"Weeelcommmme," said the man, the beginnings of a smile on his face.
Lilly was startled. "Hi," she replied almost silently, the greeting coming from her automatically. Then she saw Carlo and began to head for him, not just to see how he was doing but also instinctively for protection. She had been brought up with the values that a man's job was to protect the women around him, and right now Lilly was acting more from nervousness than anything else.
Carlo, she saw, was not alone, and that too was cause for concern. He was lying next to one of the pools, with three women in attendance. Two of the nude women were in the process of pulling all Carlo's clothes off, whilst the third held his head, cradling it in her lap.
For a moment Lilly felt a surge of jealousy flow through her, although she knew the woman was probably making sure that Carlo's head injury didn't get any worse. It was hard to tell though, because the expressions of all three women were kind of strange. A mixture of eagerness, curiosity, and fear. The odd way their faces were shaped didn't help although even remembering all this later Lilly couldn't figure out just WHAT was odd about them.
It took no time at all for the bound girl to reach Carlo and the women. "Stop it!" Lilly said. "What are you doing to him?"
The women looked up at her for a moment but didn't say anything, they just continued to pull off his clothing, although the way they went about it made them look as if they didn't handle clothes very often. They seemed rather clumsy.
"Leave him alone!" Lilly said, frustrated that she couldn't reach down and stop them herself. She pulled uselessly at her bound hands, knowing from experience that her bonds were only coming off when someone wanted them to.
She turned to face the rest of the group, who were looking at her with different levels of hostility. "Please, can anyone untie me?"
The man who had spoken had followed her over. "I cannn trrryyy," he said slowly, forming the words deliberately
Lilly stared at him for a moment, wondering why he spoke so strangely, and then she turned away. Again she could feel him fumbling at the knots, only to fail once more.
She saw that the women had Carlo almost naked.
"What are you doing?" Lilly asked them.
"It's waaarmmmmmerrr innnn the waaaaterrrr," said the man. "Heee neeeedsss to waaarrrmm upppp." (Author's note: In the interests of readability, I'm going to continue the lines from this man in normal English, but remember that poor Lilly had to listen to the long versions.)
Lilly understood; it was one of the reasons they had hot tubs back at the Compound, and if she had been thinking straight she would have known that.
"Okay," she said, keeping her eyes on Carlo.
He was finally undressed, and the women slid him into the water. Carlo was looking rather pale, but the warm water would stabilize his temperature and help stimulate him. Lilly only relaxed when she saw the women continue to take care of him. She turned to the man.
"Who are you?" she asked.
The man looked puzzled, as if trying to figure out what she had said, then he smiled and gestured to the others around them. "We are...Loup-garoux."
"You're what?" Lilly asked him.
"You do not know us?"
Lilly shook her head.
"Godfreee never spoke of us?"
"Godfreee, who's...oh, Jan Godfrey? He died when I was just a little girl! You knew him?"
The man nodded. "Yes, he knew us, he helped us. He was...friend."
Lilly was curious in spite of herself. Suddenly these people didn't seem so strange, if they knew one of the Compound's founding fathers. "How did he help you?"
The man was about to answer when a wolf burst in from through the crack. Lilly didn't know it, but it was one of the sentries from outside. The wolf ran right up to the man and danced around him for a second before running back.
The man's expression darkened, and he followed, but it was what he did next that made Lilly scream.
One second he was a man, the next he was a wolf bounding along on all fours.
Lilly felt her fear explode inside her, stories from her childhood dumping their misinformed knowledge on her consciousness. She knew she had to get out of there! That she and Carlo were in great danger! These things were going to attack them sooner or later, ripping their throats out and sucking their blood. If they were lucky they would die, but if not, she and Carlo would be doomed to an eternity of hell! Cursed...
Several of the male wolves looked at her when she screamed, and as soon
as they did, her fear vanished completely. All she was left with
was her logic, and without the backup of emotional support, Lilly suddenly
deflated. Her mind just couldn't cope with what it had seen, what
it knew to be impossible. And not allowed to deal with things emotionally,
it took the only other option. It shut down.
Paul Anderson, Guardian of the Compound, sat down and sighed. He put his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes for a moment, before sliding his fingers through his thinning hair and touching the bump on his head. He glanced up, feeling a couple of other spots on his body that ached. He looked at Robert Klink, lying flat on the bunk in one of the clinic's patient rooms. The man was staring at the ceiling and appeared not to notice Paul's entrance.
