Passed out amidst the charred trees that cried for help I lie watching the extraordinary dance of the flames around my wounded body. I mourned at the loss of so many beautiful trees but smiled at the light of fluttering bodies even if their touch meant death. The pads on my back paws were burned off and my body ached from the gaping scratch made by the hellhound. It spread from my left shoulder to the opposite hip. I knew there were various other scratches that I couldn't feel for the largest of them was the center of the pain. I tried to Shift but it throbbed so much I couldn't concentrate. My thoughts were scattered, my mind couldn't single out one thought from another. Then as if the gaping wound wasn't enough a burning sensation started right at the tip of it on my left shoulder. It felt as though my skin was put in the raging fire that surrounded me, I howled with pain.
The siren of a wounded wolf made its way through the fire into the morning air. Willelow's ears pricked forward at the sound and she whinnied back as if she understood. I knew by the look in her eyes and her posture that the Shifter from before was somewhere in that fire. Besides why else would she answer a wolf? I asked myself. So I quickly took our stuff off Willelow's back, threw her riding gear in the same pile then leaped onto her.
"Lead the way, but we'll have to be fast this fire is moving rapidly,"
So with that she took off at a full speed gallop dodging every tree and bush within seconds of hitting them. I kept low to her back almost laying down on top of her to make sure nothing hit me giving her more speed. Within minutes we were at the edge of the fire and without stopping Willelow turned running along the border whinnying then waited for an answer then started again when there wasn't one.
Come on make a sound, give us something!
Then as if to answer my thoughts he howled again. Willelow turned around to follow the sound and we plunged into the fire, leaping over a tree that had fallen still burning. I saw another tree crack at the base ahead of us. I felt Willelow hesitate,
"Froca, Froca," I whispered in her ear. At that she lurched forward just missing the tree as it fell behind us flames bursting, their fiery fingers missing her tail by inches.
Minutes later when we were starting to get desperate the same eagle that had warned us of the fire swooped down ahead of us. Its golden brown feathers shined in the bright lights of the flames. Willelow slowed only a bit as she waited for my command,
"Follow it," I told her as the bird swiftly flew off through the trees.
So we followed the bird deeper into the seemingly never ending fire and soon found the Shifter within a ring of high flames. Without any pushing Willelow leaped over it in ease. Her hooves had hardly touched the singed ground before I was off her back tending to him. The worst wound I could see was a scratch spread across his back staining his fur red.
A hellhound did this, I know it in my heart. Just then the large eagle landed within the ring, its beak reflecting the dancing fire that surrounded us,
"Thank you," I murmured and the eagle spread its wings in salutation then flew straight up out of the trees.
Nudging my shoulder, Willelow moved closer to the Shifter,
"He'll be alright a hellhounds teeth are worse than his claws, he's only passed out now."
Then as if she knew I'd say it she laid down next to him while I carefully put him on her back. After getting to her feet I got on behind the Shifter to keep him from falling off.
"We need to get out of here, fast!"
She jumped the ring of flames once more and headed back the way we came at a smooth canter.
Once we were back at our camp I cleaned all the Shifter's wounds with hot water and stitched up the major ones. Then using the fabric from a shirt I wrapped his back paws that had lost their pads in the fire. I laid him on top of the blue sheet of fabric near the small fire I'd made. Whilst he slept I went hunting for some food to feed us telling Willelow to watch over him.
As I walked deeper into the forest my eye sight blurred, I tried to blink it off but nothing would come into focus. Everything seemed to shift to a different world, the colors altering to different shades as if I had walked into a fantasy. The trees were different shades of yellow- pure, beautiful, lively. The grass I could see through the blanket of snow that was a dark shade of grey- lifeless- while the hibernating plants beneath it was blue- sleeping but still pure. I could feel deer in a small clearing nearby like the grass, the dirt and the trees were all a part of my body. There was a deer that was sick, death was closing in on it. I could feel Willelow munching on the grass, ripping its roots out of the dirt, all the while the Shifter's mind rolled restlessly in his unconscious state but his body lay still. I could feel so many different lives all within me while at the same time their feelings jabbed their way through my body. I could feel their power too like their lives were mine to give and take as I pleased. When I moved the plants and other life forms in the near vicinity seemed to moved with me. Effortlessly I made my way to where the deer were hidden at the edge of some tall grass my legs knowing where to go. Then in one swift move my bow was in my hands with an arrow knocked, my legs running towards the deer through the grass. Just before they had time to escape I leaped high enough to see and without any hesitation I shot the sick deer landing just before my arrow pierced its skin but I knew without looking I'd shot it right in the head. The other deer darted off, dancing with fright.
Carefully I put the creature on my shoulders as I walked back to our camp I marveled at the magic I had somehow found that I could feel pounding through my body even though I was no longer using it. That had not been me with the world at my command nor when I killed the deer who's cold eyes now watched unseeing as we passed by tree after tree. That had been pure, wild magic, uncontrolled and unpredictable. I worried about its return, if it returned at all, but yet wanted it so desperately.
The Shifter was still passed out when I returned. He lay unmoving except for his chest going in and out as he breathed. I tried to feed him some of the deer but I couldn't get him to swallow so I cooked and ate what I needed. Drinking some water from the flask in my bag I then drained some into the Shifters mouth and lifted his head to get it to go down. Afterwards Willelow came to lay next to him as she had before, once more I lifted him onto her back getting on only after she had gotten to her feet.
As we trotted off I worried about what else was wrong with the Shifter, his wounds weren't massive enough to put him in this state but then again the demons could have done something else to him that even he might not know of. Usually they didn't work that hard to rid the world of another creature but they are demons and they are just as unpredictable as wild magic.
The Shifter convulsed under my hand jolting me out of my thoughts while underneath us Willelow shied,
"Cance Willelow, cance," I quietly told her as he convulsed again. With steady hands I pressed down on the bottom of her neck twice, the silent command for her to lay down for I didn't want to speak when it wasn't needed. I then lifted him off of her back raking my fingers through his soft fur as I thought. When a scar at the tip of the wound I had stitched up caught my eye. I carefully parted the fur around it and instantly scooted away, not out of fear but out of bewilderment. My eyes wide, my hands shaking in the cold snow, he wasn't just a Shifter.
It must be new that would explain his symptoms, I told myself.