Loroch Windschreiener walked the grand hall of the Imperial Palace, a little worried. He could banter with King Nightskar, joke with Empress Lunata, even tease the Dragon Mesyra a little.
Emperor Ublaz terrified him. But it was not a terror that made Loroch weak. It ws a cold, hard terror that gave him strength.
Ublaz looked up as Loroch bowed before him. "Loroch Windschreiener."
"Greetings, my lord."
Ublaz was stern. "A question, Loroch."
"You have another title, that of count, do you not?"
"Yes. That is true."
Ublaz glared at him. "Do not think that title gives you any special priveledges here. You are my subject, and thus under MY command. DO you understand me?"
Loroch did not look up. "I understand, your imperial Majesty."
"Look up at me, Loroch."
Loroch looked up. "The BenDragons only paid me lip service, as you know. They sent a slave, as well as two of their own number here, and yet, none of them ever did anything."
Loroch remained silent.
"I expect you to do more than simply give me lip service Loroch. Do you understand me?"
"Yes my lord."
"Good. This is your first assignment. Go to Castle Marl. I want that place."
Loroch rose, bowed, and left.
When he got to the Wind's Cry, he spoke to his family. Shtaragk and Rolja both wanted to go. Laraida smiled, and said, "Let them. I can't go with you, I have the pups to take care of." As if on cue, all four newborns started to wail. Loroch kissed Laraida goodbye, and Shtaragk gave his girlfriend a kiss.
Quendrida wanted to hold the kiss for quite some time, but finally she let Shtaragk go. Laraida brought Quen back to the cabin on the island, promising to teach Quen how to fight with a dagger.
Loroch finally got the ship underway. The Wind's Cry was not like one of Ublaz's great ships.
It was a small fishing vessel, originally. After Loroch stole it from a goodbeast settlement, the Windschreieners had refurbished the ship, and remodeled it. It was now a better ship, in Loroch's opinion. There were very few clues that it had once been owned by goodbeasts. There was no doubt to the nature of its current owners, a few hides had been nailed to the wall, a collection of swords and daggers nearby. Loroch looked around the ship in approval. He always felt a thrill entering his ship.
Shtaragk pushed aside a fox-hide curtain that served as a doorway from his room. "Hey, Dad, I got the sails ready."
Loroch nodded. "Good. And the hull is recaulked, I did that last night." He looked at Shtaragk slyly. "As you know..."
Shtaragk blushed. Loroch merely laughed. "Don't worry, I was a lot like you when I was dating Laraida. Only we were a little older at the time."
Loroch took the wheel, and Shtaragk hoisted the anchor. Rolja was up in the rigging, adjusting the sails.
Khorzharax, Loroch's father in law, had suggested Loroch sending his dimunitive daughter to be trained by treewolves.
The result had been obvious. Rolja, who had been upset over being a runt, had gained a new confidence, and used her small size to her advantage. Right now, she was scampering through the rigging like a squirrel.
As the ship got underway, Loroch watched the horizon. Finally, he saw an ancient castle on the horizon.
The three docked the ship. There was no other ships at the harbor, and Loroch cautioned his offspring to walk on the sides of the wharves, where it would presumably be sturdier.
They reached Castle Marl. The gates weren't open, they'd fallen over a long time ago.
Loroch looked around the place, and sighed. "Reminds me of Fort Darkmist," he said sadly. "I always get depressed when I see a place like this." They entered the castle, and Loroch looked around. "Looks like no-one is here," he said.
Shtaragk nodded. "Yeah. It looks like we're the only ones to have come here for a long time."
Rolja nodded. "Well, maybe we should sleep on the ship, though," she said. "I don't want to be caught napping if this place comes down around our ears."
The trio went to the Wind's Cry, and made their bunks. Loroch, out of habit, raised the gang plank. Sleep overwhelemed them.
They got up at dawn, a habit Loroch had goten into as a youngster, and one he had trained his family into. Loroch lowered the gangplank, and they went back to the castle.
"So, whadda we do?" asked Shtaragk.
"I want to have a good look around this place," replied Loroch. "We'll split up, and meet back here in three hours."
"Got it!" chorused the youngsters.
Loroch walked through the moldering halls of Castle Marl. It wasn't the biggest place, but there were a lot of rooms. The taverns and battle arena were useless, the cielings had caved in. In one case, he couldn't even open the door to a room. He sighed, looking around. The place was a disaster. He hated seeing a castle in such ruin, but perhaps it was inevitable.
Suddenly, he paused. Footprints in the dustcovered floor slowly came into focus. Footprints that did not belong to any wolf. He looked around. He saw a movement out o the corner of his eye, but he couldn't quite catch it. A sinking fear came into his heart. He took a long sniff. A reptillian small filled the air. And it was far from a stale smell.
Shtaragk walked along the docks. The docks were old, no longer exactly useable, but not so old that he was in danger of falling through. He explored the wharves, coming at last back to the Wind's Cry. There was something under the gangplank that glittered. Shtaragk leifted the gang plank, and picked up the object. It was a dagger, of a strange make. He would have sworn that nobeast in his family had a dagger like that. No, it belonged to somebeast else. The fact that the dagger was shiney rather than rusted told him that that somebeast was still here.
Exploring the towers and battlements was always an adventure for Rolja. She'd learned to love high places, and she enjoyed the view that the towers afforded. She looked around the tower. The structure of the building was sound, even though dust was everywhere. The castle could be repaired, and it wouldn't take all that much...
Something moved on the battlements. She watched, but she could barely see it. She had to get back to Loroch. That was no wolf she saw.
The three wolves got together on the Wind's Cry, and held a counsil. They all agreed that the castle was not empty. The intruders seemed to be lizards, and all very hard to see. Loroch dictated in no uncertain terms were they going to split up the next day. That night, they moved away from the docks, and slept nervously. The next day, they armed themselves to the teeth, and entered the castle. Their eyes finally adjusted to the dark. The lizards were everywhere. Loroch and his two offspring tensed. Rolja pulled a pair of daggers, while Shtaragk drew two throwing hatchets. The slave pens were a disaster, there were bones everywhere: the last remains of the wretched slaves.
The Lizards did nothing, until the trio reached the throne room. There, the evident leader of this infestation crouched on a throne. He stared at the three wolves, unblinking. Suddenly he made a move, and the lizards came at Rolja and Shtaragk. They both threw their weapons at the leader. The leader evidently never dreamed that the wolves would fight back. Or maybe he was enjoying the sun too much. Four blades sunk into his hide, and the leader gave out a loud hiss of agony. The other lizard watched him slide off the throne, and hissed, confused. Suddenly, they fell on each other, vying for mastery.
Loroch, Rolja, and Shtaragk made a dash for it. The made their way back to the Wind's Cry, glancing about worridly. The sounds of chaos reigned through the castle, and throughout the night. Loroch merelyu raised anchor, and let the ship drift. None of them slept. The next morning, they sailed back, keeping a sharp lookout. There were a few corpses on the wharf, but that was nothing like what was in the palace. Corpses were evrywhere. A few lizards still survived, but Loroch, Rolja, and Shtaragk disposed of them. Finally, the infestation was wiped out. Loroch looked around. "Well, we'll never get this mess cleaned up. Let's go back to Sampetra, and report to Ublaz."
Ublaz glared down at Loroch, who remained down on one knee. "And no lizards were spared?"
Loroch shook his head. "We killed whatever had managed to survive. Maybe a dozen or so out of thousands."
Ublaz slowly nodded. "You have done well. I will send my slaves to clean up the place."
Loroch rose, and bowed.
He left Ublaz's presence, feeling slightly better. Life here at Sampetra would be interesting.