I felt my claws dig into the soft mulch of mud. I inhaled the forest and listened for movements. Footsteps. I darted forward, my paws sinking into softer mud as I lept onto moss-covered land, slipping a bit before managing to dig my claws in to stop. Alpha Cross of the Macabre Pack showed up in his werewolf form, a giant black wolf. I barked and Alpha Cross shook his head.
“You did better. But you’re a little late on listening. Plus, your running direction’s a little predictable, Luna Auden,” Luna Elair’s voice said. She soon stepped out from behind her mate. I shook my body of the water droplets sticking to my skin and she grinned.
“We have a group ready to spar with you when we get to the packhouse. Celia says she’s got another Bloodvac for you too,” she said as she ran her fingers through her Alpha’s fur.
Alpha Cross nuzzled his head against her protruding stomach. The Luna took off the bag that was slung over her shoulders and tossed it over to me. I caught it with my mouth before I headed towards a thicket of bushes. My bones shrank and re-organized themselves until I returned to my human form. I took the towel Luna Elair had packed in the bag, wiped away some of the water and dirt on my body before I slipped into the t-shirt dress and sneakers she’d packed for me.
“How’s communication with Umbra going?” I asked as I walked into the clearing. Luna Elair sighed.
“Seems the northern packs are facing a bit of trouble with the hounds. They’re manageable still, but goddess knows when that’ll change.”
Alpha Cross barked and I watched Luna Elair. They were linking each other before the Alpha barked at me and I bowed my head respectfully just as he took off.
“He’s off to check on the patrols. We never know when we’ll get hit too,” Luna Elair said.
We walked through the forest together until we made it to the packhouse. It was a large cabin that was nestled deep within the forest. It had large glass windows that oversaw an open area that served as a training ground.
My routine here in Macabre territory consisted of a lot of physical training. If I spent most of my time with the bloodhounds studying and reading up on bloodhounds, I spent most of my time in Macabre training. My physical skills were enhanced - but they weren’t that good. There was only so much I could rely on adrenaline for.
“Any news about the bloodhounds?” I asked.
“Not really. Like you’ve suggested, we’ve started to monitor movements based on Celia’s information about where their base is but it’s hard considering bloodhounds are natural maskers. We’ve asked a friend of ours to help with a little... cheat, magic if you will. But it’s not a guarantee. You actually might want to meet her at some point.”
The two of us walked through a group of werewolves who all bowed their heads in our direction. Luna Elair had announced me as Luna to the Umbra pack as well as a guest. It was still unusual to be treated a little like royalty. Because Umbra was more discreet, the packhouse was almost always empty. Everything that happened in Umbra happened in scattered areas in the forest – and because I wasn’t a werewolf, at least not back then, I had no reason to roam those areas.
Now that I could shift – despite being a bloodhound – I felt more a member of the pack than ever before. Macabre wasn’t a bad place either. Luna Elair was a kind person that was a good trainer. The Alpha, Maddox Cross, was a good man too, though he was quite busy. Luna Elair said that it was because he didn’t want her to get too stressed out while she was pregnant. I’d witnessed their arguments over that for a few weeks now.
“Yes, magic. She’s quite the woman if you meet her. Her name’s Ari, she’s Mikhail’s master,” Luna Elair said as we made our way into the kitchen. She poured out two glasses of water and handed one over to me. I took it gratefully and savored the tang of lemon and the cool sensation that pooled in my stomach.
“Luna Elair, Auden,” Celia’s voice greeted behind me. I turned, saw the bloodvac kit in her hands, and pulled out a stool under the kitchen table.
Celia looked much better now that we were away from her brother. She was smiling more too though there were times when I could catch her on-guard, her facial expressions tense and morose. She took my arm and prepped the vial, tapping a needle into my arm quickly, before withdrawing it and repeating the process. Two vials a day were excessive, but Celia was preparing me for my return to Umbra. I needed to be more than satiated if I wanted to see Lucien without tearing him to pieces.
“Getting used to it?” Luna Elair asked.
“You can say that,” I replied. “So, who am I training with on my last day?”
“My favorite squadron,” Luna Elair said with a grin.
I had changed into some pants a tank top for training. I didn’t bother with any shoes since unlike the werewolves, I could keep partially shifting – not that Luna Elair’s squadron ever gave me a damn break.
I leaped back with my feet transformed into paws, I was able to easily grab onto the ground and skid to a stop. But if I had dodged one person, I had four others to juggle.
“Remember your goal, Auden!” Luna Elair yelled at me from her spot on the patio, “Avoid them and strike. They can handle it!”
I grimaced as I felt my right arm transform and I swiped my claws towards the three members heading toward me. Leaves rustled behind me and I ducked, turning so that my right arm could swipe at them too. They dodged and I forced myself to jump up on my hind legs. I grunted as someone charged into me and slammed me onto the ground. I curled my legs up and used my feet to kick them off me with all my force before I jumped back onto my legs.
“Alright enough!” Luna Elair yelled as she stepped onto the grounds. I shifted my arms and legs back and she sighed as she placed her hand on my shoulder. “Sorry, Auden. But I think it’d be best if you continued using long-range weapons than hand-to-hand.”
“I did better though, right?” I asked and she grinned.
“Definitely. You can’t learn what we all have from ten years in two weeks. But we can get you to a level where you can protect yourself,” she said and I nodded. “For now, Maddox just informed me that we’re ready to bring you back.”
“When?” I asked.
“Tomorrow morning. I suggest you start packing.”