Queen of Blades
“Assemble the generals. Churail, find Chou-Hsin and Sigmund and bring them to me. I want to know exactly what’s happening. Mossfoot, send out a reconnaissance squad and tell them to report directly to me. Avoid all direct contact with the invaders.”
“S-sigmund, my liege?” stuttered the diminutive Churail, questioning his king. He was nervous being in the presence of his king, and feared he had misunderstood. Sigmund was a young and inexperienced scout in the Lycan army; surely the king had no need for the likes of Sigmund at a time like this, reasoned Churail. Alas, the king rounded on Churail angrily.
“Yes. Sigmund. Now! Don’t argue; just do. Where are those damn generals?” growled the Werewolf King in frustration.
“We’re here sir!” panted Baron Kreen as he bolted through the earthen threshold to the war chamber. Churail, stricken by confusion and awe, tore from the chamber looking once back over his shoulder as three more mighty wolves clambered through the entrance to the chamber and out of sight.
These three were Duke Goran, Lord Durden, and Count Einhamir; and together with Baron Kreen, they were the four mightiest lycanthropes in the kingdom, chosen as generals to command the Werewolf King’s armies. They were all breathless, having run to meet their king upon learning of the incoming threat.
“What’s the situation, my lord?” asked the baron. “I was given a rough report that there are invaders encroaching upon our woods.”
“Yes. It seems a troop of humans is making its way through Darkovia. Initial reports estimate that they will be upon us within the hour. We cannot under any circumstances let them reach the Wolfgate.” The king paused for a moment, then looked into the eyes of each one of his loyal generals. “You understand what it is I ask of you, my generals?”
“But my king!” pleaded Baron Kreen. “Surely we must have a better alternative!”
The Werewolf King closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let out a long sigh. The air down in the farthest reaches of the Den perpetually stank of death and decay. There were bones littering the floors all throughout the dirt halls of the grand subterranean structure. This mighty, vile, squirming labyrinth was the heart of the Lycan kingdom, and the Wolfgate, the very source of the Lycan power, the Lycan curse, was the valve keeping that kingdom alive.
Your life for the kingdom, so that your kingdom may live. That was the adage on which the whole of the Lycan kingdom in all of its glory was built. The Werewolf King and all of his generals knew very well that when the time came, they too would give their life for their kingdom, their people. It seemed that that day might be upon them at last, the day when the majestic Wolfgate might finally fall to the power of the encroaching world of the humans.
“My liege!” yelped a younger looking lycanthrope as he ran into the room, skidding to halt in front of the generals, his right arm to his forehead in full military salute. Unlike the generals, he chose to remain in his human form. His matted black hair reached down to his shoulders, obscuring his face and his brilliant crimson eyes. He was wearing a light leather breastplate and shredded black pants torn away just below the knees. He held a short wickedly curved sword in his left hand, and around his neck hung a small golden locket.
“Sigmund!” snarled Baron Kreen. “We haven’t time to waste with young pups! Now begone!”
“No.” the Werewolf King replied, looking into Sigmund’s eerie ruby eyes. “I specifically called on him and Chou-Hsin,” he said to Baron Kreen. “You were closely tailing the invading force. What have you learned, Sigmund?”
“Yes, my liege,” replied Sigmund. “Judging from their movement patterns and their talent for concealment, we can assume this is an invading force of Ninja.”
“Ninja? Here in Darkovia?” interrupted Count Einhamir.
“Yes, General,” continued Sigmund. “Thus far, we have avoided detection by the invaders and have attempted to gain as much information without direct contact.”
“These are Ninja, however. How much information could your team have gained just from watching?” asked Duke Goran, brows furrowed in fear and frustration.
“And what are their numbers?” continued Lord Durden.
Sigmund shifted for a moment, avoiding the question, then replied, “We are currently unsure of their motives or destination. I do know this however. They seem to be moving in our general direction, but they are still too far to determine whether or not they have their eyes set on the Wolfgate.”
At this, the four generals looked amongst themselves with confusion. Was it possible that this young pup here knew the importance of the Wolfgate? It seemed beyond all reason. Only the oldest and wisest lycanthropes were entrusted with the knowledge of its power and importance. Why was Sigmund, a mere scout, talking about the Wolfgate as though he knew how vital it was to the survival of their entire race?
“Furthermore,” interrupted Sigmund, “the force appears to be in the thousands.”
“Thousands!” exclaimed Baron Kreen, twisting to address his king. “Your majesty, this is surely the end. The humans have come to bring an end to our glorious kingdom. We have no choice but to ready for battle! Better we lose our lives than the pride of our race!”
