The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Eight
"I have to admit," Acolyte Dateya said with an amiable
smile as she tossed the last of Zzandoren's bandages into the laundry bin,
"most healers I tend wind up being terrible patients, but you weren't
"Being unconscious or asleep for most of it probably helped," Zzandoren answered, putting aside the mug of tea that finished off his breakfast. His voice was still a little rough: he'd howled and howled, trapped in that tiny cell, and worn out his throat, even if it was a beast-throat. Apparently even "wounds" like that translated between forms. But at least he could smile a bit, back at her, for her cheer and all her help.
He was, after all, very grateful for the help. The acolytes of Amerou hadn't needed to look after him after the full moon was over, especially after he had been such a burden to look after. Amerou's priests were not usually known for their charity, even among their own dedicated. Maybe it had been hard not to, when he staggered out of their cell bloody and exhausted, but they could have just let Rythri look after him, or let him heal himself. After dealing with him for however long, it might have been easier than he'd think: he hadn't been that badly off, and they had to know he was a priest, himself, by now.
Yet he had one of their own healing priests looking after him, quite as if she didn't hold the past five days against him. "You didn't even snore!" she agreed cheerily to his abashed comment.
There'd been a period of a couple hours between when he came to after passing out into poor Rythri's surprised arms and when he fell into his exhausted sleep to recover. He hadn't been inclined to do much except curl up in a ball and shudder uncontrollably during those couple hours, but Rythri needed reassurance and Amerou's acolytes insisted on keeping him alert, presumably to avoid letting him go into shock. It was a valid concern. He'd been made to bathe, which had been a relief to his sensitive nose once he was awake enough to appreciate it, and his wounds had been bound up and tended with magic and poultice. He'd been made to eat and then drink some rather vile-tasting concoctions that he just barely had the awareness to recognize as helpful and so downed without complaint. Jestin, the priest who had escorted him in to begin with, then asked him a variety of questions-- some of them quite intrusive, though it was usually Rythri who growled in his stead, as he didn't have the energy for it-- until he ran out of energy to answer them entirely and they finally let him sleep.
And now, after that refreshing sleep, some further helpful healing spells, and another meal, he was more than ready to get back to work and try to forget the whole experience.
An experience that, no matter how horrible, had worked. No one had been hurt.
"You're free to go whenever you like," Dayena added as she dried her hands, having just washed them to get the last of his dried, werewolf blood off them.
"Don't mention it," Dateya smiled, then headed out, leaving Zzandoren alone to slowly get dressed.
He'd destroyed the light robe they'd given him in place of his own clothing; presumably that's why they'd given it to him. It really wouldn't have been fit to use again after five days of misery, even if he hadn't wound up shifting in the end and shredding it, so he didn't feel too badly about that. There were other things to feel badly about, anyway. He'd attempted to escape once before even giving in to the change, and attempted to attack each time the door was open after that. He'd been rude and angry and ungrateful, and he couldn't even pay them for their services, since they'd spent most of their coin on the fortune-teller that had sent them here. Personally, he'd been utterly miserable, bored out of his mind, hurt, and even a little insane-- temporarily, certainly, but he'd still felt particularly unhinged for a while. Only someone who was mad would try to escape something that was for his own good and the good of others, especially since he knew he would only be stopped.
But that didn't matter. No one had been hurt.
Well, no one besides himself, but since that was his own fault-- the beast might have been intelligent, but emotion over-rode intelligence when it was caged, it seemed-- he would blame no one but himself for it. Not even pain could dissuade the beast from its desire to hunt, to hurt, to kill.
What mattered was that people were safe. He had something he could do, even if he never got the hang of holding off the change. Though maybe three days-- or was it two, or four? the lack of ability to tell time in that windowless cell had been almost as bad as the curse itself-- was a good start. It was only his first attempt. Maybe he would get better at it. Even if he didn't, though, he had something he could do, whether or not he hated it.
People were safe. That's what mattered. Not how he felt. Not that he was terrified of the idea of being shut up again, alone and utterly isolated, in a dim room with nothing to occupy himself but himself and the distant, painful, powerful pull of a full moon. That didn't matter.
That didn't matter.
