The Provinces of Veterumterrum

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Chapter 9

Wolf’s bane

Baron Von Riker

The night was still young when Riker sat in the middle of the road. He played a simple tune with his flute among the herd of sheep that he and the warbound had released from the ranch and. “The other instruments will slow me down,” he had told the group before they left the inn. He sat on the ground among them and waited. He wasn’t sure what to expect but he trusted that the plan would work. It must work, he thought. Somewhere amongst the alleys and buildings, Jared’s warbound hid ready to strike. For several minutes, nothing happened but eventually she emerged onto the road. She was quiet like a fox but was unmistakably a large dire wolf. Her white coat contrasted with the night and from what Riker could tell she possessed an uncanny sentience in her eyes.

There is a person in there, he thought to himself as they starred each other down. She crept toward the herd and none of the sheep seemed to be bothered by her presence. Some of the sheep greeted her and she would nuzzle with them as she made her way through; though she never took her eyes off him. She even licked and greeted the newborn lambs.

How could she have killed so many people? Riker wondered. She seem so gentle. Then it occurred to Riker that she is just protective of the sheep. She is the shepherd’s daughter after all and the demigod made her the herd’s guardian. He remembered that he needed to play his flute, a song was settled on to be the signal to the warbound that Riker had spotted her. She began to growl at Riker as the hairs from her back raised up like a surge of energy was coursing through her. Riker slowly stood up with his hands in front of him. The she-wolf tucked her ears and crouched.

Riker then spoke to her and said, “I know who you are. I know what happened to you. What you father did.” The she-wolf perked her ears and cocked her head to the side. “Do you understand me? You are the shepherd’s daughter,” He slowly stepped towards her. “I want you to know that I am here to help you any way I can.” He became within six meters of her. “I know you are angry and I know you want to make this right, don’t you?” he said as he crouched and slowly reached out to her. “I do not want to hurt you and I am sure you do not really want to hurt me. Do you?” The she-wolf sniffed the air then took a step forward. Just as Riker’s hand was meeting her muzzle, a broken branch snapped in the distance. The she-wolf jerked her head in that direction.

“Great gargoyles…” Riker cursed under his breath. The she-wolf redirected her attention to Riker, growling and stalking toward him. “Please. Don’t do this,” Riker said reaching for his flute. She pounced onto him and the sheep around them bawled and scampered away. Right before she could bite him, the warbound charged. Durbal came and tackled the she-wolf off Riker to the ground. As the rest came closer, the she-wolf bucked Durbal off her easily. Perry threw the first net⏤covering her.

“Riker, do it now!” Lemuel called out. Riker took his lute and began preparing the sleep spell but the she-wolf ripped out of the net. She pounced Riker again, this time she bit his flute and ripped it from his neck. The she-wolf tossed the flute aside into the shrub. Riker watched as the instrument flew away. The she-wolf came at him again; this time to maul and maim. Jared threw his battle axe and it slashed the she-wolf on her side. She whimpered as her blood stained her white coat.

“Die beast!” Jared roared as he began throwing stones at her. The she-wolf charged and jumped up at Jared and he caught her with handfuls of her fur. As he began pulling on her as she scratched his armor with her claws. Jared’s gray complexion became covered with his own blood as the she-wolf mauled his exposed flesh. He threw her to the ground then made for his battle axe just a few paces away. She gave chase after Jared as Riker desperately searched for his flute in the bushes. Durbal intercepted and tackled the she-wolf to the ground and the started punching her with his powerful fists.

As he brought a fist down, she caught it in her mouth and began shredding his arm with her sharp teeth, working her way to his shoulder where she used her body weight to weigh him down to the ground. Just as Jared was picking up his axe, a loud snapping sound could be heard behind him. He quickly turned around saw his brother’s neck in the mouth of the she-wolf. Riker helplessly watched as the she-wolf and Jared stared off at each other. Durbal’s blood stained the she-wolf’s white muzzle.

She dropped Durbal on the ground and bounded towards Jared. Riker abandoned the flute and sprinted toward the fight. The she-wolf lunged for Jared but a short sword intercepted her midair to her side and she fell short from her target. Lemuel dashed over to Jared armed with only his last sword. “What are you doing brother? You have to move,” he said. But Jared was in a traumatic trance. Riker saw that Jared murmured something but was still too far away to hear it. He did hear Lemuel’s response, “We will mourn him later but now we need to end this. Perry Riker help!” He called out as the she-wolf stumbled to her feet.

Perry struggled to pull out the second net from his knapsack. It seemed to have gotten caught on something that hooked the to the bottom of the bag. Seeing this, Lemuel dueled with the she-wolf. This was not supposed to happen, Riker thought to himself as he ran to them He almost had her but now he knew what must be done. There was no saving this girl. Then something else happened. Llorva and Vylasgarden came running into the fray with Riker’s lyre.

“Here, take this,” Llorva said tossing the lyre to Riker as he ran past them.

