Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Monster

Summary:
I'm nothing but a monster burning in a hell that only exists in my head. There's no hope left until one harmless glance chances logic and binds two eternal enemies together in a twist of fate. Can the escape from this hell be found in an infuriating dimpled grin? Or is this another dark, dirty trick of my own mind? A forbidden passion, heat, and intense anger—this is no fairytale.


Notes:
[Disclaimer: Monster is an originally plotted fic. The ideas within this fic are not to be copied in any way, shape, or form—I have not given my consent to any manner of copying. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the intellectual property of their respective owners. All canon concepts and characters are the property of the Twilight Saga's author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. Similarities are for the sole use of fan fiction, and no profit has been or will be benefited from the posting of this fic.] Emerging Swan Award 2012, nominated into Fandom Choice Awards.


57. Burning Up

Rating 0/5   Word Count 6456   Review this Chapter

"I'm burning up
In the fire of my soul
I'm burning up
There is no way I can stay in control."
- The Expendables.

Chapter Fifty Seven

Burning Up

The ground is firm, hard, and cold. I breathe in the musty scents. My eyes pick out tiny dust particles swirling through the air, trapped in golden beams of dappled light that filters through the cracks in the worn walls. I stretch my senses out, drawing in the grassy scent of hay.

Beside the stacked piles of banded hay bails, something dangles. It's a weightless shape floating inches above the ground, just barely out of reach. I lean my weight forward, taking a slow step toward the shape. Instinct charges my senses, but the usual icy clarity doesn't follow. I squint through the shadows thrown by the beams of light, trying to make sense of the figure.

My feet continue to move, but my body doesn't. My shoulder jerks as I take another stride, stubborn and solid. I grit my teeth, a soundless snarl forming on my tongue. I slam my weight forward—once, twice, three times—before impatience gets the best of me and I shoot my arm out, straining for the shape.

I have to stretch and stretch, extending my body through the air until my fingers brush the shape. It's sticky and hot, leaving a wetness behind on my skin. My eyes narrow as I rub my fingertips together, pulling my hand back to my flared nostrils. Before I breathe in, something jolts inside me, sending my eyes upward.

Two familiar pairs of chocolate eyes peer down at me, clouded with emptiness. They see straight through me, planted in empty faces with slack jaws. Two limp bodies twirl around and around in tune with the spinning of the heavy rope constricting their curved necks. They're bloody rag dolls strewn up on a display of unexpected violence.

As I take in the sight of them, a hiss races around the barn. I can't move my head to make out the sound. I only hear it in the air, bouncing off the walls. Another starts seconds later, overlapping the first. I try to snarl, but the sound only trembles in the sides of my mouth. My gaze darts around as I sink into a defensive crouch. I run my eyes down the bodies of Sam and Emily, raking my gaze across every inch of hay and dirt.

I find my answer in a blotch of scarlet. The color distracts my gaze, oozing out to create a puddle of crimson from the blood trickling off the toes and fingers of the victims above. The light glints in the puddle, catching an image and freezing it in the center.

This time, my snarl tears through my throat and echoes through the entire barn. My neck muscles twitch as I regain control and whip my head around to glare into the burning red of Blondie's narrowed eyes.

She smiles at me with a deep satisfaction, her lips parting to show her stained teeth. Lifting a hand to her lips, she widens her smile and darts out her venom-coated tongue, cleaning off the crimson from her marble skin. Disgust churns my stomach. Every part of me buzzes, dying to attack, but I can't. I jerk my body again, struggling against the invisible force cementing me in place.

In the heat of my struggle, the blonde leech raises her opposite arm. My movements slow before coming to an abrupt stop. My stomach contracts at what she shows me.

Our hands, warm russet and ghostly white, weave together and leak identical streams of red.

I shoot upright, my eyes snapping open as I twist around and lunge for Blondie's unprotected throat. My hands fly through thin air, crashing into the seat just above the surface of fluffed hair. The body beneath me freezes in place and two hands extend out to the sides, raised in surrender.

