The sun-scorched the earth as it had done since the great sundering, the once lush green landscape had burned to a desert of ash long ago. The whips rang out in a sharp symphony with the shouts of the masters men, and the dogs left their subterranean kennel into the harsh, unforgiving light of the burning sun. The dogs sniffed the air and gathered at the appointed place as they had done every day of their lives and awaited their master’s command. One among the dogs looked to the sky and closed his eyes as the scorched winds washed over him, and as he opened his eyes again to look upon the sun it reminded him. He was no dog. He was a man. A slave to the master, a living relic from the age before the great sundering, when man had found the secret to conquering death. The master had lived longer than any could remember and would live long after the dogs had all passed from this world. he and his kind had once lived in a civilization that spanned the entire surface of the earth and lived in shining glass towers. The towers now lie in ruins or crumbled to dust, for once mankind found the secret to immortality they grew corrupt and selfishly hoarded the secrets they had gathered for themselves. For a millennium they fought amongst themselves for dominion until the world was left a decaying shadow of it’s former self, it is even said that they destroyed the moon and created the false night to prevent themselves from burning to ash with the rest of the planet. All this was unknown to the masters dogs, to them he was simply the master and it was their purpose in life to serve at his pleasure. The master had but one pleasure, to revel in the spectacle of blood and death. The hound at the head of the pack of dogs stood erect, his body lean with corded iron sinews forged for this single purpose. The false night was fast approaching, a time where the sun would be eclipsed and offer the masters a chance to return to their blood lust and fight one another like in the days before the moon was shattered. Today however, the master had a message to deliver to his dogs. The brothers stood at the head of the pack eyes forward and necks straight, not daring to move a muscle. The dogs at their backs were scarcely breathing, the tension pervaded the air and assaulted his nostrils. They were afraid of the masters wrath. It was understandable, most of them had yet to be born the last time a dog had the audacity to bite the hand that feeds it. It had all been for naught, she had been taken by the master, and she had not been returned to the kennel in the night. He had tried to save her but had instead assured her death.
He stood there, in the burning sunlight, lamenting the previous night’s events when the deep rumble of drums broke the silence of the courtyard and brought all the dogs to attention. The master had risen. He strode out of his darkened palace flanked on all sides by his guards, each bearing a spear with a head of polished bronze upon their shoulders and long daggers of strange blue iron on their hips. And there he was, walking tall with a cold confidence that only a being who had seen the world crumble could accomplish. As he strode to the dais a slave carrying an umbrella struggled to keep up with the long strides of its master, his pale skin was draped in an elegant billowing garment that protected most of his skin from the harsh sunlight. His face bore a strong resemblance to one of the venomous serpents that had thrived since the sundering. Narrow slits for eyes and thin lips perpetually curved downward in an expression of utter loathing for all living beings but himself. He ascended the stairs of the dais to the rhythm of the drums as if it were a ritual that had long outlived its appeal to him. He reached the top of the dais and lowered himself gracefully onto the stone throne which had been placed there. However within a moment of him taking his seat he jumped up and began screaming in the tongue of the masters howling curses and pointing to the throne. Immediately a slave sprinted up the stone dais carrying a large velveteen cushion and after stumbling twice on his way up he placed the cushion on the master’s throne. The master’s eyes bulged in rage and his breathe seethed in an otherworldly hiss as the slave prostrated himself before him. Now the master sat once more, and as he did shoved the slave with his sandaled foot down the stairs of the dais. The swift cry of surprise that was punctuated with an immediate squeal of pain amused the beast greatly and he smiled. It was an unholy terrifying thing to behold. His teeth had been filed to sharp fangs centuries before, all the better to tear the flesh of his victims. And he choked and wheezed with laughter at the sight of his servant crawling away with a broken arm still prostrating himself towards his master. Then his sharp narrow eyes landed on the two dogs standing tall and straight before the dais and his smile vanished into a tight unyielding frown.
