Chapter One: "Life in the Woods"

(***DISCLAIMER!!!*** This story originally appeared on my friend Crimson_X's website. I'm reposting it here with a few changes. All characters who appear here are my creation, though they're not copyrighted. Still, if I find anybody using these characters without my permission, I WILL get creative. ^_^ If you want to archive this story on your site, just drop me an Email at And now: on with the story.)

Another peaceful day, demolished by rain. I really hate it when it rains. I have to hide in my little waterproof hut for the duration with nothing to do but read, write, and wait for it to stop. It gets boring I tell ya. Especially when your humble abode happens to be a makeshift shack in the middle of the woods. Afterwards everything's damp and even more depressing than before. The only good thing about it is that it keeps the humans away.

Ah, the humans. Boy am I glad I just reminded myself of them. I used to be one, y'know, way back when. I was a kid back then, doing human-kid stuff, like playing with my friends, watching cartoons and Star Trek, avoiding homework and chores like the plague, and getting yelled at by my parents. Now, I'm a werewolf, doing werewolf-guy stuff, like hunting critters, living in my aforementioned hut, listening to the insessant chatter of annoying birds, avoiding humans like ebola, and getting shot at by redneck hunters. It isn't fun, believe me. And I don't even get to do the cool stuff werewolves in movies do, like appear in movies for one. I WISH I had the problems Michael J. Fox did in "Teen Wolf".

In case you're wondering, no, my transformations are not limited to a full moon, and from what I've been able to determine, I can turn from human to shaggy for no reason whatsoever. It just happens. One moment I'm a wolf, and at the height of efficiency on one of my hunts, the next I'm an awkward human and lose my meal (uh, that came out wrong...). Or I'm a human one moment and wolf the next. I've tried everything I can think of to figure out what conditions have to be present to transform (I've kept lists), but all have failed. Simply put, my body changes species without my consent. This is why I live out in the woods, away from normal folk. Oh, and the worst part? My name's Max Furlong. The connection between "Long Fur" and my lycanthropy wasn't intentional (I think), but I still think it was some cruel cosmic joke.

Anyway, enough whining. The rain has stopped, I'm hungry, and it's SUPPER TIME!!! Wait a sec, scratch that: I hear something. The splash of galoshes through mud puddles...the rustling of clothing and bushes...the sound of whispering and coughing. I smell leather, rubber, cigarette smoke, beer, bacon, and aftershave. The conclusion I draw from this? The hunters have decided to come after me while it's wet, which they never did before! Battle Stations!!!

These guys come from the nearest town, aiming to put my cute little hide on their walls, with or without me in it. Why? Well, as far as I can tell, they consider me a threat to their noble way of life, and that I'm some unspeakable evil that they must abolish. I consider them a mortal enemy to peace and quiet.

That's not as much a figure of speach as you might think. These guys are really, REALLY inept hunters. First of all, they're even more rank than most skunks I've met. Second, it's a rare event when they actually do this sober. And third, they make no effort to quiet themselves. They must think Elmer Fudd's "Shhhhhh...Be Vewwy Vewwy Quiet..." strategy is bad advice, what with their constant snapping of twigs and rustling of leaves (not to mention their "whispering" that can drown out a marching band. Do I unsettle tham that much? I hope so. I live longer that way.

So anyway, here I am, in my favorite hiding place, still waiting for them to give up and leave, or find one of my strategically-placed beartraps (hunters DO occasionally come in handy). It looks like they're going to pass right by me, and I thank them for that. Losers.

AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Damn! I'm returning to human form again!! This sucks!! The fur on my body is disappearing, and my claws are becoming fingernails, and my fangs...well you get the idea. It's not a painless process! Or a quiet one for that matter!! Lo and Behold, the rednecks heard me, and they're coming this way! Time to get the @#$%^ outta here!!!

Dodging bullets as well as trees, I try to make it to my traps, so if they follow me they'll get a sudden leg cramp (or was it "leg clamp"?). A bullet burns by me and embeds itself in a tree. From what I saw of it, I can tell that these hunters are, true to form, using silver bullets. I'd think that after all this time, they'd realize that silver bullets stand no greater chance of killing me than the normal kind, even in my human form (they do, however, hurt like hell).

AAAH!! A burning pain erupts in my leg as one of the bullets hits me, and I'm sent sprawling and just barely miss a bear trap. Grrr...of all the things to land on, didn't it just have to be a thorn bush! Yep, that bullet would is gonna leave a mark, too. I'll heal from it, but that takes two hours I just don't have.

Clayton, the leader of the hunters, takes careful aim at my eyebrows, snickering his butt off and reeking of beer. Whoah...all of a sudden I'm having trouble focusing on him, and the scenery starts spinning. It couldn't be the bullet wound, and it damn sure couldn't be the thorns (wrong kind of thorn bush)...wait, it IS the bullet!! Those bastards finally wised up and coated it with some kind of poison!! It's not a tranquilizer, trust me: I know what that feels like.

I stare down the barrel of his gun and hear a loud "BLAM!" That's it. I'm dead. Hold on, the sound didn't come from Clayton's gun - it came from another hunter's! I can't make out much in my condition, but it sounds like the guys are fending off someone else! I hear plenty more shots fired, lots of growling, and enough screaming to make my skin crawl. The smell of blood is enough to get me enough out of my sedation to figure out what's going on: the hunters are being attacked by a pack of wolves!! Is this poetic justice or what? Uh, wait a minute: those aren't normal wolves! Can we say, "werewolves"?

I don't remember seeing any more of my kind around here, and as far as I know my parents were perfectly normal (they're also dead thanks to the townsfolk). So who are these guys? I wish I knew.

I get so caught up in watching the battle that I don't even realize I'm back in werewolf form until I find myself wailing on Clayton like there's no tomorrow!! Finally, the dust settles, and all the hunters that have made my life sucky all these years are dead. I can't say I'm happy about it, because despite their blind hatred, they were still people with families. The other wolf-people don't seem to share my greif.

