The Strength of the Pack: Part 2

The Strength of the Pack
Part II: The Scent of Fear

Fireworks exploded in the night sky, stars and rockets in a myriad of colours crackling into nothingness to the admiration of the crowd below. It was a little overcast tonight, by comparison to the clear blue sky of the day, but the cloud cover only seemed to hem in the fireworks, making the display seem more private, almost as if only he and Jenny could see it. Their guests could see it, of course, standing in a loose semi-circle in the gardens of the manor house, eyes turned upwards for the show.

It had been a long day of nervousness before the ceremony and after – he was sure that he would have a knot in his stomach till tomorrow morning. But it had also been the best day of his life. His new bride snuggled up to him as they stood on the balcony above their guests, watching the fireworks. He bent to kiss her lightly on the top of the head.

She had never looked more beautiful than today and that was saying something. Jenny was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen; an angel beyond anything he could imagine. He told her so and she teased him for being cheesy, but she did it with a smile on her face and followed it up with a lingering kiss. Someone in the gardens below cheered and the cry was taken up by other guests. Was that for the fireworks or the kiss? He didn’t care, lost in the feel of her lips on his own. Breaking apart they saw people waving to them, raising glasses in their direction. They laughed and waved back, unable to see the faces below – all the garden torches had been extinguished for the firework display. Connor could barely make out Jenny’s face, even in the soft lamp light that came from the room behind them. Her white dress against the dark night made her seem ethereal; more like the angel suggested by her perfect face.

“Shall we go in?” she asked, when the fireworks finished with one last symphony of red, green, and gold explosions.

He nodded and whirled her around in his arms, lifting her off the ground, before raising her up to cross the threshold of the French windows into the room beyond.

“You did that earlier,” she said, teasingly. Her eyes seemed to glow from within.

“I know, but I’ll never get tired of doing it.”

“Not even after three weeks of honeymoon?”

“Not even then.”

“I am a lucky girl, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” he said, grinning at her, “very lucky.”

“Very lucky indeed.”

She kissed him, wrapping her arms around him. He ran his hands through her hair. The kiss seemed to last forever and be over too quickly all at the same time. He never wanted to stop kissing her.

“Wait here,” she told him, pulling away a little, “I’ve got a surprise for you.”

“I’ve got a surprise for you too.”

“Have you now?” she asked, her hand on his chest making him want to forget the surprises altogether and wrap her in his arms, “wait here then and I’ll get mine ready so we can exchange them.”

“I can’t wait,” he said and leaned in to kiss her. She pulled away.

“Plenty of time for that after the surprises,” she said.

She twisted away from him, looking over her shoulder in a way that made him want to pull her back immediately, but she went into the bathroom and closed the door. He waited until he heard the lock click before moving across to the wardrobe and pulling out his suitcase. Rotating the dials to unlock the combination padlock – enlisted to prevent Jenny’s curiosity getting the better of her – he opened the case and withdrew a medium sized jewellery box. Returning the suitcase to the wardrobe, he sat on the edge of the bed and opened the box. Inside was a silver chain running to a single heart-shaped diamond encased in a fine gold cage. It had been his Grandma’s, and then his Mum’s, and before she had died she had insisted that he take it so that he could pass it on to his wife to start a new chain of mothers. ‘Just make sure she’s someone I’d approve of,” she’d said as she folded his hand closed around it.

“I know you’d approve, Mum. Wish you could have been here,” he said, softly, running a finger over the diamond.

He closed the box and set it down on the bed beside him, ready to surprise Jenny with it when she returned. He crossed to the French windows meaning to close them and shut out the sounds of the disco in the marquee and the babble of guests still chatting away to one another. The clouds had begun to break apart above the gardens, and the light of the full moon washed over the gardens. He thought of the dog at the station the previous night, the first time he had done so since he had dressed this morning. His leg had healed completely overnight; it had not even been swollen. The only evidence that the attack had happened at all was a series of small white marks where the dog’s teeth had sunk onto his flesh.

The clouds shifted and the balcony was washed in silver. A dull throb started in his head, almost like tribal drums sounding in ancient caves. His vision started to swim and shift, forcing him to clutch the wall for support, sinking to his knees on the stone floor of the balcony. Fire crept through his veins and his skin exploded with the pain. He tried to call for Jenny but all that escaped his throat was a dull roar.

He sniffed at the air, swinging his muzzle this way and that, catching the smell of meat and human food, the stink of man; clothes, perfume, sweat. Lots of humans. Their voices reached him as clearly as if they were next to him, rising up from the earth below; incomprehensible jabbering like the twittering of birds before the dawn. There was another human close by; he could hear it moving behind the door to his right. The smell of this one was different; more fixed, more primal, more enticing. He growled and moved forward, claws pulling at the soft carpet beneath his padded feet.

The door was opening, the primal scent seeping through the gap and driving him forwards. There was the hint of flesh clad in shimmering white material beyond the door and he tensed, ready to spring forward and claim his prize. He could feel her heart racing, hearing it in his ear and in his head. She was coming for him.

The door opened wider and he pushed back on his haunches, ready to spring. The scent of her filled his nostrils, obliterating everything else, and he leapt for her. A piercing noise escaped her human throat and her scent changed. Her heart still raced, the scent was still primal, but it was something deeper than lust. Fear. That would not stop him; he was already in the air. She slammed the door shut and his body thudded against it, claws skittering off the painted wood.

He ran at it, forced himself against it, trying to knock it aside, clawing and biting until holes appeared but he could not get it to budge. He peered through the holes, pressing one eye to the gap, and saw her cowering against the bath tub, heard her screams clearly even through the thick wood. He wanted to stop that noise, drive it from his ears, and he savaged the door trying to get through to silence her. The beating of her heat raced in his mind, the feel of blood coursing in her veins. Saliva filled his jaws.

There was a shout from behind him, a lower register than the screaming, but still human. There was a male human at the door, yelling down the corridor, and then turning towards him, a piece of metal held loosely in one hand. One leap sent him hurtling towards the man, flooring him, paws beating a rib-cracking tattoo on his chest. Jaws opened, ready to tear at the throat, to taste blood, but a blow caught him across the snout and he reeled back in shock.

It was another male human, taller than the first, and giving off no fear in his scent. But it was not that which made him shrink back and bare his teeth. In the human’s hands was a long wooden pole, a flame sprouting from one end. Fire. Black smoke came from it, which washed away the female human’s scent. The smoke smelled of fire in the forest; a smell of death and pain. His fur stood up from his skin and he growled at the human, eyes on the fire in his hands.

The human came forward, brandishing the flames, baring his human teeth. He snapped his jaws at the man, missed and felt the flames touch the side of his head, burning the fur, touching the skin. He howled in pain, backed away from the human, and looked around for means of escape. He could come back for the female human another time. He knew her scent now. It filled him.

Turning tail, he fled through the open window, the fire-wielding human at his heels. One leap sent him soaring over the stone balustrade and into the night out, wind rushing passed his flanks. He landed with a thud on the earth and looked back. The human stood there, fire still in hand, watching him. He turned his muzzle to the moon and howled his rage and defiance. Then he turned away, running across the grass, and became one with the night.

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