Ledram kneeled, his motions accompanied by the squelch of mud and the rattle of chainmail. Hidden beneath the grasping branches of oak and maple, the road upon which he traveled was blanketed by an artificial twilight. Yet through the gloom the sellsword could distinguish distinct prints in the mire; jagged claws jutted from rounded toes, set in front of an oval pad. It appeared lupine in character, yet its size betrayed a much fouler origin. Ledram scowled as he studied the print, hand on the sword at his side.
“Big bastard,” he hummed, glancing ahead nervously. Other such prints were stamped into the mud, their wide spacing betraying the monstrous scale of the beast that made them. They were fresh, no older than a few hours by Ledram’s reckoning. This was promising; his mark was not far.
The sellsword rose, his gaze never leaving the winding path ahead. He had dealt with beasts like this before, and bore many scars as a testament to their vile cunning and malevolent demeanour. Abominations that walked like man but took the form of a beast, they preyed upon the isolated hamlets and villages that dotted the dark green woods of Anwex.
In recent years the epidemic had reached a new and cruel climax. Entire communities had disappeared overnight, with naught left but gore and shattered doors to hint at what had transpired. Loping figures were glimpsed in the pale light of the moon, fur matted with filth and fangs coated in blood.
Desperate dukes and duchesses scrambled for a solution, paying exorbitant bounties for the heads of the wolf-men in an effort to stymie the violence that swept across the island. One such contract had brought Ledram to the accursed woods of Anwex.
The sellsword snorted and spat before begging his trek anew. Droplets of water condensed upon the cold steel of his helmet, dripping from the wide brim as he walked. The chill of the island soaked into his bones, and he longed for the warmth of a hearth. But as it stood, he was destitute. To secure a warm meal and a soft bed, he would need to bring back the head of a werewolf.
He whistled as he continued down the gloomy trail, unconcerned with the ruckus he was making. Surely the abomination had smelled him out already, his tattered clothing foul even to his dulled sense of smell. He knew all too well that his prey would be the one to decide were and when the two would battle, should the beast choose to do so at all. And when it did, he would be in for a hell of a fight.
Ledram stopped, the prints which he had followed veering off sharply and disappearing into the thick mat of ferns that grew to either side. A number had been snapped, the stalks still oozing moisture.
The sellsword cursed, drawing his blade and and holding it before him. The beast had passed through here recently, disappearing into the shadowed woods that enveloped the path.
Ledram felt his skin crawl as he scanned the tree-line, the press of oak and maple near impenetrable. Through the gloom he felt eyes dig into him with an inhuman hunger.
He was being watched.