Thursday, March 9, 2017

Death Mask Ficlit: Part Two - Fisticuffs and Rye Whiskey

The week is almost over! Here is Part Two about how Grim met his best friend Lalios. (Part One can be found on Tuesday's blog post, the next post down.)

Fisticuffs and Rye Whiskey

Boston 1910

Slouching over the end of the bar, I nursed the shot of rye whiskey the bartender poured me. I'd lost count of how many I had, but I wasn't into my cups so much that the two pickpockets succeeded in lifting my purse. Breaking the hand of the second thief had the perfect effect of warning the others away. The patrons of the underground saloon steered clear of my end of the bar.

I stared into the murky brown liquid as I imagined all the ways Iron Lightning would insult me for not only drinking again but imbibing in the opium. I wouldn't call Iron my friend, but for some reason he'd taken me in and sobered me up. I didn't remember how I came to be on the Ute reservation in South Dakota, nor did I recall how I'd spent the last decade. Iron said I wouldn't want to know where he found me, and from some of the dark memories surfacing, I agreed which made me reluctant to stomach the last shot of whiskey.

Iron was the only person I told of my husband—or former husband since he was the one who'd left me—and of the pain that persisted even though years had gone by. Time had not buffered the agony of being separated from the man I'd handfasted to when I was a mere thirty years old, too young many said of those who lived as long as my people did. In return, Iron scoffed at me for becoming a wastrel and allowing another man's actions to turn me into a useless being. That started the first of many fistfights between him and me. Eventually, I stayed away from the whiskey, until today when thoughts of my husband wouldn't leave me be. I only wanted a reprieve from the constant heartache.

It was that sneaky dragon shifter's fault that I was even thinking about Iron. I was feeling a might guilty for giving up Iron's identity and location up to Jian Chin. I considered hoofing it back to South Dakota to warn Iron that a randy dragon was looking for a companion. Then I remembered Iron half drowning me in the horse trough and discarded the idea. I'd send him a cryptic telegraph and let him figure the rest out.

Tossing back the shot, I left the bar, deciding I would search out the person Jian Chin suggested I meet. I headed to Eastern Avenue on slightly unsteady legs. I wasn't paying attention to my surrounding because I was rethinking the idea of traipsing back across the great plains to Iron's place. There was something… calming about being around someone who was like me. We weren't born of the same bloodlines but what we were connected us. I couldn't stomach the thought of going back to my own family, not when… I simply couldn't. Iron was the next best thing in my eyes. Besides, I missed his grumpy face and fighting with him.

Out of nowhere, my nose was assailed with whiff of the familiarity I'd just been pining for. On the air floated the hint of family but not quite family. Intermingled with it were five others that spoke of hatred and aggression. I inhaled deeper, my heart speeding as sense of urgency gripped me. Picking up my pace, I attempted to slough off the sluggish affects the whiskey, cursing myself for downing that last shot. The only weapon I carried was a buck knife, Iron's parting gift, and I hoped it would be enough.

As the scent grew stronger, I detected something intermingled with that of family. An otherness that made the person different from me but not human either. Werewolf. And a strong one at that. He or she was leaking heady power that made them the pinnacle of wolf hierarchy. Strangely, the alpha wasn't capping the outflow, either on accident or on purpose.

Turning down and aisle behind a warehouse, the corridor was stacked high with wooden crates on each side, I stumbled to a halt, taking in the scene before me. The owner of the familiar scent wasn't what I excepted. The amount of power surrounding him made me think he'd be a mature man, a behemoth in size and stature. What I'd found was a lad, a slip of man-child of perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age. He had a tall and gangly body he'd yet to grow into. I wasn't surprised by the shock of red hair brushing his shoulders from under his news cap.

"I told you, Wallace, I don't want trouble. I was only visiting my mother. I hadn't seen her since you turned me out." The boy said, hands held out in a placating gesture even as his chin notched up in defiance.

"I warmed you five years ago to never come back," smeared the giant blocking the boy's path. "You're lucky I didn't cull you at birth you cussed half-breed." The man was another alpha and the four men with him were decidedly his betas. The handsome duds they wore with matching hats didn't belong in this grubby corridor. They had to have come from downtown. Had they heard the boy was in their territory and run him down? If the child was going to challenge the alpha, I imagined he would've already done so—if he was anything like the others in my bloodline.

The man-child flushed crimson, his freckles disappearing behind the wash of red. "And showed yourself for the coward you are, afraid this half-breed would take your place at the head of the pack," he scoffed quite effectively, I thought.

