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Sundown, a Companion Short to the Twilight Saga
Flying is quite possibly the most spectacular thing on earth.
I beat my powerful, muscular wings, gliding higher and higher above the rapidly sinking sun. Behind me, Haley and Hannah, the twins, and Melody, rose in a perfect V formation. Any normal person below would think that we were just another flock of birds flying south for the winter.
Some of them, of course, might notice that this flock in particular was heading west.
*Yeah, but who’s counting?* Haley asked. *I mean, seriously. No one cares about a random flock of birds.*
I reminded her, *A random flock of birds carrying jeans and t-shirts in their talons. Nothing abnormal there.*
*Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,* Melody snorted.*
*And yet I pull it off so well!* I laughed.
Hannah, of course, was the quiet one. It wasn’t that she didn’t think or talk much. She just thought in images and feelings, not in defined words. Sometimes this was easier, but other times, I thought, it was a bit more troublesome to decipher.
The image of a gigantic hawk, perched in a pine tree and giving a very human raspberry, made me squawk in amusement.
*My pleasure,* Hannah chirped.
It was nearly sundown, and I considered swooping down and roosting for the night. Somewhere above the Olympic mountain range in Washington, we would take one night of rest before knocking out the flight north to Juneau in one fell swoop—no pun intended.
I searched the ground, almost a mile below, for a suitable clearing. The others, following my lead, began to spread out and sweep the forest as well.
*There’s a town about three miles south of here,* Melody informed me. *We could land just outside and rent a motel room or something.*
I angled south, not really changing my course towards the distant rocky coast, and surveyed the tiny town thoughtfully. My eyes, of course, belonged to those of a bird of prey, and were probably ten times more powerful than the average hawk or osprey. *Doesn’t look too big,* I said. *There might not have what we’re looking for.*
*Hey, man, all I need is a sleeping bag and a pillow,* Haley said defensively. She paused, then continued sheepishly, *and a heater and maybe some warm pajamas and a tent.*
If you’ve never heard hawks trying to laugh, it’s something you should definitely go out of your way to see.
A clearing flashed through my vision, sent by Hannah. *Yeah, that’ll work,* I decided. Wheeling in the sky, I led the flock closer to the distant town.
The pine forest below flew beneath me. I could catch hints of movement in the trees, no defined shapes, but sometimes, I could make out a flash of gray or brown that betrayed the occasional bear or elk or mountain lion. Were we in a carnivorous mood, we’d eat well tonight.
We reached the clearing quickly, and circled above, determining the best way to land. Things happened very slowly, and yet too quickly to do a thing about them.
*Thank god, I’m exhausted,* Melody squawked. She swooped down into the clearing. I could see her intent in our linked minds—she would dive until the last twenty feet or so, then transform to human in midair just above the treetops and drop to the ground, retrieving her clothes.
In the same instant, Haley saw something in the edge of her vision. It was far, far too large to be a wolf, and yet, it was one. It was silver, and flashed through the trees.
It didn’t see Melody until it was too late, and Melody didn’t see it at all.
Startled, the wolf roared, and leaped at Melody. She twisted out of the way, but not before the wolf sank its teeth into her wing.
She tumbled to the ground, thudding heavily into the earth. Without another thought-spoken word, we knew what to do.
Haley and Hannah swept into action, corralling the wolf back to the edges of the clearing. Their keening cries pierced the air. I was a little worried that this might attract attention, but my focus was mostly on Melody.
I performed the same trick that she’d been about to—I landed with a quick roll, and dashed to Melody’s side before she could begin to heal. I’d dropped my clothing somewhere in the trees.
Manipulating the speed of the healing process that seemed to affect us was something that I alone had mastered. I’d tried to teach it to the others, but they hadn’t gotten the hang of it. Melody thrashed on the ground, but she saw me out of the corner of her eye, and made an effort to hold still as I ran forward.
I grasped the wing firmly on both sides of the gaping wound. Blood seeped over my fingers, but you didn’t get to be my age without growing a stomach against that sort of thing.
I concentrated hard, and the air around my arms began to shimmer and twist as I prevented the gash from sealing closed. Melody’s wing jerked in my grasp, and I clenched the limb’s feathers, frantically running an eye over the bones and torn muscles. Holding my breath, I reached out moved two ligaments into place. Melody screeched in agony, and I wrapped my arms around the wing, holding it as still as I could. The healing energies sucked away from my arm, and hovered over the wound. I gritted my teeth as they began to knit flesh and broken bone together.
One of the twins gave me a warning cry. Still holding Melody’s wing in a vice, I twisted my head around, and nearly lost my grip.
It was no longer one wolf—it was the entire pack.
And from their size, and the intelligence in their eyes, I could tell that like us, they were Changelings.
