The towers were all burning, their thick walls of stone. Burning and crumbling. Strong and proud battlements, subtle and delicate spires, they were all perishing. Below them the city of Maurur was dying as well in smoke and fire. The dwellings of the people those towers had been erected to protect.
I admit there were tears in my eyes as everything I had thought so powerful, so eternal, so beyond the reach of others, was reduced to nothing more than a huge bonfire obscuring the morning sun with its smoke of destruction. My tears fell, and I mouthed words of rage and defiance that were utterly impotent. The great city of Maurur was no more. My parents, my brothers, and sisters were no more. My friends, my lover Monah, all gone.
The Knights of the Wolf were no more. We had all been obliterated as the soldiers of the Iron Hammer had overwhelmed us.
All of us, that is, except me. I had been stationed at the Crooked Bridge, which separated the great Keep from the city proper. The Crooked Bridge, with its old wooden, creaky planks, and the finely wrought cast-iron railings.
On the city side there had been a park where beautiful girls had used to go walking or they would sit in the grass eat, and we had smiled at them and straightened our backs and put out our chests. That was all history now. When the fire had begun to rain from the sky, and the mighty Gate had been blown open by giants allied agianst us. I had unsheathed my reverse edge sword. Together we had waited, me and my five Brother Knights.
we all had the characteristics of wolfs, ears set on the top of our heads, tails, fangs, but most importantly teamwork. like our forefathers we stayed in packs which made us lethal to the iron hammer who had little order. i was 16 at the time only 5''7 160lbs i had long grey hair and grey eyes and like all wolf knights i was lean with muscle. we where the guardians of the last Bridge of the last Keep of the last stronghold of the Knights of the Wolf.
After some dreadful minutes of waiting, while we had listened to and watched the slaughter of the city, anxiously praying that the call to arms in the Keep would be heeded in time.
Six pairs of hands that waited prepared to die to protect the stronghold. Then they had come howling out of the ruin of the city, the hideous creatures I had only heard of in tales. First and foremost the massive frames of filthy, mindless giants of different shapes and hues, but all huge and all had wielded clubs or enormous war axes. There had been blood-crazed men, there had been the ominous, hateful Gray Champions, there had been small, vicious hellcats, the terror of the deep forests, and many more.
Something had seemed to happen to time as they had rushed at us. they slowed as if wading through water in seconds that seemed like hours they where upon us. we let out howls, a testiment of our will and plunged into the heart of the battle.
i turned my blade and scliced the tendons of the giants then another of the pack would sclice his throat, an example of our teamwork.
we where inmoveable not losing a foot of ground. we ripped through flesh and armor till it seemed the enemy lost all taste for battle soon they retreated. we letout another long howl, it was cut short by 20 or so hellcats.
hellcats known for their prowness on the battlefield viscous adversarys who had eyes that simbolized their moods. the eyes of the 20 rushing to us where blood shot red. we looked at each other nodded and prepared to fight and die. they came the sheer numbers pushing us back we had no hop[e a single hellcat could go toe to toe with anyone of u. i watched my pack die around me till it was just me and my best friend, we had been through thick and thin together. i cut down only one hellcat and was wounded with deep cuts.
i fought another until i just couldnt keep up anymore i closed my eyes and prepared to die a warriors death. my friend let out another howl and shoved me ff the bridge into the rushing water below. And now I was here, fallen into the river.
Watching the city and Order of the Wolf die, clinging onto a piece of wood as the stream took me. Out of danger maybe, but into shame and disgrace. Later, not much later in terms of time, but an age of effort, I reached the river bank.
It consisted of mud, was filled with sharp branches, and hid slippery patches, but reaching it meant I was saved. Gasping I crawled out of the water, deduced that I had arrived somewhere where there was thick grass growing, and let my body go limp with relief.
I had all but forgotten about the rapids south of the River Gate, but all the blows to my head, arms, body, and legs made sure I would remember the experience for the rest of my life.
My entire body ached more than after the most intense sparring session I had ever taken part in. Correction, it ached worse that it would have after first taking part in the most intense sparring session ever, and then being disciplined for having a dreadful hangover from some drinking binge the night before.
Not that that had ever happened to me. Not often, at least. For what must have been an hour I lay and tried to regain strength while thinking over my situation. I was on the east bank of the river, alone outside a city that had been taken by an enemy sworn to eradicate the Knights of the Wolf. The tales of the trouble they went through to kill every last one of us because of the words of the Prophecy were gruesome and probably true.
