Friday 28 November 2014

Revens Fang - Scent: Part 19

Reven drew his blade in time with Dodger. As soon as he did so Fang pushed into the ring snarling and baring his teeth. 'Hold', Master Powel walked into the ring and went to grab Fang by the rough of the neck but Fang turned to face him snapping at his hand. Powel flinched away and then smiled at Fang. 'Boy, tell your hound to sit out of this one'. Powel stepped out of the ring as Reven led Fang to its edge. He made him sit and then looked him in the eye's, 'Stay here boy' he said before stroking under his chin and returning to face Dodger.

The bigger boy struck without Reven being ready. His wooden blade crashed against Reven's shoulder and he let out a howl of pain. The sword chop was rapidly followed with a knee to the stomach that doubled Reven over. It was immediately obvious that this wasn't the first fight Dodger had been in. He grabbed the material of Reven's shirt at the shoulder to stand him up as his sword arm pulled back for another strike. Reven couldn't catch his breath and he felt his body quake with expectation as violence was done to it. As Dodger pulled him up Reven stabbed up with his sword catching his opponent under the arm. Dodger yelped and spun, releasing Reven's shirt. He still managed to strike Reven on the arm but it was more of a tap, much of it's vigour having been spent recoiling from Reven's thrust. Reven followed with a two-handed downward swing of his sword which crashed against Dodgers blade with such force that it pushed it back letting Reven's sword tip strike Dodger in the face. The boy cried out but instead of swinging his sword in return he dropped it, throwing a punch at Reven with the other hand. Reven saw stars dancing in front of him as the punch connected with his cheek. He staggered to his left reeling from the unexpected fist and was struck with a clumsier punch from Dodgers other hand. Dodger was so close that Reven couldn't swing his sword, instead he reversed his grip and brought the heavy pommel of the hilt straight up into Dodgers chin. The blow landed with a gratifying smack and Dodger stumbled back. Reven capitalised on the opportunity and stabbed the point of his sword into Dodger's midriff with as much force as he could muster. His opponent dropped like a bag of stones. The air knocked out of him he fell to his hands and knees and then collapsed further till his cheek lay against the cold stone of the floor.

Powel stepped forward clapping his hands as he did so. 'A good bout, we've some scrappers in our midst it seems.' He pulled Dodger to his feet as if he weighed nothing. 'You both drew blood, but you fell', he said pointing at Dodger who was still sucking breath. Powel turned to face Reven, 'If those would have been real blades though your arm would be decorating the floor with crimson boy.' then he struck Reven on the shoulder to emphasize his point making him wince. 'Out', Powel pushed both boys aside as he motioned for two other aspirants to take their place. Reven stepped out and stood next to Fang and was surprised that Dodger shuffled through the other children to stand as his side. Reven turned his head to watch his approach and was even more surprised to see a maniacal grin across Dodgers bloody face. He spoke as soon as he sidled up, 'By the Great Bull's balls, you hit like a lad twice your size' he said clasping Reven's hand. 'Reven chuckled, 'and you hit like a hammer' he reached up with his other hand wiping the blood from his cheek which has split neatly across the bone. 'Think we'll get on fine' said Dodger as he released Reven's hand and turned to concentrate on the next bout.

The other aspirants all fought under Master Powel's gaze. Most of the bouts were clumsy affairs that ended up with the combatants rolling on the floor pulling hair and gouging eye's. None of them were particularly gifted fighters but then again not a one of them were more than 16 summers old. A hushed silence fell as it came to the last two aspirants. A tubby boy by the name of Shenk and Fang. Reading Shenk's worried look Master Powel stepped into the ring and addressed the class, 'This animal is worth 100 of you. We have sent for a trainer for the beast but it will take many weeks for her to arrive and as such I have decided that the hound will train whenever possible with us.' he looked around as some of the aspirants faces dropped, none more so than Shenk's. Powel's face was alight with mirth seeing their misery. Reven walked Fang into the centre of the ring as Shenk drew his practice blade. The hound stood there his tongue lolling out of his mouth appearing to quite enjoy the attention that he was getting. As soon as Reven stepped away Fang sat and gazed stupidly at Shenk. Shenk looked to Master Powel, pleading in his eye's. Powel simply shouted 'Fight!' which scared the chubby boy into action. He ran screaming at Fang and smashed him across the snout with his sword. Fang yelped and looked at Reven and it was now his turn to shout, 'Fight Fang'. With that the hounds demeanour changed completely. He skipped back from Shenk's next swing and then jumped forward, landing with one fore-leg on either side of Shenk's head. Fang tore the boy's throat out before he had a chance to react. With no life in him he slumped to the floor as Fang growled and nipped at his corpse. There were gasps from some of the aspirants and many turned their faces away from the scene that was unfolding before them. Master Powel's eyes were blazing, not in anger, but in pure unadulterated adulation. Reven rushed to Fangs side and pulled him away, both arms around his neck. They hurried away from the ring and stood away from the rest of the group. Powel strode in inspecting the bloody mess that had once been Shenk and then stood, his booming voice rang out. 'We will have these bouts weekly. You will all need to be as efficient as the hound if you wish to survive, only the best may join the ranks of The Black Veil. Stop snivelling and prepare for your first lesson.'

They trained for the rest of the afternoon as Powel instructed them on stance and the importance of posture. Most shot disturbed glances at Fang throughout the training but not Dodger. He stayed close to Reven and Fang and patted the hound whenever possible in a show of solidarity to his new found friends.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Master Powel from Scent Part 18

Warrior from the fantasy story

Scent: Part 18

The next day Reven woke refreshed after the best sleep he'd had since the calamity at Rosholt. The previous nights meal had left all the aspirants with full bellies and had given them a chance to know more about each other. It had seemed that tragedy had befallen all of them in one way or another and everyone of them was alone in the world. This new kinship continued in the morning and the aspirants chatted freely as they dressed and made ready for the day ahead. Fang was now wearing a sash of black material around his neck that had the dogs head badge on it. This is what passed for a hounds clothes Reven surmised.

Hultz came to collect them and led them upstairs to a new classroom in the main house. Reven was overjoyed to see that the room had a window and despite the day being overcast he couldn't contain his happiness and rushed over to the window as the wind slowly swayed the drooping green branches of the trees outside. The morning flew past and come midday the class were led back down into The Deep to a large hall. It was carved out of rock and had several braziers that were suspended from the ceiling. The size the room was overwhelming and Reven wondered how the world above didn't come crashing in through the ceiling despite the two vast columns that sat a third and two thirds of the way in respectively. Master Hultz ushered them over to the side of the room and they sat on benches whilst still gazing around the room. He left them telling them that their trainer would be with them soon.

Only minutes had passed when a powerfully built man walked across the great hall towards them. His dark brown hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail. The olive skin of his face was marred by scars and his nose looked as if it had been broken at least twice. A scar ran the length of the left side of his face, over his eye down his cheek and across his lips ending on his chin. A huge wolf's skull sat on his right shoulder and he wore a wolf's pelt as a cloak. He wore a richly detailed steel breastplate and a sword at his side. In one of his hands he carried a shield that again featured the wolf motif and his muscular arms were bare below the elbow where they met his black undershirt. He stood in front of them casting an appraising eye over them paying special attention to the badges on the aspirants shoulders. He cocked an eyebrow as he came to Reven and his multiple badges. When his eyes settled on Fang they lit up and a broad smile appeared on the mans face. He walked straight toward Fang who stood at his approach. He fell into a crouch in front of the hound and offered hi his hand. Fang sniffed at it and once he had stopped the man moved it to the top of Fangs head stroking it gently. He whispered words in a tongue that Reven didn't recognise before ruffling his fingers behind Fangs ear. The man stood and moved to stand in front of the aspirants again. 'I am Master Powel. I am here to tutor you in the art of defence and to my mind the best defence is to annihilate your foe' his face dropped into a snarl as he spoke. 'Most of you will break under my ministrations like so many twigs. The next few weeks will test you. My aim is to mould you into warriors or destroy you in the process.' Powel smiled at this enjoying watching the young aspirants squirm.

He walked over to a wooden chest that sat against the wall and heaved the lid open. He called for the aspirants to form a queue and proceeded to hand out swords that had wooden blades. Once everybody had one Master Powel explained that these were their practice swords and they should be taken with them everywhere. Crude sword belts were handed out that had a loop of leather in place of a scabbard. Reven secured his sword at his side and noted that hilt and cross guard were made of solid metal; iron he thought from the faint glow of rust on it. It added a real weight to the sword making it only a little lighter than the short sword he had procured whilst escaping Rosholt.

Powel moved the group into the centre of the room and stood them around a circle that was drawn in red paint on the floor. 'Time to see what the youth of today are made of. You' he said pointing at Dodger who was the biggest of the aspirants, 'and you' he pointed at Reven. 'Move into the ring. On my command you will battle until one of you bleeds freely or until one of you falls.' With that Powel stepped away from the ring. Reven drew his wooden blade and readied himself. The aspirants newly found friendships would be sorely tested in the coming moments.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Scent: Part 17

The training continued this way for a week. Everyday the aspirants were ferried into the classroom and each evening they were ushered back to their cells. They sat and listened to Hultz as he spoke about the world and the various races that lived within it and how different countries were ruled and governed. They rarely paused and were not allowed to speak when they did so. Occasionally people would appear at the back of the room and listen to Hultz and then disappear off somewhere.

Reven was given a slight reprieve as Fang was allowed to be exercised in a hall that was further down the corridor from the classroom. It was only ten minutes a day but Fang appreciated it and Reven enjoyed running around with him knowing that the other aspirants would already be secured in their cells. Reven was growing tired of the constantly flickering torches and braziers that decorated the halls and rooms of The Deep. He longed to feel the wind on his face and the suns rays upon his skin. Each time he attempted to broach the subject with Master Hultz he was shushed into silence. Reven was contemplating this very thing whilst Hultz talked about the many cults of the world and the threats they posed to decent people. He was so lost in his daydream that he didn't notice that Hultz had asked him something until he realised the whole room was looking at him.

Reven's face burned with embarrassment and he squirmed under Hultz' withering gaze. 'Are you going to answer me boy or shall you just sit there gazing at the wall?' Hultz spat. Reven stammered 'I....I....sorry...' before being cut off yet again by one of Hultz' raised hands. 'Bah' he shouted, 'Useless, the lot of you. You will never learn if you never listen.' Master Hultz' composure seemed to reassert itself and he relaxed his shoulders as he let out a long sigh. 'Maybe that is enough for today', the aspirants looked at each other, confused. There were hours of the day left yet. Hultz continued to speak, 'Today you will be moving from your cells to one of the common rooms above. You will enjoy your first meal that isn't gruel and be given the opportunity to bathe. Beds will be allocated to you and you will be given new clothes to wear. Say farewell to your old clothes as they will be burnt.' Hultz let this news sink in before continuing. Reven had never seen the other aspirants smile before. 'As of tomorrow the nature of your training will change. You will all attend lessons with me in the mornings as you have been, but your afternoons will be spent learning the more physical aspects of life in the order. Weapons training will commence at midday.' This news was not as well received as the promise of a proper meal but Reven for one could not wait to see more of The Deep and to have a sleep in a proper bed.

Reven made his way upstairs with the other aspirants. Hultz led them into a large room that had ten beds in it, five to each wall. Each bed had a wardrobe next to it on one side and a small chest of draws on the other. The centre of the room was dominated by a long table that had chairs on either side. Hultz addressed them as they moved into the room. 'Beyond the door at the far end of this room are washing and toilet facilities which I suggest you use before donning your new clothes.' he motioned towards the beds. Each bed had a neatly folded pile of clothes on it and a pair of boots tucked under their foot. 'When I call your name you will report to your bed then you have an hour to wash, dress and get used to your new surroundings.' With that Hultz walked to the corner of the room and started reading out names as he made his way round the room indicating a bed each time he did so. With only two beds left Reven listened as Fang's name was read out. He trotted over to where Hultz pointed and jumped onto the bed. He circled around and scratched at the blanket before settling down to rest. Some of the aspirants giggled including Reven but Hultz silenced them with a stare. 'Reven. This is your bed.' he said indicating the corner bed. 'Your hound will stay with you here until he outgrows the room at which time we will find somewhere else to keep him'. Fang tilted his head and raised an eyebrow without ever moving his head from the blanket at Hultz' words whilst Reven responded with a curt 'Yes Master Hultz.' Hultz nodded as if satisfied with his work and lefty the room leaving the door wide open. 

