On August 8th, 1998, John Dervish was the first person to capture footage of the new settlers of Leek Denaa. The video shows twelve seconds of malformed figures standing in a circle naked on the shore of Lake Narvakrak.
Years later, further evidence of the settlement would show signs of architecture created from within the crater left by Big Bear with the crater walls acting as a natural defense from invaders.
–The Wolf Historia 2014
Chapter 18: Chasm in the Sky
Char balled a clump of snow between her gloved hands. It was packed and dense, shaped into the size of a baseball. She hurled it at a bottle placed atop a fence post ten yards away and watched Studebaker chase it down. The tiny husky dove into the snow bank, emerging with mouthfuls of frost. He did this as many times as Char desired, and Emilie reset the bottle on its post.
Char’s accuracy improved each day she went without The Warg’s brain-dulling drugs. The thought of all the children that perished because of him and her father still overwhelmed her from time to time, but the ghosts in her veins motivated her to regain her strength. Perhaps if her plan to avenge them came to pass, their souls would show kindness to her own lost child.
Mesa had arrived with the sled to escort Char to the cathedral. She watched as Constance exchanged flirtation and sign language with the musher. The girl smiled as she took Mesa’s large hand between hers.
“Are you ready for your trip?” said Trisha brushing snow from Char’s fur gown.
“We can give them a few more minutes,” said Char as she let another snowball fly.
“You’ve gotten much better at this. Something tells me you won’t be aiming at bottles for much longer.”
“It’s best I don’t get into details just yet,” said Char.
“Have you decided what you’ll say to the high priest?”
Char shook her head. “I must have gone over it in my head a thousand times, but I just won’t know until we’re face to face. Maybe I’ll ask him how cutting the tongues out of girls fits into god’s plan.”
“You’ll put your father in danger.”
“He put himself in danger.” He deserves everything that’s coming, thought Char. I just need to know they’ll punish him for the right reasons.
Trisha returned her attention to Constance and Mesa. “She’s had enough fun,” said Trisha. “Go to him, and good luck, Char.”
The girls saw Char off, and soon the sled cut through a web of well-traveled paths. They raced past small houses, then the marketplace and docks. The sun had emerged over the cusp of the crater walls. It’s radiance filled the cathedral, almost lifting it out from the heart of the city. The spires extended over all other man-made structures of Leek Denaa, and challenged the majesty of the crater walls themselves.
“What can you tell me of High Priest Mezic?” said Char turning her face to the back of the sled.
Mesa stood behind her without a response.
I thought he was the more talkative musher. “What will you tell me?”
Mesa’ sigh bellowed fog above Char’s head. His reply came low and deep. “I’ve been promised many things,” said Mesa, “by Mezic and Reka.”
“Have they kept those promises?” said Char. “Can they be trusted?”
“I trust what I can hold.”
“That’s a good motto to live by.”
“You’ll hear it here often.”
“Can you tell me anything else?”
“I made promises of my own,” said Mesa.
“I understand, but whatever you tell me is between us. I would never put you at odds with the leaders of this place. I’ve seen the prisons. I know what’s at stake for you…for Constance.”
They rode in silence until they reached the town square. Hundreds had gathered for today’s ceremony–marching in faceless masses of furs and jackets covering the flights of stone steps outside the cathedral.
“Mezic is not a liar,” said Mesa. “He truly believes what he says–that is all I’ll say.”
“Thank you, Mesa.”
They came upon guards stationed at the base of the steps. They were dressed differently than the those found inside Simone’s mansion. Their faces were hidden behind white ski masks, and Char wondered how well they could see. She saw their ballistic flak jackets and assault rifles and knew they must be an upper echelon of Lek soldier. Mesa appeared to make the same assumption and quickly untethered the dogs and left Char alone in the sled.
Before she could speak, each of the four soldiers grabbed a leg of the sled and hoisted Char onto their shoulders. The makeshift litter carried Char over the faithful and into the flame-lit halls of the cathedral. Clusters of people found their seats within the countless pews ahead. She gazed up to find second and third floor balconies filled with disciples. Higher still dangled miniature wooden ships from the rafters. She counted more than thirty before being lowered to the ground.
“Chief Reka is inside,” said one of the soldiers pointing at a red door with ornate gold trim.
