Glowing golden eyes turned to the sky, clashing with the wary stare of the balsas screech-owl resting cautiously on the top branch of the bare oak tree. The crisp, cold breeze whipped silvery hair around her face, as if urging her forward. A short series of high-pitched chirps slipped from between her lips, answering noises spiraling back as the bird took flight. Her hair twisted and shortened, feathers taking its place as she followed the creature's path, her arms gracefully folding into wings and her feet shriveling into talons.
She cut through the sky, coming up to the owl from behind. "They're still down there. Fly faster," she spoke, her voice still a combination of chirps, nipping at his tail with her beak. A shot rang out, and his flight faltered, blood marring the pure white of his wing. She screamed in rage, her eyes full of righteous fury as she wrapped her talons around him and changed paths, her companion clutched tightly in her grasp. She flew erratically for the next several miles, hoping that she wouldn't provide the hunters with an easy target. Settling on the ground, she perched beside him, letting her muscles and bones expand until pale flesh took the place of her feathers. She rested her fingers lightly on his head, watching for any sign of movement. "Change," she ordered, a stream of energy spilling into him.
As the owl shifted into human form, she cringed at the damage. "They were carrying silver," a rough, cold voice choked out as he stared at the stump where his hand should be.
She looked away, unable to meet the black eyes that looked to her for help. "You know how to fix it."
"Sienna," he pleaded, "I can't do it. You know I can't."
She sighed defeatedly, her shoulders tense. "You can. You just won't." She shivered slightly when his icy fingers trailed gently down her spine, tracing the graceful ridge. She let her back fall against the frozen winter ground, her cheek pressed firmly to his chest. "You're going to have to make do until we can find a safe place to stop. Can you travel?"
He nodded. "As long as I don't change again." His head turned toward her, and he placed a soft kiss on her forehead. She smiled, her face tilting up, dragging his lips along her skin until they meshed with her own.
Pulling away, she stood, holding out a hand to help him up. "They won't hunt through nightfall. We need to keep moving until then." She fell to all fours, crawling between his legs as her skin sprouted a covering of white hair. Her limbs elongated, a tail swishing through the air as a whinnied order shattered the eerie silence.
He smiled into her mane, his face pressing against her muscular neck. "I only have one hand, but I'll do my best, darling." She snorted in reply, lurching forward, her hooves beating violently against the rocks as she raced away.
"Killian," she whispered, trying to draw the attention of man resting heavily on her back. When he didn't respond, she twisted beneath him, turning him onto his back and pushing him off. He lay sprawled against the rough terrain, his skin several shades paler than normal. She sighed, pulling out the iron knife from the sheath magically bound to her leg. Watching him closely, she drew the serrated edge sharply against his flesh, sawing away the messy, silver filled wound. Letting out the breath she had been holding as the knife cut away the last of his open sore, she wiped the blood onto a patch of grass, licking the beads that clung to the metal before placing it back within its sheath.
She sat a few paces away from him, letting a thick coat of silver-white fur spill over her skin. Her bright golden eyes shone from the face of a wolf, a long pink tongue curling over her muzzle. She scented the air lightly, and, after smelling no other predators nearby, she loped away in search of food. Minutes later, she dropped a rabbit in front of him, licking at his face when he didn't wake up. Her ear twitched nervously at the sound of a twig snapping in the distance, and she spun around, warily watching for movement in the trees.
"You aren't very stealth, brother," she said with a light laugh as her face shortened back to human proportions.
A black wolf stepped from below the leafy canopy, watching her with ice blue eyes. He sniffed indignantly, dropping onto his belly and resting his head on his paws in a mock pout. The fluffy black fur disappeared into his tan skin. "What happened?" he asked quietly, waving his hand at Killian.
"Hunters," she replied, her voice equally hushed. "Wearing Raine's colors." She turned back to her mate. "I cut the silver out. Now I just need to get him to eat."
Leif whistled. "They got the whole hand?" He leaned forward to inspect the wound, nudging Killian's shoulder lightly.
"They clipped his wing, actually," Sienna replied, her eyes locked on her mate. "He didn't want to change… thought he'd be safer as a smaller target."
"How far away are they?"
"My last feeling put them five miles south and west of us, but I haven't checked in a while. I was running out of energy."
"You were keeping the blood flow at a minimum, weren't you?" She nodded reluctantly. "And carrying him? You can't waste energy like that, Sienna. Especially not when you're in danger."
She turned angry eyes on him. "And what do you propose I do, then? Leave him?" She cut open the neck of the rabbit, tilting Killian's head back and letting the blood spill into his mouth. "He loses one of his shapes, and he's as good as assassinated the second I take the throne." Massaging his neck so that he would swallow, she waited for Leif to respond… He would. He was too stubborn not to.
"You should have called for help."
