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Of Darkness and Moonlight

This is another story about Werdeth. It represents about the third iteration of his abilities. It was written mainly as a way of exploring what sort of supernatural powers I would want (if supernatural powers were available), and if I ever do manage to sit down and write a Werdeth book, the events of this story won't be part of it. Still, it's kind of fun - and it's an interesting piece of juvenalia.

It was dark when he came to her window, attracted by the light of the candles at her desk. She glimpsed him briefly perched in the branches of the tree outside her second floor window, when she rose to refill her glass of water, and his eyes glittered, burning in the light of the candles. He was gone when she returned, but she made a note about him in her journal before retiring into her bed.

She was a curious young woman, who had come from the city to live with her uncle, following the death of both her parents in an auto accident. The neighbors thought her odd, but attributed the dreamy quality of her looks and actions to the recent loss of her family. In truth, however she had been quiet and indrawn since childhood, her thoughts and dreams and emotions always contained within her, and she was possessed of a kind of quiet strength, which most people never noticed. Her neighbors, the folk of the small town in which her uncle lived, did notice her, despite her apparent shyness: they commented to each other on the curious magnetism which she occasionally exhibited, the force of personality which she sometimes brought to bear on others, often almost by accident. The intensity of her gaze, when she lifted it from the ground to focus it on some one or thing, had an almost hypnotic quality to it.

She had done very well in school, combining intelligence and cleverness with a kind of dry wit which her teachers enjoyed; and she had looked forward to college as a further source of intellectual stimulation. She had only a few close friends, but was reasonably welcome in almost any social circle she cared to visit; however, by the same token she had never felt especially a part of any such group. Her friends – her close friends – were drawn from the loners and outcasts of the school, and during lunch they would sit by themselves away from the others, discussing their own curious and arcane interests.

She had left them behind in her move out of the city, and had not really troubled to make friends among her new classmates. She ate by herself, and her thoughts were her own. She read much, and thought much, and was largely happy with this state of affairs. When school was ended each day, she walked back to her uncle's house by herself.
Her uncle was a pleasant man, unwilling to intrude on her privacy or violate her need for space. He showed her the paths that led through the forest around the town, and turned her loose to explore them; sometimes, on weekends, he drove her out to the national park, where she would explore while he finished up his paper work. (He was a geology professor, and when he had no work to finish and no papers to grade he would explore with her, pointing out the reasons why the landscape held the shape it did.)

His nightly visits continued for several weeks, though she pretended never to notice him. Once she left her window open when she went to bed, and awoke briefly to see the dark shape lurking, crouched on the edge of the window. In the morning there were claw marks on the window ledge, and she made a note of this also.

She had thought at first that he might be one of the local boys, from either the college or her high school; the thought of one such watching her had not disturbed her unduly. But as the first week passed, the light from the candles had on two occasions caught his eyes, making them shine like a cat's. Likewise, by the second such occasion she was convinced that the pupils were slit vertically, also like a cat's.

She wondered if perhaps some local animal might be visiting her then, for some unknowable reason of its own, but her uncle assured her that there were no local animals that large, with the exception of a couple of the neighborhood dogs. Had she told him then where she thought she had glimpsed such a creature, he might have waited up with her to see it; but she did not, so he supposed that it had been while walking in the woods. Meanwhile, she looked up Cats in an encyclopedia, and discovered that no known species of great cat had that sort of eyes, which belonged only to the smaller variety.

It crossed her mind then that someone might be transforming him or herself into a large animal, in defiance of natural law and modern science; for she was dreamy, and there was room for magic in her inner world. However, there were other possible explanations, and she also wondered if perhaps this were some new species, some rare species, or some new mutation of a species. Then too, some of her reading had included science fiction; and she wondered if perhaps this were a genetically engineered creature, escaped from some laboratory somewhere.

At the end of the second week, she took some hamburger from the refrigerator, and used an old broomstick to set it out on the tree, on a branch near where the beast often sat. She had considered using a ladder, but feared that her scent would alarm the creature. She left the window open as she wrote, and after a time she extinguished both candles and sat looking out the window and into the darkness.

