Copyright Jeff Anderstedt 1999
Grim tidings - 28
Leythan had long since abandoned any hope of remaining unnoticed while entering the small community of Wereís that he lived with, regardless of the dark, chill evening. Despite his best efforts to wash in the small stream that wound through the bushes partway between the city and his home, he still smelled pungent and vile from his latest attempt to garner himself coinage and knowledge.
He had thought to remain in his Were form for the journey after he had washed his clothes, and to hang them out to dry in his shack when he returned home. He had scrubbed both himself and his clothing thoroughly with sand in the brisk water, but the scent of skunk had only faded slightly. To compound his troubles, he had found the scent of himself unbearable with his heightened sense of smell while he was Were, and had been forced to remain human and again don his frigid, dripping clothing.
His sodden boots made awkward squishing noises and cold had partially numbed his limbs, reducing his control of them and making every step a clumsy caricature of his normally graceful strut. The cloak he wore over his shoulders still dripped water and steam escaped his blue lips with every chattering breath.
There were several excuses the young thief could think of for returning to the village in such a state that would incur nothing more than the odd arched look or two. That was, of course, if he wasnít smelling like a yearling skunk in need of a diaper. As things stood, Leythan could think of no possible way to explain his returning in such a condition. No matter how he explained his current condition, the others would laugh at and mock him. There would be stories built upon stories until nobody even cared about the truth, all with him playing the role of the fool.
There was nothing to be done for it though. The young Were would have to bare the brunt of his own foolish acts. Perhaps if he said nothing and just went straight to his shack no one would notice and he could just lock himself away for a day or two till the smell subsided. He had noticed no others on the road to or from the city on his way home. Maybe some god would grant him at least a little mercy on this day.
As Leythan approached the village, though, he knew that luck was not on his side.
"Gods, lad! What happened to you? Till I saw you for myself I thought we had a bull skunk marking its territory!"
The comment came from the dark brush just off the trail. The voice belonged to Hallord, a long-standing member of the pack. It wasnít uncommon to find Hallord on guard duty, as he wasnít one of the brightest members of the pack and had not a dominant bone in his body. But a body he did have, and not a soft one at that. In spite of his great size, he was also one of the stealthiest in the bush, although where he found trees to hide his massive shoulders escaped the young Were completely.
"Long story. Long dumb story, but Iím kind of cold right now. I think Iíll just head home and burn these clothes for some warmth, and because they really need burning just now," the young Were stuttered through shivering lips.
"Well, if itís warmth you want lad, I wouldnít worry. Briqís been looking for you for the last hour or so, and youíll find him with most of the rest of the village near the large fire pit on the far side of the village." The oversized Were chuckled under his breath as he stepped from the shadows. "Iím fairly certain that if you want close to the fire the others will make plenty of room for you."
"Did Birq say why he was looking for me?"
"No, but he didnít have to. Things have been happening today. Bad things." The huge Were paused, and almost growled under his breath, "Birq has called a gathering of the pack for tonight. It began about a half hour ago, and I was told that if I saw you to bring you to him."
It was unusual for a pack gathering to be called with so little notice, and Leythan had always been excluded from them till tonight as he was not formally a part of the pack. That the gathering had been called because of 'Bad thingsí, and the fact that he had been not only been invited but summoned made the young Were extremely nervous. He knew that he himself had not done anything that would warrant anything near to this level of concern to the village. He also knew, however, that there was a certain amount of jealousy amongst the younger alphaís over how much time Birq had spent training and teaching him, he who wasnít even a pack member. It was not entirely impossible that one of the other young Weres had seen fit to frame him for some misdeed, reducing his standing with the alpha in the hopes it would get him banished from the village.
"What kind of 'Bad thingsí?" Leythan asked, taking a slow cautious step away from the massive Were.
Hallord may not have been one of the smartest Weres in the pack, but he knew nervous tension when he saw it. A look of meek apology fell over his face followed rapidly by a slight grin.
"Sorry about that. I guess that sounded kind of bad. The gathering has nothing to do with you, directly. It would be better if Birq told you what it was about, though. Donít worry, nobody's upset with you, as far as I know. I donít think you need me to show you to him, and your shack is on the way there so I canít see him begrudging you the chance to stop and change."
Leythan relaxed visibly. He wasnít sure what was in store but it didnít seem to bode ill for the young thief, unless of course Hallord was lying to him. The young Were was fairly confident that he wasnít. When someone had the size and speed the older Were did, you didnít have to rely on subterfuge.
"Thanks Hal. Iíll make the change a quick one. Anything to get me near the heat of the fire a little faster." A smile broke on Leythanís face letting the hulking Were know that he appreciated the consideration that had just been shown him.
The young were turned and started toward the village once again.
As he cleared the brush surrounding the tight winding trail through the woods, the small ramshackle village came into view. Its run-down appearance belied the quality of the homes to be found there. None of the homes were extravagant by any means, in truth of fact, they were all rather humble, but none of them could be considered anything less than sturdy.
Leythanís own home was little more than a shack, and he himself had seen gardenerís tool sheds at some of the fancier houses that dwarfed it in size.
The night was dark but clear. Stars shone down from the sky above, casting a gentle light that allowed only limited sight, but there was a strong amber glow coming from the far side of the settlement that allowed the young thief to see his way clearly to his shack. He could hear heated voices talking in the near distance, but couldnít quite make out what was being said. As he opened the door to his hut on its rusty hinges, it produced a loud pronounced squeal that brought the conversation to a halt.
