Hunter's moon: Ghosts
"Father, is that really how you met Mother?" Nukluk, the eldest of our pups posed the question while Fera, our youngest, pounced on my swooshing tail. I could feel a few jabs of pain as she dug her teeth into my poor tail. I winced. Jasmine pulled Fera away gently by the scruff of her neck. Holding the small pup barely three winters old, Jasmine gave a sigh of exasperation, but smiled all the same.
"Fera, what are we going to do with you?" The small wolf gave a quiet yip and fell asleep in her mother's arms. Jasmine held her daughter close to her chest and cradled her softly. Watching the display of affection, I smiled. My heart was bursting with happiness. I'm going to have four amazing children, the best mate a wolf could ever ask for, and a supporting pack. The beginning of our lives together may have been full of struggles, but we managed to pull through. Together, just the way I liked it.
"Yes Nukluk, that's how I met your mother." Sighing in contentment, I laid myself down on the soft dewy grass and looked up through the canopy of leafy branches. Downhill, there rushed a small stream over a bed composed of many a shining stone. Ferns and white flowers that bloomed only under a full moon grew in abundance throughout our own little vale. This was our paradise. Mine and Jasmine's. It was where Nukluk was first conceived, where we went when the world became too much to bear.
Nukluk grabbed my attention by jumping on my stomach.
"Oof!" The breath was knocked out of me. Nukluk gave a barking laugh and crawled up to my chest. After I regained myself, I drew my arms about him, and hugged my son with the love of a proud father. Nukluk licked my cheek affectionately, reciprocating this love. Worming his way out of my arms, he rolled onto the sweet-scented grass and looked at me. I turned my head and smiled warmly at my son.
Nukluk's fur was a dark black, the color of the night sky. At the very tips of his ears was a white patch, cream like the snow that would fall as winter's herald. And his eyes, so bright and green they shone like the spark in a firefly's tail. Not to give some mention to his soul would do him no justice. Nukluk was the kindest wolf I'd ever had the pleasure of meeting. That kindness was inherited from his mother, the spirit singer of our pack. Speaking of Jasmine... Her turning hadn't gone well, but she had become the most beautiful wolf I'd ever seen. Her fur was very light, the color of liquid sunlight. And her mane, it streamed down my love's back like the waving grass of the plains. Jasmine's lupine form was slim and slender, possessing the grace of Nulani's moonlight dancers.
"So mom was a human?" Nukluk whispered to me, his eyes darting to his mother. Jasmine patted her swollen belly. She was pregnant, expecting twins our Shaman Kulil had told us.
"Yes Nukluk. I was born human." Nukluk threw his arms up into the air.
"That's so amazing!" He cried, eyes bright with curiosity. "When do I get to meet a human?" Jasmine and I exchanged a nervous glance.
"Nukluk, listen to me." I asked him sternly. He looked at me. "You'll be lucky if you never see a human. They're dangerous." Nukluk looked at his mother, then back at me. I smiled. "No, you're mother is not a good example. I didn't listen to tradition, that most humans hate our kind. There are whole packs of them who just want to kill us." I saw little Nukluk's jaw drop.
"R-really?" Now he sounded afraid. His gaze continually glanced at the forest around us. I took one sniff of the air to confirm our safety. That strange, almost metallic human scent was nowhere to be found. Only the sweet, earthy goodness of the forest entered my nostrils. We became silent. Jasmine looked cradled Fera, that gray scoundrel. Nukluk climbed off of me to lay on the grass, his eyes thoughtful as he stared up at the stars. I was left looking up toward the full moon, memories buzzing in my mind.
Slowly, as time wore on, we fell asleep one by one. First, Nukluk crawled over to my side and nodded off, curled up into a little ball. Then it was Jasmine who succumbed to the day's weariness. Still cradling little Fera, Jasmine fell asleep on a bed of moss. My eyelids began to droop. I let them close and took slow, peaceful breaths. As sleep's veil was drawn over me, a dream pulled over my mind's eye. A dream of our past.
I hadn't even known Jasmine for an hour, and already she had me enthralled. After Jasmine had recovered, we trudged through the forest back to Jasmine's encampment. Left untended, the flame had nearly died. Only a few measly cinders were left alive. Stripping some dry bark from a nearby tree and dusty ferns, I set them down on a glowing ember and bent down so that the tip of my muzzle was nearly lit aflame. I could feel the ember shedding heat like it was stricken with fever. Good. It still had life in it yet. Blowing gently on the ember, I introduced the tinder and watched the magic happen. Slowly, fueled by my breath, the ember expanded and touched the parched tinder. Fingers of flame burst into being. Pleased by my results, I grinned and looked behind me to Jasmine. She was in awe. I don't know why, but that made me feel... good. I was just proud to show off, I guess.
