She was aware of falling, hitting the ground hard, despite the cushioning provided by the snow. Lucy was dazed for a moment, stunned as she felt the warmth of paws hitting her chest, before leaving in almost the exact same time. She was aware of Ariss calling out, yelling something to her, and then a rush of sound hit her, and she pushed herself up.
The wolf… thing… was standing between her and the girl, baring teeth and snarling. Lucy shuffled backwards a little, baring her own teeth in return. Ariss was running towards her, and skidded to a halt when he reached her side. There was a small cloud of snowy powder as he stopped.
The girl looked between the wolf and Ariss, a frown appearing. “D-Don’t attack Lola!” She yelled out, walking in front of the wolf. “She’s only protecting me.” It growled, trying to get back in front.
Ariss shifted uncomfortably beside Lucy, unsure of what to think. “It’s a werewolf, they can’t… they can’t control…” He trailed off, unsure of what to say. Contrary to his experience, the wolf wasn’t trying to tear off the girl’s face. The werewolf stayed by her side, obviously growling at the pair of them. It also hadn’t attacked again.
“Well Lola can.” She turned slightly to the werewolf, keeping a watchful eye on them as she whispered something in the creature’s ear. It turned to her slightly, tilting its head in surprise, before it turned around, padding off into the trees.
The three of them stood there in silence, shrouded in darkness. All they could see of each other were silhouettes. After a few minutes spent in silence, there was movement beyond the trees, in the direction the wolf had gone. Ariss could see now that there was a bright glow coming from down the hill- the glow of artificial light, he realised.
He found himself preparing for another fight, clenching his malformed fists.
A tall, slender woman strode up the hill, her features sharp, mouth curled into a shape resembling a snarl. Her eyes were bright yellow, slowly fading to a pale blue. Ariss narrowed his eyes, watching her carefully. “I assume… you are Lola.” He stated, looking down warily.
“What are you.” She asked, ignoring his statement.
“Considering you attacked both me and my companion, I don’t feel like I have to answer that.” The mood was tense, and both of them already shared dislike for each other, their words chosen carefully.
Lucy interrupted, trying to break the tension. “So, uh, why are you out here?”
It was the girl who answered, her voice cheerful, as though she had forgotten what had taken place. “I felt someone else with magic.” She paused, looking between Lucy and Ariss. “I… I now see that there are two of you, one… one something I’ve never seen before.” Her eyes settled on Lucy with interest, alight with curiosity. She broke her stare, looking instead to Lola, who was still glaring at Ariss. “We have to invite them in, at least. I mean, the man’s right. You did attack them.”
She glowered, giving the girl a sideways glance. “We don’t know who they are.”
“They’re okay. I can tell.”
Lola sighed, rolling her dimming eyes. “If you say so.” She turned away, walking back down the hill, leaving the girl to lead their guests.
The girl grinned at the two of them. “Follow me.”
She skipped after Lola, catching up quickly and grabbing her arm, swinging it in her excitement. Ariss got the feeling they didn’t have guests very much. Lucy followed on, as he went back to retrieve his sword, before catching up.
As they got closer to the light, Ariss realised it came from a small cabin. Its square windows were covered with curtains, but light still streamed out onto the white blanket beneath the trees. There was a part of the snow that was thinner than the rest, and he could see paw and footprints leading off further into the small woods. Lucy had stopped by the door, and Lola had gone inside, returning with one chair in each hand.
The girl had disappeared within as well. As Lola came out with the final chair, she gestured to the one outside, in the snow. Ariss took it, sitting down beside Lucy. As they waited for the girl, he looked at himself, deciding there wasn’t any point wearing his coat anymore. The combination of bullet holes and tears from Lola’s claws had reduced it to rags, that weren’t useful for anything. He pulled it off, catching loose shreds of his skin in the arms. He scowled at the inconvenience, eventually dropping it in the snow beside him. Then, he looked at his forearms. As he clenched and unclenched his fists, he watched his long-dead muscles moving, responding to the wishes of his soul.
