The 4 – Survivors of the Apocalypse - Chapter 3: Enter the Forest

Ali, Lucan and Nol' had been waiting in silence for the last few minutes, resting behind a fallen tree. By this point they had caught their breath again, and were confident that they had not being pursued. The trees had become more entwined with each step, and it only took several strides before they were consumed into the forest. Looking back, nothing could be seen through the branches, not even the fence that they had entered through. Lucan peered upwards, and could not make out any light. Branches and leaves that spiralled up and up formed an impenetrable canopy of foliage. He found it curious that these grizzled, black leaves did not detach and fall. Undeterred by their considerably older appearance compared to the orange and brown leaves on the tree atop the hill. It seemed like such a long time since he had gazed upon that great tree, watching its leaves rustle in the wind, even if it had been less than an hour ago. Lucan could not explain this nostalgia, but at the same time he did not feel threatened by the forest. It was tranquil for the moment, at peace.

Nolan suggested staying in the forest for some time, maybe even overnight just in case the farmer was waiting for them to re-emerge. Lucan voiced his doubts swiftly; despite the apparent safety of the forest, it was not a solution he was fond of. Again he could not explain why, it was just a feeling that staying in the forest was, in some way, pushing their luck.

"Are you sure that's a good idea Nol'? It's cold out here we could get hypothermia if we're not careful."

The dark wolf nodded thoughtfully, it was a serious issue for them. If they did become hurt or lost, no one would imagine searching in the forest until far too late.

"True, but I'd prefer to stay away from that farmer; he might still be out there. Besides we have food, fur and each other, one night shouldn't be too much trouble."

"If we make a fire it won't be much colder than home out here anyway." Ali added supportively.

"I guess I can't argue then, if you guys agree so strongly, I'm all for it." Lucan lowered his head in a graceful nod, and then he smiled. "Now, which way should we go?"

Nolan returned the grin, accepting the challenge; Ali looked between him and the crimson wolf and chuckled. "Are we going to trust Nol' on this, we know what his instincts are like…"

"Yeah, good point, maybe you should choose instead Ali. I don't think we'd trust him to know the difference between a tractor and running water."

The dark wolf exhaled deeply in frustration. "I keep telling you, it was only one time! Maybe I overreacted but it did sound like someone after us in a tractor."

Lucan and Ali nearly collapsed with laughter, the light wolf remarked between outbursts, "We spent half an hour hiding in bush Nol', and I don't think we will ever let you forget."

The tall wolf simply blushed and hung his head low, his shoulders sagged in defeat. It had been one of the first times they had gone to collect damsons together, and a memory they all cherished.

"Good to know you guys have faith," He signed. "If you listen carefully I think that there's a break over to the south, it could be a clearing in the forest."

"Yeah right, you're just trying to redeem yourself. Anyway how could you hear if there was a clearing?" Ali responded, smiling all the while.

Nol' rolled his eyes matter-of-factly and pretended to be taken aback, to great effect. "Well, maybe if you used your ears for once darling then you might hear something."

Darling? Darling!? What are you my mother? Besides, my ears would work much better if you weren't always …"

The crimson wolf looked between his companions and sighed heavily, this time it was he who dropping his muzzle. Ali and Nolan's arguments were tiresome, and seemingly endless in most cases. Instead Lucan closed his eyes and focused on what he could hear besides his friends' pointless quarrels. The air was stirring the branches of trees all around them, contributing significantly to the ambient sound level. Rotating his ears like periscopes, they twitched as Lucan noticed the slightest change in background percussions. His eyes snapped open and he turned around to face the direction the dark wolf had indicated. The wind died down briefly, and Lucan shushed Nol' and Ali. Once it started up again the crimson wolf could hear again that, over to one side, there was significantly less noise. And therefore, fewer trees, a clearing by any other definition.