"Whoa there! I didn't mean to wake you up that quick."

I glance down, studying the mixture of surprise and amusement in Emmett's expression before slowly sliding back down to lay flat against him. I breathe in for a moment, tasting the wet, grassy flavor of the morning air. It swirls in my nostrils, clean and untainted.

Breathing a short breath of frustration, I pull myself back into reality. Emmett cocks an eyebrow, his lips twitching. I return the smile, shaking my head.

"You're innocent."

Emmett chuckles, slipping his arms around my waist and resting his hands on the small of my back. "So you didn't feel that?"

I hold his gaze for a long moment. He cracks another dimpled grin in the silence, full of irresistable innocence. I snort, dragging the blankets around my bare skin, abandoning the comforting chill and rolling into my stomach.

"Damn, you could've at least waited for me to wake up first."

Emmett blinks, watching me for a long moment. As he catches on, he smirks and shrugs, his broad shoulders ramming up against the side of the car. "Couldn't help myself."

I raise an eyebrow. "You're kidding."

"Of course I am." He taps his knuckles against his chest. "This hot stuff waits 'till you just can't resist any longer."

"We'll see about that," I mutter, flashing him a playful wink. I reach for the hem of the blanket and tug it a little higher.

"Aw, come on, babe." Emmett sighs as the blanket slides further away from him, his shoulders slumping in mock disappointment. "I thought we were starting to play fair."

A half-smirk curves my lips. "And what does this 'fair' mean?"

"That I tell you when you have missed calls?"

"The missed calls to my imaginary phone. Yes, don't forget the deathly important shit."

"Not to your phone." Rubbing the back of his neck, Emmett snakes a muscular arm around the bent seat and pulling it back with a phone in his palm. His thumb gently glides across the screen as he scrolls, focusing until he finds what he's looking for. I narrow my eyes as he holds the screen out for me.

"Recognize that number?"

I run my eyes across the digits, racking my brain for any match. I frown, looking up at Emmett questionably. "No lightbulbs going off."

"Really?" Emmett laughs under his breath, sliding his free hand through his hair. He passes off the phone to me before leaning back against the side of the car. "It's your father."

My muscles bunch, struck with a strange sensation of both hope and indirect loss. "My father's dead."

Emmett stays quiet for a long moment. His stare fixes on the side of my face, probing and searching before he clears his throat. "Uh, I meant Sam. He called around to Carlisle and . . . he wants to talk to you, but I let you sleep. He sounded pretty worried."

"Shit." I clench my hands, hearing my knuckles pop as I tap the green 'call' button. I press the phone to my ear, taking Emmett's hand in my own to avoid breaking anything as the high-pitched ring pierces my eardrums.

Heat crawls up my spine with each ring. Emmett squeezes my hand, offering silent reassurance. I breathe through my mouth, trying to absorb his effortless calm. My eyelids fall shut as the last few rings echo through my skull.

And then there's a click and fumbling bumps and crackles before a familiar deep voice speaks from the other end.

"Hello?"

I swallow, clearing my dry throat. "It's me."

After a long silence and a few shuffles, Sam's words come through the phone, stiff and unsure. "I've called everywhere and then had to wait an hour to hear from you. What's going on? Where are you?"

"I was told there's something going on," I say slowly, unable to hide my underlying irritation at his sudden interest. "What do you want?"

"It's. . . you're due for a patrol."

I snort, my teeth grinding together. "A patrol, is it? Or is this King Jacob and Queen Nicole dragging me back there, in a display of their undeniable power?"

Sam sighs heavily. "There have been recent vampires scents on the rez again this morning. None of the patrols got anything though and we need as many of us on patrol as we can get today, so. . ."

