It began here:
Then it went here:
Looking out of the window that night, I had a really deep sense of connection to Romulus. Yes, I saw him, and he was just as I’d seen him in my dreams and imaginings. Our eyes locked and I felt something leap between us, straight out of our hearts and meeting in the middle of that rapt gaze. Mum called me to dinner but I begged off, excusing myself and telling her I’d only be a minute; I’d dropped my earbuds, probably on the driveway, and I’d be back soon. Of course, I had them in my pocket, but I had to improvise an excuse quickly and that one was the best I could do.
He was gone long before I got there. I looked around, unable to see much of anything in the darkness. I thought I sensed him to my left, and then a few seconds later to my right, but the distance between the two was so great I must have been imagining it; nothing could move that quickly. Nothing except Romulus, I thought. “Goodnight, Romulus, and thank you,” I whispered into the darkness. He heard me; I just know it.
Ten years went by, and I celebrated the closing of that decade since I’d last seen him by framing the drawing I’d worked so hard on for more than a year. I’d taken an art tutorial, and then still life classes, and then more courses with teachers who specialised in drawing animals. None of them were impressed with my work. It was too fanciful, too abrupt, and it had too much artistic license, they said. It was Romulus, and it was accurate and perfect in every detail.
Five years later, I added myself. My husband, now my ex-husband, had never understood or liked ‘Romulus’, and he’d asked me more than once to take it off the wall and burn it. He knew I wouldn’t, and so one day when things between us had deteriorated even more than usual, he burned it for me in a last spiteful act. I looked at the ashes and I knew ‘Romulus’ would rise again, just as surely as I knew this was the last straw in a bad marriage.
Fortunately, in a way, we hadn’t had kids. The doctors told me I was sterile and my husband seemed to think I did it on purpose. Personally, I couldn’t imagine a mini version of him running around the house, so I didn’t feel the loss of possibility as acutely as him. He moaned and lamented the son he’d never have. I was tired of his accusative bitching and after a while I said it was probably for the best; one whiny little bitch around the house was as much as I could handle. He glared at me, called me a liar, and slapped me in the face; hard.
As I hit the floor I had a strange double vision and a sense that from somewhere on the other side of the world Romulus had just begun running at lightning speed. “You’re in deep shit now,” I said, glaring at the man I’d settled for but would settle with no longer. Something in the way I said it or the way I looked really shook him. He apologised, reaching out to help me up. “Get the fuck away from me!” I growled at him, surprising even myself with the low menace in my voice.
I went to my spare room and locked myself in. Suddenly, I felt bone weary, too tired for even a shower before bed. I thought, as far as I could think anything, that fifteen years of missing Romulus and five years in a shit marriage had just caught up with me. I slept, and in that sleep I dreamed.
Romulus was coming to me. I knew it was him even though he looked like a man and not a wolf. He sensed me seeing him and he asked, directly into my mind, if I was alright. “I don’t know what’s happening to you, but something … strange … has come your way,” he said. I just looked at him, watching him move so purposefully and gracefully through an airport with writing on it I couldn’t decipher. “I love you, Romulus,” I said, knowing I always had. I wanted him to know it, too. “I’m coming to you … Rhema,” he said, and in that instant I knew who I really was.
I don’t know if I was awake or asleep, and it doesn’t really matter anyway. I had Romulus here with me in my heart and mind, and that was enough. He was in Russia, where he’d been living in isolation somewhere in the Steppes. I sensed snow, and forests, and the clean smell of the natural world. That wasn’t all I sensed, however. The man I had called my husband had left the house after I’d locked myself in my room, but his foul mood coupled with the booze and pills he’d just had had begun messing with his mind. He wanted a showdown, the self-righteous prick. I’d happily comply.
“Get out now, Rhema,” Romulus said. “Just leave before he comes back.” I felt his pain, poor Romulus. It was driving him wild. He just couldn’t not be there to ‘save’ me, and his anguish was threatening to Change him. If that happened while he was in an airport he’d be in real danger; they’d throw every weapon they had at him. If it happened while he was in the air, everyone on that plane would die. I had tot fight down my willingness to confront that weak piece of shit. I had to leave for my sake and for Romulus’ sake.
I lurched up and fell over as if I was drunk. My legs felt like they were made of jelly and a fevered heat sent shivers and sparks through me. Now was not the time to be getting sick, so I pushed myself through it and I walked, slightly staggering, to the door. My hand shook wildly as I tried to open the lock, and then my legs gave way and I slid to the floor. Fever and chills wracked me, and I doubled up in the worst pain I’d ever felt. From a long way away I heard Romulus yelling. He was telling me something, and then I went blank as unconsciousness gripped me and wouldn’t let go.
