“I told you I was right! Jasper, you shoulda seen him.”
“Bwhahaha, it was great. He laid a whoopin’ on that monster.”
The voices slammed into Landon’s mind as the darkness receded. At first he was reluctant to come forward out of his dreams. There was only pain and he wasn’t eager to meet with it, but the pain was relentless and it prevents him from going back down. He groaned and tried to move, managed only to roll on his side and flop over.
“Woah, cool it, dog boy,” Milo’s voice cut into his thoughts. “Might wanna take things a little slow. The first change is always the hardest.”
“First change?” Jasper said. “I would hardly call this a change? He’s… he’s stuck.”
“It’s probably because he’s mostly human. I’ve never seen it last this long.”
Change? Stuck? What were they talking about? He opened his eyes slowly, the world swimming into focus. The faces of Milo, Kite, and Jasper hovered over him. Beyond he could make out gray stone walls turned red by some sort of soft torchlight.
He sat up slowly, his head swimming with the action. He pressed a hand to his face. “What happened? Where are we?”
“What happened?” Milo all but shouted. “What happened is you took on a Canis. You seriously ripped into him. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never even had the guts to do something like that.” Milo’s hand slammed into Landon’s back nearly knocking him over.
“Why do I hurt all over?”
“Uhh, well, ya still lost man and uhh… well…”
He looked at Milo who was suddenly looking away. He turned to Kite and Jasper, but they too seemed to be finding the walls a little more interesting. Kite then held up her hand and pointed at it. It took him a moment to realize that she was indicating for him to stare at his own.
His breath caught in his throat. His fingernails had become much more elongated and ended in tips. He gasped and looked down at his feet that were bare except for the light covering of blue-gray fur. His toenails were also claws.
He reached up to his mouth feeling something strange about it. He opened up and reached a finger in and touched some of his teeth. His canine teeth had literally become canine teeth! They were sharp and pointed. His hands flew up to his ears feeling something strange about them. He couldn’t find them where they were supposed to be in his blond locks, but instead he felt two triangular furry shapes on the top of his head and groaned when they moved.
Milo clamped a hand over his mouth a small chuckle sneaking through. “Dude, just wait until you feel your butt.”
Landon reached a shaky hand around and felt back there. There was just the smallest brush of fur and he knew… “I have a tail!” he screeched.
He jumped up, his mind suddenly a white slate. He scampered backwards until his back hit a wall. Kite and her friends started to approach him but he held a hand out. “Don’t you dare come any closer! What the heck have you done to me?!”
Kite rolled her eyes and folded her arms. “We didn’t do anything to you, dog brains. I told you. You’re part wolf. You’re one of us. You’re a shape shifter from the Wolf tribe.”
“This is a sick joke! Change me back!”
She closed the distance between them getting nearly into his face. “I can’t change you back. It’s not a joke. You’re a shape shifter. You’re going to have to figure it out all on your own.”
His legs gave out from under him and he slid down the wall collapsing on the floor. He grabbed his hood and pulled up over his head. “This can’t be happening. This is some nightmare. Why did this happen to me?”
“You had your first change. You changed to try to protect us. It was really rather admirable. I woke up and saw the whole thing. You rushed that beast, transforming, and attacked it, biting and clawing at it. You were like a wild animal,” she said with a giggle. “A shame you didn’t fully transform. You had that Canis bleeding. And you’re just a pup, too.” She did a full twirl on her heel. “The Wolf tribe really was epic! Aww, I’m so jealous. I thought Tigers were the fighters, but I’m so clearly mistaken. Not even Milo would have been a match for that.”
“Hey!” Milo shouted a protest.
“I don’t care about any of that!” Landon shouted, slamming a hand down on the floor. “Just tell me how to change back.”
“Like I already told you, dog brain, I can’t. You have to figure it out. Normally for first timers it wears off on its own until we figure out how to control it.”
He stared down at his hands as if they might change any second. “How long does it take?”
“Normally? Maybe an hour.”
“How long as it been?”
He shouted in frustration, jumping up off the floor. “Why am I different?” he roared at her.
“I don’t know. Probably because you’re part human. It might be harder than normal for you. Or maybe Wolves always had a hard time. I’ve never met a Wolf before, remember?”
A loud roar suddenly echoed into the room. Landon looked up and took stock of the entirety of his surroundings. The floor, ceiling, and three of the walls all looked the same. Grey, dusty rock. The fourth wall caused Landon’s blood to run cold. A cold steel door stretched from the floor to the ceiling among the grey stone. Only a small window allowed any light to filter through, but that was barred off by steel bars.
