As I stumbled down the stairs, followed by the pup, I was met by the energetic smile of the innkeeper.
“How was your night?” he asked.
Obviously, he slept much better than I did.
“Bad,” I sighed while I rubbed my sore back. “The sheets were horrid. They kept ruffing up my fur, and the bed itself was either too hard to be soft or too soft to be hard.”
The twig was just staring at me with both his eyes and mouth wide open.
“So, better than I expected,” I added with a grin.
The twig sighed in relief and smiled.
“Anything else I can help you with, my picky friend?”
I’m not your friend, twig.
“I could use a breakfast and some directions as to where I can drop off the wolf thingy,” I said as I glanced to my left, where the wolf sat on the ground, his little tail wagged behind him and he stared at me with his big eyes.
This strange, plantlike race might be new to the world, but thankfully, they were bright enough to make roads and signs. Even though the directions I received from the innkeeper were rather specific, he kept referring to places by their names, names which sounded completely foreign, and strange, to me.
I left the inn, and after about half an hour of walking, I realized there was something missing: I forgot about the pup. I turned around to walk back, only to find he was following me the whole time. Relieved, I kept walking. Every now and then, the road diverged into multiple paths and showed signs. I did recognize those that the innkeeper spoke of, making my traveling possible, albeit slow. I feared I would have to carry the pup, but even now, many hours later, he trailed behind me without a single whimper. Each time I turned to look at him, he stared back with vibrant eyes and his little tongue sticking out as he panted.
Every time I took a turn on this road, I half expected to be jumped by a throng of undead minions, but so far, I didn’t see a single sign of the Dragon’s minions. Although, there were guards, which the plantlike creatures seemed to call them as ‘wardens,’ patrolling the road here and there. They shot me a nervous glance when I approached them, but as soon as they saw that my flesh wasn’t in any state of decay just yet, they smiled, waved and let me pass.
As the sun was setting and the light in the sky began to fade, I could finally see the promised location I was travelling to. The road was much longer than I anticipated, and the lack of rations became a severe discomfort.
When I neared the building, I saw that it had a large fenced-off area surrounding it, although that was not the first thing that caught my eye. No, what really stood out was the amount of wardens and the obvious damage to the fence itself.
“Halt, traveler!” the nearest warden commanded me as I got close, a nervous tone in his voice.
“Hello,” I replied as calm as I could while I came to a stand-still.
“What brings you here?”
“I came to see the owner of this place.”
“Alright,” the twig said, pondering, “continue.”
Walking past the wardens, I saw that most of them seemed tense. Not only that, but I could smell a faint scent of burned flesh in the wind. Instinctively, I headed towards a twig that stood in the center of the enclosed area. As one of the syl-things, he looked almost like a human made out of wood, which did not work in his favor for me. When his glance met mine, I saw that he had kind and caring eyes, albeit sad ones.
“Greetings,” he said as I approached. “What brings you here?”
“I’m looking for the owner of this place, although I’m not so sure what this place is or was.”
“I am the owner, Silias, and this place,” he said with a wan smile, “is a shelter for sylvan hounds as well as an important resting place for travellers who venture deeper into these woods, or for those who come back out from it.”
“So, what happened here?” I asked. “Why does your place appear damaged, and what is up with all these wardens that are more skittish than a devourer guarding a nest?”
“We were attacked by the undead last night.”
“Yea,” I sighed, “that does not sit well with guards.”
“It does not sit right with me either, trust me.”
“Eh, I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“So,” Silias continued, “what business do you have with me?”
“Right! I found this pup and I was told to bring it here.”
He looked down at the pup who sat down next to me.
“Where did you find this little guy?” he said as he knelt down in front of it.
“In the bushes next to a dead adult one.”
“Thank you for bringing him here,” Silias said with a warm smile as he picked the pup up from the ground and cradled it in his arms.
“So this place is something like an inn too?” I asked.
“It is, are you looking for a place to spend the night?”
“Well, actually, I’m looking for a job and I was wondering if you had one available, or if you know someone who does.”
“I see,” Silias muttered. “You look like a big, strong charr. The captain of the wardens just told me that they cannot keep patrolling my area now that the undead are so close to the settlements. Not only that, but with the recent attacks, some parts of my property have been damaged and they are in dire need of repairs, but I need to look after the hounds. So what I need is a guard and a handycharr. Can you provide these services?”
