Grimdark Story Battle Royale III: Round 2

To Kill a Fucking Dragon vs. From Teeth and Claws

To Kill A Fucking Dragon

Pyke Hardbro was the Keeper of the Silent Queen’s Person, a lot less fun than it sounded, Spymaster of Her eternal earthly kingdoms and, other wordy accolades that he had never asked for and didn’t want.  His bastard father had unwittingly saved some dickhead noble’s wife by complete accident and was awarded the inherited honour as a reward.  When he died, his twin sons staggered into the dubious role.

Keeper duties were only bearable because Pyke and his identical twin, Syke Hardbro had decided to  job-share and, while one of them was on duty upstairs navigating a brutal court system– the other would lounge about sipping wine, reading pornographic pamphlets written by horny monks and gorging  on enough food and drink to sustain a small cohort of barbarians. 

They operated a simple week on/week off rota that had been faultless and undetected before Syke had been caught in flagranto with the intoxicating Compte de Sanguine Bleu and was now under guard and the imminent threat of execution.  The Queen didn’t care about sexuality – Syke could have been caught rutting with a donkey – but she cared pathologically about obedience and the twin’s shared position and all that it entailed came with a non-negotiable clause of abstinence and any form of sexual contact was absolutely forbidden. 

The twins had never taken any notice of this clause – why would they?  They were young, dumb and full of vigour and as history has taught us celibacy has never worked out well for anybody really.

But as Syke had told his brother during their penultimate visit before his summary execution in a week’s time– they’d had a good run and as long as death quick and not painful he wasn’t that worried.

But the Queen of Silence had no mercy in her dark heart – only cobwebs and elusive memories and no one had ever thwarted her in this way before, or at least never been caught and an example must be made. And so, the younger-by-4 minutes Hardbro was to succumb to The Walling – an agonisingly slow death that could last for centuries.

Pyke didn’t have the balls to articulate the rumours he had heard surrounding his twin’s death sentence.  As it was he’d had to visit the dungeon on a pretext and in disguise.  He’d found the most foul-smelling, fluid streaked robe he could, limping and moaning enough to be taken (on a dark night) as an apprentice to the Smile apothecaries.  The  Smilers were sadistic fucks employed to administer daily antidotes to whatever poison a prisoner may knock back to hasten their end & as the Smilers were universally loathed and feared Pyke thought he would expect less challenge as he desperately tried and failed countless times to come up with a plan to save his brother.

Death did not come easy in the Silent Kingdom.  It came hard, it came slow, it came bloody, it came bloodless, but it always claimed its soul.

He’d have scarpered but there was that ‘twin’ thing and he couldn’t bring himself to abandon his brother.  There was only one thing left to try and it was a suicide mission and if Pyke failed the Hardbro line would end within the week.  It meant travelling to one of the most treacherous parts of the Queen of Silence’s kingdom and literally killing a dragon.

The Queen of Silence had employed a bunch of luckless knights, bannermen, serfs & priests to proclaim a charter of impossible quests to every village, hamlet, city or shithole around the keep, city and kingdom. 

Naturally, all the quests involved teeth somehow and, if successful, the probably crippled victor would be granted, immortality (if applicable), riches, nubile companions, and other stuff of legends.   Nobody had ever survived the imaginatively titled Teeth Quests – so there was no way of knowing which was easiest if they were even survivable or just a cunning way of keeping the stout-hearted, heroic folk culled to manageable proportions. 

Pyke was no hero.  He’d not been born to anything useful excepting a couple of yards of infertile scrub behind the family’s hovel.  Winters always harsh, Summers always dry – he’d had two mothers before the age of 9 and a brutish father who was just bloody angry all the time.  So, the twins had relied on each other for everything.

If he’d been a musical sort – Pyke might have written a multi-verse, tedious ballad about it & made a few gold pennies from the drunkards that only tolerated long, monotonous pieces because there was fuck all else to do in their grimy little lives. 

Nobody really likes ballads & the arrogant little fucks who sang them and what the stories don’t tell you is the number of bards that ended up bloodied and broken outside the apothecary’s hut bleating about their talent, outrage and the injustice of everything.

He had seven days to succeed at an impossible task without detection and therefore saving Syke, achieving immortality, pursuing romantic liaisons with goats and the rest. 

Just living past today would be a result.

Still wearing the fusty robes splashed and muddled with stains and reeking of piss Pyke searched the quests for something that he could survive for a couple of minutes but it became clear that every quest was going to end in decapitation, gutting, flensing or shredding so Pyke employed the ancient divination technique of closing his eyes, turning in several circles and seeing where his finger landed.  It only occurred to him halfway through the circles how ridiculous he must look because mass giggling broke out nearby. 

‘Fuck off’ he snarled, ‘it’s a dark magic ritual in honour of the Queen’.  That shut the little sods up and he opened his eyes gingerly and peered at the quest covered by his fingertip.

‘Slay the Blackstone Serpent of Bone Breaker Pass.  Retrieve four large teeth, six coral scales and one bronze and present them to her Silent Majesty within 5 minutes either side of the midnight hour’. 

‘That’s very specific’, Pyke thought, ‘and I’ll be needing help’.

