Welcome to a new week=) This week starts a new story, so thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy.
“They’ll never know,” Simon whispered.
“Of course they’ll know. They bury their dead.”
“But they won’t know who did it.”
Caroline glared at him. How he’d convinced her to come this far, she wasn’t sure. But here she knelt beside the one boy who’d tormented her all her life as they surveyed the battlefield.
It was gruesome. Made more so by the vibrant red the setting sun cast across the bodies. Everyone would wait till early sun to check their dead. Smart people didn’t venture out at dark.
I must be very dumb.
It was Caroline’s stupidity, though, that revealed her ability. She could shield, creating a barrier of solid air. The process drained her but she hadn’t realized how much until she showed it to Simon, who had to test her every chance he got.
He’d sneak up behind her and pelt rocks at the back of her head. Or he tripped her as she carried something, usually water from the well. After the first few times of this, she finally learned to ‘throw up’ a barrier. She’d thought he’d just reverted to being ten but now she suspected differently.
He’d been testing her. Trying to strengthen her ability to the point it became reflex. And now he deemed her strong enough.
“I’m not sure the shield will hold against the wargs,” Caroline blurted. “And they’ll be out in hordes at the smell of blood.”
Simon waved a hand in dismissal. “They’ll focus on the dead. They’re scavengers at heart.”
“And you know this how?”
He gave her a look.
“Never mind,” she said. She probably didn’t want to know the extent of his adventures.
“There,” Simon pointed, “we’ll start there.”
Caroline followed his finger to the glowing point of what looked like a stick. She shivered. Those weapons wracked havoc on their village. They shot what looked like a ball of light but if someone was hit, the substance stuck and spread across the body until only ash was left.
Caroline didn’t know how the weapons were made. No one in the village knew. It had something to do with the western mages the Borillans employed. But, from past rebellions, she knew if a weapon was stolen after being charged by a mage, it worked for anyone.
Thus how Simon convinced her to come out to the field. The Borillans were set to bury their dead and ransack the village in the morning. Her people had no defense.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” she said as the last light of day disappeared behind the enemy camp.
“Too late now to question it.” Simon caught her hand and pulled her closer to the ground. Following his lead, Caroline sank onto her belly.
A twig snapped to their left. More movement rustled the grass to their right. The stench of warm, rotten meat engulfed Caroline and she gagged.
Simon squeezed her hand, warning her to silence. Lowering her head very slowly, she pressed her nose against her arm. In that position she saw a paw the size of her torso press the grass down beside her elbow. She’d been warned about this part. Simon wasn’t kind in his descriptions about waiting for the wargs to set upon the dead, but seeing it terrified her like no description could.
The warg beside her paused, its paw in the air mid-step. It sniffed and the deep pull of air ruffled Caroline’s hair. Sweat dripped down her face. She fought her shaking as the wet nose touched her shoulder.
Simon warned her not to move, not to shield. Any resistance would spark the joyful glee of the chase in the warg.
Sharp pain shot through her shoulder as the beast bit down and flipped her over. Crying out, Caroline threw away Simon’s hand and shielded as the warg drew back to bite again. Its jaws stopped mere inches from her face.
Yellow eyes narrowed. The warg drew back, rearing up on its hind legs and coming down with its front on her shield. Caroline shrieked as her shoulder burned under the strain of holding the beast’s weight.
Jaws opened wide and the warg tried to bite her head. Caroline expanded her shield to protect each side of her face but it just kept the jaws from closing. It didn’t keep the beast from bridging her face with its mouth.
The stench made her gag at the same time as she stared down the thing’s throat.
I’m going to die.
Of course you are.
Caroline gasped. The warg drew back and met her eyes. Those yellow orbs glinted with mirth.
Out of my head!
There was a yelp and the warg snarled. It drooled through its long teeth and the saliva dripped onto her shield.
Caroline had heard of the warg’s ability to communicate but it’d been so long since someone could master them that the legends were scoffed at.
The beast reared back and came down hard on her shield again. Her shoulder flared hot fire. Jaws opened for another bite but then paused. The warg crouched low, its head resting with its front paws on her shield. The beast was focused above her head.
Following its gaze, Caroline spotted Simon just as he picked up a mage stick. He turned with a triumphant grin. The warg vaulted from her shield toward the young man.
“No!” Caroline rolled to her feet.
Simon shot at the warg, sending a ball of light from the mage stick into the beast’s eyes. Unlike with a human, the light didn’t bother the warg. It shook its head to clear its eyes and kept on going.
Caroline couldn’t reach Simon in time. The warg covered far more ground than she.
He either didn’t hear her or his body just gave into his flight instinct. He spun and took off running, dodging between other wargs and dead bodies. The beast after him howled in what Caroline guessed was delight.
The thrill of the chase.
“Chase me you dumb beast!” Caroline shouted. She didn’t expect the warg to hear her but it stopped so suddenly that it tumbled over another warg. Spinning around, it pinned her with a yellow stare.
