Ankit, the old man, and the Greatwolves

Part 3: The Greatwolves

It took Ankit some time to pick out the emotions that were his own from those he suspected were Delta’s. The obvious ones, the desire to tear the Raiders apart, a fixation with their throats, those were easy. There were others too, though, far deeper, and less primal than he might have expected. In the end, this proved to be the mismatch with his own. He wasn’t sure he was even capable of that depth of feeling.

All the while, he continued to stare down at that Raider encampment alongside Old Timm and the Greatwolf. Ekta was somewhere nearby too, though Ankit hadn’t seen or sensed him in a while. Come to think of it, how much time had passed?

The camp was quiet, and the sun had just dipped behind the peaks. Looking off to the north, Ankit noticed for the first time that the clearing was at the top of a trail that led down into the valley below. The Meetlands stretched out beyond, the setting shadows of great hills and mountains beginning to obscure the vast plains in darkness. A long way off, smoke rose from a settlement that he imagined might be the walled city of Waysmeet itself.

A barren valley sits in the shadow of the mountains. In the distance smoke rises from a settlement.
The Meetlands

A few Raiders had appeared to light torches. They ambled about slowly, as if dazed. Ankit had seen that same behaviour in them on his first night in the Low Gates. The same few continued about the camp aimlessly. 

A thought emerged from between all the mixed emotions. The rage, his own, and Delta’s. The fear on behalf of the Greatwolf pup. Even the curiosity about what Marko and the Raiders were doing here, and who it was Old Timm had witnessed him meeting with. We must rescue that pup! The thought came with no detailed plan or reason. He simply knew it must be done. With that purpose in mind, he started clearing his mind of many of the unhelpful emotions. 

First, he began to see a route down the cliff and on the slope. One that he was confident he could manage without being noticed. Then, his eyes focused on the camp and worked their way around. Through the tents and sheds, other obstacles, and finally onto the main cabin’s stoop, where the cage sat. Assuming he could reach it, the pup looked old enough to escape into the trees itself if released. Considering he had the distinct impression that he, Old Timm and the two Greatwolves were now not alone in the forest, he was sure it would be safe, once released.

There was considerable risk. He had no sense of how many Raiders were in the camp. Judging by the number of cabins and tents, it could be anything from a dozen, to dozens. Regardless, resolved to attempt the rescue, Ankit looked across at Old Timm–who was still staring down at the camp, showing little emotion–then looked up at Mon Delta. Unexpectedly, he met her gaze, as if she had been staring into his mind, hearing his very thoughts. He felt as though she was saying, I cannot ask this of you.

Ankit set the rifle beside the old man, felt for his clubs–secure in their holsters–then dropped over the edge of the cliff.

Just a few minutes later, Ankit found himself crouched behind what he understood to be Marko’s cabin. He peaked around the corner to check the coast was clear and, seeing no Raiders, he snuck along the side to the front corner of the cabin and stopped. He was now within earshot of the young pup. Crouching, pressed tightly against the cabin, he listened carefully, hearing the pup’s claws tapping on the floor of the cage as she paced, the occasional fearful whimper, even a low grumble from time to time–no doubt an act of defiance when a Raider approached. 

As the minutes passed, he felt a sense of calm, readiness, but something else too. He first felt it on approach to the back of the cabin. The closest thing he could think of was when he was near the Greatwolves. He had an awareness of them, a glowing presence in his mind’s eye, and was no longer surprised when they appeared to him. This new presence was something different. Instead of warmth, he felt fearful anticipation. He felt cold. 

Doing his best to clear his mind of this darker glow, and once confident that the Raiders were not moving around all that much, Ankit peaked around the corner for a moment to check on the pup. He found her staring at him, as if she’d known he was there. Unsurprised, he scanned the area.

The coast looked clear, and he realised he should take the opportunity before he lost it. Standing, he pulled himself over a railing and on to the stoop without disturbing the relative silence in the camp. The pup watched him closely as he did so. Finding his way around the side of the cage and to its front, he saw that he only had to deal with a simple bolted clasp. He knelt, pulled on the bolt and opened the cage door carefully in case it creaked. It did not.

