Copyright Jeff Anderstedt 1999
A Cold Farewell - 34
Leythan stretched while he sat on the bunk's edge and blinked groggily. His shoulder sent a small twinge of pain through him as the still-healing tendons protested the extra strain he was placing on them. Silently Leythan once again marvelled at the recuperative powers of his body. After less than one week he was more or less completely healed from what, for any normal human, would have been permanently crippling injuries.
Granted, Talia had healed the worst of his wounds for him, and if she hadnít even he would have been left a cripple. Leythan could hear her in the next room, presumably sorting through her herbs and other assorted healing supplies. He needed to talk with her. Looking around he spotted his clothes and rose from the bed to don them.
He was not looking forward to the day. He had to talk to Birq and soon, but first he needed Taliaís advice. Having dressed himself, Leythan crossed the room and opened the door to the other side of the hut.
"Good morning, Leythan. I thought I heard you moving around. Howís the shoulder this morning?" Talia asked cheerily while keeping her back to him and sorting through a jumble of pouches.
Talia was always cheery first thing in the morning. She never failed to rise with the sun, as Leythan had found out over the last week he had spent in the village infirmary. The young Were had been forced to endure bandaging and evaluations that were performed with an energy and vigour that was entirely unwholesome when encountered at that early hour. Who ever heard of a Werewolf that was a morning person?
"Oh itís fine. Still a little stiff, but nothing major." Leythan said pensively.
"Well thatís fine, nothing that isnít expected." Talia said, placing the last pouch in itsí place and turning to face him. "Perhaps we could talk about whatís really bothering you then."
"Oh...umm...nothing, Talia." Leythan stalled.
He wanted to talk to Talia about it, but he wasnít ready to broach the topic of conversation just yet. Give him some time to think, and get the mud he called a brain first thing in the morning going, and then maybe... but not yet.
"And Iím a priest of Ebu," she retorted. "All Iíve done is watch you mope around here for the last few days. You're pensive and evasive. Something is eating you up from the inside out and you wonít share it with anyone or try to get it out of your system."
Talia started hitting her stride in the one-sided conversation and bowled over any attempt he made to interrupt her with denials.
"Now there is no bloody way that I healed you up just to watch you worry yourself slowly back to the sickroom. Now out with it." Her tone and stance told Leythan that this was not a casual request from his healer, but an order from an Alpha Bitch.
"Well...umm...itís the thing with Seth," the young Were tried to stall.
"Enough!" Talia slammed her hand down on the table. "I know that you're not upset about Seth. Iíve heard you talking to Birq and Hallord about it, and whenever Iíve mentioned it, it hasnít bothered you. Oh, it bothered you for maybe the first day, and since then youíve made a great show of pretending that it was killing that bastard that was nagging at you. We both know, though, that you stopped grieving for yourself a long time ago. He deserved killing and you know it."
"Now why donít you try telling me the truth this time, or do I have to call Birq in here and convince him that your shoulder had a small fracture in it that I missed and the only way to correct it is to have it re-broken?"
The budding thief was taken aback. The look in Taliaís eyes betrayed any hope that she was only bluffing. She wanted answers and she wanted them now.
"Itís about the pack." Leythan slumped down onto a chair near the table. "I overheard you and Birq talking the other night, and I know what he plans to do."
One of Taliaís eyebrows rose up as she looked at her patient.
"Thereís a problem," Leythan continued. "I canít."
Leythan cringed waiting for the explosion. It never came. Slowly he raised his head and looked at Talia. She had walked away to the far side of the room and had turned her back to him.
The silence stretched out long enough that the young Were was almost ready to start explaining himself when Talia spoke up. "Birq will not be pleased." She paused and turned to face him. "What do you plan to do?"
Leythan did not know how to handle this. He had been expecting a screaming match where Talia would denounce him as not being worthy of the Pack, followed quickly by his being kicked out of the village, if not outright fleeing for his life. The female Alpha was clearly insulted by the young Wereís pre-emptive refusal, but at least she was still level headed enough to talk to him about the subject.
"What am I going to do? What I started out to do in the first place. Find out all I can about the Nighthunt pack and my family. That is, after I finish up one last mission for Koragch." Leythan was quite pleased with the way he had worded his last comments. Being Were, Talia would have to understand the need to find out all he could about his Packís past.
"If you joined with us we would be your Pack. Your packname would be the same as ours and you would be told all about the Pack you would ever want to know." Talia stated calmly.
The young Were cringed at how the older Alpha reversed his own logic on him. "Could you denounce your packname for another? If I had to take another pack name I could think of no other name I would rather have than MoonStalker, but I canít give up my packname. Itís who I am." Leythan paused trying to think of some way out of this womanís verbal trap.
"Besides, this last mission for Koragch will take me away from the village for a long time. I donít even know how long. Birq needs someone who will be here to help him and the Pack, not someone who is running around the country doing the gods know what."
"I just wanted to stop Birq from asking me, because if he does ask Iíll have to say no. If I say no Birq will see it as an insult to his Pack, not to mention himself. He would at the least banish me, at the worst kill me. Youíre my only hope of keeping even a fragment of our friendship. I know I have no right to ask you, Talia...but help me. Please." the young Were slumped down in his chair and let his head fall into his hands. He was only just realizing he was trapped and Talia had just become his only way out.
