Another car pulled through the main gate of the estate. The lavender mare stood next to her pale blue wolf owner, her head slightly lowered. As the couple, another pair of wolves, stepped from their vehicle, the look on the female’s face was the latest in the line of disgust. It wasn’t a long lasting expression, but enough. She could imagine the internal monologue. “How dare she stand next to her owner!” She couldn’t stop the smirk from showing on her lips.
As the lupino next to her bowed, she dropped into a low curtsey, her head lowered as would be required. She would be expected to keep her head down until the visitors left, but could at least rise. He greeted them, and they headed in to the home, then turned to her.
“Don’t antagonize them, Snowhawk,” then he grinned, a few wolfy teeth peeking from his lips.
She smirked again. “I was just standing where you told me to, Janus.” The mare leaned towards him. “Besides, they’re here for your uncle’s party.”
Janus shrugged, but did turn to her and lift up her chin so she would look at him. “True, but you know I have to put on a strong face, too. Which means you, dear, need to play nice.”
She sheepishly stepped back and nodded. “Of course.”
Janus couldn’t blame her for feeling rebellious and giddy. Tonight was hopefully the last they’d ever have to go through this. His uncle needed them, specifically her, to work her magic on one of their “guests” for information. He’d struck a deal with the old wolf that this would be it. No more of this underhanded nonsense, of putting her in danger for a few slivers of data, or a tiny whisper that would lead them on a wild goose chase.
Another vehicle pulled through the gates, one with a collared feline image with some text below painted on the side. “Ah, this appears to be our honored guest. Keep close watch on him.”
There was a tiny click of her hooves as she lightly stepped back further.
After the car pulled to a stop, a lone human stepped from the vehicle. Nothing remarkable for a human male, average height, medium build, and short, sandy blond hair. He made his way up the stairs, stopping to be greeted by Janus and Snowhawk, who both repeated their earlier bow and curtsey. Cordial small talk followed, then the man, who’d introduced himself as “Christopher North” stepped inside.
“Snowhawk, would you care to bring Helaine out?”
“As you wish,” she replied, and ducked away.
Snowhawk ducked into the back halls of the house. Slaves and servants both used these passages, and during parties such as this one, even if they weren’t required to, would have kept here regardless. Travel was faster, even if one had to occasionally flatten themselves against a wall to let a wider load, like food or laundry, pass.
Snowhawk was quickly at the door to the quarters she shared with her cousin, Helaine, and two other slaves. She rapped her knuckles on the door, announcing her presence, then opened said door and stepped inside.
The other two slaves, another delphin, like herself, and an unusually small feln, were assisting Helaine as she finished dressing. Her cousin was much more used to the finery she’d be expected to wear for these events, but she still often had buttons or clasps that required at least one other set of hands.
The feline’s small hands were swiftly working a wide-tooth comb through Helaine’s long, tufted tail, and the run of fur extending to said tuft. The other mare was trying to carefully untangle some jewelry from another piece, while her cousin worked to affix the horn decoration she was required to wear.
Snowhawk took a quick breath and trotted over to the struggling delphin, offering a second set of hands, or at least eyes, for the tangled pieces. Quick work was made after that, and she turned to her cousin, who was now inserting the hooks of some earrings into her deer-like ears.
Her cousin was very deer-like, from her face and ears, to her build and down to her hooves. The tufted tail and thick, wavy mane completed this look that, on her papers, was described as “Heraldic.” Save for some dappling on her back, her coat was a mostly even, yet extremely pale blue, with her mane and tail fur ever slightly darker. She matched well with their owner. An uncommon equine for sure, but she also carried what seemed to be a family trait: a curved horn. Where Snowhawk’s own amethyst horn was curved, and banded in what looked like silver, Helaine’s was mostly smooth, save for the occasional striation of growth.
Snowhawk grabbed another comb and began to pull her cousin’s hair back, making a simple, but elegant statement. “Oh, so that’s where the white amarant got to,” she stated, nodding to the mottled white and grey stone that hung from Helaine’s heather horn.
“It was specifically requested for me to wear this one,” she replied. Her voice was nervous.
“Looks better on you anyway,” Snowhawk smiled.
“Where’s yours?” the feln asked, somewhat panicked, having finished combing Helaine’s tail. “I don’t think there’s more in the jewelry box.”
“Ah, I have–” she paused and thought for a moment. “Special permission tonight.” There was a wave of relief on the faces of both the feln and other delphin. “You two go see if they need you, it’s getting crowded. Helaine’s been requested.”
The two swiftly put their tools away and left the room.
“I don’t feel good about tonight,” Helaine admitted. “If you aren’t being required to wear a stone, are they expecting you to be…”
“Looking human?” Snowhawk finished. “Yes. I have to get ready myself. But Janus is at the main gate, and has asked you to join him.”
