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Into the Black

Yawn Longfang

Yawn scoured the head of his mace feverishly. When he was done, he would oil it to keep it from rusting. It was broad daylight. For the first time ever, Yawn had not waited until the full moon to clean his mace. He didn’t want their blood on it. He didn’t want Magrat’s blood on his mace. The feeling, knowing it was there, made him sick. Rage filled his heart, along with a tinge of regret. It was the regret that he hadn’t caved in three heads instead of one. His elders had called the attack “ringing the bell”. Swordsmen called it the “helm splitter” or “pear splitter”, depending on who one talked to. It was the simplest and most vicious basic attack he knew.

Crush the sword hand, and while they scream, strike the helm. Keep striking until the helm and what lies beneath no longer functions. Most mace attacks worked like that. Target a limb, and exploit the pain it caused to attack the head, lungs, or throat. A heavy weapon like Yawn’s mace was designed to kill quickly and with a minimum number of hits. It was not as elegant or refined as sword play, but it took full advantage of the strength of the wielder. Yawn could put an incredible amount of power behind that mace. Now, however, his strong hands ached from the delicate, yet repetitive work of weapon maintenance. Secretly, his heart ached, too.
For the first time ever, Yawn had taken the life of another Ulven. He told himself that he didn’t care. He’d have killed another dozen to keep Magrat and his brother, Harlok, alive.

Yawn turned the head slowly as he worked. All the races, there, on a mace head: Mordok, Human, Ulven, and Syndar. Liches didn’t bleed, or, at least Yawn hadn’t been able to make it bleed, so the undead were not represented there, but he had fought them. Yawn stopped his work and looked down at the mace shaft. Two full faces of its handle were filled with scores.

“No, not Ulven.” He said to himself, “What had been Ulven. Mad remnants that had once been children of Gaia and the Great Wolf, but no longer.”
He started to work the scour over his score. To wipe it clean.
“These don’t mean anything. Not any more.” Yawn grunted as he applied more pressure and began grinding away his kill count.
The kills didn’t matter. The count didn’t matter. What he had killed for did. Who he had killed to protect did. What he had offered up to make the kills did. How he had grown afterwards did. The count was only a number; a symbol without a meaning, without a point, and without a purpose.
“A count only gets in the way.” he growled, “Focusing on what has been done, but clouding up what one needs to do next. I won’t carry the past with every strike of my mace. Not any more.”

He hadn’t just survived. He had grown as a warrior. He had been through the fire of trial by combat. No longer was he looked down upon as the meeker of two brothers. No one remarked on his absent fangs and eyes now, unless they were looking for a thrashing. No, his people were proud of him. But he was not content. Though he had found acceptance, he had not found the personal fulfillment he had hoped for.
Was it strange that now he had found acceptance as a warrior, killing was no longer enough for him? Killing was what he was trained for, true, and it had earned him glory and honor, but it did not complete him.
“Breaking things,” he thought to himself, “is easy. I am strong. Wood splinters. Metal Cracks. Bones shatter. Skulls split and leak, like eggs into a pan. No. The real challenge isn’t breaking things. The real challenge is fixing things.”

If only he could learn how to fix things. If only he could learn to heal. He rubbed his hand across the handle of the mace. The notches had almost disappeared to the eye, but could still be felt, like old scars. Yawn would trade every notch just to save one of his friends. As he leaned into his work, his shoulder screamed and twitched with pain. The wound had stitched, but the new tissue hadn’t meshed with the old yet, and the difference made the joint stiff and swollen. To make matters worse, the Grim javelin that had pierced his shoulder had been tipped with stone. Every flake from the head had had to be pulled up and through the wound tract before it could be sealed. It’d felt like the healers were pulling ice shards through a burn.

