“Another werewolf!" Edgar gasped from behind me. I heard him take a step closer to me, intending to play the hero once again, but Dex stopped him. The wolf growled again at the boy's approach, but barely gave him a passing glance. Its eyes were fixed unblinkingly at the five year old girl by my side.
“Guys," I said slowly, just loudly enough for them to hear, “take Kimberly and get her through that door."
“Amber, you can't take that thing on alone," Dex said, and I saw the dim glow of his scepter wash over the parking lot again. I should have been happy to accept the help of two trained battle mages, but seeing the hostile wolf had awoken something inside of me that I just couldn't ignore.
“I'll fight it myself," I insisted, feeling like my mouth was forming words on its own. “I have to."
Dex hesitated a moment, and then reluctantly agreed.
“Kimberly," I said to the little girl whose hand was still held in my own, “go with them."
“What is that thing?" she demanded, all of her terror coming back to her in full force.
“It's a wolf," I answered, deciding not to mention that it was here for her. “Don't be scared. I'm going to take care of it. Just go with those two."
I released her hand, and she hesitated only for a second before turning and running to the two men behind me. The wolf snarled in anger, its tail lashing agitatedly behind it, and advanced on me. I didn't know if it was planning to attack me or go around me, but I didn't intend to give it the chance to do either. I stepped forward as well, coming out of the shadows and into the light of the street lamps above. The werewolf took one look at me, and then stopped short. I was no expert at reading wolf expressions, but I could almost believe that this one looked surprised to see me.
“You didn't expect another werewolf to get here first, did you?" I asked, my voice a guttural growl. “You should have planned things out better!"
And with that, I initiated my change. It was difficult, since I had never done it of my own will before, but I managed to do it. It was like reaching deep down inside myself and pulling a great big lever. Immediately, my muscles began to strain against my clothes as they grew bigger until they burst free. I fell to all fours as my body reshaped itself, growing fur, a snout, and a tail. Behind me, I heard Kimberly scream in terror.
“Get her out of here!" I commanded them just before I lost my voice, and the beast in front of me found itself staring at another werewolf.
The look of confusion on its face was still there, even more obvious now to my wolfish eyes. I took that as an opportunity to attack, and lunged at him. The other wolf reacted too slowly, and I managed to sink my teeth into its neck. Instantly, whatever surprise it felt was gone, replaced by the animalistic need to fight. I knew how it felt, because it was that same instinct that had driven me to transform and attack it first.
It thrashed its head about, throwing me free of its neck, but not before I'd managed to break its skin. The salty taste of blood was on my tongue once again, and it invigorated me like nothing else could. I bared my teeth at my opponent, feeling as if I had never been human at all. I was a wolf, and that was the way it should be.
Then the other wolf came at me, snapping its jaws at my face and forcing me to retreat a couple of steps. In my momentary distraction, it rose up onto its hind paws and slashed at me with its razor sharp claws. I yelped in pain as they raked across my face, leaving four bloody gashes behind, but instead of feeling intimidated I felt enraged. Just as before, the dominant wolf in me was furious that anything would dare treat me in such a way. I was bigger, I was stronger, I was faster- or so I was convinced. There was nothing to stop me tearing this insolent pup to shreds!
With that last encouraging thought, I darted in before the other wolf could set its pays down, and sank my teeth into its chest. Blood flowed into my mouth again, but before I could clamp down properly, the gray and black wolf threw itself down on top of me, crushing me underneath it. For a moment I was confused- if I was bigger than it, how did it weigh so much that I couldn't lift it off of me? I cast that thought aside. It would not do for me to doubt myself when facing such an inferior opponent. Even if it was heavier, it was still miles below my level. I would have no trouble finishing it off.
With a bit of effort, I struggled out from underneath the other wolf before it could bite me. Springing back to my paws, I lashed out and cut a mark on its face with my claws just like it had done to me. My blood still ran from those cuts, mixing with the other wolf's in my mouth and driving me insane. I liked the taste of blood. No, I loved it. Blood was good, and I needed more!
A wicked growl came from my throat, and I lunged at it again. This time, however, the other wolf was ready. It stepped nimbly out of my way at the last moment, moving much more quickly on its paws than such a large creature should have been able to, and then slammed into me with its side. Caught off guard, I was thrown off my paws, and landed hard on the asphalt below me. I hastened to get up again, knowing that being on the ground put me at a severe disadvantage, but then the other wolf's paw came down on me, pinning me firmly in place. I struggled for a few seconds, but quickly found out that it was useless. The gray and black beast was far stronger than me, and it knew it. Panic immediately began to stab its icy fingers into my brain. I had to escape. I couldn't win this fight. I wasn't dominant!
