Seyari and I talked through the night. Mostly about our pasts, but really about anything we could that would take our minds off what had happened. Seyari said she was doing it for me, but I doubted she was unbothered by death. Even after everything Yothariel did, Seyari still tensed up when she spoke of killing.
Come dawn, I changed my clothes for new ones without the extra holes my arms and tail had punched out last night. I hadn’t noticed until we packed everything up. Our tent had a skylight now, and the entrance flap had a slice down it. I tried my best to ignore the two piles of ash that had once been people.
Before we left, we searched the camp of the would-be murderers. I wanted to know why they’d do something like this. We found nothing except a few furs prepped for proper tanning. Any reasons or troubles they had, well, they took them to the grave.
In a morbid way I was happy the events of last night bothered me as much as they did. I wasn’t losing empathy. The pirates I’d killed knew they’d put their lives on the line. Malich was thoroughly, obviously rotten, to the point where even his own people viewed him with barely veiled distaste. He, twisted as he was, also knew the stakes when he kidnapped Nelys and tried to enslave me.
Ned and Jacob were trappers, at least somewhat successful ones, and we had given them no good reason to go after us. I didn’t understand why they would try to kill us.
Well, not really.
I understood why.
I just… really, really didn’t want to believe they’d attacked us for no reason other than money and perverse desires.
Their camp had some coins and intact single tents, as well as an array of survival gear and food. I wanted to leave everything and just get away. Seyari took the money. Ordian currency would be nice to have, and they’d tried to kill me, so I didn’t argue.
We walked southwest for three more days before we found anything. The terrain had gotten rough as well, particularly a slew of ravines whose bottoms ran nearly dry and whose sides were so steep that I had to give up my human guise to help us cross. We debated following the water, but with how many rivers and streams were in this part of Ordia, and how few towns there were, a steady direction toward people was our most reliable option.
Worst case scenario, we overshoot our goal.
The terrain did confirm that the hunters-turned-attempted-murderers we’d met must have come from the other direction. We wanted to avoid going where they had come from, even if the chance of having to answer hard questions was low. So, we continued on the hard way across ridgelines, avoiding the streams that could take us to civilization, for now.
The late morning of the third day, I’d hoped we’d finally come upon a town. We began to see cut stumps interspersed among the trees. By afternoon, we were fighting through and around clusters of young dense pines growing in a clear-cut area. We followed the denser young trees with the hope of finding people. The daylight was still strong when we pushed into a clearing and my hopes were dashed.
There had been people here, at one point. Now, the lumber camp we found ourselves in was derelict. Brambles overtook the main buildings and a stack of timber to one side had become a composite nurse log for the next generation. At the edge of the clearing, a clear, fast-moving creek rushed over the fallen remains of a waterwheel.
“Abandoned,” Seyari said into the stillness. “We could find a road or follow the water to—”
“Shhh!” I held a finger to my lips, then whispered. “Listen.”
Seyari looked surprised for a moment, then nodded and closed her eyes.
I gave a half smile. Just because I didn’t often take initiative didn’t mean I wouldn’t when I needed to! Most of the time. Around us, only the sound of rushing water broke the still and silent air.
“The forest is silent,” Seyari whispered, looking up at me.
I gave a wide smile, then frowned. What was even the point of teeth in a smile if they weren’t at least slightly intimidating?
I looked around cautiously. “Something here’s scared everything off. And for once, it isn’t me.” I took my spear from the strap on my back and held it by my side.
I would say the weight felt comforting, but I wasn’t skilled enough to make that sort of comment. I knew what my best weapons were. My spear was not yet one of them.
“Careful then,” Seyari said quietly. She kept the damaged sword at her side, but held her hands ready. “We’ll need to deal with it if it’s a threat, unless we want to spend another night awake and moving.”
Cautiously and quietly, we made our way over to and behind the old log pile. I shifted my ears and eyes back to normal. At a distance, they’d be difficult to notice, even if my pointed ears poked slightly out of my hair. I’d taken to wearing my long black hair in a ponytail, unwilling to give in to the practicality of cutting it.
We slowly circled the camp opposite the river and largest buildings. Dense young trees formed a thick wall around the old timber mill. We could clearly see the river now, and it wasn’t large enough for moving logs. That meant they had to be taken at least part of the way by road.
We crept along in silence. I tried to piece together why the place was abandoned, but couldn’t. The soles of my boots annoyed me; I couldn’t be certain of the sound I was making with each step.
