Chapter Forty Nine

I snarled at the Nandi Bear and crouched low, ready to fight.  My body was filled with so much strength, so much power, that I felt like I could tear the planet itself apart.  Becky wouldn't even be a challenge. This impudent animal had invaded my territory, and now I was going to make her pay! Becky quickly overcame her surprise and growled back at me.

 

DIE! I screamed inside my head, and charged at her. Becky sprinted back at me, and we met halfway. I immediately reared up on my back legs, swiping my claws at her face, and Becky retaliated by driving her shoulder into my gut. I fell over backwards, but rolled back to my paws with reflexes faster than I'd ever had before, even as a werewolf, and darted in to snap at her throat.

 

Becky backed off for a second, and then roared at me and pounced. Her full weight collided with me, knocking me over again and sending us both rolling through the snow. Her claws raked at me anywhere they could reach, slicing open skin with every haphazard swipe, but I found I could barely feel the pain. There wasn't room for anything in my brain besides anger. It was what fueled me, strengthened me, but I hated it at the same time. Becky was the only living thing I could see, which meant she must be the cause of it. Once I killed her, it would go away and I'd feel better.

 

With that encouraging thought, I kicked her in the stomach with both my back legs, sending her flying through the wintery night.  She collided with a tree in midair, reducing it to splinters before crashing back down into the snow. I got up again and leaped on top of her, wasting no time in burying my teeth in her throat. Blood gushed out from her veins and onto my tongue, only serving to excite me more. Once I finished her off, I was going to eat her!

 

Becky roared again, and smacked me across the snout with her paw. I tried to keep hold of her, clamping my jaws shut as tight as I could, and a big chunk of her flesh and fur tore free when I went skidding away from her. I spat it out and got back up just as she came charging at me again. One mouthful wasn't worth my time when there was an entire feast to be had! I turned slightly just as the Nandi Bear slammed into me again, and this time I was prepared. She managed to push me back a few feet, but I braced myself and threw my weight back against her. We struggled against each other for a few seconds, neither one of us clearly stronger than the other, and I snarled into her ear.

 

DIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE! I wanted to yell at her, but my wolfish mouth couldn't form the human words. It didn't matter anyway. I wasn't human. I was a wolf— a giant wolf. For all I knew, that was the all I'd ever been. I dimly remembered something about a scrawny, cowardly redheaded human girl, but I pushed that out of my mind. Whoever she was, she didn’t matter. Only the giant hyena and I mattered, and soon enough the hyena would be dead and my belly would be full.

 

Then the hyena pulled a dirty move. Reaching its claws down into the snow, it threw a pawful of it into my face, blinding me. In the split second that I was caught off guard, it darted backwards, and I fell forward into the snow, unable to catch my balance so suddenly. I started to get up, but then a crushing weight came down on top of me, and a set of sharp teeth buried themselves in my neck. The scent of my own blood mingled with the hyena's as I struggled to throw it off, to no avail. She was too heavy for me lift— so instead, I rolled over. Our weight was suddenly reversed, with me on top of the hyena, both of us on our backs. I curled my neck up as high as I could, and then brought back down, smashing the hyena's head against the ground. That stunned it enough to loosen its grip so I could escape, and I rolled off of it. My throat was bleeding profusely, but I ignored it and sucked in even more moonlight. The forest went pitch black for a couple of seconds, and when the light came back my neck didn't hurt anymore.

 

GET UP, I thought angrily at the hyena lying in front of me. NOT DONE FIGHT NOW GET UP!

 

A few seconds later, it groaned and rolled over, getting back to its paws. It growled at me, eyes alight with rage. It didn't compare to my own rage, though. That's why I was going to win. That's why I was dominant. It didn't matter how big it was, I was the huntress here and it was the prey. It swiped its claws at me again, but I merely leaned back out of its way. Then, before it could regain its balance, I pounced. Yet again, we went rolling through the snow, and suddenly the ground dropped out from beneath us. We'd gone over the edge of a hill, and we bounced, slid, and rolled the whole way down, colliding with trees every other second. We came to a rest at the bottom, still snapping and clawing at each other, and my ears perked up when I heard a groan coming from above us. The hyena and I both paused and turned to look just as one of the trees we'd run into fell over, completely uprooted by our speed and weight, and came rolling down the hill after us.

 

The hyena scrambled to get free of me and get out of the tree's way, but I clamped my teeth around its neck and threw all of my weight to the side, rolling so that it was lying on top of me.  Normally that would have put me at its mercy, but not tonight. The tree continued its destructive path downhill, throwing up dirt and snow as it came, and I looked directly in the hyena's eyes.

 

I WIN.

