LENORA – Chapter One

Art by me.

Since it’s going to be a while before I get my next book published and things are crazy, I thought I’d post it chapter by chapter in this site for everyone to enjoy for free. I hope you like it! Feel free to let me know what you think!

Chapter One

“Why in Satan’s name does winter start in November?” Peter asked, wrapping his hands around his goosebump-covered triceps. “Temperatures don’t drop this far down ‘til, like, mid December or some shit.”

“Maybe you should ask him,” Garen Leonhart, a boy much shorter than Peter, remarked, trudging along behind him.

“Go to hell.”

“Hey, that’s where I’m telling you to go.”

Garen laughed at his own comment, while Peter could only shake his head and sigh.

The two boys walked eastward through the countryside surrounding the provincial village of Alorae. For the most part, it was all grassland and hills, with some daisies scattered about along with dandelions closing up shop for the winter. Evergreens poked out through the hills and grasslands in clusters of two, three, four, increasing in numbers as they extended to the north, east, and south until they formed a thick forest.

“You think hell’s warmer than this place?” Peter asked, rubbing his hands together. “If so, I don’t think I’d mind a field trip there.”

“Why didn’t you just bring a jacket?” Garen asked in response, sliding his hands into the pockets of his own black wool jacket. Peter shrugged and shook the numbness out of his hands.

“I’m protesting early winter.”

Garen stared at his friend with his mouth agape. “Protesting?”

“It’s all about the symbol, man.”

“Sure. That symbol being hypothermia, you mean.”

“Say what you want, but I’ll be the one laughing when my stubbornness one day changes the weather.”

Without further conversing of the matter, they continued making their way across the countryside. Further east, the grass was covered in dew slowly falling to the earth. The clusters of trees grew thicker as they headed deeper into the forested area surrounding the village. It was rare for villagers to establish homes out this far, and yet before the boys resided a modest cabin constructed from hardy wood and iron, surrounded by a wooden fence and stacks of hay bales. That cabin was their destination.

“Do we really have to talk to this guy?” Garen asked. “He creeps me out, man.”

“He already paid the Bishop for this job,” Peter said, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “There’s no backing out of it. And besides, you’ve gone through worse. What’s so wrong with this guy?”

Garen’s eyes drifted away from the cabin. “Call it a gut feeling.”

They walked around the wooden fence surrounding the cabin and found a gap at the back. Peter led the charge around the cabin, taking a long, silver dagger that had previously been secured in a leather scabbard at his side, and walked towards the front door. Garen shivered as he looked around. The yard surrounding the cabin was mostly empty, save for the hay bales. Around them, the wooden fence had to at least stand at six feet tall, much taller than Garen would be able to jump. There weren’t many reliefs for him to climb on either. The fence surrounded the cabin entirely, giving only a few yards of clearance for walking, and the front door led right towards a solid portion of it. The only exit was around, not straight through. Once again, Garen shivered at the realization.

The two boys approached the front door of the cabin. They exchanged looks with one another. Garen followed Peter’s example and removed his own dagger from the scabbard attached to his belt. Peter knocked on the wooden door with the fist wrapped around his dagger. Not even a few seconds after did the door open. An unidentifiable stench wafted out from the door, causing both Garen and Peter to recoil. Before them was a particularly short middle-aged man, almost a head shorter than Peter. His eyes were yellow and his head was balding, the last few wisps of white hair clinging to the outside of his crown. The man grinned at the boys with crooked yellow teeth and spoke in a raspy voice as though he’d been smoking for quite some time. He looked and sounded far older than he really was.

“Ah, so he did send Garen and Peter!” the man said, laughing joyously. “Welcome, welcome! Come on in, and we’ll—”

“We’re not coming in,” Peter said with a chuckle, shaking his head. “Just tell us the job and we’ll get on with it.”

The man eyed both Peter and Garen for a good amount of time. Too much time, Garen thought, and he almost instinctively stepped behind Peter slightly. Finally, the man shrugged and scoffed. “Alright, fine,” he said. “Knowing you two work for the church is more than enough info for me.”

Peter twirled his dagger in his fingers, avoiding eye contact with the man. “So, this job,” he said.

“Some beast has been scavenging from the farmhouses out here in the countryside,” the man finally said. “Stealing crops, killing and eating animals, leaving behind bloody carcasses and the like, and it’s become quite a nuisance lately.”

