Tiny swirls of dust flew up as the clawed feet beat out a steady rhythm on the desert sand. As Daravin pulled hard on the reigns causing the riding lizard to slow to a stop, he heard the other lizard which carried most of their equipment come to a stop beside them, as far back as the rope connecting the two animals would allow. Daravin could feel Colleen's soft furred paws wrapped tightly around his waist. Daravin lifted the night vision binoculars which hung around his neck up in front of his eyes, resting them on top of his muzzle. Looking back in the direction they had come, there was no sign of pursuit but he knew they hadn't given them the slip yet. Day was fast approaching, they had to find a place to hide soon, or they would be caught out in the heat. Daravin hated the heat of day, it caused certain disadvantages to those unlucky enough to have black fur, disadvantages like heat exhaustion and stroke.
“Where are we?” Colleen asked leaning her golden furred head over Daravin's shoulder. She didn't know much about the world outside her little village, her own little way of life. A life that Daravin had been party to the destruction of.
Daravin turned his head back to Colleen, “The humans used to call this Vermont. It's a fair distance from where we picked you up but not far enough. We have to get to the coast, from there we can take a ship across the sea, they'll never find us then.”
“Humans, you really believe in that old legend? Humans are just something parents tell kits to get them to behave, they aren't real.”
Daravin's binoculars locked in on something, it was a building of some sort, he couldn't see it well but it wasn't far off. “We'll talk about this when we stop for the day. Heeya!” He whipped the reigns urging the lizard into motion once again and steering it towards the structure he had seen.
As the building came into sight it appeared to be made out of mud, which meant there was an oasis about, or once was, probably dried up by now. It was fairly unobtrusive, or as much so as anything could be in these open wastes, and about 30 feet square. That was big enough for the two of them, and the lizards would be happy just soaking up some sun and resting. By the time they reached it the sun was already showing just a bit on the far off horizon, soon it would be too hot to be out. Colleen dismounted first and went around to the head of the lizard. Grasping it's head, which was wrapped in a leather harness, gently in her hands she whispered soothingly to it. The soothing was an integral part of the keeping of this particular breed of lizard. If it wasn't distracted it had a tendency to try to run off as soon as it realized it wasn't carrying anyone, until it came to know it's owners that is. Last time this lizard had run away it had taken until well into the heat of day to locate it, sunning itself merrily. Daravin had almost collapsed from heat exhaustion.
Daravin stood looking in amazement at this building, it wasn't mud as he had thought, it was entirely made out of wood. And not palms lashed together like the doors he had seen on other buildings, but actual single planks of wood, like they had in Cascadia, but how the hell did they get wood out here? Daravin pulled the ten foot pole off of their pack lizard which was of a slightly tamer breed, less prone to panicking. The pole was made out of an unknown metal, probably some kind of steel but Daravin didn't know enough about metals to tell the difference.
He raised it high and drove the pole into the ground. He pulled downwards on the pole his hard muscles twisting it deeper and deeper into the sand, until only about a foot and a half was protruding from the desert floor, capped by a large ring. Daravin clipped one end of a long rope to the ring and attached the other end to the lizard's head harness, this would allow him freedom to wander and get comfortable, but not enough to run away. Colleen left the lizard now and Daravin took the rope anchoring the other lizard to it and tethered it instead to the ring. Colleen was now running her hand along the side of the building in amazement, the material was like nothing she had ever seen before. “Pretty impressive, isn't it?” Daravin marveled stepping up beside her.
“What is it?” She asked in amazement.
“It's wood.” Daravin could see from the look on Colleen's face that she didn't understand. How could he explain it so that she would understand though. The only trees she had ever seen were a couple of palms growing by the oasis near where her village had been. “It's too hard to explain. All that matters is that it's here and it'll keep us out of the sun.” Secretly though Daravin's mind was burning, why was it here? And who built it. Whoever they were they were probably long gone from the look of the wood, it was ancient but the heat and dryness of the desert had kept it from rotting.
Daravin reached out and grasped the door in his paw, a hefty tug brought the door creaking open revealing what was inside. There was a large open room with an intricately carved wooden pedestal standing in the center of the room, the carving depicted a human face, looking down upon a sphere with strange patterns on it's surface, crying. Daravin had seen pictures of the sphere before, it was what the world supposedly looked like during the time of man, if you could leave the planet, which these days only certain nations could. placed on top of the pedestal was a book, bound in some kind of hide and secured with a simple clasp. Colleen walked over to the book and lifted it off the pedestal. Blowing a layer of dust away she examined the item. It's cover was plain bearing no title or inscription, and the book itself was no more than a few dozen pages thick. She turned and extended the book towards Daravin, “Look at this.” She called.
“Well now,” he glanced down at the subject of discussion. “This might just explain a few things. Let's have a look.” He took the book gently from Colleen. “Now Colleen, before we see what's in here there are some things which you should know,” a realization seemed to dawn on him at that exact moment. “But first we have to bring our gear inside for the day.”
They hustled back outside and unpacked everything from the backs of the two lizards, apologizing for forgetting them. The lizards didn't understand what they said but it made the two travelers feel better none the less. Their gear was very limited, it consisted of a few bags of preserved foods, a couple changes of clothing each and a barrel of water, now half full. But that half would easily see them for the day or two it would take to reach the coast. Once everything was inside the two travelers sat themselves down on the floor side by side. Daravin pondered for a moment trying to decide how exactly to explain things. The direct approach would suit fine. “ Colleen, there's something you should know.”
“Okay, you mind if I snuggle while you talk?” She leaned her head against Daravin's thickly furred chest.
“Sure.” He chuckled, her attitude towards him had certainly changed in the last week or so since they had ran away from the slaver band who had enslaved her whole village. A band he had belonged to until he had killed one member of the band who had, himself, killed another, they probably blamed Daravin for both deaths. Then that night before anyone found what he had done Daravin had freed Colleen and the two of them had fled together. He definitely liked the new, more affectionate Colleen. “The humans did exist you know,”
“Really?” Colleen sat up and turned astonished to look into Daravin's face, she could tell immediately that he was serious. “But how . . .”
Daravin cut her off. “Please, It's hard enough remembering all this junk in the first place, please let me tell the whole story, then you can ask all the questions you want. Man's time on the earth has been gone for well over one hundred and fifty years, there are supposed to be pockets of them out there hiding, and breeding amongst themselves, but not many, a couple hundred maybe. Anyways, About three decades into the twenty first century, mankind began to create new species, a testament to their power and an attempt to play God. These new life forms were animals, man's companions on this planet since they first began recording history, given a humanoid shape.” Colleen was about to speak when she remembered what Daravin had asked, she lay back against him and listened. “Giving them such human-like forms proved to be man's greatest mistake and would be their undoing. Because of their humanoid forms combined with exotic nature of their animal features many of these beings were used as pleasure slaves by the rich elite, who could afford to build a Fur to their exact specifications, body style, species, everything. You see we weren't considered human and so by their laws didn't have any rights. So a lot of the pleasure slaves organized a sort of rebellion and began manipulating their powerful masters in subtle ways, until they were properly positioned. Once things were aligned the furs seized total control and it became man who was reduced to slavery. Although this did not last, the Alpha council who made all global decisions, decided that it was too dangerous to keep the humans around for fear that they would try to find a way to restore their supremacy. And it was by a sad decision that the humans were loaded into rockets and sent to live in isolation, supporting themselves with lives as farmers and such, on the moon colony with no way to ever leave.”
“It was after that the climate changed, as though God was punishing the humans and the furs alike for their foolish quarreling. You see, the world didn't used to be this huge desert, there was a lot more water and other things I couldn't begin to describe, but if the tales I hear are true, you'll see a lot of these things, once we cross the sea. But again, I digress, the climate changed becoming hotter; summer stretching to as much as 10 months of the year in some areas. The amount of rain decreased in many areas leaving much of what they called North America and other parts of the world barren. Dotted here and there by oasis' and small villages, like . . .” Daravin stopped himself before he said it. But it was too late Colleen had caught his slip.
“Like mine, “ She lamented, tears began to well up in her eyes at the memory of what she had lost and possibly her near rape by one of the slavers, the one Daravin had killed.
