A blood-orange glow lit the hillside as specs of embers raced from the flames before fluttering to the ground. Gurgled screams tore from a burning throat only to fade back to the sounds of metal striking metal. Adorin stood shaking, his wide eyes glimmering at the sight of the destruction. His tall, lanky body slumped forward in disbelief, as he wiped his sweaty brow with a dark-skinned hand caked with dirt.

He left to forage for the day, picking herbs and fungi for his ailing mother. They were ingredients for medicinal teas and salves, recipes taught to him by the hedge-witch in the forest. She warned this day would come many times, but the people in town paid her little mind. It was mad bantering from an aging hag, her mind warped by decades of communing with demons—or so they assumed.

Adorin knew better. The witch saved him from the G’yel as a child and had been a second mother to the boy. As he stood there, his face soaked with tears, it seemed she had unknowingly rescued him again from the same fate. The G’yel had come for the town.

They were a savage, bestial race—seven arms tall or more, covered in fur. Though their claws were the length of men’s fingers, they often fought with crescent swords made of sanguine steel. It was a poisonous metal, and blacksmiths were not fool-hearted enough to forge with it. All it took was a slight cut to putrefy a limb, or worse. If they didn’t kill you on impact with the blade, the rot would take a man in a few days.

The G’yel’s numbers had flourished over the years, their legendary breeding habits proving harder to keep in check. Humans had lost control over the problem, no longer able to cull their swelling numbers. The beastmen pushed further into human territory, often taking over poorer towns not guarded by walls or a lord’s army.

A rustle from the bushes behind the boy tore his focus from the suffering in the distance. In front of him stood one of the creatures. He was younger, his mane not yet fully grown, only standing a half an arm taller than Adorin. The beast was dark brown with black speckles, and his maw pulled into a jagged grin. Both of his longer canines had a golden shine as though they had been polished by a jeweler.

The beast’s broad ears were round but pointed at the tips as they flared from his head. His eyes were a deep azure only seen in gemstones. That was a trait unique to the hyena-like race; their eyes were beautiful—a stark contrast to the rest of their hulking bodies. This one wasn’t as big yet, his muscles barely showing through the shorter fur along his midsection.

The creatures only wore tattered loincloths, but such modesty was rare. Most of them wore nothing, but this one did. Aside from the small, tight leather subligaculum that barely covered his loins, he donned a necklace made of human teeth.

He pointed the curved, crimson steel blade at Adorin’s chest, inching closer while running his long tongue over his teeth. Though he smiled, there was something off about the beast’s stance and gait. The G’yel seemed to favor his left side, grimacing as he took another shaky step forward.

“Your kind…” he growled out as Adorin slowly backed away toward the woods. “Killed…” How was he able to speak the language of man? None of them had ever communicated in more than grunts and wicked cackling.

He lifted the sword over his head, about to strike. The boy bowed, his long, black hair falling into his face as tears glinted the fire’s light as they fell to the ground. The sword whipped from the side, but stopped inches from Adorin’s neck.

The boy dared not lift his head. He didn’t want to see his end coming, only hoping the beast granted it to him swiftly. However, death never came as unsteady footfalls crunched away over the dead leaves. Why had the creature spared him? That was pure hatred in his eyes, but he didn’t kill.

Adorin glanced up in time to see the G’yel limp away, his scruffy tail low behind him. He left a blood trail, an arrow deep in his leg gushing blood from around it with every step he took. Part of the boy hoped he was in pain, and that he would suffer until he died. However, the G’yel was only a kid himself, likely a pawn to his elders, an expendable whelp sent to die in war. At least that was how human society worked. He wondered if those creatures were similar in that way.

He had to help the beast. Perhaps it was stupidity or the hedge-witch’s lessons infused him with more empathy than most. It hurt him to watch anything suffer, no matter how vile the deeds of his people. The G’yel spared Adorin’s life and spoke the human tongue. Perhaps he had a softer heart than others of his kind.

The boy’s pace quickened as he approached the G’yel from behind, a basket of herbs in his left hand. When a crimson blade sliced the wind upward, nearly hitting his arm, he jumped back.

“You are hurt,” Adorin said, putting his arms up, letting the basket handle fall to the crook of his elbow. “I can help you.”

“I no need help from human.” He snarled and spat to the side, his blade whipping in front of Adorin once more.

