Friday, February 27, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Six: Gran

As Daena distracted the werewolves and Logan and Fynn discussed the limits of the younger boy’s powers, Nagi began to set fires. A lot of them.

She knew the city better than anyone, having spent several months stuck in Foregone. She knew which places to use as hiding spots, which blind corners and alleyways to exploit, which colognes to wear that would mask her presence from the marauding wolves. Better, she knew exactly which buildings were currently ablaze - and which could very easily be set aflame.

Though weakened by months of malnourishment and a lack of physical activity, Nagi darted down hallways with energetic fervour, using her impromptu torch - really just a plank of wood with a swaddled, oiled rag on the end - to set fire to anything that seemed flammable. Drapes, blankets, bales of hay, wooden frames, you name it, she set fire to it. When one building was going up in smoke, she bounded into the next and began the process anew.

One more, she thought each time, springing from window to window, ears and eyes alert for werewolves. Just one more. Then I’m outta here.

Though most of Nagi was absorbed in the practice of firebugging Foregone, an analytical section of her brain considered the absurdity of the situation. Here she was, a practiced, accomplished, damn-near notorious con woman, in the midst of attempting to torch an entire city. Even more, she was doing it to help someone. It was very much not a Nagi sort of thing.

She drove me around, Nagi thought, watching Daena sprint past outside, heading towards one of the sealed gates to the outside world. We’ll call it thanks for that ’n be even.

But it wasn’t just that, and Nagi knew it. It was

gran would’ve wanted it this way, me helpin’ people for a fuckin’ change

more than that. It somehow felt good, for once, to really pursue a noble cause, even if that cause resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. Because, really, getting rid of the werewolves was a noble goal, and Nagi knew that, too, because the deaths of hundreds could save the lives of thousands. Millions. Billions, if there were that many people on the planet.

But it wasn’t just that, either.

gran always told me to find a nice boy ’n settle down, ’n fuck, her boy’s a nice boy, though he wasn’t quite, y’know, girly enough for me, but helpin’ out a buddy’s mother

Nagi shook her head, clearing the weird thoughts from her mind. She had things to do. Peering out a window, the torch clenched firmly in her hand, she saw Daena swing around mere feet away from the closed gate, no doubt to veer off in another direction and continue the chase. She still had one gate to go, which would give Nagi plenty of time to spread the fires to the north end of Foregone -

“Wait,” Nagi breathed, whispering despite the precisely zero chance that the werewolves outside would hear her. If anything they would pay more attention to the smell of burning cloth wafting out of a nearby apartment, and the smoke trickling into the hallways. “What is that crazy…?”

Daena was not sprinting down a side street. She was, instead, doubling back towards the werewolves, dashing towards them with an enviable burst of speed. Nagi’s throat tightened as the older woman neared the edge of the snarling pack, driving her legs into the ground and leaping straight over the heads of the werewolves. Her boots pinwheeled almost daintily in open air -

- and when Daena landed, crawling up onto a balcony, she stood absolutely still. Save, of course, for a wobble of uncertainty, one that was neatly mirrored in the bewildered expression on the former queen’s face.

“Gods above,” Nagi muttered, almost dropping her torch. “She… her legs… stopped…?”

The werewolves began to climb the building, towards Daena’s balcony. She disappeared into the apartment behind her with a moment’s hesitation, slamming a door shut behind her. The first werewolf onto the balcony ripped the door open again and plunged inside. A horde of the things followed it, engorging the apartment like a furry tide of gushing water.

That look on her face, Nagi thought, lip quivering fearfully. She knew. She knew she was done runnin’. And that… that means…

A dozen possibilities flickered through Nagi’s consciousness at this point. Daena was fucked. Daena would escape. Daena was now stronger than ever. Daena was returned to a normal woman, and would be caught. The next time Nagi saw her, Daena would be a werewolf. The next time Daena saw Nagi, they would both be werewolves. The next time Nagi saw anyone, she would be sinking her lupine jaws into their neck. The numerous possibilities seemed grim and uncertain, and Nagi wasn’t sure which possibility she liked least.

One fact, however, now seemed quite clear to her, a fact bolstered by evidence which she’d gathered with her own eyes and own ears. This fact jolted Nagi into motion without the slightest bit of hesitation, even as her thief’s instincts frantically asked what the hell was wrong with her.

The final gate leading in and out of Foregone, as Nagi expected, remained open. Though clearly used by the werewolves several times in the last day - their frantic stampede left little snow beneath the open portcullis - it looked otherwise pristine, a solitary stone sentinel in a wooden city that was rapidly burning down.

As a rule, Nagi had avoided the gates. She knew the werewolves were at least smart enough to bunk in these locations, waiting for prey to try and flee the city. Such tactics had worked wonderfully during the early days of Foregone’s takeover-by-lycanthrope.

The gate stood open, its portcullis tantalizingly raised. Nagi knew - she knew - that she could leave, if she wanted, and make her way across open country to freedom. Uncertainty, perhaps even death in the cold, but freedom.

The white plains beckoned.

So, too, did the plain wooden door to the right of the portcullis, shoved open and half-buried in snow. 

Gran, you old bitch, you better be proud of me, Nagi thought. Gathering her cloak tight around her, torch at the ready, she slithered towards the doorway -

- and just barely avoided the claws of a pair of werewolves, leaping at her from within a nearby pub. 

Shrieking, Nagi fell back into the doorway, landing hard on a set of frigid stone steps. Despite the pain in her spine she shoved her torch forward, waving it in the faces of the two werewolves and driving them back two paces, before they could rake her with their nails. Using her tail Nagi sprang up three steps, grabbed at the railing inside the doorway, and pulled herself into a half-slouched posture, the torch held warily in front of her.

“Why are you here,” Nagi said to the werewolves, not bothering to hide the quaver in her voice. “Why are you here, why are you here, why aren’t… oh, fuck, oh, gods, why, oh, why…”

The werewolves answered with twin snarls. They stalked Nagi up the stairs and into the guard room at the base of the gate, fanning out once they had space and approaching her on all fours. Slithering backwards, almost collapsing over a chair, Nagi waved the torch between the two wolves to keep them at bay. Her motions were so frantic that she feared she might put the torch out, but she couldn’t help herself.

“Get… get the fuck back,” Nagi insisted, dimly aware that blood was seeping through her ponytail from an unseen wound. She felt lightheaded and a little dizzy. “You… oh, gods, I’m… I’m so… get back!

Another set of stairs, cautiously climbed, led from the guard room to the control chamber for the portcullis. A huge, steel chain wound through the room, connected to a gear system controlled by a wheel that looked impossibly difficult to spin. Nagi half expected to be plunged in darkness, but the room was well-lit by a line of holes in the wall, facing the snowy plains beyond. Nagi’s fevered brain wondered if the werewolves had dug the holes to move to and fro from the city…

… but the bump of cold metal on her backside answered her question, and a quick glance behind her supplied even more information. Information that Nagi, carrying her torch, found more daunting than the presence of the werewolves.

Those same werewolves followed Nagi into the control room, teeth glittering in the cast light of the great outdoors. They seemed content to linger near the doorway, wary of the torch in Nagi’s hand, but clearly aware that they’d cornered their prey. It was, now, simply a matter of waiting her out - or, rather, waiting out the torch. The imagined smiles in their toothy jaws made Nagi shiver.

If I don’t take this gate down, Nagi reminded herself, no one will. That’s a fuckin’ fact.

And if you don’t get outta here now, Nagi’s sense of self-preservation piped up, you’re gonna die.

I think that’s already a foregone conclusion, Nagi replied, grimly chuckling at the reference. I really don’t wanna be a werewolf, you dig me?

I dig, I dig. 