 

A moment later, the tree hit us, rolling over both of us and crushing us beneath it.  Pain lanced through me as what felt like every bone in my body shattered, even piercing through the storm clouds of my rage for a few seconds.  The hyena acted as a cushion between me and the tree, but that wasn't enough to save me.  I sucked in a ragged gasp, and the forest went dark again.  When the moonlight came back a few seconds later, the pain was gone.  I kicked my back legs, throwing it off of me, and got up.  The hyena didn't move for a minute, but I knew it was still alive.  I could hear its heartbeat.

 

It opened its eyes a minute later and let out a pitiful whine. I growled in reply, pawing the ground impatiently while I waited for it to get up again. I was still so angry. I didn't want to stop fighting yet! The hyena couldn't die until I was finished! It puts its paws underneath itself and tried to stand up, but its knees gave out and it fell back down into the snow.

 

NONONO! NOT OVER! STILL FIGHT! WANT FIGHT!

 

A series of pops and cracks filled the air, and I realized they were coming from the hyena. Its body was shrinking, losing its fur, changing its shape until something completely different collapsed in the snow in front of me. Something small, pink, and malformed. Its front and back legs didn't match up, and it wouldn't last five minutes out in this cold without any fur. More importantly, where had my hyena gone? I wasn't done fighting yet! I snarled at the little pink thing, demanding that it bring my adversary back so we could...

 

"A- Amber, no," it croaked. "Please... don't...

 

I cocked my head, trying to make sense of its pathetic little mouth noises, but then it turned its head to look at me and something in my brain clicked. Small. Pink. Furless. Weak, stupid, spineless, PREY! My anger flared up inside me again. It was the prey that had always held me back. I didn't know how, but it had finally gotten out of my head, and now it was lying naked and defenseless in front of me.

 

JUST LIKE IT SHOULD BE! I thought, opening my mouth. It wasn't nearly as big a feast as the hyena would have been, but this one would be even more satisfying.

 

I sank my teeth into it, and it gave a satisfying scream while its blood coated my tongue.

 

Several minutes later, I stood back up, my snout coated with blood and delicious smelling gore. Panting heavily, I leaned my head back and howled to the moon. Victory was mine. I'd known it would be all along, but that didn't make it taste any less sweet. They prey in my head had been vanquished, and now I could—

 

Somewhere out in the forest, another howl answered my own. It was smaller, weaker, but still clearly audible in the winter night's silence. I turned to look in the direction it had come from and sniffed the air, but the smell of the inner prey's blood was coated too thickly on my nose for me to detect anything else. Had that been a friendly howl? A submissive one?

 

Or had it been a challenge?

 

My hackles rose at the thought, the anger reigniting inside me. A challenge? Yes, a challenge. It had to be! But why? Hadn't I made my dominance clear when I beat the hyena? With every thought, my rage grew even hotter. I pawed the ground, digging rivets into the dirt with my long, sharp claws.

 

How dare they?

 

How dare they?

 

HOW DARE THEY?

 

With a howl of fury, I took off into the woods again, following where the howl had come from. I would find them. I would hunt them, hurt them, kill them! This was my territory, and I wasn't going let any insolent mongrel take it from me. I was big and strong, dominant, a huntress and the queen of the forest, and I would make them regret ever howling to the same moon as me.

 

I stopped for a moment and rubbed my nose in the snow, cleaning the inner prey's blood off of it, and then sniffed the air again. There were many scents in the woods, but the one I was looking for had to be around here somewhere...

 

There!

 

My head snapped around to face the direction the intruder's scent was coming from, and I chased after it. No need for stealth. Stealth was for weak, submissive animals. I was neither. I could run faster and bite harder than anything else in this forest, so it didn't matter how much noise I made one way or another.

 

The trees came to a sudden end, and I skidded to a halt in surprise. Where was I? There was a big, hulking structure in front of me. It looked like it was made out of trees, but these trees had fallen over and been stacked on top of each other. I cocked my head. What was I looking at? Some kind of den? There was light everywhere on it, even coming from inside it. Was it on fire? No, not fire. I couldn't feel any heat coming off of it. There was a gaping hole in one of the walls, leading inside. Yes, a den. Something had built a cave out of wood.

 

I bared my teeth at it. I was queen of these woods. I could kill what I wanted, and take what I wanted. Right now, I wanted that den. That made it mine. I cast my gaze around, looking for whatever lived in it. The hyena's scent was everywhere, but that didn't matter because it was dead. Looking down, I spotted two small forms on the ground. Upon closer inspection, they were revealed to be another wolf, much smaller than me. It was asleep. I growled and nudged it with my paw, but it didn't stir. Fine, then. Whether it knew it or not, I was its alpha now. As soon as it woke up, I'd teach it to respect me. I turned to the other creature and knelt down, snuffling at it. I paused. That was...