The young Greatwolf didn’t hesitate. She stepped forward, licked his hand, then stepped to his side, ready to depart. She knew the plan. Instead of running off however, she froze, then growled. This sound was deeper than what Ankit had thought possible from such a small animal. He knew what she was growling at. Various emotions–including a vague image of the camp from above–clouded his mind.

“Go,” Ankit whispered toward the pup. 

She made to, but paused and looked up at him, then again towards the cabin door. The dark chill became more and more heavy on his mind.

“Go, I’ll be ok.”

She finally complied, leaping from the stoop, and made for the trees. Several Raiders stared at her, confused. One of them stumbled into her path and she slid to a stop. Ankit tensed up, and the pup backtracked. Then, from the trees behind the Raider, a loud, snarling snap rolled into a deep growl. With the Raider’s attention averted, the pup bypassed him and reached the treeline.

“I had to see it with my own eyes to believe it,” that familiar, raspy voice rang out. Marko was standing in the doorway, hand to his side, gripping a handgun.

Ankit stood and turned, his hands at his sides, close to his club handles. The chief Raider would have no problem cutting him off if he made a dash for the clearing. If he tried to drop backwards over the railing, a shot would likely beat him to it.

“How exactly is it you come to be alive? In my time hunting these accursed animals, I have never known anyone to survive one of their attacks.” 

Ankit refrained from answering. He simply returned the stare he received, though there was little doubt he was less intimidating than the Chief Raider. Marko’s eyes continued to bleed that dimly glowing, white fluid that matched his whited-out pupils. His skin was dark and encrusted, particularly around the eye sockets, and the glow surrounded him.

Just as he looked as though he was about to speak again, there was a single, beautiful, angered howl from above. Mon Delta. This was followed shortly by a chorus of others from the cliffs, all around the encampment. Marko’s gaze barely shifted, and only for the briefest moment, but Ankit was certain the white eyes had darted up into the forests above. 

“Hmmm, perhaps that explains it. Not so different after all, you and I, are we?” A smile formed on his face as he spoke, staring at Ankit, taking in the air around him.

In that pause, Ankit’s mind drifted again, first to what the savage could mean. How was he anything like that cruel, unnatural monster? It was clear Marko could see something, but what? Before there was a chance to consider this further, he was distracted again by an awareness that they were no longer alone. He tried not to move his eyes from Marko, but in his periphery he could see that several Raiders had drifted into the clearing in front of the cabin. They no longer seemed to be ambling, or aimless.

“I wish I could hang around to beat the answer out of you. I imagine my employers would pay me handsomely for that knowledge.” He smiled, his teeth blackened and his gums pale. “No, not this time… but I have a feeling we’ll meet again. Assuming they don’t find you first!” He placed some emphasis on the ‘they’.

The smile widened as he spoke again, “well, I’ll be off then.” 

Without hesitation, Marko stepped down from the stoop and, moving quickly, walked into the crowd of Raiders. Ankit went to chase, but as he took in the scene in the clearing, now directly in his eyeline, he slowed. There were dozens of them, he guessed close to a hundred of them, standing, eyes glowing more vividly now. They stood upright, each of them armed with some sort of weapon. 

Marko had already disappeared into the crowd. Ankit felt the need to chase him, but he could already tell that was not going to be an easy task. His eyes shot left and right to look for a way of circumventing the mob. He was sure he could outrun any one of them. 

Just then–to make matters both more complicated, and exceedingly strange– the Raiders began to march forward towards the cabin in perfect unison. Ankit was struck hopeless for a moment. He froze. Fortunately though, this was the very moment that Ekta and the other Greatwolves commenced their own attack. From the trees, the slopes, and even leaping down onto the crowd from the roofs of the cabins, the Greatwolves attacked with a ferocity unlike anything Ankit had ever seen. 

Still, the Raiders seemed unfazed. As their comrades fell left and right, each dispatched quickly, expertly even, they continued to march towards the cabin, eyes trained on Ankit. He decided his only real chance of catching their leader was to meet them head on, disabling as many as he could in an effort to cut a path through them. He guessed Marko had made a break for the trail down towards the valley below.