Nagi touched the lid of one of the barrels lining the rear of the room. It was not affixed properly, and when Nagi knocked it aside she spied a massive heap of black powder inside the barrel. Her heart leaped into her throat, because, given that there were cannons in the room, the powder could only be one thing.

The werewolves snarled. They began to move in, regardless of the torch, as though suspecting Nagi’s internal struggle.

Close the gate, Nagi told herself. Her voice sounded suspiciously like that of her gran. Close the gate or you’ll have led the most worthless life ever recorded.

“Oh well,” Nagi said, brushing a tear away from her eye. “At… at least that fuck Traveller… never… got ta… touch me…”

The werewolves leaped. Nagi plunged her torch into the barrel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Five: The spider gives up

Julius had never enjoyed so much freedom of movement in Antonia’s fur as he had when she was chasing after Daena. He felt so daring, indeed, that he was nestled between her ears as Daena sailed over the pack of werewolves, his hairy tarantula legs stretched upward to send what magical power he had left to bolster Daena’s running speed.

When she landed, Daena was, indeed, physically bolstered. But she’d also stopped running. And while that was no doubt a relief to the woman, it was not something Julius had planned for this exact moment in time.

Are you there? Julius thought, though he knew that his voice must be hazy and indistinct in Daena’s mind. He’d used up so much of his remaining strength - strength he’d not replenished in months, thanks to Antonia’s flight from June - that he must surely be running on empty. But he tried anyway. Are you okay? I, um, I’m not sure if -

Daena didn’t respond. Julius wasn’t sure if she was shocked into mental silence or if his power was insufficient to read her mind any longer, but Daena’s words didn’t reach him. Julius could nevertheless see the mixture of confusion, elation, and horror dawning on her face as she stood on a balcony above the werewolves, a slack-jawed expression that might normally have been rather comical.

The werewolves began to climb the building, towards the balcony. Turning, Daena fled. Julius had no idea if she was moving at her former, admirable running speed or not.

Slumping in frustration, Julius wondered what the hell had happened. All he’d used was a simple buffing spell. He’d employed similar magics many times to make Antonia more susceptible to his commands, primarily by making her ‘smarter’ than usual. But his magic had changed something in Daena, flicking that essential flaw in her that made her legs flail from the ‘on’ position to the ‘off’ -

Sudden, cumbersome movement jolted Julius out of his thoughts. Antonia had leaped into the air, jostling the spider, and he tumbled a foot down her rolling, hunched back before sinking his leg hooks into Antonia’s hide and clinging for dear life. Julius skittered back to his usual hiding place in a matted tangle of hair near the small of Antonia’s back, riding out the madness in his small nest as Antonia clambered up the building, landed on the balcony, and tore her way inside.

Julius had not gotten a good, proper look at Antonia in several long months. He knew, however, that she was now huge, swollen by the sickness of lycanthropy to a nightmare form. He could never have gone undetected for so long otherwise, and he feared for Daena’s life. She wouldn’t stand a chance against the beast.

Buffeted on both sides by passing werewolves, Antonia heaved herself into what appeared to be a spacious, but modest, apartment. What little Julius saw of the place hinted at long abandonment: a half-filled backpack on a chair, clothes scattered across the floor, a rotted basket of fruit on the table, and the omnipresent, musty smell of neglect. Antonia had to hunch low to get inside, and the thump of her head against the ceiling reverberated through her body, shaking Julius’s nest.

Blast, he thought, concentrating his thoughts outwards to try and find Daena again. Queen Daena? Please, if you can hear me, you must find a way to close that gate. Immediately. I know I sent power into you. Even if you can’t set the buildings ablaze, please, at least get that gate closed… perhaps we can contain them, and…

It was, however, no apparent use. Daena did not reply to Julius’s eager messages, regardless of how often he sent them, and as Antonia lumbered into the hallway outside the apartment, smacking her lesser werewolf kin aside as she went, Julius gave up. He had only a trickle of magic left, not even enough to maintain a master / familiar connection with June, and he wondered how long it might be before he was nothing more than a normal spider.

I started out that way, Julius thought, rocking gently in Antonia’s fur, in time with her movements. I was just another tarantula. Maybe, if I’m away from her long enough, I’ll simply… change back… and then I won’t have to worry about worrying anymore. 

Antonia sniffed the air, her mighty lungs puffing out loud exhalations and pulling in whatever information they could find. Breathing deep, she unleashed a howl that echoed in the corridors.

That might be nice. Julius shivered. That might just be the bee’s knees.

Dropping to all fours, Antonia rocketed down the hallway, leaving Julius to stare at the ceiling. She moved from horizontal dashing to diagonal, climbing what Julius assumed to be stairs, stairs, a long, dizzying array of curving stairs, leading up to the roof. Werewolves huffed and snarled and yipped as Antonia passed, either skirting safely out of her way or enduring vicious body checks as she sent them careening over bannisters and painfully down to the first floor. Antonia, Julius knew, had little regard for the rest of her kind, and always wanted to be the first to get a piece of a victim. Anyone who got in the way…

The relative warmth of the apartment soon gave way to the chill of open air again, and Julius got a quick look at cloudy sky before Antonia stood to give the air another sniff. Julius burrowed into her rank fur for warmth - it offered that much comfort, if little else - and sniffed of his own accord, as if it was the least he could do.

He did not catch the scent he expected.

Having lived in and around Foregone for so long, Julius had grown accustomed to the smell of burning wood. It formulated a constant background fixture, one so slight that he barely paid it any attention. The werewolves seldom wandered into the burning sections of the city. Now, though… that scent was suddenly so strong, so repulsive, so deliciously close -

Antonia howled again, her call no longer confined to the hallways of the building, and while her back was arched Julius risked a quick climb onto her shoulders to better view the city. Something, he knew, had suddenly changed, and he wanted to know what -

My gods, he thought, his cluster of eyes widening as he watched fresh plumes of acrid black smoke curl into the sky in the not-too-distant distance. My gods, maybe she set more fires than I thought.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Four: The Marathon Ends

For the first time in a long time, Daena felt the stirrings of fatigue in her legs.

Ever since her ‘accident’ her bottom half had been forced to run constantly. She’d been given no choice in the matter. Even upon release from her tree by the rats, Daena had run, run, run her little life out. The benefit of this was, in time, complete immunity to fatigue: she’d simply spent too much of her life trying to run to tire out while actually running. But most of her running to date had been in a straight line, not attempting to avoid werewolves.

The subtle burn in her calves was not enough to stop Daena. She couldn’t stop if she tried. But it was one more problem to add to the laundry list of problems.

Leaping, Daena rebounded off of a building to avoid the lunge of a werewolf. It hit the ground where she’d been standing and buried its snout in snow, its snarling muffled. Daena used the opportunity to try and light the building on fire, but she moved too quickly, and her torch’s flames only scorched the wood. When she hit the ground again, the torch had been extinguished by her frantic movements.

“Shit,” Daena muttered, inwardly slapping herself for cursing. She seldom resorted to the stuff. “Back to the drawing board…”

On no less than three occasions now, Daena had attempted to bring down the eastern gate that presented the final obvious avenue of escape for the werewolves. This represented a considerable challenge, however: if Daena destroyed the gate while entering the city she would lock the werewolves out of Foregone, and if she destroyed the gate while exiting the city she would have no further opportunities to set buildings ablaze. As it was she’d only managed to light a handful of structures on fire.

This is not working, Julius said into Daena’s mind. You are beginning to slow. Eventually one of them will catch you…

You think? Daena thought back rather viciously. She hopped lightly over one werewolf that attempted to tackle her from the entrance of a market, then kicked another aside as it jumped from the second floor of another building. It managed to rake her left leg with its claws before crashing into a wall. Ow! There has… ow… there has to be a better way to go about this!