"Thanks for the assist," I say to them, trying to start a conversation as a way to ignore the smell of blood and gunpowder. They don't answer in English, and instead speak some weird language I've never heard of. I'm assuming it's a werewolf language, but since I wasn't raised with them, I find myself in desperate need of subtitles.

Finally, one of the group (a hottie in werewolf terms) figures out there's a communication barrier and tells me in Engles, "We are The Timbers. We live several miles from here in another forest by the lake. We have heard reports of one of our kind living here, and we wanted to see if it was true. Luckily, we got here in time to help you out of trouble."

"Uh, thanks."

"Would you like to come with us?" she asks, and I quickly realize I'm gawking, so I close my mouth. A large male, possibly the leader, gives me the coldest stare I've ever seen in my life, and I decide that, just my luck, she's been taken.

"Welllllll....I dunno," I tell her finally. "I kinda like it here. Sorta..."

"You know that the deaths of these men, will make you even more of a target than before, do you not?" asks the large male that glared at me. Turns out he has a terrible accent. He must not speak English much.

"Well, yeah, I guess," I reply. "But then, I believe I have you folks to thank for that." My answer was a lot surlier than I intended, and I instinctively back away from the big guy's gaze.

Luckily, he doesn't decide to murder me.

"You are injured. We have a way to treat that particular poison at our camp. Come with us," he says in a tone of voice that gives me the feeling that the only appropriate answer is "Sir! Yes Sir!"

"Okay. Might as well. Can I get my things first?" I don't have much, except for a tattered blanket, some books by Mark Twain and Carl Sagan, my journal, a pen, and a small Walkman radio that was given to me by Jimmy, a jogger friend who came through the woods every day about a month back. He let me borrow it for the day, and he was found dead and mugged in an alley the next day. I didn't find out until a week after he stopped showing up.

Once I gathered my things (and the pile of ex-hunters was disposed of - trust me: you don't want to know how), I and my newfriends were off to their camp. I found out the female's name was Sina, and the male leader was named Mirak, but I didn't quite get anyone else's name.

Suddenly, as I rub my leg as a way to soothe the burning pain, something occurs to me:

"Wait," I tell Mirak. "How do you know what poison I was given?"

He didn't answer.

Chapter Two: "Honor Amongst Wolves"

It's been about a month since I was escorted by a pack of werewolves over to their place, because I, Max Furlong, happen to BE a werewolf myself. Or the "Politically Correct" term would be:

"Lycanthrope," as one of my hosts named Sina (who happens to be a total fox in wolf terms) informed me on my way over there.

"Huh?" I asked, with my usual heroic display of awkwardness.

"Don't call us 'werewolves'," she replied, emphasizing the last word with disgust. "We're 'lycanthropes'. 'Werewolf' is a derogatory term used by the humans."

"Oh." It doesn't quite roll of the tongue, so I call 'em 'lycans' for short.

Their home is a huge...ummmmm...I guess you could call it "community" set at the plains at the edge of the forest several miles from my former shack. It kinda resembles a Native American reservation, but this one wasn't set up by the government; instead it was forged by the Timbers, the wolves I'm now living with. No human dares come near it, as I was quickly informed.

There are about fifty-or-so of them around here, living in tents in this community. They speak a weird lycanthrope language they call "kaha", which I'm quickly mastering. I can say "Yes", "No", "Thank You", "You're welcome", etc. They won't tell me how to say "Who cut the cheese?" or "EAT MY SHORTS!!!", though I'm sure it'll come in handy some day.

I've made a few friends, but most are leery of me. A few of them have called me a "dehuk", which I found out means, "outsider". It's not meant as a compliment, but I'm used to that.

The only person I can safely trust is Ihu, a wolf that's about...oh...300 years old. He's the town shaman, and he teaches me Kaha and a little bit of sorcery. Yes, SORCERY!!! This is some seriously weird stuff they do. But I think Ihu regrets trying to teach me the levitation spell. The good news is that his eyebrows (as well as half the fur on his head) has already grown back. Don't ask. He and everyone else has been unable to figure out how it is that I change from lycan to human and back without provocation, since none of the rest of them have that problem. They can change whenever they want with no fuss. As a quick remedy, Ihu's put a spell on me to keep me in lycan form constantly.

He told me the origin of werew...uh, lycanthropes a couple of days after I arrived. It goes something like this:

Waaaaaaay back in Mideival times, there was this old man who was kinda feared and loathed by the local kingdom for two reasons: First, he practiced sorcery, but it was really closer to alchemy, which is based in science. The other reason they hated this guy was that he liked wolves. Back in that period, people were scared toothless about wolves, and thought they were evil demons who exhumed corpses. Believe it or not, openly stating that you like them was a good way to get yourself drawn-and-quartered. Anyway, the king sent some soldiers to kick some warlock @$$, but they were defeated easily. The alchemist, who had a flair for poetic justice that I just love, decided to turn the soldiers into lycanthropes and use them as his own guards.

Unfortunately, the change was a bit more complicated than the old man thought, and pretty soon the wolf-soldiers rebelled. Even worse, they learned the spell that made them lycans, but when they learned that their was no counterspell, they got even more P.O.ed, so they used the spell to turn anyone they wanted into lycans. It even became an amusement for some of them. This resulted in their kind spreading wildly across the countryside, and into other countries. Contrary to popular belief, you can't become one from a wolfbite. None of us are sure how that myth got started.

Pretty soon, though, most of the lycans were hunted down and their numbers dwindled to the point of extinction. Of course, since being descended from a wolfperson didn't automatically guarantee that you were going to sprout fur and fangs, a bloodline could go generations without a single member expressing the gene. Soon, some descendants ventured into the New World, often completely oblivious to the family secret. In fact, during the Salem Witch Trials, a couple of "witches" dunked were actually of the fur, whether they knew it or not. Some of wolfkind found safety in numbers, and formed splinter groups like the Timbers, which was founded in 1851. Most took nonhuman names to separate themselves further from mankind. I have no idea what Ihu's former name was, and he's not telling. My new name is Shuhas, which I hate. I much prefer "Max", but no one will call me that.

