Eyes followed us as we walked into the trees and out of sight, but I paid it no mind. Evan could tell whatever side he wanted. Our feet quickly turned to padding, anger was much easier to transform with than any other emotion, and soon we were running full force without a clear destination. We were even trying to keep away from our own group, so I wasn't going to stop Shara the farther in she led. We weren't even hunting, just running, again. What had Evan expected us to do? Baby the guy for putting our life in danger?
We'd gone pretty far out, much farther than we logically should have. The trees had thinned, and instead we soon found ourselves in an open field. I could see a gate not to far in the distance with cows in the pasture. Just outside of it was a Horse grazing.
I knew it was a Thoroughbred on sight, but none of the fancy names for all the colors a horse could be came to mind. This one was a dark brown with the same colored mane, a white stocking on just the one right back leg up to its knee and some white marking on its forehead I couldn't detail from this far away.
She seemed to sense us at the same time as we'd come across her, and she tensed without even looking in our direction. Not even her tail flicked as she waited to see what we'd do, and though it was extremely rare for shapeshifters to eat each other, it was right up there with cannibalism, I guess I couldn't really blame her for the shock factor. Shara made the first move by beginning to slowly back up, and I was quick to join her as I planned on turning back for the van, we'd run far enough that we'd worked out most of our anger anyways, or at least I had. Maybe we'd actually hunt on the way back, that would at least put me in a calm enough mood to try and talk to Evan again.
The Horse nickered at us as we turned tail though, and I looked back over to see she was looking at us directly now. She whined softly and jerked her head back in the direction of the house, before turning around and following the fence line and heading that way without waiting to see if we were going to follow. I caught eyes with my wife, but with one massive movement of her shoulders that was as close to a shrug as these bodies could get, she followed.
It was honestly a terrible idea to follow, Shara must know that. We'd just got done with one ambush, but to tell the truth I followed without hesitating to much. One, I wasn't going to let her go alone and Shara clearly had a reason she was following. Two, in these bodies we could sense a lot farther, so if there was an ambush coming, we'd have a lot more knowledge of it than last time.
The Mare had clearly gone through the process before, taking the four bars on the ground that marked as a cattle guard at a trot and easily jumping them like no domesticated animal would think to do without proper training. Shara followed without hesitation, and I trailed behind with less enthusiasm but the same skill.
The gravel road made a couple of easy twists, and then suddenly we were looking at an old time farm house. It could have been plucked right from a picture frame, with a meadow in the background where the same cows we'd seen were grazing, a few tall trees lining an aged wooden cabin with a wrap around porch, it even had a windmill on a distant hill with a creek running down.
My mind felt a little flagged at the idea of so much space. Sure I ran around in forests in my free time, but even that had never felt so open and endless. The trees gave a sense of enclosure, this place was really making me wonder how far I could run and if I would have to stop.
Our Horse guide clearly knew her way around, but as she headed for the back of the house and I noticed her muscles quivering, the long tail beginning to shrink and the hooves starting to blur around the edges, I recognized I should give her at least a second before I came around as well.
I could hear the distinct sounds of bones cracking, skin growing, and a few other details that even when I wasn't the one experiencing them I was wincing in pain for it. Even as many times as I'd changed, the sensations only dulled, but never really went away.
She came back around the corner not moments later, dressed in tight riding jeans and a loose flannel shirt over a white tank top, similar clothes in hand. She was well built, with pixie styled black hair and a broad, friendly face. The moment she spoke though, my ears twitched in surprise. "Glad you decided to come, don't get many of our kind out here, at least, not the kind of wolves that can talk back." Her voice sounded, flat. Like it was missing the proper inflections even as she met my eyes with a grin.
Her face seemed oddly familiar, though I couldn't place it, and I'd certainly never met her before since I'd never heard someone speak like that before. I glanced at Shara for some help, and found she was already changing back as well. The other placed the clothes down and politely turned her back as fur vanished to reveal, but Shara quickly dressed and then all but squealed "I knew I recognized you! Oh my gosh, Beth! I'd completely forgotten you moved out here! How's Abby, and Nicole?"
This Beth had already started turning back around by the time Shara had rushed forward and started hugging her, now giggling with the first genuine smile I'd seen on her in months as she leaned back and studied her some more.
Beth pulled out of the hug and gave her arm a squeeze, though sidestepping the questions by instead saying, "it's good to see you Shara. I've been worried sick when you dropped off the face of the earth. Of course I understood why when I heard-"
Shara quickly cut her off, she wasn't the only one redirecting. "I'm so happy to have run into you, we've had such a bad day, it feels so good to see an old friendly face."
