The full moon was rising.
Never before had that one simple fact had any real impact on Xenia's life. Occasionally she had noticed the changing appearance of the moon, thought to herself how wondrous a full moon could be. It had not actually mattered before though.
Tonight it mattered. It mattered in a visceral way that surprised and shocked her. It also enthralled her. All that talk ecologists spouted about links with nature, the importance of the rhythms of the world, it meant nothing in comparison. She could feel the shifting of the earth, the appearance of the moon. It was in her bones, in her blood. It itched along her skin as though someone rubbed a hand over fur the wrong way.
It left her shaking and in pain. Persephone sat beside her, a careful hand sweeping a cool cloth over Xenia's exposed skin. At that moment it was all exposed. Clothing, the girl had explained, was just going to be uncomfortable. It would get ripped. There was no point in wearing it and nobody was there to see.
That last part was not quite true. Persephone had brought her to an area of the tunnels that had other occupants. Since the Fraternity had chased them out of the hotel, Xenia had met fey of a few varieties, other shifters, a ghoul, and others Persephone had not explained. Below the city streets lurked a whole other world, one sent into hiding by the bigotry and cruelty of the Fraternity and other organizations like them.
Opening her eyes, Xenia glanced at Persephone, then over to the place where there little chunk of tunnel joined a larger one. She saw a couple walk by, glancing in with encouraging but pitying glances. They understood what was happening to her. It seemed, in some strange way, normal although the shades she saw were off. The edges bled, and everything was much more obviously shades of light and dark. Closing her eyes, she took another deep breath.
Persephone had warned her about this too. Xenia knew that her eyes were changing, the irises changing shades, the whole way she saw altering. She was not going to have human eyes in a wolf body. There was a risk, however, of having wolf eyes in a human face. That was something to worry about later, though.
Pain snapped along her ribs and her spine and she clenched her jaw against it. Everything in her said to fight, to try to push this back. Maybe if she tried hard enough it wouldn't happen. Greg, in the one call she had made to him, had warned her about that. She wouldn't win if she fought, it would just hurt more. It was better to try to accept it, try to relax.
Relaxing hurt. Her bones threatened to reconfigure, skin to rip, internal organs wanted to change places. Through it all something stalked within her like a caged animal. It was rage and frustration and desires. It was impulse. It was lethal.
Xenia tried to breathe, tried to understand what was within her. It felt like something separate, something that was not quite her. At the same time, she knew it was. She recognized hints of it, but she had never listened before. Never before had she let this side of herself influence her. This was the side that railed against injustice, that demanded, that craved. It was the part of her that hated. Just maybe also the part of her that loved.
Her body contorted suddenly, shoving Persephone off the pile of blankets, as the crunch of breaking bone echoed from Xenia's chest. Ribs shifted and reknit, muscles built, adjusted, reattached. It was terrifying, the ultimate in one's body not being under control. The sensations spread. Her skin stretched, rippled. In places it ripped only to wriggle over flesh until it reattached and joined seamlessly once more.
Her hands clenched, aching, and suddenly her fingers broke. The bones compacted, changing. Her jaw clenched and she felt the opposite, felt it break and lengthen again and again. She coughed, and a mist of blood sprayed.
Only on the first change. It was what they had all told her. Only the first time her body went through this would it hurt so much. After that it was natural. Her body would not actually be harmed, no matter how it felt. This time, though... this time she bled and pain flowed through her veins rather than blood.
Every joint dislocated and reajusted. Her jaws parted and she panted, keeping her eyes closed. She did not want to see. She heard, however. A soft voice, soothing. Felt a careful hand stroke along the back of her head which was about the only place that was not in agony.
In that one instant she realized that she smelled things. She heard things too. Things she had not noticed before. Just as she started to try to sort through them, however, a sudden burst of pain wracked her and she contorted, falling on hands and knees, although they were no longer hands and knees. In only seconds she was trembling as she rested on paws instead, a muzzle against the concrete and blankets instead of a nose and mouth.
Fear rippled her skin, readjusting her fur. A quivering breath slipped through her nostrils. Hold still. She had to hold still. There was something here, someone else. Should she attack, or should she run?
Slowly, carefully, a hand came into view. The hand made little sense, but the smells that came with it were familiar. Not the right ones, not the ones that would mean she was completely safe - and how did she know there were such smells? - but ones that she knew did not mean an enemy.
Rage still beat at her, the need to do something, to lash out. She tried to hold it back, but she snapped at the hand before her. It was gone though, too quickly to catch. That made her tilt her head slightly, turn it to the side.
Persephone was there. Xenia recognized the girl, which was a start. It was something. But she still had too much energy. She whined softly, her tail twitching. An odd sensation.
"I wish we could go out to the forest, but it isn't safe. The Fraternity will be out there. I know you need to do something, preferably something pretty destructive. It always helps. I'm not strong enough, though, to fight with you. I really don't feel lik having to run back to Greg and have him patch me up tonight." A part of Xenia recognized the wry regret in Persephone's voice, saw the expressions on her face. Most of her simply growled and slunk back a little more. There was just a hint of fear around the girl and it smelled exciting, but Xenia knew she wasn't supposed to attack the girl.
