I woke up in my domed tent, wrapped comfortably in my blankets, though the air was like ice. I rested there for a while, letting the reeling in my head catch up with my life. So much had changed so fast.
Senrid was lying on the ground next to my bed. He had borrowed a couple of blankets off of my excessive pile and slept on the ground. He was not awake, breathing rhythmically in his deep sleep. He looked peaceful.
I decided then, that no matter what Senrid had done to hurt or confuse me, that I genuinely liked him. He was a good person at heart, if a bit awkward on the outside, but a good person with honest intentions. Fate had brought us together. It was only fair not to ignore it.
Senrid woke after a while, stirring fuzzily in his sleep before sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"Are you as hungry as I am?" he asked, his eyes almost comically drooped and bloodshot.
I nodded my confirmation.
Senrid got up, handed me my cloak from the floor, put on his own, and pushed back the tent flap. We found the sky grey and overcast and that it had snowed heavily while we were sleeping, adding a foot of powdery white fluff to the frozen two inches.
"What I wouldn't give for a pair of shoes right now. . ." I heard Senrid mutter.
The snow was cold and colder still when it stuck to my feet and melted into little droplets of water. I did my best to ignore it and trudged after Senrid.
The camp had changed during the night. The first thing I noticed was the noise. Where silence and gloom had dominated on my first visit, people now talked and moved around, giving the camp a refreshing sense of life. I could hear laughter and the clangs of tools and equipment and people talking. There was an acrid tinge of wood smoke clinging to the still air and I could smell something cooking. My stomach rumbled hungrily.
I found myself smiling. Grinning, really. It was good to smile.
Senrid was giving me a suspicious look. "What are you doing?"
I stopped, self conscious. "I am just. . ."I took a deep breath of the sharp air, "happy to be alive."
Senrid gave me a flashing grin of shiny white teeth. A legitimate grin, not the evil smirk that I had thus far received. "Me too."
Senrid walked me to the source of the cooking smell, Ollo's pot, where we found hot broth with big vegetable chunks and a cup of warm tea.
I felt half starved and Senrid and I found a spot under some trees where the snow was not quite as thick.
We did not speak a word as we hungrily devoured our meals. I ignored the scorching I was inflicting on my tongue, and spooned mouthful after mouthful of the stew into my mouth, downing the tea in between bites.
Almost instantly I felt stronger. I sighed in contentment and sipped the rest of my tea, hoping to make it last.
We sat for a few minutes, our noses and cheeks red from the cold. I smelled the air, thick with the tang of pine needles and wet earth.
Senrid stood and brushed snow and dirt off of his pants. "How would you like to see camp, Dheul?" he asked.
"There is more?" I asked.
"Isn't there always?" he asked. We took our dishes back to Ollo, thanked him, and began making our way.
"Where are we going first?" I asked Senrid as we walked through the snow.
He shrugged amiably. "What would you like to see?"
I thought of the few places I had seen so far. "What about the bonfire? Is it still burning?"
"Let's find out."
The tents were scattered around the clearing in a chaotic haphazard fashion and Senrid and I did a lot of avoiding campfires and hazardous objects, some half buried in snow.
The bonfire was toward the center of camp in an area that looked to be set aside for just such an occasion as the one that had occurred the night before. Tents were set to give it a little bit of leeway. It was not burning and portions of it were beginning to compile snow, but stream and smoke still billowed from the depths of black coals.
It felt strangely dead compared to the night before. No people, no bonfire, no Cynd and his ancient vibe. Even the places in the snow where I had fought with Senrid and the places where the crowd had been standing had been obliterated by the snowfall.
"He really thinks something of you, you know." Senrid said, standing next to me as we surveyed the scene.
"Cynd. He's not the sort of man to throw around compliments."
"What do you think he meant when he said that one day I would make a great leader?"
Senrid shrugged. "Who knows what goes through that man's mind. One day he's spouting nonsensical prophecies and the next he's playing rugby with the boys and the next he's overseeing the birth of nine puppies born to a stray dog."
I chuckled. "Unpredictable, I take it."
"Not at all. He's one of the most controlled men I've ever seen. He's just. . .a bit strange. He grew up in a different age, you understand. But know this, Dheul." He looked me in the eye. "He doesn't lie."
I took one more moment to look over the clearing, knowing that I was now a part of something much greater than myself. I remembered what Cynd had said. We were not related by blood, but we were family.
"Where to next?"
Senrid grinned suddenly. "How'd you like to meet some of my friends?"
I quickly learned that Senrid was well-liked among the tribe. We passed people of all kinds, none with shoes, all looking a bit worn and cold, but not one of them ignored us. Most all of them knew Senrid and many stopped to greet him. Senrid always was quick to introduce me.
"Dheul, you say?"
" Yessir. Nice to meet you."
We shook hands and Senrid talked to me. "He made the turn a year or so ago. You should have seen him at his Confrontation! Cynd scared him to tears. . ."
The two would laugh and joke and eventually we would part ways. That was usually when Senrid gave me some kind of half whispered commentary.
This man poisoned himself a couple years ago, hoping to commit suicide, but couldn't do it because he was healing faster than he was being poisoned. That man was in his late fifties when he made the change. Rumor had it that he was a hermit who had lived in the forest for years before he was caught by the wolves. The boy, the young one with the brown hair? perhaps thirteen or so? yes, that one, he is ninety-three years old and, so the story went, a product of Cynd himself losing control, though Senrid was inclined to believe the last bit was a just someone trying to pass the blame.