Unfortunately, the other wolf didn't seem at all interested in letting me go. With me completely at its mercy, I was no longer an opponent- I was a meal waiting to be eaten. It leaned its head back and howled its victory to the moon, and then snapped its head down and sank its teeth into my throat. I thrashed as much as I could underneath it, but it was no good. I would never escape, and trying to do so was only tearing the muscles in my throat even more. It shook its head from side to side, letting its teeth do as much damage as it could possibly manage. The dark realization that I was going to die eclipsed whatever urge to fight I had left. This was it…
Suddenly, there was a bright flash of yellow, and the other wolf was thrown off of me. It skidded fifteen feet away, until it collided with the brick wall of the funeral home.
“Amber, get up!" Dex shouted, seeming to appear out of nowhere above me. He reached down and wrapped his arms around my body, carefully avoiding touching my injuries, and hauled me back to my paws. I staggered a bit, feeling weak after the other wolf's savage attack, but then managed to steady myself.
Across the parking lot, the other wolf sprang back to its paws as well. It growled at both of us, furious that its hunt had been interrupted a second time. Before it could charge at us, though, Dex raised his scepter and blasted it with another beam of yellow light. The wolf was thrown backwards, and it struck the wall much harder this time than it had before. When it fell to the ground, it did not get up.
“Run," Dex ordered me, and took off towards the burger shop. I went after him as quickly as I could, but my legs felt weak, and the teeth marks in my throat were leaving a trail of blood behind me. Besides that, I was terrified. When I stepped up to fight the wolf, I had felt invincible. Like nothing in the world could have stopped me. Now that I had been shown just how weak I was… it was like all the spirit had been yanked out of me.
Edgar and Kimberly were waiting at the door of the restaurant when Dex and I arrived. When Edgar saw the state I was in, he gasped, but Dex stopped him from rushing to my aid. That didn't stop him from staring, though. His eyes followed every drop of blood that fell from my throat. I tried to meet his gaze, but found that I couldn't, so I looked at the ground instead. It was no longer my place to look people in the eye. I was inferior, and so I must be humble and obedient. It occurred to me in the back of my mind that none of this made sense. Edgar hadn't been the one to hurt me, so why was I so ashamed to look him in the eye now? I quickly forced those thoughts out of my head. Defiant thoughts would only get me hurt even more.
Kimberly was standing a little behind Edgar, and I could hear her frightened whimpers. More than that, though, I could smell her fear. Not that I blamed her. She'd been through more tonight than she should have ever had to deal with, and I had topped it all off by turning into a wolf right before her eyes. She was probably telling herself that this was all just a nightmare, and that she would wake up any minute. She wasn't the only one. How much worse could this night get?
“Okay, it's open," Dex said, unlocking the door and swinging it open. “Go, go, go!"
Edgar led Kimberly through it, and I followed right after them. If I had expected there to be any sanctuary on the other side of that door, though, I was sorely mistaken. The moment I set paw inside, I was tackled by a brawny man whose skin felt more like stone than flesh, and for the second time that night I found myself pinned to the ground, completely immobile. Further down the hallway, I heard Kimberly cry out in fear.
“Try not to hurt her," Dex said calmly as he shut the door behind us, though I wasn't sure if he was talking about me or Kimberly.
I managed to squirm enough to turn my head, and I saw that a second man, just as muscly as the one on top of me, had grabbed her and was holding her up off the ground. I growled at them threateningly, but they paid me no heed. Not that it mattered- I had absolutely no fighting spirit left in me. But what was going on? Edgar was standing off to the side, his eyes fixed on me, but he did nothing to try to free me or Kimberly.
Dex strode casually into view, his scepter held loosely in one hand. I growled a question at him from underneath my massive captor, but he didn't even give me a passing glance. He didn't even seem to notice we were being attacked, unless…
Just as it all became clear to me, the door leading into the long hallway swung open, and all three of the directors marched in. When Kimberly saw Miss Shavver's white, eyeless skull, she paled until she was almost as white as Vaazkima and let out a scream.
“Silence her," the ghoulish, golden haired man ordered, and the man holding her moved his hand to cover her mouth.
I coughed as my captor shifted a bit on top of me, making it hard to breath. The movement drew Miss Shavver's attention.
“Somebody change her back," she snapped. “And stop that bleeding!"
Another man came forward carrying a syringe, and drove it into my shoulder. My entire body began to tingle as he injected whatever it had in it into me, and immediately I began to morph back. As I did, the man pulled out a bottle of gel, and applied it to my neck. The bleeding stopped in an instant, but the wound was obviously still there.
Vaazkima came forward to examine Kimberly, who kicked and fought to get away from the large man. He raised two clawed fingers, heedless of her fear, and took her head between them. Her turned it left, and then right, before releasing her.
