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The journey had begun in earnest

III.

We prowled the depths of the woods, sniffing through the underbrush for the scent of Child, the odor of his mental essence. There were times when I forgot everything but my powerful shoulders, my claws and my teeth, the keen powers of my black nostrils.

We rooted through the dark cavelets along the valley walls which opened on the floor of the forest, seeking into their darkest recesses, where our eyes refused to be totally blinded. We overturned old, rotting lop in the woods, seeking burrows through which the entrance to Child's prison might be found. We padded through the foaming cascade of a waterfall which issued from the valley rim a thousand feet above, searching the subterranean chambers beyond that wet curtain, finding nothing. If there was a place with a blue floor where Child lay encircled by undescribed creatures of a malignant nature, it was nowhere within this valley. Neither was there a doorway into the conscious mind, no exit from this place where I found myself trapped. The journey was not to have a swift conclusion.

For some reason, I was glad for the extension. There was a strong reluctance to part with the form I had taken, to return to the world and be, again, a man.

It was snowing outside as the wolf led me across the last expanse of open fields before the impenetrable wall of mist which separated this part of the a.n.a.logue world from the next. Big white flakes clung to our coats and frosted us, kicked up in clouds as we pranced forward toward the distant veil of fog.

We were sidetracked by the scampering of a covey of quail-like animals off to our left. My lupine friend broke into a wild, breathtaking run, teeth bared ferociously, lips drawn back, s...o...b..r falling from his wide mouth.

I followed, feeling the wind and snow and scenting the flesh of small creatures.

I saw him leap: muscles taut. I saw him land: a spring's coils jammed together.

The air reverberated with the dying squeal of his prey.

In that instant, as the agony of death pierced the air and the pride of a successful hunt shook me, I was more wolf than man, and the danger began to grow more imminent.

I stepped next to him and snuffled at his catch, watched him rend the flesh. Blood fountained up as an artery was struck, spurted crimson across his dark snout, stained his teeth, dotted the snow around us. It steamed in the cold air, this blood, and it had a smell uniquely its own.

I howled.

We tore at the animal together, and he kept his eyes on me for a long while, cold gray eyes that did not disclose the thoughts behind them. When we were done, our noses red and the snow around us sodden, I did not feel disgusted, but rather invigorated.

We turned back to our original pursuit and gained the s.h.i.+fting walls of mists through which I would have to pa.s.s.

"I want to return," I growled.

"So?" His breath reeked.

"May I return?"

"For what purpose?

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