Fear The Dawn: Chapter 38

Damn”, Karma thought, turning over the scraps of broken metal in his paw. “Now what am I supposed to do?”
He had been working below deck most nights lately, slowly restoring the ship to something resembling working order. It wasn't exciting work, but it kept him occupied and helped clear his mind any time he was plagued by thoughts of futility or doubt. Tonight he was working on repairing one of the cabin doors he had broken down during his rampage. The door had been torn right off its hinges, splintering the wood underneath, so the first thing he had to do was turn the door around and cut another set of holes on the other side He had managed to reattach the bottom hinge, but the top hinge had evidently held on a little better, and the metal pin holding it together fell to pieces when he tried to flex it. Without the pin, the hinge wouldn't stay together, and if he let go of the door it was going to fall down again. He sighed and opened the door all the way, leaning it against the wall in the hallway, then went to check his storage room.

Much of the furniture from below deck was damaged beyond repair, so he had taken a cue from the strangers, salvaging what material remained useful from pieces he couldn't fix. He had an ample supply of wood and some cloth, but metal was in much shorter supply, and he knew he certainly didn't have any spare hinges in that pile. He looked over a few nails for something that might serve as a replacement pin, but they were all too short and too thin. The rest of the pile showed little promise. There were a handful of chairs with no backs, a broken end table, and a few cracked drawers from a dresser. Most of the pieces he was repairing needed replacement legs, so he had harvested most of the ones that remained intact from the furniture stored here.
That might work”, he thought, taking a closer look at the end table. The legs were fastened to the table by a long skinny bolt that ran all the way up the leg. He tried to detach one of the legs, but it was secured quite firmly, and he couldn't pull the bolt out from the bottom, either, there was only a flat metal head at the base of the foot. He pulled on the leg a little harder, but eventually it just snapped off, breaking part of the base of the table. The bolt stuck out from the end of the leg a little, so he tried to knock it out using a hammer, but that only succeeded in bending the metal. Annoyed, he struck the leg against the table, leaving a big chip in the side.
Get a grip”, he reminded himself, “it won't help any to lose control.”
Instead, he began cutting away at the leg with a saw. It took a while, but he finally managed to saw enough of the wood away that he could pull the bolt out of the leg. It was a fair bit too long, so he jammed it into a crack in the floorboards and used the hammer to snap some of it off, then returned to the door. It didn't perfectly fit inside the hinge, and the door wobbled after he bolted the hinge back upright, but at least it seemed to be holding together. He took a few steps back to see if the door would fall over again, but it stayed upright.

It certainly didn't look great. He had turned the most damaged section of the door to face the inside of the room, but the wood was still chipped in places and one whole corner of the door was missing from when it had first struck the ground, but it was functional again. The same could be said of the other things he had fixed, they would never look as good as they did before, but the lower deck was slowly starting to look merely old and worn down rather than destroyed. Though it likely wouldn't have impressed anyone else, he was pleased with the way things were coming along, it reminded him that things could always change. What had once been broken had found new purpose. The great gashes he had made on the walls with his claws were one thing he couldn't fix, he had no tools with which to fill them in and nowhere near enough wood to replace all the boards. He had tried to rub them down using a course piece of fabric, but that too had lead him nowhere. Some scars would always remain.

He returned to the deck to check the signals. A few nights ago he had finally finished a new rope ladder to replace the one he had thrown overboard that night. It had taken all of the rope he had in storage, but now he finally didn't have to scale down the side of the ship to get to the water anymore. He climbed down the ladder to get to the water's surface and dipped his tail into the water, listening carefully for the signals. Every night he hoped he would find a fifth one, indicating the return of Lapse, but once again there were only the same four that were always there. He was getting so tired of those same four signals over and over every night, they served as a constant, droning reminder that he was getting nowhere. After that night where he had helped Pack confront his darkness, he had expected they would find Lapse right away. She seemed to have been gone for quite a long time now, though in truth, he had no idea how long he had been away from this world, perhaps this was only the beginning of how long they would have to wait. He wondered if he would even make it that long. So far, the repairs to his ship had kept him occupied, but they wouldn't last forever. What was he supposed to do to occupy himself once they were complete? Since he came back, all he had thought about was finding Lapse and Line. He no longer enjoyed the mornings the way he once had, and now that his plan to find Line had been reduced to waiting for Lapse to return the nights felt aimless and passed terribly slow. He needed to return to a more active approach.