As her eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, she began to make out his shape. Then, as if sensing her desire, the beast moved out along the branch, nearing her window, and paused with its right shoulder exposed in the moonlight. She caught a glimpse of black fur, striped with silver; of a single paw, claws curled around the branch; and of a feline head, delicately boned, its whiskers twitching as it sniffed the air.

Then her uncle knocked on the door behind her, and she turned to look at the sudden distraction, and when she glanced back the creature was gone.

* * *

He had been drawn by the light in her window, for she used candles in world powered by electricity. He had seen her there, writing, as he himself had often done, and sensed a kind of kinship with her. He had often passed through the town at night, looking in on a world he had no place in, and reminding himself of his solitude. Had he ever found a pack to hunt with, he might never have returned, even after he glimpsed her.

* * *

Mike, one of the downstairs lodgers, was cooking chicken for a couple of his guests, and had sent her uncle to ask if she was hungry. She found that she was, and went downstairs to eat. There was no sign of the creature when she returned to her bed that night.

She put some hamburger out for several days after that, but each night it remained uneaten, despite the beast's constant presence. Finally, she gave up on the meat, and instead put out both candles early and sat on the ledge of her open window. She had only a short wait, but she never saw it arrive.

Something distracted her she could never remember what, afterwards; she just seemed to drift off into her thoughts and then there was a sensation like awakening from a dream, when it takes a minute for reality to separate itself from unreality, and the creature was sitting on a limb, not ten feet away, staring at her.

She looked at it for a moment, startled; then she frowned slightly, studying it, following the delicate curve of the skull down into the lithely muscular shoulders, the graceful curve of its back, to where the tail twitched slightly, back and forth. It was definitely some sort of cat, black furred, but with a curious silver striping running through it, and it gave an impression of fluid, graceful power.

She paused then, drawing back into her room, and stood waiting just inside the window.

"Can you understand me?" she asked. "Come inside."

There came again the sudden moment of distraction, the blurring of her mind, and this time she realized that it was deliberate, that the beast was somehow doing this to her. When she looked again, she saw that the creature had crossed to her window ledge, and now gripped the sill with fingers that were almost human, despite the fur covering them and claws at their tips. Its build had altered dramatically: it had become humanoid, with broad shoulders and narrow hips; yet it retained the feline skull, the fur, and the curious, curious striping pattern. Its tail still flicked back forth behind it. Then too, it retained its small, almost delicate build, its lean feline grace, and the impression of lithe, formidable power. She could also now see (she blushed slightly) that it was male.

It crossed the floor silently, until it stood before her. It was only barely larger than she herself was, and it had a strange, almost musky odor about it. It occurred to her that she ought to be frightened, but her fascination overruled all fear. It reached up slowly, its movements precise and careful, and traced the line of her jaw with one clawed finger. Then it backed away, pausing uncertainly at the window for a moment. There came another moment of distraction, and he was gone.

He did not enter her room again, though occasionally he would move to her window sill. After a week of this, she went outside to wait for him, and he surprised her by padding up on all fours, and taking a bit of the meat she offered him. She asked again if he could understand her, but he did not answer.

It was perhaps a week later when Tim asked her out. He was from the college, charming and persuasive and handsome. He was also athletic, friendly, and warmly attentive, and only a couple of years older than she was. Though she did not know it, his attentions made her the envy of a number of her classmates.

He took her out to eat that Friday night, then back to his dormitory to watch a movie. He offered to mix her a drink, but she refused; and after the movie was over, he walked her home. she made a brief note of the evening in her journal, and left the window open when she went to bed. She dreamed that night that the beast had entered the room, had stroked her cheek with the back of his hand; in the morning, she wasn't sure.

* * *

As he made his way carefully back to his lair, he noted that the pack had expanded their territory again. This was of no real interest to him, so long as they tolerated his presence within their realm, but he also knew that the same reasons which were likely to cause such expansion were also likely to make them less tolerant of his intrusions. He slowed, extending his senses as he moved, but they were nowhere nearby. He passed into the cave without disturbing the bats, and settled into one of the rearmost chambers. His breath steamed in the chill air of the cave, but his fur kept him warm. Tired, he curled up on the floor and slept.

