Monday, October 31, 2011

A Realm of Ashenclaw Halloween Story

“We go when I say so,” said the half-elf, Marick, with a bluff of confidence to his two fellow captives—a man and a woman, both human. His mop of dark hair was hanging in front of his green eyes and there was a cunning there that belied his outward appearance and speech.
The three had slain the two watchmen who’d ridden along in the back of the wagon with them. The woman distracted one while the large man choked the life out of the other. Marick slit the distracted man’s throat with a sharp edge of a dagger he’d filched from one of their two belts. It all happened very quickly and very quietly.
The prisoners were rather pleased with the recent events, thinking themselves quite clever. They had since managed to free themselves of the chains using the dead men’s keys, but were still locked in the rear of the wagon with two more guards at the front. It would not be long before they were discovered.
All of them had broken laws in Oakhaven and were on their way to Archinon to receive the justice of King Ozarth, who would most certainly have them fighting in the ‘Pit’ within the coming weeks. This frightened Marick, who was cowardly at best and would most certainly die quickly in the arena. He was a footpad in Oakhaven, who had been making a comfortable living there until he was caught by some passersby who happened to call out to the Watch. Members of the Shadowhands no doubt, he’d figured, who were making him an example of a thief who shunned the Thieves’ Guild.
“Who put you in charge?” asked the heavily bearded and heavily muscled man named Mandius. His head was shaved clean and his eyes were a cold, hard shade of grey. He was a cold-blooded killer and was found guilty of other heinous acts recently in the Commons of Oakhaven, including assaulting a young girl, leaving her to die in an alley, her coin purse and her maidenhood both stolen from her.
“Take it easy,” called the gruff female voice of Zelina, a prostitute found guilty of stealing a coin purse from a few men she’d laid with recently. This kind of thing happened on more than several occasions and her Madam finally relieved her of her duties at the brothel.  Mandius returned a disrespectful stare toward her and she narrowed her brown eyes right back at him, not backing down for an instant. She ran a hand through her golden locks and smiled a threatening smile to him as if baiting him into an attack. He did not as he felt that the woman had seen her fair share of death and could probably handle herself, despite her outwardly ladylike nature.
“Gimme’ the keys,” Marick stated boldly, catching them as Mandius tossed them. He quickly and nimbly moved to the rear of the cart and began working the huge padlock, despite the bouncing of the caravan along the rough road. Within seconds, he swung the door open and leaped from the wagon, hitting the soft ground on the side of the rocky road. Zelina quickly followed suit, leaving Mandius, manacle still attached to one hand, staring at them as the distance grew between them.
Finally, he leaped from the wagon also, landing hard and wincing in pain as his shoulder collided solidly with the unforgiving road. Dazed and in pain, the huge man observed through blurred vision as the half elf and the woman approached him. Fearing the worst, he held his arms out and he was surprised and relieved as they helped him to his feet. He shook the dizziness from his vision in time to hear the familiar sound of a whistle blowing as the caravan slowed and then came to a halt. Into the undergrowth they ran, clearly hearing the swords of the watchmen come to bear as they called back and forth to one another. Further into the brush the three convicts proceeded, putting more distance between themselves and the two remaining watchmen, who finally realized the full extent of what had happened.
After a few hours of dodging and hiding in the brush, the refugees heard nothing as they had finally put enough distance between themselves and their captors. All three of them were weary and a rumbling was distinct within their bellies as they hadn’t eaten in over a day now. Eventually, they slumped to the dewy ground in a clearing within a thicket of trees and foliage and it was beginning to get dark…and cold.
“Where are we?” asked Marick, truly unaware of their surroundings.
“How in Pandemonium should I know,” spat Mandius, rubbing at the area on his wrists that until recently, held the heavy manacles of his captivity.
“I know the area,” Zelina stated suddenly. “We’re riding upon the road that runs alongside the Serpent’s Spine River on the way to Archinon,” she said confidently. “I have done this ride in reverse once.”
“And?” asked Mandius, his brow conveying an angry look as he rubbed his sore shoulder.
And, we should be close to Fairport!” she added, referring to the free city along the coast of the Western Sea that harbored fugitives, ex-pirates and sellswords of all nature.
“Let’s get some shuteye and we’ll pick it up in the morning,” Marick suggested, starting to gather kindling. “And no funny business—we’ll sleep in shifts,” Marick said, pointing to each of them. “If we’re gonna’ make it there, we’ll need to stay alert and even though I don’t trust either of ya’, we need to work together ‘til we see ‘er shiny gates!”
Mandius and Zelina exchanged glances and nodded. They realized that their chances were greater working together to get to Fairport.
Then, suddenly, Mandius removed a dagger from his boot and loosed it hard in Marick’s direction. The half-elf’s brown eyes widened in horror, thinking the dagger’s point meant for him until he saw it fly by his face while he sat on the ground and heard it bury into flesh behind him. It was a familiar sound to him.
Mandius smiled as he had marked a wolf approaching them and managed to hit it square in the eye, killing it instantly, before it had the chance to leap upon Marick.
“Where did you—?” Zelina asked, referring to the weapon.
“From the guard,” he answered. “I got another one, too,” he said, pulling aside his shirt and revealing a dagger in his belt.
Marick’s swallowed hard and his heart was beating furiously within his chest. “That good enough for trusting?” Mandius asked. Marick merely nodded and gulped. “I got one, too,” Marick admitted, showing them the other dagger he’d used to slit the throat of one of the two guards.
“Wonderful,” Zelina said. “And I got nothin’”
“Clean that one off and it’s yours,” Mandius said, nodding at the dagger that protruded from the dead wolf. She smiled at him and did exactly that. The rest of the night proceeded uneventfully as they ate of wolf meat and slept in shifts, keeping a low burning fire going the rest of the night.