Ihu, besides being the spiritual leader and healer, is also the "Alpha", or dominant, male of this here community. Sure, he's 300, but he looks like a forty-year-old, and there's no telling how long his life expectancy is. Still, since there's like fifty wolves in the camp, other male Timbers help delegate. Like Mirak, for instance. He's Sina's mate and the second-in-command. He also reminds me of Worf from "Star Trek", only with a shorter temper and more hair. Every night he calls the entire community to a meeting, after which they eat what they caught that day.

The bad news, unfortunately, is that the more I see of Mirak, the less I like. He often uses the meetings as an excuse to spread fear and loathing about the normal humans, and gain followers in some upcoming war he's planning. Yep, this guy is as racist as those hunters that were after me for years. Back before I first started turning into a wolf, I used to listen to my grandpa's stories about World War II and Adolf Hitler, a German dictator who persecuted Jewish people and anyone who wasn't "Aryan" (whatever that means).Mirak seems well on his way to becoming a furry version of Ol' Moustache. I found myself getting caught up in a couple of his sermons, until I remembered my normal family and my grandpa's stories. I've kept secret notes on his sermons (or at least the part I can translate).

Uh-oh! It's almost sunset! Tonight is the event called "Breeder's Moon", which happens once every six months. Basically, after a huge ceremony, us wolf people pair off with members of the opposite gender, and, well, Nature Takes Its Course. In fact, one of the reasons they came to my rescue a month ago was to initiate me in this most hallowed of rituals, but they gave me a month to get settled in first. Quite nice of them actually. My date for this evening (five words I was beginning to think would leave my mouth) is none other than Jesek, who's also relatively new here. She's been in the pack for about a year, having come from a juvenile detention center and a foster home before that (her foster parents mistook her lycanthropy for mental illness...oops). She's calmed down considerably since then, and I thank her for that. Besides being supremely gorgeous, she's also pretty smart and also funny. These are qualities I find VERY interesting, and she makes me laugh out loud for the first time in years. Of course, her newcomer status makes her almost as much a "dehuk" as I am, but it gives us common ground. And trust me, I am DEFINITELY glad she picked me for this occasion. I owe her one.

Anyway, it's almost sunset, and I've got to meet with Jes so we can go to the ceremony together. I don't mind saying, though, I am one nervous furball.


The ceremony was interesting, the food wasn't bad, the music wasn't quite what I expected (but it wasn't bad either), and luckily Mirak didn't do his anti-human sermn. Of course, I missed half the show because I couldn't take my eyes off Jes and her cute leather dress outfit. Damn, she's beautiful.

So all in all, we're having a pretty good time. We're walking by the lake, enjoying the breeze, joking to cover up (badly) who nervous-yet-exited we are.

All of a sudden Jes taps me on the back of the head and yells, "You're It!!", and takes off running. Honorable wolf that I am, I chase her around for a while. Of course, she's a lot faster than I am, so I end up holding on to a tree catching my breath with my tongue hanging out. Jes, on the other hand, has barely broken a sweat, and she's laughing so hard she almost drowns out my desperate wheezing sound.

"Uh, (huff huff) Jes? Aren't we supposed to be (huff huff) know.." I ask between gasps. "It's not mandatory," she replies. "And anyway I hate the idea of being forced into stuff like this. Why can't we just enjoy the evening like is, instead of making things more complicated?" Okay, she's got a point. I guess. I WAS looking forward to this, but I'm also scared furless about it. We agree that this isn't the right time for either of us, but maybe next Breeder's Moon...? Wait a sec...what's that? It It's coming from..the tents? Oh, $#%&!!!

We race back to where the fire is, and see most of the others already there or arriving. Oh no: the tent that's burning is MY TENT!!!

Everything in the tent is burning, and the blaze is getting to large to contain. The whole camp could burn up!! What caused this?

"A beautiful sight, is it not?" asks a voice behind me in Kaha. A voice I immediately recognize as Mirak's! I spin around, already prepared for a fight. The bastard just smiles serenely and adds, "Do not worry: not of the other tents will burn. This is a magical fire, and perfectly controlled."

"Why did you...?", I ask through gritted teeth.

"Simple. You seem to have a hard time accepting my teachings. You still do not see humans as the threat they are, despite their hatred of you and repeated attempts to kill you." Now he's speaking English in that weird accent I've dearly grown to loathe. That, and HE'S HOLDING MY JOURNAL!!!

"So you burn my tent? What does that solve?", I ask, literally seeing red. No, that's not a figure of speech. Normal wolves are colorblind, but lycans are definitely NOT. Mirak, true to form, doesn't answer my question.

Instead, he opens my journal, and reads, in great detail (in both Kaha and English), every single entry in my journal: all my thoughts, all my transformation lists, my battle plans for the hunters' frequent visits. His voice rises as he gets to my entries on the Timbers. My heart is in my throat as I hear EVERY word of my journal exposed for the world to hear. He takes special interest in my notes about his sermons...and what I wrote about Jesek. Every detail. The audience is silent the whole time. When he finishes, he tells me in a below-zero-cold tone, "You are no longer wanted here. You have two choices: repent or die." Ulp.

"Die?", Jesek screams, with serious rage in her eyes and everywhere else. "Die? All he's done wrong is disagree!! That's nothing to KILL him over!" She looks both ready to maul Mirak on the spot, or collapse from the sheer weight of the situation. I know just how she feels.

Mirak, on the other hand, just stares at her with contempt. "Did I ASK you anything, kinas?? If you wish to join your new mate, then it can easily be arranged." Wait, did he say, "kinas"? In Kaha, that means "ex-lover"! Oh, geez.