The rest of his words trail off, blocked out by the blaring roar in my skull as my veins come to life, adrenaline coursing through them. My body locks up as the wolf in me stirs, dying to stretch her paws and sink her teeth into diamond-hard flesh and shred it to bits. I almost lunge out of the open door and throw myself right into the wolf, but the cold shock of Emmett's hand curled against my own brings me back to reality.

I glance at our hands then up at him. My mouth opens to speak, but I can't remember how to talk. Emmett smiles, chuckling at my expression.

"Go on," he encourages. "I should be getting back soon anyway."

With a final squeeze, Emmett pulls my hand away and darts out of the back, pausing only to pull on his clothing before heading around to the front. My eyes follow his every movement, drawing in the sight of him. I haven't only forgotten how to speak, but now I can't even remember how to move my feet, what makes the Jeep feel so deserted, or why the hell my 'I love you' lingers on my tongue but never makes it past my lips.

"Jordan?"

Sam's voice snaps me back into reality. A rush of air whistles through my nostrils, awakening my senses. I push the blanket away and twist, feeling my feet squish into the damp ground.

"On my way."

I toss the phone behind me, hearing it thud against something, although I don't stick around to find out if it made it into the Jeep or not.

()()()

My strides are thrown out far before me, my limbs and muscles stretching into my new form. I land hard on the slippery bank with a rumble, not bothering to shake the river water from my coat. My eyes take in each part of the forest, from the brown spider shuddering in the trap of another's web to the abandoned bird's nest snuggled into the branches.

You here?

Nicole's thought breaks through my thoughts, forcefully shoved from her mind into my own. I snap my teeth, clearing a patch of thorns as my speed builds. I pull up a rushing image of the forest around me and display it on the front of my mind.

Fantastic. Nicole sighs, rocking back on her haunches. Through her eyes, I watch Paul lope through the trees, clearly restless, while the reddish runt lays on his belly with his head on his paws, his dark eyes full of an uneasy patience.

I plow over a rotten log on a sudden turn, causing it to burst into a dozen black shards. I pull my thoughts away from the other's as I near. Between Nicole's pointless nitpicking, Paul's smugness about boffing Rachel Black, and Collin's paranoid cautions, my head becomes far too crammed to remember to focus on keeping my lungs clean and my thoughts focused.

Pushing through another wall of gnarled brush, I emerge only a small distance away from the gathered wolves. I pad up to them, approaching with my eyes focused and my body alert. My nostrils twitch.

I don't smell leech.

Three heads turn my way. I step over Collin, making sure to jab his side with my hind paw. He winces, but takes the hint and rises to his paws. Paul nods, his pace slowing, while Nicole holds herself a little taller, watching me.

That's because we haven't caught anything yet. She gazes deep into the dark blue of my stare, injecting foreign memories of rocky slopes and towering pines into my head. A few of them came through earlier but they were pretty far out so we don't need to worry about them unless they pose a real threat.

My fur bristles at her words. I exchange a look with Paul, sharing the same suspicion. My paws itch to run after something, or at least to track the leeches down and eliminate the problem before it even becomes am issue. Collin, who's been busying himself by shaking his coat clean, brightens at the idea.

Nicole rises, her ears pressed flat. She meets each of our eyes and shakes her head. Unless something unusual comes up, we'll be running the usual route.

I growl under my breath. Paul echoes the sound, his shoulders slumping. There'd better be something pretty damn unusual out there.

Bigfoot? Collin suggests. He works up the nerve to glance over in my direction hopefully.

Hell, even that wouldn't faze her. Better suck it up and get it over with.

Collin dips his head, turning and starting after Nicole. Paul follows a little more grudgingly, offering a wolfish smirk. His mind hovers, trying to come up with something to say, but he never forms the words.

I nod, brushing it off as I swerve off to the side and trail after the rest of them, holding the image of the mountains in the core of my thoughts and struggling to bottle up instinct's screams.

()()()

We run through the muggy, foggy morning, trudging over trail after trail while leaving the scents forgotten. The four of us go at the same damn pace around the same damn trail sharing the damn thoughts. It's enough to drive me physco. I huff heat through my muzzle, pressing forward with a skull full of bees and flies buzzing obnoxiously; dead and alive.