Julius sighed. I… well, I can help, but you need to get closer to me. I can’t do anything from this distance. I’d hoped you would be fast enough on your own, but…

Daena tensed. She’d wondered if this might come up, if, in fact, Julius had simply been baiting her with this plan of burning down Foregone in order to earn her trust. Daena liked to trust people, but she simultaneously maintained a healthy skepticism as to their overall intentions, and in this case…

Julius apparently heard her inner turmoil. I understand your dilemma, Queen Daena, and I sympathize, but my only intention is to stop these werewolves from rampaging across the Imperium. You have nothing to fear from me, and, in this case, everything to gain.

I have no idea if you’re being honest or not, Daena persisted, annoyed that the mystery man could read her thoughts. And I don’t suppose I have much choice, do I?

Julius mentally shrugged. Not really. Are you willing to take a major risk? It will pay off substantially if it works.

Daena thought about her family. Images of her husband, her son, and her daughter flashed to mind, all three wonderful, contrary, and unique. Thoughts of them had sustained her on her long road to nowhere these last few months, and she clutched to her memories of each, drawing strength from them.

What can you do for me? Daena asked eventually, as she sped down a narrow alleyway.

Minutes later Daena found herself, once again, racing down Foregone’s longest, straightest thoroughfare. Blood was seeping down into her right eye from a gash on her forehead, her body ached in a dozen places, her legs continued to burn, and the werewolves refused to give up on their mad pursuit. A closed gate lay ahead, one Daena had slammed shut herself.

But she wasn’t aiming for the gate. All she wanted was to turn around.

Gritting her teeth, Daena jumped. Her legs carried her almost ten feet into the air, and as she glided back down to the snow she forced her body to spin. It overcompensated, whirling Daena around in three tight turns, and her stomach churned sickeningly -

- but it was enough. Daena landed in the snow at a slight angle to the werewolves, her hitherto forward motion sending her skidding almost six feet backwards as she came to a very temporary halt. The backs of her feet gently tapped an empty barrel. Then, legs pulsing, Daena surged forward, towards the left side of the pack of werewolves.

This had better work, whatever it is, Daena thought, twitching at the sight of the frothing mob rushing forward to greet her. Or so help me I’ll hunt you down as a werewolf and eat you, Julius.

The pack closed on Daena, snapping voraciously. Coiling her legs as best she could, Daena bit her lip, plunged towards the werewolves, and leaped as high as she could over their heads. Surprised, the werewolves at the front of the pack nipped at her heels as she sailed over them, towards a second-floor balcony Daena planned on using as a springboard.

Time slowed. Despite her fear, Daena tilted her head to gaze at the sea of werewolves beneath her pinwheeling feet. There were so many that they seemed almost to be a single, unruly entity, composed of millions of mouths and claws eager to pull her in and make her one of the whole. Yet despite their swollen numbers and almost uniform appearance the werewolves were not uniform, and for a brief second one of them, a huge, hunchbacked monstrosity that almost dwarfed the rest flashed a brilliant orange - 

- and power surged into Daena’s body -

- and something clicked -

- and when Daena hit the balcony she was so surprised that she simply clung to it for dear life, rather than leaping boldly off of it as she’d planned. Her legs dangled over the werewolves for several tempting seconds before Daena thought to pull herself up and over the railing to avoid their frenzied snaps.

Righting herself on the balcony, Daena stood and looked down at the werewolves. She didn’t leap off of the balcony, she didn’t jump into the building and run down the hall, she didn’t burst through the railing and carry on down the street. She just stood there, her well-muscled thighs content to remain stationary for the first time in a very long time.

Uh oh, Julius said, his tone grim. That, uh, that wasn’t supposed to happen. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Three: Grim and Grisly

Daena was making another pass along Foregone’s northern wall by the time Logan and Fynn were within easy walking distance of one of the gates. His eyes still enhanced, though growing weaker with every second, Logan spotted streaks of blood on his mother’s determined face.

“Oh sweet gods,” Logan muttered, nevertheless mastering the immediate impulse to leap to her aid. He hunched behind a shed with Fynn, wincing as the werewolves dogging his mother stampeded past. “My… that’s my mom… we have to help her!”

Fynn cringed, but he nodded. “Y… yeah, absolutely… but… how, exactly…? That’s way too many werewolves, ’n… if we take one bite, like you say…”

“… then we’re screwed, yeah, I know.” Logan spat. “Fuck me, maybe leavin’ Eve behind wasn’t such a good idea.”

Daring a peek from his hiding place, Logan watched the stampede of werewolves round the walls of Foregone and, eventually, trickle away and disappear. Their ghostly howls chilled him even more than the weather, and he prayed that the blood on Daena’s face was theirs, not her own. Still, the pained wince on her face…

“What is she doing?” Fynn asked, once the bulk of the werewolves had rushed by. “Burning the city down? Can she do that?”

Hands clenching the hilt of his sword impulsively, Logan nodded. “I… guess? Can’t burn the walls, but the buildings should go up nice as you please. I guess she’d trying to corral ‘em, and… take ‘em out.”

Fynn gasped, seemingly shocked, but his horror turned into a confused frown. “But wait. There’re probably lotsa places they could go to avoid any fire. What good is that?”

Logan moved out of hiding. He watched as one last werewolf, a straggler with what appeared to be a bum leg, rounded the wall and disappeared. He looked up into the sky, noting the faint plumes of grey-black smoke curling up to join the whiter clouds above. The fire was not substantial, not yet, but the torch in his mother’s hand…

“She’s probably trying to smoke ‘em to death more ’n anything,” Logan said as Fynn joined him, crunching through the snow. “Get enough smoke in one place ’n just about anything’ll croak tryin’ to breathe. I can’t believe mom would resort to killin’ the things, but… well, hell, I dunno what she’s been through the last couple of months…”

Fynn shook his head. “What good is that? Smoke rises. It’ll go straight up ’n won’t bother the werewolves a bit, I’d think, ‘less she got them inside. Or maybe - “

A snarl cut off Fynn’s thought, and the pair whipped around just as a werewolf, apparently another straggler, leaped at them from atop the shed where they’d just been hiding. Logan impulsively rolled to one side, springing out of the snow to a safe distance away - and leaving Fynn, much slower Fynn, to be targeted by the werewolf. Logan’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of dismayed horror -

- and the werewolf, seeming to grin, fell on the oversized child - 

- only to rebound off of a shield of shimmering green. It coated Fynn like a second skin for a moment, then abruptly expanded outward, hurtling the werewolf into a snowbank. The beast roared its confusion, thrashing about impotently as it tried to extract itself from the snow. Logan used the opportunity to leap to its side, sword out, and cut its throat.

Fynn turned away from the sight of blood. Laughing hollowly to himself, he tapped on the inside of the shimmering barrier. It plinked loudly, as though made of glass. “I, uh… I… good thing I’m good at this buffing stuff, uh… eh…? Yeah…”

Cleaning his sword on a scrap of the werewolf’s remaining clothing, careful not to get any on himself, Logan scowled. “Yeah. Good thing. I’m, uh, sorry… about…”

Eyes on his feet, Fynn shut the barrier down, shivering at the distant howls of a thousand more werewolves on the move. “About what? You don’t need to be sorry…”

But Logan wasn’t focused on regrets anymore. Stepping away from the corpse of the werewolf, only vaguely aware that it was still twitching, he considered what he’d just heard. He’d always assumed - on the rare occasions that the topic presented itself - that Fynn’s barriers were a one-way street. Move through them one way, but not the other. The way he’d tapped on the barrier, however… the solid sound it had made - 

“How big can you make those things?” Logan snapped, an idea forming. A grim, grisly, potentially effective idea.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-Two: Decisions, decisions

“She’s trying to burn the city down,” Nagi said to herself, awed enough that she hadn’t bothered to hide while she watched. “The crazy wench is trying to burn down the whole damned city.

