Exhausted, Gabriel had refused to eat his evening meal, his stomach still unsure of what he had done. The fight had taken only minutes, but he felt that its consequences would haunt him a life time. Was Lear right, was the Benediction and Pyre the only way to release the soul?
“Master Lear, is this what the Atwan’s do with the people who have yet to come back as werewolves too?”
“Gabriel,” Lear set his hand on the young man’s shoulder, “it is our way. Yes, the Pyre is how we release those that fall victim to the Plague, regardless of how they die.”
Gabriel silently sat and stared at the place where Ezekial had fallen. Lear gave the young Paladin some room and busied himself making camp a few feet from where the fight had taken place.
“By all accounts, you fought well.” It was Cailin’s turn to try and comfort Gabriel. He had arrived wearing his ceremonial robes, showing that he was one of the High Atwan’s, a title only used in times of the Plague.
“I know I fought well, I won, and Ezekial did not.”
“You know Gabriel, I will attend to many more dead this season, only a few of which will actually be werewolves. I like to think that they know what they have come and are in search of the release that they get.”
Gabriel thought about this for a moment. “I like that idea. I don’t think it will make me like killing them, but at least it gives it a new perspective.”
Lear had made his way back into the conversation. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like killing them either. I just like being killed less.”
“Yeah, it helps to know that you don’t like killing them.”
Gabriel stood up and walked away, excusing himself for the night, telling the older men that he was tired.
Gabriel slept poorly throughout the night, tossing and turning. At sunrise he awoke and dug up the satchel and tooth from the ground. Dumping the fang into his hand, the first thing he noticed was that the hole for the necklace string had bored all the way through over night. The writing had taken on a glossy finish, like it had always been part of the tooth.
Lear stepped up beside him, having woken with then sun as well. “Here,” He handed a string to Gabriel, who threaded the tooth on it and tied it around his neck.
“Can I ask you a few things?” The young Paladin asked Lear as Cailin joined the two Paladins.
“Why is it only every ten years?”
Cailin answered the question before Lear could even open his mouth. “It has to do with the Plague and their numbers, we think. We know the Plague lays dormant for ten years. That is why we burn the bodies, if we don’t the plague comes back without the creatures bringing it. Most of the werewolves hibernate during that ten years, we think that has to do with the plague too.”
So what am I to do for the next ten years then?”
Lear held up his hand, stopping Cailin from answering the question. “Not all of the creatures feel the call to sleep. You hunt them all though, asleep or not.”
“Even if they are not causing problems?”
“They will. Remember your fight, would you rather that be how every showdown with a werewolf goes?”
Gabriel reached up and felt the bruise on his cheek. “No, I guess not.”
“I thought so.”
Gabriel ran his fingers over the only fang on his Necklace of Remembrance. “I get it.”
“What do you mean?” Cailin looked at Lear who was smiling.
“I get what the Rites are for.”
“It took my first kill before I got it too.” Lear replied, nodding towards Cailin.
“What do…” Cailin started but Gabriel cut him off.
“The necklace is for me to remember each person I have taken the life of, but I don’t think I will need the necklace to remember this fight.” Gabriel let the fang fall back to his chest. “The Rite of Keeping is for history to remember the men that have not only fallen to my blades, but also to the Plague. And the Rite of Vision is for others to see those that have fallen.”
Cailin nodded, understanding.
“Lear, how far have you travelled in search of werewolves?”
“I lost count of the days.”
“Where is your family then?”
Lear smiled and looked at Gabriel and Cailin. “My family is right here. Remember that always. Sarin, Renault and you are like sons to me. Cailin and Father Meinos are my brothers.”
“Thank you,” Gabriel smiled. “What’s next?” he asked the older Paladin realizing that the rest of the camp was beginning to wake around him.
“Well, first we need to go meet with Father Meinos, they are not that far from here. And then we hunt the original werewolf.” Wearily the old Paladin sighed. “I am getting too old for this.”
Gabriel pressed Lear as to what he meant, but the old man just shook his head and set about striking camp.
The camp finally broke and Gabriel rode back to the small town of Aericinth in between Cailin and Lear. The conversation was centered around how many people had already fallen to the Plague and how many had been sick when the Atwan’s had left town.
A sentry met them as they rode into the town.
“Any more werewolf sign?”
“No, two more have fallen ill though.” The sentry, a man that Gabriel did not recognize, made brief eye contact with him and then looked back to Lear, but did not say anything.
“Spit it out.”
“Father Meinos is one of the ones that fell ill….”
“Damn, I knew he should not have come along.” Lear risked a glance at Gabriel, the young man’s face a mask of fear.
“That is not all Master Lear, he has gone missing.”