Author: kydasam PM
PRESLASH VHC Van Helsing and Carl set out to capture a werewolf that is being shown by a circus. Along the way they must deal with other hunters, the circus owner's own dark purposes, and the wolf's brutal attack upon Carl. COMPLETERated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Horror - Chapters: 12 - Words: 64,755 - Reviews: 80 - Favs: 32 - Follows: 7 - Updated: 08-27-05 - Published: 07-18-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2490245
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Pairing: Carl/Gabriel, the beginnings of a slash relationship
Series/Sequel: Brother Wolf, Sister Wolf, The Pack is Everything
Notes: Thank you for letting me know that you wanted a sequel! This story will continue in two parts—the werewolf village in Sister Wolf followed by The Pack is Everything in which Van Helsing and Carl return home to Rome and the Order.
Warning: Aspersions against the Church of Van Helsing's time (which I feel are merited), the ongoing relationship of Gabriel and Carl that with togetherness, deepens.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything (sniff), but I do like to play
Feedback: Thank you so much for reading my story. Any suggestions, criticisms and encouragement you offer will be accepted with much appreciation! To reviewers Tim for his idea concerning Charles; Toto3 for feeding the muse with her wonderful ideas!; MagRowan for her excellent question about the Cardinal; Mannariel for reminding me of the joy a few well-chosen words can bring!; Chibi-Kaz for mentioning immunity and for being a friend!; Runts Gal for suggesting the plot of The Pack is Everything and for sticking with me through all the stories; GlasTriskellion for finding plot holes and letting me know Charles needed an epilogue—this one's for you!; TrinitytheSheDevil for sticking with me and 'The Little Hunter'—snort!; xiXmoonofdespairXix for constantly egging me on (hug!); Seadragon68 for always being there, for being a wonderful writer and reinforcing the need to keep centered on the pack; MiladyDragon for sticking to the end; and JustinetheBean for her beautiful inspiring art. Additional thanks to Scap, DianaRulz, Miyuki, Peekaboo42, Demus, N, Billyez, Miko2660, Steph, and Kawaiikitsune90—your taking the time to review and give me your thoughts kept me going! I hope you enjoy this final chapter!
Special Thanks to my muse, Archangel Gabriel, the patron of the written word
Silent as ghosts, the pack moved over the red-soaked earth in two directions, fanning out to form a loose, constantly moving half-circle. The pack's blazing eyes remained intent upon the two combatants, their long muzzles were held low to the ground as they edged close to scent the newcomer then retreated, jaws parted as they panted with snarling lips and flickering tongues that tasted the scent of blood and dominance
When their circling course drew close to Van Helsing, they snarled and snapped at him, but offered him no harm. It was evident they were telling him not to interfere in any way.
The white wolf stood on two legs over the female, his massive back humped and spiked with dense ridges of fur. His lips were pulled back fully, exposing long white canines, serrated molars and black gums. Leaning over the female, he snapped his jaws at her, as if warning her to stay down.
The female's gold eyes rolled upward to the male over her, her own mouth gaping in a warning as her ears flattened to her skull. In a single convulsive movement, she lunged for the white wolf; catching him about the waist, her claws sank into his sides and raked downward.
The male howled and struck the female twice, once on each side of her head; when she staggered, he seized massive handfuls of the fur on her shoulders, dragging her away from his body. With a heave that made tendons and muscles stand out in sharp relief, he threw the female from him.
She landed several paces away, rolling twice before she scrambled to her feet, snarling as she slipped awkwardly in the leaves that marked the edge of the original trap. Her gold eyes blazed as they fixed on the white wolf and she moved sideways, perpendicular to the trap and him. He turned, keeping his eyes on her, answering her snarls and growls with the same. When she rushed him, rising to two feet, he was ready. They came together with bared clashing teeth, their long claws slashing at one another.
Van Helsing watched the battle anxiously; unable to help he railed at his own impotence. The other werewolves made no move to either help or hinder the battle, but they watched every movement with a keen intelligence that made Van Helsing's own eyes narrow.
