Sometimes, as she slept on thick branches of tall trees, Tana could hear her alpha's final words to her in the wind.
"You can run, but every time you feel safe I'll be there. I'll always be there. I live to chase you, Tana. You'll never escape me."
That was six months ago. She had started to think that he had said that to her on purpose, to scare her into going back. To plague her mind and make it impossible for her to sleep. In a way, he had succeeded.
Now, stumbling through unfamiliar territory, she realized that she would never escape if she couldn't get him out of her mind. It didn't matter, though. If he didn't get to her first whoever owned the territory she was walking through would. Her wolf didn't like her previous pack, which was understandable, but now she no longer wished to move. And with her feet stuck in imaginary cement, Tana couldn't help but listen.
The wind blew through the leaves quietly, cooling the sweat that had begun to collect on her collarbones and the back of her neck. Her hair was twisted into a thick bun atop her head, tipping to the side slightly due to the mere volume of it all. When it was let loose, her brown waves hung down to her navel. The Blood Wolves had never allowed her to cut her hair.
Eventually, after standing wrapped in the caress of the wind, her wolf gave control back to Tana, allowing her to move once again. Tana tried not to look too far into her wolf's actions, as most of them stemmed from primal instincts that Tana was no longer in tune with. In fact, she wasn't quite sure how in tune she was with her wolf at all. However, it didn't matter at that moment. The two of them had a common goal; to survive. So regardless of whether they worked together or not Tana was a bit more confident that they could make it out of this territory alive.
Judging by the heavy, sweet scent in the air, she had finally crossed into Dark Wolves' territory. They were the second largest pack in the area, the first being the Blood Wolves. Dark Wolves and Blood Wolves had been at war ever since Fraiser Davids, the current alpha's father, had killed the Dark Wolves' Luna. It was supposedly before she had the chance to bear an heir, which forced the Alpha to mate with a female who was not his mate for the good of his pack. That alpha had never been the same since.
Tana didn't know much about mates, but she knew from stories and others in her pack that the bond between mates was stronger than anything else. And, if that bond were to be broken, it is almost like losing half of your being in the process. It all seemed ridiculous to Tana, but perhaps that was because she didn't have a mate. Then again, that was better. The whole idea of having a mate seemed overrated.
As she threaded through the bushes and plants, Tana made a point to keep smelling the air for any sign of another wolf. Alas, no matter how hard she tried to find someone, there was nothing, which struck her as quite odd. That same thick, sweet scent seemed to mask everything around her, making it nearly impossible to smell anything else. It was starting to make her feel rather light-headed.
Some packs, usually smaller ones, hid their scents with mud and leaves. However, she wasn't in a small pack territory. The Dark Wolves were the neighbouring pack to the Blood Wolves. They were also only a smidge smaller. Which meant that they had no need to hide their scent; only a fool would cross into their territory without permission. Tana supposed that made her a fool then.
Regardless, she continued through, wincing every time a branch reeled back and smacked her across the cheek or stomach. Her clothes were made up of whatever she could steal from human towns without being caught.
With a grunt, she pulled herself into a taller tree with less foliage so that she could see the approaching meadow and see if it was safe for her to cross. She had only ever heard about the Dark Wolves in stories, never encountered them herself. So she had no clue where their main packhouse was and whether she was stumbling right into their jaws by stepping into the meadow.
Tana was born to be a scout but trained as a vicious warrior. She was thin and small and quick but absolutely brutal in battle. Her stature gave her the element of surprise, which many wolves had fallen victim to. However, the Dark Wolves were born and bred as soldiers. She had no idea if she could hold her own against more than one of them.
"Blake, I smell something. Come over here," a voice called from her right. They were close, but not close enough that Tana could see them. She quietly shifted closer to the trunk of the tree and narrowed her eyes. These wolves were quite clearly much smarter than she had originally thought. If they could go undetected and get that close to her, she had no idea how many more were around that she just couldn't see or smell. So, she stayed still. From where she was, she could safely jump down and make a break for it. But they hadn't seen her yet. So she decided to wait.
After a few moments, a lanky blonde man stepped into Tana's vision. He looked around her age, maybe a year or two older, and walked with the kind of authority a beta or delta would have.
"It's strong but I can't see anything," the blonde said just as another, far bulkier man stepped into place beside him. This one had black cropped hair and had a gruesome scar running over his left eye and stopping just at his jaw. He looked menacing, and that was hard to get Tana to admit.
"It's a female. She's got to be around here somewhere," the bulky man said, his gaze whipping around sharply. Tana held her breath. They didn't look stupid, so it was only a matter of seconds before they looked up. She had to do something and she had to do it now. So, in an instant, she grabbed her shoulder bag from where it sat on the branch next to her, slipped it quietly over her head, and made a running leap out of the tree. The moment her feet hit the ground a sharp pain shot up her legs from the impact, but she took off running despite the pain. She had made it this far and she wasn't about to give up now.
They pursued her almost instantly, like trained hunters (why was she surprised? They were most definitely trained hunters) at a speed Tana wasn't sure she could beat. She was far too tired to shift, so she stayed on foot, trying desperately not to trip on debris as she burst into the sunny meadow, squinting as she tried to get used to the brightness.
"You can't get away, bitch!" One of them snarled, but Tana didn't dare look back to see who. Her legs felt like gelatine. She hadn't realized until that moment the physical toll her time in the woods had taken. It was fucking painful.
