Tracking a hunter is up there on the list of questionable choices Erica has made in her life.
A week ago, someone disturbed the cave she’s been sleeping in, and she’d followed the scent to a young hunter man. She’s mostly sure he was just taking shelter for the night and likely doesn’t realise an omega has been living there, but she’s curious about him.
Most hunters ride on adrenaline when they’re hunting, but this one is a lot like her abuela: Calm and resolute.
She wonders if he’s steel-nerved, too.
Right now, he’s skinning a deer in front of a campfire. Kindness to animals doesn’t always translate into a hunter not being torture-happy when it comes to shifters, but it’s still a plus towards him: He’d been careful not to let the deer see him, and he’d done it with one shot straight to the head. Whether it was further kindness or just him seeking a challenge, he’d ignored the fawns and young does and gone for an old buck.
A crossbow, knives, pepper spray, and a semi-automatic handgun are his weapons.
It’s good she won’t be facing a Taser or stun gun if caught, but she finds the fact he has neither curious.
After he’s done skinning the deer, he begins working on preserving the meat.
She wonders if he’s affiliated with the Argents, another family, or completely freelance. It’s not likely he’s one of her abuela’s. The Calaveras are largely Mexico-based and, on the rare occasions, when they need to, they rely on people like her other grandmother, who already live in other countries, to carry out family business in said countries. In her abuela’s part of Mexico, it’s rare to find anyone who isn’t brown-skinned, brown-haired, and brown-eyed. He’d be just as much of an oddity with his dark black skin as she was with her white skin, blonde hair, and hazel eyes.
Eventually, he gets into his tent, and shifting back into human form, she jumps up onto a high, leafy tree and settles in. Unfortunately, there are no caves or other good spots to go underground around. The bark and leafs are uncomfortable against her skin, but if caught, better to be a naked human in a tree than an actual wolf on the ground.
She wakes up when he does, and he doesn’t waste any time in getting ready and continuing to move.
It takes her, however, time to catch up with him. She’d used to think her epilepsy was responsible for her near inability to get up out of bed in the morning, but no, it turns out, she’s simply not a morning person.
When she finally does, she immediately wishes she hadn’t.
He’s talking to two other hunters.
“We could help you, Boyd.”
“Not interested,” he replies.
The other demands, “Do you honestly think you can take on an alpha by yourself without getting killed or turned?”
“What happened with your sister- Gerard had everyone fooled,” the first one says in a gentle tone. “None of us defend him or what he did.”
“But it still happened,” is Boyd’s cold reply. “And you still follow his granddaughter. I don’t need or want her help.”
Well, Allison isn’t that bad, she finds herself mentally replying. Sure, she can be annoying at times, but for a hunter, she’s okay.
“She changed the code. She’d never do something like that.”
“Or she has everyone fooled, too. Why didn’t you two make contact a week ago?”
She inwardly curses.
“We just got to the town two days ago, and we only found you about thirty minutes ago.”
“Hm. Kali might be nearer than I thought.”
On the one hand, him thinking this means he’s likely to be focused on signs of whoever and whatever this Kali is. On the other, this Kali is obviously bad news, and hearing he or she’s apparently near might result in these hunters sticking close to Boyd.
“She’s killed numerous hunters, Boyd.”
Boyd doesn’t give any physical reaction, but based on his smell and the way his heartbeat doesn’t change, he’s unimpressed by this. He seems to believe them or know they’re right; he just doesn’t care.
“Look, let’s just say what this is really about: Going after her like this puts her betas at risk, and most of them fit within the code. You kill an innocent wolf and survive, we’ll hunt you.”
His laugh is sarcastic. “That’s funny, an Argent professing belief in an innocent werewolf.”
“Nothing will ever convince me of that. Tell Gerard Argent’s granddaughter, if she wants to kill me like her grandfather killed my eight-year-old sister, I’ll be much better prepared than Alicia was.”
“She doesn’t kill breakers of the code unless she’s forced to.”
“I don’t subscribe to any code, and if I did, it wouldn’t be one an Argent created.”
“What did any of those betas do to your sister, Boyd?”
“As far as I know, nothing. My goal isn’t to kill them, but their lives aren’t worth my goal. Once I kill Kali, I’m done. If they get in my way, human law can’t touch me for killing them, and I’m not afraid of Argent coming after me. If they don’t get in my way, they won’t die.”
Erica doubts he’d appreciate hearing how much he has in common with Victoria Argent.
“Whatever you think of Allison, if you let us help, we can kill Kali without risking any of her betas.”
“This is the closest I’ve been to Kali since I was a kid. I’m not going to waste time and let her gain distance by working out a plan just to try to ensure some other werewolves don’t end up in the crossfire.”
