The thief had been released, and so Lucas spent his night sitting quietly in the cell, looking out of the bars with dead, empty eyes, his back pressed flat against the damp stone wall. Every now and then, a guard would walk past, carrying his own torch, illuminating the darkness in which Lucas sat, staring at the dead man as he muttered things quietly to himself.
Eventually, the sun rose again, soaring into the sky, until it had almost reached its peak. It was with an hour to go that they came for him. He didn’t put up a fight at first- he was too lost in his own thought. It was only when he felt the hands closing around his shoulders that he pushed away, struggling against their grip.
He knew he was stronger. The woman was standing there, and she looked on in disapproval as he started to fight back. He was yelling things he himself couldn’t hear, too lost in his own thought to listen to the words he spoke. Eternity alone in a stone cell was better than eternity alone in a wooden box.
He saw the woman’s mouth move as she spoke words, he saw her hands raising to form motions in the air, and all of a sudden everything went black, and he lost control of his body again, floating into darkness. He welcomed it, greeting it with arms wide open, begging for anything other than the thought of his own mind forever more.
When he woke up again, he was covered in chains. They were like a second set of clothing, wrapped so tightly around his body, pinning his limbs to his side, turning him into a mummy of metal and flesh. As he opened his eyes, he was aware of a bright blue above him, and it took him a few moments to realise it was the sky. Climbing up either side of him were tall, steep walls of dirt, rocks and mud. He felt a sinking feeling in his non-existent stomach, as he turned his head as much as he could to the side, finding himself face to face with planks of wood.
Someone was speaking above him, performing some sort of service before a crowd of people. All Lucas could hear was a single voice, and the sound of wood creaking beneath him. As he looked around, he started to struggle, trying to work free from his bonds, the chains rattling as he shook himself from side to side. Someone leaned back, glancing into the hole, casting him a glare. All he could see was their dark outline against the blue sky.
“Stop this!” He called up, his fear evident in his voice. “You can’t do this.” He kicked against the bottom of the coffin with both legs, moving them together. The chains continued rattling loudly, clinking out in protest. Whoever was speaking paused for a moment, put off by the sudden movement from behind him. “Please!”
Nobody made a move, and quiet mutters ran through the group of assembled people. Lucas tried desperately to escape, trying in vain to sit up, but held down by the heavy iron chains anchored to the base.
The talking stopped, and there was an eerie silence as he paused, waiting in fearful anticipation for what came next. A short figure appeared above the hole, leaning over it. He could make out the shape of hair whipping around its head, streaming out to one side. “Leticia, please.” He pleaded, straining once again against the chains.
The figure above shook her head, and she turned away. “I-” she started, taking a step away. “I can’t, Lucas. You… you died… a long time ago.”
This news made him pause, and he stopped struggling. The lid of the coffin started to be lowered into the hole, and his protests rose up again. “Stop!” He yelled, trying to hit at the wood beside his arms, trying to create just a little more room.
There was a dull thud, and most of the light was obscured. His voice continued in muffled cries through the planks, as the first shovel filled with loose dirt was thrown in. Lucas winced at the scattered noise of clumps hitting the surface, trying to kick up at the lid. There was a second, and a third. The cracks between then separate planks were being blocked, and darkness started to envelop the small wooden prison.
From above ground, Lucas’s cries were slowly losing volume, as two people worked together to fill the grave in. They stood in a nearby field, a large mound of mud to one side, waiting to be dropped back into the hole. There was no gravestone- only a seed, to be planted above his head. Leticia watched in silence as it filled up, slowly but surely.
The woman from the prison stood atop the grave when the two men had finished, and shut her eyes, holding her hands out flat, one atop the other, palms facing down. She muttered something to herself, before she stepped off, motioning toward the mound. She spoke directly to Leticia, meeting her gaze. “You may plant the tree now.”
Lucas began to lose hope as the wood began to bow, giving up his protests, and lying there in cold, dark silence. A minute passed, and he felt the same dreary feeling as he was put under a spell.
A wave of relief washed over him. At the very least, he wouldn’t have to be conscious for part of it.
The three women stared at him in a mixture of horror, awe and pity.
“You were stuck in that coffin for… for… 800 years?!” Lucy muttered, staring at the ground.
