In The Shadows

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Six

My sixteenth birthday was a hard day for me. While most wolves finally could shift skins, I still had nothing. I knew that by wishing, that by hoping I was only shooting myself in the foot. I was going to be disappointed no matter what, but I couldn't help but pray that the next day would be the day it would all happen.

On the bright side, Coda was still training me, regardless of my inability of shifting into a wolf or having any wolf skills what so ever. I think that day nearly five months ago helped. When Coda learned of the damage I had done he had taken me out for ice cream. While any other master would have probably scolded and punished their apprentice for harming another pack member, Coda was thrilled with my show of skill. From that day forward he allowed me to spar with the other apprentices. I won as often as I lost, which Grey said was impressive all things considered. Coda on the other hand, wasn't so satisfied.

During our one on one sessions he started correcting my form and giving me tips, but one thing he instructed me to do was a wrong choice. I had to figure out what it was by myself which often took me several times of kissing the ground before I figure it out. Sometimes I needed to use an upper cut instead of a left hook, or I needed to lead with my left foot rather than my right. I was getting better at it, faster through practicing things time and time again. My brain worked fast and deciphering alignment and calculating speed, strength and range.

I slammed my fist on Coda's chest, he didn't even flinch. He stepped back and glared down at me. "What did I tell you?

I sighed and lightly pounded my fist on my forehead. "The quickest way to the heart is through the fourth and fifth rib."

"So why did you hit me between the third and fourth?" He demanded.

"I couldn't get a clear shot!" I protested. I thought that hitting him was better than nothing at all.

"Then get a clear shot, Cleo, make me expose myself."

"I still hit you! You would have been wounded and I could have made the shot then."

"Maybe." He conceded. The beta's eyes flashed and he took a menacing step towards me, making me take several back in return. "Or maybe your knife would have gotten stuck in my ribs," he advanced another step, "and since the blade didn't pierce my heart, I am still very much alive and able to pull the knife out of myself and use it against you." Before I could even blink, he motioned ripping a dagger from his side and drove the underside of his fist into my chest where I should have struck him. Without removing his fist he stared deep into my eyes. "So maybe you would have killed them, or maybe you would have given them a weapon to kill you." He let his hand drop. "Either way, getting it through the fourth and fifth rib is sudden death ensuring that they cannot kill you." Coda stepped away from me, "Don't take unnecessary risks, Cleo. It will get you killed."

And so my lessons were very much the same. Unless I did it perfect, it wasn't good enough. Close enough wasn't there and gravely injured wasn't dead. I practiced even harder in my free time, sometimes asking Grey if I could practice on him. I had to be perfect or I wasn't worth it in Coda's eyes. As the days progressed I only got better. More often than not, I beat the apprentices but no matter how improved I was, I could never best Coda. Some days I got a few hits in, which impressed him, but that was the extent of it.

Coda took me along on a border patrol one day with the other apprentices when he lost a bet with me. He told me I wouldn't be able to take out Gabe and Sylva at the same time with my sprained ankle. He had done it to teach me a lesson that there was such a thing as over training and I needed to take care of myself and heal before jumping back in. I had refused to miss my practice for the day so he set me up for failure with the two wolves who hated me most. I told him that if I did beat them both he would need to let me on border patrol with him once my ankle healed. He accepted and said that if I lost I would be the only pack member chopping and stacking wood for three weeks. Needless to say I really did not want to do that so I gave everything I had into the fight, remembering all of the cruel things they had said and done to me. I had won, but not without escaping unharmed. So now here I was walking the borders with the other wolves. They were all in wolf form, the apprentices included, using their heightened senses to scent any unwanted presence in our territory.

While they scented for them, I looked for signs like broken branches, pawprints, or tufts of fur that didn't belong to my pack. It had rained yesterday, causing the ground to be mushy, which would be excellent for leaving prints. The other wolves were on edge, but so far we had found no trace of any intruders.

"Coda!" I called out to the grey wolf who stopped and twisted around. I gestured to the ferns that had been trampled. The beta trotted over to me while I removed the ferns to reveal a set of prints. Coda sniffed them and growled. "Not one of ours?" I guessed. He ducked his head in a nod. "There's only one set of tacks, so I'm guessing it's a lone wolf."

