The sky above rumbled violently, as lightning shattered the clouds. The boots of a man sloshed through the mud, as he half-ran, half-stumbled through the sucking muck. From the woods behind him, another sound, more terrible than the storm assaulting him, tore through the air. His eyes widened, his efforts against the hindering mire increased, nearly wrenching his feet from his boots with every step. The heavy, hateful rain pounded down upon him, saturating his blue tunic and leather breeches, adding extra weight upon his fatigued form.
Behind him, the source of his frantic struggles rang out once more, a ghastly howl that penetrated his very heart, and filled him with desperation. Ahead of him, a gatehouse loomed out from the oppressive darkness that reduced his vision to a mere handful of feet in all directions. His spirits rose, like a balloon released from the bottom of a lake, his boots suddenly pounding on solid stone, mud splattering upon it in all directions as he ran. The sound of nails scraping upon stone following close behind, his breathing growing faster, more shallow. A burning pain began to creep along his sides, his muscles growing weaker with every step. His breathing ragged, he passed beneath the massive gate, his feet catching on a loose stone, sending him stumbling. His face slammed against a stone wall, and his hands shot out, grasping at the gate winch. For a split moment, they found their grip, before his rain and sweat-soaked hands slipped free, his skull impacting the cobblestones with a dull thud, his vision blurring.
The chattering of the teeth upon the winch filled his ears, drowning out all sound, until the gate slammed into the ground, causing it to tremble, and barely avoiding removing his legs. Another violent tremor echoed through the gate, wood splintering, metal bending, hinges creaking, and howls of frustration splintering the air for two, long, dreadful minutes. Abruptly, the night grew silent, save for the falling rain.
A painful grunt escaped his lips, as he forced himself up, his shoulder-length hair plastered to his face by a mixture of rain and blood, leaving it unable to be seen exactly what the original color may actually be. Casting a solitary glance towards the gate, before stumbling upon the cobblestone roads, his hand brushing wood and hay-thatched building, amidst sputtering torches, that struggled to stay alight in the unrelenting downpour. His dark green eyes scanned the barren streets with a cold, piercing gaze, coming to rest upon an open doorway. One which stank of coal and metal. He moved swiftly, making no waste of time in entering the blacksmiths shop. The torchlight drifted through the open doorway, casting flickering shadows through the empty room. His eyes scanned the workshop, a slight glint catching his gaze. The glint of a blade. His hand slipped forward, thick, powerful fingers wrapping about the hilt.
Superbly balanced, intricately decorated with etchings of harts along the fuller of the blade, each in full gallop and sporting stunning sets of horns, it was obviously a long sword of grand quality. A sly smirk crossed his slender lips, as he studied the blade, recognizing the sword’s blade as being forge from pure silver. Not being created for combat, for silver was inferior to steel in combat and durability, he knew this to a be a purely ceremonial sword, most likely commissioned for some wealthy noble. Regardless, it was well-balanced and, if mythology were true, he could wish for no better weapon. This blade, he knew, would never see it’s owner.
He had known since he entered the city. Since the moment he had recovered enough to roam the city, calmed his mind enough to take it all in. There were no bodies, he saw no blood. But he had been a soldier long enough to recognize the signs. Long enough to recognize the smell he had been exposed to so often in his life. So often this night. The air was thick with the stench of blood and death. This was the creature’s hunting grounds, and everyone was gone, just as the caravan he had been escorting was.
The horrible howl struck the air once more. His flesh paled, and his expression grew grim. His knuckles whitened, as his grip tightened upon the grip of his newly-acquired blade. He slowly left the shop, h is eyes flicking about the main road. It was inside the city now. It was hunting him, guided by his blood. The first time he had faced it, the steel blade simply shattered on it’s flesh. That first time, it was merely a myth, a nightmare given life. But every myth has a weakness, one fatal flaw, and now he would test it. This time, he would not run. He would fight. Fight, and likely die, but he would fight and do all he could to send that abomination back to the hell from whence it had spawned.