“Colleen, I'm sorry, if I could do anything to bring them back I would.” Daravin clutched the Puma's head to his chest comfortingly. He could feel her tears running through his fur.
After a minute Colleen caught herself and pulled away from Daravin, sniffing a few times she tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. “Look at me crying, crying won't do any good.”
“Colleen, it's okay, I understand, you've lost so much, it's all right to cry, it's natural.”
She dried her eyes with her long furry tail, and then true to her talents as a woman, changed the subject. “Here, lets see what's in this book.” She picked up the book Daravin had set down beside them when he had comforted her. Daravin knew there would be no arguing with her so he consented. After Daravin fiddled with the clasp for a moment the book opened revealing the pages inside. Colleen sat down again as the Skunk started to read.
“My name is Wilfield Consign, this land is changing. It's getting too hot to support life anymore, all the trees in the forest are dying from lack of rain. To think this once proud forest will soon become barren desert. These trees and water over which I have seen the death of several hundred. I was a diplomat in the early stages, an outsider trying to mediate an agreement, before it broke out into war. Before I move on and journey to the land across the sea I leave this journal so that others may know what happened, and by knowing perhaps ensure that the events that took place here do not replicate.”
Mentam's breath heaved as he ran through the forest, ducking to the right to avoid crashing into a tree at a full run. How could he have let it get so late, the whole village was counting on him. The deer ducked low the branches of a tree barely clearing his antlers, he glanced down at his watch, he still had 4 minutes and 28 seconds. He wasn't sure if that would be enough time to get there, why had he stayed so late? He continued running, he could feel now the tearing pain in his chest as his lungs worked in overdrive trying to keep sufficient oxygen in his blood, he could feel his heartbeat pounding right at the base of his ears. Mentam wanted so badly to just fall to the ground and die, however, he knew that if he did the whole village . . . No, he would get there and do his duty, then collapse, maybe even die, but not before he was done. Why had he been chosen to do this, surely there were others in the village more suited to the responsibility. But for whatever reason he had been trusted with this most important of all tasks in the village, and now on his third night he might have blown it. Suddenly the forest seemed to spin backwards and all he could see was the trees above him as his hard, young body crashed to the ground. The last wisps of air blasted past his muzzle as the deer impacted the ground. He sucked in the air trying to take as much into his lungs as he could, but as fast as he was drawing it he coughed it out again.
“I can't . . . I can't get up.” Was his first thought, “No I have to, it won't end like this.” Still sucking wind he tried to sit up but his chest burned of the effort. He glanced again at his watch 3 minutes 12, he didn't have time to waste like this. Trying his best to ignore the pain, and failing miserably at it, Mentam dragged himself up off the ground. Pulling away the branches which had snagged his antlers, causing his sudden stop, he bolted off again, he was pretty sure this was the direction he'd been heading in. If it wasn't there was going to be a lot of trouble.
Damn it, one tree looked the same as the next, had he gotten turned around when he had fallen, It would have been so simple to have run off the wrong way in his hurry. Oh god, the further he got the less certain he was which way he should be going. For a moment he considered turning around and going back to find his path again, but he didn't have time. He had committed himself to this direction, now all he could do was hope that it was the right one. Then he saw the cave, by god he had made it. Every second he expected to hear from over his shoulder the spectacular results of his failure, but it didn't come. Mentam bolted through the entrance to the cave, running to the rear of the single large chamber. Finally Mentam seized the door to the apparatus room, lifting the key from around his neck he fumbled with it, made clumsy by panic. Finally he maneuvered the key into the lock and pulled the door open.
Beyond the door was a large artificial cave occupied largely by a bizarre looking apparatus. It was made up of gears and cogs, of pulleys and rope. It was made of weights and levers and things Mentam didn't understand, the only thing he did understand was what it did. Right at the head of the machine was a small tank from which a steady drip of water leaked into the pool again. Floating in the tank was an empty gourd attached to a stick, acting as a float. The tank looked as though it had only an inch or so of water left, maybe enough for four drops, before the gourd got too low. As quickly as he could Mentam grabbed the bucket of water sitting beside the large, natural pool of water, over which the tank was positioned. Filling the bucket he dumped it into the tank. Heaving a sigh of relief Mentam threw his arms wide releasing the bucket and dropped onto his back in the pool. Still gasping for breath he lay there, head pounding as he calmed himself, everything was all right now. He would be sure to give himself a bigger margin of error from now on. Then as the adrenaline started to wear off Mentam could feel pain in his left leg. Looking down he saw a bloody scrape running from his knee, almost to his hoof. He must have scraped it on something when he fell.
Having sufficiently regained his breath Mentam retrieved the bucket and poured another bucket of water into the tank until it overflowed back into the pool. Then the young buck began looking around for some moss to stop the bleeding of his leg before he started back to the village.
The moon floated high overhead, in a couple of days it would be shining in it's full glory. Nearly two hundred figures were huddled together under the night sky. They formed a ring around a large rock jutting up out of the cracked earth. The air was alive with the flowing murmurs of a hundred and fifty voices, all talking at the same time and all wondering the same thing, why are we here?
Then from one end of the circle there was a sudden silence and the figures at that end began to part like the Red Sea before Moses. Within moments the only sound to be heard was a couple of sand crickets, as a lone figure walked to the rock, the sea of furs closing in behind him.
The coyote climbed up atop the rock which was nearly ten feet from the pinnacle to the ground. He stood taller than any others in the tribe at nearly 6' 5', and although he was scrawny, like most of the pack these days, he still had a good build. He was Luthar, his father had been the pack alpha, but he had finally succumbed to the heat and died that day. His face carried a dark scowl of pain, but beneath that there seemed to be an anticipation. His grey-blue eyes sparkled with a new hope, but at the same time belayed a tremendous worry. Once he had scaled the makeshift pedestal he raised his paw for attention, not that he needed to, all eyes were already on him.
“Pack.” he cried out his voice deep and sharp. “These are sad days for us, each day we lose more of our number, claimed by the sun's cruel heat, claimed by lack of water, claimed by starvation. And why?! I ask you why do we bake out here on this dying plain, when there!” He turned and stretched his arm off to the north extending one clawed finger. His scowl had fled from his muzzle now, his muzzle was curled back in an angry snarl, whether this was genuine or simply for effect none would care to guess. “There, in the forest, barely a day from here, there is shelter from the blistering heat, amongst the trees. There is water there, and plenty of food. So why, I ask you, my pack. Why are we not there in that peaceful sanctuary? You all know why, the deer who live in that forest claim that there is not enough room for us and them. They claim that there is barely enough food and water for them. Lies! All Lies I tell you! Any fool can see that that forest is large enough for everyone. Everyone knows that those deer have enough food and water to feed ten times their number, and there is still plenty left over. My father tried to talk to the deer, he tried to convince them to allow us to live with them in that paradise, but the deer refused to share what they have. My father wanted peace, and for what we must now do, I apologize to you father.” He paused for a moment surveying the other coyotes who had been edging closer to the rock as he spoke.
Raising one paw into the air he resumed his oration. “Pack, the time has come for us to leave this stinking, barren, waste! The time has come for us to claim our place in the green and fertile lands to the north, and since the inhabitants of these lands are unwilling to provide what they can easily spare . . .” His snarl had now become a cruel smirk. “Then we shall take it from them. In two days the moon shall rise full. However, before it shall set again the earth shall be fed, it shall be fed with blood. Now I ask you, my pack, my family. Who among you will go forth on this glorious crusade, to secure for our pack what should rightfully be ours? Who here will go forth to punish those horned brutes for their greed and selfishness?” A mighty cry went up from the pack as fists were waved in the air.
Luthar smiled proudly, he threw his head back to the sky and let out a mighty howl, then again this time his voice was joined by others. Two hundred voices as one thrust into the night like a sword, and the sword was thirsty.
Councilman Willis pushed aside the thick lizard skin which covered the doorway to the Council's meeting hut. He bowed his head to the other six deer seated around the table. “My fellow Councilmen, My most sincere and humblest apologies for my lateness.”
“No need for apologies Councilman Willis.” Councilman Steward excused. “Please sit and we may begin the meeting.”
