Chapter 36 - Stone
Darkness enveloped the land, running shivers up and down Stone’s spine without the light of the moon to guide him between the leaves in the trees above.
Blindfolded to Her power, his heightened senses held a dull edge to them, as they did every new moon.
And yet, they had to stand guard and anticipate an attack; for surely the vampires would not sleep tonight and take full advantage of every werewolf and lycan’s weakness.
The earth was dry under his paws from lack of rain, and there were no signs of rain coming tonight. The breeze carried with it only the dryness of the forest.
The night had been quiet so far. Nothing unusual to strike him for the last few hours as he hunted the eastern edge of the territory for vampires. As he neared the corner of the southeast border and Gunner in the northeast, the normal singing of grasshoppers stilled in the trees.
Crouching down low to the earth, he stilled and listened, taking in the smells around him.
The grasshoppers in the trees were normally undisturbed by his movements on the forest floor. Something had to be up there with them.
[Status update,] he demanded in the pack link.
A chorus of negative responses sounded, which didn’t surprise him.
Still, the lack of crickets chirping and owls hooting said something was off.
The fur raised on his nape.
[Is it unusually quiet at your ends?]
Again, the responses were of nothing unusual, but Gunner announced that the North Fang Pack was on guard at the north-east end and around the eastern city limits of Saint Paul.
[Alpha Colten is ready to send warriors into our territory if need be,] Gunner said.
With each passing second, the hairs on Stone’s body raised up.
Something was here. Something he couldn’t detect, but could still somehow sense.
[Send them in.]
[Are you certain?]
[Yes. In stillness, he waits; watching like a predator and I, the prey,] he said as a faint breeze ruffled through his fur.
There was definitely a vampire nearby, but only one. One too weak against him and only biding his time until he was joined by more.
Stone remained still, listening to the silence around him for the slightest hint of a presence.
There was no breeze to blow a scent. No leaves to rustle. A cricket chirped once before he too fell silent.
[Reinforcements are on their way.]
[Lead them to Little Creek Valley and stay hidden. I’ll meet you there.]
To lure the predator out into the open was his best option. He could handle him out there on the ground where he could get his paws on him. It was only a game when the vampire remained in the trees. A game he couldn’t win.
The sound of a branch bending caught his attention and he held his breath to listen closer.
A split second later, something whirled through the air and struck him across his shoulder.
A roar of pain erupted as the fiery-cold silver edge of the arrow sliced through his skin. Had it been an inch lower, it would have embedded itself into his shoulder and caused more damage.
With darkness on his side, he took off, weaving through the forest floor as his assailant chased after him in the treetops.
[Papa, what was that?] Gwen demanded from the western border.
Ignoring the pain in his shoulder, he jumped over a fallen tree and skidded as he landed, his claws digging into the earth. [Nothing. Just a flesh wound.]
[Didn’t feel like nothing,] she scoffed.
Another arrow fired down on him but sailed over his shoulder and into the trunk of a maple tree ahead.
The vampire stumbled overhead, nearly slipping off the bough before stopping altogether.
Hiding behind the thickest tree he could find, he looked over his shoulder to try and locate the vampire overhead.
The vampire may be talented with a bow and arrow, but maintaining balance while firing arrows and jumping from tree to tree wasn’t his strong suit.
[An archer is hunting me with silver-tipped arrows.]
[I’m on my way,] she said.
He growled. [No, you stay and protect the western border. Gunner and I can handle the eastern one.]
[The Minnepaw Pack is perfectly capable of protecting their territory and our shared borders. And you know damn well that you’re no match for fifty vampires on your own—even with Gunner.]
[Guinevere, I can’t risk your life—]
[Goddess! I’m not helpless—]
[You have a mate to go back to!]
[So do you!]
He growled as an arrow flew by and nicked the tree, almost hitting his bicep.
[And if you die before Aubree’s first shift, how well do you think she’ll handle it and our way of life without you, huh?]
He hated when she was right. Aubree gave up her life with Dan for him and now Dan was a vampire. They could never return to the life they had.
[You know I’m right,] she sang.
[Fine. Gawain, secure the northern border. Alistair, make sure the werewolves from the south secure the border and meet us at Little Creek Valley.]
[Alright!] Alistair shouted into his head. [Time to squish some mosquitoes! I’m coming for ya, ya filthy bloodsuckers!]
[Squish ’em!] Gwen chimed in.
An arrow came at him from the left and nicked the tip of his pointed ear.
Swearing in his head, he pivoted around the tree and took off back in the direction he had come.
He needed to get that leech out of the damn tree. He didn’t have time to try and figure out which one he was in and try to shake him out. He’d get shot at before he’d find him.
He had to lure him out into the open. It was his only option.
The nearest open area was a couple of miles away and close to the southeast border. It was small and narrow and wouldn’t be as helpful in getting him out of the tree. He needed something bigger, wider.
Another arrow struck his injured shoulder. He howled in pain as he slammed into a tree. The trunk cracked as he swerved to the right, his left hind leg catching on an exposed root and sending him crashing to the earth.
Move! Move! Move! He pushed himself forward, ignoring the pain that shot through his ankle and knees.
With one quick tug, he pulled the arrow from his shoulder as another hailed down at him and hit the earth.
Weaving through the trees, his claws digging into the earth, roots, leaves, and twigs for greater stability, another arrow fired after him and missed. The pain from his knees and ankle subsided as they healed and he was able to move faster, but his wounded shoulder throbbed and that had him angling away from his destination. Little Creek Valley was slipping further away and the narrow glen was quickly approaching.
It would have to do.
[I’m going to try and draw him out at Hickory Glen. Meet me there.]
[Yes, Alpha,] Alistair, Gunner, and Gwen replied.
The forest began to change from elm and maple to the light gray shagbark hickory that was common in the southeastern tip of their territory. The soil grew softer, the closer he came to the shallow creek that ran through the glen.
The closer he got to the glen, the more his senses rose on high-alert.
The forest never felt so eerily still. A hushed breath hovered in the air. The old trees groaned, their heavy strips of bark peeling and curling, reaching out like tentacles, grasping.
Instinct told him to turn back immediately
Whirling around, movement caught his attention in the corner of his eye as leaves rustled and the air whooshed above him before something fell down upon him.