The Night's Embrace

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On the Run

Stanislaus National Forest, six months ago.

“Maxilyn--”

The wolf growled viciously, then it ran toward the vampire, lunging its stained fangs at her. The wolf went over the vampire as howls and roars, the sounds of raging beasts were heard from behind as two tumbled forward. Shawn and Maxilyn snapped and kicked at one another, separated by a kick from the humanoid tiger. The wolf kept between the vampire and the werecat her fangs set on ripping out his throat and watching him choke on his own blood.

“Loyal dog until the end.” Shawn roared, charging.

He and Maxilyn collided, rolling, snapping, kicking, and clawing passed Kassandra and right over the edge. Though their ground was no longer beneath them, their battle continued. The winter air rushed past them as they fell, their bodies woven together as they sought to kill the other. Shawn punched Max, the force having her hit the valley wall, but she used this to her advantage, pushing of her darted toward him as she was unable to move her fangs digging into his shoulder. The werecat roared, slamming his fists into her back until he put his arms between the two and forced them apart moments before plunging into the raging river below.

The rapids were strong, too strong in a body she was unfamiliar with. The water’s power forced her down river, the rapids rolling her beneath the cascade forcing her under the surface hard against a rock her head smacked. The wolf lost her breath, the lack of oxygen having her sink to the river’s bottom, but she had no way of knowing which way was up or down. Black was everywhere, the cold depths of the water pulling her along until she smacked into another rock further down. The water pinned her against this rock and consciousness was rapidly beginning to fade. Hard she kicked, using her claws to grip what she could, but it was to no avail, she could not navigate anywhere and so the only thing she could think of was up. Up as hard she she could as fast as she could; the force of the rapids pushed her into another rock, but she ignored it, finally breaking the surface.

Needles stabbed at her lungs, her energy and force behind the thrusts to keep herself on the surface nearly entirely depleted. Shawn was no where to be found, but then again she could not worry about him now, not while her own life was at risk of succumbing to a watery grave. Another hard hit against a rock’s surface had her pinned partly in the water, partly above it, but in this body, this form alien to her she did not know how to pull herself, how to grab. She wanted to shout, to sound for help, but no words left her muzzle and she was once again reminded she was not human and in more than one aspect. Max used her rear paws, but they slipped on the slime, a sudden jerk of a renegade log collided with her side making her lose the only grip she had and be force back down into the water.

The log dropped down, pushing her over the edge of the next cascade and into the hole below, the never-ending force of water and now the log trapping her below. She kicked and scratched at it, the little oxygen in her lungs her claws slipping on the water log until she twisted enough to dig at the soft river bed. With a slight divot she used it to give her room enough to push free the log and swim to the surface. The moon hung in the valley’s center, lighting the river’s side where low rocks would allow her to escape the winter waters if only for a short time. A short break in the rapids allowed for her to doggy-paddle to the side and make contact with land that did not threaten to drown her. The wolf walked a few feet from the river, ensuring she was completely from its reach until her body gave out and she dropped.

Fuck. She coughed hard, dispelling the water trapped in her lungs until at last she could breath only air. Too bad it was no warmer than the river. She saw me. Max could not shake her eyes, the look she gave when she saw her, when she saw what she could do and what she did. The very eyes she promised she would not give--fear. Max knew this was her fate, this was what would end their relationship and she knew it was over before it could begin. The entire time, she knew, she knew this was to be their fate and she wanted to spare herself that heartache. It is better to be without love than to love someone you can never have. Everything was cold, everything was heavy and quickly everything was growing darker.

The wolf forced herself up, shaking her entire body. She had to keep her eyes open, had to keep moving otherwise she would die. A loud roar made her ears shoot up and her body straighten. He was close and he was very much alive. Finding him would not be difficult, but it is she he seeks and he will involve anyone and everyone to find her. Max shook the water from her coat again, now taking the first steps toward the larger rocks that rose into the wood-line. She quickly ascended, able to jump several feet between boulders until she was at the highest that overlooked a decent majority of the river. A long and loud howl echoed in the valley until she took off in a sprint thru the snow-touched forest, the sound of pursuit not far behind.

