Disclaimer: Noblesse isn't mine.
The Legend of Wolf Mountain
"This is about as in the middle of nowhere as you can get." Tao proclaimed as he adjusted the straps to his backpack. "I don't even know where we are! We're going to live off the land and sleep under the stars and-"
"So, we're going to be lost without food or shelter?" M-21 dropped his backpack on the ground beside a fallen tree trunk and sat down next to it. "I'm surprised you came. I thought at least you and Ikhan wouldn't sacrifice your computers for a camping trip, but you seem pretty keyed up about roughing it."
"I was curious," Tao lowered his voice and cupped his hand around one side of his mouth. "I wanted to see how those two would handle this."
M-21 followed his gaze to Frankenstein and Rai. Neither of them had dressed for the environment, and Rai didn't even change out of his ever present school uniform. "I think they'll be okay."
"They're both in dress shoes."
"We fight in dress shoes all the time. How is this different?"
"We're in the wild. I thought they would at least set a precedent for the kids. How are we going to explain this?"
"Neither of them are use to being in nature?"
"But nature is all they had for hundreds and thousands of years! They should know more about it than any of us!"
"Stop shouting." M-21 looked over at the children. Shinwoo chased a frog along the creek bed as the girls watched and Ikhan screamed directions. Regis met his eyes for a brief second to warn them to be quiet before looking away.
"I'm just saying it'll be hard to explain."
"There's not really anything you can do about it now."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about!" Tao threw an arm over his shoulder, and M-21 quickly brushed it off with suspicion. "It's nothing bad. I thought we could tell them a ghost story."
"What does a ghost story have to do with me?"
"Well, not 'ghost' exactly. A werewolf story."
"You don't even know what it is yet!"
"I have a guess, and I am not going along with it."
"I thought we could fake a wolf bite. Please? There's a full moon tonight."
"I'm sick of you guys telling me all these werewolf stories as it is. You think I enjoy hearing about all the legends where I'm hunted by mobs with silver bullets? I don't want to act one out for you."
"You know, some people claim werewolves are the Hounds of God that fight against witches and demons." Tao grinned mischievously. "So you against Rosaria and the boss-"
"I'd prefer the mobs."
"Come on! It's just a little prank for fun, and I already came up with the Legend of Wolf Mountain!"
Another glance from Regis. They were being too loud. M-21 lowered his voice to a whisper to rein Tao in. "I don't want to do this."
"I won't make any dog jokes for a month."
"We're going to set up camp." Frankenstein announced, drawing the attention of the children.
Shinwoo tossed the frog in the water and climbed the creek bank to where he had left his hiking boots. "I'll set up the tent!"
"We have two tents. One for the men and one for the girls." Frankenstein pulled both tents from their pile of supplies and set them to the side. "Takeo, help Shinwoo with this."
"Sure." He grabbed the larger one and slung it over his shoulder. "We should pitch the tents a little farther from the creek."
"Yeah." Shinwoo pulled on his boots and lumbered the smaller tent over his shoulder just like Takeo. "This thing is monstrous! How did the chairman carry it all this way? And he's not even tired!"
"He, uh, he works out." Takeo laughed, hoping no one had noticed that Frankenstein had carried both tents as well as his backpack. Nothing but the best for his master, right?
"Hey, boss!" Tao yelled from the tree line. "We're going to get the firewood!"
"I only need one of you to do that." Frankenstein frowned. He had been saving that task for one of the children.
"He'll do it!" Tao pointed to M-21 and lowered his voice again. "Take your time. I'll tell the story while you're gone. You can scare the kids when you get back."
Tao pranced across the clearing to the group. "Who's ready to hear a scary story!"
"Shouldn't we wait until after dark for that, Hyung?" Ikhan met him halfway with an armful of skewers for roasting marshmallows. "Besides, we need to set up camp right now."
M-21 turned his back on the scene and slowly walked deeper into the woods. How long would it take for Tao to tell that story, and just what did Tao expect him to do once he got back to camp? Should he jump out and scare everyone? That seemed a little simplistic for one of Tao's schemes.
Sitting down next to a tree, he leaned back against the trunk and closed his eyes. Better get some sleep while he had the chance. Between Tao and the children, there would be no peace tonight. Let Tao explain his absence. It was his idea anyway.
A sharp pain shot through his arm, forcing him awake. His eyes flew open as he drew his arm against his stomach and sharpened his fingers into claws. What happened? Nothing was near him. No sound of footsteps. No rustle of leaves. Only the children's distant voices singing a campfire song. When did it get so late? The sun hung at the edge of the horizon and cast long shadows through the trees. He should have completed his task hours ago.
