Wolves and Dark Fire
I wake with my face in the furry back of a wolf. It does not have the musky smell of an animal—these wolves smell only of ash, and if the damp is up, mold. It is a smell I am used to.
I sit up and put my back to the rough rock of the cave wall. The wolves are up, responding to my silent summons. “Food,” I say, and two of them bound out of the cave. I don’t know which ones since I do not name them. A name would mean personality and individuality, neither of which I want to encourage.
They bring me half a fox some time later. I let the slight pass since they need to eat too and while I gnaw at the raw meat, I think of what to do that night. I need more. We have lost a few in the last few weeks as the hunters from the nearby towns have become bolder.
We set out as the moon sets behind the winter-bare hills, the whole pack except for two I have left at the cave as guards. We are heading towards a town over the mountain pass, one that we have not visited before and does not know about us.
Even with two legs, I can run as fast as my followers. I lead the way, dodging through the thick pine forests, my bare feet sprinting over the snow and stones. In three hours, we have reached the edge of the town. There is no proper wall around the cluster of several dozen buildings, just a hedge of sharpened sticks to keep out the terrors of the wild.
The first job is to kindle the dark fire that burns with flames like living obsidian. Once done, I walk out alone towards the town entrance.
I can make my appearance seem like whatever I want, so the two guards at the entrance see a young girl stumbling out of the forest, hands and feet raw and blistered.
“Stop!” one shouts.
“Come to me,” I say. They hear nothing but the pitiful cries of a lost child, but the meaning still comes across.
“We’ve got to help her,” one says. The younger one, of course.
“Don’t leave the town at night,” the other says, surely repeating a mantra that has been drilled into them.
“Come to me,” I repeat and I am pleased to see the one step out and start towards me. He still has his spear, but it is held low and not ready.
I walk backwards towards the forest, the guard calling for me to stop and his companion calling for him to come back.
“Come to me,” I say again, the command strengthening with each repetition.
I walk back to the dark fire and stop on the far side. The guard is coming more slowly now, calling out for the little lost girl who never existed. He approaches and stops as he senses me in the darkness. At that moment, one of my followers leaps at him from behind, knocking him into the dark fire.
He falls and tries to scream, but the flames seize him, pulling him down and cutting off all sound. The wolves gather around and we watch him writhe and twitch as the dark flames consume him. Finally, the body rolls away and lays hissing in the snow.
“Rise,” I say, and the former man stands, now on four legs, the newest of my wolf pack.
“Good,” I say, kneeling to look into its eyes. “Welcome. Now quickly, before your memories fade. You must lead us into the town and help to subdue it. Tonight we will add many more to our number.”