“It’s okay. I think we both needed it, in a way. I’ve lived my life in a certain way for a long time Trish, but you’re showing me that there are other parts of me, parts that I’ve neglected for too long.”
“I’m glad. Buck…promise me that you’ll be safe out there and you won’t take any undue risks.”
Buck looked at me directly. “I promise,” he said. I didn’t know if he was lying to me or not. Maybe it didn’t matter. “I just want the three of you to come home. The Hunters have taken so much away from me already…so much away from us.”
Buck walked over and placed a hand on my cheek, stopping the flow of my words. “It will all be fine. Jack has a plan. He wouldn’t have gone through with this if he didn’t think there was a good chance of it succeeding. We’re going to be alright,” he offered me a slanting smile and the tenor of his voice was soothing. I rose to my feet and wrapped my arms around him in a tight hug. I pressed my head against his shoulder and sniffed back my tears, before kissing him on the cheek. It was a kiss of gratitude that quickly turned into a kiss of passion. My face shifted to the side and his lips caught mine. His breath washed over me and I lost myself in the glory of his embrace. He pulled me tightly towards him, his fingers digging deep into my skin as though he had never learned how to be tender with a woman and only followed his animal lust. I was breathless when we broke apart and staggered back.
“I’ll be seeing you,” Buck said, and with that he was gone.
I was left alone in the clubhouse, vulnerable, and all I could do was wait. I went to the bar and poured myself a drink, and then another, settling on a chair as I looked out at the empty road outside. My throat ran dry as I thought of the battle that must have been raging elsewhere, all the carnage and the mayhem of the war between the two wolf packs. It was so far removed from my current world, which was this quiet place in the middle of nowhere. I smirked to myself and offered myself a wry chuckle as I shot back another drink and wiped the trickling remnants from the corners of my mouth. When I had first come here I had prayed for this to happen. I was free of my captors and could have returned to my life, but now my life was here. Everything before had been false, an illusion. I spared a thought for the people I had left behind, but in truth I hadn’t thought too much about them once I’d settled here. I hoped they weren’t too sad about losing me. It all seemed so long ago now, that night in the bar where I had sung my heart out. I remembered them now, the three of them looking at me while I sang and how there had been so much pure emotion in their faces. Since I was alone I thought there was no harm in singing again. This time I didn’t sing for Mom, I sang for my three wolves.
The sound emerged from my mouth like flowing honey. It was sweet and clear and filled up every corner of the bar. My heart trembled and the more I sang the more intense my emotions became. Soon enough I was sweeping my arms wildly as I moved around the bar, and I could feel some sense of the magic that Jack had been talking about. When I sang I felt connected to all the wolves who had come before and all those who would come after me. I was filled with love for my three wolves and felt proud that they had found me and hadn’t hesitated in rescuing me from my ordinary life. I dreaded to think what things would have been like had they not found me, how unhappy I would have been and how I would still have been searching for my purpose.
Eventually the song died down and I was surrounded by silence again. I looked around at the empty bar and knew that I could not stay here. Even though I could not fight, my place was with them. I at least had to see them, to know they were okay, rather than spend time in this purgatory and wait to be told the horrible, terrible news. I grabbed a leather jacket and then walked outside. The sun blinded me as it gleamed off the metal motorcycles. I picked the nearest one and climbed over the saddle, revving the engine. It took a few tries before it roared into life and then the air whipped through my hair as I sped along the road. I felt the vibrations of the bike shuddering through me as I accelerated, following the straight road down to the battlefield, not knowing what I would find, only knowing that I wanted to share their fate, and if they were suffering then I was going to suffer with them.
The world was deceptively beautiful. On one side of the road was the lush forest that I had tried to escape through, on the other side was a clear field with mountains rising up in the distance, looking as though they might have been illusory. I could have easily lost myself in the beauty of this world. It was easy to forget that a short distance away there was a battle for the fate of the wolves. I focused my gaze on the road ahead and soon enough the town came into view. I saw the rise of squat buildings first, before I heard the gnashing sounds of wolves clashing. Fear gripped my heart as I slowed, and then my jaw dropped as I saw the first signs of battle. All outside the perimeter of the town were dead bodies, a mass of them, with blood-stained fur and limp limbs sprawled across the ground. Nausea rose within me. It was difficult to tell how many of them were Hunters and how many were Howlers, but from the position of them it seemed as though most of them were facing away from the town, indicating that they were Hunters. I swelled with pride as the pack had succeeded in setting a trap for the Hunters, and with evened odds the Howlers stood a better chance of victory.