He paused in his work. The shafts wood lay dull with fresh flat wood a few shades lighter then it had been. The head still dark but cleared of friend and foes blood. War had come; Ulven against Ulven, but more importantly, the ghosts were real. This civil war would happen, but the undead were the real foe, and the only thing any of them should be focusing on.
As he started working the scour again, Yawn resolved to seek something greater than himself; Gaia’s children, the spirits. Yawn resolved to turn land and animal against foe, and to serve his pack through healing. That was the way to put down the walking ghosts, and it was the way to give Magrat, his friend, a little piece of her home that had been. Yawn had made up his mind. He would seek the path of the shaman. It was the only way he could fix things.

He’d felt a pull from the Dirge Swamp; a need, a call. He would take the dagger he’d been carving and go. Once he convinced Magrat that he was ready, he would waste no time, taking only what Magrat told him. In three days time he would have his totem, or his death.

—————-

Yawns pace was slow. The Dirge swamp did suffer fools. Just not for very long. He could still cover better then eight miles inside of three hours at this pace, assuming he didn’t run foul of the swamps more colorful features. Or that he didn’t stumble face first in to a Mordok camp. He adjusted his belt. He was already well past the witches hobble. Yawn had set out to warn her second thing after arriving at the outpost. Crazy or not, no one deserved to be over run unaware by the undead. Even if it meant his last night at the outpost had been more eventful. Of all the questions raised after stirring the ashes of that old mountain foot out post, one Yawn did not want answered. Namely, what happens IF a caster rises? He was certain knew EXACTLY what the worse case scenario was there. And it put a cold pulsing knot in his gut. He thumbed the handle of the knife. All he was allowed on this trial. He felt naked. With out his knives. With out his mace and shield. No armor, no glaive, no spear, no javelin, Great Wolfs tail not even a damn pouch full of stones. He never thought he’d say it, but right now as he leapt the stream and paused a moment at the site of the burnt Mordok camp, but right now, he’d trade his future fangs for a sling and a pouch full of stones. The air of the camp was still foul with months old scent of Mordok blood gone over and ash even after the springs rains. How happy he’d been last fall. How complete. Yawns boot ground a torn ragged bit of cloth into the the muddy rise. Life had been complete. He had been deliriously happy, out numbered, thin on supplies, told to watch and run if more came for the outpost, and dead certain he’d be joining his missing brothers in the great wolfs long house before the week was out, fortnight at the most. But he lived. And from what was supposed to be his pillory for brawling the night of naming, became his mark of distinction. His moment in the light. Warrior in full. All he’d ever wanted done in just less then four days time. His feet beat a steady pace along the ground ,solid ground, what there was of it to be found, steadily became narrower, and patchy. One needed to know how to step to keep pace, not twist an ankle, or spend the rest of the day tromping in wet boots. The only thing more miserable then a day in wet boots was seeing the bottom of the poke.
Yes his life had been full. Complete. Full of adventure and fights any young-ling Ulven would trade his fangs for. And would be fool enough to make the trade for it too. How had he found himself on this path. Had fewer been lost those first days of thunder and blood. Had his temper held long enough to challenge the three he’d thrashed or best them during the trails. Perhaps if his Mothers blood line was not touched by far sight and madness. If Magrat hadn’t been with the bastards. If putting down the dozens on the way back to Onsallas had been enough to fill the void mourning had left. If he hadn’t risen so far so quickly. And if doing so hadn’t echoed hollow as an emptied mead barrel.
