A new world awaits Leila Ulric as she travels away from the city of her birth and into the wilderness. At her side is Vincent, a man with amnesia who is an enigma to her. The gray werewolf and Vincent have never appeared together, but doubts gnaw at her mind. She can’t imagine a less suited werewolf than the man who leads her onward towards a destination even he doesn’t know. Their journey takes them to the abode of an old woman who offers them sanctuary and food. The stranger’s inquiries into their affairs catch Leila’s attention and suspicion. Together Vincent and she find a hidden truth in their kind new acquaintance, and a hidden truth in themselves.
It seemed like the very world was against us. We left the life I had far behind and came into a forest of half-truths and lies. Large pine trees swelled from the ground and towered over us. We followed a path that seemingly went on forever, or could if we could see farther than five yards in front of us. The storm clouds over us were black and angry. Travel was hard for the rain pelted our heads and shoulders. Streams of water flowed down my coat and soaked into my pants. My only comfort was the cool rain soothed my sore fingers.
“Why did I ever agree to this?” I muttered.
Vincent glanced over his shoulder. “You say something?” he yelled above the torrential downpour.
I shook my head. “It’s nothing.”
“I said it’s nothing!”
“Oh. Okay. . .”
I glared at the back of this meek man. My mind couldn’t grasp that he was the monster I’d seen in the city.
Without hesitation, that horrible creature had torn Pararius’ throat apart. I lowered my head and shuddered. Those white-gray eyes. I couldn’t get them out of my thoughts, nor even my dreams.
I found myself staring at Vincent’s back. Perhaps he didn’t hold the answers I sought.
“Look, Leila,” Vincent spoke up.
I raised my head and the downpour slapped its cold, wet children against my face. Vincent stood two yards ahead and was half-turned to me. He stretched out his arm and pointed to an open spot in the path some ten yards ahead. The fathomless darkness of a cave stood out from the rest of the night.
“We might stay in there for a while,” he suggested.
“Anywhere is better than staying out here,” I agreed.
We hurried through the muck. My foot slipped on a partially exposed rock and I fell face-first into the mud. Strong arms wrapped around me and helped me to my feet.
“You okay?” he asked me.
I nodded. “Yeah, but I’ll be better when we get in there.”
“Come on. I’ll help you,” he offered.
We had gone two steps when he found another slippery rock. His arms around me forced me to the ground. My only saving grace was he ended up at the bottom of our little pile on his back. I found myself atop him with my legs straddled on either side of him. Those bright emerald eyes faced me. Rain ran down my neck and hair, and dripped onto him.
Vincent sheepishly grinned at me. “Maybe I’m the one who needs help.”
“In more ways than one,” I quipped.
I climbed to my feet and helped him up. We sloshed our way carefully up the rest of the path and slipped into the dry mouth of the cave. The floor was littered with leaves, needles and bits of stick. I stepped forward and squinted my eyes at the back of the cave. The depth stretched on into oblivion. A cave without end.
Vincent stooped and grabbed some small rocks. “I think I can make a fire out of this, and we can cook the beans.”
“Sounds good,” I agreed.
I gathered sticks and kindling as he created a round circle of small and large stones. Within half an hour we had a warm fire. The third of our six cans of beans sat on a flat rock and boiled in its own juices. Vincent and I sat on the ground, I on the old blanket and he on the ground.
“You’re not too bad at it,” I commented.
He leaned back and sheepishly smiled. “Thanks.”
“Do you remember anything else that would involve practice?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “It’s not really that I remember making fires. It’s just-well, it just feels like habit. Like I’ve done it so often I could do it in my sleep.”
“Of course. Anything else would help. . .” I muttered. I glanced at the entrance. The rain interrupted the otherwise still darkness. “I wonder how long it’ll last. . .” I thought aloud.
“Probably a few days,” Vincent commented.
“More habit?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No, just a feeling.”
I stood and carefully stripped off my coat. Water dripped from the edges. A firm crack of the cloth and water sprayed everywhere. The droplets hissed on the warm rocks and fire. Vincent raised his arm to shield his face.
“Hey, be careful with that,” he whined.
I stooped and lay the coat near the fire. “You should worry about yourself. That coat of yours doesn’t look any better than mine.”
Vincent glanced down at his overcoat. “Actually, it’s pretty dry on the inside.”
“You’ve gotta be cold without a shirt,” I persisted.
He shrugged. “Yeah, a little, I guess.”
I glanced out the mouth of the cave. “So does any of this seem familiar?”
He followed my gaze and shook his head. “No.”
My shoulders drooped. “Then how do you know this is where you should go?”
Vincent looked into the fire and shrugged. “I just do.” His eyes flickered to the can. “I hope there’s a town soon, or we’ll have to worry about food.”
“Let me guess. You don’t know that, either?” I asked him.
“Not a clue,” he confirmed.
The can of beans reminded us of its existence. Its juice bubbled over the top of the open can and soaked the cooking rock. Vincent grabbed the can and yanked it off the griddle.
“Ouch!” he yelped as he hurriedly dropped the can onto the ground close by the fire.
I leaned forward. “Are you okay?”
He clutched his hand against himself. His teeth were gritted, but he nodded. “Yeah, just a little burn.”
“Here, let me see.” I strode around the fire and knelt beside him.
He pulled back. “It’s really nothing.”
“Then let me see it,” I persisted. I grasped his hand and pulled it towards me so the palm opened upward. Two fingers were red, but not blistered. “A first degree burn.”
“Is that bad?” he asked me.
“Not really.” I raised my hand and unraveled some of my bandages. “But you should wear these, just in case.”
It’s really-ouch!” He winced as I wrapped one of the fingers.
“Don’t be such a baby,” I scolded him. I bandaged the first finger and moved on to the second. My eyes fell on the chain of the necklace that hung his neck. The silver glistened in the weak firelight. Another mark against his being a werewolf. Silver and those legends didn’t mix. I nodded at the trinket. “Why do you still wear that thing?”
He glanced down at the necklace. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because it reminds me of-well-” He blushed and turned away.
I’ll never understand men.
“All right. That should work,” I told him.
I released his fingers and leaned back. His hand shot out and grasped mine. I whipped my head up and found him staring at me. His emerald green eyes stared into mine. He compressed his lips into a thin line.
“Leila, I-there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you,” he admitted.
I felt my cheeks warm. I was blushing. My voice came out in a shaky, hoarse whisper. “W-what?”
“I. . .I’m-well, I’m really glad you came with me,” he told me.
My heart sank. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but what I got was disappointing. I pulled my hand from his grip and shrugged. “I need answers. Hopefully you can provide them.”
I stood and returned to my blanket where I laid down with my back to him. “But we should get some sleep. If what you say is true than the hike tomorrow isn’t going to be any easier for us.”
“All right. . .” he agreed.
I heard shuffling. After a few minutes I rolled a little and glanced over my shoulder. Vincent’s back was turned to me. He held still but for the motion of his soft, even breathing. I sat up and watched him. My mind wandered back to the three times I’d come face-to-face with the creature. A werewolf, Red had told me. I could hardly doubt his words now.
I shifted. The occupied holster reminded me of its presence. I pulled out my gun and held it in my palm. The metal glistened in the weakening firelight. My eyes flickered between the silver bullet-filled cartridge and the man who slept in front of me. Red told me it was the only thing that could kill a werewolf. That remained to be seen, but when the time came I’d be ready.
I put my weapon back and lay back down. Sleep came to me, but I had no dreams that long night.