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     Three Wolf Moon, Open to Any, Garrett
    TAVIEN
     Posted: Aug 29 2013, 11:55 AM
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    Three Wolf Moon

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    It seems like you have been trudging through this stretch of wilderness, forest, and scrub brush for an eternity now. The rough trail that you have been following purported to have once been an "idyllic stroll through the beautiful woodlands of upper Wyoming." The current state of the muddy and overgrown state of this trail hardly helps reinforce its once glorious reputation. Frankly, in your tired, muddy, and damp state, and with both the clouds and the night swiftly approaching, this trail is looking less and less 'idyllic' by the moment.

    You find yourself re-thinking over and over why exactly you have found yourself stomping through this edge of wilderness at this close to darkness, especially with the risk of walkers ever present. Maybe it is your empty stomach that drives you toward that deer you saw on the trail seemingly hours before. Maybe it is the thought of the small hiker's lodge and cabin up ahead that hopefully will be untouched and stocked full of survival supplies. Maybe it is just an attempt to get away from that last ruined wreck of a town and whatever happened to you there.

    Something keeps pushing you forward. At this point, you are too far in; committed. You just have to press on.

    Suddenly, between the sounds of nighttime crickets and the rumbling storm off on the horizon, you hear a piercing howl. It seems to echo on and on, reverberating throughout the entire wooded region.

    It does not take long for it to receive a reply. And another. And another.

    You feel adrenaline start to fill your veins, tensing your muscles and quickening your breath and heartbeat.

    Wolves! Great.

    Since the collapse of humanity, the creatures had become much more brazen in their attacks and their savagery.

    ...and their howls seem to be getting closer.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Dec 3 2013, 11:03 PM
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    Garret listened to the shrill howl of the wolves. They were a mile away-- maybe more--but close enough to be troubling, all the same. The Mustang was back on the highway, her beautiful frame no doubt gleaming in the moonlight. Yet she was a fickle mistress. He'd blown a tire a mile back, and despite owning perhaps the nicest ride on this side of the apocalypse, he was now trudging through the snow. Fortunately, he'd been through this country before, albeit when the weather was nice. There weren't any towns around here, per se, but Garret knew of a small convenience store/auto shop in the area. It was along the same road where the Mustang sat, but thanks to the twists and turns as it neared Yellowstone, it was closer on foot to traverse the woods.

    He wondered what would happen if he actually found his daughter. Garret had spent his years in prison thinking of her; you could even say that she was the only reason he wasn't some burnt out repeat offender. But none of his fantasies had involved a world of the living dead. "What if she's dead?" He tried to push the thought out of his mind. She was his daughter, wasn't that right? He'd had a rough go of childhood, but at least some of this toughness had to be genetic, or so he thought. Besides, from what he'd heard in Seattle, she'd left on a bus full of people. A mobile base of operations. Though it was just teens on board, it sounded like an ideal situation in this messed up world.

    His attention returned to the physical world as he approached a stream. Garret hadn't seen a walker in weeks, but he saw one now, stuck in the ice. The thing just jerked from right to left, unable to free the lower part of its torso from the frozen water. It was odd, especially given his general lack of sympathy for the living, but he actually felt bad for the thing. That being said, sympathy didn't lead to stupidity. He gave the dead thing a wide berth as he crossed over. It had probably been there for days, given the amount of snow piled on top of it's rotted skull, and Garret wondered if the wolves even cared about it. Or if it cared about the wolves. He imagined one of the animals thrashing around in its grasp, and it made him angry. The things just weren't natural. He stepped back out onto the ice, slowly. His ears listened for any hint of a crack. Nothing. Garret progressed until he was standing over the walker, and freed the crowbar at his side. "Fuck off then, yeah?"

    He realized how corny he sounded even as he shoved the straight end of the bar into one of the thing's milky eyes. It sank in effortlessly, and the shambling idiot ceased his endless hunt. "What of it." He muttered, aware that this commentary, too, was cheesy. It didn't matter. Sometimes this running self-dialog helped to keep him sane; for whatever reason talking out loud, even to himself, kept him from feeling alone.

    Just then a branch cracked up ahead. It was too close to be those fucking wolves. Maybe Garret wasn't alone, after all.
    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: Dec 3 2013, 11:16 PM
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    Tepahtiani cursed quietly as the branch upon which he had been leaning buckled under his weight. He was able to catch himself from tipping forward and falling into the ice-covered lake, but could immediately see that his target had noticed the sound. The man had stopped upon the ice by the edge of the river, and was staring hard at the wintery forest woodland ahead of him. The very woodland and snow-covered scrub brush in which Tepahtiani was currently hiding.

    The neo-Aztec near cursed the spiteful and fickle gods that he served, but restrained himself. It would be very unwise to decry his masters, when he stood so close to their base element; water.

