By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 31 - Running Wild
Somewhere in the Reaching Woods, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, midnight
A brisk could wind blows through the wood rattling the branches. Looking up Selûne shines brightly in a clear sky, her tears clearly visible with the naked eye. Getting up Immerine looks around. The terrain is unfamiliar. Why do the trees seem larger then before? This is not where she should be. It smells different. …Smells? Immerine looks around for the wounded soldier and the pair of horses.
Immerine finds herself on a small wooded knoll in a forest. No horses are in sight, or within smelling range. Neither are the lieutenant or Cyrysta and her companions. As Immerine looks down at herself, she discovers that she is on all fours. Not hands and knees, but fur covered paws. Paws like those of a large dog… or a large wolf. Turning her head she sees her hindquarters and a tail.
Feeling a bit odd Immerine takes a few steps and focuses on her ‘new’ body. She sits down after a few moments and tries to organize her swirling thoughts. The thought that comes easiest to mind is a question, “How?“ Immerine takes a few tentative sniffs at the air and relishes the odors.
The immediate surroundings smell like a forest in autumn. The somewhat sour smell of decay, the smell of frost and snow on the breeze. All familiar smells, yet so much stronger, distinct and clearer. Carried on the breeze she smells something else a smell she subconsciously associates with… prey? Small prey: the kind that hides in holes in the ground. And further off something else, large prey. Fleet footed prey. Twisting her ears… ‘Can I do that?’… She tries to detect the prey moving.
Immerine’s ears swivel in their pursuit of sound. Thinking she detects what she searches for she ‘smiles’ and her breath puffs on the air. Silently she stands and pads off looking for her prey. There is some rustling of leaves down the knoll, slightly into the wind. ‘Sniff, sniff’, seems that’s the right way. Quietly padding her way down the knoll, Immerine makes her way carefully down slope. There, a little further. Movement! Stalking closer and closer she seems to have the full advantage of surprise. Yet suddenly a bird flies up from the tree she’s passing under, startling the prey. The head lifts up frown the browsing activity and two large brown eyes scan the surroundings.
Immerine freezes in place with one fore paw scant inches above the ground and poised for her next step. Her ears swivel searching for any other disturbances and her eyes follow the movement of her prey. The animal, a deer Immerine realizes, moves away a few paces. The large eyes scanning around once more before she lowers her head to browse some more. Remaining frozen a few more moments, Immerine finally moves in when things return to normal. She moves as close as she can before charging the deer hoping to latch about its neck and the soft skin surrounding the jugular vein.
Time seems to go slow as Immerine stretches forth to spring into a charge. As if in slow motion her paws hit the ground to give her a powerful surge forward. The cold air rushes past her muzzle, each detail of smell clear to her senses. The deer seems to slowly raise its head towards Immerine. A ripple courses through the animal’s skin as muscles under the brown skin contract. The slender legs leap into the air and the deer comes in motion.
All of a sudden time seems to run its normal course again, and Immerine is in hot pursuit of the fleeing prey. Darting downhill through the light underbrush, skirting trees, the deer tries to shake of the pursuing predator. Lightly the deer jumps a small stream, its cold water glimmering in the moonlight. Immerine jumps across in a powerful jump and lands on the other bank, immediately transferring the energy into forward motion again. The chase is still on.
On and on the hunter and its prey race through the forest, wisps of mist float among the trees, obscuring vision at times, but sound and smell are enough to guide the hunter along. The chase sends waves of exhilaration through Immerine. Powerful waves of a primal nature fill her senses. Though hungry, Immerine the wolf has plenty energy to chase the deer, and she is confident she will win the race. Dodging low branches, Immerine sees the deer is tiring. A matter of mere moments now before she will feel her canines sink into the soft flesh and taste the hot blood of the kill.
The chase is wearing down the prey. Movements become less graceful, and the whites of the eyes enhance the panic the deer feels. It knows time is up. And then the deer seals its own fortune. Stumbling over a raised tree-root, an audible crack is clear to Immerine’s ears. The prey won’t run no more. One of its legs broken, the deer tries to stand in a last effort to save her life, yet it is too late. She can already feel the breath of the predator in her neck.
