Dreams flooded his senses. The moon cracked into deep fissures, and a faceless woman with black wings flew over the sky. He followed her movements, enthralled with her dance. The glade sparkled in the stillness beneath her floating ballet. Polaris’s surface shattered into a million pieces. A shadow man emerged in the dusk. The woman flew down to meet him, black feathers scattering. A red fog blew the feathers into his line of sight, blocking his view. A roar echoed through the glade as Sven came awake on all fours, his hackles up and teeth bared.
Michael dropped a platter of tea and biscuits on the ground, scattering boiling hot liquid and fluffy rolls across the dirt. Sunrise seeped along the horizon behind him. Michael’s other hand was stuffed into his pocket. Sven snorted at the action, aware of the tang of metal that sat at the man’s fingertips.
Calm yourself, Sven. You’re on edge, and that’s not going to help us get Hana out of here.
I don’t trust this overstuffed poultry.
You can smell her on him. Maybe her husband. You should prepare yourself for that, Sven.
Don’t say that. Never say that. She has my mate.
Your damn fault for picking her.
Shut up, human.
Give me my body back. You aren’t rational right now, and I don’t like the idea of being a pelt for an afterlife.
You don’t believe in an afterlife.
You’ve been nosing around.
Went and flipped a few switches. Found a few things I suspected. Found a few things I didn’t. You’re interesting, but this bastard needs to die.
Shove it, mutt. We aren’t killing anyone right now. It will not benefit us, and I am not willing to face that moral mountain ever.
He’s a threat, and not just to you and me. You might only smell feathers. I smell blood and evil. The way his eyes move. Don’t trust him. He’s twisted.
Give me back my body, Sven. I can’t put up with your anger right now.
I warned you. I warned you, dječak u sjeni. I will not die here. I’ll give you back your body for now, but he pulls that switchblade from his pocket, I will permanently take over. Our luck, he dumped that crap all over the ground. Smells like poison. Sven heaved a sigh and slipped to the background, giving way for Nat to grab the transition.
“Is there something I can do for you?” he asked behind clenched teeth, the pain of transformation twining through his bones.
Michael shook his head and shrugged, leaning over to pick up the fallen cups. “Do you always have to scare the people?”
“Do you?” Nat whispered.
Michael studied him down the length of his nose. A sardonic smile slipped to reveal cruel teeth. “The Flock needs a leader. I’m just doing my job.”
“Your job abusing women and kids?” Nat spat back quietly. Sven perked up at the accusation to focus on the birdman.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Michael stacked the cups on the platter.
What do you mean, dječak?
“The women cower when you get close. So do the kids. Seen enough of that from my old man to know what it looks like when Mom would skirt away from him. Afraid to get grabbed. Is that why Hana left? To get away from you?” Nat prodded, his eyes flashing in golden hour rising around them. His friends slept through the conversation. The twist in his heart was relief that Yeller wouldn’t hear this bit of truth.
“My Flock obeys their leader without baulking, unlike yours. They know anything I do for them is for their benefit, to lead us through our promised land.” The smile that creased the birdman’s face dripped acid down Nat’s arms.
“I’ve seen your type, creep. Cult leaders. You’ve got them all brainwashed, don’t you?” Nat folded his arms across his chest.
“You’ve been in the woods too long, kid. I’ll leave you to get some rest.” Michael took up the tray and headed out of the circle.
Can I kill him now?
Not yet. We need Hana well again, right?
Then we take her?
She left to be safe; we’ll get her free.
I can’t handle that many.
Then we rescue who we can.
You knew he was evil.
You’re not the only one with senses tuned to a particular frequency, beast.
Why did you let us bring him back to camp?
Because he smelled like her.
You thought to offload her?
I thought that others like her would know how to heal her. I never said she had to stay.
You are protective of her? That’s not just me?
Can I not be protective of those I want to protect?
She isn’t your mate or your pack.
You aren’t me. She is not your mate. I am your host as she is your mate’s host.
You humans don’t make sense to me. Never have.
I’m not here to teach you how to be human.
I’m sorry about your dad, čovjek1.
If you want to be more than a monster to me, don’t lock me in the dark, lest you want to be just like him.
The sun flashed blood under a blanket of clouds before disappearing for the day. Nat sighed, exhausted with the adrenaline overload permeating his system after that confrontation. He studied the white chunks of Polaris drifting in the morning sunlight.
The Flock emerged with the sun to begin the day’s chores. His group wallowed around the campfire, the wolves watching the coming and going of the bird people. Eventually, they joined in with helping clear out the underbrush from a side of the forest and fell a series of trees slated to open up a planting field.
Nat took on the chore of taking his anger out on a huge tree. Sven settled into his chest, quiet respect vibrating from him. An axe and a pair of wedges would make this an all-day project.
“Hey, bro,” Yeller called out as he came up and chopped on Nat’s upstroke so that they were keeping a constant rhythm.
“Hey,” Nat grunted.
“So, Michael and the Flock seem pretty nice. Thinking Hana’ll be happy to be home?” Yeller asked.
“Paid any attention to how the girls act around their leader?” Nat set his axe down to wipe sweat from his forehead before it fell into his eyes.
Yeller paused, looking up to study the people around them. Furtive glances turned back to business. “I haven’t seen anything?”
“Watch next time that mofo shows up. Hana left for a reason, and I’d bet you he’s it.” He picked the axe back up and helped Yeller tap in the wedges before turning to work the other side.
“You okay?” Yeller asked.
“Will be when we get out of here.”
Michael wandered through the fields to check progress. Nat and Yeller watched from the shadows of their tree the man work his way through the piles of wood and brush accruing in the site. Directing some of his men, they set a bonfire in the field to create ash for fertilizer. A young girl, not more than fourteen, approached him with food for lunch. Fingers slid over a small wrist. Hackles rose. Michael looked up from his distraction toward the woods. Nat and Yeller both knew when he realized they were working the forest with the rest of the party. The charming smile fell, and he took his hands off the girl.
“I’m getting the picture, Nat,” Yeller growled.
“It’s not just me then.”
“Not just you.”
“I’m going for a walk before I let my wolf off the leash. Don’t need to make a monster a martyr right now.” Nat set his axe down and stepped away, reaching for Sven.
Yeller watched the beast walk away, disappearing into the thick evergreen. Sighing, he took up the unfinished work of felling the tree, taking his frustration out on the trunk.
“Yeller?” Zola broke his concentration
“Yeah?” He turned to her.
“Lunch’s ready if you want to join us.” She pointed to the group already eating.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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