The silence stretched on for a long time. Leythan didnít look up, he didnít want to. With any luck Talia would decide to meet out Pack justice and slay him where he sat. It would make his life much easier if she did.
"Leave." she said.
Leythan sighed deeply, and headed towards the door, not even looking towards Talia. He hadnít succeeded.
"Not just my hut. Leave the village. Take everything you own and go."
The young Were was reaching for the handle when the Alpha spoke again.
"I will talk to Birq for you. I owe you that for helping the village with the recent threat. After that you and the Pack are even."
Leythan turned to look at Talia. Her stance told him that he wasnít in the presence of a friend, she was the Alpha bitch of the MoonStalker pack right now, and her edicts would be as final as any Birq could pronounce.
"Iíll tell him that you are off on a mission for Koragch. You owe him and Birq will understand that. When he asks how long you will be gone, Iíll tell him to ask your fat boss. That is all I can promise."
Leythan didnít know how to react, Talia had just given him a way out. He took a tentative step towards her and her features hardened.
"Now go." she stated flatly.
The young Were opened the door and was almost out before he turned and looked back. "If I ever find my mother, I hope she is like you, Talia. Thank you."
Leythan let the door close ending the conversation, missing the sight of Taliaís scowl softening as lone tear rolled down her cheek, but he did catch the soft whisper of her breath when she simply said "Goodbye".
Sharpening a Blade - 35
Leythan had removed himself from the rest of his scout group. It wasnít that he didnít trust them, it was more along the lines of he just didnít get along with them that well. They knew he was Were, and that didnít sit well in everyoneís mind.
There was only one other Were in the entire battle group, but he had turned out to be a quite likeable character. His name was Prin Howler. Like Leythan, he too had been an orphan, but had been raised here in Two Vales and was a native to the area. Howler was the name most commonly given to Were children that had no Packname. Prinís past was even more vague than Leythanís in that he had been found on the orphanage steps, the only thing to identify him being a note that stated he was Werewolven. Given the circumstances he had been dubbed with the name Howler.
Prin had rejected his Were past, and had instead taken to a life of swordsmanship, signing on with the Two Vales military as soon as he could, and living the life of a foot soldier. It was not soon after he had signed on, however, that he got into a little row with another soldier in the dorm and gave away his Were legacy. No matter how well-controlled you were, if you were hit enough times hard enough, your beast would rise to the surface. It did. He had almost killed his opponent before his bunkmates could restrain him. Needless to say, he spent a fair amount of time in the stockade for that little escapade.
When he was released from the stockade, he found that there werenít too many people left that wanted him in their platoon. He bounced from group to group. None had wanted him as a swordsman. Wereís had the tendency to go berserk and attack anyone close when there was blood spilling around them. The only way he had been able to sign on with a battle group had been as a scout, the theory being that the farther a Were was from you when it went berserk the better it was. Slowly his skills with a sword atrophied with disuse while he came to depend more and more on his Werewolven abilities. Crawling through the bush was much easier when you didnít have to drag around a weapon, but were instead yourself the weapon. Prin came to realize that Weres made excellent scouts, they were more at home in the woods than most any human. Over time he grudgingly accepted his nature.
Then the announcement came that the higher ups were going to try an experimental "Speciality Squad". Although he still resented being treated as an outsider, he figured that he might be successful with them. After all, if everyone assigned to this project was as much an outcast as he was maybe he might even fit in. He had signed himself up.
The "Monster Squad", or so it was affectionately called by the normal human soldiers, was actually a sub-group of the Two Vales Seventh Foot. When everyone was grouped together they made up one tenth of the main battle group, but easily one quarter of its offensive power. It consisted of the two Wereís who scouted for the group, six trolls who were brutes even as far as trolls went, one Zard spellcaster who must have just made the step past apprentice, and a fairly young Vampire that was still not too clear on what it meant to be a creature of the night.
The trolls had been commandeered into the main sortie group and didnít really care that the humans left them alone as humans tended to be a little frail when it came to troll drinking games in the first place. The Zard had actually been accepted by the humans, but had preferred to be left to his own means and studies in an effort to become more proficient at his magic. Everybody left the Vampire alone except the two Wereís. They had been drafted into keeping him supplied with blood, and being looked upon as a portable food bag hadnít made for any lifelong friendship with the Vampire. The humans had actually tried to accept the Weres at first, but after Leythan and Prin had disappeared when their moons had risen and had not failed to come back covered in blood after at least one of those nights, they had been left on their own.
Basically, Prin had been the only one Leythan had been able to get close enough to to call friend. Leythan was looking for him now. They were back in town at the main barracks and after being on manoeuvres for a month, it was time for a night out on the town. The young Were worked his way through the sparring yard and strolled towards the sleeping barracks where he hoped Prin would be.
"Leythan!" The shout came from the alley beside the stables that were off to the north end of the yard.
The young thief recognized the voice of his friend, if not the urgency in it, and turned to look for him. Prin waved him over before he turned and jogged quickly down the small space between the stables and the armoury.
