January 12, 2020

Skinwalkers

NOTE: I'm still kind of in an emotional bind, so things are still stalled. Sorry! Here's something I wrote way back when - 2000ish. Give or take a couple years. The concept was a werewolf political drama with lots and lots of juicy intrigue. I was living in DC at the time, so you can guess where the themes and ideas came from. In any case, I still think about this story from time to time. I think I will adapt it into an IF one day. Apologies for any mistakes in the text - I haven't looked at it in close to 20 years. It has no doubt aged poorly as well. As a final note, this is not a complete work. Rather it is just the opening hooks for the major factions and their main characters.


New York City - June
She walked in from the pouring rain, pulled her hair from her face, and tied it back behind her.  A tiny bell tinkled as the door shut, and introduced her to the rest of the bar. No one seemed to care.  The bar was melancholy; it was a Monday night, and it was in the middle of a downpour – a combination nobody was interested in.  Old blues music wafted through the air, which did not help the mood in the slightest. A man in the corner coughed lightly before he stood, finished off his drink, threw some bills onto the bar, and proceeded to walk outside.  A single, distant peal of thunder broke the dim atmosphere, but only for that moment. Someone grunted. She half walked, half stalked down the bar, sniffing at the air, and stopped at a young man seated in the corner. She pulled up a chair, sat down with him, and motioned for the bartender.  Then she spoke.
"Haven't seen you in years, Jack.  How's the leg?"
"Terrible, as usual.  I'm not even going to ask about your wounds."
She turned to the bartender, and before he could speak, ordered her drink.  Jack toyed with the lip of his glass for a while, making a slight hum with the friction of his finger on the glass.  In irritation, she grabbed his hand, and stopped him from toying with it.
"What do you want?" She snarled.
He pulled his hand back, and showed her the clan gesture of peace.  She relaxed, and he began to speak. "It has begun, Dinah."
"What?  Begun? When?  Why was I not told by the council?"
"Calm down: your hair is standing.  Listen, the council has not yet made an official statement.  But I heard through my sources that the Wurdalkin have begun to move."
"This isn't good.  It is just them so far, yes?"
"Not quite.  The Bodark and the Varulv won't be far behind."
"Why now?  We were so close..." She rolled her glass in her palms.
"They tire of the wait.  It's been centuries now, and still nothing has come of these talks.  I can't blame the way they feel. If I were them, I would have acted the same, except perhaps half a century ago."
"You take their side?"  She bared her teeth slightly.
"I take no sides.  You of all of them know my role best."
She shrank back into her seat, and after a moment, she sprang back towards him.  She sniffed at him slightly. "Wait a second. You're planning something! I can smell the secrecy oozing from you!"
"I might have an idea.  It is too early to divulge to you just yet."  He tapped his lower lip in contemplation before continuing.  "Speak of this to no one. I may need you later on for something."
"What makes you think..."
"You are my predecessor.  You did this job for hundreds of years.  Don't tell me that you would do any different in my position, nor that you wouldn't help even in the slightest."
She nodded, and slammed back the rest of her drink.
"So what should I do, then?"
He tipped the rest of his drink into his mouth, ordered another, and with a completely calm tone, told her.
"Nothing.  Yet.”