“We will cover you, go,” Vylasgarden insisted with bow and quiver in hand. Riker ran as fast as he could with the lyre in hand toward the fight; Lemuel and Perry were fighting for their lives while Jared was still stunned from Durbal’s death. The she-wolf bit and pounced with snarls and determination on her face as she fought with the warbound. Just as Riker arrived at the scene, Jared was finally coming out of his trance

Jared gripped his battle axe and roared, “You will pay for what you did you foul creature!”

“Come at us beast!” Lemuel shouted parrying an attack. The she-wolf stumbled with each step but still pursued with supernatural powerful.

“Stop!” Riker shouted but the warbound ignored him.

“Stay out of our way Riker! We are finishing this,” Jared roared swinging at the beast. He missed and the she-wolf tried to knock him down with her powerful paws. He stumbled backward then tripped onto the ground. She stood on top of him with a crazed look in her eyes; just as she was about maul, Lemuel attacked with a stab of his sword and forced the she-wolf to back away and focus the fight with him. In a panic, Riker began playing his lyre to charge his sleep spell. A creature this powerful will not yield so easily.

Jared stood up and pointed his axe at Riker. “Give it up! Your magic is not the answer!” He and Perry joined Lemuel and surrounded the she-wolf. Riker reluctantly surrendered and held his magic surging lute to his side.

Perhaps there was no saving her, he thought. Lemuel continued swinging as the she-wolf hopped backwards to dodge the blade, however, arrows pierced the wolf’s body as Vylasgarden emptied her quiver from a distance away. Llorva came flanking and threw one of her daggers at the she-wolf and it slashed across her hip. The wolf whimpered then barked a powerful force of energy at Llorva that blew her backward and against a tree.

Lemuel and Jared took the opportunity to deliver landing swings on the she-wolf and while Lemuel slashed the she-wolf across the face, Jared buried his axe into her side. The she-wolf howled in pain then collapsed on the ground. The brothers panted and Lemuel dropped his sword from his hand.

“The night is won,” Lemuel huffed.

“But for a cost he will pay for,” Jared said turning to Riker. He ran up to Riker and punch him across the face with all his orcish might. Riker’s mouth bleed from the ground and Jared knelt before him and began to strangle Riker. Vylasgarden rushed Jared and tackled him off Riker. As Jared and vylasgarden grappled on the ground, Llorva went to Riker and helped him to his feet.

“My quarrel is not with you,” Jared growled to Vylasgarden as he blocked some of her quick blows.

“Killing him will not bring you peace,” Vylasgarden growled in return.

“Because of him, four of my brothers are dead. To get in my way is to subject yourself to death.”

“Then so be it,” Vylasgarden said before delivering a powerful punch to Jared’s chest. Jared lied motionless on the ground. A sudden growl emerged from the she-wolf and before anyone could react, Lemuel was bit by the ankle and dragged into the darkness of the near brush. The still living she-wolf mauled Lemuel viciously and his screams pierced the night’s silence.

“NO!” Jared screamed from the ground at the top of his lungs. Riker took his lute and held it in front of him like a shield; Blue streaks of magical energy triggered from the lute and into the bushes. There was a pause then the sound of a large body collapsing. Jared charged to the bushes but Riker threw a bolt of energy at him and cursed Jared with uncontrollable laughter. Jared fell to his knees and howled with hysteric laughter. “Damn you… Haha! Damn you Riker…Heehee! You will regret this… Hahaha!”

“Riker walked past Jared and said, “I already do.” He and Vylasgarden dragged the She-wolf’s body from the bushes while Perry and Llorva recovered Lemuel’s. Lemuel was hardly recognizable aside from what was left of his clothing. The she-wolf tore him to pieces.

“Is she alive?” Llorva asked referring to the she-wolf and Vylasgarden felt the beast’s chest. The she-wolf’s still beating heart from within her body illuminated.

“She is,” Vylasgarden confirmed.

“I don’t think anything would have killed her,” Riker admitted as the set the she-wolf’s body down on the road.

“Wait,” Vylasgarden said searching the she-wolf’s qi. “There is poison in her blood.” Everyone including the recovering Jared gathered around. “This isn’t one of mine,” Vylasgarden said pointing at an obscure arrow in the she-wolf’s back.

“It mine,” a voice said from a distance. It was Kruzco armed with a bow and a notched arrow.

“Kruzco,” Riker said. “You followed us.” Kruzco joined the group surrounding the sleeping beast.

“I kill with arrow,” Kruzco said drawing his bow to the she-wolf’s head.

“No, wait,” Riker said putting an arm against Kruzco.

“Why do you listen to him?” Jared snarled. “All he has done is get people killed.”

“Jared…” Riker started to say but Jared interrupted him.

“Don’t. Just don’t.” Jared walked over to Lemuel’s lifeless remains. He felt the heat seep from his brother’s corpse. As he wept the villagers emerged from their homes and crowded around the scene. The former shepherd pushed his way through the crowd and fell to his knees before the she-wolf.

“Is she…is she…” his quivered voice could not finish the sentence.

“She still lives,” Riker assured him. The man held the she-wolf by her head.

