Wolves of Mateo: Wolf Moon

Austin was taken by the hunters by the banks of Wolf Lake - deep in the forests of Mateo, Wyoming. Searching for him is Riley and Dante - his closest friends yet worst enemies. They both have very little time to save him from what's likely to come - a sacrifice for the Wolf Moon - a hunter legend engrained in their traditions. Trying to save their friend is only part of the deal, as new enemies emerge threatening the whole balance of things back home as both Riley and Dante set on a trail out of state in Colorado before they realise the real threat is oozing out from within. A new chapter unfolds. BOOK TWO IN WOLVES OF MATEO DUOLOGY.

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17. Chapter 17

Dante sulked like a child as we both the next day walked innocently through Mateo like any other couple. A quiet stroll on a sunny day, the time nearing midday. The hunters would be out of Mateo and Shai would be in Gary’s house hopefully about to leave. We’d arrive within the next ten minutes.

“We should have just told Austin’s father,” Dante muttered, “Let him play hero.”

I pursed my lips and closed my eyes to suppress any bad thoughts. “Nope,” I said, “You know as well as I do how much effort he’s put into finding his son so far. The more people involved might make this messier and we don’t need messy.”

“It’ll be messy either way. Without them the hunters will rip us up and our blood will paint their walls,” Dante spat. He liked to think he was right all the time, but I was sure he wasn’t this time.

“Whatever,” I said.

We’d been fighting like this since yesterday, and neither of us were willing to meet the other. When I left the house an hour ago with intentions of coming here, Dante really had no choice but to follow me.

Shai would have left by now. Sabitha and Samira had said their goodbyes just that morning. I didn’t know when I’d see them again, I didn’t know what’d they’d do. We’d meet again someday and we could both thank them for their help, genuinely. Austin too.

It was right now, right here. Everything could go wrong at any second. Gary’s house neared into view and Dante purposely began to slow as if he thought I’d do the same. I stormed ahead instead. He called at my back something along the lines of ‘crazy’ but I had to ignore it.

There’d be one single hunter in the house. One hunter to get past if Shai had given us any truth. The other hunters, gone. I knew Dante would have to help – I wasn’t delusional enough to think I could do this alone.

We approached the yard, and then before we knew it we stood in front of the gate creating an opening through the heavy fenced area. “Ladies first,” Dante mumbled as he gestured with his hands.

“You know,” I said as I reached over and unlatched the hook, “You’re not as concerned as I thought you’d be.”

Dante looked beaten. “The most that anyone can take from me now is my life.” And that was a depressing thought.

The large familiar door stood tall in front of us. I’d stood here a thousand times before, knocking on it and waiting for Gary’s intimidating frame to take up my path. He’d look down on my small figure and ask every time what I wanted. I’d always reply, asking if Bianca was home.

It felt strange being here and knowing neither of those things would happen.

I glanced up at Dante and saw him thoughtless face. To knock or not to knock, Dante didn’t have a clue and neither did I.

Things had gotten so desperate that we no longer cared for the details, we no longer cared about the danger. We didn’t make a plan for now and even if we tried to make one, I knew we wouldn’t have stuck to it.

“I’m sorry that I couldn’t have protected you better,” Dante said quietly after a few moments, both our lines of vision drilling holes in the wooden door.

I smiled so softly to myself Dante probably missed it. My hand reached out in that moment and poised in a fist directly in front of me. I had to. We’d be here all day. I let my hand fall once, then twice. Knock, Knock.

A few seconds felt like hours as we both listened carefully. Dante could hear more than me with his ultra-sensitive hearing that I’d yet to fully develop. I could hear nothing. “Someone’s in there,” he said as he began to dance on his feet, from one to the other in anticipation. Dante took a step back, pulling me with him.

Then I heard it too. Beyond the door I heard the screaming of several latches and locks, almost exactly how it’d sounded when I visited the house to see Bianca. Gary was big on security, but it seemed to be a trait all hunters embraced. Click, clank, screech, click, thump. Then the final lock unclicked followed by the tinkle of hundreds of keys.

