The beasts attacked in pairs. Shamroth would always remember that. Like wolves they had descended upon the small camp where his family slept and where they now found their final rest. A piercing wail sounded from his left and right in unison and two of the creatures lunged at him from the ring of glinting eyes. His stomach dropped. Hungry paws tore the ground towards him and guttural huffing followed the bobbing eyes over the torn bodies of his family. He felt his young death approach.
His mind screamed, turning on itself and tearing in blind terror at every thought and instinct, looking for salvation.
Two lunging – too many - so big - nowhere to run – surrounded – everyone dead – no use – hide – hide – behind the shield – this shield – it was ...
“Averil, lend me your heart”, he whispered.
Seeming to hear them from outside himself, those words cut through the fear within him like a hot iron, searing away the confusion and doubt and pain, and leaving the burning of a new resolve. His gut leaped back up into a knot and his body surged with expectation as he braced his father's shield in his left hand, and the borrowed short-sword in his right began its arc up from the ground.
One beast slammed into his shield obliquely as Shamroth simultaneously lunged into it with all his might, while swinging the sword up and out through the head of the second attacker caught in mid stride.
Twisting his torso around with the motion of the swing he let the shield slide down and followed the sword through into the face of the first beast.
A pair of wails behind him. He pushed the first creature off his sword with his shield arm and spun to meet his new foes.
He would make his father proud, in the service of Averil, that much was decided.
Fours eyes streaked towards him. He dug his heals in and charged, shield first, screaming.
A shuddering double crunch seconds later rocked the shield on his arm as two mid-air bodies rebounded onto the packed earth.
Shamroth slid to a halt and looked over his shield, waiting for the next beast, “Who's next?”
Terrible seconds ticked past, the air thick with throat noises, and then pairs of wails pierced the flickering ring of light from all directions and the circle collapsed inward.
He caught the fastest one in the right side of the head with a wide slice and then swung his shield out like a door to catch the runner up flat in the nose. The short-sword's back-swing caught third place in what must have been it's shoulder and it crumpled to the floor. He dropped his shield back in place in time for it to be slammed into by another snout going for his soft guts. The sound of beasts crazy with hunger and hatred crowded in on his senses.
He spun a half-circle on his shield leg and slashed aside a leaping attacker. A sudden flash of fangs headed for his face and instead caught his improvised shield punch edge-on, redirecting the now wrecked muzzle towards the last recipient of his sword.
He looked up in time to see two massive bodies coming straight at him suddenly swoop out wide and swing back in viciously. A figure-eight slash darted out in front of him, over the shield, and the pair attempting to pincer him from the front skidded to the sides.
Something wet slapped his neck as a massive body slammed into his shoulders, sending him over his knees. He was aware his neck suddenly felt cold and distant as he sprawled forward. He tucked his right shoulder in and tried his best to spring with his left foot as it left the ground.
His right shoulder hit the ground too hard as the large body pushing it back-flipped across the dirt ahead of him. Momentum followed his tuck and he rolled along his shoulders, dirt gritting into his neck and head as it scraped the ground. A burning fire suddenly replaced the cold one as he rolled over awkwardly onto his feet.
At least he knew what happened to his neck now. He had a flash of clear thought as he teetered forward - he was damned if that thing was going to enjoy its snack. Shamroth led his remaining momentum through into a wild lunge with his short-sword, catching the thrashing body in the chest. With a shout he threw his weight and body fully into the lunge and drove the sword up to the hilt into the vaguely dog-like creatures chest, resting against it as it twitched. This one was bigger than the others.
All he could hear was the distant thunder of a coming storm.
How many had there been?
“They attacked in pairs.”, he said, the words stumbling out of his mind and into his hearing. His head was buzzing with pain from somewhere behind his brain.
That was when his eyes fell on the edge of the shadows directly in front of him. A pair of massive yellow-red eyes hung nearly 4 feet in the air as the ground in front of him darkened. It looked like the shadows themselves were growing out to swallow him with those massive eyes showing the way. What he had thought was distant thunder grew with the eyes and the creature let loose an angry wail that pealed out of the shadows and echoed off the hills around them.
This last one was no puppy and it looked like he had just killed its hunting buddy, or worse.
Perhaps worst, Shamroth had no doubt the alpha-beast's wail had awakened the dead. He wasn't sure how he knew that, but for now he was just glad it wasn't these dead. He pushed himself to his feet and stooped down, struggling to remove the short-sword from the neck-biters torso. His bloody fingers slipped off the undersized grip even as the buzzing - that had now moved into his brain - confounded their coordination. Why couldn't he figure this out, why was the sword so slippery?
The creature, now largely visible in the firelight before him, was roughly the size of bears he had seen back home. It wasn't a bear though and it wasn't a dog, but it was dog-like with massive fangs in it's muzzle and eyes that seemed to reflect the fires of the underworlds themselves. Sure, maybe this thing could be a dog if it wasn't for the complete lack of a tail or... skin. It's flesh seemed to boil on it's frame like an orgy of muscle and blood.
The beast tensed as their eyes locked and Shamroth knew he was fucked. That burning in his chest, forgotten but THERE ever since his whispered prayer, suddenly roiled and flared and burst through him, freeing his brain temporarily from that infernal buzzing and filling him with certainty. The beast tore into the earth, springing forward, its jaws opening as a second dead-raising wail rose from its maw, rending the air between them.
With unnatural grace Shamroth stood into a shield-lean, looking straight over it into the beasts meteoric eyes and shouted with a booming authority that sundered the wail in a shock-wave.
The shock-wave of the Command cracked outwards and ripped over the edge of his Father's paladin shield, catching the rim alight as it cascaded into a holy runic symbol that emblazoned on the surface then separated away as golden fire. The holy symbol slammed outwards straight into the alpha-beasts jaws. A burst of light lit the hills as the shield slam tore through the beasts frame and then evaporated into the night air, sending a spray of muscle and gore into the camp and campfire.
As the flames sputtered out, Shamroth fell forward to his knees, his Father's shield clattering in front of him.
“Dad”, he said with a strangled breath as he slumped forward onto the shield and slipped into blackness.
The shield glowed softly long into the night, drawing protective runes of sun-dapple onto the boys face, while the dead roamed.