What Teeth They Had: Book 2 Chapter 23

book-2

On March 20th, 2003, Amir Zest sat for an interview with the national news to discuss his brief stay at Leek Denaa after trying to locate whereabouts of his recently turned sister. The interview set a ratings record.  

“They don’t want us there,” said Zest. “Humans, or whatever they call non-infected, are just useless burdens to them. I told them I was a doctor, an internist, but they said they already had one. One doctor for a city of hundreds…I don’t believe I’ll ever see my sister alive again.

–The Wolf Historia 2014

Chapter 23: The Trial of Teeth

Trisha’s fingers toiled deftly through Char’s thicket of hair. Decorative braids had been requested by Chief Reka for the tribunal. Char wondered if the freedom of her father came down to a few twisted locks. What does it matter? thought Char. The woman is blind, and the last time we spoke she had been carried off screaming. She would continue to appease the Lek regardless, even if she was no longer speaking to half the council.

The other half of the council included Martin Mezic–whose sermon had killed any love she had left for Leek Denaa. Char returned to the house that night and seized Trisha by the shoulders demanding if she believed her future was on the moon. Trisha admitted her beliefs were not literal– that a place of strength could be found anywhere, but she seemed more dejected around Char ever since.

“Is something on your mind?” said Char. “You’ve been quiet all afternoon.”

Trisha’s hands did not lose pace. “Mesa said things to Constance. Things about what he heard from the other guards and the tension between Reka and Mezic–he scared her I think.”

“Simone and Martin despise each other,” said Char. “How they’ve managed to keep this place running for as long as they have is….what did Mesa say exactly?”

“Guards have been choosing sides over the course of months,” said Trisha. “If the vote is split, the people will vote as the tiebreaker. Whichever side loses could riot.”

“Has there been rioting before?”

“No, but things have never been this bad.”

“So one side believes my father should die and the other believes he should live?”

“No, what happens to you father is of little consequence. The sides are split on what Chief Reka and Priest Mezic decide to do. Violence can be prevented if they both vote the same.”

Of little consequence repeated in Char’s mind. The Lek know the truth of him. “Is there someplace you and your sisters can hide if fighting goes down?”

“Mesa and Constance have a small cabin outside the crater they use to be alone. We will gather there during the tribunal.”

Emilie and Constance joined them from the other room. They placed their luggage on the wood floor. They stood with their hands folded meekly at their waists. Their eyes seemed to avoid Char’s gaze.

“I only want what’s best for you girls,” said Char. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am for everything my family has done to this place.”

“Mr. Fettel will pay,” said Trisha, “but you and your children shouldn’t.”

The girls embraced Char, taking turns nuzzling their foreheads against hers.

*****

The cathedral courtyard stretched for acres—filled with hundreds of Lek. Char noticed they each carried slips of paper in their hands. Those are the ballots Trisha mentioned. As the crowd began to notice Char, they waved their ballots mockingly as if they would have the final say against “The Genocider.”

They think that bothers me? thought Char as her sled slowed to a crawl near the cathedral. I’m made of stronger shit than that. Mesa pointed out the VIP balcony that hovered three stories above the crowd. “I’m not afraid to sit with everyone else,” said Char.

“I don’t question it,” said Mesa, “but I have my orders.” He took Char in his arms like an infant and carried her up flights of stairs.

“I know your plans during the tribunal,” said Char.

Mesa froze at the top of the steps for a moment before Char reassured him with a hand on his cheek.

“Take whatever you need from my house,” said Char. “There should be enough to last you weeks. Please take care of my girls, and give Studebaker a good home.”

Mesa continued his ascent, nodding with tears in his eyes. “I only trust what I can hold.”

At the balcony, Char discovered a couch below an awning. A small fire pit had been stoked to keep her warm, and she was alone except for two guards standing at either side of the reentry door. Char adjusted her awkwardly large frame to fit somewhat comfortably in the Lek’s bizarre hospitality.

Char would reach full term in a few days, and her body had little left in the tank. She agreed to an examination with The Warg after the tribunal with the promise that he would induce labor. I just want to hold you all and know you’re safe, thought Char as she bundled her furs around her stomach.

Char noticed another balcony across from her on the west side of the cathedral. Seated there was Chief Reka in a ceremonial white gown with braids in her pristine white hair. A piece of silver fabric had been tied over her eyes, and at her right side laid the bassinet for Jan and Garas. The chief commanded more guards at her side than Char, and The Warg took a seat next to her also. He appeared to whisper something to Simone, and for a moment Char believed the old woman could smell her from across the frigid divide.

Chief Reka exited her balcony in a huff, leaving The Warg to tend to her sons. Char waited for Simone to reappear at the base of the steps. The crowd cheered as Chief Reka navigated her way to the raised stage of the courtyard. Behind her came High Priest Mezic wearing his bloodied caribou skull. Only one was needed before the tribunal could begin.