Beth had gone rather tense with awkwardness as she realized what she'd almost said, so quickly forced herself to relax back and waved towards the kitchen, encouraging, "well please, lets make this last as long as we can. Come on in."
Shara made to follow at once, and I padded after. Beth gave me a friendly enough look as she tried to offer, "um, I do have some clothes around here for you, I promise they're not pink."
I merely huffed and walked past on all fours.
"Oh don't mind him," Shara waved towards me, "we ran into some trouble not a few hours ago, nearly got ambushed by some Hunters, set up by a Theri playing opossum. Hope you can't blame him for being a bit paranoid."
Beth shook her head in disgust as she began puttering around the kitchen, mumbling something that my ears, able to hunt out a rabbit from miles off, were having trouble distinguishing in her odd way of speech. I traveled my brain for a moment, knowing I'd heard the name Beth before and finally came up with our old house I'd been trying my best not to think about these past months. There had been a picture up on the wall right beside where Shara had hung her diploma, of her and two girls, a redhead, and Beth. Then the rest came back, of Shara being on the phone while she fixed our daughter a turkey sandwich for lunch, chatting with someone named Abby. Shara had been congratulating her for...something. Then I decided I'd pieced it together with this old friend of Shara's being so far from California in the wilds of wherever we currently were, many states away for sure. Most likely Abby and Beth had inherited this house and moved out here.
Beth spoke up to Shara again by first offering her something to drink, then asking, "Would you like something to drink, or eat? We've got uh, three day old pizza, and," she found some plastic container and opened it with surprise as she announced, "half a hamburger. Oh, and some kol-laid." She sounded genuinely surprised at the last part even as she pulled out the pitcher full of red liquid.
"Oh, did you and Nikki adopt or-" Shara asked clearly surprised.
"No," Beth scoffed, "I just like coolaid. Guess Abby got some when she last went out."
"How is she," Shara quickly hopped topics, "so it's her staying here with you? And uh, yeah if you don't mind." Shara agreed, getting up around her to snatch the pizza instead. "We've been living off of mostly rabbits and whatever else our teeth have been giving. It's to expensive to eat out every meal, you don't know how good cooked anything sounds."
"She's good, out meeting with a client right now. My sisters a godsend, I swear, she moved up here with me when ah, well lets just say when Nikki didn't."
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Shara said with her own amounts of sisterly concern, turning away from the microwave to gently give Beth's arm a friendly squeeze.
I settled comfortably in front of the stove, curling up slightly as the conversation around me started to dull a bit and I still concentrated on out and around the house. The sounds weren't muted by the walls, but I could still hear the babbling water which I intended to sample before we left for good, a few cows lowing in the distance. The stench of that was more muted with air conditioning around, masked all the more by the smell of pepperoni and the wet lingering from the bathroom out of sight indicating someone had taken a shower recently.
It was as the conversations finally started to turn into personal territory for the two old friends did it finally occur to me how long we'd really been out. Much longer than a usual hunt, and some worry began to ebb into me. We'd sort of just left them back there, and after that fight I was starting to get worried they'd think we ditched them. Shara was so busy chatting that she clearly hadn't noticed the passing time, but I was starting to get ancy as I got to my feet and gave her a nudge.
"Oh come Al, enough with the silent treatment, nothing's going to hurt us here," she groaned without looking down. "Can't I have a human moment for just a few minutes?"
I wished we'd had the forethought to keep cell phones with us, sadly they were still in our bags back in the van. If I'd just dug that out I knew she would have gotten the message, but sadly I really had no other way to communicate with her but to turn back. I'd just begun to let my fur start reversing when it happened.
There was the softest sound of movement pushing through bushes, much too large to be some stray animal. Even as I focused and felt my mind shutting off, I felt how close they already were to approaching the house, the smell of adrenaline pumping and even a few soft heartbeats through the walls.
My fur had stopped retracting, but had stayed on end as Shara got wearily to her feet, either from me or herself sensing something was off. I never got a chance to look at Beth before I was tackling Shara to the ground as the guns went off.
Glass shattered, wood splintered, too much was going off as I stood over her prepared to tear into anything that came within range, but it stopped as quickly as it started. Shara wasn't moving, but I could still feel her breathing beneath me, the acrid scent of the tranquilizer pumping through her slapping me in the face.
Every instinct in me was commanding that I run, but I fought back that as fiercely as I was using my snarling to promise violence if anyone went near her. The problem was, I was well and truly stuck. There were at least four of them, three that I could see as two entered through the backdoor and one coming around into the kitchen from the front, and at least another one who I could sense was checking around the rest of the house.
"Hey Jimmy, we got at least two females in here, plus a carnivore. We hit the motherload-" I didn't distinguish the rest past the new, one long noted growl I released, and he stuttered off anyways, cocking his gun pointed at my eye.
