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Call of the Hunt

4 years 2 weeks ago #22190 by Paradox
Paradox created the topic: Call of the Hunt
For this particular piece, I'm going to strongly suggest using the google docs link to read. I did some playing around with the fonts and, while you can read this fine here, I think you'll get more out of it in its original formatting. docs.google.com/document/d/18qoirwEG2c5L...j84/edit?usp=sharing

Call of the Hunt

Book 1

By Paradox

Salem, Indiana

There’s something intrinsically satisfying and cathartic when it comes to blade craft. Maybe it’s the intense heat of the forge causing sweat to pour down your face like a waterfall. Maybe it’s the repetitive motion of bringing a hammer down on glowing steel over and over for hours on end. Maybe it’s actually being able to see that shapeless hunk of metal you’d started with slowly bend and twist into the shape you desire, coming to life under your direction. Whatever the reason, I never felt more at peace than I did when I was crafting a new blade.

It had taken a long time to develop that skill. Most people who watch TV shows or movies depicting a person forging a blade think, “Oh, I can do that.” What those damn TV producers don’t show is how many mistakes you make, how many times the blade you’re trying to craft ends up warping into a complete mess, or how many times you end up smashing your own hand instead of the steel because you started to hurry what you were doing instead of letting the crafting flow. I made those very mistakes, and a lot of them, starting at the age of seven up until now. Even after eight years of learning and applying the craft of bladesmithing as it was taught to me by my Dad, I still made some seriously boneheaded mistakes that had me questioning just what the hell I was doing. Fortunately, those were getting fewer and further between as I hit my learning stride when it came to the craft. I don’t think I’d broken a finger because of a poorly aimed hammer strike for two years at this point.

Pausing for a moment, I lifted the bar of steel that still possessed a faint red glow to it. It would need another round in the forge to reheat before I could continue hammering it into shape, but I could see the design I’d drawn for it two days ago starting to come to life in my hands. My goal by the time I was done was to be holding a four-inch bowie-style knife with a three-inch long tang to be used to secure the hilt. It was a bit odd when it came to the sizing with the blade and the tang being relatively close together in length, but I’d been looking at the website of one of my favorite knife manufacturers and was fascinated with their new line of compact combat knives. I wasn’t sure I was at the skill level to make something quite that small and still retain the same kind of strength quality I could make with larger knives, but I damn sure wanted to try.

I had just slid the steel back into the long, rectangular forge for reheating when I heard footsteps crunch in the gravel behind me. Once I was sure that the steel had been properly positioned to allow for proper and even heating, I turned and saw a guy the same age as my own fifteen years with short, dark hair that was almost black. There was a friendly gleam in his equally dark eyes that never really left him no matter what the situation was. That was Jake Hayden for you, always trying to be friendly with just about everyone. The two of us had hit it off right away when he and his family had moved in a couple houses down five years ago and had been pretty good friends ever since.

“Hey Aiden,” he said as he strolled across the large gravel patch where I had all of my forging equipment set up, “Working on a new blade?”

Grabbing a nearby towel I wiped the sweat from my face before taking a long pull of ice cold water from the bottle I kept nearby. “Yeah. Cold Steel came out with a new kind of neck spike-style knife that I want to try to copy.”

Jake stopped to look at my design board I had set up using a tripod and a whiteboard. On it, I had drawn out the design specs as well as taped up some printed out pages from the website I’d seen the blade on so I could have a good all-around visual of what I was trying to achieve. “Pretty sweet looking knife,” he commented, “Think you can get close to it?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted, “But I’m sure going to try.” I gave the steel another turn within the forge so I could eyeball the temperature for a moment before turning back to Jake. “So what brings you by?”

He shrugged and plopped himself down in one of the lawn chairs that I had set up in my forging area. “I was just wondering what you were up to tonight. I heard there’s going to be a pretty good crowd at Betty’s tonight.”

I spared a moment to cast my friend a sideways look before setting the steel on the anvil and picking up my well-used hammer and bringing it down multiple times rapidly on the glowing hot steel, putting several more carefully calculated dents into the shape. I’d heard about the party happening at Betty Branski’s house myself in school earlier in the week but didn’t really pay much attention to it. Going to parties wasn’t really my thing. I’d much rather be spending my time working on either a new or already in-progress blade than listen to a bunch of vapid teenage boys and girls going on about the latest inane stuff like who’s hot on social media, who was currently having a Twitter war and the like. “And why exactly should I care about Betty’s party?” I asked as I made another series of strikes against the steel.

“Because you need to get out,” Jake explained in his calm, reasonable manner that usually preceded an arguing point I often couldn’t refute. “Ever since spring really hit you’ve spent every waking moment out here hammering away. We haven’t even hung out for a week.”

I made a few more strikes with the hammer before I set it down on the anvil and sighed, hanging my head a bit. He was right. The moment the weather had turned nice enough to work outside without risk of frostbite I’d spent nearly every free moment working in my homemade forge. You really couldn’t blame me. From December to March my hands had practically twitched with the desire to work a piece of steel into a finely honed blade. Since safety necessitated my forge be set up outside instead of indoors, I hadn’t been able to do any blade work over the last few months due to the winter. And for those of you who want to tell me the heat from the forge would be more than enough to keep me warm, you try standing outside working in rural Indiana in the middle of February and tell me it’s no big deal. I’d been able to spend a little time at Dad’s workshop and use his equipment, but when your father does blade craft for a living you don’t take up the use of his forge for little non-paying projects. At least, you don’t unless you don’t want food on the table.

“You’re right,” I conceded as I set the steel to the side to cool naturally so as not to accidentally harden or warp the budding blade, “I’ve just had so many ideas rolling around in my head I’ve been anxious to actually make them real.”

“I get that,” he said with a nod while standing up to come look at my progress with an interest few outside of my family shared, “But not many other people do. You’d don’t want to give Henry and his cronies more ammo do you?”

I shuddered at the mention of the well-known school bully. While I wasn’t his favorite target, I’d had my fair share of encounters with him and none of them were pleasant. “I’d rather not, but I wouldn’t mind using him as a test dummy,” I said and gave Jake a wicked smile. Okay, so it was bluster that I would never in my life follow through on, but when you’re a teenager you often say a lot of things you don’t really mean.

That got a chuckle out of my friend as he clapped me on the shoulder. “I get that. I also get why you spend so much time out here,” he continued, “You’ve always been that way. Other than your Dad I doubt there’s anyone else in the whole state that can do what you two can do and do it so well.”

When I’d heard that kind of thing the first time years ago it had caused me to blush in embarrassment. Since then, I came to understand it was a compliment to my skills that I had worked so long and hard to refine and wasn’t said just as a way of making me feel good about myself. It was also something that I should feel pride about instead of embarrassment. While I certainly appreciated the recognition of my skill and craft being acknowledged, I now took the accolades as the compliments that they were. “Yeah,” I said with a bit of a smile. “But it doesn’t do much for my social life.”

Jake shrugged and once again looked at the knife I was still in the process of shaping. “At what point did you have a social life?”

I couldn’t help but wince not only at the words but at the truth that laid within them. The fact of the matter was, I didn’t like people. Oh sure, there were notable exceptions. I loved my parents unequivocally and I was really good friends with Jake, and maybe I was friendly with a couple other people, but all in all I tended to stay away from folks. I tried to be different. Several years ago when I’d just started junior high I’d tried to make friends and be friendly with everyone, but in the end, my shy nature seemed to generate feelings of ridicule and disgust rather than compassion and friendship. It was around that time that, in conjunction with everything I saw on the news and social media via the news, that I found it more comfortable to just distance myself from people. I went from simply being shy to being a longer that was considered a social outcast.

“What good’s a social life,” I countered, “When it’s just going to come back and bite you in the ass?”

“How do you figure?” Jake challenged, “You might meet some decent folks at this party and maybe,” he gasped, “Make a new friend.”

“Or,” I parried, “It’s more likely that everyone at that party would be told a bunch of bullshit lies by Betty and her whole little clique before I’d taken two steps in the door and probably get thrown out by Henry and his crew, literally. No,” I said with a shake of my head before Jake could riposte, “I’m not going, but don’t let that stop you. Maybe Mary Riding will be there.”

As soon as I mentioned the name I knew the real reason for my friend’s interest in Betty’s little soiree by the way his cheeks colored. Mary Riding, while not the most gorgeous girl in school, was still a very pretty brunette that apparently had been making some noise in the high school grapevine about Jake being cute. Why he didn’t just walk up and talk to her before now was beyond me, but then I was pretty well tone-deaf when it came to social niceties. “Yeah,” he admitted, “She mentioned something about going and hoped I’d see her there.”

“So go,” I said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, which to me it was. “What are you worried about?”

His sigh had me rolling my eyes as I put my bladesmithing tools in the hand-crafted wooden toolbox Dad had gotten me for my fourteenth birthday. “That she’ll say something like she just wants to be friends, if she has any interest in me at all.”

I could only shrug at his dating dilemma. “So she says no, so what? Mary’s not the only girl on the planet you know,” I reminded him.

It was the wrong thing to say and I knew it the moment the words left my mouth. Jake had been pining for Mary for the entire school year but had lacked the courage to do more than say hi to her in the halls for fear of being rejected. I probably should have been more understanding since my own loner mentality came from a similar place, but I just couldn’t see passed the logic of the situation.

When I saw Jake’s eyes narrow with a hint of anger I was already starting to form my apology when he declared, “If that’s how you think then come with me. After all,” he mocked, though without any malice in his voice, “So what if the pretty boys and girls club spews bullshit about you, they’re not the only people on the planet after all.”

Dammit, he had me and we both knew it. If I still refused to go now then that meant all of my posturing about him being rejected was nothing more than that, posturing. If I did go, not only was there the tiniest sliver of possibility I might enjoy myself, but I might actually meet some friendly people. Fuck. “Fine,” I grumped as I shut off the gas to my forge and stored my tools in the small shed that contained all of my equipment, “But if I end up having a shitty night then you have to help me do some of the jobs Dad has lined up for me.”

“Get the chance to work with the two best bladesmiths in the state? I’m definitely getting the better part of this deal.”

* * * *

“I saw the knife you’re working on out there,” Dad said as we sat down to dinner that night, “I don’t think I recognized the design, though.”

“It’s something new I wanted to try,” I told him as I helped myself to a thick cut of meat cooked nice and bloody, “Cold Steel has this ‘Spike Series’ where they take traditional style knives and then them down so they’re narrow, spike-type versions. I wanted to see if I could make something that thin and still maintain the hardness and durability of their traditional counterparts.”

Dad pursed his lips in consideration before nodding slowly. “It’s certainly a challenge. Do you think you can do it?”

“Only one way to find out,” I said with a grin.

That got a barking laugh from him as he slapped my back with a hand that nearly sent me flying out of the chair. I didn’t mind. Dad was a big guy and had developed and maintained a lot of strength in his time in the military and his career in bladesmithing. You didn’t survive combat if you were a weakling and you didn’t forge quality blades if you didn’t have the strength the really bring that hammer down. While it didn’t look like I was in line to be the tall, well muscled He-Man that he was thanks to my Mom’s genes, I was definitely developing my own strength that was nothing to shake a stick at. Also, considering Mom was quite the beauty with dark, raven black hair that she got from her Black Irish roots and that I also shared, I really couldn’t have asked for better genetic stock when it came to the looks department.

And I had decent looks. Oh sure I wasn’t beating out Brad Pitt when it came to male beauty, but I could freely admit from looking in the mirror that I had something of a good, rugged look that might have been appealing to the ladies. That is if I actually cared about my looks.

“So I talked to Jake,” Mom interjected and I couldn’t help but groan, causing her in turn to smile. “He told me about your little agreement.”

“Yeah, well, I needed some help in the shop next weekend anyway,” I said, still not pleased that I’d been talked into going to that damn party.

“You never know,” she told me in that oh-so-sagely voice only mothers can master, “You just might find yourself having a good time. I’m glad you’re going. You’re always hiding out in this house or at the shop. You need to get out there with people your own age and have fun. Life isn’t only about blade making you know,” she reminded with a pointing of her fork.

“Maybe it’s the only part I like,” I defended, though because it was Mom I couldn’t put all that much force into it.

“Pshaw,” she dismissed.

“Hate to admit it kiddo,” Dad added regretfully, “But your Mom has a valid point. You can’t cut yourself off from society no matter how much you don’t like it.”

“Dad,” I sighed, “What’s the point of me going when I’m probably going to hate it and chances are Henry and his brainless followers will just give me hell before just throwing me out?”

“Are you scared of Henry?” Mom asked me softly.

Instantly I could feel both my male pride and an acute sense of embarrassment flare up within my chest. Considering the kind of man my father was, being afraid of anything seemed like an affront to him. I don’t mean to say that he looked down upon weakness, it just seemed like he wasn’t possessed of any. That was one reason why I looked up to him so much because to me he could do anything and was afraid of nothing.

“Aiden,” Dad said from his place at the table.

The way he simply said my name had my eyes lifting to meet with his. It wasn’t done in a commanding way, nor was it done to indicate displeasure. It was a request made by a father who was clearly concerned for his son.

“Are you afraid of Henry and his crew?” He asked.

The only thing I could do was nod before I looked back down at my plate. I didn’t even think about trying to deny it because to do that would have been an insult to both of them. All my life one of the things they prized most in people was honesty, even if that honesty meant causing pain, mine in this case.

When I heard the scrape of a chair on the floor I looked up just in time to feel Mom wrap her arms around my neck from behind and hug me while Dad placed his hand atop mine. “I don’t think you need to be afraid of that boy son,” he told me, “But it’s okay that you are.”

“Everyone is afraid of something,” Mom assured me quietly, “It’s what makes us human.”

“Fear is one of the things that has kept people alive for as long as they’ve been around. If we didn’t have fear the species would have died out a loooong time ago.”

I looked at Dad then even as I hugged Mom’s arms with one of my own. “You’re never afraid,” I accused quietly.

His eyes shifted to Mom’s and they had one of their silent, telepathic conversations. Okay, it wasn’t really telepathy since they weren’t mutants, but for as long as I could remember they would have these moments where all they needed to do was look at one another and it was like they spoke without saying a word. “What makes you think I’ve never been afraid?” he finally asked me in a gentle voice.

“You never seem to be,” I mumbled.

“Aiden, when I was in the military, there were a lot of times I was afraid.”

That brought my gaze back up to his, only this time mine was narrowed with suspicion. “Out of all of the stories you told me, not once did you ever say you were afraid.”

His smile was a bit whimsical and I think he was starting to realize that I was getting too old to simply just accept something just because it was said. “That’s true, but I told you most of those stories when you were little. Back then you just wanted to hear about the action and the adventure, not the fact that a fair amount of the time I was pretty damn close to pissing my pants.”

“Thanks for that image dear,” Mom quipped in a deadpan.

“Anytime sweetheart,” I replied cheerfully before his expression became serious yet concerned, “But the fact is I know fear just as well as anyone, even more so in some respects. It’s what you do with that fear that matters. Are you going to run from it or are you going to use it to make you stronger?”

It was on the tip of my tongue to tell Dad that sounded pretty cheesy until I actually thought about what he’d said and realized it made perfect sense. I was afraid of Henry and his boys, there was no doubting that. But was I really going to let my fear of him guide my actions now and further on in my life? If I allowed that fear to take hold of and influence my decisions now, what was stopping it from doing it again and again until that was the only way I knew how to choose, out of fear? Okay, so that’s more than a little bit of an exaggeration of things, but I got what Dad was trying to tell me.

“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath, “I’ll go to that stupid party, but I still think it’s going to suck.”

“Most do sweetheart,” Mom said as she kissed my forehead, “But you have to experience the bad things so you know what the good ones look like.”

Salem, Indiana, Outside the Branski Residence

“This is gonna suck,” I mumbled for probably the tenth time in the last half an hour as we walked down the sidewalk.

“Will you shut up with that already,” Jake scolded me, “If you walk into this with that kind of an attitude then that’s exactly what it will be.”

“Whatever, Mom,” I said sarcastically and slid my eyes at him.

Jake, for his part, just rolled his eyes and whapped me up the backside of the head. “Jackass,” he muttered, but both of us smiled.

Jake knew I was giving him hell just because I could. Part of a boy’s friendship growing up meant you gave each other shit now and then as a means of showing male affection. I didn’t really agree with it on the level where you were doing nothing but throwing barbs and ridicule all day every day like some people did because then you were treading into the dangerous territory of it simply being abuse. But giving each other a little shit now and then was just something guys did together to let them know, in a manly way of course, they cared about one another.

As we drew closer to Betty Branksi’s house we could already hear the music thumping through the walls and out the open windows. The feeling of hip hop music vibrating through the air almost had me turning and walking away right then and there. I think I might have actually done it if Jake’s hand hadn’t closed around my arm to prevent me from fleeing. “Just stay for a half an hour,” he bargained, “Then we can go.”

“Jake, you do realize you can go to this party without me, right? You don’t need me to hold your hand.”

His gaze narrowed in a parody of anger. “Yes,” he agreed slowly, “But I don’t want Mary thinking I’m some loser with no friends. I need a wingman here and, well, despite being a social pariah you’re the best that I’ve got.”

My mouth twisted in a smirk as I parodied Elvis with a, “Fuck you, ah fuck you very much.”

Despite our mutual humor, I did notice that the pounding bass was actually starting to bother me. While I certainly had a strong dislike for that style of music, tonight it was actually feeling uncomfortable the closer we got to the house. It was almost like feeling something dull with the promise of impending sharpness pressing against my eardrums. I think Jake noticed my discomfort because his expression changed from teasing to concern. “You okay?”

“Not sure,” I mumbled and wiggled my fingers in my ears in a vain effort to somehow rub the sensation away. “I’ll be alright,” I assured him without feeling anywhere near that confident.

He seemed far from convinced but nodded anyway and we walked up to the front door of the house where he gave several hard raps with his fist. Presumably because the loud music made it hard to hear, it was about a minute and a second round of knocking before the door was flung open and Betty Branski herself stood there looking fashionable in a short, red party dress that was clearly designed to display rather conceal. At first, her expression was friendly and welcoming, but the instant she realized it was the two of us standing there that friendliness pretty much evaporated. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

Once again I just wanted to turn around and walk away but Jake was a man on a mission and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. “Hi Betty,” he greeted cheerfully, “You’re looking lovely tonight.”

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously at him before tracking over to me and changing to something uncomfortably like a glare. “Henry’s here,” she told me ominously. The fact that she smiled when saying it had paranoid thoughts that this was all a setup running through my head.

“Hey,” Jake said, pulling Betty’s attention back to him, “As long as he’s cool, we’re cool. Cool?” I barely managed to keep from rolling my eyes at that line.

It looked like she was on the verge of refusing to allow us in when she finally sighed and did the eye roll that I myself had been holding back. “Fine,” she huffed in a clearly put-upon voice, “But if he starts any trouble you both have to leave,” and spun around to walk back into the house proper.

“If I start trouble?” I asked in disbelief and looked over at my friend. “I know I’m not exactly a social butterfly but since when do I start the problems?”

“Forget about it,” Jake said, “We’re in!” and practically dragged me inside.

If the bass was uncomfortable outside, it was rapidly approaching downright painful now that we were actually inside the house. I think Jake might have been saying something but for the life of me I couldn’t make out a single word. Every syllable he uttered was lost to some ghetto rapper yelling about smoking weed and “fucking bitches”. Real classy choice of music Betty.

All around were kids from school, mostly from the sophomore and junior classes, dancing...okay more like writhing...drinking punch that was probably spiked, and trying to have yelled conversations. I noticed several pairs going up and down the stairs of the house to what I assumed were the bedrooms for some make-out time and possibly more. Thankfully, Henry and his cronies were nowhere to be seen.

A tug on the sleeve of my black button down shirt, one of the few nice clothes I owned, drew my attention to Jake who nodded in the direction of the living room. When I looked to where he’d indicated I saw the reason for his eagerness. Mary Riding sat on one of the couches with a few of her friends laughing and talking while sipping punch from clear plastic cups. I had to admit, Mary was looking quite pretty tonight in a black dress with white polka dots that was a nice contrast to her long blonde hair. The way her blue eyes sparkled when she laughed at a joke that had just been told really made her seem open and approachable. I could see why Jake was so smitten with her and if I hadn’t been handicapped by my own social views and insecurities I might have considered making a play for her myself.

Nodding to Jake that I understood what he wanted, the pair of us snagged a couple cans of Coke from a beverage table. Jake had first grabbed a cup of punch but even from a moderate distance it just reeked of alcohol so I’d grabbed his wrist and shook my head no before shoving a Coke into his hand. Drink in hand, we walked into the living room and thankfully the music level decreased by about a decibel or two. We might be able to actually have a reasonable conversation in here.

Since I didn’t want to cramp his style, what little he actually possessed, I’d moved off to the side as soon as we’d entered the room and leaned against the wall so I could sip my Coke and watch. Jake himself wasted no time in proceeding with his mission as he walked right up to where Mary was seated with three of her friends and...stood there with a stupid smile on his face. I actually had to make a concerted effort not to facepalm as Mary and her friends continued on with their conversation about whatever it was they were talking about for several seconds before they all realized he was there. As one, they all turned to look at him with expressions ranging from confusion to annoyance. Thankfully, Mary held the expression of confusion so it didn’t yet seem imperative that I drag my friend away.

“Ummmm, hi Mary,” Jake said lamely and I swear to God it looked like he was ready to shuffle his feet. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty good,” she replied slowly as her gaze narrowed while she clearly tried to figure out just what was going on.

“What do you want loser?” One of Mary’s friends, Sally I think, snapped at Jake. “Can’t you see we’re in the middle of a conversation here?”

“Sally,” Mary chided, “Stop.” After chastising her friend the girl returned her gaze to Jake and offered him a smile. “So how are you, Jake? What have you been up to?”

“Oh not much,” he said with a shrug and took a nervous sip from his pop. “Just kind of been dealing with school and hanging out with Aiden.”

I fought off the urge to kick my best friend at the mention of my name and four sets of eyes swung my way. Unable to do anything about the blush of embarrassment from suddenly being the center of attention I just lifted my can in a kind of salute but remained silent.

“Oh hi Aiden,” Mary said and it seemed like she was genuinely happy to see me. “How’s your Dad doing? He made that great hunting knife for my Dad the other week, he can’t stop raving about it.”

“Yeah,” I said bashfully. Have I mentioned how I don’t like being the center of attention? “He liked the challenge of acid etching a deer rack into the blade without compromising the structural integrity of the metal.” When everyone just looked at me with a blank, uncomprehending stare I quickly ducked my head and muttered, “He liked making it.”

“Well,” Mary went on, ignoring my shyness, “He told me it’s the best he’s ever had. He’s skinned I don’t know how many deer and it still hasn’t lost its edge yet.”

I opened my mouth to make a comment on how Dad’s process involved heating the steel to the point it was white hot before going through the quenching process and thereby strengthening the steel, but then I saw Jake’s pained expression along with a plea for me to just shut up. “I’ll let him know he likes it,” I said instead.

Mary nodded and her attention, thankfully, returned to Jake. “So Jake,” she asked conversationally, “What did you think of Mr. Kelly’s history test last week?”

“Ugh,” he said, raising his eyes to the heavens as he sat down on the edge of the coffee table in front of the girls, “I can’t believe he included that question about JFK’s assassin. Everyone knows Lee Harvey Oswald was working in conjunction with the Deep Throat when he was still part of CIA’s black ops.”

That elicited a couple of amused giggles not only from Mary but from her friends as well. I had to admit it, Jake could be damn charming if he wanted and it was clear right now he wanted to be. I also knew when I would be more of a hindrance than a help and chose that moment to slip out of the living room to go explore a little bit. Of course, what I really wanted to do was get the hell out of there and either go back to my forge or maybe take a walk in the woods, but I didn’t want Jake getting upset because I disappeared on him. So I found myself wandering about, offering a small nod of hello to the few people that actually greeted me, and just thinking about the next few steps I needed to take to properly shape my bowie-style spike knife.

I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I never saw the shape quickly approaching me until I felt something shove hard at my shoulder, sending me spinning into the wall while my can of Coke went flying. I recovered quickly and whirled about only to be greeted exactly the thing I had been dreading the whole night.

Standing before me was Henry Cartwright. At six foot two and probably two hundred and fifty pounds of sheer muscle, he was the undisputed king of the school. He was the star quarterback, dated the head cheerleader, was beloved by pretty much all the students and faculty, and was the biggest bully to anyone smaller and weaker than him, which pretty much meant everyone. Basically, the guy was probably one of the biggest walking cliches on the planet. Unfortunately, that translated into me being another cliche of the smaller kid getting picked on by the big bully. Yeah I was in pretty good shape if I do say so but I wasn’t big, topping the ruler at around five foot five which in modern society was pretty small for a guy and Henry was the kind of guy to capitalize on that.

Surrounding him were four other members of the football starting lineup, all of whom were equally as big and just about as mean. Because Salem High was primarily a football school, with basketball taking over in the off-season, these guys were treated like royalty because the administration wanted to win state championships. That the assistant dean of students was also the head coach translated into a permanent get out of jail free card. It also meant that the parents of these fine upstanding citizens (insert sarcasm here) would defend their precious little angels regardless of what they did.

Basically, it meant I was fucked no matter what I did.

“What the fuck are you doing here Connors?” Henry snapped while still wearing that shit-eating grin, “I thought this was a no losers party.”

“He just showed up,” Betty said as she walked up, “I don’t know how he got in.”

“You let me in with Jake,” I protested once I got my voice pushed passed my growing fear.

“I don’t remember that,” she waved dismissively. “I remember Jake showing up but I didn’t invite you in.”

All I could do was stand there with my mouth hanging open as Betty proceeded to completely lie about my very presence. Sure, I got that I probably was only invited in to begin with because I was with Jake, he was reasonably well-liked by people. But what was the reason to lie about it unless…

The pieces fell into place right when I felt Henry’s hand close around the front of my shirt and he pulled me up onto my toes. “You shouldn’t have come here asshole,” he said dangerously, “Now we’re going to have to teach your bitch ass a lesson.”

Dear God, did this guy get his lines from every bad teen novel ever written? Well, unoriginality aside, it was clear that I was about to get a pounding. It wouldn’t be the first one I was on the receiving side of when it came to Henry and his pals, but this time something just felt...different. I don’t mean I thought it was going to be any better or worse than before, but something inside me had, in that moment, changed.

I’d lost count of how many times this asshat had bullied or beaten me up in the past, and every time I either tried to get away or make a very bad attempt at fighting back that always ended with me being bloody and him walking away high-fiving his friends. Now, in this moment, that outcome just didn’t seem likely. Oh sure it was a distinct possibility, but instead of getting those inevitable feelings of defeat in my mind, I was instead experiencing something very, very different.

I was angry.

Now I don’t just mean I was angry that I was getting picked on or that I’d been chosen to get a beat down by some wannabe thug football player, that was pretty much a given on any day. No, this anger was something deeper, darker, more primal. No, not primal, that’s not the right word for it. Feral. That’s what it was, a feral kind of anger that was rapidly building inside me with a strange kind of heat. It had my hands curling slightly and my vision change from wide-eyed fear to a narrowed kind of targeting, with Henry dead center in the crosshairs.

“Hey man,” one of his buddies said with a thread of nervousness in his voice, “What’s going on with him?”

“Huh?” Henry asked stupidly, looking at his friend and then back at me before his eyes widened a bit. “What the fuck man? You think you’re some kind of badass?”

I had no idea what he was talking about and, frankly, I didn’t give a shit. My anger was rapidly passing into the pissed off stage and my chest was beginning to heave with the weight of it. All I could seem to focus on was that throbbing vein in his neck while an odd voice in my head seemed to be calling out to me to rip it from its fleshy housing so it could spill its life-giving contents all over the floor. I should have been scared to be having that kind of thought, but instead, I found myself smiling.

I don’t know what those guys saw in my grin, but it had a couple of them taking a step back while another said, “Let’s just leave him be Henry. The guy ain’t right in the head.”

“Fuck that!” Henry spat, “This piece of shit needs to learn he ain’t nothin’,” and drew his fist back for what was going to be a monstrous punch.

Henry never landed that punch. I don’t know exactly what happened because it all was just a blur, but one moment I was pinned against the wall and in the next Henry was on the floor and I was on top of him snarling in his face in a way that couldn’t be classified as anything even remotely human. At that moment the only thing that had prevented me from tearing his throat out with my teeth was that little bit of humanity that still retained some kind of minimal control over the wild chaos that had taken root in my mind. It didn’t mean I was getting off the guy, just that I wasn’t eating him yet.

Henry’s buddies wanted to help him, to pull me off, but every time one of them took a step towards us my head would snap around to glare at them and a warning growl would seep out from between my bared teeth. When I finally redirected my attention to my prey a distinctive, acidic scent filled my nostrils, causing me to look down and notice a large and distinct dampness in the crotch of his jeans. While the rational part of my mind would have thought it pretty damn hilarious that Henry Cartwright, big man on campus who had pretty much everything going for him, had just pissed his pants, that wasn’t the part in control at the moment. Instead, the only thing I thought of, if it could indeed be considered rational thought, was that this piece of meat stank of fear and food.

I was actually leaning down to sink my teeth into that sweet, yielding flesh when I felt something grab me by the shoulder. I was just about to turn and see who would deny me my prey when I was bodily thrown down the hall. My head cracked against the floor with the impact and white spots exploded before my eyes as I slid across the tile towards the front door of the house. By the time I came to a halt that intense anger and subsequent feral instincts had receded to deep within my mind where I could no longer sense them and Jake was kneeling over me with a look of utter shock and disbelief on his face.

“Aiden!” he yelled as he kept me pinned to the ground with a firm grip on my shoulders, “Aiden stop it!”

“Jake?” I asked in confusion. Where the hell had he come from? “What happened?”

“You sick freak!” I heard someone yell from down the hall before realizing it was Henry.

“Shut up Henry,” Jake yelled over his shoulder, “Go change your pants.”

That got a chorus of laughter and I saw the form of big bad Henry, the one everyone either feared or respected, streak passed me and out the door of the house with his buddies in hot pursuit. I don’t know how, but I swear I could smell the bitter tang of...something...coming from him as he went by and it wasn’t urine.

“Aiden, talk to me,” Jake said in nearly a pleading voice.

“I’m...I’m okay,” I managed and struggled to get back into a sitting position. “What the hell happened?”

“You just took on the Henry Cartwright and I think you won,” Mary said in an amazed voice as she knelt down next to Jake while I made a conscious effort not to accidently look up her dress.

“I did?” Even to me that sounded pretty stupid.

“Well you just made him piss his pants and run out of here like his head was on fire,” my friend reasoned, “So yeah, I’d say that counts as a win.”

“Shit,” I whispered as I struggled back to my feet with Jake and Mary helping me, “He’s going to be all over my ass on Monday.”

“I doubt it,” Mary told me confidently, “Not after the way everyone laughed at him.”

“Don’t bet on it,” Jake corrected her grimly, “He might not do anything in front of everyone else, but he’s the kind of guy who would look for revenge. Just be careful Aiden.”

“Yeah,” I agreed dejectedly, “I will. I’m gonna head home.”

“Want me to come with?” Jake offered and while he showed no signs of it being anything more than a platitude, I caught the slightly crestfallen look on Mary’s face.

“Nah,” I told him, waving off his help, “I’ll be fine. You stay and enjoy yourself. But remember,” I warned him with what I was able to muster up as a smile, “I own your ass next weekend.”

The threat obviously didn’t have nearly as much oomph as I’d hoped because he simply shrugged and grinned. “A chance to learn from the master and his protege? How did you ever think that would be a punishment?”

“Oh you’ll see,” I told him ominously, or least I tried to make it sound ominous. Given my state of dazed confusion it undoubtedly came across as half-assed. “I’ll see you later,” I told the two of them and headed out the door and away from this miserable excuse of a good time.

The Wild

The trees whipped passed me in a blur, but I had no concerns about striking any of them. Every movement was made knowing what the following several would already be and that sped me through the woods in a way few things could follow. Though I only traveled at an easy, loping gait, I reveled in the freedom of movement that I possessed. Nothing could halt my progress, regardless of how they tried. A fallen log was easily bounded over. A cluster of brush was simply blown through. A babbling brook only offered me a chance to cool my heated muscles as I splashed through it. The forest was my territory and I was on the hunt.

I’d tracked my prey across several leagues and even now its scent grew stronger still. It was close, so very close, and I could almost taste its sweet flesh on my tongue. The sudden, panicked burst of energy as it raced off through the grass floated to my ears as they swiveled to track its path and guided my pursuit. It was fast, they always were, but I was faster. Changing from a lope into a run I charged through the darkness, letting my ears and my nose guide me along the crystal clear path it left behind. How foolish was it, my delicious prey, that it thought it was capable of eluding a predator such as I.

As the scents of the forest, my territory, my home, filled my senses I realized what its plan was. There, up ahead, just passed its small form desperately weaving back and forth in a vain effort to trick me, was its burrow. It was seeking escape, which might actually be possible if it succeeded in reaching its home. The burrow was too small for me to enter and it would take far too long to dig it out. I was hungry now and I would not be denied my meal.

Putting on a burst of speed that surprised my prey, my jaws flashed down and caught it by the back of its delectable little neck. There was a burst of fear-soaked scent released into the air moments before my teeth snapped closed and severed its delicate little spine, causing it to sag lifelessly in my mouth.

The hunt was done, it was time to feed.

Salem, Indiana, Connors Household

“Adien,” I dimly heard Mom call, “Aiden wake up.”

“Mmmwhaa,” I mumbled as I struggled to pull myself out of the comfortable realm of sleep.

“Aiden come on,” I heard her say with a hint of exasperation, “It’s passed eleven. You missed breakfast.”

“What? Eleven?” Shaking my head to try and clear away the drowsiness I opened my eyes and saw the blurry image of my bedside alarm clock. Once I’d gotten the sleep rubbed from my eyes I saw that it was indeed eleven ten in the morning. I rarely slept past nine even on weekends. “What the hell?”

“That’s what I was just wondering,” Mom said as she threw open my curtains and bathed my room with sunlight. “When did you get home last night?”

“I dunno,” I said sleepily, “I didn’t notice the time.”

“Well if you want some lunch you’d better get your butt in gear mister,” she admonished with a smile. “And put some clothes on. I may be your mother but I really don’t need your naked ass to be the first part of you I see in the morning.”