Paul was worried about his mentor. Klink had gone nuts in the examining room, screaming and running forward so he could attack the boy on the examining table.
It was only because he and Sheriff Kinkade, both beefy men, were there that kept the attack from becoming serious. As it was, both men of the law were battered and bruised from their successful attempt at pulling Robert away from the stranger. Despite his age, Robert Klink, like all the men at the Compound, was in very good physical condition. This was no feeble old man from the outside; he gave as good as he got. But then almost as suddenly as it started, the attack stopped, and Robert let himself be carried away.
Paul was shaken by the attack, and also by what he heard Robert say just before he launched himself at the boy. He wasn't sure he heard what he heard, and while apologizing and thanking Kinkade for his help, he asked the town Sheriff if he had heard what Robert said? Kinkade said no.
Paul wasn't sure if he was happy or not that the Sheriff hadn't caught those two words he never expected to hear twice in one day.
"Loup-garou". What the hell was "Loup-garou"?
Paul quickly put Robert in another room and then dispersed the crowd still waiting outside. He didn't want word of the attack to spread to the community yet. He also got Grady and Shawna to take Kinkade and the boy he came up with to an empty apartment, where they could spend the night.
Then, after checking with Gabe to make sure the boy on the table was okay, he went to see Robert.
After sitting silently for a few minutes, Paul sighed again and spoke. "What's going on, Robert?"
"You have to get him out of here!" said Robert sharply.
Paul waited, hoping his friend would say more. "Get who, that boy?"
"Him, yes. Get him out of the Compound right now; he's dangerous!"
"That kid is hardly in any shape to do much right now," Paul said.
"He's stronger than you think! He isn't..." Robert trailed off.
"Isn't...what?" Paul asked, curious to hear what the old man had to say for himself.
Klink turned his head away. "You have to...trust me."
"I do trust you; you know that. But you have to give me a better reason than that if you want me to put someone out in a snowstorm. And even then, I doubt I'd do it."
"You HAVE TOO!" shouted Kinkade, turning to look Paul straight in the eye.
Paul expected madness in that look, but instead saw despair, worry, and fright. Paul was surprised. Robert was indeed frightened of Gabe Miller's current patient.
"Why?" Paul asked gently, leaning forward so he could talk softly and hopefully influence Robert to do the same. "Tell me, Robert; why are you asking this? Is it because of Loup-garou? Is that what he is?"
Robert looked like the blood drained from his face. There was shock and surprise in his expression. He had completely forgotten that Patch had told Paul what he had seen. "You know!" he exclaimed.
"I know it has something to do with wolves," Paul replied.
"But I don't know the whole story. Tell me, Robert; tell me the whole story. I need to know it, if I am to protect this community. You know this. You can't leave me in the dark!"
Robert looked down, then rolled back on his back. He closed his eyes for a moment, making a decision, then opened them again once more.
"Okay. This is what I know, what I saw thirty years ago..."
"It was before my time as Guardian," (Robert said). "At that time, I worked outside during the summer, farming. We were just starting the southeast terraces that year, and it was a big project for us. Moving all that earth and flattening those acres took a community effort, and by the time fall came around, we were all exhausted but satisfied with a job well done. We looked forward to spring and a new planting season. We had dreams.
"It's a pity that three years later water erosion caused the whole thing to slide down the mountain. It was devastating, but that first year we were all high on our accomplishment.
"Fall passed and winter came, and as a group, we hunkered down for another cold season. We only had the Great Hall back then, and one wing for people to live and work in. Did you know we've almost trebled in size in the past thirty years?
"I didn't think you had. I remember you, and your brother. Troublemakers from the start, as only boys can be. I remember your father having a devil of a time with you, yet laughing about it at the same time. You know, it's a pity what happened with your parents. I often think of them.
"Anyway, seeing you and the other children thriving and happy gave us all a good feeling. In many ways, that was a contributing factor of sorts.
Now, you know my father was Guardian at the time, and he often had me sit in on his meetings, learning the ropes, so to speak. It was at one of those meetings where I first heard the words "Loup-garou." Jan Godfrey and my father were talking about them having come back, and Godfrey wasn't that happy with my being there to hear about them. But my father told him that I might be one of those who needed to go, so I would find out anyway. He also said that it was good that I knew, as someone would have to know this story if they came again.
