Copyright Jeff Anderstedt 1999
Friendly correspondence - 13
Leythan and Birq sauntered into the small ramshackle village conversing amiably. They had been up most of the night, and already the gentle glow of false dawn was starting to show over the thatched roofs of the dwellings.
The village had a misleading appearance of age, as it had only been there for about thirty years. The local weres had been without an Alpha before Birq had come across them, and had thus decided to remove themselves from the city lest discord in the pack slew over onto the normal population. Setting up a small village a few miles outside of the city had seemed the most prudent decision. Here they could settle disputes for leadership and dominance without panicking the general populace, or in some cases, facing murder charges. Before Birq arrived several small yet heated battles had been fought in this village, and it had been this rough treatment that lent to the buildings sense of old age. Most showed rake marks where talons had gouged inch deep troughs out of the walls and doors. Others showed charring and smoke damage where fires had started to grab hold of the buildings before they could be extinguished. Most however just showed signs of disrepair and neglect. Not to say that the shacks that doubled as homes were ready to fall apart, they were all quite structurally sound. Weres just didn't go for prim and proper. Bushes were not supposed to be trimmed, it wasn't natural. Wood weathered, and the scent of rotting wood was that of the forest. When blanks and boards rotted away too much they would be replaced, but to replace them for shear cosmetic value was unnatural. So the grass grew freely and the bushes sprouted which ever way they pleased. The homes that were in the worst condition were given just enough attention to once again bring them to a liveable status. Battle wounds the village had suffered over twenty years previous had faded with age, but never fully gone. Most would have snorted in disgust, but to Leythan the village, or den as the weres preferred to call it, represented home.
The two weres, teacher and student, walked towards the hut that Leythan had been given on the far side of the village. It was not much more than a shack, having only room enough for a bedding area and a small cooking area made of rough bricks. The shack shared the same relationship with the village that Leythan himself shared with the pack. It was on the fringes, not quite part of the village proper, but it still came under its protective ambience.
As the two of them reached the centre of the small village and drew close to the hovel that Birq called home, they paused.
"You have now learnt how to accept yourself, boy, I give you a day to yourself so you might appreciate the lesson. Koragch however, is not so giving. He told me yesterday that you have not been attending all the weapons classes that you should. I would attend them more regularly if I were you before he finds some way to improve your attendance that you would not like."
Birq had lost the frivolity that he'd had when they had first set out from the clearing, falling once again into his cold and detached persona. He was no longer Birq his friend but Birq the instructor, Birq the assassin, Birq the Alpha.
Leythan started to comment that he had wanted to attend the classes Koragch had assigned him but that he had been working hard to come to terms with his beast. The older man held up a hand silencing him before he could get more than the first word out of his mouth.
"I know that I have been working you hard of late, but you must not forsake one side of your life to better know the other. It creates unbalance. If you are set upon while you are as a man you might not have time to become were to fight. If that is the case then you must fight as a man. You cannot proceed with your chosen profession in were form, as I'm sure you know. Some could but even you are not that good a thief yet, so you must learn to fight as a man."
"You remember the lesson with daggers. How would you rather face me? When I am a man or when I am a were?"
Leythan remembered that lesson all too clearly. His hand had been all but useless for a week. He had expected Koragch to be upset that he had to miss going on a mission. It had been planned for Leythan during the time he was healing from his injury, but the crime lord had merely look inquisitively at his second in command before shrugging his shoulders and dismissing them both. Leythan got the impression that others before him with the same teacher had fared far worse.
"Neither. I will go to Koragch's lessons from now on." Leythan sighed.
"Good. Now go and get some sleep." Birq turned and walked into his shack.
The young were had only travelled a few steps before he heard Birq calling him back. Turning, Leythan felt his heart leap. Birq was impatiently standing in the door to his home holding a thin envelope. It could be from only one of two sources, either the twins were writing to let him know how things were back home, or his young friend Liulni had finally got around to writing him again. The twins were the less likely source as neither of them was particularly adept at writing, but at least they tried. More likely than not it was a letter from Liulni telling him of the latest of her trips around the continent. A warm smile warm smile was just beginning to form at the corners of his mouth when his eyes met Birq's. The Alpha was not impressed.
"From here on in you will not have your correspondence routed through me. All correspondence that I receive is pressing and work related. I am not some Longstrider priest who is here to cater to your needs for communication. You can pick up your own mail in town, my runner has better things to do than fetch correspondence for you from your little elven girlfriend."
Well at least I know who it's from now, thought Leythan.
"As a matter of fact, maybe you wouldn't mind fetching my correspondence when you go into town to collect your own? Yes, that's a grand idea. From now on you can fetch me my mail from Koragch's before your weapons classes. The mile run there, back, and there again for your classes should give you a nice little warm up."
A nice little warm up? If Leythan didn't start sleeping at night instead of learning about Werekind, that nice little run would slowly kill him. Without meaning to, he groaned aloud.
"Oh, quit whining. You won't be at classes all night anymore, since you have learned most of what I can teach you. Most of the rest you have to teach yourself. However, if you irritate Koragch any more than you already have I wouldn't be surprised to see him take over any spare time you might think you have. Now, take this letter and go home. You still have today off from me, use it wisely."
Handing the young were the letter, the alpha turned and started to go inside.
"Birq. She's not my girlfriend.", was all that Leythan had time to say before the door was closed in his face.
