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The AsterAsh Project

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A terrified young woman was fleeing through a choking and dense forest as a feral werewolf chased after her. Her chances of escape was slim to none. The night couldn't hide her every footstep and the forest couldn't disguise her scent. No matter what, the crazed monster would find her. It would hunt her down and kill her. Yet, in this hopeless situation, Claire Young continued to run. Her mind a blur as she charged through foliage and narrowly avoided every tree that presumed to block her.

She did her best to dart around the tall western hemlocks, as they charged towards her faster and faster, and she didn't even slow down as the steepening slope made her small feet run faster and faster. A broken neck was nothing compared to the monster that was assuredly getting closer. However, in this total darkness, it was inevitable that she'd be stopped eventually and she tripped over a thick tree root that was partially sticking out of the earth and fell face forward. Desperately, she up threw her hands in an effort to save her jaw. Twisting a wrist once she hit the ground.

She yelped in pain. But bit her lip in an effort to keep silent. Claire thought about running again. But she could barely stand. Luckily, she saw a nearby wall of dirt that had been uncovered by a landslide and she quickly stumbled over to the exposed dirt and pressed her back against it. She smothered the dirt on herself and mixing the earth with the stinking deer droppings that she had previously tried to use to mask her own scent as best as she could. Before the chase she had even gone to such lengths as to throw her underwear in a nearby river. Hoping to give the impression that she had fallen in. But it had been all for naught. As a wolf's nose can pick up on distinct scents and this monster was no different.

She panted as she sat there and her every breath was compounded by a wince of pain. Her eyes watered as she tried to hold in the need to groan in pain. She wanted to run away again. But it was only a matter of time. It would be on her in seconds. She heard it. Its frantic pace and heavy weight made a continuous beating sound. Almost like a lunatic repeatedly smashing a club against the ground in a fit of rage. Then it stopped. The sound of heavy padding followed. Claire held her breath. But the monster could hear her heartbeat and there was nothing she could do to stop her own body from betraying her. There was no silence. Fear was causing her ears to pop and the sound of pressure seemed to overwhelm her until she heard it. A forceful growl. She knew what that sound meant and she didn't want to turn to face it. But beholden to her waking nightmare. Claire turned her head and saw sharp teeth with drool dripping to the ground. Above those eyes were the pair of large amber eyes that were trained on her. But Claire didn't look at them. All her attention was on those dagger-like teeth. Before they snapped around her arm. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I won't do it again." Claire desperately whined. "I swear, this is the last time. I swear. I promise." The giant wolf released its grip and a line of blood slid its way down Claire's arm. The wolf licked at the wound it had made and Claire broke down into tears. The tension in her body releasing the only way it could.

An hour later, Claire Young was being dragged out of the forest by a naked man. Both of them looked haggard by exhaustion. But the man remained so much stronger than her. His body had taken on a unnatural shape as it had become deathly thin and yet remained very much as muscular as would be typical of a body builder. This man looked sick. But that didn't mean that he wasn't strong enough to keep Claire hostage and she yelped out numerous apologies through every second of her being dragged away.

Then, the man rounded on Claire. As though he was possessed. "Claire! I am trying to protect you and keep you safe and make sure you don't get hurt and you keep- keep! Ma-king! This difficult!" Claire sobbed as she continued to apologise relentlessly. The man practically growled in her face as he grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close to his gritted teeth. An uncaring sun rose overhead and sunlight revealed every ugliness of the scene that was playing out between the girl and the monster. Seeing the tears and snot on Claire's face seemed to break the man out of his rage and he switched gears in an instant. "Hey, Claire-bear. It's okay. Don't be sad, please. This is just a bump in the road." The man spoke to her as though she was a child. But she didn't stop sobbing and even pulled away when the naked man lifted a hand towards her face. "Claire." He growled. But someone else gave a response.
"That's enough, Quil."

