Cost of Love

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Blurb

Genre:
Horror / Other
Author:
H. Bryant
Status:
Excerpt
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Birth of a Beast

Alana’s soft pale hand reached up over her own head, and touched her husband’s cheek. The caress never landed as Jan startled and glanced down at his heavily pregnant wife as soon as the tips of her fingers brushed his skin. Their eyes met and Alana’s brows twitched slightly at the pain reflected in his eyes, and etching deep fleshy creases in the corners of his eyelids. Her heart ached.

This was a wound deeper and more dangerous than any other one she had the skills to heal. He looked away from the concern in her features, the earlier pain shifting to anger in a flash. Prideful, he refused any perceived pity. Alana took a deep breath and let it out in a slow, soft, silent whisper through her nose, as she fought to keep the angry scowl off her own features.

Both of their gazes turned out towards the night. The picture window in their living room was wide and embraced a wonderful view of the ghbor’s mountainous territory. Their home, their very community was at risk, even this far out from the cities.

Jan stood for a few moments more, before he settled his massive bulk into the chair made by his own hands. It groaned under his weight as wood joints shifted and settled. His shoulder-length brown-blond hair hung over the back.

Shadows thrown by the single oil lantern light, danced across the far wall. His resembled a large hunched over bear, her shadow was like a willow with a thickened main trunk. Alana glanced around the living room, to the doorway into the kitchen. Thoughts of steaming hot tea bubbled to the surface of her mind before she shook it off and turned toward her husband.

Alana stepped near him, within arms reach, but kept her hands to herself. He was a tricky one to read sometimes. In any other situation, he bottled up his emotions and hid them away. However, tonight waves of anguish, anger, and self-loathing were so thick in the air around him, she wasn’t sure if she imagined the misama or not.

Her fingers clutched at her shawl, digging deeply between the crocheted loops. Why did they do this? Why would their Elders ask such a thing of their people? Over and over, the packs all faced horrors the likes of which none dared speak. Yet, those few with the blessing to touch their minds knew. She knew. The collective fear of the healers in the community - that these soul-deep wounds may never heal.

Some packs were taken off rotation, and left to protect the lands closest to the ghbor, their home. But that did not protect the packs that did not show signs of this inner sickness of the heart, mind and soul. They returned wounded both physically and spiritually, like the others, but wore a cold and distant stoicism instead of the wild-eyed fear.

Her husband’s pack was one of these “tough ones”. But, she knew better and this last foray did damage on a much deeper level. When her husband’s pack returned home this time, they was down by two very important members. One of which he “gave mercy” to himself.

“Darin,” Jan rasped as his hands tightened into fists in his lap. “The one who may have saved Betty....”

Alana placed a very light hand on her husbands shoulder. “Yer the pack healer? I remember him.” Her voice was soft, coaxing him to calm. “How did a wily ol’ man like him...”

Jan’s voice rumbled with a repressed chest-deep growl as he interrupted his wife, “Gunned down by Rogues.”

Alana’s breath caught in her throat. Rogues? “But, this was going tae be a scouting run...”

“I know.” The growl deepend. “We found a... warehouse. Heavily guarded with Lost Ones within it.”

Alana’s blood ran cold, and she felt every hair on her body rise up. Lost Ones. Those of the people lost to themselves, trapped between forms, and insane. She started at the touch of her own hands to her lips. Shaken out of such a terrible reverie, her gaze fixed upon the side of her husband’s face.

The sneer that spread across his features was feral, toothy, and puckered forward on his lips shaping them oddly for the human face. It wasn’t a human expression at all. It was an angry wolf’s snarl.

Alana’s hand nearest to him pressed into his shoulder to root him in this here and now. His body vibrated under her palm with repressed rage. For a moment, her heart fluttered like a frightened rabbit.

His hand covered hers in a gentle embrace. Slowly the rage filtered off into despair. His shaking shifted into a slump. Both of his hands came up to rub his face. The sigh trapped between his fingers echoed hollow against his palms. When he lowered them, he stared at them long and hard.

“Darin.“Jan started to speak, stopped, sighed, and continued in a halting, pained tone. “He attempted to unlock a teen girl caught in mehul. He thought he could help her.”

Jan curled his fingers and hands, mimicking his next words, “The girl’s limbs were too distorted, and she couldn’t shape shift to fix it.”

Alana shivered. Mehul was a dangerous state. An old and mostly forgotten memory crawled its way up and left her sickened. The child in her belly shifted, eliciting a gasp from her. Nausea rose, leaving an acrid taste on the back of her tongue. To be trapped between human and wolf forms, a twisted hybrid, unable to shape shift, was the one nightmare even the Ulf’el feared.

Jan watched it all happen.

“But, that wasn’t the worst.” Alan glanced down at her husband shocked at his words. What more?

“Betty,” Jan stared hard at his hands, and began wiping them clean though he had scrubbed them when he first came home. “My second.”

Alana’s mind flashed back to Jan’s initial statement when he walked into their home. Mercy. Oh no.

“She,” he took in a deep shuddering breath, “had to be put down.”

