First chapter of Io Deceneus Journal of a Time Traveler – a science fiction and fantasy book about time travel. The Living Universe books series.
The white wolf turned his head with animal leisure, until I met his eyes – black pits of charcoal in all that snow – so close, that shades appeared in their darkness. Don’t panic. Don’t… I turned around … only me and the wolf, his tongue hanging out. Where is everybody? A crystal twig cracked under the snow, and three times the raven cawed in a human voice: “Wolf-man! Wolf-man! Wolf-man!” Unimpressed, the wolf howled in my face, and I howled back, to smother his howl, to smother my mind. A howl … another one… In-between, silence flows, and the mind sees all that you are not searching for.
“Duras, no! Stay here.” Whistling between the snowdrifts, the wind carried voices over the ridge.
A small voice, a girl… What is she doing here? I blinked: the lone wolf was backing off, his lips half writhed into a snarl. In the valley, a pack of gray wolves went out from the forest, and split in two wings – ready to hunt.
“Some scared wolves… We can’t go back, young girl; death is waiting there.”
A man’s voice … almost a man’s voice. “Listen to her,” I shouted, and frosted leaves whispered under his small, uneasy steps. “The gray wolves … they split.” … Nothing… They can’t hear me.
“The white wolf is reborn!” she cried through chattering teeth. “The Hidden Passage will open. And you are not much older than me.” Higher in pitch, her voice was now more furious than scared, and the wind swept down in cutting blasts, whose whistling cadences echoed around, laughing at her.
“I passed the rite of the cold fire when The Moon wedded The Black Companion, young girl. That means luck; you know this. Armin, the Erin, searched the Lines of Time for me; they were all good. Well, almost… I am a warrior now,” Duras bragged, trying to deny his worries; the wolves were closing round on us. “Roasted meat!” he sniffed the cold. “Coming from nowhere… This is not from my own mind, it’s real; I’m not hungry.” Strained was his voice, but he marched further – the steps of a man trying to avoid a ghost. The Hidden Passage? A thin girl followed him. “Stay there, Delena.”
“I told you,” the girl said with a deep breath, unsure if it was the right time to be right.
“You told. You told…” Sliding forward with quiet steps, he cut the snow at my feet. “Here … the scent comes from here.” His sword arched again.
“Freeze!” I screamed, and sour sweat popped out all over my face. The sword stopped, still arched over my head; I dared not breathe. He stared through me with wide-open eyes, his lips tightened together in barely suppressed anger. They can’t see me. On his chest, a red, yellow and blue Draco, a dragon with open wolf-like jaws on a white shield: the ancient Dacian symbol. Somewhere in the valley a wolf howled, then another one, and I was suddenly tired; there were no hungry wolves and no Draco warriors in my world – in my safe, boring, real world.
Distant laughter, sharp as the cold, scorned my fear. “Wolf-man!” the raven cawed again. I turned: a black wolf leaped forward, and the wild pack followed like one single hunter. Ten, I counted … and the white one. Where is the white one? Where…? Foreign awareness invaded my mind, and time slowed, stretched in minute-long seconds of silence. A flash revealed my body in colors I could not easily understand, another flash … a running wolf. Images shifted in hiccups – me, the warrior, the running wolf – leaving behind strange feelings never sensed before. Wolf stench. Human scent. Wilderness. That’s not my mind.
“Kill the meeeeeen!” the wolf howled. I understand… “Kill! Killllll … the men,” the pack answered. Stop! You, animal… Trapped inside the wolf, I lost myself, and we growled together: “Flesh…” Wild hunger gnawed inside me – my mind absorbed the taste of blood, from the many hunts of his past, and I enjoyed that taste, when his feelings became mine. “Killll!” we howled, running as one, and each leap shrank the distance to the frozen men. Seventy feet. The pack was behind: snarls, snow swishing, wild scents, all mixed with human fear in the forefront. Fifty feet. The wolf sped up, bounding across the snow, excitement flooding veins that were mine too, and he clamped with savage teeth, ready for man’s flesh. Forty feet. I stretched my mind to feel more than animal emotions: the regular cadence of his paws in the snow, the fluid workout of his stringy muscles, heartbeats. Twenty feet. Coming from the icy snow, tickling sensations moved into my fingers, with each step he took – the rhythm slowed down, for the final jump, and tension filled him, filling me at the same time. Now! I wrenched, contracting my left hand; his foreleg contracted too, missing the step, and we rolled down in the snow.
Then time came back, and my mind left him alone. The wolves can see me… They were everywhere, and they looked like death to me. “Unfreeze!” I screamed, in a grating voice, jumping aside, and the frozen sword arched down as if it had never stopped, slaying the black wolf. The wolf is dead. I was inside him. Wolf-man? Dead wolf-man? Snow touched my skin and melted. It’s cold … it’s real. When I found the courage to look again, bared fangs snarled at me from the red snow. Just bones, they can bite no longer. Relief and a deep feeling of loss engulfed me – through his mind, the cubicle man drank the wilderness freedom, a potion more enthralling than the strongest wine. Could I keep everybody alive? In that strained moment, the wolf became almost human to me.
“What happened?” The young girl came closer, keeping a terrified eye on the wolf. “I was caged in a stone, having the shape of my body … when the wolves… The wind set me free.”
“Just fear,” Duras lied to her. “The wolf is dead. Look!” His leg pushed the carcass. “Nothing to fear.” Somewhere far off, a honking horn pierced through the silent cold. “We have to go.”
“Do the Travelers really want to kill us?” Delena asked, in a voice squeezed between panic and innocent curiosity.
“I don’t want to know,” he shrugged. “Things from far away are stirring the winds of war. Maybe Armin is wrong; the last war was one thousand years ago, before the Great Drought. How can I know? He’s never wrong. He said that help would come from the Other Side of the Mirror … whatever that means.” Feeling the fear still gnawing at her, Duras lowered his voice. “Don’t worry, I will protect you. I will always protect you.” For the first time the long sword trembled in his hand, from the cold, or perhaps from fear.
“A Field Dream is an inception point.” Coming from nowhere, the feminine voice swirled in the wind, and an odd feeling of being watched by the unseen swept through me. “And a test,” the voice almost smiled. Wake up, I shrugged, this dream is way too long. A dreamer can wake himself once he knows he is dreaming, but I never could, and the gradual understanding of a repeated, beyond my control, cycle of thrilling events was as long as painful. “Are you afraid?” Filled with mockery, a pair of predatory bird eyes, ice color, opened in the sky. Who is the prey here? “You dream of change. You are afraid of change. You want to be a Traveler.”