And now the same damn poetic drone has passed from Collin's mind into my own. I pick up my pace, resisting the urge to find him and pound the rhymes running through his head straight out his ears in a bloody stream that'll flow for years.

Damn it! If you don't shut the hell up, I'll string you up, gut you out, and bleed you dry!

A little pissy today, are we?

I shoot a growl to the side, snapping my teeth at the outline of Paul's figure. The fog's dense here, forcing us to rely on our ears and noses. I narrow my eyes, my pulse throbbing in my ears as Collin's thoughts float through our minds.

One monkey one and two lions, too. Let's take a trip right to the zoo!

Little bastard! That's it!

Charging over the trail, I break the even rhythm and head straight for Collin. My temper blazes, hot and real in my veins. I bare my teeth, my paws tearing through the ground as I lunge for the space where Collin's figure should be.

And meet empty air.

The hell?

Stop messing around. Nicole, halted somewhere up ahead, huffs irritably. We need to keep going.

I've had enough of Nicole's little power act. I slash a paw through the loam below, slamming my weight down. We're running out here to take out what? Gigantic potholes? I snort. For someone so almighty, you're a real dumbass. Fucking leeches are on our land and you won't do a thing about it. If you really think there's nothing out there, you can spare a single minute to fix the runt so we can keep going.

I don't wait for any response. I twist back and track our scents backwards, searching for prints in the mud. Paul comments, but my mind's buzzing too loudly to make out the thought. I breathe in as I near a curve. The familiar scent of wolf assaults my nostrils, leading me up to the reddish wolf curled up beside an oak with his head on his paws, his eyes closed, and his breathing deep and slow.

Three giraffe three and four rhino four! If you're gonna leave, bring me back for more!

His riddles are quieting as his mind stirs slightly. I approach him slowly, my shoulders rolling as I position myself low and ready my teeth. As I start to close in, set and ready to give him a nice lesson, a shout echoes over the forest, distracting me.

"Aargh! Help! Someone help m—!"

Without a moment's hesitation, I leap over Collin and sprint in the direction of the scream. The other's thoughts explode in my head, cracks of thunder echoed by a crackle of too many voices shouting at once. I sprint through the green, my ears ringing and my heart punching my ribs with each rapid beat. I huff through my teeth, hearing coughing and thrashing as I come nearer. My nostrils flex, tasting only the salt of sweat.

I arrive at the edge of the trail first. I push my paws into the short slope, planting myself in place. The brush cracks and groans behind me as Paul and Nicole make their way toward the trail. I scan the brown surface, sucking more breaths through my bared teeth. In the corner of my eye, I catch movement, and my gaze lands on a figure running straight toward us.

He's only a boy, caught somewhere between child and adulthood. He wears a hat over his black hair, a loose jacket, and muddy plaid pajama pants, looking as if he never meant to end up in the woods in the first place. His breaths come in pants, escaping in a fog. He seems to steam, beads of sweat coating his copper skin. He clutches his middle, grimacing as he squeezes his bloodshot eyes shut and drops to his knees.

We all know what's going to happen before he even hits the ground.

The boy's shoulders bend as he falls, his body folding in on itself. He gags on his breath, his body twitching and convulsing. As his bony knees meet the muddy trail below, his torso jerks backward. A pained shout raises into the sky as his arms fly out and all at once, he erupts.

The force of the sudden change throws him sideways. He stumbles to catch himself as his body twists and reshapes itself, only to lose his footing and crash off the other side of the trail. There's just a flash of a spiked ruff before the boy disappears into the leaves.

Immediately, I rise to follow. Nicole's mind pushes against my own, starting to object, though she thinks better of it. I leap onto the trail and pad across it, peering down the steep slope leading down to a deep bowl. A yellowish-white wolf lays at the bottom, shakily standing.

