The Werewolves' Story

Healer and Hunter: Chapter Eleven

Written in Collaboration with Dragonflight


Zzandoren prodded him into anari form the morning they were to finally go to Star City, to Rythri's initial disgruntlement, but it was probably for the better, with such a weird few experiences coming at him. He had at least some idea of what was coming today, and he reluctantly figured he ought to be sentient for it. 

Traveling with the group of couriers wasn't as uncomfortable as Rythri had thought it might be. True, they kept stopping off at various towns and cities-- the cities were worse, but Rythri never actually went in any of them, himself-- to drop off various messages and packages. Zzandoren sometimes stopped them for an hour or two in the smaller settlements to see to an illness or a poorly-healing injury, but in deference to the dragons and malakym's schedule, he always made it quick.

The couriers themselves were mostly friendly, and none of them seemed to mind a wolf running around when he got tired of walking on two feet, or two when Zzandoren decided to join him. Since the dragons and malakym took to the air after the first day and a half or so, after they'd dropped off a good half of their original load and only taken on a couple parcels, the two of them had to change just in order to keep up, unless they wanted to catch a ride on one of the dragons. Which they didn't. A wolf's lope was fast enough to keep up with large dragons on the wing, if they didn't fly too fast. The furry purple one, Ahina-- one of the ones who smelled vaguely like a wolf, herself-- even ran with them, for a ways.

The only real problem was trying to remember everyone's names. There were a lot of them, and some of them were very strange. Rythri mostly stuck to scents to tell them apart and let Zzandoren do most of the talking, since he was better at that sort of thing, anyway. A couple could even change shapes, just like a werewolf, though they changed between their dragon forms and something that looked just about human, except for some funny coloring. Remembering that the couriers as a whole weren't something to be feared or attacked wasn't as hard as he'd expected, when in wolf form, either, probably because Zzandoren almost always placed himself among them. He had to be reminded twice, though, not to try and hunt the little bird-beaked one, Deik-something, or the little fox-faced one, Janu-something, or the four-winged one, Kikira with the easier-to-remember name. They were all three so small that it was harder to remember that one.

As it turned out that morning, as well, not being a wolf was even more necessary than he'd thought, because after a quick breakfast, Tyrnus said apologetically, "I hate to say it, but there's going to be a brief bit of flying to get to the Nexus Gate."

He'd told them the night before about how they were getting there. "Even with teleportation spells or dragons with a similar ability," he had said, "the best way to get to the Destiny from here is through one of the Nexus Gates, though we'll have to make a bit of a jump to get to one. It might disorient you a bit, if you've never been thrown through a teleport spell before."

"Spells for travel are a bit beyond me, I'm afraid, and I've never had the money to spend for someone else to cast it," Zzandoren admitted. "The closest I've ever gotten are the kind that make it possible to travel farther because you don't get tired. They're closer to healing spells, I guess." And since Rythri hadn't really ever considered traveling via spell, it was obvious he hadn't used any, either. 

Rythri had heard of the Nexus Gates, but only once or twice in passing, and he didn't know much about them. They supposedly led to other worlds, which gave Rythri a little shiver to contemplate. Zzandoren had told him some of the things the others had told him about this "ship" called the "Abstract Destiny", so it was pretty clear that it was part of another world, but it still made him a little nervous. Would there be moons there? Would his moon be there? It sounded very crowded and busy and loud, like a city only lots worse, and he didn't really like that idea much. But it was for Zzandoren, so he wouldn't have to be locked up, so he was going. He didn't want to be packless again, not after being so well accepted by this alpha.

At the pronouncement of flight, both of them looked up quickly and nervously, as if there was a dragon up there waiting to scoop them up. "All right, if there has to be," Zzandoren said first.

"Well, it's that or deal with large numbers of people on the ground. It's your choice."

"We'll take the flying," Rythri said quickly.

Glancing at him, Zzandoren added, "As long as there's something to hold onto."

"Figured as much," Tyrnus chuckled.

