For several cycles of the moon he had hunted with the wolves, run with the wolves, slept with the wolves. His body had grown much stronger, and he rose through their hiearchy with ease, soon becoming the pack leader. He could never truly take that place; something human in him refused to budge and he retained his humanoid form, although he was quite happy to become fully canine. The wolves somewhat grudgingly accepted him; it had happened before, a long, long time ago, in ages and ages past. Then there had been a great war against Darkness, in which all the wolves and wolfbrothers had taken part, to bring down the Twisted Ones, tear them apart in a final killing frenzy alongside the thousands of men and women, some wielding an awesome destructive power that wolves feared; the lighting from the sky, the earth from underfoot and the water of life were one thing, but these humans had wielded the feared force, the fire that burns. Wolves did not remember fire fondly, and he fell in with their fears and dislikes easily. Soon, whenever he saw human camps, usually of soldiers, he gave them a wide berth, until well after they had left. Then he would return with his brothers; such humans were usually messy and left much too feed upon.
This existence was not bad. He was cold, and suffered more than his brothers, but eventually, for one time his once-human mind had broken through the basic instincts and he had skinned a fallen deer before his brothers tore it into pieces for eating and now wore a somewhat misshappen yet warm coat of deerskin. It hampered him when he had to run, but his body was so strong now, strong from the fusing of two forms, he hardly needed to run anymore; he simply bounded like the largest wolf, taking metres in each leap, yet making less sound than the stealthiest hunter among them. He vaguely noticed his canine teeth had become more pronounced, and his jaw protuded further out, pulling his nose out with it. His eyes glowed ever brightly in the twilight winter skies, like two points of fire in the night it was almost a wonder his hunts were a success.
His body underwent other transformations also; he noticed the thin coat of wirey hair all over his body was more than that aquired through human manhood, and his fingernails were sharper and harder than human nails; more akin to the claws of his brothers who he shared everything with. His life was with them. His past was all but forgotten; a distant, pale memory shoved aside for each and every moment of passionate existence beneath the thin canopies of pine needles and the open night sky of the snow plains, the only light from the thousands of stars above his head. However, a particular group of those stars drew his attention for some reason; the only thing that could break through the now familiar instincts of survival, a distant longing, or belonging of some kind that filled him with a vague feeling of dread, but also of calm acceptance to fate similar to that felt in death. Yet despite these negative feelings he wanted to know what caused them; he needed to know more than anything else. What was that burning feeling inside him that matched the far-distant yet intense twinkling of those stars?
It had been another five or six years since he had joined the wolves. He was not sure; they did not measure time as meticulously as humans. Their only cycles were night and day, and sometimes the phases of the mother moon that guided them through the night at its brightest and hid them from unwanted eyes when they needed to go unseen at its darkest. Yet something inside him kept a quiet count of the days, and weeks, and months, that passed; something inside him that hadn't been pushed back into the deepest recesses of his memory and sometimes shouted out against what he had become. "Why are you doing this?"
Then one night, with the moon high in the night sky, his pack had come across a quiet campfire just off one of the forest trails leading to the mainland. The small but bright fire was surrounded by a circle of small painted wagons. Off to one side, but still within easy distance of the nearest wagons, a short picket with horses tied to its posts had been erected. The horses had whinnied nervously at his pack's approach; unable to see, hear or smell anything yet still somehow aware of the wolve's presence a few hundred paces away in the trees, upwind.
The fire had a few men sleeping by its side who had not retreated into their wagons soon after nightfall; only one of them bore a weapon. Despite their innate fear of the burning flames, he had coaxed his pack almost up to the circle of wagons, then sent them around the wagons seeking people that might still be awake. In his mind he followed their progress, their typically dim images of wagons with doors closed to the night and long grass flattened by the wheels and feet from before relayed back into his own sight as if he watched through partly closed eyes.
After a few moments, he urged his brothers right up to the campfire, and with deadly efficiency they had torn out the throats of the three who supposedly kept watch. Normally they would not have ventured this close to humans, and even less close to a fire as bright as this, but he did not share their natural shortcomings; at least, not to the same extent. He saw himself as their illuminated leader, somebody who could bring them and himself much greater power than ever before, perhaps one day even going back to take his bloodthirsty revenge against those who had kept him trapped all those years. However, as the blinding light flared around them and the screams and howls of pain from his brothers filled the air he realized he was realy no smarter than his brothers, who all but a few had been slaughtered ruthlessly by the men who now took him, dragging his limp body into a small iron cage inside on of the wagons and laughed and jeered at him for many days to come.
How many days he had spent in the travelling wagons he could not recall. Those had been his darkest; literally also, for he never saw light except at rare times they dragged his cage from the wagon to display in the larger villages instead of the usual letting people into the wagon for a small charge.
How long, he had wondered as his body slowly drained of strength under the weight of starvation; how long would he be trapped inside the cage, forced to stoop because of his height, sleeping in his own excrement? He found that unlike a wolf, he did not fear the men who carried fire as if it were an old aquaintance, who tortured him with their barbed hooks they stuck into him while he lay, who laughed and jeered at his appearance whenever they came into the wagon; instead, a slow, seething, boiling hate against them built. He kept it deep inside, never offering resistance; indeed he could hardly find the strength to pull the barbs out of his scarred and pale flesh any longer, and his skin stretched around his bones like cloth on a scarecrow. Instead, he waited silently, for the day they would slip up; perhaps the heavy padlock on his cage door would rust enough so he could break it open with his bare hands, or perhaps they might actually make the fatal mistake of opening the door, but one day they would slip up, and then they would wish their fathers had never laid eyes on their mothers.
It seemed strange, but it was almost as if as his physical strength drained and wasted away his mental and emotional strength grew, until he could almost feel this inner strength flowing through him, like the breath of some forgotten deity it gave him strength when he should have none, gave him courage during the worst pain when the barbs caught him in still healing flesh or in his most vulnerable areas. Without this strange inner strength, that for some reason brought back memories of those familiar stars, he knew he could not have endured for as long as he did, until the day everything changed.
Chapter Three | Mommy, I'm scared of the big bad werewolf!