LotS: Frost Moon - Chapter Thirty-Four

  • Change Moon


    The round window glowed like a vampire’s eye, turned blood-orange from dusk falling through the trees. Agni’s legs burned from the steep climb, but she hastened, panting and tightening her hold on the green vial clutched between her fingers.

    In her haste to do her master’s bidding, she had left the house without gloves. The cold contents of the bottle were numbing her fingertips, and she imagined the grooves of her skin being smoothed away, polished like snow.


    Agni froze. Had she heard something? Above the frantic blood-beat of her heart, she strained to catch word or whisper of something just out of range.




    With hunched shoulders, Agni ploughed on.


    Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.


    Her boots in the snow. The topmost layer always turned to ice after the weak rays of day melted it, and the harsh breath of night froze it solid. It was a sound she was used to, yet—


    Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.


    Her footsteps had an echo.


    Agni whirled around; she nearly dropped the vial. Alva smiled, her pretty face framed by a decadent fur hood, flecks of black in the white-gray fabric proving it to be sabre-cat, not bear. Expensive.


    “My my,” said Alva, “You’re out late.”


    Agni’s heart gonged against her ribs. The chapel was just behind her. She knew enough of Mor’vahka to know that he would not leave his home undefended. Her master’s suspicions were true (they often were); Alva was a vampire.


    Reaching deep within, Agni grasped onto the flagrant strands of magicka - grateful now that she wasn’t wearing any gloves. Incandescent flames sprouted from her palm; a flicker of fear passed over Alva’s face, but when she stepped nimbly aside - and the fireball shot right past, accuracy exchanged for speed - that cat-like haughtiness returned tenfold.


    “Adorable. Didn’t your master teach you anything useful?


    Agni took a step back. “Yes, he did.”


    She lobbed another fireball - this time above Alva’s head - and did not stop to watch as it hit the white-laden bough with a satisfying hiss. A shower of snow and bark rained behind her; Agni ran, clutching the bottle against her coat.

    Snarling, Alva snatched her hood. Agni screeched as she felt the vampire’s nails scratch the sensitive skin on her nape as she was dragged back.


    “Be a good little orphan and drop the vial,” she crooned.




    Agni twisted and writhed like a captured scamp—Alva slapped her, hard.


    “I will not repeat myself.”


    But Agni held firm, insides shivering. “M-Me neither.”


    Little skeever. Fine. Have it your way.”


    Blood magic glowed, red and malevolent from Alva’s pristine white hand. Any semblance of life in the blue-green veins under her skin were for show only. Agni’s soul shivered, even as she tasted the first few iron drops on the back of her throat.


    It felt like all the blood in her body was being pulled up from the soles of her feet and through her mouth and eyes. Agni gasped. Falion! Falion help me!
    He had once told her not to be afraid of death. That all things, in time, must die. That death was not an ending.


    But she was afraid. Alva knew, because she smiled, even as Agni’s weakened fingers loosened around the neck of the bottle.


    A bolt buried itself to the haft in Alva’s shoulder, and the feral, enraged scream shattered any pretense of humanity left. Agni hit the snow with a gasp, clutching the bottle tight and crawling away - boots digging furrows into the ice-crusted powder. Fat droplets of Alva’s blood pattered on the back of her coat like rain.


    Lurching back to her feet, Agni stumbled for the chapel doors; they hung open, revealing the burning golden eyes of the Vigilant inside as he loaded another bolt. Alva screamed, fangs bared like a sabre-cat’s, but she did not come any closer.


    Agni tumbled into the chapel, the hammer-and-anvil inside her chest almost as loud as the chapel door slamming shut. Mor’vahka leaned against it, his furred face gaunt with pain. The arm that held the crossbow shook from the strain. It soon clattered.


    “From Fa—” she broke off to regain her breath “—from Falion.”


    Mor’vahka’s clawed hand beckoned. She surrendered the bottle. As soon as it was out of her hold, Agni sank onto the faded aisle rug, her energy spent.


    The bottle quavered in the cat’s hold. She watched as the pointed hints of teeth showed in the leering pull of his lips. Disgusted with his own weakness. The stopper was removed, and the contents hastily spilled into the cat’s mouth. Mor’vahka coughed, but he was an expert at pushing past the weaknesses of the body. When he looked at her next, Agni shrank back.


    Mor’vahka finally spoke.


