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A Wolf's Freedom
The wind blew the last hints of summer away and scattered tendrils of mist that grew over night. Soon the first rays of sunlight peeked out from over the distant mountains giving the sodden field a golden glow. For a moment Jewely stood there trying to soak in the warmth, but the coolness of the morning stopped her from feeling anything but the barest touch. She shivered as the wind picked up again and she started across the soggy ground the mud squishing uncomfortably under her shoes.
The sun had fully risen by the time Jewely had crossed the field, and started making her way up the incline to the metal bridge that crossed the canal. She leaned forward to make the steep climb with her heavy backpack. Mud had smeared her shoes, and clung to the tattered cuff of her jeans. Mud and dirt won’t hurt me, unlike most of the girls at school. You’d think it was deadly the way they shriek she thought with a grim smile as she stepped onto the bridge.
A loud crunch made her look down, and what little happiness she had disappeared with her smile. Where the middle of the bridge used to be was a hole. The edges were smooth, with metal frozen in the act of dripping, and unlike the surrounding area semi dry. Could someone have done this just to keep me from going to school? She thought remembering all the times she’d been “discouraged” from going to school. A locker full of raw meat, dog toys shoved in her desk, when those didn’t work broken bones, and other more unpleasant things. They couldn’t have done this, it takes a lot to melt steel plus the bridge is still standing so it wasn’t explosives though I wouldn’t put it past them to try it Jewely thought and took a step back.
She stood transfixed on the hole. Maybe it was…. Red glimmered on the ground as a shadow from a slow moving cloud passed from in front of the sun making its way to the mountains. Jewely sat down on the edge of the bridge and turned so the edge of the bridge was at her back rather than the gaping hole. A smooth red stone sparkled in the morning light sunk into the dirt in front of the bridge. She ran her finger lightly over the surface. The stone glowed silver, and Jewely sat there staring with her mouth open in shock. Why does all the weird stuff have to happen on the same day? She wondered.
Jewely looked at her watch, stood up and almost lost her balance. I missed the school bus, and I had Physics today. I don’t care why they did it, but what did I ever do to them! Every single day since elementary they have to do something. This is ridiculous I am getting over there if it kills me she thought and her backpack hit the ground with a thud and slid down the hill.
Picking up the thin stone she examined the width of the hole. I think I can make it, barely. Thank goodness Mom and Dad are shifters, even though I am not one she thought as she backed away from the bridge and down the bridge wishing she had more room that was not uphill. She tried to ignore the fact that there was no water in the canal and falling in meant at least several bruises or a broken bone with an almost impossible climb up the steep bank on either side.
She took a deep breath and started running up the bank. Her legs pumped rhythmically, but the climb was making her feel so slow that she pumped harder. In a blink of the eye she was at the top, and with all of her strength jumped.
Jewely found herself on the other side, and almost collapsed with relief. She staggered forward until she was off the bridge. It was a simple thing to think you can do something, and then actually pull it off Jewely thought awed. Blood dripped from her hand to the ground, and she loosened her grip on the stone grimacing with the pain. Her blood smeared along the edges of the stone, so she wiped it clean on her jeans as she walked away from the bridge to the forest.
The wind blew whipping her hair in her face as she struggled to put the stone in her jean pocket. Finally she succeeded as she past the first trees, and stopped. The forest was deadly still, no sound, no movement. Normally the birds were calling through the tree tops, insects buzzed, small mammals ran through the leaf litter, salamanders hid under rotten logs and larger mammals graced the heart of the forest.
In a moment she was running through the ancient trees trying to find the animals. She slowed to a stop listening for some sound of life. An inhuman shriek echoed among the trees. Mountain lion? She wondered as her heart thumped hard in her chest, and the rage filled sound came again from somewhere ahead of her. There is no way that is a regular mountain lion. It sounds similar but it’s not quite right. She moved slowly forward placing her feet with care trying not to step on one of the brittle branches littering the path. Jewely kept easing herself forward entail she came to the edge of the clearing, and stopped so that she could peak out from heavy foliage to the bright morning light of the clearing.
What the heck? She thought as the clearing came into focus. A mountain lion with golden tints in its fur screamed and attacked a big red scaly creature that was already bleeding profusely. The mountain lion latched on to the creature side and dug in with its back claws. The creature twisted and flung the cougar and lashed out barely catching it on its shoulder causing a long scratch. The mountain lion screamed, and the creature flinched shaking its head as if trying to clear its ears. Jewely wanted to cover her eyes as she watched the mountain lion walk forward to make the death blow. It brought back all the times she could do nothing as she watched the other shifters being picked on the streets, the kids that were normal at school but got picked on because they were different and the way she had to watch her own life slip out of control in front of her eyes every time she braved the outside world.
“Hey stupid cat,” Jewely yelled and stepped into the clearing. The courage turned its head and stared her in the eye. Its yellow eyes sparkled with menace and it turned and kept walking. Jewely got the feeling that after the mountain lion was done with the other creature, it was coming for her. The scaly creature feebly lifted his head and motioned for her to leave. Jewely bent down and picked up a few fist sized rocks that were scattered around the ground at her feet.
