When Amelia approached the camp, it was all she could do not to turn and flee. A large number of Lion Guard soldiers stood outside, and by the gate stood him—her father—along with a soldier whose armor suggested he was a Lion Guard officer, and a robed mage, an Altmer who towered over all the Bretons and looked out of place. But she didn’t run away. She had meant it when she had told Chamberlain Weller she was no longer afraid of the man. She refused to let him intimidate her ever again.
Even if she had been afraid of her father, the elf, who stared at her openly, intrigued her. She didn’t know where it came from, but Amelia had a thing for elves; and this one was gorgeous, with long, dark hair and the scruff of a beard, as though he hadn’t shaven in a couple of days. He wore two staves on his back. His ice-blue eyes met hers boldly, and a hint of a smile crossed his lips, one that she returned.
Her father grimaced when she came up. The commander just looked on expectantly.
“Little girl,” he barked.
She reluctantly tore her gaze away from the elf and regarded him. “Old man,” she replied in the same tone of voice.
“What are you doing here?”
She turned to the soldier. “I’m looking for the commanding officer.”
“You’ve found him. I’m General Gautier. This is Count Vallanil Stormbringer from Rivenspire.”
Amelia nodded to the elf. “Your Excellency. I’m Amelia Degarmo. Red.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Amelia,” said the count in less of an Altmer accent than she would have expected. He had evidently been in High Rock for a long time.
“What can I do for you?” the general asked.
“I’m here to help. I know how to defeat Faolchu.”
“Another wild theory?” he snapped. “This will be the third one today.”
Amelia refused to even look at him. Instead, she continued to address the general. “I’ve been to Glenumbra Moors. The mages—we—discovered the truth about his death.”
“Just stay out of the way for now,” said the general. “We have enough to worry about without innocents coming in and getting themselves killed. First we lost Camlorn; then they turned back our offensive. If we can’t retake this camp, Faolchu has beaten us.”
“I’d rather help than stay out of the way.”
“What can you do?”
“I’m a fighter, a mercenary.”
The general glanced at him and then back. “Well, if know the difference between a Breton’s head and a werewolf’s arse, we can use you. The camp is overrun with the beasts. We need to cut through them so we can link up with the rest of our contingent on the other side of the camp.”
“I can do that.”
“No,” said her father. “You will stay out of the way, like he said.”
“You don’t know me anymore, old man. I’m going in.”
“I’ll go with you,” the count announced.
“I can take care of myself.”
His eyes gleamed. “I’m sure you can, but my assistance won’t hurt.”
“We need to link up with General Mandin at the western gate,” said the general. “If we can get to her, we’ll rally the troops there. I do want to hear your theories about Faolchu, but if we don’t retake this camp, it won’t matter. We need to be able to reach Faolchu to defeat him.”
Amelia nodded at the general and stepped through the gate, with Count Stormbringer following. She stopped short, a terrible thought crossing her mind, and stepped back through. “It’s fire, General,” she said. “In case I die in here, somebody should know the secret.”
The field was crowded with Lion Guard soldiers and werewolves. Amelia didn’t waste any time; she pulled her swords, charged forward, and engaged the nearest werewolf, one of two who were menacing a soldier. Her blades sliced through it, and a lightning bolt from the count took the other one out.
“Where did they all come from?” Amelia wondered, looking around the camp at nearly twenty werewolves.
“I’m sure not all achieved their status voluntarily,” the mage told her. “Someone likely turned them and said, ‘attack,’ and they never even understood that they had a choice. Unfortunately, some of them are probably townspeople who were unlucky enough to be captured.”
Amelia uttered the incantation for Empowering Chains, in which a blazing chain shot forth from her hand and pulled the nearest werewolf to her, screaming in agony. “Do they have a choice?” she asked as she danced with the wolf.