Barking sounded from up ahead and in a flash Coda had whirled around and was dashing off in the other direction, leaving me alone as the other wolves followed.

"Okay, I'll be fine!" I called after them. "I'll catch up to you, you go ahead." At this point I sounded ridiculous because I was talking to myself and was really just sulking that they left me behind while they confront whatever, or whoever was over there. I crouched down and traced the prints with my hand. Something was not right. I looked from these prints to the one's Coda had left. The ones before me were much deeper, as if many paws had walked in these.

I cursed under my breath. There was more than one wolf, they had been following in the leader's tracks to disguise their numbers. For all I knew there could be two, but I had a gut feeling that this was a rogue pack looking for a fight. My human nose caught a whiff of a mucky scent, it must have been strong if even I was able to detect it. Or it was because there was a lot of them and they were really close by. But that would mean that they were all right—"Shit!" I exclaimed and jumped up from my position, sprinting in the direction the other wolves had gone. "Coda, there's more of them! It's a trap he's leading you into an amb–" The breath was knocked out of me as I was tackled to the ground, a large form colliding with me. Heat surrounded me as the wolf that attacked me opened its jaws to silence me in a bone crushing bite.

I grasped at its jaws, prying them open and pushing them away from me as it tried to bite. My hands slipped and I twisted my neck to the side, leaving the wolf biting at empty air where my throat had been moments before. I grunted as I freed my arm and punched the wolf in the side of the head. It howled and dug its claws into my shoulder. I cried out and tried to yank the silver dagger from my boot. With the weapon in hand, I plunged it into its rib cage, the sound of burning flesh from the touch of silver filling my ears. The rogue howled in pain and I was able to push it off me, yanking out the dagger and planting it in its skull. I was on my feet in an instant, ripping out the dagger with me. I turned just in time to see a sandy brown colored wolf sailing through the air straight at me. I dropped to the ground pulling my legs to my chest and pushed them out with all my might when the wolf made contact. I sent it flying backwards over me.

I heard the soft thud as it landed on its back on the forest ground. It flailed around getting to its feet. I noticed the slight favoring of its left paw straight away. It growled, raising its hackles and jumped at me. I spun to the side, letting my dagger hand remain outstretch and buried the knife into its neck. The fur around its neck turned black with the sticky red blood that was now flowing from the open wound. With the wolf distracted from the pain, I slammed my weight into its left shoulder, throwing it off balance and smashed the hilt of the dagger on its injured paw causing it to yelp. My dagger drove through its ribs soon after and killed the wolf instantly. Two more wolves had left their cover in the foliage and were now circling me. They planned on taking me together, and I wasn't going to survive if they did. However, I vowed to take one of them down with me. They pounced at the same time, the tawny pelted wolf aiming for my injured shoulder that had been puncture by the first wolf. I was sent crashing onto my other side where the other wolf was waiting.

I did my best to fend them off but my body was getting tired and they were much larger and stronger than the other wolves. As I was crushed to the ground and teeth clamped onto my shoulder, I could see three different wolves come into view. They stood back in the trees a distance away. Their muzzles were bloodied and their coats were speckled with blood like they had just been in a ferocious battle. These wolves weren't normal wolves, in fact they weren't even werewolves, there was something serene about them. The first wolf was a rusty brownish red color, almost like a fox, a coloring I had never seen before on a wolf. Beside it was a tawny and grey colored wolf with two different colored eyes, one brown and the other a milky blue. The third wolf was white and a dusty color a little lighter than the tawny pelted wolf. They were all watching me, none of them moving to help. From behind an even bigger wolf stepped forward. He was black I think, but I wasn't quite sure because his coat was giving off a dark blue sheen. He wasn't navy blue because the color wasn't dull, it was like a midnight blue. I was too wrapped up in deciphering what color it possibly was that I didn't know help was on its way.

A series of enraged howls sounded and I saw paws coming into vision. The heavy weight above me was lifted as the wolf was flung off me. The stampede of paws rushed past me to take on the other wolves. I didn't move from my position, I just continued to look at the odd wolves who were observing all that was happening.

Rough hands were shaking me but I ignored them too entranced with the wolves, the bluish black one in particular. "Cleo, Cleo." The wolf shaking me was calling out my name. "Goddamnit Cleo, respond!"

"Who are they?" I asked and then I blacked out.

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