Chapter 1 Ė Call of the Wolves
Nyles looked up at the house despondently. A trunk, filled with clothes and the few things he couldnít bare to part with, sat at his side. The taxi had drove away almost three minutes before and he hadnít managed to force himself to step any closer.
This house was nothing like his parents house. They had lived in the spreading suburbs not far from London. It was a cheerful house painted light blue and his mother always had flowers growing out front. He liked that house.
The house before him was old. A dark brown pain was peeling and in some places was already worn off and one of the shutters on the front was falling from its hinge. Things were growing around this house, too, but nothing as pretty as flowers. The grass out front was several inches too long and was overgrown with weeds in some places. Ivy and overgrown bushes ate away at the front of the house and what he could see of the sides. And all around dark woods were pressing in on the small clearing the house sat in. It was no where near a city, and several hours drive from his old home.
Sighing Nyles finally grabbed the handle on the side of his trunk and dragged it towards the house. Nyles had dark brown hair and clear blue eyes, they were sharp with an intelligence that was well beyond his eight years. He wasnít naturally small in stature but had lost weight over the last week and a half. He carefully picked his way over the rickety deck in front of the house and knocked on the door, hoping it wouldnít fall apart under his hand.
"Just a minute!" A male voice from inside called. Nyles frowned and waited for the door to be opened for him.
"Nyles!" The man shouted once the door was open. He slapped Nyles heartily on his shoulder, almost making the boy stumble, "Come in, come in!"
Nyles grudgingly dragged his trunk into the house as his grandfather stepped aside to give him room. He had met his grandfather on two previous occasions and hadnít liked him much on either. Generally he was not a pleasant man to be around, and only if heíd had too much to drink would he laugh.
He was a large man, almost six and a half feet tall and his girth was round with age. He wore a short beard which was mostly gray and white, although the hair on his head was still a shade or two darker. Currently the old man was wearing a violet robe that was quite unbecoming of him.
"Your room will be upstairs," the man announced loudly. He was never really quiet and Nyles suspected he was hard at hearing, although he had never admitted as much. "You want to go put you things away?"
Nyles nodded. Any excuse to get away from the old man.
"What?" His Grandfather asked loudly.
"Yes," Nyles almost shouted.
The man frowned slightly but nodded to the boy to go. Nyles moved quickly, dragging his trunk carelessly across the scratched floor and up the tattered carpet on the stairs. Nyles wouldnít be surprised if no one had lifted a finger to repair the house in two thousand years.
Nyles cautiously peeked into rooms as he passed. The bathroom, a closet, a room so dark and filled with cobwebs he wasnít sure what it had once been used for, and finally a bed room. Nyles went inside.
It was only a small room and a large bed encompassed the majority of the space. There was a window on the wall but dark blue curtains were drawn over it, making the room look gloomy in the dark light. There was no closet and the chest of drawers looked as though it had seen better days. Nyles wrinkled his nose in disgust at what he could have sworn was a rat skittering back under the broken down device.
Sighing again, Nyles set the trunk down beside it and sat down on the large bed. The springs creaked in protest and the mattress lowered several inches under his weight. He rested his elbows on his legs and settled his forehead into his hands, wallowing again in self-pity.
It wasnít his fault his parents had caught that strange illness. It wasnít his fault the mediwitches at St. Mungoís didnít understand it. So then why did everyone punish him by making him go live with his eccentric grandfather?
At length Nyles reluctantly went back downstairs, knowing he would have to face his grandfather again sometime. He wandered around a bit before finding the aged man reading a paper in the sitting roomóit wasnít the Daily Prophet, Nyles could recognize the popular wizard paper practically on sound alone, but he didnít catch sight of the name.
Silently, Nyles took a seat on the couch beside his grandfather and waited for the aged wizard to notice him. When he did the man carefully folded up his paper, set it aside, and swiveled slightly in his seat to look down at his grandson with foggy gray eyes.
"Done crying?" He asked gruffly.
Nyles scowled, just like any other eight year old boy, he did not like people saying heíd been crying. Especially when he hadnít... and especially when he had. "I wasnít crying." Nyles replied crossly.
"Sure you werenít," the old man replied in a placating manner that suggested his disbelief. "Youíre forced to travel half way across England to live with an old man you donít even like. Oh, yes, I know you donít want to be here. Well I donít want you here either."
Nyles didnít say anything so the man continued, "But what can you do about them damned bureaucrats? They just follow the genetic line and proclaim you family." He snorted unhappily. "But so long as weíre stuck together Iím going to lay down the rules and youíre going to follow them."