Stepping inside, the young Were proceeded to remove his sopping and rank clothing. With the door closed there was little to no light at all, but he knew his own living quarters well enough to do what he needed in the dark. Fumbling around with a half numb hand in the dark, he grabbed a rough woollen cloth and started to vigorously rub the frosty moisture off his clammy limbs. Warmth and dexterity slowly started to creep, once again, into his arms and hands, so he discarded the makeshift towel and found himself his dry trousers. No sooner had he buttoned the waist closed than there was a knock at the door.
Leythan grabbed a warm woollen top out of the backpack he had, that doubled as a dresser for his meagre supply of clothes, and pulled it on. That little prank had just cost him almost half of his clothing. With one hand he scooped up his wet clothes and with other reached for the door, ready to leave.
Birq was just starting to knock a second time when the young thief pulled the door open. The look of impatience on the Alphaís face soon turned to one of disgust as he was assailed by the rank smell of wet skunk.
"What in blazes happened to you? Iíve had people looking for you for the past hour and when I finally track you down I can hardly talk to you without gagging."
Once again Leythan could read nothing from Birqís tone. It wasnít that the older Were talked in a flat or monotone voice, it was more like every word out of his mouth could be nothing more than talk of the weather. He had seen the assassin accept and turn down assignments that meant life or death for others with the same apathetic attitude. No matter how many times he heard it, he didnít think that he would ever be able to emulate it, and hearing it from Birq always made him slightly nervous.
"Itís a long story. Can we just leave it at that for now?" the younger Were grimaced in embarrassment.
The Alpha looked appraisingly at his young charge for a moment. "All right. Weíll leave it at that for now. However, I do expect you to tell me the whole story later. Now, come with me, there is much to discuss and very much to do before this night is out." Birq turned and walked away toward the glow of the large bonfire.
Leythan took just enough time to close the door to his shack, once again eliciting a loud, high pitched squeal from the hinges and turned to follow his friend. The assassin had stopped in his tracks. He remained with his back to his young ward.
"I can appreciate your reasoning in keeping your door hinges rusty, but you do seem to be taking it a little to extremes donít you think? You are fairly safe here in the village." With that said, he once again continued to advance toward the campfire.
It became apparent at that point that Birq was only a little vexed with the younger Were, but all the same Leythan decided at that point that he would do something about those hinges first thing tomorrow morning lest he seem rebellious.
The Alpha reached the fire well ahead of the younger Were. He saw the others quickly clear a path through their midst for their dominant male. Leythan was shocked to see almost the entire village in attendance. Never before had he seen so many gathered together like this. While he had been assured that the gathering was not about him, he found his nervous tension returning.
There were roughly twenty-five Weres gathered, not the entire community as it seemed a few were tending to the children and the sole infirm elderly were that was also a part of the village. When every head turned toward him, and space was cleared as he approached, Leythan almost lost his nerve, feeling that they meant him ill. The looks of disgust that crossed their faces soon clarified the issue for him, however, and he realized it wasn't his presence that so disturbed them so much as the odour that accompanied it. Everyone swivelled back toward the fire as Birq began to talk.
The Alpha of the pack was perched on an old solid stump that sat near the fire pit, yet separated enough from the crowd that it was clearly used for this sole purpose. He had removed his shirt and was now topless, causing the firelight to play over his lithely muscled body. The thick hair on his chest created a miasma of shadows, that ran up and down his body like a living creature with every twitch of his frame. His cold expression seemed even more empty and lifeless in contrast to the warm ruddy glow the fire cast over his sharp features. He held up his hands for silence, throwing his face into shadow.
"Most of us know why we are gathered, but for those late in coming, those who had duties to attend...," Birq glanced toward Leythan, "or were otherwise occupied, we will quickly go over the happenings of the day."
There was only one soft chuckle from somewhere back in the gathered group at this, and it was quickly hushed. Things were serious indeed.
"It has been a long-standing bias of mine that inter-species romances were not to be tolerated. Tonight I make it a rule. Anyone that disagrees with me can challenge me right now for leadership of the pack."
There was no response of any kind from anyone present. Nobody was dumb enough to challenge their Alpha.
"Earlier in the day I received news that a young member of the pack has done something that may very well harm the village. Seth Longclaw, it seems has been courting a local farmerís daughter. Knowing that she and her family would not approve, he never told them he was Were."
"She apparently was a comely young woman and had several suitors. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the young lady seems to have decided to accept the advances of one of these other boys. Seth found the two of them together in her fatherís hayloft last night. According to the young lad that was with the girl, he flew off into a rage. It was then that his beast got away from him. He became Were and attacked the two of them. He carried the girl off with him into the bush. Alive, but obviously in peril." Birq paused meaningfully, and long enough for the murmuring that had started in the crowd to stop. "That was all we could get from the lad before he left this world."
Repercussions - 29
No murmurs started up again. There was nothing but stunned silence. Someone from their village had killed a human. If something was not done, and done quickly, life would change drastically for those in the pack.
Leythan himself could not believe what he had just heard. Seth had always had a fairly even temperament, and was not one to anger easily. Granted, he had tended toward the more violent rages when he transformed, and it was entirely possible that with more than one moon full it would take very little to push a Were over the edge.
