someone who is right for you?" he countered.

"No," I mumbled.

"Then how do you propose to go about finding someone? Every year, more wolves your age are settling down with a mate for life, and still you remain without a permanent one. Time is running out!"

"Don't force me to rush this decision!" I growled.

I expected him to yell at me, but the words did not come. Instead, he took a deep, sighing breath and hung his head in defeat. "I just don't want to see you alone for the rest of your life," he lamented. "I don't want you to end up like your mangy old dad."

Those words were new, and I felt grief towards them. "You're not mangy," I said weakly. I looked to my father, and he smiled sadly. We were silent for a while, sipping at our ale while our thoughts turned over one subject or another. Thinking of another old conversation topic between my father and I, I told him, "You never did tell me how mother died."

I heard a growl emit from his throat, and the burly wolf stood from his seat. "That information will be revealed to you at another time, Sasha. In fact, I think it best that you would never know." And before I could protest, he prowled away, most likely having other duties such as leadership to perform.

"Damn," I growled, picking up my platter and near empty tankard to deposit them back in the kitchen. The night seemed like it would be a wasteful one for me, being sent away from the hunting party, so I decided to head off to the training grounds for something to do. I hated feeling useless. The training grounds were a particularly large cavern filled with all sorts of fighting circles and other devices to improve one's self with. I watched as two boys ferociously sparred with each other, jabbing and kicking in rapid succession, then watched someone else shoot off arrows into a far away target. No, we did not solely rely on our wolf forms, for that would have been foolish seeing as it was only accessible at night. We trained in all sorts of fighting techniques, most of them fist fighting because weapons proved to be too inconvenient out in the wild. The only bulky weapon people trained in was a bow.

Finding a nice, unoccupied wooden dummy, I began throwing fierce punches at it with my dull human hands, hurting the wood much more than the weak counterpart really could. Werewolves retained most of their strength in human form, and somewhat acute hearing, sight, and smell, although those improved with transformation.

As my fists beat the dummy, I felt some of my frustrations ebbing away, and I could lose myself in the diligent drill for a moment.

Then, "Hey Sasha," and I was sucked back into reality.

I stopped the rigorous punching and looked to the side to see a grinning man leaning against the cavern wall. "Hello Stephen," I greeted, rubbing my red knuckles in an attempt to sooth them.

"What's doin'?" he asked, fiddling with a large bow in one hand.

"Not much," I replied, looking the wily wolf over. Stephen had very dark skin with coarse hair blacker than mine, and his eyes looked like slabs of obsidian. About a half of the other pack wolves sported these characteristics, and even though they seemed gangly and uncoordinated as humans, they made very vicious fighters whenever prompted.

"Would you like to go hunting when the sun comes up?" he asked casually, plucking at the taut string of his bow. Stephen and I had grown up together, and still spent time in each other's company when we could.

I sighed and looked up to the high ceiling of the cavern, pretending to give his request a thought. It was something that I did that always irritated him. "You really want to go day hunting?" I asked.

He nodded his head vigorously for a response.

"Well, I suppose I could come along. It would be a good way to vent some frustration," I admitted, my fiery eyes glinting.

"Fighting with the Alpha again?" Stephen asked, now stroking the fletched tips of the arrows that rested in his quiver strapped to his thigh.

I nodded, suppressing a growl. "Hannah too," I lamented.

Stephen gave a low whistle. "That girl cares about you, you know? I can't see why she just won't get along with you again," he mused. Most of the pack knew about the resentment Hannah held towards me.

"It's because I won't sleep with her again," I growled.

My lanky friend laughed. "Sasha, you must be pretty damn talented in bed for her to be this stubborn over you."

"It's her fucking pride," I spat. "The woman was damn near in love with me for all those years and I rejected her."

"I still don't see the reason behind your decision," said Stephen. "We're getting up there in age, and if I didn't have Mira, I would be desperate for a mate!" Mira was Stephen's mate for life, a shy woman who did more hunting rather than talking. Stephen often boasted of how he had gotten through her shyness when he was wooing her. Even if the two of them always fidgeted around each other in public, they really were in love.

"Hannah's just not the right one for me," I explained, remembering my conversation with my father.

"Well, you should work on finding someone then. Hey, want me to introduce you to some other crooked-tails that I know?" asked Stephen eagerly. Crooked-tail was slang for a wolf who found the same gender attractive. I wanted to smile at his offer. It was so typical of Stephen to offer to set me up with someone.

"I don't know," I whined. "Why can't I just find someone on my own?"

"Because you're doing a lousy job at it," Stephen snapped. "This is a non-negotiable subject. I'm setting you up to meet a friend of mine.

I grinned at his forceful, overprotective behavior. Stephen was like an older brother for me that way, always looking out for me. "Fine," I submitted. "Can we just go hunting at sun up?" I wanted to get off the subject of women.

Stephen flashed a sly grin, showing off his pointed canines. "Alright, but afterwards I'm setting you up to go hunting with someone, no talking me out of it," he teased. I groaned, and he laughed before shouldering his bow and loping off. I just shook my head and looked back to the wooden dummy, hitting it with a renewed rigor fueled by my somewhat nervous feeling at the prospect of Stephen setting me up with another pack member.