Shadow of Time
- Genre: Romance
- Age: 18+
- Status: Ongoing
- Language: English
- Author: Bernice Longmouth
The night air hung with a crisp, damp chill as he traversed the landscape. Each step on the sponge-like, needle-covered ground was muffled, rendering him nearly silent as he moved like a fleeting shadow. It served as a refreshing departure from the noise and filth of the city. Liam glided through the surroundings, sleek and noiseless. The scent of rain carried a faint sweetness as if the nearby night-blooming joy had infused the air.
It had been far too long since he had assumed his wolf form and simply run freely. However, changing shape in urban areas has become increasingly perilous due to the ongoing tensions between humans and shifters. He occasionally wondered if there had ever been a time when the two races coexisted harmoniously.
Upon the next ridge, a distinct glow of fire flickered, accompanied by the unmistakable commotion of humans. A mischievous thrill coursed through him – perhaps he could startle them, if only for a moment. Maintaining his speed, he smoothly shifted his form, flowing in the direction of the campsite. The forest scents soon gave way to the pungency of smoke, beer, and pheromones. The crackling fire disrupted the tranquility, making it difficult to discern his surroundings as his eyes adjusted to the harsh illumination. Clustered around the fire, three men reclined in uncomfortable-looking foldable chairs.
Their boisterous voices competed with distasteful music blaring from an overpriced speaker. Each man attempted to outshout the others, striving to be heard above the raucous melodies. Liam slowed his pace, circling the scene stealthily, camouflaged within the shadows cast by the trees.
The piercing headlights and the unmistakable noise of a vehicle operated by an inept driver announced their presence. Another jeep rumbled through the forest, disregarding any semblance of a road or mercy, causing him to silently cheer for the tree branches that mercilessly struck the paint. The blinding glare of the lights emerged from the hillside, accompanied by frantic honking, proclaiming their arrival. The group erupted in cheers and excited shouts, immediately rising from their positions to assist with unloading.
Liam blinked, struggling to see clearly amidst the blazing firelight, but it appeared they were extracting something sizable from the vehicle. Could it be an animal? Perhaps they had been hunting and intended to consume their prey? The prospect intrigued him, envisioning a feast more substantial than the usual badgers and skunks. They hauled out their cargo, swathed in a grimy painter’s canvas adorned with colorful splotches of paint. The lingering scent of construction and freshly cut wood wafted through the air. Curiously, there was also a tang of sour yogurt mingled with the distinct aroma of fear.
Strange, considering the men appeared to be reveling in their merriment, and surely the creature within was already deceased, right? Liam attempted to reason logically, feeling a twinge of horror at the notion of being cooked alive. The reality proved far worse than his imagined scenarios.
As two of the men wrestled with their burden, whatever lay inside began to thrash about, muffled shouts emanating from within. A feminine voice. One man gripped her arms while another clutched her single leg, the exposed limb flailing wildly. Her voice sounded worn as if she had been screaming for hours, her desperate cries interspersed with sobs.
“I like ’em when they put up a fight, but this one nearly escaped from the back as we drove,” one man boasted, eliciting joyful cheers. The captive continued to struggle, managing to free one hand and swing it downward, her head colliding with the ground. The man swiftly seized her wrist, yanking her forcefully off the ground. Liam inhaled deeply, the scent of joy now permeating the air, its sweet and heady aroma tinged with a subtle hint of citrus—perhaps bergamot? Shaking off the momentary distraction, he circled around the scene, positioning himself to face the men’s backs.
The woman’s face became partially visible as the sheet slipped off, revealing a dirty rag tightly bound around her mouth, her tear-stained cheeks contorted in anger. Despite her continued struggles, her arms and legs grew sluggish. The men callously dropped her near the crackling fire, causing her to spin around, dislodging the sheet as she attempted to crawl away. One of the men casually seized her foot, effortlessly pulling her back as if savoring his dominance.
“Nothing awaits you out there except wolves,” one of the men remarked, prompting the others to join in with yips and howls, foolishly showcasing their ignorance of the presence of a shifter in their midst. Human arrogance often blinded them to the truth.
Having witnessed enough, Liam slithered into the light, his form basking in the warm glow of the fire, a low growl emanating from his throat, revealing his sharp white teeth. He moved with unparalleled speed, catching the men off guard, their necks unable to keep up with his swift movements. It was not just his menacing presence but the ferocious growl that alerted them to the danger they faced.
Skillfully, Liam positioned himself in front of all five men, sinking his teeth into the arm of the one who had been dragging the woman’s leg.
For a moment, the men were frozen in disbelief, experiencing the same sense of helplessness and being utterly outmatched that they had inflicted upon the woman. Liam swiftly snapped another man’s hand, the sound of breaking bones reminiscent of deflating bubble wrap. He tugged the injured man forward, causing him to stumble and fall straight into the heart of the fire. The man emitted a high-pitched shriek of surprise and pain, managing to roll away from the flames.
Two of the men instinctively turned and fled clumsily toward the waiting vehicles. One stood dumbfounded, staring at his charred companion, who had fallen into the fire. The remaining man, recovering his senses, seized his burned comrade, and together they limped toward the backseat of the silver jeep.
