The Shifting Flames – 2

“His pack is yours.”

Silver-Fur-Shining and Claw both sit together under her tree. It has been near a season, and still the growing shapeshifter struggles to believe all that has happened in that time. Shadow himself is away hunting along with most of the pack. For all intents and purposes, Silver and Claw are alone under the tree. It is early- earlier than dawn.

“As are his pups,” Silver replies dryly. “Should he manage to father any.”

“What have you against him, my heart?” Claw-Scars-Many asks quietly. “You can’t still be angry he beat you. Not after so long.”

She gives him a withering glare, as best as she can manage, then drops her head and lets out a wolfish sigh. “That is not it.”

“What is it, then?” Claw’s voice has an unusual needling tone to it. “Is it the pups that bother you? So it was fine to make pups with me, but with Shadow it feels wrong? Are you incapable of fulfilling your part of the duel’s terms?”

Silver almost laughs, but instead a snarl curls her lips back from her teeth. Her temper flares. He really doesn’t understand!

“No! There’s… it is not anything to do with Shadow-With-Teeth, Claw!”

She stands, turns and pads away, refusing to stare him down. To Silver’s astonishment, he follows her. She snaps at him half-heartedly, anger slow to cool.

The old dire wolf doesn’t even blink. “What is it, then?” he asks. “Who are you angry with?”

Silver settles down again, in the morning sun, tail swishing more like a cat’s than a wolf’s, staring at nothing as she thinks. For his part, Claw-Scars-Many settles by her side, waiting for her to come to terms with whatever it is that seems to be haunting her.

“Myself,” Silver answers quietly. “I am angry with myself.”

“Why?”

Her eyes meet his for a moment. “I do not know,” she replies levelly. “And if I did, I do not know that I would care to share it.”

Claw looks as if he is about to say something, but suddenly Chase-The-Wind pops up, between his bulk and Silver’s. To the parents’ further surprise, he speaks. Chase has always been a quiet pup. In fact, he’d been quiet since Shadow-With-Teeth beat Silver.

“It’s about the dreams,” he says softly. “Mom is talking about the dreams she has.”

There’s a pause. Claw-Scars-Many’s eyes narrow and his hackles rise slightly. Silver pretends that she can’t see it happening so later she can snap at him for snapping at her.

“Dreams of what?” Claw asks suddenly, seriously, eyes boring into Silver’s own. “Is this true?”

“Yes,” she snaps sharply. “Yes, it is true. I’ve been having dreams of dragons, flying high above the world. Dreams of caves and mountains where they dwell, dreams of the deepest depths of the world where they roll and fight and mate without end. Dreams of their wings and their teeth, their fiery breath and their immense tails. What of it? A dream is but a dream.”

“Chase, leave us,” Claw growls, voice low. Chase doesn’t move, instead looking up at Silver. “Chase?”

The little dire wolf nuzzles at Silver’s side, and she stares down at him. Suddenly she understands.

“No,” she growls back quietly. “No, let him come with. I need you to watch over the pack while I’m gone, Claw.”

For a moment, Claw meets her eyes and she’s sure he will object, that he will tell Shadow of her plan, that he will say something to contradict it, or ask what she means. Then she sees that flash of understanding mischief in his eyes she’d come to recognize and enjoy as it developed.

“I understand,” he says lightly. “I didn’t think I’d be able to come with you. The rest of the pack will miss you, little pup, as will I. Remember that you owe us, when you return. Owe all of us, not just Shadow-With-Teeth. Forget about him. He beat you in combat through trickery. When he follows you- and follow you he will- give him a cuff for me.”

“I will,” Silver replies, and at the time she means it more than ever. “I will not forget your kindness, dear heart.”

“It breaks tradition,” Claw murmurs. “But it broke tradition to take you in. Go, now, before the rest of the pack returns from the hunt and your opportunity is lost.”

Silver nods, and turns. Chase pauses a moment, as if uncertain, staring back at his father. Then he follows after Silver. After a time, the plains swallow their forms as they disappear into the horizon.

The ground is yielding, as grass gives way to dirt. Soft enough that Silver leaves tracks, and Chase leaves prints. Her pup isn’t as curious as she thought he would be. At first she’s sure he will be a nuisance. She can’t move as quickly as she’d like, it’s an extra scent for Shadow to track, and she can hunt as well or better than he can. The sun is rising. It is morning now.

