Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Nature of the Beast

The winds that were blowing in gently from the north brought with them the salty tang of the sea. Sitting on the breakwater Sister Samantha, a most chaste member of the Blessed Order of the Little Sisters of Charity let the wind rustle through her hair and the sun beam down onto her face and body. All around her the other members of her order who were with here were relaxing, praying, reading, sleeping, or just enjoying themselves. They had all been here for a while, integrating themselves with the locals and trying to ask questions of a race who had it seemed, only two answers. Two answers to everything. Can we hunt it, or can we eat it. She sighed and looked over the small bay to the great starbase of Basilisk, bastion of the Dewiek in this system. It reached skyward, it's hiports and buildings majestic in the midday sun, all around it the growing urban sprawl mixture of old and new looked, well, alien compared to the starports of Darkfold.

With a smile she watched as her translator, Rengern walk over to her. The fluid movement of the muscles of the great wolf always filled her a longing to just squeeze them and examine them, the investigator within her curious about their physiology. How sharp were his claws, how much bigger will they become as he grown old. She blushed as she caught her eyes roaming over his chest and turned away to pull her robe back around her and stand up.
"Rengern, my friend. I hope you are well?"
"Indeed, little sister. I see you are putting the governors gift to good use?"
"The shuttles? Yes. We located a prime location and are awaiting confirmation from out scientists to verify if the plan is possible. It is a lovely planet."
"I dont like the sand though. It gets in the fur, takes ages to get it out."
Rengern shook his head, his mane fluffling for a moment before he smoothed it out. He looked off at an angle for a moment and sniffed, wrinkling his nose.
"You hu-mans have a distinctive smell. It takes some getting used to."
Sam laughed and pulled the rest of her outfit back on and set her wimple correctly.
"So do you Dewiek. Especially your adolescents, they stink to high heaven."
Rengern looked genuinely upset.
"By the claws of my forefathers why would you want to smell a cub? Do you realise the risk you put yourself in to get that close? The young ones do not have the ability to recognise that you are not prey, they might attack you and..... Oh."
He sighed and rubbed his paw over his face. Sister Samantha was laughing behind her hand. Again with this humour. Bloody woman!
"I came to tell you the Elders of the village you visited have agreed to see you and answer your questions. After that, I recommend you return to the starbase, it is easier for us to protect you there."
"So you can keep an eye on us at all times?"
"You must understand, your safety is paramount to us. It has come down from the highest authority that you are not prey."
She nodded and fastened her belt. Two answers, she sighed. Subvocalising she issued an order to her party and waited while they sorted themselves out and filed into the shuttles.
"Come Rengern, lets see how much trouble I can get myself into."
"I swear, you have been sent to test us."
"The True One moves in mysterious ways, I am sure that there is some influence in you somewhere of him."
Rengern rubbed his temple and whispered under his breath. They are not prey, they are not prey, they are not prey. Samantha just smiled at him as they strapped themselves into the shuttle.

Later that evening an angry Sister Samantha took her usual table in the bar. Most of the rest of her party had retired to their quarters, but she and two of her guards remained, as did Rengern.
"It was not my fault Sister. You touched on delicate matters! Matters that outsiders shouldn't even know about!"
"You could have helped more than you did!"
"Listen female, you do not provoke a wolf in his lair and you certainly don't poke it with a pointed stick!"
"I didn't use a pointed stick!"
Several of the other patrons turned their heads and looked at the argument then laughed and returned to their drinks.
"If you had one you would have! You don't question an elder like that, they are revered and respected and your questions were insolent!"
"If they didn't keep changing the subject I wouldn't have to keep asking the questions!"
"You are a guest here, Sister. You would do well to remember that."
Rengern got up and walked away.
"Rengern, where are you going?"
"To get some air. There is a bad smell here. I will see you in the morning."
Samantha put her hand on her companions shoulders and stopped them from causing more of a scene than was necessary.
"Get the beers in. I need to get this report written up and sent of."
"Sister, how long are we going to be here?"
"Until the job is done, may the True One give me strength. I swear I was given this assignment as a punishment."
The monk laughed and slapped her shoulder.
"At least we are not with the Flagritz. These Dewiek are amieable enough once they have a few drinks in them."
She sank back into her chair and groaned as a large pack of Dewiek boiled into the bar, howling and laughing and punching each other. One of them pointed in her direction and they all looked, silently, unnervingly at her before going back to their carousing. Pulling out her personal computer from her bag she set it up and started to write her report.

