Short intro to a story I've been cooking up. More to come like my past short series. I borrowed some terminology from White-Wolf RPG but in no way is this setting in their world, the words just fit more closely and I borrowed them, and for that I give credit to White-Wolf. The characters, however, all all mine, copyright to me, TiberiusRings.
You know, that's my life. Running. I run here and there, across forests, hills, valleys, mountains, and even once a desert. I run as fast as I can to get where I need to go, stopping only when my mission isn't vital. Sometimes I can't stop and must run until I not only get to my destination, but back home.
I am a Strider.
You see, in my world, a world so unlike the one of today with computers, internet, iPods and various other ways to exchange media and information, I am a form of internet. To my caern that is. I am one of many wolves of the strider sect who relay messages for our Alpha Male and his council, working like diligant little soldiers who carry vital information on our backs, as well as local gossip.
Now, don't think I hate my job. My name is Slayn, head strider for the Half Moon wolf caern. It is nestled in what many of you would call modern day Europe, somewhere near France, I think. Maps back then, well, they weren't as intricate and boarders were not as clearly defined, especially our own. I'm not saying that you can even go to the woods in France and look for our home; it's gone now. But back then, when Kings, Queens, knights and mercanaries roamed the world, it was an amazing place.
Our home was hidden from the outside world. Back then, there were many packs, or caern, or animals, especially wolves. Ours was one of the largest in the area and our enemies were far to the north, but we were also friends with many neighboring factions of different species. Our best allies, the leopards lead by their alpha male Apollo, were but a weeks run away and ready to come to our aid if we ever needed it. I often visited them as Strider-Alpha, relaying our Alpha's most vital information to Apollo and his people. My job sent me to all kinds of wonderful places, and I saw things very few wolves ever did. However, whenever I was away I missed home. Home is where the heart is, some modern thinker once said. My heart was with someone who didn't even know I existed, and he rarely left our woods.
What we used as shelter was an amazing complex. Some long time ago, before our scholars kept written records we think, our ancestors found an abandoned temple from a people long gone. Our caern took it over and for several generations it has been where we live and raise our families. The temple rises high and barely peeks above the canopy of the trees. It is a honeycomb of various tunnels and passages and where the Alpha Male resides and where Council business is conducted. Some of the Warriors--Oh, I didn't explain Warriors. I explained why you people can't find our home, but not about how our caern operates.
You see, a caern has sub-sects, a type of caste you're born into, or grow into. There are Striders, who're the official messengers of the pack, the Scouts, incharge of keeping our boarders well protected and under observation. Mages, who oversee our magical and literal history and add a different kind of defense, and Warriors. Warriors are the biggest men and women, our front line troops who follow orders without hesitation and train all their lives to be the best combatants they can be.
Of course this is not the only thing we do as people. Our sects are not isolated and we realize we have a society to expand and develop. Warriors cook along side striders, scouts and mages weave our clothing, and so forth. The sects are designed so one has a sense of belonging, but with every day life, everyone pitches in. I will admit, however bashfully in these moden days and thought, a lot of women handled the domestic needs, such as weaving, cleaning and cooking. This was by no means a variation of sexism or trying to opress the opposite sex; hardly the case! A female wolf can make even the most dominant man squirm, and we never viewed them as lesser. Our women were natural nurturers, mothers, carers, and loved taking care of the men, but there were men who saw the same desire. Our pack worked well, and for the most part, is usually peaceful.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. The warriors have barracks and homes on the lower level of the tiered temple, the barracks for the males and females without life mates or children. If someone does become mated, they are given a suite inside the temple where they can raise their family if they so desire. Not all of us live in there, no sir.
My striders, we live outside the temple. Our homes are not made of stone and brick, but cured leather and rope. We live in the tents along an avenue that moved to the west of the temple. Someone would say it looks like a poorer section compared to the stone structure behind our tents, but it is hardly the case. Striders are the second most numerous wolf sect, and we are always constantly moving, leaving and coming in various hours of the day and night. We sleep in our large tents usually in groups. Striders are the smallest of the wolves, since we are designed for speed and agility and not always for combat. There is something about our tents that strikes us as homey. We love the night and the woods, and if we want to sleep in the sweet, rich grass and under the sparkling stars, it is only a few feet outside of our tents. No strider hates living outside, lets get that straight.
The scouts and mages, they live in their own enclaves, but more about them later. I mean, really. If you've read a story about a spell-weaver wearing long flowing robes or someone slinking through the forest, that describes them in essence. They aren't part of my story-yet. I have a lot of good friends who're both Scouts and Mages, but for now, I want to focus on what is relevant. Trying not to overload you too much. Heheh.
