Gregor watched Aslaug disappear into the night and soon had lost sight of her in the forest around them.
Full of pride, he turned back towards the castle and started running. His mind was full of different thoughts of the things he had been told, of the new things he had learned from Mother Aslaug, and the pressing truth that was slowly slipping over him. If the wolves had told him the truth and he had no reason to doubt them they had been honest to him thus far.
Then the only way his father would of died in that battle was if the king turned on him, Aslaug had said he was only there to help the wolves. That if he had known his wife was pregnant he would not have returned to help either side in the battle, he may have known his father. But at the same time he would've turned from his other sons, Gregor's brothers...
Gregor ran hard for hours, barely stopping to even get his bearings and was nearing the edge of the forest when he was brought to a sudden halt. He lifted his muzzle to the air and inhaled slowly trying to figure out what had caught him off guard, what had been so out of place.
It wasn't a simple hearth fire or some chimney smoke that was burning to thickly, this was a sure enough forest fire. He was sure of it.
Gregor began to look around him desperately wondering where it was and who would have set fire to the forest. His eyes found the glow of the flames -they were spreading quickly- and he saw the men responsible for the blaze. They were wearing the armor and colors of King Roderick, the king had sent them to burn the wolves out of hiding.
Gregor growled deep in his chest and he bared his teeth, angry. The edges of his vision were tinged with red and as he looked at the men that he would of called brothers days ago, all he could think was he wanted to taste that blood. Gregor turned from the path to the castle and he ran full force towards the soldiers putting their torches to the brush.
"Look it's one of the wolves!" one man cried suddenly.
"Put it to the sword! For Gregor!" another man called.
Gregor leapt right at the first man with the torch catching him full in the chest with his paws, knocking them both backwards. The man landed on his back with Gregor on his chest ready to strike at the next man.
The second soldier turned towards him sweeping his sword horizontally aimed at his chest trying to avoid hitting his comrade on the ground. Gregor ducked low then launched himself upwards snapping his jaws around the man's wrist. The man screamed in pain as the teeth pierced his skin, Gregor jerked his head to the side violently and he felt the man's hand give as part of his hand was torn off.
The man fell back and screamed in pain as he put his good hand over the bleeding stump.
Gregor didn't have time to feel sorry for the men, his own life wasn't out of danger yet the forest was already alight with flames. He turned to the path again and leapt away from the soldier beneath him who was starting to try to struggle for the nearby sword his comrade had dropped next to him.
Gregor started running through the forest again and he was saddened by what all he encountered before escaping the burning forest and getting into the clear air again.
There were more soldiers setting everything on fire and searching for the wolves swords at the ready. There were the villagers who were becoming homeless due to the fires and were struggling to escape to the safety of open air. The animals and humans that couldn't make it out were dead from either the smoke choking them or the flames consuming them. He also only saw a few of the soldiers actually helping people or trying to disuade the others from burning the forest.
Gregor had never seen such senseless violence in his life.
He knew that this was his uncles orders being carried out by the men. Which meant he might not be able to reason with him regarding the wolves, not that the wolves would have anywhere to go after all of this. Their once hidden home would be exposed soon.
He ran harder through the open fields, farmers and soldiers were all up in arms due to the fires. They were waiting for the wolves or for refugees who may be a problem for the locals, they were not notorious for taking in the needy on these small farms.
When he hit the open fields soldiers started yelling and the archers began to fire at him as he ran. He ducked and weaved around the incoming arrows hearing the whizzing of the arrows coming towards him. Gregor kept running towards the capitol his uncle called home, he had to at least try. His uncle wouldn't kill him, he hoped if for nothing more then his mother's sake.
As Gregor ran his muscles started to burn and he began to pant hard, not at all used to running this far on foot. he had always used a horse for traveling far off. But thankfully he had made it past the archers and in dark had escaped them, but now the light of dawn could be seen on the edge of the fields. He knew he would be seen again with no problem by the soldiers and local farmers.
He just needed to get a little closer before turning himself human again.
Aslaug was running across the increasingly rocky ground almost reunited with her pack in the mountains. She had stopped in the pass leading up into the mountain and had seen her old home in flames the black smoke billowing up into the sky. At first she worried for Gregor but she had no time to go back and search him out she had to get back to the others, if all was burning they would not be the only ones to arrive in the mountains as such.