“I’m afraid for you,” she admitted. “Tonight feels very off. Wrong.”
“This will be the last. Then we’re getting out of here.”
Her cousin frowned and gave a hesitant nod. “Alright.”
“Go out front. I’ll be down, though you probably won’t notice me.”
Helaine gave another small nod, then gave her cousin a hug and scurried out the door.
Once she was out, Snowhawk locked the door, using a key that only had one copy. Normally they wouldn’t be able to lock doors but she had preferential treatment tonight. She opened a box that had been left on her bed, revealing a carefully folded dress, and a dark brunette wig under it. Another, smaller box revealed a pair of heeled shoes for her to wear, and one last box contained any additional undergarments she might need, long gloves, as well as some makeup, a few small pieces of jewelry to pick from, and incidental items like hairpins and some small, stretchy hair ties.
Snowhawk laid out the pieces she would need on her bed, then closed her eyes and slowly exhaled. Her whole body began to glow, and her form shrank nearly a foot in height. Her equine muzzle vanished, shrinking down to a human face. Her tail and horn both disappeared and hooved legs shifted into those of a human. It was from her unguligrade legs that most of her height vanished from. She was generally the same size in her body from form to form.
As her transformation finished, and her glow died down, her human self was revealed. Her lavender fur was, of course, gone, and where her mane was usually a deep amethyst, her human form’s hair was dark mahogany red. She grabbed one of the combs that had been used on her cousin earlier and quickly ran it through her hair, then parted it into two sections and braided each. She secured the braids over her head, and pinned them in place. The wig would be almost last to go on, but this would keep her hair out of the way.
Changing clothes was a trivial matter from one dress to another. Her clothes weren’t as fancy as those her cousin was in, and current fashion trends, which her new dress adhered to, were for “ease of wear,” self dressing was much easier. This garment had a side zipper that allowed her in and out without assistance. Before pulling the dress on, she swapped out the brassier she had been wearing for the strapless one offered with the dress. After this, she made sure the side zipper of the dress was fully open, then stepped into the neck of the garment, and pulled it up, sliding her arms into the holes and pulling the thin straps onto her shoulders. With a quick zip, she was dressed.
Her goal was blending in tonight. Understated makeup, a couple of pieces from the jewelry collection, and the wig that was nearly her own hair color and length, just more of an actual brown was a subtle enough change that she looked perfectly average. She pulled the wig on, and pinned it in place, then ran the comb through carefully and gave it a simple style by rolling a piece of the hair up and pinning it back. She slipped her heels on, slid her arms into the gloves, and finally took one last look in the mirror to make sure nothing was missed. Satisfied, she tucked the unused contents of the boxes back into them, and unlocked the door. She stepped into the hallway and slid the key into the top of her glove. It was small enough to be generally hidden behind the fabric, and the shadow one might sometimes see could be assumed to be a crease. She could give the key back to Adian later.
Janus, with Helaine just behind him, strode up to a chocolate furred wolf. An ear piece was nearly hidden in his red hair, and the attached microphone neatly followed his jawline. “How are things going, Adian?”
At first, the other wolf held up a finger in a “one moment” gesture, and replied to the conversation on his ear. He then turned toward Janus, and shrugged slightly. “Not much to report. No one’s even thrown a drunken punch yet.”
“Oh, are they finally afraid of you, brother?” Janus grinned.
“More likely the team I’ve scraped together.” He looked across the room, then back to Janus and Helaine. “They can be an intimidating bunch.”
The mare shrunk back, realizing the wolf had his gaze on her.
Janus hadn’t noticed, and continued. “Were you notified of the, em, special guest tonight?”
Adian frowned, and almost glared at his brother. “I was, though as the head of security, I would have liked to have known your plan sooner. And I really wish you wouldn’t put Snowhawk through that.”
“She agreed to it, and this is the last one. We’re done after tonight.”
Adian cocked his head. “And then what?”
“I have a plan in place. You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like.”
As Adian was about to reply, he suddenly held a hand up to his ear. “Be right there,” he replied, then shrugged at Janus. “Tell me later, that was the first drunken punch.”
A hidden door creaked open, and Snowhawk checked for anyone not from the estate in the area. She found it clear, so emerged from the service passage. She made her way to the bulk of the party, and took a non-direct route to the man that had been marked for her upon his arrival.
She struck up a polite conversation with a couple near him, folks she knew, though if they recognised her, they said nothing. A slave in their human form at this kind of event wouldn’t be expected, even if her appearance was known. The amarant stones, like the one her cousin was currently wearing, were made specifically to prevent shape shifting.
She cordially ended her conversation with the couple, then “accidentally” bumped into Christopher as she attempted to leave. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” she began.
The bump was hardly noticeable, but he still turned around. “Don’t be, you’re fine,” he smiled.