"The Loup-garoux of course.
"Yes, I'm getting to that.
"Godfrey, it seemed, had met them only ten years after the Compound had been established. He met with them, talked with them, and eventually agreed to their demands.
"I'll get to that.
"Shortly after that, he organized the building of the outside wall around the Compound, which tells me he really didn't trust them, even after giving them what they wanted.
"What? Well, you don't really believe we need walls like those just to keep out bear, do you?
"But getting back; the Loup-garoux appeared once more, again as...demanding our help, our...service, probably threatening something or other if we didn't comply. They also had some sob story that they used as an excuse, which many believed.
They said they were dying, you see. That their blood was thinning out, and they could only survive as themselves with our help!
"I know that doesn't make sense; patience, boy!
"So, seven of us were volunteered to help. I was one of them, but I could not bring myself to do it. It was wrong and I knew it, but I couldn't dissuade the others. They only saw the story concocted by these...ungodly creatures. So I didn't go, and another took my place.
"Who went? Well, your uncle Bill, for one. They needed unattached men.
"They went, and a day later they came back. To my surprise they were not harmed, yet they all remained silent about that they had been through. Bill is the last of them alive, and even now doesn't speak of them. But I think it's why he never married.
"But now they are back, the Loup-garoux, back with the same old stories and excuses. But we're stronger now; there are a lot more of us. We shouldn't be afraid as long as we keep them out of here, which is why we need to get that...thing...in our Doctor's examining room out of here as fast as possible.
"What? Wolves? You still haven't got it, have you, Paul!
"They have everything to do with wolves; that's what the Loup-garoux are!
"No it's not crazy, I wish it were. But it's true, and we are damned by that knowledge.
"The Loup-garoux are wolves that can turn into men, and back again. They are animals with human cunning and intelligence, and humans with animal instincts and violence!
"You cannot trust them, Paul, they aren't like us!
"What do they want? Why, to mate with us, of course. Their numbers are small, too small to support their species. They mate with normal wolves, and travel with them over the yearly migration; but over time, the wolf's blood takes over and they become less and less human. If they continue to breed this way, they will cease to exist as they are right now, and an abomination will be gone from this world. But if they get what they want, some of our men to mate with some of their women, their blood is renewed and they will continue to live!
"But we can't let that happen, Paul; we can't! We can't allow
our own principles of marriage before sex to fall by the wayside because
of such a scam, and we can't let these creatures exist any longer than
we have to. We MUST not give in, Paul. I'm trusting you
now, as our leader. You must not give in; you must not allow their
fake sentimentality to overwhelm you. You MUST uphold our principles,
our faith in God. THAT is why you are our Guardian; THAT is your
Paul sat stunned; unable to believe what this man he admired had just told him. It seemed...too incredible for words. And yet...
Patch...His story about the wolf that turned into a man just long enough to talk to him, to tell him those two words; that had puzzled Paul all day.
It was much too much of a coincidence. Two very different men telling the same wild tale. Was it true?
Robert Klink was sitting up now, his expression intense as he watched his protege. Klink wondered if Paul would go do the right thing, or if he was going to cave in like Godfrey did that first time, like his father did after that.
What was Paul Anderson going to do?
Paul himself didn't know. He leaned forward to ask Robert something when Gabe poked his head in the doorway.
"Paul," he said, noting at once the unusual tension in the room. "I think you'd better get out here."
"Later, Doctor," said Paul.
"No, now. He's starting to come round and I think you might want to talk to him."
Robert swung his legs off the bed. "No Paul. Don't listen to him. Don't listen to their lies. Put him out!"
Gabe's eyes widened at this, but Paul stood up, not wanting Gabe to hear anymore.
"Go home, Robert; we'll talk some more later. Gabe, let's go."
"I'm right, Paul, you have to trust me!" Robert said as Paul and Gabe left the small room. Paul ignored him.
"What's going on?" Gabe asked.
Paul wasn't sure how to reply. Instead, he entered the examination room to see the boy stirring on the table.
He looked normal to Paul, a healthy if thin seventeen-year-old boy, and yet...
"Doctor," Paul said, "is there anything...out of the ordinary about this kid?"
