We all ran together when we first got outside Archer's home. It was freeing to be able to use our extra power and speed without having to worry about being discovered. As supernatural creatures we rarely were able to run full out in the city. The countryside was full of creatures, but they weren't in any hurry to meet us. I could smell the earthy furry beasts burrowed in their homes trying to avoid detection. One of the various coyote dens scattered over the area was about hundred or so yards downwind. The smell of urine and fear blew in as the coyotes heard the yapping and growling of the werewolves. There wasn't as much moonlight as the night before, but the weres were happy in their true forms. They ran ten paces on either side of me, not crowding me, but giving me a respectful distance. Harry was another forty or so feet from my right and Renee just past him.
Without a breath Renee shouted, "Natasha, want to do the water element first?" I didn't care. It wasn't like I knew where Archer's well was, but I could smell that there was definitely water underneath the ground.
"Sure," I called back while keeping my speed up. Our hearing was excellent so I didn't worry she'd missed my reply. The hoots and hollers from the freed werewolves was closer to baying than the excited shouting of human voices. They weren't doing much to hide their dual natures, but we were told before we headed out on the adventure that for as far as we could see, the pack owned the real estate. Archer had been smug as he'd told us while giving us the limited rules on the Four Elements Scavenger Hunt. The territory was nearly the entire mountain and all of the surrounding meadowland and associated valleys. There were different owners of the parcels but it all came down to that it was protected werewolf lands.
If there was anyone human watching they'd have screamed in horror at the vicious sounding pack -- fully animal and furred out and they seemed nearly rabid. As it was the natural predators were cowering and avoiding us. To me I could see the gracefulness and beauty in all of the supernatural creatures, but then I was just as odd. The skirt was a good choice. I would have been hampered by anything more structured and nauseated by anything pinker. (The housekeeper was on ice until we returned -- then I'd take up her attitude about how to treat guests.) Archer had made sure to apologize a few times in front of Harry before we'd headed out. It took me a second to tie up the gauze skirt, easily keeping my legs free to eat up the distance. My boots hit the ground solidly and I heard Harry laugh as we felt the wind in our faces. I was exhilarated by the openness of the landscape.
Lee wasn't nearly as excited as us. Archer still hadn't let him return to wolf-form since his mistake of the night before and he was naked again. Lee was stumbling to keep up with the transformed werewolves and looked less than happy. One of the weres was nipping at his ass. I was pretty sure it was Desiree but it easily could have been another one of Archer's pack. Carlos and Marcos had transformed magnificently and I thought their werewolf forms were powerful and slick. Lee growled ineffectually at the nipping werewolf and tried to get out of range. It didn't matter because the rips in his skin weren't healing quickly since he'd stayed human. Werewolves healed with the changes, as I'd seen the night before with Archer's transformation. Lee's punishment wasn't going to be over soon --but then it was pack politics, not vampire. As we continued our run in the night we raced around the rocks and outcroppings on the extensive property and soon the small scrub trees and dips in landscape caused us naturally to separate.
I could feel the others nearby but kept going. I needed the work out and Archer was right in that we needed the night air and close feeling that came with hunting. We felt more connected as a group when sharing a pack mentality. I avoided thinking about the prize at stake. The Solomon Fang was a relic from vampire history and that Archer had it in his safe was unsettling. I still wondered how this 'game' would play out. Finding bits of the four elements and bringing them back for Costa to check off didn't seem to be a difficult task. The werewolves had the home team advantage, but I figured we vampires were up for the challenge. Given the Fang, we pretty much had to win. Harry didn't need to tell us that.
Marcus had dropped back after we first exited the house. He was on our team, but was slowed down when he'd changed into his werewolf form. We'd left him in the dust, but before we got out of range, Renee had communicated to him that we'd meet up in the south east corner of the property in ten or so minutes. As I ran around a patch of chaparral I felt the pulse of the territory. The wildness and rush of energy was intoxicating. It didn't take long before I couldn't see the werewolves any more, and Harry had veered off when a large boulder had given way to a small canyon. I slowed down as I tried to feel Harry. He wasn't near. I could still smell the scent from the nearby werewolves. They were hot and sweating. The excitement of the run was bringing their nature out and I could feel an alien interest flow over me. It didn't taste like Archer but was strong. I picked up my pace and wondered which of the werewolves was bold enough to try to take me on? I could smell the musk of a man. Or in this case a werewolf. He wanted me. I couldn't tell if he wanted me dead or in bed. I found myself picking up speed and choosing a darker path. My eyes adjusted to the shadows and darkness quickly and I sped up. I wasn't going at full vampire speed but it was close.
