Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure


Once again, P&D is pleased as punch to present a tale from the pen of Joshua Reynolds (who, you will recall was the cunning quillmeister behind the Shuddersome Short "Four and Twenty Black Birds"!)  Put your hands together please and welcome the picaresque duo of Vash and Svetch, a roguish sword-wielding pair up to no good and about to find themselves up to their jerkins in trouble on a very dark and stormy night when they encounter...

The Doom of Wolves

By Joshua Reynolds
About the author


SVETCH CURSED AS HALF SEEN BRANCHES CAUGHT and tore at his drenched clothing like the icy talons of hungry raptors.  The little man, in swiping at the offending limbs, suddenly fell to wet ground, his foot caught on a thick, muscular root.  Svetch screeched like an enraged swamp cat and tore loose his sword from his belt and proceeded to chasten the malevolent tree root in a thoroughly permanent manner.

Vash strove to choke down the howls of laughter that bubbled at the base of his throat as he watched the antics of his small partner.  It was rare when something did not cause some amount of annoyance to the high-strung little northerner.  Vash refused, however, to hide his grin as he stooped his lanky frame down and plucked the still snarling Svetch from his muddy seat.

“Let go of me, you great grinning ape!” Svetch yowled and at his histrionic gestures, Vash, still grinning, deposited him once more back into the rain gorged dirt.

“Want to try this one more time, little man?” Vash chuckled as he squatted down beside his fuming partner and offered his long fingered and much scarred hand.  Svetch grumbled in low tones as he accepted the helping hand out of the muck, but his grumbles grew louder as Vash did not set him down, but instead held him up a foot above the ground.  Vash rumbled,” Now, what do you say?”

Svetch hissed like a weasel and, placing both muddy boots upon Vash’s broad chest, he braced himself and snake-quick squirmed out of the southerner’s iron grip, whereupon he dropped to his feet.  With a last unintelligible snarl, he flipped his much-patched cloak back over himself with a grandiose gesture and stalked off once more down the shadowed trail.  “You’re welcome,” Vash said as he sighed in exasperation, before following Svetch down the trail.

Svetch the Curse (or the Cursed as he referred to himself in instances of irritation) and Vash the Torch (so named for his enjoyment of a good house-fire, especially if he was the one to cause it) had entered the shadow-drenched trees of the Hag-wood two days earlier after terminating their bodyguarding contract with the (late) Count de Vors and taking their leave of his estates.  Which put them exactly a day and a half ahead of a posse of their former employer’s cousins and brothers who wished to discuss with the twain their failure to uphold their end of the contract--specifically not allowing de Vors to get himself killed--whilst still collecting their pay (via an ingenious scheme involving the late count’s body, some wire, Svetch’s astounding puppetry skills and Vash’s amazing mimicry skills; a plot in itself which is a story for another time) from the de Vors estates treasury.

Upon entering the Hag wood, a storm had arisen quite suddenly, adding to the duos list of problems wet clothing as well as rusty armour and weaponry.  Yet they pressed on, hoping to find some shelter to wait out the steady rains that threatened to drown them where they stood.

“How about that cave there?” Vash pointed through the heavy growth with his slim bladed sword.  “ It looks both dry and easily defensible should our persistent associates come upon us.”

“Anything to be out of this gods cursed downpour!” Svetch hissed. “ It’ll be weeks before I’m dry again!”

“It’s not that bad, little man.  It rains like this for weeks on end in my own country.  This is but the tiniest of storms!”  Vash laughed as he entered the cave mouth.

“No wonder you’re such a buffoon then…your brain is obviously waterlogged from all those tiny storms.” Svetch snarled as he too entered and took off his cloak.  Vash shrugged his shoulders and began digging in his belt pouch for flint and tinder.  Svetch dropped his drenched cloak to the floor of the cave and began to move back further into the darkness of the enclosure.

“Little man, would you at least wait for me to get a fire going before you go off exploring!” Vash growled at Svetch’s retreating back.

“And what, oh blessed son of the sunny south, will you start a fire with?  No dry wood in a rain shower.  Perhaps you will burn rocks?” Svetch’s voice slithered out of the shadows.  Vash looked around himself, then out into the storm and cursed once, foully, before replacing his tinder and following Svetch deeper into the cave.