Pulling his feet under him, he rose to sit, then to one knee. Immediately, the closest werewolf whirled on him. He froze as the monster thrust snarling jaws forward, mere inches from his face. He could feel his own wolf howling within his mind; he saw his reflection in the glowing eyes of the werewolf facing him and he saw the black wolf waiting behind him, waiting to be allowed out.
A yelp from the combatants brought the attention of both man and wolf back to the clearing. The female and the white wolf were separated, each had pelts liberally stained with blood but neither was looking at the other. Instead, they looked up at the sky and the streaks of red that now tainted the pristine darkness. Like her children, night's sky bled as the sun asserted its dominance and rose from the horizon.
Van Helsing's gaze dropped to the wolf facing him; he was surprised to see the glow had faded from the brown eyes and the snarling teeth were again hidden. He was more surprised when the wolf turned away without another look and loped into the grey woods beyond. All about the clearing, the werewolves were leaving without a backward glance. He shivered when he realized that over a dozen wolves had been in the clearing and their exodus made no sound.
Only the female and the white wolf were left, each still on two feet facing one another. Neither wolf was making any aggressive moves; in fact, the female seemed to be looking at the white male with a good deal of interest. Van Helsing raised a dark brow as he saw the wolf that would very shortly become his friend again, doing the same. When the female moved, it was away from the male, to the tree that Van Helsing had been tied to. Her eyes darted to the hunter, then, and she licked her lips as a little whine escaped her. One hand moved to the tree and with a quick slashing stroke, she clawed a deep horizontal 'V" in the trunk. Then, without another sound, she dropped to all fours and disappeared into the forest.
Van Helsing rose to his feet, grimacing as he looked down at his naked blood-splattered body. Gingerly, he walked across the clearing to approach the werewolf, watchful for any signs of warning or returned ferocity.
The wolf watched him approach, the blue eyes blinking at him held none of the internal fires marking the beast nor did the long teeth within the velvet mouth make a reappearance. The hunter winced as he approached close enough to see the bleeding wounds within the wolf's pelt. He reached out, slowly, to touch the ruffled cool fur; drawing assurance as the wolf allowed it, he drew closer and began to inspect the injuries in earnest.
"You're a mess," was his final considered opinion. "When you turn back into my 'cowardly' friar, I expect he's going to blame me for this. You know, challenging a pack of werewolves isn't the way to live a long pain-free life."
The white wolf's jaws parted in a squeaking whine and the blue eyes squeezed shut before reopening. Dropping his head, he sniffed at the hunter and chiffed a sneeze.
"Mmm," the hunter growled as he craned his neck awkwardly to look at the wound in his shoulder. "I'm getting very tired of being bitten, licked, sucked, and generally beaten up. The only good thing to come of this night is my having found this…."
Van Helsing opened his tightly clenched hand to display the black dart. He smiled at it, rolling the cylinder between his fingers as if feeling the cold sleek metal would make the object more real. The luck of finding it still had a dreamlike quality that made him wary of awakening to find it all a fantasy.
"I don't know if the original antidote can withstand another bite," he growled, looking up into the wolf's eyes. "But it's better to have Carl back to normal so he can treat me, than vice versa. I hope. If I am reinfected, let's hope my wolf is as civilized as Carl's."
A long furred finger extended to touch the dart, the claw tipping it made a slight squealing as it was drawn over the casing. Both man and wolf shivered with the sound.
It was plain that Carl's werewolf was also tired of the forces that opposed them. He drew away from Van Helsing to walk unsteadily to the tree with the notched 'V' in it and without hesitation, proceeded to pee on it.
Van Helsing's eyebrows rose as he watched the wolf's eyes close with an almost human pleasure; hastily he stifled any sound he might have made behind a clenched fist pushed tight against his lips.
When the wolf was done, he turned back to the man with a purposeful expression.
"Oh no…please…," Van Helsing half groaned as he backed away. "No licking my wounds, no biting…."
When the wolf moved, it was a smoky blur; Van Helsing was aware of the sensation of the world whirling about and then he groaned as his back touched the ground and the wolf settled over him. The first tough of the wet hot tongue on his skin surprised him. Rather than licking the wound the female had inflicted, the white wolf concentrated on those left by Raphael. Judging by the growling sounds, he was taking each bite and bruise personally. The bath was thorough, embarrassingly so, culminating with the wolf gently rubbing his head over Van Helsing's body.