The brothers Longfang were alike in many ways. Both took some aspect of their mothers. Stannrick in his steadfastness. Yawn in willingness to learn. But the pair could not be more different in their rages and mourning. Stanrick dealt with it by screaming, raging and sputtering, a pipe, or finding a warm bed not his own, after making sure the Great Wolf winced from cries. Yawn carried that weight of death with him. Hollowed out a bit of his heart for those lost. He saved it the way others save good drink and tobacco. When things grew truly dire, he let that weight in his heart fill him. With bitterness, sorrow, but most disturbing of all, joy. Joy that he could put one more body on the pyre. That he might join his friends and family.
The point, the point of this knife. For this was an augment in his own mind, and all arguments are knives, doubled edge, cutting both ways, and coming to an end, a point was this; His path lead here. For what ever reason. Divine providence, was that what the Syndar, the yellow one, had called the will of his gods? Could it not be the very course, the very snare laid for him by Gaia? Did not the goddess have a hundred thousand ways to bait the snares and paths she meant her children to find. Was his instinct not to find a new path? He would not question it now. Magrat knew the means to kill the undead. The undead were here. The Longfangs, his pack, devours maw the whole Ulven race needed that knowledge. Foresight and visions ran on his mother side. As did madness. And on his fathers side, decisiveness. The will the be the first the make the leap into whatever need be dealt with. And was that not a sort of madness? Was it not an ideal joining of these traits that he would be the first to think to ask of Magrats ways? To know the undead were a threat before the proof of it tried to cut him to ribbons after he hurled a stone half the size of his chest at the lich? Thank the Gaias tender if rough hewn mercies it had only a pair of swords and not a pole arm.
The shade of the swamp grew deeper and the familiar plants gave way. Here less then an hour in and it was already darker then the pines at mid day. The plants, even those he knew grew strange, gnarled, some bleached and unwholesome looking. Strange and some how, the twisted form of the familiar was more deeply unnerving then the new stranger looking plants. Here and there fallen trees slowly rotting, some dotted with, black, gray, and ashen white spiked … fungus, were those the fungus he’d seen around that forsaken outpost at the foot of the mountain? Had that merchant had less ale and drink on hand, surely his head would like as not found it way to a pike. If he were lucky, after it been severed. No tipman fungus, unripened or otherwise. Another gifts of the colonists, had it come over the gaping ocean with them? Something to ask Magrat when he returned. To file away for his return. Along with the questions for Rill of the more.. familiar plants bleached and blackened relations. Until now, plants had fallen into three categories, useful, dangerous, and edible. The last was the most favored, though the second was heeded fully and it truth just a different sort of useful. Useful had meant he carried it back on his patrols to Rill most often. Now it meant knowing more the portion he’d not been apart of. What could it treat? How much did one need? How to gauge the dosage? How best to ply it? When and where to look he’d known, but it simply been a chore before, now ignorantly plucking Gaia’s bounties and turning them over was not enough.
The hours ebbed and flowed strangely. The deeper Yawn went the the thicker became the darkness. Twilight beneath he leaves of twisted cops of trees. Foul smells, rot, and stagnating pools, the air choked and thick. Moss and shade bleached grasses everywhere one might step, a bit of bare stone or root here or there, the occasional stunted rise with something else, some times a higher pool of water, ancient trees, anyplace where stone, root, rock and earth were too tough to give out even under the duress of countless years of weathering. With out the sky and sun, the ever darkening twilight imperceptibility growing ever dimmer, made a joke of time. Here was only darkness. Though it provided no comfort. The trees strangled the winds. The water made the air so humid that sweat came