Blue-hair tutted again, as she checked me over for injuries. We were sat at the edge of the woods, overlooking the fields around the school.
She'd marched me back here without another word, just muttering to herself and glaring at me every now and then. When we were out of the woods she pointed at a rock and said, "Sit. Don't move." Before turning her back on me, pulling out a radio and barking orders down it. A few minutes later, a jeep and a quad bike had pulled up, and five or six people jumped out. Two of them had animals beside them, I presumed their Okans, separated or people already shifted; An eagle, and then a huge stag, which trotted after the jeep, before going to stand next to one of the men.
They were all wearing the same uniform as her, and they conversed quietly for a moment, casting glances over at me, before turning and entering the woods. One man stayed behind to talk to Blue-hair a moment longer, he was huge, easily over six foot, with brown scraggy hair and a bushy beard that covered most of his face. He had tribal looking tattoos all over his arms, which were solid muscle, and an eyebrow ring over one eye.
I could overhear some of what they were saying.
"So she just went in there, on her own?" Blue-hair nodded. "But she must have entered from the North, how did you not see her?"
"I have no idea," Blue-hair replied, "I think that the... what was in there with her, may have used a cover spell on her, drawn her in without her knowing. Not sure though. I heard her calling, and followed her voice. When I got to her, she was about to touch the mark."
"What mark?" Bearded man asked. Blue-hair explained about the smoking mark on the tree, and I heard the man's intake of breath.
"If she'd touched that..."
"Yep. Nothing I could have done would have saved her." The man glanced behind Blue-hair and studied me. Something about his gaze made me want to avoid making eye contact. He muttered one more thing before turning and striding off into the forest.
Blue-hair turned back to me, "Right, lets check you for injuries."
"What did you mean, nothing you could have done would have saved me?" I asked Blue-hair. when I'd decided that she'd calmed down enough not to rip my head off for asking questions.
She didn't reply for a long time, just watched me, then finally she sighed and looked out at the forest. "Do you know what that symbol means?" She asked.
I decided that now wasn't a good time to tell her that I often drew that mark, and thought I came up with it. Or that Jax had given me a necklace with it engraved on. "Um.. No, not really. Well, I gather it has something to do with... Shadow Shifters?"
She glanced at me, "It's their mark, like, what they imprint on people when they..."
"Or worse." She paused. "That mark was on the body of the boy they found here. And on the other victims so far." I let it sink in. How did I know the mark then?
"Who was that man?" I asked, thinking back to the way the bearded guy had looked at me.
"You mean Bryant? He's the boss, I'm his second in command. We work around... these kind of things." She gestured to the forest. "Mainly to do with protection, protecting those who can't protect themselves, or from things they can't fight, like Shadow Shifters."
"So you're trained to fight those things?" I asked, inquisitive.
She nodded, "Bryant only chooses people with powerful or skilled Okans, and people that he can train."
"Was that the eagle? And the stag from earlier?"
"Yep," She looked mildly impressed that I'd noticed that. "Those were alterplex, meaning double, or divided. It just makes them more powerful."
"Can they control the animal, or does it have it's own mind?" I wondered.
"Well, both, in a way. They are linked, their senses, emotions and thoughts run together, but they can fight and think separately though. However they can not be separated too far, as the animal will return to the person whose Okan it is. Of course they can still become their Okan, but alterplex is just another skill to be learned."
"Can you do it?" I asked, almost without thinking. She looked at me, and I remembered that I was supposed to be more respectful towards her. "Sorry." I said.
"No, no it's fine. Yes I can, I would need to to be Bryant's second. Not everyone in our group can do it though. It's not absolutely necessary." I wanted to ask her what her Okan was, but didn't want to be blunt again, however I didn't need to. "I'm a panther, if you we're wondering." She seemed to read my mind. There was a silence, before I realised what was coming next. "May I know yours? It's only fair." She smiled.
"Um..." I didn't know what to say, but I was saved by Bryant coming back out of the forest to my right. He didn't make any noise, which was surprising considering the size of him, he just appeared next to us.
"We scouted the woods. Nothing. We've sectioned off the area with the..." He glanced at me, seeming far more reluctant to talk about the incident in front of me than Blue-hair was. "She should go back to class. If anyone asks... just tell them you felt sick and went to the nurse okay?" He instructed me. I nodded silently and cast one more glance at Blue-hair before turning and making my way back across the field.