My heart beat loud in my chest, and I took the corner at a flat-out sprint, the claws of my front paws raking large, deep furrows into the alley's cracked cement as I dug in and spun, swinging my hind legs around and gathering myself to launch a dozen feet forward in my new direction. I didn't get a chance to complete the leap. Something hard and hooked and sharp sliced into my side, and I felt claws bouncing off the bones of my ribcage like piano keys. Tearing through muscle and sinew and scattering ragged strips of my beautiful, long, white-silver fur across the alley street.
There is a war. One that humans have not been aware of. It is fought in your streets, it haunts your cities, and though you will not admit it even to yourselves, it is the reason you fear the dark.
It has raged for a thousand years, and still the ones who were there at its beginning are refusing to allow it an end. Because vampyres and lycans, you see, can live for an eternity- as will their desire to fight.
My people, as the rest of the underworld, have known of this war. We've watched it from distances safe and measured; it is not our place to interfere. The Elders of our kind explained, the children of Corvinus must settle their own affairs. They are young yet, two races created falsely, a variation, a perversion of nature. Because of their infectious method of reproduction they vastly outnumber us, and so we have chosen to keep our existence secret. They are not so wise as their ancestors the Nephilim, children of Heaven; not so patient as their forefathers the Daemons, children of Hell; and not so pure as we, their cousins, the children of Earth. Our kind has been here since time immemorial, and we will still thrive long after Corvinus' seed have rid mother earth of their tainted strain.
Or so I used to believe…. So very long ago…
I turned on my attacker, my high yelp of pain drowned out by the deep rumbling growls and high-pitched snarls echoing through the area. The snap of my jaws as I attempt to repay him in kind was a loud click in the seething atmosphere. I turned, tucking the bushy mass of my tail behind me as I crouched down, dropping my hindquarters and spacing my front paws wide apart in the familiar attacking stance I'd used since I could crawl. My nose dipped to the ground and wrinkled as I bared my white teeth, waiting for the larger creatures to come close enough for me to get under their chin and go for the throat. I was cornered, and I knew I probably wouldn't survive, but damn me to hell if I didn't take somebody else with me.
One of the lycans lunged toward me from the left and I swung to meet him, my gaze locked on his exposed jugular- but another came from the right at exactly the same moment. His claws caught painfully under my belly, and my body was flung high into the air. There was a sickening crunch as my shoulder connected with the alley's brick wall, and I hit the ground on my back, my jaws open in a silent howl. I didn't get up. I could feel them, surrounding me, converging on their fallen quarry. My mind flashed back to my last hunt with the pack. I knew the thrill of working together to bring down prey, the excitement in the moment when it has ceased to struggle, the anticipation in the seconds before your teeth sink deeply into warm flesh and you feel the strength and the satisfaction of being the winner in a battle for life and death.
I supposed I had never bothered to consider it from the prey's point of view.
Payback's a goddamn Bitch.
From my place on my back I could see the moon, and it gave me a small measure of comfort. I knew that somewhere that same night a song of grief would be sung to it for me. I closed my eyes and sighed. I could feel the warmth of the Lycans' breath on my battered skin.
Incredibly, at the sound of the rough, hard voice, the lycans reluctantly halted their advance on me. I stayed frozen, waiting to feel at any second the ripping and tearing as a half dozen sets of razor sharp fangs sinking themselves into my alluringly fresh and bleeding body. I could hear their residual growling, and their breath, panting with exertion. Then another sound, human footfalls, wending their way carefully through the large, furred bodies of the half-wolf, half-human monstrosities. Redundantly curious, I cracked one eye open. The faint, blurry image of a man entered my vision. I blinked twice in an attempt to focus. His head blocked out my view of the moon. The face glaring down at me was totally pissed off.
"What the hell have you done?!"
Without turning his gaze from me, he addressed the lycans in a low, quiet, ice cold tone that made me shiver. "Leave us."
He turned to bark the name over his shoulder in the same harsh voice that gave me a short reprieve, and another man appeared above me. "Get them the hell back to base and get Arnon up here. I don't care what she did."
He moved to bend over me, and I made a superhuman effort to lift my head and follow his movements as his hands traced my open wounds. Fucking hell.