Retracting his claws, he looked at the blood seeping through his sleeve. At least with a wound, he could explain it to the children. He was injured and had trouble getting back. That would have to do. M-21 walked back to camp and stopped at the edge of the forest. Nothing followed him.
"Ajussi!" Yuna called as she waved over the roaring bonfire. "You're back!"
M-21 smiled. Of course she would see him first. "Sorry, I didn't bring any firewood."
"Tao got it." Shinwoo shoved a marshmallow into the flames, allowing it to catch on fire before pulling it out. "He said you were taking too long. What happened to your arm?"
"I just caught it on a branch, I guess." He held it out and pulled down his sleeve. Was it still bleeding? It should be healed by now. "It's probably just a tiny cut. Nothing to worry about."
"Is that a bite mark?" Suyi sounded unsure.
"Oho!" Shinwoo blew out his marshmallow and stuffed the charcoaled remnants into his mouth. "Like a werewolf? Tao was going to tell us the Legend of Wolf Mountain, but we told him to wait for you."
"Why don't I help you bandage that cut?" Tao ran over to M-21 and turned back to the kids with a sinister expression. "Or the scent of blood might attract wild beasts!"
"It's fine." M-21 unzipped the tent as Tao searched for the first aid kit. "You haven't told that story yet?"
"The kids wanted to wait for you." He grinned and unrolled a package of gauze. "They know how much you love werewolf stories."
"Why do I think you suggested the idea?"
"This is actually a bite mark." Tao wiped away the blood to show the indentions of teeth in his skin and glanced up at M-21 in bewilderment. "I admit I get carried away, but this is a bit much even for me. How did you even get that angle?" Tao lifted his own arm to his mouth and twisted it in different directions in an attempt to reenact the scene.
"What are you talking about?"
"You transformed and bit yourself, right?" Tao lowered his arm when M-21 didn't reply. "You did, right?"
"I was asleep. I don't know what happened."
"You expect me to believe that?" Tao wrapped the gauze around M-21's arm, starting at the wrist and working toward the elbow before securing it in place with adhesive tape. "I am the master of pranks. You can't prank a prankster."
"You really think I'd bite myself?"
"Well, I guess not, but I still don't believe something bit you while you were taking a nap."
"Believe what you want." M-21 climbed out of the tent and sat down in one of the camping chairs. "What was that thing Shinwoo was burning?
"We're making smores." Yuna offered him a skewer and the bag of marshmallows. "The chocolates and graham crackers are beside Rai. How are you feeling?"
"Doesn't even hurt." He tightened his fingers into a fist then spread them out. The show of strength didn't convince her.
"Maybe we should go to the hospital?" Ikhan folded his marshmallow between two crackers and yanked the skewer free. "Wild animals can carry diseases like rabies."
"I don't have rabies."
"I heard there are werewolves around here." Tao shot M-21 a sly grin. "I hope they don't come too close to camp."
"No way!" Shinwoo shrieked. "No one believes in werewolves!"
"It is true nevertheless." Rai waited as Frankenstein removed the teakettle from the edge of the fire and filled his cup. "Werewolves inhabited this region long ago."
"Really?" Forgetting his own story, Tao settled down between Seira and Takeo and watched Rai with wide eyes. "What happened?"
"They were hunted." Rai sipped his tea and added yet another spoonful of sugar.
"Hunted?" M-21 frowned. The other stories, he knew, were false but this one? It had to be true. Not only true but experienced. A first hand account.
"Yes, there were very few werewolves to begin with, but there was once a small pack here. The surrounding villages worked together to eliminate them."
"I see." M-21 whispered. Another mob story. A true one.
"Yes, and as you can imagine, the villagers were unsuccessful. The werewolves retaliated and eliminated the humans involved. There were consequences, of course. Their location was discovered by other powerful beings, and many battles ensued. Clashes of power to test strengths, to gain battle experience. In some instances, for the sake of sport. This was dealt with immediately, but the rivalries remained. The werewolves sought to replenish their numbers and turned to the humans to accomplish this."
"Do you mean being bit by a werewolf during a full moon?" Shinwoo asked, too transfixed to notice his marshmallow melt off the skewer and fall into the flames.
"Isn't that just a rumor?" Regis attempted to look dignified although he was just as curious as the others.
