Disclaimer: This fanfiction story was written by me to entertain fans of the genre and other interested readers. The concept of The World of Darkness, ed., however, belong to White Wolf. I do not make any money by publishing these stories, I am just writing for fun.
The Darkness opened his eyes wide and shook his large head wildly. Blood and chunks of flesh spit through the air, raining on the ground around the Hellcat and his dead opponents. He took a moment to recover from the deadly frenzy that had claimed the lives of the caern's defenders. Once his vision had fully returned, he started to examine the bodies of his victims to make sure they were all dead. Survivors could hold their grudge for years, and he did not feel like getting stabbed or shot in the back, if he could help it. Vague memories of a place called Tsavo swept through his mind. A human hunter who had escaped his wrath one night, and shot and wounded him months later. A mistake that had eventually claimed his life and the life of a packmate, the Ghost. Those memories were undoubtedly his own, but that life must have been a different one, ages ago. In any case, he had evolved into a stronger and more intelligent being. He was the battle-hardened, unchallenged leader of the Hellcats in Egypt, and the undeclared true king of all Simba.
Moreover, the razing of this caern was part of a bigger plan. No one who had seen Hellcats here could be allowed to live. Laying a smokescreen and misleading the Ahadi forces was part of the agreement. He and his Pride would do their part, and others would take over when the time was right.
Beneath him lay the mangled corpse of a large wolf. That particular guardian had posed the most significant opposition. The Garou had fought like a lion! The lifeless bodies of three Hellcats at his side were ample proof of that. It had taken the Darkness' personal involvement to put him down.
Overall, the warder and his guardians had fought bravely, but they had been no match for his Pride. He pushed his muzzle against the guardian's belly and sniffed along the bloodied fur toward the chain of human skulls decorating the Garou's neck. This had to be the wolf's most valuable possession. A trophy to keep... He hesitated for a moment, after which he took the chain from his victim, and hung it around his own neck. Then he rose and started grinning madly, baring his bloody teeth. All he smelled was the scent of death! He was its harbinger, and not even Gaia's strongest could stop him anymore!
The scene around him was chaotic to say the least. He found himself in the center of a square that was littered with bodies. Some were those of wolves, others were human corpses. Hellcats ran across the square, chasing the few survivors of the carnage. The Temple of Dandara and some of the red clay buildings around the square were on fire, illuminating the entire area. Their task here was done. It was time to clean up and leave.
"Scatterer-of-Bones, I want your report!", the Darkness shouted. He added a loud roar to his summons to emphasize it was a command to be followed immediatelly. It did not take long for his second in command to appear. The tall, skinny woman made her way through the chaos toward him. The grey dress she was wearing looked used and dirty, but she seemed to like it that way. Scatterer-of-Bones was extremely ruthless, even for a Hellcat. It was whispered among his Pride that she had once eaten her own kinfolk mother. The female Hellcat had an odd preference for human flesh, and she would go out of her way to eat her daily fill of it. But even she would not dare to cross him. Others had tried and died, and she was too smart to take the risk.
"All the guardians have been slain. We are rounding up the last kinfolk survivors. The caern is yours, my king!"
The Darkness smiled. He liked being addressed as king. He was the undisputed leader of the Hellcats, but his ambitions went further than that. He was convinced he had been an important Simba, once, and he was determined to get the recognition he deserved from his former Tribe. Black Tooth had been gone for a while now, and the Mayi'o and Amadu'o Simba had both chosen new leaders. However, he was bound to become their new King. It was only a first step. All Simba would eventually be assimilated into his Hellcat army..or slain.
Scatterer-of-Bones continued her report. "We have cleared the plains to the south, burning every village and caern to the ground. We covered our tracks thoroughly..." Her words were interrupted by the sound of an approaching desert vehicle. An army humvee appeared in one of the streets, making its way toward the square with great speed. Its headlights slashed through the twilight like giant swords of fire. The vehicle ignored the dead bodies in its path, causing the sound of crushing bones every time it struck one. Some Hellcats were forced to jump out of its way. Eventually it parked right in the middle of the square, about ten meters away from the Darkness.
"Firstly, I want you to send a messenger to Psammeticus. Inform him that we have upheld our part of the bargain, and send him the equipment and artefacts we found here. Secondly, have Calamity assemble the Pride. We will continue our scourge at the smaller villages north of here until we reach Sept of the last stone."
