Krys glided high over old Spain. From her lofty viewpoint, she could see the great polar ice cap that covered nearly half the world and which had, along with violent storms and tsunamis, wiped out most of its original inhabitants. A descendant of the great golden eagle, Krys’s species had evolved in the five thousand years since the great freeze, as had many of the other creatures who inhabited the planet.
With a wingspan of over three metres and weighing over twelve kilograms, the eagle soared impressively through her environment, a powerful and beautiful creature of the sky. She still possessed some white feathers in her tail, but at the age of five and a half, they would soon make way for the dark brown, almost golden plumage, that adorned the rest of her body. At the end of each of her wings, which she held slightly upwards to provide lift in her glide, her almost finger-like feathers gave her complete control over her environment, allowing her to make minute adjustments for lateral stability. Her tail feathers, held at the same angle, controlled her pitch. With six strong wingbeats, Krys changed direction towards a small clearing and hovered silently above, looking down as she had done many times over the last several weeks.
She did not understand what drew her so far from her normal hunting grounds to the place of humans – they were a threat to her kind – but something powerful called to her. Before the great freeze, her species had already possessed a limited ability to speak mind to mind. Five thousand years later, she and her kind could communicate clearly with each other via their thoughts. They could also communicate with several other species, although much of what they said remained unintelligible to her.
The voice in her head now though, was unlike anything she had ever heard before. It spoke softly in her mind, and had been drawing her closer every day. This morning she had told her life mate Krask of the voice, and he had immediately banned her from going near the humans again. She had promised that she would not, but then she could not resist the call when it came.
Looking down with her amazing vision, Krys could clearly see the humans. They were a powerful species and not to be approached. They could control fire and kill at great range with flying sticks. All great golden eagle chicks were told the tales of the deadly sticks adorned with the feathers of their prey. All eagles grew up wary of humans.
Today, Krys located a baby lying under the shade of a tree, about ten metres away from a pair of humans. As she flew over, it turned its head to look directly up at her. In that moment, Krys knew the source of the voice in her head.
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Bodolf and his pack of white wolves came off the ice and travelled south. Being away from the domain that they knew and understood made progress difficult. However, a force kept Bodolf driving further into this alien territory; a voice that kept drawing him to its source, taking him and his pack hundreds of miles away from home.
It had been days since they had last killed, and the pack’s general hunger was causing fights and unrest. Bodolf knew that if he did not either find whatever it was that drove him soon, or admit defeat and turn back, he would lose control of the pack. Honi, his mate, would stick by him whatever he chose to do, but the rest were more of a problem.
“I am fed up with this, Bodolf. Why do you insist on taking us from our hunting grounds?”
The question, in Bodolf’s mind a challenge, came from Ulf, the oldest of his offspring and the one who had been complaining the most over the last few days. Wolves like most animals, had developed the ability to communicate mind to mind over the centuries, using little audible dialog. They only used their voices for expressions of threat, fear, or passion. It was in fact the mastery of and subsequent reliance on the spoken word, which had denied most humans the ability to communicate mind to mind.
Ulf moved in the typical gait adopted by the pack when they were travelling long distances, head at the same level as his back, maintaining a loping run of around eight miles an hour, which they could sustain all day. Travelling ten metres behind Bodolf, Ulf did not expect what happened next.
In a blink of an eye the big white turned, his head raised, and his eyes fixed a primal stare at Ulf. With his mouth open wide and razor-sharp canines bared, Bodolf charged.
For Ulf, the one hundred and twenty kilograms of pure white evil triggered every defensive and passive response he had at his disposal. He knew that he could not match Bodolf and that these next few seconds could well be his last.
Bodolf recognised the instant submission signals from Ulf, who was already crouched on the floor with his mouth closed, not making visual contact, but something inside Bodolf had snapped. Used to being in control, he felt a lack of respect from the pack and anger at this tormenting voice in his head. He was so hungry and angry; Ulf became the target of all of Bodolf’s frustrations.
Normally the leader would control the pack with demonstrations of his size and speed and the occasional growl and nip; however, this time he hit Ulf at nearly twenty miles an hour. As Ulf collapsed, Bodolf plunged his head down, jaws opening around his offspring’s neck, and bit hard. Standing up to his full height, the pack leader dragged the wolf up by the neck and started to shake him.
“Bodolf…Bodolf, stop! You are killing him!” From somewhere outside of his rage, Bodolf recognised the call of his mate, Honi. But he wanted to keep shaking Ulf, to kill the challenger to his leadership, to take control again. He wanted to ignore Honi and teach this cur a lesson.
Then Tasha’s warning of danger cut through his anger like a knife. Dropping Ulf in a limp, cowering heap on the floor, Bodolf immediately focused his senses on the new situation.