She smiled in return, though more for having gotten his attention than the reassurance she hadn’t hurt him. “Still, I apologise. I wasn’t paying attention.”
He waved his hand, trying to brush away and perceived worry. “And as I said, it’s fine.” Another smile came to his face. “My name is Christopher North. Could I interest you in a drink Miss…?”
“Castiel. Eira Castiel,” she replied, returning the smile, but internally grimacing at the name she just used. “And a drink would be lovely.”
He offered her a hand, which she took, and as he led her away, she glanced around the room, making careful note of where security was positioned. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be needed. Adian, Janus’ brother and the head of the security forces was, unfortunately, not within her line of sight. She did happen to catch eye contact with Janus, who had finally entered. He gave her a small nod just before she broke said eye contact. Her cousin was at his side, though she didn’t seem to notice or recognise her.
“Something catch your eye?” Christopher asked.
“I thought I saw someone I knew,” she replied, smiling. “Happens somewhat often.”
The two stepped into an alcove, away from the rest of the crowd.
[Chatty chatty, fill this in later.]
“I don’t think you’re quite who you say you are, Eira.”
Snowhawk took a step back. “I’m sor–”
Within a half moment, he’d slapped a hand over her mouth and shoved her against a wall. She could feel something sharp pressed against her throat.
“Not quite sure what your owner was thinking, but he fucked up. And now you, sadly, are going to die.”
There weren’t many options for her. Either let him kill her, or shift her form, blow her cover, and maybe survive. She braced one foot against the wall behind her, and while her shoulders were pinned, she could still grab his forearms. She managed to get both hands on the arm that held the blade to her throat and tried pulling it away. As she did she clenched her eyes shut and willed herself back into her delphin self.
Christopher didn’t expect that she would be able to shift as quickly as she did, and he lost grip over her mouth.
“Security!!” she cried out as he struggled with her, trying to silence her again. She felt the edge of the blade bite into her skin, but the wound didn’t feel deep.
Almost impossibly fast after she cried out, her assailant was pulled off of her. When she looked up, Janus was there, throwing the man to the floor. “You son of a bitch,” he growled. Janus then lunged at the man, mouth open and teeth bared to grab his throat.
And then Snowhawk saw blood. It poured from Janus’ side and belly, and then as his jaws were clamped around Christopher’s neck, the man managed to get an arm free and up. He still held his blade, and now it had sliced into Janus’ neck.
Her wolf weakened, then let go and slumped to the side.
“No…” she whispered, then her world went dark.
Helaine stood near Janus as he mingled with guests, her head slightly lowered as was the custom. The uneasy feeling from earlier hadn’t left her. Still, she played her part, looking as much a trophy as a living being could, and entertaining the slew of banal questions from guests.
Janus himself had been slowly drifting toward one side of the room, which was odd for him. She’d noticed he had exchanged glances with one particular and familiar looking woman, and guessed he may have known her from elsewhere.
As they neared an alcove, the call for security rang out in the voice of her cousin. Janus immediately left her side, and ran towards the call. She hurried over soon after, and the familiarity of the woman from earlier clicked in her brain.
She watched as Janus threw the man attacking Snowhawk to the ground. She watched as he cursed him, then lunged at him. She watched in horror as the man sliced into Janus’ torso several times as he struggled against the wolf biting him, then as he managed to get to his throat, cutting that open.
As Janus fell to the floor, her cousin seemed to nearly faint, then caught herself. She didn’t cry out for him, but her expression was instead dark, and her eyes dulled.
As the attacker attempted to stand, he found himself kicked forward, towards the gathering crowd. The blade fell from his hand as he stumbled forward.
Snowhawk’s head was lowered as she stalked towards him. A tiny stream of blood from her own neck dripped down. She stopped to grab the knife the man had used to attack her and Janus. She paused for what seemed like a full moment, as he tried to again stand. Just as he was nearly upright, she launched herself at him, landing square on his back and sending him back to the floor.
Helaine was sure she heard bones breaking.
Snowhawk sat up, her knee now pressed in his back, as she grabbed a handful of his short hair. She leaned down, and said something in an old dialect of their delphin language, then cut the assailant’s throat.
She dropped his head to the ground, then stood. She turned back toward Janus’ body, took three steps, then collapsed.
Helaine rushed to her cousin, finding her simply fainted. She was already coming back around as she dropped to her knees next to her. Still, she pulled the dazed mare into her lap, and spoke to her softly in delphin.
The crowd stood by, none daring to come closer, though she did hear several of the security team instructing them to move. The first to break through the crowd was Adian, who immediately went to his brother’s side.
The chocolate furred lupino said nothing of his brother’s status, but had the security team who was with him work to load him onto a makeshift stretcher devised from a nearby tablecloth. As they carried him off, the white linen turned crimson. Adian directed others from his team to remove the body of the attacker, and still more to disperse the crowd.