* * *

Tim took her out again the next Friday, and again that Saturday. On Monday, a rose was waiting for her when she arrived home from school. Tim stopped by to visit on Tuesday, and again on Thursday. He was always polite, always listened to her and encouraged her to speak. She was flattered by his interest, though she felt he had little in common with her.

Then, on Friday, he drove her out into the woods, following one of the fire lanes until it ended. They walked from there to the edge of the cliff, and sat down to watch the sun set. When the sun had sunk below the horizon and its fire touched only the tips of the trees around them, he leaned over to kiss her. She yielded, enjoying it at first; but she became alarmed when he began trying to undress her. He ignored her when she told him to stop, and continued working at her belt. She screamed, though they were too far from the town for anyone to hear. He had her pinned, and held her there with his weight as he worked to undo her clothing. She began to struggle silently.

Then, as he tried to wrench her jeans down, he saw her face relax. She was looking over his shoulder, eyes wide; then her expression hardened, and she smiled at him, a chilling, predatory grin. Startled, he paused.

The beast had come; she realized suddenly that it had probably been watching them all along. She saw it drop from the trees, then rise up humanoid behind Tim, all delicate grace and silence. She felt herself relax, suddenly secure; then the beast transformed again.

It went from a slim, small build to something much larger, massive; she saw the black and silver fur turn a dark red, half copper, half blood in color; she saw him change from five foot eight to eight foot six; she saw his mass virtually double, as his slender form became huge, thick and broad and layered in muscle; she saw the size of his claws and teeth. Yet the change took barely an instant; it happened so fast that she felt the rush of air from it on her cheek. When the beast grabbed Tim, lifting him off of her by the throat, she saw that its fingers met on the other side of his neck. It held him there, choking and gasping, two feet above the ground; it held him there with one hand, while it pulled the other back, claws out. In another moment it would have driven its fingers and perhaps it hand as well clear through him.

"Don't!" she gasped, and the beast turned to look at her quizzically. Tim, apparently forgotten by the beast for a moment, was rapidly turning blue from lack of oxygen; his struggles were getting weaker.

"Don't," she repeated more softly, regaining her feet. The beast studied her indifferently; then, with a casual gesture, flung Tim a dozen feet away. He landed on his back, gasping in air, then turned away and vomited. She approached the beast carefully, and he studied the determination in her features. She was dark skinned and black haired, with fine, high cheekbones, and there was a murderous look in her eyes.

"I want him," she said. "He's mine."

The beast seemed hesitant, his hands flexing with thwarted rage, a small growl rising in his chest. Ignoring him, she went to Tim, removing a small knife from the pocket of her jeans. He started to struggle, but the beast grabbed his hands and lifted him into the air. At her direction, the beast carried him into the forest, where she removed his belt ignoring the smell and the stain in his pants and used it to tie his hands together, behind him, on the opposite side of a tree. Desperately, eyes glazed, he tried to kick at her, so she struck him in the crotch. He gagged, tried to double over.

She almost killed him. She almost took the knife and drove it into him, but she thought about it too long. Instead, she took the knife and used the point to carve an "R" on his forehead, watching with clinical detachment as the blood ran down his face. Then, just to make sure, she opened his shirt and carved "RAPIST" on his chest. Then she slapped him, hard, and wiped the blood from his eyes. He looked up at her, eyes pleading.

"I should kill you," she said calmly. The beast was nowhere in sight. "Or perhaps cut your dick off." She studied him. Then she turned away, and left him there. On the way back, she knifed one of his tires in a fit of pique; thirty feet down the road, she was overcome by a fit of shaking, and dropped to her knees in the roadway.

The beast, now returned to his smaller, more delicate form, emerged from the trees as she lay there. She was shivering uncontrollably, and he picked her up and began to carry her back. It was only later that she realized that, despite his diminutive form, his grip was like steel. He carried her as if she weighed nothing, moving lightly and silently through the forest. Her shivering began to subside, and by the time they entered the town she could walk again.

He left her at the edge of town, vanishing like smoke among the trees.