"Out of the ordinary? What do you mean?"
Paul shook his head. He approached the boy, who he could hear mumbling in his sleep. "I thought you said he was coming around?"
"He was; he goes in and out. I can bring him right out if you want, but I'd rather let him come out on his own."
Paul stepped closer. His mind was filled with the story Robert had told him. Was it true? Was this boy...was he not human? His hair looked somewhat like the mottled shading of a wolf's pelt. Paul reached out and touched it. Did it feel right? Paul swallowed. What if it was only the power of suggestion? What if Robert's crazy story was making him think things about this boy that he wouldn't normally have considered?
"What's going on, Paul?" Gabe said slowly, watching the way Paul approached the boy, and the struggle of thought and emotion visible on his face.
Paul stood silent, then shook his head. He moved to turn away from the boy when suddenly the boy's eyes opened.
The boy opened his mouth, and one word, distorted but recognizable,
issued forth. "Lillyyyy!"
Lilly Anderson opened her eyes; she was lying face down on a hard surface and her hands hurt. She tried to move them, but couldn't, only then remembering they were bound behind her back. She felt hot and sweaty in her furs, and wanted to be rid of them. But she was helpless to do that, helpless.
Then the rest of her universe made itself known to her and she sat up. She was still in the grotto, snow falling slowly from above through the gaps in the overhead cover, a sign that a major snowfall was underway. Around her were the people, the...wolves. Mixed now; she could see them in both forms, and two big wolves were facing off against each other, growling and circling, watching for that opportunity to pounce.
Lilly tore her eyes from them and looked around for Carlo. He was still laying neck deep in one of the hot pools, tended to by three of the...women? In looking for him, Lilly almost didn't notice that the grotto had another visitor.
Sitting across the pool from her was a boy about her own age, dressed in a modern snowsuit done in blue and black. The boy looked frightened, his eyes wide as he watched the two growling wolves. He glanced over at Lilly, and registered a faint show of surprise and relief.
Lilly first thought it was one of the boys that attacked her and Carlo, but didn't recognize the snowsuit. She knew it had to be a town boy though, and wondered whether to trust him. She considered the company and figured she had no choice.
Glancing around at the other...people, who were all watching the fight, Lilly called out to him.
"Hey!" she said quietly, not wanting to call any more attention to herself than she had to. But she HAD to talk to the stranger.
The boy looked over at her.
Lilly turned to show him her bound hands. "Can you help me?"
The boy shook his head, afraid to move.
"Please, I need your help. They can't get me untied and I need to take care of my friend." Lilly gestured at Carlo, still unconscious in the water.
The boy watched her for a moment, then nodded. He got up and cautiously walked around the pool without being stopped or challenged. He squatted down behind Lilly and went to work on the knots in the cord that bound her.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered.
"We were brought here; what about you?"
"Same thing. One of the wolves fighting the other one brought me here."
"The other wolf brought us," Lilly replied. "Do you know why they're fighting?"
"Not a clue."
"Do you know...what they are?"
Lilly felt rather than saw the boy nod.
The cord around her wrists suddenly went slack and Lilly could pull her arms in front of her. She rubbed her wrists, and wished she could get married so that she would have marriage bands to protect her wrists in the future. It was an odd thought for the time, she realized.
She turned to see the boy staring at her.
"Thanks," she said with what she hoped was a smile. "I'm Lilly."
"Sean," said the boy.
The growling nearby suddenly got louder, and Lilly and Sean turned to see that one of the wolves had made its move. It had leapt, feinted, and then leapt again, catching the other from the side and bowling it over. The two wolves rolled until one got on top of the other, its jaws around the other's throat.
There was a pause, when it seemed like everyone held their breath. Then the dominant wolf let go and walked away.
The beaten wolf lay still for a moment, before getting to its feet and heading in the other direction. It was joined by a woman.
The victor headed straight for the humans, and Lilly steeled herself for its attack. Instead it changed right before her eyes, features and limbs slipping quickly from one position to another with apparent ease. The man that came out was the one who had brought her here.
He padded naked toward them, the other people giving him room, until he reached the pool. He stepped into it and settled into the water.
"Who are you?" Lilly asked again. "Why did you bring us here?"
The man, the pack leader it seemed, looked up. "You would not have survived the snow."
