By Rachel Marks
In Case You Haven't Read PART ONE go HERE
I run through the brambles, thirty yards, past patches of blood, following the red streaks in the snow, and come the stump of a burned-out tree. I catch-up to the source laying over a bed of black ash, and—
It’s not a wolf’s body. Not a wolf at all.
It’s a man. Naked. Trying to pull himself into the hole of the tree stump.
My mind registers details so strange, I wonder suddenly if I’m still in bed, curled in my dream-quilt, playing out a wish in sleep. A wish to find my wolf, a wish that’s turned twisted and wrong.
He’s choking, gasping, blood running from the wound in his shoulder. The flesh there is torn in a jagged gash, the arrow is lying beside his hand, like he’s just torn it out. There’s markings all down his back in a green and blue pattern that look similar to the weaving that wards against storms.
I step back. Close my eyes. Open them again.
He’s still there.
He’s whispering through the choking, a strange language. He grasps one of the large roots of the tree, and pulls himself forward. I hear, “Please,” in all the muttering, and then he coughs, spraying out a mouth-full of blood.
He’s not human, though. He may look it, but he’s not. His hair is too clean, too golden like the sun. His skin is pale as the moon goddess herself with markings of spells coloring him in the strangest places. And his ears. Humans’ ears aren’t shaped to a point at the tip like that.
I stumble back, knock into a tree, get my bow tangled in the brambles.
“Please,” he says again. And his eyes meet mine. A golden promise of horror. They lock me in, like a giant’s fist. “Come closer,” he pleads. A genuine asking in his voice, desperation and pain.
And I should nock another arrow, strike him through the chest, in one of those golden eyes. I should run.
But nothing in my head can make my hands move to grab a weapon, or make my feet whisk me back to safety.
I’m stuck. Terror rises in me, swift as a storm. He’s golden, just like the stories.
...just like the sun.
“Come closer,” he says with more authority.
I step closer.
Bile rises in my throat. “No,” I grind through my teeth. But my body isn’t listening, it’s only able to obey him.
“Closer,” he hisses. Blood is now running over his shoulder, down his arm, and pooling in the snow between his fingers. “Just one small task and I’ll leave you in peace.”
I have no idea what he means. I have no idea what’s happening to me—will I be whisked off to the Hidden Places, like Jimmi? Am I to be the toy of spirits, tormented and held captive between life and death until I plead for the later?
My will battles with his, and my insides become a tug of war. He’s stronger, so much stronger than I could’ve ever imagined. Control belongs to him, over my body, my limbs, as they betray me, taking me to his side, forcing me to kneel at the head of a beast.
I clench my jaw, hold in a cry of rage, and feel tears freeze to my cheeks. “I’ll gut you if you touch me,” I say.
He rises a little, coming up to meet me, so close, his misty breath brushes at my cheek. “You shouldn’t have tried to kill me, little bird. It may have lead you to a new path, one you won’t cherish.”
His hand rises and he touches his finger to my temple, beside my eye. A caress, light and delicate, sending a shiver over my skin, my body being coated with his power. It spreads, growing warmer, the shiver turning to buzz. The buzz turning to heat. So hot. A fire in my flesh.
The snow beneath us melts and steam rises into the air.
I gape at him, getting a full view of my end, my wolf, a creature of myth and fire-stories, as lovely and terrifying as anything I’ve ever seen. The fire fills me, burning my core, blurring my vision, pulling me under. Until a sudden white flash bursts behind my eyes and the fire is gone. But there’s something new left there, inside me.
He touches his nose to mine. “Be quick, and don’t forget.” Obvious pain and fear echoes in his voice.
And then he kisses me. Gentle, delicate, a whisper of lips to mine. But with the kiss comes the knowledge of what I have to do. The white fire is gone as I open my eyes, seeing him, his eyes full of tears, resignation in his shoulders. He’s readying himself, telling me to act. Now.
My hand moves to my belt, to my dagger, pulling it free. I grip his neck from behind. Feel the chill of his skin. The rapid pulse beneath.
And I strike. Shoving the blade straight through his heart, twisting it, hilt to chest. There’s a stillness that settles, his last breath coming out in a hiss. His eyes stay on mine, going dull, from gold to copper before they close. Tears spill out, running over his cheeks and chin. And he’s gone, that spirit of wolf in him drifting away like misty air.
The control on me releases but I can’t seem to move. I can only stare at my work and feel sick.
What’ve I done? What’s just happened?
I killed a man.
No, he isn’t a man.
His body goes limp and he slumps down onto the steaming forest floor.
(To be continued...)
Rachel Marks is an award winning author and artist. You can read more about her and see her artwork on her webpage: Shadow Of The Wood