Chapter 4 ~ Superstitions
Wind ruffled my fur, the ground rushing past to the pounding of paws. I was panting hard, my chest beginning to burn with exertion but I pushed myself on. The landscape wasn't anything like the hills and glens I was used to, but it was beautiful in its own way. The land was flatter and the sun seemed to shine more clearly with not a cloud of white to be seen in a sea of blue sky.
My drifted back to shaggy grey wolf that was Lucas and I lengthened my stride when I noticed he'd put a few more paces between us. I refused to lag behind as he set our pace: strong and fast. Paula was grunting and straining to keep up. She couldn't hide her exhaustion, whining and nipping at Lucas' tail in an effort to get him to slow down. But he didn't, and he wouldn't. Lucas was future Alpha to his pack and Paula would run until he stopped.
I felt bad for her. She liked Lucas, I'd noticed that when she'd held herself tall in her fur before we'd set off, moving in the purposeful way a female does to attract the eyes of a male. Lucas had watched her with interest that disappeared when he began to lead the way.
My muses began to burn and I shook my head of thoughts to focus on putting one paw rhythmically in front of the other. Paula's pace faltered slightly and I bumped my bigger body against hers, urging her to keep going. Though Lucas wasn't showing any weakness or sign of tiring, he'd been scenting the air for a while now. Hopefully he was looking for a safe place for us to stay the night. Part of me was annoyed I so willingly followed his lead like a pack wolf but I kept in mind that I was on his father's land, a land I didn't know. Letting Lucas take the lead was the smart thing to do.
Trees began to grew fewer and the smell of farmland stronger. The sudden blare of a car horn had my ears twitching to the left. I could make out houses in the distance and the rumble of car engine slowly disappearing. So this had been what Lucas had been searching for, not a place to rest after all. I was grateful at least that the town we were approaching slowed our pace, allowing me to catch my breath. The scent of cooking chicken filtered towards me and my stomach growled angrily. Lucas swung his head towards me, amusement in his wulven eyes.
I huffed, letting my tongue loll out as we crept closer to the verge and the pothole filled road before us. The town was small, with ancient looking, red brick buildings and storm shutter painted in a rainbow of colours.
Muscles rolled, ready to slip through this place as quickly and quietly as possible. It was a surprise when Lucas and Paula simply started walking across the road in plain view of any humans milling about. I scrambled to catch up with them when my senses had returned. Expecting us to make a dart for the forest I could just make out in the distance, the pair instead kept up their calm lope.
The flutter of curtains drew my gaze to a cottage and a small face appeared. I watched as the young boy yelled something that had a couple coming to the window too. The older woman made a strange movement with her hands that the man next to her repeated before quicky tearing the young boy from view and snapping the curtains shut. I pondered on their reaction for a while, confused by what the odd hand signal meant but before I could dwell too much on it, Lucas barked and we were running again.
It was easy to get lost in the baser thoughts of my wolf and I let my nature take over. It helped distract me from the way my body protested at being made to run again.
These great forests reminded me of home a little more. The ground was thick with green foliage, birds tweeting loudly in branches.
Our run slowed to a trot under the shade of great oak trees and I was grateful to finally have the glare of the hot sun off my back. The rush of water that had been quiet at first grew louder and it was only then I realised how dry my mouth was, how tired and hungry I was.
Without waiting on the others, I turned to follow the sound. I was done following Lucas' lead, I was going to drink, hunt, and then sleep until morning whether he planned to or not.
Paula paused in following Lucas then seemed to decide she'd had enough too. I could hear her soft steps following me through the trees. Smug satisfaction filled me when I could hear that Lucas too was following. Jumping over large, moss covered boulders, I made my way to the river's edge and took greedy laps of the cool water. It soaked my aching paws and I waded a little deeper, letting out a contended breath before drinking more. After I'd had my fill, I closed my eyes, letting the power of my shift take over until I stood in my skin.
Stretching carefully as joints popped and muscles ached, I watched Paula and Lucas follow suit.
"I'm pleased you managed to keep up, Fenna," Lucas said, signature grin in place.
I hummed and took a seat on the one of the boulders, letting my feet dangle in the soothing river. "You were testing me and we can only travel as fast as our slowest."
My gaze fell to Paula who had laid back in a grassy patch, still breathing heavily. Lucas shouldn't have pushed her in his eagerness to see how far I could go.