The count didn’t answer right away because he had dodged out of reach of the flames and was now in combat, but as soon as he put the werewolf down, he came to assist her. “Their will is as free as yours, Amelia. But they are newly turned, they’re frightened, convinced they are monsters, and have very little control over their impulses. They’re the embodiment of rage, and if the one who turned them tells them to fight, it never occurs to them to say no.”
Amelia cut the next werewolf down with ease, and Count Stormbringer’s words made her look at the beasts differently. They were so easy to kill because they had no experience. He was right: they were newly turned and had no idea what they were doing. They were just big bundles of rage who didn’t know how to control themselves. Bites, claws, and powerful sweeps with their massive hands still did a lot of damage, but against experienced, trained warriors, especially amid throngs of confusion, they were sitting ducks. Their sires were counting on their sheer numbers to help them prevail, but they were little more than fodder. The notion made her falter, and she got knocked to the ground for her hesitation.
She rolled out of the way before the werewolf could pounce on her, but she dropped one of her swords. The werewolf pursued her, and she managed to get a few feet ahead so that she could turn and set her feet, but he didn’t reach her again. Blue lightning sizzled over his body, and he fell to the ground with a shriek, revealing Count Stormbringer, who stood behind him.
“Think of them as victims if you must,” he said as he picked up her weapon and handed it to her, “but don’t make the mistake of showing mercy. They shall not give it to you.”
Amelia’s eyes widened when she got a better look at him. His robes were torn and blood seeped out from what appeared to be a bite. “Oh, no, Your Excellency.”
“Amelia, please, call me Vallanil. And don’t worry about the bite; it won’t affect me.”
“How can it not affect you?”
“Just trust me. I’ll be fine.”
The numbers finally dwindled, and they were able to get the troops to the other side to meet up with General Mandin.
She was a mage, younger than Amelia would have thought for a general, and quite surprised to see them. “How did you get here?” she asked.
“We cleared the field,” Amelia responded. “General Gautier’s troops are right behind us.”
“Excellent. We have a full company here, and we’re ready.”
Amelia and Vallanil returned to General Gautier with the news. He grimaced at her but somehow managed to keep his mouth shut.
The general, however, was impressed. “Good, good! We watched from the gates; I’ve never seen anyone so young fight like you.”
“Aw, shucks,” Vallanil quipped.
Amelia laughed heartily, as did the general. When they finally calmed down, she said, “I’m older than I look.”
“Your father told me your age. It’s still impressive.”
“Where’d you learn to fight like that, little girl?” he asked.
“Practice.” She turned to the general. “What’s next?”
“Next, we take and hold the courtyard just inside the outer gate, but we can’t hold it unless someone locks the inner gate to keep the werewolves from filtering out again. Can you get to the northwest tower and lock it?”
“On my way.”
The count went along again, but there was only one werewolf in the courtyard, and they made short work of him. From there, getting to the tower and locking the gate was a simple matter.
“I have to ask,” she said as they walked back to the camp. “What are you doing here, besides defending me?”
“I’m here to assist Camlorn’s alchemist,” he told her. “He believes he may have discovered a cure.”
The news heartened Amelia as she thought of the Duke. Perhaps they could save him after all. “That’s great. And you?”
“I come bearing gifts. I brought him some herbs that should help with his mixture.”
“You came all the way from Rivenspire for that? Couldn’t you have just sent a courier?”
Vallanil shrugged. “I could have. But I felt the urgency of the matter required personal attention. Besides, if I had sent a courier, I would not have met you.”
Amelia’s cheeks turned hot, and she looked humbly at the ground.
When they returned to the general, he was surveying his numbers. He spoke earnestly with Amelia’s father, who nodded and left the courtyard.
“We don’t have enough troops here,” Gautier said when they stepped up. “Your father is heading back to Aldcroft for reinforcements. We can hold this position, but until he returns, we don’t have the forces to take the city back. In the meantime, I need to reach my son.”
“Where is your son?”