Whimpers spill from the wolf's muzzle. He reeks of nervousness and despair and trembles with shock. His thoughts roar, blaring yet blank. He takes in a quivering breath before tipping his head up to the top of the trail.

Nicole and Paul brace themselves on either side of my shoulders, keeping their thoughts to themselves. It's not as if anybody can hear themself think over the little wolf anyway. His dark eyes flicker across us and slowly, he bends his knees and shows his teeth.

I return the gesture with a growl. The little wolf's eyes widen as I launch myself at him, barreling down the slope and knocking him down, hard. His breath leaves in a whoosh, causing his body to heave desperately. I huff, standing over him with my muzzle inches from his own.

Who the hell are you?

The wolf's mind scrambles, flashing random images all at once. He takes a good minute to catch his thoughts. J-Jackson.

Paul's silver form saunters beside us. He circles the two of us with a low rumble. My tail stiffens warningly as he slinks behind me, though I catch his wink in the corner of my eye as he comes back around and stands across from me. His forehead brushes mine as he glares down at the shivering newcomer.

You wanna know what we do to intruders? Paul taunts.

The little wolf winces, tucking his chin to his chest as he shrinks beneath us. B-But I'm not an in-intruder! I-I've—

Shame. I lean in close enough to feel my breath hot against his nostrils. Just in time for brunch.

Okay, okay. Break it up. Nicole wedges herself between Paul and me with an impatient sigh. Paul grumbles as he steps back, though he wolf grins in my direction, clearly glad to be able to have caught a chance to mess around. I reluctantly jog off to the side, flicking my ears to acknowledge Paul though my attention is centered on the runt. I circle the three of them, creating a wide circle.

The little wolf stares at Nicole like a lost puppy. She dips her head and nudges his shoulder, carefully helping him to his feet. He sways for a moment, his wide eyes darting between the gathered wolves.

Nicole tilts her head, looking him over. Jackson, is it?

Yeah, Jackson Roth. He straightens his shoulders slightly and tries to make himself slightly taller, clearly unnerved. His ears twist and he squints his eyes. Is someone . . . singing or something?

Ignore that. Nicole holds his gaze, the line of her mouth curling up into a wolfish smile. I'm Nicole. She nods to Paul, sitting back as he watches. Paul.

Jackson nods, his shoulders dropping slightly as he relaxes. Despite his calm posture, he refuses to look Paul in the eye. He glances my way, shifting his paws uneasily. Who's that?

That—

Jordan. I wrinkle my muzzle, baring my teeth in what ends up looking more like a hostile warning than a grin. Jordan Uley.

Nicole dismisses the topic with a snuff. She settles back on her haunches, speaking gently with mild curiosity. Most of us have a few days of fever before we phase. Oh, that's what we call changing, by the way: phasing. Anyway, when did you start feeling the fever?

Glancing around, Jackson gradually lowers himself to sit stiffly before Nicole. I was taking a run out by the village and then I smelled something really gross. Like . . . like sugar in a carton of sour milk. He waits for Nicole to nod before he continues. The next morning, I was really sick. My mom's been watching over me. I sweat a lot and got really hot, sometimes so bad that I, uh, got sick. I was really angry at her and I yelled a lot. It made her cry.

This morning she tried to give me more medicine. I was really annoyed because no matter how much medicine she gave me, I still didn't feel better. I argued with her and then she tried to shove a pill at me so I knocked her away and. . . Jackson lowered his gaze to the ground, struggling to hold back the vivid image of his mother gasping as she landed on the wooden floor with a thump. I told her I hated her and I ran out of the house. I just knew I had to get out of there. And then . . . well, this happened.

He looked up again, regret and worry shining in his eyes. Um, that's all.

My claws slice through the ground below me as I go, my paws burning as if I'm pacing over ash. Damn 'sucker that caused it. There's enough of them out there that more children are gonna be bursting out of their skin now. Yet here we are, sitting on our asses and not doing a damn thing.

