Sunday, 14 September 2014

Crash and Burn - Survivors

Fire. Fire is the gift that the True One gives us. Fire purifies. Fire holds back the night and the nightmares. Fire....

Brother Matthew stood firm, his flame thrower spraying gouts of liquid flame at the pack of desert wolves that was facing him and his dying neophyte. Dozens were dead and dying, the stench of their fur filling the air, the smoke from their burning carcasses filling his eyes with tears of irritation. And still they came.
"My Lord is my guardian, with his blessing I shall stand firm...."
More gouts of flame and the squeals, the dying. Less now, but they were closer. A distant beeping brought a tinge of fear until it was quashed under prayer. Nothing lasts forever. With a pressurized hiss the fuel tank ejected. The last tank was held up by his Neophyte, whimpering in pain. Seconds lost. Insert, lock, pressurize. A shape lunged at him, razor sharp talons ripping into his chest, the butt of the thrower slammed into it's neck followed by his boot, the crunch of bone then again spraying at the attacking pack. They were relentless, but he was a survivor.
"We make our stand here, and by the True One we will die here fighting!"
Behind him, he heard Tobias let out a last sigh and his body slumped. With grim determination he fought on.

Far out in space a ship appeared in a purple haze, gas dispersing slowly as it finished it's jump. The gas, flotsam from a gas giant they jumped from to escape hid them for a moment, then the great engines of the battlecruiser powered up and left it behind. Moving with a speed and grace that defied it's physical shape, a clenched fist of black steel festooned with weapon and sensor ports the Pride of Folkvar headed towards the sun.

On the ships bridge Folkvar looked over the internal scans, checking damage and casualty lists. The last running battle had been fierce, as expected with Dewiek hunters, but he was better. Rubbing his tired eyes with a paw he stretched. Folkvar, once the greatest in the land, was now free. In a sense. No longer High Lord of the Dewiek, Folkvar the Wolf Baron was now also know as the Fallen. He got up and walked the bridge, wondering how merciful it was that Filtiarn, Lord of the Wolves, held back the final killing blow. Change had always come slowly to the Dewiek, and this was no exception. How long had it been planned, talked about, discussed? Were the marauders that attacked his ship Filtiarns? Pah, but he was still one of the twelve until his hide had been displayed, and that would take some doing.
"Comms, inform the sector command we are here. See if there is any news that we need to download, and find out where my sons pack is."
The communications officer barked a confirmation and after a few moments stepped aside.
"Sector Command, this is the Wolf Baron Folkvar. By standing orders we are informing you of our presence in your territory."
On the screen a greying wolf looked up and spat off screen.
"Folkvar, why do you have to dirty my sector? We have no need of you here."
"Hold your tongue, this is a courtesy call, nothing more. I seek the Silver Claw pack, they are in this cluster I understand."
"Aaah, you seek your ragged cur of a son. When you have gone my sector will be better for it. Changes to the old ways are wrong. They should have killed you, your time is past."
Folkvar looked aside, tapped his comm officer and pointed to the download, he nodded and began to download data from the command.
"I will attempt to forget your insults to me....."
"That is why you are cast out, mongrel. Folkvar the Fallen? I call you Folkver the Dead. You have 48 hours to leave my sector or I will unlease my fleet against you. And before you whine like a female in heat, I will send that to the High Command. Be well."
Folkvar looked at the screen. For someone to talk to him like that showed how far he had fallen in some eyes. But then there would always be those who were of the old school, the old ways. Remnants. Regardless, he was still one of the Twelve and he had power, albeit diminished. Throwing back his head he howled with laughter.
"Those old fools. I pity them, maybe once I pick up my cub we will head over there and tear out his throat."
Falling back into his command chair he looked out of the window, aware of a silence from the comms officer.
"Well, do you have his location?"
"Yes, and I've sent over the co-ordinates... but...."
"But what?"
"According to this the Silver Claw pack has been in no less than seven engagements and lost four ships but accounting for at least nine destroyed. Last reported action, just a few hours ago was with a Confed transport and it's escorts. Then all contact was lost."
"Divert all power to the jump engines, get us to that location. Quickly!"

Folkvar left the bridge and walked into his quarters, slamming the door behind him. A cold shiver ran down his spine and he shook his fur wildly. Over on one wall were seven pictures, all of them his cubs. Three had died, as befitting a Dewiek, in combat against superior odds. The rest were competant, successful and influential, but of all of them, the youngest was his favorite.
"Aaaah, young cub, I know you will be fine."
A form on the bed stirred and yawned.
"My love, why do you call him that, he is old enough to hunt."
He leapt onto the bed and swept his mate into his arms.
"White Strides will always be a cub to me. I am far to fond of him."
His mate held him tight and bit his neck softly, shivering when she heard his low gutteral growl.
"And I... am far too fond of you."