The door groaned as the unidentified hunter pulled it unsuspectingly open. A human hunter, I could assume, because they clearly hadn’t got hint of our scents. Unlike Shai, this hunter was scentless. They didn’t even smell like a human. It was an explanation right in front of us, why we hadn’t found Austin or the hunters sooner and why this had taken so long.

Everything felt like slow motion, my heart pounding, everything jumping from my chest as I imagined this to be the moment we all die. Hordes of hunters appearing behind the man who’d opened the door ready to skin us alive. That never happened.

Before the hunter could even show his face, Dante lunged forward with his hand, reaching blindly behind the door frame and pulling forward a scrawny man heads smaller than Dante and crushing his neck with his grip.

I looked curiously up at Dante whose fingers were slowly tightening around the man’s neck.

“Don’t kill him,” I warned as I reached out and flicked Dante’s forehead.

Dante let one of his hands rub his forehead as he scrunched his brows together in confusion. “You asking me not to kill this piece of shit hunter who’d have blown our brains out if we’d given him half the chance?”

“Look at him,” I reasoned, gesturing down at the man who was on eye level with me. His eyes were bulging, but I was unsure if he was seeing. The whites of his eyes had gone red with one of Dante’s hand tightly encircling his neck. “He’s harmless.”

“Yeah, well,” Dante began to say as he twisted his arm a certain way and got the hunter in a better grip. The body fell limp as his eyes shut. “Don’t start nagging me in heaven if we both die today, okay,” he said as he threw the limp body back through the door and into Gary’s hall. Only then did I notice the state of Gary and Bianca’s house – a mess from top to bottom. It had been trashed.

I looked down at the lifeless figure and then around it. “He’s not dead right?” I asked, realising I was lacking a decent amount of concern for the guy my boyfriend might have strangled to death.

Dante laughed airily as he took the lead step forward. “No, Riley. He’s not dead.” He stepped over the body to enter the hall and kicked his ribs for good measure.

This wasn’t the time to argue over how I wanted Dante to behave, because now we had little time to find Austin and save him before other hunters arrived and killed not only him but us too. That’s if Shai hadn’t tricked us and told them already.

I trudged through the house and entered room after room not knowing what I wanted to find. The basement door was decorated in large locks giving me clues right away to where Austin might be but I initially wandered to the end of the hall and entered the kitchen. The light fixture was hanging off the wall so I didn’t dare turn on the lights. The room was dark because the windows had been covered in a questionable substance blacking out in light. The appliances had mostly been removed for whatever reason, leaving holes under countertops and exposed wiring and pipes. Something had went wrong here.

The rest of the house looked in the same condition; the living room was a pit of grime and appeared to be used as a room sized trash can. The second floor was a similar story.

I found Dante again in the hall, looking around without a care in the world. “Hey,” I called out. “Find anything?” I asked, knowing only one other place he could be.

“Nope,” he said, Dante’s eyes fixating on the same door I was thinking of just beyond the kitchen. “But I think I can hear him. No smell though, of course.”

“The basement?” I thought out loud, knowing that was the only place we hadn’t looked due to the heavy locks sealing the door shut. It’d take an effort to break in, and an effort to break out. It was obvious Austin was in there, of course he was down there.

Dante began to approach the door, rubbing his hands together and cracking his neck from side to side.

“How are we supposed to get down there?” I thought as I glanced at the locks and then at the man on the floor who still clutched the ring of keys. I knelt down quickly to pry them from his unconscious hands, but Dante had already begun to take action.

With a large smash, I already knew what Dante had done. I grimaced at the noise.

I looked up, the ring of keys now in my hand but the locks now half attacked to the frame and half attacked to splinters of wood on the ground. “You couldn’t have done it my way?” I asked.

“I’m quicker,” Was all Dante said as he crouched beneath some nasty looking wooden splinters still holding on and disappeared down the steps. “Come on,” he called back at me.

Without a second thought I scurried after him, nearly tripping through the frame. The basement contrasted the house with its bare walls, in the far corner a small bare bulb illuminated the entire room in a dull glow. I soon caught up with Dante and stood with him after finishing the last concrete step.

