AND HERES THE 2ND CHAPTER.

sorry for the long wait everyone!

please enjoy. =)


Who am I…?

It was dark. Nothing but pitch-black darkness.

Where am I, what's going on?

It was silent. So very silent.

Wait what was that?! What is…?

Grrrrrrrrr!

That noise…what is that? Is that me…? It can't be me. Can it…

Grrrahhhhh!

What happened?

Pain! It was everywhere, it wouldn't stop!

STOP! PLEASE STOP! IT HURTS! WHY ARE YOU HURTING ME!

GRAAAARGH!

GRRRAHHHHHH!

I struggled to get away from the burning pain. It was like fire all consuming, trying to kill me. I collapsed, defeated waiting for death to take me. I looked up into the darkness daring to hope that someone would help me.

Golden eyes stared back at me. A tiger. It lay in front of me, pink nose barely in inch away. It appeared to be in pain as its body was shuddering violently. Black ears flat against its skull and teeth bared in a snarl, its powerful jaws parted.

GRRAHHHHH!

I couldn't help but pity this magnificent but dangerous animal, even though I was close to passing out from my own pain. It seemed that the tiger and I were the only other living beings in the darkness. I never thought I'd die with a tiger for company. I mentally laughed at that thought. I knew it was foolish but I still reached out to it, wanting to comfort it in its pain. I ignored the pain this action caused me; my hand touched something hard and cold. It hurt like hell. The tiger growled loudly as if it too had been burned. I looked down at my hand to see want I had touched.

My hand seemed to have reached a wall, a transparent wall. It was between the tiger and I. But my hand was different; this wasn't my hand as I stared disbelievingly at the massive tawny paw that seemed to have replaced my hand.

I didn't know what to think. My mind went blank.

What's happened to me?!

I glanced up at the tiger. I vaguely noticed that it eyes were wide with shock, but I was more concerned with the fact that its paw had also reached out to me. That both our paws were pressed together against the wall in the same exact spot.

NO! It can't be…?!

I reached out my other hand; I started to feel numb as I realized that my other limb seemed to have changed too. And with a growing sense of horror, I watched as the big cat reached out with its free limb as well, until we both meet in the middle. The tiger's dilated eyes were wide with fear, it panted with stress.

Then it hit me, this wasn't a wall.

It was a mirror.

Then a whole new wave of fresh pain struck me then, I watched as the tiger convulsed.

"Hold her down men!"

Aside from the pain I could now feel a pressure pushing against my back and shoulders.

"Hold her down call in some more help! Quickly! Before she comes to!"

Wait whoever it was could help me! Why weren't they helping me?

Suddenly the pain stopped. My head pounded with the shock of it.

More pressure. It hurt.

"Damn it! Hold her down she's waking up"

Now I was pissed. Whoever it was that kept shouting was not helping me. Why?! From what it felt like they were trying to hurt me even more!

"Hurry put those chains on her, good quick secure them to the walls before she regains control!"

I looked up at the mirror. At the tiger who stared back at me, its face now twisted with righteous wrath.

Who am I?

Then suddenly it all came back to me. San Francisco, My aunt, a movie, walking at night, the car being hit, screams of fear, dark men hauling me away! Crying as they took her away. Chaining me into a steel room. Then they injected me with some huge ass needle filled with God-knows what! Shit what had they said to me?!

'We just want to try a little….experiment.'

My eyes shot open and I came face to face with the men that had brought me to this dark and evil place.

I saw nothing but red.

Nothing but pure and unbridled animalistic fury replaced everything within my mind. I wanted nothing more than to hurt them, pure and simple and these chains be damned.

The masked man closest to me stiffened when I locked eyes with him. They shone with fear.

Good these monsters will pay for what they've done to me!

With that final thought I lunged for him with nothing but malicious hate.

"GURRRRAAAAAHHHHHH!"

Whoosh. Thud.

With a pained grunt, the mule deer sprang away towards the safety of some tall desert sage, the tail end of an arrow still sticking out of its flesh just behind its shoulder.

A clean fatal shot.

"Nice one Jake!"

"Shut up Bryan! Something might hear us!"

"Oh-Uh, um sorry guys." Whispered a humbled Bryan.

"Geez Bryan. How long is it going to take before you actually learn to keep your voice do-"

"I get it already Nate." Bryan snapped, his face dark with embarrassment.

Jake rolled his eyes with annoyance as his brothers continued to bicker in low tones. He watched as his buck crashed into the sage and disappeared into the thick brush.

