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The Strength Of The Wolf Is The Pack [Closed]

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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20
#1
((Early spring, 9:41; Haven; Krem ))

Vandi had been glad to find that Bull’s Chargers had signed on with the Inquisition. The Blackstones had worked alongside them a handful of times over the years; they were as solid as they came in battle, and knew how to cut loose and have fun once the fighting was done and the pay collected.

It wasn’t fighting or fun that had her looking for them right now, however. She’d just returned from scouting advance camp locations in the Fallow Mire when she’d heard of the wolves in the Hinterlands being driven mad by a demon, and the Herald having to kill the pack along with the demon to end the threat to the area farmers and their livestock.

It had been necessary. She knew that, but it still gnawed at her. She’d seen the thick pelts salted and ready to be tanned in Threnn’s stocks. No sense wasting what might keep someone from freezing to death. But still -

They were predators, yes, but when game was plentifu, they never went near human habitation or livestock. They never would have, if not for the damn demon, and when she thought of their dead bodies left skinless in the melting snow, all she could see was Dane, his muzzle silver with age, leaping between her and a rage demon, howling with pain as the flames seared him, but refusing to back down until they’d sent the thing back into whatever nightmare it had escaped from.

She’d cradled him as he died, dripping a blend of elfroot and willow bark extract into his mouth to dull the pain. He’d not growled or tried to bite, even when she accidentally brushed against his blistered hide. His pink tongue had come out one last time, licking the tears from her cheek, and he’d been gone. She’d carried him back to the compound across her shoulders, staggering under his weight but refusing any help, and he’d been given a pyre, just like any other member of the Blackstone Irregulars.

The Singing Maiden was bustling these days; food and drink was finally starting to make its way in at a rate that came closer to matching the influx of people. Not a feast by any means, but far enough from famine that folk could get a drink at the end of a day’s work and sit to enjoy it.

She spotted the man she was looking for, listening to Maryden’s latest song by the fireplace. “Krem,” she greeted him, settling on the bench beside him. “Got a minute?”
 

Krem

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#2
Tevinter boys weren’t made for this kind of weather.

The rain, the wind, and who could forget the cold that was harsh enough to shrivel even the Chief’s balls--or so he guessed. There were some things he was just as happy not to know about Bull. Krem would never complain about it--much--but he was glad to be back inside, a tankard of mead to warm his belly and a fire to warm the rest of him.

The rest of the Chargers were off doing Maker knew what. Once everyone was back in Haven, they were the Chief’s to babysit. They’d all stumble into the tavern eventually, anyway, and Krem seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to sensing trouble amongst his dysfunctional found family.

Maybe he and Bull were co-parenting the lot of them. No, that didn’t feel right. Bull was the father, the big bastard, and Krem was the older brother who got left in charge when daddy was gone. Wasn’t something he’d ever say out loud, since he was younger than a lot of his company. He’d just hold the truth of it in his heart until the day some demon or darkspawn or regular asshole with a sword stabbed him in it.

For right now he was on his own, one of his chestplates resting against his knee as he tried to wipe out all the scratches. Sea spray was hell on armor. All that salt grating against the metal. And they’d spent enough time on the Storm Coast that Krem’s favorite pieces were all scuffed up, dulled from being constantly battered by a fine mist that might as well have been wyvern spit.

They weren’t shining anymore, and that was a tragedy he had to do something about.

The crackling fire would’ve been nice enough music all on its own, but there was actual music, too. Maryden was singing a song about… actually, Krem wasn’t sure what it was about. It was pretty, though. Maryden’s music always was. So was she, for that matter. Distracting when she’d smile at him. He’d polished the same spot on his armor for a solid minute because of that.

He’d just gotten back on course when the tavern doors swung open. Wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine it was Grim or Skinner or another one of the Chargers come to join him, but when he looked up he saw a different familiar face.

