The ridge overlooked a forest that was so dense that no earth could be seen. It seemed to go on for as far as the eye could see, a vast ocean filled with many diverse shades of green. There were trees of all different descriptions, their tips seeming to reach for the sun that sat high in the sky above them. Anna Davis could name a few of them, pine, redwood, spruce, and cedar and she knew that protected under all their thick branches, nestled in the trunks and in the underbrush, wildlife would be thriving.
Anna hadn’t explored much since she had arrived in the valley, so she wasn’t sure exactly the kinds of animals that resided here but she bet it was full of creatures that had yet to taste the fear of humans. This land was protected, untouched, but Anna didn’t kid herself. It was only a matter of time before the near humans would cast their eye to it, seeing prime land to destroy and develop. Anna looked over her shoulder, seeing the Calmariel Ranges behind her with the largest mountain standing close and proud. It towered above the land and completely blocked any view of the city that sat behind it, about 30 miles away.
Human’s lust for more was every growing, becoming like a virus that stretched its tendrils out and destroyed anything that it touched… only this virus also raised concrete buildings and factories where breathtaking nature had once stood. Anna turned her back to the view out over the ridge, smiling. When humans turned their greedy gaze this way, they were going to be met with just a few obstacles. The land was full of rolling hills, deep ravines… and also predatory wolves, who were very protective and territorial over their land and home.
Anna kicked her bare feet against the rock face, looking down at her dangling legs and the sheer drop beneath her. She guessed it must be about an 80 foot drop, but that didn’t bother her. Heights never had. Before coming here, Anna had lived in an apartment complex in the city with her pack. Anytime that she managed to get away from her family, she would find herself on the rooftop with her eyes firmly on the horizon. Her mother had found her once and had scathingly told her that maybe Anna should have been born a bird because she sure as hell didn’t make a good wolf.
Anna sighed, thoughts of her family making her feeling pensive. She had transferred to SilverRiver pack a couple days ago and almost immediately, feelings of relief had overwhelmed her. It had been hard to believe that she had finally escaped the clutches of her old pack, GreyWing, but at the same time, Anna was frustrated that she would never know the answers to her past or to the treatment that she had suffered at the hands of both her family and the rest of the pack. She truly didn’t ever expect to see any of the GreyWing pack again, even her parents, but they had been the only family that she had ever known. SilverRiver was vastly different and Anna was constantly finding herself feeling unsure and out of place. She wasn’t yet an official member of the SilverRiver pack, until the Bonding Ceremony, but she had no clue what her role would be once that happened. Anna had never had a true role within GreyWing, although she had understood firmly what her place was. Life had been fairly predictable and that had made it comfortable, even if it hadn’t been filled with happiness… or even entirely pleasant.
Anna shook her head, trying to clear herself of all those thoughts, and straightened her spine. This incredible view in front of her was one of the biggest reasons why she had accepted her transfer here, this view and the freedom that accompanied it. Anna had felt claustrophobic in the city, surrounded by a concrete jungle of high rise buildings and streets full of loud, fast vehicles. Wolves weren’t made to run through the cities and she still didn’t understand why GreyWing had made their home there. Right now, Anna felt more connected to her wolf than she ever had before. She knew with certainty that no matter what happened after the Bonding Ceremony, she would never regret coming here. The past two days had already proved to her that life had significantly changed from what she had been experiencing at GreyWing.
Anna was jerked out of her thoughts by the sound of someone clearing their throat, her head snapping around to locate the source of the sound, catching sight of a man standing at the treeline. At her sudden movement, she wobbled on the edge of the ledge and the man stepped forward, his arm raising as if he was about to dart forward and yank her back from the drop. Anna steadied herself quickly, eyeing the stranger warily.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice soft like he was speaking to a spooked animal. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” Anna’s eyes quickly took him in, assessing whether he was a threat or not. He was wearing faded blue wash jeans and that was about it. His feet were bare, as was his chest, which Anna noted was dusted with short, curling brown hairs. He had muscular shoulders that tensed as he moved, crossing his arms over his chest. Anna guessed that he had recently shifted and found jeans in one of the many caches of clothing that were placed strategically around SilverRiver territory. He had dark brown hair that was curling around his ears and angular cheekbones that led down to a firm jaw, shadowed with a few days worth of stubble. Anna finally met his warm brown eyes, which were watching her with a concerned expression and she realized that he was waiting for her to respond. His words finally registered in her mind and she felt her cheeks heat slightly. It was extremely hard to sneak up on a wolf shifter because of their acute hearing and Anna knew that any other wolf would have heard him coming. As Anna admitted to herself that she couldn’t even claim it was because she was deep in thought, she flapped an embarrassed hand at the stranger.
“It’s okay. I mean, I really should have heard you coming but I was lost in my thoughts.” She lied, but he just gave a small smile and tucked his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
“How could you not be, with this view?” He murmured, looking past Anna to the forest behind her before looking back. “My name is Mitch. I’m one of SilverRiver’s soldiers. I haven’t seen you around here before.” It was a statement but his voice rose slightly in question. Anna felt a little bit of the tension leave her at the mention that he was a SilverRiver pack member.