“No. None of that is necessary,” said a new figure leaning in the archway of the entrance to the chamber, silhouetted by the torches blazing behind him. “Really. You may all calm down, Generals, Were-King.” Just barely visible was the outline of a man as he unconcernedly brushed the dust from his delicate silk robes, glittering in the darkness. His midnight black hair was pulled back, tied into a loose bundle at the base of his neck. With a quick step and a snicker, he entered the chamber revealing his face, white as death. His eyes, pale blue like the frigid winter moon, flitted back and forth briskly surveying the five mighty werewolves before him, and the young, inexperienced soldier cowering before them.
“Chou-Hsin, what’s the meaning of this?” barked Baron Kreen. “What are you saying, and with such insolence to your king?”
“We haven’t time for formalities now, Baron Kreen,” interrupted the king. “Chou-Hsin, what new developments do you have for us?” he asked.
“Well,” drawled Chou-Hsin, “it seems the human filth isn’t heading toward us after all. We don’t have much of a reason for all this tension so let’s calm down, why don’t we?” he ended with a sardonic flourish of his hands.
“Enough!” cried Baron Kreen, clutching Chou-Hsin at the throat and lifting him struggling from ground. “You will end your games now or I will tear you apart. Now tell us what you have learned!” Baron Kreen demanded as he angrily tossed Chou-Hsin aside like a paper doll.
Chou Hsin struggled to his feet, clutching to the wall. “What a temper you’ve got there, Baron,” wheezed Chou-Hsin through his unyielding smile. The baron growled and stepped forward once more.
“Yes, yes. We’ve managed to get some information,” Chou-Hsin assured the Baron as he righted himself. “The sordid humans are commanded by Elizabeth. You all should have heard of her. She’s plenty of trouble by herself. And judging by how many of the human filth are with her, they’d have to have come from the Ninjutsu Temple.”
“The Ninjutsu Temple, you say?” asked the king.
“Oh yes, King,” Chou-Hsin said with a mocking bow. “That’s far East past the Dwarfhold Mountains, just so you know.” Baron Kreen gave a discontented growl and narrowed his eyes at the overconfident, untrustworthy squad commander he saw before him.
“What on Lore could bring a force of humans thousands strong from Mount Daijin here?” asked the Werewolf King.
“Ah, that’s simple,” replied Chou-Hsin coolly. “The Eye of Naab.”
The Werewolf King sat alone in the corner of his chamber replaying the events that had unfolded the night Safiria’s Castle was infiltrated. It had been a year since then, yet the sense of imminent doom that had hung over the Lycan world that night still plagued the king’s thoughts. He could hardly believe it was possible that a human had managed to make his way into Safiria’s dungeons, claim his trophy, and make it out alive. The Werewolf King himself was previously the only being on Lore to accomplish such a feat. While he held a unique hatred in his heart reserved only for the Queen of the Vampires, he acknowledged her absolute power; once the Demon Queen had her prey within her grasp, its prospects grew quite grim. So why, then? Why had Safiria’s defenses been outmaneuvered so easily? Was the power balance shifting? Was the Vampire Kingdom growing weaker?
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“Ah, Kreen. I didn’t see you come in,” replied the Werewolf King, relieved for an excuse out of his brooding thoughts.
“You’re thinking `That night, the humans could have just as easily attacked the Den.` I know you too well, King. You can’t hide your anxiety from me. It bleeds forth from your eyes like a river; I can smell your fear.” said Kreen, sitting down next to the king. Kreen looked like a small doll beside to the gargantuan wolf.
As Kreen looked up into the eyes of the beast towering over him, the King said to him, “Kreen, you are my brother. You are the last of my family here on Lore. What am I to do should something happen to you?”
“Foolish little brother,” snapped Kreen. “You are the king of our people, the leader of our race. You are he who was gifted with the full magnitude of our curse. It is you who have lost your human form so that the rest of your people may find blessing in our curse. It is you who have lost your name to the sands of time in the many moons you have serviced us. You know our way of life. My life for the kingdom. As my king, no, as my brother, you cannot afford to flinch in the face of death.”
“Hrmph,” grunted the king. “You certainly have a big mouth for such a small man. The next time you decide to lecture me, make sure you bring me a human or two to crunch on while I ignore you, brother. Your heart is true, but you talk far too much.”
“What kind of way is that to talk to your older brother, you ingrate?” Kreen retorted, his smirk widening as his canines began to extend. “You best miff me not, little brother. As I remember it, you’ve not once beaten me in battle,” Kreen said with a snicker, his transformation completed. He looked his younger brother in the eye, now level with him, and gave a satisfied, toothy grin.
