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Chapter Fifteen

One second, I was looking at the biggest freaking wolf I'd ever seen.


The next, I was pinned to the ground by the biggest freaking hyena I'd ever seen.


How Becky managed to sneak up on us like that, I have no idea.  All I know is that now Stark and I were facing off against not one giant monster, but two, and I wasn't able to move.  Becky's paw was half as big as I was, so I might as well have been trapped under a boulder.


Caught off guard as well, Stark backed away a few steps to put some distance between him and his two foes.  I whined, suddenly afraid that he'd leave me behind, but then he bared his teeth and took up a fighting stance.  A warm, sticky gob of slime landed on my head, matting down my fur, and I looked up to see that Becky was drooling.  She wasn't even looking at Stark.


I was her target.  Not Stark.  Not Kimberly.  Hendricks had sent her after me.


Becky's jaws opened wide, revealing a set of teeth at least as long as Kimberly's were, but Stark pounced on her before she got the chance to use them.  Taking advantage of her focus on me, he jumped up and sank his teeth into the side of her neck.  He was downright puny compared to her, though, and his teeth made little more than pinpricks in her neck.  It still surprised her enough to make her rear back, though.  Stark held on with his teeth as she bucked him like a rodeo horse, thrashing her head left and right trying to dislodge him.  She raised her paw in the process, and I took the opportunity to jump up and run away.  I only went a few steps so that I was clear of the fighting, and then leaned my side against a tree and stopped to catch my breath.


I had to help Stark, but first I needed to recover.


Stark finally lost his grip on Becky's neck and went flying across the snowy landscape.  He performed a flip in midair that I'm pretty sure a wolf shouldn't have been flexible enough to pull off, and landed on his paws facing Becky.  I was tempted to run and help him right then, but the aching in my chest stopped me.  I was beginning to think Becky might have cracked some of my ribs.  She was definitely strong enough.  The fact that she hadn't squashed me like a bug must have meant that she'd actually been holding back.


But why? I wondered, narrowing my eyes.  Hendricks had sent her to kill me, right?  I'd practically given her the chance on a silver platter just then, but she'd decided to trap me instead.  I knew she wasn't just a dumb animal, there was some sort of intelligence inside that thick fuzzy head.  What's your game, Becky?


Stark and Becky charged at each other, leaving me totally forgotten under my tree.  Becky tried to step on him the same way she had done to me, but Stark dodged around her paw and ran underneath her, snapping his jaws at her soft underbelly.  Becky leaped into the air, flying backwards, and swatted at Stark.  Her paw connected with his entire left side, and he went sliding across the ground again.


Stark didn't get right back up after that, and my heart leaped into my throat.  Had Becky... No, I realized when he finally rolled over and scrambled back to his paws.  He was fine.  He had a slight limp, but that would go away in a few seconds once he'd soaked up enough moonlight.


He and Becky faced off again, and the hyena cackled.  I tried to tell myself that was just the sound hyenas normally make, but the wicked gleam in her eye told me there was more meaning behind it than that.  Then they came at each other again, snow flying wildly out from under their paws.  Stark stumbled just before they reached each other, though, and I realized too late that he was still limping.  Becky rose up on her hind legs and brought both her front paws down on top of him, smashing him down into the snow.  I cringed.  Being under one of those paws had hurt like hell.  Being stepped on by both of them...


Why was he still limping? I thought, trying to make sense of all this.  Something that minor should have fixed itself in a matter of seconds, especially on a night with the moon shining as bright as it was.  I looked up to make sure it hadn't been blocked by clouds.  No, It was still there.  Why wasn't it doing its job, then?  Come to think of it, it hadn't healed me yet either.  Now that I was paying attention, I couldn't feel myself absorbing any moonlight at all.  It was there, but it was all going someplace else...


Kimberly! I realized, spinning around to see the giant wolf still standing at the edge of the creek, watching with wide eyes.  Even if she was five times the size of a normal wolf, and ten times as strong, she was still just a five year old girl.  She had no idea how to react to this.  More importantly, she was still sucking up moonlight like a black hole, leaving none for Stark and me.


Becky bared her teeth again, and I realized Stark was still underneath her paws in the snow.  He'd reached his limit.  Becky had beaten him, and the fight would be over as soon as she sank her massive fangs into him.


Unless I stopped her.


I'd waited long enough.  Ignoring the pain in my side, I ran towards Becky and let out a how to distract her.  Sure enough, she turned to look at me just as I pounced on her.  My meager weight wasn't even enough to stagger her, but I dug my claws and teeth into her side anyway.  Holy crap, her skin was as tough as wood!  I don't know how Stark had managed to hold on for as long as he could, because I fell off her immediately, barely leaving a scratch behind.  Becky laughed again, a dark, menacing chuckle this time, and turned to face me head on.  She left Stark alone in the snow, but I didn't guess he posed much of a threat to her now.