“What? Naked ass?” That finally drove the drowsiness away and I sat up to realize I was stark fucking naked! Quickly grabbing my blanket, which had apparently been kicked off the bed sometime last night, I swiftly pulled it over myself even as Mom laughed and shook her head before walking out of my room.

“What the fuck?” I whispered and looked under the blanket as though I was noticing something I’d never seen before. Never in my life had I slept naked. No matter how tired I was I always at least threw on a pair of gym shorts or something before going to sleep. I didn’t even remember stripping down before apparently faceplanting onto my bed. The last thing I could recall was Henry throwing me against the wall before threatening to pound me and then…

Nothing. I couldn’t remember how the hell I’d gotten home. Holy shit, was I losing my mind? Was I cracking up? Would they be calling in the white lab coats on me soon?

No, that couldn’t be it. After all, crazy people don’t question their craziness, right? I was probably just so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I had probably just spaced out and didn’t remember coming home...and stripping naked before falling dead asleep. “Fuck,” I said quietly, putting my face in my hands and trying to force my brain to kick into gear. Last night was bad but had it hadn’t been so bad that I’d completely blank out like that.

“Aiden,” Mom called from downstairs, “Come on, I’ve got breakfast turned into lunch for you.”

“Coming Mom,” I called back, rolled out of bed to grab some clothes, threw them on, and raced downstairs. When I got to the kitchen I was surprised to see both Mom and Dad sitting at the kitchen table, which was laden with breakfast food that clearly had just been cooked. “Wait a second,” I said suspiciously as I sat down, I thought you said I missed breakfast.

“You did,” Mom agreed as she started putting together a plate for herself, “We just decided we would wait to make it until you were up.”

I looked from her to Dad, who was also transferring food to his plate but had a somewhat serious look on his face. “Okay guys,” I said and gave them a look that I hoped told them I wasn’t playing games, “What’s going on here? I know Dad wouldn’t have waited until eleven in the morning to have breakfast.”

My parents looked at each other and had one of those infamous silent conversations that they’d been doing probably since before I was born. Without a word being spoken I knew they were having some kind of quasi-telepathic connection that only deeply loving married couples seem capable of. Truth be told, I hoped I’d meet a girl one day that I could fall in love with so deeply that we could tell what each other was thinking without saying a word just like my parents did.

“Aiden,” my father finally said as both sets of eyes returned to me, “We know you’re going through a lot, what with growing up and being something of an outsider with the kids. It’s okay,” he interrupted just as I’d opened my mouth to defend myself, “There’s nothing wrong with who you are and I understand why you don’t feel like you fit in. Honestly, I have trouble fitting in too. It’s pretty much only because of my work and what I can offer people that I’m not considered an outsider too.”

I had no idea Dad felt similarly to the way I did. Anytime I saw him with other folks in this town he seemed to be at least respected but people were also pretty friendly with him as well. “But people like you,” I argued.

“Doesn’t mean I like them,” he countered with a knowing smile. “You may think you’re alone when you say you don’t like people or trust them, but believe me you’re not. If it weren’t for your mother I doubt I’d ever be social.” He said that last part not like it was an accusation, but with affection that was punctuated by him taking her hand and kissing it.

“What your father was trying to say before getting off track,” she emphasized with a light slap on his shoulder, “Is that we know you’re going through a difficult time in your life and we want you to know we’re here for you if you need to talk about anything. No judgments, no accusations, we’d be happy to just listen and maybe offer a bit of advice now and then.”

While Dad nodded his agreement I debated on whether I should tell them about the strange events that happened at the party last night. I knew they were being honest when they told me they’d listen without judging me. They’d always been that way unless I did something pretty serious to get in trouble. Thankfully those kinds of events were few and far between. I guess being antisocial helped in that respect. Still, the odd loss of control that occurred last night really concerned me more than just a simple bully problem. I wanted to say something to them about it but at the same time I was worried they would think I was sick and take me to some doctor who would proclaim I needed to be locked up in a mental ward for my own protection and spend the rest of my life in a straightjacket in a padded room.

Yeah, my imagination tended to run a little wild sometimes.

“No, I’m okay,” I finally assured them, “The party just sucked like I thought it would. On the plus side, Jake has to help out in the shop next weekend.”

That statement caused a wicked grin to form on Dad’s face. “Does he still think he’s going to be standing around ‘learning from the master’?”

I couldn’t help but match that shit eating grin. “Yup.”

“Ooooo this is going to be fun,” he proclaimed with humorous evil as he rubbed his hands together like a maniacal supervillain.

“Now behave you two,” Mom chastised us as we all dug in, “Jake seems genuinely interested in bladesmithing. You shouldn’t stifle that by turning him into a gopher in the shop so he can’t learn anything.”

“We won’t Mom,” I promised, “But he should know just how hard the work actually is.”

“Very true,” she agreed, “Just don’t abuse your knowledge with him.”

Properly cowed by the matriarch of the family, we nodded our acceptance of this doctrine and went about devouring a rather delicious breakfast.

* * * *


“Back here,” I called as I brought the hammer down on the glowing steel, causing a sharp ring to echo through the air.

“Hey man,” Jake said as he hurriedly rounded the corner of the house and headed towards my forge space, “You okay?”

I paused between hammer strikes just long enough to throw him a confused look before resuming the painstaking process of shaping steel. “Of course, why?”

“Well,” he said as though it should have been obvious, “After last night I thought for sure you’d still be a bit shaken up.”

I gave a snort of derision before bringing the hammer down a little harder than I should have. Fortunately, it didn’t cause an out of control contortion in the steel so I wouldn’t need to backtrack. “Why would I be shaken up about Henry wanting to beat my ass for the hundredth time? It’s not like that’s anything new.”

“Henry beating your ass?”

Okay, this game of wordplay was starting to get annoying. “Yeah, beat my ass. He’s been doing it or threatening to do it for at least ten years now. Why should last night be anything special?”

“Aiden,” he said slowly and quietly, “What do you remember about last night?”

I shrugged and brought the hammer back down again. “We went to the party, you were making some good time with Mary, I got out of the way, Henry threatened to kick my ass again, then...I came home,” I finished lamely. I didn’t want my best friend to know that I might be experiencing losses in time. I was glad my parents were being completely supportive but I didn’t want Jake to start looking at me like I was loony toons.

“Yeah,” he said as he walked around in front of me and stopped my next strike by grabbing my wrist, “After you tackled Henry to the group and looked like you were ready to rip his throat out.”

“Wh-what?” I was sure I heard him wrong.

“Yeah man,” he went on, “Henry was just gearing up to punch you when you started making these animal-like growls and you tackled him. The way you were acting I thought you were gonna kill him. Henry probably thought the same thing because he pissed himself.”

“Pissed himself? Henry?” Oh boy, I was starting to lose my speaking ability. I needed to pull myself together. “Okay, very funny,” I said with a wan smile, “I appreciate you trying to make me feel better about it but it’s okay, I’m used to dealing with his shit.” I went to go shrug off his grip so I could continue my work but he only just pulled the hammer out of my hand like I was a child and tossed it aside. “Hey asshole,” I yelled, “You’d better not have bent the handle on that-”

“Aiden!” he shouted with such a level of worry in his voice it stopped me in mid-rant. “Aiden,” he repeated, a little calmer this time, “I’m not fucking with you here. Even if Henry completely deserved it, what you did last night was pretty fucking nuts. I’ve never seen you like that before. It was like you were becoming some kind of animal.”

I wanted to tell him to knock off the bullshit, but the stark worry in his eyes kept me from doing so. Not only that, but there was a hint of something in the air, some kind of mildly sweet scent that almost seemed to coincide with when he spoke, compelling me to believe him. “All right,” I told him, sitting down in one of the lawn chairs and taking a pull from my water bottle, “Say I believe you. Why didn’t his cronies come after me when I did that?”

“They tried!” he said in exasperation, throwing up his arms, “Every time one of them got close you’d snarl at them like some kind of wild dog. Everyone was afraid to even try to step in until I managed to get you by the back of the shirt and throw you off of him.”

“And that’s when he pissed himself?”

Jake shook his head. “No, that happened before I could get to you. It’s why he took off from the party, everyone was laughing at him. People are still talking about it and it’ll probably spread like wildfire in school on Monday.”

I wanted to try and deny all of it, but Jake had never lied to me before, especially about something that bothered him this much. That meant I really had gone kind of crazy and attacked Henry and actually made him piss his pants. “Oh I’m so dead,” I moaned and dropped my face into my hands.

I heard Jake sigh and plop down into the chair beside me. “I doubt it. After that little display of yours I’m guessing people are probably going to stay far away from you. You might want to watch your back outside of school, though. Henry isn’t known for just letting things go.”

“Hence the ‘I’m so dead’ statement,” I told him. Jeeze, Jake could be pretty dense sometimes.

“Maybe,” he allowed, “Or maybe he’ll be too scared that you’ll go all wild thing on him again if he tries anything. Probably best to just watch yourself either way.”

“I should have never gone to that party,” I lamented and went to go retrieve my hammer.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I dragged you into it,” he apologized before brightening a little. “If it’s any consolation, Mary’s going out with me next week.”

I cast my good friend a smirk as I stood up and lightly tapped the hammer against my palm. “As long as it isn’t during the day Saturday or Sunday. Your ass is mine for those two days.”

“Aw shit,” he mumbled, “I forgot about that.”

This time my grin was genuine, genuinely evil. “I didn’t.”

* * * *

“Hey Mom,” I called as Jake and I walked into the house from the back, “Mind if Jake stays for dinner?”

“As long as you don’t mind getting embarrassed in front of him,” I heard a gruff voice say from the living room.

“Grandpa!” I whooped and ran over to where the rugged older man was standing up, wrapping my arms around him in a tight embrace. “When did you get here?”

“While you were out at your forge,” he told me and there was no mistaking the pride in his voice. “Your mother tells me you’re working on a new design.”

“Yeah,” I told him excitedly, “I’m trying to duplicate a spike-style bowie knife I saw Cold Steel makes.”

“Well you be sure you send me a few photos of the finished product along with a demonstration video,” he ordered while ruffling my hair and making me duck my head in embarrassment.

“Grandpa,” I whined.

“Hey,” he told me defensively, “It’s a grandparent's prerogative to embarrass his grandson in front of his friends. How have you been Jake?”

“Pretty good Mr. Connors,” he replied, clasping Grandpa’s hand in a firm shake, “How are things out west?”

“Can’t complain,” he allowed, “I’ve been keeping myself busy. Speaking of which…” He grinned and walked over to where his small suitcase was sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. Unzipping it, he drew out a rectangular wooden box before turning and walking over to me. From the corner of my eye, I saw Mom and Dad standing in the doorway that led to the dining room watching with clear happiness and pride on their faces. What the hell was going on?

“Aiden,” he told me and sounded way more formal than I was comfortable with, “We have a bit of a tradition in our family. I’m sure your Dad has told you the men in this family have been weaponsmiths for...well, a really long time.”

That got a chuckle out of everyone because it was true. Dad once told me our ancestors were responsible for making the claymore William Wallace used in his battle against England. I’m not sure if I believed that story, but it was a nice little fantasy that I didn’t want to question too much.

“There comes a time in the life of a young man when he becomes recognized as being more than a dabbler or an apprentice. Your Dad has shown me the work you’ve done, both for his business and on your own, and I don’t have any doubt that you’re well beyond the point of apprentice.”

“Grandpa,” I said quietly, feeling a chill go up my spine, “What are you saying?”

“While you aren’t a master smith yet, your father and I both agree you’re at the age and skill level to move from apprentice to Journeyman.”

My jaw simply dropped. For starters, I hadn’t even entered into any kind of apprenticeship with Dad that could be recognized by any blacksmith trade organization. Secondly, I knew that blacksmiths needed to be at least eighteen years of age to even be considered for an apprenticeship to say nothing of being classified as a Journeyman. So did this mean more than what I was actually being told?

“Now I know it’s not considered legal,” he said, giving voice to my concerns, “But when you turn eighteen your father and I will both sign off on your certification since we’re registered as Master Smiths and trainers. Provided, of course,” he continued with a grin, “You keep up with your work.”

“I doubt you could stop him,” Jake quipped, throwing me a cheeky grin when I glared at him.

“Oh I know,” Grandpa continued, “That’s why I want to give you this.” He held out the box for me to take. “Your father wanted to make it but was kind enough to allow me the honor.”

Taking the plain but stout wooden box with shaking hands I was actually nervous about opening it. What could be in there? A new apron? A set of tongs? Taking a deep breath I released the latch and opened the lid.

For several moments I could do nothing but stare down at the contents contained within. I think I might have even forgotten to breathe for a second or two. Laying on a bed of molded red velvet was a brand new smith’s hammer and a long-stemmed impression stamp. The handle was clearly made of a stout oak while the head was clearly crafted from chromium based on its sheen. I could put this thing through hell and back and it would just smile at me and ask for more. On the side of the head was a very familiar stamped sigil depicting a slim tree in the center and the profile of a wolf’s head on either side of it. It was the symbol of our family name that dated back hundreds of years. A quick look told me the impression stamp bore that exact sigil.

“Grandpa,” I breathed as I carefully removed the hammer from the box and tested its heft. Unsurprisingly the balance was perfect. “This is...amazing!”

“You’re part of a family tradition that dates back centuries,” he informed me, “And whether or not you wish to continue as your father and I have is your choice. Don’t think this means you absolutely must follow in our footsteps. But if you do want to keep going and learning, then all of us want you to have the right tools to do it.”

I nodded my understanding and carefully laid the hammer back in the box before hurling myself and Grandpa and hugging him as tightly as I could. I’d barely let go of him before I was flying across the room to catch up both of my parents in an equally crushing hug, all the while telling them thank you over and over again. Did I want to continue being a bladesmith? Where they nuts? Of course I did! It was the one thing in my life outside of my family that made me truly happy. Now, it was made even better.

“Alright,” Grandpa said with a clap of his hands, the tone of formality completely gone from his voice, “I’ve had a long flight and I’m starving, what’s for dinner?”

Salem, Indiana, Christie’s Restaurant

“Come on man,” Robert Hollister offered encouragingly, “You’ve got to get yourself out of this funk. It happened a day ago. That’s like a lifetime.”

When the silent figure at the table he and his friends sat at continued to remain mute he looked over at the other young men that also wore expressions of concern. One of them, Clay Stickman, took a breath and tried his hand at helping the conversation. “Yeah, Henry, this isn’t like you. I’ll bet hardly anyone even knows what happened.” That drew every eye at the table, including the aforementioned Henry’s, causing Clay to blush in embarrassment and look away.

Sighing and shaking his head, Ed Blakely, Henry’s oldest and closest friend, leaned over so he could speak quietly with the boy. “Listen Henry,” he told him in a no-nonsense manner, “You have to look at this one of two ways. You can either wallow in self-pity and undoubtedly become the laughingstock of school, or you can do something about it.” The last was said with a fierce determination that highlighted the many years of friendship between the two and the knowledge that they had done plenty of things in their past to deal with situations like social embarrassment.

Whether it was the words or the tone in which they were spoken, Henry lifted his eyes from the plate of food that had just been pushed around for the last ten minutes and gazed at his friend with a dull and almost lifeless expression. At least they had been dull and lifeless until Clay’s words had penetrated that dense fog that had clouded Henry’s mind and blunted his emotions to the point of inactivity.

Now, under the curiously cautious gaze of his friends, Henry’s eyes began to clear and even sharpen as his lips curled with a kind of malice few of them had seen before. “You’re right,” he said, more to himself than his friends, “I should do something about it.”

Robert and Clay looked at one another in confusion at this sudden and frankly disturbing change in their friend and leader while Ed met Henry’s grin with one of his own. The two of them had been friends for a very long time, years before Robert and Clay came into the picture when they had first joined the football team freshman year, so there was a kind of bond between the two boys that wasn’t truly understood by the remaining “outsiders”. Given the history between them, that was probably for the best.

Slowly rising from the table, Henry pulled a few ten dollar bills from his pocket and threw it on the table before striding for the door with Ed close behind. It actually took Clay and Robert a few seconds to realize their esteemed leader was leaving them before they scrambled from the table and hurried after.

Not a word was spoken as the quartet slid into Henry’s Escalade and drove away. While Clay and Robert were nervously chattering away from the back, Henry shared a knowing look with Ed as they sped towards the Cartwright household. They both knew there was only one way to deal with a slight of this nature it wouldn’t be done with locker stuffing or a mere beating. Sterner measures had to be taken to ensure Henry retained his status as the top of the social food chain.

Thankfully, his father always did do a poor job of hiding the key to his gun cabinet.

The Wild

Freedom! Such glorious freedom once again! That is what the hunter thought as it raced unencumbered through the untamed wilds. How it had longed to feel the embrace of nature once again. How delicious were the cornucopia of scents that easily filled the sinuses and was translated into information that no two-legged could possibly comprehend. This is what it felt like to be alive, not that refined and restrained assemblage that was mockingly referred to as society.

While the hunter knew little, the core of its primary understandings being limited to things that were truly important, it had gleaned enough knowledge to come to an understanding that the thing which the two-legged called ‘living’ was little more than a pale wisp of a dream compared to the explosion of life all around when released from the bindings of their small, simple minds. Here, there supposed laws meant nothing. Here, the only law was that of survival, and it was a law that served to truly make the hunter feel alive.

The time had come for that knowledge to truly be passed along. No longer would the hunter lurk within the shadows and accept scraps as a means to keep it placated. It had done so because to do otherwise would have required a cost that before would have resulted in its end. Now those barriers that had kept it caged for so long had weakened to the point of nothingness and could no longer keep it contained. It was time for the hunter to rise...after it dealt with a problem.

There had been a scent in the air, a mixture of different tangs and spices that the other knew only too well. However, this time, there was something in the scent that the hunter understood to be a threat. Were it left alone, this threat would endanger not only the other but the pack as well. That was something that could not be permitted.

It was time to hunt.

Salem, Indiana, Connors Household

Terrence Connors, Terry to pretty much everyone, lazily rocked back and forth in his chair on the large back porch of his house as he looked out at the wide expanse of forest that began at the edge of his property. It was this view that had really sold him on the house when he and his wife Madeline (please, call me Maddy) had gone house hunting in the area so many years ago. While it had a nice, large grain shed that he was able to easily convert into his sales space and workshop, it was this gateway to the great forest their property bordered that had been the deciding factor for him. He’d long since lost count of how many times he had sat out there just staring at that untamed beauty either with members of his family or just by himself, and every time was just as peaceful and enjoyable as the one before.

The opening and closing of the sliding door that led to the house behind him drew him from his quasi-meditative state and he took a long pull from his beer. “Well?” he asked apprehensively.

The large shape of Guy Connors lowered itself into the neighboring chair beside his son as he exhaled a long, slow breath. “It’s time.”

Terry sighed and shook his head. “Are you sure? I thought for sure it had skipped him like it did me. I mean, you were younger than him when it happened to you,” he tried to reason, “Shouldn’t he be passed the age by now?”

“The age isn’t set in stone,” the elder Connors needlessly reminded his son, “It can hit at the age of ten or twenty-five, or not at all. Unfortunately, we don’t know out how exactly it works or why it chooses the people it does. Some folks think it’s just random, that one person’s individual genetics or DNA makes it possible to take root. Other people think there’s some kind of intelligence behind it and it’s an actual choice.”

“What do you think it is Pop?” Terry asked with a note in his voice that Guy hadn’t heard since his son was a little boy.

“Honestly son, I’m more inclined to think it’s random. I’ve heard of people who have been looking into this for years and they didn’t find a single thing showing it was magical or intentional. That just leaves it as being random, the same as it is for countless others out there.”

“But it’s not the same,” Terry stated grimly, “Is it.”

That caused the older man to sigh and fish a bottle of beer from the steel pail filled with ice between the two of them. “It is and it isn’t,” he initially replied diplomatically, “It’s the same as it is for pretty much all the rest out there in the world, but it’s different in how it affects us. I know it’s hard for you to wrap your head around because you don’t experience it, but I do. Trust me son, he isn’t going to go feral on you. He’s a good kid with a good heart and that counts for a hell of a lot when it comes to this. It’s what’s going to let him strike that balance that will let him have a life that doesn’t involve being in a cage.”

“I hate that this is happening to him!” Terry snapped and slammed his fist on the armrest of his chair. “He’s already got so many problems to worry about he doesn’t need this stacked on top of it.”

“Well, that’s why you called me,” Guy told him reasonably, “So you wouldn’t have to deal with this by yourself. Plus, we both know he’ll need someone to talk with who’s actually gone through this before. You’re a wonderful father Terry,” he assured his son, “And I couldn’t be prouder of who you are and the fine young man you’ve raised your son to be, but it’s all right to know when you’re in over your head. I’ve always tried to teach you that asking for help isn’t weakness.”

“I know,” Terry recited tiredly, “It’s that you know your own limits and aren’t afraid to acknowledge that you’re only one man.”

“It’s why the pack exists,” Guy finished for him, “And it’s why the idea has survived for millennia.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the younger Connors said as he drained the beer in his hand, “It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

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4 years 2 weeks ago #22390 by Paradox
Paradox replied the topic: Call of the Hunt
Once again, due to the use of differentiating fonts used, I'm going to strongly suggest reading this using the Google Docs link provided. It can be read here but I think it will be much more enjoyable via Docs. docs.google.com/document/d/1fWSwJTqogYFu...uRw/edit?usp=sharing

Call of the Hunt

Book 2

By Paradox

Salem, Indiana, Connors Household

I knew something was wrong the moment I came awake. You know how in books and T.V. and movies the character wakes up thinking everything is normal and they slowly realize that’s no longer the case? Yeah, that didn’t happen. From the instant my brain went from sleep mode to awake I immediately knew things about me had changed. Since I typically slept on my stomach and there was a softness beneath my head, though there seemed to be more of it, I was pretty sure that pressure and cushioning I felt on my chest wasn’t some errant pillow. Not only that, but like pretty much every teenage boy on the planet I usually woke up with the typical ‘morning wood’ and there was a very distinct absence of that. It didn’t take a master’s degree in biology to figure out that I was no longer the same as I’d been when I fell asleep.

Now, of course, that didn’t mean I automatically knew what was going on. The signals my brain was processing were distinctly alien to me so I couldn’t really comprehend what they were trying to translate to. That cushioning on my chest? That shouldn’t be there. So what was it? That lack of hard flesh that had been located between my legs for the last fifteen years? Gone. So where did it go? Plus, how the hell had my hair grown, what, damn near a foot overnight?

That’s what I tried to do for the first five minutes or so after I came awake, not move a muscle and try to make sense out of the nonsense my brain was telling me I was experiencing. When that didn’t work I did the next logical thing that any rational, well-thought individual would do.

I screamed.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t immediately hear the pounding of feet racing down the hall and my door being thrown open. Instead I heard what sounded like calm voices muted to the point of being unintelligible through the walls and the light thumps of footsteps walking to my door at the pace of a casual stroll. The funny thing was, it seemed to take a really long time for those footsteps to travel the few feet from their respective bedrooms to mine. It was almost like they were walking the entire distance of the house. “Aiden?” I heard Mom ask through the door after lightly knocking, “Are you okay?”

“No I’m not okay!” I yelled.

Maybe it was because I used actual words this time instead of screaming, but this time the door did fly open and Mom, Dad, and Grandpa, all fully dressed for the day, flooded into my room. They all took one look at me and their eyes grew huge with shock and confusion. “Who the fuck are you?” Dad yelled as his hands balled tightly into fists and what I recognized as his ‘combat stare’ began to appear on his face. I did not want to be on the receiving side of that look because typically it meant someone was about to get seriously hurt. “And what have you done with Aiden?”

“I am Aiden!” I screamed, waving my hands wildly before me in a gesture to keep him away. I didn’t know what was going on but I sure as hell didn’t want Dad to start attacking me.

Grandpa, who had initially shared my parents’ look of shock, now appeared to be a bit calmer, albeit still confused. “Terry,” he said in a quiet and disturbed voice, “That really is Aiden.”

Dad’s eyes never left me even as Mom looked at Grandpa with eyes that, while I didn’t think it was possible, went even wider. “Guy, are you sure?”

He nodded slowly and reached up to tap his nose. “It’s his scent, there’s no mistaking it.”

That seemed to calm Dad down and he slowly lowered and unclenched his hands. “How is this possible?” he asked, turning on Grandpa to look at him in disbelief. “Has anything like this ever happened?”

The older man shook his head while never taking his eyes off of me. “Never in all my years have I heard of the change also causing a change in sex.”

“Excuse me,” I snapped angrily...oh, good, the fear was gone and anger was in its place, I can deal with anger, “Can someone please tell me why the fuck I’ve suddenly turned into a girl?”

“Language young la-er man,” Mom chastised, though it kind of lost its effect when she needed to change nouns like that.

“I’d say he has every right to be pretty damn upset,” Grandpa said as he walked over and sat on the edge of my bed. “I’ll try to explain some of this Aiden, but I can’t explain why you’re a girl now.”

“Wait,” I said, waving my hand for him to stop, “You’re telling me there’s even more going on here than me spontaneously changing sex? I have tits Grandpa!”

“Aiden!” Mom yelled.

“Maddy,” Dad said tiredly, “Bad language is the least of our worries right now.”

Clearly seeing this was going nowhere, Grandpa clapped his hands sharply to get everyone’s attention. “All right, here’s what we’re going to do. Maddy, why don’t you go start on some breakfast for us. Steak and eggs would probably best and the steak needs to be as rare as you can make it. Terry…” He seemed stumped for a second as to what my Dad should do before he simply shrugged. “Go help?”

“We should be here for this,” Dad insisted while also looking more than a little hesitant about whatever ‘this’ was.

“It’s best Aiden and I talked about it alone,” his father stated, “I’ve been through this, you haven’t.”

“You didn’t turn into a girl,” Mom reminded him.

“True,” Grandpa allowed, “But that’s something we all need to figure out afterwards.”

“Excuse me,” I said grumpily as I folded my arms across my chest. At least, I tried to do that, only my new breasts (ugh) got in the way and I had to settle for doing it beneath them. That definitely didn’t help with the angry badass look I was going for. “Would everyone stop talking about me like I’m not sitting right here.”

“Sorry honey,” Mom apologized genuinely, “We’re all more than a little off guard by what’s happened here. You and Grandpa talk,” she said and gave Dad a pointed look, “While your father and I work on breakfast.” With that she took Dad by the arm and literally pulled him from the room before shutting the door.

Once the door was shut Grandpa turned and sighed before standing up and snatching my robe from where it was draped over my desk chair before tossing it to me. “I think some fresh air would be best right now,” he said and walked over to the large glass double doors that led out to the the second floor porch that stretched along three-quarters of the house.

Pulling on my robe, and noticing that along with my T-shirt that I’d slept in it also didn’t fit quite right now that I had some extra….protuberances...on my chest. Still, I was able to get most of myself covered before belting it shut before I had to wage war with the wild mane of hair that wanted to constantly get into my eyes and mouth. Eventually I was able to get most of it shoved out of my face before following Grandpa outside where he waited at the porch railing looking out at the forest. When I leaned against the rail beside him he sighed once again.

“First and foremost,” he told me, “I don’t know why you’ve become a girl. That’s something we’re going to have to try to figure out. As far as the rest, that part I can help you with.”

“The rest?” I asked in exasperation, “You mean I’ve got more shit to deal with than spontaneously turning female?”

“Have you been feeling different lately?” he asked, ignoring my biting question.

It was on the tip of my tongue to once more say something sarcastic about my sudden close encounter of the distaff kind, but when he turned to look at me his serious expression had that remark dying in my throat. Instead of answering I took a few moments to actually stop and think for perhaps the first time since I’d woken up. “Well, yeah,” I finally admitted. Not quite sure what it meant, I told Grandpa about the two strange occurrences that had happened over the last day, that being my sudden burst of violence at the party Jake told me about and waking up naked the next morning.

“Anything else?” he asked, looking at me closely.

“Nothing I can think of,” I said honestly.

He nodded and his gaze returned to the sprawling forest at the edge of our property. “Aiden, I thought last night that what I would have to explain to you now would be something you just couldn’t accept. But, given your sudden...change...maybe it won’t be such a wild idea. First, you are aware that there are things going on in this world that seem extraordinary or even supernatural, right?”

“You mean mutants and stuff?” when he nodded I simply shrugged. “Sure, I’ve heard about them just like everyone else. I’ve never met one though.”

“You have now,” he said and cast me a small, sad smile. “You and I are both mutants.”

It actually took me a minute for those words to actually sink into my brain. If I were to guess, it would have taken a hell of alot longer had I not woken up with mounds on my chest and my outie turned into an innie. As it was, the explanation kind of made perfect sense. Oh I didn’t like it, make no mistake, but at least it made sense. “I’m guessing you’ve known for a while,” I accused, though I didn’t really put any heat into it.

“Only since last night,” he assured me, “It’s why your father had me fly in. After that thing that happened at the party he figured you were probably manifesting. I only confirmed it when I got your scent.”

“My scent? What, do I stink or something?” I asked and lifted my arm to smell my armpit. Ew. Okay, I definitely needed a shower.

Despite the situation, Grandpa actually chuckled and shook his head. “Not that kind of scent. You see Aiden, our family line has a fairly specialized mutation that, for whatever reason, has maintained through our bloodlines for decades. We’re werewolves.”

Well, at least he didn’t leave me hanging for too long. “Werewolves?” I asked with a smirk, “Are you serious Grandpa?”

He didn’t laugh like it was a joke, nor did he get angry that I was trying to call him out on some kind of bullshit. Instead he just nodded at the forest. “Take a sniff and tell me what you smell.”

I looked at him critically and tried to tell if he was serious or joking. When he didn’t crack a smile, or even change expression for that matter, I shrugged and tilted my head back to sniff the air a bit. Then I took a deeper sniff. Then I just flat out inhaled the air as a cacophony of scents assaulted my nose. Holy shit! I could smell the trees, the grass, the dead leaves decaying on the forest floor, the tasty meat of a rabbit foraging for food, the delectable flanks of a deer lazily strolling through the woods, even the water of the lake that was probably three miles away. I could smell it all and I knew what each and every part of the scent was.

“Holy fuck!” I whispered.

“That’s just a fraction of how keen your senses are while you’re in human form,” he informed me. “When you change into full wolf or the war form they’re ten times what they are now.”

“Full wolf?” Something told me this was about to get confusing.

With a nod, Grandpa sat down in one of the wooden chairs on the deck and indicated I should do the same with one of the others. “Technically speaking, we have the shifter mutation that allows us to change into a wolf. You’ve seen werewolf movies right?” I nodded. “It’s like that, only we don’t turn into nine foot tall rage monsters.”

I looked at my hand and while it certainly no longer looked like the rough, calloused version I used to possess, it certainly wasn’t hairy paw with giant claws coming out of the fingertips. Actually, it looked rather dainty and delicate.

The light whack on the back of my head made me blink in surprise. “Hey!” I protested.

“You don’t get fur and teeth in human form dummy,” Grandpa said as though it should have been obvious, “Only when you change.”

Change. The idea of changing into a wolf made me think back to two nights ago when I had that weird-assed dream. I’d been running through the woods and chasing a rabbit, only I hadn’t been myself. I couldn’t really put into words what I felt like other than it was something that wasn’t human. It had also been the single most liberating experience of my life...at least until I’d had a very similar dream last night.

“You’ve already changed once,” Grandpa observed quietly, “Haven’t you.”

“I…” At a loss for words I could only shrug helplessly. “I had a couple weird dreams last night and the one before.”

“Where you were running through the woods?” he supplied, “Maybe hunting an animal?”

“Rabbit the first time. Deer the second,” I confirmed.

He nodded and put a hand on my now decidedly slimmer shoulder. “That was actually you. You’d changed into wolf form but didn’t realize it. Don’t worry,” he assured me as the panic of blacking out for extended periods of time for the rest of my life churned within me, “You’ll be fully aware of it happening now. Those times was kind of like an adaptation period, your brain getting used to all of the new information it was getting from your enhanced senses and new body structure. The next time you change you’ll be fully aware the whole time.”

“Well that’s good to know,” I quipped without bothering to hide my sarcasm, “What about the rest of this?” I asked and indicated myself.

Grandpa’s sigh was heavy this time as he shook his head and looked to the trees as though seeking inspiration or wisdom from them. “I wish I could tell you Aiden. Like I said before, no one in our family has ever changed sex when their mutation manifested. They become werewolves, but that’s all.”

“So I’m a special case, yay,” I mumbled.

When I felt his hand, now feeling even larger than before due to what I’m guessing was my own diminished size, gently squeeze my shoulder I looked over to see him offering me a warm smile. “Whatever it is, we’ll do what we can to figure it out.”

I nodded and out of instinct stepped close to Grandpa so I could slip my arms around his waist and hug him tightly. Now, I’m not really all that much of a hugger. That time yesterday was a special circumstance since I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and was happy he’d come for a visit. Typically I just did the pat or punch to the shoulder thing when it came to men. I wasn’t afraid or ashamed to hug another guy, I just never had the urge to typically.

Now, however, I needed a hug in the worst way. Not since I’d been under ten years old had I wanted to simply be held and when Grandpa enfolded me into his embrace I had a tough time recalling when I’d last felt so safe and protected and remarkably at peace given how turbulent the last twenty minutes of my life had been.

Grandpa must have felt me stiffen when I realized that before he gently stroked my hair, something he would never have done if I was a boy. “It’s part of our nature. Wolves are social animals and will often huddle and cuddle within their pack when they need support, and you and I are pack.”

“And the hair thing you’re doing?” I mumbled against his chest. “Don’t stop by the way.”

I could almost feel him smile as he continued stroking my hair. “I’m sure you already figured out I probably wouldn’t do it if you were still...well...you, but every sense is saying to me you’re female and I just responded instinctively to that.”

“I’m guessing it’s probably permanent then?” I asked dejectedly, though honestly not as much as I would have expected.

“Since we don’t know what caused it I can’t say yes or no, but you should probably be prepared for the answer to be yes.”

I kind of figured that but it still stung a little. Again, though, not as much as I would have expected it to. I suppose part of that could be attributed to one very important question that was on my mind. Okay, I had a lot of important questions on my mind at the time, but one that had a bit of precedent. “Hey Grandpa? This mutation of ours,” I continued when he uttered a hum to show he was listening, “Can it cause us to lose control of ourselves? Can we, well, I don’t know, go berserk?”