“Tasha, what have you sensed?” he asked his second-generation daughter.
“I have no smell of it yet, Bodolf, but I just heard a noise ahead of us that is from no animal I have encountered before,” Tasha replied.
Bodolf informed the rest of the pack, still reeling from the attack on Ulf, that there could be danger ahead. All thirteen wolves melted into the undergrowth and stealthily followed Bodolf as he crept towards the point indicated by Tasha.
“Do you hear it Bodolf?” she whispered.
“Yes, yes, let me concentrate,” he snapped back.
He could hear a low, guttural rumble accompanied by the noise of travel, but what a noise! A thousand wolves at full speed would not make such a clatter. Then he picked up a new scent. In all his time on the ice pack and during his brief foray into this strange land, he had not smelt anything like it.
Whatever made the noise suddenly went relatively quiet. He could still hear ragged breathing and other recognisable life sounds, but there was also a range of other noises that he could not identify. He could not distinguish the smell either.
Creeping forward, he came to a vantage point where he could see the source of these conflicting sensory inputs, but what he saw did not help his comprehension of the situation at all.
Five humans stood at the edge of the woods with their backs to Bodolf and his pack, looking out towards a clearing. As Bodolf watched, one of the humans used one of his forelegs to raise a long stick and hold it in front of him. Then he used another foreleg to pull out a smaller stick from an appendage and connect it to the first.
Banain lay sheltered and contented under the shade of a large tree. His parents were several metres away; his father, Judoc, was cutting the undergrowth with a large scythe and his mother, Nimean, was arranging the cuttings into large piles for burning. The child was swaddled in a blanket; a mop of golden hair protected his exposed head. His dark blue eyes possessed a magnetic quality, and right now, those eyes were staring at a black speck that circled high above.
Although not old enough to control the rare gift he possessed, Banain could already send and receive messages with his mind. He had heard the shrill voice of Krys and the deep growling voice of Bodolf from many miles away. The voice of Bodolf had become much louder over recent days. At this young age, Banain had no idea of the power of his thoughts, or the consequences.
From the edge of the clearing, the militia sergeant fired his standard issue bow. The arrow climbed high before starting its descent. The leader of the five-man scouting party had wanted to kill the farmer quickly, just in case he had a weapon close by, but his aim was low and it hit the top of Judoc’s thigh, bursting through skin and sinew.
Judoc collapsed to the ground, rolling in agony and trying to understand what had hit him. At first, he thought it must have been a snake or a trap, but then he saw the arrow. He knew he and his family were in grave danger.
Denied a further target for his bow, the sergeant indicated for his soldiers to attack with a downward chopping motion of his arm. Then he drew his sword and charged towards where his target had dropped.
Unknowingly, Judoc had sent out a mental cry of anguish when the arrow hit, a cry that only a creature with special abilities would be able to hear. The cry crashed into Banain’s world like an unexpected and angry wave from a peaceful ocean. He had received messages from his parents before, but not like this. Even when they shouted at each other, it never affected the calmness of their inner thoughts. His father’s waves of distress and fear assaulted Banain’s brain, and for the first time he felt fear, and started to scream.
A hundredth of a second after hearing her son’s scream, Nimean started running towards her child. In his short life, she had never heard him cry out. In fact, she and Judoc had been worried that he may have a problem.
As she ran toward Banain, she looked for Judoc. She had seen him a few seconds ago, but could not see him now. Then, on her right, she saw a band of men burst from the woods, heading straight towards where Judoc had been just a moment ago. Should she go to her husband or continue to her son? Her maternal instinct won the argument, and she kept racing towards Banain.
On the ground, Judoc grabbed the scythe that he had been clearing the brush with and used it as a crutch to haul himself upright. As soon as his head had cleared the scrub, he saw five men charging towards him. The closest had a feral grin on his face and held a sword high above his head, ready to bring it down. Adrenalin surged through Judoc’s body, masking the pain and giving him the strength he needed to take his weight on his good leg and swing the scythe in a wicked arc towards the sergeant.
Charging at a full run and not expecting such a quick response, the sergeant could not stop his forward motion in time to miss the honed blade, which entered his body just below his leather jerkin and travelled inwards and upwards, ripping through his intestines and puncturing his lungs. His forward motion carried him further onto the blade, which snapped under the pressure. Almost dead by the time he hit the floor, the sergeant now lay on the broken scythe and his sword, Judoc’s only weapon.
“Run Nimean, run! I have the measure of these men!” Judoc lied. He turned back towards the four soldiers. Without their sergeant, they were leaderless and unsure.
