The Okami Pack: Part 3 by Gundulf (Adrian Cronin)

Gundulf awoke as he had every day for the past few weeks. He made his bed impeccably then made his way to the kitchens to aid the cooks in preparing morning meal. They had taken a liking to the large wolf, bits of humor illuminating through cracks of hard work and dedication. It seemed that he fit in at this temple more than he would have expected to.

Once morning meal was served, he was allowed to eat with his broth… his pack. All seated at the long tables, indulging in polite conversations which Gundulf was delighted to engage in.

A well renowned story teller in his own right, he often found himself at a loss for words when hearing the stories of these monks. Some of their lives seemed so foreign to him. Sitting side by side as equals were Barons who left their wealth and lands behind to seek salvation from the beast blood and paupers who were granted asylum after causing mayhem in the gutters of great cities. All seemed content and treated one another with respect and dignity.

After breakfast came training. Gundulf had spent most of his life as no more than a brawler. He had never seen battle, let alone held a sword. Nonetheless, he had taken to Okami traditions with great vigor and curiosity, and grew stronger every day. Was this why Hygar sent him here? To become a warrior?

Such thoughts were a distraction, and the only way to keep up with his pack members was to empty his mind of all thoughts and embrace the natural flow of combat. This was the hardest part, for Gundulf above all else, was a thinker. It had been how he survived as long as he had.

This day Gundulf was paired with a particularly menacing monk by the name of Thrall. Thrall hailed from desert lands to the south and spoke very little. He appeared to have Orc blood but Gundulf had been too afraid to ask the brute too many questions. All of his focus was required in sparring the beast of a man, for even though he was quicker than Thrall, in terms of strength Gundulf was far outmatched.

Thrall swung high and Gundulf ducked beneath and delivered a quick jab to Thrall’s ribs. Thrall attempted to sweep Gundulf’s feet from under him but Gundulf deftly hopped over the attack and landed in a defensive position. The fight was going well.

Gundulf momentarily let his gaze drift to his blind master who was conversing with several of the older monks near the garden. He gestured to the petals and even took one of the wolfsbane flowers in his hand! This puzzled Gundulf, for a mere whiff of the plant nearly sent him to his end weeks before.

Suddenly Gundulf felt Thrall’s skull bash in his nose. The attack came far too quick for Gundulf to make any sort of defense, and he took the full force of Thrall’s blow and felt himself hit the ground.

A mixture of pain and rage filled Gundulf. As a wolf his nose was his lifeline, and never before had his senses been so overwhelmed. He felt his body begin to twist and contort.

The crowd gathered as they had before on his first day of arrival. Only now it was Gundulf who would stand before the blind master and his spear.

“Gundulf you will revert to your mortal form.” Gundulf heard through a murky haze.

“This is not how you meet your end, boy. Slow your breathing. Think of your friends, all of this will end. Look the beast in the eye and deny it.”

Gundulf closed his eyes and focused. He saw before him a giant wolf, and it snarled and growled in his face. But he did as his master commanded, he looked into the wolf’s eyes and whispered “no”.

 

***

 

Gundulf once again awoke, sweat covering his head and in a bed too small for him. “Is it normal to lose consciousness this often…”

“No. But you are alive. Waking up is a privilege only afforded to the living,” said the master.

“I’ve been to lands where the denizens would beg to differ, as soon they stopped gnawing on your face,” joked Gundulf, still getting his bearings.

“You met your wolf today. Truly met him. How did it feel?” Asked the blind master.

“It is hard to explain. I felt the terror of losing control and I could tell the wolf wanted to come out or maybe… I wanted him to come out? Is Thrall ok?” Asked Gundulf.

“He is fine. He apologizes for the cheap shot. But you should know, you didn’t transform. It took all of your strength and energy but you stopped yourself mid transformation,” said the blind master with respect.

“Wow, well that’s good,” said Gundulf.