Sethís mother Cassie had come to the village a long time ago with a swollen belly and nowhere to turn to for help. She had been a prostitute in Kordar, but was forced to flee when she found that she was pregnant. Werewolven prostitutes normally ended up catering to those with rather perverse and twisted appetites because of their natural abilities to heal so well. Throw in the fact that no Were could become pregnant from any other creature but another Were, while also tending to be immune to almost any kind of sexual diseases humans had, and you had an almost perfect prostitute. Almost...
Sethís father had apparently been a long-standing customer of his mothers, with somewhat excessive tastes. He frequented the red light district where she and several other Wereís plied their trade, out of a lust for thrill more than anything else. Sex and violence were as one to him, so thus eventually one of his companions must have turned on him and infected him. The man had never admitted to this and had continued his liaisons with Sethís mother, and several other Wereís as well. Naturally it was only a matter of time till a few of them got pregnant.
The local pimps had not taken well to the news, and had beaten one of the prostitutes near to death as a lesson to the others. She had lost her child.
When Cassie had learned that she was pregnant, she had fled the city leaving everything behind but the clothes on her back. She had wandered aimlessly trying to find a pack she could join, so as to have shelter and protection for herself and her unborn child. None would accept her as she was, knowing some psychotic unpredictable Were had sired her child. Some simply ignored her, while others even sought to do her violence, forcing her to flee into the night.
She had been near to term when she had finally found this village. Birq had not wanted her there. Torn with disappointment, Cassie had been ready to leave when Talia stepped forward. Talia was, at the time and still is, the Alpha bitch of the pack. She was also the packís healer. Taking the now hopeful Wereís hand she had bid her stay, at least till she had whelped, so that she would not be alone.
When Birq had stepped forward to insist that the prostitute must leave, Talia had turned on him. The struggle had been brief, and merely a matter of dominance. It was also the only struggle Birq had ever lost. In that one instant he had learnt to never go up against an Alpha bitch when the matter concerned childbirth and children.
Leythan had learned this one day while Talia was healing a training injury he had acquired. He himself was originally from Kordar, and his mother had been a prostitute there as well. If she had been of a pack, he would never have ended up in an orphanage, along with his siblings. He did not remember her well.
He had sought out Cassie to ask her if she might have known her mother, but had been disappointed to learn that none of the prostitutes used their pack names publicly, as it was easier to forget better times than to hold out hope where there was none. The young Were could give only the vaguest of descriptions of his mother, her memory had been fogged over by time. The description he gave could have matched that of most the other prostitutes, and Cassie, too, had been a long time away from Kordar. She had regretfully told him that she could not help.
Seth had walked in on the conversation toward the end, and had placed a sympathetic hand on Leythanís shoulder.
"I, too, know what it is like to know nothing of a parent. At least I have my mother, but my father is mostly a mystery to me. I know he was not a good man, but I would give much to know more of him. Your troubles are more than double mine, not knowing either of your parents...," the young were had paused, "but I share some of your pain if not all of it. If you need someone, remember me, and remember you are not totally alone."
Sethís hand had gripped Leythanís shoulder tighter for a moment, and then without saying another word he had left the hut.
Leythan had said a few subdued farewells to Cassie, and then left for his hut.
Seth and Leythan had never really become friends, but because of this small show of humanity the budding alpha came to be the closest thing to a companion the young thief would have in the village.
Now Seth had killed someone, and left the blame to fall on the village.
The mammalian proclamation was not old in the minds of all humans, so many still distrusted and even hated Weres, along with any and all other creatures not human. Humans blamed them for all the terrors, real and imaginary, that stalked them in the night. This was the kind of event that brought out unreasoning fear. In most cases no Were had need fear a human. Weres were faster, stronger, healed more readily and were generally more deadly. That was on even footing though.
There were easily one hundred humans for every Were in the area, and that was not including those that would come from the city. If the humans could not be convinced that the village posed no threat, it would be swept under in a sea of human flesh with no hope of defence possible. The humans would riot and mob any and all Weres in the area, killing them to the last. The pack could not even hope for help from the local authorities, either. Seth had struck the first blow, so the humans would view it as defence. Something had to be done to avert this tragedy, and Leythan feared what it might be.
The young Were brought his attention back to the present and focussed his attention on Birq just as the lean Alpha started to speak again.
"All of us know that the safety of the village is at stake. We must do something about this. The farmer has agreed not to tell anyone but the authorities about this incident for one day.
We, in return, have agreed to see to it that justice is done by the end of that time."
Leythan noticed Cassie at the back of the crowd. She must have arrived earlier with the other arrivals. She looked dazed and haggard.
"The farmer has agreed that if his daughter is returned to him within this time, unharmed, he will trust our sincerity to live in peace with them. The boys parents, on the other hand, are a different story. At first they refused to co-operate with us. They were demanding Sethís death and nothing less."
Cassieís head swivelled toward Birq with a look of sheer horror on her face. She burst forward through the crowd, pushing aside those who were not quick enough to make way and fell to her knees at the base of the makeshift podium. Her hands reached forward in an imploring gesture, her mouth soundlessly forming the words "no" and "please" as she shuddered in brief and convulsive sobs.
Emotionlessly the Alphaís grim face turned down toward the former prostitute.
"The farmer was enraged when we refused to kill Seth outright, but he will face the justice of the pack and the humans. We did agree to turn him over to the humans for trial. I fear his sentence will not be any more merciful than he would find at our hands. I am sorry, Cassie. Seth has made his own choice."
