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The music of the Loup is comprised of bloodcurdling screams and goose bump-inducing snarls. Interspersed in is the soft, menacing scraping of boots against stone floor, of labored breathing as prey runs from predator, of snuffling children licking their wounds in the shadows. The symphony of bones snapping, teeth breaking skin, and the last thumps of desperate hearts echo throughout the slime-infested halls.
Home sweet home.
Darkness rolled in overhead as burly clouds thrust themselves over the sun. A cold wind snuck through the air, sliding under doors and tickling the bare feet of trembling children. A dampness grew in the air, promising a cold, battering rain. And twilight was coming. It meant only one thing: a Hunt.
The residents of the Loup Academy could only do a Hunt during thunderstorms, so that the violent booming of the battle in the sky could mask the snarls and cries of the prey on the ground. The nearly impenetrable undergrowth of the Proie Forest, known to the students as the Proie, simply couldn’t muffle the screams without the backdrop of a vicious storm. At least, according to the Master’s orders.
No one knew the Master’s name, but the older students all called him JP, for reasons unknown. He was the owner of the Loup, the lord of everything, and no one could ever remember being told to call him only “the Master”. They just knew, the way blood was good and fighting even better but cooked meat most certainly was not.
The fifty residents of the Loup, ranging from whimpering young children to cool and commanding young adults, stripped off all their clothes and stepped onto the sweeping grounds surrounding the castle. There were other, younger students kept in the old crumbling huts down the lane, but they weren’t ready for a true Hunt yet. They just had to make do with already dead food.
A solid dark haired boy known as Thanos raised his head and sniffed the air. A shiver ran down his spine and he sighed with an odd mixture of pleasure and distaste. No one at the Loup truly knew their age, just a general range of a few years. According to a few older kids, he was ten. Thanos secretly believed he was eight or nine, and just large for his age, but it was an unspoken agreement in the Loup that you used whatever advantage you could get, if possible. And having double digits to one’s name didn’t hurt. So Thanos kept his mouth clamped shut.
Thanos had always known, just like everybody else at the Loup, that being vicious and bloodthirsty was good. Be cautious or gentle, and he would never be what he was meant to be: the best second generation werewolf ever. The Master had tried to come up with a better name than second generation werewolf, but that was what everyone at the Loup called themselves. The latest name the Master was trying to spread was just “The Knights”, which referenced both their fighting nature and their love of darkness for hunting.
Thanos also knew that a part of him wasn’t meant to spend his time fighting and lashing out, but being quiet and avoiding hurting others, maybe even protecting them. He never mentioned this of course, because the Master had ears in all sorts of places, possibly even in people Thanos trusted like Leavitt and Mauro. So Thanos had his doubts wedged deep in his brain, and he left them tucked away in case he should ever need them.
All around Thanos, people began morphing. Backs ripped up and forced kids down on all fours, hair erupted all over, and noses elongated to become snouts. Thanos felt dirty claws thrust from his fingertips, and power coursing through his veins.
At age of five or so, when kids moved from the little huts to the castle the Loup occupied, they began schooling. And with that the tiniest bit of history concerning their ancestors. At first, everyone was horrified to find that the old werewolves could only transform once a month, and only at night. Morphing whenever one wanted to was one of the best parts of being a Knight. A kid would punch another, and he’d just crack out a hairy paw and knock the kid to the floor.
Panting filled the air as the Loup students mentally prepared for a hunt. They began whooping and howling, getting their adrenaline surging.
At an unspoken signal, the Knights pounced into the Proie. Thanos was off and running, already tasting the dust of faster wolves.
Thanos loved the feeling of wind whipping viciously over his body, of speeding over the land before he even laid eyes on it. He closed his eyes and followed his nose, narrowly dodging trees. Up ahead was a rabbit, but that was too small, and wouldn’t come close to filling his stomach. Thanos wanted a deer today.
A cry sliced through the air like a knife, and Thanos jumped. He wished he could catch food that quickly, but his nose wouldn’t get so good until puberty at least.
Soon the screams grew more in numbers, and the metallic scent of blood clouded the air, burning Thanos’ nose. He sped along, trying to break away from the group so he’d get a chance at catching something. The younger one was, the less chance they had of eating during a Hunt. It was every man for himself, and the older ones would use all their skill to get the best prey. And one never wanted to fight someone bigger than themselves for food; more than one Knight death had occurred during a Hunt. The screams and bloody smell made many a brain explode in flames of fury.
Something was up ahead, but it wasn’t deer. A large bird, maybe? There were plenty that nested in the Proie. Thanos searched for it, but it flew away before he got close enough even see it. He’d better find something to eat that was limited to the ground.
Up ahead ran a Knight, known for being extremely vicious even though he couldn’t be much older than Thanos. Dwayne had won fights over fifteen-year-olds, which earned him respect and awe from the younger kids but burning hatred from the older ones. Everyone wanted a chance to give Dwayne a good smack upside the head eventually.
wayne was amazingly fast for his size too, but he lost energy quickly. Knowing that, Thanos raced silently behind him and steadily catching up, until he was dizzy with the smell of deer ahead. That was what Dwayne was heading for, but he’d be too tired to give a good fight for it. Thanos’ head pounded from the chase, and he felt his mouth water.
Thanos knew Dwayne could hear him, but he didn’t care about secrecy anymore. He waited one, two, three seconds, getting the timing just right, then jumped right over Dwayne, using his enhanced muscles to clear the werewolf’s head easily. Dwayne snarled, but Thanos sped on, outrunning him almost easily, and laughing deliriously at Dwayne’s labored breathing. Branches whipped Thanos’ face, but he ignored them easily.
After a minute Thanos slowed a little, breathing hard, and adjusted his course to match the deer’s. It was no more than a hundred meters ahead, and Thanos swallowed a sigh of relief. The last two Hunts he’d eaten nothing at all.
Slowing to a trot, Thanos caught sight of the deer, no, a stag, with large antlers and a beautifully spotted back. It twitched its head in Thanos’ direction, but didn’t detect any danger yet. Thanos stood perfectly still, gulping for air, waiting for the perfect moment…
With a roar, a brown blur darted around Thanos’ right shoulder and dove for the stag. It was Dwayne, who’d somehow caught up with Thanos. The stag flew off, faster than Thanos could run when he was so tired. Dwayne turned on Thanos and began circling him in the standard form to begin a fight.
“I’ll get you for this,” he growled, padding forward.
“What?” said Thanos calmly, though he was quaking inside. The biggest rule to avoiding a fight was acting cool and confident. But Thanos was one of the only people in the Loup who wanted to avoid fights anyway. Most went searching for them. Like Dwayne, clearly.
“It was mine,” Dwayne hissed, and he jumped onto Thanos’ back before the boy could react.
Thanos wanted to scream like the prey that the Proie was famous for. Dwayne’s claws ripped into his back, and drew blood. Thanos bucked and grappled at the werewolf, but it was no use. Dwayne soon had him pinned to the damp ground, and he had murder in his eyes. Everyone knew everyone else’s “Kill Count” at the Loup. Dwayne had silenced six, a large number as there were only about sixty werewolves total including the young ones residing at the Loup. Thanos had killed only one, but most kids had silenced two or three by the time they reached an age in double digits.
“Mine!” rumbled Dwayne again. And he drew his claws swiftly over Thanos’ throat. Thanos’ gasp turned to a gurgle, and he couldn’t even move a paw to his neck to feel the blood flowing warm over his chest. With a roar that shook the forest around them, Dwayne sprinted off, back to the Loup. And Thanos was left bloodstained on the floor of the Proie, never to be seen again.
It's so fucking cold out. What I wouldn't give for a permanent fur coat.
Darcy shivered and strode back into the Loup, pulling on her threadbare clothes as she went. Everyone was seen undressed before they morphed, as their clothes tended to rip upon transformation, and people discarded them completely before a Hunt. However, it was considered proper etiquette to wear clothes once inside the school. Not that anybody really cared about etiquette. It was just too cold inside the forbidding castle with its stone walls and pathetic excuses for fireplaces.
Young ones' large eyes followed Darcy as she made her way into the common room, the large living room and library that was the general hangout of the students. Darcy was considered the oldest of all the residents of the Loup, at age twenty or twenty-one, and also one of the most lethal.
“Hey, Darcy,” The slim, shadowy form of Gethin lounged on the largest couch in the room. He, Zevi, Raul, and Tynan had been in the first “batch” brought to the Loup along with Darcy. The five kept to themselves, striding through the halls that they thought of their own and turning down their noses on the naïve, blubbering younger ones.
“JP wants to see us,” Gethin said, as Darcy sat down next to him, kicking his feet out of her way. “We’ll leave as soon as Raul gets back.”
“That bastard is above drinking age; you’d think he’d Hunt faster than the five-year-olds.” sighed Darcy, as Zevi and Tynan emerged from a dark corner.
Even the young, milky-eyed young ones at the Loup recognized the formidable five by their distinct personalities and looks. Darcy was tall and wiry, with ebony hair and startling green eyes. Gethin was also tall, but leaner, and had skin the color of the shadows he lurked in. Raul was small for his age but violent, and enjoyed slugging people for no reason. Tynan was an albino, with skin whiter than Darcy’s and red eyes meant only for the devil. And then there was Zevi, who never talked except occasionally to Tynan in private, and instead conveyed meaning through hisses, glares, and shakes of her strawberry blond hair.
Raul slouched in then, hair damp and face dirt-streaked. He scowled at Darcy in response to her impatient glare. “Let’s go,” Darcy said, springing up and shaking out her own dripping hair.
The five slunk down the halls and up to the tallest tower of the Loup, where the Master of the Loup resided. The castle was old and moldy and some parts were unfit for living, but was otherwise perfect for Darcy's taste. The Proie was one of the largest forests in Europe, so JP said, and the closest town was miles and miles away. It was rare that any sign of civilization reached the Loup at all.
Darcy made her way up to the wooden door opening up into the tower and entered without bothering to knock. She heard Raul shift behind her, but Darcy knew she could get away with things no one else would dare to attempt. What could JP do? Kick her out? Yeah fucking right.
A dark silhouette stood by the large window that took up an entire wall of JP's study, casting an surreal light into the room. Bookshelves lined the other three walls and every surface supported piles of scrolls and papers, but the window was clearly the main attraction. Through it one could see all the way out to the toddlers’ huts down the lane on the right, and to the left was the Proie. Straight ahead laid the lawns that the students occupied during the day.
“Thank you for coming,” JP said, still facing outside, as the five adults sat down in stiff chairs around the regal desk. They rolled their shoulders and cracked their knuckles impatiently until JP was done surveying his property. After a minute, he turned around with a flourish and sat down in his large chair.
The Master looked much less impressive than his name or rumors suggested. Darcy figured he was in his late-fifties, and his face was full of lines and wrinkles that caught in the shadows of his study dramatically. His grey eyes were sunk deep into his face, and glittered with danger and secrets. When the Master walked, it was with strength and power, but when he lowered himself onto a chair or bench, his body trembled violently. His hair was a dark grey, and though his voice was deep and strong, when he shouted too much it would break and he’d have a coughing fit.
JP folded his hands together on top of his desk and gazed into the eyes of the group, each adult staring resolutely back.
“Now,” said JP, still looking at Darcy, who refused to blink, “I need you five to stop spreading rumors about me.”
“What?” Gethin almost jumped to his feet, but Zevi held him back.
“We aren’t spreading anything,” said Tynan coolly.
Darcy barely concealed a sigh of relief as JP sat back and broke the eye contact. “I talked to three students yesterday,” he spat, “One of them had been talking about ‘JP’, one about an army, and one about wands.”
It was time to take control, Darcy knew. “Ok,” she said, laying out her cards, “First, we don’t tell anyone about your name; but we can’t control who eavesdrops on us and might pick it up. Second, everyone talks about an army. We’re a fucking group of deadly werewolves, there’s not too many choices as to what we’re meant for. And third, we’re not the only ones to come up to your study. Is it possible that a kid could’ve seen your oh so mighty wand lying around?”
JP leaned forward and resumed staring at Darcy. Her visits always ended up like this: a debate with the Master’s chasm-like eyes boring holes into her own. “Then there’s a simple solution, isn’t there? Don't call me by your silly nickname, stop talking about your purpose, and keep some control around the school so people don’t need to be sent up to me. You are aware that as the oldest ones here, your job is to keep an eye on the younger ones?”
“And we do,” Darcy replied, “We patrol the corridors every night. But we don’t ever talk about the army you’re building, and no one will ever figure out who you are by your initials. We don't learn any history here! How could we ever figure out who you are?”
“I think you have a guess,” said JP, “I think you have your suspicions.”
Darcy glared at JP, but he glanced to the others. They all stared blankly back, yet Raul’s eyes flicked to Gethin for a fraction of a second. Darcy cursed inwardly.
JP pounced; “Gethin? How about you? Who do you think your Master really is?”
Gethin crumbled. If didn’t tell now, JP would whip out his wand and use pain to force it out of him. Already he saw JP’s hand hovering near his pocket. “In an old book…” Gethin mumbled, “I only saw it once, a long time ago… there were Prewett brothers…”
JP laughed, a loud, rumble of a laugh that echoed around the room. “Good guess, Gethin. But not quite. I didn't spring out of a fairytale, and that book is long gone.” Gethin blushed.
“Now,” JP coughed once and leaned forward, “If I hear anyone else whispering about me and my doings, it will be you five that get punished. Am I clear?”
“Crystal.” Darcy had never said ‘sir’ to anyone in her life.
“Very good. Dismissed.” JP turned his chair to face the window, and the five adults left for common room. They all knew they would have to punish anyone spreading gossip. JP was the only one in the school with a wand, and his wrath was terrible.
Darcy had always harbored the thought that if she could get possession of a wand for a just a few minutes, she could do magic like JP did. But he kept his firm by his side, and even though she’d accused him of it, JP would never leave it simply lying on a chair or desk.
While the five settled on the biggest couch and softest chair in the common room, two of the youngest boys at the Loup chased each other around. As one scrambled too close, Raul snatched his shirt and threw him halfway across the room, where he crumpled against the wall and lay in a tangled heap. Not a single sob escaped the boy. One of the first rules the kids learned when coming to the Loup was that crying was a sign of weakness, and to do so was an invitation to be a target. People gave a wide berth to the boy, who picked himself up after a minute and limped to his dormitory.
Another boy, a little older, stalked into the common room, and Darcy glanced up as he entered. It was Dwayne, a youngster of no importance. But Tynan, sprawled across a chair with Zevi in his lap, seemed zoned in on the kid. His red eyes followed Dwayne in, and took note of his trembling mouth, and eye filled to the brim with anger. His fists were clenched and his movements jerky.
Tynan knew the signs as well as Darcy of a kid who killed and snarled a lot to look tough, but was really crumbling on the inside. Dwayne, who had now murdered seven, looked about to crack. He lowered himself shakily in a chair and tried to immerse himself in the view of the grounds outside. Something about the movement seemed incredibly familiar.
Darcy saw Tynan jerk his head in the direction of Dwayne, and Zevi stared at the little kid. Her eyes grew wide, and she spoke a few of her rare words, only so Tynan could hear. But Darcy could've sworn she heard “JP” escape the quiet young woman's lips.
Arnulf lay under a table in the Dining Hall, poking at a cockroach. The little bug skittered around, but couldn’t escape the sharpness and quickness of Arnulf’s pointer finger. After several minutes of this, Arnulf scooped up the roach and ate it whole, not even bothering to swallow.
At the peak of puberty, Arnulf was always hungry. During the night’s Hunt, he’d eaten an entire fawn, three rabbits and even a lean, tough squirrel. But it wasn’t enough. It was lucky for Arnulf that he was one of the quickest and most bloodthirsty Knights at the Loup, otherwise he’d always have a rumbling stomach. And Gethin had banned him from going into the kitchen unless it was mealtime, because he cleaned out the stress.
Arnulf also had the largest Kill Count, at eight, same as Darcy. He’d once eaten one of his victims, and that had for once filled him up. But barely.
The clatter of footsteps echoed around the Hall, and a gruff voice called out “I know you’re here. Come out and get to your lesson.”
It could only be Raul, who was so stupid he didn’t get to teach a class like the other four adults. Instead his job was to round up stragglers and get them to class, as well as patrol the Loup for the skippers.
Arnulf hated getting bossed around by Raul and the others, as he could only be three years younger than them at the most. Well, possibly four. He took his time crawling out from under the table and slouched out of the Hall, ducking as he passed Raul, who swung a fist at him. Arnulf threw a fist back, and Raul jumped on him, jabbing him with his small hands. Arnulf snapped out his leg and it caught Raul in the stomach. Raul doubled over, and Arnulf dashed out.
Classes were generally held from seven o’clock at night to eleven, which would keep the kids in bed until noon or later the next day. However, after a Hunt, they wouldn’t even start until midnight.
Once out of the Hall, Arnulf began to sprint down the corridors to the dungeons where his first class of the evening was held. He had Darcy first, teaching them simple arithmetic, and being punctual was first priority. Last time he’d been late, he’d almost lost an eye.
Arnulf skidded to a stop outside Darcy’s room and was the last to enter, but not late. He slid into a seat at the back next to Blake and Doyle, his two friends. Darcy was scribbling problems on the board and everyone was getting out parchment and ink and quills and copying them down. It was a test day.
There were fifty problems in all. Arnulf had always been good at math, and he quickly filled out ten, then five more. But they got harder as they progressed, and he had to stop and ponder one, chewing on the end of his quill, squinting his eyes shut.