But he was shaking, thinking about it, so hard that he could barely lace up his boots. Remembering pacing from wall to wall like a caged beast-- he was a caged beast-- he felt like he couldn't breathe. Remembering the mindless way the beast itself had thrown itself at the only exit, to no avail, he desperately wanted out of the small, windowless room he was in-- like the cell, too much like the cell. Except for there being real furniture, since he wasn't in danger of destroying it. He wanted to run until he never saw this place again, never saw walls again, even if it meant living wild and changing and hunting and--
No, dammit. People were safe. That's what mattered.
That's what mattered, demons take it.
Right then, unfortunately, it was hard to think about it mattering, because he didn't have to worry about people being safe. He wasn't dangerous. He was, instead, trembling and feeling the edges of panic.
He had to get out. Maybe in another four to five months, by the time Shinan-Al was full again, he'd be able to face it again. But right now he needed fresh air before he turned into a wolf again, moon or no moon, and fought his way out to sunlight and grass and a gods-forsaken breeze.
When he opened the door barely ten seconds later, staff in hand, he was immediately confronted by a hopeful-looking Rythri. If he'd had a tail, it would have been low but wagging furiously. Zzandoren couldn't help but smile a bit at him, and it was tempting to ruffle his hair, but given he was taller-- and still practically a pride-prickly adolescent-- that wouldn't have worked well. The smile seemed to be enough for the youth, though.
Jestin was standing behind him, looking as serene-yet-interested as ever. "It's good to see you looking well again."
"It'll be better once I see some sunlight," Zzandoren said. Five days and nights locked up inside-- six now, actually, counting his recovery time-- was too many.
Chuckling, Jestin nodded and let him make his hasty way to the nearest door. It was mid-morning, a day and a half after his change back, and stepping from the chilled, enclosed dormitory hall into bright, warm day was the happiest feeling he'd enjoyed in a long time. He sighed with relief and leaned against the wall, shutting his eyes and soaking up sunlight, fresh air, smells that weren't stale and domesticated.
"Bet that feels good," Jestin chuckled at him, and he cracked one eye to glare a little.
"You try being locked up in there for five days and see how you like it," he countered, though the words were without any real bite.
"I did try it once," Jestin admitted. "Just to see what it's like, a little bit. Just about went wild, myself, and I don't even have a curse to blame for it."
"Ah." Zzandoren shut his eye again and just basked for a minute more.
"You did?" Rythri exclaimed, sounding surprised.
"This really surprises you? I would take the curse myself, so I could better study it, if I could be sure I wouldn't wind up a hunter-type, myself. With my luck, I probably would."
Though he couldn't see Rythri's expression, Zzandoren could imagine it: the stunned mixture of distaste and disbelief was probably the same expression he'd worn when Zzandoren had said he wanted to find someplace secure for his change, to begin with. Jestin actually laughed at him. That was about when Zzandoren decided it was time to go, before Rythri got defensive. Pushing himself up from the wall, he smiled as kindly as possible, and said, "Thank you for everything, Jestin... the whole temple was far kinder and more helpful than I had any right to expect."
"Well, it's as much a benefit to others as to yourself," Jestin shrugged. "Probably more, given the unpleasantness of being shut in there for you."
"Still, it was a burden to you all," Zzandoren said. "Is there anything I can do? Offer my own services as a healer, perhaps? I'm afraid we can't afford actual payment, the few coins we have are hardly worth what you all went through on my account...."
"Keep them; you need to eat, after all," Jestin waved him off. "Just come back here the next time you change, perhaps? It could be useful to watch your progression through time, with controlling the change."
Rythri looked positively affronted, but since he'd discerned Jestin's personal obsession with the study of werewolves, particularly "hunter types" as he called them, from his multitude of questions, Zzandoren just nodded. If he could find a way to turn even this curse into a way to keep to his vow to help people, he would. "I'll do my best to-- find this temple again."
Both of them noticed the hitch in his words, and his tiny shudder: Rythri looked immediately concerned and protective, and Jestin gave him a little shove away from the building. "Go on, you need more room to run than we have in here. I'm sure we'll see you again."
Quelling Rythri's warning growl with a look, Zzandoren flashed Jestin a grateful smile then headed across the temple grounds to the very nearest exit: the side gate, not much bigger or sturdier than a simple door, at the end of the dormitory building. A helpful acolyte opened it for him with a grin; he vaguely remembered her as one of the ones he'd tried to wrestle his way past, and though he blushed at the memory, she didn't seem to care and waved enthusiastically after him and Rythri as they fled.
As soon as they hit the trees again, it was four feet, fur, and as long and fast of a run as he had breath for-- and that was a long time.