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But Lawson didn't know if they would ever find it. They were barely making it day by day. That there was no sign of hellhounds gave him little comfort. If he and his wolves had been able to cross Hell's Gate, then it was reasonable to expect that the hounds would be able to do so as well. There was also the matter of Edon's stubborn refusal to talk. Edon was mute, broken, and Lawson was starting to get impatient. "We'll go back for her," he told his brother again and again. "We won't leave her behind."
But Edon's silence said it all: they already had.
Thank god he had Rafe to help him there - Rafe had been especially strong as a wolf, and as a human he was large, dense with muscle. He flexed his biceps often, preening. "Can't keep up a body like this without food," he'd say, and poke Edon in his stomach, or pinch his arm. Edon never said a word, but finally, he snatched a sandwich out of Rafe's hands one day, and ever since he had been scavenging with them.
"I knew I'd get him eventually," Rafe confided in Lawson. "He never could stand it when I teased him."
"Well, keep going," Lawson said. "He'll have to talk at some point."
"Give him time," Tala said. "He's been through so much."
"We all have," Lawson reminded her. "And there is still so much to do."
"Be gentle with him," Tala said, and her eyes showed her own sadness. Lawson had almost forgotten that she and Ahramin were sisters - not just in spirit, not just because they were from the same den, but because they were from the same mother - and that Tala was mourning as well. "She was tough, and she didn't have much time for someone weak like me, but I loved her. I miss her. I wish she was here with us."
"We all do," he said.
"He'll come around eventually," Tala said, putting a hand on his arm.
Lawson hoped so. He felt guilty enough leaving Ahramin behind as it was, and with every day Edon passed in silence, he felt worse. But he had to worry about the pack; he didn't have time to focus on individual concerns.
That afternoon he gathered them together to strategize. "We have to start thinking about the future. We can't keep living like this, stealing and scrounging and never sure where we're going to sleep."
There was silence, then a surprising response, from a scratchy, low voice that resembled a familiar growl. "We can't stay in any one place too long," Edon said. "We have to keep moving, before the hounds catch our scent. We don't know how long the Gates will hold them back."
"My thoughts exactly." Lawson nodded, relieved to have his brother speaking at last.
"We need to learn more about this world," Malcolm said, ever the sensible one. "I'm the only one who knows how to read. And none of us can write. We need to find a place that's safe for us. This isn't it." He waved his hand around the park they'd camped in, a bleak stretch of asphalt covered in dingy wooden benches where they'd eventually sleep.
"Where should we go?" Rafe asked, looking to Lawson for answers.
"Perhaps I can be of assistance," boomed a voice from behind them. How could Lawson have missed someone sitting on one of the park benches? He could have sworn no one was there. But sure enough, when he turned around, a man was sitting there, an older gentleman with about three-quarters of a smile on his face. He was small and round, dressed in fine clothes that had seen finer days - a brown corduroy jacket and neat slacks, but Lawson could tell they were old and worn, the collar was frayed, and the hems of his coat were threadbare.
"You must be the wolves. Allow me to introduce myself," the man said. "I'm Arthur Beauchamp."
"I'm a warlock," he explained, in response to their alarmed looks. "Actually, I'm a Norse god, doomed to mid-world, but why complicate things? That's another story."1
"Is that how you know us? Is that how you recognized who - what - we are?" Lawson asked.
Arthur cocked his head to one side. He exuded a shabby geniality that was difficult to dislike. "Yes, and no, I suppose. Warlocks aren't allowed to use their powers. Those of us who choose to live in the open must pretend to be mortal. I've been in hiding for some time now, so I suppose I'm not ... strict ... about keeping a rein on my magical activities. But I've been looking for you for a very long time. A friend asked me to do her the favor of finding you. She said that one day I would come upon a pack of young wolves, and they would need my help."
"We need some kind of help all right," Edon muttered.
Lawson supposed it was a good thing that Edon was speaking, but why did he have to choose now, and with that tone?