"We were more than a hundred miles from home. You wouldn't have been able to do anything." Killian groaned, his tongue instinctively licking his lips clean as he sat up. "Here, Kill," she said softly, placing the rabbit in his lap. "You should heal quickly now." He placed a delicate kiss against her pale wrist before tearing into the carcass.
"Have you eaten?" She turned her attention back to Leif, her eyes narrowing in warning. "Don't give me that look. Killian will agree with me when he comes up for air. You shouldn't be expelling that much energy without replacing it."
"Let me remind you who's the next to take the throne, Leif," she replied coldly, her eyes molten. "You don't have the right to question my judgment." She dropped her gaze to Killian, watching as he cradled his arm with a grimace. The bone had begun growing back. Sitting down next to him, she nuzzled his neck, her lips placing soft caresses against his chilled skin. "You're getting your warmth back."
"You need to eat, Sienna." He smiled at the petulant face she made. "I'm getting my energy back; you need to as well."
"Are you still hungry?" she asked with resignation, pulling away.
"I probably will be once I'm done healing." Muscles and veins had spread out over the bone, filling in the spaces that had been destroyed.
"Then I'm waiting. I'm not that hungry, nor am I that weak. I want you healed before I leave again." She moved back against him, turning her eyes to Leif and sending him a challenging glare.
He didn't disappoint. "He's a liability, Sienna. He's going to get you killed."
She bared her teeth. "He's going to get you killed if you don't keep your mouth shut." Sullenly, she lay down, her head cradled in Killian's lap as she thought about her mate. He was weaker than she needed him to be. He had a strong aversion to blood and violence (one might go so far as to call it a phobia), and he could only take three shapes aside from his human form. Most of their people could only take three or four, which made him average. But if she was going to be queen, average wouldn't be good enough. Her king needed to be able to protect himself.
Still only seventeen, Sienna was too young to claim the throne as the ruling monarch, and the man fighting his way to the top in her stead hadn't been shy in proclaiming that he wanted Sienna as his queen. She was the kind of woman that every man wanted: beautiful, powerful, strong. She was molded of black and white, her thick, waist length hair falling in a waterfall of white over her porcelain skin, streaks of black standing out starkly against the snowy locks.
As far as her people knew, Sienna was the first female of their kind to gain six shapes. What they didn't know was that her total count was up to fifteen, making her one of the most dangerous creatures alive. She kept this knowledge close, telling no one but Killian that she had exceeded even Raine. And even Killian only knew about nine of them. She looked up at him, her eyes drawn to the hand that had finally reformed.
"Quarter mile south and west and half a mile south and east. We need to move now," Leif spoke suddenly, power spilling over his skin. Sienna rose quickly from Killian's lap, her body remolding into her first and strongest form. A white tiger roared urgently at Killian as he sat startled, snapping angrily at him as he took his time following suit. Seconds later found a panther and a Bengal tiger running alongside her as they rushed to make their escape.
"We need to split up, sis," the panther said, his eyes never leaving the path ahead of him. She didn't want to do it. If one of them was hurt, there would be no one there to help them. Hearing a gunshot ring through the trees, she made a noise of agreement, knowing that their ranks would be fractured even farther if they had to split between the three shifters. Readying herself to make the call of who would go where, she started slightly as Leif continued. "You need to go west. Directly west. We'll meet up with you on the northern island. We're too close to call for help. We'll just end up leading the hunters to our front door."
Nodding in assent, she sped up. "Stay safe." Sienna veered left, her paws falling heavily on the leafy cover of the woods.
She stared anxiously at the sky, watching for her brother and lover to return. She had made it safely to the island, having taken the water route as a tiger shark once she had reached the shore. A dark spot caught her eye, and she kept her gaze locked on it as it got closer and closer. As it approached, she recognized the Harpy eagle that had been her brother's second shape. He hovered in front of her as he changed, his feet planting themselves firmly on the sand as his legs lengthened. "Am I late?"
"Where's Killian?" she asked, walking around him and checking for wounds.
"We split up. He went north, and I went east." He looked around. "I expected him to be here. He had the most direct path."
"You mean the most obvious path. He was also the weakest, Leif," she replied quietly, trying not to let the pessimistic air surrounding her take over completely. "We need to find him."
"Sienna, if he's not back by dawn, he's not coming back, and it's too dangerous to go back out." His hand fell comfortingly onto her shoulder.
She shoved her brother away, falling into a heap on the ground. "He has to come back." Her fingers danced over her stomach. "He has to, Leif." He looked closely at her, understanding dawning on his face as he met her frantic gaze.
"If he doesn't, you and Kaelin will go into hiding until they're born, and Kaelin and I will raise the cubs as our own. You have my word," he answered quietly, taking his sister's sobbing form into his arms and holding her close until well into the morning, offering company as she waited and consolation when dawn arrived without her mate.
Watered Down Wishes, though I love the project, is struggling... I'm not officially putting it on hiatus, but I'll be splitting my time between it and this story and will update whichever one provides me with more inspiration... Hope you like it!