"You brought us here to rescue us?" Lilly almost laughed with the tension.
"Yes," said the man.
Lilly didn't believe him, but she was free now and wanted to tend to Carlo. She asked if she could, and the man, who apparently was the leader, inclined his head in Carlo's direction.
Lilly took that for a yes, but didn't fancy getting her furs wet, so she pulled them off, undressing casually as one accustomed to mixed nudity can do.
She didn't stir more than a casual interest from the pack, but Sean's eyes opened wide. Here was a rather attractive girl his own age undressing right in front of him. His worries about his immediate future suddenly dimmed at the sight of this nubile young woman.
Lilly, now naked except for her waist rope, slipped into the water, finding it warmer than expected. It was about chest deep once she got into it, and she waded over to Carlo.
The women surrounding him scowled at her, and Lilly wondered if she was going to be able to get near him. But a growl from the pack leader got the women's attention, and they moved over.
Lilly took hold of Carlo, who was half floating in the warm water. His color was improved and the cut on his head looked better, although there was a hefty bruise on the side of his head. Lilly wished he would wake up; she needed him. She leaned forward and kissed him.
"Hey now, wait. NO!" she heard behind her.
The three women she had chased away from Carlo were now out of the pool and with Sean. They were fumbling with Sean's clothes, trying to pull them from him.
Sean fought them, but his efforts were rather without force, as he was definitely affected by the fact that three naked women were trying to get his pants off. Teenage boys, slaves to their hormones in most respects, can only take so much, and Sean had taken all he could. In the end, he passively allowed his clothes to be taken from him, and soon he was as naked as the rest.
He looked over at Lilly, who was watching him, and blushed. Never in his life had he been exposed like this. Not since he was a little kid had any female seen him naked, and now he was surrounded by them. Men too!
He didn't resist at all as he was led to the pool, and actually was glad to climb in, not just because of the cold, but because the water gave him some cover.
Lilly would have smiled at Sean's discomfort in normal circumstances, but she was too worried about what was going to happen to them. She saw that the wolf the pack leader had fought had also turned into a man, and sat scowling in another pool a little way away, with two women with him.
The other members of the pack were also water bound for the most part, and all watched the strangers in their midst; the women with more interest than the men.
The pack leader himself had climbed out, though. He crouched, dripping, next to the pile of furs and picked them up. He brought them to his nose and inhaled, a puzzled look on his face.
"You smell strongly of him," he said, looking at Lilly.
"What?" she asked.
"This one, his scent is strong." He shook the fur he was holding at her.
"I don't understand," Lilly replied honestly.
"The...outcast, the one we sent away."
"The wolf?" Lilly said, realization dawning. "He was one of you?"
"Not one of us, an outcast. He almost destroyed us."
"How? I thought..." She realized that if the young wolf they had found was one of these...things, then falling off the cliff wouldn't have killed it.
The pack leader must have picked up on her thoughts. "You think we're invincible? I know the human tales, the myths," he said.
Lilly looked away, confused, and she took hold of Carlo, and felt him stir. She held him for protection as well as to protect him. Too many thoughts flew around her young mind. This was all so incredible.
"You aren't invincible?" she asked nervously.
The look on the man's face told more than his words could.
"No, we are dying," he said.
"How?" Lilly asked.
The pack leader told her.
Paul Anderson knocked on the door of one of the vacant apartments in the Compound. He had decided to leave the clinic for a while, since the stranger passed out again after only one word.
Paul had felt like shaking him awake, anxious to learn what the boy knew of his daughter, but the doctor cautioned restraint. In the morning, he would wake the boy himself if he hadn't come to by then. But for now, he needed his rest.
Paul hadn't liked that, but knew when to back off. He decided to go for a visit.
"Come on in!" yelled a voice Paul recognized, and he pushed open the door and stepped in.
Inside were Kinkade and Kale. Both had pulled off their snow gear, and Kinkade was busy building a fire in the fireplace. Kale was sitting in a corner, a scowl on his face.
Paul wondered if he had just missed an altercation of some kind. He knew that the Sheriff was not a fan of the boy, a suspected pedophile at least in thought. That Kale had never actually physically done anything to children except take their picture was to Paul a reason for hope that the boy could be reclaimed. To the Sheriff, it only meant that Kale hadn't gotten that far yet.