And then someone’s shaggy hair brushed Arnulf’s face.
Arnulf’s eyes flew open; while he’d been thinking, Blake had leaned over to peer at the answers on his sheet. Without thinking, Arnulf tackled Blake, his best friend since toddlerhood, and pushed him to the ground, knocking over several desks and chairs. Shouts began to ring in Arnulf’s ears, and he smashed a fist into Blake’s nose. Blood was all over everyone’s clothes.
“Enough!” Darcy had somehow inserted herself between the two grappling teens and plucked Arnulf off Blake like he was five pounds. He found himself thrown out the door, next to Blake. “You argue out here on your own. And any blood on the floor, you’re cleaning it.” And the door slammed closed.
Blake dove for Arnulf, smashing the back of his head against the wall. Arnulf stifled a moan and shoved Blake off his, then slammed his foot into Blake’s throat. Blake coughed violently and sprayed Arnulf with blood. He staggered up, snarling.
Before Blake could make a move, Arnulf hurled his shoulder into Blake’s chest and slid him down to the floor, until Blake was pinned. He took a fist and punched Blake’s face one, two, three times. Arnulf then spit in his eyes, stood up, brushed himself off, and returned to class to finish his test. Blake never came back, but when class was over, he wasn’t in the hall.
And thus classes continued, from Gethin’s fighting techniques to Tynan’s physical education to Zevi’s healing yourself after an attack, a skill needed badly. Arnulf then stumbled up to his dormitory, his head throbbing.
Batches of new kids came in groups of ten to fifteen each, and each batch had a couple years in between. Darcy’s group had been the experimental one, and only had five. There had been one more, a fair haired girl named Scarlett, but she had been killed by Darcy early on. Only Arnulf’s group remembered Scarlett.
Arnulf’s batch only had nine, as three of the original Knights in his lot had been killed at one point or another. The older you were, the less people your group tended to have.
The two genders of batches shared dormitories with each other, and Arnulf knew he’d have to face Blake. Small conflicts like Arnulf’s always ended when there was an obvious victor and loser. But it was common for them to last a few days longer, with the two Knights getting revenge until they tired of it and one of them found a new enemy to deal with. Friends like Arnulf and Blake fought only a little less often than enemies, and after a week or so they would forget it all and cheer on other fights.
Arnulf fell into bed fully dressed and stared up at the ceiling. He badly wanted to sleep, but knew that if he did it would only be welcoming an attack from Blake. He bit his tongue, dug his nails into his palm, poured ice water on his stomach, but after just an hour he was fast asleep.
“Uhn…” The moan escaped Arnulf’s lips as something hard and heavy pushed him roughly to the ground. He felt his nose break and his fingers get crushed and the breath knocked out of him as he was covered in kicks from Blake. Arnulf struggled to wake and tried to fend off the blows, but Blake had the advantage. When Arnulf finally leaned over and threw up from the pain on the floor beside him (and hopefully Blake’s feet), the punches stopped. But not the pain.
Arnulf had mastered long ago how to prevent from crying, and not a tear dropped now. But his lips quivered and his body was racked with trembles. He rarely got this bad a beating. He was Arnulf. He’d killed eight people. He was tied with fucking Darcy for the highest Kill Count. There weren’t many people who dared to hurt him this much. Where was his power going?
Kiara woke just after daybreak, stomach rumbling. She’d just moved a year ago from the tiny huts down the lane to the forbidding Loup Academy, and it was rough going. She’d already lost count of how many Hunts she’d participated in, but she did know the number that she’d actually caught something: zero. Some older kid who enjoyed giving advice to younger ones in return for payment (namely doing his homework) had told her that most couldn’t catch anything until they were seven or eight. Kiara guessed she was around six, so she preferred not to think of the long wait for a proper kill.
Food was served three times a day, of course, but there was no meal after a Hunt. It was supposed to motivate you to Hunt better and quicker, but mostly it just left the younger kids hungry.
Kiara stepped out of bed and hopped over the moaning body of a girl who had gotten beaten up during the night. Kiara was by now familiar with the ritual of revenge that plagued the Loup, but she hated participating in it. Fighting was bad enough, but having to look over your shoulder every five minutes for the next forty-eight hours was pure torture.
Kiara pulled on a pair of jeans, a wrinkled T-shirt, and a shabby sweater, as well as the thick-soled boots preferred by all the Loup students. She then crept downstairs, trying her best to keep quiet, as everyone was naturally light sleepers and the slightest noise would awake the whole castle.
It was known to the students that the Master had created them, somehow made them this totally new and unique brand of werewolf. He was only human, and there were no other special werewolves out there to bite them, so the Master had to have some secret. Although Kiara wouldn’t put it past him to use Darcy and the older kids to bite new ones.
Knights could morph at any time of night or day, during any moon phase. They were faster than all prey, had longer and sharper fangs and claws, were more intelligent and in control than the first generation werewolves. But they retained some of their animal traits when in human phase. All their senses; hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste were still enhanced beyond normal humans’.
So Kiara knew by now that normal walking was enough to wake up an entire floor of angry, hungry wolf-people. One kid had dropped a book in the morning years ago, legend had it, and the entire school descended on him. He was literally shredded. The intense strain of added hormones and senses in the Knights made them late sleepers and killers if forced to be early birds.
Kiara tip-toed to the Dining Hall, and then to the kitchens that led off from it. There had always been an endless supply of food, and no delivery truck. Kids simply walked into the kitchen, helped themselves to a raw hunk of meat, and ate.
It was rules that you had to have milk and a fruit or vegetable with every meal if you wanted dessert, and Darcy and her group enforced that. However, unbeknownst to the Master, on weekends, you could have anything you wanted. But the kids ran around so much whether as humans or wolves no one was ever overweight or out of shape.
Yet Darcy liked to sleep until one in the afternoon at the earliest, and so the people who awoke early got whatever they wanted for breakfast. Kiara was one of them. Most of the little kids slept until ten or eleven in the morning, but Kiara was one of the few that went to bed early and awoke similarly early. The kids aged eight and under had only thirty-five minute classes as opposed to hour long ones.
Kiara helped herself to six eggs and scrambled them on a burner. Most kids ate three meals of just raw meat, but Kiara loved eggs and also wasn’t a bad cook. She rarely ate raw things for breakfast.
The door to the kitchen opened and a small, dark skinned boy walked in, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He was Duan, from Kiara’s batch, and her best friend. But today his face was grave, so unlike his usually cheery complexion that made him famous. So many kids were grumpy 24/7 at the Loup. “Thanos is dead.” Duan said soberly.
Kiara gasped. Thanos was in the batch above theirs, and one of the only truly nice people at the academy. He cared for others deeply, and had had the courage to turn away from a fight, even if it earned him disrespect. Thanos had kept a balance of being violent enough to not be murdered for outright weirdness, but not cruel enough to be feared or even dare to kill someone. It endeared him to the nervous younger kids. Kiara had always imagined him growing up to be Darcy’s age, and when she was all gone, he would be in charge, and keep the younger kids from starving on Hunts and stop all the ridiculous fighting.
Duan nodded and helped himself to some milk. “Dwayne was bragging about it last night. Something about Thanos trying to get his prey on the Hunt, and Dwayne had to teach him a lesson.”
Dwayne. Kiara shuddered. Dwayne was in Thanos’ own batch, but as brutal as Darcy and that creep Arnulf with his gang. Dwayne had to be lying, because Thanos would never deliberately anger another Knight.
“I hate Dwayne,” Duan spat, “He ruins everything.”
“Shh,” said Kiara, although they were already speaking in voices softer than a whisper; the kitchen was on the bottom floor, so the other Knights probably couldn’t hear them, but they had to be careful. “Someone could hear you.”
“I don’t care! Thanos was the only good bloke here.” Duan started in on some chicken.
Kiara had no more to say. They already knew that Dwayne was evil, that it was unfair that Thanos got murdered and no one but them would care. In fact, it would be a fact of importance as it meant Dwayne was in second place for most kills.
The two ate in silence, and soon more younger kids filed into the kitchens for breakfast. They whispered about Dwayne for nearly an hour and tried not to clink their silverware too loud, until a latecomer named Dougal piped up “Darcy and her crew are nervous.”
“Why?” everyone crowded around him. Gossip was common in the Loup, but there was nothing more to learn about the Master’s “pets” and everyone was really too scared to talk about them anyway, in case they were overheard.
“They got called up to see the Master last night, and came back all fidgety. Especially Tynan and Zevi, they were whispering all night.”
“Zevi? Really?” Ears perked up. Zevi only ever talked to Tynan, had never even spoken one word to the Master. For her to hold up her half of a conversation for more than a minute was a feat.
“And I was listening, ‘cause they was just in the common room,” continued Dougal, enjoying all the attention, “And they mentioned Dwayne a few times. And they kept on saying stuff about coming from somewhere.”
“What’s coming? From where?”
“I dunno. But it sounded like where we’re from.”
“We’re orphans,” said a high pitched voice, “The Master found us abandoned in the streets and brought us here.”
“I dunno,” Dougal said again, raising his hands in defense, “That’s just what I heard.”
They broke off in whispers. It was an interesting revelation. Everyone knew that the Loup was their only chance of survival, that they would’ve died of cold and starvation if the Master hadn’t found them. But what if they were from somewhere else? What if, what if they had parents?
Older kids began coming in at that point, and the discussion ended. But Kiara could see from the faces around her that it wouldn’t be forgotten.
Kiara and Duan made their way outside, and passed a ball and forth on the front lawn. Soon, when Darcy’s batch was awake, there would be organized obstacle courses and games designed to test everything from strength to wit. There would also be laps around the grounds for when no one wanted to listen to any rules any more.
The boy Dougal soon came up to them and joined in the game. He was a scrawny little kid, with red hair and freckles. He wasn’t afraid to follow around Darcy for gossip, but also a bad stalker and was often punched to a pulp. Even today one eye had the shadow of a bruise and there were the healing wounds of someone’s nails drawn across his neck.
“Do you know where Thanos’ body is?” asked Duan after a minute. Most corpses were left to other predators of the forest, and if they were found in the Loup, they were thrown back into the Proie. But the little ones were still curious.
“Deep in the Proie. Too far to go.” replied Dougal, shrugging.
Just then a cry rang out over the grounds, easily heard by the gathering groups of students. “Someone’s coming!”
Heads snapped up, ears perked and eyes stared down the lane. Sure enough, two tiny dots in the distance were slowly coming up the lane.
“Into the Proie!” screamed the same voice. The people were too far away to hear or see the Knights, but every Loup student would hear and dash into the forest.
Everyone knew the ritual for the rare times when people came. It was simple and just as the voice had said: Transform, get into the forest, deep down where barely any light penetrates the foliage, and lay down on your stomach. The lying down was just a precaution, because no one even dared to get close to the Proie.
This was actually only the second time since the Loup was started twenty years ago that someone had ventured up. The Loup wasn’t on any map, the Proie too dangerous to be advertised as anything but a Do-Not-Enter forest.
Kiara sprinted through the Proie, feeling branches whip across her face. What’s happening? Who are they? Do they know about us? Or are they innocent? Will they go into the Loup? Will they try and get through the Proie?
Nobody except the Master knew what would happen if they were found. The Knights knew being found was bad, but they didn’t know the consequences. They didn’t know if they entire world was like this, or if it was mostly just normal people like the Master. They didn’t know how far beyond the horizon land extended, if they were the most dangerous things in the world or weak compared to its other monsters. They only knew from the Master that they must hide if humans appeared.
And so passed two cold, damp hours lying on the forest floor. Both Kiara’s legs fell asleep and every time she shifted pins and needles shot up her arms. A cramp started in her left foot.
She heard the footsteps and voices of the people drawing closer, talking of boring things like the weather and rabbit tracks. They got to the Loup, commented on the fancy castle for a few minutes, then left, apparently for something that sounded like a helly-copter.
Such idiots. Kiara had expected that with all that fuss, they’d at least try and get into the Loup. But no, two hours were instead wasted lying on the ground listening to small talk. Kiara knew her fair share of curses from the older kids, and she uttered a few as all around her, shaggy wolf forms picked themselves up and headed for the castle.
They would be grumpy at the loss of time and the cold, and the older kids would take it out on the little ones. The Master would come out whatever his hiding place in the castle was and talk to them about the importance of hiding. It would only make them want to bite his head off more. Then classes would continue, people would go to bed, and it would all be forgotten.
Kiara was lost in thought about her late lunch as she jogged back to the Loup. He foot caught on a large, soggy root, and she pulled it away. But the root flipped over.
Kiara glanced down and would’ve retched if she hadn’t seen her fair share of fighting and blood. At her feet, rolled onto his face, was the body of Thanos.
His face was white, eyes wide, hair full of dirt. Dried blood made tracks down his cheeks and from his shredded throat. Kiara let a single tear fall before running away, sick to her stomach from the cruelty of the world she was being trained to fit into.
Rafe ran straight from the Proie into the kitchens, not bothering to pull on more than some pants. He was hungry. Rafe, like his sworn enemy Arnulf, was always accompanied by a grumbling stomach.
Rafe grabbed an entire hunk of beef and stuffed it into his mouth, chewing with his mouth open. Once he was done, he took care to wipe the sweat off his brow and the dirt smears from his chest. He cleaned his mouth with a napkin and ran a hand through his thick, dark hair. Rafe then headed to the grounds, where the rest of the Loup was convening to wait for a word from the Master. He always spoke after a “crisis”, telling the students what they needed to expect and how they’d done and why they needed to do it. It was boring, really.
Rafe darted through the crowd, looking for a certain blond head. She was short, so she didn’t stand out immediately. But Cala’s hair was white blond, and extremely long and curly, unlike anyone else’s. It was never that hard to find her.
As he ran, Rafe thought about running his hands through that hair. Moving them down to her neck, over her muscular shoulders…
There! She was up towards the front, talking to her friends. As he slowed his pace to a strut and straightened his posture, Cala glanced back at him with a half smile on her perfect, rose colored lips.
Rafe’s heart nearly melted. Cala was in his batch, so he’d known her since babyhood. They’d ran around naked together. But sometime in the last year, something had changed. Rafe blushed when Cala looked at him, his voice broke when he spoke to her, and just sitting behind her in class made him happy for the rest of the day.
Rafe was positive that Cala liked him too, and was just flirting when she turned her cheek on his kisses and made excuses when he asked her to sit with him. And when she glared at him, well, it was just sexy. And only made Rafe try harder to get her.
The Master appeared, old and powerful and proud of his school. He stood on the sloping hill the Loup was on, so that he towered over even Darcy and Gethin. Rafe stood behind Cala, breathing in her flowery scent and swooning from it.
“You all hid efficiently and impeccably,” began the Master, surveying his students who he saw only if they were sent to him for rule-breaking or during these speeches. Rafe admired him greatly, but also hated him. He thought he was so safe with that little wand in his hand. Rafe longed to swipe out his eyes just to prove that no one could move faster than a Knight, without or without a magic stick.
“People are not a bad thing, we are just trying to protect them in their ignorance. The less they know, the less they will try and meddle and take control. People are too curious for their own good. That is why we are so far away from civilization, and that is why we hide when they stray up our road. We are not in any danger from them…”
“He speaks as if he’s not one of them, the asshole.” snickered Darcy to Zevi, who cracked a grin. Rafe had not been aware they were standing so close. Like all cautious kids, Rafe was in awe of those who could so openly mock the Master. Sure, Rafe disliked him, and of course Rafe longed to show him how weak that wand was, but Rafe knew deep down that the Master had more power than just a wooden thing that he waved around.
Rafe lost track of the talk as Cala flipped her hair over to one shoulder and a strand or two brushed his still-bare chest. He pictured once again his hands, moving from her shoulders down to her back, still farther down to her hips, sliding down…
A few months ago Rafe had come into control of his own body, not blushing or squeaking as much around Cala, hiding his more embarrassing emotions. But on the inside he was giddy as ever.
Rafe was pulled back to his senses as the group began to disband, most kids heading to the Dining Hall for lunch. Cala and her friends sat down on the ground, however, and lifted their faces to the sun, which hadn’t shown is pretty face in over a week.
Glancing down at Cala’s glowing face, bathed in sunlight, her eyes closed, lips turned up, Rafe forgot that he’d been planning to get more food after the speech. Instead, he sat down on the grass beside Cala.
“Hey,” Rafe said, lowering his voice an octave, “You going to get any lunch?”
“Hi, Rafe.” Cala smiled at him, and a flutter went through Rafe’s stomach. “In a minute. I just want to enjoy all this good weather before it disappears.”
“I know what you mean.” Rafe didn’t actually care that much about the weather, but since Cala obviously did, for now he absolutely adored it.
“Did you catch anything on the Hunt last night?” Cala asked.
“A coyote,” said Rafe proudly. Mostly people caught deer and wild turkey. But coyotes were bigger and more of a challenge. There also weren’t nearly as many. “You?”
“Turkey,” said Cala, “But it was thin and tiny.”
“It’s not their season,” agreed Rafe. He hated how he could only come up with small talk with Cala, but it was more than he could manage a month ago.
“What do you think of Arnulf, Rafe?” said Cala, turning her face from the sun for the first time and setting her deep, sky blue eyes onto Rafe’s dark brown ones.
Rafe narrowed his eyes and spat “I hate him.”
