The small fire Erik had built was sending small sparks flying into the sky, the smell of burning wood had something soothing. Above him the leaves of a big oak rustled in the slight breeze, their orange and brown colours stood to a strong contrast to the blue sky above.
“Hey, Erik… stop daydreaming and eat your chestnut before it gets cold, we both know there is little worse than a cold chestnut.” A voice sounded from the other side of the fire, he knew it all to well. Alaric and Cara sat across from him, Al was peeling his own chestnut as he spoke and Cara had one eyebrow raised and a questioning look on her face.
He began peeling the chestnut in his lap, it was warm, he couldn’t remember the last time when he had felt such warmth.
A smile crept over his lips as he watched his friends eat their chestnuts, how long had it been? It felt a lifetime ago when they last sat together like this, maybe this time he could stay with them. The picture before him changed, like smoke blown into a different shape by a gust of wind.
He was back in the house he and his parents lived in, the small fire in the middle of the room was struggling to stay alive with the litte of charred wood it still had as food. Erik reached out next to him and picked up a small branch, the blanket shifted and he could see the thin pale skin over his bones. He had lost a lot of weight, the food was running short and even if he stuck to his plan he would barely have enough to last another month.
The dried piece of wood seemed to weigh more than it should, his arm began to shiver as he reached out to place the wood in the now dying flames.
As he pulled the blanket back into place he fell back to sleep, maybe this time he would see them again.
He was back in his old house, back in the north where he was born long before he had met Alaric and Cara. Erik barely remembered the times then, he knew that he had no friends to speak of but the animals he collected and most of them had turned out to be fantasies as he grew up.
A small lizard like creature was speeding through the grass in front of him, his stubby little feet were nearly not enough to keep up, he remembered laughing as he chased the faintly glowing creature through the grass.
There were so many of them, all around him animals in all shapes and colours, most had only ghostly shapes and were looking at him in surprise.
A large wolf had passed by, walking slowly through the fields of the village. The adults seemed oblivious to the animal as it passed unseen through the houses and towards the temple of the Dragon of Life.
Then the voice of his mother had demanded his attention, when he looked back she was running towards him, panic on her face, he remembered wondering why she was so scared.
Things had changed after that, Erik’s father Ulr had come home and after a few nights of preparation they had left in a cart driving further south.
The animals had stayed with them though and while the new surroundings and people were strange for him the lightly glowing spirits had always cheered him up. When they finally settled down in Crossingrivers he had seen the spirits less and less, his parents had pleaded not to talk about them to anyone and so he ignored them, little by little they faded until there were none left.
Now he wished for their company again, beyond the fire was the empty space his parents had occupied, the blankets empty. When it had became clear the food they had would not be enough for all of them to survive the two of them had decided to do the unthinkable, they had left the building during the night to die in the snow. Leaving behind Erik and a chance to survive the winter.
Now it seemed like it had been in vain, the winter had just begun and the food was already running short, even if he survived it Erik would have no strength left to walk down the hill and into the village.
Desperation rose in his throat, he wanted to scream, there was nothing left for him to do but wait here until death would take him, a fact he hated more than anything.
The howling of a wolf tore him from his thoughts, the noise came from just outside the little house, his eyes wandered beyond the flames to the door, it was not locked.
The ice covered wood slightly moved as a grey snout pushed against it, Erik tried to sit up straight as he watched the thin wolf enter the small room.
Yellow eyes watched the scene before it, when the animal found the boy his eyes stuck to him as it slowly began sneaking towards its prey.
Erik had little he could do, to his side was the old bread knife still embedded in a loaf of bread, his hand crept closer to its handle. The wolf seemed not to notice the movement, its eyes still focused on the boy, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Erik’s fingers found the cold iron knife, he was sweating now, every move could be his last, the wolf could attack at any moment. His father had taught him that wolves were most dangerous when they were starving, the rugged creature before him was clearly exactly that, starving and out of options, just like him.
Slowly he drew the knife from the bread and moved it closer to his body, the wolf was now nearly around the fire and in a position to attack him. Erik’s heartbeat slowed down, time seemed to stretch as the wolf leapt at him teeth bared.
The boy brought the knife up in front of him pointing the edge at the beast’s throat when the teeth sunk into his shoulder. Pain shot through him as he plunged the knife into the wolf's throat tearing it sideways to open up the artery. The beast howled and let go of his shoulder, blood spraying from its maw as it stumbled backwards. Blood was staining its fur, the red life spraying over the floor as Erik fell to the side, his shoulder burning and warmth seeping out of him as the cold took a hold of his thoughts.
Opposite of him the wolf collapsed shallow breaths escaping the animal’s snout a white glow appearing behind its yellow eyes and leaving it in a cloud of light. Erik remembered the sight of it, just like the imaginary animals he had seen as a child the cloud formed a wolf just like the one he had just killed.
His eyes closed as the cold became too much but the image of the wolf stayed the ghostly form looking down on its body howling. The light was so bright and warm, Erik stretched his arm out to touch the wolf's fur feel the warmth before the cold took him away and he would never feel warm again.
The ghostly shape looked at the stretched out arm in wonder and slowly drew closer before its snout touched his palm, the light left the shape and seeped into Erik’s hand, warmth spread as the shape disappeared before his eyes.
Memories flooded his mind, he was a pup running through the forest with his siblings yelping in joy, the first hunt with his pack and the fight with the alpha for control that sent him away from the pack. The wandering through the snow, the hunger and the small hut at the edge of his old pack’s territory where a light and smell had called him towards it.
Then he saw himself from the animals view, a ragged creature sitting opposite the fire, the promise of an easy kill and food to fend off the pain in his guts. The surprise when the boy fought back, the stabbing sensation of cold iron and the draining of its strength when his red blood left the body.
Erik opened his eyes, the ghostly shape of the wolf was back, but thinner now, sitting next to him looking as it had done in its prime. The boy sat up and to his surprise the shoulder barely hurt now, he raised a hand and saw the grey fur covering his limbs. Smells grew more potent and from afar he could hear the challenging howl of another wolf, a young alpha calling for challengers.
He reached next to him and began eating the last of his food, if he stayed here he would die, out there he may have a chance. After the last bit of food was in his stomach he rose to his feet, there was a way to survive, there had to be.
Taking a step he remembered the wolf crouching down he felt as his bones changed, fur sprouted on his back and claws grew from his fingers as he imagined the wolf he had just killed its ghostly shape sitting next to him looking at the boy in wonder.
Within minutes Erik was no longer himself, he remembered the way he saw the world now from the memories of the wolf. He stepped forward the cold now barely noticeable and slipped through the door into the snow.
Howling outside to tell the alpha of his challenge, with long strides he raced towards his goal, his food that waited for him, his way of surviving the winter.