Story: Once Upon a Wolf (Shadow Walkers)

Tucked away in my writing folder, I have a few shorts set in the Shadow Walkers world. As the first two in the series are soon going to be re-released for Kindle, I’m going to share some of them.
Here’s the first one, written a few years ago on request for a now-defunct zine! If you’ve read the books, you’ll recognise some of the characters. If not, don’t worry, you don’t need to :)

For more of the Shadow Walkers, click here!
For more short stories, click here!

Once Upon a Wolf
by Lee Hulme

The two wolves circled each other, snarling. One was copper coloured, sleek, muscles rippling, as big as a human, down on four legs, crouched and ready to pounce. The other was a dirty grey, rabid and wild, stood on two legs, hunched over, waiting for an opening to strike.

From behind the copper wolf another wolf appeared. This one was black, except for a single white streak down it’s back, and it circled, a step behind the copper wolf.

The grey wolf snarled angrily, turned and bounded off through the trees.

The other two shared a single glance before bounding after it, followed by three other shadowy figures, racing to keep up.

The two wolves moved swiftly and silently through the forest, tracking the other with ease as it blundered, crashing through the undergrowth in its desperate attempt to escape. But the copper and black wolves caught up with it quickly and pounced, almost as one figure, onto the back of the other, bringing it snarling down to the ground. A moment later the other figures caught up. There was the crash of a gun and a dart, filled with tranquillizer, hit the neck of the grey wolf which slowly stopped struggling and lay still. The wolves rolled off it, still circling warily until, in a flash of light, the grey wolf was bound with cord and covered in a thick net.

The two wolves stepped back as the figures emerged from the trees.

“Good, you two, well done,” said the voice of a tall, pale, blue-eyed, red-haired man.

Beside him an older man in flowing blue robes gasped for breath. “I am too old for this!” he panted.

The pale man grinned and patted him on the back.

Another emerged from the trees, this one tall and willowy, with long fair hair draped calmly over his shoulder, the lines broken only by the slight emergence of the two pointed tips of his ears. “Next time, make it a challenge,” he smiled. “Come on. We must get this one somewhere safe,” he snapped his fingers and the net-covered wolf rose from the ground and floated along, as if on a stretcher. The three men and two wolves began to walk back the way they had come; to the edge of the forest and a little further, until they reached a large house which the blue-robed man unlocked for them to enter.

The elf floated the grey wolf down the hallway and through a door which took him down a set of stairs.

The two wolves bounded into a side room with the door left ajar and, as the elf returned up the stairs, minus the grey wolf, exited the room, this time as people, fully dressed, with nary a ruffle to indicate their recent activity. The copper wolf had become a woman with copper-blonde hair. The black wolf, a man with jet black hair, that same stripe of silver running over the top of his head and down to his neck. They walked easily together to where the others waited.

The elf spoke. “He is locked away. No harm done, you two were very careful, thank you.”

The copper-haired woman nodded. “Danieel and I will sit with him until morning, try to explain to him what he is. Menw,” she continued, smiling slightly at the blue-robed man, “You look like you could do with a good sleep. Go to bed.”

Menw nodded gratefully and headed for the stairs.

“The rest of you, too,” Danieel continued, “Sleep well. If we need you, we will call Cam.”

The pale man nodded. “I will hear.”

He and the elf followed Menw up the stairs and left the two werewolves alone. Together they went to the staircase down which the elf had taken the grey wolf and descended into the room below.

The room was cut into two halves. The first contained two chairs and a table where the dart gun lay, along with more darts and the tranquillizer that worked so well. High on one wall was a window, through which the barest amount of light seeped. But the two werewolves required only that to see as clearly as day.

The other half was cut off by thick bars. This half was divided again into four cells. In the left-hand cell lay the grey wolf, now unbound, sleeping peacefully, snoring gently.

“Sansé,” Danieel said softly, taking the hand of the copper-haired woman and looking at a deep scratch on her forearm. “You were injured.”

Sansé pulled her arm away and shrugged. “It heals already, my love. And after all, I cannot be turned twice into a werewolf.”

Danieel nodded and the two of them sat in silence.

As the dawn began to crawl through the window, the grey wolf began to move, to  wriggle, then writhe and growl. The tranquillizer, measured perfectly, was wearing off right on cue. As Sansé and Danieel watched, the wolf’s eyes turned from feral yellow to soft hazel, its whole body shortened; claws, limbs, torso, muzzle; and the fur began to receded until what lay in the cage, shivering as the sweat of the change dried on his skin, was a human male. Sansé left to make some food for the man, who would be ravenous, and Danieel dropped some clothing through the bars.