The Bird clan and the Cat clan would be on their way after the flames had made it to their own lands.
He heart hurt at seeing her old home burn, he had met her mate in those woods. The sweet memories of their time together was all she would have left.
Aslaug was at the top of the path when she heard the roar behind her and leapt away from the sound turning to face the beast.
"Mathius!" She snarled as the large hulking bear lumbered into full view.
"Aslaug," he grumbled deeply. "I wish I could say it is good to see you but.... as you can see it is not."
"What is the meaning of this? I have heard of the Bear clans ... maladies and deformities. You have been to the king and spoken with him."
"You and those damnable birds are always speaking I see."
"I am no fool Mathius, you have always coveted our lands well look to the forest bear. It is all gone now, not even you would want this land."
"This is your fault she wolf had you submitted to the king's will all would have been well. Now they have taken the land that should have been mine! It is no matter though we will have to deal with the matter with the king in time but first I have some business with you."
"Is that so bear?" she asked baring her teeth slowly as she crouched low to the ground.
"I will kill you and your pack here in the mountains, I do owe you for showing me to them. Then I will lead the king's men to the Shadow Walkers, this war will be over." Mathius said with a growl.
"There is no war just the king's greed. He wants so much that is not his it will be his downfall."
Mathius let out a roar and charged his hulking form approaching quickly and Aslaug leapt to the side her body landing on the slope to the side.
Aslaug darted in and bit into the thick fur of the bear tearing trying to get to the flesh below. She released him and ran to the side away from his gigantic claw turning to come at her head. She let out a loud snarl as the claw hit the ground and she darted behind him as he tried to turn to keep up with her.
"You are to slow old bear, to large and heavy a shape to keep up with a lithe wolf." Aslaug taunted with a bark of spite filled laughter.
"Be silent!" he roared turning to slap his claws at her again.
Aslaug darted behind the nearest stone and leapt to other side of the path heading down the pass to the beautiful home of the Shadow Walkers. She threw her head back and howled as she heard the bear struggling to keep up with her quick movements.
The howl carried on the wind down to the land below. Over the small lake lit by fireflies and into the green pine forest.
She heard the answering howls in the forest and she could see her pack running towards them around the different sides of the lake.
She turned to look up at the pass where Mathius had appeared, standing on his hind legs eyes a cruel glint as he came down hard on his front legs running.
Going down the hill he would have the speed he'd need to either overtake her or at least keep up with her. She launched herself down the hill with him right behind her his roar right at her back. Aslaug dived to the side letting the bears momentum carry him well ahead of her till he could stop himself to turn to look at her. He let out a long growl as he turned the light hitting his eyes and a rage burned inside those eyes.
The pack had joined them on the other side of the lake the wolves moving to surround the wolves.
Mordred and Edon stood to her sides, around them stood the rest of the pack Mathius surrounded by the pack. She stepped forward as he looked around him, his teeth gnashing the air in his rage.
"You could walk away from here Mathius and return to your people, all would be forgiven by us." she said softly.
"No,no,no,no!" he roared standing on his hindlegs again. "You will all die here tonight! I will achieve my goals, I will retake my home, my people will be returned to their rightful place in this world."
"I wish it could be different Mathius." she said softly.
As they started to approach him as he growled suddenly the air changed arround them causing them all to stop to look.
On the other side of the lake was a Shadow Walker. It was unclear what the creature would be called as male or female, though the creature stood naked there were no features to distinguish the sex of the creature. It's skin was white as the snow on the peaks of the mountains, it's eyes were black with silvers flecs like stars, it had no hair on it's body, thin long limbs that put it at 8 feet tall, it's features were thin to match, and it's ears were long pointed. The way it stood was straight and regal.
The creature began to walk slowly forward it's limbs moving gracefully despite their length. The Shadow Walker stepped onto the water and as they all watched in silent awe it walked upon it's surface. The Shadow Walker moved slowly and steadily till it reached the opposite side of the lake then it stepped off of the water onto the ground.
The wolves moved away to all stand behind the alpha female as it moved to the bear.
Mathius fell back to his four legs his body shuddering as the creature reached out it long thin fingers towards the bear. It touched it's fingers to his forehead and he went stiff his body not even shuddering anymore. As neither moved a white glow appeared on the end of his finger causing the glow to move into the bear.
