W20: Changing Breeds is out of editing and in Chaney’s hands. This is a beast of a book — no pun intended. The original outline was for 90,000 words. That didn’t last very long. I talked to Rich about upping that to 120,000 words. We ended up at near as damnit 135,000 words — fully half as much again as the original wordcount. And now my eyes are bleeding.
In celebration of completing the Editing Pass of Doom™, I’ve included the introduction to the Ajaba below the jump.
In other news, I’m going to be a guest at Conpulsion in Edinburgh — an easy con to get to as it’s right on my doorstep. I’ll be running some Werewolf: The Apocalypse, including an exclusive sneak preview of the Skinner SAS! Hope to see some local Werewolf fans there!
Dark times are upon us, my child, but do not mourn. Set your teeth instead to the killer’s grin, for darkness is a friend to those who know the shadows — and none know the darkness better than we.
It was not always so. In the light of First Morning, we were a proud people with a sacred duty. We were the choosers of the slain, the cullers of the flock, and in our footsteps the tears of those who mourned fell like rain. Our jaws offered salvation from a slow death by hunger, by age, by illness. We cleared away the misshapen, the perverse, the wrong-blooded and warped who sullied the herd with their taint. We slew the weak, that the strong might grow stronger and the fallen feed the scavengers and carrion-birds.
It was an honorable duty, a strong birthright, and we did our job well. For generations without number, we held to our ways, and the veldt prospered.
Then came the dry times, when the rains no longer fed the grasslands and hunger swept the land. Drought killed more than even we would dare slaughter, from hunger, thirst, and the heat of the never-ending summer. It drove the herds to seek new lands, looking for water, food, or shelter from the sun.
And it brought men to the land of the beasts.
They came with their flocks, bearing their villages on their backs, and the grasslands died, eaten bare by their cattle and goats. We moved to cull their numbers as well — beast and man alike — but the humans baited us, hunted us, and in time, proved their worth. These were strong men and women, and their blood strengthened our line. Our numbers grew, both two-legged and four, and for a time our clans stretched from one edge of the land to the other. It was a glorious time for the Bringers of the Rain.
But the dry times did not end. And though we held our duty dear, the rains would not fall, no matter how many tears we called to summon them. The wild flocks faded. Even we could not bring swift peace to all those who faced the long night with hollow bellies, never to see another dawn.
Just as hunger drove the herding villages to us, seeking respite, it brought other predators into our lands. Our cousins, the cats-who-walk-on-two-feet, sought the dwindling herds also, and we warred beneath the twilight for food to feed our cubs.
The war between ourselves and catkind grew to desperate levels. They who had once patterned themselves mighty hunters, but who stormed in to steal our kills. They who fouled our waters with their lazy ways. They who left meat to rot in the sun rather than bear the presence of the scavengers who starved around them.
They blamed us for their poor hunting. Blamed us for our “unnatural ways”. Blamed us when their own pride left their cubs to hunger, their Kin to starve, their children to dry up in their mother’s wombs.
There was no longer enough for both to survive. Not enough food. Not enough water. Not enough hope that we all might live on. They murdered our young, and we theirs, and the grasslands supped on blood from both.
Then came the Endless Storm, and the battle came to a head.
Bare your teeth, my child, at the name of Black Tooth, killer of our kind. It was he who learned the Yava of our people. It was he who raged across the lands, slaying Ajaba, hyena, and human alike. It was his pride who swept the Serengeti like a murderous squall, and his minions who hunted us to the streets of Bombay.
Something had to be done. Our king, Adjua Ka, called the people together, to unite our forces — and counterattack.
We gathered by the hundreds — men, women, and children — filling the Ngornongoro Crater until the valley glowed bright as day with our campfires. Metis and Kin, an army of hyenas, humans, and we in between. And, as the sky overhead turned dark, and the shadows crept in around us, our once-King began to speak.
Adjua railed against the Simba and vowed to lead us against them. Together, he promised, we would drive the lions from the plains and stop the slaughter of our people. His words were food for our hunger, water for our souls. In his voice, we could hear the song of our freedom, and an end to our troubles.
Our replies thundered in the darkness — howling voices, stamping feet, pounding shields, snapping jaws — all eager, all ready. It was a night of spirit-raising, war-planning, and truth-telling. It was to be the night when the choosers of the slain took back the midnight land.
It was a trap instead.
I remember bristling fur and wide eyes as the first of the lion’s roars shook the night. Winds cracked the hills and torrents washed away the campfires as the Endless Storm swept over the crater’s edge. In the lightning-flare I saw a wall of lions, leopards, and men around us. There was surprise, but no fear from our people — not then. We were the choosers of the slain. We were the cullers of the herd. We lived to take life — it was our sacred duty, and we were ready to fulfill it upon those who would do us harm.
How little did we know.
They fell upon us, and our world came apart. We fought hard, and we accounted for our lives in blood. But Black Tooth knew our Yava, and his warriors struck exactly where they could do the most harm.
Our people fell like raindrops to the thirsty land.
Some, seeing the battle turn, escaped into the darkness. They ran across the grasslands and summoned up spells to hide themselves. When they reached the cities, they scattered and hoped for the best.
The ones who stayed were butchered. Each man and woman. Ajaba and hyena. Kits and Kinfolk, warriors and children alike. They slew us all, destroyed the court. To mock us, they decorated the site with skulls. And with foul magics, they cursed the lands we once protected, barring us from them for a hundred-hundred years.
So many lives, so many futures, so many tales forever lost. But we are far from dead.
They may have run us into the darkness, but the darkness has ever been our ally. They may have thinned our number, thinking to weaken us, but we are the cullers of the herd, and we know that what survives grows only stronger in response.
Denied our lands, we have scattered to the four corners of the earth and claimed each shadow as our own. Denied our Kin, we plant our seed where we may, breeding new clans to replace the ones so mercilessly taken from us. Denied our duty, we fulfill the role of rainmakers for all, bringing down those who are too weak, too foolish, too vulnerable to survive the teeth-that-bite-and-never-let-go.
We will endure. We will survive. And in time, we will regain what has been taken from us. We will rebuild our families, reclaim our lands, return to our natural place in the order of things.
And when that day comes, the cats will yowl for mercy and find it denied them. They will run, but from the shadows we will hunt them down. And their Kin will mourn over their thrice-wretched bodies as we call forth the rains over the plains of Africa once more.