Shino panted as she continued to run through the darkened backstreets of Tempest City. It had been been an insane day; a full-scale evacuation ahead of Nom attacks that never happened, and now this! How she wished she had gone to that boarding high school instead of staying in Tempest!
The German shepherd had no idea how long she had been running, or how far behind her pursuers were. Under other circumstances, she might have quit running a long time ago, panting for breath, but the panic and adrenaline rushing through her would not permit her to do that. She knew she had to keep running, or these furs, fellow students as they may be, would undoubtedly hurt her. She looked down at the four-legged feral wolf running alongside her.
“Go!” she commanded. “Back to wherever you came from! Shoo! Git!”
The wolf looked up at her for a moment as he ran, his head cocked to the side, but he followed none of her commands. If he would just leave, maybe there was a way she could save face and pretend this never happened. It was then that she realized she could no longer hear her pursuers behind her. They were alone. She ducked into an alleyway for cover, using her phone’s camera flash to make sure it was empty before running for the back and settling down against the rough brick wall. The wolf whined and stood in front of her, staring curiously at her through silver eyes.
Shino had not yet had the chance to get a good look at the creature. He was only a puppy, and the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. His fur was snowy white, or at least mostly. He had a pair of lines running down both sides, one black, one red. The lines were a straight double stripe from the wolf’s ears to his shoulders, then intertwined in jagged zig-zags from there to his tail. He stepped forward with a soft whine and began to sniff her face.
“Yes, yes, you’re cute,” she said, scratching its ears, “but I really need you to go away! How did you even get here? No… no, don’t answer that.”
She knew the wolf couldn’t answer if he wanted to, or at least she hoped so. After what had happened, she would not have been surprised if the wolf started speaking in perfect English.
After returning from the evacuation earlier in the day, a high school friend decided to throw a party at her basement apartment, having gotten permission from the house’s owners, who had decided to stay away from Tempest City for awhile. About a dozen and a half schoolmates showed up. She recognized Samson, a rather attractive German shepherd from the football team, and a few of his buddies. Of course, they had shown up with plenty of beer and other beverages, despite their age and her friend Kay’s obvious displeasure. Aside from them and Kay, there was no one there that she recognized.
“What happened to the others?” she had asked Kay, referring to their other mutual friends.
The bobcat toyed with her hair for a moment as she recalled what she had been told. “Um, I think they aren’t back from the evacuation yet,” she said. “Is that bad?”
“No,” Shino had said. “I just wish I knew more of the people here.”
“Yeah, I totally get where you’re coming from,” agreed Kay. “But hey, plenty of cute guys, right?”
The party wore on. Shino was becoming quite the hit with some of the guys, especially as they downed more and more beer and became more and more friendly. Perhaps it was because she was so quiet. Shino tended to be quiet and observant around people she didn’t know, but on top of that, though she hadn’t had any alcohol, she really wasn’t feeling herself. Maybe it was the stress of the day.
“Sorry, guys. I’m going to have to go,” she said, standing up to leave for the third time that evening.
“No, no!” protested some of the guys. “Stay and hang out!” “Have some fun!” “Never know when the Noms’ll show up again, right?”
Some of their words were very slurred. One was snuggled up on the armchair with a cheerleader who was tapping fervently on her smartphone and seemed completely uninterested in anything else. Another was tossing back a shot of something dark brown that he had probably taken from his parents’ home. A third sat slumped dumbly over his chair, not appearing to have any idea where he was. The only one who was holding it together was Samson. Shino knew he had been drinking, but somehow Samson seemed just as smooth and cool as he did on the football field.
“Come on, Shino,” he coaxed with a smile. He took her hand gently and pulled her down onto the couch. “Tell me about yourself.”
Shino looked thoughtfully at him after an approving nod from Kay, who seemed to have taken a break from trying to sneak the rest of the alcohol out of reach of the athletes. She wasn’t sure how much longer she would be able to stay. Maybe it was the smell of alcohol in the room, or maybe it was all the stress of the day, but she was feeling overheated and nauseous, and her head was beginning to hurt. She felt uneasy being around drunk people anyway.
