Beyond The Veil

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Among Wolves

Submitted: May 09, 2016

Reads: 239

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Submitted: May 09, 2016

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A single leaf detached itself from its tree and fell to the ground, spinning delicately like a snowflake. Far beneath it, Natalya nudged her mount deeper within the great forest.

There was no path to follow to the wall so instead she relied on memory, threading her horse in between the trees and carefully guiding her through hidden snake holes or over fallen logs. The overlapping buzzes of multiple insects were constant, though occasionally punctuated by the shrill call of a bird or chipmunk. Methea picked through the uneven terrain gracefully and confidently, never losing her footing or startling at unfamiliar noises.

In a few hours’ time, Natalya came to the border that marked the end of her people’s woods. The wall disappeared past the limits of her eyesight on either side of her, and instantly the woods felt darker and more sinister. The werewolf skull stared unceasingly at her, and Natalya found herself uncertain once more. She remembered Kaima’s words and knew that passing through could lead her people down a path that they could not escape from.

She also knew that her father had already made his choice. The only way to stop the oncoming war lay just beyond this gate if she could only find Voren.

Natalya inhaled deeply and guided Methea past the skull. The two were swallowed up into impenetrable forest. The trees spread out their branches above her like a canopy, effectively blotting out the sunlight and she wondered if she would lose her way. She felt deaf and blind, for even the sounds of the animals had died away for it seemed as if none made their homes here.

As the darkness settled, Natalya’s amulet began to glow a bright shade of amber. It lighted the way before them, and they trusted its beam to guide them through the woods. The steady gait of her horse and the monotone of shadowy trees gave way to Natalya’s thoughts, and they raced through her head. She imagined her father following from behind on his own gelding, his gun loaded for the first kill. She remembered the shock of the blast and closed her eyes to the image of it piercing Voren’s flesh and his eyes closing forever in death. Several minutes passed as more visions of the oncoming war danced before her eyes, each one more terrible than the last. She was so absorbed in her thoughts she barely noticed when a twig snapped behind her.

Methea had heard the noise though, and her rearing startled Natalya back into reality. She whipped her head from side to side, unable to locate its source while she patted the mare into calmness. All was silent now, and she gradually began to relax as no threat revealed itself. She prodded her horse forward, and the two headed away from the mysterious noise.

Her amulet had changed subtly to a dark ruby, and Natalya slowly turned to look behind her. She was on edge now, every one of her senses wholly stretched to the max. Her eyes raked through the trees, seeking movement, but not even a breadth of wind came to disturb the forest. Somewhere a bird screeched, but Natalya ignored the sound. She longed to call out, to face the potential danger, but her instinct urged her to stay quiet. Methea nickered nervously and pawed at the ground, and Natalya tried to soothe the frightened mare, but this time she was unsuccessful. She continued to scan the trees at eye level until they materialized before her.

Like wispy shadows, their paws hardly making indents in the ground, they stood in a neat line.

Their likeness to real wolves in stature was remarkable, but there was where the similarities ended. Some were taller than others, but none were as short as a true wolf. Clumps of dead fur clung to gaunt frames that held no muscle or fat. In color, they were all uniform, the gray that lines darkened storm clouds. But most different were the eyes. Cloudy, like twin crystal balls with no pupils; Natalya could believe she was staring at the most cursed of all creatures. She tried to pick out Voren, but could see no discernible differences between them. Any one of them could have been him, or he could be absent altogether. Slowly Natalya dismounted from Methea in one fluid motion, unable to take her eyes off of the two dozen odd werewolves before her.

