The Keymaster

Chapter Two: Brave New World

The morning was hazy and overcast…

Lilith rose early and slipped out of The Smuggler’s Rest. Aluis was standing at his stall, sorting a pile of tunics and doublets. Lilith approached cautiously. When she was in earshot, she spoke in ethereal. “I am looking for a cloak.”
The garland looked up. When he spied Lilith, a nervy look quickly passed over his face, but his customary smile soon returned.
“Of course,” he replied in the same language. “What kind of cloak are you looking for? Is there a particular style you’re after? A particular colour? A particular cut?”
“Black,” Lilith replied flatly.
“Black? Okay.” Aluis turned around, and after a moment’s searching, presented the darkling with a black hooded cloak. “I can sell you this for 45 wairs.”
“Okay. Done.”

When Lilith returned, Zoltan and Alyaa were sitting at a table in the otherwise empty inn. Lilith joined them, and moments later, Edward Grey trudged down the wooden stairs.
The former policeman immediately noticed how empty the place was. There was no sign of Entat, Jaegold or any patrons. He queried Zoltan about this, and the turron explained that it was Nostaen, the last day of the week. He noted that it was strange that the innkeeper was missing, but assumed his absence was related to Ventenism in some way.

After a brief breakfast, the group headed out of the inn. The streets of Shedhmi were quieter than ever, with four out of five stalls along the sea front closed. Noticing that Aluis’ stall was open, Zoltan headed over to it and inquired about the garland’s selection of headgear. Aluis offered Zoltan a floppy brown hat, which the turron refused. Zoltan then asked about a coat, which Aluis offered him for 40 wairs.
“I got mine for 28,” Edward whispered as he watched the exchange.
“Well, I want to,” Zoltan said loudly, stroking his beard. “But, maybe not at that price.”
“I suppose I can knock the price down,” Aluis said genially, “just for you, friend. I can let it go for 35 wairs.”
“30 is more the price tag I was looking at,” Zoltan needled.
Aluis glanced at Edward, then, with a patient smile, back at Zoltan. “I suppose I can let it go for 30.”

The group next headed towards the Ventenist temple on the outskirts of the port. As they walked up the road leading to the temple, the group noticed three figures standing outside the wall of the temple grounds. Though they were still some distance away, Edward identified them as Entat, Jaegold and the monk Brown.
As they drew closer, Edward realised that the three of them were watching the group approach. Lilith seemed to notice too, and this seemed to set her somewhat on edge.

“Mr Grey,” Entat said cheerfully as the group neared the temple. “It’s good to see you. I see you’ve managed to gather some companions about you. That’s good. That should help you on your journey.”
“Not necessarily on purpose,” Edward said with a wry smile. “But yes.”
“Good,” Brown said, clasping his hands before him. “I have a good feeling. I know that you’re going to be very successful and you’ll achieve what we’re hoping for.”
“I sure hope so,” Edward agreed.
Brown stepped over to Edward, taking both of the former policeman’s hands in his. “Godspeed on your journey, brother. You can do this.”
As Brown stepped back, Entat moved forward, shaking Edward’s hand and saying; “Good luck Mr Grey.”
Entat moved aside and his daughter stepped forward, planting a chaste kiss on Edward’s cheek and wishing him luck.

Edward asked to enter the temple grounds, and Brown stepped aside, saying; “By all means, brother.”
Edward stepped through the gate, looked around, then pulled out the Orb of Tephilin. After a moment’s close observation, Edward once again found the faint glimmer in the centre of the Orb. Returning to his allies, he explained about the Orb leading him to its brethren, and that the Orb seemed to be leading him northeast.
“We’re going that way, anyway,” Zoltan mumbled.

Edward bid the trio of townsfolk adieu and the group headed past the temple on the semblance of a road which led out of town. Rather than the tarmac or cobbled roads Edward was used to, this was little more than a furrow in the grass which stretched out beyond the port.
They walked for several minutes, exchanging nary a word. A squat stone wall ran alongside the road. As the town fell behind them, Edward noticed how eerily quiet it was. He had travelled to the countryside before, but no matter how deep into the wilderness he got, there was still noise; the distant roar of cars, a plane idling overhead, even the faint buzz of far-off power lines. Here, all he could hear was the wind, the footsteps of his companions, and the rustling of his own clothes.
Shedhmi dwindled in the distance, and the curve of the coastline became evident. When Edward glanced behind him, he was stunned by the blue expanse of ocean he saw.

