In the morning, Greta found herself in the bed while Mavis, Briana and Eofach had apparently pulled up spots on the floor. Receiving special treatment happened now and then in a number of her lifetimes, but it felt like something Greta would never get used to. Greta decided the least she could do for the use of the bed was help fix breakfast, bad a cook as she was.
Greta, as a young mom, had long since given up the idea of sleeping in. Eofach was an older woman who likely did not need the sleep of the young, so she was awake. Mavis came instantly awake as soon as Greta sat up in bed. Only Briana looked comfortable, but Greta judged from the look on Briana’s face that she either snuck off to visit Alesander at some point after Greta fell asleep, or she was having wonderful dreams, or both.
“We have to move on today.” Greta spoke over her warm day-old bread and water, that is, once her eyes opened and her brain started to function.
“Why the rush?” Briana asked
“You only just arrived,” Eofach added.
“Rhiannon’s warning. Chobar of the Dog Clan has given himself to Mithrasis, and he is coming with a large group of armed men to stop us from continuing on our quest. I assume they plan to kill us if necessary.”
“But the Dog Clan is many days from here,” Eofach said.
“Rhiannon said they were two days behind us. And she said there are friends planning to meet us in the village of the Dragon Clan for the next leg of the journey. We need to be there so we can move on as soon as they arrive.”
“I’ll get the men up and ready,” Briana volunteered.
“I’ll get the horses and Stinky,” Mavis said, and they both looked at Greta who yawned before speaking.
“I have to tell the elders of the Raven Clan not to resist Chobar and his men. There is no need for bloodshed.”
“What can I do?” Eofach wondered.
“You can come with me,” Greta said. “I may need your help to convince a bunch of stubborn old men not to make a fuss. You and Gwydden don’t need practice bandaging bloody arms and legs.”
“Oh, I understand that,” Eofach said with conviction. The woman could just imagine.
The travelers left before noon, about as well as could be expected, but now Dunova and his men from the Wolf Clan became doubly determined to see they reached their destination safely. Greta tried to ignore them all, but as a result, she ended up riding beside Lucius so Mavis could ride beside Hermes and Briana could ride beside Alesander. Lucius made Greta uncomfortable, but she figured that maybe he was just a soldier with a sour disposition after all. She tried hard over four days to convince herself it was just a personality thing.
On the very first evening, Greta took Mavis and Briana apart, and she quizzed Briana on all that Rhiannon taught her. Briana was skilled in many forms of combat, but after only a short while, Greta realized one thing was missing.
“Let go of your thoughts,” Greta said. “Let your feelings settle down and let your mind wander back along the trail we just took. Let it go back step by step to the village of the Raven Clan. Tell me what you feel, more than what you see. Tell me what you sense. As an elect, you should be able to sense an enemy on the horizon if you know what to look for.”
Greta quieted, and Briana closed her eyes, but after only a moment, she shook her head. “I’m not sensing anything. Maybe I’m not doing it right.”
“I am sure you are doing it just fine. Every woman is to some degree intuitive, but the senses of an elect are directed and focused on potential threats and danger. Trust your intuition. I imagine Chobar and the Dog Clan are not yet in range. We will try again tomorrow night.
The party moved as quick as they could through the foothills, but it did not seem very fast. Dunova had the idea that the women needed regular stops and plenty of time to rest. Greta wanted to hit the man for being a sexist moron, but she held her tongue and simply tried to move things along as well as she could. Greta knew Briana, with the constitution of an elect, could travel three days to the Dragon village without stopping, and Mavis, being an elf, would be right there with her. Only Greta had to stop now and then, though not nearly as often as Dunova supposed.
They found no more Lazyges on the path, but that did not mean they were not being watched. The farms and little hamlets they passed by looked the same as before, but on the third day they began to move up into the mountains, and that slowed them considerably.
On the third night, as the clouds moved in and it began to drizzle, Briana caught the sense that they were being followed. She got excited before she felt sure she was doing it wrong.