~@~


The Hidden Navajo - Arizona - Ten days later
"Your people are afraid of me, Hawk.  Don't they know that I'm not a Skinwalker?"
"That is the problem, my friend," said a voice in the shadow of a small home.  "You are not a Skinwalker."
Hawk stepped out of the shadow holding a barely lit cigarette between his fingers.  He lightly brushed some of his long, graying hair back behind one of his ears, and took a limp drag from his slowly dying cigarette.  The ash fell to the floor, which he rubbed into the floor with his boot. He noticed Jack observing him, and shrugged.
"I thought that..." Jack continued, eyebrow furled.
"Never assume," Hawk promptly replied.  "The Skinwalkers have formed peace ever since the days of 'The Long Walk'.  We are all tired of the pain and the blood, especially the skinwalkers. They mostly hunt and stalk white men who have little care for our kind."  Hawk stifled a chortle.
"Would never have imagined.”  He pondered for a moment before adding: “The peace part, not the 'white man' part."  Both men grinned.
"Coffee?"
Jack nodded.  "Black. One teaspoon sugar.  Thanks."
Hawk left the room and ambled into the kitchen.  Jack leaned back and drank in the room. It was small, a little dusty, but quiet.  Navajo art adorned various niches and walls. A small peyote plant occupied the corner, on a table.  It was ugly as hell, but its smoke could make the rest of the world beautiful. The coffee table held an assortment of things: magazines, tins and containers of various tobacco flavors, pipes to accompany the tins, a few pencils and some paper, an ashtray made from clay with the words “Happy Birthday, Dad” painted on it, a plate with some crumbs on it, a remote control without batteries, and a small, perfectly cubed stone with an engraving on it.  Jack had never seen anything like it, and he leaned forward slightly to take a better look. The engraving seemed to shimmer slightly. Jack shook it off, reasoned fatigue, and leaned back. There was a tiny color television set opposite the fireplace. The room as a whole was fairly ordinary. Smoke hung in a layer in the air, at waist height. Jack started to lightly tap a beat on his knee, the music circulating in his head, and heard only by him.
"Vivaldi's Andante.  Great song," he muttered to himself.
Hawk came back in holding a small tray with two mugs and a small, diary sized book.  
"Tell your neighbors," Jack began, "That they have great taste in music."
Hawk set the tray down, and slid Jack's coffee and the book his way.  
"Don't be nosy," Hawk replied.
Jack picked the mug up, sniffed at it before he sipped the coffee inside, and with his other hand, leafed through the book.  After a moment, he inhaled deeply.
"Written in French.  Smells very Eighteenth century.  What is it?"
"An old friend handed it to me long ago," said Hawk as he smiled slightly, as though reliving an old memory, and continued.  "She foresaw her own death, and wanted the account of her life preserved. I hand it now to you, in hopes that it may help you find what you are looking for"
Jack glanced down at it, and closed the book.  The inscription on the cover was badly faded, and only a few letters could be read.  Jack squinted at them.
Mo. C.nt.  .e G.v..d. n   
He shrugged.  He could figure it out later, after he read some of it.
"I'm honored, and I have a feeling that this will help out."
"Good.  Oh, and Jack, I heard something disturbing."  Hawk leaned forward in his seat, his face reflecting a feeling of foreboding.  Jack could only nod in response.
"I have heard, through various sources, that there's an amassing of sides in Scandinavia."
"I've heard it, as well."
"Well, that's not the final story."
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"Another clan is pulling the strings, apparently.  If that isn't enough, I've heard that clans all over the world have begun to concentrate their numbers: Wendigo, Nahual, and Kitsune, among others.  If I were you, I would go and find out. It may not be a place for a templar, but..."
"That is interesting, indeed.  As a matter of fact, I was going out there to investigate personally.  Unfortunately, I have a few loose ends to tie up on this side of the world."  Jack smiled at his own remark, and for a moment, felt like a human: egotistically mortal, frightfully frail.  He continued. "I need your sources, Hawk. I don't have enough."
"You can't talk to my sources.  Your kind does not understand the language of the wind."  
Jack smiled.  "Perhaps one day, I will."
"Perhaps."
Jack took another sip, and ran his fingers through his hair.  He scratched his head a little.
"I see you still have <Jack's dagger, name undecided>," Hawk noted.  "How long have you been wielding her now?"
"Coming up on two centuries.  I like her. Never lost her edge, and always been there when the occasional hunter decides to come for me at my weakest."  Jack chuckled to himself. "Wanna heft 'er?"
Hawk shrugged, and Jack drew the blade, which he offered handle first.  Hawk took it, and weighed it in his hands. A Spanish blacksmith created the blade in the nineteenth century.  The blacksmith studied in Japan for some time and learned the secrets of Japanese blade crafting. The hilt was made of black-tinted bone, and was perfectly carved for Jack's hands.  The guard was struck from the finest steel of the time, and had never garnished a scratch. The blade curved slightly, which denoted that it was more a slashing weapon than a stabbing weapon.  Elegant and graceful, yet powerfully quick. It was more than a blade; it was a work of art. Hawk turned it over a few times, swung and stabbed at the air, and admired the light that gleamed from it for a moment before returning it.
"It's a nice weapon."
"She's more than a weapon, my friend.  She's my only companion and most trusted confidante."  As Jack sheathed it, a nice metallic note echoed around them for a few seconds.
"Nice acoustics," Jack grinned.
After a while, they both lit up a pipe, and shared the flavor of a dream.