Cala laughed, a ringing laugh that always made Rafe smile. “You should see your face!” she giggled, “So hateful and ugly and… jealous!”
“Wha…” Rafe considered this. “Jealous? Nah.” He choked out a fake laugh.
“Silly,” grinned Cala. And then she leaned forward and kissed him. On the lips. With her mouth open. And with her tongue. And her hands were on his chest. His bare chest. And her hair was brushing against him. And his hands were somehow around her waist. And then they were lying down, and she was on top of him, giggling and still kissing him. And someone was saying something, but Rafe wasn’t listening. He was kissing Cala. And her hands were mussing up his hair. And he couldn’t even think a fully-formed thought, so why should he care about what anyone thought except Cala anyway?
After an eternity, when they finally pulled apart, both Rafe and Cala were flushed and breathing hard. And smiling.
“Let’s go to lunch,” said Cala breathlessly, taking his hand.
“Yeah,” Rafe let a broad smile escape his lips.
They walked up the hill to the Loup, and Rafe knew why the sun was suddenly the best thing in the world, why the Loup was a castle of power and strength, why the Proie was full of opportunity instead of death.
Because everything is beautiful when you’re in love.
After gathering food from the kitchen, Rafe pulled Cala down onto his lap at a table in the Dining Hall, marveling at his good fortune.
Rafe would never remember what they talked about that lunch, or what he ate, only that he was with Cala. But he would never forget what happened just as they were standing up to go find something to do before classes started.
Raul: short, ripped, tanned Raul appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Cala’s face. He then thrust himself on her, forcing her lips open with his. One arm slid down to lock itself securely around her waist.
Rafe didn’t see the expression on Cala’s face, he simply threw himself at Raul, knocking him away from Cala. Rafe grabbed a fistful of Raul’s hair and yanked it upward. Rafe felt himself involuntarily morphing, felt the added power coursing through his muscles, felt hair forcing its way up all over his body. Rafe’s jeans split along the seams and fell to the ground.
Rafe snarled, spittle flying from between his bared teeth and peppering Raul’s face. Raul began transforming too, but before he could do anything, Rafe raked a claw across his face, quickly drawing blood. As Raul screamed, Rafe drew his paw over Raul’s throat, and Raul was silent.
Triumphant and sweaty, Rafe looked up, ready to claim back Cala. But he did not see the congratulatory smile on her face.
Instead, Cala’s terrified face stared back at his own. And when Rafe reached a furry hand for her, she turned and ran.
Rafe swung around and punched a bench so hard it splintered, and he heard a crack as his hand broke.
Gethin walked into the common room and fell down on a couch, sore all over from hiding in the Proie for two hours. His eyes had just drifted shut when an outburst of shouting erupted just behind him.
“What? WHO DID IT?!”
“That son of a bitch, Rafe.”
“I’ll KILL him!”
“Raul’s not dead, Darcy. JP’s working on him right now.”
“I don’t care! Who does that fucking asshole think he is, attacking Raul?!”
“Raul was kissing Cala.”
“But Cala doesn’t like Rafe!”
“Apparently they’d just gotten together when Raul went after her.”
The first, hissing, angry voice was that of Darcy. The second one, speaking in a calm, low voice in contrast to Darcy’s, was Tynan.
Gethin jumped up off the couch. Raul, attacked? It wasn’t possible! “What happened?” he asked as Darcy and Tynan, with Zevi close behind, entered the room.
“Raul kissed Cala and Rafe went after him, in the Dining Hall,” explained Tynan, since Darcy was fuming too much to form coherent words. Her entire body trembled and her black hair nearly crackled with anger.
“Shit, is Raul all right?” asked Gethin.
“JP is with him,” said Tynan soberly. If the Master and his wand, which had powers of healing, were needed, the situation had to be desperate. Knights rarely used painkillers, and preferred to nurse their wounds in silence as opposed to getting help.
“Should we go see him?” said Gethin.
“We already tried,” said Tynan, “JP told us to beat it.”
Gethin nodded. “Where’s Rafe?”
“Hiding, the coward,” spat Tynan.
Zevi nudged Tynan as Dwayne slouched into the room and sat down on a chair. He looked to be in a foul mood.
“Oh, yeah,” said Tynan suddenly, “Look at Dwayne guys. Does he remind you of anyone?”
Darcy and Gethin glanced dubiously at the fair haired little kid. “Nope,” said Gethin. He just looked like an ordinary… killer boy.
“JP!” said Tynan, wringing his hands, “Look, they’re like twins! Except Dwayne’s a lot younger…”
“I see it…” said Darcy, but not very convincingly. “Their eyes are both the same shape and size, and their chins are sort of the same…”
“They’re a perfect match!” said Tynan keenly. “Guys, I think there’s a good chance they’re related.”
“That’s way too farfetched,” pointed out Gethin, “JP is what? Sixty? Older? Dwayne is eight or nine. The age thing doesn’t match up.”
“They could be granddad and grandchild,” said Darcy slowly, “If JP had his kids really early…”
“Or if his kids had Dwayne really early!” said Tynan quickly, “Or if Dwayne is his kid he had him super late! I really think this is a legitimate possibility!”
“So what?” Darcy asked irritably. “So what if they’re related? What does it mean?”
“It means we might not be abandoned orphans,” replied Tynan darkly.
That shut them up.
“Let’s go see him,” said Darcy decisively, turning in the direction of the main staircase.
“Darcy, you know he’s with Raul,” reminded Gethin hesitantly. He could see from the way Darcy’s nostrils flared, the way her eyes were narrowed, that she was heading in one direction and nothing would divert her from it.
“We’ll take a quick look in the infirmary,” snapped Darcy, without looking back, as the three were following her fast pace up the stairs, “Then we’ll go wait for him in his study. God Gethin, do you really think we have to wait for his permission to ask him a question?”
Gethin wanted to punch Darcy, so hard she forgot what the color of the sky was, but he refrained, and kept silent. The four swept up the stairs to the doorway of the small room that had been turned into an infirmary. It was really just a room with a fireplace and four cots, but it was called the infirmary anyway.
JP was in there, leaning over a still body. His back was shielding people who happened to look in from the damage. Darcy tried to get a closer look, but JP began to turn, and she darted out. “Let’s go up,” she announced.
Gethin dutifully followed her up and up, until they reached JP’s study. He’d never been in the study without JP, and quiver of excitement shot through him. Maybe he’d be able to look around. See what mysteries JP was keeping from them.
Darcy pulled the study door violently open and stormed into the study. She glanced out the large window, where students were still wandering about. She then ran around to his desk and pulled open several drawers. “We don’t have much time,” she said.
Gethin then knew that this was what Darcy had really wanted all along; to get a chance to be in JP’s study without him knowing. She had been thinking along the exact same lines. “Help me!” Darcy said loudly.
“Are we looking for stuff on Dwayne?” I asked.
“Anything unusual,” snapped Darcy, “Anything that doesn’t fit in with our life. Anything that has to do with magic.”
The others spread out and began ruffling through JP’s trinkets and papers, looking for clues as to what this whole deal was about. Gethin was remembering how mad JP had been at the news kids knew about wands, how secretive it was to have a name like “The Master”, how odd it was that sixty enhanced werewolves were locked up in a castle for no real reason—
A loud crack filled the room and the strangest thing Gethin had ever seen happened: JP appeared out of nowhere. He took in, with widened eyes, the scene that was laid out before him.
Darcy was kneeling on the ground behind his desk, pulling out drawers and dumping their contents on the ground. She was in the process of scanning a stack of papers. Tynan was ripping all the books out of JP’s large bookcase that was an entire wall of the study, while Zevi rifled through the pages. Gethin had been about to open a large cabinet he’d always wondered the meaning of.
“What are you doing here?” JP asked calmly, storing his drawn wand in a pocket, and sitting down in his chair, forcing Darcy to stand up and move away from the desk.
“What is this?” Darcy replied quietly. She held up a handful of what appeared to be newspapers. Amazingly, the pictures on it were moving.
“The Daily Prophet.” said JP, “A newspaper I read.”
“Everyone in the pictures have wands, like yours,” continued Darcy, “And they all look like you. And they don’t fight. And there are millions of them.”
Gethin had always known that someday it would come down to this: Darcy and JP, facing off, with information spewing out of their mouths. And someone would win, would have the power.
“You’ll never keep this quiet,” Darcy said shakily. Gethin had never once heard her voice quaver.
“I find that hard to believe,” countered JP. With a wave of his wand the papers ripped themselves out of Darcy’s hands and stuffed themselves back into the desk drawer. “You see, death is bloody. To kill, you must rip out throats, hearts, vital organs and passages. With a wand, it is quick, painless, and unstoppable.” Something flickered in his eyes.
“Nothing is unstoppable,” spat Tynan, “I bet you’re just making this all up.”
“Oh, I can silence you easily,” said JP, “So I suggest you all stand up, without touching anything, and go over there.” He pointed with a claw of a finger to the corner of the room farthest from the door, between the window and a bare wall.
Gethin moved first. He scampered quickly to the corner. Silently, the other four followed him, Darcy practically burning a hole in JP’s face with her glare.
JP raised his wand, and all five flinched visibly. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said unconvincingly, “I just don’t want you to go and starting more panic than there already is. We’ll start with Darcy.”
The was a flash of green light, revealing the same scene as a second before: JP standing, wand raised, and the five young adults standing beside the window. But Darcy stepped forward.
“C’mon guys, why are you all standing there? Let’s go.” She urged, with a glare at JP.
“Darcy, step outside, please.” JP’s voice hid a thousand secrets. “They’ll be out in a minute.” Shrugging, Darcy left with her usual swagger.
“What’d you do to her?!” Raul shouted, lunging for JP. With a flick of the wand, he was thrown back to the wall. JP had never used so much magic in front of them.
“It’s called a Memory Charm,” said JP calmly, “Darcy has no recollection of the past half hour. It’s harmless, as I said.”
And before any of them could do a thing, the room was filled with more green light, flash after flash, until it faded away leaving four clueless adults and one informed one.
“What was all that light?” asked Raul cautiously.
“Nothing, nothing,” said JP, “All of you are dismissed.”
And they left, slouching one after the other out the door, as if nothing had happened at all.
Devin sat on a large tree branch, as thick as he was tall. The Proie was full of these huge trees, but Devin was the only one brave enough to try and climb them. He sat over fifty feet above the ground, happy as he could be. His enhanced muscles let him climb high, and his cold heart wouldn’t let any fear into his system.
Devin had killed four people, and had neither enjoyed it or been disgusted by it. Devin liked girls but didn’t ask them out. Devin didn’t mind cooking his meat once in a while, to see exactly how good he could make it taste. Devin was an oddball.
Devin was more than an oddball. He was his own batch.
Two years after Darcy and her gang had been brought to the Loup, Devin was marched along. After Devin, order came to the Loup. All batches consisted of at least ten kids, half boys, half girls. Darcy’s batch had worked, Devin came along, and then things turned to routine.
The result was that for a few years Devin had been the equivalent of an only child; he got extra attention from the Master and was more “special” then Darcy’s batch. Then more kids were ordered, and Devin was just weird. Not cruel or knowledgeable enough of the Loup to hang out with Darcy, because by the time he came along the Master was full of secrets.
But Devin was too old for the next batch, containing Arnulf and Cala and Rafe, among others. Because real schooling was happening then, they were being taught to fight and Hunt and they were like the third and fourth children in a family. By then the parents knew how to change diapers and sing nonsense songs but were also tired enough to let them run along without a ton of supervision. Devin had already been taught other things, and was left out. Besides, he was a solitary person anyway.
Devin was curious. He liked climbing trees to see what was beyond his small horizon, and he was an unusually good student because he cared about gaining knowledge. Whether it was how to multiply ten by ten or how big a rabbit’s brain was, Devin wanted to know. He was fascinated by what he didn’t know. He’d already read everything in the meager library of the Loup.
Devin had glorious plans one day of walking away from the Loup, of just running off down the lane and finding other people. He knew there had to be others. The babies kept in the little huts weren’t children of the Master; they had to come from somewhere.
Devin also liked peace and quiet. That was why he climbed trees. To be away from the chaos of the school. It earned him the nickname Squirrel, from Gethin. Gethin had been the one ordered to get Devin out of the trees when they were little, and disobedient.
When Rafe attacked Raul, and a mild uproar was caused, Devin had fled. He hated running at the sight of trouble, but he was also glad he knew how to calm down. Devin had too powerful a punch to be running around nervous.
Nobody was ever really missed if they disappeared. Devin spent half his nights sleeping in trees, actually. But when he did, and reentered the Loup casually the next morning, Darcy’s gang was tense. He knew the Master was afraid of kids leaving, of running away, and so his little pets were too. But that didn’t stop Devin.
Dozing on and off, Devin fell into the reverie of pure bliss, where he could stay comfortably as long as it was quiet. Some people might call it napping, but it wasn’t. It was relaxation, a feeling most of the Loup didn’t know.
After a while, Devin’s stomach growled and he nimbly crawled down the tree. Hunting in the Proie when it wasn’t thundering was forbidden, something that bugged most students. After all, people wouldn’t hear miles and miles away. The Master was just paranoid.
In Devin’s opinion (which was never asked for) the Master had way too many secrets. What was the worst that could happen if they knew his name? The kids couldn’t rat him out, because they had no communication with the rest of the world, and wouldn’t know what to rat him out for, anyway. They learned no history at the Loup. No names of murderers, saviors, saints, ordinary citizens. The Master could be Jesus himself and they wouldn’t know who he was, since there was no religion or Bibles of any kind at the Loup.
But Devin avoided trouble like the plague, and it was fine by him to get food from the kitchens, just inconvenient. They had to power to morph whenever they could, they had super strong muscles and enhanced senses, and they should be able to use them. And yet Devin was a follower, and always would be. He headed for the Loup.
Devin had lots of time to contemplate, because he had no one to truly call a friend and talk to. He had heard the whispers about the army. That after decades of work, the Master would set them on the world and they would take over and live like kings.
Or that the Master would force them to take control, and then use them as slaves. Or that he would kill them all once they were done, keeping only a few like Darcy to keep order in his empire.
No one dared revolt for fear of the unknown, even though Devin knew that half the school could easily overpower the Master. He had the wand, but if they crept up behind him, knocked him unconscious and hid it, he’d be unprotected and would do whatever they said.
Devin could probably organize such an attack, but he was a mellow person. He’d never get up the energy and excitement it took to rile up the kids and tell them what to do. And he’d never ask Darcy for help.
Devin was taller than Gethin, stronger than Darcy and smarter than the two of them put together. The five in that first batch knew that if he had been born a few years earlier, and been brought to the Loup first, he’d be in command. But he hadn’t. He was only eighteen, at the most. And Darcy’s gang was twenty or twenty one. They had secrets. They had power.
The internal struggles of the Loup, and the power each individual held would be unknown to anyone who didn’t know how to look. Everyone’s age, strength, and Kill Count were precariously balanced. Devin could see it and think about it, but most just accepted it without thought.
Devin sat on a counter in the kitchen, chopped up some chicken, and tossed it around in a frying pan. Besides a few younger kids, he was the only cook at the Loup, the only one who bothered trying to eat food not raw.
Darcy then walked into the room, and grimaced at Devin and his cooking meat. “Classes are canceled tonight,” she said moodily, then swept out.
Classes were another humiliation for Devin. He wasn’t old enough to teach, apparently, even though Darcy had had her own class since she was fourteen. Devin was forced to study with the batch below him.
However, it was an interesting insight that classes were canceled. They were never canceled. In fact, they’d never even been postponed an extra hour. Devin headed for the common room, abandoning his cooking.
The common room was nearly empty, but kids were creeping in, and eyeing Darcy’s gang nervously. The four adults were huddled in their usual spots, whispering intently.
A burly fifteen-year-old marched up to Devin. “Go to listen to them,” he said, jerking his head at Darcy. “You’re the only one they’ll let near them.”
“Says who?” said Devin roughly. The younger kids always wanted him to eavesdrop on Darcy.
“Gethin broke a kid’s arm,” said the teen darkly, then walked off.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Devin sat in the chair closest to Darcy’s without looking intrusive, and studied a book on mathematics taken from a shelf. Darcy glared at him, but let him be. Devin heaved an inaudible sigh of relief, then settled in to hear what they were saying, not bothering to look at who was saying what, just listening to the anxious voices.
“We’ve gotta go outside the school. Something happened up there. JP’ll never tell us.” That was the rough, deep voice of Gethin.
“We need to steal his wand, then go.” The hiss of determined Darcy.
“Let’s boycott. Not do anything but lie in our beds until he says something.” said Tynan’s voice, higher than Gethin’s, and his ever-heavy breathing that sounded like he was running a race.
“No, he’ll just use magic again. The only solution is to leave.” Darcy’s mind was always on the Master’s wand, on his magical powers.
“We don’t know how far away civilization is. It could take weeks.” said Tynan, the logical one.
“Damn it, Tynan, we know how to hunt! We’d make it!” snapped Darcy, the one whose logic broke apart everyone else’s.
“We’d get lost. We’d spend our lives looking for food. It would be backwards evolution.” And Tynan would use his brain to contradict her.
“Evolution. JP had a book in his office on it. It was lying open, on the floor. I read a few pages while he lectured us. It’s like at the beginning of the world, there was no life. Then these really tiny, primitive bits emerged. And over a million years, as our bodies freaked out and grew weird parts, we became humans.”
“Whatever that is, forget it, smart ass. I’m not spending my time here looking after brats.” snarled Darcy.
