Mirko froze, his muscles locking and sweat springing out on his brow. His staff was still in his hand, and his brain was screaming at him to move, defend! The landscape around him seemed to sharpen, the beginning twilight suddenly seeming more like sepia. The lead wolf crouched slightly, tensing its back legs to spring. Suddenly his muscles seemed to unlock, and he brought the staff up in front of him, his own knees bending, lowering his centre of gravity and improving his stability. The lead wolf immediately relaxed its crouch, though it continued to snarl.
The stand-off persisted, seconds dragging by like minutes, and Mirko felt his legs tremble a little. He could maintain this stance for hours; it was part of combat training, but he'd been walking hard all day and his legs were showing it. He looked again at the wolves, gauging their size and positioning relative to one another, looking for an opening to strike where he wouldn't have to deal with two wolves striking back immediately. Almost as if aware of what his appraising eyes were judging, the wolves backed away a few feet and spread out slightly. Now Mirko would have to run forward, clearly indicating his target and opening his back to the other two.
Mirko edge backwards a couple of paces too, to see what the wolves would do. They edged forward by as much as he'd gone back, maintaining the distance between them. So, he thought, they want to keep me away from the grove. Is this something to do with that strange shape I saw there? He edged back a little more, and felt the ground beneath his feet begin to steepen again, and realised that he was edging both backwards and sidewards. The wolves came a little closer again.
Mirko gently lowered his staff until he could brace one end of it against the ground. The wolves watched, red tongues lolling out of grey muzzles, still snarling intermittently, but mostly taking it in turns. Bright eyes watched him, searching for signs of weakness. He knew it was risky trying to invoke magic now, the concentration it needed would leave him open to a wolf attack, so he'd have to try and balance his awareness of his magic with his awareness of the real world. Something else, he realised, that his druid training didn't seem to cover.
He settled his mind, pushing fear and anxiety to the back, put on hold but not forgotten, and then deepened his breathing. His heart-rate slowed, not as quickly as he'd like, but then he didn't normally try to do this with adrenaline racing through his system. Gently he reached out, and with a feeling like going cross-eyed, his perception of the world on the magical level merged with his perceptions of the real world. To his surprise, the sphere he'd perceived the grove as earlier extended several feet out from the grove, and the strange snub octahedron touched the boundaries exactly.
"So which came first?" he whispered to himself, and then realised that his sight of the wolves was degenerating into shadow. Quickly he adjusted his concentration and focus, bringing the two worlds back into rough equilibrium again. The wolves had come closer, spreading out still, though they halted when he could see them again.
The sphere was the obvious choice, if only because Mirko was a little afraid of the snub octahedron, and though the wolves had spread out, they weren't yet too far apart. Defining the group of wolves as one location in his mind and the sphere as the other, Mirko switched completely to the perception of his druid senses and linked the two locations together with a delicate grey thread. For a moment, the thread seemed just to hang there like a spider strand highlighted by sunlight, and then it thickened and twisted into a rope, and the vivid energy of the sphere surged along it like a tidal bore.
Mirko heard a startled yelp and a soft thump, and a foetid, hot stench rushed into his fence as though borne on a necrotic wind. He released the thread, dropping the connection and watching it disintegrate. Except it didn't disintegrate. The thread coiled around and up, shaping into a helix that could almost have been made from smoke. Mirko tried to drop back into the real world, anxious to get away from the coiling thread and find out if the wolves were still a threat, but something held him mind in place, fixating him like a butterfly on a mounting board.
Within the turning helix of thread, a gigantic eye began to open.