Willis had always felt humbled in the presence of the venerable Councilman Steward. He had been around longer than anyone in the village could remember, or cared to disclose. Where as Willis was the youngest member ever on the council, at barely 25 years. Willis had been appointed to the council because in addition to a young deer's confidence he had the wisdom of a deer twice his age.
Councilman Steward spoke, “We the Civil Council of Tirth-Ca, call this meeting to order, Councilman Steward presiding as Speaker of the House. All Councilmen are present? Councilman Tavish? Councilman Mist? Councilman Willis? Councilman Harrison? Councilman Burke? And Councilman Phyrus?” Each member of the council nodded as the protocol was conducted, even though anyone could easily see that all seven were in attendance. “Now, fellow Councilmen what is our situation?”
Councilman Mist was the first to speak. “Our food supply continues to decline.” She stated gravely. “If we do not find more food the villagers will soon starve. I am suggesting that we increase the number of game we allow our hunters to catch.”
“Impossible,” Councilman Phyrus countered. Councilman Phyrus was the only other female on the council, and she and Mist disagreed on most issues. “We already hunt as much as the herds can afford, if we kill any more than we already do their numbers will plummet.”
“And if we don't our numbers will.”
“Anyone else care to comment on this issue?” Councilman Steward questioned.
“Increasing the number of game we hunt will help feed the village.” Councilman Harrison commented, bringing a smile to Councilman Mist's muzzle, But Harrison continued. “Until the herds run out and then we will be doomed. It is a quick solution, not necessarily a good one.”
“Anyone else?” Silence followed. “Then shall we put the issue to a vote? Those in favor of cutting back the limitations on hunted game?” Councilmen Mist, Tavish, and Burke raised their hands, the shiny black fingertips glistening in the light cast by the lantern which hung over the council table. “Those opposed?” Councilmen Harrison, and Phyrus. All eyes turned to Willis, he was the last chance for the opposition. If he voted against the issue than it would go to the Speaker of the House to be decided. If he abstained then the issue would be approved. He didn't want to hunt more than the herds could spare, however was it worth, sacrificing the health and lives of the villagers to preserve the herds. He knew however that the village would find some other means to provide the food they needed. His hand joined the other two still in the air, making it an even tie, now the attention went to Councilman Steward. “Very well, it is decided, the village shall have to find other means of supplementing our food supplies. I am suggesting we assign an additional Cadre of scouts to the search for more food, all in favor?” Nodded heads and a grumbled affirmative from Mist were the responses. “Any other issues?”
Councilman Willis cleared his throat and addressed the other Councilmen gravely, “I have received word from our scouts to the South. Chieftain Mircole has fallen victim to the heat. They do not suspect he will live long.”
“Unfortunate.” Burke commented.
“Especially considering who is the next Chieftain in Line. Luthar lacks even the little patience and peaceful intentions that his father had.”
“I am suggesting that we prepare immediately to defend ourselves.” Harrison proposed. “We can be sure that if Mircole dies Luthar will waste no time in rallying his troops for an attack on our lands.”
“Very well then it seems we must begin preparations to defend the village.” Councilman Steward concluded. “Who is in charge of the apparatus then?”
“It won't come to that Councilman, I assure you.” Harrison stated confidently. “We can drive back these foul eaters of carrion.”
“I am sure that it will not, however it must be considered an option.”
“My eldest son, Mentam has been entrusted to the task.” Councilman Mist answered.
“We must speak with him then.” All members of the council nodded in agreement, it had to be considered.
The sun was glowing a deep amber as it gently lay down to sleep behind the hills. The sky was a brilliant crimson with shades of purple mixed in here and there, truly there was no artist in the world that could match mother nature.
Laerus gazed out at the sunset, his rifle leaning up against the same tree he was propped up on. This was one of the most beautiful sunsets he had ever seen, how ironic that in the village below it would be the last one they saw. Laerus was trembling with anticipation of what was less than an hour away. Initially he had hoped that there had been some way of coexisting with the deer, but that had changed. Two months past, his sister, still but a pup really, had fallen ill. The cruel summer heat, and lack of proper nutrition and water had left her body too weak to recover. Laerus had sacrificed some of his own food, barely taking enough to continue but it was no good, she had fought for almost two weeks before it was finally too much. From that day forward he blamed the deer, every single one of them, for his sister's death. Hers and every other loss the pack suffered. Now it was time for retribution.
“Hey there.” a voice called to him from a short distance away. Laerus didn't even look, he couldn't tear his eyes from the sunset. He didn't need to look, it was the voice of his best friend Thaern. They two were the same age, both a mere 20 years old. Both had been eager to go forward to do battle against the pack's enemies. Both had lost family to the elements, and were thirsty for vengeance, looking for someone to blame, hoping that once that blame had been assigned and punished that their pain, and guilt would disappear.
“What you doing?” Thaern asked.
“Thinking, “ Laerus replied. “About . . . things.”
“About Carm, you mean?”
“You gotta let that go man, It's not healthy to think about that so much.”
For the first time Laerus tore his eyes away from the skyline and turned sharply to his friend. “You mean like you don't think about Sheed.” Laerus cut, his voice full of pain. As he spoke he jabbed his finger towards the ring that hung on around Thaern's neck. It was threaded on a cord woven of his own headfur, which had hung down to back before she had died.
Thaern lashed forward seizing the front of Laerus' lizard skin shirt and pulling his friend forward, until only inches separated their muzzles. Thaern's lips were pulled back in a vicious snarl, “You leave my wife out of this.” he raged. Laerus could smell the faint scent of Thaern's last meal, tainting his breath. He could feel the strength of frustration in the paw that grasped his shirt. Then suddenly, just as Thaern seemed sure to hit his friend, the coyote came to his senses and eased his grip on Laerus' shirt. “What are we doing?” he puzzled. “Why are we fighting each other? I'm sorry man.”
“It's okay, you were just stressed out from the hike, and all the excitement.”
“It's just, I can't stop thinking about her.” he whined, tears pouring forth and flowing a river down his muzzle “What I should have done, maybe if I had done something she would have made it.” Suddenly his friend who had always been the strong one looked vulnerable, like a puppy in the woods, lost and alone. When Sheed had died, he carried on with his life. Then when Laerus had lost his sister, Thaern had supported him while he fell to pieces emotionally. Laerus draped and arm comfortingly around his friends shoulder. Thaern spun into Laerus and embraced him tightly, turning to his friend for shelter from what he was feeling. Thaern rested his head on Laerus' shoulder, as Laerus placed one hand reassuringly of the back of his friends head. “Why?” Thaern whined, “Why did it have to be her? She never did anything to hurt anyone? So why did it have to be her who went.”
“Who knows, who knows why anyone dies. We can't do anything to change it. All we can do is carry on, and remember them. Hold on to the love we felt for them. And after today it'll be over. We can remember them in the best times, after today Carm and Sheed can both rest peacefully. Today we punish those responsible for their deaths.”
Thaern disentangled himself from his friend and wiped the tears away, as he tried to regain his composure. “But what if it doesn't help? What if they aren't the one's to blame? What if it's us?” Thaern was more in control of himself now, but he still seemed emotionally crippled by what he was feeling.
“What brought this on?” Laerus asked. There had to be more behind this than just anxiety over the attack. “Why do you start thinking about this now?”
“I had a dream last night. Sheed came to me, she said not to go, not to come on this march. She said that the deer weren't at fault for her death.”
“That's crazy talk man. Of course they're responsible. They wouldn't share their shelter and food. They just hoarded it all for themselves. Remember, they're the one's who left Sheed dying, their the ones who wouldn't help Carm. It's them, they're the ones to blame. They're the ones who must pay.”
“Pack!” Luthar barked sharply from somewhere nearby, “Assemble!”
Laerus grabbed his rifle and the two coyotes, ran following the sound of their chieftain's voice.
Laerus ran to where the pack was now forming a perfect block and squeezed in where he saw an opening in the eighth rank. The pack warriors continued to fall in behind him, each of them with a different type of weapon. Some held handguns, where as others like Laerus were armed with rifles, Laerus had been lucky, he got one of the automatic ones. Some of the pack had gotten bolt action style rifles, while Thaern, stood next to Laerus holding a strange weapon Laerus hadn't seen before. It looked like a rifle with a particularly large barrel, but had two barrels side by side, and no apparent ammo clip. Looking around Laerus spotted a young pup at the back, looking pathetically at the weapon he had gotten, a bow with two dozen or so arrows. It was almost funny, here at the back of this heavily armed troop, was one small pup, who had been the unlucky one, after all the firearms had been assigned.