But whom could he trust?  The Court was cut-throat and murderous – no allies there but there was one person, possibly, that might come to his aid. 

Pyke groaned at the thought but made his way towards the Queen’s Keep and to make a clandestine appointment with the Compte de Sanguine Bleu, effete, speaker of seven languages including Moorish, Devil’s Elven & Corn Piskie, possessor of pansy-coloured eyes and a pretty impressive swordsman.  

Feeling a wee bit more hopeful Pyke managed to avoid two notable piles of horse shit before slipping through a side door to the vast Keep kitchens.  The unobtrusive entrance was hammered into the West Keep and pocked by ancient arrows tips and trebuchet missiles from battles before he was born. 

There had been no insurrections in his living memory and that was due in part to the ancient magic that burned around the kingdom cunningly woven to explode to life as soon as a battle cry was heard and immolate entire armies where they stood. 

The Wort Hordes banded together one Winter as a monstrous, mad army and one of the clan’s chiefs had the bright idea of whispering the battle cry, but magic has pretty good hearing and The Wort’s made a rather attractive sight as they immolated – a stunning display of violet & absinthe green flames burning well into the night.  Nobody had bothered since then. 

Pyke found the kitchen humming with activity and Dame Beer, in her sweaty element creating delicious things while ruling with a smile and kind words.  She was a short, heavy woman with bright hazel eyes who wore huge smocks mostly in shades of brown.  Many of the children were orphans and Beer’s kitchen was a maternal sanctuary of sorts. Everybody wanted to work in the kitchen – it was olfactory heaven – fresh bread & yellow creamy butter, Lilly berry pastries and lemon flake buns all played a huge part in its popularity but above all it was safe.  None of the court rules applied to the kitchen and so things were pretty relaxed which is why the Hardbros had always been able to pass through without detection. 

‘Hold up, Smiler scum!’, Dame Beer demanded. Pyke swore softly and stopped.  He could smell the flour and fresh yeast on her body as he closed his eyes waiting for the axe or in this case, meat baster, to fall. 

‘We were all very sorry to hear about Syke. He’s a lovely fellow – anything the kitchen can do – just ask’.  Pykes eyes snapped open again.

‘How long have you known?’

‘For as long as you’ve both held office, your daft bugger’. 

‘Seriously’, Pyke squeaked.

 ‘Of course, but don’t worry, love – the Queen has no friends down here, nor them Smilers so your secret is safe. Now fuck off and save your brother’, she finished and crammed something spongy and delicious in his mouth.

Pyke chewed, rolling his eyes with pleasure as he made his way past the ovens, the fruitery, skinning posts and pot-washers and continued through cavernous store-rooms and lock-ups until he came to a pile of broken crates.  Pausing, to check nobody had followed him – Pyke pushed the crates to one side with one foot to reveal a trapdoor cut into the earth.  Heaving it upwards – he squeezed himself through the opening, missed the second step of the wooden ladder and fell arse over tit to the floor.

‘Jesu! Could this day get any worse?’, he muttered.

‘Je ne sais pas, Cheri, it depends on how you think the next two minutes will go?’

Pyke looked up into the amused, pansy-purple eyes of the Compte de Sanguine Bleu.  A very beautiful man, delicate, only about two oak lengths tall but with really memorising hands.

‘Oh! Great, I suppose you know as well? 

‘Well, of course, my darling, you have different shaped cocks – it’s very clear why you are named ‘Ardbro’ and it is obvious from those tight trousers that you both ….

Pyke bunched a fist and pointed it in the Compte’s direction to stop him talking, ripping off the foul-smelling robes with relief.  A healthy fire crackled & platters and trenchers of fresh food and drink lay enticingly on the wide, willow table that dominated half the room.  The Compte sat on one of the matching chairs, crossing his legs in that hugely irritating way that confident men can.

‘So – ‘ow are we – going to save your bruzzer? I mees him.  The Compte sniffed and had to look away – were those actual tears? – I mees lapping at ees loins.

Okay, Okay! No details needed.  Pyke gathered himself. ‘Look, er, Compte, I need your help to save Syke.  I’ll be honest, this is a suicide pact whatever way you look at it.  Every quest is dangerous, soul-crushing – two them actually crush your soul as punishment – and you’d be mad to join me, but I know you  … , Pyke cleared his throat, ‘… er, care for my brother and so I ask you now, formally, for your assistance.

The Compte twirled a cheese fork dexterously on the pad of his forefinger ‘What do you fight best weez?’

‘An axe, Pyke responded.  This was better – he knew where he was with weapons – not so much loins.  ‘Erm, it suits me – I dunno – I like the meatiness of it – just two bastards charging at each other screaming and then bashing each other’s brains in.  Not all this hopping and lopping that you swordsmen do.

The Compte arched a delicately shaped eyebrow.  ‘Zo, which quest ave you chozen? Oh! I do ‘ope we are going to slay ze Serpent of Blackstone Pass?’ 

The Compte stood with a flourish and managed some rather impressive swordplay with the tiny cheese knife.  Things were looking up, Pyke thought. 

‘Well, yes, it’s a bit of a ‘savaged flesh & agonising demise’ toss up but I’ve never seen a dragon so that sort of swung it.