After a time in the silence, she almost forgets he is there. Chase is very quiet and meek, never offering his opinion about anything.

It isn’t until they reach a path, a patch of ground cleared and leveled most regularly, that they stop. It stretches on from left to right, as far as the eye can see. To their left Silver can just barely make out a haze that might be a human den. To the right, the path seems to move on without end. No such haze mars it.

“Humans,” Chase remarks suddenly. “I can smell them.”

Silver considers this, then nods.

“All along the road. I can too,” she replies in a soft growl. “We should keep moving and avoid this path.”

Chase-The-Wind shakes his head though, looking up at her and tilting it to one side. “No.”

“No?” she asks, taken aback. She’s more curious than anything else, more out of that stunned curiosity than any intention to listen to what he says, she stares down at him. He doesn’t meet her eyes. It isn’t a challenge, then.

“We’ve never been in this part of the plain. Humans will know where to go and what to do to reach the mountains,” Chase answers slowly. “All we need to do is ask.”

“Humans are…” Silver starts, and then stops, because she realizes she doesn’t know. It’d been seasons since she’d seen one. “…Different,” she finishes lamely. “Foreign. They do not reason like we do.”

“When times were hard and food was scarce, you bargained with them once,” Chase points out. “Traded protection for some of their cattle. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” Silver replies warily. “I do remember.”

“Good,” Chase says simply. “I hear them approaching and have scent of two horses.”

He steps out onto the path, and Silver-Fur-Shining steps out with him a moment later, tense, hackles raised. The horses are to the left, towards the city.

They’d been downwind of the horses, so the creatures hadn’t caught their approach. When they step out, the animals rear, and the humans on their backs- are they truly humans? They are covered in metal scales, like the beast on the plain so long ago!- shout at one another in their own language. A language Silver barely remembers.

“Stop! I bid thee stop and desist, bewildered one!” the first of the humans is male, both in voice and in scent. He is expressing frustration with his horse. Silver is sure about that, and she flicks an ear toward the second human as it too begins to speak.

“It is little use, Kathan, see there by the road! Two wolves, have ever you seen the like of their size? Dire wolves, methinks! Draw steel!”

Silver narrows her eyes at the last. She isn’t sure what steel is, but her natural cynicism is sure it won’t be a gift. Still, she holds her ground. Chase gives her a wondering look, as if confused as to why she doesn’t talk with them. She had gone to negotiate with the humans alone last time.

She had taken her human shape, just once. Out of plain sight, as well. There seems to be little chance of that this time. She should have warned her curious son about it before.

She takes a deep, calming breath. The humans aren’t attacking at present. It will give her the time she needs. The flame in her heart flares again as she calls it, stirring for the first time in seasons. Silver lets it wash over her, turning back through ages of growth, shrinking, yet reaching out at the same time for that form, that human woman whose features she almost does not recognize, so much have they aged with her. Her eyes are silver, her hair is long and wild, her fingernails and toenails likewise grown unruly in her mind.

Silver takes that shape, becomes the girl she was and the girl she was meant to be all at once, letting the two conflicting images coincide and become one until she is that one, a tall, full human woman standing there, blinking in the chill morning air, her fur- hair- shining with dew as her body had been earlier in the day. It is similar to being doused in icy water.

For a moment, all Silver can do is stand there and shiver. The humans hold position on their panicked horses, and after they manage to get their steeds under control, they can only stare at her.

Silver, for her part, offers a weak smile. She lets out a startled yip as Chase noses at her bare back and side curiously.

“Mother?” he asks. “You are mother?”

“Yes,” she replies as best she can. To the men ahead, she tries a wave. The unfamiliar motion is nevertheless ingrained in her head. “No matter what happens, stay here Chase. I will talk to them.”

Chase leans back on his haunches then, unreadable. She can only hope that it means he will listen to her.

She takes a few tentative steps forward, while Chase stays where he is. The men have yet to ‘draw steel’, she thinks. They do keep their hands near their sides. It is men she was warned about by Claw-Scars-Many. Her love had often told her of their hidden fangs. Weak and defenseless they may seem, but some bear impenetrable scales and perhaps deadly claws hidden in those scales. Silver, wary of that, stares the one called ‘Kathan’ down.

For a moment, no one moves. Even the horses still. Then, Kathan turns his head to his friend slightly, whispering something that surely the whole forest can hear.

