"I do not envy the werewolves of Haven. Their security is built on a foundation of lies and cowardice, their dream tantamount to self-imposed bondage." — Huritt, Quinnipiac packleader in exile
Powerful claws sunder the ground beneath long, lupine legs as I find purchase in crags of untended asphalt, propelling myself forward through the streets of Haven's Forbidden Zone. I've broken the pack's laws and joined my friends on a secret mission of discovery, but I weren't prepared to deal with the humans' capacity for cruelty. Youthful curiosity has given way to fear, and now the only thing on my mind is escape.
The military base looms dark and menacing on all sides, the waning light of the setting sun casting long shadows that grasp like claws, snapping at my heels as they chase me back toward the comfort of home. My thick coat of fur bristles as I run, and hot breath heaves in my cavernous, bestial chest. "We should never have come here."
"Don't move! Stay right where you are!"
My paws twitch, and I duck low, dropping to all fours and picking up speed in an effort to distance myself from our assailant, dimly aware of my three companions following my lead.
"I said don't move! Another step and I'll shoot!"
A sharp tug at my shoulder drags me to a halt. It's Tiva, her shrewd eyes narrowed and calculating, brown muzzle tight with worry. "Stay put. Shots will bring more soldiers."
"That's more like it. Easy does it." A mottled gray uniform camouflages the soldier against a backdrop of aging urban decay. Nerves crease the man's forehead, collecting small pools of sweat as he takes a step toward me and my friends. His hands tremble despite the fact that they hold a semiautomatic rifle, and he stinks of fear.
Were my mind not preoccupied with more pressing matters, I might wonder if the man has ever even seen a group of werewolves before. While transformed, I'm adapted for both fight and flight, combining the advantages of lupine speed and agility with human adaptability. The result is a towering and deadly hybrid, equally at home on two legs or four. My pack's feral forms terrify soldiers newly appointed to Haven, but veterans quickly grow complacent, underestimating us as little more than a gang of wild dogs.
A sharp whine catches in Dena's throat as the soldier shifts his weapon toward the four of us with a nervous jerk. "We were only curious," Dena whimpers. "We didn't see anything!"
But we did see something. Something horrible. And my world will never be the same again.
"We've got to do something," Tiva whispers. "He might have already radioed for backup. We can't get caught here!"
She's right, and I know it. Even if the humans let us go, there will be hell to pay with the pack elders for four adolescent werewolves breaking the codes of conduct and sneaking about on military territory. All we have to do is make it out, and we'll be home free.
Most humans can't tell one werewolf from the other in lupine form, although Lapu's unusual blond coat could prove a problem down the road. If we manage to escape, he'll need to lay low for a while.
My eyes dart to each of the three other wolves, and Lapu gives a slight nod. It's time for action.
I run straight for the soldier, clearly the last thing he expected me to do. By the time he gets his wits about him and pulls the trigger of his weapon, I'm close enough to duck down and bowl him over.
The man lands on his back with a sharp crack, and I worry for a second that I might have killed him. I take a moment to check his pulse and breathe a sigh of relief when I'm certain that he still lives.
Lapu calls out for me as the other three wolves bound from barrier to barrier along the road back to the bridge on the way home. Not keen on being caught with the unconscious body of a downed soldier, I quickly drop to all fours and lope down the road, catching up with my friends as they race toward the bridge.
The bombed-out streets of the refuge of Haven stream by me in a blur as I race to keep up with my friends. A shiver runs through my body, causing the fur to bristle and stand on end. A human had pointed a gun in my direction, ready to kill if necessary. Today was a first for that, although it isn't unheard of for a wolf to get into trouble with the army from time to time.
For as long as I can remember, the adults have told me that the human side of the refuge is forbidden, despite the fact that most adults travel there almost every month. I have chafed at the restriction, as have my friends. "Forbidden Zone," I thought. "What a load of nonsense."Now that I know the truth, I can't blame the adults for trying to keep me sheltered.
Why on earth did I decide that coming here would be a good idea? Simple. No elder is going to tell me what to do! Besides, I'm a werewolf! What horror could possibly confront me that my claws can't take care of?
Convinced of my own youthful invincibility, I bragged to Tiva about my plan, earning the right to lead the expedition by besting her in a sparring match. I sensed that Dena came along more out of worry than curiosity, and Lapu came for Tiva.
How foolish I was. Claws are no match for the harsh reality I found on the other side of the bridge.
I'm panting, leg muscles burning with exertion by the time I reach the base of the bridge. From here, the old concrete pillars rise, elevating the asphalt surface of the road in an elegant arc, eventually leveling out as it crosses to the other side.
Once there was a lower bridge that spanned the length of water, but it was lost during the Purge before I were born. Humans call the span The Q, and though none of the wolves in the pack know where the strange moniker comes from, it stuck, and The Q is the de facto endpoint to the pack's domain.
