Drabblecast 386 – Garen and The Hound



Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Drabblecast cover for Garen and The Hound by Susie Oh

The veils of madness parted, and Garen the Undreaming found himself once again lucid. His body ached from ears to toes. He jogged, the sun on his left shoulder, and a bitter wind blew at his back that his heavy coats of fur could not fully abate. Where was he? How did he get here? Questions he was not unfamiliar with asking himself.

 

 

 

Garen and the Hound

by Jeremiah Tolbert

The veils of madness parted, and Garen the Undreaming found himself once again lucid. His body ached from ears to toes. He jogged, the sun on his left shoulder, and a bitter wind blew at his back that his heavy coats of fur could not fully abate. Where was he?  How did he get here?  Questions he was not unfamiliar with asking himself.

Less common was the question of how long he had been running. Days, weeks, months? Certainly not years. His legs were aching rods of iron and his feet blisters still, not fully calloused. He doubted it had been years. His body could not have withstood a chase that lasted years, could it?

He was hound-pursued across the taiga. He knew this much immediately, could feel a presence against his wind-raw nape. Memories–pale like the banished spirits that hang around the edges of a camp, but drawing strength in the dim firelight of his sanity–spoke of a chase that had lasted a week now. Neither hound nor man had slept. The hound did not seem require it. The man required it, but no longer had the capacity for it.

The desire for respite had driven him for decades, had driven him to pilfer the dream fang from the shaman, which in turn had led to her setting the hound upon his scent. To piece these circumstance together required total concentration; madness threatened to shatter him as it had countless times since he lost his capacity to dream.

He paused to take a long drink from a warmstone well as the sun rose. The stink of the hound filled his nostrils before he had finished swallowing the frigid water, so he quickened his pace onward through a village.

Abandoned, he thought, until he saw the bodies piled high in the square, naked, rigid, and blue. A plague dream of Them had befallen this place, much like one that had struck his village as a boy, albeit with differing results.

That dream in his past, for reasons unknown to all human intellects, had left him alive. Instead, it had stripped away his capacity for sleep. Not the need for it, damn those twisted God-things now banished outside the world by fire and spear. It was for this affliction that those who knew him called him Garen the Undreaming, Garen the Mad, and others names much less flattering.  He had collected names in place of dreams for many years.

Now when Garen stopped to gape at the bodies, a blue-black smoke billowed from the corner of a nearby log-walled hut. The smoke gave shape to a fanged maw, snapping and snarling, and more body soon followed. The angle of the construction provided the hound a path forward, it seemed. Garen had learned this before and forgotten the terror of it. It explained why he had not fled for the port city to the west, and had instead pressed out across the empty plains.

Civilized walls and roofs would provide no shelter against this beast which in unchained state dwelled somewhere within the angles of all things.

Garen ran. The hound pursued.

Garen spared little thought for the dead villagers. Who knew what strange task the plague dream had driven them toward, or whether or not they had succeeded. Their deaths would be Garen’s boon, however. Even frozen, the hound would not be able to resist tasting their flesh. The corpses would buy him precious time to think, to remember, and to plan his escape while he still held the pieces of his mind together. What had led him to this place?

He had been living amongst the hillfolk when first he heard tales of dream mines. In the far, frozen north, not even the plague dreams of exiled gods could take flight. They precipitated from the icy air and became trapped within the glaciers that stretch for leagues upon leagues. Centuries of malignant thought and will were layered within the ice.

A prospector and a shaman of the Bone Tribe had discovered these dreams. With effort, she could chisel out their forms, then shape them within the ice. Plague dreams had great potency that could be put to many tasks. Perhaps even they could restore that which they had once taken away? Garen had set out in search of this shaman and her secrets.

Now again, Garen plodded. He could sense his stalker growing more distant, and eased his pace. He rummaged within his robes for the shape of the frozen dagger and grasped the hilt within, reassuring himself that he had not dropped it in his flight from the shaman’s lair. How embarrassing that would have been, after the efforts he had undertaken to acquire it.

Early his search, a pack of half-starved wolves had crept upon him in the night. They murdered his sled dogs and left him to travel on foot thereafter. The biting, everpresent cold had nearly taken his toes more than once, and worse still, his supplies of the pipe leaf that eased his bouts of insanity ran dangerously low. It cost him a moon’s cycle to reach the shaman’s cave; days of wandering, fighting wildlife and the elements.

He learned the local tongue well enough to inquire after his destination. All warned him away, but one young fisherman, having heard sad tales of Garen the Mad, pointed him towards the Inotostok Glacier. Carved deep within the mighty blue glacier’s peak was the shaman’s lair. Garen made the climb with no expectation of surviving a descent. The path up the ice was littered with the bloody bones of caribou and other dead things that did not beg for closer examination.

