Campaign of the Month: January 2022
Lakes of Blood and Ash
The walk had done much good, and goat and wolf chatted easily as they returned to the house – even if Camille was too professional to note aloud that the discord between them seemed to have been settled. Conversation carried them upstairs, the beginning plannings of this-or-that for the Lair, sometimes verbal, and sometimes in fragmented pieces then continued over their shared connection, the latter often accompanied by some kind of wild, descriptive gesture from Tenya, answered with a curling smile from the wolf, who then provided the word the goat had been searching for, and a nod of agreement or some follow-up.
In their rooms, they dressed for the festival – the wolf, effortlessly, with in one hand a drink that seemed never to be in the way somehow, as he detailed his ideas to the goat, who heeded as well as he might while trying to see to it that all buttons rested in their proper place.
“-and in so many years you still can’t command your fingers to this task?”
The question had seemed to materialize from the relaxing hum of the wolf’s stream of consciousness. The goat looked up, as if from a haze-
Taking a last sip, the wolf set his glass on the table and strode towards him with purpose, swatting away the goat’s left hand and taking up his right to fasten his cufflinks. “All thumbs sometimes, I swear.”
The goat’s eyes fixed on the wolf’s fingers as he fastened his cuff, the stare betraying his unease even if he did not flinch from the contact. The wolf’s eyes briefly locked with the goat’s, noting his expression with…was it concern? Curiousity? Frustration?
This could not stand, the goat realized, as the wolf released his hand.
The wolf looked to him again, inviting him to continue.
“This will sound…odd…but, could you grab my wrist, as hard as you can?”
Then the curiousity on his face was plain, a small breeze of mirth passing, as if the wolf might make a joke before the idea was dismissed. He reached out a hand, and Tenya raised his, and the wolf curled his hand around the goat’s wrist, secure as a shackle.
The goat hesitated, feeling every bit of the strangeness in his request, and tempted for a moment to agree that that was what he had asked. There remained something that writhed in his mind though, unsettled, and the rest howled in anger at that ‘something’ to be still so that he could match his steps once more to the wolf’s.
“No, hard as you can,” he repeated, shifting on his feet to steady his stance.
The wolf studied him with a cautioning look, and his voice quieted to the degree that the words might have been spoken over the link with them only mouthed in this world, “Tenya, will this really help?”
“Yes,” he said. The goat wished that he could offer some better explanation – or any explanation – but that writhing ‘something’ seemed buried deep in that day back at Halta, nested deep as a parasite within a thought that had been here and gone within a millisecond, too fast for the goat to seize upon.
The wolf sighed, undoing the goat’s cufflink again and pushing his sleeve up to the elbow. “Higher up then, it wouldn’t do to show a peek of bruise tonight-“ he said, with the pointedness of a warning, and then to highlight it, “Tenya, are you quite sure?”
He knew well that the wolf would not do it if there was any shred of doubt in the goat. Never had the goat asked the wolf to hurt him without purpose, and while there was worry in the goat now, it felt more that this fear was a mountain to be climbed and conquered – if there was uncertainty in the act, there was confidence in the outcome, and so the goat nodded.
The wolf took a breath as though to also steel himself, then closed his fingers over the goat’s arm, tightening until the goat gasped, feeling his bones creak perilously under the strain. His hand clenched to a fist, rapidly going to pins and needles, but he closed his eyes and tried to remember it clearly.
In Halta, the wolf had seized him and tried to pull him forward – for every terrified step back the goat had managed to steal, the wolf had sprung forward two, until in the dreaming world, he’d bound the goat – and these were not unrelated. White hair, the goat remembered, and how he’d grasped for it in terror, twisting it up in his fingers when his wound had left no sense in him but the horror of the dark.
It was simple as anything that they, human or dread beasts, should always grasp for one another. The wolf had never ceased to be himself, least of all where it mattered.
This was the wolf as the goat had always believed him to be, in secret – and ancient charms fell unwoven, his spirit restored, their dreams at last ready to be carried forward. The goat had not shattered him, had not set within his mind something false – it was only that the reality was so much brighter than he had anticipated.
But still, these were nothing other than the fangs that had always flashed eager when they spoke of their future, only to be hidden away again when the subject changed. The sense of strangeness faded, that writhing ‘something’ at last quieting, leaving familiar clarity behind.
He felt warmth return to his heart, almost a fire in its intensity. Ah, yes, I have seen you prowling between Greywood shadows a time or two, my love, welcome.
The goat relaxed, and so did the wolf’s grasp on his arm, hands rubbing circulation back into the limb. “Your mind is a strange one,” he commented, with a tone that somehow carried the impression that what had just occurred between them was a bit of dirt being shaken out of a rug, but then with a more softened voice, examining the goat’s expression, “-better?”
“Yes,” he answered, without need – his face showing plainly a restored resolve.
“Your hooves beneath you?”
“Firmly,” the goat said, taking a step forward to brush his fingers at the wolf’s hair. “Forgive the stumble, the sun was in my eyes.”