Intermission - The Frozen North
“Jenine’s missing!” Logan exclaimed as he came down the stairs to the basement.
Jenine was one of the early survivors, a high school science teacher from somewhere down south, up here on vacation when the apocalypse started. She was the first survivor Logan had found after the apocalypse kicked off, so Simon had been told.
“How long?” Amoc asked, putting the controller he was holding down immediately.
He and Amoc had been enjoying some downtime, going through Logan’s game library. There wasn’t much else to do in the dead of Winter with heavy snowfall coming down outside. The horde also came to a literal halt this deep into Winter, freezing mostly solid, so there was no need for regular scouting. Latitudes this far north could ride out a Winter with little worry about the undead, but the weather would still punish anyone foolish enough to be outside.
“Not long, I think.” Logan guessed. “An hour, maybe two.”
“No one saw her leave?” Simon asked.
“Yes and no.” Logan started. “Jenine’s been having issues with dreams, and I finally got her to agree to a session with Draki to start working on it. We went to check in this morning, and she wasn’t in her cabin. Doc says he saw her headed for the house when he got up this morning, thought she was just going for the showers. No one’s seen her since.”
“Get me a scent” Amoc stated.
“Way ahead of you.” Logan replied as he held up a woman’s shirt.
“I’ll need to change.”
“I assumed, I’ll be changing too.”
“Uh… human in the room?” Simon asked, unclear what was happening.
“We’re going hunting.” Amoc stated as he stood up. “Which works better changed.”
“Well I’m not missing this.” Simon also stood up. “Plus a human face is probably a good idea to have with you.”
“Simon’s right.” Logan agreed. “Take Marcus as well. I’ll take another group.”
“What about Draki?” Simon asked.
“No good, snow’s too heavy, visibility too poor.” Logan replied.
“Right, well, guess we need to get moving.” Simon concluded.
Marcus was ready by the time Simon had layered up. Simon had grabbed an extra jacket and an emergency medical kit. Marcus had basic survival gear. It wasn’t likely Jenine had made it far, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. The only thing missing was Amoc.
“Where’s our escort?” Marcus asked Simon as they met on the porch of the house.
Amoc’s voice came from behind, unmistakable in war form, causing both Simon and Macrus to flinch.
“Fucking hell!” Simon exclaimed. “You’re the size of a house, how do you do that?”
“Right.” Simon sardonically replied. “Are we expecting trouble?”
“Always.” Amoc preferred to keep things simple when he was in war form.
“Prepare for the worst, be happy when it doesn’t happen.” Marcus stated. “I won’t say no to having Amoc escorting us in war form.”
Marcus was the constant pragmatist.
“Got everything?” Amoc asked.
Simon nodded at the same time as Marcus.
“Then let’s get moving.” Amoc ordered. “If I’m moving too fast, tell me.”
It was around noon as they left the compound behind, headed west as Logan’s group went east. They would both turn south if they hadn’t been able to find anything within a reasonable distance of the compound. The snowfall was heavy, leaving the noon sunlight diffused in a uniform gray blanket. The trees were fortunately keeping the snow from getting too deep on the ground, but Amoc’s pace was making that little relief. They walked, sometimes jogged, in silence, not wanting to mask any sounds that might help them find Jenine.
About thirty minutes had passed when Amoc raised a hand for them to stop. His nose was up, indicating he had a scent. Simon had never seen Amoc hunt in war form before, and thinking of what ‘hunting’ had once meant for Amoc made it mildly terrifying.
This is a rescue, though. However Amoc honed these skills, they work just as well for finding someone lost in the woods.
The thoughts had barely entered Simon’s mind when Amoc shot off like a bolt. Simon and Marcus looked at each other for a moment, then took off running after Amoc. Simon’s lungs burned in the freezing air as he held a full run in the direction Amoc had gone. After only a minute or two, Simon had lost sight of Amoc, and came to a stop with Marcus right behind him. They both stood there, trying to listen for anything, but the snow was blanketing the forest’s sounds as much as it was the light.
Suddenly there was a scream. The direction was hard to figure in the muffling of the snow, but Simon made a guess and picked up running again, Marcus right behind him.
A crash to their front, and a figure suddenly came running towards them out of the gray. It was Jenine, covered in snow and poorly clothed for this weather. She looked like she had just rolled out of bed and into a snowbank.
“Jenine!” Marcus shouted, moving to intercept her.
Marcus stopped Jenine, and she stood there for a moment before seeming to recognize the two of them.
“Marcus!” Jenine exclaimed. “Simon! I… I don’t know how I got out here. I went to sleep… and when I woke up, I was staring at this massive creature with white fur! It was holding my hands… I think it was saying something, but I just… something huge and dark hit it, and I screamed and started running.”
Sudden realization arrived in Simon’s mind. Jenine had been Dreamwalking. Something was trying to wake her up, and apparently had succeeded. Just in time for Amoc to find it.