“Leo. We are dealing with a witch and her mate,” Kathan hisses.

The one known as ‘Leo’ is still staring at Silver, and when she notices this, she smiles again, trying her best to hide her uncertainty.

He shakes his head. “I think not, brother. It is obvious to me that she is a wizard, not a witch. Wizards only may take shapes as they please. Ho there, wizard. Which king do you serve?”

Silver thinks on this. She recalls her answer before and brings it up now. “I have… no king.”

Her speech is halting and broken from so long as a wolf.

Leo seems speechless, but Kathan picks up the slack. “So you serve only yourself?”

Silver chews on this one as well, taking a moment, eyes fixed on Kathan. “I serve the pack.”

“The pack,” Kathan says, voice flat. “Leo, she is not a wizard.”

Leo’s lips are pursed, tight with sudden anger. “A skinsnake, then. I wonder only how she took such a fine form; truly no maidens have gone missing that I recall.”

He draws his hand up from his side, and with it pulls out a long metal thing, something that brings out Silver’s memory with the ring of metal on tanned, dried skin. Its edge gleams in the sunlight rising.

A long knife… A sword?

Chase growls from beside and behind her, snarling. But he still does not move.

Silver takes a deep breath, stills Chase’s vocalization with a quick glare, and turns her eyes to Leo. “I am not here to harm you. I seek only passage.”

“And passage you shall have,” Leo replies levelly. “I shall give you passage to the underworld, snake.”

With that, he urges his horse into a trot.

Or begins to. It is Kathan’s hand on his shoulder that stops him. “She is what the druids call ‘a shifting flame’, brother.”

Leo shrugs him off, but stops his mount. He’s still staring at Silver, and does not put his long metal claw back in its sheath. “What have those old men put in your head now?” he asks sharply. “She is a skinsnake, nothing more.”

“No,” Kathan insists. “She is a shifting flame. The druids told me. Skinsnakes do not speak, you know that much to be true, Leo. She is not a wizard, for she serves no king. This girl is a shifting flame, and you would be doing the druids a disservice by slaying her.”

Leo’s eyes flick to Kathan, then, and back to Silver, who continues to stare him down. Finally, after a few more tense moments, he replaces his sword in its sheath. “Where are you bound, wench?”

Silver blinks, at that. She’d not expected Kathan’s interference. Over Chase’s growls, she answers. “My pup and I are headed to mountains. We seek the fastest route hence. Will you provide us safe passage?”

Kathan interrupts Leo as he opens his mouth. “Yes. Will you see the druids along the way? They will be eager to meet you as well.”

The shifting flame shrugs her shoulders and nods after only a moment. She isn’t sure if she should like seeing a few doddering old humans, but she is more than simply curious now. Perhaps they could help her find a dragon.

“Then we will do this thing. We will guide you and your… pup… to the town and the druids, and from there you may make your way to the mountains,” Kathan says lightly. “So long as your wolf does not make our horses fuss overmuch, it should be as safe a journey as any. We were merely out for a ride at any rate.”

Leo looks like he wants to say something more, but if he does, he does not get the chance to speak it. Nor does he say anything more as they wheel their horses and urge them into a slow trot down the path back towards the haze, back towards the city.

Silver-Fur-Shining shapeshifts once more into her great wolf form, and after conferring with Chase-The-Wind but a moment, follows with him after the humans who have become their guides.

For a time at least, things seem to be going right.

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

 

Hey guys, long time no see. Well okay, I’ve been around, but not AROUND around, y’know? Well, here’s the next part of The Shifting Flames. Long awaited, now finished. Enjoy! Let’s see if I can’t get the next part of Mesdan’s story done too. I MAKE NO PROMISES! :3

Well, no promises I can’t keep.

<3s,

Eris

The Shifting Flames – 1

Silver-Fur-Shining crouches on the plain, her tail and body set low in the tall grasses, looking for all the world like an immense cat ready to pounce, rather than any wolf. She is far too large for any regular wolf, as well, nearly twice the size of a well fed horse. Her wolf pack is a hundred yards distant, herding an immense scaled creature with armor-like hide and flames for its breath. Its name is lost to Silver-Fur-Shining, but she is certain that it is not like the winged creature which took her home from her so long ago. While the monster’s breath is as flame, its form is more bull-like, albeit an especially large one. Rather than hooves, it has long scaled talons for feet, and its tail bears a spitting serpent’s head.