Gathering a pile of branches to feed the flame, I finally seated myself by the now roaring fire and beckoned for Jasmine to do the same. She obliged me and sat down by my side. The two of us just stared into the crackling flame. I may have appeared silent and well behaved, but just below the surface was a writhing mess of questions and curiosity. I chanced a glance at Jasmine and found she was gazing at me with those pretty eyes of hers'. Our eyes met. Jasmine blushed and looked away.
"So. What exactly are you?" She asked me bluntly. I thought about the question for a little while.
"Well, we call ourselves many things."
"Werewolves for one." Jasmine's draw dropped ajar.
"You're a werewolf!" I smiled a wolfish grin. Jasmine took one look at my sharp teeth and cringed. "You're not going to turn me, are you?" Her voice shook and she trembled in fear. I whined in distress. Her fear cut me deeply.
"Of course not." I tried reassuring her. Taking both of her hands in mine ever so gently, I covered them in my enormous paws. "I didn't even know I could, and besides. I kinda like you. You're very beautiful." I could see her blush.
"Great." She whispered to herself. "I'm being hit on by a werewolf." And she laughed. The sound of her laughter... It made my heart thunder against my chest. I couldn't stop myself. Leaning in towards Jasmine, I touched my nose against her cheek and gave it a soft lick. Jasmine bit her lip. Pulling back, I hesitated for her reaction. Laughing awkwardly, Jasmine came close and gave me a short hug. My ears drooped. Can't say I wasn't disappointed.
From out of nowhere, Jasmine's smiling face was replaced with one of horror.
"Oh my god!" She shouted. In the silence of the woods, her yell nearly caused me to jump out of my skin. Taking a moment to recover, I looked around the camp cautiously, scanning the dark with my eyes. Swiveling my ears about, I listened to the rhythm of the woods. Any hunter worth their salt would have heard that shout. Finding nothing, I turned my head towards Jasmine.
"What?" Jasmine touched her palm to her forehead and groaned.
"That other human who ran off?"
"She's a friend." Jasmine sighed. Her green eyes were filled with worry. I narrowed mine. That girl would make easy prey for the local wildcats and feral wolves. There might have even been some of my kind running around... In the oldest stories our shamans could remember, humans were a cruel and terrible enemy. Of course I put no stock in such traditions, for I did not believe that all humans could be evil. However, there were those who were fanatics to the ancient stories.
Before the beginning of time, the spirits ruled all the world. From the infinite spirits, the tale of how we came to be, involves merely three. Wolf and Moon were devoted lovers. Their happiness knew no bounds, and Moon bore many of Wolf's children. Among them, we were born. Moon's brother, Sun, grew jealous of Wolf's happiness. Jealousy corrupted his heart, and jealousy, over many eons became hate. Conspiring against Wolf and Moon, A brilliant, and terrible, idea dawned to Sun. What better way to destroy happiness than to rip it from their hearts? And so filled with glee from this prospect, Sun proceeded to place a curse on Wolf's children.
Earth, a loving mother to Wolf, witnessed this treachery, and whispered the truth into Wolf's keen ear. Wolf, angered by this horrible news, rushed to the glade where he had set his children to play. However, Wolf could not run fast enough, nor did he realize the extent of Sun's hatred. Upon Wolf's arrival to the glade, he was met with agony. Sun's curse had twisted the hearts and forms of his beloved children, wresting from their deepest recesses the beast that dwells within all of us. Sun had created Man. Raising his head to the heavens in sorrow, Wolf wept and loosed an agonized howl.
Wolf's sorrow and anger were so powerful, that his howl was heard across all of creation, in the past, and in the future. Moon, listening to the rhyme of creation heard this howl and knew that tragedy had befallen her family. Appearing overhead, Moon was greeted with the terrible sight of her twisted children, and she began to weep. Moon's sorrow was so deep, that her tears were transformed into silver rays of light. Feeling a terrible anger deep within her heart, Moon with knowledge of the depraved spirit responsible, estranged herself forever from Sun. And night was sundered from day. But what was this?
