Chapter 1: The MurdersEdit
Cursed one. Inferior. Malcadh.
The wolf's head throbbed where she had received her last snap from a fellow member of her own pack. There was no blood, but it hurt. It always hurt. Aelis could see the scarlet droplets hit the ground in her mind's eye every time her heart was smashed and her dreams crippled. All of this abuse because of a tail. Sometimes she hated herself for it, but Aelis knew that there was no way to make her short, half-tail any more acceptable.
She bedded down, alone and cast out from the pack like she was every night. Her light brown and gray coat dirty from a long day and her green eyes dulled with her sadness. The cold, crescent moon sailed over her. Would it even care if she perished tonight, hidden in her den for her pack to find her. Would they even care? Her carvings were horrid. She had no talent. Aelis, the gnaw wolf who could not gnaw.
Why? The question pounded in her head with the slivers of pain. It had entered her head shortly after joining the Snow Cries pack of the MacDonegal clan and never left.
"Why am I the 'cursed one'?" she growled, frustrated with herself. "Why should I even have a place in a pack when I can't even gnaw right?"
You could be more, she thought to herself with a shiver. Horrible, horrible thoughts started to dance in her head. Shaking her coat, the she-wolf tried to bat them aside. Why should you have to be the gnaw wolf, the lower one? They are useless! You could lead your own pack, your own clan! Why should they shun you for the curse of your mother?
Aelis shook her head. "No...where would I go? I haven't got any pack or clan to follow me. No one would let a gnaw wolf lead."
A memory slipped into the swirling squall that raged in her mind. A cold, fast wind blowing through her fur. Alone on the top of the hill, she pressed herself to the ground. The wolf who was not her mother had brought her here. She was terrified, and she was confused.
And there, in the windy night, Aelis discovered how to hate.
She hated that wolf, hated the night, and hated the way the air yanked her fur. Hot and fierce, the new feeling coursed through her, lighting the fire in her heart. It never died. It grew in her still today, six years after being abandoned by her kind. She did her best to hide it from herself, tried to replace it with determination or respect. She hated her pack. She hated herself for that. She hated herself for hating everything about her own culture and world.
It simply made no sense. Why should she, who ran with the hunting byrrgis, be treated as if she had done the least? Why should the other wolves have a right to kick and claw her for something she could never have controlled? Why should she, a powerful and beautiful dire wolf of immense strength and skill, be forced to pursue gnawing as her one job in life?
The sound of steps outside made Aelis's ears flick up. She glanced outside.
Her heart became frozen the second she saw what was going on. Neala, the McDonegal Obea, slowly trudged through the snow before Aelis. Grasped in her strong jaws was a gray malcadh pup. The cursed wolf did not fight as Aelis had against the she-wolf who was carrying him to his death. He cried a few times, obviously able to tell he was no longer with his mother. The sight made Aelis's fur start to rise. What was this little pup's chance of survival? Aelis guessed he had been born early, as he was much smaller than any pup should be and didn't seem to have anything else wrong with him.
She slunk back and buried her head under her paws. Sorrow, hate, and anger poured in faster than she could tell them apart.
The great Order, this power that guided them, Aelis would never be able to comprehend its purpose. Its beauty and elegance went unnoticed by the poor, mistreated underling, and the only thing she could think of was how unfair and cruel it was.
Her hatred became so strong it was painful, forcing its way out of her throat in a snarl.
The Dim World claimed Aelis as she rose and walked stiffly from her den. Her malformed tail wagged. It was time to make someone, anyone, pay for the lives of the pups who had died at their tummfraws without even seeing the day.
Neala looked up, certain she had heard the steps of something else as heavy as a wolf. She'd found a large, flat boulder to place the pup on. Hopefully a predator would come soon, and the innocent malcadh would be dispatched without too much trouble or pain. Her heart had long since stopped aching when she placed the young ones where they would probably meet their deaths. The clan was much better off without the misfits. What a great service she was doing to everyone in the Beyond.
It was right. It just had to happen.
She'd never wanted pups. When Neala had finally decided she was infertile, she didn't mourn about it for very long. Nothing wrong with being that way. Nothing wrong with being different. The wrongness of that thought dawned on her, and she worked to convince herself otherwise.
I have a purpose. The gnaw wolves have a purpose.