"Well, that's what I'm here for," Arthur said, not at all perturbed. "Come, we have much to discuss, and you can't stay here."
Lawson looked around at the other wolves. It was easier to read their faces in their human forms. Malcolm was scared, Rafe was skeptical, and Edon was indifferent. It was Tala's face that made the decision for him: there was an openness to the possibility that Arthur really was there to help, that he could be trusted, and Lawson trusted that.
"Okay," he said.
Arthur packed all of them into his beat-up van, introduced them to fast-food takeout, then drove for several hours until they reached his apartment in the city. "This is an older part of Cleveland, a bit forgotten - like me," he said. It was a cramped one-bedroom with one bathroom, and he apologized for the size, but Lawson assured him they'd be fine - they were used to the tight quarters of the den, after all.
"I'd use magic to make it bigger, but that would be conspicuous," Arthur told them. "What small amount of magic I've used to increase the space is all for storage." He opened what appeared to be a closet door and turned on the light.
Lawson could barely see in, but apparently Malcolm had gotten an eyeful right away. "Whoa," he said, and then ran into the room with a whoop.
Arthur wasn't kidding about using magic, Lawson realized when he saw that the closet expanded on the inside to the size of a small library, with long mahogany tables and enormous bookshelves. "I thought this was more important than extra bedrooms," Arthur said. "We have much work to do, all of us."
"What kind of work?" Rafe asked suspiciously.
"As young Malcolm said, you need to learn to live in this world," Arthur replied. "And you need to learn about the world you came from. The wolves have a long history, and I'm not sure how much of it you know."
"We know some," Lawson admitted. The masters were reluctant to teach the wolves much about their past, but stories were handed down. They knew that wolves had lived in mid-world once and had served a special purpose. Lawson told Arthur what they knew about the Guard and the passages. "Does that sound right?" he asked.
The old man nodded. "You've got the basics down. But there's a lot more to the story than just what's happened to the wolves, and there's a lot more at stake now that the dark fallen - those 'masters' of yours - are making trouble. We Norsemen don't interfere with the lost children of the Almighty, it's part of our restriction. But you are not similarly bound by our covenant, which is possibly why I was asked to help you. Now let's all go into the library and get started. First things first, nothing happens without literacy."
It felt to Lawson as if they spent every moment of the next month in the library. They must have slept at some point, bodies piled on top of each other as when they'd been puppies in the den, but whenever they were awake, they were in the library, studying.
He was glad they picked it up quickly; even Arthur was surprised. "Now we'll have more time to spend on the more interesting things," the warlock said, and introduced them to history books, both those written from the human perspective and those containing the alternative "true" history of the world. "For those of us more enlightened," Arthur put it, but Lawson knew he meant for those who had a connection to the world of magic.
Lawson was fascinated by how much misinformation had made its way through the various dens where the wolves lived in the underworld, interspersed with the things that were true. He knew, for instance, that after the War of Heaven, the Fallen had been cursed to live in mid-world as vampires, made to drink human blood to survive, reincarnating every cycle, and that the wolves had a tangled history with them that led to Romulus's betrayal and the punishment of the wolves at Lucifer's hand. The vampires - Blue Bloods, led by the archangel Michael - were wealthy and untouchable, Arthur explained, and from what Lawson heard about them, he thought that he and his pack had probably stolen wallets and purses from several Blue Bloods that first week.
But the vampires had problems of their own; the Dark Prince had returned in a different form, one the Blue Bloods had not suspected, launching an attack on the covens in Rio and New York. Lucifer had been thwarted for now, but Michael had disappeared, and the Silver Bloods - known to the wolves as their masters - were still causing havoc in this world. The vampires were going into hiding, but the Next Great War was coming, whether they were prepared or not, Arthur warned, and the wolves had a part to play in it.
"What do you know about chronologs?" Lawson asked Arthur.
"The chronologs were destroyed during the Crisis in Rome, I believe," Arthur said. "Why do you ask?"