~@~


Grand Order of the Temple of Libra Nocturnus - Some Days Later
Jack slumped down onto his bed just after he closed the door.  He pulled the book, which Hawk had given him days prior, and dusted it off a little.  He flipped through the book very quickly a few times as though searching for hidden compartments.  After a moment, he turned it to the first page, and begun to read.


March 12th, 1764 - Near Avingon
My life is the loneliest of lives.  I am the First Templar of the Brotherhood of the Aurora.  The Grand Monk of the Brotherhood, Paverahn, deemed my first task to me.  I was to find all who were upper members of the 'Clan D'ombre et de Douleur', and exterminate them.  They had spread all over the southeastern countryside, and before long, had almost overrun half of France.  They were the first of the unsanctioned clans that emerged. It was their appearance in great packs that alarmed the others.  It was their actions that alarmed the humans. We were not going to destroy them until they had slashed and burned an entire village nearly fifty miles east of Marseille.  I would have gladly hunted them down then. Many years of debate delayed the hunt, and in that time, nearly a hundred of small towns all over France begun to disappear; too small for the watchful eye of the human royalty, and far too large for the comfort of the peasants.  I was ashamed of my people. I was a layman observing one such meeting, and in the middle of it all, with the throes of rage fueling me, I shouted out at them. I was surprised to find that they had listened. Within two days of that, they gave me office, and my quest.  
And now, I find the first of my prey.


March 13th, 1764 - Near Avingon
I killed the one, and I feel better.  She tried to shift in front of me, but I was the quicker one, and I tore her throat out.  I watched her bleed to death in the middle of the field in satisfaction. Soon after, some humans ran to help her, so I fled.  
I caught the scent of another to the south during my kill, so I think I will head towards Nimes tonight.


March 24th, 1764 – Near Nimes
I was correct in assessing an enemy here.  I slew her and her mate in the middle of the night not far from their home.  They barely put up a struggle, as though they had resigned to their fate long before I showed.  The female did not even bother to shift; if not for her scent, I would have mistaken her for a human.  When I had finished with the two, I searched their home and found human corpses too atrociously mutilated to mention.  The evidence of their brutality only fuels me the more.
These humans are wily – they have already caught on to me, and have begun to talk of organizing hunts.  Strangely, I feel honored, but I must tread carefully now.


Jack read a few more entries in the diary, passing some years, going back a few more, and through the passages, his hands trembled as revelation set in.  He knew who she was. All wolfen knew who she was: A legendary hero, much like Joan of Arc was to the French. She was The Beast of Gevaudan. Her enemies were children of malevolent shadows, and according to history, they were not easy prey.  But she endured and single-handedly killed thousands of them, and not once did she spill a single drop of human blood. Humanity recorded a hundred of her kills. Wolfen history counted nearly fifty times that many.  
Jack turned to the last page, and read her last couple of entries.  He shivered as he read.


September 24th, 1947 - Madrid
Despite my efforts, and the efforts of my brethren, they have overtaken us.  The enemy is clever and resourceful. The order has been slaughtered to mere handfuls, my companions wounded and exhausted, and our spirits have nearly been snuffed out.  Even I feel the strength ebbing from my body as the days count down. We are planning one last stand - our tiny force of fifty compared to their thousands. We will die, yes, but many more of them shall fall for each one of us killed.  My only fear is the passage of my quest, my life ambition, and my legacy. Our holy quest has been torn to ruin; the legacy of our efforts burnt to ashes, fading into twilight. They must be stopped, or all is lost. 