The crack of a tree breaking in half was heard from the direction Jenine had come running.
“Stay with her, she’s going to be fine.” Simon said as he started running towards the commotion.
“What are you doing?” Marcus asked.
“Stopping Amoc from making a mistake!” Simon replied, now at a full run.
Whatever it was, it was intelligent, if it had recognized Jenine’s Dreamwalking and pulled her out of it. It was trying to help. Amoc might not have understood that. I need to reach him.
Another crash, closer this time, followed by a roar that was not Amoc’s.
Amoc’s fighting it, whatever it is. Another Garou? Jenine had said white fur. Amoc has never said anything about Garou with white fur.
The thoughts went tumbling through Simon’s mind until he reached the site of the fight. Amoc’s opponent was indeed covered head to toe in white fur, and was nearly as big. It wasn’t a Garou; the head was far too different. It was also losing the fight. Simon wasn’t sure how long they had been at it, but its fur was heavily stained red with blood. Amoc had a couple of wounds showing as well, which was remarkable on its own, but he was nowhere near as bad off.
The creature lunged at Amoc, but it was clumsy and slow, seemingly running out of energy. Amoc saw the attack coming and used the momentum to pull it off balance, sending it face first into the snow. He then kicked the creature over on its back, and pinned it to the forest floor with a knee, raising an arm above it for a final strike. Amoc was about to kill it, and the realization snapped Simon out of his momentary inaction.
“Amoc, stop!” Simon yelled, out of breath as he came to a halt.
Amoc stopped his attack. It was only then Simon saw that Amoc’s fist was closed, the vicious claws that could cut through an undead’s spine in a single swipe tucked away inside.
Was Amoc trying to stun it?
“It was trying to help!” Simon managed to get out on the next breath.
Amoc looked back at the creature. No longer clawing at Amoc’s leg, it was simply holding its arms up to try and shield its head. It had stopped fighting completely.
“Jenine was Dreamwalking.” Simon again managed, catching his breath finally. “She told me, something with white fur was holding her hands and saying something. I realized… it woke her up. It was trying to help.”
After a moment, Amoc cautiously removed his knee from the creature’s chest and stood up. It made no attempt to stand or otherwise move from the position Amoc had put it in, seeming to have either run out of energy to fight, or understanding what Simon had just said. Or both. The only sound for several moments was three creatures breathing heavily, breath steaming in the freezing air.
“Is this true?” Amoc rumbled the question to the creature, breaking the silence.
The creature lowered its arms and nodded an affirmative.
“A helpful Yeti.” Amoc remarked. “Rare for your kind.”
The creature made no remark to Amoc’s statement, verbal or otherwise.
“Yeti?” Simon asked. “Abominable snowmen?”
“Yeti.” Amoc corrected, in a tone that said that was the correct term.
“Sorry, just… wasn’t expecting that.” Simon conceded. “But I guess I shouldn’t really have any expectations anymore.”
Amoc’s only response was a grunt. Clearly there was going to be a talk later.
Amoc then reached back down to the Yeti, and it reacted at first by raising its arms again. Amoc’s hand was open, but turned up. He was offering to help it stand, which it realized after a moment, and warily took the offered hand. It nearly fell back down before catching itself, and stood somewhat unsteadily, pressing a hand into one of its wounded sides.
“Can they heal like you?” Simon asked, noting the red gashes across Amoc’s abdomen and legs were already starting to close.
“No.” Amoc replied. “Faster than a human, but not like a Garou.”
“Then we should probably get that looked at.” Simon offered.
Amoc looked again at the Yeti, seeming to consider something.
“Come with us.” Amoc said after a moment. “They can help.”
The Yeti again nodded an affirmative. Simon wasn’t sure if it was out of fear of refusing Amoc, or if it really did need the help. The fact it had gone toe to toe with him and survived spoke of how tough it was, but Amoc had still done a lot of damage. It was intelligent, there was no question about that now. It had helped Jenine. Amoc had said that was rare. There were a lot of questions that would need answering, but for now it looked like Doc was about to get another non-human patient.
They regrouped and made it back to the compound. Logan returned a while later, and was visibly ecstatic at their success. Jenine was unhurt, but was on the edge of frostbite on some extremities. Doc and Jade tended to the injured. They were gathered in the house again for a postmortem of what had happened.
“I swear, it would be the medical journal of the century… scratch that, the millennium, if anyone was still around to read it.” Doc was saying. “A biological study of multiple sentient non-human species. Almost enough to make me want to get back into medicine.”
“Almost?” Amoc asked, back in human form.
“I loved the study of new and interesting biological mysteries… but that was only a tiny portion of the job.” Doc explained. “It’s everything else I’d have to put up with.”
“How is Oursa doing?” Logan asked Doc, also back in human form.
“She lost a lot of blood, but is healing quickly.” Doc answered. “Amoc did a number on her. I’m frankly impressed she survived at all, given what you can do.”
