Prologue

Soissons, France. 1414.

Rumors of how the French had murdered their own people reached

me long before I’d arrived at Soissons. Even as an Englishman, and despite the never-ending conflicts between our countries, I couldn’t accept that the French would do such a thing. But when I walked through the city’s open gates and saw the multitude of bodies lying side by side, I believed.

The town had been ripped asunder in an act of exceptional brutality, the inhabitants torn to pieces—men murdered as they defended their families, women brutalized and raped until their captors tired of them and left them to die. Not even children were spared, killed alongside their friends and families. The carrion took over, desecrating the remains even further. A city of a few thousand people reduced to food for crows and rats.

It soon became apparent that there would be no survivors to the massacre. My search of the city only brought more dead, even more questions, and few answers. Most had obvious sword and axe wounds, or heads crushed by hammer, but some had claw marks across the throat and torso. Something far worse than simple armed soldiers stalked the city.

I stopped by a partially eaten body. The man’s sword had fallen onto the path beside him. His abdomen was covered in bite marks. Whatever had attacked him had devoured his internal organs. The bite marks could have belonged to a large wolf, but I knew I wasn’t going to be that lucky.

Dusk was beginning to settle. Birds flew home for the night, a brilliant red sky lighting their way. A low growl resonated from the end of a row of houses close by. I placed my hand on the hilt of my jian, drawing the Chinese sword a few inches out of its sheath as I continued toward the noise.

I reached the end of the houses and peered around the corner. The stench of death had hung in the air from the moment I entered the city, but it mixed with something else, something more animal than human.

In the center of a large courtyard, a beast sat hunched on muscular legs, its maw deep inside the stomach of a dead man, feasting loudly. Intestines had spilled out of the wound and now rested beside the body on the blood-slick ground. Several more dead men were littered around, none of whom appeared to have been devoured.

I looked up at the sky. “It’s shit like this that makes me hate you.” The man I worked for couldn’t have heard me—there was an ocean separating the countries we were in—but it made me feel better to say it.

I stepped into view. The beast immediately stopped feeding and looked up at me. “Live food,” it growled.

A sigh escaped my lips. “You don’t have to do this.”

The beast stood on two legs, stretching to its full height. It was over a head taller than me, and its muscular frame was covered in dark fur, now matted with blood. The beast’s hands consisted of an elongated palm with long fingers, each tipped with a razor-sharp claw. I should know how sharp those bastards were—I’d fought enough werewolves in my time.

The werewolf lifted its nose and sniffed the air. “I can smell your blood, little man.” It stepped forward and opened its mouth, showing me the dozens of wickedly dangerous teeth dripping with gore.

“That’s very impressive,” I said. “You know what I’ve got? This.” I tapped the guan dao strapped to my back—a Chinese halberd, consisting of a one-and-a-half-meter-long wooden pole with a curved sword edge on one end and a sharp spike on the other.

The werewolf shrugged. “You’re just a human. I can kill you before you even draw it.”

“Maybe.” I hurled a silver dagger into the throat of the beast. It dropped to its knees, desperately trying to remove the dagger as panic set in. Its long fingers were unable to get a good grip on the slick hilt, and it started to choke as blood filled its windpipe. The werewolf raised its eyes back to me, utterly afraid, as I covered the distance between us and drove my silver-laced jian into its chest, piercing the heart and killing it instantly.

I held onto the jian’s hilt and placed one boot on the were- wolf’s chest, dragging the blade from the dead beast with a sucking sound. A loud thud accompanied it a second later as the sword came free and the corpse hit the ground. I retrieved and cleaned my dagger before checking on the five dead men lying about the courtyard. The huge muscles in their shoulders and arms made them appear almost deformed, and each one was missing his middle and index fingers. Deep claw gouges sat in their flesh, and one of them had lost his entire face when the werewolf had struck. Their uniforms showed that they’d been English archers, and they’d died in a horrific manner.

Then one of them opened his eyes. And screamed.

 

 

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