The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Four
Two weeks later, Rythri sat with Zzandoren in a patch of forest
farther from civilization than either of them had been in those past two weeks.
It had taken some time to find someplace where not even the scent of
"man-creature" lingered, cold and old and almost imperceptible except
to a sharp werewolf's nose, but Zzandoren had insisted on it. Since it was
something he could do, being an excellent tracker especially with a wolf's keen
sense of smell, Rythri had done it gladly for him.
The past two weeks had certainly been different, for both of them. Unwilling to leave the man he'd rashly turned just as were as he, at least until he was certain the man was adjusting well enough, Rythri had followed Zzandoren on his mission of helping others. He helped him get less out of practice, too, though the danger of being attacked by random wolves was pretty much nil now, at least. They spent a couple days at a time in different villages, with a couple days in-between spent in travel, which was more contact with his own kind-- if the other anari could even be called "his own kind" anymore-- and other bipeds than Rythri could remember having had in the past five years.
It was stressful, spending so much time with other people. Rythri had never been very social, even before he was bitten, spending more time out in the forest hunting and gathering valuable herbs, pelts, and even animal eggs for the nearby village. Since, though, the skittish impulses of the wolf had made things so much worse. He wanted to snap his teeth-- or his voice-- at people coming too close, with their reaching hands and questioning eyes. He wanted to scurry away from loud voices and large gatherings of them. He wanted to spend the night in the forest howling at the moon rather than under a roof, tossing and turning and feeling hemmed in.
To his mild surprise, Zzandoren seemed to feel the same way. After they almost-fled their second village in a week, he confided in Rythri that he'd been spending a week or more in each village before, depending on their needs and how much there was to be learned there from local, non-magical healers, midwives, and herbalists. Now, though Rythri's help made it possible to get more done in a shorter amount of time, he admitted that he didn't want to stay more than two or three days at a time.
"I thought wolves were pack animals," the priest had complained unhappily.
"Not the way those people make a 'pack'," Rythri had shuddered, back. "That's not a pack, that's a-- a herd. Of stupid miiri. Who don't know when to stop grazing in the same spot."
Zzandoren had made a face that said he agreed. "But what about wolves?"
Rythri had shrugged back at him. "It's better, but still not quite right... I don't know, I don't think we fit anywhere, anymore."
That had been the end of that discussion, but Rythri still thought about it now and then. He was pretty comfortable with Zzandoren, actually, despite the fellow being a bit old and a bit boring. He wasn't too wolfish, but he wasn't too man-creature-ish, either. They got along pretty well, didn't get on each others' nerves any more than was to be expected for their constant company, and seemed to know when to give the other space. Maybe werewolves were happiest with other werewolves?
He wasn't entirely sure which of them was more "alpha" than the other-- Rythri had more experience with their condition and kept offering advice, but Zzandoren had more experience in general, and he seemed to be picking their destinations and making the decisions more. He was completely unaggressive, though, except for the occasional warning snap, and seemed to "lead" passively rather than actively. Though maybe, with truly sentient "pack-members", snarls and challenges and brief battles to assert one's will weren't necessary.
If only he'd talked Zzandoren into shifting.... He was sure the old man could do it-- after all, he could, and his biter could, so it stood to reason that Zzandoren could, too-- but he seemed so nervous about it. Nothing Rythri could say to reassure him that it would be fine, he would remember who he was enough to change back-- with someone else around who knew him, it would certainly be even easier-- and he wouldn't turn into a mindless beast could change his mind. Now, waiting for the next full moon to rise-- Shinan-Al, a very slow turner that wound up coming full only every four and a half months, or something like that, with a corresponding five-day period; Rythri's full only lasted three days, on the two and a half month schedule-- Zzandoren was practically itchy with nerves.
"Maybe if you shift first?" Rythri suggested, for the second time that day. "Then maybe it won't feel so out of control, when the moon makes you do it."
"I want to know what it feels like to be forced," Zzandoren answered shortly, pacing restlessly back and forth between a boulder and a tree. They were actually at the edge of a forest in the mountains, where the trees started to fall off and turn into rocky, unfarmable crags. "Just this first time, at least."