That last remark was a pointed jab, one that definitely had Amoc looking uncomfortable.
“I wasn’t going to kill her, honestly.” Amoc explained. “I just wasn’t ready for that. By the time I got control of the fight and started landing hits with claws in, the damage had already been done. She got a couple of good hits on me too. Yeti are fierce fighters.”
“Sorry, that wasn’t deserved.” Doc relented. “We’re all still learning here.”
“No, it’s fair.” Amoc reassured Doc. “I need to adapt to this world as much as any of us do. I can’t go into anything, especially a fight, the same way I did before.”
“If it had been a Garou other than Amoc, she would most likely be dead.” Logan added.
“Flattery will get you nowhere.” Amoc retorted.
“It’s the truth.” Logan continued. “Even before Simon asked you to stop, which I can’t imagine many Garou heeding, you were already thinking on how to incapacitate, not kill. Thinking before acting has always been your best attribute.”
“You’re going to make me blush here in a minute.”
“I’ll leave it at that.” Logan concluded.
Amoc definitely didn’t like taking compliments, as much as Simon had been working on getting him to accept them.
“I do need to apologize to her.” Amoc stated. “I’ll do that once we’re done here.”
“Bien.” Logan approved.
“What do we know about Oursa?” Simon asked.
“She’s a teenager.” Amoc began. “Around seventeen or eighteen I’d guess, probably recently kicked out of the family group to find her own way not long ago. Generally that’s their way. Would need to ask her about how she found Jenine.”
“We don’t know a lot about Yeti beyond that.” Draki added. “They rarely seek out others. I’m very curious why Oursa chose to help someone not only outside her own kind, but a human. Perhaps she’s been observing us for some time now.”
“Definitely.” Amoc added. “You know that scent on the edge of the compound I couldn’t pin down for a while now? Yeti are pretty rare, so I just had no recent reference for it. Now I know what it was. It was Oursa.”
“Well then, I’ll let you start that dialogue.” Draki deferred to Amoc.
“You sure you want me to do that?” Amoc asked. “I’m no diplomat. Hell, I nearly killed her.”
“A Gargoyle wanting to talk is nothing new.” Draki reasoned. “A Garou wanting to talk, now that’s proof we’re different. It should be you.”
“Okay.” Amoc was not entirely convinced. “I’ll give it a shot.”
Oursa was outside, sitting on the ground under the pavilion they used for gatherings. She couldn’t be convinced to come indoors, so that was the compromise Doc had worked out. Simon was accompanying Amoc to be the human side of this oddball troupe they had formed. Oursa’s most serious wounds were stitched up, and any bleeding had largely stopped. Her fur was still stained red in areas. A wary glance was given to Amoc as they approached. Sitting down, Oursa was nearly as tall as Simon was while standing.
“I’m sorry.” Amoc led with the apology. “I didn’t know what you were doing. Thank you for helping Jenine.”
Oursa studied Amoc for a moment. Her features weren’t human, there was no questioning that, but they were also a bit more emotive than Amoc’s were in war form. Those features subtly shifted as she seemed to be thinking.
“Not your fault.” Oursa replied. “Yeti don’t help.”
Oursa’s voice was also easier to understand, though she struggled with some words. That seemed to be more from a lack of experience than anything else. The admission itself was candid, and seemed to accept Amoc’s apology.
“But you did.” Simon countered the thought. “We’d love to know why.”
Oursa paused again, staring out towards the lake.
“My family said… avoid them.” Oursa began, still looking towards the lake. “Let them die, take what’s left. They sent me out to live on my own, and I watched… and you didn’t die. Then you came with the other human, and showed them what you are. Garou.”
Simon would never forget those first few days in the compound. So much had changed for everyone here.
“They didn’t run.” Oursa continued. “They still didn’t die. Now you help them. I think, if Garou can help, why not Yeti? But I… afraid to try. So I keep watching. One day I see a human walk out of camp, not right clothes for snow. I see a Dreamwalker, not awake. I think you not reach them in time, so I try to help. That’s when you find me, fight me. I think I die now for helping, why family warned me to avoid. I didn’t die. I was helped by Garou, by human. I owe my life. I want to help you.”
Simon and Amoc looked at each other for a moment. Oursa was offering to join their rapidly diversifying residents, Simon was pretty sure.
“You want to join us?” Amoc asked, coming to the same realization.
“Not inside, too small.” Oursa clarified. “Help hunt, help gather. Work. Outside stuff.”
“I’ll need to talk it over with Logan.” Amoc offered. “But I’m pretty sure he’ll be happy to have you, Oursa. For however long you want to be here.”
Oursa nodded approval. Everything since the start of the apocalypse had been horrible… except for what had happened between him and Amoc, and what was now happening here in Logan’s compound. It was enough to make Simon think that maybe they really could turn this thing around. It definitely made him excited to find out what would happen next.