‘I ‘ave seen ze beast – Oui, we will probably die but in ze name of sumzing verse-vile and zink of ze Bards – and ze songs!’

‘Always the fucking bards’, Pyke muttered.  The Compte oblivious thrust a full glass of wine into Pyke’s hand.  ‘Drink zis, relax and zen we leave under cover of dark Madame nite!

‘Yeah! Good luck with that but my armour needs cleaning, my boots are clumped with shite and my axe is rusting in places that it shouldn’t’- I’ll rest after I’ve attended to them. There won’t be time later.

‘Bah!’, the Compte replied and gave a short, sharp whistle at which a small blonde girl appeared from behind a curtain and executed a deep bow. 

‘Seriously?’ Is there anybody who doesn’t know about this room?’, Pyke asked

‘Larsi ees my devoted page – she would die razzer zan speel sekrets!’

Pyke noticed how much the Compte and his page resembled each other– the same shock of dark hair, violet eyes, arrogant air but Larsi wore a shirt and breeks of soft olive green leather & a page tabard of the Compte’s crimson colours.

‘At your service, my Lord Ardbro’, Larsi uttered with a completely straight face and disappeared back behind the curtain.

Pyke sighed, surprised at how exhausted he felt and how heavy his eyes had become.  He had just enough time to mumble, ‘Just five minutes’,  before succumbing to a deep, restful sleep aided in part by the poppy milk the Compte added to his glass. 

‘Sleep well, Pyke Hardbro, you will need every vestige of your strength tomorrow, the ‘Compte’ murmured, all traces of the sensual, lavender-laced Occitaine accent replaced by a soft and wild Corn burr.

When Pyke woke he felt like shit.  His head was pounding and his mouth felt like a pair of wild boars had mated in it.  His first attempts to rise were confounded by waves of nauseating dizziness and retching but he persisted until he’d managed to sit up.

‘Ere, drink zees’, an irritatingly fresh and familiar voice offered, and a cup of something hot and invigorating was pushed into his hands.  It smelt foul, tasted even worse but Pyke began to feel better almost immediately. 

He drained the cup and stretched easing out the kinks from his shoulders and scar tissue and notice his armour, greaves and axe gleaming as new.  ‘How the hell …’, Pyke trailed off. 

‘Larsi ees very innovative also, she has ze majeek!’.  

‘Your sister is a dark weaver?’Pyke asked, a tight band of anxiety wrapping itself around his chest.

‘Non, non, more of a lyte weaver, bon majeek!!

Pyke could swear that the Compte’s accent was getting thicker.  Almost comical now but what did he know – hardly an expert of battle language.  Picked up a bit of Clannish in training but only enough to understand changes in tactics mid melee or when to break off to the left for a chokehold move. 

He shrugged, ‘She could be useful against the Serpent … thing, maybe? 

‘Off cawse, she is a teleporterre and man immoliaterrrrre’. The Compte began to snigger. ‘That was too much, right?’

Pyke stared at him and the ‘Compte’ sat down giggling before pulling out stuffing from beneath his jerkin and padding from the front of his trousers. 

‘God, that was getting tough to keep up’.  Oh! Your face, it’s worth it – daft bastard’.

And with a flourish ‘he’ pulled off ‘his’ wig and a tumble of ubiquitous but still very fetching golden hair fell out.  Pyke stared, mouth hanging open – tried to speak – had nothing and clamped his mouth shut again.

‘Seriously?  You’ve not had one suspicion until now.  Even with that ridiculous accent? 

Pyke felt completely lost. ‘Who are you?’

‘Gala, formerly from the Queens Stables by way of the Bards Academy!’

The mention of bards broke the spell.  A fucking Bard!

Oh! Of course.  The massive affections, the gleaming whatsits, the lovely hands.

‘IS ANYBODY WHO THEY SAY THEY ARE IN THIS SHITPILE OF A PALACE?’

Gala squinted at him, ‘Isn’t this room supposed to be a secret? All that yelling and small girl screaming might attract the Guard.’ 

Pyke groaned.  Things were happening too fast – a stampede of events. 

Gala stood in front of him, hands on slim hips – that golden tumble of hair even sweaty & tangled was still fucking lovely – and a very enticing scar that travelled from the left side of her mouth swept down across her throat and disappeared beneath her undershirt. 

He wondered what the story was behind that.  A vicious scar for a stable girl – the Guard were far more likely to rape over a few days to teach an unforgettable lesson or cut something small off but to leave something so visible wasn’t their style.  They still had supporters in the surrounding land who may have baulked at scarring a young woman for life. 

‘You want to know about the scar?  It’s okay, everybody wants to know about the scar so best to get the question out of the way’.

‘Okay, how did you get the scar.

Attempting to slay the Serpent of Blackstone Pass’.

Pyke roared with laughter, ‘No really’.

Gala shrugged, ‘I need the immunity – I weighed up the odds of each quest and found no leeway in any of them so I thought – hey, a dragon – might as well go down felled by a dragon, right?  But by Lucifer’s diseased balls they stink.  Horrible breath – rotting meat, puke, blood-streaked shit.  I didn’t do too badly, and I managed to escape before it killed me, but this is my trophy. 

