When she reached the source of the disharmony, her fur and whiskers were standing on end and an involuntary growl was rumbling in her throat, but all she could see was the source of the howl: a small black dog, little larger than herself, of the kind that she’d heard the two-legs call a “Skottish Tearer”.
No, wait. When the wind shifted, she smelled nothing but two-legs, their smokes and their food. No dog-smell.
So he was the ghost of a Skottish Tearer, then.
“Enough, enough!” Lanuine growled as she approached the howling ghost. “The two-legs can’t hear you, and the other wolves are here with their two-legs. I’m all the help you’re going to get, and you’re hurting my ears.”
The ghost-dog stopped howling and looked at her, seeming a bit startled. “Oh…oh, oh, sorry,” it – he – said.
“Thank you,” Lanuine said. “Now. What are you called?”
This is the polite thing to ask magical creatures, rather than “what is your name?” There are few powers greater than the power of Names, which is one of the reasons that cats have three names. To name a thing is to define it; to define a thing is to control it. There were many cats who wondered if the two-legs’s peculiar talent for Naming was the source of their enormous power. They seemed to have an odd authority when it came to names. When a two-legs gave something a name, it stuck .
“I am Fala!” The ghost answered. “What are you called?”
“I am called Queenie, the Rat-Breaker,” Lanuine answered. But she was almost too stunned to say it. There had been a resonance when the ghost-dog spoke its name that could only mean one thing. “You give your true name freely?” she asked, aghast.
“My name was given to me by my alpha,” Fala answered. “And my alpha was a very great alpha among the two-legs. He walked with wheels because his hind legs were crippled, but the other two-legs still obeyed him. Great packs of two-legs, as far as the nose could smell…mighty alphas who could have torn his throat out like rotten meat…all of them obeyed his merest bark and growl. The name he gave me is all the name I need.”
That was…actually pretty impressive, Lanuine had to admit. It was true that she didn’t understand how matters of dominance were decided among the two-legs, but still. For one who walked on wheels to lead such a great pride, his will must have been enormous even among two-legs.
Still. Lanuine could not understand the dog-ghost’s willingness to accept the name given him by another as his only name. Could not, and did not want to.
“Fine,” she said. “If that’s how you want it. Now. What has you howling so much? You’re driving cat and dog alike mad with all your noise.”
Usually, a dog would look abashed for at least a moment after such a scolding, but Fala just looked grim.
This was serious. Dogs were usually loud and messy and silly, and as such beneath a cat’s notice, but no cat could deny that the Tribe of the Wolf were utterly dedicated to the protection of their two-legs and their territory.
“This way,” Fala said, turning and leading Lanuine away from the two-legs’s stone path. In truth, Lanuine didn’t need much guidance. The farther they went, the more she could sense a…a wrongness that put her hackles up. There was violence in that wrongness. Violence and death and old, clotted hate.
The farther they went, the harder it was to continue. Only two-legs ignored their instincts like this…and maybe not even them. By the time Fala stopped walking – by the time they reached the center of the wrongness – it was like wading in a bubbling spring of poison black blood, and there were no two-legs seated anywhere nearby.
“What is this place?” Lanuine growled, her ears flat to her head.
“The two-legs used to bury their dead here,” Fala answered. “Members of the pack that they killed for turning against the pack.”
“What?” Lanuine demanded, startled. But before Fala could answer, she turned her attention back to the center of the wrongness, this time focusing on the senses that most two-legs seemed to lack. As she did so, her hackles rose and her ears laid back, seemingly of their own accord.
The ghost-dog was right.
Beneath the earth was the spirit of a two-legs that had not gone to one of the strange places outside the world where two-legs spirits went.
Or at least, it had been a two-legs once. Now, it was little more than a roiling mass of hatred.