A soft whine came from behind him. Jake glanced back to the three dogs. Singer, his coyote hybrid, and his son Buck and a black and white pitbull. Their ears were pricked forward and eyes intent on the path the buck took. Singer glanced up briefly at Jake with piercing yellow eyes before looking away and whined softly again.

Jake reached back and playfully grabbed Singer's thick white ruff and tugged him close to his side. Buck and the pitbull started to pant excitedly, waiting for his command.

"Wait boys." Jake murmured he turned to look back at his still bickering brothers.

"Nate. Bryan. Would you two shut up. I'm sending the dogs out now." Jake whispered.

Both Nate and Bryan instantly shut up and nodded back to their younger brother. Satisfied Jake turned back to the dogs.

"Go boys." Jake ordered with one last pat on Singer's shoulder.

The dogs quickly pushed their way out of the thicket. Singer in the lead and silently stalked over to where they last saw the buck before disappearing around the rock.

The three brothers anxiously listened and scanned the surrounding desert from their hiding place as they waited for the dogs to come back. Nate fidgeted nervously as he peered through the sagebrush. He looked at the horses that stood amongst the brush and pinon trees with them.

A gray, bay and three sorrels, the small herd of horses held their heads high but didn't seem nervous. Nate rubbed his sorrel mount on the neck willing himself to relax. After a few moments, Singer appeared by the rock. He held his head high but his ears and tail were droopy; there was nothing to be afraid of out here.

"Singer's back guys. Let's move." Jake notified his brothers. Singer stood patiently by the rock ears relaxed. He yipped impatiently to them.

Jake quickly strapped his hunting bow to his back, gently picked up his rifle lying in the dirt next to him and took the gray's reins. Jake slowly edged his way out of the brush, his horse following, and into the open. His brothers and the rest of the horses right behind him.

Singer wagged his tail twice before slipping out of sight again.

The brothers, crouching low in a hunter's stance, quickly made their way over to the rock. Nate and his horse had passed Jake, so he got to the rock first before peering around, when he didn't see anything he signaled to his younger brothers before following after the dogs. Jake and Bryan hot on his heels.

The group of humans and horses made their way over to where the pitbull stood next to a thick patch of bitterbrush. His ice blue eyes gazed at Nate expectantly waiting for his next command.

"Good job Rocco." Nate praised the pitbull, as he pushed some of the bitterbrush aside and found the buck.

It was dead.

Rocco shook himself before proudly moving off to keep watch with Singer and Buck. The gray snorted, nostrils flaring with disgust but stood quietly by Jake.

"Let's get this guy dressed," advised Jake. "Gotta get back to the families before it gets dark."

"Yep will do." Bryan answered, he turned to Nate, "Stand watch while Jake and I clean this meat up."

Nate nodded and led the saddle horses off to the side away from his brothers. The sorrel pack horses stayed ground tied near the deer. Jake and Nate started skinning the buck. Singer made his way up a small incline that overlooked War Drum Flats, ears and eyes alert for any sign of danger.

Singer's son, Buck trotted up farther ahead of the trail to keep post there, while Rocco went back up the trail towards the rock to cover their backs. All dogs stood watch, ready to warn their pack.

Nate mounted his sorrel horse and quietly rode back down past the rock again his rifle at the ready, Rocco followed him.

The two sorrel geldings blew their noses hard at the scent of freshly spilled blood but stood quietly near their masters as they cleaned up the buck. It took about two minutes between Jake and Bryan to completely field dress the deer, they quickly skinned and gutted it. Bryan put the innards into a gunny sack that he had taken out of one of the horse's panners. With the skinned buck still lying on its pelt, Jake started to carve out the tenderloins with his knife; while Bryan worked on taking the shoulders off.

After they both were done wrapping their pieces in cloth, and laying them off to the side, they worked on getting the backstraps off and ended with cutting off the hams from the rest of the body, all that was left was the ribcage, skin, legs and head.

Both brothers then started to store the meat evenly in the panners strapped along the pack horses' sides. They looked on with disgust but stood still.

"Well now that this is finished," Bryan said while tightening one last strap. "We can start heading home."

"Yeah, they must be starting to worry." Jake mumbled as he mounted up on to the gray. He watched as Bryan heaved the skeletal remains of the buck onto the other sorrel.

"That should feed the dogs for a while."

"Yep it should, you did get two bucks today," Bryan answered as he too swung up onto his bay horse. "The families always worry. But they'll be pretty happy to see us with all this food. I even found grouse eggs to eat too."

