The wolf pups were surprisingly apathetic to Arthen’s shortcomings of long distance running and him being as injured as he was. Probably they had the taste of his blood on their tongues and found him to be an intriguing source. From time to time the wolf pups would take a lick of Arthen’s right hand to the point where any dried blood had been completely cleaned off. Even after that, they still tried to get what they could; one of them playful nibbled at Arthen’s fingers until it broke skin and then there was a new spout for blood.
“I may not be that sweet. I’m only half,” he said to them.
They traveled southeast for about three days. From what Arthen could tell, they were making their way toward the Old Pine River. Through the long days Arthen found some curious things happening to him. He was steadily growing weaker from traveling as if he were aging rapidly. He started to grow frightened as his blonde locks of hair began to fall out from his head in big meaty chunks. In fact all different hairs all over his body started to fall out, including his nostril hairs. He felt his right arm throughout the days steadily feel heavier and meatier even though it remained as skinny as ever. His whole right arm had turn beet red and the scars felt even more tender and inflamed, as though his blood turned to lead. Arthen had taken off his shirt to wrap around this arm to staunch some of the new bleeding that trickled again from it. The small blood loss made his journey all the more difficult.
He could feel his slow speed was making the wolves somewhat impatient of him, but it made Arthen curious why they still stuck around him. Did they really want him to get back to Ketrian like he asked?
The mother would hunt down a deer at night and drag the carcass for her pups to feed on. Arthen was almost hungry enough to join them in their feast of raw meat and blood, but he figured his mother would not have approved of that. His father, under the extreme circumstances, would probably have understood.
They moved mostly at night and slept in the day. The path behind them were the crumbles of broken autumn leaves. Throughout their travels Arthen’s head ached and on the second day a violent throb pounded in his sleep like a cold dagger in the back of his head. When the aches would fade as the blade slowly pulled out of his skull, he would wake up to find his scars gleaming with blood. He wanted to vomit to feel some relief, but the low sustenance from traveling gave him nothing to hold in his stomach. Dark thoughts would race through his mind of his arm, but he decided he hadn’t hit rock bottom to amputate his arm because of it–at least not yet.
During the nightly run he would hear a faint whisper even though they’d be in the middle of an open field. Sometimes Arthen could hear a low rumbling, not the growl of one of the wolves, but a kind of tremor heard by a low earthquake or a moving flame. It was a voice that followed him. It was a voice he felt was inside of him. His arm tingled from numbness as the whisper passed through.
Despite the apparent wickedness of what had become of his arm, Arthen remained focused on getting back to Ketrian. He would look at the family of pups interacting together traveling in front of him and he would be reminded of his old family. And he thought of Ketrian. “We’ll be a proper family again, Ket.” At these thoughts, the feeling in his right arm would return and he would clench his fist weakly.
On the evening of the third day they traveled through a large thicket of woods around the base of the mountains. The mother was in her usual spot of trailing behind while Arthen followed the pups on the trail.
Without warning, the pups bolted ahead of Arthen and disappeared. Arthen tried to keep up but fell behind as they scurried off into the darkness ahead. He turned around to see that the Mother had disappeared also leaving no trace of where she ran off to.
Arthen decided to rest for the night and pick up the trail in the morning, but the fallen leaves seemed to have covered their tracks. He wandered the thicket of woods all that day and found a stream where he came to drink water. His energy was dwindling lower with each day so he retired early in the afternoon.
In the night he was awakened by a howl. Far from him Arthen spotted a figure of a wolf through the thin veil of trees. But it was not the Mother or her pups. This wolf was far more massive, covered in dark black fur from nose to tail, lean and ferocious. Its eyes shined a bright yellow glow in the darkness and when its gaze reached Arthen’s shaking silhouette, the wolf let out a feral growl followed by a monstrous bark. Arthen could hear it’s teeth gnash at him. He knew that this wolf was not meant to lead him to Ketrian, but to kill and eat him. It barreled down the hill and through the trees like a rippling bullet of black fur.
Arthen scrambled up and sprinted in the other direction. The black wolf’s intense breathing powering its every step echoed behind Arthen and reverberated upon the trees.
But for some reason, Arthen was running faster than before. Now fear was powering him. He felt strength return to his right arm and he clenched his fist and his legs pushed him farther and farther which each step. The pain in his bare feet was gone. His focus increased. Without needing to cradle his arm, Arthen’s running became more natural and fluid. He was now going at a remarkable speed, going faster than he had in his entire life. He felt the blood in his veins combusting inside of him and igniting his muscles. The fire inside of him pushed his body beyond any capacity he thought it could ever go, faster than any man had ever ran.
He made a quick glance over his shoulder. The wolf was still near behind him. He was going the same speed and he could tell the wolf’s eyes widened in surprise by his sudden burst of acceleration.
Now in control of this chase, Arthen turned his head back forward in focus. The decision on where to take this wolf was all upon him. For a while he raced to find an end to the woods but couldn’t find one. Then he stopped.
About ten feet in front of Arthen was a massive gorge that was at least three hundred feet deep down into the river. On either side of it were razor sharp crags that led into the rapid flowing Old Pine River below.
The wolf closed in on him, panting and enormous footsteps nearing Arthen. Looking behind him Arthen saw the beast was barely fifty feet from him. It would be riskier and take longer to lead the wolf to the sloping hills along the river and Arthen didn’t know how long this newfound power would last in him–so he took a chance. He faced forward and sprinted with all his might and strength toward the open gorge. When he reached the edge a burst of energy rushed through his body as he stepped with his left foot and pushed off the ground with his right.
Arthen was propelled twelve feet in the air and away from the cliff face, farther than any man before him–practically soaring over the impossible gorge–and reached the other side of the woods. The wolf halted at the edge, it’s yellow eyes following Arthen’s feat.
Landing well beyond the mark needed to cross the gap, Arthen looked back to the opposite side as the wolf stared at him in melancholy. It gave a short grunt and ran along the side of the cliff, presumably to find another way across. Arthen deduced the beast wouldn’t stop but his leap did buy him some extra time. He ran southward.
But after several minutes of running, and still no finding the edge of the woods, his significant energy increase was diminishing quickly. Along with his energy, Arthen’s feeling in his right arm started to wane. He slowed down considerably as his lungs started to catch up to the enormous amount of power he had exhausted. The strength of his muscles seemed to deplete so fast that he collapsed to his knees, gasping for breath. His muscles felt on fire but his body felt chilly. Sweat drenched his body in an instant like a flash flood in his pores and with no hair for it to be caught, it rained down onto the mud and dead leaves. His eyes felt dry and irritated, some of his toenails seemed to have rubbed off in the run, and the soles of his feet felt like their were flayed apart.
What is going on, he thought. What is happening to me?
His head started to spin with confusion and weariness. His right arm hung loosely at his side again, it was numb and immobile once more. He stared at the dead leaves in front of his knees. Dehydration and fatigue started to blur his vision. Then suddenly, a sharp pain attacked the back of his head like before. He slowly lost consciousness as his head dipped and fell forward onto the ground landing in the mud and the pool of his own sweat. The last thing Arthen saw before he fell unconscious was his right arm bleeding profusely from his scars.