The despondent womanís hands fell, curling around her face as she collapsed in a sobbing heap.
Leythan was in shock. If Seth was turned over to the human courts, it was guaranteed that he would find a death sentence waiting for him at the end of his trail. The human leaders would have to make an example of him to show the people that none could commit a deed like this and go unpunished.
The young Were knew well what Birq was not quite saying aloud in his speech, too. The older Were had said Seth would also face the justice of the pack. He would petition the courts to allow the Pack to carry out the sentence so as to prove to the humans that the Pack did not sanction this type of deed. A death sentence from the Pack was not a slow thing. Seth would be slowly rent limb from limb by the entire Pack in, most likely, a public spectacle.
"We have many matters to attend to. Not only must we find Seth and the girl this very night, but it is also a night of two moons. Several of the young will change soon when the moon rises. Some of our number must stay with them through this; they have already been selected. Those will go now."
Eight Wereís separated themselves from the group and walked out into the night. From past experience Leythan knew that they would gather together the young and undisciplined and take them to a small glade a mile or so into the brush. The village was too close to some smaller farms to chance having uncontrolled Weres about. The older Weres would keep the younger ones under control, until they were through the worst that the moon brought. Then they would celebrate the coming of the moon and together bask in its shining light.
Leythan would normally go with them, as his control over himself was at its weakest when the moons rose, but Birq had not instructed him to go with them, so the Alpha must have other plans for him this night.
"I am also afraid that I do not trust the boyís father completely. I have a few sentries around his farm that are insuring he does not leave this night to cause us problems. When we arrive half again of us will stay, to not only keep him there but to guard against Seth coming to cause him ill. The other half," Birq paused for a moment, deep in thought, "will be hunting. Seth and the girl must be found this night."
"All that are here now, go. Gather what you will need for the hunt. We will travel light."
Birqís features started to twitch with a force that most would call unnatural. All, that is, except Weres, of course.
His shoulders hunched forward slightly, broadening as his upper back curled forward and his arms elongated. The hair on his chest coarsened and thickened while spreading up over his shoulders and down his back to his narrowing waist. Muscles in his abdomen shrunk and shrivelled, passing their mass both up into his widening chest and down into his now pronounced thighs.
Leythan didnít see Birqís joints realign and twist into their new formation but he heard the snap as he watched the older Wereís nose slope down toward his upper lip while the lower and upper portions of his jaw grew steadily outwards from the manís face. New growths of hair swept forward over the forehead and out and covered Birq's jaws, while his lips pulled back in a rictus of pain and joy.
As the transformation abated, leaving the true Alpha of the Pack standing there, Birq raised his gaze to the crowd, unwittingly letting the reflections of the fire play over his eyes.
"Remember," the imposing Were partially growled in his now more guttural voice, "what we do tonight, we do not do out of vengeance, but out of protection. Tonight I call on you all to protect the Pack."
The one they left behind - 30
Everyone was turning to leave, off to tend to necessary duties before the eveningís hunt could begin. Birq had given the speech he had needed to give, but hadnít wanted to. Everyone in the pack now knew just how important it was to settle this problem quickly and quietly before the general human population found out. They would find out eventually, but it would be better if they found out after Seth had been brought to justice.
The Pack had invested a lot of time into training the young Were. Seth was slated to eventually become one of the few Alphas, and more Alphas were necessary with the amount of young that were currently in the village. All of the other Weres reported directly to Birq as the dominant Alpha of the Pack. It was a far more complicated social structure than regular wolves, but far more honest than that of humans.
Leythan started to turn with the others to leave.
"A moment Leythan. I need to speak with you before you go." Birq seemed to have caught the young Were off guard, and although he seemed nervous and jumpy as he approached the older Alpha, it was no more than usual. Cautious nerves were a good survival trait to see in the young thief, and Birq approved.
"You wonít be coming with us tonight, Leythan." growled the dominant Were. "I wanted to have you with me tonight in the hunting group, but with the way you smell, there would be no way we could sneak up on Seth. Likewise your odour would mask his scent should he approach either of the farms, so you also cannot be sent to guard either farmstead."
Birq really had wanted the young Were with him in the hunting party tonight. It would have been the perfect opportunity to see how the youth worked under pressure, and with personal biases. Leythan had not really made any true friends among the younger Weres, but he had seemed to share a mutual understanding of sorts with Seth. Birq had wanted to know if his young student would be able to put those biases aside and work toward the good of the Pack. Now he would have to find another use for the boy tonight. Not having enough Weres to do everything to start with would make finding something for him that much easier.
"Do you think you need to go with the others to the glade tonight?" Birq asked.
It was a legitimate question, but the assassin knew what the answer would be. Leythan had managed himself fine for the last few moon rises, and his stubborn pride wouldnít let him admit to needing to go even if he did.
Birq was hoping he would be able to leave the young Were along with Talia, Hallord and Cassie to watch the village in case Seth dared to come home. It would be a good calming influence for Seth to see Leythan in a familiar surrounding instead of just the three others. With home near, as well as the Alpha bitch, a friend, and his mother, perhaps he would give himself up.
The young thief shook his head in the negative indicating that he could do without help to contain his beast this night.
"Good." Birq stated. "I have a task for you then."
"I cannot bring Cassie with us. It would be too much for her. Talia will be staying in the village to keep an eye on her, and to see to any injured that might have to be sent back here."
