The Werewolves' Story
The Pack: Chapter Seven
To no one's surprise, Rythri went straight back to wolf form once
he'd led them to the remains of poor Chavarin's house-- ostensibly so as to lead
them by scent to where he'd left Chavarin. Zzandoren expected he simply
preferred having the excuse of a simpler mind to the reality of not knowing what
to do no matter what form he took.
Rythri led the way as anxiously as a wolf could manage, obviously in a hurry, and Zzandoren, Resham, and Shessyi hurried after him. Thonynde hung back, not wanting to fight with the narrowly-planted rows of wheat. ::Call me if you need anything,:: she sent after them.
It took several minutes of trekking through the field, overshadowed by the tall stalks, until they reached the site. They heard it before they saw it, and they smelled it before they heard it: the house might have burned, but the dead, fallen at least two days ago, were in the field, and Chavarin was with them. Stumbling out of the wheat on Rythri's heels, they found not just the bodies and youth they'd expected, but what looked like a small battlefield. Stopping short and not saying a word for shock, even Shessyi stared. A once-colorful wagon had been hacked at viciously, destroying what had probably been a fine painting on each side, and its former occupants were strewn around it amidst the bodies of their foes. The latter were anari; the former looked like tahrim.
Despite the time it had taken Rythri to run back to the village-- run, not call them or have Thonynde come get him-- and then for the rest of the pack to get back here, Chavarin hadn't moved. He was still kneeling on the ground at the edge of the wheat field, staring at the remains of what had to be his family-- a round anari woman with gray in her blonde hair and a trio of younger men who were all probably older than Chavarin himself-- and the foreigners who had killed them. From what it looked like, they had done so in self-defense. Even the woman-- Chavarin's mother, Zzandoren suspected unhappily-- had a bloody sickle still resting under her hand, a simple farm implement turned deadly.
Then Rythri barked, sounding far too loud in the quiet field, and Chavarin jumped, tear-streaked face finally turning away from the dead to stare blankly at him. Zzandoren tore his gaze away, too, letting Resham take his staff and coming to crouch beside him. "Chavarin?" he asked gently.
It took the boy a minute to focus on him, and then another to recognize him. He hiccupped, then stammered, "I-- I'm sorry, I shouldn't-- I should've-- told--"
"It's all right," Zzandoren told him kindly. "You needed to know."
Chavarin tried to answer, but his breath caught in a sob. Before Zzandoren knew it, his arms were full of crying anari. Since he'd half-expected it, he managed to not fall over, and even settled him more comfortably against his shoulder. All he had to do was glance hopefully at Resham and she understood what he wanted, tossing his staff down next to him and padding out to start removing bodies, starting with anari ones.
Rythri and Shessyi both started sniffing around the tahrim and the remains of their wagon, but Zzandoren tried to ignore them, stroking Chavarin's back soothingly. It had to have been a horrible blow, on top of everything else, to find his whole family dead. It wasn't something Zzandoren had ever dealt with personally-- as far as he knew, his parents and siblings were all alive and well-- but he'd seen it time and again as he traveled: raiding, disasters, disease, anything that took children from parents and parents from children.
They couldn't leave Chavarin here, now. Zzandoren had vaguely hoped that they could find some unharmed relatives living too far from the village to be affected, rather than subjecting the boy to their kind of life, especially since he obviously couldn't change forms at will. But he didn't have anywhere else to go, and he would probably feel too alone if they left him at a temple, with no one left of his family or his village to take him in. The pack was all he had.
At least this time he knew he'd have no protest from Rythri.
As if he'd heard the thought, Rythri barked again, and Zzandoren looked over at him with a frown. He had climbed inside the remains of the wagon, despite it missing a wheel and listing dangerously to one side, and was pawing at the debris within.
"Zzan," Resham spoke up quietly, "most of these tahrim weren't killed by--" She broke off, glancing at Chavarin, who was still buried in his own misery and ignored her, and hitched a shoulder to indicate Chavarin's family. "You know. They're dead, but they aren't dead from these." She kicked gently at the fallen sickle.
"Plague, then," Zzandoren answered, just as quietly.
"In, what, two days?"
She had a point. Two days wasn't enough for the disease, whatever it was, to incubate and turn deadly, if it even was deadly beyond the violent insanity it caused. Not for humans or anari, anyway-- would tahrim be so different?