Immerine lunges at her prey. Primal instincts taking over as she clamps her mighty jaws around the neck of the deer. She holds on tightly bearing down with more and more pressure every second. The hot rush of jugular blood excites her and increases her hunger. She clings to the deer until she feels its last life-beat flee its body.
Once the deed is over the wolf releases its grip to move to the belly and feast on the rich innards of the prey. The wolf greedily tears into the soft abdomen of the fallen deer. Baring her fangs she dips her muzzle greedily into steaming pile of innards and plucking the choicest morsels for her dinner. She feasts until gorged then sits back on her haunches and tilts her head to the sky sending a powerful, mournful wail into the sky above. She then walks several paces from the corpse and begins the process of delicately cleaning herself of the blood on her dainty muzzle.
Further off she hears another wolf howling, announcing himself to the world. Without a second though Immerine finds she knows it’s a male. The sound of the voice changes, he is calling, calling for someone. Would that be her? Immerine’s ears prick toward the sound and her nostrils flare. She finishes cleaning herself and hides her kill marking the area so she can return. Intrigued by the sound of another wolf she trots off to seek out the intruder.
Listening and smelling the area for the other wolf, Immerine detects nothing. The male must have been further of, the wind carrying the call. Sitting back on her haunches, Immerine raises her head to the sky a lets out a long howl, the sound penetrating through the forest into the moonlit night, carrying a feeling of sadness, loneliness and a strange longing. As the last note of her howl dies away into the night, she hears the male calling out again, this time closer then before. From the ridge where se sat down Immerine looks across the shallow valley. There, on the other side high up that barren hilltop, clearly outlined in the Selûne’s light she sees the male wolf, his howl echoing the loneliness.
Her eyes glitter in the moonlight as she watches him silently. Immerine howls once more and ends it with a yipping bark. She cocks her head to see what the other wolf does. The male-wolf’s head seems to swivel toward her. Then his outline disappears from the hilltop. Several moments later, he calls out for her, a playful bark, which seems to come from the slope. Somewhere downhill from his former perch, the bark seems to invite Immerine in a game of hide and seek.
Immerine ‘smiles’ and her tongue lolling out in a brief pant. She yips and calls a few more times before leaping down the hill from her perch. She relishes the feel of the wind in her fur as she charges down the hill and the feeling of fullness in her spirit as she runs to play.
The two wolves run through the nightly forest, frequently alternating between hunter and hunted. The male is a large wolf, similar in size to Immerine. A silvery streak runs across his left flank to the tip of his tail, like a vein of silver in the earth, or a river at night seen from above. He is well built and strong, sleek and powerfully muscled he darts through the trees, exchanging playful bites with Immerine.
Immerine stretches her strides flying along the ground. She dashes across his path and turns abruptly into the trees disappearing into the underbrush. She flexes her legs and stops quickly. Then silently darts into the underbrush waiting for him to appear.
Mere moments after Immerine darted in the brush to lie in wait, the he-wolf rushes on the path she just vacated. Immerine jumps out as the he-wolf passes her by. She nips at his flank and yips in excitement. Then she butts into him head first before turning in a circle to get a look at him.
Rolling with the butt, the he-wolf scrambles quickly back to his feet, shaking his body to divest his fur of twigs and leaves. His yellow eyes stare back at Immerine, his mouth slightly open; tongue lolling a bit to cool down. His broad chest heaves pumping fresh air into his powerful lungs. Some of the silvery hair form his left flank is repeated near his right eye, almost creating the effect as if he is winking with his left one.
Immerine sits and sweeps her tail around her like the train of an elegant gown. She pants and cocks her head looking at the he-wolf. She yips excitedly at him a couple of times before walking off then coming back. She tries to get him to follow her.
He barks back at her in a low and soft tone and, tail wagging, follows Immerine. With a few powerful strides he is beside her and playfully nips at her ears. Almost forcing her to veer of her course. Deftly avoiding an expected counter attack he jumps forward and races a few strides ahead of her before turning around. The two yellow eyes gazing into the emerald ones. Playing the game along Immerine subtly guides the male to where she left her fresh catch.