"Why not just piss on me, like you did the tree?" the hunter growled. His olive skin abruptly flooding with a deep red color as the head dropped lower and a cold wet nose touched his genitals. "Stop that!"
The blue eyes rose to the man's as the wolf's lips rippled in mute warning. When the warm tongue emerged to slide over his groin, Van Helsing's eyes slammed shut. In his mind, he could see the sun rising and the white wolf, still busy between his legs, morphing back into Carl. To the wolf, this type of grooming was perfectly natural—to the friar…. Van Helsing wasn't sure how the friar would kill him, but he suspected, at the very least, a ritual sacrifice of some sort was in his future—probably complete with Latin and incense.
When the wolf raised his head, his tongue flickering one last time over Van Helsing's stomach, the hunter groaned with relief. He remembered Carl telling him that such grooming was natural among canines, that it was expected for werewolves to feel the same compulsion. He remembered joking with the friar about it, discounting the idea with the ease of the woefully, horrendously ill-informed.
The wolf rose to his feet then, an oddly human gleam of satisfaction in his eyes that made the man wince. In his years of being a hunter, he had never met a more stubborn breed of monster than the werewolf. Ruefully, he made a silent vow to ask Carl about it and to listen more closely this time.
Van Helsing's attention had drifted inward and he roused himself to a liquid slurping sound. Dreading what he might see, he turned slowly and winced at the sight of the werewolf among the bodies of the slain mercenaries, lapping the spilled blood up with every evidence of enjoyment. From the wolf, his eyes rose to the sky and he mentally began a countdown. The wolf's tongue was darting in and out quickly, as if he were determined to get some sort of sustenance before the friar returned. As Van Helsing's countdown reached three, the wolf abruptly straightened and shuddered hard. He staggered from the carnage to sink to his knees. Panting, the wolf raised his head to the sky in a long mournful howl. As the echoes died away, the wolf's form seemed to collapse leaving the pale naked form of the friar lying on the torn ground.
Van Helsing rose to his feet; moving to the unconscious friar, he checked on his color and breathing, wincing at the wounds along Carl's back. Touching his friend's cold skin brought a though to his mind. A brief foray past the edge of the glen yielded, as expected, the remains of the mercenaries' horses lying in pools of blood. With a grimace, he managed to extract the saddlebags from the carnage. Moving to one side, he dumped their contents and breathed a sigh of relief to find spare clothing, canteens, and some very old, very tough jerky.
Carl was sitting up when he returned to the clearing; the friar was shivering convulsively, his eyes fixed on the bodies lying on the ground not ten feet from him. Carl's eyes rose to Van Helsing's with a mixture of relief and dread.
"Please tell me I didn't do that…" he pleaded, pointing in the general direction of the carnage.
"You didn't do that," Van Helsing repeated dutifully, but his fast hard smile served to reassure the friar who nodded jerkily.
"I feel awful," Carl said in the type of matter of fact tone one would use to comment on the weather. "I appear to have gotten into a fight…and I have a terrible taste in my mouth…. Did I loose some teeth?"
"Something like that," Van Helsing muttered, feeling his skin begin to heat with a flush. Sternly ordering the crimson tide back down, he turned his mind to other things; kneeling beside Carl, he opened the canteen and handed it to the friar. "Drink as much as you can," he advised, smiling as Carl took the container and began to greedily gulp its contents. Leaving Carl to his thirst, the hunter turned to the purloined clothing, shaking them out and eyeing them critically. The mercenaries weren't fashion plates and they apparently weren't overly concerned with hygiene either, but the articles were dry and warm and that's all he wanted.
Carl coughed, slopping water onto his chest as Van Helsing seized one of his legs, lifting it to slide on a pair of trousers. When he saw what was happening, he nodded, and then returned to guzzling water. The pants were slid up to Carl's hips and, with a little help from the distracted friar, at last buttoned.
