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The Diversion

Spring: Year 261

Inside the Hall of Haygreth Grimward, a young Daughter of Gaia worked desperately to heal the warriors of her clan. A girl of only sixteen summers, her blood encrusted hands shook and her stomach turned, but she managed to maintain her composure in the face of such horrors. Though tears ran down her cheeks and her heart pounded within her chest, still she kept death at bay with her magic.

A truce had been called, to gather the dead and tend the wounded. As she worked, the girl saw two warriors pull a boy out from underneath an overturned table. One of the warriors slung the skinny body over his shoulder like a side of meat, its youthful features permanently frozen in a mask of fear, pain, and death. He looked to be about the same age as the girl, herself.

“There are more wounded being brought in.” said the High Priestess, “Now that they have cleared that body, go flip that table back so we can lay someone upon it.”

The novice healer nodded silently, her jaw still agape at the sight of the dead boy. As she struggled with all her might to flip the heavy banquet table by herself, she was startled to find that the upside down table had concealed a pile of human entrails. She gasped, and nearly dropped the table on her own feet. Having just learned to read entrails, she was horrified not by the gut pile itself, but rather what it spelled out.

“What are you staring at?” snapped the old crone, as she crutched over to see.

“Nothing.” muttered the girl, kicking the entrails into a jumbled mess, “Nothing at all, High Priestess.

“Well get that table cleaned off, and do it quickly! They’re bringing in your cousin. She’s been terribly wounded in an honor duel.”


Eight Months Later:

Wargah Grimward and her younger cousin, Alvi, watched from the shadows. What the two Ulven were doing was certainly treason. There was no one else to turn to, though. Haygreth Grimward, Wargah’s father, hadn’t been the same since he had made his declaration of war. He’d been locking himself away and the only person he really seemed to have time for was the old Blackwing High Priestess. On the few occasions where Wargah had been able to speak with him he seemed not only distant, but almost confused. He had the weary, unsteady look of a warrior who had seen too much, and always seemed to be focusing on something behind the person he was talking to. He had given much of his authority to Khulgar Graytide, and to Corvo Blackwing, the High Priestess’s son.

Wargah Grimward had lost her status as a pack leader to Corvo. Following the honor duel against that Watchwolf, she had been branded with runes of shame and cowardice. Even her closest friends shunned her. She was secretly afraid that her father’s condition was her fault, but after her cousin had revealed the terrible secret read in that Longfang boy’s entrails, she doubted it was that simple.

“Well,” she said to her cousin, Alvi, “I’m going to approach them. They might kill me. If they do, try to stay hidden.”

Wargah raised her hood to protect her head from the cold of night. After the ritualistic shaving and branding following that honor duel, her hair was beginning to come in again, but she still found that her head was always cold. Wargah rose to her full height and moved out into the path of the travelers.

“Look sharp!” rasped Ylsa, “There is someone on the path ahead of us.”

The column began to reform as its Captains called it to a halt. The Longfangs and Watchwolves at the front of the formation began interlocking shields, while the men of Vandregon broke into two groups facing either flank.

“It could be an ambush.” growled the leader, “William, Venator. Get off the trail. Clear the danger area by at least five-hundred paces to the West, then set up a perimeter. Protect the clerics and the Phoenix. Right Flank, March!”

Wargah Grimward stared at the unblinking wall in front of her. Not a single shield or spear wavered in the slightest. They could have been statues, but for the billowing and flapping of their cloaks and furs in the winter wind, and the occasional jet of steamy breath in the moonlight.

Alvi watched from the shadows, and tried not to make any noise as she cried. She was certain that she was about to see her cousin die. There were already Longfang scouts sneaking up behind her. In fact…

“Don’t move a muscle, girl.” Whispered Ylsa to Alvi, running the flat of her short sword across the terrified Grimward’s chin, “And don’t make a sound.”

Alvi tried to throw up as quietly as she could.

On the trail, Wargah’s teeth chattered as she struggled to steel her resolve. She hoped her voice wouldn’t break.

“I’m from Clan Grimward, and I have come alone. I have a message for your leader.”

“Alone, huh?” shouted Ylsa, dragging Alvi to her feet by her hood and causing the poor girl to shriek and squeal in terror as she clawed at the drawstring that tightened on her neck, “Then I suppose you don’t know this girl?”

Wargah heard the creak of a cold bow being drawn off to her left. She froze. This couldn’t get any worse.

“If you have a message from Clan Grimward then you can tell it to me.” growled a familiar voice as a figure pushed its way to the front of the shield wall, “I am Raskolf Vakr, the Voice of the Watchwolves.”

It had just gotten worse.

“Identify yourself, Grimward messenger!” he snarled.

Wargah swallowed hard, clenched her fists for a moment, and took a deep breath.

“Wargah.” she said, “Wargah Grimward, daughter of Clanleader Haygreth Grimward.”

Raskolf shuddered and cracked his knuckles in the cold air as Wargah threw back her hood.

“I came here to warn you.” she said, forgetting completely what she had rehearsed in her head when she pictured herself meeting with anyone but him, “I came here to warn you that you are being hunted as we speak, and to deliver this young Daughter of Gaia novice to you. She has seen things which confirm the portents your High Priestess spoke of.”

“Ylsa!” said Raskolf, “Bring that prisoner to the rear of the formation. Is there anyone else out there?”

“No, Raskolf. Just these two. No signs of anyone traveling with them.”

“Excellent work.”

Alvi was rudely deposited at the feet of a large, heavily armored warrior. He bared his teeth. His fangs were unusually long. Alvi’s mind raced. The big Longfang leaned down over her cowering form and wrinkled his nose. He started sniffing her and narrowed his eyes. Standing back to his full height, he unclasped his fur cloak and set it down. Other warriors had gathered around and were watching. The big man began gesturing with his hands at his chest, as if he were panto-miming the removal of a garment. Alvi froze, and her heart skipped a beat. The warrior began growling and making inhuman sounds as he gestured furiously, motioning as if tugging at his chest. Alvi completely lost all composure and began sobbing hysterically. She wondered how many of them would take a turn at her body before it was over, and whether or not they would kill her when they were done. Powerful hands clamped down on her shoulders and un-clasped her cloak, slowly pulling it away. Alvi clenched her eyes and shivered. There was suddenly a heavy weight on her shoulders, and she was very warm. She heard heavy footsteps walking away and realized that she was wearing the Longfang’s fur cloak.

A heavyset warrior with a scraggly beard glanced over his shoulder at her.