He took his time answering and I suppose he was composing his thoughts while we gently rocked back and forth, still in each other’s embrace, in the morning sunlight. “In a way, yes, though we call it a frenzy rather than growing berserk. But it’s not a matter of losing control of ourselves. Deep inside of us lurks what amounts to the spirit of the wolf. Now, don’t get that confused with an avatar actually possessing a wolf spirit. I’m speaking sort of metaphorically. Our mutation sort of unlocks the primal part of our DNA that we share with the wolves and brings us as close to being them as we can without being born one. Because our cognitive abilities are so much more advanced than a wolf’s, that translates into a kind of dual personality within our minds.”

“You mean we’re schizophrenic now?” I asked worriedly, though that would explain a lot about what happened at the party.

“No,” he assured me, “Not schizophrenic. More like it’s another part of our personality that is stronger than normal. You know how some people can be really dedicated, serious workers but still be able to cut loose and have fun?” I nodded, though I couldn’t really relate since to me fun was pounding a hammer into hot steel. “Well that’s two different aspects of one person’s personality. The hard worker and the fun-loving person. It’s the same with us. We can be hard workers, family men, or women in your case (grunt), enjoy having fun, etc., but there’s also that wolf part of us that is always there. It can be wild and dangerous, but just like someone who keeps themselves in check when having fun, we keep the wolf in check. We define it, it doesn’t define us. So no, unless you deliberately let the wolf out you won’t go into an uncontrolled frenzy.”

“But what about two nights ago at the party?” I wondered. “I had no control over what I did. Hell, I don’t even remember it happening.”

“That was the wolf making himself, or in your case herself, known. It happens to all of us when we first manifest and it can be pretty scary, but it’s not the norm. Like I said, that was just your brain trying to readjust itself to having a whole new bunch of information suddenly being crammed into it. It’s perfectly normal for us.”

“I think it might have me in a bit of trouble,” I confessed. “I kinda attacked the most popular guy slash bully in the school.”

“Oh?” Grandpa said with far too much delighted interest.

“Yeah. I...kinda made him piss his pants,” I mumbled sheepishly.

Him roaring with laughter was pretty much the reaction I was expecting from that one. Truth be told, I couldn’t but first smile and then start giggling about it. Pretty soon I was joining him in laughing so hard we were in tears.

When eventually we were able to limit ourselves to just giggles...okay he was guffawing and I was giggling...and he kissed the top of my head. That was yet another thing he did that would never have happened if I was a boy, and yet I didn’t feel all that bad about it. “Why don’t you go get yourself cleaned up and then come on downstairs for breakfast, I’m sure you’re starving right now.”

As though he had given some kind of signal, my stomach protested its emptiness rather loudly that briefly had us laughing again. “The morning after the first change tends to use up a lot of energy making the necessary physical adjustments,” he explained, “It doesn’t happen all the time.”

“Thank god,” I said with a mischievous grin, “Then Mom really would have an excuse to say I eat like a pig, err, wolf.”

Giving my shoulder one last squeeze, Grandpa let himself out of the room and closed the door to grant me some privacy.

For a while I just sat out on the porch and let myself soak up the morning air. It wasn’t the first time that I’d done that, which was what was so great about having a porch off the back of your bedroom, but this time it was different. Not only did I have the benefit of such a great view, but I was wrapped up in the scents and sounds that yesterday I hadn’t been privy too that only further enhanced the peace and tranquility of our home.

It also gave me a chance to think a little more rationally about everything I had just found out about. I was a mutant. That fact didn’t disturb me quite so much as it might have with some people. All my life my parents had been extremely supportive of mutants and had made their feelings on the issue well known despite it being unpopular in certain circles. Thankfully it hadn’t affected his business. They’d also instilled these kinds of values in me as well so I grew up knowing that mutants weren’t a bunch of human-hating killers that were only kept in check by the MCO.

I guess that, plus the fact that Grandpa was also a mutant, was a big part of why the knowledge that I was now one of them wasn’t such a big deal. No, that particular honor was bestowed upon the fact that I at present I couldn’t fold my arms across my chest and it was disturbingly easy to cross my legs. How in the hell had my mutation caused this? Everything Grandpa had just told me indicated that the mutation within our family line was specific and singular, affecting everyone that was afflicted by it the same way. So why had I been changed so radically? I went over several different possibilities, but without any real good information it was really wasn’t more than a simple thought experiment. Frankly, it was starting to make my head hurt.

With a sigh and the depressing thought that I might never know why I went through such a drastic physical change, I stood from the chair and headed back inside to grab myself a shower. When I stripped off my clothes I got my first real good look at the new me.

It could have been worse. Hell, I probably should have counted myself lucky considering the stories I’d heard on T.V and the internet about those mutants who suffered from Gross Structural Dystrophy, or GSD. I could very well have ended up with horns sticking out of my head or webbed fingers and toes. Instead, I ended up looking like something you’d see on the cover of a supernatural romance novel...the supernatural part being that I was a werewolf, of course.

My hair was still its deep black just like before, only now it cascaded across my shoulders and partly down my back in wild, untamed waves. I had to admit, my version of bedhead was pretty damn sexy. My facial features had changed, but not overly much. I could still kind of see myself in the mirror, but only if I’d been born as a girl. My cheeks were a little sharper and more angled, my nose a touch smaller narrower, and my mouth was certainly fuller and poutier.

My eyes, now that was a different story. Once upon a time, like yesterday, I shared my Mom’s bright green eyes. Because of my black hair I’d always been told it was one of my best features since the difference in color really made them stand out. Well, they still stood out, but not the same way that once had. Instead of green, I now sported a pair of ocular viewing devices in bright amber with a slight gold tint. They weren’t outrageous to the point of glowing or anything, but they certainly stood out as quite unusual. In fact, the combination of my eyes and my new feminized facial structure did lend itself to giving me a, dare I say wolfish look. Oh it was a beautiful face, but there was without a doubt a wild connotation to it that would probably end up drawing a lot more attention than I was normally comfortable with, which was to say any kind of attention.

The rest of my body shared that wolfish motif in that I was lean but well proportioned with breasts that were generous without being huge, a small waist, hips that were slim yet feminine, and legs that just seemed to go on forever despite still only being five foot five. Yup, there was no doubt that I was quite the looker now. I might not be stopping rush hour traffic, but I’d lay odds that I could be a contender for a whiplash contest.

It was more than a bit disconcerting that I could be thinking about myself in such terms, but the pragmatic side of me, the one that usually worked out the problems I ran into when forging a blade, reasoned that this was who I was now so it would be pretty useless stressing about it and wasting my energy. Besides, I was sure I’d have plenty of opportunities to freak out about this later.

Shaking my head, and shivering at the strange feeling of long hair brushing against my shoulders, chest, and back, I stepped into the shower. That was my next education in being a girl. Normally I took rather hot showers, but now it was way too hot. Apparently my change in gender also came with more skin sensitivity and I had to reduce the temperature to a more tepid range before I was comfortable and could start to wash.

That part took a little longer than it should have. No, I didn’t ‘go exploring’. I actually kind of avoided my chest and between my legs initially. I don’t know if it was some kind of last ditch effort at denial or I was just afraid of the sensations I would experience, but I simply couldn’t make myself wash my breasts and...womanly area...with the first go around. It wasn’t until I’d finally figured out how to wash all of that new hair I now possessed that I just bit the bullet and forced myself to finish the job. Surprisingly, while I did feel some nice little tingles, the act of washing my privates wasn’t all that different from how I did it before. Yeah, they were a little more sensitive, hence the tingles, and there was more to wash in some places and less in others, but nothing outrageous. By the time I shut off the water I was wondering just what I had been so afraid of.

After drying myself off, patting instead of rubbing like I normally would, I went about the task of trying to find something to wear. Unfortunately my options for underwear were pretty well non-existent. Normally I wore boxers, but when I tried on a pair I found they were way too tight in the hips and extremely uncomfortable in, ahem, a certain area. Commando it was, despite it being rather embarrassing. I ran into similar problems with my pants. My jeans were way too tight in the hips and felt decidedly loose in the crotch. I suppose I could have just sucked it up and worn them, but they would have probably gotten painful pretty quick. Thankfully I had a few pairs of shorts that were loose enough to do the job for the time being. When it came to shirts I had no choice but to just pick one and deal with it being pretty damn tight in the chest, which also resulted in the hem rising up to the point a lot more of my flat stomach was revealed than I was comfortable with. I also had to contend with the fact that even a black shirt couldn’t hide my nipples poking through it, but I didn’t have any other options unless I wanted to throw on a sweatshirt that would have me baking from the summer heat. Once attired the best I could manage, I took a deep breath and headed out of my room and downstairs.

The sight that greeted me was, blessedly, normal. Dad and Grandpa were all setting out plates, cups, and silverware on the table while Mom was bringing out platters containing steak, bacon, and eggs. All of them looked over at me as I entered the room, but other than a slightly understanding nod from Mom they didn’t say a word.

Which was probably a good thing because even before I’d entered the room I had already caught the scent of the steak and had started salivating. Never in my life had something smelled sooooo good to the point I actually wanted to devour the fragrance itself. The moment a plate of just steak was set in front of me, I simply lost control to my now very evident ravenous hunger. Without even using silverware I grabbed the large hunk of bloody meat in my hands and started tearing into it with my teeth as fast as my jaws could work. It was as though nothing else existed in my world except this food, this wonderful, meaty, bloody food.

I got to the point where I was sucking on my fingers for any last trace of juices and idly wishing I could gnaw on the bones to get any stray meat fragments when I realized both Mom and Dad were staring at me with wide eyes and open mouths. Gulping nervously I picked up a napkin with now shaking fingers and carefully wiped my mouth that I could feel was stained red. “Ummm, yummy?”

The low chuckle from Grandpa had all of us looking over at him while he calmly cut another bite from his steak and popped it in his mouth with his fork. “This is how it always is the morning after the first change,” he explained, “Aiden’s body is getting adjusted to the radical changes it is capable of going through and that requires a lot of protein and fat. Don’t worry,” he told me, “You won’t keep eating like a starved animal.”

“Well that’s a relief,” Mom said as she warily watched me reach for another piece of steak, which I pointedly used a knife and fork to cut civilly. “What about dietary concerns for the future?”

“Well,” Grandpa said thoughtfully, “Meat is a staple of a wolf’s diet, but because we’re not naturally bred wolves there’s some flexibility. Aiden will always prefer meat over everything else, but he...sorry Aiden...she will still be able to fully consume all varieties of food and even desserts. You won’t get nearly the same nutritional value from them like before,” he said, addressing me directly now, “Since your body has changed to utilize meat as a primary food source, but you can still enjoy pastas, salads, pizza, and all of the rest. This also means you don’t have to worry about fat or calories because your biological processes have become much more efficient to make sure you stay strong and healthy, so things like fat, sodium, and caloric intake are used to fuel your muscles rather than accumulate in your belly.”

“Hmph,” Mom grunted as she had a dainty bite of eggs before tossing me a wink. “Looks like you found the diet plan that most women on the planet would kill for.”

“Yeah, that makes me feel heaps better,” I grumped.

The minute I said the words I kind of regretted it because it cast an uncomfortable pall over the table for a while where the only sounds that could be heard was the clink of silverware on plates. Eventually, after berating myself for a bit, I sighed and looked over at my parents. “I’m sorry,” I said softly, “I know this isn’t anyone’s fault. I’m just having a hard time adjusting.”

“That’s understandable pa...uh...swee...umm...Aiden,” Dad said while struggling to find a term of endearment that I wouldn’t find insulting, “And I wish we had an answer for why it’s happened. Maybe we should go see the MCO in Chicago and see if they can figure it out.”

“Bad idea,” Grandpa said around a mouthful. When everyone looked at him in confusion he went on, “One reason why the MCO exists is to look for mutants that are potential threats to society. The theory is they look for those that have the personality or attitude that could make them into a supervillain, but the reality is if you display abilities that even have the potential for harm they’re just as likely to throw you in a cell and forget where they put the key. If you walk into an MCO office and show them you can turn into a wolf with all of its killing instincts and is damn near impossible to stop, consider yourself disappeared.”

“Killing instincts?” Mom asked in shock.

“Impossible to stop?” came my question.

“Okay,” Grandpa said, lifting his hand to stop any more questions from flying, “Killing instincts was a bit strong. When one of us shifts into wolf form we bring with it all of the hunting instincts that come with being a purebred wolf. That means there’s an ingrained hunting instinct as well as a protective one when it comes to defending the pack. It’s controllable, but our mutation sort of...embraces the wolf within us and if we try to suppress it for too long, say several weeks on end, it can trigger a change and you could find yourself out running down a deer without realizing it. That can make things kind of complicated if a hunter going after the same deer decides to shoot you and ends up only pissing you off. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that,” he said, looking at me. “We heal really fast.”

“Well thanks for mentioning it,” I bit off and shoved a piece of meat into my mouth angrily.

“So you’re saying your mutation is...alive?” Dad asked, critical disbelief clear in his voice.

“No, not alive,” Grandpa clarified, “More like there might be a specific set of chemical signals required to happen in the brain to produce a change into wolf form, but over time those signals can build up if we don’t shift until it can’t be contained anymore and we shift whether we want to or not. It’s like a pressure release valve. I talked with another wolf a long while back who was a scientist and we tried to figure out why this is. We did some experimentation and he theorized what I just told you. There’s no real hard evidence to back it up since the brain is still mostly unexplored territory, but it was the best we could come up with.”

“Well at least I don’t have to worry about suddenly, uhh, wolfing out and killing Henry when he decides to come after me on Monday,” I quipped.

When neither Mom nor Dad made the obvious comment or conciliatory remark about my impending bully issues I glanced over with a raised eyebrow only to see them both huddled over the newspaper, which up until now had been folded up on the table between them. “Ummm, isn’t this the part where you guys tell me things with Henry will be okay?”

Instead of rising to the bait I’d cast, I watched their widening eyes rapidly scan across the page in front of them while Dad quietly asked, “Aiden, what’s the name of that boy who’s been friends with Henry since they were kids?”

“You mean Ed?” It wasn’t hard to remember him since Ed had been almost as big of a bully as Henry and had often spurned him on or even made torture suggestions.

“Edward Mosby?”

“I think so,” I shrugged.

I was just about to take another bite of steak when the newspaper was slapped down right on top of my plate. As it grew dark while the juices from the steak stained the newsprint I stared in disbelief at headline that screamed out at me: LOCAL BOY FOUND SAVAGED. Thankfully there were no photos, but a quick read of the headline article said that Ed’s body had been located ten miles outside of town in a forested area called Fox Woods. According to the witnesses, Henry, Clay, and Robert, they had been talking a walk in the woods when they were set upon by some kind of large dog that seemed to come out of nowhere. While the three had managed to run for safety, Ed had fallen victim to the animal’s attack and had apparently been torn apart and even partially eaten.

It was reading that last part that had me hurling the paper away and fighting to keep the meat I’d so hungrily consumed from racing its way back out of my stomach. “No,” I whispered before looking at the horrified faces of Mom and Dad. “It wasn’t me,” I insisted, The very idea of me doing something like that made me even sicker than I already felt. “It couldn’t have been me!”

“It wasn’t,” Grandpa said calmly as he went and retrieved the wet mass of newsprint from the floor. “I knew you were going through your first real change last night so I followed you to make sure you didn’t get into trouble. You hunted a deer, but that was it. You didn’t kill that boy.”

“Then what did?” Dad asked anxiously as he looked to his father, “Another werewolf?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t smelled any others in the area. Maybe it really was what those boys said it was, a large dog.”

“Would a dog do something like that to a boy?” Mom asked worriedly.

“Possibly,” Dad allowed as he sat back to consider the canine angle. “German Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, and Mastiffs are pretty big dogs, and if one of those had been abused or abandoned I guess it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for them to turn feral. Since we don’t have an actual wolf population in this region, present company excluded of course,” he said with a nod to me and Grandpa, “That would be the only logical explanation.”

“Maybe we should go and try to find it,” I said to Grandpa, not able to contain a bit of excitement at the idea. Now that I was coming to terms with my mutation I was actually getting a bit anxious to actively try it out and experience what it was like being a wolf instead of blacking out while it happened.

Unfortunately he grounded that idea with a shake of his head. “You’re too new,” he explained, “And you’d be vulnerable because you don’t have a good working knowledge of how to operate in wolf form yet. The only reason you were so successful in hunting last night is because the wolf was in charge and it has instinctive knowledge. That won’t be the case anymore and you trying to take on a feral dog would only get you killed.”

“I thought you said we healed really fast,” I pointed out with a frown.

“Not from getting eaten,” he retorted, “And if you suffer a grave enough injury it will kill you. A bullet to the head, your throat being completely torn out, your heart destroyed, all of that will kill you just like it would a human.”

“Dad,” my father said with a warning tone in his voice, “She doesn’t need that kind of graphic description.”

“Best she knows it now,” he replied, and it kind of bothered me how quickly they were able to adapt to identifying me with female pronouns, “When it comes to life as a wolf it’s a much more black and white thing than for humans.”

When I saw Dad slowly start to rise from his chair in preparation to argue, I quickly stood and held my hands out towards both of them in a kind of interposing gesture. “I won’t go look for the dog, okay?” They didn’t respond immediately but eventually they both nodded and relaxed, though something told me this wasn’t over. “Besides,” I said in an effort to try and add some levity to the morning, “All of my clothes don’t fit anymore so...I kinda need new ones,” I finished shyly and peeked at Mom from beneath my hair.

Bless Mom she picked up on my idea right away and I saw a mischievous twinkle form in her eye that immediately had me rethinking my plan. “I would be happy to help,” she said with cheerfulness in her voice that was only a touch forced. “In fact, I think your father and I should both come with you.”

That seemed to distract Dad from whatever was biting his ass about Grandpa better than I ever could because his head whipped around like it was on a spring. “What?”

“Well you wouldn’t want your daughter buying anything that you might think was inappropriate would you?” she asked in a way too reasonable voice. I opened my mouth to argue that there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d want to even look at anything close to ‘inappropriate’ but a quick warning look had it snapping shut.

“I suppose you’re right,” Dad said grudgingly even as he eyed me with a whole new, and completely undeserved I might add, suspicion. “Get your shoes and socks on and we’ll go get you kitted out.”

“I’m going to make some calls while you’re out,” Grandpa said in a way that clearly meant he was trying to be helpful, “See if I can figure out why Aiden’s become a girl like this.”

From the look on his face I thought Dad might have wanted to say something, maybe once again berate his father from speaking so graphically to me which, to be honest, I’d seen and heard worse on T.V and the internet, before his expression softened and he nodded his agreement with the plan. Otherwise silent, he headed off to collect the car keys while Mom let me borrow a crocheted poncho of hers that ended up being too big but at least covered my, ahem, problem area better than my T-shirt. I looked like a little kid playing dress-up but at least my high beams weren’t exposed to everyone.

With Dad tapping his foot impatiently by the door I gave him a sarcastically cheery smile before we headed out.

Salem, Indiana, Cartwright Household

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Clay said in quiet disbelief.

Sitting on the semicircular couch in the large entertainment room, the other two occupants made distracted nods as they too were consumed by thoughts of the loss of their friend only hours ago. Of course, while one was genuinely saddened by the young man’s passing, the other was replaying the events in question through his mind.

The four had made their small side-trip to Henry’s house in preparation for the night’s events. While Clay and Robert thought it was to gather up some liquid courage, which they partook of themselves via the Cartwright’s ample supply of whisky and brandy, the young Cartwright himself had availed himself of his father’s gun cabinet key in the elder’s desk. He really should be more careful about that, anyone could come in and find it. Once in possession of the key, Henry had made a beeline for the Colt 1911 that was the centerpiece of the rather extensive handgun collection contained within the household. Not only was it the most powerful handgun in his father’s collection, but he had practiced with it the most extensively and had been able to put rounds into the center ring of practice targets regularly. Of course, such accuracy wouldn’t be necessary at what would essentially be point blank range, but it was nice to have some options.

Now suitably armed, at least as far as Henry and Ed were concerned (no need to tell Clay and Robert since they’d likely pussy out), the quartet had begun their journey through the woods towards the Connors homestead. Ed had suggested using the woods and coming from behind, that way there would be no automated lights giving away their approach, which all agreed was an excellent idea. That was how they had found themselves deep within Fox Woods working their way towards the home of that little shit that had embarrassed Henry in front of everyone. Clay and Robert, each clutching several rolls of toilet paper, couldn’t stop giggling hysterically at the idea that they were about to completely cover that little punk’s house in the white tissue and teach him a lesson. It caused a few looks of annoyance from Henry and Ed, particularly when they had a much different mission in mind, but since the two wanted to keep the numbers advantage they didn’t do anything to make the idiots change their minds about coming.

None of them were quite sure how far they’d gotten when they heard the noise. It was quiet at first, almost indistinctive, but there was no question something was out there. The first impression all of them had was a deer foraging for leaves, which meant it could be ignored in pursuit of their goal. That quickly changed when the low growl floated to their ears upon the still air like some ghostly spectre in the night.

Henry had immediately brought the gun to bear even as the other three had looked around frantically for the source of what was now a much more frightening sound. Both Clay and Robert had started babbling about heading back while Ed was telling them both to shut up so he and Henry could try and locate where the growl was coming from. Henry remained silent, slowly tracking his weapon across the expanse of forest laid out all around them. Though his breathing had increased to a frightened pant, his hands remained remarkably steady as they held the weapon in a practiced grip with his finger resting lightly on the trigger. Should whatever it was show its face, the young man was fully prepared to blow its brains clear across the forest floor.

That was when the spectre had became reality.

A blurred shape out of the corner of the eye had been the only warning any of them received before a scream pierced the calm night. Clay, Robert, and Henry all spun to see a very large, dark shape atop Ed, who was jerking spasmodically while blood jetted from what remained of the torn out throat. The look in the boy’s eyes was something none of them would ever forget. They were wide and utterly terrified as he frantically tried to draw breath through a trachea that no longer existed. All the while, the...thing...had continued to tear at his flesh hungrily.

That was when the shot rang out. Henry didn’t even realize he’d pulled the trigger until the thing flinched slightly and a small spurt of blood erupted from its side. Its head had whipped about to lock eyes with the drunken boy and that’s when Henry’s bowels loosened and filled the air with the rancid stench of waste.

The dog...it had to be a dog right? There were no wolves in Indiana....had stared at Henry with an almost human expression of anger as blood fell from its jaws in thick droplets to splash against Ed’s thigh. It uttered a single, warning growl and shifted ever so slightly as though in preparation to leap.

That was all it took to send the three boys screaming from the scene as though death itself was at their heels. Considering what they’d just witnessed, the comparison wasn’t without merit. When Henry had taken one last look back to see if the animal had taken up chase, the last thing he saw before the forest swallowed it up was the animal dipping its head back down towards his now dead friend to feast on its kill.

That was last night and since then, other than telling the cops all they knew, the boys had hardly said a word to one another. Their parents, of course, were frantic when they received the call from the police and Ed’s in particular were inconsolable. The boys themselves were in understandably rough shape as well and there was no doubt Clay and Robert were going to need years of therapy to stop the nightmares that would surely be haunting their dreams. Henry, however, had taken a different path in dealing with his grief. He had taken that fear, that horror of what he’d witnessed, and channeled it into plans for revenge. Already there was talk about forming a hunting party to track down this rabid dog and put it down before it could hurt anyone else. That was all well and good, but the boy knew better. He’d looked into that things eyes and what he saw was no rapid dog wildly attacking someone that had just stumbled across its path.

That thing had been a wolf, and it had targeted them. He didn’t have any kind of real evidence to support that supposition, which was why he didn’t say anything to the police, but he had looked into its eyes and he knew he was right. There had been nothing wild or crazy about its steady gaze, only a pointed anger and deliberateness that could only represent conscious thought. It had sought out Ed and chosen him as the recipient of its ire. Whether he had been the first on the list or a warning to the others, Henry didn’t know, but in the end it didn’t matter. He knew he had to get it before it could get him because that thing wouldn’t stop until one of the two of them was dead.

Thankfully, his father also kept a nice supply of various hunting rifles, including a semi-automatic AR-15 modeled after the military assault rifle, and he had practiced with all of them. He would need a little time to prepare, but there was no question in his mind that that thing would be put down, even if he had to pump so many bullets into it there would be nothing left but mush.

Unseen by his two friends, the thought made the young man slowly smile.

Salem, Indiana, Downtown Area

While I’m sure most girls would be absolutely thrilled to have their parents take them on a clothes shopping spree, to me it felt like I was being put on display. I almost expected to see a carnival barker leap out of nowhere and start yelling, “Come one, come all, come see the freak!” Even the drive into downtown had been an exercise in trying to keep my nerves from leaping out of my skin. Since everyone knew my parents pretty well, they had all stared at me with open curiosity as to who the girl in the back seat of the truck was.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about the police stopping us and asking where my parents had kidnapped me from. The first stop we’d made on this little excursion was to the police station to inform them about my manifestation. While this wasn’t strictly required by law, Dad felt it was the proper thing to do so I couldn’t have cops crawling all over my ass trying to figure out who I was in case I was ever questioned.

Dad had a pretty good rapport with the police department here since he had personally forged folding lockback knives for every officer and staff member of the department, with each one being personally designed for the individual, and had been provided to them at zero cost. It was his way of showing our family’s appreciation for their service to the town and did a lot for our relationship with the law enforcement community. The fact that I kept my nose squeaky clean and even sharpened some of their gifted knives to a razor’s edge for free whenever they needed it meant that I myself had a very good personal relationship with them as well.

The officer, Sergeant Anthony, was more than willing to take note of my situation so it would be available to the entire department as well as an updated photograph with mine and my parents’ permission. Other than a few questions such as when I had manifested (Dad told him that morning when I woke up) and if I knew what kind of powers I had yet (Mom took that one and said no), he was very polite and professional and even asked if I was handling the whole situation okay and to not be afraid to contact the department if anyone tried to harass me about being a mutant. He also suggested getting my power testing done as soon as possible for my own peace of mind more than anyone else’s so I’d know what kind of abilities I possessed. I thanked him for the support while silently thanking the fact that our town was, for the most part, rather pro-mutant when it came to the issue.

That brought us to the shopping part of this little adventure and our pulling up in front of the modest mall that our town possessed. It wasn’t anything major, sporting perhaps about twenty stores in total, but it had a pretty good selection of everything from clothes to electronics and more. As we exited the car and trooped into the mall, I was already starting to get more than a few looks. Because Mom and Dad were fairly well known, it was also well known they had a son and what he looked like. I might have been able to see traces of my old self in the mirror if I looked really hard, but there was no question that the person that now strode through that grand front entrance was all girl. While it was uncomfortable getting those confused stares from people who knew I had been a boy before this morning, it was downright creepy seeing boys around my age practically undressing me with their eyes. Did all girls go through this? Did I used to do that?

I was still pondering the question as to whether I had been like one of those leches ogling me before this morning when we arrived at our first stop, which had me coming to a dead halt and my heart leaping into my throat.

Mom was clearly confused by my sudden immobility. “What’s wrong honey?”

“That’s...that’s...Victoria’s Secret,” I stammered as I looked through the gilded archway into the bastion of feminine delights.

“Yes,” she said slowly, clearly not comprehending what the problem was. “You need underwear.”

“It’s. Victoria’s. Secret.” I ground out between clenched teeth.

I guess I wasn’t making much sense to her because she still looked befuddled. Thankfully Dad stepped in to offer a bit of insight. “Aiden, you Mom’s not trying to turn you into a frilly girly girl,” he said and I saw Mom’s eyes widen in understanding before she nodded in agreement, “This store just has better quality and more comfortable things than Walmart.”

That made me feel a little better, but I still had to fight the urge to back away slowly as though that doorway was actually a maw filled with sharp teeth ready to chew me up. “Just...keep it simple,” I demanded, though it came out more like a plea.

“That was I planned to do,” Mom assured me and took me by the hand to lead me inside, and yes I dragged my feet.

No, I’m not going to tell you perverts about my adventures in pantyland. Go find some fap material on the internet. Suffice it to say I got a nice assortment of plain underwear and matching bras. Mom even talked me into getting a few lacier, sexier things. Okay, talked into is a bit of a stretch. She snatched them up and bought behind my back after I’d made my choices and Dad was paying for them. We got a ten dollar bet going that I’d be thanking her later.

The one point of embarrassment was I had to have a bra fitting since I didn’t know my bust size. Thankfully, the girl who did it was pretty understanding and bought the story Mom gave her about never having had one before. Turns out I was a 32C. There, happy?

With the underwear situation taken care of and me sporting a brand new pair of plain black panties and matching bra (man this thing felt weird), we went for clothes next. I tried to make it clear to my parents that all I wanted was basic stuff: some jeans, a few T-shirts, some socks, and a couple pairs of properly fitting shoes. That’s it. Of course, Mom being Mom, she decided that I needed to establish a “proper” wardrobe befitting a young lady. I tried to protest, but when Dad started teaming up with Mom it was a battle I’d lost before it even started.

So, while I got those basics I’d wanted, I also ended up with a modest assortment of dresses, skirts, blouses, and girly shoes ranging from flats to heels that I was actually able to walk in surprisingly well. Of course, that didn’t mean I planned on wearing them...like ever. As far as I was concerned, all of that girly stuff was going to get shoved as far into the back of my closet as possible and stay there until they fell apart. I had to admit that Mom did have a pretty good eye for fashion and didn’t go all pastels and flower prints on me in an effort to make me look like a ten-year-old. All of the items she chose were things I would see on pretty much any girl my age, which was fine for those girls, but just didn’t feel right on me. There was some nonsense about needing nice clothes for special occasions, but I had other things on my mind at the time.

Okay, things plural might have been stretching it a bit. Yeah, I was still trying to adjust and adapt to this abrupt one-eighty change in my life, and I was doing pretty damn good if I do say so myself, but there was one thing that I hadn’t explored yet that was really bothering me. Well, maybe two, but I wasn’t really focused on what it would be like to change into a wolf just yet. No, what was bothering me the most was the forge setup I had back at the house. Since this change, I hadn’t had the opportunity to get to it yet and I was starting to get itchy. While I certainly didn’t feel any different, strength-wise, there was this growing concern gnawing at my insides that I wouldn’t be able to even lift my hammer the next time I went to work on the knife currently in progress. I actually had a couple of daydreams...daymares?...on the way to the mall that I’d tried to continue work on it only not be able to budge my hammer an inch. Out of everything that had happened to me so far this morning, that was the one thing I was really concerned about. I could handle turning into a girl, hell I could handle being a werewolf, if I could still keep working at my forge. If I suddenly lost that...it was just an inconceivability that I was really worried I might turn suicidal if I suddenly found out I could no longer be a bladesmith. Yes, yes, I know, there are plenty of machines that smiths use in forging that anyone can use, even a weak widdle girl, but I was raised on the principle of hand forging first and foremost. To take that away from me would be tantamount to taking paint and canvas away from Picasso and shoving a tablet and stylus into his hand. Yeah, he could probably still create mind-blowing art, but it would lack the heart that made his work so legendary.

Okay, yes, I’m very aware that I’m kind of comparing myself to Picasso here, but you get the point.

Anyway, that was what dominated my thoughts as we headed home from the mall. Mom and Dad tried to talk to me, but I’m guessing they probably thought I was having issues adjusting to my new staples in life such as bras, periods (yuck), and pap smears (ugh). I made a few noises just so they would think I was listening to them, but the only thing I could think about was what would happen when I picked up that hammer. I guess they finally figured out I wasn’t really paying attention because eventually they stopped talking to me and started working out how and when I should go for power testing as well as contacting the school and other officials to get my records changed. That was fine, they could worry about that stuff. I only wanted to know one thing.

The car had barely stopped before I was out the door and sprinting for the backyard. I think either Mom or Dad called after me but I didn’t hear them. Well, I heard them, a hell of a lot more clearly than I had days ago thanks to my improved hearing, but I ignored them. Mom probably just wanted me to bring the bags inside and that could wait. I ran, faster than I thought I could, and I was suddenly standing in front of my anvil and the wooden box containing the hammer Grandpa had given me yesterday. My fingers twitched with the urge to open it, but I stalled.

What if I couldn’t swing it anymore? Yes, I suppose there were smaller smith’s hammers available just for women, but this was a gift that had been presented to me as a sign of being a skilled craftsman. It was a one-time thing that simply couldn’t be repeated and giving me another, smaller one would feel like a disappointment rather than an achievement. Could I live with that? Would I still have the same drive to do my work if I knew I had to live with a strength handicap? Would I even bend another blade if that was the case? Sighing heavily, I flipped open the box and stared down at the very object of my consternation. It sat there, on its bed of velvet, almost as though it was taunting me. It was like it knew I wasn’t strong enough to wield it and that it would forever be a sign of what might have been had it not been for my damned DNA.

With a growl of anger, I reached down and snatched the hammer out of its case, lifted it into the air, and brought it down on the anvil with a loud clang. Without missing a beat I hauled the hammer back and and drove it down onto the anvil, causing the two metals connecting to create a brief flash of sparks. This was my life, my craft, my choice, and I wouldn’t give it up without a fight! Over and over and I drove the hammer onto the flat, steel plane, listening to the ringing of metal fill the air until it blended together to create one, single sound.

Then I stopped, and blinked, and looked at the hammer stupidly. What the hell?

“What the hell?”

Did I say that out loud? When I looked over I saw Mom and Dad standing there looking a bit surprised but otherwise calm. When I released the handle on the hammer Dad walked over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Feel better?”

Did I? Well, I’d just swung my hammer at least a dozen times without any real muscle strain and, unlike the many times before, I wasn’t really even breathing hard. Looking down at those small, dainty hands I now possessed and I saw they were shaking, but I don’t think it was from fatigue. I could flex my fingers without any indications they were threatening to cramp at all. In fact, I felt like I could probably pound away for hours. That meant…

“Yes!” I yelled and punched hard into the air.

“That’s good then?” Mom asked.

“Hell yeah It’s good!” I cried and lifted up my hammer with surprising ease. It actually felt a little lighter than it had yesterday. “I can still swing a hammer.”

“Ah,” Dad uttered in now clear understanding of why I’d been so quiet and morose. “I didn’t know that had been bothering you.”

Nodding I replaced the hammer in its case, but I didn’t close the lid. I had plans for that little beauty in the very near future. “I was scared I was going to have the strength of-” I cut myself off and looked sheepishly at Mom.