"I am also going to leave Hallord to watch over the village. No guard should be left alone. I would like for you to stay and help him keep watch over the village as well."
A look of shock passed over the young Wereís face as he realized how large an honour was being bestowed on him. He was not a member of the Pack, but Birq was entrusting him with the safety of the village.
"I...I would... I mean...sure. Iíll stay if you really want me to. I mean, Iíll keep everything safe here for you." Leythan stammered out.
The boy didnít see that in all likelihood nothing would happen. He was too caught up in the idea that the safety of the village was being entrusted to him, a non-pack member. Although socially it showed extreme trust in the boy, Birq knew that the assignment would be boring and tedious with the chance of anything happening being minimal at best. If anything did happen, both Hallord and Talia were more than capable of handling the situation on their own, but it never hurt to be cautious.
"Good. Hal will tell you how the two of you are to split the sentry duties. Listen to him closely. He is in charge here, donít forget that. Go to him now."
Both Weres turned and started to go in separate directions, walking away from the slowly dwindling fire to attend to their duties. Birq had only gone a few paces when he heard Leythan calling out to him.
"Yes boy?" he said while turning slightly in his tracks so he might see the boy over his shoulder.
"I just wanted to say thanks, about trusting me to guard the village." Leythan paused as if he had more to say but was unable to say it.
"And?" Birq asked trying to draw the boy out.
"Well," the lad stopped and took in a deep breath as if to steal himself, "do you think Seth is going to die?"
The Alpha didnít pause for even a moment.
"Yes. However itís not his death Iím worried about right now Leythan. Itís everyone elseís."
Although Birq did not show any emotion, that one thought tore through him like a burning acid in his veins. Seth had doomed himself when he had endangered the Pack. Even if the humans saw fit to let him go after punishing him, he would not live long. Fortunately for the Pack, there were others to take his place. It would not be easy, but there were others that could be trained.
As the boy turned to go, Birq called out to his back.
"Be careful tonight, lad. Donít be too proud to call Hallord or Talia if trouble comes your way."
"Donít worry, Birq. I promise I wonít let you down."
With that the boy vanished into the night.
Birq turned and strode off into the night. He had duties to attend to. Leythan would work out fine, he thought. He had better, because the pack will need him soon.
When trouble comes calling - 31
Leythan sat his watch near the main path that led into the village. Hallord had taken to perimeter scouting so as to be able to keep some semblance of attention to all the other portions of the village not visible from the entrance. The young Were knew that he had been pushed off to the side by the older Were. If Seth were to return to the village, there was no chance at all that he would just come strolling up the path.
Talia could be seen occasionally from the hiding spot the young thief had chosen as she did her rounds in the village. Occasionally she would walk from building to building checking in on the few children left behind whose moon was not rising tonight and the one infirm elder Were who was now too frail to be gallivanting around on hunts. She also looked in on the empty buildings to ensure that they were indeed empty, and that Seth had not crept past the sentries to cause further harm to the village. Most of the time though, she spent comforting Cassie, the mother of the young renegade Were.
Leythan had occupied his time practising his trap building skill, and had set up one or two to hopefully prevent someone sneaking up on him. Hallord had too much ground of his own to cover, so it was more than unlikely that he would seek out the young Were. Anyone coming down the path could easily be challenged and halted before they had the opportunity to stumble onto any of the traps, thus he felt only too justified in protecting himself with the traps. Being in Wereform gave the young thief much better night sight and sharpened his hearing, making it improbable that someone could sneak up on him, but cautious thieves stayed alive, and there was no reason not to use that lesson now.
Two of the three moons had already risen for the evening, one full and the other a half oblong reminiscent of a catís eye standing on end, but Leythanís moon, Destiny, still had to break the horizon. The silvery glow of moonlight flooded down on the world around the young Were, glinting off the midnight dew as it clung to the leaves and brushy fronds that were abundant in the small forest. Two-tone shadows crept back and forth in the gentle breeze as the light from the half moon fought vainly to brighten the shadows left by its sister.
Leythanís head came up with a jolt, as a sharp snap sounded from the woods not more than twenty feet away. Was it possible that Hallord had come looking in on him after all? The young Were pricked his ears forward and strained to hear and determine the exact location of the noise. Another crack sounded as a branch broke, followed quickly by the sound of flesh being struck and a small whimper. He would have to investigate.
Using all the stealth he could, the young Were crept noiselessly from his place of concealment. The branches of small brambles reached out to snag at his fur, causing him to move more slowly so he might free them before they could snap out like a loosed bow. He stole silently away from the brambles and paused as he neared one of his traps.
Cautiously he raised his foot over the small piece of twine that held back one of his daggers. The trap was somewhat primitive, but in the darkness and shadows of the forest it was almost invisible, making it far more effective than it would have been otherwise.
Leythan thanked the gods for the good luck that made it possible to approach the source of the noise from the downwind side. Over the past hour the smell that had plagued him earlier had started to mysteriously dissipate and was now almost completely gone. It still lingered though and no matter how slight, it would have given away his position.
A slight noise came to the young thiefís ears, the faint sounds of a threatening voice. He couldnít quite make out what was being said or whoís voice it was, but he had a suspicion as he moved closer.
The third moon had started to rise over the tree line just before Leythan had set out and he could now feel it starting to tug on his awareness. Destiny shone down in resplendent glory, full and brilliant. The young Were could resist it, he had resisted her call before, and tonight was not a good night to succumb to Destinyís guile.
