Chapter 09 - Carabas and the Mist Wolves
We departed the next morning, better rested and fed, for Chains Crossing (or whatever one calls it in that mouth-twisting tongue of the Ohir). The Macqul Taxat said that they would likely be seeing us, but that they must meet together to discuss their people’s future. Etc., etc. We bade them (and the Red Valley folk) a fond farewell.
Seeing the Bird People again? Fine.
Seeing Jane the Innkeeper’s Wife again? I would be fine skipping that particular reunion.
While the Mists generally stay in the Lowlands, that is not always the case. Sometimes they rise, seemingly driven by their volume, other times by forces untold, to seep into the Midlands, extensions of the greater Mists below, or “clouds” that slowly cross the land.
That is, of course, one reason why the Shire is located where it is.
As dusk approached after a long day’s hike, as we neared a mountain pass, the Mists rolled in. We’d dealt with a few odd predators we encountered, and so thought ourselves relatively safe, until we encountered … the Mist Wolves.
Ah, you’ve heard tales of these before? Let me assure you, the reality is far more terrifying, far more gut-wrenching, far more deadly than the myths.
Wolves they are, as the name says, savage dogoids, huge and deadly and clever. Not people-clever (let alone People-clever), but smarter than the average canine.
And they talk.
Not conversationally, not as you and I do. But rather than barks and yips and howls, they utter words in the Common tongue. Many of which are things like “Kill” or “Eat” or “Rend” or “Pursue,” often repeated like a dog’s annoying yapping.
It’s … disconcerting.
The stories say they were unleashed from the Misted fringes of the world when the Ohir did something to the population that had held them at bay. Wynn declined to correct that story.
And, being creatures of the Mist, they were able to slip through it freely, hidden, until ready to pounce. We heard them crying out with their terrible words and bay-like screams in the distance, and thought ourselves at a good remove, until we realized that’s what they wanted us to think.
Despite the deception, the razor-keen senses of the Catlings, as well as my own sharp wit and steady nerve, informed me of their approach well before the others realized it. They spotted my puffed tale, even as I informed them, keeping my words steady and calm so as to keep their fear in check.
“I have no doubt,” I said, “that we can defeat this foe. They are, after all, only dogs.” I patted Hambone on the side, to show no hard feelings. He wagged his tail. “But if there’s a better way to draw them in and improve our odds …”
“My people now a way,” Virens replied. “We chose the bravest and strongest among us, blooded him and set him forth to draw them in as prey. Then, while they held the beasts off, we fell on them.”
“With all due alacrity, I trust,” I jested, but I realized he was looking at me with his steady, silent eyes, and I realized yet a new way that I could bring glory to the Catlings and safety to my comrades. “No need to worry – I’ll take the job.” I chuckled. “Indeed, it’s a good thing you have me along, to be there to hold them off while you leap to the fray. Damned fortunate for you.”
He nodded gravely, though with a slight smile, and I was gratified he recognized a kindred spirit in adventure.
And so I found myself in a clearing, a long cut along one leg to bring out blood (but not so deep as to slow me down), dragging that leg like a wounded prey – a fine enough job, if I do say so myself, that I almost wanted to pounce upon myself!
But I will not lie to you. To hear the canine chuckles, the mutterings of “Meat, meat,” and “Blood, blood,” and to see them creeping all around me … well, I would not be mortal if I did not feel some qualm, some atavistic fear that made me want to run like the victim the wolves thought me.
But I am a Catling, proud and and strong and uncowed (and undogged, for that matter). I kept my place, knowing the others all depended on me. The finest acting job ever, if you ask me: to seem the weakened target, solitary and defenseless, when I wanted to hiss my defiance and call my friends to me to teach those monsters a lesson. A monumental thespian effort played to the trees, and to the wolves.
They moved in. And, to their regret, found no easy victim, but a Catling in his prime, quick as lightning and twice as bright. Dodging, weaving, in and out, above and blow, a claw here, a dig there, a bit of dirt flung into an eye, a skid under a stomach, amidst howls of pain and outrage and collision. What a game! Made all the more spicy by knowing that any of their claws, let alone their fetid, slobbering jaws, would mean the end of me if my dance were anything less than spectacular.
