The well-worn wood of his hatchet was an ever-reassuring weight in his hands as he traced the familiar steps around Zhardaens perimeter. Bren stared deep into blood red undergrowth of the BwaaRhooz, the flames from his torch casting ominous shadows. He held his hand up to the torch, manipulating the shadow so it crudely resembled the jaws of a ferocious beast. He chuckled, remembering how his boys would squeal with mock terror as they saw his lumbering shadow make its way to their room just before they slept, playing the role of a hungry giant who would eat little boys that stayed awake past dark. Bren was meant to be keeping watch. Watching for the mist, and that which accompanied it. But his mind was elsewhere.
Thirty-two years he had worked the watch. Thirty-two years of fighting Whytes, not that they took much fighting these days. He could remember when he’d signed up; with an eagerness that only accompanies the naivety of youth. His first Whyte encounter had cured him of that. It had been at least his height and perhaps half that again. Eight feet of glistening muscle, not counting it’s thick and sinuous tail. It’s slavering maw and eyeless stare had frozen him solid. The ghostly mist swirled about its massive paws; coiled around it’s body like some ethereal cloak: the contrast between the deep red mist and the translucent alabaster of the beasts taught and stretched skin was strangely beautiful. He could still remember the low predatory purr deep in the beast’s throat; he heard it in his sleep sometimes, waking in cold sweats.
He’d served longer than most, save for their illustrious captain, and over his years he’d noticed some things. Changes in the Whytes. Changes in their size. Their numbers. Their ferocity. Now instead of a deep growl that resonated from deep within the beast and shook the ground itself, the Whytes gave aggravated whines. Instead of jaws that severed torsos, they nipped at hands and feet. Teeth like needles, not daggers. They were still dangerous. They still needed putting down. But now they were more an annoyance. Not the lethal terror they once were. The Muir elders believed it was because we were beating them. With better weapons and armour than when he’d first signed up the Whytes were no longer such a threat. Bren had snorted with derision on hearing this, he was one of the few to have faced the Whytes of old and the memories would not soon leave him. Something had changed in the Whytes, and he was certain their advances in armaments had little to do with it.
Bren was still deep in thought when, without warning, he found himself in a pile on the floor. Kicking up pink dust and swearing violently, he scrambled back up. Red faced; he wiped his now sticky hands on his leather jerkin. He paused. Why were his hands sticky? He looked down to see the cause of his fall and had to stifle a hysterical laugh. An unfortunate side effect of his first Whyte encounter, where his head had been near caved in, was that Bren’s now damaged brain reacted to severe situations in the complete wrong way. What Bren was giggling uncontrollably at was the body of his little boys’ uncle Marx torn open and scattered over a wide area. Bren fell to his knees, now slick with gore, cackling like a deranged mad man. Bren was sure he was dreaming. This couldn’t be real. This simply too horrific to be real. This notion was reaffirmed by the insidious purr from behind him. Bren turned, tears in his eyes from his fit of laughter, and he once again had to stifle a snigger. The beast from his nightmares was looming above him, as horrific as he remembered, and it was far from amused. Bren was relieved that this was simply a dream and awaited to wake in bed, drenched in clammy sweat. What came instead was the Whytes enormous claws that left a burning streak of read across his vision accompanied by a searing white-hot pain and then a darkness that swallowed him entirely.