As the sun descended into the earth, I morphed back into the Change as fluidly as a wave merged with the shore.
I was Jane Schwartz one moment. And the next, I was still Jane. But an entirely different version.
We moved in the night in a silent triangle, a tight-knit pack. I traveled close beside Sam, whose dark coat gleamed warmly despite the cold blue of the night. My eyesight was sharp. I had adjusted well to the peaked senses that this new form brought to me. My ears picked up tiny movements up in the boughs of the trees that swayed silently in the darkness. The breaths of the animals. The trees.
Everything was alive.
Adonis was silent from his position at the front, leading us. Paul and Rick moved silently beside me. Rick’s massive maw grazed against my side, briefly, to alert me to his presence. I acknowledged him, blinking my eyes at him in the blue. The others traveled close beside us, our footsteps silent.
We were all restless. Alert.
There was a question that had presented itself the night before, in which we had wandered so aimlessly. We needed purpose. We needed to act. There was old magic within us that had called us there that winter. We were called to protect the tribe, the state, the world.
But protect from what?
I was afraid to ask myself this pressing question as the nine of us moved along the forest floor. It was dampened and slightly icy. My paws treaded seamlessly along it, their thickness shielding me from the cold. Winter was coming. And fast. It wouldn’t be much longer until the snow started falling.
Time passed. We didn’t hunt. We moved deeper and deeper into the forest, into the pressing darkness. But I was not afraid. I was always alert, my eyes darting to every movement, every noise. I was ready.
It hadn’t been long before Adonis turned his eyes up to the sky, stopping us abruptly.
Alarmed, I stayed close to Sam, whose breath whooshed out of him in a silent puff of steam that colored the night.
Why are we stopping? I asked him. Sam didn’t respond. He was facing forward, his body language tense. He was transfixed with Adonis’ every move, their bond charging and crackling in the night.
Something was wrong.
As I sensed this, I could hear the thoughts of the others, the mangled sentences that formed in their minds. No one knew what was going on. I could feel a certain energy about us all, a restlessness that could only be cured by some climactic end.
I could feel the crescendo rising, the same feeling that I had gotten days before my life as I knew it had changed forever.
Adonis’ golden eyes could be seen as he turned his body, facing all of us. We were stopped in a heavily wooded area that I didn’t recognize. I could sense in my changed mind how far away the safe house was.
We were in unfamiliar territory.
Listen all. Adonis’ alpha voice boomed above the others. We all fell silent. Our breath steamed from us in the night. I could hear my heart beating wildly beneath my massive ribcage. A prickle of fear jolted up my spine, spiked within my blood.
Sam breathed beside me. He was silent. Stoic. I didn’t dare look to him, for the alpha commanded my absolute attention.
Those topaz eyes lingered on mine. For a split second, the sharp memory of those same eyes staring at me from across my backyard raced across my mind.
As some of you may have gathered, something is changing. You may have felt it in the air. Or seen it in a dream.
Startled, I recalled the frightening dream I’d had about the silver eyes and the darkness. I shivered. What was Adonis getting at?
The others didn’t move. None of us did. Even the wind seemed to cease its blowing, the birds to stop their rustling. Something was gathering in the air. I could sense it with everything in me.
His voice boomed. There are strange and dark forces at work. They stir even now, waiting for the opportunity to strike. To join with the world once more.
I shivered again, my heart pounding. What was he going to say? What were these dark forces?
Again I thought of Halona’s strange visit to the safe house. With my mind racing, I recalled a distant memory of a conversation that I’d had with her soon after I had first met her. She wasn’t supposed to be allowed to the safe house. Only members of the pack could enter on normal occasions.
So what had constituted an abnormal occasion?
These dark forces that stir are a direct threat to us, and they are to be treated as such. They aim to end us as a people, as a race. They target our tribe. Our territory. They must be stopped.
Those eyes burned with such an intensity that I felt my pulse jump. This was serious. So beyond serious that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend such a threat.
Aimless wandering would have been better than encountering whatever Adonis was describing.
I felt the chilling seriousness in the air, and I knew that this was not what had been expected. There had been talk of evil spirits. Threat to the tribe. Protection. But I had never anticipated something of the caliber that Adonis was describing. Wiping us out as a race? Looking around, we all seemed so strong. Unbreakable. Powerful.
But then, I wasn’t so sure.
Sam’s paw touched against mine. Our bond flickered between us, a temporary warmth surging through me. I didn’t take my eyes off of Adonis, listening on with fear striking in my heart.
These beings that seek to annihilate us have been present before. Long ago. But none of us have ever encountered them. Only the ancients know them.
His intensity never wavered.
In the past, we have encountered evil and defeated it. And our strength as a pack has only grown, in brawn and number.
Adonis looked at me, and I bowed my head under his pressing gaze. I felt the immensity of what he was saying. It struck me deep, cutting through me like a blade. This was life or death. Dark or light. Evil or goodness.
This was everything.
Sam’s breath continued to steam in the chilled air, and he moved closer to me, his presence a welcome comfort. The topaz of Adonis’ gaze lit up the night, drawing all of us to it like an anchor. He had become the center of us.
The bearer of a prophecy.
It seems that this growth in number has occurred for a reason. There was a collective pause. Adonis seemed to gather himself. For a fleeting moment, I could sense the slight cracking of his stony demeanor, his presence of power. He was afraid. This struck me, and I felt my own fear building within me, confining me.
I have received word that ancient evil spirits have begun to resurface. They have escaped from the spirit world and trespassed into mortal forms in the earthly realm.
The cracking of his demeanor subsided, a raw power taking over, his full alpha aura glowing about him, instilling in us an expectation of action. The forest was alive around us, the night sky enclosing unspeakable things. I looked on, my heart in my breath.
The u-so-nv-I will come for us. And we will be prepared to meet them.