Wain led the way and the daring pair walked between the towering trunks of the primeval wood. At first Wain tried to point out the finer element of tracking to his friend, but Sir James ignored him and kept his eyes on the brush and growth around them and his mind on his danger sense. As far as he could tell they seemed to be heading in the right direction, the vague threat from deeper in the forest growing a little stronger as the minutes slipped by.
The heavy foliage of the trees made the passage of time hard to track, but Wain figured it was nearing the end of the afternoon when they stumbled on the edge of a lawn about an old stone building. Not a large building, but small, with likely only a single room inside. A high peaked roof was supported and surrounded by arches, all draped with weathered and broken gargoyles. The cheerful life-noise of the forest had faded over the past quarter mile and now a heavy silence hung amongst the trees.
“I think we’ve found something.” Wain whispered.
“Yes. I sense a great danger in the glade.”
“Great danger like a troll?”
“Let’s forget about this and go back home.”
“Find your courage, Wain. We are not giving up.”
“My courage, what about your courage?”
“My courage is just fine. We will go investigate as soon as you are ready.” Sir James sniffed.
“If your courage is just fine, then why are you whispering too?”
“It seemed the thing to do.” Sir James nodded stiffly and stepped into the glade. Nothing happened. Wain let out a weak chuckle and stepped in after him.
“See,” bellowed the barbarian, “I told you there was nothing to fear.”
A tremulous howl shook the trees.
“James. What was that?”
“I do not know. So much for sneaking up on it.” Sir James drew his sword and the flames flickered about the blade.
Wain drew his sword. No flames appeared, but a dark fuzzy blur flashed by him and a mighty fist struck him across the chin. It felt like a blow from a steel capped battering ram and the stocky barbarian tumbled head over heels back into the trees.
“Wain!” Sir James could hear his friend struggling to his feet amongst the leaves and a rushing noise through the trees to his left.
“Lord of Hosts, King of Good, bless my hands this day and give me the strength to be your champion.” Sir James dropped to one knee as he began a battle prayer.
The furry blur swept from the trees towards him. Sir James rose to his feet but his voice never faltered.
“That I may smite the evil infesting this hollow and destroy it so that it may never again harry Your people. Empower me, my Overlord! Give me strength!”
The blur was upon him and time seemed to slow as the holy blessing took effect. Sir James saw the creature attacking him clearly, a tall mannish thing, with human hands and the legs and snout of a wolf. Great lengths of lanky hair draped from his body, mired and tangled with blood and leaves and sticks. Its eyes were yellow islands, floating in pools of blood, stretched wide and rolling with madness. Long wolfish fangs protruded from his jaw, cutting through his lips in places. The beast put one gaunt paw, heavy laden with dagger-like claws, forward slowly. Its weight shifted, its hand moved.
Sir James knew exactly what the creature was about to do. He closed his eyes, side stepped, and swung a low disemboweling cut with all his might. Wind whistled by his ear as the wolfman’s hand barely missed tearing his head off. The flaming sword struck something hard as stone and its blade chimed like a church bell and rebounded.
Sir James opened his eyes and assumed a defensive stance. The wolfman was on the other side of the clearing now. It pressed one hand against its side, then lifted it and licked it clean with a lolling tongue. Blood boiled and blackened in the flames on James’ blade, the acrid smell drifting back to him. The wolfman lifted its head and howled again.
“So you can be hurt, devil spawn! Come on then, come and face justice!”
The wolfman stared across the clearing, tested its footing and just before it sprang into action, an answering howl tore across the dusky sky.