As she watched, a single werewolf separated itself from its fellows. It was padding lightly, its nose quivering, and Natalya knew this one must be a female, as she was leaner and moved more gracefully than her brethren had. As she neared her, a thick swirling fog rose from the ground, obscuring her, and she rose taller and taller above it. Almost demurely, she turned to the side and her features began to twist, her muzzle thinning and shrinking back into her face. The milky whites of her eyes darkened and eyebrows emerged above them. Her fur began to rapidly fall to the ground in huge clumps until Natalya was looking at a naked woman, her supple breasts hidden behind her mane like hair. She had an untamed and wild beauty to her. But her body also held great strength in its muscles and limbs, all the way to her lean fingers, which ended in claws.

Like Voren, her body was covered in tattoos that wound up her arms and legs and covered her back that were in a language unknown to Natalya. The woman was not much taller than her and smelled strongly of earth, and Natalya rose to meet her, unsure of her next move. The other werewolves held their unmoving line, their milky eyes staring unceasingly. The woman finally spoke in a hoarse voice as if unused to using it. Her teeth ended in points.

“What business do you have here, human?” she asked roughly. “You know it is forbidden to cross the gate.” With no time to argue, Natalya threw caution to the wind.

“All of you are in danger! My people are planning to mount an attack against you!”

Natalya scanned the assembled werewolves for the effect her words would have on them, but they were unwavering in their stillness. Only the female’s face before her registered any surprise.

“You betray your own people to warn us of this? Or do I smell a trap lurking in the shadows? This is out of my hands human. I think it would be best if you saw our Alpha.”

Natalya nodded while flurries of fear swirled in her chest. She was no nearer to finding Voren and could not be sure how she would be received by this mysterious Alpha.

Another werewolf had broken ranks to stand behind them and the female motioned to him.

“Tovu shall lead you to the Alpha.” Again Natalya nodded. The werewolf dipped his head in an almost friendly way that did little to reassure Natalya.

Leading Methea on foot, she followed the werewolf deeper into the woods. Methea was uneasy, snickering at every sound and clearly distressed in the presence of so many predators, but the werewolf seemed completely relaxed. He was perfectly svelte, his hindquarters weaving back and forth in a slinking gait as they turned onto a hidden path. The path meandered in an out of view but his paws never once strayed from it. Here he seemed almost docile, and for a moment Natalya almost forgot he was one of her people’s most feared enemies.

As they walked they could see large shapes through the gaps in the trees. It was only when they got closer that Natalya could see that they were makeshift homes. They were all cone shaped and held together with dyed animal skins that were stretched over long tree limbs. Some had elaborate drawings painted on them, and others were adorned with vines and leaves and whatever else the werewolves could find.

The trees had thinned, and she found herself in the midst of their village where werewolves in both human and wolf forms roamed. She could even see children dressed in animal skins, identical to their parents except for the many tattoos that embellished their parents’ bodies.

What do you think? A strange voice questioned in her head. She remembered the sensation from when Voren had communicated to her in this way, though Voren’s voice had been even deeper.

She looked up to see the werewolf staring at her intently, its head cocked questioningly, but his eyes were still blank and slightly sad.

“It’s…different,” she said aloud.

Indeed. Do not trouble yourself with Henovi; she will come around, was his reply and Natalya nodded. She thought of the angry she-wolf and worry continued to twist her insides into knots. The werewolf dipped its whitened muzzle cordially and returned to leading her along the path. Natalya could not help but notice as the werewolf walked still more clumps of fur fell from his hide, but he seemed unbothered.

“Is….is there something wrong with your fur?” she finally asked timidly. Tovu continued on as if he hadn’t heard her, though his ears were pricked in her direction. But as a particularly large clump had caught in the branch of a giant pine, it was clear he could ignore the question no longer.

We are cursed creatures. She thought she could detect the faintest hint of a snarl in her head. Sorrow too.

She did not press the matter as they continued on their path. A quarter of an hour later, they came onto a large dwelling that was far grander than the rest they had passed. An elaborate hunting scene was drawn on it, a deer cornered by many werewolves hidden in the trees. It continued along in its conical fashion, and Natalya would have had to circle the entire teepee to discover the deer’s fate.

