The deer had not a chance against its killer. One minute, the old buck was munching languidly on summer grass so lush that its juices dribbled out of his mouth as he ate. The sun's rays beamed down through the treetops, warming the forest floor to the perfect temperature--it was a perfect day. Until a twig behind him snapped. From downwind emerged a dark mass of fury and teeth and before the buck could even take flight, its legs buckled under the impact of almost two hundred pounds brought to bear onto his back. Dark hands grasped his muzzle and an antler. And with a twist, the old male just past the zenith of his life reached its inevitable conclusion.
The killer was nothing less than a werewolf, dark brown in color. He growled in satisfaction as he got off the fresh carcass and stood. From the nearby foliage emerged a smaller werewolf, black with white speckles here and there. The larger werewolf hunched down and flattened his ears in respectful submission.
"Good work, Phoenix," commended the older werewolf, named Odysseus by the traditions of their pack. As the alpha, he referred to his subordinates by their pack names when they were not out in public. Many of them he had named himself--including Phoenix. "We'll be eating well tonight."
Phoenix bloomed under the praise. "Thank you, sir." Where other werewolves as strong and young as him might be a threat to their alphas' reigns, Phoenix respected Odysseus too much to challenge him. He had no aspirations for leadership anyway. "I was jus' getting' tired of beef."
Odyseus chuckled. "That happens to everyone who raises cattle at some point."
Samson had elevated his alpha and father-figure on a pedestal in his mind, and Odysseus was one of the few men on Earth who seemed to live up to that kind of respect. He was a direct descendent of their pack's founders, back when a small band of werewolves from Greece had immigrated to America in the 1800s. Over the generations, as the pack migrated ever westward, the Argo leadership had occasionally shifted to other individuals but it always reverted back to Odysseus' family line. The Argo pack was the oldest in the continent. Samson had not been born into the pack, but he still held his adopted heritage as a source of pride.
"You need help with that?" Odysseus asked.
"Naw," Phoenix said as he grabbed the buck by its legs and hefted it up, draping it over his shoulders. "I can get this to the truck."
It was about a ten minute walk to where they had parked their pickup, a short span for people who spent just as much time loping about on all fours as they did walking on two. Though Phoenix was slowed down by his burden and the journey seemed longer, they walked through the hunting grounds in comfortable silence. Packmates were family, and the two knew everything about each other that was needed to be known. There was no need for conversation.
Once the buck was secured in the back of the truck, they retrieved their clothes from the cabin and shifted back into their human forms. Odysseus and Phoenix once again became Nicholas and Samson, respectively the owner and a ranch hand at the "Double-W" Ranch. Though they were still well within their private lands, driving a truck as a werewolf was an unnecessarily tricky endeavor. And Samson could barely fit into the truck cabin as a 6'6" human--he had never even tried to squeeze inside while shifted.
A short drive out of the deep end of their estate carried them toward the large house that was home to the entire Argo pack, all in their human forms. No one from the outside world could suspect the true nature of this ranch unless they were looking. It was the perfect cover: raising cattle provided the werewolves not only with a food source, but an income as well.
As they parked by the slaughtering house, an envoy of three approached the truck: the alpha female Ruth, her and Nicholas' adult son Liam, and another "hand" named Gerry. Liam and Gerry, who were both jockeying for the position of beta, began unloading the buck with practiced precision while Ruth greeted her husband.
After a quick kiss she turned her attention to Samson. "Phoenix, you got a call while you were out. I took a message and told them you'd call back."
"Me?" Samson asked, his first reaction being one of incredulousness. Being the homebody that he was, he didn't leave the ranch often and hardly knew anyone from the small town a few miles away. The pack was all the family he needed. "Who'd be tryin' t'get ahold of me?"
"He said his name was Donnie."
"That's what he said. Donnie."
"Donnie..." he thought long and hard on that name. Why did it sound so familiar- No. "No. No, it couldn't be," he said.
"You're thinking out loud again," Liam piped up from his perch on the truck bed.
"Who can't it be?" Odysseus asked.
Samson clenched his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose like someone getting brainfreeze. "The only 'Donnie' I ever knew was back from the old days," he said.