The normally mild-mannered priest had been restless, uncomfortable, and above all irritable for the past three days, and even his human-sized nose had insisted they be as far from man-creature scents as possible. Rythri, wolf-formed and surprisingly comfortable even then with a still-bipedal Zzandoren, had led him here, as far as he could get them from civilization. As the moon got fuller and brighter, however, not even that kept him from growling and pacing. Interestingly, Rythri hadn't felt the urge to snap, back, but rather to soothe and help-- maybe he really was the lesser-ranked in their tiny "pack".
Not that it mattered, really, who was more dominant. Rythri just liked knowing where he stood.
"Does it feel like this when your moon comes around?" Zzandoren asked a few minutes later, stopping and giving Rythri a look both annoyed and worried.
"I don't know what 'like this' feels like," Rythri admitted, holding up his hands helplessly. "I get restless, sure, but not...." He waved a hand at Zzandoren, to indicate his remarkably bad mood without actually saying it and making it worse. "I usually shift, though, as soon as I start feeling twitchy, so I don't notice it so much."
"Like you think I should," Zzandoren growled, and swept back to his pacing. He only made it a few steps before grinding out, "I'm sorry, Rythri, I don't mean to be so snappish, but--" And here he started prowling across the relatively-flat space again. "It's like my bones are vibrating. Like the air is pressing on me. Like-- I don't know. I don't like it."
"It's all right," Rythri answered mildly, with a small smile that carefully did not show teeth, just in case there was too much wolf in his friend and not enough man. Poor Zzandoren seemed to be taking his first moon very badly-- he hoped it would get better in the future! But then, Rythri had never felt anything like his bones vibrating, before, not even when he'd first been bitten....
"Oh, gods." Zzandoren stopped short and looked up. "It's-- it's going to--"
Rythri looked up, too, and sure enough, there was a faint, green glow over the horizon, visible even in the late-afternoon sunlight, as Shinan-Al started peeking up above the forest. He tried to offer Zzandoren a reassuring smile, but stood up in alarm when he found the now wide-eyed priest had sunk to his knees, hands seized up in pained claws against the dirt and dry grass.
"Hurts!" he gasped out, focusing with obvious effort on Rythri's worried face. "Is it-- supposed-- to hurt?"
"No!" Rythri exclaimed, crouching beside him. "It's supposed to be easy-- nothing at all! What hurts?"
Zzandoren was shaking now, curling in on himself on the earth. "Ev-every-- thing--" He choked off, teeth clenched and mind turned inward to combat what even Rythri, on the outside, could tell was terrible, unbearable pain.
There was nothing he could do, despite the burst of panicked adrenaline he felt that told him to do something: he wasn't a healer! He probably couldn't even jam any pain-killing herbs down his throat, at this point. When he tried to touch him, maybe to soothe seizing muscles or just show that he was still there for him if there was something he could do, Zzandoren twitched away with a strangled growl that was almost a scream, as if even the touch hurt him. Rythri fell back, giving him his space and whining under his own breath nervously, wishing he could do something.
But by his own past experiences, he shouldn't have to do anything-- his own transformations had been painless! Simple, seamless, and even easy! That Zzandoren's would hurt him made no sense, and it frightened him. It couldn't just be that he was older-- he was fit, and healthy, and quite free of older-person problems like arthritis-- abyss take it, he probably had higher endurances than Rythri himself did! But if this was inexplicably different, what else would be different?
It was when Rythri had started to think something was really wrong, because nothing was happening except Zzandoren was curled in on himself and moaning, that something finally did happen. Zzandoren suddenly let out a howl that made Rythri jump and scramble back another couple feet-- a howl that seemed to have more wolfen pain in it than human-- and fell over, writhing in agony and scrabbling at the ground, his clothes, his skin, as the more visible changes very rapidly started taking hold.
