Del and Huck — On the Wings of Grace (Chapter 15)



Steinbeck meets Tolkien in this high fantasy adventure set in 1920s Oklahoma and the magical world of Iska.




Chapter Fifteen

Wolf Tracks


The next morning they set out silently, speaking little, as the horror of the night before still haunted all of them. As the sun rose behind them they rode straight west across the rolling plain, Jobe still leading the way, and Flavian guarding the rear.

But as midmorning came Jobe stopped his horse and motioned to the halfling, who rode up to the orc and they quickly conferred. Then, Flavian came back to Del and Huck and spoke.

"We've passed into Iska," the halfling told them. 

"How?" asked Huck. "It still looks like Oklahoma."

"It may look like it, but it isn't it," argued Flavian. "Hell, I wouldn't believe it either, but Jobe can smell it -- he says it smells like Iska here. I can't tell, but I trust his nose -- it's always right."

"What do we do?" asked Del.

"We do what we're doing," said Flavian. "We head West. It changes nothing."

Huck wasn't so sure about that. He tossed Del a quizzical look, and then Flavian urged his pony back to the rear, having said all he was going to say.

Huck had always imagined some sort of great magic bridging the two worlds, and that the difference between them would be stark. It unnerved him to know the blending of the worlds was so subtle and almost unnoticeable. He eyed the surroundings looking for some sort of sign that this was a different world than his own, but saw nothing to that effect. It still looked like Oklahoma. He had trouble believing it, but he trusted what the Iskans said.

After an hour or so, Jobe stopped for a second time, and once again motioned for Flavian. After they had spoken with each other for a moment, they waved to Del and Huck to come over, and they soon saw what Jobe had found:

It was a ravaged body, twisted and torn upon the ground, covered in dried blood. It was an elf -- the shimmering clothes gave it away, even if its other distinct features were hidden by wounds.

"Definitely dead," said Flavian. "I like dead elves."

Huck, annoyed with the halfling's frivolity despite his own hatred for elves, asked "What happened here?"

"See those tracks around the body?" Flavian pointed.

Huck did.

"Wolf tracks," Flavian explained. "Except they're not from wolves. They're from something worse."

"Like what?" Huck asked.

"Lycanthropes," Flavian said.

"What are those?" asked Del.

"Ever heard of werewolves?"

Huck and Del were silent for a second before Huck said something. "Those are real?"

"They're real on Iska," Flavian said. 

"What do we do?" asked Huck. 

"You keep asking that," said Flavian. "And the answer is the same: we keep doing what we're doing."

"Do you think we'll come across them?" Del asked. 

"Only the gods know that," said Flavian. "I don't." The halfling went back to his pony and mounted up. "Let's be on our way," he suggested. 

As they continued across the West, Huck remembered the silver knife Ivaile had given him, and the old legend, even known on Earth, that only silver weapons could hurt werewolves. He wondered how the apprentice had known they would run into such things, but could only guess. He dug the knife out of his pack and kept it close to him. 

The day was quiet but for a slight breeze as their steeds stepped through the grasses. They spoke very little. Huck wondered what lay ahead and reminisced about the past.  As the sun grew higher a warmth struck them.  Summer was coming. The clear, cloudless blue sky seemed full of promise. Del stripped off her jacket and basked in the light.

They stopped for a quick lunch and then continued on. Jobe continued to lead and Flavian stayed in the back. Del and Huck rode their horses side by side.

Finally, Del spoke. "Uncle Huck, what do you think this is going to be like?"

"I imagine we're going to see what the other world is like," he said.

"Do you believe him, that we're in Iska now?"

"I don't know," Huck admitted. "Sure feels like America still."

"Yeah," she said. "We would know, wouldn't we? If we passed into another world?"

"I hope so," said Huck.

"You know," she began, changing the subject, "Ivaile showed me magic when you was with the lich that first time."

"Really?" Huck wondered. She had never spoken of it before.

"He called it 'psionics'."

"Is that so?"

"He said I could do it too, if I wanted."

The conversation was inspiring Huck to have a cigarette. He reached into his pocket for his papers and tobacco. "Well, I wouldn't know about any of that," said Huck. "I think only Iskans can do magic."

"Reverend Parsons can do magic though, can't he? That's what I heard."

"I think what he does is different than magic," Huck said. "He's a religious man."

"Yeah, but --"

"Shhh!" Jobe shushed them as he stopped his horse. They all ceased their movement. A harsh silence crashed over them. But then, somewhere in the quiet, they could all hear a heavy breathing coming from in front of them. 

Jobe pulled out his axe.

Flavian jumped off his pony.

Huck pulled his rifle from his horse. 

Del pulled her pistol from her holster.

And then the werewolf attacked. 

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