The scent was strong. Silent steps left barely a pawprint in the foliage as the wolf stalked through the woods. Normally, it did not pursue humans. They were dangerous and large, especially compared to a single wolf. But the Alpha demanded prey. Life, ended at the teeth and claws of the Pack. Blood for the Alpha to show that he was greater.
Greater than any other member of the Pack.
No wolf went against the Alpha.
The wolf slowed and lowered its tired body as close to the ground as its stiff limbs allowed. It was so tired. But the Alpha's command remained fresh and sharp in its mind, even as predatory instinct began to take over. The hunt was still on.
The hunt went on and on and on.
There was something in the woods. Something that the Alpha wanted. Desperately. The Alpha demanded that the wolves continue their hunts, long after their paws grew tired and their eyes became glassy. Long after they wanted to crawl away and have peace.
The Alpha was close to his goal, and yet so far. He brought more and more into the Pack.
Something that he needed. Something that would make his status as the Alpha even more absolute.
Anything that gets in the way of finding it is prey.
The human stooped over one of its unnamable human things. Something that many humans could be seen carrying on their backs. The air was saturated with the scent of human. The scents of things from beyond the forest, beyond the green canopy and close trunks of oak and cottonwood and maple. This scent would have been enough to frighten a lonely wolf away. Humans carried things that hurt wolves.
This wolf was not lonely. It was a member of the Pack. And the Pack had a powerful Alpha. The Alpha had demands, and the Pack was powerless to resist him.
Bite. Claw. Kill. The human is blood and sinew. It is not what the Alpha seeks. It is only prey.
The wolf inched forward. Then, when it was sure it had the advantage, a low snarl echoed out of its chest. Matted fur raised on its back, and its lips drew back in a feral snarl as the wolf made itself known to the prey.
The human made one of those noises they were known for. "What the fu- Oh my God! " it squealed. The wolf snarled louder and took another step forward. The human's response was to take a wary step backwards. Some prey ran. Some prey, like this human, tried not to act like prey. But it could not change what it was, any more than the wolf could change itself: wild, ferocious, a predator. The thing that would pursue this human for the Alpha.
The human kept stepping backwards, one of its spindly paws held over its face. The wolf's own powerful scent must have reached it. The human's other paw fumbled at its middle. The wolf didn't have much time to waste.
It crouched lower, and then sprang forward, jaws wide. The human managed to retrieve its thunder-weapon from its middle. The wolf knew those. Humans carried those for the sole purpose of harming animals in the woods. But even as the immense sound rang out and something small and hot bit into its gut, the wolf's growls didn't falter. Adrenaline and instinct governed its movements now. Ever since the Alpha had made it join the Pack, the wolf had not responded to pain as readily.
The wolf's teeth sank into the human's shoulder, and the momentum of its body colliding with the tall creature toppled it over. Blows struck the wolf's side and head. It clamped its teeth harder.
The human screamed.
Predator instincts filled the wolf with pride and glee as the taste of blood ran across its dry tongue.
The human eventually dropped its weapon. It continued to fight. The wolf clawed at it, and reared back to bite its other shoulder. The human took the opportunity to kick the wolf. It wasn't nearly as painful as the hot pebble of metal that now sat in its bleeding stomach. But it was enough that the human could roll the predator off itself.
The scent and taste of its blood had the wolf in a frenzy. Though the human weakly tried to roll over and grab something, anything to fight, the wolf was upon it again. This time the middle. No bones in the way. Only the human's flimsy coverings.
The human howled in agony.
The wolf's ears went flat, but it was pleased.
Die. Die. Die.
Slowly, the tenacious human weakened. Much of its blood had spilled onto the forest floor. The wolf's clumpy fur was soaked in red. Dull claws continued to rake across the human's skin, tearing it away in a vicious show of predatory superiority.
Finally, the struggles stopped. The human had no more life to spare.
The wolf had won.
It stood over its kill, panting with lungs that could get no relief. The injury dealt by the human should have been fatal.
Should have been.
It raised its head to the canopy. At first, the only sound it could make was a gurgle. But, after a few attempts, a raspy howl escaped its core, announcing its success. Calling the leader of the Pack.
It waited patiently. It could feel the Alpha's presence growing closer. Slowly, steadily.
