The Gift, Part 2

Steven Bergom

Tanya snarled at the creature in frustration. Again and again they came after her and each time she beat the living daylights out of them. Or killed them. It all depended on whether she was in the midst of PMS or not. After a moment's hesitation the beast, a short and squat thing with the head of a boar, leapt at her and Tanya inevitably ripped its intestines out of its body.

Looking around her Tanya found that the field was littered with the entrails of a whole horde of trollocs who once again thought it a good idea to attack the city of New Sparta. As a fully sentient werewolf it was her job to keep them away from the city and she took pride in the fact that she did it well; no trolloc or other evil creature had set foot within the town's walls since the first months after the dragon died. She killed them when they came near. She killed them well, in fact, but it didn't stop her from realizing the senselessness of the whole exercise. Day in and day out she was transported to the front lines and day in and day out she wreaked carnage on generations of foul beasts.

And what was with all the mindless creatures attacking the city, anyway? Why did they continually try to get into the human villas and settlements and where did they come from in the first place? Her husband would probably make some pithy remark about them being the missing Microsoft workers — and he'd probably be right — but that explanation seemed all too tied up and neat to her. There had to be more, but the dragon that died on their doorstep left no instruction manual and no hints as to how the world worked anymore. In the end it was just a load of chaos as it had been from before the Gift.

Surveying the field Tanya found no more living being except for herself and the flocks of harpies scavenging the bodies for any edible bits. She turned away from the scene not because it sickened her but because she found herself suddenly hungry from the afternoon's exercise. She wanted nothing more than to soak in a tub-ful of hot water and eat a side of beef from one of the fattest cows the local farmers could grow. With that in mind she made her way — sometimes walking on two legs but mostly on four — to a robed man standing on a grassy knoll, patiently watching her.

"You did well," he said as she approached. "The council of elders has been keeping a tally and you are far in the lead of your compatriots. There's even talk of giving you a medal or some other reward!"

Tanya growled something that needn't bear translating.

The man raised an eyebrow, mostly for effect rather than out of any genuine surprise. "Your efforts are as much needed as mine, and just because you have a body type well-suited for the effort doesn't mean you need to get snippy. We do what we need to do for the good of the community, each according to his or her ability. Why, I was talking to Councilman Justin the other day and do you know what he said? He said, 'Vishenti, do you know what the worst thing plaguing our society is? It is not the beasts or the vandals, or the little bugs that eat at our crops, but the—'"

His sudden stop should have alerted her; heck, her senses should have given her fair warning but Tanya was honest enough with herself to admit she was fatigued almost beyond her own facilities when she felt the weight of a fair-sized trolloc leap on her back. With a surge of adrenaline she spun quickly to dis-lodge the beast and hold it squirming by the throat. A deft flick of a long-clawed hand sliced open its belly and in a few moments she had its intestines looped around it weakly moving arms. Satisfied that it would stay alive for a while yet she tossed it back onto the heap of dead for the vultures and ravens to pick at.

"Do you really think that was absolutely necessary?" Vishenti asked. Tanya huffed angrily and the robed man once again raised an eybrow in utter non-surprise. She towered over him in her wolfen form but she had yet to actually frighten him even with with the knowledge of the sheer carnage she could inflict on the enemy. "Well, now, I guess that means you'd like to go home now, eh?" Tanya nodded wearily.

Vishenti sighed and collected himself. With a serene look upon his face he opened his robes revealing a swirling vortex where his torso should have been. Tanya crouched down and climbed wearily into the whirling spiral and set foot back in the city of New Sparta.

The air in the city was ever so much cleaner since cars stopped working. There was no smog, no fumes and no annoying honking, a fact which made living with her heightened senses so much more bearable. There were still bicycles and the occasional golf cart that wended their way through the streets but they gave Tanya wide berth because of her protector status and because they were fully aware of what she was capable of when angered.

"You really should take bath," Vishenti said from behind her. No one really knew what happened when one of the vortices transported you; you stepped in in one place and stepped out somewhere else. Whether you were immediately transported or held in stasis was anyone's guess and the vortices — sentient beings as they were — had as little knowledge of their abilities as the most powerful sorcerers who studied such phenomena to the exlusion of all else.

"Really," he said again. "Take a nice long soak; I can't tell if any of that gore is your own or all just trolloc goop. You really should be more careful."

Tanya grunted and began to turn away to make the trek through the streets to her home but was stopped by Vishenti's concerned voice. "Tanya, please do be more careful. I've never seen you so careless as you were today and I don't want you getting killed. And I'm not saying this as a pragmatist who only sees the need for as many protectors as we can get. I'm say this as a friend: be careful. We really need you," he said and walked into the crowd that inevitably formed around a returning protector.

Tany watched him go before trudging to the house she shared with her husband, son and daughter. She was hoping for a quiet evening to eat and then soak away the grime and sweat of the day, and she more or less got that from her wizard husband. Except for the quiet part.

He prattled, detailing the book he had finally started writing. "It's that history of the recent world I was telling you that I'd write some day," he was saying. She wanted to shut him up but his hands kneading her sore muscles and washing the blood out of her fur felt so very good that she could put up with whatever he was talking about. "I've got a fair introduction detailing the dragon and such and I was just about to get started on a description of the new races in the world when you came in. This will be such a great work, Tanya! There will be no Dark Ages to lose knowledge this time, and I will be there to help preserve the order of the world."

It was always order with him, but that was not necessarily a bad thing. It was that precise attention to detail which made him such a sought- after network administrator before the Gifting and such a tremendously good technomage afterwards. More importantly it kept his mind from wandering too much as he visited every sore and aching muscle on her body.

As more and more of the tension left her her humanity returned she changed. No more was she a fiercesome predator that could speak only in grunts and growls. Instead she became a woman not much different from what she had always been. Maybe a bit younger, a little leaner and a bit stronger, but still average height and average looks. "That feels so good, Marc!" she spoke at last. "Please don't stop."

Marc didn't. Gently he rinsed the soap and the last of the fur and blood from her naked skin and, if she wasn't a wolf in her other form she would have purred. "It's getting so much harder to stay in that form for so long," Tanya was saying. "I found it really hard to work myself up this morning before going out so that I could change. In fact I had to—"

Tanya yelped as a sudden pain shot across her shoulder blades. "Did that hurt?" Marc asked. She glared over her shoulder at him and he had the good nature to look chagrined. "Sorry. It's just that that looks like a rather nasty scratch and it... Do you remember getting it?"

"Not really," Tanya shook her head. "I killed a lot of trollocs today and only one managed to leap on my back."

"Leapt on your back, you say? Do you remember anything about him?"

Tanya shook her head. "It was after the fight; I was waiting for Vishenti to transport me back and the boar-headed beast jumped me. I tied him up with his entrails and left him for the birds, and that was it. Why? What's wrong?"

Marc was staring at her back deep in thought. "That doesn't look like it was made with a trollocs claws, and it doesn't look like any poison I'm familiar with."