For a long moment there was silence. His unblinking eyes beheld the two standing before him and the ancient malice within those eyes sent chills down the spines of all those who gazed upon them. Slowly, he began to speak and his words oozed effortlessly from his tight thin lips. The dogs before the dais neither spoke, nor understood the man noises their master was making but the tone of his voice was unmistakable. Behind the sweet melody of his speech was the sharp unforgiving tone of the bile that would soon overflow. Then, as surely as the sun burns, the master began screaming and howling in a decidedly inhuman way. He jolted down the steps of the dais to stand face to face with the mongrels who had so callously betrayed him. He began screeching again in the man words his face no more than a hand’s breadth from their faces. His breath bore the stench of death and his saliva sprayed their faces as he let loose his fury. Neither of the dogs moved a muscle and kept their eyes locked in his for fear that dropping their gaze would only anger the master further. He stared into the eyes of his dog, searching for fear or shame, but finding none he narrowed his yellow beast like eyes and struck the hound full force causing him to fall to his knees. The other dog quickly fell to his own knees without the need of force and the master smiled again, he liked when his pets knew their place. Now however, the sun was beginning to get too hot and he began to tire of the game so the master left the dogs on their knees as he strode back up the high dais. There was only one way he could think to breathe more life into this dull affair. He sat quickly back onto his silk cushion and barked an order to his guards, pointing a slender claw of a finger at the two prostrate forms before him. Four of his guards walked in unison towards the two huddled beasts and they roughly pulled them to their feet and carried them to a crudely built ring made of bramble weeds and gnarled wood. Both dogs were led to the center of the ring and were turned by the guards to face their master who was now grinning like a hungry reptilian monster. With a wave of his hand and one final speech in the man tongue he snapped his fingers. At once three of the four guards walked out of the crude ring, the fourth lingered and turned to face the two doomed beasts. He looked both of them in the eyes and struck them full force in the stomach causing them to collapse gasping onto the sand of the their odd pen. Just before he too left the circle he unsheathed his cruelly curved dagger and slashed both dogs across their faces marking them for the rest of their short lives as beasts who dared to disobey the master. After he had marked them he dropped the dagger between the two brothers and strode away laughing, clearly very amused with the bloodshed to come.
The dog and his brother stayed prostrate in the sand clutching his face which still burned in nearly unbearable agony. Then he felt something strange. A sudden warmth began to cover his body as he knelt with his face buried in the sand. The heat grew and grew until it burned and felt as if he would burst into flames at any second. He looked up with his face caked with rapidly drying blood. As he opened his eyes he was immediately blinded. The masters guards had set the strange fence ablaze and were now standing in a circle a distance away from the flames cheering and making gestures towards the dagger that had been placed between him and his brother. Now their intentions were quite clear to the dog, they were being forced to fight to the death, for the amusement of the master and his men and to set an example to the rest of the dogs. That no one ever disobeyed the master without incurring his wrath. At this point his brother had raised his head as well and was clearly quite a bit more confused by the situation. It was often the master’s desire to watch his dogs fight, but never like this. The brothers locked eyes and something awakened within the elder. Something older than himself an emotion that had long been bred out of his kind and when he felt it he knew he could never bring himself to kill his own blood. As he looked into his brothers eyes he saw the same realization reflected there. The flames began burning higher and forced the two brothers to the center of the ring, where the dagger had been dropped. There they stood, back to back as the fire burned. Nothing was visible through the flames, except for the figure seated on the high dais watching. The master’s unblinking eyes were fixed upon the dogs and an evil crooked smirk sliced across his sickly pale skin. The dog turned and met the scornful gaze and betrayed no fear, he was ready to burn to ashes, there are no masters in the grave. As they stood there staring at each other the dog saw his master call for something and raised his thin clawed hand outward as if to grasp some delicate fruit, and that’s when he saw her again.
