The forest was oddly quiet for spring, but that was to be expected when there was an entire convoy of merchants carving their way down a path, deep ruts showing the journey of many a traveler before them. The trotting of horses, the rattling of old wooden carts, and the ominous chatter of the merchants was more than enough to silence any bird’s chattering around them. Still, the odd lack of wildlife was more than enough to put Lazarus on edge, having taken this same journey at least a dozen times prior and never seeing such sparsity. The hunting party they had sent over the few nights prior had barely been able to scrounge up a few rabbits, claiming it was like most the game had cleared the area before they even arrived.
Despite the deer becoming a rarity, their nights were hounded by seemingly endless howling. The pack had been tracking them for over a week by this point, something Lazarus wasn’t the only one to immediately note as odd. Their relentless howling was growing closer by the night, and it almost felt like an attempt to deprive them of sleep and weaken their ranks. However, he wasn’t worried, as a mercenary he’d taken work far more terrifying than a pack of ravenous wolves, probably weak from starvation and only acting out of desperation.
Lazarus put any fears he had aside for the time being, after all he was hired on as a bodyguard, not a consultant. If the merchant’s guild wanted his opinion on things, they would have paid him upfront for it. His confidence didn’t do much to quell the stone in his gut, and perhaps if he’d listened instead of being set in his ways he wouldn’t have walked so blindly into fate’s maw. Hindsight is just that, though, the mind’s way of reminding you every step it took to make the wrong decision. The mind has a funny way of doing that, and often it can be difficult for one to accept the path they’ve taken.
When night fell Lazarus was the last to volunteer to stand guard, he’d much rather spend his time around a campfire washing down salted meat and bread with warm beer. His plans were short lived however, as he was quickly singled out by the group for neglecting to pull his weight, and so resigned to his fate at the edge of the makeshift camp. He may have been disappointed, but he wasn’t one to fret over things. Besides, he could just bring his food and drink with him, the only downside being a lack of companionship or refills.
From his post the campfire’s light barely even reached him, his eyes struggling for a moment to adjust to the darkness and make sense out of the blurred shapes. A calloused hand waved over the top of his mug, waving away the flying insects that had gathered to pester him. This was the sole reason behind his hatred for the spring, preferring the colder seasons when he didn’t have to worry about constant buzzing in his ears or being bitten on the back of his neck.
Over the brim of his mug he thought he saw something moving through the foliage, hand lowering to hover over the hilt of his sword while he took a few more hearty swallows. He didn’t think much of it, even the hungriest of wolves wouldn’t be foolish enough to make a move while he was still so close to camp. With a final swallow, Lazarus lowered the mug to the ground as he attempted to catch another glimpse of the creature, wondering if it was still stalking him. Moonlight broke through the foliage, making it easy enough for his eyes to adjust to the otherwise swallowing darkness, the mercenary taking a silent thanks in the full moon.
It was around then he noticed something was off. The forest had grown completely silent, any noise seeming to disappear in a vacuum. The wind came to a quick and sudden stop, silhouetted trees ending their dance and their leaves falling still. Even the sound of his caravan had seemed to vanish, no clearer than a muffled whisper through a closed door. For the first time in years he felt afraid, the once vibrant moonlight seeming to grow brighter, while at the same time the suffocating darkness felt like it was closing in around him, so thick it was becoming difficult to breathe.
Breaking him from this trance were what looked like eyes, bright yellow and glaring at him through the void. This was quickly followed by the realization that there were numerous sets of eyes, his head turning as he attempted to count them all, in utter disbelief there could be a pack this large. He gave up halfway through the second dozen by the sound of something moving towards him through the brush, head snapping back to see the maw of a massive wolf. Even though he could only see its head peeking out of the abyss, he was still dumbstruck with horror, realizing the creature was no normal wolf. Its head dwarfed that of a mule’s, skin leathery and decorated with several battle scars with dagger-like teeth draping over a snarled set of lips. Struck in such awe that he hadn’t even considered how the beast could manage to gaze down at him from several feet, even after rising to a stand finding himself with his head tilting back.
There wasn’t a chance for him to call out for aid, or even draw his weapon, being knocked to the ground with so much force the earth around him seemed to shake. Gasping for air on winded lungs, his ears rang and head throbbed as Lazarus made a frantic attempt to regain his bearings, quickly realizing he was trapped beneath the same beast he’d been staring down seconds prior. Choking on a gasp, he found himself unable to scream as the beast lunged towards him, everything going black in an instant.
Sweat poured down the Lycan’s face as he shot forward, knocking his blanket to the floor and startling the hound that had been sleeping soundly next to him. His eye darted across the room as he searched for an enemy that wasn’t there, his frantic breathing calming itself as he thought back on the dream. Running his fingertips over his left eye, he traced them along the scar that marked his face and cost him his sight, thinking back on the beast that’d given it to him. The dark memory that had masqueraded itself as a dream left a sour taste in his mouth, as it always had, reaching to his bedside to grab a bottle of whiskey to help clear his mind; and hopefully lull himself back into slumber, this time preferably a dreamless one.