Well the first few thousand words of this have been languishing on my computer for quite some time. I finally broke through the wall and got the rest done. Tell me what you think.
The Wolf Time
Fur felt a lot like hair. Or was it just that they both felt about the same when they were soaked red and sticky? She couldn't focus well enough to say, not if she was going to keep moving with the unfamiliar familiarity of four legs and joints that bent the wrong -right- way. Well, more like three and a half legs with her right wrist -ankle- in the state it was.
The nudity definitely felt weird, as well as horribly uncomfortable in the late winter air. Her layered coatings of fur and blood weren't doing much to keep the wind from chilling her to the bone and with night falling it was only going to get worse. The dim alley she was limping down had turned out to be far from the shelter she'd hoped for, more like her own personal wind tunnel. Her attention occupied by her thoughts, she didn't notice her body tilting to the right until she tipped too far and fell. She tumbled into a trashcan with a choked yelp at the clash of metal against the shaft sticking out of her flank, the latest scabs coming apart in a fresh well of blood.
Judging by the sloppy avalanche of garbage that accompanied her pain, the bin must have been overflowing. The smell was horrendous, worse even then-
Taylor shook herself out of the memory despite the pain and exhaustion and forced her body back to those feet she could stand on.
Some detached part of her mind noted that she was showing symptoms she vaguely remembered as signs of serious blood loss but the thought felt distant and unimportant compared to the need to get away. To hide and run. She had to keep moving. If the heroes caught her...
She had to keep moving.
They hadn't given her a choice.
The bitches three had made it abundantly clear that they were never going to stop. Keeping her isolated and alone hadn't been enough. Mocking her hadn't been even close to enough. Nor had taking her dearest keepsake of her mom. Even stuffing her in that- that place, putting her in the hospital to nearly die from a dozen major infections had not been enough for them. Instead it had only spurred them on.
He misery had turned to fear after that. After she realised just how willing they were to injure her it had been obvious where it was all heading. Sooner or later they were going to go just a little too far and she was going to die. They were going to kill her and no one would even try to save her.
She could barely sleep and she struggled to eat. At school she hid at every opportunity, skipping classes to huddle in what dark corners they didn't already know about. When they found her in the third floor bathroom it had been her sobbing that gave her away through the stall door.
Crying while they gave her a juice shower had been humiliating but it was the knowledge that her last hiding place was gone that broke her.
She couldn't do it any more. Couldn't keep dragging things out day after day. One way or the other she just wanted it to be over.
So three days later she had smuggled a kitchen knife into school tucked in the waist of her jeans. Walking through the broken metal detector had almost made her smile, the first time Winslow High's apathy had been to her benefit. She hadn't planned to use it of course, but Taylor had no illusions about her chances in a straight fight if her tormentors decided to mob her. A weapon gave her an out if things got too bad.
She hadn't gone anywhere near class, straight to the bathroom to wait for the inevitable. It hadn't been a long wait, the recess bell had barely stopped ringing when the door swung open to admit Emma, Sophia and Madison with assorted faceless extras. The number of witnesses hardly mattered, the faculty would have believed them over her regardless, so she steadied her nerves and clenched her fists just like one of her dad's friends had shown her, back when she still knew how to smile.
Emma had stepped forward by herself, smiling at her and opening her pretty little mouth to say who knew what. It definitely would have been horrible though, so Taylor punched her before she could say it.
Emma's lip burst in a spray of blood and for a few glorious moments she wondered if she might actually be able to win. Then her former friend came right back at her with fury in her eyes and a left hook that had her head ringing. She'd managed to get her arms in the way of the next few blows and was looking for an opening when a bag slammed into her side. Hard.
The distraction was enough for Emma to grab her shirt and throw her into the middle of the room with a tearing sound that Taylor didn't notice because Sophia was right beside her and fucking intimidating. Of course it was one of the faceless extras who took the opening while she ignored them. The lackey kicked her in the back to send her sprawling across the floor.
Growing up in Brockton Bay, Taylor knew what happened to people who got knocked down in fights with gangs. In that moment all she could think about was not dying on a bathroom floor stinking of piss and bleach.
So in a surge of panic she had grabbed for the knife. She fumbled the handle once, twice, then got a grip on it right as Sophia planted a foot so deep in her gut it must have bruised her spine. Her eyes clenched shut and she swept the knife wildly in front of herself as she groped for a sink to pull herself up, trying not to vomit at the hollow ache in her stomach. When she finally got her feet under her and her breath back in her lungs she drew her knife hand back and forced her eyes open.