“Fine. Then I suggest we send out someone else, first, to see what he can find. Tell him to find people, then report back. If he can’t find anyone in two weeks, come back anyway.”
“That’s not a bad idea…” Devin never knew why Darcy was the leader of the group. Tynan was smarter, and had plenty of strength. He had natural leadership, and good ideas. Perhaps he was just too easy to push aside. Maybe he didn’t fight Darcy enough.
“Who would we send?” Gethin had been silent most of the time, but now he spoke up. “We’re the only ones who wouldn’t break down, who’d actually find enough food, who’d have enough stamina.”
“Devin…” Zevi breathed, so quietly that Devin himself only recognized it because it was his name.
Four faces snapped to him, and Devin lowered his book guiltily.
“You’ve heard everything, right?” Darcy said pointedly.
“Yes.” Devin was never afraid of Darcy. He just let the leaders lead.
“Go. Tomorrow. You know what to do. Two weeks. Come back with or without the good news.”
“Go.” Darcy flipped back her hair and stood up, her height imposing. She stalked out of the room.
And Devin was left to search through the wilderness for people that might not even be there.
After Darcy and her gang left the common room, chaos reigned. Kids swooped down on Devin, a kid sometimes known as Squirrel, who’d been ordered by Darcy to do something.
Rolf simply walked over to the couch Gethin usually ruled, the best one, and stretched out on it. He was only five or six years old, so he only took up a fraction of it. But he dreamed of the time when he’d be big enough to shove Gethin to the ground, rest his head on one arm of the couch, dangle his feet off the other, and no one would get him off it until he was good and ready.
“I’m going to find some people, out there,” Rolf heard Devin say loudly, addressing the whole room, “If I don’t find anyone, I’ll come back. Now leave me alone.” With that, Devin rose to his full, towering height and walk out of the room.
Silently, Rolf followed him.
Devin padded down to the kitchens, where he pulled some half-cooked chicken out of a pan and ate it moodily. Rolf watched in disgust. Why cook your meat when it was perfectly good raw? Devin glared at Rolf. “What do you want, kid?”
“I want to come with you. On your search.” Rolf could envision it; he and Devin, running across the ragged terrain, finding humans. They’d run back to the Loup, lead a revolt, and show the school back to the world, where they’d be pampered, loved and admired for surviving so long under the harsh rule of the Master.
Devin laughed and threw his frying pan back into a random drawer. “Nice try, kid. But you’re way too young. You’d run out of steam before I started panting.”
“Oh yeah?” Rolf puffed out his chest and kicked Devin in the shin. “I’m stronger than you think.”
Devin cuffed Rolf on the head, but lightly. Devin had never been big on violence, Rolf knew. So he wouldn’t hurt him enough to sop Rolf from coming. Rolf stomped out as Devin headed for his bedroom.
Devin was the only one in the school besides Darcy’s gang with his own room, since he was his own batch. Darcy’s group got their own rooms because “they were here first” and other crap the Master told them. At first Devin had slept nearer to Darcy’s gang, then when the next batch came along he was shuffled in with them in a real dormitory. When he was around ten, Devin had thrown a fit and was given his own room.
Rolf admired someone like that, who got things for no good reason. He ate some food himself, then walked up to Devin’s room, which was just an old room next to the classrooms with a bed in it. Rolf stationed himself outside, sitting on the cold floor, and fell asleep. He was determined to go on the journey of a lifetime.
When Rolf was stirred awake by the tip-toe sound Devin’s feet made against the floor, he shot up and wiped the thin line of drool from his chin. “I’m coming!” he announced to Devin’s retreating back.
Rolf ate a bowl chocolate pudding while he watched Devin scramble some eggs. Devin wasn’t asking him to help, but he wasn’t pushing him out, either.
“I’m coming.” Rolf said again.
Devin stayed silent, and tipped the frying pan over his head so that the egg tumbled down into his mouth. Half of it slid to the floor.
“You can’t stop me.” Rolf tried again.
“You’re right,” Devin snapped, spinning around to glare at Rolf. “I can’t. So you can just follow me, and when you die of hunger and exhaustion I won’t do a thing to help you.”
Rolf gulped. “I’m coming.”
“Whatever.” Devin shrugged, and snarfed some pudding of his own. He was wearing only jeans, and his dark, tightly-curled hair was matted with grime. Baths were a rarity in the Loup.
Devin padded softly out of the kitchen and out onto the grounds. He could hear Rolf trying to silently follow him.
Without a word, Devin morphed and stood at the beginning of the lane that led down to the toddlers’ huts. He surveyed the cold, desolate land before him with a groan.
Rolf morphed too, and looked out at the horizon. The two silhouettes stood in the early morning light. Devin’s was taller, more muscled, and the color of charcoal. In contrast, Rolf looked soft and scared. His pelt was tawny and his fur sleeker.
Devin licked his lips and trotted off down the lane, Rolf at his tail.
“When can we stop to eat?” asked Rolf, when they’d been going at a light run for an hour. He was thankful for Darcy forcing him to do laps around the castle, as he was in excellent shape. But he was beginning to tire a little, and his stomach rumbled. The lane that led to the castle had faded into nothing a long way back.
“We’ve barely started,” sighed Devin, and Rolf noticed that he hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Just keep running. You’re going to be hungry for most of the trip.”
“What—!” Rolf began, but Devin interrupted.
“Look, I told you it was going to be hard. Now shut up.” Devin increased his speed a little, and with a doubtful mind Rolf followed.
They were running across a large landscape that was marred by lots of jagged hills and sudden drops. It had scraggly grass and a few sullen, bent trees; above them, the sky stretched long and grey. The air was damp on Rolf’s tongue and pelt, which only reminded him that he was getting thirsty too.
“Look,” Devin said half an hour later, nodding towards the horizon. A grey smudge had appeared, dodging in between the rough hills.
“What is it?” asked Rolf.
“It looks like part of the land…” said Devin, though Rolf heard a note of apprehension in his voice, “C’mon. Let’s go see.”
They sprinted towards the smudge, which looked like a long, dark stripe across the horizon. However, after running hard for several minutes, it hadn’t gotten any bigger. Devin slowed down, breathing heavily, as did Rolf.
“What is it?” Rolf gasped, slowing down further until he was jogging.
“I don’t know,” replied Devin, his brow furrowed. “Keep going,” He added.
The two ran on.
After another hour, the smudge had grown larger in size, and more solid. As the two boys grew nearer to it at last, it finally became clear enough to see that it was a long strip of black that wove over the rough terrain. It was like nothing Rolf had ever seen. It was just a meaningless scar on the stubby grass.
When they finally reached the stripe, Rolf and Devin found that it stretched endlessly in both directions, and was about six or seven meters across. Devin crouched down and sniffed it tentatively. He immediately recoiled, and spat on the ground.
“What?” asked Rolf.
“Gross,” grunted Devin, “Try it.”
Rolf knelt down and lowered his nose cautiously closer to the stripe. When his face was still a good arm’s length away from it his face twisted and he jumped back. “Ew.” It smelled like the time someone had tried cooking, just for fun, and burned a perfectly good steak into a lump of charcoal, combined with the rotting leather of Raul’s favorite boots.
Devin stuck out his paw and brushed the stripe with it. “It’s hard,” he said in surprise.
“Is it safe?” asked Rolf. What if it swallowed them up, into the depths of the ground? Or burned their feet?
“We have to cross,” said Devin decisively, “C’mon.” And without another glance, he stepped out onto the stripe. Rolf watched, mouth hanging open, as Devin strode across the stripe and had crossed it in a few seconds.
“C’mon!” Devin repeated, impatient now, “It’s fine!”
Rolf gulped and wiped a bead of sweat off his forehead. He took a deep breath, then dashed across the stripe as quickly as he could. Surprisingly, it was as solid as the stone floors of the Loup, and the temperature of the air. Nothing substantial happened at all; Rolf got across safely and completely intact.
“Well, let’s not waste any more time,” Devin said, and he took off in the same direction, roughly southwest, as they’d been going for the entire trip. With a last glance at the mysterious dark stripe, Rolf followed.
Rolf had lost track of the time they’d been running when his stomach growled again, louder and angrier than the first time. “Can we please stop to eat?” The sun was high in the sky, and it had to be long past noon. It was beating down on Rolf’s boiling back.
Devin sighed and slowed down. “I suppose. Keep an eye out for any movement.” They had seen the occasional wind-ruffled hare stream by as they ran, and Rolf knew that any meal they got wouldn’t be quite as satisfying as he’d hoped.
The sun rose higher in the sky, and Rolf, already warm, began to get uncomfortably hot as they jogged in search of food. “I don’t see anything!” He moaned.
“Keep looking,” ordered Devin, but he looked worn out too.
Finally Devin broke into a dead sprint and snatched something out from under scraggly bush. With a twitch of his paw Devin had broken the hare’s neck. “Let’s look for more. Eating this will only make us more hungry.”
Over the course of an hour Devin had collected two more hares, and Rolf had made a run for one and missed it. They decided to settle down to eat under the shade of a tiny tree. Devin skinned them and removed some of the major bones, then handed one to Rolf. Rolf downed it in two bites, as did Devin. They split the last one.
“I’m thirsty,” Rolf said, as they lingered a moment to digest.
“Me too,” said Devin, “But we’re just going to have to deal with it.”
Devin had become much harsher over the course of the day, Rolf realized. Normally Devin was soft spoken, and gentle when he did speak up. But apparently when assigned a task and a serious situation, he toughened up.
Soon after, another smudge appeared on the horizon, though this one was slightly different from the other. As the boys ran, they saw that this smudge looked straighter and solider than the last, even from a distance. After a lifetime, when they reached it, they found that it was a completely different stripe.
This stripe consisted of two long, metal rods, set less than a meter apart, that ran parallel to each other and disappeared on both sides into the distance. Connecting the rods were several wooden slats that were set into the ground.
“Odd,” said Devin, “But it shouldn’t be any different from the last.”
Rolf wasn’t quite as confident. What on earth could the odd stripes be for? They probably led somewhere, but they were certainly too weird to be paths. The first was too hard, and would wear down your feet; an earth trail, like the one that led from the Loup, would be much better. And this one was just plan odd. The slats made for uneven footing, and you could trip over the metal rods. What else was in store for them?
“C’mon,” Devin said, and he leapt over the stripe in one bound and ran forward, not even waiting for Rolf. With a sigh, Rolf followed.
They moved on from the second stripe and saw no more for awhile. Devin had gradually decreased the pace since they’d left the stripe, and now they were practically speed walking. Both were panting, and Rolf could hear Devin’s stomach rumble, louder than his own.
It was just as Rolf opened his mouth to suggest they rest that a light winked to life on the horizon.
The Master sighed and leaned back in his leather chair, that day’s copy of the Daily Prophet held loosely in his hands.
The Master had been living in the Loup for over twenty years, and as dismal as it was, he had eventually come to love the cold, forbidding hallways, the damp dungeons, the stormy weather. He had learned to enjoy the solid presence of the Proie that was beside him always, and the loneliness that had set in his heart from the day he’d left home.
The Master’s study was only a small part of his large suite. When he’d restored the crumbling, abandoned castle at his initial arrival, he’d made sure to create a comfortable living space for himself. His study was only the first stop on the spiral staircase that led to his living space, and above it was so much more. Next was a small kitchen, stocked with simple necessary items such as cutlery as well as extravagant luxuries, like his prized fondue set. Above the kitchen was a bedroom with a bed fit for a king, and above that a profligate bathroom. Further up still, the last stop, was a small observatory, from which the Master could see in all directions and admire his life’s work. The viewing room was equipped only with a small, comfortable couch and a coffee table to rest a mug of coffee or one’s feet on. The ceiling was all glass, so that the Master could occasionally view the heavens above.
As magnificent as the suite was, the study really was the main attraction. It was where the Master doled out punishments for the guilty and orders for Darcy’s batch; it was where he conducted his research and occasionally experiments; it was where he read, either from his extensive library or from his daily newspaper.
The Master lifted the paper again and reread the unsettling news. It was the twelfth birthday of a kidnap victim, who had yet to be found, and also the anniversary of his snatching from his home ten years before. The kidnapper had been sly; the boy had disappeared just after his own birthday party. The parents of the child, a wealthy family, had apparently asked for a small article to be published in the Prophet to remind the world that not all problems were solved, and sometimes there was no “happily ever after”. The Master snorted. There were thousands of kidnapped kids in the world who would never find their families again; the Master knew that well enough.
The child was the grandson of a famous wizard, and the Master remembered well the news that had plagued the Prophet after the kidnapping; headlines had declared “Famous Auror’s Grandson Gone!” and similar dramatic claims. The press could be so foolish.
But apparently that annoying famous Auror had funded a renewed search for the boy. It was absurd, of course. The boy would hardly resemble his two-year-old self, especially because no kidnapper was gentle. The boy would have been raised in harsh conditions, no doubt. He would look like a whole new person, ten years later. It was ridiculous that they were sending a search party out now.
But the article claimed that there were going to be searches all over the United Kingdom, especially in more remote areas, and that wouldn’t make things easy for the Master. There was a reason, after all, that he had trained the Knights to hide in the Proie whenever there was a hint of human life wandering up to the Loup.
The Master sighed again. The Loup’s grounds were too well maintained, the castle too well lit up at night to escape suspicion. Evacuating was a last resort, of course. But he would have to perform some powerful magic to create the illusion that the Loup was still abandoned. It would be similar to the spell that had been cast upon Hogwarts centuries ago. The Master wondered how Hogwarts was doing. Oh, how the professors there would gasp if they saw the school he was running!
The Master stuffed the newspaper into a filing cabinet and rubbed his temples. The kidnapped child’s name was Alex Potter.
A/N: A short chapter, I know, but necessary to move the plot along and to get a break from Devin and Rolf. The next one will be far more exciting.
The bright, blinding white-blue of the sky was just beginning to deepen, and Devin’s body ached to the core. But there was a light up ahead! That could only mean one thing: intelligence. People. Civilization was so much closer than he’d thought! How far had they traveled today? Forty kilometers? Fifty, at the most. And damn it, he didn’t care how far that light was, he was going to get to its source before he slept.
Devin had of course learned from the two mysterious stripes on the landscape earlier that the horizon was ten times father than it seemed. But Devin ignored Rolf’s groans and ran forward towards the light. Even as he ran, he watched the light split itself into several separate entities.
Rolf began panting and falling behind, but Devin didn’t care. The kid had insisted on coming; hadn’t Devin warned him? Sure, Devin felt sorry for the kid; if Devin was exhausted, Rolf must have been about to collapse. And if the lights hadn’t appeared, Devin would have stopped for the night.
But Devin couldn’t find the words to explain the emotion he felt as the light had appeared on the horizon. The lights symbolized a thousand answers to the thousand questions that no one at the Loup had ever been allowed to ask: Where were they from? Were they normal beings, or gross mistakes? Were they the most powerful people on the planet, or the weakest? Was there more to life than the Loup?
But those were specific questions. How about: How big was the planet? The definition of the word ‘planet’ was the limit of Devin’s knowledge. What about the history of the planet? Were there more planets out there? Was it possible to get to them? What was magic? Where did it come from? Could everyone use it? Could he, Devin, use it?
It was these questions and more that coursed through Devin’s mind and powered his thumping heart as he raced towards the horizon. And the lack of complaints from the small ball of fur lagging a few feet behind confirmed Devin’s suspicions that he wasn’t the only one who wanted answers.
The lights kept on dividing as the two boys ran on. The sky was gradually getting darker, and the lights were soon all Devein could see: they expanded along the horizon and became different colors. This one was a pure, crisp white, that one more gold tinged. That one was crimson! Devin felt the weariness leak out of his very being as he sprinted onward. The mumble of noise had been pricking at his ears for a while now, but it got louder and sharper as he ran.
Finally, when Devin could pick out individual voices and words from the jumble of speech, he slowed to a stop. A few seconds later, Devin joined him. The sky was nearing a nice, royal blue.
“Change of plans,” gasped Devin, as his exhaustion hit him head on once more, “We’ll rest here for a few hours, get some sleep, then go for a closer look.” They were in a small patch of trees, and ahead was a glimpse of well maintained grass; civilization was near.
Rolf nodded eagerly, and from the spark in his eyes Devin could tell the young boy was ready for a good, solid explanation from the people of the lights. Rolf curled up in a ball was asleep in under a minute; Devin lay down beside the boy, closed his eyes, and hoped for answers.
It was only the new presence of a light that awoke Devin; once he’d shaken himself awake, he’d realized it was dawn. They’d slept several more hours than Devin had wanted, but he had to admit they’d needed it. Devin was sore all over, and his mouth completely parched. He could do with a square meal or two, as well. One thing that the Knights ever experienced was true hunger.
“Wake up,” Devin said, yawning, and he shook Rolf awake.
“Ooh,” Rolf moaned, “I hurt. And—”
“You’re hungry and thirsty, I know,” Devin finished for him, “There’s nothing I can do about it. Let’s go look at this town.”
Rolf was up and on his feet quicker than Devin could have imagined, and he started jogging in the direction of the town immediately. All Devin could see in the dawn light was a pile of buildings, but no details. The lawns he’d glimpsed last night weren’t lawns at all… were they the crops Devin had read about somewhere? The food that could be grown off the land?
“Wait up!” Devin called to Rolf, “We should enter slowly, get our bearings.”