Reven sat down on Fang's bed and stroked his head and leaned in to whisper in his ear 'They won't separate us again Fang. Don't worry.' Reven wasn't sure if Fang heard this or not as he promptly started snoring as soon as Reven drew his head back but he smiled anyway, his own words reassuring him. 

The aspirants made there way in to the wash room and went about cleaning a weeks worth of dirt and grime from their bodies. One of the older boys who announced himself as Dodger groaned with pleasure as he lowered himself into the hot water of the communal bath, 'Ahh, the Great Bull's ball's that feels good.' This drew sniggers from two girls that were on the other side of the bath, fully clothed to hide their modesty. 'The great who?' asked a wiry framed youth who was climbing in. 'The Great Bull! Zorn! God of the harvest and fertility' Dodger responded. The wiry youth paused at the top of his climb, 'Never 'erd of 'im' he said with a raised brow. He moved to swing his trailing leg over the edge of the bath but caught it and fell face first into the water. All of the aspirants laughed at this and they relaxed in the warm water swapping names and the tales of how they came to at The Deep.

Reven dried himself using one of the rough blankets provided as he walked back to his bed. Fang still slumbered in the berth next to him as he looked at his new clothes. They were made up of black trousers that had leather patches on the knee and at the side of the thigh. A white undershirt and a loose fitting black shirt that was fastened by thin cord at the neck. The shirt had three badges sewn onto the shoulder facing forward. All red rimmed with a white background but each sporting a different image. One had a bow and arrow stitched on to it, another a sword and the final one a dogs head. He looked at some of the other aspirants as they dressed and others sported the sword or a dagger on their shoulder. The wiry boy who Reven had learnt was called Essen had a skull on his. As far as he could make out only Reven had three badges and he made a note to ask Master Hultz about this next time he saw him.

The Black Veil

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Scent: Part 16

Reven paced around his cell trying to make sense of all that had happened over the past week. His life had been turned upside down and he was being swept along by events out of his control. Why had he so readily accepted to travel with Reynard and Aisha? What had driven him to commit such heinous violence against the other children when he was brought here? He felt like he was losing his mind. The anger that flooded through him when fighting is something he had never experienced before and it chilled him to the core when he thought of the broken bodies he had left on the floor of that room. He wanted answers. Who were these people? What had he done to be imprisoned in this way. As questions swirled around his head the door to his cell creaked open and a wiry old man walked in. The man was almost bald, wisps of white hair clung to the side of his head that met a wild unkempt bushy beard of the same colour. He wore a simple woollen grey tunic tied with string at his waist. He clutched a knobbly staff in one gnarled hand. He turned his bright green eyes on Reven and spoke in a wheezing rasp, ‘I am Master Hultz, I will be your trainer. You must follow me aspirant. We’ll collect your hound on the way’. With that the old man turned and marched out of the room clicking his staff on the floor as he went. Reven followed him out and opened his mouth to ask what he was to be trained for but Master Hultz waved a hand before the words left his mouth, ‘All your questions will be answered in good time, just keep up and keep quiet!’ Reven did as he was told and trailed Hultz through the stone halls and up stairs to where Fang was being kept.

Fang bounded backward and forwards along the bars of his cage when he saw Reven approaching. Reven noted that his cage was more plushly furnished than his own cell . Fang’s bed was made of piled rugs and the walls were wood slats where Reven only had cold stone to rest against. Master Hultz flipped the latch and Fang exploded out of the cage greeting Reven as he always did; by wagging his tail wildly and licking his face furiously. Reven ruffled his coat and threw his arms around him, relieved to find Fang well and not at all unchanged by his stay in this place. ‘Enough’ cried Hultz, ‘We must get on’ . Fang bounded over to the old man playfully and started tugging on his tunic. Hultz flapped his arms to keep his balance and then viciously tugged at the hem of his robe trying to free it from Fangs grip. Reven burst into laughter as with a tearing sound the tunic ripped free and Hultz staggered backwards almost losing his balance again. Fang jumped around shaking his head from side to side frantically as if he was trying to knock the life out of a kill. There was no kill in Fang’s mouth of course., just a tattered piece of cloth. Master Hultz ‘s face turned glowed red with anger as his face flushed with blood. ‘Control your hound or lose him’ he roared. Reven was startled at the power in the old man’s voice and both he and Fang froze on the spot, ‘That is lesson one.’ With that Hultz hobbled off and Reven and Fang sauntered after him heads bowed.

The training room looked more like a classroom. Benches sat lined up facing a white wall that had diagrams and writing and heraldic devices on it. Master Hultz walked to the front of the room whilst Reven took a place at the end of one of the benches so Fang could sit next to him. The other aspirants from the trial were already seated in the room and as were five other children that Reven didn’t recognise.

Master Hultz spoke for hours and wasn’t lying when he said that Reven’s questions would be answered. The building they were in was called The Deep. It belonged to an order known as The Black Veil and the aspirants were training to become members of this order. The Black Veil had chapters all of the world and this one here in Vardnfell served all of Orland. its purpose was to root out evil in it’s many form and act as a shield to keep the darkness of the world hidden from the people. The Veil was made up of a strict hierarchy. This chapter was led by Master Ulfram who’s adviser and second in command was Mistress Renk. She held the title of Mage Lord and would help maintain the chapter whilst using her considerable sorcerous powers to give direction the orders activities. Mistress Renk was senior to everybody with the exception of Master Ulfram. Below the Master sat three lords; The Lord of Shadow controlled the chapters assassins, the Lord or Iron its warriors and the Lord of Bone it mages. These three Paths would serve the chapter and were schooled in different arts of combat . Aspirants were brought in to bolster one of the three paths but many would fail to pass the tests and would become Travellers. These Travellers were scouts, all gifted warriors but lacking in the abilities that make them truly great. Below them sat the Orderlies, led by Master Hultz. The Orderlies duties were wide and varied, ranging from acting as servants and aides to teaching and information gathering. They were also charged with the maintenance of the chapters vast libraries which contained more information than any one man could hold. Last and according to Hultz definitely least in the eyes of the order were the aspirants. Brought in to the order at a young age to start their training , they would spend years honing their skills and many of them would fall along the way. To keep the chapter full, new aspirants would be brought in every month as many wouldn’t make it past the first. For those that made it through and ascended to one of the Paths, glory and power, their names celebrated in song and rhyme. Death would welcome the others.

Reven’s head swam at all this new information and listened in wonder as Hultz took some time out to tell them about some of the deeds the Order had accomplished. Not all of the other aspirants seemed as keen with a couple of them quailing after hearing of mighty battles. Reven just patted Fang and smiled as he soaked in the information. For the first time since he had arrived at The Deep he was enjoying himself.

Monday 24 November 2014

Scent: Part 15

 Reynard and Aisha sat waiting for Master Ulfram in his study. The walls were panelled with rich dark wood and decorated with various shields and weapons. They sat in finely carved wooden chairs, shifting uncomfortably against the hard wood. Grisly trophies from victories of the past sat in cabinets under glass. A skull of a minotaur was in a cabinet to their left, a harpies claw to their right. All the trophy cabinets had been engraved with the date the trophy was taken and who the hero was that had slayed these beasts. Reynard raised an eyebrow as he realised that most of them had Ulfram’s name etched on them. There were few bookcases in the room which they both found strange as it was a study but from what they knew of Ulfram it didn’t surprise them. He was very much a man of action and not of words. They both continued to squirm in their chairs wondering why it was that they had been summoned before the Master. Reynard had been in the order for over twenty years and he had never once had an audience with any of the masters that had served in Orlands Chapter. Aisha had been a Traveller for only a few years and was even more nervous that Reynard. She played with her hair with one hand and drummed out a rhythmless beat with the other which stopped abruptly as Ulfram strode into the room.

He sat opposite the Travellers placed the elbow of one of his huge arms on the desk and stroked his chin thoughtfully. He looked back and forth between Reynard and Aisha and after a short uncomfortable silence spoke. ‘I have asked you both here to discuss the aspirant you brought before us. The boy concerns me somewhat’ his deep voice rumbled as he continued addressing Aisha, ‘You used your powers of compulsion on him so he came without argument?’ Aisha nodded in agreement, ‘Yet we don’t compel them to fight. Especially the way that he did’, he furrowed his brow. ‘Where did you find the boy? Tell me all and don't’ leave out any detail’

Reynard and Aisha told of how they had found Reven at the Barded Warhorse Inn and how they had both sensed power within him. They talked of Rosholt and how he came to travel with Fang. They told him of the frenzy they had seen Reven display whilst hacking at the bandit when defending the coach on their way to Vardenfell and even relayed Lord Vol’s message of doom which brought a derisive snort from Ulfram. They were honest in that they believed that Reven was the most promising aspirant they had ever presented to the Order. Ulfram nodded throughout, listening to every word intently.

‘We haven’t had a beastmaster pass through our halls in a long time. He would be a boon to us in years to come but I fear that he may border on the insane.’ Reynard and Aisha exchanged a look at their master spoke. ‘I was delayed meeting you because I looked in on the boy in his cell. He was weeping...almost hysterically.A far cry from the remorseless child we saw in the trial.’ Reynard spoke forgetting himself, ‘Forgive me Master but he stood the trial, he bares the mark of the chosen upon his shoulder. Many children have reacted badly once released from our spells and wards, what is special about Reven?’ Ulfram stared at Reynard, ‘I was coming to that Traveller’ he said letting his anger show at the interruption. ‘As we do with all aspirants, we examined him after the trial and after some questioning from Mistress Renk, this chapters Magister, it became apparent that the mark he has upon his shoulder is from a recent wound. He hasn’t had it from birth.’ Aisha gasped and Reynard recoiled in his seat. The mark of the chosen was more a birthright than scar and only those with it could be recruited into the order. Reynard and Aisha had made a grave error bringing the boy to be tested.

‘We had no inkling Master, we will rectify our mistake at once’ Reynard started rising out of his chair but Ulfram waved him down. ‘The boy poses many question. He is a vessel of power, I feel that just as you did. He is also on the verge of a mental breakdown it would appear.’ Ulfram stood and started to pace the room, his hands clasped behind his back. ‘Perhaps the biggest question surrounding Reven is who marked him and why. He says he has no recollection of how the mark got there beyond some nightmares he has had. He claims the wound only happened a week ago but there is no way that can be true, he cannot of healed so quickly. I think he is confused. I think somebody want’s him within our order but for what purpose I don’t know.’ Ulfram nodded as if somebody was advising him but Aisha and Reynard sat still just staring at their master hanging on his next words. ‘We’ll keep an eye on him but should things go bad you will be called from your travels to do what must be done. The boy will be trained.’ With this Ulfram turned his back on them and stared at nothing at the back of the study as if contemplating his own words. Reynard and Aisha got up realising this was their cue to leave.

Reven lay upon his bed, his cheeks still wet from the tears he had wept. Little did he know that the course of his life had just been decided for him. His path had unknowingly been laid before him now all he needed to do was walk it.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Scent: Part 14

They hurried through the city into a residential district. Moving at speed was hard for Fang as he wanted to inspect everything in his new surroundings, Reven was constantly pushing or pulling him away from ‘interesting’ smelling things. At last they came to a stop outside a large stone house. The house was ringed with a high wall and a spiked metal gate sat before the long sandy path that led to the front door. A lone guardsman sporting a long black cloak and a black helm that completely covered his face stood on the other side of the gate. Reynard paid him no attention as he pushed one half of the gate opened and stepped through. Aisha motioned for Reven to follow and he did so, Fang trotting in after him. Aisha stepped through closing the gate behind her and the whole time the guard stood motionless. Reven wondered if it may be a statue and not a person at all but then a breeze caused the guards cloak to ripple and Reven wondered no more. They walked the path to the front of the house and the door swung wide just before they reached it. A kindly looking old man was revealed as the door opened and he held it wide as they made their way in. He was dressed in a black and white butler’s suit and bowed as the travellers entered. ‘Welcome travellers’ he said, making his ruddy cheeks wobble. He batted away the ruff at his neck before continuing, ‘The master awaits you below’. He closed the door and motioned for them to go down the hall. Reynard took the lead and headed down the hall and through a door on his right. He held it open for the others as they made their way in. Reynard shut the door behind them and made his way over to a cupboard. He opened both doors of the cupboard and went to step into it but hesitated. ‘Reven, when we meet the master do not speak to him unless he addresses you. And speak to no-one of the things you see here...our secrecy is one our greatest weapons. Do you understand?’ Reynard’s brow was furrowed as he spoke. Reven nodded his agreement and was surprised at how serious Reynard was. Aisha pushed past him and walked into the cupboard. She fumbled inside for a moment and then there was a click and the back panel of the cupboard slid to this side revealing a torch lit stairway. Aisha moved inside and headed down the stairs. Reynard motioned for Reven and Fang to follow and they did so. After Reynard stepped through he shut the cupboard doors behind him and tapped a switch that sent the back panel sliding back into place. 