If she stopped, she would die. But she was so, so tired. Her legs had completely given up on her. She could have, in a pinch, begged for her life. But a Blood Wolf never begged. Even if she wasn't one anymore, she would never beg.
So instead she turned around, threw her arms up, and smirked at them.
"You boys have stamina. Women really like that, you know," she said, earning a warning growl from the one with the scar. She instantly regretted her retort when the blonde knocked her to the ground and pinned her arms behind her back, keeping her from moving even an inch.
"You're in no position to be smart mouthing us," the blonde snarled, to which she rolled her eyes.
"What are you? A rogue? Why are you here?" The bulky one said, stepping closer, to which she let out a warning growl, only to have her face pushed harder into the dirt.
"I guess you could call me a rogue. And I'm just passing through. Trust me, I wouldn't stay here longer than I need to. Just let me go and I will be on my merry way," Tana spat, testing the blonde's grip on her arms, seeing if there was any wiggle room to potentially try to fight her way out. Alas, her squirming only prompted her captor to tighten his hold.
"That's not how we do things here. You can either come with us and answer to our alpha, or you can bleed out in the grass here," the bulky one said.
Tana pretended to look like she was debating her options but ultimately rolled her eyes. "Well, I've got nothing else on my schedule. Go ahead and slit my throat, big boy," she huffed. If the blonde tightened his grip any more she was sure her wrist would snap like a twig.
"Any rogue, foolish or intelligent, would be shitting themselves right now. So you're no rogue, are you?" the bulky one commented, narrowing his eyes at her.
"Who cares? Am I going to bleed out now or not?" Tana hissed, trying to kick out against the blonde who snarled back at her.
The bulky man smirked, turning to the blonde, who raised a questioning brow.
"We're going to give you two minutes to run once you get into the forest. After those two minutes, we will come after you. If somehow you manage to get away, you can leave without any more trouble. But if we catch you, you're the official prisoner of the Dark Wolves. It's a little game we usually play with rogues. Gives our apprentices some up-close training. Deal?" The bulky one said with a smug grin on his face.
Tana was almost completely sure that this was some kind of trap, but it was a trap Tana could get out of. Those wolves may have been faster and stronger than her, but she was smaller, which meant she could hide and get places they could not.
She narrowed her eyes at the brute just as the blonde let her up. "What kind of trick are you playing at?" She huffed, brushing herself off as she took a step back, eyeing the male suspiciously.
"There's no trick. It's just a fun test. You could just surrender now and face the consequences," the blonde added, cocking an eyebrow at her as the two of them stared her down. Tana frowned, taking one glance towards the forest before returning her gaze to the males.
"If I get away you'll leave me be?" She asked. The two of them nodded, gesturing towards the forest as if to prompt her to go. Letting out a sigh, Tana nodded in agreement. The two males smirked at each other as she began to turn towards the forest. Something about the look they had made her uneasy, but this was the only shot at freedom she had left.
Tentatively, Tana took a few steps back and sniffed to make sure no one was behind her. Once she decided the coast was clear, she headed for the forest. Once she was just at the edge, she stopped and turned to look at the two males, who were standing still just where she had left them, staring at her.
With a deep breath, Tana tightened the strap on the bag and shot into the woods.
Tana spent the two minutes masking her scent with leaves and dry dirt. By the end, she smelled like the forest floor, but that was good for her, especially since she had taken to the trees the moment the males burst into the forest.
She kept moving, using the direction that the wind was blowing in to choose which way she went so that the movement of the leaves wouldn't be as suspicious. They weren't exactly close to her, but given their speed from before that could change within the blink of an eye. So she kept her movements slow and careful, praying to whatever goddess existed that they wouldn't get her.
Her mother had always told her that to be small and fast was the ultimate advantage. As a pup, Tana had thought that she was just being silly. Because of course being strong was far better than being small. Though, in that moment, trekking through the trees, Tana thought her the smartest woman alive.
Overhead, birds chirped and fluttered over the leaves. A few squirrels darted out of her way as she moved, but that wasn't what was spiking Tana's nerves. Everything else went quiet, which could not be a good sign, especially since she was still in the Dark Wolves' territory.
Just as she moved to grasp another branch, she felt a sharp prick at the back of her neck. From that prick coursed a cool, calm feeling through her neck. Reaching behind her she grasped the foreign object, which appeared to be a small bullet-shaped device with a thin, sharp needle on the end that had a clear liquid dripping from the tip.
As her limbs began to feel that same cool sensation, she realized that she was beginning to feel heavier by the moment. She growled and half-climbed, half fell out of the tree, trying her best to stumble away once she hit the floor. But her gaze was already beginning to get hazy, her mind the same.
The burly man stepped into view, what she assumed was a smirk on his face as he watched her drop to her knees, his arms folded across his chest.
"What the fuck did you do to me?" She snarled, bracing her hands in the dirt as she tried to stay awake. Her eyelids felt like they had weights attached to them, dragging them further down with every passing second.
"A minor tranquilizer. I never said we wouldn't cheat to catch you," the man snickered. Tana tried to growl, but she could only muster a half-hearted groan as she slumped to the ground, her eyelids finally sliding shut.
However, the darkness that embraced her was the most comforting she had felt in a while