I can sing! I can act! I can dance! If the fates had not been so kind as to give me this opportunity of adventure on behalf of the the Catlings and the world, then I might well have acheved fame upon some distant city’s stage!
But I digress.
Even as my body twisted and dodged and tumbled and leapt, I kept my sharp eye and sharper wit about me, looking for some added bit of information, a clue, a secret they might betray that would help us defeat them.
There! On that one, larger wolf who was staing out of the fray – no, casually walking toward it, rather than charging like its lesser kin. A flash of crystal, or something glowing, at its throat.
It must be mine!
As he approached, I abruptly jinked left instead of the safer right, to slide past him, grab the item, get a paw on it –
He batted me ass over teakettle to crash to the ground a dozen paces beyond, stunned, and then the beast was suddenly upon me, trying to catch me, bite me, savage me, even as I scrambled backwards, seeking enough purchase to use my greater speed and grace but with each lunge barely able to keep fur and bone intact –
Only three things saved me. First, my puissant skill and grace, the inheritance of any Catling and honed to a fine edge by my experiences, even hampered by the injuries I had taken. Second, the other wolves backed off to watch as their leader demanded one-on-one conflict with such a noteworthy adversary. And third …
The others attacked.
Wellll … tried to.
Rowan took the lead, using some mighty, sorcerous axe, which could reap the powers of the wind and release them in a mighty blow. He leapt into the air, bringing the axe down on the Mist Wolf I was keeping busy …
The teardrop agate on the chain in my hand, taken from the Mist Wolf, pulsed hot and a wall of force extended outwards, ignoring the wolves, but striking Rowan while in mid-downswing. He flew through the air and into (practically through) a tree.
I hoped he wouldn’t blame me for that. But I knew even more that I could not let this trinket fall back into the hands of the wolves.
Virens was next, atop his riding varg, his rock hammer in hand. The varg roared and snapped at the other wolves as he barreled down upon the alpha and me, and I smiled and redoubled my defensive moves, seeking to distract the Mist Wolf leader and distract it from the orc.
A might blow he struck then, catching the leader and flinging him into others of his pack. And now the fight was in earnest against different groups of wolves. Wynn flickered in the uncanny speed of his people, distracting and confusing them. Meanwhile, Ann used her new Mist Foxes (or whatever she was calling them) to break up the Mist about us to weaken the wolves attack.
But in so doing, she left herself open to some of the Mist Wolves creeping in from a blind spot on her flank. To the rescue, Carabas! Ann always had my back, and I could do no less (and likely more) in return!
Swish and flick, my lightning saber flashed like lighting and stung like a bee!
Then followed the madness of battle, as coherent tactics broke down into individual opportunities to strike. At one point, I heard the leader of the wolves, injured but still on his feet, calling to marshal his troops – “Stay! Obey! Stay! Obey!” – and turned to see him looking at me. He wanted that little trinked I’d taken from him, and I taunted him with in for one brief flash before returning to the red work of feint and strike against his fellows.
Things finally ended with Rowan making good for his initial failure and conjuring a giant stone fist from the ground to uppercut the wolves, especially their leader. Impressive, if a bit showy.
And when 'twas all over, we stood there, victorious on the field of battle – bloodied, some shaken, some battered, but triumphant in our fight against evil.
“As you clearly demonstrated,” Virens said to me, “it takes the bravest warrior to do this.”
I nodded and casually leaned against a tree. “Thank you.”
Ann used her skill at speaking to animals (learned recently from Rowan) to talk with the lead wolf, the one who’d sought to feed on me. He was, in the end, injured and dying. He revealed to her that there was a Harbinger woman who ruled these hills we were passing through, and it was only then that Rowan saw fit to suggest it was an old comrade of his, Myra.
We rested, then, as the others needed a sit-down and some food before we continued on our journey. Rowan shared some berries and tea with me, which seemed a bit civilized, while Ann bandaged those with injuries, even my flesh wound.
I told Rowan, “I’ve heard about wizards being trapped in trees … I never thought I’d see how it happens.” He nodded demurely at my bon mot.
At length, fed and rested and bandaged, we headed onwards toward Chains Cross. What would we find there? Would we encounter further minions of the mysterious Myra? How would I save my comrades this time?
I think I’ll wet my whistle, and we can continue the tale!
cf. Chapter 09: The Fellowship and the Mist Wolves