The stairs seemed to go on forever. They were carved out of solid rock and spiralled down. They passed several opening top other levels as they travelled but didn’t stop at any of them. Reven had counted three other levels before the one that they stopped at. The hallway they walked down was interspersed with wooden panel doors and was richly decorated with pictures and wall hangings that all depicted bloodletting in various forms. They were either battles or scenes of assassination. One featured a figure riding atop a huge war hound whilst beset on all sides by snarling green beasts. Reven stared in wonder at the works of art and followed Aisha in a daze as they made their way around a bend in the hall and then they came to an abrupt stop. They stood at the open doorway of what appeared to be a huge cave. It was a huge rock dome dominated by a huge statue that stood in the middle of a raging fire pit. Around the edges of the room stood pairs of warriors all dressed similarly to Reynard and Aisha and in front of each pair stood a child. The children looked as if they ranged in ages but most appeared to be older than Reven with some looking like they were verging on adulthood. ‘Last in’ whispered Aisha with a grimace, stay calm boy and luck be with you’ Aisha led Reven over to the pit whilst Reynard secured Fang in a cage at the back of the room before taking his place at her side. Fang whined as he looked out and Reven couldn’t help but turn his head and smile to reassure him everything was ok. If he was honest though he didn’t know that for sure. Reynard and Aisha had been quite elusive on the road when he had asked them about why they were travelling and what they wanted with him. They had said that there would be a test and that he would meet the “Master”, whoever he might be. Reven was relieved to see that the faces of the other children in the hall all had the same bemused look as his and some that just looked downright scared. A few of the children were sobbing quietly to themselves, their small bodies quaking at the strain of keeping their sobs in. He continued looking round and made a count, there were twenty children in total, all waiting and not one of them with a look that said they knew what they were waiting for. 

After a few uncomfortable minutes of silence a hooded figure made his way into the room with a woman trailing behind him. As they arrived at the fire pit in the centre he removed his hood and the attached cloak and handed it to the woman. In response she handed him a long knife. The blade of the weapon was completely black and wavered from side to side as it came to its glittering point. The man was huge, taught muscles rippled in his arms and his leather vest could hardly contain his barrel chest. His grey hair was tied back and despite the fact he must have been getting on in years to sport it he had a look of vitality and strength about him that couldn’t be denied. He looked around the room, taking a reverse grip on the knife as he did so, the blade tucked up behind his forearm. He made his way to a child to Reven’s left and looked at him appraisingly. He pulled the cloth of the boy’s shirt to the side to reveal a pink scar that seemed to shine in the light of the fire. He nodded his approval and moved onto the next child repeating the process. He did this a few times before reaching a girl that looked as if she was just about to reach her teenage years, only a little older than Reven. He put his arm around the girl still holding the knife and just appeared to lift her up; one hand at her neck and the other scooped under her legs. He handed to her two guardians who bowed and stepped backwards out of the ring of children. The girl’s body was limp and he could hear the children either side of her gasp and whimper. They were quickly hushed and the man moved on, continuing his inspection. 

By the time he reached Reven three children had been handed to the pair of warriors at their back and Reven could not help but feel anxious and more than a bit fearful of the muscled giant who stood in front of him. The man’s face and body were criss-crossed with scars and his eyes seemed to burn with a feverish glow. He stared deep into Reven’s eyes before pulling his shirt aside and nodding approvingly before moving on. Reven released a breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding and stole a glance over his shoulder at Reynard. Reynard motioned for him to look forward but gave him an encouraging wink. Once the man had finished looking over the last child he made his way back to the woman and spoke in her ear. The woman nodded and made a note in a small book she had opened. The man looked out over the children that remained in the circle and began to speak with a voice that boomed and reverberated in the cave like dome. ‘Welcome. You may not know why you are here or who we are but all will be revealed soon enough. One thing you all share in common is that you have nothing in this world. Nobody waits for you, you have no possessions bar those that you carry with you now. We are the Black Veil and you are our aspirants. The time for your first trial is already upon you.’ As he spoke these words all of the warriors stepped back from their child and left the room in single file. This included Aisha and Reynard. Reven watched them leave and as soon as the last warrior had passed through the door a metal portcullis rumbled down to bar any exit. The warriors turned and jostled for position, each trying to get the best view of the room they had just left. The woman moved from child to child relieving them of their possessions and for Reven this meant his short sword, money pouch and his booted dagger. The man followed in her wake handing out wooden clubs from a bag that he had picked up from the side of the room. Once each child had a club the man stood in the centre of the room and addressed them all again. ‘In this room there are five bags. Each bag contains a weapon. Each weapon guarantees a life.’ The children looked at each not understanding what the man meant. He smiled broadly, ‘Admission to our order is only won through strength of arms. None of you know each other, you have nothing but miserable lives. We offer the opportunity to change that. You fight or you starve. The last five standing will join us.’

Many of the children seemed reluctant to do anything with this information. They stood staring blankly at each other or the clubs in their hands. Reven looked at the children either side of him. They stood about five feet apart, he looked at his club and noticed for the first time the dark satins that marked its surface, blood he thought. ‘Fight’ the man bellowed as he made his way toward the portcullis coming to rest against a wall. A child opposite Reven reacted and swung his club at a boy next to him. The child stared at him blankly as the club smashed down on his head, collapsing his temple and sending him to the floor, convulsing in his death throws. Reven was next to react, striking out to his right and bringing his club down hard on an older boy’s wrist. Bone shattered under the blow and the boy dropped his weapon involuntarily as his fingers slackened. Reven’s return stroke smashed the boy full in the face sending a spray of teeth and blood arcing out of the boy’s mouth as he collapsed motionless to the floor. A scream from behind him caused Reven to duck, a club whistled over his head and a girl slammed in to him carried by the inertia of her attack. They fell to the floor in a heap and Reven snarled as he tried to push her off. She regained her composure quicker though and straddled him putting her weight on her club trying to cut off his air. He brought his club up and it caught her a glancing blow on the back of the head and her attack waivered. He threw a punch with his other hand twisting his body as he did so, knocking her to the floor and rolling on top of her. He brought his club down repeatedly leaving her once pretty face a bloody mess. 

Reven came to his feet and looked around. All over the room there were struggles, Fang howled in his cage wanting to be released into the fight. Reven saw a boy finish another with a swipe to the jaw and he stood looking at Reven. The boy rushed at him breathing heard from his exertions. Reven side stepped as the boy swung at him and his attacker stumbled past. Reven cracked him neatly on the back of the head sending him sprawling. He didn’t rise again. The last of the fights were dying down and Reven turned, looking to the edge of the room for one of the bags. He ran to the edge and made his way round it. There, behind a rock he spied a bag and pulled it free. He delved into it and pulled out a bow and a single arrow. He held them aloft looking at the man who still leaned against the wall next to the gate. Other children were doing the same and finally 5 stood. One holding an axe, one a knife, one a sword and the last a hammer. The man started forward as the children gathered in the middle of the room. Looking directly at Reven he spoke ‘Six stand, only five places were offered’, the man inclined his head towards the cage that held Fang, ‘Kill the hound.’ Reven screamed ‘No!’ and starting backing up frantically towards the cage. The boy immediately to Reven’s left, the sword bearer started after him. ‘It’s just a dog, let me pass’. Reven roared and launched himself at the boy. Despite having one of the deadliest weapons there it was too heavy for the boy to lift in time to defend himself. Reven’s club landed squarely between the boy’s eyes with a gratifying crunch. Reven fell upon him battering his prone body with blow after blow until the big man who had been watching the scene unfold restrained him and lifted him clear. Reven struggled free, gasping for breath. The man looked at him with a wide smile on his face and simply said ‘five standing, good’.

Monday 17 November 2014

Scent: Part 13

The huge city walls of Vardenfell loomed out of the darkness. A road of paved stone led to the massive gateway and they hopped off their horses as they approached. The roadway was lit with torches and two great braziers sat either side of the city gates, casting eerie flickering light up the walls. Despite the late hour there were many people travelling through the gate, some of which were being checked by guards who stood at either side of the entrance. Reven craned his neck up trying to see the tops of the walls but they disappeared into the darkness. He had never seen anything so massive in all his life. The walls stretched away to the left and right, the sheer scale of the place was overwhelming. Reven never knew men could build such things. As they travelled through the gate Reven took a measure with his eye, you could fit fifty men shoulder to shoulder across the width of the gaping maw that was the gateway. And the gateway wasn’t really even that. It was a tunnel, a hundred strides long linking the innards of the city to the outside world.

 As they came out the other end of the tunnel Reven was again amazed by this place. He had thought Rosholt was a big place but it would have fit inside Vardenfell twenty times over. Reynard and Aisha chuckled at the look of wonderment on Reven’s face.

Vardenfell was a huge city. The outer wall was thick and tall and looked completely unbreakable. Beyond this wall were houses, multi storey tenements, inns, taverns, merchant shops and more. These all stretched off into the distance where they butted up against another wall that if anything looked even taller than the outer one. As they walked Reynard explained that within the inner wall is where the castle and the larger temples could be found, as well as barracks, tax offices and the houses of the rich and powerful. Reven’s head spun as he tried to drink in the sights and sounds of the city. As they moved further away from the gate the city grew quieter and the shop front and taverns gave way to more residential buildings. Reynard, who was acting as tour guide, explained that as there was only one way in and out of the city it made sense for most of the businesses to be near the gate, they were the prime spots. There were other areas of the city that played host to markets and taverns, clubs and restaurants but Reven wouldn’t see any those places tonight. Reynard and Aisha needed to see the master of their order and they seemed to be quickening their pace the further they travelled into the city.

Friday 14 November 2014

Revens Fang: Scent - The Story So Far...

Reven ran through the door of the inn to be greeted by an explosion of splinters and flame. One of the fiery projectiles that had been hurled by a trebuchet outside the city walls had crashed through the roof of the inn and landed squarely on the bar reducing it to little more than kindling. Reven was only a child and scared, old enough to understand what was going on but not old enough to know why. He regained his feet unsteadily, picking splinters out of his arm as he did so. The common room of the inn had fast filled with flames fuelled by the projectiles deadly flammable contents. Reven moved through the inn leaping through the fire as he went. His eyes were streaming, the heat and smoke stung them, his heart pounded in his chest, his legs ached and his head swam. He staggered through the smoke heading out the back of the inn and into the street. People were running past him heading toward the keep in the centre of town. Chaos reigned as more and more of the besiegers projectiles rained down. The screams of the injured and dying mingled with the roar of the ever spreading fires to create a nightmarish cacophony. Reven looked at the tall walls of the keep in the distance and saw liquid fire running down its sides where the projectiles hit. He quickly decided he would head away from the keep, away from where the attackers were focusing their attention. Another explosion sounded to his left, sending shrapnel from the destroyed building spraying into the street. An elderly woman slumped to the floor with a piece of wood the length of a forearm through her neck. Reven stared in horror as an ever growing pool of crimson surrounded the woman’s head and shoulders. It was too much, the insanity of his situation gave him renewed strength and he sprinted away in the opposite direction of the keep. This was better, after a few short minutes of running the fires receded behind him and the sound of screaming died away to almost nothing. It looked as if this part of the city was near empty. In his desperation Reven starting trying doors to houses hoping to find shelter. He pushed against door after door to no avail. At the end of the street he saw what looked to be a stable of sorts. He heard a roar go up from the besiegers; so loud that it would have made a god quiver. It was followed by a ground shaking crash. Reven was no expert but assumed the walls to the city had finally been breached, brought down by the relentless barrage that was set against them. 

