7 - Howl of the Hound

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This time, I was ready. I knew he'd be back. He had to be back.

The darkness was thick. Koren didn't say anything when I woke to take the watch from him. His stoic demeanor returned, features inscrutable. I watched him settle down to sleep. His silent form rose and fell by the time it finally happened. The shadow was back. I shoved the anger down as it automatically rose in my throat.

"Your companions fear you."

"Can't blame them can I?" I couldn't keep the twinge of bitterness out of my voice.

"You, most of all, fear yourself."

I leaned back against a tree and sighed. "This—magic—inside, it's, it's, angry. I need to keep it from lashing out."

"The blade of the Solace is double-edged. With power comes vulnerability, with strength, weakness. Which a man takes is his choice alone."

"I don't need 'power', I need to be whole, I need to be, I don't know, myself again. Can you give me that?"

"My journey was meant to save a life, or lives—I knew not how many the prince would take. But you... my journey now could save thousands, if only you will walk the difficult road."

Does he speak in anything but riddles? "We both know I need help. I didn't before, but now..." I glanced at the still forms of my friends.

"This mantle will not crush you beneath its weight. Our agreement, however, hinges upon you seeing this task through to its conclusion. I must have your vow."

Accept a mission I know nothing about? I bit my lip. There aren't any other options. "Fine. If I even make it long enough to see it through," I added.

"Then I will save you from yourself."

Crickets chirped under dim moonlight. "What is it you really want from all this?"

"Justice. For those betrayed and condemned."

It didn't answer my question, but there were other times for that. The shroud lurked beneath the surface of my thoughts and below it boiled anger. "Then tell me—what is it I have to do?"

* * *

The firelight flickered outside the tent, sending shadows dancing across the canvas. They followed no rhythm or melody, but leapt and twisted silently however the flame dictated. Their plight went unnoticed by the tent's sole inhabitant, who sat motionless in the corner, cross-legged.

He wore a long, dark cloak that pooled onto the ground around him, blending his silhouette with the shadows filling the tent. The cowl was pulled down low and his eyes were closed as if in peaceful sleep.

Movement at the tent's flap signaled the entrance of a breathless young man. He stood at attention just inside and cleared his throat nervously.

The cloaked man didn't move a muscle.

"Sir?" The messenger asked timidly.

He rose gracefully from the ground, so fluid it seemed he levitated to his feet. A full head taller than the young messenger, his cowl almost brushed the tent's ceiling.

"News from D'ulk-kyra?"

The boy nodded but hesitated to speak.

"No need to fear Hirkhiu, bearing bad news is no crime."

The boy made no farther move into the room but seemed reassured enough to speak. "The council has granted us—er, you—permission to use extreme measures to eliminate the Solace."

Solace Curse: Part IWhere stories live. Discover now