She pulled her arm back like she seen the softball players do at their practice, twisting her wrist at her ear brought it around and let it go. The rock grazed the mountain lion on the ear, and blood welled up. The mountain lion shook its head and continued to walk, and was a few steps to its goal.
I am so stupid she thought as she dropped the rocks and started running. Her heart started to beat faster and faster until she thought it would burst right out of her chest but she kept running. Everything seemed to blur then came back into focus.
The cougar growled as Jewely smashed into its side, and they went rolling into the bracken. They came to a sudden halt, and a low growling echoed in the silence. The cougar made a half hearted attempt break free, and Jewely shifted her weight bring her hands, or what should have been her hands, into focus. Large silver furred paws pinned the big cat down, and she gave her fingers an experimental wiggle. The toes on her foreleg moved. The cougar twisted out of her hold, and leapt out of her reach.
The cougar stared at Jewely the madness that plagued it before draining away. It turned away and gave one look back before disappearing into the underbrush. Jewely relaxed and shook the twigs out of her fur. The metallic smell of blood wafted on the breeze, and she sneezed. She gave the shadows one last hard look, and turned leaving through the hole in the bracken.
The red creature lay on the ground with its eyes closed breathing deeply. What do I do? She wondered as examined the torn up hide. One or two of the claw marks were deep, but most had stopped bleeding. Jewely gently nudged it on the head her body tense just in case it was healthier then it appeared. It opened its orange eyes and tensed.
Did you kill her?
Who said that? She wondered as she looked around pricking her ears for any sound.
Did you kill her? The voice was inside her head, and insistent.
Who? She wondered shaking her head.
Did you kill the mountain lion? The thought was diffidently male, and young, about the same age as Jewely.
Why would I do something like that? She wondered. The creature relaxed, and closed its eyes.
Hello? How am I supposed to help you? Jewely asked. A moment passed, and Jewely’s legs felt weak. That had freaked her out more then she’d ever care to admit. Her parents never talked about mind to mind communication, but then again they didn’t talk to her very often.
She started walking around the clearing, trying to find anything that might help. A pile of cloth caught her attention, and she walked toward it. If she could’ve she probably would have blushed, her cloths lay on the ground ripped. Instead of dwelling over it she picked up her shirt and jeans in her jaws leaving her underclothes on the ground.
The stone hit a patch of grass with as thud as she set the cloths on the ground. It matched the scales on the creature, except for the fact the silver strands weaving through the stone like veins. Something rattled in the bushes a few feet behind the creature, and Jewely’s head jerked up. Her hackles raised as the movement came closer.
Out hopped a rabbit and Jewely started to growl then stopped herself. The rabbit heard her and hopped back into the thicket. Jewely listened, and looked for any other surprise. A pile of neatly folded clothes were partly hidden under the bush the rabbit hopped out of.
Jewely ran to the cloths sniffing them. They smelled like the creature. Jewely glanced back at him, and knew that time was running out. She stepped into the bush and willed herself to be human again. Most of her didn’t want to. She could just run away, no more cruel pranks but she’d still be lonely. And right now someone needed her.
Jewely was back to being normal, and grabbed the boy’s green t-shirt from under the bush, and slipped it on. The t-shirt brushed her knees as she walked out of the bush, and back into the clearing. Jewely shivered as she walked over to the creature the cold turning her toes and nose red.
She tucked the shirt under her knees as she kneeled down on the ground, and gathered up her clothes. Jewely took stock of their situation. The bleeding on most of the gashes had stopped but a few still sluggishly bled, and she didn’t have any medical supplies, only two dirty t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a light jacket, and it was cold.
But the sun is shining so it should warm up a little she thought as she got up, and pulled her clothes leaving off her shirt, and instead zipped up her jacket over the long t-shirt. She rolled up her shirt, and pressed down on the deepest gash trying to stop the bleeding.
After several minutes the bleeding stopped, and she moved onto the next. She stepped on something cold and hard, and bent down to pick up the stone. Jewely had to put it somewhere out of the way, and set it on his shoulder. It started glowing a warm cheery campfire red flecked with silver light.
The gashes closest to the stone started healing and it spread along its side until all the lacerations disappeared like they had never been. Her knees gave out from under her and she landed hard. The scales shrunk and changed color, and Jewely turned around unzipping her jacket. She took it off, and held it behind her.
“Thank you,” he said as he took the jacket from her and she nodded
“Do you want your shirt back?” she asked keeping her eyes straight ahead.
“No, I’ll just grab my other clothes,” he said, and Jewely heard a rustling sound and looked at the little blue flower in front of her that had somehow made it unscathed. The flower was white on the edges and darkened to blue in the center. The silence made the rustling behind her stand out even more making her blush beet red. She stared at the flower trying to decide what kind it was.
“I never could remember plants very well,” she muttered
“Not everyone is good at everything,” he said making her jump.
