Erin winced when she heard the door groan and creak as the cow rammed it again. “Look, I don’t care why it’s here but we need to get rid of this cannishift thing before it gets inside! Do you know what kind of damage a cow could do in here?”
Kota and Miles looked at each other, but neither said what they were thinking.
“Well, I can’t do anything about it unless it comes inside,” Miles said with a shrug. “Sun, vampire, poof of dust, remember? Kota?”
Kota picked up the broom and handed it to Erin as he said, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”
Erin took the broom and Kota did not duck in time. He shook his head until the ringing cleared and he could hear Erin speaking.
“–You go out there and run that thing off! What do you think I pay you for?”
“You pay me?” Kota rubbed his ear and winced. “Geez, you whack that thing once and I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it anymore.”
Miles grinned and said, “Come on, Kota, be a gent. What kind of man tries to send someone else to do his job?”
Kota tried to protest that this was exactly what Miles was doing right now, but between them Erin and Miles shoved him out the front door. The second he stepped into the full sunlight the young man collapsed to all fours as a wolf.
“Oh, right, that kind of man,” Miles said.
The wolf growled at them and Erin hefted the broom again as she said, “Come on, Kota! One look at you and it’ll run for sure!”
Kota sighed and trotted around the house as Miles and Erin followed him on the inside, watching his movement through the windows.
“It must be a bother, having a partner with his kind of condition,” Miles said.
Erin froze and realized that she had never told him about Kota. Had Kota said something to the vampire? He must have; she couldn’t see even Miles not batting an eye at that.
“Of course, at times like this it’s a useful trick, eh?” He said.
They looked at the window in the kitchen when they heard another growl. The wolf stood out in the yard, hackles raised as he slowly approached the cannishift cow standing at the back door while being careful to leave a clear escape route.
The cow turned around and stared down at Kota with wide, brown eyes that narrowed with a distinctively un-cowlike attitude. It gave a loud bellow and Kota visibly stopped himself from backing up. As they watched the cow’s body shifted and twisted until the cannishift took on the appearance of a large, dark gray wolf that rivaled Kota in size. Unlike Kota, this wolf did not look like it was constantly prepared to run at the slightest provocation, unless it was to chase down its prey.
The cannishift growled, a deep, rumbling growl that shook its whole body as the fur on its back stood up in a long line.
Miles swallowed and said, “Do you remember what I said about cannishifts being territorial?”
“Y-yes,” Erin said. “Why?”
Kota whimpered and bolted, becoming a gray and white blur as he raced across the yard of the inn and leaped through the gap in the fence that separated the inn from the grass plains that surrounded the town.
The cannishift followed right on his tail, matching him stride for stride until they were out of sight.
“What do we do?” Erin asked. She ran to another window, but it was no use; they were nowhere to be seen now.
“If he has any sense he won’t run into the forest,” Miles said. “That thing won’t stop just because he changes shape again. What else is near here?”
“Just the town and the Farmer’s place.” Erin corrected herself and said, “Well, there’s the wastes, but Kota may not know about them. He’s not been out of the inn much since he got here, and I don’t think he came from the capital.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so.” Miles leaned as close to the window as he dared and looked up at the sky, but there was no sign that it would change soon. “Well, if he runs to the farm they’ll be ready for them.”
“What?” Realization sank in and Erin ran to the door, swearing when it became evident how much damage the cannishift had done there. Something else to add to the to-do list, but she couldn’t be bothered with that right now.
“What are you going to do?” Miles asked. He didn’t sound like he was going to try and stop her so much as he was just curious.
“If those idiots shoot Kota I won’t have a partner anymore!” Erin paused outside and wondered if that sounded as selfish as she thought it did. She added, “I promised I would help him if I could, right?”
Miles didn’t answer, or at least she didn’t hear him as she followed the trail the wolves took, over the back fence and across the way to the Farmer’s place. By the time she reached the gate she was already out of breath, holding the stitch in her side, and wishing she had thought to take her bike before it was too late to go back. She slowed down when she spotted Joe walking out of a shed and noticed that all of the workers were still taking care of the crops, hardly the activity of those who’d recently seen wolves running around.
“Erin?” Joe waved and took off his wide brimmed hat to wipe the sweat off of his brow. “Back again? Your mom left a few minutes ago, if you’re looking for her.”
“No, I—” Erin hesitated as she tried to think of an excuse for her red face and harsh breathing, but before she could think of something a shot rang out, loud and clear. A second and a third shot followed before Erin realized that they were in the distance. “Where is that coming from?”
Joe tilted his head and said, “The wastes, I think? We don’t have anyone over there. Peter, Jeremy!”
The two men Erin and the others had spoken to earlier dropped what they were doing and came over.
“You two go to the wastes and see what’s going on. Take your gun and just look, understood? If those traders that have been hanging around have run into trouble, you can go back to the town for help if they need it.”
Peter and Jeremy nodded and Peter ran to get his shotgun.
“I should…probably get back to the inn,” Erin said, and refused Joe’s offers to send someone to escort her back. She left, careful to get out of sight of the farm before she turned back and circled around to head into the wastes. She had to know.