Authors: Jim Galford
Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Furry
|The Northern Approach
|Fall of Eldvar 
|Fantasy, Fiction, Furry
The Fall of Eldvar: Book Four
Edited by Tricia Kristufek
Cover art by Rukis
First edition 2014
Copyright ©2011-2014 by Jim Galford. All Rights Reserved.
No reproduction of this work may be used in any fashion without permission of the author. For information on usage permissions, please contact the author at [email protected]
“The Fall of Eldvar” books by Jim Galford:
Book one, In Wilder Lands – 2011
Book two, Into the Desert Wilds – 2012
Book three, Sunset of Lantonne – 2013
Book four, The Northern Approach – 2014
Book five, Bones of the Empire
Table of Contents
In those days, the first chosen among the lost will seek revenge and in their anger begin a path to saving others, but only if they can keep from destroying themselves along the way. Abandoning the path or finding their own death before they have done all they must will ensure death for millions. Far more will die in this one war than in all the lands I have conquered, even if this person does everything I could hope for.
Never in history have so many lives been dependent on so few, who have no force pushing them to help others. Doom awaits the wrong decision, the first mistake, or a selfish choice. Sadly, even with the gifts given me on my deathbed, I can offer no advice for what must be done.
May history have mercy on these few.
Excerpt from the lost prophecies of Turess
“Put the man down. Preferably in one piece, Raeln,” warned On’esquin, standing off to one side of the clearing. He had come running out of the woods and was still out of breath as he waited to see what Raeln would do next.
Snarling angrily, Raeln continued to hold the emaciated human against a tree, his face close to the man’s. The human shook violently and pleaded as he tried not to look at Raeln’s face. Each time he cried for mercy, Raeln tightened his grip on the man’s throat, silencing him. Soon, his claws dug into the soft flesh of the human, and his fangs were close enough to the man’s throat that he could practically taste the man’s sweat.
The human had done the unthinkable, at least as Raeln saw it. He had stolen food, the one thing that mattered to the struggling survivors who had escaped the destruction of Lantonne months earlier. Belongings had little more than sentimental value, clothing could be remade, even weapons were replicable in a fashion. Food was life, and taking it, murder. It had been the one law Raeln had insisted upon when the refugees had abandoned anything else resembling order.
The people of their camp had fled Lantonne only weeks before winter had come to the mountains, giving them no appreciable time to find food and stockpile it. All they had brought with them was long gone. Even the wildlife of the region seemed to know of their desperation, becoming sparser with each week. They had gotten through the winter, the spring that followed it, and early summer, but it could be weeks before fruits, vegetables, and other resources began to appear in any quantity. Far longer before there was enough to collect in abundance. Many would not live that long.
“Why would I put him down?” Raeln demanded, squeezing the man’s throat until his eyes began to bulge and blood wetted Raeln’s claws. “I warned him before the thaw. I won’t warn him twice. We’ve lost almost thirty people since we settled here. Who knows how many could have been saved if people like him were gone? His share of the rations will keep others alive.”
Raeln growled and brought his face close to the man’s again, eliciting tears and choked attempts at an apology. The puny human was insignificant to Raeln, another foe to be broken and cast aside. People who mattered might live if he could convince himself to finish the job. His muscles fought against the attempt to kill the man, but Raeln wanted to…he needed to do this. Years of training to protect the weak raced through his mind, making it difficult to decide what he had to do. On one hand, this man was weak and unable to defend himself. On the other, the man had hurt those weaker than himself.
Something large and heavy crashed into Raeln’s side, knocking him off-balance and forcing him to release the human in order to catch himself as he fell. He staggered and grabbed at the tree to keep himself upright, but the human he had held was already running, gasping as he fled into the trees.
“What was that about?” Raeln shouted as he came around on the orc who had slammed into him, shoulder first. “I’ll have to hunt him for hours now, On’esquin. These humans are like roaches, fleeing into the brush at a glance.”
The orc stood his ground near Raeln, his thick leather boots sunk almost above the ankle in the mud that filled the woods after a recent storm. Hardened and cracked ancient black leather armor covered a robe of a similar color. Contrasting his clothing, the orc’s skin was dark green where it was visible, marred only by the white of the tusks protruding from his bottom jaw and the black lines of tattoos around his eyes. All in all, he was an imposing figure most would not even consider challenging, but Raeln hardly even noticed his appearance anymore.
“You will relent this moment, Raeln,” warned On’esquin in his usual deep, raspy voice. The man put himself between Raeln and the fleeing human, spreading his arms wide to force Raeln to either go through him or circle around a large section of trees. “Killing that man will not change anything that has already happened. He was an idiot, but that does not warrant death. If it did, half the people who have survived should have been executed. If we are going by my people’s standards, every last one of them would be considered idiots and be worthy of death. The whole reason I sought you out is because you are better than my people.”
“Then maybe they should die!” shouted Raeln, rising to his full height in a subconscious attempt to intimidate On’esquin. At nearly seven feet tall, even the orc had to look up at him. “Move!”
On’esquin shook his head and remained planted where he was, calmly saying, “Less than a year after the cities have fallen and you’ve already lost your way. I had higher hopes for you, Raeln. You were to be my anchor against all that anger. I can hardly think straight anymore, and I am willing to bet that my thoughts pale in comparison with yours.”
Roaring, Raeln charged at the man, intending to bowl him over. Once, Raeln had been among the most skilled of anyone in the camp. He had trained for twenty years to be the best martial combatant in his part of the region, and many in the camp still treated him that way. His size only helped further that fear of him.