"He must be in trouble again," thought Leythan as he started to run after him.
It wasnít until he was passing the stables that he saw the old vile-tempered stallion being led out, and by then it was too late. It reared and pawed the air just inches from Leythanís face before landing with thunderous force. It snorted at him and the young Were just barely managed to dodge the spiteful bite it aimed at his shoulder before the stable hand could get it under control. Dodging the bite, though, came at itís own cost as Leythan tripped over his own feet and landed in an inglorious heap just out of reach of hard hooves.
"Dammit all!" shouted the hand. "I thought we agreed you Weres would stay away from my stables! You know the horses get jumpy when your kind are around!"
Leythan could hear the laughter coming from the small alley. He dusted himself off as he stood.
"Sorry about that, Ketil. I guess I just lost track of where I was."
"Well, watch it more closely. You know old Greytail here donít like you. I thought even a thick head like you would understand that." Ketil pulled on the reins and lead the stallion away.
"Great," Leythan mumbled under his breath. "Only one friend in the whole regiment and he has to be a prankster."
By the time the young Were had reached the alley, however, he was having trouble suppressing his own chuckles. Prin stepped out from behind the rain barrels he had used for cover while watching the whole escapade.
"Thatís twice this month now, Leythan. Iíd say you were getting a little slow...but you seemed quick enough when you jumped back from that old nag!" His young friend burst out in a new torrent of laughter at his own joke and this time Leythan could not help but join in.
"Actually, I think Greytail likes me in his own twisted way," Leythan said when his laughter had died down. "I donít think he would bite me that hard if I gave him the chance, and he was the only horse that I could get close enough to ride when I was in the cavalry."
Prin looked up and actually managed to keep a straight face for a few seconds before he burst out laughing once again.
Due to a clerical error, Leythan had ended up in the light cavalry when he had first joined up. He had been hoping to keep being Were secret if he could, because it made him conspicuous, and Koragch had told him to be anything but. The old wizard who was behind this little venture had decided that it would be beneficial for the thief to stay in the light cavalry, as they were normally the ones that got chosen for messenger duty. Why bother to steal something when some idiot commander was dumb enough to just give it to you.
Unfortunately, they had not anticipated the general animosity most horses had towards wolfs, and apparently Weres as well. Leythan had not been able to get close to the horses for a few hours till they had become used to his scent. Even afterwards they never really became comfortable with him. On the positive side though, the company used a mix of horses and lizzards, and the reptiles were much more accepting of him.
Old Greytail had been in the stables even then, and had given him no end of grief. It actually hadnít been that the other horses wouldnít let him ride them; more like the old stallion wouldnít let the other horses of his herd risk it. Whenever Leythan had gone to lead out any other horse, Greytail had kicked and fussed so much that in the end he had to go try and settle him. As soon as he would leave to get his original horse it would start again, and so it would continue until Leythan relented and saddled the stallion instead.
It had caused more than a little annoyance to the stable hands, as they were the ones that had been forced to repair Greytailís stall every time he managed to break something. It also annoyed Leythan too, however, as the old horse gave him no end of grief once he was in the saddle either. Sometimes he would buck Leythan off right from the start. Other times he would let him ride and be docile as a lamb for hours on end, only to wander off into the grass at the side of the trail for snack. There he would stay till he felt like leaving, no matter how much his rider begged, bribed, threatened or spurred. Needless to say, Leythan had never achieved a very high status in the other riders' eyes.
It was this very behaviour that was to spell the end of any secrecy about Leythanís being Were.
One day, the lead hand from the stables had gone to his commander to complain about the strange behaviour as of late of his horses, Greytail in particular. He had managed to damage his stall quite seriously the day before, and the cost of repairing the stall repetitively was cutting into the stable budget rather heavily. The commander had decided to go take a look at the damage for himself.
As they had neared the stables, a prisoner in a cart was being latched up to one of the larger and older horses now relegated to that duty, and the commander noticed that the horse was dancing and jumping around in a nervous fashion. The prisoner had started to jeer at stable hands, telling them how they would have to work for their money today because horses hated being around Weres. One of his guards shut him up by raising his cudgel, but it had been enough. That very afternoon Leythanís commander had called him in and asked him if he was a Were.
Lying to your commanding officer was seen as mutiny, and was thus punishable with death if the charge was serious enough. The officer had been livid enough that the young Were had not wanted to take that chance. Leythan played dumb when he had been asked what a Were was hoping to prove by joining the cavalry corps. Fortunately, down through the ages not a single military leader has ever had the self-confidence to make stupidity a crime, so Leythan got off with a partial demotion...mounted messenger, using a lizzard of course. Somewhere, some god had to have been chuckling over that one.
At the end of his tour of duty, Leythan knew that he neednít even attempt to re-enlist in the cavalry but providentially enough, the Monster Squad, officially known as the Speciality Squad, was just being assembled. He was accepted before he even finished the paperwork.
The legacy of the horses followed him, however, when he discovered that the stables were positioned between the barracks and the drill yard. It hadnít taken Prin long to dig up the story and it had haunted Leythan ever since.