He sprinted toward the stable and vaulted over a fence landing on the soft hay that covered the floor. He made his way over to the door that led into the stable complex proper. He slid the latch aside and made his way in. Weak light crept in through the small windows at the top of the walls. More hay covered the floor and the place stank of excrement. The light wasn’t great but Reven could see well enough to note that the floor sloped away and down around a bend. It struck him as strange that there were no stalls to keep the horses in. As he paused to take in his surroundings a wave of exhaustion washed over him and he decided that this place was as good as any to hide out for a while. He made sure the door was shut behind him and made his way down the slope. It grew darker as he made his way round the bend. Almost as soon as he started down the slope he noticed a metal gate set into the wall. The door had a metal bar hung through metal loops on its front which acted as its lock. The original lock sat behind this bar and from the rust on it Reven assumed it didn’t work. He tugged at the bar trying to draw it out of the rings but it’s weight was more than his arms could manage and after several futile attempts he slumped to the floor next to the gate too tired to do anymore. As he sat there he thought of the events of the past few hours. The horror he had felt as he had seen his home destroyed by a wayward projectile. The people inside may not have been his blood but they had taken him in and cared for him as if he was one of their own. They were his family, they were all he knew, all he remembered and he loved them. Tears welled in his eyes as the realisation dawned on him that he would not see them again but his sadness was soon replaced with anger. Who were these attackers? Why had they come to this city? Why did they want to see it burn? He surged to his feet hatred burning through his veins. He marched back up ramp and looked closer at his surroundings. He saw a shovel in the corner. He picked it up and returned to the gate. He battered at the bar holding the door shut with the shovel, his anger lending him renewed strength. His hits were wild but one of them landed on the bottom of the bar loosening it. Seeing this Reven threw the shovel aside and tugged at the bar again. This time it came free, he pulled with such force that it sent him sprawling backwards. His head struck the floor as the metal bar clattered across the floor. Briefly stars danced before Reven’s eyes. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was the gate swinging inwards and a set of burning red eyes staring out of the pitch black.

Reven awoke in agony. His left shoulder flared with pain. He reached up and felt for the source of his discomfort and could feel slick blood that covered his chest and arm. He could feel he had a hole in his shoulder at the join and that the blood was sticky. He could see nothing but the dull outline of the gate, the darkness beyond it was not as all-encompassing as that of the darkness of the room he now found himself in. He was lying on straw, he could feel that much. The room stank and the air was heavy with moisture. He tried pushing himself up and pained surged through his damaged joint. His head ached from the blow that he received when he fell, not that he could remember much of the fall. A sound behind him snapped his head round. Suddenly he was acutely aware that he wasn’t alone. Whatever is was it moved towards him, the sound of its movements gave the impression of something huge and he could hear the thing start to sniff the air. Reven tried to pull himself away from the sound as fear gripped him sending an icy chill racing through his veins. The sound grew closer until the he could feel the heat of the things breath in his face, it pinned him to the ground using one of its feet; Reven felt claws dig in as he was forced flat. The thing sniffed again, it was like having bellows blown in his face. Reven thought that his life was over when a peculiar thing happened. Instead of feeling teeth sinking into his flesh to rip him to pieces he felt a rough fleshy tongue run across the wound on his shoulder. The animal continued to lick his wound and finished off by running its huge tongue up Reven’s cheek a few times for good measure. Confusion warred with fear in Reven’s mind until a sound from above brought both his head and the beasts round to focus on the gateway. He could hear shouting from above and see the glow of torchlight fill the curved hall beyond the gateway. The beast that towered over Reven moved toward the gate furtively. Against the light he could now make out the true epic proportions of the animal and immediately knew where he was and what he was sharing the room with. These were not stables but kennels. The animal that had just shown him such tenderness was in fact a born and bred killer; a war hound, a creature related to and similar in appearance in many ways to normal dogs. Similar in all but its size. They were as big as cart horses with teeth the size of daggers, and adorned with thick slabs of muscle. Bred to be taken to war as either mounts for noblemen or for use as an alternative to cavalry, they were fearsome opponents and rightly feared by the sane. The beast stalked closer to the gate as the light and sound from above grew. The war hound placed itself in darkness next to the gateway and waited. Reven moved away from the light now spilling into the room noting that the pain in his shoulder had eased greatly. Finding his feet he moved to the opposite side of the gate to that of the hound. 

“Hold up lads, somebodies down here”, a gruff voice came from just beyond the gate and was followed by a flaming torch that spiralled in through the gateway and landed in the middle of the room, immediately setting some of the hay ablaze. “Get out of there you wretches, come and face justice”, the man’s voice sounded even nearer than before. A head appeared through the gateway, “Come out, come out, wherever you a…..” a snap from the hound’s jaws took the man’s head off in one clean bite before he could finish his sentence. The headless body fell to the floor spouting a crimson fountain as it did so. Reven was transfixed, he had never seen anything so horrifying yet so completely irresistible in his short life. The war hound bolted through the open gate and barrelled into more men that were coming down the hallway. Reven was frozen to the spot. The beast charged through the men and up around the corner and an ear shattering sound of splintering wood told him that it had made good its escape. The men picked themselves and raced after the hound. The flames from the torch that had been cast into the room were creeping across the floor, spitting and dancing as they went. Reven knew he had to move. He looked down at the corpse of the headless man at his feet and noticed a pouch at his belt. He untied the bindings holding it in place and attached it to his own belt. He also unsheathed the dagger at the man’s side and slid it into his boot. The site of the neck that was still oozing a trickle of blood onto the floor made him feel queasy. He looked around the room again and was surprised to see movement in the corner. He glanced at the ever glowing flames in the middle of the room then made his way to the corner where the movement had caught his eye. He was greeted with a site that filled him with sadness. A group of small bodies littered the corner. The war hound that had briefly shared this room had obviously recently become a mother. For some reason she hadn’t been able to keep them alive. As he looked closer he saw that they lay huddled together, all motionless except for one. Reven knelt down and pulled the pup from under the bodies of its siblings. It wasn’t an easy feat as the pup was almost the same size as he was. As smoke started billowing across the room Reven dragged the heavy pup across to the gateway. It moved feebly in response to his actions and its breathing was laboured. Again he turned his attention the decapitated corpse and started to relieve the dead man of his jacket. He sat the hound against the wall and pushed him back so he sat upright. Reven slipped the jacket down the hounds back until it came to the top of its hind legs. He then sat in front of the pup and tied the bottom of the jacket around his waist. The jacket was made for a man so could easily fit a boy and what was for all intents and purposes a large dog in it without too much of a struggle. Reven tied the arms of the jacket around his neck and lent forward taking the pups weight on his back. He got to his feet and unsteadily made his way up the sloping hallway. He made his way out of the huge hole that had been made in the side of the kennel by the mother hounds escape. Smoke was rising freely from the building now and looking around he could see that it wasn’t the only building in this part of the city that had been put to the torch. He could see no sign of the larger war hound or its pursuers. He decided to start moving to the edge of the city hoping to try and find some way of escaping the madness. 

It was late and Reven had no idea how long he had lain unconscious in the War Hounds kennel. He also noticed as he walked that he felt no pain from his shoulder and upon inspection was amazed to see that the wound had scabbed over already. The burden of the pup also didn’t seem to bother him as much as it should have done. He marched on into the cloying darkness, away from the fires and toward what he hoped would be freedom from this city of death. 

He scavenged what he could as he travelled. It looked like looters and already been busy in this part of the city, taking advantage of the insanity that gripped the frightened city after the arrival of the besiegers. He managed to gather up some bits of stale bread and a filthy leg of some animal from a butchers. It had been trampled all over and obviously in their haste the looters hadn’t considered it worthy loot. He recovered a lantern from a house that had the door busted in and turned the flame low so as to save its light. As he neared the city wall he looked back to see if he could make out the keep. He couldn’t, all he saw was a pall of smoke that had a slight orange glow to it, lit by the fires that raged through the homes and businesses that once made up the mighty city of Rosholt. 

Reven found that he wasn’t the only one trying to escape the city. As he made his way around the great wall that surrounded Rosholt he could see piles of furniture and wood had been stacked against the wall. Ladders had been precariously balanced on top of them that reached up to the battlements. The flight of the residents had obviously been hurried and desperate and they had used these piles as a means of escape from the madness within the city. He made his way to the bottom of the pile and started climbing. The pup at his back had ceased wriggling and even though Reven would have liked to have checked to see if his passenger was still alive the thought of self-preservation pushed him on. He clambered over tables, chairs, cupboards and doors to reach the tallest of the ladders. The ladder had been wedged inside an upturned cupboard to hold it steady and Reven made his way up, trying his hardest not to unbalance the ladder as he did so. He paused for a moment near the top of his climb looked out over Rosholt and bit back the tears that wanted to stream down his face. Soaking up the last of the horrific scenes below him he took the last few rungs of the ladder to the battlements. As he pulled himself over the edge he was amazed at his own courage. He had until this point lived an unremarkable life and had enjoyed his youth. He had lived 11 winters and it had been a fairly sheltered life up to this point. He stood on the battlements and looked over the wall into The Freemarch Forest that lay beyond. He had only ever left the city once before; for a fishing trip with his adopted father and brothers. It had been a great time and he enjoyed seeing the outside world but looking out over the forest filled Reven with dread. It stretched on for as far as the eye could see and it almost made him want to turn back and hide. These thoughts quickly vanished when he heard sounds coming from below. He peeked over the edge beck into the city and saw a rabble of fur clad men scrambling up wooden pile toward the ladders. Reven didn’t even think. He rocked the ladder he had climbed back and forth and let if fall into the neighbouring ladder. They both clattered to the ground and their fall was met with angry shouts and curses from below. Reven didn’t wait around to hear them. He raced to the other side of the battlements and grasped a rope that had been hung over the edge. He lowered himself down hand over hand as quickly as he could. The extra weight of the pup made it a difficult descent and left his hands and arms trembling with the effort. He dropped the last few feet to the ground where the walls met the forest. 

A few of the refugees from the city sat gathered under the branches of the trees. Reven panted, exhausted from his efforts. He shouted a warning to the nearest group of people, “Men are coming……over the wall”. His shout was met by blank stares by most, a tall bear of a man stood and moved towards him, “Where boy? How many?” he asked in a deep booming voice. A woman seated under a tree called out to the man, “Leave it Bran, and let us move on”. The man ignored her, gesturing with his hand for the boy to speak up. “They climb the ladders….I pushed them away from the wall but…” Reven’s response was cut short as an arrow arced down and landed with a thump at Bran’s feet. Looking up he could see the fur clad men edging themselves one by one over the wall and down the rope. The big man reacted immediately, snatching the lantern that was tied at Reven’s waist he moved to the bottom of the rope and turned the flame up high on the lantern, opening the shutter. The flame licked at the bottom of the rope but wasn’t burning quick enough. Bran pulled the plug on the oil reserve at the bottom of the lamp and flicked oil up the rope. The flames chased the oil back to the lantern forcing Bran to drop it with a curse, smashing it on the ground. Tiny flames licked the front of his clothes and he beat at them furiously as the oil on the floor caught light with a great whooshing sound. The rope burned better now but some of the men that were descending were down far enough to try a leap. Three of the fur clad attackers made it to the ground, the third landing awkwardly, his ankle giving way as he hit the ground. Reven cried out as Bran unslung an axe from his back and moved forward with menace. The people under the trees starting gathering their meagre possessions and disappearing, with haste deeper into the forest.

Reven could see the attackers more clearly now. They all sported long unkempt hair and their faces had been smeared with what looked to be blue paste. They were wild and drew their weapons advancing. The men came on, swinging wildly with short swords as they did so. Bran wasn’t deterred and swung at the first attacker knocking his sword aside. With his return stroke he cleaved into the next assailant, removing one of his arms just above the elbow. The man screamed in agony and clasped his bloody stump as the first attacker returned to the fray. He stabbed at the axe man only to see his blade parried. Bran reversed his grip on the haft of the axe and brought the flat edge of blade down the man’s head which split like a melon with the force. As the combat raged on Reven moved away from the fray to the other side of the subsiding flames. Bran had finished off the one armed man and was moving onto the third attacker who was backing away from him with a limp, still nursing his damaged ankle. Just as the big man hefted his axe high above him to strike a body fell from above crushing his assailant to the ground. It was followed by a second falling man that landed with a crunch in front of Reven. It appeared the fire on the rope had done its work and these two had not been quick enough in climbing back up to escape it. The second man that fell had died instantly, his head sat at a peculiar angle on his neck. The other two fur clad crazies rolled on the floor moaning. Bran and his axe made short work of the first man, easily parting his head with his shoulders. The second man lay on his back trying to wriggle away from that deadly axe. He held his sword up as if it would ward Bran off. The big man came on undeterred, he knocked the sword out of the man’s hand contemptuously and buried the blade of his axe in the man chest. The sword spiralled off only stopping once it had buried a foot of its length in Reven’s gut. Reven looked down disbelieving, eyes wide. He gingerly clasped the blade in his hands, then his knees went weak and he toppled to the side like a felled tree. As he hit the ground the recumbent form of the war hound pup slid out of the makeshift knapsack and tumbled limply, coming to rest over Reven’s head like a bizarre crown. Bran rushed over and knelt beside the boy. The colour had already drained from his face and blood had started to pool at his side. With a sigh Bran rose, “I’m sorry child, fighting is a man’s work. You should never have been here. May Sothayn guide your soul”. Bran pulled the short sword fee and tossed it aside. He positioned Reven on his back and folded his arms across his chest before disappearing into the woods.