As night fell for the first time upon the land, and Moon's radiant form appeared in the sky, a lone howl echoed in loneliness throughout the land. Both Wolf and Moon looked toward its source. Had one of their children been spared? Wolf, knowing that Moon would never abandon her children, even twisted as they were, dove into the fabric of creation, searching for his lost son. Wolf's search lead him to a faraway valley of barren stone at time's end. Again the howl resonated through the land, and Wolf charged through the skies as a meteor, righteous rage flowing through his veins. Arriving at the base of a fire mountain, Wolf saw his lost son, lost no longer, and was astonished. Wolf and Moon's firstborn was not as he was, but neither had he been twisted. His heart had been so pure, and his soul so righteous, Sun's curse had become a blessing. Hakon's form was one of Wolf and Man. A conjoining of the two, to form a body and soul superior to both. And Hakon, feeling deep inside of himself the ability to confer this blessing unto his brothers, bade his father farewell. At this, Wolf smiled, for hope had been returned to his heart.
However, Sun had hid himself inside the core of the fire mountain, and overheard Wolf and Hakon's exchange. Sun's hatred exploded with the ferocity of the fire mountain itself, for he had been thwarted. Spiriting himself away without being seen by either proud spirit, Sun returned to the glade of Moon's twisted children and spoke with them. He did not care that Moon was watching, nor did he mind that she had estranged herself from him, such were the depths of his hatred. Sun bade Man listen, and listen well. Taking three days and three nights, Sun instructed Man in the ways of savagery and cunning, so that Man may build a a vast and powerful empire to withstand the assault of Hakon. And so it came to pass that Hakon and his brothers were at war.
I'd had no idea what the stories had meant by, "conferring his blessing" but with Jasmine's help, I had come to an understanding. We can turn man, into wolf... I could feel my ears droop as anxiety struck my heart. Stephanie was in danger because of my actions. I had to make this right, I have to find her. Springing to my feet, I took a deep breath and narrowed my eyes. Bunching up the muscles in my legs, I could feel the pent up energy aching to be free. Giving a massive push, I released the energy and felt my sinews spring. Leaping into a run, my muscles burned in a pleasurable way, and I had become a wind tearing through the forest.
Panting, I stopped for a rest beside a hollowed tree, just to catch my breath. I was amazed at how far Stephanie had made it, but judging by the way her weird pungent scent (like an evil flower) had become overpowering, I knew she was close. Having caught my breath, I dropped down to all fours and put my nose to the leaf litter. Sniffing, I tried to locate her scent. Fanning my head over the forest floor, I caught strong micro-pockets of Stephanie's scent and followed them.
I heard the rustling of leaves and looked up. Swiveling my ears, I located the source of the sound. It had come from the sparse remains of a dead tree. Below the tree was a large hollow of roots and dirt. Looking around for a stick, I found a dry, brittle one and snapped it in my paw. The noise was clear as water in the silence of the forest.
"J-Jasmine?" A soft human voice stuttered fearfully. I smiled. There she is, maybe a bit ruffled, but otherwise unharmed.
"Stephanie?" I barked, and grimaced. The words had left my jaws rough and mangled compared to Stephanie's. There was nothing. She made no sound, but I bet her eyes were wide with fear.
"P-please don't hurt me!" She said after a while.
"Relax, I'm here to take you back to Jasmine." I tried making the words softer, but failed. I think she started to cry.
"You got Jasmine, and now you're going to eat me!" I almost smiled at the ridiculous notion.
"Eat you? I won't eat you. I promise." And I did put my paw over my heart. "Now-" I dropped the sentence as a breath of air passed through my nostrils. That smell... I whipped my head around and scanned the dark forest with my piercing eyes. My gut bunched up into a rock as I saw two gleaming orbs and a silhouette in the dark. The smell... it was werewolf, feral and dangerous. Like blood waiting to be spilled. The distinct scent of a rival tribe. A tribe we ousted for their territory.
"It's you." Came a rough snarl as a black wolf with amber eyes stepped forward. He wore a wolfish grin, and I could see his sharp, yellowed teeth. Could practically taste his breath that smelled like rotted meat and blood. His muzzle was broad, and he had multiple feathers in his wild mane. The hostile wolf gave a growl as he stood on two legs and shifted his spine. I could almost hear the bone creak and groan as he took on his true form. Crossing his muscular arms, he glared at me with hate in his eyes. Mine widened as I slowly backed away, whimpering. His glare was so intense, I could feel myself beginning to bow, to submit. I snarled as he smiled.