He then came over to Helaine and Snowhawk, kneeling next to the both of them. Helaine protectively cradled the other mare as the wolf neared them. She’d always been wary of this wolf.
“Let me see her,” he gently instructed.
“No, you’ll make it worse,” she replied, clutching her tighter.
“Helaine, please,” Adian patiently said.
She gave an uncomfortable snort, but did let him look her over.
“I think she’ll be fine. This neck wound is superficial. Unlike the other guy. Or my brother.”
Before Helaine could ask, Snowhawk whined softly, and her eyes finally blinked fully open. “What… Helaine? Adian?” And then she seemed to remember. “Janus!” she called as she tried to sit up.
Both Helaine and Adian held her down. “Snowhawk, we need to get you to rest,” Adian responded. He then looked at Helaine. “I’m going to take her now. To a room of her own, so she can recover.”
She gave another nervous, uncomfortable snort, but nodded, and handed Snowhawk to him. “Fine.”
“You can go back to your room, or you can come with me.” As they stood, Helaine looked around the room, and spotted Ulmer, the uncle of Janus and Adian, on the stairs, apologising to several guests as they were ushered out. The old wolf looked over, and though he was across the room, his disapproving, angered glare could be felt. She quickly looked at Adian, who was returning said glare, then he turned and walked away.
Helaine hesitated for a moment, then decided to follow Adian.
The walk through the hall was panicked. She saw emergency personnel from the nearby hospital rushing by. Still, Adian remained calm, occasionally answering questions from his team on his two-way radio.
Snowhawk was silent during the walk. Only after Adian sat her on the bed in the room he picked did she ask, “Is he dead?”
“If you mean my brother, I haven’t heard yet.”
“The other guy too.”
“Yes, he’s dead.”
Helaine nervously stamped a split hoof. She couldn’t wait any longer. “Snowhawk, what the fuck was that?!” She almost never cursed yet, here she was. Unable to think of another descriptor.
Her cousin’s silence was extended. “I don’t know,” she finally answered. “I blacked out.”
Adian’s two-way blared to life again. “Adian, we need you in the front,” a garbled voice said.
“I’ll be right out.” He gave a disgusted sigh, then handed a key to Helaine. “This will lock the door. Do not let anyone but me in.”
“R– right,” she stammered, then followed him as he left the room, locking the door behind him.
She turned and looked at Snowhawk, slumped forward as she sat on the edge of the bed. Her ears were pinned back, and she could see her shaking from crying. Helaine went to her cousin’s side again, and wrapped her arms around her. “Shh,” she whispered, “we’ll be okay.”
“No, we won’t. Not now!” she sobbed, finally breaking from the silent tears. “They can’t hide me anymore. Or what I do! They’ll know! Without Janus to misdirect, they’re going to call for my death!”
“We’ll figure something out! We–”
Someone was pounding on the door.
“Open up in there, you fucking failure!” It was Ulmer. “You have ruined your last chance! You’ve ruined me!” The pounding continued. “Open this door! That is a direct order!”
“Helaine, go to the wall, on the hinge side of the door,” Snowhawk instructed, wiping tears from her eyes. “Stand out of it’s way.” She then walked to the room’s heat source, a fireplace, and took the tender from its stand.
“What are you doing?”
“Putting an end to this,” she replied as she then took the room key. “Once the door is open, and he’s in the room, slam it shut and lock it again.”
Her cousin wasn’t acting normally again, and her voice sounded strange. But she trusted her, and did as she was asked.
Snowhawk slid the key into the lock, and slowly turned it, waiting to fully unlock the door until he was in between his hits. The normal latch on the door couldn’t stand on it’s own against the force of the wolf beating the door, and once the deadbolt was free, it violently flung open. An angry Ulmer stalked into the room, not immediately seeing either mare.
Snowhawk was right behind him, brandishing the poker. Helaine slammed the door shut, which grabbed his attention, just in time for Snowhawk to land a solid “thwack” on his face.
Again, Helaine was sure she heard bones break.
The old wolf’s nose and mouth began pouring blood and he stumbled, falling to his knees.
“I regret buying you. You should have been put down.”
In what sounded like two voices, Snowhawk replied, sneering. “How many people did she murder for you? Do you even care your kin is dead? He gave you everything, including his life.”
The wave of realization seemed to hit the old wolf at those words. “He’s not dead! He can’t be dead…”
“Useless slaver,” she sneered, then hit him with the tender again. This time, the backwards pointing hook on the edge caught his flesh, and the follow through ripped him open.
“Snowhawk!” Helaine shouted in disbelief, then grabbed her cousin’s arm. “What are you doing?!” Snowhawk had never been peaceful but this…
The tender fell from her hand and she wavered for a moment. She blinked her eyes several times, then realized that there was another dead slaver before her. “No…” She let a dismayed whinny slip, then cursed. “We have to go! I need to get you safe!” Snowhawk unlocked the door, carefully peeking out and finding the hall quieter. “Come on.”