Brother Matthew brought the pointed stone down, smashing into the desert wolves skull. Finally, it was over. Staggering back he tripped over a burnt body and fell onto two more dead wolves. Pain lashed his body, dozens of slashes, bites and cuts covered his body. Blood flowed freely from his wounds. Under the glaring sun he struggled to his feet and looked around. His weapon was broken beyond repair, used as a club when it had finally run out of fuel. With gentle touches he wiped it's plaque and wept. This weapon had been a constant companion for many years and it's loss was a devestating blow. Tearing his robe he made some makeshift bandages and covered the worst of his wounds then set to work. Despite the heat and the stench he dug a grave for his neophyte and buried him, covering it with heavy stones. A prayer was read over the body and finally, when his obligations had finished, he staggered over into the shade and sat down.
"You were brave, young Tobias. Know that you will find solace in heaven."
From the depths of his pocket he pulled out a small box and activated his emergency homing beacon. It was set to a Confederate frequency and with luck help would arrive. Slowly, he drifted into unconsciousness.

The roar of rage was heard all through the ship. Over the last hour they had managed to find and locate the remains of the Silver Claw pack. The survivors from the flagship were taken aboard and the ranking officer told Folkvar the news.
"Your son is dead, my Lord. He was killed by forces onboard the freighter. From what scattered reports we could get before the freighter went down over the planet, a Monk killed him."
"A Monk? This was a confederate ship I was told, not a Brotherhood one."
"Why not suppose there was one travelling on board. Until we go to the planet and retreive the escape pods and jettisoned compartments we won't know."
He turned on the officer gripping him his neck in one swift movement. He growled and squeezed.
"We won't know? But you said he is dead. Might he not have taken an escape pod?"
The officer tried to back away, snapping and whining.
"My lord, all pack leaders are tagged and monitored. He flatlined!"
Folkvar threw the officer against a bulkhead and stormed back to the bridge.
"Take us to the planet, now! I was all sensor scans running. I want every signal from that planet, every morsel. You will chase down ever lead on any signal that indicates that Confederate forces are alive down there. Do you understand?"
The crew growled their confirmation.
"Get the shuttles read, I want an armed force with each one. We investigate each signal which mentions Confed or Brotherhood."
"Sire.... you may want to hear this...."

Thump thump.....
I can hear my heart beating. With every beat I know I am alive. If I am alive there is hope. If there is hope there is faith. With faith I cannot die.
Thump thump.....
If I cannot die, then I will live. And if I live I can say the proper prayers for my neophyte. He fought well, but I could have teached him more.
Thump thump.....
It is getting cold. Even though the sun is directly above me, and the ground is too hot to touch, I am still cold.
Thump thump.....
Thump thump.....
Am I ready to die? Are those angels coming towards me?

Brother Matthew awoke in a glaring white room and raised his hand to cover his eyes. The pain was gone, now only a distant memory. He could hear nothing, save again his heart beating, and a low whistling sound.
"Am I dead?"
A wheezing laugh caused him to turn his head. A very tall wolf was leaning against a wall, his dark fur immaculate, his harness pristine with it's medals and accolades. This, he saw, was a highly place Dewiek. Though, he mused, not a million miles away from the ones that had fought him on the planet.
"Where am I? Or is that a delicate question?"
"The question isn't. But the answer may be."
The wolf chuckled, but seemed intent on staring at the monk.
"Perhaps you know who I am?"
"No. To me you are Dewiek, though from the look a skilled and dangerous one."
The wolf chuckled again.
"I am the Wolf Baron, Folkvar the Fallen."
Matthew frowned and tried to sit up, the strength leaving him.
"I thought.... you were... top dog so to speak. Thank you, if it was you who found me."
Folkvar walked over to the monk and patted him on the cheek.
"Oh don't thank me yet. You may live to regret living. But get well, yes, hu-man. I have much to talk to you about."
He padded out of the room and closed the door, a red light indicating it was sealed.

Folkvar's mate met him outside the medical bay and embraced him.
"You don't need to do this."
"He will get better, then I will fight him to the death."
"It's a pointless fight!"
Folkvar punched the metal wall, denting it in fury and howled at her.
"He killed my son!"
His mate snarled and grabbed him slamming him bodily into the bulkhead.
"You may be the Pack Leader, you may be my mate and the father of my cubs, but if you ever, EVER think that I am not grieving for my lost cub I will make sure you never have cubs again! I want to rip out his throat and bathe in his blood but we are at peace now with the Confederacy! And I will not risk loosing you!"
"No... I will fight him. But I will give him every chance to make amends, in the traditional way."
"He will not know our ways."
"Then he will die."
Folkvar stormed off leaving his mate, his howls echoing around the ship.

From his bed Brother Matthew heard the shouting, the sounds of fighting and the howling. Then it all went quiet and the door to the infirmary opened, letting in female Dewiek. She was smaller than Folkvar, but mottled and wore a long flowing dress.
"I never realised how passionate you people are."
"Thank you."
"For what?"
"For calling us people. Not animals. So many of your kind do that."
She checked his bandages and applied a salve from a sealed bottle. With her keen eye she checked his wounds and added a nannite compound to heal him quicker.
"What did I do to make him so angry?"
"You killed his.... our son. Assuming you are the monk that is being talked about, who caused so much damage to out pack."
"If I killed him it was only in self defence. There were some of your kind killing the innocent. I could not allow that."
"Did they die quickly?"
He looked over at her and took her in. As a Dewiek he believed she would be beautiful to them, but she had hidden muscle and was a fighter, that much she could not hide. To lie now, would be found out in time. No, the truth is always the truth, so shall it be.
"No, some of them didn't die quickly."
"My mate is going to fight you. In the ships arena. To the death."
"That is not a problem."
"What, you think you can win?" She asked with incredulity.
"Oh no, I will probably die. But that is not a problem. I have faced death too many times, I have prayed for my soul too many times. Maybe it is my fate to die here, amusement for the mob."
"I will never understand you hu-mans. But I think I like you."