Normal wolves would never be so foolish as to try to take such a creature down. In fact, though Silver’s pack is made entirely of large, powerful dire wolves, they would not be able to kill such a creature under normal circumstances, though they hurt it by raking its metallic scales and nipping at its tail, which already has fallen limp, whether from exhaustion or damage.  The wolves had taken several injuries from those claws and its tail.

She settles back again, panting slightly from the heat. It’s midday on the plains. Padding from behind her marks the arrival of Silver’s mate, Claw-Scars-Many. Claw settles down next to her almost lazily.

“Anxious, little girl?” he asks lightly. The old wolf’s fur is streaked near white with age.When he had first found her he had been old. Forty seasons later he is older still.

“No more than I should be, dear one,” she answers quietly. Then, “Are you prepared?”

“You know what I think of your chase after these monsters,” Claw replies in a soft growl. “But this beast has killed too many of our pack for me not to be ready.”

Claw is nearly twice as small as Silver-Fur-Shining. It hadn’t always been that way. Silver is the largest of any wolf in the pack, the largest any dire wolf has ever been, according to Claw, but she doesn’t mind.

Nor could she help it if she did.

Of all the things she gave up to enter this pack, she is sure that the memories of her human life had been some of the hardest to let go.  The others were either easily dropped, or the pain had been negligible. She’d been treated like a child until, by dire wolf standards, she was a child no more. It hadn’t been easy- at least, at first, as the runt of her pack. She remembers that she’d been the only pup in the pack for five whole seasons after she first was accepted. Gradually though, things changed. She had grown. She had become stronger.

The few wolves who still remembered that she was a shapeshifter had either left the pack or died seasons before she mated with Claw.

The tale had not been perpetuated, so only Claw was around to remember the truth.
Then, she’d stayed on with Claw-Scars-Many, risen to pack leader after beating him in a contest of strength, and let him stay with her for advice.

Her pack now consists mostly of her children, whether by Claw or by other foreign dalliances. She cares for them all dearly, and is proud of their work here, in a vague sort of way. She feels, however, a certain emptiness in her heart, even as her big moment slowly stampedes closer, even as the great scaled bull comes within twenty five yards and Claw coils like a spring. The woman-wolf pushes it aside, however. She’ll need all her focus for this moment.

Silver ducks down further, staring up as it tramples down grass. She waits for her moment as the beast finally stands before her on those scaled legs and rears back a little, horse-like. Its head is turned away from her and its neck is exposed. Claw, however, is the one to move first. He darts underneath the creature and rakes sharp iron claws along its soft underbelly. The thing bellows, kicking out with one leg, twisting and turning, and presenting Silver with its back.

As Claw-Scars-Many jumps away, Silver leaps up atop the creature’s exposed flank, digs her claws in and closes her massive jaws on the beast’s metallic neck, snapping them shut and feeling her teeth scrape and then puncture right through its scaled hide, warm, copper blood splashing her fur, staining her teeth greenish blue. It smells good, filling her nose with a colorful splash of metal and honey.  The taste, however, is just a little too sweet for her.

She’d gag if she could, but instead she bites down harder and wrenches to the side sharply, tearing the metal scales and snapping the iron bones making up the monster’s spine. It breathes a single jet of flame from its nostrils, kicking out, bucking weakly before its blazing red eyes darken and it collapses with Silver’s weight bearing it down.

Silver steps off of its massive corpse, more than a little pleased with herself, for all the loss this monster brought. Her plan had worked fairly well, considering the prey they’d decided to try to take. It would be prudent for her to have the pack move to the kill rather than to try to move the kill itself.

“The scales are tough,” Claw observes from her side. “Like metal. How does it taste?”

Silver licks her muzzle, sits back on her haunches and stares Claw-Scars-Many down. He holds her gaze for a few long moments, then turns away.

Finally, Silver answers him. “Too sweet, for me, though the meat is good. Divide it up amongst our hunters. Make sure you get first pick, my love.”

Something is eating at her heart right now, some unfamiliar feeling. With the killing done, she feels she can focus on it. Whatever it is is ruining her appetite.

