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Pale Wolves (Chapter 16)

by Jonny Hardway 

Posted: 25 September 2011
Word Count: 3181
Related Works: Pale Wolves (Chapter 10) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 11) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 12.1) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 12.2) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 13) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 14) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 15) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 7.1) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 7.2) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 8.1) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 8.2) • Pale Wolves (Chapter 9) • Pale Wolves (Chapter Five) • Pale Wolves (Chapter Six) • Pale Wolves (Chapters Three & Four) • Pale Wolves (Prologue, Chapter One & Chapter Two) • 

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Nathan sat on the stony bank, gazing intently at the still lake. The sun was beginning to set. His moment was almost here.
Several of the colourful birds that had followed him around the lake chirped to one another behind and above him. He enjoyed their company. He closed his eyes and, holding the silver coin around his neck, rose slowly into the air.
He felt the birds swooping around him but barely heard them. The immense peace that the coin gave him filled his whole being and his heart beat in time with the silver object.
Up and up he rose, until the birds left him and the air became cooler. He opened his eyes and saw the tops of the forestís trees and the smoke billowing slowly from Carpís hut far below. He looked to the north. He would be back there tomorrow. He could go now but The First said that he must not. Why not? He did not know. He might never know the reason. Part of him resented this and wanted to act there and then. But he was beginning to realise that there was a bigger plan and to be part of it, he had to trust The First. He had brought him here. There was a reason he had been chosen. He was sure of it.
He stopped in the air, now turning his gaze to the south. He looked at the great, endless towering mountains that ran into the distance. They seemed even more impressive in the twilight of the setting sun.
Do you trust me? came the voice. Nathan closed his eyes. As he pondered the question, he subconsciously ran his fingers over the three scars on his back.
Yes, he replied.
Then go on, said the voice. Nathan let out a silent groan. He looked towards the mountains, becoming increasingly intimidating as the sun went down. Then, after a momentís pause, he glided slowly, hesitantly towards the mountains.
He had flown over three mountaintops, each one higher and steeper than the one before (the final one towering high above the clouds), before he slowly glided towards the valley beneath him.
Eventually, he landed gracefully on the soft grassy ground below. The sun had set quickly and as Nathan looked around, he realised he could barely see anything. The mountains surrounding him created dark shadows across the valley. In the distance, he could hear an owl hooting. After a few moments, the owl stopped, and there was silence.
Nathan felt a chill run down his spine, not unlike the one he had felt the night before his family had been abducted. The silence and the dark shadows were together quite frightening. He wanted to go back to the safety of the lake, of the hut, of Carp.
Walk west, came the voice. Nathan closed his eyes and remained quite still. He realised he was trembling.
Do you trust me? asked the voice again. Nathan paused and, opening his eyes, replied.
They are only shadows, said the voice. I am with you, but I must know that I can trust you before I use you for bigger things.
Forcing himself to open his eyes, Nathan slowly began to walk west. How he knew it was the west in this light, he did not know. He just trusted.
After he had been walking for what felt like a very long time, but may have only been a few moments, Nathan realised that his left hand was clutching something gently in his trouser pocket. He rubbed the parchment gently with his thumb, remembering drawing the picture in Hannahís bedroom. It canít have been much more than a week ago, but it felt like a lifetime. So much had changed. His whole life had changed. He didnít even know if she was alright. What if something had happened to her?
He clutched the parchment harder, refusing to let himself believe that anything could have happened to her. How could it when he loved her so much?
A light went on in Nathanís head. He loved her. He had always loved her. Why had he never told her? For a moment, a dragon roared angrily in his heart. What if he had missed his chance? What if, after everything that had happened, she no longer felt the same way? He was sure that she had. But now was not the time to think about such things. Tomorrow, he would go back for her, and she would know that he loved her.
He continued to walk on into the increasing darkness. He tried to put Hannah out of his mind, but now that the light was on in his mind, the possibilities flooded it. He imagined landing on the platform at the heart of the arena, the crowd screaming his name upon releasing them from the dictatorship to which they were enslaved. People were singing and clapping, children were jumping and laughing, and then, out of the crowd, Hannah came running towards him, her long dark hair billowing behind her. And then, she had clambered onto the platform and stood inches from him, face to face. He imagined looking deeply into her big brown eyes and then moving in slowly, breathing in her sweet, seductive scent. And he was holding her, embracing her in a kiss that he hoped would never end.
He continued to walk, the dark seeming less scary now that this new hope was consuming him. He imagined standing on the beach, their favourite rock pool behind them. He imagined his mum, Daniel, Ashley and Karen sitting on the front row of his wedding, smiling at him as he stood and waited. And then he turned as he heard people gasp. Hannah was walking up the aisle between the two sets of chairs in a spotless white dress. She smiled at him. He smiled back.