"You didn't think I was pushing her too hard while we were running," he shot back defensively.
Paula's skin had flushed a dark pink but she didn't speak up to defend herself or Lucas.
"I'm not pack and it's not my job to point out your faults. You'll be Alpha one day, you need to think about the Wulvers under your care," I stated. "We should find a place to spend the night. Paula can rest while we hunt."
I wasn't sure where such words had come from, the sudden need to stick up for a she-wolf I didn't know, but I hadn't like that he'd pushed her. I'd set the pace tomorrow.
Lucas didn't say anything for a while, simply frowning down at the ground and I shook my head and turned away. Just as I was about to decide his friendliness was a veil for an arrogant streak, he crouched beside Paula and whispered his apology for not giving her a chance to rest earlier. I watched the tilt of her lips as she smiled, the way her eyes lit up with adoration and immediately felt sorry for her again. Lucas didn't seem to notice how smitten Paula was with him.
She stood slowly and looked around before pointing south. "There's spot about a mile that way. It's near the river for water but sheltered by trees. We'll be safe there."
"We should leave now before it gets too dark," Lucas agreed.
Bracing myself, I let nature take over as I shifted once more back into my fur. I could push myself a mile more, and then again to hunt, but I knew I would sleep deeply and probably wake to aching muscles. A feeling I loved.
We made our way deeper into the trees, keeping the river to our left.
The exhilaration of running through the forest, the scents of animals and old pine trees filling the air, was intoxicating. It was freeing, being so deeply part of nature.
We passed a herd of deer on our way but they seemed unconcerned to see us, as if they could sense we weren't hunting. After the sun began to sink a burning pink beneath the treeline, Paula finally slowed down and yipped as if to say, 'This is the place.'
I wanted nothing more than to collapse onto soft moss and let sleep take me but my stomach was aching from hunger. Bumping into Lucas' grey shoulder, I jerked my head towards where we'd seen the deer. He nodded once and we left Paula to start the fire while we hunted.
I looked forward to taking charge in this. I knew I was a good hunter. When we reached the edge of the eating where the deer were still grazing, a growled a low warning towards Lucas. He snapped his teeth back at me but before he could have the chance to take over, I singled out my prey and pounced, forcing him to follow my lead if we wanted something to eat.
The doe bleated her warning to the herd and they began to run. Gritting sharp teeth together, I used the last of my energy to keep up. Lucas leaped forward, clamping his teeth around the doe's leg until it tumbled to the ground. Digging my claws in, I swerved and bit down on her neck, shaking my head to tear her jugular. Warm blood filled my mouth but my fur relished in the tase.
When Lucas released the does leg and leaned in to take a bite, I jumped. He collapsed under my weight, my teeth nipping at his ear as if he was an unruly pup. Stepping back slowly, I gave him one last rumble before shifting back into my skin.
"This is my kill. We'll drag it back to Paula," I ordered, watching as he shifted too.
He stiffened and I could tell he wanted to disagree. Perhaps I'd wounded his pride as a dominant male. "Very well."
I nudged his shoulder as he picked up the doe's hind legs and he raised a blond eyebrow.
"Cheer up. We'll have venison tonight and you'll get to lead again in the morning," I teased.
He chuckled halfheartedly and we walked back to our makeshift camp in silence. Paula had a fire going and grinned when she saw the deer we'd brought back with us.
Night crept in quickly. The fire burned brightly and turned the dark into dancing shadows. It was cold for mid-summer as we sat in our skin and I'd definitely morph before falling asleep so I wouldn't freeze. Chewing slowly, my thoughts went back to the strange hand motion I'd seen the people in the last town do.
"Lucas," I called out softly, waiting for his brown eyes to turn to me. He grunted his response, still scowling about how I'd told him off earlier and demanded first share of the deer I'd killed.
"In the last town, the people that saw us did this." I did my best to repeat it, touching my forehead before making a small shooing motion.
Paula seemed to shrink in on herself when she saw it, her eyes wide and wary. Lucas put down the venison and he was eating and nodded. "It's supposed to get rid of evil spirits. The humans around these woods are superstitious."
"And for good reason," Paula added quietly.
Lucas chuckled and shook his head. "Surely you don't believe in those stories, Paula."
I could tell she was afraid as she gave Lucas a small glare before quickly lowering her eyes and shrugging. Every country and county had its own myths and legends, superstitions and beliefs. The pack my mother was originally from had a tale of a white horse, a Kelpie that lured people into the River Spey by singing before drowning them.