Such thoughts passed through Paul's mind as he entered the room, jostling for space with the worry Paul had over his missing daughter, and the strange story he had been told by Robert Klink.
"Hi Paul," Kinkade said, standing up and brushing off his hands.
"I don't think you have eaten yet, have you?" Paul asked, noting how Kale perked up at the mention of food.
"No," said Kinkade, "Nothing since lunch for me."
"Well, we're at the tail end of dinner, but we can still make it. Why don't you come with me?"
The man and boy stood up, and Paul led them to the Great Hall. On the way, Paul had a few quiet words with his town counterpart. He didn't tell his friend everything; in fact, he kept back an awful lot. What he did tell the Sheriff was that someone had recognized the boy as being a member of a traveling group of people who lived in the mountains, and that the boy had recovered enough to mention his daughter's name. It was enough, Paul said, for him to hope that Lilly and the two missing boys were with these people and safe for the duration of the storm. It was hoped that when the boy woke up properly, he could take them to the other camp.
Kinkade was relieved, but still cautious. He knew too well how raised hopes could be dashed. He thanked Paul for the heads up.
As they entered the Great Hall, Paul saw that most of the community had already eaten and left, including his wife Elizabeth, who had decided to work in the kitchen rather than sit at home worrying about their daughter.
Paul saw Kale look up toward the kitchen area where the almost nude female kitchen staff worked, and bristled. Paul did not think there was anything wrong with the community's standards of dress or undress, yet this boy made it hard to maintain its purity. He considered cautioning the boy on his behavior, but decided against it. The boy was Kinkade's responsibility, and no doubt his friend had already made the proper noises. Paul decided to leave well enough alone, but he steered them to the far end of the hall and went to fetch their food himself.
As he did so, he hoped that the boy in Gabe Miller's care would indeed
be well enough to lead them to his daughter.
It was a long and fascinating story. Long because of its complexity, and made longer by the almost incomprehensible English of the pack leader, but fascinating because it was unlike anything Lilly and the others had ever heard.
Carlo had woken up near the beginning of the story, and after she filled him in on what had happened and made sure he was okay, he and Lilly sat and listened in rapt attention.
Even Sean was caught up in the story and moved closer to hear it better. He was still embarrassed by his nudity, but was slowly adjusting to the situation. He also kept watching the women around him, including the three that never left him alone. So much naked flesh. It beat those stupid photographs any day. He also watched Lilly and Carlo with a little envy. It was obvious they were a couple, as Carl now lay on his back in the water with Lilly behind him cradling his head on her breasts. The couple held each other and seemed to draw strength from each other, and the way they looked at each other...
Well, they didn't look like the loose moral types he had been told populated the Compound. He would have expected them to have screwed half the people here by now if those stories had been true.
Lilly and Carlo were also very conscious of the position they were in. Never before had they been together so intimately, lying naked together in the water. But it was something they both needed, not for its sexual value, but for support and comfort. Despite a curious lack of fear, they knew that they were in a potentially dangerous situation. That and a blazing headache kept Carlo from relaxing too much.
Yet, as the story unfolded of how the pack had existed for centuries, its origins unknown, Lilly and the two boys were drawn in.
The pack leader told of how contact with Mankind had always limited its numbers, yet they could not live without humans nearby, or they would lose their uniqueness, their identity.
For centuries, they co-existed somewhat peacefully with native cultures, only having sporadic contact when it was necessary, and always at a planned time. Many of these contacts influenced both groups in more ways than just biology, and many of the ancient stories of Wolf Gods and other mythology could be explained in part by contact with the Loup-garoux.
Then the Europeans discovered industry, technology, and greed, and they were no longer willing to harmonize with nature. The Loup-garoux were pushed back and reduced in numbers even more, until only a couple of scattered groups remained.
Carlos, interested in world geography, figured that the last groups lived here in the Rockies, and in Siberia, mixing in with the real wolves and behaving much as their normal cousins did.
But the Loup-garoux persevered and continued to live their long lives; the pack leader was something like sixty, young enough when the elders were well over a hundred. But a recent incident put this entire pack in jeopardy, and without the help of Man, they were at serious risk of dying out.
The pack leader spoke of a night of blood, a night where confusion reigned as the pack was attacked as it slept. The cries of their pups as they were torn to shreds, the images of fur and claw in the darkness, and the smell of blood were graphically brought forth to the human listeners.
