VALSHAYN V.S. SIR FALDRON
In the cold, savage wastes of the north, there was no title more prestigious, no honor greater, than ‘Wolf-Killer’. The wolves of the Norlands stood as high as a horse, and were whispered to be demons. Their mournful wails chilled Norlander blood, making women cower in fear and brave men reach for their weapons.
When Faldron had been a boy of no more than eight summers, he had killed his first wolf. By the time he reached manhood, he had killed dozens. His strength and skill with an axe were unparalleled. He journeyed for a time, traveling to the outlands, learning their ways, the way of steel. For a time, he fought men, who were far easier to kill than wolves. His skill brought him wealth and fame. Eventually he was recognized by a king and knighted. And Sir Faldron, the butcher, cut a bloody swath across the land. Soon, the outlanders bored him, and he returned home, bringing with him the knowledge of steel and a strong suit of armor, wealth beyond any Norlander’s imagination. As the years passed, and his fame grew, dozens came to hunt by his side. Most died, only a handful were strong enough to hunt for very long.
Vaerys, whose faintly slanted eyes and delicately tipped ears spoke of elven heritage. Her honey blonde waist length hair was tied in a warrior’s braid that trailed down her back to her waist. She was as cold and swift as the northern wind and just as unforgiving. She was a master of the bow, second to none. She could fell a wolf with a single arrow, blindfolded, in the dead of night at a hundred yards.
Bardun, whose black skin and dark eyes held no hint of humor, was deadly with a spear. His own weapon, Soul-Drinker was as dark as its owner, a smooth black haft, topped with a wickedly barbed steel tip. Many whispered that he had sold his soul for the spear, and that the dark steel was as black as his heart.
Malik and Valik were twins, born to Faldron’s tribe shortly after he had killed his first wolf. Both were red haired and fair skinned. But that was where the similarities ended, in thought and in deed they were night and day. Malik was a devout worshipper of the All-Father, enemy of the chaos wolf that threatened to devour the world. His faith was shield to them all, his zeal for killing wolves second only to Faldron. Valik on the other hand, dabbled in the dark arts of sorcery.
Carnun was the last person to join Faldron for many years. With his incoherent mutterings and odd behavior, he had been dubbed ‘Carnun the Mad’. He would often disappear for days on end, only to return with some odd trinket or trophy. His skill at tracking was unparalleled.
The six of them were heroes of the Norlands, legends to be praised in drink and in song. Their like had not been seen in many generations, and they were all dead.
The clearing was a blood-bath, a dozen dire wolves lay dead. Under one, Carnun’s lifeless body lay, his head in the belly of another wolf. Nearby, Malik lay gutted, his entrails ripped out and scattered across the snow. His cold dead fingers still gripped the symbol of his faith, his lips frozen in prayer, his eyes seeing into the great beyond. Next to him, Valik lay, a withered husk, when his brother had fallen, he had put his very life energy into one last spell, sending whirling blades spinning through his enemies.
Bardun lay face down in the snow across his spear which still glowed with an unholy light, a dozen blades embedded in his body, felled by Valik’s blind rage.
Vaerys lay nearby, her body as shattered as her bow. The wolves had torn her in half, but not before she was able to fell two with her arrows. The last had been mortally wounded by Bardun’s spear, its massive jaws closing on the archers bow, severing her hand in one bite. As she had fallen back, one wolf had clamped its jaws on her shoulder, twisting her back while another had bitten her waist and ripped the opposite way.
At the edge of the clearing, Faldron lay back, his face frozen in a snarl of rage. Three dead wolves lay around him, his axe embedded in the last, who had used its dying strength to tear out the Norlander’s throat.
Blood covered his once handsome face, creating a macabre mask.
A single wolf stood among the carnage, its flanks heaving. A dark intelligence lurked in its yellow eyes. Slowly it sniffed through the blood and gore, nuzzling each body in turn, as if searching for something. Finally it came to Faldron’s body, its eyes narrowing in undisguised hatred, hackles raised it issued a low growl.
Raising its head to the star, it let out a long mournful howl. The wail echoed across the tundra for several moment, then was acknowledged. The wolf perked its ears up as it heard the distant reply. With a final glance at the carnage, the wolf loped off north.