"The old days?" Ruth's surprise was plain. "You mean-"
"Yeah." Before he had joined the pack. "I knew a Donnie in the foster home. He was my best friend before I ran away."
"Did he know that you're...?" Odysseus asked. As the alpha, keeping their secret was always foremost on his mind. It was the pack's first and greatest defense.
"No. No, he shouldn't. That's why I ran away, I couldn't let anyone find out about me. Assumin' this even is him."
"You don't think it is?" Ruth asked.
Samson shrugged. "How could he have found me? It ain't like he could just Google my name."
"Why don't you go find out already?" Liam suggested, then grunted as he was pulled forward by his own grip on the buck's antlers.
"Come on," Gerry told him from behind the truck, his arms wrapped around the animal's hind quarters.
Samson left his packmates to prepare the kill for dinner while he made his way into the house and made a beeline for the phone. There on the top sheet of the notepad was his name, the name "Donnie," and a phone number.
With shaking fingers he dialed the phone number. He almost couldn't hear the ringing over the thrumming of his heart in his ears. And then the ringing stopped and a voice resonated through the earpiece.
"Hello?" a voice that was familiar yet different. Deeper. Twelve years did that to a young boy's voice.
"Oh my god," Sammy breathed. "It really is you."
Donald Prescott didn't like it here. A 4'5" little person in a small backwoods town was always a bad mix. He took another sip of his fuzzy navel and look another surreptitious look around the restaurant. Much to the credit of the locals, no one seemed to bother him, aside from a pair of teenage boys he's caught pointing and staring when they thought he wasn't looking. Maybe that was why Sammy lived here now. No one made a big fuss out of anything out of the ordinary. For all he knew, maybe the entire town was "different" in some way or another.
If that's the case, then a midget would be the normalest person in this town, he thought.
He had asked his old friend to meet him at the steakhouse in the center of town. This was probably the nicest place to eat in the entire town. Between its location and the amount of people in here, Sammy would be unlikely to make a scene. Not that he expected his friend to hurt him. People changed as they grew up, but he knew Sammy was incapable of even developing a mean bone in his body.
At least, not to someone he perceived as a friend.
Donald was so lost in thought that he didn't notice a hulking giant come in through the front door. He didn't notice the giant speak to the seating hostess, or the hostess point right at his booth. He didn't notice the giant walk straight up to him. But he did notice when the giant was suddenly there, sitting in the bench. Through the lush padding, the wood bench, the floor, then up through his wood bench and through his lush padding, Donald felt a whumph as Sammy plopped down across the table from him.
He almost jumped out of his own body. "Sammy!" he said with a start. Back in the day, Donald had been the smallest child at the foster home, and Sammy the biggest. But he had never expected his old friend to turn out so damn big. Somehow, it didn't seem fair. Now it was his turn to have an "oh my god it really is you" moment.
For a moment, the two friends were locked in silence as they catalogued what affects twelve years had had on each other. Sammy was his exact opposite in every single way. Large. Strong. Swarthy skin that looked weather-worn despite his youth. He had a horizontal scar above his left eyebrow, prominent enough even under Sammy's bangs. He'd let his hair grow out too, though it was pulled back in a braid. Somehow it only added to the aura of masculinity he exuded. And despite his body, he didn't wear clothes that flaunted it--just a regular beige shirt and blue jeans. It was an indication that his reticence hadn't changed; the man who stood out in any crowd, always trying to blend in.
By contrast, Donnie was pale, clean-shaven and had short hair. He was as small as Sammy was big, yet he wore a nice suit. Everything about Donald Prescott's appearance was carefully measured to get people to take him as seriously as possible despite his absurd little body. For all Sammy's shyness, Donnie had learned to radiate confidence in everything he did. Yes, he was little. So what?
Sammy's green eyes wavered between warmth and fear for a moment. Donnie thought he could understand why, but one could never be sure about someone as mysterious as Sammy. Even as best friends, Sammy kept to himself for the most part. Donnie had eventually figured out why, but not until it was too late.
Sammy made up his mind and his expressions settled into one of pure warmth. "You haven't grown an inch in twelve years," he said with a grin.
Only Sammy could get away with making short jokes because his own height was just as ludicrous. They were opposite extremes. Donnie held up four fingers. "Three and a half inches, as a matter of fact," he declared. "You just can't tell from way the hell up there."
