Author Topic: The Storm of Lakenheim  (Read 9961 times)

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Dry Ice

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #30 on: February 08, 2013, 04:26:40 PM »
I very much liked the end of this chapter. It was very atmospheric -- what with the lovely poem being contrasted with the sights of bloodshed and violence outside and all. Quite dramatic! :D

I also thought it was interesting to see Eimon tending her sheep. The way she had names for each one and knew their personalities was very sweet. I kind of hope the sheep survive the battle (though I guess at this point it doesn't look like anyone will! :P) Also, Cuddly is a great name for a sheep. XD

I think I'm starting to get more of an idea of who Eimon is and what she means to the story. Especially seeing her around the medical woman and the old bard, who seem very similar to her in a way. Of course, I only have my theories and guesses about her, and I'm looking forward to seeing whether they are proven or disproven by what you come up with next. :)

Honestly I was amazed that Eimon did not get attacked when she was just running around the town! But I have another guess as to why you might've written it that way, and once again, I'm just going to have to wait and see if I'm right or if you have more tricks up your sleeve!

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #31 on: February 10, 2013, 09:27:53 AM »
Sorry for the late reply, Ice. I was away for a while :P

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I very much liked the end of this chapter. It was very atmospheric -- what with the lovely poem being contrasted with the sights of bloodshed and violence outside and all. Quite dramatic! :D
Thanks. Great to know it served what I had in my mind :)

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I also thought it was interesting to see Eimon tending her sheep. The way she had names for each one and knew their personalities was very sweet. I kind of hope the sheep survive the battle (though I guess at this point it doesn't look like anyone will! :P) Also, Cuddly is a great name for a sheep. XD
You know, I really felt like a girl when I was writing this part! Especially when Cuddly jumps on Eimon's lap!

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I think I'm starting to get more of an idea of who Eimon is and what she means to the story. Especially seeing her around the medical woman and the old bard, who seem very similar to her in a way. Of course, I only have my theories and guesses about her, and I'm looking forward to seeing whether they are proven or disproven by what you come up with next. :)
The mere mention of your theories about Eimon's possible role in the story brought many ideas to my mind. I'm in your debt again. :)

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Honestly I was amazed that Eimon did not get attacked when she was just running around the town! But I have another guess as to why you might've written it that way, and once again, I'm just going to have to wait and see if I'm right or if you have more tricks up your sleeve!
Oops, that completely slipped my mind!!! I'll try and put in a scene when she gets attacked by a wolf and is saved by someone. That was well-thought of. Thanks :)

And thanks again for your ever-kind reviews, Ice  :vikonsmile:

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #32 on: February 20, 2013, 05:24:49 PM »
Chapter 6
The Hour of Wolves

IV
Jugal

When I was a child of four years, I remember a genial hunter by the name of Tarland Timberghost who often visited our house. He was an old friend of my father and a veteran member of the Blade Brethren, an ancient order of valiant hunters of legendary skill with sword and bow. The order started out with seven of the greatest hunters of mythic renown who had ever graced the walls of Sulkron: Harlak Boarskull, Eroll Bloodmare, Shalna Crystalspear, Roginn Steelfang, Nya Silverbow, Lanna Ashengale and Sargayne the Iron Doom.

They chose Sargayne as their captain, and together they were an unstoppable team. Roginn was the jolly of the group, while Eroll was the grimmest. Nya and Lanna were closer than sisters, and Harlak and Shalna wed five years after the order began. It is said that from their union, a boy with a skin as pale as milk was born who grew up to be the most brutal hunter in the history of Sulkron. They named him Morvay, the ghost of night. He was unmatched with his choice weapon, a silver sword light as silk, yet sharper than any steel. He called it The End, and it stayed true to its name. His victims fell before his silver steel with no more than a single stroke, and they were many who fell. He took a maiden from Pleck by the name of Lunya as his wife, famed for her long silver hair, and brought her to Sulkron. Thrice the wolves attacked Sulkron in his time, and thrice he drove them off shattered and broken. Known as the Pale Death, Morvay was soon chosen as the captain of the Blade Brethren, and five times he led raiding parties to the heart of Hawlern Mountains, wishing to exterminate the monsters once and for all. But the last raid proved to be treacherous, and Morvay was lost in the deep burnt halls and caverns of the ancient city of Geldmorn. Later, the remaining Blade Brothers ventured into the mountains again to find their missing brother, but they only found his sword.

Morvay’s silver wife was with child at the time of his disappearance, and gave birth to his son a few weeks later. The son bore his mother’s silver hair and his father’s pale skin, and inherited The End. Trained by the remaining warriors of the Blade Brethren, now led by Furen Beastbane, the boy grew up to be a legend at the age of seven, beating every single of the Brethren in sword fight. At archery, he was of no less wonder, hunting ghost-eagles in the dead of night with astonishing precision, fletching his arrows with their feathers. He seemed to have been born to pick up where his lost father had left: to revive the Blade Brethren once more and restore it to its golden days. Such it was that, at the age of nine, just before the dawn of the second decade of his life, he was chosen as the captain of the Blade Brethren, whose name he changed to Shadow Wolves. He was the youngest captain of this legendary company since the day it was founded. They called him the Wolf of Twilight. His name is Rhaya.

It has been five decades since Rhaya took the lead of Shadow Wolves, and whereas there were once half a hundred of them, only three are left tonight: Egven Rockarm, Welsa Steelwitch, and Rhaya, the Wolf of Twilight. Now, twilight has come to Sulkron, and the wolves have awakened. Three wolves of shadow against one horde.

BOOOOOOOOOM!

CRASH!

BUMP!

The western gate shattered into a wreck of busted iron and broken wood. For all the reinforcement we had secured the gate with, it only took four strikes to smash it to planks, and before we knew it, the wolves were upon us, with hides black and red like a dark meadow bleeding, fangs gleaming white as death.

It was Meregor who brought us back into action with his booming voice.

“DON’T JUST STAND THERE LIKE IDIOTS! POUR FIRE ON THE GATE!”

Two cauldrons of burning oil were mounted on the wall just above the broken gate, with Ursy and Vex at them. A pile of firewood had been gathered on the side, which was kicked down to the big gap which was once the western gate. The piles struck the ground with a shattering sound, and when the burning oils was poured on them slow and golden like honey, they screamed fire.

The wolves stirred back at the sight of the sudden flames, and growled furiously like a hunter who’s lost his prey. It bought us enough time to descend the walls and prepare for the real battle, fang on steel.

Sulkron’s armory was located near the center of the town, a long hall of stone stretching from north to south some fifty yards. Whereas once it thrived on shining weapons and armors of all kinds, now it only housed broken blades and battered plates of rotted steel, dim relics of a forging city forgotten under the ashes of time. Master Forger Heman took charge of the old building, honing swords and fixing armors with his meager equipments, themselves in bad shape. A week before the battle started, he was charged with the task of crafting a great number of shields made of the unburning kayden-wood, dark as a starless night, heavy as five iron bucklers. The last stretch of such trees in the vicinity of Sulkron had been spotted by Rhaya and chopped by only ten lumberjacks who worked themselves near to death, carrying the lumbers back to town with backs hunched like corpses trudging.

Then it was Forger Heman’s turn to work like hell, sawing and polishing and sweating and cursing. He enjoyed the aid of only two apprentices, who were somewhat slim in the arms to qualify for the job. The shields had all been crafted the same day those two strangers arrived with their little flock of sheep, and ever since that day, they rested at the armory untouched by all but Heman and his two assistants.

Rhaya shouted the next command.

“Fifty sentries, to the armory!”

Half a hundred of our most muscular men rushed to the old building, swords in hand.

“Archers, stand your ground! Warriors, flank the armory!”

It was now that I had to leave Boster on the wall, as he always preferred to fight with his bow, and I with my sword. I dashed toward the northern end of the armory, taking position beside Yermen, the shining elk, or more correctly, the bloody stag, with his antlers of iron dripping with fresh blood of crows. On the other side of the town, Welsa’s girls were forming a long line along the southern wall, my sister probably among them if not badly hurt. Egven ordered our side, drawing a line on the ground before our feet with his giant axe to stop anyone from venturing further. I could see the fire at the gate dwindling slowly, my heartbeats steadily thumping faster with every second.

I looked at Yermen and tried to guess what he was thinking at that moment, but his face was concealed behind the metal helm, as well as his thoughts. It felt sad to be unable to look at my companion’s face one last time before the onslaught, and the ultimate end. There is no death more painful than a lonely one. Tonight, hundreds of hunters will die forsaken by their god Beroshee, the Savage Feaster. Perhaps he means to feast on us after the carnage, favoring the wolves over his old hunters. There is no poison more bitter and deadly than a god’s betrayal.

Eventually, the fire doused, and the wolves emerged raging and raving, growling wildly at the scent of their prey. I could see Rhaya atop the western wall, The End gleaming silver in his hand like a lightning bolt in the dark of night. His shout pierced through the chaos of the wolves.

“ROLL OUT THE CARPET!”

The front door of the armory was flung open by a dozen strong arms, the ones Rhaya had called the Fifty Sentries. They were unfolding a great carpet woven out of hundreds of cloaks and capes and cowls, the ones Rhaya had ordered to be collected for reasons unknown. Each cloak was stitched to the other by strands of sheep wool, forming a giant set of colorful skins: dark grey, deep black, burnt brown, mossy green, blood red, ashen white and other colors beyond counting. It was such a beautiful sight, every hunter’s cloak playing its own part in the making of the carpet, the whole population of Sulkron joining capes.

As the carpet kept rolling on and on, the wolves were scattering across Sulkron in big droves, running on our cloaks. I felt pity for my own cape, deep grey trimmed with lines of red, a howler’s skin, the biggest I had ever slain. But whatever hopes I was having for saving my cloak from the wolves was turned to ashes when Rhaya bawled their fate.

“LIGHT THE CARPET!”

No sooner had he finished than a volley of fire arrows rained down on the nexus of capes, setting the whole battlefield to raging flames. I wished I had covered my ears before the fire started, for what I heard was excruciating to hear even from a horde of wolves who had come to savage me and my clan. The poor bastards took fire faster than the carpet itself, and went on racing through the town, shrieking and howling so loud and painful I thought I heard a couple of throats rip apart. And it was not just one wolf that burned like that; two hundred wolves were roasted alive in the center of Sulkron before the uncaring eyes of three hundred avenging hunters who had stood there to make their final stand, under the light of the bleeding moon.

The fire consumed flesh and fur and bones, and lashed anew whenever more wolves trod on the flaming carpet. Firelights danced madly in the night, frenzied shadows swiveling left and right and left and right, the beast dancers singing of agony and hell. All the while, archers showered cleaving fire at them, piercing heads and throats and bellies, mad blood spraying out on the inferno, hissing like vengeful snakes.

There were times I wished I had not been born a hunter, but a simple peaceful farmer in a quiet field, grazing my own cattle, playing songs for my herd, even taming a dog or wolf to keep by my side, my closest friend in this world. It was not something new or unattainable. I’d heard tales of Gukrid shamans in the long past, folks who tamed wolves and crows and even shaped their skins like them. Such was our bond with the wild in the ancient times, when man and wolf shared the same prey and meat, the same field, the same land, the same blood. But now… that same blood is boiling in every vessel of beast and man tonight. This night we kill, this night we die, this night we bleed.

The wolves burned and shrieked and dashed across the courtyard, blind with rage and terror, knocking down their own blood, running on their own kin. Dreadful minuets of flaming death passed, and three hundred hunters stood watching in silence as the broken horde dispersed. I could guess a rough number of three hundred burnt heads. And then the fire died…

I saw the whole line of hunters stir in uneasy motion as the last of the flames burned out. The town rang to the echoing sound of enraged howlers, and we knew the next wave was upon us, only with no hell carpet under their feet. This time their captains took the lead of the invasion, scarlet wolves with black lines trimming on their backs, eyes burning violent gold. They were five times bigger, stronger, faster, and deadlier, hence earning the name of juggernauts. I counted a hundred, but feared to estimate the casualty, all the more with the fire dead.

The red juggernauts sprinted on the ashes of their kin, blowing them away in clouds of grey cinders. The resting time was over. Now we must strike. Egven wielded his giant axe and bellowed.

“DRAW YOUR STEELS! IT’S KILLING TIME!”

With a united ring of old steel, Sulkron’s blades revived once more. I could see a glint of excitement in the eyes of the elk that was Yermen’s helmet. We drew swords together, mine rough steel, his chipped iron. Two juggernauts were racing directly to us, growing bigger and bigger with every wild leap. I chose the left one, and studied my prey. It was a big beast with a blood red hide, fangs the length of an arrowhead, deadly white and deathly sharp, eyes burning with fury. I looked closer and closer into its eyes, and saw it… I thought I’d find hatred, I thought I’d find evil, cruelty, malice, least of all revenge. It was nothing like that, nothing like that at all, and that shamed me more than I liked. Its eyes spoke of famine, desperation and homelessness. The wolf was simply hungry, and he had found his prey.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2013, 05:30:49 PM by Wyndfal »

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #33 on: February 20, 2013, 05:31:57 PM »
I shook back to consciousness and found myself dangerously open to attack. I swung my blade blindly at his open jaws and roared. Blood spurted on my face as the sword cut through the wolf’s jaws, and the juggernaut overpowered me, knocking me to the ground, clenching my sword between his jaws with teeth red with fresh blood. Hot saliva dripped on my face, heated breath blowing my hair away as the wolf closed his head to mine to stare at my eyes. Whatever he might have seen there, it must have moved his pity in a way, for it drew its muzzle back, and I could almost see sympathy in those golden eyes.

