BLACK WOLVES

Growing Up

As we headed out of the Moon Woods, we came across the dregs of Belladonna’s zombie elves. There’s something really fucked about zombies that move fast and fight that well unarmed. They handed us almost more than we could handle after the war we’d just been through. There was a new wrinkle since the last time we faced them, as well. Every time they struck true, a bit of their swirling black essence clung to our bodies. With each accumulation of the black mass I felt the urge to join our attackers in slaughtering my companions. It felt right, but I resisted, firm in the promise to eradicate evil that I had made to my clan. We destroyed the last of our attackers and went about the business of carving the black mass out of our bodies. Each tended to his own, since we couldn’t be sure that any of us wouldn’t take more flesh than was necessary early in the process.

We spent the rest of our travel time back to Silverymoon in silence, save for one morning when I awoke away from camp. I woke up in a cave. Wasn’t the first time that sort of thing happened, and it won’t be the last. Aside from the change of scenery, there wasn’t much to speak of. Garn’s night wasn’t so uneventful. He’d stalked and eaten a deer. We both stumbled back to camp and put the clues together. Seems the bites suffered in our battle with Belladonna’s werebears had cursed us with the same affliction. Unfortunately, Garn wasn’t looking at it as a curse.

When we got back to Silverymoon, we checked in at the church of Tyr. Between visions of valkyries and assorted bogeymen, churchy had said the removal of the curse was above his ability to remove. Luckily, the head priest at the temple was more effective. Even he could only work the divine mojo once a day, however. Garn and I argued as to which one of us should go first. I wanted the curse out of him sooner rather than later. He was being stupid, grasping at power and freedom that came with too heavy a price. I knew I could handle the curse better than him if I had to. I live with the impulses of a savage beast every minute, and I keep them in check most of the time. The disagreement came down to an arm wrestling match, and the result was as you’d expect; Garn got beat, got healed, got Pissed and left.

We met back at the womanizer’s estate and avoided each other. Some time in the night, someone stole a dagger from under the floorboards in the womanizer’s room. I asked him why he had a dagger hidden under his floorboards, but he swears he didn’t know anything about it. I was wondering if we were seeing the return of his spooky damned body-stealing uncle. The tiny drunk was roused from his beer coma and said he thought he’d dreamed of the bald and tattooed guys. Then he seemed worried that one of them had touched him funny. He must not have been too worried though, because he passed out again.

We had a mystery starting up and were in serious need of some reequipping, so the womanizer, Garn and I made our way to the market. Garn and Renius killed some time trying to find one of the bar wenches they refer to as their intelligence network while I got cured. I took the opportunity to talk to the priest of Tyr. I asked him how much longer churchy had to suffer with the evil they’d saddled him with. He said they were working on a way to dispose of the black sword and that he’d take the Hand of Tharizdun right away. We talked about the need to eradicate evil from the world and he tried to talk me into joining the church. I told him flat out that I bow for no one, man or god. He gave me some scrolls detailing the steps taken by the church when punishing the wicked, and I have to say, some of the stuff makes me look like a beginner. I left the temple and met up with the others.

Garn was still Pissy, so he took some shots at me about abandoning my beliefs to serve a god. We argued some more and he decided to go off on his own, probably to cry. He was stomping away like a petulant child when I saw some fuckers that looked like the drunken dwarf’s dream lovers, but Garn couldn’t be bothered to care. I asked the womanizer if he was getting the stench of evil from them, and when he said yes, I drew Colric’s Freedom, ready to violently solve a mystery. The cowards ran, so I followed them into an alley, Renius backing my play with his dog behind him. We went into the alley after two, but half a dozen more joined with them. They had the numbers and the surprise, and for the third time in a week I found myself pummeled by bare fists and booted feet. Renius sent his dog to get help, and to his credit, Garn showed. Another blade turned the tide, but not before the fucks killed Renius’s dog. He showed the anger he so rarely betrays and wiped out the last of the thieves. No dagger to be found, it was obvious there were more of them around the city somewhere, but what they wanted with us, I had no idea. Garn couldn’t resist the chance to bitch some more, but my ears were full of blood, so I couldn’t hear him.

We got back to the estate, put Shiva to rest, and I cleaned up. The paladin was at the temple and the dwarf was nowhere to be found, so it was just Garn, Renius and I. My sword brother’s woman was missing as well. Renius went to his room after the burial. I was missing you, and wanted to find a place to write to you away from the rest of the crew. I was almost out the door when Garn spoke up and lit the fuse on what must have been ready to explode for a long time.

“You going out to pray, killer?” he said.

“Fuck you! I don’t have time for your shit, Garn!”

“That’s not very holy talk for the newest initiate of Tyr. You wouldn’t want to lose your lapdog status so soon, would you? You might not get any more compliments or literature,” he sneered.

“You think I don’t know what the priest was doing? I know with all the shit going down, every side wants a piece of me. I’m an attractive prospect. I don’t see why you’re Pissing your girdle over me using that knowledge to open some doors.”

Garn stood from his seat at the kitchen table. “Sure, you start that way, but before you know it, you’re fucked over like Tal-En.”