Fur sprouted, first, growing out from the long mane on his head and human-sparse but dark body hair, into what would be a thick pelt. Then, with a horrible screeching, creaking, and cracking of bones, his body started to realign itself from bipedal to quadrupedal, growing to a larger size, muscles tearing audibly and reforming to match their new frame. The sprout of his tail ripped through the seat of his trousers, which were quickly turning to shreds as he clawed and kicked at them in distress and frustration. Rythri thought, in some small corner of his mind that wasn't in shock at the violence of this very strange transformation, that it was a good thing he'd suggested Zzandoren take off shirt, shoes, and coat. Though he'd just intended it as something to maybe make the priest feel less confined, expecting the clothing to simply vanish as his did for his own voluntary transformations, it was obvious that they would have been ruined by the frenzied wolf.
When Zzandoren finally stilled, laying on his side, panting and growling and surely utterly exhausted after that-- that travesty of what Rythri was used to, Rythri could only stare anew. He knew what he looked like, wolf-formed: a bit bigger than most wolves, maybe, long-limbed and rangy rather than bulky and heavyset, but otherwise a completely normal wolf. His fur was a mid-weight, ragged mixture of red, brown, and an overall gray ticking, and his eyes went from honey-brown to true, wolfen amber-gold, rimmed with thick black lashes. He had a short, bushy tail; normal blunt, black claws; and a pair of slightly over-sized, but not unnaturally so, black-rimmed ears. Rythri had expected something similar for Zzandoren, except probably with less red and more brown in his coat, maybe smaller ears and a stockier body.
Zzandoren, however, looked nothing like anything he'd imagined.
There was the basic wolf shape, and he definitely had fur, a tail, four paws, and a moderately canine-looking muzzle-- but that was where the resemblance to a real wolf ended. He was huge, for one thing-- probably half-again Rythri's wolf-height at the shoulder and maybe almost as tall as Zzandoren was, as a human-- and his back sloped downwards just a little, towards his shoulders, allowing for more powerful hindquarters. His paws-- his hind paws were massive and obviously made for launching him forward, but his forepaws were too delicate for any true wolf, and too well-clawed. His ears were huge and long and notched oddly, his muzzle far too heavy and his teeth far too pronounced, and his tail too long and almost catlike. The fur that Rythri had expected to be brown was a haunting silver with black tips, shadowy and definitely unnatural-looking. Worst of all, though, he had a mess of bony, black horns on his head, some curling down around his heavy face, some jutting forward or back, a couple running down his thick-ruffed neck.
What kind of creature was he?? Surely not a werewolf-- not like Rythri-- but what else could be be?
And when he staggered to his feet, shaking himself vigorously and panting hungrily, turning red-gold eyes on Rythri... Rythri couldn't help but freeze in fear. He knew better than to run, though he so wanted to. Running meant fear meant prey meant chase to a wolf. And probably to whatever this was, too.
Rythri held tremblingly, terrifiedly still as the creature that had been Zzandoren advanced on him, stiff-legged and bristle-backed. He couldn't hold his breath, for all he wanted to: it came in nervous gasps that probably made him sound like a beast caught in the hunter's stare. Maybe he was. The thought of shifting flitted across his mind, but he didn't know what that would do-- startle, anger, soothe, anything at all-- so he didn't.
The wolf-monster didn't growl, at least, but he did advance, teeth visible but not... quite... bared. Rythri shut his eyes and turned his head aside, half-exposing his throat in fearful submission, anari-bodied or not. He felt a cold, wet nose prodding at his cheek, then his chest, then sniffing him all over, getting his scent and-- gods be praised-- not showing any signs of tearing into him or even finding fault in him. When the wolf-thing finally pulled back with a short lick to his exposed neck and dismissive snort, Rythri took a shuddering breath and all but went limp with relief. Whatever Zzandoren had turned into, he apparently wasn't going to hurt him.
But because he had no idea what he might do to anything else, when the wolf-thing cast about for illusive scents on the wind and let out a predator's howl that even made Rythri's blood go chill, Rythri promptly shifted, himself, and loped hastily after his departing packmate. No matter how strange and frightening he might be....