With Destinyís light added to that of its sisters, the forest was almost as bright as day. It made it harder for the young thief to skulk around in the bush, but it also made it easier for him to see what was about. He saw them just as the angry voice again reached his ears.
"You will be quiet, or I will gag you and leave you in the forest. Hopefully youíll be alive when I get back," the Wereís lips pulled back exposing its sharp vicious teeth, "but as you now know, the night is a time for predators."
Seth stood not ten feet from Leythan. The girl was bound by the wrists which were chaffed and oozing blood from the way the rope slid slightly up and down her arms. The rope extended out from the knots that held her palms together to form a crude leash that the raging Were held in one hand.
She was definitely a pretty girl, or would have been if not for the obvious mistreatment she had received over the last twenty-four hours. Her long blond hair hung down in ragged clumps, knotted and covered with mud from hiding away in the bush. The simple dress she wore was torn down the front and despite vague efforts that been made to conserve her modesty, allowed half of her full left breast to protrude, partially showing its areola. The flesh of it was bluish and dark, showing a pattern where a long fingered and strong hand had squeezed it in a grip crushing enough to bruise the skin. Small dots of blood marked the place where presumably the fingers had ended and the claws of a Were had drawn blood.
Her face was also bruised and blackened, but fresh blood seeped from the corner of her mouth to drip off the already reddening skin covering her lower jaw. The dried blood that had run out of her nose was riddled with channels where the tears she had cried had vainly tried to wash away the evidence of the brutality she had suffered. Fresh tears now flowed from terrified blue eyes to run through the channels already carved through the blood that bore witness to the horror she had suffered.
Seth gave the rope a savage tug, causing it to bite further into her brutalised wrists.
"Look at me when Iím talking to you!" Seth growled under his breath, trying to remain quiet and undetected. "I am your life and death now. You belong to me and you will love me."
The girl set her jaw and looked up at Seth. As Leythan watched, the terror fled from her eyes and her features hardened.
"I could never love you. You are a monster."
The back of Sethís hand whipped across her face savagely and she fell to the ground. Again he yanked viciously on the rope causing her wrists to bleed slowly yet steadily.
"I may be a monster, but you will be, too. Iíve already seen to that," the enraged Were hissed. "And when you transform we will have such fun. My father was right, you know. Iíve tried it his way now, too. It is so much better when there is blood. When you know the screams are genuine."
"Iíve snuck away from those simpletons in the Pack a few times and gone to visit the women in the city. They donít like to do it that way, but they will if the money is good enough, and they are desperate enough." Sethís lips pulled back in a vile curl, and he smiled cruelly at the memory. "But with you I wonít have to worry about being careful not to change you. We can have much more fun."
Leythan couldnít believe his ears. This wasnít the Seth he knew. This wasnít the compassionate young Were who had shown him more sympathy than most. His anger rose and almost he lost his grip on his inner beast.
The young thief wanted desperately to run back to the village. To get Talia or Hallord. To tell sweet Cassie that she should shed no tears for this monster. Tell her how cruel and evil he truly was. That he was no better than the twisted freak who had sired him.
Seth leaned in close to the girl and ran a sharp claw down her jaw, ever so slightly breaking the skin.
"Yes," he stated. "We can have much, much more fun."
The girl spat in the Wereís face.
A look utterly horrifying in its ferocity raged across Sethís face and he kicked the girlís feet out from under her while he yanked hard on the rope.
The stress on the girls already ravaged wrists was too much. Skin broke and peeled back exposing the thin delicate muscles underneath. A vein ruptured. Blood poured out. Fresh warm blood.
Leythan was overcome with a need to taste its salty sweetness and feel its coppery tang caress his tongue. His beast rose within him. Wanting. Desiring. Needing. The young Were screamed out in his mind. 'NO! Not now! Not tonight! Not with the moon!í but it was too late. His beast was aroused. He was no longer in control.
He burst from the bushes straight toward the girl. Intent on gaining the blood that his beast required.
The evil that saves - 32
Seth heard the noise before he saw its source. He should have known that he was too close to the village to be disciplining the girl. Now he would not be able to get his mother to come with him and he would be forced to flee into the night like some cowardly rabbit. The budding Alpha didnít really need his mother; she was more of a burden than a benefit, but she would have known where he would be able to find other renegade Weres like himself. He would need those other Weres to form his own pack. Those were minor worries. His immediate problem was to kill this intruder before he could summon others.
Turning Seth dropped down into a fighting stance, but his intruder had the advantage of surprise. He was not quick enough. The intruder bowled into him and sent him sprawling backwards. The young Alpha slashed out with his talons ripping a small furrow out of the side of his opponent. It was a minor injury, but at least he had scored the first hit.
He rolled over in a short somersault regaining his feet but forcing him up tight against the girl. It reduced his room to manoeuvre. He tried to evaluate his opponent but didnít have much opportunity because the Were came at him again immediately and with no regard for his own safety. Seth fell to his feet lashing out with his powerful jaws. His teeth clamped down on warm flesh and fur, ripping a deep gouge from the other Wereís shoulder and causing him to fall back and sending a brief thrill through his body.
Now was the time to press his attack. He hadnít been able to identify the scent of his opponent when he bit down. It seemed to be covered by the smell of skunk. It didnít matter though. The way he was fighting and enraged he couldnít be one of the Pack Alphas or Veterans, and was most likely just one of the older youths escaped from the glade this night of the moons.
