"Quick to judge, quick to anger. Slow to understand. Ignorance and prejudice. And fear walk hand in hand." -Rush
THERE WAS NO MOON TO BRIGHTEN THE NIGHT SKY AS I LED THE WOLVES DEEP INTO THE DISTRICTS OF JUNCTION CITY.
Surprisingly the city was alive at this late hour. Strange, obscure noises blasted from moving vehicles, momentarily silencing any other sound when they streaked by. Thick black fumes polluted the air and made breathing difficult. Luckily for me, the crowd of tall buildings made traveling by rooftop easier than through its human invested streets. The alpha wolf who rescued me from perpetual roadkill wanted to stay hidden in the shadows. Of course, I had no problem with this decision. Avoiding humans calmed my nerves. However, as I jumped from rooftop to rooftop, about three things concerned me.
One, there was no plausible explanation to convey how I started receiving strange visions. It's been twice they manifested itself into my head, disturbing my every thought and action. Until recently I noticed the birth of these visions occurred around the same time I met Toboe. Could the pup have something to do with them? Immediately my mind responded with a resounding negative. Impossible! But what then?
Two, in what state of mind drove Gino to betray his own kind? Nobles slaughtered his entire pack without remorse. How could he live with humans and not feel uncomfortable? Take me for example, I absolutely and irrevocably despise them.
And finally three, if Toboe was doing okay. I prayed the humans had not harmed him.
Among all the unanswered questions rambling inside my head, there was one thing I was sure of . . . I wasn't leaving this city without the pup.
The rain settled to a light drizzle. I could feel the cool heavy wetness weigh me down as I ran. Ahead I saw the end of the building coming up, and I set my teeth before throwing myself into the air. My stomach turned a summersault as I hurtled over the dark alley. When I landed on the other side, I bent my knees so that my thighs could absorb the shock and then plunged forward into a sprint. I heard the others land somewhere close behind. They followed with equal haste; which surprised me. I always thought of myself as the fastest of my kind. Countless times I left Lydia in the dust. And when I met Toboe, he never measured up to my level. But all of that changed when these homeless wolves came into my life. It bothered me when Tsume managed to match my pace, running alongside me. I purposely picked up the speed a notch to avoid seeing his annoying face. That was when Kiba appeared on my left. I gritted my teeth.
"Yo, Amber! Hope you know where you're going." Hige said somewhere behind me. Before setting off in search of the pup, Hige and I formally introduced ourselves. He also presented the names of his comrades even though I secretly knew already. He then added, "Wouldn't it be hard looking for that apartment on top of buildings?"
Although Junction City's unnatural environment confused my senses, I was confident in the direction I was heading. It might be because of the mountains. I recalled Gino pointing them out. The exact position of the mountain peeking over his apartment complex was still fresh in my memory. I measured the distance of the mountains in my head, so I knew exactly how to get to the apartment. And at the moment they looked far away. Just a little more to go.
"We'll get there soon enough." I promised, staring straight ahead.
Tsume, who smelt like timber and leaf mould, huffed suddenly. I took that as offensive, and held back every ounce of myself to not shove the grey wolf over the edge of the building. Anyway, Hige did not say anything to my response. Half of me wondered if he believed me, while the other part could care less. Whether he did or didn't, he was not going to confirm my thoughts because he directed his concerns to somebody else.
"What's the plan when we get there anyway, Kiba?" Hige asked. "I don't suppose Toboe's kidnappers left us a trail of breadcrumbs to follow."
"We sniff out the place." Replied Kiba. "Maybe there's a scent that will lead us straight to Toboe."
"Better be right about that," Tsume said.
There was no sign of Gino's apartment, and I started to doubt myself after twenty long minutes of relying on pure memory. But that was when I did see it! On the other side of a tall building was the apartment complex. Thank goodness. I never thought I would be happy to see that ugly place. Kiba was the first to step inside the shabby building, and the rest of us filed into the room. The lobby was dimly lit and empty, with the exception of a rat scampering across the floor and the sound of a baby crying somewhere in the building. I wasted no time as I quickly led the group up to the second floor - Gino's room.
When we approached the correct door, I jiggled the knob.
"Dammit." I banged the door once out of frustration. "It's locked."