Mathius' body began to shudder again and his body then violently jerked as he let out a roar/scream. As the wolves watched his body began to change to that of a human man and he was sobbing at the creature.
"No I am a bear do not take this from me! Please give it back, give me back my soul!" he screamed in anger and pain.
The Shadow Walker looked to the wolves and a voice was whispered on the wind though it's lips did not move.
"Let him leave he is a broken man now." The voice was that of many voices.
Young, old, male, and female voices all rolled into one.
"What are you?" Aslaug asked her eyes wide.
"We are what has always been and what shall always be." the voices said softly.
She watched the Shadow Walker step into the closest shadow and as they watched he seemed to vanish, they knew he must have went into the forest again.
They watched as Mathius stood and turned away his own strangled shriek sounding out as he ran out of the clearing.
"Well that was a lucky turn of -" Mordred began.
"We do not have time to celebrate. The king has made his move our home has burned, Gregor went to him to try to get him to stop this madness but I fear he is to far gone." Aslaug said coldly.
"Then we have no time to lose." Ylva said in a bark.
"Yes. But we will need help to get to him in time." she said softly looking across the water.
When Gregor reached the outside of the castle he hid himself in the shadows that still remained in the approaching dawn. He looked around himself and saw no one was around, which he thought was odd. There should have been soldiers protecting the castle just as there had been when he came through the country side.
Closing his eyes, Gregor began to focus on the way he had looked at as a human. How it had felt to walk or run on two legs alone instead of four, how it had felt to weild a sword in his hands, and how he felt feeling the sun on his skin not on fur.
As he thought of this he felt a warmth pass through him, more comforting then it had the first time he began to change back to his old self. As he gave himself to the change his mind became a blurr and when he was able to refocus on the world around him he was laying on his back looking to the slowly rising sun. He reached his hand out slowly and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw he possessed a human hand. Aslaug had been right he could be human again.
With a deep breath he stood up slowly and cringed he could feel his sore aching bones. The change had a small price it would seem and the pain was great as he stood. He was so stiff in his joints and his muscles burned from the strain, he knew all he had done as a wolf was catching up with his weaker human body. But he had no time to wait for the pain to subside he had to find his uncle.
Standing, Gregor began to walk keeping his hands on the wall to balance himself. As he walked he felt a chill and knew he would need to find some clothing from the barracks before going into the castle.
Roderick stood with the captain of his guard watching from the tower of the castle where he could see the main gate, he knew his men were hidden well enough that they would not be seen. They had waited almost all night for the wolves to come, he knew burning the forest would anger those who lived there but it would also drive the wolves out. They had but two options left to them by his reasoning.
They could try to go north to the Shadow Walkers which would result in them being killed on the road as most of the creatures before them had been. Or they could come to his castle with plans of revenge against the king for his act of war. He had purposely told the soldiers to make the way to the castle less guarded then the roads into the mountains.
He had been about ready to give up when he saw that the black smoke had been in the air for hours now and still no wolf had arrived. That was when he saw the wolf streaking across the field.
Roderick was disappointed that it had been simply one wolf but one would do. He would have the soldiers hold the wolf till h could slay it with his own sword. He had been excited when it had stopped outside of the slightly open gate but that was when he had had to wait. There was no wolf pushing inside the gate which he had ensured was the only entrance into the castle, no wolf appeared.
But a naked and exhausted Gregor stumbled inside breathing heavily.
He was surprised to see his nephew, and told the captain to hold off giving the order to kill him just yet. They instead watched as Gregor entered the empty barracks, no dount looking for a weapon he would not find inside.
Seeing Gregor in this state made Roderick think back for a moment. The last time he had seen this was with the boy's father, he had been one of the wolves after all. When Roderick had found out about the man's true nature he had ordered the man slain on the battle field as soon as an opening was seen. He had had the pleasure of killing the man with his own hand and had told his sister the man was unfaithful. He told her he had seen the wolf pups sired by the man himself.
She was the one who had the sorcerors curse the wolves to their forms in her fit of jealousy. When Gregor had grown to look like his father she had shunned him sending him to her brother only saying 'see that I never see him again. I'll not be reminded of the betrayal.'
It would seem Gregor was indeed his father's son, a wolf at heart always.
"Orders my King?" the captain whispered at his side.
