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The Culling



Well, well...The Pooka King is quite active this spring...


If trees could sigh, he would. It is true that Oakwhisper noticed the hares of the forest had been breeding a bit too much and too rapidly this particular spring, likely spurred on by the Seelie whose role is to encourage growth and fruitfulness. Rapid breeding can lead to Unbalance if left unchecked, but the predators of the wild would f

ill that role without his or the fae's intervention. Gaia, in Her Wisdom, put the balance of predator and prey into motion at Creation for this very reason, after all.


But the Balance has been tipped once more by the actions of Odium. Oakwhisper does not begrudge the pooka for this; he is merely acting as pooka do. But the Great Balance was already at risk with the curse upon the Seelie Queen. To do this with the hares during their breeding season threatens it even further.


The guardian spirit thinks upon this for several hours, deciding on what to do. Normally, he would contact the Queen and her Court to remedy this with their magics. Yet, given the curse that the Court is dealing with...


No. They need to focus upon healing the Queen. A different solution is needed now to deal with the Unseelie-tainted rabbits.


An immediate solution.


A fierce solution.


Oakwhisper's senses reach out into the forest, seeking out a select few auras to contact. He is limited on whom he can reach at these distances, but he finds the four he seeks.


A dog, a wolf, a ferret, and a druid.


To Ripper, Elijah, and Clarissa, he sends the same message simultaneously: "My friends...the Balance is in need of you...Bring your Companion to my Sacred Glade...for a hunt to commence!"


To the were druid, Saga: "Daughter of the Moon...the Great Balance has need of you...Come to my Sacred Glen...for the threat must be culled!"


--


As Saga watches the messenger creature leave, she takes a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the air and wind, happy to be outside and the skies clear for once. She feels a sudden strong vibration in the earth, and it gets her attention. There's a pulling, a calling. A sense of urgency and need. She lifts her head and Listens harder.


"Daughter of the Moon...the Great Balance has need of you...Come to my Sacred Glen...for the threat must be culled!" a Voice says to her. She tilts her head in first in confusion, and feels the pull again. She must go. Whatever it was needed her help. Poking her head into the house, she called to her mate "Watch the baby, I am being Called by something. This better be good." She was curious.. and itching for a good fight.


--


The large, grey furred wolven, sat on the porch of the Veranda he had added to his cottage. Over the years more and more of those civilized features had found their way as additions to the house he once built. They added comfort which a younger wolven wouldn't have sought, but the years would have turned some of the grey hairs of Cronn into an ever lighter grey already. Cronn bound arrowheads to arrows with thin strings of leather. To his side, standing, Caera, to whom time meant little, and who would thus look almost the same as she used to, 10 years ago. Somewhere to the right, one of their daughters, Saoirse, 10 years old, had spotted something in the field of wheat and was now hyperfocussed on it. To Cronns feet a ferret that, without warning, started to dart away. She was older than any ferret Cronn knew, and like Caera, didn,t show signs of age, hence sometimes Cronn presumed she was probably a fairy too.


"There she goes..."


Cronn growled, without looking up at first, as the string wasn't fully firm around the arrow yet. Ferrets were,as far as cronn was considered a mix between cats and dogs. Worst of both worlds... stubborn to a T, not the brightest, yet sometimes maddeningly insistent on their own Agenda... yet... loyal. Cronn valued that.


It was bath day, the weekly one, wolven were clean after all, or... as Cronn called it, "Day of the vanished ferret"


He would look up and hold the arrow against the light, checking his work, and only because of this would he note the ferret in the distance looking back at him. His head would tilt to the side, so he could look past the arrow.


You had to be sure after all.


"Is she waiting for me?"


He would growl with an audible amount of surprise in the voice, and look up to Caera.


"Seems so.. you better hurry before she realizes that is a bad idea..." Caera laughed and answered."...probably she wants to show you something?"


Perking his ears, the wolven rose, and would jog after Clarissa, who, as expected would run further. She wouldn't want to make it too easy for him... Cronn thought.


--


Brynn is on the far reaches of the Pack's territory. She doesn't care with whom's it overlaps. This is their hunting ground, it's vast and will be fiercely protected against all meddling. But it's hard to keep track on what happens at the other side of the territory so they will have to be on the move constantly. But it is the life she chose. A wild life, a good life.


Brynn and Ripper are following the trail of a group of human hunters. Brynn doesn't mind the competition, the forest is rich enough as long as the humans don't over hunt. In her experience they often do, so they need to be kept in sight. They are close to their camp as Brynn feels Ripper's wet nose against her hand. She looks at him and he gives her the softest bark not to blow their cover. Brynn frowns, wonders what he wants. Why he's warning her. She ignores it and moves further but Ripper is insistent: another nose press, another bark, less soft now. His tail wags slowly. Brynn looks at him and he takes a few steps back. She takes a deep breath, nods, whispers: "Okay boy, lead the way."


Clear of the camp, it becomes apparent to her Ripper has a goal in mind that is far away. Brynn hides her leathers and hides at her make-shift camp and takes a deep tug of forest air into her lungs. The primal energy of the forest, mixes with her Rage and in no-time her human form was twisted and distorted. Breaking bones, snapping tendons, intense pain that only the Rage can keep in check. Her hands, feet, nose and jaw grow longer. Her eyes turn a different kind of blue: primal, violent. Patches of white fur sprout on her four-legged form.


There stands the grey-and-white Urshul, almost a wolf but much bigger, badder angrier. Sharp teeth in her watering mouth, piercing glacier-blue eyes and claws that can rip off a man's head. And so, the Brynn the white-and-grey Urshul follows her brown-and-black shepherd to a sacred glade. To hunt.


Kalliope was silently asleep with Elijah guarding her. Well, in all fairness, he was grooming his paws with her completely passed out next to him. She was breathing heavily with her mouth open enough to snore, belly up with the stupidest happy expression, and he was licking his paws and nibbling at them, paying very little attention to their surroundings. Thankfully for both the silly heads fate, they were right in the middle of the pack´s territory, surrounded by their pack mates scents and markings, safe enough only a fool would attempt at their lives.



The spring afternoon was rather silent, as silent as a living forest would be at least. Their bellies were full and they had no need to hunt, guard or stay alert at that moment. The shaman, deep in her sleep, could not even hear the voices of her guardians spirits, not even when they get curious about the voice in the woods. Elijah, startled on being called out by something he never connected with before, stands up immediately on his four paws, stomping on the sleeping beta by accident, startling her awake as well. A ball of wolf and human, paws, feet and arms struggles for a moment, and as Kalliope lets out some curse words of the sudden way to wake her up, the wolf is howling back to Oakwhisper, completely agitated and anxious to follow through his call.


"Calm down!" the suddenly awake shaman gestures for the wolf, only at the wrong direction. It was hard for her to feel him when he was jumping and running all over the clearing, howling louder and louder in reply to something she could not hear herself, in between lickings, nuzzling, slamming his paws at her, biting at her clothes and pulling her, and moving away again. She could not tell if he was worried or excited, but by all means she would follow him just to shut up the loud howling vibrating on her freshly awake ears. "Elijah, what the f-"


"Awoooooooooooo" he repeats again, running further to the edge of the camp. Taking her boots and her axe awkwardly in one hand, and her shield on the other, she staggers after him, still confused and unable to take in her surroundings so quickly after such a deep slumber. "I am going, calm down!"


--


Oakwhisper knows it will take some time for Brynn, Kalli, Saga, and Cronn to reach him; they were spread out over a great distance from one another. He estimates, barring unforseen circumstances, they should arrive within minutes of each other.


After sending out his summons to the great predators of the realms, the guardian spirit turns his attention to the fae-touched rabbit plague. He has some time to examine and experiment for more information to give the Pack.


Firstly, he searches the forest for a tainted hare. It doesn't take long; one is only a few hundred yards from his glade. It seems to have its sights on a female. Speaking directly to the hare, he commands it, "Do not mate, little one...The Mother's Balance demands it."


The pookbun freezes in place at the command, accepting Oak's authority as Arbiter of Balance.


"Well done, little one..." he praises gently. He has no pleasure in knowing that he is only minutes away from requesting that very bunny's death at the jaws of weres and wolven; it truly hurts him to his core. But the Great Balance supersedes his own feelings. He has a job to do, a sacred duty...


He pulls his mind away from the hare to seek out another. However, the moment the connection is severed, the pookbun rushes towards the doe once more, as if Oakwhisper had never spoken to it.


He quickly speaks to the hare again. "Halt, little one!" Again, the hare complies, coming to a stop.


So...the Pooka King's enchantment overrides my commands unless I am actively speaking to them...This is worse than I thought. He has no power over any pookhares aside from those with his glade...and there are none there. Realizing this, he commands the rabbit to come to him, not severing his connection for even a moment. This removes his awareness of the forest around him for the time being, at least until the Pack arrives...