“Well, um,” she began, “I’m a student at Coyl Park High, of course. I’m… an artist. I like to draw. I… am totally a tomboy most of the time. I love video games, and technology, and… and….”
There was a moment of silence. Kay looked at Shino curiously. “You okay, Shino?” she asked. “You don’t look so good.”
Shino swallowed hard. Her vision was blurring, and she was feeling very dizzy. Sound seemed to echo in her ears, as though she were standing in a large cathedral. Everything seemed to shine with white light for a few moments. Suddenly, the light went away, and she felt fine.
“Uh… yeah. I’m good.” She looked around her. Even through their drunken stupors, everyone was staring at her, making her feel very uneasy. “What?”
Kay grabbed her arm and pulled her aside. “Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” she asked.
“Well… on and off,” Shino admitted. “I’ve been feeling kind of weird all day today.”
“The air right next to you started glowing,” the bobcat warned. “It was sort of pretty, but I think one of the Noms may have you targeted or something.”
Shino actually chuckled. “Have you been taking sips of the football team’s beer, Kay?”
“I’m serious, Shino. We all saw it. Girl, you’re not going anywhere. You’re staying right here tonight until someone can walk you home safely.”
Shino shook her head incredulously. “Thanks a lot, Kay, but why would the Noms target me? I wouldn’t be important to them. Look, I haven’t been feeling all that great, and the guys are a little tipsy, and maybe you’re just imagining things. Besides, I don’t really feel like hanging around a bunch of drunk guys I barely know.”
“But one of them is Samson! And look, he’s just fine!”
Shino looked over her shoulder with a sigh. Samson was fine, in more ways than one. Maybe she could stay and just hang out with Kay. Kay had no idea there would be any alcohol around, and seemed stressed trying to keep things under control.
“Okay, girl, I gotcha,” Shino said. “I’ll stay and help you keep the drunkards from causing trouble.”
“Ha, now that I can appreciate.”
Thankfully, there didn’t seem to be too much trouble for the next hour or so, save for a lamp that one of the football players had knocked over during an impromptu make-out session with the cheerleader. Shino was starting to feel sick again, however.
“You alright, Shino?” asked Kay with a note of concern in her voice. “You’re starting to look sick again. Want some water, or a place to lay down?”
“I… I’ll take the water,” Shino said. She closed her eyes and leaned against the breakfast bar, breathing deeply, hoping for the wave of nausea and dizziness to pass. She didn’t know about the possibility of a paranthro targeting her, but laying down for a bit did seem like it could be a good idea. Kay reappeared moments later with a glass of cold water, which Shino drank gratefully.
“I dunno what’s going on,” Shino mumbled. “I’ve been feeling sick on and off today. Oh, man….”
“It’s okay,” Kay said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “It’s been a crazy day. I’ll start seeing if I can get some of these guys to call it a night so we can get you home, alright?”
Shino nodded, grateful for an end to the party. Kay walked out into the living room and began talking, gently encouraging people to start heading home, and not driving drunk, and… something else. Sound was beginning to echo in Shino’s ears again. She was starting to feel worse. She leaned against the breakfast bar, eyes shut tight, her arms shaking as her world began to spin faster. Through her closed eyes, she could tell there was some kind of light around her again. Maybe there really was a paranthro targeting her somehow. It would explain the sickness and the strange light.
Shino whined. Things were starting to get dark, and there was a strange rushing in her ears, a deafening white noise that she could not defeat. She decided she needed to lie down right now. Where was Kay? Would she even be able to find the bedroom? She opened her eyes, and this time they stayed open in shock. Everything really was glowing white. Her vision was blurred, and the world seemed to be spinning unmercifully around her. The edges of her vision continued to darken until she seemed to be staring through a black tunnel. She was going to faint….
