Preview of Chapter One
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In short, if you need anything, just be decent and ask :)
It was a cold, clear winter night in the forests outside the Elven village of Frosthaven. The light of a full moon cut through the evergreens and bare branches, casting dull rays against the lightly snow-covered ground. The wind was still, and there was an unsettling absence of ambient noise.
Two cloaked figures were making slow progress through the area. They were trying to move silently. It was already difficult without the absolute quiet to contend with as well. They continued on their way carefully and muted. That is, until a very light thump was heard.
“Damn it,” one of them whispered, as they shifted their body away from an adjacent tree and crouched lower before moving forward. The pommel of the sword on their back bumped against the tree bark. The other figure moved in quickly until they were inches away from each others’ faces.
“You see now why I carry my blade at my side and not on my back, Sarina?” the figure offered softly.
“Yes, mother. Let’s keep moving,” Sarina responded, trying to mask her annoyance.
Her mother responded only by expression, giving her the I told you so look while resigning to her daughter’s stubbornness. Rendeia Vazhan looked ahead, focused on their task. Normally, she would’ve lectured her for the hundredth time about keeping weapons at her side in order to provide a faster unsheathing and better control when trying to sneak, but given the nature of their task on this night, she put it out of her mind.
Sarina kept her eyes to the ground while Rendeia scanned their surroundings as they moved. Staying focused was becoming more of a concerted effort for the both of them. They’d been out all night, with no indication of their target showing itself. After many more eventless minutes, they stopped for a rest.
Sarina lifted the cloak hood from her head, revealing her thick jet black hair that laid down in waves. She unconsciously lifted the hair on her right side over her pointed ear. Rendeia also lowered her hood, revealing much thinner and straight lain blonde hair. She had no need to lift her hair behind her ears, as they pointed through them without intervention. They sat and looked at one another, their ash-colored eyes meeting each other’s stare.
Sarina scooted closer to her mother to break the silence and voice a suspicion. “Do you think we got false information? We’ve been out here all night and we haven’t seen any signs of a wulfengeist. We were told the attacks were all in the northern part of the forest, and we’ve scoured for miles,” she whispered.
Rendeia narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to lift an ear towards the sky. She heard nothing still, and lowered her head to face Sarina, keeping her voice quiet. “I don’t know. The attacks fall in line with a wulfengeist, according to the descriptions we were given. We told the victim’s families we would hunt it down, so we’re gonna keep going. They seem to cover their tracks well…” Rendeia said before trailing off. She suddenly darted her eyes all across the branches of the trees. She stood up and scanned around very intently, worrying Sarina.
“What are you doing? Did you see something?” Sarina asked in a loud whisper.
Rendeia drew her sword as she looked across the branches of the trees. She held the long steel blade close and gripped it tightly. Sarina saw this and drew her own sword, quickly positioning herself behind her mother’s back.
“Mom, you’re scaring me. What did you see?”
“Look up at the branches. Notice anything?” Rendeia responded.
Sarina looked at the bare branches. She saw nothing out of the ordinary with them. “I don’t understand, there’s nothing strange,” she said.
“Look at the snow on the branches,” Rendeia shot back.
Sarina took a second look and noticed on some of the branches, the snow was disturbed at certain intervals. The only footsteps on the ground were their own. It was then Sarina made the connection.
“ It’s been hopping along the branches!” Sarina whispered, finally understanding why they haven’t seen their target.
“Exactly, and the snow up there is disturbed all around. We’re right in the middle of its territory and we didn’t even know it. It very likely knows we’re here,” Rendeia warned.
“Have you ever seen one?” Sarina asked.
“Not in person, no. Only in lore books,” her mother responded. “From what I’ve read about them, they are cursed alpha wolves that necromancers raised from the dead to be loyal guardians. One hasn’t been seen in decades, but if the lore is correct we’re gonna need that salt and the silver ward sign you made to shove into its wounds once it’s down.”
Sarina felt the small bag at her side, squeezing it gently to confirm its contents. “I got it right here, and I carved the ward sign exactly to the book’s design.”
Rendeia nodded. “Good. Stay at my back and hold firm with your sword. If you see it charging, don’t swing. Hold it out and let it impale itself.”
“I know, Mom. I’ve done this before.”
“You’ve done it once before, and it was a lucky strike on a common wolf,” Rendeia added. “If we’re really dealing with a wulfengeist, it won’t go as easily.”
Above them, the branches shook suddenly. They both looked up and saw nothing. They began to circle slowly, back to back. Sarina tightened her grip on her sword, listening for a few seconds before crouching to grab a small chunk of loose snow. She packed a small amount on the tip of her sword and exhaled on it, melting the snow. Then she reached into her pack and grabbed a pinch of the violet-hued salt and sprinkled it on the blade, coating the wet portions of the tip. Rendeia observed Sarina’s tactic and held out her hand.
“Good idea. Give me some.”