Reven’s eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded him. He pushed himself up, onto his feet and moved slowly forward, arms outstretched. He was walking on hay that was ankle deep. He heard heavy breathing, it seemed to come from all around him. He moved faster and his hands made contact with a wall. It was moist, the bricks damp to the touch; the breathing continued. “Hello” he called, “Who’s there?”, no answer came. He turned and pushed his back against the wall. He scanned left and right trying to make out the shape of the room but the darkness was all encompassing. A shuffle in the hay brought his head round. He whimpered as he saw red eyes staring at him from the darkness. He withered under their baleful glare, the strength draining from his body. He sunk down onto one knee, unable to keep his head up it fell forward, his chin coming to rest on his chest. He felt heat radiating from the being before him as it drew closer. He felt and armoured hand close about his shoulder as he kneeled there in supplication, unable to move. The being dug its thumb in easily parting the flesh of Reven’s shoulder. He desperately wanted to cry out but he was unable to. The waves of heat emanating from the thing grew in intensity making Reven feel sick. He could taste vomit in his mouth, and feel sweat dripping down his back. The being spoke, its voice a low rumble like a distant rock fall, “You are our vessel, carry our burden and despair”. The things grip loosened and he fell to the floor convulsing and at last found his voice, screaming uncontrollably as burning pain racked his body.

Reven’s eyes snapped open. He lay on the ground near the city wall, it was night time but the moon was full and its luminescence was enough to see by. He felt groggy, his brow was beaded with sweat and there was a dull ache in his side. The nightmare still raced through his mind as he remembered the fight by the wall. The fur clad raiders and there struggle with the big man Bran. All was still now. He reached to his side and the memory of the sword flashing towards him sprung into his mind. He thought it had hit him, he was sure it was going to. He could feel a hole in his shirt but no break in his skin. He sat up and inspected further. He could feel dried, crusted blood but couldn’t find a mark on him. He shrugged, relived that he’d has some luck at last. Rising to his feet he took in his surroundings. Even though the moonlight was weak he could still the burn on the ground from the lantern oil. The bodies of his would be attackers still lay motionless on the floor but something didn’t seem right about them. Reven moved closer to one that lay on its side facing away from him. He placed his boot on the dead man’s shoulder and rolled him over. Reven gagged when he saw that the man’s stomach had been torn open and his face was a ragged red mess. Moonlight glinted off of the gore that covered the body. Reven slammed his hand over his mouth and backed away almost tripping over a second body, this one belonging to the last man Bran had slain. He was similarly disfigured with much of his flesh missing and bone visible. Reven reeled away, his eyes searching the nearby treeline. Wild animals must have been attracted by the scent of death. Again he counted his luck at not being dragged off into the forest to be a meal for some beast. As his mind raced he realised that his make shift backpack was hanging loosely from his back. He still had the mangled leg of meat he had taken from the city but the hound was gone. Reven was lucky not to have been dragged off into the forest but obviously the pup hadn’t shared in that luck. Reven’s attempt to save the poor animal had led the thing straight to its death. He sighed as he untied the jacket from his back and then proceeded to put it on to keep out the nights chill. He tucked the leg of meat into the side of the jacket resigning himself to the fact it would need a wash before he could cook it, no matter how much his growling stomach protested. 
He needed to get going. He didn’t want to be around when the animals came back to finish their meal. He knew this meant going into the very same forest from which the animals must have come but he needed to get away from the city. He fastened the jacket at its front and rolled up the sleeves so he had use of his hands. He looked around one last time in the hope that there was something worth taking but there was nothing. He moved into the forest immediately tripping on something concealed in the grass. He stumbled as he recovered himself and turned to see a short sword glinting at him from the grass. He reached down and lifted the blade. It was heavy but his old Ma had always said it’s better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it. He needed her now, sadness crept up on him but he pushed it aside. There would be time to grieve later. He examined the weapon and noticed that there was something smeared up the blade. He wiped it on the grass before slipping it into his belt. He was tempted to go and check the bodies for a scabbard but thought better of it, not wanting to look on those ghastly half-eaten faces again. He didn’t know where he was going or what direction he should take but he knew that somewhere in these woods was Bran and his companions and he knew that he would feel infinitely safer travelling at the big man’s side than negotiating the forest alone. 

Only five minutes into the forest and Reven could already hear furtive movements all around him. The forest was alive with activity. Insects buzzed by angrily and birds called out in shrill voices. There were other things in these woods too. He could hear them rustling in the bushes and the trees overhead. It was difficult to see anything as the branches of the trees overhead obscured much of the weak light offered by the moon. Reven was sorely tempted to turn back and await the coming of the dawn but pressed on anyway. He could hardly see where he was going and there was no discernible path to follow so he trudged on in what felt like to right direction. As he pushed on he could hear something larger moving at speed behind him. The crack of twigs on the floor and the snappy rustle of the bushes told him whatever it was it was moving at speed and heading straight for him. Reven started to run, desperately looking around for somewhere to hide. Unfortunately whilst looking around he wasn’t looking at the floor and tripped on the root of a tree falling onto his hands. He scrambled to his feet again but knew that it was too late. He spun on the spot trying to draw the sword from his belt but the hilt had been obscured by the oversized jacket he was wearing and it prevented him from drawing it free. The sound of bounding feet made him raise his head just as a black shadow bounded out of the darkness and sprang at him. He threw his hands up in front of his face in a vain effort to ward the creature off but the momentum of its leap sent Reven flying. He landed on his back, the thing on top of him. It was all teeth and fur and he desperately tried to push it off. One of his hands slipped off the creature as he shoved and allowed it to fall in between his arms. Its muzzle bashed him in the face as it fell and Reven craned his neck away from the beast’s mouth trying to avoid its inevitable bite. He screwed his eyes shut prayed for mercy. But no bite came, in fact no attack at all came. The thing just lay on him panting. Reven grabbed around the things neck and rolled to the side trying to gain an advantage. As he did so his attackers face became visible in the moon light and Reven froze, staring unbelieving into the creatures face. The war hound pup stared back up at him with a comically dumb look on his face. The pups tongue hung limply from his mouth and Reven could feel the rhythmic beat of the hound’s tail on his leg. He couldn’t help but laugh as relief flooded through him. His laughter seemed to spur the pup on and it found its feet and started wagging its tail even more furiously as it licked at Reven’s face. This made Reven laugh even harder and in a heartbeat his fear of death had been replaced with pure unbridled elation.

Reven and the pup continued on through the forest for the remainder of the night. Despite the strange noises and the cloying darkness their journey was uneventful with the exception of a few trips and falls over roots and fallen branches. Now the sun was rising and sending streams of beautiful sunlight through the forest branches. The forest seemed to transform as the sun’s rays bathed it in golden light. In the dark of the night Reven imagined death surrounding him, hiding behind every tree and creeping through the bushes and branches waiting to pounce. The oppressive weight of the imagined danger had stretched his young nerves to breaking point but the tension was easing out of him as the sun warmed his back. The pup was running around as if seeing the world for the first time which in a way was true. All he had known was the damp, dark cellar and he now celebrated his freedom by running with reckless abandon around the forest. Reven couldn’t help but smile at his companion’s joy as he watched the pup tear through the forest stopping occasionally to sniff at plants or pee on a tree. 

Reven needed to rest, to sleep. His legs ached from the night’s exertions and he felt more tired than he had ever done. Even though the forest looked a much more welcoming place in the daylight he didn’t want to sleep out in the open. He decided to take a short rest, finding a tree and slumping down next to it. The pup raised his head from the piece of ground he was sniffing and looked at Reven, inclining his head, with a quizzical look on his face. Reven looked back at him and smiled holding his arms wide, “let’s have a look you dog” he called. The pup didn’t hesitate, he bounded toward Reven skidding on the leaf litter on the floor of the forest and crashing into Reven. He immediately proceeded to lick Reven’s face and wagged his tail so hard that his back feet shifted side to side with the motion. Reven couldn’t help but giggle as he tried to hold the pup at arm’s length. “Sit, sit” Reven said and was amazed that the hound responded instantly sitting and staring at him with his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. This was the first time Reven had been able to have a good look at his furry companion. The pup was covered in short, dark grey hair. Even though he was obviously young and still carried some of his puppy fat there were contours of corded muscle showing through his short glossy coat. His feet looked too big for his legs and Reven was reminded that when fully grown this dog would be as tall at the shoulder as a grown man. Reven’s eyes rested on the hounds face and two things struck him. Firstly the dog had piercing blue eyes that matched Reven’s own. They sparkled like sapphires in the sunlight and were almost hypnotic. The dog shied away from the stare, uncomfortable. “Sorry boy” Reven reached out and ruffled the hair on his head. He moved his hand down the fur around the dog’s mouth that was darker than the rest of his coat. It was matted with something dark along his jowls up to his nose. Reven worked the short fur through his thumb and finger and flakes of crimson fell away. Reven used both hands to remove as much of the dried blood as possible. He didn’t even need to think about its source. The fur clad attackers of Rosholt had provided his new friend with the meal he so desperately needed. There were no wild animals, just this animal. Reven felt no remorse for the men that had served as the hound’s meal. They deserved all they got for destroying the city, for killing the only family he knew and for driving him away from his home. Anger swelled inside him and felt his face flush with heat as hot blood coursed through his veins. As if in response to Reven’s rage the pup went on guard, a low growl rumbled forth as he stalked around looking for a threat. Reven bit back a curse and leaned back heavily on the tree letting the anger seep away as tiredness edged its way back in. The hound came and joined him flopping heavily onto the thighs of Reven’s out stretched legs. Reven again found himself smiling at the dog as it nuzzled its head under his arm, making itself comfortable. “What should we call you?” he wondered aloud. The hound brought his head up in response and licked Reven’s cheek. “We can’t call you tongue!” Reven exclaimed as he patted the dog’s side with wry smile on his face. The hound sunk his head down again trying to wriggle its head under Reven’s arm. As he did so one of his jowls pulled back revealing the doubled up rows of razor sharp teeth nestled in its mouth. Unlike a normal dog, war hounds had two sets of teeth in their mouths. The outer set was much like that of a normal dog but these beasts had a second set of razor like teeth that sat just inside of the outer set. It added to their ferocity in battle and was one of the many reasons they were so feared. As he stared blankly at the teeth it struck him. Looking at the huge canine it became obvious, “Fang”. The hound again raised his head, panting gently whilst fixing Reven with a look that was something close to fondness. Fang dropped his head down again, this time nuzzling inside of Reven’s massive jacket and then as quick as lightning jumped to his feet and yanked. Reven breathed a gasp of pain as something jabbed him in the ribs and the dog pulled back again revealing the battered leg of trampled meat that Reven had been carrying since Rosholt. Fang trotted away and then settled on the ground ripping off hunks of uncooked flesh from the less than appetising leg. “Oi, I….” Reven faltered in his objection as Fang ripped into the meat realising that he wouldn’t have eaten it anyway. He settled back onto the rough bark of the tree and shut his eyes trying to ignore the rumbling in his stomach. He knew he had to keep moving but he just needed a quick rest. Fang continued gnawing at the bone as Reven’s head drooped, full of sleep.