“You mean kind of like when you fuck a death goddess and your half-dead woman in the same day?” I know it was a cheap shot, but fuck if I’m going to let that stop me.

“You can’t see what I can see, Grayl. You’re blind to the facts.” I cut him off.

“The only one blind here is you, Garn. You’re freaking out because you’re scared of responsibility. You’ve got a baby on the way and you probably got your bitch carping on you to get married. You want to be free. You want to be what you thought I was when you met me. You’re scared of all the change you can’t control.”

“Scared? No. Pissed off. You’ve lost the mission, brother. You’ve finally lost your edge. Maybe it’s because you’ve had your bitch mother in blade’s reach three times by my count. Three times and you’ve failed to seal the deal. Once in the reversed world, once in the forest when she told us of the threat of Damascule, and now in the battle of the Moon Woods. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be,” he said.

“How’s that?” I didn’t like where he was going.

“Maybe you came into my life to show me my mission. Maybe you’ve filled your role and now need to go to Red Larch and be a husband. Maybe I’ve got to take care of the Black Ravens by myself.” He wasn’t kidding. There was a look in his eyes I’d seen too many times before. He looked like me in my darkest moments.

“I’d say we should end this farce of a partnership now, but for old time’s sake, I think you should be there when I clean up your mess. You see, I’ve got a plan.” His eyes got even wider.

“You forget your place, Serpenthelm. It’s by my side and one step back.”

“My place is wherever I damn well please, orc.” The distance between us closed quickly.

“You’re acting like the man I saw in the mirror a year ago. You’re acting like a child. Grow up. You’re a good man, Garn, in spite of what you’re going through right now. It’s that fact that’s kept me from striking you down in the last few minutes. But know this, if you cross the line and try to steal my vengeance, my burden from me, I’ll forget about all that and remember the bad old days. It’s really not that hard for me to do.”

“Your empty threats might work on your new church friends. Why don’t you try them at temple?” He wasn’t backing down, but I can’t say I expected him to.

“I’ve got two truly terrible acts left in me, and if you take Belladonna and Tiara from me, there’s no saying they won’t be visited on you and yours.”

“You’d do that to a Dead Wolf? I am a Dead Wolf, right? You said I was. So, were you lying about that or are you saying you’d betray your clan?” In what I’d say was an instinctual move, Garn’s hand moved to his hilt. He knew what was coming before I said it.

“Draw your sword. It’s time to back up your mouth.” “It will be a good lesson for you when I do, failure.” He drew overhand as I drew under, our blades meeting with a clang. The force knocked us both backward.

“I’m gonna fucking kill you!”

“Fuck off!” Garn screamed. We were giving in to our rages.

As we closed with each other, the kitchen door burst open. In a flash of steel, the paladin was between us, driving his shield into my face and his sword hilt into Garn’s.

“Idiots!” he screamed. I was ready to go through him, until I saw the black mass he coughed up. Garn stopped as well. I guess our concern for him held us for the moment. He kept speaking, ignoring the black goop dribbling down his chin.

“You want to talk about blindness? You’re both blind! Blind to the evil all around us! It’s been here all along, testing us. I believe we’ve failed. Now, there’s nothing left to do but pay our penance in struggle and blood. If we’re lucky, we’ll have atoned before we meet our end. But we won’t do it alone.” He put his sword and shield away, more confident in the end of our hostility than I was.

“Alone, each of us is doomed. We all need each other. You two need each other especially, ‘cause you ain’t got a bit of goddamned sense between you! There’s a lot of bad coming our way, but you’re too busy measuring your cucks to see it. For the record, Grayl’s is bigger, but Garn’s sees more action. My holy, big shot, evil-fighting advice to both of you is to give each other some space. Back the fuck down for a bit and focus on the task at hand. We need you in the game, together. The world needs you. I’ll be at the temple. Come find me when you change your diapers and want to take care of business.” With that, the paladin strode out as abruptly as he came in.

Garn and I glared for a bit and went our separate ways. I spent the rest of the day thinking about violence and wondering if I’d ever stop. When night fell, I tried to dream of my family. I needed guidance now more than ever. I guess they moved on, because when I dreamt, I didn’t find myself in the village. I was back in Hela’s realm. I was in a lineup, soldiers to the left and right of me. Garn was there. I told him it was time to stop tearing our clan apart and that we could take the opportunity to show Hela what a Dead Wolf did best.

He smiled and said it was “a bit late for that. All debts come due in time.” When he spoke, it was his voice, but the scraping ice of Hela’s was present as well. They were speaking as one. He started barking orders to me and the other soldiers, and I found myself unable to resist. We polished and presented arms, then marched in formation. I pulled myself from sleep, angry and sad in equal measure. My first instinct was to stab him in his sleep, but I remembered that things like that were how warriors ended up in Hela’s realm. So, I went back down to the kitchen and started writing this letter to you.

I hear someone moving around upstairs, so I’d better go see what’s up. Here’s hoping that the next time I write you, I’ll have nothing to report. I will come home soon. We will be together soon.

Love,

Grayl Ravenguard

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