The pack had been completely surprised, ambushed by something unknown that ripped through them like fire. It attacked their children and their women, killing everything in its path that could not run away fast enough. Many brave members tried to stand up to it, protecting the future of the pack, but were battered aside.
Soon the fighting ended, the attackers departing as swiftly and silently as they had approached, and in their wake was destruction the like of which the pack had never seen in hundreds of years. Not a pup was left, and almost half the females and a third of the males were gone too.
What had attacked them, they did not know, although its smell was something that was not QUITE Man either. But they did have someone to blame.
All the pack would have needed was some warning and they could have survived, and the pack never rested without a sentry to watch over them.
Lilly was shocked to find out that the sentry that fell asleep when he should have been up and guarding his pack was the wolf she had taken into the Compound. It had been one of its first patrols, the pack equivalent to the survival week Lilly and her friends were so worried about. But that fact did not protect it from the wrath of its companions.
The pack shunned it, attacking it when it came too near, and it became an outcast, following the pack but no longer a part of it.
Desperate, the pack headed south to the only place close by that had helped them before, the Compound.
Lilly and Carlo were stunned to find out that the Loup-garoux had visited the Compound before, and that many of the now adult members of the pack were in fact the offspring of those meetings. The pack leader thought that he might be one himself, but did not know for sure.
He finished his story by relating how he had gone for help, but had been refused. Now the pack had to travel far in order to find the next community of humans that could help them, and they had little time.
Pack females stayed in heat only so long, and only every several years was this condition brought on. They were in heat now, biologically triggered by the deaths of all the pups, but if they weren't impregnated soon, then the pack would lose a chance at a new generation for many years.
It could spell the end of them.
Looking around, Sean thought that explained the why all the women here were so interested in them. They were all anxious to get laid. Sean didn't know whether to cheer or be scared.
Story over, the pack leader went off by himself. He was quickly joined by the other male, the one that had challenged him earlier. The male (none of the pack had names, they knew who they were) had brought Sean in for a different reason than Lilly and Carlo. He wanted the boy to impregnate the females of the pack. He was unwilling to wait, to negotiate with humans who he detested anyway. It was over this that he had challenged the pack leader and lost, but now he had another chance.
He pushed for the leader to force the two male humans to mate with them, to give up their seed so the pack could live. The leader found the idea appealing, but could not condone the use of force. The two Loup-garoux almost came to blows again, reverting to wolf form once more in a show of dominance.
This was the first time Carlo had seen the change, and he found it fascinating. But he also felt affected by the story of the pack and the plight they were in. He wondered why they had been refused, when the Compound had helped these people before. Then he thought about Lilly's father, Paul Anderson, and if he was the kind of man who would HELP the Loup-garoux. He didn't know, which made Carlo wonder what HE would do in this situation.
He looked at Lilly, holding him tightly, and thought about it.
The confrontation between the two wolves ended and the pack began to settle down.
Carlo got up, steadying his head carefully and thankful for the buoyancy of the water. He waved Sean over, and Lilly introduced the two men. Carlo was wary of Sean, after all, a town boy had almost killed him a few hours before. But Lilly vouched for him.
The three humans kept together, and talked.
"What do we do?" asked Sean.
"We wait," said Lilly. "I don't think they're going to hurt us."
"That one might," Carlo said, inclining his head toward the male who had twice challenged the pack leader.
"Well, if we have to wait, is there any chance of getting some food?" Sean asked.
The other two looked at him and suddenly realized that they also were hungry. Yet because of what was going on around them, it seemed odd to want to eat.
They needn't have worried though. All through the story, wolves had been coming and going through the entrance to this grotto, and unbeknownst to the humans, they had all been hunting. The pack leader chose that moment to come over to them, a fat, dead, snow rabbit in his hands. He dropped the rabbit on the ground and left them alone again.
Sean just stared at it.
Carlo smiled. "Lilly, get my knife out of the sack. I'll skin it and we can cook it over one of these fires."
Lilly sighed. "I'm sorry, Carlo, I didn't bring it. You had my hands tied, remember? I wasn't in a position to grab anything."
"I have a knife in my clothes," Sean said, wondering what rabbit was going to taste like. He didn't want to think about Loup-garoux or anything important anymore. Just something simple, like food.
