TEASER – Powerless: Chapter One

Not many people want to be stood out on the moors in the middle of the night when there’s a full moon. Not many people would take comfort from watching the clouds skitter across the moon, edged silver by its glow. There are no street lamps where we are; the only light is from the moon, but that’s OK, we don’t need any extra light. Most people wouldn’t relish the bite of the fresh wind as it gusts across the cotton grass and peat beds, bringing with it the scent of earth and heavy rain; but then most people aren’t werewolves.

The lights from the villages below are laid out like a blanket draped through the valley. My ears are picking up the faint sounds of an occasional car as it speeds along the remote, twisting road below us. It’s barely enough to encroach on the near silence. It’s not quite silent because the pack is gathering, ready for the run. There is no talking, no idle chat. Tension is singing in the air. There’s an almost tangible vibration around each person; if you reached out to touch them you’d feel the tingle on your skin before you connected. Well, I would. If you reached out to touch one of them right at this moment you’d probably lose your hand.

We’re not the largest pack that’s ever been seen, but we’re not a small group. There’s a few more than twenty of us at the moment, and nearly everyone has arrived. I guess that’s the advantage of living here; all this open space can support a large pack. It’s even easier for the Scottish packs; they have so much room to run, and they can hunt like real wolves. Lucky bastards. There are herds of deer that, if they’re careful, no one will miss. They’ve been laughing since the idea of re-introducing natural wolves into Scotland was first tabled in the 1960’s. It would make life even easier for them with a ready made culprit roaming around. They got positively giddy when some idiot suggested re-introducing black bears. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were them.

I can barely hear the footfalls as my remaining packmates lope over to us. They’re not trying to be stealthy; it’s more of a natural inclination to be quiet. We’re grouped loosely, the only ones standing anything like close to each other are the couples who are mated, or at least paired. I wouldn’t say I’m mated to Rob, our connection doesn’t run that deep, but we are a pair. He’s standing a little to my left, his focus shifting between the moon and our Alpha, who’s standing a few paces ahead of us. Rob stands a little over six feet, but he always seems small compared to our Alpha. Hell, anyone seems small next to the six foot four inch leader of our pack. Rob’s got a strong body, but essentially he has a slim build. Our Alpha, Daniel, isn’t weightlifter sized by any standards, but you can see just in the breadth of his shoulders and his chest that he’s packing some muscle.

I turn my face back to the moon and concentrate on the warmth, the pull. Imagine the feeling you get when you turn your face to the sun on a comfortably warm day, that’s what I’m feeling. You close your eyes and lift your face and you can almost feel yourself absorbing the heat and the Vitamin D. It’s the same for me when I look at the full moon; I can feel the endorphins start from the base of my skull as they spread across my shoulders and down my spine. I spread my arms a little away from my sides and let the moon take me.

I can sense the change in the atmosphere around me. Everyone else is reaching that point too. Quickly, efficiently, I strip. None of us are wearing complicated outfits, who would want to? The only reason we’re dressed at this point is that bare skin shines in the moonlight and it’s better to be safe than sorry. This area has enough stories and legends without us adding to them. So we dress in dark, simple clothing to make the journey from our cars up to whichever high point seems most comfortable. There isn’t a mutually agreed meeting point, only a place that feels right, and is suitably far from the road.

I can feel the moon’s power even more now that I’m naked, like that blush of heat across your body when sunbathing. Despite the cold wind I can feel the heat as though it’s midday on the Costa Brava. My skin feels alive, I feel alive. I feel full, complete, strong, powerful. I’m still basking in the moon when I catch the twitching of Rob’s jaw from the corner of my half-closed eye. He’s still totally focussed on Daniel. I have to consciously focus to feel it, but there it is, the ripple of power flowing from our leader, letting us know that now is the time. I turn my face upwards and let my back arch as I open myself to the change.

