(Roughly a month before to about the same time as the Emergency Meeting)
The message came via his usual drop- an Inuit kid who he’d paid to pick up groceries and mail and such for him on a monthly basis. The kid got paid, and he was able to avoid civilization a little longer. It had no scent to it, but that could be explained by the travel time. Still, Edmund asking him to come to Chambury for ‘a matter of importance’ somehow didn’t sit right.
Initially, he’d decided to ignore it, but the damned thing gnawed at him, not letting him rest with the infinity of ‘what-ifs’ it brought up. Finally, he went. In Dawson he called Edmund. Or rather, he tried to- the number was disconnected. The what-ifs became pressing. He hated owing people anything, and he decidedly owed Edmund. No matter how crazy the son-of-a-bitch was. Sighing, he arranged for lodgings in Chambury- a mobile home, brand new, in the middle of unoccupied homes. Not a hard thing to set up when you had money.
“Are you sure he’s here?” The question was wearing on Heath, and he desperately wished Lou would stop asking it.
“Yes,” Heath replied. “Drop it. This’ll be bad enough without you letting him know we’re coming.”
Silence… For all of ten seconds. Then, “Is he really that tough?”
Nat cleared his throat. “Lou. Shut the fuck up or I’ll shut you up.” The big man moved silently to flank Heath. “How far?”
“Third trailer.” He smirked. “Sorry, ‘manufactured home’. Father Angelo didn’t say why the old psycho was in town, but he is.” He glanced back at the now-cowed Lou. “Kid doesn’t know anything, does he.”
“Nope. He has the light of the Lord, though,” Nat replied. “At least that, if not brains.”
Nat sniffed the air. “I smell bear. He’s definitely here, been here at least two, three days.” Though he spoke, neither his nor Heath’s voice carried. “I don’t like taking him in his sleep, but it can’t be helped. Father’s orders.”
Lips pursed in distaste, Heath nodded in agreement. Gesturing to Lou to follow, he moved in utter silence closer to their target. Odd that there weren’t any sounds of other occupants in the park, at least not within two trailers in any direction of the target. But then, Odin Stuttgard had a reputation for insanity and violence; maybe they just… Left. Yeah. And maybe Saint Nicholas was about to appear in a sleigh.
There were legends about old Odin. That he was truly the Norse god. That he killed hundreds of other weres, that he was unable to be killed. All bullshit, Heath knew, but the old bear had a mythic air about him that even Heath couldn’t quite shake. A few years back a group had gone to kill him, out in the heart of the Yukon. None returned. A couple of weeks later, their superiors were gone as well.
Still, he felt confident. There were six in the squad, all combat vets, all with experience in fighting dangerous foes… Except for Lou. Green as new grass, he was, and new to the Cino as well; But Father Angelo wanted him here, so he was here. With luck, Heath could keep him alive.
He scanned ahead, catching sight of the briefest flicker of signal- the others were in position, evenly spaced around the double-wide Odin was within. Time to change- he knew in human skin they’d die like flies. Changed, they were three wolves, a Jaguar and two badass bears. Bet ol’ Odin wasn’t ready for that.
Bet he wasn’t ready for the Blood, either.
He knew they were coming. Of course they were. When he’d hit town it didn’t take long to find out that Edmund was out of the country, and the fucking Cino were on a rampage. Not hard to figure that someone decided it was time to take him out. They’d never liked him, the Cinocephali- his pagan beliefs, being old enough to remember how things had been before. It was just a question of when. A grim smile touched his lips. ‘Wonder if I’ll be able to stop after they get me started.’
Heath stripped off his clothes, his confederates doing the same; funny; he remembered way back in the army, how there’d be joking about homos and other crap in the showers. Homos weren’t the enemy- they were still human. Heath knew the truth- the shifters were the enemy. He, was the Enemy. The Cinocephali acted to protect the humans from the other werecreatures. Humans who had no clue what lived in their midst. Monsters against monsters.
He checked the oversized harness which was now the only thing he wore, and the modified airgun- a larger grip and no trigger guard so that he could use it when Changed. They all had one, so the big bad bear would get a dose no matter what. With six opponents, at least one would get him.
That was the hope. And with him asleep, the odds were even better. Heath smiled, lips compressed to a thin line, and changed. Despite the agony, he was proud that not even Lou made a sound.
Sniffing the air, the scent of bear was much stronger. Definitely a were; Heath hadn’t ever scented anything quite like this before. There was a sense of age to the scent, of… He didn’t know what, but somehow, he wanted more than anything to just run away. His heart started to beat faster.
Heath shook his head and forced his ears up. He glanced around at his now-changed companions. Nat, now a blend of man and jaguar, gaped a yawn; it seemed forced. He wasn’t the only one who’d felt the eerie effect. Vic bared his ursine teeth- him too. The only one of the group who seemed untouched was Lou, their other bear. ‘Figures that the greenhorn wouldn’t feel anything’, Heath thought.
