Ander - Part 5: Subchapter 75

Story by Contrast on SoFurry

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There was a giant pit dug at the base of the Cora statue, at least two Wolves wide; a gaping, crumbling hole. There were wooden stakes planted all around the edge, anchoring dozens of chains that fed into the shadowy depths like spokes on a wheel.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Wardo whispered, mistaking Dorin's shock for reverence. "Go ahead. Take a closer look."

Dorin didn't want to take a closer look. He had a perfectly good view from here, meaning he could barely see anything at all, and that's exactly the way he wanted to keep it. But his legs moved of their own volition, propelling him forward against his will. It was like being stuck inside a nightmare where you had no control of your own body. He wanted to stop, turn around, go into his tent and finally go to sleep, but that pit... it was just an absence of dirt in the ground, but it was also more than that. Much, much more. Driven by an unspeakable curiosity he didn't want to satisfy, Dorin kept walking, his feet crunching through the snow, his bones creaking with every step until he finally reached the edge.

Dorin shuffled closer and closer, taking the tiniest of steps without actually lifting his feet at all, suddenly terrified of tripping over flat ground. He leaned over and stared down the throat of this thing Wardo had simply titled 'The Pit'.

What he saw made him want to throw up all over again.

The bottom was covered in dozens upon dozens of biters. The sun was still far too low to reach the bottom, but despite this, their cold metal jaws seemed to glint in the shadows. Their chains wound over and under each other like an orgy of skeletal snakes.

A small stone broke free from the edge and tumbled down the hole. It struck the trigger on one of the biters and it snapped shut with an ear-splitting clang, moving so fast that it actually seemed to jump up like a greedy little animal.

In a lot of ways, this Pit was exactly like Wardo.

"What do you think?" he said, winding his arm around Dorin's shoulders. "Give me your honest opinion."

Dorin did not feel safe standing so close to this thing, especially with Wardo hanging on to him like they were the best of chums. It was funny, actually. Just a few minutes ago he was thinking about how he wouldn't have to worry about anything ever again, about how he would finally go to sleep and never wake up, and yet the mere sight of this Pit was enough to reawaken his fear of death. He might not want to keep on living, but he did not want to end his life in a manner as gruesome as this. Nobody would.

"Well?" Wardo urged him on, grinning from ear to ear.

"What do I think?" Dorin could barely keep a straight face, let alone articulate his terrified thoughts, but the Chieftain was nodding so enthusiastically he didn't have much choice but to say the first thing that came to mind. "Sai, children _play_here."

Wardo burst out laughing and clapped Dorin on the back hard enough to make his stomach do a queasy summersault. "So we'll put up a rope or something," he said, wiping the tears from his eyes.

Dorin swallowed the lump in his throat and waited for his heart to slow down before asking the obvious, most horrific question. "You're going to... throw Wolves in this thing?"

"Just the bad ones. I know, I know, the 'hands on' approach is the more traditional way to go, but it's just not certain enough. Look at the Ander debacle. A complete fiasco. But this..." He looked at the hole with a glint in his eye, like a proud parent looking down at a talented child. "This is quick, clean, and guaranteed."

Guaranteed, yes. Quick and clean? No way. But Dorin knew better than to say anything in that vein. "Chieftain? May I ask you something?"

"Of course, Dorin."

"If we had brought back those six Wolves, would they have -"

Wardo nodded his head and ran his tongue over his glistening teeth. "Oh yes, Dorin. Most definitely."

"So... when you said -"

I'll show her! I'll show her I can bite, too!

"-that you were going to 'bite' that little girl a thousand times over...?"

A tiny giggle bubbled out of Wardo's throat, slowly growing into a full-blown laugh, dripping with malice and glee. "She would have been the first," he whispered in Dorin's ear, as if conveying a great secret. "It would have been so beautiful, Dorin. She's still a virgin, and the Pit is still a virgin. They could have been each other's firsts. If I look hard enough, I can see her bleeding. That's how you know. Can you see her bleeding, Dorin? Take a good look. You'll see."

Dorin did look, and for a moment he really did see. He saw Renna's tiny body wrapped up in the ice cold jaws of Wardo's biters, all tangled up in rusty chains, her eyes pleading for help as they slowly chewed her limb from limb, eviscerating her flesh, breaking her bones. There was blood coming out of her ears, her mouth, her nose. She was drowning in it.

He shut his eyes tight, but the vision did not disappear when he opened them again. It merely changed. It was now Lana staring up at him from a pool of blood and twisted metal, her mouth slowly opening and closing, her lips forming the familiar curse.