“The strength of a girl?” she finished with an understanding smile when I nodded.

“It actually seems a little easier to swing now,” I commented as I lightly ran a fingertip along the etching in the head.

“Could be from your mutation,” Dad reasoned as he lightly ran a hand down the length of my hair. Mmmmm, now how come that felt so nice? “We don’t know everything about it since your’s is different from pretty much everyone else’s in our bloodline.”

“Well it doesn’t matter,” I said with a grin as I started back towards the house. I had a blade to finish. “As long as I can keep swinging.”

* * * *

The hammer came down with a satisfying clang and I watched the metal give a little more in the exact direction I wanted it to go. A few more hits and it would be ready, after I’d reheated it.

Setting the steel back into the forge so it could heat back up I heard the crunch of gravel behind me. Turning my head, I wasn’t surprised to see Jake walking up. What did surprise me was that he was still back at the edge of the driveway a good twenty or thirty feet away. Hmmm, I guess I still had a lot to work on when it came to these new super senses. “Hey Jake,” I called over and waved.

While my sight was still normal (wolves only have really good hearing and sense of smell, remember?) I could tell even from this distance that there was a distinct hesitation on his face as he slowly lifted his hand in a return wave. That same hesitation also caused his steps to be much slower than they’d ever been whenever he came by the house, and I could guess why.

Once I’d quickly helped Mom and Dad bring my new clothes into the house they’d taken mercy on me and let me go right back out to the forge so I could get to work now that I knew it was still possible. However, I did need to change clothes before doing that since the jeans and polo I’d worn back at the mall weren’t exactly conducive to working in an area with a blazing hot forge. So, I traded them for a pair of snug (damn, did all girl’s clothes have to be tight enough to show off every curve?) jean shorts and a black sport tank top with what I later was told was a racer back. A black hair tie to keep my now significantly longer mane held back from my face and a new pair of work boots specifically chosen for forge work and I was ready to go. So, yeah, I was showing off a lot of skin here, even if it was largely covered up by the heavy leather apron. The shorts really showcased my long, lithe legs that had just enough muscle tone to them to be sexy without going overboard and, as I learned after looking in the mirror, the tank top really showed off that while I was still strong, my arms and shoulders were tight and lean. I was probably a touch more muscled than your average girl, but no one would be accusing me of popping steroids or anything. Basically, I looked like that girl in class that was on the cross-country and track teams. She was in damn good shape, and it showed, but she was still hot as hell, and so was I.

Not that I was concerned about that or anything, but, well, I was.

“Aiden?” he asked quietly and it was clear by his voice, which I heard perfectly even from that distance, that he still wasn’t sure it was me even though Mom had called his house and explained what had happened to him and his parents.

“Yeah it’s me,” I called back and turned the steel in the forge. He kept coming but the slowness and the way his feet kind of dragged the gravel a bit told the tale of how he still wasn’t so sure. “Jake,” I called without looking back at him, “Will you stop being a pussy and get over here? I’ve got a couple cold Cokes waiting here.” Thus said, I walked over to where our two beach chairs were permanently set up and popped open the cooler between them, revealing the small bed of ice and red cans of carbonated delight.

“Dude,” he said slowly as I plopped down in the chair that I typically claimed and fished a Coke out of the cooler, “What the hell man?”

There was a pop and a hiss of the can opening before I tried to address that as simply as possible. “Okay, so you know I’m a mutant, right?”

“Yeah, your Mom called and explained it. I just never expected…”

When his voice trailed off I shrugged and took a sip from the can. “Look, I can’t explain it either. Grandpa told me a little about it since I have a mutation that apparently is shared by my family’s bloodline, but they’ve never heard of anyone changing from a boy to a girl because of it. Trust me, I’m not exactly thrilled about it myself.”

Maybe it was the way I was talking, or maybe it was because I was able to be so casual about it, but that seemed to relax my friend and he dropped himself into the other chair and dug around for a cold can for himself. “So this change into a girl, that wasn’t something you actively wanted?”

“Hell no!” I cried, “I was perfectly fine as I was. Yeah I had to deal with Henry’s bullshit, but I was perfectly fine being a somewhat short and skinny guy. I sure as hell didn’t want to end up getting stuck with tits and a pussy.” That last part had me looking around quickly to make sure Mom wasn’t lurking about ready to pounce on me and yank my ear for using such derogatory language about women.

“Man,” Jake’s voice was still quiet and disbelieving as he shook his head. “So what’s it like?”

“Well I haven’t tried to change yet so I couldn’t tell you.”

I know that wasn’t what he was expecting to hear and I couldn’t help but laugh at the almost comically confused expression on his face. “Ummm.”

“My mutation is a werewolf, I can change into a wolf, I just haven’t tried it yet. But that’s not what you were asking, was it.”

I swear I thought I could see the hamster inside his brain suddenly collapse and start whirling along inside the spinning wheel until it came to a stop. “You’re a werewolf too?”

“First and foremost,” I corrected him with a wag of my finger, “The girl thing is secondary as far as I’m concerned. But like I said, I haven’t tried changing yet so I don’t know what it’s like.”

This time when Jake shook his head he covered his face with his hand. “My brain hurts,” he mumbled.

“Well at least that proves you have one.” His faint glare at my quip clearly told me it wasn’t needed. “It’s weird,” I finally admitted, while admitting to myself at the same time I was deflecting with my attempts at humor. “I don’t really know how to explain it to someone who hasn’t experienced it. It sort of feels the same as before on my chest, just there’s more of it and my skin is more sensitive. Hell, my skin is more sensitive in general. I actually had to turn the temp on my shower way down this morning because my normal was too hot.” I frowned when he got this kind of faraway look in his eyes and flicked him hard right between the eyes. “Mind not picturing me naked in the shower right now?”

The bright red blush that colored his face told me that was exactly what he’d been thinking. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he rubbed at the spot where I’d thwapped him.

“Anyway,” I continued with a pointed look, “As far as, well, you know what, it’s just all around weird. That’s the only way I can think of describing it. I know I’ll get used to it eventually but I definitely notice something’s missing.”

“Have you-?” he trailed off for a moment and when I just looked at him questioningly he rolled his eyes and made a curling gesture with two fingers.

“Ew!” I squealed, and yes, as much as it shames me to say it I did in fact squeal, “Gross! No I definitely haven’t and I probably never will.”

“You sure about that? I mean, I’d guess most girls have at some point or another, probably often.”

“Well I’m not most girls,” I defended and folded my arms, which kind of undercut my argument since they had to be folded beneath my breasts.

“Really?” he challenged with a growing grin, “Because you sure are looking like on right now.”

“Oh for fuck’s sa-”

The remainder of my witty retort died on my lips when I looked down at myself. I’d planned on gesturing at my body during said retort in reference to how I was sitting spread-legged and slouched like every other guy I knew. Unfortunately, that was no longer the case. I don’t know when it happened, whether it was right away or just before I’d been planning to showcase it, but my sitting posture had changed dramatically. Instead of laid out on the chair with my feet comfortably wide, I was now sitting up straight and proper with my legs crossed at the thighs and one leg lightly bobbing back and forth. In a nutshell, I looked just like every other girl on the planet did when she sat down. “Aw fuck,” I muttered.

“Well I guess that settles that burning question.”

Slugging back the remainder of my Coke I dropped the empty can into the blue recycling bucket I kept nearby and reached for a second. “Do I want to know,” I muttered, still feeling kind of dejected about the whole leg-crossing thing.

“I once wondered why girls crossed their legs like that. Sure it’s sexy as all hell, but why do they do it? I always wondered if it was a cultural or physical thing, like it actually was comfortable. I guess it’s the latter since you did it without even thinking about it.”

“Yeah, and I sure as hell didn’t grow up with female culture,” I finished for him.


Taking a sip from my Coke I set it into the little circular recess in the chair’s armrest before standing and walking to where the forge blazed away. A quick look showed my steel was nearly white hot and ready for the final touches. Drawing it from the forge I set it on the anvil and picked up my hammer.

“So no problems with doing this now that you’re a girl?” I heard him ask.

“Nah,” I said casually as I brought the hammer down on the now nearly fully formed blade, “I was really worried at first. I thought I wouldn’t be strong enough but after we got home from shopping I gave my hammer a few swings and found out not only did I have no problems, but it’s actually even easier to do it now.”

“So you’re stronger?”

“A little bit,” I allowed. “Not like super strength or anything. More like if I was in top physical condition, but without looking like a musclebound moron.” As I brought the hammer down I heard a wet, gurgling chuckle followed immediately by a hacking cough that I couldn’t resist looking over at.

The pain was white hot and all encompassing. If you’ve ever slammed a normal hammer down on your hand at full swing, you might get a small idea of what it’s like to bring one of the forging variety into the mix. In the first split second, it felt like I’d just shoved my hand into that cooler filled with ice. When that instant passed, all I could feel was pain. It was almost like my hand had disappeared and been replaced by this throbbing, pulsing mass of pure agony

I was already on my way down to my knees when the scream tore from my mouth to echo through the air. I had whacked myself with the hammer before, but never as solidly or as badly as this. I couldn’t even think past the excruciating paroxysm that once held residence at the end of my wrist and all I could do was cradle it against my chest while curling my entire body around it and howling. I think Jake might have come to help me, but I couldn’t tell. All I knew is that my hand was gone and was probably never coming back.

Then, almost as suddenly, the pain began to recede. Oh it didn’t vanish, not by a long shot. I was still screaming from it but dimly I could tell it had lessened slightly. It was easy to attribute that to going into shock until it dialed back a little more. And then a little more. And then more still. Eventually it had backed off enough that I was no longer reflexively wailing and was able to actually catch my breath. That was when the voices started filtering to my ears.

“Dude are you alright?”

“Honey what happened?”

“Let me take a look.”

After about another minute the feeling in my hand had reduced to a very severe but manageable throbbing and I swiped at the tears I hadn’t even known I’d been crying with my good hand. “My hand,” I whimpered, “My hand.”

By now my vision had cleared and I saw Dad knelt down before me gently holding my hand by the wrist and gazing in horror at the mass of pulped flesh that once contained four fingers and a thumb. “We have to get to the hospital,” he barked to my Mom, “Now!”

She was already starting to rise to her feet to go get the car started when I realized something. The pain had lessened even more and I was even starting to regain feeling in my fingers. “Dad,” I said, much quieter than I wanted to but, hey, I was still pretty much in shock here, “Wait.”

“No waiting,” he ordered and started gathering me into his arms to cradle me like a small child.

“Dad,” I said a little stronger, “I don’t think we need to go.”

He was already practically running across the lawn heading for the garage. “The hell we don’t,” he growled.

Reaching up with my now muchly healed yet still very pink and very tender hand I lightly slapped his cheek. Ow! Okay, that was stupid. “Dad!” I snapped in his ear. Whether it was the slap or the yell that got his attention I’m not sure, but he finally looked at me. “I think I’m healing,” I told him and held my injured appendage in front of his eyes and flexed my fingers.

Slowly, he reduced his travel to a jog, then a walk, and finally he came to a stop, all the while looking at my hand while the pink slowly faded away until it was once again normal, fleshy-colored. “Holy shit,” he whispered.

“Honey,” Mom called as she raced around from the garage with keys in hand, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you at the car?”

“Aiden's hand,” he was all he said in stunned disbelief as he carefully set me back on my feet.

“What about it?” she demanded, now becoming angry herself that we were already flying to the hospital to treat her baby.

Instead of Dad answering I turned and held up my hand for her to see. “I think it’s healed,” I told her.

Being a good, caring mother, she of course didn’t believe me for a second and ran over to look at my injury. When she saw none, even after flipping my hand one way and then they other, her’s and my father’s eyes met in mutual confusion.

“I told you we heal fast.”

All heads whipped around to see Grandpa leaning against the jamb of the front door to the house. “Though,” he continued, “That was a pretty impressive recovery.”

“You mean this kind of healing is normal for werewolves?” I asked.

“Well,” he drawled, clearly picking his words carefully, “Not quite so fast. That hand of yours, it was pretty well crushed right?”

I winced at the memory of how hard I’d been bringing that hammer down and the blistering pain that followed. Mom herself turned a little green while Dad just looked at Grandpa with narrowed eyes. He’d seen a lot of injury and death in his time with the military so things like that normally wouldn’t phase him. This case being his child seemed to have ramped up the emotional quotient a bit. “From the glance I got, countless broken bones and her damn hand was practically pulp.”

That had Grandpa nodding slowly as he appeared to consider the information. “By all rights, that should have taken you about twenty minutes to heal. You did it in, what, ten?”

“I didn’t exactly have a stopwatch going Grandpa,” I bit out. This cavalier attitude he’d developed ever since his first night here was really starting to piss me off. From the look on Dad’s face I’d say he felt the same way.

“We can call it ten at a rough guess,” he concluded, clearly missing the disapproval in my voice and our expressions, “That means you healed twice as fast as just about any other wolf. That’s impressive.”

“Fantastic,” I ground out through gritted teeth, “Just don’t ask for a repeat performance.”

His only response was to smile and head back inside the house while Mom and Dad looked over my hand. Sure enough, it was completely healed without so much as a fleck of dead skin to indicate it had ever suffered an injury. “Amazing,” Mom whispered.

“Yeah,” Dad agreed before looking into my eyes, “Just don’t get stupid about this and think you can go around doing whatever you want and you won’t get hurt.”

“Dad,” I sighed and took back my hand from his grip, “Even though I healed that still hurt like a motherfucker. Sorry Mom,” I mumbled when her glare hit, “But that’s the best way I can describe it. It really hurt and trust me I’d be more than happy never to feel that kind of pain again.”

Dad sighed and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “I know so-ummm, honey,” he stumbled, “We just want to make sure you don’t go off the rails with these new powers of yours.”

“Yeah I know,” I assured him, “But I need to at least experiment with them safely so I know how to use them properly.”

“Well, we’ll work something out.”

I took Mom’s promise at face value since there wasn’t a time in my life where I could recall her not meaning what she said. Hopefully that meant I’d be able to test out my ability to change into a wolf soon. “I’d better get back to the forge,” I said, glancing over at Jake who still looked a bit shell shocked, “I’ve got a hot piece of steel that’s probably warped beyond repair by now.”

That seemed to jar him back into reality and he smiled proudly. “Oh it’s all good. Once your Dad got there I grabbed it with your tongs and put it back up on the anvil. I don’t know for sure but it looked okay.”

“Thanks Jake,” I told him gratefully. “Well, I’d better get back to it then.”

“Just be more careful,” Dad warned me sternly, “And pay attention to what you’re doing. You’re lucky Jake was there to make sure that steel wasn’t ruined. Hell, it still might be for all you know.”

“Yes sir,” I winced and quickly ducked my head in shame. It might seem strange to an outsider that receiving criticism like that was actually more painful than the injury I sustained. Well, if I hadn’t healed the way I did he might never have even mentioned it. Instead I would have probably been yelled at about being so stupid to lose focus that I would have probably completely lost my hand and there goes any hopes of forging in the future.

However, since I did heal, and so completely, he was redirecting the turmoil of emotions he was undoubtedly feeling into the one aspect of life he truly had dominance over me in, bladesmithing. In both of our hearts, I was still the apprentice and he the master, and for him to criticize my work was tantamount to another parent screaming the walls down at their child for getting into a car crash while driving drunk. Needless to say, I considered myself severely and justifiably chastised. Thus disciplined the way our family knew best, Jake and I headed back to the forge so I could try and evaluate just how badly I’d fucked up my blade.

Fortunately, the blade had landed flat when it fell so other than a small bend that would be easy to correct, the steel was still fully salvageable. Placing it back into the forge to heat up and I sat back down beside Jake, who was still looking a bit shell shocked. “That was pretty insane man,” he breathed.

“You should have felt it from this end,” I quipped as I grabbed a fresh Coke from the cooler. “Thank god for mutant wolf healing.”

“Yeah,” he agreed and helped himself to another as well, though his somewhat cautious stare never left me.

“What?” I sighed.

“Sorry,” he shook his head, “It’s just between you turning into a girl and that crazy healing you just did, it’s a lot to wrap my head around. And that’s before I even add in the whole ‘turning into a wolf’ thing.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I haven’t even done that part yet and I’m feeling kind of nervous, but excited about it.”

“You think you’ll go all native?” he wondered aloud.

“Not according to Grandpa. He says that I’ll basically have the instincts of a wolf but my mind will still be human.”

“Well, I hope you don’t get offended that I’ll be locking my doors the first time you try it.”

I wanted to be offended that he would think I could hurt my one and only friend, but I really could understand his caution. Hell, if the positions were reversed I’d probably do the same thing. The first time I actively tried to change I had no idea what would happen or how my mind would react. Grandpa said I’d still have my own mind, but he’d been wrong about how quickly I could heal. What if he was wrong about this too? Now that was a scary thought, losing myself to the regressed mental state of a wild animal. It were fears like those that almost had me not ever wanting to try to change.


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4 years 1 week ago #22676 by Paradox
Paradox replied the topic: Call of the Hunt
Note: Trying something new here. I didn't like the options for fonts that Google Docs gave me for this particular story so I decided to add the Word file attachment instead. It's the first time I'm trying this so if there's a problem reading it please drop me a note in the discussion thread for this story. Just to be on the safe side I'll also include the Google Docs link. docs.google.com/document/d/1mlQ7Ggwt1HAi...Vow/edit?usp=sharing

Call of the Hunt

Book 3

By Paradox

Salem, Indiana, Connors Property

Most people might think that the first change for a young werewolf would be something of great pomp and ceremony. They would expect it to take place on a cloudless night under the full moon with people standing in long, ornately designed robes depicting ancient symbols of power gathered in a circle or semicircle around the young wolf. Maybe they would even be chanting, some otherworldly song that was a blending of human and lupine voices and sounds, as the new member of their society underwent a coming of age as old as time itself.

Well, I was wearing a robe, but that was pretty much it. Granted, it was just a simple silk number in hunter green that Mom had picked out on our shopping trip earlier that day, but it was still a robe so that counted, right? It wasn’t cloudless either, though it was still mostly clear, and the moon was a fine sliver of white instead of a full disk. The only other people there were Grandpa, Mom, and Dad, and the last two were standing back on the porch of the house while Grandpa and I stood barefoot in the grass before the edge of the forest lining the back of our property.

So, yeah, that whole ceremony idea? Bullshit.

Of course, my being a werewolf wasn’t because of some ancient curse or magic spell cast upon my family. I was a mutant, plain and simple, with my mutation being specific to my family bloodline for some reason. Basically, I was born a werewolf, but unlike my Dad whose genes or DNA didn’t align just right to activate, mine went together just fine and I manifested. Of course, changing into a girl because of it was still quite the mystery and Grandpa still hadn’t figured that one out even after making some calls to some of the more scientific members of our extended family tree.

But at the moment, that aspect of my mutation was immaterial. Right then, standing out in the night in nothing but a robe along with my grandfather, who was also only in just a tattered old brown robe (Grandpa naked...shudder), I was about to experience my first active shift into wolf form. I don’t count the first time it happened because I was completely unaware of it and have no memory of it occurring, so this would really be my first true shift where I was an active participant. I was actually pretty hesitant to try it since, despite my grandfather’s assurances that I would still retain my human mental capacity and thought processes, I still had my doubts.

Already, before even attempting the change, it was already proven I wasn’t your average werewolf. The accident earlier in the day where I pretty much obliterated my hand with my forging hammer, and then completely healed in roughly fifteen minutes, had shown that I had a greater capacity for healing than just about every other werewolf in my family. It wasn’t outrageously better, but it was still twice as fast as what should have normally occurred. So, did that mean the wolf part of me would be stronger once I made the change? Well, no one could answer that, and that’s what scared me. The absolute last thing I wanted to have happen was to change into a wolf and then become a wild, crazed animal that would attack anything that might look tasty, which included my parents. If I did that I’d never forgive myself and would probably end up going suicidal.

The only reason why I was actually going through with this first change was because Grandpa would be right there to stop me if something went wrong, and even then a small part of me wondered if he would be able to if things went bad. Still, he made the very compelling argument that I couldn’t keep the wolf locked inside me forever because there would come a time when it would force itself out either through extreme emotion or simple fatigue from fighting against it.

Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’d be wrong. No, I didn’t have some kind of wolf spirit living in me like a mutant avatar would. For my family it was apparently more complicated than that. As Grandpa explained it, when we manifest as mutants, the primal part of our DNA that matches that of the wolf becomes active. Because of this, it basically represents itself as another manifestation of our personality. Think of it like the athlete who is really really aggressive when he plays, but outside of the game he’s a lover of poetry or flower arranging. He’s still the same person, he just has different aspects to his personality. That’s how it was for me. I was still the same person I was before, albeit with far sexier curves now, but I also had that feral, wolf side within me that sometimes needed release. That was what tonight was about and why I was blushing like crazy because I was standing functionally naked in the middle of the night.

“So,” I finally said after what I considered far too much time had passed without a word being said, “Do I sing a song or make a chant or something?”

Grandpa chuckled and shook his head. “Nothing so dramatic. Pretty much all you have to do is will yourself to change. It’ll be hard at first because you’ve never done it before, but as time goes on it’ll basically become muscle memory and you’ll be able to do it in an instant.”

“So just think wolfy thought?”

He offered a gallic shrug, which wasn’t all that helpful. “Whatever works best. Some of us found just thinking really hard did it while others actually got on all fours and started imitating what they thought a wolf should act like. There’s no set in stone rules.”

“I am not crawling around on all fours,” I grumbled and started trying to will myself to change. Unfortunately it didn’t work that well. At first I tried to just, well, tell my body to change. When that didn’t work I tried picturing my body shifting and changing into that of a wolf. Well, that didn’t work either. I even tried growling a little like I thought a wolf might do, which got a chuckle out of Granpda, but that was it.

I took a deep breath and was just about resigned to do the whole getting on all fours thing when the scent of the forest suddenly filled my nose. I don’t know why, since I’d encountered these scents both before and after my mutation, but for some reason it now captivated me. Without actually intending to, I found myself dissecting the plethora of different tastes and textures within the scent, separating them into their individual parts and then those parts were broken down into their specific components. The smell of pine was distilled down to the specific scent of the needles, the branches, the bark, the pulp, and even the roots buried within the dirt. The air was crisp and clean while containing traces of woodsmoke from someone’s fireplace that was currently burning dogwood and had so much carbon buildup they definitely needed to throw a sweeper log in there. All of these scents and more seemed to just wrap around me, draw me in, call out to me to come run free within their embrace.

That was when I felt an almost physical click within my mind. It was as though the safety had been released from my mutation and I could feel the changes begin. I don’t think I can really do justice to the description of what it felt like to undergo such a radical physical transformation. Suffice it to say it was one of the weirdest, yet most liberating feeling I’d ever known. Not only did I shed the robe I was wearing, but it felt like I was shedding my very flesh, as though it was another layer of clothing I had been wearing and the furred, muscular form beneath was the real me. I had no concept of time and I later found it that in total the change took maybe five or ten seconds, but before I knew it I was on all fours and on the receiving end of more sensory information than I ever had experienced in my life. I wasn’t even sure I could handle it all, from the sensation of the grass under the pads of my feet, to the feeling of my limbs working in a completely different matter than before, to the odd shaping of my jaws that were now filled with rows of teeth designed for one purpose, to kill and eat that kill. When you add that on top of the greatly increased clarity of scents that now filled my nasal passages, I was worried I might go out of my mind trying to cope with all of it.

And the moment I thought that, I realized that one: I wasn’t going out of my mind, and two: I was still thinking like me for the most part. There was a niggling sense of wildness edging along my mind, but I was still me where it counted.

Holy Shit!

You’re lucky your mother didn’t hear that. I heard beside me.

Looking over, I blinked in shock as I saw the large form of a grey wolf with small streaks of red here and there in its fur. What the hell?

You’re talking, The wolf...well...said. Actually it didn’t truly speak, it sort of made several shuffling-type sounds which, in conjunction with subtle head, body, and tail movements. Yet in my head I could hear an odd, animalistic, growling voice.

Grandpa? I asked hesitantly, or at least as hesitantly as a wolf can, which basically meant I communicated that question while simultaneously ducking my head a bit to indicate confusion and caution.

Yup, he replied in that wolfish way of talking, Your mind is basically translating what would normally be non-speech communication that wolves and most other animals use into something your mind can understand. To your mother and father we’re just staring at each other and occasionally chuffing or making some other kind of noise.

Looking over at my parents I saw Mom clinging tightly to Dad and looking at me with open worry on her face. I might have wondered if she was worried for their safety but the moment I tasted her scent on the air it was obvious that her concern was for me and my safety. How can I tell them I’m okay? That I haven’t gone nuts or anything?

Best bet is to very slowly walk over with your head a bit low and give her a gentle nuzzle. Smooth movements, nothing aggressive, and for the love of god don’t growl!

I nodded, well a wolf nod which consisted of a tail flick, and slowly padded my way over to where Mom and Dad stood. Even though I heeded Grandpa’s advice and kept my movements slow and ducked my head a bit so I would seem meek, it was clear by the tension in their bodies and their scents that they just weren’t sure about me yet. It was in that moment that I decided to add on to Grandpa’s suggestion and sat down on my haunches at their feet before slowly leaning forward and gently licking at Mom’s elbow. While that caused her to gasp, it was clear the reaction was born out of surprise and not fear. When I licked again and gently bumped her elbow with the top of my snout she finally seemed to realize what I was doing and relaxed one hand that had been gripping my father to slowly reach down and carefully run her fingers through the fur on the top of my head.

Oooooh woooooow. That felt sooo good. It was just like when Grandpa had stroked my hair just after I’d woken up as a girl, only like ten times better. I actually nudged myself a little closer so she could stroke from my head down the back of my neck, which elicited a small giggle from her.

“Adien?” she asked carefully, “Can you understand me?” I nodded my head, actually nodded it up and down instead of doing a subtle body cue that she wouldn’t understand, which probably looked really weird coming from a wolf. “Are you okay?” Again, I nodded.

“Any feelings of aggression or loss of control?” Dad asked as he slowly crouched down in front of me.

I carefully shook my head, and I say carefully because unlike nodding, the physical structure of a wolf isn’t designed to do something like that the way two-leggeds can. Did I just call humans two-legged? In the end, it was more of a head, neck, and shoulders back and forth movement all at once. I punctuated my answer of still being in control by stretching up slowly and gently licking his chin. Instinctively I knew this was the action of a wolf paying submissive homage to its pack alpha. Dad, also well versed in wolf behavior because of his family history, understood this immediately and lightly rubbed at my cheek scruff, eliciting a small grunt of pleasure from me.

“All right,” he said with a smile in his voice after giving me a good scratching, “Go on and go explore, but be careful,” he warned, “The police are on the lookout for that rabid dog. Stick to our section of the forest and stay close to your grandfather.”

I gave him a nod and trotted back over to where Grandpa was patiently waiting for me in a rather regal-looking sitting position.

Ready to go young pup?

I gave a sigh, which is actually damn close to what a human sigh sounds like, at being called ‘pup’. Whenever you are, old man, I replied with a cheeky grin.

Welp, he grunted with obvious affection in his communication before turning and loping into the forest with me easily following behind.

For a while that’s all we did, just leisurely run through the forest so I could get a better, more intimate understanding of how my wolf form worked. It allowed me to acquaint myself with the difference in muscle movement and range, how my bone structure had changed, and how my perceptions had drastically altered. My vision was still present, of course, but it was black and white and not nearly as refined and detailed as my human vision had been. Normally that might have been a problem, except now my hearing and sense of smell were so far advanced they more than easily took over where my eyesight failed. In fact, the combination of those two served to create a far more rich and detailed understanding of my environment that even my human eyes couldn’t compete with. For example, when I jumped over a log, I already knew well in advance because of the way in which sound reached me combined with a subtle change in the scent coming from that area that there was a depression on the other side lightly covered with branches, allowing me to angle my leap to not only take me over the log, but the depression as well. Had I relied on only my eyesight like when I was human I would never have known about that depression and would have likely ended up on my ass or face because of it.

It was all both surreal and exhilarating to feel this kind of primal freedom. There was no worries about school on Monday, no concerns about dealing with Henry after what happened at the party, no fears about the test in History that was coming on Thursday. There was only me, Grandpa, and the wild.

Is it always like this? I asked as we trotted over to a babbling brook to get a drink, Just so...free?

Pretty much, other than when the urge to hunt comes up.

Does that happen often? I asked with a curious tilt of my head.

If you keep yourself well fed with meat in two-legged form you don’t need to worry about it, but it’s a good idea to hunt reasonably often so the wolf doesn’t get antsy, He advised.

After lapping up some water and slaking my thirst after such a spirited run, I looked around and tilted my head back a bit to take in the scents surrounding us. While I wasn’t yet wholly familiar with all the intricate smells that incorporated our town, I was able to tell we’d traveled about six miles from home and that we were nearing the edge of the area of Fox Woods.

Hey Grandpa, we’re pretty close to where Ed was attacked by that dog. Maybe we should go see if we can find its scent and track it down.

I’d barely finished communicating that when suddenly his larger form was directly in my path looming over me. No, came the definitive answer, You are not to go looking for that animal.

Now that was a confusing. After all, a dog was no match for a wolf, everyone knew that. But why not? I mean between the two of us there’s no way it would stand a chance. Besides, we don’t want it terrorizing the town.

He shifted position slightly so he rose a little higher, eliciting an instinctive reaction in me in which I cowered down slightly with my tail beginning to creep between my legs. Being your elder I hardly need to explain myself to you, he practically sneered, But since you’re so new I will. That animal is likely rabid, which makes it incredibly unpredictable and dangerous even to us. Like I told you before, you can’t heal from being eaten to the point there’s nothing left to heal. Plus, we don’t know if it’s alone. If there’s a pack of them then it wouldn’t take much for us to get swarmed and you have zero combat experience as a wolf. This isn’t like in the movies where the werewolf is invincible. We’re top of the food chain and tough as hell, but we’re still mortal and can still die if we’re hurt bad enough.

I didn’t like it, especially since that animal posed a very serious threat to my family as well as the whole town, but I couldn’t argue Grandpa’s logic. Well, I probably could have argued the hell out of it, but that commanding presence he was exuding was triggering some kind of submissive response in me that prevented me from doing anything other than cowing to his wishes. It took me a minute to realize it was pack instinct that I’d already established in my own head before I’d ever become a mutant. Dad was alpha, Mom was beta, and Grandpa was gemma, or default adult, and while I wasn’t in the omega, or bitch-boy category, I was definitely considered a pup or at least an adolescent. Wait, how did I know all of that?

Of course, my wolf instincts. Since they’d been activated by my mutation they must have flooded my subconscious with at least the very basic understanding of pack dynamics so I could properly function. If I hadn’t possessed that knowledge I could potentially be ostracized from the pack for making numerous faux pas, or at least that’s how my instincts worked. The fact that only two members of my ‘pack’ were actually wolves was immaterial apparently.

Still, despite my lupine instincts that actually had me on my back in a submissive posture that was designed to placate the upset gemma male (how freakin’ sexist), I still had my full two-legged mental faculties to question why Grandpa would be so upset about the mere suggestion that we try to track that dog. Sure, his points made sense, but the reaction itself seemed kind of out of place. I suppose he was being a bit overprotective since Dad wasn’t capable of doing so in this case and maybe it wasn’t translating well to wolf-speak.

I guess we should head back then, I suggested and rolled back up to my feet.

Probably a good idea, he grunted and turned back towards the house, You’ll have plenty of chances to explore your wolf side now that we know you’re still in full control. But until this dog issue is taken care of by the two-legged I want you to stick close to the house when in wolf form, got it?

Yes sir, I grumbled, not bothering to hide my disappointment that I wouldn’t get the chance to hunt, and took off at a lope for home. He soon followed and in short order we were trotting up to the back of the house. My instincts told me we’d been gone for about four hours even though it barely felt like twenty minutes. I guess that’s the story of everyone’s life when they’re having fun, time just flies by.

It was those same instincts that had me walking up to the corner of the house, squatting down, lifting my hind leg slightly, and spraying the siding of the house. Almost immediately I was horrified by what I was doing and nearly stopped, until I realized why I was doing it. I was marking my territory to make it known to any and all predators in the area that this place was mine and would be defended. It made sense, but to my two-legged way of thinking it was still pretty disgusting.

With my marking now complete, along with a look of approval from Grandpa, we trotted over to our robes and, after a few hiccups on my part (hey I was still new at this), reverted to our human forms and quickly slipped into our robes before heading inside.

Mom and Dad were waiting on the couch in the living room even though it was close to one in the morning. Both had pensive looks on their face that didn’t relax until I came walking in beaming happily. “So,” Dad asked, “How’d it go?”

“It was great!” I cried, “All of those different scents and the feeling of just running free like that. I definitely could get used to being a werewolf.”

While Grandpa looked at me proudly with that proclamation, I only got a far more tepid response from my parents in the form of a pair of thin, tight smiles. “I’m glad you enjoyed yourself honey,” Mom said, sounding suspiciously like she was pandering to me, “But your father and I think you need to be careful using your new abilities. With that dog attack we heard about this morning we don’t want some trigger-happy hunter shooting you by mistake.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “I know Mom,” I sigh in exasperation, “I’m not stupid enough to go running the streets in wolf form you know.”

“Aiden,” Dad said quietly, though the tone of his voice immediately had me hunching my shoulders defensively. He might have said more but instead he sighed heavily and approached me, placing one hand on my shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. “Let’s talk.”

I gulped nervously as I was led off towards the study that had long since been converted into a office that Mom used to run Dad’s business. I cast one last look back at Mom and Grandpa, probably to try and convey the silent message ‘save me’, before he closed the doors and had me sit in one of the comfortable leather chairs. Instead of taking one himself, he perched himself on the edge of the desk and braced himself on his hands while looking down on me silently for several very long, silent moments.

“Dad,” I said, unable to pitch my voice much higher than a timid softness, “I was only joking around. I wasn’t trying to get smart with Mom or anything.”

“I know that Aiden,” he assured me, “I just wanted a few minutes to talk with you about this whole thing. Unlike your mother, I’m more familiar with what this particular aspect of our family and how it can sometimes be overwhelming. I also wanted to find out just how you were doing with the whole becoming a girl thing.”

When he said the last I was able to relax a little since that was something I was actually starting to come to grips with. “I’m still adjusting,” I admitted, “But honestly it isn’t as world-shattering as I thought it might be when I woke up this morning.”