December 1st, 1947 - Braga
I fear that I am alone now.  All my comrades have fallen, and if not, they have hidden themselves.  A deep sorrow flows within me, and I can only hope that they have chosen the latter.  I have been cornered, and all my routes of escape cut off. I cannot stand cowardly actions, but I must see my offspring one last time, and pass on my life-journal to a trusted friend.  I have now killed four thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two of them since the beginning, yet still they grow. My fears have begun to take shape, and I fear that my work has only slowed them all these centuries.  Unchecked, they have the possibility of controlling the world, which is perhaps, their goal. I must stop writing in my journal, for all my energy must be spent upon fleeing. This is goodbye, I suppose. I hope that my memory shall not be forgotten, nor my mission be unfulfilled.  Whomsoever reads this diary, my hopes fall on you. You cannot fail the clans of Luna now.


Passion, Sacrifice, and Hope,
Shi Vental in the tongue of the Wolfen, Celeste in the tongue of the Humans


As Jack read the last passage, a note was slid underneath the door.  He jumped up and sniffed at the air. Nothing. He picked up the note and read it, eyes growing wider as he read.  
"The offspring," he muttered, "have gone missing in Orleans."
He slammed the door open, but nobody awaited him on the other side.  He entered back into his room, and sifted through a box of papers. He pulled a small binder out, leafed through it quickly, and shoved it in his pack.  He stood and ran out to find his answers in Orleans, diary in hand.


