The Pad of Little Puppy Dog Feet-Tale of Fleece
The Pad of Little Puppy Dog Feet
Night reigns over the land and knows no favor. Above fair or foul lands the sun rises, the stars shine, the winds blow, and sometimes, it just rains.
It does so tonight over the port city of Karat'Tiel. Merchants, who survived the taking of the city, huddle in their beds, wishing the water would sweep them to safe land. It doesn't, and this does not surprise them. Yet it is pleasant to dream pleasant things before waking to a day of horror. The people of Karat'Tiel sleep a lot. Work continues around the clock but even the driven need rest. The shipyards are busier than they ever where under the reign of the Baskervilles.
The master of Karat'Tiel is not so benevolent.
Down a long corridor, into a guarded chamber in the inner sanctum of the Empire of Man come the padding of little puppy dog feet.
If the guards had noticed them, they would have seen a strange sight. But they did not. Pushed by powerful magic wielded by creatures that know not their own talent, the guards seem to look away as twelve tiny, bedraggled, mutt pups enter the world and quickly disperse into the city. They go unnoticed. Such thing happen everywhere the pups go.
The first to notice them is a flock of sheep. Not having the power of speech, they little notice their loss of it as the puppies' feast. Ten sheep are missing when the shepherd seeks them at dawn. Little does he know that his lost lambs have fed creatures that have come to the world as the Pups have, to do what they have come to do. Like wolves amongst sheep, too accurate a fable, the pups have come to play. If the pups had a human mind they would have relished the irony. But they don't. Forces they do not understand guide them, nor do they question them, nor do they give thought to stray from their prey. Sheep are merely food. They did not cross Shadow, trailing a scent, to reach sheep. They travel into the night toward water.
Karat'Tiel is a busy place. Both sides in any conflict need peasants and many times they little note the conquest. This is not one of those times. Times are lean and haunted. The only thing they can say on the last few weeks is at least all the wolves seem to have vanished. They do not know that the wolves have not so much vanished, as gone to pray. To pray as supplicants.
On a hillock, bramble and bushes wave in the still air as if a strong wind pushed them. At the edge of the copse peek twelve pair of eyes. The puppies have reached their point of watch and sit to rest. Behind them a pack of wolves unmatched in decades, five hundred strong, go to their haunches and wait.
Puppies grow. These suddenly grow fast. Their snouts lengthen, their hair thickens, and their teeth grow long and sharp. Wolves. Wolves the size of horses. Five hundred normal wolves behind them roll in unison onto their backs, feet up, necks barred. Their leaders little notice.
The twelve all have names they call themselves but they do not know what these names are in the tongues of those who sent them. Nor do they care.
The smallest of them is tiny compared to his brethren. Little bigger than the wolves that follow them. Brown with patches of white, speckled. He sits at the back of the pack, herding stragglers, though few do. He is called Dwarf.
Another runs the edge of the pack. Sleek, black, clean, swift. He has the most time to find the bitches in the pack, to take them, teaching them a simple fact. The leader of the pack does not mount lesser pups. He leaves that to his third. He is called Swift
The second largest is a dirty black & brown beast, graying gracefully but ugly as a mongrel can be. She bears patches of white where wounds did not let the hair grow back in its normal color. The left side of its face is such a mark yet here patches also did not grow back fur, but are scared skin stretched taut over jaw, teeth, and brow. Its blue eyes are the color of the sky and its teeth are yellow and strong. She is Bruiser, though she rips and kills more often.
The greatest of the beasts, her mate, is a strange wolf by any description. His fur is yellowish white, tightly curled, and soft to the touch. Though it has been centuries since his father just pet him. Such things are not done in Chaos. He resembles a lamb more than a sheep dog, though he would slay anyone who made the comparison in a way he understood. He is called Fleece.
The peace of the grave is shattered in the chamber Lugborz inhabits like death. A ruckus stirs him from his plaything that he finally gives death, discarding what once was a beautiful woman, though none could tell that now. He looks from his high tower and sees a shipyard in flames. Enraged he strides like a war-god to the sea's edge.
The yards are in shambles, his troops scattered, and the wharves are aflame. He wonders how Baskervile could have gotten troops here when an underling finally arrives.
"How many troops has he landed? Where?"
The man cowers, bearing bad news and knowing the price.
"None. They were wolves! Hundreds! Thousands! They ran through the yard knocking over pitch & lanterns, killing troops like a scythe!"
"Wolves!?!?!?! You expect me to believe that! Your death comes!"
The chaos lord raises his hand to strike, but stops, smells something foul, even to him. He turns. Something he might have called fear prickles him for the briefest moment. A wolf approaches him, low to the ground, ready, teeth bared.
He has time for just two thoughts, he voices only one.
"Dwarf," he says with trepidation not quite fear. It leaps fast, twisting away from a sword strike to grasp under the arm and bite deep. The unspoken question, if he had spoken it, would have been to wonder where Fleece was.
But Fleece was at his throat.
Then Swift is at his ankle, ripping, dragging. Bruiser is at his haunch, biting him in the ass, tearing meat. Dwarf dangles like dead weight from his sword arm. Fleece tries for the kill.
Lugborz grabs Fleece mid leap and propels him into the water, earning a yelp. Swift runs backward, dragging a damaged leg. Bruiser gets a suddenly swung leg smashed into her teeth. It hurts, rips her scared face, but she sinks her yellow teeth deep into flesh, pulling away from Swift. The creature falls.
A fifth giant wolf arrives, its fur singed and smoking, a little bit still aflame. He has been burned badly before; he always seems to find fire in these fights. He kind of likes it. For all that he is not called Scorched, as one might think, another bears that moniker. He leaps and lands full on the chest of the downed Lord of Chaos. He drags his claws deep into flesh, leaving behind residue that burns. His claws anointed and engraved with mystic runes, he is called Ripper. His eye glowers with a rummy red but it is the other eye that stings. A bright yellow jewel, the size of a walnut has been implanted there. It bursts a blast of yellow-brown light and leaves a glowing wound.
Lugborz grasps Ripper and twists. A sharp crunch and crack resound as he flings him away. He smashes Dwarf hard against the ground, dislodging him. He smashes his pommel into the stunned wolf's head. He swipes the sword across Swift, scoring a long cut. Rolling, he finds Bruiser gone, stepping away.
He rises, not having been so wounded in ages. He bleeds from a dozen wounds, three serious. Fleece faces him, ready, dripping wet. Swift has left. Dwarf stays back out of sword range, crouched to leap. Ripper stands near the water's edge, yellow eye glowing. Bruiser sits belly to the ground, waiting. Lugborz thinks she might be laughing.
Three other massive wolves come on to the wharf. Lugborz knows them too. Dunce, Fang, and Imp. The trio of Deathgods in a thousand shadows of chaos, the warrior trio. The rest must be nearby someplace. He realizes just how ugly this could get, how serious it is. He knows his magic won't likely hurt them.
Fleece barks once. They back away. Dwarf leaps to join them running into the night. Ripper strolls casually away, guarding a front leg tucked protectively against his chest. Bruiser gives him a wide berth and passes behind Fleece who follows her, walking backward. He hadn't even gotten a bite in, but the thought occurs to him at the same time it does to Lugborz; Fleece's turn will come.
Lugborz returns to his dwelling leaving the mess at the wharf to others.
Someone sent Fleece after me, he thinks. Who? A Chaos lord almost certainly. An enemy that has taken careful thought to his destruction.