* * *

Tim struggled for almost two hours before he worked loose from the tree. The blood on his forehead had dried to a thick brown crust, the letters in his skin had all scabbed over, and the stain in his pants was starting to dry. He staggered out to the car, picking his way by the dim light of a sickle moon, and didn't realize his tire was flat until he'd driven a hundred yards. The prospect of changing it nearly defeated him, but he managed it in an exhausted, terrified delirium.

Chief among his fears was that the monster, whatever it had been, might return, and finish what it had started. He kept looking around him as he worked, but he was half blind in the darkness and could see nothing. When he had finished, he climbed back into the blazer and drove as fast as he dared back towards town.

As he emerged from the trees, another fear began to creep over him. With dawning certainty, he realized that she would doubtless go to the police about him; they might be looking for him already. And he certainly couldn't go to the health center with "Rapist" carved on his chest. Still driving too fast, he turned onto the highway out of town, heading down the mountain to one of the other nearby hospitals.

The road twisted and turned as it went down the mountain, and he took the curves as fast as he dared, trying to blot out the memory of that creature with speed and concentration. Then, with sudden and unaccountable certainty, he knew that he was being watched. It was out there, somewhere, watching him run, and it wanted him. Suddenly frightened, he sped up a bit more, until his tires squealed going around the corners, and he was in danger of sliding sideways off the road.

Slowly, the feeling passed. He began to wonder if he had escaped; then he began to wonder if he had imagined it. It was ridiculous, after all. No creature could keep up with a moving car, not for any length of time. Not even something like that. He shuddered at the memory.

Then he saw a shadow detach itself from the trees ahead, leaping towards him in a graceful arc. He tried to swerve, but the creature landed on the hood, snarling at him. He could feel its malice. It leapt away again almost immediately, as the car turned sideways and over, began rolling downhill at seventy miles per hour.

The beast watched with satisfaction as the car smashed into the trees and began to burn. It exploded an instant later, scattering fire among the trees, and an instant's concern touched the beast. He did not want the woods to burn.

But the leaves were still wet from a recent rain, and the fire did not seem to be spreading. Another car, coming up the mountain, slowed as it passed the wreckage; then it sped away. A few minutes later, he heard the approaching sirens. Confident of their ability to deal with it, he departed.

* * *

When she reached her uncle's house, she drew a hot bath and settled into it, letting her body relax. The evening's tensions faded slightly, and exhaustion began to seep in. Rising, she dried herself and returned to her room. The rush of events returned to her as she sought to capture its quality in her journal, but faded as she prepared for sleep.

Her uncle asked her about Tim the next day, and explained that he had been killed in a wreck while driving down the mountain. There was no evidence of drinking, though he had clearly been speeding. She shook her head and did her best to look stunned; her uncle, sympathetic to the loss of her parents, changed the subject. She had never once considered going to the police; nor did it occur to her that the beast might have had any connection with the accident.

When the beast came to her window that night she thanked him, for she was certain now that he understood her words. She began to wear black after that, and quit tying her hair back.

The townspeople attributed it to grief, thinking that she was finally adjusting to the loss of her parents by mourning them. She became even more quiet and indrawn, and began to study self defense. At the same time, however, she became heavily involved in the local outing club, going on hikes and into caves, learning to climb rocks and guide a canoe. She took up kayaking as well, and the enthusiasm with which she threw herself at these activities astonished everyone. Yet she made no real friends, preferring to read as she rode in the Outing Club van. Her grades in school remained good, though she put no real effort into them, but she made no real friends there, either.

Then one night she looked up from her journal to see the beast standing behind her, slightly off to one side, and looking down at the journal. She pushed her chair back and rose, and he moved past her, one finger absently stroking the edge of the paper as he studied the book. He moved away from it, looked again into her eyes. Then he took a deep breath and released it, and the change began, his flesh melting and flowing like wax in a flame. The fur melted away, and the skull changed its shape; the claws and tail were absorbed, and the pupils of his eyes became round. He stood before her, naked, but completely human to all appearances. His skin was as dark as hers, but where her hair was black, his was a dark, dark brown, tinged with auburn in the candlelight. Dark eyes burned into hers, and she gasped.

