"Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them." -Samuel Butler, "Mind and Murder"
Chapter 1: The Calling
Rick Landon stood mesmerized before the Pyramid of the Moon as it rose from the feverish jungles. The monolithic Mayan structure was bathed in spotlights covering each terrace of the step pyramid, creating an eerie illumination that his mind could help but find intriguing. Power cables snaked descended from the top of the pyramid into the ground, traces of modernity sprouting upon a vestige of the past. He thought he saw a movement at the top of the structure, but quickly dismissed it as a trick of the mind. He reminded himself that a magnificent as the monument was, it had undoubtedly been the place of much death.
From deep within the structure came a reverberation, a low and loud noise that beckoned for him to come closer. His head rung with pangs of familiarity as he felt the temptation to climb down from the hill he stood on and further approach the ancient ruins of Upal. During the day, he could clearly see the nearby Upal River and entire city from his vantage point. At night, the desire to investigate the city was exponentially intensified. A primal, magnetic urge called at him down the ancient boulevards and silent statues. Wary and excited, he descended through the foliage between him and a row of timeworn structures.
As he descended deeper under the canopy, Rick paused for a moment to wring the worn white shirt under his brown leather vest. Nighttime in the jungle was far cooler than he anticipated it would be, with the miasmic humidity clinging to every pore in his skin. He ran his hands through his disheveled brown hair as beads of sweat cascaded down the side of his head. His lanky frame shivered for a moment in the cool tropical air as he turned his attention skywards.
The silver light of a full-moon filtered through the canopy as Rick beheld the primordial sights of the nocturnal rainforest. In a distant tree, golden eyes briefly reflected the moonlight before vanishing into the darkness. As he tramped deeper through the underbrush, the calls of insects and peculiar animals ceased as he intruded upon their territory. Dark shapes flitted at the edge of his vision, reminding him how far out of his element he was. He was a long way from Ohio.
A sense of excitement and even wistful fulfillment increased with every step. As he drew closer, even the cursory hundred meters seemed an intolerably long trek. The distance between the outskirts of the city and crest of the hill seemed much shorter during the day, but Rick could only feel the pressing urgency of reaching the center of the dead city. Forsaking caution, he forcefully smashed and forced his way through the jungle. Unwilling to return to the car to retrieve his machete, he hypnotically continued onwards towards his ultimate destination.
Rick stopped dead in his tracks in front of an archaic stone wall. It was neither the rapid skittering of something running through the underbrush, nor the reflection of moonbeams in the eyes of a distant predator that drove him to halt. Instead, he merely glanced over the mural carved upon the stele before him. His own mind struggled to make sense with what he was seeing.
The figures hewn into the stonework centuries ago seemed to organically writhe and shift in the moonlight. Something about them resonated with Rick's own mind, an instinctual connection beyond his sense of rationality. A stylized, but still identifiable, pyramid dominated the center of the base relief. Beside it, spear-toting soldiers engaged in battle with what he first presumed were jaguar-men. Iconography of smoke and fire dominated the background, and he simply stood entranced for a long period of time.
His reverie was only broken when something massive climbed upon the crumbling wall. A howl echoed throughout the tenebrous darkness, a simultaneously like and unlike any lupine call that Rick had ever heard. His heart raced and sweat poured down his face as he searched for the creature. Silver silvers of moonlight reflected upon snow-white fur as it vanished behind the wall. For all his fear, Rick knew exactly what the beast had issued: a challenge.
Rick grit his teeth as he prepared to accept it. He did not carry any weapons because he carried something far more potent within himself. He had fled his family in the chaos and confusion after his first transformation, only to find himself drawn inexplicably towards the Central American country of Montoya. He shouted back as his own body underwent a transformation that never ceased to unnerve and frighten him.
It always started with a pain in the base of his neck that descended to the base of his spine. Muscles tensed as his own anatomy shifted and jerked in ways nature never intended. Tissues were catabolically consumed and converted into newfound muscle. His nervous system twisted and torqued itself like an angry serpent, adjusting to coordinate the newborn body that emerged from his human form. A mightier heart raced as veins and arteries surged with the power of a raging river, delivering sustenance through a newly reformed circulatory system. While nescient of the specifics, he knew that he became far mightier than the puny human he once was.
