Nanowrimo 2011: Of Places I Don’t Know – Chapter 8

To anyone who was watching, the sight on the woods would have seemed unreal. The large grey cat, and the even larger black dog, running, playing, racing and laying down together through the woods, and had been doing so for almost the entire night.


Echo leaped at a fallen tree, her cat legs having no problem gripping to its ancient bark. Aiden tried to follow, nosing at the bark, before deciding better than trying to climb it and jumped clean over it, overtaking Echo in their semblance of a race. He looked back for her, only to see her graceful, feline legs leaping through the air once more and landing beside him.


Echo sometimes wondered how they could do this for so long, how they could just run around and stay entertained. Then at the same time, she wondered how the Lu could live without Becoming, without being able to see the world through other eyes, without being able to run in a more efficient body, without being able to be free of them selves.


They had taken a train to a place called Hampstead Heath. It was where Aiden had gone before to Become, and was only half and hour or so away from where they both lived. Aiden had led the way, not telling Echo where they were going until they arrived, knowing she would be worried about Becoming so close to the city. But the Heath almost was not the city, it was like its own contained area of countryside within the limitations of the city. It was big enough for them to truly explore, providing they were careful about the Lu and the roads.


Becoming was not just letting the body change. It freed the mind, opened it up to new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing. It was strange to be around Lu while Becoming, it was strange to be in civilization, it didn’t seem to make sense, there needed to be space, there needed to be openness, and there needed to be nature surrounding them, to marvel at its beauty. Echo knew that the experience of Becoming varied greatly for everyone, depending on what their form was, but even what mood they are in at the time, and where they are and who they are with.


Echo had Become with many people over the years, with her family, with friends from Stony Oaks, and with other friends from other communities on visits, but never, never before had she had an experience of Becoming quite like her times with Aiden. Apsu powers became stronger in their other form, but Echo had never experienced anything quite this intense before, especially considering that until recently Aiden had not communicated with anyone while Becoming.


It was like they were one within their minds. Aiden could anticipate Echo’s next move and she could his as well. Their thoughts ceased to come across solely as words, but instead as a complex network of feelings and emotions, filled with things far greater than words would have ever conveyed.  It was like they moved in unison, as a choreographed dance that they had done hundreds of times. But of course they had not. This was only the second time they had Become together, and already it seemed they could feel so intensely and integrally intertwined.


Aiden was leading the way. He knew this area, he knew where it was safe for them to go, and he knew where would be best to avoid. They had walked out to what seemed like the middle of the woods in their human forms, where they had fast Become, Aiden assuring Echo that it was safe, despite the daylight. Aiden had then, in his dog form, dug a shallow hole in which they left their clothes and other things they would need upon changing back and returning to the regular world. Echo had rubbed her chin on the patch of land, having it marked with her cat scent that only the two of them could detect distinctively.


Though Echo was following, Aiden himself did not know exactly, if at all, where they were going. While he had been he before, and he was certain to reassure Echo of this many times, the reason he loved to Become here was because there were always new paths to be found, new places to go. Becoming with Echo made him feel more in touch with himself, more connected to the world, to his Apsu ancestors and to his human life, than he had ever felt so before. Where Echo would climb the fallen trees, Aiden would jump them or burrow underneath. They progressed through the woods, hearing the odd Lu, but too far way for them to be seen.

They had spent hours here, just running and racing, exploring and playing silly little games, being free to live as Apsu rather than simply in their human form. While Echo was lost in her peaceful happiness, Aiden lifted his head, his ears pricked and his tail lowered.


“What is it?” Echo asked, noticing his change in stance.


Shhhhh!” His reply came, loud for a noise usually whispered. Echo lowered her head, arching her back and raising her tail, ready to pounce if need be, and, preferably to her, ready to run. She tried to hear or smell whatever it was that Aiden had noticed, but it seemed to be beyond her sense range.


Aiden crept forward slowly. He was not sure of what it was his mind had heard, but he knew that it wasn’t Echo. Echo’s voice was slight and sweet, this one was most certainly not. He didn’t want to scare her, or to worry her if there was in fact no problem, but he had no idea how he would determine this without her help. There really was no way around it.


“Can you hear that?” Aiden asked, trying to make his thoughts sound as calm as possible, “It’s probably nothing…” He continued, although he knew that this tacked on the end would more than likely not make her feel any more at ease than she would have done without it.


Echo pricked her ears, trying to hear whatever sounds it was that Aiden could.


“No, I mean can you hear that?” He reiterated for her.


She sat back on her heels, trying to tune into any other frequency that may be around. Maybe it was the Community her father had told her about, maybe The Heath was a popular place for Apsu of London. She tried to centre herself, trying to catch onto any fragment of sound that was not coming from Aiden.


Sound seeped into her consciousness. As it did so, she became more alert, standing back with her ears pricked and back arched. There were no words to be heard, not clearly at least, but just the mumbled musings that would indicate that an Apsu was around. Aiden sniffed at the air, trying to catch their scent with his Labrador Retriever qualities, trying to make them work as best he could, to find out what it was that was around, and if it were a friend or a threat to them.