Helaine took a frantic look around, then ran after Snowhawk. She stayed right on her cousin’s heels as they went through the hall. Snowhawk found an exterior door that should have been locked, but for some reason was not, and the two ducked into a garden area. The lavender mare led them out, and to the large yard. They continued to the back of the property, where the fence would turn to cut through the woods that hadn’t been removed. A section of the fence, much less maintained and made of cheaper quality materials here, was damaged, and allowed for the two to climb through without much difficulty.
“I know where to go,” Snowhawk finally said, once they were far from the estate. “We had it planned, just not. Like this.”
Instead of asking about this apparent escape plan, Helaine’s question went a different route. “Snowhawk, what’s happening to you?”
She stopped, her back still to Helaine, and her head down. “I don’t know.” She reached up, and held her head, her fingers on either side of her horn. “My head feels fuzzy. And not entirely mine.”
“Is Janus actually dead?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said to Ulmer that his kin was dead. And Adian left before we were told anything.”
Snowhawk turned to face her cousin. “I– I don’t remember.” Snowhawk sank to her knees, the leaves of the underbrush crunching below her. “Oh, Gods. Is he dead?”
The sound of more leaves being trampled in the distance snapped her to attention. “We need to go.”
The pair traveled to a hidden cache, shaking their pursuers in the meantime. Inside was a large sum of money, and several sets of clothing. Some were for Snowhawk, others for Janus, and still others for Helaine.
“We had planned to offer you passage to Juv, if you wanted to go there. Or wherever.”
“Juv wouldn’t have taken Janus,” Helaine mentioned as she picked out a change of clothing.
“We know. There are,” she started, then caught herself, “were other plans in place.” She pulled some clothing out for herself, and began removing her now tattered formal attire. “There still might be, if he’s not…”
“Snowhawk, I don’t know if you can hold out for him to still be alive.”
She was silent, as she pulled on a pair of pants. She then pulled a shirt around her shoulders, and started buttoning it. “I know,” she finally replied. “I can’t remember much of what happened, but those wounds… “
“Snow,” Helaine began, just before her cousin slammed her fist into the lid of the trunk they had pulled their clothing from.
“Fuck!” Snowhawk curled forward, and the other mare could see her body shaking with sobs. “I have to find you somewhere safe. On your own. If they come after me, I don’t want you hurt.” Snowhawk, almost in a panic, flung the trunk lid back open, and dug around, producing a large wad of bills. She flipped through them quickly, counting what was there, then she pulled a few of the bills from the stack, and handed the rest to Helaine. “Take this. Get yourself set up somewhere.”
Snowhawk straightened herself, then placed a hand on each of her cousin’s shoulders. She looked at her cousin, her eyes still dripping some tears. “I’ll find you, I promise. If I don’t, I will find Jerome, and send him to you. But if I don’t leave now, you’re gonna be in danger.”
Jerome was their family’s Royal Guard. She’d not seen him since before she was sold from their original owner. This was likely the last time Snowhawk even saw him. “We don’t even know if he’s alive!”
“If that stallion is dead, then he wasn’t a very good Guard,” Snowhawk responded, a slight smile breaking the despair on her face.
Helaine frowned and stomped a cloven hoof. “Fine. But, so help me, if you don’t…”
“I will. I promise.” She gathered a few more clothes, stuffing them into one of the bags also left in the cache, then trotted away.
As Snowhawk disappeared into the darkness, Helaine did the same with another of the bags in the trunk, then closed it and wandered towards a hotel she remembered the location of.
Snowhawk hid for weeks, waiting for the fighting to die down. She moved almost nightly, sometimes finding safety in buildings, sometimes in the foliage.
The weeks turned into months. She felt herself growing weaker, as both her money and food stores ran dry. She’d lived lean before, though that was before she’d been bought by Ulmer, and as punishment from her old owner. Usually when she’d tried to kill a breeding stallion.
Tonight, she wandered the mostly dead city. The seasons had changed once already, and were threatening to again. Autumn was nearly here. She had a scarf wrapped around both her horn and head, then the hood of her found jacket over the scarf. Though she wasn’t as noticeable as her cousin, the curve of her horn was still a giveaway. She couldn’t bring herself to transform into a human, in part out of fear of being mistaken for a slaver.
The area she wandered in tonight was where she knew Helaine had found shelter. She stopped outside of the building where her cousin now lived, and leaned against the wall. She closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, and concentrated on her cousin’s presence. Her horn began to glow, though this was mostly hidden by the scarf around it.
The skill was a difficult one to even learn, much less master, but she had managed it, only to have their first owner separate them, selling her cousin some time before she would be.
