Western Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The wolf howl echoed off the jagged walls of the ravine, accompanying the creaking wagon wheels with a haunting chorus of deep notes and soft yips. The howls followed the solitary wagon ever since it departed that morning to catch the wagon train that had to leave them behind the day before.

When the echoes subsided, Thordar prodded at their elf guide again. “Can you tell 'em to give it a rest?”

Sylfaen’s face, ever statuesque and emotionless, never shifted. “What do you mean, master dwarf?”

Thordar grumbled. The elf possessed the venomous tongue of his people, foul from a lifetime of lies. Even if he'd ever provided an answer to any of Thordar’s questions, the dwarf wouldn’t have believed it. Not that Thordar actually thought Sylfaen could talk to wolves - at least, not mostly.

No one would have suspected Thordar would bring an elf with him on this journey, least of all Thordar himself, but he understood that elves were best at navigating elf territories. That explained the first elf, Sylfaen, on his and Hilda’s wagon. The sudden deaths of their dire boars explained the presence of the second elf in the back. 

Their combined presence explained Thordar’s foul mood.

Thordar looked to the sky to determine how much light was left in the day. The sun was still visible in the small window between the rocky walls stretching towards the afternoon sky which meant they still had half the day or more to make it through to the other side. From his years on the frontline of the Elvish Wars, he knew well the dangers of staying overnight in elf territory ravines. 

Soon, the sun disappeared behind the Western wall of the ravine, leaving behind clear skies - a blessing that, as long as it held, would enable them to make it before nightfall. The group rode in relative silence, save for the creaking and thumping of the wagon wheels on uneven ground, until a deep, low howl broke the silence before building into a high-pitched melody. The wolves were closer, much closer than last time. Another howl followed, accompanied by an even more dreadful sound: a rumbling that intensified until it cracked loud and clear.


“Was that…” Hilda asked incredulously from the rear of the wagon.

“Aye. It came out of nowhere, too. Been nary a damn cloud in the sky. Still none to be seen even now.”

“So maybe it’ll miss us completely?”

“Dear, with everything that’s happened, I don’t count our luck as being anything close to good, so I wouldn’t count on it.”

Thordar gripped the reins a bit tighter in his calloused hands, giving them a small crack to urge on the boars. Up until now, he’d kept their pace steady, both because of his unfamiliarity with these new boars and the possibility of breaking a wheel on the uneven, jagged trail. The idea of being stuck overnight in a storm in this ravine was far worse, though.

If the storm caused Thordar anxiety, it only seemed to further stoke the wolves whose howls and yips increased with each rumble. Thordar looked to Sylfaen, reading his face for signs that he felt any danger from this pack, but his countenance remained impassive. That didn't mean anything in truth; hell, Thordar still wasn’t convinced that Sylfaen wasn’t calling them somehow with those damned elf nature powers some of them had.

Thordar looked to the new elf, Araluen, who’d joined them that morning. Did he sense any danger from the pack? He seemed attentive, focused, for the first time since he insisted on joining them after being unwilling to allow them to borrow his boars unless he stayed with them. Whether Araluen was worried about his safety or was focused for other reasons, Thordar could only speculate.

The first raindrops made a light tapping sound before giving way to a hum, then a roar, as the sudden clouds opened their bellies above the ravine. He'd never seen a storm come on so fast; he tried to urge the boars on for a bit longer but, when their hooves began to slip on the mud, steered them under a rocky outcropping.

“Love, will we still be able to catch the others?”

Thordar shook his head. “I’m not sure. Frankly, I’m more worried about making it out of this ravine tonight.”

“How long will the rains last?”

“They came outta nowhere, so hopefully they move on just as quickly.”

“These are the Lothoeran Rains,” Sylfaen offered, unprompted. “Storms of legend that appear out of nowhere and last until the gods have quenched their thirst. Could be hours, could be days, months even. This wagon will not be moving until tomorrow at the soonest. You should set up camp for the night.”

Thordar saw red. “The day I take orders from an elf will be the day I'm dead! We set up camp when I say we set up camp!”

“As you wish, master dwarf. If it’s all the same to you, then, while you’re contemplating, might I gather wood for a fire?”

Thordar already considered this option, considering they could very end up staying under this ledge for the night. He couldn’t go for wood, not with the pack on their heels; Hilda was strong, but she was no marksman. Araluen was an unknown - besides being a damn elf - so leaving him alone with Hilda was out of the question. That left Sylfaen - also the only one among them who knew the area.