Sarina complied and handed her a pinch of the salt. Rendeia stabbed the tip of her own sword into the snow and lifted it up to her mouth, exhaling on it and coating the tip with the salt. She looked at it strangely.
“Is this really salt? I don’t remember it being violet colored, ever,” Rendeia asked, a cautious tone in her voice.
“I added wolfsbane when I was preparing the salt.”
“I don’t remember asking you to do that.”
“You didn’t. I’m experimenting.”
“How do you know it will do anything?” Rendeia asked, when the branches above them began shaking violently.
Sarina looked up, and saw a large grey form lunging at them from above. “I guess we’re about to find out!” she yelled, hopping forward and narrowly avoiding the lunging beast.
Sarina looked behind her and saw her mother leap away, opposite from her. With a loud thud, their target landed in front of them.
Between the two of them, a large grey wolf with matted and torn fur stood up from it’s landing. As it stood it looked Sarina dead still in the eyes, and she noticed it only had one eye. It was yellow and cloudy, with the other just an empty socket with a dull light deep inside the eye cavity. It’s front left leg was mostly bone, and patches of fur on its body were missing, showing bruised and discolored flesh.
It took a step toward Sarina, who was slowly getting back to her feet, making sure not to break eye contact with the beast. She watched its exposed leg muscles twitch and flex with the step, sending an unpleasant chill down her spine. It flipped its lip and growled. It was a deep, unnerving growl that sounded like nothing they’d ever heard.
Sarina held out her sword and maintained her stance. She began to shake slightly, disturbed by the creature’s appearance. She inhaled deeply through her nose, and exhaled softly through her mouth, sending a wave of frozen mist up her face from the cold air. She looked up for a second to see her mother motioning to her, holding her hand out and slowly approaching the wulfengeist from behind. Sarina nodded and returned her gaze to the beast as it continued its cautious approach.
In a flash of movement, Rendeia closed the gap between herself and the animal. She brought down her sword hard, but the wulfengeist dodged quickly. The sword came down on its hind quarter, slicing off a chunk of rotted flesh from the hip before colliding with the ground. The wulfengeist howled in pain and ran away into the darkness.
Sarina observed the severed chunk and watched as it sizzled and smoked where the salt touched. Rendeia looked at it and nodded.
“Yeah, this thing is definitely undead,” Rendeia said, catching her breath. “We need to find it and finish the damn thing.”
Sarina nodded, and they began running towards where it ran off. This time, it wasn’t hopping across the branches, as there were tracks on the ground to follow. They started off far apart, in line with the stride of a wolf that size. After a few minutes, the tracks began to appear closer together, and yet even closer the further they followed.
The tracks led them to a small rock formation that stood in front of them like a wall. The snow was disturbed here heavily. Parts of the ground were strewn with bones and frozen, gnawed bits of flesh from various animals, and possibly some people. From a large boulder at the base of the rock wall, the wulfengeist hopped to the ground, limping and growling, slowly confronting the two of them. They had followed it back to its den. It hunched down and bared its teeth, ready to fight. Sarina and Rendeia did the same, gripping their swords and planting their feet.
It charged at Rendeia, she lifted her sword hoping it would just run into the blade, but it ducked under and lunged upward to Rendeia’s throat. She lifted her head and fell backwards to avoid its jaws, but in doing so she made herself prone, and the wulfengeist landed on her.
Immediately, she put her free arm against its neck as it swung its head around, trying to get past it and snapping its jaws toward her face. Her sword was too long to get a good stabbing angle, so she dropped it and freed up her other arm to defend herself.
As Rendeia wrestled with the creature, Sarina charged towards it. She held the sword tucked in, pointing outward, ready to thrust with all her might once she closed the gap. As she reached the wulfengeist, she pushed forward, plunging the blade between its ribs.
It howled and turned quickly towards Sarina. She lost her grip on the sword. The blade pinched between its ribs, it swung out of her hands as it turned. It then lunged at her, the sword still sticking out of its torso. She caught him by the throat with both hands, but the sheer weight of the creature brought her down to the ground. She tightened her grip on its throat, but it pulled its head back, freeing itself from Sarina’s stranglehold and diving down to snap at her face. In a split second, as she saw the raging, rotted mouth and teeth coming for her, she lifted her forearm and caught it in it’s bite. Through the searing pain, she pushed her arm in harder, forcing its jaws further open and preventing it from using the full force of its biting strength.
“Sarina!” she heard Rendeia yell out, followed by quick, charging steps that grew louder with every interval.
Sarina continued struggling against the wulfengeist. She felt her gnawed arm growing weak as it pushed further and relentlessly bit at her. Rendeia, watching her daughter being viciously mauled, ran to her defense. Time seemed to slow, everything went silent, and her surroundings went black. The only visible sight to her now was this monster tearing away at her daughter’s arm. Sarina’s screams became a distant and muted echo.
She reached her hand down at the nape of the wulfengeist’s neck and gripped so hard she felt her fingers punch through it’s flesh. She turned her body, and with exceptional strength she swung the wulfengeist around by the neck and slammed it against an adjacent tree, splintering the bark. She felt its bones crush with the impact, and dropped the beast, letting it slump to the ground.