"Your right Nolan, it does sound different over by the south, fewer trees perhaps or even the start of the acidic bogs. If we're going to keep moving into the forest that would probably be the best way to …"

Lucan jumped back a meter in surprise as he was interrupted by a howling wail which pieced the previous, light-hearted atmosphere. The shrieks continued for several seconds before abruptly ceased in a short, pitiful yelp. Suddenly the air became excruciatingly heavy and nearly unbearable with foreboding tension. The forest lost all of its welcoming appeal in a heartbeat. An allure, which it would never fully regain. The forest was no longer a place of peace; its true nature was now beginning to surface. All three turned around apprehensively to face the barrier of trees and thick vines between them and the unearthly noises. The wolves then looked between themselves. They gave a hasty nod to signal their response to the unpleasant decision they were now faced with. Ali, Lucan and Nolan knew there was only one thing they could do now. Someone might be in trouble, they thought, and we're the only ones that can help.

Simultaneously, they began to push through the tangled vegetation, running when possible. The tall wolf moved so fast he was nearly impossible to see. Only his outline taking long, elegant strides was visible against the full moon. Ali and Lucan ran side by side, following in his wake. Nolan was excellent at manoeuvring through the foliage. His height gave him the ability to find routes and passages that the low shrubbery and thorns concealed for his comrades. It took only mere moments and they were completely absorbed into the trees once again. The narrow, dry trees curved and bent together so that the 3 wolves could rarely see more than a few feet in front of themselves. In many places Nolan had to duck or Ali and Lucan had to hurdle over low, splintering limbs that were razor sharp. They could rarely move in a straight a line, and had to have their paws in front of their faces for protection. The wind would occasionally pick up now and again and the thinner branches would batter around like deadly maces. The floor was wet and slippery, and blemished with patches of nettles. It was tough going, almost as if the forest was trying to refuse them, but it did not stop them. Wolves are stubborn, very stubborn in fact, nothing could halt their progress. But whilst they pushed forward, never stopping, rarely speaking, they all began to consider the extent of their circumstances. The seeds of suspicion were planted, even if there was no room for them to grow in their minds. They would lay dormant for a time, and like weeds, only be rediscovered when they had grown to immense size. Too late to be dislodged.

As soon as they had set off, Nolan's eyes had darkened, losing all of their warmth. Only one thing was important now. He did not focus on anything else but the screaming and the direction it had come from. South. Already he had considered that this might have been an ambush. That fence should have been impassable, and if we could get in then so could others. All the more reason to hurry. Lucan, on the other hand, debated whether coming into the forest had been a sensible idea in the first place. Ali felt the same way, she was still upset that Nol' had forced a decision out of her, only for them to abandon it when Lucan could not continue. Doubt began to build in her mind, had they chosen wisely? Still, the slender wolf did not regret what was too late to change. In reality all of their speculation was little more than brief after thoughts which would never amount to any kind of action. Instead the adolescents continued into the supposedly empty forest, their naivety blinding what might lie ahead, and the dangers they may have to endure in the future. Even though Lucan was uncomfortable in the forest but could not explain why, even though Ali felt that entering the forest had been unwise, even though Nolan had considered that they may have been responding to a trap of some kind, not one of them paused. Ironically their overwhelming, instinctive curiosity was the instrument of their downfall. Their descent into a darkness, that was impossible to escape.

10 minutes later they unexpectedly arrived at the break, out of breath no less. Here it was as if the trees were repelled by some kind of invisible barrier, they just dropped away. However the young wolves did not see a field of lush, evenly cut grass as the officers before them had. Instead there was snow. Nothing else. It was a thick carpet 3 inches deep that was moulded to the uneven ground like hot plastic on a contoured mould. The flakes fell in small, densely populated flurries that decreased visibility significantly. It was hard to tell how far the white expanse continued for. Ali and Nolan looked around, but they saw no foot prints and smelt nothing out of the ordinary. There was no body in sight and no particular aroma tainting the clean air. Nol' continued to call out but no reply came. There was no question about it, they were alone. But beyond that, the field was quieter than rest of the forest they had seen thus far. It was as if there was something different in the air. Sound did not carry as far and became obscured, as if there was a membrane that separated the field from the forest. Here there were signs of maintenance, of care and commitment to this plot of land. Whereas the trees had been unkempt and overflowing immeasurably, the field had been touched by civilisation. A wooden-post fence, ready to crumble apart and long since abandoned but yet still standing, was evidence for this.