“Krem,” Vandi threw one leg over the bench and sat beside him. “Got a minute?”

“For you? Always,” he said with a grin.

The armor was foisted off his knee and onto the bench at his opposite side, the oiled rag set atop it. He turned to face her, recovering decently enough from the fit of slack-jawed staring he’d suffered. Not that Vandi wasn’t worth staring at, he’d just worked with her enough to feel comfortable around her. The Blackstone Irregulars were a good company. Krem had never seen them as competition--the Chargers had a lot of specialized skills, for one, and it was easier to do some jobs with another perspective. Plenty of coin to go around.

“Last I heard, you and the other scouts were ass-deep in sludge. How’d that go?”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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20
#3
Krem had always been fastidious about his armor, so it was no surprise that he was polishing one of his breastplates while he listened to Haven’s resident minstrel. Others hovered around the fringes of Haven, hoping to hear of some scrap of derring-do that they could spin into a song for the ages, but Maryden was the only one who had been granted more or less permanent tenure at the Singing Maiden. Morale and entertainment was all well and good, but the Inquisition couldn’t yet afford to feed an army of mouths that did nothing but sing and tell tales.

He pulled his gaze from Maryden with considerably more reluctance than he showed in laying aside his armor-polishing, but the smile he greeted Vandi with was as ready as ever. He’d never flirted with her, and that was fine by Vandi, though he was certainly easy on the eyes. Getting involved with members of rival companies, however friendly the rivalry, was never a good idea; you never knew when you might find yourself hired out on the opposite side of a conflict from them, and things could get messy fast.

“Last I heard, you and the other scouts were ass-deep in sludge,” he remarked. “How’d that go?”

“About as well as you’d expect,” Vandi replied with a grimace. “Not sure why anyone would live there on purpose, not that many do now.” She looked around briefly and lowered her voice before she continued. “A plague killed off most of the people there sometime late last year. The ones left weren’t strong enough to gather wood for pyres, so they just pitched the bodies into the swamp and when the Breach opened, the dead started rising from the water. Between that, the demons and the Avvar, it’s a sodding mess. We managed to set up a forward camp that should stay above water when it rains - which it does on a daily basis - and spotted a couple of rifts.”

The serving girl brought her a cup of mulled wine, and she took a drink, savoring the warmth and the spices. “I heard the Chargers were working a job in the Hinterlands when the Herald dealt with the wolves that the demons had driven mad,” she said, trying to keep her tone as offhanded as possible. The wolves were dead. They couldn’t feel the cold, or the scavengers, or - “Would you know where the den was at?”
 

Krem

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#4
Pulling his attention away from Maryden and giving it to Vandi wasn't much of a hardship, truth be told. Krem tried not to make eyes at other mercenaries. Bad for business all around. So far he'd managed as much with her, but even if she was as hard to look at as the Chief's ugly mug--which she wasn't--Krem was always willing to spare some time for the Blackstones.

“About as well as you’d expect,” she said, and he winced. Easy enough to tell what that meant. “Not sure why anyone would live there on purpose, not that many do now." She lowered her voice, leaned in a little closer. "A plague killed off most of the people there sometime late last year. The ones left weren’t strong enough to gather wood for pyres, so they just pitched the bodies into the swamp and when the Breach opened, the dead started rising from the water."

"Damn." Krem dragged a hand over his face, a chill snaking its way up his spine. "Had a job like that once. Long time ago. Not something I'd ever volunteer for again, no matter how good the pay."

Growing up in Tevinter meant he'd been exposed to a lot more than most. Didn't mean he had to like everything he'd seen. Chief knew how he felt about it. Blood magic, too. If the Inquisitor wanted the Chargers to follow up in the Mire... well, he'd cross that bridge if he came to it.

"Between that, the demons and the Avvar, it’s a sodding mess," Vandi continued. "We managed to set up a forward camp that should stay above water when it rains - which it does on a daily basis - and spotted a couple of rifts.”