"Have him secured by the men and brought into the throne room and ... have Mathius' men waiting for me." Roderick said with a slow and malicious grin.
"By your command." the captain replied bowing at the hip.
Gregor walked out of the bunk house clothed in a loose fitting set of work clothes the soldiers used to train in. He was surprised and a little more wary since he had searched the barracks and had not found a single weapon inside. Even when all of the soldiers had been mustered there was always something left inside just in case it was needed by someone garrissoning the castle, but there had been an obvious lack of weapons inside.
As Gregor walked out of the barracks towards the tall double doors of the castle he was set upon by the king's guards. He struggled but as he fought against them they overpowered him with sheer numbers. He was bound and gagged by the soldiers before they began to carry him towards castle.
He felt his heart sink as he twisted his head this way and that to try to look his once loyal comrades in the eyes, none would hold his stare for more then a second before turning away. He knew there could be only one reason they would do this and it would not end well for him. As they carried him over the thresh hold they turned towards the throne room walking at a brisk step with him over their shoulders.
Mother Aslaug had been right, his uncle would not listen, and he was going to die in the halls he had served so faithfully in.
They walked into the open doors of the throne room and as he craned his head he saw the king on his throne with three disfigured men in robes at his side. They let out bestial growls as he was tossed upon the floor by the soldiers.
"Dear nephew it pains me to see this. Your betrayal cuts me deeply you know," Roderick said with a sigh. "A wolf under my own roof, it is no wonder you sided with them when I tried to have the wolves removed from the temple. I had the forest burned down, they will now either die or run in fear."
Gregor was racking his mind trying to think of a way out of this mess but as he tested the bindings he could feel the pain in his muscles pull at him. He sighed to himself wishing he had gone with Alsaug, she had been right.
Roderick gestured for the soldiers to leave and then motioned for one of the robed men to remove the gag.
"Why," Gregor spat coughing "Why have you done this? What could you hope to gain from displacing the wolves?"
"Well... You see my dear boy, I am the king and I will be the supreme ruoler of this land. So long as there are those that refuse to bend to my will my army shall hunt them to snuff out their lives." Roderick said with a slow smile. "The wolves would have land in my country but pay me no respect and those Shadow Walkers... They are the worst of the lot. Their magic is unmatched and the disrespect they show me. They refuse me the sorce of that magic, the grove in which they live must be source."
"Maybe those that have magic are born with it and it cannot be taught or stolen!" Gregor yelled.
"You know I have concidered that and my sorcerors have a thought on that. Maybe it is something you are born with, something housed within your very body. A soul, an essence, or maybe even something as mundane as your very heart. That is why they have asked a veryy specific favor of me."
"What have you done?"
"They have asked for a wolf to be presented to them for them to remove it's innards for examination. Since you are the only one that has come well.... I will give you to the sorcerors and the others to the Bear Mathius as promised."
Gregor saw the three disfigured men turn to the king anger written on their faces, "That was not the agreement, all the wolves were to be ours!"
Roderick turned to the speaker with a cold look and sound to his voice. "Take it up with Mathius and go hunt the other wolves if you have a bloodlust on you."
The speaker snarled and turned to glare at Gregor.
"No we will take this one now. You are only human and can not over power us, you can have his body when we are done with him."
The three turned to Gregor and moved away from the king who lurched to his feet pulling his sword with a yell. He didn't expect this to be to protect him but for the vivisection by the sorcerors. The king struck at one man his sword coming down on his shoulder but sticking in the thick muscle as the creaturee began to turn.
They all began to shift and change forms to that of bears. One was a large grizzly bear, one a black bear, and the final one was a snowy white bear with solid black eyes. The white bear turned to fight with the king while the other two began to lumber towards the bound Gregor.
"No you can't do this!" Gregor yelled closing his eyes tightly.
As he waited for the heavy claw of the bear to crush him he thought he heard the sudden scratching of claws on the stone floor. There was no way it could be because he was certain there would be no way the wolves could make it inside the castle. But as he opened his eyes he saw them the wolves ran from the darkened corner of the room leaping from the very shadows. They ran for the bears approaching him and he saw the bears come up short with growls as they stood on their hindlegs.
Gregor's eyes were drawn to the shadows once more as he saw five other figure take shape within the dakrness. The five figures were snowy white skinned and as he watched they moved slowly into the room. The five moved gracefully and looked to the bears first as they slowly moved to the creature.