"I think it must have been a false alarm Ali, It doesn't look like anyone's been here in a while. But I was right about the clearing though."

She smiled mischievously, her eyes glinting merrily. "Just as a side note 'We were right and Ali was wrong'. You guys are so competitive sometimes." She spun on the spot and quickly flicked up one foot. Lucan turned around just in time to watch Nolan's smile disappear under a load of ice-cold snow. The dark wolf wiped the clumpy flakes off of his brow and smiled menacingly, making a fist with his paw.

"I'd run if I were you Ali. He doesn't look happy!" Lucan bellowed back.

Nolan's cheeks had gone red, and not just from the cold. Taking a deep breath, he took the joke in good humour. He was glad for the opportunity to dispel the previous unease caused by the screaming. By this point he had been reassured sufficiently that there was no danger in the immediate area. However, the tall wolf's eyes were still dark and cold, he was wary of the forest in its entirety, even if he did not declare it. Not wanting to alarm his friends, the observant wolf wished to appear completely relaxed even if he was not.

"Let's just keep moving. We need to stay warm." He said evenly, making sure that Lucan could hear him as well.

The ecstatic wolf did not hear him however; he was too busy enjoying the weather. Although the landscape in the forest was rather more hostile and barren than the town, it was uplifted by the incredible snow. It was the best the crimson wolf had ever seen. The flakes danced in front of the moon light, and split it into rays, all the colours of the rainbow. Unlike the grey and gritty sleet that seasonally fell onto the town streets, this precipitation was unaffected by industrialisation or pollution. When he was young, the short wolf had been convinced that it was ash it was so grey and dirty. Upon being told of the white, fluffy flakes that fell in the winters from before isolation, he had never stopped wishing to see them himself. For as long as it took them to reach the middle of the field, Lucan expelled the worries that had plagued his mind. No longer did he fret over the prospect that the temperature might continue to fall or that they may get lost in an unfamiliar territory. Instead he played like a puppy atop the frosty plains; the whiteness was so thick it was like a mattress. The field became his playground, and it was magnificent. For the most part, Ali and Nolan let him be. They could not blame their friend; Lucan had always been a wolf of high spirits. In many ways it was motivating to be around someone with the ability to bring so much positive energy to any scenario, no matter how dire.

Ali, though she felt relieved that the screams had been a false alarm, was not completely at rest. Now that she knew no one was in trouble, she could not help but criticise their impulsive decision to rush into the forest without a second thought. Now it seemed they were set on continuing inwards, across the field. And for what reason? I can't even remember which way we came in. If Nolan gets us lost again…Ali took a moment to remind herself that it was not Nol' who had brought them here. It had been a joint decision after all. But why keep going? Ali was just about to confer with the tall wolf about where they were going when, out of the snow, a building appeared in the near distance. The moonlight had penetrated the snow long enough to illuminate its shape. It guided her in even if the light wolf did not realise it. In the same way the old lighthouse had led ships home, it was their salvation. That was until, the light had gone out, and all the ships had fled. But Ali was too young to remember, that old story was lost to her.

Ali tugged at her friend's arm, pointing to the far left. "Look over there Nol', can you see a building?"

"Yes, it looks like a barn house or something." The taller wolf squinted through the relentless snow. An idea sparked his interest. " We could stay there overnight; its close enough." He said pointing and then turning to face Ali.

"Yeah, it'd be better than being out here exposed." She smiled at him, "It would be great fun Nol' I think we should do it!"

