I slept by her side for the rest of the night. The humans were gone for now but it’ll only be a matter of time before another hunting group comes back. I tried to keep pressure against her wound but there wasn’t much that I could do in my wolf form without adding further injury.
I had to wait until morning and hope that I wasn’t too late. Her pulse started to get quieter and I knew that she would die without help.
The moment the sun rose, the transition was instant. I looked over her arm and found an exit wound. I tied a piece of cloth around it to stop further bleeding and then I picked her up and carried her for miles.
It takes half the day to get here, even with my inhuman speed. I won’t have time to make it back before the transition happens. Devon and I will be spending the night.
I haven’t been to these parts of the woods in decades. I pick up their scent easily. They’ve made a comfortable home for themselves here, a home that I could never be a part of. I don’t want to ask them for help but the herb that I need is only grown here.
There’s no point in trying to hide. They already know that I’m here. The children peek at me behind trees as I carry Devon towards the campsite.
My arrival turns a lot of heads. Causes a lot of scowls and growls. I meet the eyes of so many ghosts of my past. They are curious. They discreetly follow me as I continue moving through the huts and camps.
I come to a stop as the leaders emerge out of their hut. Daria stares at me, tapping a blade slowly against her leg, while her companion Lucias has softer eyes.
“Thorn. Brother.” Lucias walks towards me with open arms but I step backwards. He pauses his greeting. “Welcome home.”
“This is not a social visit,” I say. “This girl needs help. She’s been shot.”
“And you came to us?” Lucias says. “Why?”
“He needs the herb,” Daria says. “It doesn’t work on humans.”
“She’s not entirely human.”
Daria sniffs. “She smells human.”
“I’m sure we can spare some medicine for a friend of our brother’s,” Lucias says.
I clench my jaw. I hate it when he calls us that. We are not brothers and never will be.
“Take the girl inside and our healer will do what she can.”
I waste no time in moving towards the hut. I lay her down on a bed, not caring whose bed it is. I place a hand to her forehead; her temperature is high. Her face is sweaty and wet.
“What are you all looking at?” I hear Daria shout. “Get back to work.”
Still as charming as ever. I haven’t missed her overbearing dominance. It was one of the hundreds of reasons that I left.
“Who is she?” Lucias asks.
“She was lost in the woods. I’ve been trying to help her.”
“You actually care for something?” he laughs quietly. I hear him cross the hut and he takes a seat in a chair. “We haven’t seen you in almost a century, nothing has brought you back to us and we prayed for it every single night. But this girl did?”
“Where is that damn healer?” I growl.
“Her name is Balan. Or have you forgotten?”
I pace back and forth with my arms folded. I hope Devon appreciates this because I am hating every second of it.
“Thorn, you cannot keep blaming yourself for what happened. We have made peace with the curse and you should too. Come home. Please.”
“This isn’t my home,” I say.
“We are your family. I know somewhere deep inside of you, there is a part of you that still cares for us. That longs to be with us. Isolating yourself for all these years is complete madness. Your people forgave you.”
“If that healer isn’t by her side in the next two minutes then I’m going to hunt her down and drag her here.”
Lucias leans back with a sigh. He hasn’t changed much since I last saw him. His hair is still long and golden, his eyes are still big and have that wise, piercing blue tint to them. He became their leader after I stepped down, after I ran away and abandoned the only family I had ever known. He stalked me for a while, trying to plead with me to return. After the hundredth attempt, he eventually gave up and accepted that I was never coming back.
“You cannot just drop by here and make threats,” Lucias says. “We are doing you a great favour by allowing that human to be treated. The least you can do is show respect. Have you completely lost your honour?”
I shake my head and laugh to myself. “Don’t lecture me on respect and honour. If she had walked in here by herself then you would have killed her to protect your secret.”
“Our secret must be protected to keep the humans from hunting us. Even you know that. How many humans have you killed?”
“I don’t kill innocents,” I snarl.
“And then you leave behind witnesses,” he says. “Our people come first. The humans pose a threat to our way of life. They always have. This girl, if she saw you during the transition, do you honestly believe that she wouldn’t run and tell everyone she knows?”