    Tepahtiani sank back down into the snow, letting the white pelt of the wolf cloak he wore help blend him in with the snowbank. Slowly, his chilled hands drew forth one of his atlatl darts from his large quiver along his side and back.

    The gods had been punishing Tepahtiani of late for his failures to cleanse the land of the corruption. The fierce blizzard and biting cold had been an unpleasant reminder of just how much his life hung in the balance of their powerful hands. He had near lost his life, buried to the waist in freezing snow.

    If there was one thing that he knew would return him to the God's favor, it was the life force of a powerful living human being.

    The man's sacrifice before him would be an acceptable offering to the gods Tepahtiani worshiped.

    Tepahtiani slowly slid the dart into the atlatl in his hand, and prepare to take aim at the stranger wandering before him. Shivering hands struggled to hold the dart in line at the figure just on the edge of the bank before him.

    Then, with a roar of ferocity, Tepahtiani arose from the snow and lobbed the atlatl dart with all his might, directly at the man near the river.

    In the darkness of the snowy night, the whistle of the dart flying through the air intermixed with the echoing howls of the wolves in the mountains around them.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Dec 21 2013, 09:13 PM
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    No sooner than he'd finished cursing, Garret saw a blur moving through the brush. Before he could make out what he was seeing, a short metal spear came hurtling towards his face. If he hadn't heard the branch crack, he'd be dead. Instead, he threw his hands up, just seconds before it would have struck home. The tip of the dart tore through the palm of his right hand, stopping half an inch from his eye. There was pain, of course, but it was a distant melody. Garret's heart pounded in his eardrums, a song of rage and fire. He'd killed plenty of walkers, to be sure, but the thought of being attacked by another human? He pulled the dart out and tossed it aside, his injury an afterthought. His eyes darted from side to side, hungry. To his dismay, the attacker had disappeared. Here he was, dripping his life blood into the snow, and the bastard who'd attacked him was a ghost. He took a deep breath, trying to bottle his anger just enough to get an edge on his senses. He still couldn't see the man, but he could see the footprints in the snow. Garret pulled his shotgun. "Let's see spear boy compete with that," he thought. Then a second thought; "If there are walkers near, do I really want to fire?"

    It was then that he saw him, reloading his dart launcher behind a clump of lodge pole pines. The man in wolf skin; if Garret hadn't already flipped a switch, he probably would've laughed. Was he for real? He raised the gun, pausing briefly to wipe his blood on his jeans.

    "I've got the rock to your scissors there, Chief. We can talk this out like men or we can compare technology, either one works for me." Garret placed his finger on the trigger, waiting. If he so much as saw him lift his chucker, he'd fire and worst case scenario they'd both bite it.

    In the distance, the wolves howled again.

    Maybe they knew one of these men was going to die. That dinner would be served, no hunt needed.

    Maybe it was a warning.
    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: Jan 3 2014, 02:32 PM
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    Tepahtiani roared in disappointment as his well-aimed dart smacked into the man's hand instead of into his upper torso as intended. The wind, the warning, and the man's reaction speed had spared his life. Truly, the gods were not favoring his aim.

    Not waiting for the man to react to the assault, Tepahtiani dove into the embankment near him, letting the white and grey winter cloak conceal him in the camouflage of the surrounding snow. Slowly, but with an accuracy borne of countless days of practice, Tepahtiani slid the next dart from behind his shoulder and placed it atop his atlatl. Then, readying his arm for the cocked-back throwing motion the launcher would require, he rose from the snow into a crouched combat stance.

    ... and right into view of the double-barreled duck gun aimed right at his position.

    "I've got the rock to your scissors there, Chief. We can talk this out like men or we can compare technology, either one works for me."

    The man's bleeding hand was dripping crimson all over his clothing and the pure white snow below him. Yet, it and its pair held the gun firmly as the man bellowed out his warning in Tepahtiani's direction. Tepahtiani paused, arm ready to throw, momentarily unsure of his next step to take. In normal cases, he would ignore the weapon and throw, knowing that the gods would shield him from damage and land his dart true in the chest of his foes. But today, with how poorly the gods had been treating him...

    In the distance, the wolves howled again. A sign of death, of being hunted. The sound did little to allay his worry.

    But, what other option was there. He had speared the man; peace was not likely.

    So, taking the risk, Tepahtiani used his primed arm to toss another dart as he himself threw his body backwards into the treeline, and hopefully out of range of the scattergun's deadly barrage.

    The dart sailed high ... an almost certain miss, as his dodge had not given him time to line up the shot. But, his hope was that the flying projectile would buy him the seconds of distraction he would need to survive.

    Another wolf howl sounded ... closer still.

    Maybe it was a warning. Perhaps the gods looked on their unworthy servant yet.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Jan 9 2014, 10:29 AM
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    This time the spear came nowhere close to hitting Garret. It was a high, errant throw that probably wouldn't have struck home even if the strange man had stayed in place, but as it was he was diving back into the trees; all Garret had to do was take a step to the side and watch the projectile crash down onto the frozen stream.