The woman-wolf pads away to find a place to be alone, curling up near the edge of a tall, tall tree, crouched in its shade. When she feels she must be completely alone, she lets herself relax. For a time, she can let her thoughts run free.

She can’t remember the name she had as a human. She only vaguely remembers how old she was then. She remembers, to some extent, being small. But then, compared with Claw-Scars-Many, as a human she would have always been small.

Her memories of being a pup are blurred. She had taken wolf shape at a time where her body could accept meat and drink and walk on its own. From the very start she had been allowed to eat portions of any kill brought back- so long as the adults ate first.

Silver closes her eyes a moment. Dreams had haunted her every night for as far back as she could remember. Claw couldn’t or wouldn’t understand. Dreams of winged monsters. Dreams of fire breathing, scaled creatures flying across the sky, eclipsing the moon. Dreams of dragons.

Their scales fill her mind when she sleeps. Even thinking about them in her off time gives her an odd thrill. How she longs to be meet one of them. How she wishes she could find one of them, speak to its shape. Grace, power and beauty mixed as one. She doesn’t remember where she saw them first, to make her dream this way, but that doesn’t matter.

“Pack leader,” a voice calls in a soft growl. Her eyes snap open. One of her children, Chase-The-Wind, approaches her, padding over quietly. Everything about his snow-white form is nervous, his tail between his legs, his eyes downcast. “Shadow-With-Teeth is issuing an open challenge for leadership. He came here with his whole pack.”

Silver-Fur-Shining rises to her four paws, stretches out slowly. “Thank you. I’ll take his challenge now.”

She knows Chase is curious. Normally she’d wait a few days after a kill before accepting any challenge. Something preoccupies her, however. She wishes only to get the fight over and done with so she might continue alone with her thoughts.

To that end, she is surprised to see Shadow-With-Teeth muzzle to muzzle with Claw-Scars-Many. The two are snarling and snapping at one another. The words are hard to make out, but she gets the gist of it.

“You think that Silver-Fur-Shining is weak? You dare step here in my pack, issue formal challenge to the leader and pretend not to know who she is?” Claw-Scars-Many growls sharply. “Were she here-”

“Where is she then, if she is as strong as you boast?” Shadow-With-Teeth snaps. “Is she too craven to accept my challenge?”

Claw stares him down, and the two are so intent that it isn’t until Silver physically steps between them that they take note of her. Claw abruptly sits back on his haunches and does not meet her eyes. Shadow stares her down defiantly, of course, but she can read fear in his gaze, even if the wind does not bring her his scent.

“I accept your challenge,” Silver says quietly. “And I have no fear.”

“The terms?” Shadow asks. His stance is tense and his eyes never leave hers.

“If you lose, you and your pack fall under my command,” Silver replies evenly.

“If you lose, you will be my mate and your pups will be the strongest of any ever known,” Shadow growls. “We will hunt on the plains until the stars burn out.”

Silver almost lets go with a wolfish grin after that, but represses it. “You won’t win.”

They begin to circle.  The wolves surrounding them scatter, both packs looking on. Silver eyes her opponent warily. His steps mark him for an experienced fighter. He is remarkably large for a dire wolf, nearly as large as Silver is, and it makes her uneasy. His fur is somewhat matted and scarred in places, and black as shadows ought to be.

They wait, each watching the other. Tension gathers in Silver’s heart. He should move. She knows he’ll strike first. They always do. Impatient.

He does. In a flash, he strikes, moving like lightning. His breath fills her nostrils as his teeth snap down, as she nimbly ducks away from those razor fangs. She launches herself forward, driving her shoulder towards his throat. He bunches his legs and jumps, though, taking it to the chest instead, letting himself get bowled over. She doesn’t chase him down, but backs away, eying him, still wary. A less experienced wolf would have tried to pin him, and a less experienced wolf would have lost a paw. Never underestimate your opponent.

Shadow rolls back onto his paws again, rising slowly and glaring at her from burning red eyes. A red that captures her for a moment, holds her for far, far too long…

The moment fades as he moves, and she steps to the side, avoiding a charge and smashing into his side with her shoulder.  She tumbles after him this time, rolling on top, pinning his form down, teeth pausing at his throat, staring down at him. Her eyes meet his again, locked as she is like this. Something about him feels strange. Feels… familiar…

He gives a little whine and a whimper in submission, and she lets up, easing away, eying him warily.