    “Sit by the fire. Lock the doors when this one leaves.


    He was steadier on his feet now. The potion was not instantaneous, but it was working.


    Agni hesitated. “Can you stop them? Falion needs your help.”


    Mor’vahka paused in his rummaging through the ransacked sleeping-quarters. Strengthening claws found a silver hilt.


    “Only dust and blood will remain,” he rasped, tail a lashing shadow behind him. “Mor’vahka shall bring them the death they’ve long been owed.”



    A drop of oil hissed against the ballista parts, stinging Kjeld’s hands as he hammered and fitted the pieces into place. Like his plan to defend Morthal, the chaotic mess in the flour sack began to take shape into something substantial.


    Virkmund crouched, wide-eyed beside him on the roof of the sawmill, holding the lantern while Kjeld worked.


    “I don’t hear nothin’. Not a peep.”


    Kjeld caught the boy’s wrist as Virkmund tried to swing the lantern away to glimpse the encroaching dark. He leveled the lantern back over the contraption. “Stay focused. I’m almost finished.”


    Virkmund stayed still, but the boy’s expression remained dour. Skittish.


    “The swamp’s never quiet,” he whispered. “Never.”


    Kjeld had felt it too. The ill-promised silence, as if the marshes themselves dared to hold their breath. He clenched his teeth, digging red, stinging grooves into his fingers as he drew back the ballista string - locking it into place.


    Silver-capped bolts, half the width of a dagger-hilt, clanged as he groped for one to nock.


    Molag Bal took the eerie silence of Hjaalmarch and shredded it between his teeth. The marshes growled. Kjeld frantically searched the dark for signs of movement, already pushing Virkmund towards the ladder.


    “Get to Highmoon Hall, now.”


    The sounds came from the gnarled treeline across the bridge.


    Virkmund scampered down the ladder, the lantern’s wild swing spilling precious oil as the boy took off. Falion returned, as silent and sudden as a shiver. Kjeld had not seen him reappear; the conjuror pressed a finger to his mouth. They hunkered in the dark, watching every shadow, listening to every ill-placed noise.


    Death hounds disturbed the murky, stagnant waters at the edge of Morthal. Wretched, worm-eaten flesh and jagged teeth caught the moonlight, even as their masters walked, soft as shadows, out of the wetland.


    Evil had come to Morthal.


    Kjeld jammed a bolt into the ballista, tilted the point at the nearest hound. With a prominent woosh, the bolt flew and found its mark in the creature, turning its savage snarls into shrieks as the force knocked it off its feet. He pushed himself to be faster, jamming another bolt and taking aim. Two down, more to—


    Fire and ice exploded at the base of the ladder. Falion expertly drove a glacial spike through the body of one death hound, and then took aim for its master. The vampire was halfway up the ladder before punishing flames struck true.


    Kjeld kicked the ladder away from the roof.


    The element of surprise was lost; a headache throbbed between his eyes from straining to see in the dark. He’d held out some half-hope that Mor’vahka would have laid traps around the town’s perimeter, but there was nothing. No distant flame or strike of lightning from an activated rune.


    Nothing. Just the shadowy steps and high, cackling laughs of an approaching coven.


    His gut pulled taut as a bow string, loading a solid mass of dread somewhere between his ribs. The ballista, he realized, had only been a means of delaying them while the villagers cowered in the Hall.


    Kjeld took aim again, but the vampires hardly balked. What had they to fear, when Morthal’s defenses were a handful of men and magic?


    He fired, missed. The death hound keened in triumph, surging over the bridge as though it had caught scent of its prey.




    Benor hacked the death hound in half before it could run into the main thoroughfare. He brandished the axe bravely, bloodshot eyes glaring at the approaching vampires.


    There were seven in all. A paltry number - if not for the nature of what they were. Kjeld did not see Alva among them, or the dark master orchestrating Morthal’s ruin. Blood magic and Falion's spells lit up the night as they struggled to hold the bridge.


    He jammed another bolt in, took aim for a dark-skinned vampire. The bolt lanced the vampire’s boot, eliciting a screech from its owner as Benor charged forward to finish the job.


    Alva appeared in front of him, smiling like a contented cat. The effects of her enthrallment made confusion flicker through Benor's bloodshot eyes.

    Benor faltered.


    That was all she needed. The axe clattered from his grip as the brawler was knocked off the bridge into the water.