Memories of a friend - 14
Leythan whistled cheerily as he walked back to his hut. It was one of the few joys of being in human form, whistling that is. Not only was it something that kept him occupied, but it drove anyone in wereform nuts. Leythan never managed to hit the right notes and the cacophony of squealing that this caused in the ultra-sonic hearing range was, so he had been told, quite distracting. He, of course, had never been able to hear it and probably never would as he doubted that he would ever be able to whistle when he was in wereform.
It was his little way of letting Birq know that he had not won a great victory tonight. He had been rebuked for things that he was deserving of being punished for, but he had also completed a very valuable lesson tonight and wanted to let the older Alpha know that his mood could not be dampened. To top things off, he had also received a letter from a friend of his that would make fine reading material as he bedded down for the morning.
Birq did not approve of his friendship with the young elven girl, as he thought that it was more than just friendship. Interspecies dating was not something most weres approved of, as they felt that it weakened the blood, not to mention that it would mean that seeing someone outside of the pack. Leythan was not of the pack so the alpha could not stop him from seeing anyone he wanted, but even so Liulni was just a friend.
They had met three years previous, when he was working in an instrument shop in Deslin. When she had first wandered in he had thought her no more than any other customer. The master of the shop, Noru Trevil was also an Elf and specialised in elven instruments, so seeing a young elven girl enter the shop was not something out of the ordinary. He had known that he would be sent to take care of her needs. She hadn't been dressed in overly expensive clothing, and was on the homely side of plain.
Leythan wasn't much better looking himself but he considered this an asset in his present place of employment. Noru was such an overt flaming homosexual that he brought new meaning to the term fairy. He was currently in the back room fawning over a new batch of cosmetics that he had purchased that morning. Besides being an instrument maker of some note, Noru had also padded his income by doing cosmetics and rather flamboyant hairstyles for some of the wealthier ladies in the city. He was actually quite good at what he did, thus putting him in no small demand. Because of this, Leythan found more often than not he had the run of the store to himself.
He had placed the rags he had been using to polish the instruments down on the side of counter and approached the young girl.
"Welcome to Noru's Instrument Shop. Which of our high quality instruments could I interest you in today?" Leythan had asked, spouting off the sales pitch that Noru had forced him to memorise, showing the sincerity of the truly bored.
The young elf looked him over, appraising him in a slow glance. She paused, looking slightly underwhelmed when she had reached his face.
Shrugging as if he was something she would have to settle with, she said "I'm looking for something in an unusual key." She then seemed to watch Leythan too closely.
This wasn't such an abnormal request, and definitely it hadn't been worth the enigmatic manner in which she had said it. She had kept looking Leythan over as if waiting for some kind of secret signal or handshake. He wrote her off as eccentric, itself not a rare thing in a shop owned by a personality like Noru, and decided to try and salvage a commission out of this encounter if nothing else.
"If you would just care to tell me what manner of instrument you are looking for, I'm sure we could find one in any key you would like, miss....." he had attempted to sway the conversation towards a sale.
"No, no, no... I said, I'm looking for something in an unusual key!" Her eyebrows did a strange dance.
"Yes miss, and if you would just care to tell me what instrument you play I woul..." Leythan tried to get out before she interrupted.
"Listen to me!" she leaned in very close. "I'm looking for something in an UNUSUAL KEY!" she had said the last with force in an attempt to get some message across that was completely escaping the young man's thought process. He had decided to switch tracks before things got out of hand and he lost the sale.
"Let me show you the instruments that we have in D minor. It's all the rage amongst the bardic set, I've heard. It makes for a hauntingly eerie accompaniment when played....".
The young were had trailed off when he saw that she was not listening but instead had closed her eyes and was shaking her head as if she was an instructor with a particularly daft pupil. One of her hands rubbed a temple.
"What I don't go through..." Leythan heard her whisper under her breath. Her head came up and then she said "Now let's try this just one last time. Stop me if I'm speaking too fast for you. I...am...looking...do you have that part? Good. I am looking for something in an....now this is the important part....UNUSUAL KEY. I hope I made that clear enough." the sarcasm had dripped from her voice like honey poured onto morning bread.
This was carrying things just a little too far. The young man wasn't one to pass by a sale but this condescending little wench was being just a little too bizarre for him. He had decided that the sale was no longer worth the trouble.
"I'm sorry miss, but I haven't the foggiest idea what you are talking about. If I can interest you in one of our beautifully crafted flutes, or any other instrument, I will do so gladly but if I cannot then I have other work to tend to. Thank you, and good morning." As he turned his back to her to retrieve his polishing rags he could still hear her muttering under her breath as she walked to the door, something about the dreams having told her that he would understand. Leythan hid a smile. She was definitely a few notes off key herself.
When he reached for his rags in his distracted state, he accidentally knocked them over the counter and onto the floor behind. He leaned over the counter and bent double to grab them off the floor, his legs lifting high in the air, and the blood rushing to his head. Gravity pulled at the thong on his neck, the only token from his childhood. It fell out of his shirt and displayed itself in front of his eyes. It sat on its cushion of dirty rags as if to ask him how in any lifetime could he be so stupid. It might have been made of common iron, but its design was anything but common. To this date it was by far the most unusual key he had ever seen.
Without taking time to think, he snatched up the key and ran headlong out into the street leaving the storefront open and abandoned. Thinking he had seen the little elf girl turn south he made a sharp right to run up the wooden walk adjoining the shops on the block, and promptly fell flat on his face.
"The dream also told me you would fall into my way of thinking but this wasn't what I thought it meant."