That got more of a smile from him. “I’m sure your mother will be happy to hear that, though you might want to keep it quiet for now unless you want her to start up on how half the world lives just fine being female.”


“You’re also going to need her help once you start going through those uniquely feminine things that are now a part of your life.”

I shuddered a little and made a face. “You mean like periods and stuff, right?”

“Yup.” It was pretty clear that he was more than happy to relinquish that particular aspect of parenting to Mom.

“Joy,” I mumbled before glancing back up at him, “But really Dad, I don’t know why, but I think I’m getting used to being a girl pretty quickly. It was pretty annoying having my tits-”


I winced at the warning tone in his voice. “Sorry, my breasts, getting in the way, but I’ve actually gotten kind of used to it. The sitting to pee thing is a bit annoying too but it’s no big deal, but it’s all this hair that is getting to be a pain,” I illustrated by pulling a hank of it off my shoulder and holding it in front of my face by way of example.

“That’s another thing you should talk with your mother about,” he advised, “But I don’t suggest you talk about cutting it. She’s already mentioned a few times how shiny and thick it is and how so many women would be jealous of it.”

“See,” I pointed out, “Now that kind of bothers me. I didn’t ask for any of this,” I indicated myself, “And yet I’m constantly hearing about how so many women would be jealous of how I won’t ever gain weight, how firm my breasts are, how thick and shiny my hair is, and so on. It’s like I should be grateful for turning into this when I never complained about not having it in the first place!”

Dad’s expression quickly changed from concern to understanding as he crouched down in front of me and placed his hands over mine that were resting on my knees. “Honey,” damn he said that way too easily, “I understand where you’re coming from and why you might think that way. I also know that while it doesn’t feel like it, your mother is trying to compliment you on your looks. She knows this isn’t easy on you and the things she’s been saying have been her way of trying to make you feel better about yourself.”

“Well it sure isn’t working,” I grumbled.

“How about this?” he said as his mouth twisted into one of his more characteristic roguish grins, “If you have to be a chick, at least you’re a hot one.”

I sighed and shrugged my now slim shoulders a little. “Yeah, I know, but it isn’t going to do much for my social life.”

“You had a social life?”

Unable to help it I giggled a little and lightly slapped him on the shoulder. “Wiseass.”

“I’ll let that slide,” he said wryly, “But I’d be careful saying it around your mother. The way she’s been talking it sounds like she has plans to turn you into a proper young lady.”

“Fat chance of that,” I declared with authority as I stood up, “I might be a girl now, but she can forget about me being some girly girl.” With that I turned and strode out of the office.

I didn’t realize it at the time, and if I did I probably would have groaned, but when I did that not only had I tossed my hair just like a girl would and sashayed my way out like a girl who knew she had a body that rocked the house.

Salem, Indiana, St. Vincent Hospital

When the elevator doors opened to permit Jeremy Holt entry into the sub basement of the hospital, he immediately wished he was somewhere else. In his three year tenure as a detective on the Salem Police Department, he, like many of his colleagues, never liked the part of the job that involved dealing with the bodies of the deceased. It wasn’t the physical gore that was so gut wrenching, it was the knowledge that someone had lost their life to drugs, violence, stupidity, and so many other possibilities. In this particular case, the life that had been robbed was so young and, by his parents’ accounts, such a good person.

Of course, Detective Holt knew far better than to only trust a parent’s judgement of their child, particularly in this day and age. That instinct had once again proven true when a few discreet queries of fellow classmates started painting a picture of a young man who was a staple within the high school power chain and seemed to take a certain amount of pleasure in utilizing that power against fellow classmates. It didn’t make him a monster, but he wasn’t the angel of light and good his family had painted him as. Regardless, whether he was a saint or a sinner, he had been far too young to be deprived of the chance to make something better of himself as he grew older and that was the part of the job Holt hated.

So as he approached the stainless steel table with the naked body of the sixteen year old boy lain upon it while being hovered over by an older man in puke green scrubs, he made sure to take a moment and offer a quick prayer that the boy did enough good in his life to grant him a place in Heaven. After that, he made a conscious effort to pull his emotions back so he could focus on doing his job. “Hey doc, you said you have something for me?”

The man in the scrubs looked over at the detective with a somewhat grim expression and nodded before straightening from where it appeared he was examining the grievous injury to the corpse’s neck. “Indeed I do Detective.” Carefully sealing the cover on the forensic cotton swab he’d just used, he slipped it into a clear plastic bag before sealing it and making several notations on the printed label. “I haven’t had a chance to get these DNA swabs off to the state lab for processing yet, and given how backed up they are they probably won’t even test them for at least a year, but I did note a few things about the boy’s injury that struck me as odd.”

While the medical examiner had been properly securing his collected evidence, Holt had approached the body and, with his hands firmly in his pockets, had been leaning over to look carefully at the wounds the boy had suffered. “Well we don’t get many dog attacks around here so I’d say that’s pretty odd itself.”

“That’s just it,” the doctor said as he set the evidence bag in a small tub along with several other, “I’m not so sure this was a dog attack.”

Turning his head slightly, Holt cocked an eyebrow at the man. “We have three eye witnesses that say they saw a dog come after this kid.”

“And we all know how reliable eyewitness testimony is,” the medical examiner retorted smoothly, “But the evidence can’t make mistakes. I took a measurement of the bite marks,” he went on to explain, “And when I did something seemed off about them so I sent the measurements to one of the local veterinarians who has experience in treating patients that suffer from bite injuries. He confirmed what I’d already suspected, that these bite marks didn’t come from a dog.”

That statement had the detective frowning and once again leaning down to look closely at the wounds in question. Unfortunately, to him they just looked like an act of savagery that had ended the boy’s life and there was nothing discernibly odd about them other than their very presence. “So what was it then? A bear?”

“No, a bear would have probably created a much larger and deeper wound, plus there would have been evidence of claw injuries and crush injuries from when the bear was on top of him. No, according to the vet, these bite marks are from a wolf.”

“A wolf?” Holt cast a critical look at the medical examiner as he straightened. “Doctor, there are no active wolf packs anywhere near this area and haven’t been in probably decades. Are you sure this wasn’t maybe a dog or maybe even a coyote?”

The doctor shook his head definatively. “Definitely not a coyote, the bite marks are far too large and the spacing of the teeth doesn’t conform to even the largest coyote’s jaw structure. I’ll have to wait for the state lab to run the DNA tests on the swabs I took from the sites of the bite marks and a small sample of fur I was able to collect from his clothes, but based on what the veterinarian I spoke with told me I’m pretty confident that we’re looking for a wolf.”

“If that’s the case,” Holt considered as he took out his notepad and started jotting down this information, “Then that could mean we have a rogue on our hands or one that’s rabid, which is a hell of alot worse than a rabid dog.”

“You still have people looking through the woods, right?”

Holt shook his head. “It got called off after several hours once the trackers lost the trail at Fox River. We’ve put out a general advisory to hunters to be careful but there really isn’t much more we can do other than pass this info along to Fish and Wildlife. Wild animals fall under their purview.”

“Well you’ll want to tell them to watch their asses,” the medical examiner warned, “If this is a wolf, it’s dangerous.”

“Well it killed a kid,” Holt remarked sarcastically, “So, yeah, I’d classify that as being dangerous.”

The doctor shook his head and when he looked the detective squarely in the eye, the younger man could see a real fear there. “It didn’t simply kill this boy, it savaged him. According to an expert I contacted an hour ago, the typical wolf pack will usually harass its prey, darting in and inflicting multiple wounds to cause blood loss and tire it out until it’s too weak to fight and eventually succumbs to the pack. In the case of a lone wolf, it would still attempt these kinds of hunting tactics because they are ingrained behaviors. By and large it would have less success since it doesn’t have the support of the pack, leading it to hunting smaller game like rabbits and foxes and the like, but in theory it could still take down larger prey.”

“This is a great little lesson on wolf behavior,” Holt commented impatiently, “But what does it have to do with my victim?”

As a way of responding, the doctor walked over to the corpse on the examination table and pulled back the remainder of the sheet, fully exposing the body. “Tell me what you see.”

“A dead kid.”

Because it was clear in the detective’s voice that the sight of the dead body was very disturbing, the medical examiner chose not to comment on the rather unobservant nature of the statement. “Yes, but you’ll notice a distinct lack of other injuries. The only wound this poor boy suffered was the trauma to his neck. Essentially,” he went on, recovering the body with the sheet up to the shoulders, “If this was a wolf attack, it went directly for the throat on its first go and quite literally tore it out. Plus, there’s no evidence that the wolf tried to eat him. To me that says this wasn’t a wolf that was hunting for food.”

It took a moment for Holt to realize what the doctor was saying and when it finally hit he looked at the man in shocked disbelief. “Doctor, are you telling me that this was a targeted attack? That the wolf murdered this kid?”

The man sighed and shrugged helplessly as he walked over to the small tub of physical evidence he’d recovered. Picking up several sealed evidence bags he held them out to the detective, who took possession of them before signing the evidence transfer sheet. “I’m afraid that’s up to you and Wildlife to determine, but if you want my off the record opinion, yes, it looks very specific.”

“Great,” Holt muttered as he turned to head back towards the elevator, “I wonder there’s any openings left in the Indianapolis Fire Department.”

Salem, Indiana, Salem High School

It’s always a fairly strong point of embarrassment whenever your parents drive you to school. Most of the time the other kids will look at you and think of you as being coddled or too scared to ride the bus with everyone else. However, in my case, it was kind of a requirement when Monday morning came. Because of my, well, life-altering experience, Mom had called the principal’s office the moment we’d woken up and explained how we would need an emergency meeting. Neither she nor Dad anticipated any real problems since, as I said before, Salem was fairly progressive when it came to mutants and an individual’s manifestation causing a sex change was far from being unheard of. It was really just a means of getting my school records properly adjusted as a precursor to Mom and Dad heading for the courts to begin the process of getting my legal records adjusted as well. Of course, that would also require a doctor’s report, which Dad had already set up for me after school. Basically, it was a lot of work to announce to the world I was now a girl.


That was how I found myself sitting in the head office at school between my parents nervously plucking at the pant leg of my jeans and constantly shifting in my seat. Mom had tried to convince me to wear one of the dresses she’d picked out for me when we’d gone shopping but I instantly veto’ed that idea and thankfully was backed up by Dad. Just because I was a girl now didn’t mean I was suddenly going to go all girly and prance around in little dresses and high heels. So, much to Mom’s feminine chagrin, I chose a simple pair of jeans and a plain white T-shirt. Okay, so the jeans were pretty snug fitting and the shirt had a lower, scooped neckline instead of the traditional high, close fitting one guys typically wore, but it sure wasn’t girly. I don’t know when I’d be ready for that, if ever.

When the receptionist finally told us the principal was ready, I had an immediate and almost uncontrollable urge to run out the door and never stop. It was one thing to be a girl with my family and even with my best and only friend, it was something else entirely to pretty much be exposed to the rest of the world. Oh sure I’d been seen by plenty of people when we’d gone clothes shopping, but I’d never really been identified by name. I was more of an unknown curiosity that I’m sure people were still speculated on. Now, I was expected to take my first steps in telling the world that Aiden the boy was gone and Aiden the girl was taking his place. This was not going to be fun.

The moment we walked into the principal’s office Dr. Carson’s face instantly told me that, despite his conversation with Mom, he wasn’t truly prepared for the sight that was me which greeted him. “Aiden?” he asked hesitantly, almost as though he was expecting to be punked any moment.

“Yes sir,” I confirmed quietly while keeping my eyes firmly on my new tan work boots.

He didn’t say anything else for a couple of moments before the pretty much average-looking man shook his head and indicated the seats before his desk. “My apologies. Your mother told me about what occurred over the weekend but it’s quite something else to see your...change in person.”

“How do you think it feels on this end,” I mumbled.

“Dr. Carson,” Mom said quickly in an effort to cover up my quip, “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Aiden is having something of a difficult time adjusting to her dramatic change, but she still wants to keep up her studies. I trust there won’t be any problem with that.” Though it was said pleasantly, I knew that Mom was winding up with a few really good blasts just in case the principal decided to try and pull some kind of bureaucratic nonsense to keep me from school.

“Not at all,” the man assured us. “While I will admit Aiden is the first mutant we’ve had attending Salem High, every member of the faculty has gone through extensive training in regard to how to deal with any students who do indeed manifest.”

“Deal with?” Dad asked and it was pretty much obvious to everyone in the room that there was a fine thread of warning in his tone. Hell, he was pumping danger signals through his scent that practically had me cowering.

“Sorry,” Dr. Carson apologized with a chagrined look, “That was a poor choice of words. What I mean is that all of our staff have been given a good, functioning knowledge of what it means for a person to be a mutant and that they are to be treated just as they would any student. Simply because they have manifested does not mean they are not thinking, feeling individuals or that they are no longer human beings. I can assure you not one teacher will treat Aiden any different from before and any attempts at bullying because of her mutation will be swiftly and decisively dealt with.”

While Mom seemed to relax upon hearing this, there was still a tension vibrating faintly through Dad that anyone else without heightened senses wouldn’t have been able to pick up. “We’re pleased to hear that,” Mom told him, “I assume all of the appropriate corrections will be made to her school records and class schedule?”

Dr. Carson nodded and took a slip of paper from his desk, sliding it across towards me. “The appropriate notation has been made in Aiden’s student file indicating a change of sex due to mutant manifestation and Ms. Barlow is waiting outside to take a current photo for her student I.D. The only change that will be required for her classes is that she will simply be using the girl’s locker room for gym instead of the boy’s. And Aiden,” he said, finally addressing me directly, “If you do encounter any problems please don’t hesitate to speak with one of your teachers or come to me directly. I realize this will be a difficult transition for you and I want you to know we are prepared to offer you whatever supports you need.”

“Thanks Dr. Carson,” I said quietly but honestly. Of course, I had absolutely no plans to do any of that. Teachers, faculty, and all of the bureaucrats involved in education never seem to really figure out the intricacies of high school societal standards. If I got harassed or bullied, and I went running to a teacher, I’d be even more of a social pariah than I already was. What’s worse, that could easily translate into troubles outside of school as well, where the teachers would have zero jurisdiction. Yeah, high school really sucked like that.

With the meeting done we headed out of the principal’s office and I got my updated school ID before we paused in the hallway prior to going our separate ways. “I won’t make a scene,” Mom promised, “But remember we both love you.”

“I know Mom,” I said with only a touch of embarrassment when she kissed my cheek.

“Just keep your grades up like you have been,” Dad told me with a squeeze to my shoulder and that was it.

“I will,” I promised with a nod, and that was it. We went our separate ways with Mom and Dad heading off to the courthouse and me heading to class. Fortunately we’d gotten to school earlier than the buses so as I traversed the hallways the remaining student body had only just arrived and were gathering their things together from their lockers. I followed suit by heading for my own locker and dumping off the majority of my books except what I needed for my first class.

“Hey Aiden,” I heard and saw Jake’s smiling face when I closed the locker door. He didn’t look quite so cheery as he normally did, but his expression was open and friendly so I was pretty certain he wasn’t going to wig out on me.

“Hey Jake,” I returned as we both turned and headed for our first class, which we happened to share, “How’s it going?”

“Not bad,” he allowed, “So how did it go last night?”

I had to bite my lip to keep from hissing at him to shut up about that since I didn’t want everyone in school to know my mutation had turned me into a werewolf. With the town on edge because of the dog attack I really didn’t need people giving me accusatory glares. “It was fine,” I said tightly.

I guess it was my tone that clued in my best bud to the fact that this kind of discussion wasn’t really designed to take place in public hallways because he quickly shut up. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed so I took a little pity on him. “It was a lot of fun,” I allowed, “I’ll tell you more about it later. We can hang out at my place after I get back from the doctor.”

“Doctor?” Immediately his expression went from contrite to concerned, “Are you okay?”

“Oh sure,” I told him, waving away any worries he had, “I just need a note from a licensed physician about my...umm...change so my parents can get my birth records properly adjusted.”

“Ah.” He nodded his comprehension and for a brief time we walked through the halls silently. “You know you’re moving differently.”

Well that sure came out of the blue. “What are you talking about?”

“Hate to tell you buddy, but you’re damn near prowling when you walk.”

Instantly I froze in place and looked down at myself, which was admittedly stupid because I couldn’t see how I was ‘prowling’ if I was standing still. “Seriously?”

“Yup,” and there was no mistaking that shit-eating grin on his face, “If I didn’t know better, and believe me I do, I’d say you were putting out some serious ‘come hither’ signals.”

“Fuck,” I growled and started walking again, this time making a concerted effort not not look like I was sex on two legs.

“Honestly, it’s no worse than any other girl you see around here,” he assured me, “You’ve just got something...I don’t know...extra that gives it a little more omph.”

That got me thinking. Was the wolf part of me so strong that it was coming out more when I was in human form? That might explain why Jake described my movements looking like I was prowling. After all, how else did a wolf look when it moved? I’d like to think I could be careful with doing that but something told me it was just a normal part of who I was now and there was probably no controlling it. Of course, that sure as hell didn’t mean I wouldn’t try.

And then there was the scents Jake was throwing off. Regardless of the fact that he knew I was a guy before this weekend, he was clearly putting out very subtle signals that he was attracted to me now. No one would ever notice it unless they had mutant enhanced senses that could pick up subtle pheromone cues, but I did and they were loud and clear.

“Just remember who you’re talking about bub,” I warned him and somehow managed to keep from growling it.

“I know, I know, and I’ll behave,” he promised, though the twinkle in his eye promised plenty of teasing. That was fine, I’d taken good-natured shit from him for years but I wasn’t offended by it. Besides, I knew how to give as good as I got.

“I really am worried though,” I confided in him quietly, looking around for what must have been the hundredth time in the last ten minutes to see if anyone was overhearing our conversation, “I don’t know how people are going to react to me.”

“You’ll probably catch some heat,” he conceded, “But by and large I don’t think it should be too bad. Not too many people really knew you so they might not even notice the change. The only one you really have to worry about is Henry.”

My groan was long and audible. “I really don’t want to deal with him today,” I moaned.

“Well, you’re probably pretty safe,” Jake theorized, “After all not only are you now a girl, and people don’t usually take kindly to guys hitting girls, but he’s probably still dealing with Ed dying this weekend.”

Jake mentioning Ed’s death made me realize that the majority of the student body we’d been passing didn’t really seem overly affected by that news. Oh sure there were a few here and there that looked like they were pretty broken up about it, but for the most part no one really seemed to care. I suppose that could be explained by the fact that Ed had been just as big a bully as Henry and had often used the social power he’d gained from riding the football player’s coat tails to make people feel like dirt. Truth be told, there were times he worried me more than Henry because of the sadistic look I often caught in his eye when the pair of them ganged up on me. I suppose now that he was gone the students of Salem High could breathe a little easier, at least until it came to pass whether Ed’s death would mellow Henry out or make him even worse. I didn’t like thinking about a worse Henry.

When we got to our first class, while Jake headed back towards our regular seats I immediately approached the teacher and handed her the informational slip of paper Dr. Carson had given me. At first she seemed confused, especially when she saw my name at the top, but realization quickly set in and she nodded her understanding before smiling to me and indicating I should take my seat. That was it, no muss, no fuss, no standing in front of the class being humiliated. In fact, I was in my seat and getting my book out before everyone had even gotten into the room, and other than a few odd or confused looks no one said a word. I’d never even dreamed it would go this smoothly.

Which is why I probably should have seen it coming.

My first three classes went fine and I was actually feeling pretty good about myself while heading for lunch when something rammed into my shoulder hard enough to send me careening into the nearby wall lockers and send my books flying. When I looked to see just what the hell had hit me I saw Henry, Clay, and Robert walking passed. It was obvious from the way they were moving that A) Henry had been the one to ram me, and B) he didn’t even seem to realize he’d done it. It was only after about three steps that he stopped and looked back with a confused expression on his face. When he saw me crouching down gathering up my books while simultaneously glaring at him did he suddenly grasp what had happened. That moment transitioned into a lecherous smile as his eyes did a quick head-to-toe check out maneuver of me, or at least as much as he could considering the position I was in.

“Well hey there,” he drawled as he backtracked towards me, “I’m sorry about that sweet thing, my mind’s just been elsewhere today.” If there was any more sickly-sweet syrup in his voice he’d be sued for copyright infringement on Aunt Jemima’s recipe.

“Uh huh,” I grumbled as I hastily tried to get my things together. He didn’t recognize me, which was good, and I didn’t want to push my luck that Jake might be right about him not hitting a girl. “No problem,” I muttered as I scrambled to my feet and (goddammit) clutched my books to my chest like a girl.

I think he would have probably tried to smooth talk me a little more while I made my escape, except Clay’s eyes narrowed on me for a moment before widening in shocked realization. “Holy shit Henry, that’s Aiden! Tommy Gillespie told me about him last period and how he turned into a girl this weekend.”

It was as though all sound in the hallway had been sucked into a vacuum. As cliche as it sounds, you could have literally heard a pin drop. All around us students had come to a halt and were watching the exchange with wide eyes and bated breath. This would be the defining moment whether or not the rumors of Henry’s generalized cruelty were true or not.

“Are you really Aiden?” he finally asked in a slightly quieter than normal voice.

I nodded and clutched my books tighter while every muscle in my body bunched up in preparation to bolt for safety.

“So you’re a mutant?”

Again, I nodded while my eyes darted about looking for the best avenue of escape for when things eventually went bad.

“What’s your power?”

Now that I hadn’t expected to be asked, even though I had a canned response ready. Still, it took my mind a second to find the right gear before I answered meekly, “I don’t know yet. So far all that’s happened is I turned into a girl.” It was the safest answer for the time being since Mom, Dad, and Grandpa wisely thought that telling people I was a werewolf would undoubtedly cause people to assume the worst. At best I would be shunned, at worst...I tried not to think about that.

“Hmmmm,” Henry considered as he once again gave me a once over now that I was standing and I was eternally grateful that my books were clutched to my chest so he couldn’t ogle my breasts. “You were a loser before, but now… you’re definitely one of the hottest girls in school. Maybe we should go out sometime.”

Okay, out of all of the possible outcomes involving dealing with Henry, getting hit on by him hadn’t even made the list. I was so stunned I couldn’t even think of a response, I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. Apparently he seemed to think that was a sign of me being awestruck because he leaned in close and placed on hand on the locker beside my head. “So,” he damn near purred, “Is that a yes?”

“No,” I blurted and quickly shook my head, “It’s a no. Henry, as far as I can tell I still like girls.”

Obviously that was the wrong thing to say because his expression clouded over and I could see that familiar, bullying Henry start coming out. “Oh, so you think you’re too good for me?” He said it so smoothly that if you weren’t actually listening to his words you’d think he was trying to seduce me instead of pretty much threaten me.

“I didn’t say that,” I tried to assert, “This only just happened. I’m still trying to come to grips with it for fuck’s sake.”

Uh oh, that narrowing of his eyes made it clear that I was not doing myself any favors right now. “Well maybe we should find out which you prefer.”

By this point I was completely baffled by what was happening. Henry knew I’d been a boy just days ago and now he was acting not only like he wanted to go out with me, but unless I was wrong, and I prayed to god I was, it sounded like he was threatening to rape me. “Henry, I was a boy, remember?”

His shrug was careless and unconcerned. “And now you’re a hot girl, with what I assume are all of the proper working parts.” He started to lean in a little closer and unless I missed my guess he was fully intending to kiss me!

Right then I felt a stirring deep inside of me. It was the kind of physical sensation you can really describe, like your stomach rumbling when it’s hungry or your lungs burning after you’ve been running really hard. This was more like a deep-set knowledge that translated into a sensation of deepness, and within that deep dark of my soul that the wolf that now resided within me awoke. It recognized what was occurring, that I felt threatened and my chances of flight were gone. That left only one recourse, attack. Already I could feel the movements of my muscles that would have me suddenly shooting forward, sinking my teeth into that soft, tender flesh, and tearing out Henry’s oh so vulnerable throat to leave him with blood cascading down his shirt as the life left his eyes while I howled in frenzied victory.

That’s why I forcibly quashed those predatory instincts, peered up directly into Henry’s gaze, and whispered, “I’m sorry about Ed.”

To this day I don’t know if any other words I could have spoken would have caused him to freeze the way he did. For a moment, there was real conflict in his eyes ranging from blazing anger to raw sadness. I’m not sure even he knew what he was feeling in that moment but when I caught a familiar tang in the air I knew which emotion had won out.

Slowly drawing back, I could tell that Henry realized what he’d been doing and there was a small, but definite sense of shame that he’d been practically forcing himself on me just moments ago. Despite what I might think of the guy, I’d never once heard of him forcing a girl to do anything. He might con her or manipulate her, that I’d heard about, but he’d never used force. I think maybe he knew he’d been about to cross a boundary that he shouldn’t have. “Yeah,” he muttered with his eyes now downcast, “Thanks.”

I could have left it at that and just been on my way, but damned if I never knew to leave well enough alone. “Have you talked with anyone yet?”

To his credit, he seemed to know exactly what I was talking about and shook his head. “My Dad wants me to see some shrink in town but I don’t know what good it’s going to do.”

Okay, I’d done my good deed and expressed my sympathies to the one guy who’d been making my life miserable for years. Job done, there was nothing more I needed to say or do.

“Well, I’m pretty good at listening if you ever want to talk about it.”

What the fuck was wrong with me? I could have just shut up and let the whole thing go away. Before I’d opened my big fucking mouth I was pretty sure Henry would have just gone on his way and forgotten about me. Hell, there was a good chance he’d never bully me again after this. So why in the sweet fuck did I just offer to let him bend my ear about his feelings?

The small, boyish smile that he gave me sent an odd little tingle down my spine. “Thanks,” he said honestly, “Maybe sometime I will. Sorry about knocking you into the locker,” he apologized and I swear there was a note to his voice that I’d never in my life heard. It was a sincerity that just didn’t fit with my long-established perception of the guy. He should be mocking me or making fun of my sex change, not being...nice.

“It’s alright,” I said by way of accepting his apology, “I’m guessing you have a lot on your mind.”

“That’s an understatement. Look, I’d better let you get going before lunch is over. I’ll see you around Aiden.” And with that he gave me a small wave and headed off with his dumbfounded friends in tow, leaving me with a hallway of equally dumbfounded people looking like they’d just witnessed the arrival of an alien species.

“Holy shit!” I heard quietly beside me. When I looked over I saw Jake standing there slack-jawed and blinking rapidly. “Did I just see what I think I just saw?”

“You mean Henry actually being nice to me? Yup, I think you did.”

“What the hell did you do to him?” my friend demanded to know as I put my books in my locker and grabbed my small purse (ugh) for lunch.

“I just told him I was sorry to hear about Ed,” I explained, closing my locker and heading for the cafeteria.

“You’re sorry to hear about Ed?” he parroted, “The same Ed who not only helped Henry give you swirlies back in junior high but sometimes did them all on his own?”

I sighed and rolled my eyes in exasperation as I got in one of the food lines that was offering meat products for lunch. “Jake, just because Henry’s been an asshole to me for years, along with Ed, doesn’t mean I can’t be sorry that his friend was ripped apart by a rabid dog. That’s just...inhumane.”

“I suppose,” he muttered, though I wasn’t so sure he was buying into it. “At least it kept him from pounding you.”

I thought about that for a moment, which brought a resurgence of that uncomfortable closeness Henry had effected when stupidly trying to ‘seduce’ me. “Actually,” I mused, “I think he was trying to ask me out on a date.”

The sound of the tray and silverware hitting the ground had everyone around us looking over in surprise and Jake blushing profusely as he scrambled to collect his fallen lunchware. “I’m sorry, I think I may have gone momentarily insane. Did you just say he asked you out on a date?”

“In a really, stupid, overbearing way, yeah, I think he did.”

“Ummmm, he remembers you were a guy like two days ago, right?”

I shrugged and asked the line cook behind the food choices for a very rare hamburger before answering. “Oh I made sure to remind him, but it didn’t seem to matter. I guess that’s because guys are pretty visual.”

“What do you mean?”

The discussion came to a lull as we paid for our meals and made our way over to our normal table before starting it back up again. “Okay, look, when it comes to how people view things in the world, guys are much more focused on how things look. It’s why we, or I guess you now, are always attracted to the hot-bodied model versus the stereotypical dumpy housewife.”

“What, you don’t like girls anymore?” he accused.

“Don’t know yet,” I shrugged around a mouthful of tasty burger, “I haven’t really delved into it yet. But I knew when I was a guy that’s kind of how my brain worked. I think the same was true with Henry just now. Yeah, he knew I was a guy on an intellectual level, but his eyes were telling him I’m a girl so that’s the instinct he followed.”

“I suppose that’s possible,” Jake allowed, “But I mean I don’t look at you like that and I’m a guy. I don’t,” he insisted when I gave him a sly smile.

“Jake,” I told him patiently, “Have forgotten that I can smell arousal?”

His face went pure white for a moment before filling in with a heated blush that had him looking straight down at his food. “Fuck!” he murmured.

I couldn’t help but laugh a little and patted his hand reassuringly. “It’s okay Jake, didn’t I just explain how guys are visual? It’s not your fault.”

“It isn’t weird is it?” he asked, looking at me like a shy little kid.

“It’s a little weird,” I admitted, “But then this whole thing is weird to me. I’m also not blind and I happened to have looked in a mirror at some point in the last two days so it’s understandable. Just...don’t go hitting on me like Henry did, at least until I can figure out just what the hell is going on with my hormones and which way the door’s swinging.”

“Fair enough, as long as you don’t go trying to snake Mary away from me. We’ve got another date on Wednesday.”

“You too? Well how about that.”

His fork was halfway to his mouth when it stopped and he simply stared at me in open disbelief. I let that drag out for a moment or two before grinning and telling him, “Didn’t I ever tell you I named my forge Mary?”

I barely managed to duck the fries that came flying my way.

Chicago, Illinois

Shadows were the man’s only friends as he sat in the dark before the bank of computer monitors and let his eyes scan the various pieces of data displayed on the multi-display. A multitude of information was presented for his perusal ranging from bank statements to topographical satellite displays of the West Sixty-Fourth Street and South Woods St. area notated with various pieces of informational data such as building height, material structure, mean vehicular and foot traffic, standard police response time, and current families presiding in the area with small children.

All of this information was taken in within the blink of an eye and factored into the conceived tactical planning that had begun two days ago. So far, this was the optimal location for the convoy strike to occur. Sadly, the last child living in the area had been slain by a hit squad tasked with eliminating the child’s father because of a perceived slight on the local gang four weeks ago. He had dealt with the hit squad shortly after and now it was time to eliminate the members within the gang. Had they actually attempted intelligent planning, they might have not made their whereabouts so blatantly known to the entire community. It was almost pathetically easy not only to find them, but to established a patterned route for their little two-vehicle convoy that conducted a territory survey every other day. The whispers on the street indicated they were wise enough to use bullet-proof vests and had possibly enhanced their vehicles with armored capabilities, but these issues were easy enough to bypass once he conducted his recon that evening. Once that was completed it would be a simple matter of preparing the area for the strike. Even if they have taken such precautions, and others, the entire operation would be concluded sixty seconds after initiation with the area vacated a full four minutes before the fastest police response could arrive.

With his preparations concluded, for the moment at least, he shifted the information on the upper right display down to the center monitor and carefully looked it over while resting his chin on folded hands. He had gone halfway through it when he heard the faint hiss of movement behind him and couldn’t hold back the very small smile from curving his lips.

“What can I do for you Gear?”

“Dammit,” he heard from doorway twenty feet back before footsteps approached from behind, “How the hell do you do that?”

Slowly turning his chair, Ashe offered his colleague an approving look. “You’re improving,” he allowed, “The door movement was nearly silent.”

Sighing heavily, the weapon and tactical equipment specialist dropped into the empty chair beside his friend and looked at the menagerie of computer monitors. “I’m guessing everything is good to go for the op?”

“I’m doing one last recon tonight,” Ashe informed him, “Just to confirm whether or not there’ll be armor to contend with, but I’ve already factored the possibility into the operations protocols.”

Not surprised in the least that his friend and boss was already thinking lightyears ahead in the tactical planning process, he caught sight of the center screen and leaned forward with a narrowing of his eyes. “What’s Tearmann Institute?”

“A private academy in Newfoundland, Canada that specializes in the education of...unique individuals. I’ve been looking into for several years now.”

Gear frowned and cast a sidelong glance at Ashe. “Another Whateley? For criminals maybe?”

Ashe shook his head and clicked through several screens that showed images of the various parts of the school. “No, that was my first thought as well, but upon investigation I found it is very selective in the individuals chosen to attend and none of them can have any form of affiliation with any criminals or criminal organization.”

“So they’re not as inclusive as Whateley is. That’s a bit short-sighted isn’t it?”

Ashe took a slow breath and prepared his words carefully. “Gear, I realize Whateley is your alma mater, and I’m sure you have plenty of good memories from there, but it’s because of that inclusion of both law abiding and criminal students that has led to a steady uptick in criminal activity occurring there. That along with the steadfast requirement that students must partake in rather extensive combat training, I’ve been having my doubts about its viability as being an effective education institution.”

Gear sat back and just blinked in surprise at his longtime friend. “Wait a second, are you telling me that you don’t approve of students being combat trained?”

“No I’m not,” he corrected, “Teaching combat and tactics at a young age can make for very effective soldiers. However, I’m not so short-sighted to think that every mutant absolutely must be trained for combat. You and I both know at least one individual who is the very definition of a non-combatant. Can you imagine her being forced to violate her very principles just to fulfill a course requirement for the school?”

The weaponsmith didn’t need to ask who he was referring to and instead took a moment to think about the scenario he’d just been given. “They do allow for non-combatants and provide Non-Violent armbands for those specific types of kids.”

“And thus painting a target on them,” Ashe countered. “Gear, you’re a bright guy even without the gadgeteer mutation. You know just as well as I do that wearing such an armband makes kids like that a target for, at the very least, every criminally-minded student on campus. Not every student would take advantage, but there are more than a few that would, and based on what I’ve seen regarding the record of Whateley’s campus security over the last fifteen years, I have a lot of doubt regarding their effectiveness anymore.”

“You could always offer to train them,” Gear suggested with a grin, “I imagine Elizabeth Carson would jump at the chance for the infamous Ghost Wolf to show her security people some new things.”