He saw the eyes first, red and so abnormal. They loomed within the shadows, like two eternal coals. No pupils, no whites, just two slits of crimson, that blazed like an inferno in the night. The young soldier stepped into the torchlight, his feet shifting into an aggressive stance, and both hands coming to rest upon the hilt of his blade. His eyes locked with the beast’s, and a growl rumbled in it’s throat.
The silhouette of the bipedal, wolfish creature slowly took form, growing ever more revealing, until it stood perfectly exposed in the light, firelight flickering across silver fur. The soldier’s muscles tensed. His lips drew into a tight line. Letting out a scream of rage, a battle cry of strength, he charged forward, blade held high. Without a moment wasted, the beast lunged for the man, a vicious snarl upon it’s lips.
Their feet impacted the stones, the beast’s claws held at bay only by the man’s blade. The sound of growls and of sizzling flesh filled the air, a triumphant grin upon the soldier’s mouth, as drops of black liquid splattered against his face. Violent coughs racked his body, some of the foul liquid filling his mouth and sliding down his throat, searing everything it touched. The beast snarled in pain, leaping back with astounding grace, despite being twice the size of the soldier, and causing him to lose his balance.
Quickly rolling to his feet, the soldier narrowed his eyes, slight flecks of red flowing within their depths. Man and beast circled the other. The beast hunched it’s back, deep growls flowing from it’s throat. Their eyes locked. Their feet shifted. Both lunged once more.
The tip of a claw sundered his shoulder, tearing fabric and flesh, and spilling his blood upon the stones. The blade slammed into a claw, and recoiled. The blade flashed against the torchlight. A claw tore through the air once more. The soldier’s hips twisted. His knees bent. He gave an almost subtle flick of his wrist. Blood flowed heavily from his shoulder. A claw grazed his scalp.
His blade slide through flesh. Flesh that melted as it touched the blade. The beast howled in agony, it’s eyes rolling back, as the silver punctured it’s heart. A claw rose suddenly, gripping the blade firmly, flesh falling from the bone, as if rapidly rotting.
The creature pulled the blade deeper, drawing the man close. It’s other claw slashed through the air, drawing across the soldier’s chest, cleaving into the flesh. The beast’s jaws clamped down on his wounded shoulder, tearing out a massive chunk of muscle and skin. Screaming in pain, the soldier brought his knee into the groin of the beast, his savaged shoulder slamming into it and knocking it away, as it released both his shoulder, and a howl of pain. His blade slid free. The blade flashed upwards.
The beast’s lupine head landed upon the stones. It’s eyes stared blankly to the sky, the fur. matted down by the last few drops of rain, as the storm finally surrendered to the night. The flesh that once connected head to neck festering, slowly being reduced to a stinking, fetid puddle of black liquid.
Blood slowly soaked the makeshift bandage covering his shoulder and chest, his blade resting in a new, wolf-skin sheath at his hip. The soldier grunted with effort, as he slowly turned the crank of the gate winch, designed to be opened by two men. With a quiet click, the winch locked into the final tooth. Without a glance back, the soldier made his way out of the dead city.
The howls reached his ears a dozen feet from the gate, drowning out the rapid clicking of the winch. His eyes wide, he turned towards the gate once more. Running as fast as his wounds would allow, he dove under the falling portcullis of the gate. The numerous howls grew steadily closer as his stomach impacted the ground. Shooting pain blasted up his leg, tearing through his body as the gate slammed down onto his left leg, pinning him to the ground inside the city.
Howls echoed on the other side of the gate, which shuddered visibly under a violent assault. The ground shook slightly, and the soldier’s gaze slowly rose at the sound of nails on stone, only to meet blazing crimson. The alpha female snarled loudly, gazing down at the man who had slain her mate. Slowly, she approached the trapped man.
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