Kenai Peninsula, Alaska -- January 5, 1905
The arctic night was so black and crisp, Adam Lowell felt like he could reach out and actually touch it. The winds picked up the icy snow and swirled clouds of needle-sharp, white crystals through the bitter air, nearly obscuring the small clearing he had chosen for his campsite.
Adam pulled the thick bearskin robe tightly around his broad shoulders and hunkered down by the fire. With the help of the stiff breeze, his long, straight hair pulled free of its usual leather tie, cascading past his shoulders like a black waterfall. Gusts of wind made the thick hair dance around his face, first obliterating, then accenting his sharp facial features.
First-born son of German trapper Frank Lowell and his beautiful native Alaskan wife Wenona, Adam was a striking man. At six foot four, two hundred and forty pounds, he was the embodiment of a dark Dena'ina warrior the likes of which had not been seen for several generations. A combination of the best of both his parents, Adam had his father's towering build, enduring strength and quick intelligence. He also possessed his mother's sharp-boned, dark good looks, honed survival instincts, and, as he was finding out in recent months, her spiritual link to her ancient fore-fathers.
Since the first full moon of this year, Adam's thirty-fifth year of life, spiritwalkers had visited his dreams more nights than not. Despite his father's attempts to isolate him from his mother's heritage, Adam found himself uncontrollably drawn to his native Indian culture. Especially on the nights like tonight, when the winds called and the moon shone full and bright. Tonight the moon had a rusty orange veil over it Adam had never seen before. He basked in the light, its hazy glow warming his spirit.
The winds beckoned him, stirring his blood like they stirred the restless snows now swirling around his head. They made him leave the comfort and safety of his father's settlement, luring him farther and farther into the frozen night and the dangers of the untamed wilderness that surrounded his world. Tonight the winds said they were summoning him home, a home Adam had never seen.
A natural born hunter, an experienced predator of the less skilled and weaker species that inhabited his territory, Adam preferred to hunt at night, stalking the stalkers -- the foraging bear, the sly wild cat, the roving wolf. Many of the prize pelts his father's trading store sold were the results of his nights spent on the prowl by moonlight. On these special nights, Adam was at the top of his game. Nothing escaped his rifle's sights. He was the ultimate primal hunter, winds in his face and senses honed.
But tonight, the winds sang a new tune in his ears. Orange moonbeams illuminating his path, leading him deeper and deeper into the frozen tundra, Adam was pulled past the borders of familiar territory farther than he had ever traveled before. Tonight, Adam felt the call of the spiritwalkers.
Respectful of the spirit world and the demands of the Ancient Ones, Adam took care in choosing a clearing to take his rest. There he built a small fire and waited for the anticipated dream-quest he instinctively knew would descend upon him. Just before midnight, a heavy exhaustion clouded his mind and drained his usually substantial strength. He let the creeping lethargy claim him and sleep swiftly followed. Crouched low by the sputtering fire, tucked deep into the folds of his thick bearskin robe, surrounded by miles of glacial fields devoid of other human life, Adam Lowell began to dream.
In his dream, Adam became his spirit totem, the gray wolf. A huge, black-coated animal, long-legged, with rusty orange eyes, the color of this night's foreboding moon. The only vestige of his human form still present were the two silver bands braided into his long black fur on the left side of his head. He could feel their weight swing against his face as he ran through the frozen landscape, over hills and into the dense forests of tall trees, spurred on by the instinctive knowledge that something followed close behind.
Eventually, he became aware of several more wolves joining him on the run. The pack came from behind and down the hills on both sides, forming a semi-circle around him, but never out-distancing him or coming up to run neck-and-neck with him. He knew he was the leader of the pack, alpha male, the biggest and strongest.
After what seemed like hours, Adam slowed and the pack responded to his lead, slowing with him, gathering closer until he came to a halt in a small clearing just like the one the human Adam had chosen. The pack groveled and nipped, howling acceptance or half-hearted taunts at him, though no one made a serious gesture to challenge him. Adam suddenly felt a bond of kinship with these animals that his human half-breed spirit had never experienced.
Feeling oddly content with the surreal situation, Adam looked down to study the massive paws in front of him, awed by the size and the power of his new canine form. A beam of rusty moonlight fell across his forelegs. As he watched, his legs stretched and grew, mutating to a bizarre version somewhere between wolf and human. Panting, he raised fur-covered hands to his face to find a snout. It was thickset, sharply angled and covered in short, coarse hair. He sported pointed ears, a thick mane of heavy, protective fur at his neck and teeth that had tripled in size and length. He was morphing once again, from primal wolf to ancient skinwalker.
A sudden chorus of forlorn howls rose up from the surrounding pack. Shocked, Adam's gaze darted up to witness the same transformations occurring all around him as his pack of wolves, male and female alike, changed.
Startled by the too real, blood chilling howls, Adam jarred awake from his dream-quest, panting hard and covered in sweat, happy to be back in the real world. His relief was short-lived. His dream-clouded eyes struggled to focus on his shadow-shrouded surroundings. Once clear, they settled on a pair of rusty-orange, glowing eyes set in a huge, square, black fur-covered face less than a foot away from his own. Before Adam had time to reach for the pistol on his belt, the massive wolf was on him, tearing at the flesh of his arms, shoulders, and finally his neck.
Adam cried out, the pain of the short-lived attack excruciating. He fell to the ground in a heap on the bear robe, his body ravaged, his mind clouded with questions and his life ebbing away.
Around the fire, the nearby shadows danced, and the sound of flutes and drums was carried on the winds. The flames of the fire flared then rose high in the night sky. Adam felt his spirit leave his body and soar up into the air with them. Chanting joined the music and a surge of power tore through Adam's weakening body. Unbridled strength and self-assurance replaced the pain and fear, and a sense of purpose filled Adam's soul as his spirit returned to him.
The last thing the human Adam Lowell saw before he passed out was the creature destined to be a part of him for all time. The black beast that had attacked him was the last of the nearly extinct species of massive gray wolf which scientists call 'canis lupus alces', but was better known in Adam's native culture as skinwalker, or werewolf.