"Sounds like you could use a drink," he said with a grin.

The serving girl arrived right on cue, handing over a cup of mulled wine. Didn't hurt that Krem had seen her heading this way when he made that remark.

“I heard the Chargers were working a job in the Hinterlands when the Herald dealt with the wolves that the demons had driven mad,” she said after taking a sip. “Would you know where the den was at?”

Krem wracked his brain. Job had only just finished, but they'd done a lot. Seen a lot. And he'd always been good with maps, but he needed a picture in his head to place it.

"By the horse farms," he finally said, sure of that much at least. "Closer than I'd be comfortable with, if I was in the business of breeding horses. But I guess the wolves weren't a problem before the rifts." Krem frowned. Best to remember who he was talking to and not stick his boot so far into his mouth he couldn't get it back out. "Didn't spent a lot of time that far west. Mostly stuck close to Haven. But I could pin it down if I had to. Why do you ask?"
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#5
The work of a mercenary ranged the full gamut from mind-numbing boredom to hair-raising, bowel-loosening bizarreness, and since signing on with the Inquisition, Vandi had seen a shitload of the latter, but the mess in the Fallow Mire was crazy even by those standards. Demons and Avvar and undead? Oh, my.

"Had a job like that once,” Krem said when she described the situation, scrubbing his hand over his face with an expression that suggested the memory wasn’t a good one. “Long time ago. Not something I'd ever volunteer for again, no matter how good the pay."

Vandi snorted. A merc went where the pay was, but the leaders of the good companies - like the Blackstones and the Chargers - listened to those under their command and didn't force them into shit jobs. Still, sometimes a straight-up sounding job took a wild left turn into strangeness and the only way out was straight through. The Herald couldn’t close the rifts if she didn’t know where they were, and without at least an idea of the hazards in a new area, she’d be dangerously vulnerable, which was an unacceptable risk, given that she was the only one who seemed likely to be able to close the gaping hole in the sky and its countless smaller kin scattered across the landscape.

So she’d stayed, dodging hostiles and mapping terrain. Her part of the job was done, and someone else was more than welcome to the soggy mess now.

"Sounds like you could use a drink," he suggested with that lopsided grin of his, just as the server showed up.

“Smooth, Aclassi,” she congratulated him with a smirk as she drank. She didn’t mind him practicing his moves on her; they both knew just how far they could take it, and neither of them had ever been stupid enough to try to push the limit.

She tried to keep the question about the wolves as casual as possible, but her heart sank a bit when no hint of recognition flickered on Krem’s face. It didn’t matter that much, she told herself. The wolves were dead; they didn’t care, and there were more urgent matters to attend to, like the rumors of the dead rising from the lake near Crestwood.

"By the horse farms," he offered uncertainly. "Closer than I'd be comfortable with, if I was in the business of breeding horses. But I guess the wolves weren't a problem before the rifts."

“They wouldn’t have been,” she agreed bleakly. Not with game so plentiful and the pastures guarded. Wolves weren’t wanton killers; they hunted to eat, and they looked for easy kills.

"Didn't spent a lot of time that far west,” he admitted, frowning slightly as he tried to recall more. “Mostly stuck close to Haven. But I could pin it down if I had to. Why do you ask?"

“It’s stupid,” she said dismissively, looking away from him and staring into the flames dancing in the hearth. “I just … I want to burn the bodies. They skinned them after they killed them, and that makes sense; we can use the hides.” Even so, she felt her gorge rise and took a hasty drink of wine, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth before meeting Krem’s eyes again.

“It wasn’t their fault,” she said simply. “They had to be killed; I know that, but if not for the damn demon, they never would have attacked. I just don’t want to leave them laying there to rot, and I know that it doesn’t make sense. I just want to do it for Dane.” She missed the wolf even more now, away from the Blackstones. Missed his companionship and protection, his keen nose and ears and the warmth of him beside her in her shelter at night. He’d been old, yes, and better to die fighting than be dragged down slowly by debilitation, but -

“Fuck the damn demons, anyway,” she said morosely, taking another drink and staring into the fire again.
 

