Chapter Forty Eight

Digging her claws into the floor, Becky came charging at me from across the room.  I closed my eyes, but that didn't do anything to block out the pain when she rammed into me with the force of an out of control truck.  She carried me all the way across the room, and a moment later I slammed into Stark's bedroom wall from behind with enough force to knock the air out of my lungs.  The thin, brittle drywall was no match for the Becky's strength, though.  She burst straight through it like it was made of paper mache, and the next thing I knew I was being battered by an icy cold wind.

 

Becky jerked her head to the side, throwing me off of her, and I landed in a pile of snow.  Dazed and dizzy, I struggled to roll over, and when I did I looked up just in time to see Becky's gigantic paw come flying towards me.  It was so big that it struck my face and my entire torso at the same time, sending me flying across Stark's yard.  I hit the ground hard, rolling through the snow until I came to a rest, completely buried in the freezing white powder so that I didn't know which way was up.  I lay still, pain flashing through my body, and waited.  Sure enough, a few seconds later a massive pair of jaws burrowed down into the snow and clamped onto my shoulder.  If I'd been able to breathe, I would have screamed, but my lungs were weighed down by too much snow so I just let Becky haul me back out into the frigid night air and hung limp as a rag from her teeth.

 

"Amber!" I heard somebody yell, but I was in too much pain to focus on their voice.

 

Becky's teeth were buried in my shoulder, and that hurt plenty, but it seemed like it was getting even worse somehow.  I forced my eyes open, and saw that my body was shifting into its wolf form, even with an eleven inch long fang stabbed through it.  My muscles contracted, stretched, and grew, only serving to do even more damage to themselves as the tooth tore them apart without even having to move.  The worst part was, I couldn’t do a thing to stop it.  I was in full view of the moon, and my body lapped up its rays heedless of whether I wanted it to or not.  I let out a high pitched whine, no longer capable of human speech, and Becky laughed mockingly in reply.

 

Just end it, I silently begged her.  I knew I was being a coward, but... oh, God, it hurt! Just kill me!

 

Becky looked down her snout at me with her glowing red eyes, and I braced myself for whatever she had planned.  Just as she was beginning to draw her head up to throw me again, a loud BANG rang through the night, and Becky lurched to the side.  Her jaws opened, and I fell back down into the snow again.  Through hazy vision, I saw Becky stumble back a couple steps before regaining her balance.  Dark red blood was running down of her shoulder, staining her fur and melting the snow where it pooled around her paws.  Baring her teeth, she swung her massive bulk around to face her new enemy.  I followed her gaze, and saw a vague shadow standing in the distance.  A long, thin object was propped against its shoulder, and even as I watched the tip flared with light and another BANG filled the forest.

 

Stark!

 

Becky's head snapped to the side when the second bullet took her in the neck, and even more blood began to gush out.  A bullet to the throat would have killed, or at least crippled, pretty much anything else on Earth, but the pain only seemed to piss Becky off even more.  Growling, she crouched down and pounced at my alpha, clearing the distance between them in a single bound.  Stark reacted like the spring trap he was and spun deftly out of the way.  She landed, only missing him by a couple feet, and Stark immediately leveled the gun at her again.  Now they were so close that the muzzle actually touched Becky's side as he aimed it, and the bullet had to travel less than an inch before drilling into her skull.  Becky howled in pain and swiped at Stark, hitting him on the side and throwing him across the yard.  Even as he was careening through the air, he managed to cock the rifle again and fire another shot into her.  This one took her in the leg, and it buckled underneath her just as Stark hit the ground and went rolling through the snow until he collided with a tree.

