Some part of Talon knew that what he was doing was a pointless exercise. After all, he knew his sister really wouldn't kick him out of the pack. But that shred of doubt drove him to his current location in the mountains of Colorado.
The Mile High pack kept decent records of the other packs in the area, even if information could be hard to come by at times. Although he considered heading south to visit the Pike's Peak pack or out west to the Western Slope pack, as they would likely take him in if Sophia decided he was no longer welcome in Denver, it took him about two seconds to remember that Lukas worked with those packs regularly, and if ended up exiled from his pack, it would be all his fault. It was always his stupid cousin's fault. Talon certainly didn't want to be running into Lukas on a regular basis. He doubted he'd be able to stop himself from punching him.
So, with that in mind, Talon decided if he couldn't stay in the pack he'd been born into, he'd look for something completely different. He wasn't about to go rogue like Lukas – he needed a pack – but a smaller pack was what he wanted. A much smaller pack. In fact, he quickly decided he was going to attempt to join a feral pack.
Feral packs were usually family groups living in rural areas, far from the human population. Some even spent most of their lives as wolves instead of their human forms. Talon wasn't quite prepared to go that far, but he knew there was at least one feral pack in the mountains that seemed like it could be a good fit for him. If they'd take him.
There was a major flaw in Talon's plan to join up with feral wolves – they didn't take in outsiders. As far as he knew, the only way outsiders could join was if they were mated to a member or the pack needed them. Since Talon doubted he'd find his mate among ferals, he knew he would have to find a way to at least make the pack think he was indispensable.
As was usual for Talon, he really hadn't planned anything beyond finding the pack.
Because he was in the mountains and far from civilization, Talon found it easier to be in his wolf form. He was faster and he could hear and smell much better than in the human form. With his sensitive nose, he had determined that he was definitely in the territory of a group of wolves, although he couldn't be sure it was the same pack he had hoped to find. The records he found only indicated the one feral pack in the area, but even Talon knew that keeping track of feral packs was notoriously difficult.
When he caught the scent of several wolves, he took off quickly in that direction. Living in the city, Talon sometimes forgot how great it was to run and let the wind blow through his fur. If he did end up being able to go back home, he knew he'd have to make time to get away from the city just so he could run more often.
It didn't take him long to find the source of the scents and soon sounds to go with them, and once he heard them, he increased his speed. Whatever was going on, it didn't sound pleasant. When he finally saw them, he growled. A child was curled up on the ground, surrounded by the wolf pack. Most were in their wolf form, with two standing in their human form, yelling at the girl.
Talon didn't care what their reason was – there was no excuse to act that way towards a child. No longer interested in joining the pack, he raced forward, growling loudly to announce his presence. The other wolves saw him and one immediately broke away from the others to stand in his path.
The one benefit to being a dire was that the wolves with a normal body type were smaller than him and much easier to knock out of the way. He hit the other wolf with his shoulder and pushed right past him with ease, then jumped into the middle of the others, putting himself between the wolves and the girl. He didn't immediately attack, he just stood ready, waiting for one of them to make the first move.
"Does this one belong to you?" asked one of the men in human form. When he stepped forward to speak, the wolves started to back off a little, but they were obviously still ready to attack.
Relaxing just enough to allow himself to change back to human form, Talon wondered if they were going to attack once he was in a more vulnerable form. Unfortunately, just because his wolf form was a dire didn't correlate to him having a larger frame as a human.
"I've never seen her before," Talon said once he regained the ability to speak, hoping that he could perhaps talk things over with the pack.
"Why the interference, then?"
"I won't let you harm a child."
"Child?" The man almost looked amused at that statement. "I suggest you take a better look."
Still suspecting an attack, Talon took a cautious glance behind him at the girl. He was surprised to see that the man was telling the truth – the girl was small, but one look at her face showed that she was not a child.
"Guess I'll leave you to your business then," he muttered as he shrugged and started to walk away.
A whimper from the girl made him pause. He'd been so willing to intervene when he thought the pack was attacking a child – could he really walk away just because it turned out she was older? He could sense her fear and with a sigh, he turned back around to face the pack.
"No, wait," he said, drawing their attention once more. "I don't know why you're attacking her, but is it really necessary? She's terrified. She's no threat to you."
"Go back to the city," said the second man in human form who had been silent up until then. "This doesn't concern you."
"Uh, yeah…" Talon really had no argument – it really wasn't any of his business since he was an intruder on their territory. "But don't you think you could talk this over or something?"
"There is nothing to discuss. This is our territory."
"Yeah, well, you're talking to me."