Mirak's followers surround us, while the rest watch from a distance, some afraid to interfere, others enjoying the show. I even hear a few shouts of approval from some members of the audience - even children! - which enrages me even more.

I watch as all of my belongings are incinerated. All my books, all my drawings, my Walkman, gifts from the tribe short, everything but my journal, which of course Mirak will keep, is reduced to ashes.

The flame that caused it still burns as brightly as it did when I first saw it, and the smell of smoke, the heat, the raging emotions, the jeers from the audience, and of course, Mirak's ugly face, all push me to my limit. The last of my self control evaporates in a red flash as I charge Mirak with everything I have.

His hand comes out of nowhere, and slams into my throat before I even reach him. He's grabbing me - CHOKING ME!! - and he's lifting me off the ground. He's now easily three times my size, which maybe I should've considered before I attacked him. "I could snap your neck without trying dehuk," he states, his tone as calm as ever. Jesek is struggling madly against Mirak's boys, until one of them claws her face. They start piling on her, pummeling her into submission.

With that, I come unglued. The pain and lack of oxygen are forgotten, and I launch both feet into Mirak's stomach. The air leaves his lungs and he lets go and drops to his knees. I rush over to Jesek and try my best to pull the thugs off of her. Mirak waits long enough for me to succeed, then grabs me by the scruff of my neck and tosses me like a frisbee into the inferno.

Chapter Three: "Sanctuary"

The heat is intense. The pain is overwhelming. And I find myself on the ground and covered with flames.

I roll wildly in an effort to smother the flames, which proves to be difficult. Finally, with the last flame out, I sit up and notice something odd about my hands:

They're human.

There's not even so much as a burn mark on them. The only way I can tell I've just been tossed through a fire is to look at what's left of my pants. Other than that, nothing. What in the world is going on?

I look up at Mirak, and find he's just as surprised as I am!

There is complete silence as we both stare at my human form, trying to figure out how it happened. We both seem to arrive at the same conclusion, but Mirak is the first to give voice to it: "The spell Ihu put on you to keep you in lycanthrope must have reacted to the mystic fire and caused this effect." He's talking in Kaha, so I THINK that's what he said.

Mirak is quiet a bit longer, obviously pondering something. Then he grins a toothy wolf grin and remarks, "I think that means you will be easier to kill now."

I almost say something back, but a thought occurs to me and causes me to do a double-take: "Hold on," I say, wondering why I didn't think of this before, and at the same time very afraid. "Where's Ihu? Dammit Mirak!! You did something with him didn't you?!"

My question startles him. "Of course not! I haven't seen him since the end of the ceremony, and neither has anyone else." He takes a few steps forward and stares at me even harder than before. "And now you blame his disappearance on me. Pitiful." I step back, almost falling into a tent behind me. I'm screwed.

A burst of energy erupts from the where Mirak's followers are standing. Uh, make that where they WERE standing. They're now on the ground in flames, yelping in pain. There's still one lycan left standing. It's Jes!! And she's pissed. Her hands glow as she marches toward Mirak, snarling all the way. And she's a mess. Her face is scatched and bloody, her body is covered with bruises, and her dress is torn in half-a-dozen places. If looks could kill, Jesek just caused Mirak to disintegrate. "Mirak," she says through clenched teeth, "I. Have. Had. Enough."

Mirak is definitely rattled by this turn of events. For the first time since I've known him, he looks like he's in serious trouble! He tries to regain his composure. "Jesek," he says in his usual commanding tone, "Our law forbids females to use magic. How did you learn this?"

"Guess you'll never know," Jes replies, her teeth still clenched. She raises her hands, aims for his throat, and fires a bolt of energy from her hands. It looks cool. Her target sidesteps the bolt, which hits the storage shack where we keep our hunting weapons. Mirak whispers something and Jesek suddenly freezes. The only parts of her body able to move are her eyes, which clearly show she's in intense pain. Mirak laughs and says, "Ponja," which I think means "amateur".

Jesek is suddenly released, and she falls to the ground, finally giving out the scream she was unable to form. She catches her breath while Mirak turns to me. "Fascinating female."

"Go to hell," I tell him, even though I know I'm in no position to make any threats.

"Shall I do the same to you that I did to her?" he asks, his voice serene.

"No thanks. I've had my quota of intense pain for the day." Suddenly a plan is forming.

"All right then, I'll make your death quick and painless." The next thing I know, he grabs me by my hair and draws his knife. Okay, what was that plan I had?

A loud thud on the back of the head causes Mirak to hesitate, and he turns around to Jesek, who's carrying a big stick. And yes, she's still speaking softly. "Leave him alone."

Mirak is obviously getting annoyed by this. He drops me and dares my girl to take her best shot. I notice that the shed now has a big hole in it and that the weapons are now in easy reach. New plan. One thing you can say for the big guy is that he never backs down form a fight. Another thing you can say is that he's an incurable showoff. That's the only reason I'm still alive.I check out the shed while he's busy and see what I can use to my advantage. There are bow-and-arrows, spears, rifles, hunting knives...and my bear traps that I brought with me. Hmm.

I pick up the bear trap and a large club. Mirak and Jes are still locked in serious combat. Man, I hope Jes wins. Course, there's no reason why I can't lend a hand. I swing the trap on its rusted chain and throw it at the back of Mirak's head. CLANG!! Down goes the big meanie. He tries to get up, but Jes -bless her heart- fires another energy bolt at his nose. It makes a noise like "ZWAARK!!", which is quickly drowned out by Mirak pained noises. He rolls, trying to put out the fire. He ends up rolling over to me and I kick what's left of his lights out. Man that felt good.

"Max?" Jes exclaims, startled. "You' human form? How?" I love it when she calls me "Max". It beats the hell outta "Shuhas".

"Oh yeah, you didn't see me change back. Ihu's spell. It reacted with the magic fire, and this happened. Now let's go!"

