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One Exhaltation -7 years

“No, there is a large pack out there, too many for me to confront alone.” Hammer scratched his back with his sledge. “They decided I was too much trouble for the time being, but they won't keep that opinion for long.”

“You know we're not warriors, friar. We're herders.”

“Then give me some of your shepherds. They will know the wastes, and have likely driven off some beasts before. This pack is large, and as you've already said is attacking caravans. I will make due with whoever you can provide.”

“I can only ask for volunteers, many of them are likely not to come back.”

“I understand. The Unconquered Sun will provide.”

“Heh, just like he's been providing all these years. You've been helpful, but I ain't ready to go converting to your cockamamie religion yet; I like not getting pasted by the realm patrols.” The town elder shakes his head as he wanders off.

Two days later

“They. Are. Still. Out there.” Shen gasps between breaths.

“I know, we got, maybe four of them. How is Yui?”

“She's bleeding pretty badly, the wound keeps opening up with this exertion. We can't keep doing this Xiahou.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Let me think.” Hammer scans the horizon, squinting in the dark. “They are coming from the west, but…” He pauses and thinks harder. “No, there are rocks to the west, it's a feint.” Hammer waves for his beleaguered crew to follow him. “They can burrow, they attack from the sides. We can punch through here and keep them from outflanking us.”

“Sure yes, whatever you say, lets just go.”

Two hours later

The small party crouches in a cave in the rocks. The single entrance is down a narrow cut in the outcropping, preventing more than one person from entering or leaving at a time. Thankfully though, it also limits the number of wolves that can push into the cave at once, denying them the numbers advantage.

“Well, Xiahou, that worked. I'll admit, I didn't believe you, but that worked.”

“For now. I can hold them at bay, and I expect they will back off after a bit. We'll need to get Yui back to the encampment. And we can regroup there. We hurt them, but we lost Zhu and Leilang.”

“I suppose it's a start, and they've already killed 5 others with no reappraisal, so I guess this is a start. And Zhu and Leilang new the risks, you did what you could. If it wasn't for that quick thinking, none of us would be here.” He gestures to the seven other people in the cave.

“Maybe, it just never seems like enough…”