The pair stalked around the edge of camp where the undergrowth hid them from the guard.
Moonlight shined off the silver-furred feline in front of Fern. He was smaller than Thorne, but still over a hundred pounds. He had a shorter tail, which made him look slightly wolflike.
Anger welled up in Fern at the sight of her brother’s form. She paused and took a few shaky breaths. Too much anger and she’d turn into a werewolf. She belly crawled next to Ash.
He sprang to his feet and hissed at her. A chain around his neck rattled. He had a slender build, cougar-like, and a spark of anger in his silvery eyes.
“Ash, it’s me, Fern.” She crawled closer and reached for the chain.
Ash growled, low and menacing. His ears lay flat against his head.
“What’s going on over there?” Nelgen shouted.
Part of Fern wanted to leap at him, to sink her teeth into his throat. That’d teach him for messing with her brother. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end, and her skin burned.
Ash turned toward Nelgen and roared.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Fern unclipped the chain around his neck.
He turned on her. His huge silver paw slammed into her side, sending her rolling.
“We’re under attack!” Nelgen shouted.
At Nelgen’s words, Ash leaped.
Nelgen lifted his rifle.
Ash bowled him over, and the pair went down in a flurry of claws and fur. They rolled over some packs, scattering bottles and syringes.
The four werewolves, who had been asleep before the fight, charged.
Fern unslung her rifle and fired, striking one in the side, though the creature stayed on its feet to fight. Thorne sprang among the werewolves. His teeth slammed closed on the nearest halfblood.
The pureblood werewolf grabbed Ash by the scruff and threw him off Nelgen’s mauled form. The pureblood was the only wolf anywhere near Thorne’s size.
Ash crouched submissively, though he growled as he did so. Fern tried to aim for the pureblood, but Ash stood between them. With terror pulsing through her, Fern couldn’t hold the rifle steady enough to risk the shot.
“Kill the elf,” the pureblood ordered. “She doesn’t care about you, not like you are now.”
Ash stalked toward Fern, Nelgen’s blood covering his face and paws.
The rifle trembled in Fern’s hands. He’s a monster. “Make him stop, or I’ll shoot!” Fern yelled at the pureblood. She couldn’t hit him without hitting Ash.
Behind her, Thorne fought the trio of smaller werewolves. He’d be no help.
Ash circled closer, moving out of Fern’s line of fire.
The wolf within clawed at her chest, trying to rip free of its prison. She aimed the rifle at the pureblood but hesitated. If she fired, Ash might pounce.
The pureblood snarled. “Attack.”
Fern aimed the rifle back at Ash. “Ash, it’s me. Don’t listen to him. Please. This isn’t you.”
Ash growled and crept closer. What had they done to him?
Fern backed away. “Ash. Please stop.” Tears flowed down her cheeks. They’d made him into a monster. Where had her brother gone?
“Now!” the pureblood howled.
Fern fell under his weight. The rifle dropped from her hands.
Ash stared down at her, his eyes narrowed.
The wolf inside Fern pushed harder, telling her she had to fight, not lay still like a piece of prey. God, please help me, she silently prayed. “Ash, don’t do this. I’m your family. I love you. You’re not a monster. You can control yourself.” Please let Thorne be right.
Ash glanced at the pureblood.
“Kill her.” The pureblood stepped closer and licked his lips.
“No.” Ash took a few steps toward the much larger wolf. His ears were flat against his head.
Fern crawled toward the rifle. She had to keep focus, or she’d shift. Her instinct urged her to fight, to bite, not go for the rifle.
A halfblood werewolf charged her.
Fern spun. There was no time to reach the rifle. She released the wolf within. It exploded out of her, flowing over her and consuming her with blonde fur.
The tan halfblood hesitated. Fern sprang to meet him. Her jaws clamped down on the surprised wolf’s throat. She tore at him, his blood in her mouth.
The halfblood ripped loose and ran, blood dripping from his throat.
Ash yowled in pain. The pureblood tore at his scruff.
Fern sprang on the pureblood. Her teeth sank into his shoulder. Blood spurted into her mouth. She pulled at the wolf, her instinct telling her to attack, not to back down.
He turned on her, his jaws snapping.
Fern tried to leap back, but the pureblood grabbed her by the throat and threw her down.
Ash sprang to his feet and tore into the wolf. His teeth pierced the pureblood’s back. The wolf spun and snapped at Ash.
Fern attacked. She grabbed the pureblood by the throat, stopping him from reaching Ash.
The pureblood fell to the ground. Fern bit down with everything she had. His legs flailed, but the struggles weakened. Finally, he lay still.
Fern released the wolf and licked her lips. Satisfaction swelled within. She’d won.
Ash still held the wolf’s back, his jaws clenched. He growled at Fern.
She backed away from the kill.
One of the halfbloods ran. Fern shot after him, her muscles lending her more speed than she’d ever had. A thrill shot through her. She could run now. She could chase this enemy down and kill him.
Thorne bowled her over. “No chasing! Control yourself.”
Fern rose to her feet, her tail between her legs. Her instinct wanted her to chase, but it also warned her to submit to wolves who could easily kill her.
Thorne limped to Ash, his tail uplifted. “That is not your kill. Stop acting like an animal.”
Ash released the dead werewolf and backed away, his body low.
The two other halfbloods lay dead on the ground, and horses tugged at their halters. Ash stalked toward them.
Fern’s mouth watered. She could already imagine her teeth sinking into their tender flesh. They’d won the fight. The horses were theirs.
Thorne leaped between the horses, Ash, and Fern. “Follow me. We’re going hunting. You two need to burn some of that bloodlust in a constructive way.”
Fern closed her eyes. I’m a person, not an animal. Still, the horses smelled good, and she hadn’t eaten much but dried meat. Getting fresh meat would be fun. They didn’t really need those horses anyway. It wouldn’t be wrong to eat one, would it?
“We’re going after deer,” Thorne said. “You’ll leave the horses alone.” Thorn moved for the edge of the camp. “In your states, you won’t be able to focus on much of anything. Best to get out of here before you eat something you shouldn’t.” He glanced at the horses. “Let’s go.”
Fern and Ash followed after Thorne, their noses lifted in search of fresh meat.