 

Becky snarled and whined, bleeding from all four of the injuries Stark had given her, but somehow she didn't seem any closer to dying than when she'd transformed five minutes ago.  I, on the other hand, felt like I was knocking on Heaven's door.  A puddle of blood had pooled in the snow all around me, and my shoulder was throbbing.  Suddenly, I felt grateful for the bite Stark had given me a couple nights ago, because without the silver numbing my arm I knew the pain would have been a thousand times worse.  As it was, I could barely breathe through the tattered remains of my clothes, and I knew I'd lost a dangerous amount of blood already. I was in trouble... again.

 

Becky finally seemed to regain her composure, or at least as much composure as a rabid, bloodthirsty hyena could have, and turned to look at us.  Her gaze slid from me to Stark with the cool eyes of a predator who knows she's won, and just had to choose which of the delicious, crunchy morsels she was going to eat first.  Her eyes finally settled on Stark, lying in a tangled heap beneath his tree, and bared her teeth again.  I wasn't going anywhere, but he still had his gun.  Better to finish him off before he could get back up and shoot her again.

 

She reached him and opened her mouth, ready to bite him in half with one savage snap of her jaws.  A thick trail of saliva dribbled down between her teeth and landed on top of him, steaming in the frigid air.

 

Come on, I urged him. Get up!

 

Becky brought her head down, but Stark moved just as fast.  Rolling out of her way, he jumped back to his feet and then leaped into the air.  When he came down, his legs were straddling both sides of Becky's neck.  With a roar, Becky rose back up, but Stark grabbed two handfuls of her fur and held on tight, like a cowboy on the world's most demented bronco.  She kicked and bucked, rising up on two legs and falling back down hard enough to shake the ground, but Stark's inhuman balance kept him from being thrown off.  He took something from around his shoulder, something long and sinuous, and whipped it so that it wrapped itself around Becky's neck.  He caught it with his other hand and, now only holding on with his legs, tied it in a knot so that it would stay in place.  Then, just as Becky fell over sideways to crush him under her weight, Stark put one foot on her side and leaped off.  I stared at the thing he'd tied around Becky's neck.  I couldn't tell what it was from this far off, especially with my vision as cloudy as it was from blood loss, but I could still clearly see its dark brown color against her yellow and black spotted fur.  It had to have been important, or else Stark wouldn't have put himself in that much danger to get it on her, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what—

 

Stark made a sharp gesture with his right hand, and Becky's necklace exploded into light!  While the giant hyena howled and pawed at the ring of burned skin around her neck, I finally realized what Stark had done.  His ammunition belt.  He'd loaded it with bullets, tied it around her neck, and then used some of the magic he'd always been so stubborn about not showing me to ignite all them at the same time.  If Becky had been any sort of normal, sane, non-demonic creature, that would have blown her head clean off.

 

If only we were ever lucky enough to get to fight something like that.

 

While she was distracted, Stark came running over to me.  When he saw the wound on my shoulder, he cursed.  "Gotta get you out of here," he muttered, putting his hands underneath me. "She came from inside the house.  The wards haven't registered her as an outside threat.  Can you stand?"

 

I tried to put my paws underneath me, but stopped when Stark put his hand on my back. "No, of course you can't.  Don't even try.  Just stay still and try to absorb as much moonlight as you—"

 

A shadow passed over us, and the next thing I knew Stark was gone.  Something heavy landed behind me, making the snow ripple, and I turned to see that Becky wasn't where we'd left her.  Adrenaline laced panic shot through my body.  He'd been so distracted taking care of me that he hadn't thought to keep an eye on her!  I heard him grunt, and then cry out in pain while Becky laughed.  Ignoring the way my shoulder felt like it was on fire whenever I moved, I struggled to roll over and gasped when I saw Stark pinned under one of Becky's massive paws.  He might have been an amazing fighter, but in a contest of strength like that he didn't stand a chance.  Becky laughed again and raised her paw just high enough to bring it back down on him again.  My keen wolf ears heard the telltale sounds of bones popping in his ribs, and he groaned.