The two turned the horses, both leading a pack horse, and headed back down the trail to where Nate and Rocco were keeping guard. Singer and Buck close behind. Buck raced ahead, while Singer took up the rear.

Bryan noticed.

"Singer sure is getting on in years."

Jake looked back at Singer, where he trailed loyally behind them. It was true Singer was an older dog, and it showed around his eyes where there was nothing but gray hair. But despite his age he still romped and played like a pup and he was the best dog in the pack.

"Buck is coming along pretty good."

Jake looked up ahead at where Buck was leading them home. He looked similar to his father with white markings on his chest and face and yellow eyes, but he looked more like his German shepherd mother in body and with his sable colored pelt he looked just like a wolf.

"He is but he's still young. Still has a lot to learn."

They found Nate amongst the brush and pinon trees on look out, Rocco with him. Jake and Bryan trotted over to Nate. Once all the horses were in the thick brush Jake dismounted and checked the pack horses' gear one last time. He didn't want any of the food to fall, this would feed his family for weeks and they didn't have a lot of time left to safely gather food like they do in the winter. The weather was starting to warm up very fast, It was spring and with summer just around the corner. Troubled, Jake quickly remounted his horse.

"Let's go home boys." Nate said.

Buck then broke out of the sage and loped out to scout ahead. The horses quickly followed, breaking into a trot. Rocco flanked the right side of the group, and Singer brought up the rear again. The group steadily made its way south towards Arroyo Azul. The brothers constantly scanned the playa for any signs of life.

"How many eggs did you manage to get Bryan?" Nate asked as he rode up alongside his brother.

"About two dozen. Found several fresh nests. They should make a tasty spring treat after this last winter. It would go good with some of that fresh bread Grace made this morning."

Jake looked back at the two and grinned.

"Yep and I got a young rabbit today so we can add that to the eggs and make some omelets."

Nate and Bryan returned his grin before settling back to resume watch again. Jake turned around as well as he led the way back to camp. His gray horse started to jitter beneath him and he leaned down and placed his hand on his high crested neck to calm him. He anxiously searched the desert for what was causing his horse to act up; one of the pack horses nickered nervously. Ahead, Buck was sniffing the air. The gray started to bob his head and gave a low squeal. He seemed to swell up and he trot now more of a strut. Jake relaxed, and stared toward the Calico Mountains where his horse was looking at. The horse snorted and then Jake saw what had caught his horse's attention.

It was a band of horses. A small band, two mares, a herd stallion and their foals; last years and this year's foals.

The gray snorted again.

"Easy." Jake whispered as he spoke to him in his horse voice. "We'll be back home soon. Then you'll see your ladies."

Jake eased back on the reins to let his horse know that he was still in charge. The gray raised his head defiantly for a few strides before settling down again, and smoothed out into a nice trot.

"That stud giving you trouble Jakey?" Bryan teased.

"He smells those mares," Nate spoke up. "One of them's probably in heat right now."

Jake only grunted which clearly said 'duh'

"Boss just wants to get back to his women," grinned Nate. "It's breeding season. He knows what's waiting for him back home. He he."

The wild band stallion, a bright bay tobiano, not liking the presence of another stallion herded his family away and out of sight, within seconds they were gone.

Jake looked up at the sky, it was starting to turn pink and purple from the setting sun. It was getting late.

"Let's pick up the pace. We only have an hour or so of daylight and I don't want to be out after dark."

Nate and Bryan agreed, the group surged forward as one and galloped across the last section of War Drum Flats. In no time at all they made it across and were heading towards the main entrance of Arroyo Azul. They slowed down to a slow jog as they made their way down canyon's main path, they went down about halfway before turning off the path and into the pinon trees. A barely visible deer path was the only way to get down the canyon to reach the secret entrance to their camp.

Buck bounded down the path first, the herd of horses followed after him in single file next; Singer and Rocco brought up the rear. The group carefully made their way down the steep twisting path to the bottom of the canyon once they reached the safely of level ground they went over to a small turquoise stream. They paused long enough to let the animals get a quick drink; the horses waded into the stream and drank. The dogs had also jumped in to cool off after the hard run. Jake looked up at the star lite sky, it was dark now. This was exactly what he wanted to avoid, being caught out of the camp after dark. It wasn't the mountain lions he was worried about either; Cougars were the least of their problems. During these times it was just too dangerous, you never knew what could be lurking in the darkness, watching you.