The boy gave the creature more distance. “Why did you spare me?”

A pained chuckle left the adolescent creature. “Did not spare. You die out here alone. I no need to kill.” He wheezed, stumbling to the side before catching himself. He gave the human a wary glare before pointing the blade back at him.

“You are the one that is at death’s door, not I,” the boy said, holding the basket up. “I can heal you.”

“Keep your weeds.” The G’yel lost his balance, his sword falling to the ground. “I… I not yet blood-forged. Could not kill even single human. Deserve this death,” he whispered, his pawed feet trembling as he fell to his knees.

Adorin ran to his side, carefully picking up the blade before chucking it into the thick brush.

“How old are you?” the boy asked, kneeling next to the beast before pulling a mortar and pestle from the basket.

“Why talk? Let me have dishonorable death alone.” The G’yel grabbed the boy’s arm. “Why do this?”

“Because you did not kill me.” Adorin smiled as he wrenched his arm away. He took three parts lady’s shade, two violet caps, and bitter berry, throwing the ingredients into the heavy clay bowl before mashing them together. It was a strong antiseptic for humans, and he hoped it would work on the creature. “I ask again. Why did you not kill me?”

A forced hiss left the G’yel’s mouth as he turned away before quickly falling unconscious, his right leg still bent, held up by the arrow shaft jutting from it. Adorin pressed an ear against his chest to make sure he was still breathing. There was still a strong pulse as the creature heaved a deep breath. He didn’t smell as bad as everyone said, a bit like a dog and a man that hadn’t showered in a few days. His scent differed little from the quarrymen that frequented his mother’s brothel when she was well.

He pulled away and turned the heavy beast onto his stomach, revealing the arrow lodged in his hamstring. Adorin pulled at it, but it didn’t budge, likely stuck in the bone. The witch never taught him how to remove things from a body before, but he knew he had to try. It couldn’t stay there.

With a deep breath, he grabbed the shaft with both hands and stood, giving himself more leverage.

One. He thought to himself, swallowing hard as his palms began to sweat.

Two. Drawing another breath, he squeezed the long, wooden spine.


Adorin pulled with a swift, powerful motion, tearing the arrowhead from the beast’s flesh. The G’yel screamed out, full of adrenaline as he leaped onto the boy, pinning him to the ground.

“I had to get it out,” he shouted, pushing the creature’s head away from his neck. “You are bleeding. Let me finish, please.”

The two locked eyes for a moment, and the G’yel’s wrinkled snout and bared teeth softened as he pulled away.

“Pain,” he whined out, soft but high-pitched. “So much pain.”

“I know.” Adorin removed his shirt, tearing it into strips as his patient lay on his stomach. “This will help with the pain.”

He grabbed a handful of spring nettle, a broad, thick leaf full of slimy sap that had a numbing effect when rubbed into a wound. He snapped the nettle at the stem, squeezing the white ooze into the wound hole. The relief was immediate as the beast’s muscles relaxed and his blood clotted. While spring nettle was good at numbing and treating wounds, it was deadly if misused. Too much and the blood would become too thick, stopping the heart.  

The boy’s shirt was filthy, stained with mud and sweat, but he hoped the salve mixture would be enough to keep the decay out of the wound. The G’yel would likely lose his leg to infection otherwise, or worse. Adorin didn’t touch the medicine as he let it drip from the mortar in clumps onto the hole before tying the strips of his tunic firmly around the beast’s thigh. It took a few strips of fabric, but he was able to fully dress the wound.

Adorin took a deep breath before backing away.

“It is done now,” he said, the adrenaline fading. He had been so focused on caring for the creature that he had briefly forgotten that his mother and friends were all dead. Tears welled in his eyes, but he held back, knowing the danger wasn’t over. There were more G’yel out there. Maybe they were looking for this one. “I must leave. I am sorry.”

He stood, but the creature caught his hand.

“What your name?” he asked, his soft sapphire eyes glistening wet from the pain he felt earlier.

“Adorin,” the boy replied. “Do you have a name?”

“Ralk.” He squeezed Adorin’s hand. “Name is Ralk. You run now. They come. Scent on the wind. Run south. No stop.”

The boy nodded, grabbing his basket before hurrying into the blackness of the untamed wilds.

Next Chapter