Quil turned to see a woman with messy short black hair and copper skin walking up to him with a casual confidence. He didn't respond in kind and pushed Claire behind him. "Did Jacob send you!?" He yelled. Pressing his whole body forward.
"Emily sent me." The confident woman replied. Daring to get so close that she had to look up at the man to look him in the eye. "I have this under control." He growled in her face. The few extra inches of height doing nothing to startle the fearless woman. "You had control. But I'm here now and so I want you listen to me." She commanded. Quil panicked and shoved the opposing woman. Knocking her back a few steps. "Stay out of this, Leah!" He screamed as his repulsive form quaked with rage.
"Well, at least I tried." Leah said solemnly as the naked man transformed into a large wolf and charged at her. "Claire's gone." She quietly pointed out and the frenzied wolf nearly tumbled to the ground as it stopped suddenly and turned to the spot where Claire had been standing. Her fleeing figure was only twenty metres away. A gap that he could close in only a few seconds.

Lurching forward, Quil sprinted towards Claire. Its whole body bounding as he sped up. Its four legs frantically kicking as it sought to close the gap. Claire kept running. Even as Quil drew closer. Even as her final escape attempt was about to be cut woefully short. Until a pained yelp reached her ears. She stopped dead in her tracks and turned to see where the noise had come from. Before her was an image that didn't seem possible. Her former tormentor was dying in a pool of its own blood. Above it stood another giant wolf with a clump of bloody flesh between its deadly jaw. Claire, almost hypnotised, stepped towards the defeated creature. Now making pathetic guttural sounds as it tried to breathe through a gaping throat. It gave a few pained gasps of breath. Then started to make revolting hacking noises as it convulsed in pain until it eventually it passed away. Its eyes losing their shine. The last speck of humanity that could have been found within Quil Ateara. "Leah... I-" Before Claire could finish. The torn piece of flesh hit the ground as Leah transformed back into a human. Though she still looked like a nightmarish proximally of a human as the bloody mess on her face dripped down her naked torso.

Claire hung her head down. Unsure of what to say now that her world had been shattered. Leah huffed as she stood up and looked down at the smaller woman, wiping the blood from her mouth. "You heard what I said right? About Emily having sent me." Claire nodded. "Good." Leah responded. "Good." She repeated to herself. This turn of events had been what she had expected. But it wasn't any easier. Even in the face of clear foresight. Claire nodded and sniffed. Her nose was clogged with phlegm from all the crying she had done. Leah didn't know what else she could say to make things better in this situation. But she knew that they had to get Claire anywhere that wasn't here. Near a giant dead wolf, with a bloody naked woman standing over it. So, she did her best to prompt Claire to follow her. "Well, I brought a jeep. So, I think we should at least sit in the car and try to clean ourselves up a bit." Leah reasoned. However, Claire didn't respond and Leah realised that she might have to be a bit more direct until Claire was in a better place. "Come on, let's get somewhere where you can sit down for a bit." Leah quietly suggested as she gently put a hand on Claire's back, and another in one hand, as she lead the emotional girl away from the corpse.

At the jeep, Leah was dressing herself in a pair of boy's jeans and a dark flannel shirt, a discarded bloody towel sitting by her bare feet, as Claire sat in an open passenger seat with a box of tissues. Claire's body rocked slightly and she felt ready to throw up. "All right." Leah stated all of a sudden. Causing Claire to jump. Though she sank back into herself once she realised who had spoken. "I'm going to take you to a motel, so that we can have a shower and get some rest, before we decide what we want to do next. If you want to ask any questions, now's your chance until we're both settled." Claire considered what to ask and found herself at the centre of a barrage of questions and, in her fatigued state, it was hard to decide an order. "Nothing?" Leah asked as she slipped into a pair of brown sandals. "N-no. I jus- I mean." Claire coughed and realised that her throat was sore from her harrowing experience. Leah made her way over to Claire and put her hand on the young teenager's back. Rubbing it in an effort to be as reassuring as she could. "If you need time. Just say so." Claire wanted to take Leah up on her offer. But she also wanted answers and this sickly feeling just wouldn't sub-