The wolf did not eat. It backed away, blood-covered snout aimed at the ground in deference. The Alpha gracefully approached the kill to claim it. The wolf hated the Alpha, but would not stop him.
The hunt is still on. Find it. Find what the Alpha seeks.
The hunt was always on.
--Featuring special guest star, Bowman Leafwing!--
With the sunshine breaking through the canopy in wavering golden-green bars of light, it was easy to lose track of how far he'd flown from the village. But Bowman wasn't worried. He had flown quite far before, and he always knew the way back home. His wings never seemed to tire of carrying him along through the air, relishing the feeling of the wind breezing past his face.
But, suddenly, something caught the wood sprite's attention. Something was definitely out of the ordinary. Something was wrong. He glided in a lazy descent towards the ground illuminated by the dappled sunlight, glancing around nervously with bright green eyes.
Did something come through here?
The very air seemed heavy with ... well, with something. Bowman wasn't normally the most spiritually sensitive of his kind, but even he could tell that there was something very off in the faint smell of decay, and in the unsettled silence of this sparse area of the forest. The freeze in the natural rhythm of the forest was like a heartbeat going still. And Bowman couldn't help his own pulse quickening with nerves, as if his small heart might make up for it.
Bowman landed on a boulder covered in moss and surrounded by thick ferns. On one side, the plants had a dark brownish substance dried onto their waxy leaves ...
Something had died here, most likely crawling up to the boulder for some final shelter to protect its final moments. But it was nowhere to be found now. The only thing Bowman could find about this area was the echo of some kind of powerful magic. Something that was an affront to life itself, the energy twisted and perverted.
Even the Earth Spirit might shudder under the almost tangible weight of the decay. Bowman's wings twitched and he inched closer to the sloped edge of the boulder, scanning the ground for any signs of what had happened here. Any indication that something might have dragged the dead thing off, and that he was only imagining things thanks to the remaining odor of whatever had died. He had to be sure of something, before heading back to warn the others. He couldn't create a panic over a simple hunch.
But there was nothing.
No paw prints, no broken ferns, and no drag marks in the mud to suggest something was dragged away. Only a faint set of clumsy, dying footprints limping towards the boulder.
Bowman looked up abruptly when he heard something approaching. Something quite large, though of course he was aware that most things fit that description compared to someone like him. He was barely four inches tall, and somewhat thin and willowy like most of the sprites. It made for excellent dexterity in flight, but it left much to be desired in things such as fighting ability.
Because of that, Bowman crouched lower on the uneven stone surface, staring in the direction of the footsteps. He needed to be cautious around something that crashed through the forest so noisily. The sounds were quite inelegant, and he couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that whatever was causing them wasn't very used to walking in the woods. If I'm right, then the only thing that could be is--
His thoughts were interrupted when a tower of a human stomped into view. Bowman's heart immediately leapt to his throat at the sight of the large man some twenty, maybe thirty feet away.
Unknown humans in sight of him? This was not good.
Dean grumbled as he walked through the forest. He'd left the Impala behind a half hour ago and was already regretting the thick leather jacket he had on. "I hate camping," he muttered under his breath, knowing his companion would hear him fine no matter how quiet his voice was. After all, Sam was perched on his shoulder, leaning comfortably against his neck while Dean did all the work. As usual. The thick leather of the jacket was merely a sturdy surface for him to sit on, while Dean quietly wondered how long it would take for heat stroke to set in.
"You know, we're not really camping," Sam quipped cheerfully. "After all, if we are you really should have bought better gear." He glanced down at his brother's hand down below, which was carrying the familiar duffel bag Dean took everywhere with him. It reminded Sam of his own satchel, slung carefully around his back so it wouldn't be jarred from his shoulder by Dean's rocking gait. If it fell all the way to the forest floor, everything in it could be damaged by the impact or a misstep, destroying Sam's most important possessions in seconds. "I don't think those M&M's will last you long out here..."
Dean snorted. "Maybe I'll have some of your granola bars, instead. After all, it's not like you eat much of 'em, anyway. Besides, those M&M's have protein in them! I made sure to get the peanut kind," he explained proudly with a smirk.
Rolling his eyes, Sam turned his thoughts away from teasing Dean and over to the case. "What do you think's really out here? I mean, this doesn't exactly seem like your run-of-the-mill werewolf activity. Taking more than just the heart, fur found on the bodies of the victims... I dunno. Something just seems... off about the whole deal."