Alana hooked the footstool nearby and slid it to sit by her husband’s side. “Oh, my love. I’,m so sorry.”

She wrapped an arm around his and leaned her forehead into his shoulder. His weight shifted and pressed back in towards her. Touch. The simplest of comforts.

“Her mind,” he spoke softly, “it was too far gone with the horrors. It was a slaughterhouse of a place. So much pain and death.”

Alana turned her head and buried her face into his upper arm.

“She snapped and she lost control of yha’el. So...” he spoke to the empty air, not daring to look anywhere but out at the night sky.

“She shape-shifted uncontrollably,” Alana finished. He nodded and sighed.

“Trapped in mehul, between forms, both her human mind and wolf mind’s to darkness. But, her hybrid form was mobile, and she turned into a raging beast of destruction.” Tears rose in his eyes even as he fought them. Alana couldn’t see them past her own.

“She turned on the pack,“Jan’s fists curled tight fists. The tendons in them snapping with the effort of his grip.

Jan killed her, himself.

“Beloved,” he whispered harshly, as he turned towards he, and took her work-toughened hands between his massive palms. “I can’t go on like this.”

Shocked and confused, Alana stared blearily at him. “What... what are you talking about?”

“The Council wants ta see us this afternoon, ’fore they send us back out on another raid. But... I’ve had enough...”

She sat there, silent. His sigh was heavy and tired. Gently, he kissed the knuckles of her hands. A tear dropped onto the back of her hand. She shifted her weight to ease the strain in her back - and in her heart. This was not like him at all. He relished proving himself. When he glanced up at her, the look in his eyes was bleak and terrible.

“If they force it, make us go out again,” he paused, eyebrows raised at her, his expression serious, “I won’t return.”

With that he stood up and moved towards the kitchen.

“What...” she stammered as she struggled lift her awkward weight up off the stool, “what are you talking about? You always...”

“Not this time...” As he spoke, she knew. As he stood in the doorway, and lit another lantern, she stared at the cold and bleak emptiness reflected in his eyes. “I’ll make sure that I don’t, even if it means...”

Her hands fluttered to her face. “No... what about the children?”

It was a vain attempt to reach his heart. He turned his back on her and gazed out through the kitchen door’s small window.

“I have to go. Council waits...”

Her protests went unheard as he left the house through the kitchen. A tightness lanced across her stomach. She sucked in a breath. Upstairs a small girl’s voice called down. Footsteps padded awkwardly on the stairs as the five-year-old carefully navigated the steep steps.

That child had such awkward timing.

“Was that daddy?”

Alana stood in silence for a moment, as the contraction faded. She noted the time on the clock. Then, she moved to intercept her daughter.

“Yes, love, but he went ta see Council. Let’s make him a special dinner, eh?”

“Yay! Rabbit!?” Tara looked up at her mother from the bottom of the steps, then reached out for Alana’s belly.

Alana guided the small child’s hand onto the round curve of her stomach. The infant inside kicked. Tara giggled.

“It’s a boy!” She squealed. “His name is Roland.”

“How,” Alana laughed, sounding hollow in her own ears, “do ya know that?”

Tara looked up at her mother and giggled. “I can see his dreams.”

Alana stared at her daughter in awe. For the moment her husbands dire words were forcibly shifted to the back of her mind.

A Blessing? So early?

“Tara dear, how long have you been able ta do this?” Alana ran her fingers through her daughter’s bright blond hair. The child shrugged.

A knot tightened her throat. She gazed out at the kitchen doorway. Just then, she had another contraction.


Jan faced the Council with the remainder of his pack. They stood in the clearing where the council met in public session. Many villagers were about on other errands nearby. The Council looked down at the pack, dark brooding in their eyes. Some openly sneered at the rag-tag look of the recently returned Guardian pack.

“You could have at least showered,” a wizened old bat of a woman rasped. “We gave you half the day, after all.”

“Margret, hush.” The Speaker of the Council, Bernard, waved a hand at the woman. Then, he turned towards Jan.

“Your return was less than stellar. The facility was not destroyed as expected, and you lost two people. Additionally, you didn’t free most of the Unfortunates. You only managed to rescue six. That’s poor work.”

The hairs along Jan’s neck rose, his shoulders stiffened. At the edges of his sight, some of the villagers paused in their work to listen and gawk. He knew the Council wasn’t pleased, but to address them out in public, like this, was humiliating. Tension hung thick in the air. Jan lifted his chin slightly, biting back his own sneered retort.

“You were one of the best packs here, and we expected more from you. Not only did you get your healer killed...”

Margret interrupted, “and he was slated to serve on the Council in a year’s time too...”

“Margret...” Bernard hissed. When she settled back into her seat, silent, he continued. “Not only that, but your Beta lost her mind. Now, we understand your need to give her mercy. But, you destroyed a full-Bonded Ulf’el of a very important and rare bloodline, that is lost to us.”

Jan’s wolf howled in outrage in the back of his mind. They didn’t care that two of his pack were dead. They only cared about their status, and that Betty never had any children to “keep her line going”. Such petty, narrow-minded, arrogance appalled Jan. His fists clenched.

“I cannot understand how this happened. The information we had on the facility...”

