You come to.
The wolf is dead.
You taste salt.
Grab at the air with your mouth. It’s freezing. It burns as it goes in. Your vision is the purest, whitest white. Then, slowly, reality fades back into view, pieces at a time. The white is you. Well, it’s on you. It recedes from your fingertips. It glows. It hurts. It runs into your skin. Then it fades, leaving an aching scar, flashing across your whole body.
Rebuild that wall, inside. Tame the Agony, as it recedes. Place it in its cage and remind yourself of its master.
Recover yourself. Get up, out of the snow drift you’re lying in. Ignore the biting cold. Nothing you can do. The wolf was hungry, and close, you had to react. Justify it. There was a reason, you didn’t have any options. You had to let it out. It didn’t get the better of you. You chose this.
You are in control.
Strip the wolf for parts, bagging what you can in the gork-skin sacks. I suppose this is one use for the knife, too, you think. Heart, lungs, entrails, into one. Skin, sinew and bone into another. A decent prize to return home with – and food in the meantime. Wash your hands of the worst blood and guts in the snow. Look for the road again.
Most of your clothing is cloth, wrapping around a frail and thin body. All except the heavy leather cloak. Pull it tighter, fight the wind to keep it over your neck. The sacks drag behind you. Sigh. Feel their weight. Tug against the viscera, slopping around the insides. Remember how long it took to clean them out last time.
You can feel that dull flame, burning just beyond. You want to flex this new muscle. A smaller burst shouldn’t be too much.
Permit a small gap in your cage. Allow the shot of pain to flood through you.
Scream out, as your arms lurch forward.
The sacks land thirty feet ahead, nestled into a bank of white powder. Your vision tunnels, white borders pulsing inward. Your knees hit the ground, then your palms. The backs of your hands are glowing, a yellow-white haze.
The white recedes from your sight.
The haze fades from your hands.
Taste the salt.
Okay. Not quite there yet, then.
Think of the Ori. They are the ancestors of this land, of most land on the planet. They were widespread conquerors. They are what the Craven remember. They are the memory shamed by the Null. By you. They were stronger, spread wide across the world. They would burn you to ash to see you now. You’re unsure that this heritage suits the lineage it created. Unsure that you could ever hail from one of them. How many steps removed, you wonder?
Spit at the ground. The taste of salt doesn’t go away.
Look up and see a silhouette approach. Another Null, maybe, or an Acolyte sent to keep you down and ensure you don’t return. It steps into your view from further down the road, flanked by the same dead forest. Its outline is bold against the bright-white snow and blank sky. A figure obscured by loose clothing, a rough black mark in your vision. Your knees crack as they straighten, raising your form to meet this stranger. It reaches your sacks before it reaches you.
Feel the poke. A small nudge, rising up and out of the normal fire. A pinprick of clarity, pushing you. Prompting you. It can help. It can solve the problem. Let it.
Try to ignore it. If you use it, it’ll be on your terms.
Call out to the silhouette. It raises its head, covered by hood and masked by distance. It does not return the hail. It returns to its inspection. You can’t see what it finds interesting. The pinprick grows. Sharpens. It’s a knife’s edge, slicing into the side of your mind. Slowly.
Place a step in its direction and the silhouette stiffens. Another step, two, three and you can see enough to see its weapon, resting in a leather holster. A hand cannon. Cold steel. Loud. Expensive.
Before he was an Operator. Before he took up a blade, a real blade, sharpened and heavy on his back. Before all of that, hand cannons were his choice too. Heavy on his waist instead. He used it well. For good, mostly.
Then he disappeared. Left his piece behind on the kitchen table. Took the sword instead.
The note said he wanted to look them in the eyes. Your Master said he was dead to her.
Hand cannons are dangerous. Worth defending against. More ‘knives’ join the first, slicing through the cage you have built. Your skin is taught with pain.
Let. It. Out.
Don’t. Approach the silhouette with more steps. Its hand rests on the handle, the hood facing you. Stop. Feel the tension in the air.
The snow has started falling again.
Its hand pulls on the grip of the cannon.
The Agony rages. It screams. A thousand blades wearing you down. Bread knives, sawing at your flesh, and the white creeps into the edges of your vision and you cannot stop it and it burns, it seethes with pain that you bury but it digs itself up and up and out and –
You are not Ori. You are weaker. You lost that which made them great.
You are Null. You are sub-sub-species, Weak, lesser than the Craven, which are lesser themselves to those before.
You’ll just have to do your best.
The cannon never leaves the holster.
Try not to black out.
The silhouette is dead.
You swallow the salt.