The other wolves don't follow us, and Mirak's followers are just now waking up. We run as fast as our injured bodies can take us. "Jes?" I ask between breaths after half-a-mile, "Where are we going? I'm assuming we're not going back to my old place." She's too busy dodging low branches and bushes to answer. Typical. After what seems like forever, we finally hide behind a bush to catch our breaths. Suddenly she starts laughing. I give her a puzzled look and she explains: "I just remembered tonight was supposed to be Breeders' Moon. Heh. Guess plans got changed."

"Guess so." Then I remember something. "He called you 'kinas'? Doesn't that mean--"

"Yeah. It does. Not one of my finer moments, I'll tell ya."

I have way too many questions to ask, but they'll have to wait. Jes gets up, brushes the dirt off of her outfit, and motions that it's time to get going again. What follows is at least another mile of jogging (a full run is almost impossible in our conditions), until we reach a dirt road. We catch our breaths, turn left, and keep jogging until we see a farm with lights on. We walk the rest of the way to the front door and Jes rings the doorbell. "Sooo...what's this place?" I ask her.

"Refuge. Shelter. Sanctuary," she states, while changing back into human form. In the light I can tell her dress is now beyond any hope of repair, but it's her face I'm worried about: the bruises have healed, but the scratches are still there. Damn...

I start to ask her about them, but instead I decide to ask, "So who lives here?"

"The Rawlins family," she explains. "I met them after I ran away from the psyche ward. They told me to that the Timbers would be the best way for me to deal with my wolfness. They're gonna have a major cow when they find out what's happened since."

I hear a small dog barking and footsteps from inside the house. Some female voice says "Shut up, Putz!", and then the door opens. The girl that answers the door can't be older than I am, and she has blonde hair, green eyes, and a long shirt with the words "Brain Food" on it. Her eyes go wide when she sees the shape her two visitors are in. "Jessica?" she says, inspecting my traveling companion and grimacing when she takes a close look at the scratches. "What happened?"

"Long story," Jes answers (her real name is Jessica? Figures). "This is my friend Max, a fellow werewolf. Max, this is Steph Rawlins."

Steph takes a look at me, and then my burned and muddy pants, and some unrecognizeable expression crosses her face. A grin follows and she says, "Hi Max. Are you housebroken?"

"STEPH!!!" shouts Jes, who's desperately trying not to laugh. I just play along, embarrassed not for the first time this evening.

Another voice behind Steph shouts, "Who is it? You're letting in cold air!!!"

"It's Jessica, mom!! And her new boyfriend," she shouts back, oblivious to the fact that I'm right next to her and getting deafened. Even in human form my hearing is sharp. The mom tells Steph no to just stand there, but let her visitors in where it's warm.

Greeting us in the huge living room by the fireplace is a woman of at least fifty, whom one would call 'unusual' if they had a gift for understatement. Her attire is as follows: A flannel shirt with a smiley button pinned to it surrounds a bright yellow shirt and a knee-length dress that looks like it was made with scraps of lots of blue jeans. I find myself wondering how many pants had to die in order for that dress to be born. I don't say it of course. The dog that barked sits in her lap, obviously very happy to receive visitors. That must be Putz.

"Welcome to my home, young'uns," she says while reclining in a chair that obviously wasn't meant to recline. "Hello Jessica. Haven't seen you in a year. And who's this handsome young gentleman without a shirt?" Geez. I have just stepped into the Twilight Zone.

Steph, whom I didn't even notice was gone, reappears from her room with a large trucker shirt for me and a robe for Jes. I introduce myself to her mother, put on the shirt, and wonder what else to expect. We spend the rest of the night catching up on past events and joking. Finally, at about 3 o'clock in the morning, I pull out the Hide-a-Bed from the couch and decorate it with some covers Mrs. Rawlins (or really I should just call her "Mama Jo") gave me, and I try to fall asleep. Of course, it would be much better if Jes were here to curl up with, but she's in the guest room. In a large bed. With more covers. Just my luck. About an hour of tossing and turning goes by before I finally pass out.

At about 5:00 in the blessed morning, a rooster wakes me up with its crowing. It doesn't shut up for the rest of the day. I pull the covers over my head and try to go back to sleep. My attempt fails miserably, especially when some very cold substance I immediately identify as water trickles on my exposed feet. In an instant I'm standing on the bed and preparing to execute Steph, who's holding a full glass in one hand and her snickering mouth in another. I see Jes trudging out of the guest room, displaying the same kind of affection for a five a.m. wake up call on two hours of sleep that I have, maybe worse. Her blankets are wrapped around her as she lumbers to the bathroom, a trail of curses in both English and Kaha streaming from her. I look back to Steph, who's obviously considering whether or not to go ahead and dump the rest of the water on me. I step back and that's all the confirmation she needs. She lets the water fly and runs out of the room, laughing all the way. Half of the water hits the wall, the other half coats me, and after I'm done considering how cold the water is, I try to decide between hanging and pummeling as the correct means of payback. I hear breakfast getting started (as well as a full report of Steph's prank, as told by Steph to Mama Jo), and decide to follow my nose to the Promised Land. I'll worry about paybacks later.

Jes and I spend the next week or so being "Mama Jo's All-Purpose Cheap Labor", a job title she never hesitates to remind us of. The work consists of feeding and watering ducks, geese, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, horses, cows, and an old donkey named "Junior". We also do field work and whatever else Mama Jo thinks of for us to accomplish. I find that the lycan strength that was with me even in human form is somehow gone, and now I just have the strength of a normal human my size. That sucks. When we're finally done working for the day, we eat, watch TV, and Steph teaches me some martial art style called (and I'm still not sure how to spell it) "Tai Kwan Do". In fact I'm pretty sure that's not how it's spelled. By the time my head hits the pillow at 9 o'clock at night, I'm so worn out that it's rare when I stay awake for more than five minutes.

One upside to this living arrangement is that my wardrobe has vastly improved. Steph's boyfriend Connor comes over frequently and has given all the hand-me-down clothes that fit me. He says he was going to give them to his younger brother, but then the kid "went goth", whatever that means.