Thankfully, there was something to hold onto. Both Ahina and Rakun shrugged into light harnesses while the big white and green one-- Us-something-- and the red and blue ones-- Shura and Chan-something-- circled above, waiting for them. Better, Rythri felt additionally secure with Ahvaku in front of him and Repertius, human-formed and very purple, behind him. Not entirely secure, certainly not enough to keep from gripping the harness tight with both hands and  hooking his feet into the straps, but... better. Zzandoren was getting a similar treatment on Rakun's back, snug between Tyrnus and Culari, also human-formed and brightly pale and blond. Rythri felt a little gratified that the priest looked kind of pale, too, and his knuckles were white where he gripped the harness. At least he wasn't the only one nervous.

"Ready when you are," Zzandoren said, visibly bracing himself.

"Your stomach might feel a bit funny when we take off, but you should be fine if you don't look down," Tyrnus offered, loud enough for both of them to hear him.

"Should you feel the urge to be sick," Ahina added, craning her neck around to look at her passengers-- Rythri, in particular, "lean a bit to the side, would you?"

"Sick?" he repeated faintly, but no one answered, because without another word both dragons sprang into bounding leaps-- one, two, three, wings open and pumping in time with their strides. On the fourth stride, Ahina bounced off the ground and into the air. Rythri actually yelped, one hand clinging to the harness and the other to Ahvaku's tail. Just as Tyrnus said, his stomach did feel funny-- not sick, but a strange swooping, sinking, almost-left-behind feeling.

To his great surprise, he found he liked it.

That didn't mean he was going to let go or look down, especially as a few more bobbing beats of Ahina's wings carried them even higher, higher than the treetops, even. But with each beat and each bob, the slightly squashed feeling in his belly made him grin wildly. He didn't have very long to enjoy it, though, because as soon as they'd stopped rising-- the swoopy feeling turned into a more level sort of squashed feeling, so he guessed they'd stopped rising-- their surroundings... melted? Everything rippled with violet and gray, and though there was still air, there was an instant where, as he breathed in, he couldn't smell anything.

Before he could do more than start, though, it rippled again, into something new. Looking around in confusion, he forgot not to look down, but he wasn't particularly afraid. There was a city down there, with lots of spires built into the mountain and buildings sprawling out onto the plains. It looked like a big one, with lots of people and lots of Riihan-- and dragons, because some of those creatures most certainly were not Riihan. His nose was immediately assaulted with scents again, and he sneezed reflexively, eyes watering in the wind, and risked giving up his grip on Ahvaku's metal tail to try and block some of it out with his sleeve.

"Doing all right back there?"

The wind from their flight nearly stole the words, but Ahvaku had turned his head some and Rythri had sharp hearing. "Fine!" he said back, hopefully loud enough to be heard, too. He even pulled his hand away to show the malakym a grin, then added to explain, "Lots of smells!"

Ahvaku nodded, whether or not he caught all the words, but Rythri didn't care if he did or not, because his stomach did another left-behind kind of flip. This time it was an upward kind of left behind: Ahina was going down. They descended slowly, circling around and around until Rythri, no longer afraid to look down, realized they were descending on a complex of buildings amidst the spires. Ahina and Rakun, behind her, avoided other fliers deftly until they finally stopped circling and aimed straight for a ledge above the walls. There was that nice swoopy feeling again as she committed to the course, and the landing was bouncy as her feet hit the stone ground and her wings cupped air to slow her down. She and Rakun ran for a few strides until they'd run off the last of their momentum, and at last came to a stop.

Rythri tumbled off, laughing, as soon as Ahina had crouched down to let him. "That was great-- can we do it again?"

Ahvaku and Ahina both laughed at him, but Zzandoren, sliding shakily off Rakun's shoulder, looked a little green. "Maybe you can do it again," he said shakily. "I'll keep my feet on the ground next time, I think."

"Sorry you didn't enjoy it," Tyrnus said, hopping down after him. "Settle your stomach before we head on, anyway."

Nodding, Zzandoren pulled his staff from where he'd slid it into Rakun's harness and leaned his forehead against the carved wood. It looked like he was just using it for reassurance and maybe support, but Rythri caught a mutter of unintelligible words and a whiff of familiar magic; he was still adamant that Zzandoren's spells smelled like honey, though Zzandoren bewilderedly said he smelled no such thing. He grinned at the priest when he straightened, looking a little better.

