Chapter 2 ~ Memories
Chapter 2: Memories
"It's your fault she's dead."
I stayed quiet, it was always best to stay quiet when he was in these moods. Staying still, trying not to incur his wrath, I kept myself as small as possible. He threw the door closed, the slamming sound making me jump and grip the blanket on my lap tighter.
"She was my world, you stole my life from me."
All things I'd heard before, all things I knew to be true. He never let me forget it. He'd sought me out tonight, hiding out in my room hadn't worked as it often did. That only meant he was looking for something to take his grief out on.
"Do you hear me? Are you listening?" He snapped, stepping into my space, gripping my hair to force me to look up at him.
I squeezed my eyes shut, my body trembling, my wolf whining. He shoved me away, he'd wanted a reaction but I gave him nothing. It was always best to give him nothing.
My shoulders hunched, my body curling to make myself as insignificant as possible. Hopefully he would just leave. The smell of alcohol on his breath as he got closer made me gag. It was all the reaction he needed to make him snap.
The back of his hand met my cheek, throwing my whole body onto the bed. My cheek throbbed with the hit that was sure to have another bruise swelling up by morning. My fingers grazed over my aching jaw, tears stinging my eyes and threatening to fall. He hated when I cried, it spurred on his anger and I bit my lip to try and keep the cries in.
"Do I disgust you?" He hissed, "How dare you! Despite the curse you brought on this family, I care for you, do I not feed and keep you clothed?"
"Yes, father." I whispered hoarsely, not moving from the way I'd sprawled out on the bed from the blow he'd given me.
It hurt to talk, my jaw throbbed.
"It should have been you. We should have lost you, not her."
I nodded my agreement. I wished it had been me too. Suddenly the blows were coming faster than I could react. He dragged me to the floor, his booted foot hitting my stomach. I gagged again, releasing the contents of my stomach onto the floor. He kicked the same spot again, a loud crack as my rib snapped echoing through the room and I screamed...
Nobody ever heard.
Nobody ever came.
My scream echoed around the bedroom, my body jerking up from the tangle of the sheets. My cheeks were wet with hot and still falling tears, my body reeling from the nightmare of dredged up memories. My hand rubbed over my rib, he'd broken it that night, I'd lay unable to move on my bed as it healed for over a week. None of the pack had noticed that I hadn't left the house and my father had made his excuses as to my absence.
Sobs tore from my lips, even as I tried to muffle the sound behind my hand, teeth biting into soft skin.
A knock at the door had me holding my breath, for a moment I was lost in the past, expecting my father to come barging in.
A sharp exhale from me.
Quillan's voice only had the pain gripping my heart spike. I didn't have to worry about silencing my cries now, I was barely able to suck in enough air to breathe. I could see his shadow in the small gap beneath the door but I dared not let him know I was awake. I didn't want him close to me when I was like this, I didn't want him to see that I was weak. Waiting until I heard his sigh then his footsteps move away, I curled back under the blanket, tugging it over my head.
I wouldn't go back to sleep, fear keeping me from being able to relax enough. My eyes were swollen and every time I blinked it felt like sand paper from crying so hard. My wolf paced restlessly in the bounds of my mind, growling protectively even though there was nothing I needed saving from. She wanted out, and I decided to let her.
I shoved the damp blankets from me and got up carefully. My legs trembled beneath me and I stood still for a moment, taking deep breaths to calm myself down.
Padding barefoot from the room and down the stairs, I avoided where I knew a floorboard creaked. If there was one thing I was good at, it was keeping as quiet as a shadow. I traipsed through the halls like a pale ghost.
The sky was a dark blue through the windows, lighter on the horizon with the palest of yellows seen through the gap in the trees. The sun would begin to rise soon but nobody would notice if I was missing from breakfast.
Looking around to make sure I was definitely alone, I dropped the nightgown from my body. The air was icy cold now that winter had arrived, there was frost on the grass and small puddles had frozen over. I found myself shivering, goosebumps appearing over pale skin. My body trembled as I gave into my wolf, my body hitting the ground in a blur of white fur. I shook myself out, letting instincts take over as I darted towards the trees.
