My eyes look out across the remnants of the city that had once been called St. Louis. It is now only blackened remains of what use to be with a new city sprouting up in its center. Crumbling buildings scatter across the horizon as vines and trees invade the uninhabited structures. The Arch stands tall, touching the sky, lit only by the blue and yellow lights of Crescent City. However, the landmark is no longer what it had been with a giant chunk missing from the top left side. I wish I would have had the chance to ride to the top before it had been destroyed. In reality, there is a lot of the city I would have liked to see before the Great War.
It has been over twenty years since the war that decimated some of the largest cities on the planet and wiped out half of the population. It's weird seeing and reading about what the world use to be like. The war started when the supernatural community decided they no longer wanted to live in the shadows. It began in Europe before I was born but I was two when the war spread to the states. Everyone began fighting for what they wanted whether it be land, power, freedom, etc. Vampires began feeding on anyone and everyone without worrying about consequences. Werewolves started fighting to expand and protect their territories. Humans turned into hunters. Witches began taking sides. The war spread and soon the whole world had erupted into chaos. I don't remember much about it other than what I've heard or read since I was only three when the fighting finally came to an end. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the earth is much darker now. The entire atmosphere reminds you of death and destruction, of all the lives lost.
Now everyone, at least what is left of them, stick to their own kind. Crescent City is werewolf territory. It is too dangerous to venture outside the city borders now. Small towns got wiped out and have become overgrown. And you never know whose territory you may accidentally cross into. After everything that has happened, no one takes too kindly to strangers and you would likely be unwelcome anywhere you go. It's a shame really. I have always liked the idea of traveling, though admittedly that is when I picture what the world use to be like. Now, it is hard to imagine anywhere being any different than it is here.
I'm sitting perched on the rooftop of an old building. It's my favorite spot to go when I want to get away and find some peace. It gives me the perfect view of what use to be downtown. Remains still litter the landscape, but are broken up by modern skyscrapers that have been built since the war ended. The most prominent is centered among all the others and is several stories taller than the rest. It is owned by the most feared Alpha in the land, Ethan Kane, leader of the Crescent Moon Pack.
Alpha Kane rules the city with an iron fist with the help of his two brothers, his beta, and about fifty lieutenants. His father before him, Seth Kane, is the Alpha that won the city during the war. He was said to be merciless, killing anyone that got in his way on his path to power. He passed his legacy onto his children. Anyone who defies the family always ends up dead. It's just a matter of time.
"I want to go for a run."
I hear my inner wolf beg as I take in a breath of fresh air. The sun is beginning to set and the sky is changing to a light blue and indigo. "We can't. We need to go help serve dinner," I respond to her sadly. A run would be nice. It has been so long since I've let my wolf out.
"After dinner then?"
I smile at her insistence. "We'll see."
Once I've managed to push myself up, I leap over the roofs of a couple buildings before landing on another one. I open the door and hurry down to the first level and straight into the industrial kitchen. "Where have you been this time Lettie?" Jo asks as I hurry to put on one of the long white aprons.
"Oh, you know... the usual places..." I answer her with a mischievous smile causing her to roll her eyes at me. My name is Scarlet, but Jo insists on using the nickname she gave me. Jo is in her sixties and is as tough as nails, but she's the closest thing I have to family. She found me wandering around The Scourge, scavenging for food scraps when I was three. The Scourge is what everyone calls the area that use to be East St. Louis. It is where all the packless wolves live. It is hard to find a pack once you have lost yours. Not only had I lost my pack, but I had just lost my parents when Jo found me. They had died when rogues attacked us shortly after reaching The Scourge. Rogues are werewolves that have been exiled and have lost their humanity from being alone for so long. If those of us who are packless didn't have each other, we would likely turn into rogues as well. Werewolves need some sort of pack environment and social interaction, even if it's not a real pack.
Though the packless don't fit in with rogues, we also can't call ourselves a pack. For one, packless don't have a hierarchy the way that a pack does. Packs are typically ruled by an Alpha and a Luna, depending on whether the Alpha has found or chosen a mate yet. Second in command is the Beta and third is called a Gamma. The weakest wolves in the pack are Omegas, much like a normal wolf pack. Those positions are passed down through families since wolves born within a strong bloodline have more powerful auras that demand respect from lower ranked wolves. It is impossible for lower ranked wolves to disobey direct orders from an Alpha, Beta, or Gamma. The packless has a few more experienced wolves that have taken on leadership type roles, unfortunately there is only so much they can do without having an actual title.
"Well you're late missy. You hurry up and get these here rolls out there before we have a pack of hungry wolves on our hands," she remarks as she gestures at a couple baskets of bread sitting on the counter.
I nod to her with a smile and as soon as the apron is tied on, I pick up a couple baskets of rolls and head out. We have created our own little community. It's not much, but it's home. Noise and chatter fill the air when I reach the dining hall as hundreds of werewolves talk and joke with each other. I take the bread to the row of tables where food will be served and set them down before taking my place by one of the large pots filled with soup. The line that had been waiting starts its procession and I begin to ladle out everyone's dinner.
"How are you doing today Scarlet?" Mr. Meyer says to me with a smile as he holds out his empty bowl to me.
"Doing pretty good. How about yourself?"
"Still breathing so I can't complain!" We chuckle before he moves along down the line.
"What kind of soup is it today?" A little girl named Annie asks.
"Vegetable beef. Do you want some?" I answer with a grin. Annie always questions what kind we are serving even though it never seems to matter. She never turns it down. She gives me a quick nod and continues on her way as soon as she is served.
