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Twitch sighed. Or at least would have done, had he occupied his normal form, or even that of one of the many animals whose forms he could assume. Having taken the shape of small tree, however, he could do nothing but stand and watch as the council made their way from the clearing. That, of course, was not such a bad thing; he was not so foolish as to think that the werewolf pack would be friendly toward him now that the threat of Garlgan and his ogres had passed, not that he could fight off the entire pack should they prove aggressive toward him.

His dream in which the pack had ravaged the farmlands under his protection had made the druid somewhat anxious, and while it has also held the promise of a solution for protection in both directions, he knew enough of such visions not to believe that it was a guarantee. His first thought had been to track down the pack to observe what they would do in the absence of the ogres, hoping that between his own skills and the information he could gather from other residents of the forest he could locate them. On further thought though it had occurred to him that the beasts would likely visit the clearing in which he and his companions had defeated the ogres, given that this was their usual territory and they would likely wish to confirm that the threat had indeed past.  And so he had flown here, taken on the form of the tree, and waited.

He wait had been disappointing, although not in the fruitless way it would have been had his instincts proven wrong and the pack not shown. Instead, his disappointment arose from the fact that the pack leader, the large grey lycanthrope Krolmn had told them of, had done little to tone down his aggressive rhetoric. In fact, far from honouring the agreement to slip quietly back into the forest, he still was very much advocating “recruitment” of the neighbouring humans to strengthen the pack. Twitch had little doubt that this beast and perhaps a few others like him were responsible for the recent infection of the men around Sandpoint, Rolado among them. As before, another of the pack spoke out against such moves, but his voice so far seemed insufficient to sway enough of his brethren in a more peaceful direction.

It was this individual who now stood angrily alone within clearing, furry fists clenched and canines showing in a snarl, as the rest of the pack followed its leader away.

Twitch waited long enough to be sure they would be uninterrupted before resuming his true form and stepping forward, ensuring he kept enough distance to the werewolf that he could change form and fly away should the need arise; he was confident he could defeat this one creature should he prove violent, but was not sure whether he could do so before others arrived. And besides, some risks were not worth taking; infection with curse of the lycanthrope certainly fell within that category.

The wolfman crouched as the druid revealed himself, ready to spring into action, but did not immediately attack as Twitch held his hands up in a peaceful gesture.

“Greetings.” Twitch began cautiously “I had hoped to speak with you.”

“You risk much coming here, elf. Our agreement with your gnome friend was that you would leave us to our land once Garlgan was defeated.”

The beast revealed teeth in what Twitch assumed was a wolfish grin (he would have to study his own reflection while in wolf form at some stage to better learn such expressions that the true animals did not possess) at the druid’s undoubted look of surprise in learning that the creature knew who he was.

“Surprised? Did you not think we would follow the gnome to see if the companions he promised us were real? Had he been alone he never would have left the woods alive. As it was some of the pack were dubious as to your company’s ability to carry out the promised deed, and favoured killing or infecting you all.”

“I’m hoping you were not among them.” Twitch replied, undeterred.

“I was not.”

“Then I am hopeful I have approached to right, er, man. I do not like they direction your pack is being taken in by its current leader. It seems it is only a matter of time before he renews attacks on the farmers to the east, despite us having rid the Whisperwood of Garlgan and his ogres. I will not tolerate this. I am hoping you can help me change that course.”

“Why do you think I would care about a few farmers? I care nothing for you people, clinging to your ‘civilised’ ways. I wish only to run with my pack, and if your way of life feels threatened by that, it is not my concern.” The wolf replied.

“The farmers are not my primary concern either, but they are under my protection.”

“How can you protect them if they don’t concern you?”

“My main concern is protection of the Whisperwood. I have managed to remove the farmers to the east side of the river to protect the wood from their encroachment. However if the denizens of the wood threaten them they will return in force. That will see the destruction of the wilderness here that I am trying to protect. And the destruction of your pack. I will destroy your pack myself before I allow that.”

“You threaten us?” the wolf snarled “Yet ask for my help?”

“You threaten yourselves.” The druid replied “If you maintain this course of action. I only threaten you if you continue to live in a way that will bring ruin to this place. Until your recent forays to the farmlands I had been happy to allow your pack to live in peace.” Largely because I didn’t know it was here, he thought silently to himself irritably. “I will continue to do so if your pack returns to a less aggressive life.”

