Eliot tripped over branches and underbrush as he ran for cover.
He could hear the men crashing through the forest behind him. The wolves' lumbering strides led the way as his pursuers chased him.
The land began to slope up and Eliot had to struggle to keep his footing. So much for simple recon. His skin burned around the wound and the silver in his chest throbbed in time with his heart. He had to get somewhere safe to get that bullet out. He couldn't heal if it was poisoning him and he didn't have much of a chance of escape without healing.
He made it to a stand of mountain hemlock trees and took a moment to lean against one to gain his bearings. The wolves behind him howled and he knew he didn't have much time. He was faster than the doctor and his men but those wolves were a different matter.
He couldn't be sure their abilities were deteriorated enough for him to stay ahead of them for long. The men from his group started losing their extra abilities at a rapid rate after the first shift.
Another moment to discern the wind direction and started off again with the wind at his back. That should throw them off long enough. He needed a safe spot for some impromptu surgery. That bullet had to come out before he could shift.
The temperature was beginning to drop and Eliot shivered, turning the collar of his coat up. He readjusted his knit hat as he trudged farther from the campsite. His steps were much slower than he would have liked and each one sent shockwaves of pain through his chest.
Howls were carried to him on the wind along with the calls of the doctor. "Eliot Spencer! My one true success, come home."
"To hell with that," Eliot muttered and trudged on as the first flakes of snow began to fall.
Eliot had managed to put a mile behind him when he decided to stop and rest. He bit his lip as he shrugged his pack off his shoulders and eased to the ground with his back against a tree. Water was the first order of business and he wrestled the bottle open since his left arm was nearly useless now. Taking a long swallow, he contemplated his next move.
He hadn't heard the wolves behind him for the last ten minutes but he couldn't be one hundred percent sure they weren't still there. If their speed had been affected by the breakdown that came with the doctor's experiments, he could be far ahead of them. But, if their speed hadn't been affected and only the ability to control the shift had suffered, stopping could be flirting with disaster.
Eliot unbuttoned his coat and pulled up his shirt, trying not to shake in the cold air. He inspected the bullet wound for the first time. "Couldn't be a through and through, could it?"
His cold fingers checked the area around the entry wound. Eliot bit back the groan but couldn't help the wince as the skin around the hole felt unnaturally warm. "Damn silver."
More probing, gentler this time, revealed a small bulge under the skin near his collarbone. Gotcha. He pulled his bag closer and pulled out his hunting knife. A couple of deep breaths and the tip of the knife pressed into his skin over the lump.
Now for the fun part. With forceps in hand, he dug inside the wound for the bullet. By the time he found it, sweat had dripped into his eyes and had run down to wet the front of his shirt. Black spots twirled and danced on the edges of his vision, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
"Dammit." He cringed when his voice had the same growling quality as those two men back at the camp.
Eliot put on a quick bandage and put everything back in his bag. He drank some more water and ate a protein bar while listening for anyone that may be approaching. Now that the silver was gone, he should be able to shift soon. He hoped.
Crunching noises from the hillside below him brought him to his feet. He peered over the edge and saw one of the wolves coming toward him alternating between running on two legs and all fours.
He took cover behind an outcropping of rock and waited. The element of surprise was always an advantage. The big wolf pawed the ground where Eliot had been sitting and nudged the backpack with its muzzle.
There was nothing left of a human besides the torso still being that of a man. Eliot watched as the wolf paced with its nose in the air. The creature was two feet away and couldn't smell Eliot. That answered the question of whether their senses were holding up.
In contrast, Eliot could pick up on scent just fine. And the scent he was getting was all wolf. No trace of human left. The poor man's mind and body couldn't stand up to the strain.
Eliot stepped out of his hiding place and cleared his throat. The wolf turned toward him and charged. The full weight of the creature hit him in the midsection, sending them both tumbling.
Nothing wrong with its speed.
A myriad of teeth, claws and growls permeated the air as Eliot fought to keep the beast at bay. Eliot's own wolf responded with the need to be free. But he was still too weak. The air was forced from his lungs as the wolf placed a hug paw on Eliot's gunshot wound and started to bear down. Spots began to converge, trying to form a shroud of darkness across Eliot's vision.
He couldn't let this thing win.
If it did he would end up back in the doctor's encampment. Strapped to a table. Locked in dark rooms. Alone. Pain.
He couldn't let that happen again. Eliot punched the wolf in the snout with his good hand. Snapping teeth caught his forearm in response and Eliot howled in pain
The sound must have surprised his assailant and his grip on Eliot's forearm loosened. He used the opportunity to draw his knees up and use his leg strength to flip the wolf onto its back, giving him the chance to scramble away from it. He inspected the new holes in his coat and flesh.
"You ruined my favorite coat, asshole."
The thing was on its feet quicker than Eliot would have liked and snarled as it dropped to all fours. Eliot picked up a thick tree branch and widened his stance, preparing for the charge.
He motioned with his hand. "C'mon."
The wolf snarled and charged Eliot again. Eliot sidestepped him and he heard the wolf slam into a tree behind him. It got to its feet and ran toward him again. This time he couldn't avoid the creature completely and it grazed his side, knocking him into a tree to his left. But not without receiving a blow across the back for its troubles.
Eliot's vision blurred as a new shockwave of pain radiated from the gunshot wound. A bite to his right side had him gasping for air. This thing was relentless.
He flipped the thing over onto its back and held it on the ground. "If there's any part left in there that's human…I don't want to kill you." Teeth snapped too close to his face as the wolf forced Eliot off and onto his back.
