Dense walls of smoke masked the clashing of steel and roaring flames. Lyall’s legs persisted through exhaustion, weaving his way between shadows of movement. So many buildings burned around him. They had attacked quickly and without mercy, setting fire to homes, stores, and farmland.
Lyall had been in the tavern when it happened, several drinks deep with the other workers. That tavern was now ashes and rubble, strewn with bodies both crushed and cut down. But Lyall couldn’t think about that right now. He had to get home.
The freezing night air pulsed with the heat of spreading fire, an amber glow illuminating silhouettes against the haze. To every side was a cluster of shapes striking at each other. Screams rang out from the combat and the distinct metallic smell of blood met Lyall’s nose through the ash. Some distance in front of him was a small orb of light, most likely a torch, approaching a familiar structure.
“Don’t you dare!” His heart pumped with rage, coursing wrathful focus into his senses. For just short of a moment, his sight and smell cut through the obscurement. Two of them, at his house’s doorway. The right held a shortsword and the left prepared his torch.
With a guttural, animalistic roar, Lyall reached his prey. Their heads began to turn, far too late to save them. He leaped from the ground, raising his right knee and connecting with the swordsman’s back. The attack threw the soldier from his footing. He flew some six feet, colliding with the wooden foundations with explosive force and crumpling, motionless. Lyall turned to the second, adrenaline igniting his muscles and compelling his mind. Before the man could react, hands were wrapped around his wrist and throat.
Words struggled to pass Lyall’s grip. He was either begging or cursing. It made no difference.
Rotating on the spot, Lyall carried the man’s weight and tossed him away from the house and back into the smoke. His metal breastplate clattered to the ground with a pained and raspy groan. His silhouette pulled itself from the dirt, hobbling away.
Calming himself against the rush of his heartbeat, Lyall eased the door open.
“Harriet? Are you… do you have Nathaniel?”
“Lyall!” Lyall’s wife sat in the corner of the room, huddled down to cover their young son. She rose as he entered, holding the boy behind her. Her face lit up at the sight of her husband but dropped as his face became visible in the candlelight. She could see the resistance in his gritted teeth and bloodshot eyes.
“The cellar. There’s a tunnel behind the shelves that will take you beyond the fields. Go to the city. I’ll find you after.” She nodded in recognition, her eyes locked mournfully on his face.
“I will find you. I love you.”
“I love you.” Harriet took their son by the arm, leading him to the cellar hatch. She gave Lyall one last look, tears streaming, before closing it behind them.
His control waning, Lyall turned to the doorway. The frenzied storm of sorrow and fury began to settle within him. He stepped out, drawing a long breath of the night air. As if drifting to sleep, he relented to his instincts.
Lyall’s mind drifted as the urge overtook him. For the first time in years, his teeth sharpened and grew. Claws extended from his fingers and his hair thickened into coarse, matted fur. He looked up as the change reached his senses, exposing the marauders to him. And with a bestial snarl, he entered the fray.
– by Troy McConnell
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