Nyles glared up at his grandfather, "And do those rules prohibit the use of a broom or duster?"
His grandfather was not amused. "First rule, Iím used to living like this. Iím not going to change it just cause some brat thinks he knows better than me. If you want it clean, you clean it, donít come complaining to me about the state I keep my house in. It is my house, after all."
"Second rule," the man continued before the boy could do anything other than cross his arms indignantly. "Iím not going to get up at all hours of the day and night for you. If you have a nightmare, I donít want to hear about it. You need a drink of water in the night, get it yourself. You want breakfast before Iím up then make something yourself or wait until I do wake up. I was through catering to the whims of children when your no good father finally left."
Nylesí eyes narrowed, "My father is notó"
"Rule number three," his grandfather interrupted loudly, "You will not argue with me or dispute what I say. You are only a little boy whereas I am a grown man who was wiping off your fatherís bottom before you were even born. Iíll say whatever I want about my crummy son and youíll ignore it like a big boy or go up to your room to cryóI donít care which."
"The last rule is the most important," the old man said, looking down at the glaring boy with a deep frown. "Do not wander off into the forest alone. If you canít see the house then youíve gone too far and Iím not going to haul your dead ass back up to the house. If you want to run away be sensible and use the floo. Donít even try the road, the woods are so overgrown nowadays itíd be a miracle if something didnít come at you."
"Do you hear me?" He demanded harshly, peering down through slitted eyes, "Do not go into the forest." He repeated loudly, "Under no circumstances. I donít care how bored you are. That forest is off-limits, understand?"
Nyles just glared, "I got it, Iím not deaf, you know."
"No, but you could be worse if you wander off by yourself," his grandfather warned gruffly, "Your grandmother would kill me if she thought Iíd goaded you off into the forest, understand? Just use the floo if you need to get away. Thatís what itís there for."
Nyles snorted, "I didnít see anything dangerous when we drove in."
The old man stood and roughly pulled Nyles from the couch by his shirt, holding him firmly with old, strong hands. "I said do not go into the forest."
"Yeah, yeah," Nyles retorted, stepping backwards when he was released. "I got it, donít go into the forest."
His grandfather stared at him for a minute longer before huffing indignantly and sitting back down on the couch, reaching for his paper. Nyles took the opportunity to escape back up to his room. He pulled one of his Readers from his trunk and set to work on the next lesson, still fuming about his grandfather.
"Finally decided to wake up," the old man grunted as Nyles walked tiredly into the kitchen. Again he was reading that paper that the boy hadnít gotten a look at. Nyles sat down at the table, yawning.
His grandfather snorted in disgust, folding his paper and setting it on the table before crossing to the counters. He scooped a large portion of overdone oatmeal into a bowl and then set it in front of Nyles. The boy looked at it with a raised eyebrow.
"Not good enough for you?" The man asked gruffly, "Youíll eat what I eat or youíll make it yourself. I donít want any complaints, got it?"
"Yeah, yeah," Nyles muttered, unenthusiastically taking up the spoon and reluctantly trying it. It wasnít as horrible as it looked, he allowed, but he wouldnít want to live off it.
Eventually he finished the sticky concoction and followed his grandfather outside. "So long as you live under my roof and eat my food," the man was saying, "Youíre going to pull your weight." He looked down at the boy with an appraising frown, "Which isnít much."
"Youíll start with chopping wood," the old wizard announced, leading Nyles out back. Half a dead tree lay on a patch of dirt and there were logs of various sizes around it, some chopped down to a size that would be useable as firewood, most of it not. The man hefted a hatchet and held it out to Nyles. With some trepidation the boy took it, looking up at his grandfather skeptically.
The man frowned, "Donít look at me like that," he instructed, "I did it when I was your age and even your father did it when he was a boy. Donít suppose you know how to split wood, though."
Nyles shook his head and his grandfather took the axe from him again. He set a relatively large log on top of a wide trunk, littered with nicks and grooves. He lifted the hatchet and brought it down hard, expertly splitting the wood in half.
"If itís too big to split, use that axe over there," the man directed, gesturing with the hatchet to an axe whose handle was almost as tall as Nyles. "We donít need a lot. About a dozen pieces a day will be plenty for now. What we donít burn weíll keep till winter. All about that size," he gestured to a stack of wood by the house. "Got it?"