Immerine tugs the deer carcass from its hiding place and drops it before the male. Then steps away to let him feed in peace. While he eats, she remains alert for danger, her ears swiveling and her nostrils flaring. The male wolf thankfully snacks on the deer carcass for a while. When finished he moves over to where Immerine is standing and sits down to lick his muzzle clean. Having finished his grooming task he stands up and moves closer to Immerine, bumping his shoulder against hers and nipping playfully at her ear.
Immerine cocks her head at the he-wolf and jumps to the side as he nips at her. She lowers her front quarters to the ground and woofs softly. Then she jumps at him and yips playfully. He lowers himself on his forepaws as well, cocks his head and looks at her, mirth shining in his eyes. Suddenly he jumps at her and uses his weight to roll her over while playfully biting in her haunches. Rolling with the movement so both of them, more or less entangled, roll through the dead leaves and branches.
Immerine yips in surprise and tries righting herself only to wind up on the bottom of the wolf pile. She shakes her head, looks up at the he-wolf and licks his muzzle. When she tries wriggling out from under him to sit on her haunches, the male wolf softly bites in her throat and lets himself roll over. Lying on his back, tail wagging, his yellow eyes gaze once more into Immerine’s emerald ones. Immerine stares back and she lifts a paw to start grooming herself calmly. Once finished she stands and shakes herself while wagging her tail and yipping at the male. She paws at him a couple times before sitting down again.
Rolling over, the he-wolf comes back on all fours, and starts walking in a northerly direction. Wagging his tail and looking over his shoulder he seems to invite Immerine to follow. Cocking her head, Immerine gets up and trots after the male wolf. Once he is satisfied Immerine is following, the silver-striped male increases the pace, and before long the pair is running again through the woods. Curious as to where her new friend is leading her, Immerine follows and keeps pace with the large male.
The race takes them through the forest and into open space. Above, the starlit sky has made place for a gray-darkness. White flakes fall down rapidly from above, and are driven over the open space by a strong wind, almost storm-strength. In the distance Immerine notices man-made lights penetrating the snow infrequently. Something in the back of her mind remembers that once she has been there, walked among those lights.
Suddenly Immerine smells something on the wind. A strange sweet smell, mixed with the smell of man. Immerine follows the male. When she catches the scent her nostrils flare and she whines softly. Her friend stops to turn around at the sound of Immerine’s soft whine and looks at her, head cocked in curiosity.
Immerine continues walking towards the male, the soft whine still in her throat as she tries to identify the sweet scent. She walks over to him and lays her head across his shoulders. Seeing Immerine sniff the air, her friend does the same, a low growl emanating from his throat. Immerine in the mean time feels something familiar about the smell of man. Something she smelled before, in what seems another life. While still resting her head, her ears flick forward and she sniffs again. She tries to struggle with her thoughts and call up what this strangely familiar odor is.
The man-smell evokes a mixed, complex feeling within Immerine. A feeling of frustration and impatience as well as something else… Unbidden an image comes to mind; Immerine walking with a two-legged through a forest in the man-place. And a scary feeling of being in the close environs of a large man made cave. Together with the familiar two-legged, and another two-legged, a female.
As if her friend sense unease with his partner, he growls once more to the darkness and turns his head sideways, giving a reassuring lick across Immerine’s flank. Immerine licks her new friend in return and steps forward again towards the scent. Memories, faint as they are, are compelling her to continue forward. Her eyes are alert and her ears are fully forward. Her head moves from side to side to aid in catching the slightest scent.
Now following Immerine in turn, the he-wolf sniffs the air, trying to catch the scent which Immerine detected. The pair move further into the snow, the wind blowing the white flakes into their faces, yet their fur keeps them warm. The snow is already collecting in a couple of snowdrifts. Winter has arrived in full force; even now the temperature is dropping further. Enduring the elements, Immerine is able to pick up the scent again. There, up ahead, that mound of snow. That’s where the smell is coming from.
Immerine bounds forward whining softly and she begins digging at the mound. Her partner remains behind, sitting down on his haunches as Immerine scratches the snow away with her paws. The layer of snow isn’t very thick, and soon Immerine feels something soft and yielding under her paws. It looks like a two-legged. Once some more of the man is visible, the he-wolf comes over, and cautiously sniffs at the snow-covered man. A small cloud of breath comes from two-leg’s nose, he seems to be breathing, though shallowly.