I guess I should go check on the others”, he thought. There wasn't much else he could do now. Perhaps Pack had already found Lapse, and she was just together with him on his ship. He didn't allow himself to get his hopes up, but at least he could see what the others were up to, and he might learn something. If his monitoring of the positions of the other ships was correct, and he had been getting better at it, it would take quite a few nights before he would find anyone. He set his ship's course and hopped up onto his favourite perch. He tried to think back to happier times when Banshee and Line had been around, but found he had precious few memories that weren't contaminated by regret in one way or another. Instead, he found himself remembering that night where he had gone away, and how angry he had been at them. “Why did you make me care about you?”, he had demanded. It had certainly been easier not to care. For a moment, he wondered if he would choose to forget all that had happened and go back to being the Destroyer if he had the chance. It was impossible, though. No matter how much he might try, those scars on the walls of the ship would never fade.
Karma gazed out across the ocean as the sun began to rise, deep in thought.


The bloodcurdling cry of a wolf filled the air. Karma knew the sound well, wolves were vicious creatures who hunted in packs and the strangers feared them. The scent of wet grass and pine trees tingled his nose, and he wondered if he had become a wolf, but when he opened his eyes he saw the dark-skinned hands of a stranger instead. He had never taken the form of a wolf that he could recall, and it seemed tonight would be no different. He quickly looked about to see if the wolves might be nearby, but there was no sign of them. The sound had likely come from the forest that stood atop the large hill on which he stood, there was no imminent threat. The sun was just beginning to come up from beyond the hill, with nothing but errant scraps of light poking through the trees.
In the distance, Karma also heard the sound of footsteps. Many of them, and voices, too, drawing closer and closer. His first instinct was to hide, but he wouldn't have time to reach the woods, and the grassy hill offered no cover. He turned to face the sound of the footsteps, straining to make out their source in the dim light.

The first glimpse he caught of the mob was the glinting of metal, rising up from the base of the hill. He soon saw hands, as well, hundreds of them, holding a terrifying assortment of blades and knives. The sound of hurried footsteps and angry voices came in loud and clear now, and he found himself regretting his choice not to hide. If he ran, he could make it to the forest before they would, but now he saw that some of them carried torches, too, and he knew what fire could do to trees.
Death to the monster!”, the crowd chanted, in unison.
So it was true, they had finally come for him. After all he had done to the strangers, it was hardly surprising. There was no escape now, and even the Destroyer could never have taken on so many, unarmed no less. Perhaps people could change, but to those they had wronged it made little difference. He had always known in the back of his mind that his reckoning would come eventually, and he could scarcely claim it was undeserved, he just hoped that Pack would find Lapse, and that together the two of them could bring Line back. He had done his part to put him on the right track, at least, his death would not be totally in vain.
AWOOOO!!”, the cry of the wolf sounded again, foretelling his imminent doom.
There it is!”, the mob shouted, almost upon him now, “the monster!”
Karma braced himself, digging his feet into the ground, ready to move at a moment's notice. He would make a show of it, at least. Let them see which among them cold strike him down, the one who had struck fear into their hearts for so long.
Onward, men! Tonight, we take back the night!”. They cast their blades toward the forest, and Karma stood there, bewildered, as the mob ran right past him. It seemed that today they sought a monster of a different sort.
For a moment he just watched them approach the forest. He was surprised by the relief he felt, knowing that his end would not come today. Many times since he had returned had he cursed his existence, was it simply that he was glad that he would be able to continue his search for Line, or had some part of him become accustomed to this life? Either way, he found himself chasing after the group, curious to find out what manner of monster they sought that was greater than him.

