Chapter Five

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     The hair on Wolf's back was bristling. Meruself walked to stand beside the direwolf, her left hand resting between Wolf's shoulders, her right hand clutching the hilt of her dagger. Wolf looked back at Meruself then turned her penetrating blue stare up towards the forest path once more. The heavy tension in the afternoon air was carried on the wind. What was coming down the path that Wolf would growl in warning?

      A flash of lightning brightened the gloom and rain of the afternoon. It was followed by a loud explosion of thunder that was so strong the ground shook. The downpour intensified, pelting Meruself's face and making it hard to see. Determined that she and Wolf would not be caught at a disadvantage again, Meruself closed her eyes, some wisp of instinctive memory prompting her to still her mind. She then used her lifespark's energy to push beyond the boundaries of her physical body and pulse gently into the area surrounding her and Wolf. The action was done before she had a chance to think about doing it, as if it was reflex. Though startled by it, Meruself gave into the momentum of it, faithfully following the tendrils of her tentative and unexpected power. She would explore this forgotten yet new supernatural gift later, once she had discovered if a threat loomed on the mountain path.

      For now Meruself allowed her quintessence to reach and stretch beyond her as far as it would go, coaxing it to shift. With a strenuous effort she attempted to harness the power of the rainstorm. Somehow Meruself knew that it had been a very long time since she had commanded the elements, and she struggled to blend into storm's energy and merge with it. The angry tempest of storm and wind fought her for control and Meruself's untried power faltered. In her mind's eye Meruself saw a Rain Maiden, the vatn anda or water spirit and breath of the storm, hurling her wrath and fury at Meruself.

      Meruself pushed back against the deity's strength, but to no avail; Meruself wasn't equipped for this battle of wills and she was losing. She had let her once mighty gift become frail. A sharp blinding pain shot through her head and exploded behind her eyes and Meruself grit her teeth and squeezed her eyes shut against the pain. She saw the water spirit's victorious face and heard its mocking laughter as Meruself retreated, pulling back her energy.

      Meruself shook her head to clear it from the agony and dizziness of the Rain Maiden's ferocity. The lesser deity had defeated Meruself's meager attempt easily. It was disheartening yet Meruself accepted it as another torment provided by the punishment the Norns visited upon her.

      "Lady Eir, help me," Meruself said under her breath. At those words, Wolf gave her a blunt and insistent stare, and Meruself knew the direwolf had felt her power even if the callous water spirit had not. Chagrined Meruself looked back up the mountain to the path she had just descended. Come what may, she would be ready. It was then that Wolf howled, a long and mournful sound, haunting in its lonely beauty. The howl was still echoing in the air when the rain ceased to fall.

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