As the duo carefully picked their way through the pitch-black cave, looking for any objects or materials of a combustible nature, the problem of light was suddenly solved for them as several torches, unseen before, blazed into writhing life in front of their astonished eyes.  Svetch blistered the air in his immediate vicinity with a dozen northern curses of varying vileness as he jumped back like a scorched cat and drew his short, evilly serrated blade, while Vash crouched, lion-like, big hand on leather sword-grip, as silent as the stone which made up the walls around them.  After awhile he stood and released his sword hilt.  “Hunh.  There’s something one doesn’t see every day,” he said to Svetch as the other slowly uncoiled himself from his own crouching position.  The crackling fires of the torches revealed an iron banded oaken door, placed in the exact center of the back wall of the cave.

The pair of rogues looked at each other with raised eyebrows.  Vash grinned and bowed low before Svetch, indicating the door with a gesture.  The little northerner quirked an eyebrow and pointed to himself with a silent approximation of the very picture of interested innocence as he sheathed his sword.  Then, returning Vash’s mocking bow, he moved to the door, pulling various gadgets and tools from about his person.

However before he could put his burglary skills to work, the door slowly creaked open as if blown by an unfelt wind.  Svetch leapt quickly to the side of the doorway, hastily replacing his tools back to their various locations.  Vash drew his long, much notched blade and took up position opposite his small partner on the other side of the now open portal.  “Who goes first?” Svetch hissed, easing his own blade from its ragged scabbard.  Vash shrugged and pointed his sword at Svetch.  The Curse snarled silently, spat and glared. Vash sighed with a smirk and entered the shadow-beclouded doorway, crouching slightly.

***

Outside the cave the storm continued to pound the Hag wood with bestial fury.  Some miles away from the duo’s hiding place, the new Count de Vors, brother to the deceased former holder of that title, growled out orders to his bondsmen, yelling in an effort to be heard over the storm.  Beside him, his head huntsman, Javert, scowled in dismay and shook his wolfish head as he watched his new lord add to an already confusing mess.  Household troops ran in every direction, hacking into the brush and vegetation at random, attempting to follow every order coming in, most of them contradictory.

Most of the confusion, Javert realized, came from the fact that the new Count’s position was unstable at best.  Most of the old count’s male relatives had been in attendance at Vorhold throughout the incident of his untimely death at the hands of his murderous mistress as well as the idiotic attempt by his former bodyguards to scam profits from the dead man’s family.  With the funeral out of the way, the question of the rightful heir became foremost in the minds of every male de Vors able to hold a sword and walk.

The deceased Count’s oldest brother, Rainier, had managed to put himself at the head of the pack by browbeating everyone else with his brother’s will, which clearly stated that “To my brother I leave over guardianship of the estate and all accompanying titles.” However, as the count had had four brothers there was still some debate raging as to which one he had really meant.

Rainer had, for the moment, managed to distract the rest of his bloodthirsty kin with the idea of vengeance upon the duo of rogues who had had the bad taste to attempt to collect their unearned pay in a grossly necrotic fashion.  Now there were at least ten members of the de Vors family running around the Hag wood in the rain with their personal arms men, attempting to catch two very unlucky would-be thieves as well as out plot each other.  The servants had no idea whose orders to follow anymore than they knew what direction to search in.

Javert growled as he watched the confusing panorama unfolding before him.  He could already tell this was going to be a bad day.

***

Vash passed through the doorway, squinting in the darkness. Stopping just past the threshold, he extended his hand back through the way he had come and snapped his fingers.  Wordlessly Svetch placed one of the torches from the cavern wall into the waiting digits. Vash held the crackling firebrand up over his head, its orange glow revealing a great stone room, dominated by a large table that had evidently been hewn whole from a tree.  Several dozen chairs surrounded the table, and all were covered in a thick layer of dust and grime.  As Vash entered the room proper, he noticed quite a few grim remains--several small piles of bones and various brick-a-brack.

Svetch followed his large partner into the odd room a few moments later, not bothering to resheath his blade.  “What is this place?” he hissed in a low voice.

My home,” came a thin, whispering growl, like the wings of a hundred bats.   A small figure fully encased in a much patched and faded cloak slowly arose from where it had been seated at the edge of the table furthest from the door.  Vash and Svetch started like scalded cats at the figure's sudden appearance.

