Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Day Eight-Ninety-Five: Snips and snails and werewolf tails

Fynn quickly discovered just how much he’d fucked up. He tried to rationalize his failure - I’m just a kid! - but his mental protests rang very hollow indeed.

After Logan’s vomiting episode, an event so wretched that it forced the prince into a medical cot, Fynn descended from the Imperium’s battle platform for a closer look at the battle below. It was still raging away, with werewolves doggedly trying to root out Non fighters, and Fynn tugged them a little closer to his mind with the protectiveness of a pet owner. He knew that was an unhealthy response to creatures which amounted to disease victims, but he couldn’t help himself.

Don’t dive in, Logan had warned him. That was the worst feeling I’ve ever had.

Projecting a shield around himself - Fynn was, as ever, surprised by the extent of his powers, and the ease of multitasking spells that would’ve originally taxed his abilities - Fynn waded into the battlefield, down one of the abandoned town’s combat-ravaged streets. Though the place was intact - It’s called Doonbury, Fynn reminded himself, Don’t forget its name - it was quickly falling apart under the strain of werewolves competing with Non. From his landing point Fynn could see five werewolves trying to catch a single Non, the blackened creature evading their attacks with a slippery grace as it darted from alleyway to alleyway. He knew similar sorties were raging throughout the Doonbury.

He knew this because he could feel it. He’d long projected his control of the werewolves through Antonia, their progenitor and alpha. But he couldn’t see what they were doing up close. And that, he sensed, was part of the problem.

Fynn didn’t like the werewolves. He assumed they were good people, as Foregone had not seemed like a particularly malevolent city, but their lycanthrope forms scared him all the same. He didn’t enjoy the constant mental contact with Antonia, a touch he was forced to maintain even in his sleep, and he didn’t like orchestrating their moves. At some point he’d decided, subconsciously or otherwise, to remove himself from the creatures as much as he could, retreating to whatever airship was available at any given time. From above the werewolves were vicious brown specks, more like troublesome mites than sickened, crazed humans.

He realized, walking down Doonbury and looking at the werewolves, that he’d not been among them in over two months. All that time he’d kept them restrained from a distance, shepherding them about on a long leash. In that time he’d not once given thought to their wellbeing, or if he had, he’d shunted such concerns behind the overwhelming presence of his fear. He suspected the rest of his father’s army had acted the same way, avoiding the werewolves whenever possible. They were not pleasant creatures.

These werewolves were not healthy. They were beaten, mangey creatures.

The first werewolf Fynn spotted took his breath away. Almost six feet tall even hunched over, the werewolf nevertheless looked a pitiable thing. Much of its fur bore a mangey, patched look, and hints of sickly pink skin peeked through gaps in its coat. Its eyes were painted a vague white-grey, and yellowed snot encrusted its nose. Its muscles were thin and rangy, and ribs poked out of its underbelly. It looked starved, which confused Fynn, as he knew the werewolves fed regularly on animal migrations encountered in the field. The next werewolf looked much the same, though smaller.

Oh my god, Fynn thought. What… what’s wrong with them?

They’ve been on the march for months without rest, Julius said, his tone grim. It’s no wonder. I suppose only the Non would have noticed their state of degradation. No one else ever wants to get close.

But… Fynn wrung his hands. But they fight… I mean, they fight as well as ever…

Driven by a sickness, Julius pointed out. He shook his tiny tarantula head. I’m sure they’ll fight at full capacity until they fall apart. Is this why Logan lost it?

Fynn concentrated for a moment, diving into the nearest werewolf in a mild capacity. He caught a vague glimpse of the street from another vantage point as the werewolf bounded towards a building, a Non in its crosshairs, and the doubling of perspectives gave Fynn a vague sense of nausea. Still…

No, he decided, shaking his head. That’s not it. Can’t be. Come on.

Careful to avoid the fighting - he was accustomed to battle, though he nevertheless preferred to avoid duking it out with his shadowy kin - Fynn picked his way gingerly down the main street, diverting onto a quieter side path when he found an alley devoid of brawling. The werewolves and the Non seemed to ignore him entirely, fighting around his shield with an apparent knowledge of the futility of attacking him. Fynn imagined the occasional, resentful green eye was cast his way, however, and he wondered if he was some kind of race traitor for not helping the Non in their struggle.

The werewolf he’d tagged before, the werewolf Logan had attempted to dive into, was lurking inside the remains of a pastry shop. The wolf had apparently ripped the shop apart, leaving a trail of confections in its wake as it headed into the store rooms to continue the destruction. Fynn approached the creature rather reluctantly, listening to its snorts and half-howls as it rooted about in the back room for something it apparently thought was important.

Fynn had control over the werewolves. He knew this, because he could feel Antonia somewhere nearby, fighting as fervently as any of them. He had control over her. Even without the control, he knew he could easily handle a single werewolf with his strength and magic. Yet… yet

Pushing the door into the rear room open, Fynn took a deep breath and drew on some of the courage offered by Julius. The spider often shared his emotions with Fynn, putting up a brave front despite his size. It was not quite enough to quell the horror of what he saw, but it kept Fynn from running. That, he decided, was important.

The werewolf was not an ordinary werewolf. It was, Fynn quickly discovered, almost twice the size of the standard werewolf fare, not far off from Antonia’s enhanced alpha bulk. It was as mangey as its kin, but this werewolf’s exposed skin was black rather than pink, and thick yellow-and-purple veins protruded liberally from its fur. It turned to leer at Fynn, jaws coated in powdery white sugar, and the look in its eyes was not the glowing orange-and-green he knew should be there. There was instead a liquid ochre flowing around its pinprick pupils, and delight framed its features as its mouth dropped open in a sallow mockery of a grin.

“Play… with… Kara…” the werewolf hissed, its voice a growling mockery of humanity.

You aren’t controlling it, Julius said. This wasn’t a question.

No, Fynn confirmed. 

The werewolf leaped at Fynn, claws extended. Fynn flinched back, yelping, but the werewolf bounced off of the faint shield covering the boy and slid to the ground. Without giving it another thought Fynn extended the shield, knocking the werewolf into the wall. Fynn extended the shield again, and again, and again, driving the monster’s head against a hard wooden beam until it slumped. Its muzzle twitched as it slipped into unconsciousness.

But something was there. Something was awake inside it, crawling beneath its skin, pumping ungodly vitality into its failing muscles. Something saw Fynn, peering at him from the werewolf’s pores, and he could feel the thing’s morbid gaze even as its host snoozed. It would never sleep.

“Kara,” Fynn whispered, mind straining against the horror of the sight. “Who’s… who’s Kara…?”

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