The Hound. Ch4

You are now just north of Xion, leaving its protective walls and venturing into the humble peasant farmsteads that supply the great city of Xion with fresh produce and livestock. Although The Kingdom of Xion is a maritime power, it still of course has need for a horticultural presence. Stretching along the coastline both north and south, Xion lays claim to various hamlets and villages and vineyards. It even has sway over some of the various Monster tribes that have settled along the coastline, the most notable among them being the Hellion marshes, and even several Mermaid clans that utilize the tide pools along the immediate coast of Xion as their hatcheries.

Xion has a longstanding history between its people and the Merfolk. In the beginning, it is their kin who helped guide the merchant ships of Xion during storms and turbulent weather, even going so far as to rescuing drowning sailors. It was the Merfolk who had first sued for marriage rights between the people of Xion and their kindred during the founding days of Xion, a facet that their far more orthodox eastern neighbors find abhorrent, and has been the cause of a great many conflicts since.

Some said that it was only a matter of time before the Kingdom of Teloth calls for another crusade against Xion. Already, Xion has felt the pressure of two protracted wars against the kingdom of men who can trace their heritage back to the black mountain itself and whose matriarch is none other than one of the founding lords of the Black Mountain, a supposedly immortal goddess. Such a foe is not one that is to be taken lightly, so much so that there have been many occasions where the traditions that enraged Teloth so were on the verge of abolishment. Others say that to do away with the old traditions of interspecies relations would be to go against the very things that had made Xion what it was today. Regardless of such information, your focus is solely on Tyrian. You walk beside him, trotting down a well worn dirt path, the divots of countless wagon wheels running through the damp earth along with countless imprints of horses, donkeys, and peasant farmers. The prince and you add your own, alongside with the resplendently armed and armored mariner knights that march with you.

Four able bodied men carrying long-swords and kiteshields, sworn to the defense of the Prince during his excursions out of the castle. You think that you yourself would be able to achieve this alone, but you can’t in good conscience turn them away even if you were able to; you and the Princess both want the Princes safety, and having an extra few pairs of eyes looking out for him would ensure that he stays safe. What bothers you is the inkling notion that they are al        so there just to keep an eye on you as well. You are well aware of the fact that the princess does not trust you. You are also of the suspicion that she cares for her younger brother in ways a sister should not.

The smell of manure and mud, of countless cows and sheep and chickens and pigs, the low animals that man holds dominion over. You scrunch up your nose and try not to breathe too deeply. The smell is almost overpowering, and it is only dissipated when you clear the worst of it and enter a Village that is swept clean by the winds coming off the sea. Stone buildings with wooden plank roofs with smoke pipes from wood burning stoves, all circled around a well. Carts that smelled of fish and seaweed were littered about the sides of the cottages, a path leading down the beach and a dock there beyond could be seen. It was a hovel in every sense of the word; particularly pathetic was the tavern, a stilted construction of wood and reeds. It smelt of powerful grog that a single breath of made your head spin and you had to turn away. How could humans drink such swill and live in such ramshackle conditions, when the thriving capital of Xion was but a mile or so to their south?

The answer became apparent as the tavern door opened, a hulking figure stepping out into the dreary early morning light. Six feet tall and covered in slabs of brutish muscle that drew the layers of skin taught, was a male Orc. Dressed up in an apron greased with stains and spillage, he wore not much else. You were immediately on edge, hackles rising though you do not growl, your claws were nonetheless ready. You’ve encountered your fare share of Orc’s in your long life. Never was it pleasant.