“I’ve only been here a couple days, I’m a transfer from GreyWing.” She got up and padded over to him, holding out her hand for him to shake. “My name is Anna.” He took her hand in a tight grip, offering a small smile, which she returned.
“Nice to meet you, Anna. Do you need a tour buddy? I’d be happy to show you around. I’m SilverRiver, born and bred.” Once he had released her hand, Anna subtly stepped back to put space between them again as she considered his offer. Finally, she said, “that would be great, actually! Can we start now?” Mitch nodded, laughing at her enthusiasm.
“Sure, I have nothing else going on right now. Training doesn’t start for another three hours.” Anna smiled, starting to feel more at ease by the minute. She retreated back to the ridge edge to pick up her discarded socks and shoes. She started stuffing her feet into them as Mitch waited patiently. Once she had finished, they began walking together towards the mountain ranges and the pack den. The trees grew dense fairly quickly, their steps rustling the foliage as they walked. Anna made sure that she kept at least of foot of distance between them, so that Mitch’s body wouldn’t accidentally touch her own. She waited for Mitch to ask her why she hadn’t shifted, her mind racing with different explanations that she could come up with, but after a while she accepted that the question was not forthcoming.
Instead, he told her all about the dynamics of SilverRiver and Anna listened, fascinated. When she had arrived, they had only told her that the alpha was away on business and so her official pack welcoming wouldn’t take place until he got back. That meant for the last two days, Anna had basically been in limbo. She wasn’t used to being so idle, but until she was assigned a role, she didn’t have much choice.
“So SilverRiver has been been on this land for almost 20 years now. The previous alpha, Philip Stone, found it and thought it was something special.” Mitch stepped over a large fallen tree, turning back to help Anna over it. “The pack spent years creating the den, modernizing it and making it what it is today.”
“I’ve spent some time walking around, but there’s so many hallways and it all looks the same, so I’ve actually got lost a couple times.” Anna brushed her hand against the rough bark of a tree as Mitch chuckled.
“That doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been telling everyone for years that they should start making maps!”
“How did Philip get the idea for building under a mountain?” Anna queried, looking up in front of her, at the mountain in question.
“He wanted his den to be difficult for anyone to find and fairly impenetrable. It’s always been a priority for SilverRiver to protect the young and vulnerable. What about GreyWing? I heard their main packhouse is actually in the city.” Anna smiled at the disgust in his voice at even the idea of living in the city.
“I’m not sure how long they’ve been there… since I was born at least, and I’m 19.”
“Did you enjoy living there?” He asked.
“No, not really.” She trailed off, recalling all her thoughts on the subject from earlier. “It felt so hard to breathe, like the air was denser. Here, however,” Anna paused, inhaling deeply and grinning at Mitch. “Here, I can really breathe.” Mitch looked around, as if seeing everything for the first time.
“Sometimes I forget to stop and look at this place. I forget how lucky we are.” He smiled nostalgically before shifting the conversation back at Anna. “So back to GreyWing, what did you do in the pack?”
“A bit of everything, I guess. I was never assigned a role so I just… floated around. I stayed mostly in our family’s quarters and helped my parents.” Anna shrugged one shoulder, looking away from Mitch’s curious expression. She knew from observing. SilverRiver the past two days that what had happened to her at GreyWing was abnormal. Anna guessed it was also a big part of the reason that she was feeling so out of place and unsure of how to change it. She didn’t feel like she could just jump into any job, because she was scared that she would do it wrong or that she would be stepping on someone’s toes.
“But you said you’re 19?” Anna nodded in response and Mitch looked at her strangely before saying, “fair enough, I guess every pack is different.”
The pair broke through the trees and into a large grassy clearing. The trees had been cut right back, so that the treeline was in the shape of a semicircle. In the middle of the clearing stood a large boulder, big and round with a lot of footholds. Anna knew it was a great climbing tool, having seen a bunch of pups playing on it earlier. The entire area of the clearing was surprisingly flat and green for being right in front of a mountain, which stretched steeply upwards. The rock face was light grey and seemed almost smooth to touch in places, and Anna knew from touching it earlier how cold it would feel against her skin. She looked upwards, trying to see the peak of the mountain but the sun was peeking out from behind it, making the sky too bright for Anna’s eyes.
Mitch strode towards the base of the mountain, seeming smaller the closer he got to the wall of grey. Anna followed more slowly, her eyes taking in every detail around her as if it were the first time seeing it. She imagined that alpha, Phillip, coming here and seeing the potential to create a home and was once again amazed at what he had created for his pack. Eventually, she came up to Mitch, who was standing in front of the cave entrances. They were tucked right into the base of the mountain, veering steeply downwards so that they were smaller in appearance and camouflaged against the rock. If you didn’t know they were there, they would be almost impossible to see from a distance. There were two entrances, right next to each other and divided by a rock wall. Anna knew that one lead to where her quarters were and all the domestic areas of the pack, while the other lead directly to the soldier training rooms and garages. Everything was joined together further back in the den, but she hadn’t managed to figure it all out yet. She knew how to get to her room, to the dining hall, to the exit and that was about it.
