The wolf was still following her, the distance between them slowly closing. The wolf was large for it was no ordinary wolf. It was a direwolf, one of the most fearsome creatures the forest and mountains had to offer. It was possessed of an uncanny gaze, its bright blue eyes following her every move. Other than the intensity of its stare the wild creature made no aggressive motions, no teeth bared or ears back and no menacing growl. It was almost completely silent except for the soft pad of its feet on the forest floor.
Could this direwolf not be of the mortal realm? Was it perhaps a harbinger of the gods? A wraithe sent to punish her?
Meruself palmed the dagger from her belt. How meager it felt, lacking of any magical enchantments or otherworldly powers, yet should she have to defend her life against gnashing teeth it would have to be enough. Meruself had known she risked the anger of the Norns if she went against their wishes and meddled in the affairs of mortals. Yet she had done it anyway. Disobedience was disobedience. The reason did not matter. It seemed she had not learned to honor the Norns after all. With the decision to embark on this quest of folly she flaunted her defiance in the faces of the Nornir. What could she expect if not punishment? What meaning did her atonement have if she continually defied the Mother Norns?
Meruself raised her eyes to the sky and the roiling pewter grey storm clouds that filled it. Even though she could not see it she knew that the sun was at its highest point in the heavens. This foul darkness was as unnatural as it was unwelcome and could only mean one thing. The Norns were angry. Hella Wood was a Feldark forest, its atmosphere affected and determined by the will and whims, consciousness and emotions of the ruling gods and goddesses. The bright dawn had changed so quickly to a vexed and turbid grey that pitched the enchanted forest into an eerie gloaming. Now caught under the forbidding canopy of hushed leaves, foreboding seeped into Meruself’s skin. The familiar boughs and reassuring trunks of old growth trees now held threat and condemnation, and it left her feeling as uneasy as did the presence of the direwolf.
Yet despite the evidence that her journey was Felcast, and the as yet unknown intention and presence of the formidable and large direwolf, Meruself resolved to carry on. She couldn’t let anything deter her from her purpose. Defiance sprang to life inside her. If the gods were against her so be it. Come what may she would weather it, and overcome it. Or die. There was always that option, though one she wouldn’t dwell on.
Of a sudden, the weary sadness pressed down on her again; it was her most constant and closest companion. It never left her and the keen ache she felt deep in her chest and soul reminded her everyday of her shame. Trying to change the course of fate for the better gave her something more than emptiness. The chance to set something right gave her something more than shame to hold onto.
She was drawn back from the mists of faded memory by the sound of the direwolf’s padded feet galloping towards her. Had the time come to meet her fate? A deep and menacing rumble of a growl assaulted Meruself’s ears. She turned swiftly, the dagger raised high in the air ready to strike death to her foe — only to have the great wolf soar past her, knocking her roughly to the ground.
Meruself lay on the hard earth, the wind knocked out of her, the dagger gone from her shaking fingers. She looked to her right and saw the silver flash of the dagger blade amongst the brambles and bushes on the side of the path and scrambled towards it. Before she could seize its handle the direwolf was on her again, all heat and blood and flying fur. Once more she was flattened onto the ground, this time upon her stomach, the taste of dirt and moss and dead leaves in her mouth. She had lost sight of the dagger so she looked for a large rock or a fallen branch sturdy enough to act as a club. She kept waiting to feel long fangs sink their way into her neck even as she struggled to turn around and get the direwolf within her line of sight.
She turned her head to look behind her and her wide violet eyes took in the savage tableau unfolding in a violent fury before her. Taking place beneath the cool indifference of the trees was the epic struggle of death wanting to forever extinguish life. It was a fight so lethal that the only outcome could be death for either the great direwolf or the monstrous daemon. Her eyes locked on the death match, slow and surprised realization flooded Meruself’s mind. Despite the deadly clash between two evenly matched foes, the daemon’s sole intent it seemed was getting to her. Even as it fought the direwolf with tooth and claws, the devil’s large red eyes were fastened upon her. The direwolf had placed its body between her and the daemon and to Meruself’s disbelief and simultaneous relief she realized that the direwolf was not her enemy. It was defending her. Perhaps unto death for the daemon was a vicious leviathan.
On her knees, Meruself searched the ground with her hands, looking for the dagger and careful to keep her eyes on the battle. The direwolf yelped and leaped backwards, away from the deadly claws and mouth of the daemon when it struck a blow to the direwolf’s shoulder. The daemon didn’t press its attack on the direwolf, instead it moved towards Meruself with a dogged determination, making the ground shake with the weight of its muscled bulk. In that moment Meruself’s hands felt the sharp edge of the dagger and she looked down and clutched its hilt and raised the blade against her adversary, ready to defend herself.
A flash of golden fur obscured her view of the monster as the direwolf launched its sinewy body at the leviathan with a force so powerful it knocked the daemon to ground. The daemon fell on its back, its arms flailing wildly and teeth gnashing, looking for purchase on its deadly opponent and failing to find any place to grip onto. The direwolf seemed to grow even larger right before Meruself’s fascinated and horrified gaze, and with a vicious snarl and a flash of dangerous fangs the direwolf sank its teeth into the flesh of the daemon’s neck. The direwolf’s mouth clamped down hard, sinking its incisors even further into the throat of the daemon. The daemon screamed and it was a howl that pierced Meruself’s ears and hurt her head. It tried in vain to pull the direwolf off and away from its vulnerable throat but to no avail. Before long the creature was dead, its black blood staining the mouth and fur of the direwolf and seeping into the moss and leaf covered ground, its ink dark miasma polluting the air.
In fascination Meruself watched as the direwolf’s form began to shrink and return to its normal size. It was panting, its rib cage moving in and out quickly, its tongue hanging out of its mouth. It lowered its head and held Meruself’s gaze, taking tentative steps towards her, its tail wagging. When it stood in front of her, its muzzle close enough to touch, Meruself dropped the dagger and knelt before the animal that had protected her so fiercely and without cause. She reached out hesitant fingers and to her pleasure the direwolf pushed its noble head against her hand, inviting contact. Meruself stroked the warmth of its soft fur, and it evoked a strange sense of recognition within her. A feeling of heartfelt emotion filled her chest and throat, unexpectedly warming her and making her eyes smart with the pinch of unshed tears. Her hands probed the serrated flesh created by the daemon’s claws, surprised to discover the wound was already healing. She rubbed the direwolf’s ears and lifted its head so she could meet the shining fierce blue of its eyes. Perhaps this direwolf was no harbinger of death after all. Perhaps this direwolf was an augur of blessing.
Ruthlessly Meruself crushed the inkling of that thought. Only time would tell what the Norns had in store for her and whether or not her quest was Felcast or sanctified by the Mother Norns. Meruself would have to wait patiently for her path to be revealed. For now, the only thing Meruself knew for certain was that this direwolf had been chosen and chose to save her.
“The enemy of my enemy…thank you, wolf. Thank you, for saving my life.”
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