There's gonna be worse than one or two leeches if we don't start doing something about it, Paul agrees.

Nicole acts as if she can't hear anyone else's thoughts in her head. She pushes herself up, her smile gone. I'm really sorry about what's happened to you, Jackson. There are good sides to this too,I promise. She nods over her shoulder. Come with me and I'll tell you everything you need to know.

Wait! Jackson steps forward tentatively. If anybody else—by some weird chance—started acting like I have. . . Will this happen to them to?

I slant my eyes, my pacing slowing. Paul rumbles, glancing at me before filling the quiet brought by Nicole's wary thoughts. Hell yeah. It's always only a matter of time, especially if they're feeling sick and getting pissed at the world every ten seconds.

Oh. Jackson's ears droop. Okay.

Nicole shakes her head, probing Jackson's dark eyes. Is there someone else acting like you were?

Jackson shuffles his paws, looking down at them. My friends. They've been acting really weird lately. He accidentally projects another slur of images. A boy jumping to his feet in the middle of a classroom and swinging his fist at the a teacher's unprotected face. Another boy, gangly though his biceps are well-rounded, raking his hands through his long black hair and turning around, shouting angrily. The veins at his wrists pop out above the skin.

I look directly at Paul as the images disappear from behind my lids. Paul's expression hardens and he glares at the space above my shoulder. Nicole shudders, but turns around and doesn't comment.

Come with me. I have a lot to explain.

Jackson shakes out his yellowish coat and dips his head. Nicole trots past me and heads for the brush, her thoughts pulling away as she starts to leave her wolf form. I follow Jackson's movements with my eyes as he creeps forward, picking up his pace as he nears. I wait until he takes another stride before sliding out a paw, blocking his path and bumping his shoulder.

Jackson flinches away from me like I'm a disease, his eyes bulging. He freezes, gazing up and running a quick prayer through his head. I flash a wolfish grin, amused.

Welcome to the pack, Roth.

His dark eyes set on me with disbelief. Then, after a long moment, he relaxes. With a short nod, he stands a little taller and hurries after Nicole's retreating figure, unsteady on his huge paws.

Fading thoughts empty my head. Paul moves to stand in the center of my circle, waiting and expectant. I pace another lap before glancing at him questioningly.

Your move, boss.

I rumble, twisting around to break the circle and head back up the slope. We won't be ignoring any parasites.

Good. Paul jogs behind me, huffing. She's prolly worrying about Jacob.Thinking he'll crack like Sam with too much pressure.

My strides lengthen as I steadily build speed, charging through the green after an invisible trail. We were made for this. We were made not to tire easily and to stand up against any shit that comes along. We need to get the damn problem solved.

We will, soon enough. Paul thinks surely. He pauses for a moment. Hopefully.

Our conversation dwindles in our minds before breaking off. Quiet settles, other than the caws of birds overhead, the wind of my speed, and Paul's thudding steps trampling the vegetation below. My mind fills with the passing forest, focused, all until Paul's attention starts to drift.

Out of nowhere, I'm bombarded with an avalanche of Rachel Black. Her scent, the softness of her hair, the beauty of her curves, the twinkle in her dark eyes and the sexiness of her temper. And the best of all—the way she sighs as lips press into her neck and her clothes slide off her skin.

I grit my teeth, my stomach lurching at the sensation. I fire back at them with my own images, spilling everything, from the chill of Emmett's body, the brightness of his dimples, the firmness of his skin and muscle. Rachel Black eases out of my mind, but not completely, and so I up the magnitude, forcing out thought after thought of frozen memories. The cracking of the shed that first night; the way his hands grip my body; the cold breath of the half-spoken words in my ear when he's there.

God damn! Make it stop! Paul staggers, gagging as bile fills his mouth. His stomach rolls as he runs into a tree.