Don’t look back. Don’t hesitate. Don’t stop. These were the words she used to continue on, to run without end for days...weeks without a moments pause. The moon satiated her hunger, her thirst, her rest and beneath its luminescence she knew end to this run. Her pursuer was weaker than her, unlike her he was no a child of the night and knew the weakness of hunger, thirst and fatigue. In human form he followed her, taking car, plane, few times did he lose her, but he was never fast enough to catch her and at all times he was alone. That was his mistake, his weakness for not calling for backup when he most certainly needed it. For weeks they played this game of chase with a single direction a single point--north. This was not planned, not intended, simply the way she ran and continued to run without meeting a dead end or an ocean of people and civilization.

Max ran for three weeks straight, slowing and stopping only when a sound caught her attention. Deep within the woods here in the frozen wilderness her heightened senses caught the heartbeat of a different sort of animal--a human child. Cautiously she awaited in the treeline, the daylight hours quickly being depleted by the location of them in the world. A lone child, bundled in numerous layers of coats, gloves and a hat, perhaps four or five walked thru the snow; picking up leaves and placing them in a basket. The wolf looked around, sensing for others, but found there were no other humans for miles. How did she end up here? She seemed well fed, taken care of and loved it was highly unlikely she was simply abandoned to die and they were too close to a village to be on a hunting trip.

The wolf made a decision, with the child’s back to her she advanced, silent against the cold, against the pressing of snow beneath the snow, the child was unaware of her presence. Max towered over the girl, but she lowered her head, gently nuzzling her muzzle into the shoulder of the girl. The girl was pushed over into the snow. Sorry! Max quickly apologized going around to the girl’s friend and lowering her head for the girl to use to push herself back onto her feet.

“Doggie!” The girl exclaimed with a bright smile, stepping toward an uncertainly wolf.

Max quickly stepped back, highly surprised at the child’s eagerness to hug her. Soon she stopped, knowing nothing would stop the girl she sat on her but and allowed the little girl to wrap her arms around her neck. Against this child Max was massive, her neck alone easily the width of the tiny human and it was this difference that frightened the wolf more than anything, her inability to properly control her strength something far too dangerous for anyone’s good. It would be best if she quickly took this girl to the village and was on her way, but then she also risked being mistaken as a threat and shot at. Unable to properly communicate by vocal word, Max decided another alternative safe to use with the girl seeing as she was a child and no one would believe her.

Grabbing a twig with her mouth she placed one end into the snow in front of the girl and horribly sketched out ′Wolf‘. The girl smiled, taking her own stick she began writing out her name crudely--’Anne’. Good. Max thought to herself. This might work. The wolf then sketched out ‘Home?’ and sat awaiting a response. The girl looked at the word then at the large snow-white wolf and began writing out her name again. The wolf groaned, she should have known better, the girl is extremely young. The wind’s direction shift, prompting Max to look back, seeing thick and darkened clouds were quick advancing. The wolf dropped the stick and stood, walking to the girl, Max lowered her back and moved her head from the girl to her back repeatedly until the child understood.

Anne got on Max’s back and the wolf stood, taking the basket’s handle into her mouth she decided to head away from the village because at the rate of those clouds she would not make it without the girl falling off. She instead found a small hole beneath a tree, created by the falling of one and the toppling of another on top, its branches perfectly covered and provided a space enough for the two of them to crawl within. This would half to do, with these paws she could not create a fire, with this muzzle she could not as the child where she lived and so Max resorted to the most primitive of methods. With herself and Anne safely within the embrace of the branches she brought the girl into her hot belly, curling into a ball around the sleeping girl her fur more than capable of keeping them both warm.

It was the first time Max had stopped in weeks, the first time she had done anything remotely human and of course it would be for the sake of a child. She has always had a soft soft for children after all. While the moon’s light died over the course of time Max felt the effect of her journey beginning to impact her, her stomach growled, her muscle cried out, but the licking of snow at the very least quelled her thirst. Looking into the basket, Max saw there were berries, certainly out of season, but still fresh. Her long tongue allowed for her to scoop some into her fangs, but she stopped herself from indulging more, uncertain of Anne’s own hunger and unwilling to risk it. She could always hunt a rabbit later. Max shivered at the thought--Raw rabbit, ew. Those thoughts quickly were pushed away, replaced by a need to sleep and dream of something far from this nightmare of a reality she found herself in.