Pyke was dumbstruck ‘You’re not like any of the women I know.  How have I never met you before?

 ‘Oh! But you ‘ave’, my darling, cock like a blunt weapon srough your tight breeks’.

‘Fucks, sake, I mean before the disguise?’

Gala shrugged again  ‘Smart women make themselves invisible around this court.  The Queen is not fond of competition. We tend to keep our eyes down, gowns long & hair short.

‘But yours is so long and … nice’

Wigs, love, wigs. The go-to disguise for assassins, spies and women in the Queen’s court.

‘I did not know that’, Pyke replied in wonder. 

‘We’ve more to worry about like how are we going to get out of the Palace without being seen? Or do we fight our way past the 20 or more guards stationed at the Damsel Gate? 

Pyke considered this.  Getting out of the Castle and its confines would be difficult with the Queen on lockdown and everybody feeling claustrophobic and irritable.  The Damsel Gate could be hazardous with exit only possible through a tiny gate allowing only one person to pass through at a time.  But it had the advantage of being the furthest gate away from the central court and barracks.  There was no love lost between the grubby inhabitants of this part of town and the surly soldiers that manned the gate.

Pyke picked up his gleaming axe and twirled it a few times.  The moonlight danced across its stubby, lethal twin blades.

‘We should go now – under cover of darkness and scout the Gate, run interference if necessary. ‘

‘Agreed’, Gala nodded picking up her sword and pulling down a vicious looking helm with rust crusting about the mouth grille.

Gala saw Puke looking and grinned. ‘Yes, it does look like I’ve feasted on the brains of my enemies. My father gave it to me before he was betrayed and imprisoned.  Cunts.’

Then her mouth relaxed and took on a delicious aspect that Pyke associated with rampant debauchery, expensive wine & gilded oysters before whipping back the curtains and disappearing through the hidden door.

Pyke hurried to keep up.  He’d never known a woman like her – he was part wonder, part lecher, part puppy dog.  ‘Concentrate, you twat, he reminded himself.

The route to the Damsel Gate was surprisingly uneventful – a thick indigo sky and the moon,  a dappled silver orb, gave off enough light to help them navigate the streets that ran through the 1st, 2nd and Third Quarters of the palace grounds.

Gala and Pyke paused about twenty yards from the Damsel Gate in a mouldering alley, that stank of shit, rats and something else rank that Pyke didn’t want to investigate.  About 30 Damsel Gate soldiers were milling about, many more than usual, and at least two soldiers from the dreaded Queen’s Guard.

Fuck, this was impossible – how the hell they were they supposed to ‘slip’ through there.  Pyke was about to ask Gala’s opinion when a large group of children appeared – seemingly from thin air.  The eldest couldn’t be more than twelve and the youngest about four.  Filthy, little things – mostly in rags although there was a girl at the front, purpled eyed & defiant, wearing the Scarlet colours of the House Sanguine.  Larsi.

‘What the flying fuck is your page doing here?  With a bunch of kids?’ 

‘That’s our front line, Pyke’.

‘What are they going to do  – distract the guards with a group tantrum?

‘Be silent & be ready’, Gala replied quietly.

The children approached the guards slowly and as they passed by Pyke caught the glint of metal in each small hand.  They were armed?  Tooled up bairns.  Pyke blinked. 

One of the guards broke away to challenge the group – ‘Fuck off!

The children stopped & Larsi held up a wicked looking dagger.  ‘Make way for us’, she said – her voice soft but commanding. 

Two more of the Damsel guards stepped forward – I said fuck off, you little twats’. 

‘I eat children for breakfast, me’, said a second joining in.

‘I like children – soft, soft skin’ – leered a third rubbing his crotch.

‘We’ve got to do something, Pyke whispered urgently, they’ll be massacred – the Queen’s Guard don’t give a fuck who they butcher – they have immunity’.

‘Wait’ Gala breathed.

‘Make way for us’, Larsi repeated and with a twitch of her hand, the ragged group took two steps forward.  There was something very odd about them.  The children appeared completely unafraid – eyes bright, almost feverish with excitement and now their weapons were visible– a mass of sharp silver.

For the first time, the Damsel Guard looked uncertain.  ‘I said …’,  but was cut off immediately by the Queen’s Guards who edged forwards, swords raised high.  Their armour appeared supernaturally shiny – helmets tightly soldered with a grille at the mouth and unnerving eye slits.  They said nothing – just stood there.  It was a ghastly standoff. 

‘Disperse or you die’, one of them finally rasped.  A most unnatural voice of death & old violence.

Larsi’s hand twitched twice more and two of the older children broke rank, advancing fearlessly towards the Guards, their sharps poised for blood.

The soldiers, both nearing seven oak-lengths in height, wasted no time and without warning impaled the bairns on their swords – there was no coming back from those hurts – guts torn to pieces and important things for living shredded. 

Pyke gaped and this particular type of violence proved too much for even the Damsel Guards.

‘Now wait a minute’, the first guard shouted, ‘nobody said nothing about killing bairns. That don’t sit well with me.  Lads?

The Damsels bunched together protectively – murmuring their dissent. 