Vash quickly regained his composure and bowed low, in the style of the arrogant nobles of the Southlands, regally extending his big hands forward in a placating manner.  “We do tender to you our most sincere apologies for coming upon you in this manner; I and my small friend were merely seeking to esca…” The Southerner stopped suddenly as the light of the torch he still clutched fell more fully upon the figure before him.  The flickering light caused the individual to give no shadow; indeed it seemed to cause the form to fade.

What do you mean, entering my home uninvited?  Get out!” the figure hissed again, pointing a bony finger at a point somewhere in between the disturbed pair of rogues.

“As I was saying before, we were merely attempting to escape the storm raging outside…” Vash continued, attempting to overcome his awe of the mysterious form before him.  “ We meant no harm…”

“Erm...Vash?” Svetch tapped Vash upon the shoulder nervously.

“Hush, little man.  I’m attempting to explain our predicament to this unreasonable gentleman.”

“About that…I don’t think he’s talking to us.” Svetch grabbed his ally’s arm tightly and whirled him around to face the doorway.

“What’re you…” Vash stared at the new apparitions that crowded the doorway.  They were a rough looking bunch.  Bandits beyond any doubts of the duo, but what bandits had ever before appeared so less than substantial?  “Little man, can you see what I see?”

“If you are referring to the fact that we can see through these gentleman’s midriffs, armored though they be, then yes, I can see what you see, big man.  The question here is, just what are we seeing?”  Svetch snarled, bringing his sword to bear upon the advancing specters.  Vash too brought his blade up on guard; and so the twain faced the grim horde.  The selfsame grim horde, which, in the end, paid them utterly no mind, in fact passing them by utterly, to surround the first figure at the table.

We’ve come for yer treasure, old hermit,” roared one of the bandits, a large gruesome individual bearing only one eye in his scar-ridden face.  The apparition waved a notched, thick bladed sword around, occasionally pointing it at the figure he had addressed as the hermit for emphasis.  “Give it to us, ye old wood witch, afore we take it’s location from outs yer hide.

There is no treasure here as you can plainly see.  Leave me in peace lest you feel the wrath of that which is truly hidden here!”  The hermit roared back.

“This won’t end well,” Svetch whispered as he and Vash slowly backed out of the room.  Moments later the ethereal shapes before them began to move in a macabre dance, proving Svetch’s comment correct.  The ghostly bandits gave tongue to wolfish howls of glee as they pounced upon the shrieking hermit, blades and clubs held high.  Vash and Svetch watched in sick fascination as the old man’s shade was beaten down and trampled into a bloody heap. Then, at a snarl from their leader, the bandits began to search the cave.  Though nothing moved that they could see, both men could hear crashes and the splintering of wood as the bandits ransacked the cavern with ferocious abandon.

Suddenly, the battered form of the spectral hermit arose, eyes burning with a baneful power.  With a voice full of blood and hate, the grim wight spat out a curse upon his attackers, before collapsing once more unmoving. “Wolves ye are, and wolves ye shall be, that is your doom fore’er more for daring to strike me…

As the only two living men in the torch lit cavern looked on in horrified curiosity, the bandits screamed as one, falling to their knees to writhe and shriek in pain.  Svetch snarled and grasped his companion’s jerkin, dragging him back through the open doorway, the howls of ghostly wolves at their heels.

Svetch hurled Vash into the outer cavern, then turned to slam the door on the billowing horror that lurked back the way they had come.  As the huge wooden slab hammered shut, Svetch turned to find his companion facing the cave mouth, heavy blade in hand.  Vash growled deep in his thick throat like a wounded bear and, from out in the storm, something answered with a growl of its own.  The slender northerner loped forward and crouched beside his more massive partner, drawing his own blade.  Both men watched intently as several gaunt, gray shapes padded into the cavern out of the howling storm, red tongues dangling from fang studded maws.  Glittering eyes burned into their own, alight with a bestial cunning far removed from that of any normal beast of the forest or field.  “We in trouble?” Svetch hissed.

“What do you think?” Vash hissed back.  As he did so, a large form pushed through the beasts clustered about them.  The wolf was little more than a scarred block of lupine muscle blanketed in patchy gray fur.  It was double the size of its lesser cousins, a lord of beasts in all aspects.  Its muzzle was a mangled hunk of tissue and teeth, and but one evilly glittering eye pulsed in its thick brow.  “Aw shit!” Vash howled as the beast lunged forward, jaws wide and trailing foam.