Movement to my right caught my attention. A wolf limped around a corner, shuffling along as fast as it could, dragging a wounded leg along the ground. It looked bedraggled and it whimpered, but as soon as it sensed me it snarled and adjusted its direction to come towards me. I was just about to drive away from it when another blur streaked behind it and sank its jaws into the wolf’s back. The wolf collapsed and yelped in pain. It put up a weak effort to fight, but it could offer no defense against the stronger wolf. Its throat was torn out, and the wolf collapsed to the ground, a dark shadow of blood spreading out below it. The victorious wolf’s jaws were stained with crimson and it turned back, running to rejoin the main battle. I strained my ears and could tell that it was close. I could hear the snarling and the gnashing and the maelstrom. I revved the engine again and was about to drive down the street towards the battle, when I saw a loose plank that had been broken off a rundown house. Four nails protruded from one end. It was narrow enough and light enough for me to wield in one hand, and would serve as a weapon if I needed to defend myself.
I rode down the street and turned a corner, following the noise, fear rising within as I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. The road opened up to a town square and my jaw dropped again when I saw what was happening. The wolves were locked in a vicious storm of claws and teeth, the fur blurring and streaking together to create one pattern of color, a rainbow of war that spread like a canvas across the town square. Dead bodies littered the ground, and wounded wolves crawled and whimpered, trying to find some kind of mercy or peace in the midst of battle. I searched for any of my three wolves, but I was unable to see them in amongst the crowd. There were howls and growls, and dust rose around them as they were locked in combat. I couldn’t see which side was winning and I suddenly realized just how helpless I was.
Then a wolf ran towards me at full speed. It hurtled through from the crowd after it had spotted me. I tried to kick start the bike, but my foot missed and I slammed against the ground. The wolf moved impossibly fast and when I looked up next it was almost upon me. I screamed as I acted out of instinct and swung my weapon back, bringing it crashing around. The wolf lunged towards me with an open jaw and bared teeth, promising death if it met my flesh, but I had timed my attack well. The plank came crashing round and slammed into the side of its head. The nails tore its flesh and I heard the sickening sound of its skin being punctured. The wolf yelped in pain and was shuffled to the side, its body crashing to the ground. Blood trickled down like tracks of tears, and it dripped off the ends of the nails. I braced myself for another attack as it tried to get up. I steadied myself on the bike, knowing that it was a race against time. If the wolf recovered before I did it would attack again, and I didn’t know how well I’d be able to defend myself again.
I kicked the bike and almost cried with relief when it started. The tires screamed as they burst forward just as the wolf was getting to its feet. I tilted
my body to the side and swung the plank around again, this time hitting the wolf with more force as I had the added momentum caused by the bike’s speed. The nails bit into the wolf’s skin and ripped the flesh apart, tearing the wolf’s flesh. It pulled the wolf along until the nails came free. It yelped and whimpered as it was dragged along the road, and then it lay silent as the nails broke free. I left behind a dead wolf, and adrenaline surged through my body.
But the commotion of the bike had caught the attention of others. They turned and started to chase after me, and none of them had noble intentions in their eyes. A few of them were behind me and I gulped with fear as I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. I only had one plank after all, and my only hope was to ride away. But then another wolf came running towards me. I was filled with fear at first, before I saw its golden eyes and realized that it was Jack. He ran beside me and stopped, growling at the onrushing wolves. Another two wolves joined us, Matt and Buck. I was delighted to know that they had survived the battle and were by my side. I turned my bike around, understanding what Jack was trying to tell me. I revved the bike again as the pack of wolves chasing us were still coming, then we moved forward. The three wolves kept up the pace beside me as we attacked like spearmen charging forward. I swung the plank and caught a wolf in the jaw, and as I didn’t stop I also rammed another wolf in the side with the bike. Jack, Matt, and Buck attacked with wild abandon. They moved as one unit, swiping with such ferocity and vigor that I didn’t believe anyone could stand in their way. I was proud to see them fight, and to see them conquer these malevolent Hunters that thought they were so superior. In the chaos of battle my wolves emerged victorious, leaving behind them carnage and bloodshed, and then they found other wolves to fight.