Watching the distant blonde-haired woman dash through the streets with torch in hand - though she couldn’t tell exactly who it was, Nagi had a pretty good idea it was Logan’s mother - the half-snake craned her tail to follow the chase. Daena was leading the massive pack of werewolves from one house to another, touching her torch to any exposed wood that she could find. The houses weren’t going up in any great hurry, but she’d managed to light several fires nevertheless…

… and the werewolves weren’t trying to put any of them out. On the contrary, the massive mob of beasts on Daena’s tail, struggling to move through the streets, were fixated entirely on bringing Daena down.

Nagi bit her lip. She’d been watching Daena’s flight through Foregone for almost twenty minutes, now, springing from building to building to follow the chase as best she could. She’d watched Daena expertly bring a portcullis down with a twisting leap and a flick of her legs, and given how Daena was picking her way through the city, Nagi figured that she must be headed for the eastern gate next. For all Nagi knew, it was the only gate still open.

Nagi had, on many occasions, contemplated trying to go over the walls. The gates were typically watched by werewolves - not so much as guards than as tenants, as if the distinction was enormous under these circumstances - and so made poor escape routes for anyone slower than a werewolf. The walls, by contrast, were seldom frequented by werewolves…

… but at their lowest point, from what Nagi could tell, they were at least thirty feet tall. More, depending on where you went. Nagi would be lucky if she could survive such a fall, let alone remain spry enough upon landing to be fit for travel. She was barely spry enough after months of poor eating to jump from one building to another, let alone drop thirty feet straight down.

But this is your only chance, Nagi reasoned. You won’t get a better one than now. ’n hell, there’s snow. Might be a little melty these days, but it’s snow. You stand a good chance of… not… breaking anything.

Far below and beyond Nagi’s perch, Daena just barely managed to avoid the jaws of a particularly large and portly werewolf as it sailed by her head. It grabbed one of her whipping pigtails as it passed, wrenched her neck back, but she performed a neat spinning kick that forced the beast to release her. 

I could try for the gate instead, Nagi thought, still watching. Hell, maybe she hasn’t gotten to the second one yet. Maybe I’ve got lotsa time. I could just slither right through, neat as you please, ’n leave her to distract ‘em.

Daena’s legs flew up in the neatest midair split Nagi had ever seen, kicking two werewolves out of her way as they flew out of adjoining buildings. A third jumped at her from the front, and it very nearly tore the torch from her grip as it went for her neck. Daena shoved the torch full in the werewolf’s face, kicked it aside, and landed none-too-gracefully in a heap of snow. Her legs kicked the snow away and sent her careening through the streets again…

… but her torch had been extinguished.

I could find a rope and go over the walls. Nagi rubbed the side of her face, shivering a little. She could handle the cold in the desert, but the winter weather was something else. It’d be easy. Hell, I bet I’ve got one back at the inn. Wouldn’t take but a minute.

Daena turned away from her circuitous route towards the eastern gate, heading for the west side of Foregone. There the fires that hadn’t spread elsewhere in the city still burned. No doubt that was where Daena had collected her first impromptu torch.

Yep. I’ve got a rope that would do really nicely.

Daena almost tripped over a fallen beam that was half-buried in the snow. Her relentless legs sheared through it instead, sending splinters into the air - and right into her face. Nagi was too far away to see what had happened, but the way Daena’s hands went up to her cheeks…

I thought you were done with that lot, Nagi’s brain commented wryly. What happened to the solo gig, eh, ol’ girl?

“Shit,” Nagi muttered. She began to spring from building to building, following Daena as best she could.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Day Eight-Twenty-One: Let The Plan Begin

Daena didn’t like Julius’s plan. It pretty much stank. She told him so often, and loudly.

We don’t have much choice, he insisted, voice calm but grim in Daena’s head. We can’t let them leave this district. As far as I can tell they’ve only spread to the outskirts of Foregone, which is a miracle and a blessing. If they go any further…

… then the Imperium is in deep trouble, Daena finished for him. I’m aware. But your plan for wiping them out… it’s unacceptable. These people are innocent!

Do you have a better idea? Julius asked, his tone tinged with impatience - and hope.

Well… no, Daena admitted. But if I just keep running around the city, perhaps I can keep their attention long enough for someone to come along and solve this problem…

Julius scoffed, though politely. As politely as scoffing can be. We can’t just hope a fix will stumble onto Foregone. Either the werewolves will catch you, or they’ll get bored of chasing you and move on to something else. They’re basically animals, but they’re not that stupid. We need to take this chance while we have it.

Sighing, Daena veered into the city gates for a fourth time, ducking low as a werewolf leaped over her head. A second werewolf, jumping down from atop an overturned cart, almost managed to catch her - save for the fact that Daena instinctively planted one whipping leg into its gut. The werewolf went flying, crashing into a nearby building. Daena winced at the crunch of masonry, wondering if she’d killed the creature, but she didn’t turn around to check.

The pack of werewolves continued to dog her tail. She didn’t want to look at them, either. They numbered over a thousand by now, and looking at them - even a fraction of them - might fill Daena with enough dread to simply flee the area and not look back. That wouldn’t help anyone.

You might die, you know, Daena pointed out. Wherever you are in there. Aren’t you afraid of that?

Julius chuckled morosely. I’ve been riding in the fur of an enormous she-wolf for almost two years. It may even have been longer by this point. Death doesn’t seem like the worst alternative at this point.

Struggling for another argument, Daena thought back to the werewolf invasion of her former home. Dragomir - My gods, it has been a long time since I last saw that man - had solved that predicament by infusing the original host, Antonia, with every little bit of lycanthropy lingering in the bodies of the disease’s victims. Daena wondered if she could accomplish something similar…

… but it seemed unlikely. For one thing, there was no magical pit they could use to put the werewolves to sleep. For another, the original host was still a werewolf, probably somewhere in the pack at Daena’s heels, and she would be no help.

I don’t want to kill so many people, Daena thought, almost pleading. It’s not right.

But it’s the only method we have, Julian said. Please, Queen Daena. It’s our only option.

Biting her lip hard enough that it bled, Daena turned abruptly, zigzagging through the streets with a command over her legs that she hadn’t thought possible. She vaulted over carts, slid beneath stalls, blasted through emptied houses, and kicked werewolves aside, all the time making for what she thought was the closest of Foregone’s three exits. It took only two minutes of frantic action before she was speeding down a wide thoroughfare towards an iron-wrought portcullis of considerable size, and beyond it the pristine white of the countryside.

I can’t see from here, Julius admitted, but I assume you’re near one of the gates. The portcullis is controlled from a chain system inside the walls - 

Gritting her teeth, Daena ignored Julius. She knew there was no way she could finesse her legs into climbing the stairs up to the control centre for the portcullis, and she knew she didn’t need to bother with that much anyway. Exerting as much control as she could manage, Daena leaped into the air as she neared the underside of the portcullis, willing her body to handle all the tough work. Her legs obliged, spinning her up and under the portcullis’s raised, spiked tips -

- and snaking through holes in the heavy gate. But her legs refused to stop moving, as always, and as Daena’s front half flailed madly in midair her constant, vicious kicks wrenched the portcullis so violently downward that the chains holding it aloft snapped. Badly dented, the portcullis dropped into the snow with a massive thud, and Daena just barely jumped away before the impact broke her ankles.

I don’t think that should have worked at all, Daena thought to herself, though Julius chuckled all the same. My physics teacher tended to make things up on the fly, but that still should never have worked.