Sammy's grin widened. The muscles in his cheeks stretched like they hadn't been used that much in years, which did not surprise Donnie. As children, he had seen Sammy smile maybe twice. Post-traumatic stress disorder, they had called it in the foster home. They had tried to medicate Sammy, but he's always spit out the pills in secret. It was good to know he had managed to refind joy in life.
He recalled the painfully shy youth he used to know. Back in the home, he had kept to himself for weeks. He would just sit in the corner and watch the other children; on the playground, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen and the living room. He'd feared rejection so badly he did not even try. Then one day, he saw Josh Benson picking on a tiny, underdeveloped boy and it was like someone had flipped his "on" switch. He stood up and the very next moment, Benson was on his ass with Sammy standing between him and Donnie. Benson never pulled any crap again.
From that point on, Donnie kept close to Sammy. He had been fourteen and Sammy twelve, and Sammy was twice his size. And they had a mutual respect for one another; Donnie did his best to pay back his friend by helping him with his academic struggles. Sammy was not slow, but he had forgotten a lot--part of the post-traumatic stress disorder that the psychologists had diagnosed him with. Donnie was the first person he had ever opened up to, an honor whose gravitas had not been lost on him even at that age.
Sammy had changed his life; given him the confidence he had needed later on after his guardian had run away. Even their height jokes ultimately helped Donnie to find the humor in his stunted growth and find acceptance with it. If life was going to play a joke on him, he was just going to laugh. Part of him always wondered--why hadn't Sammy asked him to go with him? He would have said "yes" without a moment's hesitation.
"Oh man Donnie. Can't tell you how much I missed you," he said.
"Me too," he said before taking another sip of his drink. Just a bit of alcohol to steady his nerves for what was to come.
"I see you found yourself a lady too," he said, pointing at the gold ring on Donnie's finger.
Donnie's heart fluttered and he chuckled the band with his other hand. "I did," he agreed. "The most wonderful, kind, tall woman."
"That's great," Sammy said. "I ain't had so much luck in that area myself. But I ain't surprised, you were always better with people than I was. I'm happy for ya."
The waitress came before they could continue their conversation. Sammy must have been a regular here, since she asked if he wanted his usual order of some slab of meat with a gimmicky name and a baked potato. He said yes. Donnie had been waiting long enough to peruse the menu three times, and he knew what he wanted. "Shrimp cocktail please," he said. "With a side of 'I know, I know, don't laugh.'" With their orders taken, the waitress disappeared again and left them to resume their reunion.
Sammy looked right at him. "Okay I jus' gotta ask, since I thought it was impossible: How'd you find me?"
Donald raised a finger in the air. "An excellent question. I got a job at a coroner's office. I don't dissect the stiffs, but I take pictures and do a lot of filing and the like."
Sammy tilted his head, almost canine-like in nature. "Well, seein' as I ain't dead, I don't follow."
Donald laughed. "I've made a lot of friends in the law enforcement industry. Even some federal ones. A friend in the FBI owed me a favor, and so I asked him to help me find any funny-sounding IDs with 'Sam' in the name. Took me almost a year to find you as we searched state by state. But just as I was about to give, up, I saw it. Come on, nothing sounded more made-up than 'Samson Phoenix.' Soon as I saw that, I knew it was you."
In the dim lighting, he saw Sammy's face grow a shade paler. "You had the FBI investigate me?" he asked.
"Nothing that intrusive," Donald said with a handwave. "My friend's not a nosy guy, he knew I was just trying to find an old friend from my days in the foster care system. Don't worry."
He took a deep breath. Now was the moment of truth. "Your secret's safe with me."
Sammy's eyes dilated. His body stiffened. "What secret?" he asked slowly.
Donnie leaned in closer, hunched over the table. As Sammy mimicked him, he explained, "You were always sneaking out into the woods at night. One time I snuck out and followed you. I had a heck of a time following your trail while being as quiet as possible, but then I found you, in a clearing, stripping your clothes off. And then, right before my eyes, you changed into a..."
He paused, taking a look around the restaurant to make absolutely sure no one could hear. He had kept his friend's secret all these years and he was not going to drop the ball now. Through clenched teeth, he whispered the key word: "Werewolf."
