Aftermath

Original post to Darkwind’s Garou Board as "Wolf Tales (20)"

Revised 03.11.2021

Leader lies on the ground, exhausted and watches in disbelief as the Pup slowly walks up the little mound, despite not being fully recovered either. "Not finished"? What did the Pup mean? What's so important? Another wolf trots by and falls in behind the Pup -- Younger Sister, apparently recovered enough. Leader watches as both wolves go up the little hill.

Oh, but this is a fine thing! he thinks, being careful to keep it only to himself and not let it out via pack talk. A fine thing, indeed! My two youngest pups continue on while I, their Leader, lie here unable to move?! I'd never hear the end of it! He rouses himself, grimaces with the effort. Elbows, hands, knees and finally, painfully, on his feet. He yanks his halberd out of Dancer's corpse and follows the two pups up the hill.

Rikard? queries Leader.

Keeper doesn't answer. From Shanti come no specific words, but a strong feeling of worry.

Natalia?

Be fine, answers Older Sister, still a few kilometers to the rear at the original battle site.

Leader promises himself that he'll see to them soon. First, see this thing, whatever it is, to the end.

With every step up the little hill, the Pup's anxiety increases. Only by sheer force of will does he manage to put one paw in front of the other. He knows he must go up there ... but not why. Nor does he know why it fills him with such irrational fear.

Liar. You know exactly why you need to go up there and you know exactly what you will find when you do.

No! I do not!

Denial. You have foreseen this. And now you will see it.

No.

Confront your fear.

NO!

The thought escapes into pack talk. He's unaware that he's standing still until he feels a soft nudge on his face. He opens his eyes and sees his pack sister staring at him, the image blurry because of the water that fills his eyes.

Little brother?

Pup just stands there. The memory returns despite his best effort to suppress it. He sees that he's just below the lip of the little hill. One more step and he'll see over the top. He trembles.

Marcus?

A clawed hand rests gently on his head. The Pup looks up into Leader's crinoid face. "The dream, Pup, isn't it?" Leader asks aloud. If any other human being were there, they would hear a much-garbled version of that sentence, but another Garou understands it perfectly.

Pup nods, still trembling.

Leader nods back. "Shamaness told me. I don't understand your bond to this thing. I cannot explain why you feel it and the rest of us do not. We can puzzle it out later. But right now, I need you to guide us. You're not alone. I'm right here with you."

Here too! chimes in Younger Sister and she licks his face.

Leader smiles at her and turnes back to Marcus. "Come. Let's end this together."

Pup nods and composes himself. He takes the last, deliberate step up the hill.

The top of the mound turns out to be the lip of a bowl. And there, down in the center of the depression, stands The Thing. Straight out of the Hell of his nightmare. The "Wyrm Tree", from the dream in which his packmates die before his eyes. Die attacking this monstrous Wyrmling. His heart pounds in his chest and his breathing takes on an unhealthy tempo.

"Easy now, Pup," reassures Leader. "Eaaaaasy. Focus! Tell us what you see."

The Pup closes his eyes and forces himself to relax, slow his breathing. Then he opens them again and looks at It.

It's the Tree-Thing, all right. But ... how strange ... he sees now that it's not the same as in his dream. The dream-Tree was large and omnipotent. But if "tree" it is, then this one is a mere "sapling". It has the same physical structure --"roots" in the ground, a "trunk" for a body and tentacled "branches" -- but it's too small.

Young. It is young.

Leader nods. "What else, Marc?"

It is...

He narrows his eyes in concentration. Something...

Weak.

But that's not all. More to-the-point, it's...

Dying!

And with that, Marcus bolts away and slides down the sides of the bowl, toward the Wyrm Sapling.

After a moment's hesitation, Sister and Leader slide down after him.

They ring it, careful to stay out of the reach of the tentacles -- "sapling", "weak", or "dying", it's still Wyrm. They regard it up close.

It's hungry, continues Marcus. Starving.

"What does it want?" asks Leader.

Blood. Sacrifice.

"The villagers?"

Yes. Dying without.

"Do we attack?"

No. Almost gone now.

