It wouldn’t be a series of teasers for War of Nytefall: Ravenous without the Vengeance Hounds making an appearance. I had to change one thing here to block a spoiler, but some people might figure it out. No action here, but you get the fun of the usual banter, which always makes me chuckle
Making a tight turn around the corner, Titus stumbles to a stop and narrowly avoids crashing into the back of an orc in platemail. The gray-skinned figure rivals the Dawn Fang in size and the large spikes on his shoulders glint with holy magic. Spotting the scratched symbol of a ram’s head on the white-haired mortal’s chest plate, Titus bows in apology and carefully steps around the wheezing war god paladin. Sticking to the side of the street, he stares at the sea of mortal warriors that run up to a small stage, which is adorned with flags that show the peacock symbol of the Serabian kingdom. No longer pursuing a target, he is able to observe the gathered force that he estimates is no less than one hundred strong. Armored knights stand alongside mercenaries who wear various combinations of hardened leather and furs. Several slender mortals carry two lightweight weapons, marking them as forest trackers, which Titus considers a bigger threat than the handful of paladins. His eyebrows arch when he spots three women who are wearing robes, their presence seemingly out of place until one conjures a ball of flame in her palm. The casters giggle and laugh as they toss the spell between themselves, the little game helping them practice their ability to safely interact with outside auras. The Dawn Fang is mesmerized by the tiny ball until he hears footsteps from above and shields his eyes from the sun to examine the surrounding rooftops. Squads of archers stand on the eaves, most of them wearing the Serabian military uniform and the rest clearly mercenaries that bring the count closer to two hundred bodies.
“This is a lot of noise and bad smells,” Lost states, her nose gripped tightly between her fingers. Wads of gauze have been stuffed into her ears, but her keen senses are still bombarded by the voices and odors. “Don’t need my telepathy to figure out what is going on. There’s a big monster hunt starting at noon. People are surprised that they only have to give their name and next of kin instead of full backgrounds. I didn’t know events like this were so controlled. Bunny says it’s been that way since the Great Cataclysm. I hear someone saying that various creatures have been terrorizing the farmers, which is threatening the food supplies. Some undead and a troll sighting, but nothing about vampires. What should we do, boss?”
“This is a really big group,” Titus replies more to himself than the girl. Tapping Bob on the shoulder, he nods his head to the stage where a well-dressed woman is carrying an enormous basket of tiny bags. “I think those are advance payments. No strict regulations or simple interviews to make sure you get quality warriors would make this shady if it wasn’t for the royal approval. What do you think, Bob?”
“It won’t work without a cavalry,” the yawning Dawn Fang claims. The paladin standing nearby chuckles and nods at the vampiric elf before pushing his way into the crowd. “He seemed very friendly and calm. Come to think of it, I don’t understand why holy warriors would be involved in a monster hunt. Lost mentioned undead, but nothing short of an old-world vampire or a Lich would require one of them. There could be more to this than people realize or our targets are hiding in the army. It’s possible that we could be facing a doppelganger Dawn Fang since Luther says the royal family uses them.”
With a wicked smile, Titus grips his companions by the shoulders. “I think this is where we should be. Bob is right that what we’re looking for could be among the mortals or out there in the wilderness. What better way to continue our hunt than staying near so much prey? It’s like the Luck Goddess is on our side.”
“The rumors said the Dawn Fangs were in the city,” Lost points out as she is pushed ahead of the eager warrior. Those who look in her direction cannot stop themselves from staring at her pajamas, which are covered in silver bunny pictures. “I don’t like this. People are looking at me and any one of them could take off their shoes. Warriors have really smelly socks and those are the worst kind. I’m going to go kaboom if any of them have holes. Clyde and Mab may get mad too. I promised mommy that I wouldn’t get in any trouble. This is going to end in disaster! Why are we going to do this, boss?”
“Are the Vengeance Hounds really the types to sneak around?”
“Luther was and Bob can do it.”
“That’s true . . . Okay, Lost, do you really want to stick to the city?”
“No, it’s boring here.”
“But you were complaining and starting to panic.”
“Oh, that was only to make you think you were being a decisive leader. Did I do it right, Bob?”
Her pointy eared companion leans back when Titus turns and they are nose to chest. “I may have told her that you were feeling down about things and needed an ego boost. At least she didn’t mess with your mind. How was I supposed to know that she would make a scene that has led to us being stared at by everyone here?”
“Because she’s Lost,” the warrior hisses under his breath.
“The man has a point,” she responds before wiggling her fingers.
To the Dawn Fangs’ relief, all of the mortals go back to their business and pretend that nothing happened. Titus glances at Lost, who whistles a tune that she only does after secretly altering memories. Relieved that they are back to being anonymous, he continues guiding his friends through the crowd. Before the Vengeance Hounds can reach the stage, a horn is blown from both ends of the street. With a loud creak, the wooden platform splits in half and is wheeled into opposing alleys to clear the way for the excited army. Trapped in the middle of the massive hunting party, the Dawn Fangs are forced to travel with the uncoordinated marching that is met with cheers from the citizens. Climbing and jumping down from their perches, the archers join the crowd with two of them inadvertently flanking the Vengeance Hounds. Glancing over their shoulders, the trio realize that they have four paladins who are staring ahead with frightening concentration. As they continue down the streets, Titus feels a small knot twisting in his throat and he swallows hard to make the strange sensation fall into his tightening stomach.
“We never got paid, boss,” Bob whispers, his head jerking towards a mortal who is carrying a small bag of coins.
“That’s never a good sign,” Titus replies, his earlier words about the Luck Goddess ringing in his ears.