An aberration among Monsters and Beasts, Orc’s, along with a select few other species such as Elves, Kobolds, Minotaur’s and Centaurs, were not mono-gendered like the rest of Monster kind. It has been often debated as to why such an aberration existed, some scholars positing a lack of human men in their areas of origin, and thus evolved to create males of their own. It is still unknown to this day. Regardless, Orc’s were particularly unique, in that they could conceive children with any race, the offspring always being an Orc, leading to them being one of the most widespread of species. Civilized Orc’s, you were told were not uncommon in the villages surrounding Xion, but that did not mean you were going to grow used to it. You’ve had your experiences with Orc’s; a male warlord almost coming close to ravishing you when you were far younger. Then there was also the Boy…

Other villages trickle out of their homes, each eager to praise or catch a glimpse of the Prince, his hellhound caretaker, and the famed Mariner Knights. You felt uncomfortable; easily this was one of the more inane duties you had to endure as a Caretaker, one that you would have to repeat often. It was not the duty itself that garnered your ire, but the fact that you were expected to curtsy and kowtow and act so girlish in front of peasants, to make it appear that you were wholly civilized and subservient to the Humans around you. You grit your teeth and bore it steadily. The day was yet young; it would not be the last time you had to deal with this posturing.

The Prince said his lines, acting as imperial as possible, you had to stifle your grin at times, you could smell him sweating beneath his armor. He did not enjoy this, so you took comfort in that shared misery. It was another six minutes before the crowd dispersed enough to the point where the Prince, you, and his guards, could carry on. The village slipped into the distance behind you, and the beach to your left turned steadily into forest as you turned inland, looping back around towards the castle, several small farms could be seen, hunter cottages and centaur camps were common as well, and then the forest grew thicker along either side.

They were silent enough to put darts in the two necks of the two knights to your left before even you could notice, the only sign of something amiss being the sudden clatter of full-plate armor hitting the ground.

Things seemed to just blur together after that. You spin on your heel, keen eyes catching sight of the three steel darts as they flitted through the air straight at you. Black feathers trailed behind them, their barbed metal tips seemed to glimmer in the soft light. The prince is behind you; you cant dodge- wont dodge- so you do the only thing you know how. You attack, lunging forwards; you smack the first dart out of the air, claws sparking with the contact. The second dark you reach out, and catch through the paw, almost at once your paw goes numb. The third dart streaks right at you, you open your mouth- and you bite down. Fangs grating against metal as you catch it in your jaws. You spit, the evil thing clatters in the dirt.

They are suspended between the trees, hiding amongst the boughs. Segmented legs stretched taught to appear like branches. Your eyes narrow, your heart beats faster like a war-gods drum, flames lick at the corner of your vision and a low, heavy, menacing growl rolls from deep in the pit of your throat. Arachne, cloaked in concealing robes and leathers. Silent blowpipes now exchanged for crossbows and curved, foreign daggers.

They raise their crossbows, they fire.

The other two knights go down, Tyrian shrieks in fright as a spatter of blood from a punctured artery in one of the knights throat spills across him. You whirl around, instinct driving you to rush to his side- you take three bolts in the back because of it. It only serves to piss you off even more. You roar, spinning around, leg muscles coiling taught, claws spread wide.

You don’t allow them a chance to fire off another volley.

You slap the flank of the pony before anything, it whinnies in fear and takes off at once, Tyrian yelling as he hugs the beast around its neck as it gallops down the forest path, instinct and training turning it towards Xion proper. In the next second you are leaping forwards, your fangs bared and fire ripping from the corners of your eyes as you howl your insane rage. Claws dig into a tree trunk as you push yourself off and upwards, the silver of your tail glints behind you like an argent streak tracing behind your movement.

You are like savage death, bounding upwards as a bolt streaks over your head, ever closing the distance with these damned interlopers in a mere moment that has you reaching up and smashing into the first Arachne assassin. Your cursed claws rip through leather armoring and into yielding flesh, the assassin seemingly explodes into a squall of gore as you rip into the chest and out through the back, your momentum never once slowed. Before they can even hit the ground and realize their death, you are already moving on, already killing, already howling your wrath- that banshee wail that sounds of countless damned souls wailing up from the hell your kind are born of, rips from your throat just as easily as you rip out the spine of the second would-be assassin. Three remain, and they draw their blades now, curved scimitar like knives that would rend through your flesh should they connect.

The third arachne to die leaps from her perch, screeching her hate, the murder of her broodsisters inciting her into such a furious gambit. You turn away her blade with the back of your claws, and reach up to grab her jaw with your other hand- with a single yank her mandible comes away. You return it just as quickly, before she can fall past you, the jagged jawbone rips across her neck, and you stick the spur through her eye socket.