Some time later, Zoltan and Alyaa noticed a black-clad figure on the road ahead, heading the other way to them. Alyaa swiftly pulled out her axe. Noticing this, Lilith drew her daggers.
“Hold up a second,” Zoltan said to Edward, holding up his hand. Edward halted, seeing the figure for the first time.
After a moment, the group resumed their trek, and as they neared the figure, it became obvious that he was a human with blonde hair and a neat blonde goatee. The man stopped in his tracks, seeming to study the group. Lilith regarded the stranger coolly for a minute before sheathing her daggers.
“Morning,” Zoltan said wearily.
“Good day, ser,” the stranger replied politely. “You appear to be off on some travels.”
“That we are,” the turron ventured.
“So. Where are you going?”
“The opposite direction to you, it seems. Over to Fort Braegande.”
“Hm. Well, this direction wasn’t really working for me.”
“It doesn’t get any better,” Edward grunted.
“This part of the country is somewhat grim, then,” the man said, nodding.

“What business do you have in Shedhmi?” Zoltan queried.
“I picked something up,” the man said. “Someone was using magic here recently. Somewhat rare. I was looking for it, but I think it‘s left town. That‘s all I can really say at this time.”
“Well, none of us here are mages,” said Zoltan.
“It must not be you then,” the man said, smiling knowingly. “Probably safer to travel in a party. Mind if I join you?”
“I could do with all the extra help I can get,” Edward admitted.
The blonde man in black suddenly opened his hand, revealing a sharp throwing star which none of the group had noticed. He slipped it into a pouch hanging from his belt, his eyes sparkling playfully. Edward and his companions continued away from the port, and the man fell in with them.
“So what’s your name, stranger?” Zoltan asked. “Where are you from?”
“I’m called Kazdan Zell,” the man answered. “I come from Tephilin. I work as an assassin, if you can call it work.” Zoltan’s eyes widened at this, and he exchanged a nervous look with Alyaa. Noting this, Kazdan continued; “It pays the bills. I have no interest in killing, it’s just something I turned out to be quite good at. A man has to earn a living.”
“And why are you hunting this magic?”
“A bit of personal interest. A bit of a debt I owe to someone. Assassins are usually to the point with blades and the like. I’m looking to branch out. Out of pure academic interest, you understand.”
Alyaa looked at Kazdan blankly.

After a couple of hours travel, the road petered out, and the group found themselves traversing the untamed countryside of Hagoph. Flat fields stretched out for miles around, interrupted only by sporadic trees.
“I really want to check the Orb,” Edward whispered to Zoltan as they trudged along, “to make sure we’re going the right way. But I fear the new guy watching me.”
“Alright,” Zoltan said with a nod. “But you‘d better make it worth my while.”
He turned to see Kazdan standing directly behind them. Kazdan smiled down at the flustered turron, who awkwardly drew the blonde man to one side. When the two were well ahead of Edward, he pulled the Orb from his bag and peered into it.
He was surprised to see that the image had grown larger and brighter. He saw predominantly blue, with vague hints of black. Once again, the image grew slightly more vivid as he held the Orb north-easterly.
Licking his dry lips, Edward slipped the Orb back into his back, and suggested that the party take a break. Zoltan agreed, and the group set down on the soft green grass.

As they rested, Kazdan spoke quietly to Zoltan.
“He’s got something on him,“ he said, nodding to where Edward was sitting. “I just want you to know that it interests me, but I’m not here to steal anything from you. I don’t want you to feel threatened by me.”
“I see,” Zoltan said. “Well, that’s very good of you.”
After around half an hour, the group continued on their way. As they walked, the flat fields became rolling hills, and the sun sank low in the sky. Kazdan was the first to spot the large grey stone building on the horizon. Edward glanced at his map and deduced that it was Fort Braegande, which seemed distressingly close to Shedhmi on the yellowed paper in his hand.
As they approached the fort, Zoltan explained that it was the King’s military fort in Hagoph, but after Fyrsobarthe’s attack on Narshair, it was abandoned.