I could have missed it, I might not have seen Austin if I were in an even bigger rush. I might now have seen Austin if Dante weren’t here to pace my thoughts and reason with reality, but there he was.

“Look,” Dante muttered, his hand reaching out and pointing at the figure curled up in a corner like a scared animal, broken and beaten.

I couldn’t make myself move any closer in that moment. For that split second I only observed. It’d been months yet so much had changed. His grey skin could have blended with the grey of the basement. The bulb in the far corner did little to help but I saw how he was dressed; an old shirt that I knew he hadn’t been wearing when he was taken. I couldn’t decipher its original colour. His shorts were torn up and did little to keep him warm in this basement that even I found myself shivering in. His figure seemed lifeless and suddenly alarms set off all over. Lifeless. Was I too late?

Dante seemed to get what I was feeling and took the lead. Without wasting time, he knelt down in front of Austin’s barely recognisable figure and laid his hand where he thought he might find a pulse. Dante smiled lightly. “He’s still there-,” he began to say when he was suddenly interrupted by Austin’s body jumping in fright, scrambling impossibly closer to the wall like a dog that feared a beating.

Dante fell back in fright too and watched as Austin’s eyes, closed before, widened and looked between the two of us like he had no idea who we were.

I began to sob but Dante couldn’t comfort me. Austin was a danger to himself as his hands cradled his own head as if he thought we might try to hurt him. Dante tried to get closer but every time he tried, Austin would let out a deep yell saying something we couldn’t quite make out.

As soon as it began, it stopped. Austin fell limp and then quietly slumped against the wall.

No one moved.

“What did they do to him?” Dante quietly asked. No one but Austin would be able to give the answers for that.

“He-,” I tried to say. My voice wavered and the world jumbled in my brain. All I could think, that could have been me. If Austin hadn’t helped me that night, it would have been me in Gary’s basement being tortured by hunters. “He looks terrible.”

Dante decided to approach Austin, confident he was now truly unconscious. “You would too if you were him. Come on, we need to get out of here.”

Everything moved so fast, so easily. Was this the anticlimactic ending to finding Austin when it had taken this long and taken us so far? Dante had lost everything only to find Austin so easily right at home. All this trouble, so many arguments. So easy.

Frustration. That’s what I felt. Frustration that after all this, the answer was so easy. As Dante reached out and selflessly hoisted Austin up onto limp feet, I had to remind myself this wasn’t the end. Lay was still a very real threat and Austin wasn’t out of the dark. The hunters still hadn’t found their Wolf Moon sacrifice.

We’d only just begun, I realised.

Dante struggled to pull Austin up the stairs. His unconscious body was dragged up the steps and I feared as I trailed behind that Dante would let him go and Austin would fall back into me. Dante didn’t let that happen as Austin was dragged over the unconscious hunter in the hall and out the open front door that swayed in the breeze that ripped through the house.

I stepped out behind Dante’s figure, the light momentarily blinding me distracting me from Austin’s figure that became illuminated in the natural light, emphasising everything that had happened to him over the past few months.

A wave of sadness overcame me as my eyes adjusted. Tears welled up in my eyes, spilling over the edges. This is all it took. All the arguing and all the anger, Austin was here all along. His own father didn’t even try to help him and then I felt doubly sorry for my old friend. How Austin would feel when he came around and got grasp of the real world and what had happened since he was gone… I wanted to think I could comfort him but Dante would never let me. I would never let myself. This was the last thing I owed to Austin.

As we stepped out into the hunters’ yard I saw the reality of Austin’s months in the basement. He was thinner, a lot thinner. I could only imagine what he’d been fed if they fed him at all. His skin was patchy but pale – he’d lost any natural tan he’d accumulated from his life out in the forest. Random cuts littered his skin like someone had cut him with a knife – sharp and clean.

Megan’s familiar voice called out from ahead as the gate swung open. Megan appeared in front of Austin and tried to make him come to his senses. It was useless.

I glanced in the direction she came and laid eyes on Ben across the road. So he really had turned up… But no one else had. We might not have told Touren or Austin’s family about our plans but I didn’t doubt that news had gotten to them – probably through Ben. Yet they weren’t here and Ben was, the very person who said he wanted nothing to do with it.