When Reven awoke the sun was high in the sky. Fang snoozed next to him, the remnants of the leg of meat weren’t too far away. The pup must have been hungry as he had cracked the bones and cleaned out the marrow. Reven rose to his feet and found that he felt refreshed despite only having what must have been a few hours’ sleep. He was starving and his stomach growled even more than it did before he slept. He brushed some leaves off of his trousers and straightened his belt before setting off. Fang was awake and trotted next to Reven as he made his way through the wood. The trees weren’t as dense as they were when he first entered Freemarch Forest and he made much better time as he travelled. Fang roamed here and there as they walked, sniffing this and that. He seemed to enjoy his freedom which made Reven happy. The knowledge that he had saved this pup made him feel good; a good deed that he was proud of. They stopped briefly at a stream and thirstily gulped the cool water into their mouths. After a few more miles of travel the forest thinned out some more and they came upon a road that stretched off through the forest to Reven’s left and right. The sun was already starting to disappear below the treeline and Reven had to make a decision. He looked long and hard in both directions and there appeared to be no discernible benefit to travelling either way. Fang had already trotted off to Reven’s right to investigate clump of grass in the road and this made the decision for him. He made his way south along the road as the evening crept on. Clouds had started gathering overhead and Reven wanted desperately to get out of the forest. The thought of another night with the trees and the inhabitants of the forest didn’t thrill him, especially if it was going to rain.

After travelling down the road for a while Reven could see light coming from up ahead and as he neared he made out a squat structure sitting a way back from the road. He headed toward the building and as he drew closer he realised he was looking at an inn. A sign in front of the inn swayed lazily in the gentle evening breeze. The words ‘The Warhorse Inn’ were written on it in elongated white writing that sat above a picture of a barded horse. Reven could see a warm glow in the windows and could see smoke rising from its chimney. There were stables set off to one side that had several horses in and a horseless carriage that was drawn up to the side of the wooden stables. The inn was three stories high and made of solid stone blocks that made it look more like a miniature castle. The windows all featured metal shutters that were thrown wide to allow the light to spill out on to the gravel path that led to the inns entrance. Reven called Fang to him and they walked that path that led to the inns door. Reven pushed it wide and was greeted with the smell of cooking meat and spilt beer. A giant fireplace dominated one end of the common room and within a fire blazed away merrily. The wooden bar stretched half way across the room and had mostly empty stools in front of it. The rest of the room was filled with tables of varying sizes that again were mostly unoccupied. Sconces on the walls offered candlelight as did small candle lanterns that were placed on the tables. Behind the bar was a man with a belly so round it looked like he had a giant bowl stuck up his top. His face was ruddy and his head was bald save for a swathe of hair that chased round the side of his heads. He wore a dirty waistcoat not done up all the way over what once would have been a white shirt. He wore a heavily stained apron around his waist which he was wiping his hands with as he stepped around the bar and approached Reven and Fang. “He can’t come in here boy” said the man as he raised an accusing finger at Fang. “But he’s my dog sir”, Reven responded “We’ve travelled all the...”, “I’ll not bandy words with a child” the barman raised his voice as he interrupted “either the dog stays outside or you both stay outside”. The man stood now with his hands on his hips glaring at Reven. A woman that had been wiping a table pushed past the fat man and stood right in front of Fang. “Don’t pay any attention to Old Bill child, he’s a miserable git at the best of times”, this drew some sniggers from some men seated round a table by the fire and Reven felt his face flush as he realised how many eyes were on him. “We’ll set your friend up by the stable, he’ll be safe there. You’ll be wanting something to eat I suppose”, the woman said with a kindly smile. She wasn’t old and despite looking a little bedraggled would have been considered pretty by most. Reven couldn’t help but stare at her chest as her bosoms swelled out the top of her tight bodice. “Yes…Yes please miss” Reven responded. Her smile widened and she stood a little straighter breaking Reven’s eye contact with her chest. “You can pay? You have coin?” Reven reached to his belt and pulled free the small bag of coins he had taken from the dead man at the war hound stables in Rosholt. “Your too soft Gertie” mumbled Old Bill who had been watching the exchange. Gertie waved and hand in the air dismissively and lead Reven and Fang out the door and over to the wooden stables. There was a lean-to that had some fire wood chopped in it but also had enough room for Fang to sprawl out. Reven patted the floor under the lean-to and Fang sat under the slanted wooden roof. Gertie had gathered up a bucket and was sinking it into a trough, filling it with water. Reven patted Fangs head as Gertie put the bucket down before following her back into the inn. 

Gertie seated Reven at a table in the middle of the common room before disappearing into the kitchen to get his food. Reven’s stomach grumbled at the prospect of food and he took his mind off his hunger by looking around the room. The table of men that were seated by the fire were now playing a game of cards. A pile of copper and silver coins sat in the middle of the table and they shred sidelong glances at each other hardly sharing a word as they concentrated on the game. The four of them all had long hair that was pulled back into ponytails and they each wore a sword at their side. Reven had no doubt looking at them that they would know how to use those swords too. The leather jerkins they wore all looked like they had seen some action judging by the scratches and patched up puncture holes. Reven continued looking round. There was a man eating a plate of meat and cheese who was accompanied by two companions. They didn’t speak. The man who ate was dressed like a gentleman, his suit was a deep purple and cut very close to his slim body. His fingers were adorned with gold rings and he wore a black neckerchief that was peeking through his bright white shirt. His companions didn’t eat or drink or even speak. Reven imagined them to be guards of some sort as again they didn’t look to be the sorts you would mess with. They were armed and dark leather armour covered their bodies. One of them caught Reven looking and he glared at him making him a little uncomfortable. Reven moved his eyes away from the table and continued scanning around the room. A couple of men propped up the bar, staring into their beer and already looking like they were deep in their cups. At the far end of the room; the opposite end to the fireplace sat a man and a woman. They were at a corner table and had chosen to extinguish the lantern. They were only lit from a sconce on the wall and Reven hadn’t noticed them at all when he first walked in. They were both staring at him from beneath the cowls of their cloaks and their features were completely indistinguishable in the gloom that surrounded their table. A chill ran down Reven’s spine and yet again he turned his gaze away from the inn’s patrons and fixed them on the table before him. He didn’t like this place much. Of the few patrons that were here most of them seemed to be quite surly. He stole a glance across to the couple in the corner and they were still looking at him whilst exchanging words in hushed tones. 

Gertie appeared through the kitchen door with a cheery smile on her face. She laid a bowl of hot stew before Reven and a chunk of bread. As she went to the bar to fetch him a drink he ripped a piece of bread off and dipped it into the stew before stuffing into his mouth hungrily. Gertie returned and took a seat at the table with him. She put a cup of water before him and set a goblet of wine on the table in front of her. “So” she said taking a sip of wine, “how is it that a young boy finds himself alone at The Warhorse?” Reven continued eating as he told the tale of the attack on Rosholt, his escape and how he and Fang had come to be at the inn. Gertie listened in silence gasping and nodding at appropriate moments in his story. She had heard from a merchant earlier in the day that there was trouble at Rosholt but she hadn’t imagined the horror that was revealed to her through Reven’s story. After Reven wiped the last of his stew from the bowl with his final piece of bread he opened up his purse to see what he had in the way of money. Almost as soon as he had placed it on the table Gertie pushed it away. “It’s alright, keep your money, you’re our guest tonight”, “Thank you Miss” came Reven’s reply. He started to put the purse back on to his belt and then stopped and put it back on the table. Gertie flashed another smile and him and went to push the purse away, “Not for me Miss. Fang’s hungry and he’s all I’ve got”. Gertie chuckled and rose from her seat, “I’ll see what scraps we have out back and take them out to him”, “Thank you again Miss” Reven smiled appreciatively. Gertie disappeared off into the kitchen and Reven moved over to the window so he could watch her go out to Fang. It had started raining and Fang looked like he was asleep but Reven found it hard to see clearly. He pressed his face against the glass but still couldn’t see clearly. He pulled his jacket up over his head and moved outside looking for Gertie. As he moved toward the stables he could here Gertie’s voice from the back of the building. He couldn’t make out her words but could tell she wasn’t happy. The rain was coming down hard and Reven splashed through puddles as he made his way to the back of the tavern to find out what was wrong with Gertie. As he rounded the corner at the back of the inn he could see Gertie was pressed against a wall by one of the men that had been playing cards in the inn. One of his companions stood leering at them, egging the man on as he pinned her wrists to the wall with one hand and fumbled to pull her corset free with the other. Both men were laughing and the man who had her pinned was trying to kiss her as he continued to pull at her clothes. Gertie was trying to wriggle free and shouting for them to get off but they weren’t listening. Reven rushed forward, angling toward the man that had immobilised Gertie. Reven’s splashing feet got his friends attention and he lashed out with a boot before Reven got near. Reven was sent sprawling on the floor landing heavily. “What you got there Jack?” asked the man who had Gertie. “Little spy, think he might want a go after you Roche”, both men boomed with laughter. “Get off her” Reven snapped as he pushed himself to his feet. “Think you should leave now boy before you make me do something I may regret” Jack slipped a dagger out a sheath on his belt and toyed with the point to emphasise his words. Reven reached to his side and pulled the short sword he’d been carrying free and held it in front of him in a two handed grip. At that moment Jack and Roche’s other two companions appeared around the same corner that Reven had come round. Drawing their own swords they moved up to stand at Reven’s side, opposite to where Roche still held Gertie. “Leave him be” shouted Gertie, Roche slapped her hard across the face, blooding her lip. “Shut up whore” Roche growled, “Get rid of him” he motioned to the other men and as one they advanced on Reven. Jack smiled evilly as he came at Reven, he didn’t notice the soft padding footfalls behind him until Fang bite into his ankle, tearing free a chunk of flesh. Jack cried and fell forward. It happened so quickly that Reven didn’t have time to react, Jacks body slammed into him and they both fell to the floor. Reven took Jacks full weight as they landed, his body was limp. As Reven looked up he could see a foot of steel sticking out of Jacks back. Time seemed to slow as events unfolded. Roche shoved Gertie to the floor and turned drawing his blade. Fang continued to savage Jack and Reven pushed the body off him rolling to his left with the dead man. Roche had moved toward him and was raising his sword to strike when a look of abject terror crossed his face. Reven completed his roll and looked back toward Roche’s companions to see what the man was looking at. As Roche screamed Reven saw that his companions were in pieces; literally. One of the bodies was falling to the floor headless, spouting blood high into the air. The other man was missing his left leg just above the knee and was toppling to the side. Reven stared agog, the man that had been seated in the gloom with the woman was stooping down to finish off the toppling man. His cowl was still up obscuring his face as his double bladed axe flashed through the toppled man’s throat sending a crimson arc splattering against the wall of the inn. Reven tried to move away from him but found that Roche was bent over next to him. When Reven had rolled the body of Jack off of him and rolled with it he had unwittingly skewered Roche’s foot with the sword that was still sticking out of the dead man’s back pinning him in place. Roche pulled the short sword free of his foot and its dead host with a scream. His face was contorted in anger and he raised his arm to strike down at Reven but as he did so a silver blade point slid through the front of his jerkin were his heart would have been. Roche fell to the ground in a crumpled heap to reveal the hooded man’s companion. She wiped her blade on Roche’s dead body before returning it to its scabbard. The man and woman both stood over Reven, Fang sat at Reven’s feet staring at the ground submissively. Reven’s heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. Reven scrambled backwards until his back hit the wall. The man slowly dropped into a crouch and looked into Reven’s eyes. The woman moved forward and pulled his shirt aside revealing the scar on his shoulder. She looked back at the man and nodded. The man placed a hand on Fangs head and stroked him gently never taking his eyes off Reven. “You died today” said the man grinning as he pulled a long curved dagger from his back and held it to Fangs throat. 

Reven reacted without thought. He shoved the woman aside and leapt toward the man. In one fluid motion he pulled the knife away from Fangs throat with his left hand and landed a punch on the man’s jaw with his right. The man toppled backwards and Reven wrenched the blade free from his flailing hand and landed on top of the knifeman. Reven went to put the knife the man’s throat but Fang beat him to it. Opening his jaws wide he clamped his mouth around the man’s neck holding him immobile. The sound of the woman’s blade rasping from its scabbard brought Reven to his feet. She had recovered from the rude shove she had been given and now stood in a fighting stance, her blade pointed at Reven. Curiously she had a wide smile on her face and the momentary respite left Reven asking himself what had just happened. The strength and speed he just displayed took him by surprise, he never knew he was capable of knocking a grown man to the ground. 