“We do not need your permission to live our lives in this forest, you have no authority over us. And I do not believe you alone can threaten our pack. However,” The wolf says after a few moments thought “I have no wish for conflict, with you or the humans. But I do not know what you expect me to do. As you saw, the pack follows its leader. And that is not me.”

“And if your current leader were to fall? Would it then be you? You seem the only one who has a voice of your own.” Twitch didn’t know much of lycanthrope ecology, but felt that this werewolf must be quite sure of itself to speak up as it did.

“There are one or two other that would likely challenge. But they would fail.”

“In that case I will simply remove your current leader. You will take his place, and lead the pack away from its current path.” Twitch explained.

“You really think you can defeat him? You would have no hope.” The beast laughed, then continued more soberly. “And even if you did, you would bring on the very situation you claim to be avoiding. Probably I would be able to take control of the pack, but it would demand that we attack the humans for their audacity in killing him. And I would have no choice but to agree.”

“You are no doubt correct.” The druid mused. “It seems then that you will have to overthrow him yourself.”

“I cannot. He is too strong for me.” The werewolf replied, seeming a little deflated.

“Then I will do what I can to weaken him. Without,” Twitch held up his hand to stall the beast’s argument “any knowing that I did so. I told you this forest is under my protection. But it is also my ally, and there are any number of natural mishaps that could occur. Watch for your opportunity, and I will do what I can to make it happen. But be aware that should you continue the pack on an aggressive path you will meet a similar fate. If I hear that more livestock have been killed, or that a little old lady got mutilated late at night, I will know it was the werewolves of the Whisperwood again.”

Twitch spent a few more minute speaking to the beast, gaining an idea of how the pack moved and in particular how its leader behaved, and a plan began to form in his mind.

*****

Twitch waited in the cave, a deep, narrow fissure in a rocky overhang within the forest, the entrance overgrown with brambled and other scraggly plants. And waited, glad that it would not be for long; he was unused to hanging upside-down, but had discovered that in the form of the tiny bat he occupied there was really no way to comfortably sit upright for any length of time.

The howls rapidly grew closer, and soon he heard something crashing through the undergrowth at the cave entrance. He had summoned several deer and sent them in differing directions to split the pack, but had directed the one magnificent stag he had created this way, confident that the pack leader would wish this kill for himself. As the panicked deer ran below him the druid began casting his next spell, completing it with a smile as the huge grey wolf passed in hot pursuit.

The swarm of bats Twitch had summoned appeared between deer and wolf, apparently startled from roost by the stag’s passage. The werewolf barrelled through the bats without a thought- the creatures nipping at its hide could be deadly to most animals, but the magical defences of the lycanthrope made them nothing but minor annoyances. Annoyances which would not distract it from its prey.

Perhaps, had it not been intent on the hunt, the fell wolf would have noticed that the last bat to alight on its back was slightly larger than the others, and was holding itself separate from the main swarm. Twitch delivered the last of his spells with a quick bite to the wolf’s hide, unconcerned about penetrating its magical protection, then flew out of the cave mouth and began winging his way back westward to his home.

The contagion he had delivered to the werewolf would, he hoped, weaken the creature without arousing suspicion. After all, bats were renowned as carriers of all sorts of diseases, and while the one he had infected the pack leader with was not one of these, he doubted the creature would know the difference. Disease was not one of his weapons that Twitch was particularly keen on using, and his use of it here would no doubt draw frowns from some members of the druids’ council. It was for this reason that he decided to use one that would not be deadly, instead opting for a sickness that would weaken and perhaps even blind. Surely enough to allow the other werewolf to usurp its position in the pack. And Twitch had to admit to himself he did find it a fitting form of attack, given the beast’s penchant for infecting others with its own foul curse.

Of course, it may not work; like all diseases, there was a chance the host would simply fight it off, and he imagined that werewolves would be more robust in that regard than the average creature. But it was all he could come up with at short notice that would be subtle enough, with his journey eastward with his companions to begin on the morrow. If on his return he discovered it had not been effective, he would have had plenty of time on the road to concoct an alternative plan. And, with luck, would even have the knowledge he needed to create a true guardian for the Whisperwood.

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