"I will send Tongue-Biter to Psammeticus right away! And Calamity is gathering the troops as we speak. But what about them, my king?" his second in command asked, while nodding at the humvee.
"They still serve our purpose. Let me handle them for now. When the time comes, I will let you feast on the humans among them." Scatterer-of-Bones hollered in pleasure, made a slight bow, and rushed away to execute his orders.
The Darkness now turned his full attention to the newcomers. He rose on his hind legs. His Crinos Form made him tower high above anyone else. The blood of his dead opponents covering his pelt and his fangs would put fear into the hearts of anyone. However, he knew that the men and women in the humvee were not just anyone. They were special... immune to Delirium. And they were well armed, which complicated thing. After a moment one of the doors on the right side of the desert vehicle opened, and a man in a dark blue fatigue climbed out. If the Darkness had not known the identity of these men, the emblem on the uniform would have told him. Pentex!
The man wore his black hair in a crewcut, and carried a shotgun pressed against his chest. When he spotted the Darkness, he showed a frown and came strolling towards the Hellcat. At the same time the hatch on the roof of the humvee was pushed open, and a woman appeared. She was rather tall, her hair was black, and she wore a fatigue similar to the man. She glanced around vigilantly, took hold of the heavy machine gun that was installed on the roof, and aimed it at the group of Hellcats that was gathering on the square behind the vehicle.
"I see you have slain one of their champions, Hellcat. Our Team tried to hunt that Silent Strider down a month ago, but he managed to kill one of us, and escaped with his head." the man with the crewcut said, while raising his shotgun. He pointed the barrel of his weapon at the Darkness' chest. "That chain you took from him... it belongs to me!"
The Darkness did not wait for the man with the crewcut to finish his sentence. He had been challenged in public, and needed to make an example. His Pride was watching him... He jumped forward and struck the shotgun with his claw. His strike was so powerful that the weapon was launched through the air, falling on the square's cobble stones some meters away. The man lost his balance and had to make an effort to stay on his feet. He grabbed his right upper arm in pain. Then he changed... His face grew outward into a hairy muzzle filled with sharp teeth. He grew taller, his shoulders and chest swelling like an inflated balloon, and his fatigue was torn to shreds in the proces. The man's body was covered with a pelt of white fur, and his hands had become large claws. Another Garou...but this one served the Wyrm, like him. It was called a Black Spiral Dancer.
In the meantime the woman on the roof of the humvee had turned her attention to the Darkness. The heavy machine gun was aiming at him now, and he realized the havoc it could wreak. A handful of his Hellcats was approaching the vehicle from behind, ready to climb the roof and take the woman out as soon as she fired a shot at him. This could turn ugly any moment.
"Leergo, down boy! That is no way to treat an ally. Charlene, lower that machine gun! The Darkness and his kiddy cats have done well today. We came here to support their efforts, remember?"
The Darkness glanced at the man who had just climbed out of the humvee. The newcomer was balding with a little grey hair. He carried two large devices that looked like vacuum cleaners. One he handed to Leergo, the Black Spiral Dancer. The other he pointed at the spot where the corpse of a fallen Hellcat lay. An army truck appeared across the square, and drove up to park next to the humvee. The balding man waited patiently for the truck to stop, and for another man and woman in blue fatigue to climb out. Then he gestured at the corpse.
"Elwood, draft some Hellcats to help you load their fallen brothers into the truck. Carlotta and Leergo, help me clean up the taint. When we are finished, we will place the three Simba we killed yesterday between the fallen Garou. That will cause the necessary devision, I bet!"
The teammembers all acknowledged the orders of their apparent leader with a clear "yes sir", except for Leergo. He initially cursed.
"What was that, Leergo? I didn't quite hear you there. Repeat yourself!"
"I said YES SIR!"
The Darkness gestured the other Hellcats to back down and follow the balding man's instructions. He glanced one more time at the Black Spiral Dancer. That one was still eyeing him fiercely, while he commenced cleaning the area with his big vacuum device. The Darkness turned around and grinned. A time would come when there was no need for him to tolerate these Pentex men. And he would make sure to give his newfound friend Leergo the attention he was so eagerly asking for.