The fourth assassin, you can smell the fear, the urine tracking down her chitin as you turn to face her. You hardly even notice the new crossbow bolt punching into your stomach, the pain is a dull throb in comparison to the roiling hate rushing through you. Smoke rolls from your opening maw, drifting on the air like a cloud of ash as the fire erupting from your eyes takes on darker- more vivid rouge like color. Your growl turns into a rolling laugh.

She and her sister, they try to run.

They try.

They fail.

You leap and bound, over the plains, ripping away your dress so as to move faster, the blood running freely from your wounds as you tear up the distance on all fours. You don’t even feel the pain, your mind is entirely focused on your one and only obsession: Dear Tyrian, and the fact that he has disobeyed you.

The horse whinnies in fear as you approach. You transition from the pouncing sprint on all fours like that of a beast to the two legged gait that is familiar to Man. Tyrian, you had bid him to gallop with all due speed back to the castle the moment the Arachne struck, he would be safe there, amongst the guards and his family. Instead, you find him along the outskirts, next to a farmstead, atop his horse for the entire world to see him in his royal blue garb and polished armor.

The fire is still fresh in your eyes and the blood carving a crimson streak down the front of your torn clothes, several crossbow bolts puncture your flesh and your left arm hangs limp and paralyzed from venom. You paint a gruesome feature, and the fear that is clear on his face tells you as much. You do not care right now- he did not listen to you, he put himself in more danger by waiting for you. A voice in the back of your head whispers to you, that boys only want freedom when it suites them.

You start to shout, ripping him off the pony and holding him by the face, forcing him to look at you with your good hand. You start to berate him, start to scold the prince for endangering himself in such a way, for making you so damned afraid. Your words catch, the fire blazing from the corner of your eyes dies the instant you see tears. The rage in your chest dissipates like smoke in a storm.

As soon as the crying begins, you forget everything you were going to say, any point that you were trying to make ceased to matter. Tears roll down his cheeks along with pitiful hiccuping whimpers, they break you and you find yourself instinctively pulling him into your embrace, his face buried against your chest, your still bloodied claws running through his hair. He wraps his arms around you. He lets everything out, the shuddering sobs of a boy both sorry and scared- the sudden reality of the past occurrences making their weight known only now, glaring red in his mind like the splotches of crimson that had sprayed across his body.

You whisper, your croon, telling him that it’s all right, that you’re sorry, and that he’s safe now, that nothing was his fault, and it will be okay. You lift him up and hold him against your chest with one arm. You wish you had both so that you might hug him closer. You begin your walk to Xion, the pony follows behind you, it is a well-trained beast.

You find yourself looking down, pressing your mouth against the top of his head, and staying like that for a while as you walk. His breathing began to steady, and so did your own.

 

It swept through the streets of Xion, traveling along carriageways and through cobblestone streets, invading the minds of countless nobles and peasants alike. The attempt on the Princes life, it was like a virus gone unchecked and aloud to fester. It was at first only a rumor, and that was all that was needed- for like with all rumors, it spread and changed, growing and distorting with each whispered telling. It was only compounded by the isolation of the prince upon his sequestering to his room- you not allowed to leave his side for the merest of moments. Not hide or hair of him seen made only for more false claims that the prince was not in fact wounded but truly dead.

The prince, despite his mostly vestigial nature when it came to courtroom politicking, was a proud symbol of trust between the people of Xion and the royal family. His frequent and mostly daily appearances among the common folk of Xion had fostered a sense of unity within the kingdom that other nations lacked- their rulers distant and menacing, impersonal and cold. Where complaints made to the royal senate by the peasant masses were mostly ignored in favor of the more astute members of the nobility, the Prince was in contrast far more approachable and held the ear of his mother and father. The lowborn citizenry relied on him to make their voices heard above the complaints of the aristocrats.

