Driftafay was not far now, Thaden had said as they stopped for what should be their final night upon the road. His two companions had left the day prior, muttering something about finding more profit on other journeys, but Thaden had stayed true to his word. An honest outlaw he had called himself when confronted with it. Kira did not know whether to believe it or not, but she was thankful for his company, and after the few days of travel had come to find his crass behaviour enduring, even pleasant in a way.
So now they sit beneath the trees of the massive forest that would take them nearly to the city, before plains and farmland opened the sky to whoever walked the roads curling through it. Gathered around a fire, their bellies full with a deer Kira had brought down, they simply enjoyed the company of the other.
Thaden played his flute, the soft music curling into the night air, relaxing and cheerful; a stark contrast to the dark days the plagued this world. He leaned against his pack, sitting upon the grass with his eyes closed as his fingers danced with practiced skill along the length of the instrument. Bangs of sandy hair fell over his brow, very nearly reaching his eyes, and Kira watched him with a small smile upon her lips.
The music did not quite drown out the sounds of the forest, she could hear an owl within the trees as it hunted, could hear the chirp and buzz of insects within the undergrowth, and the rush of the wind between the leaves that hung over them like a blanket from the world outside and the horrors within.
The smell of burning wood, so relaxing in this setting, curled with the bitter smoke rising into the air. The moist earth and even the hard bark of trees had their scent, reaching out to Kira’s senses. She leaned further back against her own pack, but kept her eyes on her companion. She could smell him too, his musk, the sweat upon his skin, even the deer upon his breath. It was almost intoxicating, swirling through her blood and surging in her loins.
Slowly she rose to her feet as Thaden continued his music, and pulled off her boots. She walked like an animal, feet graceful and predatory as she stalked towards the man feeling the grass and earth between her toes and against the soles of her feet. Fingers arched like claws as his scent washed away all else around them. The heat of the fire was upon her back now, warming her skin through the leathers she wore. Standing above him, heart pounding within her chest, she watched the quick and precise movements of his fingers along his flute.
For a moment she simply stood, until his eyes slid open. He looked upwards, flute falling from his lips, and gazed upon the woman before him. Life burned in her eyes with an animalistic fury, and he smiled softly, warmly. He carefully slid his instrument into the leather sleeve he always carried with him, as Kira peeled away her top, exposing her flesh to moon and fire light. Shadows danced across her bronzed skin as she lowered herself until she straddled his lap. The animal skin skirt she wore rising up to her hips with the motion, revealing her thighs.
Leaning in, she ran her nose up his neck to his jawline, earning a soft gasp of desire from the man’s lip, taking in his raw scent. Her fingers slid over his jerkin, carefully undoing the toggles that kept it closed, and kept his body from her hungry gaze. Running his hands over her sides, he felt the power in her muscles, coiled and ready to unleash, as the tips of her breasts graced his now bared chest.
Her lips found his own, and Thaden found himself lost in the touch. His mouth opened, her breasts firm against his body, her tongue pushing between his lips. Hungry and passionate their lips caressed and tongues danced while her fingers slid down his flesh to his pants.
Unlatching the buckle of his belt, Kira pulled the strip of leather from around him, flicking it to the side to land in the grass before undoing the clasps of his trousers. Thaden let out a hungry groan, muffled by their kiss, as he felt Kira’s hand grasp his cock, already hard in her fingers. She guided him, the head of his prick sliding along her thighs to her nether lips, slick with lust.
Their moans mingled as she lowered her hips, feeling him push inside her. He grasped her hair, pulling her tight against him as she began to roll her hips, feeling him slide in and out of her cunt. Her hands explored his skin, the old scars and firm muscle beneath. He grasped her ass firmly, guiding her movements, thrusting up to meet her. Her breasts bounced with each movement, stiff nipples dragging over his chest as they fucked beneath the boughs of the tree.
Sweat and sex filled her nostrils as she rode him, juices streaming down his cock and over his lap, lips far from satiated as the entwined with one another. She could hear his heart pounding, taste his lust on his tongue. It was nearly overwhelming.
Because of it, she did not see the shape that moved within the tree line, watching with red eyes.
The inn looked to be a rather ramshackle establishment, and even now not so long from the sun reaching its zenith, there were some rather less than savory characters lounging around outside, one or two openly staring at Kira in her leathers. She ignored them and spoke only to Thaden.
“I’ll wait here for two days. Anything goes wrong, we’ll go back to the forest, figure the rest out from there,” he told her.
“Sure you don’t want to come with?”
“Of course I’m sure. I’m not exactly well liked in the city. Nor do I really want to be,” he said, glancing towards the walls of Driftafay, along the cobblestone road used by traders, merchants and farmers to gain entrance to the city with crops and wares for the market.