“Darien serves as Camlorn’s Captain of the Guard. We heard he has a contingent still inside the city. If we can get to him, our chances improve dramatically. Darien carries the master key to the city gates. With that key, we can open the central and eastern gates at the same time, allowing us to attack from two sides.”
“I’ll find your son.” She turned to Vallanil. “I’m going to be sneaking through, and though I value your help, I’ll move faster on my own.”
An amused smile crossed his lips. “Understood. Just be careful. I have something for you.” He reached into his knapsack, pulled out a leather pouch, and handed it to her. “These are the herbs I mentioned. If Darien is still alive, Alinon is likely with him.”
“I’ll get the herbs to him.”
Vallanil reached out and touched her shoulder, gazing into her eyes. “Be careful in there, sweet Amelia.”
“I-I will,” she stammered, struck by his piercing gaze. “I promise.”
General Gautier said, “Take the side gate into the city; it’s a minor gate, unlocked, and obviously the werewolves haven’t discovered it. From there, you should check the temple or the inn. They’re both large enough to set up in.”
Giving the count one last glance, Amelia headed to the side gate and entered the city. It was in shambles, with burned out buildings and bodies strewn all over. The smell of smoke was pervasive, but it didn’t cover the odor of death. So many had lost their lives here, and they lay on the cobblestones in pieces, intestines spilling out onto the ground, the stench of blood and feces wafting around their bodies. Others were currently serving as food for the werewolves who dotted the street.
There were too many to fight on her own, so she snuck through as best she could, only engaging two werewolves between the gate and the temple. She also found herself sneaking around Bloodthorn Cultists. They stood on the corners, sometimes with werewolves, and talked about Faolchu and Angof as if they were old friends. She killed one who stood alone near the doors of the temple and then ascended the stairs.
She did indeed find the guards in the temple, and Darien Gautier stood among them in all his glory. He was in his early thirties, very handsome, with dark hair, green eyes, and a strong jaw, and he knew it. She could tell just by the way he stood. He was going to be a problem.
“Why, hello, there,” he said with a broad smile. “What brings you to our pleasant little city? The war, the blood? The thrice-damned werewolves?”
“Sightseeing,” she responded.
“Well, there’s certainly a lot to see.”
“Don’t forget the Bloodthorn Cultists.”
With that, the smile dropped. “They appeared at the same time as the werewolves. They may have even opened the gates for them. The bastards were organized, and they executed their plan perfectly. City didn’t stand a chance.”
“Captain, your father sent me for your master key.”
“Did he, now? I thought he might have sent you to get us out, which is impossible with all the beautiful women left to rescue.”
Amelia just looked at him in response.
“In all seriousness, there are still townsfolk in danger, and I won’t let the troops in before I get them to safety. The inn is nearby, and it’s well stocked, so we should be able to set up there.”
“Let’s do it, then.”
“One problem: the inn is locked. The innkeeper was on his way here, but he was attacked and killed before he could reach us.”
“And he has the key. Where is he?”
Darien gave her an amused smile. “Are you volunteering?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Think you can handle it?” he asked with a wink.
“Better than you.”
“A lady with confidence, and the stones to get here from the gate on her own. I like it! Check between here and the inn. Big man, wears a blue apron all the time. If you get the key, go into the inn and light a candle in the upper window as a signal. I can see it from here, and I’ll start to move people to the inn. If you can’t find him . . . can you pick a lock?”
“Of course. Before I go, I need to see Alinon. Is he here?”
Darien nodded. “He’s in the back, by the altar, treating the injured.”
Amelia found the alchemist, a skinny, fortyish man with prominent mutton chops, kneeling over a patient.
“Unless you’re injured, I don’t have time for you,” he muttered, not looking up from the patient.
She produced the pouch of herbs. “These are from Count Vallanil Stormbringer.”
He looked up and took the pouch. “Now, don’t ask me to ensure that this cure will work. It’s experimental, and Faolchu’s spawn are resilient.”
“But you can make a cure?”
“Well, not here, I can’t. I’ll take care of it when you get us into the inn.”