"Out of the way,"
I had just enough time to step aside when Tsume's foot flew inches from my face, kicking open the door. The force of the blow made the metal hinges break off, and the door slammed against the wall. Despite his handy-dandy door kicking in ability, I still thought he was a bigheaded fool.
Hige poked his head into the room, and wrinkled his nose. "What a dump. It smells worse in here than it does outside."
"That's not important." Kiba roughly pushed his way between Hige and Tsume. "Do something useful and start looking around."
We obeyed, going our own separate ways.
The husky wolf sauntered toward a dingy cardboard box lying in the center of the main room. He used the tip of his foot to flip it over. He was not surprised to find it bare inside. "There's not much to look for." Hige complained.
"I hate to say it, but porky is right." Came Tsume's voice from the hallway. He walked back into the main room. "The bedroom had nothing. Just a futon and some clothes on the floor."
"Then use your nose." Kiba argued with a hint of annoyance. "We aren't leaving this place empty handed."
Hige and Tsume exchanged a glance.
While I wandered the small furniture-less room, I stumbled upon the tin bowl Toboe used. When I picked it up, I noticed the inside was bone dry. He must have been thirsty. I felt a sharp pang of guilt in the pit of my stomach.
"This guy must be a freak to live with humans," Tsume sounded disgusted.
"You're one to talk." Hige said, mischief swimming in his brown eyes. "Didn't you have a band of mindless humans following you around once upon a time?"
A low growl arose from the grey wolf - obviously offended. "That doesn't mean I lived with them, you idiot!"
Hige dismissed the comment with a wave of his hand. "Sure,"
"Gino works with humans too."
The grey wolf paused for a moment to get his bearings. "What did you say now?" Tsume sounded annoyed. He always sounded annoyed.
"Gino works with humans." I repeated, still staring at the bowl in my hands. "In the mountains. As a coal miner. At least, that's what he told me."
"What would a wolf - who mines for coal - want with the runt?" Hige asked out loud.
At that moment, Kiba came back into the main room, seemingly in deep thought. His attention glued to me as if I should know the answer to that question. Ashamed, my eyes fell upon the bowl in my hands again when I had nothing to offer. Even so, I jogged my memory for something trivial because it was apparent nothing in this shabby apartment was going to help us find Toboe.
And then it came to me!
I remembered what Gino said to me and Toboe on the streets. "Wolves are becoming extinct. So in order to survive we blend in with the humans - we work like a human, we live like a human."
"A price," The words came out slowly, unsure. I turned to look at the three wolves. They fell silent and I could see on their faces they were contemplating the possibilities. Before anyone could share their thoughts, a voice with a heavy accent shattered the silence.
"Hey, ya'll aren't supposed to be hur."
Standing by the door was Felix. As soon as his green eyes found me among the group, the expression on his face quickly shifted from angry to surprised.
"You . . ." Whispered the human.
He swiftly turned, and took off down the hallway.
Kiba darted out of the room, followed by Tsume, Hige and myself. We chased the human through the graffitied hallway and down the stairs. When Felix reached the first floor, Kiba launched himself from the staircase and tackled him to the ground. A cry of surprise left the humans mouth. Kiba hauled the hefty human up with only one hand and threw him into Tsume's chest. The grey wolf placed Felix in a choke hold.
"I ain't done not'n, ya hear." Shouted the human. "Lemme go!"
However, his attempt failed to change my mind. I glared at the coward who's face was starting to turn a dark shade of red, and he glared back with equal loath.
"Is this the one who took Toboe," Tsume purposely applied pressure against Felix's neck, crushing his windpipe. The human coughed and choked.
"No," I said while never taking my eyes off Felix. "But we can use him to find Gino. Apparently, they're great buds."
Felix stiffened. "What ya what? Money?"
"Your friend took something that belongs to us." Kiba said. "Give us answers. Now."
"Or else what?" Dared Felix.
"Or else I'll snap your neck." Tsume threatened. He squeezed the human's neck to make his point clear. Felix swallowed a loud one.
Kiba's voice was cold and stern. "Where's Gino?"
Sweat beaded across the human's forehead, nervous eyes shifted between me and Kiba - Felix was carefully thinking over his next words. One slip up and he might loose his head. He inhaled through his nose and lifted his chin. "Gino ain't here no mo. I reckon he left the city by now."