“West further,” mentioned Zelina as the three moved through the forest and closer to what they hoped would be Fairport. They had been traveling the entire morning and stayed off the main roads. The ground was becoming rocky and choked with dense wood.
“These are silver birches,” mentioned Marick absentmindedly as they passed beneath the canopy of trees overhead.
 “Are ya’ sure: west?” Marick asked as he wiped sweat from his brow and stopped to rest a moment.
“I ain’t sure of nothin’,” Zelina admitted. “I’m goin’ by a few maps I’d seen when I was bedding a cartographer. He showed me many of his maps before,” she admitted with a smile, thinking herself clever at that. “Maps and…other things.”
The sun was high in the sky overhead, indicating it to be around Sun’s Peak as it was called in the cities.  Marick licked his dry lips and shook the sweat from his unshaven face.
“We may die of thirst if we don’t come across a river soon,” Mandius added, sharing the same unspoken opinion as the half elf. He rubbed the stubble that grew upon his skull, the sweat glistening from atop his hairless head.
“Climb the hill and maybe we can have a look see and get our bearings,” Marick suggested. The others merely nodded and climbed the hill after him. As they reached the top, they saw that there was a brook at the base of the hill on the western side. Marick smiled at the other two and rushed down the hill. He ran the entire way, aided by the descent of the sloping ground and his desire to taste the water upon his dry tongue.
Within the hour, the three refugees were bathing in the water and noted the surroundings were thicker with trees, but the ground was much more even. They bathed and dressed and drank their fill of the clean water. The river’s surface was quite transparent and there was an abundance of fish swimming along the surface.
An hour later had them eating at the raw fish parts as the sun sank lower into the clouds.
“How far?” Mandius asked the woman again, wiping fish parts from his chin. After a moment of thinking, she said, “west and then north.”
“Are ya’ sure?” Marick asked.
“Well,” she started to say, refitting her corset and donning a blouse over it, “if we hit the Western Sea, we went too far west and should head north until we see the damned docks!”
Mandius laughed loudly at that for a few moments, as did Marick. Then after a moment, Marick’s grin twisted into something of fright. His face was white and he pointed past the burly man.
Worg,” he whispered, pointing in the distance at a huge wolf-like creature. It was as big as a horse and was at the top of the hill where they had just come from.
Zelina was cutting the bottom of her dress so as not to drag it along the ground and Mandius’ face steeled with determination. Before they knew it, Marick was running at a dead sprint toward the western trees. The others followed and they heard the howl in the distance that sent a chill through them.
On they ran, as fast as they could, Mandius taking up the rear as the other two, made of less weight, led the way. They dodged loose rocks and broken branches and heard the howls in the distance growing closer. Marick felt his heart was about to burst when he saw a fence of stakes surrounding a settlement of some kind in the distance. As he went, he recognized that the howls were just that—howls!
There are more of them coming! he thought as he ran as swiftly as he’d ever run before, never even looking back.
As he approached the gated community, he saw a few men, standing at the gate as if they expected something like this. They held spears in their hands and were waving to the three of them, urging them along. As Marick got within earshot, he heard a voice over his own heavy breathing, yelling for him to “hurry.” He did, running through the gate and collapsing into the arms of one of the men. He turned to see Zelina enter and that Mandius was behind her still, stumbling.
Then he saw the worgs behind Mandius, closing on the man!
He swallowed hard and looked to the stranger, who wore a grim expression on his dark face, his eyes as black as pitch, seemingly cold and emotionless.
By the gods, this man was larger than Mandius! Marick thought absently, feeling the sheer size of the man’s hands and the strength with which he held Marick.
Mandius stumbled through the opening just then and the gate slammed shut behind him, a heavy wooden bar thrown into place across the wooden stakes that made up the palisade. Then the howling seemed to simply cease altogether. Marick thought it strange and it reflected on his face, for the man explained something to him.
“The worgs have tried to enter our walls before and have been met with only death,” the man rationalized. “They go in search of easier prey now.”
The thought was comforting, though the tone was not. With that he walked away, saying no more and leaving Marick with Mandius and Zelina.

