Outside of an Italian restaurant we found our Ptarmigan. What an Alaskan native bird was doing in Lewiston, Idaho don’t ask me, I’d long since stopped questioning Shifter habitats. It was the same way a Polar Bear would choose to live in Florida, for the hell of it.
We didn’t even know who we were looking for this time, and we’d actually come across whoever by accident. Ben’s resources had told us to actually keep going into Washington, but yesterday while out hunting Chase had gotten a sense one was nearby so we’d stuck around an extra day till we found him, and looking at him now I was glad we had. The bird could have passed as large pigeon at a side glance, easy pickings for Hunters, with dark brown plumage except for some white on the underbelly. Not usually being able to tell the difference between a raven and a crow, I wouldn’t have known to even take a second look at it if he wasn’t in his animal form. Thankfully when a Shifter looked at another Shifters animal, the name for it just kind of came to mind. Not our most useful skill, but it came in handy when you met an uppity Fish who wanted to get offended when you didn’t know what they were even though there were like 30,000 of those things.
The Bird realized who we were at the same time we locked in on him, and I don’t blame him for panicking. In retrospect it probably hadn’t been a good idea for the three of us to tag team a loner, but we hadn’t thought of that at the time. Chase had been the one to sense him in the first place so he’d been the one leading us around, Ben had come because I think he just wanted out and was getting bored, and I’d come for the same reason.
Now I realized that this little bird was sensing three carnivorous heading right for him. As he flapped his wings and began to fly out of the dumpster, a noodle trailing around one leg, Ben quickly stepped forward and said calmly “we’re sorry, we didn’t mean to startle you. We just want to talk, honest.”
The Bird still took off, but landed on top of a light pole well above our head, then snapped his beak in our direction, clearly saying ‘okay, talk.’
Ben kept his voice even and calm as he explained “we come representing The Founders.”
The Ptarmigan ruffled up his feathers all over again, his tail twitching indicating he was going to take flight again at just this, but Ben quickly pressed on “hey, like I promised, talk.” He waited until the Bird seemed soothed again before continuing “it’s just a message to any and all Shifters we come across. There have been a lot of recent attacks on our kind because of Hunters, and the High Alpha is offering sanctuary to all of our kind despite any past transgressions. I mean anything, doesn’t matter what you did in the past, she’s offering a safe place now in protest for what they’ve been doing to us.”
When he still gave no indication of coming down or reacting at all, Ben waved his hands at us and said “okay, that’s it. Offers free and open whenever you like, we’ll be on our way now.”
The Bird beat its wings a few more times before taking flight again and darting behind the building. I shrugged and began to head away after Chase, and Ben began to reluctantly follow.
We hadn’t made it back to the street though when a boy came darting back around the corner. He was about Evan’s age, Caucasian probably, but his skin was so filthy it was hard to be sure. The clothes were so mismatched and worn it was hard to tell anything about his physique. His hair looked like it’d gone prematurely gray, and his dark brown eyes gave him the look of a much older man. Still his voice cracked as he asked “all of them?”
“Yep” Ben jumped quickly, planting that welcoming smile back in place and looking about ready to jump with happiness he’d clearly gotten through to him. “Doesn’t matter if you murdered someone, she’s willing to help you out. I can have a Recruiter here in less than an hour to escort you to the Founders.”
He only hesitated a few beats longer, his eyes flickering around all three of us then ghosting back to that lovely little eating place we’d found him in before he turned back and nodded.
Ben scooped out his phone and had a quick conversation with someone, only breaking off to ask “hey, what’s your name?”
He frowned even more, and it really was starting to scare me what this kid had gone through to be so terrified to even offer that up, but he did finally say “James.”
Ben went back to his conversation, and I bounced around in unease while I tried to think of something to say into the growing awkward silence. Chase beat me to it by offering “you want to come back to our place in the meantime? It’s just a motel, but you could clean up a bit, we’ve got some clothes that would probably fit your size.”
Actually Evan was a bit heavier set then him, I had a feeling Fiona would be more his size, but I wasn’t going to correct him now.
He never got a chance to answer.
Just as Ben said his goodbye and hung up, all four of us stiffened at the sight of a van with a large yellow H emblazoned on the side drove past on the street.
James started sprouting feathers at once, backpedaling into the shadows and shaking all over, and I couldn’t blame him. Considering how we’d only barely gotten away last time, I thought it would be a pretty good idea to join him.
Ben seemed more than happy to agree, as he tucked his phone away and began to try casually walking away, but Chase’s eyes narrowed into slits and I was watching his skin start to grow a few golden hairs for a completely different reason.
“Get out of it” I hissed, snatching up his shirt and trying to drag him backwards before anyone could notice. “We’re outnumbered, and we don’t need another fight.”
Chase jerked away, fangs already beginning to sprout and his voice coming out as a garbled roar in between a half formed throat “then take off, I don’t need you.”
“Chase” Ben pleaded from my other side, his eyes flickering constantly between him and the approaching van “please, come on, we got to get the kid out of here.”
To my surprise, that actually stopped him. His hands were still more clawed then anything, but he did glance up to see our little brown bird friend hovering and squeaking above us in fright. Chase threw one more heated look behind him before finally darting after us.
“Where was this attitude in the last town?” I demanded in a hiss as we turned a sharp corner at a sprint, vividly remembering the moment Shara and I had heard the roar of the big cat; we’d transformed and began braying, and before we’d even come in to help Chase and Fiona had been trying to make a run for it.
“Back there, I wanted to get my girlfriend the hell away from those Hunters. Now, I’m craving a little revenge, which is the whole reason I came on this stupid escapade in the first place.” Chase growled right back, clearly placing one foot in front of the other in pure protest by tailing the group instead of sprinting ahead. However his eyes kept flicking up to James keeping pace with us from above, so he did keep moving.
Chase was still an enigma to me. I was beginning to wonder if he was bipolar. Some days I’d see him making snide comments and so jittery he couldn’t sit still, like nothing in the world could sour his mood. Other days he’d practically be glued to his girlfriend’s side, a scowl almost permanently in place and clearly threatening to take anyone’s head off if they came within five feet of the pair. Yesterday he’d been horsing around with Evan, the two giving me some actually pleasant flashbacks to my own childhood they were acting so similar to a pair of brothers. Today he was glowering with disdain at seemingly random pedestrians, even the female ones, when just days ago he’d blatantly flirted with a girl for almost twenty minutes. Now he was wanting to go pick a fight, when we definitely had come off worse in the last one!
We managed to make it back to our resting stop without incident, and a friendly Recruiter showed up within the hour. His name was Juni, a guy about my age who seemed to be on some sort of sugar rush he gave such a wild grin upon his arrival. He had one of those interesting vibes, I couldn’t since what kind of animal he was. Herbivore was the best I could get. Perhaps he was just some lesser known species of animal, either way it wasn’t my top concern as he took the kid off of our hands and we decided to get out of town while we still could.