"Because Romulus found one," Lawson said. "He wears it around his neck. He doesn't yet know how to use it. We heard the masters saying they think it's broken."
Arthur looked grim. "This is dark news you bring, young wolf. If Romulus finds an entrance to the passages ..."
Lawson nodded, hoping more than ever that Marrok had been successful in his part of the operation.
The books couldn't teach them everything they needed to know, so television filled the gaps. They watched and learned how to dress like normal teenagers or close enough that no one would suspect they were anything else. At seventeen, Edon was the oldest; Tala and Lawson were both sixteen, Rafe fifteen, and Malcolm twelve, their ages corresponding to a human life cycle. They had to learn how to be independent one day; they couldn't live with Arthur forever, as hospitable as he was. Lawson knew Edon was right - it was safer if they moved every so often, to keep the hounds off their scent. Arthur couldn't keep them safe; he couldn't even use his magic without fear of reprisal from his betters.
Finally, it was time to move on. Lawson gathered them around, told them the plan. They were leaving the next day with Arthur's blessing; they had to keep moving, lest the hounds catch their scent.
"There's just one thing I want to do before then," Tala said to him. "Can you help me?" she asked with a shy smile, a smile that was starting to mesmerize him.
"Of course," Lawson said. He had grown to like her even more in the time they had stayed with the warlock. Tala was unfazed by their new surroundings. She was excited by everything: colors, music, the sight of a yellow butterfly on the green grass. Arthur had taught them the seasons, and it was currently spring. They had never heard of such a thing in the underworld. Lawson was glad she could find happiness. All Lawson saw when he looked around were shadows. The hellhounds would come for them, he was sure. It was just a matter of when. They had to prepare.
Tala whispered in his ear. "Meet me in the bathroom in fifteen minutes."
Lawson squeezed into the tiny space to see clumps of brown hair on the floor and Tala leaning over the sink. "What are you doing?" he asked, horrified. He hadn't realized how much he liked her long hair until he saw that she'd cut it all off. She was leaning over with her head under the faucet, and the water running off it was a violent purple.
"I'm dyeing it," she said. "I have to make sure to rinse it all off. Can you make sure it's off my neck?"
He did as she asked. He rinsed her hair, made sure that the water ran clear, that all the color was gone. When he touched her skin, he felt a shiver run through him. Pleasure, he thought.
She straightened up and wrapped a towel around her neck. "Thanks." Then he watched as she took a blow-dryer and teased her newly short hair into a spiky style. It was pink, he saw now, not that angry violet. It looked amazing.
"You can go now," she said. She caught his eye in the mirror. "But you don't have to." She was wearing a thin camisole that showed off her clavicles, and a pair of boxer shorts. It was not the first time he'd noticed her body - slim and boyish - the gentle curve of her chest, her small waist, but it was the first time he'd felt a sudden, intense desire to pull her toward him. The look she gave him was frank, confident, sure of his attraction, and it was making his face hot. She wanted him too; he could tell.
He stepped close to her, placed his hands firmly on her hips, and drew her toward him, a wolf with his mate. Their mouths were so close he felt her breath and wanted to feel her lips. Then came a sharp knock on the door.
"What are you doing in there?" Malcolm whined. "Some of us need to use the toilet."
Lawson coughed, his cheeks burning. "Hold on, I'm coming out."
"Me too," Tala said. She brushed his hands with hers. The implication and the disappointment were clear.
In the morning, they set out to find a new place to live, packing what few belongings they'd gotten from Arthur - secondhand clothes and books - into backpacks. They hitchhiked, moving east toward the coast, staying in a succession of small towns, never longer than a week in each. Lawson felt safer near the woods, so they shied away from the big cities. As the temperature rose, they spent summer on the rocky beaches of Maine, and when fall came, they began to move west. There was still no sign of the hounds, and in December they were back where they had begun, back in Hunting Valley, and they paid Arthur a short visit. The traveling had done them good. They passed for real humans and he was glad to see them looking well. They decided to stay in town, where he would be close by.
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