He nodded, "Let's tell Lucan then."

The wolf in question was still skipping happily through the snow, swinging his arms as he went. Lucan was having the time of his life. He ignored the cold and the snow that got in his eyes, it did not matter. But he also neglected to look where he was going, Why shouldn't he? Then suddenly his head slammed into the rock solid earth as his feet trailed up in the air. It was a miracle that the fall did not draw blood. Once a brief time had passed the short wolf recovered, his ears stopped ringing along enough for him to stand. Stepping carefully towards the solid mass sticking out of the snow, he was unsure what he might find. Looking down at the bulk of metal, his eyes opened wide with excitement. Lucan called his friends over enthusiastically. Nol' and Ali exchanged quizzical yet amused faces. The light wolf in particular rolled her eyes.

"Let's see what this is about." She mumbled.

But Ali's mind was still whirring frantically, more and more questions appeared before her that she could not dispel. Why is it so cold here compared to the damson bushes? How has it changed so much that I can just about see my breath now? We are more sheltered from the icy coastal winds but yet… is some other cold wind cooling the air? But where would it blow from? That was her first warning, but she ignored it. Unlike Daintry before her, she did not sense that something was terribly wrong with the field. However, another warning was on its way, and she could not ignore this one.

Ali and Nolan ran over to him, finding that the frozen precipitation made it fairly hard to move at any kind of fast speed. Their tails flapped behind them as they powered through the deepening snow. The wind was picking up, the adolescents concluded. Their ears were blown flat back on their heads and the skin around their muzzles flapped up as air collected in them. The shorter wolf started to speak again as they came into ear shot.

"I'm over more towards the left guys," He called. "This is really cool, Nol' you need to see this."

Their crunching feet silenced at the sight of the crimson wolf. They met an odd sight as their friend came into view. Ali was taken aback. Like a retriever's with the scent of a fox on its nose, he was budding with energy. In much the same way that a dog does not know any better or of the true consequences of its actions, Lucan did not quite consider how his demeanour would appear. Cradling some kind metal device, he beamed like a maniac. His excitement was unnerving, it spooked Ali. Now her brain was racing even faster, trying to join dots that were not existent. What is a machine like that doing this forest, buried 3 inches into the snow? No one's meant to be here, this place is uninhabited. It was a bizarre occurrence by any means.

"What is it?" Ali asked, honestly unsure of what the answer would be.

"It's a gun." Lucan responded plainly, surprised that someone as well-informed as Ali did not know.

"Whoa, carefully where you point that thing dude." Nolan said putting a large paw over the top of the sidearm and pointing it downwards. The crimson wolf hadn't stopped beaming. The dark wolf was not sure whether that was a good thing. It certainly made him feel uneasy either way. The weapon was probably harmless, inert, but even so… he reserved to make a judgement until later.

"It doesn't have a magazine or anything else that looks familiar. I'm not even sure it fires bullets. What do you think it is Nol'?"

The tall wolf sounded concerned but it was so dark that any expression on his face was hidden by the lack of light.

"I don't know what it is. It actually looks sorta new. But that would mean it couldn't have been here long."

"I'm not sure; it was just stuck there, under the snow. But I didn't have to pull it out of ground or anything like that."

A silence followed, Ali looked between the two of them, both met her gaze but neither spoke. Then she realised the significance of what they had said.

She asked carefully, "Do you think it's to do with that screaming we heard before?"

They both paused, long enough for her to think that they were about to say so. Then Nolan shook his head.

Lucan said, "We would have heard it if it was shot, it would be easy to hear even outside of the forest. We were too close for someone to use it without us realising."

If it even makes a noise when it fires. Nol' thought to himself.

