Vradin, Chapter Thirty-One

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The delay in crossing over put the pack nearly an hour and a half behind the vampires. The tracks showed that there were only two of them, and they were trading the burden of Zoe’s weight between them. On one hand, that was good. Forty vradin in a knock down fight versus two Night Kind was thirty nine vradin of over kill. On the other, it was bad. Two Night Kind could run faster scared than even one vradin could run wicked pissed. There were also two among their hunting pack who had joined the Griswald pack while they were still quite young, and it took even more precious moments, which Tank assigned Brawn to oversee, for them to remember how to draw upon the earth.

The Night Kind could run faster, but the pack could run longer, their endurance drawn from the humanity that vampires had mostly quit themselves from in their metamorphosis.

Being back in the Old Den provoked memories, sending his thoughts back to wounds he had tried to close off, even as focused as Tank was on catching up before the idiot vampires got caught by the Montang’s keasairs — and they would. This Door was near the center of the vradin territories, and the Montang had not survived millennia as the leader of all the vradin clans by keeping sloppy help to hand.

In Nimala, humans had had to survive not just nature, but a slew of magically augmented creatures that were as happy to lunch on meat they could converse with as meat that only bleated at them. Humanity had survived by tuning into the magic, learning to bind and weave the energies of earth and fire, air and water, and in general being more ingenious tool wielders than the other races, but humanity was still being out breed by their competitors, and therefore in danger of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of predators. That was, until the first vradinnaar bound themselves with the men who offered themselves up to act as the guardians of their tribes.

The closest analog Tank had yet found to the vradinnaar among the Dimeters, the people they had sheltered with, were totemic spirits. The vradin were known among the Dimeters as shape shifters, beast men, and in some small part that was true. The original vradin were born as men, weakly tied to the elements, men whose only contribution to their tribes was the strength of their limbs. The vradinnaar did not so much possess these men as merge with them, until the death of one was the death of both, but the vradinnaar don’t often chose death.

The vradinnaar gained both a corporeal presence and the ability to procreate, returning to the men to whom they bound themselves the ability to enhance the strength and endurance of their bodies, and in later generations the ability to take on animal aspects, until the vradin were able to assume an animal form indistinguishable from a natural creature of that type. As part of that enhanced physique, the vradin gained immunities to disease and infection along with a much more efficient and heightened healing ability. At times, a vradin may feel the weight of ages upon his shoulders, and begin to look the age he felt, but he quickly lost the look of age when his spirits improved.

At first, the vradin guardians of the tribes permitted humanity to hold their own against the predators of Nimala, but the cycles of the world are always turning, and something — what exactly it was had still been under debate when Tank followed Granfertang into voluntary exile from this Old Den — something had caused a wide spread famine.

The shift from nomadic wandering to agricultural society had been a last ditch effort to survive the deprivations of the famine, and the resultant increased savagery of those who preyed upon the tribes. Granfer had been born after the shift, but on occasion he would tell tales passed down to him from his great grandfather, tales of the dawn of slavery, of the revolution of the vradin from human society, and the birth of the Rage.

Sushaymin, father of the Door Maker Paoleo, had been as powerful a sorcerer as his son, if not more so, and he was filled with the belief that the rise of civilization could only be accomplished by demolishing the creatures Dimeter’s humans would have called trolls, giants, goblins, drakes, boggards, and boogies.

The vradin, who had stood as guardians of the tribes, were sickened by the slavery that Sushaymin deemed a foundational necessity for civil society. How else to ensure that the agriculture, needed to support the massed numbers of humanity, kept up with the demands of those masses? Previously nomadic tribesmen felt no desire to labor for hours in a field day after day when they could as easily spend the time walking through forest or plains, picking food for themselves alone, and then moving on to more leisurely activities. But the labor of some in the fields afforded the sorcerers the time to focus their abilities on building more elaborate defenses against humanity’s predators, and the sorcerers families grew greedy, finding excuses that it not be their labor and toil.