It didn’t last long though. Our eyes lost touch as sudden as they had met when the juggernaut was lifted to the air, dropping my sword to the ground as he opened his muzzle to howl innocently. Egven was holding the wolf by the back of his neck with one hand, with the other breaking the red neck with a sickening crunch.

I lurched to my feet shamefully, feeling like a child who had been saved from a puppy. Egven must have been thinking the same thing.

“Is that how you fight wolves, little boy? What kind of a hunter are you, lying still like that?! That bastard was about to tear your face to pieces!”

No. He was talking to me with his eyes, moaning of the same pain that was troubling me for a long time. But that wasn’t something the likes of Egven could understand, or bear to hear, so I lied.

“The wolf was heavy, I’m sorry. I’ll do better next tim-” He was gone as soon as he had appeared.

As I looked about me, I saw five more corpses of juggernauts nearby, breathing their last gulps of blood air. One dived at Yermen, and he lowered his head and rammed his iron antlers at the wolf’s belly, impaling the beast, twisting his horns a bit.

Another two leapt at me. I dodged the first one with a quick somersault and landed on my feet a yard away, driving my sword at the right one’s flank. The wounded wolf responded growling, and rose on its hind legs for a hammering strike. Rather than lurching back from his reach, I ran straight to its wild embrace, driving the tip of my sword to its belly. He was too quick to fall for that, and swirled as he descended with horrible weight on my left, dodging my thrust. From the side of my eye, I could see his head turning to bite my left leg, but all I could do was roll to the side to avoid his fangs. This was just as he had planned, I could see, since the moment I landed on my feet, I saw his shadow looming on my back. Without even looking back to face three feet of crimson monstrosity, I thrust my steel rearward, lunging the blade in hard flesh. When he howled in pain, I knew I hadn’t missed my mark.

By the time the beast fell, I was drunk with rapture, and sorrow had left me. I had never slain a juggernaut before, and killed my first without so much as a scratch. In my age and experience, it was a deed seldom done without grave loss, if not life. If I survive the battle, I know what my next cloak will look like. I might even pick a hunter name for myself: Jugal the Lightning Sword, the Red Death, Blood Cape.

Other hunters were no less formidable. Vex leapt around the battlefield like a maddened beast, swinging his sword in vengeful circles of pain, cutting off legs here and heads there, roaring fiercer than any fiend, a monster in the shape of a man. Ursy fought more tactically, measuring his moves so as to deal the most and receive the least. Unlike Vex, he never fought more than one opponent, making his fight more like a dance than a real combat, as he constantly dodged and rolled and whirled aside from his prey. Yermen fought like a real stag, using his antlers in a combination with his sword. It was a clever move, since most wolves went for his shining head, and ended up with his iron horns in their ribs, leaving them open to his blade, which he plunged repeatedly in their bellies until they could bleed no more. Egven was even more impressive. His giant axe was always whirling in the air, hacking at heads and claws in a craze of blood and death. Whilst an ordinary hunter needed to measure his moves carefully before he attacked, he was as reckless as a god, wrestling with the juggernauts who were as tall as he was, punching them in the face like thunder.

An arrow whizzed past my ear and landed on a dead wolf. The beast groaned one last time before he closed his eyes, never to open them again. I sped my way through the young graveyard to meet more foes. It was then that I realized that not everything had gone as well as with my other clansmen. I stumbled on a headless corpse and wondered which way he was facing. Five feet away, a juggernaut leapt on a young hunter and plunged its fangs in his shoulder, tearing out a huge chunk of red meat before he could even lift his sword hand. It took me some moments to remember he was one of Boster’s cousins, the one he liked to call his brother, a brother he never had. And now, he lost him too.

Blood filled my eyes, rage burning inside my veins as I charged at the beast who had murdered my friend’s brother. Countless long, thick strands of red hair stood up on the wolf’s body like blood grass as it caught sight of me, lending its already huge stature another feet of terror, but he wasn’t the only one who was mad with fury. All the hair on my body had risen in rage, my arms filled with the strength of a titan. The wolf hesitated for a moment, then raced to me. Our eyes met in a flash as we raised our weapons, a crimson claw and a blade of blood. Steel met flesh in a spray of red river, and the wolf lost its front feet, bumping with his head to the cold ground before my feet. I stood there watching him with eyes that never saw, and guided my blade right to his skull, pinning him to the ground. He groaned in twisting pain, pleading the mercy of a quick death. But he was pleading the wrong man. I drew my sword out from his head and lowered it again, again and again until all that remained of him was a muddle of slaughtered meat and broken bones drenched in a pool of blood that shamed the bleeding moon.

I raised my head in triumph and cackled like a mad man, blood dripping from my hands and blade as I stared at the moon. It was strange. I never knew that the moon had the face of a dying wolf.

I heard a shrill noise, and saw another brother fall. He was attacked from two sides, one wolf tearing at his right foot while the other had a large taste of his left hand. The sight was unbearable, and only matched by the piercing shrieks he made as he lay in his own lake of blood, with the wolves shredding his belly. Emerk. He was the poor chap who was fool enough to suggest Meregor that we should leave Sulkron before the wolves arrived. The chieftain had in turn positioned him on the front line to make him a lesson for all the craven, and now he had died.

If I thought I was already filled with fury, I had been wrong to no end. I felt my hand harden its grip on the hilt of my sword, so solid I could hear the metal moaning in pain. In a heartbeat, I was upon the wolves, growling like nothing human. When the first one dived at me, he found me diving at him. We met in midair, beast and monster in rage, fang on steel. I never meant for his claws, nor its belly, nor its nuzzle. I drove my blade straight though its maw, cutting deep into his entrails, piercing out from the other end.

He sprouted a mug of blood on my face as we landed, knocked to the ground on his back. It smelt worse than death, and I was enraged. Before he could shower me with another torrent, he found both my hands at his throat, digging deep into his flesh, crunching bone after bone until there was nothing left to break. Then I spat at the chunk that was once his face, and lifted my head to meet the other one. He was long gone.

It was then that I remembered something my father used to tell me about bloodlust. It was a state of frenzy learned from the ages old by men who lived in the heart of wilderness. Thousands and thousands of years ago, long before the First Forge was crafted, there were no weapons in the world. No swords, no axes, no maces, not even daggers. Men and women had to fight monsters sometimes ten times their size, and the only weapon they had against such brute force was their own body. But what they lacked in war gear, they compensated for in pure rage. They were said to have gone into a state of uncontrolled frenzy which rendered them immune to fear and pain, wildly enhancing their strength, speed and thirst for blood. They called it ‘bloodlust’, since the more they spilled the red fluid, the hungrier they got for more. No monster was safe when a human’s lust for blood was roused, regardless of their size or might. Some say the real reason behind the extinction of the bigger monsters was the same thing. Some tribes went further than that, and learned the secret craft of controlled bloodlust, by which men could enter that frenzied state with their own will. As the monsters lessened in size and number, so was bloodlust. Later, with the advent of weapons of different kinds, many forgot this ancient technique, and yielded to a more civilized life. And so it was that the bath of blood gave way to the dance of swords. Before long, the style of combat changed altogether, but the core remained intact: that men were born to bleed. Ironically, civilization never happened.

I lifted my sword in the air and looked at the blood-coated blade, dull red against the crimson of the starless sky above. Blood had stiffened into the steel, but my hands were still fresh and damp with the life of the red wolf I had savaged. I chuckled with delight at the sight of hands, and let go of the blade, too blunt for my nails and teeth, too civilized to kill.

I raised my head and howled like an ancient wolf, a long song of forgotten rage and sorrow. A dozen juggernauts heard my call and shivered in fright. Then I knew I had found my prey. I ran to those trembling beasts with such speed I never knew I had, and leapt among them, baring my teeth at them, my paws held out ready to tear apart flesh and bone. Some of them stirred uneasily at the sight, but three less craven beasts answered my invitation to blood bath. The first one I punched in the nuzzle, breaking every bone he had in there. The next one leapt at me with open jaws, and just before he could close them on me, I clasped them with my bare hands, forcing them open and open and open until they cracked with a sweet sound. When I found the third one gnawing at my arm, I shoved my fingers deep into his golden eyes, blood splattering at my face. It was the sweetest scent in the world.

The rest were less challenging. I remember plucking out one’s tongue, gnawing another’s claw, crunching the other’s back, and tearing at more throats that I can recall.

I heard a man commanding something in a tongue I no longer seemed to understand, but when he did, a long line of some fifty men marched out of the long building, holding huge shields coated with fire. As they closed in on the wolves, they retreated in terror, stumbling on the corpses of their own kin. Not far away, I saw cluster of wild girls, lashing at the wolves with whips made of fire, burning snakes dancing gracefully in hell. The cornered juggernauts moaned like helpless pups, and when they burned, they danced even more gracefully.

In the midst of them all, there was a man with silver for hair and lightning for speed, dancing with a silver light that was his blade. Where he waved his sword, heads were detached, bellies were impaled, and blood sprayed steaming in the thrill of the night.

Among the graceful dance of fire snakes, a feral woman clad in an arsenal of steel was ravaging through the remaining wolves, dagger and sword and whip taking turns as she danced among her prey, a red dance of steel and blood.

And towering them all was a giant of a man with a brown red beard who wielded an axe twice the size of an ordinary man, but swifter than a knife. His bulky arms were rocks made flesh, big and solid and unbreakable. He was facing five juggernauts alone, and was still too much of a challenge for them.

Howling with unsurpassed delight, I sprinted towards the last of the red wolves, cornered by a company of muscular men holding out shields that sprouted fire. I could smell the pelt of wolves on them, and the sharp scent of burning wool. The shielded men closed the ring of siege with every step, trapping the last of the red wolves against a wall of stone and fire. The end was close…

… but the wall of stone behind the wolves shattered at four joints, sending big chunks of rock flying in the air. From the haze of broken stones and rising dusts, four colossal demons armored with rock emerged and broke through the line of siege with their horns, smashing those burning shields to infinite planks that didn’t burn. In a course of a few seconds, the unbreakable line of fire was broken just as swiftly as the western wall had. And suddenly, I remembered again the bitter taste of true fear.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2013, 06:56:01 AM by Wyndfal »

Miss Nile

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #34 on: February 22, 2013, 07:39:33 AM »
Woah, I am feeling sorry for Sulkron now. Have some mercy, Wyndy! XD

But honestly, great job on this chapter. It's very bloody but it pictures the battle and war perfectly, and I especially loved Jugal's expressed feelings as he fought. My favorite moment probably has to be when he was almost defeated by a wolf and the wolf kind of felt sympathy for him and drew back. It showed that these monsters aren't simply some evil creatures yearning for killing as much as this battle was probably a battle for survival. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the wolves at times, too, as much as I felt sorry for the hunters and fighters. It felt strange. XD

Rhaya also is a very interesting character, and I loved how you mentioned his background story quickly but it was very rich in information, and it blended well with the present battle. That was great. ^^

I can't help but wonder where Grunnel is though. XD Eimon couldn't find him and Jugal never mentions him though he supposedly is one of the fighters. That is keeping me wondering. XD

Anyhow, great chapter as usual and nice cliffhanger. Write more soon!

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #35 on: February 22, 2013, 08:01:40 AM »
Honestly, I can't have enough of your kind words, Miss Nile. Every time you review anything I post, I feel ten times more inspired to write! You have my deepest thanks  :seraismile:

Quote
My favorite moment probably has to be when he was almost defeated by a wolf and the wolf kind of felt sympathy for him and drew back. It showed that these monsters aren't simply some evil creatures yearning for killing as much as this battle was probably a battle for survival. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the wolves at times, too, as much as I felt sorry for the hunters and fighters. It felt strange. XD

Do you remember Jugal's prologue? It was about the same dilemma both the hunters and the wolves are facing. I had to make it clear that I had not forgotten about that, since it is one of the main themes concerning Jugal and his clan.

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Rhaya also is a very interesting character, and I loved how you mentioned his background story quickly but it was very rich in information, and it blended well with the present battle. That was great. ^^

Isn't he? :P I must admit, I myself love him a lot! XD Thanks :)

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I can't help but wonder where Grunnel is though. XD Eimon couldn't find him and Jugal never mentions him though he supposedly is one of the fighters. That is keeping me wondering. XD

Heeheehee! Not telling you! You have to wait a little bit more!  8)


Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #36 on: March 09, 2013, 07:16:25 PM »
Chapter 6
The Hour of Wolves

V
Jugal

“IT’S THE GURRLUKS AGAIN! FALL BACK!”

