Somewhere below the surface of the earth, deep subterranean waters stirred. A hundred feet down they began to churn and roll, bubbles bursting to the surface. If someone had been there to stand on those submerged shores, they would have seen a brilliant green luminescence suddenly flair into existence below the waters. Slowly the green light resolved itself into two distinct points as it made its way to the surface. From deep within those waters the lights resolved themselves into a pair of glowing green eyes, as the body of a young girl pierced the surface of the still waters. Gradually she floated in towards the shore, as if supported by some unseen force, until at last she lay upon the rocky bank, the only light coming from her glowing eyes. The eyes shut, and all was dark.
A time passed, the girl slept, the only sound in the dank dark place her shallow breaths. She was a tall, slim girl, dressed in unremarkable brown pants and tunic. In times passed people would have thought her pretty in a sad sort of way, but no one was left to pass those sorts of judgments.
More time passed, and somewhere above, the sound of running steps echoed with frantic and stumbling haste. Below, the girl stirred, and with her stirred something else. A deep dark thing flexed deep dark muscles, renewed in form it breathed in the scents of the earth, inhaling the stale air in great dark lungs. Old it was this creature, long imprisoned and held at bay, but now free and reveling in freedom. With a macabre pleasure it began to reach into the deep waters, and draw out the energy that lay there, and with that energy it began to shape other dark things to use for its own purposes.
Across the lake the girl rose from her slumber. As she sat up, her eyes opened, their glow dulled to a muted luminescence, which reflected off her baldness of her head. She felt the presence of the creature, instinctively sensed more than saw the long muscled arms that hung well past its waist, the great head with its curving horns, the enormous size and malevolent nature of the thing. She sensed the perversion it wrought as it accessed the force within those deep waters.
Slowly, carefully, quietly, she stood. The thing was so absorbed in its work that it didn't’t notice her, creeping quietly, on the other side of the subterranean lake. She turned from the dark shores, and walked slowly towards the edge of the great cavern that contained it.
To her the cavern was illuminated with a flickering green light, and as the glow of her eyes dimmed, so to did the green light. With as much haste as she could muster and still remain silent, she searched the back of the cavern for a way out. Moments past, and it was all she could do to maintain her calm, but at last she found a dim rocky tunnel, just wide enough to squeeze herself into if she lay down. She frowned, not liking the looks of the passage, but knowing the creature or one of its twisted creations would find her eventually.
Squaring her shoulders and scowling with determination, she lay down on her belly and squirmed her way into the passage. The tunnel curved upward, and she could just make out where the rocky passage began to meet earth. With a grim determination, she began to crawl and climb her way through the rocky earth.
Valcrim ran on in a near frenzied haste. He had left the tree behind three moons ago, and now the hunger gnawed at him relentlessly. But for once, the hunger was at the back of his mind. For two moons now, he had been following a heady scent, and the closer he got the more it dominated his thoughts. It was the scent of the earth, beautiful and whole and fresh, and completely out of place here in this rocky wasteland. He could smell almost nothing else though, and at times he thought he could almost see a green glow laying out the path before him.
On and on he ran, the scent becoming stronger. Day fell and night reigned again, and still he ran. Overhead, small flashes of darkness blotted out the stars, but Valcrim took these to be his imagination, the hunger turning his mind. At last he came to a small hill in the dark, rich earth in the barren emptiness, the scent of wholeness and nature almost overpowering.
He began to dig on a frantic instinct, the need overwhelming. Deeper and deeper he dug until he was almost the depth of his own body in the moist earth. He paused. He could hear a scratching sound from below, the sound of something digging its way up to meet him. A curious emptiness took over his mind, and he began to dig again, but some part of his mind wondered if he was the one digging. Something had seized him, and taken control, like a fate that he should be here doing this.
Time passed ,with the only sounds the frantic pawing of the black beast, and his panting breath in the night. Overhead dark things winged, but he paid them no heed, intent, and incapable of raising from his task. At last the final layers of dirt began to fall away revealing a ragged hole in the earth. Two hands reached through and began to frantically pull the earth inwards. Before Valcrim could recover from the surprise, a thin form slipped through the space in the earth, crashing its way towards him as he hurriedly backed away. The figure collapsed on the surface, soft green light illuminating its round eyes. A two legs! He set himself, an instinctive distrust for the two-leg leading him to guard himself from the girl-child.