Krem

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#6
Krem might not have known Vandi as well as he knew the Chargers--good chance he’d never know anybody as well as he knew those idiots, Maker willing--but he knew enough to see she was worked up over something.

“It’s stupid.” She said it so quickly there was a damned good chance it wasn’t stupid at all. Krem sat up, intrigued, but didn’t push for more. “I just … I want to burn the bodies. They skinned them after they killed them, and that makes sense; we can use the hides.”

“Ah. Right, of course.”

That was… grim. Krem reached for his own drink, to wash out the bad taste that had suddenly flooded his mouth. He had no idea how any of this worked, if animals could spread madness after being corrupted by demons, or if she just wanted to do it for the sake of honoring the dead. He didn’t plan to ask, but Vandi continued. Seemed she needed to say some things, and he wasn’t going to be the asshole who refused.

“It wasn’t their fault. They had to be killed; I know that, but if not for the damn demon, they never would have attacked.” Krem frowned, feeling even worse about his assumptions. “I just don’t want to leave them laying there to rot, and I know that it doesn’t make sense. I just want to do it for Dane.”

Of course he’d heard her talk about Dane. He’d never met the wolf, but it was obvious Vandi still felt his loss. He’d been her partner, her family as much as anybody else.

Krem looked down, his fingers twitching with the urge to offer some kind of comfort. A hug. Pat on the shoulder. Awful joke. Something.

“It’s not stupid, Vandi,” he managed, the words said in a quiet voice that felt out of place for the tavern.

She didn’t look at him, her gaze fixed on the fire. The glow of it played off her features, and he could see her sorrow, as much as he heard it in her voice. “Fuck the damn demons, anyway.”

“I’ll drink to that,” he muttered, reaching for his mug.

The mead was sour, and Krem didn’t think it had anything to do with the quality of the alcohol. Maybe he wasn’t the biggest optimist in their camp, but he liked to think things would work out. This was another reminder that sometimes things didn’t work out. Sometimes senseless things happened for no reason.

He could sit and be sad about it right alongside her, but Krem was a man of action, and he hated leaving a job unfinished. Even a job he hadn’t originally signed on to do.

“Come on,” he set down his mug with a thunk and reached for the breastplate he’d been polishing, his mind made up, “I’ll show you the den, and whatever you need to do there, we’ll do it.”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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20
#7
Krem had never met Dane. The wolf kept to the wilds, waiting for Vandi when she ventured into settlements and camps. The Blackstone compound was the only place that he would accompany her, and Bull’s Chargers were primarily a combat company, letting others do the scouting. But she had talked about him, and had shared the news of his fate when she’d met up with the other merc. He knew how long she and Dane had been together. He hadn't been a pet; he'd been her companion and friend.

“It’s not stupid, Vandi,” he told her quietly when she voiced what she knew was an irrational desire, then “I’ll drink to that,” to her grim toast.

There didn’t seem to be much more to be said on the matter, and Vandi was resolved to finish her wine and keep asking around when Krem thunked his mug onto the table.

“Come on,” he told her, taking up the cuirass he’d set aside, “I’ll show you the den, and whatever you need to do there, we’ll do it.”

“Thanks.” She drained her mug (because no merc worthy of the name let alcohol go to waste) and came to her feet, following him outside.

“Walk or ride?” she wanted to know. Horses were faster, but Vandi generally preferred to cover ground on her own feet. You saw more that way, and it was easier not to be seen. The Hinterlands had largely been brought under control, though, so she’d leave the choice to the gent.
 

Krem

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#8
Vandi drained her mug as Krem pulled on his breastplate, cinching the straps and doing up the buckles. He moved toward the door and grabbed his cloak from a peg on the wall as his companion asked how they were going to get there.