I'm getting worried about Jes. She's becoming more withdrawn every day, and barely even says 'hi' to me anymore. She maybe says five words all day and she retreats into the attic whenever she gets the chance. I wish I knew what was bothering her. I don't think it's because she misses the lycans; I mean, I KNOW she doesn't. She's starting to scare me, and on top of that, the scratches on her face haven't healed. I don't know what to do.

I asked Mama Jo about it, to see if she has any insight, since she knows Jes better than I do, but she doesn't have a clue either. On the other hand...

"I think I know someone who would," she announces suddenly, reaching for the phone. She then walks into another room and shuts the door behind her. I'm left standing in the kitchen wondering who she was talking about.

Within an hour I find out, as a tall man in a business suit arrives at the door. He looks like he's in his 40's, with long greyish-white hair. Something about him is familiar. He greets Mama Jo and Steph and then reaches out and shakes my hand. "Shuhas! Glad to see you. Mama Jo has told me how you've changed." I recognize his voice.


Chapter Four: "War of the Wolves"

The old man I know as Ihu relaxes on the couch while I try to figure out what's going on.

"So let me get this straight," I say to him while pacing back and forth across the living room, "Your human name is Jonas Morgan, you have an apartment in town that you live in when you're not at the Timbers' camp, and no one in the camp except your wife knows you have a double life?" I'm repeating what he just told me, and it's still hard to believe when I go over it in my head.

"Correct," he replies, more than a little amused by this. "Well, the Rawlinses know," he adds thoughtfully, nodding to Mama Jo, Steph, and their dog Putz, "and Jessica here knows." He smiles at Jesek, whose increasing anxiety over who-knows-what brought Ihu here tonight. She just nods. "But other than that, no one in the camp has a clue, and I'd like to keep it that way." He reaches over to Putz, who sits in Mama Jo's lap, and gives him a slow scratch behind the ears.

"Does that mean you went off to your town home the night of Breeders' Moon, while everybody else was busy?" He's been known to go off on his own for days at a time, but nobody asks where he goes.

"Yep. I figured everybody thought I was off with my wife, and no one would miss me for one night. Apparently, though, Mirak found out where I've been going, and decided to stage that 'demonstration' that night, so I wouldn't be there to interfere." So he WAS lying. This is making my head hurt. "So anyway," he says suddenly, "I hear you've been having problems, Jesek."

She doesn't quite know what to say that. "Problems...?" she echoes, obviously wanting to know what he knows.

"Well, I hear from Mama Jo, Steph, and ol''Max' that you've become increasingly moody and withdrawn. Care to talk about it?" I'm not sure, but he seems to know a LOT more than he's letting on.

"Is it about the 'town incident' a couple of months ago?" he asks, which causes Jes' eyes to go wide. That's it, isn't it? Thought so."

I ask everyone what the "town incident" was, and Ihu (I feel better calling him "Ihu" than...uh..."Jonas") looks at me for a second and remarks, "Oh. You didn't know, did you?"

"Know what?" I KNOW I'm not going to like this.

They're all silent for a moment, and Jesek looks even worse than ever, on the verge of crying. "Max..." she begins in a small voice, unable to look at me. "...I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."

"What is it?" Brace yourself, Max...

"Tell her, Jessy," Mama Jo urges her.

Jes collects herself. "Okay. Two months ago, Mirak sent some of his followers into town for some reason. At the time, I was still Mirak's...'mate'. I wanted to go with, because I had gotten absolutely tired of staying at the Timbers' camp, and their strict 'no females' policy." In other words, only males are allowed to participate in hunting, search parties, and sorcery. "I wanted to go with them, for something to do, but Mirak flatly refused, and we had an argument. The result of that was a bruise on my cheek that lasted for weeks. Anyway, that night, when his boys went into town in human form, I followed them. I didn't expect it to be so easy, but considering how it turned out, I shouldn't have been surprised. Well, anyway, I followed them into town and they went to a place where all the macho human hunters gather before a hunt. I stayed outside and waited for them to come out, and the next thing I know, one of them has spotted me, and he gets his buddies' attention, and they all chase me down an alley. They corner me and ask me what the hell I'm doing there. Then one of 'em pulls out a gun. 'If you want to be in this group, you have to do what we say,' he says. They hold me down and force me to agree, then the leader gives me the gun. He leads me to an alley by a small park where I see a jogger with a Walkman. He tells me to kill him, and threatens to kill me if I don't. So...I do..." She stops here and cries for a second, while I let the details absorb. A jogger? A WALKMAN? Two months ago? Then that would mean...oh no. DAMN!!!

"Jesek? Do you mean you --" I can't bring myself to finish the sentence.

" have to understand....I honestly didn't want to, but I had no choice! They were going to kill me. They put him in an alley, and cleaned out his pockets, to make it look like a mugging. We came back to our camp, and I learned that I had been set up. They planned the whole thing so that I would be the one to kill your friend. They knew for a LONG time that you lived in the woods, Max. They even made sure that we were introduced when you started living with us. It's all part of Mirak's plan to start a war between us lycans and the humans, and you were a pawn in it. And the poison bullet..."

"...was Mirak's doing. Let me guess: that's what his boys were doing at the lodge.", I finish. This waaaaaay to much to absorb.


I can't believe what just happened.

Maybe I overreacted or something, or maybe...


I...guess I should start at the beginning:

After I found out that Jesek was the one that...killed my friend Jimmy, I don't know, I took it hard. It got worse when I found out that my relationship with her was set up by Mirak from Day One, which got me questioning how much of our relationship is real, and how much was an act. I asked her this TO HER FACE, and, all went downhill in a hurry. Well, how was I SUPPOSED to react? Jimmy was the one person during the whole time I lived in my lil' shack in the woods that was ever nice to me, and didn't care WHAT species I was prone to turn into. He was my friend. Jes is also my friend, but it's completely different than my friendship with Jimmy. She's my soulmate, I guess, and I love her...I guess. But when I hear all this new stuff about her? It forces me to look at her in a whole new light, and wonder if I ever even knew her at all. About a minute into our argument (which seemed like three weeks), it was like an episode of that one daytime talk show I watched during lunch time a few days ago. I forget what it's called, but people kept getting mad and pretty soon punches were thrown and some guy in glasses was standing there looking serene. Anyway, our argument started looking like that. Hell, Putz was barking up a storm and Mama Jo was ready to turn the hose on us!