She stared at him for a long, long time. Magic, she thought, has to be. Nothing else would work, to exist in such defiance of natural laws. The evidence was before her, irrefutable, the thing she had always longed for but never dared to believe in.

"Do you speak, then?" she asked finally.

"I... Can," he replied slowly. "It has been... A long, long time."

She studied him for a time, aghast at this latest transformation. Then she crossed to her closet and fetched him a robe.

"In case my uncle comes up."

"He'll never see me," he replied, ignoring the robe. His eyes followed her around the room, studying her slim, elfin figure. "May I read your journal?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Not yet, please. I... It's very personal."

He nodded, and she noticed suddenly that his hand was trembling. He was scared, she realized, and the realization shocked her. Then she realized that she too was shaking, was scared no, terrified. But it was he who had come to her, who had mastered his fear and entered her world, though he trembled on the verge of flight even now.

"You... Must have questions..." he said, studying her.

"They'll wait," she said then. "Let me get you some clothing. I'll bring it to you, out on the north point, at darkfall."
He nodded again, and she admired his self control. "Until then," he said. There was a momentary blurring of her mind, and he was gone again. She shook her head, wishing she could duplicate that trick.

* * *

When she met him at the edge of the cliff, darkness was almost upon them. She noted with pleasure that he could move around in the daylight, though little of it remained. He emerged from the trees the moment she arrived, and she handed him the bundle of clothing that she had purchased that afternoon at an army surplus store. He accepted the clothing and dressed himself, then moved off into the trees. He returned with a package, a pair of old notebooks.

"It's my turn," he said, offering the books to her. "Take these, read them. I'll come to you again when you're finished."

"What are they?"

"My journals. I buried them after the change. Read them, if you like. They'll tell you... What I was."

* * *

She read through the night, collapsing into bed shortly after dawn. She took them to school with her, compiling a brief list notes from them through the day. She napped through the afternoon, but rose in time for dinner. Later, she copied her notes into her journal, with a note to the effect that she intended to let him read them if he still wished. When he came in that night, she had the journal open still, though she was sitting in the dark. She gave it to him, and he departed with it. When she awoke the next morning it had been returned to her desk.

Over the next couple of weeks, she began to be seen around town with the dark haired young man. This attracted more attention than it might have, for two reasons: first was that no one knew the young man, or could recall having seen him before; the second was that because they spent no time with anyone else, and were only rarely glimpsed together, no one had the opportunity to question them. When pressed by the townspeople, she claimed that he was an art major from the college; when pressed by her uncle, she claimed that he was a local. She never brought him around or introduced him to anyone; however, he joined her for activities with the outing club, where he displayed an unnatural aptitude for almost any physical activity.

It was around this time when she invited him into her bed, explaining simply that she was curious about what sex was like. He had cocked his head to the side, thoughtfully, before explaining that he would not be bound to anyone or anything. She had nodded dismissively; she already knew that, and wanted nothing of the sort. Gently then, carefully, by slow degrees they became lovers.

Then, suddenly, he vanished. One night he simply failed to show up, and was not seen for over a week. She was sad at first, then worried; for there had been nothing to warn her of this turn of events. She considered going out into the woods to look for him, but it was raining constantly that week.

* * *

The storm came together around the town, dark and unnatural, and he knew that it was the pack's doing. Suspecting that they had finally tired of his presence, he kept to his den and did his hunting as close by as possible. The rains continued for most of a week before they came, however; they intended to wear him down before the attack.

A premonition awoke him, and he knew the time had come. He could feel them gathering around him, somewhere nearby. He heightened his senses, concentrating on his surroundings so that they couldn't take him by surprise, and he saw three of them as they emerged from the cover of the forest around him. With the instincts of pack hunters, they divided and approached him from three angles. He dared not turn and run, for fear they would catch him from behind, so he stood and waited for their rush.

The first two came in together, their timing perfect and thoughtless, a matter of pure instinct. He leapt and twisted, trying to come over them, and only one leapt to meet him. He transformed in midair, slammed into the other with the full mass of his largest form. They were small and light, and he felt its bones break when he landed atop it. The other two came at him simultaneously, one from ahead of him, the other from behind.

