The stalker beasts and their riders could reach a top speed of a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour through the forest. The stalkers were compact beasts full of taught muscle and explosive power. Their lithe and agile bodies easily whipped around any obstacle in their path to easily chase down prey.
“Kill them! For the Clan!”
The lead rider hefted his blood soaked hatchet and screamed a battle cry. The dozen riders who accompanied him answered. They were all attired in custom cavalry gear that bound their legs to the stalker mounts. Effectively this turned two into one; the rider fought and fired arrows while the beast served as their legs.
The small native knocked their bows and aimed for the fleeing trainees. Poison-tipped arrows were let loose.
Wherever they struck – trees or ground – the arrows instantly gushed with toxic smoke, threatening the trainees even without finding their target. Ahead there was another group laying in wait, and soon the elysians would find themselves caught. With death closing in on either side these humans would have nowhere to run.
The leader of the riders felt anticipation seep from every pore. Excitement for slaughter filled him and he almost couldn’t stand to wait to cut these bastards into pieces.
It’d been ten years since the Blight-tooth Clan’s ancestral lands were invaded. They were forced from the valley where they’d lived for generations, an affront that festered in the hearts of every clan warrior.
But it went beyond clearing them from their homes. The sweepers of the Blight-tooth Clan reproduced quickly, and by age six or seven they were already prepared to fight. The speed worked against them, though, for the despicable human used them for their own ends. Natives of the forest were culled routinely to keep their numbers low. A death squad from the valley was dispatched whenever they were deemed too numerous.
They were caught in a giant cage.
Blight-tooth Clan used to be a mighty force, but had since been reduced to a shadow of their former selves. They were prisoners of Deadwood Forest. Yet, the most heinous insult was that these proud warriors were now reduced to tools. They were used to hone young elysian warriors, while any mighty warriors they raised were abducted and turned into slaves for the benefit of hardening future human killers. Day in and day out, it was an unending battle for survival.
Among members of the clan, hatred for elysians was imprinted on their very bones.
Gorefang was the title they gave to their leader, and the young one leading the charge was the current generation’s chief. He was twenty this year. Among the clan, fifty was considered ancient, so at twenty their Gorefang had already reached middle-age.
His father had been Gorefang as well. Back when they lived in the valley, Blight-tooth Clan was different from the other sweepers. They lived very differently from humans, but were no less intelligent. They planted crops and bred animals to subsist on and sought no dispute with the world outside of their territory. Since they had enough, they rarely raided others. However, even though they avoided conflict, war came to them.
Old Gorefang was captured when the humans came, and tortured to death at the hands of one of their commanders. His successor still remembered the day his father bravely gave his life for his clan.
What had they become?
No future, no hope – nothing. Their sole purpose now was to make their enemies stronger. Their effort, blood and lives were given just to strengthen elysian murderers. Sacrificial lambs on the altar of human superiority.
Gorefang hopelessly resigned himself to the knowledge that this would be their fate, forever. Then, six months ago he saw a chance to change things. A power from the wastelands reached out to him, and with its help he brought his fractured people back together. They were given these mounts and weapons as gifts to rebuild the glory they’d lost.
In six months’ time they were on their way.
Because it had happened all so fast, the soldiers of Hell’s Valley didn’t know how strong the Blight-tooth had become. They were blessed by the help from the wastelands, but Gorefang knew it was not without cost.
He also knew how powerful they were, the influence that they held. Ambitious, aggressive, eventually they would come when the time was right to conspire against the humans of Hell’s Valley and crush them.
Easier said than done.
Hell’s Valley wasn’t just a training camp. That was just part of it. Hell’s Valley served as a valuable forward operations base for Skycloud domain, and the veterans stationed there constituted stronger combatants than Skycloud’s own army.
Having such a force stationed somewhere easy to hold and hard to attack made for more than just a good training area. It was established mostly for mutual defense, establishing a force of shock units that could be deployed at a moment’s notice. They could either be turned against an enemy’s rear to cut them off, or used as a spear to strike right at an invader’s heart.
As an advance guard their responsibility wasn’t to participate in battle, but rather to recognize threats before they happened. Any group that seemed poised to create a problem was swiftly dealt with. The soldiers of Hell’s Valley were a special task force with their eyes on the wastelands, and very little happened out there without them knowing about it.
If a group from the wastelands wanted to attack the elysian lands, their first act would have to be amputating the garrison at Hell’s Valley. Towards that end, the Blight-tooth Clan made a valuable ally.
Gorefang was smart, he knew what his clan was worth. Attacking the elysians was no easy thing, and his people would serve as little more than cannon fodder. Gorefang wasn’t about to let his people die for another’s cause, or allow the humans to wipe them out. His hope was to lead his people out, to regain their freedom. So it was that he continued to accept the gifts of the outsiders, while at the same time planning their escape.
He’d planned to wait before making his move, but it seemed too late now. The valley’s student selection process had begun, and now that they were back in the forest the valley’s attention would come their way once more. The Blight-tooth Clan’s power would soon be exposed, and Chief Gorefang could no longer tolerate his people being victimized.
He made a decision. It was time to fight for their freedom!
From ahead came the sounds of battle.
When Gorefang rode toward the din he was stunned to come upon a very different scene. The warriors he’d deployed to the front had failed. The elysians weren’t dead. Instead, he found the ground littered with his men’s corpses, and a handful of others in elysian armor. Older men – veterans from Hell’s Valley.
“Bastards! We’ve been discovered!”
When he saw the dead veterans Gorefang’s ugly features twisted in rage. They didn’t typically send soldiers out to monitor the students, as most of these new trainees were stronger than the average soldier. Even if they did come and watch, they wouldn’t intervene. Normally the veterans would dispatch their assistants for that job.
Veterans in Deadwood Forest could only mean one thing; they’d been exposed. Hell’s Valley had dispatched a response, a fact that did not bode well for his people.
“Blackfang, gather all the clan warriors. We’re killing our way out of here!”
Blackfang was the chief’s right hand and second in command. He put a bone horn to his lips and delivered a blast that howled through the forest. Scares of warriors spread all around gathered at the horn’s call. In a matter of minutes, eight hundred men were ready to heed Gorefang’s orders.
Blight-tooth Clan’s leader looked over the sea of people, his people. He saw the fiery light of determination in their eyes. “The elysian dogs have kept us in this forest for decades. They’ve killed our fathers, our mothers, our lovers, our children! They use our blood to strengthen their warriors, and spent our lives to buy their future. We’ve suffered this for so long. It’s time to make this suffering end!”
“Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!”
The writhing crowd screamed in response, thrusting bone weapons into the air. From the resounding cries for blood, it was clear how much these people had had to endure. Any that had survived the routine purges up to now bore an unwavering hatred for their tormentors.
Gorefang went on. “Our home is destroyed, but we still find shelter under the protection of our ancestors. We may be forced to give our lives, but we will no longer give it for them. We will give our lives for freedom!”
Another round of cries erupted.
“Raise your weapons, use them to cut a path out of this prison. Many of us will die, but we will live on in the hearts of those who make it. Our clan will grow and prosper, until one day we return to our home and take back everything that was stolen from us!”
“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!”
Blight-tooth warriors did not fear death. Years of brutal oppression under the elysians had done nothing to quench their savage spirit. Today they would teach them that letting the Blight-tooth survive was a mistake – one that they would pay dearly for!Previous Chapter Next Chapter
No better training than a mini-war!