“Come on lads, he is one simple farmer.” The speaker, a tall thin man with a large scar across his right cheek, moved towards Judoc as he spoke, swinging his sword from side to side.
The other soldiers did not look sure; the smallest in the group scratched his chin. “Why don’t we just shoot him Scar, why risk a close fight? He already killed the Sarge,” he said.
“Look, you idiot, the sergeant had the only bow, so stop bleating and let’s kill this miserable farmer.” Scar moved in, swinging his sword at Judoc.
Still crouched watching the humans, Bodolf had also heard Banain’s physical and mental scream. Then he had understood what he had been hearing for the last few weeks. The strange intrusions into his mind had come from the baby in the clearing.
When the humans were standing still, Bodolf’s pack had been in stalk mode, but as soon as the humans started running towards the clearing, centuries of hunting instincts took over and the wolves, as a single unit, gave pursuit. Arctic wolves did not use speed as their main hunting tool, preferring to wear their targets down with a steady and relentless pursuit, but it surprised Bodolf that the humans were so slow.
Before the lead wolf was halfway there, his target collapsed. The smell of fresh blood heightened his killing instincts. Bodolf scanned the remaining, now stationary, targets, about to signal the pack to stop as well, when the soldiers started running again towards another human figure. Bodolf changed course for the creature in the lead, communicating his intentions to the pack.
Judoc reached down to the dying body of the sergeant in an attempt to free the trapped sword. He knew in his heart that he did not have time to free and use it against this second attacker, but he had to try. His hand closed around something and he pulled, falling backwards as it came free from under the sergeant’s body. He held the bow and arrows in his hand, not the sword he was after, and looked up to see the scar-faced man almost on top of him.
As Judoc braced for the deathblow, the expression on the man’s face changed from pure evil to shock. From behind him, a white blur materialised, landing on his back and launching him forward. Judoc threw himself to the right as Scarface, with this white devil locked onto the back of his neck, ferocious teeth biting through flesh and bone, crashed to the ground. Judoc had never seen anything like it before, and although saved from immediate death, he realised that this second danger could be much worse than the first!
Running just behind Bodolf, Honi watched her mate take down the human. She always stayed close to him when they were hunting, completely attuned to his needs. She had not understood what had been causing Bodolf to act so strangely for the last few weeks, but now she did. Any creature with even a small amount of telepathic ability would have heard Banain’s mental scream. Succumbing to her protective instincts, Honi focused her attention on the cause of her mate’s distress.
Turning towards the large tree, she increased speed and her eyes locked onto the small, noisy bundle. For a second, her maternal instincts towards a child made her falter, but the duty to her mate took precedence and she closed the gap to silence the noise.
From her lofty perch, Krys had seen the whole event unfold. Every instinct had told her to leave quickly, especially after seeing the large white wolves. Wheeling around, undecided about what to do, she too heard Banain’s scream.
Then she knew what she had to do. Krys partially folded her wings against her body, moved her legs back towards her tail, and dived. Making small adjustments with her feathers, Krys honed in on the child. She could see one of the white wolves charging towards him and knew that it would be a very close thing.
Running flat out, with her head slightly cocked to one side so she could hear both in front and behind, Honi sensed a human closing in on the baby. She calculated that they would reach it before she did, so she changed her direction to intercept. She caught the human just before it reached the child, hitting from behind and to the right. The force of the attack knocked the human to the ground. Because of the last minute change in direction, Honi only managed to get her teeth into its arm. Just as she was about to go for the neck, she heard renewed cries from the child, which reminded her of her original objective. Dropping Nimean’s arm, Honi moved in for the kill.
A little distance away, Judoc had managed to crawl from where Bodolf and the other starving wolves were feasting on the soldiers. He propped himself upright just in time to see Honi’s attack on Nimean. He still had the bow and arrows. A bow was not his best tool, but he knew how to use one. Selecting a shaft as fast as he could, he let fly at the wolf attacking his partner. Just as the arrow left the bow, the wolf leapt from Nimean and started towards Banain again. The arrow passed dangerously close to Nimean as she rose to protect her son.
Judoc fitted another arrow and fired. As he followed the flight of the arrow towards the target, a golden brown apparition appeared from above, wings beating furiously to slow its descent and talons outstretched. Almost in slow motion, Judoc watched in horror as a massive eagle grabbed hold of his baby and flew back into the air. He saw the arrow glance off the side of the wolf’s head just as it lunged for Banain and deflect into the eagle’s left wing, passing through and exiting the other side.
The excruciating pain in her wing caused Krys to tilt crazily to the left and start to drop towards the ground. Drawing on every fibre of her reserve, she forced the wing to extend and, with centimetres to spare, managed to work it again. Then she started to ascend.