They were smaller and lighter than he was now, though they lacked the raw strength and power of his Rage form, and they were faster. If they got onto him, he would not be able to shake them off before their claws cut him to shreds. So he waited, controlling the urge to attack, until the one from ahead leapt.

He stepped into the path of its leap, one hand smashing out, and caught the creature by the throat. He felt the other one rake its claws down his back, opening deep wounds, but it lacked the strength and mass to move him. He twisted with his hands, trying to wrench the creature's head free, as the other one gouged his back.

Then the one he held transformed, growing as large as he and shaking free of his grip. He stumbled back, dropping into his smaller, four legged feline form. The change got him free of his second opponent, who landed lithely on its feet beside him. He leapt straight up then, as a blow from the massive one tore the ground beneath him, and he clawed at its eyes as he came down. It looked up at him just as he struck – a stroke of pure good luck, he knew – and staggered back with blood flowing from its eye sockets.

The smaller one leapt into him as he struck, and they struck the ground together, twisting and slashing at each other with the desperate speed of a catfight. He felt a deep gouge open in his left forelimb, another scrape down across the front of his chest, sliding off ribs. Then his opponent jumped back, barely dodging a swipe that would have spilled its guts. They circled, closing the distance between them; then his opponent leapt at him.

He came in under it, as low as he could manage, and caught hold of one ankle. With a snarl, he swung the creature into a nearby tree, then brought his free hand down, using his claws to hamstring the ankle he held. Its other foot came up, cutting deep into his thigh and brushing his face with its claws, but he kept his grip and flung the creature away. It rolled as it landed, tried to come up in a crouch, and he looked around for a weapon. Nothing presented itself, so he approached it cautiously. It crouched, supporting itself on one rear leg and both forelegs; then leapt at him, surprising him. It changed to a larger form in the air, intending to crush him, but he rolled aside and opened its belly with his claws. It struck him with one hand as its guts spilled forth; the blow hurled him twenty feet away.

He staggered to his feet as that beast collapsed; then broke off a large limb for the purposes of dispatching the one he had blinded. It spoke as he approached it, sensing his presence, it voice half a modulated growl from his throat, half an intrusion into his thoughts.

"You're a fool," it told him. "You think we don't know about her?"

Its flesh was tough, and it took him three blows to open its skull. The final blow split the log he had used. Moving quickly, he beheaded the corpses to prevent them from returning; then, numb with shock and fatigue, he leaned against a tree.

* * *

She was crossing the street when she saw him, a dark shadow beckoning from beside one of the dormitories. She had been looking for art supplies with one of the girls from her school, but excused herself and hurried across the street. The other girl hesitated for a moment, watching as she hurried into the shadows beside the building.

When she found him he lacked the strength to maintain or even resume a human form. While she had long since become accustomed to his bestial appearance, even made love to him in that form, she doubted that the townsfolk would feel the same. By the same token, she could hardly take him to the hospital; they'd sooner dissect him than mend him. He looked at her, whispered the name of one of the national parks. She nodded, and moved away.
Her schoolmate caught up with her as she hurried up the street, and asked what had happened. Barely slowing, she replied that a friend of hers was in trouble. The girl asked if she could help, but was refused. With a shrug, she slowed and dropped behind.

Her uncle was willing to let her borrow the car, so she threw a sleeping bag and his clothes in the back and drove back to him. She had worried that he would bleed on her uncle's car, but to her surprise his wounds had already closed over. She wondered again at his metabolism, given the incredible amounts of food he consumed, and wondered how quickly he might heal. The wounds were deep, and he had lost a great deal of blood, but he seemed to be recovering rapidly. She decided that if he survived the night, he would recover.

...Unless something unexpected happened to worsen his condition. As she drove them down the mountain, a fierce howl resounded, ringing in through the open windows and in their minds as well. The sound died slowly, many voices fading into one; the final voice held its cry for a long, long time.

"What was that?" she asked him.

"The alpha," he said softly.

"What?" she asked, not certain that she'd heard him clearly.