    “Benor!” Kjeld abandoned the ballista fully, and crouched by the roof's edge. Could he make that jump without hobbling himself? What can you even do, without a weapon? He threw a desperate glance to Highmoon Hall.

    He could stand in front of the doors, barring their entrance, but it would take seconds to be cut down.

    Seconds for the villagers inside to be punished for fighting the coven.



    Two vampires were pressing Falion back to the base of the sawmill. He threw another projectile of ice, teeth clenched around a magical burn on his face.


    The conjuror's eyes bore into him. "Do you intend to stand there and watch Morthal’s ruin? Fight, White-Paw."


    Kjeld cursed, shielding his face from a stray fire spell. "I can't see what I'm shooting! I need more light."

    But Falion didn't mean the ballista.


    While Gorm and Jorgen were stomping through the marshes to find the Legion—the vampires were crossing the bridge.

    Mor'vahka wasn't here. Was help even coming? Morthal was breached. By the time forces strong enough to kill Movarth arrived, who knew how many citizens would have lost their lives? Who knew if there would be a Morthal left to save.


    Most of the coven abandoned Falion, too interested in the prize ahead to dally with the wizard any longer. Falion hauled a coughing Benor from the marshland. A death hound snapped, the mercenary kicked out, catching the beast with the tip of his steel boot with a satisfying crunch.


    A straggling vampire grinned pointed teeth at them, sensing easy prey. A bolt of magic gathering in one hand, a wicked blade raised in the other, he circled back.


    Helplessness wrapped iron bands around Kjeld’s heart. He couldn’t keep going like this; he couldn’t stand by, useless as a broken arrow, while everyone was fighting for their lives. There was only one choice he could make.


    Kjeld’s fingers enclosed around the amulet. All-Maker, forgive me. I need the gift you gave my kin so long ago. Whatever the cost. Movarth’s coven would not have the feast they longed for, not while he still had strength in his body. He yanked it from his neck, a faint ring of red left where the cord had been forced to yield against his skin.


    Amulet gripped tight, Kjeld pressed the cool metal into the mark upon his shoulder.


    Heat and ice flared the second contact was made; Kjeld gasped, shuddering bodily as the Daedric seal writhed - flesh rippling - under the Skaal amulet’s power. He tasted blood in the back of his mouth, but pressed the amulet in place until his whole arm shook. He willed the amulet to pry apart the seal, willed it to slip under the Daedric chains on his soul and let his gift return unbound.


    Kjeld’s stomach heaved. He felt like the skin of his shoulder was being stretched and warped, as if something with massive claws were digging in just below the surface. He cried out as a sudden burst of pain put him on his knees. Kjeld blindly gripped the sawmill with his free hand, stopping himself from pitching off the roof. A second burst of pain, then:


    The amulet shattered.


    Cracked pieces fell, stalhrim beads crumbling to dust; all that was left in his hand was the battered leather cord and the hollowness of defeat. Kjeld stared at it in horror. No no no no no—


    Someone, somewhere, screamed. His heart heaved against his ribcage as wood splintered and vampires laughed.


    Then, Kjeld felt it. Years had passed since the last time he had known this sensation; it was cold wind in white fur. Fresh earth under claw. The deep hum of his soul as a wild song beat from Mundus, meant for his ears and his ears alone.


    The amulet could not destroy the seal. But it had opened the door.


    Kjeld tuned out the chaos of battle. He reached deep, pushing past his own remorse and hesitation, his fears and self-loathing. The seal fought back, putting a black pulse behind his eyes. Kjeld’s vision flickered. Fear lanced through him, but Kjeld dug deeper. He reached until he found those memories he had buried; cool wind, fresh earth, pure, unfiltered strength as only nature could give. He could not brush them aside so easily, this time.


    He called to the beast inside of him, and the beast called back.


    The sawmill creaked as claws furrowed the roof, sharp as icepicks. Silver fur glowed white under the harsh light of the twin moons; a legend thrust its head to the sky, stretched wide its maw, and roared.




    Jarl Ravencrone had lured Morthal’s guards into the guardhouse under the pretense of an inspection. They had lined up, confused but unsuspecting, and did not see Ravencrone’s daughter casting the sleep-spell just behind them.


    They slumped in a clang of armor, where they were then stripped of their armaments and dragged into one of the cells as much to keep them in as to keep the monsters out.