Leythan turned and saw that the girl hadn't walked away but had merely sat down beside the main door to the shop. It had been her legs that he had tripped over. He had taken some small satisfaction in the fact that she now sat there rubbing the bruise he had caused when his foot had struck her shin.
He had quickly got to his feet in an attempt to salvage what little dignity he had left.
"Ummm...why don't we go back inside, miss? Maybe I can help you after all." he said as he offered her a hand to help her to her feet.
She had smiled and accepted. That was how Leythan had met young Liulni Crea'Vita, and the memory still brought chuckles to him.
The letter - 15
The door to Leythan's shack was older than the shack itself, and the wood was starting to grow moss in patches. It hung precariously on two large metal hinges that creaked and groaned as if in some past life they had been victims of torture. The shack itself was not much to see, just somewhere dry that he might sleep and keep his belongings. It's only two items that kept it from being barren were the straw pallet Leythan slept on and the small brick cooking space that doubled as a fireplace when it was cold.
The young were entered his home and lit a candle before collapsing on his bed. It had been a hard night and he was exhausted, but at least the lesson had been learnt. He could now relax and read his friends letter before drifting off into a dreamless slumber. No one required him early tomorrow morning since Birq had given him the days leave, so he might even get to sleep late!
He brought the letter closer to the candle light so that he could check the seal. It was just a private letter and doubtfully bore any news of dramatic proportion but it was always good to keep an eye open for unjustified curiosity. That habit kept thieves alive. The seal was intact as usual, and the letter was addressed to him in the flowing script that Liulni had.
As he went to break the seal, he noticed that it came off all to easily in his hands. Picking it up to examine it he noticed a pattern on the back that spoke of the seals removal and an amateurish attempt at melting it once again to the letter. Damn Birq! Had he taken to reading his mail now too? No, if Birq had wanted to read his mail Leythan knew that he would never find out. This work was far too inadequate to be Birq's. Probably one of the other students under Koragch's tutelage was looking for something to hold over him. He hoped Liulni hadn't mentioned anything about his key. If she had he would now have to guard it with his life lest some greedy student get hold of it.
According to Liulni, her father was in possession of a key that was the twin of his, with one exception. It was made of silver. Considering that he was a were, he was quite happy not to have that key in his possession, with the exception that the key was probably worth a fair amount, knowing the value of silver.
After the initial awkwardness of their first meeting, Leythan and Liulni had grown to be close friends. The younger elf girl's warm hearted friendliness had penetrated Leythan's defences and dispelled his usual reticence about associating with people outside the orphanage. They had spent almost the entire time she was in Deslin together and formed a bond of friendship that could not be broken by the distances that separated them. Neither could by now even guess at how many letters the two of them had sent back and forth from destination to destination.
Liulni had chosen to follow the ways of magic and seemed to be becoming somewhat of a mage. When they had been together in Deslin, Leythan had confided in her that he had been known to occasionally confiscate materials that were not his by right. He had thought to be honest with her so as not to give a false impression and had felt she would surely forget about him after that point. Instead she had laughed and clapped, and then shown him how to cast a very simple spell that would allow him to read magic runes on swords and daggers so he could better value them for resale. It was a game at first... Leythan would find a dagger or some other small weapon of no real value that was marked with runes, and then fetch it so she could tell him how to spell the reading. More than once they had almost been caught, as she had loved to watch him work from fairly close quarters so as not miss any details. In the end they would take their prize and run to some dark alley to laugh and giggle like babes over it.
Those had been very good times for Leythan and some of the few that he looked back on with fondness. He was happy to hear from his friend again and swore to write a return letter during his time off tomorrow.
He opened the envelope and removed the letter, holding it at a better angle to the candle.
As he read a cold chill swept over him, and had he been in his wereform his hackles would have risen. His mind whirled and contorted, trying vainly to get a grip on the situation his friend was in. Koragch would help him. He would know what to do.
Rising, he barely took time to place the letter on his bed and blow out the candle that was his light source. As he put the letter down he found the seal that had fallen off with far too much ease, and now he knew why it had. Jailers always checked the correspondence of their prisoners, particularly ones slated for execution.
He crushed the seal in his hand as he rose to leave. Koragch would be up by now and if Leythan started running now he could be at the large man's office only minutes after he had arrived. No time was to be lost. Liulni's life was at stake!
A friend in need - 16
"But I know that you have influence in Solo! You have to help me! You can add the price of the papers to my indenture. I don't care how many years it adds, but if they don't get sent off soon she'll die. They'll execute her, and I know in my soul that there is no way that she could be part of at that cult. Please, I'm begging you, she's one of the few beings that would be my friend when I was young. I can't let her die!"
Leythan was in a panic. He had burst into the crime lord's office minutes after Koragch had arrived himself. His best friend Liulni was in a Solo jail, slated for execution for being a member of the Vardex death cult. According to the letter, she had been found fleeing from the site of a human sacrifice. She had tried to plead her innocence to the authorities, to no avail...any evidence indicating she was telling the truth had disappeared. Liulni did not know why anyone would go to such trouble to set her up to look guilty. Leythan believed her; he knew she was innocent! Any so-called evidence pointing towards her guilt in this heinous act was obviously a lie. If his new patron wouldn't allow him to buy the documents his forgers could manufacture to get her proven innocent, then he would go to Solo on his own and break her out of jail.
"You have to help me, I'll do anything you want!" he begged, almost on the verge of hysteria.