Rolf turned, sulked, and waited while Devin ran up to him. “Ok, now we can go,” Devin said, starting up a brisk walk.
Soon the boys were walking among what had to be crops. They were plants, of all shapes and sizes, growing neatly in rows. Devin and Rolf walked through what seemed to be a main path between them, into town. Devin couldn’t hear as many voices as he had the night before, and assumed no one was up yet.
However, half an hour later, he did hear the buzz of activity, and even individual words, like he’d hoped. He couldn’t make much sense of them, however. They seemed to be about weather, work, crops, family affairs. Lots of it seemed like nonsense. But they walked on. Rolf appeared to have been silenced by the great wonders all around him.
The sun rose steadily in the sky, and with it came a moist day. Beads of sweat dripped down Devin’s back, and he was stifled by his thick pelt.
Devin soon got a headache from the constant buzz of voices that he could distinguish, and did his best to shut them out. However, he also heard the distant, steady thump of footsteps nearby that told him that people were beginning to move among the crops, and he had to keep an eye out.
Soon the town came into better view, and Devin could see that it was a few buildings clustered together in the center, then a couple dozen more, smaller ones outside of it, then many ore scattered far out in the distance. The ones on the very outskirts were much farther apart, and surrounded on all sides by more crops.
Devin and Rolf walked on and on, and the aches in Devin’s feet wouldn’t deny him the sweet answers he’d been longing for for so long.
Finally, people came into sight along the same path Devin and Rolf were on, and they were all roughened, toughened people, humans like the Master, or at least in human form. They all had sun baked faces, and muscular builds. As Devin and Rolf drew closer, the people all took on the same shocked expressions, and backed into the crops around them. Their gasps hit Devin to the core; obviously there were no Knights around here. Several people ran back towards the village, and the nervous whispers rang in Devin’s ears. He straightened his posture, put on a confident gait, and decided to walk forward at all costs.
When Devin and Rolf reached the town, there was no one in sight. Devin could hear people hiding in the buildings all around him, and they all spoke of the same thing, though up close he could hear that they spoke differently from the other Knights back at the Loup.
“What are they?”
“Are we being punished?”
“To late to pray…”
Devin held his head high and gulped. The buildings weren’t even buildings; they were one-story huts, crudely made of wood, with shingled roofs. The roads were made of dirt, and fear hung thick in the air like a cloud.
“We should transform,” Devin murmured to Rolf out of the corner of his mouth, “They’ll recognize we’re human, and maybe they’ll talk to us.”
“Ok,” Rolf agreed, and the two transformed back into human form in the blink of an eye, feeling their pelts melt back into their body. Devin heard the gasps echo around him, and the whispers increased.
A door nearby flew open and several tall, robust men piled out, holding knives, chair legs, lamps, and anything else that could be used as a weapon.
“Get out!” they shouted, “Leave, and never return!” The men ran out to Devin and Rolf, who did the only thing they could: transform once more. Rolf half-heartedly bared his teeth, something that wouldn’t scare a single soul at the Loup, but all the men, whom Devin had thought brave and adventurous to attack strangers, cowered.
“Let’s get out of here,” Devin murmured to Rolf, “We can come back later, maybe sneak in. This isn’t working. Run back to the tree where we slept. I’ll be right behind.”
Rolf nodded, and in a flash he was off, kicking up dust as he ran on all fours. More gasps came from the shacks. Devin followed Rolf, and heard the thump of footfalls as the men gave chase.
Why are we so scary? Have they never seen a wolf before? Will they talk to us while they’re this scared? How will we get our answers?
Of course, Devin hadn’t even been supposed to enter the civilization; his orders had been to report back to Darcy as soon as he’d found it. But Devin didn’t care. His need for the truth was too large to run away from the only place that held the answers.
The boys ran out of town and back to their trees. The men gave up chase fairly quickly, probably because even Rolf was ten times faster than the quickest runner. When they got to their trees, they both collapsed to the ground, breathing hard, shaken by their first contact with the outside world.
“What do we do now?” asked Rolf, his voice tiny and frightened.
“We need to go back.” said Devin firmly. “We need answers. We’ll sneak back in later today, but we need to lie low, for now.”
Rolf nodded. “I’m hungry.”
Devin was too, and he’d had an idea as they’d walked into town earlier. “I’ll be right back.” Crouching low, Devin snuck off into a particularly tall crop, and picked what appeared to be the fruit off it. He took half a dozen large green cylinders, then snuck back to Rolf.
“Try it,” Devin said, offering the boy a fruit.
“What is it?” asked Rolf dubiously.
Devin shrugged. “It must be edible, if they’re growing it,” was all he said, before taking a large bite out of the top of the cylinder.
“Ow!” Rolf spat out the green threads that had gotten stuck in his teeth. The fruit had been too hard to bite off, but as he’d bitten into it, he’d tasted something familiar. In one quick motion, Devin had ripped the husk off a small corn cob.
“Corn?” Rolf raised his eyebrows. “You can grow corn?”
“Apparently.” Together, the two boys devoured the corn, and Devin snuck back for seconds, which they ate quickly, too. Finally they leaned back against the trees, properly sick of the fruit.
“They posted a guard on the lane,” Devin said after a minute, “I ran past him easily, though. We should wait a few hours, then go in through the back of the town.”
“Ok,” Rolf said, “I’m going to sleep.”
Rolf curled up and took a nap, while Devin contemplated their situation. They’d entered this town, looking and for answers, and been chased out. They could turn around and run back to Darcy of course, but that didn’t quite appeal to Devin. He wanted to talk to these people, who were hardened by the sun and whose tongues were thick with odd words and even odder ways of pronouncing them. Surely someone would be curious enough to stay and talk to them? What if Devin snuck into one of the outlying houses, surrounded by crops, and stole some clothes for them to wear? If Devin and Rolf entered the village again, well rested, dressed as the rest of the people, would they get a better reaction? What was so scary, after all, about two wolves turning into boys? The people had seen boys before, obviously, and enough real predators roamed the Proie that Devin knew wolves were real too. Was there no such thing as magic, or transforming, here? No one had come out waving a wand when the boys walked into town, and the Master used his wand plenty.
No, Devin wanted to go back into the village, with a better plan now that he was prepared. And then he wanted to talk to the people intelligently, human to human, and find out what the hell was going on. Devin felt he deserved that, at the very least.
So with a stomach stuffed full of corn and a mouth still longing for water, Devin fell asleep too. He was awakened a few hours later by two voices conversing far too close by.
“Where do you think they went?”
“I don’t care, as long it’s not anywhere near here.”
“How far did Ian say we should look?”
“Just past these trees.”
Devin’s ears perked, and he glanced over to Rolf, who was awake too, eyes wide with horror. The people were talking about them!
“I’m going to get up,” Devin breathed, hoping against hope these humans had as poor hearing as the Master did, “And run for cover into the crops. You get right on my tail.”
Rolf nodded, and Devin directed his focus back to the humans, who had to be about ten meters away. “Now,” Devein hissed, and in a flash he was on all four paws and had flitted away through the trees, keeping cover behind bushes and higher grass. He heard Rolf slithering behind him, practically on his stomach for fear of being sighted by the men.
Devin was under cover of the corn in under thirty seconds, Rolf trembling beside him. They traipsed through the corn further, until Devin was sure that no one could see or hear them. “Sit,” Devin finally sighed, and followed his own orders.
“The way they were talking, it sounded like this was their last search,” Rolf offered.
“True,” Devin said, “Let’s wait a few more minutes. It looks like it’s a little after noon. Then we’ll sneak around the back of the village, over to the isolated houses, I think they’re called farmhouses, and steal some clothes.”
“And water?” Rolf asked.
“We’ll try.” Devin replied. His heart was still pounding from the close call. From now on, there always had to be someone awake to keep guard. If his hearing hadn’t been that good, the men would’ve stumbled upon Devin and Rolf while they were sleeping. Devin knew he could easily overpower a dozen fully grown men, and Rolf could handle at least half a dozen, but who knew what a few scared people could do to sleeping enemies?
“Let’s go,” Devin said a minute later, unable to wait any longer. “Follow me. We’re going to find the edge of the corn, and follow it nearly out of town. Then we’ll try to sneak into someone’s house.”
It took far longer to walk around the edge of the crops than Devin had expected. A few times they heard voices coming their way, and they ran ahead until they lost the speaker. Eventually, when Devin was dripping with sweat, the corn ended and they faced a large expanse of knee high crops before a small house and a barn.
“Run for it,” Devin commanded, seeing no one in the crops in front of them, and only distant figures in town.
The two boys ran full speed across the crop, and Devin occasionally felt something warm and wet squish under his pounding feet. Finally, they reached the shade of the barn, gasping for breath.
While they rested a minute, Devin listened and was glad to hear no one inside the house. It was completely empty. But when he turned, he saw people walking out of the village and heading straight in Devin’s direction. They wouldn’t be able to see him yet, but they would soon. And anywhere Devin and Rolf ran, they would be caught.
“Let’s go around,” Devin said, and he led Rolf around to the back of the house, hoping the boy hadn’t seen the people coming. He would only worry more. Sure enough, there was a creaking back door through which they entered the tiny house.
It was old and musty and bare of anything of value; but Devin spotted a battered wardrobe through an open door to the right. He leapt inside the house and opened the dresser cautiously. Yes, it was clothes, but it was a women’s. Devin opened another dresser, and this time found clothes that might fit Rolf. Devin threw pants and a scratchy shirt at Rolf, who was standing in the doorway of what appeared to be the bedroom. “Change!” Devin said, when Rolf just stood there, “Quickly!”
Devin finally found men’s pants and shirt, and pulled them on. They smelled like earth and onions. Devin then looked at himself in a cracked, blotted full length mirror that was opposite the bed. He still looked different, though; maybe it was his bare feet or dirt caked hair, but Devin also sensed something else. He looked… rougher than the other people. He looked too big to be a fifteen or sixteen year old boy, and his eyes had a raw, different look in them from the village men who’d chased them. And when Rolf moved, though he was in his human form most of the time, his movements still seemed stiffer, more animal-like than the men’s. Devin turned and saw Rolf was walking around the room, discovering the same thing.
What are we?
“Fuck off!” Darcy shouted as she stormed into the common room. The only occupants, a few girls in the batch after Devin, scurried out as quickly as they could and forgot their homework in the process. Darcy watched the door murderously until their footsteps faded.
Gethin’s eyes darted to Raul’s, and the two shared an almost inscrutable glance. Darcy had been in a restless, scorching mood ever since Devin had left at dawn the day before. She’d already wounded a curious, cheerful youngster named Kiara who had asked too tearfully about a kid in her batch who’d disappeared.
Zevi had rolled her eyes when she’d heard Kiara run up to Darcy and nervously report Rolf’s absence. It was so obvious, even Raul had figured it out. Rolf had disappeared the same morning Devin had set off to search for civilization. The young boy had clearly followed. Whether Devin knew it or not was a better question, although Zevi knew Devin wasn’t as thick as his quiet demeanor suggested. Rolf was in good hands.
Zevi was still of the mind that Devin shouldn’t have listened to Darcy’s crazy instructions for a second. If JP had the Loup hidden, there was a reason. It may not have been a good reason, but it had to have some tiny grain of truth behind it. Perhaps the world wasn’t yet ready for something as new and powerful as the Knights. Or maybe it was the opposite, and the Knights were so weak compared to everything else out there that they had to be hidden for their own safety. But whatever the reason for the secrecy was, Zevi knew that JP was no fool. She didn’t trust him, not by a long shot, but he was fairly clever. He had several tricks up his sleeve, and Zevi knew that though someday the Knights would have to reveal themselves, now was certainly not the time.
But though Zevi wasn’t intimidated by Darcy, she also wasn’t one to contradict the young woman. Darcy was the leader for a reason, after all. She made decisions that she followed through on, and held her own against anything and everything. Especially after the odd business a few days ago, when no one in the gang could remember what had happened up in JP’s study, the kids at the Loup needed a leader as fierce as Darcy. It was true that something, anything had had to be done.
But didn’t they see? It was always the time for answers. All her life, Zevi had longed for a proper explanation. Who, what, when, where, why, how… she had never for once felt satisfied with little glimpses of the real world she gleaned from textbooks she’d already studied a thousand time before. But that didn’t give Darcy permission to decide that the delicate balance in the Loup should be shattered as soon as she got angry.
“Raul,” Darcy snapped, stretching out on her favorite couch and closing her eyes, “Go tell everyone that classes are canceled for today.”
“Er, sure,” Raul said, “But I don’t think Devin will get back toni—”
“GO!” Darcy screamed at him, eyes still shut, and Raul scampered off, looking so much like a rat that Zevi concealed a smile. She knew that if someone as sly and controlling as Darcy weren’t there, Raul could easily rule the Loup just from his raw strength. He wasn’t that all that huge, and the rest of the gang was taller than him, but his strength was incredible. Funny that Darcy was able to boss him around, because if Raul just got the guts to overpower Darcy he could do it easily, and become the new leader of the group. But apparently he hadn’t realized that yet.
Darcy ran a hand through her greasy black hair wearily, then suddenly sat bolt upright, that smile on her face that meant a supposedly brilliant idea was coming. “We need to send out more people.” she announced, bottle green eyes alight. “Devin only went southeast. He could miss a village by a few kilometers and never know. We need to send more people in different directions.”
Zevi’s eyes flicked to Tynan’s. “Darcy,” Tynan said, “You’re right, but we need to wait until Devin gets back. If he finds people, that’s good enough for us. If you send out twenty kids, you could have twenty thousand people chasing them back to the Loup. And they could all miss the villages, just as easily as Devin could. Besides, Devin’s the only guy who we can rely on to do the job.”
“Perhaps,” snapped Darcy, “But I don’t want to spend a decade sending people out.”
Zevi felt Tynan tense and stroked his bone-colored hair. A small smile danced across his lips and was gone in an instant.
Raul slouched back in then, and dragged another armchair over to sit next to Gethin. The gang sat in silence, and Zevi’s ears, sharp even for a Knight, could sense the whispers about Darcy that plagued the halls. From the little ones’ perspective, she had to look positively crazy.
After a little while, Tynan’s arm moved from around Zevi’s shoulder so he could clasp her hand in his own, and she leaned her head back on his shoulder. She had been alive at least twenty years, and still no one observed the connection between her and Tynan to be more than the usual attraction between two kids.
Zevi had known she’d fallen in love with Tynan by the age of thirteen, and they’d agreed it was mutual not long after. It wasn’t the silly adolescent love of that hormonal mess called Rafe. When Darcy entered the room, a feeble spark jumped in Zevi’s mind, noting the girl’s entrance. When Tynan entered, a fire roared in Zevi’s ears and he lit up so dramatically she was blinded. Zevi and Tynan had learned to read each other over the years. She was always aware of where he was, and when he spoke, Zevi knew she’d never need to. Tynan was hers. It was hard to explain, their love. Her soul was thoroughly entwined with Tynan’s, and they shared everything; pain, sorrow, hate. She could see his thoughts flick across his face even when his expression remained stony.
Finally, Gethin spoke. “What will you do when Devin gets back?”
“Depends on what he says,” said Darcy, “If he says there’s no one else out there, I’ll send him out in another direction, and another, until he finds someone. Meanwhile, I’ll bug the shit out of JP. And if Devin comes back with better news…” Darcy grinned. “I say we send the entire school out to see it for ourselves.”
Even before Zevi could bring her eyes to Tynan, he spoke. “Darcy, that may be a little too drastic. After all, we—”
“Shut up,” snarled Darcy, “We need answers. Now. JP has kept his secrets for twenty years; that’s more than enough. It’s time we actually do something, instead of waiting around and proving to JP that we’re his little obedient puppy dogs.”
Zevi’s eyes flashed. Darcy was so fucking stupid! She always, always acted before she thought. There would be a thousand consequences if the whole school rushed out to find answers. Did Darcy never stop to imagine if the world out there was prepared for werewolves? What if Darcy was sending Devin and Rolf straight into a hellhole that they would never make it out of alive?
Zevi knew it was time to leave. She stood up and strode quickly out of the room, sensing Tynan’s footsteps behind her. She went straight up to the small bedroom she shared with him. Darcy’s entire batch had their own rooms, a fact that caused much grumbling among the younger kids. But Darcy’s gang had been here first, by far, and they were the deputies of the Loup. Only fair that they should get some luxury. There weren’t many at the castle.
Zevi sat cross-legged on the large bed, the dim light wrapping itself around her, muffling the chattering of students across the Loup. Tynan entered a moment later, closing the door softly behind him.
“Darcy doesn’t get it,” he said, sitting next to Zevi and pulling her into his arms, “But you know she won’t actually follow through on what she says. She has a tiny grain of self preservation buried somewhere in her.”
Zevi sighed softly.
“Completely idiotic,” Tynan agreed, “But Darcy doesn’t have as much power over us as she thinks. Depending on what Devin’s news is, we can strike out on our own or stay here to help get this school moving in a better direction.”
“I’m tired,” Zevi whispered, and she knew Tynan understood.
“I’m sick of it all too,” He said, his voice as quiet as hers, “But we have each other. And I promise not to lose you in the chaos of this cursed world.” Tynan pulled Zevi with him to lie down. Together they huddled for a long time, until the sky darkened and their stomachs rumbled. And around the two soul mates, the world kept on turning.
Devin was still staring at his rugged body in the mirror when he heard the distant rumbling of voices, growing steadily nearer. Rolf looked up at him in terror.
