14. Partners

Waking up, Richard shivers on the cold uneven cave floor. Wildly, his eyes try to pierce the impenetrable darkness. Sitting up, he turns his head back and forth, searching for any light as the memories slowly reveal themselves. He remembers the pigs first, their squealing cries as he swallowed one after the other. How many were there, five or seven?

Then the priestess, she was there, did he hurt her? He can’t remember. Who was that obstinate man, the one who opened the door? Growling, Richard feels a touch of the wolf’s rage within him. Images flash in his mind of searching him out, hunting him. He sees the fat man running for his life, screaming in terror, and imagines himself bounding after the man on all fours.

Shaking, Richard tries to shove the image of himself as a wolf from his mind. Another memory flashes, different. It’s dark, he can’t see anything, but knows by sound and scent the whole story. His twitching muscles seem to be replaying the hunt as he relives the night’s revelries.

Entering the cave, there was something he wanted, not food, something. He raced in, listening for anything, even the slightest intake of breath. Bounding forward into the thick night, this creature—Richard senses the creature even now slumbering inside him, drowsily watching him as a man might watch an ant—sought out the pale cave dwellers.

What was it he wanted then? It wasn’t to eat any of them. He recalls in stunning clarity killing one after the other, his long claws perfumed with the sweet smell of their blood, but never feasting on any of those pale fiends. Sniffing his hands, Richard smells the dried substance, recognizing the scent. He went from one pocket of the huddled creatures to another, searching for—my crossbow, Richard finally remembers.

In his mind’s eye, the wolf yawns, stretching its snout into a panting smile. The harsh black eyes stare at him as if saying, “You weak pathetic creature. Your father gave you that and you let those monsters take it? You don’t deserve to call yourself a hunter.” Standing up, it shakes itself, and begins to walk away.

The monster stops, and turns its head as if waiting for him to follow. Standing, Richard’s blind eyes again try to catch even the faintest outline of an image. A growling voice fills his mind, “Come on. You want your crossbow or not?” Richard tries to see. “You’re blind down here, fool,” the wolf’s voice continues, “Just follow me.” Of their own will—no, the wolf’s will—Richard’s legs start marching into the darkness. “Here we are,” says the wolf.

Slowly, he bends his knees, kneeling onto the hard ground. Patting the cave floor in front of him, his finger’s brush the familiar smooth aluminum of his crossbow. Pulling it to himself, Richard finds the treasure little worse for wear. Grabbing the bow, it’s loose, he runs his hand along one wing until he finds the end. The wheel is missing. Searching the other end, he finds the wheel still in place, though bereft of the string.

“Try not to lose it again,” the wolf snarls, and, curling itself into a ball, goes back to sleep. Finding the woolen band still in place, Richard stands, throwing the rough strap over his shoulder. Fastening his prized weapon to his back, he wakes the sleeping wolf.

“What?” the monster snaps. Richard focuses, imagining the cave’s entrance. “Find it yourself,” it snorts. Tucking its snout into its side, the wolf tries to go back to sleep. Richard thinks about the bones littering the cave’s mouth, pictures the priestess as she walked in with her ball of light, and remembers the carving he had studied when he first came here. Filling his mind with these images, he batters the wolf with his pleas. Rising, the monster grumbles, “Fine.”

Again, Richard feels his legs possessed by this strange new mind, as it takes him into the unknown.



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