As the wolf disappeared into the night, something in the clearing moved.
First an eyelid, then a finger, Faldron’s hand slowly opened and closed, his mouth working, trying to draw air into his torn throat. Slowly the gaping wound started to close, blood seeping, then spurting out of the ragged wound. Rolling over onto his side, the Norlander choked and coughed blood. With a rasping wheeze he sat up, blood still dripping from his torn throat. The worst damage had healed, but it was still a mess of raw flesh. Tearing strips from his cloak, he wound them carefully around his throat. When he was finished he stood slowly, his breath coming in a wheezing gurgle. Sadly he surveyed the bloodbath. His hand unconsciously went to the bracer on his left arm, he didn’t need to look to know that there was only one ruby left on it. Valik had given it to him years ago, when it had three rubies on it, with empty holes where many more had once been. The sorcerer had explained that each ruby was a magically enchanted drop of troll’s blood that would save the wearer’s life if mortally wounded. It hadn’t been until he had plummeted off the edge of a cliff over a hundred feet high and lived to tell about it, that he had believed the sorcerer. Now, he was all that was left. With a weary heart he began separating the bodies, gently lining them up to one side of the clearing. When he had finished, he turned to the wolves.
Faldron placed the final stone and stepped back, to observe his work. For the past week he had done little else aside from cut shallow graves into the cold, hard, tundra and find rocks to build cairns as befitting his fallen comrades. Six Cairns, one for each of his fallen comrades and one for his bloodied armor. Pulling his new wolf fur cloak tighter around him he turned away from the Cairns and walked over to his campfire.
A short distance away, a pile of skinned headless wolves rotted in the cool morning sun. One skull lay inside each cairn, another on top, this way no man or god would doubt how they lived and died. Retrieving a brand from the fire, he walked towards the heap of corpses. Spare bits of wood and scraps of cloth, soaked in oil were stacked around the edge of it.
“All-Father, hear me.” Faldron intoned reverently. “I burn the flesh of my foes so that your Valkyre may find those who have fallen in battle and take their souls to reside in your hall.” With that he threw the brand onto the pile, eyes shining with cold satisfaction as the corpses caught fire easily, sending a plume of black billowing smoke high into the sky.
Faldron did not move again until the fire had burned itself out, leaving only charred ashes and pieces of bone behind.
Wearily he turned away from the pile of ashes and walked back to the clearing, the ground was still stained with the blood of the fallen. In the middle, lay the one thing he had not moved, the spear. Warily he circled around it, as if it were a viper. Faldron was wary to pick up the dark weapon. Once, he had tried to pick it up, to move it out of his way and keep it from harm. His fingertips had barely brushed the wood when a jolt of pain had laid him out flat.
The dark man had laughed. “The weapon can only be touched if the spear allows it. The Drinker of Souls is a fickle mistress.” Bardun had told him once, long ago, that if her ever fell in battle, that Faldron was to take up the spear and avenge him.
Reaching out, he placed one hand on the haft. Nothing happened. Caustiously, the Norlander raised the weapon grasping it with both hands. The smooth wood felt cold to the touch, almost like metal.
“Why do you seek me?” A cold feminine voice demanded harshly.
Faldron whirled around, spear at the ready, seeking who had spoken. His eyes narrowed, the clearing was empty. Warily, he stalked forward, his body tensed, ready for anything. “Who is there?”
“Why do you seek me?” The voice demanded again.
The Norlander paused, realizing he was not ‘hearing’ the voice, but ‘feeling’ it. Holding the spear at arm’s length, he addressed it. “What dark magic is this?”
“I am the Drinker of souls.” The spear whispered silkenly. “I am vengeance, retribution, I feed on the blood of my enemies. My strength is the rage and hatred of whomever wields me.” Blackish flames sprang up from the spear, enveloping his hands. Faldron grimaced and tried to drop the spear, but found he could not move. His hands and arms were locked in place, held fast by the magic of the weapon.
“Once again. I ask you: Why do you seek me?”
Faldron growled at the back of his throat. “I seek retribution for the blood of my fallen comrades.”
“We were betrayed.” The spear whispered.