The next morning was hardly brighter than the previous day, if Max had not been wired to awake at a certain time she would have likely slept thru the entire day. She lifted her head, seeing that the child was no longer against her. Quickly she shot up hitting her head on a branch and scurrying out of her den. Left and right she snapped her head, then to the ground where tiny footprints went from the tree den. Quickly the wolf followed, following the tracks for a few dozen yards until a small bundle of pink bent below a snow-covered bush. The wolf left out a sigh, she walked over, taking the basket into her mouth she sat beside Anne and held the woven carrier at her level so she could continue to place leaves and plants within. No wonder she became lost, she has a horrid habit of wondering off.

A rustle nearby has the wolf’s ears up in alert. She set the basket down and turned around, lowering her stance the snow white wolf glided silently across the white chill, lowering step by step until she was nearly crawling on the ground. Wait. Max’s eyes peered into the land, waves of heat rose in front of her the traces of steam coming from a small creature within her line of sight. Her next action was not her own, the running of her legs, the pursuit of her prey, the sight tunneled in on her prey--a bird. She was fast, her jaws closed in and grasped at its tiny body. Immediately Max froze, the impulse to crush the small creature, to hunt it as prey cut off and returned was her rational mind. Quickly the wolf set the small creature down, to her continued surprise the raven did not flee once free of its impending death.

The raven rustled its feathers, then turned around looking at the wolf that sat on its bum looking at it with regret. I’m sorry. Max said regardless if she could be understood. I didn’t mean to--I can’t control myself very well. She explained lowering her head. I know you can’t understand me, but--

Yeah I can understand you! You didn’t have to slobber all over me! Max’s head shot up, looking at the raven in shock and almost horror that she had heard another animal speak to her. The raven’s voice was youthful and masculine that if he were a man he would be no older than she. Not only had she been understood for the first time in months, but she was being addressed by an animal that was not the slightest bit afraid of her, strange considering humans run at the very sight of a wolf often enough. Not only humans, animals know better than to fool with a wolf, not to mention one who had nearly killed it.

You can understand me! Max shot up, shoving her face, smiling pearly fangs which appeared far more threatening than she intended. The raven bounced back at the surprise, as though this young wolf had never had a conversation with anyone for weeks, then again she was poking around with a human girl. How unusual to pass up an easy meal such as that, especially for a lone wolf who is quite close to a human village. Most unusual and out right stupid.

Max began to tear up, I haven’t been able to talk to anyone for months...I’ve been running for so long I just...She choked on her words, the raven tilted his head in question. This wolf is not from around here and everything she says and does is not anything wolf-like in the slightest. Max wiped her face with her paw and finally spoke clearly, I’m not a wolf--not really.

The raven hoped around the canine: No I’m pretty sure you are.

Max shook her head. I used to look like a human, but I was fighting a werecat and had to shift to save someone and I’ve been on the run ever since. Can you help me?

A werewolf? That cannot be--they went extinct centuries ago not a single one has been seen...The raven came up closer, placing his beak against her fur. How can you be...Explains the group I saw yesterday.

The Marine frowned, Group? Werecats and casters? How far are they from here?

He nodded, A half a day’s flight, but less if they go by truck. They have a caster with them who has been sending false feathers into the sky in search of something. He tilted his head again, Or someone. He fluttered to a raised branch, Come with me, I will take you to my elders, they will decide whether you are telling the truth.

Max looked back to Anne still collecting plants then back to the raven. I can’t leave her, she’ll die. The raven looked to the girl beyond the bushes, a small human who had no place being in these woods alone and so far from her village. He looked back to the wolf before him, she was certainly not any wolf he had ever met because any other would have eaten her without a second thought. Perhaps she really was telling the truth and she was human before this, but how could she be a werewolf? Vampires, werecats, and casters alike hunted them down to exstinction, the only reason he knows of them is thru tradition. Wolves and ravens have always been beside one another since the dawn of time. Whether it is friends or allies they have always been the few animals understand each other no matter the tongue.

She can’t very well come with us. If you are so certain, return her to the human village it is only a few miles away. The raven fluttered his wings and arose a few more branches. But make it fast the supernaturals are not far behind.

Max looked back to the raven, If I just drop her off they’ll follow my tracks right to her and her family. I’ll have to fight them or at least distract them into following me.