I glance down at the sleeping girl on the bed. “No, she wouldn’t.”
“We cannot leave these woods but they can,” he says resentfully. “They can easily outnumber us with their weapons and that is why we never trust humans.”
“She is different,” I say. “My wolf doesn’t scare her.”
Lucias slaps his head. “She’s met your wolf? Do you know how careless that is?”
“You can live your life in fear of humans if you wish but I don’t plan to,” I say, just as the dark-skinned healer finally walks into the hut.
“I almost didn’t believe it,” Balan says, glancing me over softly. “It’s good to see you.”
I move aside. “Help her.”
Balan isn’t hurt by my rudeness, she holds a pot and jug in her hands as she kneels down at Devon’s side. I watch over her like a supervisor. If she gets too close to Devon's hair then she might be able to pick up her real scent. If she has discovered Devon's identity then she isn't reacting to it. At this moment, I don't care. I can't. Her life comes first.
Balan moves a blunt stick around the herbal paste and then makes a line of it across Devon’s chest. She then picks her wounded arm up and unties the cloth, she observes both sides of the wounds with careful precision before gently dabbing the paste against the hole.
“There’s only a small chance that this will even work,” she says. “It’s never been tested on humans. The herb will heal her wounds and increase her blood pressure. When she awakens, she’ll need to drink this straight away.” Balan pours the contents of the jug into a cup. “Around three sips and then water will be fine.”
“I’ll monitor her until nightfall but then she’s on her own. She’s lost a lot of blood.”
I glance at the darkening sky through the doorway. There’s not much time left until we’re all forced into the transition.
I take a seat in the chair on the opposite side to Lucias and I ignore his glare at me. He eventually leaves, he always liked being deep in the woods when he transitioned. Balan wets a cloth and places it over Devon’s forehead to help with her fever. She holds her wrist and keeps her nails pressed against it.
“Her pulse is getting stronger,” Balan says.
I stand up from the chair and I move closer until I can hear Devon’s pulse. I twist my head as I hear her heart pumping in her chest. It’s a strange sound, it’s always made me cringe to hear human hearts but this time is different. This time I am relieved.
Balan starts panting and holds a hand to her chest.
“Go,” I say.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t want to hurt her.”
“Check on her in the morning,” I say.
Balan nods and runs past me. I take Devon’s hand and I rub her fingers gently. I don’t want to leave her but it’s dangerous to be close to her.
I leave the hut as my body starts to go through the transition. There are screams all around me. Some of them like it and I can see them smiling at each other as they hold on to the sides of huts.
The transition is agonizing but I’ve gotten better at accepting it. I clench on my teeth as my bones begin to break. I fall to my knees, the breath leaving my lungs as my organs start bubbling inside of me. It’s always hot. So hot that I have no choice but to undress. I throw my clothes down onto the ground as I circle around the back of the hut.
The bones in my hands start breaking and shifting, becoming longer and hairier. My nails turn into claws, scraping against the ground as I pant. An extra bone grows into my backside and that always catches me surprise no matter how many times I transition.
I meet the eyes of a naked woman across from me as she takes deep breaths. She smiles at me before she screams up at the sky. Her scream turning into a howl that pierces my ears as she takes on her white wolf form. She turns and runs into the trees.
The last part of the transition is the hardest. So many changes happen at once. My body becomes heavier and leaner, my brain expands to twice its size as a new skull wraps around it. And my mouth sticks outwards, my fangs are the first thing I feel after the pain.
I am a complete wolf in merely a few minutes. I walk around the side of the hut and I watch the others with caution. I trust them not to come near Devon but I still won’t risk it. I relax when they all take off together.
I walk back into the hut. Devon is still unconscious. I have hope that she’ll wake up but I know that I can’t force it. I also know that she might not wake up. She might die tonight.
I sit at the edge of her bed and I rest my head against her hand. This is the first time in my entire life that I haven’t embraced the call of the woods. I have no desire to run or hunt. I close my eyes and I stay with her through the entire night.