Chapter Two: Phantom Mate
Clouds drifted in the red of the sky and Hunters strides were no more than a breeze that shifted the first fallen leaves from the end of the Ardens season. He walked without regard to his surroundings; he had lived as a lone wolf in this forest for most of his life, having been shunned from the pack for the colors of his eyes, keeping the company of only his mate, Claire, and his parvus.
He stood then on the sloping bank of a stream, where he had first seen Claire. She was beautiful, her silver coat and her jet black markings were nowhere near as breathtaking as her eyes. They were as deep red as the setting sun, and tinged with the hues of a violet bloom. Her strides were graceful, and her stature lean and powerful, bred for the passion of the hunt. She was mysterious and distant, loyal and loving. Yet she was trapped by this forest, always lost in the sky, or in the clear waters of the stream.
Hunter gazed down into the reflections of the eyes that he had once loathed. One claimed a living emerald, the other an ebony sheen, with an underlying rust color that shone lightly through. It was his eyes that had sparked Claire's curiosity so many seasons ago. His pack and his own family had pushed him away, fearing that he was not a child of the GreatOne, that he was possessed. Hunter knew now that they were wrong. He had believed them for so long, that he was bad, that he should not be alive. He apologized for his own existence and was lost in himself. He spent hours at this stream gazing into his reflection, and wondering why his eyes made him so different, why he had been cursed.
Claire had appeared one day at the edge of this stream and watched as Hunter sat, mourning his own birth. She stepped into the clear waters and waded like a spirit in the mist over to where Hunter stood. He watched as she came to him and edged closer to stare into his eyes. She was immersed in the colors that differed so perfectly between them. He pulled back and snarled when she leaned closer. He was wary of her; no one had ever looked at him like that before, not at his eyes without turning away or threatening him. She did not back away nor did she return his snarl, she instead took a step forward and stood over him. She let out a deep beautiful rumble from her chest and her red-violet eyes glared down at him, warning him that she was stronger than she appeared. Her voice was beautiful and deep, she had a pure bronze tone that could humble any alpha anywhere.
Hunter let go of his tentative snarling and stared into her deep and gentle eyes. He had never before seen such hues, and was lost in her spirit, deep in the windows to her soul. He sat back on his haunches and let her look into his eyes. He saw a spark of curiosity in her, she needed desperately something different, something new, and she had found this in him. Claire had found her saving grace in the eyes of an outcast wolf, with the build and strength of an alpha, and the broken spirit of an old loner.
Hunter broke from his remembrance and stared with a hollow heart across the waters, it was dark now, the time when the shadows had begun to toy with him, and when the moon had begun to grow dim. Silhouetted phantoms danced among the trees across the stream, a silver ghost floated above the waters and moved ever closer to him, before quickly turning back and disappearing in the forest. Hunter knew how badly it would hurt him to stay here and wait for Claire's phantom, but he couldn't pull himself from the ground, he could no longer move.
Spirits danced ever toward him, and ever away each one looking more and more like her, each seeming more and more real. Hunter cringed as each came nearer knowing it was not her, it could never be, and it never had been.
After what felt like hours of staring blankly into the night Hunter spotted a shape in the mist that was heartbreakingly familiar. Claire stepped into the clear waters and waded like a spirit in the mist over to where Hunter stood. He watched as she came to him and edged closer to stare into his eyes. Hunter whimpered and cringed but was unable to look away. He pulled with all of his might, but was unable to break free from her now dull and hollow eyes. He knew this was not her, Hunter wanted to break free from their cursed love, but was alone and caged in a never ending cycle of love after death.
Phantom-Mate pivoted and leapt across the waters, attempting to disappear into the foliage. Her breath was thick and clear in the cold of the forest. She ran as if she was weightless, leaving gashes in the misty air as she went. Hunter leapt after her, following the disruptions in the fog and breathing more and more heavily with each labored breath, each thundering stride. He ran after Phantom-Mate until he felt as if he could go no further. Hunter pushed farther and farther after this faithless ghost, knowing that it was only his mind that he was chasing. He was giving in to insanity. He had to; it was his only hope of staying sane.
Hunter felt his body give way and with it went his consciousness. Phantom-Mate flashed her hollow eyes his way, seeming to laugh in her own manner as he faded.
. . .
Jade was feigning unconsciousness, but as she felt a shadow befall her, and the familiar air of being under the earth she dared to open her eyes so that they could adjust and she would be better equipped to fight if need be. A certain scent suddenly took her mind back to just days earlier when she had been dutifully raising and caring for her kits, before the creatures with the thunder came. Her muscles twitched and she jumped; she sniffed at the pups and began to lick them clean of dust. Her body trembled in disbelief and she buried her face into the coats of her precious parvus. Jade heard cautious steps leaving the den, and turned her eyes on the wolf.
This magnificent and deadly creature had brought her back to her kits. She whined a sound of gratitude and utter shock, but the wolf turned and shut her once again into the earth, only this time she had her kits, and that was all that mattered. She curled around her parvus and listened carefully to the earth around her and the breathing of her kits. Their tiny chests rose and fell in time with the padding of the wolf's steps as his presence too faded away into the distant night.
The sun flooded into the opening of the den and the heat began to seep through Jade's coat. Her eyes snapped open and she checked frantically for her kits, counting each and every one of them was around her. They yawned as one, and stretching they woke. She limped to her feet, and turned to see about her wounded haunch. Judging she was well enough to move about, she found herself stumbling out of the earth and into the freeing air of the open forest. Hunter was tearing whole heartedly into a family of rabbit corpses, slicing each into enough food for all of the kits, Jade, and the smallest portion for himself.
He pulled his blood stained snout out of the rabbit flesh. Glancing at Jade he took heed of her limping, and padded over to see about her. She knew that she should, but in spite of this she felt no fear of this wolf, and harbored no negative feelings toward him. She didn't know how he had come across her kits, or why he had taken them in. Her only emotion for Hunter was gratitude. So she didn't snarl or pull away when he lowered his face to her wound, she was accepting of his care. He licked at the tender haunch, and seeing that it was cleaned, he turned back to his kill.
The kits trailed out of the den after their mother. They leapt like deer, squeaking and nipping at one another as they came. They watched with eyes full of curiosity and young learning as Hunter stepped back out of respect, allowing Jade to eat her fill. She ate with trust, keeping her back turned to Hunter and her kits. She heard the wolf's deep growl as he taught the kits to wait for their elder to finish before taking their share.
It is respect to sit in wait for leaders of the family, and for elders before eating. The kits were full of influence and moldable minds, they learn from everything that they see in their magna . In this way the kits began to see Hunter as their fathering magna. He had become a symbol of discipline in their minds. Hunter saw this recognition in her eyes, and he wondered if Jade would be disquieted by her kits taking him as their magna. It was no matter though, he would teach them well; Jade saw this wisdom in him, and she made her kits wait until the wolf had eaten his fill before she encouraged them to eat as well.