Some twenty minutes later they reached the fort. It was smaller than Edward anticipated, with two turrets and a large doorway. Shattered wood and metal lay in the open entryway.
“If I may make a suggestion,” Kazdan said softly. “In my experience, if someone is trying to get magicks to work, it usually works better slightly higher up off the ground.”
“Who’s trying to use magicks?” Edward asked nonchalantly.
Alyaa walked into the fort, and Lilith and Edward cautiously followed. They found themselves in a small, dusty entrance hall with doors leading off to the left, right and straight ahead.
“Be careful,” Zoltan called from the doorway.
Kazdan gingerly pushed open the doorway to the left, finding a kitchen littered with dirt and debris. He searched the cupboards which lined the room, but found little more than desiccated fruits and dust.
On the other side of the room, Alyaa nudged the opposite door open with her axe. She stepped into what appeared to be an armoury. She searched the room, overturning the broken benches and piles of cloth and stone which littered the floor. Eventually, she turned up a rust-spotted helmet, a short spear and a beautiful tapestry bearing the sigil of the Royal Military of Yokurgin.

Edward pushed the double doors directly opposite the main entryway, but found them blocked.
“These doors are stuck,” Edward grumbled to his associates.
“Let me give you a hand, there,” Zoltan said. “Alyaa!”
“Move out the fucking way,” the tall woman grunted, shoving Edward aside. Alyaa kicked the doors stiffly and they swung inwards with a scrape. A pale, badly decomposed arm flopped into view as the doors opened. Frowning, Edward stepped through the doors and crouched by the body. It was naked, and much of the pale skin had rotted away, revealing clean white bone beneath. It appeared to be human, but there was something about the bone structure that was just not right. What it was, Edward could not put his finger on, but it was misshapen in a very strange way. The ribs were shattered, presumably by a rather hefty weapon.
The rest of the party walked through the open doors. They were in a courtyard, a training area at one time of day, judging by the battered dummies littered throughout the place. Two flights of stairs led up to the towers they had seen from outside the fort.

Lilith moved to one flight of stairs and began to carefully ascend the wooden staircase. The steps creaked loudly beneath her, but she made her way to the top successfully. Edward crept up the other flight of stairs. Halfway up, one rotted wooden step snapped beneath his foot, and his leg shot through. Edward hissed in pain, quickly staggering the rest of the way up the stairs.
As he emerged into the watchtower, Edward spied a strange creature crouched on the bench before the open window looking out onto the Hagoph countryside. The creature had the mottled green skin of a frog, but was the size of a pug and had a strange, fanged face which almost looked like a warthog.
The beast seemed to see Edward at the same time as he saw it. Its inky black eyes opened wide, it let out a high-pitched shriek and leapt from the tower. Edward hurried over to the window to see the creature bound across the fields away from the fort.
Frowning, Edward produced the Orb. The image was even clearer now. He could see black lines criss-crossing over blue, but could not decipher exactly what he was seeing.

Kazdan stepped through one of two doors in the courtyard, finding himself in a mess hall. He scanned the room, seeing nothing but long benches and trestle tables. Alyaa went through a second door, which led into the barracks. Most of the beds had been overthrown, and several of the chests at the feet of the beds were opened.
Zoltan, meanwhile, inspected the kitchen and armoury, finding a slab of dried gealas meat, a wheel of gite cheese and a sakelime, a large oaten cake.
Alyaa left the barracks and stepped into the third door leading from the courtyard, into what appeared to be an office-come-bedroom. As she headed to one side of the room, Zoltan entered and searched the other side. Between them, they found a vial of vivid orange-coloured liquid, a longsword, a light crossbow and a carton of lantern oil.

Edward returned to the courtyard, where Kazdan approached him.
“I know you used some magic,” the blonde man said. “Do you mind telling me about it?”
“What would your interest be in such magic?” Edward asked wearily.
“As a young man,” Kazdan said, “I was taken in by a man fascinated by the magicks and energy sources of Yokurgin. I believe that understanding these magicks will be good for the state of the world.”
He waited, but Edward made no reply. Kazdan smiled patiently. “If you don’t want to talk about it now, that’s fine. We can talk later.”

With the sky rapidly darkening, the group decided to hold up in the fort for the night. Zoltan made himself comfortable in the officers’ quarters, while Lilith, Edward and Kazdan retired to the barracks. Alyaa made her way to the main doorway, where she moved the corpse outside, then set her axe on the ground and stood watch.
After an hour or so, Alyaa noticed the strange, frog-like creature cautiously approaching the fort.
“Fucking scram!” Alyaa roared, waving her axe in the air. The creature let out a little shriek and charged away.
After another couple of hours, Alyaa wandered into the barracks, roughly kicking Lilith’s bed and telling her to go out on watch. Lilith scowled at Alyaa, before shuffling out of the room.
The sky was turning from black to grey, and a short time later, the sun began to rise over the hills of Hagoph, a beautiful ball of burning orange.