The corpses of the children lay torn and wretched, blood still bright in the darkness, eyes, softer now, less zealotry or whatever it was and more child which made it even sadder.

‘Fuck this’, Pyke snarled & launched himself forward – colliding with the two Guards, hacking and slicing dimly aware that the children had joined in the fight.  At one point, Pyke sensed Gala being impressive to his left but he regained focus – managing to thrust his blade between the taller Guard’s side-plate, a thin layer of metal that should have protected the man’s flank but failed miserably.  There were a few seconds of panic while Pyke wrestled his blade out of the man’s neck and that delay, as Pyke sawed back and forth through bone & muscle, allowed the mortally fucked Guard just enough time to carve open Pyke’s right cheek with an involuntary death spasm. 

Even in fight mode, it burned like a syphilitic canker – he’d have to get that cleaned up after this was over.  If he lived. 

All it takes is one moment in a battle to lose focus and the odds of death rapidly increase. In Pyke’s case, it was a massive thump to the back of his head with what felt like fifteen-ton Aberdeen Angus but was probably a mis-directed Damsel Guard sword.  He felt something batter against his visor.  Small black spots became large black spots and Pyke reeled falling heavily to the ground. 

He lay there woozily expecting a death blow but nothing happened except Pyke heard a broken sort of squealing and with great effort hoisted himself onto his knees to face one of the Queen’s Guards thrashing about with young girl attached to his throat.  Somehow, she had managed to rip through his chainmail and clamp her small jaw around his jugular.  Gouts of blood exploded from the Guard’s neck – the child’s corn-yellow curls bouncing in time to the man’s panicked movements. 

It was Larsi.  Tiny, barbaric, terrifyingly Larsi.  Is this how the de Sanguine house got their name?  Pyke gulped, hoping that the kid wasn’t in battle mode and killing everything in sight. 

But after the Guard went down gurgling and shitting himself, Larsi climbed off him, wiped her mouth with a dirty sleeve and launched at another soldier.  Now only nine soldiers remained upright – both Queen’s Guards were dead, horribly dead and the Damsel’s were losing the will.  There’s only so much child’s blood most men will shed before reality kicks in and Hell beckons. 

One of the men pleaded, ‘Look I’m laying down my weapons, I don’t want to fight no more’.

And the others followed gratefully – some openly crying clear tracks down bloodied faces. Grown men bewildered by what had happened and now distraught at the corpses of children before them– faces serene and unblemished in direct contrast to the butchery below their necks.

Most of the remaining children collapsed to the ground like exhausted puppets. But fuck,  they were efficient fighters!  Not trained in the ways of elaborate swordplay or with the strength to wield hulking axes but with a ferocity he hadn’t expected.

What the hell was he going to do now?  The children would be hunted and made agonising examples of or, left to rot in one of the Queen’s bottomless dungeons.

Wearily, using his axe as leverage, Pyke hauled himself to his feet.  Gala was nursing what looked like a broken nose and her left arm hung limply at her side – something wasn’t right there but she looked happy.  Pyke directed a ‘what about the children’ look at Gala but she just smirked.

Pyke took a breath and after removing his helmet, probed the back of his skull. Hurt like fuck but still intact. They needed to move – he could hear shouts in the distant – Queen’s Guards massing probably.

Why is it that you’re barely conscious of pain during a fight but afterwards everything fucking hurts? 

The Damsels began babbling hysterically and Pyke turned wearily trying to summon up the strength to do battle with a ‘murder’ of Queen’s Guards. 

But the Guards hadn’t reached them yet and Pyke rubbed his eyes with filthy numb fingers trying to make sense of what he was seeing.  The remaining children had begun to lose their form – even the dead ones were shuddering and their skin turning a muddy red – like clay baked for too long.  Delicate features blunted – mouths became gaping holes in lumpy faces, holes for eyes scored into the red earth.  And then each body cracked, breaking up into shards which in turn crumbled into fine powder leaving only piles of terracotta dust on the ground.   Pyke shook his head wondering if his concussion was finally revealing itself.

Then Larsi whistled and twenty more children came bursting out from a heavily camouflaged alley and crowded around her happily.

Pyke looked over at Gala who still wore her irritating smirk. 

‘Golems? Fucking Golems? Pyke choked – relief and other emotions getting the better of him. 

‘Ze majeek!’ Gala confirmed with a weary flourish.

Pyke shook his head. ‘What about this lot? Where do these children come from?

‘Brothels, mostly, some slaves – all homeless, loveless, unwanted’, Gala replied.  Pyke considered this information briefly.  Ach! Sod it.

‘Who wants to kill a fucking dragon?’, he roared at the bairns.

‘We do!’, the children screamed back.

Pyke looked up at the sky – still black – but enough moonlight to catch on the discarded sharps the clay golems had used.

‘Come on then, yer wee, mad bastards’, Pyke cheered and limped through the Damsel Gate followed by his newly formed army – twenty thumb-sucking children and a bewitching cross-dresser.

To kill a fucking dragon.