“Good luck then,” Kira said simply, with a stiff nod before starting off down the road. Thaden smiled and shouted after her.
“I think I’m supposed to be wishing you that,” he said, the mirth heavy in his voice, before he turned to slip into the inn, and Kira was on her own once more.
For hours she walked along the road, putting one foot in front of the other, while the walls of the city grew larger, and the ground between her and them shrank. A few carts passed her by, fearful riders glancing down at her and her strange form as they went by. What struck her though, were the carts full of people, dirty and disheveled, the occupants clinging at very few belongings.
Refugees, fleeing the onslaught of the Kazdruk hordes sweeping ever further inwards. Whispers and teary eyes told tales of bloodshed and horror. These were only the ones who managed to get away, so many were left behind to became corpses or slaves. It spurned Kira faster, knowing that her people were out there, counting on her.
It was well into the afternoon when Kira finally arrived at the large gates of Driftafay. The heavy oak panels strengthened by thick bands of steel were opened wide to the world, but there seemed to only be movement into the city, and none out of it. A handful of guards, in steel plate and holding long pikes with swords sheathed at their hips, stood watching those that entered their gates from beneath the rims of their open faced helmets.
Not all of them were humans either. Two, including one with a green plume curling down from the crest of his helmet and dangling to his back, were Elves. The plumed guard seemed to watch the others as much as those that streamed in through the gates, and Kira found he made her nervous.
Still, she walked as calmly as she could through the opening in the mighty walls surrounding the city, and embracing all those that lived within. Standing upon the cobblestone street that led through all the multi story buildings, she felt her breath taken away.
All her life she had lived in villages and small towns, and hunted and worked in forests. Never before had she set eyes upon a city proper. Now here she was, and despite the urgency of her mission she couldn’t help but admire what spread out before her. The buzz of people, the streets curling between well built homes and shops, spires of towers shooting up into the skyline. And in the centre of the city, perched atop a hill, was the great palace of Evarmar, where the council of the Coalition sat, where emissaries from all the Human clans and Elven houses met together, to determine what was best for all.
At its corners, almost impossibly tall and thin towers speared into the clouds, while the core, a great dome of stained glass that was said to shimmer with the light of a thousand candles at night, stood glimmering in the sunlight of day. Blue and green danced on its surface, and Kira gazed in wonder at its beauty. She could not see the gardens that surrounded it from this distance, nor the white walls that held up the dome, with exquisitely carved columns and statues marking it as a marvel of Human and Elven craftsmenship.
She put one foot before the other, and started to make her way towards the palace, to see it first hand, to enter and find salvation for her people, when a gruff voice called out. She turned, it was the Elf guard with the plumed helmet, pointing at her, sword in his hand. The humans stared in wonder, but other elves came rushing forward from within a door built into the stone of the wall. A guardroom, or gatehouse of some sort.
Kira felt a breath catch, wondering what had set them off, panic settling in, hand reaching down for the sword at her hip, but she was hesitant to turn blade against her own side. For her hesitation, she had no defense against the club that struck her in the back of the skull. Pain exploded in her head as all vision went black. She felt herself landing hard upon the street, and the gasps of the people around as guards surrounded her.
Another strike, and she was sent into unconsciousness.
Two days. That’s how long Thaden said he would wait, but Kira did not know how long she had been unconscious. The sun was up, but with the blood clotted in her hair, it could have been for much longer than a few hours. She still did not know what had brought on the attack, for she had awoken in this cell, bound in chains, and no one had spoken to her, or given her anything since she awoke an hour before.
All she did, was pass the time by staring through the bars at the sun slowly climbing over the dome of the Evarmar Palace, trying not to think of who had stripped her and dressed her in the moth bitten rags that concealed her now. Hanging her head, she tried not to let despair creep in. She needed to get through this, for her people.
A ear stabbing screech sounded behind her, as the rusty iron gate swung open, and heavy metal boots sounded behind her.
“On your feet prisoner,” came the same deep Elven voice from earlier; the guard in the plumed helmet.
With chains rattling upon the stone floor, and between her wrists, Kira stood and turned to face the guard. He glared at her with suspicion and even hatred. Kira slowly came to understand what had happened, and she cursed herself for being so foolish about her own body; the Elves did not have stories of Wolfkin, her ears and tail had brought suspicion of demonic corruption. For now she would simply have to play along until she could prove her innocence, but she could not be patient for long.
“Seems the council wants to see you. Come with me,” the guard said, his sword tapping slightly on the ground, reminding Kira that it was there.