Remember when I mentioned I was in love? Well, I'll tell you who I loved, or at least had a crush on. In our society, a man can love a man with no hesitation, just as much as a woman can love a woman. Society doesn't frown on it like it does today, and it is celebrated if a male takes another male as a mate and same if a woman decides to. What we celebrate is the happiness between two people and not if they're able to consumate their union. Adoption is always a possibility anyway. Well, now to get to the embarrassing part. You see, I was 18 years old and already head strider, Alpha-Strider, but I hated that title. I liked people using my name and not my rank. The alpha male of our caern, a man who went by the name of Arch, appointed me as head strider. He said I was the fastest male he had ever seen, and while he had trouble remembering my name, he gave me the rank and title and larger tent. The moment he had talked to me, face to face, I had fallen in love.
I was such a kid, crushing on a man who was so far above me in rank and stature, a warrior by nature as well. I was the poster child for what a strider should be; short, lean, compact muscular body and natural speed. My fur was a creamy under coat that resembles caramel, and my overcoat, my pride and joy, is a rich cinnamony brownish red color.
Arch, well, if you liked big men, he could easily be the poster child for that division of manliness as well. Arch stood a bit taller than seven feet tall, and his fur was midnight black. So black it was hard to see his muscles, but he had broad shoulders, thick arms, an amazing chest of firm, flat pectorals with abdominals of intricate cut, cast from marble itself. His legs were long and thick, full of muscle and power. His eyes were a yellow that could pierce the night and soul with one look. He was amazing to watch and admire, he hunted with a grace and fought with a fluid passion. Arch turned head, and not only because of his rank. He was an amazing man who was father and brother to us all. He was young for an alpha, too. Our old alpha, Kaudi, whom I barely remember, had asked Arch's old caern for him to come live with us when Arch had been a small boy. Kaudi had personally groomed Arch to be the new alpha. Kaudi could not have children, an injury from a war with the Deep Fang caern had made sure of that. When Kaudi died, Arch got the rank and title by declaration. Of course some males had challenged Arch for his position but all had fallen to Arch's powerful body.
Arch was also, how can I put this politely, enjoying his position? When he wasn't working he usually had someone in his bed chambers, but hardly females. He was a single male, and wanted to avoid becoming a father without trying for it. It was an honor to be in Arch's chambers, but trying for it was something Arch detested. He liked picking his company, and wanted to see someone naturally. Of course this was only when Arch wasn't busy, but lately there had been a stirring in the north and Arch had been very, very busy. People talked of Arch falling asleep in the council room and taking all his meals there. It had been days since anyone had seen Arch outside the temple. He was a good leader, even if he had a sexual appitite.
I had just come back from a mission, nothing too big; Just a mission to one of our outer bases to report in that all was well. It was usually beneath me to do such a task, but I had wanted to go; the exercise would have done me good and I wanted to just see the base, it was near the lake and during this time of day, around high noon, I think its the best view in the territory. The message was clear; there was no sign of danger and the scout and warrior rotation was on schedule. Usually a verbal conformation was in order, but with the Alpha on such high strung emotions, he asked for writting documentation of everything. I had the lead warrior in the small outpost sign the slip that everything was okay, and returned to the caern to report in and give the message to Arch personally.
The steps up to the lobby of the temple were high, I once spent a day as a child counting them, and I lost count at around 40. I was a kid, can you blame me? It killed ten minutes and my parents seemed to enjoy the distraction. The lobby was large and cool, open with pillars holding it up with small candles lining the wall, showing off the interior. This was where business was handled out outside of the Council room. There were central stairs that led up and down into the temple, going to rooms and storage areas, and various chambers even I didn't know existed. I wwas going to have to explore one day. Today, however, I wasn't even going to set foot on those stairs, I was going to be right behind them and enter the Council Room where Arch was working.
I stood outside the two wooden doors guarded by warriors, one to my left decided on using a heavy two-handed axe as his weapon of choice. The man on the right was a hammer of some kind. Wonderful. Note to self, don't piss off the guards by stumbling and groping someone you love. Or at least crush on. I did a quick spot check on myself, making sure I didn't look too much like a strider, I was still Alpha-Strider, I should look clean enough to see Arch and not have some of the more snobbish council members raise their noses at me. I was naked, well, I wore a loincloth, it was a simple dark burgandy loincloth with no back flap. It tended to get in the way of running, or at least providing a distraction when I ran if it licked at me. So, like most wolves, I just wore a loincloth with a front flap. I had my messenger bag slung over my shoulder, it was long and cylinder like, with a snap near the middle that would let me open it up and pull out or put in contents. This was worn for larger messages that would be needed sometimes, and I made sure to have mine on my person a lot, not all the time, but a lot. I didn't want to have to run home and fetch it or go out with a large stack of papers in my hands.