From Teeth and Claws

The guilty man writhed underneath the body of the monstrous Warg. The colosseum echoed with the applause of thousands, drowning out whatever screams the man had. The demonic hound was the Goddess’s most beloved beast. Towering above horses and doubling the mass of normal wolves; the man’s efforts to push the beast off were futile. It’s protruding fangs were still embedded deeply into his shoulder, pinning him down by weight and pain.

There was an eruption of applause as the beast ripped off the man’s flesh and then showered in the gore that sprayed out. The audience began to chant “For our Queen, for our Queen, for our Queen,” even as the man was disappearing beneath the animal, into the dust and blood.

Talys did not raise his voice to join the chorus. He was standing up above, upon the Royal platform surrounded by the Queen, royal advisers and guards.

 By wearing the mask of the Warg and training rings on his fingers, it indicated that he was leading today’s ceremony. On Judgement Day, Trainers wore white to symbolize the purity of the trials. The white striking a harsh contrast against his dark umber, scarred skin. He was considerably short for a Diorin man and even smaller for his frame. Despite his disappointing stature, today Talys stood with importance above all others. It was his beast below, the Warg he had dubbed Syn.

“The first drop has spilled!” an announcer boomed in a baritone voice over the crowd. “May the guilty BLEED by the Wargs of our Goddess. May our Queen, who embodies our deity….”

Talys forced himself to ignore the speaker and the commotion around him. It was his duty to make sure that he used his rings to stop Syn at just the right moment. Wargs were trained to inflict devastating, but not outright fatal wounds.

“…deem whether he is worthy to rejoin society.”

 The crowd watched with vengeful lust as Syn ravaged the poor man, captivated by the violence before them. Talys held no ill will towards the defendant. Even now, he was merely surveying the magnitude of the victim’s lacerations. Any who survived the trials were considered reborn. To bring an individual to the doorsteps of death was every Trainer’s goal and Talys and Syn were the best. He poised, ready to strike with his rings. The Wargs attack and holt on the snaps.

With sudden gusto, Syn snapped her jaws around the man’s head and freed it from his body. Entrails plummeted out through the neck and painted the naked body below in red.

As the crowd roared their approval, Talys felt the piercing eyes of those he was surrounded by while his own eyes were ready to burst out in shock. The royal adviser, Guerin, was practically igniting Talys’s whole head on fire with his gaze and the Trainer could almost hear the man plotting his condemnation. There are certain moments in life where you do not screw up. At the top of this list would be fucking up the Queen’s Royal ceremony. Talys had no idea what the man below did, but he needed to act quickly before he joined him next.

With a flare, Talys attempted to stand taller and then walked to the edge of the platform, addressing the crowd. The audience settled into an eerie silence, waiting for the Trainer to explain this turn of events. Down below, Syn was still gnawing at the man’s head, cradling it fondly with her colossal claws. Talys raised his arms up to the heavens in dramatic gesture and then bellowed

“And our Queen has spoken!”

The Colosseum almost shook by the audience’s standing ovation. When life shits on you, it is indeed best to blame the Gods.

Talys made a point to flick his rings together while he was still on the edge, for all to see. Upon hearing the frequency that only Wargs can, Syn dropped the man’s head and heaved up to reveal the lifeless body underneath her. Church was over.

He turned and awaited his own judgment. The Trainer almost hurled in relief when he saw the Queen’s reassuring grin.

The ruler clapped Talys on the shoulder “our Goddess has spoken,” she echoed back to him.

 She too was wearing white. Her gown traveled well past her feet and its tail was catered by two servants. Time did not seem to affect the Queen. Her skin was of deep sepia and her eyes like honey amber. Golden rings encased her throat, making her neck appear abnormally long. Her mane was dark, tightly textured hair that almost commanded power on its own, but it was her teeth that struck attention the most. Her top incisors were extraordinarily long and sculpted into spears. The Queen radiated her sovereignty and, in her presence, Talys found himself almost believing her claimed connection with the Goddess. She nodded down at him in approval before taking her leave.

Talys hoped that this meant he was saved, but the Queen was not the only one that had passing words for the Trainer. Talys could almost hear the old man sniveling to himself as he approached. He breathed in a mouthful of what must have been shit hiding in the Adviser’s robes. The fact that the smell was able to override the crowds’ stench of body odor was an incredible feat.

Gripping Talys on the same shoulder the Queen had, the Adviser bent down to get closer. Talys was disheartened to realize that the source of the smell was coming from the Adviser’s mouth. Foul breathe penetrated through his mask; the adviser’s gums were clearly rotten. “Yar nay-did at da castle. Af dusk, boy” the man grumbled, his words congealed together by his lack of teeth.

Talys had to force himself not to grunt at the Adviser’s remark. He was a man, even if he struggled vertically. He watched as the hunched asshole exited through the back, leaving him alone.

The Trainer glanced back down in the arena to Syn. She was back to feasting, though her gigantic body was once again shielding her victim mostly from view. Without the audience, Talys could hear her ripping through flesh and organs, snapping bones with her teeth. Her dark fur was matted with guts and blood. He will always love her.

With the commotion gone, Talys was now left with the realization that he had just murdered someone. This wasn’t the same as someone succumbing to blood lose or dying days later from infection. The promise was that anyone should be able to heal and rejoin their community. There was no coming back without a head.