With an unwelcome jolt I realized I was a wolf no more. Back in my human female form, my weakened body not able to hold its wolf shape, my naked self was splayed out unattractively and bloodily on the filthy pavement.
I tried to move, to cover myself, but the effect, I believe, was something more akin to the flopping of a dying fish.
Suddenly, modesty became horribly unimportant. The final lingering effects of shock rid themselves of my system, and the pain crashed down on me in ten thousand waves. I'm not the suffer-in-silence type, and I made a valiant attempt to scream, but all that was left in my lungs was enough for a short, sharp gasp. The man beside me made a soft, absent-minded shushing sound, and I passed out quietly. Gratefully.
Whilst I was unconscious, my mind ran through memories and thoughts the way water moves through a riverbed. I wanted my beautiful home in the cold, frozen tundra. I wanted to be surrounded by the scents and sounds of my pack, my family.
I am Corrine Braxton. A smart, spunky, blonde, attractive (if I do say so myself), philosophy student at Berkeley. I'm twenty years old. I've got midterms, finals, a roommate and a boyfriend who's pre-med. I am the epitome of a millenial stereotype. Except:
I am going to stay twenty years old as long as I live- which, before tonight, I believed might be forever. Sometimes I turn into a large silvery-white wolf with light blue eyes and huge white fangs. I'm a daughter of the moon. I am part of the bloodline which has always held the leadership of my pack. Unfortunately, I'm still young and impulsive; and, stupidly, I chose one night to follow a scent which led me into the heart of a lycan lair. This in turn led to me being chased through the city streets, brutally mauled, and finally saved by the Lycan himself. Oh sure, I recognized Lucian. We might not take part in the vampyre/lycan dispute, but we do know the key players. Well, not all of us do, but since the untimely death of my parents my uncle Mathias has made sure that I've been properly educated.
When I came to I was laid out on a stretcher in a cold, damp, dank underground chamber filled with the rotting scent of death, old blood, and decay. A light sheet covered my undamaged lower half, but left the gaping wounds on my chest and abdomen exposed. My pain came back in the first few seconds, but it was lesser, detached somehow. I knew this was a bad sign, it meant that my spirit was slowly leaving my body and its physical weaknesses behind. I could feel somebody poking and prodding me, and sensed the presence of a third standing by my head.
"Well, I cannot say for certain. These injuries are very serious, but I cannot tell their full effects if I do not understand exactly what she is. They say she made a transformation, but I clearly she is not one of us… For a human these wounds would be fatal, for lycan or vampire, devastating. And she does not appear to be healing…"
"Well, of course I'm not." My voice came out rusty and I licked my lips, trying to swallow. Someone slipped a hand around my neck, lifting my head up, and a tin cup was pressed against my lips. I could smell the water, and I took a mouthful. My head was laid back down and I tried again to speak, prying my eyes open slowly. "I've got your kind's filthy blood and spit poisoning my system."
I looked up, my eyes lighting first on Lucian, (odd to be so close to someone you've heard legends about since you could sit), and then managing to pin the weasely old physician with what I hoped was a convincing death-glare, but the edges of my vision were tinged with gray and I felt at any moment ready to pass out again, so I probably wasn't very scary. In fact, far from being intimidated, the ferret started to lean over me excitedly.
"Really? You know that our blood is a poison to you?"
"Well, the burning and dying does give a kind of clue, yeah." I was horribly rasping, and my entire torso was throbbing with a hot, relentless pain. I took a deep breath, which was incredibly stupid, because a wave of agony hit me and my breathing hitched, sending me into a long, racking coughing session. Lucian reached over to help, his hand sliding through my filthy, matted hair to cradle my neck and turn my face to the side, so I didn't choke on my own blood. I'm not sure why he bothered, I was clearly already in the throes of a final death-rattle.
"What are you?" The creepy doctor asked, his wrinkled face getting scarily close to mine, something like reverence or awe in his heavily-accented voice. I coughed a few more times and spit out an impressive mouthful of half-congealed blood, which dripped heavily to the floor and left my lips streaked red.
"The real version of what you pretend to be," I wheezed, and tried my level best to put some venom in my rasp. I may be pathetic and dying, but my race wasn't. "I'm a Goddamn werewolf."