"ENOUGH!!!", shouted Ihu, which stopped us both in midsentence. It was not only spoken out loud, but it seemed like it was spoken in my head. Very effective. Ihu tried to reason with both of us and use diplomacy or something like that, but I didn't want to hear it. So I left, slamming the back door on my way out.

So here I am, in the hayloft in the barn, pounding away on a feedsack that I tied a rope around and hung from the rafters. It makes an interesting punching bag. I need it right now. I need a way to work off my anger, and I figure no one will disturb me if they hear how hard I'm pounding on this thing. So I'm playing the scene OVER and OVER in my head, and trying to make sense of the whole mess. I'm trying to decide who was right, who was wrong, and which one of us was overreacting. Every time I just about calm and get ready to go back in there to Jes and apologize, I just end up remembering all the things I said to her, all the things we said to each other, and the fact that back at the camp, Mirak the Great is laughing at us. So the anger comes right back, and I hit the bag even harder.

I can feel myself losing control. I can feel myself returning to wolf form. But this time, unlike all the other times for all these years, it doesn't hurt. Instead I welcome it. I finally understand that being a wolf isn't a bad thing. It lets me be free from stuff like girlfriends and farm work and saying stuff you don't mean to people you don't want to piss off. None of that matters to a wolf.

Suddenly my concentration is broken by the sack splitting open and all the seeds pouring out of it like rain. The sack falls through the loop in the rope, leaving a dangling rope and a pile of seeds and a ruptured sack covering the hay bales. I look at my hands. The last time I looked at them, they were pink and human and small. Now they're brown and furry and large, with pads on the fingertips and palms, and claws insted of fingernails. I'm a lycan once again.


A werewolf.

Just a werewolf. No "Politically Correct" terms for this child. I'm a werewolf. So I yell at the moon. I don't howl, 'cause I don't have anything to howl about. Just a nice, loud, cleansing yell that I'm sure even Mirak can hear. Good. Time to pay him a visit.

I get halfway to the gate when a hand on my shoulder almost makes me jump out of my fur! I should've sensed someone coming, whether from hearing or smell. Guess I was lost in my own thoughts.

The hand belongs to Steph, and she's not happy at all.

"Grrrrrrrrrrrr" I warn, plainly telling her that if she doesn't want her hand bit off, she'll leave me alone.

"Oh, will you lose the macho attitude already?" she snaps right back. Huh? "We left you alone for two whole hours," she continues. Has it been two hours already? " give you enough time to calm down. But then you start yelling like somebody stapled your feet to the floor and tied your tongue to a moving train, and now I see you're in wolf form heading for the gate. What are you, nuts? Oh, wait, dumb question."

"Steph --"

"Let me guess: you were headed for Mirak's camp to go take out all your aggressions on him. Am I right?" Damn, she's good.

"How'd you--"

"Just shut up and listen to me!!!!! You think you're the only one hurt by the little revelation? Not even close. For starters, Jessy was trying to apologize to you for doing something she's regreted every single day since. She wanted you to forgive her, and what did you DO? Act like she was a double agent or something and throw it all in her face!! After you left she went on a furry tear and just about demolished the whole living room. Jonas did some werewolf magic trick to get her to calm down, and it worked for a whole five seconds. As soon as I tried taking her into the guestroom for some chill-time, she starts back up swearing in both English and that werewolf language! She is one STRONG girl in wolf form, and if I didn't duck in time, I'd be embedded in a wall with her bed embedded in ME!!! WAY TO GO, MAXIE!!!!!!" I'm quiet for a while, letting it all sink in. I gotta hand it to her: Steph knows how make her point.

"Fine," I say in a small voice, "Fine. I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt her, but then stuff like this always happens."

"What does that mean?"

"Well...every time my life calms down and I begin to enjoy it again, something comes along to mess it up. First it was my lycanthropy itself, which got me chased outta town, then it was the hunters, who'd made my life miserable for years, THEN it was Mirak, who decided that I wasn't fit to live amongst his band of psychos, now it's my own temper. It gets annoying after a while. I've pretty much learned not to expect a good thing to last. It never has."

"D'you think that maybe that's the problem? There's no way you can enjoy yourself if you're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop."

I'm quiet a second more. "Yeah, you're right. It's just that life is always screwing me over."

"You think you're the only one that suffers? That you're the only one with problems? Yeah, right! You have a home, some semblance of a family, and a girlfriend. There are millions of people on this planet who have NONE of those things. Most of 'em would trade places with you in a heartbeat. So don't expect sympathy in that department."

She changes the subject. "So what's with the wolf form? I thought you were stuck in human form."

"So did I. But then, I also expected Ihu's spell to keep me in werewolf form, until I was tossed in the mystic fire. The fact that I ended up in human form was a complete surprise. I guess being as angry as I was was all it took to undo that development." All this magic stuff is making my head hurt.

"Well, it's cold out here," she replies, changing the subject yet again. "Let's go back inside and warm up. Then YOU have some apologizing to do." She grabs me by my ear and pulls me over to the back door!

"Owowowowowowowowowowow!! Hey! Is this really NECESSARY?

"Of course not," she answers, still not letting go. "But I'm doing it anyway. Now come along, fuzzy."

"Where's Jes?" I ask Mama Jo once we're inside and Steph lets go of my ear.

"She's in the basement," Mama Jo replies, giving me The Evil Eye. "Before you go down there," she continues, "I should make it VERY clear that if another arguement erupts like that in my house, the perpetrators WILL be fed to the pigs."

