Yet at the same time, often I can't stand that sort of story either, which is odd, since that's what I've ended up writing here. Instead of a constant, smooth narrative, it leaps between several different characters and even locations to nudge them along a bit. The time is even odd, Cezar and Anika are a day or so ahead of the other characters, which means I'll have some catchup to do.
Still, it is a useful tool for what I'm trying to do, the "disaster movie" approach to storytelling where you introduce multiple characters and then bring them together in some ghastly event that tests men's souls. Hopefully its working here, because it is such an integral part of the story I can't discard the device.
Cezar looked into Aniela's dark eyes, the pupils so large in the dark there was almost no color showing. He could see her full lips and soft skin clearly in the darkness. Aniela could barely see a glint on Cezar's eyes and his vague form. If you tell her and she doesn't like it, the beast snarled within him, you know what you'll have to do. Cezar closed his eyes and, feeling unworthy and blasphemous, uttered a little prayer. Then he told his story.
"I was young, in my teens when I met an old man who lived near my village of Brejoi in the mountains. He had a hut in the forest, away from the village, I only found him by hunting in a valley the others avoided. I didn't catch any deer that day but I found someone who became a friend."
Cezar's eyes looked into the distance, into the past through Aniela's eyes.
"He was a strange man, he did not look so terribly old, but he seemed ancient, like he was as old as the mountains. He taught me about the forest, about the history of the area, he taught me the stars and the winds. I knew much about life in the mountains, but he taught me more than I thought possible. For years I visited him, although the villagers thought it odd. He gave me a cloak of wolf's skin that would mask my smell from the animals, help me blend in. It became my favorite clothing, I always wore it to visit him and to hunt.
"A sorcerer he was called, a warlock. Dangerous, Satanic. He never seemed it to me, only a wise old man who knew much and was a friend. He knew much of medicines that even the midwives were unaware of, what herbs would heal and harm and perhaps that was why they called him warlock. At least that was what I thought. The priest would often talk with me, warning me away from the old man, telling me he was wicked, that I should stay home. That he would corrupt my soul.
"Yet for years, it was an ... an academic topic. Something to mutter about and warn a young man over, but nothing of terrible concern in the timeless repetition of seasons in a small mountain village. They thought me odd and perhaps bewitched, but still were friendly enough as I was the best hunter by this point and brought food in even the coldest of winters."
Aniela lay still listening. Cezar couldn't have been more than thirty, yet he was talking of a king dead for decades now. Of times before either of them could have been born. She felt slightly sick inside, was he a madman?
"Then the drought struck. It was dry one winter," Cezar continued, "with little snow. The spring had almost no rain, the creeks dried up. The wells dried up. The game moved to lower ground, the crops would not grow. Children began to die. The town began to look for reasons, they turned to the priest for guidance. A judgment from God, he declared, for the people's turning away. Too rarely did they come to mass, too little did they teach the children, too often were they clinging to the old superstitions. Return to God, he said, perhaps He may show mercy.
"The people didn't care for that answer. They liked the old ways, they didn't care for teaching of God, they preferred to sleep on Sunday mornings. It must be something else. So they looked for another reason, and they saw me. Cezar, he is practicing deviltry with the old man of the mountain! He is with the sorcerer, in league with the Devil! The priest tried to tell them that Satan was no match for God, that they needed faith and prayers, but the people preferred torches and billhooks. I came home with a hind after a hunt of many days, and found angry, accusing eyes.
"They seized me, burned the deer for having been captured with witchcraft, for who could have caught game in this drought? How could I be so good at hunting? I must have bewitched the animals, used dark magic to find them. Maybe if I died, there would be rain."
Cezar could still see the mob in the village square, his former friends angry and filled with hate. He could see in their eyes the accusations, hear their bitter cries. It was your fault it all went wrong, they cried. Even father.
He was silent a while, remembering, and catching a small scent of fear and revulsion from Aniela. It was too late to turn back now.
"The seized me, and the priest alone would defend me. Father Andreu, my only friend left in the village. He thought me wrong, he thought me probably lost, but he also thought me one of his sheep. He argued with the crowd, called them to be merciful, appealed to the Word. They rejected him until my father finally argued that the priest was right - we should not cut off the fruit of witchcraft, but the heart of it. Kill the sorcerer and the boy might be saved.