in rivulets. The canopy provided no relief from the heat. With time gone, distance was the second victim. With out time there was no way to know, no true means to guess how far he’d come. “Well.. they don’t call it the black for nothing, as it turns out.” Yawn muttered to the trees. “You don’t belong here wolfing.” Yawn whirled round on his feet the knife drawn in one clean motion, eyes searching his ears tingling, his forehead had that odd pinched sensation he had when he’d stared down foes in combat, when he had weapon tips pointed at him. Again came the voice joyful, teasing, mocking, female. “Turn back wolfing, syndar can make the spirits to heel but not a pet, not a human playing at being a wolfling.” The words shocked him. Did the spirits think his late coming fangs would shake him. And yet it sent a chill down his spine. “Don’t listen” His breath became labored, heavy, the air felt, thinner. “d don’t listen, trying to break me, to play with your skull Yawn, don’t listen its just your mind filling in the dark.” Yawn felt something cold lash over the back of his left hand, the pain sang up his arm, and he lashed out to the left with his knife, catching nothing. “A warning wolfing who is not, your last, you can be made to bleed in more… dire ways.” The voice was anxious, eager. It promised more suffering. But it didn’t’ want him to turn back. Whatever it was it wanted the threats it made to come to pass. Yawn wheeled about feeling the cut pulse. His heart throbbing in his ears. The blood screaming through his veins. The blood flowing freely over his left hand. A minute passed. A second. And yawn cursed to himself. He scooped up dried leaves, crushed them, and packed the wound. It wasn’t an ideal poultice, but it would stop the bleeding. Pain shot through his hand, packing the wound worse then clean quick cut, Yawn held it fast, and waited for the bleeding to stop, he knelt there. Until the bleeding paused there was little else to do.
Yawn panted. Sweat slicking his brow. His tunic dried too quickly to soak through, the material too thin to hold much liquid. It kept his arms and chest if little else dry, and just a touch cooler for it. It had to be near night full but the swamp and its thick canopy trapped the days heat. Yawn thumbed the ring pommel of the knife. He was already floating in and out of consciousness. That on it own wasn’t knew. Not being drunk, battered, or bleeding out while it was happening was. His jaw ached…. the very bone, had he been grinding his teeth? The mocking voice echoed in his skull. One phrase stuck there like a thorn between his shoulder blades. “Wolfing who is not” He’d hunkered down trying to figure out what should come next. When he started to hear and feel things around him. Voices, snatches of sensations, and thoughts… None his own, and always on the dip into something less then wakefulness. It was as though until now he’d been able to stroll on the surface of an ocean. Now that he knew it was there he could no longer stride over it. No not over it… He’d been… Walking on a scum of ignorance. Now that he’d broken it, that he knew, it would no longer hold him. Again the dip, he felt as a peace of flotsam on a great swell, bobbing and sinking. He have to learn to swim or be pulled below. All at once the sounds faded. Yawn felt still, calm, and cool… He rose. No reason to. He just felt that surge… The spirits waking? Stirring at the some one seeking. Seeking what. Why so… so active? Was it him? That an ulven sought to commune to deal and bind instead of command? Or was that the mordoks did no deal but corrupted and subdued. Yawn turned eyes open the darkness nearly complete. Turning listlessly eyes seeing this and that his head swimming though still that cool. Could be the Black was eager for some one to try a different method? A word floated in… In between his ears like a wisp of smoke. Champion? Chosen? What what was that damned human word? Retainer???? No all wrong all of them. No the right word what was the right word…. Did he have it or was his attempt to decipher the idea of it the suggestion in fact unmaking that wisp of an idea. No important… Part of the trail? Trick? No important now come back to it wait for the signs, a sign….