“Think chasing him is fun?” she continued to shout. “A defenseless human, how glorious of you.”
The warg shoved another beast out of its way as it stalked back toward her. It stood a shoulder above the other, which cowered away.
What’ve I done?
Challenged me. There was deep satisfaction in the response.
Out of my head!
Only if you win.
Caroline wanted to run but after seeing the beast gain on Simon, there was no point. She wiped her hands on her pant legs but it didn’t help their clamminess or their shaking. Blood dripped down her shoulder from where the warg first bit her.
I’d be foolish not to be.
It laughed. Then it lunged.
Caroline threw up a shield but rolled under the impact. She tumbled with the warg, throwing out her shield wildly as the beast bit and clawed while they rolled. They came to rest in the trees below the battlefield.
Pushing to her feet, Caroline backed away as the warg shook its head clear. She stopped just outside the range of its claws. She knew the forest well. There was a pit the village dug to dispose of waste farther to the west. They dug it deep to keep the smell contained. She’d never reach it running, though.
She backed another step as the warg turned toward her. She knew of no way to hurt the beast. If the mage stick barely touched it, she doubted she could do actual damage to it. But maybe she could trap it. Expose it to the sun in the morning. Stories said they hated the sun.
Backing another step, she watched the beast’s lips pull back in a grisly smile. Saliva dripped down its long fangs. Its muscles bunched.
Caroline darted around a tree just as the warg lunged for her. It slammed into the pine and a horrible cracking sounded as the tree tilted toward her. Needles showered down. She kept moving in the confusion, brushing branches away with small shields until she was free of the falling tree.
Can’t dodge forever.
She ignored the taunting. What if the beast could hear the plan in her head? She had no way of knowing how much it could glean from her. So she didn’t respond, didn’t taunt it back as it continued to throw insults at her.
Stupid human. Even mages can’t best me. Their fire barely touches me.
Why was that? Caroline feared mages almost as much as she feared wargs. Yet even the mages retreated inside when the sun set. What made the wargs immune?
In the dark, she missed seeing a root under the dead needles of the forest floor. Her toe caught as she ducked away from another attack. The warg flew over her to crash into another tree. This one, thicker around than the last, withstood the impact.
Caroline landed on her hands and knees. Dirt and rock bit into her skin and her head spun. She’d been shielding too much. Scrambling around a rock, she braced herself to stand. Trickles of blood ran from her skinned hands as she swayed.
Growling warned her. The warg charged around the rock and reared on its hind legs to pin her. Caroline shielded but as soon as the warg landed on her defense, her head swam with tiny lights.
Don’t pass out, don’t pass…
Go ahead, pass out.
Lips pulled back to display its long fangs again.
Stop drooling on me. It was a stupid thought.
The warg growled but slowly, like it fought something she couldn’t see, the beast’s lips closed over its teeth.
Caroline’s eyes widened. The wind shifted, bringing a foul stench that wasn’t warg to her. The waste pit was close.
Get off! She ordered with a shove. It was the last strength she had. The warg thudded to the ground on its back as her shield dissolved. She hadn’t realized she could push so hard.
The beast rolled but, before it gained its feet, Caroline was running. The stench on the wind grew stronger and then there, in a small clearing, opened the waste pit.
The beast was close on her heels. She heard both its breath and the heavy pad of its paws. Caroline dodged to the side and hit the ground. Sure enough, the warg skidded, trying to follow her, and its hind legs slid into the waste pit.
The beast scrambled for ground. It had enough purchase on the ground that it wasn’t going to fall. Gathering the last bit of strength, Caroline shielded and pushed. The warg whimpered as its front legs were forced into the pit and it fell.
Caroline swayed, her vision sparked with little lights and then the ground rushed to meet her.
Someone shook her shoulder and she cried out. Shoving the hand away, Caroline opened her eyes to find Simon leaning over her. His dark brows sat low over his eyes in concern. She’d never seen him look worried before.
He sat back on his heels as she moved to sit. His face was covered in dirt and his hands were bloody.
“Thank heavens,” Caroline said, “you’re alive.” She hugged herself as she started to shiver. Looking around, she spotted the line of light on the horizon that testified dawn was near.
“It stinks around here,” Simon covered his nose with the back of his hand.
Caroline sniffed and almost gagged. Warg mixed with waste pit.
Scrambling to her feet, Caroline approached the pit. At the bottom of the pit two yellow eyes glowed.
Not so tough now. She teased. It felt good to get back at the beast.
A deep growl answered her.
“What the—“ Simon looked down and then backed away. “You captured one? What’re we going to do with it?”
Caroline frowned. She had no idea. She considered asking the warg if this counted as winning but then she tossed the idea away. Showing that kind of indecision couldn’t be a good idea.
“I win,” she said aloud.
“What?” Simon asked.
You win. The warg admitted.
“How’d you do getting mage sticks?” she asked Simon.
He hung his head. “I found three.”