When the man’s eyes opened, closed, then opened again, widening as he took in his situation, then narrowing again as he saw his captors, Danieel spoke to him. “Dress. Those clothes should be about your size. Then we can talk.”

“W-who are you?”

“Dress,” Danieel repeated. “Then we can talk.”

The man obeyed, struggling slightly as his whole body trembled. Again as if on cue, the moment he was dressed Sansé returned with a plate piled high with food. She slid it through a small opening underneath the bars and stood back as the man, all else forgotten, dived on the food and began to shovel it in his mouth as quickly as possible.

Sansé and Danieel waited, quietly, until the man’s hunger had abated enough for him to pause between mouthfuls and speak. “So…who are you? And why am I in a cage? And why was I naked? And why am I so hungry – how long have I been here? What day is this?”

Danieel spoke, softly and calmly. “Today is the day after yesterday. You have missed no days, merely had a somewhat eventful night. Before I answer your questions, I must first ask some. What do you do for a living?”

The man frowned. “I’m a woodsman. I cut down trees.”

Danieel nodded. “And, sometime over the past month, did something – some large animal – bite you?”

The man’s gaze clouded, then cleared. “Yes! I worked late one night. I work for myself, and had a big order to fill. It was a full moon and I had a light with me to see by…” he trailed off. “And while I was cutting a tree, something, some enormous dog, came out of the trees and bit me. I was in a fever for two days, but then the bite healed really fast,” he paused for a moment. “Why?”

Danieel ignored the question in favour of one more of his own. “What’s your name?”

“Nathan,” the man said. “Nathan Jessop.”

“Well, Nathan, I’ll tell you it’s nice to meet you. You may not be returning the compliment yet, but I hope you will eventually. Please do me one kindness and save any comments, disbelief and shouts until after I’m done talking, it’ll probably answer a lot of your questions faster, OK? My name is Danieel. This lady here is Sansé. We are both werewolves. Also around – if you stay you’ll meet them eventually – are Menw, he’s a mage in the blue robes; Cam, he’s a telepath; and Deelinul, he’s our resident elf druid. And you, Nathan, are also a werewolf. That thing that bit you was a werewolf. The fever you had was your body trying pointlessly to fight against the werewolf infection that was trying to insert itself into you -and I’ll tell you now, nobody has ever managed to win that fight – and the miraculous healing is one of the more useful side effects of being a werewolf. You are a werewolf, just to make sure you get that part sorted. You. Werewolf. A werewolf is you. OK? Now then, your sire – that’s the wolf that turned you – was what we call a lunar wolf. That means that around the full moon, and a couple of days either side, you will turn into a werewolf. That’s what you did last night. That’s why you’re down here in a very strong cage. We captured you before you did any harm. Your options are simple. Refuse our help, turn into a wolf again tonight, and we will kill you the second you even look at a human being – and without control, believe me, you will. Or, accept our help. Let us keep you in here while you’re dangerous until you can learn to take control over your wolf, after which you will not only remember everything that happens when in wolf form, you can also control it, which will turn you from little more than a senseless, mindless beast into a sleek, ferocious but completely harmless wolf – albeit one with certain advantages of size, strength and intelligence. I appreciate that this is a lot to take in, but you must understand and make an informed choice. I’m going to open this cage. And then Sansé and I will take our cue from the others and get some sleep. If you decide to stay, simply remain in this house, wander around, find the library and read a book until somebody wakes up. If you choose to leave, then the front door is open and you may do so – but remember my warning; we will track you, and at the first hint that you might cause harm to someone, we will be justified – to ourselves, you understand – in taking your life to save the many you would take or otherwise destroy if left to do so.”

Danieel stood and unlocked the cage. then he and Sansé ascended the stairs, strolled through the hall, up the main stairs and down the landing to their bedroom.

Once inside, the door shut, Danieel turned to Sansé with an enquiring look. “Well?”

Sansé shook her head. “He’ll go.”

Danieel nodded and sighed. Sansé had the uncanny knack of knowing these things and he had learned to trust it. “Where?”

“Home, probably. Then tonight, if we let him, he’ll kill his family.”