"Be calm, now," she murmured softly to the pup as it squirmed once. The gray and white wolf turned to leave, eyes darting around one more time. The tiny wolf behind her gave a loud shriek, the loudest cry it had given during the whole trip. Neala didn't know why, but her limbs moved for a few moments as if she had no control over them. She nudged the unknowing thing gently. Her green eyes stared down at its unopened ones, and the Obea heaved a great sigh.
Neala's head whipped back. She inhaled the sharp scent of another wolf before spotting the brown-coated she-wolf behind her. Her stubby tail held unimpressively high, the wolf stalked toward Neala with her ears pinned. "Wouldn't want to let your emotions get in the way of your duty," she sneered, sarcasm coating her voice like poisonous spikes.
Neala took a step back, now standing over the pup. "Aelis?" she gasped, recognizing the gnaw wolf.
Aelis nodded her head toward the malcadh. "So, Obea," she snarled. She paced left, her hackles raised and her eyes boring into Neala's. "Do you still feel it? The guilt, the shame? Does it still hurt to steal away the lives of these innocent pups?" She came closer and closer to Neala, causing the gray she-wolf to back up even more.
She's gone cag mag! Neala thought in horror. "It's my duty," she growled back. Her shoulders shifted as she prepared for a fight. Aelis was much younger than her; the fresher she-wolf would have a better chance at winning. That didn't mean Neala wouldn't be able to defend herself until someone could come and help, though. "We need the Obea. It is part of our way."
Heart and eyes blazing, Aelis bellowed in a haggish howl, "Our way is a lie!"
A white flash of pain blinded Neala as Aelis struck. Fast as the wind of a storm, the gnaw wolf lunged forward mid-howl. Her yellowed teeth tore through the wolf's fur and flesh, sinking first into her shoulder and then into her neck. Neala let out a long, terrified yelp that could only be called a scream as Aelis shifted her weight and slammed her into the hard rock. Blood flowed into the mouth of the tan rebel, droplets of red finding their way into her throat. Aelis welcomed the salty taste. So much fresher than an old, carving-filled bone.
Neala twisted and struggled. Finally, both of her paws slammed into Aelis's breast and wrenched the gnaw wolf off of her. The Obea jerked herself back. Her paws crunched on snow stained by her own blood as she tried desperately to escape. Aelis flicked out her tongue and bared her canines. Her head held at the height of Neala's, she paced a half-circle around her. The fear in Neala's body language brought an eerie pleasure to her. At last, someone was suffering for what had happened. Justice had come at last.
Neala's heart pounded. She came to her senses, and, realizing what had to be done, she threw back her head and howled for help. Weakness flooded her limbs from bloodloss. She was scared of looking at what Aelis had done to her neck.
"You think they'll help you?" Aelis growled. She frowned and cocked her head in false sympathy. "They shun you! You are the one who steals away their beloved pups."
Fear started to pulse through Aelis. What she had said was a lie, and Neala knew this. The gnaw wolf knew she had to act fast.
Aelis twisted her body as she leaped at Neala. Her paws slammed into the Obea's ribcage as Neala turned much too slowly. Their muzzles met in ferocious smacks and snaps, blood splattering across both of their faces. Aelis howled when Neala's jaws latched onto the side of her face and twisted. Her head was immersed in the fire of the pain so much that she did not feel the sticky, hot feeling of blood starting to soak through her chin and cheek. Aelis snarled again and kicked Neala in the hindquarters. The pain in her head faded only a little when Neala released her and rolled onto her feet.
Shrieking in rage, Aelis bolted in again. Neala was prepared this time. The old she-wolf kept all four feet on the ground and slashed at Aelis's wound. She backed away from Neala, her black lips writhing, head slightly tilted, and young body shivering with eagerness. A second time, she went head first for Neala. Aelis didn't seem to care about how much blood Neala drew this time, though. The more the Obea kicked and grabbed at Aelis, the more frenzied she became. Aelis threw all of her ninety seven pounds into Neala's side and knocked her opponent to the ground.
A sickening crack slammed into Neala's thoughts with the force of a grizzly bear. Neala had been so occupied with fighting off Aelis's attacks that she hadn't noticed they had battled back toward the tummfraw of the malcadh. Aelis didn't seem to have been paying attention either. She recoiled at the sound of bone splintering and a pup shrieking for the last time.
Aelis's stance shifted. "No..."