Buries-the-Dead quickened her pace when she neared the bawn of the Healing Dawn caern. The Ahroun had known that something was wrong after noticing the rising smoke above the hills. The small cookfires of the village could hardly produce a cloud of that magnitude. Moreover, the pitch black colour of the smoke indicated that something which was not meant to be burned, had caught fire. The caern must have suffered from an attack. Could the Followers of Set have overrun the caern's defenses? That seemed hardly possible. The Healing Dawn caern was a regular meeting-point for vampire-hunting Garou. There were veteran Silent Striders among the guardians, who knew how to deal with the leeches and their cult. But who else could have attacked?
When she reached the first houses, she noticed Njama the messenger. The Ajaba had rushed ahead in his Hyaena Form to scout for possible intruders at the scene. Njama had taken position at the edge of the central market square. He howled for them to join him quick. She hurried toward him, holding a hand on her Klaive. The invaders could still be at the scene, but she was ready for anything.
What she found when she reached the square was utter destruction. The acient Temple building was burning heavily. The other structures were mere piles of smoldering ash. Bodies of slain Garou and kinfolk covered the square like a chaotic carpet of misery and death. She recognized some of them. Ahmed Night-Sands and Exalted of Gaia, both members of the Children of Gaia, lay lifeless at the entrance to the square. Ahmed had been the Warder of this caern. Exalted had been the Gatekeeper. Their mutilated bodies showed signs of a heavy struggle. Entering the square, close to Njama's position, she found the corpse of Baha Toils-by-Night. Her fellow Silent Strider had been Keeper of the Land. She cursed and glanced across the square. "What have you got for me, Njama?"
"The culprits are gone. I have examined their tracks. The raid must have taken place at night. They left again before dawn," her Ajaba packmate answered. The werehyena had joined her only recently, and it had taken her some time to get used to him. Njama had his gloomy moments, when he just stared in front of him, mumbling about the loss of his kin. But he was by far the best scout she had met in her homeland, and he had proven to be extremely loyal to her.
"Njama, I want you to search the village for survivors. Maybe someone managed to escape this carnage?" The Ajaba nodded in confirmation, turned, and disappeared in a street to her right.
Buries-the-Dead adjusted her veil and glanced across her shoulder to see if her other packmates had caught up yet. Sam Patel and Althea Baneslayer were not far behind her, studying the destruction in disbelief. It was hard to comprehend that the peaceful caern they had left behind only three days ago, was no more. Her pack had used Healing Dawn as their homebase, replenishing their health and gnosis in between expeditions. That advantage had now been lost. It would seriously effect their offensive capability in their struggle with the Followers of Set.
She turned her attention back to the square, and her eye fell on a pile of bodies in the very center. She made her way towards the pile, and her worry increased with every step. When she was about ten meters away from the pile she recognized a close friend. He lay motionless in his wolf form, his body torn apart in a puddle of dried blood. "Stalks-Death! NO!," she howled, and fell down on her knees, next to his body. Her friend, a legend among Silent Striders, had returned to their homeland to help turn the tide against their old enemies. He had come to Healing Dawn at her request, and had joined the guardians recently. When a Garou like him fell... it was time for contemplation. A hundred thoughts were racing through her mind. Utter rage started boiling in her stomach.
"I will get the ones who did this! I will hunt them down and make them pay," she exclaimed.
"Calm down. We need to keep our heads together," she heard Sam respond. The Galliard was more than a friend. He was more or less her concience. Sam could focus on what was really important and sensible, even in extreme circumstances. And she needed just that. Sense...to push back her anger. Her thirst for revenge. That thirst would cause her to do things she might regret.
"I am calm, Sam! And I am gonna find the bastards who are responsible for this!", she shouted back at him. Touching the slain Philodox's pelt, she noticed that his chain of skulls was gone. She scanned the sandy ground around her to find it, but without succes.
"You do realize that we have lost our only means to replenish our gnosis and to regenerate in these lands, don't you? Moreover, we are only four! That is what I mean with keeping a clear head."
"Well, what do you suggest we do?," she asked him.
Sam folded his arms and stared up at the clouds. He always did that when he was considering their options. "I would suggest that we travel to Cairo and the sept of the Last Stone. I believe Walks-With-Might resides there. We should convince him and other Striders to join us. Only when we have the appropriate numbers, we should attempt to hunt down the ones responsible for this."