... well, really, it was possible, and it seemed like the only explanation. Tahrim were an entire species removed from humans, anari, and even lunari, despite the general similarity in build and appearance, and Zzandoren had never really studied inter-species physiological differences very deeply. For all he knew, Thonynde's insistence that the disease was purposefully created was correct, and it was targeted at tahrim, made to be the most deadly with their particular species. It could have been that his own suspicions were correct, though: that it was merely an accidental mutation by some experimenting mage or even passing Balespawn that yautjadragons hated so much, and it just happened to affect another species worse than another.
Either way, he shook his head. "We need Thonynde to clear the area before it gets any farther. Get Rythri to change back."
At the sound of his name, Rythri looked up and barked again.
"Yes, he means you, stupid," Resham told him, pacing over to the remains of the wagon. "Come on, get out of there."
Rythri's only answer was to whine and paw at the debris again, a pile of blankets in one corner, partially visible through one of the smashed holes in the wagon's side.
"I wish you'd just shift," Resham grumbled, reaching inside in an attempt to grab him, or the blankets he was nosing. "What're you so interested in, you-- oh." She went very still for a moment, and Zzandoren, absently stroking Chavarin's back-- he'd stopped sobbing, now, but didn't show any inclination to move, so Zzandoren wasn't making him-- frowned over at them both. "Abyss take it. Zzandoren, there's another one in here, and she's still alive."
Even Chavarin looked up at that one, sniffing and rubbing his nose with a sleeve. Zzandoren disentangled himself from the boy hurriedly, standing up and trotting over. "Rythri, move," he ordered. Even in wolf form, he knew better than to disobey, and he pressed himself against the wagon's remaining side so Zzandoren could see what he'd found. Resham had pulled the blanket aside to reveal a little tahrim girl dressed in a slightly ragged dress, probably no more than twelve, shivering feverishly and staring at them with wide, glassy eyes that probably didn't see them, at all. Zzandoren reached in to rest his palm on her face-- she was so hot it almost hurt to touch her, and her fur felt unhealthily dry; it was even falling out in a few places-- and murmur a quick diagnostic spell.
"Rythri, get Thonynde already," Resham growled at him, but Zzandoren, sitting back unhappily, shook his head. The spell had told him more than he'd wanted to know.
"It won't matter if she does," he said. "I don't think I can save her. She's almost gone, as it is...."
Behind him, he heard Chavarin groan. "Not another--" Another hiccupping sob made him break off.
Zzandoren shut his eyes. "I'm sorry...."
Resham put a hand on his shoulder sympathetically, Chavarin slumped back down on the ground outside miserably, and he could hear Thonynde crashing through the wheat field towards them, regardless of how much good her power for purification would be at this point. She'd probably been drawn by whatever Rythri was feeling. Rythri himself whined and shifted around, claws scraping on the wagon's wooden floor and tail making only one weak thump against the wall.
"Rythri," Resham said sharply. "What are you--"
When Zzandoren opened his eyes in surprise, it was to see his friend, his first packmate, the boy who had changed him in a fit of fury, taking the little girl's hand in his mouth and--
-- biting down. Not even Resham, reaching to grab him away, was quick enough to stop him. The little girl, fevered and dying or not, felt it and flinched, but didn't make a sound. She just turned her head feebly in Rythri's direction, her now sluggishly bleeding hand limp in his teeth, as if trying to look at him. Thonynde's silent, hurried, and complete cleansing of the area hit them all a moment later.
Then Rythri shifted back, letting the child go and dropping to sit, anari-bodied again, on the floor of the wagon.
"Rythri," Resham began angrily as he tucked the girl's hand between his, wiping at some of the blood, "what do you think you--"
"I thought maybe if we're immune, she would be, too," Rythri said before she could even finish. He glanced outside the wagon at Chavarin, who was peering inside despite his reddened eyes. "Isn't that what we're trying to do? Save people?"
"Not by changing them all!" Resham exclaimed furiously.
"By doing what we can!" Rythri snapped back.
"Don't argue," Zzandoren interrupted. "At least let me see if it worked. Out, both of you."
Looking mutinous, both of them edged out of the wagon, leaving Zzandoren to investigate whether the newest werewolf would last until her first full moon-- and if so, what kind of shape she would be in, when she did so.