Was it a dream?
Warmth. No—heat. Fire. His body melting beneath him.
The snow turning to water as his he fell to his hands and knees. A blue light enveloping everything—the blue light of the Thin Places.
Hands molding into paws, fingernails to claws. Teeth to fangs. Fat to muscle. Shivering skin to fur…
The herd of caribou stood in the glade, free from the wind in the calm of the storm. It had blown them over—moving south to the border and the farmhouse that lay trapped in its snowy embrace.
The caribou rested…and were watched.
O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.
Sun Tzu—On the Art of War.
Their watcher held their fate in his hands. In his paws. In his fangs.
The weakest must fall—for our good and theirs. Thus is the circle of life.
The gray streak exploded from its stealthy canter and leap, mouth agape. The startled caribou leaped, avoiding the deadly rip of fangs. The herd took off, leaping through the heavy snow.
Follow. Chase the weakest into a snowbank—it will be unable to escape you without speed on its side.
Snapping his jaws in frustration, the wolf followed, its light footsteps barely leaving a trail in the snow. It ran atop it—the heavy deer-like caribou floundered through it.
They were heading back towards the storms, and wind began to pick up as the hunted and hunter left the sheltered valley.
The wolf managed to get between the rear caribou and the rest of the herd, forcing it to rear away towards an open field of snow. The caribou ran with the strength of desperation—but it was old. Perhaps sick.
Eyes narrowed, the wolf leaped ahead, following the beast into the field.
Suddenly the canine twisted, falling back and almost falling.
Justin barely managed to hold in his adrenaline. The wolf body of Daldion was powerful beyond anything he could have imagined. It was ancient strength, instinctive stealth, and controlled deadliness—all with the tools to use them.
He pranced in place, wanting to follow his prey. Justin was hungry. He hadn’t eaten for more than a day. But it was far more than that. He had smelt its fear, its dread. He wanted to kill.
But just like he could hold back Daldion in his mind, Daldion could control him in his. As long as he was in wolf form, he was not in ultimate control—but the sacrifice was worth it. If only Daldion would let him…
The caribou leaped, kicking and dodging the slashing fangs of the wolf. The snow, pounded down, began to show the ground of the flat field beneath.
But it wasn’t a field. It was ice.
There was a snap—like reality was cracking. The frozen crust of the river shattered. And then darkness.
Justin shook his narrow head. He could not speak through with the wolf physiology, but he could communicate. Daldion heard his thoughts. What was that?
Daldion spoke—but his thoughts were distant. The future. A possible future.
Justin let his emotion come out in a short growl. He focused back on the caribou’s imminent demise. His eyesight was limited, but he saw so much more. His nose, with the wind carrying the scent of the caribou, was far better than his eyes had ever been. And his hearing, even with the roar of the distant storm.
And he heard and smelt it escape—leaping across the open field, the frozen river without harm.
He turned inward, whirling on the ghostly form of Daldion. What was that?! The river was supposed to break!
You are feeling upset that it didn’t?
You saw it happen!
Daldion’s golden eyes blinked. I saw what could happen. If you had followed it, that could have—would have—happened. But since you were aware of the possibility, it did not come to pass.
Justin’s nose—Daldion’s nose—rose into the air. A new smell. But downwind and faint.
Justin ignored it. It was of no matter to him. He was still hungry and he still trembled with adrenaline. Right—we’re a Prophet or something. Can we see something that involves me…us…getting food?
I can. I am the Prophet. You only see what I share with you.
Whatever works. Then Daldion’s statement hit him. So what am I if I’m not the Prophet? The Prophet’s apprentice? The Minion?
There was a crunch of snow from behind him. Justin whirled, senses alert. It was the same smell—but now it was right on top of him. How had he not sensed it? Had the hyper-senses of Daldion’s body failed him so quickly? Or was Daldion repressing them?
“None of the above, boy,” a hearty, but mocking, English-accented voice came. A black man, dressed in a rather shabby coat, and wearing a top hat, stepped out from behind a tree. “I just can’t be sensed—unless I want to be. But no, you are not a ‘Minion’, though that may suit you better. What dearest Daldion is…trying to say is that you are the Ruler. Rather, that is, the leader of the Pack.”
He tipped his hat. “Nice to meet you in person, chap.”