With a long sigh she left the cell and slipped into the hall. Another guard was awaiting her, and she couldn’t help but notice that he was an elf as well. A frown creased her brow, but she continued to walk forward, chains scraping against the floor with each step, the stone cold against her bare feet.
Passing the other cells she saw prisoners staring out at her, some with fear, some with wonder, and some with lust. They sat within their confines, staring out between iron bars, and in their eyes Kira saw damnation. These men and women were imprisoned for corruption by the Kazdruk. Cultists more than likely, but she couldn’t know for sure.
She pushed her gaze forward, not wanting to meet the stares of those truly damned, while she was merely accused.
The walk through the dungeon was dim, the halls lit only by a few torches, whose light struggled to reach the corners. The sound of her chains and the boots of her captors the only sound that reached her ears, until a woman, who had torn away at her rags, smashed herself against the bars. Blood seeped down from a gash on her forehead, smeared over the iron she clutched to. She grinned wickedly, bared breasts pushing out into the hall. Strange words flowed from her lips, words that Kira could not understand.
The lead guard punched her back, sending her toppling back into her cell, sputtering angrily as she lay upon the floor. Kira let out a long sigh, and simply kept walking. The woman was of the enemy she was sure, and felt it hard to find any sympathy for her.
Stepping out of the dungeon and into a small walled compound, she lifted her hands, the sun glaring after the dimness of the dungeon proper. The sounds of the city reached her now, as people went about their lives like nothing was amiss in the world. Kira envied their ignorance of the pain and death that awaited outside their walls. She thought again of her sister, fallen or enslaved in the Kazdruk camps to the south.
Three more guards joined them, carrying short spears close to their armoured forms, and formed a semi-circle behind her. Kira glanced at them, and only one was a human. A shiver slid up her spine, and fear pounded in her heart. Before they left the walls of the compound the manacles around her ankles were unlocked and set aside. The butt of a spear pushed into the small of her back, and she started marching through gates of iron bars and into the streets of Driftafay.
People from all walks of life stared at her as she was marched past in chains. She could smell their fear, unwashed bodies as more refugees streamed into the city and hygiene faltered in the face of such human waves. She hung her head low, seeing even here the pain caused by the Kazdruk invasion. Hopeless eyes watched her being marched past. Merchants, peasants, tradesmen, even a few whores, all stopped to stare. She saw a child with no shoes, the boy dressed in mere rags. He stared at her, reeking of fear, but there was hate in his eyes.
It hit her then. They thought she was corrupted, she thought she was the enemy, the story of the Wolfkin had faded so far into legend. The boy stopped low, and tossed a glob of mud from the side of the street. It struck Kira in the side of the head, matting her hair to her scalp. The thick mud slowly rolled down her head, spattering on her shoulder. She could do nothing by sigh and avoid the glares of those that watched. Angry shouts came from the crowds, and more mud, and moldy food was thrown at her, even a few rocks. They thought her the enemy.
The guards kept everyone away, but did nothing to stop the deluge of things thrown at her. Her head was knocked to the side as a fair sized rock cracked her in the temple. She felt her ears ringing, and a warm wet feeling crawling down to her cheek. Still she said nothing until finally she was being led up the stairs that led to the palace of Evermar. The crowds thinned out, until she was in the beautiful courtyard before the massive doors of the palace, surrounded by well dressed nobles in silk dresses and fine pressed tunics and breeches.
The dirt and grime were gone, replaced by a marble walkway that led to the doors. Two fountains were dug in on either side of the path, surrounded by gardens and hedges that spread out and curled around the entirety of the palace. Vibrant flowers of blue, violet, red, yellow, white, and so many other colours stood proud, as if a beacon of light against the darkness plaguing the world.
Any other occasion, Kira would have been breath taken with its beauty. Today she was much too terrified. She knew she was going to have to plead for her life in but a few moments.
The guards led her towards the large doors, where another two stood in brilliant silver armour, and finely tailored blue capes that flowed down from their shoulders. Perfectly formed halberds were clutched in their hands, and swords whose grips gleamed with a golden finished, sat at their hips in scabbards of fine leather and silver trim. They were both at rigid attention, the guards of Evermar, some of the finest soldiers in the entire Coalition; this Kira knew well.
They stared at Kira through the open eyes of their helmets, though blue silk cloths formed masks over the lower half of their face. One was steady and almost emotionless, the other though clearly showed hatred. They did not move until Kira was forced to a stop before the door. The Elven guard captain moved forward and pulled off his helmet.
“I, Captain Sunstor, bring forth the prisoner for the judgement of the council of ambassadors,” the man said, and now Kira had a name to go behind the blows earlier.
