The Long Winter: Pt 1 | C R Gardner

A lone Hunter fights for survival in times of great change.


The Long Winter Pt 1

C.R. Gardner

Wolves 1: Who Lives?


She sat on the ridge watching the fort in the valley below. In a few days she could join them, but not yet. Silver light flooded the valley as the moon crested the mountain barrier behind her. A sense of foreboding gripping as she caught a new scent on the wind. Her hackles rose and a growl rumbled low in her throat.

She stood, shaking the snow from her white fur as she padded silently away, aware of three sets of amber eyes watching from the edge of the frozen forest below. She’d have to skirt around the Eastern Pakisha stronghold by going higher – they’d never been very welcoming. The falling snow grew heavier as she trotted up the slope towards the edge of the winter forest.

The scent she’d caught earlier was grew stronger, burning the delicate membrane of her nostrils. This was no ordinary storm blowing in from the Wastelands. Loping through the dead winter forest she was reminded of another place. At least this one would bloom again when the weather warmed – eventually. The winters were growing longer and the Wasteland’s taint was growing stronger.

A new scent on the wind came too late and she couldn’t escape the trajectory of a large dark shape. It cannoned her into the trunk of a huge tree. Shaking the stars from her eyes and the snow from her pelt she met the amber eyes of a steel grey she-wolf with bared fangs.

Three more drifted through the trees towards her, their markings identifying them as Wolf Warriors. Not as bad as the Ghost Wolves that would soon be running down the mountain at the head of the storm, but to be treated with a healthy respect, regardless.

‘You are Myst,’ said a voice, over her right shoulder.

She spun to face it. The wolf was easily twice her size, black as a starless night, with eyes as blue as the sky on a cloudless day and as cold and merciless as the storm coming over the mountains.

‘Who wants to know?’ Her voice sounded strange – it had been a long time since she’d used it.

‘I am Calais, commander of this squad. Come. We don’t have much time before the storm breaks.’ He turned away, expecting her to follow.

‘Why should I go with you?’

‘Because the Pakisha requires it.’

‘I am outcast. I owe the Pakisha nothing.’

He stopped and looked over his shoulder at her. ‘You are Guqula. Changer. Of course you are outcast. Still, the Ancians have ordered the Warriors to find you.’

‘What does the Pakisha want with me?’

‘That I cannot answer.’

Myst sighed, aware that taking on a Warrior squad as the Ghost Wolves careened down the mountain towards them, would be unwise. ‘All right,’ she said, ‘I will come.’

Calais led, she followed and the other four hemmed her in as they weaved through the black skeletal trees at neck breaking speed, the storm nipping at their heels. Myst’s hackles were up – all her senses on high alert, the sense of foreboding growing stronger. She saw the cave. They would make it with not much to spare. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the pup standing next to a grey shape lying in the snow. She veered away from the promised safety of the cave.

‘Leave them!’

Myst ignored the snarled command and ran over to the pup. ‘Go!’ she said, ‘I’ll protect your mother.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I know what it’s like to be cast aside and left to die.’

Furious, Calais was beside her and snarling, ‘I said, leave them!’

‘No!’

‘The Pakisha requires…’

‘Your Pakisha is not mine!’ she snarled, growing to twice her size, silver witchlight shining from her eyes.

‘All the Pakisha are gathered. It is your Pakisha that insisted you be found,’ he snarled, backing away, ‘We will not help.’

‘You never have!’ she said, turning her back on him to face the Ghost Wolves flowing down the mountain. She stood over the injured she-wolf, her fangs bared and hackles raised. Silent she watched the roiling shapes of the Ghost Wolves tumbling over each other like a frothing wave. She could see the red fire in their eyes and their jaws wide and slavering. She could hear them snarling and howling. Her heart ached. Once they had been regular wolves, but they were lost to the Wasteland madness and were little more than mindless beasts.

Myst took a deep breath and braced herself. The foaming flood of Ghost Wolves rolled over her like an avalanche, snapping and biting as they thundered passed. Wave after wave surged down the mountain – growling, snarling, scratching and lacerating; their hatred and malice washing over her, draining her strength and will to fight.

Tired and aching she braced herself for another assault as more Ghost Wolves galloped towards them. Instead they flowed like a stream around a rock. Head hanging, breathing heavily, blood from many wounds trickling and dripping; the bright red drops staining the pristine snow scarlet, Myst became aware of the last and largest Ghost Wolf stopping before her.

‘Myst?’

‘Fallon,’ she said, looking up, her whole body trembling with exhaustion.

He touched her nose with his own, ‘You have been chosen.’

‘Chosen for what?’ she said, staring at him. He was Fallon, but not Fallon; wrong somehow.

He lunged at her, massive jaws snapping shut on air. Twisting Myst came up underneath him, her own jaws clamping around his throat, his hot blood squirting into her mouth. Legs braced she shook her head violently, using the last of her strength to tear out his throat, adorning the snow with his sparkling crimson blood.

Crumpling to the ground he whispered, ‘Trust no-one, Myst.’ The storm rolled in and covered them both.