...meaning he is blind to what is happening only a few miles away.


Meanwhile, elsewhere in the forest...


A snarl and the snapping of jaws instantly snuffs the life from a pookbun. Yellow eyes surrounded by black fur and dark whiskers peer around, spotting more of the strange horned rabbits amidst normal ones. Not wanting to miss such an easy opportunity for meat, and seeing no other predators or scavengers nearby, the jaguar drops its kill and pounces towards another. The hares scatter as another pookbun dies. Again and again, it pounces on the interrupted bunny orgy, killing six before the rest escape. What luck! The jaguar quickly devours its meat bounty before some scavenger comes to challenge it.


Just as the last of the hares are eaten, and the black feline starts looking for a place to sleep this meal off, it starts to sway as if drunk. It snarls it sudden explosive pain, roaring and thrashing about, claws digging into the forest floor, eyes watering, back arched, tail twirling like a snake. Horns sprout from its head above its eyes, and its claws grow abnormally long and fierce. A foul substance drips from its fangs, black and acrid. And then its eyes open, still yellow but tinged with blue, shining with intelligence and malice.


Panting heavily, it slowly stands up on its paws...and laughs. A very inhuman laugh, maniacal and feral.


<I....am...Tekstatl...>, it says in slow but sinister Sylvan, the language of fae. <...and this forest...is MINE! HAAAHAHAHAAAAA!!!> (edited)


--


Saga shifts as she steps thicker into the forest, her form beginning to melt into a different shape. Her limbs and face elongated, clothes and skin turning to fur as if it were a sped time lapse of moss spreading. A tail would appear, sweeping out from behind her in a glorious arc. The transformation was something that could only be described as oddly graceful and beautiful, but even so, not many usually witnessed this event. Now, in place of the short woman was a giant black Direwolf, with teeth as long as an arm and claws to match.


She passes by her own territory markers, fresh and obvious, her large ears constantly swiveling to listen to both Voice and surrounding. There wasn't much she feared, and it showed, her posture tall and confident, head held high and tail upright. These were her woods. But the Call takes her well passed her boundaries, but nothing of her posture or confidence changes, her senses on higher alert.


As she gets closer to her destination, she hears movement. Lots of movement of fur sliding against fur and the subtle sounds of mating. She presses on, passing by a few bunnies with extra parts. Wings. Antlers. Just to name a few. The bunnies get thicker as she gets closer to the Sacred Glen, and by now surely she's even stepped on a few.


"The fuck?" She growls, looking down at the buns, not addressing the literal mating, but the whole bizarre-ness and disbelief of the situation. Saga looks up, and her ears perk at the large oak in the midst of all the rabbits., looking a bit confused. This. This is what she was Called for? An overpopulation of weird looking rabbits?


--


The wolven growled: "Those guys know what is important..." as he takes his path through the forest spotting ever more "deerbits" how he slowly started to call them. He didn"t know where the little fellas had their horns from, but given what they were doing he had a few suspicions. "What happens when you cross a faun with a rabbit? Well this obviously... " not that he did mind them doing it. He was raised in a culture where his own kin was doing it al the time and even in the open , but compared to these fellas or even humans wolven were much less fertile. Doing it like wolven and being almost guaranteed a plethora of offsprings... he was wondering why there was even any grass left to feast on for any of them. It was a rangers thought, a thought that understood the intricacies of balance and the necessity of violence in it. Given what he saw he would give the forest probably a few months before the whole floor would be covered in the corpses of flying deerbits, with neither grass nor, because flying, leaves left.


Just a few moments earlier Clarissa had finally, after a long hunt, settled on his shoulders again, making Cronn's nose crinkle. "Fenrs weazen cockwrinkles, when we come home you are gona have your bath and if i have to hunt you till the end of days..." Cronn started, but the wolvens attention was taken by the plague around him. "Where are the predators?..." he asked , more asking himself really than anyone else, before he would turn his head towards Clarissa.


"Is this what you wanted to show me? Some... especially eager rabbit plague? You worried about me and Caera? You know... as of a certain age..." he started but he would notice a large shadow in the distance.


"Oh... i guess i just met the predator" he would start but then clench his eyes to make sure he saw what he saw. A wolf so large that even a wolven had problems carrying it... or even moving it a bit.


One he knew.


"Saga ?"


The wolven would growl, loudly, rousing quite a few loverbuns to dart off into the distance by the shock, because.. well.. Thunderhowl. He still got it after all. Then he would approach the Direwolf, and thus the glade "What the vhach is happening? Why are you here?" (edited)


--


Ripper darts through the forest like a homing-arrow. The fast shepherd easily takes sharp turns and dives under the branches and bushes. His ears, tail and bark indicate play: he’s having the time of his life. Behind him crashes a much larger creature, grey and white of fur with bright, glacial-blue eyes. It could be a wolf, but was much larger and much more ferocious: the Urshul. It was surprisingly agile, but at times chose not to be as it crashed through the bushes.


The Urshul is Brynn and on her way following Ripper, she’s seen the abominations fucking wildly on the forest floor. She doesn’t need a moment to understand that something messed the balance up one way or another. Her mood turns foul and aggressive.


Ripper shoots through a bush onto Oakwhisper’s Grove, takes a second to break and look around, barking to announce his presence. He picks up Saga’s scent and shoots towards her, sniffing, wagging and barking excitedly. It takes a moment until Brynn crashes through the bushes, landing low on her paws, growling and her instinct tells her competition is close before her olfactory memory tells her who it is.


She puts up her nose as she smells the ones here, still with bared teeth. Cronn is easily placed. Saga takes a moment longer. Brynn looks at her when she recognises her new Gamma. This would be fun. Her eyes shine, truly happy to see Saga her, and she howls a loud, wild howl. There’s happy tones of being reunited with her Pack - hoping that Kalli and Elijah will be here soon too, they’ll hear the howl at least - but there’s distress too at the upset balance, probably by magic.


Would this be why Ripper had led her here? What was he up to?


--


5 minutes into Kalli´s mind


The forest grew more crowded, as the duo steps away from the camp and areas of greater traffic, Kalliope had already put on her boots and was more awake and alert. The voices were already starting to make different comments, quite absent of worry for now, also adapting to the surroundings and what they particularly wanted to communicate to the shaman.


Hallucination 1: "You sleep too much"


Hallucination 2:"What were you dreaming about you pervert"


Hallucination 1:"Walk faster, your wolf will definitely think you are getting old and eat your face while you sleep"


Voice 1:"Can you smell cabbage"


Voice 2:"Did you hear that?"


Voice 3:"I was killed when I was your age, looking for belladonna next to the river after a fight with the lead hunter"


But Kalli was used to ignoring both the real spirits and her own hallucinations when she was focused on a task. Following Eliijah´s energetic guidance and getting used to her surroundings was taking most of her attention for sure. The smells she picks up begin to make more sense, noises take shape in the darkness of her mind, auras and intentions paint a variety of shades of green, brown and orange in her impaired vision, shaping the energies around her.


Voice 1: "Did you ever notice Ripper and Elijah have similar butts?"


Voice 4: "She didn't, she is blind"


Voice 1: "Oh yes, forgive me"


Voice 2: "A wise tree called for all your pack"


Voice 4: "Your alpha is coming"


Voice 2: "Yes that is true"


Voice 1: "How come this tree used to be in another place"


Hallucination 3: "Duuuh, the tree moved."


Voice 2: "Yes the tree moved"


Hallucination 1: "Makes perfect sense for trees to do that."

Nothing seemed to be different from what a forest usually is, a magical but common forest for the shaman at this point in her life. Obviously what was common to Kalli is not necessarily considered common to most mortals.


Elijah rarely took the initiative to guide the werewolf on his own to a target, which made her wonder what she might find in her destiny. She feared, in a way, for the safety of her pack.


Voice 2: "There is nothing to worry about."


Voice 3: "For now."


Voice 1: "But they are reckless and violent, worry is inevitable."


Voice 2: "So is she"


Hallucination 2: "So are us"


Many different voices: "So were we."


Hallucination 2: "If Cronn and Saga were to build two boats independently, who would finish sooner?"


Voice 4: "There is an animal watching both of you"


Voice 5: "YOU ALREADY LOST 14 DIFFERNT TYPES OF PREY ON THE WAY HERE"


Voice 2: "Can you smell that?"


