If you have not read Song, I believe you can still enjoy this excerpt. Actually, I hope it makes you want to go out and buy Song!
The large Alpha could not comprehend how anything would choose to live down here, covered by oppressive tons of stone and earth. Uruck closed his lupine eyes, practically worthless in this environment anyway, and inhaled the stagnant air around him. He found himself wondering how the place would appear to the keen ears of the moles. It must have some redeeming qualities, but they certainly escaped him. Even the chambers which were illuminated by the diffuse light of lichens or glow worms seemed confining and ill suited to the Canidae.
The Prime promised great rewards were eminent. The leader of his people claimed to have communed with the Great Father himself. Indeed, when the Prime returned from the Holy Sojourn, he bore a great gift, claws and teeth of pure obsidian black, grown to unnatural length. He quickly recruited the other Alphas to pledge their wolves to the new vision. It was time for the Canidae to rise and claim their rightful place in Saerna. No longer would they be a loosely affiliated group of separate packs, the Great Father declared that the packs should set aside their autonomy to join together and conquer.
Uruck had joined his pack to the Prime, the tangible evidence presented seemed to prove the leader’s claim. He did not however, accept the gifts offered. Many of the others had, but Uruck preferred to take such things slowly. He never acted rashly or in haste, and that had kept his pack strong for years. The Promise, as it was now called, seemed an honorable path when Uruck first heard of it.
His reservations quickly grew, however, the more time he spent near the Prime. The actions of the All Pack Leader seemed uncharacteristic of the warrior Uruck had helped gain the position. His oldest friend was not himself. Uruck ignored his worries, sure that the change was simply caused by the rapturous experience of having communed with the Great Father. Uruck had believed that the Promise was meant to bring the honorable ways of the Canidae to the unscrupulous races of Saerna.
That was not what was happening. Uruck was disgusted with the actions of his people at the cliffs of the goat men. The Prime used some dark magic to cause the normally altruistic race to brutally attack one another. After complete confusion was sown among the goats, two packs of Canidae were sent in to raze the entire village. It was a complete waste, and did not seem honorable to Uruck in the least. It was one thing to cull the herd, to take only what was needed to sustain the pack, but the utter destruction of the goats did not make sense to Uruck. No meat was even taken. Everything was wasted.
When he spoke to the Prime about it, however, his old friend was convincing. It was necessary to deal such a blow so that the other villages would accept the Canidae as their superiors. Uruck strained to remember the rest of his words, but was finding that he could not. Why had he agreed to consign his pack to the Underground? Were they expected to deal a blow to the mole men the likes of that dealt to the goats? This could not be the will of the Great Father. Uruck was proud that he refused the gift of the dark claws. Not a single member of his tribe accepted the gift, all followed the lead of their Alpha. Something was not right here, Uruck was sure of it, and the Prime had some sort of hold over all those near him. Did something have a hold over the Prime? Uruck believed such may be the case, but he and his pack were now surrounded by the faithful. He had to take great care in executing his plan to extract his pack from this madness.
Uruck’s keen ears detected the shuffling of padded feet approaching. He raised himself onto his hind legs and stretched, his natural claws scraping the ceiling above. No doubt this room would be considered a grand hall by the tiny mole men, but Uruck found the low ceilings, no more than three axe handles high, irksomely confining.
“Damn it!” The guttural curse came from the shuffler. Uruck recognized the voice as Carrk’s. The smaller beta was one of Uruck’s pack, faithful to the Prime, but owing his first allegiance to Uruck.
“This place upsets me,” the beta groused. Uruck could not see his packmate, but could smell both frustration and anxiety. No doubt he was concerned about their impending flight from the rest of the Canidae.
“It upsets us all,” Uruck answered in a low growl.
“The pack is informed,” Carrk growled back, “We are prepared to leave this tomb. Everyone is in place.”
“Good,” Uruck nodded to himself, “We must act quickly. If we tarry in our exodus, word of our desertion may beat us to the surface, and our younglings will be in peril.”
The pack’s young were encamped in a secluded valley in the Carpaunk, guarded by a mixed pack contingent of fierce females. Some of his own pack’s females were within that contingent, and getting word to them of Uruck’s plan had been tricky. If all went well, his females would be able to flee the camp with the younglings and join the rest of the pack at the rendezvous point. From there, they would all be on the run. It was not a great plan, going against the will of the Prime, and placed them all in great peril. They agreed, however, to the last packmate, that a life apart from the All Pack was better than the dishonorable path the Prime was intent on following.