Yawn kept turning until he saw it… a diminutive pulsing flickering light….. Distant or diminutive??? Sign it doesn’t matter go his own instinct answered. His feet hadn’t waited for his mind to resolve it self and he already start lumbering, slowly, toward the now slowly growing orange flame. Yawn felt almost as if he was only watching himself act. Passively watching until his body needed to be jolted in this direction or corrected. He was thinking about walking… but also seeing himself walk from out side himself… And seeing what he saw.. At once….Yawn was thinking about the oddness of it all… seeing himself both as if he were a bystander… while knowing, acting and seeing as himself… If some one could manage such in combat… to see as two what could that person manage? A voice pulled him back into his body. A voice that brought him back to himself. And that filled him with rage. “How now fangless one? How does will the Great wolf find your heart when I tear it from you.” Yilew…. Greytides…

————————————-

As he heard the voice of the greytide he’d thrashed shortly after the shaman incident at the Onsallas outpost, one turn of phrase entered Yawn’s mind and dropped from his mouth. “Crow’s luck.” Curse, explanation, and exclamation in one. With this, the spirits meddling was a far lesser trouble. Down came the blackened sword. Yawns feet carried him side long to his attacker, and danced to a bit more to his left. Circling sword side… Not good form. Not good at all. The whistling cut found no purchase in its target, but already its wielder ready the follow up strike. Yawns mind raced, locking its to the lessons of his days as a youth in the training circles. Full body turn, cross blow, utterly devastation if it connects. Yawns left leg snapped up in a sharp short kick. The ball of his foot checking Yilews wrist and fore arm just as the Greytide made ready to uncoil his strike. A voice bellowed in his head. Like one might imagine the voice of Gaia, basso profondo, female, his instructor in wrestling. Kajal, “IF YOU STRIKE ONCE THEN STRIKE TWICE FOR THE WOLFS SAKE!” Yawn pushed off his left foot hard felt the moss beneath give a bit, torquing his hip into the turn.
Combat holds many lessons. Among the first the young learn is this. Striking a skull with you bare hand hurts like hell. There are much easier targets. Much more effective targets. But Yawn had done all Kajal had asked of him. She’d taught him to harden his hands. So as yawn threw was was the called by his people the crossing blow, and by some of the colonist’s the Iron cross, others simply the right cross, his fist flew for his foes jaw. “FANGS AND FURY!” Yawn cried as his fist plowed into Yilew’s jaw and kept moving through. The impact sounded like a stone against a side of beef. As Yilew fell his blade swept up and caught Yawns right arm around the meat of the fore arm. Not a deep cut, but testament to Yilew’s swordsmanship. Most would not be able to wound a foe, let along cut a decent wound as they fell. Yawn lashed out his left foot, once, twice, three time a quick stomp, another snap kick, and second stomp, to what portion of anatomy he did not know, again up came Yilew sword, point aimed for Yawns gut. Yawn feet drew him back and to his right so that all the blade found was a bit of his belt. “yew cannnt keepah dat up all nig th.” Yawn translated roughly “You cant keep that up all night.” Yilew knew what Yawn knew about fighting. That fists, hands, fingers, thumbs, broke easily against a skull. Yawn smiled wide. “I can, those of us that remember the face of the Gaia can.” He wanted to explain how hard he had worked under Kajal. How for three weeks he couldn’t open his hands. How he couldn’t even hold a fork with out pain. How he’d dipped into brine water, and covered them still bleeding in the stinging poultices. Yilew rose suddenly. “STAY WITH ME STAY HERE DON’T YOU GO DRIFTING OFF YOU HAVEN’T EARNED A WARRIORS DEATH YET PUP” Again Kajal voice reaching out of his past to save him in the present. That time she’d been choking him was near senseless, and finally the counter to the strangle came to him. Yilew thrust as he rose. Smooth efficient graceful and deadly with the whole of his weight behind his sword tip. Yawn again slid, this time just a half step from where his stood, to the his own left this time. Yilew meant to pierce his heart. Yawns left hand traped the Grey tides sword arm. A master strike. One that should of killed him, that should of even peirced his mail had he been wearing it. But against a foe unencumbered by mail or shield just a half step too slow. His right scooped his blade from its sheath. Gripped blade down another voice of his past guided him “You have to remove the wing before you cook fowl, no good eating there, too string, you put the blade here and pull” Stannrick teaching him to clean game birds. The knife came down not cutting, again the bare inner angle , Yawn wrenched Yilews sword arm straight, and pulled the knife in and up sharp. Tendons gave way. All that skill. All of it destroyed in a single cut. Yilew screaming and failed. His body turned traitor. His good sword arm no longer obeying his will. It couldn’t. Yawn shoved Yilew to the ground and straddled him. He wanted to see his eyes when he put the light out of them… Wanted to know the look his foe had when he took all that was left or he decided to leave him half crippled in the middle of the black.