"You were there when your ruthless brothers and sisters threw out my family." The smile was gone from his face. His eyes burned. "I had been out hunting, but by the time I got back, my chief had given the order to retreat. I never got the chance to fight for my home." I lowered my head in shame.
"I didn't have a choice. Chieftain's orders. I'm sorry." I was legitimately sorry. We'd driven a defenseless pack from their prey-rich home and into the wastes. I saw his eyes widen, and his fists clench so tightly blood dripped from his paws.
"you're... sorry?" His voice was incredulous, and his eyes were lent a burning rage. "Many of my tribe perished!" I could only feel the shame burning in my heart as he began to walk forward. "I'm going to rip your throat out." He growled threateningly. I found my back had touched the dead tree under which Stephanie lay sobbing. Shaking my head clear of guilt, I raised my arms in defense and opted for a light fighting stance.
"I'm warning you, BACK OFF!" The oncoming wolf snorted.
"I'm not afraid of you, runt." I had two choices, and was running out of time fast. One, I could stay and fight, which would most likely end in my death, or two, run. I thought the choice was pretty obvious. I turned tail and ran. Pumping my arms and legs as fast as I could, I tore through the forest faster than ever. I was surprised at the strength I could feel coursing through my limbs. Looks like no motivator was better than death when it came to running for your life.
My pursuer was skilled. There was no question about it. I couldn't even hear him behind me, while I myself was blundering through the forest as fast as possible. Something told me that he was enjoying this... Chancing a look behind, I saw nothing but dark trees. When suddenly, my foot hit an arcing root and I tripped. Falling head over heels, I landed in a puddle of mud and splashed the stuff in all directions. With my breath tearing at my lungs, I flipped myself over and whipped my head to and fro, searching for any signs of life. Besides the skeletal dead trees and bare muddy ground, there was nothing. Purely by accident, I had entered the wastes. I didn't know what unsettled me the most... How the silence of this dead land seemed to oppress me, or that I had no idea where my pursuer had gone.
Laying down in the mud, I took the moment to rest my aching muscles and raw lungs. Straining my ears to catch the faintest sounds, I could hear only my beating heart. Standing up slowly, I noticed how badly my legs shook. Taking a look down at my paws, I saw that they were shaking, and splattered with filthy mud. The sickly sweet scent of overturned rotting leaves and earthy mud masked my scent, however, it prevented me from sniffing him out too. Taking deep breaths, I rose my shaking arms and bent my knees. Shifting my weight so that I'd be light on my toes, I readied myself for a fight. I didn't even hear him coming.
From out of nowhere his paws closed around my neck and squeezed. At the same time, he bit me savagely on the shoulder. I yelped in pain as agony spread through the bite. I reached up behind my head and started to bang my fists against his. He didn't like that. Kicking the back of my knees, he pushed my legs out from under me and forced me down into the mud. My head broke the surface of a stagnant pond, and I resurfaced with a gasp. Sitting himself down on my back, he took his paws off my neck and grabbed the back of my head. Giving a strong push, he forced my head underwater.
Water, water everywhere... I couldn't breathe. Resisting as hard as my body would allow, I soon felt my muscles give out. Yowling as panic overtook, I only succeeded in losing my air supply. Black and white speckles veiled my vision. I was beginning to pass out. So, this is how it ends? Drowned in a puddle of filthy water? I was so far gone, I barely noticed when the weight of the murderous bastard was suddenly lifted. It was too late though, as darkness conquered me, and I could feel myself slipping.
"Hakon!" A magnificent and proud voice shouted. The water vanished and I could breathe again. I did so softly, not wanting to disturb my sleep. I could feel myself curl into a little ball on a bed of the softest moss. The air flowing over me was warm, and I was comfortable like never before.
"Hakon." There was that voice again... calling my name. I opened my eyes, finding myself in the warmly lit cave of my birth. Tallow candles were everywhere, in every nook, cranny and crevice, surrounding me in a glowing circle. Was it all just a dream? Yawning, I stretched my arms and looked around. Silver moonbeams came through the mouth of the cave, illuminating a standing figure. The figure waved for me to follow, and walked out into the forest clearing. I guess I should follow him...
Giving a sigh, I uncurled and leaped up to my feet. Yawning again, I loped over to the mouth of the cave and followed him. He was standing in the center of the clearing, surrounded by great pillars of stone. A vestige of our once great civilization, torn down by man in his quest to eliminate us. Our shamans remember only a fraction of the truth. Even they, the guardians of our ancestry, admitted that most of the ancestral knowledge had been long forgotten. They refer to this lost knowledge as the ancestor's ghost, and our fallen kingdom, Hakon's Rest. For it was he, our progenitor, who established Hakon's Rest in the long days of myth before the beginning of time.
