A piercing yowl broke the silent lapping of the lake shore and the night turned electric. The cry had come from the forest further back toward Welbourne. Slowly, other cries and howls joined the first until multiple voices broke the stillness of the lake shore. Wyatt and O’Hare sprinted for camp but before they’d even made it to the tree-line curses and crashing echoed from within.
“They’re on us Wyatt!” O’Hare yelled, dashing into the wood.
Wyatt ran on the heels of the older man. The icy, cool numbness came over him as it did two nights ago. Like an invisible suit of armor, the sudden dispassion signaled he was ready.
They were running toward the sounds of fighting when Wyatt’s legs suddenly gave out and he crashed into a small stand of ferns. His shoulder dug a furrow out of the soft loam of the forest floor and Wyatt cursed. He tried to rise but a sharp jolt of sting like a pick ax driven through his gut dropped him back to the dirt. Curling into a ball he tried to scream but no sound came. His insides twisted and churned as if his belly were full of snakes. Flipping onto his stomach he vomited violently and lay curled in on himself unable to move. His head was pounding as strange sounds of buzzing, shouts from O’Hare, Fynn, and Lemn, pounded in his head.
Slowly, a soft deep voice reached through the cacophony of pain, “It hurts?” the voice asked.
The voice held a foreign accent and yet he knew it. Through blurry eyes he saw the black phantom studying him from a faceless cowl.
“There is always pain at first. Your body has yet to accept itself. Your mind has yet to grasp its new gifts.” the figure seemed to kneel before him, “it will get easier with time.”
“No,” Wyatt moaned, “No,”
“No? There’s nothing to dispute. You are what you are. Your one of us now. You belong to the pack.”
The pain was still there and his senses sizzled. New and sharp smells assaulted his nose but he now had a degree of control. Wyatt felt…different, new.
“It’s getting easier now.” the black figure commented through his faceless hood. “But there is still pain, hunger.”
Wyatt could swear the man was smiling in that blackness.
“Tonight, you feed with us.”
A sharp curse cracked through the forest. A vicious roar responded. Wyatt looked toward camp, and the bluffs beyond.
“Though they fight mightily, we both know they are no match for us.”
Wyatt issued a deep rumbling growl, his strength growing. The faces of his father, mother, little sister, appeared to him in the dark stranger’s hood. They pleaded with him, cried out for him.
“I seemed to be able to handle you just fine,” his voice terrified him. His voice was a grinding, harsh mush of garbled utterings.
He sprang for the man and the dark figure dissipated like a mist. A rotten decaying smell swirled around him. Sounds of thrashing, grunts, yelps, and an angry snarl called to him. The greens and browns of the forest blurred as he dashed toward the battle.
As O’Hare reached camp he realized Wyatt was not with him. The realization cooled him and his mind sprang with dark possibilities. The horses were gone, and the provisions lay strewn around the small clearing as if the camp had been hit by a tornado. Fynn and Lemn were gone, a quick curse in the distance pointed him toward the bluffs.
A trail of broken brush, and torn forest floor lay before him. He ran, heart pumping, chest heaving. The trail angled upward toward a large slab of granite jutting out of the brown wall of trees and dirt. A glistening crimson patch smeared the gray stone.
Sounds of the fighting had softened. O’Hare realized there were no sounds of the forest to speak of as he cautiously angled himself around the boulder. Lemn stared at him, the boy’s eyes were locked in horrid amazement. His head rested on his chest at a grotesque angle, held to his shoulders only by a thin strip of flesh. O’Hare paused a moment and noted the blood dripping from the boys old notched sword. He’d made a showing of himself. O’Hare darted up the steep incline, his moccasin clad feet slipping in places on the soft earth. Toward the top of the rise a lanky, brown beast with a head the size of an ox was draped across a perilously leaning trunk of an ash tree. It’s snout red, thick coarse fur covering its chest was matted and slick from where Lemn had struck it through the heart.
O’Hare left the animal where it lay and found himself on a rocky outcropping. Small boulders rose from high brown grass like the humps of giant tortoises. A barking growl and yip alerted him to a large boulder toward the edge. Sword raised, he crept around the rock. Fynn reached for him, his words trapped in a red froth gushing from his chin. A Warg had its snout buried in his gut.
O’Hare charged and was on the monster before it could move. It turned, shreds of flesh hanging from its chin, lips curled in a grotesque snarl as O’Hare sliced through the beast’s broad neck. Blood erupted from the monster and it spasmed. Powerful, kicking legs knocked O’Hare from his feet. His sword was sent twisting and flailing over the bluff toward the rocks below.
The Warg quivered at his feet, O’Hare gasped for breath. He watched it until he was sure it was dead then went to his longtime friend. Fynn was propped against the boulder. O’Hare surveyed what remained.
Shaking his head slowly O’Hare dropped to the grass next to his friend. Exhausted, his whole body trembled, but Wyatt was still out there. Gathering his strength, he rolled to his left just as the brush in front of his face exploded. Black fur, bright green eyes, and white fangs shot toward him. O’Hare fell to his back and the massive beast over shot him. Almost the size of a bear with the sharp ears, long snout, and build of a wolf. The beast was black as onyx; it’s fur shimmered as it turned toward him. His sword was gone, he reached for the dagger he kept at his waist; also gone. Scrambling backward he hit the same broad boulder Fynn had died on. The beast closed slowly. Too slowly, as if it wanted to savor the kill. O’Hare let out a roar of his own,
“Come on ya bastard!” he swung at its jaw.
The beast roared back, hot noxious breath blew over him like the winds from hell. Part of him wanted to cower, to cover up and bury his head, so he wouldn’t see what was coming. But a fury deep inside the man refused. His Anne demanded he fight to the end. He leaned forward and spit what he could scrounge from a barren mouth right across the beasts snout and shouted,
Wyatt sailed across the forest floor following the scent of battle. It lay out in front of him, so thick he could almost see it; a sickly, iron tang of blood mixed with earth, sweat and fear.
He shot past the camp like a lightning bolt and was up the hill flying over the slick ground and rocks. At a bulbous gray boulder he caught Lemn’s scent, he was dead. Just as quickly he leaped over the limp form of the Warg that had taken him. Its musk trailed him like smoke when he broke through the trees onto the outcropping.
There he caught sight of O’Hare, on his back close to the drop off. A black monster the size of an ox loomed over him. Its massive paw raised to slash him to pieces.
O’Hare was staring into those great green eyes when they suddenly bulged outward. The warg’s long body buckled as a brown cannonball took it broadside.
The monster shrieked and tried to lash out at the massive, shaggy missile but its slashing claws met only open air as it drifted over the cliff. Flailing like a cat falling from a roof the black form spun slowly four legs spasming until crunching against the rock fall below. O’Hare stared at the still mass of fur and blood for a long moment. Then a low, Wuff! Drew his attention to a huge Warg resting on its haunches before him.
Afraid to move and too exhausted to care, he slowly shifted until the two of them were eye to eye. It snuffed toward the cliff then looked back at him. A glistening black ear dropped from its mouth. A self-satisfied rumbled echoed from the monster’s chest.
O’Hare’s jaw dropped.
The Warg shook its head, jowls flapping, waves of thick fur coursed down it’s long, lean body. Beast and man shared a long examination of each other, a mix of fear, sadness, elation, and relief passing between them. O’Hare was transfixed by those wide dark eyes. He could swear the intelligence and spirit of the boy he knew burned within the depths. An instant later the beast was gone, leaving only swirling tall grass in its wake.
O’Hare leaned against the boulder and let the sun warm his face, no way, he told himself, couldn’t be…
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