It continues like this as hundreds of packless werewolves go through the line getting soup and bread for their dinner. They all know me and make small talk on their way through. I've been working here since I was old enough to hold a ladle. Jo is the one that runs the place. It's hard to find jobs since most of the wolves that live in and around the city treat us like we're the plague. However, Jo was lucky enough to find a werewolf family that lived far enough on the outskirts of town that they hired her to help work their farmland. She uses the money and extra food that they allow her to take to help feed and take care of all the packless wolves that live in The Scourge. We do our best to provide two meals a day, shelter, and blankets.
Once everyone has been served, I sit to eat a small portion of my own. Out of the corner of my eye I see someone approaching before my best friend, Will sits down beside me and puts his arm around my shoulders to give me a quick squeeze. "Hey babe! Did you save any for me?"
I roll my eyes and smirk at him as I push the extra bowl over. "How is it that you are never on time?" I ask him with a laugh as he takes in a mouthful of bread before scooping some soup onto his spoon.
"Come on Scar. I'm a very busy guy."
"Uh huh. Sure. Doing what?"
"Oh, you know... sleeping, scavenging, and I even got you something," he says as a smile lights up his face, his hazel eyes shining with excitement.
"Really?" I ask him, unable to hide the surprise from my voice.
"Yep! Here, look!"
He holds his fist out to me as though he is holding something small. I put my hand out for him and he drops it into my palm. It's a beautiful necklace with a delicate white gold chain, a round diamond hanging from it. "Oh my goddess! Will! It's gorgeous! Where did you find this?! Please say you didn't steal it," I exclaim before giving him a pointed look, cupping the necklace to my chest.
He lets out a hardy laugh. "Of course I didn't steal it. I found it in an abandoned apartment. Do you like it?"
"You kidding?! I love it!" I wrap my arms around him and give him a tight hug, making him chuckle once more.
"Good. I'm glad."
I sit and chat with Will as he finishes eating before we part ways and I head outside. "Run?" My wolf inquires excitedly causing me to smile.
"Run." I confirm. I quickly sprint down the alley and transform mid-leap, my paws hitting the gravel before I rush into a thick patch of woods. I love the adrenaline as I race through the forest, feeling the snap of twigs underfoot. I feel so free, so relaxed, so at one with nature. I wish I could experience this more often. Typically, the only time I get to shift is when I'm hunting and scavenging for food that we can serve at the dining hall. I don't usually get to just run around and enjoy a little bit of freedom. Unfortunately, it's already dark, so I can't afford to stay out too long. I head back to the shelter after less than an hour and transform back before getting too close. Grabbing the backpack that I keep hidden in one of the abandoned corners of town, I quickly throw on jeans and a t-shirt.
The walk to the home isn't bad and I instantly go inside to grab a handful of blankets to start handing out. The night is supposed to be a chilly one and our buildings don't have any heating or cooling. I pass them out to anyone who needs them and then head outside to see if anyone out there would like one too. Once my hands are empty, I turn the corner and immediately scowl. A large group of men are hanging out talking and laughing. Several of them have sharp knives out that they are cleaning fresh blood off of. "Hey Scarlet baby. You finally decide you want a piece of this?" The werewolf named Ray Jones questions with an evil smirk as he comes over to me, throwing an arm around my shoulders and pulling me into him.
"Definitely not," I reply with disgust as I shove his arm away and try to go around him. He quickly sidesteps to block my path.
"I hate this guy," my wolf growls in my head.
"Me too." I answer as a shiver runs up my spine. Most of the people who live in The Scourge look out for each other, but Ray and his gang of thugs only look out for themselves. They are always getting into trouble and picking fights.
"Come on baby. Don't be like that. I'll have you screaming my name in no time," he presses as he moves uncomfortably close to me yet again and grabs my hips.
"Gross. Back off Ray. I'm not interested," I insist before shoving him away. I begin to walk past and he roughly grab my ass. I quickly turn around, taking the guilty hand in mine and twisting it harshly, making him flinch before regaining his composure. He's clearly trying not to show that he's in pain right now. "I said BACK OFF ASSHOLE," I growl as I allow my wolf to let her power shine through. He immediately steps away from me as he puts his hands up in surrender.
I turn to leave once more, but stop in my tracks as I look down to the other side of the alley. There are screams and growls coming from the opposite end where several of our occupants were chilling out and enjoying the fresh evening air. "Shit!" I hear Ray say from behind me and I quickly spin on him.
"What the hell did you do?!"
He doesn't bother answering me and only gives me an evil smirk before he and his men scramble to get out of there. I scowl before turning to where I see both wolf and human forms fighting. I quickly run in their direction as my claws elongate into fierce points. I watch as a man in all black strikes down and kills one of the innocent packless men before turning to another. I make a flying leap to attack and am suddenly hit with a strong, overwhelming scent of vanilla and citrus.
"Mate!" My wolf yells in my head.
My conviction evaporates and confusion hits me, but I don't have time to think about what this means. Before I even have the chance to realize what is happening, the unknown man who had been my target spins to face me. We are mere centimeters apart and pain explodes through my stomach. I look down to find a black hilt sticking out of me and crimson spreading out around it. The man drops his hand from the dagger and I look up to meet his eyes. There are so many emotions swirling through his gorgeous sapphire eyes, confusion, shock, sadness, fear, anger. I don't get the chance to contemplate this as I stumble backwards, my consciousness slipping away from me. And then everything goes black.