The Wolven leader yells, “No weapons! No weapons!”
Then his warriors steamroll the Knights. Some of the patrons join in the brawl, but most of them break for the unguarded entrance. But before they can get to it, a white-booted foot kicks the door inward. A stream of Knights pours into the tavern.
“GET ON YOUR BELLIES!”
No one listens. Everyone just keeps swearing and shoving. The Wolven are in a full-on frenzy—Knights are crashing into walls, tables, and chairs.
“On my heels!” Ren grabs me by the arm and yanks me forward. He ducks a wild slash from a panicked Knight, then slams him in the chest with a ferocious shoulder-check.
Movement flashes in my peripheral vision, triggering a rush of adrenalized fear. I draw my knife without intending to and parry a strike from a gleaming straight sword.
Ren shoves my attacker, then kicks his legs out with a vicious sweep. “Let’s go!” He follows the Wolven as they surge through the doorway.
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 doors loom high in the distance, growing larger in our vision as we sprint toward them.
“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. If Eckles pulls the lever, the chain goes slack and the beam falls down into a pair of L-shaped braces built into the door. It’s 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 streaks forward, 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 all fours and gallops ahead, doubling his speed in less than a second. The other Wolven follow suit, 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—”
A handful of Wolven crash into the gate, 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.
More Wolven smash the doors, eliciting a sharp crack from the stolid wood. Eckles curses and yells, begging them to stop, but none of them listen.
The first wave of Wolven get to their feet and rush forward. With a thunderous crack, the doors swing wide and we all pour through.
Eckles holler, “You owe me, Ren! Hear me well, 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 pound 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 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 sheathed diagonally across his back, framing his head between their hilts. “That was fun.”
Another man—blonde, blue-eyed, 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.”
Mustache Man says, “Wait—where are you headed?”
“Naversé.” Ren keeps walking.
“What a coincidence!” He and Jerkin Guy walk beside Ren, matching his steps. “We’re headed there as well.” Jerkin Guy looks back at the others and calls, “Anyone heading towards Naversé township? Perhaps we could form a traveling party.” The traders mutter a negative or shake their heads.
The Wolven speak briefly amongst themselves. One of them says, “We’ll travel with you, if you’ll have us.”
Ren stops walking and turns around. His scowling face says it all. “I have no need for a High Taire duelist.” He looks at Mustache Guy, then at the Wolven. “Or a pack of Fenric warriors.” His gaze settles on Jerkin Guy. “Lastly, I have no use for a low-shadow pickpocket.”
Jerkin Guy looks astonished and affronted. “What are you—”
Ren holds my knife out to me. “This man 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 steps forward and peers closely at me, searching my face with deep-set eyes. There’s something familiar about him. I can’t quite place it, but…
My mouth drops open.
Apparently, my dog is a seven-foot tall, canine warrior.