Chapter 12: The Hunter of Wolves
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Chapter 12, part 1 appears in this issue.
Reaching for his black cloak trimmed with red lining, he moved for the tent flap in smooth graceful strides. He pushed passed both women without another word and stepped out into the cool night air. The camp reflected in his eyes was a masterpiece of strategically set positions and the fires warmth soothed his soul.
His men were hurrying to get into formation. Alysses felt like a god with disciples doing his will. “We can lure the hungry beast to this point, where we can all set upon it without mercy.”
They came to stand before him, two rows of finely disciplined men who would carry out any order he might give. As they came to stand still before their master, Alysses inspected them with a critical eye. The red vests and brown pants made his soldiers look like the blood guards he had modeled them after, out of Mor’Sham.
As a boy he had stared out his window every night to look upon the glorious blood guards that protected the borders of Mor’Sham. They would march down the streets of every city, their boots thumping in unison, their weapons held in perfect formation over shoulders, seeking the glory of their fellow citizens.
Alysses preened for just a moment. Any of his men would be more than qualified to join the ranks of the blood guards. Light, he thought as he watched his men standing there, awaiting his orders, any of these men could lead a blood guard. One day, he mused, maybe he would test his men against those he admired all his childhood. What an honor it would be to defeat them.
The beast’s howl brought him out of his thoughts. The beast was almost there. He was greater pleased when none of his men shifted their feet nervously. Their eyes never wavered or flickered and nobody’s hand trembled.
He leaned over to speak with Jerelyn. “These men are the best, are they not?” he asked in a hushed voice.
She nodded eagerly. “Yes, they are.” Her voice was silk on bare skin.
He turned to Eliana. “What do you suggest we do now, my dear?”
The black-haired woman thought for only a moment. “I say we offer a sacrifice to the beast right here. We can put a person, of your choice,” Alysses noted how Jerelyn’s brow creased worriedly, “right in the middle of this V-shape. We can lure the beast into this wedge where your men will set upon it. It won’t have a chance.”
Alysses nodded understandingly. “It’s a good plan, except for one thing.”
“What’s the problem with it?” she asked.
Alysses was surprised when Jerelyn spoke up. “How are you so sure the beast will come in here willingly? I wouldn’t come into a camp full of armed men willingly. Why should it?”
Eliana looked at her sister calmly. “I was thinking we could make it think that we worship it. Werewolves are used to getting sacrifices from people who are too afraid to fight back. We can just make it think that we are cowards like all the rest.”
Jerelyn nodded. “I like that.”
“As do I,” conceded Alysses. “When it has been lured into our little trap, then we’ll teach it what it means to be afraid.”
“Yes,” agreed Eliana, a little too hungrily. “Now we need to find a person to sacrifice.”
“If only we had Andina Lerouse to sacrifice,” contemplated Jerelyn.
“Oh, but that would be so sweet,” added Alysses, running a hand through her hair. “It would be such an inventive demise for her, I’m sure we would get an extra amount of money for it; an added bonus. Light,” he said, “I just might give you some of my share for coming up with the idea.”
Eliana cleared her throat. “If you two are done gloating, can we decide who is to be the sacrifice?”
The beast howled again, and this time it was only two hills away. There wasn’t much time. Alysses turned to Jerelyn. She stepped away, her eyes going wide with fear and panic. He would use her, but maybe not tonight. The fright of being so close to a creature she loathed might be enough to drive her mad. He would not do that to her.
Fretting, he turned to a man who stood first in line. He wore a broad sword in one had and was missing an eyebrow over his left eye. “Weorlin, come here.” he commanded.
The man stepped out of formation and another took his place. Weorlin hard dark brown eyes, accentuated strangely by the missing eyebrow. He didn’t say a word and he didn’t break his attentive pose.
“I will ask one question, Weorlin,” started Alysses. He had hunted so many werewolves; he could already sense the beast within the camp. The camp was big enough that it would take it several minutes before it reached them.
Weorlin waited without response for the question. Alysses stared at the man in the face, even though he was a full head shorter than his underling. Alysses was by no means a small man, but he wasn’t the biggest either, especially not in his regime.
“Are you prepared to take up any commands that I might give without hesitation?” he asked.
The big man didn’t hesitate. “Yes, sir.” He didn’t need to shout for Alysses to know he spoke the truth. The beast was one hill away. They had less than a minute.
“Good, very good,” nodded Alysses. “Then here is your first order.”
“Command me, sir,” stated Weorlin, “and it is yours.”
“Cut your arm,” commanded Alysses, “and let the blood flow.”
The big man didn’t ask again, nor did he ask why. In one swift motion, he lowered his huge sword and ran it across his forearm. Blood spilled smoothly over the skin and began to drip on to the ground. The man never flinched. With hard eyes, he awaited for Alysses next command.
Alysses regarded the man respectfully. “You know why they call me the Falcon, Weorlin?” he asked.
The other man shook his head.