Timber was a big industry back in Edath, even if the wood from our trees wasn’t as valued as the hardwood from elsewhere in Ordia. My father had been a carpenter. I’d little interest in woodworking, but I picked up a few things about it. A pang of sadness brushed over my thoughts. I’d long since mourned the deaths of my parents, but I’d never truly gotten closure.
I’d find closure. Soon. We were in Ordia and I had a hunch where my parents were buried in Linthel.
From my limited knowledge, I could guess there were too many buildings here for a simple sawmill. This place must have turned logs into usable lumber on-site.
Why would this place be abandoned?
I could easily have been wrong, but I imagined there was still large timber within easy reach of this place. Even if that wasn’t the case, couldn’t other, smaller, camps have been built?
I would have kept wondering about the history of this place, but Seyari and I had run out of cover. To our left, the trees thinned into what may have been the opening to an old road.
Ahead of me, Seyari looked out from the partially collapsed outbuilding we had hidden behind. She froze, then pulled her head back slowly.
Quietly, and quickly, she placed her hand over my mouth and pointed me to look for myself. I crept forward, crouched low, and stuck my head around the rotting building. I left space for my horns without realizing I didn’t have them right now.
This side of the main building was a partially burned wreck. Plants failed to grow over the collapsed debris, giving the scene an unnatural bent. Standing outside was the reason why Seyari had called for a halt. A big, ugly wolf.
I’d seen illustrations of wolves before, and part-wolf dogs in town. The thing sniffing the air was no normal wolf. The canine’s form was twisted and blackened. Part fur part char. The creature was alive, but didn’t look the part.
I felt the breeze around me kick up and swirl gently. Seyari must have been using her magic to keep our scent away.
I switched to aura sight. The burnt wolf thing had a very faint aura that struck me as odd. I realized it wasn’t moving the way a person’s aura normally moved. I chanced a quick glance down to my spear. The spear had the same static feel to it. The aura wasn’t the wolf’s own.
Another twisted wolf came from out if the collapsed building, then a third. I was willing to bet the ruin was their den. Before they could notice me, I pulled my head back into cover and stood up.
I looked to Seyari and she pointed to a nearby gap in the trees.
I shook my head and held up three fingers, then pointed in the direction of the wolves.
Seyari swore under her breath.
I hefted my spear and met her gaze. I wanted this fight. Those things were unnatural.
Seyari frowned and knitted her brow. After a moment she nodded.
I smiled back with human teeth. I shifted my ears and eyes to human as well. My normal form was there if I needed it.
I crouched behind cover and took a glance back toward the ruined main building. I counted a fourth wolf thing now. The four of them had dispersed, trying to sniff us out. Seyari’s spell kept us hidden for the moment. I waited for the nearest wolf to look away, then jumped out of cover and charged.
My body felt slower than normal when I pushed it, but I’d expected that. Days of practice while we walked helped me keep my balance without the counterweight of my tail.
The burned wolf noticed me before I was upon it. Uttering a dry, stuttering growl, it spun and dashed in low.
I thrust my spear forward and caught the twisted wolf in the shoulder. The thing’s blood was off-colored and thick.
My opponent growled and struggled, twisting my spear before I remembered to pull it free. Around me, answered calls came from the other burned wolves. More cries than three. I heard wind lash behind me. One of the cries cut into a gurgling warble.
I held another thrust ready. The simple enchanted tip of my spear gleamed from under the dark blood coating it. The wolf, seemingly uncaring of its injured shoulder, leapt right at me.
My spear moved in a blur. I aimed for its mouth, but missed high. The point scraped along the skull before burying itself in the eye. I held my arms firm, surprised by either its strength or a lack of my own.
Without a tail to balance, I had to take a half step back to avoid being knocked over. The force of the wolf’s own leap drove the spear into its skull. Rapid sounds behind me announced the arrival of the twisted wolf’s allies.
The wolf on my spear spasmed. I pushed it deeper and kicked behind me. My foot caught another burned wolf mid-leap. A blast of wind knocked a third to the side.
I used momentum of my kick to spin around. The motion twisted the dying wolf on my spear. Something snapped and it went limp.
I pulled the spear out, and fired a stream of fire at the wolf I’d kicked. The flames weren’t my hottest, and the already burned creature didn’t seem to pay them any mind. Its fur caught and crackled.
I turned from Seyari’s victim to see her leaping over to me. Wind magic assisted her flight and she landed beside me. Three more twisted wolves were hot on her heels.
We moved to cover each other, but were surrounded in a moment. A late straggler joined, leaving us fighting six wolves, one of which was on fire and didn’t seem to care.
I turned to Seyari, but the wolves gave me no time to speak. In unison, they jumped on us. I caught one with my spear and blocked another’s jaws with my forearm. The burned wolf’s teeth dug in painfully.