It’s painful, like a severe cramp through every muscle at once, but it’s not crippling. I don’t know where this idea comes from about bones breaking and skin tearing. I blame Hollywood. Really, this is metaphysical, preternatural, mystical shit. My skeleton doesn’t reform the same way that a medical doctor would have to physically make it by breaking and lengthening bones to achieve my other form. It just happens. I can’t explain it, and I doubt you’re ever going to find a scientist strong enough, well equipped enough or quite frankly stupid enough to try and cage a few of us up for tests and studies.

I drop to my paws shortly after Daniel, followed closely by Bryn, then Michael and his mate Donna and then Rob. I can feel the aura of each member alter subtly as they change and their paws hit the moss. Oh, I’m sorry; you were expecting some sort of Underworld bullshit? I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. We don’t change into some sort of half wolf, half human hybrid. Do you really think werewolves would have survived for millennia if we did? We change into wolves; we look almost identical to our natural cousins. Similar size, similar colourings, similar build to the grey wolf. Given an area with a decent grey wolf population we can blend in quite well. The main difference is that we’re less wary of humans for obvious reasons, and that’s where some of the myths originated.

Daniel howls first, and the rest of us follow. A signal that the run is about to start. It’s unlikely that there’s anyone around to hear us, and if there is, the sounds of a full pack howling should scare them indoors pretty sharpish, if they have any sense at all. You can’t call this a hunt, it’s a run. You have to have a target for a hunt, something you want to capture or bring down. There is nothing here. There are rabbits burrowing through the peat on the lower slopes, but they’re not the right game for a pack to chase. Fun if you’re on your own, frustrating when you’ve got another nineteen or so animals all larger than your average German Shepherd wanting a taste too. We have to restrain ourselves around the sheep, the main livestock to be found out across this bleak expanse. As satisfying as it would be to bring one down and have a little raw meat, it’s really not a good idea. There are no natural predators here; if a sheep gets killed you’ll get farmers with shotguns and itchy trigger fingers on patrol. A sheep is not worth the hassle. So we don’t hunt, we run, and if you see us in a restaurant you won’t be surprised to hear us order a steak, rare.

As the undulating call of our pack is carried away on the wind, Daniel sets off. We’re on Saddleworth Moor, on the slopes of Alphin Pike. Daniel takes us east, up over the crest of the pike and over to Black Hill, heading towards Yorkshire. It’s a wide expanse of nothing. There are no trees at this altitude, just peat covered in heather, cotton grass and mosses. Even the bilberry bushes don’t grow much at this level; there isn’t enough shelter from the wind. There are none of the centuries-old dry stone walls in our way, no one even tried to farm this land. They came to strip the peat for the hearths of their homes, that was all. The peat bogs can be hard to navigate. Easier for us as wolves than as humans, but it’s still possible to get a little stuck. Tonight is a good night for a run in this direction, though, it’s late August and the summer has been reasonably dry, as much as northern Britain ever is. There’s a storm coming though, I can feel the oppressive weight of it on the horizon. This particular area of the moor is easiest to travel over after dry or frosty weather. After rain, which is often, we head over to Wessenden Moor or Castleshaw Moor, but they’re closer to other roads and the motorway. Not close enough for people to see us, but close enough that we have to think more carefully about where we’re running, and there are more sheep there.

It feels good to shake humanity off. This isn’t a time for worrying about work, or bills. Office politics and family pettiness has no place here. There is only the ground beneath us, our pack around us, and the moon in the sky above us. We’re fairly flying over the ground now. Daniel is setting a fast pace. If we can’t have the thrill of the hunt, we can have the thrill of the run, pushing ourselves to our limits and beyond, stretching every muscle and tendon. There’s a basic order in the pack, based on strength, ability and intelligence, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a strict hierarchy. I wouldn’t say it’s a democracy either, though. Daniel, the Alpha, is at the head. Bryn is his close friend and confidante. The rest of us find our own places below that. If Daniel or Bryn had mates, we would have to defer to them in the same way that we do to the men themselves, but they haven’t found their mates yet.

