Dracus Ashenvale lived his life day to day, like most commoners did. An adult now, he had done his best to keep his family safe and happy. His father was called into service as a soldier and had long ago left, but never returned. The small shop the family ran made some profits, allowing a modest living. His aging mother and younger sister would spend their days mixing vials of different tonics for the travelers and merchants that would pass through their small town. He never had the skill, or patience, for it.
He instead spent most of his days in the fields around the town, making a wage from various farms who needed assistance. Dracus
Theodrick had taught him the way of weapons and showed the different types of armor. He taught Dracus how to fight and even trained him in a few of the more specialized weapons that did not fit the standard spear or shield most of the militia were proficient with. Theodrick preferred an axe; he had a very finely crafted great axe that he said was expertly crafted and imbued with silver. Dracus was, luckily, not that familiar with the evils that the world had to offer. Though he had been called upon by the militia to fend off some wild animals or deal with bandits who were causing trouble, he had never seen the beasts that Theodrick had.
The area around their town was thought by many travelers to have a curse upon it. Many foul creatures lived in the woods around them and the woods were said to whisper, calling weary travelers to unknown fates. For this reason, the town was constructed with a large palisade, and men like Dracus were trained to guard those walls. Although, in his lifetime, there had never been a need to. Whenever he was on watch, Dracus and his compatriots often spent the evenings sparing, playing dragon dice, or trading stories of what they thought lay over the horizon. Although he had never ventured out of town for fear of leaving his mother and sister alone, he knew there must’ve been a good reason merchants only travelled those roads by day, and no one left after sundown. He did know of some attacks, where carts were brought back into town, their owners missing with a scent of blood still lingering on the wood where they had disappeared. Dracus would not leave his family alone or risk them needing to make that trek without him.
One day a group of two men and an elf came to town just before nightfall. Dracus saw them arrive as they passed the fenced field where he worked. The group had very little in the way of baggage and wore ragged clothes. He had the passing thought of how cold they would be this evening if they had not made it to town in time. After Dracus finished his work for the day, he made his way back within the walled city. He decided to go to the inn, which held The Tipsy Wisp Tavern, for a drink. There he saw the same Group of three from earlier sitting in a corner talking amongst themselves. There were only a few patrons tonight, as many of the townsfolk would be up at first light.
By now the town was very quiet. Other than the guards on the wall, many of the townsfolk were home and preparing dinner, the merchants had packed up, and made their way to the inn or left hours ago. As he saw the light fade to night through the window near his table, he polished off his pint and began to gather his things to head home. As he did so, the three, almost in unison, got up and walked out of the Inn. Something felt wrong. Dracus moved to follow the three, hanging back and darting between houses to make up lost ground when he could. Once the three got to the front gate and from the little bit Dracus could hear, they were requesting the posted guards to open the gate.
“Hey, good … can you … The gate”
“Sir … goes out … Night”
It didn’t make sense for someone to want to leave at night, even if they did not know of the creatures that lurked at night. The men did not have weapons; they did not have supplies to spend the night on the road, even regular bandits would have been a problem. Alternately, they would freeze.
Unexpectedly, Dracus heard a howl from outside the Palisade, and was momentarily distracted. It was not a new sound, the noises of the wolves in the woods were well known to him. His worry came when he heard a second, then a third. His eyes darted back to the men and the guards. Dracus saw two of the guards down at the gate preparing to let the strangers out. Suddenly, the three began to transform. Thick, brown hair began to erupt from beneath their skin. Their bones cracked so loud that Dracus winced, hearing the crunch of transforming bone caused his own to ache. Within a matter of seconds, the three were changed. Now stood three hulking beasts with thick fur, canine heads, dark eyes and muscles that could be seen rippling even beneath their hair. Two of them lunged at the guards opening the gate. Dracus froze momentarily, overcome by the menacing beasts and was all but motionless. He saw the third leap and start to scale the wall to get to the third guard; the claws dug into the wood of the palisade and it propelled itself up as easily as running on flat and hard ground. The two werewolves on the ground made short work of the two guards, who both lie grasping their wounds and drowning in their own blood. As the newly transformed werewolves opened the gate. the third guard managed to reach the bell, sounding the alarm, just as the third wolf crashed upon him. He ducked below the first swiping paw only to be sent through a wooden post and onto the road below as the shoulder of the creature with its weight behind it collided with his torso. Within moments Dracus heard commotion behind him from within the town.
“To the gate, to the gate!”
Dracus knew Theodrick’s voice and turned to see the aged soldier running towards the gate, with his great axe in hand. Dracus did not hesitate this time and flew from his hiding spot to meet his mentor.
Theodrick tossed a dagger to Dracus, who threw it at the wolf as he wheeled to charge again, the blade digging into its chest. The werewolf recoiled back, but then kept coming and Theodrick stepped in front of the beast. His axe blurred as it decapitated the monster. The third wolf jumped from the ramparts landing on some of the oncoming militia. He clawed one woman’s chest clean open before being struck repeatedly by the surrounding militia. As the others went to the women’s aide, there was another howl and as Dracus and Theodrick turned to the gate, down the road they could see dozens of charging Lycanthropes.