Neither of them asked why. They both remembered all too clearly their first nights, and those of others they had since tried to save. Some stayed, if only because they couldn’t quite believe what was happening, and those could be saved. Some took to their heels to try and run away from it. And those only lasted long enough to change a second time. The Shadow Walkers would track them and kill them the moment they took their first step towards another human. Over the years they had both perfected their introductory speeches to give the new werewolf all the information they needed to make some sort of choice; the rest of the information would come if they stayed. And if they did not, well, that warning was there too.

They showered together and slid, exhausted, between the sheets where they slept most of the day away.

On waking, they dressed and ventured downstairs to find the other three waiting for them in the library. One look told them that Sansé had, once again, made the right judgement.

“Can you scent him?” Menw asked the other four.

Danieel and Sansé nodded slowly, both able to smell Nathan’s trail.

Cam closed his eyes and nodded, picking up his telepathic signature.

Deelinul shook his head. “Not here. I can track him once we’re outside if you need me, but I doubt you will. My tracking skills are, sadly, based upon knowledge rather than inherent gifting,” he nodded at Cam, “Or cross-species advantage,” he nodded at Danieel and Sansé and sighed theatrically.

Sansé, Danieel and Cam grinned at him. Menw ignored him, waved his hands idly and a table, groaning with food, appeared for them all to feast off.

Once done, two men, one elf, and two enormous wolves left the house. Cam took the lead, a telepathic signature being the most efficient tracking method, and they all moved swiftly through the woods, out onto the edge of the nearby town and around to a small hut, set halfway between the town and the forest.

Four hung back, out of sight in the growing dusk, and Deelinul slipped lightly in and out of shadows until he was at the hut. Finding no window, he used his keen ears to listen, knowing Cam was listening via him and relaying everything to the others.

A woman’s voice was speaking, pain mixed with anger. “But you were gone all night! How can you forget what you were doing all night!”

A male voice, Nathan’s, replied wearily. “Look, woman, I’m tired, I’m cranky, and you’re not helping. Let me be.”

The woman’s voice turned to a hiss. “What do you think this looks like to the rest of the town, hmm?”

“It wouldn’t look like anything if you didn’t feel the need to tell them!” Nathan hissed back. “The matter is closed!”

Deelinul slipped back to the others. “Doesn’t sound good.” he murmured. “Nathan’s angry already. Turning into a wolf is not going to help.”

“How long” Cam asked the two wolves and listened to their reply. “The moon will rise any minute.” he relayed back to Deelinul and Menw. “How many doors, Dee?”

“Two. Front and back. No windows to speak of.”

“Alright. One wolf either side, then. Dee, you go with Danieel. Sansé, you’re with me. Menw, stand back, come in with your spells when it’s time.”

The group nodded and made their way quietly to their posts. Menw remained where he was, quietly building spells in his head. All had done this before and knew a new werewolf was, if not exactly safe, certainly not too much of a challenge, to simply bring down and sedate. But to kill a 2nd-night wolf, who was probably expecting them, was not an easy task at all. But they were Shadow Walkers, a growing group of people with their own very special gifts, and this is what they were here for – to stand here in the dark and wait for their cue to protect the innocent.

Menw looked at the sky and saw the moon peeking out from above the distant mountains. His eyes snapped back to the hut ahead as he heard a pained howl from Nathan, which turned quickly into the spine-tingling howl of an out-of-control werewolf. He took a few steps closer and released a spell into the air, illuminating the surrounding area for the sake of himself and Cam, whose abilities did not include night-vision.

As the howl died and Nathan, as the grey wolf again, turned towards his wife, who was stuck in one spot, eyes wide, mouth open, trembling but unable to move, the front and back doors burst open and, from either side, a huge wolf dived in and straight onto Nathan’s back.

The wolves were followed by a man and an elf.

The man grabbed the woman’s arm, bringing her back to her senses, and pulled her towards the door.

The elf raised his hands and spoke quietly. A green light flowed from his hands and wrapped itself around the neck of the grey werewolf and Deelinul began to mutter rapidly, exerting his will over the wolf as well as he was able.

This allowed the copper and black wolves to pin him to the floor while Cam, now outside with the woman, nodded to Menw, who made his way to the back door of the hut.

Deelinul was sweating profusely, his already pale skin now starkly white in the darkness, the green rope flickering and fading as he struggled to bend the will of the grey wolf just enough to allow Menw to bind him.

