Ankit, the old man, and the Greatwolves

Part 2: The Unaran wilds

Three weeks passed in New Carro and Ankit was feeling quite settled. He spent most of the first week resting and recovering from his injuries. Old Timm came and went in the days; it was never entirely clear what he busied himself with. In the evenings, they would talk about Unara. Ankit had never been a big talker, and yet he felt himself opening up to the old man more and more, and Old Timm listened intently when he did, though he was never surprised by what he heard. 

When it was the old man’s turn, ‌Ankit was captivated, and often perplexed. Like so much about this place, his stories seemed out of place in the world Ankit knew today, and he felt as though they had barely scratched the surface.

When Ankit’s strength had returned, Old Timm had kept him busy out in the peaks and forests. They tracked and hunted for food, felled trees, collected deadfall, and tended the gardens. With each lesson, Ankit felt different. Some parts strength, a gift from the Greatwolf–he felt this especially in his left arm, though he suspected the physical changes were spreading further; some parts wisdom, a gift from the old man–deep knowledge of the world around him.

Here though, there was something more mysterious too that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He felt it around the Greatwolves first, beyond the warmth and the strange glow, the feeling that they understood each other without speaking. This same feeling had extended beyond them now, when he worked with the plants, the trees, and when he tracked animals.

“What do you think?” Old Timm asked, lying prone in the snow beside Ankit.

“About what?” Ankit responded, keeping his attention on the old Tuskhog centred in his crosshairs.

Hunting was fast becoming a favourite of Ankit’s, among all the things the old man had taught him so far. ‘Living in, with and from the world’, as the old man had put it. 

“He’s solitary, and very old,” Ankit added.

“Yes, an old Tusker. When they’re no longer up to breeding, they move off on their own and keep to themselves.” Old Timm paused and shifted. The snow crunched around him. 

The animal seemed to hear this. It stopped, lifted its nose, snorted loudly, and looked around.

 A very large, old pig, or Tuskhog, with large tusks protrudin from the mouth and curling up around the nose. Thick, scrufyy white fur sets off against the crisp white snow.
An old Tuskhog

“He’ll be good meat for a few weeks, and may not have long left anyway if the predators catch his scent. They can spare us one old hog,” Old Timm continued.

Moving his crosshair over the animal’s shoulder, Ankit first looked for signs of wind, but the air was dead still. Breathing out slowly, he squeezed the trigger. There was a piercing crack, followed by a boom that echoed through the trees. The Tuskhog dropped instantly, a sudden, final spasm kicking the powdery snow up around him. A red mist settled on the snow behind the animal, highlighting its bristling white fur in silhouette.

“Not bad,” Old Timm sat up as he spoke. “I’ll take a walk back. You should manage him on your own. Take care.”

Ankit had grown accustomed to the old man’s ways by now. He cranked the lever of the rifle, catching the spent cartridge out of the air, and reloaded before making his way down the slope through the heavy snow. It was freezing cold out, but he could barely feel it, and it wasn’t thanks to the heavy coat and boots he now wore. It seemed he always felt comfortably warm, indoors and out. Old Timm had said that the gifts of the Wolfsom seemed to vary from person to person. He’d suggested the warmth of Greatwolf blood was one of Ankit’s. 

As Ankit approached the clearing, he got the overwhelming sense that someone, or something, was near. He gripped the rifle tightly.

As he neared the downed Tuskhog, he glanced around. At first, nothing seemed out of place, but he remained cautious. Just as he was about to kneel beside the animal, he spotted something unusual. Someone had wrapped a chain around the base of a nearby tree. It was only visible because the pig had been digging around the roots. Ankit moved over to inspect. 

He picked up the chain and pulled, watching as it lifted out of the snow towards the centre of the clearing. Pulling again, harder, a trap emerged from beneath the snow, just like the one he had removed from Mon Delta’s leg. 

An unexpected rage boiled up inside him as he walked back to the tree, broke off a dead branch, and returned to disarm the trap. He tried to calm himself. His hands were shaking. 

“Now why did you go and do that?” a sharp, cruel voice spoke from among the trees behind Ankit. 

The voice belonged to a man–Ankit had turned his head partially towards the new arrival–wearing similar clothing to Marko’s Raiders. Could he be one of the survivors who had escaped the Greatwolves’ rescue? Ankit had not seen all their faces clearly that night. This man was holding a staff and had his hand on a holstered pistol.

“I asked you a quest…” The Raider paused and squinted his eyes as Ankit turned the rest of the way to face him.

