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.