Fang growled as the man strained against him. Bright red blood was visible at the edge of Fangs mouth, his razor sharp teeth cutting further into the man as he struggled. The woman relaxed her pose and spoke, “He’s fast, and the hound broke your spell. This must be the boy”. Reven relaxed his stance as well, confused at her words. “Please call off your beast child. We mean you no harm” she put her blade away and held her hands out palms up to emphasise her words. Reven backed up past the man and called Fang to him who obeyed and took his place at Reven’s side. The man on the floor gulped in breath and gingerly felt the wounds on his neck. The cuts were superficial but had bled quite freely in Fangs grasp. Blood trickled down the man’s neck as he stood. “He packs quite a punch” the man said moving his hand from his neck to his jaw. “What’s going on?” enquired Reven, “Who are you?” The man stood next to the woman before answering. “My name is Reynard and this is my companion Aisha, we are travellers of sorts” the man was brushing dirt from his cloak as he spoke. Now his cowl was thrown back Reven could see he had several days’ worth of stubble on his face and had long brown hair that disappeared under his cloak. His rigid leather armour was held in place by a series of buckles and his leather trousers had patches of the same hard leather over his thighs and shins. His armour was inlaid with swirling silver patterns, it looked expensive. The woman was dressed similarly but where her companions face spoke of hardiness and a tough life her face radiated beauty and serenity. Wide green eyes shone out from her dusky oval face. High cheek bones and a petite pinched nose were accentuated by the rain that ran down her face. Her lips were full and pouting and again sported a smile that warmed Reven somewhat. “We need to talk with you” said Reynard. 

A moan came from behind the pair and they spun round to face what they perceived as a threat. It was just Gertie climbing unsteadily to her feet. Rubbing a lump on the side of her head the size of half a plum and similar in colour. She spoke as if drunk, “What happened, that brute had me against the wall and then my world turned black”. Aisha and Reynard moved to steady her as she tottered on her feet. Gertie saw Roche’s body and moved towards him pushing the pair’s hands away from her as she did so. She looked down at his body and spat on his corpse and then booted him in the head for good measure, “Good riddance….bastard!” hatred dripped from her every word. Reynard and Aisha exchange a glance and looked as if they were stifling a laugh. For a moment the foursome stood looking at each other. The rain continued to beat down and eventually Reynard motioned for them to go inside, “Come on, we have things to discuss….and I have a terrible thirst”. He flashed a wolfish grin at Aisha who rolled her eyes in response and they made their way into the inn through the back door. Gertie waved Reven closer and then leaned on him heavily as they made their way inside. Fang trotted in after them only pausing to lick his lips at the bloody mess of bodies they were leaving in their wake. 

Gertie regaled Old Bill with the details of the attack at the back of the inn. Reven could hear her telling Bill of his heroism and he couldn’t help but smile as he looked down at Fang who sat by his side dutifully. He was seated at the table near the fire that had been recently occupied by the rapidly cooling corpses that lay outside. Reynard and Aisha sat opposite him. They had only spoken in whispers since they sat and patiently waited for Gertie to return with their drinks. After a few more moments Old Bill strode over purposefully and with one meaty hand slammed three steins of ale down on the table, Gertie trailing in his wake. “These are on the house and there are more where they came from if you are thirsty. Gertie does a good job of looking after this place…and me” he added a little abashed. “I’d be lost without her. Thank you friends” and then looking past the table to where Fang sat he added “and hounds”. As he said this he brought the hand he had been holding behind his back forward, revealing a huge bone that still had plenty of scraps of meat clinging to it. He offered it to Fang who snatched it out of his hand hungrily. With this Old Bill clicked his heels and performed a shallow bow before retreating behind the bar. Gertie gave Reven a wink and turned around heading into the back shouting over to Bill that she was going for a lay down.

Reynard raised one of the stein’s to his lips and tilted his head back letting the amber fluid fill his mouth, draining the whole thing in one go. He placed it on the table gently then belched so loudly that he startled the drunkards propping up the bar. “Now boy” Reynard started as he wiped his mouth with the back of one of his hands. “We want you to travel with us to Vardenfell and to speak with the leader or our order. Do you have a family that are waiting on you? Somebody you need to inform?” Reven simply shook his head and looked down at the table. Reynard inclined his head toward Aisha and smiled. “Good”, he said cheerily until Aisha elbowed him and nodded toward Reven whose head had sunk a little lower at the mention of his family. “I mean good for our journey, I didn’t mean to cause you distress lad” Aisha put her hand over Reynard’s mouth “This must all appear a little strange. Why don’t you tell us who you are and how you and your hound came to be here and then I’ll explain why we want you to accompany us” as Aisha finished speaking she gave Reven a kindly smile of encouragement. 

And so it was that Reven sat and told Aisha and Reynard his story and how the events of the past few days had unfolded; the attack on Rosholt, the loss of his adopted family, his brief visit to the war hound stable, his escape with Fang and their stumbling journey through the forest. When he had finished Aisha in turn explained that she and Reynard were scouts of sorts and they are tasked with recruiting ‘special’ individuals that shared certain traits. To Reven’s young mind it was all very confusing but Aisha made a good job of reassuring him that everything would be ok. It did occur to him whilst he listened to her talk that they had never actually asked if we wanted to go to Vardenfell. It was like he was in a daze after these last few days and so tired that he had no will of his own. All Reven wanted to do was sleep. Luckily Old Bill was in a very giving mood and let Reven and Fang have a single room at a discounted rate. Reynard and Aisha paid for his lodgings and took a room for themselves, waving him off to bed as he climbed the stairs to his small room. He lay in the bed and Fang jumped up beside him pushing Reven over. Reven turned on his side and flopped his arm over Fang and within moments was fast asleep.

Reven’s eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded him. He was screaming. His body was burning hot and racked with pain. A figure stood over him, it’s piercing red eyes boring into him. It held something in its hands that seemed to squirm and writhe as he held it. Reven was unable to move, pinned in place by some invisible force. As he continued to stare at the figure looming over him the thing he was holding stopped moving and warm, thick liquid came from it, spilling all over his wounded shoulder. As the liquid hit Reven’s flesh it hissed as if landing in a fire. The liquid didn’t run from where it landed but pooled and bubbled. The being that stood over him starting muttering a chant and as it did so red light shone through the joins in his armour. In the suffused red light Reven watched in horror as the thick liquid that boiled on his shoulder came together and started filling the punctured flesh of his shoulder. It pooled briefly over the hole and then subsided as the wound drank it in. Reven felt sick, his stomach churning. He looked up at his torturer to see that it had spread its arms wide as it continued to mumble its incantation. To Reven’s horror he could now make out the vessel that the liquid had been poured from; the lifeless form of a war hound pup was held in the things left hand, limp and pathetic. The glowing figure tossed the pup’s body aside as it finished its murmuring. “You are our vessel, deliver our word, and adorn yourself with power”, as the thing spoke it reached down and placed the palm of one of its armour clad hands onto Reven’s shoulder. Reven screamed anew as he was introduced to new heights of agony. He screamed so loud he could taste blood and then he passed out.

Reven’s eyes snapped open. He was covered in sweat and Fang lay at the foot of the bed staring at him with a curious look on his face. Reven was breathing hard, the dream had seemed so real, and he could feel pain flare in his shoulder. Fang scrambled up the bed on his belly and started licking Reven’s face and pawing at his chest. Reven gently pushed Fang off and sat up. Sunlight streamed through the open curtains and bathed the room in a gentle golden glow. Apart from the sounds of distant movement somewhere else in the building and the rhythmic beating of Fangs tail on the bed there was no noise. After slowing his breath and laying back in bed Reven had to admit that despite the nightmare he didn’t think he had ever enjoyed a sleep so much. He felt fresher than he had for days. He ruffled the fur on Fangs head before stretching his arms wide and stepping out of bed onto the wooden floor of his room. He moved over to the window and was greeted by the site of Old Bill and Reynard loading an old cart with the bodies of the would-be rapists. For any other child his age this would have been a horrifying site but Reven stared on, morbid curiosity focusing him on the men’s every action. His gaze faltered when there was a knock on his door. Answering it he found a smiling Gertie on the other side. She took his hand and led him downstairs for breakfast. Aisha was already tucking into a meal of bacon sausage and bread and a plate lay in wait for Reven. He sat down after wishing Aisha a good morning and tucked in. Once again Fang sat at his side but this time the hound stared intently on every mouthful that Reven shoved into his mouth. “How are you feeling today Reven?” Aisha enquired, “Ready for adventure?” Reven nodded and replied “Yes Miss”, with a mouth full of meat and bread. She nodded, “Good. Once you’ve finished eating meet us out the front and we’ll get going”. With that she wiped her mouth, stood up and strode away from the table giving Gertie a wave before exiting. Reven ate as much as he could and then tipped the remains on the floor for Fang to finish off. As he pushed his chair back Old Bill walked towards him, mopping sweat off his brow. “A ’fore you leave”, he offered Reven something wrapped in cloth. Reven took it and unwrapped it to find the short sword he had taken from Rosholt within the cloth. “You never know what dangers the road will hold. Better to have that with you” he pointed at the sword, “Be careful young sir”. Reven thanked Old Bill and after a hug from Gertie walked out of The Barded Warhorse with Fang at his side wondering what the day would bring.

Reven rode double on Aisha’s horse as they travelled the road Vardenfell. Fang ran along behind Aisha’s horse as it trotted along. Reynard rode ahead of them slightly. They passed travellers headed in the opposite direction and even some refugees from Rosholt that were making their way to Vardenfell in the hope of finding lodgings and a new life. As they rode Aisha told Reven of the legend of Varden; the hero who the city was named after. She told how Varden was one of the Everguard, a group of near superhuman warriors that vanquished the land of great evil in times past. Varden was a master of beast and sword and like Reven had a hound that accompanied him on his adventures. He met his end whilst fighting valiantly against an army of men under the charge of another one of the Everguard, for it was their destiny that they must face each other in glorious battle. Varden fought bravely but eventually fell to his brother’s blade. The legend goes that his hound was so stricken by his master’s demise that he fell down dead upon seeing his body. The victorious Everguard; known as Cazimir raised the city in honour of his brother and his mighty deeds. The Everguard shared a kinship not known by normal men and as such they saw themselves as brothers and sisters under one banner. When the world was rid of evil and there was no threat for them to face together they fought each other fearing that their power would eventually corrupt them and turn them into the very thing that they were born to slay. This agreement was called The Severing. They would fight until one was left; this one was the Ever King, Sothayn. He was worshipped as a god and still is today even though these events took place thousands of years ago. It is said he guards the bodies of his fallen brethren until a world shattering evil calls them to life, and war once more.

Reven sat agog throughout much of the tale. He had heard of the God Sothayn before but only because there used to be a small temple dedicated to him in Rosholt. He remembered watching soldiers kneel and pay homage outside the building but had never known why. He wanted to know more about the Everguard, he wanted to know why he hadn’t heard these stories before. Aisha also seemed surprised that he didn’t know these tales. They were ancient legends that were told in various forms throughout the world. 

‘Where are we Reven?’ Aisha enquired. ‘In The Freemarch Forest Miss, on our way to Vardenfell.’ Reven answered matter-of-factly. Aisha smiled, ‘No, I mean what is this land called, what country are we in?’, ‘Orland, Miss’ Reven responded. ‘What lies beyond Orland Reven, do you know?’, ‘the sea…and then the Kingdoms…and…’ Reven trailed off, his response faltering as he reached for an answer. ‘You have much to learn child, thankfully you will learn under the tutelage of our master should you be deemed worthy’ Aisha spurred her horse on as she spoke. Reven didn’t understand what she meant by this, worthy of what? What master? Reven had no master. He looked at Fang running beside the horse with his tongue flapping in the wind. ‘What was the dog called?’ he enquired. ‘What dog? Aisha answered. ‘Varden, you said he had a hound like Fang. What was his name?’, ‘ah’, Aisha chuckled, ‘the mighty beast of which you speak was called Umberoth the Aggressor, the father of all hounds’. Reven sat back a little and mouthed the word ‘Umberoth’. Aisha’s horse sped on as the wind whipped through his hair and he dreamed of battles and hounds and heroes of old. 