The changes were not only internal. Rick had recalled how painful and terrifying his first transformation had been, but this one was reassuring in his own power. Hair emerged from his face and hands, turning him from a clean shaven tourist into a hirsute killing machine. Sharper teeth dropped into his mouth, better suited to a carnivorous diet of fresh meat. His long and bony hands transformed into massive talons, his fingers elongating into claws that still retained a faint human form to them. His vision transformed in a kaleidoscope of shifting colors into ones that made darkness into the clearest daylight. He had traveled across a continent to arrive here, and would not let this intruder stymie him when he was so close.
Despite the initial surge of overconfidence, Rick had barely finished his transformation when he found himself flying off the ground. Before he registered what had happened, he slammed into a hard, stone surface his instinct identified as the mural he had been mesmerized by just moments ago. Stone splintered and cracked as his body was driven into the ancient artwork. Despite the pain, Rick was able to see his adversary's position.
The White Wolf growled and charged towards him, likely intending to finish what he had started. Rick stood upright and reached out with his massive claws, intending to intercept his foe like a linebacker. The White Wolf ripped through the foliage like a knife through paper, building momentum as he closed the distance for a final blow. Rick had already decided on his movements as the enemy closed in.
Just as the White Wolf was where Rick wanted him, he darted sideways into the dense undergrowth. Rick momentarily heard the crashing of something massive through the jungle, but it sounded as though it was moving randomly. For a moment, his mind relaxed, but his instinct correctly suspected something was amiss.
His gut feelings were proven right a second later, when the White Wolf leapt out of the brush to his side. The enemy werewolf pinned him to the ground with vice-like grip around his legs. The albino creature snapped and lashed at him with his teeth, filling Rick's vision with the manic contrast of brown and white fur. Warm blood splashed onto his face, and Rick immediately knew it was his own. His heart pounded faster as a line of his own blood slashed across the White Wolf's face.
Rick flew into a blind rage, summoning a hideous strength born of pure survival instinct. He kicked wildly and powerfully, lashing out with his legs like bullwhips. The White Wolf temporarily loosened his grip, and brought his foot crashing down on Rick's chest. Luckily, he had rolled to the side just in time, and the massive leg landed just beside him. For a moment, he noticed the albino lycanthrope wore a pair of tattered black pants.
He did not care about the person underneath the crimson splattered snowy fur any more than as a threat to be neutralized. Realizing the jungle was not his ideal hunting grounds, Rick's rage waned into a panicked flight response. He took the opportunity to recover and sprint as fast as he could through the underbrush, allowing a mad adrenaline rush to drag him towards the hill he had originated from. He frantically hurtled low-handing branches and boulders, with the snapping of the White Wolf's jaws close behind him.
Upon reaching the edge of the jungle, Rick forced himself up the hill before turning to look behind him. He felt slightly faint, from the blood that he had undoubtedly lost during his frenetic dash. The adrenaline that had delivered him from certain death on the jungle floor was wearing off, as even superhuman endurance could be depleted. Behind him, the White Wolf was charging on all fours. Cursing his enemy's seemingly infinite stamina, he sought his final option.
The Upal River below was a ribbon of abject darkness nearly half a mile wide. Emptying from the limestone caverns that ran under the land, it coursed out to the Gulf of Mexico with several settlements along its banks. Behind him, certain death approached him. In a simultaneous moment of inspiration and desperation, Rick used his last bit of stamina to launch himself off the hillside and dive into the waters below.
Hoping he would not hit a shallow bottom, he turned for one quick glance at his pursuer. The White Wolf no longer darted on all fours, but instead stood erect on the hilltop. Rick could not make out any details on his face, but there was thing that drew his frazzled attention. The White Wolf slightly lowered his head, as if to apologize. That was the last thing Rick noticed before the cold waters embraced him and the darkness welcomed him.