The Lek began to jeer and laugh. Char gazed upon her father, once leader of the Bedlam, now unable to stand. Howard’s legs had been severed at the knees, and he was left to drag himself against the concrete with his hands shackled—scowling with pain and exhaustion.

What did they do to him!? thought Char This is barbaric!! The guards showed him the slightest mercy–hauling Fettel up the steps by his arms. His shackles were hung onto a metal hook that left Howard dangling a foot off the ground.

Chief Reka was the first to speak. “We have come here today to judge Howard Fettel for crimes against our kind. Howard Fettel has been an ally of Leek Denaa for as long as I remember. His work in the mainland not only continued one of our most enduring traditions in the sacrament, but he keep Lek alive in the most threatening of places. Many of you here today are the result of his extradition and protection. Had we not met when we did, who knows what life would have become for us.”

Simone’s words brought neither applause nor condemnation, but silence. Char hoped this was a moment of reflection–of shame. The moment was soon gone.

“However,” said Chief Reka, “The victims of his crimes were children, and their number climbed into the hundreds. I have met his daughter Charlene–the one he claims to value the most–and even she is weary of his motives and character. Her own deceptive nature is evidence enough of Howard Fettel’s insidious nature.”

You withered bitch.

“I am heartbroken to admit that I no longer trust Howard Fettel–not with my children; not with my people. The full moon approaches in a few days. I vote for Howard to remain where he hangs and face the Trial of Teeth.”

The Lek echoed their chief’s decision with applause and hurrahs. Char felt a deep constricting pain within her. The spasm left as quickly as it came.

The High Priest Mezic was next. “I, too, have spoken to Charlene Fettel.” said Mezic. “I disagree with Chief Reka’s assessment that Char was ‘weary of his motives and character.’ Like all family, their relationship is a complex one, and she is simply being honest. One does not strip away the good of a person and then make judgement. You must consider the whole person. As the chief pointed out, Howard Fettel has been a champion for Lek across the country. That should be considered in his sentencing.”

Mesa warned of a split vote. thought Char. I just never thought it would split like this.

“Chief Reka did gloss over the details of Mr. Fettel’s crimes.” said Mezic. “As you know, he was working to enhance the potency of the sacrament, as he has done so for years. Recent developments show that he used the bones of full-blood Lek children as an ingredient in his research. Howard Fettel did not act alone in this endeavour. Mr. Khasawneh Mursungacheq a.k.a. The Warg, was complicit in this research. I find it hard to believe he knew nothing of the testing, development, and harvesting process. The Warg was also the accuser of Mr. Fettel. So how is it that he, a non-Lek, can shoulder at least a portion of the crimes levied at Mr. Fettel, and yet watch these proceedings from a balcony instead of this stage?”

“The Warg put an end to rampant torture!!” said Chief Reka.

“Your time to speak is over!” said Mezic. “There was no mistake in your omission of his involvement. Is it true that you funded The Warg to develop medicine for your children that would rectify their stifled form?”

“I never told him to hurt anyone–.”

“But you never questioned his methods, did you?”

Among the bickering and accusations, Char heard the piercing din of babies crying. She turned her attention to the west balcony where The Warg had stood. He was no longer to be found, leaving Jan and Garas to screech in  tandem. Soon the cries grew louder, deeper, and guttural. Chief Reka and High Priest Mezic heard it too, and the crowd froze at the now deafening bellows.

The bassinet turned over. The guards on the balcony looked upon the children aghast, pointing their rifles as a writhing ball of hair and teeth. Its form grew taller than the guards and its weight shattered the stone balcony–sending bodies and chunks of debris onto the crowd. Dust clouds filled the air as the Lek began to flee the courtyard. From the dust emerged the form of a two-headed monstrosity. Its size breached the top of the second floor of the cathedral. Its fur wet and black–caked with the blood and dust of its victims.

Char gripped her stomach as another pain seized her. What in God’s name is that!? She looked down to discover fluid pooling around her. This can’t be happening now!

As the crowd scrambled for safety, Chief Reka approached her sons now trapped in the body of a malformed beast.

“RUN SIMONE!!” cried Char. “GET OUT OF THERE!!!”

The door burst open behind Char revealing the musher Tehmot. His hulking body panting after his climb. “We must leave!” said Tehmot as he scooped up Char into his arms. “We will use Chief Reka’s safe room!”

“What about her!?”

“She has no use for it.”

Tehmot bolted down the stairs and raced across the chaos of the courtyard. Char held tightly around his neck. Gazing behind him, she watched as Jan and Garas feasted on their mother’s split remains.      