Liam’s fur, a patchwork of imperfect black interwoven with greys and silvers, defied any assumption of generosity. The intense glow of the jeep’s headlights momentarily overwhelmed him, causing a flicker of hesitation that illuminated the silver flecks on his coat like stars in the night sky. The resounding snap of the doors shutting abruptly shook him out of his light-induced reverie. Reacting swiftly, he lunged forward blindly, his teeth sinking into the arm of the man who still held the woman’s leg captive. A strangled cry escaped the man as he relinquished his grip, providing Liam the opportunity to shake violently.
Each turn of his head produced a crackling symphony, resembling popcorn bursting in a microwave. Collapsing to his knees, the man cradled his mangled arm against his chest, struggling to stand ungracefully without the use of his limbs. He darted towards the other vehicle, seeking refuge. The abrupt eruption of a shotgun blast pierced the chaos, assaulting the senses with deafening force. Liam felt the sting of three pellets making contact, but they posed little concern as they were not made of silver. He pounced on the wielder of the firearm, knocking him off his feet, his massive paws pressing the man into the soft undergrowth.
Amidst the mayhem, the woman had managed to scramble away, descending downhill. Initially, on all fours, she frantically scooted backward, her dazed eyes fixated on the violent spectacle unfolding before her. Once she deemed herself sufficiently distanced from the turmoil, she abruptly turned, rising to her feet and sprinting away, seizing the opportunity to escape the entire scene.
Liam continued to snarl, his focus fixed on the man he had pinned, ensuring his dominance. He trod cautiously on the barrel of the shotgun, forcing it into the earth alongside the subdued individual. The man with the injured arm and his fortuitously unharmed companion scrambled towards their vehicle, igniting its headlights, which once again bathed Liam in blinding illumination. The wolf harbored a deep disdain for losing his senses during a fight, yet he made a mental note, recognizing the potential value of such information in future encounters.
Shifting his weight and playfully scratching the ground, Liam effortlessly flung the shotgun into the night as if it were mere grains of sand. However, he swiftly retreated when the jeep lunged towards him, wisely avoiding the risk of being run over. The last man he had pinned hastily clambered into the backseat, struggling to fully close the door before the jeep jolted forward, speeding away with rough bumps and jolts. Liam observed the two sets of lights—one pursuing the other—bobbing and blinking amidst the surrounding trees and potholes. They careened along the dirt road, their movements faster than wise, until finally disappearing behind a ridge as their lights blinked out.
Shaking his head and his flowing mane, Liam let out a huff to expel the dust, the glare of the lights, and the persistent ringing in his ears. His mane settled into a bulky, lion-like manner before growing still, and he blinked his eyes exaggeratedly. Pausing for a moment, he relished the descending tranquility. He concluded that it would be more prudent to approach the woman in his human form, so he trotted upwind of the fire, preparing to shift. With a series of bone-cracking noises akin to snapping multiple glow sticks, his elongated shadow transformed into a more upright figure, taking on human form.
Rummaging through one of the scattered duffle bags that littered the area, he retrieved a pair of too-new khaki pants and a plain black shirt. It seemed even the captors had a sense of taste, better than the fool who had overpaid for these garments and never worn them much. Slipping on the clothes, he swung the bag over his shoulder and trotted downhill with large, almost playful leaps. Following the intoxicating scent of joy, he tracked the woman who had managed to put some considerable distance between them—about 300 meters away. Not bad, he thought, impressed by her ability to run when frightened.
Approaching with cautious steps, Liam could see the woman stumbling and falling repeatedly. In the darkness, her vision was impaired, and she was barefoot, unlike him. Well, he couldn’t fault her for that. As she dropped to her knees after yet another fall, she paused to wipe her tear-streaked face and glanced anxiously behind her.
She was engulfed in ugly crying, gasping for air between sobs, as snot and tears created intricate patterns on the foliage near her face. She wore a tight-fitting top, clearly meant as an undershirt or sleepwear, while her lower half was clad only in mud-stained panties. Maintaining a few feet of distance, Liam took long strides to position himself parallel to her on the hill, slowly circling her to prevent her from running further downhill. Kneeling down, he recognized that his towering presence might not be reassuring in such a vulnerable moment. He raised his hands, displaying them in a non-threatening manner.
“It’s okay. Those guys drove off, and I don’t want to hurt or scare you,” he spoke calmly, trying to offer reassurance. Startled, she hiccuped and looked at him, settling deeper into the earth with her legs splayed on either side. Eventually, she sat on the ground, hugging her knees tightly to her chest.
“None of this shit is okay,” she snapped at him angrily, her words lacking their full intensity due to the long strands of snot connecting her face and arm. Liam slowly removed the bag from his shoulder and tossed it towards her, like someone attempting to lure a wary animal with food. She snatched the bag, swiftly opening it and using the first item she found to blow her nose and wipe her face. She continued rummaging through the bag, desperately searching for anything that would make her feel less exposed.
“That seemed like a really bad situation. Are you hurt?” he asked, keeping his voice low and steady, immediately berating himself for the question. Of course, she had been hurt—what he had witnessed alone was distressing enough, and she could have been their captive for days prior to this encounter.
“What?” she responded, bewildered, wiping her nose and face on the back of her hand. Speaking more to herself than offering a direct answer, she rushed through her words. Liam remained silent, allowing her to process the moment further, her breathing slowly steadying as the last remnants of her sobs escaped in feeble bursts.