Unearthly howls were all around, filling the air, near deafening to the young girl running as hard as she could through the grand, candlelit hallways. Her bare feet slapped against the floor, gasping for breaths that tore her lungs open.
Her white shirt was in tatters, barely covering the front of her torso, and fully revealing the deep, bloody lines down her back, courtesy of vicious, razor sharp claws. It was the thought of those claws getting ahold of her again that had her running with all the strength in her little legs for the exit. Fear was all she knew in those moments, as the storm outside raged, lightning flashing and thunder booming, nature’s answer to her peril.
Finally, her one chance at freedom was in sight, the great carved oak doors that led outside, away from the prison she called home. Before she could reach them, however, a shadow lunged into her path, and she slid to a stop, mere feet away. Her heart was as loud as the thunderstorm outside; louder, even.
Facing her was a great, terrifying beast with scales, claws, feathers, and wings, some strange, unnatural amalgamation of her step-mother’s favorite forms: a basilisk and a condor. The girl avoided meeting the eyes of the creature in front of her, staring past her at the fleeting hope of escape.
The creature laughed, a revolting, rough, scraping noise deep in her throat, but when she spoke, it was the voice of the girl’s stepmother.
“You won’t make it out of here alive, Avaline,” the creature half-hissed, half-snarled. “Give up, or end up like your compatriot here.” With that, the girl’s stepmother pulled a small, limp form from behind her and threw it to the ground.
The girl recoiled in horror when she saw the state of the child lying on the floor, face and neck marred with deep, gushing cuts that continued down her torso. They were not the clean lines of claws or talons, but cruel, jagged ones, inflicted by human-made, serrated blades, the kind her stepmother favored.
The girl cried out, heart wrenching for her friend lying on the ground. Something inside her was welling up, begging for release, begging to tear flesh to shreds and rip throats out. And for once, the girl was not scared, as she reached back to that thing inside her, howling to be free. Let me help you, it whispered. I can make them pay. They’ll never hurt you again.
Had she not been so terrified, the girl might have heard the hunger in that voice. Might have heard the promise of death in the words it crooned in her ear. But that night, she was a scared child who just wanted to be free.
Please, she begged. She would have done anything in that moment to get away from that creature, from the beaten, bloody girl in front of her. In that moment, all hell broke loose. Something deep with her roared, and-
Ava’s eyes snapped open, startled from her nightmare by a loud, incessant alarm. She groaned and hurled her pillow at the unmoving lump on the bed across the room.
“Shut off the fucking alarm already Abby,” she snapped, reaching out to switch on the light beside her bed. The only answer she got was a slim, pale hand slipping from under a pile of covers and putting up a slender middle finger. Another hand shot out to turn the alarm off, to Ava’s relief. “Classy,” Ava replied, dripping with sarcasm.
“Shut up,” Abigail replied, muffled by her pillow. Ava gave her a couple seconds before throwing her second pillow. Abigail gave a muffled squawk before abruptly sitting up, blonde and pink hair a tangled halo around her head. “Ava,” she whined. “Don’t be mean.”
“Just get up,” Ava replied, smiling slightly. Abigail always brought out the best in her, no matter what mood she was in.
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Abigail said, sticking her tongue out. She could be remarkably childish at times.
“You’re the one all excited about going to school today, not me,” Ava pointed out. At the reminder, Abigail jumped out of bed, a smile lighting up her face. Ava watched, amused as she flew to her closet and started tossing half her clothes on her bed in an attempt to decide what to wear.
“Will you do my hair?” Abigail asked, a pleading note in her voice. “Pretty please with sprinkles on top!”
“Yeah, sure,” Ava responded, making her way over to the vanity they shared. Abigail hurriedly threw herself into the chair, beaming at Ava in the mirror.
“Can you curl it? It’s a disaster,” Abigail added, grimacing slightly. Ava chuckled and nodded, studying her own reflection in the mirror: curly blue hair, mocha colored skin, and bright gold eyes. Ava blinked, and her eyes turned acid green. Another blink, and they were neon purple.
“Having fun?” Abigail asked teasingly. Ava rolled her eyes, changing them back to gold once more, and began curling her packmate’s hair, considering her own appearance as she did.
For the most part, Ava looked human, but she did keep a few animalistic traits, like her gold eyes, with vertical pupils like a cat, or her nails, unnaturally sharp, veritable claws. It was her way of keeping humans away from her, driving them away before they got too close. Better than befriending them, only for them to leave her later when they learned the truth.