Lola was still watching him warily, clearly nervous of his continued movement.
After a minute or two, the girl stepped back outside, and fell into her chair, smiling. Her smile faded when she looked at Ariss, and was replaced with a mixture of horror and confusion.
He sighed, picking up the tattered mess of his coat. “I’m afraid I can’t really hide it much at the moment.”
Lola rolled her eyes, pushing herself up and heading inside for a moment, returning with a blanket. She threw it at him before she sat down again, and spoke as he covered up his broken body. “How come you’re not dead?”
Lucy looked awkwardly between the three, lying down on the cold snow, feeling the soothing coolness on her own wound.
“I am dead.” Ariss muttered to himself, looking toward the girl. “But I’ve been brought back to some form of life using magic.”
The girl’s frown deepened. “So… you can’t do any magic? All… all I could sense was the… the…” She struggled to find the word.
“Necromancy,” he finished for her, continuing as she nodded. “I have… a little magic. Enough to do minor spells, like helping a former human to speak, but nothing strong enough to create fire.” He tilted his head to one side as he looked at her. “You possess magic?”
Avoiding his gaze, she nodded shyly, her cheeks reddening.
“Former human?” Lola butted in, putting aside her mistrust for her curiosity.
Lucy flicked her tail, piping up. “Me. I was human just two weeks ago.”
“Did you get a spell cast on you?” Asked the girl, moving past her embarrassment.
Shaking her head, Lucy went on to explain the attack, falling silent when it came to any details.
“So… the dead guy saved you?” Lola asked, leaning forward, intrigued.
Ariss narrowed his eyes. He did not appreciate being called ‘dead’. It was far, far too close to what they called him. “I have a name, werewolf.” She flinched, turning slowly to glare at him. “It’s Ariss.” He finished, meeting her glare with his own, an intense stare that neither of them broke for a few moments.
“W-While we’re on names…” The girl muttered, pulling her feet up underneath her. “I’m called Scarlett.”
Lola grumbled something to herself, before adding her own name officially to the conversation. “Lola. Scarlett, are you done with them? Can they leave now? I’m sure they have much, much better things to be doing than talking to us.”
“No.” Scarlett said, shaking her head to emphasise the word. “I mean, look what you did to… to Ariss there. He looks like a zombie thanks to you.”
Lola looked away, shame fluttering across her face for a millisecond before she looked back, justifying her actions. “Excuse me, but what if they’d been with them? You know, the people I took you out here to get away from? You know we’ve been found once or twice before. The only reason you haven’t been captured yet is because of my actions, and… connections.”
“You can’t just assume that everyone is part of them, though. I mean, what if Ariss wasn’t dead, and actually died just then? They’re not here to harm us.”
Ariss had ignored most of their conversation, trying to stay out of the private life of others, sensing that this was a conversation between them that he did not need to hear- that was, until he heard talk of ‘them’. Until he heard speak of a group that, from what he could gather, had been following them.
“Them?” He asked, interrupting their conversation.
Lola turned to look at him, explaining briefly. “A large organisation of people, created for the sole reason of testing ‘odd’ occurrences, creatures or people. My lycanthropy is a result of one of their tests, and they have been chasing after Scarlett since she was seven.”
“… That sounds like the group chasing after us.”
Her mistrust began to melt away, as she started to find connections between them, things that had begun to link them together in ways she had not expected. “How long have you been dead?” She asked, Scarlett focusing her attention on him as well.
“Since 1164.” He informed them, shifting a little underneath the blanket, making sure it wasn’t slipping down his arms. “I was buried for most of that time, my fellow townsfolk weren’t particularly keen on me after they realised what I had done in the two decades following my death and… reanimation.”
“Go on…” Lola said, her interest snatched by his story.
Lucy nodded in agreement. “You haven’t told me everything, either.”