“She is young," he announced. “But that could be a good thing. She will last far longer under experimentation than an older wolf." He turned to the fur-clad man standing a few feet behind him. “Do you approve, Mr. Wrogan?"
Mr. Wrogan looked hesitant for a moment. He shot me a guilty look, as if to say he was truly sorry for all of this, but then turned back to Vaazkima and nodded.
“Good," the golden haired man said. “Take her away."
Kimberly was carried out of the room, kicking and screaming. For a moment, I was tempted to go after her. I couldn't stand the thought that I'd put her through all that just to be taken captive by Majestic. The thought immediately died inside me, though, when Vaazkima turned to me, his beady eyes alight with greed and satisfaction, leaving me feeling meek and empty inside again.
“I've just done you a very large favor, young lady," he crooned, coming towards me. When I fixed my gaze directly on his polished black shoes, he took my chin in his needle-sharp fingers and forced me to look him in the eye. He paused thoughtfully. “She seems far better behaved than the last time I saw her."
“We met another werewolf while we were out, sir," Dex answered. “She challenged it and lost."
Vaazkima arched his eyebrows. “Did you, now? Interesting." He let go of my face and spun to face Dex, his golden hair rattling as he moved. “Another werewolf, you say? What would bring another werewolf to such a place this time of night?"
“I was wondering the same thing, sir," Dex replied. “I think it might be…" His voice trailed off before he finished his sentence, but Vaazkima still put his claws to his chin and stroked them thoughtfully. “I see. We will discuss this later."
And without another word, he turned and left the hallway. Mr. Wrogan followed directly behind him, shooting me one last guilty look. Miss Shavver went last, but stopped and turned back to us one last time.
“Get a haircut, Dexter!" she snapped, and then marched off after her colleagues. The moment she stepped out, the large man who had tackled me stood up, pulling me up with him, but kept a firm grip on my shoulder.
For a minute, everything was silent. Dex stood in front of me, staring down the hallway where the directors had gone. Edgar was staring at me from a few feet away, his eyes never seeming to blink. In the back of my head, I dimly realized that it was because I was still naked, my clothes left in tatters behind the funeral home from when I'd transformed. I didn't care. Finally, Dex sighed and turned to look at me.
“I guess I owe you an apology," he said, putting his hands in his pockets.
You think? I wanted to scream at him. How could he do this to me? I had trusted him! My insides boiled with anger, and I desperately wanted to slap him. Of course, my newfound timidity pushed that thought out of my head in an instant.
“I should have told you before we left," he went on when I didn't say anything. “But it's better this way, right?"
With some difficulty, I managed to look into his eyes. “What's going on?" I asked, my voice little more than a whisper, and immediately lowered my head again.
Dex groaned and rubbed his forehead like he had a headache. “The directors were demanding a Silverblood, Amber. There was no convincing them to let it go. The thing is, they don't care who the Silverblood is. One Silverblood is as good as any other."
“She's taking my place?" I asked, icy terror running down my spine.
Dex took a moment to answer. “Yes, yes she is."
So, instead of pumping silver into my veins for the rest of my life, they were going to do it to a little five year old girl. And, I reminded myself for the hundredth time, she wouldn't be in this situation if I hadn't attacked her like a wild… rabid… animal…
It was hard to even force myself to think that, but the moment I did it was like a dam inside me broke. I tried to hold it back, but I may as well have been trying to plug up the ocean with a piece of tissue paper. I screwed my face up in anguish, and let out a cry I'm pretty sure could be heard from the moon. My legs gave out beneath me, and it was only the hand of the large man that kept me from collapsing in a heap on the ground. I cried so hard that I could barely breathe between sobs. I hated myself, completely and utterly. First my father, then my mother, now Kimberly… I wanted nothing more than for my captor to grab my neck and snap it in half. It wouldn't just be a way to end the pain, it would be exactly what I deserved.
After what felt like hours, though it was probably only a few minutes, I stopped crying out of sheer exhaustion. Inside I was still bawling like a baby, but I had simply run out of energy to show it on the outside, so I just hung from the big man's hand, quivering pathetically until I felt a gentle hand alight on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw Dex in front of me, with more sympathy on his face than I'd ever seen before. I hated Dex almost as much as I hated myself. He'd tricked me. Him and Edgar both. Dirty rotten liars. Traitors. But I couldn't say any of this because, even with no will to live left in me, I couldn't muster up the courage. As horrible as they were, they were still superior to me. His eyes dropped to the floor now, too, and he took off his jacket.
“Come on," he said softly, draping it over my shoulder to cover my nakedness. “Let's get you back to your room."
I said nothing. I didn't even nod. But when Dex took my hand and the guard released me, I allowed him to lead me out of the Corridor of Doors and to the elevator.
NEXT TIME: Well, that sucks. Amber may be out of hot water, but what about Kimberly?