Char entered to find Simone sitting on a velvet-cushioned bench beside the bassinet that held her sons. She wore a silver gown that reached down to her ankles and a blue headscarf tied below her chin. More masked soldiers stood guard inside her room until the chief ordered them to leave.
The room was still for a moment as Char stared at the old woman, unsure of what Simone was waiting for to happen.
“Hello, my love,” said Simone. She tapped the empty bench space beside her.
“Good morning, Simone,” said Char as she took her seat. “Are the boys ready for their big day?”
“They are in high spirits. My men tell me Jan and Garas are endlessly fascinated by the wooden boats sailing through the air of the cathedral.”
“I noticed those too. Are they part of the ceremony?”
“They hang all month long to honor the memory of fishermen lost to the sea. Each one is built and decorated by the family left on land. Some are still alive, trapped miles below the water’s surface waiting for old age to do them in. The boys do not know any better, and just admire the pretty boats.”
“Are you feeling okay, Simone?”
“I’m afraid meeting with High Priest Mezic today is out of the question.”
“But you told me to–.”
“And you will, just not today.”
“The tribunal is in less than a week! You told me yourself this would be my best opportunity!”
“You won’t be meeting the real Mezic! He thinks he can fool you today like he fooled so many of his followers!” Simone took hold of Char’s hands. “You never told me about your day with Howard. Is he well? Did he make sense of all of this!?”
Has she lost her mind? thought Char. She ripped her hands from Simone’s grasp. “I’m not feeling well. Excuse me, Simone.”
“Is it nausea from your medication?”
“No…yes, it could be that or morning sickness or a mix of both. I just need some air.”
Char left the room back into the main hall of the cathedral. Her sled was missing along with her musher. She clenched her stomach as she scanned the building for a familiar face. She soon discovered she was alone among the cacophony of hundreds.
She did recognize one thing–the bloodied robe of the antlered high priest wafting across the second floor balcony. He was not wearing the caribou skull as he did during the pairing ceremony. He was much younger than she pictured. His golden hair was trimmed short with a neatly groomed beard.
That must be him! Char carried herself up to the second floor, desperately keeping Mezic within view. She reached his side of the second floor as he was entering his office. Three soldiers stood watch outside his door.
Char took a moment to catch her breath before walking before Mezic’s entourage.
“Good morning, gentleman,” said Char. “I’m here to meet with the high priest.”
“Show us Chief Reka’s symbol,” said the lead soldier.
“Of course! Reka’s symbol…” Char feigned searching her robes until she recalled the unopened letter Simone had given her to access the prison.
“I believe this is what you need?” said Char as she handed him the letter.
The soldier broke the wax seal and unfurled the letter. Char felt real nausea swirling in her stomach as the soldier examined the paper for far too long.
“Let her through,” said the soldier as he crumpled the letter in his hand.
I guess they really can’t see well out of those masks.
The door opened to reveal Mezic sitting at his desk. He gazed up at Char with a look of surprise.
“Stop her!!” called a shrill voice. They all turned to find Chief Reka and a small company of guards at her sides. “She is a liar!! I gave her no such permission to see the high priest!!”
Mezic poked his head out from his office. “Gentlemen, please see that Chief Reka is brought safely to her quarters until the ceremony begins.”
Simone was taken away by her own soldiers without question. She cursed Char’s name as the congregation watched Simone be lifted from the ground.
Simone’s cries echoed as Mezic stood before Char, unsure of where to put his hands.
“I’m sorry you had to see her like that, Charlene,” said Mezic as he walked to the desk and pulled a chair out for her to sit. “Simone has been under a great amount of stress. Can I get you anything?”
“I’m fine for now,” said Char, still hearing the faint screams beneath them.
“Not even a cup of tea to warm your hands?”
“Not even that.”
“Very well.” Mezic leaned against his desk with his hands folded atop his stomach. His robe still stained with the blood of the pairing ceremony.
“You know my name?” said Char.
“Of course. Much has been made of your arrival some weeks ago.”
“Then you know why I’m here?”
“Your father’s tribunal is coming and you want to know how I’ll vote.”
“It sounds so simple when you put it that way,” said Char.