The flurry of sounds assaulted my senses, distracting me from the dark thoughts of my memories. It was easy to forget when I gave my fur her control. Her thoughts were all instincts, black and white. We followed the now familiar paths through the silver birches and huge oak trees until I was thoroughly worn out. I was deep in the heart of pack territory now, nothing could hurt me here.
I collapsed to the frosty ground, my tongue hanging out as I panted heavily. Snow began to fall, small white flakes that melted quickly as they hit the ground. It wasn't quite cold enough for it to stick yet. Thoughts started to turn in my head again and I quickly got back to my feet, determined to wear myself out until I passed out from exhaustion.
The scent of deer caught my attention and I was licking my jaw before I even realised I was hunting. My paws made little sound, managing to dodge the crunch of fallen leaves. The trail lead me a little closer to the edge of the border, enough to make me a little nervous. Just over the crest of a small hill, my prey awaited.
A mother and faun were grazing peacefully, no sign of the rest of the herd. Fur brushed against the undergrowth and the mother lifted her head, big doe eyes searching her surroundings, ears twitching around. I stilled, lowering myself further.
My wolf was a patient hunter, she had no qualms about waiting stock still until the deer believed there was no danger again. I just had to hope the wind continued to blow in my favour, keeping my scent from them both. The faun trailed a little further from its mother's side and closer to where I hid. It was completely unaware, not bothering to check it's surroundings, trusting it's mother to keep it safe.
I took a slow step, my shoulders rolling before I pushed myself forward. The faun had no time to react before I was jumping, fangs clamping around its neck, my weight bringing it down. Long legs kicked out with dangerous hooves that caught my side but ignored the pain, clamping my jaws down harder. The doe knew there would be no helping her faun and ran, leaving me to devour my meal. The faun stopped kicking out, laying limp beneath me.
Focusing on tearing the meat off, taking the bits I wanted, I lay down to eat. I still paid attention to my surroundings, my ears flicking towards any sound that seemed too close. I was being overly cautious, I knew that. Roarke had his borders constantly patrolled and the only wolves around were those in the pack. It was early, only the wolves assigned to early patrols would even be out of bed at this time. I'd memorised their rounds, it made it easier to go for runs without the chances of running into anyone.
My body thrummed with a sudden awareness. Someone was near. I rose to my feet, the urge to flee far stronger than any instinctual need to protect my kill. I danced on my paws, struggling between the cowardice of my skin side and the growing confidence of my fur. The pack knew I was skittish and they very rarely bothered or acknowledged me, so why would one dare to creep so close?
A warning growl left my lips before I could help myself, giving one last warning in the hopes the wolf would turn away. Quillan's wolf appeared through the thick undergrowth and I suddenly wished I'd decided to run after all. Dark eyes considered the dead faun and then me. Learned reactions told me to shrink down, to duck my head, tuck tail and let him take what he wanted, but a newfound strength had my wolf ignoring my nature. Ears pinned back against my head, lips peeled back to bare fangs. I had taken down the prey, nobody would eat from it until I had taken my fill and given permission.
Quillan sat a few metres away from the faun, his tail thumping the ground in a completely relaxed way. He was showing me he was no threat, that he meant no harm. Slowly, I lay back down, still wary with my eyes never leaving him as I ate.
Had he followed me? And if so, why? There was no other reason Quillan would be up so early and just happen to come across me.
At least if he had followed me, he'd respected me enough to let me hunt by myself, to give me some space. I wasn't sure anyone else would think I'd be so capable, but it was something I'd had to learn since my father hardly ever kept food in the house and I'd had no way of buying any. Forcing myself to become a hunter had been the only way to survive.
Quillan crept forward, his body low to the ground. I froze. His actions were completely submissive to me, something I didn't even think Quillan was capable of. He wanted to eat with me and as long as he kept some distance, I would allow him to. He tore off meat from the fauns belly and dragged it closer to me. My teeth bared again, a small rumble of warning rolling from my chest. He stopped, flopping down to eat facing me. His tail continued its rhythmic thump against the ground. At least one of us had managed to relax.
We ate of my kill peacefully together.