Seth swiped with his claws, missing but driving the other Were back further into the shadows of the trees. He mustnít let up his attack now. Just a little more and his opponent would be backed up against those bushes and unable to dodge him near as well.
He snapped at the air just in front of the younger Were continuing to force him farther back. 'Heís not a bad fighter. Too bad heís in the rage or this might have been a fun challenge.í thought the malicious Were.
The younger Were was backed up against the shrubs now, and was having more and more trouble evading the blows and snapping bites Seth was throwing at him. It was bleeding from two more places but not very heavily. Seth could feel his beast start to rise at the thought of blood but he pushed it back down in his mind. He would have to end this soon or risk falling prey to the same psychosis that now had this younger Were in its grip, the blood lust.
Seth bunched his muscles under him and prepared for the final lunge. If he did this quickly enough, he could still get the girl and escape. Feeling his muscles reach their pitch of tightness he released their pent-up energy and burst forward at his opponent.
The young Were had grown desperate, and so was willing to do desperate things. He flung himself to the ground and rolled to one side, narrowly avoiding the snapping jaws that were his death. Seth managed to score a hit on the way past, however, rending deep grooves in the young Wereís chest and abdomen.
He landed halfway into the bushes and heard a dull snap and whirr as a branch snapped around and hit him in the lower jaw. He felt a slight pressure at his throat and a growing warmth. Turning brought a sharp agony and brief tug at the fur beneath his chin but he now faced his fallen foe who was struggling to get to his feet.
He didnít remember feeling this winded before when he fought. When the older Alpha attempted to pant to regain his breath quicker, it brought on a fit of coughing, but no air emerged from his mouth. His body just wracked with the convulsions. Who was this young Were that had dared to fight him and how had he managed to tire him out so quickly?
Seth sat back on his haunches while his body convulsed with its attempts to cough. The warmth on his neck had grown and was spreading down his chest. It was a pleasant warmth. Seth thought maybe he should stop for a second and regain his bearings. He didnít quite understand what was happening and who this Were was in front of him.
The evening was growing darker to Sethís eyes and he was starting to have trouble seeing things for the midnight mists that had started to settle in. He was sure they hadnít been there just a moment ago.
His vision had reduced itself to two fine tunnels by the time he saw the other Were approaching. It was dim but he could make out who it was. Leythan might not be part of the Pack, but Seth had convinced him that he was a friend a long time ago. He could just take a little nap and the younger Were would look after him. He let his head fall to the ground to rest on his front paws and his eyelids fluttered closed.
He didnít see or feel it when the jaws fell on him and finished the job the young thiefís trap had started when it had plunged its knife into Sethís throat, severing his windpipe and jugular.
An Invitation - 33
Leythan was sore all over. His body was a mass of cuts and bruises, but he had been bandaged and was laying on a pallet in Taliaís hut. It was warm under the woollen blankets that covered him, and the burning herbs on the night stand soothed him and made him feel like sleeping.
It didnít matter. Even if he did fall asleep, his dreams would be haunted by nightmares. Most likely for several nights to come.
Talia was talking to Birq and Hallord in the next room, detailing to them the extent of his injuries and the amount of time it would take for them to heal. The young Were could hear every word and he didnít like it one bit.
"...mostly heís suffered blood loss. I was able to heal that fairly easily, and with him regenerating his injuries on his own it shouldnít take him that long before heís on his feet again."
"The shoulder injury was the worst of the lot. The bite severed many tendons, muscles, and even managed to gouge out some cartilage at the bone. I can heal some of it, but it will take time. Probably as much as a week. Till then, I would like it if he was allowed to stay here with me so I can see to it that he doesnít overdo it till heís healed." Talia said in her best doctorís voice.
"You can have him till then. I have a busy few days ahead of me getting this mess that Seth caused sorted out." Birq acquiesced to Talia. "Tell me again what happened, Hal."
"Well, there isnít really much to tell," Hallord started out.
"I was doing a routine patrol of the perimeter of the village, and was on the far side of the town site when I thought I heard something in the bushes. I ducked in to check it out and after I got a short distance into the bushes I heard a howl and fight start up back toward the other side of the huts. It took me only a few seconds to figure out where it was but by the time I got there it was all over."
"I found the girl first. She was battered up pretty good and was just finishing off bandaging up a nasty little cut on her wrists. I regret having to have to use the rope she was tied up with to stop her from running away, but she was terrified and thought I was going to kill her."
"I told you thatís fine, Hal. Talia spent some time with the girl and calmed her down. She understands now that you were just trying to keep her from getting caught in a fight that was meant to free her." Birq had told Hal not to worry about that point at least three times now.
"Yeah, but still I wish I hadnít had to tie her to that tree," the beefy Were grumped.
"I know Hal, and she understands. Now tell me the rest," Birq prompted his sentry.
The large Were paused for a moment before he started again. "Like I said before, I could hear growling in the bushes. You know, like the sounds when one of us is in the lust and feeding. So I went into the bushes and just a few feet away, behind some shrubs, I found them."
"Leythan was pretty torn up, and bleeding a fair bit, but the cuts were clotting by that time so I figured he was going to be alright, but I knew Seth wasnít going to be. His throat had been torn out, and by that time Leythan had worried his chest open and was chewing on some rather vital organs. Serves the little bastard right, as far as Iím concerned, after what he did to that poor girl."