Breathing hard, Daena peeked over her shoulder as she sped away from Foregone, watching the werewolves howl at her through the gaps in the portcullis. As a combined force they could have lifted it, no doubt, but they didn’t seem to have the smarts - or the space - to manage the task. A few had managed to slip beneath the portcullis before it fell, and one was impaled beneath the spikes, but the rest were neatly contained. 

That is, until they headed to the other two exits.

One down, Julius said. You may want to get the torch after you bring down the second gate. Just a suggestion. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Twenty: Wouldya lookit that

Eve punched her fingers, straight and lethal, through the werewolf’s stomach with the force of a cannon blast. Caught unawares - the beast had probably imagined it was about to om some easy prey - the werewolf shrieked, tottered a few times, and collapsed onto Eve’s arm. She brushed it aside, not even bothering to look at the thing.

Logan and Fynn looked. They looked for a good, long time until one of them spoke, and that one was Logan. 

“Oh,” he said, clearing his throat uncomfortably. “Kangaroos. I think I know why we’re out here all of a sudden.”

Fynn slid in beside Logan, as much to escape his sister as the bleeding corpse at her side. He was shaking. “Uh… uh… what is… what…?”

Logan pushed him away with a half-hearted scowl. “Oh, c’mon, you’ve seen combat before, kid. I can’t imagine this bothers you that much. It’s a werewolf. And werewolves are big fuckin’ trouble. Did it bite you, Eve?”

Eve dabbed at the blood running down her arm. She licked it away almost daintily. “It always bite first. My jaws bring the apocalypse.”

“R… right.” Logan wrinkled his nose. “Maybe you shouldn’t, uh, eat that, babe. Those things infect through their bite, ’n I imagine the virus, or whatever - “

“Death itself cannot be sickened,” Eve insisted. She licked more of the blood, eyes closed.

“Well, still - “

“Ever,” Eve hissed, forcefully enough that Logan and Fynn jumped away from her. Soon she was pulling the werewolf apart and chewing on its innards as gruesomely as any person could hope to do.

His back to Eve and a hand over his mouth, Logan did his level best not to decorate the snow with his vomit. He accomplished this marvellous feat by asking Fynn a question. “Er, I don’t… urp… I don’t suppose she… said… something different, there…?”

Fynn shook his head. He seemed less sickened than Logan, but his face was nevertheless ashen and grim. “As described on the box. Or something. Ew, I kinda get why mom is iffy about her…”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Forcing himself not to investigate the ominous chewing noises coming from Eve’s direction, Logan straightened, dusted the snow from his backside, coughed several times, and began to walk. “C’mon, kid, we better get going. You okay here, Eve?”

“Do not interrupt the hunter,” she said, between slavering bites.

“Sure thing,” Logan tossed casually back. “Seriously, Fynn, c’mon.”

The pair began to walk, moving in silence as they crushed snow underfoot. Memories flooded Logan’s mind, the kind that typically came when he was feeling particularly sentimental about his days in the castle. His time with his pet kangaroo always made him smile, even if said kangaroo had, in fact, been a werewolf. She was a great companion, one who never took it easy on him. He’d always enjoyed people who didn’t take it easy on him, and those were in short supply for a prince.

In retrospect, though, Logan decided that it was a miracle he’d never been bitten. Antonia’s restraint was admirable.

Fynn caught up with Logan once Eve was out of sight. They walked side by side for a dozen paces, heading towards the tiny city in the distance, before Fynn fumbled out a question of his own. “Uhhh… why are we…?”

“Leaving her behind?” Logan shook his head. “We gotta, now. If there are werewolves up here, which I’m betting is the problem, we don’t want Eve around. I’ve seen a werewolf outbreak before, ’n it’s no simple thing to solve. She’ll only make it worse.”

Fynn’s flabbergasted expression hinted at his second question before it left his mouth. “Why? She just saved us, didn’t she? How could she make it worse?”

“Because werewolves can be cured,” Logan replied at once, scratching his head. “Most of ‘em - hell, probably all of ‘em - are normal, luckless people under the claws ’n fur. But Eve won’t cure ‘em. She’ll just slaughter the poor bastards.”

It took almost four hours of relentless travelling to turn Foregone from a blobby, indistinct speck on the horizon into a less blobby, still rather indistinct heap in the verifiable distance. Logan and Fynn did not run into any more werewolves along the way, but they heard howls aplenty - and the bashed-in front doors of the occasional farmhouse broadly hinted at what they expected to be true. Foregone, and the lands surrounding Foregone, were infested with werewolves. Logan helped himself to some dried, nearly-frozen bread in one of these homes, shaking his head at the trail of fur leading out the door and down towards the city.

“You’re not very spooked about all this,” Fynn commented, after a long, quiet period. “I guess you’ve run into werewolves before?”

“You could say that,” Logan replied. He bit into the bread, scowled at the taste, and took another bite anyway. “I have a history. We have a history. It’s complicated. Well, not really, but I don’t wanna get into it right now. Chances are good you’ll figure it out. Y’know? Something. Am I making sense?”

Fynn fell out of step with Logan. Only by one step, mind, but it was enough for Logan to notice. “Not… not really.”

“Well, that’s fine too.” Logan shrugged. “I’m sorry, kid. I wanted to get us away from the shitstorm for a while, but it looks like we’re right in the - “

Logan didn’t finish his sentence. He couldn’t finish his sentence. He was forced to break off by the sudden, piercing howl of at least a hundred wolves, all harmonizing to create a piercing sound that made Logan’s skin crawl. He immediately leaped into the first farmer’s field on his left, and Fynn, perhaps trusting the older man to know what the hell he was doing, followed suit. They hunched behind a ragged fence and its accompanying snow, peering down the hill towards Foregone.

“W… w… what was… what…?” Fynn asked, clutching Logan’s arm a little too tightly.

“Please let… up… you’re gonna… break…” Logan breathed, eyes twitching. “Ow… ow… you’re… too… strong…”

“Sorry,” Fynn panted, crouching so low that it seemed to Logan as though he’d shrunk by almost a foot and a half. “But… but…”

The howl persisted, then, wavering, it grew. Though localized it also seemed to be moving, and as Logan regained some of his spine he braved a peek over the fence. The plains surrounding Foregone curved smooth and low, giving Logan an almost unimpeded view of the area from his vantage point, and though at first the distance was so great that he couldn’t see anything, eventually, he saw.

The werewolves moved as a massive, singular pack of mottled brown, loping across the land like roaches scurry across a carpet to evade the light. They seemed utterly focused on a single point, a roving target that Logan could not see, but one which had obviously enraptured the werewolves so completely that they couldn’t help but give chase.

“Fynn,” Logan whispered, tapping the boy on the shoulder. “Buff. Buff me, guy. Gimme better eyesight.”

“Do you see something?” Fynn asked, eyes wide. 

“Obviously not, otherwise I wouldn’t be askin’,” Logan hissed. “C’mon, man, buff me.

Clasping his hands together, Fynn whispered a small incantation. Brown light mixed into his fingers, though it quickly changed into bright Non green. Wincing at the hue, Fynn grasped Logan’s right arm. The power flooded out of Fynn and into Logan, riding up through his skin and into his eyeballs to sharpen his eyesight to the best it could ever possibly be. He had the eyes of a hawk, a periscope, a satellite, and with his incredible sense he saw -

“Oh, fuck me,” Logan breathed, suddenly shaking. “Mom, what the hell are you doing?”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Nineteen: Honesty is some sort of policy

It took an hour of quiet walking for Fynn to work up enough nerve to ask the question that’d been on his mind for the last two days. It festered in his brain like a jittery tumour, bumping up against every thought and tainting them with a desire to know - and an equally powerful reluctance to find out. Curiosity won in the end.

“How come you’re mad at dad but not us?”