Ariss shrugged. “I was dug up about three hundred years later. I was needed to hunt another dragon,” he stopped, thinking back to that time. “That’s where I got this sword-” He tapped the blade beneath the blanket, feeling the smooth metal of the sheath. “They buried me again after that, something about mistrust between them. The spell they put me under was far weaker than the one before. I woke up sometime in 2007. It took me a little while to break free of my chains, but… I managed.”
Lola was sitting on the edge of her seat, elbow rested on the arm, head cradled in her hands. “When did the organisation start looking for you?”
“As soon as they heard.”
“W-what was the spell? Do you… do you remember it?” Scarlett asked timidly, her voice quiet.
“No.” He said hurriedly, switching his stare to her, shaking his head. “They always muttered it under their breath, or did it when I wasn’t listening.” He fell silent, shutting his eyes as he let himself push the memories back down, trying to forget about it once more. “It’s… a forgotten magic now. You are the first human I have met since my return who possesses magic.”
Scarlett blushed again, looking to the floor as eyes were set on her. “S-So.” She stuttered, looking toward Lola. “It-it’s only fair that Lola tells you about herself, right? I… I would tell you about me but… but I’m normal compared to you.”
Lola rolled her eyes, pulling away from the arm of her chair, leaning back. It creaked a little, and she let out a long, drawn-out breath. “I’m sure they don’t want to know.” She muttered, hiding her face involuntarily as she thought about it.
Lucy glanced toward Ariss, and their eyes locked for a moment- neither wanted to push her. It was clear she didn’t want to talk about it.
Ariss shook his head, and stood up, holding the blanket around his shoulders. “You need not tell us if you don’t want to.” He reassured her, stretching. “Besides, you want us gone, don’t you?”
The werewolf’s momentary smile of gratitude was replaced with a frown, and a deep feeling of guilt. “There’s no need to leave. I… I feel bad for what I did, and… Lucy?” she glanced at Lucy, who nodded at the correct use of her name, “Lucy is hurt too, correct? I could smell the blood last night. It was far off, though, so… I dismissed it as a wounded animal. I’ve seen… dragons… around before, anyway.” She smiled slightly, standing up. “You might as well stay here while you heal. Having extra hands won’t be a problem. Besides… it’s safe here, at least.”
The two travellers looked at each other again, exchanging an unspoken conversation. Lucy dipped her head, bending down a little. “We… we would be glad to accept your offer, but only if we don’t cause trouble.”
They exchanged smiles, and Lola stepped to one side, motioning toward the door. “I think… you’d probably be too big to come fully inside, but we can find some blankets…?”
Lucy took a hurried step backwards, muttering a quiet thanks, feeling awkward. She felt warm inside- a type of warmth that you got during Christmas- the type of warmth that came from sharing an experience with other people. She felt gratitude, and excitement at the prospect that living people were treating her as though she were still in a human shape herself. Of course, one of these people was a werewolf, and the other could presumably use magic, but nevertheless, they were living and human.
The warmth spread through her body as Scarlett returned with an armful of blankets, grinning in the doorway. “It’s going to be cold in the cabin for a bit, but we can manage.”
Ariss stepped back out about five minutes later, wearing a new shirt that covered his most recent injuries. Already parts of it had been coloured a dark red. Scarlett was tucking in Lucy’s tail beneath a particularly fluffy blanket, muttering something as she tucked the edge beneath it, on top of a large, blue waterproof ground sheet. She looked up from her work as he stepped out, carrying twice the coverings she had held- many of them larger than those she had found.
Grumbling something about Lola being better at finding things, she took the pile from him, starting a new layer atop that she had just finished putting on. Snow had started to fall again, but was little more than a few small flakes every minute. The sky was clouded over, stars obscured, not a single trace of the moon to be seen. Ariss looked over as Lucy sank down into her temporary bed.
“You could probably sleep out here just fine without any of that.” He remarked, gesturing to the covers.
She tilted her head at a curious angle, lowering her brow into a frown. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.”
He shrugged. “Well you wouldn’t be able to currently- you’re too used to being warm and toasty. Perhaps someday, though,” he sat down on one of the steps, watching Scarlett as she walked around steadily, adjusting tarpaulins as she went. “You are aware that you now have your own spark of magic, correct?”