He wasn’t sure what most murderers did with themselves, so the Trainer wandered the streets of Diormire. Trial days always stimulated the markets with excitement. He had removed his mask and was assaulted by the sights and smells of the stone city. It’s scent of food markets and livestock were familiar, but only heightened his nausea now. All around, he could hear the clamor from citizens as they discussed today’s proceedings as they shopped from tent to tent. The sounds of drums and string instruments accompanied the vocal exchanges of coin and rumors. He had thrown on a brown poncho to conceal his Trainer attire. No need to be further harassed by the public.

Talys stopped at one tent. The flaps were open and inviting to all who wished to enter, and a great many had. On the center table was an adolescent girl. There were sugar canes in the corners of her mouth to keep her jaw open as the Shaman chiseled away at her teeth, sharpening them into fangs. The true way to remember the Goddess and achieve holiness was through the practice of Lupinu; the sharpening of teeth.

The Trainer found he didn’t enjoy the whimperings of the innocent and immediately left.

He recalled when he went through the Lupinu. When one reached maturity in other cultures, he heard they merely dunked themselves in water and threw a party. Not our Goddess. Forgiveness and acceptance is pain and the first sin was people lying through their teeth. The Lupinu was a recognition of temptation and remembrance of their Queen. Talys found he sinned equally as well even with his canine’s sharpened. Had the crown known of his agnosticism, he would have likely been facing his own Warg this morning, let alone leading the ceremony.

The shades of the evening were falling rapidly and so the Trainer made his way north of the city. The first Queen had made a statement by ensuring that her dwelling was within the midst of her people, her castle standing at the head of her city. The citadel was at least three times taller than the surrounding buildings, with its two spires out front even more so. The tips were painted white, no doubt symbolic of the Queen.

Talys had removed his cloak to reveal his true station and was ushered inside by one of the standing guards. While citizens were allowed to carry certain weapons, Trainers never did. True power was the might of the Wargs. Talys always thought that this ruling was foolish since Syn never left her enclosure, except for Trials. Undoubtedly, he would die just as easily from a knife wound as any other poor bastard especially given his height. He stood about a head shorter than most men and a reach to match his stature. The Trainer had bluffed his way out of most street fights by pretending to snap his fingers to summon Syn. He doubted that would work inside the Queen’s castle.

The guard led him to a small chamber.  Talys wasn’t sure why he expected to be led to a throne room, but took a seat at the stone table in the center. He was abandoned by the guard and left in the presence of the Royal adviser.

“Our Queen will jon short-re,” the old man curdled, eying Talys with distaste. Both men faced each on opposite ends and stewed in silence.

A full wretched lifetime must have passed and died before the Queen entered the room. She had forgone the white and had donned on a blood dress that corseted around her waist. She took a seat beside her adviser and flashed her fangs at the Trainer.

“Tell yus how you tamed Syn,” it was Geurin who spoke. Not expecting that question, Talys didn’t have a readily answer.

“You don’t tame a Warg,” he said thoughtfully. As much as he doubted the faith, there was no denying the power of the Goddess’s hounds.

The Queen beamed at him with delight but with her teeth, it resembled more of a sneer.

“This is correct, Trainer,” she mused “the Wargs enact the will of our Goddess, just as she uses my tongue to speak her words.”

“You war not meant for tovay’s trial,” the adviser interjected. He moved himself closer across the table to stress his point. “A Trainer has bar-trayed the Queen and forsaken his duty.”

“That’s not possible,” Talys retorted. Trainers were selected from the time they were three and raised alongside Wargs. There was no other life for a Trainer and no one in their ranks would betray their order.

“Broker,” the Queen hissed “he refused to participate today. Our Goddess knew and a man died in the arena for his treachery”.

“Broker will not be granted a trial. We cannot allow the public to know that one of our own has betrayed the sacred rites.” the Queen declared. Her eyes flashed with the warning of the suns.

The Trainer didn’t know what to say. Broker was the one who instructed Talys in his youth. He had selected him to become a Trainer and gave him a life of what otherwise would have been pure mockery.

“Please don’t ask this of me,” Talys found himself pleading. The events of today was already crashing down on him without adding on another’s sins. He faced his Queen in defeat, but he saw no pity in her eyes. He was frozen in place by the lack of warmth there was in her hallow gaze.

She seemed to hesitate but then reached into the bodice of her dress. She removed a fang, several inches long, and slide it across the table to Talys.

He picked up the tooth and examined it in his hand. The incisor was stained yellow from wear and crimson from where it was ripped out from its owner. No other beast that walked possessed as large of a canine. He knew instantly that it belonged to Broker’s Warg, Deth. Terror flooded the Trainer’s mind as he gazed back up at the Queen.

“The Warg and Trainer are one.” The Queen explained as though that clarified everything.

The adviser spoke now, “Yar to go to Brokar to-nigh with Syn and Tabitia. Tabitia will see the deed is done. Yar dismissed.”

*************************

The Queen had issued a state of emergency and forced everyone in a lock-down for the night’s event. Talys was never fond of Tabitia even before this evening, but he could have gladly added her onto his ever growing murder list. Dressed in white Trainer’s garb, she stuck out like a shit poor excuse of an assassin. Though in all fairness, he reminded himself, Trainers never needed to bother with stealth. Outside, in the light of the moon, her uniform shun like a beacon,begging attention for all those inside to witness their act. While her mask was able to conceal her identity, there was only one Trainer that stood with the height of an adolescent. 