Then there was something else. Noises in the tunnel. Both the wolf and the girl turned to look, saw people rushing by, some human, some rather definitely not.
"Stay here," Persephone ordered, glaring down at the wolf. This was always the worst. After Xenia would understand. Later she would be herself still, would make sense of the conflict of instinct and thought. This first time, though, it wouldn't be like that. Not for her. She'd been bitten, not born, and that made a difference. Also, the change hadn't come from emotion, hadn't come from accepting or needing the beast inside. It had come from the moon. For this one change, Xenia would be more wolf than woman.
Thinking better of the command she carefully buckled a collar around Xenia's neck, keeping up a soothing stream of words as she did so, glancing into the tunnels. She wasn't too worried. Unless the Fraternity sent Alex or a whole squad they would be safe. This was the time when the monsters were at their best and the Fraternity could patrol all it liked, but they would stick to the monsters on the surface, the ones who had no one to protect them, nowhere to hide.
Only Marcus knew about the tunnels and just how many were down there.
Grabbing hold of the collar, Persephone stood and carefully walked towards the noise. It was loud, sounds of jeering, harsh words, flesh against flesh. It made her just a little nervous, but she kept herself as calm as possible to avoid setting off Xenia. The wolf still tugged at the collar, snapping a bit, but her focus was also on the noise ahead.
When they reached a crowd of people, Persephone held back, yelling at the nearest to ask what had happened. The hurried response was that two Fraternity soldiers had made it into the tunnels. They were green but they had attacked and injured a couple of the otherkin before they had been caught. Not quieting down though. They were going to die and that was all there was to that.
Good. Persephone felt no regret for those two men. They had come into the wrong place, gone into the proverbial woods on the wrong day, a day when it would have been safer to stay at home. They were there, though.
Xenia inhaled, taking in scents of anger, of pain and rage. Scents of blood. A low growl came from her and a few near them edged back. A couple shouts of "new werewolf" rang out, and slowly the crowd parted, people moving this way or that, until two men could be seen. They were bloody, obviously having been fighting. In front of them stood a large werewolf, his appearance that mingling of man and wolf that had inspired so much fear and fascination in humanity.
"Come here, little one. We'll give you something to fight." There was joy in battle in his voice, and it pulled at Xenia. She glanced at Persephone, but she was already straining forward, pulling the girl along with each step.
"You'll look after her though, right?" was Persephone's hurried question. It was a good chance, a good possibility for Xenia to get this under control. But it was dangerous. "She's never killed. Don't let her. Not yet. Not like this." Xenia was not the type of woman who would accept that. Not when it wasn't a choice to protect. That would come later.
"'Course. She'll be fine. Just bloody them up a bit, get it out. Find out how her body works in a fight." The werewolf grinned at Persephone and she finally nodded, letting go of Xenia's collar. The werewolf was someone she knew, and he wasn't going to let things get out of hand. He knew far better than she what a werewolf could take. She was a shifter, something different. She had never been through this.
The wolf paused a moment, nearly stumbling at the lack of resistance, then raced forward only to be caught by a new hand on her collar. She snapped, tugging, wanting to launch herself at the men before her, the ones that smelled like fear and blood and hate. They didn't belong and they had hurt people. Tearing them apart was good.
A smack to her nose got her attention and she growled, finally looking at the werewolf who restrained her. "He can still hurt you, so don't fight your instincts. Your body knows what to do." One of the men had been pulled back out of the way and only one remained.
The fight that ensued was nothing artistic, nothing beautiful. It had nothing to do with the beautiful ferocity that wild creatures could display. Xenia was awkward still, although she was improving quickly, getting the hang of how this body moved. The soldier was wounded already and any time he got too close to doing real damage someone from the crowd stepped in. Still, Xenia felt bruised and battered and there was a cut above one eye that bled, staining her fur.
In the end she collapsed panting. Fighting was something she would have to learn through practice; she did not have the stamina or the skill to be as effective as a man who had been trained to fight, even if he was injured. Moments later she heard the snap of a neck and the thud of the body. She could taste blood on her teeth, not her own, and it left her satisfied. It had felt good to fight, satisfying.
The morning would be time enough to puzzle through how the rest of her felt about it. Even as she drifted into a contented sleep, however, she felt a hint of well-being creep through her. She could learn to protect herself and those she cared about. She didn't have to be kept blind anymore. No more letting everyone else decide what her life would be.
Xenia did not stir as the werewolf hoisted her carefully, hauling her back to the area she and Persephone shared, setting her down in the nest of blankets. The girl curled up with her and sighed softly, hoping she'd made the right choice. Sometime during the night Xenia cuddled against Persephone, chill as the air hit bare skin, and the rumbling purr of a cat greeted her. It wasn't a bad way to sleep.