“Was this the first time?” The blind master pressed.

“No, I have led quite the adventurous life, master. There have been many occasions where I have come back from the brink. Once I am the wolf my body is dominated so I do all I can to avoid transforming.”

“It is one thing to prevent transformation. Even to regain control and transform back from the wolf. These are common amongst true born wolves. But very few have been able to achieve what you have and even still only with years of training,” said the master.

Gundulf sat and in listened, at a loss for words.

“I will teach you to practice this skill. Once harnessed it can be a powerful weapon,” said the master.

“I don’t understand. I see how it could be useful in protecting those around me… but how is it a weapon?” Asked Gundulf.

“You see, by allowing the wolf to pierce the veil you can draw strength from him. For most the strength is too much, which is why their form shifts to that of the Lycan. It is the only way for the werewolf to regain balance. But to draw upon that strength and allow it flow through you will make you most formidable. How is it you think a man as blind as me is able to see? This is why you are here Gundulf.”

“When do we start?” Smiled Gundulf.

 

***

 

The next day, Gundulf left his room and readied himself for his duties in the kitchen. But the blind master was waiting for him in the hall and gestured for him to follow. The two walked into the courtyard and were coming dangerously close to the gardens before Gundulf stopped in his tracks.

“Breathe deeply my son. Do not fight the pain it causes you, only embrace it and focus on your discipline. Focus on your breathing.”

The two entered the gardens just as dawn broke. It took Gundulf quite some time to get used to the presence of the wolfsbane and they repeated this walk routine for many days. On the fifth day, the power of the plant was trivial. And the blind master instead elected for the two of them to meditate within the garden for a while before beginning their lessons. After some time had passed, the master broke his silence.

“You must learn that when you transform, it is still you. Your mind may be foggy, your senses overwhelmed, but it is still your spirit. It is only your fear of the beast blood which causes your shifts to be so chaotic. But even still, you have never tasted human blood. This is no coincidence, Gundulf. You are kind and gentle and so is your wolf. And once we expand upon the relationship with the beast inside you will find great peace.” The master looked into Gundulf eyes as they opened, and promptly slapped him in the face.

Gundulf was in shock. At first he smiled, wondering what possible lesson of peace could be learned from sucker punching him. But then the master slapped him again, this time much harder and the tips of his fingers caught Gundulf’s ear. Gundulf felt his control beginning to slip and the door to transformation begin to open. But this time he found himself standing in the garden, the master nowhere to be seen.

As Gundulf awaited some sort of explanation, he saw a large white wolf saunter over to him. He recognized the beast’s eyes and it looked quite familiar. Sensing no danger from the animal he decided to approach. The wolf, equally as curious, sniffed Gundulf and circled him playfully. Gundulf stroked the beast’s head a few times and touched his forehead to his. A blinding light consumed Gundulf perception. Then he opened his eyes to find himself in meditation before his master.

“You’ve met your wolf. This time on equal footing. A courtesy afforded to us by the wolfsbane we grow here. It prevents transformation, allowing a keen mind to enter the space between. It is a common practice here, it helps to mend the bonds between the two spirits which lie within those with beast blood.”

“I thought you said stopping a transformation was a rare practice…” Gundulf said in confusion, doing his best to remain respectful while absorbing all the master had to offer.

“Without this garden, for many it is. Once you’ve learned to commune with the wolf, we will practice this outside of the garden and hopefully one day outside of this temple and in the world beyond,” said the blind master.

For many days the lessons continued. It wasn’t until the full moon that the blind master changed their routine. When Gundulf awoke, eager to greet his master in the training grounds, he found no one there to greet him. Not knowing what to do, Gundulf went to the kitchens and helped prepare the morning meal as he had so many times before. He then ate with the monks, enjoyed their wisdom and merriment, but when he asked of the master was met simple shrugs.