 

Suddenly, fur started to sprout from his body, and a few seconds later he was in midshift form again.  He braced his front and back paws against Becky's much bigger paw and heaved upward.  His entire body trembled from the effort, not just of pushing her off of him, but also maintaining his midshift when the moon was so adamantly demanding that he go full wolf.  Slowly, Becky's paw rose a couple of feet.  It wasn't enough to escape, but the fact that he'd been able to move her at all was amazing in and of itself.  Becky just bared her teeth in an amused grin and stomped on him again.  With her other paw, she swatted at him like a cat playing with a ball of yarn, rolling him across the ground so that he came to rest next to me again.

 

The smell of blood reached my nose, and I looked down to see that his chest wound had opened up again.  Blood spilled out of him, mingling with mine in the snow, but when his eyes met mine they were clear and determined.  Twenty feet away, Becky slowly made her way toward us.

 

"Amberrrr," Stark growled, reaching into his pocket. "Close... your eyes!"

 

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a box bigger than his fist.  It smelled like...

 

Oh, crap!

 

I did as he said and squeezed my eyes shut just as Stark held the box out in front of himself.  A series of loud bangs rang out, and I saw flashes of red through my eyelids, as well as a howl of rage from Becky.  As soon as the flashes stopped, I opened my eyes and saw the Nandi Bear still stumbling toward us.  Her body was peppered with even more holes now, but even that hadn't been enough to stop her.  I heard Stark groan and his hand fell.  It was glistening red and there was smoke rising off of it.

 

"Arrre you healing?" he croaked. "You need to... get away from here.  Can... can you do that?"

 

I looked up at him, my eyes widening, and he met my gaze. "I can't... do it" he said, failure weighing heavy in his words. "I'm sorry.  You have... to... rrrrun!"

 

With that, he passed out, his eyes rolling back in his head as it struck the ground.  I let out a desperate whine.  No, no, no!  What did he think he was doing?  He couldn't just faint.  Without him, we were all dead!  A moment later his body began to move, and I caught my breath in anticipation, but then I realized that he was finally giving in to the moon, his unconscious mind no longer able to resist.  A few seconds later, I had another wolf lying next to me.

 

The ground trembled beneath me, and I looked up again to see Becky looming over us.  There was blood dripping from more than a dozen holes in her, but they seemed to be healing right in front of my eyes.  I wasn't so lucky.  Even after practically inhaling moonlight all this time, the wound in my shoulder hadn't even begun to close up.  All it had managed to do was chase away the silver-induced numbness from my arm, making the pain even worse.  My head was spinning from all the blood I'd lost, and where I didn't hurt was feeling disturbingly tingly.  It wouldn't be too much longer before I joined Stark— if Becky even let me live that long.

 

"Amber!" I heard a voice scream from behind me.  Becky raised her head to look, growling.

 

Mom! My ears perked up, suddenly alert again.  With Stark down for the count, who would protect them if I died?

 

If you really loved them, you would do anything it took to protect them, Stark's voice echoed in my head. Anything at all.

 

The snow behind me was crunching, and panic shot through my veins again.  She wasn't coming to get me, was she?  Becky would swallow her whole!  Becky, seeing more prey to play with, eagerly licked her chops and stepped over me.  My heart began to race inside my chest.

 

No, please! I begged her inside my head. Not her.  Not my mom.  Take me, kill me, I don't care, but PLEASE DON'T HURT HER!

 

She didn't hear me, of course.  I doubt she would have listened to me even if she could.  Terror like nothing I'd ever known before was lighting my blood on fire, or what was left of it anyway.  I couldn't let this happen.  I had to protect my mother!  I couldn't stand, though, let alone fight a grizzly-sized hyena.

 

You are hunter, my animal side whispered to me from deep inside. Hunters never without weapon!

