The sunlight blinds me as I step outside my prison for the first time in years. Adjusting to the cloudy spots in my vision, I take in the building’s surroundings. Smoke is trailing along the edge of the building to my right and I can see other prisoners running into the woods. Clutching my side to put more pressure on my wound, I push to follow the others.
The ground shakes under my feet as another explosion rocks the building at the moment I make it to the edge of the forest. Looking back, I see flames start to encompass each floor as the windows explode from the fire.
Catching sight of a few hunters running out of the smoke, I rush into the trees. I need to put as much distance between myself and the hunters as possible before I lose too much blood. I can already feel my head start to get fuzzy from the blood loss and without my animal spirit, I can’t heal at a supernatural speed.
I can hear shouting behind me and more gunshots ring out through the trees. I feel the fire explode through my thigh before my brain registers the bullet. My body crumbles into the dirt as the pain screams through my body.
Dark spots fill my vision and the sound of another explosion blasts through the trees. The building is going to burn to the ground. I feel my body lose the adrenaline from my attempt at escaping. I hear the screams and shouts of the remaining guards fighting other creatures.
I try to push off the ground, I can’t let them take me back. I won’t go back.
My body crumbles back down as the blood continues to spread onto the dirt below me. I feel the fight leave me and death move closer.
I hear the shouting get closer to me as the darkness sweeps completely over my mind. I have one thought before I’m gone completely.
Please let me die.
Aaliyah: 16 Years Old
“Mom, why do we have to move again?” I whine like the petulant child I know I’m acting like.
We have lived in this city for almost two years now and I’ve finally made my own friends and I am living an actual normal life. I don’t want to pack up again.
“You know the rules, Aaliyah,” she moves to sit next to me on the couch. Holding onto my hand with both of hers, she gives me a reassuring squeeze, “The wolf packs consider this free territory, and a group of rogues are starting to move closer. We can’t stay.”
“But we aren’t even wolves and have nothing to do with the packs or the rogues,” I argue with her, “Maybe they won’t even notice that we are here.”
“I’m sorry, darling,” she says, “I wish they wouldn’t, but you’re still young. You aren’t able to mask your scent yet and any rogue that senses it will come. They might even sell us to hunters if they figure us valuable enough to trade.”
“But you could teach me,” I try, “I don’t want to leave here. We’ve finally made it a home.”
“Darling, someday you’ll understand that I’m just trying to keep you safe,” she brushes a loose bang back behind my ear before kissing my forehead lightly, “I’m hoping to sell the house by the end of the week. I need you packed by then.”
“No fighting me, Aaliyah. We don’t have time.”
I nod my head sadly, “Just promise me this is the last time.”
She takes a second to draw a deep breath and holds it there, “I promise, my little pup. This is the last time.”
I nod in agreement, “Where are we going?”
“Wolf territory. The River Pack,” she tells me, “I spoke to the alpha, and he is going to allow us to stay until you graduate.”
“More wolves,” I nodded my head softly in defeat. Reaching down to grab my pair of sneakers, I pull them on swiftly, “I’m going to go on a run.”
“Aaliyah,” she starts, but I just cut her off.
“No mom. Wolves look at us as outsiders and I don’t see that changing with a pack. We are literally running from here, our home, because of the wolf packs,” I argue with her, “Every time we live near a pack, the wolf shifters in school make it impossible for me to make any friends.”
“I know it’s been tough. Wolves and foxes have never gotten completely along, but we don’t-“
“I get it, mom. We don’t have a choice,” I pull my hair back into a ponytail and head out the front door.
Taking off from the house, I head towards the trail along the woods. I feel my fox jump around in excitement over a chance to shift into form. Moving into the trees, I let her take over and shift into my fox and let her run free.
My paws push me forward as we take off. When I first shifted, I never could have predicted how free I feel when running in my fox form. Letting the fox take control, I nudge her in the direction of the nature park.
As we run, I start thinking about the wolf packs. We shouldn’t have to leave just because the rogues want somewhere to live as well. They want a home, just like my mom and I want.
The River Pack will be a new home. She promised we would stay there this time, my fox Aiya tells me softly.
She’s always been the hopeful one between the two of us. She actually believes living in a pack of wolves will be alright.
We have to try. Maybe we will find our mate there.
I scrunch my face at the thought, I’m not so sure I want to find our mate.
It’s a good thing you don’t get a say, she lets out a small huff at my thoughts as she reaches the end of the trail and turns back around, Living in a pack again might be good for us. We haven’t been around the wolves in a few years.
It’s not going to be different, Aiya. The skulk is gone and living in a pack isn’t going to make it the same, I feel her shrink back a bit as sadness creeps in, I’m sorry, Aiya.
Before I can tell her anything more, I hear a snap of a branch to my left. Moving swiftly, I crouch low into a bush on the side of the path. I hold completely still as I feel movement walking out of the trees.
“Where did it go?” a harsh whisper growls low. Two men step onto the trail, keeping their eyes out for movement.
“I saw the fox running this way. It shouldn’t be that fast,” the second man muttered as he lifted his rifle, “Are you sure it wasn’t just a normal fox?”
“That’s what we need to find out,” the first guy said, “Boss wants as many shifters as possible.”
Hunters, Aiya growls out to me.
Staying low to the ground, I creep backward until I’m far enough away that they won’t hear my movements. Running in a random pattern for over an hour in case they were able to follow me, I finally break from the trees and into my backyard.
Shifting quickly, I rush through the sliding backdoor to find my mom in the kitchen. She turns to me with wide eyes as I barge into the room.
“Hunters. I think they saw me.”
It’s the only thing I can say, but it’s enough to have the car packed in under an hour. My mom calls a realtor to sell our house without us there, schedules a moving company for our stuff, and contacts the River Pack to tell them we are coming sooner than expected because of hunters in the area.
One word and we are gone.
As we drive away from our home, I keep replaying what the hunter said. The boss wanted shifters.
Why would hunters want to capture shifters?