To be honest, I didn’t like the idea of an entire inn relying on me for their safety, but I really needed some copper, so I had little choice in the matter.
“Yes, I can.”
Silias gave me one of his rooms to stay in for as long as I worked for him and the food he served was good as well. For a moment, I feared that I was doomed to gnawing on carrots, but I found out that the sylvari—he told me how to call them—ate meat as well. At the moment, there were no other guests present, much to my relief, but that could change any minute.
Not that any of that was of my immediate concern, no, not as I was walking around in the fenced area keeping watch. My left paw gripped my bow loosely and my eyes scanned the darkness around me. Silias did offer me a torch, but I refused. Not only was I able to see better at night because I was a charr, but I used to be a scout as well, and a scout carrying a torch was a really stupid idea.
I suddenly remembered one scouting mission. My warband was sent out to snuff out a small Flame legion encampment. Intel from Ash told us that there would be no more than a handful of the ember sniffers, but Karto and I insisted that I should scout ahead nonetheless. As such, in the dead of night, I sneaked towards their camp and stole a look. It was a good thing I did, because at that exact time, our group of flame lickers was meeting up with another one, effectively doubling their numbers. We could still have taken them, but the sudden surprise of their increased numbers would have put us in a major disadvantage.
The fact that the memory emerged so suddenly did not shock me nearly as much as how I actually indulged in it for a while. A low moan following the snap of a twig in the distance helped me to bring my attention back to the present. I lowered myself on one knee and readied my bow while I kept my eyes fixed on the direction the sound came from. It could be a traveller looking for a place to spend the night, weary, or even injured, from its long journey. Then again, it could very well be the undead, although I had no idea how I could recognize them.
Luckily, there are some things in Tyria that do not require any explanation. The figure that clambered over the fence looked like a human, but even in this darkness, I could see that half its face was rotten away, and the moonlight that managed to pierce the canopy above fell on bared bones. Not only that, but there was a strange sensation in my gut when I looked at it: a feeling of disgust and unease.
As soon as the undead managed to get across the fence, I let go of the bowstring, releasing an arrow that dug itself into the skull of the undead with such force, that its head split open like an overripe watermelon. The now double dead corpse collapsed on the ground, but other moans erupted from the forest beyond the fence.
I quickly got on my paws again and released arrow after arrow as one undead after another emerged from the shadows of the trees. The majority of the undead fell with just one arrow, but some wore armor that, although it had decayed and rusted over time, still offered them some protection from my shots, especially because I had trouble finding their weak spots in the darkness.
If the undead had any form of intelligence, they did not show it on this night. Had they come all at once, they would have surely overwhelmed me, but they can at me one by one, all twenty of them. The last one gurgled loudly as my arrow struck it in the throat. When it finally stopped, I heard the soft rustle of grass and I realized my mistake.
Before I had any time to react, an undead human rushed at me and grasped my claw. With an unnatural strength it clenched my wrist and jerked me towards it, forcing me to drop my bow and taking away my stability. Barely able to prevent myself from falling, I saw its hand arc upwards, holding a rusty old sword that would indubitably still be sharp enough to cleave my skull.
Just as it was about to hammer down on me, its head arced back and it let out a horrifying scream of agony. Seizing the moment, I spun free of the loosened grip and unsheathed my sword. The wolf-shaped silver cross guard gleamed in the moonlight as the blade cut clean through the creature’s neck, sending the head flying, followed by a trail of gore.
After the body had slumped to the ground, I saw that a sylvan hound had fastened itself in the calf of the foul creature. Noticing it was no longer moving, the wolf let go of the thing and appeared to cough in an attempt to get rid of the foul taste. When the pup looked up to me, I could see that it was the wolf that I brought here.
“Good boy,” I muttered.
A sudden flood of light streamed from the inn as Silias opened the door. He assessed the situation for a few seconds before he turned his eyes towards me.
“Well, it seems that this particular pup feels attached to you,” Sillian said.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“I think he wants to stay with you, considering he escaped from his pen just to help you.”
Glancing at the pup, I saw that he was still staring at me with his big eyes, but he had moved much closer to me with surprising stealth.
“You should name him, then,” Silias added.
Kneeling in front of the pup, I let my claw slide across his head. I felt much smoother than I had anticipated and he seemed to enjoy it.
“Very well,” I sighed. “I’ll call him… Thornfang.”
End of Part 2