All I'd ever known was these damp stone walls. The steady drips of water never-ending, filling my bowl when it rained. It was a familiar trickle and one of the few sounds I could rely on. The door to my cell was made of wood and iron-plated. I know, because I shredded the wood a long time ago in an attempt to escape. I was only met with cold steel 8 inches in. I could not slash my way through 8 more inches of steel, even with razor-sharp claws. They decided not to replace it, leaving the gouge marks as a reminder that I would never escape, never be free, no matter how desperately I wanted it. Those cruel masters of mine.
There was a small circular grate in one corner for drainage and another high above me. The drain was tiny. Even when I was small, I couldn't put my arm in it. The one above me I thought I might be able to reach one day and that kept me going for a long time. However, it turned out it was far too high up to even think about getting out that way. I couldn't crawl up there, there were no footholds or space to grip. It let in the only light except for the lone torch outside my prison. That torch was a source of comfort for me, the eternal flame always flickering and offering me hope that one day someone might trust me enough to let me out unencumbered. I heard the guards speak of electricity. The warm glow of lamplight or the LED lights of computers and cell phones. I'd never seen those things down here. Too far for signals to reach they said. Another thing I hoped I might one day get to experience. Hope was the only good thing I had in this sad, lonely, oppressive world of mine. I clung to it like a life preserver even when I was only met with hatred and anger from everyone around me.
I was fed every other day, except the days leading to a change. There was a small opening built into the stone wall near the door. A series of levers allowed the guards to place food in it and then me to access it once they closed their side. It was barely large enough to fit a tray. That was my only human contact. My masters occasionally would come down to gaze at me through the small window set high on the door. Only they could look in, I couldn't look out, so I did not know what my captors looked like. Only their voices. Most of the guards dared not to speak to me. I didn't see the point of letting me live if I was going to spend my entire life locked in this cell. It was cruel and inhuman and I guess that was the problem. They didn't see me as human, even though I was most days a month. The 3 days are the ones that worried them and why they kept me locked up. I'm sure of it. That is until recently.
A few years ago, they let me out. When my food was delivered, I grabbed for it like always and woke up a few hours later in chains. I was in a small cage. The back against the wall, the other 3 sides with tightly woven pointy chains. I found myself in a huge room made of the same stone as my cell. Other creatures I'd never seen before surrounded me, all in similar cages. I didn't even know what to call most of them, at the time I didn't have the vocabulary. The room was lit by hundreds, maybe thousands of torches. The front of each cage opened to a larger cage with buzzing wires. I could hear them with my sharpening senses. There were many other humans, sitting in bleachers surrounding an arena. Most talked softly among themselves but I could hear them now. I didn't understand why I was here. Not now, when it was the night of my change. Something they always feared. Yet here I was, primed and ready to transform at any moment. I caught a snippet from the couple closest to me. There was to be a fight. To the death. They had come to watch a brutal display of violence between me and the other creatures. I didn't know what to think and I didn't have time to dwell on it as the familiar pain deep inside me started. I grunted and my shackles were removed. I quickly transformed into a massive wolf. I was a werewolf as I later found out. Cursed by the moon to transform. Even this deep in the earth, without ever seeing the moon at all, it still affected me. I gave a howl and thrashed at my now tiny prison, pricking myself on the sharp points. I barely felt it. Soon all the cages were opened to the large one and 12 of us creatures were forced into the arena.
At first, I was all animal biting, snarling, slashing, doing whatever I had to against any of the others who dared to come close to me. There were a few deaths, but most endured. I somehow managed to survive even against the others who far outmatched me. As the months passed and I learned to fight, I was able to retain my humanity with the change. I fought smarter, not harder and tried to reason with the other creatures. Many were unreachable in their monstrous states or unwilling to negotiate with me. My hope dwindled with each failed attempt at reaching the others in the ring.
I figured out how to spend the rest of my days, however numbered they were. Each fight was brutal and took me several days to heal. Thanks to my expert healing properties, I was never down for long. I prepared myself for the fights as best I could in a room with nothing in it. Alone. Lonely. Preparing myself for the end, I secretly hoped for during each tussle. It seemed they would never kill me so I still had that tiny hope I'd have a taste of freedom before it all ended. But with security being as it was, I doubted it. Until she came along. James was different than anyone I'd ever met, not that I'd met a decent person before. She dressed like a man, acted like a man, but the moment I smelled her I knew she wasn't. She would be the one who would help me escape. If I could make her see, could make her understand I wasn't the monster they made me out to be.
She started slow. I knew she was the one but I was still hesitant to trust. The years of mistreatment made me fearful. But she was patient. Kind. That's how I knew I could trust her, and come to trust her I did. James even saw fit to give me a name. Tristan. Tris for short. My masters hadn't even given me one, even though I was a pet. Nay, scratch that. I was lower than a pet. I still should have had a name for the fighting ring if nothing else. But they didn't see fit to give me one.