*****

Tehmot’s body trembled from his journey. Fog rose off his skin, and his legs shook with each step in the snow. He fell to his knees before Chief Reka’s Mansion, letting Char down gently. His arms sprang back to life in a final flash of desperation–clutching the door rings. He pulled with the strength of two giants, slowly inching the grand doors ajar. When the doors made enough room for Char to enter, Tehmot collapsed to his side.

Char crouched to open his eyelid.

“Just a few more flights,” said Char.

The giant clenched both her hands in his one and shook his head. “I will block the beast.”

She kissed his hand. “I’ll come back for you!” said Char before leaving him at the threshold.

Inside the mansion, Char gazed up at the whalebone chandelier. The candles had not been lit, and the only source of light came from the red glow of the setting sun. She placed her fingers against the cold brick walls to help guide her to the stairs. The howls of the beast could still be heard from the cathedral. The Warg did this! thought Char. I don’t know how, but he did this!!

Char caressed her stomach as she approached the door to The Warg’s lab. Seeing it had always made her uneasy, and her children fought her to turn back. There might be something in here to help Tehmot.

The door was open a crack. Is he here? Char pushed forward and examined the lab. The rounded beakers were held in place above burners–their contents heated to a rolling boil. The liquid was the same pasty yellow hue as the medication The Warg had prescribed. More evidence of his presence came at the windows. The middle set of drapes were pulled open to reveal the smoking refuse of the cathedral. Hundreds scattered for their homes as the remaining guards fought their way back into the courtyard.

“Your grandfather loved you,” whispered Char. “Goodbye, Daddy.”

A door at the back of the lab opened–revealing The Warg gripping a silver briefcase under his arm. With a puzzled look, he smiled at her. “What brings you here, Ms. Fettel?”

“I’m having contractions,” said Char. “My babies are coming.”

The Warg proceeded towards the door as if she said nothing.

“No! You can’t go out there! Simone’s sons are–.”

“Tearing the Lek apart,” said The Warg, “And my name is Khasawneh. Not one of you mongrels call me by my actual name until today.”

“You…you’re supposed to help me!”

“Like I told you before,” said Khasawneh. “I have many patients. Howard wanted to cure his daughter of the infection, Simone wanted to cure her sons of their deformation, but nobody cared about the cost or difficulty or sacrifice it takes to do what I do. But I digress. The man who was paying me to treat you is dead, and you are no longer my problem.”

Char limped toward her doctor. “This is happening!”

Khasawneh drove his fist into Char’s gut. The pain shot through her entire body as she crumpled to the floor. She writhed there-helpless at his feet.

“Let me rephrase that,” said Khasawneh. “You may die, but I need your children–more specifically their bones.”

“You’ve harvested hundreds of wolves,” said Char. “Why mine?”

Khasawneh laid his silver case on the counter and filled a syringe with the pasty liquid. “Children are more potent while mature subjects yield almost no effect. Howard Fettel was an anomaly. His DNA carried the gift of longevity, which I’m willing to bet is stirring inside your womb as we speak.”

“This is all so you can live longer?”

“Not quite. That boy–Dan was it? He dreamt of voids. Awful vortexes that rip man and beast to shreds. These dreams are a symptom of vision. Your friend was on his way to becoming a warg.”

Danny is a warg!?

“If he’s still alive somewhere he’ll soon see through the eyes of whatever wolves are left in the world. And like me, his mind will deteriorate until he forgets his most precious memories–like how to play the cello. That is, unless I make the proper serum from his offspring.”

“I’ll never let you take them from me!!”

Khasawneh chuckled, “let me.” He stabbed the syringe into Char’s neck. The searing fluid reached throughout her body–causing her arms and legs to seize.

“Does that feel familiar?” said Khasawneh. A knock at the door tore away his gaze momentarily. “Yet another customer.” Khasawneh shoved Char’s body under a table with his foot.

Trapped in her body once again–all Char could do was lay idle in darkness.

“So what do you think?” said Khasawneh to his guest, “Welcome to Leek Denaa.”

The back of Char’s head felt the vibration of the guest’s heavy steps–each stride shook the tables and rattled the glass beakers.

Tehmot? Did he survive?

“The case is ready,” said Khasawneh. “All three vials are inside, along with a complete component breakdown as well as alternative mixture solutions. Allred will be pleased.”

A table erupted with a thud. Char would have screamed had she had the means.

“Who the hell is this?” said Khasawneh.

“This here is Ronald Reto,” said the guest is a booming voice. “He is…he was the son of a warg and Howard Fettel–born human. That makes him the rarest specimen I have ever delivered you.”

Char had known of her father’s wanton impregnation at The Bedlam Complex, but she had never heard of a human half-brother.