Gurrluks were a race of colossal demons born with a thick coat of rock on their flesh and an indestructible horn as hard as black diamond on their forehead, a living battering ram each with the strength of a hundred men. Legend has it that Gurrluks were born the day the Order of the Golden Hammer refused to pay tribute to their builder god, Azgolin, going so far as to craft a monolithic statue of a horned beast armored with pure stone, challenging the might of the builder. To their horror, the statue was animated and turned on its own builders, ramming down the ancient blacksmith of Geldmorn to a rubble of broken rocks. Resilient to every blade and hammer and spell, the stone monstrosity destroyed hall after hall, the earth quaking under its rocky heels. Left with no other choice, the builders led the monster deep to the caverns of Geldmorn, where the First Forge lay. There, they tricked the monster into leaping to the world’s furnace, whose heat was only matched by the burning sun. The beast melted down inch by inch, his roars echoing down the broken halls of Geldmorn as it plunged into the pool of fire. Deeming themselves victorious, the builders openly declared war against Azgolin, drunk with pride and sacrilege. Day and night, they hammered out of the stone grotesque demonic figures, each more hideous than the last. Following this blasphemy, the Order of the Eternal Flame cast their massive idol of Azgolin down into the First Forge, proclaiming a new era without a god. But no sooner had the statue touched the forge’s fire than a fiend of pure flame emerged from the furnace, raging with the relentless fury of Azgolin, the Builder God turned to the Destroyer. Unnamed, unknown, and unstoppable, the fire devil flooded the caverns with the Eternal Flame, drowning the ancient city of the smiths in their own craft. The builders and sorcerers and all those who dwelt in the heart of Hawlern Mountains were forced to flee their homeland, defeated and broken. Ever since that infernal night, which they called the Night of the Destroyer, the survivors of that massacre altered their deity, bending their knees before the shadow of the Savage Feaster, the hunter god Beroshee. Tonight, the dark memory of that ancient hellish night has been revived, the hunter god turning on his own hunters with monsters old and new.

The Gurrluks charged forth, the ground shaking like a cradle quaking to lull a giant to sleep. The tide of battle had turned the moment those monsters breached the walls, cleaving right through the burning shields like knives through butter. And now, it was our turn to fear, our turn to bleed, their turn to play the hunter…

Roused by bloodlust and fear, I bounded towards the Gurrluks with no weapon but my own claws, a beast on a beast. Arrows bounced off their impenetrable armors, only serving to fuel their rage. I wondered which of us surpassed the other in fury.

A Gurrluk raced to me with its head lowered to point his horn at me, running with astonishing speed. At the last moment, I jumped off to the air, aiming for his solid neck. The beast never so much as flinched at my charge, merely turning his head to the right… and then to the left again to hammer me out of its way, fifty yards away, spinning and spinning in midair and bumping to the cold ground. The world went jet-black in the blink of an eye… it shouldn’t… end… like this…

In the bleak oblivion of the muffled voices and vague nightmares, I could make out all but little of what was happening in the waking world around me. I only remember heavy stomps and many crashing sounds of wood and stone, accompanied with an endless torrent of screams of dying men and women, the last of my clan. Ghosts hovered in the black void, taking the shape of wolves with pelts of many colors: pitch black, silver grey, crimson red, twilight blue, snow white, earth brown and poison green. They circled around me with eyes gleaming death white in the dark, never making a single noise. Among that ghostly horde was a grey wolf lame in the right front leg, lifting his freshly wounded paw up whilst he followed his kin. One of his ears had suffered a terrible cut, a better part of it missing. His nuzzle was in no better shape. Even in the darkness of the void, I knew he had lost a fistful of fangs, a hideous gash extending his maw line, giving it the shape of a bloody grin. I couldn’t see his back but I was sure he had lost his tail as well, a beautiful shower of soft grey silk which glinted in the sun. I knew it because I knew him. And I thought I had forgotten all about that wolf…

I was seven back then, young and wild and hungry for glory. My father had given me my first bow, a small curve of fine redwood corded with a decent string. No one in the world was happier than I was that day, a young steppe hunter holding his first weapon in his eager hands, ready to shoot arrows as high as the sun in the sky. A quiver of twenty arrows hung around my shoulder, on my left hip an iron dirk with a dark leather sheath made especially for me by Tarland Timberghost, my father’s close friend. I was only short of a cloak, which a hunter could wear only when he earned it himself. That is, to slay his first prey and remove his pelt. In Sulkron, every hunter was cloaked in what he killed himself.

The moment I was fully equipped with my little arsenal, I ran throughout the town, prancing like a merry pony, showing my gear to everyone I saw, laughing with an unsurpassed joy as I raced to my friend’s shack.

“Ulmer! Ulmer! Come out and see! Oh, you’ve got to see this! ULMER!”

When the door was flung open, the first thing I saw was his eyes wide as a bowl, glinting with excitement. “I don’t believe this! Is that all yours?!”

“Of course it is mine, silly! Father gave them to me just a while back.”

He sighed in melancholy. “You’re so lucky, Jugal. I wish my father made me a bow too. But he says I’m still a year young.”

“Don’t worry. You can use mine until you’re seven. I can share.”

His eyes widened twofold. “You… you really mean it? I can shoot with your-”

“Of course you can. Why else have I come all the way here then? Come on, let’s go find some prey.”

This was where he hesitated. “N-no. I can’t come with you.”

I felt half the fire inside me douse. “Why not? I thought you always wanted to shoot with a bow.”

He shifted uneasily on his feet, looking at the ground before his feet. “I did. I do. It’s just that… father told me to deliver these kegs of fire-song to the tavern.”

“I never said you shouldn’t, Ulmer! You can do it after we return from the hunt. I’ll help you too. Now, can we go?”

“Yes. But you should promise we’ll be back in town before noon. My father hates me to be late.”

I sighed. “Alright. I promise. Now, bring your dagger and let’s go!”

What a peaceful morning it was. North of Sulkron, far from the shadow of Elkmyre Hill, there stretched for thousands of miles a vast steppe of auburn grass and grey blooms, coating the land like a huge carpet of velvet, filling the air with the scent of an eternal fall. We called it the Grey Rose Haven. Wild bulls and mountain stags thrived on the field, big flocks crowding the land of tough grass. It was still flourishing when I was a child, nothing like the desolate wasteland it was to turn into in the course of a mere decade.

We arrived at the grey field an hour later, and found it populated by a herd of twenty at the least. Due to the dark color of our jerkins, the stags couldn’t spot us easily, and our moving upwind made it even more difficult for them to track our scent. That was the primary steps to becoming a hunter, and I had done especially well to remember that.

The next step was to find a suitable spot to shoot the arrow from. While the field was mainly a flatland with an almost even surface everywhere, there were rocks of all sizes scattered across the land, rising like half-pillars out of grey earth, providing proper stalking places for any smart hunter. We crawled behind one big enough to cover the two of us, and waited. The pack was only half a hundred yards away, grazing obliviously on the wood grass. Mine was a smallbow, and wouldn’t cover the range a longbow would, so we had to approach them like that. From such a close range, any decent hunter innocent to the ways of the bow would have no trouble shooting his prey, and I was not unpracticed. The wind was blowing to my face lightly, caressing my cheeks as I picked my target from the flock and drew my arrow.

Now came the next step, where I had to shoot my prey. Sometimes this phase took an ordinary hunter a couple of weeks to master, especially since the wind blew with an irregular pattern around here, changing direction as swiftly as an elk on chase. I had learned the craft during a fortnight of painful practice, and had wasted so many arrows I had lost count. And now the moment was upon me, when I finally had to shoot my first living stag and mark my name as a novice hunter.

It was then that the whole flock stirred cautiously and raised their heads in wary silence, listening to something I could not hear. I was confused at first, for I was certain we had made no noise along the way, taking special care not to be seen. Something wasn’t right.

“What’s wrong, Jugal? They seem alert. Do you think they’ve heard us?” He was smart enough to whisper faintly, whereas many green hunters would speak out so loud the whole flock would be hundreds of miles away before they finished what they had to say.

“That’s impossible. It’s been a while since we’ve been skulking here. It must be something else. Look, they’re facing the other way, to the west.” Even as I finished my sentence, I felt a strange chill creeping up my spine. The west…

“Jugal… do you think…?” His hand gripped tight around the hilt of his iron dirk.

“I don’t know. But we’ll see soon enough.” I clutched my bow with an iron grip and notched an arrow, but not to shoot any stag or elk. There was something else approaching, and if what I thought was true, we were no longer hunters, but helpless preys ourselves.

This was not looking good. When a hunter was upon his prey, it often ended up in two ways: either the prey flees the hunter and lives another day, or the hunter slays the prey and leaves only the bones. An elk could run as fast as the wind, a stone bull could fight off one against three, but what could two young children possibly do… against a ravenous grey wolf?

I saw it then. Creeping slowly towards the flock, his grey hide reflected the morning sun like shining leather. I then noticed that the wind had changed direction, and was blowing from the west, betraying the wolf’s scent. The stags were all staring at the west, on guard and stern as sentries made of stone.

“Jugal, we have to get back to Sulkron. The wolf hasn’t noticed us yet. It’s too dangerous for us.”

The grey beast was prowling closer, the wind riding on his back.

“What If I shot the wolf? If I kill it, we’re safe to hunt an elk or two afterwards.”

“Even if you shoot the wolf without missing, the whole flock will flee before you can even notch another arrow, and besides, no hunter has ever started his craft by killing a wolf.”

“No? Rhaya did. He was only six when he killed his first wolf. Same age as you.”

Ulmer didn’t like the comparison, and I realized it was really unfair. Judging a six-year-old boy against the legendary Rhaya was like matching a new-born kitten up to a lion. But still, the opportunity was too precious to lose, and just thinking about the fame it would bring me filled my head with countless dreams. I was not going to let it go.

The grey shadow was no further than twenty yards from the flock.

“You know what, Ulmer? You can go back if you want to. No one is forcing you to stay-”

“Are you really that idiot, Jugal? When I say it’s too dangerous, I mean for both of us. We’ll go back together.”

I hadn’t realized what a craven Ulmer really was just by then. This was unbelievable for a boy, all the more for one who was to start hunting only a year after.

“You can’t make me come with you, Ulmer. What would they call me if they found out I ran away from a wolf?”

“They would call you the wisest young hunter ever born. Look at that beast, Jugal. It’s nearly twice your size, and ten times as fast. Even if you shoot him right in the belly, he won’t die right away. He’ll be on us in three seconds, and that is before you can even reach for another arrow.”

He was getting really annoying now. I was beginning to regret bringing him here. It would have been done had it not been for him and his constant badgering.

“I don’t need a second arrow to-”

The beat of a thousand hooves on the grey field drowned the rest of my words as the wolf dashed openly to the flock like a dark shadow of death, sending the stags running at godlike speed. The moment was plainly lost, but I was too stubborn to let it end up in nothing, so I drew my bow with all my might and loosed the arrow blindly at the confusion. It never hit a single stag, not even lightly. All it did was cleave through the empty air, inches past the wolf’s ear. It was enough to make him stop and turn to find the source. Not only had I failed in killing a stag, I had also helped them in their escape and taken their place instead. If I was thinking of marking my name somewhere in the history of Sulkron’s hunters, there would never have been a better place.

Its eyes found us in a moment, and we knew what was to happen next. I kept remembering the two ways a hunt ended, and could see no third way. We could never outrun a wolf. So that only left us with one choice… to stand and fight and kill it.

My father always told me how vital it is for any hunter to know his opponent. He said I have to look my opponent in the eye and predict his next move. I always thought it would be easy, since an elk would pose the least of threats to me, but this… I had never stared in the eyes of a wolf before. It was worse than fighting him with blind eyes. Those eyes spoke of a world of terror and death.

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #37 on: March 09, 2013, 07:18:37 PM »
As terrifying as it was, I forced myself to look at it. It was a grey howler, five feet long with fangs the size of my little finger. It’s eyes were hazel brown, burning with rage. Its tongue was hanging low from its nuzzle, dripping with saliva. The moment he saw us, all his fur stood up with fury, and the wolf grew a couple of inches.

Howlers were famed more for their terrifying howls than their brute force, but that was still more than enough for a child of six and seven, armed with a dirk and a smallbow. The howler stared at us with cold, burning eyes, fixing the two of us in our place.

Ulmer found the courage to speak through that killing silence. “Jugal, put down your bow.” His tone was more determined than scared. I didn’t understand.

“What? Are you mad? He’s going to eat us both!”

“Put the bow away! NOW!” He was staring deep into the howler’s eyes, his dirk sheathed in its scabbard. Although I had no idea what had gone with his senses, I could admit he had ten times more courage than I, letting go of his weapon like that.

The grey howler was baring its fangs to us, growling deeply. “Ulmer, I listened to your advice a minute ago, and the whole flock ran away. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.” I reached for my quiver and picked an arrow. It didn’t escape the howler’s furious eyes.

“You never listened to me back then, which is why the beast is here, when it should be chasing the elks! Now listen to me this time, and put that damned bow away before you urge him to fight!”