It’s good that she does, for he rolls back to his paws and swipes for her the moment she lets him free. Iron-hard claws draw three red hot lines along her muzzle, and her blood runs blue as the sky. He’d moved faster than lightning. He’d been less than a blur.

The blow stuns her a moment, and in a flash his teeth are in pause like hers were, a mere moment from piercing Silver’s throat. A growl, soft and threatening escapes past her bare teeth as her blood soaks the fur of her muzzle.

“Trickery,” she snaps. “What manner of wolf are you?”

Those razor’d teeth graze her neck through her fur, though. Hating herself for it, Silver whimpers in submission without further complaint. To her shock and shame, those teeth nip one of her ears before they draw away, neatly puncturing it. Without the threat of his jaws around her neck, Silver shakes her head to clear it, and storms away, leaving her mate with her victorious rival and trying very hard not to think about what it means that she lost.

To her further surprise, Shadow doesn’t follow her.

When Claw finds her later, she crouches under her tree with Chase-The-Wind, who is busily licking away the dried and drying blood from the wound on her muzzle, cleaning her as if she were a pup and Chase were a mother. Of all his children, Claw likes Chase the best.

He isn’t Silver’s favorite– the girl-wolf doesn’t pick favorites– but he comes pretty close.

You just ran off to sulk? is what Claw thinks, but he doesn’t say it out loud because he isn’t feeling cruel. Of course, he doesn’t need to say it. It’s implied in every muscle in his body.

“Come to mock me, Claw?” Silver asks, without looking at him. “Come to taunt me for my mistake?”

“No,” he replies, staring at her steadily. “I have not.”

“Then why are you here?” she snarls. “Perhaps you wanted one last roll before I become beholden to Shadow-With-Teeth?”

“If you had not run away like a stung pup, you’d realize that you won as well,” Claw says lightly. “A point that, if argued between packs, I’m sure you would win. You always tell me that I have trouble with my temper.”

“You do.”

Claw ignores that. “You are letting your anger cloud your mind. We are more than giant wolves– you have helped me see that over the seasons, little one, whether you know it or not. I suggest you act like it.”

Silver-Fur-Shining shakes her head, but it’s only to push Chase-The-Wind away. She stretches and stands, chest heaving in an immense sigh. “Fine.”

Chase stands with her, but Claw pads over to him and leads him away. “Let her deal with this on her own,” he growls softly. “This is something your mother must do.”

Silver arrives at the clearing- a place of dirt and grass- where her pack has dragged their kill. No one meets her eyes. Her children all seem downcast– as well they should be, to witness their mother lose. It wrenches at her heart to see them like this, but she shoves that aside, instead stalking past them to where Shadow-With-Teeth sits alone. A leg from the massive scaled monster lies unworried or touched next to him. He meets her eyes fearlessly, tauntingly, with his own crimson ones.

Silver restrains the snarl and snap that try to curl her lips back from her teeth. He dares to challenge her authority?

But she lost.

“Eager to start?” he growls quietly. “You should wait for me to call you, little girl.”

The words from Claw would earn the old fool a playful cuff. Those words from Shadow earn him a growl from somewhere deep in Silver’s throat. Anger rises in her heart, but something in Shadow’s eyes forces it back down again. He’s being careful in his words. He’s choosing them very deliberately. He hasn’t shown true anger yet, not during the fight, not now. Every move he makes seems to be and have been calculated.

Silver stops when she is no more than a few yards away from him, settling back on her haunches. She cleans herself in front of him, ignoring him completely and forcing her rage back, instead giving herself time to think. This wolf is much more dangerous than he would seem at first. In a head-on fight he is also craftier. She isn’t sure if she has the energy to fight him now. He is devilishly intelligent, that much is for certain. She vastly underestimated him.

Shadow waits silently, watching her intently. Though his body seems eager and his eyes are filled with malice, his scent remains calm. She realizes it had been calm the entire fight, in the brief moments she had been able to catch it.

She finishes cleaning her fur. She slowly raises her eyes to his and does not look away. “I have not come here to mate with you, Shadow-With-Teeth. I have come here to talk.”

His eyes laugh at her. For all that she keeps her steely demeanor, Silver feels her heart sink.

It may be and may end as a hundred different things, but she is certain that this is not going to be easy.

