Trina awoke at the setting of the moon, her blood fizzing in her veins, and eased herself out from beneath the blankets she and Cherry shared in Cobalt’s camp. She could feel the approaching dawn, a gift from her inner wolf, but today she sensed more. She supposed the smell of blood in her nostrils, and the taste of it in her mouth, was psychosomatic, instinctual knowledge of the day ahead and all it might bring.
Until now, her time as a wolf had only involved hunting other creatures, both with her pack and solo. This was new.
The camp was never quiet, but this was about as close to stillness as it got. Soon the warriors and wolves would rise for breakfast, fortifying themselves for battle.
One of Cobalt’s warriors, a face she vaguely recognised, stopped beside her, quietly offering a tube of mints.
“Hey. Thank you,” Trina said softly, glad to take away, or at least cover, the blood-taste with something.
“Sure. I’m off to start breakfast, could use an extra pair of hands if you’re not otherwise engaged.
“Is there coffee in the cooking tent?”
“So much coffee,” the warrior smiled.
“Then give me a cup of it and show me where I can be useful.”
“Tell you what,” the pixie said as they began walking together. “Been looking forward to today just for the giant feast we’re gonna get, never mind the fighting.”
Trina laughed, “Yeah. The reaction in here when me and Brute dragged a deer into camp a couple of days back…well it told me how long you’ve all been living on short rations.”
“Ohhh…that deer meat…” the pixie groaned, closing their eyes to savour the memory.
They reached the cooking tent and the head chef shouted before they could open their mouths.
“Trina! Gulah! Get your asses in if you’re here to help, get them out if you’re not!”
“We’re here to help, chef,” Gulah confirmed. “I’m going to get Trina a coffee–agreed payment for her services–then she’s here to do whatever you need.”
“Works for me,” the chef eyed Trina. “What cooking you good at?”
“Mostly I’m good at the prep work, chef.”
“Good! Prep station’s over there. Peel, cut, and dice, until everything’s gone–you’ll have help soon.”
Trina obeyed her orders, taking the coffee gratefully as she began peeling potatoes. Soon, others joined her at the prep station, and Cherry wound up doing at least as much cooking as the chef.
As the food cooked, warriors began to appear for feeding. By the time they were done, the ones behind the counter were starving and finished off the remains in short order.
Before letting them go, the chef thanked them all, and handed out small packets of sweets that he had saved for the occasion. Butterscotch, fudge, toffee, fruit, and more–it was a mini cornucopia of flavours.
Tucking them away, the cooking team exited the tent, which was Cobalt’s cue to call for the camp’s attention, and they all obediently came to stand before her.
“My friends. My warriors and allies. This is the day. In a couple of hours, we begin the coup. You should all know your places and roles, keep to them as long as they remain helpful, but once they aren’t, drop them and do what you’ve been trained to do–win. Trust each other to do their part, and call for help if you feel you need it. Nobody here is going to be judging you for that. Our goal is to support our allies on the inside, and remove resistance. It is not to kill Deserina or bring things under control with a new leader. Unless you’re told otherwise, that’s their job, we’re there to back their play. Try to stay alive. If you’re injured badly, get yourself to the cave entrance and you’ll be helped to a medic. You all know the drills. We have about two hours before we need to move and get into position, take it to do whatever you need to do and be back here, in your new squads, when you hear the call. Any questions?”
There were no questions. Everything had been laid out to them all, both privately and publicly. Everyone knew their places. Cobalt hoped there wouldn’t be too much death, but knew that was a futile wish. Still, she had prepared them as well as she could, and their werewolf allies would do much to help keep as many alive as possible. She was counting on them to reduce the amount of time–and therefore death–it would take to effect a transfer of power.
Tethyn sat in their personal cubby, their yellow wings curled around them like a blanket, staring at the fire. An hour ago, they had given the final go-ahead to the rebels, who would by now be into position. They were about to begin the most difficult part that they had to play in this: waiting.
Things would begin when their new allies gave their first howl, as they entered the cave, and then Tethyn would only be able to listen, and wait, hoping that one of theirs would come and collect them.
They had a part to play later. It would be they who gave Deserina her last chance to step down and join the ritual to renounce her leadership in favour of Tethyn. It would be they who must end Deserina’s life if she refused. It would be they who must try to pull together whatever remained of their clan. And it would be they to take on the burden of finding the answers that first Cobalt, and now others, demanded, about the Breaking. But, as they had been repeatedly told, they were too valuable to join the battle. They were the chosen new leader, and must therefore remain alive while others offered their lives for the chance to prevent more pointless slaughter.
Their rebels would cut through whoever stood ni their way to reach Deserina and take her captive. Some would die but not as many as would if Deserina were left to play out this sickness.
They sighed for possibly the millionth time. Whoever had hidden these secrets had caused a lot of bloodshed. Tethyn only hoped whoever it was had suffered as much as the others who died to infighting, as their mind liquefied.
Tethyn’s head shot up as a howl echoed through the cavern, seeming to shake the very walls.
They closed their eyes, trying to to track the fight. There would be far too much chaos to really do so, but at least it kept them occupied for now.
Brute, Jer and Pash shifted into their wolf forms as Cobalt’s force made their final approach.
All three of them were huge, their shoulders almost as tall as a pixie, with barrel chests, claws that looked more like talons, and hooked incisors that could tear through their prey with ease.
Brute, his dark-coat making him almost invisible in the oncoming dark, was slightly in front of his fellow berserkers, a low growl coming from his throat in anticipation of the work ahead.
Jer, his wolf fur copper streaked with red, was almost prancing with excitement, but kept his control, not wanting to force Brute to show him up to their allies, whom he had come to quite like.
Pash, her deep brown colour highlighted with gold tips, was normally a gentle woman, but the cage that kept her berserker in check was ready to be opened.
The other three wolves were scouting ahead and to the sides.
Trina used her lithe wolf body to crawl through and jump over the brush beside the path. She made enough noise to warn anyone ahead, knowing she would hear and smell it if someone ran or hid.
Nemen, light brown in colour, except for a tail that was inexplicably orange, wormed her way through the other side of the path, scenting ahead, reminding herself that this wasn’t Vietnam all over again.
Ghost scouted ahead, sometimes moving into shadows, sometimes curling them around her. She smelled pixies behind her, and in the distance–just where she wanted to be able to smell them. Nobody seemed to be stationed on watch. It seemed the rebel’s secret had remained intact, which was good. Ghost wondered if that had been part of Cobalt’s role; it would explain the lack of watch duty.
The force reached the edge of this stretch of woods unseen, unheard, unknown. The cave entrance could be spotted just ahead, in the middle of a cleared area.
After confirming everyone was caught up, Cobalt looked into the eyes of her squad leaders, getting a ready nod from them, then did the same for Brute and Ghost–who also gave her a nod.
All was ready. It was time.
Cobalt signalled Brute, and his wolves bounded to the cave entrance, the rest of the army right behind.
Brute, first into the cave, announced their presence with a long howl, before unleashing his berserker and beginning the attack.
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