The warriors were now all in place. The block was a perfect 12 by 12 with Luthar pacing precisely along the front of the troop. “My warriors, “ Luthar called. “My glorious instruments of the pack's salvation. Today shall be a day of reckoning for the heartless, pitiless, abominations, that stand before us. You shall be the instrument of justice to punish the wicked for their deeds, punish them for the deaths of our loved ones. Our parents, brothers, sisters and wives. Our children and our friends, their loss shall be avenged.” Half the pack was slobbering in anticipation now. the ferocity sent a shiver down Laerus' spine from his skull to the tip of his tail. “But today we go forward not just for vengeance. We go forward to avenge the fallen and see to it that no more shall join them. Today begins a new era for the pack. An era of health, and prosperity, an era where no-one shall go without food or water. An era where we shall not have to seek out shelter during the day, but shall be shielded from nature by the same. Today we take a stand against those who had oppressed us, by claiming all shelter as their own, today we go forth for our family.” By now the pack was beaming with pride and each was fully ready to give his life for the pack if it came to that.
Now Luthar made the transition from chieftain to general and began issuing the orders to his troop. “All right, first five ranks are with me, we will proceed into the village on the direct course and make ourselves known. We shall meet their defenses head on. Ranks, six and seven, move around the far side of the village and flank the defenses from behind. Ranks eight and nine your job is to begin securing the village, stay in pairs, no loners. Ranks ten through twelve your job is surround the village at a distance, eliminate any deer who tries to leave. Take prisoners if you wish, but you will be held responsible for them, any deer not taken prisoner is to be eliminated. We can't have survivors out there to come back looking for the same sort of vengeance we seek today. You have your tasks now move out.” The pack split of into four groups, each heading in their own direction.
Laerus' unit made their way around the side of the village, staying hidden. They passed slowly through the brush, making certain they were not detected when there came the sound of gunshots from the south. Laerus and the other coyotes dropped onto their bellies as the village seemed to come alive, like an anthill which had just been kicked open by a young pup. Deer rushed from every hut, most armed with bows, however there was a hunting rifle here and there. The deer rushed south to meet the intruders to their homes. They lay low for a minute, until they were sure that all the warriors had gone to the front line before standing again and quickly scaling over the barricade which had been hastily constructed, surrounding the village.
The barricade was no large obstacle as it didn't quite stand six feet tall, a deer standing directly behind it could fire a rifle over it leaving only his head as a target, and the length of the barricade seemed to be lined with arrow slits for their bowmen. Once over the wall they began moving into the village, before breaking off into twelve pairs, each heading for different parts of the village. As Laerus and Thaern made a quick dash across the open area they tried to decide which hut to take first “They all look the same, “ Thaern pointed out. “So why worry, just pick one at random.” Laerus decided that a small typical looking hut just off to the right looked as good a place as any, so he pointed it out to Thaern.
Thaern reached the hut first and turned, putting his back to the wall, beside the door. Laerus didn't even slow though, he just ran full steam, right through the hide covering the door and into the hut. Thaern followed him in, taking a quick scope of the situation, there was an older female deer, a young one, and a female a couple years younger than them. Laerus didn't even speak as he leveled his gun and put two shots into the woman. She screamed as they pierced through her chest, and slowly her scream tapered into a gargling as her lungs filled with blood. The child huddled close to it's mother not really understanding what had happened. As the two coyotes watched their victim bleed, slowly, savoring in the death of one they blamed for all that had happened to them, the young female stood up and leaped, tackling Laerus. She caught him by surprise and pushed him to the ground. She flailed hopelessly, trying to bash Laerus' head with her fists. Once Laerus realized what was happening he quickly took control of the situation. He could feel that she didn't really know what she was doing, her weight was balanced to much to the right. As her fists came in again Laerus seized each one by the wrist and then rolled to the right, placing himself over her, exactly reversing their positions.
Laerus released his hold on the deer's left wrist and brought his paw hard across her muzzle, stunning her. He grabbed her wrist again and lifted her to her hooves, holding her in front of him. “That was stupid, girl. What did you hope to accomplish with that little display?” In answer the girl brought her knee up swiftly, catching Laerus hard in the crotch, In surprise he quickly threw her sending her crashing into the little table, which was the only piece of furniture in the room, except for a pile of hides which probably served as a bedroll. As the girl crashed into the table it tipped over sending her tumbling against the wall. Thaern turned to Laerus, “You all right pal?” He asked his friend who was now doubled over holding his crotch.
“Yeah,” he grunted, “Just give me a minute and I'll be fine.”
A shriek of rage drew their attention towards where the girl had been disposed of. She was standing again and starting to charge them. Thaern quickly turned his gun on her and squeezed the trigger. One barrel roared to life as her body exploded. The shot nearly ripped the girl in half spraying blood and gore across the wall, from the ground almost up to the ceiling and embedding shards of bone into it's surface. Instantly dead the girl slumped forward at their feet, through the hole in her back, which took up everything between her hips and the base of her rib cage, the coyotes could see what remained of her lungs and other organs.
“Shit.” Thaern moaned, now realizing what he had done in the heat of the moment.
“What?” Laerus asked, not comprehending what was troubling his friend.
“Look at the wall, man, it's a mess.”
“I was going to live in this hut, once we take the village.”
Laerus just laughed as Thaern turned to leave the hut. “What about him?” Laerus asked, grabbing his friend by the shoulder and gesturing to the fawn, desperately trying to hide beside it's mother. Thaern stepped over to the infant and rammed the butt of his gun into it's face crushing the muzzle beneath it's heavy blow.
“Who?” Thaern asked, before he broke into a deep chuckle. He then sighed deeply as he looked at the carnage around them. “Laerus?”
“Is this right? This slaughter, I mean, what if they were serious, that there wasn't enough food?”
“No, They couldn't have been telling the truth, they were just greedy, they could've helped our pack, but they chose not to. Now we're giving them what they deserve.” That was what Laerus said aloud, in his heart though, he wondered if maybe Thaern was right. Laerus didn't want to think anymore about this, he needed action, action which would leave time for thinking, vicious killing to dull the mind. “Come on, man, “ He called to his friend, “Let's secure another hut, this one's taken care of.”
“Yeah, “ Thaern sighted, he himself eager to do something to suppress his natural tendency to think.
The two coyotes lifted the flap and stepped out of the hut. The air was filled with gunshots now, there was screaming coming from all around, locally there seemed to be mostly the death squeals of deer, but from the south end of the village they could hear the howls and the occasional yelp of a fallen pack warrior. The main square of the village was now littered here and there with the bodies of deer who had been cut down trying to run. Slowly a young female crawled across the ground seeking cover. As she dragged her body, gasping for breath she left a streak of blood across the earth, staining the ground with her life. Laerus couldn't stand to see anyone, even one of these horned devils suffer like this. She knew as well as anyone that she was as good as dead, he could see in her eyes that she knew. He had no idea, he had not even thought about this side of war. He had pictured it in his mind, marching down on the village. The deer coming out to fight against them, the foe huge and threatening, heartless, merciless killers. The kind of creatures who if stabbed with a pike would pluck the instrument from their body as they would a cactus spine and simply fight on. He had seen the glorious death of these horrendous beasts, fighting till the last minute, not fighting for survival or love of their families, but fighting simply to kill a few of the enemy before they were cut down themselves. He had pictured himself being hailed as a hero, he had seen the pack, having brought salvation to their own, finally, and respectfully setting the enemy's dead to rest, and honoring their own dead. How could he have been so wrong. He had not been prepared for the look of the enemy, dragging itself along the ground, grinding rocks into it's own guts, trying to escape, from what they surely saw as the monsters. To them it must seem rather unfair, that these cruel brutes, came sweeping down out of the plains, killing indiscriminately, leaving the injured to bleed to death, with no strength to run away, or even if they did, only to be cut down as they fled.
