FateGuard Night Seven: The Hounds of Aborhen Episode Theme (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Episode Theme (open) Episode Theme (close) Evil is a killing breeze. It takes one crack in the window pane, one breach in the wall, one door left ajar, and the warmth of life is stolen. It was a man who let evil in that night, as all men do in mortal frailty. He was a forager, one of few sanctioned to leave the city in the daily logging guild convoys. No more than fifty men, these parties seized the hours of high noon to cross from the west gate to Aborhen Forest, there to fell as many trees and snare as much game to feed the fires and bellies of Gothenheim. For one hundred years it had been so, a daily ritual passed from father to son. The rules were many-fold. One priest for every ten men. Wagons blessed and foreheads given warding marks. Each man paired with another to watch him as they travelled, as they rested, as they pissed and defecated. Those who wandered off, who fell ill, or showed any signs of taint were to be separated from the convoy and left behind. But this particular man - this forager - was not left behind. This man was given leniency. He was out of sight for five seconds, no more; chasing his dog which had slipped its leash in the forest. A great stag, dealt a mortal wound by a trapper's arrow, had been brought down behind a copse of trees, and the forager had rushed to claim it with his retriever dog. The hound had slipped loose, vanished behind the copse, then been found a moment later with the prey. Precautions were taken, of course. The man was examined by a priest. The stag was anointed, wrapped in silks, bled and taken to the royal butchery, every step of its preparation monitored by the devout. But no one checked the dog. It came back that night with the forager, scratching at thorns in its hind legs. And when night fell it tore its master's throat out and spread its seed amongst the alley strays. One moment out of sight. One creature overlooked. Evil is a killing breeze. * * * * * Corben had the wind knocked from him. He fell in the alley and the house door that struck him swung further open, yielding to the weight of the beast. His sword spilled from his hand. His ankle was seized. The jaws of the hound closed around his foot and only his boot leather kept the skin from breaking. At last he saw the threat up close. A hunting dog, viciously warped to the size of its wolf kin, fur replaced by a bed of serpents. A chimera monstrosity. Choral hisses heralded the snakes' assault - a dozen heads striking to bite his skin. He yelled out, shuffled backwards, reached for his sword, and drove his other foot at the monster's head. But that too became tangled. Pin-prick agony was delivered by the serpentine hide. The hound began to maul him and twist his half-swallowed foot. The night was rife with shadows. In the hovel where the hound had charged from, an old man twitched in death throes. At the alley's end women and children fled while lamplighters yelled alarm. And overhead, most troubling of all, the shadow of more hounds crossing the rooftops in predatory bounds. The monster had spread its darkness to a dozen strays, maybe more. The loudest sounds in the streets were the squeals of horses being savaged. The pack was hungry. Corben's hand found his sword hilt. He lurched up and swung the blade with a trail of embers. It struck the hound's jaw, lopping through snakes and tearing its cheek. It yelped, released its hold, then took to motion. Corben rolled clear, and was left with saliva on his boots and the stink of charred fur. "THIS WAY!" He called to any who could hear him. The other FateGuard were following the trails of bloodshed, stalking the rooftops, answering the screams. They would have to contain these beasts before they reached the inner wards. The marshal put his weight on his sword and hauled to his feet. The hound had fled into the alleys. He wiped sweat from his brow and looked around for his fellow FateGuard. He hoped King Ganthor was enjoying the venison.