In the Shadows of Dryden

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Chapter 21 - Tracking a Ghost

The entire night and half of the day had already gone by without any luck in finding the elusive Ghost but he kept stubbornly moving his big paws swiftly through the various obstacles on the forest ground.

From time to time, he would lift his nose to sniff the air or stop to check the trees and the ground. He didn’t care how long he had to spend in Kodoku’s forest to find that one vampire. The day-walker, as his own kind called him.

He had lost track of where he was when he came across a building structure. The air had a strange smell to it and the heavy fog made it hard for him to better see what kind of structure it was. Circling it seemed like the best alternative for the moment for both man and wolf. And so, he began following the greenish stone walls.

The building structure had crumbled down in certain places, where he could visibly see the pieced and bits of it on the ground around it. Whatever happened for it to crumble, had happened a long while ago. Vegetation had taken over the debris, growing left and right, without any restriction.

As he came around one side of the walls, he found an opening in the stone wall with something colorful shining inside it.

‘This is quite weird, isn’t it, Rick?’

‘Indeed! Makes me wonder what is making all those colors inside of an abandoned…’ They looked around the exterior of the building, now that the fog seemed to have lightened up a little, they could see what it was. ‘... castle?!’

Without thinking any further, they stepped inside the opening. They squinted their eyes, forcing them to get accustomed to the different colored rays of lights around them.

‘Colorful stones?’ Asked Vrejh, yet Rick was already shaking his head no.

‘Those are gemstones.’ They looked around the place. The room was totally trashed. The once lush, expensive furniture was broken, trashed, the walls were dirty, smeared with blood and some black goo. The only thing beautiful in that room was those shiny gems reflecting the flickering dying light of a moonstone that hang from the broken ceiling.

‘Pink quartz, Lapis lazuli, cat’s eyes…’ They walked past the gemstones, looking left and right in awe. ‘Rubys, emeralds…’ The wolf stopped in front of it finding it so bizarre to have so many different gemstones located in a single room when they wouldn’t normally be found together in nature. It was an overstatement to say they were brought to this room. It was obvious, too obvious!

‘Let’s get out of here, Vrejh. I don’t have a good feeling about this place.’

The wolf answer with a mental nod, moving back to the opening. Something in this place didn’t feel right nor safe. There was a permanent dark aura in the air that he couldn’t distinguish.

Once outside, they sprinted away from the run-down castle. That place gave them an unpleasant eerie feeling.

“Alpha, we just got a report! The Ghost was spotted somewhere in Witche’s forest.”

His large paws dug violently into the ground, bringing him to a sudden stop. It wasn’t because of the mind-link itself but the actual report. Knowing where he was was definitely better than to try to find him.

“Witche’s forest? What the hell is he doing there?”

“Hum… I’m not sure?”

“It was a rhetorical question, Lee.” Vrejh glanced around, It just dawned on him that the forest was unusually quiet.

‘Rick, the forest…’ Began Vrejh, stopping mid-sentence.

‘I know, Vrejh. It’s too quiet.’

“Rick…”

“Lee?”

“We got a problem!”

“What problem? Say it already and quit with the mystery. I’m not in a friendly zone here!”

“Right… Cedric is badly hurt. He’s on his family farmhouse at the moment waiting for Dr. Erik to come to check on him.”

“Cedric? What happened to him? He’s one of our strongest teen-wolves.”

“Yeahh, well… He’s the one that sent the report. He was in a fight with the Ghost himself!”

“WHAT??? What do you mean? What happened?”

*Snap! Rustle, rustle!*

Vrejh’s head snapped toward the direction of the sound, he was sure that he’d seen something move in his peripheral vision. Could it have possibly been an animal?

“Seems as our favorite teen decided to go out on a date with his girl, Claire. I don’t know the specifics but apparently, the Ghost got pretty worked out when he saw them together. They ended up fighting.”

“Wait… Claire?”

*Rustle, rustle, rustle*

Again, Vrejh turned to check on it, keeping his nose up to smell the air while he looked around the place. ‘Rick…’ He called to his human.

“Yes, Claire. Why? Do you know her?” Asked Lee through the mind-link.

‘Rick!’ Called Vrejh again.

“Yes and no. Doesn’t matter anyway. Keep me in the loop, I’m gonna try to intercept this Ghost. Let’s see what he h...”

As abruptly as the mind-link had connected, it was closed, bringing Richard to focus on the same thing that his wolf has been trying to tell him.

‘Fuck, Rick!’ Vrejh managed to dodge the monstrous claws trying to cut him in half. It took Richard a second to get himself situated and realize what was happening around them.