"Come on Leythan. Snap out of it." Prin said slapping him on the back and dragging him back to the present. "After being camped out with the army for a month Iím in the mood to be bitten tonight myself, but not by that nag, the bed bugs in the barracks, or our vampiric friend with the coffin. Letís head into town and see if we can find some slightly vampy companionship of our own."
"Thatís the best idea youíve had since I met you, Prin. We arenít due to head out again for little while and our moons are both well down. What say we get mind-blowing drunk and Iíll see if I can track down Hanna for later. Iím sure sheíll have a friend or two around that wouldnít mind your company too much till your money's all gone." Leythan put his arm around Prinís shoulder before he could pull away or start wrestling with him over the jest.
"Oh, come off it." said Prin. "If someone with your ugly mug can convince one of the camp followers to fall in love with you, Iím sure a pretty-boy like myself shouldnít have any trouble finding companionship for the night."
"Sheís just a friend Prin. She still charges me, just not quite as much as the others because weíre friends. Besides, I would figure that being a pretty-boy wouldnít be a good thing when you have to camp out in the woods for months on end with an entire battle group." Leythan teased.
Prin pushed Leythan away and snarled jokingly at him, "Come at me and Iíll show you what I do to all the other ugly mugs that talk to me like that."
"I hope thatís not your idea of flirting," Leythan laughed as he turned and started to run. "Come on, you slow moving little pretty-boy. Last one to the bar buys the first round!"
Missing Persons - 36
Prin and Leythan managed to avoid trouble all night, which was quite possibly a new record for the two of them. Their accumulated back pay from manoeuvres was now gone, compliments of the bar tab and a craps game they had found after they had already drank more than their fill. Luckily enough though, there had been a junior officer there who was more in his cups than Leythan was, and had been unwittingly able to supply the young thief with enough cash to see him through to the next payday. He probably wouldnít even miss his coin purse.
Hanna would probably be a little strapped for cash since most of the soldiers had been out of town for the past month, and business was slow. The extra cash would help see her through, too.
The young Weres worked their way through the now almost abandoned streets, heading towards the fringes of the red light district. Most of the camp followers stayed there, some hoping to get full time employment in one of the higher class brothels, the others because business was better when the clientele, who were normally drunk, only had to find one area of the city.
Prin was singing a lewd ballot in an off-key voice and would occasionally throw in howls to punctuate his own lack of skill. There were some shouts of annoyance from nearby residents who were trying to sleep, but those died out and were replaced by insincere compliments as the duo reached the first of the prostitutes. Prin soon allowed one of the girls, Brinni, Leythan thought, lead him away. She was not particularly comely but she was fairly inexpensive and more importantly, she was Were. The young thief applauded his friends choice of companions for the night. There werenít too many Were prostitutes in the city, and the last thing they needed was for Prin to accidentally infect one of the working girls. If that happened there would be hell to pay, not only for Prin but Leythan as well. Pimps normally arenít too particular when they feel the need to make an example of someone.
Making his way to the corner where Hanna normally worked, Leythan was disappointed to discover that she wasnít there.
The young Were almost fell to the ground when he twisted around drunkenly to see who had called him. It was one of the girls who worked the street just down from the corner. He couldnít quite remember her name, but Hanna had introduced him to her before, telling him that she was a normal human and not to play with her if he was not in the best of moods.
"Hi, back. You scheen Hanna?" Leythan slurred.
She paused for a few minutes before she walked over. "I guess you wouldnít know, would you? You with the crew that just got back?"
"Yeah. Jus thought Iíd look up Hanna, but I guesh sheís already got company for the night, eh?" the young Were probed.
"No. She doesnít have company tonight." The girl looked around nervously, obviously very uncomfortable.
"Well, what ish it then? When she gonna be back?" Leythan asked, confused.
"Umm...Sheís not gonna be back Leythan. She's dead. The Hacker got her."
Leythan stood there stunned, the drunken haze instantly gone from his head. The Hacker was a murderer that had been terrorising the local prostitutes for the past year and a half. He had only attacked the small timers, so there hadnít really been that much of a frenzy to track him down. There simply wasnít any money backing the poor girls that had been his victims. He had earned his name by his method of execution, needless to say it was rather gruesome. Now Hanna was his latest victim.
"She got him too, though." The girl spat in the dirt. "And I hope he burns forever in whatever hell heís in!"
"Whatís that?" Leythan asked. He might have felt a lot more sober, but the news of Hanna's murder had put him a daze of itís own.
"I said, she got him, too. Killed him good and dead. Guess he didnít know that she was a Were. When he started in on her it musta driven her into a frenzy. His throat was torn clean out." The girl pulled her hand across her own throat giving a demonstration of what must have happened. "Her wounds were too bad though. She made it most of the way out of the alley where he took her before she just fell over and died."
"I heard it all from Carlie just down the street there. She heard the screams and ran to see. She says she actually got to see the last little bit of light fade out of The Hackers eyes and all." Again she spat in the dirt at her feet. "She said the bastard was trying to laugh...knew he was dying and everything. Coughed up this horrible mess of blood out his throat and just fell over dead."
At last the girl looked at Leythan and realized he was slightly in shock. "You gonna be fine there, handsome?" she asked.
