It all started with Annabelle. My life truly began when I met her. And that night on the cliff, I could’ve lost it all… But I’m getting ahead of myself. Even in a Journal, one must keep some sense of order.
I suppose I should begin by telling you who I am. My given name is Tyler, but I’ve been called a lot of things in my life; not all of them good. Tyler, Tigerwolf, Saber… They are all part of my past–andmy future. Tigerwolf was the name I carried the longest. My striped wolf’s fur, white with black stripes, made the former nickname stick. I still wish I could forget who first gave me that name, but certain things aren’t meant to be forgotten. Blackfire and the other Renegade Wolves are one of those things. Something so horrible, yet so poignant in my life, that I can’t forget them. No matter how much I want to.
I’m not proud of the things I’ve done. I’m not proud of who I was, or how I came to be Tigerwolf. But that name, like so many other things, has changed the meaning of my life. Even changed who I am. I’m sure of my identity for the first time in my life. And that’s all thanks to Annabelle.
So it comes back to her. It always comes back to her. If it weren’t for Annabelle, I’d still be lost, alone, and would most likely be dead.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself again. That seems to be a recurring problem. Perhaps we should start over.
I was born in a small city in the Sierra Nevada mountains called Lynn Ridge. I lived with my mom, my dad, and my older sister, Abigail. The first two years of my life were almost ideal in every way. My father was a respected businessman, and my mother was completely devoted to her children. Abby and I were the luckiest pups in Lynn Ridge.
But my ideal puppyhood made what was to happen one summer’s night even harder to take.
It wasn’t a dark and stormy night. There were no branches clawing at the windows. I had no trouble falling asleep. Yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. I know it’s odd for one so young to have memories so clear, but when I look back on that night, I always wonder if there was something more I could’ve done. If there was a way I could’ve stopped them… But no, I was just a pup.
And the Renegades have no regard for innocence.
My father had been working with the Lynn Ridge police, coming up with a plan to stem the rising tide of Renegades in the area. He brought his work home with him. Often. Only this time, it was far too literal.
Abby had just put me to bed. She read me a story, one of my favorites. Funny that, with all the details of that night that I can recall, the name of the story escapes me. She tucked me in, and said good night, then headed back downstairs to spend some time watching television with our parents. Being a good twelve years older than me, she was allowed to stay up quite a lot longer.
I was just starting to doze off, my energy for the day totally spent on the busy life of a two-year-old pup, when I heard something. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go to sleep listening to my parents talking about something my father was working on. Or about something Abby was doing in school. But this sound… This sound made the fur on the back of my neck stand on end.
The sound was a long, low, eerie howl, coming from somewhere nearby. Outside, yet far too close to the house for comfort.
My parent’s voices downstairs ceased abruptly and I could almost feel them freezing to listen. I heard my mother’s pawsteps as she got up to check the locks on the front door. Then I heard my father whispering to her, and Abigail’s frightened whisper. I couldn’t make out any words, so I did what any curious pup would do: I got up and headed for the stairs.
When I reached the top of the stairs, though, something in me told me to stop there. I wanted to go down and ask my mom and dad what was going on… But I didn’t move.
That’s when it started.
Another howl, much closer, followed by a loud slam. My father shouted for my mom and Abigail to run, to head out the back door. I saw them run past the bottom of the stairs, and I should’ve run down to be with them… But I didn’t.
I heard a scream from the kitchen, followed by vicious snarls and several crashes in and around the living room and kitchen. I didn’t know it at the time, but my home and family were under siege. Renegades, desperate to stop my father’s role in planning their takedown, were crashing through windows and overpowering my family, even as I crouched atop the stairs.
I cried out for my parents, but was too terrified to venture any closer to the terror that my downstairs had become. I crept three steps down and froze again. But this time it was the lack of sound that caused me to stop.
It was silent. Eerily silent. The only sound was the wind whistling mournfully through the now broken windows and cracked doors that marred my mother’s once immaculately kept living room. Then I heard it. A voice I still hear in my nightmares.
“Good job, everyone,” he said, a sneer evident in his voice. “This should send a message to that idiot Force leader. Let’s see how they go about ‘infiltrating’ us when their star contact is dead.”
I heard several other quiet voices, obviously other Renegades congratulating each other on a job well done. I, on the other hand, was in shock.
The police had been working with my father for weeks by then, organizing some kind of massive sting operation; targeting the pack of Renegades that had recently moved into the area. “Star contact” could only refer to my father. But… dead? I couldn’t believe that anyone would…
Memories of my family flooded through my mind. Playing at the park, going on picnics. Using Abigail’s telescope from her bedroom window to watch the moon rise above the mountains. The day my father had taken me to work with him. My mother cooking dinner and the wonderful scents that filled the house… They couldn’t be dead… They just couldn’t be.
Feeling sick to my stomach, I crawled down the stairs on all fours, dreading what I would find. Two years old is too young to lose a parent, let alone your whole family. This couldn’t be happening. It wasn’t happening. Abigail had put me to bed, and I was having a nightmare. I would wake up, and everything would be fine…
Then I reached the bottom of the stairs.
My memories of the ensuing moments don’t make much sense. The next thing I remember clearly is that the sickness in my stomach seemed to be replaced with a lead weight. The Renegades didn’t notice me, and were already on their way out. Only Blackfire remained behind, rubbing his black furred hands together absently and straightening his long coat.
Staring at him, I felt something inside me snap. I leaped from my hiding place with a growl and hit Blackfire square in the back. At two years old, my weight couldn’t have been over forty pounds; but what I lacked in weight, I made up for in momentum.