Mitch led Anna into the left entrance, both of them stepping carefully down the steep path until it began to level out. The hallway had a cement floor and the walls were left natural, although the rock had been smoothed completely out. There were round bulkhead lights lining the ceiling and small vents scattered between them, an air ventilation system that could disperse clean air and heating throughout the den. Mitch led Anna eastward, towards the dining hall, and he pointed out important rooms and different hallways along the way. Anna tried to keep up with what he was saying, but knew that she was just as likely to get lost as before.
They finally reached the dining hall, which was quickly filling up with people as dinner time drew close. The room held about 30 tables, and along one side of the room stood a large buffet style serving table. Right next to it was a serving window that Anna could see opened into the kitchen. People wearing aprons were going back and forth through a door a few feet from the window, carrying large trays of food and setting them up on the buffet table. Mitch led Anna to a table that already had six people sitting at it. He slapped his hand down firmly on the table surface to get their attention.
“Hey guys,” he announced, pausing as he waited for everyone to turn and look at him, glancing curiously at Anna as they did so. “This is Anna, the transfer from GreyWing. I told her I’d be her tour guide. Anna, this is Tori, Josh, Adrian, Lucy and Piper.” Mitch named each person at the table from left to right, pointing at them as he did. Anna gave a small wave, smiling at the table as a whole.
“I’m not going to remember any of that, but hi! Nice to meet you all.” They all laughed before one person, that Anna thought was Josh, invited Mitch and Anna to join them at the table. Anna felt a spark of hope that this was the beginning of making SilverRiver her home. She had never felt that at GreyWing, even though she had been born into the pack and lived with them her entire life. SilverRiver was her chance at a fresh start and maybe finally becoming a part of a real family.
She was distracted by her thoughts as she sat down and the woman sitting on her right turned to Anna, asking, “so you’re from GreyWing, huh?” Anna looked at her, remembering that this woman had been introduced as Piper. Piper had bright red hair pulled into a ponytail and expressive, grey eyes. There were freckles dusting across her nose and cheeks. Anna looked down and saw that Piper was wearing the standard SilverRiver soldier uniform, a black polo shirt and black cargo pants.
“That’s right. It’s so different here, compared to GreyWing.”
“I know how that feels, I’m actually a transfer myself. I came here about a year ago. DarkCloud was much smaller than SilverRiver, with only about 50 members in total.”
“Why did they let you transfer?” Anna asked in surprise.
“I didn’t give them a choice. My parents were killed in a territory battle with another pack and I couldn’t stand being there with all the memories.” Piper looked away, and Anna regretted asking the question. After a tense silence, Piper looked back, clearly struggling to put the smile back on her face.
“So you’ve been here two days? Do you like it, even if it’s different?”
“It’s hard to say because I still don’t know where I fit in to everything.” Anna shrugged. “I don’t have anything to do and I feel strange about just jumping in to help when nobody knows me.” Piper’s brow furrowed as she stared at Anna, concentrating for a moment.
“Wait, you got here 2 days ago? And Zach… Tori, when did the alpha leave for his trip?” Piper turned to a black-haired woman sitting at the other end of the table.
“Four days ago, I think. He should be back any day.” At the answer, Piper turned back to Anna, looking her over with concern.
“So clearly you haven’t been welcomed into the pack bond yet, so you’ve been without a pack for three days? Are you feeling alright?” At the question, Anna blinked at Piper in confusion.
“I’m not sure what you mean.” She said, her tone questioning.
“Our head healer believes when the mind severs the emotional ties with a pack by making the decision to leave, and the puts distance between themselves and the pack, the bond link is completely broken. I don’t know about other shifters, but wolf shifters need that bond because without it we can either go feral or get sick. I’m really shocked that they left you this long.”
“I am feeling a lack of energy,” Anna responded thoughtfully. “But GreyWing had closed me off from the pack bond for so long, that I haven’t really noticed any difference.” Piper gaped at her revelation, her mouth opening and closing before she exclaimed.
“They blocked you out?!” Her loud voice drew curious glances from the rest of the table. Anna made eye contact with Mitch, who raised an eyebrow in question but Anna just smiled before turning back to Piper.
“It’s okay, Piper,” she said quietly, hoping that Piper would follow suit and lower her voice. “Don’t feel sorry for me. It was just a part of life, I don’t even know what I was missing.” Piper looked like she wanted to argue but then decided against it. She sat back in her chair, her eyes still firmly on Anna.
“Just know this, when you are welcomed into the pack, and the pack bond, you’re in for a real shock. I got one just from coming from a pack a quarter the size of SilverRiver.” As she finished speaking, the person sitting on the other side of her said something and she turned away. Anna was left sitting in silence, nervously wondering what Piper had meant.