“I see.” Peter spun his dagger and held it with the blade poking out from the bottom of his fist, swinging it close at the man with calculated but seemingly reckless intent. “Any ID on this so-called beast?”

“Not much to go off of,” the man sighed, his eyes narrowed down to the ground. “The only sightings have happened in the early morning hours. It seems the beast strikes late at night and retreats into the forest around the time the sun starts rising.” He looked back up at Peter. “From what some of the neighbors say, it’s very wolven in stature and nature, but it seems too big to just be a regular wolf.”

“Does it appear to strike on its own, or in a group?”

“It appears to be a lone wolf, so to say.” The man laughed at his own remark, saw that neither of the boys appeared to be amused, and cleared his throat. “Sometimes, it leaves tracks heading into the forest, but there’s always only one pair of four-legged tracks.”

Peter nodded. “Alright, that’s enough information to go off of. We’ll tell the Bishop when the job’s done so he can let you know himself.” He turned towards Garen and placed a hand on his back, pushing him along as they left. “Have a good day.”

“Wait!” the man exclaimed. “Don’t you want to come in for some water or something beforehand?”

The two boys left the man’s cabin as quickly as possible. Garen broke into a sprint as soon as they reached the back of the cabin, and Peter followed. They didn’t stop until they were well into the forest. Once they covered enough ground and created distance between themselves and the man’s cabin, they slowed to a stop. Garen looked up at Peter with a scoff. “Now you see why he freaks me out?”

“Yeah,” Peter scoffed, turning towards the cabin. “We’re staying the hell away from him from now on. I’ll tell the Bishop about his true nature once the job’s done, but for now, we’ve got a beasty to kill, it seems.”

“A monster hunt,” Garen said with a slow exhale. “Alright. I can handle that.” He looked into the darkness of the forest ahead. It was already cold enough outside the forest with the cloudy skies obscuring the sun, but in the shade of the forest, it was freezing. Both of the boys could see their breath in the cold. Before them sprawled the eastern Alorae forest. A verdant haze covered the darkness in the fresh air. The aroma of sap, fresh trees, and recent rain in the grass filled the forest. Despite the peaceful feeling the forest gave passersby, the boys knew of the hidden dangers within. “The beast goes into the eastern forest, right?” Garen asked.

“That’s what the pedophile told us, at least,” Peter said, his eyes peeled for tracks or signs of beastial life. However, the darkness made it too difficult to see anything. He sighed loudly and stood up straight. “I can’t see shit in the dark. We should’ve brought a torch or something.”

“Those are reserved for subterranean missions though,” Garen said.

“But still.” Peter looked around more, still unable to find any tracks. Finally, he turned towards Garen and shrugged. “I guess we’re gonna search for him. Let’s go. Keep low, keep quiet.”

“Like you have to tell me.” Garen scoffed and bent down low to the ground. He and Peter walked slowly through the forest, looking around into the darkness. Despite their cautiousness, neither of them could truly see much. It was a usual monster hunt. They were used to it by that point, so they figured they could handle themselves if things got bad.

“Hey Garen,” Peter whispered, but immediately, Garen hissed a shush at him.

“After the job,” Garen whispered back, looking up at his friend. Peter nodded in return and continued making his way through the forest.

In the time they spent searching, some of the clouds started to part. The sun shone down onto the provincial village area, though with the trees covering the sky, it hardly made a difference for the temperature. It did, however, make things easier to see. Sunlight shimmered through gaps between the leaves in the trees. Peter and Garen glanced at the ground below, searching for tracks. Something in the ground caught Garen’s eye, however. He tapped Peter’s shoulder, and once Peter turned around, he pointed at the ground. A thin trail of blood ran along imprints left in the grass. Not necessarily footprints, but the imprints were long, as though something had been dragged.

“Think it’s the target?” Garen asked quietly.

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Peter tightened his grip around the hilt of his dagger and walked closer towards the trail of blood. He leaned down to get a closer look at it. A slight sigh escaped his lips and his eyes moved upward along with the trail. “The blood veers off to the right after a little while over there.” He pointed towards a mass thicket of trees ahead of them. The sound of running water came from that direction. “Seems it might have made its home by the river.”

“Then let’s go after it,” Garen said. “I’m ready to get this job over with. We’ve got other crap to deal with back in the village.”

“Yeah.” Peter nodded and led the charge. He walked slowly, quietly, doing his best to keep a low profile. Garen followed suit as they approached the thicket and the sound of the river beyond.