Silence followed again as they thought on what they had found. As the wind picked up, Ali noticed something in the corner of her eye. It was a dark object some distance away that stirred with the air current. The entity loomed over a fence post at her 2 o'clock and swirled around with the wind as if it was not completely solid, not completely physical. Its sides appeared to catch the light, almost to the point where Ali thought that it must be made out of a different material all together. As the object continued to sway with the wind, Ali though that she saw a flash of red, like blood. The dark mass slowly began to fade into the medley of trees, the moon went behind a shadow and it completely disappeared from her vision for an instant. What is it? Her mind seized up, now the only thing that remained was questions. They flooded her synapses: How can it move like that? How can something so big sway like a tiny flower? ... Is it part of this world?No… it can't be… but then… What is it! ... Why is it here?Is it coming for me!? The light wolf froze in terror, and slowly rotated to face the entity completely.

Her pupils darted rapidly around the perimeters of her eye balls, and Ali started to make a low, uneasy tone. It was a guttural growl of absolute fear. Everything else lost focus except the entity, it was her chief concern now, her only concern. The dark, hulking mass was now all Ali could see, all she could hear or smell or feel. And it felt dead. It did not seem to breathe; it just stood posed, motionless. Yet to Ali there seemed to be an air of eagerness to the mass's sways and jerks. She could no longer hear Lucan or Nolan; they were beyond her narrowed scope. It was almost as if all of Ali's senses were experiencing a kind of tunnel vision at the same time. The feeling was nauseating. The young wolf no longer acknowledged the crisp coolness beneath her feet, or the charm of the moon and all its craters. It took a lot to pry a wolf away from the emotion attraction of the moon, to break the link that it held. But it was happening, Ali was becoming increasingly separated. Whatever it was the object did not transpose from the fence post, as if it was purposely surveying them from a distance. Would it make a move first? So that she could warn her friends and escape. Or maybe it would not pounce until she looked away; maybe she did not have time to warn Lucan or Nolan… Could they be saved? Maybe if she ran away now, she would be spared, if she left the forest and never came back. There was no one to share her thoughts with, no one to understand. Only Ali could experience this, the unhealthy feelings bubbled and expanded in her mind, making matters worse. Without outside guidance or interpretation, the light wolf could not tell right from wrong. She did not know what to think.

Ears twitching sideways spasmodically, Ali's tail swung back and forth slowly in anxiety. She saw it unwise to approach the entity but her natural impatience was consuming the ability to think logically. Finally, after what felt like forever and with the last of her senses, Ali committed herself. Not sure of what to do she made her decision. Again she worried that she was making a critical mistake. However the paralysed wolf felt that she no longer had a choice. Ali lifted one arm, extending a paw in an open gesture with her pads facing up. She no longer had a control of her movements, she was drawn to it, mesmerised by the power the emanating from its presence. The light wolf began to stride towards it and she picked up speed with every heartbeat. Her eyes were still wide with fear, but the rest of face revealed something new, acceptance. Her fate was calling, and Ali was ready to accept that fate, whatever it might be. And in that respect she was strong. Her extremities were shaking and her breathing was becoming increasingly shallower. She was so disconnected from the world around her it was as if the young wolf was in a box. Locked away where she could bear witness to her own actions, but where she could not stop herself, where she could not turn back. And the box was running out of air, she took another breath. If death did not come to her then then she would go to it. If Ali was to die, the she would die a wolf!

After about ten paces, Nolan took notice of her odd behaviour. He was instantly concerned.

"Where are you going Ali? We should be heading inside about now."

"Look." Was all she could muster. Her head, locked tight, was facing towards the object over by the wooden post. The guys look between themselves and made a silent agreement; they jumped through the snow to join their friend. The crimson wolf took one side of Ali and his tall counterpart the other, they were at her reserve. Lucan took one look at her face, at her eyes, and he saw the horror. He could smell it too; she reeked of it. She looked ready to bolt but yet she did not move away, as if she could not move away. Does she still have free will? Because I doubt it, the short wolf wondered. However Lucan knew that sometimes, the mass of emotions harboured within are way beyond control and so hard to supress that you just, stop responding. Otherwise you become overpowered by the very notion of a threat to the extent that it becomes worse than that actual hazard. Feelings can be so strong everything else falls away in comparison. Lucan had always found the implications of the real versus the metaphysical world intriguing, but he knew that it was hardly the time to consider such theorems. Back to Ali, he thought silently. The crimson wolf knew her state well from his own experiences, but he also understood that this was not the first time Ali had been so irrationally fearful. Nol' had made that much clear. Ali looked around as if the world was crumbling, because that was what it felt like, judgement day. Lucan was religious, but from what Nolan had told him, he understood that Ali was devout.