Dorin's heart raced in his chest and his breath burst out of him in short, quick gasps. He shut his eyes again, praying for this hallucination or whatever it was to just end and leave him alone. He was already planning to end it all, wasn't that enough?

He opened his eyes again.

Lana was gone. Renna was gone. The she-wolf lying in the pit now was older. There were biters clamped over her legs and arms and neck, but she didn't seem to mind. She was sleeping peacefully, even as the blood rose up all around her, covering her hands and feet, making her hair fan out around her head. It flowed over her neck and just kept rising, caressing her cheeks, filling her ears.

It was Mother.

Dorin wanted to scream like he had on that bright, sunny all those years ago, just scream and scream until someone had to come and pull him away. Some demented part of him even felt that maybe he could save her. All he needed to do was jump in there and pull her out and everything would be good again.

Her eyes flew open. They were solid red all the way through, without pupil or iris, but he knew she was looking right at him. She opened her mouth to scream, but could only gargle as the blood flowed into her mouth, bubbling and churning.

Dorin closed his eyes. He didn't want to live in this world anymore. He wanted out, now more than ever, he just wanted it to end.

I'm sorry, he thought. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm -

"Hey, Dorin? You in there?" Wardo gave him a brief shake, and when Dorin opened his eyes, the pit was empty. There were no dead or dying she-wolves, no rising pools of blood. Just countless biters, waiting patiently for their first meal.

"I- I'm..." Dorin took a deep, rattling breath. "I'm just so sorry I failed you, Chieftain. I understand how much you must have looked forward to giving the Pit a proper christening, but because of me -"

Thank goodness that little girl got away...

"-it will never happen."

Wardo smiled and shook his head. "Dorin, Dorin, Dorin... You are my most trusted right-hand Wolf. You know when to be cautious and you know when to strike. You have the ability to see things most others would overlook. But you just don't think big enough."

"What do you...?"

"Why should I be content with six loathsome traitors when I could have an entire village of Foxes grovelling at my feet, begging for mercy?"

Dorin's insides turned to ice. "W-What?"

"There's going to be war, Dorin." Backlit by the rising sun, Wardo's face seemed to darken with his words. "Very soon, I will have Wolves and Foxes alike bowing at my feet. And those that do not... well, we know where they'll end up, don't we?"

Dorin knew he should just nod his head and shut up. He knew he shouldn't question. He knew he should just get the hell out of here. But instead he opened his mouth and said: "That's impossible, Sai. We have no grounds to go to war."

Wardo's smile didn't even falter. "Let me worry about what's impossible and what's not. Trust me, I'll take care of everything." He raised his hand and Dorin had another of his visions. He saw Wardo slap him on the back, felt himself pitch forward, saw the Pit rise up to swallow him whole, heard the clang in his ears as the biters tore into his flesh...

Wardo patted him lightly on the back, the kind of gesture you'd expect from a kindly uncle.

Thoughts raced through Dorin's mind in a chaotic frenzy like a swarm of ants.

You have to do something. He's going to get everyone killed. Foxes, Wolves, everyone.

What can I possibly do? He's the Chieftain now. He has all the power.

Don't do anything. Just go back to your tent and end it all. Anything else is just a distraction. None of this is your concern anymore. Make everything go away.

I'm tired of this. Just so tired...

If you don't stop him, everything from this point forward will be your fault. Lana will be just a single life among thousands.

Do something. Right now.

But what?

And on the heels of all this, barely more than a whisper amidst the clamouring voices: Push him.

Time slowed down to a crawl and all other voices faded away, leaving only that tiny whisper to echo in his mind.

Push him.

Wardo was still smiling, still patting him lightly on the back, dreaming of his war.

Push him.

He really was an animal.

Push him.

But could he really kill again? Even if it meant saving countless lives? Would another murder absolve him of the previous one, or condemn him even further?

Push him.

Lana failed because of him. Could he finish what she started? Was this right or wrong? He didn't understand anymore...

Push him.


"Yes, Dorin?"

"Why? Just... why?"

Wardo's smile remained unchanged. "If you are hungry, you eat. If you are thirsty, you drink. And if life is boring? Well... you make it fun. That's why."

"I knew you'd say that... Chieftain." Dorin lifted his hand and made to pat Wardo back. All it would take was one hard shove, but what would they do to him afterwards? Throw him to the Wolves, or throw him to the Pit? He'd end up paying the price no matter what, but maybe that wasn't so bad. To him, an execution didn't even feel like a price anymore, but a long overdue respite. And if he could save more lives than he took, maybe he could find absolution in condemnation. If so, what right did he have not to kill himself?