Whining even louder Immerine sniffs the two-leg before clearing more snow away. Then she returns to his face and licks him gently. The man doesn’t seem to react, not a muscle flinches as Immerine’s tongue licks his face. It seems the cold has numbed the man almost to death. Seeing that the two-legged has Immerine’s full attention, and apparently doesn’t pose a threat, the he-wolf grabs the half-dead man by his shoulder and begins to pull him from the snow.
Immerine looks for shelter and only sees the man-made lights. Looking at the prone two-leg she grabs him by the other shoulder and helps drag him free from the snow. She whines and tugs towards the lights intent on dragging him to the safety of the man lights. A little hesitant at first, but reassured by Immerine’s urging her partner helps dragging the prone form towards the dwellings of the two-legged.
Struggling with their load, the two wolves slowly make their way through the snowstorm towards the high walls and the lights. Panting with the exertion, both drop wolves their load carefully when they are in sight of the opening to the dwellings. On top of the high walls a flickering light is moving at a steady pace through the near blinding snow.
Immerine releases the two-leg gently and yips to her partner. He lets go of the prone two-legs and looks at Immerine, head slightly cocked as if wondering what she means. Immerine looks up at the walls and back at the he-wolf. Standing over the two-leg she yips at the wolf again. A little unsure as to what she means, he moves back a few paces but remains standing. Not satisfied, Immerine snarls and raises her hackles at him. He backs of another few paces his tail drooping a little. Yet he is still not out of range and Immerine charges at him baring her teeth and snarling. Having seen enough the he snarls back at her once and retreats into the snowstorm, tail between his legs, looking back only once. Deeming that he has retreated to a safe distance, Immerine lies next to the two-leg and howls loudly to attract attention. It takes but a few moments, and the flickering light on top of the wall comes to a halt. Immerine howls again, and the light moves a little her way, followed by shouting.
On top of the wall some more flickering lights appear, and Immerine can see the light reflect on blinking surfaces. Suddenly a shaft of wood embeds itself in the snow, close to where she lies. Soon followed by another three shafts. Immerine does not move, but continues to howl as loudly as she can. More shafts land near her in the snow, one grazing her flank and drawing blood. Then she sees the opening to the dwelling of the two-legged open, and a pack of them emerge from the opening, carrying more of the flickering lights. Yelling and making a lot of noise the pack approaches rapidly but warily, wielding wooden shafts with gleaming tips.
Immerine noses the two-leg she lies next to and yips at the pack of two-legs. She remains prone and non-threatening, despite her instincts to run. The front members of the pack approach more cautiously now. One of them carries a strange piece of wood, which he lifts in front of him.
Suddenly time seems to freeze. Across the distance between the man and Immerine, she peers into his brown eyes and detects a pang of regret as he returns the gaze into her emerald eyes. Slowly the two-legs lifts the piece of wood a little higher and peers over it. Immerine can clearly hear a metallic click and the twang of something springing. Then something seems to disconnect from the wood and fly straight for Immerine. Behind the wood, the two-legs blinks once with his eyes as the small piece closes the distance fast between them. Immerine’s instincts seem to take over in the last moment, but too late.
As Immerine rises and tries to jump away from the still approaching pack, the small flying piece of wood and metal hits her in the flank and buries itself deeply in her flesh. Blood flows from the wound coloring the white snow dark in the flickering light of the pack. Intense pain shoots through Immerine’s body before her world goes black. Just before she looses consciousness she hears a lonely howl further of in the distance, a howl of sorrow and loneliness.
Immerine flinches from the projectile and tries to bolt. As it hits she cries out in pain and rolls from the impact. She tries to rise again but cannot. She whimpers softly and drags herself to the man she is guarding. She softly licks his face once more before lying her head on his arm and giving up to the blackness closing in around her.