"Simba! The attackers must have been Simba," Althea said suddenly, interrupting their heated discussion. The Black Furie led them to the corpse of a lion. "A bit to the north I saw another dead Werelion. A Pride must have forced their way inside the bawn. They must have had considerable numbers to create such destruction."
Buries-the-Dead was silent for a moment. She studied the corpse of the Simba, but eventually she shook her head. "I am sorry Sam, but I have to find the killer of Stalks-Death and the others. This is where our ways part!," she said calmly. Then she turned and walked south, leaving the square and her packmates behind.
"Buries! Be sensible for once... You do not even know who killed our friends," Sam shouted after her. She ignored him with pain in her heart. He was right that the wise thing to do was regroup and recover. But he was deadwrong about her not knowing who the killer of her friend was. She would recognize him by the trophy he had taken... the chain of skulls. And when she did find him, her revenge would be legendary.
Shari gazed at the lone creature running toward their position. The hot rays of the desert sun shone on the Ajaba's muzzle, and he yearned for some water. "What do you make of it, Ironjaw?", he asked, while he let his tongue stick out of his mouth, panting.
"It looks much like a Simba, but something tells me that it is not. Its scent is different, ...tainted!", his fellow Ajaba answered him with a hoarse voice. Shari's nose had not served him well since he had suffered a severe injury during a skirmish with a cornered Simba two months ago. He had managed to kill the Werelion, and his body had recovered, except for his snout which seemed permanently effected. But he trusted Ironjaw's sense of smell on stakeouts like this one. She had been right on previous occasions.
Moreover, there was something odd about a Simba running this far into the desert all by itself. Werelions always ran with their Pride. If you spotted one, others would certainly be lurking about, ready to jump you. However, the area here consisted of low sanddunes and shallow valleys in between. There was no real vegetation to speak of, which meant no useful cover to hide behind. He and his packmate had chosen the highest dune overlooking a route that was regularly used by travellers crossing this part of the desert. The turret of a rusty tank, probably destroyed and left behind during WWII, was their only cover.
"Could this be an ambush in any way?", he asked his packmate. He needed to be sure, and he had come to value Ironjaw's opinion. The two of them had joined forces out of mere necessity. The Ajaba had been brought to the brink of extinction during the battle at the Hyena King's court, years ago. The few survivors had scattered across the lands and were still being hunted down by the Simba. Shari carried great resentment toward the Bastet for their atrocity. He swore to take revenge on all Werecats, but had come to realized he could not accomplish such a grand task all by himself. Ironjaw shared his resentment, and they had agreed to work together. She had her own views on how to accomplish their goals, but he knew he could trust her judgement.
"I seriously doubt that! We would have spotted any other Bastet in the immediate vicinity by now. And they would be upwind, so I would have caught their scent, like I caught this one's."
Shari nodded thoughtfully. "Let us take him out than," he barked, and rose from their hidingplace on the sanddune. He stepped on top of the steel turret, and started a chuckle that became louder and louder. Eventually it turned into the mad laughter only an Ajaba could produce. Laughter of the Soul was a powerful gift that caused fear in the hearts of any opponent, however brave. The creature halted and froze for a moment. Then it glanced around in confusion, until it finally spotted him. Shari had the urge to attack immediatelly, but he managed to control himself. It would be foolish to just storm this creature, without backup. If it wasn't a Simba but a servant of the Wyrm, it could be something very nasty. He remembered his previous encounters with hideous things in these lands. Things that could have crawled straight out of a nightmare. He touched his snout with his paw, to remind himself not to underestimate his opponent...ever again.
He noticed Ironjaw was gone. His fellow Ajaba had used the moment to rush down the other side of the sanddune, out of the creatures line of sight. She would circle their enemy's position, and attack it from behind. The woman preferred to fight in her human form during expeditions like these. She was very skilled with the assegai and a dagger she carried with her. Shari would rather use his claws and fangs to kill, than a piece of cold metal. He was easily the most powerful Ajaba left alive in this part of the continent. However, he realized there were still some Bastet that could match him in raw physical strenght. That was why he had chosen to team up with Ironjaw. She did complement him well for the task that lay ahead.