Echo saw Aiden, tail lowered, nose bold upright in the air, chase off after what he had caught scent of. She tried to catch up to him, the slightness of her body not coping will with the urgent pace. Taking strides as big as she possibly could in order to make her running as efficient as she could, Echo bound across the woods, weaving in and out of trees, squeezing through spaces that looked far too small for her to fit through.


“What is it? Where are you going?” Echo tried to ask, fearing her words would get lost with Aiden focusing so hard on this new frequency.

After what seemed like hours of running, but in reality was only a couple of minutes, Echo caught up to him. Stood dead still in the centre of a clearing was Aiden, the dim light from the setting sun bouncing off his shining coat.


“Get back!” He barked at Echo, as he saw her approaching.


“What? I can’t understand you when you talk like a Dog.” Echo replied, panting, exasperated from the run.


“Get back!”  She heard Aiden shout at her.


Echo’s bushy tail fell and once more her back arched into a perfect semi circle. Her ears pointed forward, but she began, slowly and uncertainly, to back away from where Aiden was standing.


“That’s right, Little Kitty, back away.” Echo and Aiden both heard it. Both their heads turned towards the sun, to the silhouette that stood now in front of it setting in the orange sky. There was an air of venom in the voice that Echo recognised.


Trying to focus her eyes through the lighting onto the outline of a body, Echo could just about work out the outline of a Dog. Short and squat, yet muscular, with rolls of skin too baggy for it’s bones. He stood on top a slight hill in the clearing, staring straight at them. He looked like he would run towards them any second if his body weren’t so ill designed for it. She saw the Bulldog sniff at the air, and as he did so four or five thick scars glimmered in the light they were catching on his neck.


Echo would recigonize that form anywhere, ever since he had got away those three years earlier. He was the beta of their pack back then, Mick, she recalled his name being, but now, in this light and in this place, he looked nothing like a beta. No longing for the power he did not have, no complacency to follow a lead. No, this was not a beta any more. Something had happened to him when his Alpha had been killed. Echo had no idea how the Xul could change ranks like that, but it was clear as day that it had happened.


She continued to abck away, hissing, back arched as high as it could go. She could not worn Aiden of who it was, for fear Mick would recognise her as a Sorrel, for fear he was still out to avenge his old Alpha’s death at the hands of Alder to protect his son from their ways. Hissing, eyes wide, there was nothing more she could do to worn Aiden.


But Aiden seemed enraptured by the sight of this Bulldog. He stood, staring, nose out to howl and limbs positioned leaning forwards. He tried to think, to send a message to Echo, but he could not. His mind felt like it was under the clutches of a metal claw, grabbing around the edges ready to pull his consciousness out of his skull. He tried to avert his gaze, to look away from the Bulldog, but was stuck, his eyes and legs and mind, stuck to that fixed point on the floor.


“Aiden! Aiden! Aiden! Bloody move Aiden, what’s wrong with you?” Echo exploded. She could not take waiting any more. She could not just stand here staring at Mick. She needed to do something. She needed to run.


Mick turned his attention to her, “Fucking pussy. Why don’t you fuck off back home, leave this to us Superior Apsu, yeah? You heard me, get the fuck out of my territory.” He scorned. His turning attention left Aiden’s mind unguarded, free of the clutches it had been under.


Aiden let out a yelp, so loud he was sure it could have been heard for miles around, and took off running, Echo following just as soon as she realised what was going on.


And they ran, so fast, so far, neither of them knowing where they were going, just knowing they needed to get as far way from Mick as possible. As they got further away from his scent, they slowed down, Aiden panting furiously.


“That was one of them, wasn’t it? That was a Xul.” He asked, praying that the answer was not what he knew it would be.


Echo purred to try and calm herself down, “Yes.”


They padded through the woods, trying to throw Mick off their scent. They were scared to communicate for fear that Mick was tracking them, trying to drive them off what he believed to be his land. Night fell, and as it did rain began to as well.


“I..I don’t think he’s following any more.” Echo heard from Aiden, “I can’t smell him any more, can you hear him?”


Echo tried to relax so she could get an accurate reading. Her fur clung to her skin and had started to matt in the rain. Purring, she tuned into every possible way there could be something to hear. Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even the faint hum of someone in the area. How? How was that even possible?


“I’m pretty sure he’s gone.” Echo tried to sound like she was not at all alarmed by Mick’s apparent disappearing act.


“Do you still have the scent for our things?” Echo asked, “We should change back, just in case he is still around.”


Aiden sniffed the soggy ground, the scents were weak, but it was Echo’s scent, and he could never lose track of that. The wondered round in circles for a few minutes, before he found the patch that he was sure of and began to dig. He pulled out a plastic bag of their clothes, which were now distinctively damp.


Backs turned to each other, they both transformed back in unison, reaching into the bag for clothing before turning back around to face each other. They stood in the silence and the dark, the drumming of the rain against the floor perforating the quiet with the sound of winter. Aiden reached forward and pushed Echo’s dripping hair out of her eyes. They both leaned forward and wrapped their arms around each other, both holding the burden of feeling at fault for their run in. They sat down on the fallen tree Echo had leaped over, so carefree all those hours ago, both still trying to catch their breath and make sense of what had happened.


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