"Pack leader," he said then. "Drive quickly, they were well behind us. Probably just found the bodies." Fear had lent him new strength, and he straightened in the seat. "Three of them attacked me earlier. Population pressure, I assume. I killed them."

"So now the others are after us," she said.

He shook his head. "Doubtful. If we can stay clear of them for a time, they will likely forget."

He lapsed into silence again, sinking down in the seat beside her, his breathing ragged and uneven. She drove quickly, finding her way easily through the darkness, and parked the car a little ways up the road. He leaned heavily against he as they made their way into the woods, traveling until they were far enough in that they would not be disturbed.

"Should I build a fire?" she asked when they stopped.

He shrugged. "If they find us now we are dead in any case, and we need the warmth." In his natural, feline form, his throat was not suited to speech; instead, he shaped the thoughts and sent them to her directly.

She hesitated for a moment, then asked a thing which had been in her mind since they had met. "Can you make me as you are?"

He hesitated, then nodded. "If I have the strength, I can. But the change is... More than you realize, perhaps. It will give you a hunter's instincts... It will alter your body permanently, both in shape and in metabolism... It may alter your perceptions as well. You will no longer be truly human... On any level."

She nodded. "But I could defend you, then."

He shook his head. "Should the pack come for us, there is no way you can hold them off. But I will change you, if you wish... If I can. Because it might allow you to escape them."

He sat back, leaning against a tree, and took a deep breath. Still speaking with his mind, he continued: "But if you wish to remain at all human, and survive, then you should leave now, leave the state for a week or so."

Now she shook her head. "What humanity would I be leaving behind? My kinship to those narrow minded idiots at school? Or to the college students, perhaps? Ninety percent of them do nothing but study all week and drink all weekend, and the other ten percent are all identical in their individualism."

He chuckled, stopping quickly when the movement set fire to his wounds. Then he sobered again. "But you don't understand the scope of this power. The same dark flower that makes me a beast might make another a vampire, or a ghost, or a warlock. It is a matter of personal inclination and the whims of the power, how it transforms a person."

"But it shapes itself to your desires," she said.

"Somewhat. But there is no way to predict what the end result will be..."

"You were like me, once – I’ve read your journals, and I know – and you enjoy your current condition."

"It is not so simple. In becoming what I am, I lost many of the things which made me desire to be so. I have changed to such an extent that I no longer really recall the acute desire that brought me to these changes. If I change you, you will no longer be the person you are now."

She shrugged. Since she could not bring herself to conceive of such a change on anything more than an intellectual level, she chose to ignore it as a consideration. "If you can effect the change, I am ready for it."

With a sudden, brisk nod he forced himself to his feet. She caught a sudden flare within his eyes, like firelight reflected save that they had no fire to reflect. Then his body flickered and began to burn, a dark cool flame that enveloped him and swirled around him, caressing him. Bestial, half hidden by the shadowy pyre, he offered her his hand in an almost courtly gesture, and she took it.

She felt the flames touch her, cool and velvety, questing exploring. They permeated her body first, feeling their way through her and out to her extremities, bringing with them a sense of incredible vitality and power; then she became aware of their presence within her mind, as the power began to explore her sense of self. Suddenly, she felt it take root, there in the dark center of herself, like a darkly burning flower; it held her insulated as her body metamorphosed, so that she felt no pain in being reconfigured.

Like his, hers was a bestial form, slender and deceptively delicate in appearance. She continued to burn, the change running its course, spreading from muscle and bone into the more subtle systems of her body: immune system, metabolism, endocrine system, nervous system... As she awakened to her new senses, she marveled at their clarity and sensitivity, marveled too at the easy strength and speed of her body. Consumed by the flames, her clothing fell away from her, leaving keys and knife and lighter in a pile at her feet.

He released his own flames the moment she started to burn, withdrawing his consciousness into his own body. A wave of dizziness swept over him, accompanied by a sense of colossal exertion. The fire had taken to her more readily than to anyone he had ever seen or heard tell of, and still he was near ready to pass out with the effort of sharing them with her. Slowly, he sank to his knees, wondering if he had exhausted the energy he needed for healing himself. If so, he would die shortly.