When the slavery was limited to goblins and giants (the rest being deemed too intractable, or too dangerous), there were vradin willing to overlook the offense, seeing a type of natural justice to it all. It was a point of contention, though, for the majority of the vradin, and even those who could overlook, or even endorse, the enslavement of their enemies rebelled when the least of the humans were relegated to the same enslavement.

At one point early on, the vradin had marched en mass upon the fields, taking the human slaves away from the overseers and declaring that they would not stand for such outrage. Sushaymin’s response was to inflict the vradin with the Rage.

None of the humans freed from the slavery of the fields survived the insanity that fell upon their saviors.

The horror of that massacre drove many of the vradin to wither, the age of centuries falling upon them and slaying them. Of those who survived, Sushaymin offered his Peace, as easily withheld as granted, to those who accepted his dominion. For a decade, maybe more, the sorcerer held an army of vradin in his thrall, and he used them with a ruthless violence against those who had once preyed upon mankind.

The stories were unclear whether the Montang had been among the survivors, but in the end it did not matter. All the vradin Sushaymin could infect with the Rage, regardless of whether they tried to stand against him or not, he laid that curse upon. He made a pact with the Night Kind, permitting their “benevolent predations” upon the slaves in return for their strength of arms buttressing his city’s defenses, but in the end, he betrayed that pact, too, setting the Rage upon them, and through many creatures he hoped to enslave similarly to the manner in which he had enslaved the vradin.

After one particularly obscene battle, the Montang rose up and slew Sushaymin. With the loss of the sorcerer’s false Peace, the Rage threatened to consume the vradin, but the Montang, by the force of his will, the power that became known among the vradin as dominion or dominance, held the Rage of his brethren in check.

The vradin abandoned the cities, abandoned the people they had once given themselves up to protect, and became a separate nation.

More decades passed before Sushaymin’s son discovered how to make Doors where the world borders ran thin. While most of the Doors lead to habitable places, there are some that lead to instant death, where the very forces of the universe shreded the essence of a man.

When Paoleo was discovered building his Doors in the Montang’s territory, the vradin were as quick to slay the sorcerer as they had been to slay his father, and for much the same reason. For centuries afterward, human sorcerers studied the secrets of becoming Peaceful, their intent to enslave another vradin army. The Montang made bloody examples of each and every one of them.

Some of the Night Kind came up with the asinine idea to find a Peaceful sorcerer, one with “integrity” that they could attempt to use. The rest of the Raged turned upon them, cast them out and banished them through the Door to Dimeter, in large part because magic was so weak in that world that even if the banished found a sorcerer who could spread Peace, the likelihood that they would survive the lack of magic to return with such a creature would be low.

The vradin learned to live with the Rage, but it did not make for easy alliances, or for easy neighbors. The birth of feminine vradin had been uncommon among them even before the Rage, and afterward, any child who survived the first two years of life would likely reach adulthood, but more died before that demarcation.

Tank had been a young cub when another pack of vradin had raided them. The death of his sister in the raid had broken something in his grandfather, the tang of the Gray Tooth clan, and he had chosen to take his people into Dimeter, away from the strength of the Rage and its attendant insanities.

They had not broken all ties with Nimala, however. Those with the least Rage became traders, taking trinkets from Dimeter back to Nimala on an infrequent basis. Mother ulfs, more often than not, who recognized that their sons were too filled with Rage to survive being culled by the Montang and his keasairs, would ask the traders to take their sons to a place where they might have a better chance of surviving.

Most of those youths had no memory of what the Montang did to Peaceful, or if they had heard, they kept alive a hope that they might find a Peaceful that would not be slaughtered out of hand. While the clan had found Peaceful here and there, for the most part they had managed to avoid falling under a Peaceful’s influence. The last time any member of the clan had been Peace Bonded had been in an African village, seven years before.

For four years, Vincent had sworn that he was beyond happy with his Peaceful. Then war had swept through, the Peaceful died, and Vincent fell so far into Enragement that he had managed to make a partial shift that far from any Door. Tank had had to clean up the mess, and rumors still persisted of a man eating monster that had ravaged through the armies, scattering bodies as viciously as a demon risen from Hell.

If they fell into Enragement, better it happen here, where the violence would not endanger the secrecy of the Clan within Dimeter.