I would nod and laugh along with his explanations committing to memory the as many names as I could.
Senrid also pointed out significant locations as we walked through the camp. The tent filled with clothes and blankets, trails that led back to camp if you were lost, and half of a standing tree trunk that Cynd had brought Senrid to on his first day to explain what had happened, just as Cynd had confronted me in my tent. I soaked it all in and asked questions about things that Senrid took for granted.
"What is that tent for?" I asked, pointing at a very large dirty white tent a distance away from the camp.
"That's the meeting tent. It's where members of the tribe go to make important decisions. I heard they're going to meet sometime today. There's a lot going on in Anultic right now. Some decisions will need to be made."
"You mean whether or not the werewolves should help?"
"No. Not exactly. We won't reveal ourselves if at all possible, but we can make an effort to stop the wolves. Especially at night, where we have learned control where others have not."
"How do you mean? Is not self control a part of all werewolf tribes?"
"No. Some wolves allow themselves to be. . ." he paused, grasping for the right word, before changing tactics. "You understand the way that you are able to suppress the wolf in you, correct?" Of course I nodded. I understood that better than I liked. "You also understand the way that you can become the wolf while still retaining your sanity. There are two beings inside you, but only one of you can use the body at a time. If a werewolf is not careful, a. . .a sort of. . .consumption occurs. The wolf dominates and takes, not only it's own body, but your body as well, just as you dictate it's body when you suppress it. The wolves in other tribes, or a great majority at least, have allowed this to happen to themselves. You have heard Cynd call them Bealu. Dangerous."
"I had no idea that could happen," I said after a while, allowing myself to soak in the danger of losing control to the wolf. You would likely never get your own body back. It would be liked dying. A chill crawled up my spine, a fear of the unknown pervading my thoughts.
I shifted my feet in the snow. It was getting colder out as noon crept up on us. I expected to see another storm before the end of the day.
"Let's go, Dheul. I'm cold. I say we find a place to warm up for a while."
The man who was not a man, who was a werewolf, and one with the evilest of intentions at that, stared at the camp with yellow eyes. He was observing, learning, wondering what his next move would be. He was a wolf now, slinking through the shadows, prowling and watching with daunting concentration.
He was planning. Cynd was an obstacle in his goals. He had too much sway over the outcome of the man's plans. If Cynd decided to attack, the man's wolves would fall under the experience and control of Cynd's warriors, though the man's followers far outnumber Cynd's.
Many of his werewolves had ravaged the city in the night, though they had yet to infiltrate the Service that was made all of granite. No matter. The wolves, however possessed by their own demons as they were, were still humans and knew how to use and build the tools that would be needed to lay waste to the last fortress of Anultic and it would fall and the man would have all of the revenge and power he wanted in one fell swoop.
Not to mention a well deserved meal or two.
He saw the newcomer as well as his induction. The man was not worried about the tall redheaded boy. He was just a boy, after all. Still. He had exercised a good deal of self control and determination. Admirable traits in most individuals, though not in the werewolves he wished to train.
But the man did not worry. He knew that Cynd had only brought one new member to his tribe, as opposed to the hoards that the man had brought it.
The man looked at the sky, his steely yellow eyes staring at the place where the sun would have been had it not been obstructed by sinister cloud cover.
The timing had to be right. It had to be.
He turned, glanced once at the round tent in the camp, and spun on silent feet, hurtling through the forest like a soundless apparition. He ran almost half a dozen miles before he detected the distinct scent of humans. There was a moment when he had to wrestle with his instincts before he advanced on them. Killing would not do in this situation.
He ran for a while longer until he could hear their footsteps and whispered conversations. In a few more feet he could see them walking as quietly through the forest as they could.
There were only three. The person who drew the man's eyes first was the woman. She was mid-height and athletic, her auburn hair pulled into an efficient looking ponytail. She was wearing a dark green tunic that made for good camouflage in the forest and an almost scandalously tight pair of brown leggings that showed her curves in full. Her feet were clad in leather walking boots and on her hip she carried a sheathed one -sided short blade. She also had on a small pack that probably carried water and food.
Next was the hulking man who walked along beside them. He topped six feet by a liberal amount and was leanly muscled. He wore clothes similar to that of the woman, though he was sterner in the face and carried a good deal more baggage, including bedrolls, a much larger bag, and a full length sword on his hip.
The last was a tall boy that, at first glance, looked to be sixteen or so, but on closer inspection, the man found him to be just past fourteen. He had a posture about him that at first it looked lanky, but then the man realized that he had not adjusted fully to the newfound height he had acquired in his first year or so of growth spurts. He was brightly orange headed, with a dash of freckles on white skin. He carried a bag also and wore clothes that blended easily with the forest. Of the three, the boy far exceeded the other two in noise, crashing clumsily through the forest as he broke sticks and leaves under his carelessness.
The man would have grinned in pleasure had his face not had the capability anymore. If this was Cynd's sorry excuse for a fall back, then he was in for a bit of disappointment.
With the splintering noise of bones shifting and the cracking of relocating sockets, the man changed from wolf to man and stepped in their path.