“Shut the gate!”
Theodrick’s order commanded urgency. Dracus and another militia member began pulling at the chains to close both the left and right gates. Just as the Werewolves reached the gates, the left gate slammed shut, the right gate was not quite closed. Theodrick readied his axe. A thunderous impact shook the right gate, striking Dracus with such force, it threw him backwards.
Dracus awoke to Theodrick and a Half-Elf man he knew as Yeri standing over him. Deep claw marks covered Yeri’s face and chest, and Theodrick had a large bound wound on his midriff which could be seen through his torn, bloody clothes. Dracus began to look past him and saw the village burning. He went to stand, the fight once again revitalized in his eyes. He felt the strong arm of Theodrick on his shoulder.
“It’s too late my friend.”
Dracus still stirred.
“We are all that’s left.”
Bodies littered the streets. With not a werewolf in sight, leaving the carnage to appear as if the town had turned on itself.
Theodrick’s face went solemn. Dracus did all he could to hold back his tears.
“And the wolves?”
Dracus’ voice was now shaking with fury. Yeri gestured to the naked body of a woman Dracus did not recognize and then to another, this one a familiar half-elf. His back cut clean open with a wound that seemed to be from the great axe.
“All dead or fled, we did what we could, friend. I am sorry.”
Yeri’s voice was soft as he knelt down beside the two. They helped Dracus to his feet, the full carnage of the battle now realized. Dracus looked toward his home and saw it ablaze, nothing but a skeletal structure burning in the midnight darkness. Yeri nodded towards one of the houses that seemed to still be intact.
“We should get inside.”
As Yeri turned to walk away, Theodrick brought up his axe. Before Dracus could react, he buried it in the back of Yeri’s head. The Half-Elf fell with a thump, twitching as life left him.
Dracus screamed, quickly shifting his weight to his back leg as he widened his stance in preparation for a fight. Theodrick turned with the same solemn look and held the axe out to Dracus.
“He was infected with the curse, look at the scratches, that is all it takes, and we have no clerics here. There is a full moon already above us and I do not plan on becoming one of those things. I am sure Yeri would have done the same.”
Dracus looked at the axe, then to his mentor, and then again the axe. Theodrick then gestures to his bound wound.
“Take it, please Dracus, you have been a great student, and this is the last I will ask of you. Do not let me become one of them. I can already feel the blood lust coursing in me. TAKE IT!”
Theodrick’s eyes flared with a yellow flash before returning to their usual blue. Dracus took up the axe, as his fingers caressed the wooden handle his mind flashed to memories of his sister laughing at him as Theodrick knocked him from his feet during training. Flashing next to the time his mother had scolded Theodrick as she had stitched up a wound on Dracus’s shoulder.
“You said you were using training weapons”
Her voice echoed in his mind. Finally his mind went to this morning, when he awoke to his sister shaking him as the first glints of pink and orange sun were invading the dark sky.
“Mom says to be home by sundown, and to bring some salt from the market.”
He had forgotten about the salt… As the memories retreated from his awakened mind he looked down to see Theodrick kneeling before him, his head bowed.
“Strike true my friend.”
Theodrick’s voice still was stern, tough, and unwavering. The same voice that had taught him to step when he strikes, that movement was life and that the mind was as important in battle as strength and speed.
“Thank you for all you’ve taught me.”
Dracus’ last words to his mentor as the axe separated his head from his shoulders. Theodrick’s body slumped and then toppled over. Dracus fell to his knees, leaning on the axe. For a short time, he just sat there and starred. Then he made his way toward the shelter Yeri had sought. The whole time he was thinking, I will hunt them down and kill every, last, one of them. As he walked past one of the pillars of fire, a voice emanated from within the column of reveling flame.
“If you seek a hunt, I can provide the light, I seek a champion who, like the flame, is both useful and frightful, warming and consuming, shifting and purifying. I will guide your hand through against the night as we bring Radiance of the dawn.”
Dracus spun, seeking the source of the voice. Readying the axe, he looked high and low
, seeing nothing but flame and smoke. His eyes darting back to the pillar of fire. The light burned his eyes, the smoke choked and clogged his breath, and the heat began to scald his skin.
“Useful and frightful, warming and consuming, shifting and purifying, I am the fire that forges worlds, bow to me and all of your enemies with fall before you.”
This time Dracus’s eyes locked with something within the flame; elusive, but present; bright, but calming. He slowly knelt to one knee, placing the axe before him.
“I will be your hunter, I will be your torch, and I will see the night brightened if you but grant me the power.”
Elemental eyes glowed within the fire now, meeting Dracus’s gaze. His eyes suddenly no longer tearful, the sensation of suffocation fading and his skin seeming to be almost soothed by the flames, the voice returned.
“You shall cut through these creatures of the night as my flame pierces the darkness.”
Edited by Bryn Grosskopf (@Blg0416 on Twitter)