Sensing the change in the wolf's heart. Neala rose and stumbled away from the dead pup. Blood ran down her back. Pup blood, innocent blood, blood that was not meant to be spilled. The Obea whimpered and looked up at Aelis. Strangely, the brown wolf had not tried to attack. Her movements stiff with shock, Aelis stepped up to the broken body. She sank to her knees. Clarity started to come to her death-crazed eyes.
Shaking uncontrollably, Neala glanced from the malcadh to Aelis, then back to the pup. Its spine had been crushed. Still and cold in the night, the corpse lay. Never to see the sun. Never to live as Aelis and Neala had. Neala took a tentative step away from Aelis. "Aelis -" she started to say.
Aelis let out a murderous snarl of pure hatred. Hatred. It exploded within her like a volcano, cutting off her air and burning her heart. Hatred! Regret and shame no longer reigned her in. Nothing could stop her, and nothing did.
Neala's final cry rang out through the crisp air, shattering it as the pup's cry had. She didn't stand a chance against Aelis's wild desire to kill. Aelis launched herself at her foe and, in one swift and fatal move, latched herself high on Neala's neck, dragged her head and chest to the ground, and adjusted her hold so there could be no escape. Neala's paws flew as she grappled for freedom. Her moves became more and more desperate, losing all precision as her mind became more and more clouded with pain. No, no, no! Please, Lupus! Please help me! Someone help me...someone help...help...I c-can't...
When Aelis released her iron grip, the Obea fell to the ground, silent.
"What have you done, you despicable vyrrwolf?!"
Aelis raised her head. A black he-wolf stepped out of the trees' shadows, his hackles bristling and emerald eyes glowing with fury. Faking confusion, Aelis tilted her head and licked some of her own blood from her muzzle. "I've simply rid the Beyond of this disgusting killer, packer."
"They're coming," Cluney, the night-colored male wolf, growled. "The Snow Cries pack will punish you for their deaths." He pointed toward the malcadh and Obea with his tail.
It took a moment for Aelis to reply. "They won't get here in time," she said quietly.
Cluney lunged forward, but Aelis charged at the same time. The skilled black wolf dodged her first snap and locked his teeth onto the back of her neck. Aelis rolled, forcing him to release her and go for her stomach instead. She screamed in pain as her belly was ripped open by Cluney's deft slashes. Her forepaws both hit his head at the same time, giving her blow more force than needed to throw him off of her. Spots invaded Cluney's vision. In the moments it took him to regain his footing, Aelis darted in and ripped her canines down his face.
Acting clumsily from surprise, Cluney jumped back with a yelp. His left ear was now torn and a long gash ran down the left side of his face. Snarling, he retaliated by rearing up on his hind legs and falling down onto Aelis when she tried to grab his throat. Aelis writhed underneath him until their bellies brushed and started kicking at his hind quarters. Cluney stepped to the side to let her up. He dove back toward Aelis as she started to rise, clamping his jaws around her foreleg. He bit down as hard as he could, nearly breaking her bone. Aelis clawed him in the eyes before he could snap it. The pain from her wounds was starting to take over. She narrowed her pale green eyes and concentrated on winning the fight.
Aelis yelped loudly, pretending her leg was now completely unusable. Like a mother bird faking an injured wing, she slumped down on one side, ears drooping, and whined. Cluney smacked her hard in the ribs with his left paw several times. He made no move to kill her yet. Despite how much he wanted to tear the traitor wolf's throat out, it was the duty of the pack to punish the murderer of a cursed pup with a slow, painful death. True fear started to show in Aelis's eyes as she, too, saw what would happen if she were caught.
Cluney leaned forward to strike his next blow, just what Aelis had been waiting for. She unsteadily launched herself off of her hind legs. Cluney threw back his weight and, a split second before Aelis struck, raised his paws in time to meet hers. Barking madly, Aelis wrestled his head and shoulders down after much kicking and snapping. Cluney's eyes widened when he saw. "Savage!" he roared. He struggled up.
Aelis danced left, cruel light shining from the green suns focused on Cluney. She dodged a low bite. Rearing once more, both of Aelis's forepaws crashed down onto Cluney's spine and neck. He rolled at the last moment, trying harder than he had at anything before to change his fate. The familiar sound from earlier in the night echoed in Aelis's ears: the cracking of bone coupled with a dying cry of pain.
And Aelis stood alone in the crimson snow. Her coat was painted with the beautiful substance of fire and life. Her once pitiful tail was raised with pride. The victorious lord of a victorious pack, she growled a curse to the stars she once worshipped.
