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Chapter 11 appeared in issue 88.
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The last time Wolfgang Neverfolt cried he was a young man, and his father was going off to war. The men had looked splendid in their armor sitting on their mounts in the early evening light. To Wolfgang’s young eyes they were the gods of his universe, the creators of who he was and ever would be. He had set his ideals to match theirs, to stand for everything they stood for, to fight for everything they would fight for, to die as they would.
“Take care of your mother, boy,” had said he father, looking at him through the gates of their estate. “You’re the man of the house now. Your mother will depend on you. And be sure to protect your sister and your brother. Promise me to take care of them.”
“I promise,” he blurted through tears of misery.
Raingrin Neverfolt nodded. “Good. There is no one else besides your family. You can always depend on them, as they will depend on you.”
All the young boy could do was reach out for his father through the gates. “Be strong, boy. Be a Neverfolt. If something should happen to me, you will be the youngest lord on the Council.” With that, the head of the Neverfolt family turned his back on his son and gathered his men with a few short commands. Wolfgang cried until the column rode out of the City and were gone from view.
Now he cried as a grown man because he had made a promise. He had made a promise he intended to keep until his dying breath. Wolfgang Neverfolt cried until there were no more tears to cry. In the aftermath of the disaster that had just occurred, the silence was deafening.
He was having trouble breathing through his choking sobs. Nothing would bring Sara and Remy back. His mother being deceased years now, he didn’t have a family anymore.
“What have they done?” he cried out. “Oh, my Sara! What have they done to us all?” Wolfgang Neverfolt was in danger of being consumed by despair, a wave of such sharp pain he didn’t think he would ever feel right again. He placed his hand on Ellen Pinto Roe’s magical wall. The magic released a soft hum and singed the hairs on the back of his hand. Reluctantly, he moved his hand away.
He always knew the Dead Queen would bring the City to its knees. He knew that the Guardian would one day fail them. That the Lord-General was a pet of the king had been obvious from the start, and now they were all paying for it. Remy certainly had.
Young fools should never be allowed to manage over a political community. It took years of experience to learn the laws of the City. The Valley of Life was a precious commodity that had to be taken care of. The citizens were a complex lot, coming from all over the world to trade and buy goods. You had to study and learn the ways of all the cultures that mingled in the valley. Wolfgang was sure the young queen had never really known the responsibilities of leading the people. Every noble and citizen alike was paying for her shortsightedness.
In the end, he guessed, the king had failed them when he appointed his daughter as heir to the throne. He should have seen the king’s apathy with the appointment of The Prophet of Dreams as the royal advisor. There was nothing that could have been done then, and there was nothing that could be done now. Blindness was not a trait that could be cured.
Sitting there on the floor, he felt something within him die. If he could have described it properly, he would have said that something had changed within him that would never be the same again. It was like dying, but living on in the afterlife.
Except this was nothing like eternal peace. From the pain and his turmoil something was being born to carry him to the end of his days. A purpose. Maybe that’s what it was. But it had more to do with anger than with any purpose to fill the gap in his heart caused by the deaths of his siblings.
It felt like something had been released inside of him that had been imprisoned all of his life. There was a savageness to his thoughts that took him by surprise. Instead of mourning, his thoughts were telling him, be angry for all of the injustices of the world. That there were injustices in the world, there was no doubt in his mind.
He could still remember vividly when his father’s men came back from the Seradine Conflict beaten and battered, their spirits broken. They had borne the lifeless remains of his father on horseback, his shield placed over his body like a shroud. The column saluted young Wolfgang Neverfolt as the boy had run out of his estate to cry over the body of his hero.
That had been the second injustice. The first had been the command to his father that he go to war, orders given by a king who held no love in his heart for his troops. All the king cared about at that time was his daughter and his queen, and his bitch Guardian. It had been her orders, really.