I remember the anguish I felt the first time she had sex. For her, there wasn’t any love in it, but just the fact of knowing someone was inside her broke my heart and drove me wild. I sensed it dully every time after that, and I sensed a sort of restrained cruelty in her mate. Sometimes he hurt her a little, but always he wanted to hurt her a lot. I knew it when they married, and I wondered why she did it. Convenience? Security? Because it was expected? I tried to cut myself off from knowing it and from feeling it. In a pain I can’t describe because I don’t understand it, I ran away.
I ran until I came to the isolated house in the Steppes of Russia. I knew I wouldn’t be happy there and I suspected I wouldn’t be happy anywhere, so after a few years of tormenting myself I put myself into hibernation. I’d wake every decade or so and the pain would be there to meet me, but her life would pass, for me, in a matter of wide awake days and not the decades I’d otherwise experience. I would outlive the reality of her life, and then I could, in time, deal with the reality of her death.
To hibernate, I lived as a Were. I gave in completely to it, and I was glad of the animal instincts and thinking it brought with it. They weren’t enough to cure me of her but they were enough to dull my mind to her importance to me.
I came awake suddenly and groggily when he hit her, and by the time she was in her room I had covered many miles. The snow clung to me and weighed me down a little but I was moving so fast I skimmed the surface of the deep yet light powder. I called to her but her mind was in turmoil and she couldn’t hear me. My isolation broken, I came to a ploughed road many miles from my house, and more miles to the nearest airport which, from memory, was a tiny shithole out the back of nowhere. I ran the road, burning up the miles until I smelled the stench of Human activity. I slowed and then stopped, helping myself to what I needed. I had it all now, except for the passport, and that wouldn’t cause me too much trouble.
In the airport, I got through to her. When shakily she made it to her door and then fainted, I knew I had to be there with an even greater sense of urgency. Looking in the eyes of the passport control official, my Were gaze made him compliant. He’d have a hell of a headache when he finally came back to his Human senses. As a small feeder airport, lower in status than even a regional one, I found that no flight out were booked for several weeks. The Were gaze my kind use is sufficient to render large and ferocious game meekly compliant; on Humans it can have significant side effects, as I discovered. Two Humans in the lone hangar died, and I was so sorry that happened. Another had a massive nosebleed and fell to the ground quivering, and finally I found one who could fly without dying under the intensity of my gaze.
I watched everything he did very closely, learning as he did things, in case I had to take over. All the while another part of my awareness was seeking out Amy-Rhema, but hers had retreated and she was essentially invisible to me. With each passing hour I grew more outwardly calm and more inwardly frantic. I had plane hopped across a corner of Russia and I was now on my way to Canada and Amy.
There is a space between the out breath and the in breath, and that was where I was caught. The flight would take ten hours, which meant that almost fourteen hours would have elapsed since my last contact with Rhema. She could already be dead for all I knew; I sensed the violent intent in her husband’s heart. Now matter how powerful you are, no matter how strong mentally and physically, there is a time when you are completely powerless and at the mercy of Fate. That was where I was; in the calm centre in the eye of Fate.
I killed him. He began by yelling at me through the door, then he began kicking the door. My fevered mind registered that much before he went silent again. Or did I faint? I heard him come back, and this time he had reinforcements. The hammer made short work of the lock, and the knives he’d brought with him, one in each hand now he’d dropped the hammer, were meant to do me harm.
The overpowering stench of alcohol mixed with the strong chemical odours of the drugs he’d taken informed me in a second that he had completely lost it and was intent on killing me. From I don’t know where, the strength of survival welled up in me and for a few seconds it completely overwhelmed the fever that was coursing through me. We both staggered, but I was just faster and mightily stronger with adrenalin. I cut him to pieces. It was rage, pure and simple. Primal, animal rage. The night closed in as the adrenalin rushed out, and once again I was taken into the arms of oblivion.
Thank the Presence I found them before anyone else did. I could smell the blood on the wind minutes before I pulled the car into their driveway. The scent told me death had come over six hours ago, its metallic tang ripening as it aged. At the front door I heard the phone ringing and that told me I was on a deadline. I tried the handle and of course, it was locked. I could have easily crushed it but everything now was about strategy; I needed to make sure nothing looked out of place or suspicious.