He vowed, if he lived, to curb such arrogant impetuousity in the future. With a touch more caution, he thought, he might extend his lifespan indefinitely. He knew then that his thinking was not normal, there on the fringes of shock, in the midst of an utter, mind numbing exhaustion, with his blood still leaking from his wounds. He realized that he had fallen from a kneeling position, and was now lying on his side among the pine needles. A cool darkness, not unlike the Power itself, was gathering at the edges of his vision and feeling its way inwards...

With a sudden touch of concern, she crouched beside him. His breathing was shallow, his wounds bleeding afresh. His flesh was feverish to her touch, and she wondered if he might be dying. Concern and intuition came together suddenly, and she placed her hands on him, calling the power from within her and pouring it into him, seeking to use her own fresh energies to heal him. She drew the edges of his wounds together and set them to healing, brought his temperature down and fed him energy. When she had done all she could, she staggered back, suddenly exhausted herself. Then, forcing herself to straighten, she set off into the woods in search of firewood and meat.

She brought down a young deer and carried it back, picking up dead branches on the way. She fed him blood and fat from the kill, to stimulate his metabolism and give his body some nutrients to work with; then she ate of the meat. When she had the fire going, she went out in search of more wood, returning quickly with an adequate supply. The setting sun had darkened the forest, but her eyes pierced the gloom easily. With a little effort, she found that she could see the heat emanations of the animals around her, which would allow her to hunt without any great effort. They had plenty of food for the moment, so she ignored the creatures and concentrated on gathering wood.

Her new body fascinated her: The toughness of the flesh, the impossible speed and lightness with which she could move, the silvery fur that covered her. Strength and flexibility astounded her, and she stared for an hour at the short claws that tipped her reworked fingers. She flexed her hands and arms, watching the play of inhuman muscles across alien bones, beneath her fur and skin. She tested her senses, measuring them against the limits of her remembered humanity, and was delighted. She hunted, she slept, she prowled; and all the while she kept watch over him as he healed.

He slept for three days and awoke weak and drained. She continued to feed him, and he recovered by degrees. Stubbornly, he insisted on moving the third time he awoke, but dizziness forced him to his knees. He had come very close to dying, and they both knew it. He had gone beyond the point where he could draw upon the power to heal him; his body must heal itself, and his power recover to some extent before he could employ it again. All of his meager energies were being diverted for the simple purposes of keeping him alive.

By the end of the second week he was mobile again, and impatient with his recovery. They returned to the car, and then to the town, after he had shown her how to assume a human aspect. She learned quickly, and could doubtless have managed the change without his instruction. They left the car at her uncle's house, and crossed the town quickly to enter the woods.

The Alpha was waiting for them, with the pack spread out behind her. She approached them, tall and pale and undead, and studied him. For a moment she started to ask about his companion, but decided instead to pursue her original inquiries.

"You killed three of us," she said. It was neither question nor accusation, but mere statement of fact.

He waited. She studied him.

"You did not take their power," she observed.

He shook his head. "It was a matter of survival, not advancement. Only survival."

She nodded, and changed questions. "You have made your friend as we are. When?"

"A week ago."

"While wounded?" for the first time she sounded startled.

He nodded again, a terrible indifference in his eyes.

"It was easy," he said. "She was perfect for it."

"Since you defeated the three of them, you may have their place in our pack." Her eyes shifted, then settled back on his. "There is room for your companion as well."

"I would end up fighting you for mastery," he replied. His tone was matter of fact, as if such a confrontation were inevitable. "Such strife is something I do not desire. I must refuse."

She nodded, then. "There will be no retaliation for the deaths you gave. You may remain here as solitary predators, so long as you do not form a pack of your own."

"I understand," he said. They turned away from each other then, the Alpha returning to the pack, he to her. The forest was silent around them for a time; then, one small movement at a time, its sounds returned.

* * *

For a time she considered returning to her uncle to try and explain, but she did not know what to tell him. She had never been prone to lying, and in the end she said nothing. She had abandoned the human world in abandoning her humanity, and wanted no further commerce with it. The wilderness was her home now, as it was for him, in all its beauty and its savagery, and she was eager to explore it.