Sammy shot back into his seat like he'd been shot. "You knew?" he asked. He didn't even try to deny it. He was probably still a lousy liar so he didn't even bother trying. "You knew all these years and you didn't tell anyone?"
Donnie nodded. "Back when we were kids, who would have believed me? Besides, I saw how careful you were. And you kept Josh Benson from kicking my ass, so I knew you were a good person and not some movie monster."
Sammy remained quiet. Obviously he didn't know what to do next. No wonder. Secrecy was important to him. It stood to reason that the ranch he lived on would be a whole pack of others like him. Would Donnie's knowledge get him into trouble with the others? No one need be told back home.
Sammy stood. For a moment he feared his friend would flee, but instead he flagged a waitress. He spoke a few hushed words with her, and she nodded and began to walk away. Samson followed her and nodded at Donnie in a "come along" motion. Donnie took a deep breath and grabbed his briefcase. The waitress led them to a large, empty section of the restaurant. Just as his imagination threatened to get the better of him, Sammy sat down in a booth at the far corner.
"So we can have some privacy," he explained. "My ranch sells this restaurant their beef, so we got a little bit a' 'favored guests' status with 'em."
"Nice," Donnie said as he took a seat. He waited a few moments to see if Sammy wanted to say anything. When it became clear he was expected to go on, he sighed. "Look... You opened my mind to a whole new world and I dedicated my life to knowing the truth. That's how I met my Lisa. She was a believer, like me. You changed my life for the better, Sammy. And I'm grateful to you for that."
He allowed Sammy time to digest his words. When he frowned and cocked his head, Donnie knew what was about to be asked. "'Was a believer'?"
Donald clutched his ring and didn't answer right away. He had not expected his old friend to pick up on that nuance. Sammy was smarter than he let on. Was it all part of the façade, or did he just not give himself enough credit?
He recalled their days doing homework together. Donnie would do his best to help him understand seventh-grade concepts, and Sammy would grow frustrated and give up on himself until Donnie would convince him to keep trying. Looking back on it, he could see where he had developed his powers of persuasion.
"Yes, 'was,'" he said. "She was... murdered a little over a year back."
"Oh... oh, my gosh Donnie. I am so sorry."
"That's why I became so determined to find you again," he found himself admitting. Inside, he felt horror as his tongue developed a mind of its own and spilled out everything at once. "Her murderer... wasn't human. I know that, but I couldn't tell anyone. They'd think I was crazy. But I know I could tell you. And I need your help. I need your help bringing her killers to justice before they kill again."
Sammy looked straight at him. "Is this blackmail?" he asked.
"No!" Donnie recoiled. "No. Even if you say no I'll carry your secret to the grave. I never even told Lisa, Sammy. And she was my wife."
Sammy took a deep breath and exhaled. Before he could say anything else, their dinner arrived. They ate in silence. Awkward silence, but necessary silence.
They both polished their plates clean, putting off the business at hand for as long as possible. Donnie realized they were both procrastinating when he used the last roll to swipe up the nonexistent juices from his clean plate.
"I spent my whole life sorting myth from truth," he finally picked up where they had left off. "Not enough to make people think I was crazy, mind you. I learned to keep my interests under the radar."
Sammy's look said he was not impressed. "I hadda keep my whole existence under the radar," he pointed out.
"I can understand why," he said. "People can't even treat someone born small like he's normal half the time. Imagine how they would react to someone who can change into the world's most dangerous predator."
"I ain't..." he stopped, considered what Donnie said, then shrugged in concession. "Okay yeah, I guess I am."
"And I also know you're not the only ones out there."
"Well, yeah," he said. "We ain't like in the movies. Look at normal wolves--their whole lives revolve around social structure. It's easy for our kind to organize and cooperate with each other. How else've we been able to keep ourselves mostly secret since farther back than recorded history? We look out for each other."
"That's not what I meant," Donnie said. "I knew that too, but I mean--you're not the only species that's an offshoot of humanity, or wherever you came from." From his briefcase he pulled a file folder. His hands began to shake as he presented it to Sammy.