“What’s your name?” asked Yawn.

“Alvi.” she stuttered, tears running down her face.

“You look like Veera.” he said.

A stone’s throw away, Harlok Longfang knelt down, opened his waterskin, and started scrubbing the vomit off of Alvi’s cloak and onto a moss-covered rock. It had been so long, that he’d forgotten what his sister looked like. At least, he’d forgotten what she looked like before the Mordok had got through with her. He’d never be able to forget that image. Now, as he knelt and scrubbed the Grimward’s cloak, the corners of his mouth turned up into a smile. A pleasant memory suddenly returned to him, and he closed his eyes. Across from him, crouching in the river, was his big sister Veera, smiling and splashing him as they did their mother’s laundry together. Beneath his helmet, Harlok’s eyes watered just the slightest bit, but no one saw. Besides, it wasn’t a tear. It was just a drop of water from the stream.

Raskolf had broken away from the formation to meet Wargah in the middle of the trail. There were at least three arrows drawn on her. She tried to be brave, but was discovering just how much harder that was without her pack flanking her. She couldn’t believe the rage in the Watchwolf’s eyes, and was beginning to wonder exactly what his relationship was to that woman she’d killed.

“You’ve given me no reason to trust you, Wargah. My mission is too important to be sidetracked with your trickery.”

“Ambassador,” she said, swallowing her pride and kneeling in submission, “I swear to you that I am telling the truth. I swear on the honor of…”

Raskolf struck her with the back of his hand so hard that she stumbled onto her back.

“You dare speak of honor after the treachery that you have done?” Raskolf drew his sword, “Look at you! Even your own kind cannot trust you, and they have branded you to warn the rest of the world not to trust you!”

“Go ahead!” she cried, pulling back her cloak to expose her neck, “Go ahead and do it! It is within your right to put me out of my misery. I have nothing to hide! I have been dishonored! I have had everything taken from me, even my pack! I am already broken and here I lie, defeated! You know what that is like, Raskolf.”

Wargah saw nothing but blackness, flashes of red, and then, as her vision came back, branches reaching up into the spinning starry sky. There was something wrong with her jaw. It didn’t even hurt, it was just wrong. It felt almost as if it wasn’t there at all. She couldn’t move the lower half of her face at all. Her neck and chest were hot and wet.

“Don’t ever compare yourself to me, you wretched creature!” shouted Raskolf, “You are a coward! You didn’t lose your honor! You never had any!”

Wargah tried to respond with something, but her face didn’t work and all that came out were pitiful and wet noises. Raskolf had kicked her so hard that he had broken her jaw.

“Rhodi!” shouted Raskolf, “Come here. Give me your hammer!”

“Brother,” said Rhodi, “you need to calm down.”

“Just give me your hammer!”

“No, Raskolf. We don’t kill messengers.”

“I’m not going to kill her!” yelled Raskolf, “I’m going to break her legs and send her slithering back to her father like the viper she is!”

Raskolf tried to grab the hammer from his brother, but was unable to wrench it from the blacksmith’s grasp.

“Are you done, brother?” growled Rhodi, “Your daughter is watching.”

Elise had squirmed up to the front of the shield wall and was peeking out. Her eyes were huge and wet.

“Anjan has faith in you, Raskolf.” growled Rhodi, “So did Imglyf. You are an Ambassador now, whether you like it or not. Life will never be as simple as it was when we were Soldiers. You are the Voice of the Watchwolves. What of those words you spoke in the Longhouse of Grimward? Did you not really believe them? Were you just saying them?”

Raskolf looked toward the shield wall. The eyes of the Watchwolves were upon him, as were those of the Nightrivers and the Longfangs. Humans and Syndar had moved up to witness the brutal scene between Raskolf and Wargah.

William and Venator of Vandregon broke ranks and approached Raskolf.

“Raskolf,” Venator said, “revenge can never satisfy. It is a thirst that makes fools of us. For much of my life I searched for my father, eager to pour his blood like wine from a cask. That thirst consumed my heart, like the desire of a drunkard, and caused me to leave naught but pain and regret in my wake.”

“Are you calling me a drunk?” Raskolf growled.

“I’m saying that you are not in control of yourself right now. You need to sober up, or step down.” Venator snorted.

The two Ulven locked eyes in a stare-down.

“And then who is going to lead this mission?” Raskolf asked, baring his fangs.

“I will!” exclaimed William, stepping between the two and pushing them apart, his voice lowered to a whisper, “I will, if need be. Raskolf, Father Aegeus believed in this. Look around you. Look at how far we have come. We have gathered an Army. It is an Army of Ulven, Syndar, and Humans. Who would have believed it possible? We have done it. You have done it. You were integral to it.”

Raskolf suddenly looked away. He felt ashamed.

“Father Aegeus told me something before he left for the peace summit, Raskolf. He told me that when called to lead, not everyone would have the stomach for it. You do. You’ve proven it before. We never would have gotten this far without you. Father Aegeus believed that we could have peace with the Grimwards. If not today, Raskolf, then perhaps someday yet. We cannot let our emotions get the best of us. Our mission tonight is too important. Once the Lich is out of the way, and the undead threat purged from these lands, then we can focus on the war with Clan Grimward, and ending it. One way, or another.”

It was silent for a few moments, save the wind in the trees, and the rustling of dried leaves in early winter.

“You speak the truth, my friends.” Raskolf sighed, “I am sorry. Once again, I have failed to recognize my duty before my pride, and my hatred.”

Raskolf noticed that Elise had crept up on them. She was about halfway between them and the formation. Her hand was to her ear as though she was straining to eavesdrop on their quiet conversation now that Raskolf was done yelling at Rhodi. Raskolf ignored her.

“Raskolf,” whispered William, “we all have our moments of doubt. Believe me. I know. But a wise man told me that no matter how hopeless it seemed, men like us must not crumble. Being a military leader is not so different from being a man of the cloth. Our men must have faith in us, Raskolf Vakr, Voice of the Watchwolves.”

“What are you talking about, father?” squeaked Elise.

Raskolf looked into the eyes of William, then Venator. Rhodi placed a hand upon Raskolf’s shoulder and nodded knowingly.

“We’re just coming up with a plan, Elise.” said Raskolf, “We have to split our forces now, and figure out what to do with the prisoners. Go back by Drifa.”

“Yes, father.”

“What now, Raskolf?” asked Venator.

“I will address the troops, and we will come up with a plan.”

Raskolf turned to face the troops.

