Crisis at Forest's Edge

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Chapter 2

Two days ago that had been. Two hard days of running, but also of time-consuming stunts to throw the following Eradicators off her tracks. Now, it was full night with the double moons glowing overhead, and Crant had almost reached the forest. She could see the looming trees ahead, and the promise of their deep shadows to hide her kept the woman moving even as her leg muscles threatened to cease working.

Crant was only a few hundred feet from safety when the leading hounds charged out of the underbrush behind her. They were a ways back, but sprinting towards her at a rapid pace. She had no choice but the draw her sword and turn, or risk being hamstrung by those canine teeth. Normally, Crant would feel conflicted about harming innocent animals, but these dogs had been bred and trained by the Eradicators. All they knew was the desire to hunt and kill, unable to feel any emotion aside from loyalty to their masters.

As the first hound leapt at her legs, Crant thrust her blade forward, impaling the animal through the chest. The rest of the pack slowed their approach as their companion's corpse was dropped to the ground, and they spread out in a loose circle around their prey. Crant remained where she was, knowing the hounds would try to injure or distract her, stalling until the human hunters arrived. Deciding not to wait for one of them to attack, Crant feinted at a hound in front of her, then spun around and struck instead at the beast sneaking up from behind. This time her sword cut a long gash in the hound's side as it tried to dodge, and the dog fell to the ground whimpering in pain. That left six more of the little beasts to contend with, as well as the anger rising within her.

Crant had seen warriors on the battlefield grow enraged and lose their tempers. For some, that could grant an advantage. Most of the time it left the combatants vulnerable to their opponents. For Crant, giving in to her rage was extremely dangerous - for anyone who was near her, that was.

Three of the hounds leaped forward at once, one from her left and two on the right. Crant stepped back, letting them crash into each other. Before she could swing at those three, though, a fourth hound almost managed to latch on to her sword arm. It tore through her leather glove, scraping the skin beneath and drawing blood. Even as her sword stabbed through the hound’s neck, Crant cursed the small wound. Any trace of blood could drive these dogs into a frenzy, and her lower arm was quickly becoming covered in the stuff.

The arrow that suddenly sank into her left thigh didn’t help either, although the sight of the forty or so men that had arrived at the edge of the field distracted Crant from the fresh pain. At least half of them were notching arrows to bowstrings or loading bolts into crossbows. Whoever had put together this group, they knew the best way to take her down was from a distance.

Crant grimaced. Not from the pain of her injuries, but with the realization she wasn’t going to win this with her usual tactics. The only way to get out of this was to unleash her anger.

“I would have thought she’d try to run.” One archer casually remarked to his friend.

“Probably knows it’d be useless.” The crossbowman chuckled. He started to make another joke, but a sudden grip on his shoulder caused the man to look up in surprise.

Surprise that instantly turned to horror.

In the middle of the field, the woman they had been chasing for the past two days had dropped her sword to the ground. Rather than raise her hands in surrender, though, she was marching straight for their group. With each step she took, Crant’s features changed. Her gloves and boots split apart to make way for huge claws, pale grey fur grew out from her skin, and when she opened her mouth, gleaming fangs could be seen and a rumbling growl came towards them.

Of every monster the Eradicators had ever done battle with, a wolfen was the only one they feared. The Hunt leader tried to shout the order to shoot, but found his voice had ceased working.

The last uninjured hound tried to leap at the monster, but a lightning-fast paw reached out and caught it mid-air. With a casual toss, the dog was thrown away, finally crashing to the ground several yards away with a sickening crunch. As the final phase of the transformation turned the woman’s head into that of a wolfen, she glared straight at the Hunt leader and snarled. The man began to shake in his boots, and barely managed to gasp out the order for his men to fire. A hail of arrows and crossbow bolts arced out over the field, heading right for the wolfen.

Some landed short, of course, or a bit off to the side. A handful would have caused serious wounds had the monster not swiped them out of the air, and the few that were left only scratched her. Howling with full fury now, the wolfen charged, crossing the distance between her and the Eradicators with almost impossible speed. Some of the slightly calmer archers managed to fire more arrows at her, and one even impacted at the right shoulder. Almost everyone else had begun to panic, hastily bringing forward their swords, spears and axes to combat the menace almost upon their group.

It didn’t do them any good.

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