Simon checked over his shoulder. Rusty had already fled. Nubine had stopped trying to scrabble up the smooth spire and had turned to them, back against the wall.
Thane and Simon surrounded her. The smell of smoke on the air was getting stronger. Their shadows lay hazily over the ferret, outlined in orange.
“Don’t get too close. She could bite,” said Thane in an undertone. He picked up the torn band of Rusty’s skirt, which had fallen on the grass during the ferret’s struggle to climb.
“Come quietly,” said Thane. “You are no empty-headed bane; the lives of the people of Houndsmouth are at your feet. You must be brought before justice.” He held up the torn fabric. “You will be muzzled.”
“No, no—the plan failed. I can’t believe it!” The baroness buried her face in her paws, swaying in grief that made Thane curl his lip in disgust.
“Put your paws on the rock and be still.” He took a step forward with the piece of Rusty’s skirt.
The baroness wailed. “My king, I’ve failed you!” She thrashed again.
Clink-CLACK! went something in her dress. The sound of it made her eyes fly open, flash violet.
Simon leapt for her. “No!”
But she blurred out of reach of both wolves. The bottle was already to her lips. She gulped and gulped, and even when she choked on it, spraying mist into the air, she forced another swallow down.
When she was through, she dropped the bottle. The grass at her feet was dying—Rotting—before the wolves’ eyes. Her eyes glowed now, just like a bane’s.
“If the King can’t have the cubs, no one can!” She raised her paws into the air. Violet light shone about her. As it grew in intensity, the grass further out from her began to blacken.
“Run!” said Thane.
The wolves fled up the hill, grass crackling and stiffening behind them. The paused at the top.
“We’ve got the high ground up here,” said Thane.
Simon looked into the forest. The aspen trees’ leaves were beginning to spot with black. Others were splitting, dying right before them. Purple light poured toward the ferret, still posed by the rock.
“Is she killing the forest?”
“Can’t—not all of it—it’d be impossib…” Thane trailed off, stunned by the shape growing out of the Rot-light. Thane’s tail fell.
The purple light darkened and turned into night-black feathers. It was a bane, the largest either of them had ever seen. It stretched a wing whose shadow engulfed the entirety of the hill the wolves were standing on, and then some.
Nubine shouted something at it that neither of them could hear.
The Rot spirit tilted its avian head at her. Violet light flickered behind its eyes, each the size of the hearth back at the Golden Trough. Its daggerlike beak looked the same length as Thane himself.
It screeched, the sound somehow both piercing and ground-shaking. Simon flinched.
The bane pumped its wings once, then drifted gently downwards to catch an air current. Smoke from Houndsmouth trailed off the tips of its wings as it wheeled on a curving path, right over Thane and Simon on the hill.
Thane slashed at the air with his sword and shoved Simon to the ground.
Simon fell onto his back. Lying there, he felt like he was able to count each and every feather in the monster’s breast as it floated over them. It seemed to take forever.
And then, it was past them.
Simon pushed himself up. “It’s not attacking?”
“Not us,” said Thane. “Look, it’s heading over the woods!”
Sure enough, the bane was skimming the treetops. Dead aspen leaves fell in its wake, for everything the bird touched began immediately to decay. Its neck stretched before it, turning it into a black arrow.
“It’s looking for the cubs! Come on!” Thane raced towards the forest.
Simon paused before he followed, checking the rock face.
Nubine was still there. Her once-luxurious green dress was torn to shreds, and she barely looked like a ferret anymore with her Rot-blackened fur and glowing eyes. Her head turned as she tracked Thane’s movement towards the trees, away from her.
She fled in the opposite direction.
Simon let her go. It’s her or the cubs, and it’s going to take two of us to take that bane down.
The smoke in the bane’s slipstream billowed.
At least, I hope it’ll take two.
Simon went to all fours, galloping after Thane.
See you tomorrow at noon (Pacific Standard Time) for chapter 15! The game Armello and its characters are property League of Geeks. Buy it today!
For previous chapters, click the tag “Heroes of Houndsmouth“; older chapters are towards the bottom.
You might also like to follow my tumblr because I post art and sometimes game reviews there.