The party ate breakfast, made their preparations and gathered in the courtyard.
“That corpse,” Edward said, looking down at the spot where the body had been the day before. “What was it?”
“That?” Zoltan murmured. “Oh, it was an un-man.”
“And what the hell are they?” Edward asked.
“It’s like a man. But not.”
“Fucking freaks, basically,” Alyaa snarled.
The group walked out of the fort and made their way towards the mountains in the distance.

The morning was warm and breezy. After an hour, the hills grew steeper and the party found themselves in the foothills of the Zehryte mountains. The going became increasingly difficult, with Zoltan in particular having difficulty with the sharp slopes and large, jagged boulders.
The sun was high in the sky when Edward and Zoltan heard a low, bestial snarling. Alyaa and Lilith did not hear the sound, but they saw its source; two sleek, lupine creatures standing atop a rocky outcrop. The two creatures snarled and barked at the party. Edward and Zoltan quickly moved back, while Kazdan stepped up next to Lilith.
“They’re kehlets,” he whispered. “Very territorial. Especially aggressive around their young. Aim for the eyes.” Lilith looked at Kazdan blankly, until he pointed first at the kehlets, then his own eyes. Lilith nodded.

Alyaa suddenly charged forward with a yell, tossing a small dagger at the creatures. The dagger sunk into the shoulder of one of the kehlet’s, and the creature slinked back, yelping in pain. Alyaa grinned viciously, but the creature suddenly sprung forward, blood spurting from its wound.
The kehlet launched itself from the outcrop, planting both paws against Alyaa’s chest. The creature’s claws skittered on Alyaa’s breastplate, and she pushed it away.
“Chop it with your axe, Alyaa!” Zoltan hollered. “That will surely hurt it!”
Growling almost as viciously as the kehlet, Alyaa swung down with her hefty axe, cutting a deep gash into the beast’s side. Suddenly, Zoltan howled and charged at the beast, clubbing it over the head with his mace. The kehlet whimpered, backing away from the raging turron.
Seeing her chance, Alyaa brought her axe down, cleaving the beast’s skull in twain.

The second kehlet leaped down, striking at Kazdan with its claws. Lilith hopped forward, jabbing at the creature with her daggers. The kehlet nimbly moved out of the way, only for Kazdan to strike it with a sabre drawn swiftly from his belt.
Snarling, the kehlet snapped at Kazdan, but the assassin managed to dodge out of the way of the creature’s bloody fangs. As the beast attacked Kazdan, Lilith slid forward and jabbed a dagger into its back. The kehlet threw its head back and howled, and Kazdan slashed out with his sabre. Blood poured from the beast’s neck, and when Lilith plunged a dagger into its eye, it collapsed with a rattling exhalation of stinking breath.

Edward turned to see Zoltan smashing the dead kehlet’s skull with his mace. He approached cautiously, studying the bizarre creature lying before him. It looked largely wolf-like, but was much thinner and longer than any wolf Edward had ever seen, and had some distinctly rat-like features.
“Alyaa,” Zoltan said breathlessly, looking down at the now headless creature. “Skin it.”
Grinning savagely, Alyaa stalked over, dropped to one knee and began to cut into the kehlet with a bloody dagger. Edward turned away, stunned, only to see Kazdan skinning the other wolf-like beast. Soon, both corpses were stripped of their fur, leaving behind bloody messes of bone and gristle. Edward brushed a hand over his face, and looked around. In the confusion of the attack, he realised that he had no idea which direction they had come in, or where they were to go. However, Lilith began to stalk off down one grassy hill. Zoltan called to her in the strange hollow language they seemed to share, and Lilith called back.
Nodding, the turron turned to the rest of the group and said; “This way.”

The group continued through the mountains, and by the time the land once again grew flat, the sun had all but disappeared. Ahead were flat grasslands, and a winding river which Lilith identified as the Rendestiate. Some distance across the river was the fringes of a forest.
A short walk brought the group to a ford, which the almost everyone easily traversed. Zoltan, however, found himself struggling in waist-high water. Alyaa reached out and hauled him from the river, and with a grunt, he sat on the grass, patting down his sodden tunic.
The turron suggested camping for the night, and everyone else agreed. Alyaa constructed and lit a fire, while the rest of the party set about filling their water skins. Zoltan produced a small wooden implement he said was a water purification kit. Edward was unsure, but allowed Zoltan to filter his water through the device nonetheless.