James told me of the world outside. What it was like and how to live in it. It didn't sound as bad as I'd expected it to be and longed for the day we could be in it together. If she would have me. I hoped she would have me. I'd never had these feelings before, as I learned they were called. I only knew of anger, sadness, and loneliness with that small dash of hope. I suspect it was because I'd never had contact with a female before. I wondered if that was the reason I felt such a connection with her. I guess it didn't matter why, only that we did. I grew to love her and I suspect she felt the same. Though I don't know how she could ever love something like me. As the months turned into years our relationship blossomed and when she promised she'd help me procure my freedom, I knew that she did. "It's too dangerous. They'll kill you if you help me." I told her.
"Nonsense. They won't know what hit them when I'm through here." She whispered through the small window. "Here. I've brought you a present." She tossed something at me. It's small, orange and wrinkled. "It's an orange. Eat it. Just not the peel. That's bitter. It's the soft fleshy insides you want."
"Thank you, James." I breathe back at her.
"Of course. I'll let you know when it's time. Have faith, Tristan." She murmurs and is off again on her rounds. She never stayed too long, didn't want the others to become suspicious. Yet every day she managed to stop by and tell a story or two. Oh, how I loved that orange. The tangy sweetness of it on my tongue. It reminded me of James. There was a little bit of orange in her scent.
Another few weeks went by as I continued to wait. I'd waited long enough, what was more time? Especially if we got to be together. In those later weeks, she brought me my food and we were able to brush fingertips through the opening. I felt something pass between us when she placed other fruits in my palm. I'd never had anything so sweet and delightful as when she brought me fruit. I tried many of them, whatever she could smuggle in. Each time it was a surprise, but the orange remained my favorite. For when I ate them, I dreamt of James and what our lives could be together if only things were different.
Finally, after 6 months of waiting it was time. James dropped by early that afternoon to notify me. The guards always knocked me out to take me to the arena and James knew she wouldn't get another chance before then. "Tonight Tristan. It's happening tonight." She muttered through the opening as she placed my food inside. "Wait for my signal."
"How will I know what the signal is?" I questioned.
"You'll know." She replied and then was gone, leaving my only meal for the day. I'd usually eat then take a short nap and get in a quick workout before the fight in the evening.
However, when I next woke up, I was already in the arena, in my small cage, shackled as before in anticipation for moonrise. Did James put something in my food to make it so? There were so many questions racing through my mind. Why? What will the signal be? How will I know? Will I be ready and able? I could smell the malodorous people filing into the arena. I'd come to hate the smell of humans, except of course for James. The guards undid my shackles as the familiar burn deep inside started. They had the timing of my change down to a science by now. I quickly metamorphosed and relished the extra adrenaline in my veins from excitement. This was it. I was going to see the moon for the first time in my life. Feel soft earth instead of cold stone beneath my feet. It was all there waiting for me if James held up her end. I still didn't see how she was going to pull it off, but I had faith in her. She had been planning this coup for months, it had to work.
The siren sounded and our cages were opened. The 12 of us entered the arena ready for anything. Me most of all. Only nothing happened. The nearest opponent to me was a giant bear and he lunged at me. I had no choice but to engage in battle with him so I did.
During our fight, there was a commotion. "LUX ET TENEBRAE!" is shouted and there is a blinding flash and all the torches went out at once. A lot of the creatures and humans were frightened and confused. Screaming and shouting coming at me from all directions. "Tristan, over here. Come to me." I would know her voice anywhere and it was all I heard even with the terror from everyone around me. I found my way to her, nearest the small gate the guards entered at the end of each fight. It was small, not nearly big enough for any of us creatures to get out of. Or so I thought. Somehow it was now the perfect size for me to squeeze through. "Tristan." James sighed my name. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. She was not afraid of me in this form and gently caressed my fur. Then she climbed on my back. Whispering in my ear, she directed me on the way out. A left here, right here, go up these stairs. Wait a minute, cross this bridge. I followed them all. It seemed hours before we reached the surface, but reach it we did. I'm surprised that we don't run into anyone. Although I heard James say caecus and surdi a few times. They are not words I'm familiar with and long to ask her about them. I pray I'll get the chance to.
When we reach the surface and open the door; that first smell almost undid me. The sweet smell of freedom. Then the sounds hit me like a wave. So many things I'd never experienced before. It was almost too much. But I relished in it because I was finally free. I take a few steps from the doorway to my hell and then I heard them. They were coming for me. For us. The other guards and my masters. I don't even have time to relish the feeling of grass between my toes.
James climbs down from my back and gives me a hug. There are tears in her eyes. "Tris, you have to go," James whispers, trying to be strong for me. "I'll hold them off as long as I can." She caressed my face and I leaned into her. My spirit connecting with hers. I don't want to leave her. "I love you." She says softly but fiercely.
I howled up at the moon. The beautiful moon that ruled me, cursed me to live the life I've led. James rescued me. I must honor it. I took off for the tree-line. I heard a commotion behind me and I almost turn back. Thoughts of James in my mind. But I remembered what she did for me. How hard she fought to get me free. How long she toiled to come up with a plan. There's an explosion and a bright light that silhouettes my immense shadow on the ground in front of me. I really look horrifying. There are shouts of pain and anger. More yelling. A scream from James and then a shot rings out.