She hadn't expected all that much. Armed or not, she wasn't exactly intimidating even when she wasn't bruised and wearing a badly torn sweater. Still, it had seemed certain that a knife would make them back off for a while at least. Maybe even scare off some of the followers. Instead she opened her eyes to find a room full of grins. Sophia and Emma smiling widest of all.
They were all well out of her reach and she could see lines of tension on a face or two, but no one was leaving. If anything they were getting closer, Sophia especially was near enough that Taylor thought she might be able to cut her. Cut her again, since one of her panicked slashes had opened up a shallow cut on Sophia's calf. So she was probably getting expelled.
A faint hope rose up in her chest that getting expelled might be enough for them to leave her be. She just had to get out of the bathroom and maybe this would all be over. She could do that, she just had to clear a path and leave.
Gesturing to the door with the knife Taylor said, "G- get out of my way. I'm leaving."
Nobody moved. Ones of the extras near the door giggled nervously.
Stepping forward she kept the knife steady this time and glared as she said, "I don't want to hurt anyone. S- so go away and-"
She barely saw Sophia move. Just a dark blur then she was upside down and slamming into the floor. She managed to hold onto the knife but she could feel a strong grip on her wrist and before she could struggle there was an enormous crack and someone started screaming.
It wasn't until a kick took the air from her lungs yet again that she realised it was her. Her wrist was the grinding centre of an entire world of pain. Her head snapped back with a kick that shattered one lens of her glasses. The kicks kept coming and Taylor realised she was going to die on a bathroom floor after all. She'd brought it on herself when she dared to try and escape them. Obviously the world hated her too much to allow it.
Now she was going to die and they'd tell whatever story they felt like about how the crazy loner girl came at them with a knife and they defended themselves. She'd be the bad guy and they'd be the brave kids getting comforted for their ordeal. They'd never be known as the bitches that they really were-
She caught the next kick, it hurt so badly that she nearly blacked out, but she caught it. Then she pressed her hands tight to the bare ankle of whoever the fuck it was and made her stop. The change was floating just below the surface of the girl's skin, a form that wouldn't be able to kick her any more. A moment more and the girl was shrinking, twisting in her clothes as she fell to the ground.
By the time Taylor realised it had been Emma's ankle she caught, her one time friend was already finished her transformation into a small reddish terrier-looking thing. One thin leg still grasped in Taylor's hands before she snatched them away like it was on fire.
Tearing her eyes away from the impossible sight, Taylor finally noticed the kicks had stopped and looked around for her attackers, half her vision a blur. Instead of the dense mob she found a wide ring of girls surrounding her, all of them frozen in place with expressions of simple horror fixed on her. All but one – Sophia.
Where the rest of her tormentors stood, Sophia was picking herself up off the floor. Where they trembled, Sophia was absolutely steady. Where they were so obviously terrified Sophia just looked almost mad with anger, fists clenched white at her sides.
It was only when Taylor looked back down to the whimpering dog clumsily scrambling out of a pile of clothes and trying to drag itself away from her that she understood just why they were all staring at her. She had turned Emma Barnes into a dog. She had touched her and picked out a form and reshaped the evil bitch to it.
'I'm a Cape.'
There was none of the triumph that she had always thought would accompany that thought. She hurt everywhere, more than she had ever hurt before. She just wanted to leave the bathroom and the school and the bullies and never ever come back. Somehow she didn't think Sophia would be willing to move aside and let her. Unfortunately the power to make people into dogs with a touch wasn't going to let her beat Sophia any more than the knife had.
There was something else though. She wasn't touching anyone now but she could still feel the forms from before. Under her own skin just like they had flowed beneath Emma's. Belatedly she realised that it wasn't just dogs, there was more than just that. Enough that maybe she might be able to beat Sophia after all.
She flexed her uninjured hand and there were claws tipping each of her fingers, Sophia's eyes darted to the change and the other girl took a slow step back. The movement broke the stillness in the room and suddenly everyone but her, Sophia and Emma were fleeing the bathroom as fast as their legs could carry them. Sophia paid them no mind other than to snatch Emma's diminutive new form off the ground and pass her off to Madison as the smaller girl made her escape.
Sophia didn't retreat after them, instead opting to sink into a casual fighting stance. Taylor didn't know much about martial arts but it looked practised, which probably meant that attacking her was exactly what Sophia wanted her to do. So she mirrored Sophia's stillness and turned her focus inward as much as she dared.
Taylor took the chance to pick through the sea of possibilities and decide on the best form to use. After a momentary indecision she focused on strength, adjusting her choice of form for as much of the attribute as possible while holding off on changing physically just yet. Given she had no hope of winning based on skill, brute force seemed the way to go. Though she quickly realised the danger of going as high as her forms seemed able to and dialled it down a bit. Killing Sophia wouldn't make her life any easier.