"We don't really know where we came from either," Sammy went on before he noticed the folder. "What's this?"
"It's my wife's... it's the crime scene photos," he said. "Just look at the first two."
Sammy looked at him with a waver of doubt, but obliged. Donnie watched the furrowed brows as Sammy opened the folder and scanned the gory snapshots. His brows shot up as he realized what he was looking at. Not in disgust, no. Just surprise.
"Her killer wasn't human," he realized aloud. He closed the folder and put in on the table. "That's why you came to me."
Donnie nodded. "And it wasn't a werewolf either. I think it was a-"
"A vampire," Sammy confirmed for him.
"Two or three of them."
Sammy took a deep breath and leaned back. "This ain't good," he said. "Vamps and our kind don't get along. The movies got that part right. They ain't so organized or careful about coverin' their tracks. An' we don't eat humans, but they hafta to stay alive. When a person gets turned, their organs change. Their glands don't function as well as they used to an' don't produce hormones in the right mixes. So they gotta feed on human blood to... supplement."
"That's what I gathered from my research," Donnie said. "Lisa was following a lead the night of her death. I begged her to be careful, but they jumped her. The next morning a jogger found her body washed up by the river. I've been tracking their movement ever since. You're the only one I know who could actually deal with these... things."
Sammy kept his hands on the folder while he heard Donnie out. "Would you be willing to share all this with my alpha?" he asked.
"Your alpha?" Donnie asked. Despite his knowledge of Sammy's true identity, and his knowledge that Sammy was living in a community, he had always thought of his friend as being alone. He had suspected the others were also werewolves, but somewhere in his mind something had failed to connect and the thought of Sammy being someone else's underling surprised him.
Donnie had spent his whole life researching the supernatural. But he had always looked at it from the outside, from a safe distance. At the thought of walking into the midst of beings like Sammy, of no longer being an objective onlooker but a participant, he balked. "So what, he can label me a security threat and off me? No way."
"Odys- Nicholas ain't like that," Sammy said. "He trusts my word, an' if I vouch for you he'll believe me. Back in the day, before he was alpha, he spent a few years travellin' about an' huntin' vamps. He'll know what to do."
"What's there to know?" Donnie asked. "Right now they're holed up in a cave in Lost Creek Park. They're hibernating and laying low. I take you there, you go wolfman on them and rip their throats out in their sleep. It's that simple. We don't need to bring anyone else in."
"It ain't that simple, Donnie," Sammy insisted. "I can't do anythin' like that without my alpha's permission and definitely not alone. We're a family-"
"I used to be your family!" Donnie snapped. "I loved you like a brother, and then you ran off!"
Sammy seemed taken aback. "I loved you too, but... I couldn't stick around and risk bein' exposed. I was just a kid, Donnie. I didn't know what I was doin'. And if it had been anyone but you that'd found me..." He let the rest go unsaid.
"You know what, just forget it," Donnie said, snatching the file out from under Sammy's hands. "I don't need your help. I thought you just might make things easier. But if you're going to choose them over me..."
He shoved off from the bench and grabbed the check. "Good seeing you again," he said, only half-truthfully.
Sammy didn't follow him out, didn't try to stop him as he got in his car and turned the engine. Before pulling out, he lingered, waiting for his friend to come to his senses and come rushing out of the restaurant. But Sammy never appeared.
The truth was, he did need Sammy's help if he was going to come out of this alive. But he didn't care either way. Without his Lisa, he didn't have much reason to go on any more.
The vest mocked him.
Donnie sat in the driver's seat of his car, regarding the vest lined with homemade explosives. He'd made it himself, using the tricks he had picked up from some friends of his. The thing about guys who worked in forensics, they loved to talk about their work to anyone who would listen. And Donnie was a good listener.
With shaking hands, he put the vest on over himself. He wasn't suicidal. His friends in the psych department would have a lot to say about that if he was. But ridding the world his wife's murders took precedent over his own life. The vest was Plan B. If any of them woke up on him, then he would detonate and take them all out at once.
He was going to sneak into a lair of sleeping vampires, line the cave entrance with explosives, and bury them alive. Any that wouldn't be crushed under tons of debris would starve to death in a matter of days. That was the ideal. That was Plan A.