“My sweet Talia. I am so sorry my dear. Please forgive me,” the man cried as he buried his face into her blood-stained fur.

“She is strong willed, she will wake soon,” Riker said to him. Llorva came next to him with a dagger in her hands.

“We promised to apprehend her,” she said. “Now you must decide what to do next.” she told him handing him the dagger. The dagger shook in the man’s quivering hands and only the sound of his sobbing could be heard from his red face. No one spoke and no one moved. The people just waited for him to do something. The man took the dagger and pointed it at Talia’s neck but could not bring himself to kill his daughter. He dropped the dagger and buried his wet face in his hands.

“What now?” Kruzco grunted.

Jared stood up and said, “I do what no one else can,” and he pushed the man aside and used his axe to decapitate the she-wolf. Gasps and screams took over the crowd as her head separated from her body. It had happened so quickly that some people still could not register what just happened before them. Talia, the she-wolf, then transformed into the shape of a young Zionder woman. Her body shed the blood stained white fur and revealed her dark human skin underneath. She looked very young, no older than eleven years.

“Why did you do that!?” Riker shouted.

“Because you killed my brothers,” Jared said calmly. “You talked them into their deaths and didn’t even protect them like you protect your wenches!” The crowd froze. Jared walked away with a ghostly pale and wide-eyed Perry following behind.

Riker chased after them and said, “Jared wait.”

Jared quickly turned to him. “If I ever see you again, I will kill you,” Jared said threateningly. The hatred in his eyes were true and menacing. Jared and Perry walked away to the northeast as the orange sun began to rise.

“This is all my fault,” the man said while uncontrollably crying over his daughter’s corps. The wind shifted and suddenly an unnatural chill took over the village and a gusting snowfall rained down on Talia’s body as colorful auroras escaped from her body.

“What is happening?” someone screamed from the crowd. The villager stared in awe as the auroras took the shape of a bestial face. Everyone flinched and cowered as the beast roared over Talia’s body that had begun to illuminate with the hue of the aurora lights.

“Riker what is this?” Llorva asked worriedly. Riker didn’t answer her right away.

He felt the chilling air blow to his face and looked at Vylasgarden who looked at Llorva and said, “He is here.” Many of the villagers fell to their knees and bowed down as Talia’s spirit rose from the aurora and looked down upon them. The spirit took her shape and wore a tribal wolf’s gown that flowed with the unnatural snowy wind.

She looked to Riker, Vylasgarden, and Llorva and mouthed the words “Thank you,” before she and the aurora beast faded into the morning sky. The villagers stood to their feet and stared into the aether above.

“Where did he take her?” someone asked.

“Hopefully somewhere better than here,” Riker whispered. The village thanked the four for their help by giving them food and business owners replaced the goods they had traded for the room at the inn. The entire time the former shepherd remained on the ground with his daughter’s body.

“What will happen to him now?” Llorva asked.

“Maybe now he can start forgiving himself,” Vylasgarden replied.

“I don’t know how he can,” Riker said before turning his attention to Kruzco.

“I missed lot,” Kruzco followed.

“That you did,” Riker replied. “I am glad you came.”

“So, you will be joining us Kruzco?” Vylasgarden asked.

“I am. I not want be left out emperor’s offer,” he said with a smile.

“I am glad to hear that my friend,” Riker said to him. His swollen cheek was prominent. “We should be on our way now.”

“But what about Jared and Perry?” Llorva responded.

“Let me worry about Jarred,” Riker said. “Like he said to Vylasgarden, he only has a problem with me.”

“And I do not blame him,” Vylasgarden chimed. “I know you had no intention to, but your irresponsibility killed his family.” Riker acted as if he did not hear her.

Riker just walked away and said, “Let’s get out of here. With the horses we should arrive at the city in just an hour or two.” The group went to inn’s stable and prepared the two horses. Riker and Kruzco to one and Vylasgarden and Llorva to the other. They rode off to the northeast toward the Shinning City. After a few minutes of riding down the path, the group notice Jared and Perry walking on the side of the road in the distance. Riker commanded his horse’s trot to a gallop and Kruzco tightened his grip around Riker’s waist to not fall off. “Jared,” Riker called out as the horse galloped near them.

Jared looked up as Riker’s horse slowed next to him and before Jared could speak, Riker tosses a magical wisp of yellow magic in Jared’s face, making him collapse with a thud on the ground into a slumber. Perry was stunned and his eyes widened as Riker dismounted the horse and stepped toward him. Riker met Perry’s eyes and said, “Perry, would you like to join us?” His voice was soft and calm but Perry stared at him blankly like he had just said something frightening. Perry quivered in place and said nothing. Riker spoke again but this time he lifted his Right hand, the same hand he primarily uses for conjuration.

“Will you join us?” he reiterated. It was clear that Perry feared what bewitching thing Riker may do to him and Perry began to stutter in a shaky voice.

“I—I—uh—I…”

Riker then slapped Perry gently across the face playfully and returned to his horse with Kruzco. They and the women rode off to the northeast leaving Perry and Jared behind in the rising sun.

Part II

The Revenant and the Magic Fire

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