"Hannaís gone," was all the Were could murmur.
"You really were sweet on her, werenít you? I know she liked you best, thatís what she always told me, anyway."
The young prostitute was trying to console him, and she seemed genuinely touched that the young man could feel something for some whore from the gutter. Slowly Leythan began to come back to himself.
"We were friends, is all," he managed to say. "Where did they bury her?"
"Ainít no burial for the street whores. Last I heard she was sent to the re-animaters. That was three weeks ago, though, so sheís probably been cremated by now. Better than coming back."
The girl looked Leythan over. "You seem a little messed up. Tell you what. The night's almost over...why donít you come back to my place with me. You look like you need little something to take your mind off things."
Suddenly the thief realized that sex was the last thing that he needed right now. More than anything he wanted to be alone, to go into the woods and morn Hannaís death. She had been his first. A skid row Were prostitute. The lowest of the low. A friend.
"No. Iím not really in the mood anymore. Thanks for the information." Leythan turned to leave.
"You sure? Iíll give you a freebie, what with you being a friend of Hannaís and all." she called to him.
The thief stopped and walked back to her. He reached into his jerkin and pulled out the purse he had absconded with earlier.
"Here," he said. "Take this and have a few days off. I was going to give it Hanna to help her make ends meet, but now..."
Leythan stopped and looked her in the eyes. "Get off the streets for a few days."
This time when he walked away she didnít call out to him, or make any offers he wasnít really interested in. He didnít turn back or talk to any of the other girls. He simply walked away.
Failed Experiments - 37
They hadnít been back in city long before they were ordered out again. One of the local robber barons was working in full force, and some fool paper-pusher that called himself an officer had decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to test out Two Vales newest metahuman battle group. At least they had only had to march for a week this time.
There had been no sign of recent activity in the area, so the commander had split the main armoured party into a scout group and a support group. Strangely enough the Monster Squad was placed into the highly disposable position of front rank on the scouting party. Supporting them they had ten light cavalry and fifteen archers. It wasnít much, but rumours only put the bandits at around fifty strong. They wouldnít have that much trouble holding out until reinforcements could arrive. Leythan and Prin had been out scouting earlier in the evening, but had found no evidence of enemy forces in the area so they had returned to catch the final shift in their bunks before moving out the next morning.
The attack was perfectly timed.
The sun was just cresting the horizon, and most of the soldiers were still rubbing sleep from their eyes when the first barrage of arrows hit the camp. Alarms were shouted, and armour was hastily donned. Prin and Leythan had crawled rapidly out from their tent, only to be forced almost immediately under the lone wagon that carried the supplies. The arrows were falling in torrents. Under the safety of the wagon, they both decided now would be a good time to Change to their Were forms.
Surprisingly only two of the archers were down, but so were most of the horses so prized by the light cavalry. If they were targeting the horses, this was clearly not a raid for booty. They meant to obliterate the entire troupe and this was the easiest way to stop them from escaping. Two of the horsemen had managed to get mounted and were even now rushing away from the smaller camp. The enemy archers changed their targets. One of the riders actually made it through the firestorm of arrows unscathed, whether by luck or a blessing of the gods. Regrettably that was where his luck ended as a pikeman stepped from the woods and set his pike. So distracted was the rider by the arrows he probably didnít even see his death hit him. The pike took him full in the chest, throwing him off his mount and half way down the shaft of the weapon. His horse ran off into the night.
The other man was dealt with quickly enough and fell to the ground, screaming under his mount that now looked more like a hedgehog the way arrows were sticking out of it. Another man rose from the bush and quickly silenced both with efficient strokes from his short sword.
The trolls were forming a battle line and the remaining archers formed up behind them. The Zard wizard tried to make it to the formation, but fell twitching to the ground with an arrow shaft protruding from where moments before his left eye had been. The remaining mountless horsemen had managed to produce shields and had formed up a shield line in front of the trolls, holding off the worst of the onslaught.
The archers arrayed behind the trolls tried to return fire, but were having difficulty finding targets in the underbrush that surrounded the camp. They didnít have to wait long for targets, however. Foot soldiers started materialising out of the underbrush and formed a shield wall of their own. Mounted horsemen streamed up the trail and stopped to form up behind them, using their own shields to protect both themselves and their mounts. Two of the enemy fell, but so did all but two the archers supporting the trolls. The enemy started advancing.
"Come on, Leythan!" Prin shouted to him over the roar of battle. "We can sneak around and cause a distraction at the rear ranks. It will give the trolls a chance to charge!"
"Hell with that!" Leythan shouted back. "I feel nice and safe here under this wagon. Once the main battle starts I might sneak out and try to alert the main force, but the battle here is all but done! Thereís no need for everyone to die!"
Prinís hackles rose, and he bared his fangs at Leythan. "Coward," he hissed.
Leythan fought against his need to lash out at Prin. "I am no coward! Iím just not an idiot!" the Were screamed at his friend. "If you go out there you will die. So will I if I go with you. Someone has to tell the main battle group or everyone will end up dead!"
"No," Prin scowled. "You're just afraid to die. Well, to hell with you, Leythan! Watch me if you want to find out what duty is all about!"