***

Javert cursed as the first arrows whizzed past his nose, slicing canyons through the steady curtain of rain.  It had begun.  He dove into the mud as several dozen men charged through the brush, roaring battle cries and more arrows sped through the night.  An armsman leapt towards his prone form, stabbing downward with a broad bladed spear and yelling, “For Lord de Vors!”  Javert drew his wickedly curved hunting knife and parried the spear point in one smooth motion.  Then he brought his boot up into the other man’s groin, knocking him away squealing.

As he stood, wiping ineffectually at the mud upon his leather jerkin, Javert kicked the writhing man in the head and spat on him. “Which one, you idiot?”

***

Svetch dove lightly over the wolf as it hurtled forward and landed in a crouch, slicing his sword across the shaggy neck of another of the beasts as he did so.  “Stop dancing and help me!” Vash roared from the floor nearby where he struggled with the immense pack leader.  The Southerner had wrapped his big hands around the creature’s throat and it was taking all of his strength to keep those slavering jaws from reaching his face.  Svetch flicked his sword out, whipping it across the big wolf’s hindquarters and distracting it momentarily before the beast he had just eluded sprang upon his back.  As Svetch fell, a flurry of wolves covered his flailing form as Vash rose, dragging the big wolf into the air, taking advantage of the distraction Svetch had afforded him.  The Torch hurled his lupine adversary against the far wall with a show of titanic strength; then, grasping his blade from the floor, he waded into the mass of snarling forms before him.

The big blade swept through the tightly packed wolves in a rush of crimson, lopping off paws and ears and any other protruding element of bestial flesh.  Vash battered two of the beasts aside and yanked his partner from the cavern floor with his free hand. Svetch gazed blearily about, his face dirty and bloodstained.  His clothes were ripped and torn and blood flowed sluggishly from several light cuts.  “Wench! Refill here!” he blared, swinging his head from side to side to clear it.

“Quiet or I’ll toss you back to the dogs, little man!” Vash growled, slinging the dazed Northerner over his shoulder.  Vash gazed in horror as the creatures he had mutilated began to stagger to their feet, fangs glinting in the torchlight.  Could nothing stop these creatures?   He reacted instantly as he saw the big leader getting to its paws, diving through the cave opening into the downpour outside. Better to take their chances in the storm than at the fangs of demon wolves. “Come on, we are leaving!”

***

Javert had browbeaten several huntsmen into a motley bodyguard for his chosen lord, Rainier.  The heir apparent was too busy gloating over his successful assassination of his two youngest siblings minutes before to even notice that he was no longer alone. Glancing askance at the giggling nobleman, Javert felt that he might have chosen wrong yet again in his long life.  He shrugged morosely, rain running down the back of his leather cloak.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  Then, he perked up as his keen old ears caught the sounds of howls.  Wolf howls.  Muted by the rain, but drawing closer.

***

Vash’s big boot caught upon a root and he tumbled down into a waterlogged gully, Svetch falling from his shoulder.  The icy touch of the muddy water brought the foul-mouthed little northerner back to his senses, and he surfaced with explosive curses dripping from his lips.  “By the nine balls of the Harlequin, what in the hell were those…?” he shrieked.

“Remian merchants…what the hell do you think they were?!” Vash roared back, staggering to his feet in the knee high water.  Further conversation was lost amidst chilling howls that descended and slithered through the darkness of the storm becloaked night.  All around the gully and its shivering occupants, lupine shadows melted from the blackness.  The two outlaws stood back to back in the swiftly rising water, their naked blades facing outward into the red-eyed night.

“Demons…I hate demons.  Always smell like shit after I kills ‘em,” Svetch hissed between bared teeth.  Vash just grunted, his big war blade spinning slowly in his two handed grip.  “Why aren’t they attacking?” Svetch hissed again, after a few moments.  The demon-wolves paced uncertainly around the lip of the gully, or sat and snarled.  Occasionally, one would make as if to dive into the gully after its prey, but always stopped short, one black nailed paw held daintily over the swirling waters.