With the friar partially clothed, Van Helsing turned to cleaning his wounds. Selecting the cleanest shirt from the lot, he tore it into strips and wetted them down with water from the second canteen. He noted the friar's gulping draughts were slowing down; with the corners of his mouth twitching, he presented the friar with the paper parcel of jerky. His small smile bloomed into a grin as the friar uttered a heartfelt moan of pleasure and proceeded to tear into the dried meat, masticating the leather-tough morsels with an almost pornographic enjoyment.
For himself, Van Helsing was just glad that he'd managed to distract Carl so easily. The friar had to be in a great deal of pain but it seemed his ability to feel it had been thrust to the background in favor of fueling his body. Considering all the friar had been through, it was certainly understandable.
With care, he began to clean Carl's wounds. Surprisingly, while many, they weren't life threatening. For some reason, the female had apparently sought to chastise the presumptive male rather than to kill him. He wondered if her wounds were as light.
When he had cleaned the cuts and claw marks as well as he could, he wound strips of cloth about them, tucking the ends in. After that he urged Carl to relinquish one arm in order to slide it into a shirt sleeve.
The friar finally looked up at Van Helsing, his jaws never ceasing to their vigorous mastication, as the hunter eased his other arm in. His blond brows contracted in a puzzled frown as he gestured with one hand that still held a shard of meat.
"You're very observant."
"Why are you naked?"
With a side-long grimace and a raised eyebrow at his friend's mild curiosity, Van Helsing growled, "We met up with the rest of the pack. Their leader decided I looked like a likely candidate and after tearing off the last of my clothes, she bit me. That's how you got your wounds; I think you were trying to protect me."
The blue eyes blinked for several seconds as Carl considered what the hunter had said. When he spoke, it was in a thoughtful tone. "I think someone needs to explain the concept of 'spun glass' and 'constructive cowardice' to my wolf."
"I'll keep that in mind. To tell you the truth, we haven't progressed much past his growling at me and my doing whatever he wants."
"I can see why," Carl murmured as he eyed the hunter's mangled shoulder. "That looks quite painful. The leader of the pack did it?"
Van Helsing nodded as he settled down on the ground beside Carl and began to sort through the clothing for himself. "She insisted on it."
Carl sighed and wiped his face on one arm, his nose twitching at the smell wafting from the shirt. "I suppose we'll need to be concerned with the possibility of reinfection from this new bite," he said. "It's actually fascinating how the pack works to keep those within its confines from leaving. Of course, it also means that simply giving a werewolf the antidote doesn't necessarily mean he or she will remain cured. If werewolves can tell the poor soul was once one of them, apparently they go to any lengths to return him to the fold. And, if a new pack discovers the individual—do they treat him as a human, an interloper, or a stray to be rounded up into their own ranks?"
Listening with only half an ear, Van Helsing stood up to draw on a pair of trousers. As he pulled them up to his hips he noted Carl's rather rapt attention centered between his legs. Remembering the wolf and his recent tongue bath, the hunter abruptly turned his back on the friar as he finished buttoning up.
When he turned back he noted the friar's thoughtful frown had returned, but he continued on his original topic without comment. "By now, you've been reinfected so often, it would be almost impossible to determine who actually sired you. I never considered making the antidote as some sort of inoculation, so I'm not sure how this latest attack with take you. If it's true that the werewolves that are created outside of Dracula's influence are gentler, less instinct-driven and more intelligent, then it's a 50-50 chance which type you'll be. And then, of course, there's the question of how the two wolves will react to one another. This will be the first instance of two unattached males meeting that we've encountered."
It wasn't pain that made Van Helsing wince as he shrugged into his shirt. With a sigh, he met the friar's eyes. "About that…."
"'About that'? Van Helsing…why are you heming and hawing like that?"
"Things have changed, Carl. I found something that changes everything."
Gingerly, the hunter settled on the ground, cross legged, across from his friend. He extended his hand to the other man, opening it.
"Oh my!" Carl breathed, his blue eyes becoming large and round as he took in the familiar dark casing and the red liquid within it. "But how?"
"This is the site of our original trap. Evidently, you must have dropped the dart when Devon attacked you."
Carl's eyes flew up to take in the clearing; he bit his lip as he recognized the unmistakable landmarks. When his gaze returned to the hunters, he said simply, "Now what?"