    The key jangled from Ravencrone’s waist, now catching the firelight of the low-burning stone hearth inside of Highmoon Hall.


    Her face was drawn tight with concentration, the age-lines seeming to multiply with every passing second. Thonnir paced along the second-floor railing, gripping and regripping a sword; Ravencrone did not doubt a father’s courage, especially when Thonnir’s son was just behind that door, huddled with Joric, Idgrod and Lami.


    The rest of the townsfolk–Lurbuk, nervously picking at his nails with a dagger point, Jonna, who stood grim and ready next to Aslfur–strained to hear what horrors approached just beyond the Hall’s doors.


    “Please, let me go.” Hroggar groaned from the armory and war-room just to the left of the main hall. “Alva needs me. She must be protected.”


    Thonnir threw a disdainful glance at the enthralled man, no trace of pity evident.

    “Shut your mouth or we’ll throw you to the death hounds. Your whore of a mistress is the reason we’re in this mess!”


    Hroggar roared, struggling to stand against thick ropes around his wrists and torso. Lurbuk pushed him back down by the shoulder, the orc bard looking hunched and uncomfortable from the yelling.


    “Keep your wits, Thonnir.” Ravencrone cautioned. “They’re coming.”


    The silence stretched taut. The townsfolk flinched back as an axe thud struck the singular door separating them from the monsters outside.


    The axe was wrenched free with the sound of splintered wood, before it struck again with that same shuddering heave.


    Aslfur gestured for Lurbuk, and they crept closer to the door, weapons raised to cleave anything that came through.


    Jonna’s spine went rigid as, in a gap left by the axe-head, a singular burning orange eye staked her to the floor. A low, raspy laugh followed.


    “Helloooo,” it sang, long nails scratching against wood. “Is anyone home~?”


    Aslfur jammed the sword through the gap, teeth bared. “Go back to your hovel, filth!”


    The laugh returned. Aslfur gasped, ducking back as the axe head buried itself at head height. He fumbled to keep his grip on the sword, crouching with one arm up to shield himself.

    “Aslfur, move!” said Jonna.


    Something roared in Morthal. They felt it in their bones, in their teeth, in their hearts beating frantically in their breasts like trapped birds. Even the laughter had ceased, as if the undead beyond the door felt the first icy touch of fear.


    The scrape of pointed nails vanished, and the wooden steps moaned as their load lightened.


    Aslfur shakily withdrew his sword from the door. “By the Nine, what now?


    Jonna hastened to Aslfur’s side, a hand on his arm to steady herself as she pressed her face near the hole in the door. All the breath rushed out of her, and her shoulders hunched, instinct telling the innkeeper to make herself smaller.


    “What is it?” Thonnir demanded, grip tight on the railing.


    “Is it Alva? Is she alright?” Hroggar struggled again with the ropes.


    Jonna shuddered, unable to pull her eyes away.


    “It’s a bear. A white bear.”


    Lurbuk grunted, confused. “What’s a bear doing in the middle of Morthal?”


    “It’s walking upright, on two paws.”


    Aslfur’s already pallid face grew even more bleached. “Morihaus, protect us.”


    “There’s something else out there,” Jonna whispered, a cold bead of sweat trickling down her temple. “Something big.”




    “What in Mara’s name!?” Benor’s blood froze, wet face stretching to gape at the manbeast that leaped down from the sawmill. The earth shook where it landed, and wide, brutish arms—thicker than a frost troll’s—swung out, knocking a charging vampire aside like a bale of straw.


    Falion watched the vampires trickle back their way, while Benor had been searching for his axe among the lichen; he found it beneath the filthy, churning water.

    Benor looked at the werebear, watching it destroy and rip and tear anything that got in its way. Kyne protect us.


    “Don’t,” said Falion, pushing his weapon-arm down. “The werebear is on our side.”


    Benor looked at the wizard as if he’d just sprouted a third arm out of his arse.

    “The—Scamp’s blood, Falion—you expect me to believe that?”


    Falion tore the fabric from his sleeve, wrapping it tightly around a hound-bite to his thigh.

    “I don’t care if you believe it, Benor. Just stay out of White-Paw’s way.”




    Falion nodded, a healing spell glowing between his palms to further staunch the bleeding.

    “White-Paw. Come! He cannot destroy an entire coven alone.”