The paunchy man leaned back in his chair, slowly looking Leythan over. This was a pleasant turn of events. It was rare that this upstart realized his place. He had raced through his primary classes with a speed that had been most astounding, leaving his younger classmates envious and extremely jealous. It had made for hard feelings throughout the apprentices. The young man's ego had grown to the point of becoming cocky. He had repeatedly skipped his weapons training, instead preferring to stick to the thieving and breaking and entering that came almost naturally to him. Perchance this was the perfect opportunity to snap him back in line and still make some extra profit in the deal.
"What you ask is no mean feat, youngster. Getting the message to Solo in time in and of itself is no mean task, let alone having the documents drawn up and delivered into the right hands. Justice is swift in Solo, and these are very serious charges. You know that I will stomach no dealings in sentient sacrifice, I find the very thought repulsive. I will need extra reassurance in order to feel comfortable that I am doing the right thing. Money alone will not give me these reassurances. I will want you to prove the worth of your friend by giving of yourself to the organization in a most demanding fashion. If you are confident enough in your friend's person to give me an extra year of your life in nothing less than feudal obligation I will consider it. To seal the deal immediately you would have to also consent to an extra two hours of training in weapons a day under the tutelage of none other than myself. This is to insure that you will not be able to wheedle your way out of the classes as you do with your other instructors. As well, you will pay for the papers and messengers yourself will the extra few baubles that you have absconded with on your last few assignments." He chuckled to himself as the young thief's head snapped up at the last statement. "What's the matter Leythan? Surely you didn't expect us not to know of your little extras. Were you hoping to squirrel them away and buy your way out of servitude that much earlier, or did you just want to set yourself up a little thieves trove in case of emergency? I hope it was the later because one of the first lessons you were taught was to always be prepared for the worst. Because of this I will let you keep 50 gold of what you have stashed away. That should be enough to cover any bribes you might need to offer up in the near future." He had intentionally left the amount owing nebulous as the young man could quite possibly have a larger sum than Koragch thought.
Leythan's eyes got really big and round. "But you always cover bribes for your students¼"
"Ah yes, and had you attended all the classes you were supposed to I would still consider you a full student. However because you have missed your last five weapons classes you obviously must be proficient enough not to require student status anymore. Should you attend all future classes, and with my being your personal teacher I will know if you have, your status as apprentice will be reinstated." the flabby man grinned smugly across his desk at the young were.
He could tell the young man was trying to think of some way to extricate himself from the situation, but if he wanted to save his friend there was no way out. After he had thought it through he would realize this.
"Well?" prompted the older man.
"Alright, alright." agreed the lad. "But I would like to know just what this obligation is going to be?"
"I'm not sure myself right now." Koragch answered honestly. "But we will know when the time comes. Now, if you want to get those papers off in time I suggest that you go collect my funds and return with them. I will prepare a message to have the papers drawn up by my man in Solo. What is the girl's name?"
"It's Liulni Crea'Vita sir. She's of Elven descent. And I swear on my life that you need not worry. There is no possible way she could have committed those offences. She's not like that."
The crime lord smiled to himself as the boy ran from his office, off to decimate his personal money stash. Loyalty to a friend was very important. Loyalty was something that he demanded of everyone in his operation. Some students didn't take well to the lesson, but this one had taken to it without any testing or prompting. It was a promising sign.
Without thinking he reached into his desk and pulled out one of his spare throwing knives. He would gift this to the lad when he returned. It wasn't much but the honor of having Koragch give him the knife to help him in his studies would help the lad realize how important his weapons training really was.
He looked at the papers that had been sitting under the knife and drew them out. The first was one of his regular reports and billing statements to the wizard who was his unusual ally. The second was an important message from the wizard himself requesting some papers be drawn up and rushed to Solo. The third were copies of the papers that had left for Solo two days earlier. He checked the name. Crea'Vita. It was as he had suspected, the lad's friend was somehow tied up with the wizard too. Koragch's good fortune amazed him. According to the tallies on the first sheets the wizard had paid almost twice as much as the lad to have these papers sent. The wizard may be almost a legend in his field and the boy was a natural born thief, but neither of them could even come close to Koragch when it came to bargaining.
Easy come easy go - 17
Leythan dazedly worked his way down the street. He could not believe the depth of the financial calamity that had befallen him. The goods and gold that he had managed to squirrel away over the past six months were what seemed to him to be a small fortune. Beautiful golden rings that held small precious stones which sparkled and glinted with the fires of wealth and beauty when held up to the sun. Lustrous golden coins embossed with the emblems of their countries of origin. Even the brass and copper jewelry, ornate chains and bracelets were gone. Most pieces in and of themselves were not much to speak of, but his collection as a whole had probably been enough to buy back at least ten years of his life.
He had not wanted to take anything that would stand out too easily as he'd had strict orders not to be taking any more from the houses than he was supposed to. Why Koragch chose to send him mostly on retrieval missions for paperwork was beyond him, especially when most of the houses he had been sent to were clearly owned by people of purpose. People like that always seemed to have a strange predilection to leave things of value lying around for just anyone to take. They would never miss the minor items that the young thief had taken. If he could just gather enough riches together as soon as he had finished learning what he could from the crime lord, he would pay off his debt and leave town before the sun had set. But for now there was much to learn and many people to learn from.
He glanced around. His destination was getting closer and he knew that given the chance any of the other students would walk off with his hard-earned gold. There was honor amongst thieves, but their apprentices were another matter completely. There didn't seem to be anyone following him but one could never be too careful.