The closer she was, the easier Helaine would be to detect, and since Snowhawk was just outside the same building, it wouldn’t take long to confirm she was still there.
Tonight, however, Snowhawk also felt two other presences. One was quite familiar, but the other was faint, almost like they were from a dream.
She concerned herself with the former more, as it was closer. She looked around her, seeing no one, then pushed off from the wall, and quickly trotted down the sidewalk.
She turned a corner, and bumped into someone else. “I’m so sorr—,” she began, looking up at the other being.
She found her eyes locked with the sapphire blue eyes of Janus’s brother.
“Adian…” she gasped, taking a step back. Fear immediately filled her, and she looked away to find either a place to hide, or an escape route.
The wolf wordlessly reached out to her, then grabbed her and pulled her to him. His arms wrapped around her, holding her close.
He was… hugging her? And she felt his body shaking. Was he weeping?
“I thought you were gone, too,” he whispered, his voice unsteady with tears.
She managed to push herself back from him somewhat, enough to look at him. “Adian, what is… I mean. Why?” She didn’t really know what to say.
He loosened his grip on her at first looking back to her face, then away again. “We couldn’t save him.” A pause. “I couldn’t save him.”
She pushed herself back more. “It was my fault.”
“No! Gods, no…” he pulled her closer again. “You were the one who actually tried. I failed, we got conned. Snow, it was a fucking set up.” She heard his soft crying for a moment. “I’m sorry. I should have stayed and protected you.”
Snowhawk was still at a loss for words. “Why are you here? Why aren’t you at the estate?”
He again loosened his bear hug. “I go out, hoping to find you, or Helaine, almost every night. And, here you are.”
“You aren’t… going to hurt me?”
He had regained some of his composure by now. “Snow, even if the old wolf was still alive, and even if he’d threaten me for disobeying him, I would never.”
She was still wary of him. Even though she knew where her cousin was, she wasn’t sure if she should tell this wolf.
“My gods. Look at you,” Adian began, frowning as he released her further. He’d never seen her this thin, and at some point, she’d apparently cut, or otherwise lost, a good amount of length from her tail, and presumably her mane. The months had been hard on her. “If it had been winter, I don’t think you’d be here.”
Snowhawk dropped her head, laying her ears back. She opened her mouth to respond, but before she could, he continued.
“I should have found you sooner.” His drooped ears lifted, pointing toward her. “Will you please come back with me? I just want to know you’re safe.”
She snorted softly, then quickly glanced towards the building where her cousin was living. “Can you do one thing for me, if I do?”
“Snowhawk, I will help you with whatever you need, even if you don’t.”
“I need to find my family’s Royal Guard, Jerome. For Helaine,” she again glanced towards the building. “I know who his last owner was, if that helps.”
Adian nodded. “We’ll find him.”
The pair walked mostly in silence. Snowhawk did have to glance at him and ask, “Did you usually search the city on foot?”
Adian nodded. “I didn’t want to risk missing you.”
“Couldn’t you have covered more ground with your truck?”
“Yes, but it also draws attention, and there’s more distracting me.”
Another stretch of silence, then Adian spoke. “I’m guessing your cousin is in the area we were just in.”
“Yes,” she replied, nodding once. “I know where but… I hope you understand if I don’t say exactly where yet.”
“You want to protect her, I understand. And I’m sure that’s why you’re separated from her as well.”
Another nod. “She’s the last of my family.”
Adian flinched at the words. Neither of them had fared very well. He looked at her, then tentatively placed a hand on her shoulder. The mare neither flinched or tried to pull away, already more at ease with his presence. She seemed to cant her head, enough to rest her cheek on his fingers, and also walked a little closer to him. Her shoulder lightly touched his side. Literally running into him tonight was probably the first time she’d touched, or been touched by, anyone since parting with her cousin. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
She stopped in her tracks at the words, with him stopping as well. “Why?”
“I failed you.” He repeated what he’d said earlier.
“I don’t think you did. You were doing what you thought you should do.”
The wolf shook his head. “Before then.”
Snowhawk perked her ears, and turned towards him. “When?” she asked, confused.
He sighed, then knelt next to her. “At the very beginning. When Ulmer bought you, it wasn’t for Janus. It was for me.”
Her ears slipped back, confusion spreading over her face. “What do you mean?”
“Do you remember when you first arrived, and Ulmer ushered me into your holding room, with one of the amarant bracelets?”
“He was showing you to me. After I introduced myself, then left the room… He got an earful.” Adian shrugged. “I never wanted slaves. And Ulmer knew it, but thought throwing a ‘pet’ at my feet would be enough to change me.”
“What happened after that?”
“He was going to sell you again. I had taken a very cursory look at your files, and convinced him that Janus would be a better fit. I’d seen the last… incident with the breeding stallion.”
“I couldn’t let you just vanish. But then they used you for their own, stupid games.” He looked down, pinning his ears back. “That’s where I failed you. And I’m sorry.”