“Rhodi,” he said, “Put the prisoner in custody of the Longfangs. Let her accomplice tend to her injury. Then call the army to attention in a block formation, order of march on the trail, but facing the East.”

As Rhodi called all elements back into formation, Raskolf thanked William and Venator, then sent them to rejoin the men of Vandregon. In less than a minute, the entire Army was back in formation and ready to march. Rhodi bellowed a facing movement, and the entire army turned to the East as their element leaders and Captains echoed the command. Guidons were brought to attention, and Raskolf began to walk the length of the formation.

“I meant what I said in the Longhouse of Haygreth Grimward.” he shouted, “I tried to stop the future from coming to pass. I tried to beat the portents. But now, despite our efforts, the Undead are here. And now, despite our efforts, we are at war with the Grimward clan. We face conflict on two fronts. I thought that I had failed you. Perhaps some might say that I have. But now that I look at this assemblage, I realize that our cause has not failed. I see you all standing here, shoulder to shoulder; Ulven, Human, and Syndar. I see Ulven in the ranks of Vandregon! I see a Syndar in an Ulven pack. Even if I have failed you, it matters not. The fate of this land never rested upon my shoulders to begin with! It rests upon yours, as you stand together as brothers and sisters. This coalition may be our last hope to defeat the Lich and his Army. As I look upon you, I no longer see Ulven, or Syndar, or Humans. I see the Army of the Free Peoples of the Eastern Continent. That is the beacon. That is the shining and guiding light in this, our darkest hour! Let us make it into our greatest triumph! The most hopeless battles make for the best songs, anyhow. Warriors of Mardrun, are you with me!?”

A hearty cheer went up from amongst the assemblage. Rhodi leaned on his hammer and smiled. He called the troops to attention, and reformed the blocks so that they were facing the direction of march. As the noise died down, Raskolf signaled for the Captains of all the factions to approach him.

“We have word from these prisoners that a war-pack from Clan Grimward is hunting this army as we speak. I’ll take my Watchwolves of Luna and the Longfangs with me to confront them. We will do whatever we can to stall them. Once you’ve destroyed the Lich, retreat North into Watchwolf territory. Drifa and Elise will show you the way. No matter what happens to us, don’t look back, and don’t try to find us. Accomplish your mission, and then fall back into friendly territory.”

The seasoned veterans of Vandregon, Nightriver, the Order of Arnath, and House Phoenix shared knowing glances and then took turns clasping forearms.

“Within the hour, we purge the undead from these lands!” shouted William, “It ends tonight!”

A cheer rang out over the assemblage.

“Yes.” whispered Venator to himself, “It all ends tonight.”

Greki and Ozvolt searched the village of Ulslog, on the Red Squirrel River. The two Graytide warriors had been sent in as scouts. The rest of the Warpack had formed a perimeter around the small fishing hamlet.

“It sure is getting dark early, isn’t it friend?” said Ozvolt.

“Aye.” said Greki.

The village was strangely quiet, and totally dark. Not a single fire or lantern burned, save the torches carried by the two warriors, and the only sound was the crunch of their boots upon the cold earth. Normally, they would have been greeted by guards, or perhaps even laughing children if the sun wasn’t too low in the sky. Lycon and Corvo had sent the two scouts ahead when the warpack approached the village and realized that all the chimneys were smokeless.

“Not even a dog to bark at us, friend.” muttered Ozvolt.

“Aye.”

The two warriors continued their search of the village. There was not a soul to be found. The huts and outlying buildings all seemed to be intact. Food had been left on tables, and items of wealth left out in the open.

“If this was a raid, my friend, the traitors would have taken the food and treasure.” said Ozvolt.

“Aye.”

Eventually they made their way to the longhouse of the village Chieftain. Unlike the other buildings, the great hall had been severely damaged, as though besieged. The great doors were smashed to pieces and had been pushed into the entryway. Ozvolt looked to Greki.

“Watch my back, friend.” he whispered.

“Aye.” said Greki.

Ozvolt drew one of his throwing axes and placed it in his left hand, behind his shield. With his right hand, he extended the torch into the doorway and stepped quietly over the wreckage of wood and iron. Shadow danced and leapt about the room as if evil spirits were diving for cover from the torchlight. Solid oaken tables looked to have been piled up against the front doors as a barricade, but had been pushed back by some terrible strength, leaving ruts in the floor. The tangle of overturned furniture made movement difficult, and the two warriors tripped and stumbled as if the very shadows themselves clutched at their ankles.

“I don’t like this.” whispered Ozvolt, “If we get much farther in, I fear we will become entrapped in this maze of furniture.”

“Aye.” said Greki.

The great hall opened up once the two warriors were clear of the barricades. As the light of their torches illuminated the hall, the warriors decided very quickly that they had seen enough, and stumbled back the way they had come as fast as they could.

“We have to report this to Lycon!” panted Ozvolt.

“Aye!” said Greki.

Lycon Graytide and Corvo Blackwing had moved to higher ground, and now looked down into the valley below. They had sent scouts in to search the village and confirm it, but both were pretty sure that something very bad had happened there. Not a single chimney smoked, and every window was dark. Lycon Graytide, the one-armed veteran, may have been past his prime, but no one would ever say that to his face. He was strong despite his disability, and quick to anger. After the loss of his arm, he had resigned his leadership of the Graytides to Khulgar, but he was still a fierce and respected elder.

Khulgar was difficult to train. It had taken years before the veteran felt that anything he’d taught the headstrong warrior was sticking. Corvo Blackwing, however, was different. He soaked up information like a sponge. Not only that, but he possessed a certain vigilance that Lycon had never been able to instill in Khulgar. He had an analytical mind too, that Lycon wished to groom. It wasn‘t something that Lycon had ever possessed, himself, but he recognized it and hoped to exercise it.

“Maybe the village was attacked, and they had to abandon it. What do you think, Corvo?” said Lycon.

“It would seem an obvious conclusion, but at the same time, it doesn’t make sense.” said Corvo, “The gates are open. If they were under attack, wouldn’t they have closed their walls?”

“Not if they ran away. Maybe there was no time. It could have been a surprise attack.”

“True, Lycon,” said Corvo, “It could have been a surprise attack. In any case, though, I don’t think anyone escaped.”

“Why is that?” asked Lycon.

“Their canoes are all still sitting on the riverbank.”

Lycon cleared his throat and fidgeted. He had missed that.

“I was trying to be optimistic.” he grunted, “My mate grew up in this village.”

“Do you like your in-laws?” asked Corvo.

