I awoke to the heavy smell of blood and the distant sound of ongoing combat. My hand lashed out to grab the arm of the mortal fool that crouched above me. Surprise was etched all over his face as he tried to pull his knife free from my chest, then he screamed. He lived only for a short while after that as I pulled him in closer for me to feed.
The flap to my tent was ripped open as I pushed the dead corpse off me. Vernt was covered in blood, and his eyes darted over the room quickly taking in the corpse at my feet and my quickly healing wounds.
“I am okay,” I advised him as I grabbed my sword and strapped it to my side.
“I apologize, the enemy made an assault on the camp,” he kicked the dead assassin, “it wasn’t until we heard him scream that we had realized someone managed to sneak this far into our camp in the midst of the battle.”
“No doubt trying to take advantage of my sleep,” I mused then asked, “any sign of the undead yet?”
“Not yet, usually they only start to appear once the sun has set.”
“Gives me wonder if we are dealing with another blood-sucking creature like myself,” I voiced allowed.
“I would rather not have that be the case here,” countered Vernt.
As the two of us left the tent, I surveyed our encampment. Men were gathering the wounded as the few healers we had rushed about to save the dying. In the distance I could see the retreating forces of the enemy turning back. I snarled in disappointment at the lost opportunity for another meal.
“They seem to be getting desperate to repulse us but lack the courage to face me come night,” I voiced aloud in frustration.
I turned to see an approaching rider. He dismounted quickly then hurriedly fell to one knee.
“My Lady, Sir Castalio has been captured in the battle.”
I felt my anger flare suddenly and I fought to bite it back down into submission as I turned my gaze towards the retreating forces.
“Ready my horse,” I snapped. The rider jumped to his feet and mounted up again. Vernt narrowed his gaze at me as I rested one hand on my sword.
“Your rash anger is going to lead to a lot of trouble,” he commented. He didn’t flinch as I turned to glower at him.
“Your about as emotionally fragile as a parchment,” Vernt continued unperturbed, “easily torn up, and made into kindling for fiery anger.”
“Get to your point,” I snarled.
Vernt met my gaze unflinching and held it, “They are trying to provoke you. Without you, this whole operation falls apart.”
“Not unless you stand up to take my place.”
“No,” he refused, “Your the one everyone follows, not me.”
“You have your men.”
“Who are not as numerous as the forces you have brought to bear against these wild men,” Vent countered, “The loyalty of your men is owed to the alliance of House Castillo. They will not follow me.”
“I refuse to surrender Remus to these wild occultists,” I vowed through clenched teeth.
“Then you're playing directly into their hands.”
“I don’t care!”
Vernt grabbed the front of my leather armor and threw me to the ground. I rolled to my feet and spun around with an angry hiss. Vernt already had his sword drawn as his eyes flashed dangerously.
“As much as I want to be the one to kill all you bloodsuckers,” he challenged angrily, “I can't! Your kind cannot be killed without a virtual army of holy priests armed with relics of sunlight, or by another of your own kind. These people support you because they are desperate to fight fire with fire. No really believes the Dark Lord is dead and you are the only linchpin to this whole hair-brained scheme concocted by that scion of Castillo!”
He lowered his sword, “I really don’t care for your rulership. I only care to see that the Dark Lord never rises again.”
Carefully I bit back the rage as I straightened and approached him. I saw the hesitation in his eyes briefly, but he kept his sword point down. When I was close enough I slowly reached out and grabbed the back of his neck in my talon hands.
In a low angry voice, I spoke, “Your fortunate that our goals concerning the Dark Lord are aligned. However, I can not justify your lack of respect for my authority and command.”
I stared into his eye and pushed with my mind, “You will heed my orders.”
A grimace of pain crossed over Vernts face as he nodded in understanding. Then I pulled his head back to expose his throat. In realization, he started to pull away.
“Accept your punishment,” I commanded. He sneered at me but stopped resisting.
“Kill me and you will be no better than the Dark Lord.”
I dug my talon deep enough into his skin enough to draw blood. Vernt winced but otherwise held still.