Sensing his older brothers growing fear of the dark, Jake quickly urged Boss across the stream and towards the now black canyon wall. Jake led the group deeper into the canyon before he turned Boss onto another hidden deer path littered with pinon-juniper trees that led into small hidden ravine. Once they reached the end of the ravine they entered a secret clef in the wall. The horses sensing their rider's urgencies moved up to a fast trot, the dogs took up the rear. The brothers laid flat along their horse's backs; the ceiling so low that it scrubbed along their backs.

Jake turned his head to watch the right side of the tunnels rock wall, it wasn't so dark in here as the main tunnel to the secret valley, the walls were covered in ancient tribe paintings. He watched as rust-red horses running across the wall.

Boss slowed and turned right into the darkness and into a hidden side path and moved up into a lope; Jake sat up slightly. He listened to the horses hooves ring against the stone floor, to their heavy breathes as they eagerly made their way home. Boss slowed down one last time in the dark to turn left before bolting ahead, the rest of the horses right on his heels.

A couple of strides later the herd broke away from the tunnel and into a beautifully lush hidden valley. A colorful herd of horses grazing on the far side of the valley's meadow, near an outcrop of pinon-juniper trees, raised their heads at the new arrival. Boss whinnied a happy greeting to the herd, which was returned by several members. Boss tossed his head in protest as Jake made him pass his herd but did as asked.

The dogs had stopped by the stream that ran through the canyon and were wading through it, at times pausing to lap up some water. Jake stopped Boss at the stream to allow him a quick drink, and then he turned and rode him up stream. The horses quickly trotted up river and headed into a dense forest of willow and aspen. The brothers finally stopped at the end of the stream, where its source was at.

An underwater spring source, it pooled into a very deep reservoir of fresh water. A large willow tree grew at the far end of the pool and its long droopy branches nearly hid the dark opening in the canyon wall. The brothers dismounted and started to untack their horses, when the dogs started to pant excitedly and wag their tails in greeting.

"You boys are finally back, your mother's been worried all day." A deep voice of a man came from the darkness of the hidden cave. Nate stepped around Jake, his gelding following.

"Sorry 'bout that dad, but you'll like what we brought back, it was worth it."

Luke Ely walked out of the dark to greet his sons. Two smaller forms exited out with him, a young boy and girl.

"Hey uncles, took you long enough to get back, grandma's been worried sick all day." Grinned the young girl.

"Kate that's rude!" The boy muttered behind her.

"It's alright Lucas," Bryan laughed as he stripped one of the pack horses gear off. "So Kate you wanna lend us a hand here so that we can get to the family a little faster."

Kate grinned cheekily but quickly leaped over to help her uncles, Lucas right behind her.

"Was there any trouble out there boys?" Luke asked his sons.

"No, still a bit cold for them buts it's starting to get warmer." Jake answered.

"Hm," Was Luke's reply. "Means were going to have to make a trip to town before it gets any warmer. So anything new some the usual this time?" Luke peered at the two mule deer remains on the geldings.

"Yeah found a nice bunch of eggs too," Bryan added.

"All right can we have omelets tonight please?" Lucas exclaimed. Kate seemed to vibrate with her excitement then she rushed over to Nate.

"Oh dad can we eat some tonight please please?!" Kate asked as she bounced around her father.

"Alright settle down Katie. Were most like going to eat some tonight." Nate told his daughter as he gave her a one armed hug. She smiled up at him.

The horses were turned loose. Boss whirled around and bolted away splashing down the shallow stream, the rest of the geldings right behind the silver stallion. Jake watched his retreating stallion; the muscled hindquarters showed the best of his quarter horse breeding. With a final surge the horses disappeared around the bend back to the main herd.

Boss was the son of his old quarter horse mare Witch. His sire was The Phantom or Blackie whichever you want call him. The Phantom was his best friend's old horse turned wild. Witch had fortunately been one of the horses that had managed to escape with his family when they had fled their old home, Three Ponies Ranch. After that attack the families living along the La Charla River were forced to head into the mountains to seek safety from the unnatural monsters that had arrived.

"He looks good Jake." Nate said.

Jake nodded in agreement. The others had already taken the gear and food and disappeared into the cave. Only the dogs remained outside waiting for them. Jake squatted down to rub the dog's ears, thinking about his best friend who had gone missing and was presumed dead at the start of the war.

"So when do think Crystal will show up?" Nate asked Jake. He ignored the way his younger brother stiffened at his question. "She's late, she should have been here a month ago to help us head into town."

"I don't know where she's at Nate. Nor do we communicate with each other unless she decides to pay us a visit, and if you haven't noticed before I hardly talk to her when she's here." Jake sourly informed his brother. Jake glared into the trees, lost in his thoughts.

