Kitty Goes to War Page 11

We did not move with stealth. We touched trees, broke twigs, scuffed our bare feet through pine needles and dirt. I checked for landmarks—trees, mountain peaks, the sun moving low in the west. I didn’t want to get too far from the traps, but we had to get far enough out that the rogues would have a chance of catching our scent. So we wandered aimlessly in a fan pattern, between the trap and where the body of Estevan had been found. If we didn’t catch up with them soon, they might solve our problem by killing off each other. That wouldn’t feel much like a victory.

An hour later, the sun was starting to set, the woods turning shadowy in the dusk. I wasn’t worried about nightfall. We could handle ourselves fine in the dark. But this would be so much easier in daylight.

“Come on, guys,” I muttered.

Then a stray breeze shuddered through the pines, carrying a taint with it. Sour, musky, male—urine. Something that didn’t belong here had been marking. We’d smelled all sorts of things: rabbits, squirrels, deer, foxes, a bear, and all the other creatures that normally stomped through the woods. But this was different, thick and alien, and it made my muscles clench and my hindbrain scream: foreign werewolves.

Becky looked at me, and we both shivered.

“That’s it,” I said. Becky undressed, quickly shoving down her pants and panties and pulling off her shirt. She handed the clothing to me, and I stuffed them in the pack. She started shifting without a word. Just a soft grunt as her back arched and her limbs flexed, dropping her to her knees. She looked up, pointing a wolf’s snout to the sky. The Change poured over her like water, flowing from one form to the next. She made it look easy, painless. But that was only because she’d been doing this a long time. The Change was never painless. Not fighting it only made it less so.

My own inner Wolf called to me, struggling, wanting to join her. I breathed in and held her still.

In moments, the human Becky was gone and a large wolf shook out her gray and tawny fur, stretched her sleek body, and looked at me. Still the alpha, even if I had only two legs.

I sighed. “Here we go.”

She ran ahead, pausing a moment to urinate. Now if we could get upwind of them, let them get a whiff of that, they’d be on us in seconds. And wouldn’t that be fun?

Becky loped on, and I ran after her.

Chapter 5

WE FOLLOWED the slope of a hill until it crossed into a narrow valley, where we lost the scent, so we doubled back. Becky covered more ground, crisscrossing ahead of me, nose low, tail out like a rudder. I was more cautious, looking around, searching stands of trees and gaps in the forest for flashes of movement, testing the air with every breath. Becky continued marking our presence.

We found them again, traces on the air, strange fur and musk. Becky sat back on her haunches, tipped her nose to the sky, and howled. The thin, piercing sound echoed, filling the woods, seeping into the stones of the mountain itself. Anyone within miles could hear it. The others standing watch at the trap would be able to hear it. The other wolves had to know we were here.

She howled again, another somber, falling note. Here we are, this is our land, we’re here! the howl said. Howls marked territory, helped members of the pack find each other, and warned other packs away—or offered a challenge. It was an existential declaration, as well as being primeval, mysterious, and maybe overly romanticized. But I could understand why people were entranced by wolf howls. I wanted to join her, but my human lungs and voice wouldn’t do justice to the call.

Her howls might also be like waving a red flag. The hairs on my neck were tingling, my shoulders bunching. Becky had started pacing again, nose to ground.

Then the answer came, a clear howl in a voice I didn’t recognize, waving a flag of its own. It was close.

I nodded back the way we’d come and called, “Hey, let’s get going.” I wanted to be heading toward the trap instead of away from it when the army boys started following us.

She raised her head, glanced at me as I jogged back up the hill, and set off, trotting in graceful wolf strides. She quickly passed me and moved out ahead, and I followed. Testing the air, I could smell the rogues even more strongly. We’d found them, but I couldn’t see them, couldn’t guess where they might come from, and that made me nervous. More nervous. I glanced around, not wanting to get caught in tunnel vision, even as I tried to move quickly.

Becky spotted them first, or at least one of them. She stopped and swung to our right, standing tall, her ears pricked forward and her hackles stiff, all the hair on her back standing up. When I looked, I saw a shape dodging trees—a shadow in the growing dusk, with four legs, a furred outline, taking huge, loping strides. Maybe a hundred yards away, but it was hard to tell distance because the creature was massive. It might have been the biggest wolf I’d ever seen. As a human, he’d be over six feet tall, well over two hundred pounds.

He might have been even bigger, and even closer.

Becky was still staring. Not that I could blame her—I’m sure he was very handsome. I ran past her, slapped her shoulder, and yelled, “Come on!”

They were flanking us. I looked left and found the second one, this one silver, running alongside us, not racing, just keeping us in view. One was still missing. He’d be either right behind us or right in front us, waiting to ambush.

Shit, we might be in trouble.

“Go, Becky, go!” Our job now was to run for the trap and hope it sprang according to plan. Ben would recognize Becky and tell Stafford and Shumacher not to shoot her. We could do this.

By running, we were only encouraging them. But since they were wolves and not human, my plan to stop and talk reasonably with them was out the window. In the wild, a pack of wolves would work in shifts to run their prey to exhaustion, then strike. If that was their plan, we could outrun them and hope they didn’t smell the trap. But that depended on whether or not they were looking at us as prey.

They might have had something else in mind.

I could run fast—I had some of my Wolf’s speed and stamina. But I couldn’t run as fast as I could as a wolf, as Becky was running now. She pulled ahead of me, and my own Wolf growled and leapt, wanting a chance at that power, to shift and escape. No, not yet, I couldn’t let go, I couldn’t drop the backpack.

The two wolves angled in, closing in on us. They were both huge, especially next to lithe Becky. This wasn’t going to be much of a fight. But we were faster.

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