The wolf walked back to Anne and nibbles on her coat, tugging her a little to get her attention. Anne smiled, getting on Max’s back again she rode the wolf back into the woods to where they waited and rested the night before. As the night grew closer, Max conversed further with the raven upon his return.

They split off from the larger group and are not far. A few of them have shifted already and are coming toward here.

Max stood up from the log she laid down on. How long do you think?

Thirty minutes I’d say, but they run faster than I fly.

She pondered over this information, going back under the branches and logs she pawed at Anne’s hands, moving one up to her eye and then the other. Anne giggled watching Max has she put her paw over her eyes and shut them. Following the instruction she closed her eyes and put her hands over them. The wolf wondered if this would be okay, to leave her here and to go into the night and tear these people piece by piece. No, she could not leave evidence, not allow anyone to discover what happened here. Fighting them was obvious, but she had to be smart about how, to draw them out and send them back long enough for her to get Anne back to her home. Tomorrow she would pull up stakes and no later, Anne was a child who could not survive long out here and Max could not care for her.

Its getting late, I must find shelter. The raven glided down form a branch onto a branch in front of Max. Good luck...

Maxilyn, friends call me Max.

He appeared to have smiled, Name’s Hramn. See you in the morning.

After he flew off into the dimming light, Max took a fallen branch and scuffed the tracks leading to and from den, walking backwards and careful to keep onto logs as much as she could. It was obvious this would be recognized as a pitiful attempt at covering up, but that is what she intended--distraction. They would follow the trail of concealment right to her, away from Anne, but close enough that she could react if they split off and catch her presence. Once finding an opening in the trees, Max laid the branch out crawled underneath a pile of snow. With the amount that would fall within the next hour, so long as she did not move she would be completely covered. It felt just like recon school.

Hours went by, as the white of the snow seemingly turned black, the cold came in like a wet towel, quickly seeping away any and all heat. Max continued to keep still, recalling classes from times past, hip-pocket training her NCOs put her and her team thru in their early years. This was particular on cold-weather survival, more on the theoretical aspect, that she remembered the mentioning of digging into the snow because beneath a certain point, regardless of the outside temperature, the internal temperature always remains the same. Not that it helped her now, the only real benefit to being a four-legged canine is the fact this double coat was doing well to keep her warm in these below freezing temperatures.

She wondered about Anne, surely she was cold, but Max and her had piled snow onto the branches and leaves, packing it in to insulate the temperature. Max worried as any rational person should, but trusted in her work in the den, still she did not want to leave Anne any longer than necessary. Sending these bastards away was her concern, taking her back to her home and then being off again, far from civilization. Far from people, far from anywhere and everywhere where she could hurt or be hurt. That is the only way she could be safe she knew that, but she could not help, but hate that she could not return to her human form, but then again would she be able to survive in this climate? Max was unsure if her clothes had been shredded, had become a part of her or were simply non-existent. She did not know anything about what she is nor what to do now. All she did know was that she was the last of the first and would be hunted down just like the rest of her kind. Once again, the reality that she was completely and utterly alone began to sink its blade into her heart.

The crunching of snow alerted her, the whisper of voices and the low growling of fanged assailants.

“The trail is concentrated here, she must be close.” Whispered a woman, sniffing the air about.

A familiar voice made Max rethink her approach, “Fan out, but stay in pairs. Use non-lethal rounds, but be on guard--she’s far more dangerous than you think.” Leon warned as he motioned for the pairs to spread out to the area. He alone remained.

Leon turned around toward a fallen tree, snarling fangs in his face from a white wolf non-to-happy to see him. Leon backed up, holding his hands out as he lowered his gun into the snow, the wolf stepping closer her smiling fangs eager to tear into his throat and paint this pure snow crimson. Eventually he ceased his retreat and lowered himself to his knees giving himself to be her mercy.