"Just asking because Josh asked me for his mother this morning while you were out getting the horses."

"Honestly I really wish she would stop coming," Jake confessed. "She's not good for Josh, even if she is his mother…"

Nate stared sadly at Jake, he could understand. He also couldn't help but feel angry at Crystal. For tricking Jake, and then leaving Josh with for Jake to take care of.

"But your right Nate," Jake sighed wearily. "She is late, been thinkin' that life's caught up with her."

The brothers stood there for a few more moments before they heard a shout from the cave.

"Dad, Uncle! Are you two done standing there? Dad mom's starting to get mad!" Kate informed loudly.

"Little pest…" Jake mumbled, as he and Nate walked into the hidden passageway.

"I heard that Uncle Jake." Kate retorted. Jake rolled his eyes before playfully grabbing her and bringing her into a headlock. Kate squawked indignantly.

"Hey cut it out Uncle. NO WAIT, STOP. AHHH!"

Nate laughed as Jake plucked his daughter up and tossed her over his shoulder and jogged past him, with her bouncing upside down behind him. Jake turned the corner and Nate heard the joyous greeting he got. Bryan turned and saw Jake being mauled on the ground by several children. Kate had struggled away with a huff, and stalked off towards her mother. Carrie looked amused. Nate walked over to his wife and gave her a soft kiss. She smiled happily up at him.

"I was worried, you were late today." Carrie told him as she held him to her.

"I'm fine sweetie. Everybody's going to love dinner tonight, Bryan gathered some eggs today." Nate told her as he watched his son Brandon and his nephew Lucas tackled Jake to the ground again, both trying to get a good grip on his arms. Then he watched the six-year old twins Arthur and Kayla sit on top of his back to hold him down. And last but certainly not least, five-year old baby Josh, who was also trying to help his older cousins wrestle with his fallen father.

"Alright that's enough everyone time to calm down." Fourteen-year old Cody Forster announced to the rough housing pile of bodies and flailing limbs. He picked up the twins, one in each arm and carried them over to their parents on the far side of the cave. Kit Ely and his wife Cricket each took a child before telling them to settle down. They thanked Cody.

Laughing Jake sat up and hugged baby Josh to him, both Lucas and Brandon giggling took off to go play with the dogs. Adrian was already playing catch with Rocco and Buck. Singer was asleep tired from the all-day hunting trip.

"Come on Kiddo. Let's go clean you up for dinner alrighty." Jake said to his son Josh. Jake ruffled his sons black hair affectionately, he picked him up and carried him towards the cave entrance to go and wash his hands in the spring.

"Yeah Daddy. I are we gonna have eggs for dinner? Uncle Bryan said so." Josh asked his father.

"I think we are kiddo." Jake smiled at him. He slipped out of the cave and headed to the pool, he set his son down so that he could wash up.

"Hey Daddy. Can I come with you next time you go hunting?" Josh pleaded with his father; he looked at him with great big puppy eyes. Jake saw his eyes go real big and watery. The little rascal was trying to guilt him into taking him on a hunting trip! Jake sighed.

"I'm sorry son but not until your older." Jake told him softly as he finished washing his own hands. If it wasn't so dangerous out there, he would have taken his son out to the desert to ride every day, to go and show him Three ponies Ranch. To take him to Clara's diner so that he could have a taste of her famous pineapple upside down cake. He would have started school this year…

Damn it when is this war going to fucking end? The military is taking too long to clean up this mess. Damn I can't help but think…can they even do anything about this? It's been thirteen years since this whole shit started and nothing's changed…damn it's been awhile.

Jake couldn't help his dark thoughts as he carried his son back to the central cave.

Thirteen fucking years and nothings change. Well that's a lie; it has change…for the worse.

"Daddy. Can I ask you something?" Josh asked his young face full of confusion and sadness. Jake looked at his son wearily, he knew that tone. His son always asked the same question whenever he got like this.

"When is mommy coming back?"

Jake stiffened at the question; he didn't answer his son right away. He couldn't help but think about the Josh's mom. Where was she? Is she ok? She's really late she's never late?

"Don't know kiddo, she's busy at work she'll be back again when she has a day off. We just gotta listen out for her and then you'll know when she's back." Jake told his son was they rounded the corner that led to the central cave. He set his son on his feet before making his way to the fire pit where everybody was starting to gather to eat.

Cody was helping his father Wyatt Forster who was roasting two rabbits for dinner by the central fire pit. Grace and Brynna Forster were cutting slices of the pinon nut and chokecherry baked bread and dispersing them one out to each person.