She turned to check on Sarina, who was holding out the bag of salt to hand to her mother while she tucked in her injured arm. Rendeia grabbed the bag, then crouched in front of the creature and yanked Sarina’s sword from the beast’s torso. She stood over the wulfengeist with disgust. It was twitching, and the sounds of dull popping and snapping were emanating from it. It was still moving thanks to the necromantic magic it was infused with, but with several of its bones shattered, it wasn’t getting up anytime soon.
Rendeia was not about to let this continue. She quickly plunged the sword into its neck and head repeatedly before opening the small leather bag and dumping the salt onto it. It sizzled and smoked fiercely when touching the cursed blood, causing the wulfengeist to whimper and wail. She then plucked the ward Sarina had carved out of the bag and pushed it into its neck wound.
It twitched for another moment before laying still. The dull light from its empty eye socket faded, the wulfengeist finally dying for good. Sarina walked up to Rendeia, holding her arm and observing the now-dead being. Rendeia handed Sarina back her sword, which she promptly sheathed using her good arm.
Rendeia then silently walked to where the wulfengeist knocked her down and picked her own sword back up, sheathing it at her side. She glanced toward the rock formation and saw dark velvet robes bunched on the ground. She approached for a better look and saw a partially decomposed body, frozen and dressed in robes embroidered with arcane symbols. Long white hair and scruffs of beard were left on the mostly skeletal face.
“Looks like we found our necromancer,” she yelled to Sarina. “He looks human, was an old one too. In his nineties, I’d imagine. Probably raised the wolf to guard him and was too weak to withstand the stress of the spell and dropped dead himself. Pretty ironic,” she explained as she walked back to Sarina. “How’s your arm?”
Sarina held it out and Rendeia grabbed it gently to examine. There were several puncture wounds and contusions, but nothing that looked too deep. The sleeve of Sarina’s cloak was soaked in blood.
“Keep your sleeve tight around it. You’ll have to clean it thoroughly when we get home,” Rendeia said flatly.
Sarina looked up at her mother and nodded. She then turned her sight to the impact on the tree where she slammed the creature. She’d never seen her show that kind of strength before. The fractured bark stretched halfway around the trunk, much bigger than the creature itself. She then noticed her mother walking away slowly. She followed, jogging a bit to catch up to her.
“Mom. How did you do that?” she asked.
“Hmm?” Redne’ah responded.
“How did you throw that thing like it was a ragdoll? I didn’t know you were capable of such a thing,” Sarina said, impressed.
“It’s another small part of who we are, Sarina. We’re capable of things most others are not, even more so when we see the ones we love in danger,” she explained, her voice shuttering.
Sarina began to look concerned. “Did it really look that bad? When the wulfengeist was on me, I mean,” she asked softly.
“I was scared for you, Sarina. I know you’re capable, but seeing that thing on you...something in me went off. I don’t know how to explain it really.”
“It was incredible,” Sarina said with excitement.
“It was terrifying,” Rendeia retorted emphatically, causing Sarina to lower her head. “I know what we do is dangerous, but seeing you hurt can still bother me.”
“I’m nineteen. You don’t need to worry about me anymore.”
“Yeah, and I’m your mother. I’m always going to worry about you whether you feel I need to or not.”
They walked in silence for a moment. Rendeia saw Sarina pull back her sleeve to check on her arm. The bleeding had slowed but not quite stopped yet. She wrapped it back around her arm and tucked it in, keeping pressure on it.
Rendeia broke the silence. “So much for your little wolfsbane experiment,” she quipped.
Sarina huffed. “What do you mean?”
“What good did it do? Nothing,” Rendeia said lightheartedly. “Wolfsbane is a poison for living animals. It won’t do anything to dead creatures, reanimated or not.”
“Well, I didn’t know that.”
“You would if you read your poison books like I keep bugging you to do.”
“You knew it wouldn’t work?” Sarina asked, surprised.
Rendeia stifled a laugh. “Of course I knew it wouldn’t work.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because you’d already mixed it in with the salt, so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Besides, it’s best you find out some things on your own, like what ingredients will enhance your mixtures and what others will waste your time.”
Sarina sighed and looked at the ground as they walked, nursing her arm. Rendeia looked at her and fought with herself between offering encouragement and letting her stew for a bit. She then looked down at Sarina’s bloody cloak sleeve and realized she wasn’t whining about it like she would’ve in her younger years. She also faced the wolfengeist bravely, showing significantly less hesitation than times before. She made up her mind after realizing that.
“You know, I’ll admit that coating your weapon with the salt was a great idea. I’d have never thought of that,” Rendeia offered. Sarina looked up at her and smiled. “I read it in one of the books you kept bugging me to study,” she replied playfully. “It hurts them more effectively than a blade alone.” They exchanged quick smiles before continuing their walk home.