"They say a creature born of darkness haunts these trees. Much of this areas history has tales of children going missing, their bodies found after a few days or weeks torn apart, drained. A pup went missing in this area many years ago, she was never found." Lucas explained but his voice was low and grave. "But they are just stories. Sometimes people go missing. It happens."
"Was there a pack here when the pup went missing?" I asked.
Lucas made an expression I couldn't decipher. "Sort of."
Frowning, I didn't think he elaborate anymore than that so I stayed quiet.
here was more about this story than either wolf was saying. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like for the human families of the children that went missing only to find their bodies mutilated. Icey fingers stroked along my skin, the cold seeping deep into my bones. I wanted to shake away the feeling but I couldn't seem to get myself move. I didn't want to believe a story like that could be true.
From the way Paula and Lucas had both gone quiet, I knew one thing.
"I don't think you believe they're just stories," I noted, my gaze flicking between them both.
"Even stories have a sprinkling of the truth about them. It doesn't mean there's an evil creature running around the forest," Lucas replied with a small laugh. "Back in those days, humans were more superstitious. Every bad thing from crops failing to deaths was chalked up to witches or the devil."
"But the pup that went missing wasn't centuries ago," I pointed out.
Lucas merely shrugged and finished off another portion of venison.
"Some think she got swept away in the river. Whether the stories are true or not, people are wary of this area," Paula said quietly before laying back.
I absentmindedly nodded my agreement, peeling bark of one of the logs beside me. Suddenly the dancing shadows weren't so comforting as they twisted and morphed into gnarled fingers reaching out into the dark.
"Will your pack not be upset when they realise they can't get in touch with you?" Paula suddenly asked.
Chuckling, I tossed the bark into the fire. I'd left my clothes and phone with Lucas' packmates in Paris. "They're no longer my pack. My uncle I'm sure will throw a fit, but my mother and aunt will calm him down. They understand."
Paula frowned at me. "Were you kicked out?"
"No, I chose to leave. I knew I couldn't travel as freely as I crave to if I was still bound to a pack," I informed her, a smile growing at her aghast look.
I wasn't offended by her confusion; wolves didn't normally choose to leave their packs and wanderers often got a bad reputation. There was no point trying to explain to her what I felt and why I had to do this, she wouldn't understand.
"But you will go home eventually, you'll find a pack again?" Lucas asked from across the fire.
My gaze met the brown of his and I swallowed uneasily before whispering, "Maybe."
Lucas lifted his head, straightening up in a way that made Paula bow her head. I kept my gaze level with his, refusing to bow down to him even as the power of his dominance began to beat against me. It was amusing to see how he tensed at my refusal to submit.
"Wulvers don't do well alone. We're pack creatures. We're meant to be around our own kind. Wanderers often go mad because they live so often in their fur. I'd hate to see you go mad," he remarked gravely.
I bristled. Only weak wolves and those with no humanity to begin with fell into madness like that. I had a firm grasp of who I was, at least I believed I did, I wouldn't allow myself to get lost like that. I looked away first and could feel the satisfaction Lucas got from it.
"If that's my fate, then so be it. I've no interest in pack life right now. We should get some sleep," I muttered, putting an end to the conversation.
Paula shifted where she sat, her body curled in on itself and it was only then I could sense that the feral side of me had been unleashing it's power into the air. I took I feel breath, letting out slowly until I was sure I was in control.
Lucas nodded and flopped back, hands behind his head. He seemed uncaring of the biting wind that had begun to blow. I couldn't help but look at what the fire lit up of his body; my gaze taking in lean muscles, raking lower until I could feel the burn of eyes on me. Lucas was watching. I wasn't embarrassed. I'd had males before, even females, but none had lit that fire of attraction I'd heard described by mated pairs. Or maybe I was being too naive and such a bond didn't exist.
Paula let out a loud snore and my lips twitched at the same time Lucas chuckled. I was glad she interrupted the potentially awkward moment.
"Goodnight," Lucas said, shuffling a little closer to Paula before he lay down properly.
"Goodnight." I rolled onto my side, shifting forms so the warmth of my fur would keep me warm through the night. My hearing was sharper in this form and I couldn't help but imagine the sounds of snapping branches weren't just animals but dark creatures that stole pups in the middle of the night.