“They’re coming,” Devin hissed, “We’ve got to hide.”
“We’ve got to leave!” Rolf said, his already boyish voice rising an octave.
“No time. They’d see us.” Devin said, his brain coursing. He flashed back to all those Hunts in the Proie, watching and waiting, keeping out of the prey’s line of sight. “C’mon. There’s an upper level.”
Devin and Rolf raced to a rickety staircase and scrambled up it, emerging in a cramped, dusty room with a low ceiling. It was another bedroom. Devin dove under the bed, inhaling dust and mold. Rolf slid in bedside him.
The voices grew steadily louder, until Devin could hear the entire conversation clearly. With a jolt, he realized they were talking about him.
“Ian said not to worry; the searchers found nothing. But they’re keeping the guards up until tomorrow.”
“Oh, thank god. I couldn’t sleep with the possibility of those monsters creeping around.”
Rolf inhaled sharply at the words, and Devin felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Monsters? Is that what we are?
“Ma, we probably could’ve fought them off if they hadn’t run.”
“They're the work of the devil Ross, mark my words.”
“Aye, but they didn’t look that tough…”
“Ross, did you see those teeth?”
The voices continued along the same note as they walked up the path towards the farmhouse. Devin strained his ears and estimated they were fifty meters up the road. He had no idea how he could get out of the farmhouse. He still did not want to leave without going back into the village for answers, but if they were found and another uproar started, they would have to waste another day waiting for things to cool down.
From the voices, Devin guessed there were four people walking towards the farmhouse; a husband and wife, a son, probably around Devin’s age as his voice was rather low, and another, younger boy.
The conversation switched from Devin and Rolf to something called ‘rhubarb’. Devin suspected it was another crop, from the way they discussed it.
Quicker than Devin had predicted, he could hear the smack of a door against the wall and scuffing of feet. The younger boy began talking about a dog, and the older boy spoke of feeding the pigs. In a matter of minutes, the three males had left to do chores and the wife was left inside, making dough for biscuits. Devin could hear her humming a tune to the rhythm of the kneading.
“We need to get out of here,” Rolf breathed.
“I know. But it looks like we’ll have to wait it out.”
So Devin and Rolf lay in the dust under the creaking bed, trying to breath quietly though they knew the lady wouldn’t hear them. Devin supposed he'd dozed on and off; every time Rolf shifted he opened his eyes to see the shadows a little longer the floor.
Finally the door downstairs creaked open, and the older son called out for the wife to come to the barn. Devin tensed, ready to make a run for it, but the son stayed in the house, munching on something. Rolf blew air out of his cheeks and moved yet again.
Devin stiffened as he heard footsteps leading up to the bedroom they were hiding in. It had to be the older son; Devin had heard no one else come in. The boy whistled off key as he walked. Finally he reached the second level and Devin watched the boy’s feet carefully. He had to be at least fifteen, by the size of his filthy leather boots.
The feet walked towards something on the left wall, opposite of the bed. Suddenly they stopped, spun around, and headed straight for Devin and Rolf’s hiding places. Rolf’s eyes were so wide, Devin could see white all around them. He guessed he looked similar.
The feet stopped in front of the bed for a second, then they shifted and suddenly Devin was looking straight into the striking blue eyes of the older son. The two teens regarded each other silently for a moment that lasted a lifetime.
“Well,” the owner of the eyes said at last, in that strange accent, “I see we’re hiding the two fugitives that decided to dander into our quiet little town.”
Devin only gulped, his throat suddenly too dry to speak. His thumping heart seemed to spell out, leave now leave now leave now...
“I won’t turn you in,” the boy said quickly, “You’re just two kids. I don’t care what magic tricks you have, you couldn’t hurt us that badly.”
Devin begged to differ, but he stayed silent.
“C’mon, then,” the boy said, “Let’s get you out of here. You’ve got to leave; the village will kill you if they find out you're still here.”
“How can we trust you?” asked Rolf roughly. Devin felt a pang at the kid trying to take control.
“You’ll have to,” said the boy simply, “You don’t have much choice.”
Devin shrugged, and climbed out from under the bed. The boy was right. Now that he had found them, he had all the power clasped in his hands. If only Devin could grab it.
“We can’t leave,” Rolf offered, sliding out from the hiding spot as well, “We need to talk to someone.”
“Aye?” said the boy, crossing his arms. He could be no older than Devin, and was skinny and tanned, with a shock of shaggy black hair. His eyes were too large for his face.
“Yeah. We came here from our home, and we’ve never been away before, and no one told us what the world is like.” Devin shot a sharp glance at Rolf; he couldn’t just go telling everyone their story, until they got answers.
“What the world is like?” the boy scoffed, “What, here? We’re just culchies. Far away from anywhere else. You want to learn about the world, go to Edinburgh.”
“Edinburgh?” Devin’s tongue twisted around the new word. “Where is it?”
The boy’s eyebrows disappeared under his dark hair. “You don’t know where Edinburgh is? You been living under a rock or something?”
“Where is it?” Devin asked urgently.
“Nearly four hundred kilometers away… South.” the boy said uncertainly, “Far. I’ve never been there myself.”
Devin’s mind raced. Four hundred kilometers? If he’d estimated correctly, and his wolf instinct was correct, they’d run less than fifty kilometers just to get here. Four hundred? It would take over a week, and they’d probably die of starvation before they got there.
“Well, we can’t go to Edinburgh, if it’s that far,” Rolf said simply, displayed more bravery and reason than Devin had ever seen from him, “So you’ll just have to answer our questions. You got a minute?”
“I have to work,” said the boy, “But you can stay here until I get some free time.”
“It’s too risky,” Devin shot back, “We’ll be found. And besides, we still can’t trust you.”
“Then leave.” said the boy sharply. “It’s not my problem if you get killed.”
Devin bristled and glared at the boy. He could easily take him down; the boy was tall and gangly, muscular but not as much so as Devin. But Devin wanted some answers, and quickly, so he could get back to Darcy. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he finally had his hands around the neck of it. “Fine, we’ll hide up here,” Devin finally said, “But we’re running if there’s any sign of trouble.”
“Aye,” said the boy, and he lifted his hand and held it up for Devin, “I’m Calder.”
Devin eyed the boy’s hand. “Er, your hand…”
Calder (an exceedingly odd name, but Devin wouldn’t tell him that) raised his eyebrows. “You shake it,” he explained, perplexed, “Like this.” And he grabbed Devin’s hand and pumped it up and down.
“Ok…” Devin said. “I’m Devin. And this is Rolf.”
Calder nodded to Rolf and then turned as his mother called him from downstairs. “Stay under the bed til I come back,” Calder said, “And I’ll make sure nobody comes up here.”
He left before checking to see that Devin and Rolf followed his orders. Once they were settled back on the hard wood floor, Rolf whispered “That was odd.”
“Very,” Devin agreed. “Shaking hands?”
“We’ve got a lot to learn.” was Rolf’s reply, and the two boys fell silent and watched the shadows lengthened around them. Devin felt his body falling asleep, and Rolf fidgeted next to him. Devin was too exhausted to be bored, but too bored to think. He could hear the faint voices of the family working outside on the farm, and finally, as the blue of the sky turned a shade darker, then another, they filed inside for dinner.
“My stomach hurts,” Devin heard Calder announce, over the clatter of the table being set, “I’m going to go up and lie down.”
“Ock, are you ok?” asked his mother anxiously. Devin frowned. When someone was sick, you let them go away and get better. You don’t ask them about their health and pester them when all they want to do is lie down.
“I’m tired,” Calder said simply, “I’ll be ok.”
“Tell me if you need anything,” said his mother.
“’Course.” Calder said, and there wasn’t a trace of annoyance in his voice. He was probably a good liar.
Presently Devin heard the footsteps of Calder as he ascended the steps to the upper level, and Devin wriggled out from under the bed. Calder appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Sorry that took so long,” he said quietly, sitting on the creaky bed, “It’s hard to get out of chores.”
Rolf shrugged in reply, and sat down next to Calder on the bed. Devin remained standing, arms crossed. He began to feel the unfamiliarity of their situation truly set in, and hoped his knees weren't wobbling.
“So, tell me what you want to know,” Calder whispered. Devin supposed he didn’t want his family to hear him. “Where are you from, anyway?”
“Northwest of here,” Devin said.
“And is everyone there a human who can change in the blink of an eye into a huge, dangerous wolf that has the odd ability to be able to stand on two legs?”
“Yes.” Rolf said simply. “Well, except for one man.”
“Rolf, we’re not here to share our history,” Devin snapped, “We just want to get some general knowledge about this place.”
“There’s not much north of us at all,” said Calder, “Just small farming villages, like this one.”
“Well, we live in a big castle—” Rolf began, but Devin silence him with a glare.
“A castle? Well, there are plenty of abandoned forts and stuff around here,” Calder said, “But I didn’t know anyone was living in them.”
“Never mind that,” said Devin, “Just tell us this: does anybody here have a… wand?”
“A wand?” repeated Calder, and from his face Devin could predict the answer.
“A magic wand!” Rolf said.
“A magic wand?” Calder said with a smirk, “Are you guys magicians or something?”
“No, no,” Devin said quickly, “We live with a man who has one.”
“Well, tell him to find himself a good old asylum,” said Calder, “Because there are no magic wands here or anywhere else.”
“Or transforming wolves?” Devin asked, fearing the answer.
“Nope.” said Calder. “You’re all alone here.”
Devin sighed. “That’s probably all we need for now. I was just wondering.”
“No, there are other things to learn!” Rolf said quickly, “Like… do you cook your meat?”
Rolf raised his eyebrows. “Well, I guess we are different.”
“You got that right,” Devin said, “C’mon, let’s get out of here.”
“Wait!” said Calder, “I’ve just explained a whole lot to you. You come into my village, scare everyone to death, and you’ve don’t even cook your meat? It’s crazy. I need some answers, too. What are you?”
“Knights.” Devin said shortly, before grabbing Rolf’s arm and pulling him along with him as he jumped out the lone window in the room. They burst out of the house amid a cloud of broken glass, and hit the ground running, in wolf form. Devin didn’t need to look back at the house to see Calder’s scared face peeking out of the remains of the window, or look ahead to know he was going home.
Northern Scottish words, thanks to blackisback:
Culchie- Rural person
Ock- Sympathetic word, similar to “Aw”
Raul lay spread-eagled on the lawn of the Loup, the cold from the ground seeping into his bones uncomfortably. He didn’t move, however. The tension in the Loup was rising steadily, and Darcy was beginning to snap. Raul didn’t know how he’d survive with her for the next few weeks, breathing fire down his neck. After all, Devin had probably gotten lost or something. Why did Darcy think it would only take him a few days to find people? If they were that close, surely they would’ve stumbled onto the Loup, or vice versa. All the odds were against them, and if Raul knew that, everyone did.
The group had voted Tynan the job of knocking some sense into Darcy. At the very least, they had to teach classes normally. It would be chaos if the kids were undisciplined all day, wondering and worrying about what had Darcy so stressed. After all, Darcy was the master of keeping cool. If she couldn’t control her nerves, who could?
Raul gazed up at the stars that were slowly appearing in the sky. Raul resented the fact that he wasn’t smart enough to teach his own class. No one said that to his face, but it was true. So what if Raul didn’t think as fast as Darcy? He came to the same conclusions, eventually. Sometimes better ones. Besides, any fool could figure out that two plus two equaled four without Darcy shouting it in their face.
The grass beneath Raul was prickly and damp. He breathed in deeply, drowning in the smell of the earth. Raul always felt crushed by the Loup; the looming stone walls and moldy dungeons weren’t his definition of home. Not that he had much to compare it to. Raul closed his eyes and listened to the rustling of the Proie behind him. Surely it wasn’t natural to be cooped up in such a gloomy place all your life?
It was then that Raul heard the footsteps.
They weren’t even footsteps, really, more like the sound of eight paws thundering against the ground. Wait— eight paws?
Raul sprung to his feet and strained his ears. Yes that was definitely two creatures, not one, running towards him. He sniffed the air delicately, this time searching out the scents of two breathing animals, but they were still too far away. Raul stared hard at the horizon, willing the form of Devin to appear. Maybe even running alongside him was another werewolf, from another place, to prove that there were others out there.
Raul’s instincts urged him to run inside the Loup and alert everyone, and then they would all go hide in the Proie like they did every time someone approached the castle. But every other time, the people that had come had stood on two legs; no one knew if they had the ability to transform or not, but they always came in human form. Whoever was coming was most certainly an animal. Besides, Darcy would kill him if she found out he had them all hide in the woods at Devin’s arrival.
Finally Raul spotted two specks in the distance, slightly lighter colored than the darkening sky. One was twice the size of the other. As Raul watched, they grew slowly bigger, and finally he caught a whiff of them.
One of them was certainly Devin; he had the distinct smell of someone who cooked their meat, and also that slightly piney smell that must have come from all the time Devin spent in the trees.
And the other… it was definitely someone from the Loup, as Raul recognized the scent. It still smelled of someone fresh from the toddler huts, but Raul couldn’t place exactly who it was. No one had left with Devin!
Raul caught the whisper of a sentence, huffed through a panting mouth. It was Devin.
“…Rolf… see someone… Raul?”
Rolf! Of course! The little kid who had disappeared around the same time as Devin. Darcy had dismissed it, and waited for someone like Arnulf to admit they’d killed him. Usually when someone disappeared, a few days later the word spread that he was dead.
Raul waited and watched as the specks grew into the wolf forms of Devin and Rolf, sprinting faster than he’d seen any kid run in a long time. As their shapes grew larger and took on riser, Raul felt his excitement rising, threatening to break free. This was monumental, he knew. They'd actually taken matters into their own hands. Raul didn't know what the future held, but was now sure it wouldn't match his past.
Finally Devin and Rolf skidded to a stop in front of him, bent over, gasping for breath as they transformed back. With them, surely, was a cloud of answered questions.
“Let’s go to Darcy,” wheezed Devin, “We’ve got… news.”
“What? What is it? You found somebody?”
“Darcy… should hear first.” Devin replied.
Raul felt a growl growing in his throat, but refrained from snarling at the two. “Well,” he said, turning on his heel and walking briskly away, “Let’s go.”
Devin and Rolf hurried to follow, and continued to catch their breath as Raul led them into the castle. Of course Darcy should know first! Because she was so important! Because Darcy knew best!
Darcy was on her feet in the common room, screaming at Tynan, when Raul entered. She whipped around when she heard him. For the first time in his life, Raul watched with glee as Darcy was rendered speechless.
But she found her voice quickly enough.
“You’re back?” she screeched, loud enough to put Raul's hair on end. “Well? What did you find?”
Devin opened his mouth, but too slowly. “Well?” Darcy said, snapping her fingers. She looked faintly wild; her hair stuck out in all directions, her mouth still open in surprise, her eyes darting back and forth quickly between Devin and Rolf. She appeared to have forgotten she’d thought Rolf was dead. She ignored Raul. No surprise there.
“We found a village,” Devin began, “A day’s hard run from here. Southeast. It’s full of people, who don’t transform and don’t have wands. They’ve never heard of us either.”
“That’s it.” Devin shrugged. “We found the village, walked in, and scared the hell out of them. Never seen anything like us before. We left, then snuck back in later, and talked to a boy who told us we were nothing like he’d ever seen. But,” Devin paused, “There’s a lot more out there. The boy told us to find answers in a place called, er, Edinburgh. Four hundred kilometers to the south.”
“Edinburgh?” Darcy said excitedly, “So that’s where we go for answers?”
“We’ve got the most important answers, Darcy,” Devin said wearily. “We’re alone. No werewolves out there. No magic wands. Just people who speak differently.”
“How so?” Tynan asked.
Devin was trying to figure out how to imitate Calder’s strange speech, but Rolf beat him to it, speaking for the first time. “Aye, we’re just culchies.” He said, actually getting the odd accent out fairly accurately.
“Odd indeed.” Tynan said.
“Whatever,” Darcy snapped, “We’ve got to find Edinburgh!”
“Darcy,” Devin said coolly, “The people at the village tried to kill us when they saw us. We can’t run four hundred kilometers just to be chased away, or worse.”
Darcy brushed his comment away. “We can overpower them easily. From what you said, they’re as weak as JP without his wand.”
“Darcy, I don’t know what else there is to know! The Master has plans for us. He knows what we should do in the real world. Maybe we should just tell him what we know.”
“Already done,” a grave voice announced from the door. The Knights whipped around to see that just outside the common room stood the Master, trembling with rage, wand drawn and pointed straight at Darcy’s heart.
The Master dragged everyone up to his study; Darcy, Tynan, Raul, Devin and Rolf. The old man's breathing was ragged as he half-walked, half-jogged up to his tower, his wand clasped firmly in one hand and Darcy’s forearm in the other. “Sit!” he spat, when they finally reached his study, and with a wave of his wand several more hard-backed chairs appeared in front of his desk.
Everyone sat down, glancing nervously at each other. Rolf tried to get Devin’s attention with his eyes, but Devin stared firmly ahead. A single bead of sweat glistened on his forehead, and when Rolf caught on that steadfast Devin was nervous, he felt his palms dampen as well.
“So,” said the Master cheerfully, settling into his own chair and completely turning around his mood, “Why don’t we start with Devin and Rolf telling us about their little adventure?”
Devin glanced to Darcy, and when she nodded slightly, he took a deep breath and began. “Well, we decided we needed some more information—”
“‘We’?” the Master interrupted.