“Not really.” sighed Lycon.

“Well,” said Corvo, “even if there is no room for optimism, you can still look on the bright side.”

“I beg your pardon!?” exclaimed Lycon.

“You won’t have to visit them anymore.”

“Don’t be so irreverent, Corvo.” said Lycon, “This is serious.”

“Of course. Of course. Forgive me, Lycon.”

It was quiet for a moment, save the cawing of crows. Lycon couldn’t really fault Corvo’s attempts at levity. At least he had a sense of humor, unlike Khulgar.

“My woman is never going to let me hear the end of this.” groaned Lycon.

“Why?” asked Corvo, “It isn’t your fault.”

“Yes it is. I should have known it was happening and stopped it.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s impossible.”

“Doesn’t matter.” said Lycon, “I’ll still get blamed for it, and she’ll never let me forget how I didn’t save her parents.”

“I don’t understand.” said Corvo.

“You wouldn’t. You’re single.”

Mentor and protege smirked at each other and then started laughing out loud.

“Well, Lycon,” said Corvo, “I hope to change that, soon.”

“Oh, right.” laughed Lycon, “Haygreth’s niece, Velma.”

“Her name is Alvi,” said Corvo, “and I think I have her attention, although I must confess that I am a little dis-heartened that she didn’t see me off when we left. I couldn’t find her anywhere, either.”

“I’m sure you’ll get her attention, even if it means that your mother has to brew a love potion for you!”

“Shhh!” snickered Corvo, “Don’t tell anyone.”

The two chuckled a bit before falling silent.

“In all seriousness though, Elder Lycon,” he said un-stoppering his water-skin, “will you really get blamed for this?”

“If I do I’ll just blame Khulgar.”

Corvo’s eyes widened as he choked on his water. Lycon howled with laughter and slapped him on his back, making the coughing fit even worse.

“What in the name of Gaia’s saggy tits are two laughing at?” snarled Khulgar Graytide as he stormed up the hill.

“Nothing, mother.” grinned Lycon, who was probably the only person who dared to ever make fun of the Packleader to his face.

“Well I’m glad that you think the loss of one of our villages is so damned funny.”

The wind picked up. There was a flurry of activity below as two figures sprinted out of the village and back towards the perimeter as fast as they could.

“Looks like we are about to get some answers, Lycon.” coughed Corvo.

“We’d better head back down.” said Lycon, squinting his eyes as he sniffed the early winter air.

The three warriors began making their way back down into the valley.

“Hey, Lycon,” asked Khulgar, “didn’t your in-laws live here?”

The other two warriors suddenly burst into obnoxious laughter.

Khulgar’s face twisted in confusion to their reaction. He growled unintelligibly and hurried ahead to greet the scouts, leaving Corvo to help the one-armed elder down the hill by himself.

Lycon and Corvo stared at the bloodied walls of the longhouse.

“What does it say?” grunted Lycon, who, like most Ulven, couldn’t read.

Corvo silently put the words together in his head.

“I don’t know.” he said, “I can’t read it.”

“Well,” said Lycon, “let’s call Khulgar in. Maybe he can give it a try.”

“No!” said Corvo, “No. Khulgar won’t be able to read it if I can’t. Don’t bother.”

“Very well.” said Lycon, “What do you propose we do, then?”

“We will come back later, with my mother. She will be able to read this. It is magic.”

Khulgar had just moved the rest of the troops into the village. It was dark now. He consulted the Daughter of Gaia and asked her to commune for answers. He then spoke with his best trackers and began analyzing the village.

It was clean. It wasn’t ransacked. The only building that was damaged was the Chieftain’s longhouse. The trackers reported that an army had passed right by the village, but did not appear to have entered. There were, however, signs of a mass exodus of the population, which left a lot of blood in their trail and then either joined, preceded, or followed the army outside of the valley. If the population had fled, they had done so on foot, rather than take their boats. A theory was forming in Khulgar’s mind. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps the humans had attacked from the river. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Packleader,” said the Daughter of Gaia, raising her chin high, but keeping her voice low, “the bones hint that it was an act of compassion that betrayed these people. I know nothing more, b-but I think the hungry ghosts have been here.”

There was something weird about the way she was talking. Her speech was strange, and disjointed. Khulgar raised an eyebrow. He’d known this young woman since she was a child.

“I d-don’t know why I…we think so,” she stuttered, “and I-I-I cannot be certain, but we just feel it.”

“Thank you.” said Khulgar, “Are you alright?”

“Y-yes.”

Khulgar hesitated for a moment. Growing up in a world where magic and reality intersected bred two types of people. Some embraced magic, others feared or distrusted it. Khulgar had always been one of the latter. He was about to turn away from the Daughter when she suddenly grabbed his arm. She had a strange and distant look in her eye. It unsettled him.

She started breathing heavily. Her breathing got faster and faster and she began crushing Khulgar’s arm with her grip. The Daughter’s neck bent and she arched her back. Khulgar tried to break away from her, but she held him fast. An unearthly rattling croaking sound boiled forth from her throat and gasping mouth, her chest heaved, and she fell to the ground in a full body seizure.

Grimward warriors scattered and ran for cover. Everyone had heard tales of spell-casters reaching critical mass and exploding. Old wives tales, of course, but then that phrase carries different meaning in a world of magic, where the dominant intelligent society is rather matriarchal in structure. The most powerful spell casters on Mardrun were, for the most part, old wives, themselves.

The Daughter didn’t explode this time, but she did bleed from the ears, nose, and mouth.

Khulgar had made up his mind. This was an evil place, and everyone who lived here was dead. He was just ordering his troops to put the place to the torch, when Lycon and Corvo intervened. Their argument would have lasted longer, but for the timely return of a small Grimward scouting pack.

A combined warpack of Longfangs and Watchwolves was just minutes away.

Khulgar’s pack was mobilized and heading down the trail in less than thirty seconds. They would have to burn it later.

When Ylsa, Dria, and Azra came sprinting back, they had company close behind. The three scouts rapidly made their way up the narrow pass and rejoined the ranks. A few of the more eager Grimwards made the mistake of trying to follow them through the narrow stone corridor, and suddenly found themselves face to face with the enemy in an enclosed space. Their panicked retreat back to their own ranks was funny to watch, but brought no laughter from the Watchwolves. Raskolf had positioned them in the best place he could find. There was a narrow avenue of approach, where the Grimwards would have trouble moving large numbers of troops at once, yet the defenders had a decent enough escape route along a ridge and down into a draw should they be forced to flee. Raskolf had figured that they would be outnumbered, though he didn’t know how badly. His scouts had reported an estimate to him upon their return. It was worse than three to one. Raskolf wasn’t surprised. He figured that this army was intended to engage the combined Ulven, Human, and Syndar force that he had just split. Raskolf made his way to the front of the formation to parley. If he couldn’t slow them down with words, the Watchwolves and Longfangs would be sure to make one heck of a speed bump. The thing with speed bumps, though, is that inevitably they get run over.