As he slunk down into a defensive crouch, a black shape shot out of the ground at frightening speed, flying through the air towards the girl. The curious emptiness stole his thoughts again, and with a roar he launched himself at the black thing, colliding with it in mid air above the sprawling girl. With a ferociousness he had not felt in an age, he savagely bit and gnashed at the thing, its chitinous legs scrambling as the two black shapes rolled in the night. At last he pinned it beneath him, his great jaws clenching with all their strength. He stood, looking down at the nightmare shape below him, its long pointed legs black and hard, its thin body menacing, mouth riddled with fanged teeth. Never before had he seen such a creature. Arching his back, he howled his victory to the Skybrother.
Coming back to himself, he saw dark shapes flitting in the sky above. It was best to be gone from this place.
He turned preparing to run for safety, or at least a reprieve to gather his thoughts,but as he gathered himself, he was startled by a faint noise. A frightened gasp came from the dark, and he remembered the girl-child. Turning, he saw her sitting beside the hole in the earth, staring at him, face set with determination, but fear trembling her lip. Trying to move with haste, but without intimidating her, he moved quickly closer, head and tail low in a gesture of meekness that made him uncomfortable. He was unused to being meek. As he approached she backed away, as a crab would, backwards on her hands and feet. He stopped, whined in frustration. He wanted to be gone from this place as quickly as possible. He did not like two-legs, but he could not leave her to these foul creatures. He sensed to, somewhere in the back of his mind. that something about this one was important.
Again, he tried to advance, slower this time. He looked into her eyes, not glowing green anymore but still bright in the moonlight, his lone golden eye shining. Slowly he approached. She didn't back away and finally he was close enough. He thrust his head under her arm, lifting with the rangy muscles of his shaggy black neck. She hesitated, then cautiously swung up onto his back, her feet dangling below his panting flanks. As he felt her weight settle onto his back, he leapt into motion, not waiting for the creatures to grow bolder and try their luck. The ground flew below him as he put distance between the girl, himself, and the foul creatures behind.
On his back the girl clung tightly to the fur of his neck, burying her face in his thick coat, tears of fear and relief dampening her cheeks and wetting his thick coat. The moon saw the pair running across the endless grey plains below, a great black wolf with a small girl clutching tightly to his back, her green eyes no longer glowing and her head covered with only a thin stubble of air. Behind them, a vast darkness flexed its muscles, and played in its dark hole
Evangeline clung desperately to the neck of the great black beast as he carried her to safety. When she'd seen him standing in the moonlight, she had at first thought that she had fled right into the hands of the black creature from below. Terror had fueled her as she threw herself to the dirt at his feet, more frightened of the creature she knew was just behind her, than the beast who stood over her. She had watched in amazement as the black beast pounced upon the spider-thing, tearing it with his great teeth.
Afterwards, when he approached her she was still unsure if he was a more fearsome enemy yet, maybe one that had merely fought for the right to a morsel of food. But then when she had seen his eye, glowing in the moonlight, so weary and sad, yet fierce and determined, she had recognized the intelligence there. She had still been afraid to trust such a huge and obviously dangerous beast, but she had had little other option.
So here she sat, bouncing along over the hard packed dirt, up hills and down ravines, over rocks, on and on into the night upon the back of the beast. She wondered how she knew the names of all the things that passed, for she knew not anything before she awoke on the dark shores below. She wondered to, at the strange piece of cloth tied to the shadowy wolf, with its eight small twigs tucked in, which chafed against her thighs as she rode.
The wolf ran on through the night. Evangeline watched as the stars shifted in the skies above. As they ran, she noticed that one star brighter than the others, stayed at their backs the whole time. “South”, thought Evangeline, unsure quite why.
As the sun began to rise Evangeline could take no more. Her hands ached where they gripped the wolf's thick fur, and her legs were chafed raw from the rubbing of the strange sticks strapped to his back. “Stop!”, she cried, knowing she couldn't hold on bouncing along much longer.