The dead man sighed, looking between the two. Scarlett sat between them, looking just as interested. After a few moments, he rolled his eyes. “If you really want to know…”
Lucas stayed in the cave for only a little while longer. He pulled out the dragon’s most useful teeth and claws, took what he could of the dark, scruffy fur that covered its neck, and then left. He managed to find a bag to put this in, but he found nothing to cover his wound. He did not know what had happened to his coat, and any clothes on the decaying corpses were mostly torn to shreds.
He sighed, and stepped out into the dying sunlight. The sky was stained a deep red, fading into blue along the horizon opposite to the setting sun. He imagined a cool summer breeze blew gently past the cave, and the trees around him rustled quietly. In the far distance, he could see a dark spot. This, he thought, had to be the forest. He saw nothing else on the landscape that could be it. All around the small cave there were big, fenced off fields. There was nowhere for any forest to be, nowhere that he recognised. Scowling, Lucas started to pick his way down the hill, keeping a wary eye on his surroundings. This was the time in which many of the night time scavengers started to rise, some clawing their way up from the ground, others dropping down from lone trees.
He realised, as he walked, that he had another problem to be worrying about. Being undead now, he imagined most people would either steer clear of him, or try their very best to put an end to him. He pondered this thought, walking steady through the fields, heading toward the distant line of tall, dark trees. At least soon he would have the stars to guide him.
It took a little under two weeks to find his way back to the town. In that time, he had found a shirt that he could put over the hole through his chest. It wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but, he thought to himself, it would do. It hid the dark blood that had dried around the wound, and it hid what remained of his cracked ribs.
As he strode down the road, toward the middle of town, he started going through what he would do in his mind. He couldn’t stay here, he had decided. Not only would it bring trouble to himself, but it would put those he held dear at risk as well. Lucas had little doubt that the townsfolk would not hesitate to put an end to his undeath. The people that lived here were scared of all things magical. Even those who practised magic were eventually cast out, or hung.
He kept to himself as he walked through busy streets, his head down, trying to obscure his face as much as possible. His hand was almost constantly on the hilt of his sword, which was hung loosely by his hip. He only took it off as he knocked on the door to where his sister lived. He couldn’t face Sabine without first meeting with his sister, Leticia, first. He needed to know what to say, and his sister and his wife were on good terms. She would know how he could tell her.
Lucas waited there awkwardly, standing on the front step, trying to be as casual as possible. After what seemed like an age, there was the sound of metal sliding against metal, and the door swung open. His sister stood inside, her eyes red and puffy, her dress in dark, muted colours.
She stared at his feet at first, not bothering to look up. “Yes?” She asked, her voice lacking any of the vigour Lucas knew his sister for. She continued, frowning as she looked further up. “What… what do you-” She stopped as she saw his face, her frown melting into a smile, and she flung herself forward, wrapping her arms around him.
He put one hand on her shoulder, guiding her back inside her house as she pulled away, the frown reappearing. She looked from him, to his chest, roughly where the ragged edge of his wound began.
“L-Lucas…” She started, worry and confusing replacing the smile that had dominated her face seconds before.
“A-Are you… okay?”
He sighed, out of habit, and lead her over to a chair, where he sat her down. Placing his bag down beside the table leg, he sat down opposite her and lifted his gaze to meet hers. “In short… no.”
“What happened?” She asked, her eyes wide with worry. Lucas glanced away, before forcing himself to look back at her.
“Well…” he started, his voice suddenly getting quieter as he tried to find the words to say. “I… I died,” he muttered, staring at the floor, unable to keep eye contact.
She was quiet for a moment, confused. “But… but you’re right here. You’re not dead. You can’t be.”
Shame worked its way onto his face, as he stood up, and lifted his shirt up. Leticia’s eyes widened, before she shut them, and looked away. Lucas lowered his shirt again. “Sorry.”
After a few moments, she looked back, pity in her eyes. “How did it happen?”
He shrugged. “Last hunt. It got me.”
“Well I gathered that, but… why are you still here?” She stood up, hugging him again. This time, she held on, despite the strange way she fell into his chest. “Why are you like that?”
“I would imagine necromancy. It wasn’t any sort of unfinished business… I already killed the dragon,” he paused for a moment, “but I don’t see why anyone would want to bring me back.”