Mentally I pushed out and felt more of the scattered thoughts from the unknown werewolf interested in me. He wanted both. He truly didn't know which he wanted more -- sex or death. For him they entwined in his thoughts, deeply entrenched. I wondered if the ring that Harry had given to me earlier was protection enough against a huge male werewolf. I regretted giving up my blades and kept pushing my pace. I hit the ground and it gave way. I fell silently into the unknown. My pursuer continued chasing a shadow of me and passed unaware over the gap and I was alone. I knew that nobody had seen me fall. There weren't any shouts of alarm or even smug snickers of amusement.
There was no light. Not one shred of illumination. Now I couldn't see. It'd been forever since I hadn't been able to see at night. Vampires needed some light to see. But in the hole there wasn't a slice of moonlight. My heart was racing with adrenaline and I found myself panting softly. It was like I was human again. Vulnerable and easy prey to any natural predator, ironic given I was the predator usually. The hole above me was too far up for me to leap and easily exit the damn jungle trap. It reminded me of the gladiator moats and I wondered if there were tigers ahead. The entrapment was clever. The bamboo and leaves across the opening must have been designed to fold back in place once the victim fell which in turn shut out any illumination. After a few ballerina quality jumps upwards I had to face the facts that I wasn't going to reach the top without something more to push me further. I fumbled around the immediate ground and couldn't find anything convenient like a box or a ladder to aid me on my escape.
Giving up on exiting the way I arrived, I tried to figure out where exactly on the property I was. Archer wasn't a particularly winsome character and to let us run out into the night without telling us of his security and traps was pretty nasty, but not completely unexpected given the hatred between vampires and werewolves. He had pushed up the complexity in the contest with the minor details he'd neglected to mention about the run. The heat sensors and various gizmos Harry had detected were okay, but the damn prehistoric tiger trap was pissing me off. I consoled myself with the fact it wasn't like Archer was long for this world. Harry would have his head for allowing me to fall. I hadn't broken anything but a sweat that wouldn't matter in the end to Harry. He was a tad protective about his friends. I hoped I was still a friend after all the crap that'd happened tonight. The pull from feeding on Harry was changing our bond. I knew it hadn't been done on purpose to steal me away from Simon, but the dance between master level vampires and those of us lower was always treacherous -- at the least -- deadly at the worst. How could I have been so foolish to run with the werewolves to 'bond'? Granted, Harry had agreed, but I should have been more aware of the potential for harm. The relic being offered as a prize should have made me more cautious. I'd be more careful once I got out of the damn trap.
God, where was Harry? I could have sworn he was closer to me when I fell. I couldn't hear him or feel him this far down beneath the dirt. The canyon that'd separated us hadn't seemed that wide but in my current predicament I could have been a mistaken. I shuddered off my entombment feeling. Contrary to Hollywood's portrayal of vampires we didn't prefer to sleep in coffins underground with some soil in the box. That was a less than ideal bedding for me and every vampire I knew. I wondered about the water I'd smelled earlier and if I could find enough to use as an element for the contest. Even while trapped I was still trying to find a way to get the relic. But still fighting the lack of light, I didn't see a way out so it was moot.
A wisp of wind blew across my face. The scent of moisture and death rotting on the bone beckoned me to go down the small incline. With some careful tapping and touching the textures of the walls I concluded that it wasn't a natural cave in the least. The werewolves must have created it. It had that unnatural feeling of manmade horror. Add in that I could smell carnage and fear that had soaked into the walls I knew Archer had used the trap for less than casual entertaining purposes.
The cave's landscape wasn't human friendly and the lack of light certainly not helping me any. I hit my shin on another outcropping of rocks and brush. I cursed my clumsiness. Hell, that'd leave a mark. The hard sides of the cavern were textured with slick stones and sand. I figured that I needed blood to get out and one stupid candle. The unknown nature of the cavern was making me edgy and that increased my hunger. I pulled on the strength from Harry I'd been gifted the night before when I'd fed. His blood still teemed through my body and I felt a flutter against my mouth as I remembered the feeding. My hearing kicked up a notch and the sound of the werewolves baying at the moon rang out in an echo of their animalistic hunger from above the ground and far away from me.
I put my hand out along one wall and slowly walked down the slope. The rocks poked at my skin tearing off little bite size bits of me. Someone would pay dearly for my injuries. I could feel the pressure of air changing as I stumbled over a set of bones. I went to my knees and touched one. The small rounded knob and long thin shape quickly settled into a memory. It was a femur bone. There wasn't a scrap of meat on it. Werewolves didn't leave much for the insects I gathered as I could feel tooth marks on the ends.
It was then I heard the thump of a body behind me. I spun and my fangs dropped down. I'd take anyone out that touched me. I felt another push of air then heard, "Natasha? You okay?"
Harry had found me.
To be continued ...
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