 

I didn't have to ask what it meant.  Just as Becky's paw passed above me, I summoned all my remaining strength and lunged up at her.  My snout met the thick, tough pad of her paw, and I sank my teeth into it.  Becky paused, looking down at me disdainfully, and then gave a flicked her paw, flinging me off of it like an insect.  Once again, I was sent rolling and sliding through the snow, leaving a long crimson streak behind, before coming to rest right side up and facing the cabin again.

 

"Amber!" Mom screamed again, but she wasn't able to keep her eyes on me for long, not with Becky stalking towards her.  Mom backed away from the Nandi Bear a few steps, and then her head snapped to look at the tree Becky had thrown Stark into.  His gun was still there, half buried in the snow.  A small flicker of hope perked up my ears.  I didn't know if the gun still had any ammo in it, especially after Stark had fired it directly out of the box, and I knew I didn't have any reason to think that one or two more bullets would be the enough to finally stop Becky, but at least it was something.  Becky crouched down to pounce on her, and Mom took off toward it.

 

Come on! I urged her as she sprinted awkwardly through the snow. You can do it!  You can—

 

My hope was in vain, though, because Becky turned and pounced, tackling Mom and pinning her under her paw.  Mom let out a quick yelp, but then was silenced when her head hit the ground, knocking her out cold.

 

Mom!

 

Becky opened her mouth, teeth glistening in the moonlight.

 

No, no, no!

 

Becky lowered her jaws towards my mom.  She knew I was watching.  She was moving slowly on purpose, prolonging the agony for both of us.

 

I have to save her... I have to...

 

But the sickening reality was becoming impossible to ignore.

 

I... I can't.

 

THEN LET ME.

 

The new voice in my head made me jump.  Time seemed to slow down as a shadow crept over my mind.

 

STUPID PREY.  WEAK.  CAN'T FIGHT.  CAN'T PROTECT.  LET ME.

 

There was a pressure building up inside of me.  My body began to shake.  It was like I was a dam, and the river was about to break through.

 

LET ME FIGHT.  LET ME PROTECT.  LET ME OUT!

 

I didn't kid myself.  I knew what was talking to me.  Part of me wanted to ignore it, try to push it away, but that part was growing quieter and quieter as Becky inched closer to taking Mom's life, until finally...

 

Can you do it? I asked.

 

The other voice answered without hesitation, YES.

 

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. All right, then. Do it.

 

All at once, I felt power explode my body, and I gasped! Moonlight flooded through my veins, more than I'd ever felt before. Some of it was coming from the moon, which I realized I was sucking up like a vacuum cleaner, but even more of it was coming from inside me, as if I'd been storing it up. It felt like burning fire and heavenly ecstasy at the same time. Within seconds, my shoulder wound had closed up, and I didn't feel light headed anymore. I felt something else, in its place. Power, so much power, and...

 

ANGER!

 

A growl ripped free of my throat as I fixed my eyes on Becky, who hadn't noticed what was going on yet. I was mad at her. No, beyond mad. I was pissed off like words can't possibly describe. It wasn't a human emotion, it was unbridled animal passion, magnified by a hundred, no, a thousand times! I stood up, and my body rippled. I was growing, I realized. With every passing second, my muscles swelled, and my body grew to accommodate them. My mind flashed back to the agonizing, herky jerky transformation Rebecca had gone through. This wasn't like that. This was smooth, fluid, and painless, as different as the flow of a stream was from a bag of popcorn cooking in the microwave. The remains of my human clothes were torn to shreds by my size alone. I felt strong, powerful, and dominant, but none of that compared to my anger. The rage blotted out everything else, and I zeroed in on the hyena in front of me. With one last surge of moonlight, my transformation ended, and I leaned my head back and howled.

 

Becky's ears perked up, and she turned to look at me— and froze when she found herself looking at a true Silverblood werewolf.

 

 

NEXT TIME: In this corner, weighing almost a ton, we have Becky the Nandi Bear!  Annnnd in this corner, we have Amber, a pissed off Silverblood.  Make your bets now folks, because next week it’s going down!

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