Wolves at the Door (part 7)

Vague impressions swirled through his head. The forest seemed so much taller and deeper than usual. It should have been dark, but he could see perfectly well. The woods pulsed with life, and not just in the present. The past was also laid out before him. Everything that had crossed his path today had left a lingering impression. He was not overwhelmed. He let his senses guide him without overthinking anything. He just ran, faster than he ever had before. It felt good. Not only faster, but more nimble. He dived through gaps in the undergrowth that he would normally have hardly noticed. The clothes that had shackled him lay far behind. Stupid things. How could you balance, with your tail constrained like that? Much better to run free.

He paused when he crossed a fresher trail. Something had just been here. Something to eat? He wasn’t very hungry. Maybe chase it, just because he could? He followed the trail. It was moving fast. He picked up the pace. One trail became many. He wasn’t the only one following it. Give up? They were ahead, they would catch it first. Whatever they were, they seemed familiar. Curiosity kept him going.

The trail took a wide loop around and crossed itself. That was where they were waiting for him. Their mutual quarry forgotten. They looked like him – kind of – but not – but also yes. They weren’t here to welcome a long-lost cousin. They only saw a stranger, with no pack to protect him. For a moment he considered fighting. They were too many. Trust his legs. He would outrun them. This, he knew he could do.

He ran. They ran. He ran faster. They kept pace. They spread out. He could hear them on both sides. Turning would give them an advantage. No need to turn. Just run. He could run all night. They would tire. They would get bored. Just keep running.

Then… things got fuzzy again. But there was a glimpse from sometime after that. His pursuers had not given up. Ahead of him, a vision of Baldr, white of brow, striding through the forest. Glancing over his shoulder and vanishing.

That couldn’t have actually happened, could it? Gil fought his aching head for the memory, but it remained elusive. He could not remember when the wolves had stopped chasing him. He was alive, so something must have gone right. He was also, predictably, naked.

At least he wasn’t cold this time. And the ground was softer than the twigs and leaves he had last woken up on. He cracked open one eye to see where he was. The light hurt, but it was the sound that jarred him awake.

“Good morning to you! I trust you have slept well?”

Gil’s eyes snapped open. He barely noticed the small crowd of onlookers, so shocked was he to find himself naked before a god.


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