Jen Kenworthy sat near where they were at; she was trying to get her five-year old daughter Gabby, to try and eat the eggs that were cooked for dinner. Pepper, Riverbend ranch's old ranch hand, was trying not to laugh at his daughter's seemingly logical explanation as to why she shouldn't eat the eggs. Jen glared at Pepper, silently telling him to help her with their daughter.

Jake sat down near Jen and her little family, Josh waved to Gabby.

"Hi there Josh. Do you want-!" Gabby spluttered incoherently as her mouth was now full of eggs. She glared at her mother who had taken the opportunity to shove them into her resisting daughter's mouth to get her to try them. Pepper laughed at his little girl's disgruntled face.

"Do the eggs taste good Gabby?" josh asked the little red-headed girl.

Gabby slowly chewed the food and swallowed it before she answered.

"They're ok I guess." Gabby told him coldly. Jake couldn't help but frown at the little girl's response, he glanced at Jen. She was looking at him smugly. He glared.

"I love eggs Gabby. Why you not like the food that my Daddy gets for us?" Josh gave her a hard stare. Jake smirked at Jen, she glared daggers at him. Pepper sighed at the longtime enemies.

Before Jen could say anything to Jake, Cody came up to them and started passing out bowls of food, each had a serving of omelet, deer meat, rice and a slice of sweet pinon nut and chokecherry bread.

"Thanks Cody." Jen and Pepper said as they took their bowls. Josh and Gabby had already started to wolf theirs down. Jake nodded his thanks.

"No problem." Cody smiled back at them as he went and handed Kit's and his family's dinner to them.

"Thanks Cody." Lucas said before he stared to dig in.

"Chew your food there boy." Kit amusingly told his son. Lucas just grinned at his father.

"Thanks Cody." Nate and his family echoed. Cody just smiled humbly before looking around for Grandpa Ely. Not seeing him anywhere he went up to Luke to ask.

"Hey Mr. Ely have you seen Grandpa Ely?" Cody looked around again, puzzled he could have sworn he was here a few minutes ago.

"No son, but he was here a minute ago," Luke too was sweeping the cave for any sight of his father. "Maybe he went out for a minute to get some fresh air."

"I told him that it wasn't a good idea to be out alone after dark even if it is in the valley." Grace spoke up from where she sat next to her son, Wyatt. "He likes to go up the small deer path and sit on the top of the rim of the canyon to star gaze. Where anything can spot him!"

Cody shifted uneasily, still holding Grandpa Ely's dinner, as tension filled the room; nobody spoke for a few moments.

"No need to worry about me Grace I'm back from my star gazing." MacArthur Ely announced as he entered the central cave, he was grinning at Grace. Who huffily turned away, everybody relaxed.

"Here's your dinner Mac." Cody held out the bowl to MacArthur as he reached him. Cody noticed along with everyone else that he held his radio. MacArthur thanked Cody before he sat down before the fire next to Luke to eat. Cody sat next to Jake as he finally started on his dinner.

"So, anything new on the radio Grandfather?" Kit asked MacArthur, everybody turned to the elder.

MacArthur frowned sadly.

"Not much, just more death. There are just too many Lizards out there. Plus with the leeches coming out at night in both the North and South and the Lizards occupying the southern States and coming up to the northern states in the summertime it's hard.

Although I did hear talk about the U.S. military having regained Washington D.C. with the Wolves and Shifters help, and that it was a long bloody battle for both sides. Bloodfang was killed in action by Captain Henry on the last day but fortunately with his death the enemy's fighting strength was greatly reduced. Just enough for the Captain and his army of shifters to push ahead and defeat the rest of them."

Cody leaned forward excitedly at the thought that the U.S. was finally gaining ground, even if it was just a little bit. Kit too was looking quite happy to hear this even if it is a rumor.

"Alright!" Lucas cheered. "I can't believe Captain Henry did it! Bloodfang was one of the toughest Wolves around; he wasn't an alpha for nothing."

"Don't forget Henry's army of shifters. They're all bears; a natural bear is a tough opponent already but a shifter bear is ten times more deadly than that." Kate explained turned to explain to her little brother, Brandon, who had asked only a few moments ago on why Captain Henry's army was so special.

"Do you think having the Wolves on our sides is such a good idea?" Jen asked with concern as she looked at the two five-year olds eating in front of her, Pepper pulled her close in reassurance. "I mean we only started working with them just recently, we are the first country to work alongside them. For all we know they could just be trying to gain our trust, some don't even like humans and would like to off us."