The king smiled and put his paw on Kreen’s broad shoulder. “I thank you brother. You have always been my courage.” Exchanging a meaningful look of mutual appreciation with his brother, the King turned and left the room to check on Chou-Hsin. His mind was again drawn to the night Chou-Hsin was imprisoned for his offenses; the night Safiria’s Castle was infiltrated.
Chou-Hsin had broken the King’s direct order and captured several of the Ninjas that night. His troop tortured the prisoners to retrieve the information on their objectives, and without good reason, Chou-Hsin personally murdered them all save one, whom he released with a cryptic message. He gave the Ninja a declaration to deliver to Elizabeth warning of more casualties at the hands of the Werewolves should the humans decide to return to Darkovia.
The Werewolf King couldn’t understand what had driven Chou-Hsin to do such an impetuous thing. He cared little about the humans who were killed, but he knew that Chou-Hsin’s actions would only serve to bolster the humans’ vendetta against the Lycans. Fueled by selfish bloodlust, Chou-Hsin’s transgressions had guaranteed the humans would soon be returning to Darkovia in even greater numbers than before.
Despite his brother’s ever-wise advice, there was only one person to whom the Werewolf King could turn at a time like this. And he knew just where to meet her.
“That idiot! That moronic, mulish, mindless troll of a fool! Once he gets an idea in that thick skull of his, not a force in Lore can stop him! When I find him, I’ll tear-”
“Oren, relax. We don’t even know for sure if he went there. For all we know, he could be out hunting.”
It was a cool, peaceful day on the outskirts of Willow Creek, during that time of autumn just after the crickets finally quiet down for the year. A gap among the thousands of orange and green trees made a small clearing over the peaks of which the afternoon sun bled crimson across the sky, as though at any moment the deep violet reds and brilliant oranges of the defeated sun would come irresistibly crashing down into the clearing, washing away all the sins and worries of the petty human world.
At the center of the clearing were two small tents and a wooden table situated around the ashes of what was once a great campfire. Scattered around the burnt ash were dozens of scintillating metal blades and contraptions, clashing dramatically with the drab gray tarp beneath them like stars in the night sky. Two figures sat across from each other at the table, one nervously playing with a small knife as he avoided his companion’s gaze, the other holding a flagon of ale in one hand and a short sword in the other, unsure of which she needed more at the moment.
The looks of discomfort on their faces revealed a strong yearning to be apart from one another, far removed from this awkward situation. Messy tracks littered the campsite, clear indicators of the recent bedlam. It was far out of the ordinary for these two to leave behind tracks, but the past day had been no ordinary day. One of the tents stood serenely unfazed, seemingly untouched by the chaos. The other tent sagged under its weight, its stakes slipping crookedly out of their holes, the aftermath of a minor scuffle. It hung, impotent, from its frame, testament to the world of the past night’s discreet abandon, a silent storm that had left disaster in its wake. And the third tent was conspicuously missing entirely, any signs that it had once existed mysteriously erased. In fact, to anyone not a witness of the night before, the third tent had never stood in this clearing at all.
“Hunting? No, he’s not hunting!” exclaimed Oren with fury in her eyes, slamming her flagon down against the scrubbed wooden table. “His weapons, his equipment, all of it, it’s gone. That naïve fool actually thought he could accomplish something by recklessly running off on his ill-conceived quest alone. At least if he had let us come along, he might have stood a chance. But he’s probably dead now! Do you understand? Dead!” Oren sat silently for a moment glaring daggers at the man sitting across from her.
“How can you be so calm right now, Kale?” she barked, gripping her sword more tightly. Her hair fell miserably down across her face, a departure from the tight bun in which she usually wore her it so as to not disturb her in her particular mode of work. “Why won’t you say something?” she demanded angrily, looking on as her companion sat, eyes closed, pondering their lost comrade’s predicament.
“Well,” said Kale as he rose from his seat, driving his knife into the tabletop, “I suppose we’ll just have to go looking for him, now won’t we? A sheep must never be separated from the herd, you know,” Kale concluded with an air of false wisdom.
“You’re just as much a fool as he is,” sniffed Oren as she too rose from the table clutching her sword. “How did I ever fall in with two flippant halfwits like you?” she lamented. With a deep breath to steady her mind, she sheathed her sword and walked towards her tent. Ducking through the threshold, she turned about and looked at Kale.
“Kale, pack only what you need. We leave at nightfall.”
< Message edited by Yagno2000 -- 9/10/2008 15:14:12 >