The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter Thirty
Being back on Kynn, in the middle of nowhere at the isolated
Amerou temple, was like a breath of fresh air-- a fact that Rythri seemed
determined to gleefully throw in her face.
::Yes, all right, I admit it! I like nature better than civilization!:: she finally growled angrily at him. ::Better than that civilization, anyway.::
Rythri's grin was annoying when he gloated, "See? Sometimes wild is better."
::Wild is only better when you can come home to a hot bath after being out in it,:: she countered defensively. That had been the one thing she was sad to leave behind: having hot, running water, in tubs and rooms big enough for a dragon. Well, besides her family, but that was different. ::Or when "civilization" means no sky and metal everywhere. I bet I'd like a large town perfectly fine.::
He still looked horribly smug, damn him. Thonyn-- Thonynde; gods, that would take a while to get used to-- was tempted to get herself a little respect by tossing her brand new, hair-splittingly sharp Smart Disc just over the top of his head. But she didn't trust her aim, what with only having had the thing a grand total of four hours now, and no matter how annoying he was, cutting off his head was utterly out of the question. Besides, her father would probably not take kindly to using his clan's weaponry just to get someone to stop gloating. Maybe she could just kick him, instead.
But they were at the temple now, just being settled out in the most-tamed part of the garden grounds to wait for Jestin to finish with the service he was in the middle of, so maybe now wasn't the best time. They were being stared at-- she was being stared at-- and doing something threatening might be a bad idea. After all, though she'd taken off her mask, just because she hadn't wanted to frighten anyone by looking like she suddenly had no face-- after getting used to her ugly face to begin with, having it covered in the unnatural leather-stuff would probably be quite a shock to those few people who knew her-- she still wore the rest of her equipment. She still had on her leather-like gloves and metal bracers on each hand, delicate electronics hidden inside one and wicked blades sheathed inside another. The sparse armoring and netting across her chest and shoulders was the only outward sign of her shift-suit; punching through her wing membranes to buckle it behind her back had been probably the worst part of her whole ordeal, worse than the test itself, so she wasn't about to take that off anytime soon. Her Smart Disc-- she expected she might just start calling it "disc" instead of Smart Disc; that sounded kind of stupid, especially since the thing wasn't smart, just programmed, and not terribly complexly-programmed, at that-- was still strapped to her thigh. The plasma-cannon, though useless without her mask on, rode between her shoulders impressively.
Of course, most people on this world wouldn't have the faintest idea what a plasma cannon was, and would likely call the shift suit a magic spell and the bladed disc an enchanted golem of some sort. Thonyn-- Thonynde-- figured she didn't really mind the assumptions. She hoped that meant they wouldn't be as likely to be noticed, sensed, or seen coming.
"How long does a service last?" Resham grumped, pacing restlessly around. The druidess had turned out to be a solid sort of person, if a bit overzealous and serious-- Rythri made rather unfavorable comments comparing her to Thonyn herself. Thonynde.
Well, she liked Resham well enough, which didn't surprise Rythri one bit. She was passionate yet sensible, adaptable and dependable, unlike her own bond. Rythri still bristled at her now and then, but Thonyn expected that would be the norm for a while yet.
Thonynde. De! Curse it, none of the others seemed to have any trouble getting the new name right, why was she? Not even forgetful Rythri had messed up once, and Ronan's thoughts positively spat it every time he had to address her or talk about her. Why did she, the bearer of this new name, have such trouble with it? She'd looked forward to being Blooded, had worked hard to earn the rank and the suffix-- had fought hard, against a deity no less!-- and she was having trouble adjusting to what she'd wanted so badly.
It's only been a day, Rythri's thought interrupted her frustrated musings. Give yourself some time to get used to it. Giving your whole self a new name's a big thing, I figure. --And before you ask, he added, sensing her indignation, I couldn't help but overhear. You're thinking really, really loudly.
Deflating a little, Thonynde said, ::Sorry... I'll try to keep it to myself.::
You don't have to, he thought back. I don't mind, if you don't.
It was embarrassing that Rythri could still give her that odd combination of affection and pleasure when he said things like that. She supposed that's why she hung onto the bond, even when he annoyed her with his immaturity and frustrated her with his wolfishness. But he still made her happy, so she didn't give up-- and neither did he. Immature and frustrating and instinctively driven he might be, but he was also dedicated and caring and surprisingly hard-working when he had a reason to be. He'd held on and made efforts to keep them together as much as she had, and that made her happy, too.
