Smoke covered the sky, the stench of burning flesh filling every survivor's lungs. They were trapped, herded like cattle to the very place that they were to die. The cold was settling on them, the subarctic spring chilling them all to the bone. The beasts paced outside of the cave, yipping and growling impatiently.
Everyone waited. Waited for the alpha.
King Leo walked towards the cave entrance, purpose in each exhausted step. The 24 others, 15 men, 3 women, and 6 children, turned to him as he took a deep breath.
"My subjects. The people who I was to care for. To protect. I have failed you." His gaze traveled across the group of terrified people. "However, now is not the time to give up. If we do nothing, then we will all die for certain. If we can make it to the forest, we can lose them in the trees. We will then head to Dominion, our closest ally."
Nervous murmurs of agreement filled the cave.
"If you have a weapon, please speak up now."
Ten of the 15 men raised their swords, each coated with half-dried blood.
"If any of you do not wish to fight, you may pass your blade to another."
A boy, around 14, stepped towards a man with an uncertain expression.
"May I carry your blade, sir? You should stay with your daughter," he said, nodding to the young girl clinging to her father.
The expression of relief on the man's face quickly turned to one of guilt.
"I cannot let you do that, boy."
A look of mild annoyance flashed across the boy's face before replying, "yes, sir." He moved towards a frail man who was watching him with a strange desperation.
"May I carry your blade, sir? I haven't my own."
The frail man handed him the sword without hesitation.
"Thank you, sir."
"You there, What is your name?" King Leo asked the boy.
Lowering himself into a low bow, he replied, "my name is Yuya, your majesty. I am prepared to serve the crown."
The screams of dying men were a relief from the beast's calls. Part howl, part roar, part unimaginable horror, it made Yuya's head spin. The creatures looked like massive wolves crossed with dragons. Their backs rose above their lupine heads, lined with draconic spines. Their bodies were covered in dense, light grey fur and the air around them reeked of sulfur and scorched flesh.
Yuya stood with his back against the stone about 30 feet from the entrance to the cave, the sword held in front of him in shaking hands. Two of the monstrosities circled in front of him. They wanted him to run, to chase him.
But that would not happen. Yuya braced himself as the beasts finally leapt.