The beauty of the forest unfolded with the sun that rose slowly. Light hit leaves, their colours bursting out in shades of fire. I took time to admire it. The feel of Quillan's eyes on me drew my attention back to him. The sun brought out the array of colours in his fur. At first glance his fur was shadow black, but under the morning orange glow, it was a rainbow of dark brown, black and inky blue, like ravens feathers.
I wondered what I looked like next to him. I was taller than Cathwulf by a few inches, even in wolf form, but far less built, lacking any mass of muscle. I was the day to his night in every way. Where Quillan was tanned skin and dark hair, I was pale and light of hair. Even my fur was a mix of light grey and white with only small flecks of darker grey that gave away my northern wulver ancestry. My lineage hailed from the tundras of Finland. I couldn't tell where Quillan's family originated from.
An amused chuff left the object of my scrutiny and I was embarrassed that I had been openly staring at him. I ducked my head, finishing the meat that lay at my paws.
I was glad he was there, distracting me from earlier thoughts. My father and his cruelty disappeared from my head as Quillan stole all my attention.
His head cocked to the side, one ear flopping over in a way that made him look more like an adorable puppy rather than a fearsome Wulver. My wolf urged me to my feet and I let her take over. She was showing her interest in him without care and I let her. Quillan stayed still as a statue as my wolf studied him, her teeth nipping by his ear. He let out a playful growl, jumping to his feet. I stilled, unsure of his gestures, part of me trembled with fear while my wolf told me he was playing, that we should play too.
I watched, studying his relaxed nature. Still unsure, I lowered my front, a small show of fang peeking from behind lips. I yipped as he suddenly jumped froward, almost knocking into me before he was dancing away again. Amusement and excitement bloomed, my eyes watching Quillan spin around and jump towards me again.
Just as I was about to join in, finding some sense of bravery from deep within, he paused. He took on a more serious pose, growls tumbling from his lip. His ears were flicking about, searching for something I couldn't sense. Excited butterflies that had fluttered in my stomach turned to moths of dread that twisted around.
I trailed a little closer to the big bad wolf's side, knowing he'd keep me safe. My eyes scanned the trees, trying to spot some sign of what he was trying scare away. I saw and scented nothing but that only made me more nervous. My slim body brushed against the muscled form of Quillan's wolf and he turned his body protectively in front of mine.
A loud snapping of twigs had a flurry of crows flying into the sky, their caws echoing eerily in the air.
Suddenly Quillan's head was pushing into my side, urging me back the way I had come. I was too scared to move, suddenly my instincts were going wild, screaming at me that we shouldn't have left the house, that my father was right and I couldn't take care of myself. Why had I left to go hunting by myself? What had I been thinking?
Quillan growled dangerously at me, snapping teeth near my face and setting my defensive instincts off. His dominance beat against me, making me cower and do as he bid. The change in him terrified me, though some small part told me he would never hurt me, I couldn't help my reaction to his show of fang. I skidded in the mud as I dug my claws into the ground, running back to the house.
The world blurred around me. Adrenaline rushed through my body, making me run faster than I even thought I could. Relief flooded through me as the house came into view and the sound of Cathwulf's voice drifted outside.
Panting heavily, I stopped at the door. My legs collapsed under me and I lay with trembling limbs exhausted from having pushed myself so much. I morphed back after catching my breath and pushed myself to my feet. Gently twisting the door handle, I peered into the hall, making sure it was empty before tiptoeing inside.
Cathwulf and Roarke were in the kitchen and the strong smell of coffee had me scrunching my nose. There didn't seem to be anyone else in the house and I wondered if they'd arranged to have breakfast alone today. Pausing by the door of the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of them. Roarke was standing behind Cathwulf as she made drinks, his hands resting on her swollen belly, his lips pressed against her neck. They looked so happy together, even while doing such a simple task. Cathwulf's lips were turned up in a smile, her body leaned back to press against her mate.
My wolf craved to have this, to have a mate, and how I dreaded it ever happening. Deciding to give the couple their privacy, I slipped past and carefully climbed the stairs back to my room where I collapsed on the messy bed. My fingers ran through tangled blonde hair and I let my breath out in a heavy sigh.
Confusion clouded me as I thought back on what had happened earlier. Why had Quillan's mood changed so drastically? Why had he come after me in the first place? And most importantly...
What was out in the woods?