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Chapter One, A Grey Night, Section 2
by Stephen Barnes, Jr.

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The traveler hid behind the rock wall as the riders approached. He knew they were close, for he could hear their coarse words broken by the singing wind. He strained to filter the Common Speech through their thick Northland accents.

He had also heard the screeching cries, then the howls, and knew that Wargs and worse were near.

This wanderer had entered this land before, ages ago, when men were less uncouth and shared it with Grey-Elves and Dwarves — and others — without spite. He knew the old way well, for he had ridden upon it when its stones were smooth. Now he had returned, not as much by choice as by design, and he wished the days were bright as the last time he walked this way.

Alas, the storm had come. The traveler heard the men, confused and travel-weary, driven hither and thither by fear and the wind. He waited face down behind the rock wall until Caedron stood alone.

Still camouflaged by the wall and the driving rain, he slowly raised himself into a crouching position behind the wall. In the same move, he reached into his quiver and fitted an arrow to his bowstring.

Caedron, though alarmed by the echoing howls, was battle-savvy enough to prepare for a wolf attack. He knew the pack would circle first, and, if these were indeed Wargs, they would call their leader to draw first blood. He knew he had moments before they would track his scent to this point. He could only hope that the other men’s horses would sense the danger and flee the valley.

The Wargs howled around him, and now he could see shapes slinking on the hillocks. He looked to both sides of the road, searching for an escape. He faced south, then north. To his left, Caedron saw a gap in the wall, where the stones had tumbled into the roadway.

His mind raced back to sword-school in Celderin, where he had mock-fought white wolves in training years ago. Never before had he faced Wargs. He crouched down with sword point out, both hands on the hilt.

A low growl sounded behind him. A sneaking shadow approached as Caedron turned his sword point to face it. A huge wolfkin Warg, eyes red as blaze, bared its curved blood-drenched fangs.

Caedron drew his longknife from its scabbard. "Yer a fool, dog. I dare ye to crosse m’blades."

The Warg leader snarled fiercely. Two … five … now seven more creatures slunk behind him. Each bared dripping fangs, and stared with crimson eyes hungry.

They had found Brille, it seemed. Their necks were blood-soaked and their eyes glinted with blood-fury.

Suddenly, to Caedron’s right, a wolfkin scaled the rock wall and charged Caedron for the kill. It jumped to the roadside and rushed upon him. He swung his sword in a silent arc through the air as the creature leaped towards him. The sword sang in the air cleanly, but met neither hide nor bone. The wolfkin dashed behind its leader.

Another sailed over the wall and charged him — this time from behind. He thrust his longknife toward its hirsute throat and braced himself for blood. The Warg darted around him neatly and sneaked behind his pack leader — unscathed.

Then Caedron knew. These were not tamed white wolves of the Northlands. These Wargs had been bred by evil to evil. They knew only one purpose — kill for blood. They were toying with him, wearing him down for the leader to take first blood. His mind now raced with panic as cold sweat dotted his brow.

Two of the creatures edged forward, snarling menacingly. The yellow of their pupils glazed with hollow rage as they advanced. Caedron retreated backward toward the gap in the rock wall. He cautiously stepped back foot-by-foot — his eyes fixed on the leader. Then, without warning, Caedron charged forward and screamed, "Yer blood be upon mae!"

He waved both his sword and longknife in deadly curves as he ran toward the two advancing Wargs. Whether by some trick of the rain or by reflexes clouded by wrath and the taste of blood, the two Wargs were caught off their guard. One swerved to its side, meeting the tip-point of Caedron’s knife, which plunged into the joint of its shoulder and tore a cruel mark down its flank. The Warg yelped in frenzied agony as Caedron withdrew the blade quickly and readied it for a deeper thrust. His sword had grazed the other Warg as it dashed frightfully out of the way, and it sat nursing the cut on its hindquarters.

Ceadron retreated back towards the gap again, battle-rage surging through his veins. "How d’ye like it, foul dog? Yer cronies will die before ye!"

The great Warg waited as the wounded wolf dragged itself toward him. Dark blood trailed its path. Its tail was tucked as it approached the leader. Labouring to the huge Warg’s feet, it groveled and whimpered, exposing its neck. The Warg leader glared at Caedron. Then, baring its fangs, the leader bit the neck of the wounded wolfkin, crushing its throat. The hapless wolf did not struggle as the other Wargs raced to devour it. The Warg leader lifted its head and stared cruelly at Caedron.

The rain slacked somewhat as Caedron stepped back. There would be no draw in this battle. He or the Warg leader must die.

As the dark wolves ravaged their dead comrade, the Warg leader turned to face Caedron squarely. It well knew the smell of fear. But it did not attack. It sat down, raised its snout into the air, and howled woefully. The wind whined, and, like an answer to the Warg’s howl, a baleful shriek sounded southward down the valley.

Caedron felt a shiver run down his spine at this inhuman cry. Down the southern end of the road, a black cloaked figure walked the passage towards the pack.

The Warg leader sat silently and watched Caedron as he eyed the approaching figure. It glided over the road-stones. It had no face, or rather, its face was hidden by the folds of its hood, but its two eyes gleamed ghoul-white behind dark shadows. The hunched figure grasped a tall ashen staff with a wolf skull carved into its top. Caedron looked, but could see no hand holding the staff, only a shifting shadow between the staff and its robes.

As the figure approached the Warg leader, the Warg bowed its great head. The others cowered and gathered behind their pack leader. The figure looked down at the great Warg as it laid down and bared its throat.

The shadow creature drifted over the roadway. Slowly it turned and stretched its staff toward Caedron. Its high shrill voice cut the air and pierced Caedron’s heart like an icy knifepoint.

Burzum uzgh thrat izhrakg ûg-ghâsh!

The shadow figure hissed a hideous curse in ancient Black Speech. Caedron gazed at the pale points of light under the creature’s hood — and suddenly a chill wind struck his face. He braced himself for battle. A cold wave hit him square in the chest, and he drew a quick breath as he felt his legs anchor to the road-stones. He strove to lift his long blade, but his hands would not obey his will. His sword and longknife dropped from his fingers as the blanket of cold embraced him. As consciousness left him, his thoughts turned to night.

Copyright 1999, Stephen N. Barnes, Jr., Esq., All Rights Reserved

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