Lyli’s eyes opened, and she wondered if she had slept at all. The sun had not yet risen, or perhaps it had risen and sunk again.
She rolled onto her side and found herself nose-to-nose with a sleeping Wanderer. She pulled away, startled. His eyes fluttered open.
“Is it the same night or the next?” he asked, sitting up and yawning.
“I haven’t any clue. I was hoping you knew.”
He shook his head. “I think it must be the next night though, since I feel like I’ve slept for quite a while.”
“So do I, but that makes no sense, I always wake up when the sun comes up. Always.”
“So you think it’s the same night?”
“Does it even matter?”
“Oh, yes. It matters very much.”
In an instant, Wanderer was on his feet with his dagger in his hand. Lyli turned slowly, fear turning her heart to ice. The man who had spoken leaned against a nearby tree, looking at her and Wanderer. He held no weapon, brandished no flaming sticks, wielded no sword, but he didn’t look afraid.
He was tall, in about his late thirties, with dark hair, a dirty worker’s tunic, and green eyes that had an interesting steely glint that was almost silver, but not quite.
He looked directly at Lyli, his steely green eyes hitting her with a force she could almost feel, and asked “Do you speak human?”
Lyli studied him for a moment, swallowed, and then nodded.
He nodded back and then turned to Wanderer. “Do you?”
Wanderer only watched him, his blonde hair in his face, his knife held tightly.
Lyli spoke for him. “He speaks wolf. Only wolf.”
The man nodded. Then he surprised Lyli by holding out a hand to Wanderer, and introducing himself. In wolf.
“I’m Ryder. I’m guessing you’re a Heartless, since you have those eyes, but what’s your name, son?”
Wanderer didn’t take the hand but introduced himself as well.
The man, Ryder, then turned to Lyli. “And… do you prefer I use wolf or human to speak to you?”
“Wolf. I’d rather Wanderer would understand you as well.”
“As you wish. Now tell me, who are you? While this Wanderer boy has the blue eyes of the heartless, your eyes are… golden?”
Lyli wasn’t about to share her life story with some random guy who happened to speak wolf. “Yeah, they are, aren’t they? Who are you? Where are we?”
The man shifted on his feet, and looked unhappy. “I am sorry for you, that you ended up here. It should not have happened to two so young.”
“What should not have happened to us? What are you talking about?”
“I mean that it is unfortunate that you landed here, since now you are here…” he sighed, “you can’t leave.”
Wanderer glanced at the shore, and at their boat, tied nearby. “Are you going to stop us if we try?”
The man looked at wanderer with an age-old sadness etched in his face. A look of so much heartache and pain that for a moment, Lyli felt like she was the one hurting, not this man before her, with his ragged haircut and green eyes.
“I will not stop you.”
Without another word, Wanderer turned to face the shore again, and began walking. He did not get more than five steps before he seemed to hit an invisible barrier. He kicked experimentally, and then whimpered in pain as his foot hit something Lyli could not see.
After a moment, he turned back to Lyli, “I can’t go any further.”
Lyli resisted the urge to roll her eyes and say ‘duh.’ Instead she turned to the man, Ryder, who still stood in the shadows, watching with that same, sad expression.
Lyli’s throat was closed with fear, and she discovered that wolf speech was impossible when she was in such a state. “What did you do?” she reverted to human.
“It’s not something I have done, it’s the island. If I could somehow help you get off this land, I would. I have been here for twenty years, in eternal night.”
Wanderer was looking back and forth from one to the other, not understanding, but not confused. It was so odd to see a boy who clearly did not understand but was not confused.
“The island is cursed. It is never day, and once you come here, you can never leave, as your friend just discovered.” He gestured towards wanderer, who still stood, watching, his head tipped to the side, his blonde hair flopping in his face.
Lyli translated for him, her voice trembling with fear. If this man spoke true, she and Wanderer were trapped here, maybe forever.
“How will the plants grow without sun?” That was his main concern?
“No one knows, son. It’s not a problem of surviving, it’s a problem of being trapped. Being cursed.” Ryder ran his hands through his ragged, gray streaked hair.
“Just because the island is cursed doesn’t mean we are cursed… does it?” Lyli’s eyes were wide.
Ryder’s expression was grim, and he swept his arm out, gesturing over the island, and for the firt time, Lyli really looked at the land. The sand quickly changed to dirt, and growing from the dirt were the strangest plants Lyli had ever seen. Tall, thin things with dark, spindly leaves and pale flowers. The ground was covered with black and green moss, and long, thin vines hung from the trees.
The most disturbing thing however, was the shadows. Layer upon layer of shadows, getting blacker and blacker as they extended, deeper than the ocean, darker than the night.
Ryder’s eyes were fixed on her. “This land’s curse is a catching one. It rubs off onto anyone who lands here, trapping them and taking away all that is bright and good, and letting their darkest side, their most evil part, take them over.”
Lyli stared. “What do you mean? Darkest side? What?”
“This is what I mean by darkest side.” the man stepped from the shadows, and the faint silver moonlight struck him in the face, and as Lyli stared, the man changed. His hands changed to paws, his face elongated into a muzzle, fur grew all along his body, and his clothes vanished as he dropped to all fours.
He had become a wolf.
Wanderer’s voice was calm, and his expression was mildly interested, not shocked or scared.
The wolf before them nodded, if wolf’s can nod, it was more like bobbing his head up and down. It was jet black, with eyes that were a steely gray-green…
“Ryder?” Lyli’s voice came out as a squeak, such was her terror. A man had just changed into a beast in front of her very eyes.
“You see what I mean about darkest side? This used to be an easily reversible accident, but now the transformation pains me, and it takes longer to change back. I fear if I stay on this land much longer, the wolf side of me will take over and I will be nothing more than an animal. Most of the creatures here have already been devoured by their own minds, driven mad or turned to creatures of darkness. I alone fought, and tried again and again to break free, and that is what has kept me sane all these years.
“What are you?” She hadn’t meant to sound rude, but Lyli had never heard of anyone changing from human to anything, or the other way around for that matter.
“Your friend has it right. I’m a werewolf.”
Lyli had never heard of a werewolf before, and the word didn’t really make her feel any better about watching the awful transformation.
“What does that mean? Who are you? How did you get here?” she decided it was time someone started giving her answers.
The wolf—Ryder—looked at her with sad eyes. “A werewolf is someone who turns to a wolf when the light of the full moon touches their skin. It’s rather like a disease, you become a werewolf when you are bitten by another werewolf who is in wolf form. I was bitten when I was seven.”
“That is one of the most unfortunate stories you will ever hear, my girl.”