The night passed without incident, and early the next morning, the party gathered together their possessions. Zoltan was pleased to find that his tunic and boots had dried by the fire overnight. Each party member took it in turns to wash themselves in the ford.
While Kazdan was absent, Edward pulled the Orb from his bag and prepared to study it, but was surprised to find the entire Orb filled with a clear image. It showed a bright, full moon in a deep blue night sky. Across the moon whipped dark, thorny branches. Edward looked up and swallowed hard.
After an hour or so, the party set off towards the distant forest. A couple of hours walking brought the woodland into clear view. The trees all seemed to be gnarled and black, and largely leafless, stark, knotty shapes against the orange sky of dawn. The ground seemed to be a mess of thorns and thickets. Kazdan noted that the forest, Phaelin, looked to be largely composed of vreen trees, and therefore somewhat difficult to negotiate.
Zoltan seemed disinclined to head into the forest, but Edward quietly mentioned that the Orb seemed to be pointing in that direction, and the turron reluctantly relented.

Another twenty minute’s walk brought the party into the forest. Alyaa drew her axe and began to hack though the tangles of thistles which blocked the way. Within moments, the trees and barbed bushes drew in around the party, and they found themselves in near darkness. Thorny branches arced overhead, allowing only a little morning sunlight to trickle through.
An hour’s difficult travel brought the group into a semblance of a clearing. Relishing the open space, the group spread out. Lilith looked up, and noticed a branch which did not seem to fit with the others. As she squinted up at the tree above her, the branch moved, independent to the wind, and all of a sudden, two glowing yellow cracks opened within the branch. Lilith realised that she was seeing eyes, seconds before a radiant yellow maw opened beneath them.
The branch detached from the tree with a terrible shriek and dropped to the ground, revealing itself to be a tall, emaciated creature, twisted and black with a huge, glowing mouth. Kazdan turned just in time for the creature to strike him with its large, pointed claws. Kazdan yelled out and staggered backwards, only for the beast to clamp its fangs down on his arm, drawing blood.

Her teeth clenched, Lilith jabbed out with her daggers, only for them to skim off the creature’s thick black skin.

“Decapitate it!” Zoltan shrieked at Alyaa. The brunette turned and charged at the monster, swinging her axe down in a wide arc. The blade bit into the beast, and it cried out in pain. One of its claws flew out at Lilith, striking the darkling in the stomach, and then it turned and snapped at Alyaa.
Scowling, Lilith jabbed at the monster, piercing it twice with her daggers. Suddenly, Kazdan was beside her, his sabre clattering off the creature’s bumpy hide. The creature shrieked and once again clawed at Kazdan, raking deep cuts into his torso. The assassin staggered back, blood spattering onto the floor. As Lilith struck at the beast, Kazdan pulled a healing potion from his back and swallowed it with a groan.
Zoltan abruptly howled and charged at the beast, striking it with his mace, which clattered off the monster’s leg with little effect. The creature turned and screamed at Zoltan, its shining mouth opening impossibly wide. Zoltan shrunk back, but swiftly, Alyaa buried her axe in the back of the beast’s head, and it fell to the ground in two pieces.

Breathing heavily, Zoltan began to strike the fallen creature with his mace, while Edward moved over to inspect Kazdan’s wounds. Lilith followed, handing Kazdan a vial of blue liquid. The assassin thanked her and drank the tonic down.
“Let’s hurry,” Zoltan hissed nervously, glaring down at the dead creature. “Get out of this gods forsaken forest.”
The group regrouped and, when Kazdan felt prepared, continued through the forest. Zoltan produced a lantern as the way grew even darker. A couple of hours later, the group found themselves in an even larger clearing. Ahead was a wooden shack, strangely well-maintained in the inhospitable and seemingly uninhabited forest.
As the party entered the clearing, Zoltan noticed something sparkling in the think undergrowth almost directly opposite the door of the cabin.
“Alyaa,” Zoltan said, pointing to where the glint was. “Go check that out.”

Alyaa unslung her axe and trudged over to the tangled scrub at the edge of the trees. Zoltan followed cautiously behind, directing his bodyguard. Alyaa began to hack the undergrowth apart, cursing, until the glimmer was revealed to be a single beto. Alyaa looked past the coin and noticed a human arm protruding from the bushes. It was splattered with blood, as was the surrounding plantlife, and strips of flesh hung from the arm.
The woman looked up just in time to see the forest before her torn apart as an enormous wolf, silver-furred and snarling, barrelled forward. The beast was easily the size of a horse, with baleful red eyes and an enormous open maw full of long yellowed fangs.

