Ah, thought Daena, and despite the dire peril nipping at her heels she comically scratched her head. That’s a fine name, then. Julius. A pleasure to meet you. Would you be one of the werewolves, Julius? Will you be stripping flesh from my bones in a few minutes?
Despite the yips and yowls and frantic stampeding of feet behind her, Daena heard Julius’s nervous laugh as clear as day. It warmed her heart, even though she didn’t know him, as it was a laugh filled with good intentions and backed by a solid personality. All at once Daena decided that she rather liked Julius, and that he probably was not a werewolf, since they were somewhat less cordial.
No, Julius confirmed a moment later. I’m just bouncing back and forth between them, trying to hang on. I’ve had to do so for months. Normally I cling to their pack leader, as she’s nice and large, but she shook me off when we spotted you.
Ah, well, you must be rather small, then, Julius, Daena thought, throwing another look back at the werewolves, even as her legs went into autopilot mode and sent her soaring over a snow-covered boulder without any mental commands on her part. I should think they might rip anyone who is not a werewolf to teensy tiny bits.
No, they’re actually content to just bite you until you become a werewolf, Julius said, sighing. Their pack numbers are so high because they usually don’t kill people. But, ah, I don’t think you want to be caught by them, at any rate.
Too true, Daena thought, nodding. Too true. They’re rather too bitey for my tastes. I’ve kicked werewolves in the chin before and sent them yelping away, but I’m not in the best position to do so again at the moment. Can you call them off, by any chance? I suspect you can.
Julius hesitated a moment, then his voice came back with a faint mixture of amusement. Do you think I can control them? I doubt we’d be in this mess if I could.
You must be able to, at least to an extent, Daena thought, winking internally to no one in particular. You contacted me immediately after I saw them in a wedge formation. I suspect that was your doing. Or am I wrong?
Julius paused again, though when he came back there was more of a sigh on his voice than humour. You’re not one hundred percent wrong, but you’re not one hundred percent right, either. I can suggest they do things via their pack leader, such as nudge them into an odd formation. I can’t outright force them to do anything. I used to exercise more direct control, but… things… things change. No, I only - oh, dear, look out ahead, will you, Daena?
Her mind on her mind, Daena realized she wasn’t watching where she was going. Her feet had put her on a direct collision course with the side of a barn, and three werewolves were popping out of the barn’s top windows with hearty jumps. The pack behind Daena howled, as if in triumph -
- but Daena simply hopped into the air, extended her right leg, and plowed right through the side of the barn with ease. The wooden wall, already weak from too many summers, winters, autumns and springs, exploded into pieces and flew everywhere. Daena shielded her face, and her nicked winter jacket protected her from the majority of the debris without comment. A thin line of blood seeping down her forehead suggested that she was not as well-protected as she might have liked, but Daena shrugged it off as she kicked her way through the opposite wall as well, only dimly noting the cow corpses on the barn’s bottom floor.
Thank you for that, Daena thought, once she was back in clear terrain and the wolf back was behind her again. I might have broken my skull had you not pointed it out.
Not a problem, Julius replied. At any rate, I only nudged them into that formation to get your attention. What little, ah, magic I have requires a two-way connection. It’s a familiar thing, Daena.
Daena wondered at the word ‘familiar’ but decided she’d leave it for another time. She now at least knew Julius was working with magic, which didn’t surprise her at all. That’s all well and good, but I should like to know how you know my name. Have we met before? I knew a Julius back in school, but I somehow doubt he’s speaking into my mind right now.
Isn’t assuming I’m not that Julius a greater leap of logic? Julius retorted good-naturedly.
It is, since he died of brain polio about ten years ago, Daena thought. I attended the funeral. Very sad.
Ah, my condolences. Yes, I suppose I’m not that Julius, Julius confirmed, though I’d rather save that rather long story for another time, as we’re coming up on our destination, and I need to outline the plan.
Ooooh, there’s a plan, is there? Daena smirked. Does it involve somehow corralling all of these werewolves into a single place and hoping for the best?
Somewhat, Julius admitted. In fact that’s very close to what I had in mind. We have a ready-made pen, after all; we just need to get them back to the city.
The final word in that sentence filled Daena with a strong sense of dread. The city?
As if on cue, Daena caught her first glimpse of ‘the city’ mere moments after the words passed through her head. She crested the top of a hill, passing through a thick heap of snow, and there it was: a semi-circular, flat, relatively bland settlement, perhaps two kilometres away and closing fast. Daena might have dismissed it had she been on the road under normal circumstances, but these circumstances were hardly normal.
Also, the city appeared to be on fire. So there was that.
That’s where this all started, Julius said. That’s also where I’m hoping this will end.