“Oh, I do,” Willow muttered to herself as she walked briskly on the continued path past Ruby’s street.
She doubled back around until she was stood in the trees behind the row of houses where Ruby lived. The leaves were thick on the ground here, crunching underfoot, except that Willow moved so fast that her weight was lifted before they had time to make a noise. She stood on the low bank of the small stream. The water was relatively clear, though by no means clean, so that the moss, plants and stones which made up the bed could be seen through the leaves floating on the surface. The current moved slowly upstream, the water ruffled by a breeze through the tree trunks. She could see her reflection, distorted by ripples. She skimmed a pebble skilfully across the water - it only had a chance to bounce twice before it hit the other surface. She would have nothing else to do all night except stay here. She didn’t resent protecting Ruby but it was quite boring. She settled down on the bank, her feet a few inches from the water, and tugged her books out of her schoolbag. She took much longer than necessary to complete her maths equations, dragging out the time to put off the transformation. She did it every time. By now it was dusk, and she couldn’t put it off for much longer. If she wasn’t a wolf by dark, how could she protect Ruby when they came looking in the night?
With a resigned sigh, Willow took off her uniform and folded it up into her school bag. It was cold but she still wasn’t eager to make the change. Reluctantly, she curled up on the hard ground and squeezed her eyes shut. Sometimes this made it a little easier for her. She felt the shafts of moonlight slanting through the trees rest on her as the sky darkened, and thought of what she was going to become. Strength made her muscles tense and then suddenly she was twitching, trembling, as it was followed by a surge of pain as the mutation began. It was over in minutes but it always felt like longer to Willow.
She opened her eyes and got to her feet - her four paws. She was warm now, protected from the cold by her thick pelt of pale sandy fur, the equivalent of her blonde hair in wolf form. Her claws clicked against the ground as she padded over to the bag, gripping the strap between her strong canine teeth and dragging it up against a tree between some large roots, out of the way. She was always restless as a wolf, because even though she kept her mind, there was always that animal instinct to follow her nose and hunt down some animal to eat, especially if she hadn’t eaten very much that day. She had missed lunch, so the smell of a duck floating by on the stream was harder to resist. She always managed to resist the idea of killing, mainly out of conscience but also because she couldn’t stand the thought of eating a raw animal, especially one which could have all kinds of germs on it from living permanently in the wild. She was a bit of a clean freak. Even now she shuddered as the duck swam out of sight, repulsed by the thought of how easy it would be to splash through the shallow stream and snap its neck, to feed on its meagre meat. Other wolves - actually, most of them - preferred to eat that way, stealing sheep or pigs from farms or attacking small kill such as rabbits and foxes, or even ducks. She was different, and it sometimes bothered her that she didn’t fit in with anyone - not the humans because of her condition, and not people with her condition because she didn’t embrace it the way they did. She cheered herself slightly by thinking that Lycan didn’t like to kill that way either; though she knew that sometimes he bought horses for the sole purpose of hunting them. He had told her that the thrill of catching and taking down a running stallion was often more rewarding than the taste of its meat. She had tried to pretend that the thought didn’t disgust her, because she wanted Lycan to like her. Each of the Eternals had an unofficial protégée, and she thought that she was his. She was the most intelligent of the collection of werewolves in Slake at least. That was in her favour if nothing else.
She wrinkled her nose - a remarkably human gesture, considering it was a snout.
She turned and paced back and forth through the trees behind Ruby’s house for a few minutes, sniffing for any scent of something more sinister than a walking human and their dog that might have passed this way. There were animal traces but no human trails around. Most importantly, no wolf or vampire smell. They both had distinctive scents but there was none to be found behind Ruby’s house, which she was glad about. Her routine done, she crept to the edge of the tree line and sat down on her haunches, ready for the watch.
She let one huff of a wolf sigh escape. It was going to be a long night.