    "You chose wrong, you bloody wanka!" That old rage, building. "Imma take your skull and fu-" Garret realized too late that the point of this second dart hadn't been to hit him, but to buy time. In the distance--for the Indian, if that's what he was, was fast--birds scattered from the trees. "Wanka!"He shook yet more blood from his hand, doing his best even in anger to keep it off of the leather coat, and charged deeper into the woods.

    Garrett was not fast. He lumbered like an ox, footsteps heavy. Loud. If his quarry was planning an ambush--well, he wasn't thinking about it, but he'd definitely be at a disadvantage if the other man took another hiding spot. He came to the top of a small rise, panting. His breath froze in the air in huge, billowing clouds. On the other side of the rise was open meadow, and despite the white furs the man wore Garret could see his attacker, standing not a hundred yards from him. He could see him because the meadow was flush with moonlight, but more importantly he could see him because of the wolves. A half dozen of the creatures were closing in on his foe in a semicircle, and they weren't the animals he saw on the BBC nature programs in lock-up. They were beasts, large and feral. Maybe the walkers had chased off all of the elk. Maybe whatever change had affected the world called out something in their nature as well. He didn't know. What he did know was that the man who had attacked him was going to get what was coming to him. He started back into the treeline, hoping to follow the ridge around to the auto shop and get on his way.

    He had almost convinced himself that he was just going to leave the stranger to his fate when he saw the bus peeking out from the brush on the other side of the meadow. It was a large, gun-barrel black passenger bus half buried in snow. The exposed side was shredded with bullet holes. There was no way of knowing if it was Cassandra's bus, of course, but.....he had to get across the meadow and find out. And what if the crazy Indian knew something? He could beat it out of him, but not if he was dead. With a sigh he sighted his gun and took a shot at the bastard closest to him.

    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: Jan 12 2014, 05:58 PM
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    The howling had not been an omen from his gods.

    It had been a portent of his immediate and painful death.

    The grey and white furred wolves had seemingly appeared right out of the snow itself just as Tepahtiani had started to speed away from the armed man and through an open meadow. There had to be at least a half dozen of the creatures, all fluffed fur, snarls, and white fangs. These creatures were stocky, solid, well fed, likely off of all of the corpses of the living and the undead that had begun to seed themselves among these mystic woods. Tepahtiani had drawn his massive macuahuitl out and attempted to use it to ward off the ferocious creatures, but had swiftly become encircled in them. His senses immediately told him that this pack attack was more than just a random encounter; as he still wore the fur of a few of their fallen companions over his shoulders.

    The wolves began zipping back and forth in front and behind him. Their attacks were feints, mostly ... testing his defenses and attempting to imbalance him. Tepahtiani made a few swings with his massive obsidian-spiked bat to keep them at bay. He made no contact though, and immediately recognized the twin dangers of the wolves in front of him and the incoming danger on the trail below him.

    Tlaloc was not pleased with him. Here he sat, surrounded by the god's base element water, and he was very well ready to lose some faith in the god's favor.

    Then, he watched as the man that he had attacked earlier strode out of the snow-covered pine trees and into the meadow, shotgun waving in one hand and blood draining from the other.

    For the first time in quite a while, Tepahtiani felt uncertain. He did not fear his death. After all, death was just part of the cycle of life, and it came to all. In fact, in this day and age, it came to most. What he feared was not completing his sacred quest to cleanse the world, and to bring it back to balance. He feared failing his people, his ancestors, and facing them in the next cycle of life to come.

    As expected, the man with the scattergun stopped, lined up a shot, and fired. Quite unexpected, however, was the yelp of one of the wolves as the shotgun blasted up a fluff of snow and sent a furry fighter flying to the side in evasion.

    What had happened? Had the man missed? It seemed unlikely seeing at how short of range he was.

    Confusion nearly cost Tepahtiani his life as his shock at the sight froze him up and one of the wolves dove through the air at his throat. He managed to jolt his arms into a halfhearted block with the bat that deflected the wolf, but still brought him to his knees.

    The pack was quick to take advantage of his fall. He heard the snarl seconds before the crushing weight of the massive wolf landed atop him. Frantically taking action to spare his life, Tepahtiani used one arm to keep the creatures vicious fangs and claws at bay while the other discarded his macuahuitl into the snow and gripped at the handle of his obsidian sacrificial knife at his belt. He heard the beasts ravenous snarls, felt the heat of its breath on his helmeted face, saw the drool glistening in the chill early spring air and moonlight. He could feel pressure on his arm guard as the wolf's claws pressed against them and dug Tepahtiani's back deep into the snow.

    Somewhere above the sound of the wolf attacking him, he heard another shotgun blast.