He saw the bears freeze as did King Roderick whose eyes went wide and the sword dropped from his hands as one walked towards them.
Three of the Shadow Walkers reached out and touched the bears on the foreheads. He saw the white glow pass from the creatures hands and into the bears foreheads. The bears began to snarl and let out strangled growls that turned into anguished screams as they were turned back into humans. The bears fell down onto their knees with body racking sobs.
"Give it back!" they wailed holding their hands out pleadingly to the Shadow Walkers. "Give the bear back!"
The five regrouped around the king and he turned in a slow circle looking at each of the white creatures.
"What- what are you?" Roderick demanded.
"We are what has always been and will always be." They all said in a multitude of voices.
"Please give me your magic! Please I want the power that all of you have." Roderick said collapsing down onto his knees.
"You are unworthy as the bears have been found unworthy." they replied "Your lust for power has blinded you. You burn the forests, you enslave and curse your own people."
"I need the power please! Give it to me!"
The creatures slowly turned away from him starting to walk away. Seeing they would not listen to him Roderick grabbed his sword and lunged towards the closest Shadow Walker.
Gregor had been untied by the wolves who had chewed through his binds and was watching in horror as the events unfolded. He would be too slow to intervene in the attack.
The king had been dismissed by the Shadow Walkers and in his fury had snatched up his sword to strike at the retreating forms. He had pulled the sword back and was putting his full weight into the crashing downward blow ready to slay one of them. Before the sword had connected Mother Aslaug had lunged forward to put herself between the king and the Shadow Walkers. His sword struck deep into the wolf and she howled in pain but not before she had hit him as well her teeth tearing his throat.
The king let out a gurgled scream and fell down onto his back a puddle of blood already pooling under him. Aslaug limped and then slowly collapsed beside the king her breathing labored.
Gregor fell to his knees as the other wolves let out loud howls of pain and despair as they ran to the side of their alpha. They moved around her desprate to try finding a way to help her, to save her, but Gregor knew that it was to late for her. Mother Aslaug was dying.
"Hush, shhhh." Aslaug said softly breathing heavily. "It is done.... it can not be undone. Go... find a new home. Gregor....where is Gregor?"
Her labored breathing was painful to even hear and as he heard his name Gregor stood walking over to the fallen wolf.
"Aslaug please." he said tears rising in his eyes. "You can't die not like this. You are the only family I have ever had."
He could hear a smile in her voice "You are the son I never had Gregor. Please I have but ...one request. Please."
"Take them home. Take the wolves to a new home.They are your family now." she said coughing her body shuddering violently.
"I will you have my word."
Aslaug began to shudder violently and foamy blood began to build up at her mouth, she was in pain and dying as they watched.
A white hand appeared between the wolves and Gregor to touch the forehead of Aslaug to cup her canine face gently. The white light appeared again but this time it started on the mother wolf then slowly moved up into the Shadow Walker. The Shadow Walker stood slowly cupping the light in it's hand before placing the hand before it's mouth and blowing gently.
The light swept from it hand and took a brief form of a white howling wolf before it carried on away from the group.
"She will live among the stars forever. You will see her tonight." the Shadow Walkers said softly.
The Shadow Walkers spared one look to the wolves then stepped into the shadows again, vanishing no doubt going back to their home.
Gregor looked at those standing around him as wolves and he focused himself turning back into his wolf form. He stood straighter looking at the others with a sad sigh.
"Let's go home." Gregor said softly.
The boy from the temple had done as the wolf had said and had searched for the wizard who had trained the wolf. He had found him at the edge of a great lake living as a hermit all alone. He had not taken on students in years but was more then willing to accept the boy.
It was that night laying out looking at the stars when he had seen it. A new constellation in the stars, a howling wolf. He had loved to look at the stars as a small child so he was sure it had not been there before tonight.
"Teacher look what do you make of that?"
The old man looked up slowly and smiled at the stars.
"It would seem old Aslaug has finally been reunited with her love." he said then whispered. "Don't be sad though all the great ones live on in the stars. If I train you well enough you may be there one day when you've lived awhile."
"Will I see her again? I never got to thank her?"
"Of course boy she will be with the Shadow Walker, the great old gods."