It was death to remain here. I had to flee, fast and far. Down the river was the great metropolis of Andomin, also under the rule of the Iron Hammer. The Merron Pass upriver was guarded by the Merron Fort, that too under enemy control.
To the West I would reach the desert before I left the domination of the Iron Hammer. But to the East. The forest of Ligues.
Two weeks hard walking straight east, or a month if I should flag or lose my way, and I would be in Carosia. The Merchant Cities of Carosia. Their people scoffed at and ridiculed in Maurur as weak, mean, dishonest gold-hoarders. But we had still bought their goods and spices. And we had listened, and laughed, when they had informed us that a man skilled with arms could become a citizen, and a rich one at that, if he traveled East.
I remembered how we had waited in excitement, counting the coins in our purses when their barges were reported as being unloaded south of the rapids. I opened my eyes and stumbled to my feet. The harbor! Of course! If I could get on a barge before the conquerors had started searching for any survivors, maybe I could get down to Andomin and get on a ship bound East. But my hope fell as I looked about me.
To the north was the city walls in the distance, smoke still welling up and clouding my heart. But as I turned to face the south I saw smoke there as well, not five hundred yards away behind a bend of the river.
It was the smoke of barges and piers and storehouses burning. The Iron Hammer had smitten the harbor as well. There was forest all around me, the fields of Maurur were to the north. Only huntsmen, trappers, and loggers went into the forest. And now, who knew? Maybe the Iron Hammer would let a warlord of theirs settle in the city? Or a tribe of giants? Or maybe the hellcats could frolic in the ancient streets as they let the forest in? I looked at the mighty trees: Firs, pines, oaks, birches, and the all the lesser bushes, and I sighed.
I had some woodcraft, but a trek through a forest this thick might very well be my first, and last, adventure. As my hand went to my sword I wished I had a bow, for hunting.Then I swore as I realized I did not have a sword either. Somehow, during my struggles in the rapids, I had lost it to the river. I had a knife,no food, no map, no flint, and no arms. With an oath I stepped into the forest. The next morning I was sure of quite a few things. Berries, especially in springtime, are not enough to fill your belly.
Sleeping outside during spring under a slightly damp cloak is not warm, and neither are tree-roots good pillows. And most importantly: Forests are not parks, they are dark places with thick undergrowth, wide brooks, mires, steep cliffs, and hills upon hills upon hills that all hamper your progress.
The only thing I felt unsure of was where I was.
I knew I moved eastwards in a fashion, but how far I had come, or whether I was veering north or south I had not idea. without my pack i was at a disadvantage if i was hunted. As such I was in no state of being happy about not being eaten by some predator, and not being caught by the pursuer I had to be prepared to meet. I navigated after the sun, chasing it from hill to hill, even climbing trees now and then when I got lost. thankfully my cuts and bruises where healing and i was able to keep up a steady trot the second day.
still It was not until in the early afternoon when I reached a hill so tall that I was able to have a proper look out over the forest. I left the dense, dark forest behind, and in ten minutes had reached the open top of the hill, where only a few gnarled, old pines and low shrubs grew.
The wind was fresh and fragrant, and I ignored the hunger I felt as I climbed a huge, mossy rock to get the clearest view of my surroundings. had to be at least five hundred feet above the level of the Armon River and the city of Maurur, as I could see the smoking towers far away in the distance. There, somewhere, was the room I had lived in for the last two years, and the barracks that had been my home for five more. There were the corpses of the last Knights of the Wolf, the last but for me.
There was my family, and I might never know if they lived or died. I turned east. The forest of Ligues stretched out for leagues upon leagues, and I could see nothing but hills in the far distance. Here and there there were valleys, and even a small lake or two. I noticed that if, when I climbed down, I followed a certain ditch in the terrain, I would end up a valley that slowly wound itself eastwards and a little south until it ran into a larger, elliptical lake. I decided to try that path, as I might save time if I didn't have to check my position so often as I did now.
I had walked all day, and was tired and hungry, but despite that I felt fine. My legs were free from cramps and my head was clear. I was so grateful that I had paid attention to the instructor who had taught me how to survive in the wild. I had eaten lots of berries, and also found some other edible plants, without which I would surely have starved. Even so I had looked at all the squirrel and birds I had seen today with murderous intent.
