I thought up a short story to go with this picture whilst I was drawing it. It's set in the same land as the other story I'm working on (Rikt: Demons & Murderers) but pre-dates it by a century or two.
The wolves and sabres of Rikt were once allies but their partnership fell apart shortly after the humans left the land, mostly due to ideological differences. A small band of wolves from the Orvux pack were sent to investigate reports of sabres prowling in their territory.
“You really think they’d come this far north?”
Archer turned his head to look back at Kudo. He was tip-toeing along, hunched over with his tail between his legs and his eyes quickly shifting from left to right, scanning the forest for any sign of the enemy. He looked pitiful.
“I wouldn’t put anything past a sabre”, Archer grumbled in reply. He had been fighting this war for a long time now, and was getting tired of seeing new recruits cowering in this way. “You know if you’re that scared Kudo I’d be quite happy to let you go back to the glen.”
Kudo’s eyes immediately lighted up. “Oh yes please, that would be great, really, thank you!” he gushed.
“But of course you would
have to walk back by yourself. What with the rest of us having a job to do and everything...”
Kudo looked up at the sky. His face dropped as he realised that the night was quickly beginning to creep in. Maybe being alone out here was not such a good idea after all.
“Ah. Well in that case maybe I should just stick around too,” he mumbled. “Besides, you guys might need my help.”
At that point an owl screeched overhead and caused him to nearly jump out of his skin.
“Wah! What was that!? Ahahaha, okay nobody panic.” He was starting to hyperventilate. “It’s cool, it’s cool, I’m okay,” he wheezed. “Totally fine.”
Archer shook his head in despair and trudged on. It’s gonna be a long night, he thought.
They carried on walking into the night. The forest was extremely dark now, as the thick trees blotted out any traces of moonlight above them. Every shrub looked like a sabre getting ready to pounce; every branch was a demon reaching towards them with long, out-stretched claws.
Archer could hear Kudo whimpering behind him. “Pull it together, kid” he muttered.
One of the wolves called out from the back of the procession. “Archer, don’t you think we should call it a night? What use are we gonna be against a sabre when we can barely see what’s in front of us?”
“We’re approaching the edge of the forest” he replied. “We can stop soon”.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere the entire patrol was blinded by a bright, orange light, sweeping in from the left.
Archer raised a paw up to his face and squinted towards it, to see the strange, dark figures standing in front of him. There were two, tall and slender, accompanied by one other smaller individual. They carried the bright light with them, and each appeared to only have two legs. They hovered there for a second before disappearing off to the right.
The wolves stood silent for a minute, none where entirely certain what they had just seen.
Kudo was the first to break the stillness. He carefully tip-toed up to Archer and whispered in his ear. “Was that… could that have been?”
“I’m not sure” he replied.
“I thought they all left?”
“So… are we going to go after them?”
Archer shook his head. He could not be sure what he had seen. He only knew what humans looked like from what his elders had described and they had supposedly all left Rikt long before he was born.
“No. I’ll inform the leader of this incident when we get back. Right now, the sabres are our problem.”
Kudo gulped. “I think I’d rather take on the humans,” he confessed.
Archer sighed. “Come on.” He turned to call back to his comrades, who were all looking rather lost and dishevelled. “You lot, follow me!” he ordered.
They carried on and eventually reached the forest’s edge. Archer walked out onto the grassy plain - not realising that all but Kudo, who felt safest when he was next to Archer, had stayed hesitating in the tree line.
“Ahem, Archer?” Kudo drew his attention.
“What?” he turned back and saw them all standing there, reluctant to go out into the open.
Archer was not impressed. “So what, you all want to sleep in the forest, hmm? Raise a paw if you want to sleep in the forest.”
They all looked at each other. None of them wanted to sleep in the forest after their encounter with the humans.
“Didn’t think so. Now move.”
He led them half-way up a grassy slope. There was a large oak tree at the top.
“Okay,” sighed Archer, “we’ll stay here for tonight. Spread yourselves out, stay alert, get some rest. Call out if you hear anything
or see any movement
, whatsoever.” He glanced up the hill towards the tree. “Who wants to be look-out?”
Everyone was exhausted, there were no volunteers.
“Umm”, he stuttered. “I’m not really…”
Archer grunted and stamped his way angrily up the slope. “Have to do everything around here…” he grumbled to himself.
When he got to the tree he paused briefly before taking a running jump and catapulting himself up onto a large branch. He landed with a thud.
“Ugh, damn it!” he moaned. “I think I might be getting a bit old for this.”
He collapsed on to the branch and surveyed the area. No movement. They had not had even the slightest whiff of a sabre all day. As far as Archer was concerned, this whole expedition had been a complete waste of time.
He looked across to his comrades. Some of them were still settling down, but most already appeared to be asleep. Archer sighed. He would quite like to do the same; it had been a very long, unproductive day. Maybe if he just closed his eyes for a little miniscule of a second…
An owl screeched and caused Archer to wake with a start. It was still dark and he had no idea how long he had been asleep.
He quickly scanned the area. The first thing that caught his attention was a bright orange light by the forest tree line. Panic struck him like a dagger. The humans, he thought. What are they doing?
He looked down to see Kudo sprinting up the slope towards him. He jumped down to greet him.
“Kudo, what’s going on?”
Kudo skidded to a halt a couple of metres in front of him. His eyes were wide with fear, it took a second for Archer to realise that he was looking behind him.
He turned to look - just in time to see a large, black paw hurtling towards him. It collided violently with his face and sharp claws dug deep into his flesh. He heard a vicious yowl as he was sent flying across the ground and into unconsciousness.
At first, Archer could not remember where he was or what had happened. He quickly recalled when he saw the bloody forms of his comrades lying sprawled out on the ground before him. He could see a few struggling to get up but the majority remained motionless.
He rose to his feet. There had been four sabres, one must have been taken down by the wolves as it was bleeding out on onto the grass, the remaining three were killing off any wolves that were still breathing. Archer realised he was hopelessly outnumbered.
“Archer…” he heard someone moan.
He turned to his left. Kudo was lying there, badly wounded but still alive.
“Just stay down, Kudo” he said.
He had tried to be discreet but the sabres still heard him. Their ears twitched in his direction, followed by their enormous heads. One of them hissed savagely as they slowly rose up and started pacing towards him. Archer braced himself and watched as they moved in, their fangs glinting in the darkness.
“Archer…” Kudo, called out again, he tried to get up but could not find the strength. He was struggling to breathe.
“It’s alright kid,” he tried to reassure him, as his enemies broke out into a run and began to bear down. “I can handle this…”
Art and story © NoktBane