Khulgar berated his younger warriors as they stumbled down the narrow pass.

“Fools!” he bellowed, “They had you dead to rights. You’re only alive because they let you run!”

Lycon caught one by the collar and snarled in his face. Spinning the terrified novice around, his laughter boomed through the rocky terrain.

“The Great Wolf doesn’t remember those who died of stupidity!” he cackled.

Khulgar and Lycon pushed their way to the front. Three figures had left the enemy ranks and stood at the choke-point.

“It’s going to be a bloodbath getting them out of there.” grumbled Lycon.

“Not if we can flank them.” whispered Corvo.

“That isn’t going to work. We can’t get along side them or behind them. There is no room to maneuver.” said Khulgar.

“Of course there is.” said Corvo, “It’s just a really long walk.”

“We don’t have time.” growled Khulgar.

“Sure we do. They want to talk, see?”

Khulgar was about to protest further, but Corvo was already running back through the ranks.

“Don’t worry,” said Lycon, “You’ll be fine. I’ll go keep an eye on Corvo and make sure he doesn’t get lost.”

Khulgar curled his lip at the one-armed elder. The Graytide Packleader grabbed a couple of guards and set off to talk with the enemy.

“Now,” he thought to himself, “all I have to do is kill some time.”

“Here comes Khulgar Graytide.” said Rhodi.

“Great.” said Raskolf.

“Now,” thought Raskolf to himself, “all I have to do is kill some time.”

Raskolf stood in the middle, flanked by Rhodi and Stanrick. Stanrick was trying to fix his helmet. It had been damaged earlier when he made a comment about Harlok finally having someone to talk with now that Wargah was traveling with them.

“Lycon and that other warrior fell back and took some troops with them.” whispered Raskolf to Stanrick, “They must know another way to get up here. I want the Longfangs to take the prisoners and fall back before we get flanked.”

“Ambassador, the Longfangs aren’t going to abandon-”

“Just go, Stanrick. You aren’t my bodyguard anymore. A good number of the Watchwolves of Luna are here. If we die tonight, I need the Longfangs to not only deliver the prisoners, but to help protect our borders. I thought perhaps we could use those prisoners as leverage, but things are going to get ugly. I can feel it.”

“Then you should go, Ambassador, and the Longfangs will hold here.”

“Just go, damnit!” growled Raskolf, “It’s my turn to hold, and your turn to get the important people out of here.”

Khulgar was almost within earshot.

“Raskolf!” hissed Stanrick.

“Be gone from my sight!” shouted Raskolf as he wound up and backhanded Stanrick.

Osvolt and Greki, Khulgar’s bodyguards, moved their hands to their steel and stepped in front of him.

“Such a dastardly and treacherous plot I would have no part in, you cur!” they heard Raskolf shout at one of his guards.

Stanrick was confused. He was also blind, as his broken helmet had been spun about. He stumbled back towards the ranks.

“I’ll not have the likes of thee stand at my side under a flag of truce, and I’ll never trust you to stand behind me either! Khulgar has come to us to parley, and my Watchwolves will certainly respect that. I don’t need you, or your clanless pack!”

Khulgar stood, frozen in place behind his guards. Stanrick pulled off his helmet and threw it at Yawn. From within the ranks of the Watchwolves and Longfangs there was quite the commotion.

Raskolf and Khulgar approached each other.

“Khulgar Graytide.” said Raskolf.

“Raskolf Vakr.” said Khulgar.

The two silently stared at each other for a while.

“Sure is getting dark earlier.” said Osvolt to Rhodi.

“It is the will of the Sun and the Moon.” replied Rhodi, “My people keep track of that sort of thing.”

“Aye.” said Greki.

“The winter months favor the Moon,” said Rhodi, “and her favored children. The darkness gives us the advantage.”

No one said anything. Behind Raskolf and Rhodi, the Longfangs were beginning to fall out of the formation.

“Khulgar,” Raskolf finally said, “this is the point where you tell us that we are trespassing on your land and make some demands.”

“I thought that you weren’t supposed to lead warpacks anymore, Raskolf?” replied Khulgar.

“I’m not. I’m an ambassador now. I’m supposed to be making peace.”

“And yet,” said Khulgar, “here you stand in front of a warpack, slapping warriors and yelling insults at them.”

“That’s right.” said Rhodi, “I’m the brilliant military leader. I’m here to give you a fight. Care for a drink?”

Rhodi unstoppered a drink and took a swig before offering it to Greki. Greki accepted it despite Khulgar’s gestures to the contrary. His eyes widened and he coughed a few times.

“See,” said Rhodi, “right in the liver!”

“Aye.”

“Enough of this foolishness.” growled Khulgar, “I’m not here to play your games.”

“I’m not playing games, Khulgar.” said Raskolf, “I’m only in your territory because we followed the hungry ghosts here.”

“I’m not falling for your tricks again, Raskolf.”

“It isn’t a trick. Yes, we are here looking for a fight, but no, it is not with you.”

“Your silver tongue will get you nowhere with these ears, Raskolf. You have given me no reason to trust you. In the past I trusted you with not only my life, but my honor, and where has it gotten me? I delivered your words to these humans you love so much. They spit on me, slapped me, mocked me, and chased me from a place where I was forbidden to draw a weapon upon them to defend myself. I was publicly humiliated because I trusted you and your Priestess. They don’t want peace. To even try to make peace with those savages was folly. I should have known better. Treaties and papers cannot protect us. They didn’t protect my mate, they didn’t protect her clan, and they will not protect my people either. We shouldn’t even be playing their political games anyway. This is our land, not theirs.”

“Khulgar, I swear to you that I never meant for that to happen to you.”

“Oh, you didn’t? Just like you didn’t mean to lead the Tundra Wolves into that ambush? Just like you didn’t mean to start a civil war.”

“I didn’t start this war.” growled Raskolf.