A burst of wind sent two crashing into each other. Seyari managed to block a third with the chipped ancient sword, but the last latched onto her leg. She grunted in pain, then screamed in agony.
Suddenly, playing human wasn’t appealing. I rapidly altered another shirt as I dropped my human transformation. Suddenly, the wolves were much slower than I was.
I ripped the throat out of the one that had my arm with a free hand’s claws. A second limb and a twist of force drove the spear clean through the torso of the one I’d stuck. I ripped my weapon back out and spun my tail around to catch another midair.
I felt and heard its bones snapping. The body flew several meters away. Before it had landed, I’d speared another wolf. Again, I missed my mark. Reflexes can’t make up for training. This time, the hit was grazing and no amount of force would change that.
The wolf jumped back, and I turned from it to Seyari. Holy light filled my vision for a moment. The twisted wolf that had latched onto Seyari’s leg crumbled away into blackened bits. Her eyes were burning bright.
Where it had gotten her leg, I saw the flesh had charred to bone underneath. Her magic was already healing the grievous wound, char falling off clean bone.
The wolf Seyari blocked jumped again. She staggered back onto her good leg and brought the blade around. Her timing was impeccable and the blade bit into the wolf’s neck. Twisted jaws latched onto her shoulder and flames burst around the wound, charring flesh. She flicked the sword, failing to cut the spine, and, with a grunt of pain, kicked the dying wolf off her with her injured leg.
The one I’d run through struggled up, but I smashed it back into the dirt. Seyari switched the sword to her good arm and finished off the one that’d gotten her shoulder.
The last uninjured burned wolf turned to run. I leapt after the twisted creature. I caught it at the edge of the clearing. The spear’s reach was the last little bit I needed before it would have slipped into the trees. I stuck the wolf and pulled it toward me. A quick slash of my claws ended it.
I jogged back to Seyari who’d collapsed onto her back and was swearing profusely. Around the clearing lay seven dead twisted wolves.
I wasn’t sure we were out of danger, so I kept my guard up and my transformation down.
“-ing hurts!” Seyari finished swearing.
I looked to her leg which had healed enough to be muscle over bone. No skin yet. Holy magic glowed brightly enough that I was forced to look away. I hoped she could heal that kind of wound. So far so good, it looked like.
“I’m sorry,” I hung my head. “I shouldn’t have fought in the open, especially not in my human form. Can you heal that kind of wound?”
“Apology—fuck!—accepted.” Seyari touched her shoulder and I saw magic glow over the spot. “I’m not going to be able to fix all this in one go. Next time, how about we pick a good spot instead of charging into the middle, yeah?”
“Agreed.” I glanced again to Seyari’s leg and winced. “What happened?”
“You’re immune to fire magic,” She replied, looking to her healing leg. “I’m not. Also,” she looked to the wolf she’d burned with holy magic. “I don’t think these were demons, but a demon had a hand in making them.”
That matched with what I saw of their static auras. “Do you think the demon’s here?” I glanced at the ruined main building and took a fighting stance.
“No.” Seyari said behind me. I heard her stand up unsteadily. “They could be anywhere.”
“But they’re probably near here,” I voiced my thoughts.
Seyari sighed. “Probably. Shit.” She glanced up at me. “Are my eyes still good?”
I looked into her golden eyes. “They’re beautiful. But, they’re not disguised anymore.”
“Great,” Seyari groaned. “I’m running out of supplies for that. No more fights unless we absolutely need to, okay?”
I was about to agree and hesitated. “I’ll try.”
“Good enough. Let’s get out of here.”
I looked to the ruined building. “I want to check the main building. Maybe we could find out more about this demon.”
“You’re going to get in more fights, aren’t you?” Seyari’s tone was exasperated.
“Probably. But not today if I don’t have to. I don’t want anything in there left to chase us, and we might be able to find where not to go.”
“Give me a minute, and then sure, I guess.” Seyari took a deep breath and released it.
We waited until she’d gotten herself fixed up well enough to travel. The healing she’d done had drained her, a fact she was clear to remind me would not have been true in her past life.
We searched the ruined lumber mill top to bottom. There wasn’t much to see, the building had partially burned. Most of the ground floor had collapsed into a basement. The parts left intact were either destroyed by the elements, or held no useful information. All except one. We found a name on several items: Hartidge.
Not much to go on, but I wanted to find why these wolves were out here. Demon business was my business now, too. With the name in mind, we found the gap in the trees and left. The break in the trees was indeed a road headed south, though years of disuse had turned it into more of a footpath. Fine enough for our purposes.