This time Devin didn’t look to Darcy. “I heard Darcy talking about the outside world, and she had me go look for other people.”
The Master shot a glance at Darcy, who was looking thunderous. “Very well. Continue.”
Devin continued, keeping his story brief and to the point. He certainly left out the wonder of the adventure, the incredible things they’d stumbled upon that had left Rolf’s head reeling with excitement.
“And so I left the Loup the next day, but Rolf followed me. We ran southeast, for several hours, and caught a few hares to eat when we got hungry. We crossed two stripes; the first was dark and smooth, and reeked. The second was two metal rails connected by thin wooden boards. We crossed them both, then continued. Late in the day, we saw a light, then more, and headed towards them. Once we got closer, we found a spot to rest and continued on the next morning. We walked into what turned out to be an old farming town, only to be chased out by lots of men. We went back to our hiding spot and waiting awhile until we ran to a farmhouse just outside of town, looking for answers.” Devin took a deep breath. Rolf looked around to find everyone riveted, leaning forward in their seats, eyes bright. Even the Master looked legitimately interested, his scraggly eyebrows arched expectantly.
“We hid in the farmhouse for awhile, and listened as a family came home,” Devin continued, “and they were really nervous about us coming into town earlier. Thought we were monsters.” Here, Rolf detected a slight quiver in Devin’s voice. “A boy, a little younger than me, came upstairs and found us. He wasn’t too scared, just a little suspicious and really curious. He had to go, but then came back up and answered our questions.” At that, Darcy leaned even farther forward, her curtain of hair swinging off her shoulder, and the Master’s arm twitched in the direction of his wand.
Devin wiped the sweat off his forehead, and glanced around. At that, Rolf finally began to wonder what would happen to them. Surely they wouldn’t get in trouble for running off? Didn’t the Master stress independence? If he’d given them more answers from the start, they’d have more information and wouldn’t feel the need to go looking for more. The boy felt his stomach clench and tried to keep from looking into the depths of the Master’s dark brown eyes. So many secrets, and no way to escape…
“In short, he told us we’re alone.” Devin said, now turning to look at Darcy instead of the Master. Rolf watched meaning flash between them, brighter than lightning, and he took her hand. Instead of knocking him away, she clenched Devin's hand so hard her pale knuckles turned whiter. “There are no werewolves out there. No wands. No one knows we’re here.”
A sigh rumbled up from Darcy’s chest and she crossed her arms again. Devin looked helplessly to the rest her gang. “But in Edinburgh, the boy said, we’ll find more of what we’re looking for.”
The Master’s head snapped up and he made as if to interrupt, but Rolf beat him there.
“And they cook their meat,” the boy offered.
“Yeah… And that’s all.” Devin finished uncertainly.
The Master relaxed back into his chair and twirled his wand between his fingers. “Interesting,” he said, “I must give you some credit. I’d never have thought anyone would have the guts to leave.”
“Oh, please!” Darcy jumped up from her seat, nostrils flared. “Cut the crap! You’ve kept us in the dark for decades, and I’ve had enough of it! You tell us where we came from! Why we’re here! And while you’re at it, I’d like to know why holding a fucking, slimy stick of wood makes you king of the world!”
The Master laughed softly. “This slimy stick of wood has plenty of power, Darcy, and a fascinating history to boot. I do at least feel entitled to a little respect while I have it.”
“Well, I’ve lost all my respect!” Darcy screamed. And Rolf could only watch with wide eyes as she leapt up, over the desk, and tackled the Master. With a strangled shout, Devin stood up, but a streak of green light flew from the Master’s wand and hit Darcy square in the chest. She immediately grew limp, and the Master untangled himself from the girl and stood up, righting his overturned chair.
“Sit down.” He spat at Devin, wiping a trickle of blood from his mouth. “You see her?” the Master said, pointing to from Devin to Darcy with his wand. Rolf couldn’t see her over the large desk. “She’s dead. And if I get anything less from complete and utter cooperation from every single one of you, you’ll be on the floor as well, faster than you can say ‘wand’. Understood?”
Everyone nodded hurriedly, Devin plopped himself back in his seat, and the Master sighed. He sat down, ignoring Darcy’s body. Rolf struggled to hold in tears. Darcy, dead? Darcy couldn’t die. She was unstoppable. Ruthless. But above all, what was the Master going to do to them?
His questions was answered almost immediately. The Master murmured something, and several flashes of brilliant green light filled the air, forcing Rolf’s eyes shut. His mind was suddenly filled with sweet nothingness. He opened his eyes and wondered why on earth he was in the Master’s office. Was he in trouble? But no, some of Darcy’s gang and Devin were there as well. What had he done? Had one of them attacked him or something?
“Darcy was in an unfortunate accident with another resident of the academy,” the Master said, “Devin, you take over her classes. Also, no one leaves the castle for a month. No hunting, no walking around outside, no nothing. If I see a single person wandering the grounds, they will be punished severely. You may go.”
Everyone filed out of the office, bewildered. “What happened?” Rolf asked, once they were descending the stairs. “What happened to Darcy? Why didn’t we hear she got killed? Who killed her?”
“I dunno,” Devin said wearily.
“Who cares?” snapped Raul.
The older kids headed for the common room, and Rolf followed. They were immediately ambushed by Zevi and Gethin.
“What happened?” Gethin pressed, “What’d he say?”
“What?” asked Raul.
“Wait…” Gethin said, as Zevi nudged him, “Where’s Darcy?”
“We were going to ask you that,” Devin said, beginning to look confused, “the Master said someone had killed her. Didn’t you hear who did it?”
“Darcy killed?” Gethin scoffed, “Oh, please, Devin. You should know by now that JP likes to yank our chains.”
“I dunno…” Devin mumbled.
“We should look for her,” Gethin said.
“I’ll do it,” Raul offered, and he trooped out of the common room while everyone else settled down onto various couches and chairs. Zevi linked arms with Tynan and whispered something in his ear. Rolf hovered in the background while they talked.
“So,” Gethin said to Devin, “What was it like?”
“What was what like?” Devin asked in return.
“The town you found! The people! What were they like?” Rolf’s ears perked. Devin had found a town? People? When?
“What are you talking about?” Devin said, looking around at the rest of the group for support, as if to ask if he was the only one who thought Gethin was out of his mind.
“The place you’ve been the last two days! A day’s hard run, southeast!” Gethin said, starting to look annoyed. Rolf watched his eyes narrow, fists clench. Devin had been away? Why hadn’t Rolf heard about it?
“The last two days?” Devin said, frowning. “I haven’t been away for two days, I’ve been… er… Damn it, I’m going mad!” Devin leapt to his feet. “Where have I been the last two days? I can’t remember!”
At that, Rolf scanned his own brain and found he couldn’t remember either. He pushed through his thoughts, trying to remember what’d he’d been doing all day, but couldn’t. All he could recall was sitting in the Master’s room, and then the next thing before that was eating some pudding, but that couldn’t have been this morning… he could’ve sworn it was a few days ago… And besides, he remembered the sun being out as he ate… What a stupid, awful feeling it was, to not be able to remember! There was nothing there, and yet nothing to find!
“I can’t either!” Tynan said. His albino skin looked paler than usual, if that was possible. He clutched Zevi to him, and she murmured into his ear so fast and so low it only sounded like a consistent buzz to Rolf. As far as he could remember, he’d never even seen Zevi move her mouth. Although it seemed he couldn’t trust his own memory now… Merlin, what else was he missing?
Gethin looked from Devin, to Tynan, and finally to Rolf. “You, kid,” he barked, “you were up there. What about you?”
Rolf felt his lower lip begin to tremble. “…Nothing. I can’t remember a thing from the last couple days.”
Gethin eyed Zevi and Tynan. “Zevi, what do you think?”
She eyed him coolly shrugged. Tynan spoke up. “It’s JP, obviously. It’s all his doing. Something’s wrong. Remember how he said not to go outside?”
“Well, we should ask him what happened, then,” Gethin said, rising to his feet.
“No!” Tynan said sharply. “For all we know, you’ll get your memory messed up too. In fact, once he realizes you and Zevi know things, he’ll come and find you. Quick, tell us what you know! Where have we been?!”
“It wasn’t you…” Gethin said, “It was just Devin and Rolf. Darcy told—”
Just then, Zevi hissed and put a finger to her mouth. In response, Tynan said to Gethin, “Not here, it’s not safe. Let’s go to your room, and you can tell us everything.”
Gethin shrugged, and led the way out of the common room. Once again, no one stopped Rolf as he followed the older kids out. He was bursting with pride, even though he was scared sick about his memory. Maybe now that he’d done something important (maybe gone somewhere, according to Gethin?!) he would get to hang out with them!
The route to Gethin’s room was long, and down lots of dark corridors that Rolf had never been down. There had always been a few places in the castle kids never ventured, and the halls Gethin took them through were one of them. The walls were cooler, even a bit slimy, and there was a thick silence that Rolf had hardly ever experienced. The Loup was not a quiet place. Screams tended to pierce the air, and Darcy or Raul or someone was always sneaking around, their boots scraping the floors ominously.
Gethin pulled open the third door they came to and Rolf got his first look at a room that only belonged to one person. Gethin’s curtains were drawn, but light still leaked in through a few rips in the fabric. In the dim light Rolf could see an unmade double bed and a floor covered in bones. Bones. Rolf shuddered. He was mostly sure they were from Hunts and the kitchen.
Everyone settled down on the floor and bed as if they’d been there all their life. Rolf opted to lean on the door once Devin had shut it.
“Start talking,” Tynan commanded, and Gethin, sitting cross-legged on his bed, obliged. He told a tale of an edgy Darcy fantasizing of civilization, and her orders to Devin. He mentioned Rolf’s disappearance, and the stress rising in the castle once the two had gone. Gethin described how he and Zevi had been on the other end of the common room, disciplining a kid when Raul had arrived. They’d seen the Master creep up behind Raul, Devin and Rolf and had decided to stay put. Luckily, the Master had been so stressed about finding troublemakers that he hadn’t noticed two of Darcy’s gang were missing. And finally, finally, Gethin recounted what Devin and Rolf had apparently told him not an hour ago, of a place far away, where people didn’t transform and were scared to death of werewolves.
“But Devin had said he’d been told by this boy that he should go to Edinburgh, four hundred kilometers away, for answers. Darcy started to talk about going there, and Devin was trying to convince her to talk to JP, and then JP was there,” Gethin said, “and that’s all I know.”
Devin closed his eyes and screwed up his face. “Damn it, it’s not there!” he said angrily, “Do you know how hard it is to search you mind for something you can’t find? How do we know half our lives have been erased by that… monster? We’ll never know!”
“But if you can remember most of your life, without blank spots, you should be ok,” Tynan said.
“So something’s out there,” Tynan continued, “Well, it’s easy then. We’ve got to leave this place for good.”
“We don’t know enough,” Devin sighed, “Now all we have is a secondhand account. If Rolf and I were gone for a few days, we would’ve learned a lot and seen at lot more. It sounds like I was just summarizing the important parts of the journey. Thank goodness I did, but that still leaves a lot of blank spots.”
Tynan nodded. “Food, water, other wildlife, anything else trivial you might not have mentioned in the rush of things.”
“But we can’t just not do anything!” Rolf burst out. He was furious. Sure, they’d been caught, and maybe Darcy truly was dead. But now that they’d gotten a taste of the outside world, albeit a forgotten one, how could they not want more?
“There’s no ‘we’ about it, kid,” Gethin snarled, “you should feel lucky that you were with Devin on the trip, because it means we might need you, for the moment. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your goddamn mouth shout until I say otherwise.”
Rolf caught Devin rolling his eyes, but the older boy didn’t say anything, and so Rolf kept silent.
“There’s not much we can do,” Tynan said once everyone was settled down, “it sounds like the outside world hates us more than we thought they would.”
“But someone talked to us,” Devin said, “That one kid cared.”
“I’ll bet you he’s the only one,” snorted Gethin.
Kiara fetched herself a glass of milk from the kitchen and leaned wearily against the large counter that ringed most of the room. The early morning sun cast long shadows on her face, highlighting her old scars to make her look at least a decade older than she actually was. She allowed herself to melt against the counter for a brief moment and tried to keep her mind from spinning off in too many directions.
The Loup had always been plagued with its fair share mystery and doubt in addition to violence, but the secrecy had recently peaked. Devin’s departure, Rolf’s vanishing act, and the reappearance of both were the source of enough rumors to last a century. Then the agitation of Darcy's gang, and all the murmurings about the Master… it was beginning to edge from bearable into overwhelming. Kiara longed for a normal life, but she found she couldn't even define the idea. Maybe “quiet” or “unexciting” would be better words… but how do I know if they even exist?
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Kiara perked up and tried to look on guard. Less than a minute later, Rolf of all people poked his head through the doorway. When he saw Kiara, he cracked a roguish grin.
“Thank Merlin it’s you,” he said, using the odd phrase the Master had coined.
“Rolf!” Kiara said, “What’s happening? Where'd you go?”
“That’s what I came to tell you,” Rolf said. He moved closer to Kiara so that he could whisper confidentially in her ear; “Darcy ordered Devin to go out and look for civilization, and I went with him—”
“Wait, really? How come you got to go?” Kiara interrupted, but Rolf hushed her.
“Hold on, hold on, you’ll understand. And so we ran away and found this town, with no werewolves and no wands, and everyone was afraid of us! And then Devin and I got back last night and told some people about it, but the Master caught us and, and… vanished our memory of the trip!”
“Well, we got back and the Master brought us up to his office because he was so mad we'd run away, and when we came back down we couldn't remember a thing about the trip! But we'd told some other people about it, and they told us what had happened again.”
Kiara raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You found a town? The Master vanished your memory? That all sounds a little too weird, Rolf.” Not to mention the fact he'd explained it all so fast she was getting a headache...
“But it’s true! And so now we know something’s out there! And there’s people!”
“So what’s Darcy going to do about it?”
Rolf sagged. “Darcy’s dead. D’you know who did it?”
“Dead?” Kiara gasped, “No way! I’d have heard about it!”
Rolf shrugged. “The Master himself told us— everyone whose memories he'd vanished— that she’d been killed. Raul even searched for her, and couldn’t find her. Darcy’s whole gang is trying to find out who did it.”
“No one can kill Darcy,” Kiara said firmly. That woman was the definition of unstoppable. But then again, Kiara had also thought there was nothing out there to be found, and that assumption had been shattered. Now the shards were lying on the ground, and Rolf was beginning to piece it back together bit by bit, with some glue and a smattering of doubt.
“Did you hear about Rolf?” Kiara asked her friend Duan, just as he said the same thing. Shocked into the silence, the two children laughed. “Who told you?” Kiara asked.
“Dougal,” Duan said, “and he heard it from Rolf. Pretty cool, isn’t it? There’re really other people out there.”
“Without wands or transformations,” mused Kiara, “it’s crazy. And did you hear about Darcy?”
“Yeah,” Duan said, but he seemed unruffled, “I’m not worried ‘bout her. She probably created the rumor herself so she could run away or something.”
“That’s not her style, though,” Kiara said.
“Darcy's style is no style at all,” scoffed Duan, “C'mon Kiara, this is exciting! Next thing you know, we'll have real answers and everything.”
Yet Kiara could see that before the answers came, they'd have to break through the veil of secrecy the Master had cloaked the school in. The end might be in sight, but it would still be a long, hard trek to reach it.
“Hi guys,” A young, bird-boned girl skipped up to them. “What's all the talk about? Everyone's whispering this morning.”
“Rolf and Devin ran away and found a town!” Duan said excitedly to the girl, called Mehara, “And they came back and the Master took away their memory—!”
“Excuse me,” drawled a voice, and the three young ones looked up into the shadowy face of Gethin. He towered over them, his ragged black clothing smelling faintly of damp earth, and frowned, managing to look both faintly bored and deadly serious. “I don't know what Rolf's been telling everyone, but you have to keep quiet about it.”
“Where's Darcy?” asked Duan, “What did Rolf and Devin see? What are we going to do?”
In a movement too quick to comprehend, Gethin's hand snapped out and smacked Duan on the cheekbone. He absorbed the shock silently, as everyone at the Loup eventually learned to, and stared deep into the older boy's eyes. There was defiance in Duan's look, as well as fear and curiosity. Kiara inwardly cursed his stupidity; everyone knew not to pester a member of Darcy's gang. And it was getting even more dangerous, what with Darcy dead and memories “vanishing”...
“That's exactly what you have to shut the hell up about,” hissed Gethin coldly, “Spread the word; a bunch of things have been happening lately, and J— the Master cannot know. Don't tell anyone anything else. Clear?”
The whole school's heard the rumors by now, Kiara thought sourly. But she nodded along with Mehara and Duan as Gethin strode off to interrupt another conversation. Duan lifted a trembling hand to his cheek, which was beginning to look frighteningly inflamed.
“Oh, Duan,” Kiara said, but Duan turned his face coldly when she reached out to touch his cheek. He shrugged and walked out of the kitchen.
“He'll be fine,” Mehara said quietly, and with a toss of her fair hair, she too left.
What's going on? Kiara thought desperately, The Master has enough secrets without Gethin adding his own. Something's bound to happen. And soon.
