tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Paladin's Training Ch. 14

A Paladin's Training Ch. 14


It wasn't long before the alarm was raised and Heralds quickly began filling the streets surrounding the big house in the slum district, making it increasingly difficult for Aran, Sorla and Sara to keep a low profile, especially with the two women wearing red and yellow Herald robes.

So far, none of the Heralds rushing by them had given them more than a passing glance, but it was only a matter of time until the word spread among the Heralds that two of their number were dead, their robes missing. It was also safe to assume that Sara and Sorla's descriptions had been circulated immediately.

The trio stuck to alleyways as much as they could, reaching dead ends often as not, then having to turn back and try again. Aran dared not summon his Gift, for it would surely pinpoint his presence to the Heralds. His frustration increased as they continued to search unsuccessfully for a path exiting the slums, snaking through narrow alley after tiny side street, all to no avail.

Shouts began to come from behind them, indicating that the Heralds had begun searching the alleyways and back streets. Aran eased his sword in it's scabbard; he would prefer not to kill anymore men today, but if was for Sorla's and Sara's safety, he would do what was needed.

The shouts were drawing closer as Aran led the women down another passage, tall brick walls towering to either side with a thin shaft of blue sky visible above, before stopping once again at a flat wall with no way past. Seeing no alternative, he set his teeth and turned, planting himself between the street and the women, drawing his blade.

"Oi! Over here!" Came a hushed, but insistent voice.

Looking around, Aran saw a woman's face peering out from a small hole in the brick wall behind them. Her face was somewhat shadowed, and Aran couldn't make out her features clearly.

"Get in! Quick!" The woman said as she disappeared from sight. A moment later, a section of the wall slid to the right, creating a small opening.

Aran didn't see any other choice. Ushering Sara and Sorla in first, he ducked in behind them, the brick wall sliding closed just as two Heralds entered the alleyway from the street. With luck, they hadn't seen the wall move.

They were standing in a small space made all from red brick, which appeared to be the landing of a set of stairs leading down into darkness. A small hooded woman stood before them, the lit torch in her fist illuminating them in flickering light. She was less than five feet and slight of build, wearing tight, black breeches and a short black coat. Slung over one shoulder was a coiled rope, and she looked to have several small daggers secreted about her person.

The woman spoke as she pulled her hood back, revealing a youthful, pretty face that bore both elvish and human features. Her golden hair was pulled back in a tail, and a thin braid dangled over each ear. Her clear emerald eyes looked over her three guests curiously. "You're lucky I came up to see what the fuss was about!"

Her voice was light and airy, with a slight lilt from an accent Aran didn't recognise. The half-elf stranger eyed the women, in particular their robes as she pointed the torch toward them. "You two aren't Heralds, but you dress like them. Why?"

Sorla answered. "We were captured by them, and they stripped us naked, our clothes torn off our backs. We escaped, and these robes were the easiest way to cover ourselves."

The girl nodded approvingly. "Did you kill any?"

Sorla nodded sadly. "Unfortunately, I killed two, though I regret it now."

"Bah!" The small half-elf scoffed. "Don't be sorry! They deserve it, all of them! If you knew the things they've done... Well, let's just be happy there's two less of them out there."

"You hate the Heralds?" Aran asked.

"The Heralds are the ones that do all the hating," the girl replied, fixing her green-eyed gaze on him. "Particularly toward your kind, Paladin."

Aran's hand was on his sword hilt before he was consciously aware of it, and Sara and Sorla stiffened, looking ready to fight.

The girl laughed, holding her free hand out placatingly. "Relax! I'm not here to cause trouble, nor am I going to give you away to the Heralds."

Aran kept his hand where it was, not ready to trust so easily. "Who are you, then, that you know what I am?"

The girl bowed elaborately, flourishing the torch. "I am Sylvia."

Aran waited for more, but she said no more, just looked back at him expectantly, so he asked; "and how did you know I'm a Paladin?"

"I can feel your Gift," she said, before tilting her head toward Sara. "Just as I can feel hers."

Sara was studying Sylvia inquisitively, as if she were seeing something for the first time.

"How is that possible?" Aran asked. "You are not Gifted, or I would sense it."

"This is true," Sylvia said. "But my people have long memories, eruchen."

