Surfal thundered over the terrain, the horse pushing as fast as I dared let him run. In the distance, someone had called for my aid, and I had charged ahead as recklessly as I had weeks before. Someone needed help, and I wouldn’t fail them.
We charged through a small stream, splashing water into the air. A droplet hit my cheek and I was reminded of the icy temperatures that lingered in this area. I leaned closer to my horse, letting him sprint under the branches of the nearby pines. Together we rode, up and over, down and under, a single unit moving with a single purpose.
We burst through some underbrush and finally saw our target. A young woman, frail and dirty, was writhing as she attempted to escape from a large man that had his hands wrapped around her wrists. The man and the woman looked up, shocked to see me darting toward them, and despite my speed, I did not halt my maneuver.
The woman seized on the man’s surprise and wrenched her arms free. As she darted away, I arrived, pulling a stave that Angus had gifted me, and I caught the man across the jaw with the base of the weapon. He went down like a ton of bricks. I leapt from Surfal, slowing myself with a spell, and touched down not far from the woman.
“Who are you?” she asked, clearly panicked. “Get away!”
“Whoa, whoa,” I said, putting my weapon away. “I’m a friend. I promise.”
“No! You’re one of them!”
She darted away from me, rushing toward the underbrush where I had just arrived, but before she even made it to the bushes, a white stallion jumped into view and I saw Christine atop the creature, dressed in her gold and silver armor, and looking ready for a fight. She cut the woman off, who screamed and fell backward in response.
“Hey!” I said, attempting to assure her. “Not a bad guy. She’s a friend. We’re all friends.”
The woman, looking unconvinced, didn’t flee again. “Who are you two?”
“I’m Sionis Sepher,” I said. “This is Christine Vickin. We’re from Birchwood Lodge.”
“Birchwood?” she asked. “Do you… have food?”
“I do,” I responded. I quickly conjured several small loaves of bread and held them out to her. She extended her fragile arms and plucked them from my grip, quickly tearing into one of the pieces.
“We’re not far from Goldbrook,” I said, looking in the direction I assumed it to be. “Is that where you’re from?”
“I’m from Fort Scimitar. My husband is a soldier in the Stonehaven military. I was collecting herbs for the fort’s alchemist. I was captured by these… thugs. They took me to Goldbrook. They caged me up like an animal and then turned me over to a traveling hunter that fancied owning a human!”
“What captured you?” Christine asked. “Would you describe it as a kind of wolf?”
The woman began shaking. “Yes!”
I looked at Christine and she looked back at me. It sounded like we had found our Lycanthrope problem.
Angus had warned us the creatures were in the Basalt Dalles, though none of us knew why or how they’d made their way to this continent. I knew very little about the creatures outside of the stories I had been told as a child in Udiria. Angus had explained that the magic used to form the first Lycanthrope had been born from the aether when the Yunai had invaded Azirin for the very first time. The creatures had been created by an Udirian magic user named Arugan. He wanted to create an army that could fight better against the monstrous Yunai machinations. Arugan had eventually lost control of his creatures. When it was discovered that the Yunai could control the Lycanthrope, they were hunted to extinction, or so they thought. Now, it appeared that at least a handful of the creatures had escaped to the Frozen Realm, likely settling here for a time, only to be discovered by the Yunai Queen, Ayla, fallen Princess of Lederan.
These creatures could become a formidable army for the Yunai to control, just like their mechanical monstrosities, so we knew we had to put this danger to an end. There were too many innocent civilians that had journeyed and settled in the Basalt Dalles. This danger couldn’t be left to fester. I knew it, Christine knew it, and Angus wanted to see it done. So, here we were, saving lives and tracking wolf monsters.
“What do you say?” I asked Christine, still looking at the woman before us.
“We should pay a visit,” Christine answered.
“Sure,” I said, quickly going to work on a portal that would send this fragile woman to the safety of the Birchwood Lodge. “Let’s get this woman to safety, and then we can be on our way.”
The town of Goldbrook looked much like any other that I’d seen since coming to this realm. There were wooden huts surrounding a much larger wooden hut, and then many booths and stalls built along the road that passed through, so that travelers and merchants could trade with anyone passing through.
Christine, decked out in her full paladin armor, got a few stares, but for the most part, the villagers didn’t seem to give us a second glance. There was no sign of any kind of wolf monster, and it was hard to believe that one could be lurking here without drawing a lot of attention. Still, we spread out, casually visiting a few stalls and glancing inside any huts that had openings or unlocked doors.
I made it all the way to the last stall, an unoccupied area where food stuffs was likely stored, and I was about to skip over it when I heard the sound of muffled weeping. I stepped into the room and looked around, and then I noticed a burlap sheet that was draped over a large object. Curious, I flipped the sheet off to find a large iron cage, one that was occupied by a man wearing Stonehaven armor.
He looked up at me with wide eyes and I held a finger to my mouth to warn him.
“Who are you?” he said in a whisper, still terrified.
“I’m a friend. Let me guess, your wife went missing and you came looking for her?”
“Good. She’s safe,” I said, staying as quiet as I could. “Who did this to you?”