He stumbled towards them unsure about his feet with them half-transformed like this. He grabbed ahold of the bars and pressed his face to them peering out. He couldn’t see anything in the torchlight that burned just outside their cell. Nothing but two tunnels that stretched out and beyond into darkness lit up only now and again with the odd torch.
He spun around. “Where are we?”
“We’ve been captured,” Jasper said with a whiny groan. “You kept the Canis off of us but the goblins captured us anyways.”
Milo slammed his fist into the palm of his hand. “Those jerks that attacked us.”
That reminded Landon and he turned back to Kite. “You were shot with an arrow.”
“No kidding,” she said sourly.
“Are you alright?” he asked leaning over a bit to try to look at where he had seen it strike her.
A slow, sly smile spread across her face. “Oh? Are you worried about me, Landon?”
“I won’t be if you keep acting like that,” he retorted.
She shrugged and turned around. The arrow was gone so that all that was there was a small splotch of red blood. “Milo pulled it out and Jasper mended the wound. Rabbits are very good healers and Jasper’s one of the best.”
“I’m still learning,” Jasper said his cheeks reddening, twiddling his index fingers.
Landon’s eyebrow shot up and he had to hide back a smile of his own. So was that how Jasper felt about Kite? Or maybe he was just reading too much into the blush. It was hard to tell with Jasper. Looking at Kite he wasn’t too sure she noticed.
He turned back to the bars. “How do we get out here?”
“We don’t. Unless you’ve got some sort of magical powers. The last time I was captured I had to wait for my father to come rescue me.”
“Why did they capture us anyways? If this Dubhlainn is as evil as you say, why not just have killed us or something?”
“Because he likes to conduct experiments. Like that Canis. We told you that we think it’s from the last remnants of the Wolf tribe. Last time I was captured, though, was because they found me in the City of the Fairies. I think I made Dubhlainn very nervous. He was going to put me to death.”
Because she knew that a Wolf had escaped with a Fairy Crystal.
He stared out through the bars. His mind still wanted to reject everything that was going on, but it was hard to ignore the fact that something had obviously changed about him. He was a Wolf. Or half Wolf. And… this was a different world.
“If he was going to put you to death for just possibly knowing about the Wolf and crystal, what’s he going to do to me? If I’m one of those Wolves…” He reached back and patted at his back suddenly realizing something was missing. “Kite, where’s my pack?!”
“I think the goblins took it. They –“ Her eyes widened and she pressed her hands against her mouth. “Oh my gosh! They’ve got the crystal.”
“What are the odds,” Milo asked, “that big, tall, and creepy didn’t find it?”
“He would have to know it’s in there to find it. I mean… I’m pretty sure, anyways.”
“Where did you hide it at, Landon?” Kite demanded.
“There’s a pocket in my backpack that I sewed together myself. It’s deep inside and where I keep my secret things. But I’m sure that if you really rip into the pack you could probably find it.”
“And adults always have that creepy way of finding things that kids try to hide,” Jasper said.
“That’s just because you don’t know how to hide things,” Milo said.
Somewhere down the tunnel there was a loud bang. Landon jumped and shuffled backwards away from the door. He could hear footsteps approaching. A face appeared in the tiny window. A stretched out pig face with large tusks. There was a jangle of keys and then a squeak of hinges as the door swung open. For a moment Landon considered pouncing the thing, but as soon as the door was open it brandished a spear and practically shoved it in his face.
“Try any funny business, doggy,” the thing grunted with a raspy voice that squeaked on high notes, “and I’ll stick you.”
Two goblins rushed around that one and grabbed him along with Kite, Milo, and Jasper. Their arms and ankles were shackled with iron chains. A single chain passed through the shackles at their feet so that they were all connected together. Landon took the lead with Kite behind him. They were marched out single file. The first goblin lead them down the hallway and the two other goblins followed beside them, their spears pointed at them menacingly.
Landon’s eyes flicked around taking in their surroundings as they were lead down the hall and beyond through a door that just lead into another similar hall. It looked as if they were in some dungeon of some sort. Doors similar to the one they’d been behind lined the walls. Now and again Landon could make out voices and a few sobs. He felt a lump of fear starting to rise back into his throat and suddenly he wasn’t feeling so brave again. He wished he was home.
They ascended a spiral step of stairs that seemed to crawl ever upwards. Behind him he heard Kite whisper. “This was once the castle of the most powerful wizards. I hear it used to be beautiful and connected to a thriving city.”
He resisted the urge to tell Kite that he really didn’t care. His thoughts were too busy swirling with thoughts of survival and escape. If she really wanted to offer up some information how about which way to the exit?