“Should I kneel on the ground and offer it my bare neck as well? I’m sure it would be grateful! If you’re scared to fight, stop staring at its eyes like that! Father says they see it as a sign of hostility.” The howler started circling us, its eyes never leaving our sight.

“Not as long as you have no weapons in your hands. If you had the slightest sense in your head, you’d do as I did and save your skin!”

“The only way to save our skins now is to have his. Draw your dirk, Ulmer, and I promise I won’t tell them what a coward you were here.”

“Hold on to your bow, Jugal, and I promise you will not live to tell the tale.”

The wind was howling from the north again, dancing the grey field in a restless motion. We stood side by side, the grey howler circling around us, waiting for a moment to strike. I notched my arrow and drew the string half way.

Ulmer sighed at the sight. “You’re really a stubborn mule, aren’t you? Another minute and the wolf will attack! Do you want to die so badly?!”

“I want to kill it so badly, but if you don’t help me in this, I’m not sure how-”

“I AM helping you! Killing isn’t the only way to get through anything, every hunter knows that!”

“I am not going to be a hunter if I run away from every danger I face!”

“And what good will that do you even if you kill it? What if you lose a hand or leg in the fight? Do you like it to be the first and only wolf you kill?”

The wolf snarled louder, slowly closing the circle around us. I could see those eyes clearly now, impatience rising in them with every moment.

“You’re not making any sense, Ulmer! I’ve never heard of a hungry wolf leaving his prey in pity!”

“Then you’ve not listened to anything at all, Jugal. But now it’s too late. We’re in for a bloody fight.”

No sooner had he finished than the howler leapt to me in a grey blur, a ghost in sunlight. I loosed the arrow against all odds, knowing it would hit nowhere. Not only did it not hit anything, but also I was left dangerously open to attack. It was Ulmer who rescued me from its jaws, bounding to the wolf and knocking its back to the ground. They rolled in the dirt again and again, raising dust in their trail. It bought me enough time to draw another arrow, but the way they were rolling, I couldn’t shoot the wolf without pinning them together.

They stopped rolling at last, the wolf ending on the top, leaning down on Ulmer with its bare fangs and burning eyes. It was snarling like a mad beast, breathing furiously at his face. For a moment I thought that was the end of Ulmer, but the wolf suddenly stopped growling, and leaned back. Beneath him, I could see my friend’s face, pale as snow gleaming under sunlight, yet calm as a summer lake. I didn’t understand. The wolf should have done him in by now. It was Ulmer who attacked the wolf first. So why did the wolf draw back? Could it be he was right after all?

This is stupid. Why should I care why the wolf pulled back? All that mattered was the perfect moment for a nice shot to the head, and the glory it will win me afterwards. I only need to be careful with my shot this time…

The beast and boy kept looking at each other’s eyes like brothers in silence, and I even noticed a touch of sympathy in those bestial eyes. I must have been imagining things. Wolves are not humans after all. They lack emotions and love. They don’t even understand such things. I aimed my arrow right at the howler’s head, and loosed.

The arrow whizzed through the strange silence and caught its mark, but it was a few inches off. It pierced not the head, but an ear, and a great part of that. Blood sprayed around madly as the howler howled as befitted its name. This took Ulmer at full surprise.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? ARE YOU MAD? STOP IT RIGHT NOW!” You don’t understand, Ulmer. You’re just a child. And I was wrong to have brought you with me.

The howler staggered to its feet and looked at me with eyes rich with horror and confusion. That was a good sign. It meant I was finally being feared for what I was. Another arrow flew at his head, but failed to slay him again, this time cutting through its nuzzle, opening a deep gash like a red grin. The sheer force of the shot knocked the wolf back, whirling to the grey ground which was to be its grave soon.

In the place of the bloody wolf, it was Ulmer who was fuming with blind rage. “I SAID STOP! NO MORE! Can’t you see he’s already yielded? Enough!” Then he stepped between me and my prey, a hunter defending another’s prey. The sight disgusted me to no end.

“Step aside, Ulmer. This is not your prey.”

“I don’t care whose prey it is. You’ll let him go now.” To my unbelieving eyes, he drew his iron dirk and pointed the blade to my face.

“You don’t understand, Ulmer. If I don’t kill it now, he’ll kill us both when we’re not looking. Out of my way.”

His hands were trembling with fear as he was holding the dirk at me. It was strange. It seemed I frightened him more than that wolf. I shoved him aside forcefully, knocking him to the ground.

Then I was upon the wolf.

It was panting painfully, blood running from its torn face and ear. When I stood over him, it raised its eyes to meet mine, and moaned something in his tongue. It meant nothing to me. For all I knew, it could have been a lie.

The moment I drew my dirk, the howler lurched to its feet in fear. Whether it was planning an attack or escape I never knew, since before it could move I swung my blade at its right front leg, cutting a big chunk of meat with a fresh splash of blood. The wolf fell on its face, moaning in agony.

“JUGAL! PLEASE, STOP IT! DON’T TORTURE THE POOR BEAST!”

My prey was lying on the ground helpless. The other side of the wolf’s nuzzle was still intact, so I stomped my heel on it as hard as I could, crunching a fistful of fangs and bones. A cupful of blood sprayed out at my feet, but the wolf was too weak to stand now.

Ulmer ran to me, big tears running down his eyes, pleading for mercy. “Jugal! Don’t do it! Please! The wolf never meant to hurt me. He was just-”

“I’ve heard enough, Ulmer. Leave me alone.”

His grip tightened on my sleeve. “Please, Jugal, I’m begging you. Let him go.” The bloody wolf was looking at us with hopeful eyes, wishing for mercy. “He’s already dying. Don’t torture him anymore. Let’s go home.”

Home. “I’m not going anywhere until I’m done with the damned beast.” I gave him a mighty shove, sending him facedown to the ground with a piece of my sleeve in his hand. Somewhere deep within my heart, it hurt a bit.

I turned my head to the wolf and found it trembling, deep hazel eyes in silent gloom. It was like the wolf could not believe what he was looking at, as if a monster ten feet of height was looming over it, ready to devour him. As our eyes met, cruel and crying, my prey struggled in agony to get up and limp away, but only managed a feeble fall on its broken face, moaning in a soft, high voice that was half a howl, half a whimper. Had I not been so close to the beast, I would never have believed what I saw, but in that short distance, I was left with no doubt: the wolf was… crying.

For some reason, that made me angrier. The wolf was supposed to stand and fight to its last breath and blood in an epic duel to the death. It was all we were trained and prepared for, long days of hard practice with every weapon we had against the fury of the wild. We had to kill because we would be killed otherwise. There was no such thing as mercy in a hunter’s heart. Death was nowhere more real than in our desolate land. Such was my notion of a hunter’s life, and the wolves of the dark. No one had ever told me anything about a weeping wolf.

Was Beroshee mocking me with that fair? Was the wolf feigning weakness to trick me into lowering my guard? Could it be my faith was being tested by the Savage Feaster? Or was I dreaming the whole thing? There was no time to ponder so many possibilities when a wolf was near.

I came to my senses again and saw the wolf standing feebly on three legs, its other chunk of a paw hanging in midair. During my moments of doubt, it had somehow managed to rise and was about to shamble away from its fate. I didn’t know what to make of that anymore.

I felt a hand touching my shoulder lightly. “Jugal, it’s done. Let’s go home.” Ulmer was almost whispering, his soft words melting my troubled heart. This wasn’t true. I had to kill that wolf, no matter how weak it was. It was what every hunter was expected to do. Besides, no wolf ever showed any mercy to its prey…

… Ulmer’s pale face flashed in my mind again, the wolf looming over him terrible as death, but it wasn’t death that had happened to him. It was mercy.

“Jugal?” He gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. I turned my face away to hide the tears I never thought I would shed. My sword hand was trembling unstoppably, the blade glinting faintly in the light of the sun. “It’s alright. Give me the blade.”

No hunter was going to believe this tale. And worse, none would appreciate it. What would they say if they found out I’d let a dying wolf flee out of pure mercy? Will they ever let me hunt again?

They would call you the wisest young hunter ever born, Ulmer’s words echoed in my head. That’s right. It was because of him that the wolf was still alive. If I hadn’t listened to him, I would have been carrying the dead beast back to Sulkron by now, proud as any king could be. Now it had all been snatched away from me because I had let my sword down for the sake of a child’s tears. But I’m no child anymore. I’m a man grown, a hunter of the wild.

His hand touched my sword’s hilt, softly pulling the blade from my grip.

“NO!” My sudden shout surprised and frightened him more than any monster could. I pushed him aside with my other hand as I wrenched the blade free from his grip.

“Jugal, NO! Give me the dirk, I’m begging you! The wolf is gon-” A slap caught him full in the face with a sound as loud as a thunderclap, sending him staggering some few feet in pure disbelief. As I resumed my halted tears, I saw him doing the same.

I yelled at him madly. “It’s gone because I listened to your stupid whining! Go away, before I hit you again!”

No answer. No word. Only sobs and tears and a fading sunlight.

I could still see the wolf a couple of yards away, limping painfully, a trail of thick blood marking a crimson path. The sight of that made me clench my teeth in fury and sorrow. I wiped my tears off my face with my torn sleeve, stomping to the craven wolf.

When my shadow eclipsed the beast, it gave a terrible shudder and let out a hopeless moan. It could not even turn back properly without falling again. As I was sobbing an unstoppable flood and clenching my teeth so hard it threatened to shatter them, I swung my blade at the wolf, and suddenly it had no tail.

Another river of blood sprouted out from the fresh wound when I thought there was none left. The beast stumbled wildly and fell on its head, groaning like a wounded puppy. Shut up! I’m tired of this! All it did was moan helplessly. It was all it could do, and yet too much for me to bear.
Shut up! I landed a heavy kick it in its belly and sent it rolling on the ground, painting the grassland crimson red, singing the same old song. Shut up! Another kick pounded the wolf in the face. The song went on. SHUT UP! The next kick threw the beast five feet away, but before it stopped rolling, I was upon the wolf again. I knelt down on the cold brown grass, seizing the animal by its blood grey furs. It answered with another painful moan, its eyes trembling in the reflection of a wolf’s tears.

I screamed at the creature, so loud my throat was scratched. “I SAID SHUT UP!” a spray of spit exploded to its face as I was yelling at it in a tongue it could not understand. When I heard the same answer, my fist pounded the wolf in the face. Shut up, shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!

By the time I stopped punching, my hands were all rinsed in mad blood, shaking in frenzy. The wolf let out one last, long painful howl, and never made another sound again. The field was lost in a deep morning shadow.

The hunt was done, the prey in a lake of triumphant blood, the glory of an early victory at hand, yet I could not move a muscle. My knees were stiff as rocks, hands in violent shake. I could see hazy spots before my eyes, and the occasional blurs of some imagined wraith floating before me. An endless echo of a lonely howl lingered in my head, a voice I was ready to give all my life to stop from hearing. This was the wail of a false prey, slain by a false hunter. This was the curse of Beroshee, the lord of hunters. Was this how victory tasted?

But the victor can’t be afraid. It was what Halgor used to say all the time whenever a hunter ceased to hunt, either too afraid or too sympathetic. He said we were destined to hunt ever since our ancestors fled the doomed city of Geldmorn. This was simply our life.

I don’t know for how long I had been kneeling there on the ground pondering my obscure fate, but it was deep enough for me not to notice the punch I was to receive right in the mouth. It was so hard and sudden that I was knocked back three feet away, rolling in dirt and blood. It took me a while to remember who it was. And then I knew… and remembered the whole thing again. It was Ulmer, fuming for the innocent prey, avenging a wolf’s life. It hurt ten times more when I realized that.

I was left too stunned to react, and received his furious kick right in the belly, another hard in the chest. Then I lost count… and soon any sense of pain. Any but in the heart. This was my closest friend, the only one I had meant to share my bow with, and my hunt. And he was repaying me for all that.

When he finished his rampage, he started with words so fiery they burnt whenever was left unscathed. “Are you happy now? Is this what you wanted so badly? Is killing the only thing that matters to you? Then look: the wolf is dead.” He pointed to the lifeless corpse with repulsion. “Well done, Jugal. You’ve killed your first wolf at the age of seven. Now you can boast about it for Rhaya. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear it. And guess what? Maybe he will even recruit you in his savage team, the Shadow Wolves.” He paused to hear what I had to say to that, but heard only silence. “What’s the matter, Jugal? Too proud to answer? Too broken to run back with your trophy? Is this what a hunter does after his first hunt?! Go, I’m sure they’re all waiting for their young hero!” He started to walk away after that, but then halted and returned for a final sting. “Oh, I almost forgot. Don’t forget to tell them what a coward I was here, and how valiantly you managed to kill the wolf singlehandedly.” He turned sideways, his face scarred by deep hatred, finishing me with his final words. “You’re a monster, Jugal. A real monster.” He never came back.

The midday sun rose to brush the shadows away, all but the deep shadow in my heart, the hunter’s void. That very day, I was chosen as a novice hunter under the training of the legendary Egven Rockarm. That very day, I gained such glory few ever had so early in their lives. That very day… I lost something many never did even late in their lives… my closest friend.