It was several days later that Brother Matthew was led away from the medical bay and into the Arena. Deep in the heart of the ship the Arena was a place for settling disputes between crew, fighting prisoners and occasionally, just relaxing. But today it was obvious that this was something special. Clad only in his torn robes he was lead into the centre of the arena. Around him the crew howled and stamped, eager for the uncoming festivities. From a side annex Folkvar and his mate approached and stood in the middle of the arena. Folkvar wore nothing and his mate addressed the crowd.
"We fight today. One on one, in the traditional form. Our leader, Folkvar the Fallen against Matthew of the Brotherhood. Our leader fights to avenge the death of our cub, White Strides. If there is any who stand against us, and side with Matthew, do so now. This will be....," she looked at the human, "A fight to the death."
The crowd cheered and hammered on the benches infront of them. His mate departed and Folkvar walked up to Brother Matthew.
"You are fit and well and deemed able to fight by our doctors. You will fight me, we will fight to the death, for the memory of my cub. You can choose what weapons we use, not that it will give you any advantage."
"I do not need any weapons."
A hush settled over the arena.
"You will die, little man."
"Death comes to us all. Shall we begin?"
Brother Matthew backed away a few feet and moved into a defensive pose.

Folkvar leapt, howling as he attacked, his claws slashing towards the monk, missing by a whisker. The monk attacking him while he was open, doing nothing more than irritating him and he backhanded the monk, sending his flying. Matthew picked himself up, wiping the blood from his mouth and moving around slowly. Another leap and three red cuts were slashed across his back, but still he kept standing up. Folkvar walked over and punched the monk, sending him to the ground and punching him again and again. Matthew managed to block a few and even hit back with some lucky strikes. A punch to Folkvars head had his stepping back long enough to get back to his feet. They danced around each other a few more times until Folkvar slashed him again, and again and again. Despite bleeding profusely he continued to get back on his feet. Folkvar rolled and slashed low, tearing a hamstring and seing Matthew tumbling.
"You are weak. You will die out here unsung unpraised not even your skull will adorn my wall. And still you dare to fight me?"
Folkvar watched as Matthew, despite all the odds, stood up.
"I fight because my faith is strong even if my body is weak. Do your worst, you are an honorable predator and one i respect."
Matthew closed his eyes and started to pray. He felt Folkvar standing above him, smelt him, could feel the heat on his body.
The Fallen lowered his fist which would have delivered a killing blow. He reached down and lifted the monks head and waited til he opened his eyes and looked into them. What he saw shocked him. There was no look of fear, no look of hatred. There was the look of the zealot, the wild eyed look he always had himself when fighting against overwhelming odds. There was no way that the monk before him could ever win, and they both knew it. He lowered his arm... and stepped back.
"No. You are not prey. No prey I ever faced had such conviction."
A scream came from the audience.
"You must kill him!"
"No.. He has the strength of his god within him and even at the end he did not flinch. That... I cannot kill."
"You must, it is our way!"
"Hah! You say that to me? Folkvar the Fallen? Things change! And this fight is over. Tend to his wounds. If you want a fight... we go to Sector Command. I have not forgotten, nor forgiven the insults done to me. Who is with me?"
The crowd cheered and dispersed, heading to their stations. Folkvar turned and looked, his mate was standing with Brother Matthew, already rubbing salve into his wounds. He walked over and looked down at the monk.
"You, Brother Matthew, are an enigma to me. You kill my cub, but I can't kill you. Why is that?"
"Maybe because you recognise something of the animal in me. Or maybe, it is the will of the True One. Either way, neither of us dies today."
"Have you ever seen the Dewiek fight?"
"Other than when you are pounding me into the floor? No."
Folkvar laughed.
"Then you shall. I can't say I'll ever like you Monk, or your kind. But I respect you. And for me, that is enough. So come with us. I offer you a look at the Dewiek that few ever get to see."
"I accept, as long as I can have somewhere to sleep that isn't covered in wolf hair."
"Ha, you are funny little man. Tell me.... tell me about your True One. I would know what you are like."
"So you can one day attack us?"
"If we do, I think maybe... it would be a mistake. But what do I know, I am no longer in command.. I am just a Baron."
"Just nothing, you are still Folkvar, and that is something that people will remember long after I am gone."
"Then talk to me of your ways and your god."
"Okay... in the beginning there was the word....."
Folkvar's mate watched as the two sat on the blodied grounds of the arena and smiled. It was a start, she mused, but she'd still like to rip out his throat. She wouldn't, she smiled to herself, as she recognised in Matthew what she recognised in her mate, they were both survivors.

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