 

 

 

 

©2012 Sam Oliver (Eris)

—–

Here it is, part one. Next up should be the long awaited chapter three of Three Hearts, or maybe some poetry or maybe both. Time to get back in gear- and yes, there will be a page devoted to this serial short. Promise.

<3s,

Eris

The Shifting Flames – 0

She holds herself. Her hands are red and cracked, her eyes are downcast, her mouth set in a line. Fingers curl against her skin as ashes blow around her feet. Dead ashes. Cold ashes.The fingers are hers.

The ashes are hers. Of hope, of dreams, of a life that now means nothing. Has meant nothing. She stares at her fingernails, caked with grey. All of it had been for nothing. The life here with this family had been for nothing. There is nothing to rebuild, not even the shadow of a glimmer of hope. The girl knows that there is nothing left here.

Feet help her rise, her hands pull at nothing, as much a stretch as a need for aid in standing. Her muscles ache from kneeling there for so long.

Before her, smoke hisses and sways in the breeze. Around her, shades of people she once knew flit here and there, carrying buckets both empty and full, fighting for life and limb amidst the smoking sand that had once been her home. She has no name.

The villagers around her do not see her, do not touch her, do not think of her as they rush by. Many children are sitting as she did, near the grasses or in the ashes of their old houses, staring numbly at nothing. She is but another broken child, like a doll worn and finally torn from overuse or mistreatment. She is of no use to the village, being barren and small and frail besides.

The day goes by and the blaze is fought down to nothing, the flames eventually burning down to cinders, and the cinders cool in the coming night. Still the girl stands there, in her rags and tatters and the singed remains of a dress that might have been pretty before it was coated in the ashes of the dead. The grey remains cling everywhere, her body painted with them.

She stares into the darkness as it falls, the night moonless, the stars eclipsed by clouds. Her stomach rumbles and her head pounds. Her lungs are weak, and she coughs with near every breath in, from the smoke.

The girl isn’t sad that her old family is dead. She doesn’t mourn the loss of her house. That she has nowhere to stay is of no consequence to her. She looks at the ashes that remain of her old home and in her mind, thoughts race.

They are focused on but one thing, as the smell of charred flesh is finally swept away on the night wind, a wind that chills her legs and arms and sends gooseflesh down her back. She is thinking of the dragon.

After a time, how long if asked she could not say, a pack of wolves comes forward from the grass of the plain surrounding the village. Those humans left without homes flee for the remaining standing houses, hoping for shelter, and these wolves– which are wild ones, dire ones, each the size of a horse– chase them down. Methodically they pick the old or the weak of the survivors out from the rest, herding them away from the safe shadow of the dwellings.

The girl does not look up as their screams echo into the night. Mercifully for the families locked in their houses, they do not last long.

The girl does not turn around until the pack leader approaches her from behind. A wolfish muzzle nudges her front, and razor teeth bared in a snarl meet her eyes as she finally snaps free from her near trance. Hot breath against her face does not make her tremble.
Instead, the girl reaches up and strokes the jaws of the alpha wolf, who stares down at her. The wolf speaks first.

“Why do you choose such a weak and vulnerable shape, shifter?” his voice is kept soft, but the threat of a growl is palpable in the air in each pause.

The girl simply smiles, and shrugs, a human habit. “I know of no other.”
“I could show you a shape. We would roll together in grass, feel the plains beneath our paws. The scent of the stars would be within your grasp, and you would learn what a true soul is like,” the dire wolf whispers. “Come with me, shifter. Learn to be free.”

The words are not apparent from lips alone. All of the creature’s body shows it, in the tensing of its muscles, in its stance and the way its tail slowly sweeps, side to side, the way its silver-green eyes stare into hers.

“No freedom comes without cost. To take your shape is to lose a part of me, great wolf,” the girl replies. “Should I give up such a thing and offer you myself for no gain of my own?”
“The gain is your life, shifter,” the wolf snaps, jaws closing bare inches from the girl’s hand. She yanks it away, but stands her ground. “If you do not come with me, you will remain a human, and prey.”

The girl folds her arms, and feels her heart rise and fall with the deep breath she takes. For her apparent eleven years, she seems far older in that moment, and far more tired than she should be.

“There is a catch, is there not?” she asks sharply. “If I go with you, if you share your form there is always a price. What do you wish of me?”

The alpha wolf’s stance denotes anger, then, hackles rising. “Do you want to die, little human? What price would not be worth life?”