"Good," the man offered him the hatchet again and started to walk away, "Get to it. Once youíre done come and find me and Iíll tell you what you can do next."
Wordlessly Nyles set to the task, setting a medium sized chunk of wood on the trunk and lifting the hatchet over it. When he brought it down against the wood it hardly nicked it and the wood toppled over. Nyles scowled, suddenly realizing this was going to be a lot harder than his grandfather made it look.
It took Nyles an hour to get twelve pieces of the size his grandfather wanted. When he was through he was sweaty, tired, and covered with splinters of wood. His grandfather took one look at him, snorted something about soft city kids, and stood from his chair, folding the newspaper again.
"Idle hands make Devilís play," the man declared darkly, "Boys have to be kept busy. You got school work?"
Nyles nodded, "Reading, Arithmetic, and History. Mum makes me keep a journal for writing and spelling."
"And for reading?" The man asked.
Nyles frowned, "I have the grade three reader," he explained.
"City kids," his grandfather muttered disdainfully again. "Your parents obviously didnít know much about teaching a kid." He led Nyles up to the second floor and opened one of the closets Nyles had passed the day before. He pulled out a dusty trunk from the very back of the closet.
"Some of the books your dad read as a kid," he explained, opening the top. He pulled out a thick tome and handed it to Nyles, not bothering to dust it off. "Boys should be reading real literature not that crap they put in readers these days," he said gruffly.
Nyles brushed the dust from the cover of the book, smiling slightly at the decorated cover.
"Youíll keep your journal with you as you read that," he explained, "At least a chapter a day. Whenever you find a word you donít know copy it down in your journal. Iíll expect you to find out what it means and write the definition next to it."
"Yes, sir," Nyles mumbled, opening to the title page.
The man snatched the book away before he had a chance to read the title. "Books are not toys," he said sharply, "They are educational tools and should be treated with respect. Take a shower and then come down to the living room to start your studies."
Nyles nodded again, watching his grandfather walk back towards the stairs. Sighing, he went back to his room to grab a change of clothes, then to the bathroom.
Nyles looked up from his book at a sudden noise from outside. The noise repeated itself and, curious, Nyles closed his book and set it on his bed. He crept through the hall quietly and down stairs. If his grandfather heard him, he didnít shout anything.
It was nearing dusk. The sky was beginning to dim but it wasnít dark out yet. The sound came again and Nyles spun around, it was coming from the other side of the house. He cautiously walked around the house to see what it was.
The sound, some horrible mix between a dogís whine and a catís hiss came again, somewhere in the woods beyond Nylesí scope of vision. Stepping closer to the edge of the woods, Nyles strained his vision and hearing. He could hear a kind of scraping sound, and a loud, labored breathing. He still couldnít see anything. He was almost at the edge of the woods, now.
"Nyles!" The voice of his grandfather bellowed and the boy turned in surprise. As he did so something heavy hit him in the back and he fell forward with a grunt, his breath escaping him.
"Reducto!" The old wizard bellowed, his wand amazingly already in his hand. The weight was suddenly gone from Nylesí back and he quickly scurried towards his grandfather, twisting around at the same time to see what it was.
A large, sickly looking canine with a scraggy gray coat was wheezing at the edge of the woods, eyeing him with large, mad eyes. Nylesí eyes widened in fear and surprise. With another yelping hiss the creature ran at him again. Nyles didnít have time to react and just stared dumbly but his grandfather shouted out another spell.
"Stupify!" He cried, "Incendio!"
The creature yelped in surprise, its shout sounding strangled and painfully high pitched, as a fire broke out just in front of him, catching on the unkempt grass and the fur on itís paws. Wheeling about a couple of times and still unable to put the fire out, the creature disappeared back into the woods, the strangled cry lingering loudly until it, too, finally faded out of hearing.
Nyles looked up at his grandfather with wide eyes as the old wizard put out his fire. He was still breathing hard, but the old man didnít look the least bit winded. Once the fire was out, his old, stormy eyes turned toward his grandson.
"I thought I told you to keep away from the woods," he said gruffly.
Nyles didnít bother to answer. "What was that?" He asked breathlessly as he stumbled to his feet. His back was still sore from the impact.
"Werewolf spawn," the man answered with obvious distaste, "Dumb brutes but stronger than your average wolf."
"Thereíre werewolves here?" Nyles shouted in surprise.
"Course not," his grandfather said gruffly, "Killed the last one three years ago," he said, "Right after he got your grandmother. Doesnít mean its spawn arenít still around, though. Did it get you?"
