At first, all I could focus on was the intense pain in my shoulder.
I was vaguely aware of the sounds around me, the snarls, the howling, the growling. I could dimly feel the forest floor beneath me, the soil, the fallen pine needles.
But all I could focus on was the burning, crushing pain in my right shoulder.
With my mind so clouded by pain, I could barely comprehend what had become of my night. Eric had offered to explain himself, if I was still willing to hear it, which, of course, I was. You don't kiss a girl with that kind of passion and then pull away in nothing short of terror without explaining yourself. So he asked me to come walk with him through the forest tonight, promising to answer any and all questions I had.
And now I was curled on the ground, clutching my throbbing, bleeding shoulder as a pair of massive wolves fought nearby.
The more I tried to remember what had happened, the clearer it became and the less my shoulder hurt. Eric and I had howled playfully at the full moon, standing in the same clearing we were in now. I had gone first on a whim, the moonlight highlighting my pale skin and a gentle breeze ruffling my dark auburn hair. Then Eric had gone, and his howl had sounded real, like an actual wolf as opposed to my pathetically human imitation. Then the light wind changed direction, and I saw Eric's gentle face twist into one of cold fear and hard anger.
The pain in my shoulder had noticeably lessened, but now my whole body seemed to be getting warmer.
He called Caleb his brother, his older brother, and Caleb asked me directly if I knew what Eric was. Eric growled at him, sounding just as much like a real wolf as his howl had, and I felt his arms wrap protectively around me. I looked back at Eric in confusion, and that's when things got blurry. Something knocked both Eric and I to the ground and then pulled me free of him. I realized it was Caleb and I fought back as hard as I could, trying to get free. I was scared. Something was very wrong with what was happening, and Caleb restrained me with terrifying ease, wrapping his arms completely around my chest. He taunted Eric about seeing what I would really think of him, and then I felt what could only be described as the teeth of a wolf stab through my shoulder.
A scream ripped through my throat with a volume I didn't think I was capable of, and Caleb only dug his teeth in further. Eric lunged at us, but was knocked viciously aside. After seconds that felt like years, Caleb tossed me to the ground and I curled up int the fetal position, my eyes screwed shut as I tried desperately to ignore the pain.
That's when the fighting started, and now my body was abnormally hot.
And then absolute fire burst to life in my heart.
I groaned sharply in both pain and surprise, and suddenly felt a large hand shaped paw on my shoulder. I heard a sniffing sound, followed by Caleb's strained yet chuckling voice.
"Won't be long now," he said. "She's gonna turn any second now and when she does, we'll see just how well your beloved human accepts what you really are."
'Beloved' I thought, bewildered, 'Does that mean that Eric loves me?'
'Of course he loves you!' another part of me answered. 'Why would he have kissed you like that if he didn't?'
I didn't have time to answer myself because at that moment, the fire in my heart exploded all throughout my body and I could hold back the scream of pain that followed. I opened my eyes and looked up into the face of the wolf above me. It was so strange, but his eyes were almost exactly the same, and I knew it was Eric.
"Eric, what's happening to me?"
In truth, I didn't really need to ask that question. The truth at this point was fairly obvious.
I was turning into a Lycan.
The fire in my body constricted suddenly, and I felt a sudden wave of nausea almost overcome me as I felt my stomach actually start moving inside me, and within moments, all of my other organs started to follow suit.
"I'm so, so sorry Jenna," I heard Eric say to me, "This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. You were supposed to have a choice."
I tried to tell him that I'd already made that choice. That I'd made it almost a decade ago, standing in the rain as my parents' caskets were lowered into their graves.
But then the fire in my gut and chest ignited throughout my bones, and the agonized scream that followed erased my words.
"I'm so sorry Jenna," Eric said again. "I wanted to warn you, to prepare you for the pain. To give you the chance to say no. I'm so sorry my mate, I never wanted you to be forced into this life."
Despite the blazing pain I was in, I felt my heart melt in the best of ways. "My mate", he called me. He truly did love me then. Loved me and wanted me in a way more powerful and profound than any human was capable of. I wanted to tell him that I loved him too, that I was so wonderfully happy that I could join him in this life, but another surge of pain tore through my body and I felt something in my back break.
The transformation had reached my bones.
Real fear rushed through my mind and heart. I had never considered before just how bad it would truly hurt for all of your bones to quickly and cleanly snap into different shapes. I suddenly felt very childish, and very, very scared.
"Eric, please...help...stay," I whispered, unable to hide the near panic in my voice.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said firmly.
His words offered some small comfort and he lovingly licked my neck and shoulder before lifting his hand-paw off my shoulder. Another wave of the change brought with it more bone cracking pain and I tried to fight it, reducing what would've been an earsplitting screech into a simple shout. I then felt Eric slide behind me and pull me into his arms. He was so warm, and his fur felt so soft against my cheek.