Strolling back to the car, I let my senses open wide, scanning the street for sights, sounds, and ripples of emotion that hinted at me being watched. Nothing. I casually turned the car around and reversed as far as I could into the driveway, opening the back door locks and gently popping the boot. There was no telling what I would find inside the house, but I knew that one way or the other Rhema would be coming with me. She’d either be dead, in which case I’d have to put her body in the boot; she’d be injured, in which case she’d have to lay of the back seat, or, with the faintest of chances, she’d be unharmed and able to sit beside me.
I walked down the narrow pathway at the side of the house, coming to an exterior laundry door near the back of the house. Grabbing the lock, I crushed it and pushed, and it gave way easily. I stood there, allowing my senses to scan the entire house. There wasn’t any movement, but there was a faint gossamer of breath coming for upstairs, right of the house, second room from the front. The door to that room was slightly ajar, and the odours emanating from it were strong and vile.
Silently closing the door behind me, I brought the Transformation over myself. My ears swung from side to side with great efficiency, taking in not only the ambient sounds of the house but also of the street outside. Down a short hallway and then in two silent leaps I was at the top of the stairs. The strong toxic smell of chemicals and alcohol overrode the scent of blood coming from the room, and with one step forward I saw blood pooling, sticky as it dried, just inside the door.
Rhema was alive. Her husband, because I knew by his scent that he was Human, was torn apart. This sort of frenzied killing was something I hadn’t witnessed in over a millennia; there was very little left of him. Stepping across the worst of it, I rounded the bed to find Rhema just where I knew she would be.
She was covered in blood; not speckled or splashed with it, but covered. It had matted her fur badly, and fixing that would have to be a priority. When the fever of the first Change came upon her she had gone berserk, and this was the result. If I tried to hide her in the boot of the car and she woke, disorientated, she’d probably tear the car apart and that would create all sorts of new problems.
Rhema-as-Were was not as big as me, but she was every inch the predator, and in this state she was dangerous. I snuffed the air and her ears twitched. “Rhema, it’s me,” I said. I heard her whimper and slowly I bent forward and picked her up. Her face near mine, her tongue flicked out and licked the side of my muzzle. We were at the first point of safety. In the bathroom I cleaned her as best I could, making soothing sounds that our species instinctively knew. Soon enough, we were downstairs and she was somewhat roused but still dazed and groggy.
“Rhema, you’re going through the Change, but right now I need you to focus on taking on your Human form,” I said. I felt and saw her flashing between Were and Human. She was trying her best, I knew, but it was unstable. I had to take a chance. As she flickered into Human form I opened her eyes wide and stared into them, using the Gaze to compel her to hold her form. If it hadn’t worked, she and I would be in a fight. Using the Gaze on another Were is a serious insult. Her Human form stabilised, and with help from me she was able to stumble to the back door, where I Transformed my form back to Human.
Romulus and Rhema.
We made it out the there safely, and when it seemed Rhema’s Change had ended we made it out of Canada. It would be decades before she could think of returning, because after all that time no Human would recognise her as being the same woman, un-aged.
We have many questions, but we also have all the time in the Were. Every single Knowing I have tells me there has never been anyone like her. I was born Were; I have always known what I am. Rhema was not turned, like every other non-born Were. She was something different, perhaps a new species or perhaps the next evolutionary step between Human and Were.
Unlike all others of our kind, we both sense that we have mated for life. That presents its own unique challenges. Not only do we go through several Changes as we mature, during which time we are dangerous to all life, but there is the added complication of Ra. Given Amy’s sterility as a Human, which is now not surprising to us, we were not anticipating a cub, especially because we do not quite know what Rhema is.
Ra was born as what appears to be a full Were, but her first and second Changes, at three and then again at seven, have not occurred. She remains full Were, capable of Human thought and speech when the mood takes her but seemingly incapable of Transforming into a Human shape.
We are here and safe, in the isolated highlands of Scotland. We had both sensed a Were of great knowledge lived in this country, and we had come to find him. Adama was, it is said, the First Were. Our kind knows the tales of him; that he has not aged beyond the visage of a young Human man in over ten thousand years; that he has the Knowing far in advance of other Were, and that he cannot be found unless he chooses it. He emits no signal whatsoever.
Here on an isolated crag I watch the clouds clear as the moon rises. The temperature drops dramatically and small ice crystals form on the guard hairs of my coat. I am silent, recharging my life force in the glow of the moon, and then I feel the Presence come and standing behind and beside it I see-sense a very unusual Were. He is allowing me to sense him, I know, and his eyes transfix me. Adama, for that is who he is, has one blue eye and one hazel eye. He knows we’re here and he knows why we’ve come. I think soon enough we’ll be meeting him here.