The road was hard and unforgiving under Stiles’ feet. He took one step at a time, walking steadily behind his father, trying his best to keep up. His shoulders ached with the heavy pack he carried. The sun beat down upon his back, burning him through his shirt and making him feel like he was inside an oven. Except, he was outside. And this sucked ass.
It’d been hours of walking, and the Clan wouldn’t even arrive at Camp Nevada until tomorrow. Tonight, they'd stop at Outpost Seven, one of the many clusters of shelters dotted in the Woodlands, and then continue on early in the morning. It wasn’t safe to be outdoors at night, especially this close to wolf territory.
Stiles was already hating the sight of the concrete road beneath his boots; the monotonous task of walking, the sweat on his skin, the lack of buildings, the heat burning through the soles of his shoes and warming his feet to a million degrees. At this point he was wishing for something, anything to break the continuous green wall of trees that grew on either side of the road. Anything to give some sign that they were growing closer to civilisation.
There was no other way to get to places besides walking, not unless you owned a vehicle, and those were few and far between. Petroleum, needed to fuel said vehicle, was even scarcer. Everything had been given over to the development of the Clans; the “broadening of their horizons”. Weapons, materials, vehicles, power sources - all of it had been given up to expand their villages into cities, and to take more land, to push out the wolves.
Stiles wasn’t sure if he believed in the cause as much as he was supposed to.
The Clans had always been fighting the Wolf Packs. Since before Stiles had even been a concept, it was humans versus wolves. Nobody knew any different. It was said that the wolves were feral, mindless creatures – that trying to get them to understand what the humans wanted was a waste of time, because they weren’t smart enough to comprehend it.
It was taught to Clan children that wolves were not be trusted; if you saw one, you should get the nearest adult, and then you should hide while they dealt with it. There were tales that circulated through each Clan, some of the details changed, but the moral of the stories was the same:
Do not trust a wolf. Do not go near a wolf. Do not let a wolf trick you into becoming its prey.
Stiles wasn’t sure if he believed the stories much, either. But then, he had never been beyond the walls before, and he had never seen a wolf face to face.
A shout from up ahead signalled that they were stopping to rest. Stiles followed his father to the side of the road, where they sat in the shade of the tall pine trees that grew throughout the Woodlands. He sighed gladly as he relieved himself of the heavy pack on his back
Stiles drank eagerly from his water bottle. He was careful to leave enough for the next few breaks they took – all Clan children were taught how to survive in the wilderness. How to read maps, how to forage for food, and how to defend themselves. The Woodlands were, after all, their home.
His friend Lydia stepped through the small crowd of people crouched among the trees and sat down beside him. Drops of sweat beaded on her pale skin, which was flushed a little pink from the heat. Loose strands of her bright red hair clung to her neck and forehead.
‘Having fun?’ she asked, dropping to the ground beside him. He grimaced, putting his water bottle back in its place on his pack.
‘The time of my life,’ he said, and she laughed.
'You always were one for copious amounts of exercise, what with your effortless grace and coordination,' she said, smirking. Stiles stuck his tongue out at her. They both knew he had about as much coordination as a three legged donkey.
They sat in silence for a few moments, watching the others mingle and chat quietly, enjoying the few minutes of rest they had before they would have to continue. Stiles' father stood and went to speak to their other Clan Elder, Argent. Argent’s daughter, Allison, as always stood calmly by her father's side, watching the woods for movement. Her bow was held loosely in her hands, an arrow nocked and ready.
Allison was a fearsome shot, having been taught by her father, and his father before him. She was clever, and brave, and loyal. She protected the Clan as well as she could, since she had been a little girl, in fact. Some said she was destined to become the youngest Clan Elder in history. A born leader. Stiles would trust her with his life, because Lydia trusted her. The two girls had always been close.
‘What do you think the Camp will be like, once we get there?’ asked Lydia.
‘Hopefully, they’ll have working showers,’ Stiles complained. ‘Because I don’t know about you, but I stink.’
‘Everyone does,’ Lydia replied. 'Even me.'
Stiles wrinkled his nose. ‘I’m trying not to think about it.’
‘And it’ll be worse by tomorrow.’
‘I am aware of that, Lydia, thank you. I was trying to spare myself from thinking about that as well.’
Lydia laughed again. It was one of Stiles’ many talents, making her laugh. That, and driving her crazy when they argued. He could piss anyone off with his rambling - and oftentimes, it was a useful way to glean information out of people. Stiles had a talent for that as well. And an incessant, urgent need to know things.
‘But seriously,’ she asked again. ‘What do you think it will be like? Will we be safe?’
Stiles shrugged. ‘Dad says it’s well built, with lots of security, more than Camp Hobart ever had, but even then…the attacks have been getting worse.’
‘You got another report?’ Lydia asked loudly, her eyebrows raised in surprise. Stiles hushed her quickly, and peered over his shoulder, making sure his father was still busy talking to Argent.
‘Could you be any more obvious?’ he snapped.
‘Sorry,’ she said sheepishly, ducking her head in embarrassment. 'I just thought you'd tell me sooner.'
Stiles motioned at Lydia, and she shuffled closer.
‘The wolves have been retaliating,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s like, their numbers are growing or something. Outposts Nine and Thirteen already got attacked in the past couple of weeks. I think it’s only a matter of time before they start invading. Properly, instead of just raids.’
Lydia swallowed. ‘Is this why we moved out?’
‘Yeah. I think it was to be a part of a larger Clan or something. Strength in numbers, and all that. And there’s something else.’
‘Something’s been killing people. On both sides.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘They found bodies, wolves and humans, and they were both killed by the same thing. Mutilated faces, like claw marks or something. But it wasn't wolves. It was something else. Something new.’
Lydia paled. The thought of there being more creatures out there, more monsters which could tear them limb from limb, was disconcerting, to say the least. Stiles could almost see her brilliant mind ticking over the repercussions of this new addition to the playing board, and running through the options of what it could be. Lydia was an expert on...well, everything.
‘Well, do they know what it is? A creature, maybe? A rogue wolf?’
Stiles shook his head. ‘I don’t know. I didn’t get to finish reading it–’
‘Finish reading what?’
Stiles jumped in surprise and looked up to see his father looming over him, his arms crossed over his chest. He raised an eyebrow at Stiles.
‘N-Nothing!’ Stiles spluttered. ‘A textbook Lydia lent me. It was very interesting, yeah. Really, um…educational. Like, so, educational. I learnt so much from it, about the world, about myself, about...things...’
His father held up a hand. 'Stiles, stop. Whatever you were reading - and I don't wanna know what it was, I really don't - just don't do it again, okay?'
Stiles nodded his head furiously. 'Yep, okay. Got it. No more reading for Stiles. I promise to remain illiterate for all eternity.'
His father shook his head. 'Stiles-'
‘Alright, folks, let’s get going!’ The call cut through the low babble, and with several pained groans the Clan members got to their feet and shuffled back onto the road in a disorderly fashion. Stiles got to his feet as well, hauling Lydia up after him, who went to find her mother and her backpack. Stiles bent down, ignoring his back muscles' protests, and heaved his bag off of the ground, swinging it onto his shoulders once more.
The scattered group had barely begun moving off when a terrified scream pierced the air.