They ascended at least into a massive room. Landon tried to imagine what it might have looked like at one time. There was a large sweeping staircase that lined either side of the hallway, but one of them were cracked and broken. Rocks and boulders strewn about. There were also pillars that had crumbled, the broken halves still hanging from the ceiling as if trying to stretch down to the remains on the floor. It was poorly lit except for torches that glowed with an eerie green or purple light. They were lead through a door in between these massive stairs. It was a massive double door made of oak that stretched all the way up to the under half of the balcony above. The door crept open with an ominous creaking until it was just wide enough for them to slip through.
On the other side was a massive throne room. It stretched out for several feet ahead. A purple carpet with gold trimming lead the way, ending at the dais. There was a single throne at the very center and in the middle sat an ominous dark clad figure.
Milo had called Dubhlainn big, tall, and creepy. It was a fair assessment, he agreed. The warlock was the size of basketball player, at least a good six feet. His hair was pale white and stretched down his back, his bangs hanging down into his left eye. Landon could see just the tale tell signs of a black patch over that hidden eye. Whatever was wrong with it, his right eye wasn’t doing much better. It was a jaundiced color and instead of normal colors like Landon’s own blue, it was a deep blood red. The guy’s skin was pale and seemed to almost glow in the green light of the torches. He was dressed from neck to toe in dark purple robes. Even his hands were covered. More impressive still was the set of wings the guy displayed behind him. Landon suddenly understood why Kite said that he was half fairy. A pair of translucent wings spread out behind him looking close to the wings of a dragonfly. Landon thought that the wings might have been beautiful except these were stained and the upper wing on the man’s left side was broken, bent at an odd angle.
The lump of fear in his throat got even bigger. Crap he shouldn’t be here. He didn’t want to be here. Why? Why didn’t he just let Kite have the damn necklace. Why couldn’t he have just remained in bed?
Looking around the room, though, he saw something that didn’t match up with what he normally saw in movies and video games when the bad guy was introduced. Normally there were hundreds of cronies present. Maybe an army. But the only creatures in the room were Dubhlainn himself, four goblins off in a corner, and now the three that were leading Landon and his four companions into the room.
They were lead right up to the dais until Dubhlainn held up a hand indicating them to stop. The warlock slowly rose off his throne, his wings buzzing behind him. His red eye narrowed as it traced over the four prisoners.
“State your name,” he demanded, his eye coming to rest on Landon. The guy’s voice was a mere rasp. The sort of sound that reminded Landon of dry paper.
“Landon,” he answered hesitantly. He wished he was one the heroes he read about in his comic books. When he read scenes like this he recalled no matter how dark the situation was, the hero was always dignified and calm – as if he had something under his sleeve, and usually it was because they did. But he didn’t have anything up his sleeve. He was a clueless boy… a lonely boy who had just lost his grandmother. He didn’t feel brave at all. He felt lost and confused… and heartbroken.
“Everything about you,” Dubhlainn breathed, “says human. Your aura. Your clothes. But you stand here as a half wolf. I’m confused.”
You aren’t the only one. “I am human. I’m not supposed to be here. I… I don’t know anything. I don’t know why I’m like this. I… please, sir. I just want to go back home.” And dear god he was such a coward. Pleading with a bad guy. He felt so ashamed of himself.
“How are you here?” Landon noticed that there wasn’t even any emotion in the man’s voice. He sounded as if he didn’t even care. That he was asking questions to be asking them. What the answers were didn’t even matter.
“I…” He looked back over his shoulder at Kite, but she didn’t offer him any sort of help. “I met the girl,” he said turning back around. “I followed her. I didn’t know that she was from this place. I just thought it was odd that she was in my grandma’s woods.” Half-truth was always better than a out and out lie he decided.
Dubhlainn’s red eye rose from Landon to Kite. “You. I know you. You were the girl my goblins found in the Fairy City. You escaped.”
“Yes I did,” Kite said proudly, pushing around Landon. Her chain clattered hard on the floor and Milo and Jasper were yanked after her. “And you better let me go. My father is going to be here again any minute to come rescue me. If you want your goblins to live – if you know what’s good for you – you’ll just release us.”
A part deep inside of Landon felt that Kite was brave and he admired her being able to stand up to this guy like that, but another part thought she was also very stupid.
Dubhlainn stepped down the stairs from the dais. He crossed towards Kite and reached out with a single gloved hand and picked her up by her collar. “You brought back a Wolf.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. And it was said in that same emotionless rasp. So why did it spark so much fear in Landon. “But the Wolf isn’t important. You found something else, didn’t you. Where is it? You will give it to me or I will kill your friend.” He pointed a finger at Jasper. A goblin grabbed the Rabbit from behind and pressed a knife to his throat.