She walked nimbly up the stone stairs that led to the master’s high seat, each feline step caused her pitch black hair to bounce and her hips to sway. As she reached the top of the dais he could see her more clearly. In her hair she wore a wreath of fragrant herbs and her wrists were bound together by a similar wreath. Her skin had been cleaned and oiled causing the sun to reflect off the natural curves of her body. She stopped her ascent and stood, unbowed at the right of the masters seat and as she turned her eyes met with those of the dog in the circle of fire. She betrayed no emotion with her expression, but in her dark eyes he saw it there, a terrible unyielding fear. It wasn’t for herself that she was afraid, but for the one standing in the fire now staring at her, the same fear he felt for her. Neither could bear the thought that the other was doomed to the fate they were no suffering. At that moment something struck the dog in the temple and he fell to one knee. After his head stopped swimming and his vision returned to him he looked up to the high seat to a sight that set his blood on fire in a way no fire ever could. With one hand the master grasped the female’s thigh as if he were testing the firmness of a now ripened fruit, and with the other he grasped her wrist and ran his serpent like tongue up her forearm. The dog quickly realized that by trying to save her from them, he had condemned her to a fate worse than the death he now faced. Again a guard threw a rock, this time striking the dog in the stomach causing him to fall again, but his eyes never left hers even as he gasped for air. His vision began to narrow and he grasped the only thing that was not sand as he knelt. The hot air stung his eyes but he refused to blink, for fear that if he dared break eye contact with her, she would vanish into thin air only to be lost to him again. He would die before he let that happen.
In one fluid motion I tightened his grip on the long steel dagger that had marked him a traitor and ran towards the dais. When he came to roaring ring of fire he didn’t slow even as he ran over the hot coals. Then at the very edge of the fire he leapt with all his might through the impenetrable wall of fire and on the other side he landed upon one of the guards and buried the dagger into his chest. The guard tried to scream in pain but only blood came from his mouth. As the blood ran down the dogs face his eyes never moved from hers, in that gaze he swore that he would never rest until he had saved her from the master’s grasp. For a moment the world stood still but only for a moment. Three guards fell upon the dog trying to restrain him, but now he was armed and had lost all fear. He slashed wildly with the dagger keeping them at bay with the sheer fury of his strikes. Reinforcements had arrived and soon he would be caged again like a rabid dog. No, the wild was in him now and no chains could ever hope to fetter him. A wolf had been born. Just as another three guards joined the fray there was a howl of anger from behind the wolf and his brother leapt through the flames and been reborn in them. He tackled the guard that was in his way and ripped the spear from his hands before thrusting its broad bronze head into his throat. His brother joined him in the center of the ring of guards and as they stood back to back the wolf looked again to the sky and howled like no living beast on earth. His brother joined his voice to the primal call and then something unexpected happened. Other howls sounded from beyond the ring of fire.
The howls grew louder until a number of the dogs burst forth from the fire and fell upon the guards surrounding their alpha. Those that could manage to wrestled weapons away from the guards helped clear a path for him, while those who could not manage fell upon the spears and held the guards down to allow the others to have a better chance. The world had gone mad, but a path had been cleared and the wolf took advantage of it. He looked up into the face of the master, whose eyes were now wide and his mouth was contorted into a scowl of pure rage. Deeper still, hidden beneath the anger of his baleful stare, was fear. The wolf shifted his gaze to her once more and in his eyes was a vow. He swore to her in words he did not know, that nothing would keep her from him again. He began his headlong sprint towards the dais with the dagger still clenched in his hand, stained with the lifeblood of the guard who had marked him with it. The master began to scream and barked orders as loudly as he could. He motioned to the wolf making his way to the dais, but the chaos of the sudden slave revolt had distracted most of the guards. A guard managed to put himself in the path of the wolf and thrusted mightily with his broad spear, grazing the beasts ribs but doing little real damage. however the force of his thrust had caused him to overstep and lose his balance, creating a wide opening for the wolf to exploit. He buried the dagger deep in the temple of the guards skull and as he wrenched it free, more blood and brain matter splattered onto his skin.
The guards had regained their resolve and encircled the dais and their master, creating a line of sharpened bronze teeth waiting to devour anyone foolish enough to enter the gaping maw. Again the master called loudly and they all answered with a call in unison. A servant rushed towards the master now and carried with him a strange box. He had regained his composure but his rage was always apparent to those who lived in fear of his wrath.
The fighting had ceased and a standoff began. The remaining guards surrounding their master and the wolves stood behind their alpha, both sides were ready to fight and die, to leave the enemies before them drowning in their own blood. The master stood and let out a deep sigh, already bored with the day’s events. He reached down and opened to proffered box and removed a strange object, a steel instrument that fit in his hand. He calmly let out one smooth breath then took aim, and the last thing the wolf remembered was a sound like thunder, a burst of fire, and a jolt of searing pain.
With that final sensation the world fell into an inescapable darkened silence.