    The werebear overtook the vampires at the Jarl’s longhouse. Those that were not fast enough paid the price; massive arms swung, ripping the vampires off their feet, scattering them like chickens before a fox. The first few hints of panic permeated through the coven. There was fear-scent in Kjeld's nostrils, heavy enough to taste it on his tongue.


    Good. Let them be frightened. Let them understand how deeply they had erred.


    But the fear did not come from the vampires. It emanated from the longhouse, the frantic stutter of innocent hearts a warbeat in his ears. Distracted by the heady rush, Kjeld shook his head like a dog, roaring at the creatures just out of reach of his claws. Where is Movarth? Where is the head of this venom-filled snake?


    There was no answer, only the reek of ale and conjuror’s chalk joining the stale, musty death-scent the vampires gave off. Falion and Benor had joined him.


    Kjeld’s claws shredded a banner, a vampire nearly decapitated as he knocked them, screaming, into the longhouse with a heavy crunch. Benor cursed behind him; Kjeld swung to face him, breathing ragged, scraps of cloth and blood draped along his arms like warpaint.


    Steam billowed from wide nostrils and around bared, yellowed teeth. Small blue eyes glinted back at him from the gleaming head of Benor's axe. Somewhere deep inside the beast, the man mourned that it had come to this. That innocent people recoiled from him, terror awash on their faces.


    Benor's expression twisted in pure horror—but he wasn’t looking at Kjeld. Kjeld thrust his muzzle to the sky, watching, as a thing of leather and stone crashed upon the longhouse roof.


    It was a child of Molag Bal. Kjeld recognized the jutting horns and twisted, demonic maw from the pages of Falion’s book. It was not the Daedric Lord of Domination - but it was intent upon carrying out its master’s will.


    Kjeld roared a challenge, bellowing to the sky and stars until the air trembled in front of him.


    The beast screeched in answer and, ripping up the straw thatching with its talons, flung itself upon him.


    A peculiar red glow emanated from the gargoyle's claws, and he instinctively leaned away from it - even before it made the first swipe. The creature was fast. With a single beat of taut leather wings, the demon propelled itself at Kjeld's face. Fangs met the fur of his shoulder, three-clawed hands trying to rip through broad chest to his heart underneath. Kjeld roared, the pain savaging his ability to think clearly. To think strategy.

    Werebear arms fit around the creature in a crushing embrace—and he squeezed and squeezed until there was a deafening snap and a rewarding scream. They separated. Kjeld lowered to all fours, blood darkening silver fur to brown; the gargoyle's left wing was bent at a wretched angle.


    The creature was not at all cunning. Only vicious. Only fast. Kjeld snarled, saliva spraying as the creature lunged again - and Kjeld flung it over his back. The supporting beam of Lami's shop snapped under the gargoyle's impact, and Kjeld staggered, wild-eyed, until he his claws furrowed the muddied edge of the dock. The gargoyle had landed in The water, but he could not see it under the dark, churning waters of the marsh.


    It burst from the darkness, slick with blood and water. The gargoyle sank it's claws into his left leg, the red glow intensifying—strengthening the creature while weakening another. Kjeld’s soul pulsed with rage.


    Bear claws made a clumsy grip of the gargoyle's horns - before corded muscle bunched, and he ripped the creature's head from its neck. Kjeld hunched, swaying on enormous feet, to dig the gargoyle's claws out of his leg—but he didn't need to. The creature had crumbled like his amulet, reduced to rubble and muddied gemstones as whatever foul spell that held it together was no more.


    Kjeld felt blood running down his body, but he turned, breathing hard as he positioned himself to stand protectively before the longhouse.


    The vampires regrouped. They hissed, promising pain and eternal torment as they threw spell after spell. Frenzied as slaughterfish. The gargoyle had not defeated him — but it had weakened him, and they knew it.


    Kjeld roared in anguish, but he did not succumb. His claws, though slow, still found flesh to rip and armor to crack. He could not tell their numbers - three? Eight? A dozen? His vision had grown unreliable, and the scent of battle mixed with his own blood made him dizzy.


    If he could only catch his breath—


    Movarth cut a path through Kjeld's allies. Benor fell. Falion staggered out of range of the vampire lord's mace, but could only get so far.


    Movarth did not stop to play with the conjuror, or even give Benor a quick end. The vampire stood before Kjeld, his head cocked like a curious raven, as if this were merely an inconvenience.