The lack of interest in the voices in talking about it made her believe it was something different. As they approach their final destination, Kalliope is swept up in an avalanche of familiar sensations. Elijah is the first to notice the rabbits. It was like he died and gone to silly wolf paradise in which endless prey just spawned into existence, awaiting for his teeth and claws to end them in energetic and animalistic violence. The little paws and ears would be crunchy and delightful to nibble on, and the thrill of chasing so many, with the high probability of actually catching as many as he could possibly want, makes the wolf salivate, bark and jump in excitement. The shaman herself notices first the presence of her pack, and two distinct unfamiliar energies: one of natural purity and one extremely evil. The huge amount of small but unusual animals is not taken into consideration for her at first. Upon hearing Cronn's voice, the shaman immediately changes the direction she was going to reach him. However, as Elijah didn't have the wolfkin as a priority destination, he's not guiding her. The beta doesn't notice a root protruding from the upturned earth in front of her, stumbles and falls flat on her face, releasing a huge string of curses in her father's language.


--


Oakwhisper cannot see as others do. His senses rely on the life energies, emotions, and auras of living things, each as unique as a face to him. As the pack gathers, he notices small fluctuations in their auras indicative of beings seeing someone they recognize but have not seen in some time. It would seem the Pack members were unaware of one another's presence before now. He decides to give them a moment to reunite before bestowing his request upon the hunters.


As the pack were approaching, Oak had been painstakingly pulling the pooka rabbits, one by one, into his glade, where he could maintain control of them (mostly). There are about a dozen of them in his Sacred Glen by the time the Pack arrives.


He ceases gathering the hares once Brynn and Ripper arrive. Only Elijah and Kalli remain, so he reached out to them to see where they are...just in time to see Kalli faceplant.


"Elijah...?" the oak says in a slight scolding manner to the overly-excited wolf. "Your companion needs your eyes..."


--


Even before he said her name, Saga knows he's there. The Wolf's fur bristles and her hackles raise when her name was called. "Cronn." she snarls, her icy blue eyes fixed on him and teeth bared- surely a warning to him to stay away from the Dire. She gives no indication of her surprise to see him, but she flicks an ear, detecting more movement approaching. Her senses certainly tell her who it is, but she does not react yet. She narrows her eyes at Cronn "You best have a reasonable explanation for deserting the Pack, and I mark you as a Traitor until then."

Bursting from the bushes comes Ripper, and she gives Cronn another snarl before she greets the shepherd like a packmate, her head snapping up as Brynn follows shortly after, looking back at the Alpha's gaze.


Saga's gaze and posture at the white Wolf would suggest she was happy to see her, the corners of her canine muzzle even pulling up a bit in a wolfish smile. She answers Brynn's howl, her own voice sounding clear, creating a harmony between them, adding her notes of reassurance and confidence. There was nothing that they couldn't handle, and she was positive this odd reunion would not be any different, despite of Brynn's worried notes.


An ear flicks again, her muzzle turning into a smirk as a string of expletives echo through the forest. Aaaand there's Kalli. Which means Elijah was somewhere around here- most likely the other crashing going on through the woods. With the Pack reunited like a hero team, she could not help to wonder if there was something more going on here. The Dire stood her ground, head lifting high and waiting.


--


Approaching the Glade the wolven had noticed the familiar scents of Brynn and Kalli too already. They were all here, which brought a small warm smile to the wolvens muzzle before he even saw them. Having overtly sensitive acoustic and olfactory senses turned the "Now" for a wolven into a somewhat stretchable expression. While the ears overlayed the immediacy the eyes would grant with a notion about what was to come, the nose gave history and context, turning the mental picture of wolven sensory input into somewhat like an abstract ever changing picture of before-now-then.


So... he wasn't surprised to see them all, in the "surprised" surprised sense. Throwing a surprise party for wolven or weres was like trying to herd a bag of fleas. Incredibly hard and there was always one getting out, and then you couldn't take it back. Wolven didn't open a door, to be greeted by friends in darkness and a cake. Or they did but the surprise would be a fake one. Cronn had tried to hide it, but Caera had eventually found out.


Not the joy though, The joy was real, and thus the wolvens smile would broaden. Not into the smug evergrinning expression of a younger, less self assured wolven whom Cronn had left behind, but into exhilarated joy almost. Even his eyes were clenching.. but because he was smiling... until Saga spoke. They cut him a bit.. her words... but he could understand them of course. He would have answered immediately, wouldn't the mental Dali, time and all, not have told the wolven that Kalli had stumbled and fallen. Priorities first. Taking the few steps over, quite quickly, because of ground covering steps, he would kneel, lead his giant palm under her arm and help her up.


"Let me be your guiding wolf for a bit, until You have Elijah back..."


He would growl and lead her over to the rest of the group.


"I had to decide on a moments notice between my family and the pack. my mate was in a danger she couldn't free herself of, and yet had i lost even minutes i would have lost her. It...took and then you were... gone when i came back. Tried to follow... but your scents had run dry..."


The wolven would answer Saga, when he arrived at the meeting. She deserved to know after all, and it was not that it didn't still put a sting into his heart thinking about it, or cast a cloud of bad conscious onto his mind. Not that he would have acted differently, but feelings and reason where a different thing.


"in my mind i imagined this...." he spoke, eyes looking into the round, and then towards a landscape filled with horny deerbits "...differently. Although... if you guys did this" nod towards the Pookahares "...then yes.. you did it. i am surprised..."


--


As Brynn howls, Saga falls in and so does Ripper. Cronn does not and Kalli, well curses. Which wasn’t ideal, but Brynn understands with the frustration of being without Elijah and falling to her snout.


Brynn watches the interaction between Saga and Cronn. The tension doesn’t phase her in the least. If wolves had beef, they should fight it out. The strongest one was right anyway. She had given Saga Cronn’s gamma position when he went missing, so it is likely they would have to fight that out among them anyway. And it’s not like Brynn doesn’t understand the urge of punching Cronn in the face to make him listen, or shut-up or both. She had. But all that will have to wait as they were brought here with a purpose: magic out of control, once again. They would have to beef their beef later, fix this filthy shit first.


She watches Cronn help up Kalli, and knows Elijah would not be far. That means they were complete, or at least as complete as they would have been for a long time. Unless, of course, Faune would stumble from the bushes, but Brynn feels that might not be the case now.


Her gaze turns to Cronn as he doesn’t join in the Pack howl. Her eyes narrow and she snarls at the Wolven. She has clear opinions about this matter and shows them.


And then there is a problem. It falls to her to lead this merry motley of fang and fur, but as she was brought here by Ripper, she’s as much in the dark as Kalli is without Elijah.

She looks to Ripper - who or course had joined in the howl - and wonders if he would somehow follow up, or that she would have to fill in with her limited understanding of what is going on.


She takes some time to ponder. This was a peaceful place anyway she feels, only half aware of Oakwhisper.


--


The Pack has gathered. It is time.


Oakwhisper speaks in his slow manner to the four gathered, as well as to their animal companions. Even though his voice is only in their minds, he makes it seem as if it is coming from himself. Along with his words, he gives them a feeling of gratitude (to get around having no facial expressions). "Warriors of the Moon...I greet you. The Great Balance...has been upset...and I have called upon you...to request your aid...in setting it right..."


A feeling of sadness. "A curse has been placed...upon the hares of the forest...Gaze upon those...I have gathered here..." The dozen or so rabbits seem to be peacefully grazing in the glen. Oakwhisper's aura overrides their pooka-induced urges while they are within twenty meters of the guardian tree, and he is careful to keep them from leaving and going wild once more. He explains further, "The curse is passed on...by the act of mating...The does only carry the kits...for 5 days...before giving birth. And those kits mature...to mating age...in less than a week..."


A feeling of exasperation. "When they are not mating...they are eating...and they do not sleep...If left unchecked...they will multiply...faster than The Balance allows...and strip the land...of its flora...Other animals may starve...and those that hunt to eat...will find no prey...The forest is in danger, O Great Hunters...and it has need of you now..."


A feeling of determination tinged with regret. "I am studying these hares...in my Sacred Glen...trying to find a way...to reverse the curse...But the forest cannot wait for me to succeed...Action must be taken now...before the damage is too great..." The feeling of a sigh. "I can only command...one hare at a time...to come to my Glen...but the curse is spreading...faster and faster...much faster than I can gather them...Therefore, a hunt must commence...to cull this threat...like a great fire...burns away the diseased underbrush..."


A feeling of caution. "These hares are cursed...and appear to resemble a pooka...Therefore, it is unwise...to eat their flesh...without further study...Eating the flesh of Fae...can have unforseen...effects." A feeling of curiosity. "I do have a theory...that slaying the hares with an iron weapon, the bane of Fae...will undo the curse...upon the death of the hare...but I have, obviously...been unable to test this."


Another feeling of gratitude and determination. He knows the Pack likes a challenging fight, and these bunnies are no harder to kill than normal hares, aside from the bucks having wings and able to psuedo-fly like chickens do. The challenge here is a race against time, killing as many tainted hares as possible to contain an epidemic, not unlike trying to put out a forest fire. If even one hare escapes them, it can breed with others and restart this problem in a matter of hours.