"....Are even more than those living in the starbase. The parallels are striking, and under any other circumstance the standard training would have taken hold but I have yet to find the key to get into their mind. Their ability to communicate amongst themselves with a complex auditory and visual system, made possible by their empathic abilities makes them....."
A small leather ball bounced off of the table and hit her in the shoulder. She picked it up and looked at it, recognising it almost immediately. It was a training tool for the cubs, to increase their hand to claw co-ordination. When she first saw a group of them batting the ball around between them she was intrigued. Now she seemed to be hit by one or more most evenings when she came in. Recognising where it came from she threw it back.
"... their empathic abilities makes them work well in a small pack, and on the battlefield I have no doubt they would be very dangerous. I hope I do not have occasion to see this. Even with isolated villages on the planet they have shown a level of connectedness between each other that is astounding. I may have a visit from the Inquisiton for saying so, but there is much about the Dewiek that I have found to admire...."
The ball flew at her again and she caught it in her off hand while continuing.
".... but also much that is hard to live with. A full report will be made by evensong tomorrow. Sister Samantha, Avoir Mission."

She closed the computers top and threw the ball as hard as she could, hitting the offender on the back of the head. The pack, as one, turned to her. Keeping eye contact she drained her beer and watched as three of them came over to her, from the look of them, older cubs. One of them picked up the table and casually threw it aside. A yelp from the corner was met with a low growling from the rest of the young pack. The one she had hit on the head with the ball stood infront of her. Even as an older cub he was still two meters tall and had all the tools inbuilt that were needed to kill her with one well aimed swipe of his paw. He pushed her in her chair and sniffed several times.
"Why are you here? This is not a human place. This is a place for warriors, for the Dewiek!"
There were howls of agreement, literally.
"You are not wanted here, with your stupid robes and questions and arrogance. Your softness offends me, and your hairless bodies are revolting. And that singing you do that is murder on the ears and the mumbling under your breath. Pah! All humans are good for is being hunted! And our warfleets have done that, hunted humans."
The cub stood up and howled long and spread his arms wide.
"We have heard the tales of our brothers, fighting humans, killing humans, laying waste to them, scattering them like cattle before the howl of the pack."
"Oh really? I heard about the Dewiek fleets being decimated, hunted down and destroyed. Maybe your stories are just that, stories, made up to tell those who cannot fight what the real Dewiek do."
"You humans cannot fight properly, you fight from distance instead of getting up close. Even the lowliest of us here has more honour than you, hairless worm of the noisy god."
Samantha stood up and put her hands on her hips, squaring off against the cub.
"What do you know of honour, you.... a cub... barely out of the nest. You insult my God, impugn my honour and stand here with a pack to support you knowing full well that I can't do anything about it. You are nothing but a spoilt child, a drunken lout and a coward!"
The silence in the bar became apparent at that time as she looked up at the dewiek before her, the scent of him filled her nostrils, the sound of his breathing, the smell of his hot cloying breath near overwhelming. At that instant, she knew, she would never leave this planet. And she smiled.