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #38 on: March 10, 2013, 05:00:55 PM »
Wow, that was quite a thrilling and well-written chapter. I really enjoyed it! Though I admit at the beginning, I was a little disappointed that there was no talk about the fight, the interesting story of Jugal, Ulmer and the wolf definitely made me forget about that and enjoy a change.

Now about the story itself...I quite loved the contrast between Ulmer's and Jugal's personalities. Ulmer seemed to be soft-hearted, kind and acts humanly more than anything. Jugal on the other hand, takes this hunting deal very seriously to the point of forgetting his humanity and turning into a monster himself, enjoying torturing another creature just for fame or glory or the name 'hunter.'

It definitely shows something in his personality later when he grows old, how he compared between the hunters and the monsters, and how each of them fought the other just for survival. It seemed to me that this was something Jugal learned from this incident with Ulmer.

I must say, I was quite shocked at how Jugal was in his flashback. I mean, it's quite hard to believe that this is just a 7-year-old kid. It could be just me but I felt both kids acted older than their ages? But anyhow, it seemed like Jugal got very concentrated hunting teaching? Or is it a trait normally found between the people of Sulkron and Ulmer is a young exception? But could this kind of teaching honestly make a 7-year-old kid so bloody that he tortures the creature and kills it despite his friend's pleadings? Questions that ran through my head.

I don't know how to feel about Jugal now to be honest. :P I feel really sorry for the poor wolf and how Jugal treated it like that made me lose some respect for him honestly. XD

But I loved the whole chapter and the wonderful story. Despite my remarks, it was quite wonderfully written and I enjoyed it quite much. Write more soon and don't keep me waiting long, ok? XD

Oh and as usual...where is Grunnel?! XD

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #39 on: March 10, 2013, 05:30:55 PM »
I appreciate your review, Miss Nile. As always, there was nothing you did not praise :P Thank you so much :)

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It definitely shows something in his personality later when he grows old, how he compared between the hunters and the monsters, and how each of them fought the other just for survival. It seemed to me that this was something Jugal learned from this incident with Ulmer.
You're right about that. This was a decisive moment that led Jugal to doubt his place among the hunters, and his current doubtful attitude is greatly under the influence of that incident

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I must say, I was quite shocked at how Jugal was in his flashback. I mean, it's quite hard to believe that this is just a 7-year-old kid. It could be just me but I felt both kids acted older than their ages? But anyhow, it seemed like Jugal got very concentrated hunting teaching? Or is it a trait normally found between the people of Sulkron and Ulmer is a young exception? But could this kind of teaching honestly make a 7-year-old kid so bloody that he tortures the creature and kills it despite his friend's pleadings? Questions that ran through my head.
I thought you might say that, especially about some of Ulmer's lines. Not sure if it can convince you or anything, but I meant to show how the people of Sulkron grow old and tough at such a young age (in some other historical or fantasy novels, you might see that too. The character Bran in A Song of Ice and Fire is partly like that.). They have to practice at such young age because there is no guarantee how long they live.

You see, I planned to introduce Ulmer as Jugal's complete counterpart, so both of them are in a way unique compared to others in Sulkron. Ulmer was a practical hunter who sought for food, Jugal a would-be professional in search for glory, who stopped at nothing. However, the general savage mood of the wilderness around him as well as all the trainings and legends he's heard in Sulkron affected him more than just his friend, and so he broke to his killer side.

The part about Jugal's brutality is partly fantasy and partly true. There are children who turn into psychopaths or murderers in such unusual times, though they might be rare to find. :)

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I don't know how to feel about Jugal now to be honest. :P I feel really sorry for the poor wolf and how Jugal treated it like that made me lose some respect for him honestly. XD
Every detailed character HAS to have some flaws, and Jugal's dark past is one such weakness. If you've come to hate him for that, then I have achieved my goal ;)

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Oh and as usual...where is Grunnel?! XD
Spoiler: show
[spoiler][spoiler][spoiler] 8)
[/spoiler][/spoiler][/spoiler]
« Last Edit: March 10, 2013, 05:41:15 PM by Wyndfal »

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #40 on: March 18, 2013, 11:51:09 PM »
Finally! I found time to read this! And I'm so glad I did, too.

Your description of the battle was truly chilling. Seriously, I know from having tried before that fight scenes are really hard to write. They often either end up sounding like a boring list of actions or some overblown confusing stuff. But you managed to keep the same style you've been using the whole time and communicate very visually the actions of the fight. I'm in awe.

I also very much enjoyed the way you portrayed Jugal's mental states throughout the battle. How he struggled with his empathy in the beginning (I especially liked you how described him as "watching with eyes that never saw"), was eventually enraged by the sight of his fellows dying, and ended up in a feral bloodlust... it was terrifying. I'm very curious about Jugal as a character, he seems to have a lot in common with the wolves.

This most recent chapter was also quite fascinating. I liked the story a lot, and once again, your depiction of the violence was appropriately disturbing. The contrast between Ulmer's attitude and Jugal's was very interesting... it makes me wonder what Sulkron's overall cultural attitude is. When Jugal came back, did they applaud his abilities or chastise him for his cruelty? Or did he even tell them what had happened?

It was terrifying to see Jugal descend so far into bloodlust, bloodlust to the point of cruelty and stupidity. I never would've thought he had that in him until these most recent chapters. It's very interesting, the way you're playing with the roles of the wolves and the humans. I really felt for the gray wolf as it was being killed. I wanted to dive in and protect it, like Ulmer.

The one thing that struck me as odd was that it was hard for me to believe that a seven-year old would be physically strong enough to punch and kick a wolf into submission. But perhaps I am judging by my own standards, and I can see how it would be that Sulkron's seven-year olds would be a lot bigger and stronger than the ones I'm used to seeing. :P

Also, one small thing you should know -- the body part of the wolf is spelled "muzzle," not "nuzzle." ;)

As I've read this, I've begun to wonder -- what are you inspirations? I'm just very curious because a lot of the themes you're using (Rhaya having such an impressive lineage, for example, and the nature of the village's legends) seem very... well, this is going to sound awkward, please don't take it the wrong way, but the only word I can think of right now is "non-American." Obviously since you're not American, that's only natural. XD But I find it very fascinating, the different sorts of themes and devices that different cultures tend to use in their stories, and so I was just wondering what you are drawing from as you write.

I'm excited to hear more! :D

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #41 on: April 11, 2013, 05:16:10 PM »
Ooops, I'm really really really sorry for the long delay! I was seriously working on the last part of the battle, and was determined to finish it as soon as I could, and decided not to post it until it was complete.

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Your description of the battle was truly chilling. Seriously, I know from having tried before that fight scenes are really hard to write. They often either end up sounding like a boring list of actions or some overblown confusing stuff. But you managed to keep the same style you've been using the whole time and communicate very visually the actions of the fight. I'm in awe.
I'm so touched to know you liked the battles so much. To tell you the truth, when I want to describe a battle scene, especially when it is a one-one-one duel, I pick up a long wooden pole (which I have extracted from a broomstick! :P) and start fighting with my imagined enemy with it. I know it's weird, but if you can describe the moves correctly and patiently, the battle turns out to be both realistic and easy to follow ;)

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I also very much enjoyed the way you portrayed Jugal's mental states throughout the battle. How he struggled with his empathy in the beginning (I especially liked you how described him as "watching with eyes that never saw"), was eventually enraged by the sight of his fellows dying, and ended up in a feral bloodlust... it was terrifying. I'm very curious about Jugal as a character, he seems to have a lot in common with the wolves.
Same as you, I enjoyed describing those moments of bloodlust. They were both refreshing and eeeeeevil! XD

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it makes me wonder what Sulkron's overall cultural attitude is. When Jugal came back, did they applaud his abilities or chastise him for his cruelty? Or did he even tell them what had happened?
Excellent question! I was planning to write about that in later chapters. Wait and see :)

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The one thing that struck me as odd was that it was hard for me to believe that a seven-year old would be physically strong enough to punch and kick a wolf into submission. But perhaps I am judging by my own standards, and I can see how it would be that Sulkron's seven-year olds would be a lot bigger and stronger than the ones I'm used to seeing. :P
Ah, yes. I know what you mean. I seem to a bit overdoing it.  :kardiansmile: I don't know if it is satisfying or not, but I meant to draw Jugal as a unique character, driven to extremes in his life a lot more than his fellows. His uncanny strength comes from different states of bloodlust. When he overpowers the grey wolf at the age of seven, he is unknowingly under the effect of that state.

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Also, one small thing you should know -- the body part of the wolf is spelled "muzzle," not "nuzzle." ;)
 
Spoiler: show
 :o


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As I've read this, I've begun to wonder -- what are you inspirations? I'm just very curious because a lot of the themes you're using (Rhaya having such an impressive lineage, for example, and the nature of the village's legends) seem very... well, this is going to sound awkward, please don't take it the wrong way, but the only word I can think of right now is "non-American." Obviously since you're not American, that's only natural. XD But I find it very fascinating, the different sorts of themes and devices that different cultures tend to use in their stories, and so I was just wondering what you are drawing from as you write.

Oh, this is one of the more difficult questions. :)
My irreplaceable sources inspiration are The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. From the former, I mainly get the idea of how to depict a perfect landscape and write songs. From the latter I learned how to write back-stories for characters and places, internal monologues, inner conflicts, style of writing, and how to start and end chapters. Also, several games helped me with providing my story with decent backgrounds. Games like Age of Mythology, which has excellent descriptions about every single unit, building, hero and god in the game. The style in which they write those descriptions is something I have always craved.

I hope I provided you with enough answers. That was all I could think of at the moment. I will definitely tell you more about my sources of inspiration if I remember any. :)

By the way, could you give me more examples of those non-American elements you found in the text? I'm curious  :seraismile:

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #42 on: April 11, 2013, 05:24:08 PM »
Chapter 6
The Hour of Wolves

VI
Jugal

You’re a monster, Jugal. A real monster…

Well done, Jugal. You’ve killed your first wolf at the age of seven…

Please, Jugal, I’m begging you. Let him go…

The wolf never meant to hurt me…

Let’s go home… let’s go home… home…

The world opened up slowly like a crimson curtain unfolding, red of all shades. Our blood and the wolves’, mixed in a dark cauldron that was once Sulkron, my home. This was the final page of our lives, a page that told of fire and smoke and blood and death, and a bleeding moon that floated in the peak of the red sky, bearing witness to the desolation of the last hunters of Mystfulwing.

It was a dream, a bloody dream of a past long forgotten. It had been my first taste of real blood, bitter and cold and warm and repulsive. I had not dreamed that nightmare for years, half forgetting my lost friend and fully my first prey. The rebirth of that dark memory churned my stomach like a whirlpool, bringing to the surface broken things long sunken in the murky depths of my soul.

You’re a monster, Jugal. A real monster. I could swear I would readily lose both my arms and it would still hurt half as much as those words did, all the more painful coming from the lips of the boy who had been my childhood friend. He will not see me drown in the pool of my own blood tonight, nor my town bleed and burn to a horrible death. He will not see how every single man and woman falls victim to the fangs of the wolves of the night as the blood moon hovers in silence scorn. He will see none of this because he is not here. He left Sulkron long ago with his family, taking with him all his memory.

The first few minutes of the waking world was the true definition of hell, a confusion of screams and blasts and howls and fire. There was not an inch that was not coated in blood, no ten yards without a corpse, not a moment of silence unbroken by agonizing shrieks. The ground shook as if an arch giant was stomping in blind fury. It was the march of Gurrluks, the stone demonic battering rams who had broken our walls a second time and razed everything unfortunate to stand in their deadly paths, building and stone and flesh.

I tried to stand on my feet without staggering, and barely succeeded. My head was afire from the overflow of dark dreams, and my left arm had lost a mouthful chunk of meat. It hurt so bad I could scarcely hold my tears. Then I remembered the pouch of healing herbs my mother had insisted me to carry on my belt, to which I had only grudgingly consented. It was a small bag filled with mortared herbal plants of some thirty kinds or more, used especially to sooth blinding pains during heavy loss of blood or limb. I groped for the pouch and found it still attached to my belt, unlacing the bag and grabbing a fistful of the powdered remedy and spreading the dust over my hideous wound. For a dreadfully long minute, I wished I had not opened that pouch at all, for the pain that followed dwarfed any I had ever known. And then I screamed, loud and long. A mugful of tears flowed on my burning cheeks, salt rivulets which only furthered my stinging wounds when they met. And then it stopped, as sudden as it began, and never came back. The wound was there, ripe and red, but no blood was rushing out, and the pain was gone. It was a gift only a mother could give to her child, and mine was an expert healer.

With my wound at ease, there was no time to squander now. I glanced at the battlefield, or what had remained of it. I don’t know how long I had been lying half dead, but a short glimpse guaranteed half an hour of blood and death. It was a miracle I had not been crushed under the stony heels of the Gurrluks, nor half eaten by a scavenging wolf. But now that I was alive again, the risk was ten times higher, as a living hunter tasted far sweeter than a lifeless one.

