19. (Un)believable deception
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I finished this chapter just in time! Also whew, it wasn't the easiest to write. I'm super worried there are inconsistencies I missed or bad grammar in places, so if you spot anything please let me know!

“I cannot believe you two, taking such dangerous risks. You could have been hurt!”

Once the monster had been dealt with, Becker and Erin had quickly stood up, intent on erasing as much of the signs of the creature as they could. The array had gone first, then some of the blood, but there wasn’t much that could be done about the claw marks, they just didn’t have the time to do anything significant about it. Reluctantly, they’d left more than enough signs of the Amarok behind them and had quickly regained Becker’s office.

After a very quick reunion, Erin and Sarah had left Becker and scampered back to their classroom, Erin putting her transformation up once more. Unfortunately for the both of them, their little excursion hadn’t gone unnoticed by the teacher for long. Once the outside world had once again been deemed safe, students had been released from school, with classes cancelled for the next day.

Everyone had gone home expect for Sarah and Erin, who’d been sent by their teacher to the principal’s office. Needless to say, she was far from happy with the both of them.

“What possessed you both to up and leave your classroom without your teacher’s permission?” she asked sternly.

Ms. Roberts was a middle aged woman, and she was known to be very involved in her school. Most of the students liked her, and she would always lend an ear when someone came to her with a request or a problem. This explained why getting scolded by her was such an unpleasant experience for Sarah and Erin, especially considering none of them had ever gotten in serious trouble in school before.

“I honestly didn’t expect this from you two. From model students, at the top of their class. Please, explain yourselves.”

“We just wanted to see what was going on,” Sarah mumbled, eyes downcast.

Erin wasn’t sure whether her friend was actually this crestfallen over getting admonished, or if she was only pretending, but she herself definitely was feeling pretty ashamed, even if their little escapade had potentially saved countless lives.

They couldn’t tell that to the principal, unfortunately, and thus had to lie to her, only adding to the guilt.

“You wanted to see what was going on?” Ms. Roberts echoed incredulously, disbelief in her eyes. “I don’t know what actually went through your mind, and I don’t think I will find out. Regardless, even if you are both stellar students, I cannot let this pass. I’ll have to contact your parents.”

Erin flinched at that, looking down at her feet. Having her parents on her back was exactly what she didn’t need right now, and she didn’t believe they would just let this pass. They were already strict when she was a model student, Erin dreaded to think of what their reaction would be now that she’d become a delinquent in their eyes.

“You’re both dismissed. Please do not make a habit of this. I know you’re both better than that,” Ms. Roberts sighed, and made a little motion towards the door.

With that last remark feeling like a stake through the heart, Sarah and Erin left the principal’s office in silence. The school was empty, as all students had already gone home, and the stillness present in the hallways was eerily familiar to the both of them. It hadn’t even been an hour since the Amarok had been dealt with, and being reminded of the strange atmosphere that had reigned at the time was enough to send shivers down their spines.

They hurriedly left the school building and emerged outside, in the cold weather. Without thinking, Erin spontaneously hugged Sarah, sighing in relief at the same time.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asked, returning the hug.

Erin wasn’t certain she was, but she’d been worse in the past. She was confident that she would be alright, with time. She nodded, and pulled back a little to smile at Sarah, who readily returned the gesture.

“Want to go get some ice cream before we get thoroughly chewed out by our parents?” she asked wryly.

“Ice cream again? It’s going to become a habit at that rate.”

“Doesn’t sound like a bad one to me.”

Erin couldn’t agree more.

- - -

With Erin and Sarah comfortably seated face to face at a secluded booth in the local ice cream parlor, the two girls were finally free to relax after the day’s events. For a while, they simply enjoyed each other’s company in silence, savoring their ice cream and forgetting all of their problems, if only for a little while.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t just ignore what had happened today. Reality quickly reasserted itself, both friend looking each other in the eyes, unsure of what to say and where to begin. They needed to talk about it, that much they knew, but what was there to discuss?

