*For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Eventually it will be cleaned up and fixed just before page is made secret/taken down and the book is published. At that time I will take lists of typos or volunteers to proof read. For now, it’s written in a hurry, usually an hour before it goes up. And, let me remind you, it’s free – SAH*
The howling wolf had a sort of magical property of its own. Albinia had heard wolves before, of course. She’d been born and raised in a remote domain, except for that very brief — and odd — visit to London when she was six. But this wolf sounded like a thing composed of night, darkness and fear. It was like the wolves one heard of in fairytales, who got into cottages and devoured entire families.
There was a feeling of hunger and frustrated rage to its voice, a sense that there lived something more than mortal, common wolf. And Albinia found this created a telekinesis of sorts that propelled her against Lord Michael’s all too human and comforting warmth.
She expected a shocked sounnd from him. She understood from mama that only quite abandoned females flung themselves headlong at men. Not that she didn’t sympathyze, if the poor things had been abandoned and had no other means of comfort, but she also didn’t understand what flinging oneself at a gentleman would do. Unless of course the gentleman’s arms were broken and couldn’t fend such an attack off?
Like most of what mama said, it seemed a complete mystery. On the other hand, now she had actually flung herself at a young man, and she fully expected some sort of reproof. What she got instead was Michae– Lord Michael’s arm going around her middle. It seemed to her it trembled a little, but she was sure that couldn’t be true. Not of someone with so much magic. It must be her shaking communicating itself to him.
She was of two minds on whether to ask him to make the light shine again or not. She couldn’t remember the lore servants and woodsmen had told her in childhood and didn’t know if light scared wolves or attracted them.
But just at that moment, as though some malevolent intelligence controlled it, a sliver of moon, pale and silvery like something drowned, peeked from behind clouds and cast its cold light onto the scene.
What it revealed was both more and less scary than Albinia expected. The forest showed again, in its dark glory bringing to mind all the stories of children abandoned in forests to die. The trees were tall enough they seemed to disappear into a sky where a few scraps of violet or grey cloud floated, looking much like curdles in unnatural milk.
The wolf was not visible, though it sounded again and closer, that sound that was hunger and anger and terror, all lashed together.
Lord Michael’s arm tightened around her. “There is nothing to be afraid of,” he said, even as his voice cracked a little. Wolves are afraid of light, see.”
And with that, he made a gesture, and she could feel the magic going from him, and quite suddenly — above them — a light appeared, the same light that had guided her down from the tree, but larger, brighter and very, very comforting.
“Oh,” she said, stepping away from him, just as he seemed to leap away from her, as though shocked he’d been grasping her so tight. “I’d been wondering if light attracted or repelled wolves.”
He frowned a little, and seemed to be trying to remove twigs and leaves from his clothes. Looking down at herself, she too seemed to be impersonating a tree, and she forebore to think of what her hair must look like. She was sure it was a mess all around her head, and filled with twigs and branches. She must look quite demented.
“I actually don’t know,” Lord Michael said hesitantly. “Whether light attracts or repels wolves. I don’t think no one ever told me.” And then, as though embarrassed by his lack of knowledge, “You see, the domain at Darkwater, where I was raised is… quite large, and we have…. ah, games keepers and grounds keepers to keep the wild animals at bay. Besides…” He looked uncomfortable. “Besides I was never the sort of child who goes for rambles in the woods or has adventures. That would be my brothers, at least from what I heard. My … I have a workshop, see, and I like to invent magical things.”
She didn’t see at all. If she’d been allowed to roam, instead of being locked in the tower all the time, she’d have roamed. She’d know every inch of the domain, including the woods and the beach. And she’d probably know all about wolves, including whether or not they liked light. But she knew, from dealing with her brothers, that it didn’t do to laugh at a boy or say he was silly. They were quite ridiculously fragile in their pride.
At any rate, right then the wolf howled again, quite close. Lord Michael ceased his brushing of his clothes, and Al stepped closer to him, though not quite touching, and this time she forebore to fling herself.
“It appears,” Lord Michael said, his voice gone unsteady again. “This one doesn’t fear light.”
“No,” Albinia said, and looked into the darkness, trying to see the creature.
It was odd, because though she could hear it, she couldn’t see it at all. She thought perhaps it was just a figment of her imagination? Or perhaps an insubstantial creature, like the smoke Gather, and not real in any sense?
But just as she thought this her eyes adjusted, and like in the moment when you blink your eyes in the dark and realize what you thought was a monster is really only the curtain blowing in the wind, she saw it.
It was only that it was so large and so dark she’d thought he was a dark spot in the trees. He — and from the feel of the creature there was no doubt it was a he — was a vast beast, his shoulder towering above her head, his eyes glimmering yellow and feral.
As she looked, he opened his mouth to howl again, and large fangs, as long as her fingers, glimmered in the light.
Lord Michael was pushing her behind him. “It’s not a natural wolf,” he said.
“I know,” she said, because she did. No natural wolves grew to that size.
And just as she was thinking what to do, the creature advanced on them, a low growl coming from its throat.
She forgot everything she was thinking. Her mind blanked, and she couldn’t move if she–
She felt the magic work, and didn’t even know if it was flowing from her or Lord Michael. Or which of them threw the fireball, which went flying to strike the animal on the nose. It screamed.
In that second, Lord Michael screamed also, “Run.” And grabbing for her hand, he pulled.
They ran headlong into the dark forest, while the light of magic above them extinguished itself.