The two guards opened the heavy doors and revealed the council room. It was a large stone room with a circular stone table, surrounded by chairs of dark black wood.. The room was ancient, and in the center of the table was an intricate carving cut right into the table's stone of a wolf howling at a half moon. The room had the scent of dust and age, and of course wisdom. The room had been where countless alphas and their council made decisions that impacted so many lives. Sitting at the far side of the circular table was Arch, my Alpha.
Arch was doing some paperwork, and i know many of you out there think a big black wolf doing papers in a tribal situation may sound funny, but it wasn't. Arch looked serious, his brow in concentration and so many stacks of papers around him, supplies and control orders, things not meant for yours or my eyes. He was seated so I could only see half his body, but god, what I could see made my knees quiver. He was handsome, so wonderfully cut in muscular body, his body in such the right perportion that he was easy a good model for any artwork. It was probably why the painting of Arch in the lounge above them looked so good; he was easy to draw.
"Alpha?" I said, moving closer and pulling my bag off my shoulder.
"Hm? Oh. Alpha-Strider. Stain, right?" His voice was deep and rich, but being called "stain" hurt.
I winced and shook my head, putting my bag on the table as I stood close, trying my best not to look his body over and just stare into his face. "No, Alpha. Slayn, remember?"
"Oh, right, Slayn. I'm sorry, the orders and papers I have to read, I get names wrong or mixed up. No hard feelings." He smiled to himself and went back to his paperwork. "What do you need?"
"I have the report from the lake outpost, Alpha." My hand slipped into the bag and pulled out the scrap of paper, and put it on the table. Arch reached out and pulled it close, and then looked right at me.
"The lake outpost? I only asked for this two hours ago. It takes five to get there and back." Arch was thinking outloud, and not making it a real question. I stood there, stotic and still, wondering if I had done something wrong. Did he want the reports promptly at a certain hour?
"Yes, Alpha. I'm fast."
"Very fast," Arch said, watching me so closely. He leaned forward. "Stai--Slayn, I want you to go on a mission for me." Arch reached over the stacks of papers, pulling out a stack of letters infront of me. I saw the moon seal of wax closing the envelopes, and the Arrow mark of Apollo's caern in a corner. "Apollo's caern is a week travel away, two for a round trip. I need Apollo to get these letters in five days, not seven, not six. Five. Go." Arch motioned to the door, and went back to work.
Five days to Apollo's caern? I could do it, if I didn't stop at some of my usual spots. I would have asked why usually but I didn't, for some reason I knew time was of the essence. I grabbed the letters and shoved them into my bag. "Yes, Alpha." And with that, I took off.
I ran out of the council room and past the two guards armed to the teeth, and then to the stairs I could never finish counting. I lept into the air and slid down along the smooth stone next to the stairs, crouching low as I got closer and closer to the huge brazier of flmaes near the base of the stairs. I lept to the right when I got close enough and slipped my messenger bag right onto my back. I didn't look back, I just went. I ran. I was sprinting. I was going to get Arch's letters there in time or at least die trying.
Thinking back on that time of my first real mission as fastest strider in the caern, I don't remember much of that run. It was a long run of course, and I ran night and day with only short breaks in between. I kept going and moving, not stopping in the towns that I liked to; sleep in a soft bed or have a big meal. No, my food consisted of the berries I could find along the wooden paths I moved through or the sticks of jerky I had tucked into a special pouch in my bag. I would stop for water, but never for sleep. By day three I was exhausted, the woods were thick and there were no paths. I hadn't stopped in almost 72 hours for any time longer than 30 minutes. My body cried out for sleep but I knew better than to give in. I had only two days left to get to Apollo's caern and return home at my leisure, but I knew Arch, at least, I thought I knew him then. He never gave me a time limit on when I was supposed to be home, but he expected perfection from his pack. Arch wanted me home 10 days total, not 14 like it would take a usual trip to the cats.
Day four and I was nearing the cats. THe thick woods were giving way to grassy glades with spotted trees and bushes, with various vegitation the cats seemed to love to eat. Yes, Apollo's people were omnivores, so are us wolves. I know it sounds strange but we're better than lesser wolves.
