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The Way of the Wolf : A New Beginning

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  • The Way of the Wolf : A New Beginning

    Groaning like a beast in its death throes, the ship seemed to clamber up on to the black rocks before the keel snapped and the hull split with a splintering cry. Cut and bloodless corpses rolled and slid from the deck, spilling into the thrashing foam where pale limbs flopped and waved in the tumult before the riptide dragged them tumbling over the broken sea floor, out and down into the depths. The lone living figure, who had tied himself to the tiller, was now tangled in frayed ropes at the stern, scrabbling to reach his knife before the next huge wave exploded over the wreck. A salt-bleached hand - the skin of the palm hanging in blighted strips - tugged the broad-bladed weapon free. He slashed at the ropes binding him to the up-thrust tiller as the hull thundered to the impact of another wave and white spume cascaded over him.

    As the last strand parted he fell on to his side and slid to the crushed rail, the collision driving the air from his lungs as he pitched across the encrusted rock, then sagged, limp as any corpse, into the churning water.

    Another wave descended on to the wreck like an enormous fist, crushing the deck beneath the senseless power, then dragging the entire hull back into the deeper water, leaving a wave of splintered wood, lines, and tattered sail.

    Where the man had vanished, the inrushing seas swirled round the black rock, and nothing emerged from that thrashing current.

    In the sky overhead dark clouds clashed, spun sickly arms into a mutual embrace, and though on this coast no trees rose from the ravaged ground, and naught but wind-stripped grasses emerged from pockets here and there among the rock and gravel and sand, from the wounded sky dried, autumnal leaves skirled down like rain.

    Closer to the shore heaved a stretch of water, mostly sheltered from the ragiing sease beyond the reef. Its bottom was a sweep of coral sand, agitated enough to cloud the shallows.

    The man rose into view, water streaming. He rolled his shoulders, spat out a mouthful thick with grit and blood, then waded on to the strand. He no longer carried his knife, but in his left hand was a sword in a scabbard. Made from two long strips of pale wood reinforced with blackened iron, the scabbard revealed that it was riven through with cracks, as water drained out from a score of fissures.

    Leaves raining on all sides, he walked up beyond the tide line, crunched down on to a heap of brocken shells and sat, forearms on his knees, head hung down. The bizarre deluge thickened into flurries of rotting vegetation, like black sleet.

    The massive beast that slammed into him would have been thrice his weight if it was not starved. Nor would it have attacked at all, ever shy of humans, but it had become lost in a dust storm, and was then driven from the grasslands leagues inland on to this barren, lifeless coast. Had any of the corpses from the ship reached the beach, the lioness would have elected to scavenge its meal. Alas, its plague of misfortunes was unending.

    Powerful jaws snapped close round the back of the man's head, fangs tearing through scalp and gouging into skull, yet the man was already ducking, twisting, his sodden hair and the sudden welter of blood proving slick enough to enable him to wrest free of the lioness' bite.

    The sword was lying, still in its scabbard, two paces away, and even as he lunged towards it, the lioness' enourmous weight crashed down on to him. Claws racked under his chainmail, rings snapping away like torn scales. He half twisted round, hammering his right elbow into the lioness' head, hard enough to foul its second attempt to bite into the back of his neck. The blow sprayed blood from the beast's torn lip along the side of its jaw.

    The man drove his elbow down again, this time into the lioness' right eye. A bleat of pain and the animal lunged to the left. Continuing his twist, the man drew up both legs, then drove them hells first into its ribs. Bones snapped.

    Another cry of agony. Frothing blood sprayed out from its mouth.

    Kicking himself away, the man reached his sword. His motions a blur of speed, he drew the weapon, alighted on his feet in a crouch and slashed the sword into the side of the lioness' neck. The ancient watermarked blade slid through thick muscle, then bit into bone, and trhough, bursting free on the opposite side. Blood and bile gushed as the lioness' severed head thumped on to the sand. The body sat down on its haunches, still spewing liquid, then toppled to one side, legs twitching.

    Blazing heat seethed at the back of the man's head, his ears filled with a strange buzzing sound, and the braids of his black, knitted hair dripped thick threads of bloody saliva as he staggered upright.