    Whatever was happening above him, the man was certainly not just standing by and watching.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Jan 15 2014, 09:51 AM
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    Garret's first shot missed. No real surprise; even this close, he was pushing the weapon's range. Got the furry bastard's attention, anyway. It looked over at him, snarling. The rest of the pack seemed intent on finishing their kill, however, and continued to swarm the Aztec. Garret reloaded, walking steadily towards the wolf. It sprinted away from him, but this time he fired true. Blood splattered across the snow in a spray as the thing collapsed. It wasn't dead, not yet. Its chest heaved with jerky breath, the beast forced to just lay there and bleed out painfully. Part of Garret felt bad for the thing; even the roughest thugs on the streets of London, when driven to murder, went for the clean kill. Only sadists and Arabs killed slow. But it was no time for compassion, not when five more of the thing's kin were about to eat his potential witness.

    He waded forward through the deep snow, anger overriding not only the pain in his hand but now the pain that was beginning to form in his thoroughly soaked feet. "If only you put your energy towards a good end," the prison shrink would often tell him, "you could accomplish anything. You are like an arrow that refuses to accept the idea of an obstacle between yourself and your target." Considering that this bus--whether it was really Cassandra's or not still remained to be seen--was the closest thing he'd had to a lead in a couple of months, he wasn't going to let nature deter him.

    Or was he? He reloaded again as he approached the mass of animals that were piled on the primitive warrior--who lashed out at them with some sort of club, to no or little effect that he could see--and in the second that he looked down to mess with the shells in his pocket, a pair of them broke off from the downed man and charged at him. Maybe it was the gun, but he didn't get a careful feeling out period. He shoved the shells in, snapped the barrel into place, but it was too late. One of them lunged. He got an arm up, and the beast clamped down on his leather jacket. It was thick, expensive, and took most of the brunt of the damage, but the canine's canines still punctured both fabric and skin. He fell backwards. He held on to his gun as he fell, but when a large rock protruding from the snow broke his fall, he couldn't keep his hands from releasing. The weapon slid off to his side, obscured by the wolf that towered over him. At least it didn't go off.

    Now the second wolf circled like some mock referee, watching. The animal towering over him yanked on his arm, ripping the sleeve of the jacket completely off, leaving the limb it was attached to mostly intact. Long cuts trailed the length of his flesh, perhaps as deep as the tip of a finger, horrible wounds but if he survived they would heal. Garret staggered to his knees as the thing thrashed around with the leather, but it didn't take the wolf long to realize its prize was nothing more than a wrapper. With the other wolf still circling, the two old warriors faced off. The predator attacked first, teeth snapping at the air inches from Garret's face. Just inches between life and death. Garret shook off the last vestige of prison therapy and let himself go to the dark place. Once, in prison, three Serbian gang members attacked him while he showered, advancing on him with homemade clubs and shivs while the rest of their crew distracted the guards. These men went to the hospital. One of them, if he somehow survived the plague, no longer walks. When the guards asked him about it, Garret told them honestly that he didn't know what had happened after the first time he was stabbed. They spent a lot of money trying to keep Garret from slipping into that blackness, but this time he forced out his thoughts and hopes and dreams and went to that place willingly. As the wolf's head pulled back, snarling, Garret followed after, cracking the thing in the skull with his own head. "ARASHAGFUGGA!" Forest-gone. Snow-gone. Aztec-gone. Garret only saw red.
    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: Jan 25 2014, 02:14 AM
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    The creature's weight was crushing him!

    Tepahtiani took some ragged and rapid breaths as he frantically fought to both grip the handle of his obsidian dagger at his belt, and to shake off the biting attacks against his arm braces, hand, and face. Already, the massive wolf's jaws had clamped down hard on his left fist. Luckily, his hand had been closed, so he was able to jerk away before he lost fingers, but nonetheless the attack had savaged his skin and left the limb feeling numbed and useless. He had felt another one of the creatures take strafing bites at his head. Thankfully, his ancestors had been wise when they created the armor of a Jaguar Warrior. The thick wooden helmet shook with the impact of the other wolf's attacks, but did not break.

    Somewhere amid the snarling and snapping, he heard a surprised yell and more shots fired. He could only guess from his position on the ground what was happening to the other man that had only seconds before been his primary enemy. The fact that he had not yet heard the high-pitched squeals and screams of a human being eaten alive yet at least meant the man was either surviving the attack, or had already had his throat torn out.

    Tepahtiani would have to act fast if he did not want to share such a fate.

    There! He felt the wolf shift its powerful body as it lunged forward at his face, white fangs bared and dripping spittle. His hand swiftly gripped the leather-bound handle of his dagger, and he drew it out of the sheathe and buried it to the hilt into the creature's rib cage in one swift motion. Despite the thick skin and fur of the wolf atop him, the sharpened obsidian blade parted skin and muscle like a razor through cardboard.