Wallace roared his fury at the kid's prodding then attacked. The four betas with him had no intension of allowing a fair fight. I frowned searching my surroundings for weapons and spied a barrel of broken planks. The lengths of wood would do just fine for what I had in mind. Plucking up one, I hurried toward the fray and smashed the plank into the back of the head of the nearest beta. If they wanted a dirty fight, I would give them one.

The two alphas had shifted. The man-child seemed to be only half werewolf, his body much different than the upright-wolf he fought. They didn't seem to register my interference but the betas did. Unlike their alpha, they couldn't change into a standing wolf, only able to take the wild wolf form. They hadn't transformed, staying human probably to assist they alpha when he returned to his human shape.

Two of the four drew billy clubs, their looks of anticipation told me they were looking forward to teaching me a lesson. They could try. I flashed them a hard grin as I snagged two more boards from the barrel and began instruction in a lesson of my own. I laughed with the euphoric rush that caused my blood to song with joy. The betas soon learned that I wasn't as human as I smelled and more than a match for them.

Years had passed since my blood pumped with purpose, that I felt alive and at least for the moment, I had a goal. There was no question the kid could handle the alpha. My part was to keep the encounter fair. And if smashing some heads in worked out some of my aggression, I would savor every second.

I delved into the lessons my brothers and sisters taught me. Every time my fists connected with someone else, I was reminded of what I was born to do, in part, and it was glorious to be evening out the odds so werewolf politics didn't over run into the light of human awareness. Later, I would not be sending only one telegraph. I would craft another to the Red Hoods, reporting this pack who put an adolescent wolf on the streets without guidance or a foster guardian. It should've never happened. That the kid would kick the alpha's ass was already a given in my mind. But in the near future, the alpha's humiliation would be complete when the Red Hoods took his power and his pack away for his irresponsible abandonment of a pup.

In the meant time, I stretched my muscles, giving back three times the bruises I received. When two of the brutes jumped on my back, baring me to the ground, their fists flying as they pummeled me about the head and torso. My rancorous laugh caused them to falter, giving me the opening I needed to turn the tables on them. After throwing them off I rolled to the side, barely dodging the knife now imbedded in the dirt where I'd been laying. Now that the betas were determined to draw blood, play time was over once. As quickly as I could, I incapacitated them one by one, breaking a few bones here and there until I was the only one standing.

Not far from me, the man-child stood over the semi-conscious alpha. Blood was smeared on his knuckles and face but I didn't spy any grievous injuries. I met his eyes, nearly the same shade of blue as mine and simultaneously we smiled. Wallace groaned and the boy kicked him in the head.

I held out my hand to him. "Come away brother, they are not worth our time or our blood." Suspicion crossed his expression, there and gone in the blink of an eye. He didn't know me and I knew he could sense I wasn't a wolf, but he could feel our connection, the familiarity that hummed strongly between us. "I'm called Grim Dolam O Ceallachain," I offered when the awkward quiet stretched between us.

His bright red brows shot up and a smile quirked up a corner of his mouth. "Piss your mum off before you were even born, eh?"

"In a manner of speaking." She had passed into the fade giving birth to me.

My heart thudded as I waited patiently for the lad to decide if he trusted me.

"I was born Farr Clancy, something to do with my father and the color of my hair, not that I would know since I never met the man but…" He took a deep breath, as if trying to get a hold of his runaway mouth. "But those who know me, call me Lalios." He grinned wide. "I happen to talk a lot."

I pointed the way I'd come. "I think this victory calls for a celebration. There's a place I know that serves people like us, if you're interested in a couple of shots of rye whiskey. My treat."

Lalios stepped over the prone bodies as he crossed to me, his eyes alight with mischief. "I'm always up for a good shindig."

I turned and walked alongside of him down the corridor. The aches and pains of my body were making themselves known and for once the sensation was a wondrous feeling.

"Not many men run around Boston in buckskins." Lalios pointed glanced down at my moccasins.

Giving in to the need building in me, I threw my arm across Lalios' shoulder. "That is one very long story that would need more than a couple of shots to tell."

"As it turns out, I have all night."

Looking at him, I was reminded of my eldest brother and the family I'd left behind when I struck out on my own. And when he smiled, like he was now, he put a part of me at ease that I hadn't realized contributed to the pain I'd been carrying around all of these years. The hollowness in my chest was still there and I'd resigned myself that I would have to live with the agony of being separated from the man I once called husband. As excruciating as the pain was, it was still bearable, even more so now because there before me lay a new beginning of sorts.

Seemingly unaware, Lalios leaned into me. I imagined he was just as starved for family as I was. As I smiled over at him, I had an epiphany. Lalios and I would become the best of friends. Inseparable. Perhaps I wouldn't be travelling to see Iron just for a taste of home.

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