A torrent of vomit left Claire's mouth and landed on the grass in front of her. It wasn't much. But it was still humiliating for Claire. Not that Leah cared. She was continuing to rub Claire's back and was speaking to her soothingly. "It's all right." Leah kept repeating to Claire. Who was now shivering and taking in deep breaths of air. "Do you feel like you're going to be sick again?" Leah inquired.
"I don't know." Claire mumbled.
"Well, let's try getting to a motel. I've already got one in mind. But, if you feel like you're going to be sick, make sure to let me know and I'll pull over. Okay?" Claire didn't say anything. However, she showed her answer by pulling her legs into the vehicle. Leah got the point and closed the car door and while she got in the driver's seat, Claire took one last look towards the large wolf carcass and saw just how tiny it looked in the distance. That wolf had been someone that meant a lot to her. Yet now she could only see the former as a tiny fleck far off in the middle of a boring little field.

It had been a headache checking into the motel. Claire had to wait, still covered in mud, blood and with breath that smelt of vomit, as Leah signed paperwork. It was an uncomfortably new experience. Feeling vulnerable even though no one was around. However, Claire could help but think of Quil. Thoughts, thoughts that Claire was afraid of, started to peck at her mind. Maybe she did need him? What if that group of men, hanging out by their motorcycles, spotted her? She didn't have Quil anymore. What would she do?

Claire jumped and squeaked when a hand knocked at the car window beside her. Thankfully, it was only Leah. "I'm sorry I startled you. But I've got the rooms. Should be nice to have one of your own, after what you've been through." What Leah had said, however well intentioned, wasn't wrong. But Claire wasn't sure if she ready to sleep in a new place without anyone she knew nearby. Nevertheless, she didn't argue and they soon were opening Claire's room, which she was grateful for being on the ground floor, and the first thing that Claire did was rush for the shower. Her first in nearly a month. Washing herself in cold rivers had gotten old in a span of two days and a hot shower was melting all the cold river bathings right off of her back.. That said, her knees felt like they were ready to give out and her head was starting to throb with pain. Claire knew that it would be a long time before things were back to normal. If ever. And the throbbing migraine was settling in as a harsh reminder for the next few hours.

Leah, meanwhile, was sat on the bed. Making a phone call. When it finally connected, she addressed the recipient as Seth and asked three questions. The first two. "Where are you?" And. "How close are you to Jacob?" Were simple. Technical. But easy to answer. The third, however, was more nuanced. When Leah asked; "does Jacob know he's being followed?" Seth's reply wasn't solid. But Leah didn't blame him. Seth, after all, had been given the hard task of tailing Jacob. Their pack alpha. And Jacob was in the company of a vampire. So, the question of "does Jacob know he's being followed?" was really more a question of "is Jacob acting how someone pretending that they don't know that they're being followed might?" Which wasn't a question that had reliable answers. Not that Seth didn't do the best that he could. But "maybe" wasn't a helpful answer. But it would have to do. Regardless, once Leah had gotten all the information she expected, in the short amount of time she had, she said her goodbyes and gave her love before cutting the call. A wave of exhaustion washing over her once she was done. With a little bit of time left, before Claire finished her shower, she used her smart phone to check the location that Seth had given her and marked out how long it would take. After marking out how long it would take to get to Seattle from the motel. She breathed a sigh of relief upon finding that Seattle was closer by a full day's drive.

While Leah was doing this, Claire came out with all of the two towels that the motel had. Though she was lucky that she didn't only have one damp, moth bitten, towel at hand. She didn't feel it. "Hello." Leah greeted awkwardly. Claire returned the awkward greeting and stood in the middle of the room. Unsure of what to do. "I'm going out to the car, I've got aspirin, water and a change of clothes. If you wait a minute, I'll be right back." Leah promised and left without another word. Not waiting to give Claire a chance to respond.

