In Discord and Rhyme


Volta found himself panting open-mouthed before he caught himself, remembering that, in human form, that was generally unacceptable. He cast a quick look around him as he sat at an outside table of some coffee shop. No one seemed to notice, hurrying either through to the parking structure or onwards to the epicenter of this society’s cultural hub. Something called Bell Square. He hadn’t noticed any bells but took a deep sip from the beverage he’d purchased to try and fit in and brave the outside heat, something called a “frappuccino” which, frankly, little resembled any Italian drink he’d ever seen.

Like you’re some man of the world, he chided himself. First airplane rides during which he nearly threw up twice and now he was considering himself a man of the times for trying a frozen drink that was so sweet at first taste, he nearly gagged. He switched back to the bottled water, even that not quite tasting real. “Fresh from the Spring.” He doubted it.

He shook his head. This world really wasn’t for him. Noisy, stifling, noxious. A blend of antiseptic sprayed over the stench of piles and piles of waste and decay. But it was a newer decay here, rather than in the cities of Europe that had been building over and over and over the top of themselves for centuries. Here it seemed that the second generation of city rebuilding was underway, with some casualties.

Further down the block, a larger skyscraper under construction was roped off, blocking off part of the street along its base with yellow tape, orange striped barrels and sawhorses. He’d overheard some passersby discussing some collapse of scaffolding, a cement mixer, and some sort of fire in the newly constructed shop. Something called a wine bar, which seemed a paradox to him.

If he hadn’t known that Vega had only just arrived in her slick black automobile, he might’ve suspected her paw in that mayhem. Tracking her from LA had been surprisingly easy as she had taken many stops along the route, more than once instructing the driver to continue while she went for a run. He’d had to exercise extreme caution at that point not to be so close she could pick up his scent. He recognized her complacency in this modern world and she’d never been the best tracker in the pack, relying on underlings to set the trap so she could use her tactics and brute strength to capture the kill.

She also seemed quite oblivious to anything beyond her purpose. It was in the set of her ears. Something had her on edge, almost nervous, but determined. Strength and prey assessment may have been her assets, but stealth and maneuverability were his. He calculated the pattern of her jaunts and managed to get ahead of her by hitching a ride. Being likable and friendly always served best while traveling.

Not that he’d done much traveling once he’d taken up residence at the monastery-turned-mosque-turned-museum-turned back to-monastery. Ages spent roaming the grounds, befriending the residents, living among them, protecting them and that sacred patch of forest. Then, at the time that felt most advantageous, disappearing back into the forest to let a generation pass only to be rediscovered, and once again become the protector of the forest.

The story had turned to legend until it was just now an expectation: There is always a wolf roaming the forests of Rila, protecting the faithful, punishing the wicked.  Well, there hadn’t been much need for punishment in a while and now he had more to fear from tourist traffic and littering than from bandits.

His life had become sedate. And while this whole hunt filled him with dread, he couldn’t deny the thrill he’d felt in his bones as his ancient friend Imperius had once more called upon his help.  If this was finally the end, perhaps he could make it a glorious end. What purpose had the gifts he’d been bequeathed served if not to make an end in glorious righteous flame.

 But Vega wasn’t about righteousness. Nor glory. She suffered. She stank of bitterness and avarice, a hopelessness of a life long-lived and yet still wasted. And underneath all of that, the stench of death and horns. Antlers to be exact. He believed his transmutation had been a natural evolution of his kinship with a sacred being. The individual pulling Vega’s fur had relations at the other end of the spectrum.

In LA, he had smelled more than the paparazzi surrounding that starlet’s mansion. The place reeked with a signature bloodletting that only his kind could mete out. His kind. He’d too left them behind and now looked at Elba and Vega as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of their line.

He still remembered the Night of Cinders, when all their worlds had collided and the chaos of man’s war had stripped them of their benefactor for good. The blood, the screams, the devastation as the two forces had crashed into each other like opposing pyroclastic waves caused the hair all along his back to raise in memory. The Golden One, he’d gone to salvage the innocent; he’d been felled by a demon’s spawn. Or so Elba and Vega had thought.

He had heard the girl’s call, tracked her carriage from the monastery to the battle, his panic rising to protect her as he passed through ruined, burnt forests, ground spoiled with blood and bone, and the wolves, they had followed. After the clash at the carriage, both combatants lay bleeding on the ground. Elba and Vega had tried to pull the Golden One away but with his last bit of strength, he lunged for the carriage, falling at the girl’s feet.

Inexplicably, Elba and Vega, after a brief pause, fled the battle, likely planning to return later to feast on the remaining corpses. Only Volta had stayed behind. He could help. The fire closing in on the scene meant nothing to him. The screams he could close his ears against. Only then had he seen the truth of it.