To his surprise, the shaman, whose name was Shol, had welcomed him into her home warmly. She fed him caribou stews, treated his wounds expertly, and listened to his ranting patiently until he could come to grips again. She was no crone, as he had expected; her face was smooth, hair like a raven’s tail, and eyes the color of the western sea. Her body, surprisingly lithe and young beneath her furs, but this he learned later.

“The Bone tribe exiled me when I began dream prospecting,” she said in a voice like fresh snow falling upon the eaves. “I have lived with only the dreams and my thoughts for companionship for so very long.”

Garen was many things, but not oblivious to a hint. His curse had left him with ample time to practice his varied pursuits. Concerning the erotic arts of the body, he was an unparalleled master. For a cycle of the moon, the shaman educated Garen in the secrets of frozen dreams. She was, in turn, his willing pupil in those arts of pleasure–
Garen’s remembrance was interrupted by the sense that the hound quickened its pace, faster than before. Instead a distraction for the creature, the feast of dead villagers had invigorated it. Damn his luck!

Caught out on open ground, the hound would make short work of him. The beast was too nimble, too ferocious, and the cold did not slow it. In a confined space, the corner of passages provided it supernatural means to ambush him. It was only restricted to movement in normal space out in the open. The problem was a paradoxical one he could not see a way to solve unless some new tool presented itself.

He scanned the horizon. There, to the west, a curl of smoke rising up into the gray sky. Perhaps some kind of hunting camp? He felt the smallest pang of guilt at the idea of leading the hound to fresh meat not draped upon his own weary bones, but he would rather live with guilt than not live at all. He altered direction and quickened his steps towards the smoke. He prayed to any god that would listen that the smoke would continue.

Towards the end of their time together, Shol’s lessons had grown more vague, and Garen realized he had tapped the depths of her knowledge. Despite the years she had spent with the frozen dreams, she knew little about their works except how she could bend them into curses and cantrips with which to barter for food from the tribespeople that lived on the fringes of the forest nearby.

“There are other experts on dreams–perhaps the scholars of Kamtun Jai might be allowed to study a fragment,” Garen suggested.

“You would travel away from me?” The shaman, whose name was Shol, asked. She shook her head. “I could not bear to part with you or one of my jewels for so long.”

Each time he broached the subject, Shol grew more angry at the idea. Garen realized that she could not be convinced–impressive in its own right, for Garen excelled at convincing people of many things.

Reluctantly, he executed an alternative plan. After one energetic bout of passion in their shared bed and once Shol had fallen into a peaceful sleep, he crept into her frost vault. There rested the first piece she had ever shaped – an antler-handled dagger, blade made of black ice. In the dim light of his torch, the dream shifted within like a shadow seeking escape. Yes – perhaps if other dream scholars could study it, he would find some clues that would aid his quest.

He had been a league away when he heard her scream, shrill as a diving hawk. The flickering lights of the northern heavens had turned blood red, and the scream had been soon answered by an echoing howl. The hound’s chase began.

And now, it was ending; Garen was not prepared. Fresh snow was deep and soft, and his pace slowed as he neared the camp. He longed for the snow shoes he once owned–how long ago had he lost them? His lucidity threatened to slip away again.  He bit the sides of his mouth, focusing on the pain. The pain would be his talisman now, in the absence of his herbs and potions, long since consumed. He pressed onward, knees growing chill before pushing through into a packed clearing.

Two hunters were crouched beside a small fire at the base of a mound of snow. Their stone-tipped spears lay within easy reach, but they watched him with blank, fur-lined faces as he staggered out of the drifts.

Somewhere in the dark, he could hear the soft growls and yips of sled dogs.

Garen called for help in six languages. They made no movement except to glance at one another when he used the Bone tongue. As he came into the light, he realized the small mound was actually a shelter made of blocks of hand-packed snow. A single entrance was cut low enough that one would have to crouch to climb inside.

“Flee at once,” Garen barked in the language of the Bone tribe. “A beast is coming that will devour you and your dogs.”

The hunters laughed.

“It does the bidding of Shol Depart with haste and do not look back!”

This stirred the hunters into action. They stood and moved to their sleds to yoke their teams. One of the men offered Garen his spear. Garen shook his head.

“Ordinary stone cannot harm it, but I will remember your kindness.”

The hunters clamored aboard their sleds, called out commands, and the dogs trampled into the night. The beast howled in glee. Not far now. Just as Garen sensed its approach, it sensed his halt.

Garen stood beside the fire. It slowly warmed through his furs. He had not felt true warmth since the shaman’s bed. It would be so easy to let go now. To drift away on the wings of a distracted thought, but that was not the end he sought.