Without much that she could do, Claire took up Leah's seat on the bed and waited for Leah to come back. Her head pounding and the sickness she had felt earlier returning. Memories returned, memories she didn't know she had acquired, such as blood soaked grass that looked like red morning dew and the cold feeling of the wet mud that she had covered herself in. Claire's hand ached, causing her to whimper, as the gash on her arm burned as it bled. She felt as though she was in more pain than she had ever been in her life and she knew that she was probably right. As Quil had protected her from every bit of pain that a child would normally feel growing up. Even though, right now, every bit of pain she felt was because of him. Normally pain sent that message that you shouldn't do something stupid. But, right now, Claire was feeling like a different message had been sent. Quill didn't mind Claire being in pain. So long as he had been the one to put her in pain.

When this thought crossed her mind, she began to cry. Her face contorted into a pained expression. As a lump forced in her throat. The irony of having being fearful without Quil, just ten minutes ago, and now being glad to be rid of him, wasn't lost on Claire. But she couldn't help it. She couldn't help how she felt about Quil and that tore at her. Creating a violent vortex of emotion, that felt unbearable as Claire's headache pounded away. Then all that angst was shoved back down the moment the door swung open. Not that the effort made a difference. Because, Leah immediately saw that Claire had been crying as soon as she stepped through the door. "Hey, hey. It's okay. You're going to be okay." Leah reassured the softly weeping teenager. Who, upon hearing sympathy and encouragement, immediately choked up and began to cry in earnest. The crying only made her headache worse. But Leah was on top of this and had knelt down in front of Claire with a box of aspirin in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. Claire took both and managed to take two pills and a big gulp of water. Despite how she felt. Leah, meanwhile, slipped a rucksack over her shoulder and set it on the ground. But she didn't stand up. Staying knelt in front of Claire. She put one hand on the girl's knee and kept on reassuring her. Waiting patiently as Claire slowly drank from the water bottle.

A while later, Leah was sat on the bed next to Claire, who had had her arm bandaged, and was holding a tub of ice cream to her wrist. "Best I can do." Leah had said upon handing over the ice cream. Regardless, with all immediate concerns taken care of, they were finally able to talk. Even though Leah was expecting this to be a brief conversation, given that Claire had had a rough day and was in need of a long sleep, Claire was, for the most part, ready for a full conversation. She wanted all of the answers. "How many others are there? Like you and Quil?" Claire asked. It wasn't the most immediate question. But it laid the groundwork for a richer understanding of everything surrounding Quil and Leah. "A few that I know of. But I don't know the exact number." Leah shook her head. "I tend to keep out of this stuff and I'm sorry if that doesn't help much. But I don't want to know the reason behind every bump in the night. So, I'm a little out of the loop on a lot of things." Claire bit her lip and asked another question. Not pausing for fear of stopping entirely. "But, when Quil kidnapped me, you were the only one to come and save me. Is there a reason why?" Leah slowly nodded her affirmation. She opened her mouth, only to close it. As if she was searching for the words. Eventually, she managed an indirect spiel. "People like us, by which I mean me and Quil, normally call ourselves shape-shifters. But, truth be told, we can only turn into giant wolves. Really, we're just monsters. We look human until we lose control and I don't think you can call something like that human." Claire frowned at Leah's answer. "That's not an answer to my question." She protested. Leah hissed through clenched teeth and then relented. Giving Claire her desired answer.
"The other monsters think that what happened between you and Quil is normal. Because, and I know this is going to make you uncomfortable, so bear with me, Quil imprinted on you when you were a child. Every monster, like us, does it eventually. But, when they do, there's nothing they won't do in order to keep their imprintee safe." Claire stood up and hugged her sides. Walking forward until she was leaning against a wall. "How old was I?" Claire inquired.
"You were four. Maybe five." Leah informed her. Though she had been hoping to avoid these questions for a little while longer, though it ultimately didn't matter as there wasn't going to be any good news for Claire. Every answer was going to be painful. "I liked him because he was just a big guy. Who hung out with me and did what I wanted. But, this whole time, he was grooming me. Why am I only getting this now? Why didn't anybody call it out?" Claire's two achingly painful questions only got one unpleasant answer from Leah.
"I don't know."