“I know you see me as your enemy.” Leon began, “But I’m not, I want to help you--Max if I had known what you were I would never have--”

Max snapped her jaw growling aggressively. You would have what!? She paced back and fourth. You, all of you made me change, made me show what I was to her! Leon kept his arms visible, “I’m sorry for what we did, if I had known I never would have allowed Henry and Shawn to corner you like that--”

Fuck you! Max barked, snapping her mouth full of razors at the werecat she was inches from tearing his throat out and even closer to simply ripping his entire head off his shoulders, just like the Mort. I ought to kill you now--send a message to those bastards that they’re next! She retracted her muzzle, going back to packing back and forth. What do your people--Max blew wind, knowing she could not be understood. Instead, she grabbed a twig and began tracing letters into the ground.

leAve

Leon shook his head, “They’ll just send more. I’m only the advance party, Shawn is in another town conducting reconnaissance. He is dead certain on hunting you down and killing you and only our orders to bring you back alive stand in the way of that.”

Max dragged the branch again: WHY

“Our leaders won’t tell me anything, but Henry said you’re an important piece in the ending of the war. In ending all wars.” Leon partly answered.

I will not be some experiment for their amusement! Max growled before sketching her next word beside the second, then pointing from ‘WHY’ to ‘HELP’.

The werecat sighed, “Because its the right thing to do because the organization I joined isn’t what it once was. We used to help people, help werecats, casters and humans devastated by vampires. I hardly see a difference between the Council, Exiles and us anymore.”

Max huffed when continuing. There is a difference, but I don’t have time to debate morals right now. Now she could not use simple words to have a conversation, this one would take longer, but she was short on time, they both were.

Who KnoWS AboUt Me?

The werecat pondered, “Me, Henry, and Shawn...and I would assume the Principessa. I only know because I saw you fighting the Mort.”

And you didn’t think to help then? Max glared, Coward. Still it was better late then never, it was bound to happen eventually, she just hoped she would have been able to do it under a different circumstance. She wondered whether or not she would have revealed herself to Kassandra willingly and now that it has already happened she cannot say for sure without biased. Now was not the time to dwell on what has already happened, only on what is right in front of her.

Helping little girl Stop tHeM give Me tiMe

Crude as the grammar was, Leon understood and stood, grabbing his rifle when kicking his foot into the words.

“Please.” Leon looked to the wolf, “Just don’t kill anyone, these are good people, they’re just following orders.”

Leon did not need to have her answer spelled out, he already knew her answer: Death only comes to those who first bring it upon others.

The light of day came after the long night and her enemy had been dissuaded from pursuing her for the meantime and retreated back to their previous place of safety. They had been unable to see anything, white bled into white as the enemy scurried about trying to find the source of the howls and the numerous bites to their legs, arms, shoulders, and weapons. Non-lethal rounds did not fire the same as lethal, the darkness did not light up with a flash, and those who could not see in the dark were frightened of what lurked within. One caster made the mistake of igniting flames within his hand, hoping to see the fiend within the shadow, but instead he came face to face with eyes burning bright with deadly desire. The man screamed, running off into the night as those the hounds of hell were upon his heels. This did well to sway the others into abandoning their hunt, at least for the meantime.

Max returned to Anne’s side after certain the enemy was gone, wrapping herself around the child to keep her warm until first light. Gently, she was able to nuzzle her nose into Anne’s face, waking her from her slumber. Tired, cold and hungry, her home was only a few miles away and would be able to be reach in half an hour’s time. Hramn flew by, beckoning the two to come out from the den as he landed. Following the raven, Anne mounted Max and was off, riding the wolf as a horse as they raced toward the girl’s village. Awaiting for the coast to be cleared, Max set Anne down meaning to guide her back to her house, but instead the little girl put her finger to the snow and wrote out her name. In response, the wolf took her paw and traced out ‘Max’ then placed her paw over her muzzle as a sign hoping the girl understood. Anne smiled.

“Shhhh.” She sounded with her finger to her mouth.

Max allowed the girl to mount her once again and walked down the hill toward the door. Allowing Anne to dismount, she put the basket down and licked the girl’s hand. Anne began to pet Max’s head and kissed her on the forehead. Max rose on her hint legs and scratched at the door, quickly returning to her spot on the hill above the house. Three adult emerged from the house, who Max assumed to be the mother, father and grandfather. It was nice to see a happy ending for once.

You did a good thing. Hramn said. Helping someone who may very well hunt you one day, I cannot say many would do that.

Max looked to the raven, Her parents will never believe her, but she'll remember. That might be enough to change her actions in the future, it may not, but at least she has the chance to live. Everyone deserves that.

Perhaps, come, my elders wise to meet you. The raven said, taking off into the sky.

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