He did not see the crowd part to make way for Shekka, like they always did when she was out wandering the village. He did not see the shocked looks of awe and disgust contorting their faces as she passed through.

He did hear the scream, though.

"Shekka-Kai, wait! The Pit!"

Dorin's hand stopped in mid-air. He turned his head to see what was going on and his heart stopped dead.

Shekka was on the other side, blundering and stumbling through the crowd, barely able to keep her feet, and she was headed straight for the Pit. Wolves were shouting at her to stop, but it was as if she'd gone deaf as well as blind.

"Somebody stop her!" Dorin yelled, but to no avail. Several Wolves stepped forward, reaching out to grab her, but their courage failed in the last second and they backed away, cringing.

They're all too scared to touch her, Dorin thought, gripped by panic, torn between two extremes.

Forget about her, push Wardo now! This might be your only chance!

Wardo was transfixed by Shekka's slow progress, watching her with wide eyes, his mouth slightly open.

Do it! Do it now! What are you waiting for!?

"Hezzi?" She sounded so lost, so frightened. "Hezzi, where are you? I'm sorry! Please, please come back..." She stepped over the edge, her foot dangling over nothing but frigid shadow and certain death.

"Shekka-Kai!" Dorin slipped free of Wardo's arm, planted his foot right up against the crumbling edge of the Pit and pushed off as hard as he could, sending himself sailing through the air. He did not look down once, but he knew what he would see if he did.

A pool of blood filled with metal teeth, and the beckoning shade of his mother, waiting to welcome him home.

He crashed into Shekka on the other side and they both tumbled through the snow. The fall was hard and cold and painful on his aching muscles, but he welcomed every bump and scratch. He grabbed her underneath the arms and pulled her as far away from that hellish hole as possible, all while his fellow Wolves cheered and clapped their hands, chanting his name. Their voices were like stinging wasps in his ears.

"That was amazing, Sai!"

"You're a hero, Sai!"

"That was the craziest thing I've ever seen, Sai!"

Dorin couldn't take it anymore. "I'm not your Sai! I'm nobody's Sai! Stop calling me Sai!" he bellowed at the top of his lungs, making everyone go deadly quiet in a matter of moments. He took in harsh breaths that burned his throat, feeling like he was about to break down and cry at any second. "Shekka-Kai, what the hell is wrong with you!?" He had half a mind to slap her, but she'd been surprisingly quiet throughout the whole thing, not even crying out when he crashed into her. It's like she didn't even realize anything had happened. "Kai? Are you -"

She looked at him and his words died on his tongue.

Her eyes were red, blood red, just like in his vision. She had no whites, no irises, no pupils. It was red through and through. Thick lines of blood were trickling from the corners like tears.

She reached up with shaking hands and lightly touched his face, tracing his features with trembling, ice cold fingers. "Kadai?" she whispered. "Is that you?" Her breath stank of those dirty mushrooms she always kept stashed away in her doctor tent.

"N-No, Shekka-Kai. It's Dorin. Kadai passed on, remember?" There was something seriously wrong with this she-wolf, and it wasn't limited to her eyes. He remembered the way it always felt like she was looking directly into your soul, even though her eyes were white as milk. She'd seem to find you wherever you stood, no matter how hard you tried to stay quiet.

There was none of that now. Her eyes were completely dead, like a pair of coals that had lost the last trace of their heat.

He waved his hand in front of her face, but there was no change. She didn't give any indication that she had seen anything at all. "Kai? Can you hear me?"

She frowned, then blinked her eyes, causing even more drops of blood to flow down her cheeks. "Of course he's dead. I know that. I was the one who spoke at his pyre, you fool."

"Forgive me, Kai."

"Where are my patients? Someone called for me. They said Wolves are hurt. I have to help them."

"Of course, Kai. I'll take you to them right away."

"I know the way, stop treating me like some invalid."

Dorin glanced back at the Pit. "I think I'll help you anyway, if you don't mind."

Shekka clicked her tongue, but made no further protests as he pulled her to her feet.

Wardo walked up to them, but didn't offer any help. "That was quite a reckless feat you pulled there, Dorin."

"I believe it would be wise if you ordered that rope be put up right away, Sai. Or better yet, cover it up completely. At least while it's not in use."

"Cover it up!?" Wardo looked at him as if he had just suggested he go defile his own mother. "I will order no such thing! The Pit is a symbol of law, order, and authority! It serves as a constant reminder to those who would defy me! It is my power made manifest upon this world!"

"I understand that, Chieftain, but surely you would not want to endanger the same people you are trying to protect with that power, would you?"