For the millionth time that day, he fingered the ring around his finger. Donnie believed in many things, but ghosts was not one of them. Throughout the history of mankind there had been countless billions who lived and died. If it were possible for people to come back after death, then the law of averages mandated that there would have to have been concrete sightings and documentation by now. The world would be filthy with spirits floating around everywhere. So he didn't believe his Lisa was a ghost out there somewhere. But he still indulged himself with the fantasy that if she was out there somewhere, then the band on his finger anchored her to him and provided him with a way to talk to her.
"Wish me luck, babe," he said to her before opening the car door and hopping out with a backpack full of homemade bombs. He slipped on the nightvision goggles and switched them on.
It wasn't a far walk to the mouth of the cave. He knew they were down there; the unmistakable smell of rotting corpses wafted out of the entrance. Vampires reeked of death, both their victims' and their own rotting bodies. No matter how quietly he tried to breath, adrenaline caused him to take deeper breaths. Had he always breathed this loud? His heart throbbed in his head so loud, they had to be able to hear it down there.
No turning back now. He had spent over a year planning this and he was not going to let anyone stop him. Not his own doubts, not Sammy's cowardice or his pack's own agenda. Down into the abyss Donnie Prescott descended, perhaps never to emerge.
It was cold as ice, cold and uncaring as nature could be. Water dripped from stalactites. The sound offered Donnie a strange sense of comfort. Irrational as it was, he couldn't help feeling that if the vampires could sleep through that sound, then perhaps the sound of footsteps would not awaken them. He had made it inside without altering them.
Four vampires, two men and two women, lay sleeping in a huddle on the ground in various states of undress. He recognized the newest recruit as a college girl who had been reported missing three months ago. They had turned her instead of just killing her like the others. Killing would have been the greater mercy. They were like animals, living only to eat and have sex. Had Lisa been turned, she would have killed herself rather than become a depraved murderer.
In an almost cartoony moment, Donnie felt the urge to gulp. He suppressed the urge and got to work.
The internet was a wonderful resource. It had taken only one online session to learn how to best ascertain the structural weak points in a cave and avoid them-- or, if one inverted the reasoning, how to exploit them to cause a cave-in. The first two bombs he planted at the entrance with no problem. Those would be enough to seal them in if it came down to it.
Treading lightly, he made his way around the vampires, giving them a very wide berth. One of them snorted and he froze. He winced as he watched one of the women roll over, revealing breasts covered with bite marks. But she was still asleep. Donnie remembered to breath again. A question crossed his mind--did the turning process eviscerate this woman's inhibitions, or had she always been like that? If the latter, maybe she had brought this on herself. Donnie was no moral judge, but it did serve as a lesson in caution.
He bent over to arm another bomb. Cautiously, slowly, he found level purchase for it and leveled it down to the ground. Just as he released his fingers around it, something clamped around his neck. Suddenly Donnie was in the air. He could not help shouting in shock as he realized the topless woman had been awake after all.
"What’s this?" she rasped into his ear. The hair on his neck rose when he realized she was sniffing him. "You smell... familiar."
Behind them, the others began to stir, awoken by the commotion. This was it. Donnie was screwed. But he still had the bombs on his vest, and the others were still in his backpack right underneath him, right at the woman's feet. All he had to do was push the button on the modified walkie-talkie, which would send out the signal that would trigger the explosives. A second press of the button would send the signal designed to trigger his vest. He stopped struggling and grasped the walkie-talkie.
"What's going on Cassie?" the girl said.
"Found this human sneaking around in our den," the woman explained. And then she said to him, "You smell like someone I killed."
Donnie froze. He had not expected this. He didn't expect them to remember their victims. They were just animals, they didn't care about who they killed... didn't they?
"The bitch came looking for us," she went on. "Stuck her nose into our business. So I ate her. I killed her and fed her to my boys. She screamed and screamed-"
"SHUT UP!" Donnie found himself screaming.
The fingers tightened around his neck. "And screamed," she said. "You should have taken her death as a warning. Now we'll do to you what we did to her."
"I was gettin' hungry anyway," a male voice said.
"You won't have the satisfaction," Donnie said, grasping as his final ounces of resolve. He grasped the walkie-talkie...