"It is very rare. Werewolves are very prideful creatures. They would see it as tainting their own race with an inferior subspecies. The transformed beings are considerably weaker than a true werewolf. And you are mistaken. A full moon is not required for a werewolf to transfer powers to a human. One merely needs to be in a transformed state. The full moon is necessary for transformation only after many such occurrences have taken place and the werewolf powers within the human are in a weakened state."
"But the werewolves are gone now, right?" Shinwoo leaned forward, still unaware that his skewer was empty.
"Yes, the werewolves have moved on." Rai finished his drink and balanced the empty cup between his fingers. "Although, the transformed humans are still present."
"There's a full moon tonight." Ikhan said under his breath with a questionable glance at M-21. He shook his head, remembering that this was just a story. "Theoretically, it would be possible to transfer powers tonight."
"I am going to sleep." M-21 grumbled and handed his skewer to Shinwoo before heading for the tent. It was unlike Rai to speak of these things so openly. Did he have to choose now to change his ways? M-21 laid on his back on top of his sleeping bag and raised his fist in the air. He opened and closed his hand as he had done for Yuna. He lied to her. The wound stung with every movement. He draped his arm over his eyes. What if it was a werewolf bite? Or, rather, a bite from a human-werewolf subspecies?
"Hey." Tao whispered in the dark. "Are you really okay?"
"I can't believe you got even him involved."
"Me? I thought you did."
"Look, the deal's off. You're taking this too far." M-21 rolled onto his side so that his back faced Tao. "I'm going to sleep. If you're going to talk, go outside."
"Yeah, sure, let a sleeping dog lie, right?"
Tao zipped the tent door closed and left M-21 alone. The children watched him expectantly as he returned to the campfire. "Everyone's favorite ajussi is still as human as he can be."
"Ah, maybe I should check on him again?"
"Tao, what are you planning?" Frankenstein glared at him over the fire. Light and shadows danced across his face and illuminated the edges of his hair.
"I'm not planning anything, Boss! Well, I was, but this isn't it!" Tao ran back to the tent and ripped the door open. "He isn't here!"
"He didn't really…" Suyi shivered. "This is like a horror movie."
"We should capture him!"
"Shinwoo, you don't mean form a mob…" Ikhan let the thought trail off and turned to Tao. "This is just a prank, right, Hyung?"
"I have nothing to do with it this time."
"Tao, find him." Frankenstein topped off his master's tea. "We will stay here with the children in case he returns."
"Do you need help?" Regis asked, already standing to follow.
"All the children should stay behind, don't you think?" Tao winked with the slightest of smiles. "Leave this to an adult."
"That sounds close." Suyi grabbed Yuna and Seira's hands.
"Hyung, you're scaring the girls." Ikhan stared at him with accusation in his eyes. "You're taking this too far."
"It's not me this time!" Tao lifted his hands in defense. "I swear! I have nothing to do with this!"
"You don't expect us to believe Ajussi turned into a real werewolf?" Shinwoo popped the marshmallow from M-21's skewer into his mouth. "How'd you make the howl? Set up a speaker somewhere?"
"It's not me!"
Growl. Eyes glowed at the edge of the clearing.
"There he is." Tao lowered his voice and caught Takeo's eyes. "I'm going after him."
"You're on your own. I want nothing to do with your jokes."
"I told you that this isn't a joke!" Tao stormed off in pursuit.
"That's just a normal dog." Takeo smiled and returned to making smores. "He's gone. You can come out now."
M-21? Takeo looked around. Wasn't this a prank? Where was he? "Maybe I'll go with Tao after all."
"Alright. It's late now. Everyone off to bed." Frankenstein ushered the children into their tents and returned to Rai. "I believe those three enjoyed your story, Master. It was an excellently preformed joke."
"The story was true."
"I shall join the children."
"Yes, Master." Frankenstein stood as his master rose. "If I may, I will keep watch out here for a little longer."
"Yes." Rai ducked into the tent.
"Rai!" Shinwoo shined a flashlight in his face as he came inside. "Ajussi was in here the whole time! Tao checked the wrong tent."
"Should we tell everyone that it's a mistake?" Ikhan slid into his sleeping bag.
"Nah, let them be." M-21 pushed himself into a sitting position and gave up on getting any sleep. "Tao's always pulling this kind of prank. Let him fall for it for once."
"So what really happened to your arm?" Shinwoo turned his flashlight on M-21.
"I don't know." M-21 traced his fingers along the bandage. "Something bit me while I was asleep."
"T-Then, there's really a werewolf?"