Wardo growled and spat a bitter glob of phlegm into the snow. "Fine, I'll put up a damn rope, but no more, you hear me?"

"Thank you, Chieftain. I'm sure everyone will appreciate that."

He started towards the doctor tent, but Wardo stopped him with a bony hand to the chest. "You know, Dorin, something seems oddly different about you."

"I do not deny it," Dorin said and simply walked on without another word, leaving the Chieftain to ponder his 'right-hand Wolf' with suspicious eyes.

Let him look at me with those eyes. I do not care.

The crowd parted around them like a stream around a rock. These were the same Wolves who had jeered him as a failure, then praised him as a hero, but now wouldn't come near him for fear of the old, blind she-wolf clinging to his arm, the same one he had saved to earn their chants in the first place.

He was tired. So very, very tired of all this.

This is the last thing. The last thing. Just get Shekka-Kai to the others and you can go home to rest. You can finally -

"Thank you, Dorin," Shekka whispered. She said it so softly it might have been the wind, but he knew it was not. Had anyone ever been thanked by the Empty One? For anything? Dorin didn't know.

"It was nothing, Kai," he said a bit awkwardly. "Just please try to remember where that Pit is. Right by the statue's feet, on the north side of -"

"I'll remember," she said and let go of his arm. She took exactly three steps, reached out her hand and brushed her fingers over the empty sockets of the skull that used to belong to her mother. "You just make sure not to end up in that hole yourself."

"I won't, Kai."

She disappeared into the shadowy depths of the only tent in the village that permanently smelled of blood, leaving him outside to contemplate the strange mix of emotions he was feeling.

He could have killed Wardo, but he had chosen to save Shekka instead. Was that right or wrong? If killing one life could save hundreds, did he just murder hundreds by saving one life? What kind of world did he live in where such a thing could be true? He tried to justify it in his mind, to find some way to look at the problem from a logical angle, but nothing made sense anymore. All he knew for certain was the feeling inside, and that feeling was not regret, like he had felt the moment after he had plunged that knife into Lana's heart. This feeling was exactly the opposite. It was...


Her voice was shrill and piercing, like the sound of an axe blade being scraped across a block of granite. It was the same voice that could be heard throughout the village at least twice a week, breaking the silence of the night.

Dorin turned around, not in the least bit surprised to see Aisa standing before him. What did surprise him, however, was the look on her face.

Her eyes were glassy and bloodshot from crying, and there were two dark lines staining her cheeks, but her mouth was turned down into a furious growl, giving her expression an odd, split quality, as if she were caught between debilitating misery and uncontrollable fury at the same time. Her breathing was heavy, making it look like her whole body was swelling.

"Aisa? Is there something -"

She slapped him across the face, leaving a burning hot imprint of her palm against his cheek. She stared at him, her eyes brimming with tears. "You and your men chased after my daughter last night." Plumes of mist issued from her mouth with every word.

Dorin nodded. It was the truth, after all.

Aisa slapped him again, doubling the pain. It only lasted for a second, but it felt like her hand was still there, pressing against his face. "You tried to capture her. Bring her back here."

Dorin nodded again and Aisa slapped him for a third time, hitting the exact same spot. The cold in the air made her strikes tingle and burn like spider bites. "You almost killed her. By bringing her back, you would have sealed her fate. She would have been thrown into that... that thing. That blasphemous hole in the ground. You nearly killed my only daughter. You tried to murder her!"

Dorin could not deny her words, no matter how hard he tried to justify it in his own mind. He did try to capture Renna, and he did try to bring her back. He did not know about the Pit, but he did know that bringing her back would likely result in her death, and he knew that he would be partly, if not wholly, responsible. Everything Aisa was saying was true.

"Why are you so silent?" she said, tears streaming from her eyes. "Why do you look at me so?" She slapped him again, mashing his lips against his teeth hard enough to fill his mouth with the taste blood.

Dorin didn't answer her, because what was there to say? That it was Wardo's will, and not his? That he was sorry? What would be the point when there was obviously no forgiveness in those eyes?

She curled her hand into a fist. "I am a terrible mother who never should have been allowed to have children," she said, shaking in anger. "My own daughter called me cold-hearted in front of the entire tribe. But you, Dorin? Out of all the terrible, cold-hearted Wolves, you are one of the worst." She raised her fist up to her shoulder. "Why are you just standing there!? Answer me!"

"I'm waiting for you to hit me."

Her fist faltered. "What?"

"If you think it will make you feel any better, hit me. But once you start, Aisa, you better not stop until you get it all out, because if you try something like this with Wardo, you'll end up as the one christening that Pit of his." He spread his arms wide. "So go ahead and hit me as hard as you want. I'm not some little girl."