Yawn near toppled over his foe when his eyes saw. Not Yilew. Not Greytide. His foe smiled, and he felt his knife arm go limp his hand drop the blade. Felt blood running down his sword arm. He stared at himself. Older, fanged, and twisted, wearing the greytides belt flag. “A thousand miles, run a thousand more and you can’t out run me, I am you.” Had he crippled himself? His life as a warrior, was it over? No sword arm no shield arm. No bow, no spear, no two hander. “STAY HERE YAWN” Kajal voice again, the same choking feeling, get out, fight. “The spirits will hollow you out, make you what you least want. Traitor, Onsallas will burn and your people die scattered and cowerin-.” Yawns left hand griped his foes tunic hard, and he put the whole of his weight down again his forearm. And across his dopples throat. Could you pummel or choke a spirit to death? Yawn would try. Would it mean his own end? He just want the prattle to stop, if it meant he stood before the great wolf today so much the better, to die against a supernatural foe, while trying to keep the whole of his people well. So be it.
“I am not you.” Yawn spat, his left hand screaming in pain as his improvised poultice gave way. As he bled a fresh. “I don’t know what spawned you, or how you can be me, or how we share the same wound, but I AM A LONG FANG. I have not forgotten the face of my mother, or my sisters, or my brothers.” sweat pouring down his back his foe sputtering for air. “ You, you are dust, you are rot, you are nothing more then a stone in my path. I will press you under heel as I step on the path, that is all you are, all you ever were, and all you ever will be.” He felt the struggle go out of his foe, felt the body convulse in its last desperate attempts for air, and felt woozy. Greytide blade… cuts… why, too shallow…. poison…. The world spun before his eyes, going gray, then black and red, and at last, naught but black.

————

Time with out a marker. As distance beyond reckoning lost its meaning. Such it is with dreams. Yawns mind slid again through the black. He was so damn sleepy. His arms where heavy. His feet lead. He couldn’t keep his head up. He need to rise. But only managed to sit up legs sprawled. That was enough for now. After all he was done. It was over. After all of that he was certain the Great Wolf would lend him some slack if at once to his feet to greet him. Certainly he wasn’t the first warrior to have such problems. Did the mending happen before or after the great wolfs weighing of deeds? A question he’d never bothered to ask. If not before, surely more then one warrior has struggled to be presentable while less then whole. Even whole would not one find the transition disorienting. How many sprang from battle and only saw another enemy?

He heard the waves again. He was adrift. Not yet drowning though. Not yet swimming. Still he was drawing breath. Was that enough? He let the waves take him. It was pointless to fight an ocean with out a goal. Wasted energy. Fury against the darkness would do nothing more then tire him. He let the water pull him where it would. Listened to the waters song. It was peaceful, restful. Apart from sting in his wounds and a slight coolness, it was comfortable. It even smelled pleasant. He strained his ears he heard something not the waves, not birds, something in the distance. He strained to hear anything more over the waves and water.

“Yawnrick. Yawnrick. YAWNRICK!!!” shrieked a voice going from tenor to shrill alto. A voice he thought of as Gaia’s own. Yawnrick snapped up bolt straight eyes hazy full of terror and confusion. He knew that voice. It was the thing Yawnrick feared more then death. More then a straw death. And more then the devours hell. Kajal. Kajal his teacher. There she was. All five eight of her. Light as a damn bale of hay, but ever capable of breaking larger fighters in two, and smiling while she did. Scars laced over her arms and hands too numerous to count the skin there like leather. Yawnrick winced. But this was not the Yawn you know. This was Yawn before he’d become the warrior he would be. Before the days of blood and thunder. Before becoming a warrior in full echoed a hallow in his soul. Before he’d even seen a Syndar.

Yawnrick was slight, pale despite his time in the sun. The only signs of his future sturdiness were the wolfings hands, feet, and joints which seemed just a size too large for his frame. “Welcome back Yawnrick I hope you enjoyed your day dream. You dream up a way to kill with out paying attention or a wish do let me know. Have you?” Yawnrick, seldom if ever now at a loss for words had not yet found his voice then. His mouth gaped for a second closed and he shook his head. To kill with a wish… A thought? Will? Who could manage that. “Kajals eyes narrowed, a smile on her lips. “Well then maybe you’ll come up with something worth while during your laps.” Yawnrick sighed his shoulders slumping, as he started for the gate from the training circles. “Yawnrick.” at her call young Yawnrick stopped dead in his tracks. “Twenty laps, with the timber, and the shield”. Yawnrick briskly jogged to the racks and just as his hand gripped the first shield. “The double weighted shield Yawnrick.” He bit his lip and scooped up the heavier shield a slot down. The timber was a a hunk of a sapling. Six inches wide roughly, four feet long. He knelt and wrest the thing over his right shoulder, struggled to rise and managed better then a trudge. His packmates snickering behind him. “What are you lot giggling at, he only has the rest of day to struggle alone. You unfortunate pups are still stuck with me.” He started for the first corner. The route would take him around the back wall then to the mid point look outs between here and the pines. If he was lucky he’d finish just after sun down. “OH YAWNRICK DROP EITHER OF YOUR BURDENS AND I WILL HAVE YOU RUNNING LAPS TIL’ TRAILS!” he heard Kajal’s call and winced as he started for the second corner.