The hunter shrugged with a smile. "Simple. We walk to the inn. I found some money in the saddle bags—probably Charles' bounty money. We'll give you the injection and you'll lock yourself into a room until daylight."
"Me!" Carl gaped at the hunter. "But…but surely it would make more sense… We know my wolf can be controlled…."
"Controlled? Carl, I hate to break it to you, but your wolf does exactly as he pleases and I try to stay out of his way. You're not thinking clearly…."
Carl's snuff of indignation made the hunter raise one eyebrow as he held up a silencing finger.
"Hear me out, Carl. We're in the woods; we've got a long walk ahead of us. Between us and the inn is a pack of werewolves, possibly more than one, who are hell bent on either killing or enlisting us. I've already been given the antidote, it's possible that's enough. You, on the other hand, have no protection and you've already been in a fight with the leader of one of the packs. Add to that the fact that you know how to make the antidote—if you're killed fighting the other wolves or if repeated morphing into the wolf robs you of your memory, we're both in trouble."
Carl opened his mouth only to be hushed by the hunter again. "Besides," Van Helsing said grimly, "I've seen how intelligent your wolf is. I doubt locked doors and second story windows will keep him out."
Carl sat silent, blinking; Van Helsing frowned, learning forward to peer into the blue eyes.
"Carl? Are you alright?"
"Can I speak now?"
Van Helsing's eyes rolled closed as he exhaled a sigh. "Yes, Carl, please do."
That brought the hunter's eyes open in time to see Carl rise to his feet. A small packet fell with a crisp rustle into Van Helsing's lap; when he retrieved it, he realized it was the rest of the jerky.
"You'd better eat that," the friar advised him as he leaned down to catch at the hunter's elbow. "We've got a long way to go, so you'll have to eat on the road. Here…here's the water, drink as much as you can."
Van Helsing allowed Carl to pull him to his feet and accepted the friar's canteen in return for the dart. With a grim air, the friar pocketed the dart and set off across the clearing. As they neared the notched tree, Carl paused, eyeing the mark that rose well over either of their heads.
"I don't recall that being here before…."
"It wasn't, the female left it."
"Really?" Eagerly, Carl stepped up to the tree to stare at the symbol for several seconds before his nose began to twitch. "What is that smell?"
"Ah, never mind," Van Helsing grabbed the friar's elbow, pulling him along as they entered the forest. "That symbol mean anything to you?"
"Well, I can't help but notice that it's lying on its side, like an arrow, and apparently pointing toward the inn."
The hunter's steps faltered slightly, and Carl looked back with a mischievous grin. "Of course," he murmured sententiously, "it's possible I'm not thinking clearly…."
Van Helsing watched as the friar faced frontward again and set out with a particularly jaunty air. He found himself wondering if now would be a good time to tell Carl about his peeing on the 'arrow'."
Faced now with imminent darkness, the friar retrieved the dart from his clothing.
"You'd better sit down," the hunter advised him, catching his friend's elbow to tug him to the bed. "It hits you hard."
"Oh…alright." Swallowing nervously, Carl allowed himself to be pulled down to the lumpy mattress. Once settled, he surrendered the dart to Van Helsing, who took it to the washbasin; washing the casing thoroughly, the hunter pried open the whiskey, wincing as the fumes made his eyes water, and poured the pale liquor over the needle.
Satisfied that he had cleaned the dart as well as possible, he turned back to the bed. Carl had lit a small lantern and settled it on the bedside table. In its flickering light, Van Helsing saw the friar's pulse jump in his throat as his blue eyes settled on the long needle.
"Do you want me to do it?" Van Helsing asked quietly.
"Nono, not necessary. It's just a needle, I doubt I'll even feel it," Carl smiled gamely and held out his hand. When the weight of the dart settled in his palm, he swallowed several times in succession before the unconvincing smile returned to his pasty face. "Well, I suppose we should get this over with."
Settling himself on the bed behind the friar, Van Helsing caught Carl's hand, guiding it and the dart to the friar's thigh. He waited until Carl was taking a deep breath, and then forced the friar's hand down, burying the needle deep into his leg.
