Vradin, Chapter Thirty-Two

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The ticks managed to stretch their lead from the hour and a half they had at the start of the pack’s run through the Door to a nearly eight hour lead by nightfall. Tank decided to push on. The richness of the blessings in Nimala meant that not even the pups being overseen by his second were yet tired, and the moon was full, giving plenty of light. They were following a scent trail anyway, the sight of tracks merely a confirmation of the information their noses told them. The vampires were doing nothing to hide their trail, counting on speed to see them to their destination.

Still, Tank had the pack run to the side of the trail, just in case they needed to cast back at some point. A few of the younger pack who had become enamored with the ranged weapons of Dimeter had contrived or converted existing slings for carrying rifles and ammo while in wolf shape, but Tank and the older wolves had not bothered. The guns were useful when they walked on two feet, but would be considered cheats in any fight between vradin, and useless while running.

The youth unfortunately learned that the hard way when a pair of true drakes dropped into the middle of the pack. They were crossing a stretch of steppe like planes on the edge of an old growth forest, the moons of Nimala trading places in the night sky, the pale blue and red radiance of their light casting lilac shadows in the grass.

Fortune favored them in that the drakes were both male, their torsos close in size to a goat and their tails, barbed with a stinger, having only about a ten foot range. Both were the color of mud, their reptilian scales dulled with the fetid remnants of the carrion they rolled in. The one in the lead had four legs while the one behind had only two.

They came in on a silent dive, the foremost with talons outstretched in an attempt to catch the smallest of the youths. Brawn reacted to the shifting wind and managed to knock the leader out of flight, onto ground where the pack could savage it. That caused the one trailing to collide with them, the crack heralding a broken wing almost drowned out by the drake’s scream of pain.

Dodging around the drakes’ flailing wings provided some cover against their stingers, but more than one wolf got stabbed with the sleep-inducing toxin, just not for long enough to get a full dose of drake venom. Biting into their scales left tears around and inside the younger wolves’ mouths while their elders shifted to their fighting forms and tore into the drakes’ flesh with claws. The few wolves with fire arms who tried the shift got tangled in their straps, spending precious seconds getting themselves free.

Brawn and his charges took the brunt of the initial attack, and several more of the pack, Tank included, sported new gashes. Everyone could move, no one had taken more than one stab from the drakes’ stingers, and no one was so seriously hurt as to require rest, so Tank urged the pack to continue the run. Like the other elders, he knew that where one pair of drakes hunted, likely enough a small colony could be found nearby, and it was best to be away before the lot of them came looking to scavenge the dead.

By the time dawn broke, the vampires had half a day on the pack, slowed as Tank’s wolves were by their healing wounded.

Near midday a pair of keasair scouts sighted the pack. Tank howled the Hunting Song, the tones ones he had had stressed into his psyche from as early an age as he could recall. Hunting Song meant that the pack had no interest in the lands or territory they crossed, but upon their prey, usually a creature that had harmed the pack.

The scouts looked even more surprised by the Song than by the pack. One of the pair broke away, taking to the skies in the body of a giant hawk while the other paced the pack, staying well enough away to see if the pack swerved to take him down, but close enough that the pack knew they were under the escort and scrutiny of the Montang’s guard.

Tank contemplated taking down the keasair, but decided against it. The flier would have already reported the Griswald Stag pack’s trespass, no matter how legitimate their reason, and speed became a matter of even greater importance.

By twilight, the vampires had a day and a half’s lead upon the pack, but the earth of Nimala was generous, and Tank was careful to pace the pack for an endless run. He knew it was the only way to catch up on the Night Kind, who might be capable sprinters, but lacked the endurance to run and fight. In fact, most of the wounds from the prior night’s encounter had already healed, despite the strain of the run.

That night passed without incident, their escort still a watchful distance, but looking strained by the constant run. Tank called a short rest at dawn, estimating they had made up most of the day’s loss in the night, and Brawn proved his worth as second once more by shifting to man shape and unslinging a pack from his back, motioning to three others of the pack to do the same. He distributed jerkied meats, not enough for a full meal but, with the earth’s blessing, enough to continue the run for another day.

An hour after they moved out again a shrill screeching cry filled the sky. The scout pacing them lifted his head and roared, giving away that his vradinnaar was from among the great cats. The screech – roar cycle was repeated thrice more before their new honor guard of winged vradin took over, allowing the cat scout to rest.

By mid afternoon the vampires had stretched their lead out to two full days, the scent of a hunting party of small giants picking up and then leaving the trail having probably provoked them to a full run. Shortly after the giant scent left the trail, the pack reached the spot where the keasairs had intercepted and caught the vampires. Brawn nipped at Tank’s shoulder, ripping him from dread to continue the chase, straight to the Montang’s fortress.

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