Garen’s pulse quickened. He swallowed and looked at the thicket, attempting to keep his ears peeled for any sort of sounds. Other than the river, the rustling leaves around them, and the occasional cry of birds in the trees, he didn’t hear anything. He was glad Peter led the charge, though he’d never admit it, lest his reputation be forever tarnished, or so his twelve year-old mind thought.

Taking a turn around the thicket, Peter held his left arm out. Garen stopped immediately. Peter looked around the river clearing for a moment, scanning the immediate vicinity, and nodded. “Looks like we were right,” he said quietly, his lips curling into a grin. Garen walked around Peter and turned towards the right, where the trail of blood had gone, and where the blood resided, they saw the target. It was as the middle-aged man described: a wolf-like beast at least twice the size of a full-grown wolf. Its fur was black as night with patches taken out from places where it had presumably been wounded. It lay on all fours, gnawing at the bones of what looked like a former cow. Garen swallowed again at the bloody sight. But as though the creature heard him, its pointed ears perked up. It looked up at the boys with glowing green eyes and jumped to its feet with near impossible speed.

“Shit,” Peter whispered. “Looks like it got the jump on us.”

“Time for a fight, I assume?” Garen asked timidly.

The beast answered Garen’s question with a startlingly guttural roar. It stretched its forelegs and pounced, closing the gap between itself and the boys in just a couple of seconds. Peter aggressively shoved Garen aside, his eyes locked onto the beast, and went to strike at the monster. He thrust his dagger upward as the beast’s head passed by his, and the blade stuck through the bottom of its chin. However, the beast managed to connect a hit on Peter. Its hulking paw scratched down Peter’s bare, cold arm. Peter winced and fell back before the beast could pin him down.

“Peter!” Garen exclaimed, seeing the bloody wound on Peter’s arm, but he saw the beast as well. It still had plenty of energy to spare as it prepared to pounce at Peter again. Garen clenched his teeth, took in a deep breath, and charged at the beast with both hands wrapped around his dagger. He stuck the blade deep into its ribs. Immediately, the beast roared again and spun on its hindlegs in an attempt to swipe at Garen. Garen foresaw the beast’s attack and ducked beneath it. Right on cue, Peter jumped as high as he could and held his dagger downward. Right before the blade could pierce through its skull, the beast bowed its head in retaliation against Peter’s attack and snapped its massive maw at Peter. In return, Peter took the opportunity to stab the beast through the roof of its mouth. It was a success; the dagger pierced right through the roof of the beast’s mouth and out the top of its snout. 

The beast roared out in pain, its black fur beginning to stain and stick together with its own blood. Peter pulled his dagger from the beast’s mouth, but instinctively, the beast’s mouth snapped shut. Peter screamed out in pain as the beast’s teeth dug into his wrist. Garen’s eyes widened, hoping to God that Peter didn’t just lose a hand, and he ran towards the beast while it was preoccupied with his friend. He finally made the attempt to stab the beast through its left temple, and as Peter’s hand held it in place, the blade sunk right through its skull. It let out a short, sharp whine, its grip on Peter’s hand loosening as it tried to shake off the pain of Garen’s blow. Peter recoiled, gripping his bloody wrist.

“Finish it off,” he said in a low tone of voice. Garen nodded in response, his eyes meeting with the green eyes of the beast. For a moment, Garen saw pain in the beast’s eyes. He felt as though he’d seen the beast’s entire life, lived it himself. A surge of pain shot across his body for just an instant, but he shook it off, his mind on the job. He shouted, lifted his dagger high in the air with the blade pointed downward, and while looking the beast in the eyes, brought the blade down with all his strength. Time froze for a moment, though it felt like an eternity to Garen. The beast’s body went limp. It slumped over and fell into the grass, its own blood splattering out from under it. The green in its eyes faded to white. Its body was warm for only a moment, but Garen felt it leave almost immediately, replaced with soulless cold. The beast was dead.

Garen pulled his dagger out of the beast’s head, a trail of blood dripping from the blade as he did so, and he examined the body. For as massive as the beast was, it looked small and helpless at that moment. Peter walked up behind Garen, still clenching his wrist as he examined the corpse.

“It put up a hell of a fight,” he said with a weak chuckle. “At least it didn’t die willingly.”

“I suppose,” Garen said. He looked at the corpse for a little bit. A chill ran down his body from his neck to his lower back and he shivered as they remained with the body. “No matter how many times we do this, I never get used to this part.”