Where Emma had taken time to shift, her own body flowed like water. The change started and finished between one breath and the next, even as she could pick out each component of it. Limbs thickened and compressed then thickened again, the claws tipping them grew long and sharp. Her height shot up several inches and her shoulders broadened noticeably, her hips slightly less so. Most shocking was the thin fur that sprang up across her body as her face changed in ways she didn't understand but which felt fairly drastic, especially the teeth. Even facing a complete psycho like Sophia she barely held back from turning to look in the mirror.
"Could you get any more pathetic Hebert? Even with powers you don't have the guts to fight me," Sophia broke the silence, a frustrated edge to her voice despite the obviousness of her ploy.
Hoping she wouldn't bite her tongue off with her new teeth, Taylor taunted right back, "I'm just worried I might break you too easily."
Her voice came out different, slightly deeper and a lot stronger than she had spoken in months. It was easy to get out the mocking words where just last week she had struggled to get an insult out under her breath after one of their pranks. Like some kind of barrier had broken and every feeling she had learned to hold back was surging free.
Right at that moment, those feelings were mostly various flavours of anger at the smirk that had spread across Sophia's face following her words.
"Break me huh? You should be more worried about yourself, you've really got no idea what you're doing."
"And you do? Sophia you can talk all you want but you and I both know yo-"
Pushing off the ground with everything she had, Taylor threw herself into a punch with her good hand aimed at Sophia's chest. She'd attacked mid-word hoping to catch her opponent off guard.
Unfortunately there must have been some kind of tell because Sophia slid smoothly out of the way. She didn't even look surprised by it.
Spinning to face Sophia again, Taylor threw another punch to the exact same effect. Then again and again. Each time she charged, Sophia dodged as easily as if she'd known what she was going to do before she did it, the fight amounting to little more than Taylor chasing her smug quarry around the bathroom while she had insult after insult hurled her way.
"Can you even see me with those stupid glasses all smashed up?"
Her punch slammed into a dryer instead of Sophia's teeth, leaving a deep dent in the metal.
"Maybe you're just too stupid to hit me? You need to swing that thing on the end of your arm into me, you dumb cow."
Taylor obliged and her swipe obliterated a stretch of plasterboard. The follow up left shallow claw marks in one of the sinks.
"Wow, I'm not sure if there's even a word for someone as useless as you."
Sophia managed to land a kick to her back as well as dodging that time. It hurt. Overbalancing and demolishing two of the stalls on her way through them hurt worse, badly jarring her wrist. Scrambling out of the mess Taylor closed her good hand around a thin column and held back a smirk of her own.
"Maybe it's 'cause you're using your left hand? Pity I already broke your other fucking wrist, Hebert."
Taylor turned and swung yet again. Except this time she was holding a long metal bar torn from the frame of the stalls. Sophia slid out of the range of her arms and right into the path of the makeshift polearm, a gasp tearing from her lips as she realised her mistake.
What came next stopped Taylor in her tracks.
The bar didn't meet any of the expected resistance from Sophia's ribs. Instead it passed right through the dark mist that Sophia had...turned into.
'She's a Cape too!'
They stared at one another for several breaths. The cloud and the monster. Then the clatter of her pole falling to the floor cut through the tension and started the world spinning again.
Still Taylor barely noticed Sophia turning back to normal and hopping back several steps, because now her thoughts were moving again something about Sophia's powers was nagging at her. Lost in her thoughts, it was Sophia that broke their shared silence.
"Heh, well done Hebert you pathetic little shit. I was trying to be nice but now you're really fucked. You should have stayed down on the floor where trash belongs."
The words washed over Taylor to little effect -she'd heard so much worse from her tormentors- but the tone pierced right to her core. Sophia didn't sound worried. Her identity had just been discovered and she sounded like just as much of an arrogant cunt as ever.
'I don't have to take her shit, not any more.'
Out loud she found that the shock had not destroyed her new found confidence. The words still came out strong and clear, "Even you cannot be this deluded Sophia. I know your face, I know your powers. How the hell do you think this ends well for you?"
The confident look didn't waver. Sophia's smile only got wider as she reached one hand into a back pocket and pulled out something flat and rectangular, wrapped in black cloth.
She began unwrapping it, one fold at a time, so unhurried that anyone would think she had all the time in the world. Taylor found herself enthralled by the theatrics despite herself, wondering what the hell could be giving the bully the confidence to face her down so brazenly.
Finally it was done. Sophia whisked aside the cloth -unfolded it looked to be a thin balaclava- and revealed a phone, coloured deep blue with gold detail. She turned it on, but Taylor recognised it before the screen lit up with a crest and lots of official text. After all, you saw them on the news every time a cape gave a press conference.