The wolf ran on, the girl clinging desperately to his back. The ground below them had changed, the land shifting from rocky hills, to gently rolling grey dirt. In the distance, a great dry riverbed loomed, running directly across their path. With no water to lap at its shores, it resembled a great crack in the earth. The black beast made his way towards this, and the girl was forced to continue clinging to his back. At last as they began to near the shore, the beast slowed to a trot, and then a stumbling walk. “Stop please”, Evangenline said, her voice a tired whisper.
The beast stopped, and gratefully she slid from his back, her legs nearly buckling as her feet touched the cracked earth. As she stood beside him, the beast turned to regard her with his one eye, the other eye a fierce scar that made her uncomfortable to look at. “Where are we going?” she asked.
Faintly an image formed in her mind of the depths of the dry riverbed. She frowned in concentration, it was as if the thought was not her own. She looked at the wolf, saw him looking at her, as if he to was concentrating deeply on something. He whined, seeming frustrated. Could it be that somehow the thought was not her own? She pulled the image back from her memory, studied it mentally. Somehow it felt as if the colors were just off, as if the image were just a piece of a whole, as if she lacked something to make it full. “Theres no scent”, she thought, wondering why that should matter.
Frowning again she looked down at the wolf, though it wasn't very far down she had to look. “Valcrim”, she said, and saw the wolf's eye widen in surprise,” that's your name isn't it? Or the name given to you by man.”
The wolf looked at her, but something in his eye told her she was right. “My name is Evangeline”, she told him. Looking out over the riverbed she saw a place that looked like the image in her mind, a bend in the river, where it looked like a path led down below. As she looked out, the black beast began to walk towards the path. Evangeline followed, watching the wolf as he walked. He was clearly exhausted, his tail hanging low, and his great flanks heaving in air even at a modest pace. What strength it must take, to carry her on his back all through the night. What determination, to push past the point of exhaustion for so long.
After a few minutes, they reached the edge of the dry river, and looking down Evangeline saw that the path wound gently down. Fifteen feet below, bottom of the riverbed was dry and cracked, the bright sunlight shining down upon grey stone and grey earth. Carefully she followed the wolf down into the riverbed, which resembled a ravine through the stone.
At the bottom, a small cave loomed, sheltered from view from above by a rock overhang. It was to this dark pit that the wolf led her. As she looked inside, a creeping fear came back to her. It was just large enough for the wolf and herself to climb in and hide themselves away from view. The dark stone, worn smooth from the passage of water in times past, reminded her of the subterranean cave where she had awoken the night before. “How did I get here,”, she wondered, “Where is here?”.
As she studied the small cave, the black beast crouched down and squeezed his long frame under the low overhang. He paced the few feet into the cave, turned in place several times, and then lay carefully, wearily, upon the stone floor. His great head came to rest on his massive paws, and his yellow eye stared up at her. An image came to her thoughts, of black things winging overhead, blotting out the stars, and then of the riverbed, this small cave hidden from any eyes above.
With a shudder, she shook off her lingering doubts and ducked her way into the cave. Cautiously she sank down to her knees and crawled forward to the black shape in front of her. There wasn't enough room for the two of them to stretch out fully, and so she curled herself into a ball and lay at the feet of the beast. “Valcrim” she thought, “He isn't so frightening when he has a name”.
With a sigh, trying to let go the anxiety that had held her in its grips during her hours of flight, she closed her eyes. In moments she was asleep.
Above her, Valcrim watched as her eyes fluttered closed. He didn't like sleeping knowing that the foul taint he had smelled to the north was still out there somewhere, but he needed to rest. Towards the end of their desperate run, his heart had beat so hard it felt as if it would explode, and his lungs had burned, seemingly unable to pull in any more air. A strange few moons it had been. The old man, the girl, and the creatures. He had been beginning to think that he was the only creature left on this forsaken earth.
The girl, Evangeline, stirred in her sleep, a tiny fearful whimper. “Poor girl-child”, Valcrim thought. He didn't know where she'd come from, but if the only things in this world were the girl child and the black things that he'd seen flitting through the night, he chose the girl child. Again she whimpered. Valcrim gave a short growl in his throat, then sighed. Laying his head back down, he curled his rangy bulk around the girl. He lay like this for a long time, his one eye keeping watch out the entrance to the cave, until at last, he could fight it no longer, and he dropped off into a deep sleep.
The black beast slept.
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