And then suddenly, she was fine. She groaned, panting as with startling suddenness, the wave of sickness, the rushing in her ears, and the bright white light vanished. She shut her eyes tightly, her ears trying to discern normal sounds again. There were none. There was only a silence more deafening than the sound in her ears had been moments before, broken only by her own desperate pants for breath.
She suddenly sensed that someone else was awfully close to her. She turned her head to look for Kay, to tell her she needed to leave right now and sleep off whatever crazy ailment had taken her. All she met was the very pink, very wet tongue of a strange creature standing on top of the breakfast bar. It looked like a white wolf, with strange red and black markings down its back. It whined and pawed at her face a few times before licking her muzzle, seeming concerned for her wellbeing. She stared at it in shock before turning to look for Kay.
Kay was standing in the living room, her mouth agape. Similar expressions were on the faces of every other guest as they stared at Shino in stunned silence.
“…What?” Shino asked irritably. She was sick. She didn’t need to be stared at right now.
Kay seemed to snap back to reality. She walked quickly toward her friend, but the wolf suddenly stood straight and looked at her, making her gasp and stop nervously. “Shino,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Shino, I think… I think that… that thing came from you.”
Shino looked from Kay to the wolf as she tried to process those words. “Came from me? What’re you talking about?”
“I mean… I think…. That… that white light, it… it came from you somehow,” she breathed. “You… you summoned this wolf-thing.”
Shino looked back at Kay. The wolf sat down on the breakfast bar, its tongue lolling, watching the conversation with interest.
“That’s impossible,” said Shino. That didn’t make sense. Even if she wanted to randomly summon a wolf, she had no idea how to.
“Not for a Nom it isn’t,” said a different voice. Samson had stood up. His voice sounded a little different from the smooth, kind tone it had before. It sounded almost accusatory. “Are you an Anomaly, Shino?”
“Of course I’m not!” Shino said, sounding almost offended. “How could I be? I don’t have any powers.”
“You just summoned a wolf!” slurred one of Samson’s buddies. It was then that Shino realized that this could be trouble. The guys were blitzed out of their minds. If they got it into their heads that she was a Nom, she could have a hard time reasoning with them.
“I don’t even know where this thing came from!” Shino cried, gesturing to the wolf. It yipped, seemingly happy to be the subject of such an animated conversation.
“It came from you,” Samson growled. “You summoned it. You said you were feeling sick, right? Wasn’t that your power coming out of you?” Clearly he didn’t take kindly to paranthros, and why should he? Paranthros had frozen half the city and caused a full-scale evacuation earlier. He started walking toward her, slowly. The wolf noticed, and let out a low growl. Samson returned it. The wolf whimpered and flattened its ears.
“You’re a mean drunk, aren’t you,” said Shino, her heart starting to pound. “I said I’m not a Nom, and I don’t know about this wolf. You can believe what you want.”
“Okay, okay,” said Kay, wanting to get rid of the tension quickly. “Time for this to end. You guys are drunk and not in your right minds. Leave Shino alone. Party’s over. Go home.”
Everyone stared at her. She didn’t falter. “NOW. Get out!” she shouted. “Save the drama for a soap opera. Don’t make me call the cops.”
Within a few minutes, the house was empty of everyone except Kay and Shino. Kay looked at her friend. “Are you okay?”
“No,” said Shino. “Did I really… summon this wolf?”
“That’s what it looked like,” Kay said. “You looked like you were going to pass out or something, and then you started… glowing or something. A place on the counter glowed too, and suddenly there was a wolf.”
The wolf was sniffing Kay cautiously. She stood very still.
Shino shook her head as she remembered what Samson had said. “You said you were feeling sick, right? Wasn’t that your power coming out of you?” That assertion would definitely explain everything. It was mind-blowing, but… it made sense.
“I… I need to go home,” she said.
Kay suddenly threw her arms around Shino, ignoring the wolf. “Listen, I don’t care if you’re a Nom or not, she said. “You’re still my friend, so you better stay safe, okay?”