Gundulf elected to search the grounds rather than spar with the other monks. He walked the halls of the temple, checked the various shrines and rooms of meditation as he passed. He even searched the gardens but could not find the man anywhere.

As midday sun came, many of the monks were meeting in the kitchen for lunch. Lunch was always less formal than breakfast or dinner in the temple because it was the closest thing to a break that any of the disciplined acolytes would receive. And so many of them elected to take their meals outside or even skip the meal in favor of recreation.

Gundulf walked through the courtyard, scanning his memories of the recent days in hopes of gleaming a clue to why he’d been abandoned. Had he done something wrong? Had he offended his master in some way? He elected to meditate by the cliff face and hope that a bit of peace might clear his rattled insecurity.

Many of the monks were making offerings to Luna in celebration of the full moon. Others were chanting to Gaia as they tended to the gardens and made necklaces of dried wolfsbane for some of the less disciplined monks to wear during the full moon.

After dinner the monks gathered in the square to perform kata; which were choreographed fighting moves which they often did to celebrate various aspects of their world. With little to offer to the gods, sweat and discipline were the greatest gifts they could offer. Gundulf joined in and allowed himself to get lost in the movements, even electing to wear a wolfsbane necklace as this was his first full moon in the temple.

Half way through the dance, Gundulf heard loud crashing against the temple gates followed by the ringing of an unfamiliar bell. Many of the monks fled to the temple for shelter while others elected to arm themselves with weapons. All looked around for someone to lead them, but found themselves with none of the masters in sight.

A large crash was heard at the gate and several monks, even those with weapons, ran for the temple with all speed. Those that elected to fight formed a defensive line in front of the temple steps. Gundulf stood with them.

Twilight was upon them and the full moon rose. The moon illuminated the courtyard and afforded the first glimpse of the intruder. A gargantuan werewolf stalked the courtyard, pacing back and forth. Upon first sight of him, a few of the temples defenders elected to run inside. Gundulf wondered if he should do the same.

The clash began with a flash. Half a dozen of the temple’s greatest champions swinging silvered blades and axes at the great beast. None connecting, for the beast was quick and would counter every attack with large swipes of his claws. Gundulf was knocked back several feet from one of the swipes and his necklace was torn from his body and the petals were taken by the night breeze.

As Gundulf lay there, he watched as his brothers and sisters fought valiantly against the beast. But more and more were forced to retreat as a result of exhaustion or some wound. One of them even gave into the moons call and attacked it in beast form. The large wolf clamped its jaws down around the wolf’s neck and promptly ended its life. The moon’s call began to claw at Gundulf, and he knew what he must do.

Gundulf hid himself behind a pillar, crossed his legs, and embraced the wolf’s call. He found himself face to face with his wolf. This time there was no snarling or growls, yet certainly an eagerness. But the wolf stood there, its eyes meeting Gundulf’s as if it were waiting for Gundulf to decide what to do. And so Gundulf petted the wolf and touched his forehead to his. The same white flash occurred as the last time he attempted this, but this time he didn’t close his eyes and he just held on to the wolf. When he opened his eyes he was still sitting behind the pillar.

Infused with the power of the beast blood, Gundulf stepped out and walked towards the great beast. Many within the temple screamed and pleaded for Gundulf to turn back, but he knew his course was clear.

And the clash began. Gundulf swung his arms and legs in a beautiful dance of death. Kicking and punching, using forms far beyond his training. The two battled long into the night, with the entirety of the temple looking on in awe. Gundulf was heard screaming out to the wolf: “Change back! Don’t make me do this!” For the young wolf had battled the beast with his fists up until that point.

It wasn’t until the beast, frustrated by the fruitless contest, turned his attention to the temple and began charging towards the spectators that Gundulf knew what had to be done.

 

As the morning sun gleamed over the mountain, it blinded all who had been watching the spectacle. When everyone’s eyes adjusted they walked towards Gundulf holding a naked, bruised and bleeding figure in his arms.