“Walk or ride?”

"Walk, I think. Less to worry about that way." He tied the cloak beneath his collarbone, giving Maryden a single nod, the woman's keen eyes watching them as they headed out. "Let me grab a couple things, and I'll meet you at the gates."

Stopping off at his room to get his weapons and some supplies--just in case they ran into trouble or ended up stuck out there for longer than anticipated--Krem met the scout at the gates as he'd said, and the two of them headed into the Hinterlands.

***​

With most of the threats neutralized and Inquisition soldiers stationed at all the forward camps, the trek to get to the horse farms--the landmark from which Krem was sure he'd remember the direction of the den--was an easy one. They stuck to the road when they could, except when Vandi thought it better to make a wide berth for one reason or another. Krem didn't ask questions. She was the scout, he was just the guide and the muscle for this trip.

That muscle went unused, which was just fine by him. He'd cut through enough horrors lately, and he'd just polished his chestplate. Wouldn't do to get it covered in blood and all the other hazards of the battlefield.

Instead he made conversation, asking her about the scouting missions abroad, sharing anecdotes about the things he'd seen during the recovery missions that Chargers had undertaken. Once he caught sight of the now almost abandoned pastures, Krem kept his gaze on a swivel and his mouth shut, looking for the path to the den.

"It's just up this way," he said, finding it without too much trouble.

He followed a dirt path that had been worn down by recent travel. Any tracks were beyond his notice, but the cave soon came into view. Even outside there were scars marking the ground from magic and demons alike. Krem could only imagine what it looked like inside, and his hand rested on the pommel of his blade.

"Shouldn't be anything alive in here," he tried to be tactful with the statement, "but we'd best be on our guard."
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#9
"Walk, I think,” Krem decided when given the choice. “Less to worry about that way." True, as well. Horses had to be fed, cared for, coddled when they lamed up. Sometimes their speed and hauling capabilities made it worth the trouble, but on a short jaunt like this, not so much. "Let me grab a couple things, and I'll meet you at the gates."

He departed, and Vandi headed to her tent outside the walls to grab her kit and bow. Like most of the scouts, she barely spent any time inside it, which would have made taking up space within Haven’s defenses a bit of a waste. Plus, it let her come and go without needing to pass the sentries unless she needed to make a report or go to the tavern. She headed back to the gates, where Krem met her in short order, and they set out.

The Hinterlands had been one of the first areas of focus for the Inquisition. Rebel mages and rogue templars had turned the sprawling farmland into a battleground, with the residents caught between and bandits and demons adding to the chaos. The warring factions had been driven out; the sounds of combat no longer floated on the air at all times of the day and night, and people had largely been able to resume their disrupted lives. There were still bandits reported to be prowling the outskirts, and since the pair of them weren’t exactly set up for pitched battle (though she was confident they’d give a good accounting of themselves if it came to a fight), she drew them away from the road in a couple of places where her eyes and ears caught something off, making note of the location for her report when they got back. All sorts had taken to crime in the chaos following the explosion, and most of the ‘brigands’ they cme across were either just desperate men and women thinking they had no other choices or damn fools thinking to make easy money. But the more organized gangs were making their moves, as well: taking advantage of the breakdown to increase their power. Those were the ones that she wanted to avoid without sufficient backup.

Krem was a welcome rarity: a merc who knew his strengths and limitations. He walked beside her on the road, exchanging ‘No shit, there we were’ stories (both of them had picked up quite a few of those since joining the Inquisition), falling silent and fading in behind her when she detoured into the underbrush. As they entered the valley cut by the river’s flow, he shifted to point, eyes alert and one hand on his sword; Vandi drew back a bit with her bow, opening up space for them each to do what they did best without getting in each other’s way. She’d seen the demons that had spilled from the rift at the waterfall, and while the Herald and her companions had closed the rift and killed the demons, there might be a straggler or two drifting about. Or another sodding rift could have opened; she still wasn’t sure how all this shit worked.