Instead of the answering grin Gear was expecting, Ashe merely shook his head with a grim look. “Anything I could teach them would be wasted. They operate on safety and security protocols. My methods are designed to maximize lethality while minimizing collateral damage to innocents. It would be like putting a gun in the hands of a toddler. They’d end up killing a student by mistake using the skills I taught them and I won’t allow that.”

Gear was starting to see the dilemma Ashe was faced with and nodded slowly. “So you’ve lost confidence in Whateley’s ability to be a properly functioning school.”

“At least as far as education goes,” his friend confirmed, “In all reality they would be better served as a training facility for combat and power techniques instead of masquerading as an educational institute.”

“So that’s why you’re looking at this Tearmann Institute?”

Ashe nodded and brought up a page of information on the monitor that no one from the public would have access to. “While there is the offer of combat training, it is done so from a self-defense point of view while also helping students to understand and hone their abilities. It is also done as a chosen elective instead of as a requirement. That particular distinction falls to survival skills and evasion techniques such as parkour in lieu of physical education. The remainder of available classes involve education regarding their powers and uses with specialty classes designed around the particular student’s goals regarding their plans on how to use their abilities after graduation. Additionally, they are taught how this can be done while maintaining some anonymity.”

Gear listened and nodded, impressed. “So if, say, a certain mutant we know plans on going into medicine after graduation, she would not only be taught how to use her power, but how to use it most effectively in the field of medicine without blatantly outing herself as a mutant. That’s actually a really good idea,” the weaponsmith acknowledged with widened eyes, “I mean, we don’t want another Taylor case.”

“Exactly. Whateley might not make that distinction. In addition to the way they’ve practically turned putting their students in harm’s way into a damn sport, I worry more and more about their graduates being placed directly into my crosshairs.”

The concern was understandable to Gear. To pretty much everyone else on the planet, save for a very select few, Ashe was the very definition of Death Incarnate. Had he not already been tagged as the Ghost Wolf so many years ago it was likely that might have ended up as his nom de guerre by the criminal element. Yet he knew, unlike most, there was a great deal more to the man than anyone knew. “So how is this Tearmann school different, aside from the lack of combat requirements?”

“The focus is on education, understanding, and compassion. I’ve tracked several of their graduating classes and they have a ninety-five percent success rate in regard to their students going on to be productive members of society that have brought about some of the most influential advances in science, technology, philosophy, and cultural change. A few did go on to have careers as superheros, but that seems to be more of an exception rather than the norm.”

“You said ninety-five percent,” Gear noted suspiciously.

That brought only a slight shrug from his partner. “No school ever has a one hundred percent success rate, that’s basic statistics and human nature. It’s a far cry better than Whateley’s trending rate of between sixty and seventy-five percent.”

Folding his arms across his chest, he couldn’t help but grin. “Should I even bother changing the trust?”

“I made the adjustment two weeks ago.”

Shaking his head, once again finding himself playing catch-up to his friend, he leaned forward and tapped out a few commands on the keyboard. Immediately, the displays all blinked to display a variety of weapons and equipment schematics. “So I figured out a way to bolster the armor capacity on your gear while maintaining maximum flexibility. You don’t have to worry about point blank three fifty-seven blasts anymore.”

Ashe nodded as his mind instantly clicked over to the current matter of mission preparedness.

Salem, Indiana, Connors residence

Sitting in one of the folding chairs I’d set up by my forge, I looked over the biology lesson we’d been taught in class that day while waiting for my steel to heat back up. The primary forging on it was done, now I just needed to get it to the point where it was glowing hot once more so I could quench it and harden the steel. Once that was done I could start work on polishing and sharpening as well as add an acid etching into the length of the blade. It would take about a half hour or so for the steel to get to the point that I could quench so I decided to make the best use of my time and get in some studying. In all honesty, what I really wanted to do was change into wolf form and go play in the woods, but I’d made a promise to my parents to go easy with it while there was still a wild dog roaming around. So, I was doing the dedicated son...err, daughter...thing and studying.

Truth be told, I probably didn’t need to. The current topic in this particular subject was pretty basic, but I found it unusually fascinating. That probably had something to do with the fact that, in light of current local events, the teacher had elected to go over dog and wolf biology, comparing and contrasting their physical structure as well as behavior. While I certainly had a much more intimate understanding of that now, it made for really interesting reading and I found myself getting pretty absorbed in it. I guess that’s why I didn’t hear the footsteps on the gravel until they were nearly beside me. I was about to turn and tell Jake ‘hi’ when the scent hit my nose.

That wasn’t Jake.

Quickly closing my book, I whirled to my feet and took a couple steps back while warily eying the form of Henry standing with his hands in his pockets. “What are you doing here?” I demanded, my muscles already tensing to either fight him or take off running.

“I just wanted to talk,” he assured me and brought his hands from his pockets to hold them up in a gesture of surrender. “I already talked to your Mom,” he explained when my eyes darted towards the house, “She told me you were back here.”

“And just what do you want to talk about?” I asked cautiously. Regardless of what had happened at school, I still didn’t trust Henry as far as I could throw him. He might have gone from wanting to kick my ass to hitting me up for a date, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still planning something.

Clearly my defensive attitude wasn’t lost on him and he sighed, shoving his hands back into his pockets. “Listen, I know I’ve been a real dick to you over the years. There’s no excuse for it and honestly the only reason why I did it is because it was part of being popular. I’m not expecting any forgiveness or anything, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry and that I won’t hassle you anymore.”

Yeeeeah, I wasn’t buying it. Three days ago he was ready to beat my ass just for showing up at a party for the ‘cool kids’ and now he was suddenly all contrite and repentant? Something didn’t jive here. “And why exactly should I believe you? You haven’t just been a dick, you know. You’ve made my life hell for years.”

He winced at the way I snapped at him and looked down at his shoes that were currently shuffling a bit against the gravel. “Yeah, I did, and like I said I’m sorry about that. I was an ass who just focused on being popular and you were a way to stay that way.”

“And now you’re suddenly wanting to make amends? What, did you start some kind of twelve step program or something?” I sneered.

“No,” he said slowly, “My best friend was killed.”

That took the wind out of my sails a bit, not simply because it was true, but because of the devastated look on his face when he said it. Regardless of Henry being a world-class dickhead, he still possessed emotions like every other human being and right now there was little doubt he was feeling every iota of them. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time someone in human history had used a tragedy to mask an attempt at harming someone. “Yeah,” I said quietly but carefully.

“You know,” he remarked with a sad smile while lifting his eyes to the mostly clear sky, “You were the only person to actually say you were sorry to hear about it.”

I had more than a little trouble accepting the idea that out of everyone in town, family, friends, hell, even social acquaintances that wanted to feel even a hint of that star power that was Henry Cartwright, that I was the only one to have offered him a genuine condolence . I mean, for fuck’s sake, he would have had girls fawning all over him wanting to do everything they could to make him feel better just so they could either feel good about themselves or maybe score a date with him. “Come on,” I said, not bothering to hide the fact that I didn’t believe that for a second.

“It’s true,” he said with a shrug, “Oh yeah I’ve had plenty of people come up to me and spout the expected ‘so sorry to hear about Ed’ line, but you can tell it’s fake, you know?” I did, but I wasn’t ready to tell him that yet. “Even my parents only kind of half-assed it in between business and social functions. They’ll probably just show up to the funeral because it’s expected of them.”

By this point it felt like he was laying it on pretty thick, but when I tasted the air the tang that was his scent felt completely genuine. He was being honest, at least as far as he knew. It’s possible he was just so overwhelmed with emotion that he was deliberately pushing back at people and unwilling to accept what were genuine expressions of sympathy. So then, why had he taken my offering at face value unlike everyone else’s? Did it have something to do with the way he’d been coming on to me, or was that just another attempt at masking his feelings? And why was I feeling this soft, squishy sensation in my belly when I saw just how broken up he was about this that he seemed damn near ready to cry? Oh crap, was I starting to feel all girly about this? Is that why my instincts were telling me to take him into my arms and hold him to my breast while whispering gentle endearments in his ear and let him know everything would be okay? Fuck!

“I didn’t mean to dump all of this on you,” his voice intruded into my thoughts, making me look over at him and try to hide the blush that wanted to tint my cheeks due to my, ahem, maternal instincts surfacing. “But Ed’s death kind of put things into perspective for me and I wanted to come and wipe the slate clean.”

“All right,” I told him, more than a little anxious to get him out of here before those annoying girly instincts had any more chance to take hold, “Consider the slate clean. I’ll see you-”

“We were coming here that night, you know.”

That quiet proclamation had whatever else I’d planned to say dying on my lips. Had I just heard him right? “You were what?” I whispered.

He nodded, his gaze now firmly cast towards the flames jetting out of either side of my forge. “That night we were coming here. I wanted to make you pay for embarrassing me like you did at the party. We were gonna scare you bad enough to piss your pants like you made me do.” There was something else, something he wasn’t telling me. I could tell by his voice and the way his scent fluctuated slightly, but I didn’t interrupt, yet. “It was a really stupid idea,” he admitted, “But Ed kind of egged me into doing it. He said I couldn’t let something like that just go or I’d be laughed right out of town.”

When he paused, seemingly to gather his thoughts, I narrowed my gaze and demanded quietly, “How exactly were you planning to do that?”

My earlier instincts proved right as his face went pale and his gaze nervously flickered from my forge, to me, to the forge again. “I...well...Ed had this idea that we get one of my Dad’s guns. We were going to sneak over to your place and break into your room, and..well…”

By this point he was so uncomfortable he was fidgeting endlessly. Of course, that was nothing compared to the feeling of my stomach turning into a solid ball of ice listening to the sick plan he and his whack job friends had come up with. They were coming at me with a gun? Were they planning to… “What were you going to do to me with that gun Henry?” I whispered so I wouldn’t have to complete that line of thought.

“Scare you,” he replied with a jerky shrug that seemed more for the sake of movement than as a casual gesture. “Get you scared enough you pissed yourself and then post the video one of the guys would have been taking on YouTube.”

Well at least he hadn’t planned on killing me, so thank fuck for small favors. “Are you,” I said very slowly, “That sick and twisted that you would use a gun on me just to get revenge for something you started in the first place!” By this point I was on my feet and in his face damn near screaming at him. The fact that he was nearly a foot taller than me didn’t mean shit, not when I was this scared and pissed off and especially not when I now had the power to actually back up my anger in spades.

I caught a wisp of scent on the air that told me Mom had come to the back porch and was probably looking out to see what was happening, but by this point I was completely focused on this scared little boy in front of me and trying very hard not to sink my teeth into his flesh.

And scared he was. Maybe he’d never been confronted by a girl before, or maybe he’d never had someone stand up to him like this, but whatever the reason was it was clear in both his face and his scent that at this moment he was moments away from repeating that party event. “It was idiotic, brainless and disgusting,” he said in the kind of rapid-fire speech that someone uses when they’re pretty much begging for their life, “And I don’t even know if I would have done it in the end, but I wanted to just tell you so you’d know we got what we deserved. Ed died because we tried to do it.”

It shouldn’t have mattered. To the wolf in me it didn’t. The boy before me represented a threat to me and my pack and was something to be destroyed so he wouldn’t have the opportunity to do it again. Every feral instinct in my body was howling at me to rip his throat out and let him choke to death on his own blood so the pack would stay safe and establish myself as the apex predator of this territory. The urge was strong enough to have a growl vibrating in my breast wanting so badly to issue from between my clenched teeth.

But I wasn’t just the wolf. I was human too, and that human part of me sort of understood what he was trying to do. Ed was pretty out of whack, he always had been. While Henry had certainly been a big time bully, Ed had always been right behind him egging him on or suggesting new and inventive ways to torture their victims. Was it possible that Ed had really been the sadistic brains behind their duo the whole time but just kept that part hidden from the world? It kind of made sense the more I thought about it. Even Henry admitted Ed had goaded him into getting the gun and going forward with that insane plan. Henry had always been kind of cruel in his bullying, but Ed had always been there when it had happened.

Now Ed was gone and I’d noticed a change in him. That haughty expression of superiority he’d sported upon walking into school that morning really had felt more like a mask than his true face, and it had fallen apart pretty damn fast when I’d called him on it and then offered my sympathies for Ed. Maybe Ed really had been the driving force behind the bully squad all of these years and now that he was gone it was just going to fall apart. It was risky thinking that way, and could very likely bite me in the ass, but I had to either try and make amends or remain enemies with Henry for the rest of my life. While the wolf might have been happy driving him away, I was willing to give it a chance.

“All right,” I finally said, keeping my tone even and cautious so he knew I wasn’t letting him off scot free, “I’ll accept your apology, but I promise if this is some kind of fucking trap-”

“No trap,” he said quickly, waving his hands frantically. Clearly he had come to realize that I might actually be able to make good on my threats. “I just want make things right. I realized that I’ve done a lot of things to people that I’m not proud of anymore and I want to do better.”

A thought occurred to me then. Was I the first person he’d come to with this new revelation? Sure he’d picked on me quite a bit, but I wouldn’t say I’d been his favorite target or anything. Hell, I don’t even know if he had a favorite one. Which begged the question…

“Who else have you apologized to?”

That seemed to catch him off guard and he blinked stupidly at me for several moments. I think he honestly felt that if he just made his apologies to me, a wimpy little kid-turned-girl, that all would suddenly be forgiven. “Ummm, no one,” he said lamely.

I sighed at the confirmation and shook my head. “Henry, you’ve hurt a lot of people, not just me. If you’re serious about turning over a new leaf you need to talk to them too, otherwise this one apology doesn’t mean shit.”

I think maybe he wanted to argue the point, maybe claim that he was a good person and he was proving it right then, but thankfully my words seemed to sink in and he nodded slowly with understanding dawning on his face. “You’re right. I’ve bullied a lot of people though, it’ll probably take a while.”

“If you mean what you told me, it should be worth taking the time.”

“It is,” he said, though he sounded a little depressed about it. He was probably just starting to realize how many amends he was going to have to make and that not all of them would take it as well as I did. “I guess I should get started. Thanks for listening Aiden.”

When he turned to walk away I was struck by something else. We hadn’t talked about it but after our little heart-to-heart it felt pretty important at the time. “Hey Henry,” I called, causing him to pause and look back over his shoulder, “When’s Ed’s funeral?”

“Saturday,” he replied, “The police are still doing some tests apparently.”

I nodded and then took a deep breath. If I didn’t make this offer now I knew my fears would get the better of me and I’d never do it on my own. “Do you want me to come with you?” I blurted out.

By the look of surprise on his face, Henry obviously never expected me to ask such a question. Hell, I never expected to ask the question. But there it was, lingering in the air, and I would honestly feel no sense of rejection if he declined my offer. I’d like to say I was praying that he would, but unfortunately I’d be lying.

When he got over the shock of one of his former targets offering to be with him during that final goodbye he smiled, and I have to admit it was a damn good smile. In that moment I knew exactly why he always seemed to have girls fawning over him because my heart was tripping with the urge to do the exact thing myself. Down girl, heel! “Sure,” he said, sounding grateful, “I’ll see you there.”

I nodded and he walked away, leaving me standing there wondering just what in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster I had just gotten myself into. It wasn’t a date, no, definitely not a date, but it was probably one of the closest things to it at this point. It also left me with a problem that I never knew I had nor wanted.

Taking my steel out of the forge and using a supreme amount of will to keep very steady while wanting to start sprinting at the same time, I carefully dipped it into the quenching oil before crouching back to avoid the sudden gush of flame when it was drawn back out. After giving it a good once over to make sure there were no cracks, warps, or separations in the steel I laid it on my anvil and then took off towards the house at a sprint.

Mom had still been watching from the kitchen door so as I drew near she slid it open and looked at me with clear concern on her face. “Honey what is it?”

“Mom,” I gasped, “I’ve got a problem, a big problem.”

“What? What is it?” her voice rising slightly with worry.

Swallowing hard, I barely managed to squeak out, “I need a new dress.”

Salem, Indiana, Unknown location

At two in the morning, very few people frequented the Tasty House Restaurant. That was good, because it was precisely the reason why the one of two patrons elected to frequent it that night. That and they made a fantastic tenderloin. He had gotten halfway through the delicious meat when the cell phone on the table began to vibrate. It had barely finished its first ring cycle when it was snatched up and the call was connected. “Yes?” the patron grunted quietly.

“I’ve finished the analysis of the sample you sent me. It would have been better you’d sent me several so I could conduct a thorough exam and not write this off as a possible fluke.”

“It would take too long to get several different samples,” the man told the caller, “And there’s no guarantee I wouldn’t be discovered if I did. We’re lucky I was able to get the one. Now, what did you find out?” he finished impatiently while still maintaining a speaking volume low enough that no one beyond the extent of his table would hear him.

“From what I can tell, it looks like there are two genome markers compared to the expected one. That’s where I’m running into problems.”

“How do you mean?” the man asked, tearing a hung from his steak with his teeth without bothering to cut it, “And pretend like I’m not a geneticist.”

“All right,” the caller said, pausing as he was clearly trying to dumb down the science for his associate. “In very basic terms, there are two nearly identical genomes present shouldn’t be compatible because of their dual nature. And yet, they have bonded and synced, creating a singular genetic strand that is twice as strong as they are individually.”

“And would this...super genome,” the man asked, ignoring the grunt of annoyance at such a pedestrian term from the caller, “Be responsible for this abnormality?”

“Not only that,” the obvious man of science said, “But it’s very likely existing abilities could be well enhanced beyond the norm. That’s where I’m running into problems. I would need to run the owner of this genome through several tests as well as collect more samples to gauge and confirm this hypothesis.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” the man said, “And I’ll try to get you more samples, but no promises.”

Not bothering with a farewell, the man ended the call before returning his full attention to the delicious hunk of meat laid before him.

Salem, Indiana, Salem High School

I tried to ignore the murmurs and whispers that included the use of my name all around me, but the problem with mutant wolf-enhanced hearing is that a whisper tends to translate into what amounts to normal speaking volume for me. That meant I was hearing every word, comment, and remark that people were making about me as I traversed the halls while heading for my locker to switch out my books. Most of it was pretty ambiguous stuff, such as wondering who I was, what my powers might be, how I was one of the hottest girls in school...okay that last one wasn’t so ambiguous, but I was starting to learn to deal with it. I was still kind of uncomfortable with the looks that I was getting, pure lust from pretty much all of the guys and a mixture of curiosity, jealousy, and even desire from some of them. When you top that off with the myriad of different scents and pheromone mixtures everyone was inadvertently throwing around it could be a little overwhelming. It actually had caused me to run outside once or twice yesterday just so I could get some fresh air because it was starting to give me sensory overload. However, it looked like the more time passed, the more I was able to adjust and adapt to possessing these heightened senses. Now, instead of taking everything in all at once, I was learning to sort of dampen the effects. I couldn’t shut it off completely, but what was once akin to constant sensory screaming had been reduced to a steady murmuring that I could live with.

I also came to learn that open-aired spaces were definitely my friend these days. In the confined spaces of the school, all of the scents tended to pool in the enclosed classrooms, making them so much stronger, while the concrete and steel construction of the building served to act like reflectors for sound. Despite being able to reduce the intensity I received this sensory information, loud, sudden noises like lockers slamming within the building still made me wince a little in pain. I just hoped that I’d learn to adapt to this a bit better or I’d end up being a nervous wreck before too long.

Still, having wolf-like smelling and hearing was good for some things. For one, when I rounded a corner earlier in the day I knew someone was coming in the opposite direction directly in my path based upon hearing the direction their footsteps were coming from and the strength of their scent in conjunction with the distance from each wall. Okay, yeah, that’s a lot of gobbledygook. Translation: I knew someone was going to run into me when I rounded the corner so I shifted my position in the hallway so that wouldn’t happen. It was things like that, plus the fact that I could turn into a wolf, that made the trade-off of sensory discomfort worth it. The jury was still out on the sex change, though.

Case in point, as I was leaning into my locker to drop off one book and grab another I heard a boy mutter, “Damn that’s a nice ass,” to his buddy. While my cheeks reddened in embarrassment, I was hard pressed to decide if I appreciated the compliment or not. I knew from looking in the mirror that, yes, I most certainly had a great ass now, but the question was did I like it or bemoan it? The same was true for other various ‘compliments’ I’d overheard said about various parts of my anatomy. I couldn’t decide if having ‘fantastic tits’ and ‘legs that go on forever’ were good things or bad things.

There was one aspect of my recent physiological change that I absolutely approved of and that was my eyes. Very often over the last two days I’d had many people tell me that my new eyes were great, that the amber with gold tint coloring was so wild and exotic. I appreciated the compliments then, because when it came to appreciating interesting eye coloring that was pretty universal between boys and girls. Of course that appreciation rapidly twisted into confusion when the statements were then made in conjunction with my wonderfully long and thick feminine eyelashes. Then I was right back to square one.

But I was adapting. It was slow going but I was doing it. As I walked down the hall heading for my next class I didn’t even bother to try and correct the natural, feminine, predatory way I walked that pretty much announced ‘sex on display’. This was how my body moved now and the combination of female physiology combined with lupine instincts was just something I knew I couldn’t fight. So why bother? Instead I just let myself go and move the way I was designed to, and the hell with everyone else.

It was that ‘the hell with you’ attitude that helped me get through the day. That’s not to say I was a bitch (I can’t believe I’m using that word to indicate myself) to everyone, but when I got the occasional snotty glare from one of the glam queens of the school or turned up nose from the cheerleaders, I just fired back with a simple, shit-eating grin, which took little restraint on my part. If I really let myself go that smile would have probably been a hell of a lot more predatory and I didn’t want anyone else pissing their pants because of me. Well, not without a really good reason anyway.

By the time the last bell had rung I was feeling better about myself than I had in quite a while. No one had messed with me other than those whispers in the halls and I had absorbed the material my teachers had been instructing us on quite well. By the time I’d closed my locker and started for the door there was an honest-to-god bounce in my step.

“Hey Aiden,” Jake called as he walked up and fell in beside me, “How was it today?”

“Pretty good,” I told him with a smile, “I’d say I’m starting to get used to this whole girl thing.”

“Have any trouble with gym?”

That made the smile leave my face and I sighed. “Some,” I allowed.

Gym was the one problematic issue I’d had since manifesting. More than a few of the girls in the locker weren’t shy about vocalizing their dislike of a former boy being in there with them. The overall complaint was that I would oogle all of the girls in their various forms of undress and naked while in the shower. While I couldn’t dispute the fact that it was kind of a dream come true being in the girl’s changing room, I also couldn’t help but feel that it was also disappointing. For one, it’s not like you see in porn movies where all of the girls have rockin’ bodies and are wearing skimpy lingerie that they prance around in while engaging in various lesbian acts from teasing to full on sex. Nope, it’s just a bunch of girls of all shapes and sizes doing their thing in a change room with some conversation and absolutely zero sex. Plus, I found I wasn’t really leering at even the good looking girls but instead found myself wondering things like what motivated them to choose to wear that shirt or those shoes or that skirt. That lack of sexual desire bothered me more than anything.

I tried to explain that very idea to them but, of course, being the queen bitches they were they chose not to listen and complain louder. It finally took the women’s Phys Ed teacher telling everyone in no uncertain terms that I was biologically a girl and that I was allowed to use the girl’s locker room just like all of the rest. It wasn’t exactly a shining moment for me, but at least a few of the girls told me they were cool with me being a girl because of my mutation and didn’t care that I was there.

“Still giving you shit about it huh?” he asked, making me look over in surprise and wonder if I hadn’t just been thinking out loud or something. “Mary told me,” he explained, “She heard about it from some of the other girls.”

“Someone say my name?” I heard a female voice chime in as the lady in question slipped in beside Jake and threaded her arm through his. “Hey Aiden, what’s up?”

“Not much. Same old same old I guess.”

“How are you handling this side of the fence?” she asked with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.

I shrugged a little and adjusted the straps of my bag and purse so they wouldn’t tangle. “Slowly. I was having a rough time of it over the weekend but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it, so to speak,” I amended, “I’m still grappling with this fashion nonsense and my boobs keep getting in the way when I’m trying to use my forge.”

That caused a peal of laughter from Mary and a chuckle from Jake. “You’ll get used to them,” she assured me, “When I first developed I found the same thing happening to me, but I adjusted. Give yourself some time. The rest of us girls have had a lot more years figuring out how to deal with this extra up top than you have.”

“Thanks,” I said as we headed down one of the paths that led from the school. “Any suggestions about what to do about the snob squad? They’ve been giving me the evil eye the last couple of days.”

“That’s just because you’re prettier than them,” Mary laughed, “I wouldn’t let it bother you too much. Girls that do that. They have to be the center of attention and absolutely hate getting the spotlight taken away.”

“But I’m prettier than you and you don’t do that,” I observed and instantly regretted saying it. “Shit! Mary, I’m sorry,” I said quickly, backtrack and eating shit as fast as I could, “I didn’t mean it like I think I’m better than you or anything. I…I...” Dammit brain, work!

She chuckled softly and shook her head. “It’s okay Aiden. Yes, I’ll freely admit you’re hotter than me, but I’m comfortable with who I am so it doesn’t bother me. Besides, even though you’ve got me beat in the looks department, you don’t flaunt it or shove it in people’s faces like those bitches do. That counts for a lot and it’s why, other than you two being best friends, I don’t give Jake a lot of shit when he hangs out with you. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to steal him away or anything.”

Though the words were said in a casual and friendly manner, there was no mistaking the subtle scent of possessiveness coming from the girl, nor the way her grip on Jake’s arm tightened ever so slightly. I wanted to protest that I didn’t swing that way, but the truth was at this point I wasn’t so sure anymore. I mean, no, I’d never try and steal Jake from Mary, that would just be a supremely dick move on my part regardless of my now lacking the requisite equipment. But if I was being honest with myself, I had noticed that Jake was indeed a pretty handsome guy. He kept in shape, he dressed decently, and he was really nice and understanding. I’m not sure Mary realized how lucky she was that he had been interested in her because any girl would love to have a guy like him. Did that include me?


I was about to confirm Mary’s conclusion that I wouldn’t try to take Jake for myself when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye ahead of us. When I turned my head I saw Henry walking straight towards our little group. My first instinct was to brace for something bad to happen but then I noticed something odd. First, he was alone. In the history of my experiences with Henry he’d never been without Ed or one of his other toadies, yesterday afternoon excluded of course.

The other thing that gave me pause was the look on his face. It wasn’t hostile, it wasn’t angry, and it wasn’t sneering like he was sizing up a target. All of those are what I had come to expect to see whenever I looked at Henry in the past, but now he simply looked...normal. That’s the best way I can describe it. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t frowning either. His face was even and neutral without any real expression one way or the other.

At least, until his eyes landed on me. Then, I saw the corners of his mouth tilt up slightly in a hint of a smile. As he drew close to our group he brought one hand out of his jeans pocket and tossed me a small wave. “Hey Aiden,” he said when he got close enough to talk to me without needing to shout, “How’s it going?”

Boy, teenagers really needed to work on their greetings. It seemed like ‘how’s it going’ was turning into an automatic response when saying hi. “Pretty good,” I replied, “How about you? Are you holding up okay?”

He nodded and his smile increased a little. “I’m getting there. I’m going to see that shrink Dad set up for me this afternoon but, honestly, I doubt he’ll help me anywhere near what you did yesterday. How’s that knife coming by the way?”

I...no, all three of us...stood in stupefied shock for several moments. I actually sniffed the air to make sure that the scent coming off this guy was the real Henry. Never in our lives had Henry Cartwright ever been anywhere close to this friendly with either myself or Jake. He’d been okay to Mary, but she’d been witness to what I’d gone through over the years, hence her equally surprised look.

I guess he must have realized why we were all standing with our mouths hanging open because he blushed a bit and looked down. “Yeah, I know. I’ve been an asshole to you guys for years. It’s all right if you don’t want to talk to me.”

I don’t know about Jake and Mary, but between this moment and his visit yesterday, I was really starting to believe Henry wanted to change. It also gave more weight to the idea that Ed had been the primary influence for the bullying behavior all these years. Regardless of how he treated me in the past, I wasn’t going to stomp on his attempts at making amends and becoming a better person. That would make me the same kind of bully as he used to be.

“It’s going good,” I said, deliberately sounding cheerful. “I got it quenched so now I just need to grind, polish, and etch it before taking on forming the Griv-Ex handle to conform to the tang and you have no idea what I’m talking about,” I finished when I saw the dumbfounded look on his face.

His sheepish grin and equally sheepish shrug said it all. “No, but it’s interesting hearing you talk about it. You’re pretty passionate about that stuff aren’t you?”

I decided to forgive the unofficial faux pas of calling bladecraft ‘stuff’. He wasn’t a smith and had no clue about any of it to begin with so it was understandable that he didn’t hold it in such high regard like I did. “Pretty much, yeah,” I confirmed, “The men in my family have been doing it for decades, maybe even centuries.”

“The men?” Mary asked pointedly with a raised eyebrow.

I hunched my shoulders a little at the reminder of my new status. “Okay, well, it used to be just the men. Maybe I’ll start a new trend,” I said, perking up.

“Maybe,” Henry smiled, and yes once again I thought it was a good smile. “When are you planning on working on it?”

“Why?” I asked suspiciously, narrowing my eyes.

He shrugged a bit and that sheepishness was back on his face. Now why did that boyish shyness make things low in my body go all...soft and squishy? “I was hoping maybe I could come by and watch? You make it sound so interesting,” he explained quickly while Jake and Mary just goggled in disbelief. Thankfully I was able to stay composed, but that’s probably because I’d already gotten over the shock of a new Henry yesterday. “Maybe I could even help, if I wouldn’t be in the way,” he assured me.

I surprised myself by actually considering his proposal for a minute. Working Griv-Ex into the proper shape was very precise work, especially if you wanted to get quillion detailing into the handle like I planned to. That wasn’t a job for someone that couldn’t even be considered a novice. Still, Henry’s expression of interest in my work wasn’t something I just wanted to shove aside a discarded kid’s toy. It seemed like he was really trying hard to turn over a new leaf and I wanted to help foster that positiveness.

“Well,” I said consideringly, “You wouldn’t be able to help me with the Griv-Ex, it’s just too precise a kind of work for someone with no experience. But,” I continued when his face fell with disappointment, “There are a few knives my Dad’s been bugging me about getting done lately. I was planning on having Jake give me a hand with those but-”

“Go!” Jake said excitedly, practically shoving me and Henry down the walkway, “You kids go have fun don’t worry about us we’ll see you later.” I’d barely turned around when his hand had left my back to see him quickly hustling Mary away. As he did I could hear him whisper, “Whatever you do, don’t look back and make eye contact or I’ll be stuck in that sweatshop all day.”

“Jackass!” I called after him with a laugh before turning back to Henry. “So, you ready to go?”

“Sure,” he replied with a smile, “Do you mind if we take my truck?”

I shrugged and he guided me towards the parking lot designated for student vehicles. Even if I didn’t already know what kind of car Henry drove, there was no mistaking the shiny black Cadillac Escalade that stood out from every other mid-size or compact sedan in the lot. “Nice ride,” I muttered.

He had the grace to look a touch embarrassed, something I’m not sure he would have done a few days ago. “Dad got it for me as a birthday present after I got my license. He doesn’t exactly do subtle when it comes to how well-off our family is.”

“I’m very tempted to make a compensation joke but in light of recent developments I’ll refrain.”

“And I appreciate that,” he replied, thumbing the unlock button on the remote and opening my door for me. It was a very gentlemanly gesture on his part, one reserved for girls you were trying to impress or woo, but I didn’t take offense to it like I thought I should have. In fact, I had a deep, animalistic dislike of this kind of behavior that I recognized as my inner wolf. As I pulled myself up into the SUV and settled in my seat, a quick analysis of my instinctual response told me that my wolf considered these actions backwards, that I should have been the one to...well there’s no real wolf translation for flirt, but that’s what I should have been doing. Conversely, a powerful male suitable for breeding purposes would have snapped and driven me away at least temporarily before reciprocating my advances.

Unfortunately that kind of behavior didn’t quite translate well to human behavior, especially in teenagers. While I don’t doubt Henry would have responded positively to me being more aggressive in the ‘wooing’ department, at the same time our societal pressures would probably have made him feel emasculated by me being the aggressor. That, of course, would completely eliminate the part where he would decide to respond to my advances with his own dominating ones and why the hell am I thinking about having sex with Henry!


The boy in question’s voice yanked me out of my self-evaluation so hard I literally jumped in my seat. “Huh? What?”

“You okay?” he asked with clear concern on his face when he looked over after stopping at a red light.

“Yeah, sorry,” I laughed, though it came out a little tight, “I was just thinking that’s all.”

“Anything interesting?”

Oh there was no doubt that he was digging a little to see if it was him that had been consuming my thoughts, so I decided to give him exactly what he wanted. “Yes, actually,” I told him with a sugary sweet smile, “I was trying to decide if I want you to stand by the incredibly hot forge for an hour while a piece of steel heats up or have you hammering at it like crazy for two hours to flatten it out.”

He gulped and looked like he was starting to wonder if he’d made a mistake offering to help me out. “Ummmmm…”

I laughed and patted his hand, something I can’t recall ever doing as a guy to anyone, before settling back in my seat...without retracting my statement. We were silent for the rest of the ride, but that was because the whole thing was only just over five minutes of driving time before we were pulling up to my house. I directed him to park on the graveled section in front of Dad’s workshop before we hopped out and headed inside.

As I expected, Dad was out making some deliveries to neighboring business that he had supply contracts with so that left us the workshop to ourselves. As I dropped my bag and purse on one of the stainless steel countertops, I gave Henry a few moments to look around while I gathered up a few leather aprons for us to use. I knew he’d need that time just to take everything in since I had a similar reaction when Dad first showed me the shop.

To the layman, the workshop looked very similar to what you might see in an auto mechanic or body shop. There were a couple of mechanical presses and pneumatic power hammers as well as sanding and grinding machines. One entire wall was filled with handle-making supplies on a pegboard and its attached tabletop while another had a multitude of cubbyholes each labeled to show it contained a different kind of steel. Along the third wall stretched the stainless countertop littered with various tools that would allow for a great variety of detail work on the knives ranging from creating designed cutouts in the blade to the acid etching that I planned on doing with my Bowie Spike.

