The Nature of the Beast - Page 8

They posture for a while, shout and beat their chests in an attempt to scare off the forces of the Jarls. It's almost a courtesy, and it's a courtesy the Jarls and their warriors return.

It's the only courtesy destined to be shown on the field this day, because the Jarls don't have enough for their people to eat either, and with the beastmen gone, the Jarls can expand into their territory, till fields, and feed their people again.

I watch my fool apprentice reveal his beast and take on the form of a ferocious bear. From a distance even I'm impressed at the sight. His beast is huge . . . and angry, hurt from the knowledge of his own inadequacies, hungry for glory and thinking that he'll find it in blood.

Years ago a southern priest once told me the ability to reveal the beast was evil, something to be feared, and watching my apprentice rending bodies and scattering beastmen I can appreciate the priest's point of view. I appreciated it at the time too, but it's easier to appreciate when some fanatic isn't screaming “Demon!” and trying to cave in your skull. When reason failed, I sent him on to meet his god, a meeting which, no doubt, shocked at least one of them.

The Jarls' warriors swirl around my raging apprentice, giving him plenty of room to rage, but otherwise cutting down the beastmen in droves. Finally, the inevitable happens; the beastmen's fear turns to rage, and my idiot apprentice lets his own rage carry him too far into them. They kill him with a brutal joy that I'd last seen on the faces of those who killed my master.

Perhaps it's something about runemasters . . . even pathetic excuses for ones.

Even as he dies, I can see my apprentice still doesn't understand. He dies looking hurt and betrayed, but, really, he only has himself to blame. He scattered and distracted the beastmen, and the Jarls' forces will have no trouble in cutting them down to the last thanks to him. He truly was the key to victory – everything he thought he wanted, and the runes are hardly to blame that he didn't care for the taste when the time came.

Speaking of taste . . .

Page 8

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