"I know what you mean. But we can't find out anything more without actually coming out here. We already talked to the victims families and they didn't have any other information to give, as long as they were telling the truth." He grumbled under his breath for a second about 'damn people and leaving out important details that could get us killed.'
Springy underbrush crunched under his boot as Dean caught sight of something at the edge of vision. "Is that... blood?" Curious, Dean inched closer, examining a few leaves that had been slicked with a dark substance. Kneeling down, he brushed a hand against the slender branches, searching for more clues.
Sam was left clinging to his collar when Dean caught sight of a trail, heading towards a boulder not far from them. Standing, he crept towards the boulder, making as little noise as possible despite heavy boots settling over dry foliage. There was no telling what was out here. Taking his cue from Dean, Sam was just as quiet, his own body ready to spring into action.
Bowman inched backwards, glancing side to side for a place to conceal himself. He couldn't fly up now, or the human would definitely see him, large keen eyes keying right in on any movement. His gaze fell on the plants growing right against the base of the rock. His wings, vibrant green and batlike, could pass as leaves most of the time, even among these bloodstained plants.
Bowman sighed and slipped over the side of the stone, landing among the plants with the faintest rustling noise. Hiding on the ground wasn’t ideal, but he didn’t have many options with that human heading his way.
He huddled in the shade, keeping close to the stone as the human walked closer. Hopefully it would pass right by on its way to wherever it planned to be. Then, as soon as it wasn't facing in his general direction, Bowman could fly up among the trees and find much better cover far out of reach of any human.
This human didn't seem to know much about where he was, and he didn't seem inclined to even watch his step, so he was a danger to the hastily concealed sprite. And he was huge, being not only tall but clearly quite built and ready for a fight. From his low vantage point, Bowman couldn't help but devote much of his attention to those intense eyes. They looked keen and cautious as they glanced around, not a good combination for someone in Bowman's current position. The human would be upon him in seconds.
Reaching the boulder, Dean knelt down, dropping his duffel an arm's length away. Resting one hand on the mossy surface, he brushed a hand over the ferns and the unseen sprite hiding among them felt his heart quicken even more.
"Dammit," Dean muttered. Blood. And no sign of what left it. He started to scan the area, searching for any hint of a trail leading away.
Oh, blast it. Bowman still felt the ground rumbling beneath the man's huge steps, and he definitely felt it after that heavy bag dropped to the ground. And now, the human was right next to the boulder. It was a wonder he hadn't spotted Bowman when he swept his huge hand right overhead. Bowman's heart just kept right on pounding as he watched straight up.
A slight weight slipped down Dean’s arm. He ignored it for the most part, well used to his small brother using him to climb on. Sam never asked for help, and he really didn't need it, able to get around almost as agilely as a human. Probably more so, considering how often he needed to rely on his climbing skills.
Sam stepped onto the boulder, his boots sinking into the living carpet of thick moss. "What do you think left that?" he called up to Dean while he searched around on his own.
The second voice made Bowman look around frantically, trying to find who could have spoken. Was there another human coming up behind? But, no, the voice was close, just much quieter than the human's growl. Things were getting stranger and stranger.
"Not sure," Dean's voice was a soft rumble now, on edge in case the creature they were hunting was in the area. If it was a werewolf, they'd be fine until nightfall and he was packing silver bullets, just in case. But like Sam said, it didn't fit the profile the way it should. The lunar cycle might be right but there were no guarantees in their line of business.
Sam walked to the edge of the boulder, peering straight down over into the undergrowth. His own lips were set in a frown. He wanted to find this thing as much as Dean.
At the same time, Bowman shuffled forward, just a step or two, to peer straight up.
The sprite might have expected a number of things. Perhaps one of those phones that humans liked so much. But he most certainly did not expect to make contact with a pair of hazel eyes. His first thought was that another sprite stood up there on the boulder, but the briefest glance at its shoulders indicated no wings.
What is that? Bowman thought, before realizing that if he could see this guy so well, then the would-be sprite could most definitely see him.
Right on cue, Sam did a double take when he locked eyes with... something... in the foliage on the ground. It didn't look like an animal. A quick glance up showed Dean still examining the area around the boulder for more signs of the creature. Dean hadn't noticed anything.