I had even seen a moose of some sort, but without a bow or pack I would never be able to hunt its kin. when the sun was at its highest in the sky i walked into a clearing. i stoped just as i was about to exit, my ears heard a unusual sound and instixnt told me to leap to the side. just as i did a hellcat when flying by. as it turned to face me i was face to face with a female hellcat the first time i had ever seen one. it leap at me agian faster then i could anticipate and landed on my chest its claws sinking into my shoulders.
suddenly i was on my back trying to push it off me lookig into her blood red eyes filled with hate.
i got her off me and turned to put some distance between us ( never turn your back to the enemy, i was useless without my pack) she leap on my back. The pain made my cry out, but I could consider myself lucky that I was able to: Hellcats are, despite their small stature, considered very dangerous opponents. The Knights of the Wolf were explicitly warned not to underestimate them. I fumbled for a split second, got hold of my knife, bent my head (and throat!) forward, and struck as hard as I could at my spine with an over-the-shoulder stab.
As I heard a shriek, one of pain this time, and could not feel anything myself, I knew I had wounded my assailant. But despite its hurt the hellcat was not beaten and I got bitten twice on my left arm and hand as I protected my throat from the deadly jaws.
Unlike the attack on the bridge things where evenly numbered.I had fell over on a rock that ultimately saved me. I lost balance, and tumbled off the rock with my enemy still clinging on to my back with its claws. I somehow managed to turn in the air and landed on my back, my foe beneath me.
This stunned the creature, and I managed to wrench it off me. My knife was in my hand, but my killer-instinct was not yet fully developed. Instead of stabbing the hellcat dead, I punched it in the face.
Once, twice, thrice, and then it lay still. i have heard horror stories of what hellcats looked like, what vile monsters they were with their fangs and claw-sharp nails and vicious tempers.(which where true for the ones i fought on the bridge) I had seen the remarkable hellcat-eyes that hunters would bring to the city, the eyes that would change colors, and wondered what kind of beasts they were.
I had not been prepared for this: Beneath me, bleeding and unconscious, lay the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.She was not my kind, of course. The color of her skin alone gave her away: An olive skin that possessed an inner glow, smooth as silk and tough as hide. Her straight hair, jet black, was cut irregularly short, and looked thick and healthy. It had a dull shine to it beyond what any normal woman could hope to achieve even with the most delicate care and finest oils.
The small, pointed nose, full lips, expressive eyebrows, and rosy cheeks all gave the impression of a person capable of a myriad of moods, all intense. Her mouth, of course, was full of pointed, sharp teeth. Not the rapid dog snarl that I had, but smaller, yet deadly-looking, incisors. But it was her fangs that caught my attention: White, long(longer then mine), and vicious, like giant, slender thorns with a sting that was truly deadly.
I rubbed my neck where she had bitten it. Truly deadly they were. But now there were only three fangs left in her mouth. I had punched out the upper left one and the incisor beside it, during our fight. Her upper lip was large and blue, and her nose had bled. Somehow now, the morning after, I felt less inclined to hate her for the attack and the pain she had caused me. She had remained unconscious during the night, and I had sat beside her with my back to the rock we had fought on, not sleeping much due to fear and hunger.
In her comatose state she looked strangely peaceful, lovely, like a sleeping princess awaiting a kiss from her prince. Except for all the blood, that is. She was a tiny thing, if she was five foot then I was seven, and looked not older than 17 or so. Her body was slender but, despite the gray, woolen shirt and pants, I could see she had been blessed with truly female curves: Large, firm breasts and a backside that could summon the eyes of every man in the vicinity, if a hellcat should ever take it into her head to think of men other than as enemies, or food.
She wore no boots, her feet looked tough and well used to running in the wild. Was this innocent, young maiden truly a vicious monster? I had to feel my wounds again and again to reassure myself that tying her up had been sensible and not merely brutish.
Her arms, which hands had tough, tough nails but no claws, were tied behind her back, and her ankles tied a foot and a half apart from each other so that she could walk. True, I had ruined my shirt to make bindings, but I felt safer now. The hellcat was far smaller, lighter, more agile than me, and with teeth and claws that could cut through leather like my nails through a leaf.
And the price to pay if she should break free was more severe than any i had endured. I sat still and pondered my situation: I could not leave her tied up to die, and I could not leave her free.
She would probably follow me, if the stories of the hellcats' thirst for revenge was anything to go by. I just sat and watched her perfect body, until when the sun rose and touched her face, she woke from her slumber. She went from sleeping beauty to furious feline in an instant. I jumped as the still form suddenly began thrashing and fighting, growling and hissing. I must admit I even held my knife out in front of me in case she should break free and leap at me.