He turned the opposite way of his destination and stalked down a back alley that he knew all to well. It was the alley where he had first encountered Birq, Koragch's second in command, chief assassin and Alpha of the local Werewolf pack. He was the main reason that Leythan stayed in this city, the man was a font of information about Leythan's unique heritage. Under his tutelage the young were was finally discovering that what he had was not wholly a curse and could equally create as much joy. The rising of the full moon had become a time of anticipation for the young man. Not that he couldn't become were on command when he needed to, but the transformation always seemed to be more when it came with the moon. He had learned to embrace his gift, and relish the newfound senses and strength. Even though he would never be pack, they had allowed him to live and learn with them, becoming in almost every way be one of them. But he would never be pack.
He reached the end of the alley and looked around. Still there did not seem to be anyone around him, but more than once he had found his entrance way to the abandoned house beside him disturbed. Someone had followed him to at least this point in his journey before. The pile of refuse and old boards that he used to block his hidden entrance was undisturbed and just as he had left it when last he had been here. Taking one last glance around he pulled the boards off to the side and slid into the house.
As he lowered the boards back into place he stopped to pull the string attached to the small piece of wood under the refuse taut. He listened as the refuse snugged back up against the boards covering up his entrance once again. Slowly so as not to disturb the years of dust on the floor he turned and examined the floor around where he stood. Not finding any trace of intruders, he cat stepped across the floor to the stairwell upstairs and examined one of his hiding holes. It had been disturbed. Leythan smiled, it looked like he might find his tormentor after all.
The hiding hole had been nothing more than a diversion and a trap. Checking around the edges of the trap he saw the tell tale signs of dried blood and smiled once again. Yes, the young thief who had visited here would've had a nasty surprise. The trap had been simple, but with the experience level of the younger thieves it had been enough. Secreted inside the hiding place had been a simple note that had calmly discussed the virtues of stealing from fellow thieves, and how in all honesty it was particularly bad form. When one tried to remove the note it tugged on a string. The string pulled on a rather precariously set stick which held up a board with small shards of sharp stone wedged into it. This caused the board to fall onto the hand of whoever removed the note. The cuts received from this were small, but enough to force one to bandage their hand for a day or two and have small scars for a least a week afterwards. Leythan knew little to nothing about poisons, but his antagonist probably didn't know this and must have fretted for some time over the fact. As the young thief reset the trap he grinned at his own accomplishment and reminded himself to check amongst the other students for someone with marks on their hands so he might approach them and discuss the matter.
Having reset the trap, he carefully retraced his steps back to the entrance way and reached upwards to a ridge on the wall. Cautiously he lifted himself into the air, focusing his effort on not marking the wall so as not to give away his true route, and worked his way down the wall to the basement stairs. Nimbly stretching out, he lowered himself to the top of the second step. Again he turned and examined the dust on the floor near the top of the stairs. There was no trace of disturbance but he knew that didn't mean the intruder hadn't come this way. Looking at the rotting condition of the stairs he doubted anyone but him would trust their weight to them, not knowing that he had discreetly reinforced them on the bottom. They looked too much like a death trap all of their own. He turned and cautiously stalked down the steps, being careful to avoid the ones he knew were not reinforced.
He waited for few seconds on the edge of the darkness and let his eyes adjust. Once he could see again he continued on. Reaching the far wall he felt around near the corner for a second, searching for one loose stone in particular. He gave it a little push as his hand found it, and watched as the secret door slid open silently into the sewers. He hated the sewers, they were damp and smelly. He grimaced and began to remove his boots and other clothing. Once that was done he placed them into a pack and closed it. This was the part he liked.
Closing his eyes he reached for the warmth within, his anger, his power, his beast. It came to him as he bid it and he felt the surge of energy envelop him. There was pain, but not pain like before. This pain was good. This was the pain of becoming. Since he had stopped fighting his transformations he had been able to control them and had found the pain lessened. His skin burnt with glowing warmth where before it had been a searing fire. The joy of becoming was always more than the minor sacrifice of the pain. He only grunted with exertion when his joints popped and sought the better and stronger alignment of the Were. When this happened, before he had learnt control, it had left him screaming in agony. Soon the worst of the pain was over and his new senses made themselves known to him. The sharper hearing and more acute vision were a blessing, but being this close to the sewers the more distinct smells were a separate curse all of their own.
The young Nighthunt extended his arms and legs, rejoicing in his newfound strength and power. Decisions were always more simplistic when he was in this form. There were no gray areas to his thought. When he was hungry he ate, tired he slept, and when he was threatened he fought. When he was in his manform he was neither prey nor hunter but somewhere in between. As were he was hunter, nothing more and nothing less.
As the initial thrill of the change wore off, he resumed his task. Crouching on the balls of his feet so as to be ready to spring if necessary, he retrieved his backpack. Grasping it in one muscular taloned hand he stepped out into the sewer, avoiding the thick noxious fluid that flowed in a thin trickle down the middle.
It would have been easier to close the secret entrance to the abandoned house in his old form but he felt it safer to travel the sewers as a were. They had been cleared by Koragch's minions so the younger apprentice thieves could use them as a training ground and Thieves Highway. Some of the stories about the clearing, however, had urged the young thief to err on the side of caution, as a were he would be prepared.