The emerald colored eyes of the beast glittered as it padded to a stop across the flames from him. Garen’s hand went to ice dagger’s horn handle and he pulled it forth.

Creatures from worlds other than this were not easily harmed by common weapons or stone or bronze. The hound had been drawn up by Shol’s craft from a place across the vastness of the night sky, a land she had muttered about many times in her sleep. She called this place Tindalos, and had traveled there many times in spirit, always with the dream knife for protection by her side. Perhaps it would stab true.

Without a warning, the hound lept through the fire.  Its unnatural flesh sizzled but did not char, and a long, coiled tongue, hollow and slurping, shot out from its maw. The proboscis raked across Garen’s cheek. The blue saliva it trailed numbed him to the bone; his vision flickered. Garen swung wildly with the dagger, but struck naught but air.

He staggered backwards against the ice shelter. The hound darted away, rounding him for another attack. It did not wish to kill him quickly; of course Shol would have commanded something slower, with greater pain, for her revenge. Next it would worry him with its fangs.  It would strike lightly, quickly, waging a fight of attrition on his mortal frame.

When the hound darted forward next, Garen ducked and scurried inside the ice shelter, acting more on instinct than foresight. The hound went silent and trotted in circles, perhaps considering the best method of entrance — its unnatural means of movement, certainly. Garen’s eyes adjusted, and he spun around, taking in the scene, wishing to know the place of his death before it came.

A single bed of furs had been laid out on the snowy floor. Light flickered between the bricks from the fire, casting wild shadows against the walls. He gasped; perhaps the living gods had not yet abandoned him.

The shape of the shelter was a circle. There were no angles or corners for the beast to utilize. That left only the entrance– he turned just in time to see the hound attempting to squeeze through the narrow opening. It would be upon him in a pinch of hourglass sand if he didn’t act now. Garen snatched up the fur and threw it over the beast’s body. It snarled, yipped, and spun.

Garen took advantage of the confusion and struck with the dagger, plunging it deep within the hound’s neck. It howled, and a blue-green ichor sprayed forth, coating Garen. Once again wherever skin was exposed, it went numb.

The hound fell. It struggled to stand once, the movement feeble, and Garen drove the dagger in again, deeper. Garen let loose a mad shriek, curses in two dozen languages, some powerful enough to cause rivulets of water to run down the walls around them.

The hound collapsed and did not move again. A moment of caught breath passed and the body of the hound began to fracture into right angles of bone, sinew and chitin. The angles broke and fractured ever smaller like a map master’s compass folding up, until nothing remained but the blue-green stain of its vital fluids.

Garen closed his eyes and wished for a moment of oblivion. When it failed to come, he crawled out of the shelter and fed more caribou dung into the fire. Following a faint scent of blood, he spotted that the hunters had a fresh kill packed in the snow nearby. Even if he could not sleep, he might rest a day or two here.

The remainder of Garen’s journey southward was a peaceful one. The air warmed with each passing league and so he stripped away his stinking furs as well. He wrapped the dagger within some of them, hiding it from sight and the uncanny senses of witches and thieves.

He made good time without sleep, pausing only to forage for meals.  He followed the white-stone roads that shimmered with the heat of the mid day sun.  All such roads led to the University in Kamtun Jai.

Two days of barter, haggle, wits and guile, and he secured a meeting with a low-ranking dream scholar.  Many times before had Garen visited them with some trinket or rumor, and these had not always proved fruitful or worth their time. In an alehouse outside the University’s walls, he finally made contact with a young scholar desperate for some morsel he could use for advancement.  In return for an examination, the scholar would provide Garen with any clues they might glean from the item pertaining to Garen’s affliction.

Together they met in a small room rented usually for meetings of a far less intellectual nature. Garen carefully began to unbundle the dagger. The scholar danced with anticipation, his memory-beads clattering together like the beaks of hungry ravens. At last, Garen tossed aside the final fold and revealed only the handle of a dagger made of caribou antler, a damp patch of fur, and nothing more. Where Shol had failed to recapture her prize by calling forht the beast, the elements themselves had taken it with ease.

Garen began to laugh, and the laugh built until it was a screech. Garen released his grip on sanity, ran out into the streets to embrace his madness once more. With disappointment and disgust, the scholar called for guards to have the mad man thrown from the city.  He was not to be allowed through Kamtun Jai’s gates again.

 

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Play
Story produced by Adam Pracht
Episode Art:  Susie Oh
Read by:  Jonathan Danz
Music by:   Kevin MacLeod

Twabble:  “It does not see. It does not hear. It does not smell, taste or feel. Yet it is still feared for one important reason: IT EATS ”  by  RustyTomatoes


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