Shino wasn’t sure what to think. Her, a Nom? One of the things that had tried to attack Tempest City just this morning? She nodded numbly. “Thanks,” she said. “You don’t have to walk with me. I only live down the block.”
“I’d rather go with you,” Kay protested. “You need to be safe!”
“It’s okay,” said Shino. She really wanted the time to process all of this. “Besides, no offense, but you’re not exactly a martial arts expert or anything.”
Kay blinked at this news, and then giggled, striking what she imagined to be a great offensive stance. “Hi-YAH! Your wolf and I will protect your honor!”
The wolf yipped again.
Shino managed a smile. “See you tomorrow?”
“You bet. Goodnight.”
Shino wasn’t sure how she felt when the wolf automatically began to walk alongside her.
They had only been walking for a minute or two when she suddenly heard a shout. “There she is! Go!”
The wolf perked its ears and growled as heavy pawsteps suddenly began coming after her. Not sure what to do, she turned and looked behind her. There was Samson. Something had come over him and his football buddies. It had to be the alcohol. He was running at her full-speed. The wolf looked up at her and barked. She looked down at him, then back at Samson, who was quickly advancing at her. The wolf barked again. She understood: “Run.”
Sure enough, as Shino turned and ran full-speed into the night, her intoxicated schoolmates chased after her. She didn’t dare go home. There was no way she was going to let them know where she lived. Somehow, through her stressed, sick, confused mind she got the idea to run somewhere that was very public. The only problem with that was that everything was still closed after the evacuation this morning. The roads were almost completely devoid of cars. She could still head for the main streets.
She arrived at North Bramble Street, panting, with the wolf still running alongside her. There she was now, panting for breath in an empty alleyway between two stores in an empty strip mall, with the wolf staring right at her. He sniffed her a few times and gave her a lick on the muzzle. Automatically, she brought up a paw and patted his head. “I’m okay, boy,” she said, brushing away the thought that she just petted a feral wolf that she allegedly summoned from… somewhere. “Just… let me catch my breath…. Whoo.”
She barely had time to before she heard a male voice. “Who’s there?” it called. It didn’t sound like the drunken slur of Samson’s friends, nor Samson’s own accusatory voice. It was someone else. Even so, she remained silent, hoping the darkness would hide her from the anthropomorphic wolf that now stood silhouetted against the brightly-lit parking lot.
“Are you okay?” the voice asked in a friendly British accent. Still, Shino remained silent. Surely he couldn’t see her.
“Hey, I’m talking to you.” The wolf walked straight into the alley. “You back there with the wolf.”
“M-me?” Shino asked. He really could see her.
“You’re the only one back here,” he said. His voice was not unfriendly, and he did not seem dangerous. “What’re you doing here?” He squatted down in front of her, letting her see a little of his face in the moonlight. He was definitely handsome, probably a little older than she was. His fur was silver, and he had neat, white hair, and strange eyes that looked purple. She didn’t want him to know that she could be a paranthro, though her wolf didn’t seem to mind him at all, actively sniffing his paw as he reached out to give him a pat.
“I’m just… uh… I’m… homeless,” she said, fumbling for a reasonable explanation.
The wolf smiled. “Really? You don’t look homeless.”
“I… it was… recent.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. What’s your name?”
“It’s… uh… Deborah.”
“Deborah, huh?” The wolf chuckled. “I’m Zevie.”
There was something about this Zevie. Somehow, this didn’t seem like a chance meeting. Shino didn’t trust him.
“What do you want, Zevie?”
“Just to help you out, if I can.”
“You’ll see.” He turned his head to the side, glancing back at the parking lot. Shino could hear Samson and his friends out there. “Spread out,” one was saying. “Shout if you find her.”
“You can help me with them?” she asked. “Do you even know what’s going on?”
“Maybe,” Zevie shrugged with a soft chuckle. “It’s worth a shot, right?”
Suddenly, there was a shout from the parking lot. “Hey, let’s check that alley!”
“We’ll find out,” said Zevie. He stood up and turned to face the entrance.