Looking into the Nandi Bear's eyes, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the need to tuck my tail between my legs and run like the dickens.  I probably wouldn't be able to outrun her, though, and that was the only thing that kept me where I was.  That, and the two packmates I would have to leave behind.  So I glared right back at Becky, trying to tell myself I looked cold and menacing but knowing I probably looked more like a frightened puppy.  Still, what else could I do?  I couldn't abandon Stark.  I couldn't let Kimberly down.


I pulled back my lips in a snarl and darted in to scratch at Becky's face.  She didn't even flinch, but it didn't matter because my claws didn't so much as pierce her skin.  I followed it up with a bite on the only place within reach I could imagine was soft: her nose.  This time my teeth managed to break her skin, but only a little bit.  I was like a mouse fighting a cat.  There was nothing I could do to hurt her, and Becky knew it.  She grinned at me, showing off her pearly whites... and I realized I was going to die.  There was no winning this fight, no escape.  Stark was out cold, if not dead, and Kimberly was too afraid to fight.  Becky could toy with me all she wanted, and then kill me.


And it looked like the cat was done playing with the mouse.


Raising her paw, she struck me hard enough to send me flying into the air until I collided with a tree and fell into the snow.  My ears rang.  I didn't feel any pain, and somewhere in my spinning thoughts I realized that was worse than actually feeling it.  The world faded in and out in front of me, and I could barely focus on Becky as she came barreling towards me.  She turned aside at the last second and threw her body at me.  She hit me like a speeding truck, trapping me against her furry flank, and together we crashed straight through the tree I'd hit before.  The trunk was reduced to splinters while the upper branches came falling down with a crash I couldn't hear through the ringing in my skull.  How many of those splinters were in me now, I wondered?  I couldn't feel them.


Becky paused for a second to let me collapse, and then picked me up in her teeth.  Somehow she managed to do it without puncturing me, or at least I hoped she did, and began to shake her head.  After doing that long enough to give me whiplash, she opened her mouth and flung me away.  I hit the ground and rolled, and then slid.  I was on the ice now.  It was cold.  I could feel it, but just barely.  I was still able to see the red streaks I left behind on it, though.


Becky came to the edge of the creek and paused, a thoughtful look on her savage face.  Then she reached out and delicately, if she were even capable of such a thing, hooked a claw around my leg and dragged me back to the bank.  Once I was there, she stepped on me again, smashing a hole in the ice and completely submerging me in the freezing water.  The intense cold was enough to snap my brain back into gear, and I thrashed under Becky's paw, trying to break free.  It was cold, indescribably cold.  So cold that it felt like it was stabbing knives of ice straight through my skull and into my brain.  I couldn't move, couldn't breathe.  I was going to drown if the cold didn't finish me off first.


No! my wolf and I screamed inside my head in unison. Not like this!  Please!


I kept fighting, struggling to break free of Becky's paw, but she just pressed down harder, pushing me into the mud at the bottom of the creek.  I leaned my head up and bit at her toes, but she still didn't move.  My head started to go light again, my chest burning.  I clamped my mouth shut, afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop myself from inhaling if I kept it open.  I couldn't close my nose, though.  I started jerking back and forth, not fighting Becky this time, but myself.  My body was demanding that I stop suffocating myself and breathe, but my brain knew that would only kill me quicker.  I had to hold on for... for what?  Stark and Kimberly couldn't help me now.  I was alone... and I was going to die.


The last of my strength gave out, and I laid my head down on the murky creek floor.  Just a few more seconds, and it would all be over...


Suddenly, Becky's foot vanished.  I almost didn't realize it, and I certainly wasn't strong enough to do anything about it, but when I opened my eyes I thought I could see two giant shadows writhing above the ice.  I closed my eyes again— just as a pair of hands grabbed me.  My eyes shot open, just in time to see a third shadow hovering just above me.  With a mighty heave, the shadow lifted me up off the creek bed and out of the water before throwing me down onto the snowy ground.


Stark... I thought through a half dead brain.  There was something wrong with him, though.  He looked... funny.


I tried to breathe, but only managed a weak cough.  I had water in my lungs, and my body was probably already shutting down from hypothermia.  My eyes wouldn't focus, but I felt Stark roll me onto my back and begin performing CPR on me.  It was awkward, having to do it to a wolf, but a minute later I began to cough more vigorously, and water came up out of my throat.  A minute after that, I was able to breathe normally again.


"Don't.... mo-rrrrr-ve," Stark ordered me.  His voice sounded weird.  I blinked a few times, my vision getting clearer by the second, and jumped a little when the swirling blurs in front of me solidified into the face of a wolf.


"You... hearrrrr me?" the wolf growled, its voice barely understandable. "Don't trrrry to move... that's an orderrrrr!"