Talys wondered why Tabitia’s Warg, Mace, wasn’t with them. He would have asked, but her demeanor made it clear that she felt he was responsible for Broker’s fate. She wasn’t exactly wrong.

They walked in solemn silence for their journey to Broker’s residency. Even Syn managed to stalk quietly beside him. Her massive paws may have appeared to almost be trampling Talys, but he has been training with her since he was 15. Talys had also constructed a face harness for her from a saddle. The Trainer was almost certain she has never been outside of the arena before today and he could feel her exhilaration of being outside. He had a death grip on her reins, but it was him repetitively striking his rings together in code that held her at bay. Talys’s life was on Syn continuing to obey the snaps.

They were finally outside Broker’s dwelling. Being one of the most prestigious and oldest Trainer, he had his own building of stone to live in. Talys looked over at Tabitia for direction, but she just nodded her head for him to go inside. She then folded her arms in disapproval for his hesitation.

He could have snapped his fingers right there for Syn to attack her. His stomach was sick for what he was about to do. Broker deserved a better fate than this and he grieved for bringing death to his doorstep. The other trainer raised her fingers to him threateningly, her rings poised to click. Talys gave her the middle finger and then Syn’s reins, furious that he was just threatened with his own Warg. He entered Broker’s house, leaving them both outside.

“I expected a Trainer but not you, Talys,” a familiar voice spoke out to him. Broker was sitting patiently at his table. His muscular but withered arms were folded across in preparation of unpleasant visitors. He had aged considerably over the years. He was completely bald, but the course stubble along his jaw was littered with white. Scars from training Wargs had sculpted his body, leaving pink slashes across onyx.  His face told a story with worried lines and healed wounds from teeth and claws.

“Oh,” Talys faltered in surprise and silently cursed at himself. So much for a dramatic entrance.

Broker chuckled at that and then gestured for Talys to sit down with him. His home appeared to only be one room and it contained little possessions, though someone of his position could have easily afforded more.It was like forgotten times when Talys used to visit in his youth, except altogether different. Not sure what to do, Talys accepted his invitation.

“So,” the Older Trainer said, peering at his disciple as though conducting a lesson, “Do you know what the man did to deserve the Trial today?”

“No, but I know what you didn’t do” Talys hurled out, his former embarrassment of being caught off guard fueled his anger now. Fuck Broker for putting him in this position. His thoughts went back to Deth’s tooth, likely the last remnant of the Warg. The Queen had ended up gifting it to him. He wondered if Broker knew his animal was dead.

Broker ignored the younger Trainer’s outburst and continued on “no, we Trainers never know what it is that makes a man guilty in the eyes of our Queen. Yet, Syn murdered a man today-”.

“I killed that man”, Talys interjected once again, defending his Warg. “I didn’t stop Syn in time.”

Broker’s face fell and he looked at Talys with renewed sorrow. He seemed to care little about his own fate, but was more curious about the state of his student. Talys’s mentor gazed inquisitively “Do you know what the people call you?” he asked, his disposition darkening.

Talys didn’t have a response to that. As a Trainer, he was removed from society so that the public could continue to love their Queen, even as they feared her Wargs. He knew there were plenty of families that would have loved to see him dead.

“Oh, you are the best in guiding Wargs to contrive pain and dismemberment. Perhaps the best Diormire has ever seen,” Broker praised cruelly. “The audience has come to love the midget Trainer for the blood shed you and Syn rain on them, all but your victim’s families.”

“They call you, Khilupin-The Teeth of our Queen”, He continued gravely “because no one has EVER survived their wounds from Syn”.

“Why are you telling me this?”, Talys exasperated, feeling as thought he was descending into madness. He needed this night to end and to be as far away from this room as possible.

“So you may know why I will no longer take part in the trials. Why I will never train another Warg to -”

A deafening boom came from the other side of the door, the attack causing the wall to quake. Startled, the older Trainer darted his eyes to the noise and then back to his apprentice.

“Syn is outside,” Broker said, his true situation dawning on him. It wasn’t a question and it took only a moment for the man’s adrenaline to kick in. He made to leap out of his chair, but Talys was too quick for him. His apprentice swiftly took out Deth’s fang and drove it down into his mentor’s hand, crucifying his palm to the table.

“How fucking dare you let Syn outside my home. She’ll fucking kill everyone…” Broker continued to swear incoherently, no longer the calm and meditative mentor he was only a few seconds ago. “This isn’t a fucking arena,” he tried to remove the tooth from his hand, but was unsuccessful. Already a pool of blood was forming on the table.

For Talys, Syn’s knock had caused time to slow down enough for him to remember his purpose. It didn’t matter if the Goddess was real, Syn was. His place had to be with the Queen so that Syn may live. He stood up in solidarity, but he ignored his former mentor’s words. The guilty were not allowed a final say. “By order of our Queen, I sentence you, he commanded. His rings snapped together and the wall came crashing down.

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