Teeth bared in a snarl. Hot breath washed over Eliot's neck as the massive animal salivated at the prospect of sinking its teeth into his throat.
Eliot struggled to hold its head back with one arm. "I don't want to kill you. But you know I can."
Its head tilted to the side as if he were deep in thought. Eliot lay frozen under its weight, expecting the killing strike at any moment.
A tense moment passed with man and beast locked in a fight for survival. Something that looked like sadness flickered in the wolf's eyes. Whether sadness at his human life lost; or sadness at having to kill, Eliot didn't know.
The wolf raised its head to free itself from Eliot's grip, then dove for his throat.
Eliot caught its head. With one hand on top of its head and one on its chin, he twisted and heard the neck snap.
He lay still for a moment to gather his strength then pushed the wolf's body off his chest.
He struggled to his feet and took a deep breath. The wolf's body lay motionless at his feet. Another innocent life. Sure, it had tried to kill him. That's only because of what the doctor had done though. He'd have plenty of time to think about that later. For now, he had to get moving.
Another mile passed at a slower pace than Eliot wanted. He heard the doctor and remaining wolf behind him. "I want him alive. Remember. Alive. I need him to finish my work. To fix you," the doctor said.
The wolf answered with an angry growl and Eliot could hear it still advancing. He pushed ahead deeper into the woods. His chest and shoulder protested each step he took and every readjustment of his pack.
Eliot slumped against a tree and waited. He couldn't outrun them. He had to make a stand. His backpack thumped to the ground when he slid his arms out of the straps.
The familiar itching settled in his bones as he listened to the approach of his pursuers. Itching was followed by the bone deep ache as his bones and muscles began to shift. He clenched his fists in an effort to control the pain of the change.
He dropped to all fours and clothing ripped as his legs changed. Paws replaced hands and fur covered his body. His gums ached as sharper teeth broke the surface. Sounds and smells of the forest assaulted him as his already enhanced senses became even sharper. He could smell the doctor and the presence of the other wolf.
A snapping twig turned his attention to the path. The large wolf was worrisome. But Eliot's mouth went dry when he saw the doctor standing alongside his creation and his low growl reverberated through the trees.
A broad smile gave the doctor a sadistic countenance. "Eliot. My only successful creation. My firstborn son."
The wolf beside Dr. Woolsey growled its displeasure. "Always a beautiful, powerful animal. I think it's the eyes. The blue always astounded me."
Eliot paced from left to right, trying to hide the slight limp from the still raw wound in his shoulder. He bared his teeth in a snarl and took a step back.
"And the brown coat." Woolsey gestured to the wolf at his side. "So unlike the dull colors of those after you. And a true wolf. Not like...this."
The wolf turned its head toward the doctor and growled. Even though the other wolf stood on two legs, Eliot wasn't afraid of this newest creation.
"Shut up." Woolsey rapped the poor animal on the side of the head. "Do not growl at me." The doctor's attention turned to Eliot again. "Time to come home, Eliot."
Eliot turned and ran toward the top of the bluff with the doctor and other wolf crashing behind him.
They were close behind him, but Eliot managed to stay ahead. At the top of the bluff he stopped and turned; he was prepared to fight for his life.
"There's nowhere to go. Just come back with me now. Make it easy for all of us."
With his attention solely on the doctor, Eliot missed the advance of the wolf. Weight like a boulder slammed into his side and sent him toppling with the wolf crashing on top of him.
Eliot scrambled back to his feet. Teeth flashed as both traded bites and snarls. Wolf and hybrid jockeyed for position. Both were on their hind legs in a deadly embrace when the doctor fired in their direction.
He missed Eliot, but his other creation dropped to the ground with a whimper and blood spread across its chest. The bullet had pierced its heart and the animal lay at Eliot's feet bleeding out.
Eliot squared up with the doctor, eyeing the hand with the weapon. Before Dr. Woolsey could aim again, Eliot was on him. He lunged for the gun hand and sank his teeth into the doctor's arm.
The man tried but couldn't shake Eliot free. He continued to growl as the doctor swung in a circle, trying desperately to dislodge the teeth. He dropped the gun and Eliot released him long enough to scoot it away with his nose.
The doctor held up his hands in surrender. "Now, Eliot, I know you can understand me. It doesn't have to end this way."
Eliot barked, then growled as he rolled his upper lip back to display fangs still red from the doctor's blood. His tongue flicked out to collect some of the blood from his nose as he advanced.
The doctor took a wary step backwards. "Don't. You won't kill me." Another step back. "You mongrel! You'd be nothing without me!"
Eliot sprang for the man; aiming for his throat. The doctor threw up his arm in defense and screamed. As he did, he lost his footing in the loose rocks and pitched backwards down the cliff face.
Eliot landed inches from the edge, shifted back to his human form and peered over the edge at the man's body below. His head lay at an awkward angle atop his broken neck and unseeing eyes stared back up at him.
After watching for a minute to make sure the man was dead, Eliot limped back to his pack and pulled out his extra clothes. He got dressed and pulled out his previously unused cell phone. "Vance. I need a clean up crew at my location." He listened to the caller on the other end. "Yeah. It's done."
He ended the call and checked the time. Now all he had to worry about was hoping a four-hour drive was enough time to heal enough to hide his injuries from Parker and Hardison. No way could he explain a gunshot healing that fast again.
And Hardison better have left my food alone too.