Sweat rolled down Yawnricks shoulder his tunic matted. He could feel his arms as a whole screaming aches, where his tunics folds ground into his shoulder beneath the timbers weight. Last circuit. Last round, he would not falter, not now. He’d not give Kajal a reason to smile that wolfs grin of hers. His pace swayed tilting, bobbing, swaying nearly off balance. Exhausted, hungry, thirsty, frustrated. He came in sight of the gate. All he needed to to was to make it to the racks. He shuddered. His back spammed, his knees creaked, and he could feel his feet throbbing in his boots. He dropped the timber first and racked the training shield. He could feel his muscles twitching, he fought the urge to kneel or sit. He closed his eyes standing, gripped his hands together and rolled them back and forth trying to loosen up the tendons. He knew better then to just collapse or be still after that.

“Why are you wasting my time Yawnrick.” He snapped around on his toes hands up fists closed. Kajal glared at him, pipe in hand a trail of dark gray smoke trailing from the corner of her mouth as she lifted the clay pipe to her lips and drew again. The bowels ember growing bright casting her upper face in a red glow. His hands dropped. Confusion filling his eyes. Why the hell had Kajal picked a time like now to start asking questions of him. Kajal started towards him. Kajal did not move so much as seem to flow. Her movements quick smooth deliberate. As mist lifting over a white cap and then just as seamlessly dropping back over it’s wake. Yawn did not see her hand rise. Kajal did not give warning signs of her strikes. One moment she was closing the distance, the next Yawnricks head snapped aside and he tasted blood. “Answer me pup, why are you wasting my time? Your fighting in the circle is half hearted at best, tell me Yawnrick, why are you still only half here?” “I” Yawn started when Kajals hand again raised from her hip and knocked his head back the opposite direction as her first blow had. “You can’t be half a warrior Yawnrick.” Kajal gripped Yawnricks shoulder hefting him by his tunic. “It gets your friends killed. If wish to be anything else pup now is the time.” Kajals voice did not strain. This was not her instructors voice. Not the voice of command. This was a soft deadly serious statement. Kajals eyes burned. Her hands were like steel. Yawnricks hands wrapped her griping at her hand from the outside of her grip and prying at her thumbs. His foot shot between them. In one motion Yawnrick pushed planting his boot in Kajals stomach and pushing as he pried open her grip at the thumbs. It was an all or nothing bid. Kajal taken aback by his desperate gambit flew backward, and as Yawnrick fell back he lost sight of her, all he’d seen was her pipe spilling its smoldering contents before scrambling for his footing. Not fast enough. Kajal blind sided him as he rolled to hands and knees. With her knee. A smooth rushing shot that connect beneath his chin and sent him to his back. He hadn’t even the time to scramble again before Kajal had him by the hair dragging him by it muttering curses. This time he couldn’t find a point to pry. “Give up now pup, become a farmer, a fisher, anything, there is no warriors heart in your chest.” Kajal spat as she threw Yawnrick into the training circle. Yawnrick rolled twice but some how found his balance ending in a crouch. “No.” Yawn managed his voice hoarse, and he felt his lip split at the corner. Kajal smiled. “You can’t even break a hold on your hair pup. Give up now, become anything but a warrior, have lots of fat plain straw wolfings with some happy Ulven girl.” Yawnrick felt his blood fever starting. Felt his rage clawing at his mind. He choked it back. He wanted to give in. He wanted to lash out blindly, but what good would berserk fury do against Kajal? “No Kajal.”