“And so that the chances of you dying or being turned are dramatically reduced.”
“I didn’t get this far by being worried about either.”
She suddenly finds herself going from neutral to on the side of the two hunters. As someone who’s made her share of questionable life choices and suffered impulse problems all her life, especially when she was a teenager, she knows he must be fairly lucky to have gotten this far. Not worrying about dying or, in the case of hunters, being turned is a great way to find either or both happening.
Realising this conversation might go on for hours, she keeps her nose on him and wanders off to the forest’s stream to catch some fish.
When the other hunters leave, she goes back and finds he now has an electric baton in his supply of weapons.
Wonderful, is her glum thought.
They both silently make their way through the forest. If he still feels eyes on him, it doesn’t seem he’s trying to pinpoint them.
Eventually, they stop near a pack of werewolves.
None of them are hiding their scent, and none of them are an alpha. None of them give any indication of detecting his presence.
She wonders if he’s going to kill or torture them.
He climbs a tree, readies his bow, and simply watches them.
After about an hour, she leaves again.
The sky is turning dusky when he climbs down.
By now, she’s realised: This Kali alpha could be watching both of them. She’d labelled the other werewolves as non-alphas due to his lack of reaction to them, but alphas can mask the fact they’re alphas the same way all werewolves can learn to mask their scents. None of them were Kali, but if Kali is around, she could be as ignorant of the fact as he is.
She can all too clearly imagine her abuela’s sarcasm.
You came across an unknown hunter going after an alpha, and you decided it wouldn’t be incredibly foolish to follow him and put yourself in both his orbit and this unknown alpha’s. I knew my worthless son would father an even more worthless child. It’s a shame Severo will never have children. They might do me proud.
Yeah, but Severo would probably end up killing them in the crib, though true, doesn’t stop the fact Severo definitely never would have gotten himself into this kind of situation.
Erica hates it when she can’t even win against her abuela inside her own head.
Watching Boyd, she debates shifting and jumping up into a tree. It’s probably best to stay near him; his indifference to non-Kali werewolves tentatively makes him a safer choice than the alpha who did something, most likely involving him or his dead little sister, and who might object to an omega being near her pack. If Kali comes around, he’ll fight, and she can hopefully use this to escape.
Risking him seeing her, though-
She has a better chance at fighting in human form.
Sarcasm or not, she wishes she knew what her abuela would think. Erica has no doubt she’d know what to do, and in this instance, Erica would do it in a heartbeat.
“Who are you?”
Not dead from a heart attack, but probably would be if I were human, goes through her head as she looks up at one of the beta werewolves.
The beta stares down with yellow eyes. “I know you aren’t a Hale,” she continues. “They’re all black and brown-haired.”
Now isn’t the time to get annoyed, she knows, but she can’t fully help it. If her parents could produce her, the Hales could end up with a blonde or redheaded kid, too.
They both freeze when Boyd’s, “Kali?” feels the air.
He’s suddenly right there looking at them, pain floods through her, and somewhere between the arrow being embedded in her side and him walking over, the other werewolf has ran off unharmed.
Change, she wills her eyes. Change.
He lowers his bow, reaches over, and yanks the arrow out, and she can’t help the howl that emits.
As he’s walking away, she manages to shift back into human form, and trying to control her breathing, she watches as the skin heals.
When she finds him again, she walks over.
Looking up, he does something of a double-take, and then, carefully doesn’t look at her chest or between her legs. “Are you one of Kali’s?”
“No. I’m an omega.”
Standing, he takes his jacket off and offers it to her.
She accepts it. “Erica Reyes.”
“Vernon Boyd. I go by Boyd.”
“Why are you hunting Kali?”
“She killed my sister, Alicia.”
“I’ve been around for a while now. You told the hunters that Gerard Argent did. Or did I misunderstand something during my eavesdropping?”
“Kali wanted to turn other hunter families against the Argents. She bit my sister, an eight-year-old girl, spread the word, and deliberately put her out in the open. Gerard took the bait and killed Alicia.”
“But the plan didn’t work, did it? I’ve never heard anything about a kid being bit and killed until now.”
“Gerard convinced everyone Alicia was an unfortunate casualty of a feral omega being hunted. Some people believed Kali, but he created enough doubt no one was willing to go against him and his family.”
“Did anyone believe you?”
“Most people believed that I believed it. Eventually, proof was found. For what Gerard did. The fact Kali bit Alicia isn’t in dispute, but her deliberately letting her be killed in the effort to bring down a hunter family- Most people believe I believe that.”
“But they still aren’t trying to stop you, because, biting a kid that young automatically puts her outside the code.”