Gesturing, he sent his team to their positions, surrounding the innocuous-looking double-wide. Hell, even the siding smelled brand new. An ancient monster of a Harley touring bike was parked nearby, a vinyl shroud partly covering it. Still no sign of motion inside, and with his enhanced senses Heath could tell that none of the surrounding trailers were inhabited. Good. The fewer around to hear the coming ruckus, the better.
He gaped a wolfish smile; no matter what, the Medical Examiner working for the Ulf would have a mess to cover up. For once, it would be a bear attack!
Not long now. he could feel it in the air, in the shiver of the cool night. He’d used a little bit of old, old magic; nobody outside the conflict would hear a thing, see anything that they shouldn’t. He doubted that the Cino had thought that far ahead. They didn’t seem to be at all as smart as they’d once been. That, of course, didn’t make them less dangerous.
He could have asked for help; could have dragged the Versi or the Ulf into the fight, could have strong-armed the Lycaon, those crazy bastards, with all the old ties of blood and loyalty he had with the clans. But no- this was going to be hard enough for him not to lose control when blood began to flow- why make it harder for them to stop him with those invocations? Odin prayed quietly to his namesake, bloody God that He was, that he’d not spill the blood of the innocent tonight.
They were all in position. Lou was at his side- no way was he leaving the greenie off on his own. The kid seemed a lot calmer now that he’d gone bear. That happened, sometimes- Heath’s own other half was a maddened killer when it got loose. This close to the door, the scent of bear was almost overpowering- it was a wonder none of the humans noticed.
There was a muffled thump, and the trailer moved; Heath froze, but no other sounds followed. He’d heard nothing within the trailer… And that shouldn’t be. There should be breathing, snoring… Something.
The trailer shuddered again, and Heath ripped the door open- the far wall of the structure was simply gone, torn away. How the hell could that happen with no sound?
He could smell blood-and-bowels- someone had been gutted. He pulled his airgun, praying to God that he’d survive. Claw marks scored the trailer floor, leading out of the vast hole in the wall. He followed the carnage, Lou on his tail.
It’d been Jackie who’d died. Her corpse steamed, eyes staring into infinity. He could see her spine; Heath turned away. Bizarrely muffled growls drew him back. Before he could move, more of the trailer was destroyed as Odin crashed back inside.
Odin barely fit; how he’d stayed still waiting for them Heath couldn’t figure. He’d had never, ever seen anything so insanely huge. One of the beast’s paws was wrapped completely around the crushed skull of a wolf. Odin roared a challenge that made no sound, but shook the ground nonetheless. Before Heath could move, the lifeless body was slammed into him, throwing him back out the door.
There had been six of them. Six trained killers sent to remove him from whatever bloody chessboard the Cino had constructed in Chambury. Wolf, Cat, Bear. Amazing that the Cino were flexible of mind enough to recruit non-wolves. He’d been waiting hours in his Changed form, the rage of his other half clawing at him more and more to let go, to bloody the world with its anger, its thirst to rampage over any and all that got in its path. He placated it with the coming fight, that it would taste the Enemy soon.
It wasn’t quite enough. By the time the first of his foes came close to the trailer wall, Odin was no longer in control; the beast raked through wall and enemy in one lightning surge of hate, then burst through to reach the next. He felt something lodge in his fur, but nothing mattered anymore. Nothing but blood.
He screamed a killing-song, a second assailant already dead, head crushed in one massive paw. He tossed the dead meat into another wolf as the bears slammed into him.
Heath wished he could hear something; anything, to give him an idea of what the hell was going on. He pushed Tom’s corpse away, the poor bastard already sizzling back to human form. Lou was inside, and so was Vic. The two black bears were tiny compared to the wall of fur that was Odin. Neither of them tried to use their guns- their hands in shifted form were just too claw-heavy to even have a chance. He couldn’t see his- he’d lost it when the body hit him.
A knot of fear tightened in his gut- they were going to die tonight, and from the looks of things, Odin sure as shit wasn’t going to stop with just them. Every inch of his hide was radiating bloodlust. Heath glanced to his left, saw Nat tensing to leap; matching the jaguar, He charged at the same time that his partner leapt, the pair hitting Odin high-and-low.
It was like trying to gut a fur-covered mountain. Claws and teeth dug in- he tasted fat and blood, but knew that he’d not done any real harm. A near-silent bellow came from the monster they fought; wind stroked Heath’s fur as Lou was ripped loose and thrown into one of the surrounding trailers. Four-hundred-fifty pounds of bear lofted like an empty beer-can. ‘Poor kid,’ he thought, then tried to work his fangs into something vital.
He could smell the blood, taste it, felt it caressing him like a lover. The beast had no wish to stop, no desire to end the fight. Once the troublemakers were dealt with, then he’d hunt. So many lives to end, human and not- maybe some would be a challenge. Two more attacked, a wolf gnawed at his belly while a cat tore futilely at his back- maybe there’d be scars, he didn’t care. Another silent, earth-shaking moan and he ridded himself of one of his lesser cousins. Odin hoped the creature survived; otherwise, this would end all too soon.