As the Golden One’s blood flowed out of his ruined torso all over the floor of the carriage, sopped up by dusty tomes and freshly prepared vellum, there was still life in both him and the instrument of his rending. The Black Knight clutched desperately at his throat, trying to hold together what Vega had torn open after Elba had brought down his draft horse in similar fashion.

Volta had paused as he reached the carriage. His yellow eyes took in the girl who had pulled a strap from around a great book and tried to fit it around the Golden One’s body, desperately trying to hold the chasm of his flesh together. Her odd boyish clothes were drenched, her face splattered with red, but her face never wavered. Her determination, her belief was complete even as Volta’s faltered as the face of his benefactor turned ashen.

Volta raised a paw to move to her, to help her but he paused, turned back to the knight, who clanked and seized in his heavy black armor, gurgling sounds and gasps meant the end was near. His armor would become his tomb, that and his bastard sword no match for Vega’s ferocity and precision. He almost pitied him:  whatever his goal in attacking what appeared to be a royal carriage full of books and a simple librarian, he never stood a chance in his quest.

A feeling of a great unnaturalness caught on the wind, coming from the trees. He spun and crouched, ready to protect the girl and the Golden One but the creature that emerged paid him no heed. A vagabond, in tatters even worse than the poorest peasant in this godforsaken land, made its way to the knight and bent beside him.

All his hackles raised at this creature but his priority was getting the girl and the Golden One to safety. He had to be quick. He sprung into the carriage to the shock of the girl. They had a moment of recognition, both bound to this body bleeding out. She leaned out of his way as he took the thick leather strap fastened low around the Golden One’s hips and used it to haul him fully into the carriage. The girl, working with him, managed to pull what was left of his ruined lower extremities in through the door while he jumped back out.

The sounds of the knight had ceased. Only the soft words that must have come from the creature could be heard, its robes completely concealing them. Volta sniffed as another scent approached. The captain from earlier who had critically failed in his duty, leaving the knight’s flank unprotected so Vega easily slipped through. He, still mounted, postured and shouted at the vagabond, but not drawing his sword nor hailing his comrades to the fallen knight.

Volta knew this was their moment and he came around the front of the carriage where the lead horse had been swallowed in the mud as he flailed his last. Volta snapped through his harness and took it in his teeth. It would take all his strength to wretch the carriage out of the mud but just as he began to find purchase, he smelled cavalry coming this way. He quickly crouched under the carriage, readying for a fight.

Volta glanced quickly back towards the knight. He and the vagabond had vanished, leaving the captain behind on his mount just inside the tree line. His face showed his shock and then rage as he looked to the sky and then galloped away from the oncoming force, as if it mattered little which side they were on.  

The clothes of men arriving looked much like the girl’s and on their banner, Volta made out a crescent shape. These were her people. But as they approached, they shouted and raised their long spears towards the Golden One who had ceased to move. But before Volta could pounce, the girl covered the Golden One’s body, shouting at the men. With one hand she pointed into the distance where neither the captain nor the vagabond had come from, the other she waved Volta away. Whatever the fate of the Golden One, this girl would now carry the burden.

Volta didn’t pause; he slipped quietly away into the forest, avoiding both armies but not the indiscriminate devastation that had been done. Cautiously, he trekked for days, back into the high mountains, to the monastery that he discovered had been burned out. The soldiers had left none of them alive, save one.

“You gonna finish that?”

Volta squinted up as his awareness returned back to this time, this city that purported a “pretty view,” to the figure that now shadowed him. As his vision adjusted, he noticed the umbrella hanging from the crook of the bearded old man’s arm.

The bearded man pointed to the Frappuccino Volta had abandoned.

“No, help yourself.”

Imperius smiled and settled himself down in the other seat at the table, picking up the drink and taking a long sip noisily through the green straw. Then he tossed his head casually towards the hotel.

“So, when do you think our huntress will make her move?”

Volta sat back, shaded by the green umbrella over the table. “As soon as she spots her quarry and an opportunity, she’ll strike.”

“She won’t wait for the other?”

Volta shook his head.

Imperius nodded. “Then, we have a little time.”  He rested the crook of the umbrella on the top of the table, unbuttoned the top of his shirt, and fanned himself with a clutch of napkins. “Maybe a little shopping, perhaps? You could use some khaki chinos, I think. But first I want another one of these glorious concoctions. I think I saw that they had a strawberry one?”

One Response to “In Discord and Rhyme”

  1. Love the humor and creative use of words to create the scene!

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