I could not find my sword anywhere around, so I picked the first blade I saw, a short length of steel slightly chipped at the top. As my grip tightened around the old hilt, the blade glowed like ruby in the crimson night, the wolves howled in harmony, and the battle was resumed.

Twenty juggernauts were left out of the big pack, ravaging all the more ferociously with their horde slain and scattered, and those four Gurrluks on their side. Our shield sentinels would contain their threat with relative ease, but they were the first to be crushed under the unrelenting heels of the stone demons, and with their demise, Sulkron had lost its shield.

Not its courage, however. I could see Chieftain Meregor swinging his war hammer like a mad bear, smashing a red skull as if it were an egg. Yermen had one of his antlers shattered, looking even more like a prey than a hunter, yet fighting side by side with Vex, two unlikely brothers in fate. Up on the western wall, in line with thirty other archers, stood Boster, raining arrows of fire down on the beasts of flesh and stone.

An arrow whizzed past my ear, and half a moment later a red blur leapt at me with daggers for teeth and burning sunlets for eyes. I was caught unaware, and was forced to dodge out of the way. The juggernaut landed nimbly five feet away, and turned back for a second charge. His size threatened to stagger a weak opponent, and I was in no ideal shape, so there was no way I could wrestle with the monster like Egven did, nor was I in the state of bloodlust anymore to tear out tongues and throats. Instead, I sprinted forward as fast as I could as the beast made a moderate leap. I thrust my blade up and ran along, cleaving his belly as he collapsed headlong to the ground, leaking a pool of blood. I did not turn back to witness his dismal fate. I had seen and dreamed and remembered too much for a single night.

As I ran across the bleeding town, I was startled to see half the buildings demolished, no doubt the work of Gurrluks who were made to unmake. Despite being only four, the destruction at their wake resembled the effort of four hundred. Boster’s house, Ursy’s shack, Halgor’s lodge, one storehouse, two breweries, and dozens more had been razed to the ground. It would take longer than a year to rebuild all that, considering the wrecking stopped at that point.

BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP! The world quaked like a giant unleashed from chains unbroken an eternity as a Gurrluk rammed his way through Welsa’s hovel and raced to trample me. Every muscle on my bones was flooded by a fool’s blood as I rushed to meet my impossible foe, wielding a sword that I knew would hurt it less than a needle.

BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP! The world was turned to a finality of steel and stone, flesh and rock, life and death, demon and man, a fool and a fiend. If I die here, I would die brave, blade in hand, fighting death, as any hunter should.

BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP! I closed my eyes and let out a final roar which echoed all through my body, the last rallying cry of death.

“DIEEEEEEEEEEE!” My blade whirled in the wind to shatter on the unbreakable armor of the ancient beast. But all it did was cut through empty air, and when I opened my eyes, I found the Gurrluk charging adrift, a fierce woman riding on its back, her black hair showering behind her like a mad rain. In one hand she wielded a silver sword slim as moonlight, in the other a dagger curved like a half crescent moon. Even a blind man could recognize that legendary woman, armed all in deadly steel from head to foot, earning the fearful name of Welsa Steelwitch.

I stood there and watched in awe as the witch rained relentless blows on the Gurrluks’ back, but never losing her balance on the rush. She screamed like ten thousand crows squealing in fury, her blades sparking wherever they met the stone armor. It seemed that her screams disturbed the Gurrluk more than her blows, reining the chaos monster through the crowd of wolves, ramming through their ranks, breaking and crushing and knocking them half a hundred yards away.

“JUGAL! OVER HERE! QUICK!”

It was Yermen who called out through the confusion, beckoning me to join him and the other hunters at the foot of the northern wall. As I made my way through the rubbles and fires and blood, I noticed the catapults ready to fire. Behind me, I could hear several juggernauts chasing me, their growls growing louder with every second. Half winded, I flew the rest of the way to the wall, bumping to the cold stone.

Yermen helped me on my feet again. “Stand here. Rhaya’s going to-”

“LAUNCH THE CATAPULTS!” Seven creaking contraptions squealed as dozens of oil pots were hurled to the sky, shattering one by one with deafening piercing sounds, yellow grease spilling everywhere. Half of them took fire the instant they hit the ground, joining the rest of the flame dance. Beyond the flames, I could see the last of the juggernauts charging to us, with the Gurrluks at their sides. The wolves leapt over the oil and fire, but the stone monsters could not. Their heels slipped on the greasy ground and broke their poise. One of them fell on its side with an earthquake, the other trampling on its brother in rage. The third managed to circle around the mess for a safer route, but found the fourth ramming right through his flank, with Welsa flurrying her relentless blades at pure stone.

As the last Gurrluk fell to the ground, Egven charged right at the stone beasts with his giant axe. I saw a blur of grey shadow run past my eyes with blinding speed, and could only make out who it was when he stopped to lunge his silver blade between the armor scales of one of the Gurrluks. It was Rhaya.

For as hard and impenetrable an armor a Gurrluk had for skin, they were not utterly invincible. Their shell was in fact not a single stone skin, but a series of large, separate scales joined together to form a wall of rock. Any well aimed thrust of sword could damage their inner flesh if given sufficient force and proper direction. So the only problem was how to approach them without dying. For colossal as they were, their stature never hindered their pace, and any careless attempt to rush at them resulted in a pile of trampled flesh and broken bones.

It was different now. The stone monsters had collapsed to the ground and it would take them a while to stand on their legs again. That would provide us with ample time to land a few blows at their weak spots before they rose. We could do this together. But… out of a hundred and fifty uninjured hunters in Sulkron, only three had dared to charge at those beasts: Welsa, who was riding on one long before they others fell; Egven, a fearless warrior in every sense; and Rhaya, captain of the Shadow Wolves.

I was uncomfortably aware of a rush of blood in my cheeks, standing there like an old scarecrow drifting in the wind, while the real wardens of Sulkron were willing to give all they had to keep us away from death, three against a horde. I looked at each of them in turn, the last warriors of Shadow Wolves, as they rushed to clash steel on stone. Egven Rockarm, with those gigantic trunks he had for arms, a massive giant axe glinting red in his hands; Welsa Steelwitch, young and beautiful, graceful and violent, with her arsenal of steel weaponry sparkling around the belts and straps she wore all over her garment, a stream of wild black hair untied in the wind; and Rhaya, the Wolf of Twilight, the last of our hope, with his ghostly face and ashen hair, the true son of Morvay, the Pale Death, with The End flickering silver cold in his swift hands. They were only three, but suddenly seemed a lot more.

The last juggernauts were upon us, a hopeless ten against an army of scarecrows. At lest we could this much without shaking. An arrow pierced a throat, a hammer crushed a skull, swords slashed bellies and necks, eyes burned with rage and retribution, blood gurgled everywhere, painting the battlefield all anew with the color we all knew too well, and had seen too much. Five, four, three, two… I think the last one died at the hands of Teresse, the only lass in Sulkron who had once said that she liked me, before Dunse stole her heart away with a red bolt of juggernaut hide painted with trims of black, which she used as a warm blanket every night. It was ironic how the same girl managed to slay her own juggernaut tonight, leaving me to wonder how a man could buy her heart now.

As the last red wolf fell to his demise, I looked about the battlefield to see how the Shadow Wolves fared. Welsa was still riding ferociously on the stone demon, this time holding a short straight sword in her hand and thrusting the blade deep into the flesh bellow. In her other hand, she wielded her crescent blade, which she used as a lever to remove one of the scales from the Gurrluk’s neck. Yards away, I could see Egven going head to head with another, each dealing blows to the other, exchanging roars of thrill and fury. The Gurrluk charged at Egven, but he never dodged out of the way. He blocked the charge with his giant axe, which did not seem to break at all. Once, the beast tried to knock him off balance by twisting its head and hammering its horn at Egven’s flank, but that only served him better. He clutched the monster’s thick neck with his huge arms, trying to twist it. In the center of the confusion, one against two, fought Rhaya, a ghost in the crimson night. Right and left, they charged at him, missing only by inches. A moment he was here, another he was there. His constant dodges enraged the Gurrluks into blind frenzy, plowing the whole battlefield with their lowered horns. The deadly dance went on and on until the twin demons drove Rhaya to a dead corner, surrounded by a bunch of old shacks still undestroyed. Then they charged at him from both sides, threatening to crush him from front and back alike. While every breath in all the living lungs of Sulkron was held alarmingly long, no single muscle dared to move, only wide eyes and thumping hearts that beat as one.

The left closed in and the right approached, and just before we all thought that was the end of the Wolf of Twilight, Rhaya’s hands moved to his side pockets and whirled outwards. I saw the blurred motion of four silver shadows cleaving the air. The Gurrluks roared in pain and rivers of black blood rushed out of their eyes, silver knives stuck in each. The moment the blind demons were about to stomp on Rhaya, he jumped back to one of the old shacks, pressed his feet to the creaking walls and sprang to the air, spinning like a boulder launched by a catapult as a Gurrluk bumped to the other with such a violent force that some of their stone scales were shattered at the impact, exposing a part of their black flesh underneath. Rhaya was still in midair when he drew his legendary bow and fired a bone arrow at one naked neck, plunging deep into flesh and bone and sticking there hard as a rod. Then he drew out a silver chain hooked with deadly claws at one end and, spinning the lethal length over his head, he loosed it at the other stone demon, the bladed chain clawing at the edge of his scales as Rhaya clutched at the chain and descended on the wounded beast, thrusting The End deep into cursed meat. Before the beast could recover from the catastrophe, the Wolf of Twilight landed a dozen more blows in lightning quick succession and jumped off again to land on the other stony prey. When he did, he was wielding small blades between each finger, by which he scaled the back of the beast and punched his naked flesh with bladed fists, tearing out chunks of meat while dark rivers of blood raged at his face. The clueless beast went on an unstoppable rampage and rammed his way through shacks and hovels, sending out splinters of wood everywhere. When it threatened to charge at us, Rhaya steered his neck to the left and forced it to charge at its blind, wounded brother, leaping to the air to descend on the other. A moment later, he was landing a flurry of strikes at the other Gurrluk, forcing the stone beast rise on its front feet as the other monster smashed right into its belly, opening a gate at his monstrous abdomen. The broken monster crumbled to the ground and let out a final roar of dismay, while the other growled a vengeful cry. But before it could close its huge maw, several silver blades sliced the air and pierced through the deadly jaws, sending out spouts of death. But the demon found no time to close its jaws as The End delved deep into the entrails of the stone monstrosity and finished it off at once. Then the Gurrluk sealed his maws, and never opened them again.

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #43 on: April 11, 2013, 05:29:11 PM »
The sheer sight of that impossible victory filled our hearts with a thousand promises, and many of us were about to join the fight with the other two Gurrluks until Chieftain Meregor bellowed.

“Stop where you are! They know what they’re doing.”

Indeed they did. Not far from us, Egven was still at his opponent, hammering his axe relentlessly at the armored demon in circles of doom. They attacked and retreated, rammed and dodged, rolled and slammed, roared and cursed, but neither showed a hint of exhaustion. Until, Egven tricked the Gurrluk with a false right swing, and the demon turned his head to counter with his horn, but Egven whirled and changed his swing direction, putting all his might behind the strike, aiming at the neck right between two scales joined, smashing both plates to countless chips. An opening was all his wanted, and this one was more than enough for him. The Gurrluk lost its poise and staggered to the side, and Egven pushed his axe further into the flesh, more and more and more until the demon succumbed to his immense might and collapsed to the ground. With his prey down, he wrenched free his axe, and lowered it again, and the Gurrluk lost its head.

No sooner had Egven overpowered his prey than the song of steel clanking on the last Gurrluk’s armor filled my ears, a fierce demon with a fiercer rider galloping in the flaming field. They charged and rammed and smashed everything in their path, with the night wind on their backs and the blood moon dancing motionless above. With her curved silver blade, Welsa Steelwitch finally carved out a scale of stone from the Gurrluk’s neck and hurled it away. Wasting not a second, she reached for one of her many pockets and picked three bags tied together and fused at the end. She sparked the fuses into ignition by sliding her blade along the Gurrluk’s armor, and shoved them into the scaleless pit. As the Gurrluk crashed into what looked very much like my home, every inch of Sulkron quaked at the deafening boom of three exploding bombs, bursting the Gurrluk’s monstrous head to chunks of flesh and rock. As the bombs exploded, Welsa spread her arms and leapt to the air, spinning so gracefully I almost thought she was flying, while everything behind her was engulfed by flames. She landed right beside her wolf brothers, each more elegant than the other, standing in front of a hundred and fifty pairs of captivated eyes wide as the blood moon.