“Please… please… I’m so sorry,” they heard Gundulf say through gritted teeth and mournful tears.

Gundulf held his master close. A silver spear head pierced his chest. The master smiled and let out a wheezing laugh. “You are forgiven.”

 

***

Gundulf packed his things with stern conviction. He was eager to put the temple to his back. To think that his master would sacrifice himself in such a way just to teach him a lesson made his skin crawl. As Gundulf walked through the courtyard he witnessed the burning of his master’s body and decided, that despite his current feelings, he would stay for the funeral rites and see if he may gleam some deeper truth from the ceremony.

Many masters took their turn in speaking. Some offered comfort from godly edicts. Others offered lessons they had learned from the blind master. None spoke his name, at this point Gundulf was sure that few ever knew it. He certainly hadn’t.

The final speaker was a very old monk. Her body was bent over from the many years she had walked the earth. She did a sermon with a familiar tale which many from within the temple and even the realms at large were familiar. The tale refers to the two wolves which dwell inside of us all. One embodying anger, hatred, deceit etc. and the other: kindness, love, honesty etc. The two wolves are constantly at war within us all. And the wolf that wins is the one we feed.

“The Blind Master… I was a young girl when he first came to this place. For years he didn’t speak. Didn’t even train. He simply worked and kept to himself. He was only missing one eye back then and was constantly plagued by nightmares. After one particular fit, he scratched out his other eye. This was far from the man that you all would come to know. It was only through years of training and meditation that he made peace with the life he had lived. He had been a champion of Darkspire, and Gaia only knows how many now rest within the ground as a result of his wrath. Though he had learned to channel the power of the wolf, he knew it was only a matter of time before his beast would take over again. He longed for a pupil that would be able to give him the peace he desired and feared that he would one day bring ruin to the temple he considered his salvation. Gundulf. I know you don’t believe it now, but what you did was a kindness. His will asks that you take his ashes to the Wolf shrine. Spread them there and then read this scroll which he has left to you.”

The speech concluded with all eyes on Gundulf. Tears filled his eyes, but remembering his discipline, he humbly gathered the ashes and made his way out of the temple grounds. The Wolf shrine was a short walk from the temple, which was no great surprise.

Arriving at the cliff he looked upon the Wolf shrine with tear filled eyes. He spread the ashes as his master requested and opened the scroll left to him.

It read:

If you are reading this Gundulf, then you have freed me. Your purity of heart made you far more powerful a wolf than I ever could have hoped to achieve. Every moon brought me closer and closer to madness, for my sins upset my balance irreparably. The wolf within me was a cruel twisted creature, for he was me. And though I sought forgiveness and a new life, the wolf within me was too far gone. Or perhaps I was just better at pretending.

Nonetheless, I fear your journey is just beginning. I am honored to be the first life you have taken. I promise you, you’ve slain a wicked villain and avenged the lives of many innocents. Please continue your training at the temple. You are now free to do as you please. Come and go, and take your place among the people of Voraniss. But return, and train. Be better than I was.

For you are the descendant of Vangrim the wolf. It is the only way you could have learned my lessons so quickly. One day the Okami Pack will need a leader again. I hope when that day comes, you will rise to the challenge. 

The letter was signed “B”. A mystery for another day.

Gundulf slipped the parchment into his pouch. He now looked upon the Wolf shrine, wondering how sitting in a chair as a joke got him here. As Gundulf’s contemplations and grief took him well into the night, the second night of the full moon approached. He heard the howling off in the distance, and just before it became too dark to see, a familiar face walked up the path with a lantern.

Mouse approached the shrine and lit its ceremonial torches. She was unsurprised to see Gundulf, and it was clear that she had “divined” the details of the day. She laid a hand upon Gundulf’s shoulder before taking a seat not far from him. She then imparted to him the tale of the Wolf shrine to offer him comfort and answer the many questions he had about the significance of his heritage, before the two of them made their way back home.

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