Logan turned, a breath of white puffing from his lips. He cocked his head and licked at his half-frozen beard, leaving it even more frozen a few seconds later. “Say what?”

Fynn bowed his head, staring down at his snow-encrusted boots. They were between two hills, their destination city still far enough away that it could not be seen from the highest heights these lands had to offer. Fynn imagined that Logan and Eve could skitter there in half the time, but Fynn was not near fast enough to keep up, despite his magic, and he had no real desire to be carried by his sister. He thought she might break him in half, either on purpose or by accident.

“You aren’t mad at me, or… y’know.. her,” Fynn repeated, meekly jabbing a thumb back towards Eve. He did it slowly, as if fearing that she might somehow take offence and attack him. She did not. “But we’re Non too. Kinda. Sorta. Why aren’t you mad at us if you’re mad at him?”

Logan scratched his chin, his eyes travelling from Fynn to Eve, then back to Fynn. Fynn couldn’t help but notice that Logan’s eyes seemed to linger on Eve a lot longer than they did on himself. Eventually, Logan shrugged. “‘cause you guys are honest. I guess. S’not the same.”

“I… I dunno what you mean,” Fynn said, feeling helpless.

Sighing, Logan set his pack down and fell into a bank of snow, collapsing backward with clumsy precision. He appeared to be seated in a throne of billowy white, and not too uncomfortable to boot. He motioned for the other two to follow suit, but only Fynn bothered, and he settled for a cross-legged crouch. Eve remained upright, unblinking and possibly bored.

“Suit yourself,” Logan grunted, rolling his eyes at Eve. “You ever gonna be normal, lady?”

“The wolves will gnaw on what is left of your corpse, O king of the murdered,” Eve replied. 

“Oh.” The prince didn’t appear perturbed. “Guess that answers my question.”

Eve had only spoken a few times during their journey, and the majority of her responses were simple threats with no deeper meaning. Nevertheless, Fynn had taken to translating her speech with a segment of his magic that he didn’t understand - or even control - and on this particular occasion, he caught the translation just fine. 

“She says she’ll be normal if we kill the fat man,” Fynn explained. “Something like that.”

“His bald head will shine bright atop its pike,” Eve added.

“Or, she’ll… go crazy and kill everyone.” Fynn’s eyes goggled, and he turned to look at Eve. “Uhhhh… you sure about that, sis…?”

Eve merely shrugged. “His ribs will make a fine drying rack for the skins of the dead.”

Sitting forward, watching the siblings intensely, Logan smiled faintly. “You can understand her? Hells, guy, you’re doin’ a lot better ’n me. Here I thought I was pretty okay at gettin’ her. What’d she say there?”

“She said that his ribs will make a fine drying rack for the skins of the dead,” Fynn said, shrugging. “Sometimes I think she likes to be grim. S’kinda her thing. And, uh, you didn’t really answer my question.”

Logan grimaced. He sat back in his snow and ice seat again, steepling his fingers. “Which question? The one where I said you were more honest?”

Fynn flicked his boots, squirming a little as the snow chilled his rear. “I don’t think there was another question…”

Smiling, though looking far older than he should have, Logan spread his arms. “To be fair, you kinda answered it for me. You two’re honest. You’re open, y’know? You tell it like it is, ’n like it is means bein’ who you are. I know that you’re an earnest little kid, Fynn, and that you just found out what you are. Can’t be mad at you for that.”

Fynn looked at Eve. She glared back, her glowing green eyes drilling into the back of Fynn’s head as he whipped around again, either fearful or shy. “And her?”

“Hell, she saved my ass,” Logan admitted. “And yeah, Eve’s been a bit of a mystery, but that’s not her fault. She couldn’t tell people what she was. Chances’re good she knew ‘bout as much as you did, and once she knew better, well… she was doin’ other stuff by that point. Still pretty damned honest, when you get down to it.”

“But dad’s not honest,” Fynn said. It was not a question.

Logan breathed deep. He clicked his boots together, tapped his fingers against his knees, nudged the snow with his toes, rustled through his backpack for a length of jerky, and stared at the sky. He seemed to want to do anything but talk about Dragomir, yet he did these things so quickly that Fynn assumed he was trying to get through the motions in a hurry so he could talk about Dragomir. The act of fidgeting was part of the preparation.

“Dragomir’s always been a liar,” Logan said around a bite of jerky. “But I used to think he was an honest liar. If that makes sense. Now, though… he’s just a liar. ’n I’m afraid his lies got my sister killed.”

The word ‘sister’ dried Fynn’s mouth, and he probably would have felt a great deal more awkward about the situation had Eve not interrupted their conversation by driving her fingers through the gut of a werewolf. Its death throes broke the tension quite nicely.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Eighteen: And that makes three

Logan, Fynn, and Eve wandered. Though if nothing else they wandered per orders, which was better than wandering without purpose.

Left crushed and bewildered by the revelation of Dragomir’s heritage, young man and boy alike parted ways with the Sky Bitch less than half an hour after their meeting with Dragomir and Libby. Logan wanted time to reassess his relationship with Dragomir’s campaign; Fynn wanted time to reassess his self-image, having learned, definitively, that he was at least part Non.

Though content to let Logan go, Libby campaigned hard to keep her son close at hand. She became so violent that she needed to be sedated, for her safety and the safety of the crew. Dragomir took responsibility in the end, and he bore the scars of her vengeance for several weeks. 

It was ultimately the rats who sent Logan and Fynn on their way. Curiously content to see both men gone, one of the rats’ pint-sized representatives ordered them to investigate a disturbing lack of communication from a city to the southwest, deeper inside Imperium territory and ostensibly unthreatened by the Non push. Logan seized on the mission with zeal, a small part of him hoping he might find an excuse - a good excuse - to just ditch the war and return to his freewheeling lifestyle of the previous year. Fynn simply wanted out for a while, and agreed to stick with Logan.

Eve went along because she was Eve. Nothing Logan or Dragomir said could dissuade her from leaving with the boys. She offered no explanation that even Fynn, with his magical Eve dictionary, could understand. Indeed, she was curiously silent as they hopped onto a dragon and sailed most of the way to their destination. The three didn’t speak much along the way, though Fynn made some attempts to teach Eve how to play Old Maid.

“Wasting your time, kid,” Logan commented, leaning back in his dragon-moulded seat and digging dirt out of his nails with a small knife. “Eve doesn’t do what she doesn’t wanna do. Trust me, I know.”

“That’s… well…” Seated across from his sister with a clutch of cards in his hands, his bushy hair whipping about in the wind, Fynn sneaked a quick peek at Eve’s eyes. She was staring straight at him, forcing him to drop his gaze. “You don’t know. Maybe she’s okay with it.”

Logan looked over his shoulder. “Doesn’t look like it. Hell, looks like you’re lucky she hasn’t pitched you overboard.”

Eye blinked.

“She’s not…” Fynn coughed, tightening his jacket around his shoulders. The air stung his skin. “Well, okay, she is like that, but she’s not like that now. Right?”

Eve cocked her head, blinked again, and sniffed. Violent neutrality ruled her expression. Eventually she tossed the cards Fynn had pressed into her hands over her shoulder, and they flicked off into the creamy purple clouds behind the dragon and out of sight.

“Er… okay.” Fynn sighed. “Now I need new a new deck. Great. Thanks, uh, sis.”

The dragon, a bushy, orange creature that looked like a cat interbred with a winged snake, deposited the trio ten miles north of their destination, beside a massive, gnarled tree. Their only other companion, a rat that had nestled itself in the dragon’s tufted neck ruff, emerged to speak to them through the dragon in deep, grating tones once they’d landed.

“Return here in three days,” it said, its hot breath almost comforting as a counterpoint to the biting wind of the wintery plains. “I will have completed duties elsewhere, and will be waiting to pick you up. We will be… anxious… to hear your report on the region.”