“Sure you did.” sneered Khulgar, “Your words were the spark that lit the fire, and you made me deliver them, you coward. I even believed them myself, for a while. You’re just that damn good, I guess, Raskolf. Even after all the times we fought together, and all the times you’ve let me down, I still let you fool me into thinking that we would be on the same side when this war started. I don’t know how I could have been so blind, but now that my eyes can see, I’m glad that it’s all out in the open now. We are enemies.”

“We shouldn’t be fighting! We shouldn’t be enemies! I never wanted this.”

“You’re clever, Raskolf, but I knew that from fighting alongside you in the past. You are also a good liar, but you will never be as good a liar as those invaders who have tricked you into serving as a tool in the destruction of your own people. They’ve tricked you into starting a civil war, and once the dust settles, they will not have to deal with as many of us. The battle hasn’t even started yet, but whether my warriors fall against yours today matters not. Our blood is already on your hands unless I can do what you failed to do, and change the portents of a High Priestess.”

Raskolf shuddered and clenched his fists.

“I’m not here to make demands. I’m not here to ask you to leave. You may be clever, Raskolf, but you are backed into a corner and I outnumber you significantly, unless your allies can summon this Undead army of theirs to come and save you.”

Khulgar turned his back to Raskolf.

Ozvolt started backing down the hill after his Packleader. Greki lingered a moment and held out the bottle to Rhodi. Rhodi silently motioned for him to keep it. Greki nodded sadly and looked down at his feet. He took a deep breath and raised his chin as if he were about to say something to Rhodi, but was silenced before any words could leave his lips as Ozvolt yanked on his cloak, choking him and causing him to stumble backwards. He managed not to drop the bottle. As Khulgar headed back down toward his troops, he did not look back.

“Khulgar!” shouted Raskolf.

The Graytide Packleader stopped in his tracks, but said nothing. He still did not face Raskolf.

“Remember the battle at Crooked Jaw?”

“I’m disappointed in you Raskolf. Calling in a favor won’t save you, or your warriors. Have you no dignity?”

“That’s not what I’m asking. I just want you to promise that if we fall, you will burn our bodies properly. I am weary of marching and fighting. I don’t want to continue to do so after I have died. I don’t want to suffer the same fate that the people of Ulslog did.”

Khulgar did not answer him. He just walked away.

The Longfangs and their prisoners made good time breaking out of formation and were soon heading down into the draw. They weren’t worried about stealth. They were just trying to move as quickly as they could. There was a lot of confusion at first, because Stanrick hadn’t the time to explain what was going on. Now that they were on the move, he was getting out of breath from explaining it over and over to warriors who were irritated to be retreating in the face of Khulgar and his pack.

As the Longfangs headed noisily into the draw, grumbling and squabbling among themselves about how they could hold the pass better than the Watchwolves, they suddenly, as a group, realized that they were being watched. It wasn’t because of some super instinctive sixth sense or anything, though. It was because Nikolai, Azra, and Dria, who had been scouting ahead of the formation, were now running straight back into the formation as fast as they could, pursued by an angry swarm of arrows. The non-discriminatory missile fire almost perforated poor Alvi, but she was protected by Harlok’s shield.

Grimward warriors boiled up the draw. The Longfangs were badly outnumbered, and clustered close together beneath shields as Magrat and Yawn hurried to place protection spells on the lightly armored packmates.

“Looks like Raskolf was right!” shouted Stanrick to Harlok as arrows thunked against their shields like hail during an autumn storm, “They found another way up! What do we do now? We can’t get down!”

Harlok grunted, pointed up the way they’d come, and shrugged.

“No.” said Nikolai, “Raskolf wanted us to leave for a reason. We have a mission.”

“We can’t leave-” started Azra, nearly drowned out by the howling Grimwards and the spatter and splintering of arrows, “Dammit, Magrat! Shoot back at them or something! Maybe that will get their heads down, or slow them down. We can’t leave. Even if we did break through, we would be abandoning the Watchwolves flank now.”

“We need to create a diversion!” growled Dria through clenched teeth.

“I thought this was the diversion?” said Yawn.

“The Watchwolves are the diversion.” said Stanrick.

“Well, their diversion isn’t going to work unless we can create a diversion for that diversion!” said Dria.

“GRAH! HRIGGLE NYAR!” snarled Harlok, panto-miming violently and jamming a knife into the dirt and drawing little “x’s” in the mud with his fingers, “KRYUNGRS WRPKCS”

“What did he say?” asked Nikolai.

“He said that Khulgar’s group was a diversion too.” grunted Yawn as he strained against a boulder and tried to budge it with his back.

Magrat was using a young Longfang novice for cover. Everytime she popped up from behind him and his shield, she dropped a Grimward warrior with one of her arrows. She was focusing on the archers and anyone else who didn’t have a shield.

“You better figure out what we are doing!” she shouted as she knocked another arrow, “They will be right on top of us in a moment.”

The muddy winter earth made a loud sucking and popping sound as Yawn pushed every muscle in his legs and core to the limit. Seeing the boulder budge just the slightest, Harlok rushed to help him push, followed closely behind by one of the younger Longfang warriors. The boulder popped and slurped as it pulled away from the cold wet earth, but the three warriors couldn’t quite get it to break free. An arrow shrieked in suddenly, and struck Yawn in the ribs, causing him to double over in pain. As he did so, the boulder began to settle back into the cradle of the earth, pushing the others back.

“Stanrick!” shouted Nikolai, “We need a decision!”

Military commanders throughout history have been forced to make many impromptu life or death decisions. Stanrick wasn’t really used to this sort of thing, but he remembered something he had overheard Raskolf say to William, once.

In combat, leaders only ever actually have three options, no matter what the situation boils down to, or how complicated it may appear at first glance. The three options are either to advance, hold, or fall back. Which ever one is most likely to accomplish the mission is the best one.

As the arrows thudded around and into the Longfangs, Stanrick suddenly felt a moment of clarity. Time seemed to slow down, and a plan materialized in his mind. He didn’t even remember thinking of it. It was just there, and seemed to him as though he’d been working it out for some time, actually. Stanrick looked to the ridge behind them.

“Stanrick!” shouted Nikolai.

Yawn bellowed with rage and pain, forcing every muscle in his body to tighten all at once as he heaved against the boulder with the sudden blinding might of a legend from the sagas. He didn’t get to see the carnage it caused, though. He was unconscious before it was even halfway down the slope.

“Nikolai!” said Stanrick, “I have a plan.”