The entrance was open, and Natalya could hear voices within. They paused at the opening until the werewolf nodded at Natalya.

We’ve been invited in, he growled in her head. He padded inside, and Natalya followed. More animal skins covered the grass inside and ringed a large fire that was contained in a circle of large stones.

Two wizened men dressed in furs conversed across from them, but their talk ceased at their arrival. The older of the two stood to greet them, his white beard nearly falling to the floor. Tovu went to stand next to him, and Natalya took this one to be the Alpha. She did not know whether to bow or attempt to shake his hand so she stood silently, waiting to be addressed. The instinct to flee tugged at her conscience, but she quieted it, knowing she would never make it to the wall. She doubted she could even find her way back to it now, and instead, she remembered the liquid silver she had reinforced her stake with for just this occasion. It lay resting in its place against her ribs, but she knew not to grow overconfident; she was still badly outnumbered.

Some conversation must have passed between the two werewolves for the Alpha motioned to Natalya, and she approached him apprehensively.

“Walk with me,” was all he said and raw panic fluttered in Natalya’s chest. She looked questioningly at Tovu. His cloudy eyes expressed nothing, but his tone in her head was somber.

I will not be accompanying you, he said. He turned his shaggy head away from her, and Natalya nearly protested aloud. She could not explain it to herself, but she had already taken to the kind werewolf. The Alpha beckoned to her, and she followed, unsure if she had just sealed her and her father’s fate.

They exited the back of the teepee and onto another path that led even deeper into the forest. They walked in silence, and Natalya marveled at being in the presence of the most powerful and influential werewolf she had ever met. It was another fifteen minutes before the path they had chosen brought them to a secluded enough clearing. Natalya tensed, preparing to draw her stake if the Alpha attacked, but he remained still.

“What is your name, human?” the Alpha asked and the question took her off guard.

“Natalya.”

“Natalya…” he repeated slowly. “My name is Anraq, Alpha of this clan. Why have you ventured into Claw Haven, Natalya?” It was the first time she hadn’t been addressed as human.

“I have come to warn you of an attack that my kind is planning against you,” Natalya answered. She had decided to speak plainly, for although she knew he could kill her now in these deserted woods, she needed to trust in someone. Voren was unsettling in her mind for she hadn’t seen or heard a sign of him since entering Claw Haven again.

“I see,” the Alpha said without surprise. She guessed that Tovu had already relayed some of her intent beforehand. He turned to her and studied her face shrewdly before continuing.

“And what motive does a human have for telling me this?” he asked softly. The lines in his face had deepened and the Alpha suddenly seemed much older. His demeanor and stature were commanding but candid, and before Natalya knew it she found herself telling him of everything that had transpired during her hunt and how she had come to meet Voren. She left nothing out, and Anraq listened to her without interruption. She bowed her head slightly, waiting for his judgment, but for the moment he did not speak. They had looped through the forest and now they found themselves in the village once more.

They reached Tovu again, and Natalya listened again while some message passed between them. Finally Anraq addressed her again.

“For the time being, your survival has rested on Voren’s testament to your trustworthiness and your cooperation. Tomorrow I will consult with the others to determine the truth in your claims. Tovu will arrange sleeping quarters for you tonight. I trust they will be to your satisfaction.”

Without another word the Alpha bowed briefly to her, and Natalya watched him walk away, somehow more nervous than she had been before.

Follow me Natalya, Tovu growled in her head, and she obeyed, walking to an unadorned teepee that was set slightly apart from the others.

Gratefully, she entered to find another fire contained in its middle and a floor covered in more animal skins. After circling the inside of the teepee she poked her head out to thank Tovu, but the werewolf had already gone. Disappointed, she withdrew into the teepee again. She pulled some of the furs around herself in a makeshift blanket and pillow. She fell asleep that night to the firelight that danced before her closed eyelids, wondering what tomorrow would bring.


© Copyright 2020 Kejiiraa12. All rights reserved.

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