    The wolf above him immediately jerked in response to his attack, turning its head and snapping at his hand and arm that gripped the blade of the knife. Its whine echoed out into the night air as it hopped away from him, blade still buried in its flank.

    Recognizing that he had only seconds to take advantage of the opportunity proffered him, Tepahtiani hopped up from the ground and dove for his macuahuitl sawblade.

    His hand reached the handle of the large bladed cricket-bat just as another one of the wolves bound through the white and red snow and jumped straight at him.

    A mouth full of hot breath and jagged teeth filled his vision as he frantically yanked the macuahuitl up in defense.

    Near him, he heard an explosion of sound, as the man he had seconds before tried to kill entered a berzerker rage.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Feb 3 2014, 03:39 PM
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    By the time Garret was able to make sense of what was going on around him, most of the wolves were dead. The one he'd headbutted, it was about five yards away with its neck snapped. The other one, the one that had been circling him, was dead at his feet. In Garret's hand he held a large rock; the wolf's head was shattered in such a way that he had no problem connecting the dots. Not that it had been easy; he could feel a fierce burning pain in his shoulder from where the beast had bit him, perhaps to drag him off of the wolf that he'd strangled.

    Across the way, the stranger who minutes ago had been his enemy was just finishing off one wolf, and there was another dead nearby. That made five between them, and only two left living. And those wolves, it was safe to say, no longer seemed to be looking for a fight. They moved along the perimeter, whining, as the Aztec jerked his blade free of wolf flesh, and then moved back towards the treeline. Without odds in their favor, the beasts looked to disappear back into the forest and leave the blood-stained snow behind. Let them. Garret stood straight and fought the urge to fall back down. He'd lost a lot of blood, apparently. More than he recalled, anyway. He staggered forward as if drunk, but after a few steps he pulled it together. He scooped his shotgun out of the snow and pivoted to point it at the Aztec, who was likewise regaining his footing. Garret had no idea where this weirdo had come from, but he hoped that he was either ignorant or willfully blocking the fact that the shotgun was likely inoperable from laying in the snow.

    "Alright pal, we can have ourselves a conversation or we can start up where we were before." Had he been yelling so much? His throat felt like he'd smoked a pack of non-filters. He took a step forward, trying his best to push away the pain and the cold and intimidate this man to a point where he wouldn't dare test him. He was about to unleash another threat when he collapsed, and everything went dark.
    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: Mar 24 2014, 08:20 PM
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    The bus was far less warm than the ranger's cabin that Tepahtiani had appropriated while surviving the first chilly winter of the post-apocalypse world. It felt a hundred times colder than the balmy Yucatan jungles of his homeland. How far away they felt at the moment, here, surrounded by the white, grey, and green of the aging winter and early spring here in this magical and massive forest. What had been the American name for it? Yellowrock, or something similar.

    Had Tlaloc been willing, he would have taken the man to the well-stocked cabin. Sadly, the gods had been unwilling to grant him the strength. Between the fight with the man, the wolves, and with the cold, he was shaky and exhausted. The other warrior appeared no better. The small fire that Tepahtiani had constructed sputtered amid the soggy kindling and branches. Hanging above it, small chunks of wolf flank crackled and cooked, at least filling the chilly air with a pleasant scent. The food was the victors reward, its smell a taste of conquest that brought Tepahtiani's mouth to salivation.

    For not the first time since dragging his fallen foe onto the bus, Tepahtiani looked over at the man passed out on the other side of the fire.

    Who was this man? How had such a seemingly simple drifter in a leather jacket come to possess so deeply the fighting spirit of Huitzilopotchli, the warrior god of the sun and fire itself. The man puzzled Tepahtiani so deeply. One moment, he had been nothing more than a worthy offering, a warrior to stun and then remove the lifeblood from as an offering to the gods; to show them that Tepahtiani was still yet their vassal and servant ... that his faith had not wavered despite the lack of success that he had faced.

    Yet, when he had seen the man's battle fury in the face of the wolf assault ... heard his ferocious and primal cry ... like Huitzilopotchli himself had inhabited the man's body and filled it with an unconquerable power. Tlaloc had sat aghast, still covered by the whimpering body of the first wolf, when he had witnessed the change in countenance come over the man. Such rage, unquenchable, fiery as the sun god's flame itself.

    The destructive man had forgone his firearm, diving into the swarming wolves in a flurry of pounding fists, headbutts, and destructive kicks. Tepahtiani had never seen the like ... never ... at least, not from one of such gringo descent.

    The wolves were not just killed. They were completely pulverized, pounded into broken sacks of blood and matted fur. Their tearing strikes were punishing as well, but the man had shrugged off their bites, scrapes, and inflicted wounds as one would swat off an annoying mosquito.

    Then, once the bloodbath had subsided, and the few surviving wolves had vanished into the grey light and bright white of the surrounding snow, the man had simply strode up to Tepahtiani, muttered something incomprehensible, and then collapsed into the snow, completely abated.