Up a trail that ran along the river, the wolf tracks old and all but obscured beneath the fresher, but still faded, prints of booted feet. He came to a stop outside of a cave mouth, the exterior marred by magic and battle: scorch marks, melted stone, burnt and broken branches scattered about. The fight had been a hard one.

"Shouldn't be anything alive in here," he told her, looking sorry to have to say it, "but we'd best be on our guard."

She nodded, accepting a valid suggestion, but her senses were telling her that there was nothing here. The silence was profound; even the birds had not returned to this place, and the air was touched with a sickly sweet smell of decay that would have been much stronger had they not still been clinging to winter’s coattails. She stepped into the cave at his side, an arrow nocked and ready to fire, nonetheless, sweeping her aim from side to side, using her ears until her eyes adjusted to the gloom and confirmed what her other senses had told her.

Of the demon that had caused it all, there was no sign. They returned mostly to the Fade when they were overcome, and any scraps left behind were carefully collected for research and magical ingredients. The wolves, well … they weren’t much good for eating, but their thick winter pelts had been removed, and the bodies left to rot. A few hardy flies buzzed around the corpses; the number would grow quickly as the weather warmed. Scavengers would find their way into the cave to feed, and in a few weeks, nothing would remain but scattered bones; that was the way of things in the wild, where death was as natural as birth.

Except that these deaths had been anything but natural, and Vandi slipped the arrow back into the quiver and leaned her bow against the cave wall.

“Can you gather some wood, please?” she asked Krem as she bent to haul the first of the dozen or so carcasses out of the cave. The fire would burn better in the open air, and the cave would be freed up to shelter other life.
 

Krem

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#10
If Vandi was bothered by what was in the cave, she did a good job of hiding it. Came with the territory as a mercenary--at least in Krem’s experience. Death was a constant. Some places you were practically neck-deep in it, and letting it get to you in the field wasn’t an option. Plenty of time to fall apart later, with the people who’d been through the same shit as you.

Didn’t mean it ever got any easier to handle. It just meant instead of doubling over and puking his guts out, Krem only experienced a little bit of nausea he was able to quickly push down.

“Can you gather some wood, please?” Vandi asked, and he nodded.

Behind him, Krem heard her pick up one of the wolves and start carrying it out. He went for the nearest treeline, gathering a hefty armful of sticks, twigs, and broken branches. Probably overkill, but better to be safe than sorry.

By the time he returned, Vandi had brought several of the carcasses out of the cave. They were easier to stomach in the darkness, but every last stomach-turning detail of death was visible in the light of day. Krem tamped down any reaction he might have and used one of the branches to dig out a small trench that would separate the bonfire from the rest of the clearing.

Rather than get in the way, Krem started the fire, feeding it pieces of wood until it became a respectable blaze. Flames licked upward, buffeted by short gusts of wind that made him thankful he’d dug the trench. He looked at Vandi across the orange glow, then down at the wolves.

“Should we say something, or…? Never been good at the whole religious thing.”

He didn’t think wolves would care about human customs, but Vandi might. Maybe she’d had some sort of ceremony for Dane. Those sorts of things were more about the people left behind than the ones who were gone, anyway.

Walking around to her side of the fire, he helped do what needed to be done. His demeanor became a little more guarded then; closer to what it was when he’d been a soldier. It was the only way to get through some things. Ignore the sights, sounds, and smells. Put your head down and just focus on the mission.

“I’m sorry about Dane,” he finally said, looking over at his companion. “I know it doesn’t really change things, but I hope this helps.”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
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#11
If the sight of the skinned carcasses was unsettling, the sickly-sweet stench of rotting flesh was revolting, but apart from the slight clench of his jaw, Krem gave no indication that he was affected by the scene, though he didn’t argue when Vandi tasked him with gathering wood instead of helping to drag the dead wolves from the cave. Vandi handled the latter chore, drawing shallow breaths through pursed lips as she pulled one corpse after another by the legs to the clearing in front of the cave while Krem piled the wood around them and dug a firebreak., then used flint and steel to kindle the wood to flame.