 

INNER PREY! My rage flooded brain screamed. INNER PREY BACK STILL HERE!

 

Well, it wouldn't be around for much longer, I'd make sure of that. This time, it would stay in my belly when I ate it! I opened my mouth and reached down to take the first bite— and felt a pinprick of pain in my back leg.

 

I spun around to see who would dare attack me, and found myself facing yet another wolf. This one was even smaller than the other, but it was still awake. As soon as I fixed my gaze on it, it backed away, tail between its legs. It was barely a pup. An insolent little pup that had dared to challenge me. My teeth came back out, and I took a threatening step toward it. I might have forgiven it being on my territory and taken it into my pack if it had been more respectful, but it had bitten me. That was a challenge. A challenge for dominance. I wouldn't, couldn't, let a challenge like that go unanswered.

 

And I was still so hungry!

 

The little wolf must have guessed what I was thinking, because it turned tail and raced back into its den. I followed it with my eyes as it disappeared into the hole, and then chased after it. A warm breeze wafted over me as soon as I stuck my head in. Mmm, that was nice. Why was it spring in here, but winter outside? I shook my head.  That could wait. Right now I had a disrespectful pup to punish. Where had it gone?

 

Putting my nose to the ground, I began to sniff for it. The chamber I was in was big, and had plenty of places for it to hide, but it couldn't hide from my nose. It had run from here, through a smaller hole in the wall across from me, and further into the den. The walls of the cave brushed my sides This hole was smaller than the first, too small for me. Bracing myself, I squeezed my way through it. I was still too big, but my strength tore through the cave walls, making the passage bigger all the same. More not-burning fire lit this part of the den, but it was my nose that led the way to my victim.

 

There it was! I spotted it peeking out at me through another small hole. As soon as it saw me looking, it ducked further inside, and another wall swung inward to block my way. I took a few seconds to howl, and then charged toward it. This wall buckled beneath my strength just like the first, and then I was in. And there was the tiny brown wolf, looking up at me in terror and...

 

Changing.

 

Just like the hyena, this tiny wolf's fur retreated into its skin, along with its tail, snout, and ears. I watched in confusion. Why did this keep happening to me? Where were my enemies going, and why wouldn't they fight me? Even so, I had the feeling that I knew what I was going to be left with.

 

Sure enough, the pup's changes came to an end, and in its place was—

 

MORE PREY! PREY INSIDE MY HEAD! EVEN MORE AND MORE AND MORE!

 

"Amber?" it squeaked. Why? Why did they keep making that noise? Their voices were so high pitched, so irritating. Hearing it only made me even angrier. "Is... is that you?"

 

I knew how to shut it up. Baring my teeth, I dove for it, intending to swallow it in a single bite. Instead, my jaws closed on nothing but air as the tiny pink prey thing dashed underneath my legs, escaping into the larger part of the den. I spun around, toppling and smashing the stupid things that cluttered the ground, and took off after it. It was squealing now, telling me exactly where it was without me even having to smell for it. I charged through the cave, Tearing the walls apart with every step, returning to the chamber I'd first come in through. It was almost to the entrance. Crouching down, tensing my muscles like a spring, I leaped just before it set foot in the snow outside. It crumpled under my strength even easier than the walls, and I pinned it down with a single paw. Laying on its back, looking up at me, it squealed again, but I drowned that out with a snarl.

 

INSOLENT DISRESPECTFUL PUP! NO CHALLENGE ME! I AM ALPHA. I AM DOMINANT. YOU... ARE... NOTHING!

 

With that, I grabbed one of its useless, dangling front legs in my teeth and gave a tug on it. Blood filled my mouth again, and I shivered with pleasure even as the prey squealed again. So good. SO GOOD!

 

Before I could take another bite, though, a voice called out, “Amber!”

 

I looked up and growled, wondering who would dare try to challenge me for my meal.  A scrawny, yellow haired creature stood at the mouth to my cave.  It looked like the prey inside my head, but was different somehow.  Male?  Not that it mattered, I would still—

 

“Catch!” he yelled, and threw something at me.

 

It was small and twinkled in the light.  Reacting with my godlike reflexes, I opened my mouth and snatched it out of the air.  The glass shattered easily under my jaws— and I shuddered when the most horrible thing I’d ever tasted washed over my tongue.  It was like rotten meat covered in crap, only worse.

 

Suddenly I felt dizzy.  Tired.  Shadows danced in front of my eyes.  Within seconds, my thoughts were coming so slowly I may as well not have been thinking at all.  I dimly realized what was wrong: all my moonlight was gone.  I was empty.  Completely empty.  I couldn’t… even…

 

I crashed to the floor and was asleep in less than a second.

 

  

NEXT TIME:   …oh dear.

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