Carl's howl of surprised pain was abruptly cut short as his body seized in a back breaking spasm. Van Helsing immediately drew the blond man into his arms, holding him grimly as his friend's body jerked and spasmed and thick red foam gathered at the corners of Carl's mouth. The convulsions seemed to go on forever and Van Helsing spent every second of it mentally flaying himself for having maneuvered the friar into coming on the mission. When at last Carl's body eased and lay heavy against him, he exhaled a breath that he seemed to have been holding for the past two days.
A rattle off to one side made him wince as it speared into his cringing brain; his eyes slid over reluctantly. He was fully prepared to see a horde of werewolves waiting with bated breath for any sign of life so they could rip his throat out and he was finding it hard to work up the energy to even care.
What he was not prepared for was the sight of Van Helsing washing his 'borrowed' clothing in the basin.
"Van Helsing?" Carl squeaked, blinking rapidly, as if to dispel the phantasm of his friend. The hunter, however, remained reassuringly visible and solid.
"I'm glad to see you awake," Van Helsing smiled down at the recumbent friar. Carl's skin was still as pale as a ghost, but the feverish light that had been in his eyes had faded at last.
"You're here? But, what about the plan?"
"The plan…" With a grin, the hunter dropped the wet clothing over a chair back and went to sit on the edge of Carl's bed. "Night came, the moon rose, no wolf. That antidote of yours is apparently also a vaccine. Congratulations!"
"A vaccine?" Carl's mouth abruptly quirked at the corners as color bloomed in his cheeks. "Wait until Jinette hears about this!" the friar beamed.
"Ah, well, about that…. Have you considered how we would tell him? I'm not keen on admitting that either of us was infected."
"Oh…" Van Helsing could see the internal war between inventor and reluctant former werewolf within Carl's eyes. Then, "The arrow! The other werewolves!"
"There's nothing, Carl," the hunter assured his friend, patting his arm. "No sign of them."
"Ah. Well, I suppose it's possible that the arrow is meant to point beyond the inn…?" Carl looked up at the hunter, frowning when he saw the grim expression in his friend's eyes. "Van Helsing?"
"I think you're probably right. Carl, I plan to find the village where Devon was infected. I want you to go back to Rome, though. There's no need for you to be involved."
"Back to Rome?" The friar's words were a mere exhalation of longing; then he shook himself, his brows drawing down resolutely. "Don't be silly! You'll need my help! How would you get along without me?"
"It's decided!" the friar said firmly. Then, after a moment, "Though, I hope before we go, we can get some decent clothing, some horses, and a good meal?"
The hopefulness in the friar's gaze brought a smile to Van Helsing's mouth which widened as Carl beamed up at him.
The date the barn had been erected was long since forgotten; its shell gave the illusion of strength and dependability while within its bones a rot had set in that made a mockery of appearances. No one came here any longer; no one remembered it at all.
Vermin smiled grimly up at the dark weathered eaves that were festooned with misty cobwebs and abandoned birds' nests. This building, surrounded on all sides by the thick forest, was perfect for his purposes.
Behind him, he heard the scuffle of his friends dealing with their reluctant guest. It was necessary that they strip Charles of his clothing and he was taking it rather hard.
"Get off me! Damn you!"
"Tch tch, mate," Vermin remonstrated as he entered the barn to see Charles fighting to keep his clothing. All around him were the grim faces of the circus performers--in none of them did the former owner see even the smallest hint of unease or forgiveness.
Vermin appeared to Charles' gaze; upon the dwarf's face was a broad grin whose apparent jollity did not reach the brown eyes.
"Yer just makin' this 'arder," the dwarf assured him in a kindly manner. "Like I told you, I've been savin' somethin' special for you. But you can't 'ave it if yer not good. Now, we can do this easy, or 'ard. It's up to you."
Charles whirled about, his gaze lighting on one face, then another. From his pale face, sweat dripped down to splatter on the dirty wooden floor.
"You're going to kill me…aren't you?" he asked as his gaze came back to Vermin.
The dwarf's smile widened. "Nah, mate. Wot would give you such an idea? We're not murderers 'ere…well, some of us aren't. Can't say the same for you, can we?"