It caught quickly and grew, claiming wood and flesh alike, flames and black smoke licking upward, angled by the prevailing winds, and Vandi sidestepped to put herself at a right angle to the direction; the scent of rotted meat burning was not anything she wanted saturating her clothes and hair. Krem stood across the fire, also out of the smoke but still not flinching from the task at hand. Good man.

“Should we say something, or…?” he asked her uncertainly. “Never been good at the whole religious thing.”

She shook her head. “Me neither, and I figure them even less. I just didn’t want to leave them to rot.” They never would have attacked as they had if the damn demon hadn’t driven them to it. Killing them had been an ugly necessity, and Sati had more important things to do than this, but the fire would purify this place in its own way. Corrupted flesh would turn to ash that would wash away in the rains. Charred bones would be scattered, and the cave would eventually be home to new life.

Krem moved to assist as she put more of the dead wolves onto the growing pyre, his expression set into a stolid mask against the unpleasantness of the chore. “I’m sorry about Dane,” he offered as they stepped back. “I know it doesn’t really change things, but I hope this helps.”

“Thanks.” She sent him a tired smile, then sighed. “It does, some. He died fighting, and I know that was better for him than just fading with age, but -” She shrugged. Wanting him to live forever had been the wish of the sixteen year old girl she had been. The merc with better than a decade of fighting under her belt knew that no one lived forever, but that never made the deaths easier to bear. And thinking about that led to thoughts of her father's eventual mortality, so -

The whine from behind them brought her around, her hand dropping to her dagger in the instant before she realized that the sound was too high pitched to belong to a grown wolf. The cave was empty; they’d checked it thoroughly, and her probing gaze shifted from the cave mouth left, where a dead and rotting tree, likely felled by the battle, lay across the rock face, almost obscuring the shadow behind.

“Help me.” She moved swiftly to the fallen tree, grasped the branches and began tugging it back. The decayed wood was lightweight, moving easily and crumbling under their touch, and it didn’t take long for them to shift it enough for her to climb over and behind, peering down into the den that had been made in a crack in the rock. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she made out three tiny and motionless bodies, so emaciated that they were barely more than skin and fur draped over bones. And cowering in the back, a fourth tiny form, just as skinny but somehow still alive and upright ... barely. White milk teeth stood out against fur as black as night that stood on end as it squeezed out a weak growl, trembling all over with fear, with weakness.

“Get me my pack and waterskin,” she ordered Krem without looking around.
 

Krem

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#12
Krem stepped back from the fire, his hands folded in front of him. A sign of respect, maybe. Or just a result of him not having any clue what to do in the moment.

“Thanks,” Vandi said of his condolences. “It does, some. He died fighting, and I know that was better for him than just fading with age, but -”

She shrugged and he gave a small nod. Death was a hard thing to deal with, especially when it was somebody who’d been by your side for as long as Dane had. For as much as he’d had to deal with death firsthand in the army, losing one of the Chargers would feel different. It would take a part of him--a part he’d never get back.

Wasn’t the nicest line of thinking, though--death never was--and so Krem tried not to dwell on it. His gaze was distant as he looked past the pyre, his senses acclimating to the smell and sound of death.

When something broke that almost-calm, his first thought was that it had come from one of the wolves on the fire. His gut twisted, cold dread washing over him even as he told himself that was ridiculous. All the wolves were dead. He’d seen it himself.

For a second he thought it was just a trick of the wind--or a trick of his mind--but one glance at Vandi told him she’d heard it, too. Krem’s hand moved to his back where his weapon was currently fastened and he followed Vandi’s gaze as she honed in on a fallen tree that covered part of the rock face.

