Knight-Commander Lugo Varhen was sat in a high backed chair behind a lacquered wooden desk. He swept a hand towards the other seat in his office, “Take a seat my friend.”
Knight-Interrogator Xander Vessin obliged, smiling warmly, “Congratulations on the promotion, brother.”
Lugo threw his head back and laughed as though at a jest, “You would have held this position long before myself if you would but accept a desk!”
Several years after the event at Petra’s Meadow, Lugo had been promoted to “Commander of Interrogations – Chakra”, the capital of the southern kingdom of Arthuria. Above him were the Lord-Interrogators in command of each of the three kingdoms’ operations and, above them, the Lord-Commander of the Interrogation in its entirety.
Vessin smiled again, “It is not a task suited to me, Knight-Commander.”
Lugo frowned, “Do not call me that. Alone we are friends, equals.” He reached into his desk and produced a clear bottle with an amber liquid sloshing inside. A moment later the bottle was glugging into an exquisitely crafted glass. “Ruidenian brandy,” Lugo added.
Vessin inclined his head, taking the offered glass, “Why the summons, my friend?”
Lugo eased back in his chair, cradling a glass of his own. “Hwelgar Xenis has requested assistance. He is tracking a beast that has been attacking people close to the village of Greenhaven, a few days to the north east.”
Vessin’s brow knitted in thought, “That is close to Black Forest. Move the village, it would be easier.” Black Forest was a known “place of power”, forever stained with the evil magic of the demon kind and likely there were many more creatures warped and mutated by its power.
Lugo grimaced and shook his head, “Arthuria cannot lose that village. They rely on the timber trade from there.”
“How will trade fare when the village is wiped out? How much will it cost the Order to replace the Interrogators that are killed?”
Lugo sighed, “A troop of knights will be accompanying you under Sir Ivan of the Lion.” These were Knights of Elyssa, the soldiers of the Order divided into the four chapters of the Lion, the Eagle, the Wolf and the Bear.
Vessin scowled, “If the village cannot be lost then send a chapter to purge the whole damned forest! That is what was done before our lifetime.”
Again Lugo took on a pained look, “The cost of equipping and sending a full chapter-”
“Always coin…” Vessin shook his head. “Are we not the protectors of humanity? I am sorry, brother, I know this is not your doing.”
Lugo relaxed visibly, “That is enough business for today. Ivan and his knights will be ready to ride at dawn. For now let us enjoy a drink and tell me of your exploits. I do miss the wanderer’s path.”
Sir Ivan had arrived with a score of knights in their shining plate, equipped with swords and lances as they rode in smart columns.
Ivan was a serious man with handsome features and short cropped dark hair, his face stern as he rode alongside Interrogator Vessin in the midday sun.
“So we will face beasts?” Sir Ivan inquired, as though such a task was beneath their martial prowess.
Vessin turned to him, resting his hand on the horse’s withers, “Most likely, but beasts corrupted and mutated by demon essence. Far faster, stronger and more ferocious than any worldly beast. You and your men will have to practise the spear forms they taught you in training. I can take them through the basic beast defence and attacks. Interrogator Xenis is the master though, we would all be wise to heed his advice when we arrive.”
Vessin was prepared for a retort from the man at the idea of studying martial matters under Interrogators, however he merely nodded thoughtfully, “Sound advice, when we make camp we shall practise under your instruction. I look forward to it.”
Vessin had to admit that, although they were brothers of the Order, knights sometimes had a tendency towards arrogance and were infuriatingly rigid in their approach to things. Sometimes he even envied them their sense of conviction, the simplicity of their decisions and the unshakable righteousness they all felt in their purpose.
As promised, the knights assembled to practise spear forms in the dusk. When Vessin suggested their lances required shortening to make them less unwieldy on foot, he received no complaint and they hacked two feet from the shafts. Vessin felt suitably shameful of his preconceptions about the men from the chapter of The Lion, they were professional and took his suggestions as though they were commands from Sir Ivan himself.
Vessin found their spear drills were conducted with the same professionalism, though they required prompting to dodge where they had been trained to parry, and to give ground when they would normally hold it.
“You are fighting a beast, a wolf, bear or some sickening mutation you cannot identify. If you try to parry they will snap your spear shaft in two and then bury fangs in your throat,” Vessin called to them. He leapt to the side, stabbing with his own spear to demonstrate. “They will be quicker than any man you could face. You must anticipate their attacks, the muscles bunching before they pounce.”
They carried on in this way before they posted sentries and entered night-time routine, the men gathering around the few fires with pots sizzling as they jested and mocked each other’s spear forms.
They would not take long to adjust, Vessin knew, for they belonged to the finest military in the known world.
Knight-Interrogator Hwelgar Xenis, a specialist beast hunter of the Order of Elyssa, had easily found the site of the most recent attack. He could see the stumps of trees harvested over the years like pock marks on a barren field, small outcroppings of the Black Forest all cut back until they were forced to harvest from the forest itself.
The place where the beast had set upon the workmen was made clear by the unharvested timber stacked next to an abandoned wagon which had pitched onto its side. The ravaged carcass of a horse was still hitched to the wagon, crows and other carrion squawked and took to flight as Hwelgar approached.
First he knelt to examine what was left of the horse after the carrion birds had stripped much of the carcass and left it as a bloody husk, its ribcage jutting in the air. Several ribs were broken, huge and powerful jaws had clamped down on the trapped horse’s flank as it thrashed. He could see by the dark red smears on the ground that there had been three or more beasts, probably wolves, tearing at the thrashing animal.
He strode to where the men had been felling and logging. They had still been working when they had been attacked, a few bodies lay crumpled by the very trees they had been felling. They had not realised the danger until it was too late to run.
Dark crimson was splattered throughout the scene like the canvas of a crazed painter, two more bodies sprawled to the west where they had run. The rest had tried to make a stand, using their axes as weapons. Hwelgar admired the men’s courage, a fell beast mutated by demon magic was not an easy thing to hold your nerve against, even with the proper training.
He found a wolf, the only carcass the birds had not feasted upon. Unless driven mad by hunger, no animal would eat the tainted flesh. To call it a wolf was not entirely true as it was twice the size, with deep black eyes that spoke of its corruption. It had savaged the wood cutter even with his axe buried into its neck. More axe shafts jutted from its flanks, where the other men had attacked. They had not retrieved their axes before other wolf beasts had torn them apart, their bodies falling next to the dead wolf.
Hwelgar studied the dead wolf-beast slumped there before him. It was an impressive size with great knotted muscles at its shoulders, its neck like a tree trunk. The great jaws gaped open in death which permitted Hwelgar a look at the unnaturally cruel looking teeth, curved and sharp like daggers. This level of mutation spoke of a very high exposure to demon essence, he was surprised that the men had been able to slay the abomination, albeit at the cost of their lives.
Hwelgar resisted the urge to track the beasts to their lair. He must return to the village of Greenhaven and await the aid he had requested. To pursue the vicious beasts would be foolhardy at this time, so he quit the gruesome scene and hoped he had not lingered long enough for anything to catch his scent.
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