The moon is full.
Her light shines on the freshly fallen snow, illuminating the slowly falling flakes. The night is still, calm.
Slowly, I rise to all four paws, stretching first my front legs, then the back. I shake off the dusting of snow from my midnight black fur. I raise my snout to the sky, inhaling. The time has come. I let out a howl.
Within seconds my cry is being answered. The silence has been broken. It is the Blood Moon. It is time to hunt.
I trot out from where I was hiding, sniffing the air, testing it for signs of prey. A slight breeze stirs and I smell it. I smell her!
Confused, I turn to follow where the scent leads me. The howls of my brothers grow louder. Have they smelled it too?
The wolf is near the surface, it is difficult to keep my wits, to not simply fade into the background and let the wolf do what the wolf does. My heart pounds louder as I leap into a full run. The scent is stronger and my brothers are near. I must get there first. They must not get to her.
The wolf is as frantic as I as I run. What is she doing out here? She should be protected from being named Sacrifice. Why is she out here on this night of all nights?
The scent is stronger now and with it comes the unmistakable tang of blood. She’s bleeding! Am I too late? Have my brothers found her already.
A flash of red threw the trees catches my eye. I halt and slowly move toward a clearing. It is her hair that I saw. It is loose and wild, streaming around her in loose curls, the colour of fresh blood. She is dressed all in white with something embroidered in silver along the hems. From this distance I cannot see what the embroidery is but from past experience I know that it depicts running wolves. All the Sacrifices wear this. So, it is not a mistake.
Her breath steams before her face, surprisingly even, as she scans the trees. She is no stranger to the forest. Often she ventures out where she should not be. She is tense. She knows what awaits her. She is ready to run but I know all too well how the heavy white robes will hamper her, especially in the new snow.
I study her closely as I creep forward. I see no sign of injury. The others have not arrived. So where does she bleed from? Did someone hurt her before leaving her out here?
I shake myself again. The wolf is growing frantic inside me, demanding to know what injury she has suffered. I steel myself, push the wolf down as much as possible and walk slowly into the clearing.
She sees me almost immediately and startles. She relaxes a fraction when I do not attack. I try to keep my demeanor as nonaggressive as possible. I want to reach out to her, to whisper soothing words, but the wolf has no voice she would understand. Instead, I wag my busy tail in a friendly manner.
She blinks, confused. She has the most extraordinary eyes. A kind of golden green with flecks of pure gold. I could stare into her eyes forever.
No! Focus! The wolf has moved forward while I daydreamed. Sniffing, circling, searching for the injury. She follows as I circle, keeping her eyes on me.
Suddenly, the source of the blood becomes obvious. The wolf lunges forward without my permission and all but buries my nose between her legs.
“Hey!” She cried out in shock, tripping over the long robes as she stumbles back and lands unceremoniously on her butt in the snow.
Oh. I understand but the wolf does not. I wrestle my body back until control, trying to soothe the wolf and keep him from embarrassing me further.
Barks and snarls break into my mind. My brothers have arrived as I was distracted. They fan out in a circle, surrounding the maiden, preparing to attack.
Her breath comes faster now, her heart pounds loudly to my sensitive ears. Her scream as one of my brothers lunges at her nearly drives the wolf insane. All rational thought flees my mind and my instincts take over. I must not allow them to touch her.
My lips pull back from my impressive teeth as I snarl at the one who lunged. I give one warning bark and then I am on him. My jaws close on his neck before he even knows what is happening. He yelps in surprise and pain as I shake my head, lifting him from his feet and tossing him to the ground.
The others are confused. They whine at me questioningly. Why are you doing this? They say. She is the Sacrifice, ours to hunt.
I am the eldest, the largest, though not by much. I make myself as large as possible and stared them down, growling, snarling. Do not touch her!
They take the hint and slowly back away. All but the one I threw to the ground. As I focused on the others, he had gained his feet. The maiden’s yelp of surprise was the only warning I had before he was on her. I turn to aid her as quickly as I can. She is on her back in the snow, my brother on top of her, his powerful jaws clamped around one forearm. His back paw digs into her stomach, tearing the fabric of the robe. The renewed smell of blood fills the air.
The wolf goes ballistic. I am on my brother before I am even aware I am moving. I tackle him, my jaws once again around his throat. This time, I will not let him get up so easily. It is over quickly. My brother lays bloody in the snow, still breathing but too weak to try for the maiden again. I look to my other brothers. They fall to the ground, roll over and expose their bellies to me, acknowledging my dominance.
I bark once in their direction. They rise to their feet and vanish into the forest. They can find something else to hunt this night.
When I am sure they are gone, I turn to face the maiden. She is sitting in the snow, her injured arm cradled to her chest. She stares at me with a wild look in her golden green eyes. I take a step closer and she flinches.
I sigh. This isn’t going to work. I cannot talk to her as a wolf. I look to the sky, the full moon still shines brightly.
This is going to hurt.
I muster all my will power. When the moon is full I must run as a wolf, though I can change at any other time I please. Changing back while the moon is still out has never been attempted before to my knowledge.
I reason internally with the wolf. I can’t help the girl unless I am human. The wolf concedes the point and he fades to the background. Gritting my teeth, I command my body to change.
I hear her gasp of surprise and the rustle of cloth. No doubt she is trying to get further away from me. Watching a wolf change shape into a human is a shocking thing even if you are expecting it, even if you have seen it before. She has never witnessed it before. I hear a moan and a whimper as my bones crack and pop. The dark fur recedes into my body, leaving behind my own brown skin.
It is over within a minute or two. I stand on the bloodied snow a short distance from the girl I nearly killed my own brother to protect. She stares are me wide eyed and slack jawed in all my naked human glory. Then those beautiful eyes roll up in her head and she collapses into the snow.