“Help me,” she said, and he moved to do so, grabbing on to the rotting, crumbling tree and helping to clear it from what he soon discovered was a makeshift den.

Everything clicked in his mind and he shaded his eyes to better see into the shadowy den. Whatever wolf had moved her pups there must have known the bigger cave wasn’t safe. It might have even paid off, had the mother not obviously been corrupted and killed. The skin-and-bones litter inside was still and silent, and Krem began to wonder if they’d been hearing things.

But Vandi had sharper eyes than he did. Somewhere in the gloom, she found something worth a second look. As she approached, Krem heard a small, weak growl.

“Shit,” he breathed. “One of them’s still alive?”

The scout was focused, giving the quick order of, “Get me my pack and waterskin.”

Krem fetched them quickly. He wasn’t sure how much time the wolf pup had, but considering the state of its littermates, he knew they couldn’t afford to waste any time. Stepping forward just enough to hand Vandi her things, he gave her and the pup room.

Vandi would have it well in hand. If the pup could be saved, she’d damn well save it. But Krem didn’t like feeling useless, so he tried to think of a way to help without getting in the way. His commanding officer always told him the biggest danger to a stranded soldier was lack of water and freezing to death from shock or the elements or both. Vandi had the water covered, so Krem rifled through his own pack and pulled out a small, rolled up wool blanket.

“In case you need it,” he said, leaning in just enough to set the blanket beside her. The pup growled, and this close he could see it was shaking all over. “Happy to just stay out of your way, but if I can do anything else to help…”
 

Vandi Morganach

Inquisition Scout
Post DAI Timeline
Posts
20
#13
One of the things that Vandi liked about Krem was that, while he could jaw with the best of them over an ale, when shit got real, he didn’t clutter the air with stupid questions, and when someone else took the lead, he didn’t balk at being given orders (at least, not stupid ones, and she tried not to give those). As soon as she called for her pack, he was gone and back in a matter of moments, pushing the pack in to her and backing away.

She pulled out the bag of rations. The dried meat would be too tough for one so young and weakened, but the traveler’s loaf had ham and cheese chunks baked into the bread. Pulling on her heavy leather gloves, she began tearing bite-sized chunks from the loaf, soaking each one in a bit of water before tossing it into the den in front of the pup. It drew back fearfully at first, lips skinning back from tiny teeth, but she could see its nostrils flaring as it scented the food. Having accumulated a small pile of the mush on the dirt floor of the den, she drew back a bit, watching.

Krem set a rolled blanket on the ground beside her. “In case you need it,” he said, his voice low and movements careful. “Happy to just stay out of your way, but if I can do anything else to help…”

“Thanks.” The pup growled again, but it was eyeing the pile of soggy bread, and when Krem drew back and Vandi remained motionless, it began to edge forward.

“Got a broken leg,” she murmured, watching the way that he guarded his left foreleg and the slightly askew angle that it hung at. “Can you get a couple of branches for splints?” she asked Krem. The pup inched closer, stretched out on his belly, nose quivering. A pink tongue curled out, lapping at the bread, cautiously at first, but with increasing eagerness. When Vandi added a bit more to the pile, he rolled his eyes but didn’t back away.

Not too much, or he’d sick it all back up. He’d likely have the squirts anyway, but hopefully what he was eating would give him a bit of strength until she could kill a rabbit or squirrel. She carefully unrolled the blanket, waiting until he’d cleaned up the last of the bread before moving forward and wrapping it around him. He struggled, whining and snapping at her through the blanket, but the wool and the leather gloves shielded her as she squirmed back out, hugging him to her chest until his struggles ceased and he went limp with a final whimper.

Leaning back against the rock face, she eased up a bit until she could work the broken leg out from under the blanket. “Ever splint a leg?” she asked Krem. “I can hold him.”
 
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