I remember on day four that my feet began to bleed. Consistant running along the rough terrain of the woods had cut up the pads of my feet slowly, but slow nips and licks of branches, bark and rock would eventually build up. I didn't stop or look down even as the pain shot up my feet and legs. I couldn't stop now. If I stopped I would end up falling asleep. I didn't want to stop, I wanted to deliver the messages a DAY early. I was making good time, I knew if I pushed myself I would end up in Apollo's welcoming grace and could go home. As the sun began to set and my feet making green grass red as I ran, I reached Apollo's caern.
Apollo's caern was in a valley and not in a large temple like my home is. It was white stone buildings set squarely, several of them going up three to five stories against the cliff face to the back of the valley. The leopards hung brightly colored tapestries and cloth from all over, even outside at their own tents and huts, colors were vibrant. I had been greeted by two leopard striders and a scout, and after I told one of them what I was doing, they shot ahead. I skidded to a stop with a wince infront of the entrance to Apollo's caern, and then saw the man whom I was going to deliver to.
Apollo was tall for a cat, nearly six foot tall. He wore trousers instead oa loincloth like the wolves did.. Around his waist hung a bright red sash of shimmering cloth. He wore on his back his famous Bow, but more about that for later. I didn't remember much of the situation, only that I remember his arm curling around my shoulders as I nearly passed out, and laid me down on the cool grass.
"You got here quick, Young one. I wasn't expecting you for three more days." Apollo was speaking gently, and I could see two women walk up, and then sharp pain as they were doing something to my feet.
"AH!" I yelled out, slamming my hands against the grass, gripping the green plant life and pulling on it harshly, my body tensing up as it just ached. There were sharp, stabbling pain shooting up from the base of my feet and into my hips. I had never felt such pain before. I looked down to see what they were doing, and I saw one of them holding a silver object with a blade at the bottom. Apollo tilted my head down gentlty, shaking his head.
"No, young one, you must not watch. I don't want you to pass out but you have injured yourself rushing here. Don't you have a delivery to make?" Apollo said with a smile, looking down into my face which must have appeared so incredibly exhausted and worn out.
I remembered then that I had run all this way to deliver something important. I grabbed my bag from my side and pulled it away from me, opening it up and then pulling out the stack of letters, holding it out to Apollo. "Arch wanted these here early, Feline-Alpha." I remembered to show respect. There was a small ring of people beginning to form around me, mostly watching whatever the women were doing. There was a gasp and I tried to look up, but Apollo held me down.
"Wonderful, Wolf-Strider. I have a letter for Arch. I wrote it a moment ago. I will put it in your bag, and put some fruit and water in your pack. You can go in a moment." Apollo took my bag and slipped a blue letter into my bag, and then what looked like to be some berries and a tiny water skin.
The pain in my feet had vanished and then replaced by a cool sensation. I looked down and wasn't stopped by Apollo, the cats were wrapping my feet in pure white linen bandages, winding all over my feet and up around my ankles and calf muscles. Apollo smiled. "These should help you finish your task, young one. Now go, show Arch that you are indeed as fast as I know you are."
I was helped up to my feet and then given my pack. I wanted nothing more than to curl up and sleep but knew I had to finish and go home. I wasn't sure if I could make it but I had to try. My feet were bandaged and what I assumed had medicine applied to them, I think. I wasn't sure, I just ran.
Running back home was easier, at least it felt like it was. My feet were covered during the rougher parts of the run, which was the woods right outside of Apollo's territory, I had a couple stiders for company, who gave me tips on which direction I should run through to avoid any serious injury to my feet. Thinking back to that time, I was running on pure energy. Many athletes would agree, running and doing something for so long, you pass a limit of your body that just runs on auto-pilot, and I did. Sometimes I thought I had fallen asleep sometimes. I lost track of time; night and day became lost to me as I ran. I remember seeing the high spire of the temple above the trees as I crested a hill, and then blackness. I don't remember clearing the distance between the hill and the temple, but when my eyes opened, I was looking up at the sky.
I blinked my eyes, and then found a big, black hand helping me up. The bandages on my feet had ripped and become shreds of cloth, bleeding more more and leaving red footprints. My feet were aching, but that was forgotten when I ended up looking to the face of the man who held me. It was Arch. He was smiling.
"Welcome home, Slayn," He said gently, touching my shoulders and holding me up. "You made it there and back in 9 days. A record." The last thing I remembered was a lick to my muzzle, and then darkness. I had passed out in the arms of someone I thought of as a father, and a lover. There was no better place to sleep.
To be continued...