As he descended the stairs, he leapt from the last, bringing out both of his clubs as he did. With his full weight, and the increased strength of his left arm, his first blow landed on the lead Raider. Ankit felt the uncomfortable crushing of bone run through his arm as the attacker dropped to the floor, almost certainly dead. He did not feel good about it, but was now focussed on one thing, and one thing only. Landing several more deft blows to ribs, heads, and knees–his right arm also feeling slightly stronger now–he had dispatched nearly ten of them by himself when he noticed a change. 

The Raiders became scattered, disorganised and confused. At the same moment, a path revealed itself. Ankit could see the opposite end of the clearing and wasted no time sprinting forwards, ducking wild swings with an assortment of weapons as he did. When he broke clear of the crowd, he didn’t even take a moment to look back. If anything, he sped up.

Ankit sprinted on for what felt like fifteen to twenty minutes, barely taking a breath as he did. Only then did he slow down, two realisations sinking in at once. First, what just happened? This was the first chance he’d had to really test himself. His strength, his speed, even his stamina, they all seemed significantly enhanced. Then where is he? In any normal circumstance, Ankit, even before he’d had these traits, would have caught up with a normal individual. That was accounting for the head start as well, he was sure of it. 

No, Marko was no doubt also somehow faster, perhaps stronger too, and could easily have taken off down one of several side-trails Ankit had noticed as he ran. Though, also notable, was that the savage had left no perceivable trail out of the clearing either. Finally he stopped, and after taking a few last moments to scan the trail for any sign of Marko’s flight, he turned and jogged back up the trail.

Nearly half an hour later, Ankit jogged back into the Raider encampment and was greeted by quite a sight. The Greatwolves surrounded the survivors. The dead and dying had been carefully dragged off to one side. Some were being tended to by Mon Delta and another, older looking Greatwolf. Ekta and four others stood guard amongst those left standing, padding this way and that between them, sniffing at each, watchful. 

As he approached, Ankit saw Old Timm standing and facing one of the Raiders, hands behind his back, staring into his eye. The man stood, slightly hunched, and swaying side to side. Ankit joined the old man and succumbed to his own curiosity. The eyes were no longer white and glowing. Instead, they were hazy and dull. They gave the distinct impression that there was nothing left inside, no person, no mind. 

“I no longer know this place. This new world,” Old Timm spoke, startling Ankit. “In my age, people manipulated, controlled, even subjugated to great effect. The tools they used were sophisticated and powerful. Yet somehow, looking back, they seemed almost civilised compared to… whatever this is.” 

There was a long pause. Even the Greatwolves seemed to sense the depth of Old Timm’s apparent despair. Ankit didn’t know what he could, should, or even might say. He sensed the same thing he suspected the old man did. The minds of these Raiders had been taken, what little autonomy they’d had, had been finally and completely usurped in Marko’s flight. 

What was it that gave him this power over them?

“What power indeed?” Old Timm said as if he were responding to the question Ankit had asked only in his mind.

Before Ankit could respond, he felt Mon Delta’s nose on his shoulder. Feeling her warmth filling him up as always, he turned his head to look her in the eyes. She was grateful for his actions and nodded towards the pup, who trotted out of the trees. She sat before him, opened her mouth and began to pant, tongue falling out to one side. Ankit heard her tail dusting the floor behind her.

“The time for you to leave is fast approaching. There is more for you to learn, but your place is out there.” The old man gestured towards the valley. “In this new world… you, and others like you, will be needed.”

Having followed Old Timm’s gaze out to the Meetlands, Ankit looked back to him briefly, then glanced at Delta, before looking back towards the pup who was still smiling at him. As the old man continued to stare between the mindless Raider and the world beyond, one thing he’d said was stuck in Ankit’s mind.

Others? Others like me?

We’ll be back soon with another Journal entry, and more from Ankit’s story.

Illustrations by Midjourney & G.G.B.

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