“All of them,” the soldier said. “They’re all monsters.”
I paused. “What?”
The soldier fell silent, looking past me, and I knew I was in trouble. I spun around to see an ordinary villager in the doorway of the storage room. He didn’t look particularly bothered at having discovered me, so I decided to roll with it.
“Hello there,” I said. “Is uh… this your place?”
“Yes it is,” the man said. “I own all the storehouses in Goldbrook.”
“I see. Well, I’m sure you can explain this?” I said, gesturing to the soldier.
“Indeed I can,” the man said with a smile. “You see, he’s a traitor to the crown of Stonehaven. We caught him stealing goods in town, and when we followed him into the woods, we learned that he was planning to sell his beloved wife into the ownership of a trader.”
“Really?” I asked, putting on my best look of shock. “I can’t believe it!”
“I know,” the villager said, stepping closer to me and looking into the cage. “It’s so unfortunate.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” I said. “Especially since I found his wife in the woods already, and she said—”
Without warning, the villager hit me with a punch that knocked me against the storage room wall. I recovered in time to see the villager coming at me like a wild animal. I pulled up my arm and blasted him with a fireball, and he rolled along the ground. I saw him jump back to his feet and look at me. He was drooling, and hair was sprouting all over his body. With terrifying speed, the human villager suddenly mutated into a massive looking lycanthrope.
“They’re monsters!” the prisoner shouted.
“No kidding,” I grumbled.
“Get me outta here!” he added.
“On it,” I replied. A quick fire blast blew the lock off the cage door and the soldier stepped out, moving behind me as the angry creature came closer.
I whipped up a famous flourish of fire and smoke, sending it at the snarling creature, and then the two of us bolted out of the storehouse as fast as we could.
Outside, we heard someone howling, but the sound came from the village center rather than the storehouse. I realized, far too late, that there was a reason no one in Goldbrook was shocked to see a lycanthrope.
They were all lycanthrope.
I rushed toward the town’s edge where we had tied up the horses, shouting for Christine to do the same. She appeared over the next hill, already sprinting in the same directly and looking equally terrified.
“They’re coming,” she shouted.
I reached Surfal and quickly untied his bridle, slapped his hindquarter, and jumped on his back to make our escape. The soldier struggled, so I quickly reached around and pulled him on as well.
Behind us, I saw the creatures coming, at least a dozen of them, and they were moving faster than I could have realized.
“Let’s roll!” I shouted.
We darted down the main road, heading along the southern route in a desperate attempt to reach Birchwood Lodge, but the lycanthrope were moving fast and our horses were heavily loaded with supplies, armor, and in Surfal’s case, two riders.
We weren’t going to escape.
I released Surfal’s bridle and the animal knew what to do, continuing ahead without instruction. I formed a massive fireball in my hand and held it there as the enemy started closing in the final ten feet of distance.
I saw one of the creatures make a valiant jump for Christine’s horse, and then I saw a mace, covered in the glowing power of luminescent magic, swing down through the air and slam the creature across the face. The creature went spiraling off the road with an agonizing yelp.
The mace’s glow dissipated and two more Worgen closed in fast.
I sent my fireball against the first one and it landed true, knocking the creature off the path. The second was already in the air by the time I had my second shot ready, and it landed its jaws against Christine’s metal shoulderpads, biting viciously but never making contact with the woman.
As Christine struggled against the attack, her horse struggled to stay steady, and it began to slow to compensate for the wobbling atop its back. I saw another five Worgen in the distance, all coming up for their turn to attack.
We weren’t going to make it far.
I decided our only real chance at survival was a portal. It would be difficult. After all, a simple teleportation spell was hard enough to create, but a portal would be even harder. On top of that, I would be doing it while moving, and I would need to make it potent enough to pull two more people and two horses along with me.
It was a feat of magic, to be sure, and I was confident I could do it.
I would have to reach deep into the twisting aether to accomplish this task, but the adrenaline was running in my veins and I was ready for anything. I knew the energy flowed strongly through this realm, and I was going to capitalize on that. I reached deep into the magical font, harnessing as much energy as I could, and I quickly started anchoring my life force to those around me, the horses, Christine, and the soldier…. I found them all and then reached through the aether itself to find Birchwood Lodge.
I thought to myself, for a split second, that this all might be too much.
Then, I pushed that doubt aside and did it anyway.
The trip through time and space was instant.
One second we were fleeing down the road, surrounded by wolf-men, and the next, we hit the ground just outside of Birchwood Lodge with a loud clap of magical energy.
Surfal stumbled over his own feet as the ground changed, and I was thrown from the horse’s back, with the Stonehaven soldier crumpling down on top of me. I pushed him off and stood to see Christine rushing over. Her shoulder plate looked heavily scratched, but there was no blood or signs of a successful bite.
“Are you okay?” she asked, sounding panicked.
Angus emerged from the front door of the lodge and he looked around wildly for a moment before coming over to us.
“Are either of you hurt?” he asked. “What happened out there?”
“Goldbrook is full of Worgen,” I answered. “Not just one. A lot of them.”
“My goodness,” Angus replied. “Quick, come inside. We need a plan of action.”