I whimper a greeting and drop tail, but it does little good. They stalk in towards us from all sides, growling to shake the Earth. I back away, but already the gap we came through is no escape—there are fangs and claws within striking distance on either side. I bump up against Brennan’s flank. His tail flickers by my head, not quite down—not quite down enough. I can feel his indecision, his growing agitation, and it scares me more than they do.
If he tries something, we’re fucked. If we aren’t already.
I crane around frantically, but there’s no way out. Every direction, there’s another gaping maw, all teeth and anger.
The biggest one stalks in, just ahead of the closing circle. I whine a warning to Brennan and thump his flank with mine. I feel his muscles respond and I yip, “Stop,” at him, without looking.
I crouch down—all the way down, stomach flat on the ground, right foreleg protesting sharply at the strain—and whimper again, before the First.
“Mercy”, I beg.
He leaps at me, jaws wide. And I freeze.
Brennan dives away as nearly twenty stone of muscle and snarl land hard on my side, knocking me away. I scream out in fear and agony as my right front leg overextends at the damaged knee, and he’s on top of me again instantly. A giant forepaw lands hard on my left flank, knocking the wind out of me, and his jaws are at my throat.
I close my eyes and from somewhere deep, everything goes oddly calm. Still.
The pain in my foreleg radiates up, vibrant and deafening. It wants to be friends. I ease myself into it. Slowly, calmly, I let it run through me, filling every fibre with its own strange, sharp reality.
Death won’t be so bad, I think, and almost laugh. I feel my body go limp.
I’m sorry Brennan. Looks like you shouldn’t have followed me, after all.
Dimly, in the distance, outside of my new world—my safe world—I feel his hot breath and cold saliva on my throat, I smell the scent of blood and entrails. His growl tries to rattle into my brain.
And I wait, floating in that fiery ocean. A tiny part of me panics at my lack of panic. I should be afraid, it tells me. I should be desperate.
I should beg.
It makes me want to smile, but I pour the emotion back into the ocean and wait.
Three seconds pass.
The pressure on my flank lessens, and his hot, fetid breath retreats.
I open my eyes, just a crack, to see him, still standing over me, still all teeth and anger. But less then there had been.
Across the clearing, Brennan is crouched, facing off against two wolves bigger than him, and another behind. His growl is quiet and low, full of fear, but fear held in check. Nobody moves.
I look back to the First and ease myself back out, just a bit. Instantly, what was sharp and fiery becomes jagged and angry, and I wince at the pain, but it’s okay. I use it. I whimper, “change,” and make it a question.
“Mercy,” I add, though now I’m not sure who I’m asking it of.
He steps off me and back two steps, then closes his jaws halfway, and nods.