"You don't smell of silver. That one does."
"I don't smell silver," Talon said moving closer to the girl. Once he was a bit closer, he detected the faint scent of the deadly metal. "And so what if she does smell like it? She could be hurt."
"There's hunters in the area. If she escaped from them, we don't need her leading them to us."
"They're not coming after me," the girl said, her voice barely audible.
Despite the low volume of her voice, everyone immediately turned their attention towards her. She shrunk back, feeling uncomfortable under the gaze of so many hostile wolves. Glancing at the one who actually seemed like he was concerned, she started to explain.
"They wanted me to bring wolves to them. So they let me go but I'm not going back there. I… I heard that wolves lived in packs and I thought maybe others like me would take me in."
"You're working for hunters?" said one of the men, astonished.
The girl shook her head quickly, afraid they might attack her again. "They tried to train me to kill people like you. But I wouldn't do it so they decided they could use me to bring wolves to them but I'm not doing that either. I just want to have a normal life."
"The hunters were trying to train you?" Talon asked, keeping his voice soft.
The girl nodded in response and took a quick look up at the wolf. When their eyes met, she looked away quickly, although she definitely didn't have the same feeling she got from the other wolves. He felt safe.
"That doesn't make any sense. They want to kill us. Why keep you alive?"
"I'm only half wolf. I suppose that means I'm not as bad to them."
A large reddish wolf started growling at the girl, who scooted away from the wolf and towards Talon. With his own growl, Talon stepped forward, putting himself more in between the girl and the aggressive wolf.
"Shut up," Talon growled.
Shortly after the words left his mouth, he sensed something moving behind him. Quickly turning around, he saw the first wolf he had encountered lunging towards him. Because he'd been distracted by the rest of the pack, Talon had made the mistake of forgetting that he had his back to a wolf.
Talon dropped to the ground, going low enough to avoid the attack. Even as he was dodging the wolf, he was making his move against him, managing to kick him before his paws hit the ground, sending him flying into another wolf.
The wolf who had growled at the girl initially and started the hostilities took exception to Talon's treatment of gray wolf and jumped on him before he could get up. He felt teeth narrowly miss his neck as he wrestled to get an arm free. Once he managed that, he was able to knock the wolf off of him, but it wasn't over yet.
Talon shifted into his wolf form as quickly as he could, knowing that a slow shift would leave him vulnerable, just as shifting too fast would. Once in wolf form, Talon had the clear advantage of size, but the red was not about to give up when faced with a larger opponent.
He allowed his opponent to make the first move in hopes that he could avoid the attack but the red wolf was faster than he thought and managed to get a weak hold on his shoulder. The bite didn't break through the skin and Talon easily broke free, but it still hurt.
Not wasting any more time, Talon went on the offensive. Once entangled in battle, the speed of the other wolf was no longer a concern, and with his superior size and strength, he managed to get the upper hand in the battle.
With the red wolf on the ground, Talon backed off, both combatants panting heavily. He really wasn't there to fight but he never seemed to be able to back down from a challenge. He could see that his opponent wanted to continue the fight and he prepared for the next attack.
"Dakota," a soft voice said.
Talon glanced to the side and saw a young man approaching the wolf he had just engaged in battle with. The man kept a wary eye on Talon as he approached the exhausted wolf.
"Don't do this," the man urged. "He's not our enemy."
Letting the growl subside, the wolf started to shift, and Talon was a bit surprised to notice that he had been fighting a female wolf. He'd rarely come across a female who could hold her own against him in a fight, and those he did know always ended up already being mated. He was positive that was the same case for the one in front of him.
"You're not hurt, are you Sam?" she asked as she stood up and hugged him tightly.
"Good, but you are wrong. He is our enemy. He attacked us on our territory."
"She's right," said one of the men who had remained in his human form the entire time. "Bring these two back to the house. We'll decide what to do with them there."
The female Talon had fought, Dakota, stepped towards Talon, ready to fight him once again if necessary, but being outnumbered, he decided to not even bother resisting. He allowed Dakota to approach him and didn't even try to fight back when she grabbed him on the back of the neck. A bit surprised at his cooperation, Dakota released him.
Slowly, Talon approached the girl, hoping to encourage her to go with the wolves, but unlike earlier, she didn't seem to like him. She tried to get to her feet for the first time only to fall back to the ground. Talon wanted to go to her aid, but Sam was there first, picking her up from the ground.
It took all of Talon's power not to growl at Sam. For whatever reason, he couldn't stand seeing him touch the girl, but he controlled himself and allowed himself to be led away by the other wolves.