“Son of a bitch,” Alyaa cried out, thrusting her axe forward. The wolf ducked under the clumsy blow and surged forward, terribly quick. Its jaws locked around Alyaa’s waist and she felt sharp teeth sink painfully into her hips.
A throwing star suddenly flew from Kazdan’s hand, sinking into the wolf’s flank. The huge beast howled in pain, releasing Alyaa and taking a step back.
“Run!” Zoltan shouted. “Go! Get to the cabin!” With that, the turron was gone, flying to the door of the cabin and throwing it open. Edward followed, slipping into the musty-smelling shack.
The cabin was sparsely furnished, containing only a bed, desk and wardrobe. Zoltan desperately threw open the wardrobe, and let out a cry of relief when he found a bundle of crossbow bolts.

The enormous wolf roared and charged forward, striking at Lilith with a huge paw. Lilith dodged nimbly out of the way, and Kazdan took the opportunity to slash at the wolf’s back with his sabre.
“Run!” Lilith hissed in common, jabbing a dagger into the wolf’s shoulder. In retaliation, the wolf slammed a paw into Lilith, driving the darkling back.
“Get in the fucking cabin,” Alyaa growled at Kazdan, staggered for the shack herself, hands clutched over her bleeding sides. With a grunt, Kazdan turned and charged for the hut.
“Get in the cabin!” Zoltan called out in ethereal. Lilith turned and ran to the shack. As she ducked into the doorway, Zoltan unleashed a crossbow bolt which slammed into the wolf’s neck. Zoltan fell to one side, and Alyaa threw the cabin door closed.

Edward began to throw the drawers of the desk open, finding two of them empty and the third locked. The door to the cabin suddenly shook as the wolf slammed into it. Dust poured from the door, but Alyaa threw all her weight against the door, holding it closed.
Kazdan suddenly appeared next to Edward, swiftly kicking the locked drawer. There was another roar and loud thud at the door, but again, Alyaa held it closed. Edward yanked the drawer open, then recoiled in horror as a hairy, corpulent spider spat a string of viscous fluid at him. The substance landed on Edward’s hand and he let out a cry of pain as an intense burning sensation sunk deep into his flesh.
Panting, Edward moved back to the drawer. The spider was gone, and there, at the back of the drawer, was a pale blue glass Orb. Grimacing, Edward seized the Orb, and all at once, the vicious barking and snarling of the wolf subsided, abating to a low growl.

Edward turned towards the door, holding the Orb out. Kazdan watched closely as the former policeman slowly walked across the small room.
“Open the door,” Edward said quietly.
“Are you fucking insane!?” the woman snarled.
“It’s a hunch,” Edward whispered. “Just a hunch.”
“I don’t want to die for a hunch!”
“You get out of the way.”
Shaking her head, Alyaa swung the door open, ducking behind it as she did. A quarrel suddenly whizzed from Zoltan’s crossbow, flying wide and disappearing into the woods. The wolf paid this little heed, stepping forward. Its huge head entered the cabin, growling low in its throat.
Suddenly, Lilith flew from the shadows, driving one of her daggers into the side of the wolf’s neck.

Edward looked into the Orb, concentrating as hard as he could in the confusion, but saw nothing but a heavy glass sphere.
Alyaa stepped around the door, swinging her axe down. Part of the wolf’s ear fell to the ground in a spurt of blood, and the beast howled in pain. Another quarrel flew from Zoltan’s crossbow, this time striking the wolf in the snout. Lilith also slashed out at the wolf, cutting a deep gash into its neck with one of her daggers.
His eyes wide, sweat pouring down his face, Edward stalked forward, holding the Orb as far from his body as he could. When he neared the wolf, it began to slink backwards, its head withdrawing entirely from the shack.
“Leave!” Edward cried desperately, but the wolf stayed the same distance from him, moving back only when he moved forward.

With an almost animalistic roar, Alyaa suddenly burst from the cabin. Edward turned to see the wild woman bury her axe in the wolf’s skull. The beast’s howl of pain was cut short, and it thumped to the floor. Alyaa’s axe slipped from its head, blood and morsels of brain dribbling from its curved edge.
As Edward looked down at the great beast in stunned silence, he remembered Entat’s words about the Orbs and their Guardians. He glanced at the blue Orb in his hand, now sure that it was the Orb of Hagoph, then at the huge silver wolf on the ground. As impossible as it seemed, Edward believed that they had just killed the first Guardian – the great beast Yarwae.



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