“I'm sorry.” he whispered as he raised his gun, pressing it firmly against his shoulder. He took a careful aim at the exposed head of his helpless prey, she looked into his eyes through the cold slots of the sight and he could swear he saw happiness in her eyes. He could almost hear her whispering, “thank you.” for ending her pain, even though she herself refused to give up as long as she lived. He squeezed the trigger and the bullet ripped forth, cutting straight into the deer's skull, dropping her where she lay. Her head fell to the ground and slowly a pool of blood poured forth onto the earth. Too late he had realized what they were in for, what they were doing. Too late he had realized what they were bringing, and to who.
Now that they were actually facing they enemy, did he start seeing them less as the enemy and seeing them for then living, breathing, creatures they were. the warm, compassionate, beings, who underneath the skin were really no different than he or any other member of the pack. Or were they? They were not the ones who had marched on the assault, they were not the ones who had begun this bloodshed. No, They were no different in spirit, just in situation. Had they been the one out under the deadly heat of the open sun, they would have done no different. They would have marched had there been no peaceful recourse, but would they have been as eager to march, as anxious to cut down an entire herd of living creatures. Creatures with families and lives, creatures with wives and children and loved ones, no different than themselves. For the sake of his own peace of mind Laerus decided that they would have. That it was not a case that they were really eager to kill the deer out of cruelty or evil intentions. They had been in the throws of grief, looking for someone to blame, someone else to carry the weight, and they had been swayed by someone who knew how to manipulate.
But Luthar had just wanted the best for the pack, he only wanted to see them survive, and thrive, and if that could only happen through the death of the deer, then that was the way it had to be, tragic but necessary. There could only be one survivor, and each side was determined that it would be them.
Harrison crouched low, allowing the bushes to hide him, looking carefully around he could barely make out the crouching forms of some of his friends, but he knew the enemy would not be able to see them when they came marching down this path as they were predicted to do. From somewhere nearby he could hear then sound of gunshots, and the occasional scream. God, he had prepared for this his whole life. His line had been the battle chiefs of the tribe for four generations. The Eldest son had secretly sat on the council in each generation, and now it was his turn. This was the first time he had ever gone into a battle against an intelligent and reasoning foe. If one could consider these barbarians that. They marched on peaceful citizens seeking to kill everyone and steal their homes, and lands. There was no way they would do such a thing as long as he was alive, and hopefully even if he fell, even if the whole village fell, they would not remain long, the apparatus would see to that.
He saw the line of coyotes now, moving with speed and precision, taking no care to hide their movements, they believed that they were unsuspected, they were fools. As the coyotes came near Harrison could see them more clearly, he could smell the sweat on their furry hides. There were no more than a dozen, they would be easy prey. He let them pass him by letting them get into the center of the ambush. Just a few more feet and they would be there.
Then one of the coyotes at the back of their group stopped, their leader noticing this signaled the group to halt, and so they did. The coyote who was standing less than ten feet from Harrison raised his head back a touch. His muzzle flinched violently as he sniffed the air, Shit! He must be able to smell them, Harrison had figured that the unfamiliar smells of the forest and the heavy scent of blood already wafting from the village would cover their scents. He couldn't take the chance, if this coyote sensed them the element of surprise would be lost, facing a foe who although at a numeric disadvantage, were armed with vastly superior weapons, Harrison was the only deer at this location armed with one of the tribe's treasured rifles, they were not used for hunting and even in warfare were saved for the general's. The others carried spears, bows and most had an additional supply of rocks as well. The coyote had clearly picked up on their scent and was now trying to center in, the trap had to be sprung now before he alerted his comrades, even though the enemy was not quite in position, if they waited any longer it would be lost.
Leaping to his feet Harrison took a quick aim at the group's leader and fired before the coyote's could react. At the same time from cover all around his allies sprang up and began hurling spears, and firing arrows. The coyote leader reacted quickly and spun, causing Harrison's shot to strike deep into his shoulder instead of catching him in the chest as Harrison had aimed, he hadn't had time to make an accurate aim for the head. Meanwhile a coyote near the back was stuck in the thigh by a spear, which went clear through his leg, pinning him to the ground. As he raised his handgun to return fire he was struck in the head by a sturdy rock, which rendered him ineffective. By now the other coyote's most of them scraped or narrowly missed were returning fire, One put a couple shots from his pistol into a bowman who was seeking partial cover behind a large boulder. One of the coyotes trained his rifle on Harrison but was stuck in the back by an arrow, causing him to fall forward onto his belly. Harrison ejected the empty shell casing and brought his rifle to bare on the injured coyote, as he squeezed his trigger the coyote gave a final twitch as the bullet ripped into him.
To Harrison's left another deer went down as he raised a rock over his head to throw. Harrison ejected another dead shell and prepared to fire again, already over a third of the enemy was down, with about twice the number of casualties on their side, but numerically speaking the could spare the troops, things were looking to go their way. As Harrison took a quick aim again, his muzzle was blasted with blood. His right arm went limp, causing him to drop the rifle, as he clasped his hand over the bullet hole in his flesh. Another dozen coyotes were now making their way down the trail. Perhaps the coyotes had suspected that their presence was not entirely unknown, but too late to think about that now. The new enemy began firing nearly hitting several other deer and striking three others. Everywhere Harrison looked he could see furs dying, on both sides, but the coyotes were quickly making up for their initial numeric shortcomings. Soon they would have the advantage, things were not going well, Harrison could only hope that his brother at the front line was having more success. He had to get word to the front that there were more enemy trying to flank them. “Fall back.” he cried before ducking back into the bush. The other deer had apparently had similar ideas, for as soon as their commander issued the order they slid into the bush, many dragging, or helping injured teammates. As Harrison backed deeper into the forest to avoid detection he watched the coyotes. They seemed to be allowing Harrison and the remainder of his troops to retreat without further incident, they had several standing guard while the others attended to the injured. One coyote aimed his handgun straight at the head of a fallen comrade who was apparently beyond help, and a gunshot rang forth, heralding the fallen warrior's passing.
Harrison was now too deep in the bush to see anymore of their activities. Once Harrison was sure he was out of their sight he turned and began running back to the village. They wouldn't stop for long and the front line had be notified of their presence.
Kaylar stood ready with his handgun, the inscription along the barrel of the weapon read Colt Python .357. The coyote was panting with excitement as he tightened his grip around the gun. He looked to his partner Baxus who stood ready with his rifle pointed at the hide flap that covered the door.
Kaylar signal to his teammate, and then jumped through the doorway he turned to the near side of the room and found himself muzzle to muzzle with an older male deer. The male was powerfully built and seemed to possess a great strength for his advancing years. As Kaylar was preparing to fire his weapon into this deer he felt a jarring impact as a clay pot shattered against the back of his skull. This stunned the coyote long enough for this elderly deer to strike a blow with the large wooden club that he carried. As the staff, which Kaylar would swear was practically a tree, crashed against the side of his head Kaylar fell heavily to the ground, he could feel the blood now gushing from the side of his head. The deer was poised to strike again, but Kaylar scrambled backwards on his hands and knees. “You picked the wrong hut to break into, scum.” The deer threatened.
He moved to get into a striking position again, he was going to bring this club down and shatter Kaylar's skull, however Kaylar still had an ace in the hole. The deer took one more step to his left, aligning himself precisely for a strike. This was it, Kaylar realized, “Support Fire!” He cried desperately. A second later the deer, just about to finish off this intruder to his home was struck in the back by a blind shot through the doorway. Kaylar had maneuvered him right into an area where Baxus could get a shot at him, such was one of a couple of signals the two coyotes had worked out between them. Baxus burst into the room as Kaylar was taking care of the injured male. He pressed the barrel of his handgun against the elderly deer's throat. “Say good-bye.” He taunted, and then a crimson Geyser erupted from the back of the deer's neck, the bullet had traveled right through his spine and embedded itself in the roof. Everything nearby the deer, including Kaylar was splattered thoroughly with blood as the mutilated corpse slowly emptied itself of it's life fluids all over the floor of the hut. While Kaylar was doing this Baxus was securing the hut's other inhabitants, there were two females, one middle aged, and one who was probably about sixteen years, which in the life span of a fur is no different than that of a human. Baxus fired his rifle twice both shots rocking the older female, she lay there with that look of death. The look of someone who realizes that this is their final hour.