"Do you think she is infected, Talia?" Hallord asked her.
"She does have enough wounds that I would guess she is," the healer stopped for a second before continuing. "Leythan also told me he overheard Seth say that he had made sure to change her so he could..." again Talia paused in her telling, "Yes. Iím almost sure she is now Were. Letís just leave it at that."
"Well, I hope we should be able to help her train her beast. I mean, if thatís fine with you, Birq?" The muscle-bound Were deferred.
"Anyway. I managed to get our young friend there under control, he wasnít in much condition to argue with me, and when he finally came out of the lust he just leaned over and vomited. Canít say as I blame him. I wouldnít want that monsters blood in me. He didnít deserve that respect."
Hallord had gone into a rage when Leythan had told the three of them what he had overheard Seth telling the girl, and his plans for the future. It had been all Birq could do to calm the oversized Were down to the point where he wouldn't go out and ravage the body further.
"After he had finished puking Sethís guts out..." Leythan heard a grim chuckle from the Sentry at his own black humour before he continued, "...he told me the whole story, well what he could remember of it anyway; things tend to get a bit fuzzy when you go into the rage, you know. He showed me the trap that had killed that fiend, and told me where the others were so I wouldnít stumble into them on my way back. He was pretty much covered in blood, but looked like he would live just fine, so I sent him to get Talia while I went back and got the girl."
"I was coming to see if everything was alright when I bumped into Leythan," Talia cut in. "I would have come earlier, but Cassie had recognized Sethís howl and I had to sedate her before I could leave to keep her out of trouble."
"I took the time to heal your pupil up a bit before I went to help Hal, and he told me what had happened while I was at it. I went in human form so I wouldnít scare the girl, and managed to calm her down enough that we could untie her. Then I brought her here and cleaned and tended her wounds. There was only so much I could do for her because she hasnít changed completely yet, but she shouldnít have any permanent scars. At least none that we can see." Talia spat the last under her breath like a curse.
"Hal went to the glade and got one of the others to go get you and the rest of the pack, then he returned here to guard the village. The rest you know."
The room adjacent to Leythanís grew quiet while the three older Wereís each stopped to contemplate the information one more time.
Birq finally broke the pall of silence, "Thank you, Hal. You did good work tonight. You didnít make any mistakes. The Pack is in your debt."
"Thanks Birq. But we all know who the Pack owes its thanks to, and itís not me."
"I will need you in about an hour to come with us to the girls parents and then to help bring Sethís head to the boys family since we canít give him over to human justice now." It wasnít Birq talking now. It was the Alpha male of the Pack.
"Aye. Iíll be there. And if you donít mind, Iíll carry the head for you."
"Done," Birq said, "We owe you that much at least, but if any of the humans ask, Hal, you are the one who brought down the justice, if you donít mind. You cut a far more impressive enforcer than our young friend, and that will make the humans feel safer and more secure. We need them to feel that way right now."
Leythan could only assume that Hallord nodded in agreement to that, because there wasnít another sound until the door opened and closed, leaving Birq and Talia alone in the next room.
"We need to talk, Talia. Can your patient hear us right now?" Birq asked.
"No," she responded. "With the wounds heís taken and those herbs burning next to his bed he would have to have a very good reason to be awake right now, and I think heís more tired than reasonable at this moment."
Leythan was very tired, and it was all he could do to keep his eyes open, but he fought off sleep with his overwhelming curiosity.
"Good. How long do you think it will be before we need another Alpha?"
"Why? Are you planning on leaving us Birq?" Talia chided.
"This is serious, Talia. Seth was needed in the Pack." That must have earned the Were a reproaching look because he quickly backtracked. "Well, Seth wasnít needed, but another Alpha was. You know what I mean."
"Yes I know. The incidents of the young fighting amongst themselves have started to increase lately. They need a dominant male among them, soon, or we might have trouble. Packs werenít meant to be this large, you know."
"I have someone in mind to train up to the roll, but I want your approval as dominant female. If we both approve it, the Pack will accept it without so much as a hint of trouble, so Iím asking for your help." Birqís voice had hushed down, as if he wasnít sure he couldnít be overheard.
"I believe weíre thinking along the same lines and, yes, I do approve. After tonight nothing would make me happier, but I would like to hear you ask me fully just to make sure your not trying to trick me again." Birq had snuck enough little things past Talia in the past that she wasnít going to give him room to change his mind on this one.
"Alright then. Iíll say it. I want your approval on a few things." Birq must have been quite confident of her response to give in so immediately.
"I want your approval to ask Leythan to join the Pack. Then, I want to train him to become an Alpha in the Pack. And if you and I donít have a child soon, I want to train him to eventually take my spot."
Leythanís eyes drifted closed, and the darkness of sleep overtook him, but not before he had one last thought. His dreams that night were horrible as he thought of the retribution Birq would take on him when he embarrassed and insulted him in front of the entire Pack by refusing him.
I hope you have enjoyed this fourth installation into the history and story of Leythan Nighthunt. Coming up next issue, the final installation in the history of Leythan and the beginning of his adventures in the dangerous world of Muhan.
I welcome any feedback you might care to offer. Please send them to the series editor at firstname.lastname@example.org and carbon the Senior Editor at email@example.com quoting the title of the story. Alternatively just post your comments on the Fiction Discussion Board.
Thank you for taking the time to read, and may the bright moon always shine on your hunt.