Years of combat had hardened the Longfangs into a veteran warpack who knew when it was time to just follow orders and not ask questions, and the last five minutes of combat had taught the novices when to follow the lead of the veterans. Now was one of those times. Stanrick grabbed the two prisoners, ran to the edge of the ridge, and looked down. It wasn’t really a cliff. It was more like a really steep slope that probably would be awful to climb. At least, that was what he kept telling himself over and over again in his head. The terrain below were wetlands that fed the Red Squirrel River. The village of Ulslog could be seen not far away.

Stanrick waited until the Grimwards were almost to the top of the draw. He ordered the shield wall to open ranks, exposing himself and the prisoners to the advancing horde.

Lycon Graytide and Corvo Blackwing led the charge up the draw. They were almost within closing distance of the Longfangs when the enemy formation suddenly opened ranks and split in half, exposing two Longfang warriors and two Ulven women with their hands bound.

Harlok and Lycon recognized each other at exactly the same moment. An uncontrolled wail escaped Corvo’s lips as he recognized Alvi.

“That’s right.” thought Stanrick to himself, “I’ve got something you want. Come get it.”

Stanrick looked Wargah in the eyes.

“You aren’t with child or anything, are you?” he asked her.

Wargah shook her head no. She gave him a puzzled look, then glancing over the edge of the ridge, repeated the same gesture, though more vigorously as it dawned on her.

Stanrick Longfang’s boot was already heading for her chest. Alvi’s eyes were wide with terror as she watched her cousin’s un-graceful and traumatic tumble down the ridge.

An excruciating scream echoed through the countryside and actually froze the advancing horde in its tracks.

“Well,” said Stanrick quietly after a few seconds, “now we know that the fall is survivable. Harlok, go.”

Harlok grabbed the flailing and shrieking form of his prisoner, tucked her petite form into his chest behind his shield, and jumped. Seconds later, Yawn’s unconscious bulk was rolled over the edge, closely followed by the rest of the Longfangs. The Grimwards stood in shocked silence for at least a minute before Corvo fell to his knees and howled in agony and rage. His pack gave him a wide berth as he screamed and tore the dead winter grass from the earth by the roots.

The fall had caused some of the warriors to black out, but for Yawn it had done the exact opposite. He was wide awake now and his heart was racing. Somehow, he had wound up at the bottom of a very steep ridge. His packmates were lying in heaps all around him. A few of them weren’t moving. Yawn jumped to his feet and started shaking his friends awake. Some of them looked to be pretty badly injured. The Longfangs had tried a variety of methods to their descent. Some had just jumped, some had tried to run down really fast, and some had tried to slide down the slope. Regardless of their ingenuity, no one had made it more than halfway before they began rolling and bouncing.

Up on the ridge, Grimward warriors had rushed to the edge of the ridge, and looked down upon the battered Longfangs. There was a lot of murmuring, laughing, and exaggerated gesticulations on the part of the higher ground.

“They’re still alive!” exclaimed one warrior.

“I’ll fix that.” remarked an archer, drawing back his bow and leaning over the edge.

He loosed exactly one arrow before Corvo Blackwing’s shield broke into his eye socket and caused a blowout injury to his shooting eye.

“You’ll hit Alvi, you imbecile!” shrieked Corvo.

“They are getting away, Corvo.” growled Lycon.

Corvo looked down upon the battered Longfangs. The enemy was slowly retreating through the wetlands and towards Ulslog. Some of them limped, some clutched at their sides, and a few were being carried unconscious by the others.

“They’ll be out of range soon.” said Lycon.

“No.” said Corvo, “We will catch them. At that pace, we can go safely back down the draw, around the ridge, and still overtake them.”

“Forget about them!” yelled one of the Grimwards, “Khulgar is counting on us.”

“Yes.” agreed another, “My brother is fighting the traitors as we speak, and counting on us to flank them!”

Corvo snarled, drew his sword, and began storming off back down the draw.

“We aren’t letting them get away. They have two of our people. Not long ago, was not one of those women your packleader, and is not the other one a future priestess? Now follow me!”

“Lycon!” pleaded the Grimwards, “Talk some sense into your protege!”

Lycon stood silently at the top of the ridge for a moment, staring down at the limping silhouette of Harlok Longfang. With his remaining arm he reached across his chest and felt the emptiness where his other arm used to be. His lip curled into a snarl.

Shields cracked together and the Graytides pushed with all their might against the Watchwolf formation. It was an uphill battle, however, quite literally. The Graytides were not only fighting the confined space of the choke point, but gravity itself. The interlocked shields of the Watchwolves created an impenetrable wall. Spears and long axes flashed out from over the wall, and down on top of the Graytides, who simply couldn’t defend themselves from two separate angles at once. It was a deadly, bloody grind, and the wounded were beginning to pile up. Khulgar knew that they would never make any progress like this. The enemy had too good a position to defend, and while Khulgar outnumbered them, it certainly wasn’t by enough to win by attrition.

“Where is Corvo?” he wondered.

Back on the ridge, some of the Grimwards were still pleading with Lycon to talk some sense into Corvo, while yet others had already started following the Blackwing down into the draw. Lycon tore his eyes from his hated Longfang enemy below and turned to face the warriors who now looked to him in their moment of doubt.

“Corvo is the leader.” Lycon growled, “We will follow his lead and not question him.”

“But what about Khulgar?!” shouted a bearded veteran, nearly as old as Lycon.

Neither Corvo nor Lycon gave an answer. Within a minute, only three warriors stood atop the draw. The three Grimwards looked to the path they should follow to relieve Khulgar, then down the draw to the trail their leaders were blazing. One by one, they made their decisions.

Corvo and Lycon moved quickly down the draw and around the base to the wetlands. The Longfangs were making much better time than they had expected, and were nearly to the village already. Though the mud and the muck slowed their progress a little, the Grimwards were in much better shape to be running, and began to close the gap. It was strenuous, however, and before long, many of the more heavily armored warriors were falling behind. Corvo and Lycon were at the front, plowing through the marshy terrain like machines built for the purpose. They hadn’t really communicated anything resembling a plan to anyone, and stared intently at their quarry as they trudged through the muck. The others did their best to keep up, despite the burning in their legs and the raggedness of their breath.

Magrat did her best to slow their advance with her archery. Corvo had a couple of her arrows sticking out of his shield, as a matter of fact. She had mainly been targeting him, since he was the closest. She hadn’t shot at the one armed Ulven, though. He looked older, and it didn’t really seem fair. He didn’t have a shield or anything, even though he was up at the front.

