The Wanderers had been searching for the Well of Provenance for over a thousand years and Zurak remembered all of the stories told to her as a child. Every Wanderer knew it was their duty to claim the Well for Elune, but since no one had ever even come close, there had been no stories about how to actually claim something.
Zurak assumed that her carvings into the rock around the Well were her claim and the tribe had been creating the claim for almost a year. Churashom’s family had never done any carving, but many had taken it up after Zurak joined the family. One of the uncles had crafted a much better stone chisel than the one Zurak had been using since the beach and her carvings had become much more refined.
At first, her new family was reluctant to mar the walls of the cave with their marks, thinking that the crude figures would be an affront to Elune. But Zurak assured them that the moon goddess cared only for their intentions and actions, not artistry at all and told them of her first carving attempts that were less than beautiful. Taking the time to carve into stone imbued the stone with your essence and the essence was left for the moon goddess, as proof of your devotion.
The Well chamber of the cave was not very big, only four of them could fit inside at one time and it could get stuffy when they were all working. There would be another baby for Churashom in a few months and Zurak had been miserable for weeks now, her stomach was not happy to accept food and she kept feeling dizzy. These things were perfectly normal, so Zurak was not worried, but she couldn’t get much work done.
Another wave of light-headedness washed over Zurak; she swayed slowly and closed her eyes to try and will her stomach not to retch up its meager contents. She felt stiflingly hot and freezing cold at the same time; Zurak carefully set down her tools and told the others she was going back to camp. She just wanted to lie down in the shade with some herbal tea and Oshi, perhaps even take a little nap.
She made her way slowly through the cavern of stars and slid into the cold water of the tunnel. A ladder had been built inside the cave at the opening, Zurak paused to let the dizziness pass before climbing up and realized that soon she would not fit through the opening at all. The sweet, fresh air outside immediately eased Zurak’s discomfort, but only a little and she made her way slowly down the rocks to the path.
Camp was now much closer to the cave, but they would be moving back to the
when the seasons changed. It was about a
mile from the cave and worn path had been created already, Zurak did not rush
because her feet were swollen and achy.
Feeling swoony again as she passed between the two big boulders near the
stream, she decided to move off the path for a drink. Zurak eased her body down next to the water
and splashed some on her hot skin before cupping her hand to trap a drink.
The growl came from upstream, Zurak felt the low rumbling rather than heard it and her head snapped up to see a large grey wolf staring back. Harshly silencing her panic, Zurak got back up to her feet; her eyes not leaving the wolf’s and her hands fumbling for a weapon. She rarely walked with her staff these days, there was usually someone with her anymore and her arms were always full when they went into the cave.
But there were rocks lining the stream and Zurak’s hand grasped a heavy one as her own growl bubbled up from deep within. Running was the worst thing you could do, there was only one wolf and camp was not far, so if she could scare the wolf off with a few rocks then she could easily get to safety. She heaved the rock in the direction of the wolf with a furious howl, but it fell well short of the mark and the wolf barely even flinched.
Zurak saw the second wolf as she was reaching down for another rock; this one was on her side of the stream and moving in quietly. The fear coursing through Zurak’s blood was threatening to spill out of her churning stomach as her brain rushed madly to plot an escape. A third wolf was watching her now and Zurak knew there was little hope of getting away, the three wolves had encircled her, cutting off her path to both the cave and camp.
Zurak had little recourse, she had to fight for herself and the baby inside her; all she had were rocks and she began to fling them madly at the wolves. The Wanderer screamed at the top of her lungs while hurling rocks, hoping against hope that one of the rocks would find a target and that her screams would bring help. The wolves ducked each rock and steadily advanced towards Zurak, baring grisly fangs and snarling until they were close enough for her to feel their hot pants on her skin.
Zurak screamed Churashom’s name over and over as the wolves backed her up against a boulder; the first wolf sprang at her and Zurak kicked at it ferociously, feeling the rough fur against her bare foot. The first bite pierced her leg right above the knee, blood gushed like a river as the wolf tore away Zurak’s flesh, she crumpled to her knees at the base of the rock, trying to hide behind her arms.
The wolves moved in as Zurak beseeched the moon goddess for help, for forgiveness about not completing her mission and to give her unborn child a special place among the gods. Another angry growl cut through the wolf pack, Zurak opened her eyes to see the wolves turning to attack the bear. Taeyo’s golden brown pelt shimmered in the sunshine as Zurak watched him take an angry swipe at the largest wolf.
She was frozen by the rock as she watched her bear, realizing that Taeyo had never left her, never forgotten about Zurak even though they had parted so long ago. He had followed her all this time and the Wanderer’s heart surged with love despite her fear. Taeyo had drawn the wolves away from Zurak, back across the stream into the clearing, but now it was three against one.
Zurak began screaming afresh for Churashom, for anyone to come and help her. The wolves would kill Taeyo and Zurak could not help him fight, she was weak and wounded, she did not even have the strength to hurl rocks that distance. The wolves were winning the fight; Taeyo’s pained growls filled Zurak’s miserable ears as she watched her brother bear take bite after bite. Tears flowed down Zurak’s face as she watched Taeyo, she hated the wolves, hated them for hurting Taeyo and she forgot her fear and her wounds.
Zurak began to charge across the stream, she could not bear to see Taeyo hurt anymore, but strong arms grabbed her from behind. She screamed no, but Churashom held tightly, dragging his grief-stricken wife away from the danger as the wolves continued to attack Taeyo. The largest wolf had his fangs dug in to Taeyo’s neck, the shaggy golden brown bear was keening in pain and defeat as Zurak watched the life slowly leave his body.
Wolves are formidable enemies and Zurak knew that any attempt to save Taeyo could cost the lives of her family members. All she could think of was that day she had found the cub, mournfully pawing at his mother’s brutally savaged corpse. Taeyo deserved so much more than this ugly end, especially since he had given up his life to save hers.
With sickening certainty, Zurak began to understand why Elune had brought them together in the first place. In order to stake her claim on the Well of Provenance, the moon goddess would require more than mere carvings, the ground would need to be consecrated somehow. Elune would require a sacrifice, a sacrifice of love.