    The man's life had been in Tepahtiani's grip. His sacrificial blade had already been drawn out and had already been prepped in the blood of the wolf that he had slain. To take the man's heart at that moment would have not only been easy, but also exactly in line with what the gods expected of him. After all, could there possibly have existed another opponent as worthy as this ... and would not such a powerful warrior's blood be the sweetest nectar to Tlaloc and his kin? The strength that the gods could imbue him with from such a man's blood ... the thought alone was euphoric, tempting beyond measure.

    Yet, Tepahtiani had not. He could not. To slay such an avatar of the great war god himself just seemed somehow so sacrilegious, so wrong, as to befoul the entirety of the sacrificial process for which he had originally planned. Despite having had the gods deliver the man directly into his control, he could not and would not strike him down after such a display of power.

    So .. after several moments paused and poised knife in hand over the man, he had finally lowered the weapon and instead pulled the man to the nearest shelter; some sort of former tour bus. There, he had crafted the fire, gathered the wolf remains and the weapons, and done his best to seal the compartment against the cold stormy weather outside.

    Then, he had cooked, skinned the wolves fur, and waited for the man to awake.

    Sometimes he still toyed with taking his knife and digging the man's heart out, just out of principal. But, every time he arose with such intent, he felt his hand stayed by a deeper force. He had hesitated to provide more than the most basic of first aid to the man's wounds as his own medical supplies were limited ... not to mention that he might still kill the man and take his heart, which would make providing first aid to him a fruitless and wasteful endeavor.

    So, he waited, and watched, for the man to awake.
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: Apr 18 2014, 12:44 PM
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    In his dreams, Garret was both predator and prey, hunter and hunted. He and the Aztec warrior kept shifting, taking turns as beast and man. Blood in the snow.

    When he came to, the Aztec wasn't hunting him; far from it. Garret was reclining in a padded bus seat, pleasantly warm. The air was filled with the smell of roasting meat, and his stomach growled at the thought of freshly cooked food. How long had it been?

    He tried to get up--even though it felt like there was no immediate danger, he didn't like to be so exposed--but his body told him he still needed a bit of rest. Instead of standing, he sat upright and examined his surroundings.

    It was definitely a rock star's bus. It was just so much debris now, but there were remnants of instruments strewn across the floor--the neck of a guitar sticking out from under one of the seats, a punctured drum head in the middle of the aisle.

    Garret looked to see if there was anything that said, with one hundred percent certainty, Cassandra had been here. It was a pointless exercise; he didn't have the slightest clue what she wore or owned. There were women's clothes strewn across the floor of the bus, a good sign, but none of them stood out as the clothes she'd been wearing in her Facebook posts. He'd sent her a necklace, once, a family heirloom, but not finding it here meant nothing. There was no way of knowing if his ex-wife had given it to her, or if the daughter he hadn't seen since infancy would have bothered to wear it even if she did.

    All he had was that this was a bus like the one she was last rumored to be on, in a part of the country it is possible she could have been through. Not a lot. Not unless the Aztec had seen something. And wasn't that why he'd gotten in a fist fight with a wolf, so that he could ask the man?

    He returned his attention to Tepahtiani, who was sitting by the fire he'd built near the front of the bus and watching him. A knife sat
    on his knee, a dagger that was clearly ceremonial. Did the man still want to kill him? It didn't seem that way--certainly, Garret had been at his mercy--but he decided he couldn't trust him, at least not fully.

    But he didn't have to trust him to ask questions.

    "Can I have some of that meat?" He asked.

    Once he had eaten--the wolf wasn't that bad, even if it was a bit tough--and the man hadn't made any attempt to converse, Garret decided to move on to the hard questions.

    "Have you been in these woods long?
    Did you see the bus crash?" He paused, trying to decide how much to reveal. "I'm looking for someone who may have been on it."
    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: May 17 2014, 11:23 PM
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    Tepahtiani watched carefully as the man stirred, opened his eyes, and then slowly rose into an upright seated position. The neo-Aztec's eyes took in the figure on the other side of the flame and smoke as the man returned the stare without fear or even confusion. It was a gaze of strength, and with the flicker of flames reflecting in the man's eyes, Tepahtiani was near caught up in a vision, the man's face shifting back and forth into that of the war god Huitzilopotchli himself. Tepahtiani nodded slowly and smiled to himself, knowing that the man was not truly the embodiment of the war god, but recognizing the vision as a sign that, in letting the man live, he had once more curried the favor of the gods.

    Finally, he had purified and re-unified himself with them. He could act once more without fear, and strike where he was needed against this unclean world.

    Now, all he had to do was understand the purpose the gods willed for the man before him. If he was not meant as a sacrifice to Tlaloc, then for what purpose had the gods put the man into Tepahtiani's path?