"What?" Nyles asked, bewildered by the sudden change in conversation.
"The wolf," the man said, looking less than impressed at the boyís coherency.
Nyles shook his head, "Iím fine, I think. Thanks to you."
"Got that right," the old wizard grunted, "Didnít think I was good for anything, did you?" Nyles blushed slightly but didnít respond. "Let me tell you," the man continued, "I didnít survive seventy years out here like a washed out lazy city bum. I was tough, still am. Kids donít appreciate that stuff like they used to. Get inside, Iíll take a look at your back."
Nyles obliged silently, casting one last look at the suddenly foreboding trees.
Nyles was outside chopping wood. He had become considerably more proficient at it in the weeks that heíd been here and he could get through twelve pieces of wood relatively easily. He glanced up sharply at a scratching noise coming from the forest. He shivered at the memory of the wolf attack, about a week ago now.
His grandfather believed in getting an early start on the day and had already gone into town for his monthly grocery run. Nyles wasnít sure what to think of him anymore. He had proved himself to be more than competent with a wand when he forced the wolf away from Nyles, saving his life. But the manís attitude toward him hadnít changed.
"Nyles..." A scratchy, hissing voice said. Nyles looked up with wide eyes again, dropping his hatchet in surprise.
"Wh-whoís there?" Nyles asked nervously, looking out at the woods for the source of the voice and stepping backwards towards the house.
"Nyles," the scraggy voice repeated, harsh breathing accompanying it.
Nyles bit his lower lip, looking out at the woods with wide eyes. Screwing together his courage, he started forward, eyes locked on the shadowy trees.
"Hello?" Nyles asked again, shakily stepping up to the edge of the woods and hesitating.
"Nyles," the voice repeated for a third time.
Curiosity burning inside of him, Nyles forced back his fear and started into the forest. Immediately the sunlight was muted and Nyles found himself among the dark, dank forest. He heard the raspy breathing to his left and spun around but didnít see anything. Eyes wide with fear he turned to go back to the house, but couldnít find which way it was even though he hadnít gone far.
"Nyles," the rough voice came from behind him, it sounded closer now.
"G... Grandfather?" Nyles asked hesitantly, following the direction of the voice.
His heart was pounding in his chest and he was shaking with fear, his breath shallow with ensuing panic. He knew he wasnít supposed to go into the woods and he wished he hadnít. Then the voice spoke again, just around a tree in front of him, it seemed. He almost collapsed in relief and ran over to the tree. He looked around it and found himself staring into wide, mad yellow eyes.
"Ah!" He cried in surprise, jumping back and tripping over the gnarled tree roots hiding just under the leaves blanketing the forest floor.
"Nyles," the voice said again, rough and scratchy and Nyles stared in horror to find it tearing from the throat of the wolf as it stepped closer to him.
Nyles was rooted in place with terror, his entire body trembling with fear. His mouth was open but he couldnít form any coherent words. His eyes were wide but he hardly believed what they were showing him. The wolfís face seemed to twist into a crude mockery of a smile, and a rough, coughing bark that almost sounded like laughter ripped itself free of the wolfís mouth.
"Foolish little wizard," the wolf managed to wheeze out with effort, the words sounding horrible from a throat unused to forming them.
Pausing in its forward stride, the wolfís body convulsed grotesquely. The creature began to let out a pain-filled whine, harsh and high as its head convulsed and seemed to even stretch out. And then something burst from the wolfís head, leaving the poor creature to fall to the forest ground weakly with a last, shrill cry of pain.
Like a green shaft of light the thing rocketed up towards the leafy canopy over head, then whirled about and barreled down at Nyles. Total horror finally freeing up his limbs, Nyles pushed himself to his feet and ran, not sure which direction would lead back to the house, but not caring either.
He risked a glance behind him and almost died from relief to see nothing but dark, empty woods. Then he returned his attention to where he was going and saw the ribbon of green light in front of him, bearing the flattened face of a man at its head.
Nyles opened his mouth to scream but the thing rushed forward at him, diving into his open mouth. Cold, suffocatingly thick air forced itself into Nylesí throat, in through his nose, and even around his eyes. He tried to scream, but couldnít force anything around the invading thing.
His vision was tinted green and blurry and his face felt as if it were burning, about to explode. His green vision grew darker and when the forest finally came into view again, the last of the green thing disappearing inside of him, his vision blacked out completely, and he fell to the forest floor.
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