Suddenly the creature released a powerful roar that appeared to bolster up its courage. When it tried to continue its path past Shari, the Ajaba decided it was time to engage his enemy. He jumped off of the turret and ran down the slope of the sanddune to cut it off. It gave him an opportunity to study the creature from upclose. Whatever it was, it must have been Simba once... Lion manes flowed prominently along its giant head and shoulders. Its torso was large, made up of powerful muscles and solid bones. Moreover, its roar resembled the roars Shari had heard during his previous encounters with Werelions. A sound very different from other Bastet.
But there were distinctions too. Odd ones. The creature's pelt and manes were a dark red colour, that made Shari think of freshly spilled blood. No Simba would want to be seen with such a stained pelt. Its profile was also slightly disfigured, similar to the distorted form of a Metis. The beast's eyes were an unusual green, like emeralds, and its tongue was thin and awkwardly long, with a forked tip like that of a snake. The tongue hung down from its beak, pushing out between two sharp fangs in its lower jaw. The creature was darn ugly for a Werelion.
The red Simba seemed intend on protecting a cotton travelbag that hung across its shoulder. It kept one paw on the top flap as if to make sure it was still shut. That meant something valuable must be inside.
Shari rushed forward and struck his opponent with a powerful claw attack. The red Simba managed to evade the attack by quickly turning away. It was obvious now that it tried to avoid combat, but he would not let it escape. The Ajaba launched forward with his beak. His fangs closed around the leather shoulderstrap of the travelbag and cut straight through. The bag dropped in the hot sand. Shari stopped and eyed it with interest. That caused the creature to turn in alarm. It released another roar, full of terror and desperation, and finally it rushed at him. Shari brazed himself for a bloody fight with his enemy. But just before the red Simba reached him, it froze...and fell forward in the sand like a heavy log...dead. The shaft of an assegai stuck out from its upper back, the blade buried deep in its torso.
"I aimed for the upper spine to paralyze it, but I think I impaled its heart too. It went down without a sound. Are you alright?", he heard Ironjaw shout at him. His packmate walked over to the corpse to examine it. When she was sure the creature was dead, she took out her dagger, cut off a strand of its redish manes, and put her trophy away in a little plastic canister. Then she pulled her assegai free and started cleaning off the blood with an old cloth.
"Yes, I am fine. That wasn't much of a fight anyway. You killed it just when it started to show some resistence. Oh, well," Shari answered her. He turned his attention to the bag. He changed into his human form, crouched, and pulled the cotton object toward him. Then he opened it quriously. The first thing he found was a steel drink bottle. It was filled to the brim with water. He took it out and drank his fill, pouring the remainder across his face. What he discovered next made him frown.
"Diamonds! The bag is full of them. Leather sacks with tiny ones, and one sack with large ones. They must be worth a fortune together!" he exclaimed.
Ironjaw joined him and examined their find. She shook her head while stroking a hand through her brisky hair. "I'm confused. What would a lone Simba like our red friend here do with a fortune like this in the middle of a desert? He must be a courier of some sort."
"But a courier for whom? For his Pride? Or maybe he is working for a Wyrm faction? You said he was tainted..."
"There is only one way to find out. He was heading north, right? What is north of this desert?"
"Well, two days north of here is Healing dawn caern. It is managed by a Garou sept. I never went there, because we had our hands full with the Bastet south of here, and I didn't wanna involve the Garou."
"I guess there needs to be a first time for everything. We have been hiding in this desert for months now, sniping off an occasional Bastet that passes through. What did we accomplish apart from a few kills and a collection of empty water bottles? How can we ever change things if we stay here?"
"So you want us to go north and search for the courier's employer? How does that help our goal?"
"Well, for starters we could travel to Healing dawn. There we make contact with the Garou, and find out what we can. If we stay here the trail might grow cold, or the Simba's employer will come here in full force to look for his treasure and dig the two of us out eventually. What use are diamonds in the middle of the desert? We could put them to good use in a village or city though. We could use them to win Ajaba, Garou and other shapeshifters for our cause.
Shari nodded while he put the sacks savely back in the bag. His packmate was right. There was no reason to stay here anymore. The diamonds offered them a chance to really change things for the Ajaba in these lands. It was time to move on and take his... well, their battle to the next level. Moments later he followed Ironjaw north, pulling the corpse of the red Simba along behind him.