Strangely Immerine retains some sort of awareness. As if floating outside the wolf-body, she feels more her human self again, yet realizes something weird has happened to her. Looking at the scene unfolding before her, she sees the men, Berduskan guards, approach Matteo and the wolf corpse. Suddenly someone emerging from the snowstorm attracts their attention. Her thin shift flying in the wind and the white wolf at her side Cyrysta walks up to the men gesturing angrily at the wolf-corpse. The men seem rebuffed by the woman, and shamefully retract respectfully.
Apparently the men made some stupid move as Cyrysta slams her hand against her forehead in exasperation. She yells something at the men and quickly two of them appear and carefully lift Matteo’s body out of the snow and carry him toward the gate. The other men bow their heads respectfully to the woman and return through the gate as well, closing the massive doors behind them. Cyrysta shakes her head at the closing doors and walks over to the wolf-corpse, gently lifting it up.
It is then that Immerine hears a voice beside her. Immerine continues watching the scene below her but listens to the voice. A voice that sounds so perfect and melodious that Immerine can do naught but look around to see where the voice is coming from. Looking about, the view Immerine had been looking at fades away into nothingness. The whole scene is replaced by a bleak landscape with no distinguishable features. Everything seems bleak and gray, the land the sky. It is impossible to tell where the two meet. The only thing that stands out in the distance is what appears to be a city of sorts, with a single tower that rises high into the colorless sky.
Immerine frantically looks around, “No! I have to know …“ She stops as she sees a ‘man’.
The man, a term that seems inadequately to describe the person next to her, but no other word comes to mind, is dressed in a hunter’s outfit. He has a noble bearing and his clothes though suited for outdoor life are in pristine condition. An exquisitely looking longbow in his hands, he is further armed with a sword that hangs from his right hip. The pommel shaped in the form of a unicorn.
Looking up at the man again, Immerine looks into the perfect smile, and she strangely feels at ease. “Immerine Adonamere, daughter of the forest and child of Faleira and Morcock. You are not supposed to be here yet.“ Though the man’s face remains pleasant, the tone of his voice is serious and to Immerine’s senses even a little reproaching.
Immerine’s eyes glint with realization, “It was real. I could not leave him. The choice was difficult.“ She looks around. “I am glad I am not supposed to be here yet. But the fact remains that I am.“ She bows to the man. “Not that I should be asking… but I will anyway, what happens now?“
Looking back to the man she decides she may as well throw caution to the wind. “So, if it was real… and I was a wolf, I am now dead. If I am dead and I am not supposed to be here yet, something has gone wrong. Things like this don’t happen unless there is something wrong in the balance.“ Immerine’s eyes flicker to his face a worried look on her own.
“It goes beyond the mortal realm, doesn’t it?“ She is pale as she asks the question. She scrunches her mouth into a tight rosebud as she continues reasoning things out, whether they are true or not does not matter to her at the moment as she is trying to retain sanity. “How was I a wolf?“ She blurts out. “Oh the choice, so… hard. If not for him, even in the state I was in I could remember shadows of memory of the time we spent together. Why was I a wolf? I understand them, I always have… ever since I was a child.“
“If I am not supposed to be here, then… can you send me back? Please? Can you? What will it take? What is the cost-I will gladly pay. Poor Qwenta will be lost and he will just get in trouble again and then there is the darkness I feel. It must be stopped. Please, please send me back.“ Without realizing it she has dropped to her knees and is begging the man to send her back.
“Life is all about choices.“ The man answers, “Judge not the choices or those who make them, but learn from what followed. The knowledge gained in such a manner will aid you in new situations.“ The smile on the man’s face deepens as he reaches out and rests his hand on Immerine’s shoulder. “I understand that you have many questions young one, but it is not to me to answer them. You will have to find out yourself.“ He moves his hand from her shoulder and puts it on Immerine’s side and she feels an agonizing pain lance through her body, blurring her vision and causing her to howl in pain, a wolf’s howl.
“Shush!“ A woman’s voice enters the fog of pain that clouds her mind. “I have to remove the bolt if I want to get you on your feet again. And yes that is going to hurt. Now lie still!“ The voice sounds vaguely familiar and somehow soothing. Again pain lances briefly through her limbs as the woman pulls the bolt from her flank.