That word -- eruchen -- meant 'Child of the Gods' in elvish, and hearing it took him right back to that day in the Emerin Forest he had met Liaren, and Induin soon after. He wished he could see them again; he could feel them in the back of his mind through the Bond, somewhere far away.

Aran relaxed a little. "Your people are elves?"

"My mother, yes. My father was a human. I learned much from them both." Suddenly the girl turned to Sorla, making a complicated sign with her fingers.

The pretty half-orc's face lit up, and she grinned widely as she returned the gesture. "She is a Servant!"

Servants, in times past, were ordinary, non-Gifted folk who voluntarily pledged their lives to the service of Aros. Long-time Servants sometimes developed the ability to sense the Gift in others, and according to Sorla, this ability was often passed on to the Servant's children, which would explain Sylvia's claim that she could feel the Gift.

"There are several of us," Sylvia explained. "When the Heralds became too prominent, too dangerous to our kind, we moved beneath the city, into what's left of the old Temple."

"How many Servants are there here?" Aran aked.

"Currently there are four of us, but we expect a few more to join us when they can."

Aran smiled for the first time in hours. His Gift told him Sylvia was being truthful. He also felt that kinship with her that he had felt when he first met Sorla; perhaps because she was a Servant. "I would very much like to meet your fellows, Sylvia," he said warmly.

"It would be my pleasure, eruchen," the pretty half-elf said, bowing in that elaborate way once again before turning for the stairs.

Aran shot a quick smile at Sara and Sorla, and they both returned it, before he led them after Sylvia.


The sounds of his bones grinding and rearranging themselves were audible to Braith's ears as he entered the glen, returning from wolf to human form. The cool night breeze felt good on his skin, and tugged gently at his long, shaggy hair.

Looking around, he saw he was alone, meaning the others had not returned yet.

With nothing to do but wait, Braith moved to the circle of stones that decorated the centre of the glen and lit the fire there, warming his hands over the flames. The wolf had thick fur that would keep him warm, but it was dangerous to be the wolf for too long, so he remained human.

He was not looking forward to sharing what he'd found at the farm; his brother, Aiden, had been missing for weeks, and after days of searching, Braith had finally found him, dead and buried in a shallow grave in the forest near a farmhouse.

There had been three human scents around the farmhouse; a woman and two men. One of the men had left a scent that had set the hackles on Braith's neck standing on end. Long memory had crashed home at that scent; a deep-seated hate carried down from his ancestors. Braith had never smelled it before, but his forebears' memories -- passed down to him as was the way of Druids -- knew it well.

The maddening scent of Paladin was still filling his nose, even now.

There had been nobody home at the farmhouse, else Braith would have torn their throats from their bodies, but he had tracked the Paladin as far as he dared, to the town of Ironshire, further than any of them had been from the glen in many long years.

Soon, the other druids began to return, entering the circle one by one as they shifted back to human form, all of them bearing traits of their chosen beast.

Pretty Fionn, dark, slender and graceful, arrived first, shifting out of that strange form that looked like a big, black cat. She said it was called a panther, but Braith had never seen one other than Fionn.

Fionn nodded to Braith as she approached the fire, standing beside him to warm her hands, and Braith let his eyes travel over her sleek, supple, naked body. She was completely hairless, except for the short black hair on her head.

Fionn saw him looking and returned the attention, looking him up and down with a smile before turning her back to him, making a show of warming her tight rear before the fire, wiggling it slowly from side to side, teasing him.

"Cut it out, Fionn," said Fergin in his deep, rough voice as he left his huge bear form. As a human, he was much the same, with that thick body hair and those massive shoulders. "We talk first, fuck later."

While Fergin's words said one thing, his dark eyes said another as they roved over Fionn's body, his impressive cock rising as she posed for him.

Two more druids entered the clearing; first came Lyrra, stalking into the firelight in her tiger form, eyeing them all in turn before resuming her human shape. Tall, with pale skin and long, fiery hair, Lyrra's body was lush and curved where Fionn's was slender, and she had a small patch of red hair above her sex, where Fionn had none.

"It's good to be home!" Lyrra purred in her sultry voice, stretching her arms up over head.