“Stop running and face me Harlok!” he shouted, followed by a string of curses as he lost a boot in the freezing muck of the wet earth. He hesitated for only a moment, then continued on without his footwear.

Harlok Longfang was angry. He didn’t want to run from Lycon. He wanted to turn and fight, but he couldn’t pass off the girl he was carrying to anyone else. She wouldn’t walk or run on her own, and there was no one else available to carry her who wasn’t wounded or helping someone else. Harlok trudged on and snarled in rage. It was all he could do. They were almost to the village of Ulslog. The elevation was gradually rising, and the earth was becoming more firm. Soon, the Grimwards would be free of the mud that had given the Longfangs a fair shot at escape, and they would be overtaken.

The Longfangs just made it inside the front gate of the stockade that butted up against the riverbank. The Grimwards were hot on their heels, less than a stone’s throw away, and gaining.

“Close the gates! Close the gates!” shouted Stanrick, “Magrat, try to pick off the closest ones! Hurry!”

The Longfangs all rushed to push the heavy gates closed while Magrat fired the last of her arrows through the shrinking gap. The gate closed just in time, and the Longfangs struggled to hold the doors shut against the push of the Grimwards as the bar was placed. On the other side, Corvo and Lycon howled and called the Longfangs cowards.

“Be brave, Alvi!” shouted Corvo through the fence, “I swear upon my honor that I will see you safely returned home!”

Alvi whimpered hysterically. She was lying on the ground in the fetal position, exactly where Harlok had dropped her when he rushed to hold the gates closed.

“What now, Stanrick?” asked Nikolai, “There aren’t enough of us to defend this place.”

Stanrick looked across the stockade to the river bank.

“That was never the plan.” he said. “Follow me.”

Harlok grabbed Alvi by the arm and began dragging her after Stanrick and the others. The sudden jolt caused her to stumble to her feet and elicited a piercing shriek from her throat. On the other side of the fence, Corvo panicked and began hurling his body against the stockade doors.

“Alvi!” he screamed, “Alvi!”

Khulgar had no choice but to fall back. His warriors were cut to pieces, and the steep, rocky path was black with blood in the moonlight. The Watchwolves did not pursue them, and he knew that they would not. The Graytides may have been battered, but they still had numbers, and Raskolf was no fool. Experience had taught Khulgar that now was the time to move, find a safe place, set up a perimeter, and triage his casualties. As much as he loathed to do so, he decided that the stockade at Ulslog was probably the safest place to be until he found out what had happened to his allies. Safest, at least, from a physical standpoint. His Daughter of Gaia was still acting strange. As the Graytides limped down the hill and to the open plain below, Khulgar dreaded what treachery or misfortune could have befallen his trusted comrades, and his hatred of the Watchwolves and Longfangs was doubled. It was a longer march to Ulslog than it should have been, and every shadow looked like an ambush.

As the village came into view, the Graytides saw torch light within the walls, and cautiously approached. The village was occupied by the Grimwards.

“Where in Gaia’s name were you when we needed you?!” screamed Khulgar, handing his shield to a novice and nearly pushing him over with the violence of the action, “Where’s Corvo? Where’s Lycon?”

No one answered.

Khulgar howled in rage and threw his helmet at a Grimward warrior.

“You!” he shouted, pointing to a bearded veteran, “What happened? Did you get lost?”

“No, Packleader.” growled the warrior, straightening his back, and raising his chin.

“Did you misunderstand the plan?”

“No, Packleader.” he replied.

“Then what in the name of the Great Wolf’s hindquarters were you doing?”

“The Longfangs came this way, Packleader.”

“The Longfangs came this way?” sneered Khulgar, “So what? You abandoned your mission and the brave warriors who were depending on you so you could follow the Longfangs? Tell me, Soldier, if the Longfangs jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?”

The warrior looked positively stupefied. The world fell completely silent, and it was too late in the season for there to even be crickets chirping.

“Well?” said Khulgar.

“It wasn’t up to me.” stammered the warrior, “Corvo made the decision, and Lycon backed him. We had no choice.”

The warrior’s eyes drifted up over Khulgar’s shoulder. There was a fire on top of the ridge. Then another, and another. The way the three fires burned showed that they were elevated, like funeral pyres.

“Well?” said Khulgar, “Where are they? Did you take them alive, or did you kill them?”

“They escaped, Packleader. They escaped in canoes, down the river. We couldn’t follow them. There was only one canoe left, and one paddle.”

Khulgar shook his head.

“Where is Lycon?” he said.

Khulgar, Osvolt, and Greki found Lycon Graytide standing on the bank of the river. The four warriors stood in silence for a moment as the river rushed by.

“What were you thinking, Elder?” growled Khulgar, “You abandoned us.”

Lycon did not turn to face him, and stared into the moving water.

“Corvo made the decision,” he replied, “not I.”

“That’s weak, Lycon. That’s weak.” said Khulgar, shaking his head, “You knew better. You should have stopped him. It was your job to babysit him.”

“He has to learn to take responsibility for his decisions.” growled Lycon.

“No.” said Khulgar, “You need to take responsibility for yours. You let him do this, and now you are trying to pass the blame to him. This was important, Lycon.”

“This was personal!” snarled the elder, turning to face Khulgar.

“Personal isn’t the same as important, Lycon.” shouted Khulgar, “Most people just think that it is. If you are one of those people, then the Pack is better off without your leadership!”

Khulgar spit at his former mentor’s feet and turned his back to him.

“It’s a good thing you aren’t in command anymore.”

“Don’t you turn your back on me, Khulgar!” bellowed Lycon, “I taught you everything you know!”

“I hope not, Lycon.” said Khulgar, “I hope not.”

As Khulgar walked away, Osvolt joined him, but Greki lingered behind. He stood at Lycon’s side for a moment and took a long swig from the bottle that Rhodi had given him. Then he handed the canoe paddle to the one armed warrior and walked away.

Up on the Ridge, the Watchwolves had just finished conducting final rites for the three Grimward Berserkers who had attacked their flank during the battle. As the fire consumed the makeshift pyres, the Watchwolves saluted their honored foes before slipping into the night.

Khulgar stormed up to the longhouse. The two guards posted outside looked as though they were about to try to stop him, but then made eye contact with each other, thought better about it, and got out of his way.

“Where are you, Corvo!?” he screamed, thrashing through the tangle of darkness and overturned furniture until the hall opened up.

Khulgar froze. Sickly yellow light danced and flickered over the desecrated walls.

“In the name of the Sacred Mother.” he muttered, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

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