Arriving at the base of the bridge first, Lapu pauses and sniffs the air, a low whine rumbling in his throat.
A great wall was built in front of the bridge sometime after Haven fell, and access to and from the pack's home is limited to a small walkway, barely wide enough for two wolves to pass abreast. A pair of great black monoliths stand at either side of the pathway, and they emit a subtle hum barely audible even to my superior hearing as electricity flows through them.
"They weren't on when we came in!" Lapu groans as he paces back and forth, looking for another way onto the bridge.
"Maybe we should just run through?" Dena says, staring up at the dual standing stones, neck craned back to take in all twenty feet of their bleak uniformity.
Tiva sniffs and digs a furrow in the loose asphalt with her hind-paws. "I heard my pa talking about these one night when he thought I was asleep. The pillars ID each wolf as they come through. It lets the humans know who's moving through the checkpoint. If we just run through, they'll know we were here for sure."
Before we can decide how to get around the obstruction and onto the bridge, I hear the sound of shuffling feet approaching from a nearby cross street. Tiva hears it, too, and her ears flatten along the back of her skull.
"We've got company coming," she says, nervously clicking her claws together. "We're running out of time."
I signal Lapu and Tiva to the other side of the road while Dena comes with me. We'll ambush the patrol with a pincer attack!
The patrol rounds the bend, emerging from the side street on their way to the bridge. My eyes flick from soldier to soldier.
Three older males, two females, likely veterans, each wielding the same standard semiautomatic that the other soldier had been carrying. It could be a tough battle, but I'm confident that I can take them with my superior speed and the element of surprise on our side.
I signal Lapu and Tiva to commence the attack. Nonlethal and scare tactics only. If I can make the patrol flee, even better.
I burst forth with a feral roar, drawing the soldiers' attention as Lapu and Tiva close in from behind. I reach the men first, slashing at their weapons, intent on disarming them as quickly as possible and forcing them to flee.
Before Lapu and Tiva can close in, the soldier nearest me manages to fire off several rounds in my direction. I throw myself to the side in a desperate attempt to dodge the incoming fire, but as fast as my lupine form makes me, I'm not match for the speed of a bullet.
I hit the ground hard, a sharp burning pain lancing its way through my shoulder as I roar in pain and anger, eyes glazing over, bloodshot and feral red. I roll to my feet and launch myself at the offending soldier in a single graceful motion, striking at his chest with my claws, barely remembering to pull back at the last moment.
"Focus." I meant to frighten these men, not kill them.
Divested of their firearms, the soldiers back away as I advance menacingly, clacking my lethal claws together loudly. The man nearest me reaches a trembling hand to his belt sheath, pulling out a serrated combat knife that seems almost ludicrously inadequate to the task at hand. The soldier's companion pulls him back and shakes his head before they all break into a run back to their headquarters, proverbial tails between their legs.
Tiva's body shakes, and at first I worry that she may be crying until her face splits with uproarious laughter. "Did you see them?" she howls, slapping her thighs as tears stream from her eyes. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do something like that!"
Dena emerges from hiding alongside the road and examines my wound. I wince at the prodding as Tiva and Lapu walk back to the bridge.
"You're lucky," Dena says quietly, lips quirked up in a wry smile. "The bullet passed right through, and since you were in lupine form, it will heal in a few minutes. I thought for a moment that you were going to kill those men. I'm glad it didn't come to that."
Tiva calls out from the bridge. "We're in luck! One of the bullets damaged the scanners. The field is down! We should cross while we still can!"
We flee on all fours, our digitigrade legs and extended arms covering ground far faster than any human could ever hope to match.
The cracked surface of The Q Bridge is worn and battle-scarred. During the years of the Purge when the werewolf packs of the northeast had dug in here in a defensive position, The Q was the site of several deadly battles as the human ground forces attempted to drive the wolves out from the city and into the sea. It was rumored that hundreds of werewolves had lost their lives defending this very span.
I'm so wrapped up in my thoughts and the heady glee of freedom that I'm shocked senseless when an explosion under my feet throws me and Tiva into the air.
Time slows to a crawl, and through a red haze of pain I wonder why Lapu and Dena are upside down. Ears are ringing…everything smells like burnt hair.
The minefield! In my haste I'd forgotten about the minefield! I twist and turn, seemingly weightless, plunging down toward the water's dark surface below. Falling…falling for the second time in as many hours. My mind, shocked by the sudden detonation and sharp descent, plays through recent events in slow motion, and I briefly wonder if it might be for the best if I disappear beneath the cold waves forever.
"No," I decide moments before I hit the water. It doesn't end here at all. This is only the beginning….