Prin rolled out from under the wagon and dashed to the brush beside the camp. When no arrows were shot at him, Leythan decided this might be a good opportunity to leave himself, so he dashed out after.
"Found some honour, did you?" Prin sneered at Leythan as the thief rolled into the bush beside his friend.
"No. I mean, Yes! Iím still sticking to my plan of alerting the main battle group, if thatís what you mean." Leythan stuttered with fury.
Prin looked over at him. "Well, just donít spoil my ambush, coward," he said before melting into the bush.
Leythan had to calm himself before following. He was near in a rage with the way Prin had insulted him, and losing control of his beast now would almost certainly be fatal. When the young Were could feel his control returning he stalked away into the brush.
He didnít have long to go before he found Prin. His friend motioned for silence and waved him up beside him. They had worked out a rudimentary sign language for situations like this, and it now came in handy. There were two archers just in front of them still taking pot shots at the trolls behind their shield wall. Prin signalled his intentions to Leythan and they both drew out their garrottes. Silently they snuck up on the distracted archers and attacked them. Prinís fell quickly with a sharp snapping noise as the Were mercilessly added an extra twist with his hands breaking the manís neck. Leythanís kill was not as clean, but easily silent enough not to be heard over ongoing battle despite the thrashing of the mans legs and arms.
The two of them proceeded thus around the campsite-come-battlefield, while the trolls advanced on the position of the footmen. They were almost all the way behind the enemy lines when the horses charged. Trolls might be big and mean, but even they canít withstand a charge with lances. The cavalry men that had formed the shield wall behind which the trolls were advancing hadnít the slightest chance.
The steel shod hooves of the horses wreaked mayhem among the men of the shield wall as the riders rode them over with almost no notice, instead striking out for their main goal...the trolls. Two of the trolls fell in the initial charge, and almost all of their shield men.
The battle should have ended there. One, maybe two more charges with the lances and it would have been over, but whoever was in charge of the footmen was overly eager and charged in with his men, clogging the fighting ground and blocking the lanes the horsemen would have used to charge through. Hopefully he paid for that mistake along with the men he needlessly killed. Never get within hitting distance of an enraged troll. The trolls knew they were going to die, the numbers were too stacked against them. They seemed content to take as many of the attackers with them as they could.
Three of the attackers charging in on foot broke from the main group and sprinted towards one end of the camp. The two scouts didnít know what they were after till they reached it. They threw open the lid to the coffin and let the sun's rays in. The vampire didnít stand a chance. As soon as the light hit him he began to smoke, and then gouts of flame erupted from his skin. At least he didnít die in vain, however. Two of the men had been standing too close, and when he jumped out of the coffin his flaming arms struck out at them in a mindless frenzy. The heat burned them both horribly and guaranteed that they would not be rejoining the remainder of the battle. All three, the two burning warriors and the one flaming vampire let out screams so horrific that the battle briefly stopped in shock. That is, until one of the trolls regained his composure and proceeded to crush the skull of his nearest assailant. The third warrior near the coffin wielded his sword at a shouted order from his leader, and silenced all three before falling down sobbing.
"Come on, Leythan," hissed Prin. "Thereís the leader...Letís get him!"
Leythan couldnít stop his friend before he burst out of the bush heading straight towards the man on horseback and giving away both of their positions. Knowing he would be caught anyway if he stayed where he was, Leythan rushed to aid his friend.
The two of them converged on the bandit leader, slashing with their claws and snapping with their jaws, but it was pointless. The man was too heavily armoured for either of them to make any difference and their blows bounced back uselessly. The man swung his glittering bastard sword with great skill and it wasnít long before he landed a blow on Prin.
The Were screamed in agony as he fell to the ground clutching his shoulder. "Leythan! His sword is silvered! Run!" Prin shouted as he rolled around.
Now it was all Leythan could do to avoid the manís deadly swings. He couldnít just leave his friend where he was, yet he couldnít spare him any time to help. He looked around desperately as he avoided the sword and saw that the trolls were almost finished. Three of the fighting men separated from the group attacking them to come to the aid of their leader.
The three men arrayed themselves around the Were, giving their leader room to retreat. Leythan rushed at one of them and drove a clawed hand into the front of his head. That was when he felt it...The need to kill. Not his beast, just itís need. His talons stretched and reached even more deadly proportions. This was what Birq had told him about. He was feeling his beast's needs, and it was rewarding him. Leythan struck again at the stunned man and hit him in the same spot. This time he struck deeper than before, and the man quivered but once before he fell to the ground, leaving grey matter on the Wereís talons.
Leythan didnít have time to marvel over his new found power, however, as the leader called out to him. "Hey, Wolf. You ever see what silver does to one of your kind before?"
Leythan didnít stop fighting his last two opponents, but he did spare a glance towards the source of the voice. The robber baron was leaning out half off his horse, with his sword at Prinís nose. He didnít tease or provoke; he didnít taunt or goad. He just leaned his weight on the pommel of his sword and drove it cleanly into Prinís brain.
Leythan wanted to react. He wanted to lash out at this murderer. His inner beast had other ideas instead. He went insane.