~@~


Lair of the Clan D'ombre et de Douleur - Brussels
"Gentlemen and women," began a tall, cloaked figure.  "It seems that we have a new enemy."
Murmurs filled the room.
The tall figure coughed for silence, and continued.  "He is Reis Shannar, son of Gurreth Farren. He is a templar of the balance.  Do not be deceived by his title and post. He will be a formidable enemy. He has hunted, and killed, some of the most powerful of wolfen in the last century."
More murmurs ensued.  A few leaned in closer, ears twitching.
He let it sink in for a moment before he spoke again.  "Who amongst us will partake of the ten'arangar, the assassination, the neutralization, of this very strong threat?"
Within moments, one stood.  He was tall and lean, and his movements were graceful, almost beautiful.  His face bore a grim expression, and his hand fell to the pommel of his dagger.  Dark brown hair flowed behind him as his penetrating golden eyes scanned the room.  It was as though his gaze commanded the others to stay seated. Under the command of his eyes, none else dared to stand.  He exuded an aura of fear, and it worked beautifully. They all feared him, save the cloaked figure, whom all had feared even more.
"Ah, Tivarr, so good to see you in a happy mood."  The cloaked one was the only man to chuckle.
"So," he continued, "The terror of Bern has decided to make a little trip, eh?"
Tivarr offered no response, but the corner of his mouth turned upwards in a display of malevolent pleasure.  The cloaked one smiled.
"There is no one more capable than yourself.  I am pleased, brother shade. When you return, a new position awaits you."
Tivarr nodded.  "I shall not fail you, Berandor."  Tivarr turned and walked out the hall doors.
One of the cloaked man's aides leaned in towards him and whispered.
"He spoke your name out loud, my lord.  Shall we punish him?"
"Do not be foolish," Berandor replied quietly.  "That man is nearly untouchable. Plus, I find no offense.  He is, perhaps, the only wolfen worthy enough to use my name.  As I had stated, no other man down there could perform this task with success."
"What if he fails, or worse, crosses us, my lord?"
"If that time comes, then I shall take care of the situation personally."
Berandor smiled, and the aide slunk away in utter fear.  It was not a smile of simple pleasure. It was the kind of smile of madness, brutality, and indifference combined; the kind of smile that some inquisitors wore after a successful 'confession'.  The smile in itself was only half the reason the others feared him. The other half was because of what he did prior to creating it. Many rumors had surfaced about the cruelty and darkness of Berandor's soul.  Many of the rumors were true, and the only ones that weren't, had depicted him in a forgiving or light-hearted manner. A popular story about their Grand Shade was one that was set in the slow French summer of 1672:
“Berandor had just emerged from his rite of passage not more than a few days before, and was eager to show his talents to the Clan.  The Grand Shade of the time was not just suspicious of his intent, but due to his perfect performance in his passage, was fearful of him.  Thus Berandor was sent to Spain to recruit more members for the Clan in hopes that his sojourn would take years, and might soften his aggressive skills.  Berandor had seen through the ruse, but bit his lip and followed his task. To the Grand Shade’s chagrin, he returned not more than three months later with skillful and intelligent shapeshifters willing to join the Clan.  For two years, the Shade kept giving Berandor menial tasks, all the while, Berandor followed without a complaint. One day, the Shade felt as though Berandor was ridiculing, or dishonoring him through his actions. He ordered a Ten’arangar with Berandor as his mark.  It failed. Feeling cheated and betrayed, Berandor faced the Shade with the head of his assassin dangling from his fist, and challenged him. Although it was a long fight, Berandor was still relatively inexperienced, and was defeated. As he fell unconscious, the Grand Shade banished him to Russia.  Berandor was shipped off on that day. A few years passed without word from Berandor, and the Shade was felt safe with the knowledge that perhaps Berandor had died in the extreme and unforgiving cold of Siberia. His rest was only momentary, as one day, in the middle of a small celebration regarding the Clan’s growth; the Shade was called out again.   This time, the challenge was not for justice, but for vengeance. The Shade accepted a little foolishly, not knowing who his enemy was, and drank more from his cup. Moments later, Berandor emerged from the shadow, and the Shade very nearly choked. Berandor was easily twice as large as he used to be, looked physically and mentally seasoned, and his fighting abilities well honed.  He then told them all that he would only fight if the Shade were fully capable, and would wait until he had sobered up. Berandor, without sleeping a wink, waited nearly a day until the Shade awoke. Simply, he stood, and wearing the traditional challenge garb, stepped into the Circle of the Claw, and waited for the Shade. After some procrastination, the Shade finally entered the ring, seemingly fully prepared.  The Shade leapt first and attacked many times. It seemed to those who were watching that Berandor had no difficulties evading the near-clumsy attacks of their leader. In one swift moment, Berandor counter-attacked, and brought the Shade to the ground, unconscious. He stood, and proclaimed himself the new Grand Shade, and those who did not agree would be put to death. Of course, many disagreed. Little did they know, but Berandor had infiltrated the Clan long ago, and he already knew who his allies were inside those walls.  Those who opposed Berandor were slaughtered by their own colleagues that very day. With his enemies dead, Berandor changed the shape of the Clan, forming it to be one that revolved around darkness and terror. Soon after his takeover, he began his assault on the human race. And that is the story of how Berandor had gained power in the Clan. It is said, that during the ‘Quiet Nights of Memoriam‘, sad, slow howls of mercy can be heard from deep down below the Citadel, and that the howls belong to the centuries-tortured Grand Shade.”


~@~


Somewhere in the United States
He ran until his legs burned.  He could still sense them behind him.  No matter how fast, or how nimbly he moved, it seemed that they could keep the pace up very well.  He, however, was losing stamina quickly. The alley was only ten feet away now, and the crowd of people would most definitely hide him from his pursuers.  But he never made it. Just as he reached it, a tall and powerful figure turned the corner into the alley and blocked his escape. Behind him, he could hear the other two captors catching up.  It was a matter of seconds now. Acting on pure instinct, he pulled his katar from beneath his clothing and brandished it, slowly backing away from his enemy.
“Now, now, Sar,” the figure uttered, “Let’s make this easy for yourself.”
“Fuck off,” Sar retorted, albeit nervously, as he brought the katar up to a defensive stance.
“Aw, such a human word.  There are far better curses in our language.”
As he spoke, the figure stepped forward, and the glint of a curved dagger shone briefly within the shadowed figure, filling Sar with complete dread.  
‘The etching on the blade is unmistakable,’ Sar thought to himself.  ‘Only one man wields the Blade of Ru’va. Our cause is lost if he is involved in the hunt.  Forgive me, my brethren, for I have failed.’
With nothing, and everything, to lose, Sar raised his katar to attack position one last time, and charged.


~@~