"Uh-uh," his wife's murderer grunted, before ripping the device out of his grasp. He gasped. She was smarter and faster than he thought. Without that he could not trigger the detonation.
"You're a smart one," she commended. "Too bad you're only big enough for a snack. Your blood should keep us going til the spring, though."
He heard fabric shredding and felt weight disappearing from his body. Opening his eyes, he saw two of the other vamps removing his vest and his clothes. In what he expected to be his final act of defiance, he kicked one of the males in the face.
"Bastard!" he screeched, grasping at his nose. With grimy, long nails he lashed out, slicing Donnie's unprotected chest open.
Donnie screamed. So much for going out with dignity.
"DONNIE!" a familiar voice echoed through the cave. Familiar but different. Throatier. The vampires froze and looked towards the entrance. Donnie managed to twist his head around enough to see three hulking werewolves blocking the way out. All three had their lips pulled back, slaver dripping and foaming from their exposed fangs. The frontmost had a long stem of hair coming off the back of his head which was woven into a braid. Sammy!
"This is none of your business, dogs," Cassie hissed.
"I'll say it's our business," one of the werewolves behind Sammy said. "The little guy's with us."
"You kill and eat humans," the third one, more serious-sounding, said. "We cannot allow that."
Donnie felt himself fall. His wife's murder had dropped him. He felt a surge of relief only to have it cut short by great pain as he fell directly onto a small but sharp stalagmite which impaled him right under his ribcage. For the second time that night, he screamed.
So did the vampires. Then the werewolves roared. The vampires charged at the werewolves, confident in their numbers and speed. Despite his pain, Donnie watched as Sammy grabbed one of the males by the throat and ripped his heart out of his chest with lightning speed. The oldest werewolf made just as short work of the other male, while the third struggled with the younger woman.
Cassie seemed to know her people had no hope and dashed for the cave exit while her companions died.
"NO!" Donnie screamed. "She's getting away."
The older one helped the younger kill the other female while Sammy turned to him. "She won't get far," he promised while the other two dashed out. The giant werewolf leapt to his side. He picked up the shredded vest. "What's this?"
"That was my contingency plan," Donnie admitted.
Sammy threw it away in obvious disgust. "Do you think your wife woulda been happy with this?" he asked. "D'you think she woulda wanted you to kill yourself in a suicide run?"
"Shut up!" Donnie shouted. "You didn't know her! Don't you dare pretend to know what she would have wanted!" He felt shock setting in but that could not suppress the rage rising up. Not at Sammy for being so presumptuous... but for being so damn right.
"I know you," Sammy soothed. That such a gentle tone could come from such a fearsome face... it was a dichotomy. An enormous paw wrapped around Donnie's hand and held it. "An' I know you could only have loved someone who was wonderful."
Lisa's smiling face materialized in his mind and it brought such relief. Donnie felt himself relax. His time had come, he knew it. At least he had Sammy by his side for his last moments. He had his brother again. "She was," he groaned, smiling despite the agony.
Sammy leaned in until they were almost muzzle to nose. Donnie felt hot breath blast him in the face. Dog breath. "This might not work," he said. "If it don't, I'm sorry for the pain, but it's your only chance."
"What is?" Donnie asked... right before Sammy leaned further down and sank his fangs into his shoulder. Donnie had thought he didn't have enough energy left for another scream. Turned out, he was mistaken.
Cassie's lithe feet barely touched the ground as she dashed through the woods. The thugs guarding the entrance had been child's play to elude. She had smelled their brutish stink even before emerging out of the cave and bounded up the steep side mountain before they even realized what was going on. She had five werewolves on her tail, but at her full speed she could just manage to elude them. Werewolves were fast, but vampires could move like the wind.
As soon as she found a river she knew her escape would be easy. Leaping into it, she swam downstream for nearly a mile before returning to dry land and continuing her exodus on land. She could smell humans just a few miles away. A town. The werewolves would be powerless to stop her there. They would not enter the town shifted, and in their human forms they weren't much more powerful than humans. She would enter the first house she found, kill everyone inside and take their clothes before moving on to the closest major city.
Already she had a plan. It was a good plan.
A road came into view. It would not be long.