"Hakon." The white wolf whispered as I approached, turning his head so that I could see his glorious golden eyes. He was awash with the radiance of moonbeams, which had lent everything a silvery shine. I looked about the clearing, reminiscing as childhood memories flashed before my eyes.
"This is a beautiful place to be born, isn't it?" He asked me. I looked at him and met his gaze. His eyes were gentle, and I could sense from them a peaceful soul, despite the battle scars covering his body. I nodded my head in agreement, not wanting to speak for lack of words. "Do you know who I am?" I thought about it for a moment, and snuffled in some air. I frowned. This strange wolf had a scent like clear night air and starlight.
"Not a clue." He gave a rough chuckle.
"I thought as much."
"So, who are you?"
"I am many things. Your namesake for one." My heart dropped into my gut.
"You mean, you're Hakon?" He gave a brisk nod.
"What do you want from me?"
"I want you to follow me." And he made off for the forest. Reluctantly, I followed him.
I didn't recognize this part of the forest. The trees here were sparse, however, they were enormous. They shot up into the sky, forming a canopy of leaves that was out of sight. Here and there, columns of moonlight pierced the canopy, giving light to other sections of the ancient forest. Revealing more of the same for as far as the eye could see. Underfoot squished a moist carpet of moss, as if it had just rained. The smells weren't half bad either, consisting mostly of sweet tree bark and fresh water. Although, underneath the primary scents of this forest lay something... different. Not different in a bad way, just, different. I'd never smelled anything like it before. Could it be silence? I smiled. How could you smell silence? The idea was ridiculous, and yet...
Slowly, the ground began its ascent. After a while, Hakon and myself were climbing a rather steep hill.
"Here we are." Hakon whispered, I assumed not wanting to break the comfortable silence. And he started to run. Panting, I upped my pace and reached the rim of a crater. Standing at the top, I looked down into the crater and whistled.
"Wow." Down below was a clear pond of stagnant rainwater, but that wasn't all. Massive roots arced from all sides of the crater, snaking their way down to the surface of the water. I saw Hakon jump down onto one, and I did the same. The both of us climbed our way down, and eventually we reached the small lake.
Sitting on a particularly flat root, I dangled my legs down, where the claws of my feet scraped the surface of the lake, creating ripples that traveled all the way to the far side. Crouching down by the lakeside, Hakon took his paw, and breathed on a single claw-tip. Gently touching this claw to the water, a deep ripple disturbed the lake, and it became absolutely clear, a dark mirror of the night.
"Show me Hakon." And the water became opaque, clouding until... until I appeared on its surface. I watched, transfixed at my dead body, staring lifelessly up toward the moon while my father wept by my side. There was blood on his claws, and his muzzle had been slashed.
"So I'm really..."
"Dead?" Hakon finished my sentence for me. "Unfortunately, yes. But this isn't the end." I looked down at my shaking paws. I clenched my teeth so hard I could almost hear them crack. I wasn't angry, oh, quite the opposite. I was filled with sorrow. My heart was breaking. My pack... My father... Jasmine. I'm never going to see them again. I closed my eyes as tears began to fall from their corners and I wept. A calloused paw softly touched my shoulder. "Don't weep Hakon. This was meant to be. You were meant to die so I could give you a choice." I opened my eyes and looked at him in despair.
"A choice? What choice?" My voice was quiet. Hakon smiled.
"I can revive you, or, you can stay with me. It's your choice."
"Revive me." Was my instant answer. Hakon laughed and he sat down beside me.
"I would have imagined you spending a little more time thinking this through."
"What's to think? I want to live!" Hakon sighed.
"Then it will come to be, but be warned. A storm is coming Hakon, and its coming for you."
My eyes opened and I gasped for breath. Bolting upright, I whipped my head around, taking in my surroundings. I was in the wastes, surrounded by skeletal trees and mud.
"Hakon?" My father whispered in disbelief. I stared at him. His wound was oozing blood, but other than that, he was fine, if not a little shocked. For a moment, there was silence, and then he smiled. "Hakon!" He shouted in delight, embracing me. "I thought you were dead!" And he began to weep with joy. I could feel his salty tears wet my shoulder, but I didn't care. I was too happy to care.