Every year, spring brings new life and new opportunities, but with these also come new threats, new dangers. On a warm spring night, deep within a Montana forest, yet another of these primal dramas has come to fruition. Flora and fauna which had established their own footholds on life are trampled and pushed aside underneath three werewolves without a second thought. At this moment, The Chase is their only concern.
This deep within the forest, the green foliage is dense enough to snap back in the face of the immense brown werewolf charging his way through it. But he shrugs off the blows, his drive and focus more effective than any painkillers. His fur catches in the branches, leaving behind coffee-colored knots snared amongst the leaves, and even that barely slows down his pace. He feels like half a tree is tangled up within the braid that hangs off the back of his head. But as great a nuisance as the forest growth can be, it has to be doubly hindering for his quarry ahead. The disrupted plant life offers a trail for him and his packmates to follow. He inhales the scent of his objective and exhales determination. He has determination to spare.
The prey, by contrast, reeks of salty acrid fright, and that aggravates him.
A seven-foot giant, his name is Phoenix by pack custom. With brute force he plows the path clear for another werewolf behind him, a grizzled old warrior with a dirty-blonde pelt that's laced with countless scars from countless battles. And darting on all fours through the underbrush is one just as diminutive as Phoenix is immense, brown-backed and white-bellied, no taller than four feet when he stands. They are called Hatchet and Jackrabbit, Phoenix's battle-mentor and best friend, respectively. The trio functions as if guided by one mind concentrated on their goal, their teamwork guided more by instinct than coordination. Pack hunters, werewolves are, and their instincts tell them not just to catch and devour prey for food, but to look out for their own kind.
"We're catchin' up," Phoenix declares between gasping lungfuls of air. The chase has gone on for a good five minutes since the first sighting of their target. His muscles sing with the release of pent-up energy; his body reverberates with exhilaration as instincts are indulged. Every fiber of his being tells him Chase!, and he does not fight it. It is a wonderful sensation, the body wanting something, down to cellular level, and being able to do something about it. It is not indulgence... it is harmony.
"But if he makes the river, we risk losing him," Hatchet points out, his growl of a voice betraying no emotion. Always frank, Hatchet is, no matter when faced with victory or defeat. The old man had seen too many of both to get emotionally worked up about either, he always says.
Phoenix drops down to all fours, shifting gears from run to sprint. "Don-er, Jackrabbit!" He spares a glance to his brother, who has become a blur of motion. "Go on ahead, see if you can slow him down any!"
"You sure the kid's ready for that?" Hatchet asks. "He's only been a werewolf a few months."
Phoenix spares the wind for a chuckle, despite the seriousness of their mission. "You haven't seen him fight like I have."
"The secret is years of suppressed rage at the world!" Jackrabbit says before hurtling off.
"Kid's fast," Hatchet observes. "Still think it was stupid of you to bite him."
"I a'ready told you. Didn't have a choice. He was dyin'."
"People die all the time, Phoenix. You should know that better than most. You gotta learn to let go, not cling to them tighter. Otherwise you'll end up insane. I've seen it happen to too many of my brothers."
"Then why are you out here with us?" Phoenix snaps.
Hatchet leaps onto a tree, slamming his paws into the wood with enough force to make it crackle. Splinters fly, but before they hit him, he rebounds off in a vertical leap that brings him up alongside Phoenix. His backpack shifts to one side, but with a shake of his shoulders he slings it back into position. "Maybe because I saw that look in your eye and knew I'd be in for a show tonight."
Phoenix has no idea what to make of that, so he lowers his head and pushes ahead. He has more stamina by virtue of youth, but the old man is able to defeat him in a fight. Hatchet must have been something to see in his prime. Phoenix counts himself lucky to be training under him. ...Not that he plans to go off and fight in several wars, as Hatchet had.
His life has enough violence in it.
Jackrabbit's howl intones in their ears. It is a signal; Phoenix's heart sinks.
"There's still a shot!" Hatchet rumbles. "He's not gonna swim deeper into our territory, he's gonna swim out. The river bends up ahead. If we go straight, we may cut him off!"
"Let's go then!"
Phoenix's muscles throb with that surge of hope a final chance always generates. He and Hatchet charge forward, collecting Jackrabbit at the river's edge. The trio leap across the babbling stream of water that has already, treacherously, washed away the scent of their target. They emerge sopping wet from the river, pausing to shake the water out of their coats. The excess weight would slow them down and tax them faster.
They resume the manic pace, arcing their path to meet the river on the other side of the bend. Jackrabbit stays by their side now--if the target is still in the water when they find him, his speed will mean nothing.