The younger doe wrapped her arms tightly around her mother and cried into her bloody bosom, she kept mumbling over and over “No, Oh god no, this can't be happening.”
“What a shot!” Kaylar cried intensely excited. “I mean we are awesome pal.” he slapped Baxus on the back. “I lured him right out into the open and then . . . BANG. Right in the back, I mean, you couldn't even see the bastard.” As he described the event Kaylar imitated the deer as he had been struck by the sniper's bullet.
“And when you finished him off? Whoosh.” Baxus made the shape with his hands of the blood flying out of the back of the deer's neck. The two were sharing a genuine laugh over the gruesome scene which lay before them.
“You Bastards!” The young doe screamed, still clutching her mother's dying body.
“Now, now, “ Kaylar scolded, “Is that any way to talk to someone who is offering you your life?”
“What do you mean?” She spat.
“I mean I am not going to kill you.”
“Yeah right.” She muttered venom dripping off her voice.
“No I won't kill you, in fact you're coming with us deary.”
The older doe tried to say something but she was already too far gone in shock. “You can take your offer and shove it up your ass!” The young doe cursed, this time she really did spit, the gob of liquid flying through the air to splatter against Kaylar's chest, amidst the old deer's blood.
“Baxus, “ Kaylar addressed, “The shackles please.” Baxus shrugged his pack off and pulled out a couple pairs of shackles, then he stepped up beside his friend. He paused for a moment to examine their captive, she was young and quite beautiful, even considering the difference in species. Her features were light up with anger, and her eyes sparkled like diamonds, looking into her dark eyes Baxus could see her fear. She was terrified, although she was doing an excellent job of hiding it. She was dressed in a simple dress make of some sort of hide, possibly lizard. The two coyotes approached the doe, lecherous gins plastered across their muzzles. As the first shackle closed around her left wrist she went wild. She lashed out with her leg, catching Kaylar in the stomach as she struggled to get up off her back. As she fought Baxus tried to close the second shackle around her other arm, he caught a hard left hand to the side of the muzzle for his efforts. All the while the doe was screaming, hoping someone, her father, her uncle, anyone, would hear her screams and come to her rescue. She quickly scrambled to her feet while both of these leering scavengers were off her. They closed right back in again trying to shackle her. The shackles for her hands were a pair of locking bracers with a chain less than 4 inches in length connecting them, the leg cuffs had slightly longer chains, but not enough that someone imprisoned in them would be able to move with any speed. Baxus was still trying to capture her free hand within the empty shackle, while Kaylar was busying himself with her feet. As Baxus' hand came near enough the doe bite it as hard as she could. Baxus howled in pain, before slamming his free hand against the side of her head, causing her to release his paw. Baxus now grabbed her by the throat, he wasn't harming her but he could if she put up any further struggle. Kaylar was now standing behind his friend, while she had been biting Baxus he had been able to secure her feet in their shackles. Kaylar reached over Baxus shoulder and grabbed the doe by her free wrist, she didn't fight any more for fear of being choked. Kaylar closed the other shackle around her wrist, then he drew a length of chain from his belt and connected the two shackles, the chain would allow her to stand straight, but only with her hands held straight down in front of her.
The two coyotes withdrew to examine their shackled prisoner, “Your hand okay man?” Kaylar asked.
“Yeah, but I think we should do something about your head, look at you, you're bleeding all over yourself.”
“All right, I'll keep my gun on her, you see what you can do.” Baxus dug around in Kaylar's pack for a moment before finding what he wanted, their first aid kit. He took a sterile cloth and applied some antiseptic to it.
“This is gonna hurt for a second.” He warned. He took the cloth and wiped the blood away from where it had matted Kaylar's headfur. He applied another helping of antiseptic and started to cleanse the wound itself. Kaylar gave a yelp as the disinfectant cleansed his head. Clenching his jaw he simply focused his mind on making sure their captive didn't try anything. Once the wound was cleansed Baxus packed it with some gauss and wrapped his friends head. “It's a good thing you have a head like a rock my friend.” He teased.
“You, “ Kaylar barked to the deer, “What's your name?”
“V. . . Va . . . Vaela.” She stammered, trying not to cry but failing miserably. “Stand up Vaela.” Kaylar commanded. She obeyed and rose to her feet, Kaylar took the knife from his belt and started to approach her.
“What are you doing?” Vaela cried in horror, “You said you wouldn't kill me.”
Kaylar stepped up next to Vaela and placed his knife against the side of her neck. A drop of sweat fell from her neck and trickled down the blade. Then slowly, precisely Kaylar slit her dress from the shoulder to the cuff. Vaela startled, “No! “ She cried, trying to pull away from the coyote. Her grabbed her arm stopping her.
“Stay still bitch, I don't want to cut you.”
Vaela turned to Kaylar's face, “Please don't do this.” She begged. Kaylar laid his open paw stiffly across her muzzle, leaving her shaking but silenced. He finished the cut on the one arm of her dress causing it to drop low, hanging by it's remaining support. As her dress dipped low it revealed half of her mouth watering figure, with it's dull brown fur marked with a large white patch across her belly and chest. As Kaylar walked around and began to slice at the other side. Vaela cried out again in fear as she again tried to run. As she ran the ground seemed to rush up to crash against her muzzle. Deer were known for their exceptional running speed but that was mainly due to a long stride and tremendous leaping ability, which allowed them to clear objects which other furs would have to go around or stop to climb over. But these self same long strides had been what tripped Vaela up, when she had instinctively tried to run she had tripped due to the short length of chain connecting her ankles, effectively hobbling her. With these leg irons her captors would have her again before she got to the nearest hut.
Baxus grabbed Vaela by her arm and jerked her to her feet. “Where do you think you were going?” He shouted. “Huh, did you think you were going to run away? Where would you go? Our people are everywhere, all over this village, everyone is ending up exactly like them.” He grabbed the deer by her ears and twisted her head to face the corpse of the male laying with the back of his neck blown out, in a pool of his own blood. “Do you see that? That is what is happening to everyone. That is what will happen to you if you don't cooperate.” Vaela whimpered as she squeezed her eyes shut, unable to gaze upon the gruesome scene. Tears squeezed through the cracks between clenched eyelids, and flowed the length of her muzzle before dripping to the bare earth at their feet.
Kaylar came up behind her, “Let go of her Baxus.” He instructed calmly, and his partner in crime complied. Vaela just hung limp as though she were a rag doll, suspended by a pair of strings, hooked under her arms. Kaylar placed his knife where the cut in her dress had been abruptly halted. His sharpened blade cut easily but cleanly through the hide, and it cut further and further towards the cuff.
Vaela just stood there paralyzed, she continued to whimper as the unending stream of tears continued to flow. Try as she could she couldn't shake the image from her mind. The coyote crying out in delight as her grandfather's neck exploded upwards. The image which had formed from what Baxus had said also continued to haunt her. “All over the village, “ he had said. “Everyone is ending up like that.” Vaela could stop her mind from settling on an image of her father lying bleeding and injured in his own blood, gasping for his last breath and whispering her name as he died. Vaela's dress now fell completely to the floor, revealing everything her fresh young body had to offer. Kaylar took a length of chain from his friends pack and clipped it to the chain which connected Vaela's feet to her hands, and proceeded to lead her out of the hut. Vaela was still trapped within her morbid reverie, and did not even notice his attempt to drag her along. When the chain went taunt and Vaela had still not moved Kaylar gave a hearty tug on the chain pulling Vaela off balance and reviving her from her visions. Kaylar pulled on the chain leading Vaela out of the hut, and Baxus followed a short distance behind. Once out of the hut, Kaylar noticed that many of the huts appeared to have already been looted, time to go to the front. They would probably have a place to secure prisoners there.
Kaylar began heading South following the gunshots, making a good pace, which was forcing Vaela to run as quickly as she could taking short little steps. As they made their way through the village leading the naked Doe, Kaylar heard a cry from his left. “Kaylar, “ A voice shouted, “We have wounded!”