“We all die sooner or later,” the girl answers calmly. “If you wanted to kill me, you would have done so when you first drew in my scent. Something about me piques your interest. What is it?”

The alpha wolf snarls, then rises and lashes out, knocking her back into the ashes of her home, throwing her right off her feet and forcing the wind from her lungs, sending searing tracks across her chest. Stabbing, overwhelmingly sharp pain indicates that the blow may have cracked her ribs. A sharp, cold fear runs through her now, as she stares up at the monstrous wolf standing above her. Will he kill her now? Despite her brave words, she isn’t sure she is ready to die.

“No price will be taken now,” he growls. “When you are older.”

Ah, the girl thinks wryly. That explains it, then.

A haze of pain hangs over her every movement. It makes it hard to think, breathe and speak. “Come here then, pack leader,” she whispers, voice trembling. “I’ve made my choice.”

She reaches up as he approaches her and settles next to her, in the ashes of her former home. The cold night air clings to her skin and as she buries a hand in the wolf’s fur, she buries her mind inside of herself.

Frayed memory greets her as she drifts in the vast, galactic expanse of her own ego, rolling, twisting to look at shimmering stars of vague wants, recollections of some of her earliest forms that are locked away from her and unlabeled, forgotten. As her spiritual form floats in that space, she realizes she can feel the dire wolf’s jaws closed on her physical body’s hand, the teeth but a moment’s pressure from wrenching it away from her.

Even now he’s being cautious, the girl notes silently. As he should be, of things he doesn’t understand.

She rises in her mind, buoyed upward on willpower alone, rising up through the galaxy of forms spiraling to either side of her, unused, untouched. Finally she reaches the surface, the ceiling, where she can see the specific spiritual signature of the dire wolf she clings to.

She rocks herself around it, a bead of light, dark and crimson red hanging in space, in her own head. The girl reaches out, takes it in one hand, and pulls it against herself. The sucking emptiness where it used to be demands something from her, and, helpless to refuse it, some of her essence, her glowing, radiant mind, parts from her soundlessly.

Searing ghost-pain rolls down her body the moment that piece of her leaves, and in the ashes, clinging to the alpha wolf’s fur, she hears herself whimper.

With a new bead hanging there, proclaiming itself to be the essence of her old form, she absorbs the mental bead of light, that dire wolf spirit, into herself and begins to change.
Her spine curves. Her arms turn to forelimbs, the whole structure of her body changes, from head to foot, toes shrinking, the littlest ones disappearing altogether. They form great paws, tipped with iron-sharp claws. Her face lengthens, twists and changes to form a long canine muzzle, teeth sharpening, lengthening, some of them disappearing, mostly specialized for rending meat. Her stomach grows, its emptiness more acute, her whole body grows out, fur covering every inch of her skin, the dress torn to pieces. The cuts on her chest turn tiny in comparison with her new size, her breasts shrink and disappear, growing out along where her human belly had been as two rows of little teats.

The alpha wolf slinks back, withdrawing his mouth from her forepaw as she finishes changing, watching the girl become wolf-like with a passive expression.

Ludicrously, her first instinct when the transformation is over is to find more clothes. She feels exposed. Her bones are hard as any metal now, though, and her skin has become more like hide, and rough to the touch. The fur warms her up, and she shakes herself, sitting back on her haunches, eyes downcast as the alpha stands. He towers over her still. Though she is much larger than any normal wolf, she is still young by dire wolf standards.
Many dire wolves could live as long as two hundred seasons. She is still but a child. A pup.
The pack leader’s stance is somewhat disappointed, but the girl-wolf is sure he didn’t expect much else, for it is also resigned.

“Come with us now, shifter,” he says quietly. “There is nothing in the ashes of this human den. Not for you, and not for the pack.”

The girl-wolf does not argue. He is her leader now. While she is slightly unsure, her body knows what it must do, so she lets it follow the pack leader away onto the plains, planting new paw-feet unsteadily, one after the other, until she is lost in the night.

 

 

 

 

©2012 Eris (Sam Oliver)

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So basically I’ve been kicking around this story along with Mesdan’s Three Hearts. It’s shorter- more a serial short rather than a serial novel. I’ll finish it eventually, this is just part ‘zero’ as I like to call it. I thought I’d share, because I do so love to write. I should be getting more of that done soon.