The rumor of his death was more than enough to drive the desperate and destitute to the brink of rioting, only the firm commanding presence of the mariner Knights- deployed in full force- within the city was enough to quell any uprisings. A statement was penned and released by the Princess herself regarding the events, the well-being of the prince was hastily confirmed and in the interest of the princes continued safety, and he would be sequestered to the confines of the castle until the matter of potentially more assassins was resolved.

You, of course, were questioned at great length about the incident, your wounds treated in a prompt manner, and in comparison to your past injuries the crossbow bolts were almost trivial- even the poison meant nothing to you. It was with no small amount of pride that the royal family noted your dedication to the safety of the prince, your wounds reading as testament to your servitude, and your vigilance commended in turn. Despite such praise coming from the king himself and even the queen, as well as much of the royal nobility, it was the Princess herself who held onto doubt despite your apparent competence, so much so, that she bid you to meet her in her quarters.

You were uncomfortable with the prospect of leaving Tyrians side in despite of the heavy presence of the House guard. It took the assurances of the Princess to even make you consider leaving him for a single moment. You begrudgingly do so, claws clicking against colt stone steps as you make your way down to the Princess’s quarters that sat directly adjacent to the barracks of the mariner Knights stationed within the castle keep. On either side of the relatively unadorned entrance hung the banners of the Mariner knights and the royal coat of arms, such ostentation deftly displaying the rank and position that pertained to Myrian.

You knock on the door and are answered with a bid for entrance. Stepping inside the door shuts behind you and you are in the presence of a Spartan room with stonewalls and floor, an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, with several shelves along the wall and a simple bed in the corner. There is also the princess, shrugging off her armor- the same set that you encountered her first with, the same set that bore the patches that covered your claw marks.

“Hellhound,” She grunts in regard to you, her breastplate coming away with a slip of its leather catch, beneath it she shrugs off a chainmail undershirt. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.” There is no prominent anger in her voice but there is a certain tension that puts you on edge. She mirrors her mother more than her father- a barley-restrained storm always in her eyes, just waiting for the correct moment to be released. It wasn’t because of Nepotism that she was the Captain of the Mariner Knights; it was a title that she earned through grit and skill.

“What do you  want.” You’ve found in your dealings with the Princess that the best course of action was to be curt and blunt. She clearly did not like you, in fact you are almost certain that she hates you, your presence offends her on the simple basis that you are a Hellion creature. The fact that you had bested her so easily- while wounded- is another fact that can only serve to grate on her nerves and sully her pride as a Knight.

She strips off her silken undershirt, damp with sweat. She doesn’t care about her nudity before you as she sheds her leggings next, transferring her armor to a straw mannequin. Her body is like yours in a way- toned and corded with subtle muscle underneath a bed of lighter pink scars in contrast to her darker tanned skin. She is unlike the Princess’s that you’ve come to know from your homeland, they were meek and feeble things, cloistered away and frail from generations of inbreeding among royal families whose bloodline was a pale shadow of what it once was in times long past.

“I’d have your opinion on Griffons.”

You raise an eyebrow. This was certainly unlike her to ask about. “What would you like to know of them?”

“How well do they fight?” She folds her chainmail apparel, setting on a dresser next to various tools. From that same dresser she pulls out a pressed and clean robe in the light blue and darker cobalt of the Xion royal family, she puts it on without ceremony.

“I’ve seen them rip apart knights like they were paper, and devour drakes. I had to fight one a couple of times.”

“And?”

You grimace. “Nearly killed me. “

Myrian nods, her thoughts her own. “Do they ever band together?” She asks. “Griffons in the wild, do they ever form groups or flocks? Whatever it may be called? Do they work well with each other?”

You shake your head. “Don’t know. They’ve always been territorial, that much I know first hand.”

“What about their behavior. Are they trustworthy? Or are they duplicitous.”

“Pretty reliable, from what I hear. You can trust them just as good as the next monster.”

“And you hellions are so different?”

Again you shrug. “I’m not like most.”

She nods again, staring at her reflection in the mirror above her dresser. “Thank you, that will be all.” She dismisses you with a curt wave. You curtsy and take your leave.

It will only occur to you later, when it is far too late, the ramification of your actions just now.

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