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Sunday, 5 June 2016

Mount Wulf



1

Tomaas pushed forward through the snow, locked in a sense of morbid fascination. He and his brother, drawn to trespass enemy clan land by rumours of unusually large prey, had separated to avoid detection from the increased patrol. Their rendezvous point held little more than blood and struggle in his brother's absence, as well as huge bear-sized paw prints stamped into the snow.
                Higher he followed, progressively deeper into the heart of the mountain. A steady trail of blood made the work fairly easily going, even as the beast scaled ledges windborne directly into the stone. Sheathing his blade to free his hands for climbing it occurred to him that he'd never found his brother's own. He tried to relive the trail in his mind's eye, but, as a biting wind shrunk him into a huddled mass against the rock face, surviving the climb pushed its way to the forefront of his thoughts.
                Time passed without conscious consideration, and when his attention was reined in by the sound of running water up ahead he looked around and realised the night had descended on him like a cloak. He hadn't noticed how deathly cold it had become, his muscles contracting and pulling him into a ball on the floor.
                The water flow struck him as a mockery, that in the biting cold of the night it did not freeze of a sudden as he seemed fated. It churned up a momentum in him to investigate, and he progressively shuddered himself into full motion towards potential salvation, a sudden exchange of strangled howls ringing across the night pointedly reminding him how the mountain earned its name.

2

He hauled himself over a ledge, noticing a strange violet glow emanating from a crack in the rock face up ahead. The intensity increased while he crossed the unusually bare plaza, the sound of running water getting louder until, with a fleeting glance either side, he ducked into the mouth of the cavern.
                Melt water. It was to him a thing of wonder. Bathed in its pinkish light, the water, he could see, was clear. It ran down from an inlet of frozen water that was sunken into a crack in the rock like a fissure, pooling in the sunken rock floor.
                His brother lay broken at the water's edge.
                'Jared?'
                He stirred at the call of his name and Tomaas rushed over to him, heedless of the skeletal corpses of clansmen littered about the cave's entrance. He raised him under an arm, refusing to accept Jared's fleeting grip on mortality, his gaze drawn instead to the source of the pink light.
                A  network of stalagmite crystal sprouted from the base of the pool. The rock was black as night, the glow pulsating from alternating cracks in its surface and splits at the edges as the ore broke into many irregular facets, as if something inside was searching for a point of escape.

3

A shadow from the cave's entrance stole Tomaas' attention. He turned around and his eyes widened in horror as he realised just how terribly wrong he'd been. That's no bear. The wolf stood at least as tall as he with its back arced down, sniffing the ground, the rest of its monstrous body terribly in proportion.
                The drop of his jaw must have been audible. The beast's eyes flicked up, its face bathed in that horrible glow that pooled in and illuminated a dreadful glare. It broke into a vicious snarl.
                He sagged under his brother's weight and the wolf reacted, rearing its head high and unleashing a howl that seemed to shake the very mountain or at least his foothold in it.
                As he stood there, his body terror frozen, he could see a dark swathe of blood had run down the creature's chest, and there, caught by the pinkish light, the hilt of his brother's missing blade protruded at the top of the stain, just shy of the collarbone.
                His brother squirmed  on his arm, and the howl descended into a low growl.
                '...maas! Run!'
                He couldn't even if he'd wanted to. Jared weakly tried to push him away but the beast was on them in an instant, Jared taking the brunt of the charge which toppled all three of them into the pool.
                Tomaas broke the surface with a stunned serenity, quickly replaced by guileless fear, thrashing uncontrollably as the ice water filled and burned his every orifice as it fought to claim him indefinitely.
                A haze of murky red clouded his vision when he eventually forced his eyes open, and he drove himself forward towards the water's edge, desperately resisting the promise of sweet release in letting go.
                He dragged himself out of the pool, spluttering violently and vaguely aware of the sound of splashing water before turning his head at the last instant to see a terrifying silhouette.
                A brief wash of pain, followed by an unnerving period of weightlessness concluded with him crunching against the rock face where the wolf had flicked him using its muscular neck, and suddenly pain was all he knew.
                A crumpled, gasping heap, he tried desperately to gain his feet but found his unresponsive body terribly wanting. The wolf circled round to a point where Tomaas had fresh air behind him and uncoiled itself for the killing blow.
                His legs useless, Tomaas tried instead to twist his way clear using a turn of his shoulders, but his reaction was late and far too low to generate the full body turn he was intending.
                The wolf had leapt high, and Tomaas' cupped hand found an unexpected point of purchase. The shock forced him to clench his hand into a fist around his brother's pommel and with a sickening wrench of his shoulder Tomaas passed out as the night erupted in a thundering deathly wail around him.