“Let us go.” Uruck commanded, dropping to all fours to run the dark path before him. The pack knew their routes by heart, having committed them to memory by traveling them repeatedly while lit. They kept to the tunnels that had no natural lighting, as they were generally avoided. By keeping to unlit paths, they could best avoid detection. Uruck was counting on the odd airflow of this subterranean world to confuse their scents as they made their escape.
Running blind was counter to every instinct he had, but he continued with confidence. He rounded a corner he knew was followed by a long straight away, so he flew, hearing Caark following on his flank. Halfway down the corridor his neck collapsed. His hindquarters continued as his head was thrown backward. Caark was on him in a second, the beta’s claws tearing into Uruck’s throat. Unnaturally long claws, Uruck noted ruefully. Maybe a bit of light would have been a good idea after all.
“The Prime regrets that you have grown so dangerous to the cause,” Caark growled into his ear. Uruck was on his back, having run headlong into a chain pulled taut between either side of the lightless path. “It brings me no joy to do this, but you refuse to see the benefit of the Promise,” Caark continued.
Two more wolves quickly joined the beta to help him subdue the larger Alpha in more chains. Caark’s claws did not tear the main artery or vein in Uruck’s neck, rather he used his hold to control Uruck’s muzzle. A leather mask was placed over Uruck’s snout, completely disarming him of his devastating bite. Uruck recognized the scent of the other two wolves, Shaak and Gaalf. The stagnant air which the Alpha had hope to use to his advantage aided in his undoing. He had been utterly betrayed.
Uruck was unable to speak until Caark withdrew the wicked claws from his neck, but he remained silent. He realized that he had been out maneuvered. The three wolves had him trussed up nicely, there was no escape at the moment. He would not give them the satisfaction of angry and empty threats.
“The Prime has something special planned for you, Uruck,” Shaak wheezed into his ear. The Canidae was one of his finest warriors, his rasp the result of once having his throat nearly torn from his neck during a skirmish over territory with a rival pack. If Shaak could be turned, there truly was no hope for the newly ousted Alpha.
The three placed a sturdy pole through Uruck’s manacled legs and arms. Shaak and Gaalf hoisted either end of the pole, lifting the large Alpha between them. A green light filled the hallway as Caark brought forth a lantern filled with the luminous lichen that lived in the Underground. Uruck could now see that all three of his former packmates had the shiny black teeth and claws that were the gift of the Prime.
“Are you to bring me to him?” Uruck finally spoke, growling through the confining mask.
“Yes, he says you will help the cause regardless of whether you will join it.” Caark answered.
“He will make an example of me then,” Uruck stated. “Let him try. I will not break. I will die a good death whatever he does. Others will see his folly.”
“Your own pack has betrayed you, Uruck,” Gaalf responded almost with pity, “What makes you think any others will be moved to rebellion?”
Uruck said nothing. Perhaps they were right. Betrayed by his whole pack? How could this have happened? What was this hold that the Prime had over his people? Perhaps it really was the will of the Great Father. He would find out, Uruck realized, one way or another. If the Prime managed to kill him, Uruck would seek answers from the Great Father Himself.
Uruck was dropped unceremoniously in a deserted chamber. The hard rock floor of the dimly lit cave felt cool through his thick fur. The diffuse light of the lichen lamp carried by Caark was joined by the blue glow of a colony of worms in the ceiling above. His three former packmates removed the carrying pole and stretched Uruck out upon a thick slab of wood. His hands and feet were secured to the sturdy table and it was upended, rotating upon a series of gears to bring Uruck to a vertical position. The three backed away from him until they were against the far wall of the chamber.
The Alpha Prime entered the room, walking on his hind legs, a great bar of metal over one shoulder. The Prime was of a size to Uruck, resembling him closely. Both were browns, with streaks of black through their flanks. Both had large yellow eyes behind their prominent snouts. The Prime grinned at Uruck, displaying the gift of obsidian teeth.
“Leave us,” the Prime ordered, his gaze never leaving Uruck’s. The three lesser wolves hastily retreated from the chamber.
The Prime approached Uruck and used his abnormally long foreclaw to slice the leather strap holding the mask over Uruck’s face. It fell away and Uruck grimaced at the Prime.