Protectorate Identification, they said that every one was tinker tech...of course Sophia could have just stolen it, gotten around security measures somehow...but...
'I've seen her power before. The...the new ward...all the news coverage last September...'
Sophia had tugged on the balaclava while she'd been lost in her own thoughts. The bitch hadn't even taken the opening, just standing across the bathroom from her without a care in the world. The smile was hidden now, but Taylor could feel it still. Like it was burning into her face.
'No! This can't be right! She can't be-'
"I'm Shadow Stalker. Proud member of the Brockton Bay Wards, and you just tried to kill me at my school..."
Sophia kept talking, Taylor couldn't hear her.
Her world shrunk to a narrow tunnel between her and Sophia. Blood was pounding in her ears but her body felt cold. Numb. All the feeling drained out of her and for a moment she wondered if it would ever come back.
Then she felt the rage.
She reached deep into the flow of shapes inside herself, grabbing for those that she had held back from before. Then she cast them aside. The flow went deeper and she wanted more strength, she wanted the power to smear Sophia across every wall in the building. Diving into the forms Taylor found everything growing hazy around her even as the river of forms became on ocean, stretching to infinity beneath her.
Pressure mounted against her as she pushed down, not simply forcing her back up through the forms but crowding in around her as well. Compressing her thoughts into a smaller and smaller space, muddling what thoughts she could still fit into her mind. All her thoughts were unimportant anyway. Why think when you could feel?
The pain on her jaw was distant, as was the impact of her back with the floor. Taylor opened her eyes and stopped her futile attempts to delve deeper into the forms. What she had was enough. It washed over her as she stood and fixed her gaze on her prey.
It seemed to be shrinking, along with the room they stood in. No matter.
Everything after that was a blur of motion and pain.
Limping through the streets some eternal hours -days, weeks, years, centuries?- later, Taylor found herself still living in a world of pain, the motion had slowed a great deal though.
She wormed her way in amongst some old shipping pallets leant against a wall, it wasn't her first hiding place though they all swirled together when she tried to remember specifics. It would do for a while, not for long or they might catch up to her, but for long enough. Enough time to try and sort out the jumble in her skull at least.
Taylor had always had a good memory, so it was a shock to reach for the memories and find them out of her reach. Most of what little was there amounted merely to the vague impressions of some frantic animal.
Those memories of the fight she could grasp were scattered snapshots.
Tearing through walls and floors and finding only frustration as her quarry bit at her back again and again.
Colour and light and shouting as her prey's allies came to its aid, with her mind clouded only by blood loss Taylor could deduce the fuzzy memories as being several of the Bay's heroes coming to her bully's aid.
More pain, until she'd understood it was futile and she'd fled.
Shrinking to make a smaller target had been instinctive, but it had given her back enough awareness to make a plan, and enough of her mind to remember it now. The largest dog -though it was probably much more wolf than dog- that she could find in her forms had given her a tiny lead on the pursuit. Then she'd rounded a corner and shifted to the smallest form she had without slowing down.
An old storm drain that she must have walked past a million times in her life had become an escape route for her tiny form. The bolt in her side had clinked off the bars though, then made contact again with the ground during her awkward landing. Pain had her retching and vomiting as quietly as she could manage, then she had limped away before the heroes thought to look in the drain.
'That was...it was...'
Marshalling her knowledge of what happened had not brought any clarity to the time between. Taylor tried to think it through logically, her side had healed over a few times but it still bled sluggishly since she kept jarring the bolt and tearing it back open. How much blood could she have lost? How long would that have taken?
A passing siren yanked her back to her feet, choking back a yelp at the pain from...everything really.
Taylor tried to shuffle out of the pallet she had sheltered amongst. Sirens meant that the heroes were close, or might be close. Either way she had to move but a lance of agony informed her that the bolt had slipped between two of the slats. She shuffled forward to try and get it out, then everything went red for a moment and she came back to herself with a yelp echoing around the alley.
The bolt had caught as she tried to get it free, pulling the shaft out of her body and the head along with it. The coolness of damp asphalt informed her that her legs had given out at the pain.
Taylor wasn't sure if she had the strength to get up again.
It wasn't comfortable on the ground, but it wasn't much of anything else either. Everything seemed distant.
...The damp spot pressing into her back...
Turning her head was an effort, but not the impossibility that the pallets should have made it. Some of them had been moved.
Dimly she made out another dog, probably an actual dog rather than someone like her, nosing at her side. It was big and lovely, even with the patch of scar where its eye should have been. Two more dogs were behind it. Keeping their distance for some reason.
Her eyes found the chains at each dogs neck, then followed them back to...to...
The last conscious thought Taylor had for some time was that she was almost positive it was a girl.