Below her, Bodolf was feasting on the corpse of the soldier he had just killed. Sensing Honi’s distress, however, he leapt to his feet and scanned for her, annoyed to be side-tracked by the thrill of the hunt and the prospect of food. He saw Honi shaking her head and a great eagle flying over holding the baby he had been hunting all this time. Immediately focused, Bodolf raced to check his mate.
“Are you hurt?” he enquired. He saw blood on her head.
“Something hit my head but I do not think I am hurt. I nearly killed the baby, Bodolf, the one that has been troubling you, but an eagle stole it from me.”
“Yes, I saw. We need to follow, now!” he said, turning in the direction the eagle had taken.
“Just leave it, Bodolf. The eagle will kill it and eat it. What can we do? Do we have wings? We should stay and feast here.”
Bodolf knew Honi was right, but something deep inside him would not let go, so he turned in search of his wolves. Most of them, including Ulf, were still at the edge of the clearing where they were devouring one of the soldiers.
“Ulf, attack the eagle,” Bodolf ordered.
Ulf pulled his head from the corpse, the command from Bodolf interrupting his search for the human’s heart. All his primal instincts were telling him to ignore Bodolf and to continue his feast, but his strongest instinct, fear, fresh in his mind from Bodolf’s attack, persuaded him otherwise.
How am I supposed to hunt in the sky? Do I have wings? Can I fly? All those questions flashed through Ulf’s mind as he set off after the eagle. As he ran, Ulf shouted to the other wolves, “Bodolf says we must catch the eagle. Move across its path. It is low enough for us to reach the human child.”
He calculated that, with the current angle, he should just be able to reach the child in time. He was already anticipating how pleased Bodolf would be with him when he brought him this baby prey, thinking perhaps he would even be allowed the honour of the baby’s heart to feast on.
With the safety of height only a few wingbeats away, Krys spotted the five white wolves running directly towards her from the right. Instead of carrying on in the same direction, she turned towards them and screamed a shrill cry, causing them to hesitate. In that second, she flew over them, gaining height. With the weight of the baby manageable and the pain in her wing bearable, the eagle made her escape, but she needed to decide what she was going to do next.
The move was so fast and unexpected; Ulf and the others did not have time to counter it. Turning as hard as he could, Ulf gave chase, but the eagle, reaching well over thirty miles an hour and climbing, would not be his today. In despair, the wolf watched as his prey disappeared over the canopy of trees defining the edge of the great forest.
Gaining height with every beat of her powerful wings, Krys thought she had control of the situation. Then she looked down to see that the baby’s swaddling was slowly unwrapping. She could not change her hold on the material and would not have the time or the opportunity to land before it unravelled altogether. Every second a bit more material loosened, and it would be only be a few more seconds before the baby would slide out and fall to its certain death. To go through so much only to see this child fall and die would be too much to bear.
As the main pack of whites streamed past Ulf in continued pursuit of the eagle, Bodolf said, “Call yourself a hunter? Come on, we must not let them get away!”
Ulf had wanted to challenge Bodolf, to point out the stupidity of chasing a flying animal, what could it achieve? However, fear won the day again and he, along with the rest of the pack, charged back into the forest in pursuit of the eagle and child.
The wolves, crashed through the undergrowth of the forest. Luckily, as they were large, ferocious and in a strong number, none of the inhabitants challenged them. In fact, if they had been hunting this way, they would have been surprisingly successful – they flushed out many small animals with their noisy charge across the forest floor.
At this distance, Bodolf knew exactly where the child was, although his mental calls were getting weaker. He sensed anguish in the transmission that both encouraged him to continue the chase and saddened him.
Travelling, as always, just behind him, Honi had also heard the same thing. She found herself questioning her normally black and white instincts, puzzled as to why she had hesitated when running for the child before and why she now felt concern for this human baby.
With no end to the forest in sight and his energy reserves failing, Bodolf knew he and the pack could not carry on this pursuit much longer. Back on the ice, they had pursued large animals for days, loping along at a steady eight miles an hour, but this relentless charge through thick undergrowth, roots, streams and foliage moved the wolves far from their comfort zone, and they were all tiring fast.
Krys screamed a message for her mate Krask to help her. She knew it could not be in time, but she had to try. She looked down at the baby – those deep blue eyes firmly fixed on hers – and died inside as she saw the last of the swaddling slipping away.
Just before the last piece slipped letting Banain drop to his death, the baby reached up with one little hand and clutched at one of Krys’s legs, and then the other. This stopped the swaddling from slipping, giving him a small chance of survival. Krys could not believe what had just happened, but she knew they were still in serious trouble. She had to get him to the safety of her nest, but how long could those tiny hands hold on?