“I have no plans to kill you as of yet, I still require your services,” I said, “but I will enforce discipline else others will begin to think they can question my authority as well.”
My fang pierced his neck and drew blood. I drank until he started to sway uneasily on his feet then I released him.
“Get him to a healer,” I ordered.
A couple of soldiers approached wirily and helped Vernt to his feet. As they dragged him away I turned my focus and my anger back towards where the last of the enemy had disappeared in their hasty retreat after having taken Remus.
I took a contingency of riders to track down the retreating force. I placed one of the men that had been with Brutus and me since the early days to take control of the encamp while I was gone, and left them with orders to join up with the reinforcements then press on with expedition if I didn’t return. My consolation was that Timothy should be there soon to aid in the attack on the enemy stronghold.
As we rode I sent a mental summons for my wolves to harass the enemy. I could feel their eagerness to please me through my connection with them and I want to join them quickly in tearing into my enemies to glutton myself on their blood. Ahead I heard the distant howling that signaled the beginning of the hunt.
“Make way towards the howling,” I advised the riders closest to me.
Tracking the enemy was easier with the aid of my wolves. It still took a few hours into the night before we encountered the first of the stragglers that were tied down by having to fight off the wolves that hounded them on all sides. I charged into the fray with my sword drawn to cut down the small group of wildmen. A brief bout of chaos ensued as the rest of my small riders entered the conflict.
The skirmish was short and intense. Someone managed to pull me off my horse and I devoured the fool. I didn’t bother trying to remount or find my horse. I only cared for them to suffer my wrath and cut down the closest of the wildmen to approach me.
When it became obvious that they couldn’t win they fled and my wolves gave chase.
“My Lady, perhaps we should leave a few alive to lead to the rest of their army.”
“Your right,” I acknowledged, “but kill the stragglers.”
As I mounted up on my horse, I could hear another chorus of wolves howling in the distance signaling they have found another group.
“Come,” I ordered, “There is more for us to fight.”
The next fight occurred exactly the same, and so did the next one after that. We repeated the same pattern again and again as we hunted. Attacking each group but leaving a few survivors that ran like cowardly dogs. It was the most I had feasted on blood since awakening to my curse.
It was well into the night when we finally found the main body of the mountain men. They were still on the march, trying to retreat from where they had last fought my own men. Wearily I glanced at the group that had kept with me thus far tonight. I could tell they were getting tired and worn, but they amazed me in that they had not offered a word of complaint since we started.
“What’s your plan, my Lady?”
I scanned over the retreating force and eyed the direction they were heading. I considered the dilemma before me. If we tried to fight our way through, we would be seriously outnumbered. However, if we waited until the small army stopped to camp I risked exposing myself to the sun if they decided to press on into the night. Not to mention the chance that they might reach their stronghold.
“I am open to suggestions,” I voiced out loud.
A couple of the riders exchanged a quick glance.
“Perhaps we should continue to follow them, my Lady.”
“And retrieve Sir Remus when they stop to camp,” I confirmed.
“That and we have a chance to uncover their hidden base.”
I narrowed my eyes at the suggestion, but still kept scanning the enemy’s march, “We risk further harm to Sir Remus the longer we wait.”
“If I may be so bold, my Lady, but I doubt they will want to harm Sir Castilio,” I looked over my shoulder at the rider who spoke, “He is the son of a noble family and is worth a hefty ransom as their hostage.”
“These wildmen are nothing but barbarians,” I hissed.
The rider nodded, “most of them are certainly barbaric, but not all. The leaders are still made up of the nobles who have supported the Dark Lord in the past. They are essentially in exile with their liege gone, but they are still men of the noble houses with all the customs and rules that should entail.”
His words made sense and easied the worry that had been in the back of my mind, but not my rage. I wanted to drink them dry and...
“I want to see these men die for their trespass.”
With a haunted look on his face, the rider nodded, “I would ride with you into battle. We all have our reasons to see these cowards die, but I would suggest mounting our rescue when we have a sure chance to succeed.”
Inwardly I snarled as I turned back to the marching forces.
“Very well, we will wait them out.”