"Would you tranq him already," the man beside him grumbled, holding his own sawed off shotgun that was pointed at Beth.
"Relax," the first smirked, "he's not going anywhere without her, are you now little fella," he finished in mocking tones.
It was that sickening tone of confidence that settled it for me. I needed help, I wasn't going to get her out of here without it. It tore at every part of me to have to do this, but I knew if this didn't work and I lost her for good, at least I wouldn't have long to wait to be with her again. Spinning on the spot, I was on the table and soaring out the window over the kitchen sink, shattering glass into my fur and tearing at my padding even as I hit the ground running. I heard the guns going off behind me, felt something tear at my flesh making it pass the fur, but I'd never forced myself to move so fast in my life. I chewed up the panic and spit it to the back of my mind, kicked my worry into the every muscle it took for me to bound another pace farther away until finally I was back in the trees, ducking under the wooden posts, and hauling back to my friends.
Too many things tore past my eyes on the way, the trees I only dodged by a breath in my speed, Shara being hauled off to I didn't want to know where, what I could have just cost myself in leaving her victim to them. I'd get her back though, I had to, I didn't have another choice. She was alive, and she was going to stay that way until I came back with help.
At one point the deja vu of my situation almost split my rhythm, I stumbled and crashed into a thorny bush as the last time I'd been running like this had been away from the body of my daughter. I couldn't do this, not again, but then a mirage of faces swept through my mind, promising I wasn't facing this alone, and I forced back that rhythm. Only coming to a stop when I finally found where we'd left our stuff, and seeing the clothes Shara would not be putting back on, her scent finally forced my human mind back into the forefront and I collapsed in front of them whether I'd wanted to or not.
Something of my automated movement put one leg each into a pair of pants before I wrenched myself upright and was tearing through the brush. Whatever had just jabbed my foot would have to be taken out later, we hadn't walked that far into the shadows of the trees so it was only a few more paces before I was stumbling across concrete.
Ben caught sight of me, and his eyes flipped wide as he already got to his feet, hands starting to grow claws on instinct as he gasped, "what happened- where's-"
"They got Shara-" the words didn't sound right, my throat may not have fully come back yet, or maybe I could never say that in any kind of proper way, but he seemed to get the message as his eyes already went to where I'd come out of, but I interrupted, "long ways off, we got to get back now, was way outnumbered. Where's Chase!"
He and the others should have already sensed me coming back and come out here!
"He, took off with Evan," Ben yelped, some of the fear that was eating me alive starting to appear on him, "they went to-"
"No, no, no," I wasn't sure if I was saying that out loud or if my mind was supplying it, either way didn't cover how wrong this was. We had to get back now, and I needed Ben and Chase with me! We were already outnumbered- "okay fine, it doesn't matter, they won't be expecting me to come back so quickly, let alone with you. We'll just-"
"Al wait-" Ben insisted, grabbing hold of my arm as I turned back, expecting him to follow. Instead as he tried to restrain me, a noise erupted from me that was in no way human.
Ben didn't let go though, meeting my eyes and almost pleading, "look, we're going to help alright but we need to-"
I wrenched my arm away in disgust, snarling, "oh I get it, I shouldn't have bothered coming back if you think the best idea is to leave her!" Talking was wasting more time, I cut off the endless supply of cursing I wanted to throw his way and felt bones snapping instead, I was going to go back there and take off every head even if mine did come off!
"Al please!" Ben was playing a very dangerous game by insisting staying in my line of sight. I was already half transformed, right out in the open for anyone to see, teeth were always the first to change and my fangs were not going to be sated until they were in something, and Ben hadn't even started a transformation yet; and still he planted his feet and begged, "we're going to help, but listen to me! You wouldn't have run if you had any other option man, so please lets find the others, we'll go get her, I swear she's going to be okay!"
His steady blue eyes were not the ones I wanted to see, they were too many shades lighter and not anywhere near the same shape as her's, but they had the effect of stopping the anger in its tracks, and instead something else slammed down on me so hard I fell to the ground as a pure human, clutching at my head as I moaned, "we have to get her back."
"I know," Ben crouched down beside me at once, still watching my every move steadily, "and we will, I promise."
I don't know how long Fiona had been there, I certainly hadn't ever noticed her approach which spoke volumes about how tuned out I really was, but suddenly Ben was standing up straight and explaining whatever he'd pieced together for her. Moments later and she was running into the brush sprouting feathers, and came back with Chase and Evan in what had to be less than ten minutes. The whole time seemed to span my life, which I knew already was how the rest of my short years would feel like without her.
That's it, that's the first one. I'd still appreciate anyone and everyone giving me a hint if they liked, and I'll have the second up sooner rather than later.