After the first day of travelling the party stopped to make camp a way off from the beaten path. Reven groaned as he dismounted from the horse, his thighs and buttocks aching from the horse travel. Reven shook his legs out and made his way over to Fang to check him over. They hadn’t stopped since the late lunch they had taken and Fang had been running all day. He didn’t seem any worse for wear and greeted Reven with the now familiar licks to the face and the wagging tail. After Reven had stroked the hounds belly he helped Reynard and Aisha unload bedrolls and cooking implements from the horses. Reynard told Reven to fetch some fire wood whilst he and Aisha saw to the horses. Reven started picking up bits of fallen branches and twigs for kindling and Fang even came over to help tugging at whole branches. Reven started tugging at the branches Fang was pulling and soon fell into giggles as Fang yanked him around trying to break his grip. Their play was cut short by Reynard though, ‘Why not send the hound to hunt boy? We may get the fire lit this side of night that way.’ Reven looked at him confused, ‘I don’t think he knows how to hunt Sir. He’s only a pup.’ Reynard chuckled at this, ‘He’s born to hunt, to kill. Look him in the eye and tell him to hunt’. Reven dropped to a knee and looked Fang square in the eye. Fang was sitting there with his tongue lolling out of his mouth but as soon as Reven fixed him with his stare he stood, alert and focused. ‘Hunt’ Reven said and almost before the word had left his mouth the hound was off, running through the trees and quickly disappearing into the darkness of the forest. Reven snapped his head round and looked at Reynard pleadingly, ‘He’ll be alright won’t he?’ he asked. ‘Boy, there are very few things in this world that would bother your beast, he’ll be fine. Now where’s my wood?’ Reven brought the branches and kindling to Reynard and then sat and stared out at the forest as Aisha struck her flint and lit the fire.

Reven lay on his stomach and continued to gaze into the forest as his companions readied pots to cook over the fire with. Night had fallen and Reven was worried about his friend. ‘What if he doesn’t come back?’ Reven asked aloud to no one in particular. Aisha and Reynard exchanged a quick glance and then Aisha responded, ‘You don’t know much about war hounds do you Reven?’ Reven rolled over and sat up shaking his head before looking over his shoulder at the forest again. ‘Your hound has bonded with you, only death can part you now. It takes a special person to be able to bond with a beast. It’s one of the reasons we want you to go to Vardenfell.’ Reven looked back at her ‘Bonded? How?’ Aisha looked thoughtful for a moment, as if choosing her words carefully, ‘I don’t know for sure. Few people are able to do such a thing and those that can, not that I have met many, find it difficult to explain. The master of our order may be able to give you more details but suffice to say that you are a very lucky boy. Fang will be fine’ As if to punctuate Aisha’s words there was a crash and lots of rustling from the forest and Fang appeared dragging the body of a deer with him. His tail started wagging as he saw Reven and he dropped his quarry to rush at the boy, diving on him and again licking his face with abandon. ‘Dinner is served’ said Reynard as he got up and strode over to where the deer lay. Reven pushed fang off and wiped his face looking at the hound, ‘Good boy Fang’ he said as he wiped his face. As he made to dry his hand on his jacket he noticed it was smeared with blood. Fang had ripped the deer’s throat out and his muzzle was covered in sticky blood that along with his tongue had been wiped all over Reven’s face. Reven didn’t give this a second thought and wiped his hand on his jacket anyway and then used the coat to rub his face clean of the wettest parts. With that he sat next to Fang and watched as Reynard skinned and gutted the deer ready for dinner. 

Aisha watched the scene with interest. She liked this boy. She hoped he would be found worthy when they reached their destination. If he wasn’t Vardenfell would be the last city Reven would ever see.

The next morning the set off just after sunrise, their bellies full of the venison and bread they had for breakfast. Fang had been rewarded for the provision of the food by being allowed to rip the remnants of the deer’s carcass to pieces, the best cuts of meat having already been removed and stowed in saddle bags. Reynard had told Reven that they should reach the gates of Vardenfell by nightfall if they made good time. And make good time they did. The day passed with little in the way of distractions. They stopped for lunch as they had done the previous day and continued on, passing more and more travellers as they did so. The road they travelled seemed to be the main route to Vardenfell and as they travelled other roads started meeting it, winding out of the forest. The people they passed were many and varied. Mounted men on mighty warhorses, whose armour gleamed in the sunlight, merchants with carts laden with goods or empty and heading away from Vardenfell, farmers pulling hand carts to sell their wares at one of the many markets in the city or just common folk. Many times Reven and his companions would be travelling alone for a while with only the rustling of the trees and bird song for company but then a new road would appear and along with it more travellers joining the march to Vardenfell. It was on one of these occasions that Reven was reminded just how dangerous the forest was.

Evening was creeping on, and soft dusky light lit the road. Fang trotted along next to the horses as he had done for the last few days. Reven was watching him run tirelessly along when he suddenly ran ahead of then and then froze in place, his hackles rising. Reynard and Aisha slowed their horses and came to a stop behind him. Reynard jumped down and crouching low came up to Fangs side. The hound’s lips were pulled back in a snarl and he sniffed the air. Reynard stalked passed him and moved to the tree line. ‘What is it?’ Reven asked, Aisha only responded by bringing her forefinger to her lip to hush him. Then Reven heard it. In the distance he could make out the sounds of conflict. Metal clashing on metal. Reynard ran back to his horse and spurred it into a gallop as soon he was in the saddle. Aisha followed suit and they steered their horses off the road through the trees. The sounds of battle were clearer now and Reven could hear harsh shouts and cries of despair. Very quickly he saw another road in front of them that had been running parallel to the one on which they had travelled. He still couldn’t see the source of the commotion but he knew he soon would as they raced toward the tree line. They burst out of some bushes at the roadside and turned the horses toward a scene of carnage that unfolded before them. A carriage sat in the middle of the road surrounded by armoured men. They faced out from the carriage and were beset on all sides by what Reven assumed were bandits. Many of the defenders were already down with arrows sticking out of them or lying in puddles of their own blood. The fight had not been completely one sided, many of the bandits lay motionless around the men. The armoured defenders were outnumbered by at least three to one and were being pinned in place by bandits armed with swords, clubs and wood axes whilst several of their number stood back and fired arrows through gaps at the defenders. Aisha turned her head and shouted ‘off boy, stay out of sight’ with that she pulled Reven to the side and he fell roughly to the ground. Fang rushed to his side as Reynard and Aisha spurred their horses forward once more roaring wordlessly as they sped to enter the fray. Reven got up and raced after them for a moment but his run tapered out as he watched the fight unfold. Aisha headed straight for the bowmen, jumping from her horse and drawing her long slim blade as she did so. The first man she met fell without even managing to block her swing and she advanced to the next side stepping the arrow he fired at her as she did so. Reynard headed for the carriage, dropping to the ground, sword in one hand and his long curved dagger in the other. He set about the bandits, attacking two at once, piercing one through the neck as he hacked at another with his sword. The defenders raised a ragged cheer at this and fought even harder to push back the attackers. Some men had broken off from the assault on the carriage and charged at Aisha as she despatched her third archer, responding to the new threat. Reynard had fought his way into the defenders line and now stood shoulder to shoulder with them screaming challenges and insults at the bandits as he thrust and parried. It was too much for Reven to take, his body shook as it responded to the violence that was being done before him. He drew the short sword from his side and looked down at Fang who leaned forward as if straining against an invisible bond. He didn’t know what drove him to do it but he charged to the left of the carriage where two archers still stood pumping arrows at the defending troops. Fang roared ahead of him. Despite the hound being young he was already the size of most grown dogs and already had a viscous aspect to him when his blood was up. The bowman recoiled at Fangs advance and reacted too late. The hound leapt and crashed into the man’s midriff as he turned towards him, smashing the man to the ground and then tearing his throat out sending great spray of crimson through the air in a wide arc. Reven ran on leaping over the man’s thrashing legs and through the curtain of blood that shot into the air. The second archer was almost ready, rushing his shot he fired at Reven almost point blank and the arrow left a bloody trench in the boy’s side as it parted the flesh on Reven’s ribs. Reven crashed into him, sword raised. The man reached for his dagger as he stumbled back. Reven’s blade flashed down at the bandit and missed. Despite his zeal Reven was no swordsman and the unfamiliar weight of the weapon in his hand over balanced him, his sword striking the hard packed mud of the road sending vibrations from the impact up his arm. The man sneered at him, shaking his head he said ‘stupid lad’ and lashed at out with his dagger. The blade cut a shallow stripe across Reven’s chest as he tried to get out of reach of the weapon. The man reached out and grabbed Reven by his oversized jacket and raised his arm up to strike. The blade came flashing toward Reven’s neck and would have connected if Fang hadn’t intervened. The hound blurred past Reven his jaws clamping down on the bandits arm, his weight dragging the man to the ground as he let go of Reven’s coat and flailed his free arm desperately trying to keep his balance. He screamed as Fang pulled him across the floor by his arm, tearing through skin and muscle. Reven recovered himself and looked down to see the blood flowing down his side from the arrow wound. His face a rictus of anger as he strode after the man, raising his sword high he brought it down on the bandit. The man put his free arm up trying to ward off the blade but it crashed into his forearm with a sickening crunch as his bones shattered. Reven didn’t stop, he raised his blade again and again hacking at his opponent. Reven’s blade was not keen but his repeated blows were enough to cut a bloody trench in the man’s chest until at last Reven got to see the man’s heart stop beating. Fang released his hold on the man and Reven stood over him, sword held loosely at his side and breathing hard from his exertions. Blood was splattered up his front, a mixture of his own and his fallen opponents. 

He turned away from the corpse to see the last of the bandits being driven off. Reynard and Aisha had taken a terrible toll on them. Bodies littered the ground near the woman, her bloody dance done she was cleaning her blade on a dead man’s jerkin. Reynard was trotting off after the fleeing bandits but obviously thought better of it and he pulled up before breaking into a proper run. Reynard made to march over to Reven but was brought up short by one of the defending troops. ‘Thank you friend’ said the man extending his arm to Reynard. Reynard grasped him around the forearm and the man responded in kind. ‘Well met’ said Reynard, ‘what happened here? What precious cargo do you carry that would make this scum risk their lives so?’, as he spoke the curtain of the carriage was drawn back by an elderly gentleman. ‘Is it safe Siegfried? Is all well?’ said the man. ‘Aye lord, all is well. We had some help from these good folk.’ The old man stepped out of the carriage using Siegfried’s arm to help him balance. He cast an appraising eye over Reynard and then Aisha who was now standing at her companions side, ‘Fortunate indeed that we would run into two members of the Black Veil’ he almost spat the last few words out as if he had a bad taste in his mouth. The guards around them started to move back, wary at their lord’s announcement. ‘And who might you be?’ asked Reynard with a sneer on his face. The old man had started moving round the carriage and he spoke without looking at Reynard, ‘Lord Vol.’ Reynard flashed a glance at Aisha in recognition. It was obvious the old man didn’t need to say anymore, his name was known to them. Reven stood with Fang at his side as Lord Vol made his way over to them. The old man stared at them and then started waving his hands in the air in front of them as he muttered. Reven could see streamers of light trailing the man’s fingers. Magic! Reven had never seen it worked so close up and found the movement of Vol’s hands quite hypnotic. Vol balked slightly and stopped his mutterings and stared long and hard at Reven and eventually let out a ‘Ha’ and spun on his heel a smile playing across his lips. He made his way back into the carriage and before closing the door behind him said ‘Tell your master you bring his doom to his doorstep.’, laughing aloud he shut the door and drew the curtain. 

Reynard and Aisha collected their horses leaving Lord Vol’s troops to see to their wounded. ‘Ungrateful bastard’ whispered Reynard as he mounted his horse. Aisha was looking at the wound on Reven’s side, ‘I told you to stay put. Now look’ she said gesturing at the gash on Reven’s side. It had stopped bleeding and a scab had already started forming at each end. Aisha inspected is closely, ‘It doesn’t hurt Miss. I’m fine. Sorry for rushing in…I…I don’t know what happened’ Reven said apologetically. ‘It should hurt though’ she said prodding at the wounds edges. She took off one of her gloves and placed her bare hand over the gash. Closing her eyes she murmured a few words and Reven felt a tingling warmth in his side. She took her hand away and Reven looked down to see the flesh knit back together. Even though the wound didn’t seem to trouble him the healing of it hurt mightily. Reven stared at Aisha in wonder clutching his side. ‘A simple spell….don’t stare’. She put her glove back on and mounted her horse, ‘Come on Reven, we can still make Vardenfell before midnight if we hurry. With that she offered her hand and helped Reven up onto the back of her horse before setting off at a trot back the way they came.