Logan hefted his pack, wondering if he should offer the rat a smile, a salute, or some other show of confidence. He decided he didn’t like rats enough to bother, however, and frowned. “I still find it hard to believe you don’t have any rats out here to scout. There must be billions of you little buggers.”

The dragon’s shining white eyes narrowed. “We are occupied with the war. Domestic issues such as what may plague this region are of secondary concern.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re too busy sendin’ ill-prepped airships into combat against superior forces,” Logan said, shrugging. “Or shackin’ up with Non half-and-halfs.”

“Are you questioning our methods?” The dragon’s lips curled back, revealing long rows of smooth, sharp teeth.

“Oh, no, heavens forefend.” Logan held up his hands, not bothering to hide his sarcasm. “I would never imply you’re in bed with the enemy or nuthin’. No sir.”

The dragon reared back, the tiny rat on its head blazing anger… but it seemed to think better of lashing out, and, slowly, it sank back to the ground. Its teeth disappeared, as though sheathed, but fury dripped from every word it spoke next, and its eyes twitched. “You are… quite… the rascal. Your dedication to the preservation of balance… is… questionable. At best.”

Logan’s eyebrows narrowed. Nevertheless, he gave up and simply bowed his head. Gods above, this thing talks like it’s a lunatic. Maybe ‘cause there’s only the one rat in charge? Harder to control a dragon alone? Either way, better not push it. I bet Eve could take a dragon, but I don’t wanna find out.

“Three days,” the dragon repeated, its wings spreading. “Return by sundown. Any longer… and you will not find us here.”

The dragon darted into the sky, pushing up massive clouds of snow that nearly buried Logan, Fynn, and Eve. All three leaped out of the way, Eve dragging Fynn along with a light flick of her wrist. They watched the orange beast streak into the clouds, wheel around once to get its bearing, and disappear into the east. Some unspoken rule dictated they wait in silence until the dragon was gone.

“Well,” Logan said, adjusting his backpack. “That’s that. We go south. What’s this place called again?”

“Uhhh…” Fynn tapped his head as he straightened his own gear. He wore an expression of perpetual worry, one that had decorated his face since they’d left the Sky Bitch the previous day. Logan suspected it had something to do with Fynn’s mother. “Forebode? Forlorned? Fore something.”

“Ah.” Logan shrugged. “Well, that’s good enough. C’mon, kiddos, let’s get lost in semi-suburbia.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Seventeen: And heeeere coooome the werewoooolves

Nagi was inside the market when the first great rush of werewolves charged down the street, heading towards one of Foregone’s three main entrances. Their surprise appearance nearly made her soil herself, and had she gone that far Nagi wouldn’t have faulted herself.

The market of Foregone, unlike most places, was not an outdoor collection of stores. It was, instead, a large, centralized outlet opened by a single extremely wealthy merchant who more or less governed the comings and goings of foodstuffs in the city. Since he was one of the few humans to be outright killed by the werewolves - apparently the morbidly obese miser looked more appetizing than the werewolves could handle - there was really no one to accuse Nagi of theft.

Not that she had much to choose from. Though largely meat eaters, the werewolves would invariably eat just about anything to survive, and they’d spent the first two days of their outbreak utterly ransacking the enormous market. Cured hams, roasted chickens, spliced dodos, fetid greens, stewed carrots, frittered wedgewaffles, honeyed breads, divided apricots, chronomagnetized roundillos, and a great deal more food besides disappeared down the pitiless throats of the canines, and by the time Nagi visited the market, two weeks after the beginning of the outbreak, it was almost bereft of food.


‘Almost’ is a comparative term. ‘Almost’ can mean a lot of things. If you’ve eaten ‘almost’ an entire cake, then only a sliver of that cake is left, a fraction suitable only to sickly grandmothers who insist that anything over a lima bean is entirely too much food for a single meal, thank you very much. If, however, a pack of werewolves has eaten ‘almost’ all of the food in an enormous market, then the remainder of the food is insubstantial only to the mass of werewolves. 

For Nagi’s purposes, the store of dry goods in a rear office served to sate her need for food for a good long time. The werewolves apparently regarded biscuits as unworthy of notice, especially when locked into a secure safe, and Nagi routinely sneaked nine or ten packages of the stuff back to the inn. Her stores were running low, true, but she still could have survived another month on crackers alone, had events not abruptly spiralled into a dangerous new phase.

Nagi was tucking a bag of crisps into her cloak when the howl of the werewolves floated into the office with all the grace of bad news at a birthday party. She immediately tensed, crouching behind a dusty desk and peering through the door at the deserted stalls and overturned shelves in the market’s cavernous main area. From here she had a clear enough view of the wide front door -

- and through the doors, propped open by snow and debris, she spotted a werewolf as it darted past. And then another followed, and another, and another, and another. They quickly became a voracious, rushing stream of fur and claws, guided to some destination - or prey - Nagi couldn’t hope to know, given the circumstances.

Oh fuck me, Nagi thought, flattening herself against the floor so thoroughly that she thought she might simply become one with the floorboards. Calm down, bitch, calm down. They aren’t comin’ in here. They’re… I dunno… they’re gonna have an orgy, or somethin’. Or some dumbass showed ‘emselves, and you get to profit from it. Somehow. Someways. Somewheres. Just don’t freak out, ‘cause they’ll… they’ll…

But they wouldn’t see her. The wolves were moving far too rapidly to peer into the market, their attention invested in something outside, and despite her fear of being caught - no amount of stinky cologne in the world would save Nagi if a werewolf spotted her - Nagi found her curiosity pricked as the last of the hundred-plus wolves rushing past the market disappeared. The thunderous clamour of their feet disappeared in the distance, but their howls echoed through the lonely streets with the persistence of hunters on the prowl.

Go home, Nagi told herself. Get back to the fuckin’ inn. Don’t be a moron.

She rose onto her tail, looking towards the rear of the market. The storerooms back there, though barren of edible products by now, would provide a less conspicuous way out, as well as plenty of cover.

You didn’t get this far by bein’ stupid, Nagi reminded herself. No girl. You wanna live? You just forget that shit.

The tip of Nagi’s tail absently pushed the door to the wall safe shut. It clicked loudly, as it always did, safely locked. She would open it again when she desired more biscuits.

Back to the inn. I can barely smell that shit on me anymore. Don’t risk anything.

Nagi’s eyes sauntered away from the market to the stairwell in the office. It led to a second floor of offices, and from there to the parapets atop the market. She hummed thoughtfully.

I can’t believe you’re even thinkin’ it. You’re wiser than that, girl.

Yep. I am.

The werewolves were still within sight by the time Nagi reached the roof. Hunched low to mask her silhouette, Nagi watched as the pack milled about the city’s western exit, apparently not so fearful of the fires still burning idly in that part of Foregone to give up on whatever quarry had them so damned invested. They appeared unusually organized, lined up in two rough ranks on both sides of the gate. Nagi frowned, eyes narrowed -

- and she drew back as something small burst through the werewolves and entered the city. The wolves howled and leaped, attempting to catch whatever - whomever, judging by the gait and clothing - had just suicidally chosen to enter Foregone, but their were, to Nagi’s astonishment, too slow to catch the interloper. The figure, rather slight and carrying a bulky backpack, sped into Foregone with remarkable speed and disappeared behind a building.

And then reappeared two blocks later.

And then again, three blocks later, heading towards the fires.

And then yet again, a little closer this time. The figure’s hood had flown back, revealing long, blonde hair that tickled Nagi’s memory, but drew no concrete connections beyond that little nudge. She was, after all, more concerned with the torch the figure now appeared to be holding aloft, a streaking comet in the streets.