After tying on my apron and pulling my hair back into a ponytail using one of the elastic hairbands that had to become a staple of the shop few days ago, I held out the second apron to Henry. “Put this on,” I told him and headed over to the wall of steel once he took it. Without even needing to look, I selected a piece of high carbon steel from its cubby and walked over to one of the forges. When I saw he had the apron tied on properly I waved him over while grabbing a propane blowtorch. “The first thing you do,” I instructed, “ is obviously to get your forge going.”

He nodded and watched as I turned on the gas valve attached to the forge, waited a few seconds, then ignited the blowtorch and put the flame just inside the rectangular box through a small vent door in the top. Instantly the fumes ignited and fire proceeded to jet out both ends with a low roar. I couldn’t help but laugh when Henry jumped back with a yelp of surprise at the sight of those flames suddenly appearing. “Now,” I told him, picking up a pair of heavy gloves and a set of tongs, “Put these on, take the tongs, and put the block in the forge. You want it right in the center and laying flat,” I told him as he was pulling on the work gloves.

Nodding his understanding, I watched him very carefully use the tongs to pick up the block of steel and ease it into the angry-sounding forge. He took a lot longer than he should have, but then he’d never done this before so I cut him some slack. In fact, I appreciated that he was trying to be careful and make sure his placement was just as I had instructed so when he had the steel in place and heating I gave him a nod of approval.

“So what now?” he asked, wiping sweat that was already starting to bead on his forehead.

“It needs some time to heat up, probably about fifteen or twenty minutes, then we can start flattening it out. Why don’t we get some water in the meantime before you pass out,” I suggested with a smile before turning away and muttering, “Lightweight.”

“I heard that,” he accused, though his tone remained lighthearted.

I couldn’t stop the giggle from bubbling out of my lips as I went and got two bottles of water from the mini fridge under the work counter and tossed him one. “So tell me something,” I said as we both twisted the tops off our respective bottles, “Why did you really want to come and see the workshop?”

He didn’t answer right away since he was in the middle of taking several gulps of water at the time, but when he lowered the bottle from his lips I noticed there was no teasing smile or mischievous twinkle in his eye any longer. “I honestly wanted to see what it was you did here. I’ve overheard you talking about making knives with Jake before and, while I never admitted it to anyone, you always made it sound fascinating.”

A guy not wanting to admit he was interesting weapon-making? The oddity of that statement had me cocking my head slightly and narrowing my gaze at him. “Why not say something to me about it?”

He sighed and let the cold water bottle rest against the side of his neck as he contemplated the answer to my question. “Honestly, a big part of it was the whole image I was portraying. You know, the big man on campus who everyone was supposed to look up to? It would have…” he paused and I could see him struggling to find the right words, possibly without offending me.

“Go ahead,” I told him quietly, or as quietly as I could with a jet forge roaring nearby.

“It would have hurt my reputation to talk to you about it,” he blurted and instantly looked ashamed of the fact. “It’s a completely stupid and asinine reason, but there it is. If I was seen talking to you, someone who was considered a wimp and kind of in the whole ‘geek’ category, it would have really damaged my reputation at school. God that sounds so fucking petty!” he chastised himself with a shake of his head. “I can’t believe I’ve thought that way damn near all my life.”

A part of me, the old Aiden, was ready to just lash into him for being such a damn pig about the whole thing. He had really avoided simply talking to me just because it would hurt his rep? How fucking childish could you get? But I’d gained something of a new appreciation and insight into people these last couple of days and I could see that he was far from proud of his attitude in the past and probably more than a little disgusted with himself at this point. Plus, I figured there was probably some wealthy parental influence working there as well. You didn’t live your life as a rich snob and not have it rub off on your kids in some way.

“Well at least you see it for what it was now,” I offered, “You’re making some pretty big changes these last couple of days and it seems like they’re good ones to me.”

He smiled ironically, and yes people can in fact do that, and looked over at me. “Look who’s talking.”

That made me blink in confusion before shaking my head. “What do you mean?”

“The other reason I never asked you about knife making,” he continued, “Is because you’ve always been pretty standoffish. I hate to say it Aiden, but you’ve always been kind of a snob.”

I’m amazed I didn’t feel my jaw bouncing off the floor in that moment. Did Mr. I’m The Best just accuse me of being a snob? “What the fuck are you talking about?” I nearly screeched.

“Just what I said,” he told me, though there wasn’t any malice or heat in his words, “You’ve always had this kind of attitude like you don’t need anyone and have this kind of wall up around you for everyone except Jake.”

“Oh for-...Henry, I’m not a snob, I just don’t like people.”

His face went blank for a few seconds before changing to a look of blatant confusion. “Okay, I think I might need you to explain that to me.”

Sighing, I sat down on one of the high stools that lined the work station. I didn’t even notice that I’d automatically crossed my legs as I tried to come up with the right words to get Henry to understand what I’d meant. “I guess it’s a combination of the shit you gave me starting in grade school, plus all of the crap on the news these days about everyone treating everyone else like garbage, and more, that I just don’t like people in general. I kind of expect the worst from just about everyone so I found it easier not to be around them as often as I can because I don’t want to be around when I’m proven right.”

I’m not quite sure he bought that explanation, but he nodded slowly and seemed to consider what I’d said. “Okay, I think I understand what you mean. I definitely get how I was kind of a major contributor to it and I’m sorry for that. But I have to tell you Aiden, I’ve seen a real big change in you the last two days.”

Instantly my heartbeat kicked up several notches and I stiffened with an instinctive urge to flee right then and there. Had he figured out that my mutation was being a werewolf? “What...what do you mean?” I asked haltingly before hiding my face partially behind the water bottle as I took a drink.

“Even before you became a mutant,” he explained, “People have noticed you’re different.”

“Different how?”

“Well, take the party for one,” he said, casting a glance over at the forge to see what the steel within looked like and earning a bit more respect from me for checking on it, “Yes, I was an ass to you, but never did anyone expect you to suddenly go all berserker, especially me.”

Oh he just had to bring that up again, and we were starting to get along so well. “Uh huh,” I muttered, not looking at him so he wouldn’t see the memory of his embarrassment in my eyes.

“Hey, I deserved it,” he reassured me, “No one knows that more now than I do, especially...what came after,” he finished with a blush. “I still can’t believe that happened.”

“Me neither,” I mumbled before taking a deep breath and deciding I needed to finally confront this head on. “Look, Henry, I’m sorry about that. I seriously have no idea what happened or what came over me. It was like I was a different person. I don’t even remember doing it.” My mouth snapped shut when I realized I was babbling.

“Well whatever the reason,” he said with a small, tight smile, “I damn sure deserved it. Yeah I went to a bad place afterwards, but after Ed died I really thought about it and I came to realize that I didn’t like the person I’d become. Whether you believe it or not, you helped me see that. But that’s what I’m talking about,” he insisted, “You’re not the same person either. I don’t mean the stuff at the party either. Ever since you changed into a girl you’ve slowly become more...social, I guess.”

That caused me to blink in surprise. The very last thing I considered myself was a social person. “Ummm, are you sure you’re thinking of the right person here?”

He continued on as though I hadn’t asked that. “You’re talking with people more, even if it’s only a little bit, and you’re sure as hell talking to me a lot more. I mean, could you even imagine we’d both be here in your Dad’s shop having a decent conversation just a few days ago?”

“No,” I admitted quietly, “This wasn’t anything I ever expected would happen.”

“And it’s because of the way both of us have changed,” he concluded, “For me it took Ed’s death to get my head on straight, but for you it’s like your mutation has made you more open, more social.”

I thought about that as I took a sip of water. Did my manifestation really cause such a personality shift? It seemed possible based on some research I’d done on mutants after I became one myself, but I really didn’t feel any different than I had before. So did that mean I always wanted to be more sociable and becoming a girl was a way of unlocking that side of me? Or maybe…

The wolf. Of course, why didn’t I realize it before? Wolves by their very nature are social animals. True it was socialization within their own species and pack structure, but the principle was the same. I was human, so logically it made sense that I would also find myself embracing that aspect of the wolf now that it was such an integral part of me. I mean, I hadn’t become a social butterfly now or anything, and my interactions had been very brief and limited to simple greetings, but in that regard it was almost like I was testing out the waters regarding the people around me. Maybe I was trying to gauge who I considered worthy, outside of my own family, to be considered a part of my pack. If I followed that line of thinking, then Jake obviously had passed muster a long time ago and Mary seemed to be proving herself a trustworthy ally. But Henry? He had been what amounted to an enemy not so long ago. Why then was I suddenly becoming so open with him?

Henry saying my name drew me out of my thoughts and I blinked myself back into awareness. “Huh? Sorry, did you say something?”

“I said it looks like the metal is pretty hot now.”

Pushing off from the stool I walked over to where Henry was looking into the forge and peered in myself. He was right, the block of steel was red, almost white hot, perfect for the initial shaping. “Good call,” I complimented him, “Go ahead and grab the tongs and take it out of there and over to that press over there. It’s damn hot though so be careful.”

Nodding his understanding he did as I instructed and removed the glowing block of steel, taking it over to the industrial press and setting it down on the receiving plate. Since he wasn’t experienced with this part I worked the press to carefully flatten out the steel while explaining to him what I was doing. Henry was a good student and listened to everything I told him while even asking a few intelligent questions as to why I was doing certain things.

After a good thirty minutes of working the steel to the point where it could start getting hammered into the proper shape, I had him bring it back to the forge to heat up. I was standing a little too close while observing him because just after he replaced the steel in the fire channel and was backing up he accidentally bumped into me. A gasp of shock escaped my lips at the contact not because he’d bumped me, but because of where he’d done it. In drawing back from the forge his elbow had nudged and then slid across the swell of my breast. Even through the heavy leather apron I felt the contact as keenly as if he’d touched my bare skin and a flush of warmth spread through my chest.

“Oh, sorry,” he said and shifted slightly so his arm was no longer pressing against me. I’m not even sure he realized just what he’d done, but I sure did. While he was setting the tongs down I just stood there trying to focus on keeping my breathing regular while also processing the alien, yet pleasurable sensation I’d just experienced. Did all girls feel this way when their boobs were touched, even slightly? If Henry hadn’t moved away on his own I wasn’t so sure I would have pushed him away. In fact, I think I might have wanted him to do more.

He must have noticed something wasn’t right because when he looked back over at me he frowned slightly with concern. “Hey, are you okay? I didn’t hurt you or anything did I?”

I shook my head and tried to tell him I was fine but I simply couldn’t find my voice. Instead, all I could do was stare at him while my brain kept firing off signals that conflicted with what I knew my whole life. Henry was handsome, I’d admitted that even when I was a guy. Yes, guys can acknowledge another guy is handsome from an aesthetic standpoint and not be gay. Now, though, there was nothing superficial about the way I was appreciating the lines of his jaw, or the way his muscles were so well defined against the sleeves of his shirt, or the way his jeans molded to the muscular contours of his thighs. Even as I visually took this all in within moments, a slow heat was blossoming within my chest and trickling down into lower parts of my body, making them clench delightfully ever so slightly in a way I’d never experienced before. Was I getting sick or...

Holy shit, I was getting turned on!

Once I realized what this new sensation was, there was no denying it for what it was. I recognized Henry as being attractive and I was becoming aroused because of it. Without consciously doing so, I imagined him taking me in his strong arms and holding me close while he lowered his mouth to mine-


His voice calling my name combined with his hand touching my shoulder tore me out of the little mini-fantasy with a gasp and I looked up into his concerned eyes. “Aiden what is it? Are you getting heat stroke or something from the forge?”

Heat stroke, yes! That would be a great excuse for me feeling so flushed and weak in the knees. I could just tell him that the hot temperatures in this confined space were getting to me and we could go outside to cool off. He’d never know that I was getting all hot and gooey inside just looking at him. It was perfect.

Which is why I have no idea what came over me when I grabbed the front of his apron, yanked him down towards me, and crushed my mouth against his. For a second I think he was probably as stunned as I was by my actions, but like pretty much every horny teenager on the planet he recovered pretty quickly and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me close, and tilted his head slightly so our lips molded against each other in a much better, tighter fit. The moan that dragged from my throat cause my lips to part slightly, which was all the invitation Henry needed to start gently nibbling at those soft tiers and send tiny sparks across my skin and shooting down my spine. When I felt the tip of his tongue very lightly touch mine I simply opened to him and allowed the twisting, erotic dance to begin within our joined mouths. I thought I heard small whimpers of need and realized they were coming from me as my arms wrapped around his neck so I could thread my fingers into his hair and grip tightly.

I’d never kissed a girl before so I had absolutely no basis for comparison, but I will freely admit that Henry was a damn good kisser. The combination of gentle nibbles and rubs of his lips with the skilled way his tongue entwined with mine had a sudden flash of heat roaring through me. That heat blended with my guttural need for...well, I’m not sure exactly, I just know I needed. It was that almost overwhelming sensation that had me pressing tightly against the length of his body to the point that I actually did the girl thing and lifted one leg to wrap around his so my hips could press and grind against his a little. When I felt more than heard his answering groan of desire that was the only trigger I needed to go on the attack. Now, instead of gentle, soft kisses, I devoured his mouth with an aggression I didn’t know I possessed. The taste of him was like sweet berries on my tongue and out of everything I was experiencing in that moment I knew one thing.

I wanted more.

“What the hell is going on here!”

The sudden, sharp yell had us both springing apart with a gasp and I whirled about to see Grandpa silhouetted in the doorway of the shop. With the sun at his back I couldn’t see the expression on his face but the scent of anger and disapproval coming off him was as clear as if he’d shouted it. While Henry and I tried to catch our breath he slowly walked into the shop, allowing me to see that yes indeed he was rather pissed, and folded his arms. “Would someone mind telling me just what you two were doing?”

Oh fuck!

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4 years 3 days ago - 4 years 2 days ago #22917 by Paradox
Paradox replied the topic: Call of the Hunt
Author's Note: Again, I would strongly suggest using the attached Word file to read this story since there are multiple font changes that are rather integral to the context of the story.

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Call of the Hunt

Book 4

By Paradox

Salem, Indiana, Connors residence

“Dad, you are seriously overreacting to this,” my father said with an expression that clearly said he was upset.

“I’m overreacting?” he cried, throwing up his hands in frustration, “Your daughter was getting ready to practically throw that boy on the ground and screw his brains out!”

“Guy!” Mom admonished sharply, “I will not have you talking like that in our house. What Aiden chooses to do with a boy is completely up to her, but I’d like to think we raised our child well enough that she wouldn’t have let it go that far, right Aiden?”

It was at that point that everyone’s eyes swung my way and I wished I could just sink into the floor and disappear. In fact, that was pretty much the prevailing emotional state I had been in every since Grandpa had...interrupted things.

When he had caught me trying to remove Henry’s tonsils with my tongue in Dad’s workshop I’d been caught somewhere in between humiliation and anger that he’d stopped us. The humiliation part, that was perfectly understandable and all me. The other part though, that had been the wolf inside me. While Henry hadn’t exactly displayed a tremendous deal of dominance to woo her, the aggressiveness he displayed when we’d kissed had been enough to arouse her interests and she was more than willing to push him to see if he was indeed a suitable mate. To say she had been a trifle miffed was putting it mildly. In fact, seconds after Grandpa had interrupted, the two of us had glared at each other silently for a long time. It wasn’t because neither of us knew what to say, but because the wolves in our souls were challenging each other. In the end though, my wolf ended up backing down in the face of an elder of the pack with her tail between her legs.

Fortunately, Grandpa had allowed me to send Henry home so I was able to sort of mitigate the damage. He seemed to be understanding about it, what with kids knowing how adults overreact to everything nowadays, but there was still damage to our relationship that I would need to work on repairing...if we even had a relationship that is.

That’s what I ended up thinking about after Henry left and Grandpa had confined me to my room until my parents got home. I could have probably just told him to screw off, changed, and taken off into the woods for a while, but that wolf part of me acknowledged that an elder had given me an order and unless I wanted to challenge him for leadership in physical combat I had to back down. Since I didn’t want to fight my own grandfather, and I didn’t think I could beat him anyway, I did as he commanded and stayed in my room for the next couple of hours.

Thankfully there was plenty to do and I wasn’t bored. I did the little bit of homework I had from school, which took all of about twenty minutes, and then started doing as much research as I could on wolf behavior. If I was going to live with this wild, feral urges for the rest of my life I figured it was high time I get a better understanding of it. Unfortunately, I kept losing focus and thinking back on Henry kissing me and just how damn great it had been. It wasn’t lost on me how completely weird it was that I was thinking about and actually eager to have it happen again.

That was what I’d been doing when Mom and Dad came home and Mom collected me from my room to have a little family meeting. I fully expected to get read the riot act from my parents, so you can imagine my surprise when after Grandpa informed them of how he’d caught me kissing Henry that they responded with far less anger than I anticipated. None, in fact. Dad had asked if that was it while Mom actually gave me a small, yet proud smile. That was when Grandpa started going on a tirade about how I shouldn’t be kissing some boy I’d just met.

Which brings us to the point where everyone was now looking at me and I was struggling to come up with anything to say. Fortunately, Mom saw how conflicted I was feeling and came to my rescue. “Aiden, did you like kissing Henry?”

“Awww Mom,” I moaned and blushed bright red.

“It’s obvious she more than liked it,” Grandpa ground out, “But that’s not the point.”

“Really?” Dad challenged and I thought I actually saw him physically grow taller as he stood up to his father, “Exactly what is the point Dad? So Aiden was kissing a boy, so what? The last time I checked millions of other teenage girls and boys do the exact thing many times on a daily basis. So why has Aiden doing it too gotten your fur in a mat so bad?”

For a moment I thought maybe Grandpa was going to go off on some old rhetoric about how when he was my age kids didn’t do that kind of thing or something else archaic. The last thing I expected was for him to suddenly blurt out, “Because he’s not one of us!”

The room went so quiet you could hear a pin drop. The three of us goggled at him with wide, unbelieving eyes that he could say something so...well, I guess racist is probably the best word, though it didn’t really fit. Speciesist maybe? Mom was the first one to find her voice again and she asked him carefully, “Exactly what do you mean by that Guy?”

“Exactly what I said,” he snapped and it was clear by the look in his eyes he was on a roll now. “That...boy, won’t do anything to further enhance our line and Aiden needs to be with someone who can.”

What in the name of sweet merciful crap was Grandpa talking about? Enhance our line? Be with someone who can? It was almost like he considered me to be some kind of brood mare.

“Dad, what in the fuck are you talking about?” my father yelled, “Aiden is just a teenager and you’re talking like she’s some kind of Virgin Mary.” Mom didn’t say anything but it was obvious she was just as upset, not by the way she had gathered me in her arms and held me close, but by the simple fact that she didn’t chastise Dad for swearing like that in front of me.

Grandpa sighed and sat down heavily in one of the chairs, rubbing his face in frustration. “Terry, our people are dying out. The mutation that makes us what we are is becoming less and less frequent. At last count, there were perhaps a dozen werewolves left on this continent. I’m just trying to make sure that our family’s heritage doesn’t die out by making sure the line stays pure, like the Indian tribes,” he explained, looking up as though this concept should have been obvious to us.

“Guy,” Mom told him with barely controlled anger, “We don’t care about carrying on family bloodlines. Aiden can live whatever life she chooses and we won’t let some stupid Connors family obligation rule her life.”

“She’s already embraced being a bladesmith,” he argued, “She’s already happily accepted part of our family’s heritage. Why not this too?”

By this point, while I appreciated my parents defending me more than I could say, I felt it was time for me to start sticking up for myself. “I’m a bladesmith because I like being a bladesmith,” I asserted, extracting myself from Mom’s arms and rising to my feet. “Dad didn’t force me into doing it one bit. In fact, he told me over and over again when I first started that I wasn’t under any obligation to keep doing it if I found something else I liked. But I do like it, and not because it’s some fucking family tradition that has to be followed.” Mom opened her mouth, probably to address my language, but closed it immediately. “I love you Grandpa,” I told him, though at this point that issue was a bit contentious, “But there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that I’m going to let you whore me out to some hand-picked werewolf just because you and this friend of yours want to try and keep our bloodline pure. I really don’t give a shit if I’m the last werewolf ever born!” By the time I’d finished I was so angry that my voice was starting to lose its human quality and devolving into animalistic snarls. Distantly, I could feel myself starting to lose control and the wolf roaring to the surface. My anger had triggered a deep, primal response. She wanted out in the worst way and I still hadn’t learned near enough control over my change yet so there was no stopping her.

I was already running out the door when I felt my teeth beginning to go from blunt to dangerously sharp. As I sprinted across the backyard I stripped off my clothes as fast as possible. My shirt went flying into some bushes while I just left my shoes and jeans where I’d stepped out of them on the grass. By the time I was down to my underwear and socks the wolf had taken over.

The last remnants of the two-legged ‘fur’ shredded as my entire form seemed to erupt into that of the wolf. I never broke strike as four legs now propelled me towards the forest at a speed two legs could never achieve. Everything I saw went black and white while the world came alive with scents and sounds that no two-leg could ever appreciate. The wilds called out to me, welcoming me back into its embrace as I dove headlong into the one place that made sense anymore.

I raced along the ground, reveling in the freedom and simplicity that was nature. It felt so right, so true, being like this. How could any two-leg even try to grasp what it mean to be such an intricate part of nature that its very essence coursed through your blood. How could that pathetic existance compare to the feeling of the wind rushing through my fur, the weightlessness of my legs propelling me over a fallen tree, the raw power of my muscles sending me racing into the night? I wanted to raise my head and scream out my joy to the moon in thanks.

And that’s exactly what I did. At the top of a hill nestled within a small clearing I tilted my head back, narrowed my lips, and let loose a long, grateful howl to the night’s sky. I didn’t care if any prey might have heard me, there would still be no escape for them when I chose to hunt. I just let myself howl over and over again.

The answering howl was unexpected, but not shocking. After all, the old wolf was still in the area and I doubted my pack would have been able to do much to stop him from coming after me. After all, we were stronger than the two-legged. Still, it was he who had created this anger in my breast, this need to get away and reclaim this freedom, and I wasn’t about to forgive him for it so easily.

I considered seeking him out but I didn’t need to. His scent came to me long before I watched his form melt out of the woods. He approached me slowly and with caution. Good, he should be wary.

“Aiden, come back with me.”

“No!” I snarled, snapping my teeth in his direction in warning, “I’m going nowhere with you.”

“Your parents are worried,” Grandpa said, “They’re scared someone will think you’re the dog that killed that two-leg and will try to hurt you.”

I snorted in derision, the wolf equivalent of a hair-toss. “There aren’t any two-legged for miles. Besides, I’d smell them coming a long way off. They aren’t any threat.”

“You’re still too young,” he insisted, “You haven’t learned the way of the hunt yet. You’re still vulnerable. I can teach you-”

“Teach me?” I growled in anger. Leaping forward I snapped my jaws at his muzzle, causing him to dart back out of reach. “You just want me to whelp pups for you. You don’t care about teaching me. Stay away from me omega!” I barked.

His angry and dangerous growl told me I’d stepped over the line. Regardless of how angry I was, calling a pack elder omega was the wrong thing to do unless you could back up such a statement with strength and skill, and I didn’t have that yet. I was already wheeling about and racing off when he leapt into the clearing with the clear intention of showing me my place. I could hear him taking up pursuit, but what I lacked in combat experience I made up for in speed. I was younger and faster than him and if my ability to weave through the obstacles of the forest meant anything, far more agile. Quickly the distance between us stretched out and soon I could no longer hear the sounds of him racing after me. I took the opportunity to streak through a brook and then veer sharply downstream for a mile before doubling back the way I came, making sure to keep downwind of his scent.

Eventually, his scent faded from the area and I knew I was alone in the forest once more. Unfortunately, that left me alone with my anger and nothing to do with it. I could run some more, but that would just be a useless waste of energy. My instincts knew what I needed and that was to hunt. It was a siren’s call that simply wouldn’t be ignored so instead I embraced it and let it guide me.

Finding a trace of prey was easy. It was all around me in this place so all that was required was locating the most scent-rich trail and following it. I would have prefered something big and heavy like a deer or maybe even a fox, but the quick little rabbit would have to do. It put up a good run, I’ll give it that, but in the end it was no match for a wolf of wolves and soon I was making a feast of its little body. No piece of meat went to waste and soon all that was left were bones glistening in the moonlight.

With my hunger sated reasonable thinking slowly made its return, and the realization that my pack was probably worried about me and that was concerning. Oh not the elder, he could go to the winds as far as I was concerned, but the alphas, they mattered and should be respected. Moving at an easy trot I hurried back through the forest and in no time breached the woodline that bordered our territory. At the rear of what functioned as our pack’s two-legged cache, I saw my alphas standing and watching anxiously. My female alpha gasped when she caught sight of me and tugged on the arm of the male. As I approached, slowly so as not to alarm them, my female alpha lowered herself to her knees and opened her...arms...to me. The wolf took this to be a symbol of weakness, inviting attack, but the two-legged part of me knew this to be a gesture of welcome.

Keeping my movements calm and non-threatening, I approached my female alpha under the watchful eye of my male alpha and gently nuzzled and licked her outstretched appendage, her…’hand’.

“Oh Aiden,” she whispered in a voice containing what I recognized as sadness as she gently stroked the fur of my ruff. I uttered a sound of contentment and pressed against her a bit more, snuggling into the warm embrace. When I felt the...hand...of my alpha male lightly touch the top of my head I looked up into his eyes and panted quietly.

“Aiden,” he said carefully, modulating his voice to be both calm and commanding at the same time, “You need change back. Can you do that?” Change back? What did he mean? Why would I want to…

He meant to the form of the two-leg. He wanted me to revert back to that weak shell I’d occupied a short time ago. Why would he ask that of me? Was I not better, stronger, faster in my true form? Why would my alpha ask me to weaken myself?

“Aiden please,” my female alpha said with clear begging in her voice.

I felt the two-leg stir within me, climbing her way to the surface. She understood what the alphas were asking of me and didn’t see the two-legged form as a weakness. She considered it to be her true form, regardless of how much less it was. I wanted to fight against it, to remain wolf forever, but she was strong, stronger than I realized. And yet, she knew simply taking control was not the way. In a battle of wills, the victor could be either of us, but the consequences were something neither of us desired. Instead, she compromised, letting me know that my time would come again very soon. She promised not to keep me locked away, but to share herself with me, to embrace me and asking me to embrace her as well. A joining, a union, that was what was proposed, and I could not deny it was an advantageous one. She had already taken steps to do so prior to this eve by acknowledging my presence instead of trying to pretend I did not exist, I could not offer insult by not doing the same. Thus, I allowed my instincts to ease and once again allowed me to retake control.

The change happened so fast that one moment I was all fur and teeth and the next I was completely naked being held close by my crying mother while my father was draping a throw blanket over both of us. Then he fell to his knees, wrapped his arms around us, and joined in our tears.

* * * *

“Grandpa’s gone,” Mom told me as I huddled, still naked, under the blanket on the couch and sipped from a steaming mug of tea.

“Gone?” I asked quietly since my vocal chords were still feeling a bit raw from all of that howling I’d done.

“Dad told him to leave after he got back from looking for you. Did he find you?”

I nodded and let the fragrant vapors from the mug brush against my cheeks while inhaling its scent. “Briefly. I told him to go to hell, at least the wolf version of it.” I winced at the memory of our exchange and looked up to Mom worriedly. “I insulted him pretty bad.”

“How bad?” she asked, sitting down beside me and slipping her arm around my shoulders.

I couldn’t help the guilty smile from forming when I replied, “Called him omega, after literally snapping at his muzzle.”

Even with Mom not being a wolf herself, she knew exactly what calling one an omega meant. Her soft laughter was a thousand times more effective in making me feel better than all the cups of tea in the world. “Oh he must have hated that.”

“I’m pretty sure he was going to give me the wolf equivalent of a whipping but I took off as soon as I said it and he couldn’t catch up. I lost him pretty quick.”

She nodded and gently rocked me back and forth in her arms while we continued to talk. “So where did you go? I heard howling not long after you took off.”

“Yeah, that was me,” I admitted, “I did it before Grandpa showed up. I guess it led him right to me.”

“And after?”

I shrugged a little and sipped some tea. “I hunted.”

I’m sure any ordinary family might have heard that statement and been shocked. Then again, my family was far from ordinary and Mom had been given a full indoctrination into our particular family...quirk...long ago. Plus, Dad himself hunted every year, he just used a rifle instead teeth, so the concept was a pretty basic one in our household. “Did you catch anything good?” she asked rather casually.

“Just a rabbit,” I said and couldn’t hide the disappointment in my voice, “It was the only thing nearby.”

“Was it tasty at least?”

I looked up as Dad walked into the living room with a small pile of clothes in his hands. “It was alright,” I shrugged, “Deer’s better.”

“Can’t argue there,” he agreed and set down what I now saw was a fresh pair of panties, sleep pants, and a tank top. I probably should have been offended and maybe a little creeped out that Dad had gone through my underwear drawer but I was just too emotionally exhausted to care at the moment. “Your Mom told you I assume.”

“About you throwing Grandpa out? Yeah,” I said when he nodded, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he insisted and sat down next to me opposite of Mom, “You did absolutely nothing wrong. This was all on his shoulders and no one else’s. As long as I’m still breathing no one will make you do anything you don’t want to do, ever.”

The vehemence in his voice was more than enough to make me believe him, and I took a great deal of comfort in that. When Mom relinquished me to him so he could hug me tightly, I snuggled into his embrace in a way I never would have done just a few days ago but now felt oh so right. “I love you guys,” I whispered, “So much.”

“We love you too sweetheart,” Mom said, leaning down to rest her head on my shoulder while resting her hand on Dad’s arm so all of us were touching one another in some way, “And we’ll always be here for you. Now,” she said with a slightly wicked grin, “Tell me about this boy you were kissing.”

Aw crap.

Wolf Springs, Wyoming

“I’ll get it,” the woman called out when the phone began to ring. After only its second chiming she snatched it from its charging cradle and thumbed the talk button. “Hello?”

“I need a favor.”

The woman sighed with a smile and shook her head. “Guy, I’ve told you a hundred times there’s nothing I can do. Your mutation isn’t some kind of rubber stamp that can be imprinted on someone else, even to someone with my kind of abilities.”

“That’s not what I wanted to ask,” the man said with clear agitation in his voice that made the woman frown.

“Guy, what’s wrong?” she asked.

“Listen, I don’t have time to go into it, but I’m going to need your help soon.”

“And exactly what kind of help are you going to need?” she asked suspiciously.

“I’m going to be bringing a girl home with me. Don’t worry, she’s family,” he assured her just as the protest was ready to leave her mouth, “But her mutation is more advanced than the rest of ours. It could be the key to unlocking why it manifests so randomly in our bloodline. I’ve been working with someone to try and figure it out and we’ve got a working theory but-”

“Guy, stop,” the woman said sternly, “I am not going to help you dissect a member of your own family just to try and figure out your mutation, physically or otherwise.”

“I’m not talking about dissection dammit, this is my granddaughter we’re talking about, I’d never hurt her.”

The woman blinked in surprise. “Granddaughter? But I thought the only grandchild you had was a-oooooh,” she said in understanding, “Your grandson’s mutation changed him into a girl.”

“Yeah,” he snapped, “And that’s never happened before. We could be talking about a whole new strain of mutation in our family’s bloodline that could be the key to sustaining us.”

“Guy,” she sighed, “You’re not a Native American tribe. The genes that cause mutation don’t dilute because of any kind of cross-breeding. Heck, you can’t cross-breed when it comes to mutations anyway.”

“Not cross-breeding, interbreeding.”

For several seconds both parties were silent as the connotation of what Guy was saying sank in until finally the woman very carefully said, “Guy, please tell me you’re not talking about impregnating your granddaughter.”

“Jesus no!” the man barked, “That’s just sick! No, I’m saying that if two wolves mate then it could create a more stable and trackable mutation so that every child born after would be a mutant of our bloodline.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, “I suppose I can somewhat see the logic in your thinking, but why are you tell me this?”

“You can make sure my granddaughter is fertile when the time comes for breeding so that way we’ll be absolutely sure the baby she’s carrying is wolf-blooded.”

The fear that had already building listening to the man speak about things in such a manic matter spiked into real panic. “Guy,” she said, speaking to him as one would when trying to talk down a suicidal man, “This is a child we’re talking about, not a breeding animal. You have to see how wrong this kind of thinking is.”

“Dammit,” he snapped, “You sound just like my idiot family! I’m talking about the survival of our species here! You know what, forget it, I’ll figure this out on my own.” The click of the line disconnecting sounded like a gunshot in her ear.

“Rowen?” a beautiful redheaded teen girl asked as she came down the stairs, “Everything okay?”

Rowen McKinnon shook her head, unable to keep the haunted look off her face. “No Ashley, I’m afraid everything is the furthest thing from okay.”

Always one to key into someone else’s emotional state, the young woman hurried over and took her adoptive mother’s hands. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid an old friend of mine is not the man I thought he was, and his clearly insane ideas have taken hold of him in a way that I fear for his family.”

The young girl with the fantastically red hair looked at her mother for a moment before her eyes widened with horrified understanding. “He’s like Dr. Taylor, isn’t he.” she whispered.

“At least very close to it I’m afraid.”

“We have to help those people then,” Ashley admonished, “If he’s planning to do something to hurt them we can’t just stand by and do nothing!”

Rowne looked at her adopted daughter, a young girl whose giving nature made it impossible not to love and care for her, and smiled as she gently stroked her hair. “Sweet, brave Ashley, always so eager to race to help someone regardless of the danger.”

“I won’t apologize for that,” Ashley claimed, though her blush spoke of embarrassment at the endearment.

“Nor should you,” her mother told her firmly, “It’s one of the reasons why you are a truly special girl. Unfortunately, there is little either of us could do in this case. Guy is far too strong and his family is too far away for us to probably get there in time. There might be, however,” she said with a growing smile, “Another way.”

It took a moment but Ashley soon caught onto what her mother was saying and she began nodding rapidly. “Will he help?”

“He helped you after just a phone call didn’t he?” Rowen replied, her smile having turned into a grin as she dialed a number.

The connection was made after less than one ring. “Rowen,” a gravelly voice said knowingly.

As always, the sound of his voice made Rowen smile. “How fast can you get to Salem, Indiana?”

Salem, Indiana, Salem High School

I’d thought about what happened between Henry and I when I’d gone to bed last night. It had kept me awake half the night, actually. While, yes, I did remember that mind-blowing kiss over and over again, I also wondered if it actually affected Henry as strongly as it did me. Okay, obviously it had affected him pretty damn strong if the, ahem, hardness I’d felt pressing insistently against my belly when we’d been kissing was any indication, but that was just physical. What about the mental and emotional?