The two guards nodded slowly, in time with one another, and reached inwards, grasping the handles of the large doors, inlaid with golden vines to showcase the wealth of Driftafay, and pulled them open.
Kira was pushed again with the butt of the spear, through a short hallway of marble floor and dark painted walls, dotted with a few more large oak doors, until she stepped out into a large chamber, the roof domed above her, painted around the rim with all the heraldry of the Human clans and Elven houses. The rest was painted brilliant blue, with a spherical chandelier hanging from the centre, glowing with brilliant magic light from within. The floor was even more marble, and seats were curled around the room. Carved from fine wood, and covered in plush cushions of varying colours. In each sat the ambassadors from every single clan and house within the coalition.
These were the voices of Driftafay, the power of the Coalition, and Kira felt her blood running cold as so many looked down upon her. She looked back, seeing the guards who had escorted her in were all on one side of the door, out of the way, save Sunstor, who was beside her, sword in hand. On the other side were another four Evermar guards, and a fifth, dressed as them, but with no helmet. Her brown eyes simply watched Kira, her dark brown hair pulled back into a firm ponytail. Sarya, the captain of the Evermar guard. Kira swallowed, and looked all around. There were a few side doors leading out of the room, but no windows. She was in the belly of the palace.
“State your name for the council,” someone called, and when Kira looked towards the voice, she saw it was the ambassador from the Elven house of Winterstone. He tapped his fingers impatiently, and Kira cleared her throat.
“I am Kira, of Clan Cozlak. I-,” she said, and started to state her case when another spoke.
“She is the sister of Lillium,” the Cozlak ambassador said, and Kira stared at him. The bastard, living here in excess while his very own clan was running for their lives. But that her sister’s name had come up, and she was recognized gave Kira hope. Her sister was a hero.
“The very same who attacked Innisgar and burned it to the ground?” another called out.
“The same,” Wintersone growled and stared down at Kira, who felt her heart seizing and her mind whirling.
Lillium… attacked Innisgar? All the people there, those fleeing for their lives, and Lillium attacked? Reaching up and pinching her nose, Kira tried to wrap her mind around this information. It couldn’t be true, why would Lillium attack her own people?
“Look at her. She is changed, just as her sister has. She is corrupted,” someone shouted, pointing.
Was Lillium Wolfkin as well? Her mind swirled, she felt sick, lost, desperate.
“Captain Sarya. Please, execute this… corrupted sister of a traitor,” the Winterstone ambassador said, and Kira was devastated to see not one spoke out in her defense. Did not one of them know of the Wolfkin?
“The will of the council be done,” Sarya said, pulling her gorgeous sword free of its scabbard, and stepping forward. Kira’s heart pounded within her chest as she saw her doom coming closer. Then suddenly, she was calm. She glared at Sarya, feeling as if a beast within was awakening. She felt an urge, a pull.
“I. Am not. Kazdruk. I am Wolfkin,” she roared in defiance, and lashed out to the side, striking Sunstor’s face with her head. She felt his nose break, felt blood splash through her hair and down her own face. She grasped his sword, wrenching it from his fingers while he recovered from the blow.
“The Kazdruk are coming. You should find more friends, not enemies,” she shouted to the council, pulling at the chains binding her wrists together. Sarya had stopped her advance, and cautiously watched the woman, knowing she was dangerous. Sunstor shook his head and moved to lunge at Kira, but only received a sword through his chest.
Kira felt no sympathy as steel cleaved through flesh, puncturing his chest and ripping into his organs. He gasped, blood pouring from his mouth, and Ambassadors shouted in fear.
“We are allies Captain Sarya, we will see each other again soon,” she said, and took off towards one of the side doors, bashing through with her shoulder, bloodied sword in hand. The Evermar guards were chasing after her now. Their heavy boots pounded upon the fine floors of the side passages of the palace.
Kira was lost, she didn’t know where she was going. Her bare feet were quiet, but her chains rattled each time her body shifted. She shot past servants going about their day, earning a few screams, followed too closely behind when the guards barrelled past each surprised servant.
Then she saw it; glass, with daylight streaming through. She was in a hall now running along the exterior wall of the palace. With freedom in sight, she pushed herself harder, knowing that this was only the first step. She needed to find answers, and if what she heard was true… stop her sister.
“Lillium,” she whispered in pain, and leapt through the window. She felt glass tearing into her rags and flesh, saw it twinkling around her as she flew out into the air, felt the wind rushing over her as she started to descend. And realized as she fell that she was at the back of the palace, where the cliff loomed above Driftafay, and she was falling.
She was free, and the beast within her soul rose its head.