"The same can be said for Shifters. Some have decided to aid the Accursed because they want to be able to come out in the open and not be judged by humans for what they now are. Some can't help the Shift, the energy of the earth has been affected by the Accursed and dark forces have been unleashed upon the land. Some say that we've returned to the dark ages, where demons and magic walked the earth." Pepper said to the group.

Cody looked around at the group, deciding on whether or not he should bring up an infamous pair of shifters. He had heard snippets here and there on MacArthur's radio about them, they were said to be one of the most powerful shifters around, along with Jason. He looked at Carrie; she would know more about them than anyone else in here. Oh what the heck I'll just ask…

"Image if we could get The Witch Sisters to fight with alongside us…" Cody blurted out to everyone.

Everyone turned to him to stare at him as if he had grown a second head. He scratched the back of his neck nervously.

Geez it's like I told them that I was secretly a Shifter…

"The Witch Sisters are dangerous Cody, nobody's been able to control them." Carrie explained for all to hear. "They want nothing to do with us. As long as we leave them alone they leave us alone. It's said that they were once a part of an army whether it was our side or the Lizard's…nobody, who is alive that is, remembers. And if there are some who do…well they keep their mouths shut because they don't want any trouble from those two. It's best that we leave those two alone. And obviously many others think so too because nobody has tried to seek them out.

All we can do is pray and hope that all goes well, and that hopefully that with the majority of the Wolves and Shifters on our side, we might just be able to turn this The Cursed war in our favor," Carrie eyes gleamed as she stared into the fire, she glared then and turned to the entrance of the cave. "If Crystal doesn't show up soon we need to head into town and restock without her. I like having her around to back me up but we should be fine with just me as a guard if anything happens."

"Sweetie try to be reason-" Nate started to protest but Carrie cut him off before he could really work up himself up.

"Nate I'm perfectly capable of posting as guard for a couple of hours," Carrie stared at her husband softly. "It's not like I'm completely defenseless."

"She is right Nate," MacArthur said. "She's very capable of keeping you safe when you go to town, more so than you."

"That maybe so, but I still think of her as my wife that I have to protect and not as a Shifter who can give a Lizard a run for its money." Nate looked down at his lap not meeting anybody's eyes. Kate and Brandon were staring at their parents with concern, Carrie tucked herself against Nate's side she whispered something in his ear, he didn't look any better.

"So when are we making the trip?" Pepper asked from across the fire. Everybody stilled with the indecision, nobody wanted to speak first and set the date.

"The l-last time we went w-without Crystal was when we l-l-lost…." A now sobbing Maxine, she covered her mouth with her hands in anguish, Luke hugged his wife his own eyes were shiny with unshed tears. "I don't want to l-l-lose another son or anybody again!"

Cody clenched his fists at the thought of not seeing anyone of their faces again to never interact with them again, Jake closed his eyes with grief at all their families' loss.

"Adam wouldn't want us to hide in here and just give up," Bryan glared at the fire, everyone turned to him. "We need to keep going, we can't give up. I won't let us give up! We need to keep going. Adam's death won't be in vain, I can feel it. We also don't want what happened to Quinn and Ross to happen to us either, so that's why none of us can go into town solo, except for Carrie. Hopefully Crystal shows up soon, but if she doesn't then we need to head out before the Lizards start to show up for the summer months."

Everyone stared at Bryan admirably, how he dared to bring about the loss of their fallen.

Carrie smiled at Bryan in thanks for his support, after dinner was a silent affair everyone thinking their own thoughts.

Everyone took turns moving deeper into the cave to search for the underground hot spring to take bathes and get ready for the bed. After the younger children gathered to listen to stories of the old times of how the families would make their living raising cattle, riding horses and living at their ranches. About an hour later the families, were settled for bed the children fast asleep.

According to MacArthur's radio it was around eleven-thirty when Carrie suddenly stiffened and swung her head towards the cave tunnel, it was not long after when the dogs stiffened too, they shot to their feet and stood growling softly their hackles up. The adults had been in the middle of a meeting when this had suddenly happened, Grace wrung her hands with her sudden fear of what it could be, and everyone stiffened. The Ely brothers grabbed their rifles ready for whatever it was out there.

"Well speak of the devil and she shall appear." Carrie murmured, as she got up just in case she was wrong.

A howl sounded in the distance.

A wolf's howl.

"Is it her?" MacArthur asked as he stared impatiently at Carrie.

"Only one way to find out, everyone stay here. That means you too Nate." Carrie quickly jogged around the corner and disappeared into the tunnel that led out. Nate paced around the cave away from the entrance, concern for his wife warring with the fact that she could take care of herself.