He finally caught up with them at the entrance to the woods. He approached a stranger close to the back of the pack, a burly fellow with deep red hair and a beard, carrying a large torch, who seemed a bit less agitated than the others.
What is this monster that lies in the woods?”, he asked.
Are ye deaf, then?”
Karma looked at the man with a blank expression on his face, not sure what to say.
For weeks, the great wolf has terrorized our village. It creeps out of the woods at night, raiding our crops and stealing our chickens. Those who laid on it claim that it's not even a wolf at all, but some great beast that walks upright like a man. Its howling makes our babies cry, and the women in the village are afraid to go out at night, so tonight we hunt down the beast and take our lives back!”
The men cheered and clanged their blades together, pressing into the forest. The ground was wet and littered with the roots of tall trees, so they had to proceed slowly, and a couple tripped and fell, causing the others to jump and turn abruptly, only to confirm there was no threat and continue on. For all their bravado and the size of their band, they were frightened of this creature. The ones at the front held their weapons nervously at the ready as they came into a small clearing.
Karma's sharp ears picked up the sound of a creature running through wet grass.
There!”, someone shouted. A grey flash tore past the clearing, and several of the men lost their footing in surprise. Karma realized it would be prudent to stand some distance away from the men lest they skewer him by accident, so he stood on the root of a tree just outside the clearing.
Where did it go?”, a man asked, clutching his sword and scanning the woods nervously.
Karma's senses were better than theirs, his ears had been able to track the creature's movements as it passed by, and he could faintly detect the beast's scent, too. He slipped around to the other side of the tree and quietly crept away from the crowd. He took care to walk on the roots of the trees where he could, keeping out of the noisy grass.

He wasn't sure what he intended to accomplish, skulking alone through the trees. He was unarmed, so he could not possibly hope to fight a giant wolf. Yet somehow, he felt safer out here, away from the clumsy throng and their weapons. He was being quiet, so he was fairly confident that the beast would not find him, but still he kept a close watch. He heard a rustling in the grass up ahead, so he quickly hid behind a tree. After the sound had stopped, he peeked out from behind his tree to see if he could catch a glimpse of the beast, but all he could see was some grey fur hidden among the woods.
I know you're there!”, said a deep, sorrowful voice. “I can smell you. Just leave me alone, I don't want any trouble!”
Karma took one step out from the tree. He still couldn't see the beast clearly, it was hidden among the trees on the other side of the path.
If you don't want trouble, why raid the village? The villagers say you stole their chickens and their crops.”
I only took what I needed”, the creature protested. “They would never let me into their village, so I have to creep around at night. They have plenty of crops, and I have no intention to hurt anyone, so please, just leave me be!”
Karma almost felt a sense of pity for the creature, but he knew the others would not see it that way.
I hear something!”, someone shouted. “It's over here!”
He heard the sound of loud footsteps rushing through the grass again as the men carelessly raced through the forest, revealing their position instantly. Still, careless as they were there were far too many of them for any kind of confrontation.
You have to get out of here”, he told the creature. “Follow me!”
He darted into the woods across the path where the creature was hiding. It was then that he caught his first good look at the monster. Indeed, it seemed to be some cross between a stranger and a wolf, it stood upright like a stranger, but it had the head and grey fur of a wolf, and while it had stranger-like hands on the end of its long thin arms, it also bore powerful claws. The beast was quite large as well, standing at least a head taller than Karma, and broader as well.
Then men shouted again, coming to the area where Karma had been hiding. The creature broke into a run, dropping to all fours, and even though he was used to travelling quickly through places such as this Karma struggled to stay ahead.
Why are you helping me?”, the beast asked.
They've come after me, as well. Maybe us monsters have to stick together.”
They were putting some distance on their pursuers now. Though they had lost the element of stealth, the strangers were clumsy and couldn't move through the forest as fast. They were going to get away.
Wait!”, the monster cried out. “Not that way!”
Karma just barely had time to come to a stop as the forest disappeared before his eyes and the rising sun caught him right in the eyes. Beyond the last set of trees the ground fell away, and he found himself atop a tall cliff overlooking a valley far below. He turned his head to the side, and the cliff continued as far as he could see in both directions with no obvious way to get down. It was a dead end.
It's up here!”, a man shouted. Karma could hear their footsteps approaching from several directions now.
This way!”. he said, darting through the forest again. The beast followed after him.
But that path leads back to the village! We'll be caught out in the open!”
It's the only chance we have!”, Karma said, paying particularly careful attention to his footing as they raced through the trees.