A light from a cell phone suddenly illuminated the alley. “There you are,” slurred one of Samson’s friends. “Thought you could run, you filthy Nom?”
Shino looked up at Zevie as the others arrived, sneering at the German shepherd huddled in the corner with her wolf, who growled and bared his teeth, fur bristling. “We’re gonna kill that thing,” one smirked. “Then we’re gonna teach you a lesson.”
“You’re drunk,” said Shino, somewhat fearfully. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Just leave me alone!” She couldn’t help but wonder why nobody mentioned Zevie. She looked at him again. Was she imagining his presence?
Suddenly, she heard Zevie’s voice. “Shino, it’s me,” it said. She peered into his face. His mouth wasn’t moving. His voice seemed to be more of a thought than sound. She was definitely hallucinating.
“Hah, you’re not hallucinating,” the voice said. “I’ll prove it to you. On the count of three, I’ll show you three fingers. One. Two. Three.” He held up a paw, showing her three fingers as promised. To her, this meant nothing. She could still be hallucinating. Zevie somehow seemed to sense her confusion.
“Okay,” he said. “Samson is about to say the words, ‘Your kind took my mother, my home, and everything I had.’”
Shino shook her head incredulously as her attention turned back to her prospective assailants. Samson was speaking. “You have no place in this world,” he was saying. “All the damage you Noms have caused. All the chaos. You don’t belong here. You belong on whatever planet you came from, instead of infecting ours.”
Why was he talking to her like she was some kind of alien? Nom or not, she was still a person. She was still Shino.
“Your kind took my mother, my home, and everything I had. Tonight, we’re taking something back.”
Shino glanced at Zevie. How did he know? Through her awe, she almost didn’t notice at first when the athletes began to advance into the alleyway, snarling their ill-intent into the darkness. Suddenly, they seemed to start, their eyes focusing on Zevie.
“Who the heck are you?” growled Samson. It was as though Zevie had just now appeared, and they were noticing him for the first time.
Zevie smiled. “A supporter,” he said. “I can’t stand Noms.” There was his voice in her head again. “Play along.”
Zevie walked behind them with a smirk. “What do you boys say we tear this one apart?” He looked at Shino and winked.
The athletes didn’t seem to mind. They were advancing on her again, this time with Zevie right behind them. Her heart began to pound faster. She thought Zevie was there to help her. Was he really about to let her get attacked here in an alley right now? She shrunk back against the wall, and her wolf pup jumped in front of her, snarling. Samson was the first to move. He reached out to grab the wolf by its neck. Shino shut her eyes. She couldn’t stop them.
“Please don’t hurt him,” she whined. “Please….”
Where Shino expected a yelp, there was silence. She waited. Maybe they were waiting for her to open her eyes so she could witness whatever terrible thing they were going to do to the poor wolf pup. The more she waited, however, the more silence there was.
Finally, she took a chance and opened her eyes. Samson still had his paw over the wolf’s neck, but he wasn’t moving at all. His eyes were searching around frantically but his body was still, unmoving, and surrounded by an eerie purple glow. As she looked, she noticed that the other athletes were the same. Zevie was not. Zevie had his paws outstretched behind them, and his body and his eyes were glowing with that same purple light. He spread his paws apart and the athletes moved, walking to either side of the alleyway. “Easy enough, right?” he grinned at her with a chuckle, his eyes still emitting that strange purple light.
Shino stared up at Zevie, hardly able to believe her eyes. Cautiously, she investigated Samson. She could smell the alcohol on his breath, and see the fear and hatred in his eyes, but he was not moving. He couldn’t.
Zevie chuckled. “Don’t worry. They’re not going anywhere unless I tell them to. See?” He held out his paws again, and all of them began to rise, floating about two feet from the ground. The wolf pup sat down and yipped at them. “I’m Zevie, psychomancer of team NA27,” he declared. “All of you are going to the police station. Except for you,” he said to Shino. “You’re coming with me for awhile.”