Bowman couldn't wait around to see what this strange pair's alliance was like. He glanced once over his shoulder to make sure he knew where the human was before darting to the side, hoping to find better cover. Or, at least, something that he could hide behind until he could take flight and dart away into the woods before that human realized he was there.
When Sam's eyes slipped back to the ground, all he saw was a rustling in the leaves. "Shit!" he hissed under his breath. One second he'd dropped his guard, and it might be getting away. "Dean, there's something down here!" he called up before jumping off the rock, landing agilely on the ground. No time to waste.
The leaves closed in a canopy over his head. Sunny green light leaked down, scattered in moving shards of illumination by the space in the brush and the swaying leaves overhead. Small rocks poked out of the ground, and ants marched by in a winding but purposeful line to fulfill lives dedicated to finding the best source of food. Sam took a few steps away from the insects, disturbed by the sheer number of them coupled with the fact that each one was the size of his boot.
Sam realized if he'd lost sight of Dean, Dean had no idea where he was. This might not be such a good idea... he admitted to himself.
Spotting a rustling in the branches to the side, Sam followed.
Completely out of his element.
Dean heard the small yell by his hand. “Sam?” he called out, not seeing his brother. Panic rose up in him. He couldn’t lose Sam, not out here where every bit of wildlife was dangerous to the little guy…
Seeing some of the leaves still shaking from something pushing through, Dean brushed his hand over top, trying to spot the little hunter through them. Green eyes narrowed as he examined the ground meticulously.
Bowman stopped in his tracks and turned around, a look of shock on his face. The wingless person was following him? And he'd definitely heard it call to the human first. Bowman wasn't sure whether he should run or go back and demand to know what was going on, stealth be scorned.
It didn't seem to matter, either way. The human was alerted to his presence thanks to the sprite-sized creature’s call, and now the smaller of the two companions was tromping around on the ground. Bowman had hesitated long enough that the guy rounded part of the boulder and put himself in view. He looked like he was built to fight, with a much bulkier frame than most sprites.
Bowman took a startled step back, but narrowed his eyes and otherwise stood his ground. The strange whatever-it-was didn't seem very aggressive yet. In fact, it seemed just as confused and curious about Bowman as Bowman was about him.
The thing stuck out so obviously in the underbrush. With his lighter skin and almost human-like clothes (not to mention his unfortunate lack of wings), he couldn't have been more out of place. Unless, of course, he were an actual human and thus towered over all the plants on the ground like the stupid giants tended to do, shaking everything around them with the force of their steps. This guy ... he wasn't made for the forest at all.
"Hey!" Bowman suddenly blurted, stepping forward quickly. The wingless person had come dangerously close to the still-occupied nest of a funnel-web spider. Bowman stepped deftly around it to give the guy a quick shove before he stepped right on the sticky webbing and got his leg bitten. A bite like that could leave him limping, possibly for the rest of his life, if enough venom got into his blood. "What do you think you're doing, stupid?!"
Sam spluttered as the strange little winged creature pushed him away, unsure about whether to be more surprised by the shove or the appearance of the person who had shoved him. “Me? What the hell are you doing?” His knife was out in a heartbeat, held protectively in front of him in an instinctive defensive grip Dean had taught him. Overhead he could hear Dean searching for them, trying to see into the underbrush. Branches rustled around the area.
“Sam? Where the hell are you?” rang out overhead, a touch of annoyance in Dean's tone.
Bowman balked at the sight of that knife and the sound of that loud voice thundering out of the human. His heart was still pounding from the giant's proximity and the foreboding magic in the air. His eyes were fixed on the weapon, and he couldn't help but notice that it was the shiniest piece of metal he'd ever seen. And that weapon had been drawn so quickly ...
Just who, and what, was this guy?
"You ... you brought a human around here? What were you thinking?" Bowman hissed, sounding indignant and worried at the same time. He knew the forest well enough to know that they were well beyond the designated camping space. He'd seen evidence of the giants coming into the forest this far, but one thing Bowman was absolutely sure of. "Humans don't belong here." As he spoke, his wings fanned open slowly. It might have just been his increasing irritation, but there was a subconscious effort there to make himself look a little bigger. It wasn't as though he could hope to fight back if that guy came at him with his knife, threat displays or not.