Heath couldn’t get a purchase. The wounds he caused were already closing. Odin wasn’t berserk, Heath didn’t even want to consider that, but he was definitely not in the driver’s seat- the animal ruled him. He clung desperately as the great bear slammed sideways, finally removing enough of the structure for the trailer to collapse as the snarling mass of beasts rolled into the night. He heard a distant feline scream that cut off suddenly, and mourned; Nat was gone. He’d fought alongside the cat for years, and he was stunned by the emptiness that now filled him.
A vast paw slapped at him, and for a moment there was only blackness. When his head cleared he realized that he was alive, but his arm was broken. He was in another trailer, and his entire right side was agony. Snarling with rage and pain, he began to drag himself back towards the fight, faintly realizing that sound was returning. He could hear, though everything was still muffled.
He blacked out again when something moved inside him- broken ribs, he realized, floating loose in his chest. Stars were fizzing in his vision, the moaning howls of bears rolling around him. He had to find one of the airguns. If he was to survive, that was his only chance other than running; and no Marine would leave his men behind if he could still fight.
Odin couldn’t help it. Even though he knew a nightmare rampage would follow, he enjoyed the carnage. His other half was utterly mad, he knew that. At his age, control and sanity eroded away. It was why he lived in the middle of nowhere, so nobody would be hurt. That mattered not at all now, riding the scarlet wave of violence. He slapped the surviving wolf away, only to have the remaining bear joined by the one he thought he’d killed. He smelled so much blood; good. The longer this took, the better.
Three bears. The three bears. Heath started to giggle, only to have wracking coughs replace the gallows-humor. Blood dripped from his jaws- his own. He was seeing events in staccato flashes, his brain unable to maintain awareness properly. Another blackout, and a horrid, wet snapping- someone had died. Heath couldn’t register who was left. Something was in front of him- he needed it, but why? An airgun. That was it. He picked it up, a hacking cough shaking his whole body. He bit down, focusing. He couldn’t seem to keep a breath.
He was dying, Heath realized. One last thing to do- maybe someone would survive the disaster.
The bears were harrying him, snapping then retreating. Odin recognized good teamwork, even if his other half didn’t. He applied what leverage he could, aiming his blood-mad self to orient on the larger, more careful beast. Roaring, he charged, massive jaws closing viselike on the neck of their enemy, who bellowed agony for the moments it still lived.
Heath leapt, jamming the gun into the side of Odin’s vast mouth as the great beast tore Vic’s spine out. The gun discharged, and claws wiped Heath’s world away.
Something was in his mouth. A sting, barely noticeable. He tore the crippled wolf in half, then turned to face the remaining bear. It growled a challenge, but he could scent the terror rolling off the beast. He reared back up to his full height, stars behind him outlining the darkness of his form. He started forward,the smaller bear backing to maintain distance.
Something… Something was wrong. The rage, the desire to kill, was bleeding away, the anger…His bear, the beast, it was whining, fading! Odin shook his head; he could feel the shift beginning, his reversion to human. That wasn’t possible! He felt for his beast, and it slipped like oil from his claws. Then, his foe struck.
Lou could smell blood. He shook his head; he was naked. Not a surprise, but being alive sure was. He remembered charging Odin as the nightmare beast started to change, biting and swiping with every bit of remaining strength. He didn’t know what happened after that. He levered himself up, and winced. His entire body was bruises and healing tears. He froze, afraid that the small sound he’d made would draw the monster’s attention, but there was nothing. It was light out; why weren’t there any humans investigating? He got wearily to his feet- he had no idea how to explain this to anyone, and he was terrified of facing Father Angelo.
The trailers… One was utterly flattened. Odin’s, he thought. The surrounding homes had varying amounts of damage, and… God, the blood. Heath lay nearby, near torn in half. Lou gagged, overwhelmed with the stink of violent death. His heart started to pound, just as a massive hand spun him around and pinned him to the wall.
The naked man before him looked like nothing other than a gigantic Viking. Welts from claws marked him, but Lou couldn’t see any real harm they’d done. That just ramped his fear through the roof. he struggled, but stopped as Odin’s hand started to cut off his air.
“Fucking kid,” Odin growled. “You took my beast. I found the little popguns you Cino fucks had- I returned the favor while you were napping.” He flung Lou onto a broken couch. “Cleanup is coming. You and me? We’re gonna talk. I might let you live, kid. Why should I?”
Lou coughed. His neck felt like it’d been in a vice. He took a few breaths. “I… I don’t wanna die.”
Odin laughed, an oddly quiet chuckle. “That is a terrible fucking reason. Nobody wants to die, shithead. But say I let you live. This is a war now; where you gonna go? Now that I’m rousted out of my quiet little vacation-home, what do you think is gonna happen to your Cino masters?”
“Your bear is gone,” Lou said. “What can you do?”
This time, Odin laughed out loud. “You think that my bear is all I can do? I’m centuries old, kid. And I’m smart- If I want a fucking army, I can get one. Not just weres, either. All kinds of nightmares owe me more shit than you can imagine.” He threw a bundle to Lou. “Those’re your clothes. Put ‘em on. You’re coming with me.”
Lou shivered, starting to dress. “Where are we going?”
“Ulfhednar,” Odin replied. “Better hope they ain’t hungry.”