Faldron’s eyes narrowed, his knuckles whitening on the haft of the spear. Only one person he knew fit this description, the one who had sent them on this bloodbath. “Valshayn.”
Now there was only one thing left to do.
Valshayn paused at the entrance of her lair. Something was amiss. Sniffing the air, the short woman scanned the area. All those who lived in the Norlands knew the name of Valshayn the witch, Seer and practitioner of the dark arts. Few traveled this far north to seek her out. Most died in the attempt. Those that survived and found their way here were usually surprised at what they found.
Legends spoke of her as a haggard old woman who dealt with demons and spirits, with snakes in her hair and flames for eyes. Some say she was an evil spirit, others that she was something else, a forgotten goddess, who had fallen without worshippers and languished in isolation, cast out by the other gods for some unspeakable crime. It was said that she could steal a man’s soul with a touch.
Pulling a pair of wicked knives from her belt she sank into a low crouch. Her tawny hair was long, almost to her waist and pulled back in a braid. Her eyes were pale hazel and large, making her seem young. The bulky clothes she wore did little to hide her slender form, which could inspire any man to lust. Those who underestimated her rarely did so twice. The skulls of those who had displeased her were stacked around the entrance to the cave, a grim reminder to those who sought her out.
Silently she ducked into her cave, the smell of blood making her tense.
She squinted in the dim light. Someone had doused the torches.
“Tell me a story witch.” A deep, quiet voice echoed from the shadows. “Tell me of the time of wolves and men.”
The witch smiled. “Once, long ago. When fire was still the providence of the gods, and man was young, the wolves were stronger and more numerous. Their packs roamed the world, fearing nothing. After a time, the wolf took pity on man, who was without fur or teeth and claws, and adopted them into their packs. And this was how man lived for many generations, running with the wolves, learning wolf’s wisdom. But it was not meant to be. Man betrayed the wolves. He tricked them into stealing fire from the gods. As punishment, the gods bore their wrath upon the wolves. Making them weaker and removing their ability to speak. In retribution, the wolves turned on man, hunting them wherever they lived.
Man though, took the fire and flourished, learning to make tools and weapons. Now they had claws and teeth. Now they turned upon the wolves, driving them back into the woods and far from the lands of men.”
The witch paused, listening intently in the darkness. She could hear a heart beating, the sound of leather creaking as someone drew breath. She smiled, creeping towards the sound. “But not all wolves were touched by the god’s curse. A precious few remained untouched. They were Ga’ru, the offspring of man and wolf. They made a pact, to feast upon the sons and daughters of man until the end of time. For the Ga’ru, though they had the body and soul of a wolf, they could take the form of a man.”
Valshayn paused her story telling and crept forward. “I was told you were dead, wolf-killer.” She said with a faint grin. She could now see, in the shadows, a large form sitting perfectly still in her chair.
“You knew what we were facing, witch!” Faldron called out. “You sent us to die. You betrayed us.”
The witch smiled. “Only the strong survive, mate. You sought me out Faldron. Time and time again. You served me well.” That said, she threw her knives at the form, smiling as she heard them both strike home. “Sahe.” She whispered as she gestured with her hands, making light appear throughout the cave. Her smile faded as a dozen bodies of men and wolves greeted her. In her chair, a young man sat, bound and gagged. His eyes were wide with disbelief as blood oozed from the two knives in his chest.
“Your pack is dead, bitch.” Faldron growled as he stepped out from behind the chair. He leveled his spear, which glowed with an unholy light.
The witch smiled. “So is yours.” The grieved look on his face making her smile all the more. “Don’t look so surprised. Why did you think you were so strong? So quick, so cunning? Did you not realize, the first time you killed, what you were?”
Faldron’s face was grim. “Why did you send me to kill your own kind?”
Valshayn sighed and grinned ferally, showing sharp canines. “Our kind, mate. Only the strong survive. You know this. You should have realized the first time you lay with me what I really was.” She gestured towards the chair, her hazel eyes turning yellowish. “He was your son, our son.”
“He was an abomination.” Faldron growled, stalking forward. “Jut like every other abomination in this pit of demons. I am nothing like you.”
