Sydran pressed his lips into a hard line as he gazed at the computer screen in his office. Outside, storm clouds grew angry on the horizon, spitting out rain and hail onto the world below. His office was a simple one-story building that he’d been able to rent out of—for cheap, since it wasn’t being used anymore and the place would have been condemned otherwise. But he’d made it a nice place to work from during his investigations. The rug beneath his feet made it feel homier and he had two desks—one with stacks of papers, files, and boxes, and the other for his computer and coffee.
“You here, Sydran?” Sydran glanced up to see his best friend, Xander, leaning against the doorframe. Xander was everything one would expect a werewolf to look like as a human—broad chest and shoulders, long blonde hair tied back in a pony tail with a thick beard to top it all off.
Sydran nodded. “Yeah, I got a new case.”
Xander plopped down in a chair across the desk from him. “It’s been all over the news. Another body found. What are you thinkin’?”
“Rogue wolf. Not feral, though.” Sydran peered at his computer screen, reading all about the victim’s life.
“Oh?” Xander stayed quiet and didn’t press him for further details.
“I think these vics are being targeted.” Sydran closed out the screen and snatched his keys off his desk. “I gotta run and talk to the man’s family. Sorry I can’t stay and chat.”
“I’m here because there’s been an incident, Sydran.” Xander peered up at him and his light green eyes narrowed.
Sydran froze, resting his hands on the desk, just over his keys. “What happened, Xander?”
Xander swallowed deeply and shifted in his seat. Why was he nervous? “We found a couple of our wolves strung up outside of town.”
Sydran flinched. “Who?”
Xander’s eyes glared at the ground. “Lacy and her kid.”
Lacy had been a newcomer to the pack. Her back had shunned her for reasons Sydran didn’t know, so their pack had taken her and her kid in. Being a single mom was hard. Being a single mom-werewolf was even worse. What stung, though, was that they weren’t just killed—brutalized, by the way Xander had said, “strung up.”
Pain laced Xander’s gaze and tears glistened in his eyes. “I’d started dating her, man. She—she and her kid went off alone to hunt, no big deal. Looks like the Town Council’s already called in the hunters.”
“I need to see the scene.” Sydran crossed his arms. He wanted to show how sympathetic and sorrowful he felt inside, but he had to do his job, to protect the rest of the pack.
“That’s not all.” Xander sucked in a deep breath and he refused to look up and meet Sydran’s gaze. “I was so angry when I found out, I changed and—I found a camp of them, nearby.”
Sydran cursed. “Tell me you didn’t!”
Xander’s face reddened and his fists clenched. “They strung them up, Sydran! Tortured and killed them, then left them on display for us to find! Of course I killed them all! Tore them apart for what they did.”
Sydran gritted his teeth. “If we’d left them alone, they might have believed Lacy and her son were the only two wolves in the area. Now, the others will come for them and they’ll bring an army of werewolf hunters down on us. The entire pack is at twice as much risk, now!”
Xander leapt to his feet, throwing the chair backward. He breathed heavily, shoulder’s shaking and his skin rippled with the oncoming change. “So, what, no justice for Lacy?”
Sydran shook his head. “Of course we’d bring them to justice. With a regular investigation, not anything to draw suspicion to the pack. I’m just as angry about it as you are.”
“Right.” Xander shook his head and sucked in a deep breath. The rippling stopped, but his body didn’t stop shaking.
“Take me to the scene. I’ll start my investigation there. Have the cops been called yet?”
Xander shook his head. “No. We kept it in-pack.”
“Good. Let’s keep it that way.”
Xander pointed a thumb to his computer. “What about your case?”
“I’ll go see the man’s family later. I need to see this crime scene before it’s interrupted.”
It wasn’t often that a crime scene turned Sydran’s stomach. He’d learned to compartmentalize it ages ago. To him, yes, he felt sympathy and sadness for the terrible things that occurred, especially when it came to a Mystic doing the crime. But the gore and violence itself didn’t phase him. Just another day at the office, to him. At least, that was what he told himself.
In times like these, though, there was no compartmentalizing what he saw.
When the crime had taken place, Sydran could have imagined the hunters doing it to Lacy and her son in their wolf forms. Only when they died, they reverted back to their human forms and this was the result.
“We would’ve buried ‘em but left it so you could see this first.” Xander swallowed deeply and he shook his head. “I—I can’t.” He stumbled away, and headed off into the trees.
Sydran couldn’t blame him. It was hard enough on him and he barely knew Lacy. The wounds were still somewhat fresh and the body’s decomposition implied the crime happened just hours ago—likely around 5 am or so. He got out his phone and took photos of everything, especially on the ground near where the bodies were hanging. Scruff marks on the ground and a blood trail led off into the woods. So, Sydran followed it for a bit; the trail led back to the road.
“What are you thinkin’?” Xander asked, leaning up against a tree. He looked pale, like a ghost.
Sydran gazed at him over his shoulder, turning away from the highway. “You don’t need to hear this, Xander.”
Xander nodded. “I need to. F—for closure. I need to know.”
Sydran pointed to the highway. “Lacy was running through the woods, right?” When Xander nodded, he continued. “The problem is that the blood trail leads to the highway and there’s no evidence of her running through the woods. I don’t see any wolf tracks and I don’t smell her scent anywhere other than the crime scene.”
Xander frowned. “What are you saying?”
Sydran shook his head. “I don’t know. It looks like she was riding in a vehicle or put inside a vehicle elsewhere. They… tortured her here and dragged her and her son to the crime scene where they did the rest.”
Xander shook his head. “I don’t get it. She texted me around 2 am telling me she was antsy and needed to go for a run. Said she didn’t want to leave her son alone, so she was taking him with her—teaching him how to change and stuff. I mean, it was late, but I didn’t think anything of it.”
“Was it possible she went running in a different area?” Sydran asked.
Xander pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “No. She told me she would be here, just in case something happened. You know we all know better than to go off alone, or when we do, to always let someone know where we’re running.”
Sydran nodded and pulled out his own phone. “I have a few contacts I can call—they’ll finish investigating the scene and getting evidence for me. I also know a medical examiner who knows about us. We can trust her. I’ll have her look at Lacy and her son’s bodies… see if there isn’t anymore evidence on them.” With that, he turned back to the trees. Crouching near the bloodstain on the road, Sydran closed his eyes.
Images came to him in flashes—a woman dragged out of a van, covered in blood. Then, a young kid being dragged by someone else, right behind her.
The flashes ended before he could get anything else.
“Anything?” Xander’s voice rose in pitch with hope.
Sydran rose and shook his head. “It smells like a van, but I can’t tell what type. She and her son were in their human forms when this happened. Not running in their wolf forms. The hunter’s scents are strong. You tracked them to their camp?”
Xander nodded. “About four miles north of here. They were all just sitting around.”
Sydran frowned. Why would werewolf hunters go after two werewolves, string them up to obviously intimidate other wolves in the area, but leave their scents behind? Skilled hunters knew how to keep werewolves from tracking them. Then, what made even less sense was that the werewolf hunters left a trail all the way back to their camp—which they left in range of any wolves to find. It was almost like they were asking to be found. “Xander, get out of—” Before Sydran could get the warning all the way out, gunshots exploded through the air and two trucks surged toward them from either side of the highway.