They were close. She could hear the hounds baying as they caught her scent. She could smell the musk of the hunters who followed them. If they got too close, there would be no loosing them. They would catch her, then kill her.
She gathered all four feet beneath her and ran. She had no time for anything else. There would be no backtracking, no laying down of false trails, or for any of the other tricks that would throw them off her scent. She had no time.
Her world was nothing more than the pounding of her heart, the rhythm of her feet hitting the ground and the trees that rushed by.
Her only hope was to put as much forest between herself and them. She didn’t dare think about who they were, or what they had meant to her. She couldn’t afford to let the grief consume her. Her life depended on it.
It didn’t take long for her to for the hunters to fall behind. The same could not be said for the hounds. The dogs were almost nipping on her heels. No matter how hard she ran, they were still closing the distance between them. These dogs had been trained to relentlessly run down prey. They had been conditioned to do so from the day they were born. She has only had a few hours to learn how to be a wolf.
If only there was a creek or river that she could use to make them loose her scent. If only there was time for her to change back into a girl. If only she knew how.
Her only hope was to get as deep into the forest as she could and prey that there was a point where the hunters would not pass beyond.
From the time before she could walk, she had been told stories about the things in the forest. Those tales wound themselves inside her head. Her aunt had filled the evenings with yarns of the dark and unnatural things that lurked in the shadows of the trees. Things that always waited to pounce on the unwary.
Naughty children were particularly delicious, she had often been told.
She had no idea if any of it was true, and it didn’t matter. There might be something dreadful in the wilds, and then, there might be nothing. It might kill her, and then, maybe it wouldn’t. There was no way for her to know for sure. But she did know, those who hunted her, people whom she had known her entire life, most certainly would end her life.
Trees grew larger the deeper she went in. The undergrowth became more dense. Branches clawed at her fur and the ground became uneven beneath her feet. Having more legs meant only that there was more ways to trip.
She burst through the trees and skidded to a halt. A deep ravine split the earth open before her. It was too wide to jump and too deep to climb. She could go left or right, and she picked one.
She did her best to hurry, but the uneven stone forced her to walk. The granite edges were uneven and unstable for her to do anything other than to walk.
She came to a dead end before long. Looking up at the crumbling wall of stone before her, she sighed. It was over. There was no where else she could go.
Her tongue rolled out of her mouth as she panted to catch her breath. The baying of the hounds sounded on the air, and the hunters would not be far behind them. Every muscle in her body begged for rest, and she lay to rest, first on her belly, then on her side. She had nothing left to do but wait. They would find her soon enough and end it.
Even wolves can cry.
The cold seeped from the rock and into her fur. She didn’t notice that the cries of the dogs are her trail faded away and ceased. There was a part of herself that didn’t care. She didn’t even hear the sound of the person approaching her. Feet covered in leather boots appeared before her eyes and by then it was too late.
Gentle hands rubbed her ears and she whimpered at the touch.
“It’s okay, little sister.” A deep voice said. “You are safe here. Welcome home.”