I leapt to my feet, awoken from my slumber by…something. I could not remember what had awoken me. I picked up my axe and held it ready. I was looking around frantically. What could have caused me to waken in such disorientation? I knelt down next to Kaon, ready to protect him if something was about to attack us, but as far as I could see there was no threat inside the cave.
What was that? It sounded like a voice. Was there somebody in the forest? Maybe they were in trouble. I crept to the cave mouth and stopped to listen but heard nothing. I sniffed the air and found no unusual scents. Something weird was going on. I had often heard stories of phantoms when I was a child. How they would wander the world, bent on senseless destruction. Could there be a phantom in the forest? What if it didn’t have a scent? Would I be able to see it?
I was getting scared. The voice seemed to have more of a presence now. As if it was closer, or more stable. I took a few steps back into the cave. Could I even hurt a phantom? Or would my axe pass through it like air? Was it even possible to kill something that wasn’t alive?
I stumbled back into the cave. The force of that shout was immense. It felt like the whole cave should have come crashing down. I regained my balance and turned to Kaon as I heard him whimper. I ran to his side and knelt next to him. I laid my hand on his neck. I blacked out.
“VERIVELI! We need you! The Varjot Kuoleman are everywhere! We cannot escape! Help us!”
I gasped in air as if I hadn’t been breathing for too long. I opened my eyes to see the roof of the cave. I was lying flat on my back. I pushed myself up off the floor. Kaon was still looking at me but it was clear he was very weak. What had just happened? Why had I blacked out? I could remember fragments of something almost as if it was a dream. I had touched Kaon and then I had heard a voice, the same voice as before, but stronger, much stronger. Kaon whimpered again. Hesitantly I reached out and touched him again, this time bracing myself in case I blacked out again.
“You must go! You must save them! You cannot let the Varjot Kuoleman take them!”
I pulled back from the contact. What in the name of the gods was happening? Was I losing my mind?
“You are not losing your mind! Listen to me! Go now! We can discuss this once you return!”
A clear image burst into my head, I could see wolves and men fighting each other, the bodies of the fallen from each side lay strewn on the ground. After the image dissipated I could see once again. I looked at Kaon once more and only received a cold stare and a weak growl from him. I grabbed my axe and ran from the cave. I did not know where they image I had seen was, yet my feet seemed to know where they were going. I ran as fast as I possibly could, and soon I could smell fresh blood in the air, but not the clean blood of a kill, this blood was tainted. As I continued I quickly came across the first casualties of this fight. I slowed to a cautious walk as I examined the bodies of both the men and the wolves. There were significantly more wolves than men. There was a large amount of blood on the ground leading in only one direction. I followed it and could soon hear the growls of the wolves. This was accompanied by a noticeable thickening of the smell of the tainted blood. It was almost overpowering to the senses.
Following the path I found myself at the edge of a clearing. The clearing was closed off on two sides by huge rock faces. It was against these that the wolves and a human had their backs. Their attackers, wearing deep crimson robes that reached down to the ground, were wielding thin short blades covered in blood. There were 6 of them left and only three wolves and the human. The attackers were forming a half-circle facing their prey. I pulled my axe from its loop and crouched down. I skirted around the edge of the clearing until I was within striking distance. I launched myself forward and brought my axe down on the first of the attackers. He crumpled under the force of my attack and fell to the floor, blood flowing freely from his split skull. The next two turned towards me, swords raised, and attacked. They were unbelievably fast and strong. It was all I could do just to keep them off me.
While I struggled to keep all my limbs I could see that the wolves were fighting back against the three remaining attackers. The first wolf lunged at the nearest attacker but was cut down before he could get close. The two other wolves and the human took a more cautious approach. They managed to manoeuvre themselves out of the corner so they now had room to move and avoid attacks. It also allowed them to start surrounding the attackers. The attackers, now under pressure, became desperate. One tried to slash at a wolf but missed and had his arm hacked off by the human. Its scream of pain was horrific. Upon hearing this scream from their comrade the two attackers facing me became distracted for a split second which was all I needed.
I slipped past the outstretched arm of one and buried my axe deep in his chest. I grabbed the sword he dropped and plunged it into the neck of the second attacker. Both fell within a few seconds of their comrade being injured. I reclaimed my axe from the dead man and advanced towards the three remaining men. The one missing an arm was cowering behind the other two clutching his stump to his chest. Now effectively outnumbered four to two the attackers fell quickly, followed by their already injured friend.
As soon as the last body hit the ground the wolves and the human turned on me, the wolves baring their teeth and the human holding his sword at the ready. I lowered my axe and held up my free hand.
“Wait, wait. I just helped you kill those guys!” I said, hoping to calm them.
“Who are you?” The human man growled. “How did you find us here?”
“I heard your call” I stated.
One of the wolves, a female, light brown in colour, stopped growling and turned to look at the human. He nodded to her which I guessed meant they had just spoken to each other like Kaon had to me.
“Drop your weapon human”
“Why? How can I trust you?” I replied.
The second wolf stopped growling and sat down, the human sheathed his sword and took a step back while the female wolf started circling me, sniffing curiously. Seeing no immediate danger and reasoning that if they were to attack me I probably wouldn’t survive, I placed my axe in its belt loop and relaxed a bit.
“So it’s true then?” The man asked.
“What is?”” I asked bewildered.
“You can talk to the wolves”
“As can you” I observed calmly. Inside I was not so calm. I was bursting with questions. How could I talk to wolves? How could I understand them, and them me? Who were those men that had been fighting? Why were they killing the wolves? And why was this wolf still circling me and sniffing me?
“Can I help you?” I asked the female wolf.
She stopped circling and looked me in the eye.
“You smell familiar, yet we have never met. How can this be?”She asked.
“You must know of my companion?” I offered.
“Your companion?” The man asked immediately.
“Yes, it was him who sent me to help you. Weren’t you calling for him? “
“We sensed a wolf presence nearby, we did not know who it was or where he was. We were desperate and needed help. We thought it was you whom we had called”
“I heard something, but I didn’t understand what was happening. I have never spoken to a wolf before” I admitted.
“You’re a New Blood?!” The man cried disbelievingly.
“A New Blood is somebody who has recently started their second life”
“Second Life?” I felt stupid asking this question but I needed to know.
Nobody answered my question. The man looked to be in conversation with the female wolf. Eventually they stopped and turned to me.
“Take us to your companion”
“Why?” I asked suspiciously.
“He has some explaining to do”