The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Twenty-Three
The first thing Zzandoren said once he was human again, laying on
his back and staring up at the sky, was a frustrated and weary, "Dammit."
Apparently one day and half a night of being the beast wasn't enough to make him pass out after changing back, not when he wasn't torn to shreds by said beast after being locked up. So he had to deal with the consequences immediately rather than wait until unconsciousness had restored a measure of sanity. Not even the lingering ache from the painful transformation had faded, and already he was well aware of the horrible mistake he'd made.
::I agree,:: came Ronan's grumbled response. ::I just can't leave you alone, can I.::
"I was doing fine until those-- bastards shot Rythri...."
::Don't make excuses.::
The brief anger faded without effort. "I'm not." He knew full well that he had no business excusing his lapse of control, not when it resulted in... that. "I was just explaining."
Zzandoren covered his face in his hands, blocking out the sunset and rubbing his eyes and stubbled cheeks tiredly. He remembered... three. The one who had shot Rythri-- he still felt a smoldering, protective anger at the thought-- the one who had bound him, even briefly-- the beast had been furious at that, remembering other bindings and throwing that anger at this victim-- and the woman who had tried to save the one who shot Rythri. There'd been an animal in there, but he didn't remember paying it much attention: it hadn't been prey, a threat, or a fellow werewolf, so the beast had ignored it once it was out of the way. After those, though, Ronan and Thonyn had chased him away, and Ronan had kept him away from any others. Thank the gods for Ronan....
He'd had a reason, this time. That didn't make him feel any less sick that he'd been free again, had killed again. But it made him feel less like he was a total failure at controlling his change. If those people hadn't shown up, if they hadn't shot Rythri....
"Have you talked to them at all?" he asked, not moving his hands away.
::Not much. It didn't seem necessary, and I was busy.::
Busy stalking, chasing, herding, even fighting with the beast. Zzandoren sighed and pushed himself up to sit. "I'm sorry, Ronan... I hope I didn't interrupt anything."
::Nothing important.:: Ronan shook his great head. He was crouched not far off, wrists on his propped-up knees and tail curled around in front of him. ::Nothing that can't wait a day or two.::
Which Zzandoren had the sudden suspicion meant "pretty much nothing at all". He hoped his bond wasn't finding it hard to come up with good deeds to do. That would probably be even more dull and disappointing than his own healer's lifestyle. "Can you get me back to everyone else?" he asked. "I need to see how Rythri's doing... Thonyn never did do well with healing, and I think they might've poisoned their arrows." He couldn't imagine why else Rythri had kept on howling and shaking like that. It was just an arrow, it hadn't hit anything vital, and Rythri had a higher tolerance for pain than that.
::I can give you a ride back. Think you're up to a teleport?::
There was almost amusement in his bond's voice, despite the continued annoyance and disappointment in Zzandoren's change. He knew perfectly well that Zzandoren hated flying.
"Only if you want me throwing up down your side," he frowned.
::No,:: Ronan agreed, tusks pulling apart with distaste. ::All right. Running it is, then. We didn't get too far....::
The best thing about riding along while Ronan ran-- even better than being spared flying-- was that he could doze a bit while they traveled. Changing was tiring, especially when it involved fighting off a much larger "monster" and being wounded multiple times, but even just the pain of it, and the radically different mindset, was enough to wear him out. If he didn't manage to get a little rest before they met up with the others, he didn't know if he would be much use to help Rythri. Ronan even took pity on him and ran more carefully, more gently, each time he shut his eyes. The rhythmic rocking of his stride was actually soothing, and with his hands woven into his bond's mane, he did finally nod off.
He started awake again when Ronan stopped, straightened out of his running crouch, throwing off Zzandoren's balance, and looked around, radiating confusion. ::Where did they go?::
"Hmm?" Zzandoren rubbed his face, sitting up and looking around, too. "Is this not where we were? It looks like it...."
No, it had to be where they had been, where Rythri had been shot, where he'd changed and-- and killed. There were two small mounds with carefully stacked stones at one end, between two of the trees. Thonyn had apparently buried the dead. Though there looked like only two graves....
