Chapter Four

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     Cold shards of rain began to pour down from the heavens, drenching both fiber and fur, intent on making Meruself and her new companion miserable. Meruself retrieved her dagger and sheathed it once more at her waist. She patted the wolf's head and stood, breathing deeply and exhaling a long breath trying to center herself. The direwolf was looking up at her as if waiting for Meruself to give direction, a what now expression on its lupine features. The direwolf stood close to her, its shoulders pressing up against her hips, and Meruself's fingers once again found its fur, tangling through the rough silk at the back of its neck. Meruself exhaled again, and as she sighed so did the direwolf. Meruself smiled.

      "I think we'll make a fine pair," Meruself said out loud. The direwolf sniffed and dipped its large head as if it were nodding in earnest agreement. Meruself laughed and ruffled the damp fur. She looked up through the throng of leaves and chill raindrops splattered on her cheeks and in her eyes. What an unlikely pair they must make, the outcast and the lone direwolf. Both of them had been alone in this life, yet now they had each other, but for how long Meruself did not know. The only thing certain in this life was death.

      True, the possibility of the goddesses being against her was something Meruself had taken very serious heed of, but she hadn't expected any dangerous life threatening events this soon, however. If she had she would have been more vigilant. Opposition from the Norns was one thing, true mortal peril was another. Would the Mother Norns truly try and end her? Would they dole out the ultimate punishment to quell this latest defiance? Meruself's own modest and earthly powers were finite and would not have been enough to save her from the daemon. If not for the appearance of the direwolf, Meruself would have been hard pressed to survive, if she'd survived at all.

      Meruself's eyes inevitably found the lifeless and still corpse of the daemon. It's death mask was horrid, its neck a ravaged mess, it's body contorted and ghastly frozen in its last desperate motion. Meruself shuddered. The daemon had frightened her more than she liked to admit. Not even half a morning on her quest and already forces were moving against her. As Meruself's eyes moved keenly over the dead and monstrous body, she decided that the Norns would not use one such as this to halt her journey. They might not be happy about her choice but this was not the kind of creature bound to do the bidding of the Nornir. It was a Feldark creature, yes, but a Feldark creature of a more menacing nature. No, something Other had sent this aberration. Meruself could feel it in the depth of her seer's consciousness, the inner place she called the Knowing.

      Yet it wasn't just the Knowing that informed her awareness. Meruself had lived in Hella Wood for longer than she cared to remember and never once had she encountered a creature of its like. The day was usually a safe place, free of bandits, thieves and monsters; only the creatures of the forest — the more light oriented and usually benevolent deities, or nymphs, sylphs and spirits who were apathetic until something sacred to them was harmed or threatened — were to be found within Hella Wood's boundary. And none of these were so dangerous that Meruself feared for her life. It was only during the dark of night that Meruself knew it wasn't safe to wander around in the woods. The danger of crossing paths with the Beast of Hella was too great and a thing she dreaded.

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