“Not going to try and blend in?” Abigail asked, meeting Ava’s gaze in the mirror.
“You know me better than that,” Ava responded drily. “Who cares what the humans think? Ah, not you of course.” Abigail brushed it off.
“I know what you meant. Get dressed already, we’re running late.” Ava rolled her eyes and pointed out that she wasn’t dressed either. Abigail shoved her and they got ready for the day, laughing and teasing each other as if they weren’t about to dive headfirst into human society for the first time in their lives.
Abigail hustled Ava out of their room, the latter complaining loudly about having to go to school.
“If you don’t want to go, take it up with Argent and Lupus,” Abigail told her. Ava cringed at the thought of trying to convince the alphas to let her stay home and got moving, the two heading towards the front of the sprawling house.
“Fine, I’ll go, but if anyone says anything-” A new voice cut Ava off.
“So help me Luna, if you get into a fight on the first day…” The threat hung unfinished in the air. Ava grinned over her shoulder at the speaker, the alpha female of the pack. Argent smiled down at her and reached out a hand to play with a strand of Ava’s hair.
“I know you’re gonna do great today, ma chér.” Argent often threw bits of French into casual conversation, which always seemed to deepen her ever-present Louisiana accent. “Are you going to eat breakfast?”
Ava opened her mouth to say no, she hadn’t planned on it, but she saw the steely glint in Argent’s eyes that meant she hadn’t really been asking.
“Of course we’re eating breakfast,” Abigail said cheerily. Argent smiled at her, obviously pleased with the response.
“Good,” Argent said, herding the pair into the kitchen. It was already crowded, but then again, most of the house tended to be. Not everyone in the pack lived in that house, but they congregated there.
The pack lived on a large plot of land, with four sprawling houses built on it. Ava and Abigail stayed in the biggest one, with the alphas, along with the other pack members that had been around the longest, and Argent’s children.
Despite living in different houses, the pack gravitated to the Alpha Den, as they referred to it. Which was why, when Ava walked in that morning, the kitchen was complete chaos. At least three frying pans were in use on the stovetop, something was in the oven, something else was in the microwave, and Argent’s twins, Blake and Isaac, were fighting over the last bowl of their favorite cereal.
Surveying the swarm of pack members, Ava spotted one Inhuman not participating in the mad scramble for food. With a smile, Ava crossed the kitchen, shoving one of the twins against the fridge in the process, and snatched up the small tyke standing against the wall.
“Sirius, are you hungry?” Ava smiled, looking into the young cyclops’ single, dark blue eye. Sirius nodded vigorously and Ava tousled his coppery curls, causing him to laugh.
When the pack had first taken in Sirius, two years ago, he’d been nothing but skin and bones, sharp teeth and one huge, tear-filled eye. Ava had found him in an alley in a city they’d used to live near, surrounded by goblins ready to tear him to shreds.
Ever a bleeding heart, Ava had leaped in front of him, shifting into a large, black panther in mid-air. One snarl and a flash of her teeth and claws had sent the goblins scurrying for whatever hole they’d crawled out of.
When Ava had turned back to her human form, the small cyclops had tried his best to scramble away from her, but he was weak and could hardly move. Ava had scooped him up in her arms and murmured softly to him until he stopped struggling to escape.
Ava had immediately called Argent, who’d dropped everything to come get her, since Ava couldn’t steer a motorcycle and carry a child. They’d thrown Ava’s bike in the back of Argent’s truck, and on the way home, Ava told Argent everything that happened.
Of course Argent took the child in without hesitation; that was who she was. The only issue was that of his name. Argent told Ava that she should name him, and when he was old enough to decide, he would take on a new name if he wanted to, as was the pack tradition when joining. Each member chose what they wanted to be called, because they were no longer who they had been, and they would become someone new with the pack.
Ava had asked for time to think of something. Argent had readily agreed, and Ava played the waiting game. She only had to wait one day.
After seeing how the cyclops followed her like a lost puppy, and recognizing how he brightened her days, Ava, obsessed with stars and constellations, had named him Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, and part of the Canis Major constellation.
Sirius had never stopped following her, though he had learned to be around other people over time. He was no longer her shadow, but she was still his favorite pack member, and he always looked to her for help before anyone else.
“I wan’ bacon!” Sirius told her, clapping his hands joyfully when Ava smiled.