"He reeks of lies," Hige affirmed. "I can smell it all over him."
Felix struggled for air when the arm around his neck started to constrict. He tried calling for help but Tsume wouldn't allow it - forcing the human's lower jaw shut. And keeping it like that. After a good few minutes, Tsume relaxed his muscles. The human gasped for air like a fish on land.
"Don't make us ask you again." Barked the alpha wolf. "Where's Gino!"
"A'right, a'right!" Felix tried to catch his breath. "You'll find em' at the steel factory by the ole train station. Five blocks from hur, to the East. A build'n name P&E Steel House."
The grey wolf shoved the human aside, and he collided with the wall - face first. Felix cried out in pain, holding his nose as blood rapidly poured down his mouth, chin, neck.
"Bastard! You broke my nose!" Cursed Felix.
Kiba ignored the man's outburst. "Let's go."
We were already walking away when Felix's next words caught us by surprise.
"What ya'll want with the mutt anyhow? Those critters done not'n but brought us the disease."
Hige's eyes widen incredulously. "That's not true."
An imperious grin spread across his bloody, grime face. "Ya'll know not'n then . . . just a bunch of mutt-lovin-nancies get'n our business."
"And what exactly is your business," Tsume looked dangerously close to doing what he promised earlier.
"Burn'n every mutt that crawls into this beautiful city." Felix replied slowly, still wearing that annoying smile.
My heart began to beat hard inside my chest. Everything clicked! Gino, a wolf himself, never meant to help us. He wanted to burn Toboe and me alive from the very beginning. I thought about Toboe, and how frightened he must be right now.
Kiba stepped forward. His lips slowly pulled back to reveal a row of inhuman fangs. Seeing this wiped the grin off Felix's face.
It goes without saying Felix's life was not spared. Kiba did not reframe from holding back his rage, ripping through Felix's throat first so he could not scream for help. He left the pitiful man in a pile of mangled limbs and ragged flesh marinating in his own blood. Good riddance.
The four of us headed out into the streets with Kiba leading the way. It had stopped raining outside. By this time the streets were deserted, the markets and stores silent behind their nighttime doors of corrugated metal. No words were exchanged this time as we ran through the Junction. Perhaps they feared the worst for Toboe, and saying it out loud might make it real. Some things were best left unsaid.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, a question surfaced from the darkness. A not so pleasant one.
Did Felix give us the right directions? Those words flared into clarity, followed by a horrible sinking feeling like my heart just collapsed into my stomach. He might have lied just to get rid of us. The very thought worried me to the point of nausea. Once again, I kept my mouth shut. There was no need to spread my anxiety.
The directions took us to a largely industrial neighborhood in the outskirts of the city. An old train station once used for transporting purposes stood between us and the line of factories looming in the dark distance. The ghostly somber-colored buildings sent a chill up my spine. Kiba and Tsume moved onward while I came to a sudden stop - thinking, worrying, fearing.
"We'll find Toboe." Assured Hige, interrupting my train of thought.
I found him standing not too far, wearing that friendly smile.
My eyes grew wide. How did he know?
"You looked a bit scared there for a moment." Explained the silent observer as he scratched the tip of his nose. "The runt might be puny, but he can be tough sometimes."
This wolf is very sharp on the eyes. I thought to myself, noting his keen ability to sense my behavior.
I turned away, slightly bothered. Although I did not say anything, I wanted so badly to believe in the husky wolf. I slipped off the broken platform and landed on the tracks below. Hige walked a few steps behind me as we crossed the field of railroads. Along the way I stumbled on loose rails and wooden blocks, buried underneath tall ferns. There was a massive freight train resting upon vegetation, rusting and long forgotten by this techno-progressive world. Creeping vines strangled the powerful locomotive with its long tentacle-like appendages. Up ahead a dead raven laid on the ground with its long wings bent unnaturally. It must have died recently. Gnats buzzed around its milky eyes. Disgusted, I crept around the decaying bird. When I finally reached the other side of the tracks, I leaped on top of that platform and looked around. I spotted Tsume and Kiba about thirty feet away, so I ran to catch up with them. Once bustling factories were now left to rot in a sprawl of weeds, heaps of trash, crumbling brick and fetid water. The foundation here was overtaken by nature. Powerful manmade structures destroyed by mere vegetation.