The platoon commander over his father’s remaining forces had slid off his horse like a wounded animal and presented Raingrin’s sword to the young boy on one knee. He held it out for Wolfgang for almost thirty minutes until his mother came out and guided the child to take it from the other’s hand.
Wolfgang Neverfolt never forgot the look on his mother’s face as she cried, pretending to be strong for her child. She was a beautiful woman, but she lost her shine after that. She was like a beautiful piece of furniture that had been left out in the rain too long and had lost its finish. With the death of Raingrin, her ultimate demise had begun, as well. There had been nothing he could have done to stop the metamorphosis.
That was the third injustice in Wolfgang’s life. The king had come later to present the family with a medal of outstanding service for Raingrin’s death in battle. But no medal could ever bring Raingrin back from the dead, and Wolfgang had burned the thing that same night in the family’s hearth, not wishing to honor the king by keeping it in his house any longer that it needed to be.
It took him several minutes to rise to his feet. He scanned the room once again. Ellen Pinto Roe had taken Sara’s body to wherever the magic had taken her, but he still couldn’t help but look to where his sister had fallen. There were pieces from her violin to the back of the tower, where she had dropped it after the deathblow. He couldn’t help but feel that gaping hole on his heart again.
He heard someone coming closer, their footsteps giving their presence away on the stairs. He whirled around, his face contorting in a manner he had never experienced. The look on his face must have shown how he felt because Marise, his head seamstress, blanched and almost fell back. He had to leap down several steps and grab her by the hem of her dress before she fell back and broke her neck.
Her eyes were wide with fear. A momentary pang of guilt traveled up into his gut. She was looking to him for protection and he was scaring her half to death. There was plenty of that to go around without him adding to it. The Dead Queen had seen to that.
“My lord,” she stammered. “The city is emptying out. The Home Guard is leading people away as we speak.”
“Foolish, girl!” he scorned. “Get out of my way!” He could not help the anger in his voice. “Run! Save yourself.” The last came out in a whisper. Sudden realizations were like flowers blooming in the middle of winter. He knew now what he had to do.
“Yes,” she stammered again. When she saw the gleam in his eyes, she reiterated for him. “Yes, sir!” She didn’t look back as she fled through the front door.
Anger can burn as bright as a star, and if left to run wild, can consume like a bonfire offering to the gods. Driven by anger is like making someone love you at sword point. And if it goes unchecked, it can spread like a wildfire heading straight for a village with no creek to save it.
Wolfgang Neverfolt, in his anger, suddenly had the urge to give chase to Marise and strike her down. Although he couldn’t find the source for such a temptation, he didn’t think he could stop himself. He took a step forward and found himself at the bottom of the stairs before he grabbed on to an open doorway. He had to take several deep breaths to calm himself. He was even more surprised to find that the effort was making him sweat.
He gave out a yell in his withdrawal-like pains and was horrified when it turned into a howl half way out of his throat. There was something mistakenly wrong with him and he was afraid. He had to tell himself something to drive away the pain and the anger, because one fed the other and both would consume him if he let them both go unchecked.
A memory of the Dead Queen rose from the depths of his mind, and he knew where he would direct his efforts. He would get revenge. He would make her pay for all of the injustices she had caused.
Vengeance. The word rose to smack him right between the eyes. What was there to say about vengeance, he asked himself, except that it makes a man deadly. And he wanted to be deadly. He would expose Joleen Zelonis as the incapable leader that she was to the people of the City. He would prove the Lord-General a fraud, a man that had led the City’s thousands of fathers, husbands, and sons to their deaths
“I will have my revenge against you,” he vowed to himself. “I will destroy you just like you have done to the people of this place and to my home.”
First matter of business he had to take care, though, were the remaining citizens left within the city. He would lead them to safety. He would show them, by example, why the Neverfolt family should claim the throne.
* * *
Elle Pinto Roe’s magical wall had made one half of the Wolvenshire Estate completely inaccessible to Wolfgang. He traversed the halls of his once proud home like a ghost looking for a past that was centuries past. Dust from the break in the walls was still settling and the scent of burning wood made his nose itch.