    "A child of Hircine?" Movarth hissed a laugh. "You must be new to Morthal. There haven't been slobbering man-beasts in Morthal in over a hundred years."


    Kjeld closed the gap between them. Massive arms swung, clumsy but lethal, savaging the front of the coven leader's armor.


    Movarth's words were distant, as if Kjeld heard all through a sheet of ice. There was blood on his tongue, but the iron tang was his own. Kjeld felt numb and slow, and the man inside of the beast wondered if this was what dying felt like.


    Kjeld grunted. He had to finish this, before Movarth could bring order to his scattered forces. Before more gargoyles and death hounds were called up. Kjeld knocked aside the vampire lord’s mace, and with a guttural roar, impaled Movarth on his claws and flung him away with enough force to make Kjeld stagger from the effort.


    Hot breaths twisted from his maw. His eyes tracked the vampire to where he landed on the steps of the Moorside Inn.


    Movarth slowly stood up and retrieved his mace. Haughty eyes glinted above a punctured chest plate. There was no sign of broken skin. No dripping blood.


    "That wasn't very nice."


    The coven leader's hand was doused in the malignant light of blood magic. A creature of his formidable size, Kjeld could not clear the spell's range. It struck him full in the chest—powerful and unrelenting. He could see the blood pulled from his fur and the wounds on his chest and shoulder, feel it leaving his body with shocking speed.


    With a choked roar, he lunged, desperate to close the distance and rip the vampire's head from his shoulders. But his charge lost its strength. He couldn’t do it.


    He dug his claws in, forcing his momentum to halt. Movarth was walking towards him— and the spell's glow intensified.


    The beast's legs buckled, and he hit the ground hard, claws furrowing the damp earth. Silver flanks heaved, and spots of black flicked across his vision like ash motes from the Red Mountain.


    Kjeld hunkered down, gasping for life. He could feel his gift slipping away, could feel the dark pulse of his seal trying to reclaim his power.


    Movarth laughed, and struck out with the mace. The spikes narrowly avoided one piercing blue eye – but the pain was blinding all its own.


    A werebear's roar became a man's wild cry.


    "It was a good effort," chuckled Movarth. "But your kind was never smart enough to run in packs. You have no friends to guard your back. Not like I have."


    The coven leader's eyes seared like a housefire. "Kill him. His blood reeks of spoil."


    The remaining undead closed in. Kjeld weakly grasped his hunting knife, forcing cold, quaking fingers to tighten on the handle. His body felt heavy as cooled iron.


    All-Maker, protect me. It seemed, at last, he would find out who this seal belonged to.


    Light and heat exploded around him. The moons were outshone by this burst of sunlight, radiant and all-consuming. Doused in cleansing light, Kjeld flinched, but death did not come. Movarth was screaming, and when Kjeld's vision stabilized, he saw why.


    The vampire's face was being eaten away, burned to teeth and bone. All around him the others shared such a fate - some already reduced to dust.


    Mor'vahka had arrived.


    The Vigilant bared his teeth, voice a hoarse roar, armor-plated robe billowing as Mor'vahka strode in. "Move, White-Paw!"


    Kjeld gathered what remained of his strength, and lurched out of range. He stared in disbelief; Mor’vahka was alive, but Movarth was already recovering. The vampire lord’s haughty sneer had been replaced by unsullied rage, but the spell-wounds had healed.


    Mace clanged against silver scimitar, anger matched with anger. Each tried to create an opening to spellcast, but they were relentless combatants. Unforgiving.


    In the midst of the battle, something glinted on Movarth's hand.


    "Mor'va–" Kjeld choked on the last syllable. To distract him would be to kill him. He searched for a sword, forcing his haggard body to obey. If he could gather his strength again, if he could transform, they could end Movarth. He did not understand but knew that ring must have something to do with Movarth’s extraordinary healing.


    A ripple of pain coursed down Kjeld's back, warping the muscle and skin before resettling. Kjeld tasted bile. The seal flared, gaining strength.


    Again, he forced the change. It was harder, more punishing, and he nearly blacked out – but desperation kept him upright. Adrenaline surged through his bloodstream.


    Movarth and Mor'vahka both looked up as the ground shook beneath them. The werebear had charged, reckless and snarling. Kjeld swung right, then left, and was rewarded only with frustration. Movarth's hand glowed red. Kjeld threw all his weight forward, knocking him back hard.