“So…” Sarah started hesitantly.

“You were right,” Erin finally said, taking the initiative. “About the wolf, I mean. It was hurt.”

“Oh,” Sarah replied. “Do you know what happened to it?”

“I was hoping you could tell me, actually, but I think I figured it out,” She said, her visage taking a pensive expression. “I’m almost certain it hurt itself by ramming against the walls of the school, and that’s why we felt everything trembling.”

“Really?” Sarah asked, skeptical. “I mean, it takes a lot to shake a building, it must have hit it really, really hard then.”

“Yeah,” Erin agreed, not surprised by her friend’s disbelief. “Most of the creatures that live in the forest are ridiculously strong, probably because of all the magic in there. We were extremely lucky the Amarok hurt itself, I don’t think we could have just captured it otherwise.”

The implications of Erin’s words were left unsaid, and Sarah shuddered at the thought. She hadn’t even seen the creature in person, but its howl had probably been heard by the whole school, if not even more people. She was also confident Erin’s retelling of the altercation she’d quickly given her afterwards didn’t nearly do justice to the real thing.

“By the way,” Sarah said, a thought popping into her head. “What happened to the wolf in the end?”

“It got sent away, I’m guessing back into the forest,” Erin answered. “I didn’t get a really good view of the array we used, Becker didn’t let me before erasing it, but the little I saw indicated as much.”

Silence once again fell over their booth. It was already getting a bit late, the sun slowly lowering into the sky. It had now been a few hours since the incident, and Sarah was starting to wonder what the repercussions for the wolf attack were going to be. Erin and Becker had been confident no one had seen them, but surely someone had caught a glimpse of the creature and posted about it on the internet.

In order to pass time and satisfy her curiosity, Sarah pulled out her phone and started skimming through her social media feed. Much to her growing apprehension, it didn’t take her very long to find people talking about “the incident”. Actually, it seemed almost everyone was discussing the subject.

“Erin, look at this,” Sarah said, before standing up and sitting next to her friend, phone in hand so both of them could see the screen.

“Yeah, but we expected that, didn’t we?” Erin sighed, tiredly looking at the phone. “All we can do is hope people will believe this was just a regular wolf.”

“You think people’s inability to discern magic will help?” Sarah inquired, still scrolling through her feed.

“Maybe? I hope it will, at least, but Becker and I have never tried to stretch it that far. Also, I can see a few pictures of the monster, but they’re all blurry or from far away. That one isn’t even the Amarok, look, that’s not what it looked like,” Erin said, pointing at an obviously fake picture.

“Seems like some people are already doing a great job of discrediting the whole “supernatural” aspect of the story,” Sarah commented amusedly.

“Yeah, it’s funny how people trying to discover paranormal stuff are often the ones sabotaging their own claims,” Erin smiled. “People posting fake stuff is definitely helping us right now, but believe me when I say it becomes really annoying when you’re looking for spells online and trying to find anything actually true.”

“Somehow I don’t doubt it,” Sarah commented, before suddenly furrowing her brows. “Erin.”

“I saw it,” She heard her friend answer, her eyes also locked on the phone.

They’d found a video, posted by the social media account of a local news station, apparently talking about the incident. It had only been hours, sure, but that wasn’t what had surprised both girls. No, the puzzling part was the person they could see on the video preview.

“Is that Becker?” Sarah asked, even though she already knew the answer.

Not wishing to wait any more, Erin reached with her finger and started the video.

It began with shots of a very familiar school. Some of them were close-ups of the claw marks of the Amarok, as well as traces of blood that had escaped Becker and Erin’s notice. The video was voiced over by a reported explaining what had taken place.

The man described the tremors felt during classes, sensationalizing the events as he went by stressing how terrifying the experience must have been, before mentioning that people had sighted a “gigantic creature” prowling through the schoolgrounds. As he was saying that, pictures of the aforementioned creature were being showed, nearly all of them blurry or only showing parts of the Amarok. Erin and Sarah also weren’t surprised to find faked pictures amongst the ones shown. Clearly, the news station had rushed their covering and taken whatever images they could find on social media.