We were all going to let out a booming cry of victory after a war we never knew we could ever win. But we were spared the obvious blunder at once. The sky burned anew, a forceful gust stormed the air, a fearsome howl arose from a pack unseen, and before we knew it, a ghostly horde of wolves in hides of ghost-grey rallied through the broken gate, alarmingly swift, silent and agile as death. Yards away, as if from the dark heart of the Hawlern Mountains, a silhouette of a grotesque shadow of a flying wolf emerged, flapping its frightful wings as it hovered closer and closer… and then I knew, no, I remembered what it was. To my utmost fear I did. That monster, that fiend, he was the same I had seen on the peak of the cursed mountains months back. I remembered it now, the dark figure of a wolf standing erect like a man, with wings like a young black dragon. I remembered the cool night when we stared at each other like two lost souls, stranded in a borderless desert where wars meant no more than peace did. I remembered how it felt to exchange a harmless stare with my enemy for the first time, and a touch of natural sympathy. The memory was more like a shadow of a half forgotten dream, but shook me like a living nightmare.

I was not the only hunter who noticed the winged wolf, or the ghostly horde that flooded out gates for a final sweep. Every heart that still beat stopped, every muscle that could move shivered, and every inch of Sulkron stirred into a new chaos.

Ever since our ancestors fled the burning city of Geldmorn to take refuge in the unrelenting wilderness of the world outside, they were plagued by a new form of threat: wolves and crows. Fangs and claws. Shadows and wings. They lacked for neither steel nor numbers back then. Nor were they inexperienced in wielding weapons or magic, and their armors were the finest ever made in Mystfulwing. What brought doom upon them was not the battle so much as it was the battlefield. All their lives, they had delved in the stony heart of the world where the fire was born, a nexus of caverns and hallways and secret passages ways many of which they had dug themselves. Every corner and fork in the pathways was a fountain of memory to each of them, and there were not few who claimed they could find their ways in those halls with blindfolded eyes. In every cavern, they were lords each. But in the naked planes of the world outside, they were outsiders.

Everywhere they turned, the field stretched on and on for eternal miles to join the deep blue horizon they had never seen. Where deep, clustered darkness frightened the world, the wild, open light terrified them, and with that came their downfall. Wolves and crows rained upon them from all sides, surrounding the broken men within the open boundaries of the planes now called the Anvil’s End. It was on that very spot that they fought the last tide of the scavenging beasts and, once victorious with crushing casualties, built a resistance town they called Sulkron, which meant the Broken Hammer.

On that same day, they forsook their ancient craft of smithing and turned to hunters, and with that, their lore took another color. They lived a wild life now, far from any civilization, deprived of almost every means of comfort. Even their victuals were drastically changed. There were no cave fungi, hidden roots, mystic running waters, golden meads, or any such magic herbs to eat in the open field, and thus they turned to meat and skin and bone. Thus Azgolin was forgotten, and Beroshee was born, the lord of hunters, the Savage Feaster, the tamer of wolves and the wing of crows. His worship involved amassing huge piles of prey carcass as sacrifice, upon which he feasted for a fortnight and left only the bones.

But as prey and plant dwindled in time, tributes grew little and less each time, as the weary hunters could seldom afford to feed their own mouths, which kept multiplying regardless of the obvious lack of provisions. This severely damaged the whole economy of Sulkron, as well as incurring the wrath of their new god, in no ways less terrible than Azgolin, the god they had forsaken to their own doom. And thus began the unstoppable invasions of an endless horde of ravenous wolves and crows, a dark history repeating, a sad tale told anew, a story too familiar and frightening for those who still remembered the night their city burned.

The invasions increased in violence and persistence over time, which ultimately gave birth to the foundation of the Blade Brethren and later the Shadow Wolves. Rainless years and meager hunt during the worst years of the invasions led many of the hunters to leave Sulkron for good, hoping to find a haven without the menace of wolves and crows. They traveled mainly to Pleck, the ranching green heaven of Feresk where cattle lived a happier life than men.

Enraged by this new blasphemy, the hunter god Beroshee mingled the blood of his wolves with that of demons, giving birth to monsters of terrifying size and hides, each deadly in its own way. Howlers were the most common breed that plagued the town, with skins grey as twilight and howls so piercing that, when sung in full chorus, melted the hearts of the strongest of men. Their size or ferocity posed not so much threat as their howls did, especially right before an invasion, which would dishearten half the defenders hours before they descended upon them trembling.

Red hide marked the terror of gigantic proportions, of ghastly strength and unmatched ferocity, the ultimate brutes, five times the size of their big brothers, dagger-fanged and golden-eyed, born to break through the lines of the mightiest hunters with their sheer enormity, hence their name: juggernauts. With this breed Sulkron’s newly found order shattered again. Brute force or blind assaults on juggernauts seldom bore fruitful results, unless one was too big, or too raging.

Dark emerald skin heralded a slow, terrible death, with deadly poison fangs long as dirk, sharp as steel, leaving their victims half-living to spread their disease, crippling a whole settlement for half a year if not properly cured by an accomplished healer. They were called Death Jades, a name that was an understatement in every possible way, since the destruction they wreaked upon Sulkron was rarely matched by any other breed. Their last reign was broken when Morvay the Pale Death stormed their lair and burned it to ashes decades past, and they have not been sighted around these lands ever since.

Every shade and color meant a certain kind of death, each agonizing in its own way, each a terror distinct, but… no color frightened Sulkron like silver did. For howls can be hushed, ferocity could be matched, numbers might be outnumbered, but who can beat the speed of lightning? What use is the best of blades when it cannot even scratch the sliver flesh of such monsters? For such were the ashen wolves, the terrors of night, the Phantoms. They escaped every blow, dodged every arrow, outstripped all but the swiftest hunters. No breed had carved into Sulkron a darker history, nor brought a bloodier massacre than the Phantoms. And tonight, hundreds of evasive, deadly shadows have fallen upon us, the blood moon is full circled, and Beroshee’s vengeance will be the most bloody of all times.

“No…” Yermen murmured.

“It can’t be…” Vex went on.

“We’re doomed.” I finished.

At the stone desolation that was once our western gate, hundreds of pairs of crimson eyes shimmered in the red hellfire of the battlefield. Scarlet and silver, silk and blood, death and shadow. They were like a vast wave of ash blowing on the aftermath of a huge fire, taking away with them every single life that had been spared to the unforgetting wind of the ages. I wonder if anyone will ever remember us when we’re but bones blowing in the breeze.

The entire silver legion of death stood in sullen silence as the flying shadow of the crossbreed abomination hovered closer and closer, until it landed on a rock outside of Sulkron, and when it let out that bone shattering roar that was like nothing I had ever heard, the ashen wave rolled forth to envelop the last of the land.

No one waited for any command because there was none to be given. Orders worked only when there was order in the lines, not with half the hunters wounded and the other half dead or dying. It was stupid to follow orders in the first place when our foes had none… or did they? Now that I thought, this whole battle seemed like a succession of organized waves with no time for breath, each army more lethal than the last. It was like some cunning leader was manipulating us the whole time, exhausting our forces and arrows with his weaker minions while saving his last true army for the last, when there are no more tricks left to play. I didn’t know which was more embarrassing: to be outsmarted by a horde of savage beasts, or to openly acknowledge the fact. A strange smirk ran across my lips as I found the bitter answer.

At the front of the broken lines of defense, the last of the Shadow Wolves stood solid and silent, unshaken by fear, unbroken by the wind, dark shadows in the shadows of night. I glanced at them one more time… and hurried to my doom.

The one I picked from the horde had a single streak of black fur running all the way on his chest. Focusing every bit of my being on the beast, I raised my blade to paint that streak with red. For every stomp of my feet, he took five, leaping and dancing and changing directions with blinding speed. When we had only three feet between us, I swung my sword right at his chest. But before my blade was midway in the sweep, the wolf vanished from my sight like a silver shadow. A heartbeat later, he reappeared on my right, opening his jaws to close on my ankle. I cried in shock and jerked my foot away from his bite, but the wolf took advantage of my terror and knocked my down by ramming himself to my feet. By the time the phantom loomed over my toppled body, the only thing that occurred to my mind was to draw my knife and swing it at all directions, hoping to cut whatever I could before he did something worse to me. Left, right, left, right, LEFT, RIGHT. But my blade craze was soon broken by a sudden gust of blinding pain in the right thigh. I had heard many tales of legendary hunters who could ignore the most horrible forms of pain in combat, and I was also a grown man, but not even the longest sagas in the world could make the pain any less agonizing. And I cried, louder than a man could or should, louder than any battle cry heard. Terror lent me enough strength to lurch to my wounded feet, my head spinning like a whirlwind. There I caught another glimpse of the phantom, circling me with his shadowy motion, too fast to trace, too easy to miss. The moment I lost sight of the wolf, I swung my sword all around me, fearing for another bite. The only thing I cut was empty air, and the trail of the silver shadow the phantom left behind him when he dashed. Another sweep left me with no better result, only driving me angrier. It seemed the phantom was playing with his prey, making me dance around in fright as he enjoyed his cruel hunting game. And so we danced on, toe to toe, flesh and shadow, snail and wind, red and ash. I thrust and he dodged. I slashed and he lurched. I roared and he kept silent. With every blow, I felt my arms weakening, and my fury rising. Blow after blow after blow he evaded, laughing at me with his silent eyes, giving me the uneasy feeling of being humiliated.

And just when I thought the dance would last forever, the phantom broke the chain and leapt for my sword arm. It happened so fast that, as if by instinct, I used my other arm to ward him off. His white fangs sank into my left arm as if I had silk for flesh and bone. I gulped down the crushing sting as best as I could and answered by a counter swing, and when I missed again I could hear the sound of my teeth gritting and my blood boiling. I was losing every drop of blood I had left to this pointless dance, and would soon lose quite a few limbs as well. Something within me said I will never allow that to happen. Another whispered a harsher truth: a shameful death.

The shadow dashed again, aiming at my left foot. I had to choose between losing a foot and dealing a blind blow, and the choice did not seem hard. I put the tip of my blade in his way to skewer him in the attempt. I knew he would never fall for that, so with my left hand, I swayed my knife in another direction, hoping against hope to catch the phantom surprised. Astonishing as it was, I managed to deal a glancing blow at its silver muzzle, scratching a tiny red line along his perfect skin. Stagger as he did, the phantom quickly regained his balance and circled around me. My thigh and arm were throbbing like a bleeding heart, and my head was a battlefield of its own. I had to end this quickly. No single fight in my life had ever been stretched to such excruciating length and pain, all with little to no avail. The dance went on and on, and soon I lost my patience. There was only so much humiliation I could bear in a single night. This has to end right now. With every fiber of my being, I swung my blade with both hands in a deadly arc to cut the phantom’s circling route… but all the wounds and loss of blood decided to take its tolls on me right then, and so a sudden spasm of pain invaded my left bitten arm, my sword falling to the ground as I lost my grip. No opening would have been better for any foe, and mine was the fastest I had ever encountered, and when the wolf leapt right to my chest and overpowered me to the ground, I was beyond any wonder.

I was knocked on my back so forcefully that for a moment, everything was drowned in deep black. I regained my vision to see the silver shadow looming over my body, fixing me with his great, ruby eyes that seemed to have no soul within, no expression, no feeling… no life at all. This was different from the juggernauts or howlers. Their eyes had a lot to tell, each a story of their own. I would never forget the eyes of the big red wolf who recoiled where he could have torn my face to ribbons. Or those of the grey howler who spared Ulmer’s life and lost his to me, tears running down his broken muzzle as he pleaded mercy where he would have none. But this one was different. Either he was hiding his emotions behind his silver mask or he had none, I could never tell. Something told me that this was not going to end up the way it had with the juggernaut. Perhaps it was the eyes. Or loss of blood. Or death at hand.

The phantom’s bare fangs and blank, red eyes were a shocking paradox even in the midst of that chaos. I would give anything I had to make them disappear. Even if it was my hands. I wrenched them both free from under the phantom’s weight and tried to shove them in those burning suns he had for eyes. The wolf growled like a hell fiend, half the world went black as a starless night, an unmatched pain started to take hold of my left eye, and a warm river of fresh blood gushed out of the empty socket that had housed my eye for nigh on two decades.

Then the world turned into a red haze of fire and blood, all voices were muffled, all the pains vanished, and a terrible yet familiar sense of madness took over me as every breath felt like hell. I felt every muscle pound to the drumbeats of my raging heart, a ghastly, monstrous strength resurrecting in my wounded soul, inhuman, beastly. No. Not again. Not after that old dream. Ulmer… I’m so sorry…

He was only a tiny beastling, colored in a silvery coat that glinted under the red moon, his eyes matching the color of the sky, his white fangs each a dagger of death. But still, a feeble beast all the same. And he had taken on the wrong opponent, as he was to learn too late. My right hand closed on his left front leg solid like an iron shackle, the other clawing at his neck just before he plunged his fangs into my face. And then I saw, for the first time, a touch of terror in those soulless, red suns, and I knew then that every beast could fear.