She swept in Yawnrick threw a jab which Kajal turned aside easily. Her leg lashed out cutting off Yawnricks side step as her free hand gripped his uncommitted shoulder. With an easy turn of her hips she forced Yawn off the ground and into the air, with a quick shove she sent him backward, sprawling across his back. No sooner did Yawnrick start to his feet then Kajal leapt for him, knee high. Down it it came. Yawnrick managed to catch her heel with his hand. Did he hear a crack. Don’t be the bones giving, not now damn it. Kajal glared down at him. Inching her weight onto her forward leg. Forcing Yawnricks hand down toward his throat. “Will you keep this up all night Yawnrick? I can. Think fast or you’ll be waking with the healers.” Yawnrick shoved back, giving it all he had. Kajal simply hopped. Turning mid leap, her free foots ball aimed for his jaw. Yawnrick watch and time slowed. He felt the tread connecting, his skin being pulled, his inner cheek tearing against his teeth, the pain and blood. And as he did Yawnrick rose with all the strength he had, sudden and smoothly. And he saw Kajals eyes go wide he forced her feet into air toppling her. Yawnrick slid form his back to his knees. Finding himself at her side, his hand reached and fished for Kajal tunic. Finding a hand full twisting as he rose on his knees. Right curled into a fist ready to rain blows on his teacher. When Kajals face changed. Half a moment more and he’d of brought his fist down until Kajal countered or … Or what I killed my own teacher? Until I saw blood? Until Kajal surrendered? Kajal laughed. Bright and full, infectious and true. Again Yawnricks face and eyes showed utter bewilderment. Did going gray drive Kajal mad? “So you’ve fire enough it turns out. Enough Yawnrick you’ve proven yourself.” If Yawnrick bore ears as the wolves they’d of pinned themselves back. He shook. Just a moments tremor. The blood fever stalling its frenzied charge through his veins. “What?” He meant to open his hand. He meant to but it held like a vise to the tunic. “I will make you a weapon yet Yawnrick. You needed to see what you could do. I’ve seen it before. Those who don’t realize all Gaias children have means to fight. None more so then her favorites. I needed to see what you would do with you back to the wall.” Yawnricks eyes narrowed and he pulled Kajal closer by her tunic he leaned in perhaps a few inches. “Why.” He spat. Kajals face showed neither concern nor deceit. She smiled warmly. Her voice remained calm and a little sweet, which disturbed Yawnrick. He’d never heard Kajal speak sweetly. Slowly she placed her hand over Yawnricks forearm. “Because I do not train fodder. All Ulven wish to die in service to their pack. All warriors. But I will not train useless idiots. I will not train those better suited to labor then battle. Fools rushing head long in to the devours teeth. Names dying on the wind.” Yawns face softened but his grip remained “but” Kajal continued ignoring Yawnrick “Nor would I suffer those unwilling to fight for their own lives. I train pups to wolves not armored cattle.” Yawnricks hand finally obeyed his will and started to open. “Good. Yawnrick fetch my pipe.” With out a thought, perhaps dazed from his blood fevers abatement, Yawn turned, limped toward the pipe, bent at the waist, and scooped it up. He hadn’t felt himself drop to his knee so hard. Kajal was already sitting up and opening her poke. Yawn knelt wincing having some how forgotten his abused knee. Kajal shoved her poke into his free hand. “I will make you an Ulven Yawnrick, but first your learning to smoke. No mead until after training. And you’ll be staying late Yawnrick, your father had skill with his hands, if you’re just a spec wiser I can teach you things he never learned.”

Yawn stared dumbly at the open poke and pipe. “Fill the damned pipe pup.” Yawnrick started “don’t force it, just stuff in a bit, not hard. That’s it. The lamp candle will work for a lite. And you will wish for a farmers life before you make it to trails Yawnrick.” She smiled that wolves smile at her student again as Yawnrick managed to lite the pipe. Wrong, of course but the pups brain had to be scrambled after that kick. And as Yawn coughed. “You’ll get used to it, but don’t you dare drop my pipe pup.”

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