Bowman opened his mouth to scold the strange man even further, but his glare dropped into a look of surprise when the bloodstained leaves overhead parted in the effortless movements of the human. The sprite looked up, completely surprised, at the face that leaned over the pair of them. That intense gaze was even more frightening up close.
It was time to go.
He flapped his wings in a quick, startled pattern, hardly caring that he buffeted Sam with a gust of wind as he did so. Bowman's startled, erratic movement didn't get him into the air at all, but he knocked himself backwards several steps. "Forget this!" he groused, before pivoting to dash back under more cover and get himself more room to take off.
“Hey, wait!” Sam darted after the strange little guy after recovering from the sight of those strange green wings, spread wide with their verdant hue illuminated by the shifting light. Almost like leafy versions of Ilyana's wings… This was getting stranger and stranger.
He didn’t get far before Dean’s hand shot down, snatching after the other guy and only missing by a hair. Sam stumbled, off balance from the immense movement around him. Dean’s other hand was there in an instant, scooping Sam back off the ground and into safety.
Sam kicked one of the fingers near him. “Dude, what the hell? I had it all under control!”
“If this is what you call under control, I’d hate to see what you consider out-of-control, shorty,” Dean snorted, taking an instant to make sure his tiny brother was still in one piece. Mollified by Sam’s lack of injury, he peered back at the ground, pushing some branches aside. “What the hell was that?”
“I dunno.” Sam bent over the edge of Dean’s hand, peering down. Back with Dean, his point-of-view was much broader, but the leaves blocked out sight of much of the ground. “But he couldn’t have got far.”
Their argument, what he could hear of it, only served to confuse Bowman even further. He ran a bit farther, ignoring the slight stiffness in his left knee, a remnant of an old injury. He glanced back only once to see if the smaller person was following him. It was only for a second, but he did take his eyes off his path for a crucial moment. It was the worst time to encounter a cobweb.
"Ah!" Bowman sputtered in surprise and stumbled to a halt, making sure there were no spiders living in the web that had just tangled around his head and shoulders. He knew he'd made enough noise for that human to hear him and pinpoint his hiding place. He brushed at the old, abandoned webbing to get it out of his face before spreading his wings quickly and all but leaping into the air.
He crashed upwards out of his leafy cover, flapping his wings quickly to gain as much height as he could. A glance to the side revealed the human still kneeling there, this time with the smaller man in his hand. The sight made Bowman pause in midair to look at the pair with new confusion all over his face. Just who were these people? And what were they doing, coming around here with nothing but loud voices and heavy boots?!
"You two should leave," he snapped defiantly, emboldened by the fact that one of the human's hands were occupied.
How fast can he be?
"You don't belong in here." If they turned out to be the cause of the heavy, strange feeling in the air, he wouldn't be too surprised. Humans were as mysterious as they were giant.
Dean rose slowly to his feet, keeping the hand with Sam in it steady. His eyes locked on the little winged guy, keeping him within easy reach if he was to bolt. “We’re not leaving, bud,” Dean growled. “Not until we find what’s been hurting people out in these woods.”
Almost subconsciously, he lifted Sam to his shoulder, letting him climb back where he was more comfortable. His fingers twitched in anticipation as Sam secured himself from any sudden moves, clinging sharply to the collar. They both knew the ride could get bumpy in seconds.
Bowman watched Sam settle in place with some awe overwriting his defiant attitude. How could that guy stand to be so high up without wings? And how could he ever let a human carry him around like that, so willingly? Sure, Bowman had a few humans that he knew well enough, but he'd never thought about relying on them to get around.
The human was deadly serious. Bowman didn't doubt that for a second. But what he could be talking about, the sprite hadn't the first clue. He faltered under that intense gaze, trying to think of a reason for a human to come into the woods this angry. He clearly didn't know about the sprites, by the way he looked at Bowman, which was a small relief.
Whatever they were here for, they had some agenda they intended to fill. Bowman couldn't make them leave. He was keenly aware of the fact that he couldn't make them do anything. What he needed to do now was get away from these guys and then head back to the village and warn them that a human was about.
He darted to the side, aiming to make a wide arc around the human and take him by surprise. Then, once he was out of reach, he'd head upwards into the canopy where the man would never be able to find him.