Claire didn't respond. Even after Leah prompted her. She wanted to punch a wall. But her swollen wrist was already burning. "What makes you so different?" Claire eventually asked. The deeply embedded feeling of betrayal now making her understandably paranoid. "I'm the only female shape-shifter that's ever been. I don't know if that means I won't imprint. But it has meant that I've become infertile." Leah's answer hadn't been what Claire had been expecting. She wasn't sure what she had expected. But she figured that she would know it by the feeling of being told a half truth. This though was private and Leah had willingly sacrificed that privacy in the hope that it would mean that Claire would trust her. "Are the others, like you, not infertile?" Claire awkwardly inquired of Leah and was surprised when Leah laughed a little. "It would be nice to imagine that I'm not alone. But I am." Leah then straightened up and did a performative cough. "Anyway, I think we better move away from this subject. You wanted to know how you could trust me and now you know. You already knew that Emily had sent me and now you know why you can trust me not to be like Quil." Claire turned to face Leah. But didn't move from where she was standing. "Why did Auntie Emily send you? You left Forks a decade ago and nobody's seen you since."
"Emily had called me in a panic. Saying that some people had gotten to Forks and had just started killing people. Things got worse when they started killing people we know. Monsters. Like me." Leah's response weaved a story that sent a cold chill through Claire's whole body. But it did lead to a single realisation and it struck a chord with Claire that made her temper flare. "That's why Quil kidnapped me!? Figures! He was running away and he took his-" Claire stopped when she felt the migraine come back. Leah stood up in concern. Asking if Claire needed a break. Claire shook her head. "Do you know who those guys are? The people who came to Forks?" Claire questioned in a desperate attempt to make sense of the inciting incident.
"I don't know. But they're not people I want to mess with. So, here's my plan, we go to Seattle. We put a city between them and us and we try to eke out a living. Does that sound like something you can agree with?" Claire shook her head again and Leah sighed in frustration. She was about to argue her position. But Claire had another question lined up.
"I had a friend. Her name is Renesmee. I don't know if you know her. But, if you do, do you know if she's okay?" Leah's jaw dropped and the surprise rebounded as Claire had yet to see Leah appear as though she wasn't in control of the situation. But Leah quickly reasserted herself with a brush of her hands over her long legs. "I know her." She said dryly. "Jacob Black imprinted on her." Claire gasped, her hands clasping over her mouth. "Then we have to help her. Like how you helped me." Claire insisted and Leah responded immediately. She marched over to Claire and watched the young woman shrink into herself. The insistence fading from her. When she stood before Claire she straightened up and spoke calmly. "We are not doing that. We would both die if we did and my one priority is making sure that neither of us die. So, here's what we are doing to do. We're going to Seattle. I'm going to get a job. You're going to school. And we're staying put until this mess blows over." Leah then relaxed and let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, Claire. But we're playing this safe." Leah's apology was followed by her stepping back. Giving Claire some much need personal space. Claire, once again, had found herself in a hierarchy with herself at the bottom and one solitary adult above her and the thought made her mad enough to act out. Despite knowing how dangerous the person she was acting out against was.

Stomping over to the door, Claire slammed her good hand on it and looked over at Leah. "We're going to find Renesmee." She commanded. Only to be met with Leah rubbing the side of her face with the palm of her hand. "You have nothing to bargain with and you don't even have a way to get to Forks. Even if did I let you go off on your own. So, if you want to stop being someone that has all the decisions made for her, and learn how to get some control over your own life, you'll have to bite the bullet and come with me to Seattle. I know that's unfair. But, unfortunately, unfair is how things usually shape up." Leah's explanation was full proof. But Claire, wanting somebody, somebody she trusted to hold onto, was determined for another outcome.
"Then I'll kill myself. You promised to protect me, didn't you? That's why Emily sent you. Because she made you promise. So-" This time, unlike before, Leah didn't respond with measured force. She was in front of Claire in an instant and grabbed the fragile girl by the shoulders. Growling at her and showing why she called herself a monster. "Let me tell you something. You haven't even asked about your parents. The only thing you care about is Renesmee. Strange, isn't it? Well, it's because she's a fucking vampire! A blood sucking creature of the night! Who has been sneaking into your room and whispering into your ear as you sleep." Leah let go of Claire and looked at the young woman with an apologetic gaze. Claire was only seventeen. But she had gone through so much in one day and now Leah had scared her until her russet skin had turned white with shock. Leah calmed down. But didn't let up. "Quil wasn't the only monster grooming you." Leah finally let up and backed off. But, before she was finished, she stuck one more knife in Claire's back. Just to be sure that she didn't try and run off after Renesemee. "I don't know if you had any friends in Forks. But Quil and the vampire weren't your friends. They were only invested in you so long as they got what they wanted." Claire weakly stumbled forward and collapsed against the bed where she started to scream and cry. Grabbing fistfuls of the quilt. Her headache flaring until it pounded at skull like a hammer. Leah, who was unable to deal with someone once she found them inconsolable, quietly left the room. Leaving Claire to deal with her bitter angst alone.

