Glass recycling.

No deposit, no return.

The load bed of the El Camino was crowded with three others associated luggage, but he had to admit it wasn’t the worst experience traveling he’d had to endure. The various bags had smashed down into a lumpy nest mostly out of the turbulence flowing over the cab of the car. The strange sensation of bodies in contact with his own wasn’t entirely repellent, the pack’s body heat took the edge off the nocturnal chill too.
If Jet’s understanding of the map was correct, he had around an hour to kill until they hit their new home. Normally, this would be a prime opportunity to catch some rest while the catching was good. However, he was literally laying in the middle of five strange scent profiles, five unknowns who ostensibly were going to be the closest family he’d ever get. He kept his eyes shut, feigning the sleep he couldn’t help but feel he should be getting regardless, and let his nose sort out their stories at it’s own pace.
His head shot up abruptly, the car was slowing down. He was confident they hadn’t been on the road long enough yet. Moment’s later the unmistakable mix of exhaust and gas fumes confirmed it. Jet had decided to fill the tank.
Well shit. The safe thing to do was to just stay curled up where any passers-by glancing over would assume he was a dog. It was simple. It was prudent.
It would deny his curiosity.
Alex was already craning his nose around the passenger side, so perhaps he wasn’t the only one interested in checking out the sights. What the hell, there couldn’t be too many people around to notice a few wolves as cargo.
The gas station was small, closer to a mom-and-pop business than a chain franchise. A well-lit canopy sheltered a pair of double pumps for unleaded and a single dispenser for diesel. Behind the fuel island, a general store quietly offered a selection of groceries, beer, and sporting goods.
There was only one other car as Jet pulled up on the other side of the island; a forest green SUV.
Fog felt his hackles rise. There was something wrong about the scene. All the doors of the SUV were wide open. Brown liquid dripped from the door edges. Junk food wrappers were stuck everywhere on the seats and floor. Camping gear appeared to have been stuffed haphazardly into the back.
Worse, the driver had been standing in front of the pump since they’d pulled in. He looked drunk, pulling cards randomly from his wallet, inserting them into the reader and then dropping them when they didn’t work.
Inside the store, two women and a man dressed in outfits right out of an REI catalog were just visible moving around the shelves, grabbing armfuls of snack foods and dumping them in a mound on the counter. An older black man in a work shirt watched them warily from behind the register.
Meanwhile, the driver had finally put his fingers on a payment card. He nodded with a soft grunt, stuffed the wallet and card carelessly into the first pockets his hands found and started fueling his vehicle.
Fog noticed he’d started growling unconsciously. The strange passengers had shuffled out of the store laden with junk food. They climbed back into the SUV without a word. Then he realized, they were Claimed. Some greedy spirits had snuck into the material world, in his territory, and turned these people into hollow puppets for their own purpose.
Instinct screamed through his being to attack immediately, to destroy the profane abominations of the natural order, but the time was not right. Too public. Too visible.
He turned his attention to his packmates. They had noticed it too, understood what needed to be done. They had already started putting together a plan. He felt eager.
After the possessed vacationers pulled back onto the road, the mood was tense. The urge to immediately chase them had to have been an almost irresistible need. The wolf must hunt. As soon as the SUV’s tail lights disappeared, Jet threw the El Camino into gear, whipping onto the road in a sharp U-turn. The tires only squealed a little.
Seconds later, their quarry was back in sight. Cynder had leaned forward, huddled over the dash. As the lights of civilization disappeared, Jet accelerated.
There were no headlights in sight, no tail lights, they were isolated in darkness.
Fog faintly heard Jet inside the car. “Hold on.” The El Camino’s engine revved. The spirit-ridden knew they were being chased, their faces alarmed, tense. Jet missed ramming the back bumper by inches. Both vehicles were swerving across the whole road.
Alex let out a roar, launching himself at the rear of the fleeing SUV. Fog scrambled over the roof toward the hood. Jet swerved again, trying to see around the dire wolf so conveniently placed on the hood, hoping to drive the other vehicle off the road. Alex barely managed to twist himself out of the way clinging stubbornly to the Jeep’s ski rack.
Jet snarled and tried again.
Miss… miss… His third swerve of the wheel was rewarded with a jolt and groan of stressed metal. The El Camino was too far forward to neatly spin the other off into the ditch, but brute force it could do. The Ridden careened off the road, nearly flipping as the wheels reached the shoulder.
The El Camino fish-tailed to a stop off the road a few hundred yards further.
Alex had been knocked loose in the crash. He was on his feet in seconds, scratched, dirty, imbedded with gravel, and visibly angrier.