Indeed, the creature withers before their eyes. They do nothing -- merely wait, as it deteriorates. When it no longer moves and the remains of its tentacled tree-body are a dried-out husk, it dissolves into dust.

Marcus digs around it. The other two join in. When they encounter "roots", they stop and watch as the roots wither and dissolve before their eyes. They carefully dig further until they find no more.

The three Garou look at each other. And nod. They're finished here.

They run back to check on Rikard. He lies on the ground, unconscious, his body wrapped in whatever scraps of clothing Shanti was able to plunder from the battle.

"How is he?" asks Leader.

She looks at him with eyes that are dark-ringed. "Unconscious. That's a blessing. He's stable, but ... I don't know how to treat this." She pauses. "I don't know if he's going to--" She swallows. "We need to get him back to the Sept. Now."

"You go."

She shakes her head. "I can't. That boy saved my life back there. He needs me too and I promised I'd return. There's nothing more I can do for Rikard, anyway. He needs wiser heads."

"The Uktena."

"Yes."

Leader nods. He looks at Rikard's face for the first time. It's pockmarked with angry, green boils. Leader winces. Shanti answers the unspoken question. "Yes, the rest of him looks like that too. I -- I just don't know."

Leader nods again. "All right. Quickly, now. Let's build a litter for him." He turns to the two Pups. "Jemi. Marcus. You two will go fastest. Haul him to the Sept. Give him to the Uktena. They'll know what to do."

15 minutes pass and it's done. Leader and Shanti tie Rikar's unconscious body to the litter and harness it to the two lupus Pups. Leader kneels down and speaks to them. "Be careful how you drag him. That's not a 'nice' litter he's on. But don't be too careful -- speed is important now. Understand?"

Two wolfish heads nod. "Go, my Pups!" And they're off.

That finished, Leader and Shanti quickly cover the distance back to the original battle site. Natalia is sitting up, a crude bandage covering her forehead. She looks tired, but otherwise in one piece. She smiles as the two approach.

Shanti sweeps her eyes around to take in the villagers. They're in a pitiful state -- still under shock from the night's trauma. But here and there, some of them move amongst their neighbors, offering what help and comfort they can. The boy she met earlier sees her and hurries over. He drops to one knee and bows his head. "Our Savior," he says.

Shanti looks distinctly uncomfortable and quickly helps him to his feet. "If anyone is to bow here, young sir, then I shall do so to you. I owe you my life."

The boy gives a shrug and looks uncomfortable himself.

She smiles. "My name is Shanti. These are my packm-- ... my friends. That's Natalia and this big fellow is Nagha. What's your name?"

The boy stands up a little straighter, looking more like a young man. "Harel, my lady. My father is -- my father was -- Horrac, Chief of the Village."

Shanti nods with a serious expression. "You are the chief's son. I'm very sorry for your loss."

The young man drops his eyes and nods. "Thank you."

Shanti leans over until her eyes are level with his. "You're a very brave fellow. What you did for me today will always leave me in your debt. But now you have even more important work to do. Do you realize this?"

The young man glances around at the other villagers and then back at Shanti. He nods nervously.

"They need you. You're the Chief now."

The boy swallows, but nods again.

"My friends and I will help you. We have much to do, so let us begin."

"Yes," agrees the new Chief. He turns, then looks back, a puzzled expression on his face. "Shanti, what ... what were those things that attacked us this night? There were ... wolves. And ... things that looked like ... wolfmen or something. What in...?" He trails off, confused.

Shanti lays a hand on his shoulder. "No. Just a band of very evil men. Probably slave traders. They like to wear wolfskins, and they travel with large dogs, the meanest they can find and train."

"But --"

The Shamaness shakes her head and holds his gaze. "It was dark, you were asleep when they came and your shock is severe. The mind plays tricks. You saw only what they wanted you to see, to increase your fear and confusion. It's over now. Let's go see to your people."

The young Chief frowns ... but then relaxes. "Yes, of course, he replies. "Makes perfect sense. What else could it have been?" Then resolutely, "Yes, my people. Let us see to them now."

The young man and the three strangers turn to their task as the sun comes over the horizon.