“Was wrong, very wrong.” Jan snarled.

Silence.

Bernard stared at Jan, then glared at him. Their gazes locked, and Jan let his burning, seething, hatred show. They dared judge his pack, his choices, and ignored their losses!

“I see...” Bernard crossed his arms, “So it may be...”

“Maybe? Didn’t you read the reports?” Jan’s fists opened and shut, again and again, as he spoke. “It was a fully armed and defended location! Not only were there Rogues, there were Hunters! Most of the Bonded were children trapped in monstrous forms... ”

“Enough.” Bernard’s voice silenced Jan. “You all face punishment for your gross misconduct...”

“WHAT?!” Jan bellowed, the words echoed by the rest of his pack.

“And...” Bernard continued, louder now to be heard over the outburst, “it has placed this ghbor under serious threat because your retreat wasn’t well covered. You ran back here with your tail between your legs like cowards!”

Jan summoned yha’el, even as the wolf in his mind raged alongside the man. Instinct drove the action, they both wanted blood. Instead of shifting straight to wolf-form, the combined anger between the two sides focused his shift into a monstrous hybrid. The pain of the speed-shift was blinding. For a few seconds his heart leaped into his throat, would they kill him mid-shift?

However, when he was done, he faced a terrified Council. He sneered. So, he was the coward?Their fear showed plainly on their faces. Not one dared stand and face him.

In the Ulf’el language, he spoke, “No. We are not cowards. You sent us to our deaths.”

Margret arrogantly rolled her eyes and harrumphed. Jan, already on the edge of darkness, utterly lost his mind to his boiling anger. Inner emotional wounds further poisoned him. In a berserk frenzy of rage and pain, he surged forward.

He attacked them all.

Everything moved as if in a dream-like state. Blood soaked the ground as he tore through the Elders. In their shock, only a few tried to face him in any form - wolf or man. The power, speed, and strength of his hybrid form gave him an edge. His pack tried to stop his outraged assault, but two more packmates fell to his claws and teeth. Betrayal! Jan’s mind twisted and snapped.

Several of the Elnan summoned spirits to stop the maddened werewolf. When the spirits attempted their powers on him, Jan shredded the spirits into nothingness. An Ancestor faced him, partly-embodied. But, Jan slaughtered it and then fed on its slowly dissolving essence. In the process, he healed his own wounds.

When he came out of his enraged frenzy, he stood surrounded by corpses and covered in blood and gore. Many of the dead were unidentifiable. Two of the Council miraculously survived, having hidden behind the trees around the clearing. Jan stared at them, dared them to confront him. They bowed their heads and bore their necks instead.

“I lead this ghbor now. It’s mine. Your weakness has been cleansed.” He snarled in the Ulf’el tongue.

They nodded and slowly stepped forward to offer their obeisance. However, a powerful thrum echoed from the massive onyx pillar in the center of the valley’s lake. Four women appeared dressed in ancient clothing. Each one manifested as a woman from different parts of the world, and wore garb from a time long forgotten. Their faces and races, cultures and identities shifted through the rainbow of humanity.

“Pay your wergild...” They spoke in unison.

“I owe nothing.” Jan retorted.

They sneered at him and vanished.


Later that evening, Jan stepped into his home. Nan, an assistant to the mid-wife, was in his living room playing with Tara. Nan looked up in surprised fear, and then kept her attention on Tara. The little girl leaped up to run to her father, but his bedraggled and blood-covered facade gave her pause.

“Eww, you needa baf,” she said and she made an over-the-top expression of disgust.

“Where’s your mother?” Tiredly, Jan asked the question and rubbed his eyes.

“Upstairs...” Tara answered and went back to play with Nan. “Roland’s coming.”

Jan glanced at Nan, who gave him a wary sidelong look. “She’s giving birth to your son.”

Jan looked startled, glanced down at himself, and agreed with his daughter. Time to get a shower. Meanwhile, upstairs a small but powerful cry announced the birth of new life.

The mid-wife, Marina, helped to clean Alana up, as another assistant, Darcy, held the infant. Then, Darcy carefully laid the newborn into Alana’s arms. The three women smiled at each other, glad that this birth had no complications. Then, Marina and Darcy started to clean up around the room.

In that moment, the air around them dropped several degrees. All three paused as the infant boy fussed. Then, at the foot of the bed, a single apparition formed.

“Your husband refuses to pay the wergild for his atrocities. We shall take his son, and make ye barren as our payment.” It said in a whispered hush.

“No!” Alana screamed, clutching Roland closer to her chest.

“Wergild must be paid,” It moaned. “What do ye offer?”

Marina and Darcy crowded closer to Alana. She shook her head, confused and afraid. The spirit hovered over her feet now, and slowly moved closer.

“Ye do not yet know?” It asked in a raspy voice.

Alana shook her head, “N... No. I... I don’t know... what has Jan done?”

The spirit considered something for a moment, then said, “He will tell you himself, as he is so proud of his deeds. but know this...”

It floated over and reached for Roland.

“He shall pay it, when it is time. Or else your bloodline will perish.”

With that, it vanished.

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