In the same manner as our more widely studied cousins, we mate for life. I’ve never experienced the mate bond, but I’m told it’s something amazing. That once it’s caught you, it never lets you go, unless death gets in the way. Michael and Donna describe the feeling as though it replaces the blood in your veins. We are by no means celibate in the meantime, though. We pair up just like any other human, we have relationships. It’s so rare to find a true mate that often the pair relationships can last a lifetime in themselves. The only drawback is that the only wolf a female can have offspring with is her true mate. Couples that are simply paired can’t breed. That’s not to say we can’t get pregnant, we can, but it’s never successful.

I push myself harder, stretch further, dig deeper. I can feel rather than see that Rob is just about keeping pace with me. I’m not watching him; I’m concentrating on the ground in front of me and making sure that whatever happens I don’t outpace Bryn. I know I can, if I can run faster than him that’s his problem not mine; but his male ego will take it badly and I simply cannot be bothered with that fight tonight. As we cover the next few hundred yards Rob starts dropping back, leaving me and Bryn behind Daniel. I know Rob won’t drop much further back, the pride thing again for one, but he’s keeping more of a level with Michael and Donna. I can sense Claire, Mark and Ethan behind them, but beyond that I’d have to concentrate much more than is possible at this pace to pick out who’s who. I could draw you a diagram of where they all are, just not tell you who they are.

I’m close enough to Daniel, though, that I’m getting a backwash of tension from him, a frustration and impatience that taints the crisp night air. I have no idea what’s bothering him and I’m not sure I want to know. Whatever it is, it’s obviously driving him to run like he’s got rabies. It might be loneliness, Daniel hasn’t found a mate yet, and after sixty years of life that’s got to feel pretty rough. I don’t think it’s that, though, there’s more anger than desperation to what he’s feeling, but he’s obviously pretty wound up about it if he’s failing to hide it. It’s harder to hide emotion and feeling in wolf form, part of that whole pack mentality thing. We have heightened senses even in human form, so we’re capable of picking up a catch in a breath or a change of tone, a twitch or a blink that enables us to read emotions and intent more easily; but it’s nothing like as attuned as when we’re furry.

We cover a little under fifteen miles in a few hours. It’s not all flat out running, as well as the peat bogs there are steep sided valleys known as cloughs and jutting, stony crags to negotiate. Thanks to the terrain the pack is still mostly together by the time we get back to the point that we started from. The coming rain hasn’t hit yet, which is good. You’d have to be incredibly optimistic to leave your clothes lying around on the ground round here and still expect them to be dry when you get back, even on a good day. We bring plastic bags with us to wrap our clothes in before we run. It’s not glamorous, but it works.

We’re all a little out of breath as we dress, a sign of a good run. Some of the newer, younger wolves are downright panting. Age is nothing but a number when you’re a werewolf. A new member of the pack might be sixty human years old, but they might only be a couple of years into this life. We do age, but it is at a slower than normal human rate. Take Daniel for instance. He turned sixty this year, but you’d never guess that from looking at him. He looks like a male in his prime; most people would probably put him in his early forties. He’s got the physique of a light heavyweight boxer. Unsurprisingly, boxing is his choice of exercise as a human. There are only a few strands of grey in his mid-brown hair that seems to remain in a stubborn state of slightly shaggy. Whatever it was that was bothering him, he seems to have shaken it off. He’s laughing and joking as he usually does after a good run.

As I finish pulling my hoodie down, Rob slides his arm around my waist under the material and pulls me closer.

“Better?” He asks quietly, his mouth close to my ear.

“Much.” I reply. It’s no secret that I’m a prickly bitch before the full moon. Okay, and during, if you’re being picky.

I slide my own arms around him and snuggle against his chest. If I wasn’t part preternatural canid I would be purring. The moon is setting, its power is more calming than energising now and I feel pretty good after the exertion, relaxed and liquid.

“Hmmmm, I’ll unpack the good plates.”

I’m in the middle of huffing at his, in my opinion, weak attempt at humour, when Bryn calls over.

“Been training have we Becca?”