"Okay, get it," Carlo said.
Sean moved to do just that, but made a disturbing discovery. All their clothes had been removed. They were now stuck in this grotto, as to leave meant freezing to death.
"Shit!" Sean said.
Carlo said they could make do, and he and Lilly skinned the rabbit by hand.
Lilly wondered why Carlo didn't demand their clothing back, and wondered why the Loup-garoux had taken it away. But further reflection gave her the answers.
They obviously wanted to make sure the humans stayed rather than risk the snowstorm, which meant there was no point in asking.
It was not a comforting thought.
The rabbit turned out okay, and Sean thought it weird to sit naked with all these people, eating food he had never tried before, in a place he had never been before, with no hope of changing any of it. It was somewhat liberating, really, and he relaxed and went with the flow. He still stole glances at Lilly though, recognizing her in the firelight from some of the pictures his dad had discovered under his bed.
It was the first time he had really thought about his dad since this all began, and he felt sorry for what he had said to the man. He also had another thought.
"Do you think they're searching for us?" he asked quietly.
Carlo nodded. "Yes, but not right now. No one would go out in this kind of snowfall. They'd wait until first light at least."
"My dad is probably going nuts!"
"Who is your father?" Lilly asked him, reluctantly taking another bite of meat. She knew she had to eat to survive, but had always followed the Compound rule that women didn't eat meat.
Sean looked over at her, making an effort to meet her eyes rather than her beautiful naked body. "He's the Sheriff. I guess you guys know him; he comes up here often enough."
Lilly had met Kinkade a few times, being Paul's daughter made that unavoidable, but Carlo hadn't. "Oh!" she said. "I didn't know you were THAT Sean! My father is Paul Anderson, the Compound's Guardian."
Sean smiled, and Lilly smiled back. Sean had heard his dad talk about Paul to his mother. His dad thought a great deal of the man.
He would have said something, but the pack suddenly all stood up and began to move.
Carlo wondered if there was trouble, but it was quickly evident that there was nothing of the kind. It was simply the pack preparing for the night.
Several of them began kicking dirt on the fires, putting them out one by one as the rest of the pack congregated in one spot on the far side of the grotto. The three humans were encouraged to follow, and soon they were surrounded by wolves. Almost all the pack had changed to wolf form, and the pack leader, one of the last, bade the teenagers to lie with them for the night.
"You will find it easier to sleep this way," he said, "warmer too."
So Lilly, Carlo, and Sean lay down and snuggled in among the hot furry
bodies of the pack. Lilly and Carlo wordlessly considered snuggling
together, but wisely decided not to. Instead, they lay in opposite
directions, yet close enough to touch easily if they needed to. And
as they fell asleep in the dark, Carlo thought about what it would take
to help these people out.
Alone in one corner of the Great Hall, Paul sat and brooded. He had plans to start a search of the mountain as soon as it got light and the snowfall stopped. If the boy at the clinic could help, so much the better, but he was going anyway.
He didn't hear the soft footsteps of his wife coming up behind him, but he did feel her arms around his neck as she hugged him from behind.
"Paul, it's late. You need your rest."
"I'm not tired," he replied.
"Yes, you are," said Elizabeth, "and I know you have to go looking for them in the morning. What good are you to them if you are too tired to stay on your feet?"
"I can sleep later," Paul replied.
Elizabeth grunted. She reached down, pulled the ties on the shirt he was wearing, and Paul didn't resist when she tugged the shirt from him. Topless, his skin could now feel his wife holding him once more, and the two warm points in his back told him that she wasn't wearing a shirt either. This made him turn to look at her.
Elizabeth was still a beauty in his eyes, one he never tired of looking at. She had a smile that lightened his heart no matter what his troubles could be. She was using that smile now, and he reached out to pull her into his lap.
Elizabeth touched his face. "They're okay; you know that, and I know that. We brought them up to survive, and that's what they are doing."
Paul nodded, even though he knew something she didn't. The Loup-garoux.
"So, come home and come to bed; you need the rest, and I need you." She leaned forward and kissed him. "Let's worry about our daughter together."
Paul nodded again, not daring to speak, and he stood up, easily lifting
his wife up in his arms. He carried her all the way back to their
End of Part 9.