Wyndfal

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Re: The Storm of Lakenheim
« Reply #44 on: April 11, 2013, 05:30:33 PM »
Before the phantom could conjure another escape from my wrath, he found his left front leg between my short fangs, clenching ever tighter over those fragile bones that had never known any pain. It gave me tremendous joy to hear the wolf whimper like that, which only urged me to bite further on. I heard a crack, then another, then another, followed by a final crunch that heralded dismemberment of the leg. Fresh blood filled my hungry mouth as I chewed on my prey’s limb, flavored by a rich taste of dread. When my enemy staggered on his remaining legs, I helped him regain his lost balance by tightening my both hands around his cursed, silver neck and lifting him up so high he could dance in midair. And he did. At first, his legs waggled violently as a drunken dancer, kicking at the empty air, hitting nothing. Then it got slow and clumsy, like some toddling child a day from walking. It was soon reduced to weak jolts with irregular breaks and occasional attempts to claw my arms. When the last wiggle stopped, the dead dancer bowed his head and kissed the red dust as I let go of his broken neck.

There he was, shattered and defeated, riddled with blood and death, my first phantom slain with the cost of half my sight and all my sanity. A once silver shadow toppled down in a tangle of torn flesh and crushed bones, his last breaths each painful as life. The first victory is always the sweetest, and the hardest. The rest would be easy.

When I lifted my gaze from the dead phantom to the battlefield, I knew exactly what hell looked like in its deepest depths. Fire and blood had joined hands like two deathly sisters, prancing around every dark corner with the surety of fate, defiling the ruined settlement for the hundredth time. Corpses old and new covered the broken field like scattered seeds after a careless plowing, there to rot and join the dead earth bellow, skeletons wearing thin coats of bleeding flesh. Less than only a dozen buildings stood intact, the long armory one of the fortunate few. Every line of hunters had been broken by the ashen wave of phantoms. For every ten brothers slain, only one or two phantoms had paid the price. The battle had lost any last order it ever had, and no one seemed to be in command anymore. Soon, very soon, the white ghosts will overrun my hometown, breaking the last line of the golden smiths and dark hunters of Mystfulwing who were unfortunate to worship two cruel gods.

Out there, far in a lonely cliff outside the broken gate of Sulkron, perched that terrible winged shadow, that fiendish wolf with big bat wings who seemed to be the leader of chaos. Silent and vigilant, ever watchful, he stood there, gazing upon the whole bloody scene, never moving a single muscle, yet terrifying all the same. Just looking at him there boiled my burning blood. Come down and face me, if you dare, and we’ll see who’s fiercer. When it didn’t, I turned again to the battlefield, and fell upon his minions, red against silver.

Clearly outnumbering us, the phantoms had grown bolder, taking on groups of hunters now, certain to win. And I was determined to prove them all wrong. Three phantoms had circled a group of five hunters standing back to back with their old blades drawn, hacking at everything but wolves, while the beasts danced around them in ghost blurs. I hurried to their aid with a phantom’s speed, and soon found myself among them. Only then did I find out that I had no blade in my hand, much like with the juggernauts. But that was better. No weapon can match a monster’s own claws. One phantom broke his dance to drive me away and went for a quick snap at my leg, and when his fangs closed on empty air, he knew he had met his true match. A knowledge too late, since he found his silver tail in my grip, being pulled right to his doom. He turned back to bite off my hand, but my newborn speed outmatched the slow beast and he tasted a clean kick in the muzzle that shattered quite a few fangs. His brothers were alarmed by that and let go of the cornered hunters to fend off this new threat. I flung the broken-fanged phantom to their faces and leapt for a new charge. We danced and dodged and rushed, one against two. With every leap, I grew fiercer, faster and stronger. Before long, one of them fell for a feint dive, and lost his leg to my teeth, short and blunt yet solid like stone. The other phantom fell to my brothers’ blades, unaware of his older foes.

With every fallen brother, the living rest lost more courage and trembled back from defense. Casualties mounted too high. I once stumbled upon the corpse of a boy with a familiar face, but could not seem to remember his name for some reason. Was it Rex? Or Dex? Blood crazed as I was back then, I could only be sure he was a friend. There were lots of dead girls as well. Girls I knew all my human life, those I liked and those I loved and those I hated, all lying broken in the final night. Many were sisters no doubt, whose brothers were fighting the same battle, or dying the same death. I was suddenly aware of the horrifying fact that I had a sister of my own in the field, too stubborn and bold to stay back in shelter while her other friends wielded steel. What should I do if she is dead? Will I ever let another beast live, guilty or innocent to her blood? Will I ever forgive the wild and everything in her, or is it my lost friend’s tender side I’ll turn to, the boy who never killed a beast? If I am lucky, I will be dead before I come to the answer.

There were dead mothers too, young and old, plain and fair, with all their love and comfort gone with them, tainted in their own blood. Women had always been gentler with me than girls. In Sulkron, young girls could sometimes be as wild and rough as boys, and when it came to me, they always were… except for one whose name I could not recall then. All I remembered was an old regret.

The next hour of the battle was fast and deadly, a chain of unstoppable assaults led by the silver wolves and lost by our grey hunters. Many more died in that doomed hour, all familiar faces. I dreaded the moment I would come to my senses again to find them all my friends. We had been driven farther and farther back, well away from the center of the town, past the armory and the open courtyard. The ring of death was closing in with every second. A little longer and we would be pressed against the other wall, where no escape was possible. Phantoms leapt across the field, taking heads and limbs and entrails and lives, untouched by their opponents. But when I thought nothing would ever shake that even a bit, I heard a hoarse command from atop the walls, followed by a harmonious squeak coming from several wooden contraptions. I could not understand what the man with the silver hair said but every hunter still alive in the field ran away as if from hell. I did the same though I had no idea why, and then I knew. Just a few moments after the escape, several huge crates of wood crashed to the ground with a thunder that boomed in my ears for well a minute, and a big fire exploded out of those crates which I thought was nothing short of hellfire. And then they burned, many but not all, silver skins coated with red flames, infernal dancers swallowed up by hell. The fire was so huge it barred their way to us, forcing them to stay back until it died out. Behind the fiery solace of the burning barrier, men and women were shouting in a strange tongue, some of which I thought were directed to me. Other explosions occurred beyond the fire wall, some taking building with them as well. It was the last sacrifice we could offer to keep living just a little longer.

When the fire refused to weaken, the wolves grew restless and took to the flames headlong, a sacrifice of their own. They emerged from the fire as burning phantoms, crazed and wild and fearsome. We were made to retreat as few of us were willing to engage a horde of flame phantoms in such an enclosed place. And so we ran off, further and further back, until we reached the last line of buildings untouched by the war, among them a longhall at the corner of the town, dimly lit inside. Every man, woman or child who could not fight had taken refuge within those walls, a futile attempt to save the unarmed folks in any hopes of victory, but in truth all they will ever see will be the last, bloodiest part of the war.

No sooner had we withdrawn to the longhall’s vicinity than the man with the silver hair bellowed something again, and another rain of wooden crates showered upon us, burning a deadly circle of flames around the last house of Sulkron which trapped us all with a horde of blazing phantoms at your heels. This was where we had to make our final stand, a score of weary, wounded warriors against flaming, fuming, silver shadows outnumbering us ten to one. There will be no death more gallant than this kind. This is what we had been trained for: to die. And die we shall. Die we shall all.

Standing beside me was a man about my height with a metal stag’s head with a bloody horn, holding a blade coated with death. All the fire in the world glinted in his shining face, glowing with the fury of all Sulkron. At my other stood a young archer with a burnt brown bow, which he handled deftly. I remembered him to be a close friend of mine, his name sounding like… what was it now? Doster? In the front line of defense, a big bear of a man with a warhammer in hand was bellowing vague commands to his brothers, roaring in rage. A few feet away were a small crowd of girls huddled together with their swords drawn. They looked wild and terrible, cornered like that with their lives at stake. Yet wild as they were, I could see a certain beauty in them as well, the charm of the approaching death. Among them was also the only girl who had ever liked me beside my sister. And she was there too, her face ruined with fresh wounds and cuts. Blood ran wildly within me to see her like that. At the head of their group, a young fierce woman with long black hair was ordering them for their final battle, steel blades hanging from the belts she wore all over her body. When she shrieked commands, the air screamed with her.

At the head of the front lines, facing the heart of fire, were two utter distinct men. One was even bigger than the bear man with the hammer, leaning on his giant double bladed axe which was larger than most of us. I could feel the rage burning inside him, his massive arms resting on his enormous weapon like two solid rocks folding. His hair was deep brownish red, glinting redder in the flaming reflection of the fire ring. The other man was a different sort altogether. While the first was bulky like an ancient giant, the latter was tall and slender, his ashen hair flowing in the mad wind and blaze. As he stood silent gazing at the approaching horde, a silver blade glimmered in the firestorm, long and sharp and deadly. It gave me a slight shiver to look directly at the sword, even with my blood burning. Something about that man told me he was a lot more dangerous than he seemed.

Then the battle was resumed, the last stage of the war, our lives’ last seconds counting down with the deafening clangor of death. The silver horde charged forth with bare fangs, and we rushed to meet them with bare steel. Two phantoms leapt at me. The first I evaded, bounding forward to wrestle with the second with pure might. We rolled in the hot dirt a few times, before I clasped my arms around him and wringed his thin skeletal length. His bones cracked in mere seconds. By the time I regained my feet, the other was on me. He dashed to my left and altered his direction just as fast to confuse me, but by then I was too familiar with that little dodging game. I cut it short by whirling to his planned destination and landing a heavy kick in his muzzle which sent him spinning in the air, bumping the ground in a storm of dust. Another came upon me, violent as a hell fiend, but in the end I proved to be the devil.

All around, battle was breathing restlessly. A man lost his hand and throat before he could scream. Another fell prey to three phantoms attacking him all at once. I saw a wolf fall right into a hunter’s blade, only to be avenged by another beast. The man with the warhammer grunted with every blow he dealt, his strikes missing every time. Then he switched to a long sword and started hacking at everywhere around him. My friend with the bow was now fighting with a sword as well, and was not faring any better than the rest of his brothers. The man with the iron stag head waved his head around in a slow circle to impale his foe, but lost his helmet when a phantom jumped on his from behind. Before the wolf could finish him, I came upon the beast and landed my elbow heavily on his back, which shattered like a dead leaf. When I held out my hand to help the stag to his feet, he shivered in fright as our eyes met and stood up himself. It must have been the bloodlust.

Every moment that passed, another warrior was lost. We were now down to less than thirty, and our enemies were near a hundred. The only efficient fighters afield were the gigantic man with his huge axe, the fierce woman with an arsenal of steel, and the man with the silver hair and blade. Each stroke they dealt slew a phantom, sometimes more. Unlike the hammer warrior, that big man was by no means slow or clumsy despite his size or his weapon’s. He could even fight with his bare hands as well, and sometimes he used them as shields against those deadly fangs. He seemed to feel no pain at all. The steel woman was wielding two weapons in each of her hands: a short sword and a toothed whip. When she whirled, a silver stream of death danced around her, catching any phantom fool enough to enter her circle of death. And when they didn’t, she came to them. I saw a wolf caught in the neck by the fanged whip, which plunged deep into his throat and pulled it to the woman. When the wolf opened his mouth to bite, it was cold steel which was thrust into his maw. The man with ashen hair was difficult to track with the eyes, even mine. He moved so fast I could only see blurs of his motion. Every time he swung his blade, a wolf died. Every time a wolf attacked, he was impaled with his sword and flung aside. No beast seemed to hurt him in any way, as he surpassed their speed and ferocity by ten. Watching those three heroes made me think of another possible ending to this war. I raised my head to the sky and looked at the blood moon. It was still full red and furious, watching silently the last tide of a blood war. And then I saw, or thought I did, a glimpse of a thin stretch of dark blue sky at the edge of night, cleaving its way through all that crimson curtain to add another familiar color to the dark dome. It seemed a thousand years ago since I had seen such color in the sky. And yet it was there, faint and thin as it was, but definitely there. Could it be…?

I was a fool to stand gazing at those living legends and the sky above. The instant I meant to start my battle anew, three phantoms fell on me like silver thunders. The first charged from my left, blind side, bit through my left shoulder and made me stagger. The other slammed himself to me and knocked me down. And the last one loomed over my fallen body to finish the hunt.

My shoulder didn’t feel any pain, but was losing blood all the same, and my empty eye socket throbbed like a drum beating for war. Damn those beasts. They’re taking advantage of my weakness now. But they did not know that a beast is fiercest when approached from the blind side. His retaliation would be the most violent of all. As the phantom dived forth to tear at my face, I threw a fistful of dirt into his eyes and mouth. He lost his aim and moaned for his folly. When he opened his eyes, my fingers were shoved right into them to ensure they would never open again. Then I grabbed the blind wolf and hurled him back to his companions. They moved out of the way, but that bought me enough time to make for another attack. When I was finished, one was lmissing a tongue, the other half his throat.

The fire ring was still burning with fury around us, clouding everything that was happening outside. The combatants from both sides had been diminished in number. We were little more than twenty unwounded, and they were still half a hundred strong. The man who once wielded a hammer was injured severely, and was more defending than attacking. The man with the stag head had lost two fingers and a lot of blood, cornered again by two phantoms. Most of the girls were either dead or too injured to fight, lying there still as corpses. Only the three heroes looked unexhausted, but they were only three and would soon fall just like the rest.