“I’m on my way now.”
She left the temple and made her way toward the inn, fighting werewolves and cultists as she encountered them. She sustained a painful burn from a fire mage before taking her down, but the werewolves in town were just as easy to kill as those on the field had been. Before long, she found the innkeeper. He hadn’t made it far; he was lying on the grass just behind the inn, his body a mess of blood and body parts. Amelia cringed as she moved some of his intestines out of the way to reach his pocket. “I’m sorry,” she moaned at the invasion. But she found the key, snuck around the side of the inn, and let herself inside.
The inn, fortunately, was deserted, and she made haste to the second floor, where she lit a candle in the window. Then she went outside to run interference with the werewolves and Bloodthorns while Darien got the townspeople to safety. She sustained more injuries while she fought, and by the time she followed the rest of the town into the inn, her skin was stinging and she was fighting for breath.
“Sit down and rest,” said Darien. He handed her a couple of healing potions. “You did great getting us in here, and you have my thanks. But we’re not done yet.”
“I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“We need weapons for the citizens to protect themselves. There is a cache of guard supplies nearby. Think you’re up to another errand?”
She didn’t answer until she had downed both of the potions he had given her and the burns and bruises started to mend. “I’ll need help. I can’t carry a box and fight at the same time.”
“I’ll go with you.”
The captain accompanied her out of the inn and down the street toward a small, burned-out building. Two Bloodthorns stood in the doorway, and they each engaged one. Darien might have been arrogant, but his fighting skills were impressive, and the cultists didn’t last long. They entered the building and Darien went to the back to retrieve a heavy trunk.
“You’re on your own with the next fight,” he said.
“No problem. Let’s go.”
They encountered a werewolf and a cultist on the way back, and Darien dropped the cache to help with the fight despite his words. “Don’t tell anyone I did that,” he whispered conspiratorially when the fight was over. “I have a rep to protect.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” she assured him.
“WHO IS THAT WANDERING AROUND MY CITY?” came a bellowing voice. Amelia recognized the voice from her time travel experience. It was Faolchu.
“Looks like we’ve attracted his attention,” said Darien. “Let’s get off the street.”
When they got the cache inside, he said, “Well done. When all this is over, the first drink is on me.”
“But first, we need to unlock those gates. Your father wants to come in two entrances and surround them.”
“A bold plan, especially with Faolchu hunting for us.”
Alinon approached with a handful of small bottles. “The cure,” he said.
“What do I do?” Amelia asked him.
“Weaken a werewolf, and then throw this to the ground and break the bottle; the vapors should do it. I doubt you can get them to drink it. If it works, send them back here.”
“Watch yourself . . . I don’t even know your name,” Darien said.
“Watch yourself out there, Red.”
She handed Alinon back one bottle. “This is for Duke Sebastien.”
Alinon nodded. “Understood. Now, go.”
Amelia tucked the bottles into her belt for easy access, then went back out into the streets, hoping she didn’t meet up with Faolchu himself. She engaged the first werewolf she encountered, weakened it with a few swipes of her sword, and then threw the potion at its feet. Strong, pungent vapors wafted up quickly and surrounded the beast, who inhaled them and began to scream. Within seconds, the wolf began to recede, and after a minute or so, a very confused, naked, but largely uninjured human stood before her.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Just get to the inn,” she said. “They’ll explain everything there.”
He ran toward the inn, and Amelia headed for the next werewolf. Not all of the encounters were as simple as the first, and before she was finished, she had killed three and cured five. More werewolves still roamed Camlorn, but she had no more potions, so she went back to the inn.
“It worked,” she told Alinon.
“I see that. I just regret that I won’t be able to make more until we’re out of here.”
Amelia nodded and went to Darien. “All right, what’s next?”
“What’s next is I go to the gate and let my father in, and you go confront Faolchu. While you were out, I sent scouts. He’s holed up in the manor house.”
Her heart wrenched, and she swallowed a huge lump in her throat. “By myself? Are you serious?”