Blackfire fell to all fours and snarled viciously, trying to shake me off, but my claws were buried in the leather of his jacket, and my teeth were tearing at one of his ears. When he finally did shake me off, I took a piece of his left ear with me.
He sat up and snarled at me, then got up and raised a hand. I braced myself, certain that I was about to die. But what he did next completely surprised me. Rather than hitting me, he grabbed me by the back of my pajamas and lifted me off the ground. I struggled and growled to the best of my ability, but I didn’t know how to fight… Even if I had, I was just too small to make much of an impact.
He stared at me for a good minute, before giving me a smirk that made my blood run cold. “Easy now, little pup,” he said, his voice mocking a placating tone. “If you want to live, then you’ll listen, and listen good.”
When it comes down to it, everyone has a survival instinct. At that moment, mine kicked in. I stopped struggling and just let myself hang there from Blackfire’s hand, suppressing a growl when he smiled at me.
“Good boy,” he continued once I’d stopped moving. “You’ll make a wonderful Renegade, little tiger.”
I mustered up every ounce of courage I could, and managed to whisper. “I don’t wanna be a monster like you… And I’m a wolf. Not a tiger.”
Blackfire gave a dry laugh. “You don’t really have a choice.” He smirked viciously, and motioned to the still bodies of my family, which I couldn’t bring myself to look at. “Well, yes you do. But I doubt you’d pick the other option, hmm? You seem like an intelligent little striped wolf. So, what’ll it be?”
I was crying by then, and I didn’t answer him. But, apparently, he took a non-answer as a yes. Because the next thing I knew, I was being carted off into the woods.
* * * * * *
He was right. I did have a choice. It was live as a Renegade, or die. And I wasn’t ready to die, no matter what my thoughts turned to whenever I remembered my family. If I were killed, I would never have the opportunity to avenge my family’s murders. That gave me the strength to go on.
So I grew up with the Renegades. For fourteen years, I lived with them. I ascended through the pack ranks amazingly fast, becoming Blackfire’s pupil, and favorite. He was the one who renamed me. Tigerwolf became my pack name, and I lived up to it. The ‘little tiger’ had grown up, and grown vicious.
Throughout all those years, though, I had an ulterior motive. I planned to get as high as I could in pack ranks, until I had passed even Blackfire’s brother, Rampage, and was second only to Blackfire himself. Then I would kill Blackfire. No Renegade would dare take action against me, as killing Blackfire would make me the unquestioned leader of the Lynn Ridge pack. Then I planned to simply disappear one day, and make a new life for myself somewhere far from Lynn Ridge.
However, one mistake on a dark, moonless night cost me all my plans; and nearly my life.
I was on guard patrol that night. It was something I had done countless times before. The pack was camped out at a cave several miles from Lynn Ridge, well hidden by the hills and forest. The only electricity came from a small generator that the pack had obtained in one of numerous shady deals. Because the fuel was nearly gone, there wasn’t any power to run the perimeter lights that usually illuminated the outer edges of the camp until the security sweep was complete. Add to that the fact that clouds were covering the moon that night, it was a recipe for total darkness.
I had a flashlight, but, like everything else, it wasn’t quite working the way it was supposed to. So, after awhile, I attached it to my belt, and continued my patrol without it. That was the first of many mistakes on that pitch-black night.
If I’d kept the flashlight out, I might have seen Rampage and recognized him, before I attacked him as an intruder when he didn’t respond to pack hails. He was a leader; and therefore, like Blackfire himself, was capable of ignoring protocol if he chose to. However, his not answering the hail was his fatal mistake.
I thought I was fighting a spy, or an officer of the R.W.S.T.F., so I was fighting for my life. Kill or be killed. That’s what we were taught when it came to the Renegade Wolf Special Task Force. I did as I had been trained, and Rampage died in that battle. I was wounded, but not badly, and moved back to lean against a tree. With my tail curled around me, I watched the body for any signs of life. After a few moments, I pulled out my flashlight and turned it on, smacking it a few times to get it to work. Then I shone it on the body, expecting to see a collar complete with a Force badge. The last thing I expected was one of my packmates.
To make matters worse, Blackfire and several other high-ranking Wolves were coming over by that time to see what the commotion was about. I could’ve scrambled. I could’ve lied and said that there was a R.W.S.T.F. agent, hiding nearby, which had killed Rampage and wounded me… But some of my pre-Renegade upbringing had remained with me. Something inside just wouldn’t let me lie.
Blackfire had three choices in dealing with me. He could issue me a Final Challenge, which would be a fight to the death between the two of us, or he could simply kill me. Or, finally, he could exile me from the Renegades, in the hopes that I would be picked up by the R.W.S.T.F. and punished for all the crimes that the pack had committed. I had hoped for a Final Challenge. It would, at least, give me a chance to do what I’d planned for so long. However, he chose exile.
The Force didn’t catch me, though. At least, not the way Blackfire had intended. Homeless, I made my way back to Lynn Ridge, as it was the closest city. I knew the pack would move, as soon after abandoning me as possible, so it would’ve been pointless to go to the police and offer them the location of the pack in exchange for asylum.
I had little money, and even fewer possessions, but with my meager means, I managed to get a room at a local shelter. I wasn’t surprised that no one recognized me. Lately, I’d been involved more in the planning stages of the Renegade’s evil deeds than in the actual execution of the plans. With one notable exception. However, that didn’t really matter to me at the moment. What did matter was that my life no longer had any meaning. I would have no way of locating Blackfire and the pack again. No chance to avenge my family’s murders. I wandered the streets of Lynn Ridge aimlessly for several days, stretching the small amount of money I had as far as it would go.
And it was on one of these sojourns that I saw Annabelle for the first time.