Paw-steps. Howls. Aelis let out a low snarl. The Snow Cries pack would soon arrive and find a packer, Obea, and malcadh dead."My order! My way!" Aelis barked in a voice high with glee. "I am the Lupus, chieftain of my clan! FREE!"
Her leg was wounded badly, but she still managed to run. Loping at top speed, Aelis fled the scene of the three kills. The Outermost...yes. That was the only place she could go now. They wouldn't be able to follow her there. Closing her eyes as she continued running, Aelis remembered what she'd heard about the place. Disorderly and cruel. There are no packs, no ranks, no clans. Blood and death is the law there. There is no Lupus and no song, just mindless killing and savagery.
A savage, Cluney had called her. Mindless killing and savagery.
The Outermost, Aelis thought. It would be the perfect place for a wolf like her, prepared for the honest world and the justice of solitude.
"Savage!" Aelis yelped. "Yes, I am savage! I am the killer, savage and free, and I will never submit again!"
Her former pack drew closer and closer, yapping and bellowing for vengeance. The trail of blood Aelis left with every stride worried her at first. For a few heartbeats, the she-wolf actually wondered if she would be able to make it out of their land. What have I done? she thought. She fought it off quickly. "It had to be done. I avenged them. It was fair." Shaking her head, she pushed herself harder.
They did not catch her. As Aelis had predicted, the Beyond wolves, of civilized and orderly pasts, did not dare to stray very far into the loveless, dark forests of the Outermost. Those who stayed behind to search for the renegade gnaw wolf came back wounded by the savage Outclanners who lurked in the wretched place. Most Snow Cries wolves believed she had committed suicide by running into the Outermost. After all, how could a wolf raised with the ways of the Beyond survive a day among the cruel creatures of even greater evil than herself?
"I am the killer, savage and free," Aelis muttered.
Dim one. Savage. Outclanner.
Chapter 2: SavageEdit
Is it possible for the dawn to come and a world to still remain lightless?
Maybe. Aelis certainly thought so. The sun came up, smiling, joyful, and the hearts of the Outclanners stayed as black as night. Savagery was the only way to survive in Aelis's world. Killing and cannibalism was expected. It was needed. The smell of death had been infused in her nose, in her brain, since the first kill she had made simply for the fun of it. It haunted her no more, for its presence meant only a new meal for the starving wolf, no matter who it was coming from.
Aelis looked around eagerly. Beside her stood two more wolves, a small, ragged female with bloody silver fur, and a tall, strong male whose coat had once been a soft creamy color (it was now hard to tell with how much of it was dirty or missing). Like Aelis, both were covered in the ugly scars a wolf is given from such a brutal lifestyle. Esewl, the she-wolf, had a very prominent tear running all the way from her forehead to her nose, which was split at the top. The cream wolf, Vern, had most of his fur torn off from fights.
All three of them paced around their dying prey. Aelis had formed a temporary alliance with three wolves: Esewl, Vern, and a white he-wolf named Blemir. After Vern and Aelis killed Blemir a year ago, the remaining trio had stuck together for the most part. The rule had been established soon after the death of their young companion: Don't kill the other two. Don't leave the other two. Don't get attached to the other two.
A young caribou lay with three legs broken before them. It kept crying out for its mother. Aelis sneered at the petty beast. Hadn't the stupid thing realized that its kind had abandoned it by now? It didn't even deserve to live. She could have killed the caribou long ago. Perhaps they were just trying to make sure it could not hurt them when they went in a final time, but there was nothing that could replace the thrill Aelis now felt when she got to kill, when she got to sink her yellowed fangs into something that bled. The life of an Outclanner had taken its toll on her. She had nothing else to look forward to but the confirmation of her power. I am strong and savage and free. Here is the proof. Look, you foolish clan wolves! Look what a gnaw wolf can do without you.
"This is boring," Esewl snarled. Her pale, nearly yellow, green eyes darted from Aelis to Vern, searching for an answer without the question ever leaving her mouth. Vern gave her a small, tense nod. Aelis merely snarled and danced closer to the caribou. The three outclanners surged forward at the same time, each one of them knowing exactly what to do to complete the job.