Because of the silence, the slap when it came was heard by everyone. Stools were pushed aside as wolves stood up. Behind her, her two companions stood up as well. The tension in the atmosphere was palpable.
"So, human, what are you going to do now?" The cub growled at her.
"Liam, go and get two large beers ready. Now."
He scurried off to the bar and she pulled a low stool around and stood on it and looked at him, eye to eye.
"We of the Brotherhood are peaceful. We spend our days in pious contemplation, in study and forever looking for the word of God. The True One tells us to turn the other cheek," she turned her unslapped cheek towards him," So why don't you hit me again? Or are you not man enough to do it?"

The dewiek pulled his arm around to slap her, an evil wolfish grin on his face. As his arm came around she kicked him, hard in the groin, following up with a punch to his head that stunned him and then bodily leapt on him. They crashed to the floor, scattering patrons and she straddled his chest, one hand holding her long dagger from her belt and at his throat, her eyes looking directly into his.
"While I have your attention I will tell you a story. It is a story of honour and mutual trust. When your great Elder Gath Edhoras stumbled upon a lost group of survivors from a flagritz attack he offered them a choice. Duel him with honour, fight him one on one and if any survived they would be rescued and returned to safety. If he died, then there would be no recriminations. And so my people, people from my sect dueled him, and one by one they died until one finally killed him, after he had been wounded. He died the way all Dewiek wish to die, in combat, with the blood of the enemy on your claws, with honour and remembered by his enemy as a true warrior and a hero. I know that under usual conditions if I fought you, I would die because I am simply not strong enough to fight you, but I would do so and die, and I would die well!"
She slammed the knife into the floor next to his head.
"Liam! Beers! Now!"
She took one and drank it, drinking much, but splashing a lot down her front, throwing the glass away when she had finished and taking the second, pouring it into the mouth of the Dewiek beneath her. Standing up she walked over to the bar and handed the bartender her credit chit and turned to the assembled Dewiek, including the cub who had made it to his feet, wiping his mouth.
"We are here to drink and celebrate! I celebrate my God and you celebrate the hunt and we both worship to the best of our abilities! So let us drink and howl at the moon for tomorrow we may all be dead!"
The dewiek walked up to her and stood infront of her. She looked up at him and waited for the blow. Softly and gently he picked her up and sat her on the bar and looked her in the eye.
"I have never seen a human who could stand up to a dewiek, in his own bar with his pack behind him and knock him down."
"Your pack is strong, but my pack is stronger. My pack is my faith and my belief in the True One. My faith gives me the strength to face down a fearsome Dewiek and his pack. On his home turf. All of my followers would do the same. But enough of that. Now show me what it is to be Dewiek, let us drink and fight and I'll run with your pack! I swear on the Bible of the True One I will spend a month with you and I will see what it means to be Dewiek!"
The Dewiek grinned and laughed at her and slapped her shoulder so hard she moved. He threw his head back and howled, his pack howled. Sitting on the bar, in a Dewiek tavern, covered in beer but with a grin on her face Sister Samantha threw back her head and howled.

A few days later Samantha awoke slowly, dull pain radiating from her, dulled by powerful drink. Looking around she found herself in what looked to be a back alley in the starbase, partially buried under a pile of snoring Dewiek. Feeling around gently she groaned in pain in her side, guessing a couple of broken ribs and her tongue found a gap in her teeth that wasn't there before. Looking down she noticed her robes were in tatters, but covered, mostly, what needed to be covered. Pulling her right arm around she noticed the rune shaped scars on her arm, Dewiek equivalent of tattoos. With no small amount of pride she read what they said. Little Howl.

As she pulled herself from the pile other Dewiek began waking up and pulling themselve together. Facial hair matted with drool and blood, other smells of a not so nice nature. As she stretched and leant against a wall some of the Dewiek congratulated her for keeping up with the run, though they didn't explain what the run was. As some of them departed the majority started to gravitate towards the starport, Sister Samantha went with them, looking, as they eloquently put it, for more of the tooth of the shark that bit them.

As they stepped out into the sunlight of one of the main streets and located a tavern Sam mused, it would be a long month, but that was the nature of the beast.

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