The man crashed through the snow and underbrush, panic and fear giving strength to his legs. His clothes were torn and bloodied and his weapon long since abandoned in his panicked flight from the scene of carnage earlier. The man tripped on a root and slammed hard against the cold, frozen earth knocking the wind from his lungs. As he clawed his way back to his feet he heard the howl of a single, lone wolf nearby. Unrelenting terror seized the man as he bolted like a rabbit through the frozen forest in an effort to put as much distance as he could between himself and that unholy howl.
The man ran for several minutes until the frozen air took its toll on his tortured lungs and the adrenaline coursing through his body began to subside. He fell to his knees in the snow as he took in great gulps of air; he was moments from passing out when he heard the sound of something approaching his location. The sounds of crunching snow and breaking branches were a cacophonic roar in the silence of the frozen forest. The man could not move as fear had frozen him to his spot, all he could do was grip the fallen branch he had grabbed instinctively to defend him and wait for whatever death was coming. The sounds of crashing grew louder and the man could tell what direction it was coming from. The winter moon broke free from the clouds illuminating the entire frozen forest floor with is light.
The man took one more tortured breath as the frozen air seized his lungs and prepared himself for whatever was about to burst through the underbrush. With a sudden crash, three men broke from the cover and ran towards him in full flight. He recognized these men as part of his raiding party that has been attacked at camp. The men; Rolph, Arjax and Mavin were all running from the same scene of terror that had attacked their camp a little while ago as he was.
Seeing him one of the men called out “Fallon?” He nodded and replied “Yes but be silent I heard the howl not far off! Come; let us flee before we too are attacked.”
All four of them were winded and needed a moment to catch their breath before they started to flee again.
“Give me a weapon” Fallon said as he snatched one of Mavin’s long daggers from his belt. “Let’s go.”
The four men began running again away from their former camp site, the moon’s light providing enough light to make their flight speedy. Finally, Mavin gasped between breaths “What… was… that…which…attacked our…camp. It was..unstop..able.”
“I don’t know” replied Rolph. “One moment there were over twenty of us, the next we were all scattered like leaves. All I can remember is that unholy howl and something crashing into our company shouting out the name of each person as they were slain.”
The night air was filled once again with the sound of an unholy howl as all four men scrambled to their feet. “We need to get out of...” Arjax started to say as a long, barbed arrow burst through his leg splintering bone and shredding tendons as it exited. Arjax fell to the ground and screamed in pain as his companions tore off, any semblance of brotherhood or loyalty abandoned. Arjax’s blood steamed as it fell upon the snow and he gripped his ruined leg as waves of agony racked his frame. His sobbing ceased when he realized it was dead silent in the forest around him. After a moment he heard breathing and looked up to see a pair of amber eyes staring down at him and a long, curved and saw toothed blade looming before his vision.
A deep rumbling voice, thick with a drawl so deep it sounded like a growl spoke “Arjax Glaewood, vengeance must be sought for all injustices, and all punishments must fit the crime.” Then before Arjax could speak the saw toothed blade bit into his neck and severed his windpipe as its wielder began to saw.
Fallon had been running for nine days now, sleeping under bridges and in farm houses. He had stolen his last two meals as he tried to cover as much ground as possible to flee that unholy howl that plagued his dreams every night. He had long since abandoned his two remaining companions, the sense of self-preservation being more powerful than friendship or loyalty. His clothes were practically rags at this point and the cold sapped his strength daily as he trudged onward.
Fallon had come across a farmer and his wife that had shown him enough kindness to provide him with meal, some blankets and a spot in their barn to sleep for the night. The barn was warm, and the farmer had provided Fallon with a small lantern to use as light and warmth. Fallon buried himself in blankets and began to drift off to sleep when he heard the lone howl of a single, solitary wolf in the distance. His blood froze as terror gripped his spine. Fallon held the knife in a white knuckled grip as his eyes darted wildly across the room until finally settling on the barn doors.
Scrambling to his feet, Fallon rushed to the barn doors and lifted the heavy door bar and slammed it into place reinforcing the doors from entry. Again the single, solitary howl could be heard only this time it was much closer. The hairs stood up on the back of Fallon’s neck and he began to mutter words of prayer to whatever gods were listening for aid. As he prayed he could hear a deep growl from outside the barn and the form of a massive beast loped back and forth in front of the barn door.
Something slammed against the door from the outside forcing it sways back a bit. Fallon sucked in a breath as the doors again buckled under the force of another attempt to gain entry. A growl, deep and resonant, could be heard from the other side of the barn doors as another attempt to enter forced the doors back several inches and the wooden beam began to groan under the strain. After a few minutes the attempts subsided and the barn grew silent once again. Fallon relaxed just a bit and had begun to hope that maybe the farmer and his wife had seen what was going on and had sent for help.