My huff turns into a sigh. I really was hoping Rob and I could get home before Bryn opened his mouth. He’s got that annoying half-smirk on his face and he’s looking up at me from under his heavy eyebrows as he ties his steel toe-capped boots. His head is shaved down to the bone, his attempt to hide his receding hairline. It’s quite shiny in the moonlight, but I’m not going to point that out, not tonight. He compensates by keeping a permanent rough stubble beard. I take a moment to decide whether it’s going to do me any favours to be visibly offended.

“You know what it’s like, Bryn, got to work the chocolate off somehow.”

He looks me up and down. His eyes are blue in the daylight, but in the dark you can’t see the colour for the shadows. His assessment is far more intrusive than I’d like. I bite my tongue. I will not let him see how much it unnerves me when he looks at me like that, like I’m prey. I’m saved from having to find some sort of answer by Rob slipping his other arm around me possessively and growling. He might not be as big as Bryn, who quite frankly is built like the side of a barn, but he’s not going to just stand back and take the challenge of someone checking out his girlfriend.

“Easy boys.” An aura of calm emanates from Daniel, but it’s his hand on Bryn’s shoulder that breaks the staring contest. Bryn scowls up at Daniel; he obviously doesn’t appreciate anyone interrupting his fun, even his Alpha. He stands, and by the time he’s at full height that half-smirk is back.

“Don’t worry Rob, she’s not my type.”

I know Rob’s not convinced because his grip on me tightens momentarily. I’m not convinced either. Anything with a pulse and an orifice is Bryn’s type.

Daniel gives Rob a pointed look. Rob relaxes, but only a fraction, and gives Bryn a quick nod of his head. The usual post-run chatter has cut off. Everyone else is pretending not to watch, and failing miserably.

I put my palm against Rob’s cheek to get his attention. At five foot six I don’t have to crane my head to look up at him, but in flat walking boots I’m still several inches shorter than he is.

“Let’s go home babe.” I want to remove us from this situation that obviously isn’t over yet, and yes, I do want to make the point that I’m with Rob and that I’m going home with him as well. He obviously has a similar idea because he leans down to give me a brief, but poignant kiss.

“Great plan.” He says quietly to me, then “See you guys soon,” much more loudly in the general direction of everyone else, with a quick nod to acknowledge Daniel before he turns.

“See you.” I call, with a similar acknowledgement to our Alpha, as we start the short hike back to Rob’s car. We’re parked on one side of the hill above the village of Greenfield; we live further around, almost on the opposite side in the village of Mossley.

We don’t speak about what just happened, or the fact that it was my efforts during the run that sparked it, as we make our way back to the car, climb in and set off into the last of the night.

I flick the heater on. It may be the tail end of summer, but it’s the small hours of the morning in northern Britain; it’s cold.

“Did you notice anything off about Daniel tonight?”

“No. Why’d you ask?”

I look across at him, He’s concentrating on the road, but something in his tone isn’t quite as innocent as he wants me to believe. Not a good thing.

“No reason.” Rob glances over, unsatisfied with my answer.

“Just seemed like he was trying to run something off is all.” I shrug.

“Nope, didn’t seem like there was anything up to me.” Rob’s tone is just a shade to bright as he parks the car in front of our little terraced house.

“Guess I’m just being overly paranoid as usual.” I smile.

Rob just raises a sardonic eyebrow. We both climb out of the car. He unlocks the door since he has a house key on the same ring as the car key. The dawn is beginning to lighten the eastern sky, throwing Alphin Pike into almost completely black relief. Our house faces the Pike, and since we’re near the top of a slope with houses on one side of the road and a clough on the other, there’s nothing to interrupt our view of the moor we’ve just thoroughly claimed for our own. Something about actually seeing the dawn break makes it impossible not to yawn. It’s a good job we’ve both booked the following day, today, off work. Rob just chuckles as he locks the front door behind us. My eyes are already closing as we climb the stairs to our room, and it’s as much as I can do not to fall asleep standing up as I shed my clothes before sliding under the duvet. I curl up on my side and feel the bed dip before I feel Rob curve his body around mine. The combination of a full day at work and a long, strenuous run in the fresh night air takes hold, and I fall into a deep sleep to the sound of rain hammering against the windows as the storm finally breaks.

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