The werewolves chased the comet. Their numbers swelled so abruptly and so violently that Nagi feared she might be swallowed in their mange and ferocity.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Sixteen: This is why you don't abandon the protagonists

Had Nagi been anything other than what she was - an evasive, rogue-ish thief - she never would have survived the next three months. 

Each day passed with the speed of a snail gliding across tar. Nagi remained cloistered inside the inn, hiding away from the werewolves in whichever room seemed safest at the time. Under other circumstances stealing away in the inn’s closest room to an executive suite might have seemed a blessing to Nagi, but she was too fearful of the werewolves of Foregone to enjoy the experience. She masked her scent with a cocktail of expensive, pungent colognes from the suite that made Nagi’s head spin, and, gradually, the werewolves learned to associate the inn with a painful, stinging odour. 

It took an entire month for the werewolves prowling Foregone’s streets to leave the inn entirely alone. By then they were crawling their way into the surrounding countryside, looking for fresh prey and new recruits in the farming homesteads dotting the plains. Nagi estimated that there were hundreds - possibly thousands - of the creatures by the time the snow was at its worst, and the combination of danger and inclement weather made travel nigh impossible for the half-snake.

When she wasn’t watching for werewolves, foraging for food or reading novels, Nagi spent her time playing Solitaire with an old deck of leather cards. At first she kept score, comparing her wins to her loses, but the scoreboard proved so dismally revealing of how much time she’d spent in Foregone that she ditched it and played without any knowledge of her successes and failure.

When she dreamed, Nagi dreamed of the Dauphine. In retrospect, it hadn’t been so bad. Hectic and dangerous, yes, but also safe. She missed those days.

By the time Daena was making a beeline towards Foregone Nagi’s routine had become less terrifying and more dull. Awakening just before noon, when the werewolves were most likely to be napping - though not entirely nocturnal, they seemed to prefer darkness over light - Nagi would slap on whatever cologne she had on hand all over her body, garb herself in a robe of flat browns, and sneak into the market down the street. She only did this if she had no food left, and on this particular day, the food in her impromptu larder was scarce indeed.

Maybe today, Nagi thought, staring at the distant, dull walls surrounding Foregone. Maybe they’ll send soldiers today. Or maybe they won’t. Hell, maybe they never will. Maybe I’m just gonna be trapped here ’til I’m old and grey, and, eventually, very hairy.

Maybe I’ll be a purple werewolf.

That would be something.

Abruptly, almost viciously, Nagi slapped herself. She’d conjured the image of a purple werewolf to match her hair hundreds of times, and it never failed to dampen her spirits. She knew she had little reason to be in a good mood, granted, but that was no cause to make things worse.

The slap was, unfortunately, harder than Nagi had anticipated, and through some grim providence the scarf covering her face slipped away just in time for her hand to hit her cheek. Not only did the blow sting, it reverberated noisily through the streets, loud as a cannon blast to Nagi’s ears. And she knew all too well that the werewolves had much better ears than hers.

Crouching instinctively, flinching at her stupidity, Nagi darted for the nearest, half-wrecked vendor’s stall, one she knew to be an adequate hiding spot. Her tail propelled her up, over, and behind the cart, where she shimmied into a gap and peered out at the road through a gap in the wood. The stench of her sweat seemed almost to overpower the cologne’s musk, and Nagi wondered if she’d not applied enough. She was running out.

No werewolves came. They seldom ever did. The only sound she heard was the gentle, persistent lapping of unabated fires from the eastern quarter of Foregone, miraculously kept at bay by the weather. Nagi knew the spring would either douse the flames at last with persistent showers… or fan it even further with gusts of wind that could only be found on the plains.

Nagi waited twenty minutes before she dared move again, and this time she kept her slapping hand to herself. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Fifteen: A Foregone Confusion

Nagi was not a witness to the first werewolf bite in the walled city of Foregone, nor was she witness to the second. The third slipped her notice, the fourth happened in a back alley, the fifth was secreted behind the closed doors of a private residence, and the less said about the sixth, the better. Indeed, Nagi did not become aware of the werewolf presence in the city until number thirty-four burst its way into her inn room, and by then it was too late.

Nagi was busy counting her winnings from a stop at Foregone’s casino. With business down and the dealers in a slump, she’d found the casino to be relatively easy pickings. Her gloating blinded her to the distant ‘awooos’ and the rampant padding of feet, and had she not finally picked up on the rapid thuds outside her room, the werewolf might have gotten her. As it was, Nagi just barely managed to spring aside as the hulking beast tore down her door and lunged for her throat.

Nagi’s first thought was for the money on her bed, already scattered by the werewolf’s paws. The second was to blame Dragomir and his friends for this bit of ill fortune, because, surely, he was somehow involved.

Rolling deftly towards the box-shaped room that served as a latrine, Nagi rose onto her tail, breathing hard. The werewolf, its mouth a white puff of feathers yanked out of Nagi’s bed, growled dangerously and turned towards her, its clawed fingers grasping at the air as it fell onto all fours. Nagi knew it would spring at her if she didn’t do something within the next three seconds.

I miss the old days where I didn’t have to put up with this shit, she thought, shuddering. Oh, t’be young again.

Nagi reached for the small flap of skin along her tail that hid her knife. Perhaps sensing danger, the werewolf hurtled forward. Nagi plucked the serrated blade from its enclosure, swept it up -

- and slid neatly out of the way as the werewolf crumpled into the bathroom, its throat slit. Its left claw raked Nagi as the werewolf passed, and she squealed as three nails parted her skin and drew blood. 

Werewolves need to bite you, Nagi thought, clutching her arm and breathing hard. Not claw. Not punch. Not curse your name. They’ve gotta bite you. And, hey, this might not even be a werewolf. It could be a rabid dog. Granted, I’m a goblin if that’s not a werewolf, but a girl’s gotta console herself somehow, right?

The werewolf gurgled, snarled several times, and uttered something that sounded almost intelligible as it flopped against the room’s threadbare toilet and died. A plea for help, perhaps, or an urgent request that Nagi purchase more milk from the corner store. She couldn’t be certain what it had said, only that, for a few precious seconds, its growls had morphed into near-intelligent speech.

Fearing there might be greater havoc unfolding downstairs, Nagi slithered out of her inn room and made for the roof, noting with unease the unusual silence dominating the stonework hallways. Nagi had stayed at this same inn for over a week, switching rooms once to escape a nasty odour wafting out of the kitchen, and it was always populated and bustling, save during the wee hours of the night. The Imperium’s few stationed guards didn’t tolerate excessive noise past 12 am. But this was 5:30 at most, almost time for dinner, and traffic should’ve been abundant.


The streets beyond the patchwork wooden parapets atop the inn were not nearly so quiet. Screams seemed to echo from every alleyway as people fled from small groups of werewolves, their voices drowned out by mournful howls summoning more teeth to the chase. Nagi watched as two werewolves corner a washerwoman and her son in an alley, then leap bodily at the tiny family and shove them into a slat of shade that Nagi’s eyes could not penetrate. She turned away regardless, quavering at the sound of the washerwoman’s frantic screams.

Three minutes later, the washerwoman and her son emerged with hunched backs, furry faces, and shiny black eyes. The washerwoman’s battered apron was stained with blood, but as a werewolf she looked both healthy and eager.

I thought all the bad shit was happening in the east, Nagi thought, crouching so low that she scraped her elbows on the wood roof. Is it just my luck that I’d wind up in the city where the werewolves decide to make a visit?

It was, in fact, just her luck. And as the first few snowflakes fell on Foregone’s emptying rooftops, Nagi fought to keep her hair purple and her scales unblemished by thick tufts of canine fur. She had no idea what a half-snake werewolf might resemble, and she had no desire to find out.

Time passed.