I started to cough again. I could feel the force of it rattling my bones. Each heave tore at my ragged, clawed body, and I bit down on a scream, turning it into a low, keening whine. Not because I was trying to be brave- honest- just because it took more pain, effort and breath TO scream than NOT to. Lucian pulled back a tendril of crusty blonde hair that had fallen in my face, and I tried to roll one bloodshot eye in his direction to convey a little bit of thanks. What I saw in his eyes took me back a little. It was guilt and horror and sadness all rolled into one- it was terrible. I had to think again. It really didn't fit with the rest of my experience in the lycan world. But that didn't really matter. For the second time in one night I was a few seconds away from dying. I decided to see if I could play on some of that guilt and sadness.
"Hey," My voice was a whisper, but it was audible. "Do you really want to help me?"
"Of course." A small furrow creased between his eyebrows, and he moved to smooth the hair from my face again. It was weirdly soothing. Comfort from a lycan while I was dying of lycan wounds.
"Then take me outside." I unexpectedly had to blink back tears. I swallowed around the lump in my throat. I needed to see the moon, to give my spirit its best chance at a clear shot to the heavens, instead of being trapped in this black hole of an underground cavern. "Please?"
To his credit, he didn't protest or argue with me. Maybe that was just a sign of how pathetic I was- not even a lycan could refuse me my dying wish. He pulled the sheet up to my neck, the touch of it feather-light but still remarkably painful. When he picked me up the movement ripped at my injuries and I couldn't stop the little cry that used up the last of my breath. I closed my eyes.
By all rights I should have died right then, and maybe I did; but when I felt the rays of moonlight touch my skin I just had to open my eyes again, dead or not, to drink in its beautiful sight one last time. It was gorgeous, huge and luminous. The sky itself seemed clearer and cleaner. I realized that we must be away from the lights and smog of the city. Blinking, I moved my head slightly from where it rested (quite comfortably, actually), on Lucian's shoulder. I could see the blurry outline of trees, and now that I listened for them I could hear the soft night sounds of a forest. Hell if I know how we got there, but I was sure grateful.
We were in a small, attractive clearing that was surrounded on three sides by forest and the fourth faced a large out cropping of rock, behind which I could hear the soft tinkling sounds of running water. The entire atmosphere was so perfect, so peaceful that it (and also partly the fact that I was a hair's breadth away from dying) left me drugged with sleepy blissful satisfaction. This was a place to breathe your last. From here I could easily abandon the physical restraints of my battered and broken body… from here I would leave the earth behind and float gently up on the invisible wings of a thousand angels bearing me gently from this life to the-
"If you were to survive this night, what would you need?"
I opened my peacefully closed eyes a crack and peered up at Lucian's face, annoyed at his interruption of my death. It seemed to be becoming a habit.
"Friends in really high places?" I quipped. The corner of Lucian's mouth seemed to lift just the tiniest of fractions.
"Yes, well, aside from that."
I blew out a breathe and tried to think. It hurt to think.
"Blood," I swallowed and tried to remember, "My pack..." My voice ran out, and the gray edges of my vision seemed to be coming together, blacking out my sight of anything at all. I couldn't hear anything anymore. My world was black and cold, but peaceful, and heavenly pain-free. I breathed out a soft sigh of relief, and readied my soul for its next journey…. And then the scent hit my nostril like a slap in the face and my eyes flew open, although I saw only darkness. It was delicious, mesmerizing, drugging- the scent I'd followed earlier that day- the scent of blood rich and sweet and intoxicating. A drop of it fell on my tongue, the taste exploding in my mouth sweet and spicy and warm. For a second I thought I must have passed over to the next and this was my first reward… and then my vision came back and I saw the moon's pale glow and his slit wrist held above me. My eyes widened in horror and I tried to turn away, but my fangs had already run out and my instincts cried to feed.. And another crimson drop of liquid nirvana fell on my lips. I bit his arm savagely, tearing to increase the flow of sweet blood to my mouth and feeling the ecstasy of it running down my parched, burning throat. The taste and feeling are not things easily described, except to say it is the perfect blending of pain and lust, desire, pleasure and greed. I revelled in the return of life and spirit for several precious seconds before the pain burst through my head like a blinding white light at the backs of my eyes.