"Warriors of the Moon...I beseech you...Will you take up this hunt...and rid the forest of this threat?"


--


Saga knows that this is neither the time nor the place to settle things with the Wolven. She glares at him and says nothing at first, but taking note of the fact that it crossed his mind that one of them might have been involved in the rabbit outbreak, eyes narrowing her posture remaining like that of an Alpha. "You as a Thunderhowl, I find that difficult to believe that you could not send out a warning that the Pack would hear and could help. Unless you lost the ability to do two things at once, like running and Howling." She snarls, lacing her ears back "This will be settled later. There are more important things at hand than to deal with you."


It was then that the tree began to Speak to them, and she turns her head towards the Oak, listening to what he had to say. She nods a bit as he does so, to indicate that she understood the rules of the "game". When he was finished, she looks at the others. "You heard the Tree. No eats, kill them all except the ones kept at bay by the Oak to use to break the curse. Time's wasting, and there are pookabuns to wipe out."


Time was pressing, and Saga did not wait or hesitate for answers. She grins before turning around, the buns underfoot even out of the glen. Not bothering to move out of their way now, she steps on them with her massive paws while they're busy doing the deed, bunny blood and guts littering the grass. She takes a swipe with her other paw at more around her, taking them down. The bloodshed has begun- this was going to be fun!


--


The places which connected these forest to his home seemed to not work reliably according to wolven logic. Probably he did something wrong, would have to enter at a certain time of day or whatever. This was however the third time that he had managed to do so, each time it had been a "happy accident" the wolven not even feeling the passage and each time he had met the pack or at least part of it. Probably there was something more then just oath that connected them, or the oath allowed him to come whenever they needed him. Whatever it was, he was here now.


To Cronn however 10 years had passed, 5 children had grown under his tutelage and would be ready to tackle life in a few years more. Such time wouldn't pass without a certain cautiousness when meeting the pack, and the feeling of remaining outside, justified or not. Saga, the new Gamma after him, that much he knew after all, had marked him as a traitor. Given this the howl had felt inappropriate, but probably he had just hung out too long with the Dragon in the hope to find Caera when she was still missing.


Attempting to speak, Cronn would be interrupted before just the first word was out. By a tree... nonetheless... This changed what he would say considerably.


"What the vhuuuu..."


He would listen though. Stranger things had happened than talking trees in the life of the wolven, which added considerably to Cronn's ability to remain calm and collected. The question if he was still accepted as part of the pack or not would have to wait, and even if this left the wolven with a little sting in his heart, he yet also understood the gravity of the situation from the perspective of a ranger. "Let's talk later..." would be the only thing he growled, then nodding to Brynn in that "Warrior to Warrior we got things to kill" way, grasping Kalli's shoulder reassuringly with that giant wolven paw once to reassure that he was still there, because nods wouldn't do here of course.


The wolven would turn and while turning already unsheath the sword, which was actually a human bihander, knowing that a quiver of arrows would be something relatively useless agains this flood of fur... He had a little something up his sleeve however....


"Look Clarissa, its time to kill.. go on.. have fun... you gotta catch them all..."


he spoke, and with the confidence of a general that had just pressed "the red button" he would follow her and slay hares left and right... even though... on some wolven compassion level, he would really have preferred it if the hares were "done" before he did it. It was just... you know... that feeling of... being tactless which the man, who knew no shame not decorum definitely had. It was just tact in a wolven context.


--


Brynn looks at Kalli as she joins them. Kalli knows she’s here, she’d heard the howl. Brynn then looks calmly between Saga and Cronn. It was not easy to read her opinion on the matter in this form, but she waits calmly while the Wolf and the Wolven dish it out - she was right - they will probably fight, but they will not do it now and that is good, given what the tree tells her.


Brynn gives the tree a look like she’s saying to it: Who are you to tell me who I can and cannot kill, ya big lump of wood, and gives a deep sigh. And like a true Gamma, the pack’s battle and hunt leader, Saga takes initiative to get this carnage going. Brynn takes a look at her while she starts to thrash her way through the bunnies, and then at Cronn who draws his ferret and his sword.


Her gaze drifts to Kalli too, and she presses her nose to her mate, and gives her a good lick in her face before she moves to Ripper.


The Wolf and the Dog look at each other in understanding. There is blood to spill, and apparently this is now a match, and Saga has a head start!


Brynn and Ripper run towards a field of bunnies and the most gruesome sight follows. There is little the bunnies can do as the Were unleashes her terrible rage on the furry critters. Clawing them, biting them, trashing them. She doesn’t care how small or how busy they are, she tips them to pieces, lets the Rage take hold of her. Take over.


Ripper does not do under for his Alpha either, showing why he earned the name that she’s gotten, as soon he’s covered in as much blood as his Alpha is, and where once was a field filled with bunnies, their blood now feeds the soil.


--


Kalliope does not really move from where she safely stands with the help of Cronn. Elijah and her packmates are pretty much on the go with this calling. Enjoying the lick from her alpha and the safety of their numbers, soon there was not really much bun left for her to savage on anyway. Instead, she seems to be listening for something wicked on the closer territory, trying to somehow keep track of it even in the distance.


The wolf is the happiest he has been in months. Although carnage is upon little creatures, he is running wild, jumping, pouncing and sinking his teeth. With excited growls he shakes his head with them attached to his teeth until the creature is not struggling anymore, throwing the lifeless body up in the air until he finds another to end as well. There will be much meat and bones to chew on later, for sure, and he would be more than happy and in a generous mood to share it with Ripper.


--


Well...that was easy...


The Pack are quick to begin their hunt of the pookabuns, all but one not even answering his question before acting. Well, they are the best at what they do; it is why he asked for their help, after all. The guardian spirit takes no pleasure in the deaths of the hares, nor does he mourn them. Death is but a part of the Circle of Life; many of these rabbits would have been prey anyway, as befits their role in the Great Balance. What does bother him is that the Pack cannot make use of the meat and bones, nor can any other predator or scavenger, until a way to reverse the Unseelie King's curse is found. There is no way to know what would happen if they did.


He notes the aura of Kalliope not moving from the glen, apparently leaving Elijah to hunt without her. As per usual, he has a hard time with her mind, shattered and fragmented as it is. For the moment, he leaves her to her thoughts, and turns his attention on the few cursed rabbits grazing near his trunk. The other rabbits are spread out into the forest around him, so it will take the Pack some time, efficient as they are, to clear the forest of them. This gives him some time to test potential magical cures that will not lead to the deaths of the hares.


A simple Dispel Magic will likely not work, he deduces. Fae magic is rarely so simply removed. So, he taps into the magic of the world through his roots, silently asking Gaia for the power he needs. Perhaps a Break Enchantment spell? Targeting a nearby bunbun, he focuses the energies upon it, making it glow as if in bright sunlight. When the light fades, the bunny looks unchanged. Hmm...no luck. This is not an enchantment, then. The Pooka King's magic is strong, as befits his role. Luckily, the Great Oak has been granted great power of his own, as befits his role as Arbiter of the Balance for this forest.


After a long moment of pondering, he tries another spell. Odium is a chaotic being, and his magic reflects that. Perhaps it is Chaos that is fueling these changes. Another silent prayer to the Mother, his roots pulling magic from the earth once more. Targeting the same hare, he releases a Dispel Chaos spell. Rings of sunlight twirls around the bunny in perfectly symmetrical designs, bathing the animal in the power of Gaia's Law. When the light fades again, the rabbit has been returned to normal.


Ah, so it is Chaos, then. Still, even if he found a way to cure them, the Dispel Chaos spell is a taxing bit of magic, even for the Great Oak. He already feels a bit of drain from the effort, and it will take the tree some time to recover even that. It is not possible for him to cast this spell multiple times on any hares that are spared from the Pack's hunt. It will require a ritual to undo many hares at once, one to magnify and augment his spell over the forest all at once. A task for the Seelie once the Pack has culled the hoard back to a manageable level...


A plan now forming in Oakwhisper's mind, he turns his attention back to Kalli, noting that her attention is on something beyond the Glen. "Daughter of the Moon...what is it...that you are sensing...?" he asks her, hoping his voice is not lost amidst the myriad others in her mind. As he asks, he reaches out with his own senses, curious as to what has the wolf-shaman so focused. It only takes a moment to see the strange aura, over a kilometer beyond his Sacred Glen, and approaching. At first, he thinks it is Odium; it clearly has a pooka-like aura. Yet, it is larger in size, and has a sinister anger and hatred Oak has not seen in the Pooka King. It must be some other creature affected by the curse. A panther. But how...?