A few interviews of students then appeared on screen, with teenagers doing their best to describe the creature. Most of these descriptions were extremely vague, the gist of it all being that everyone had seen an immense wolf, far bigger than it should have been.

Sarah felt a bit of relief at that. None of them had talked about the glowing eyes Erin had seen, nor its unusual mane and its color. They still had described some astonishing features, such as immense claws and teeth, and nearly all of them talked about the piercing howl they’d heard, describing it as the most terrifying sound they’d ever witnessed, but all of this remained in the realm of the possible, if very improbable. Nothing couldn’t be explained without mentioning magic or the supernatural. It wasn’t unreasonable to think that most of these students hadn’t actually seen anything, but rather were either outright lying or just relaying gossip.

Finally, the video switched to an image of Becker, standing in a classroom, with a reporter standing across him. Turning to the camera, he started speaking.

“Students and staff are all still shocked by what happened today. Anyone has yet to find an explanation for the size of the so-called wolf, and what it will mean for the school going forward. Professor Richard Becker has gratefully accepted to join us to discuss the situation. Professor Becker, firstly, have you seen the wolf yourself?”

“Yes, I have,” Becker answered immediately, exuding confidence. “Though I didn’t get a clear look, unfortunately. When I felt the tremor, I immediately left my classroom to investigate, and saw it through a window.”

“Many people have noted the size of the animal, some of them even suggesting it might be supernatural in nature. The strange and chilling howl that was heard by everyone also seems to be one of their compelling argument. Do you believe the creature to be some sort of monster, as many people have suggested on the internet?

“No, I do not believe in such things.” Becker said. “Certainly, the creature was bigger than average, but very few people have actually gotten a detailed look at it. People often exaggerate reality when faced with fear, and I believe this is what happened today. Furthermore, this is a school, children and teenagers aren’t known to be the most reliable source of information.”

“Indeed,” the interviewer chuckled. “But what do you make of the claw marks that were found all around the schoolgrounds? These clearly indicate that the creature was much bigger than any wolf has any right to be, don’t they?”

“That is indeed the most troubling part of this whole affair. I’d argue that these marks could have been the result of the wolf repeatedly clawing at the same spots, resulting in very deep scores.

“However, I do agree that even with these logical explanations, this whole incident still seems strange. Several of my colleagues as well as myself believe the creature could have actually been a Dire wolf, which we thought to have been extinct for thousands of years. Some of the descriptions given by witnesses seem to fit the profile.”

“Could this really be possible? An extinct animal casually strolling near a school in the middle of the city?” asked the interviewer, clearly a bit skeptical.

“That is hard to say, unfortunately. The forest that borders Eriz is enormous, and we could have missed parts of it where these wolves could have lived all this time. It’s also important to note that the school isn’t that far from the forest, an animal reaching it while remaining unseen isn’t that far-fetched of an idea, especially considering what happened today.”

 “You do make a good point, Professor. Thank you for your time.”

Sarah paused the video. Of course, Becker had managed to get an interview and steer everyone away from the supernatural explanation with a plausible lie. That sounded just like his manipulative self. Still, she couldn’t rightfully be angry at him, considering he might have just saved all of them a lot of trouble.

Even then, Sarah, Erin and Becker still would have to be careful in the coming weeks. These explanations might have satisfied most people, but there would always be skeptics, and even people satisfied with the Dire wolf theory would be more likely to spot unusual events from now on.

Things weren’t going to get better. They’d gotten off easy this time, as the Amarok wasn’t anything more than an odd looking giant wolf, but what would they do if anything else decided to wander into town?

Sarah didn’t have the answer to that question, and neither did Erin or Becker. For better or worse, they would have to find a solution very quickly.

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