Shadow Walker

Prologue

A crisp spring breeze blew through the tall grass, giving the impression of waves upon the sea. The constant chirping of crickets filled the air, rising in volume before pause, then swiftly reaching a high twittering pitch. The small creatures repeated the melody, like the heartbeat of the forest. The hypnotic serenade falling silent as an owl took wing with a startled cry. A dark figure moved like a spirit through the night, its nimble paws making virtually no sound as it passed. Golden eyes darted warily, as pointed ears swiveled like satellites, catching any sound with in their reach. A strikingly pink tongue lolled from the creature's blood stained jaws, its breath coming in short quick pants as the tension within its muscles built. The wolf froze, as a sudden burst of sound filled the air, the long hunting notes carried throughout the silent forest by the soft breeze. Normally the wolf would have raised her head high, her powerful lungs forcing air up and out of her throat as she sang her reply, but tonight she remained silent. Her heart pounding as the last of the howl died away; it's message all to clear to the thief, she had been discovered!

The sound of thundering paws replaced the melodic song that had earlier filled the forest, as the wolfess fled for her life. She could hear her pursuers' ragged breaths as they gained on her. Desperately the female picked up speed, her once strong legs - weak from malnourishment and the hard pace she had set for herself for the past few days - now scream in protest as their owner forced them to pump every faster Seeming to glide across the land like a possessed demon streaking through the air, the female weaved through the trees, leaping over brush and fallen logs. The blessed meat that had filled her stomach earlier, now rested there like a stone heavy with guilt. Slowly, the ground began to slope downward, the change was so subtle that the female almost missed it, her heart wade down by fear now leaped with joy; the end of the pack's land was near. She would be safe if she could hold out a little longer, the pack would be unwilling to leave their land unguarded for long, and they would not waste their time following a trespasser far from their home. With hope surging within her, the weary thief pushed on.

Suddenly she felt warm breath of the pack's faster wolves ruffle her tail fur, causing her to start. With her heart threatening to burst from her chest from the sudden surprise, the wolfess found a burst of energy she did not know she had, allowing her to pull ahead of her pursuers. Slowly the trees began to thin before stopping all together, revealing a lush valley bathed in silver moonlight. The female's eyes brightened at the sight, she was nearly there! In her desperation the female leaped into the air sailing over the scent markers that lined the edge of the pack's territory, once across she would only have to hold out a little longer before the pack's need to hold and protect their territory drew them away from her. But her relief was short lived, fore that moment her front paws had touched the earth. But the earth underneath her paws was loose gravel and the wolf quickly found herself being unbalanced by the unstable earth and her momentum; the strange sensation of slipping and falling at the same time momentarily occupied the female's senses as she tumbled down the hill. Hitting the ground bellow with a muted thud, the air forced out of her lungs the female lay in a heap of fur and legs for several seconds gasping for breath, to stunned and disoriented to move. The sound of angry snarls snapped her back into reality, scrambled to her feet the she-wolf found herself gazing up at her pursuers who returned her frighten stare with menacing glares.

They had been following the trespasser closely-waiting for the moment when she slowed or tripped to attack- Only stopping when they had reached the border. Now they stood snarling down at her, many paced back and forth along the invisible line between their home and the outside world as they waited for their dominant male to either lead them back into the dark forest, or attack the loner who dared to steal from their kill. As the female watched a large male stepped forward, his gray pelt turned silver by the moon's cold light. Black lips pulled back like curtains on a stage, to reveal two rows of fangs. His muscular body was stiff as he held his tail erect, the way all dominant wolves had done for generations down to even the prehistoric wolves that had roamed the earth long before. A low, menacing growl rumbled deep with in his throat, as he stared angrily down at the thief. He had placed a large paw on the scent mark, silently declaring to the trespasser that he was not bound by the border he had created.

The female knew she had been caught, and that the only thing she could do was submit to the land's ruler and hope for the best. With a swishing sound the female curled her tail between her legs before slowly crawling back up the hill to the male, grass tickled her light colored belly as she crawled. The pack watched her like a hungry hawk watches a mouse before plummeting into a step dive to snatch the unwary rodent in its talons. Stopping in front of the pack leader the female waited for his judgment, a quiet whine escaping her lips. She waited, her heart pounded against her ribcage like a caged beast desperate to escape. Every instinct was screaming at her to flee, but she remained where she was, waiting. She did not have to wait long as the male- letting out a vicious snarl- fell upon her, nipping and biting her neck and sides. The younger wolf yelped in pain, trying her best to appease her punisher by licking his muzzle and showing her soft underbelly. But, sadly this had no effect as the male ignoring her pleas continued the brutal punishment. Excited by the energy emitting from the two wolves, the pack rushed to join in. Biting and scratching at the wolf's dark pelt. Yelping and screaming in pain the female fled tail between her legs with the pack hot on her heel, nipping her flanks any time her pace slowed. This act went on for several yards, lasting only minutes. But, to the battered wolfess, it felt like hours.