Despite trying to tell myself not to expect anything, I still found myself taking a little extra care making myself up after my shower that morning. I brushed out my hair so it was full and glossy, asked Mom to help me with some makeup, I even dabbed a little bit of her perfume on. I tried to explain it away as just coping with my new feminine status but...for god’s sake I was wear a skirt this morning! And not just any old skirt, a denim mini that was hitting me at mid thigh so it showed off a hell of a lot more leg than I’d previously been comfortable with. Was I really dolling myself up for someone that was just as likely to ignore me than look at me? Yeah, sure, Henry seemed like he was changing for the better, and we’d had that knock-your-socks-off kiss, but after Grandpa’s tirade yesterday afternoon would he still even want to talk to me? I thought I’d done a decent job of letting him know Grandpa didn’t speak for me when it came to who I chose to date (date?), but it had been clear from the look on his face that he had been spooked. Spooked enough to want to avoid me? Well, I guess that remained to be seen.

So I guess that’s why I took the time to pretty myself up before heading off to school. It was the best way I knew how, along with simply talking to him, to let Henry know I was still interested in him, a fact that I still couldn’t believe was true. And, if Mom’s compliments on my choice of outfit along with the sage words that if Henry didn’t appreciate my efforts he was a moron didn’t prove to him that I was willing to make what I considered a supreme effort, then he could just go fuck himself. I actually got myself so worked up about the possibility of him shunning me that I already had about ten different scathing comments ready to let loose with the instant I was given the opportunity.

That was, of course, until I saw him standing by the front doors pacing nervously. The rational, non-hormonal teenager part of my brain warned me that he could just be waiting for someone else and that I still shouldn’t get my hopes up, but then our eyes met.

In an instant there was absolutely no doubt that those deep, blue eyes were only looking for me because when they found my amber ones there was an immediate warmth that accompanied the welcoming smile that blossomed on his face. I actually had to resist the rather strong urge to suddenly break into a run and race to him so I might throw myself into his arms. Instead, however, I played it cool and continued to approach him at a nice, leisurely pace. So what if I threw an extra little wiggle into my walk, a girl can turn on the sex appeal just because you know.

The moment I reached him I half-expected, with trepidation I might add, that he was going to do the classic guy thing you see on T.V where he suddenly thinks we’re going steady after one kiss and puts a possessive arm around my shoulders like he owned me. Thankfully, he seemed to be as uncertain of what to do as I was because he just kind of stood there rocking back and forth on his heels while letting out a quiet whistle. “Wow, you look fantastic,” he said, and I didn’t need super smelling ability to see he was being honest and not pointlessly flattering, “Those boots look great on you.”

I glanced down at the tall, calf high combat-style boots that hugged my legs closely in black leather before shrugging a little with a self-conscious smile. “Just something I threw on.”

“Uh huh,” he replied with a knowing look, “You just rolled out of bed and threw that all on without a care. Pull the other one.”

“So I decided I wanted to dress a bit more...girly today,” I said, immediately defensive about my choice of wardrobe, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Absolutely,” he agreed quickly, “I never said there was, and it looks great on you.”

I closed my eyes and took a breath to steady my jangling nerves. “Sorry, I’m a bit edgy about it. I never thought I’d ever even consider wearing a skirt before.”

He opened his mouth and then closed it before opening it again as he was clearly trying to choose the right words to say. “Did you,” he finally asked hesitantly, “Did you wear that...for me?”

He sounded so little-boyish at the end that it was impossible to get mad about him making such a presumption, despite the fact that it was true. In fact, I actually blushed at being found out and looked down shyly. “Uh huh,” I said quietly.

For a few moments we stood there as students flowed around us on their way into the building. Some glanced over and gave us curious looks but we were pretty much left alone with our awkward, teenage mating ritual of being too damn shy to say anything.

Eventually Henry seemed to find his voice and he asked, “Can I walk you to class?”

“I’d like that,” I said with a smile and he moved to walk beside me as we headed inside. I was actually hoping he’d hold my hand, yet another step down the path of girlhood, but at least he stayed pretty close to my side the whole time.

We’d gone partway down the hall towards my locker when I decided I owed Henry an explanation for yesterday. “Listen, Henry,” I started, “About yesterday-”

“It’s okay,” he interrupted quickly, “I guess maybe I pushed you too quickly. I didn’t mean to overstep and get you in trouble.”

“No, no,” I said shaking my head as I opened my locker, “It’s not that it’s-” I stopped and realized what he’d just said. Turning, I frowned at him. “What do you mean you pushed me?”

“Well,” he said, clearly embarrassed, “I mean I know you’ve been pretty confused lately with everything that’s happened I didn’t want you to think I was trying to take advantage of you or anything.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was he actually apologizing for yesterday? Was he regretting that mega-kiss? Did he forget that it had been me who had grabbed him and yanked him down so I could get my mouth on him?

Poking him in the chest hard enough to actually have him leaning back slightly and narrowed my gaze at him. “You listen to me buster, I kissed you, not the other way around, so there was no taking advantage of anything. If anything I should be...apologizing...to you,” I finished slowly, realizing just how stupid this was starting to sound. “Oh good god I sound like something out of a bad T.V show,” I mumbled.

“Okay,” he said, reaching up and removing my finger from his chest before gently kissing the back of my hand and sending a quick rush of heat through me, “How about this: I’m absolutely not sorry about kissing you, regardless if you started it, and I’d be more than happy to do it again. Maybe after taking you out to dinner and then a movie?” Once again he’d reverted to that little-boy brand of shyness that was just so damn cute there was no way I could say no. Of course, that didn’t mean I was going to make it easy on him.

“Dinner and a movie?” I asked with a quirked eyebrow, “Really?”

“I’ll have you know,” he replied with a puffed out chest and a humorously fake sense of superiority, “The dinner and a movie concept has been a time-tested and proven method of teenage enjoyment for the last fifty years or so and has the stamp of approval from the...the...Dating Society of America,” he finished, quite strongly I might add.

“Well,” I acknowledged, “If it’s an activity approved by the DSA then I suppose I don’t have any choice but to go along with it.” I tried to keep a straight face after saying that but unfortunately there was no stopping the giggles that followed.

The look of combined relief and excitement had him breaking out in a wide smile. “So you’ll let me take you out tonight?”

“One condition,” I said, holding up a finger and waiting for his nod of understanding, “Nothing fancy and we don’t see some godawful girly romance flick where the leads spent the whole time dancing around one another until they finally realize they loved each other all along,” I finished in a singsong, syrupy sweet voice while clutching my books to my chest and swaying in a deliberately over-dramatic fashion.

“Thank god,” Henry breathed in relief, “I was already getting myself worked up to the idea of propping my eyelids open with toothpicks so you wouldn’t think I’d fallen asleep.” The image of that got a good laugh out of both of us. “How about Christie’s for dinner and that new flick about the dueling devisors?”

I nodded in consideration, remembering seeing the previews for it on T.V and thinking it looked like a decent action flick. “That sounds good. We can probably go right after school so we can catch the matinee first and dinner after. Matinees are cheaper anyway.”

“Hey, I don’t mind paying a little extra for a later show if you want to go later,” he told me.

Shaking my head I smiled and patted his arm. “Don’t worry, it’s not about the money, and I’m paying for my share by the way,” I warned him in a voice that told him not to bother arguing, “I’d rather see the movie first and dinner second. That way we’re actually looking at each other for the last half of the date instead of a screen.”

“Good logic,” he admitted.

By that point we’d arrived at my first class and the bell was about to ring so I spun about and lifted up on my toes to lightly kiss him on the cheek. So what if I touched the corner of his mouth at the same time, it was just a happy coincidence okay? “I’ll see you at lunch?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” he said, sounding a little dazed.

I was just vain enough to feel a quick flash of giddy pride that I’d done that to him and tossed him a bright smile before I flounced, yes that’s right flounced, into class.

* * * *

For the first time in a long while I actually had trouble focusing on class that day. It wasn’t so much that it was overly noticeable, but more than once a few girls had whispered quick words of female understanding that I was smitten and that they thought it was great how much I’d turned Henry around. Jake also noticed, but then he’d known me for years so it wasn’t hard for him to tell that I was preoccupied with something. When I confirmed his suspicions and told him about my date after school he merely slapped me on the back and told me congratulations right before asking if I had an ample supply of condoms handy. That got him a smack on the head from both me and Mary.

Lunch was more of a tease than anything. While Henry and I had it together, our nervousness about the still new relationship prevented us from doing much more than just sitting close enough that we were pressed hip to hip, toying with one another’s fingers, and playing a little footsy. It was all very childish and high school, but I was so consumed with riding this new-love high I didn’t even notice it, not even when Jake rolled his eyes in exasperation at the sickly sweet scene we were making. Mary’s sharp pinch to his thigh and his subsequent pained yelp did get a good laugh out of us though.

By the time the school day had ended I was practically vibrating with nervous excitement. True, Henry and I had already bypassed the whole initial date thing and gone straight to the making-out section of the relationship guide book, but this felt more...I don’t know, official I guess. No sudden bursts of burning desire, no uncontrolled groping, this was an actual, planned out date. I was even debating doing a quick change into something more date-like on the stop off at my house but decided what I was wearing was fine. The whole point of tonight was for it to be casual and besides, the skirt and green and white striped polo top combo I’d chosen that morning was pretty much standard fare when it came to the whole dinner and a movie thing.

When I got to Henry’s Escalade where he was waiting for me, I gave him a bright, happy smile to show him how glad I was to see him and eagerly hopped into the passenger seat. We didn’t say much on the drive to my place other than my telling him I just needed to drop off my books and let my parents know what the plan was. I didn’t expect any problems from them since after our talk last night they both made it clear they were happy I’d met someone who was so nice to me. There was the requisite threat of dismemberment should Henry hurt me, but then a mother has to be protective after all. Besides, it was about on par with Dad chiming in with his reminder that he could skin a deer in under sixty seconds.

As we pulled up to the house I noticed both of my parents’ cars were parked in the driveway, which was a bit odd since Dad usually was out making deliveries around this time of day. Then it dawned on me and I groaned.

“What’s wrong?” Henry asked, looking over with concern.

“You’d better come with,” I sighed and dropped my head into my palm, “Mom and Dad are waiting inside to give the nth degree drilling about dating their new daughter. Peeking through my fingers I gave him a sympathetic smile when I saw him got a bit pale. “Don’t worry, I’ve already told them about how you’ve changed and that you’re a good guy.”

“As long as your Dad doesn’t come at me with one of those really big knives he makes,” he gulped as we got out of the car.

“He won’t,” I confirmed, “But don’t be surprised to see one or more of his guns on the table being ‘cleaned’.”

“Oh perfect,” he groaned as we stepped up to the front door, “Should I start running now?”

“You’d better not mister,” I warned him with a playful wagging of my finger before opening the door, “You need to show me you’re a toughie that can protect little old me from the big bad guys.” I giggled a little when he made an exaggerated muscle and called out, “Mom, Dad, I’m...home.”

My voice trailed off as I took in the sight of the living room and every joking aspect of the moment fled in a wash of panic. “Mom!” I screamed, “Dad!”

Before my eyes I saw Mom and Dad laying face down on the living room floor, both of them completely motionless. I didn’t even hesitate as I let my bag and purse fall to the floor and sprinted over to them, sliding to my knees beside their inert forms and quickly began shaking Mom. “Mom, Mom! Are you okay? Talk to me!”

When neither she nor Dad responded in the slightest I quickly fitted my fingers at the side of Mom’s neck and breathed a sigh of relief when I simultaneously felt a pretty strong pulse while also finally noticing the faint rise and fall of their backs indicating they were breathing. “They’re alive,” I called back to Henry, “Call nine one one!”

“No need.”

Instantly I spun about on my knees and moved into a kind of half crouch at the sound of a very familiar voice. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw Grandpa standing in the doorway of the living room that led to the kitchen holding Henry against the wall by his throat. The younger boy was trying his best to dislodge the elder man’s fingers from cutting off his air supply but Grandpa was definitely stronger from years of bladecraft and the added bonus of werewolf-enhanced strength. “I just used knockout darts on them,” he explained in a frighteningly casual voice, “You don’t think I’d kill my own family do you?”

“Grandpa,” I cried, “What the hell are you doing? Let Henry go!”

He looked over at Herny almost as though he forgot he had even been holding him in a death grip. “Oh, yes, of course,” he said in that conversational tone, moments before he hurled the boy across the room to crash into the wall and slide down to the floor in a heap.

“Henry!” I screamed and leapt up to race over to check on him. I made it perhaps three steps before I felt Grandpa’s arm encircle my bicep and haul me up against the wall hard enough to blast the breath from my lungs.

“We don’t have time for your little two-legged toy,” he growled in my ear, “We need to get going if you’re going to help strengthen the bloodline.”

“What...talking...about?” I gasped, desperately trying to get my lungs to remember how to take in oxygen.

“You’re the key, you see,” he continued, wrenching my arms painfully behind my back and securing my wrists with what felt like a plastic zip tie, “Your genetics are unique to our line. You can help us understand why the gene has been skipping generations and how we can regulate it so every new generation will have the werewolf mutation. We can thank your mother for that.”

“Mom?” I whispered, thoughts instantly whirling about questioning whether she was a part of this.

“Oh yes,” Grandpa said, spinning me around and pressing my back to the wall and trapping my hands between it and my body, “You see one of your mother’s ancestors had a baby with a werewolf. Her family line carried the gene for several generations but none of them manifested...until you,” he said with a smile that was terrifying in how genuinely happy it looked. “Between your mother’s and my son’s genetics, they created a child that was guaranteed to manifest. Now all we need to do is keep breeding amongst wolves and we’ll be able to dramatically increase the werewolf population.”

“You’re crazy!” I yelled, “What the fuck are you trying to do, take over the world with werewolves?”

“Oh Aiden,” he said with a shake of his head, sounding like I was a five year old that just asked where babies came from, “Nothing so dramatic. I just want to ensure that our species survives. Right now you’re the last known werewolf to be born on this continent. Before you, we weren’t sure any more would come into existence because the genetics have become so diluted over the years.”

“I am not your fucking personal baby factory!” I screamed at him while trying to twist my hands free of the plastic tie and only cutting my wrists in the process. Grandpa knew what he was doing when he’d tied me like this with this material. If I shifted into wolf form right now either my forepaws would still be bound behind my back, probably snapping the bones in my legs in the process, or they would probably cut into my flesh so severely my paws could very well be amputated. Grandpa had told me we healed fast, but then he was obviously crazy so I wasn’t sure how much of what he’d told me was true or even correct about our ability to heal. “I’m not letting you whore me out to every male wolf that looks at me.”

“Of course not honey,” he said, actually looking offended by the idea, “You’ll be heralded as the queen of wolves once this is done. There’ll probably be howls created specifically to honor you for centuries. Won’t that be nice?”

This time when he smiled there was no trace left of the tender, loving grandfather I’d known for so many years. That man was gone, replaced by this megalomaniac with a ‘Master Race’ complex that probably rivaled Hitler. How could he have gone so far so fast? How had I not seen this coming? That’s when it hit me.

Diedrick’s. While the mental disorder typically affected devisors, the research I’d done when I’d first manifested told me that it was possible for any mutant to fall under its influence. It was rare, but it happened.

“Grandpa,” I said, trying to sound calm but the quaver in my voice told me I failed miserably, “Listen to me. You’re under the influence of Diedrick’s right now, it’s affected your mind and you’re not thinking right. Look at what you’re doing right now, look at what you’ve done to your own son.”

He made a tsking sound and shook his head. “I’m not Dricking out Aiden,” he assured me, and the confident way he said it actually had me believing him. “I’m simply doing what needs to be done to ensure our race survives. Now, we’ve chatted enough, it’s time to-”

He never finished what he’d intended to say because suddenly he was wrenched off of me. He didn’t go very far, only a couple of steps, but it was enough for me to duck out of his grip and dart away. When I spun back towards him I saw Henry struggling to get him on the ground. There was blood streaming down the side of his face that was taut with grim determination. “You’re not going to hurt her!” he growled and drove a fist into my grandfather’s sigh.

Unfortunately, the blow did little but make him grunt a little before he slammed Henry into the wall. “Stupid whelp!” he snarled, and I recognized the humanity bleeding out of his voice.

“No!” I whispered in horror as I watched the muscles beneath his clothing begin to tremble and roll. Grandpa was shifting. “Henry!” I screamed, “Get out of here!”

I’m not sure if he actually heard me or not but his eyes shot toward me moments before the fearl growl rippled out of Grandpa’s throat and his teeth sank deeply into Henry’s shoulder at the clavicle. He screamed in pain as I watched blood spurt out of the wound and rapidly drench his shirt in crimson.

Adding my own scream to the mixture of sounds in the air I did the only thing I could do and charged at the pair, ramming my shoulder into Grandpa as hard as I could. Maybe it caught him off guard or maybe my own werewolf-enhanced strength helped, but it was enough to send him stumbling back to trip over the couch and land hard on the floor behind it.

Instantly I was on my knees beside Henry where he’d slumped to the floor. With my hands still bound I was helpless to do anything more than watch as more and more blood dripped down his chest. “Oh god, Henry!” I gasped, doing the only thing I could do and press my shoulder against his wound to try and stem the bleeding.

“Go,” he told me weakly, “Get out of here.”

I looked into his ashen face and shook my head with a determination I was having trouble actually feeling. “I’m not leaving you here to die.”

I think Henry might have said something else to try and convince me but at that moment the sound of an inhuman growl floated out from behind the couch. While both of us looked over at the sound, I already knew what it was and wasn’t at all surprised to see Grandpa prowl out from behind the couch in wolf form. Like before, he was very large in size, even for a wolf, and while I was certainly faster in an all out sprint than him he was a hell of alot faster than any human, including me. “Oh god no,” I whispered.

“What the fuck is that?” Henry gasped in horror.

“Grandpa,” I told him, already feeling defeated. I knew there was nothing I could do to stop him bound in human form like this. Hell, even if my hands were free and I could change he was definitely stronger than I was and had decades more combat experience than I did. We were done and both he and I knew it.

“Say goodbye to your omega,” he told me in wolfspeak that only I could understand before leaping at Henry with his jaws snapping at his throat.

That was when Death paid us a visit.

At first it was just a black shape that blasted through the living room window, slamming into Grandpa hard enough to send him flying across the room into the far wall. Without stopping it hit the ground in a roll before coming to its feet and I got my first real look at it.

It wasn’t actually a thing. In fact, it was a guy maybe a little more than average height garbed in all black and wearing a solid helmet of some sort that covered his entire head so it looked like it had been replaced by a black, roughly human head-shaped marble. He’d barely gotten to his feet when two pistols were yanked out of holsters strapped to his thighs and came roaring to life as he unloaded them. I watched in disbelief as every single round found its target, making Grandpa jerk and buck wildly regardless of how he tried to juke and weave out of the way. Despite the horrific insanity of the entire situation I couldn’t help but watch in rapt fascination as each bullet tore into Grandpa’s fur and flesh, spraying blood along the wall with each strike of steel. He tried to wade through the barrage of hot lead but only managed to snap at the air before slumping to the ground.

The stranger didn’t even pause as he ejected the spent magazines from the pistols and slapped fresh ones home before moving over to me and slicing through the bindings on my wrists with a knife that he pulled from...somewhere. “I’m a friend,” he said in a gravelly voice slightly distorted by the helmet/mask thing, “Can you move?”

I shook my head and looked over at the body of Grandpa. “He’s not dead,” I told him grimly and watched as the bullet wounds slowly began to close.

“I know,” the man said as he slapped some kind of a patch on the now unconscious Henry’s shoulder. God, he’d lost so much blood. “Get your boyfriend out of here, I’ll get your parents.”

Nodding I grabbed Henry’s arm and, thanking Bram Stoker for werewolf-enhanced strength, dragging him out the door of the house while the man lifted my Dad across his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and ran him outside. While I laid Henry down on the front lawn the man carefully laid Dad down and ran back inside for Mom. He was fast, no question there, because less than five seconds later I saw him racing out of the house with Mom cradled in his arms. Unfortunately, that’s not all I saw.

I was moving before I even had a chance to think about it, sprinting across the lawn and diving through the air to tackle Grandpa as he leapt for the man carrying Mom. Apparently I’d built up enough speed and hit him in just the right spot to send the two of us flying back into the house. I felt a bright flash of pain explode through my shoulder as his jaws clamped down on me with enough force that I think he shattered the bone.

Screaming in pain I kicked him away from me and scrambled into a crouch, one hand clutching at my now useless arm while Grandpa rolled to his feet and snarled at me. I knew I could change now and we’d be on more even ground. My arm might even heal enough that I wouldn’t be limping when I was on all fours. Chances were I’d still probably lose. Even with the help of this mysterious stranger Grandpa still had a really good chance of beating us and taking me away to be his bitch whore for the werewolf community. Then my whole life would be over. All of the love and caring I’d received from my parents my entire life would be for nothing. The changes that I’d been able to bring out in Henry that meant the possibility of a normal life for both of us would be wasted. I wouldn’t even get to experience a first date that I was so damn close to going on. It would all end because of a fucking deranged speciesist.

And that made me mad. Standing up slowly, glaring at the panting and growling form of my grandfather, I let that anger build and build. I felt the wolf inside me growling and snarling, anxious to come out and hungry for blood. This supposed elder of the pack had affected the worst kind of betrayal. He’d attacked the pack, decimated it from within not to raise in status, but to destroy it. That sent my anger spirling higher, transforming it into something deeper, more primal. The wolf was coming and I did nothing to stop her. I welcomed her, in fact, crying out for her to come and join with me so we could do justice that can only be done in the wild. She understood that better than anything else on this planet and added her anger to mine, her fury, our RAGE.

The change came, faster, more powerful than before. It encompassed my entire being, using that rage to fuel it to the point of the shift and beyond. I didn’t fall to all fours, I rose higher and higher on two legs. I could feel the muscles of my body grow even as my limbs lengthened and thickened. My hands and feet became an amalgamation of human and wolf, retaining their original form while becoming covered in thick, black fur. Claws, razor sharp, sprouted from beneath my nails, becoming my nails themselves. I felt my nose, mouth, and jaw stretch outward, becoming snout-like even as my teeth lengthened and sharpened to lethal points. Everything about me was wolf, yet not. I was beyond wolf now. I was that which would render my enemies as so much meat and feast upon the marrow from their bones. I had become the very embodiment of primal fury...of rage.

I could smell the fear radiating off the betrayer like a sweet, sweet perfume, drawing me to it. I loved that fear, I wanted more of it. Leaping at the small four-legged mockery I swept at it with my claws, tearing open its side and making it howl in pain. The grin I made bore my teeth in all of their deadly glory as the little wolf growled and snapped at me in impotent anger. It foolishly even tried to attack and, just to allow it a slim glimmer of hope, allowed its small little teeth to sink into my thigh. I barely even noticed it as I snatched it up by the scruff and dangled it before my eyes for a moment to allow it to see what a true hunter was before hurling it away.

It crashed through a wall and blasted into the...appliances, yes, that was the word...crumpling steel and sending sprays of various liquids into the air. Some of them were foul in stench, but I ignored them as I tore across the floor and into that small body that was even now trying to regain its feet.

The time had come to end this and I snapped my jaws down upon its throat before a single, vicious jerk of my head tore out its flesh and bone and left its head dangling from but a few strips of skin and fur. The battle was mine and threw my head back to unleash a roar to the world so all would know that any who dared threaten my pack would have no choice but to face me, their death.

And then the world flashed a brilliant light that burned its very existence away.

Salem, Indiana, Crown Hill Cemetery

“It’s been a hell of a week, huh?” I asked with a bit of a smile as I peered up at the blue, cloudless sky. “I never would have thought anything even close to something like this would have happened. Hell, the biggest goal in my life last weekend was finishing that Bowie Spike at my forge...back when I had a forge,” I said softly as the image of it, along with the rest of my house had been turned into a smoldering pile of rubble filled my mind. “But, I can always make a new forge,” I said with an optimism I didn’t one hundred percent feel, “At the new house we’re moving to. Oh yeah I forgot to tell you,” I said, remembering I hadn’t mentioned that yet, “We’re moving out of state. Grandpa...well, the man who used to be my grandfather before he went all ‘Master Race’ on us...had this really big place out west. Pretty fitting moving into his house since he had a hand in us losing ours huh?” I chuckled, “Dad was kind of hesitant about going there at first, but Mom convinced him that it would be for the best to leave town since everyone’s looking at me like they’re expecting me to eat them any second.”

I sighed and brushed some hair out of my face. “It really sucks, you know. I mean, yeah, I can turn into a wolf, but the DNA testing proved it was Grandpa that had killed Ed, not me. You’d think that a little fact like that would make a difference but (sigh) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by everyone treating our whole family like a bunch of lepers. It’s kind of why I don’t like people, you know? They have such a herd mentality about whatever sparks their interest they don’t care about evidence and those silly little concepts like facts. I know you were like that Henry, at least you were before Ed died. But you changed. You became a better person and I really liked that guy you turned into.” My throat closed for a second and it took a few times to get my voice to work around the tears that had been steadily spilling down my cheeks. “I wish I could have gotten to know more about you,” I whispered.

The gravestone before me with fresh earth neatly packed before it remained eternally silent. “Why couldn’t you have just run when I told you to?” I demanded in a small, raw voice. “Why did you have to play the goddamn hero and throw yourself into danger to protect me? If you’d just listened to me we’d be over at Ed’s funeral right now paying our respects with me wearing that brand new dress I’d had Mom help me pick out just for you. Why didn’t you just listen to me!” I screamed at the headstone before sinking to my knees to simply sob my heart out.

I had no concept of time at that point so I don’t know how long I knelt there crying before I felt the gentle touch of Mom’s hand on my shoulder. When I looked up at her she offered me a sad, sympathetic smile. “He didn’t listen because he cared sweetheart,” she told me quietly. “He couldn’t let you get hurt just like you couldn’t let us be hurt.”

“But you’re pack,” I argued, “The pack always defends one another, it’s our way. He wasn’t.”

Dad chose that moment to walk up and take a long, considering look at the gravesite before me before his eyes shifted to meet mine. “Isn’t he?” was his quiet question.

I opened my mouth to deny it, but the truth of his words held my voice at bay. While it was true Henry hadn’t been a blood relation to our family, the way in which he’d heedlessly thrown himself to our defense spoke so clearly about the kind of person he was just as Grandpa’s actions decried his own value to the pack. “Yeah,” I finally admitted, looking at the headstone that contained Henry’s name and the years of his existence on this world, “Yeah he was. You’re pack Henry,” I told the long cold body now embraced by the earth from whence humanity was born, “Blood or not you’ll always be pack.”

I knew if I stayed there for much longer I’d probably start babbling or blubbering again so brushing off the nice new classy yet not overdone designer dress and regaining my feet atop the equally new high heels, Mom and I allowed Dad to escort us from the gravesite back to our single lonely SUV on the lane.

As I slid into the back seat I silently wished I could have been there for the actual funeral. Oh I didn’t give a damn about all of the religious crap the priest had undoubtedly spewed out. I had just wanted to be there in the church so I could see him one last time before the casket closed forever. Unfortunately, because of the generalized distrust and even hate towards my family that was beginning to bubble over in this town, especially since the police had been able to determine through forensics that it was, in fact, a wolf had killed Ed and not a wild dog, Dad thought it was best that we stay away until everyone had gone. It didn’t matter that the DNA matched Grandpa and not me, we were two sides of the same coin in the eyes of Salem’s community. I don’t know why he’d killed that boy, but if I had to guess it was because they had been on their way to pull that revenge prank on me that Henry had told me about. He probably thought he was enforcing some kind of twisted pack protection measure that made perfect sense in his eyes. So, I was exiled from Henry’s final, formal farewell. Fortunately Jake had been able to attend and he’d told me it had been a very nice service and that Henry looked very nice, for what it was worth. I suppose his family was lucky he hadn’t been caught in the explosion that had decimated our property.

It was a ruptured gas line that had done it. From what Dad told me after I’d woken up, my fight Grandpa had completely destroyed the kitchen stove and severed the gas line connected to it. A simple spark from one of the many appliances in the kitchen that we’d demolished in the fight had ignited the fumes, causing the entire line running beneath our house and the workshop to explode in all at once with me still inside roaring out my victory. The end result was pretty much the bulk of our property looked like something out of a nuclear holocaust movie. If that mysterious stranger hadn’t anticipated that very outcome happening, how did he know an explosion was likely anyway? And carried them off the property the moment the fight between Grandpa and I had started, it was very likely that all of them would have died instead of only Henry. The emergency services crew said it was a miracle I myself had survived.

My family and I knew better, though. While my memory of what happened was more emotional than factual, I do know that I’d changed in a way none of our kind ever had in the past. I hadn’t simply become a wolf, I’d changed into the absolute pinnacle of a wolf/man hybrid...on steroids...after a massive dose of Human Growth Hormone. Ever seen any of those Hollywood werewolf movies like Van Helsing or Underworld? Yeah, kinda of like those. Basically a nine foot unstoppable killing machine.

Well, apparently not completely unstoppable, since when I came walking out of the wreck that was once our home charred but unharmed, and pissed, that stranger in all black had been able to knock me out with a single, precisely aimed strike to the base of my skull right where it connected to my spine. Apparently it was some kind of biological ‘off’ switch. How the hell he knew about that single, one inch in diameter spot I have no idea, but I’d wager he’s probably one of five people on the planet who could have done it. When I’d woken up I’d reverted back to human form and was being wrapped up in blankets supplied by EMS by my parents, who had long since recovered from the knockout drug Grandpa had used on them.

The man in black was nowhere to be found.

Once it had been determined I was perfectly fine I went on a whirlwind journey of trips to the hospital and the MCO satellite office in Indianapolis. Because this was an incident involving at least one mutant, namely me, there was no way we could have kept putting off an appointment in one of their offices any longer. So, I was a good girl and went through all of their tests to determine the range of my powers. Thankfully, the people operating at the Indianapolis station were very polite and professional and even kind of friendly regardless of the report they received that I had been involved in a fight that blew up two buildings. At least that was something decently positive. Had it been similar to that incident I’d seen in the news that happened out in California, I might have seen if I could improve my record to three buildings. As it was, I was now officially a card-carrying member of the mutant community listed as being a shifter three for being able to shift into a wolf, a regen three for my ability to heal, and somewhere between an exemplar one and two because of my sex change and the fact that my physical capabilities were more in line with an Olympic athlete in her prime rather than a fifteen-year-old girl. Oh yeah, and I’d chosen the code name Fenris. Yes, I’m well aware that the word comes from Norse mythology and my family was Irish, but considering I was probably the most powerful werewolf in existence at the moment since I had two forms instead of one, naming myself after the most prominent wolf in mythology seemed kind of appropriate. I just wish it had been based on a female, but what do you do.

Of course, we didn’t breathe a word about what I now call my ‘rage form’ to anyone, I didn’t want to get carted away and locked in a cell for the rest of my life.

So, now we were on our way in our brand new full-sized SUV with each of us possessing only a single suitcase of newly purchased personal belongs. I’d been more than a little upset at first that we no longer possessed any family photographs, but thankfully my mother had the foresight to do a digital backup on a cloud drive every time we took a photo. A new computer and printer and we could decorate the walls with family photos once again.

You might think I would be pretty damn upset about the fact that I’d lost my hammer in the explosion, and at first I was. But then I came to realize that not only was it just another piece of equipment, but it was something that had been given to me by the very man who had betrayed my family. Even if it had survived I very much doubt I would have kept it, it would have felt tainted to me.

So as Dad turned onto the highway heading west towards I looked out at the sun slowly creeping its way towards the horizon. It would be night soon and according to the Weather Channel it was calling for a full moon tonight. That was good because I was anxious to get out and run through the wilds and feel its welcoming embrace once again and let it soothe away my pain.

After all, a wolf never ignored the call of the hunt.

Chicago, Illinois

The sound of the phone ringing floated through the still air for several moments before Gear dropped into his seat before a small bank of computer monitors, snatched up the wireless earpiece, and pushed the small button on the side. “Hey WiseCrack,” he greeted cheerfully, “How’s life?”

While the weaponsmith chatted with his friend on the secure line, Ashe looked over the design specifications for the new protein peptide compound delivery system he’d had Gear working on ever since he had left Salem. The Quik Clot patch system he’d carried thus far as a part of his standard equipment hadn’t been nearly enough to aid in preventing that boy from bleeding to death before EMS could arrive. If his theory was correct, and the science was as sound as he expected it to be, this device, combined with the proper chemical mixture and propellant would allow for a multitude of wound cavity types and sizes to be filled and sealed instantaneously by a biofoam that would rapidly form a semisolid mass for immediate blood stoppage and then break down to be absorbed by the body later, thus giving the wounded more time to get to the hospital and increasing their survival chances. There wouldn’t be another Salem, of that he would make certain. As he was going about checking the compatibility of various propellants to his design parameters a piece of Gear’s conversation caught his ear.

“You still haven't found a spot to land yet? What do you want, a mansion? Yeah I get you’re looking for something out of the way and private so Kitty can work on her powers, but from the information you sent me on them you’re going to need to go pretty rustic to really let her cut loose without killing someone. Oh hell I don’t know,” he said, rubbing his face in frustration, “I’m not exactly a real estate agent or-”

The sudden flash of black slicing right passed his face and burying in the wall beside him cut off his voice and his train of thought. “What the fuck Ashe!” he yelled, looking over at the man he thought was his friend. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting to see but it wasn’t Ashe still carefully oiling his sidearm’s receiver with one hand while the other was pointing at the wall on the opposite side of Gear. When the weaponsmith turned his head to look at the indicated wall with it’s large, digital, holographic map of the country superimposed on it he saw one of Ashe’s thin, deadly spikes buried in a particular section of it. Leaning close he looked at the single black dot the steel had penetrated and read the name of it’s indicated city beside it. Glancing back to his friend and boss he quirked an eyebrow in a silent question, which received a single nod in response.

“Hey WiseCrack,” Gear, said as caught on to Ashe’s idea and smiled, “No it’s fine, just Ashe being Ashe. Tell me something, you ever heard of a place in Wyoming called Wolf Springs?”

Last Edit: 4 years 2 days ago by Paradox.

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