Satisfied, I retract my thoughts. Focus and I won't have to catch your attention. I don't slow my pace, even as the distance between us becomes an expanse. He'll catch up.

Paul shakes his coat clean before trudging forward again, running double time to try to find me in the green. I need something hot or interesting around me to be able to focus. Or funny. But mostly hot.

I rumble in amusement. I have something in mind.

Ten minutes later, Paul slows by my heels, perked and already smug. We creep in toward the reddish-brown body of the little wolf against the tree, his mind still trapped in slumber. Paul throws together a plan in his head while I close in on his front.

With a final step, Paul closes the distance and makes a hacking sound, clearing his throat. Three . . . two . . . and here we go!

Paul flops down on the little wolf with a huff, his large grey form rammed up against the tree as he squashes him. Collin's eyes pop open, his jaw jumping as he stares into the dark blue slits of my gaze. I curl my lip, leaving a centimeter of space between the bottom of his lids and the points of my sharp teeth. My hackles raise as Collin attempts to stir.

Morning, sunshine.

Air whistles out of Collin's nostrils. He kicks his legs, but it's useless—they end up sticking straight out on his side and coming nowhere near the weight above him. Paul barks a throaty laugh at the sight before turning his head to look at me. I nod to him and after sighing, he eases off the little wolf. Collin goes slack with relief, hopping up a little too quickly. He sways for a moment, wheezing as he catches his breath and all but cross-eyed from the pressure.

I'm so sorry! I was just so bored and the fog was so thick and the next thing I knew

Save it. I shake my head, all of my joking evaporated. My mind's instantly set back on the goal and filling with desire. I duck back, setting out without waiting. This won't be a waste of your time.

I lead them off the route we wasted hours following, heading toward the points of the mountains in the distance. Paul and Collin tag along, choosing to run together behind me. They exchange thoughts in conversation, mostly Paul jabbing Collin about his size and teasing him about the girl he has his eyes on. As the trees start to become farther and farther apart, their discussion fades to the back of my thoughts.

Instead of the colder, thinner air I've expected, I find myself swallowing even more humidity. A few miles later, I pick up on the rush and crash of a fast-paced current. I've never been in the very corners of our territory before, even while roaming alone as a child—the dense places with less chance of any company have always been my choice of location. I search the area before me, tensing as I step through the trees. Paul and Collin fall quiet as they follow.

My paws brush a gritty, solid ground made more of dust than dirt. I approach jagged rocks, my steps slowing as bits of it crumble under my weight. I lean forward, only to find the ground disappearing beneath me in a hundred yard drop straight down to a wide, gleaming river dotted with grey rocks. There isn't as much green here—it's been drowned out by browns and greys.

I study the river for a moment before peering over at the other side. It's not as wide as it is deep, but it's no simple leap either. The mountains are larger over the trees here, though still a good distance away. I back up slowly, gathering my muscles as I prepare myself.

Collin's head snaps up, his eyes going wide. We're . . . what are you doing? That's not even our land!

I snuff through my teeth, bracing one hind leg. Strength flows through me as I prepare to create the momentum needed to clear the jump.The tribal people aren't free leech dinners either, but the 'suckers don't give a shit.

Collin whimpers, racked with nerves. He casts a look at Paul, who lifts and drops his shoulders in a shrug. Makes sense to me.

I jerk my head, ordering silence. I fill my lungs with the heavy air, pulling back until my haunches brush over the ground. Then, in a sudden burst of speed, I charge forward. Paul and Collin take a second to situate themselves before they lunge after me.

My legs stretch out before me, gathering the power I need. I slap my paws against the surface of the cliff, coming together for a split second before I throw my body out, stretching in the air as I soar over the river. The wind envelops me, lifting every hair in my coat, smacking my nostrils and stealing my breath. I'm high on adrenaline for a long, suspended moment before I crash down on the rocky surface of the other side.

As I push myself up, Paul lands with a hard thump behind me, Collin a few seconds behind. I jog forward, standing in the entrance of the forest while the others relieve their shock. They exchange a few bragging comments before I interrupt.

