First Day on the Job (Pt. 1, Event Pre-Fiction, Atlantic)
Hadrian emerged from his small shack ready to start the day. The wind was warmer than yesterday, he thought, and it was coming in from the west; he could smell the salt. “Should be a good one,” he said aloud before making his way northeast on the dirt path toward the armory. He had joined the guard just a few days prior and was on his way to his first posting.
Early spring rains had left the dirt path a muddy mess so Hadrian cut through a grassy lane behind the healer’s hut and passed the large, newly constructed house on the eastern edge of town. The signpost in front of the home read “Cromwell Estate”. North Harbor always welcomes new folk, Hadrian thought, but this woman seemed strange. He kept a safe distance from her front steps as he passed.
Finally, the young guard reached the tree line of the eastern wood and the armory, which he helped finish just last week. It consisted of a small stone house and a tall oak tower, nestled inside a high oak wall. As he came up to the gate, a faint sound crept out of the east wood.
“Hey, did you hear that?” came a voice from behind the gate. It was a woman’s voice, but gruff. Not delicate like Laina’s, the tavern keeper. Hadrian focused. The door creaked open and the constable, Jorla, poked her head out. “Hey, new guy, you hear that?”
Hadrian barely heard her; he was concentrating on the direction of the sound.
He spoke up. “It sounds like screaming.”
The two guards rushed toward the tree line, unsure of where the noise was coming from. Jorla ran northeast while Hadrian ran east toward a clearing that extended past the first tree line into the forest. As Hadrian crossed the clearing and neared the second tree line, he caught a glimpse of movement beyond the trees. The screaming had stopped, but now he could hear growling.
The young fighter struck a defensive stance, pulling his war axe and shield from his back. The growling swelled, giving Hadrian pause. He surveyed the tree line but could see nothing; the morning fog had yet to lift. Jorla was out of sight as well, a notion that caused Hadrian to grip his shield a little tighter as he advanced toward the trees, this time at a careful pace. The growling faded and the wood felt eerily quiet.
Hadrian didn’t have time to react. The faint rustle of leaves and snapping of a twig were all that preceded. First there was a blur, then a thunderous force. Hadrian was knocked off his feet despite his defensive posture. As the sudden thud of the ground impacting his back forced the wind out of his lungs, he lost his grip on his axe and shield, flinging them to either side. Before he could blink, he was set upon by a giant wolf.
The huge canine was on top of the guard at once. Hadrian barely kept the wits to protect his face, putting his arms up in an “X” in front of his head. The vicious creature lashed and gnawed, its fangs digging deep into Hadrian’s forearms; the sounds of bones crunching were just barely drowned out by the ear-piercing cries of pain. Still, Hadrian kept his arms in front of his face, knowing that if the wolf got to his neck, he was dead.
“This is it”, he thought. “It’s over.”
It felt like an eternity. Hadrian writhed and kicked at the beast, but to no avail. It was huge, too big for a normal wolf. The size of a man. Hadrian tried desperately to call out for help but the weight of the beast was crushing him.
“I’m done for.” He thought.
The terror began to subside and a strange feeling of comfort overtook him. The growls of the attacking beast began to blend in with the background. Hadrian let his arms fall to his sides, too exhausted to keep up his struggle. The wolf seemed to grin, realizing its prey had been had beaten. Finally, the wolf reared its head for the final blow. Hadrian closed his eyes and thought of his parents.
The weight on his chest lifted and Hadrian sprung his eyes open, gasping for air. Somehow the fog had lifted during the encounter without him realizing it. The world was a blur at first, but shortly he could make out Jorla standing over him looking down. Her left hand was holding on to her upper right arm and she appeared wounded. In her right arm was a mace. The wolf lay dead beside Hadrian with half of its head caved in.
“Damn kid, you’re worse off than me. C’mon, we gotta haul ass.”
Forgetting about his arms, Hadrian tried to pull himself to his feet. He quickly failed, screaming in pain. Slowly though, and with Jorla’s help, he was able to get to his feet. The constable was breathing heavy. It was clear that she had been in a fight of her own. Jorla could see that Hadrian had questions.
“I found Simon’s boy. Weren’t much left of him. C’mon, we gotta get back and tell everyone.”
Though he was still gathering his senses, Hadrian could still follow basic commands. He clumsily nodded his head and the two took off running back toward North Harbor.