    On the sword's blade, blood boiled, turned black, then shed in flakes.

    Still the sky rained dead leaves.

    He staggered back down to the sea, fell on to his knees in the shallows and plunged his head into the vaguely warm water.

    Numbness flowed out along the back of his skull. When he straightened once more, he saw the bloom of blood in the water, a smear stretching into some draw of current - an appalling ammount. He could feel more, streaming down his back now.

    He quickly tugged off the chainmail, then the filthy, salt-rimmed shirt beneath. He tore loose the shirt's left sleeve, folded it into a broad bandanna and bound it tight round his head, as much against the torn skin and flesh as he could manage by feel.

    The buzzing sound was fadding. A dreadful ache filled the muscles of his neck and shoulders, and in his head there now pounded a drum, each beat pulsating until the bones of his skull seemed to reverberate. He attempted to spit again, but his parched through yielded nothing - almost three days now without water. A juddering effect assailed his vision, as if he stood in the midst of an earhtquake. Stumbling, he made his way back up the beach, collecting his sword on the way.

    On to his knees once more, this time at the headless carcass. Using his sword to carve into the torso, then reaching in to graps the lioness' warm heart. He tore and cut it loose, raised it in one hand and held it over his mouth, then squeezed it as if it was a sponge. From the largest of the arteries blood gushed into his mouth. He drank deep, finally closing his lips round the artery and sucking the last drop of blood from the organ.

    When that was done he bit into the muscle and began to eat it.

    Slowly, his vision steadied, and he noticed for the first time the raining leaves, the torrent only now diminishing, as the heavy, warring clouds edged away, out over the sea.

    Finished eating the heart, he licked his fingers. Rose once more and retrieved the scabbard, sheathing the sword. The drumbeat was fading, although pain still tormented his neck, shoulders, and back - the muscles and tendons that had only begun their complaint at the savage abuse they had suffered. He washed the on sleeved shirt then wrung it - tenderly, since it was threadbare and liable to fall apart under to rigorous a ministration. Slipping it on, he then set out, inland.

    Above the crest of the shoreline, he found before him a wasteland. Rock, scrub, drifts of ash and, in the distance, ravines and outcrops of broken bedrock, a rumpling of the landscape into chaotic folds that lifted into raw, jagged hills.

    Far to his left - northward - a grainy, difusse hase marred the sky above or beyond more hills.

    He squinted, studied that haze for thirty heartbeats.

    Patches of dusty blue above him now, as the storm rolled eastward over the sea, its downpour of leaves trailing like claw marks in the air, straining the whitecaps beyond the reef. The wind lost some of its chill bite as the sun finally broke through, promising its own assult on mortal flesh.

    The man's skin was dark, for he had been born on a savannah. His was a warrior's build, the muscles lean and sharply defined on his frame. His height was well above average. His even features were ravaged by depredation, but already the rich meat of the lioness' heart had begun to fill that expression with stolid, indomitable strength.

    Still, the wounds blazed with ferocious heat. And he knew, then, that fever was not far off. He could see nothing nearby in which to take shelter, to hole up out of the sun. Among the ravines, perhaps, the chance of caves, overhands. Yet...fifteen hundred paces away, if not more.

    Could he make it that far?

    He would have to.

    Dying was unthinkable, and that was no exaggeration. When a man has forsaken Death, that final gate is closed. Oblivion or the torment of a journy without end - there was no telling what fate awaited such a man.

    In any case, he was in no hurry to discover the answer. No, he would invite Death to find it himself.

    It was the least he could do.

    Slinging the scabbard's rope belt over his left shoulder, checking that the sword Vengeance was snug within, its plain grip within easy reach, he set out across the barren plain.

    In his wake, stripped branches spun and twisted down from the heaving clouds, plunging into the waves, as if torn from the moons themselves.
    The Strong may rule the Weak, but the Clever will always rule the Strong.
    Real men are carved from the pointed teeth of adversity

  • #2
    the way of the wolf

    A fine tale, very descriptive! By all means continue it soon. It is great to see new additions in one of the best sections here.
    Charlotte Mayfair