Menw shouted to the copper and black wolves, who dived off the grey wolf as he flicked out a hand, from which which shot a glowing blue net, aimed directly at the grey wolf. But at this moment Deelinul lost his grip on the wolf, the green rope winked out of existence, and the grey wolf turned and leaped, snarling, at the attacking elf.

Before the other three could react, the grey wolf had crashed into Deelinul, knocking him into the floor where the grotesque thud of his head connecting could be heard over the snarling of all three wolves.

Nathan’s mouth and claws dug into Deelinul so as Sansé and Danieel landed, snarling, on him and dragged him backwards, Deelinul’s throat and chest were ripped apart.

The grey wolf broke free of Sansé and Danieel and paused to howl his bloodlust into the ceiling of the hut. He was cut short by another blue net from Menw, which wrapped around him, emitting tiny flashes of lightning which stunned him into temporary paralysis.

Menw held the net in place for a moment more while he formed the second spell in his mind. Then he whipped the blue strands away with one hand as a stream of pure silver shot from the other, solidified, and plunged directly into the grey wolf’s heart.

Nathan emitted a strangled cry of pain as the silver poisoned him and then lay still, quiet and lifeless as the wolf slowly returned into human form.

Sansé and Danieel padded over to Deelinul and nosed him in a futile attempt to make him move. Then they sat and, in unison, howled their grief until it echoed off the same mountains over which hung the innocently shining moon.

Cam raced into the hut, accompanied by Nathan’s wife, who screamed and ran directly back out again. Stopping by Menw, Cam stared at Deelinul’s ravaged form. “I-I felt it, but…” he closed his mouth and looked wordlessly at Menu, tears standing helplessly in his eyes.

“We got Nathan,” Menw said quietly. But Nathan got Deelinul.”

Cam’s expression changed into one of sick knowledge. “We have to…”

Menw nodded.

Cam walked over to Deelinul’s corpse and, ignoring the blood, felt around his neck, lifted something over his head and stepped back again, holding it  tightly in one hand. “Sansé…Danieel…”

Both wolves looked at him mutely and then padded out of the hut without looking back.

When Menw and Cam emerged, moments later, they were nowhere to be seen.

“Where did they go?” asked Menw.

Cam shrugged. “Wherever they need to. Let them be.”

Menw nodded. “Are you ready?”

Cam shook his head. “No. Never. But do it anyway.”

Menw raised both his hands and a jet of flame shot from them into the middle of the hut. In seconds, the heat from the blaze forced Menw and Cam to move back into the forest.

“The town’ll be here soon,” Cam said softly, after a few minutes. “Trying to damp the flames.”

“The fire won’t be put out until everything is gone,” Menw told him.

Cam nodded. He held up the hand that had been clasped so tightly and opened it. He held two small iron medallions, bound together with a length of cord. The visible one showed a tree and a small menagerie of animals engraved onto the metal with some Druidic words underneath. He then turned it over, to see the other one underneath, on which was a longbow held by an elf, and some elvish words. “He showed me this once,” Cam explained. “The words on this side are from his family, they proclaim him an elvish warrior of light. The other side,” he turned it again, “Is from the Druidic circle he was a part of. They proclaim him an Druidic warrior of light. He brought the two tribes together by being part of them both, and when he left to join us they presented him with these, so he would never forget his homes and his loved ones. He asked me once to return it to both of them if anything happened to him.”

Menw nodded. “Will Sansé and Danieel want to go with you, do you think?”

Cam nodded. “I think in time, they would, but I have no desire to wait and find out. I will leave now. I have no possessions to speak of, they will do fine to be left in your care. Sansé and Danieel will follow me if they wish. As for you…?”

Menw placed a hand on Cam’s arm. “I can never decide whether to call you my son or my brother. You are both. You are my friend and my partner. But I must stay here. This, for now at least, is my town, and I must protect it from an oncoming storm.”

Cam nodded. “I understand. I’ll return here when I can. If you are still here, I will join you again. If not, well, fate will have its say,” he held out his arm and Menw clasped it, wrist to wrist, before pulling him into a warm hug.

“Safe journeys, Cam. Don’t forget we want you back again,” Menw said as Cam turned and began to walk away into the forest.

“And you, old friend. We will meet again, here or elsewhere.”

And with the two medallions in his pocket, with fresh tears drying on his cheeks and a mind full of grief, Camlaidh walked into the forest and did not look back.


For more of the Shadow Walkers, click here!
For more short stories, click here!