Now we'll have a little fun.

I decide to split up, wanting to cover more ground before Nicole returns to lecture. Collin offers to take the left while Paul heads right, disappearing into the trees. I press forward, my pace steady and my senses humming on high alert.

It's not long before I catch a faint memory of Jacob's scent. I speed up, impatiently scouring every inch of forest for evidence of the leech scent's he's caught. I leap over fat boulders and shove through thick brush, my muzzle lowered as my nostrils tests each breeze that skims the ground. In minutes, a scent's caught.

But it's not my nostrils that pick up on it.

A series of cut-off howls and sharp whines sounds in the distance. I'm sucked back into the pack mind as Collin's excitement breaks though.Guys! Guys, come quick! I got something!

I pivot back and sprint at an angle toward the sounds, my pulse soaring. Paul rushes past me, already on his way. I growl at his hulking form, more out of eagerness than irritation.

Collin prances in the small mouth of a trail, lit by the dullness of clouded sunlight. Paul slows, allowing me to push ahead of him. I don't hear the other's thoughts or the pounding of Collin's heavy paws on the ground only a few feet from my face. I brace my paws against the ground, close my eyes, and suck the scent through my nostrils and into my brain, filing through for a match.

The second I register the smell, my brain jolts, struck with recognition. Every fiber of my being clenches, my blood boiling hot with hatred inside me. A feral snarl cracks through my bared teeth while my mind shatters into a million pieces, scattering in countless directions. Memories flood through me as I lift myself back up, suddenly weightless with the adrenaline pounding in my system with every slam of my heart in my ribs.

"You will regret this, Emmett Cullen!"

The forest disappears around me and I'm off, in motion out of nowhere; a burst of lightning. I knock Collin flat on his back, sending him spiraling away with a yelp as I take off. Her smell invades my head and poisons my veins as I chase after it, maddened with want and rage.

I take no time to thunder after the winding, zigzagging path, agile as I jump and duck and twist with it, crushing whatever gets in my way. I stretch my head out and keep low. My ears ring and my heart almost breaks out of my chest, suddenly set on fire. I'm so close, so deadly, so ready, and—

All at once, the scent disappears beneath me, almost as if a breeze has picked it up and taken it away. I throw my weight at the ground, tumbling to find the ground before twisting back and sprinting to the last pricker patch. I snarl as I find her scent again, but as I turn away to follow it, it disappears in my nostrils.

I run my eyes over the expanse of forest, the fire burnt out and now nothing more than charred ash. There's a hundred paths stretched out before me, but only one holds the answer. The remains of her smell are slowly suffocated by my presence.

Until finally, it's as if they aren't even real.

I can go. I can take everyone one of the hundred paths, spend weeks picking along every inch of this forest, maybe months. My instinct begs me to start now, to not waste time.

But that hunt, the one alone and persistent hunt, will take too long. And I don't have time on my hands.

I turn back around only to find Paul and Collin there, watching me, their fur wind-blown and their eyes sparked with excitement and eagerness. I huff, shaking my head as I push past them and head in the direction we came from.

Paul starts to ask, but I don't let him. One look banishes every trace of the past half hour from their minds. There's enough for the rest of the pack to worry about, but missing pieces lead to rumors and rumors lead to misinformed gossiping wolves and that leads to a hell of a mess that I have no desire for.

The puzzle's finally starting to settle in. But one thing remains certain: the blonde demon will be mine.

We return to our own lands in silence, our minds occupied by the forest and the pictures brought by our senses. A half mile in, I leave the others to finish the route Nicole set out and instead start in a different direction. Paul notices as I slink off the path.

Where the hell are you going?

I push my legs faster, sending a flurry of leaves behind me as I push off and all but fly through the forest at top speed. Personal business. Go on ahead.

There might have been something like worry in his response, but I don't hear anything else as the heat catches up with me.