    So, as the man gazed about their ramshackle abode in silence, Tepahtiani was content to let the fire's crackle and the wintery bluster outside be the only other sound.

    He waited for an answer.

    Finally, the man spoke.

    "Can I have some of that meat?" He asked.

    Yes. Like any true warrior, he too sought to taste the victory of his kill. Tepahtiani felt a moment of understanding with this white stranger as he nodded and then removed one of the skewered slabs of wolf meat from the flame and handed it over. Grease and seasoning dripped down the wooden stake and down the man's face as he took a bite and savored it. In all this, Tepahtiani still said nothing. He simply watched and waited, knowing that when both the man and the gods were ready, they would reveal their path to him.

    Finally, between bites of the wolf steak, the man spoke once more. His voice sounded hoarse, ragged against the vocal chords, likely a result of his powerful war screams from the battle.

    "Have you been in these woods long? Did you see the bus crash?" He paused, seeming to grapple with something, and then added "I'm looking for someone who may have been on it."

    Ah, so there WAS a reason for this man to be here. Everything from his thin clothing to his accent to his aggression made him stand out from near every other gringo that Tepahtiani had ever encountered. It was like he was on a spirit quest of sorts, a mission that transcended the standard space of one's life, that pushes one out of their routine and into the dark and vast unknown. Perhaps Tepahtiani had been chosen to act as the man's mentor in this? He would need to ask and learn more.

    Tepahtiani gave himself a moment to gather his words, forcing his tongue to use the English that he so despised to form the bridge of communication with this other warrior before him.

    Finally, in halting and heavily accented English, he gave his reply.

    "I live in this wood for much month, hunting corruption. Encounter few, few that live. Cleansed many, some living and many corrupt. I find bus in such condition. Already many corrupted. Few live, make the camp for days. I watch their, waiting to see corruption surface, waiting for command of Huitzilopotchli to strike. He warn to stay away. Man come next day, many man. Take camp, kill few, women leave with mans. I cleanse those that remain so that they did not corruption. Buried not far. This was month before, before big fall snow."

    Tepahtiani paused his speech to rotate the cooking meat, and then returned his gaze to the man, asking, "Who is one that you look for? Why are you walking in snow land unprepares, lost one?"
    ^
    Garret Morgan
     Posted: May 23 2014, 07:53 AM
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    "I live in this wood for much month, hunting corruption. Encounter few, few that live. Cleansed many, some living and many corrupt. I find bus in such condition. Already many corrupted. Few live, make the camp for days. I watch their, waiting to see corruption surface, waiting for command of Huitzilopotchli to strike. He warn to stay away. Man come next day, many man. Take camp, kill few, women leave with mans. I cleanse those that remain so that they did not corruption. Buried not far. This was month before, before big fall snow."

    Garret's heart quickened. It really could be her. He was so elated that it took a second for his brain to process the second part. If everything the Aztec said was true, his daughter could be enslaved by raiders. Apart from the part where it would mean she was alive, even the best case scenario wasn't the greatest.

    "Who is one that you look for? Why are you walking in snow land unprepares, lost one?" The other man asked. Garret looked his former adversary in the eye. He was a strange one. Garret wondered if he was on the primitive trip before the apocalypse or if this was his way of coping, but he didn't ask. This is who the man was now, and he'd had Garret at his mercy. He was a man of honor, and Garret had seen a kindred spirit as they fought together in the snow. Besides, he had bigger things on his mind than the warrior's past, things the Aztec was ready to tell.

    "I'm looking for my daughter." Against his will, his voice cracked. He'd always been a hard man, but their relationship, or lack thereof, was his one shame. "Sixteen..no, seventeen. Blonde hair." He dug around in his pocket until he found his only picture of her. It was a crude photo, printed on a black and white printer at a library in Leeds and laminated, but it showed her face clearly. He passed it over and stuffed the emotion back down. "As for my clothes, I was just passing through in my motor and caught a flat. I hadn't meant to stop. I was walking to the service over that ridge," he gestured north, "when you attacked me." He said it without malice. "Did you see her? Was she one of the girls? And if so, do you know which way they headed?"

    ^
    Tepahtiani
     Posted: May 24 2014, 11:20 AM
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    Tepahtiani listened quietly over the crackle of the fire as the man described the person that had sent him on this spirit quest through the snowy woods of Yellowstone. The fire gave a reddish glow to the moisture in his eyes as he spoke, betraying the man's attempts to not show the emotion that clearly sounded in his words. Tepahtiani lost no respect for the man from his feelings. True warriors were passionate in all matters of the heart, from bravery and vengeance to love and sadness. Tepahtiani knew well what it was to hold that pain and regret in his heart: watching his mentor and friend die before him, seeing the smoking ruins of his former village. Such things had nearly crushed him until he had prayed to the gods to remove his heart from him, so that he might walk this newly corrupted world and see the death and destruction within it without fear. They had made him of stone, unbroken and unyielding in the face of the harsh realities of this kill-or-be-killed existence.