“Just keep him busy until the troops can take the city. Then we’ll be there to help.”
“Well, I know how to defeat him. He’s vulnerable to fire.”
“Oh, we can give you fire. Our archers will light the place up. I’ve seen you fight, Red; you can do this. Just hold him off until we can get there.”
Amelia sighed. “All right. I’ll do what I can.”
It seemed every cultist and werewolf knew she was headed for Faolchu, because the streets between the inn and the manor were empty. Amelia almost wished she had someone to fight on the way; it would keep her mind busy. Instead, all she could do was think. She was irrationally afraid of Faolchu, and she dreaded going head to head with him, even though she had already done it once. She knew his weakness, and she had easily defeated him in the body of Sir Relin. She could do this. So why was she so terrified?
Amelia’s hands had a slight tremor as she opened the door of the manor. When she entered the antechamber, she heard voices. Faolchu wasn’t alone. She moved toward the door and peered around it to see the spectral image of Angof standing before the huge werewolf, who stood on the dais at the head of the great hall.
The great hall was mostly destroyed, the ceiling completely gone and small piles of flaming rubble lying about. She made note of the fires with the intention of using them in the fight.
“Begone, Angof!” Faolchu snarled. “I did your bidding; now leave me be.”
“You are still my creature, slave,” said Angof. “I made you.”
“I devoured Camlorn! All of Glenumbra will be mine.”
“The Lion Guard stands at your door. You have failed.”
“They are weak and I will crush them. Camlorn is mine!”
“You will see, beast. You will see.”
The vision of Angof faded, and Faolchu looked toward the door. “I can smell you, human. There’s no point in hiding.”
Amelia took a deep breath, then stepped into the room and drew her swords. She muttered the Empowering Chains incantation, and the flaming chain shot out from her hand. It didn’t pull Faolchu toward her, but he screamed in pain at the flames. Then he charged her.
Amelia stepped back, keeping her swords in front of her as she stabbed and swiped at him, making only superficial cuts. He leveled a claw at her and caught her in the shoulder, sending her flying. She landed on a pile of rubble and lay there motionless for a moment, dazed. But she didn’t have the luxury of languishing because he was heading her way, so she shook away the cobwebs and got back up. When she closed the distance between them, she cast her Inferno spell, and again he shrieked when flames covered him and set his fur ablaze. He doubled over with pain, and Amelia got in a couple of good strikes with the sword before he recovered and came at her, carefully dodging the small fireball that still floated around her, a lingering part of the spell.
Her head swill swam, but as she fought him her terror started to wane, the thrill of battle taking its place. Every now and then the fireball flashed out at Faolchu, engulfing him once again. The Lion Guard’s archers arrived and started lobbing flaming arrows into the building. Unfortunately, she got singed, too, as she moved through the arrows, but the effect was much more devastating to the werewolf.
“NO!” Faolchu screamed as his fur was set alight once again. But he still gave chase.
Amelia led him to one of the burning piles of rubble, and she dodged as he came at her, sending him clattering into the flames. He screeched, but he still got up and kept coming.
“You won’t defeat me with flames this time. I’m stronger!”
But he wasn’t. He was weakening quickly, and Amelia could see it. The next time the small fireball lashed out flames at him, he doubled over again, and Amelia set upon him with both blades. Instead of fighting back, he threw his arms up defensively and leapt backward, crying out in pain and—amazingly—fear. Amelia made a quick dash and dove forward, leading with both swords. She jammed a blade securely in each of his shoulders, and used her momentum to vault over the werewolf. She landed behind him and, pulling powerfully on each sword, cleanly sheared Faolchu’s head from his body. He wouldn’t come back this time.
Exhausted, she sat down on the floor with the severed head in her lap and listened to the silence. It was as quiet as a chapel; even the sounds from outside didn’t penetrate the stillness. Then someone opened the outside door and entered the building. Count Vallanil Stormbringer came around the corner.