“I know that, there is a lot of stuff I am bad at,” she stuttered and turned her head toward him slightly and then remembered he was getting dress. Jewely blushed and turned back toward the front.
“Its fine, I am dressed. See,” he said stepping in front of her. She looked up. He was wearing an old pair of jeans, but no shirt just her unzipped jacket that fit him better than it did her. She looked to the side embarrassed. I should say something or at least try to be friendly, Jewely thought and tried to smile. The corner of her mouth twitched, and fell down again. He smiled back brilliantly, and his blue eyes sparkled. Jewely caught herself staring up at him and blushed. The ground looked really good to sink down into right about then. Instead of sitting here feeling inadequate I should stand she thought. She legs were stiff at the joints, but she stood clumsily, and straightened to her full height. Her legs wobbled and buckled pitching her forward.
Firm arms wrapped around her stopping her mid fall. He shifted his body so that she was no longer in danger of falling. Jewely leaned against him for a moment but her knees were still rubbery.
“What’s your name?” she stammered the first thing that came to mind.
“Aidan, what’s yours?” Aidan asked his voice rumbled under her ear.
“Jewely,” she said her voice squeaky. They stood there for a moment more and Jewely stepped away. She looked around for a place to set down, and found nothing so sat back down. Aidan sat down in front of her, and studied her carefully his strawberry blond hair turned redder by the sunlight.
“Thank you,” he said after a moment.
“For what? I didn’t save your life the stone did,” she asked.
“You did, it was your power that saved me,” he said. Jewely just shook her head, and the world spun.
“Did you know that there is a special race of shifters?” Jewely shook her head, “They are the magic creatures in the myths, because most people don’t know about us. Everyone knows about regular shifters, but we are an amazingly well kept secret. Mostly it’s kept because nobody believes in dragons, unicorns, centaurs or the others anymore,” Aiden said.
“What am I?” she asked.
“Honestly, I only know that you are a silver wolf, you can heal and that you are one of us.” He said looking her in the eye.
“What are you?” Jewely asked her voice cracking slightly from held back tears.
“I thought it was obvious, you are talking to a dragon,” Aiden said gently smiling.
Jewely stared at the hole in the bush where the mountain lion and her crashed into the bush trying to figure out how to formulate her next question.
“Aiden, why was she attacking you?” she asked looking him straight in the eye.
Aiden’s face darkened with the pain of memory that Jewely knew way to well, and wished she hadn’t asked.
“Her name is Kristy. She…. ran away from home, and I found her two weeks ago, but…. She said she found a new home, and to go away. I left hiding nearby and waited until she thought I left. I followed her, the place is…” he shuddered, and closed his eyes.
“Horrible,” Jewely finished for him.
“Worse, much worse,” Aiden said pain making his voice ragged.
“You didn’t tell me why she attacked you,” Jewely said after a moment.
“I have no idea,” he said plainly sad and frustrated.
“You must really love her,” Jewely said wistfully wondering what her own life would be like if she had someone that liked her, even if it was just as a friend.
“She’s a pain, but she is my sister,” he said. Jewely blushed, and Aiden’s blue eyes had a question in them but Jewely just shook her head.
“Did you melt the bridge?” Jewely demanded.
“Yes,” he said looking ashamed.
“Why?” She demanded
“I knew there was another one of us in the area and I didn’t know if they would hurt Kristy, so I melted it,” Aiden said lamely
“Couldn’t they just jump, like I did?” she asked.
“Not one of my better plans,” he said
“You think? Anyway we should leave just in case your sister comes back,” Jewely said standing up and offered him her hand. Aiden took it and she pulled him up. Jewely turned to go, and was stopped short. Aiden still held her hand, she looked down at his hand, and looked up expecting him to get the hint, and let go.
He leaned in close and kissed her on the cheek. Aiden pulled back, and the red on his face rivaled his hair. Jewely’s silver eyes widened as a mottled red spread across her cheeks.
“Let’s go,” she said still beet red. That’s the smoothest line ever she thought sarcastically, and started walking. This time she made it to the edge of the clearing, and stopped. Jewely turned, gave Aiden a quick kiss on the cheek. She turned and walked away. No footsteps echoed behind her, so she paused in mid step, and Aiden walked right into her.
“Sorry,” they said at the same time, and Jewely motioned for him to go ahead of her. He stepped gracefully in front of her, and they both started walking again, and were soon out of the forest back out in the open.
“Where are we going?” Aiden asked as they stood there eyes watering from the sunlight.
“To my house, I don’t know about you but I am starved,” she said, and started running toward the bridge. Jewely jumped and landed easily on the other side. She moved to the side waving Aiden over. He landed on the other side easily.
“I am glad to see you made it,” she teased, and started walking again. After a moment she said “I am going to help you get Kristy back.” He didn’t say anything he just kept walking looking drawn and pale.
“We are going to be back to my house soon,” Jewely said wondering what was wrong.
Aiden gave her another smile, and her heart picked up speed. She grabbed his hand, and they ran off into the golden sunshine.