The Wolven leader yells, “No weapons! No weapons!” right as his warriors steamroll the Knights. Some of the patrons join in the brawl, but most break for the unguarded entrance. Before they escape, a white-booted foot kicks the door inward, followed shortly by a stream of Knights.
“GET ON YOUR BELLIES!”
No one listens; everyone just keeps shouting and shoving. The Wolven are in a full-on frenzy—all around me, white-armored Knights crash into walls, tables, and chairs.
“On my heels, Jon!” Ren grabs my arm and yanks me along. He ducks a wild slash from a panicked Knight, then slams his chest with a ferocious shoulder-check.
Movement flashes in my peripheral vision. I draw my knife without intending to, parrying a strike from a gleaming straight sword. Ren shoves my attacker, then kicks his legs out with a vicious sweep. “Let’s go!”
We tumble out in a rush of fur and armor, then take off running up the street. Shrill whistles pierce the air. At first I’m confused—who’s blowing whistles? Then I realize the Knights are using them as some sort of signal.
“On my heels!” Ren shouts. “Close on my heels, Jon!”
“I’m—” I trip and stumble into an enormous Wolven. He snarls angrily and swats me away. “TRYING!”
More whistles, followed by shouts from outraged Knights. “Bar the gate! Bar the gate!” The thirty-foot portal looms high in the distance, growing large in our vision as we sprint toward it.
“Eckles!” Ren waves his arms, catching the tower guard’s eye. “Look here, you worthless tub of guts!”
“Sorry Ren! I’m bound by coin!” Eckles wraps his hands around a rusted lever.
“Stay that lockbolt!” Ren screams. “You still owe me from our last card game—cry off and I forgive your debt!” (I’m guessing “lockbolt” means the vertical beam off to the right of the gate, held in place by a latch-bound chain. Basically a deadbolt that goes all the way across.)
Eckles wavers, torn between duty and greed. Then he yells, “Fine! But now we’re even!”
Ren casts a quick look to either side. “Wolven—get us through that cursed gate! I’ll take care of the magic barrier!”
The Wolven leader barks an affirmative. “Done!”
Ren blows into his half-fingered glove, summoning a pure blue swirl into his palm. He stops running, cocks his arm, then snaps forward in a full-body throw. The ball of energy sears the air, leaving a sparkling comet-tail hanging behind it. It stops short of the massive gate, collapsing into a rippling wave that makes the barrier fully visible. The arcane wall brightens and peaks, then rapidly fades and disappears.
“Forward, brothers! And woe to any who stand in our way!” The Wolven leader drops to a four-legged gallop, doubling his speed in less than a second. The other Wolven follow behind, pounding the earth with their giant paws.
Eckles shouts, “Now wait just a second! We’ll crank it open for you if you wait just a—”
Four Wolven crash into the gate—cr-CRACK—bouncing off it like hairy wrecking balls. They tumble across the ground and skid to a stop, shaking their heads as they regain their bearings. A sliver of daylight appears between the doors. No more than a couple feet wide, but still—my heart races with a surge of hope.
Three more Wolven smash the gate, eliciting a gunshot bang from the stolid wood. Eckles curses and yells, begging them to stop, but none of them listen. The last five Wolven rush forward in a shaggy mass of muscle and fur.
With a thunderous crack, the doors swing wide and we all pour through.
Eckles hollers, “You owe me, Ren, you low-shadow grifter—YOU OWE ME!”
“Go! Go!” Ren pushes me from behind.
My vision is filled with galloping Wolven and dirty traders. We forge ahead for a hundred yards, then Ren yanks me sharply left—off the road and into the woods.
“Go. Go. Go.” Ren keeps pushing. Still urgent, but not as much.
Finally, we come to a stop in a forest clearing. There’s me, Ren, twenty or so traders, and a dozen Wolven—the same ones from the tavern brawl.
“Well.” A man with a Zorro–style mustache puts his hands on his hips. Two sabers are diagonally sheathed across his back, framing his head between their hilts. “That was fun.”
Another man—a boyishly handsome, blue-eyed blonde who’s dressed in a buckle-coated jerkin—laughs merrily. “A bit of exercise is always welcome. Keeps the blood flowing.”
Ren gives him a suspicious glance. “Right. Well if that’s all, my companion and I will take our leave. Come on, Jon.”
Zorro Guy says, “Wait—where are you headed?”
“Naversé.” Ren keeps walking.
“What a coincidence!” Zorro Guy and Pretty Boy fall in behind Ren, matching his steps. “We’re headed there as well.” Pretty Boy looks back and calls, “Anyone heading to Naversé township? Perhaps we could form a traveling party.”
The traders mutter a negative or shake their heads. The Wolven, however, speak briefly amongst themselves before one of them says, “Slow your stride—we might have interest.” They start moving toward us, debating quietly but heatedly as they do so. Apparently, they’re not all of the same mind on the subject.
Ren stops walking and turns around. His scowling face says it all. “I have no need for a High Taire duelist.” He looks at Zorro Guy, then at the Wolven. “Or a pack of Fenric warriors.” Finally, his gaze settles on Pretty Boy. “And I have no use for a low-shadow pickpocket.”
Pretty Boy looks astonished and affronted. “What are you—”
Ren holds my knife out to me. “He took it from you while I was speaking.”
I experience a jarring flash of cognitive dissonance. Wait, how did—
“I’m not a pickpocket!” the man exclaims. “I’m a professional thief! And a damn good one at that!”
“I’m fine with parting ways,” one of the Wolven growls (he looks like a giant husky; one eye is blue and the other is green). “I do not care for smelly humans.”
“Good,” Ren says. “Then everyone’s happy. Let’s go, Jon.”
“Wait.” The Wolven leader steps forward and peers closely at me. There’s something familiar about him. I can’t quite place it, but…
My mouth drops open.
I just found my dog. Apparently, he’s a seven-foot tall, canine warrior.