The yellow she-wolf came to sniff his scent while he was curled up in a nest of rocks. He had been licking at his wounded paw. His skull was filled with a terrible pain that waxed and waned, and his vision misted around the edges. But he could see her, even in the blue twilight. She stood on a rock about seventy feet above him and watched him as he suffered. a dark brown wolf joined her after a while, then a gray one with a single eye. The other two wolves came and went, but the yellow female remained vigilant.
Sometime later-and when this was he didn't know, because time had become dreamlike-he smelled the human reek. Four of them, he thought. Maybe more. Passing by his hiding place. In another moment he heard the scrape of their boots on the stones. They went on, searching for...
Searching for whati he asked himself. Foodi Shelteri He didn't know, but the men-the white-fleshed monsters-frightened him, and he determined to stay away from them.
an explosion roused him from a feverish sleep. He stared, his green eyes dull, at flames rising into the darkness. The boat, he thought. They'd found it, down in the harbor. The thought doubled back on itself, and puzzled him. How had he known thati he wondered. Whose boat was it, and what use did a wolf have for a boati
His curiosity made him get up and slowly, painfully, descend over the rocks to the harbor. The yellow wolf followed on one side, and on the other a small pale brown wolf that yipped nervously all the way down to the village. Wolftown, he thought as he looked at the houses. That was a good name for it, because he could smell his own kind here. Fire crackled beyond the seawall, and the figures of men walked through the smoke. He stood near the corner of a stone house, watching monsters roam the earth. One of them called to another: "any sign of him, Thysseni"
"No, Sergeant!" another one shouted back. "Not a trace! We found the commando team and the woman, though. Over that way." He pointed.
"Well, if he tries to hide here, the damned wolves will finish him off!" The sergeant strode in one direction with a group of men, and Thyssen went in another.
Who were they talking abouti he wondered as the flames reflected in his green eyes. and... why did he understand their languagei This was a puzzle, to be thought out when the throbbing in his skull had ceased. Right now he needed water and a place to sleep. He lapped from a muddy pool of snowmelt, then he chose a house and entered it through the open front door. He lay down in a corner, curling his body up for warmth, placed his muzzle on his paws, and closed his eyes.
Later, a floorboard's creak awakened him. He looked up into the glare of a flashlight, and he heard a voice say, "Jesus, that one's been in a fight!" He stood up, his tail to the wall, and bared his fangs at the intruders, his heart pounding with fear. "Easy, easy," one of the monsters whispered. "Put a bullet in it, Langner!"
"Not me! I don't want a wounded wolf jumping at my throat!" Langner backed out, and in another few seconds so did the man with the light. "He's not here!" Langner called to someone else outside. "Too many wolves around for my taste. I'm getting out."
The black wolf with a blood-crusted skull settled back into his corner again, and slept.
He had a strange dream. His body was changing, becoming white and monstrous. His claws, his fangs, and his coat of sleek black hair all went away. Naked, he crawled into a world of terrors. and he was just about to rise up on his fleshy legs-an unthinkable act-when the nightmare jarred him to his senses.
Gray dawn and hunger. They linked together. He got up and went in search of food. His head was still hurting, but not so much now. His muscles felt deeply bruised, and his steps were uncertain. But he would live, if he could find meat. He sniffed a death scent; the kill was nearby, somewhere in Wolftown.
The scent drew him into another house, and there he found them.
The corpses of four humans. One was a massive, orange-haired female. The other three were males, dressed in black with black-smeared faces. He sat on his haunches, and studied their positions. The female, her body punctured by at least a half-dozen holes, had her hands clenched around the throat of one of the males. another male lay in a corner like a broken doll, his mouth open in a final gasp. The third man lay on his back near an overturned table, the carved-horn handle of a knife protruding from his heart.
The black wolf stared at that knife. He had seen it before. Somewhere. He saw, as if from a vision, a human hand on a table, and the blade of that knife slamming down between the fingers. It was a mystery, too deep for him, and he let it go.
He began with the male crumpled in the corner. The facial flesh was soft, and so was the tongue. He was feasting when he smelled the musk of another wolf, and then came the low, warning growl. He whirled around, his muzzle red, but the dark brown wolf was already bounding forward to attack, claws flailing at the air.
The black wolf spun to one side, but his legs were still unsure and he lost his balance, crashing over the upturned table. The brown animal snapped at a foreleg and barely missed catching it between powerful jaws. another wolf, this one a ruddy amber hue, came through a window into the room and lunged at the black with fangs bared.