But she didn't. I had spent hours upon hours learning how to tie the proper knots, and the leather was just tight enough to keep her from loosening it by wriggling and struggling. In the end she calmed down, lying on her side, breathing hard, and glaring at me with her hellcat eyes. They burned. The eyes were nothing but pools of fiery hot flames glowing with pure, malevolent dark blood red.
The eyes of a hellcat were said to be able to light up a room for years after they had been cut from the sockets of it owner. By submerging them into different potions one could make them change shape: irritating the eye with an acidic liquid made it red with fury, pleasing it with sugar water turned it blue, and so on. I had seen a hellcat eye once before, in my Captain's office. I had been fascinated with the red, glowing orb in its glass jar. The light of that one was nothing to the clear-burning flames of the pair now before me: So dark red with hate, so intense in their fury that I was reminded of a smith's forge more than any puny candle or oil-lamp.
Filth!" she suddenly snarled at me. She had a high-pitched voice and spoke with a raw, hard accent. I had never known whether hellcats could talk, but she spoke precisely like I would have imagined them to: Full of emotion, and without any of the restraint that civilization and tradition will put on you.
"Filth! What will it be? Cut me up and then kill me? Rape me first? Let the beasts have me?" I had jumped when she had first growled, and now I tried to regain my composure.
Yes, she could speak, and she truly hated me. What would it be? Kill her? Leave her like this? "What will it be? Get on with it!" "Do think death is too harsh for you, hellcat?" I said in my best official voice. "After your attempt on my life?" "A quick, clean death is all I ask for and deserve, Wolf Knight" Some of the fire in her eyes died away as we began talking, thought her voice was almost bursting with constrained fury.
"I am indeed a Knight of the Wolf," I was aware my speech was a bit stilted, but that is how one copes with a difficult situation, I guess, "and we do not slay captures enemies." "You just cut," she spat the word out, "their eyes and leave them to it." "We do not!" "I have seen them," she hissed.
"Those of my people you catch. Eyeless, dying." "I will not kill you," I murmured. I had never thought of how hellcat eyes were procured, and she might just be telling the truth.
"Even though you tried to kill me." "I did!" "Why did you do that? Hungry?" One of the tales concerning hellcats was that they would eat the humans they caught deep in their forests. "Oh no," she smiled sarcastically, and there was a flicker of blue in the pools of fire. "Eating you would imply I respected you. I am ready to respect ducks and rats, but not you. Oh no, for you it would have been the crows, or even your dear wolves." ''oh hilairious the little kitty made a funny'', i said smirking at her knowing she'd be pissed.
she leap and me snarled and struggled to get loose. "The hunters that took our people tended to come from your city did they not? If not satisfied with their eyes, then took the men to fight wild beasts, or the women to boast about their prowess in bed.
Oh, I have lost so many from my tribe that when asked to search for any survivors." She grinned while dirty brown and blue specks danced in her blood red eyes. Then she gasped with pain. "I failed, but I managed to bite you good! Almost as good as you got me." "Are you hurting?" I asked then, suddenly a bit worried.
"What's that to you, Wolf Knight?" "Nothing you would understand," I said and moved closer to her. When I touched her right shoulder she snapped at me with her jaws like a frightened dog would. "Nothing I would." She growled and the light shone stronger again. "Filth! You think I know nothing of compassion? Or concern?" "Show me," I replied. The wound was deep, but not infected.
I had tried to bandage it with leather and some cloth from her shirt, but having her hands tied to her back did not help her. "Let me see your little scratch-marks so I can feel sorry for you." Scratch-marks? They sure hurt as hell, and she had bitten me.
"Wipe that grimace off your face! I can hardly see them. By the Lords of the Wild, I must have failed in everything yesterday!" She was right. The wounds she had given me were almost gone. Yesterday there had been large gashes almost everywhere the leather armor had not protected me. Even the bite on the side of my neck had healed as if I had laid in a sickbed for many days.
"No," I said, taken aback. "They have. healed?" Her eyes narrowed as she peered more intently at me, and more colors seemed to appear in the pools, no longer blazing."Lucky you," she snorted. "I will have to wait about a month for my teeth to grow back, if I live that long.
Did you cut them out? Or did you punch me in the face? I seem to remember." "Well," I felt a bit embarrassed, "I did." "You throw a good punch, What is your name, Wolf Knight?" I hesitated.
If she should escape, and I had given her my name, then the Iron Hammer would better know how to search me out. Because they would, if they knew I lived. The Prophecy would ensure that.
"My name is.fang.