“Okay, well, if I’m not on your kill list, I’ll just be going now.” Taking off his jacket and holding it out, she adds, “Um, good luck with avenging your sister.”
“Would you like to be an alpha?”
Utterly bewildered by the question, she puts the jacket back on. “What?”
“If you help me find Kali, I’ll let you kill her. You’d be an alpha, then.”
“I won’t lie and say there isn’t something tempting about the idea, but is there any reason I should trust you? You could be planning to use me for bait or cannon fodder. And after all these years, you’re just going to let someone else kill her? Is it because you don’t want to actually kill someone? Have you ever killed anyone?”
“Yes. She needs to die. Whether it’s by me or someone else doesn’t matter. If it’s a werewolf outside of her pack, though, her spark won’t go to any of them. That’d be a bonus, as far as I’m concerned.”
She has a feeling she’s going to regret this, but she finds herself sitting down. “What’s the plan for finding her?”
Finding Kali turns out to be easier and quicker than she thought it would.
She studies them with red eyes, and it takes everything Erica has not to shiver.
“I should have bitten you, too,” she idly comments. “Who’s the omega?”
“You don’t know that I’m an omega.”
“Shelina told me about you. A non-alpha that can do a full shift. If you had a pack, they’d always be near, ready to protect such a valuable wolf.”
Erica knows Kali is her default enemy, but those words- It’s been a long time since anyone has thought, never mind said, she was anything special or valuable.
“But you-” She scoffs at Boyd. “No one would have cared if an almost teenaged, black boy was killed. She was the only important one, and I should have let you die with her.”
Boyd starts shooting, and Kali catches and dodges the bullets.
Shifting into wolf form, Erica watches.
A bullet embeds in Kali’s shoulder, and as she stumbles backwards, Erica launches at her.
Blood fills her mouth, and power flows throughout her entire body in a way she’s never felt. Becoming a werewolf, being healthy after a lifetime of being chronically ill, none of that compares to this.
Returning to human form, she spits out the blood and tries not to vomit. Along with the power is the literal worst taste she’s ever experienced, and she runs until she gets to the stream.
Taking gulps of water and spitting them out, she hears Boyd’s heartbeat and smells him.
When the taste is finally down to a tolerable level, she turns and sees him watching her. “I should have used my claws.”
Coming over, he kneels down and gives her a small smile. It’s nice; it makes him look younger and almost approachable. “Thank you.”
“Back at you,” she says. Looking down in the stream, she smiles at her red eyes.
“I’m going back into town. I have a car there. Do you want me to drive you anywhere?”
“No. But if you have access to a phone that doesn’t involve trying to avoid people seeing the naked chick, there’s someone I should call.”
“If I can still shift, I’ll go on four legs until we get nearer to town.”
Thankfully, it’s as easy as ever to shift into wolf form.
In retrospect: Yeah, Kali’s pack might have some objections to their alpha being killed, and one new alpha and a human with a bow, knives, pepper spray, and an electric baton isn’t much compared to a large pack.
She doesn’t care he didn’t think much, if at all, about himself when he was emptying the gun of bullets, but she definitely objects to the fact he didn’t stop to consider her.
Jumping, she realises: Someone does have a gun.
Hunters, including the two from earlier, come into view, and they have plenty of weapons. Now, if she can just avoid having any of them turned against her…
“Kali didn’t fit within the code,” one of the hunters says in a clear, firm voice. “Let Boyd go, or you won’t, either.”
There are growls, barred teeth, and a few verbally make it clear, someday, Boyd will pay.
The fact they don’t pay attention to her is comforting.
After the other werewolves disperse, she finds wary eyes and weapons pointed at her.
Boyd steps in front of her. “She’s an ally.”
“Is that- Is that a wolf? I mean, a real one? A werewolf?”
Shifting back, she touches his shoulder, and to her surprise, one of the men immediately lowers his gun. “Nance,” he says to one of the women. “She’s a Calavera.”
Lowering her weapon slightly, the woman orders, “Lower your weapons.” Everyone follows suit, and she looks at Erica. “I’m Nancy Dunn. Are you a Calavera?”
“Sort of. I’m Erica Reyes, Araya Calavera’s granddaughter. I was epileptic and found an alpha to bite me when I was sixteen. Mi abuela and I haven’t spoken much since then. If Severo could, he’d have killed me that night I came home. So, I’m not going to invoke their name for anything, and in turn, don’t call her and tell her that I’m claiming any kind of representation of the Calavera family.”
One of them demands, “And how long have you been an alpha?”
“Since a few minutes ago. Hey, you said yourself, Kali didn’t fit the code. What do you care if another werewolf killed her?”
“Erica could do a full shift before she killed Kali,” Boyd says. “We’re both heading back to town.”