Reaching out to it, he speaks. <I am Oakwhisper, Guardian of the Forest...Tell me...who are you?>


The creature responds instantly, seething with maddening rage, speaking mentally in slow Sylvan. <I am Tekstatl...and this forest...belongs to me now! All the prey...is mine to claim!>


<You have been corrupted by a curse...> Oak explains. <Come to my Sacred Glen...and I can give you peace->


<Do you think...I am a FOOL, spirit?!> Tekstatl hisses. <My eyes have been opened...by the flesh of horned rabbits...You will NOT close them!>


So...eating the rabbits can corrupt the predator...It is a good thing I warned against the Pack eating the flesh... This is an corrupted animal, just like the hares, and the hares still responded to his commands. So it should be the same for this panther. <Come to me, Tekstatl!> he orders, using his granted powers to compel the animal to obey.


The only response is a hideous cackle. <You have no power over me, spirit! You will NOT...take this power from me!>


<If you do not obey...> warns the Great Oak, <then you will leave me...no choice...but to call...for your death...Do not make me do this...>


<Send your hunters, spirit!> Tekstatl spits his challenge. <I have smelled them...and I will kill them...and devour them...and their hunting grounds will be mine! And then...I will tear you from the ground...and rend you to SPLINTERS!!!>


Oakwhisper reluctantly pulls his focus away from the pookapanther. By this time, the Pack has been slaughtering pookabuns for nearly 15 minutes. They are out of range to be contacted by him, aside from Saga and the animals. Before reaching out to them, he speaks again to Kalli. "Kalliope...you have sensed...what I have sensed...An evil...has been awakened by this curse...A great cat of the forest...has been corrupted...by eating the fae-touched hares...It refuses my commands...and seeks to take the forest...AND your territory...by force." His words come with a feeling of fierce determination. "It must be eliminated...before the forest is taken over by evil, flying panthers...instead of hares...I shall attempt...to bring the Pack back to you...The hares can wait for now..."


Reaching out one more time, he seeks out the auras of Saga, Ripper, Clarissa, and Elijah in the forest beyond. Since he is speaking to multiple beings at once, they all receive the same message: "Return to the Beta in my Glen...! A threat has arisen...from the curse...A great cat has come...and has challenged you...for your territory!"


Yeah, THAT should get their attention.


--


Saga heeds the warning of the Oak in not consuming any of the pookabuns, opting to slash them with her claws as she tears them apart. She knows that if they were not to eat them, then no other creature would be safe to eat or scavenge them as well. As she kills the beasts, she makes sure she tears them into oblivion to minimize any other creature getting to them or- heaven forbid, be reanimated somehow. She was not familiar with fae magic, but knows that fae can be sneaky creatures. She perks her ears, hearing the Call of the Oak once more to return to the Glen and the Shaman. Something about a Cat and territory. This will be interesting.


Holding her head high, her paws bloody with carnage, she makes her way back, stepping once more into the tree's space. She could smell the foul creature as she got closer, her muzzle wrinkling up to bare her teeth. It was familiar only of that of a panther to her, but the was something more to it- something more corrupt and fowl smelling, the taint of the corruption hanging in the air. She stands next to the Beta and growls, looking at the direction of the scent, fur raised. "I smell it." She comments, "It smells like cat, garbage, and rot. And we will tear it from limb to limb like those rabbits and teach the stupid creature a lesson"


--


Cronn's "Job" was basically one of a sprinting Janitor. Married to a Leprechaun no less, and having lived in a wolven Caer once, which was connected by what basically was a walk through mirror to a place which had Fae of the not-so-kind orientation, had turned the man, who once wouldn't know a Leprechaun from Jule elf, into one who was at least prepared.


In his pouch, securely hidden away, although Caera knew about it of course, trust in a relationship and all, was an iron dagger. Not Steel, which he would use to slay the hares that escaped from the onslaught of his pack, but Cold forged iron. Cyr had cursed him when he had asked for it. Knowing he was in a "kinda fae place" he hoped it wouldn't make him stick out like a sore thumb. Wielding it with his left while swinging the "Very-"Longsword with his right the wolven would stab any remainder that was left, occassionally throwing it against a hare that was about to escape to do the deed. When the slaughter lasted and less and less hares were to be found it became a bit tedious, especially to decide which Harecorpses needed to be stabbed still. That was the janitor part.


Clarissa was in her element, killing hare after hare, haunting down each in the wavy movements of a ferret sprint, she had to be reminded not to eat the hares by Cronn only twice, which was a record of sorts. Then however... in the middle of the hunt for what Cronn considered a few of the last hares, the ferret would just swing to the left and dart into the distance back towards from which they came from.... which made him wonder. She usually was so focused on her priorities. He would do the deed, courtesy of a thrown dagger, and then follow her, noticing, like Saga, the scent... or .. stench rather when he finally stepped throught the treeline.


The sprinting wolven had planned to just.. you know... rest for a second when he arrived, he had been running now for a long time already, but this plan was cut short when he spotted the panther.


"Unh... vhach..." was growled.


Cronn, complex in simplicity, had instincts. He knew when things were so out of place, when things looked and "felt" so "wrong" that, no matter what, they couldn't be good. And that Panther thing that was a little off to the side of the line between him, Saga And Kalliope now... that one... yeah.


Cronn held up the sword in middle guard, Cronns favourite battle position, as it was balanced and would seek to move over to close ranks with Saga and Kalliope.


--


In their hunt, it is clear that Brynn and Ripper have a great synergy. They instinctively know where the other is, and work together in their carnage. Neither of them is as careful as Saga in not touching them with their teeth, but neither is so careless to eat the flesh against Oakwhisper's warning. Just as they are clearing the last bunnies in this area, Ripper stops in this tracks and barks loudly at Brynn. The great Wolf looks at him, surprise in her eyes: this was odd for him. Ripper barks again and bolts off and Brynn doesn't wait a second before following her shepherd. He'd led her here in the first place, she trusts him to know what he's doing.


Soon, they arrive at the glen, back inside Oak's range. Brynn sees Saga, Cronn and Kalli already here, and a big malformed panther coming in from the side. Brynn's nose if very sharp in her Urshul form, a bigger, badder version of a Wolf. Big enough to raise eyebrows of people that do not know Were. The smell of the panther blows over the glen, it seems this one doesn't care for stealth. Ripper's front is low, his teeth bared and he snarls aggressively, viscious even at the Pooka-Panther. Brynn hesitates not a moment to take her place, spearheading for the pack, taking the attention of the beast by training her glacier-blue eyes on its, so the rest can circle him and close off his escape routes.


And now Brynn too, bares her dagger-like canines at the intruder, snarling aggressively as a final warning for the creature to turn around, even though she hopes it won't.


--


Kalliope was feeling the intruder's influence when the carnage began. With the exception of having, of course, several actual voices and also hallucination voices making it a little bit harder to pin point where it was and how fast it was approaching. Thankfully, she doesn't have to fear it at all - as not only the talking tree seems to back them up but most of her pack is there, promptly making their way back to her. Apart from her wood cutting axe she was mostly unarmed and still in her human form, but the beta was ready nevertheless.


"Do we have company?" She asks around her as she can't see the creature at all. "It is not friendly, is it?" And that would be considering the pack itself was not always considered friendly. The beta would not be fight ready just yet, though. If it was a beast, what could be the chances of having them join the pack instead of fighting?


--


Tekstatl slowly approaches the Sacred Glen, trying to stick to the underbrush to sneak closer to the dogs he can smell on the breeze. But he is met with a surprise as they come into view. While far more intelligent than a normal panther, he is not smart enough to realize (until right now) a very valuable lesson in stealth: If your prey is in range, so are you. Also, having to factor in having wings that make him bigger and harder to hide doesn't help.


His yellow eyes are met with several of the pack looking back. Fuck, they spotted me. Panthers are ambush predators, and he had hoped to pick them off one by one, killing them from stealth before disappearing once more into the forest. That plan is out now...or is it?


The horned, winged cat grins a Cheshire grin, black acrid saliva driping from his maw. He knows he can't fight them in the Glen; the tree spirit will side with them, healing their wounds as fast he as he can cause them. No, that won't do.


Tekstatl speaks in hissing, growling, mocking Sylvan, a fae language likely known by Saga (being a druid), but Oakwhisper translates the words in everyone's minds anyway. <So you are the ones who claim the prey...yet you kill the horned rabbits...without feasting on their flesh...You have missed a great power in them, dogs...and in doing so...you are now unworthy of the prey that remains...I, Tekstatl, claim this forest's meat as my own! If you oppose me...you will be my next meal!>


Suddenly, the pookapanther spreads his wings wide, a foul odor washing over the glen. And with a single flap, he flies a few meters into the air and disappears in a cloud of acrid smoke, only to reappear further into the forest, still visible from where they are, laughing like a demon, before another flap of his wings sends him deeper and deeper into the woods. Even if the pack loses sight of him, that smell would make tracking him quite easy.