After an hour of looking, we finally found the factory that Felix promised us. We walked past it twice, thinking it was another abandoned building, before Kiba saw the sign. It had been sand blasted to pale letters by the unrelenting desert winds.
"P&E Steel House." Read Kiba, pointing at the letters with his finger.
"Good." Tsume said. "At least that bastard kept his word."
That's true. But for the sake of my dignity, I would never agree with him out loud. As Kiba and Tsume argued about something beyond my comprehension, I observed the tall barrier standing between me and the factory. It was a twenty foot fence with a lovely set of barbed wires that looked sharp enough to split a hair.
"This is going to slow us down." I muttered under my breathe, and wandered off to find another entrance.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a sudden flash of light. There were five men patrolling alongside the fence. One caught sight of me, and sprinted with the rifle aimed directly at my head. In a flash of teeth and claws, he dropped limply before my feet.
Gunshots fired, voices shouted, and I covered my sensitive ears.
When I looked up, I saw Kiba running at me. My eyes widen as he jumped forward with his claws outstretched and his blood stained maw pulled back in a frightening snarl. I growled warningly, and crouched low to ready myself for the attack. Suddenly, Kiba passed over my head. There was an agonizing scream behind me. I spun around just as warm human blood splattered across my face. A human had snuck up behind me, his throat now torn open with his blood filling the ground. Kiba stood over the dead man. He looked at me over his shoulder, piercing blue eyes staring straight into mine.
Those eyes . . .
"We should move on." Like dangling from a string, Tsume's voice was like scissors, cutting me down. I hurled back to earth, disoriented and confused. The remaining four humans lay lifeless on the ground. Tsume wiped the fresh blood on his hands with the back of his pants. "More will come after hearing those gunshots."
"Hey, guys!" Hige called out a few feet away.
The urgency in his voice made us rush in his direction. The husky wolf somehow uncovered a hole in the fence. Without hesitation, the four of us jumped through the ragged metal opening and raced across the yard. This time staying in the shadows to avoid further human encounters. A broken window on the east side perimeter proved to be our only entrance into the factory. It led us to a large storage room packed with dusty wooden crates that piled high on top of each other.
"This place feels wrong," Hige said. "It smells like ashes and . . . and-"
Just then a shrill scream echoed on the other side of the walls. I scrambled back in surprise, eyes wild. There was something familiar about that scream. My pulse picked up. What is going on?
"Come on!" And Kiba began to sprint between the towers of crates, desperately trying to find a way out of here. A door came into view and he burst through it effortlessly.
What happened next would forever be imprinted in my mind.
I stared for a few seconds, and time seemed to slow. Chills raised the fine hairs on my arms, neck. A sensation of lightheadedness swept over me. I had to look away, pale faced and eyes wide with horror. It was the furnace room . . . filled with wolves. Some were injured, most were dead. All of them were being dragged away by humans to a huge furnace. A wolf too old to defend itself wiggled and whined in the arms of a human. They tossed my elderly kin into the flames of Hell. His cry lost in the blaze. Among scenes of the macabre and the grotesque, I noticed a familiar patch of auburn fur. It wasn't moving. My heart leaped inside my chest when human hands lifted the young wolf.
"TOBOE!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, and recklessly lunged out of the shadows.
Little did I know about the red dot hovering between my brows, or the rifleman hiding behind discarded equipment twenty yards in the corner. He gazed into his peephole, and pulled the trigger.
A/N: Sorry to leave things on a cliffhanger again! Bwahaha! :D
Thank you everyone for reviewing! It's nice waking up to find some reviews waiting for me in my inbox. Its kinda like receiving daily presents lol just reading them in the morning starts off my day with a grand smile. So please continue to offer your advise and opinions. I absolutely love hearing your thoughts on MoonRise, and whether or not you're enjoying it.
Anyway, pardon my short absence. Life caught up to me, as well as homework and assignment deadlines. Blaah! I will try to squeeze in another chapter next week. However, no promises. As far as I know, I might get busy again.
Have a wonderful week everyone!