The circle lay there.
There were eight places. Not chairs—the ones who had built them could not sit as humans did—but places, small raised platforms big enough for a being to stand upon them. The faced towards the center of the circle, a symbol of unity.
But four of the places were cracked.
“I know this place.” Justin turned slowly. It was the meeting place of their minds—where all stood joined. A figure stood upon each of the places—upon each of the thrones. But one place, a broken place, was empty. “I’ve been here.”
“In our dreams,” Daldion said. “They drifted into your mind. This is the place of council.
It was magnificent. The eight places were there as before, but instead of gray mist around it was like a pie—eight wedges of worlds joined as the center. One was his world, the gray world. But beneath the paws of a black wolf with dark eyes was shadowed ground, with mountains flashing with lightning visible far beyond. Amber’s world was an open plain—Francisco’s a craggy cliff with what appeared to be houses carved into it. Buncombe’s…his was dark. Not shadowed. Hidden.
They all wore the same clothes they had in the cave. But he knew, with a sort of second sight, that he was staring at the three humans who held him—if that was the right word—as they stared at him. He was there—but he was in the circle too. In the center of all their worlds. He was the only one not on a dais.
As he completed his rotation, Justin noticed something. The humans stood upon the cracked daises, the wolves upon the unbroken ones.
Buncombe took a breath. His top hat was back on. “Justin Kobe—would-be Ruler and newest member of this Pack—welcome.” His voice was flat. “I am the Human known as Buncombe. I am the Watcher of this Pack.”
Amber dipped her head, closing her gray eyes. “I am Amber Getten. I am the Seeker.”
A white wolf tinged with gold to the side of Amber stared at Justin with luminous eyes. “I am the Healer—I am Iridess.”
“I am Rigel,” a booming voice came. The dirty-gray-brown wolf beside Buncombe said, “I am the Judge.”
“Zerihun,” the black wolf said. “The Teacher.”
“Francisco Julio—there’s my last name—the Warrior.”
The final one to speak was Daldion. “I am Daldion and I am the Prophet.”
There was silence for a moment.
Justin opened his mouth. A glare from Buncombe almost stopped him, but he pressed on. “I am Justin Kobe—”
“We know who you are,” the Englishman interrupted. “And you…you are not the Ruler. Not yet.”
Mind reading again. Justin set his face. “I didn’t ask for this. You chose me.”
Buncombe nodded to the black wolf. “The Teacher will answer.”
“Daldion did not choose you,” Zerihun said, stepping down from his dais. “You were joined because of power of the Thin Places. The right place, the right time. The right combination of genetics, mindset…but not chosen. That is not how it works.”
His lean black-furred body circled Justin, coming up to his lower chest. The wolves were huge. “One becomes, one adapts for the role they have been given. None of us were perfect for our role—we became what we had to be. Some of us are still changing.” His dark eyes flicked to Amber for a split second.
“And if I don’t become the leader? Ruler?”
The black wolf turned his gaze back to the dark lightning of his own world. “You know. You will be hunted by the others…the other Pack. You will die, but the Pack, the true Pack, will live on. Chance will bring us another…perhaps one who can adapt with more speed.”
“I—” Justin wanted to argue. He’d been kidnapped. Dragged in a tiny plane to the middle of the Canadian wilderness. He’d been with these people days and they expected him to be on their side? Leading them? Even discounting the impossible experience the “council” was and the fact that he changed into a wolf it was insane.
Then he had a thought. “Leaders are not born—they are made.” The words came out unbidden. It wasn’t Sun Tzu. It was Anonymous—but Justin did have to admit that Anonymous was a prolific author if nothing else.
Zerihum turned on him. “Just so. So we will make you. Know this: I am the Teacher. I am the guardian of knowledge in this Pack. I know the histories, I know the members of the Pack; I know what cannot be known. That is my purpose. I am the voice of knowledge.”
He slowly circled again. “This is my lesson to you, Justin Kobe. The Pack is opposites to unity and weaknesses to strength. I am the voice of the Past, the Prophet is the voice of the Future. The Healer rebuilds, the Warrior tears down. The Seeker is the one who can find—the Watcher the one who cannot be found. The Ruler chooses and forces upon the Pack the path, but the Judge directs the steps.”
“This is the Pack and this my place within it, Justin Kobe. Find your place.”