Braith enjoyed mating with Lyrra as much as he did Fionn, maybe even more so. He hoped to get a taste of one or both of them tonight, but with the news he carried, it was doubtful there would be mating this eve.

Just after Lyrra came Leif, strolling into the circle on his knuckles, his powerful ape's body rippling in the firelight before he transformed into a short, yet stocky human.

"Well," said Leif, taking a place at the fire. "I found nothing. Again." His face was grim.

"Nor I," Lyrra said quietly, her face a mirror of Leif's.

In unison, Fergin and Fionn said the same.

All eyes turned to Braith, who took a deep breath before sharing his news. "I found Aiden."

"Where?" Fergin demanded, his eyes flashing.

"What did he have to say for himself?" Leif asked, his round face hard.

Braith shook his head, suppressing the anger that rose in him as he remembered. "He's dead. He was buried, but I sniffed him out easily enough."

The circle fell silent; it was never easy losing a brother or sister, especially when they were working so hard to preserve their dwindling numbers.

"Where?" Lyrra asked quietly, her amber eyes glowing in the firelight.

"A small farm about three days' run from here. There was nobody there, but I smelled something I did not expect."

"What did you smell?" Fionn asked intently.

"Paladin," Braith growled, fury rising in him again as distant memories played through his mind, of Druids being hunted down and slaughtered by the Order of Aros.

Shock painted every face around the fire. Braith had expected outbursts, or claims that he was a liar, but none came, only long silence. His brothers and sisters possessed the same memories as he, and remembered, as if they were there, being harried by the unrelenting Paladins, exterminated almost to the point of extinction.

"The Paladins are supposed to be dead and gone!" Lyrra exclaimed, crossing her arms beneath her ample breasts.

"How many?" Fergin asked, flexing his huge hands as if wanting to strangle someone.

"Just one," Braith told them. "There was nobody at the farm, so I tracked him to a town nearby, a place called Ironshire. The scent was old, but unmistakable. I picked it up again, and tracked him to the mountains to the north, where his scent vanished."

"How long were you at the farm?" This from Leif, who looked troubled at the news.

"Not long. Once I found Aiden with Paladin stench all over him, I left right away, only stopping to check the house."

"I say we visit this farmhouse," Fergin said menacingly, cracking his knuckles. "And wait for the farmers to come home. Then we can ask them about this Paladin."

The others nodded agreement, looking to Braith for the final word. As clan leader, his decision would be final.

Braith chose vengeance for his brother, the only other Druid in the clan who understood the wolf. He nodded firmly, giving his assent. "Agreed. We leave tomorrow night. Rest until then, and soon we will spill blood for Aiden!"

As one, they threw their heads back, howling and screaming into the night.


Braith did his best not to outrun his clan mates; the wolf could run for longer than the others, though it was often surprising to see how fast Fergin and Leif could move, bulky as they were in their animal forms.

Leif's big black ape with the silver fur on it's back was called a gorilla, and lived in the northern jungles of Ekistair. Braith had been with Leif when he'd melded his spirit with the gorilla's, as he'd been with Fergin when he'd chosen the majestic bear, and with Lyrra when she'd melded with the tiger.

Fionn had come to Shadowglen as the lone survivor of another clan that had been wiped out by elves. Understandably, Fionn hated elves, and never passed up the chance to kill them.

Keeping a steady pace wasn't easy, as Braith was burning with a desire for blood, to kill those who had taken his brother. He led his small clan through the night, his keen sense of smell guiding him easily across the land as they ran under the clouded sky.


Elaina gently heeled Star, her white mare, down the small path between the pumpkin patches as she approached Jeira's house. She'd left the Chapel a few hours ago, and thought to check in on Jeira on the way to Maralon, where Aran was waiting with Sara, the Gifted girl he'd remarkably found.

As Star cleared the pumpkins and crossed the farmyard, the hair on Elaina's neck stood on end; something was wrong here.

The front door was torn off it's hinges, lying on the ground next to the doorstep. The two windows Elaina could see were smashed, and the walls of the quaint little house were smeared with what looked disturbingly like dried blood. Fearing for Jeira, Elaina dismounted and hurried inside, her Gift telling her there was no life in the house.

The place was a wreck; chairs and tables overturned where they weren't smashed to bits, cups and plates and pots strewn about, as if a raging bull had been let loose. Thankfully, she saw no bodies as she checked the other rooms, only more mess.