“Are you all right?” he asked her.
“Aye. Just a bit tired.”
“He shouldn’t have sent you in here alone.”
“Perhaps, but I handled it.”
“You certainly did.” He reached out his hand for her, and she grabbed hold and pulled herself up, still holding onto the head.
“Souvenir?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No.” With that, she chucked it onto a nearby pile of flaming rubble.
He pulled one of the two staves on his back and waved it over her, its healing light helping the scrapes and burns subside once more. “I don’t know if it matters or not,” he said softly, “but your father was quite impressed with what you did.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Amelia replied coldly. “Let’s go.”
General Gautier met them at the door. “My friend, you did it. We had lost the war until you came and showed us the way to victory.”
“Do you know why they were so interested in Camlorn, General?”
“My only guess is they sought to break the Lion Guard, divide our forces. We’re spread thin as it is. If we had a few more people like you, we might just have a chance. My son will want to talk to you.”
She nodded her thanks, then turned to Vallanil. “Thank you for all your help, Count—Vallanil.”
“I hope to see you again soon, sweet Amelia.” With that, he took her hand and kissed it.
She blushed again, then nodded her goodbye and went to seek Darien out. On the way, she passed Duke Sebastien. He stopped and bowed his head to her.
“Thank you, Red. I was harsh with you when last we met, and I apologize. You’ve saved me.”
“No need to apologize; I understood why you were upset. But it wasn’t me who saved you. It was Alinon and Count Stormbringer. And Gloria.”
“Had you not sent Gloria to Camlorn with me, I would be lost. I’ll never forget that.”
Amelia smiled at him. “I’m glad I could help. So what now?”
The duke sighed and surveyed the area around him. “We rebuild. Camlorn has strong, hearty people. It won’t take long.”
“Good luck, Your Grace.”
She found Darien kneeling next to a townsperson, speaking to her earnestly, apologizing for allowing this to happen in his city, and promising to make it up to her. Amelia tapped him on the shoulder. “Your father sent me to speak with you,” she said.
Darien stood up with a smile. “I wanted to thank you personally, Red. We might have been able to retake Camlorn without your help, but it wouldn’t have been quick, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. You saved lives, and it’s not something I’ll soon forget. You were an inspiration. And I should know because I’m pretty inspirational myself.”
She felt the burning need to swat him on the arm, and she did so. “Darien, you sent me after Faolchu alone!”
“And you came out victorious, no? I’d say you were the right woman for the job. You should go back to the inn and get some rest, though. You look terrible.”
“I’m resigning from the guard,” he announced. “They need builders now, not soldiers, and Angof is still out there. Unless, of course, you’d like to tempt me with a drink before we get back to it.”
“When this is over with, you’re on. But let’s stay focused for now.”
“Well, then! All the more reason for me to get out there and deal with this Angof fellow once and for all!” He turned serious. “The werewolves slipped in on my watch. I need to make amends for that.”
Amelia nodded. “I’m going after him too.”
“First one to reach Angof buys the wine!”
“Any idea where to start looking?”
“A squad of Lion Guard soldiers has tracked him to Cath Bedraud. Go to the redoubt just north of here and talk to the commander there.”
“Take care, Darien.”
“Always do. Myself and everyone else. I’ll be looking forward to that drink, Red.”
As Amelia headed back to the inn, she couldn’t help thinking of the two men she had met today. Both were exceptional, but though she could have lost herself in Vallanil Stormbringer’s eyes, Darien was more accessible. Vallanil was a noble, for Divines’ sake. It didn’t matter either way, though, because she had more important things to worry about than men.
Back at the inn, she drank another healing potion and went to find a bed, turning her thoughts away from her frivolous love life. The people she had met today had said her fighting skills were impressive. Vallanil had said even her father was impressed. How did that happen? Perhaps the assistance of the Guardians went farther than she had thought. She just had to be sure not to get overconfident. Confidence was good, but being cocky would get you killed.