Nodding, he explained. “Dragons are magical beings- you already know this, right? They draw a certain amount of magic from the world around them- more than most humans do. I do this, subconsciously, to replenish the small magic I have control over. The necromancy cast on me does this as well, almost constantly. Dragons can tell if a human is going to be dangerous by the void of magic around them. That’s how they pick out their victims amongst humans.
“Anyway, dragons use their magic firstly to sustain parts of themselves, and as a second usage, to do other things. For example, I have not hunted a single dragon that could not fly.” Scarlett had finished, and came to sat down beside him, listening curiously. “Dragons who were born with wings- unlike yourself- can do this with very little magic. However, it is… possible… for a dragon such as yourself to do so. It is the same with breathing fire and such.”
Her eyes widened slightly, and she tilted her head further. “I can breathe fire?”
He shook his head. “Not fire. Most dragons have a tendency towards high heat or low. Often, this manifests as fire or ice. The dragon that killed me swung considerably more to the colder side of things, and the area around it was cold. You are the same. You may not notice, but you are certainly more accustomed to the cold, whether you can tell yet, or not.”
“Is that the same with Lola?” Scarlett asked, glancing back through the door of the cabin.
Ariss thought for a moment, recalling memories of the distant past, trying to remember what he knew of werewolves. “In some ways, yes.” There were footsteps behind him, as Lola came to listen as well, leaning against the door frame. “Lycanthropy is more of a… curse. That’s not quite what it is, but it works similarly. There is not magic being used up constantly. There’s magic when the ‘curse’ is first transmitted, and there is magic to kick-start the change within a werewolf. Normally…” he paused for a moment, glancing up toward Lola, and then looking to where the moon should be. It had been full earlier. “Normally this magic is only present on the full moon. It… it should stay somewhere around the body, preventing the werewolf from changing back into their actual form. It dissipates as the moon starts to wane.” He finished his explanation, and Scarlett nodded slowly in understanding, staring at the snow in front of one of Lucy’s paws, sorting through the new information. Then, he turned fully to Lola, and asked his own question. “Why aren’t you still in your other form?”
The woman appeared to freeze where she stood, as though she were caught out doing something she weren’t supposed to. A frown appeared on her features, and she looked up into the darkness around the trees. “I don’t know,” she muttered, folding her arms. “When it first happened, it was consistently every night for- for a week or two. After that… after that I could switch whenever I wanted.” She shuddered violently, shaking her head to clear it as she stopped speaking.
He had further questions, but decided to pursue them later. Scarlett yawned, raising a hand carelessly to cover her mouth. “I’m gonna… go to bed.” She said, caught half-way by a second yawn.
Lola smiled softly, and helped her up. “I think I’ll return to bed as well.” Scarlett shuffled past her, lifting a hand in silent goodnight.
“Good night.” Lucy called after, laying her head down on the decking.
“The sofa’s all yours, when you feel tired.” She said to Ariss, turning around.
“I don’t sleep.” He muttered, as she walked inside, putting the front door to, and heading for her room. The lights were flicked off a few moments later. He sighed, and looked back toward Lucy. “Do you mind if I stay out here?”
She shook her head sleepily, yawning herself. “You… you can close the door, I don’t want to give them trouble.” She rested her head on the spare tarpaulin left by her forepaws, her neck curving around smoothly. She shut her eyes, and fell asleep quickly.
Ariss reached toward the door, grabbing the handle and pulling it shut. He returned to his previous position, and stretched backwards out on the steps, leaning against the banister that lined the edge. It was quiet that night. The wind had died down, and all that could be heard was Lucy’s rhythmic breathing, and a slight dripping as the warmth of the cabin melted the snow in its immediate vicinity.
It fell gently. Twisting in the air, swirling around in lazy arcs. It was snowing lightly, tiny flakes drifting on the smallest of breezes, coming to rest on the untouched snow on the ground, melting into the pressed-down foot prints. Any snow that fell on the tarpaulin above Lucy sat there, and she was covered in a light blanket after only a little while.
Ariss felt himself relax, as he looked out into the darkness of the nearby trees. In the distance, lower down on the hills he could see nothing but black. He could distinguish the vague outline of hills rising up in the distance, and a small speck of light some way away, but mostly the area seemed deserted.