Daena had hoped, fervently, that the werewolf initially on her tail was alone. Indeed, she’d quite hoped that it was the werewolf she’d long known through association with her son, and not, say, any other werewolf. She was very much wrong.
The first werewolf leaped onto all fours and galloped after Daena with a determined gait the moment she passed the path leading to the farmhouse, kicking up a cloud of snow in its wake. Casting a quick look back Daena determined that it had more or less matched her speed, and was maintaining that speed with every ounce of energy it had. Eventually it would tire, and when it tired the werewolf would lose her.
That’s when the second werewolf leaped out of a field from Daena’s right. It landed in front of her, claws up, mouth open, teeth dripping chilled saliva. It wore a pair of mostly-ripped, leather bib-alls, and patchy, dried blood crusted the fur on its back up into spikes. It lunged at Daena -
- and, without thinking, the ex-queen jumped into the air, performing a fierce round kick. The flat of Daena’s boot sent the werewolf flying out of her way, and though Daena didn’t bother to look back this time, the crash of splintering wood gave her an idea of what happened.
Howls erupted from the fields, a call to arms that chilled Daena more than the weather ever could. Her eyes flicking back and forth as she ran, Daena spotted five… six… eight… no, twelve werewolves, and the chorus of their canine voices hinted at far more than that. The hunched creatures joined the chase, attempting to close in on Daena from all directions, but she was just a bit too quick to be cornered.
“Well,” she whispered to herself, grunting as she leaped over a werewolf that tried to tackle her, “this is quite the fearsome pickle.”
Thinking fast, Daena reached into her backpack, remembering her days back at the castle. They’d housed a werewolf, knowing and unknowing, and she’d learned from her son that it - No, Antonia was a she, by gods that werewolf was a she - held a surprising fondness for bread. Gripping a day-old, half-eaten loaf out of her near-frozen stores, Daena lobbed the bread back at the werewolves.
The bread bounced, neglected, off of the lead werewolf’s nose. It swiped the projectile away as though it were a fly and kept coming.
“Hum,” Daena said, scratching her chin. “Well that didn’t work.”
More werewolves joined the pack on Daena’s heels. They erupted out of abandoned homes, sheds, tall grass and copses, each adding their voice to the chorus of snarls as they gunned for Daena’s flesh. As Daena leaped over a fence and beelined through a field, hoping to throw off some of her pursuers in the rougher terrain, she estimated that some fifty wolves were now on her tail.
Running for her life and lacking anything better to do, Daena considered the situation. She wondered why there might be werewolves in this part of the country. Not so long ago she’d been in a part of the Imperium where everyone appeared to be healthy, if not happy. She’d seen no signs of werewolves anywhere, nor even signs that there might be werewolves elsewhere (though she admitted that she might simply have missed a vital clue or two in her forced haste). So…
Trusting her feet to pilot her safely over - or through - any obstacles, Daena twisted her head to peer back at the pack. The wolves had formed a sloppy but distinct wedge formation, one that seemed designed to penetrate enemy lines in a large-scale battle. Daena had witnessed similar tactics during King Gok’s ‘mock’ battles several years prior, though she didn’t see any benefit to something similar in the wolves.
Daena squinted, her debacle momentarily forgotten. Yes, that was most definitely a battle formation. But why…?
I believe I’ve caught your attention.
Daena jerked upright and twisted around, looking ahead for the source of the voice. It was slight, calm, and fairly dignified, the sort of voice you’d expect to belong to a philosopher or a poet. There was nothing to project the voice, however, save a lone hawk that happened to be soaring over Daena’s position as she scanned the sky.
“What?” Daena asked, peering around, trying to see through the snow kicking up on both sides of her. “Is… is someone there? IS SOMEWHERE THERE?”
I believe you’re yelling, the voice said, and this time Daena recognized it as coming from within her mind, but I can’t hear what you have to say. Think and I will hear you.
Eyes goggling, Daena looked back at the werewolves. They had resumed a slightly more normal posture, spreading out haphazardly across the farmers’ fields and appearing to be little more than a somewhat-disorganized pack of beasts. As the werewolves spread out Daena caught a quick glimpse of one werewolf that appeared to be much larger than the rest, but as the werewolves weaved and ran it was swallowed back into the pack.
“Where…?” Daena began, then she shook her head and closed her mouth. Where… no, who are you? And I suppose the where is also important.
It is, the voice said back, a little grimly. I’m somewhere in this pack of werewolves. And my name is Julius. If you’re willing to help me, Queen Daena, I think I can help you.