Suddenly, an unholy howl pierced the silence and the barn door was alit with a red, hellish flame that encased the door’s frame. A thunderous crash followed the howl as the door exploded outward smashing flaming shards of wood into Fallon as a hulking form burst into the room. A massive wolf with red, baleful eyes and breathing fire growled menacingly, a black leather and chain saddle girdled its huge frame. Several severed heads hung from chains from the saddle that after a moment Fallon recognized as his companions Rolph, Arjax and Mavin. Fallon’s eyes grew even wider at this sight which elicited a deep and mocking chuckle from the rider of the massive fiery wolf. Fallon’s gaze crept upwards following the sound of the laughter until he saw his eyes finally locked with his pursuer.
The rider had amber eyes that looked almost golden as they reflected the light of the numerous small fires in the barn. From beneath his black sallet helm grey braids fell across his chest and two sharp tusks jutted from beneath his upper lip which curled his lips into what was either a snarl or a grin with a jawline beard framing the broad face. One large paw of a hand gripped the saddle horn while the other settled easily on the handle of one of the curved blades sitting on his hip. A wicked, black bow adorned with runes that glowed with a violet aura was slung across his massive shoulders along with a quiver bristling with raven fletched arrows. His body was covered with blackened scale armor that reflected no light and a large fur cloak hung from his shoulders. The fire light displayed several tattoos where his light green skin was exposed.
The rider nudged his growling wolf forward which caused a thin line of fiery drool to drip onto the barn floor setting some hay on fire. Fallon cringed in terror, unable to move as the rider approached. The heads of his former companions dangling silently from the rider’s saddle sending endless visions of horror and death through Fallon’s terrified mind. Fallon had not realized that he had backed himself into the corner of the barn, the knife he had been gripping so fiercely long forgotten and out of reach.
The rider dismounted and approached Fallon, his heavy boots sending resounding thumps through the floorboards. The half-orc drew a wickedly long and curved saw-toothed dagger and kneeled down before Fallon. Fallon’s eyes darted to the dangling heads of his companions and back to the knife which seemed suited for sawing through spines to remove heads and his bladder emptied.
Their eyes locked and the rider spoke with a voice so deep it seemed like a growl, “Fallon Fairgrove, vengeance must be sought for all injustices, and all punishments must fit the crime.”
Fallon howled in fright and sputtered “What have I done? By the gods what have I done?”
The half-orc replied with his growling drawl “Fallon Fairgrove, you and twenty-two of your companions sacked the town of Innestree thirty-seven nights ago. The surviving members have sought retribution for the wrongs committed. I am the instrument of that vengeance.”
Fallon’s eyes grew wide as he remembered the raid last month, they had sacked a church and several of his company had raped, pillaged and murdered several of the townsfolk before collecting slaves and selling them to the Thayan slavers.
The half-orc drew an axe from his belt and before Fallon could say a word, slammed the axe down and cut off Fallon’s sword hand.
The half-orc then intoned through Fallon’s screaming “Uphold true and fitting justice and maintain the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law. Fitting recompense will always accrue for one’s actions. Violence will meet violence and evil pay back evil, but good will also come to those who do good.”
The half-orc then pulled a flaming piece of wood and gouged out Fallon’s right eye.
The half-orc continued “Walk the line of the Doombringer’s teachings, seeking retribution, but do not fall into the trap of pursuing evil acts for evil’s sake, for that way is seductive and leads only to one’s downfall.”
Fallon screamed in agony clutching his ruined eye with his remaining hand.
The half-orc walked behind Fallon and continued his litany “Vengeance must be sought for all injustices, and all punishments must fit the crime. Revenge is sweetest when it is sharpened with irony”
The half-orc then gripped Fallon’s hair and wretched his head back and placed the knife against his throat. “All attacks must be avenged and those who do not respond to attacks against their person or that which they hold dear only invites further attacks.”
“Please, please let me go! I know where the slavers are! I can give you that information; you can set the townsfolk free! Just let me go and I’ll tell you!” he howled through the agonizing pain.
A look of slight puzzlement crossed the half-orc’s face and he replied “Why on earth would I care about setting townsfolk free?” Then the half-orc slammed his meaty fist into the side of Fallon’s head knocking him out.
When Fallon awoke, his world exploded into agony. The ruined socket of his right eye sent waves of nauseating pain through his body and his wrist felt like his entire army was on fire. He looked around the best he could when he realized it was still night and he was still in the barn. He tried to get to his feet only to have a wave of nausea knock him back down, he realized his stump had been bound and his eye was bandaged. Fallon took a minute to gather his wits when a deep voice growled his name.
“Fallon Fairgrove. You have had retribution visited upon you.”
“Wh…why am I still alive?” Fallon stuttered.
The half-orc mounted the massive wolf and turned back to Fallon. “If I had killed you then who would spread the tale of the twenty-three raiders who sacked a town and were then hunted down and killed to a man by a lone bounty hunter seeking retribution in the name of Hoar?”
Fallon pushed himself up to a sitting position and sputtered “You… you killed every…one?”
The half-orc turned his head slightly and said “Did I not just say that?”
Another wave of pain made Fallon swoon but after he recovered he asked “Who are you?”
The half-orc nudged his wolf out of the barn and then turned to face Fallon before loping off.
“My name is Ulik Da’Kor the Huntmaster and I am the Hound of Hoar”.