"Yes ma'am."

I find Jesek sitting on a dusty couch reading a huge book. "Jes....." I begin, not at all sure what to tell her. Wait a sec: I'm still in werewolf form! I try to will myself to become human again. It takes some effort, but I finally succeed. Jes still hasn't responded.

I walk over to her slowly, and decide to start a conversation the easy way. "Whatcha reading?" She looks up, and an unreadable expression crosses her face. "A sorcery book," she says finally.


"Yep. The Rawlins family has quite a history with sorcery and lycanthropes. The Rawlins provide the Timbers with food during the wintertime, in exchange for the Timbers' promise not to trespass on this land and steal livestock."

"Hunh. I didn't know that. Guess they didn't get around to telling me. Is this where you learned that fire-hand trick you used on Mirak?" "Yes." Oooookay.

Now that the ice is broken..."Uh, Jes? About our argument earlier...?"

"MAX!!!! JESSY!!!!!!" Mama Jo yells to us, shattering the moment. We run upstairs and find Mirak and his merry band in the living room waiting for us!

"Now that you've had your rest-period, dehuk," he says with that accent of his, "We can settle this here and now." "Well?" I shout over to Ihu. "DO SOMETHING!!!"

Ihu walks over to Mirak and stands next to him. "Like what?" he asks. "Like support my second-in-command, like I always have?"


Mirak's flunkies grab Mama Jo, Steph, and Jesek, while Mirak strides over to me with KILL plainly written on his expression. "I challenge you to Sirha!" he shouts in my face. The word sounds familiar, buuuut....

"Uuuuuuuuuh...'Sirha'?" I ask.

"'Ritual Combat," he translates, " the death." Oh, joy.

I look around the room. "Isn't it a little uh...crowded in here for that?" "No problem," he replies, and recites another spell.

There's a flash of light, and next thing I know I'm in the hayloft with Mirak and everyone else, except this time there's enough room to fight. He holds up two weapons in his hands: two warrior-spears that I remember seeing hanging in the camp's weapon storage shack. He tosses one to me, and says, "JOH!", which means "begin!"

We circle each other for a while in a standoff, while our audience cheers on their favorite.

"GO, MAX!!!" shouts Steph.

"HIT 'IM HARD!!!!" riles Mama Jo.

"BREAK THAT SPEAR OFF IN MIRAK'S--" yells Jes, just before getting slapped by the guard holding her. Now THAT was uncalled for.

Mirak uses my distraction to make the first move. He lunges forward with his spear, and while I move in time, the spear's point scrapes my cheek. Mirak swings his spear like a baseball bat and I duck, but raise up just in time to connect with the spear when he brings it back across. OW!! I fall to the ground and roll away before my opponent can use the opportunity to finish me.

Back on my feet, I block his next few attacks with my spear. Wait, his stomach is unguarded. YES!! I thrust my spear into it, but Mirak blocks it and knocks the spear out of my hand. Guess the opening was a trap. He dares me to pick up my spear, thrusting it dangerously close to me whenever I attempt it. He's still showing off, or else he would've already finished me.

"OWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!" yells the guard who's holding Steph. He recoils and shakes his hand back and forth in pain. That's different: A human bites a werewolf!! Steph then elbows him in the stomach, and he doubles over. Another elbow to the chin finishes of the poor wolf and Steph gets up. Three guards surround her, but Steph reaches into her pocket and pulls out her keychain. She presses a small button on it, and a shrill sound erupts. AAAAAAAAARGH!!! My ears!

The rest of the wolves are stunned too, including Mirak. I see my chance to grab the spear, but when I get close to it, Mirak hits me in the throat with the blunt end of his weapon. ULGH!! I scramble back to a safe distance and recover. Good thing I heal fast. Think Max, THINK!!!!

My eyes search the room for ideas, and my gaze lands on Ihu. Wait a sec..........

I start chanting that levitation spell I learned from Ihu, only this time I say it the exact same way I said it when I screwed it up! The effect is the same: Mirak is hit with a powerful levitational force from all directions at once, and I hear his bones crack loudly! The friction causes his fur to catch fire, and everyone's favorite furry mental case is in serious pain. YES!!!! It worked!!!!!! Wait a sec: the hay bale under him is also on fire!

The fire spreads quickly, and everyone starts running in a panic. There's only one way out of this hayloft, and that's through a small trap door on the floor. All the wolves try to fit through the opening at once and fail miserably. I run over to Steph, Mama Jo, and Jes, trying to figure out how we're gonna get out of here. By now the fire is intense and roaring, and we're running out of ideas. Mama Jo says something I can't understand, and the four of us find ourselves in her kitchen. Oh, yeah: Mama Jo also knows sorcery.

All of a sudden it's seriously cold in here!! Mama explains while shivering that that's because of the temperature difference. After coughing the smoke out of our lungs, we look out a window and see the wolves escaping from the barn while on fire. Steph is snickering. All of a sudden the fire dies out completely, leaving a charred barn and whoever's still in there. I'm thinking Ihu stopped the fire. Suddenly all the wolves disappear in a flash of light and a weird thought erupts in my brain: {{this isn't over...dehuk.}} It's Ihu's voice, and he's ticked off.


"Jes? Can we talk?"

"Yeah, Max, we were interrupted earlier."

"How's the arm?"


"What happened to it?"

"I was slammed against the wall by the guards trying to get out of the barn."

"That had to sting."


"About...what happened...a few hours ago...our fight..."

"I'm listening."

"I'm sorry. I was way outta line. I never meant those things I said to you. I didn't want to hurt you, but I was just so mad. I--" "It's okay, I understand. Apology accepted. I'm sorry for the first place. Friends?"

"That's it?"

"That's what?"

"Just 'friends?' I thought we were...more...than that."

"We...are. I just thought it was a good place to start."


"Oh, and Max?"

" Riho Tamah. "


"Eat my shorts."

THE END...finally...

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