“Got it,” Ava laughed. “Bacon for my favorite little cyclops.” Sirius grinned at her, displaying small, pointy teeth.
Ava shifted Sirius to her back where he clung tightly, and dove back into the fray. After grabbing a plate, Ava snatched up a handful of still-hot pieces of bacon, fresh from the frying pan.
Next, Ava served herself a generous helping of eggs and snatched up two bagel halves that had popped out of the toaster. Ava heard someone yelling at her, and ducked out of the kitchen before anyone could throw something at her, making her way to the dining room.
Ava swung Sirius down into a chair and took a seat beside him. Sirius held a hand out for a piece of bacon, eyes looking up at her pleadingly. Ava stared back at him meaningfully.
“What do you say?”
“Please?” Ava grinned and forked over a piece of bacon. Sirius munched on the strip while Ava started wolfing down her eggs.
“Good morning Sirius,” Abigail said when she joined them, planting a kiss on the cyclops’ head. Sirius beamed up at her.
“Abby, Abby!” Sirius reached out his free hand to her. “Up, up!” Abigail laughed and shook her head.
“I can’t baby, I have to eat. Ava and I will play with you when we get home, though.” Sirius clapped in delight before holding a hand out to Ava again, silently asking for another piece of bacon. Ava obliged.
“So,” Abigail said around a mouthful of toast. “Did you end up signing up for that photography class?”
“Yeah, Argent made me. Said it would be good to meet humans who like the same things I do.” Ava shrugged and tore half her bagel off, handing the piece to Sirius.
“She’s right. You can make friends that way,” Abigail said helpfully. Ava scoffed and Abigail glared daggers at her.
“What, do you want to be antisocial your whole life?” Abigail asked sharply. “Or maybe it’s because they’re human?” Ava winced. For weeks, Abigail had sworn up and down that the humans would accept them, and that this was going to be a good thing. Ava didn’t believe her, but she hadn’t pressed the matter. Until now.
“There’s no way they’re going to welcome us with open arms. Not only are we the new kids, we’re also Inhumans. They didn’t know we existed until March. Hell, most of us were just scary stories to tell kids on Halloween.”
“People can change, Ava,” Abigail said, voice rising with every word. “Humans aren’t horrible! They can learn that Inhumans aren’t bad, and learn to accept them!” Ava winced at the heat in Abigail’s eyes, but she didn’t back down. She never did.
“I still deal with stereotypes because of my skin color. Humans are racist against their own species Abby! Listen, I love you, and you’re the most accepting human I’ve met, but you grew up with us. They didn’t.
“Maybe one day they’ll accept us, but it won’t be today.” Abigail stared at her for a moment longer before looking away bitterly.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. But maybe one day right?” Abigail gave her a hopeful, bittersweet smile that had Ava biting back the first reply that came to mind.
“Right, one day,” Ava echoed. There was an insistent tug on the sleeve of her red leather jacket. Sirius, who’d remained silent through the whole argument, was looking up at her pleadingly. Ava gave him another piece of bacon.
Argent came up behind them and clapped a hand on either of the girls’ shoulders. “Ready for your first day?” Ava made a face at her.
“No, but I don’t have a choice,” Ava said grumpily. Abigail rolled her eyes and stood, a set of car keys dangling from her fingers. Ava patted her pockets and glared at Abigail.
“You stole the keys?” Abigail winked at her and crossed her arms.
“I’m driving today. You can ride your bike,” Abigail told her. When she dropped her arms, the keys were gone, secreted away into one of her pockets.
“I was planning on it,” Ava shot back. “You could have just asked for the keys you know,” she added. Abigail shrugged.
“Wouldn’t have been as fun. Come on, let’s go,” Abigail said, standing. She gave Sirius a hug before heading to the garage.
Ava sighed and tousled Sirius’s curls. The cyclops shook his head vigorously and laughed, waving goodbye to Ava. Since Sirius was only four, he wasn’t starting school yet. Ava on the other hand…
Ava stalked into the garage and watched everyone scrambling to decide who would drive who where, and when. Abigail said she could take up to four to the high school, and the twins, Blake and Isaac, immediately clambered into the backseat with Erin while Rowan claimed shotgun.
Ava straddled her bike, a black and gold, sleek, beautiful machine, and waited on Abigail to leave. When she finally pulled out, Ava was right behind her, where she stayed the whole ride to the school.