‘You closed the mind-link!’ Screamed Rick at Vrejh right before they heard the thundering roar around them.

*ROAAAAAAAAR*

Vrejh sprang towards a nearby tree, jumping to its trunk and doing a back-flip right as the dripping jaws of a grizzly werebear were about to snap shut on his neck. He landed right behind the grizzly and without losing his momentum, he threw himself forward in an attack of his own, biting on the grizzly’s back.

*GRROOOW ROAAAAR*

The grizzly werebear was truly a giant even compared to an alpha werewolf and what they lacked in humanity, they made up in strength and speed. Werewolves rarely if ever ran across a grizzly, since they didn’t tend to live in the same area as one another so as soon as Vrejh bit the grizzly’s back, he got a paw swipe on his flank and was thrown against a tree.

Vrejh felt slightly disoriented but shook his head as he stood. Standing his ground, he growled ferociously, letting all of his alpha aura unravel. Neither he nor Rick knew if that would work to demoralize the grizzly but it was worth a try.

The grizzly turned, coming face to face with the werewolf alpha. His maddening red eyes changed to a normal shade of brown, a telltale sign that his human conscience had come out.

“What is your purpose here? Why do you enter grizzly territory?” The grizzly strident voice resonated in the wolf’s ears.

‘It can talk? What the hell is that?’ Asked Richard.

‘Well, at first, I thought it was a normal grizzly bear but now that it talked, I’m pretty sure it’s a werebear. A grizzly werebear, that is.’ Answered Vrejh.

His enormous paws stepped forward, his teeth were quite visible, especially with the dripping saliva coming from it.

“Your alpha aura doesn’t work on me.” Another paw moved forward as the grizzly let his own aura come out, making Vrejh step backward. The air became heavy almost instantly. “Are you gonna answer my question or should I proceed with my previous plan?”

‘Moon Goddess, now I understand why nobody ever comes to this part of the forest. To think that the Ghost is used to this area is a bit… unnerving.’

‘Rick... do you mind thinking about those things after we save our furs, please?’

Some popping noises sounded from the wolf as he readjusted some bones and structures in his neck so he could speak without completely shifting back to his human form. It was a technique that only a few werewolves were able to accomplish because it required two things. Complete control of his transformation and complete synchronization with his inner wolf.

“I wasn’t aware that this was grizzly territory but I’m only passing through.”

“Your kind doesn’t live in this forest. Why are you here in the first place, then?”

“I’m looking for the Forest Ghost.”

“The Forest Ghost?” The grizzly’s eyes squinted, his paws slightly clawing on the ground he stood. “Why? Are you friends?”

Vrejh scoffed internally. ‘Friends? Right, we have so much love for him that we want to kill the bastard!’

‘Quiet, Vrejh!’

“No, he’s not my friend.”

“What do you want with him then?” The grizzly lifted an eyebrow, watching the wolf’s reaction closely.

“I’m afraid that’s a private matter that I’m not inclined to talking with anybody else other than him, himself. Would you happen to know where he is? The faster I know his location, the faster I can leave your territory and we all go our merry way.”

The grizzly laughed maniacally. “Not friends? Fine, but not inclined to talk and still you dare ask me for information? Do you take me for a fool?!”

His brown eyes suddenly turned back to that terrorizing red shade again and he pounced forward, his front claws and teeth just as ready to rip through the invading wolf’s body.

Man and wolf fused their minds in perfect synchrony. Richard gave Vrejh full reigns, allowing the wolf to act in a fraction of a second, dodging the attack at the last minute. Immediately, he flanked the grizzly, biting him here and there, nibbling on any part possible. He had to be fast and smart if he were to win this fight. So he kept circulating the grizzly, backing away when he got pounced at, just to nibble on whatever defenseless part left open. Hind legs and paws were his priority focus but he took whatever opportunity he got. Although his strategy was efficient, the grizzly wasn’t backing away. Worse, he had caught up to his strategy and began using it against the strategist himself, managing to deliver a clawing or two on the alpha wolf. Red lines of blood rolled down the wolf’s flank and back, where the assailant had landed his attacks.

‘Damn, he’s strong! We gotta imobilize him soon. This isn’t looking good for us in the long run.’ Said Richard.

Vrejh answered with a mental nod, attacking the grizzly. Or did he? The big grizzly pounced, thinking the wolf had done just the same but just as the bear jumped on him, he side jumped on a tree, backflipping on the air and landing over the grizzly’s back. Without waiting for any reaction from the bear, he swiftly clenched his powerful jaws on the thick grizzly’s neck, making sure to inflict as much damage as he could.