Snowhawk was quiet for a moment, then kneeled in front of the wolf. “And you still didn’t fail me. You did what you thought you needed to do. You probably saved my life.” She scooted herself closer to him. “How many times did you after that too?”
“I was just doing my job.”
“I still lost my brother, and failed him.”
“I was the one who was there. I can’t even remember what exactly happened. We let him in, not you.”
She reached up, and took one of his cheeks into her hand, her thumb wiping at the tear streaks in his fur. “Adian, I don’t know how, or why, I survived. I don’t know how I managed to be in the exact place you were. But, maybe there’s a reason for it.” She placed her other hand on one of his. “You are the reason I survived as long as I did. One fluke doesn’t make you a failure.”
He looked up at her, taking one of her cheeks into his hand, then lacing his fingers with her’s on the other.
“We can’t bring him back,” she stated, “but we also can’t blame ourselves for what we didn’t do.”
A clatter from a nearby alley broke their mutual gaze, and the pair sprung up from where they had been, turning towards the noise. Adian kept one hand on her, but stood in front of her, waiting to guard her from whatever might come out of the alley. His lips curled into a snarl, and his ears were pinned back as they both watched.
And from the alley, a grey feline, with still darker grey points strolled out. The cat looked at them, it’s eyes bright blue and almost seemed to glow. It sat, watching them.
Adian relaxed, his ears going forward again and his lips smoothing. “Oh, just a cat,” he began, as he turned towards Snowhawk.
The mare, however, looked terrified. And she was floating, and moving backwards, appearing to be held somehow. She flung her head around, like she was trying to remove a hand from her muzzle so she could scream.
“Snowhawk!” he cried out, moving towards her.
Appearing behind her, with one arm across her chest, and the other reaching up to silence her, was a deep red lupino. His eyes were glowing, and they were gold. He stopped moving backwards, and stared at Adian. “Just wait, wolf,” the other commanded. The wolf stopped in his tracks, unable to step forward. He told his legs to move, but they refused. Adian could only watch as his hand, pointed in a warm grey fur, began to glow, and he touched it to Snowhawk’s horn. In response, her horn began to glow as well.
As soon as his fingers touched her horn, Snowhawk stopped struggling. She seemed held entirely in place.
In her mind, Snowhawk heard a voice, the one from this delphin, calling out.
Emerald?! Emerald, are you awake yet? Are you still here?
Then, faintly, a voice, not hers, replied to him. Yes, love, I’m here.
I shall return soon, when you are stronger. Snowhawk could feel him smile, though if he showed one externally, she didn’t know. He released her muzzle, pulling his hand away from her horn, then set her back on her own hooves. “I will return for you, mare,” he said, then vanished.
Adian rushed the next few steps to her, gathering her into another bear hug. “I’m sorry! I couldn’t move!”
She could again hear the desperation in his voice. “Adian, I’m fine. I think I am, anyway.”
“I can’t lose you too,” he wept. “Let’s get you back, someplace safe, and then we can finish talking.” Before Snowhawk could nod in agreement, he swept her into his arms, and swiftly carried her back to the estate.
Rather than return to the main house, Adian took her to his small cottage on the grounds. The building was close enough to be convenient, but quieter than the larger mansion. And, as Adian was head of estate security, easier to keep secure. He only felt safe in letting her go once they were inside.
After securing the door, he led her into the cosy kitchen. “Can I fix you anything? What do you want to drink?” he rambled, searching without much meaning through the cabinets and refrigerator.
“Adian,” she began, placing her hand lightly on his back. “Let’s talk first.”
He let out a large sigh, then turned to her, and took her hands in his. “Right.”
They walked into the living room, and both sat on the small couch. “Before you ask, I don’t know who that dog was. But I had felt the same presence earlier in the night, and a few times before.”
“What was he doing with the glowy hand on horn thing?”
“He called out a name in my mind. And she responded.”
“Do you know who that was?”
“No,” she replied, shaking her head. “It’s like some kind of fog in my mind. I felt the same that night…” She trailed off, her head dropping. “That’s why nothing from that night is really clear.”
Adian reached out to her, once more taking her face into his hand. “I know I haven’t talked, really talked, with anyone since that night. And I would venture to guess you haven’t either. Janus was so important to us both. So, how about we talk?”
[And they talked. A lot. And scooted ever closer, and touchy-feely more. And crying, b/c feels.]
“Adian, do you think…” she began, gently touching her muzzle to his.
She replied to him with a kiss. A long, soft one. She pulled away from him, then shrank back. “I’m sorry! I don’t even know if that was okay!”
“It was wonderful,” he replied, then pulled her back to him, leading their kiss this time. After he broke their kiss, he leaned his head in and nuzzled under her neck. “Tell me if I need to stop.”