Coming back to reality, he felt a tear trickle down his face. There couldnít be a more beautiful bride in the whole world. There was no-one else Nathan would want to spend his life with other than Hannah James.
He imagined their children. He imagined them running through their house, laughing and jumping around happily. He imagined a little boy with his short scruffy blond hair and her deep brown eyes. He imagined a little girl, with Hannahís long, silky dark hair, her eyes, her bronze skin. He didnít care about his children having any of his physical characteristics. He would want them to take after Hannah so that every time he looked at them, he would be reminded of her.
Almost there came the voice again. Grudgingly, Nathan forced himself back to reality. Whatever The First wanted him to do, he knew he would have to concentrate fully to succeed. He pressed on into the darkness, shivering slightly in the evening cool.
Soon, he found himself to be walking down a steady, rocky slope. The clouds were beginning to clear from the sky and, as Nathan looked up, he saw a full moon was out. Letting his eyes adjust to the moonlight, he looked ahead. He was walking down into what seemed to be a small fissure. The slope seemed to descend further into it, flanked on either side by the steep sides of the crevice. He realised that he was still trembling. The further he went down the slope, the more vulnerable he was. The only way out was the way he came in.
You can fly said the voice, and the coin throbbed slightly against his chest. He didnít feel very relieved remembering the new ability he had been given. Who knew what would happen when he tried to use it when he was scared? And, what scared Nathan more, how would the trial that The First was leading him to affect his ability? Would it allow him to use his ability?
Trust me came the voice, even softer and more calming than it had been before. It reminded him of how Carp spoke in her tongue, her softness, her gentleness. She had remained distant since he had found his gift the night before. She had wandered off into the forest on her own that morning and, except for helping him make dinner that evening, he had not seen her all day. Even when they had been together, she had seemingly avoided long conversations with him.
There must be a reason for it, he thought.
Maybe it was because her job was now done and she no longer needed to make the effort to be kind to him. Or maybe it was because The First had told her to keep her distance so that he could concentrate on the task that awaited him. He did not know, but he had missed the company. He had read various articles about the Pale Wolves and their history from the books in her chest and learnt much. But it had been a lonely day, like the ones he had had on his journey to the hut.
Concentrate, came the voice.
Nathan walked on. As he walked further into the fissure, the steep walls of rock flanking him gradually drew closer together, creating a progressively thinner strip of moonlight. His eyes found it harder to adjust to the increasingly deeper darkness as he walked. Soon, the two sides of the fissure merged together, creating a large cave. Upon reaching it, Nathan stopped and peered into it. Inside the cave, it was pitch black, and he could see nothing at all.
Not much further, said the voice.
Taking a deep breath, Nathan slowly moved over to its right wall and, carefully placing his hand against the smooth rock, began to walk into the deep, cold dark of the cave.
As Nathan walked further into the cave, he began to breathe in the smell of dead, rotting animals. He was unable to see anything at all and soon he was struggling to remain on his feet as he trod carefully over slippery wet rocks. Wondering where the water had come from, he stopped for a moment and listened. In the distance, he could make out the faintest sound of running water.
He kept on walking, the water now lapping around his ankles. And then, after heíd been walking for a while, he saw a faint light in the distance. Hope gripping him, he walked more hastily, now able to make out where he was placing his feet with each step. Soon, he was up to his knees in water. Ahead of him he could see a small pool, where the cave opened up to a circular cavern of about eight metres in width, shining in the moonlight. There was a small gap in the left side of the cave where the faintest trickle of water spilled into the pool. Nathan guessed that the pool had been formed by the overflow of water from a river running above and parallel to the fissure, leaking into it.
Upon reaching the little pool of water, he looked up to see a small circular hole, about a metre and a half wide, set directly above the centre of the pool. The moonlight that shone through it made the water shimmer, dazzling sparks of silver bouncing off it in the darkness, lighting up the cave. The smell of dead, rotting animals was strongest here, making Nathan feel rather sick. He looked about him and saw various animal skeletons littered over the stony ground. The cave around him seemed otherwise featureless except for a large rock on the left bank of the pool. For the second time that evening, Nathan felt a chill run down his spine. He wanted to leave as soon as possible, the fresh air breaking in through the hole in the ceiling becoming increasingly tempting.
Peering ahead in the twilight, he noticed that barely a few metres on from the pool, the cave ended. He sighed in relief. And then, he saw it. A glint of silver. He wondered whether it had just been the moonlight reflecting off the water, but then he saw it glint again. There were two of them.
Reaching for the right wall of the cave, he began to clamber carefully around the pool. He could now see that there were two beautiful silver blades, each one about the length of his arm. Each had a ruby red hilt and as he lifted the closest one up to his eyes, he noticed that the hilt had the same tiny wolf-head carved into it that he had seen on the lid of Carpís chest. He examined the blade. It was perfect, unblemished, except for tiny words that curved along its centre. Holding it up to the moonlight, he read:

Made for the pale wolves,
the guardians of goodness & love,
to protect the lights of this world from the invading darkness.
Be ever vigilant.
Nathan was awestruck. He had never seen such craftwork. He picked up the other blade, just as perfectly made and unblemished as the one he was holding, despite its surroundings. Nathan wondered how they had ended up here. And then, in the corner of his eyes, he saw something stir.
What he had first thought to be a large rock on the left bank of the pool was now rising slowly to its feet. And, as it turned to face him, Nathan immediately recognised the great, round yellow eyes glaring at him, its long sabre-like canines glinting menacingly in the dim light.
Panic ran through Nathan like fire. He couldnít breathe. If he tried to run, the creature would catch him easily and he would be just one more skeleton to add to its already large collection. If he could calm himself for a moment, he would be able to fly through the hole in the cave ceiling, but he could not concentrate. Even as he tried, the giant cat-like creature was prowling closer, edging around the small pool towards him. He closed his eyes, trying to remember how he had flown before.
You canít escape boy.
Nathanís eyes flew open. It was a deep, female voice, filled with cruelty and malice. He looked at the creature.
Heís led you to your death.
The creatureís mouth wasnít moving, but Nathan knew it was speaking to him in his mind. Nathan tried to talk back.
Wh-, Who are you?
The creature seemed to almost smile, its long tongue dripping hungrily between its two great weapons as it drew ever closer.
I am Mesaira, the owner of those blades youíre stealing.
Nathan backed away slowly, trying to clamber back around the pool subtly as the creature prowled closer with great ease.
They belong to the Pale Wolves.
Nathan gripped the swords tighter still as he spoke. Mesaira was close enough now for Nathan to see the gash he had left above her right eye at their last meeting. As he saw it, he felt the three scars on his back prickle slightly.
They belonged to a Pale Wolf, and it was I who killed him. I keep his blades here in memory of that occasion, and as a magnet to draw my prey.
Mesaira seemed to smile again as a large strand of saliva fell from her long, pink tongue.
Seem to remember him still being alive as I began to eat him too. So much better food that is completely fresh you know?
She stared hungrily at Nathan. She was within three metres of him now. Nathan raised his swords nervously. As he did, the ruby hilts burned a brighter, fiery red. He felt them burn against his skin slightly, and as they did, the silver coin burned hot against his chest.
Trust me, came the voice again. Nathan felt his body relax and closed his eyes. Mesaira leapt. But before she reached her destination, Nathanís eyes sprang open and he soared to the far side of the pool. He landed clumsily on the rocks, only just managing to remain on his feet. Mesaira smashed into the cave wall where Nathan had stood barely a moment before. She turned and glared angrily at him.
You canít escape boy!
Nathan raised his eye brows. As he replied, he felt the coin burn hotter, his heart beat slower, and his mind empty of all anxiety as it had when Carp had first given him the coin. Words he had read in one of Carpís books earlier that day suddenly appeared at the front of his mind:
Strong in our weakness, weak in our strength
That was it. The more he trusted the coinís power, the more powerful it was for him. The more he relied on himself, the weaker it was. He looked up at Mesaira, set to pounce again.
Iíll give you one last chance creature, let me leave or die.
Mesaira smiled.
Youíre a fool boy.
She pounced, clearing the water easily. Nathan lifted his swords out sideways, closed his eyes, leaving himself completely vulnerable to the opening jaws of Mesaira.
He barely felt it. He opened his eyes to see Mesaira writhing agonizingly in the shallow water of the pool. He saw half of one of her long canineís lying at his feet, the remaining half still connected to the beastís jaw. As the creature writhed uncontrollably, now with two unevenly sized canines, she screeched in his mind.
Leave boy, leave! Curse you! Curse you! You will be paid back ten times for what you have done to me.
Nathan felt anger rise through his body. He lifted both his swords, ready to plunge them into the beast. But as he watched the creature continue to squirm and moan in her agony, he pitied her. Now feeling angry with himself for the mercy he was giving her that he would never have received himself, he picked her up out of the water. Despite the size of the great beast, he lifted her with ease, placing her where the blades had lain. Mesaira looked up at him curiously for a moment, temporarily controlling her pain. Seemingly hurt more by his pity than the physical pain he had caused her, she looked away and spat.
I said leave boy!
Nathan lifted himself up off his knees, leaving the creature to itself.
Ungrateful beast! Mind, what does it matter if she doesnít appreciate my mercy anyway?
As long as he didnít have to see her again, Nathan didnít care. He had what he was sure he had been meant to retrieve. And he had faced his fears head on.
You will have to do that again tomorrow, came the voice.
I know, Nathan replied.
But all he cared about right now was getting out of this cold, dark place. He looked up at the hole in the cave ceiling and, with one last fleeting look at the pool and Mesaira, who now lay quite still in her exhaustion, he soared effortlessly towards the hole in the ceiling and up into the world that lay outside the caveís dark walls.

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