"Don't fight it, Jenna," he whispered in my ear. "Just let the change run its course and it will be over sooner."
Something about the sound of my name on his voice calmed me. It wasn't a request, but it wasn't exactly an order either. It was an instruction, and something about obeying it felt...right.
Another wave of the changed rocked through my body, although this one felt different. Like it was coming from deep within my core and suddenly, everything hurt! I felt almost every bone in my body crack and change shape, my spine lengthened, the bones of my face protruded forward a little, and even my teeth began to change. I felt my ears stretch, and then another wave slammed into me. I screamed loudly again as I felt the bones in my arms and legs crack and extend. My feet changed slowly into a digitigrade form in a series of excruciating pops and cracks that yanked scream after scream from my still morphing lungs.
Then my ribs started breaking and expanding, and there was no air left in my lungs to give sound to the surging, ripping cry that remained locked in my throat. My back arced involuntarily and Eric made no effort to forcibly restrain me. I reached back and grabbed onto his waist for any form of support they would give, taking fist-fulls of his fur into my hands. My jaws extended even more as my body began to stretch and swell with new muscle; my clothes ripping in the process.
"It's okay, Jenna, my mate," he said softly as the wave subsided, "It's almost over."
I tried to take comfort in his words, but as soon as they had been spoken, what I could only hope was the last wave of the transformation came over me. My whole body continued to stretch and grow, completely shredding the remains of my clothes. At almost the exact same time, I felt my new fur come in and flow over me like silken water. My tailbone rapidly extended into a full blown tail in time with the flow of my fur. I felt claws emerge from my fingertips and toes, and then in one last burst of horrible pops and cracks, my entire skeleton snapped into its final, Lycan form.
Exhausted, I rolled forward onto my stomach as Eric released me, panting heavily as I shakily pushed myself up into some semblance of a sitting position.
I think the first thing I noticed was the noise. Even at night, I could still clearly hear life in the forest. The hooting of the owls, the soft scurrying of the mice that were their prey. I could even hear Eric's very shallow breathing and the rustling of the forest floor as he stood up. I looked up at him, worried that something was wrong, and saw that not only were his eyes wide, but that the darkness no longer made any difference to the clarity of my vision; everything was as sharp and defined as though the sun were shining down on us. The only thing different was the color palette.
"Is something wrong?" I asked him, and though I knew it would, I was still surprised by the fact that my voice hadn't changed at all.
Eric just shook is head, his blue eyes still wide.
"Then why the silence?"
"Look at yourself."
I did so, and felt my breath catch in my throat. My fur was almost completely snow white, while everything below my elbows blended into black. Same for my legs below the knees. I looked over my shoulder and found that even the tip of my tail was black. More than that though, I was elated to discover that my figure was slender and feminine, despite the the amount of muscle growth I'd felt during the change. It'd felt like I was turning into some kind of She-Hulk. I was happy that wasn't the case.
Curiously, I lifted a hand and ran it over my new face. My paw pads felt weird, but in a good way, and soon I raised my other hand. There was no mistaking it. I now had the face of a wolf. An ear to ear grin slowly spread across my face and I stood up and walked over to Eric. Even in such simple movements, I could feel the incredible raw power of my new muscles. Eric looked at me as though he wasn't sure what I was going to do, and when I got to him, I simply raised my hand and ran it down along the side of his face. His fur felt both softer and smoother than his human skin, and yet was just as warm. Eric closed his eyes and released a contended sigh, and I brought my other hand up to the other side of his face. I still couldn't get over how real everything felt. So much of what had happened had existed for so long in my head as fantasies that I honestly expected to wake up at any moment.
"You feel like a dream," I said softly.
"So do you," Eric replied, his eyes still softly closed.
Suddenly, a very real fear that I was dreaming, and was about to wake up took hold of me, and I threw my arms around Eric as though he were a life raft, pressing the side of my face tightly against his chest.
"Please don't let me wake up," I begged, feeling no need to hide the desperation in my voice.
Eric pulled me even tighter to him, and I felt his muzzle brush my ear.
"Jenna, you're not dreaming."
His words filled my mind and shattered the chains of doubt that I felt pulling down on my heart. Pure, unfettered joy erupted straight through my very soul and I knew exactly what I wanted to do to express it. I let Eric go and stepped back before taking a deep breath, and then releasing everything I had, every last scrap of joy, excitement, and love I felt into a surging howl that I'm sure was heard for miles around.
And then Eric joined me, and our two separate voices merged into a single glorious whole.
When we finished, I wrapped my arms around him once more as he did the same to me, resting his head on top of mine.
"I love you, Eric," I finally said. "My mate."
Eric sighed happily next to my ear, chuckling as I claimed him.
"Yes," he said. "Your mate."
I couldn't help it. I giggled in glee. I was his, and he was mine.
My new life as a Lycan had finally begun.