Oakwhisper was clearly hoping the panther would enter his glade so that he could dispel the chaos within Tekstatl and cure him, but the cat stayed too far from his trunk, keeping him out of range. He doesn't feel the need to encourage the Pack to track down and end this threat to the forest; a challenge for territory has been declared. It is up to the Pack to determine what to do now.


--


Saga growls as the cat at last comes into view, dipping her head to Kalli's height and murmuring soft to her. "We have company. It's a fae corrupted panther who wishes to rule the forest with itself and its stench. Definitely not friendly."


She lifts her head and watches the Panther as it makes its villainous speech, rolling her eyes at its words, the expression on her face no doubt looking unimpressed. And then it runs, the Wolf curling her lip at its stink as it opens its wings and takes off through the forest. Her instincts wanted to chase after it badly, but she knew better.

A predator that threatens then runs instead of combat, she did not trust, and in games of war she knew that giving into a rushed and taunted game of chase would most likely give the beast the higher ground, and mistakes would be made easily, despite of its destruction in its path. "COWARD." She roars at it as it runs.


Saga's senses are sharp, so finding the beast would be easy enough, even without its odor. How often had she played similar games finding her skinwalker mate, the cryptid silent and scent always changing? Instead, she waits , her nostrils flared and her large ears perked, following the sound of the jaguar before the tracking game begins. "A threat, then a run. Stupid beast wants to play games first instead of fight. Ok then, let's make this a difficult game for it."


--


Cronn would have done the same. Flee. Then attack out of the protection of the underbrush. If this were an animal, Cronn would have followed it immediately, but the being had made the mistake to speak. Hence it was self conscious, hence it was able to lay a trap. "Careful... could lead to an Ambush." Cronn growled loudly, Thunderhowl style, and ordered Clarissa back to him with a "Clarissa... back to me" then adding, spoken to the others "...Do not venture too far from each other" Then he starts tracking, following Saga in a jog, closeby to heed his own advice, eyes ears and nose always open for the slightest hint of anything out of the usual.


Now.. wolven tracking is not as centered just around following the scent or listening for sounds as human folklore often made it be. Human folklore in human cities that was, human hunters out in the wild very much knew what they were up against, and thus were very well aware why they were afraid. Wolven were no Animals. They were balance. They were, where the rising wolf met the descending spirits of the gods. And so to a wolven the hunt was as much an almost euphorical rush, provided by sharpened senses and an ingrained need to follow, which would then again sharpen the senses only further , as it was a science, a looking for clues only keen eyes knowledgeable in the environment would spot. They were, in a sense, bloodhound and bloodhoundmaster in one.


It was only halfway through the forest, that Cronn would notice that in front of him the scent continued, but the other signs of being hunted, carelessly stepped on branches, upcast foliage... the likes... were gone. Someone wanted to hide.


<<Careful Trap>>


the wolven growled and gestured in the tongue of the wolves, which the druid Caera had finally managed to teach him, so he could talk to her when she chose this form.


Cronn chose this language for two reasons. First to reach those parts of his pack who were so close to the beast now, that only this would reach them. Second, because opponents, as far as he was concerned, didn't need to understand what Cronn was conveying, as a botched ambush would only be botched if the ambusher didnt knew he had botched it, until he would botch it truely by letting "the trap" snap shut.


Only to find that there was a reason why wolven didn't open a door to darkness, with friends and a cake in it. Or at least why they weren't surprised.


--


Brynn had moved in closest to the Panter, feeling it was her duty to take the most heat from this monster. She hears them all, carefully listening to the council of her Pack. Kalli would likely know she did, and rest might see her ears turn as they spoke. As Oakwhisper conveys the Pookapanther's message, Brynn gives it a dominant death-stare. This foolish creature would soon find the gravity of the mistake of this paticular claim. And even if Kalli were right, and it might be possible to make it friendly, such a challenge could of course simply never stand.


As the monster does it's taunt-and-retreat, Brynn puts a snarling, low-step forward: slow, and deliberate. It is a gesture to show 'we do not fear you' and 'we will come for you'. Of course, the creature will in one way or another try to compensate for the fact that it is outnumbered and - in Brynn's mind at least - outclassed several times over.


She is proud of her pack, that all see the move for what it is and communicate well about it. Her role now, was two fold: track and lead. She takes a breath, howld a reverberating howl through the forest and steps after the creature in a calm and collected manner. Not slow, but her body language is meant to convey assurance. For her, the only real danger is that Pack losing its cool in the will to chase this prey and stepping in whatever ambush it would lead. Her actions are meant to prevent that.


And then, she tracks. Keeping close to the others, she takes a somewhat circling path, hoping to either flank the creature in its ambush, or - which was more likely - when one of the Pack found the creature first, be able to flank it as they were shredding it to pieces.

She turns out right and Cronn seems to find the creature first, and she abandons the search, and moves towards his message. Brynn is outwardly calm, but inwardly the Rage pumps in her. But she thinks bigger than just this Panter. This was a moment to show this forest who the Pack was, so as she moves closer to Cronn's position, she lets her Rage run wild.


The shift from Urshul to Gauru, the warform was less gruesome as from her more human forms. Still, seeing the Wolf's muscles bulge, it's teeth grow and paws shift to a two-legged stands is a deeply impressive sight. And as the Gauru stands there, towering in the forest, every part of her body made to fight for the kill it is clear: no-one will doubt this one is ready for carnage. There will be no talking. There will be no mercy.


--


Kalliope can probably get by with many things. She has been challenged over her sight for many years enough to rely on other senses, and have them well trained by now. But one thing is to track a deer in the woods - as natural as it gets - or even a spirit trying to meddle into the material world - as spooky as it is - but a supernatural predator was, apparently, her nemesis. Elijah was surrounded by the blood and corpses of their previous carnage, whimpering over not having the release order to be able to eat them, still quite far away from the beta. And Kalliope was left to her darkness, with a few different sounds to orient her, which really did not help her much as she hoped to. The voices on her head are loudly commenting on the threats the pack received and the hallucinations are, once again, making the worst assessment over the beta's capabilities to help her pack effectively. The confusion builds up some anger on her and even though she might be moving to the right direction, the first thing she does is to go face flat to the nearest tree in front of her.


--


Tekstatl moves quickly through the forest, teleporting short distances in puffs of acrid smoke. He knows he is leaving a trail for them to follow, and he knows they are going to expect an ambush. But the cursed panther can do something normal panthers can't.


Fly.


After reaching the spot he plans to use as his battleground, he teleports as far as his fledgling fae abilities will let him, straight up in the air, above the canopy of the trees. In doing so, his scent trail would suddenly stop. He lands gingerly on the tree tops, hiding among the branches, waiting for the Pack to reach the end of his scent trail.


It doesn't take long, and he sees Brynn and Cronn, along with their animal companions. He doesn't see Saga, Kalli, or the other wolf, but knows they can't be too far behind. They must have become separated! Perfect! He had planned on taking them out one by one from ambush, and this makes it all that much easier. He studies them a moment, trying to decide which one would be the best to take out first. Both seem equally dangerous, so he picks the large Alpha wolf as his target.


With a sadistic grin, he waits until the perfect moment, then pounces from the treetops, teleporting part of the distance to reduce their reaction time, claws and fangs bared. Yet, he doesn't not escape the keen eyes of the wolven, and Cronn spots him the moment he appears in the air above Brynn! He has only a moment to react!


--


Hard to believe as it is, but there was truly a wolven proverb about being prepared that said


"When the going get's tough... the toughest first go shopping..."


and Cronn was a firm believer. It was the dwarves who had a good synergy going with the wolven there, because dwarves were really good with steel and weapons, but someone had to provide them with meat to be cured for their halls after all... and they could hardly ask the elves... because... well...


Because of that proverb and Cronn's acknowledgement of the wisdom it carried, he carried weapons for almost every situation, something Brynn had noted time and time again... for close quarter to distance fight. Almost, because first of, there were situations even he hadn't thought about, and secondly.. even to a wolven there was something akin to an encumbrance limit.


Thus the wolven would grab the one weapon in his arsenal that made sense in the situation.


The Battleaxe™️


To be fair, it was a human battleaxe that hung from Cronns belt and what was a good close combat, two handed weapon for one of them, turned into something else in the hand of a being whose hand was big enough to encompass the head of aforementioned human: A simple axe that could be thrown. It had been used often that way.


There was not enough time to raise it before the throw even though Cronn had been alert, as all things pointed to an ambush here, so he threw it underhand "Thor's hammer" style, giving it a good spin as it hauled towards the panther,to hopefully hit as this was more of a reflex.