He knew death was imminent. Once they caught him between them, they would tear him to pieces. They were strangers to him, just as he was to them, and he knew this was a struggle for territory. He snapped at the amber wolf-a young female-with such ferocity that she scrambled backward. But the brown one, a husky male, was not so easily intimidated; a claw flashed out, and red streaks appeared across a black-haired rib cage. Fangs snapped, lunging and parrying like the weapons of swordsmen. The two wolves collided, chest to chest, trying to overwhelm the other with brute strength.
He saw his chance, and shredded the brown wolf's left ear. The animal yelped and backed off, feinted to one side, and then moved in again, eyes murderous with rage. Their bodies collided once more, with a force that knocked the breath out of both of them. They grappled wildly, each trying to grip the other's throat as they battled back and forth across the room, a deadly ballet of teeth and claws.
a brown-haired, muscular shoulder whammed into the right side of his skull, blinding him with fresh agony. He cried out in pain-a high quavering yelp-and fell back into the corner. The breath rumbled in his lungs, and he snorted blood. The brown wolf, almost grinning with the excitement of combat, started to jump at him to finish the job.
a rough series of quick, throaty barks froze the brown wolf on the edge of attack.
The yellow female had entered the house through the door. Right behind her was the one-eyed gray, an old male. The female darted forward, nudging the brown one in the side. She licked his bloody ear, and then shoved him aside with her shoulder.
The black wolf waited, his muscles trembling. again, the pain in his skull was savage. He wanted to let them know he wasn't about to give up his life without further struggle; he shouted-the equivalent of "Come on!"-and his guttural bark made the yellow female's ears twitch. She sat on her haunches and watched him, perhaps a spark of respect in her eyes as the black wolf announced his intention to survive.
She stared at him for a long time. The old gray and the brown male licked her coat. The small, pale brown male entered and yipped nervously until she silenced him with a cuff to the muzzle. Then she turned, a regal motion, and with a flip of her tail she went to the knife-stuck corpse and began to tear at it.
Five wolves, he thought. Five. That number bothered him. It was a dark number, and it smelled of fire. Five. In his mind he saw a beach, and soldiers struggling to shore through the waves. Over them loomed the shadow of a huge crow, flying inexorably toward the west. The crow had glass eyes, and on its beak were arcane scratchings. No, no, he realized. Letters. Something painted there. Iron-
The heady aromas of blood and fresh meat distracted him. The others were feeding. The yellow female lifted her head and grunted at him. The message said there was enough for all.
He ate, and let the mysteries drift away. But when the brown male and the amber female began to rip at the huge orange-haired corpse on the floor, he shuddered and went outside, where he was violently ill.
That night the stars came out. The others began to sing, their bellies swollen. He joined them-tentatively at first, because he didn't know their rhythms, then full-voiced as they accepted his song and swirled his into their own. He was one of them now, though the brown wolf still growled and sniffed disdainfully at him.
another day dawned, and passed. Time was a trick of the mind. It had no meaning, here in the womb of Wolftown. He gave the others names: Golda, the yellow leader, older than she appeared; Ratkiller, the dark brown male whose principal pleasure was chasing rodents through the houses; One-eye, a beautiful singer; Yipper, the whelp of the litter and not quite right in the mind; and amber, a dreamer who sat for hours gazing from the rocks. and, as he soon learned, amber's four pups, sired by Ratkiller.
a quick shower of snowflakes fell one night. amber danced in their midst, and snapped at them as Ratkiller and Yipper ran circles around her. The snowflakes melted as soon as they touched the warm ground. It was a sign of summer on the way.
The following morning he sat up on the rocks while Golda honored him by licking the crusted blood away from his skull wound. It was a language of the tongue, and it said he was welcome to mount her. Desire stirred in him; she had a lovely tail. and as he roused himself to please her, he heard the drone of engines.
He looked up. a huge crow was rising into the air. No, not a crow, he realized. Crows didn't have engines. an aircraft, with an immense wing span. The rising of the plane in the silver morning air made his flesh crawl. It was a horrible thing, and as it turned southward he made a soft groaning noise deep in his throat. It had to be stopped. In its belly was a cargo of death. It had to be stopped! He looked at Golda and saw she didn't understand. Why didn't shei Why was it only he who understoodi He propelled himself off the rocks and raced down to the harbor as the transport aircraft began to grow distant. He clambered up onto the seawall, where he stood moaning until the plane was lost to sight.
I've failed, he thought. But exactly what it was that he had failed at made his head hurt, and he had to let it go.
But his nightmares seized him, and those he could not escape.