She hooked a finger in his hair fondly, making him grin up at her, but as Jestin was hurrying out at last, they let conversation go. Thankfully. Like him or not, it was still embarrassing. She was a Blooded huntress, for gods' sakes, not a schoolgirl.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Jestin said, coming up to join them. "I see someone passed her test?"
"That she did," Zzandoren confirmed, smiling. "Thonynde is a highly-ranked, Blooded yautjadragon now." Thonynde couldn't help sitting a little straighter, more proudly, puffing out her chest to show off the new armoring-- Ronan snorted annoyedly, and Rythri laughed. The laugh deflated her again and she glared at him, that time to everyone's amusement.
"Well, congratulations," the lanky priest said, though it was obvious he wanted to get to the point. Thonynde let him. The more they dwelled on the hunter trial, the more surly Ronan got, and she was rather eager to get moving, anyway.
"Ronan says you've been getting some leads for us over the past few months," Zzandoren began, introducing the subject.
Jestin, predictably, leaped on it. "I have, and I think I have a few to get you started."
And indeed he did. He had six different possible leads, all on the current continent. Two of them he had such detailed descriptions and suggestions for that Thonyn couldn't believe he was working off of rumor alone. Maybe that goddess of his was helping out-- wasn't Amerou supposed to be the patron of werewolves, too? She found herself hoping that priests simply had a good network. If they had a goddess's help and approval, that was a good sign, but she was hoping for some time-consuming, complicated hunting, not destinations handed to her on a divine silver platter, no matter how important helping the beasts was. At least the other four were satisfyingly vague.
Resham was more suspicious. "How did you get all this information?" she asked warily. "Not even those of us who hunt werewolves have this much detail."
"Perhaps you don't know all the signs to look for," Jestin said kindly. "And those of us who don't like destroying a population are much more likely to earn their trust and, thus, their secrets."
Looking both annoyed and guilty, Resham pressed, "But even then, some of those-- people-- surely never told anyone...."
"I am a particularly experienced and well-educated priest, my dear," Jestin pointed out. "And I specialize not specifically in werewolves but, perhaps more practically, in divination. I doubt that many divination priests bother joining hunting parties."
Blinking, Resham hunched back, and muttered an acknowledgement. Gentle though he was with her, Thonyn thought Jestin liked pointing out the irony of her situation and previous employment to Resham, and took far too much pleasure out of making her squirm. Zzandoren, having none of it, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and said, changing the subject, "However you came by the information, Jestin, thank you for it."
"Oh, delighted to be of service," Jestin beamed. "I'd go with you, if I could."
"If you want to--"
"No, no," Jestin interrupted, waving a hand at Zzandoren's offer. "My duty is here, and besides, I don't think I could stand sleeping on the ground and living off campfire food."
"Or getting bitten by accident," Zzandoren added sadly.
"Now, now," Jestin said warmly. "I've told you before, I'd take the curse myself if I were sure I wouldn't wind up a Hunter-type. I've not got the kind of dedication it takes, I'm afraid."
A little cheered, Zzandoren said, "I'm sure you would."
"I am far too lazy," Jestin chuckled. "Lazy, licentious, and lustful-- not the best picture of a priest, but given the goddess I'm dedicated to, I can't imagine she'll really care."
"You?" Rythri laughed. "Lustful and licentious? You're kidding."
"I make it a point not to flirt with guests unless they do it, first." Jestin smiled enigmatically. "So you, at least, have been safe." Rythri frowned at him, confused, but no one enlightened him-- Thonyn least of all, as she had no idea what the fellow was getting after, herself.
Thonynde. Curse it all.
"Well." Zzandoren coughed lightly. "I'd hate to strain the temple's generosity and your schedule. We should probably get going."
"Stay for lunch," Jestin said. "I insist, at least so I know you start off with a good meal."
"Well...." Zzandoren glanced at the rest of the group, as if gauging whether they agreed, then nodded. "All right. Thank you."
Thonyn followed him around to the courtyard by the dormitories, where she and Ronan would be served. She wasn't going to turn down a free meal, cooked in an actual kitchen, and she expected none of the others would, either.