--


Tekstatl is only a few meters from Brynn when he sees the battleaxe flying towards him. It will hit him right between the eyes if he doesn't abort his attack.


Using his wings, he twists in mid-air, ruining his attempted attack on the Alpha. Rather than a fatal blow to his skull, the axe bites into his wing, causing him to fall to the side, rolling along the ground before stopping on his paws.


The pain is almost unbearable, and he spits a few choice curses. His ambush is ruined, and in his egotistical confidence, he didn't have a backup plan. And now, he can't fly. Trying to think quickly, he crouches defensively before Brynn and Cronn.


But this momentary hesitation gives Moonsong an opening!


--


Saga's senses are fixed on the beast as Cronn and Brynn move out to find it, taking note of their movements as well and curling up a lip when the Wolfen called out and announced to every forest creature that they were onto the beast. As she lifts a paw to take a step, Kalli smacks herself into a tree. She does not go after the panther at first, but rather, would pad up to the Beta and give her a touch with her nose, and if allowed would help her back up on her feet.


"It seems the Spirits are causing some extra chaos for you today" She said softly, crouching low beside the Shaman. "I'm not sure where Elijah has gone, but let's spare the trees the punches and save it for the beast. It seems the others have already found the cat, so they will be easy to track. I will go with you, either on my back or beside you."


Rarely did Saga offer rides, but when she did, it was for good reason and trusted the individual she was with. She knew by staying with Kalli there was less likely to be a sneak attack on her part, but with her offer it was obvious to tell that she valued Pack members and the Shaman far more than some battle moves.


If Kalli would choose the Dire's back, she would instruct her to hold tight, weaving in between the trees like a blurred shadow until they reached their destination. If Kalli chose to walk, she would remain beside her and steer her away from any trees and foliage that threatened to jump out suddenly in the way. She would keep the Beta safe on the journey, and them both out of sight, murmuring to Kalli as they approach approximately where the panther was in relation to them and the others, and what obstacles were potentially in the way so that the poor Shaman didn't go smacking into another tree.


--


You usually don't turn in a fight. It is stupid.. it is cinematic... it opens you up to a counterattack. But the enemy was far and the wolven had spin now, created by a thrown battleaxe, so while he spun still he grabbed for another tool of murdering that hung from his belt.


A little rod, once taken from a grave from another age together with Caera. Cronn had no real name for it so in the end it had become the "Combo Stick".


While turning still, Cronn's thumb would push into a small recess on the surface of the stick, shake the rod, which would make it extend in both directions with a "sssshhhkt..." sound until it was but a two sided harpoon. And once the wolven ended his "turn", this harpoon too was thrown, like a spear.. towards the panther that had just crashed into the ground, hopefully hitting.


--


The harpoon narrowly misses the panther, going between his wings and embedding in a tree just behind him.


Maybe he will disarm himself of all his weapons eventually?, the panther ponders hopefully.


--


So much happens in such short a time. Brynn is headed into the forest, with a circling motion to be able to shear the Pooka and flank them. She's not aware of what happens to Kalli and Saga who stayed a little behind. But after Cronn's ruckass, she's sure they will be here where the action is.


In her Urshul form Brynn's senses are very sharp, but she still can't hear someone teleporting. She does hear the battle axe flying over her, and sees the pooka take a turn and get hit in the wing. Good. It tumbles to the ground and Brynn sees the harpoon flies narrowly miss.


Brynn isn't taking any chances. This beast can fly, or could. It wouldn't fly so well with a wound like that. Instead: now it's in the defensive now and Brynn is angry. And Ripper too. Snarling with bared teeth and low growls, both Canine do what they do best: maim. Sure that he'll see Ripper as the lesser threat of the two - they always do - Brynn approaches the panther frontally while Ripper circles around it to flank it. Brynn will pounce his head while Ripper will jump from under and bite his throat.


--


There is a reason Tekstatl always attacks from ambush. He's out of his element now. He needs to escape and hide to try again. But Brynn and Ripper are on him before he can get away.


He manages to avoid Brynn's attack...only to move right into Ripper's jaws. He hisses and roars at the dog as foul blood falls from the wound. With a swipe of his paw, he dislodges Ripper from his neck, knocking the dog back, but the damage has been done.


--


Kalliope bleeds a little from her nose as curses leave her lips, both in her father and her mother´s language. Saga is welcomed with a grateful look, although it takes her sometime to make a decision on how to follow her packmate. Kalli would have trouble accepting the riding option, finding wolves not to be methods of transportation, but the guiding would be much appreciated. The shaman would be in no shape or eager to fight right now, trying to stop the bleeding at first, but her spirits would be in a huge urge to aid the battle in some way. The closer Saga and Kalli get to the fight, the louder the spirits get, and more energy is drawn from the shaman to do their biding: gathering around the bad cat, whispering words of discouragement and high offence. Insults that ranged from "I bet your parents wished they’d used Protection from Evil the night you were conceived." to "Your best chance against a Mind Flayer is to starve it to death."


--


Saga was uncertain as to whether or not helping the Shaman's bloody nose would have been insulting or not when Kalli was perfectly capable on her own, but she really didn't care. She picks up a few herbs in their last strides to where they stood now, shoving what she had found into the Beta's hands before her focus went to the panther.


The beast had not yet seen them yet, as they were still in the shadows, working momentarily to Saga's advantage. She smirks, as if she's holding back a laugh, unclear whether or not she can hear the Spirits, or if she's amused at the Cat itself. She lifts her head and places one of her giant paws forward, digging her claws into the Earth. Vines grow beneath the beast, and branches shoot out, the Wolf attempting to ensnare the Panther and trap its wings. The foliage moved rather quickly, avoiding the others, and she counted on the panther being distracted enough to not notice.


--


The spirits seep into the panther's mind, whispering their jabs at his ego. As much as he tries to ignore them, it eats at him, cauing him sudden and real pain in his soul.


--


Tekstatl barely has time to think before the forest itself comes alive at the behest of the Pack. It reaches for the pookapanther before he can move, and the vines and branches hold him tightly. He can barely move now. Roars of indignant and rage-filled protests are all he can manage for a moment.


Bound and bleeding after less than ten seconds of fighting, things aren't looking well for the panther. In his rage and panic, he forgets he could just teleport to avoid the vines, and instead lashes out at the nearest target: Brynn.


The claw barely misses Brynn's face, his attack held back by Saga's entangle spell!


--


Asking Cronn to strip his weapons was something many a guard had rued, as the wolven not only took his time to do so, each little blade or killing tool was put on the with a smile and in an almost celebratory manner, looking at the guards with that "Hey.. you asked for it" expression. And there were enough, for every little eventuality one.


As he would sprint after Brynn already, Cronn would change grip with the (Very-) Longsword mid run, holding it in his main hand again. He knew that Brynn would take the panther frontally already before she did it and thus he would pass on her right and circle the panther to flank with her.


"Clarissa... bite him where it hurts..."


Cronn growled and while the little ferret was seeking her own target now, the wolven would seek for an opening in the Panthers defenses when an especially vulnerable target would present itself due to the struggle against the Veins and probably Clarissa soon too...


once it presents itself he would strike by gripping the blade with both hands, doing a wide overhead strike downwards onto the panther


--


Have you ever been bitten on the balls by a ferret?


Tesktatl has.


He barely has time to yell in agony before Cronn's sword fall on him. The blade cuts a nasty gash deep into his shoulder, and that acrid black blood sprays on the sword.


--


Brynn sees the pookapanther getting mauled by the Pack. He would find no mercy from this Alpha. After his challenge, and his disdainful attitude towards the Pack, he needed to pay the highest price, so in death he would be a lesson for others that thought to challenge the Pack.


She gazes at the bloody pooka in front of her. It's screaming in pain as he's tied, bitten, cleaved and has his balls bitten off. Already a mere shade of what he claimed to be. But this was a battle over territory, a challenge was made, and would be carried out. A fleeing pookapanther would just come back and ambush them. Such is the way of Nature.


No mercy.


While Ripper continues to bit for the neck - and hold - Brynn would slash her dagger-like claws at the creature's eyes.


--


The entangling vines do not allow Tekstatl to avoid the claw to his face...or the dog to his neck. Ripper gets a mouthful of panther flesh just behind Tekstatl's ears and holds on.


Brynn's claws slash across Tekstatl's eyes. He hisses madly, the pain and blood not letting him open his eyes for a moment.


--


Saga smirks as her vines hold the panther tight, leaving the Shaman behind to get her bearings, the large dire slipping further into the shadows as the beast gets pummeled and blinded. She weaves in and out of the trees, coming up behind the Pook in a sneak. It was probably unnecessary at this point, but those vines won't hold forever, and there was a good possibility that the beast didn't know she was there.