A panicked whinny from Star brought Elaina charging from the house, mace in hand, where she saw four massive beasts, far larger than they should be; a wolf, a tiger, a bear, and a big black cat she'd never seen before, closing in on Star in the farmyard.

The poor mare danced in a circle, her eyes rolling wildly as she kicked frantically.

With a wordless cry, Elaina dashed forward, knowing it was foolish -- the smallest of these creatures stood almost as tall as she was! - but she refused to stand and watch them take Star.

Before she'd taken two steps, something struck her in the back of the head, and everything went black.


Guttural grunting and slapping sounds brought Elaina from her sleep, groggily raising her chin from where it had been resting on her chest, wincing as pain lanced through her head when she opened her eyes. Her vision was blurry; whatever had hit her, it had hit her hard, knocking her out cold for Aros knew how long.

When she tried to move, she realised she could not; she was sitting up against a tree, but her hands were bound behind her and around the trunk. Testing the bonds, they appeared to be well tied. For some reason, whoever had captured her had stripped her naked, but apart from her head, she felt unharmed.

She feared the worst for Star, hoping that the mare had gotten away, though it was doubtful; those beasts had been enormous!

As her eyes adjusted, the lurid scene before her came into focus. Not twenty feet away, two men and two women were coupling, panting and growling as they rutted -- there could be no other term for it -- on the forest floor. A big, hairy man with massive shoulders was pounding a slender dark woman with short black hair from behind, while a squat, thick-armed fellow was doing the same to a voluptuous, pale-skinned woman with fiery red hair.

Caught up in their primal lust, none of them had realised Elaina was awake, and she watched transfixed as these people, whoever they were, fucked like animals before her, stark naked and lost in their wild mating. They even resembled animals to look at; their features a little different to normal humans, if that was indeed what they were.

The man with the shoulders had no small amount of dark, curly body hair, and his muscles were larger than any blacksmith's. Throw in that long, shaggy hair on his head, and the fellow looked rather bear-like.

Studying the others, she noticed the women appeared distinctly feline, and the short man like a more primitive human, with a slightly more pronounced jaw and forehead, a wide nose, and arms as thick as most men's legs.

Elaina had a sudden horrible thought; there were texts she'd read, records of the War, which spoke of ancient shape-changing druids that had allied with the demons, but none had been seen for centuries since. These folk couldn't be them, could they?

She decided not to wait to find out. Calming herself, she began to assess the situation while the others were focused on their vigorous fucking, but that only lasted until a third man stepped in front of her, looking down at her with unsettling yellow eyes.

He was tall and slender, but looked strong, with a shaggy mane of wild hair down to his shoulders, and a generous amount of body hair, if not as much as the bear-man. He looked decidedly canine in his face, reminding Elaina of a wolf. He was as naked as the others, and as his eyes moved from her face and down over her body, his sizeable manhood began to rise.

His yellow eyes came back to her face as he squatted easily in front of her. "Your horse was delicious," he said with a sneer.

Star! Tears welled in her eyes at the loss of her horse as she glared defiantly at the man, whoever he was, though she said nothing.

Accessing her Gift, she searched his feelings, quickly recoiling when she felt what was inside him.

Rage. Lust. Darkness. Her Gift was all but useless; there was nothing in him that would resonate with it.

The yellow-eyed fellow lifted his nose slightly, as if sniffing the air. "I can smell him on you, woman."

Elaina didn't understand. "Smell who?"

"The Paladin who killed my brother," he growled. "He smells like you, but different."

"You're mad," Elaina said, instinctively bluffing to protect the Order. "There are no Paladins anymore. They died after the War."

In a flash, his hand was at her throat, squeezing until her vision started to blacken. With her legs unbound, she kicked savagely at him, but to no avail. "Do not toy with me, wench!" He roared. "The stink is all over you! It maddens me!"

She gasped for breath when he released her, wishing she could put a hand to her throat to feel for damage.

Hearing the man bellowing at Elaina, the others ceased their rough fucking and came to stand over her, the men's huge erections still glistening wetly from the women's juices.

They made for an intimidating sight, these five, staring at her with their eyes that belonged on no human, but Elaina was not easily frightened.

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