He knew that last remark would push her over the edge. She screamed and let her fist fly directly at his face. It struck him high on the cheekbone, staggering him backwards.

"Is that all you got, Aisa?" Dorin said, lightly massaging his jaw. "I guess Renna didn't mean that much to you after all. Just look at the way you treated her. I bet you've hit her twice as hard as you just hit me."

"You rotten bastard!"

She struck him right in the nose, and this time a blinding flash of red sparked across his vision. Blood dribbled from both his nostrils and flowed down his chin. It smelled like his mother's tent.

Dorin covered one of his nostrils and blasted a disgusting line of red across the snow, steaming in the cold. They were starting to draw a crowd now, but he didn't really care about that. No matter how far this went, there was no way it could turn into more of a spectacle than Wardo's tirade or his sadistic Pit, so let them watch. Let them get their fill. Let them eat and drink as much as they desired, because he didn't want any part of this doomed tribe any longer. "I'm surprised, Aisa," he said. "Renna's been gone only a day, and already your arm has weakened this much?"

A strangled cry escaped her mouth, a wretched combination of screams and sobs. Just like her face, it was caught between anger and misery. She drew back her fist and smashed it into his mouth, then his eye, then into his mouth again. She struck him over and over with her right hand, screaming and crying, tears flowing from her eyes just as freely as the blood was flowing from Dorin's face.

She finally staggered backwards, cradling her swollen hand to her chest. The knuckles were streaked with blood and her fingers were twitching uncontrollably.

Her strikes had fused together across Dorin's face, creating a throbbing mass of heat inside his flesh. It was a sensation he knew well, but hadn't felt quite like this since the days of his childhood. It was almost nostalgic. "Do you feel better now, Aisa?" His speech now had a slight slur to it, and it would probably get worse as the swelling increased.

She dropped down to her knees and stared at her bloody hands. "No..."

Dorin sighed. "No. I didn't expect you to. But are you done, at the very least?"

He waited patiently for her to answer. Finally, in a small voice she said, "I think so."

"You're not going to try something like this on Wardo?"

She shook her head. "No."

"All right." It was good enough.

The crowd, which had only just started to gain momentum, quickly dispersed. One Wolf getting punched in the face wasn't all that entertaining compared to what had happened earlier, even if the one getting it was the leader of the warriors. Most of them were still milling around the Pit, standing up on their tip-toes to try and get a look inside without going too near the edge. Mothers and fathers had already gathered their children together in little groups to forbid them from playing near the statue ever again, while others simply stared on in dumbfound silence, maybe contemplating what it would be like to be thrown into that throat of earth, to be swallowed by the darkness.

And right there, amidst dozens of overlapping footprints, was a large pool of blood, completely invisible to all eyes save his own. Dorin blinked and then it was gone, but he understood the message.

It was the last thing. One final promise, and then he could rest.

"Aisa? Do you know where Lana's body is?"

She sniffed and looked up at him, her face a wretched tear-streaked mess. "Lana's body? Why do you need to know that?"

"I just do. Can you help me?"

She sniffed again and swallowed back her tears as best she could. "They took her away this morning. Into the woods."

"North or South gate?"

"North. But why?"

"Thank you, Aisa. I know it means nothing now, but for what it's worth, I want you to know that I am glad I failed to capture your daughter."


He pulled a knife from his pocket. It was plain and ugly, without any decoration at all. When this knife first passed to him, he had used it to end a life, but when this same knife passed into the hands of one who deserved to kill more than any other, he had been shown mercy instead.

Evil does not reside within a piece of sharpened metal, but in the hand of the one who wields it.

There was only one thing left to do now, and he could do it without looking back.

Dorin held the knife to his heart as if swearing an oath. Just one last thing, and then I can rest.


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Ander - Part 6: Subchapter 187

187 Kiana didn't think she had ever been in a formation quite as lopsided as this. She had Hezzi's arm slung over her shoulder, and she, in turn, had her arm slung over Valery's shoulder, whose knees were just about shaking under all the weight. Hezzi...

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Ander - Part 6: Subchapter 186

186 _Vallah! Get down from there before you break your neck!_ _But there's this huge bug up here, Father! You gotta see it! Its fangs are like, this big!_ She held her arms as far apart as they would go to indicate the sheer size of the mystery...

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Ander - Part 6: Subchapter 185

185 A deep, low-pitched creaking noise filled the mill. It was the kind of sound you'd hear right before a tree finally fell to the axe. It was the unnerving groan of wood under strain. Mateo had been pushing his shoulder up against what felt like a...

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