"Famine, War, Conquest, Death! You cannot escape the 4, you cannot survive the Apocalypse." There was that small voice again, how curious he thought to himself. But it seemed louder this time. The crimson wolf realised with a pang of unease in his stomach. That was, among other subtle differences that he did not notice at the time.

Lucan could understand that Ali was in no state to be convinced, nothing they could say would really have a lasting effect. Ali had to face whatever she was feeling herself; the conflicting messages to her brain were hers to deal with. The girl needed to find herself again. And yet, in spite of everything, she was still holding it together. He admired her strength, even if it was because she was so weak.

Nolan, on the other hand, saw the situation from a different perspective. He saw his friend in a daze, and in trouble. The temperature was dropping still, and even if Ali and Lucan did not realise, they were freezing over. The warmth was draining from their limbs, and frost bite would soon be upon them. Nolan could feel it in his paws; they did not have much more leeway. Ali needed to be snapped out of her trance, fast. And if anyone could, he was the wolf to do it.

"Ali, can you hear me? I can see that you need help, please just listen to me. There is nothing here that can harm us. I know nothing we have found makes sense, but only the cold can kill you here. We need to get inside now." He took hold of her paw, Ali pulled away quickly, but she did not avert her eyes.

He grabbed her paw again, holding her back. She turned angrily to him and it looked as if Ali was about to bite Nolan. She arched her back and took short breaths through her teeth, which were tightly clenched together. Then Lucan firmly placed a paw on her slight shoulder, clasping her with shaking digits. With all his might he pulled on Ali, twisting her body so that she was facing forward again.

"Look at it again Ali. Please, just look at it again." He spoke as intimately as he could. Filling his words to the brim with cooling serenity. It worked, her mind cleared as his softly spoken words illuminated the fog over her brain. Knowing that her friends were beside her, Ali turned around ready to face whatever stood ahead of them. "Once more unto the breach" as Lucan might quote. Now a new passion burnt in her eyes, one of defiance, and of survival. But not just her survival, instead? The survival of the pack, Lucan and Nol' needed to be alerted of the danger they were in, and it was Ali's responsibility to do it. She realised that now. The light wolf looked forwards and in a moment that stood still, and would stay with her forever, she saw the black overcoat, loosely wrapped around an old wooden fence post. Creases in it deep set and frozen stiff, tubes running along its lengths.

Only one tear fell from her eye. It was one of relieve, of anger and of joy. Not knowing how else to calm herself, Ali let everything flow forth. She collapsed to the ground in laughter once again. The other wolves looked across at each other. They were immensely relieved, and hence they joined in too. The tension collapsed as they became united again, Ali did not even feel embarrassed. It did not matter, for death was no longer close. The entity, the mass, the object, was nothing but a coat. But what was it doing here? And what were those tubes made out of? They did not look like any metal or fabric Ali knew of. That would make them very, very old and they did not look very, very old. They looked as if they had been barely used. Ali felt a pang in her stomach when she came to this conclusion. But she disregarded this idea, she was too happy for her mood to be overshadowed by a bit of cynical scepticism.

She took another few steps forward and grasped the coat from its wooden pedestal. Snapping it up in the air with a flick of her wrist, she let it fall around her body sleekly. The sleeves were soft and well padded. Her arms slid in with ease, and despite its rugged appearance, the overcoat was overly snug. Ali span around in delight, watching as the long sides flared up like a dress around her. However she noticed that it felt quite heavy, almost as if there was lead hidden in the lining.