The grizzly buckled, trying to get the wolf off his back. When that didn’t work, he rolled on the ground, but the wolf held on to the back of the bear’s neck like his life itself depended on it, and maybe it did.

Just then, something that the wolf wasn’t expecting happened. The bear stood on his hind legs, making the wolf hang on his back and then, violently threw his back and the wolf against a birch tree.

A muffled whimper escaped the wolf but he held stubbornly to the bear’s neck. Both grizzly and wolf had blood dripping down their furs but neither seemed to want to admit defeat. Again, the bear hit his back on the tree, this time though, Vrejh let go before the heavy hit, landing on the ground a couple of meters away. Although tired, he didn’t wait for the bear to regain footing, he charged in, ready to bite the grizzly again. This time, the grizzly was quick to realize the wolf’s plan and swiped his huge paw, connecting on the wolf’s face, throwing him to the ground.

Vrejh tumbled over the ground as he heard the heavy sound of the bear’s paws charging at him. He could feel the blood flow on his face, over his left eye, almost blinding him. He didn’t move, the bear had to be tired too, so he waited until the last second. As the grizzly was about to bite down on his neck, Vrejh kicked the bear on his jaw with his hind legs, disorienting the big beast long enough for him to reposition himself for a counter-attack. He launched himself on the bear’s throat, biting as hard as he could. Blood filled his jaws as it ejected from the bear’s jugular veil. They stumbled to the ground together, the grizzly trashing around. A paw swiped right under the wolf’s right leg.

An unbelievable wave of pain took over Vrejh and Richard’s mind, causing them to loosen the grip of their bite. The grizzly bear was in a berserk mode, trashing left and right with his huge paws. One of those swipes sent the wolf flying against a tree and falling to the ground. The horrible sound of bones breaking filled the silence of the forest. Vrejh tried to stand but his front right leg could no longer support his weight and his hind legs, although not broken, were almost out of strength to sustain his body. Still, using every ounce of willpower he could muster, he stood on his three legs, letting his fourth broken leg hang limp, and glared toward the bear. The grizzly wasn’t in a very good state either. He was visibly dizzy with the amount of blood he was losing.

“You fight well, wolf. I gotta give you that much.”

Neither Vrejh nor Richard answered with proper words, it was futile to spend energy on talking when he could growl, and so he did. He bared his teeth, blood still dripping from his canines. His opponent’s blood.

The grizzly roared back, taking a few heavy steps forward but neither one wanted to be the first one to attack this time. Whoever attacked first could potentially lose if not done properly. Neither opponent could afford to sustain any more injuries.

They slowly tried to flank each other, waiting for an opening, any opening to attack and finish this fight.

Both Richard and Vrejh were well aware that they couldn’t rely on the speed for the final attack. They were a powerful alpha wolf but right now, he was way too tired and weak. Besides, they knew that out of the two, the bear was the one at disadvantage. Sure, the wolf had a limp and could no longer attack with the same speed and precision as before but the grizzly was still losing a lot of blood. Their best tactic was to stall, no matter how tired he was, if they could wait long enough, the bear would most likely fall by himself.

“Why aren’t you attacking, wolf? Are you too tired, too hurt?”

The bear’s voice sounded more slurred now. He was definitively getting weaker by the second, and yet he kept on taunting.

‘Isn’t he afraid of dying? Taunting us instead of trying to leave for help?’

‘He’s a grizzly, he might be blinded by his berserk features.’ Answered Vrejh.

Suddenly, the grizzly charged with all he had left, claws, and teeth at the ready.

Vrejh stood in the same place, he would take this bear head on this time, he no longer had the energy to dodge or the speed to counter-attack. No, he was an alpha and if he was going to die, it would be in battle and not trying to run away from a fight. He watched as the grizzly approached, how his movements went from sure steps to languish ones. His eyes started to widdle, almost closing by themselves, his body no longer irradiated strength and pride. A few steps from reaching the wolf, the huge grizzly came to a stop, staring at the wolf.

There was no more talk in between them, they already knew who had won this fight. One paw came forward for another step but the grizzly had no energy left in him. He had lost too much blood, lost too much time flanking this darned wolf. He stumbled but caught his balance for a moment, giving one last stare at the wolf in front of him. His red eyes turned to the brown shade again as its shine began to leave him. Then, he collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud and a last roaring sigh.

The wolf’s head lowered in respect for his opponent before he sighed in relief and turned away to leave, slowly limping out of there.

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