“We both know it isn’t. Everything about Howard Fettel is complex—I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. He came to us with a promise—a beautiful one. At some point, it seemed like he was even going to pull it off. Hearing what he did…what he did to children, I feel like that deserves punishment. But then I think about his work in Michigan and how many people he saved and protected from roving gangs and crimes against our people. That legacy also needs to be considered. It’s not the answer you want, but I’m undecided.”
“Well, it’s a start. You know, High Priest Mezic–.”
“It’s Martin. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but the “high priest” thing is so silly. Martin is fine, or Marty.”
This can’t be the same person Simone had warned me about. The leader of the Lek insurrection is Marty? “Martin, I didn’t know what to expect from you today.”
Martin chuckled. “Does my reputation precede me?”
“When I first arrived in Leek Denaa, I was half-conscious, being carried up the side of a mountain. When I was brought to the town square I saw a man wearing a caribou skull, drenched in blood, forcing crowds of people–many of which were children–to marry.”
“What a revolting sight,” said Martin. “Traditions are hard to break around here. The caribou is sacred.” Martin pointed at the skull mounted on the wall behind Char. “This one was passed down to me when I arrived six, maybe seven, years ago after my congregation in Minnesota made it clear I wasn’t wanted there anymore. The blood is a symbol of new life. Most people believe the ceremony will bring abundance to the harvests and population—even more realize they are sham marriages and are performed for show.”
“Simone seemed very upset by the last one.”
“Simone has good days and bad,” said Martin. “She’s been here longer than anyone else. Wolves don’t typically live as long as she has, and after a certain age they become more agitated and confused. At least, in the cases I’ve seen.”
Char thought of her father’s crazed expression as he laid out his grim plan. Perhaps Martin had a point.
“And your…radical plan to invade the mainland?”
“I’ve heard about this. I honestly don’t know where it came from. It was hard enough escaping the mainland, I’m not about to march back in there.”
“So you’re just a priest from Minnesota?”
“St. Paul,” said Martin. “Go Golden Bears. Listen, Charlene. We don’t have to decide anything about your father today. The tribunal isn’t for a few more days and I’d love to discuss it more with you. For now, how about you stay for the sermon and we’ll grab something to eat afterwards.”
“I…I think that sounds wonderful,” said Char.
Char was escorted to a private section on the third floor balcony. The sermon began much like church back home. Martin walked out to the altar and the congregation rose to their feet. He led them in a prayer Char had never heard before. Soon Martin read from a thick white packet of papers.
“Most infected will transform at the peak of the full moon, but each person reacts differently depending on exposure and age. It is best to have all registered members secured in their cells at least three hours prior to peak.
DNA and mass will alter dramatically after transformation. It is highly recommended that all sedatives are administered during the registered party’s prime state to ensure the desired effect.
Once in their second state, Infected may attempt to break loose from their containment if the proper sedative doses are not met. In this event, lie on the floor and hold your knees to your chest. Infected have a tendency to attack large moving targets as opposed to small stationary objects.”
Martin closed the packet and tossed it to the side. “That was a small section of a MIR guidebook. For those of you unfamiliar, MIR stands for ‘Midwest Isolation and Retrieval.’ It’s a group formed for the sole purpose to keep Lek safe on the mainland. Do “sedatives” and “containment” sound like acceptable ways to be treated? This is the best they came up with, and now, I’ve just received word that the last MIR centers will be closing by the end of the year–to be replaced with nothing.”
Char found many in the crowd nodding along to Martin’s message.
“I believe there has been a misunderstanding among us. I still hear rumblings now and then about an “invasion” into the mainland. My friends, this could not be farther from my vision. There is only one place, one power, one god that we need to return to!”
Martin held his hand above his head and pointed to the sky. Everyone in the cathedral mimicked his gesture. Char looked about the room, confused by the god he was invoking.
“There is only one source of our greatness! The moon gives us strength far greater than any non-Lek institution or agency! The moon reveals what we truly are and what we can accomplish while the rest are left in darkness! And it is to the moon that we will return!!”
The congregation rose to their feet in applause. Char watched in horror as Martin basked in the adulation of these simple people. The madness he had imbued within them felt more destructive than anything Simone could devise. Char turned in her chair to find four soldiers blocking her exit.
I need to get out of here! thought Char. I need to get out of Leek Denaa!