He wended his way through the fetid tunnels following a route that only he knew, tracing back against the path he had taken when on the streets. Occasionally, there were signs of passing, probably left by some low level apprentice first learning the sewers but nothing to betray the fact that his route had been found out. His lips curled back baring his fangs in a grotesque imitation of a human smile at the thought of his treasure trove being safe.
At last he reached the opening above that he sought. It was a small little opening that lead to a well-concealed alleyway between two abandoned hovels in the slums district. He climbed to the top and checked to make sure no one was around before pulling himself out of the opening, its cover grate long since removed and discarded.
Briefly the thought of changing back to his manform crossed his mind but was quickly disregarded as his business here would quickly be done with. Checking one last time to make sure no one was watching him he ducked into the building on the west side of the alley.
He smelled it almost instantly. Blood...fresh, warm blood. Without the training that he had received from Birq it would have been enough to drive him into a frenzy. As the hunger came on him, though, he held it back and brought forth his control of the beast.
Then the thought came to Leythan. Where had the blood come from? Was some gang member in here bleeding out his last after some turf dispute or had someone found his trove and set off one of the traps he had left for the unwary? Hurriedly he rushed to front room, slowing his pace only enough to avoid and not set off his own traps.
He almost cried out in anguish when he saw the blood. There was a fair amount of it around his hiding hole but not enough to mean someone had died for their prize. And a prize they had. Leythan's trove was empty.
Falling to his knees he clawed around in the loose boards that had, prior to this, concealed and kept safe the booty that would help buy back his life, desperately looking to find any piece of his treasure. Frantically he pulled away the boards hoping to find what wasn't there.
The loud clatter of something hitting the floor behind him almost killed him with shock alone. Spinning with a speed born of pure adrenaline he fell into a fighting stance ready to avenge the theft of his goods. The man stood across the room from him, dagger drawn, blood dripping from a gash around his wrist. The blood stopped flowing even as he watched, the remains of the cut sealing itself tight as the skin seemed to pucker up upon itself. Only one such as he could heal like that. He looked into the shadows of the cowl covering his face seeking out the intruders eyes.
Once found, the man's eyes stared back with a cold and aloof indifference. The eye's were Birq's.
To be humbled - 18
"Not bad, pup. Not bad. I thought I had found all your traps." Birq said as he put his dagger away. He looked up again and caught Leythan's eyes in one of his stares. "I recommend that you change back now, unless that is you think your ready to get into a pissing contest with me?"
Being the Alpha of the local pack, Birq was used to getting his was amongst the weres. Leythan wasn't about to change that. Cringing he approached the older man and allowed his tongue to slip out over his teeth. Birq, with cold menace surrounding him, looked down at Leythan.
"You may not, you are not pack. If we had been battling at each others side you would be entitled, but not now."
Leythan slunk back towards the ruin of his hiding hole. He had meant to lick the blood from Birq's wrist, it was a sign of bond between weres. When one of the pack was hurt they would lick the wound as a sign of comfort and protection. The wounded would pay for that comfort and protection with their spilt blood, the others would honor the blood price by protecting the wounded till they could once again contribute to the pack. When two weres fought within the pack it was the victors responsibility to take blood from the loser and offer him his protection, by offering that blood the loser acknowledged the others dominance. Not being part of the pack, Leythan was only allowed to take part in the blood when another had been hurt while they had been learning to fight against each other. The blood bond only lasted till the other was healed and was more an act of honor and respect for a good fighter. It was the ultimate insult to not offer to take blood after a friendly combat and spoke of contempt for the other's fighting ability, by not being willing to take of them into yourself. By refusing to give of his blood to the young wolf, Birq had said that even wounded he was better fighter than Leythan, had he been pack there would have been no greater insult possible. Not being pack, he had said that Leythan was not responsible for the injury despite the fact that the trap had been set by him, but also in no uncertain terms that he did not need the young Were's protection despite the injury.
Part of this Leythan knew by instinct, part by Birq's teachings. It was most likely even more intricate than that, with subtle insults and innuendo that he couldn't yet interpret. Without a doubt he had just been symbolically slapped across the face and reprimanded for crossing social boundaries. No one had said being a were would be easy.
The assassin sat there licking the blood off his wrist while the young man once again became human. When the transition to his human form was complete the young thief bent to his sack and retrieved his clothes. When he had finished donning them, he grasped the top of the bag which held his ill gotten gains and turned to face Birq.
"How did you know the whereabouts of this place?" If Leythan had to lose his much cherished gold, he would at least have a lesson out of the deal.
The assassin paused before answering, licking the last of the blood from his nearly healed wrist. He flexed his hand into a fist and checked the range of movement in every finger, looking not unlike some would when inspecting an item at some hawkers stand. Nodding as if content with what he saw his arm relaxed, falling to his side.
"You have been trusted with much. I am your main tutor. Part of that task involves keeping tabs on you and knowing your whereabouts. I knew of this place, but had left it alone till now. It is good to see you haven't been skipping all of your classes, your traps were simple ones but well placed and thought out."
This complement was about all the young were could hope for today. Birq was clearly vexed with himself for missing the last in a long line of traps that his young pupil had laid to protect his goods.
"I must get this to Koragch." Leythan said as he moved past the older were towards the front door. This place had been compromised and was no longer worth protecting so he might as well leave the easy way.
Birq's passionless voice followed him as he reached for the door. "I will only teach you of the were now. Koragch will now be your mentor. I warned you he would find a way."