::Pah,:: Ronan grumbled. ::Thonyn says they left, in case the hunters came back.::
"Hunters?" Zzandoren repeated blankly.
::Those people you attacked,:: Ronan clarified. ::Hold on tight.::
"What do you-- oh, abyss!" Zzandoren only had a moment to instinctively clamp his legs around his bond's shoulders and throw his arms around his neck before Ronan's crouch turned into a launch into the sky. His stomach plummeted to the bottom of his feet, and he squeezed his eyes shut while the wind rushed by him, whipping his own hair and Ronan's in his face, stinging and getting even more tangled. Worse, his dragon scales kept smacking into his nose. Gods, he hated flying!
At least it didn't last long. Ronan rose above the treetops and immediately vanished. There was the uncomfortable, scentless moment of the teleport itself, then they were accosted by a chillier wind as they reappeared. Zzandoren, going all over in goose bumps, realized all over again that he'd been forced to leave his clothes behind-- oh, abyss, he'd ruined most of his clothes, hadn't he?-- and hoped that Thonyn or Rythri or someone below would at least have his coat.
Ronan landed quickly, too, though it was so quickly that Zzandoren thought his stomach had decided to jump up to his throat, instead of his toes. The landing was uncomfortably jarring, and Zzandoren very nearly tumbled off when Ronan backwinged, but managed to recover before he actually did so. Ronan dropped to a crouch, mouth open and panting a little, to let him stagger off. ::I hope I keep getting bigger,:: he complained. ::You're heavy to fly with!::
"If I have my way, I'll never fly again, so you won't have to worry about it," Zzandoren told him, shutting his eyes against vertigo and leaning against the dragon's haunches to catch his breath. The air he took in, however, was oddly familiar. He knew these smells... where had Ronan taken them?
"Well, we really didn't expect to be seeing you again," said a familiar, amused voice. Zzandoren's eyes popped open again, and he stared at Jestin, who was holding out his patched coat-- which was, in turn, much cleaner than he remembered it. Sometimes he positively loved civilization. "Welcome back to the House of the Moons."
"Jestin?" he asked confusedly, taking the coat and shrugging into it gratefully. "Thonyn and Rythri are here?"
"Mmmhmm," the other priest nodded. "Rythri wasn't doing well, I'm afraid-- we patched him up, though, don't worry," he assured Zzandoren when he started, "and... well. Perhaps I ought to show you, hmm?"
"Show me what?" Zzandoren asked warily. "Can't I just see Rythri?"
"Rythri is sleeping just now," Jestin said gently. "And I think this ought to be dealt with now."
::Dealt with?:: Ronan echoed, just as warily.
"Come," Jestin beckoned him towards the dormitory building. Ronan had landed in the back courtyard; no wonder the landing had been jarring, there wasn't really much room to run off his flight momentum. Giving his bond a confused glance, Zzandoren followed, and Ronan settled into the back of his mind to watch rather than trying to squeeze inside, himself. Zzandoren didn't mind, but it meant Ronan had to deal with his emotions. It was uncomfortable, walking through the hall he'd hoped he'd never see again-- approaching that door, the one that led to the watch-room and the cell-- oh, gods, the cell? Was that were--?
But the door Jestin opened was across the hall from the cell. Something inside growled, and Zzandoren jumped. "What--?"
"What do you want?" someone inside snarled.
"There's someone who I think you ought to have a chat with," Jestin said lightly, smiling his usual delighted-but-reassuring smile. "Zzandoren?"
Zzandoren already knew what he was going to see. He inched over to peer in and, indeed, there sat the woman who he'd assumed was dead, staring back at him with wide, dark eyes. Her wolf-- oh, gods, a wolf; he wasn't sure whether that was cause to laugh or groan-- barked warningly, lips drawn back from his teeth and gray fur entirely bristled, even the part darkened with his black companion mark, across his back. The woman's stare turned into a glare, and she shifted on the bed the acolytes of Amerou had given her, turning her back on the doorway and hugging her knees.
Jestin was right. This was something that needed dealing with.