“Trust your intuition,” Greta said as she estimated that the Dog men were a full day or more behind. That was acceptable since they would make it to the Dragon Clan village by late afternoon. Greta just hoped that whoever might be coming to join them would already be there waiting. She wanted to get out at dawn and be gone before Chobar arrived.
Mavis woke Greta in the dark of the night before dawn. The rain had finished for the time being and though it felt cold, people were able to wrap up and sleep. Briana got up, having suffered a nightmare. Alesander was there to comfort her, and Lucius and Hermes were sleepy but curious. Only Dunova and the men of the Wolf Clan remained asleep.
“It was awful.” Briana recounted her nightmare and wept a little. “It felt like the Were people you were telling me about, and how they always took the form of the wolf to hunt under the full moon. I got so frightened.”
“Hush,” Alesander prompted. “Greta has assured us the Were people died out long ago.”
“She mentioned werewolves,” Lucius said, not being at all helpful, but Hermes countered him quickly.
“Not a full moon.” He pointed to the sky even if the moon stayed hidden by the clouds.
“But it is worse now that I am awake. I can still sense them, more than ever.” Briana raised her eyes to look at the clouds and shivered. Alesander held her but quickly let go when Greta appeared at the tent door, like he was a teenager caught by Mother Greta.
“Mavis,” Greta said, as she stepped out beside the fire, Mavis on her heels. Mavis knew what she wanted and spoke right up.
“Yes, Lady. I sense a great evil, but it is strange, like nothing I have sensed before.”
“That is because they are not of this world.” Greta got that much out before they heard a great howl echo through the hills. Lucius and Hermes both looked up and all around, their eyes open at last. Briana and Alesander grabbed hands. Several of the men of the Wolf Clan shifted in their sleep. “I also had a vision, or a dream. I saw a streak through the sky in my mind’s eye. It struck the earth hard and the grass and trees were set aflame. Let us hope it is an escape pod with no more than six, or at worst a scout ship of ten or twelve. God help us all if it is a transport of fifty or more.”
The howl came again and seemed closer than before. The men of the Wolf Clan began to stir. “But what is it?” Alesander asked.
“On this world, they have been called Wolv.” Greta looked as frightened as the rest and that did not help the others one bit. “They were the front-line troops of what I called the Humanoid Empire, an empire in space ruled by people who look much like us. Let me say the Lords of the Hachari rarely had to send in the second line. But the Wolv rebelled more than a century ago. They stole many ships to fly between the stars, and since that time they have eaten and torn their way across many worlds, shredding civilizations, even hunting some people to extinction. They are not intelligent to repair the technology when it brakes, or in this case crashes to earth, but they are clever enough to use the technology, and to be disciplined, and to eat. Pray they have not come here in force.”
Greta quieted while the howl came again, this time from a different direction. She began to rouse the men of the Wolf Clan, and the others helped without asking any more questions. They had to ride fast and hard to get behind the walls of the Dragon village before they were cut off or pulled down from behind. Greta prayed for the rain to return, believing it would help disguise their scent and signs of passage. The rain waited, but the skies opened up when they got near the village.
The village of the Dragon Clan rested in the middle of a cliff with the majority of the village built inside a great cavern carved out of the cliff side. Eyes on the wall looked out from under the overhang of rock that continued to rise straight up above the stockade wall. They saw a narrow path that zig-zagged up the side of the cliff. They reached the base of that path and felt safe before they saw their first Wolv. It stood on its hind legs at the edge of the forest, beyond a harvested field, on a hill at a distance where it could just be made out in the rain against the trees. It watched them in return. Hermes could not quite see it, but he had no doubt it was there when the thing reared its head back and let out a chilling howl that echoed up to the gate. That got followed by several bark-like sounds and something of a roar.
The travelers and their escort scurried up to the village as fast as was safe on the slippery path. They got the gate shut tight, but then had to convince the Dragon Clan that they were in danger of immanent attack.