A lot had changed in the months since Lantonne had fallen.
A few steps into his charge, Raeln realized he had fallen for the ruse of a prepared warrior. The orc leaned abruptly, using his leg like a tripwire across Raeln’s path. Raeln had run at him without thinking and doubted he could stop in time to keep from getting tripped. As he tried to stop, On’esquin’s large hand came down like a hammer on his side and knocked him off his feet.
Raeln came crashing to a halt in the mud and water that covered much of the area. When he wiped the mud from his face, the human he had been pursuing had disappeared from sight. Raeln could have followed the man’s trail, but as his anger faded, he realized how pointless it would have been. The man had learned his lesson for now, and killing him would not really make Raeln feel any better.
Rolling over and sitting up, Raeln looked down at himself in dismay. Eyeing his claws and torn clothing, he wondered when he had become this…creature…he knew others probably saw in him. He had just tried to kill a man who was struggling to survive, the same as everyone else. That was not something he would have done before the long winter. It was certainly not who he had been raised to be.
Raeln had been a calm and patient man, trained to fight only when necessary and only until a foe relented. He had been taught to always keep his emotions in check when it came to violence or the potential for it, and given his size, he had tended toward caution for fear of hurting anyone, including his family members. Even those who came into his village with the intent of raiding and killing were shown mercy, lest he cross a line he did not know how to come back across. Now, mercy was the last thing he thought of. Wherever that line had been, he had crossed it long ago.
Lifting his hands, Raeln stared at the vaguely human digits with their long claws. He had once kept his nails short to better fit in with the elves who predominantly occupied the village he grew up in, but now they looked more like a monster’s talons. He had used them that way more than once over the winter and was ashamed to think of those moments. Even with summer having mostly passed, he had not bothered to scrub away the filth. Once, his claws had been a brown-grey, but now they were stained black from tearing open animals to feed the camp—and sometimes from killing other humanoids to remind them who was in charge, if the need arose.
Raeln’s clothes were in shambles, as were those of most other members of the camp. Skinning deer or sewing fresh clothing from materials brought from the city only went so far, and Raeln had kept himself at the end of a long line of people who needed things. It made him look even wilder, with bits of his fur exposed where the old Lantonnian clothing had worn thin or shredded. He desperately needed new clothing and a bath, but there were so very many things he wanted to put first.
His feet—shoeless, as was the way for his people—were caked so thickly with mud that even the deep puddles of the woods barely cleaned them anymore. If he had to guess, he suspected his tail was little better. Looking at it would likely only further sully his mood, so he refrained.
Leaning over, Raeln peered at himself in the water at his side and saw his hands and feet were hardly the worst of it. He had once kept himself immaculately groomed out of pride and habit, but his wolflike face was matted and he could see dried spatters of blood around his muzzle from rabbits he had caught on the run in recent days, while hunting for larger prey to feed the camp. He could not imagine what the people of the camp—once civilized city-folk, the same as he had been—must think of him. To those from Lantonne, he was likely seen the same way On’esquin saw him: a man lost to anger and revenge for no good reason. To those from Altis, the refugees from foreign lands, he was a wildling savage and worthy of little more than slavery, even if none felt safe enough to say that around him. Likely, all of them saw him as little better than the wolf he resembled.
“What happened to me, On’esquin?” he asked, letting his shoulders sag. Weakly, he slapped at the puddle to force himself to stop seeing his own reflection.
The orc crouched down, carefully smoothing his robe to keep it out of the mud. Somehow, while others looked like orphaned wretches, On’esquin hardly changed. His clothing and armor was impossibly old…likely as old as the man himself, which was a topic Raeln tried to avoid, as it made his head hurt whenever On’esquin spoke of his younger days.
“I can hear the calm returning in your mind,” On’esquin said, clasping Raeln’s wrist in a gesture of a warrior friendship rather than an aid to stand. “It has been far too long since I’ve seen that in you. A small step, but a step nonetheless. We will both fare better if you can make peace with yourself and all that you’ve seen.”
Clinging to the man’s wrist in turn, Raeln lowered his head until his brow touched On’esquin’s wrist. He steadied his breathing and forced himself to relax, something he had not done in months. Once, meditation and calm were habit; now they were forgotten memories and a struggle.
“Can we save these people?” he asked, squeezing his eyes shut to hold back tears brought forth by memories best left buried. Like everyone else there, he had lost people, both family and loved ones. His own actions shamed him, thinking of those people who once would have been the first to chide him.
“No,” replied the orc, surprising Raeln. When he looked up, the orc smiled sadly down at him. “That is not our duty anymore. Our time to go is long past. Staying here only furthers your pain and anger. If I do not get us moving soon, I doubt we would be able to fulfill the most basic suggestions of the prophecies. We both need to be at our best if we intend to survive in the new world we face outside these lands.”
Raeln looked around, barely aware of where he was anymore and what month it might be. The days were a blur of anger and duty that sometimes mingled. He would hunt and he would kill. That was what he had become, losing much of himself in the process. It was his job and his purpose for living. Packing up and leaving had become a terrifying concept, separating him from the tasks he used to fill his mind and keep him from thinking about the last days of Lantonne.
The city’s fall still weighed heavily on Raeln, even so many months later. He had watched as the greatest city in the realm, Lantonne, had fallen before the armies of Turessi—a land hundreds of miles to the north. The Turessians or their agents had used dark magic to raise every corpse they could find between their land and Lantonne as undead, marching hundreds of thousands of corpses across the plains to overrun the city, as they had in dozens of other lands along the way. Lantonne had only been the latest, not the main target of the army.