As if on cue, Devin trooped into the kitchen right then, and was immediately surrounded by a sea of little kids. However, instead of pushing them to the ground as Raul might have, the young man only raised his eyebrows. “I thought Gethin had told you guys …?” he said, with a disapproving look. Abashed, the kids trickled off, some heading for the corridor, others to opposite corners of the kitchen. With a sigh, Devin began opening cupboards, looking for something to eat.
“There's some turkey over there,” Kiara offered, pointing, and Devin opened the correct cupboard and dove in. She watched as he ate, noticing the bags under his eyes and the slump of his back.
At her gaze, Devin looked up. “Gethin did tell you guys to keep quiet, right?” he asked sheepishly. Kiara just nodded, peeking at the gangly boy from under her lashes.
“He just said that things are happening and we can't let the Master know.”
“Right.” Devin said, “Good.” He let out another massive sigh before walking out again, and, with nothing better to do, Kiara followed him all the way up to common room.
Devin settled in on the couch next to Tynan, and the albino shifted so that there was enough room. He smiled grimly at Devin and Kiara shuddered subconsciously, hoping Devin wasn't becoming one of them.
“Zevi and I have been talking,” Tynan said quietly, and Kiara ducked behind a nearby chair and strained her ears so that she could listen. Tynan's words floated softly across the room, bringing light to dark horizons she could never quite reach. “and we've decided we all need to get out of here. Now. Before JP gets his act together.”
He was met with a careful silence, as each adult swallowed his words and began to wrap their minds around the idea. But Kiara knew a light had just been flicked on; now the words had been spoken, and that thought that had surely been an itch at the back of everyone's mind was out in the open. She felt herself grasping at it, latching on. Leaving. Kiara was certain no one had ever seriously suggested it out loud before, let alone thought about it.
The silence dragged on and on, and everyone was painfully reminded of the one person who remained absent. Darcy would have sworn a lot and tried to make everything sound like her idea, but she would also have acted on her words. She could organize the whole castle, defy the Master without a second thought, exploit his few weaknesses... no one could quite fill her shoes.
“Fine,” Raul eventually grunted, “How?”
“Everyone's already talking about what happened, thanks to Rolf,” Tynan said, “We just need to spread the word to shut up–”
“I'm already doing that,” said Gethin.
“I know, but we'll all have to continue doing it, and fast,” Tynan continued. “And also tell people that change is coming. It'll keep them interested enough to keep quiet for real. And then we stock up on supplies and move out.”
It was Devin who named the elephant in the room. “Where will we go?”
“You went southeast, right?” Tynan said, “We'll start by going there. You got there and back in two full days, so we can make it. We'll carry as much food and water as we can, for the younger kids, and wait 'til we hit civilization. Anything's better than here, right? And the people don't have wands or anything; even if they tried to chase you and Rolf out, Devin, all together we could overpower them enough to get more food, or any other supplies.”
The hope was shimmering faintly now, like an early morning mist; blurring the edges of despair, but still too easy to plow through. Kiara had sensed the Loup beginning to unravel, as the adults took matters into the their own hands and found some answers, only for their leader to be killed. Now, while the Master was still unsteady on his feet, Tynan wanted to leave. The hope began condensing.
“But what then, Tynan?” Devin sighed, “We told you the people hated us, that they chased us away; maybe if we leave the Loup, we'll get kicked out again and again for the rest of our lives.”
Kiara heard the scuffing of Tynan's boots and the rustle of fabric as the young man stood up. She could just spy the mussed top of his milky white hair over the back of her chair. The room fell eerily silent and Kiara edged forward so that she could see Tynan regarding Devin with his cold, scarlet eyes. Shouldn't red imply warmth? was Kiara's last, fleeting thought. Then he erupted.
“Do you want to be stuck here forever?” the albino screamed, “Do you want to sit in this castle until our beards reach our feet and we can't remember why we listened to J-fucking-P in the first place? So what if we all run away and get killed? It's a hell of a lot better than listening to a man who rules us with a fucking branch! If we leave, there's a chance that we can escape this— this tyrant! If JP had a plan for us, we'd know it by now. I've wasted twenty years of my life here and I refuse to make it twenty-one!”
His words resonated around the musty little room, ringing in everyone's ears. Tynan sat down hard enough on the couch to make it quiver, the vibrations reaching Kiara across the room and sending shivers rolling down her spine. Someone in the gang shifted uncertainly in their seat; another exhaled slowly. In the silence, every movement grated in Kiara's ears.
“So when do we leave?” Devin finally asked.
The rumpled horizon swam under Devin's gaze, and he shook his head to shake the exhaustion back a few paces. He'd thought he felt a spark of recognition, but it was just his brain formulating false memories in the place of true ones.
He'd told Darcy's gang a boy had given him the answers, but as much as Devin racked his brain, the only boys' faces that appeared were those of the Loup. At one point he thought he'd snagged a memory, but it turned out his ramshackle mind had just combined the features of Tynan and Rolf to create a vaguely familiar face.
Devin was not a spiritual man, but he figured he was fast on his way to becoming one. He held firm to his belief that there was something, anything better out there. It never crossed his mind that the Master might have saved Devin and his fellow Knights from a crazy, dangerous world. Besides, Devin would have thought to tell Darcy's gang if he and Rolf had run into a hellhole during their mission.
No, there was a better place out there, and whether it was a day's run or a year-long marathon to get to it, Devin was going to find it one day. It was as inevitable to Devin as the fact that he was about to turn and go downstairs for food.
But, Devin pondered as he trooped down the stairs, he still didn't know how to get from point A to point B. Sure, Tynan was talking about carrying some food on their backs and setting off southeast, but that was a ridiculously general plan. Too many things could go wrong.
“Devin,” someone murmured, and Devin turned to see the interminable black eyes of Gethin staring him down. “Tynan wants a word.”
Devin shrugged and continued on to the kitchen. “I'll be up as soon as I find something to eat.”
Gethin's arm swung up and smashed Devin's chin to the left, while the other grabbed Devin's collar and pushed him roughly up to the nearest wall. “Tynan wants to speak now,” he hissed, dark eyes flashing.
“Who does Tynan think he is― Darcy?” Devin snapped, shaking roughly out of Gethin's grasp. “He's as much in charge as Rolf, and you know it. So why don't you tell him to step off his throne and meet me in the kitchen if it's that urgent?”
Gethin grumbled something that sounded like “Don't shoot the messenger,” but slunk off. Chin smarting, realizing he probably should've hit Gethin back, Devin continued down to the kitchen.
Tension was slowly winding its way around the school, and if something didn't get planned soon it would cause the foundation of the castle to crack. Perhaps Devin should've gone up to Tynan. The two of them probably were the closest to making anything happen, after all. Devin really didn't have any qualms about letting someone else take charge; he just wasn't ready for a second tyrant to rule the school so utterly as Darcy had.
Doubt was creeping up along with the tension, Devin realized. Just as he turned to go and find Tynan, the albino himself stalked into the kitchen, smoldering.
“We're not going to get anything done if we don't work together,” he snapped, leaning against the door. “I thought you agreed.”
“I do,” Devin replied coolly, keeping his back to the albino.
“Well, then we need to get to work.”
“The Master,” Devin blurted, just as the thought hit his mind. The old man may have been crazy, but he was the reason they were all stuck in the middle of nowhere. He had to be clever if his plans had gotten him so far.
“What about him?”
“We might need to get something out of him,” Devin said, finally turning. Tynan, to his frustration, looked just faintly interested. “We need to leave, but we still don't quite know what we're getting into. We need someone to get a little closer to him, see if the old man has any last words of wisdom for his precious Knights.”
“Wisdom or fucked up riddles...” mused Tynan, stroking a beard he didn't have. “Fine. It's worth looking into. Come tell me what you find out.” And with that he turned on his heel and left. Devin gaped open-mouthed after him.
Well. Perhaps Tynan had learned more from Darcy than Devin had originally thought.
“Hello?” Devin asked, knocking on the solid door that marked the entrance to the Master's study.
“Come in,” the Master called out, and Devin slipped into the formidable room.
“Ah, Devin,” the Master sighed. “What brings you here today?”
“I have some food?” Devin offered a plate of tarts and eclairs forward. He could have sworn the Master raised his nose and sniffed the air before gesturing for Devin to bring him the treats. Wasn't Devin supposed to be the animal?
“To what do I owe this surprise?” asked the Master, fingering several of the tarts. Devin watched the old man carefully select his sweet, a chocolate cream-filled pastry with an indulgence of powdered sugar.
Devin had discovered the secret of the sweets cupboard three years ago, during a particularly bad spell of violence that had swallowed the school and sent Devin diving for cover. Once, when a fight had broken out over nothing in the kitchen, a panicked Devin had actually fled into a cupboard. To his surprise, he'd found himself leaning backward into a false wall, which collapsed under his weight. Hidden behind the ruins of the fake backing was a secret stash of treats. They were dusty, but strangely preserved. Perhaps the Master had hid them there long ago and forgotten about them. Or maybe he cared about his students more than they could imagine, and had left a gift for those with curiosity enough to find it.
Either way, Devin had been slowly consuming the dusty pastries for a long time. And now the Master didn't mention their sudden reappearance. After all, Devin could just claim he'd found them in a cupboard: there was no rule against sitting in cabinets. Yet.
“I...” Devin gulped through a suddenly dry throat. No one willingly visited the Master.
“Found my hidden pastries?” the Master winked over his food. “Not to worry my boy, no hard feelings.”
Devin resisted the urge to shudder, but the Master seemed to read his mind and smiled dryly. “Have a seat,” the old man said, gesturing forward.
Devin inched onto the offered chair, with only one thought running through his mind: What an awful idea. Whatever Devin had intended, and he barely knew what it was himself, the Master saw right through it.
“So?” the Master finally said, swallowing the last of the pastry. “As much as I would hope you all lived to bring me desserts, I'm a realistic man. Are you ready to talk yet?”
Devin took a deep breath. “You may have noticed everyone's been... curious lately,” he began, “and nervous, a little. I was thinking, if you cleared a few things up, people would be less, er, restless.”
“What things did you have in mind?”
“Oh, I dunno...” Devin felt his cool manner slipping rapidly, and grasped at the last few threads of dignity with a question on the innocent side. “Where are we?”
“We're in a little country called Scotland,” the Master replied smoothly. “I did tell you about it, I know I must have. Our lovely planet is made up of countries, Scotland one of many. And that is where our school sits.”
Scotland. It rolled nicely off the tongue. But so did Edinburgh, Devin reminded himself.
“Anything else?” the Master smirked.
“Er... not off the top of my head,” Devin admitted, trying to look sheepish. The Master liked his prey weak and trembling. “Anything you'd like to add?”
“Oh, Devin, you're a sharp one,” the Master said, “one of the sharpest here I think, especially now that Darcy is no longer with us. I know there are millions of questions bubbling right below the surface. Choose one.”
So. This was the kind of game Darcy had played all the time. It was nerve wracking: Devin felt transparent under the Master's gaze, and no matter which direction Devin took, the man always steered the conversation another. But Devin couldn't back down now. He fumbled through his many questions, ignoring the ones concerning wands, werewolves, the outside world...
“How old am I?” the words slipped out so fast Devin had to check he'd been the one to utter them. They were childish, ignorant. But a part of him realized he cared about the answer more than he'd previously thought. He knew so little about himself; how could he know the person he wanted to be if he didn't have a foundation to build on?
“Ah, Devin. You are eighteen. Your birthday was last Tuesday, as a matter of fact. The thirtieth of June.”
As malleable as he felt at the moment, Devin was elated. Not only did he know his age, he knew his birthday!
The next moment Devin caught himself. The Master was playing him well; by giving him the information so easily, he was driving Devin off course. Devin had to keep cool. Calm. If he pretended he was in control, he was one more step closer to actually having it.
“Well,” said the Master, leaning back, “that's enough questions for the moment, I think.”
“Of course,” Devin stood quickly. “I'll be seeing you soon? There're a lot more pastries.”
The Master chuckled. “But of course.”
Nodding feverishly, Devin backed out of the room. As soon as the door swung shut behind him, he dashed down the stairs to share the good news. The Master had loosened up. Talked a little. It was a step closer to the answers that would quite probably save their lives.
“Alcohol,” Tynan said, pacing back and forth on the common room floor. “We need it. I've heard about it before; the more you drink the better you feel, and the less judgement you have. The right amount will make JP loosen up, give some more answers that we can work with. It's great and all to know about other languages, and what a seagull is, but none of us give a damn about all that. We need stuff that will help. You know what I'm talking about.”
Devin nodded and twirled a stray thread from his shirt between his fingers. The last week, he'd gone up to the Master's tower almost everyday, each time with more pastries. Each time, the old coot had offered up a little more information, trying to play the good guy by offering some facts without Devin even having to ask. He'd explained there were different languages that different cultures spoke, and described a few animals that Devin had never imagined, but Tynan was right. None of that would help them. They need more things. Bigger things. And if they didn't get them soon, they would have to leave without them.
The last week, Tynan's gang had been slowly, inconspicuously stockpiling food in old sacks and clumsily sewn up rags. Everyone in the castle now knew that they were getting out of there, and were cooperating brilliantly. If only the Master could give them a clue of what they would find outside. When Devin and Rolf had left, they'd been two small kids in a big stretch of land. Now nearly fifty werewolves were sneaking out, and wanted to know what they were getting into.
“I've seen bottles of the stuff in JP's study,” Gethin said. “He's mentioned it once or twice. A long time ago. If we just snuck in while he was upstairs, asleep or something...”
“Risky,” said Tynan, “but I really do want to get something out of him. And actually, if we can get in there without him knowing, like the day before we leave, we can take some things. Papers, maybe. Something that might help us on the way. That way, if he doesn't budge, we can just get out of here with something, anything.”
“Let's do it tonight, then,” Raul said, then continued when everyone stared. “Really, why not? A few of us will sneak up once his light's off, grab whatever's closest along with the alcohol, then get out. The next day Devin brings up a strong cup of spiked coffee. There's not a ton of planning needed, and I've been ready to leave this castle for a long time.”
“I'll go,” said Devin. “I've been up there so much recently, I'll know where to look.”
“Zevi should go too,” Tynan said, squeezing the woman's hand, “she's quietest. And Gethin as well. That should be plenty.”
Gethin shrugged, and Devin clapped his hands together.
“Well, it's almost one in the morning,” Gethin said, “If no one has any objections, why don't we go get something to eat and do this?”
“If you happen to see any kids on the way, tell them to be prepared to leave tomorrow night,” Tynan whispered, “and to spread the word, quietly.”
Devin nodded. “Let's go.” He, Zevi and Gethin left Tynan standing at the entrance to the common room and headed for the Master's tower. He couldn't believe this was all happening so fast. Somehow, in the space of a few weeks, they'd gone from wandering around the castle obediently to taking the final steps of their departure. A year ago, learning how to say “hello” in another tongue would have kept Devin going for months. Now he'd brushed if off in the face of bigger and better things.
“It's after two,” Gethin breathed from Devin's right. The corridors were dark and silent, and all he could hear were their footsteps and the slow breathing of his classmates.
“The Master's light has been off for almost half an hour—” Devin began, but Gethin cut him off.
“Why do you still call him the Master?”
“Because,” Devin said, “I came along too late to get why you all called him JP.”
“That was what he told us to call him in the very beginning,” Gethin said, “before all the secrets started. Right before you got here, he made us swear to only call him the Master. We started calling him JP again a few years ago when we realized we didn't have to take his shit.”
“Shh,” Zevi spat, and they fell silent as they approached JP's study.
“In and out, guys,” Devin whispered, and he turned the knob slowly, only to have it catch in place. “What?”
“It's locked,” Gethin hissed. “Shit!”
A finger light as breeze tapped Devin on the shoulder and he started, but it was only Zevi. She held a finger to her ear, and Devin opened his mouth to explain again, perhaps she hadn't heard. But her hand came back with, of all things, a hairpin. She inserted it in the lock and twisted it around, while Gethin and Devin watched on.
“What the hell,” Gethin finally exploded in a loud whisper, “Zevi, I don't know what you're doing, but in two seconds I'm going to rip that door off its hinges―”
A tiny click came from the door then, and Zevi removed her hairpin and turned the knob. The JP's door swung silently open, and Gethin could do nothing but gape at the smirking woman,
“C'mon,” Devin breathed, leading the way in. The two followed after a beat.
They crept into the room, ducking, keeping their footsteps light. As they'd planned beforehand, Zevi and Gethin began the search for alcohol while Devin skimmed JP's desk, looking for anything that might be of value.
“This feels... odd,” Gethin murmured, as he opened a cabinet, “Like I've done this before. Searching.”
“What?” Devin said absentmindedly, looking at a handful of papers from the desk. They were just lists of types of trees. Nothing new. He placed them back in their drawer, in the same order as before.
“Never mind,” Gethin said. “Any luck, Zevi? There's nothing here.”
In response, the woman held up a metal flask. She uncapped it, sniffed, and nodded.
“Good,” Devin said, “I haven't seen anything worth taking, let's g―” He stopped in mid sentence, and the sudden silence echoed ominously around the room.
“What? What is it?” Gethin hissed as Devin's sentence fell short.
“You guys better take a look at this,” Devin breathed. He held out an old, worn piece of parchment, riddled with cross-outs, that he'd pulled out of the depths of the drawer. Gethin read aloud the end result:
“'You have until December twenty-third. Two days from now. If you get me the fifty thousand Galleons before then, you can have your albino home by Christmas.'”
“Ransom,” Devin said quietly, at the same time Zevi opened her mouth.
“Tynan,” the woman gasped.