The spirit claimed hadn’t waited around to see just how angry he and the rest of his friends were though. With only a couple strangled cries, “Run!” “There weren’t supposed to be any of them here!” the foursome sprinted heedlessly into the underbrush, SUV doors gaping open.
Jet was out of his car before the brake was fully set, his wolf-amber eyes locked to the trail of the dirty blonde woman from the SUV’s back seat. She was his to bring down.
Ember, with long coat streaming behind her like a cape, was shifting as she ran.
Foster hit the trees like a lethal shadow intent on paying back the road rash with interest.
Fog had only a moment to see a flash of cinnamon fur sprinting into the trees, Cynder joining the chase, before he let the hunt take him.
His ears rang with the sounds of violence. Four garishly fresh scent trails blazed through his awareness; stale food, unwashed human, and something never-living brittle sharp.
His packmates had cornered all of the prey. They were fighting, but somehow the Claimed seemed to be stronger than anticipated. He paused, focusing his attention on one to see why.
Glass! He could place the scent taste now. Their eyes, their teeth, nails all glistened with an unnatural iciness. Every time his pack clawed or sought to sink their fangs into the abominations, cruelly broken glass would answer them. I wonder if they’ll shatter when dropped.
Cynder was holding a stalemate. The brunette former housewife had stopped running, turning to face the ruddy wolf behind her. Glassy nails scythed through the air. Cynder growled, lunging and probing for an opening. The Claimed never saw the huge gray wolf curving low and fast from her flank. Fog’s muscled shoulder drove into her lower back, slamming her into the rough trunk of a tree with all his weight behind it. It felt like fine crystal shattering under a seat cushion. Yes!
“Smash, not tear!” Cynder barked out, rounding on the stunned once-woman to finish her off.
Ember and Alex immediately adjusted their tactics, passing up chances to spray their enemy’s entrails over the underbrush to deliver inhumanly strong kicks and punches. Jet appeared to reluctantly abandon his plan of subduing what used to be a thirty-something MILF.
The last three Claimed died rapidly.
Ember had been badly mauled. Her prey had extruded jagged shards from the ends of his fingers. Her blouse was shredded, glued to her torso with her own blood. From how she coughed and the tinted froth at her lips, Fog was pretty sure she had a collapsed lung at least. If she’d been human, she’d be dying if not dead. As it was, the bleeding had already stopped and her breathing was getting easier by the minute. If his assessment was accurate, she’d be pretty much healed by the time they reached their new home.
The islander had stayed behind. Fog shook his head and tasted the thought in his mind again. The Blood Talon had remained out of the fight. Strange did not even begin to describe that mystery. He’d claimed he was a mystic, maybe he’d done something the rest hadn’t seen. Luna knew how bizarre the Ithaeur could be.
The Hunter laid his ears back in scorn. This time he’d give the benefit of the doubt, but an Uratha who leaves the fighting to others was an Uratha forsaking the hunt. That would be a sin without forgiveness.
With the help of the rest of the pack, Fog threw the corpses back into their SUV. It was a simple matter to flip it on it’s side. A sharp rock took care of the fuel tank, filling the air with volatile fumes. Ember flipped a lit kitchen match into the wreck. No one would question the traces of glass in and on the passengers with the truck flipped and odds of anyone noticing a wooden match gone to ash in the remains were remote at best.
They climbed back into the El Camino and drove back the way they’d came. Back toward their untended territory.
The drive into town was almost a let-down after that. No more Ridden were on the road. Not much of anyone was on the road at all. The map Roman had provided was clear and easy to follow. Without any effort, the headlights came to illuminate a metal gate. A heavy chain and padlock implied it had’t been open in years.
A ring of keys had been included in the packet. Cynder stepped from the car and with everyone’s attention on the glare of headlights, threw more sway to her hips walking to unlock the gate than was truly needed. As she swung the gate out of the way, it revealed an unpaved road decayed to scarcely more than an atv trail.
On the edge of their actual private property, their immediate physical territory, the heart, it was too much for Fog. He sprang from the truck bed and disappeared into the bushes. Almost immediately he discovered the almost entirely faded signs, glyphs of the long dead pack. Swiveling an ear back, he heard more feet crunching gravel. From the sound, it was someone with smooth soled shoes. Jet had decided to take a walk too. Interesting.
He must have given the keys to someone else, the El Camino abruptly roared to life. Branches beat on the fenders startlingly loud. Gravel rattled against the undercarriage like bb’s.
I wonder if they’re trying to go too fast.
The engine noise surged a minute later and fell silent. _ I guess so._
Fog had trotted another fifty feet down the fence-line when the night erupted with a sound that sent icicles through his blood; the howl of a Garou in Kuruth.



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