He was human, in the nightmares. a young human, with no sense of the world. He was running across a field where yellow flowers budded, and in his hand was a taut string. at the end of that string, floating up into the blue, was a white kite that danced and spun in the high currents. a human female called him, a name he couldn't exactly understand. and as he was watching the kite sail higher and higher the shadow of the glass-eyed crow fell over him, and one of its whirling propellers chewed the kite into a thousand fragments that blew away like dust. The airplane was olive green, and riddled with bullet holes. as the severed string fell to earth, so did a mist. It swirled around him, and he breathed it. His flesh began to melt, to fall in bloody tatters, and he pitched to his knees as holes opened in his hands and arms. The woman, once beautiful, staggered across the field toward him, and as she reached him, her arms outstretched, he saw a bleeding cavity where her face had been.
In the stark daylight of reality he sat on the dock and stared at the burned hulk of a boat. Five, he thought. What was it about the number that terrified him soi
The days passed, a ritual of eating, sleeping, and basking in the waning sun. The corpses, hollowed-out and bony, gave up their last meal. He reclined on his haunches and regarded the knife, stuck there in a cage of bones. It had a hooked blade. He had seen that knife, in another place. Being driven down between a pair of human fingers. Kitty's game, he thought. Yes. But who was Kittyi
an airplane, its green metal pocked with painted holes. The face of a man with silver teeth: a devil's face. a city with a huge clock tower, and a wide river meandering to the sea. a beautiful woman, with blond hair and tawny eyes. Five of six. Five of six. all shadows. His head hurt. He was a wolf; what did he know, or care, of such thingsi
The knife beckoned him. He reached for it as Golda watched with lazy interest. His paw touched the handle. Of course he couldn't pull the knife out. What had made him believe he couldi
He began to pay attention to the rising and falling of the sun and the passage of days. He noted the days were lengthening. The five of six. Whatever that was, it was fast approaching, and that thought made him shiver and moan. He ceased singing with the others, because there was no song in him. The five of six dominated his mind and would not let him rest. Hollow-eyed, he faced another dawn, and he went to stare at the knife in the stripped skeleton as if it were a relic from a lost world.
The five of six was almost upon him. He could sense it, ticking nearer. There was no way to stop its approach, and that realization chewed his insides. But why did it not bother any of the othersi Why was he the only one who sufferedi
Because he was different, he realized. Where had he come fromi at whose nipples had he suckledi How had he gotten here, in Wolftown, as the five of six neared with every breath he drewi
He was with Golda, basking in the warming breeze near the seawall as the stars blazed in the heavens, when they heard Yipper give a long, quavering note from up in the rocks. Neither of them liked that sound; there was alarm in it. Then Yipper began a series of fast, harsh barks, relaying a warning to Wolftown. at once the black wolf and Golda were up off their bellies, hearing the noise that made Yipper shriek with pain.
Gunfire. Golda only knew it meant death. The black wolf knew it was the noise of a Schmeisser submachine gun.
Yipper's shrieking stopped abruptly as another burst rattled. Ratkiller took up the alarm, and amber spread it. The black wolf and Golda ran deeper into Wolftown, and soon they smelled the hated scent of men. There were four of them, coming down the rocks into the village and sweeping their lights before them. They fired at everything that moved, or that they thought might have moved. The black wolf caught another odor, and recognized it: schnapps. at least one of the men, perhaps the others, too, was drunk.
In another moment he heard their slurred voices: "I'll make you a wolfskin coat, Hans! Yes, I will! I'll make you the most beautiful damned coat you've ever seen!"
"No, you won't! You'll make it for yourself, you son of a bitch!"
There was rough laughter. a burst of bullets whacked into the side of a house. "Come on out, you hairy shits! Come out, and let's play!"
"I want a big one! That little thing up on the rocks won't even make a decent hat!"
They had killed Yipper. Drunken Nazis with submachine guns, hunting wolves out of sheer boredom. The black wolf knew this, without knowing how he knew. Four soldiers, from the garrison that guarded the chemical plant. Shadows stirred in his mind; things moved, and sleeping memories began to awaken. His skull throbbed-not with pain, but with the power of recollection. Iron Fist. The Flying Fortress. The five of six.
The fifth of the sixth month, he realized. The fifth of June. D Day.
He was a wolf. Wasn't hei Of course! He had black hair and claws and fangs. He was a wolf, and the hunters were almost upon him and Golda.
a light streaked past them, then came back. They were caught in its glare. "Look at those two! Damn, what coats! Black and yellow!" a submachine gun chattered, and bullets marched across the ground beside Golda. She panicked, turned, and fled. The black wolf raced after her. She went into the house where the skeletons lay.