There were five of them. The largest, and obviously the Alpha Male, stood point. He was enormous, a russet wolf with scary-looking teeth and claws. A smaller, sand-colored wolf stood in the beta position, although from his body language, I could tell he was communicating with the protected silver wolf in the back. Two darker-colored wolves stood in the left wing and right third position. The silver wolf remained shielded behind the Alpha, in the center of the V. All five wolves were staring at us in shock, teeth bared and hackles raised.
I felt Melody squirm slightly beneath me, and released her. I needed to communicate in bird form. With barely a flicker, I released the pent-up energy inside me, and transformed back into the red-tailed hawk.
*WHO ARE YOU.* It was not a question, it was a demand, and I put all the fury and power into those three words that I felt at the attack of my—MY—flock.
The Alpha moved to step forward, but the twins hissed at him, flaring their wings and gnashing their beaks. The Alpha placed his paw back on the ground, tremors of restraint running through his body.
*Hannah, Haley, stand down,* I told them privately, so the wolf chieftain couldn’t hear.
*My name is Jacob Black,* the wolf said. *We meant no harm. We didn’t know that—*
*Meant no harm?!* Haley interrupted incredulously. I knew that only we could hear her, but I hissed, *Shh!*
*—you were shape-shifters.*
I could sense their confusion and tension, roiling from the pack through Black.
*I understand. We do not wish to hurt you. However, this attack on my family cannot be tolerated,* I said coldly. The silver wolf, presumably in response to this, whined slightly at the Alpha. He turned his head, without moving his eyes from us, and yipped sharply. The farthest dark wolf seemed to reply silently, and the Alpha nodded.
*It was a horrible mistake,* Black said, placating. *Does your friend require a doctor?*
It was my turn to be shocked. *A doctor? One you trust with the secret of—* I thought of the idea of shape-shifting, how coveted and precious it was to us, and wondered if it was the same for them.
Melody, hopping forward, whispered, *It was a mistake, Julia. I saw the wolf too late, it was just as freaked as I was. The bite was only a defense mechanism, I’m sure of it. Let it go.*
Black seemed to be waiting for me, allowing me to think it over. *We do not require a doctor,* I told him finally. *She does not believe your wolf attacked her with intent. I believe her,* I said firmly.
Suddenly, the silver wolf let out a bark. It craned its head over the Alpha’s shoulder, it’s eyes wide. In excitement, it reared up on its hind legs. Black yipped out a command, and the silver wolf fell to the ground.
*Is something amiss?* I asked coolly.
The wolf pack grew jittery and anxious. The Alpha turned, and conferred with the silver wolf. It occurred to me that the silver wolf might in fact be the Beta.
*Makes sense,* Hannah said. *They’re protecting her.*
*Her?* I asked. *How do you know it’s a “her”?*
Hannah sent an image—a close up of the astonishment on the silver wolf’s face just a moment before. Connected with it was the memory of the words I’d just said: “She” does not… attacked “her”…believe “her”.
*Of course!* Melody exclaimed. *She’s probably the only female in the pack. And they way they’ve been acting, all cautious-like—what did he say? He didn’t know we were shape-shifters? If the size didn’t give it away, then how do we know they knew at all?*
I nodded mentally. *It makes sense.*
Black turned back to me.
*Please, allow us to—* he hesitated *—extend a hand of hospitality. I’m sure you’ve journeyed a long way. Come to dinner,* he finished, sounding rather pathetic, as though he knew it was a flimsy offer. *We can offer room for you to sleep and eat. It’s not enough to amend Leah’s mistake—honest though it was—but we’d—*
*We’d appreciate it immensely,* I said instantly. I supposed that this was the best offer we’d get, and I sensed true sincerity in his words. I still figured that the small town we’d seen earlier didn’t have a motel. *Where?*
Black broadcasted an image of a one-story ranch with a beat-up Volkswagen from at least three decades ago in the driveway. *You’ll see a sign for the Quileute Indian Reserve,* Black said. *Go there, and we’ll meet you at the house.*
I sensed a hidden intent in his words, something he hadn’t meant to convey. *Yes. But who are you going to tell about us on your detour?* I snapped. A little bit accidentally, my wings ruffled, and my talons flicked the ground, making grooves in the hard earth.
Black worded his response carefully, but he grew flustered. *Friends who can be trusted with your secret. We have entrusted them with ours. They might want to meet you. If it’s all right with you, of course.*
*You should bite his head off, Julia,* Haley hissed, giving the Alpha her best bird-of-prey glare.
I’ll admit, I considered it for a second. But these wolves were going awfully far out of their way to make sure we were on peaceful relations. They wouldn’t “show” us to someone, unless they were sure we wouldn’t be offended by them.
As it turned out, I was dead wrong.