About an hour after Gabriel left the meeting, one of the four men that Lear had sent to look for Father Meinos came back into town, holding a scrap of cloth that looked to have come from the Father’s robes. “I found this near the edge of the woods,” he told Gabriel.
The young Paladin ran up the stairs to where Lear and the priests were still meeting and threw open the door. “One of your men just returned with this.” He held up the scrap of cloth. “It has to be from Father’s robes.”
Cailin nodded and reached out, waving Gabriel over to him. He reached out and took the fabric and looked it over. “This is from our robes,” he said calmly. He glanced over the rest of the room, but made no move to send more people out.
“Well, don’t just sit there. We know where he is.” Gabriel almost shouted at the seated men.
“Gabriel, what do you expect to find?” Lear asked, his voice betraying no emotion.
Gabriel had not thought this part through.
“There is no cure for the Plague. We can hope that he survives, but at this point, it is not very likely.”
“But then, who is going to conduct the rites for him?”
Lear hung his head ad was unable to answer the question, or the unanswered one that he could see on the young man’s face.
Brother Benedis spoke up. “If we find him in time, Brother Cailin and I will conduct him into the earth and the service of The One, but if we are unable to find him, would you like to be the one that is responsible for killing Father Meinos, even if he is a monster?”
Tears were flowing down the young Paladin’s face. “If it means he is free of this accursed affliction and gets to join The One, yes.”
“Don’t be so hasty to seek combat, young Master, for the transformation effects muscles as well. Ezekial, who you fought yesterday, was older than Father Meinos and look at how you fared in that combat.
His cheek still stung, but Gabriel had confidence that he could win another fight. “I am ready.”
“Good,” Lear interjected, “because you and I are going hunting. Our fellow brothers have gathered that the original werewolf lifes in the hills south of here. It is time we got on the road. Cailin, see if there is anything you can do to find the Father, please.” His eyes were pleading as he stood up and ushered Gabriel through the door.
“But shouldn’t we go find Father Meinos?” Gabriel protested.
“Remember back in the orchard with Clarice? Being a Paladin is about doing the right thing, not always the thing you want to do.”
“But the right thing is to keep Father safe, isn’t it?”
“If he were the only one in trouble, yes, but if we do not take care of the werewolf that caused this, this whole town could wind up like the Father.”
“Ok.” Gabriel did not like the reasoning, but it was sound, and he could tell he would not win. The two Paladins called for their mounts and the stable boy brought them both out and soon the two men were riding out of town to the south, packs on their backs and blades at their hips.
They rode silently, and after about a quarter of an hour, the path entered into the foothills of a far off mountain range.
“The creature was last seen about a day ago, so the townspeople think he is lurking in one of the caves out here.”
“Ok, what are we looking for then?”
“The ground out here appears to be soft, so tracks, but other than that, no.”
Gabriel slid off of his horse and leaned close to the ground. “I see horseshoes and cattle, and a few men, but other than that, I don’t see anything else.”
“Show me the tracks you think are men’s.” Lear dismounted as well. Nose almost to the ground, Lear inspected the tracks. “See the way these are? The you see these three points?” He pointed at a long arrow triangle of indentations, “The arches of the werewolves feet rarely touch the ground, so you get this, here is the heel,” he pointed at one of the marks, and here are the balls of the beasts feet, these points here are toes, and these small pin pricks are nails.” Lear crawled along the ground for a few feet. “He was moving this way.” He pointed off towards the west, where the hills started to get steeper and the grass began to give way to shale and loose rocks. “Come on.”
Lear and Gabriel climbed back upon their horses and headed west. After following the tracks over rock and loose dirt, twice having to dismount to get their bearings, they came upon the corpse of a coyote. The creatures neck was bent at an odd angle and a large chunk was torn out of its stomach.
As they approached the dead animal the horses began to glance about anxiously and paw at the ground, the smell of death hanging in the air. Gabriel and Lear backed off some and Lear dismounted, approaching the dead coyote on his feet. Bending over the corpse, he touched it and called back to Gabriel. “It’s still warm. The werewolf can’t be that far.”
The ground around the coyote was disturbed, but after a few minutes of searching, Lear found the trail again and they were off, pushing the horses as hard as they could.
They came over a rise and spied a large opening in the side of a distant cave.
“He’s there.” Lear said.
Gabriel nodded in agreement. He was unsure of why he knew it, but the feeling n his gut had told him they were going into the cave to hunt the poor soul.
Cautiously, they advanced upon the cave, the opening large enough for them to ride into. Just inside, they found a large column of rock and tied the horses up.
Outside, the sun was quickly falling behind the distant horizon as the two Paladins delved further into the cave.