A knife's throw away - 19
"Not good enough!" Like most large men Koragch had lungs that fit his oversized body and could bellow louder than your average innkeeper at closing time. "Oh how it must amuse the gods to visit upon me such a worthless apprentice!"
Leythan tried to remain impassive. He was good with knives, thrown and otherwise. The fat old crime lord would not get him to rise to the bait and lose his temper and concentration. He still had three more throws at the target and while his last shot would not have killed a man it had hit where he had desired. No, he would not even start to let the bulky man goad him into missing.
He drew his next throwing knife and checked its balance. This one was slightly point heavy and was the knife he least liked. He had tried wrapping wire at the bottom of the hilt to balance it out but he knew little of metalwork so this was the best he been able to achieve. It was plain steel and of fairly low quality workmanship, but since his mentor had decided to stop paying for his bribes two years earlier and charged him such an exorbitant price for those letters, they had been all he could afford at the time. Koragch had reinstated his apprentice status and the accompanying benefits with uncanny accuracy one week after his remaining funds had ran out. Leythan had saved up enough since then to replace the blades with something of higher quality, but had refused to part with the gold it would have cost. Besides, he thought, if Koragch knew I had gold he would just find some way to wheedle it out of me.
Relaxing his hand he caressed the blade with his thumb, feeling it's brittle edge bite gently into the surface of his skin. After many attempts he had finally managed to get a slight edge on the blade. It wouldn't hold it for a particularly long time and the young thief knew from experience that he would have to sharpen it as soon as the practice session was over, lest it lose the edge he had laboriously worked to keenness.
He measured the distance to his target and closed his eyes. It was about twenty feet, so three and one half rotations, three and three quarters with this knife. He would have to time the release early. The distance was normally twenty feet during practice, but he had been taught to always gauge the distance with every throw and to make it instinctive, so when it mattered he would do it automatically. Others would have told him that it was more rotations than that away, but most people tended to spin a knife more than was necessary. They also tended to miss more often than the young thief.
Breathing in slowly, Leythan spun the knife in his hand till his thumb pointed down the blade and the tip nestled into the second joint on his ring finger. As his eyes opened, he extended his arm and sighted down his thumb at the target, also letting his breath escape his lips as he exhaled. On the second breath his arm swept back in pace with the air entering his body.
Starting with the muscles in his diaphragm, the young thief tensed his body slightly. 'Gently' he thought. Too much tension would throw off his aim, not enough and the dagger would have no strength behind it. Feeling the tension build to the right tenor, the young were began to let the beginnings of a breath escape his lips. As it passed from his body, he focused his sight on his target, envisioning the path, from where moments before the tip of his thumb had been, to the destination of the target. His arm swept forward, and his torso started a quick forward bend while his off arm swung back as a counterbalance. Instants before the dagger reached full extension, Leythan allowed inertia to carry it from his fingers towards its mark. There was a dull thud when the blade penetrated the target to the wood behind.
"What part of "hit the target " didn't you understand, boy? I am not that poor of an instructor, or you that poor of a student, to be arriving at this result. For the last year you have been hitting the target square, yet today you've made less impact on the dummy than last night's rain!"
Koragch was frustrated and Leythan could tell. His normal teaching methods involved exaggerated amounts of insults and depreciation of the young thief's abilities, but today he seemed to mean them. Leythan didn't care though, today's lesson was not for himself, but for Koragch. He just hoped that the blubbery man would catch on and not miss what was happening.
Reaching down Leythan pulled the next knife from his makeshift bandoleer and dropped immediately into his throwing stance neatly halting any further protest from the older man.
The rhythm came easily and quick and Koragch was forced to step back from the throwing area when his apprentice leaned his knife forward and closed his eyes. The young thief lost himself in focus and launched his next assault. It did not strike as cleanly as he had hoped but his aim at been true enough to satisfy his own desires.
It did not satisfy the paunchy crime lord in the slightest, but before he could launch into a tirade, Leythan drew his final blade. It was the very knife that he had received from Koragch when he had started his training under him. It was nothing much to speak of as far as weapons went, but it was of higher quality than his other knives and held a special significance for him since Koragch himself had gifted it to him. Having a properly balanced knife in his hands and already knowing the distance to his target, the young thief forwent the preliminaries threw the weapon in a rapid style that had been taught to him for emergency use. It flew true and struck the dummy with a loud thunk as the blade sank into the wooden backing.
Koragch went livid.
"How is it that you can throw true for weeks on end and not even strike one killing blow today! Have you forgotten everything I have taught you! If you are mocking me in some way I swear I will triple your class load. You have no.."
"Hold off for a moment, Koragch." the cold emotionless voice cut off the crime lords rant and momentarily deflected his rage.
Koragch spun towards the voice to confront this daring intrusion. Birq strode out onto the training yard with a casual stride. Leythan saw him make some signs with his hands and Koragch's rage cooled ever so slightly. The young thief had not been able to break the code of signals that these two shared, it was so subtle and unique. Hell, most people in the crime lord's organization didn't even seem to be aware they had a sign language to interpret. He had hoped that the assassin had been watching, as it was late afternoon and that was when the older Alpha normally assigned himself to watch over his mentors safety.
"You had best have good reason to interrupt me, my friend. I find my mood rather short due to my apprentices latest bout of incompetence." Koragch was angry but at least willing to talk.
"I do my friend, I do. The old man from the north is here to see you. I would also advise young Leythan's attendance as well." Birq, as always, demonstrated his uncanny ability to remain totally impassive during this brief exchange.