A dark Wolf shape would appear behind the panther, an almost sinister smile crossing her face. She held out her sharp claws and attempts to rake them down the Panther's back to break and render his wings useless. If the beast wished to play stupid games, it would win painful prizes.


--


Teskstatl has no chance to prepare for Saga's attack, being blind and bound as he is. Her claws rend inton his wings, tearing them off at the shoulders. His vile corrupted blood sprays from his wounds as he howls and yeowls in agony.


--


Tekstatl suddenly remembers: Wait...I can teleport!


Mid-scream, he disappears in a noxious cloud of black smoke, escaping the vines (and a certain testicle-chomping ferret), only to appear a few yards behind them, in between them and Kalli. Still blind from Brynn's claws to his eyes, and using only his hearing to aim, he taps into his overwhelming rage, letting his fae-emotions power a desperate attempt to put these dogs in their place.


With a thunderous roar, he blasts the Pack with a cone of foul-smelling acid!


--


Despite the ferocity of the attacks against the pookapanther there was a reason behind the barrage, which went beyond the purpose to just hurt, even the attack of the Ferret. Yes it made the wolven feel good to be part of such a well oiled machine again, but that was not it. All this was meant to deny the Pookapanther the ability to clear thought, to put him under so much stress from so many different angles that he would finally fall back onto the primal flight or fight responses.


Therefore, when the panther teleported away, Cronn was not surprised. He had assumed that the faebeast had such an ability. Traces didn't just vanish in thin air, and there had been that first attack on Brynn. Frankly he had expected him to do this even earlier as it provided the panther with a respite from being surrounded while at the same time giving the opportunity to attack from an unexpected angle.


Thus, when the panther vanished the wolven's gaze would shift in the matter of fractions of a second, spotting the opponent again and react. Cronn had dealt with enough dragons to know a breath attack when one was coming. Grabbing his furry cape with the right hand and pulling it over himself like an overtly dramatic circus magician, the wolven would evade most of the caustic spit. Granted his cape was sizzling ... but the wolven was okay.


There was however still the issue of the panther having escaped their circle of pain.. and if they planned to keep the barrage ongoing this couldn't stand of course. Surprisingly not vanishing inside the cape like a magician, the wolven would come out of it with the grappling hook in his left, although the grip was quickly changed.


He would throw it, try to catch the pooka panther. If it did the wolven would pull with both hands and all strength his body could offer, growling, Thunderhowl style:


"Get over here!"


...and pull the beast back into the middle, expecting the oncoming panther with a right hand formed to a fist.


--


Tekstatl's vision is slowly returning, but not fast enough to see the grappling hook coming for him. The hook digs into the open wound on his back where his wings once were with a sickening sound. He is pulled from his paws and sent airborne...right into a wolven fist. The sounds of cracking facial bones echo through the forest as the panther's entire momentum reverses, sending the blind, corrupted, mutilated beast sailing through the air...


...directly towards Brynn.


--


Brynn is sharply focused on the fight, and very proud of the Pack who are giving this creature a run for its big mouth. It came to kiss the pack, but found itself being torn to pieces without getting one punch in. As Brynn finding her balance after the last attack, she sees Saga clawing the wings off clean, Kalli working with her spirits - or so she thinks - and ... crap, the creature teleporting out of the hold. Brynn has dealt with acid breathing creatures before, and the last one had almost melted her to oblivion. She will not have it, and the moment she sees the creature make ready to breathe it's acid, she snarls a warning. Ripper gets it, and - knowing area of effect attacks more intimately than any fog should - bolts out of the way into the bushes.


Brynn drops, making herself as small as possible while the cloud rushes over her, and then, while Cronn all but destroys the creature with his grappling hook and pulls the beast towards her, she leaps.


Brynn is to bite the creature in its face, and as the Pookapanther and the huge Urshul wolf collide, she means to sink her teeth I to what little remains of his face, and then shake and trash until the fur comes off and the neck breaks.


--


There is a price to pay for arrogance.


Tekstatl could have joined the Pack and took it over within their own rules. He could have moved to another territory and ruled unchallenged.


He could have played the long game, picking them off one by one over days or weeks of stalking and hunting.


But no..


Tekstatl may have been physically more powerful than any single member of the Pack. But in all his might and magic, they had something that he underestimated.


Teamwork.


All the power in the world is nothing compared to camaraderie and skill of Moonsong...something he only learns far, far too late. He couldn't even land a single blow.


He is beaten, broken, and maimed, unable to even fight off Brynn's hold on him. A few feeble attempts to break free are quickly stopped by a final crack as his neck snaps in the Alpha's jaws.


...and he falls limp.


--


"So...it is done..."


Oakwhisper has been observing the battle of auras in the forest beyond and sees the panther's aura suddenly fade away into the Ether.


Moonsong has done well...and secured their claim...as the Apex predators...of the Realm...


--


Saga curls her lip at the stench of Teskstatl's corrupted blood as she tore off his wings, dodging the spray of it-- and then he was gone, thick smoke replacing where the panther was. She whirls around, getting out of the smoke and following the beast's stench, taking a few steps only to be met with a roar. She is prepared, and as soon as the Cat takes a breath in, she dodges out of the way of the acid spray.


Things happened quite quickly, Saga moving into position, going after one of the panther's legs to ground him, but it was not needed. Cronn beat the beast, Kalli taunting it with Spirits-- and Brynn snuffing out the rest of Teskstatl's life. As the Pook lay dead to the ground, the Dire stands tall and confident, getting closer to its furry body, curling a lip and looking down at it with disdain. Taking a huge paw, she places it over the cat's neck and crushes it, raking her claws across it to completely sever the connection between head and body. Words were not needed here by her, and the death of the Panther served as a warning. Saga looks at the others, lifts her dark head and howls.


--


Cronn breathed hard, and rubbed his fist, only now allowing his body to feel the pain of certain joints, that had begun to tell him "you are getting too old for this shit" just recently. It was okay though, at least nothing else was hurt, and when he realized that, a slight smile would form on the wolvens muzzle. And a pride.


To be fair his fur cape was sizzling and he would need a new one soon, but only a few strands of his fur had been hit with the caustic spit. This was not what gave him pride though. As he looked around, studied "his" pack while it stood there catching their breath, he saw that none of them had been majorly hurt... or even minorly. And well... for a former Gamma.. that was one who had been responsible for their training once... this was... like a teacher looking at a bunch of students he once taught, which were now not only meeting the expectations of life now, but exceeding them.


There was another teacher now... another trainer... Cronn realized and smiled at Saga with an appreciative nod, but once.. once it had been him... and now even Brynn was unharmed, and that alone was worth a note in Cronns mental diary.


That grin wouldn't vanish as one by one Cronns gaze would capture each of them, linger fir a curtous nod, before he too would throw his head back and let out a victory Awoo...


Thunderhowl style!


--


Brynn stands over the fallen Pooka, realising what it realised moments before he fell, what Kalli, Saga and Cronn realise, what no doubt Oakwhisper realises and with him the entire forest. Moonsong was challenged by a mighty for, and now the for lies dead without even harming any of the pack to show for it: broken, rent, destroyed.


Soon, all the Forest would know about this fight, they would know that a vile monster challenged that Pack and the Pack had saved the day. If that isn't worthy of a musical celebration, nothing is. And Brynn means to celebrate just that.


The great Urshul, the Savage Wolf throws her head in her neck and proudly raises her head to Mother Luna to whom she will dedicate this victory.


The Pack's modulating victory howl reverberates through the forest, a warning as much as a celebration: "The price of challenging the the Pack is death."


--


EPILOGUE


The Pack howls in unison into the forest, a broken panther at their feet. The ferocity and carnage that only they could bring has slowed the Imbalance brought on by the Pooka King's antics. Their fur caked with pookabun and pookapanther blood, the Wolves of the Mystic Realms remind the forest who are the Apex predators of the land.


Oakwhisper speaks to the animals and Saga once more. "Well done, O Great Hunters! The Balance...thanks you...and may all who hear...know the folly...of challenging you!"


He pulls his attention from the wolves' celebration, back to the few pookabuns that remain controlled in his glen. The Pack have greatly culled their numbers, buying the Guardian Spirit some time to come up with a plan to deal with the remaining cursed hares scattered throughout the forest. They are powered by Chaos Magic, so a ritual of Law would be needed to counter it.


Either that...or somehow having the magic of the land stripped away. But no, that would cause far more problems. Even then, all it would likely do is halt their incessant reproduction, not cure them. Besides, no one is crazy enough to pull something like that in this forest.


No, a ritual it must be. But what would that entail? He knows not.


Not yet.


The Great Arbiter falls into silent contemplation and communion with Gaia, seeking the knowledge he needs with Her. Chaos must be tempered, and the Balance upheld. And when he awakens in the near future, he will do just that.

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