“Taark, my brother, you have lost your way.” Uruck lamented. The bound Alpha regarded the Prime with sad eyes. He had always admired his littermate. He loved him. But whatever lived in his eyes now was not the brother with whom he had shared so much.
“You use my given name? Where is the respect?” the Prime questioned, relieving his shoulder of its burden. The iron box dropped to the floor heavily. It appeared to be a mold used to shape molten metal, such things were common in the abandoned mole camp.
“You are no longer my Prime, Taark, so I will call you by the name our mother gave you.”
“Suit yourself, you’ll not be calling me anything for long.” Taark positioned the mold so that it was near Uruck’s feet. He then made a minor adjustment to the table so that Uruck’s body inclined forward, his head directly over the thick metal. It was a mold for a great war hammer. A hammer much too large to be wielded by any mole man.
“Why am I here?” Uruck was confused. If Taark meant to make an example of him, why was Uruck not trussed up in front of the All Pack? “Don’t you intend to use my death as a warning to any others who would dare go against your orders?”
Taark chuffed with amusement. “You and I both know that doing such a thing would only martyr you. We aren’t blind to the power you hold over many of the Canidae.”
Why did Taark say “we”? Uruck wondered to himself whether he was seeking the counsel of the other Alphas. How could they all be in agreement that this course of action was best for the Canidae?
“What then? Why show me this mold for a weapon none of our kind would ever use? The Canidae are blessed by the Great Father with all the weapons we will ever need. No Canidae will use a weapon that is not naturally bestowed.” As Uruck spoke he realized that the ebon enhancements accepted by so many were anything but natural.
Taark grinned at the inaccuracy of Uruck’s statement. “The gift of better claws and teeth are just for my followers. The hammer will be mine, as well as certain other gifts.”
“They will denounce such a thing. It is unheard of, the Great Father would never sanction the use of such a weapon,” Uruck insisted.
“You are right, no doubt, that the Great Father would not condone such a thing. In fact, the Great Father would assuredly look upon all of this with great disdain.” Taark gestured to the confining stone walls of the chamber.
“You admit that this is not the will of the Great Father! What is the meaning of this then?” Uruck was shocked at his brother’s revelation.
“We have found a God much greater than the Great Father,” Taark said fervently, “A God who speaks to us in person. A God who bestows us with great gifts. A God that will make the Canidae rulers of all the races of Saerna.”
“This is madness.” Uruck said in disbelief.
“No brother,” Taark disagreed, “it is madness to turn your back on such gifts.” Taark plunged his razor claws into Uruck’s throat, tearing both artery and vein. Hot blood spilled in great gouts into the mold below, filling the hammer shaped recess.
Taark knelt, placing his hands over the hammer casting. He used his blood soaked foreclaw to open a wound on his own left forearm, adding his own blood to the pooling mass. He then leaned close, his muzzle almost touching the gore inside the mold, and expelled a great breath. He rose reverently.
“Are you still with me, brother,” Taark sneered. Uruck’s head lolled as his life spilled out into the cavity. He could still hear the other wolf just fine. Uruck remained silent and kept his head hung low. The hammer shaped depression was nearly full.
“Our new God tells me that your blood holds great power,” Taark continued. “We would have preferred you join us willingly, but I will use this weapon to inflict great devastation upon our enemies.”
Taark bent low to look into Uruck’s eyes. “You will serve us, you see? I just need one last thing from you.”
Taark placed his large hand on Uruck’s head and a series of images assaulted the weakened Alpha. Images of his pack’s submission to evil. Images of younglings being eviscerated and flayed, images of his wife being raped by wolf after wolf, her hide being torn by great black claws in the process. It was more than he could take. Great tears began to seep from his eyes.
“There it is,” Taark murmured with satisfaction. The wolf that had once been Uruck’s closest friend pressed a finger to Uruck’s eye to collect a tear. Taking great care, Taark dropped the tear on the shaft of the terrible weapon taking form, just above its handle. The tear hissed as it landed, as if the blood had become hot oil. A red mark took shape where the tear landed.
“I shall call it Haamuuk.” Taark said solemnly. Using the Old Language to name something was believed to have great power. Uruck lost consciousness, his last thought was concern for what such an evil force could do to his people. An evil force with a mystical weapon that his brother had named Harbinger.
Taark barked a loud command and Uruck’s former packmates bound back into the room. They stood by impassively as it appeared that the last of Uruck’s life dripped into the iron box beneath him.
“Take his body to the surface and leave it for the crows,” the Prime ordered.