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All Too Soon
All you can hear are out footsteps, it's so quiet. The birds aren't singing--there are no animal rustlings--at least not to our trained ears. I know I should be paying more attention, watching Damek for any subtle signals he may have for me, but all I can focus on is the quiet. Where have all the animals gone? Or, more likely, who are they all hiding from?
I snap to attention when Damek suddenly freezes, stopping a few feet back from him I see the muscles bunch under his shirt. I stare at his head of golden blonde hair, so fitting for the animal he truly is, thinking of nothing else then wanting to jump forward and sock him in the face, unexpectedly. Its not often that you can sneak up on a person with amazing hearing, and right now would be the perfect opportunity while he's absorbed in the search. He would completely deserve it too, what with him making the comments on my small stature earlier. Not everyone can be as tall as the trees surrounding us.
Damek turns slightly, seizing my wrist in his giant paw, violently stabbing the finger on his other hand to the right.
At first I don't see anything, not with so many trees in the way. But I shift slightly, pulling my wrist from his grasp, catching a glimpse of red. Then I see her; our prey. Genevieve. I feel s small pang of guilt at the sight of her, knowing we'll have to bring her in, but it's gone almost as soon as it appeared. She has cost me too many days tracking her down.
I don't even glance over when I hear the familiar thrashing, knowing Damek has already started his change, leaving the human form up to me. But when I hear him choke out "Penelope," I turn, looking into those bright brown eyes, eyes filled with such pain. I step forward, locking my around his head, muffling his moans with my arm, knowing that's what he was asking of me.
After a complete minute has passed with me hoping the figure sleeping against the tree won't hear and avoiding flailing limbs, Damek finally settles down. I lean back, trailing my hand through the mane that matches Damek's hair exactly. When the lion starts forward, so quietly, I follow.
We get close enough to see Genevieve's features and I finally see the scars covering her face that the profile mentioned, enunciated by the wild red hair surrounding it. In person they're much more gruesome. Some are faded, but others are barely healed, oozing pus, while others are a bright purple that could rival the ripest of plumbs. One accident and a once pretty face has been turned horrific and monsterish.
A twig snaps under my foot, loud as a gunshot in this silent forest, sending Genevieve instantly to her feet. I stop where I am, my heart suddenly racing, anticipating what comes next.
"Genevieve," I say. "Just stop right now. You know you can't win. you have broken the law and you will be punished accordingly."
She glances at Damek, then back to me with her one eye not swollen shut. Her chest is heaving and I can see her pulse jumping in her throat. Her eye fills and she whispers, "Why?"
I step forward, making my voice hard. "You know why. You broke the law: letting a human see you transform."
And immediately she's screaming, "But HE attacked me. I didn't hurt him! Isn't my face punishment enough?"
"You--" but she's not listening. I am the enemy in her eyes, the one that will bring her in, take away her freedom. Before I can get anything else out she's running.
Damek takes off after her; she surprised him, earning her a valuable head start. The profile mentioned she was fast, but her speed is propelling her forward, right out of the reach of the lion's claws.
I'm running after them, darting around trees and leaves littering the ground, the panting filling my ears. I see the instant Damek jumps, his muscles bunching under him, his legs pushing off the ground. I see when he pounces on Genevieve, throwing her to the ground, his huge maw clamping on her small shoulder as soon as she rolls over. And I see the instant when he's gone too far, jerking his head back and forth, ripping her shoulder, his claws gouging her stomach.
I scream his name, loud, louder than I have ever screamed before, but he is unreachable, finally losing himself to his animal. No, this can't be happening. They told me this wouldn't happen for years.
But everything clicks, becoming complete reality when I see poor mangled Genevieve, screaming for her life, uselessly pushing at Damek with one hand, her body writhing in pain. I can see her attempt to shift, but Damek moves his bloody fangs to her throat, digs in, cutting off her song of agony.
My throat is raw as I watch Genevieve slowly, oh so slowly, leaving her body. It's not going fast enough, not anywhere near her speedy escape through the trees only minutes ago, and I lose it. I feel my own pain, only slightly aware of what is happening.
The pain goes away and I am on the ground, much smaller, the gruesome scene before me that much worse with size. I flap once, twice, and I'm in the air, rising over the trees. I don't look down again, instead focusing my whole self into my own escape.
What happened today has given me my own scars and I can feel me losing myself, little by little. They lied; they said this wouldn't happen for years.
In no time I am not Penelope anymore.
I am just a bird.