Sure enough, it wasn't long before they found themselves out of the forest and back on the hill from earlier. They started to run down the large hill towards the village just as the men started pouring out of the woods. They seemed to have overcome their fear now and were coming towards them with great speed.
Now we're trapped!” the creature said, turning back to their pursuers.
No”, Karma said, “don't you see? This is our chance! All of the men are behind us, the village is totally unguarded. All we have to do is run down there, grab a few hostages, and use them to secure our escape!”
The creature looked at him, aghast. “We can't do that! I told you, I'm not here to hurt anyone!”
We don't have to hurt them, we just have to trade them for our freedom.”
No”, the creature said. “That would just make me into the monster that they believe me to be. And even if we did escape, I have nowhere else to go. I'm tired of running.”
You can't be thinking of fighting”, Karma said, “there's far too many of them.”
AWOOOO!”. The wolf's howl was so powerful and unexpected that Karma was knocked off his feet. The strangers up on the hill let out a cry and ran towards the wolf, and he stepped away from Karma as they encircled him.
What is he thinking?!”, Karma wondered as he got back up to his feet, but it was too late, he had no way to push through the throng. He could only watch now.
Kill the beast!”, they shouted. “Slit his throat! Take back the night!” The men inched forward, their blades at the ready.
AWOOOO!”, he howled again, briefly silencing the mob. Some of the men backed away, but he was still outnumbered a hundred to one. The smart thing would be to try to break through where the men were caught off-guard, and make his way back to the forest, but he showed no signs of moving.
We have ye now, monster!”, said the burly man with the red hair whom Karma had spotted earlier. He had since traded his torch for a sword, and was advancing on the wolf. If he was going to make his move, now was the time.
Tell me now, which one of us is the monster?”. The man stopped. The crowd seemed to be shocked that the beast could speak. “I have not done anything to you, but you chased me from my home with your swords and your flames. Would you burn down the whole forest just to get rid of me, then? Is that what makes a human?”
Dinnae try to confuse us with your riddles, beast! You have besieged our town, looted our farms, and terrified our families. We will do what we must to protect our homes!”
And what threat do I pose to your homes? How many of your villagers have I hurt? How many crops have gone missing? I took only what little I needed and kept to myself in the forest. We are not so different, we just want to be free to live our lives in peace.”
Aye, well, there is a price to be paid for stealing those crops.”
And what price would you have me pay? Would you let me into your shops to buy my own food? It seems the only price you deem fair is the flesh from my bones.”
Perhaps there is some truth to what ye say...”
Dinnae listen to 'im!”, someone said, throwing a rock at the wolf, striking him in the back. “He is no man! He is but a monster, come to destroy our town!”. There were other cries of affirmation from the crowd.
I have said my piece. If you still want to kill me, then kill me.”
There were certainly still many in the crowd who wanted to kill the wolf. Perhaps he should have said something, but Karma was transfixed by it all. He had never thought that the wolf would attempt to reason with the strangers. Could it really work?
The crowd was starting to become rowdy again, and some of the strangers were starting to break the circle and advance towards the wolf. It didn't seem as though they were going to spare him.
Silence!”, the man with the red hair yelled, and the crowd fell quiet. “Ye can't keep stealing our crops. However, if ye be willing to keep yer nose clean, perhaps I could use someone with a strong back to help out around the farm. If ye work hard, then I could give ye what you need to eat.”
Whatever the wolf might have said, in response he was drowned out by the protests of the crowd.
The man with the red hair put up his hand. “I have rendered my verdict. If you have an issue with it, you can take it up with me later. But if ye haven't noticed, it's already midday, and we've all got work to be doin'.”
There was a lot of grumbling from the crowd, but they gradually dispersed. The man with the red hair also began to head back towards the town. The wolf was just standing there, apparently as surprised as anyone else by what had happened.
Are ye coming, or what?”
The wolf gradually started to follow after him. “Thank you, friend”, he said to Karma as he walked past. “Without your help I never would have thought that humans could be trusted.”
The two of them walked down the hill towards the village, leaving Karma alone on the grass. Slowly a fog started to roll over the village, obscuring it from view. Karma walked back towards the forest, thinking about what the wolf had said.
They were all ready to condemn the wolf to death, but somehow they changed their minds. Is that really possible? Could people accept something they had once feared?”
He found his ship waiting for him where the cliff had been. Just as he was about to climb on board, he heard the call of the wolf one last time from far away.

No comments:

Post a Comment