Old Timm’s rifle was slung across Ankit’s front, his left hand still holding the grip tightly while his right hand neared the handle of his club. He began processing his options; there was no telling how quick a draw the man would be. He didn’t look to be in the best shape, but that wasn’t always a clear indication of speed. Still, Ankit backed himself to either shoulder the rifle and fire, or clear the thick snow between them and disable his opponent before he could fire with any accuracy.

“Wait, you’re that do-gooder from the Pass! You lousy… how are you…” he was in shock.

Now or never, Ankit made sure his footing was firm. The snow crunched down under the balls of his feet.

He sprung–almost flew–barely leaving prints in the snow as he went. Before the Raider knew what was happening, Ankit had cleared half the distance. As he fumbled at the handle of his gun and raised it, Ankit cleared what remained, drew, and raised his club. First, he smashed the gun violently from the Raider’s hand.

 With a loud shout, the Raider clutched at his hand and cowered, having dropped his staff. “What… no!” Ankit was looming over him, his club raised.

Pathetic. Lost. Broken. Ankit saw only these things in those hazed-over eyes. This man was adrift. Lowering his club, he looked around. The wilds would eventually take care of him. Ankit didn’t feel it was his place. He dropped his club and turned towards the Tuskhog.

“Wait, how did you?” The man was still nursing his hand. It looked broken and was swelling. Staring at Ankit, pleading, “the wolves, what are they? How are you alive?” He nearly screamed the last question. He was growing incoherent, confused.

A loud howl penetrated the surrounding quiet, close by. A deep, guttural growl followed. Ankit froze, looking down at the old pig..

“No, no, please,” the Raider bent over and began searching around madly at his feet for his pistol. 

It was too late. The wilds had their way, just sooner than Ankit had expected. He heard it, but he didn’t watch. The Greatwolf swept in quietly and quickly. The Raider barely made a sound. He was dead before he’d even seen Ekta coming. 

Ankit took out his knife and set about gutting the pig. It made no sense carrying all that extra weight in guts back to New Carro, and they had no need for any of those bits at the moment. The forest’s scavengers could have their fair share.

Ekta approached from behind. He sniffed the disarmed trap. Then he pushed his nose into Ankit’s side and Ankit stroked his head in response. The Greatwolf let out a hauntingly beautiful howl. Off in the distance, Ankit heard an even more melodic sound in response. Sharper, clearer, and familiar. Mon Delta wasn’t far. He could feel her. 

Her response was more than just a greeting though, and Ekta turned towards it with intent. Ankit knew it too. She was calling them.

Having quickly stashed the Tuskhog carcass under a heap of snow to keep it fresh–he would return for it later–Ankit followed Ekta up the hill. He noticed they were following Old Timm’s tracks from when he’d left after the hunt.

Jogging lightly over the snow, eyes on the tracks, he turned a corner and saw the Greatwolf ahead, sniffing at the snow. As he drew near, Ekta raised his head and nodded up a small trail that sloped upwards, gesturing that Ankit should follow. He did so without hesitation, leaving the Greatwolf behind. There was a warmth building in his chest. This sensation was growing familiar. It happened whenever he and Delta were close.

Another feeling emerged now. Caution, or fear. This was new, but it was as if something was telling him he should tread lightly and stay quiet. Clearing over a small rise and past a snow-covered bush, Ankit saw the old man lying in the snow ahead. To his left, almost invisible against the white cliffs opposite, was Delta. She clearly expected him, and didn’t move a muscle, instead staring down the cliff at the scene below. Old Timm raised an open hand, then lowered it. Ankit went prone and crawled up beside him.

Below them was an encampment of sorts, not dissimilar to the Raiders’ ramshackle settlement on the Pass. Some old, weathered tents, a cabin or three, and various sheds and outhouses. Perhaps an old homestead, or a mine camp.

“Your Marko is down there, and he’s just had some intriguing visitors,” Old Timm explained in a whisper.

“Intriguing how?” Ankit asked.

“They did not belong. Two of the most unusual and mismatched individuals I have ever seen. If indeed they belong anywhere, I suspect it is very far from here.” He paused for a long while before continuing, “I don’t believe they were satisfied with his services. They left unhappy and empty-handed.”  

Old Timm pointed at something in the camp. A cage set aside near the door of the old cabin. Inside was something Ankit had not yet come across himself. A Greatwolf pup. 

He felt rage again, but this time it did not feel entirely his own. With it, the warmth intensified. Instinctively, he looked over at Delta and found her gaze fixed on the cage, anger in her eyes.

Continued on Page 3 with Part 3: The Greatwolves