The river still masks their quarry's scent, and the moon's sliver provides barely enough illumination on the shimmering surface. But, in the very corner of his eye, something interrupts the dance of light. His head snaps toward the source of that disturbance, a dark mass gliding through the water as quiet as possible. Clever.
He swerves to intercept. Hatchet and Jackrabbit follow his lead. The target sees them coming--and now there is no more margin for error on either side. He splashes through the water, propelling himself with all his might. But the water here is shallow. Phoenix leaps for the swimmer, landing directly atop him and bringing the full brunt of his weight down.
The swimmer struggles, but Phoenix holds him down in the water. His intention is not to drown, but to weaken; Phoenix does not intend to kill, but to educate. For this prey is no mere ravin, but another werewolf.
A million bubbles emerge from the water, carrying a barely-managed growl as they reach the surface. The trespasser twists and brings his claws to bear, but by now he is already weakened by a burning lack of oxygen. Phoenix, by contrast, can still breathe and feels a second rush of adrenaline to make good use of that air. The other's claws rake at his chest and arms, but he lacks the strength to get past Phoenix's fur.
Hatchet joins them in the water and grasps the flailing arms. With one smooth twist of his experienced hands, their enemy is immobilized. Phoenix makes a mental note to ask Hatchet about that move later as the two haul their opponent out of the water. The stranger coughs and sputters and labors to re-prime his lungs as they dump him onto the ground. The trio surround their enemy and howl a signal to the rest of the pack-- the trespasser has been captured, and he will pay for his crimes.
Phoenix clutches the captured werewolf by the scruff of his neck and raises him up to look him in the eye. He assesses the trespasser. This is the "big bad wolf" who had tried to claim a corner of their territory, and mauled a member of his pack? The stranger is unremarkable in size and appearance, his coat so dirty that even a good swim has done little to clean off the grime. This is an absolutely pathetic being. Any other situation, his appearance would evoke pity from Phoenix, even compassion--but he has hurt someone Phoenix loved, and that makes him an enemy. Contempt curdles Phoenix's voice into a snarl. "Not so tough now, are ya?"
The trespasser says nothing, keeps his eyes averted. He knows he is beaten. But acquiescence is not enough to abate Phoenix's rage, not at this point. He drops the trespasser and catches him mid-fall with his knee, undoing any progress the trespasser made in restoring rhythm to his lungs.
Jackrabbit is shocked by the violent turn of his friend. Phoenix has always been protective of his loved ones, but he has never seen such a vindictive side from him before. But then, this is the first time he has ever seen Phoenix fail to prevent an attack. As children, Phoenix protected him from bullies, and even back then, his sheer size would intimidate them without needing violence. "Phoenix..." he starts to say, but Hatchet places an arm before him.
"Let him get this out," the old warrior says, and Jackrabbit knows better than to argue with his senior.
Phoenix slashes his claws across his enemy's face repeatedly. "No, I guess you're only tough when beatin' up little girls!" The stranger's blood splatters everyone, but Phoenix doesn't notice. "Betcha a stupid bully like you woulda thought twice if you'd known Madison was the alpha's niece, huh? Now, everybody in the pack wants your head. But for me, it's personal. You might as well've mauled my own little sister, an' you're gonna see a brother's rage before we even get back to the pack!"
The giant werewolf primes his arm for another blow. His muscles quiver with energy, and he focuses it all into his hand. He splays his hand to ensure the pointed claw at the end of each finger strikes with painful precision. Werewolves can heal as a by-product of the transformation process, and Phoenix wants to give his enemy scars.
But Hatchet leaps between them and grabs his arm. "That's enough!" he commands with a tone Phoenix can not bring himself to disobey.
"You made your point," the elder explains. "Your rage is a good thing Phoenix, it'll keep you alive and keep your packmates safe. But never ever let it control you. Harness it, utilize it, but don't succumb to it."
The soldier's words sink in, and Phoenix realizes what he has done to himself. His ears wilt and he lowers his head. "Yes sir."
"I'm impressed, though, Phoenix. I didn't think you had that kinda fire in you."
"Only when someone hurts the people I love." He shoots the stranger another glance and feels the rage start to bubble up again. This time, though, he anticipates it--and reigns it in.
"Let's take him back to the ranch," Hatchet says. "The pack will probably do to him everything he did to Madison."
"Fine by me," Phoenix says. He pulls the trespasser back onto his quivering feet.
"Hell of a show," Hatchet mumbles to himself as he pulls a chain out from his backpack. As he winds it around their prisoner's wrists, he looks him straight in the eye. "Betcher glad you didn't kill the girl," he says with a deceivingly conversational tone. "Otherwise, I couldn't have held the big guy back even if I'd wanted to."