Disclaimer: I do not own any of Patricia Briggs's characters, ideas, etc.
Chapter One: Change
The Rocky Mountains may be rougher on human hikers, but the Appalachians are tougher…on werewolves. And on humans who irritate them.
This I found out last night. The wolves "came out" a few years ago, but I didn't know there were any in the area where I was camping. After all, what wolf would want to live in an area where the largest prey is a pheasant? The wolf who hunts people, of course.
I had just about finished my hike for the day and was on my way back to my camp when I heard wolves howling.
Weird for them to be out already; it's only five o'clock, I thought, strolling through the trees. Then, suddenly, a huge black wolf as tall at the head as my shoulder lunged at me. His amber eyes glinted, and since he was so big, I couldn't believe I'd missed him in the virtually non-existent undergrowth. I screamed and ran. The wolf caught me an instant later.
I woke in a haze of agony. My stomach, arms, legs…everything hurt. There was blood everywhere – mine. But I wasn't bleeding; my wounds had closed. They hurt like heck, but they had closed. I winced as I tried to sit up. What happened? Had I fallen? I gasped in pain as I rolled to my knees, then forced myself to my feet. Oh, yeah. The wolf. It attacked me…and left me alive. Why? Why the attack? And why not kill me? I stumbled a few feet towards my camp and fell. It was getting dark. A full moon shone overhead.
All at once, fresh pain – not from my fading wounds – ripped through me. I screamed again, even though I was distantly afraid it would bring the huge black wolf back. I fell, and something wet-sounding popped. Excruciating pain. Pure agony.
Get up. Must get up. Must not be laying down when they come. The thought was mine, but then again it wasn't. Get up! I stumbled up – on four legs. I cried out – and my voice sang like a wild thing in pain. But then, that was what I was. Wild. In pain. Wild with pain. I ran; it seemed to help. At first I was clumsy on my huge, clawed paws, but I quickly got used to it. Run. They come. Again, the thought was mine – but not. I could smell them, though.
And that scared me. I could smell them coming. And they smelled like wolves. Then they were all around me; the black one, who was obviously in charge; a brindled brown and black male, who slunk at the black one's side; a tiny, creeping, silver-furred one. The tiny one called out to the newfound wildness in me. I stepped forward. The black one blocked my way.
He thinks he is boss. He is not boss. He will never be our boss. Our boss? The wildness – the wolf – in me snarled. We will teach him his place, make him pay for hurting the small one. For I could scent the small silver wolf's pain and fear, and I could sense from his movements and the way he flinched every time the black one moved that he was the cause of the silver's pain.
I lunged, and the brindled wolf slammed into me. I slipped passed him, got between him and the silver wolf. I took a defensive posture, head down, ears back, snarling, waiting. The black wolf came on; the brindled rushed at his side. When they reached me a heartbeat later, I was ready.