4

He awoke in agony a few moments later, his head swimming as though back underwater, terrified above all else of suffocating under the huge hairy limb that covered his face. Tomaas fought with his one good arm to clear the thing from blocking his mouth, until eventually he broke free, spitting out wads of fur and blood between bouts of his own screaming.
                The beast, at least, was dead. A pile of offal slowly spilled out of the gash he'd torn it from neck to navel, pooling slickly around his head and shoulders.
                His brother's blade lay close by. He took it in hand and cast a mournful glance towards the pool. No bubbles rose to the surface, and he placed a tender kiss on the pommel of the blade before engaging in silent prayer.
                A fierce and piercing wind funnelled through the mouth of the cave to cut through the remaining  parts of his body he could feel like a knife, a sickening reminder that despite it all, lady chill hadn't given up her quarry so easily. The blood pouring from the wolf was warm, at least until exposed to her whispers, and his desperate mind formed a plan.
                His strength depleting, Tomaas hauled himself in front of the wolf's chest. Working quickly with haggard breath and wild eyes, by violet light he set to his gruesome task; ripping and tearing out great handfuls of the beast's insides, bathing in the warm blood that spattered him.
                His head swimming in delirium, he sidled alongside the beast, and with a big sigh of breath lifted one of his useless legs and forced it into the opening, using the lack of feeling to push it anywhere it'd fit in a horribly twisted and contorted bundle.
                The second leg proved harder. Something was blocking his path and he screamed out in desperate futility until something dislodged and he slipped in further, the displaced matter spurting out and filling his open mouth until he choked it out with some added inside matter of his own.
                He had to contort forwards to slip beneath the beast's great ribcage but finally set to rest with head laying roughly where the host's heart had been. He'd grabbed the blade to use as a prop to keep the flap partly open, but exhaustion claimed him before he could fully set it, and the world went black.

5

Something was touching his face. Gripped tightly in his heightened fever dreams he swatted it away. It came on stronger, and he opened his eyes to find he'd pulled his nightmares through with him.
                He recoiled in horror, backing up onto his haunches and kicking out at his grinning brother whom reached out for him hungrily. Hideously bloated from a generous amount of time spent underwater, Jared's corpse dragged itself across the floor in mock horror of his own plight, and suddenly Tomaas realised he was standing.
                He scanned the cave but the beast was gone, a dark red stain the only indication it had ever existed. A groan from the restless cadaver interrupted his thoughts, demanding his attention.
                Tomaas recovered Jared's blade, raising it over his head, but hesitated as he searched the creature's eyes. Dull, and with the white now stained a familiar shade of pink, he sunk the blade deep through the brain and left it there, ending the struggle. His brother, like the wolf, had gone.
                Birdsong whistled through the cavern's entrance, and he was amazed to pick up the fleeting scent of an animal on the wind that carried it. The once becalming splash of the waterfall now drummed a coarser rhythm, and he wandered over to answer its call, pondering on the pinkish tint that besmirched the eyes of his reflection, caught between the ripples.
                Whatever strange things were happening here, he knew had something to do with that unusual crystal, but for now hunger was becoming his main concern. Garbing himself from a mix of the other corpses, he stepped out of the cave into winter sun in search of food.

6

A voice.
                The sound interrupted his search and a grim determination stole over him as he pushed his way back into the undergrowth in pursuit of the sound, snow buffeting his face as he passed between thickets and patches of open ground. More and more voices became distinguishable as men called to each other to avoid losing each other as the snow fell in thicker clumps, but instead of thinking to avoid the wandering patrol, obvious by the intermittent sound of wood lightly tapping thin sheets of metal armour, Tomaas found himself speeding up, breaking into an anticipatory canter for his encounter with the home clan.
                Sprinting, Tomaas leaped free of a thicket of bush towards the man at the back of the pack, as he burst into beast, the ripping and stretching sensation that wracked his entire body causing his midair scream to transform as he did, landing on him as something else entirely.
                He loomed over the broken man with a huge clawed paw caving the man's chest as he adjusted to his new weight, fascinated by the gurgling man's face, as a panicked cry sounded from the man in front. More shrill cries of 'wolf' and 'maneater' sounded as half the company tried to form up as the other tried to flee.
                Curiously encouraged, he bit down deep into the throat of the man and was pleasantly surprised by the tangy taste as he tore the chunk free and swallowed it down. As half a mind bound free and set to painting the snow red with the rest of the company, the other thought wistfully on his brother's rumours.
                Prey hadn't become larger, it had changed.

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