    Noticing the man had finished speaking and had returned to looking into the fire, Tepahtiani gave pause to ponder and strive to fully understand his foreign tongue. It had always been easier for him to understand English than to speak it, especially while working for the gringos at the resort, but the man's non-American accent was making some words unfamiliar and others incomprehensible.

    "I'm looking for my daughter. Sixteen..no, seventeen. Blonde hair. As for my clothes, I was just passing through in my motor and caught a flat. I hadn't meant to stop. I was walking to the service over that ridge when you attacked me."

    Ah, and no malice in his words, even in recognition of their conflict. Like true warriors, he and Tepahtiani recognized that war was war ... there was no reason to hold hate further once the war had ended. Such was the cycle of life and death. Such an understanding would make the evening easier, and make Tepahtiani need to grip his knife less.

    Finally, the man spoke once more, asking "Did you see her? Was she one of the girls? And if so, do you know which way they headed?"

    Tepahtiani looked once more at the black-and-white photo, and then shut his eyes, willing his memory to return once more to that day and night and day a month or so before; praying to the all-seeing Quetzalcoatl for guidance in his mind-vision, that like an atlatl dart to its target his mind might be swift and sure.

    The gathered camp. Ten ... no, eleven members. One has wandered off to make water in the woods. Six men... four women ... no ... five... the one has wandered off again. Wait ... the wanderer. Blonde hair, yes. Similar features, yet all those of such a pale complexion look so alike to him. Wait. The scene replays. Yelling. The raiders emerge from the woods. Bullets fly from both sides. The camp retreats into the shelter of the overturned bus. Too many ... dirty men, with hate and lust in their eyes. They kill the shooters in the bus. They charge the bus. Screams, of men, of women. The bus shakes. Blood coats a window. A woman's torn shirt is flung from the bus door. Time passes. The screaming ceases, reduced to tears and moans of the dying. Tepahtiani watches on from the hillside ... neither acting nor reacting, heeding the gods council to watch and wait. Slowly, men emerge, dirty and grinning, a few arguing, hands full of backpacks and other items likely once belonging to the camp. Only two women emerge from the bus, both disheveled, clothing torn and weeping, their hands bound. One dirty man, more powerful than the rest, yells, orders, the dirty men gather and follow. They depart the camp, women and supplies in tow. Silence covers the camp. One of the bodies stirs. Corruption will soon take it.

    Wait.

    As if the white-bearded god himself guided his mind's eye, Tepahtiani finds himself backtracking to right before the bloodbath. The one. The wanderer. She never returned. What had become of her? Tepahtiani forced himself to see beyond his focus ... see the outskirts of his vision on the edge of his own memory. It was a difficult task, but Quetzalcoatl was with him, a sure sign of the god's approval of his actions.

    There! As the camp quieted. As Tepahtiani prepared to descend into the camp below and cleanse the corrupted before they rose. A movement. A shift in the woods. The blond one, creeping along the edge of the clearing. She turns and looks back to the bus. Sadness. Regret. She dares not enter for fear of the undead and for fear of the sight of what she knows lies within: the bodies of her former friends.

    Then. THERE! Determination in her face. A fierceness, nowhere as powerful, but unquestionable in lineage. The photo and the face on the edge of his memory overlap. It is she. She departs after the bandits, following their footsteps in the snow ... scared, shivering, but set upon saving the friends still at the mercy of the depravity of the rough dirty men.

    She lives.

    Opening his eyes, Tepahtiani looked directly into the glowing orbs of the warrior across the fire and said with affirmation even detectable through his broken English, "Yes. Quetzalcoatl has give sight to my mind. This one was with the bus. This one was there and not when mans killed camp. She was away, watch as her ... amigos... friend are pull away by bad mans. She followed. As her father, she seeked to fight and free her lost friend. It is brave, but much stupid. She is not warrior like you."

    Tepahtiani decided to give the cold truth. This foreigner seemed the type that preferred facts to fluff.

    "All this ... month past, before big storm snow. She had no food, no weapon. She probably die. But, if desire, I take to bad men. Them camp south, in parking lot ... visitor center."

    Then, raising his ceremonial obsidian knife, black blade shimmering in the firelight, Tepahtiani said solemnly, "For use of power, great Quetzalcoatl ask blood of man. Sacrifice is give to or take to. You give life, or you take noble sacrifice to gods for you. It is honorable to take from this mans, dirty gringos."

    Then, with a wicked smile, Tepahtiani stated, "Great Quetzalcoatl will find bad mans heart tasty. Will you collect with I, and find blonde daughter?"

    The neo-Aztec stared across the fire at the foreigner, awaiting his reply, blood already starting to feel the fire and enthusiasm for upcoming battle.
    ^
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