Adian gently pushed her back onto the couch, one hand resting over her breast, and the other behind her head, his fingers laced into her hair.
[Porn went here.]
She stood from the bed, and ran her fingers through his chest fluff. “Thank you, Adi,” she said, then softly kissed him. “Maybe you can join me?”
His ears perked. “Mm, perhaps,” he smiled.
She walked into the bathroom, pushing the door too behind her. Adian heard the water turn on, and he stripped the comforter from the bed, then set it in a large basket for laundry. He pulled a fresh one from his closet, and soon had it spread over his bed. The wolf then walked to his bathroom door, first softly knocking, then pushing the door open. Snowhawk hadn’t yet stepped into the tub, and she motioned the wolf to her. He joined her, first next to, then in the shower.
Some short time later, the two exited the bath. Adian went to his closet again, and pulled out a robe, handing it to Snowhawk. “I can go to the main house and grab clothes for you, if you’d like.”
She nodded, “I would, thank you.”
“Do you want me to let anyone know you’re back?”
She paused, tying the belt of the robe around her. “Only if you have to.”
“Of course,” he replied with a nod. “Make yourself at home. If you’re hungry, you’ve seen the kitchen, you can sleep, I’d say watch some TV but there hasn’t really been anything on. At all. And I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
After Adian left, she weighed her options. She first went for food, resulting in some dressed up microwave meal. After, she returned to the bedroom. She removed the oversized robe, then climbed into his bed. She pulled the sheet and comforter over her shoulders, and snuggled into the softest sleep she’d had in months.
In the main house, Adian sorted through some of the clothing that had been left behind when he freed the remaining slaves in the home. With both Ulmer and Janus gone, he had final say now, and his final say was to pull himself, and his family, out of the slave trade. Many had left, though some remained. Adian hired those that stayed, and due to both the location of the estate, and his security team, it had stayed one of the few safe places in the city. If any of those freed had just wanted security, they were welcomed as well.
He tossed another shirt onto the bed next to him, and continued pawing through the dresser. This was the room she’d shared with her cousin, and he was trying to remember if there were any items she’d preferred. He looked at the bed, with a few items on it, and sighed. “I guess I’ll see if she wants to come in and look for herself. But this should get her through.” He folded and gathered the clothing, then as he left the room, had a thought. If, somehow, Snowhawk’s family tree led back to the name in her mind, they might track down some better answers.
Janus would have recognized the name, if there was any relation, but it’s hard to ask a dead man questions.
Still, Adian detoured to the record room before returning to his cottage. Records were meticulously kept on family lines like those of Snowhawk and her cousin, so this would either be a great start, or a sudden dead end. He had not been here since before that night, and there was concern in his mind that the room would be torn apart.
He sighed and pulled the door open. The room was disheveled, with some papers strewn about but seemed mostly intact. He found the file cabinet where her information should have been, but her folder was missing. He checked another drawer, looking for her acquired last name, but that drawer held nothing either.
Either her file was in his uncle or brother’s office, or it was lost.
Frowning, he checked the time. He’d been in the main house for almost an hour. “I’ll head back and see how she’s feeling,” he said only to the clock.
He unlocked and opened his cottage door as quietly as possible. He crept into his bedroom, and set the clothing he’d gathered on a corner of the bed. He looked at Snowhawk, passed out, apparently peacefully, in his bed. He was unsure of how she’d react to him climbing into the bed with her, so he grabbed a blanket from his closet and started to go back to his couch, until he heard her soft voice.
“Adi?” she asked, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I tried not to wake you.”
She stretched an arm out to him, and motioned him to her. “Come here.”
He walked back to the bed, placing the blanket on the end, then sitting next to her. “Yes, my dear?”
“Stay with me, please.”
“Of course.” He stood , and stripped off his shirt, then walked around the bed and climbed in the other side. As he did, she turned to face him, then cuddled close to him as he embraced her. The two drifted off, holding each other.
A few hours later, Snowhawk awoke. There was no discernable reason to have done so, but she sat up in Adian’s bed, and looked around the room. She felt like she was being watched. The feeling wasn’t strong, but it reminded of her what she sometimes felt on the street. That had turned out to be that strange lupino that pried into her mind, so it was unsettling to feel such here.
A moment later, Adian lifted his head and sat up beside her. “Are you okay?” he asked, nuzzling into her neck.
“I think so,” she responded, though sounding out of sorts. “I think I’ve been out in the woods too long.”
Adian wrapped his arms around her as she leaned into him. “You’re safe here.”
Snowhawk nodded and reached up to his face, gently petting his cheek and closing her eyes.
Dawn wasn’t far away. But, outside the fence a red wolf stood. He grinned, staring at the small cottage on the other side. He could sense the movement inside. He hadn’t expected Emerald to respond to him so soon, but he knew how much closer he was to bringing her back now.