"I…I didn't mean to kill him!"
"Knife just slipped, eh? The knife you were carryin' around in the dark for no reason, right mate? Funny about that…'ow it just 'slipped' all the way around 'is bloomin' thoat. Tough break, that."
Charles shuddered and closed his eyes against the sight of the faces pressed about him. He felt their hands now, pulling at his clothing, and he shuddered again as he allowed them to take them from him.
"What are you going to do with me?" he asked when he stood naked before them.
"Yer gonna be part of a 'istory makin' moment, mate!" Vermin assured him with grim gravity, all traces of amusement gone. From his belt, the dwarf extracted a water skin, his thick thumb flicked the cap open. "I've been workin' on this fer a long long time. Always meant to test it on a real live subject before..now seems to be the perfect time."
"I..what will it do to me?"
"Don't know…that's 'alf the fun, ain't it, mate!" Vermin snarled. On cue, the circus folk moved forward, their hands seized the man who had controlled their lives for years. Charles' struggles were useless, but his captors took a great deal of satisfaction from them. Forcing him down on his knees, they pushed his head down until it was almost on the floor.
"That's it," Vermin breathed as he moved to squat down before Charles' head, Clarie handed him the battered metal plate that served as Vermin's burner; it would now take on a new purpose as he placed it before Charles' face and poured the black liquid from the skin into it. Charles started back, but was pushed irresistibly forward again until his lips were above the reflective pool. "Lap it up," the dwarf growled. "Do it, or we'll drown you in it."
Charles' breath came in sobbing pants as he opened his mouth and began to lap at the dark liquid. The first touch upon his tongue made him shudder violently, but he continued to lap at it.
All around him, the grim eyes of the performers watched, not wanting to miss an instant. Vermin remained crouched beside the plate, urging Charles on each time he pulled back. The man's body was now undergoing a continual shaking that wracked him so hard he could barely stay upright. As he licked up the last smear of liquid, a black trail ran down his chin in a treacley ribbon to drip back into the pan. Vermin rose then; moving back, he nodded to the other performers to move as well. They released the man, drawing away for several paces, their gaze remaining avid upon Charles.
The circus owner shuddered, so hard a hoarse snorting grunt was forced from him. He lost track of the ground, of his own body; spreading his legs, he clung to the dirty floor with broken nails as his body was again seized with tremors. From his lips, sounds emerged that were part human, part animal grunting.
Charles abruptly toppled to his side and began to kick at the dirt, his jaws snapped at his own fingers, gnawing at them. When another wave of convulsions hit him, his body arched backwards and the assembled performers gasped, crossing themselves as they moved away.
Charles' bloody fingers were fused, his fingernails becoming hard hornlike material. From his naked body hair sprouted. His eyes flew open to stare unseeing at the assembled crowd and they no longer resembled anything human. Charles' fused fingers pawed and clubbed over his own face, splitting his lip, bloodying his nose. Vermin's eyes narrowed and he nodded as he saw the bloody nose spread and elongate into a snout. Moving forward, Vermin launched a hard kick at the exposed naked buttocks and smiled with vindication as Charles responded with a scream that emerged as a hoarse squeal.
"Time for you to go out an' make some new friends," the dwarf growled. "Go on! Get!"
Another hard boot knocked Charles forward, and suddenly he was on all fours, scrabbling awkwardly out of the barn. His pig-like squealing was continual as he disappeared into the trees.
Vermin walked out of the barn to stand at the edge of the woods. The other performers followed; when Clarie attempted to speak with him, Vermin raised one finger. "Wait for it!" he muttered.
In the stillness, they heard the squeals moving through the forest. Then they heard the howls. From all directions, the howling of wolves, all of them moving toward one location.
Vermin waited, held his breath, thought of Peter….
And smiled when he heard the squeals turn into screams.
Naked, mud and blood smeared arms thrust outward, clawing at the air, then at the cloth covering his head. Tearing it from his face, Nicco screamed his anger and hatred into the darkness.
In the dim light of the guttering lamp, their eyes glowed with a golden sheen.
Continued in 'Sister Wolf'