“You always had a soft spot for animals,” Peter sighed. “It’s funny. I’ve never seen you look so mournful when its an assassination mission on a human, but when it’s a monster, you always get like this.”

“Monsters are different from humans.” Garen returned his dagger to the scabbard on his belt and knelt down, placing his hands on the cold body of the former beast. “Humans kill without necessity. They steal, kill, do all these terrible things, and they don’t bat an eye. Many of them enjoy it all, too. But monsters, they don’t have a vendetta against life like many people think they do. This guy was probably stealing from the farmlands for survival. There aren’t many animals in this forest that can be easily hunted, so it’d be easier to steal from the nearby farms.” Garen shrugged. “Sure, I feel bad for murdering humans, but at least I know that when I do, it’s because it’s for the greater good. When I kill a monster, it just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel… it doesn’t feel fair to the monster, you know?”

Peter scoffed and backed up a bit, looking around at their surroundings. “You know,” he began, “I kinda understand what you’re talking about, for sure, but the damn thing nearly took my hand off, so I can’t say I pity it or anything.”

“Oh shit. Your hand!”

Garen shot up to his feet and hurried to Peter’s side to examine his wound. Peter’s entire left hand was drenched in blood from keeping pressure on the wound. He winced again as he opened his hand to reveal numerous punctures in his wrist. Some of his bones were even visible. Garen’s face scrunched up at the sight and he shook his head.

“That thing got you good,” he said. “Let me see it.” Peter nodded and held his bloody arm towards Garen. Garen wrapped both his hands around the wound, holding Peter’s wrist tightly. He closed his eyes, and the world around him fell silent for a moment. It was a peaceful silence. The feeling of his heart pumping blood into his veins amplified itself, and Garen could feel every single beat. He took in a deep breath of the fresh forest air, and as he exhaled, a gentle energy of cold air emerged from his palms and the tips of his fingers, almost like a homemade breeze. The wounds around Peter’s wrist began to close up, the bleeding slowing to a halt. Garen opened his eyes once he finished, and he examined Peter’s wrist. There were still scars around it, but the punctures were gone entirely. Peter clenched his hand into a fist and laughed a little, looking at his wrist.

“No matter how many times I see you do that, it never fails to amaze me,” he said.

“It’s just something I think I was born with,” Garen said with a shrug. “I think that’s why the Bishop always has me go on missions with you and Anne. I might not be able to do it much, but when I do, I make it count. I can’t let you guys die, you know.”

“But still, don’t sell yourself short, man.” Peter smiled and placed his hand on Garen’s shoulder. “You’re a badass kid. You’ve proven this time and time again. You’re excellent in combat, you have cool magic and shit, and you’re a great friend all around.”

Garen found his cheeks flushing slightly at Peter’s words and he laughed nervously. “Don’t go getting all sappy on me now, man. You’re embarrassing me.”

“Good.” Peter laughed and nudged Garen. “You deserve a little reality check every once in a while.”

“Oh, whatever.”

Both of the boys laughed a little. It was something Garen always looked forward to when it came to missions that required them to leave Alorae. Moments where he could spend time with his best friend were far and few in between, but he treasured every moment he had with Peter, even if those moments required murdering people or creatures.

Once the moment passed, they turned towards the corpse of the beast they felled. Garen crossed his arms, wiping some of the blood he got on his hand from healing Peter’s wound off on his shirt. “What should we do?” he asked. “We need to bring some sort of proof that we killed the beast to the Bishop so we get paid for the job, right?”

“Something like that,” Peter said. He knelt down and examined the corpse, looking it over a few times. “We need something sort of small so we don’t freak out any of the villagers when we return. Something like… ah!” He chuckled with a cocky grin as he brandished his knife and began to cut one of the beast’s eyeballs from the socket. Garen squirmed at the sight and turned away as Peter did so.

“Is that really necessary?” he asked. Peter finished the job and held the beast’s massive eyeball in the palm of his hand. It was practically the size of an orange in his hand, both in weight, shape, and size.

“This thing had green eyes,” Peter said. “They may have gone grey upon death, but I think this should be proof enough that we got this thing killed.” He sheathed his dagger and pat Garen on the back. “Come on. Let’s head back to the village.”

“Yeah,” Garen scoffed, avoiding eye contact with the eyeball in Peter’s hand. “Let’s do it.”