Nightfall had come sometime in the hours past, but he had hardly noticed. He was too preoccupied looking at what was left of his family’s legacy. His mother’s chambers were closed, as they usually were. But in the darkness, he could feel for the first time the loss those doors contained within. He had ordered them closed to keep anyone from disturbing her things. Now he realized he had ordered those doors closed to shut away the pain her things caused every time he laid his eyes on them.
He passed by Remy’s wing. The halls were lined with suits of armor, the Neverfolt crescent banner displayed proudly on the wall. The designing and decorations reeked of Remy. His young brother had been a lover of the military. Everything in his life had been to be a good soldier. From the suits of armor to the swords proudly displayed in a glass shelf against the wall, those had been his most prized possessions. Unlike Wolfgang, Remy was proud to display to the world those things he held most dear.
Wolfgang was not one to share much with anybody. Remy even had his first shield displayed over the door to his rooms. The Lord-General had given it to him upon naming Remy Second Lieutenant of his armies. Wolfgang moved on to another part of his home without looking back.
That there was nobody left in his home, there was no doubt. He could hear the silence from the empty streets even here within the confines of his home. It reminded him of another monumental event that had happened years ago before The Valley of Life had come to existence. That had happened years ago, and the power of that day still woke him some nights. He passed by an open doorway and stopped in his tracks.
The room was half lit by Ellen Pinto Roe’s magical wall. Wolfgang took a step into the room and found himself standing in the estate’s armory. There was a desk against the far wall, but the wall made it impossible to reach. If he squinted, he could probably make out what was written on the parchment. A feather and ink well lay right at the right hand side of the desk.
The day’s events didn’t allow him to notice how good he could see in the near darkness. He moved in closer to the wall, gazing at all of the shields, weapons, and suits of armor. There was enough armor here to supply half an army.
As he followed the rows and shelves of weaponry around the room, his gaze settled on an open closet, the door unhinged by the Guardian’s magical wall. A breath caught in his lungs. The closet contained his father’s armor and sword.
He took a step toward the closet and unknowingly passed in front of a window. The moon was full this night he ran a hand under the shaft of light and his face contorted. His teeth grew fangs and his eyes glowed red. He doubled over and fell halfway closer to the window. He cried out in pain and his hands elongated. The hair on the back of his hands grew longer and his nails sharpened considerably.
This should not be happening! It was the only thing that kept running through his mind. That his family had come from a cursed people was no secret. But that curse had been cleansed out of his family tree with magic! Unless... he thought with horrifying realization.
Unless his father had lied to him and something had gone horribly wrong. He staggered over to the closet and opened the one remaining half of the door that he could. His father’s armor still stood in its stand, but the suit of armor was wedged under the magical wall. Ellen Pinto Roe’s wall should have cut the armor in half. His eyes caught his monstrous face in the rusty colored breastplate’s reflection.
He stumbled over and fell half on top of the armor, singeing his face on the magical wall and dropping the suit all over the floor. He scrambled to gather all of the pieces, but his transformation had other plans. His father’s helmet escaped him and it rolled across the floor before coming to rest in the corner.
In his frustration he tried to rise, not realizing that his transformed haunches would not let him and he fell to all fours. He was losing his train of thought and he could feel his mind clouding over with rage and blood thirst. He had never experienced blood thirst before, but he linked to wanting to go to war the night before a major battle.
The urge to chase Marise rose from the very depths of his soul again, and this time he could do nothing to hold his wants back. His world went dark as he smelled blood nearby and all thought ceased to exist in Wolfgang Neverfolt’s mind.
The last thing he remembered as he burst through the front doors of his estate was his father’s sword lying across the room on the floor. The blade was cut clean across the middle, releasing the magic that had held the curse of lycanthrope back from the Neverfolt tree for the last one hundred years.
Then his world was consumed by Marise’s scent and the cold trail she had left hours ago.
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler III
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