Ben still looked grim, annoyed at what had been put on him so suddenly but he handled the responsibility well. He nodded in reassurance in Dante’s direction, his eyes only once flicking to meet mine. He disappeared moments after spotting him as if he’d confirmed what he’d wanted to.

Megan remained with us, frantic and worried. Her car was parked ideally across the road. Dante and I hadn’t thought that far, how we’d escape if we did really find Austin. Megan saved us with that one. “We need to take him to his mom,” she said as if his family were the best for him in that moment. No one was good enough for Austin after everyone who’d failed him, though.

Not us, not his father. Maybe only his mother. I grudged the thought of handing Austin over when it was us who’d went through all the effort. Like a spoilt child who wanted to keep the toy that’d been specifically bought for her.

“Oh gosh,” Megan whimpered quietly as she watched Dante try – gently – to lay Austin over the backseat of Megan’s car. It wasn’t happening quickly and it was painful to watch. Austin wore no shoes, his feet black with dirt but littered in fresh cuts that seeped bright red blood and revealed luminous flesh underneath. It was enough to make me gag.

I shook my head as I looked away. “I can’t believe he was here all along, going through this right under our noses,” I muttered.

Both Megan and I found ourselves in a tight hug. “I wonder what he felt this entire time, what did he feel? Did he know he was still in Mateo?” Megan asked into my shoulder.

“Perhaps.” But I didn’t want to consider that Austin might have known. If Austin had known, imagine the feeling of hopelessness as you felt the days passing with no clue of sunrise and sunset, stuck in a dingy basement with no trace of sunlight. Days, weeks, months. It could have felt like years. Austin could have felt like he was slowly dying.

He was slowly dying, as the hunters prepared their games to tease his death and stir their plan. This stupid Wolf Moon that most werewolves hadn’t even heard of.

“He’s fine, we’ve got him,” Megan mumbled between fast, panicked breaths.

I scraped another tear off my cheek. But if they’ve not got him, I thought, they’ll need someone else for the Wolf Moon. This didn’t end until an alpha died by their hands.

Dante and I were out of question. The Dimera’s were safe. This was no longer our concern. It shouldn’t be our concern but Shai had alluded to it himself – the hunters barely believed in the wolf moon themselves. They weren’t torturing us to get their sacrifice, they were simply using it as an excuse. They wanted us dead. Me, Dante, Austin, and whoever else had pissed them off.

We could run away, take Megan and the Dimera’s with us if they’d give us the time of day. We didn’t have to stay in Mateo. We’d no longer be Wolves of Mateo but Wolves of ourselves and live where we pleased. No ties to a town or place, constantly moving. We didn’t have to sit like target or be loyal to a pack. We could become rogues – some places didn’t mind rogue wolves.

My thoughts cut back to Wanda, the woman who’s died at the hands of hunters because she’d gotten involved with us. The woman who died because we were chasing hunters involved with Austin when that was all really a lie. Because she’d helped us for only a night. They’d killed her even though she’d lasted so long as a rogue, living her life like any other wolf or human. We could be like her and know to avoid werewolves like us.

So many people had died or gotten hurt because of us, because of a few insignificant packs of wolves in rural Wyoming. Of course I felt guilty, but not quite as much as the guilt I’d felt when Austin saved me at Wolf Lake during the fight with the hunters.

It felt like a pressure had been released, a weight had been lifted. Something felt better and I felt free. Austin wasn’t dead and that’s all I cared about. Dante and I had done it with and without the help of others. That’s all I’d wanted.

I watched Dante close the back door, sealing Austin in the backseat. He turned around, sweat dripping from his forehead after all that had happened. Dante for once was also silenced. He looked up and watched the two of us but had nothing to say. Not even a come on or why are you just standing there?

That really made things feel worse.

“Come on,” Megan said in Dante’s place, coming to her senses sooner than me. “Let’s not make Austin wait any longer.” I nodded. She was right.

Austin had waited on us finding him long enough.

 

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