Esewl sank her broken fangs into the neck. Vern seized the back. Aelis went for the hind legs. Between them, the young, tender animal was literally torn apart in the most savage method of killing prey. They required no byrrgis and wouldn't have known how to form one anyway. Savage was their way and savage was the way they brought others down with them. Aelis's heart thumped wildly as she lifted her head up. Like the other two, her muzzle was drenched in deep crimson. The caribou screamed and kicked as long as it could, but however painful the kill was, at the very least, it was also fast compared to the snaps and torture the calf had endured.
Aelis let out a little growl of pleasure. Killings always made her giddy for more of the fights that outcasts learned to live for. Her green eyes darted from Esewl to Vern. They were also excited, jumping and snarling with delight. Esewl seemed more grateful, already eating and standing protectively over her portion. Aelis was disappointed. Vern trembled with elation, but, like Esewl, he settled down quicker than Aelis and started to dig into the fresh, warm meat.
After they had finished their meal, eating as much as they could and leaving only a few scraps among the bones, they rose and prepared to move on. Vern and Esewl pranced across the bloody ground and raised their heads to howl in victory. Their "songs" were more of drawn-out screams, tearing through the sad air with the ferocity of hunting eagles. They had no clear meaning and no purpose other then to announce that something had happened, as no outclanner attempted to distinguish the good howls from the bad. Aelis paced a few feet before sitting quietly to listen to the twisted music of her companions.
Vern lowered his muzzle and stared at her. "Come on, Aelis," he said in his scratched up voice. "Howl with us this time."
Anger came in a painful flash of red. Aelis simply bared her teeth at him. Backing away, she barked a few times. "There," she snarled. Her body language spoke so clearly of her refusal to howl or explain that Vern gave up on getting her to join them.
The truth was that Aelis hadn't howled since the first week she had been an outclanner. How long ago had that been? A year? Two? Aelis was an outclanner made, not born, and so her howls were somehow made differently than those of the others. When the wolves around her had let out shrieks and angry cries like those of pups, from Aelis's throat came the melodious song of a wolf of the Beyond. Aelis did not want to be singled out from them. Even more than that, she did not want any of the clan wolves hear one of their own in the Outermost. Ever since then, Aelis had silenced her howl. Now she wondered if she could even remember how to sing if she wanted to.
Esewl sniffed the air. Her hackles rose. "More wolves that way. Large group. They're not fighting." She nodded her torn up nose toward the east.
Vern shifted with discomfort. He looked toward Aelis again. "Do we attack them?" Born into the dark world, Vern and Esewl often turned to Aelis stupidly. Aelis wanted to scowl at them and tell them that if they used their own heads they would be able to figure something out. This did, however, give Aelis a better chance at being spared if they turned to cannibalizing one another when no food was available.
A storm of emotions brewed in Aelis's head. She wanted to go and grapple for her life with these strange wolves. She wanted the fire to return to her blood, for her heart to sing with desire to kill, and for her blank mind to be thrown back into the frenzy that made her feel alive. Despite this, reason won. Aelis took in a whiff and immediately knew the rout was at least six wolves strong. Unusually large, they would not have many problems taking out one that was two times as small. "No," Aelis replied reluctantly. "Let's find a shelter. We can steal the dens from the wolves we saw a few days ago."
Vern nodded in agreement with her change of plans. He obediently started to trot ahead of them. No submission was required, a rule Aelis loved more than life itself. She wasn't a lord or leader here. Just "the smart one" who was equal to every other savage. Esewl followed with Aelis in the back. They all readied themselves for another fight; the new day of bloodshed had just begun.
"They're gone." Vern checked the closest of the small caves formed by the boulders. Faint streaks of red remained on the sides, and the smell of death wafted around them. Aelis jogged up to another of them and peered in. Wolves and life had been in this very place quite recently. The attack must have happened very recently.
She slowly relaxed and wagged her puff of a tail pleasantly. "Must have been a battle a day ago. They weren't all killed." Her senses started to return to normal when her body realized there would be no fight for a safe den. "I'll check around. They might return."
Vern's throat issued a deep growl. Huffing, he started to nose around the blood-salted ground, antsy for another thing to do. Aelis could have pitied him, an outclanner without any simple goal to run after. Survival. Yes, that must be what I'm hoping for. What else could be more important when I have this freedom to live for. "Esewl?" she barked, swinging her head about in search of the slim she-wolf.
A loud shriek pierced the air.
"No," Esewl said with cruel delight, backing away from one of the dens on the other side of the boulders. "They weren't all killed."