“The water.  Demons can’t cross running water.  Evidently the way this gully is filling up counts as well,” Vash crowed, snapping his fingers.

“It’s a ditch.  The water is rising, not running,” Svetch snarled.

“In a purely technical sense, it’s probably the same thing… Does it really matter as long as it works?” Vash snarled back. Svetch growled in reply and tossed his serrated blade from hand to hand, idly spitting at the nearest of the wolves.

“So how long til we drown?”

***

Javert parried the thrust desperately with a stolen blade.  Too many people in this thrice damned wood wanted his blood.  He head butted his opponent, knocking him staggering backwards and rammed his sword through the soldier’s jerkin into the soft flesh beneath.  The swirling melee had caught up with his tiny band of huntsmen.  Lord Rainier was lost in the darkness somewhere, fighting on his own.  Javert wasn’t too disappointed.  He had always believed in extricating himself from obvious madmen and romantic relationships as quickly as possible.  Now if only he could escape this wood before some fool took off his head.  He whirled as a lean, dark shape bled out of the shadows at the corner of his eye.  Somewhere in the night, a man screamed.  Then another.  And yet more still.  More lean, low shapes emerged from the darkness and rain.  Crimson eyes reflected in the lightning.  “…Wolves.”  Javert hissed.

***

“Do you hear the sound of sword work?” Svetch queried his large partner.  Vash raised his eyes from the circling wolves.

“Yes…and getting closer!”

***

The demon wolves slunk silently away from the filling gully, their noses quivering at the scent of spilt blood, their tongues hanging agape.

***

The question of personal allegiances became moot as the servants and household troops of the de Vors clan, so enamored of slaughtering each other before suddenly renewed the easily shattered bonds of loyalty, to stand together against the nightmare assault of the devil wolves.  Unkillable or merely limitless, the beasts tore through the ragged bands of isolated men, red maws agape, teeth gleaming wetly, fur plastered tight by the ceaseless rain.  The remaining scions of the de Vors line stood in a semi circle, blades flashing against demon flesh rather than that of kin.

Javert hacked brutally at any four footed form that came near, leaving several howling and writhing in the mud around the tree he had his back against.

***

Svetch and Vash scrambled over the top of the gully, eyes wide at the hellish scene before them.  Men and beasts swirled around each other, steel against fang and sinew.  Blood pooled upon the muddy forest path, creating small rivers of red through the brown and green.

“I do believe we should take our leave at this most opportune of times…” Vash whispered hoarsely.  Svetch nodded curtly.  The duo dodged through embattled knots of flashing iron and snapping jaws, striking out at any who came near, either man or wolf.  They fled blindly into the wood, hoping that they were heading back the way they had come, but not really caring.  As long as they managed to leave the wood alive they would be of good cheer.

***

Javert, bleeding from numerous cuts and wounds, staggered after the two men who had suddenly appeared out of the night, racing through the slaughter like bats out of hell.  The path they cleared was good enough an opening as he was ever going to get.  The huntsman ran through the mud, sparing only one glance for his former employer, who was still ringed about by bestial foes.  “Guess I’ll have to look for new employment…” he grated.

***

He finally battered his way out of the wood as the first hint of morning touched the still dark sky.  Staggering down the muddy road leading away from the Hag wood, he caught site of a rickety farm wagon trundling down the lane towards him.

Javert waved down the wagon, and gratefully clambered into the hay-filled back.  The driver snapped the reins after the huntsman had gained a position.  Amidst bouncing hay bales, Javert pondered his situation.  Remia was nice this time of year.  So was Bremen. Clasping his hands behind his back he sighed.  He would have to find those two outlaws and thank them.  This would be the first vacation he had had in years.

As the gray light of morning reared its head over the horizon, the Torch and the Curse staggered from the southern edge of the Hag wood, clothes and flesh torn by brambles, mud covering everything. The rain eased into a light drizzle.  Nearing the road, Vash turned and spat in the direction of the sinister wood.  “If any place deserves a good burning, it’s there. However, ugly and vicious though she may be…lady Hag wood has done us a service.  We no longer have to worry about angry lordlings on our tail.”

“At least until the next time…” Svetch grumbled, then hissed as he ducked Vash’s playful swipe.

The End.



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The Doom of Wolves is copyright Joshua Reynolds. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)