“Because I strike fast and mercilessly!” he yelled. Instantly, he reached over and grabbed Eliana’s hair. Stepping over her foot, he tripped her and she landed on her back. The air from her lungs exploded out of her. He went down to a knee and placed a hand over her chest, so she wouldn’t get up. With a nod of his head, two more men started coming over. But Eliana wasn’t done.
Wordlessly, she hooked her leg over his arm and behind his elbow. Grunting with the effort, she kicked and almost popped his elbow out of place. Alysses stepped back, the only thing that saved his arm, and was kicked hard in the chest. As he flew back, he went into a dive and came to his feet after a roll.
She was trying to get to her feet as he came up but she was too late. The two men he had signaled were already there, pinning her arms to her side. She still struggled for air as he came up to her, pinned between the two men. Weorlin never moved from his position and Jerelyn had stepped back completely.
“Nice move,” said Alysses as he reached them. “You probably could have won if we had been alone.”
“Bastard,” she spat. “All you needed to do was ask. You know I would have done it.”
“Come now, Eliana,” he began. “You know you will be perfectly safe. Nothing will happen to you. Right, men?”
No one said a word. Good, thought the Falcon. They haven’t given us away to the beast, yet. “Weorlin, put your blood all over her face.”
The man did so without hesitation. He smeared her face completely. She had to shut her eyelids in order to keep the blood from going into her eyes. She didn’t struggle much. The two men holding her were far stronger than her.
When the man was done, Alysses waved him away. He took his place back in line. “My dear, the beast needs to find you fearful. He can smell emotions. If he finds you feeling safe and perfectly calm, then it will know something is amiss. We can’t let it get away remember? If it does, then the rest of the pack will come. And then I’m afraid we will all die.”
He didn’t wait for her comments. He signaled to the other two men. “Place her there in the middle. Make sure you pin her to the ground well. We don’t want her to get up and run out of here. It would be the death of us.”
Both men only grunted as they carried her off. Alysses watched it all calmly. Eliana didn’t struggle. She knew, as well as he did, that he was right. She would have to do her part in the plan if they were to destroy the beast. As he watched transfixed by her calm demeanor, he spoke to her red-haired sister.
“Your sister is a tough one, Jerelyn,” he stated. “When this is all over and done, I think I’ll have you both.”
She moved closer to him and pressed her body against his. His skin burned where he felt her. “Eliana will like that, Alysses,” she said in her silky voice.
“I know,” he said. “Everyone knows how she loves danger. That’s why I didn’t pick you to do what she is doing.”
“Thank you for not choosing me,” she said softly into his ear.
Alysses watched Eliana get pinned to the floor. Spikes were placed around her legs and arms, driven into the ground through her clothing. It was enough to hold her down for now. Once the beast came and fear set in, she would be able to break free with the adrenaline rush that ensued.
“Don’t count yourself lucky, Jerelyn,” he said without looking at the woman at his side. “You are still not my favorite, okay? One day, and one day soon, you will be in her place. Maybe not the same situation or purpose, but in a miserable spot, none the less.”
The woman at his side didn’t say a word.
The beast finally came into view, a shambling creature covered with thick fur and red, beady eyes that stared behind a long snout that resembled a wolf’s. All of Alysses’s men turned their heads to stare at the thing that walked pretending to be a man during the day. Alysses waited expectantly as the thing snorted and growled viscously. It walked by fires and tents, never turning its head to look in and about. It already knew that the camp was empty behind it. Its sense of smell and hearing told it so. Its gaze was riveted on the woman pinned to the floor between the long rows of men.
Its long hands almost reached the floor as it walked hunched over slightly. Its claws were long enough to scratch the floor behind it, leaving a trail in the grass. Eliana strained to look up. She could hear and feel the creature getting closer. Alysses watched carefully. He did not want Eliana Bantikoff to meet her demise here at the hands of a creature he hated so much. Not here, at the foot of the Hills of Fae, only a dawn away from reaching and accomplishing their goal.
They had traveled secretly for too long to have her meet her end here. Traveling from Mor’Sham to Corinn Ada was not an easy feat. She was mostly responsible for the passage they had gotten in order to get here so easily without trouble.
As the creature came into the glow of Alysses’s firelight, Jerelyn staggered back. Her face was pale and almost ghostlike. Her eyes were wide and a small gasp escaped her lips. She jerked away so suddenly that the beast momentarily looked up to stare at her. Alysses saw her knees go weak. She would have fallen if not for the tent pole she clung to.
The beast’s mouth drooled at the sight of the red-haired woman and quickly turned to the woman before it on the ground. Eliana finally saw it, and she thrashed to get away. The spikes that held her in place began to give way, just like Alysses had expected, and her clothing began to tear. In a matter of seconds, she was half way up to a knee, her eyes wide with terror as the creature lumbered close.
It was almost upon her when Alysses finally gave the yell. Each man composed and at attention, drew their weapons and set upon the beast with a fury. The beast howled in fury. It clawed a man in the chest with a swift swipe and bit another in the neck.