"Don't like flying, old man?" he snickered, elbowing him. He got the end of Zzandoren's staff in his belly, just hard enough to knock the air out of him, for his trouble.

"Don't tease me when I don't feel well," he instructed calmly as Rythri doubled over, thoroughly winded. "I won't like it."

"Won't do it again," Rythri gasped out.

"Good. So," Zzandoren said to Tyrnus, quite as if he hadn't just delivered a somewhat painful reminder of just who the dominant one in their tiny pack was. "Which way from here?"

Tyrnus smiled, whether ignoring the exchange or finding it normal, and gestured ahead of them and into a large hall. "Just a quick walk down to the Gate from here."

"After you, then," Zzandoren answered, and the whole group of them started that direction.

Rythri brought up the rear, rubbing a little at his stomach, but he caught the priest glancing back at him a little apologetically. He just grinned and shrugged back; he shouldn't have been teasing him, really, he just couldn't resist sometimes, and he didn't really mind the reminders when he overstepped his bounds. It felt perfectly natural, after all, to have his alpha give him a good swat when he was disrespectful. If anything, it seemed less natural to be getting apologies for it. Shaking his head a little, Zzandoren went back to paying attention to where he was going.

There was a lot to pay attention to. The hall opened into a massive room, one taller than most trees and with access on various levels: they were higher than the ground level, themselves, and would have to take stairs to get down to the Gate. The stone of the walls, stairs, railings, anything and everything was shaped decoratively, but what really caught the attention about the decor was the Gate, itself. A large, ornately carved archway stood in the center of the room-- it was almost as high as the room, itself-- aglow with runes that swirled and changed as the spells altered themselves, or were altered by whoever controlled the huge thing. Every few minutes, it would light up even more, and the empty air between the arches turned into a swirling mass of energy. Rythri tried in vain to get a whiff of the magic, but there were too many people and too many other scents to even guess at which one was the Gate itself.

That was the next thing that caught his attention: the overwhelming number of people. Rythri's attempt at catching a single scent nearly overwhelmed him again, and he put his sleeve back up to his nose until he could sort it all out. Even Zzandoren, who was better with people and smells, looked a bit intimidated by the quickly moving travelers, the various guards and officials directing people, and the mages maintaining the Gate.

"You say you've done this many times?" he asked Tyrnus.

"Mmmhmm," the malakym answered. "We go both moonside and offworld fairly frequently."

Shaking his head at the very idea of visiting the moons-- what would it be like to visit Iyan-Il? would he be shifted at all times, or when it was daytime, or what? did they even have "daytime" on a moon?-- Rythri let the whole group lead him wherever they were supposed to go. He stuck close to Ahina's hind feet, thinking that a safe enough place where he was unlikely to run into any of the milling crowd. Well, they probably weren't really milling, but since he couldn't make sense of the patterns of movement, he couldn't begin to guess what they really were doing. Going somewhere at wildly varying speeds, he supposed.

It was less of an ordeal getting to the Gate than Rythri had guessed, after seeing the crowds of people clustering around different parts of the room and the officials directing everyone around. They had papers that, when they showed them to a guard, got them ushered through the crowds and right up to the Gate with only a few minutes of waiting while another group hurried through. Up closer, Rythri could get a better sniff of the Gate's magic, but it wasn't like anything he'd ever smelled before. Maybe it was a bit like night-smell, and a bit like water-smell, but not really... he really couldn't describe it.

Then it was their turn, and Tyrnus gave the wizards operating the portal their destination. Like before, only up close now, the portal opened up out of nothingness, and this time they got to go through it. Zzandoren and Tyrnus went through first, stepping into the rippling energy like it was water, and then vanishing. Rythri, near the end of the line of them, was almost last, and he had to watch the dragons one by one, or two by two for the smaller ones, disappear into magic. It was a bit eerie, and he viewed the stuff with increasing apprehension with each disappearance. 

Finally it was his turn and, taking a gulp of air nervously, he hurried through before he could change his mind.


Chapter Ten - Chapter Twelve


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