A gigantic shape rose up behind him, and even though my eyes still hadn't focused entirely I gasped when I recognized the color of Becky's fur.  But before she could attack, a second shadow appeared, tackling Becky to the ground.  The two of them wrestled for a few seconds before Becky managed to get the other creature on top of her, and kicked with her back legs, flipping her opponent up and over her head.  It landed on its back, striking the earth hard enough to shake it.  The other creature, the gigantic brown blur that my eyes refused to focus on no matter how long I stated at it, didn't have time to react before Becky was back on her paws, sinking her teeth into its shoulder.  It thrashed under her, and let out a loud, pitiful whine...  like a dog...


Or a wolf.


My eyes shot open as a heavy dose of adrenaline flooded my veins. Kimberly!


My little girl was fighting that monster all by herself!  Even though my head was still spinning, I tried to get to my paws and go help her.  After everything I'd done, there was no way I was going to let that overgrown hyena hurt her.  Stark put his paw on my side, though, holding me down.


"I'll... hand-rrrrr it," he said.


Then he stood up on his hind legs and ran the other way.  It was Stark, I realized, wearing his midshift form.  I'd only seen him do that once before, the day he rescued me from the dog fighter Hendricks had sold me to, but the effect was no less awe inspiring than the first time.  It was like he'd frozen his transformation halfway between human and wolf, giving him the fur, tail, claws, and face of a wolf, but the shape of a human.  He walked on two legs, but his snout was still full of sharp canine fangs when he bit into Becky's throat again.


Becky released Kimberly, who collapsed limply to the ground, and turned to face Stark.  Stark, more nimble on two legs than he was on four, danced around her first bite and then jammed his thumb at her eye.  Becky flinched out of the way, but not fast enough to keep her eyelid from being sliced open.  A thick stream of blood began to pour down her face, and she snapped at Stark again, forcing him to step back.  I could see his body trembling.  He'd told me that using his midshift form was exhausting, so much that even holding it for a few seconds was enough to wear him out.  He'd been using it for almost two minutes, maybe more, and the strain was beginning to show.  It wouldn't be long before he passed out.


Kimberly stirred a little on the ground, and Becky brought her back paw down on her skull, knocking her unconscious.


No, I thought angrily. Don't you dare touch her, you—


Kimberly was still for a second, but then she began to shrink.  Her fur receded into her body, and her bones realigned themselves to let her walk on two legs again.  Within seconds, she was back to her old, normal sized, human self.


Stark tried to scratch her in the same place as last time, but Becky snapped at his hand, nearly taking it off, and then charged him.  Her forehead caught him in the middle of his broad, furry chest, picking him up off his feet and slamming him straight into a tree.  The tree wobbled from the impact and then fell with a crack, crashing to the forest floor.  Stark, likewise, only managed to stand for a few seconds before collapsing in a heap, and then he too unconsciously shifted back into his human form.


That left only one wolf for Becky to deal with.  She turned to me again, and growled in satisfaction.  I struggled to get up as she slowly made her way to where I lay, but I was still too weak.  Becky knew I wasn't going anywhere, so there was no hurry in her movements.  Horrifying images flashed in front of my eyes of all the ways she could kill me.  Teeth, claws, muscle.  She could even push me back in the creek and drown me again, and there would be no one to stop her.  All I could do was hope she decided to make it quick.


Becky raised her paw...


The Silverpack had only been formed a month ago.


The blood on her claws glistened in the silver moonlight...


And now we were all about to die.


And I wasn't able to do a thing about it.


I'm... sorry.


Suddenly, Becky froze.  Her eyes widened in shock.  For a few seconds, we faced each other, me lying down and her standing with her claws raised.  My frantic breaths puffed out in little clouds in front of me as I waited for her to quit stalling and finish me off.


Then she shuddered.  Her entire body spasmed, like she had an army of spiders crawling around her fur and she was trying to shake them up.  She growled, and took a step back.  I blinked.  What was going on?  Stark and Kimberly were both still on the ground, so they couldn't have done anything.  Becky took a hesitant step toward me, but the stopped when another shudder ran down her body.  That seemed to make up her mind.  With one last venomous glare, she turned tail and dashed into the forest.  A few seconds later, the darkness swallowed her.


I watched the darkness for... I don't know how long, waiting for her to come back.  This couldn't be how it ended.  After everything she'd done, she just left us here?  What was... going...


My head hit the snow, and I passed out alongside my packmates.



NEXT TIME: That’s it, guys!  We’ve found Beckie’s weakness!  Apologies are her kryptonite!  Quick, everyone say you’re sorry!  Give yourself a pat on the back, boys and girls, because you just saved the day!  Woohoo!  What’s going to happen to Amber and the others, though?  Werewolf or not, they’re not going to survive long if they’re just left in the snow, freezing and bleeding like that.

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