I couldn’t believe how many Hunters there were. They streamed out in a swarm and there always seemed to be more to fight, so much so that I worried there would be too many and all this valiant effort would have been for nothing. I did what I could, using the bike to slalom around the wolves and attack them wherever I could, trying to distract them while other Howlers made their moves, but I wasn’t as valuable to the effort as the actual wolf pack and I knew our hopes rested on them. There was one moment when I saw Jack get blindsided by an attack. Two wolves poured on him and swiped at him on the ground. I lost sight of his writhing form amidst the hazy bustle of the fight, but I was filled with a protective urge. I rode towards him and slammed my plank down, finding the flank of one of the wolves. It turned around and swiped at me, almost striking me down from the bike, tearing three claw marks through my leather jacket, but it allowed Jack the opportunity to prove his strength and fight back. He managed to escape and slay the two beasts, and then we rode away to find our next targets.
The longer the battle went on, the less afraid I was, since I was confident in the ability of the wolves to protect me. The pace was frenetic and I didn’t really have time to think or be afraid because instinct kicked in, and I wondered if that was how wolves lived all the time. It was impossible to tell how well we were doing in the battle as I couldn’t distinguish the wolves by their scent, so I had to be careful and only attack wolves who were obviously the enemy, which I usually decided when they confronted me. There came a moment when the tide turned though, and it became clear that most of the Hunters were laid on the ground, dead or dying. They were fighting to the last wolf, their teeth bared, and their bloodied claws swiping out in wild slashes, more out of hope than of accuracy. They were a dying pack now, and the Howlers pressed their advantage until there were only three Hunters left. I recognized one of them as a wolf who had attacked me in the forest, when I had tried to make my escape.
Their lips snarled as they trembled with anger and backed away, pressing their bodies together in the hope that they might boost their defensive capabilities. The hackles rose on the backs of their necks and their paws pressed tightly against the ground. It looked as though their bodies were coiled like springs, ready to unleash power, and I hoped that they would have more sense than try to attack when they were surrounded.
Jack broke away from the pack and approached them. He howled and pointed to the road. Although I couldn’t understand him I got the impression that he was offering them a chance to live another day and rethink the path of their life. They weren’t smart enough to take it. The three moved in unison and lunged towards Jack. I gasped in horror as they overwhelmed him and grappled him to the ground, but the other Howlers quickly leapt to his aid and before too long there was nothing left but three more dead bodies.
The threat of the Hunters had been ended. The town was the property of the Howlers once again, and my wolves had stayed alive. It was a time to be celebrated, and my blood was still rushing with adrenaline. I was buzzing as the Howlers tilted their heads back and howled with all their might, announcing to the world that they were the strongest pack, and that this territory was theirs and anyone who disputed that should think twice about challenging them. It was also a signal to all the other wolves that had fled this place, a message that it was safe to come home.
“Why did you offer them a chance to escape?” Buck asked when we were back in the club house. After killing the final few Hunters the pack had turned back into humans and had taken stock of the toll the day had taken. Good wolves had died, and it was time to mourn them, but they had died defending the pack, and that was something to be proud of. Jack had declared that anyone strong enough should stay and help them clean up the town of the dead bodies, and anyone else should return to the clubhouse and rest. I helped clean up the town, and Jack spoke brightly of the plans to come back to live here. I looked around at the rundown houses and the boarded up windows. It was a place that was unloved, but he seemed convinced that it had potential, so I was as well.
But we were all tired by the time we returned to the club house and repopulating the town was something that could wait for later. I was glad to return, for now we could begin the rest of our lives together and there was something beautifully wonderful about that.
Jack smirked in response to Buck’s question. “Because it was the right thing to do; there are certain values that we have to hold true to in this pack, values that have been passed down to us for generations,” he looked at me when he said this, “but, really, I wanted them to know that we had defeated them, that after all of this it was us who had their lives in our hands. I knew they would never agree to surrender, but I offered them the choice anyway because I could. I’m just glad we don’t have to worry about them anymore, and that we can rebuild the pack properly.”
“Something I’m looking forward to,” I said with a cheeky smile.
“I think there’s something else we need to talk about first,” Matt said as he turned to me. “Just what the hell were you doing out there? I thought you were going to stay here where it was safe?”
All three men looked at me with their arms crossed over their chests, judging me like schoolteachers who had caught a student doing something naughty. I dipped my head coyly and blushed a little. “I couldn’t handle being here by myself, not knowing what was going on. I figured whatever happened we should share the same fate. If we were going to die, we were going to die together, and if we were going to win, then we should win together too.”
“I’m glad it was the latter,” Jack said.