Valshayn’s form rippled and shifted. “Aren’t you?” She growled, her voice growing rough. As Faldron watched, the petite woman grew, her bones cracking and skin splitting, fur sprouting across her body. Dropping to all fours she let out an unearthly howl, fixing him with all to familiar yellow eyes.
“You…” He whispered in stunned disbelief. “You were the first one. The one I killed when I was a child.”
“Yesss…” The wolf growled. “You proved yourself worthy, by surviving. But you could not kill me. No mortal weapon can. As your reward, I blessed you, made you strong. I gave you your strength. Made you what you are. When you became a man, it was my blood, the blood in your veins that called you here. Called you to me. Lay down your weapon. Put aside your foolish ‘human’ side and rejoice in your true nature. Join me as my mate. We will rule the Norlands, you and I. Our pack will be strong, stronger than any other.”
Faldron growled at the back of his throat and took a step forward. “All my life I have sought you out. To kill you for haunting my dreams.”
The wolf barked with laughter, and it was echoed throughout the chamber. “Fool.” She growled. “You can not kill me with your toy.”
Faldron stepped back as several of the bodies of the wolves and men he had slain stood up, their wounds closing.
As one they stalked forward, forming a ring around the warrior, hackles raised, a chorus of growls rising from their throats. As he watched, they shifted horrifically, each wearing the body of a wolf, but walking like a man. Gripping the spear tighter he slashed at the tightening circle, driving them back.
Valshayn stepped back, her eyes shining in the eldritch light. “Now, my mate. You will die.”
With a roar of pure berserk rage, Faldron threw the spear with all his might. The unholy weapon flew straight and true, impaling the witch/wolf through her chest, sending her tumbling into a crumpled heap on the ground. The beasts around him paused in shock for a split second, which was all the time he needed.
Drawing his axe in one hand and a sword in the other, he leapt at the nearest man-wolf, cleaving his skull in a single mighty blow. With a vicious kick he sent the body sprawling back.
Sword and axe flashing, the Norlander hacked and slashed his way through the mass of furry bodies. Teeth and claws tore at him as he swung madly with his weapons, cutting flesh and crushing bone. One beast managed to clamp its jaws on his arm, putting teeth-marks in the steel bracer he still wore. Slashing outward with his trapped arm, he gutted one wolf-beast and swung his axe in an underhand arc, catching his attacker in the throat and severing its head from it. Blood and gore flying he methodically cut them down, one after the other. Twice he was knocked to the ground, twice he fought his way back to his feet.
As held back the snarling horde, one leaped over his comrades in an attempt to surprise the Norlander. Ducking low, Faldron thrust his sword upward, catching the surprised man-wolf in the heart and slamming him roughly to the ground with such force that the blade of the sword shattered, leaving him with a jagged chunk of metal. Seizing the opportunity, another wolf-beast leaped on his back, tearing with its claws, trying to tear the large warrior to pieces. Faldron rolled forward, slamming his assailant onto the ground. As he came to his feet, he slammed his axe down, severing the beast’s head from its body. Whirling around, he tore himself free from his cloak and slammed the flat of his axe into another beast’s face, shattering its jaw and driving it back. Only two more remained standing now, they both stepped back, growling quietly as they shifted to human form.
“We yield.” They both growled falling to their knees. One looked up, his face grim. “We acknowledge your strength-“ The rest of his words were lost as Faldron slammed his axe down on his head, splitting him to his chest. The other yelped in terror and scuttled backwards.
“Don’t kill me!” He begged. “Not again!”
Faldron grinned savagely, his canine teeth glinting beneath a mask of blood and gore as he raised his axe high. “Only the strong survive.”
Faldron crushed the pleading man’s skull with the flat of his axe and turned back to see if anything remained. As he watched, several of the bodies began to twitch and move. Striding over quickly he hacked them brutally with his axe, dismembering them. Taking no chances he moved to each body, rending it limb from limb. Panting with effort, the Norlander slumped onto the ground.
Nearby, the spear lay in a pool of blackish blood. Valshayn was gone. “Run while you can.” Faldron growled wearily as he stumbled over to the dark weapon. “For nothing will stop me from hunting you now. Not even death.”
By: Jason Haley