Her eyes are flashes of sunset over a vast, barren landscape. Dark, burnt orange flecked with reddish brown, impenetrably hard. Cold despite the heated coloring, uncaring where one would expect comfort. Haunting everything she looks at, lingering until she’s sure she’s seen all. She devours souls with those eyes, topples kingdoms, could burn a man alive. Those eyes are the only visible movement in her. Even her breathing is controlled enough that she appears to be immune to the biological need for oxygenated blood to circulate through her system.
The path she surveys now cuts right through decaying forest underbrush so thick that it’s obvious no human foot has treat upon it in any significant way for years. A fire would flash through too fast for any outsider to know it was happening until it was far too late. She can hear the tiny critters moving about, from the caterpillar scraping its way slowly along the bark on the tree beside her to the birds frolicking together in the canopy overhead. No sound within a mile escapes her ears.
She brushes a strand of long black hair behind her ear as she turns her head slightly toward her shoulder. Her eyes reluctantly follow, tearing away from their previous sentry. She spies a spot of brown fur and a flash of a single grey eye, which are gone just as quickly as they appeared. The others approach on padded feet that would have taken unawares any other living creature, practiced as they are in the environment they move through. They surround her, heads down and ears back, tense and waiting. She knows what they want. She knows what would happen, and it all unfolds in her mind’s eye in a flash, though she knows it would occur in slow motion in the world’s reality.
The wolves range in weight classes. The biggest would come to her belly if she were standing, thus looms over her while she kneels as she is. The smallest would hit a bit above her knee, but she would never discount him as weak. There is a wiry strength evident there. A hidden power, belied by his small stature and thin appearance. He might not be the strongest of them, but he can hold his own.
She watches them as they flow around her, each pair of eyes burrowing deep into her heart. She knows they hear her heart, the beat steady still despite their presence and group tension, and she realizes the rest of the forest has gone silent. The inhabitants waiting, anticipating the danger and death that is surely to come. The hunt has not truly begun yet, they can only be ready for it when it does.
Silver fur brushes close enough that she feels it on her leg. Auburn seems to grow out of it as another passes by, going in the opposite direction, all of them moving, anxious, pacing around her. As they circle, they come closer and closer to where she has perched. Each now allowing themselves small vocalizations. Anticipating. Needing. She knows the noises will grow to impatient growls all too soon.
The corner of her mouth twitches upward ever so slightly, a taunt, a tease, and her eyes dart forward, back to the invisible trail she’d been scoping previous to their arrival. This is all the signal they need o move. And like she’d known, all movement happens at once, and all achingly slow.
As one, he pack turns and surges forward. She lets them have a heart’s beat head start before her powerful legs launch her from her kneeling position into a full sprint. Her hair flows behind her like a black banner, raising goosebumps on her neck as it brushes the flesh there. Her body moves as fluidly as those of the wolves around her. She dodges branches and ground detritus as if she is made of smoke, nothing touches her that she doesn’t allow, except the glorious breeze her own movement creates.
Above them, the moon hangs full and bright, peering from behind the Autumn clouds. Stars are obliterated by the glory of the moon’s light. It casts shifting shadows from the trees upon her bare pale flesh as she runs with the wolves, dappling her artificially. She can use the effect to hide herself just as well as the canines at her side can, at times only her eyes flashing reflections indicate she’s even there at all.
Around them the forest has exploded into activity. Alarms rise to warn one another of the pack’s movement, little beasts scramble to get out of the way of the larger ones in her group. Even those that are normally the natural predators of this forest know they are not the top of the food chain this night.
Her lungs fill with the crisp air. Momentarily, her thoughts stray to her love of this time of year. The Harvest Moon above them signals the end of summer and too-hot days. It’s not always the first one of the season, but this year it is. She knows her time with it will be painfully short. She will have to enjoy every moment of this night to its fullest. Quickly, she focuses on the run once more, and the companions moving around her like every step they make has been rehearsed.
The largest, honey in color, raises his voice in a howl that informs the rest that he’s caught the scent of their focus, the prey she’d been tracking before they’d arrived. One by one, only when the musk is in their noses, the other pack voices follow as they, too, catch on.
Refusing to wait a moment longer, she leans forward into the run, her body shifting easily to accommodate the unnatural angle. Bones twist and change, her nose and jaw become a snout, and her teeth become deadly. Long ago there had been pain in this transformation. She would writhe in agony as one body was exchanged for another in entirety. But that had been when she’d been but a pup. A new wolf. She’s stronger now, more capable. She’s had many years to know the way things will be altered and anticipate the stretched muscles, even the sound of bones cracking doesn’t disturb her anymore. Now it all feels as though she is shedding clothes after a long day of work. Relief comes with it, and a sense of peace. The process is completed just in time for her front paws to make contact with the earth. She does not stumble or skip a step. She lifts her voice into the chorus of her pack, giving the permission to kill when their prey comes into view.
Some nights they hunt for food, out of necessity. Those nights she begins as they, and forgoes games such as she’s just played. Other times, as this night, it is all for sport. It is all for the fun and the thrill. The kills will not be wasted, but none of them are starving. This will be a glut for them, and they will linger over the meat for the rest of the night, nibbling as they play other games, spend time together, and more than likely nap. In light of that, this night she’d made them track her down first as she kept her two-legged form. Hunting her even as she stalked their future feast. And now, as they run, she moves freely, not leading, not following, letting others take point no matter their pack position, she nips at legs and tails to instigate brief sessions of tag and follow-the-leader. She wears a toothy smile as she bounds through the woods, teasing her fellows.
As the scent grows stronger, members of the pack branch out, disappearing into the shadows as if made of them, guided by unheard directions and plenty of practice. They break through to a clearing, where a small herd of deer mill about, eating weeds and drinking from the small stream that flows through. Wolves appear on all sides. Despite being surrounded, the deer bolt first in one direction, then another. The males – young bucks in their first nubs of antlers to the experienced elders – lower their heads to fight. The adults all making a circle around the youngest.
The canines torment the frightened prey, extending the amount of time before the kill to exquisite agony, taunting them with snarling mouths and lunging, snarling nips to whatever piece of animal was closest. When the speed of their hearts threatens to steal death from their jaws, the wolves function as one to put an end to the game. It is over in a flash of teeth and strangled cries of extinguished life. The deer are felled and the wolves left alone in the clearing to commence their evening.
Muzzles blooded, the wolves all begin to lift their faces to the sky, to pay tribute to the moon with their song.