The End of the Beginning - 38
He awoke in a hospital bed, lying on his side. He was surrounded by the mixed smell of antiseptic herbs and gangrene. There were moans and whimpers coming from beds on all sides of him, and then he realized that there were groans coming from him, too. Leythan forced himself to silence and tried to assess his injuries and where he was.
Surely heaven would cater to a large amount of the mortally injured, and the way he felt he was surely one of those. Mind you hell would have to deal with just as many soldiers lost in battle. Leythan looked down. No. It definitely wasnít hell. The sheets were far too clean, and surely devils and demons would have better things to do than tend to laundry, so heaven it was.
His back burned like a branding iron was stuck in it, but when he tried to reach it he found that he was too weak to move his arms.
"Leythan?" said a voice.
It must be an angel. "Yes?" he murmured quietly through dry lips.
"Leythan, are you awake?" said the voice again.
A shadow loomed over him blocking out the light from the lantern next to him. "Yes...Iím awake... Iím thirsty..." his eyes fluttered shut for second but he didnít quite drift off.
He felt a hand placed gently behind his head and was even able to help a little to raise his head up, despite how it taxed his reserves of energy. In reward, he felt the cold ceramic of a mug against his lips followed by a gentle trickle of water into his mouth. He swallowed twice before the effort made him choke and spit out the rest of the water.
"Oh! Iím sorry, Leythan. That was too much, I guess," said the voice.
Leythan licked his lips feeling the cool moisture of the water saturate the thick layer that coated his mouth. It was bliss.
"Itís ok..." whispered Leythan, "Are you...an...angel?"
"Leythan...Itís me...Liulni," said the voice.
"Liulni? When did you die?" Leythan asked as he started drifted off again.
He awoke again much later. The pain in his back was driving the sleep away from him like a falcon chasing a hare.
"DAMN!" Leythan swore taking a deep sharp breath. The breath only brought more pain.
"Umm...Doctor. I believe your patient is awake!" came the shout from behind him.
Leythan was laying on his stomach and looking down into his pillow. He tried to roll over, but that just brought on a blinding sharp pain in his lower back, so he contented himself with panting in agony into his sheets. Slowly the pain deadened, and by the time it had subsided the doctor had arrived at his bedside.
"Well, thatís healing up nicer than I thought it would," said the doctor.
"Where am I?" Leythan asked, his voice muffled by his pillow.
"Well, itís a long story, but you're back at the headquarters of the Two Vales Seventh foot; the infirmary, to be precise."
Leythan started to talk again but was quickly cut off by the doctor. "You're not dead, if that was going to be your next question. Thatís more than most of your fellows can say, though. Your regiment was all but wiped out, but Iíll let your commander explain that to you. Heíll be coming by to ask you a few questions later, now that you're awake."
"Youíve wounded your back, or rather, I should say someone else wounded your back. We were told you were a Were, so Iím going to have to assume that the man who did this must have been wielding a silvered weapon. We thought we were going to loose you for a while there, but now you seem to be making a full recovery."
"The nurse was just changing your bandage; that is, until you scared her away." The doctor leaned a little closer and whispered conspiratorially, "She hasnít had to work with a Were before, and I think you just took a good five years off her life." He smiled and winked at Leythan. "Iíll finish changing your dressing and then call for your commander."
The doctor chatted amiably with Leythan the entire time he was changing the dressing, giving the token warnings of "This might sting," and "You might feel some discomfort," just a little to late for Leythan to steel himself. He was fairly proficient though, and the ordeal didnít take too long. Then the doctor excused himself as he had other patients to tend to, and told Leythan not to worry, he would send for his commander.
While Leythan lay there waiting for his officer to arrive, he tried vainly to remember the events of the battle. It was useless, he realized, but he couldnít help but try. Whenever Leythan had reached that level of insanity in the past, it had always been the same. Everything just became a vague recollection of images and blurred impressions.
Heavy footsteps and a rough clearing of his throat announced the arrival of Leythanís Commanding Officer.
"Morning, Leythan," came the voice.
It seems that command had devolved to Leythanís former officer from the light cavalry. That meant that other officers had either been killed in the fighting or had been removed from their positions because of the politics surrounding the battle.
"Morning, sir." The young man hated the formality of "Sir", but he was in the military till the end of this assignment so he would have to bear it for at least a little while longer.
"Glad to hear your going to be fine, lad." It seemed Leythan would be forced to endure insincere platitudes from this man as well. He would be just as happy if the young Were had been one of the casualties from the battle, and they both knew it.
"Thank you, sir. May I ask what happened, sir?" Leythan asked.
"Well...Itís a pretty gruesome story, lad, but Iíll tell you if you really want." The officer pulled up a short stool and sat beside the bed.
He took the bedridden Were's silence as assent to begin the story. "It seems we were the victims of politics, son. It seems certain people in power didnít want your Speciality Squad to succeed in the first place."
"You were set up, son. Set up and ambushed with information that apparently came from sources within the camp. Theyíve been dealt with. We lost several good men that day, and as far as Iím concerned, no penalty will be strong enough for those traitors." The manís face contorted into a grimace of disgust.