Laerus led the way as they approached yet another hut, the last three they had investigated were empty. After this hut they were going to work their way to the front line, help the efforts there. As they reached the entrance to the hut, Laerus looked over at his companion. He had to wonder was Thaern thinking the same thing as he was? Was Thaern questioning the sense behind this hellish bloodbath. If he wasn't, why not? Was there something wrong with the canine he had known all his life, or was Laerus himself maybe the one who was going crazy? The question fell down to mercy against survival, this was the only way as regrettable as it was, Laerus was hoping that maybe if he told himself that enough times he would start to believe it. Unfortunately unpleasant or not, necessary or not it was too late now. His paws had too much blood on them to wash clean now, no sense in trying to keep them clean anymore. Laerus looked back to Thaern who was watching him, waiting for the signal. Laerus extended one finger, then two, then three. As soon as the third finger was extended Thaern burst through the doorway turning right as soon as he was inside. Laerus followed a second later turning the other way. The two pressed their backs together, forming a two faced defensive position. Laerus could see a youngish female deer, hiding at the back of the room. As soon as she realized she had been spotted she jumped forward and charged the two invaders. Laerus leveled his rifle at her and took a quick aim, this shot should sight right between her eyes, finish it quick. But he hesitated, was it right, what they were doing? He never got a chance to answer that question before she crashed into him. Laerus was knocked over backwards and he could feel Thaern being knocked over as he fell.
He landed on his butt with Thaern underneath him, where was his gun? She had it, now. She was just picking it up off the floor. Laerus leaped up as she swung it to face him. Grabbing hold of the barrel of the gun with one paw he turned it away from himself. He seized the but of the gun with his other paw and tugged trying to wrestle it away from the doe. She was strong, and wasn't letting go easily, she knew her life depended on it. As they wrestled the gun went off, and from behind Laerus heard a startled yelp. “Thaern!” he cried, enraged by the results of his hesitation Laerus twisted the gun harshly, throwing the doe into the wall, and also freeing the rifle from her grip. Laerus shot her as soon as her body hit the ground, again he squeezed the trigger putting a second round into her. Then a third, a fourth and fifth, followed immediately. Laerus just kept firing for a second until his efforts rewarded him with a hollow click, this clip was empty.
The doe's corpse was a mangled and grizzly mess, it was hard to feel the same pity he had felt a moment ago now. Laerus dropped his rifle and turned to his friend. Thaern had taken a shot right through his lower abdomen, and was bleeding badly. Laerus knelt down and grabbed his friends paw, “Are you all right Thaern?”
“I don't know. I got hit pretty good, it hurts.” He whined.
“It's okay man, I'll get you a medic, You'll be okay.” Laerus wasn't sure if the medic's with their limited knowledge, and even more limited supplies would be able to help Thaern but they had to hope.
“It's too late Laerus, I'm not going to make it. Looks like I won't be needing that hut here after all.” Thaern whined a little more as his blood pooled underneath him.
“Don't talk like that. You're going to be fine, you'll see.” Some tears were forcing their way out of Laerus' eyes as he spoke, no matter how he tried to contain them.
Thaern reached up and caught one of Laerus' tears on the tip of his claw. “It's okay, don't cry for me. I'm going to Sheed, maybe this was what she was trying to warn me about.” Thaern smiled as much as the pain in his gut would allow. “Just do me one thing, Laerus.”
“Anything old friend, just name it.”
Thaern reached up to the cord around his neck and started to lift it from around his neck. As he shifted to raise his head off the ground his gut gave a sudden and stabbing complaint. Thaern whined again as he dropped back down. He tilted his head forward a bit allowing him to remove the cord with his wife's ring on it. He took the ring and pressed it into Laerus' paw, closing the paw with the ring inside it. “Remember us, me and Sheed. Just promise me that.”
“I could never forget either of you.” Laerus sobbed, the tears flowing freely down his muzzle now.
“Always remember, Carm is with Sheed, I'm going to join them. She's happy Laerus, let it go.”
“Good-bye my friend.” Thaern whined one more time and collapsed into unconsciousness.
Laerus thought to himself, “There might still be time to save him.” He got up from his friends bleeding form and ran to the door. Throwing the flap back Laerus looked around the main square of the village, there had to be someone who could help him. He saw a pair of coyotes walking across the square, they were leading a naked slave behind them, Laerus knew these two, and he really had to feel sorry for anyone they took prisoner. The one, Kaylar, he was a medic! “Kaylar,” he called out, “We have wounded!”
Harrison staggered through the camp, he had run hard and his injury was not helping matters. He could no longer hear the sounds of battle from the front line, maybe the fighting was over. If it was over this quickly then the coyotes had almost assuredly secured a victory. However it was more likely that both sides were lying low, playing a waiting game, the coyotes waiting for their other troops to arrive. The deer were dug in and waiting for a report from Harrison and his men as to the status of the other unit and whether the coyotes were trying to flank them or not.
His head pounded from the loss of blood and heavy exertion but the deer pressed on stubbornly, he had to get to the front line and see that the coyotes had not been able to secure victory yet.
As Harrison drew near the front line he thought it best to approach cautiously in case the enemy had indeed secured this position and forced a retreat. He crept up to a building pressed himself against it. Shimmying along the wall of the hut he made his way to the corner of the building. Peeking around the corner he could see dead bodies everywhere, there were apparently no wounded here. Standing near the corpses of both sides were a pair of coyotes, with their guns resting butt end on the ground. One light up a cigarette and offered one to his companion. The unthinkable had occurred, somehow the coyotes had already been able to take the front line. Where was Hamink, Harrison looked around for his brother for a moment, before his gaze settled on a grizzly scene. On the wall which had been erected to defend the village there was now the addition of a ten foot pole. Impaled from crotch to skull on this pike was a bloodied deer corpse.
The muzzle was so badly crushed and covered in blood that it was unrecognizable, but in his heart Harrison knew that this must be his brother, the leader of the front line forces. If he could not survive then no one had, Hamink was stronger and braver than Harrison, the only reason Harrison was the commander of their armies was because he was the elder brother.
Harrison sadly tore his eyes from the mutilated remains of his brother and turned around, as he quietly slunk away, perhaps there were some survivors, running to escape, or hiding elsewhere in the village, until they could flee the village. As he came past the corner of a building Harrison felt a cold barrel of a handgun press against his neck. He looked out of the corner of his eye at his captures. There were three coyotes, one armed with a handgun, which was held against Harrison's neck, the one next to him held a rifle, and the third had a rifle slung across his back, and held a shotgun ready. The shotguner had a cord around his neck suspended on which was a ring woven out of fibers of some sort. Harrison had been so busy surveying his captures that he had missed for a moment their other captive. Hands bound, standing behind the coyotes was a naked young female, his niece Vaela! His anger flared, how dare these bastards take her. Who knows what they had already done to her, or what they still planned to do.
Harrison, driven mad by his rage, leapt forward tackling the rifleman who was holding the rope to which his niece was connected. His hands wrapped around the dog's throat as he wrenched for all he was worth. He felt a heavy blow land on the back of his neck, but still he fought on throttling this wretched beast. Another blow, and another, somewhere in the back of his head Harrison heard a crunch, and he knew that it had been his neck. Blackness overtook him as he stared into the eyes of his enemy, eyes which right now belayed a terrible fear.
Pinax zipped up his dusty green pants, as he finished relieving himself against the almost sheer slope of the forest. The pants had been found in the wreckage of the old military fort which the coyote's scouts had stumbled across a month into the negotiations with the deer. Mircole, Luthar's sire and the previous Alpha and continued to talk peace even though they had the military power to take the deer's land by force, even if none of the old vehicles had worked, except for a couple old transport vans.
Pinax stared down at his weapon he had been assigned. This was stupid, surely there had been another firearm, why had he gotten saddled with a lousy bow and arrows. And then to make matters worse he had been set to guard duty in the least active section of the forest, I mean what were the odds of anything coming out here.
Even as he thought this a shadow flew overhead, blocking the tiny bit of light filtering from overhead. Instinctively Pinax ducked, thinking it to be a falling tree or something similar, but there was a soft thud behind him as the light resumed it's previous illumination. Pinax grabbed his bow and spun around, a deer! The deer hadn't even taken notice of him, and was now running down the path, deeper into the forest. Pinax fumbled with his bow trying to get an arrow notched before the cowardly fur was out of his range. Finally he got it loaded and raised his weapon.