Nancy motions to one of the other women hunters, and she tosses Nancy a bag. Digging out a pair of jeans and a sweater, Nancy holds it out. “Here. You’re about Taylor’s size.”
She starts to change.
“We’ll walk Miss Reyes back into town. Do you want to come with us, Boyd?”
“You’re walking with me,” Erica declares.
“Apparently, yes is the answer,” Boyd says.
She finds out the hunter who recognised her as a Calavera is named Randy Jones. Pulling him aside once they get into town, she asks, “How’d you know about me?”
“I saw a picture of you once in a family photo of the Calaveras. You were much younger, just a kid, but I can always recognise a person’s eyes. Or human eyes, at any rate. Your wolf eyes are much browner. I mean-”
“I know what you meant,” she assures him.
Less than an hour in town, and she knows she has to- The woods aren’t safe, but even as a regular werewolf, her control wasn’t that great, but now, with even sharper senses-
Boyd’s voice is concerned, but his heartbeat is mostly steady, and she focuses her hearing on it. “I need to- I’m losing control. All these people and sounds and everything about the people-” She manages to flap her hands.
“We can drive out onto one of the backroads,” he suggests.
If she can’t trust him- she has a possibility of winning, and with him being a hunter, there’s a good chance she could convince her abuela it really was a matter of self-defence on her part. If she hurts an innocent, non-hunter human, though, her abuela might literally kill her herself. She definitely wouldn’t do anything to stop the others, and if they tried to argue for locking her up instead, she’d pull rank. No werewolf with Calavera DNA is going to live if they don’t fit within the code.
“Where’s your car?”
He links his fingers through hers, and a little more calm settles through her. “Can you walk?”
They get to the car, an old Buick, and she gets into the backseat. “Okay. I’m more-or-less good right now. Go pack everything.”
“Here.” He hands her the keys.
Lying in the backseat, she focuses on listening to Boyd’s movements.
“Boyd?” Nancy’s voice asks.
“Erica’s having trouble with her sensory input. We’re going to leave town.”
“Are you sure- She’s an alpha, Boyd. Even with your training, in an enclosed space-”
“We’ll both be fine.”
The trunk’s opened, everything’s put in, and then, one of her doors is open.
Sitting up, she waves at Boyd and Nancy. “I’m doing better. One person is fine, but all these people everywhere-” She shakes her head.
Nancy nods. “Be safe, both of you.”
Once they’re out of town, everything levels out.
When it starts getting dark, he asks, “Do you feel up to driving?”
“That would, um, require a driver’s license. And knowing how to drive.”
He glances at her before turning his attention back onto the road. “You don’t know how to drive?”
“No.” She sighs. “Look, my parents sent me to Mexico the summer before I turned fourteen. I wasn’t just epileptic. It was so severe that I had electric shock therapy done. And maybe it lessened things slightly, kept me alive, but it didn’t actually make things anywhere near manageable. They just couldn’t deal with all that.”
“My Grandma Juanita was sick all the time, too. Thankfully, she’s doing a lot better now, but back then, she could barely take care of herself, let alone a severely sick teenager. So, when they sent me to mi abuela, there was basically this American city inside Mexico. It had a boarding school, and they were prepared to deal with my various medical issues. During holidays and vacations, I started to learn about hunting.”
“Like I said, when I was sixteen, I found an alpha to bite me. The fever lasted two days. I know she and Severo both, him especially, were hoping I’d die, but she wouldn’t let him actually kill me. Once it broke, I left. I guess I could have gone to my parents or Grandma Juanita or maybe even back to the school, but I didn’t. Sometimes, I’ll find cities, hang out in them for a little, and sometimes, I’ll stick to backroads and the wilderness. I’ve worked a very few short, very short-term jobs, but I can’t remember the last time I had any money. And no, I have no idea how to drive.”
“I could teach you.”
She decides she might come to really like Boyd.
“I can’t drive on the highway. What if we’re stopped? Again, I have no license. What if I kill someone? Then, mi abuela would hunt me down for sure. Plus, you’d definitely probably die if we got into a car accident, Boyd!”
“If we’re stopped, we say: I’m teaching my friend how to drive. It’s the truth, and it may not be technically legal, but they aren’t going to arrest us for it. At most, we’ll get a ticket, and the officer will insist I get behind the wheel.”
“And the potential death this could cause?”
“You’re not going to kill anyone, Erica. You know how to drive, and now, you need to learn how to drive on the highway.” He smiles. “I know it’s scary. I was scared the first few times, too. But pretty soon it won’t be.”
Taking a deep breath, she nods. “Alright?”
Getting out, they trade seats.
Starting the engine, she looks at the highway, and when he reaches over and squeezes her wrist, she puts the Buick in drive.