"Your entire squad was wiped out. It was the main target. The...individuals responsible for the attack were agents of a human purity organization. They resent the idea of Two Vales following the lead of Kordar with its 'Mammalian Proclamationí." The officer paused and looked at Leythan. "You might want to keep away from them in the future, lad. They mean to wipe out anything non-human that exists anywhere in or around Two Vales. They call themselves the T.V.H. or the Two Valian Humani. Weíre not sure how many of them are left after this little escapade, but if you run into them in the future, donít turn your back."
"I know Prin was your friend, and I hate having to tell you this, but he didnít make it... None of them did. You are the only survivor. Iím sorry." Leythan pulled away from his C.O. when the man tried to place a consoling hand on his shoulder. Prin had been like a pack brother to him, they spent all their time together. Now he was gone, too. How could this man know what it was like to lose someone like Prin?
The officer withdrew his hand and straightened his back and rose to leave. "I know you donít like me Leythan, and you know I donít like you, either. Just know that it isnít because you're different. Iím not one of those zealots. Iím a soldier, plain and simple. I could care less if you had two heads and breathed with your arse. If you can fight, youíre an asset to the unit. I donít like you because you lied to me, and when people lie in the army, good men die. With the death of your friend, itís a lesson you should have learned."
Leythanís C.O. turned to march away, but stopped and threw a parcel of papers on his bunk.
"These are your release orders. With your squad wiped out, weíre not sure if we have a place for you right now. Some of the politicians would prefer it if you leave...at least until things die down. You have the option of taking them or not, your choice. I was going to ask you to stay and rejoin the light cavalry, you fought bravely. When we reached your campsite you were the only one left standing, and you were tearing into the enemy like a man possessed. If their leader hadnít stabbed you in the back with that sword of his, I think you would still be there fighting. It takes a brave man to stand and fight against those odds. The offer is still good if you want it. Iíll give you a few days to think about it."
The young thief lay there in bed shocked, and watched the back of his former tormentor as he walked briskly out of the infirmary. Had he received a blow to the head as well, or had that officer actually become a nice guy.
"Hey there, stranger!" came a voice from behind him.
"Liulni?" Leythan asked hesitantly.
The little elf girl walked around the bed so he could see her without rolling over. Leythan could feel the smile spreading over his face. This was more than he could have hoped for. Events had been bad lately, having Liulni here was like water to a drowning man. At least one of his friends was still alive.
"Hey you...guess what?" Liulni asked, pointing her chin down towards her chest playfully when she looked at him.
Liulniís chest had grown quite prodigious since last Leythan had seen her, and he eyed her up and down. Yes, she had grown much over the past few years. Not that Leythan was interested...Liulni was more like a little sister than anything else to him, and easily his dearest friend. It was just amazing to see all at once the effects time had produced in someone he remembered as a childhood playmate.
"Other than youíve gone and grown up on me? I dunno, what?" Leythan asked.
She leaned closer and placed a hand on his shoulder, teetering forward to whisper in his ear. "Youíve been re-assigned. An elderly grey-haired man with unusually strong magical powers sent me to bring you to Thorn, once you heal..." She paused and looked Leythan straight in the eyes trying to milk the situation of as much melodrama as possible. "...and youíll never guess who your new travelling companion and partner is..." again she paused.
Leythan knew the answer but he was sure Liulni would have more fun telling him than he would telling her. "...Itís me!" she squealed, unintentionally shrill in his ear.
Well, that decided a few things for the Were. If Darthillion had re-assigned him to Thorn, he would have no choice but to go, unless he wanted to default on the contract between Koragch and the grey-haired old wizard. Knowing what Koragch would do to him if that happened was more than enough to help the young Were make up his mind. At least it would take him out of Two Vales, and away from the T.V.H. For now at least; some day in the future, though, Leythan would return and avenge Prin. That would not be a good day to be part of the T.V.H.
Leythan grabbed Liulniís hand and squeezed. It was all he had the strength to do, but it was enough to let the elf girl know that he was not unhappy at the prospect. After all these years, the friends would be united again.
Together they would travel to Thorn and finish this mission for the mysterious mage. The man was an enigma. He had influence everywhere. The young Were found it just a little too convenient that the orders for his release from duty had come just when Liulni had come to inform him he was needed elsewhere. How the wizard was tied together with his elven friend was another mystery that Leythan would have to solve. This Darthillion character was popping up far too often for the young thiefís liking. He agreed with what the wizard was fighting for, the right to live, but Leythan would fight it how he wanted to and not by some other person's rules.
He would find out more about this wizard while he worked for him. With Liulni at his side, he would take this mission for the wizard. Leythan would use the mission to get information about him as well as for him, all the while taking his pay.
The future looked bright and exciting. This mission promised to be nothing if not challenging, but with Liulni watching his back Leythan knew that they would be able to overcome it. Now, however, the need for rest was threatening to overcome him. The excitement of the last hour had been more than he could really handle, and the young Were looked up at his friend with sleepy eyes. Liulni smiled down at him as he drifted off to sleep...
I hope you have enjoyed this final installment of the history of Leythan Nighthunt. This brings us to present day in the deadly world of Muhan. Let the adventure begin!
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Thank you for taking the time to read, and may the bright moon always shine down on your hunt.