 Within the hour, the three convicts sat around a table, eating bread and drinking water comfortably. The few villagers they had met—for there did not seem to be many at all, thought Marick—were kind enough to them, although extremely quiet.
“Where are you from?” asked the familiar man, who sat at the head of the table, watching them eat, but not partaking. It was the same man who explained the simple reasoning of why the worgs had turned away from the village. He was odd-looking, Marick thought, with huge hands and very aquiline features. He was tall and muscular and very spry with a spring in his gait that Marick noted. The man’s face was framed with coarse, dark sideburns that ended in a scruffy tuft of hair at his chin.
Marick looked to Mandius who gave him a stern glance of a warning as if not to volunteer any real information.
“We’re simply traveling to Fairport, trying to find our way,” Zelina interjected, sensing that she could handle lying to these strangers easily enough. After all, she had done it all the time with her ‘customers’, pretending to be whoever they wanted her to be on a nightly basis.
“I see,” said the man, standing and moving toward the door. He stopped as he got there and looked back at them. “Don’t gorge yourselves now; we are having a feast tonight in your honor.”
“A feast?” Marick echoed, a strange look creeping across his face.
“Yes,” the man responded, raising his eyebrows. “You will join us, I assume? It would be…rude—and disappointing…if you were to leave.”
“Wait…,” Marick asked suddenly. The man poked his head back into the room; his eyes seemed to flash an amber color for just a second in the lantern light of the hut, but Marick attributed it to the lantern and his recently harrowing experience. He was not feeling altogether right. “What is your name?” Marick finally managed to ask.
“My name is…not important,” he quipped tersely and then headed out of the door and disappeared.
Zelina looked to Mandius and Marick, and then shrugged at that answer he’d given. Once a few more moments passed, she shrugged at the two of them. “What are we gonna’ do? Besides, if it gets a little too odd…’” she let the words hang and tapped the dagger tied to her leg, smiling as she did. Mandius nodded in agreement with a wicked grin, but Marick did not.
Whenever the unnamed man was around, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. His eyes were reflecting a worry about the whole scene unfolding and he could not hide how it made him feel. He did not like it—not one bit.
An hour or so later, they heard what could only be described as chanting and drums thumping from not far away. It was evenfall and the darkness of the night began to settle in all around them. The villagers could be seen around a roaring fire that raged as they danced around its base. They were chanting and the song being offered was very guttural sounding to Marick. The three escaped prisoners looked to one another, exchanging befuddled glances and moved forward toward the ceremony.
“Glad you decided to stay,” said the dark haired man as he approached them, beckoning them closer. There were maybe ten villagers that Marick could count, in the ceremony, dancing around the fire.
Where are the rest of the villagers? he thought, thinking there had to be more of them somewhere. Stranger and stranger it seemed to Marick as he felt for the reassuring steel beneath his shirt, tucked tightly into his belt. Yet, somehow, it did not comfort him in the slightest. Again the hairs on the back of his neck stood and his heart began to race.
“Why is that?” asked Zelina. “And where exactly is the feast you promised?”
You are the feast,” said the man, turning to face them, his eyes glowing in an amber color that appeared…wolfish? Zelina removed her dagger as did Mandius, but Marick simply stood frozen in terror. He watched as the snout of the man elongated and the teeth sharpened beneath his lips. Pure and absolute terror flowed through Marick as he soiled himself, watching unflinching as the man turned into a wolf-like thing right before his eyes.
Hair sprouted from all over its arms and legs, its back and torso, and it grew in size.
Werewolf!” exclaimed Zelina in horror, nervously holding the dagger in her hands that she knew would not aid her against these supernatural creatures.
“Not wolf,” called a voice to the side, another man, whose eyes also reflected an amber-yellow in the fire and threatening a transformation into the beast, too. “Were-worg!”
Marick understood now with horror in his wide eyes. The worgs that chased them down from the hill were these villagers, transformed.
They herded the three of them right into the village and he began to understand the calculated malevolence involved as the gate wasn’t meant to keep the worgs out—it was meant to keep them in!
And the sheer size of the humanoid wolf that stood before Marick just then was much larger than any werewolf he had heard of from legend as the beast stood nearly seven feet tall.
No, this wereworg was something even more terrifying—larger and more deadly than any wolf. He now realized the size and strength of these strangers was merely a byproduct of their supernatural worg-like ancestry.
Perhaps they deserved it, he thought. Perhaps this was their punishment after all.
That was the last thought he registered as he watched his friends get torn to pieces, claws and teeth ripping at their flesh.
Then he felt the warm oozing of his own blood upon him as the blackness claimed him.

Hope you enjoyed it! 
See you in Wothlondia! Cheers!

Please visit MY HOME PAGE to enjoy an extended reading experience, see direct links to purchase Covenant of the Faceless Knights and to see what else Ashenclaw Studios, LLC has in store in the future!

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  1. Great Halloween story Gary! I honestly didn't see the wereWORG twist coming at all.

  2. Heh...I thought it would be a cool twist and had never heard it done before, so I thought: "why not?"

    I am glad you liked it--thanks for reading and commenting, Chad! I appreciate the support!