"All eyes turned on me. Everyone I knew in the world other than the old man was there, eager to kill me, perhaps burn me alive. They all had hate and fear in their hollowed, hungry eyes. They would kill me, I knew it. I recognized the look in their eyes I'd seen in the eyes of predators. They saw me no longer as a fellow man, no longer as a villager. They saw me as the enemy, as the source of their suffering. Better that I die than others.
"I feared them, formerly the ones I loved and laughed with. A girl there, Camelia, she was my first, fumbling love in a meadow of flowers just last summer. She looked at me with hate and accusation along with the rest. They would kill me, and I could not escape. They would hang me at the very least, burn me almost certainly. I would find no mercy from them. I wanted to live.
"I formed a plan, I could lead them to the old man and they would exile me, far away from their village, never to return. All I had to do was keep the old man from using his magics. Take him by surprise and he could not turn the foul forces of evil against them, they argued. Do this and you may live. My plan was to lead them into the forest I knew so well and use my skills to escape. Once away, their best hunters would be hard pressed to find me, if they even tried.
"So we set out into the mountains, but the biggest men of the village held me. One on each arm, one behind me. They had dogs with them, and the dogs snapped and snarled at me, sensing their master's hate. I looked for a way out, I tried to think of a way to escape. I feigned thirst, and was ignored - they all were thirsty. I pointed out game that was not there, and they said there would be meat for everyone once they were done. They were pitiless, relentless. We reached the valley of the old man, and after a superstitious pause, forged on. The priest stayed behind, he would not join this procession. What became of him I know not, whether he remained in the village and tried to win them away from their anger and fear or if he left them to their damnation, I never learned.
Aniela's heart beat hard in her breast, as she listened. Despite herself she felt the tension, the anxiety. This was too close to home, the betrayal of loved ones, the sudden brutal sense of violence. Every day she lived in fear of having those she knew turn on her, on being captured.
Cezar's voice was sad now, thick with emotion. "I was sent ahead, the men of the village armed with their hunting weapons pointed at me. Betray them and be cut down, they warned me, and their eyes said we hope you do. How they could have turned so completely on me I still cannot understand. Fear makes us do horrible, evil things, is the only answer I can think of. I was strange, they were desperate.
"Alone I approached the old man's hut and he welcomed me in as always. He saw my anxiety, yet thought it was because of the drought. He began to teach me how to find water, showing me a barrel of clear spring water he had. Then the shout came from outside: 'in the name of God you shall burn, warlock! Try not your wicked sorcery upon us!"' Torches were hurled onto the thatched roof, against the wooden walls. I fled out the door and shots tore into the wood, perhaps aimed at me, perhaps to keep the old man from following.
"The old man... I can hear his voice still." Cezar's voice was ragged now, "he called me Judas. He called me betrayer, and in his voice I could hear the same confusion and hurt that I felt at the villagers: what did I do to you? How could you turn on me so?
"I ran to join the villagers, hoping they would forgive me, that they would take me back, and it would all be like it was. In my heart I knew it was not so, I would always remind them of this day, of when they went mad. As I ran, though, I heard the old man, speaking in a voice I'd never heard from him. It was clear and strong like a slamming coffin lid, thundering over the wind and the flames and the villagers voices, over the gunshots.
"'Betrayer!' he cried, "'Cursed shall you be! Forever more, you shall wear the wolf's hide! You took gifts from me and repaid me with death! You shall never die, and always long for it!!'
The voice seemed to echo off the valley's walls and into my soul. I felt as if ice had formed around my guts, chilled through in terror. Something black and horrible clawed its way into my soul. The villagers began to scream, backing away from me. They scrambled to reload their guns as they stared at me. I could feel what they could see: the wolf skin was moving on my back, crawling upon me, digging into me. It sank into my flesh and I could feel every awful moment, making me scream in terror. The wolf's pelt was gone, it became a part of me, and that day I felt... I felt the beast, within my soul."
And I shall never leave you it purred within Cezar.
"The villagers forgot the old man, forgot the fire in the valley, forgot their hunger and began to chase me. I felt their bullets hit my flesh, I heard their cries and calls of death. Nothing stopped me, nothing slowed me. I ran, and ran and ran. I kept running that day, that night, for days, without stopping. I ran until I reached a river and swam across it. The horror on my back was still there, behind me. I ran until I realized I could not escape it again, ever. It was not on me any more, it was in my back. I wandered for days, until the moon was full.
"That was when the terror truly began."