"Don't lose them, Hans! They'll make fine coats!" The soldiers were running, too, as fast as their unsteady legs could manage. "They're in there! That house!"
Golda backed against the wall, terror in her eyes. The black wolf smelled the soldiers outside. "Get around to the rear!" one of them shouted. "We'll catch them between us!" Golda leaped for the window as bullets whacked into the frame and splinters flew. She fell back to the floor, spun madly in a whirl of yellow. The black wolf started out through the door, but a light blinded him and he retreated as bullets knocked holes in the wall above his head.
"Now we've got them!" a coarse voice crowed. "Max, go in there and clean them out!"
"Not me, you bastard! You go first!"
"ah, you gutless shit! all right, I will! Erwin, you and Johannes watch the windows." There was a clicking noise. The black wolf knew a fresh ammo clip was being loaded into the gun. "I'm going in!"
Golda again tried to get out through the window. Splinters stung her as another burst fired, and she dropped back with blood on her muzzle.
"Stop that shooting!" the coarse voice commanded. "I'll get them both myself!" The soldier strode toward the house, following his light, the courage of schnapps in his veins.
The black wolf knew he and Golda were doomed. There was no way out. In a moment the soldier would be at the doorway, and his light would catch them. No way out, and what would fangs and claws be against four men with submachine gunsi
He looked at the knife.
His paw touched the handle.
Don't fail me, he thought. Wiktor had said that, a long time ago.
His claws struggled to close around the handle. The soldier's light was almost into the room.
Wiktor. Mouse. Chesna. Lazaris. Blok. Names and faces whirled through the mind of the black wolf, like sparks escaping a bonfire.
I am not a wolf, he thought, as a blaze of memory leaped in his brain. I am a-
His paw changed. Streaks of white flesh appeared. The black hair retreated, and his bones and sinews rejointed with wet whispering sounds.
His fingers closed around the knife handle and drew it out of the skeleton. Golda gave a stunned grunt, as if the air had been knocked from her.
The soldier stopped on the threshold. "Now I'll show you who your master is!" he said, and glanced back at Max. "You seei It takes a brave man to walk into a wolf's den!"
"Two more steps, coward!" Max taunted.
The soldier probed with the light. He saw skeletons, and the yellow wolf. Ha! The beast was trembling. But where was the black bastardi He took the two final steps, his gun ready to blow its brains out.
and as the soldier entered, Michael stepped out from his hiding place beside the doorway and drove Kitty's hooked blade into the pit of the man's throat with all the strength he could summon.
The German, strangling on blood, dropped the Schmeisser and the light to clutch at his severed windpipe. Michael scooped up the submachine gun, planted a foot against the man's belly, and shoved him backward through the doorway. Then he fired at the other man's light, and there was a scream as the bullets mangled flesh.
"What was thati Who screamedi" one of the men at the rear of the house hollered. "Maxi Hansi"
Michael walked out the door, his knee joints aching and his spine stretching. He stood at the corner of the house and took aim just above the two flashlights. One of them weaved toward him. He sprayed fire at the Nazis. Both lights exploded and the bodies crumpled.
That was the end of it.
Michael heard a noise behind him. He turned, an oily sweat leaking from his pores.
Golda stood there, only a few feet away. She stared at him, her body rigid. Then she showed her fangs, snarled, and ran away into the darkness.
Michael understood. He did not belong to her world.
He knew who he was now, and what he had to do. The transport plane had already taken the bombs of carnagene away, but there were other crows on the field: the night fighters. Those each had a range of about a thousand miles. If they could find out exactly where Iron Fist was hangared, and...
and if it wasn't too late. What was the datei He had no way of knowing. He hurried to find clothes that might fit him from the four dead men. He had to settle for the shirt and jacket from one soldier, the trousers from another, and the boots from a third. all of the clothes were damp with blood, but that couldn't be helped. He stuffed his pockets with ammo clips. a gray woolen cap, free of bloodstains, lay on the ground. He put it on, and his fingers found the gash and the scabbed crust on the right side of his head. a fraction of an inch more, and the bullet would have smashed his skull.
Michael strapped the submachine gun around his shoulder and started along the road to the rocky slope. The fifth of June, he thought. Had it passed alreadyi How many days and nights had he been here, believing himself a wolfi Everything was still dreamlike. He quickened his pace. The first task was getting into the plant; the second was getting to the stockade and freeing Chesna and Lazaris. Then he would know if he had failed or not, and whether tattered bodies lay in the streets of London because of it.
He heard a howl, a floating quaver, behind him. Golda's voice. He didn't look back.
On two legs he climbed toward his destiny.