Immerine starts panting as her heart races, a soft whimper is all the noise she makes until the woman gives the final tug at the bolt. Without meaning to, Immerine growls softly at the final pain before turning to lick the wound. Once the wound is cleaned to her satisfaction she whimpers at the woman and yips a couple of times in thanks.
“Yes, yes, you’re welcome wild one.“ The woman smiles at the she-wolf, “Be glad your friend howled so loudly, otherwise I might have come too late.“ Reaching into a pouch at her hips, the woman pulls forth some sharp-smelling herbs and sprinkles them on the wound. “This is going to itch, and if you try licking it, you’ll feel sorry. But it is for your own good.“
Once the woman is finished, she stands up and looks at Immerine. “You’ve come a long way, and have still far to travel my dear. I hope the next time we meet you won’t be in such a sorry shape. This is now the second time.“ Shaking her head softly the woman steps away her hand reaching out to the large white wolf that had been sitting quietly at the edge of the clearing, and ruffling the fur on its head affectionately. “The gods weave in strange patterns…“ She mumbles retreating in the snow covered forest. The last Immerine hears is her voice speaking to someone else. “Yes my fierce one, you can see her now. She’s going to be all right.“
The clearing in which Immerine finds herself is covered in a layer of snow, which keeps growing with the continuous flow of flakes from the sky. Though she can hear the wind blowing, the trees shelter her from the worst of the storm. The sound of a twig snapping makes Immerine swivel her head in that direction. Standing between the trees is the he-wolf. His head cocked a little, his yellow eyes look pained.
Immerine moves a bit too fast and tries to clamber to her feet and doesn’t make it. She winds up nose down in the snow. She sneezes most of the flakes away and whines at her clumsiness. Her emerald eyes watch the he-wolf and she yips at him weakly, inviting him into the clearing. She shakes her head at him and looks as sorry as a wolf can be.
Slowly his tail rises and starts wagging a little as he moves cautiously into the clearing. Carefully approaching Immerine, he licks her muzzle once before sitting back on his haunches. Tail switching back and forth slowly.
Immerine lies down with her head between her paws, her tail wagging slowly. She raises her head and turns it to the side to look at the he-wolf. She yips softly at him and wags her tail some more then lays her head down again. Getting up from his sitting position her friend lowers his head to Immerine’s and gives a low ‘woof’. Nudging her with his muzzle he tries to get Immerine to stand up.
Immerine whines softly but struggles up. She holds the leg near the wounded flank a bit in the air. She wags her tail and almost falls over again until she gets used to balancing on three legs. Once she does, she yips at her friend again. Nudging her gently again in support, he gives another low ‘woof’ in response to her yip. His tail is wagging happily again and as he takes a few steps towards the forest. He looks back at Immerine to see if she follows.
Immerine follows at a slow limping pace. She tries lowering her leg now and again and winces at the jolting pain, but it seems to lessen each time. She woofs slightly to let her friend know she is following. Carefully the two wolfs make their way through the quiet forest. Their breathing forming small clouds that drift away slowly in the frosty air and fade into nothingness. The snow dampens all sounds, the only things the two hear are their own paws crunching the snow lightly wherever they step and the occasional load of snow that drops from an overloaded branch. The large old trees creak a little in the storm, but these ancient ones have seen worse. Sheltering the forest floor form the brunt of the season, the majestic trunks will weather the winter and provide shelter for another year.
Her friend leads her on and on. Immerine has no clue as to where she is or where he is leading her, when finally at the bas of a rocky hill he stops. Turning his head around to Immerine, his yellow eyes stare at her for a couple of heartbeats. He yips once and then points his nose to a shadowy region between the rocks.
Immerine pants heavily as she walks forward. Seeing the shelter she rubs her head on the he-wolf’s shoulder and licks him on the muzzle. Her eyes are grateful and she pads into the area. She turns around three times before gratefully lying down. She yawns mightily and yips softly for the he-wolf to come and lay down too.
Following his friend into the rocky shelter, the he-wolf sniffs, inhaling Immerine’s scent before rolling up beside her. The warmth of his body is soothing to Immerine, and before long both wolves fall asleep. Outside the winter continues. In a steady flow the snow falls down covering the forest in a blanket of pristine white, icy down.
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