Another howl split the air, answering the other's distant call.

This howl was much closer, right outside the cave to be exact. It was silent before another distant howl answered back.

The dogs snarled as a large white she-wolf entered the central cave, its blues eyes stared at Nate softly. The she-wolf turned and snarled a reprimand at the bothersome dogs, her ice blue eyes were hard as she watched them scuttled obediently. Satisfied the she-wolf glanced back towards the entrance her ears pricked.

"Carrie, is it Crystal?" Nate asked his wife who had shifted into her other form. Carrie looked back at him and wagged her tail.

"Yes she's back," Carrie said to Nate. "And it seems she has some news for us."

Then Carrie bounded away to go and greet Crystal. The others looked over at Jake's stiff form; he had turned away with a dark glare before he stalked away from the fire to lean against the far end of the cave in the shadows.

Suddenly a scrape of claws and panting were heard, and then Carrie reentered the cave followed by a large gray she-wolf with dark brown eyes. Carrie took the proffered robe from her husband before turning and slipping around the corner where they couldn't see. The new she wolf paused to shake herself before she followed Carrie so that she could shift back into her human form. Carrie quickly made her way to her husband now fully dressed again in her sweats and black tee-shirt. The she-wolf or Crystal appeared again now dressed in the robe; she sat herself next to Carrie.

"Hey everyone sorry I'm late I had things to do, but maybe the information I got will make up for it." Crystal gave a sheepish grin as she scratched her dark cheek. Crystal's straight black hair shone eerily in the firelight, her dark skin nearly black in the lighting. She was very pretty and smart; she was also a full blood Shoshone like MacArthur and Luke. Her eyes glowed as she looked over at Jake, whose eyes were narrowed coldly at her. She smiled at him.

Jake's brothers felt nothing but anger towards her, but said nothing knowing Jake would want to fight his own battles. The others kept silent too, they did not really like Crystal either not after the stunt she had pulled with Jake. MacArthur was the only one who didn't seem to have a problem talking with her or treated her any different.

"We were just discussing when we were going into town," MacArthur informed Crystal who sat with a smirk on her face. "Are you going to be helping us again Crystal?"

Crystal leaned back on her hands to get a good look at them all, which caused her chest to push out, her barely tied robe slipped off a little. Jake clenched his fist with anger.

Crystal smiled slyly at him.

"Sure I will Mac," Crystal turned to him with a sweet smile. "I always do."

She checked out her nails, she looked up at everyone. The stared back emotionless, Crystal pouted.

Jake scoffed with disgust. Crystal ignored him for now.

"Ohhh…why the long faces don't you wanna know what I have to say to all. It does concern your families"

Nobody said anything. Crystal huffed impatiently.

"Oh well. Guess it really isn't that important I guess I'll just go to bed then," Crystal got to her feet and started to head out and shrugged. "I just thought you would like to know something interesting about…oh what was his name? Quirky, Quinton, Quinine…oh wait Quinn!

Quinn that's his name. I mean didn't you have a brother named Quinn before? I'd thought you'd wanna know a little secret about him, how he might possible be alive."

It was dead silent before Jake stepped forward.

"Crystal Wait."

Crystal took a few more steps before she stopped and slowly turned to Jake with a smile.

"Yes Jake, is there something you need from me?" Crystal's said innocently. The meaning behind that question was not lost to anybody in the cave. Jake's brothers stiffened with rage at her gall.

Jake glared venomously at Crystal.

"What is it? Are you saying Quinn might be alive? Tell us…please…"

She stood there for a moment thinking it over before she smiled turned cunning.

"Yeah your brother just might be alive I heard rumors about a Quinn Ely somewhere up north." Crystal looked away with a gleam in her eyes. Jake's eyes narrowed at her but took the bait.

"Is that all?" Jake grudgingly asked her again.

Crystal's gazed at them all one by one, she lingered on Wyatt for a few seconds before she turned to Jake and looked him straight in the eye, she grinned her gaze intent. Jake remained emotionless.

"What if I told you all that it just might be possible that your Samantha Forster is alive and kicking." Crystal announced with a wolfish grin.

It was silent. Nobody moved.

Then all hell broke loose.


Well its different than the average Phantom Stallion story.

but then again ive read some pretty interesting fics about these books.

if you want i have a more traditional P.S. story posted. please take a look at it and tell me what you think.

thank you to all my readers who took the time to look at this story.

hopefully i can post the 2nd chappy to my other stories soon.

please R&R! THANKS!

-Crimsonheart