Every Friday, Chuck Wendig posts a flash fiction prompt. This week’s challenge comes from user-supplied titles. I chose Wolves of Sorrow by the user powerjacob and incorporated my Edgeworld series worldbuilding into it. While not directly connected to the events occurring in Petri, its place on the timeline is a few years afterward. Check out Chuck’s page and play if you have a mind to. Enjoy!
Wolves of Sorrow
Mercer filled another canteen and growled. “There are no other options, Brienne. If we don’t get that generator stabilized, Sorrow will become just another ghost town in a sea of them before the year is out.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Her voice dropped, an echoing growl rumbling in her chest. “First dad, then Rory, and now you? I can’t lose anyone else, Merce.”
“You won’t lose me, sis. Haven’t you always said I was too damn stubborn to die?”
“We lost two dens on the eastern perimeter at first sun,” he interrupted. “One belonged to the Laramies.”
Horror shocked his sister into silence, followed swiftly by sorrow. She knew him better than most, knew he’d been in love with Derryk Laramie since they were pups. Mercer had watched with hidden longing as the male grew into a strong warrior. Stood by him when he took pretty Clara Whitley to mate. Celebrated the births of each of their pups. He never knew if Derryk had been aware of his feelings, and now he never would.
Derryk, Clara, and their pups were gone, lost because their government had left them with substandard atmospheric stabilizers and too few engineers to maintain them. He’d stood at the edge of the village, stared through the toxic haze at the deathly stillness filling the small family den, and vowed there’d be no more. No more deaths. No more sorrow.
“The generator is ten miles north of Limbo.” He continued when Brienne remained silent. “It’ll only take a couple of hours if I keep to a lope. I’ll make the run at sunset, restart the generator, and then sprint back. A few days, tops.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He let her pull him into a hug and breathed deep of her scent. She smelled of sand and smoke and the memory of dense forests. She was his little sister, his best friend, and his closest confidante. The dying atmosphere wouldn’t take her. She was all he had left. The pain of losing the one he’d wanted as mate nearly crippled him. He wouldn’t survive the loss of this last member of his family.
“He was never mine, Bri, but you are. I can’t sit around and watch the sun take another den. I won’t wait until it takes yours.”
“I know,” she whispered. “And you’re fast, faster than any scout since the alpha generation.”
“Yeah.” He summoned up a smile and brushed the backs of his fingers along her cheek. “I’ll come back. You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
Brienne nodded, but he smelled her fear. Hell, everyone carried that damn scent, from the grizzled elders to the youngest pups. It hung over Sorrow like a shroud, smothering their hope as slowly as the malfunctioning generators killed their people. That’s why this run was so important. He’d lost his hope the day Derryk mated Clara, but his sister, his pack, deserved more.
He packed light: a small tool kit, some scavenged parts, and several canteens filled with water. An ancient revolver rested on his hip. Older than their wisest Elder, its primitive design ensured it functioned without the power needed for a pulse weapon. His claws and fangs were his best weapons, but he carried a small nation’s net worth in those canteens. He was leaving nothing to chance.
There was no feast to send him off; no crowd gathered to wish him luck. Even his sister stayed away, unable to bear watching him disappear into the wastes as she had their father. As she had her mate. He understood. Like Brienne, Sorrow had invested too much in that first trip. When his father failed to return after a week, they sent a second scout. Then another. And another. Thirty-seven runners had made the attempt to save their den. They had no more hope to spare for this one, the thirty-eighth. At the first stirrings of the moon’s call, Mercer howled his goodbye and struck out for the wastes.
His wolfish nature pushed him to run, to hunt, to feel flesh beneath his claws and blood on his fangs. It needed to escape the pain of losing not just Derryk, but also Clara with her sunny smile and gentle heart and the pups who followed him around and called him Uncle Merce. He couldn’t escape the hurt, but he could lose himself in the now of the wolf. So, he ran.
Metal buildings and stone huts gave way to crumbling ruins and stunted trees. His lungs screamed for air, his head pounded, eyes blurred, still he ran. He’d trained to run the wastes, every juvenile did, but it still didn’t make it fun. Chest heaving, he fell into a loping rhythm paralleling a pair of rusty railroad tracks and concentrated on breathing.
An hour later, he collapsed beside the remains of a train car, drawing in great, gulping breaths. The spots floating in his vision faded but every muscle screamed in agony. He cursed.
“Pushed it too hard, too fast, you idiot,” he muttered, sipping his water and trying to remember how to breathe. “Getting yourself killed won’t bring Derryk back.”
No. Nothing would do that. The best he could do was try to save his sister and the rest of his pack. He couldn’t do that if he let self-pity steal his common sense. Mercer breathed deep of the clean, dense air.
He choked down an energy bar and checked his map. Not too much farther, another fifteen to twenty miles at most. With the improved air, he should make it in a half-hour or so. He’d just touched his lips to his canteen when a figure stepped from the shadows. Tall, thin as a whip, and with the slitted eyes of a serpent, the unknown woman played her fingers along the edge of a knife
“Whatcha got there, wolf?”
He curled his lip, flashing fangs and growling a warning. “Nothing that concerns you, snake.”
“I think it does,” she murmured in a sibilant hiss. “This is Mourning Sun territory. Everything concerns us.”
Mercer capped the canteen, his growls deepening. This explained their lost scouts. Mourning Sun was a vicious nest of adders. They wallowed in depravity, gloried in violence. He flexed his fingers, his claws pushing through his gloves. His wolf’s soul longed to make someone hurt for Derryk’s death. This snake would do nicely.
The met in a flurry of claws and fangs. He felt the kiss of the knife against his side. He raked his claws across the female’s face. She was fast and fluid and slippery, but his sister was right. He was faster. Ducking under a wild slash with the knife, he dove for her throat and bit deep. Her enraged hiss tapered off to a frightened gurgle. And then there was silence. Tossing aside the woman’s body, he raised his face to the moon and howled his victory.
Thirty minutes later, he entered the compound housing the atmospheric stabilizer. Most of the buildings were destroyed. Some were scorched shells, others were missing entire walls. The stabilizer! His heart sank to his stomach and he ran to the building.
No. No, no, no.
Mercer picked over the unrecognizable pulp of mangled metal and twisted wires. This was deliberate. If it could break, it lay shattered on the ground. If it could burn, its ashes danced in the moonlight. Bent, torn, ripped into more pieces than could be repaired, the stabilizer was a total loss.
He drummed his fingers, his claws pinging on the twisted metal casing. They’d have to relocate the village. The elders would bitch, they were fanatical about staying in place, but it was better than dying. Wasn’t it?
Sighing, he stood but the pinging continued. He circled the room to pinpoint the sound’s location. There! Nestled against one corner, buried under the remains of a circuit board and a broken beam, was an intergalactic communicator. An indicator flashed in time with its weak beeps. It was active, and it had a signal. With a shaky hand, Mercer cleared off the console, typed in a message, and set it to repeat.
“This is a distress call from Earth Prime. We seek immediate evacuation for 53 civilian personnel at the following coordinates. Atmospheric stabilizers failing. I repeat…”