Kite gaped back at Jasper and glared back at Dubhlainn. “I-I didn’t find anything. I swear it!”
“Liar. You wouldn’t have brought the Wolf if you didn’t find the Fairy.”
So Kite was telling the truth. And her father didn’t believe her. He looked across at the goblins and realized that his pack was sitting among the goblins. An idea suddenly occurred to him and he turned to Dubhlainn.
[tells Dubhlainn that they only think he has the rock and pulls out his rock box. But when Dubhlainn sees that all Landon has are just regular rocks he tells the goblins to kill them and tells them to destroy the pack. They go down the hallway and as they are walking Landon gets the idea of escaping and taking back his pack. Realizes he can slip through the chains.]
“I-I’ve got it,” he shouted. “Leave her alone. I’ve got the rock. I’ll give it to you. Just… Just please don’t hurt us,” he begged. Wow he sounded so pathetic in his ears.
Dubhlainn turned to him slowly, his one red eye narrowing. “Then let’s have it, boy.”
“It’s in my pack,” he said pointing.
“Landon!” Kite shouted. “What are you doing?!”
“The rock’s not worth losing our lives over,” he snapped at Kite.
Dubhlainn turned to his goblins and motioned for them to bring the pack over. Landon was grateful when he had it back in his hands. It had definitely been rummaged through – everything was such a mess inside – but it was clear the search had not been thorough. He had the feeling that Dubhlainn hadn’t bothered with it himself, and the mental state of his lackeys was questionable.
“I warn you, boy,” Dubhlainn said in that hideous rasp of his, “try anything funny and you will spend the rest of eternity as a statue.”
Statue? Just what sort of powers did this Dubhlainn fellow have. He decided not to question that too hard at the moment or he might lose his nerve. He reached into his pack and pulled out a metal box barely bigger than both of his hands. He undid the clasp on the box and opened it up. Dubhlainn’s eyebrow shot up at the contents.
It was a box full of rocks. All sorts of shapes and sizes and different colors. Some were glittery, while others were translucent, and others that were as black as night. There were tiny shards and one that was as flat as paper but took up nearly the full length of the box. He reached in and pulled out one rock. It was no different or any more special than any of the other rocks except for one distinguishing feature: Landon had always felt that it looked the most like the rock his grandma had given him.
“Landon, no!” Kite nearly screamed. Good, he thought. If it was good enough to fool Kite maybe it was good enough to fool Dubhlainn. For all he knew, though, this warlock had never even seen his rock before, but he couldn’t be sure.
“A box full of rocks?” Dubhlainn asked him, reaching out taking the stone.
“T-they are a bit of a hobby of mine,” he confessed feeling his cheeks redden. “This one, the one that my grandma gave me, was what inspired me to collect these others. I’ve always thought it was very pretty.”
Dubhlainn stared at it hard and then glared back down at Landon. Suddenly he hurled it back at him and the rock hit Landon hard in the forehead. “This,” he growled, “is not the Fairy.”
“Wait? What?” Kite asked surprised.
Brilliant. Kite was playing into this perfectly, Landon thought. Landon picked the rock up, rubbing his head and replaced it into the box. “I didn’t think it was anything special,” he said sourly. “She brought me here for no reason, then. This has all been a big misunderstanding. I’ve never seen this stupid rock that she’s talking about. I just want to go home.”
Dubhlainn stared at him for a long time before turning around and waving a hand through the air. “Pity. I can’t tell if you are telling the truth or lying. It matters little, I suppose.” He turned to the goblins. “Kill the children and take that bag with all of its rocks and throw it into the lava pit. Understood?”
Landon jumped up, his heart hammering in his chest. “Wait – kill us?! I’ve not done anything! I’m just a human.”
Dubhlainn whirled around and threw up his arm. Landon saw nothing but the force that slammed into him was incredible. It sent him flying back onto the floor, yanking Kite and the others with him. He felt blood leaking from a cracked lip and it took a moment before he was able to sit back up.
“You are not just a human. You are a shape shifter. True your aura and everything about you says human, but there is a part of you – just enough of you – that is a shape shifter. A Wolf shifter. I will not risk even a human pup like you. Your kind was a scourge. Wiping them out was not easy. I will not endure the humiliation of letting you live.” He turned back to the goblins. “Now take them away and kill them!”
A goblin thrust its spear in Landon’s face. He got up quickly and followed after the lead goblin as they lead them out of the throne room and back down another hall. His last sight of Dubhlainn was of the Sorcerer turning with a swirl of his cloak and sitting back down again on his throne.