The deer was almost out of sight, if they hadn't been on a trail, his enemy would be long disappeared into the trees now. Pinax took as accurate an aim as he could in the time frame allotted, and let the arrow fly. It took wing from the bow and went straight, it looked like it was going to be dead on hitting the deer directly in the back. Then it dropped sharply, one moment it had appeared to be dead on target now it was going to find ground right behind the deer's hooves, and Pinax knew he had no time for a second shot. “No!” he cursed. As he shouted the deer stopped startled, and turned around to see who had spoken. As he turned the arrow found it's mark, miraculously striking right through the deer's thigh, and protruding from the back of his leg. His stop had doomed him, Pinax could scarcely believe his luck. The deer was dressed only in a simple loin cloth and had no weapons on him, and with his one leg taken out of commission there was no way he could run anywhere.
Pinax smirked, “Just wait till the Alpha sees this, he gave me the crudest weapon he had, put me in the deadest sector in the campaign, and I still got myself a kill.” This deer was weeping in pain as he broke the head of the arrow off and slowly drew the shaft back through his leg. Pinax found his determination intriguing, and the pointlessness of his struggle was amusing, so he let him finish removing the arrow. The deer grabbed hold of a tree, still saying nothing and dragged himself to his hooves. He let go of the support of the tree and tried standing on his own. As soon as his weight hit the injured leg it gave out dropping him over again. Pinax laughed, this was hilarious, “What's the matter little deer, got your leg stuck? Can't go anywhere?” Pinax laughed as he slowly drew another arrow from his quiver, and notched it. The deer was now laying on his belly, struggling to pull himself along with his arms. Pinax let the arrow fly, missing his target by two inches. He notched another arrow and let it fly, this time striking home in the trunk of a tree. “Run all you want, “ he taunted, “You're helpless, you can't escape me, you can't fight me, all you can do is die.” The deer was now hauling himself to his feet again, suspending himself between two trees. Pinax loaded another arrow and let it fly. The deer shook as the arrow sunk halfway up the shaft in his back, knocking his forward. The deer tumbled down over the bank, rolling down another steep embankment into a small dell.
Pinax gasped as his prey went tumbling down the slope, and drew the knife from his belt, there was no way he was loosing this kill. Pinax leapt down the slope after his prey, he could now see him tumbling downhill. Somehow the deer had managed to turn himself so he was rolling sideways instead of horns over tail. The deer crashed in a heap at the bottom of the hill, as Pinax came charging down after him. The deer was no longer struggling to escape, the hill had been his final attempt. Pinax leapt landing on top of the deer sinking his knife into the furs side.
He rolled the deer onto it's back and gazed into it's eyes which were already half glazed over. Pinax raised his knife and drove it straight into the deer's chest directly over the heart, the prey went limp. Pinax got up and left the deer a moment to ensure that it was dead. It was now time to take a trophy, Pinax took his knife and started cutting through the antler.
It was slow going, too slow, this would take forever and would ruin the knife. Looking around Pinax spotted a couple of rocks. Placing the one rock under the antler, he then began smashing on the antler from the top with the other stone. This worked better and before too long the young coyote had his trophies. Leaving the corpse he started back up the slope to resume his guard, although he was sure this was all the excitement he would see. Something halfway up the slope caught his eye, a sparkle in the grass. Pinax went over to investigate and found a small key attached to a broken cord of woven bark fiber, it must have been on the deer and snagged on a branch as he rolled downhill. Pocketing the key Pinax once again trooped up the hill leaving the dead body of the deer for the mundane scavengers.
Sirus could feel them almost like they were tangible to the mind. Not something he could touch with his paw but something he could reach out and wrap his brain around. His body convulsed and trembled within it's hollowed shelter as they pressed against each other each one trying to force it's way inside his mind. They felt like long fat slugs, or possibly a cross between a snake and a tapeworm. Whatever they were he could feel them pressing against the edge of his conciousness only to be shoved away by some kind internal defense, or sometimes it was one of their own that would push them back, taking it's place, trying to force itself on the trembling deer.
The tiny deer wrapped his body tighter into a ball, hoping to deny these worms, whatever they be, but that was no more effective than taking shelter from the rain under a wind, they just passed right trough his physical defenses, because they weren't physical. He couldn't feel them with his body, only with a part of his mind he had never felt before. Then he felt one latch onto him, it was like it became one with his brain, and he could feel his entire mind pulsing, even a tiny bit of it which seemed to be exposed. Then a blinding light overtook his senses. It was an aura of dazzling silver radiance for a moment and then it was gone, but he was no longer curled up in his safe little hole. He was standing in the village again, but where was the carnage, the dead bodies. He was running towards a hut, he tried to stop but he couldn't he just kept running full force and leapt through the door flap. He looked around the hut and saw two female deer, one older and one a young adolescent. Something in the very back of Sirus' mind screamed that he should know these deer, especially the juvenile male sitting, it's muzzle gaping open in shock. A thought ran unbidden through his mind assessing that the elder female was probably the most dangerous, which triggered the response of taking aim upon her with the rifle Sirus was only now becoming aware of in his startlingly undeer-like paws. Sirus tried to comply with that tiny voice he could barely make out and turn the gun away from that female, but the body was not responding to his directions. The finger flexed twice sending two rounds pulsing into the woman, as she cried out in pain and shock the tiny voice became loud for a moment it's scream joining with the females. then it died down again as the child cowered next to it's mother.
Then as suddenly as it had come on Sirus could feel his mind separating itself from that astral worm. That tendril of mental energy which had attached itself to his brain, but as the thing was torn away it left more behind than what it had shown. Sirus' mind was bubbling trying to make sense of all the new memories that somehow didn't match up with what it already knew. But even as it worked to sort these images and thoughts, and feelings, another worm was already attaching itself, as though seeking to feed by passing on what it knew.
As night fell the village which had at one time belonged to the deer was filled with celebration. A huge bonfire roared in the village square, roasting over which were the bodies of fallen enemies. Laerus flicked a claw at the ring around his neck, and thought of his promise to his dead friend. He looked from the ring to the ring of furs dancing around the fire like wild animals. His gaze locked onto a lithe figure, a beautiful bitch, about his own age. He watched as the firelight shone off her fur as she swayed and bobbed in time with the pounding drums, perhaps there was hope for the future after all. He looked around for some of the other furs he knew, There was no sign of Kaylar and Baxus, probably off abusing their slave somewhere.
A group of furs were siting off to the side munching on juicy cuts of deer, laughing as Pinax related the story of his kill, most likely wildly exaggerated, but Laerus was not one to say so, he hadn't been there, so he didn't know. The firelight was blocked as a figure walked up to Laerus, and extended a paw to him, it was the bitch he had been watching. Taking her paw Laerus stood up and joined her dancing by the fire.
Somewhere deep in the forest there was a cave, a cave with a hollowed out room in the back, barred by door and lock. Within this room was a huge and complex machine, most of which did nothing and was merely to distract from the vital portion of the machine. The water dripped steadily from the tank into the pond, with each drop the float lowered a touch. Drip, Drip, Drip. Lower, and Lower, until finally there was a click. The apparatus had been sprung. Deep under the village was a huge pit which had taken many deer many months to dig, all that supported the village was a platform held up by many supports. As the trigger went off charges of explosives tied to the supports roared to life knocking out the supports, causing a massive sinkhole to open up, swallowing the entire village, and it's conquerors. Then a second set of charges went off causing a landslide burying the remains of the village and any survivors who had not left the 'safety' of the dwellings.
As the village sunk into the earth with it's captors the night was filled with an angry rumble. It was finished, the coyotes had killed the deer and by their own actions killed themselves. I, Wilfield Consign, watched the scene from afar and shed a tear for the passing of these two tribes. Two different breeds of the same people killing each other in an attempt to survive in this cruel new world. In the aftermath I found a single survivor who had crawled out of the village and hidden in a small hollow tree, a deer child with a shattered muzzle. The child appears to be a Psi of some potential, but has no knowledge of how to control his powers. I have taken him in, he has no one and nowhere, now we leave this dying place and head for the golden horizon across the sea, I have heard that there is a place there where such people are welcome and can receive training in how to best use their talents, the kingdom of Levan.