Caroline’s heart sank. In a matter of hours the Borillans would ransack the village. She stared at the glowing eyes in the pit while she considered. Her ma hid right now in the cellar behind their house. It wouldn’t be enough to protect her.
“Can you withstand sunlight?” she asked the beast.
“Caroline, you’re talking to an animal,” Simon gave her a look.
Yes, the warg growled.
“Then why do you avoid it?”
It’s painful to our eyes.
Simon continued to look at her askance. She ignored him.
The warg snarled but she had her answer without confirmation. This one demanded respect from the others on the field the night before.
“Protect the village today, leave it alone from then on and I’ll release you.”
A heavy snort came from below. We cannot see in the day. How are we to protect against what we can’t see?
“You surround the village and look tough. Shouldn’t be that difficult.”
There came a long pause, then yes, Mistress.
Caroline’s throat constricted. She’d just made a deal with a warg to surround the village. Would the beast hold to the deal? If it didn’t, it could just as easily kill everyone in the village.
“Simon, gather everyone in the meeting hall and guard the doors with the mage sticks.”
“What’ve you done?” He grabbed her shoulder and she instinctively flared a shield as he touched her wound. He fell onto his back.
“I’m trying to save everyone. Now go!”
He pushed to his feet and ran like she was a warg too. Caroline took a moment to let the pain in her shoulder pass. She couldn’t decide if she was happy Simon feared her now or if it saddened her. He might leave her alone from here on out but then again, everyone in the village might leave her alone. They’d all fear her.
What am I?
You’re a descendant.
The warg didn’t answer and she didn’t push. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.
Gathering herself, she created a shield and lowered it into the pit as a step for the warg. Directing it onto the platform, she created a second shield and lowered it too. Using the two as steps, she slowly brought the warg to the top of the waste pit.
Time to tell if it’ll keep its word. She watched the beast step onto the ground in front of her.
It squinted in the light peeking over the horizon.
“Try not to squint when you face the Borillans. You look far less fierce.”
Of course, Mistress.
Mistress? The term made her shiver.
“Gather your pack.”
The warg hesitated before bounding away. Caroline watched its powerful strides until she couldn’t see it through the trees. At least it hadn’t attacked her again.
Returning to the village, she found everyone gathered in the meeting hall as she’d ordered. Her ma rushed out to meet her, throwing her arms around her in a tight hug.
Caroline cringed as the embrace touched her shoulder but she returned the hug before pushing her ma away.
“What’s this about wargs? Simon’s going on like he’s gone mad. Did the night mess with his marbles? Oh dear, you’re covered in blood. What happened?” Her mother reached to look at her shoulder but Caroline caught her hand.
“Later, Ma,” she said, “for now let’s join everyone in the hall.”
Her ma bit her lip and then nodded.
But when they reached the hall, Caroline pushed her ma to go inside without her. She didn’t know why, but she had to be outside when the wargs arrived. They had to be able to see her.
Their dark shapes began to appear only moments later. Simon joined her on the front steps of the building with a mage stick in his hands.
“I’d feel a lot better if I knew this weapon worked on those beasts,” he muttered.
“It’s all show,” Caroline said.
The lead warg appeared at the far end of the main road. His pack fanned out from him to surround the village.
A woman screamed. “They’ll eat us alive!”
“Hold,” Caroline called, “they can’t see in the light. Just stay still.”
The entire hall quieted behind her like even breathing would draw the beasts.
“How do you know that?” Simon asked.
“You don’t want to know,” she answered.
But he didn’t leave her side. The wargs sat on their haunches around the village. Beyond, Caroline made out the advancing figures of the Borillans on their horses. They paused as they came into view of the wargs.
Two mages rode slightly forward and fired shots at the beasts. They rose to their feet and howled back, not in pain but in a desire to fight. Caroline could feel their desire. They wanted the troops to come closer.
“That’s crazy,” Simon muttered. “Firing at wargs that aren’t attacking.”
But that’s all they did. They fired a few more shots and then retreated. The lead warg howled triumphantly at their backs. Then the beasts turned inward toward the village.
“No,” Caroline ordered. “You’re done here.”
The thrill of the chase is hot in the pack. I must answer it.
“Then chase the Borillans,” Caroline answered.
The warg growled. Yes, Mistress.
Then the beasts took off after the retreating troops. Caroline felt a pain of regret, sending the beasts after humans, but as she felt the lead warg’s excitement wain, she realized the beasts couldn’t see well enough to follow the army. They could track their scent, but they wouldn’t attack till they could see. The Borillans had until nightfall to leave.
She slumped to sit on the steps as everyone came out to see for themselves that the Borillans and the wargs were gone. Caroline felt the need to sleep heavy on her shoulders. She might sleep for the next week. But then she’d wake and she’d have to face what happened. She was different now. Sighing, she determined she’d face those changes when she woke. Not now, now she’d sleep.
Thanks for joining me this week. Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
P.S. I love feedback, so if anyone has suggestions, questions, or comments on what they like or what doesn’t seem to work, please let me know. Just be gentle to my poor thin skinned feelings. Thanks.