A sword took the beast in the chest. Another took it in the neck. The beast took no notice. It was slowed momentarily, but not enough to concern it. With another howl, it dropped to all fours and rammed into the gathering crowd of armed soldiers. Bodies were bitten as it moved through the ranks, leaving men clutching limbs in its wake.
Eliana staggered back, kicking and moving away quickly. The beast had her scent and it would not let her get away. Men placed themselves between it and her, but the werewolf slashed them out of its way with its huge, black, dirty claws. As far as Alysses could count, there were already nine men wounded. It was more than enough. He couldn’t let this continue.
He pushed Jerelyn away from him. “Go get my sword, Miss Jerelyn,” he commanded. “Hurry if you want to save your sister.” As she moved to fetch his sword, Alysses placed himself directly in front of the beast. Eliana didn’t stop when she passed him. She continued to move away, afraid and unabashed.
The creature howled again. It slashed wickedly and the Falcon ducked smoothly underneath. The creature lunged forward, taking a bite with its drooling maw. Its teeth missed Alysses’s neck by an inch. He moved out of the way. He signaled for his men to stay back. He didn’t want anymore of them to get hurt. So far, all the injuries incurred were not bad. They would heal. This was his battle now.
Time to show his prowess.
The creature growled, a deep rumble from down it’s belly, and focused its eyes on the Falcon. Soldiers stepped forward to watch the ensuing battle. The werewolf jumped high into the air, almost catching Alysses off guard, and tried to ram its claws into the Falcon’s back. Alysses stepped out and rolled around. He moved back just as Jerelyn came out with his sword.
“It’s about time, woman,” he growled. Reaching out, she placed his scabbard in his hand. The werewolf came after him with a howl. Alysses could see some of his men blanch at the sound.
He drew his blade as the beast lumbered close. The silver lined sword caught the firelight from the nearest campfire as it came out with a ring. The beast stopped in its tracks, uncertain of the new weapon. It shuffled back, and that’s when Alysses knew that it knew. The beast now knew that it would succumb to a greater foe this night.
With a yell of his own, Alysses lunged forward. The beast reacted quickly and parried the blow, but not without consequence. The blade nicked it and blood spilled forth. The werewolf howled in pain. It staggered back again, unsure. Alysses pressed forward. He swung two more times and again the beast suffered two more nicks.
In frustration, the beast reared up on to its hind legs and slashed at a soldier that stood too close. The man went down almost cut completely in half. Alysses came thundering forward, slicing high and then low. The beast growled and bit, always retreating. Alysses pressed.
With a spin of his sword, Alysses spun around and cut the beast off from its retreating path. Instead of running, the beast tried to ram Alysses in the back of the head with one of its claws. But the Falcon was too quick. Dropping to a knee, the blow sailed high. Reversing his motion, he came around and impaled the beast in the arm. The sword cut cleanly through muscle and bone.
The beast howled in pain. With great effort, it pulled its arm free and swung with its other beastly arm. Alysses again ducked and swung low, severing the tendons behind the beast’s knee. This time the beast lurched back and fell on its back. It wriggled and writhed on the floor, trying to stop its lifeblood from spilling.
Alysses watched the beast calmly.
“Weorlin,” he waived the man over. “Take its head off and plant it on a spear for the whole camp to see. After we depart tomorrow, and if somebody comes, I want to leave its head as a memento. I want anyone who comes to see this beast that we have taken down.”
The beast continued to shake and convulse on the ground. Eliana stared at Alysses with longing in her blue eyes before disappearing into his tent. The Falcon watched her go with rising desire. Jerelyn didn’t hesitate to follow her sister into his tent. Maybe the night wasn’t lost after all, he thought.
Weorlin waited until Alysses turned to him again. “It will be done as you say, Alysses.”
“Good,” replied the Falcon. His mind was already anticipating the pleasures of the night at the hands of the twins. He walked over to his tent. Before going in, he turned to look at his men, who were already dispersing to their own tents. The wounded were already being tended to. Some of the more seriously hurt were being pulled away to bigger tents where they could rest the night away.
“Tomorrow!” He yelled. He waited until everyone turned to face him. “Tomorrow, our task will be done. The Seer wench will meet her death and we can go and collect the rest of our loot. Rest well. We will fight with the coming dawn. I don’t suspect there will be much of a challenge for us.”
Some of the men chuckled.
“But we need to rest, nevertheless,” he continued. “Send scouts to keep an eye on the borders of Acrene Tarrynth. Also send scouts to keep an eye on the pack of werewolves out there in the Hills.”
He watched his men continue to shuffle off. The night was good. The air was fresh. It made him tingle with anticipation. Tomorrow morning, he would kill his first Seer. It would be a great addition to his résumé. His value would rise to unlimited proportions. Nobody, he thought, nobody better get in my way. He looked for the dying beast, where Weorlin was already doing his dirty deed. If anyone got in his way, they would suffer a fate far worse than the beast’s.
With that, he turned into his tent, where the two sisters were already waiting for him expectantly.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Julian Lawler