“I don’t care how valuable you think he is, Jessup,” said Khasawneh. “He’s not breathing. His potency drops dramatically when that happens–as does his price.”

“Let’s pretend you’re tellin’ the truth,” said Jessup. “He still has Fettel and warg in him. He’s been hidden away for almost thirty years. Dipshit didn’t even know he was somethin,’ but you do. He’s as close to a perfect ingredient as you’ll ever get.”

“You’d be surprised what kind of ingredients I find. I don’t want him, Jessup. Maybe you can box him up and send him to Allred, but you’ll get nothing from me.”

“Is that right?”

“Now take the case and this syringe,” said Khasawneh. “Like we discussed, just inject this into your wrist to go back to being human.”

Human huh?” said Jessup as he tossed the syringe to the floor. “Thing is, I quite like my new clothes.”

The syringe landed near Char. Back to being human? Char began to slide her body along the linoleum floor.

“Use it or don’t,” said Khasawneh, “it’s already been paid for.”

Char’s fingers snapped like branches, wrapping them around the syringe.

“I think you’re going to make me a new serum,” said Jessup. “One that filters out the weaknesses inherent in both man and wolf. We have a lot left over of our friend Ronny here, so chop away.”

Char used the floor to press down the plunger. Soon a chilling sensation spread throughout her body.

“I don’t have time for this, Jessup. I have a flight to catch.” Khasawneh walked swiftly towards the door.

“It’s at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean,” said Jessup. “You don’t leave until I say you can leave.”

Khasawneh sighed. “There’s no need to chop up Ronny. Fettel commissioned something similar to what you’re suggesting. It’s a series of three shots. They’re in a safe in my office.”

As the two men disappeared into the back room, Char found her footing. The effects of the paralysing agent seemed to be weakening against the presence of the new serum. She remembered the safe room in Simone’s quarters, and shuffled her way from desk to desk to reach the door.

“GODDAMN YOU!!” said Jessup as Khasawneh’s body flew through the door. Khasawneh landed on his back.

Jessup emerged from the room frothing from his mouth. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO ME!!?”

“I told you it was similar to what you wanted,” said Khasawneh.

Jessup lifted Khasawneh over his head with an inhuman roar. He approached the window facing the cathedral and reared back. Before he could heave Khasawneh to his death, a hail of gunfire erupted from the other side of the lab. The bullets tore through Jessup and Khasawneh, shattering the window and covering their carcasses in broken glass.

Char sidled against the wall to stay hidden. She watched the soldier approach the bodies and fired three bullets into each skull.

This guy isn’t with the Lek guards, thought Char. His uniform was distinctly military, and she could smell the silver in his rifle.

The soldier removed his helmet and held it under his arm. He saw the body of Char’s half-brother laid out on the table and slowly made his way to him. The sun had set, and even less light filled the lab, but Char believed she saw the soldier run his hand through Ron’s hair.

“Do you know him?” she asked.

The soldier drew his rifle. “Human?”

“I…I’m…”

The soldier tossed something at Char, and she caught it in one hand. She examined it to find a silver dog tag.

“I guess you’re human,” he said. “You need to leave. Head south–you might even make it to the helicopter.”

Jessup leapt up and charged at the gunman. In one motion, Char gripped a round beaker from a burner and hurled it at Jessup’s face. The contents hissed as it made contact with his skin. He screamed as he held his face with both hands.

The soldier opened fire once more, but the beast leapt out the window to escape.

“Dear God, you have truly forsaken this land,” said the soldier.

Char fell to the ground, moaning in pain. “You have to help me!!”

The soldier ignored her and marched for the door. He stopped for a moment before gazing once more at Ron’s corpse. He removed his gloves and jacket, and kneeled before Char. “You’re fully dilated. I want you to breathe short breaths and push when I say push, do you understand? Breathe, breathe, breathe and push…”

Char found herself in her childhood bedroom. The stuffed animals that lined her bed looked so sad as she made her final decisions. “Sorry, Mr. Gator,” said Char, “but you take up too much space.”

She zipped up her luggage as her father walked into her room. “There’s no turning back after this, Char,” said Howard. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

Char awoke in the frigid laboratory with a coat draped over her bottom half. She looked about the room in silence. She found only the small immobile forms lined up beside her.

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing else I can do,” said the soldier as he pulled his gloves back on. “I wasn’t lying about the Evac. Head south until you find a cabin.”

“It’s so dark in here,” said Char. “Can you please turn on a light?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea–.”

“I lost everything today,” interrupted Char. “Will you please just turn on the light?”

The soldier proceeded to the door and flipped the light switch on as he left.

Char’s eyes burned under the fluorescent lights. When they adjusted, she could not find her children. Tables shook and chairs fell over as blurry black shadows darted out the door, their tiny claws clicking against the linoleum.

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