Koragch's anger dissipated almost instantly, causing the young Were's curiosity to be piqued. Whoever this old man was, he must be rich indeed to be able to have such a profound effect on his mentor. Seeming as how Birq had been so kind as to hopefully include him in this conference, Leythan might make some substantial cash from whatever this venture might be.
"But first, may I talk to you for a moment? Alone." this last was directed towards Leythan, and having learned long ago how to take a cue, he walked to the far side of the training compound.
By the time the young were had reached the bench near the exit, the two older men were deep in conversation. Leythan smiled to himself and started to plan for imaginary mounds of coins that he would receive from this stranger from the north. His smile deepened however when he saw Birq motion towards the target dummy on the opposite side of the field. The Alpha would explain everything to his mentor. He examined his handy work again from this new distance. The four throwing knives were barely noticeable this far away, but he knew exactly where they had hit. His first two throws had pinned the rough clothes of the target dummy's pants to the backboards, while the other two protruded first from it's left thigh and then it's right hand.
Life's little twists - 20
Leythan walked slightly behind Koragch towards the door that led to his office, so he could better cover his back. Birq had received word something was wrong back at the pack's village and had been forced to leave suddenly. Before he had left, however, he had given his young friend a very high honour, charging him with Koragch's safety till another could be sent to cover the remainder of his watch. The young were knew that it would only be for a very brief period of time, but the trust such an offer conveyed had left him feeling slightly heady. He had retrieved his weapons from the training dummy and stuck to Koragch like glue from the moment of the request.
They were safe inside the crime lord's office, but Leythan refused to let his guard down for even an instant, wanting to complete this task as best he could. He still kept his best practice knife free in its sheath while his eyes scanned the room for even the slightest hint of trouble.
"The man you are about to meet is very powerful and highly respected throughout the lands north of Kordar. I expect you to be on your best behaviour. I warn you now not to do anything rash, for if you do, not even I can save you." Koragch warned as he reached for the door.
He sounded slightly afraid under his gruff exterior, and this unnerved the young thief far more than the actual words. Not once had he seen Koragch afraid. Even Birq had seemed relieved to not have to attend this meeting, and he would challenge the gods themselves if it met his needs. Maybe this guard duty wasn't going to be so simple after all.
The door handle creaked and the door groaned on its hinges as it swung open. Ever cautious, Koragch never oiled the hinges or the handle lest someone catch him totally unawares. They walked into the room, but instead of the either the deadly, dangerous and heavily muscled man or the flabby, flamboyant noble that he had predicted, there sat a wizened old man. There was nothing really of note about him and he was far from intimidating. His hair was rough and scraggily as if from a long trip or habitual disregard. The wrinkles on his face almost threatened to swallow his eyes and his arms looked as if they barely had power enough to lift themselves, let alone any kind of weapon. The strangest thing was that the old man had a familiar look and feel to him. Leythan drew his guard tight to Koragch. It was those you thought the least of that you had to worry about the most.
His bony head turned on his shoulders and he began to speak. "Hail Koragch. Hail. You had best have a seat, we have much to talk of."
Koragch nodded and went to his seat behind his desk. Leythan could tell that he was trying to maintain some sense of decorum, but he wouldn't have much success if he kept following this old man's orders in his own office. The young thief followed his mentor around the desk to stand at his side, and drew himself up into the most imposing figure he could.
"This would be the boy then?" the old codger didn't even wait for Koragch to seat himself.
It was too much for the young were. He went to pull his dagger to inform the old man that regardless of others thought of him, he should show the crime lord courtesy in his own office. His hand did not even make it to his waist before he felt a cold unease settle over his entire body, and his muscles locked up like granite. Oh, oh. The old man was a wizard.
"Well, I see he has some spirit any way." the old, wizened man said as he turned to Koragch.
"He has been an excellent student. Up till now, that is." The crime lord turned his attention to his pupil. "I told you not to do anything rash, boy."
"It is nothing, Koragch, nothing. The mere impetus of youth, I'm sure. However I don't believe you told him exactly who I am. You do have a rather harsh method of training your youths." a dry cackle escaped the man's aged and withered lips. Nodding towards Koragch the old man urged him to complete the introductions.
"Leythan, I would like you to meet Darthillion. He is a Wizard of the Wall, and was the one who first directed me to you."
Still unable to move, all the young thief was able to do was make a piteous little groan and roll his eyes.
"Oh bother. Sorry about that, boy; I'll release you."
No sooner had the last word escaped the man's lips than a warmth flowed through Leythan's veins as the blood returned. Being slightly off balance from having been frozen in place and not expecting the sudden release, the young were fell to the floor.
As he lay there attempting to collect his thoughts ,a wrinkled hand reached down to him. He grasped it and marvelled at the hidden strength this old man possessed. Once standing, he realized that he was looking down at the man, he was so hunched over with age.
The wizard brought his hand up once again and said, "Few people know my name, but now you are one of them. I would like to be your friend. You will need all the friends you can find lad, for today your life changes drastically."
I hope you have enjoyed the second installation into the history and story of Leythan Nighthunt. In following issues we will find young Leythan coerced into Military Service so he might learn the last few lessons needed to survive in the world of Muhan. He will learn more of the mysterious old mage that has propelled the young thief on the course with his destiny, as well as see battle, death, and true friendship.
I welcome any feedback you might care to offer. Please send them to the series editor at email@example.com and carbon the Senior Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org quoting the title of the story.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and may the bright moon always shine on your hunt.