Leticia pulled away again, pulling a face. “I would.”
“Yes, but you’re my sister.” He ruffled her hair fondly, smiling gently. His smile didn’t last long. “But I can’t stay. I don’t know what the long terms effects of this… this curse… are, and I doubt anybody around here would take kindly to me wandering around, when I could be dangerous.
“You can’t leave.” She said firmly, shrinking away from his hand, trying to escape it, before she gave in. “What would Sabine do? What would I do?”
Lucas sighed again. “I don’t know. If I stay I’ll only bring more trouble for you.” As always, arguing with his sister was proving difficult.
“I’m sure… I’m sure Sabine wouldn’t mind a bit of extra trouble…” she smiled nervously, “you always bring home trouble, anyway.”
He shook his head. “No.” His voice was firm. He was not going to give in. “I’ll do my best to visit now and then, but… I can’t stay.”
There was a long pause, as the pair feel silent. “At least stay for something to drink.” She said quietly, stopping her attempts. There were times when she knew her brother wasn’t going to change his mind. This, from what she had heard, was one of those times.
“I can stay for something to drink.” He decided, sitting back down at the table. He knew he couldn’t drink. He’d already tried, but he couldn’t refuse his sister. For all he knew, this could be the last time he saw her.
She turned away, heading toward the small kitchen area, where she kept a few crude wooden cups. She picked out two, and glanced around. “I’m afraid there’s only water.” She poured out some from a jug, picking them up and turning back. Her hands shook, and Lucas felt a pang of guilt. He hated to do this to her.
It took a few moments of concentration to put the cup down steadily, without any spilling. She had been a bit over enthusiastic pouring the water. When the cup was safe on the table, she withdrew her hand quickly, clenching her fist behind her back in an attempt to stop the shaking. She sat down herself, opposite her brother and quickly took a sip from her own cup.
Lucas didn’t meet her eyes again, instead picking up his cup with rock steady hands, raising it to his lips and pretending to drink. Water slipped into his mouth, and ran down his throat. He felt an awkward sensation when it ran out of throat to run down, so instead trickled into the dried mass of his dead organs.
They sat in silence for a while, with little else to talk about.
It was Leticia who broke it. “You… you shouldn’t go to Sabine. It’s best… if she thinks you’re dead.”
He looked up in alarm, a crease appearing on his brow. “How come? I have to say goodbye, at least.”
She looked up from her cup, raising an eyebrow. “I think you know. It would break her heart to know what you’ve become- at least this way, she’ll think you passed on easily,” she paused, taking another sip, “Besides… you’ve heard the rumours, right? About… what happens if you can’t move on?” Her voice went quiet. “You’ll just make her scared, you’ll just worry her more.”
“… I… I shouldn’t have come.” Lucas stated, standing up. His chair screeched on the ragged tiles that made up the floor. “Forget you ever saw me.” He turned away, heading for the door.
“No!” She cried, standing up herself, putting both hands firmly on the table. “Please! Stay just a little while longer. You can’t just leave like this. Not right now.”
Lucas shook his head, not daring to look back at her. He knew that if he saw her, he would have to stay. It was best to leave now. He put one hand on the door, shut his eyes, and opened it.
“Lucas!” She cried out again, stumbling to catch up with him.
He glanced back just once, giving her a genuine smile, before he walked out the door, and shut it behind him. From there, he started to run, tearing down the street as fast as he could. One thing he’d noticed about being dead, was that he didn’t need to stop and catch his breath. His muscles didn’t hurt, he felt little pain at all. He was a monster, he thought to himself bitterly.
From behind him, he heard the muffled cries of his sister, slowly dying out as he got further away.
He slowed down after a little while, somewhere close to his house. He agreed with his sister, to his guilt and surprise. Instead, he simply looked longingly at the small building from a distance, before turning away, and starting to walk. This was his old life. The man he had once been was now dead, he thought to himself. He needed to start anew, he needed to move on, as they had to move on from him.