    Mor’vahka swung at Movarth’s opposite side; his face tensed, but he caught Mor’vahka’s scimitar with the mace—and aimed a bloodspell at Kjeld.


    Kjeld snapped his teeth over Movarth’s hand. The vampire lord screamed as Kjeld nearly ripped the arm from its socket. He dropped the mace, fire swelling in his opposite palm. Kjeld roared, releasing Movarth as flames singed fur and stung his eyes. He staggered back.


    Mor’vahka hissed in triumph. A silver scimitar swung like an executioner's blade, severing Movarth's hand and the ring upon it.


    Mor’vahka dropped the scimitar, light glowing from his claws. No sooner had it hit the dirt than Mor’vahka spoke, low and insidious and gleeful:


    “Vampire’s Bane.”


    Heat poured over Kjeld’s face a second time, but it did not burn him. Vampire’s Bane seared hot as a solar flare, illuminating Morthal in a brilliant burst of light. There was only the whoosh of fire as Movarth was engulfed in a column of holy light. Kjeld tried to shield his eyes, but he could not raise his arms.


    When the heat receded, there was only smoking ash and silence.


    And a sword at his throat.


    Mor'vahka stood before him, bleeding but triumphant, his expression unreadable beneath the hood. Kjeld could barely make eye contact, his injuries felt without mercy. The protective silvery-white hide was gone. He felt the blade nick his skin, but had not the strength to feel fear. He was a man again, and his strength—perhaps his life, however short—was spent.


    Any stragglers had fled back into the marshes. Morthal was quiet as a grave. Kjeld wanted to look for Falion and Benor, but he did not dare to take his eyes off Mor'vahka.


    Blood leaked from the corner of Kjeld’s mouth. His limbs felt heavy as felled trees, and he could not raise his hand to wipe away the red. Couldn’t move.


    The cat hissed, and lowered the sword. "Once." said Mor'vahka. "And only once."


    Hooves thundered into the hold, armored men and women holding torches and swords spilled into the thoroughfare. Jorgen and Gorm were at the head, led by a legionnaire with a tufted helmet and armor-plated horse.


    Words were exchanged that Kjeld could not hear. Half of the Legion went into the marshes in pursuit of the stragglers, the other fanned out through the hold-town to secure it. The door of the longhouse burst open.


    Kjeld, with his bloody clothes and singed hair, drew no more looks than the ash piles or corpses of death hounds. He felt dizzy and sick, his body unwilling to cooperate when he tried, at last, to climb to his feet.


    A touch to his shoulder made him flinch.


    It was Jonna and Virkmund. Kjeld shook his head, wanting them to keep their distance in case something went wrong - in case the seal retaliated and they became collateral damage. But they ignored him. And somehow they, with Jonna's quiet strength and Virkmund's surly resolve, helped Kjeld up from the bloody earth.


    They were as silent as a funeral procession, their brows knit with concentration. He looked at Jonna, and saw awareness there that he had not expected. So she had seen. Had the whole town seen?


    He stumbled over the broken steps of Moorside Inn, but again they steadied him. He caught flitted words and worried expressions, but he was past the point of comprehension. Kjeld was led to a vacant bed in the inn, and he fell into it, at once succumbing to exhaustion—staining the straw red from untreated wounds.







3 Comments   |   ilanisilver and 2 others like this.
  • Paws
    Paws   ·  December 17, 2018
    "... It was cold wind in white fur. Fresh earth under claw....  He called to the beast inside of him, and the beast called back." Oh hell yes! The anticipated moment did not disappoint :D 'Vahka is getting soft, "everybody gets one." And is Alva stil...  more
  • ilanisilver
    ilanisilver   ·  December 3, 2018
    Yes, finally! The very first few paragraphs were my favorite. I love the line “she imagined the grooves of her skin being smoothed away, polished like snow.”  And I hope Mor’vakha stays away from Kjeld. I got no patience for that cat. 
    • SpottedFawn
      Yes, finally! The very first few paragraphs were my favorite. I love the line “she imagined the grooves of her skin being smoothed away, polished like snow.”  And I hope Mor’vakha stays away from Kjeld. I got no patience for that cat. 
        ·  December 6, 2018
      I think my forte is probably YA and Middle-Grade, so it was refreshing to step into the mindset of a much younger protagonist! That was one of my favorite lines to write.

      I hope the fight scenes weren't too long. I wanted to give everyone a f...  more