The Wolven leader yells, “No weapons! No weapons!” right as his warriors steamroll the Knights. A handful of patrons join in the brawl, but most of them break for the unguarded entrance. Before they can flee out through the door, a booted foot kicks it inward, preceding a stream of oncoming Knights.
“GET ON YOUR BELLIES!”
Everyone keeps shouting and shoving. The Wolven are in a full-on frenzy, throwing white-armored Knights into walls, tables, and chairs.
“On my heels, Jon!” Ren grabs my arm and yanks me along. He ducks a slash from a panicked Knight, then slams him in the chest with a ferocious shoulder-check. Movement flashes in my peripheral vision. I draw my knife and instinctively parry a gleaming scimitar. Whoa, I just engaged in medieval swordpla—
Ren shoves my attacker, sweeping his legs with a hook-leg trip. “Let’s go!”
We tumble outside and 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. It 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 in the distance.
“Eckles!” Ren waves his arms, catching the tower guard’s eye. “Look here, you tub of guts!”
“Sorry Ren! I’m bound by coin!” Eckles wraps his hands around a rusted lever.
“Stay that lockbolt!” Ren screams. (I’m guessing by “lockbolt” he means the vertical beam off to the right, held in place by a latch-bound chain—basically a deadbolt that goes all the way across.) “You still owe me from our last card game! Cry off and I forgive your debt!”
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 dispel the magical 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 orb stops short of the massive gate, collapsing into a rippling wave that makes the barrier fully visible—an arcane wall that fluxes and peaks, then rapidly fades and disappears.
“Forward, brothers! And woe to any who stand in our way!” The Wolven leader drops to all fours, 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 if you wait just a—”
Four Wolven crash into the gate—cr-cr-CRACK—rebounding off it like hairy wrecking balls. They tumble back 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, drawing a gunshot bang from the stolid wood. Eckles curses and begs them to stop, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. The last six Wolven rush forward, a shaggy mass of muscle and fur. With a thunderous clap, 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.” Ren keeps pushing. Still urgent, but not as much.
Finally, we 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 lie diagonally sheathed across his back, framing his head between their hilts. “That was fun.”
His buddy—a blue-eyed pretty-boy wearing a buckle-coated jerkin—laughs merrily. “I welcome the exercise. 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 asks, “Wait—where are you headed?”
“Naversé.” Ren keeps walking.
“What a coincidence!” Zorro Guy and Pretty Boy fall in behind us. “We were heading in that direction—might as well travel together.” Pretty Boy calls, “Anyone heading to Naversé Township?”
The traders shake their heads, but one of the Wolven holds out a hand. “Slow your stride—we might have interest.”
As they approach, they debate quietly but heatedly. Apparently, some of them would rather travel alone.
Ren stops walking and turns around. “I have no need for a High Taire duelist.” He scrutinizes Zorro Guy, then the Wolven. “Or a pack of Fenric warriors.” His gaze tracks left and settles on Pretty Boy. “Lastly, I have no use for a low-shadow pickpocket.”
Pretty Boy looks astonished and affronted. “What are you—”
Ren hands me my knife. “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. “Everyone’s happy. Let’s go, Jon.”
“Wait.” The Wolven leader 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.