But then the woods exploded. A giant brown mass came out of nowhere and flew into her, knocking her off her feet. Somehow, someway, one of the werewolves had found her. But he was alone. They'd split up? She hadn't anticipated that. Werewolves almost never split up. Packwolves were too cowardly to separate from each other.
But this one had. Cassie pushed herself out from underneath him and leapt up onto her feet. She bared her fangs and hissed when she recognized this one from the cave the one that had dispatched Alonzo like he was tissue paper. But she was more than strong enough to take him on. Compared to her, he was slow and lumbering.
Unlike Alonzo and the others she had turned, dead-ends with no control over themselves, she had potential to grow in power and strength. She had been turned by one of the most powerful of their kind--and charged with building her master a following. Because of these damn werewolves she would have to start over, but she had formed a coven once. She could do so again.
She could choose better candidates this time around. If she learned from her mistakes--and she always did--she could make better choices as to who to turn and build a more powerful coven. And once they were large enough in number, she would come back and have her revenge on these meddling creatures. They could not be allowed to get in her way again.
But first she would have to cleave her way through this one before his packmates could catch up.
He was still on all fours and getting back up when she leapt for his back. But from the woods exploded another mass of fur, impacting her side and knocking her off course much like the first one had. This one was smaller than the giant. Much, much smaller... and Cassie realized what it was.
It was the snack. The midget she had left for dead.
She screamed and tried to yank the tiny bundle of fur off herself, but the snarling screeching mass dug his nails in and clawed his way to her back. She twisted and turned, even dropped on the ground to try to roll him off. It took a good bucking, but she managed to knock his head against the ground and cause his grip to slacken. She spun off and rolled into a crouch, coiling for the next assault.
He recovered much faster than she anticipated, shaking off the blow to his head and rolling onto all fours to growl at her. He must have been freshly-turned--his body was bristling with excess energy, the transformative process healing him as quickly as she made the wounds. But that energy was finite. It was possible to wear a werewolf down, if they shed enough blood.
He leapt for her. She brought her claws up to meet his face, raking them over his flesh. She shifted to the side so his own momentum would push him past her, and as he kept going she latched onto his neck and sucked as much blood out as she could. Werewolf blood would give her indigestion later, but it would be worth it if she could kill this one.
And then she remembered the big one. All the while, he had just been watching. Cassie realized what he knew--that the midget had this under control. Her heart sank as she felt the snack shake her lose and leap onto her back. Claws wrapped around her throat... and squeezed.
Then she didn't have a throat any more.
Phoenix stood as the tiny bundle of feral energy completed his undertaking. The tiny brown-and-white werewolf shoved the dead vampire to the ground, spread his arms, and released a long, triumphant howl. From deeper in the woods, the other members of the Argo pack joined his song, congratulating his righteous victory even though they barely knew him.
Donald Prescott had avenged his wife--without the use of explosives, and more importantly, without the sacrifice of his own life.
"How do you feel?" Phoenix asked his friend... no, his brother.
Donnie looked up at him. Through all his changes, his eyes were the same. "Like I'm more alive than I ever was," he answered, looking down at his hands. "And not just because of this. Thanks to you... I can finally move on with my life."
"Yeah, about that..." Phoenix said, scratching at the back of his neck. "You're obviously gonna have to make some changes... Since I bit you, I'm responsible for you now."
"Yeah. I gotta teach you our ways, an' how to keep our secrets, an' help you adjust to our lifestyle. It's a bit transition... not somethin' you jus' gotta deal with one night of th' month. You're a whole new species now, with new instincts."
Phoenix smiled. "That's jus' the transformative rush." With all the energy Donnie had expended, he was destined to crash the first time he changed back.
He shifted his weight for a moment, wondering how best to present his idea. The giant werewolf felt like a little kid again, almost too shy to ask a question. "Mebbe you could... join th'pack... an' move in with me? I mean, us?"
Donnie looked up at him, eyes going wide. "Do you think your alpha would have me?"
Phoenix smiled a very wolfish smile. He felt like he had come full circle, in a way. "I think I could put in a good word."
"I think... that would be great!" Donnie returning the smile. "It'll be just like old times."
"Yeah," Donnie agreed, looking down at his hands once again. "Much better. The best of both worlds."