Even outside, Claire could still be heard. Leah had no doubt that, with the day drawing closer to noon, the heat would only make Claire feel worse and Leah wished that she could take Claire's pain away somehow. Leah sighed again. Now wishing that someone else, someone better than her, would be able to take the rein. But she was the only one who could help Claire. It's not like she hadn't been responsible before. She had always been responsible for her younger brother, Seth. And she had been Jacob's right-hand woman for a couple of years. But this situation was different. When she had worked with him as a monster. It was a matter of might makes right and breaking vampire bone with her large canines had been a good way of dealing with stress. Actually having to help someone else through their stress. Their trauma. Was taking a lot out of her. More than she was willing to show to anybody. Leah reached into her pocket, fishing around until she had grabbed her smart phone. Only to hold it there. She could call Seth off. Tell him to meet her in Seattle. The plan, after all, had only been to keep an eye on Jacob, while she went after Quil, making sure that Quil and Jacob didn't run into each other; so that she could get Claire out without alerting other werewolves. But it was obvious that Claire wasn't in a position to move on by herself. She needed support and Leah knew that she wasn't going to be able to provide that in earnest. Renesmee would be as much trouble as she was worth. But Leah knew that, in the short term, she needed Claire to be more amicable. Not that the idea wasn't stupidly dangerous. But there was really only two options and, if Claire had been put under the influence of a vampire, then there really was only one option.

Leah grinded the sole of her sandal against the pavement. Needing a way to burn off the stress that was building up in her body. She looked around for potential punching bags. There was a group of motorcyclists. But they had only stopped for a break. A couple arguing. The motel owner leaving his office with a coffee in hand. There really wasn't much here and much less that Leah wanted to break for some much needed release. Then, out of the corner of her eyes, she spotted a likely target. Turning her head, she laid her eyes upon a jeep, beside her own, with two bumper stickers on the rear window. One was the American flag. The over was a snake on a yellow background. The perfect target for blowing off some steam.

Claire stayed very still and very silent. The room spinning and her whole body feeling like it was going to be sick. Her head felt ready to split open. Then things got worse when the ear-piecing screech of metal filled her ears. She hoped, almost ready to pray, that the pain would end soon. Then the noise stopped. As suddenly as it came, it left behind only a ringing in her ears. She still felt awful. But at least one thing had gotten better. She almost wanted to know where that sound had come from and what it was. But she felt too sick to care and slowly her mind returned to bracing against the pounding headache assaulting her.

A moment later, Leah re-entered the room. Claire sighed into the quilt. Not sure what was coming next. But feeling that she wouldn't like it. Surprisingly, Leah had gone back to comforting Claire. She didn't like that Leah was comforting her, after having upset her to the extent that she was in this situation, but she didn't want Leah to stop either. So, stayed silent. "I've made a new decision." Leah informed the teen. Who didn't really care at this point. "If you really want to look for Renesmee, despite how dangerous it will be, we'll go. But only if you're absolutely sure on this. I don't want to risk this otherwise. Okay?" Claire didn't have the energy to light up. But tried to express her happiness all the same by mumbling "thank you." Afterwards, she fell asleep and Leah stayed with her all night.