Prologue

The dry sharp air of midday’s sun slowly rose and permeated the filthy unkept street. The fur cloth draped between Daniel’s bear muscular legs tugged and chafed irritably on sweat laden skin with each step. A buzzing cacophony of human ruckus echoed in front of him, which felt almost as dense as the arid draft. Yet every stone in Newburg was covered in peasant feet just the same, for it was execution day. Since venturing off from his homeland a mere season ago, Daniel had finally reached the human capital. Tales of glory and pride preceded his arrival. He had assumed embellishment coated storytellers' words like jam over burnt toast. Now observing with his own eyes, their exaggeration was closer to bold lie than hyperbole. Daniel’s view was clear reaching the city square as he towered above the old stale bonnets and straw hair upon every scalp about.


A tall sturdy structure of cherry wood held the attention of all the voyeurs. Never had the traveler encountered such a monument dedicated to death. Gallows that were littered with complex means of torture before an execution. It only paled in comparison to the monarch’s castle, which despite remaining miles away, still seemed to tower higher that a mountain. Not a head turned while Daniel and his animal companion, Wolvregal, slowly approached their backs. The man wore a thin hooded cloak to conceal the large sword and bow strapped to his back over otherwise exposed torso. However, with the mesmeric gaze of these humans remaining ever forward, he considered removing it under the scorching star.


Curious what sort of villain warranted such a gathering to witness his demise, he began listening. “…serves him right. Those Eastern fiends slaughtered so many of our kin,” one man slurred through tobacco, with dark spittle about his chin. “Charming.” Daniel thought to himself. “I heard he led the final elf raid that destroyed the last Northren Clan,” a woman responded, perking up Daniel’s ear. Northren was a word used to insult him as a child. “What did you…” he began to ask when a loud hot gust blew toward his face, revealing his messy dirty blonde hair and crystal blue eyes. The breeze carried a sickly stench upon it. Days maybe weeks old body odors assaulted his nostrils along with another profound smell – blood. Daniel shot his eyes back toward the gallows and realized they were not built from cherry wood but were quite literally painted with blood.


Suddenly Wolvregal pulled his compatriot’s cloak away from the crowd, sensing what was coming. Daniel turned his gaze to the large black wolf and saw pleading eyes. It was not like Wolvregal to leave the shadows through a populated area and it was even less like him to beg. “What don’t you want me to see?” Daniel trusted Wolvregal completely and began to walk away when the crowd abruptly cheered. Reflexively he turned his head in their direction where upon the gallows he saw his adoptive father in chains. The traveler’s eyes widened, the reverberation of his heart filled his ears, and while the temperature was blistering, his body was frozen. Moments later, a wide bald man dressed in black and dragging an axe revealed himself from behind the staging. With a toothy grin outlined in patched stubble he happily shouted, “Overseeing the execution of the Elf General, I give you your Lord King Terrence!” Leaping into view, an agile drunkard cloaked in a translucent vest from neck to knee decorated entirely with golden beads danced about the platform. A crown sat angled above his head, secured somehow while he performed one handed cartwheels while showering his subjects with wine from a large bottle. “The Elves thought they could slaughter our brothers and sisters to the North!” the lunatic king shouted. The mob booed and began stomping their feet with enough fervor to crack the earth. “We will rectify this travesty and return humanity to its rightful place if we must do it one Elf at a time!” His voice boomed even louder above the maniacal stamping. On his knees, Daniel’s father looked up and met his eyes. Calm surprise answered the silent scream from Daniel’s gaze. A smile crept across Ai Kaine’s face, happy to see his boy one final time. Daniel flung off his cloak and pulled his powerful longbow around his torso. Before he could reach for an arrow, with supernatural strength and speed King Terrance grabbed the two-handed axe with his right hand from the executioner and severed the Elf’s head.


The crowd roared and Wolvregal howled on deaf ears. The only sound Daniel could hear was the wail of pain inside his chest. “Hail the King,” he whispered as he yanked and let loose an arrow in one swift motion. Terrence crouched down with his legs spread wide like the downbeat of a drum. The arrow sailed high over its target and though the King continued to dance, the gathered city turned to see the outsider for the first time. Wolvregal thundered a warning growl giving pause to the mob before they would give chase to the attempted assassin. The black wolf grabbed Daniel’s cloak between his jaws and slammed his shoulder into his upright brother. Daniel stumbled and could hear the external world once more. “Thanks, pal,” he stated earnestly while Wolvregal intimated it was time to flee. The two ran with all their might, fast enough that they may escape the sun’s rays. Daniel glanced behind one final time to witness the King of all humans standing still with a proud smirk in his direction.


The annuls of the city were decorated with webs, rats, and old garbage. Blessed with strength and agility, the fleeing duo were able to maintain their pace while deftly dodging whatever disgusting accoutrements adorned this “great city”. For miles they ran, diminishing the angry mob behind them due to obstruction, exhaustion, and perhaps lack of caring. “The Soothsayers will deal with them,” one of the pursuers confidently declared justifying his reason for giving up the chase. “Have you ever heard of them?” Daniel asked Wolvregal genuinely curious if the beast better recalled the name. His eyes were met with similar confusion. At last making their way to the outskirts of the city, they leapt over the five-foot-tall stone wall denoting its edge. Their grand exit was marked by a complete absence of angry citizens – a desired prize.


The duo fell on their backs, cushioned by smooth plush grass, panting vigorously. As if timed by the gods themselves a refreshing cool wind blew across their bodies. Daniel reached for his waterskin and began pouring it down his throat. Wolvregal rolled onto his feet and began lapping up the water before it could reach his brother’s mouth. “Hey! I would’ve shared you mongrel,” he jokingly shouted and chuckled before falling silent. The wolf stopped drinking and allowed water to splash over Daniel’s face. “You’re right, Wolvregal. We have to keep moving,” with a stern nod the man flung his cloak around his neck and the two continued their journey away from the capital. His heart ached more from his father's demise than his expeditious flight. Alas they knew the time for mourning must delay until they were free from danger.


Both man and wolf raised their nostrils skyward, carefully inspecting the scent in the air. They turned to face each other in agreement that they weren’t being followed but glanced back to the city to be certain. Deciding they were safe, Wolvregal began trotting forward, knowing his back was secure with Daniel. While the city itself was dense with stone housing, the fields ahead stretched out into natural dunes beyond their sight. What was described as a marvel, something he looked forward to for months, was an agglomeration of wickedness, and a taint unable to be cleansed from his memory. “Last of the Northren Clan…what did they mean, father?” Daniel asked the atmosphere somberly. As they continued to march South with no objective, his thoughts wandered to the past.

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