"It's looks cute, you should keep it. If it keeps getting colder we could all use one before long." Nolan responded heartily, satisfied to see his friend at peace again.

"Yeah it's a good fit." Lucan replied hastily, preoccupied by the weather himself. He no longer wished to be outside; the snow was not awe inspiring, it was simply an annoyance.

Ali smiled at them and laughed again. Her face stretched as she beamed, her movements became more animated as her spirit returned. The light wolf did up the sturdy buttons as she spoke vibrantly.

"That's not a bad idea Nol', but I'm not sharing. I'd quite like to see how I look. It's been a long time since I've worn black." She remarked jokily. "Actually, I almost look like you Nolan." She continued. There was some truth in her observation. The coat was made for someone much taller than the light wolf and who had a longer neck. All that was visible over the thick collar was Ali's blue-banded eyes. Despite her upbeat mood, her eyes were still ravaged and hollow, Lucan was hardly surprised. Yet he decided that mentioning this would be an unwise decision.

Instead he added cheerfully, "With that gun in hand, I bet you'd almost look like a soldier."

Nolan's ears twitched slightly at the mention of soldiers; it awakened a sobering thought. "Maybe that explains why we've found these objects here. Why else would there be a strange coat with tubes on it and a gun which does not fire bullets? Who would even know how to get into the forest without intelligence or reconnaissance? What if these items are left-over from part of an operation?

What like a fancy dress operation?" Ali replied, thrilled with such an easy opportunity to tease Nolan.

It acted as revenge against the onslaught she had received from her own siblings. Being an only child, the tall wolf also enjoyed their playful clashes, even if they were sometimes in Ali's favour. However, on this occasion Lucan saw that Nolan was in no mood to be toyed with, so he swiftly intervened. The crimson wolf was getting cold and a full scale argument would not get them inside any faster.

"I think you're looking at it too literally Nol', also, I think that it might be a better idea to compare accessories inside and out of the cold."

In response the dark wolf and his lighter companion smiled simultaneously at Lucan, displaying all of their K-9s. He smirked back. Looking at his friends, he was struck by a moment of awe and nostalgia as the moon appeared from behind a cloud and caught the snow that was falling in a slow, zigzag pattern. Their ears just skimmed the tip of the moon's top edge. Silhouetted by the feeble light, all Lucan could see of his comrades through the haze was 2 sets of glinting teeth. Yet again he saw a brief flash of tranquillity of the forest, then the moment past as the lunar body disappeared behind the tree line again. The previous beauty faded with the light until only dark, hazy objects remained in view. Dead bark, blackened leaves and yellow, wiry grass. Instead of two noble comrades, he saw two muddy, freezing adolescents with matted fur and a look of fatigue in their eyes. Indicating the structure to his right the crimson wolf swivelled on the spot and marched through the ever thickening snow storm without saying a single word. Lucan waited for his friends to follow suit, and when they did, he continued to push on.

Trudging through the snow, he lifted his legs out of the fray with effort and then dropping them heavily back down in long strides. The snow had now reached 7 inches in depth, it had been increasing slowly as they had continued, creeping up on them. Looking down at his hand, Lucan scrapped his claw along the rusted battery he had found beneath the handgun. He held it tightly and returned it to his pocket, a token more of sentimental value than of monetary value he surmised. To Lucan, it was clear his friends had undergone enough today, keeping it secret from them would cause no harm. In fact if anything it would only prevent one more tiresome, and likely, heated conversation. However, at the same time the short wolf had already decided that the mysteries they had faced today needed to be answered. He would not be satisfied to leave the woodland until that was the case. As it turns out, that would take much longer than he expected. The most controversial mysteries of the night were only mere meters ahead. Harboured within an old, crumbling, stone and wooden building that had stood unmoved for over 50 years.