“Ok, but hurry back. If these rains let up and you’re not back, I’m leaving you.”

Sylfaen gave a bowing nod to Thordar before stepping down from the wagon and gliding out into the elements. The sheets of rain swallowed the lithe elf within three steps, and he was gone. 

“This situation worries me," Thordar told Hilda after Sylfaen was clear. "We’re like to be stuck here tonight, and with those wolves, we need to be on our guard.” He nodded towards Araluen. “Especially with him here. We don’t know…”

Another howl pierced the drumming of rain, loud enough to cause Hilda to jump. The echoes within the ravine made it difficult to pinpoint its origin, but it sounded as if its source was right on top of them. Another howl, joined a moment later by a chorus of howls and yips, seemed to surround them.

“Grab something, anything for a weapon.”

Hilda reached for their ax. “What about you?”

“I have all I need," Thordar said as he unslung Hammershot from his back. "Just make sure none get up here.” He crawled on his belly to the back of the wagon, settling into a prone position. His rifle found its home pressed deep into his shoulder, the indentation on his nose fitting the side of the barrel like a puzzle piece finding in its place.

Hammershot had been by his side since his first whiskers, crafted by his own two hands – a rite of passage for Kurrand’lur dwarves. Most dwarflings remade their rudimentary rifles within a year, correcting the mistakes of novice craftsmanship, but Hammershot remained unchanged since the day Thordar completed it. It had never failed him, not in all the Elvish War skirmishes nor the few barroom shootouts he’d escaped.

Thordar’s eye remained trained on the edge of visibility, where the raindrops skewed everything behind them in a veil devoid of detail or color. He judged the distance he could see to around 4-5 yards, at most. He’d only get a second to down whatever came through that veil, be it elf or beast. Seconds ticked by; rain drops splattered on the barrel as he waited. And then…

A hint of movement directly in front of Hammershot spurred him to action.

BOOM! Hammershot announced its presence just as a massive grey wolf lunged at the wagon. The iron slug left the barrel at over 1,000 feet per second, the wolf’s skull doing little to slow the metal ball. In a motion repeated countless times, Thordar chambered another without taking his eye off the sights.

BOOM! A second wolf made it a bit closer to the wagon, running in from a different angle, before the slug traveled through the midpoint between its eyes. Its body slid just underneath the wagon. Hammershot was already locked and loaded before the wolf’s corpse came to a stop.

Another flash of movement from the side of the wagon. This time, the angle was all wrong, as if the wolf knew Hammershot’s field of fire and approached from its blind spot. Thordar began to swing his rifle over to that side, but the beast’s maw wrapped around his supporting arm before he could fire. The wolf’s weight and momentum pulled him out the wagon.

The wolf landed with Thordar’s arm still in his mouth, blood dripping from the holes left by its long teeth. The two bodies slid through the mud, the momentum carrying both a few feet further. The wolf tried recovering its footing, slipping in the thickening mud. The delay was all Thordar needed; he lined Hammershot with the wolf’s head, barrel resting on the upper section of his damaged arm.


The impact of the slug caused the beast’s head to snap backwards, teeth ripping through his flesh on their way out. 

Watch out!”

Hilda’s scream caused him to turn, ready to face the next danger… only to see a wall of rain in front of him. And a pair of legs disappearing into the rain.

“Where… what is it?!”

“That elf jumped out. I was worried he was coming after you, but he ran the other direction.”

Thordar stared where Araluen had disappeared, expecting to see him running back armed with evil intent. When he hadn’t returned minutes later, Thordar scrambled back into the wagon, spun, and returned to his prone position.

“Where’d the wolves go?”

Thordar shook his head, unsure of what to say. There seemed to be more than three wolves based on the howls, but the only sounds now were the rains – though they seemed to be receding quickly. He reloaded Hammershot, though the ribbons of meat hanging from his support arm made it a more arduous process.

“Well, at least let me wrap that arm before it gets worse.”

Thordar grunted and sat up, propping Hammershot on his knee. He extended his arm, allowing her to work. After she’d finished, she asked, “What now?”

“We can’t stay here. Being stuck here feels like part of some plan by those elves. Healthy boars suddenly dropping dead? An elf rancher having spare boars to loan – but only if he rode along? Guiding us to this ravine as a shortcut? Wolves on our ass the entire way? Too many coincidences…”

“The wagon won’t make it through this mud, though.”

“Those boars will.” Thordar handed Hammershot to Hilda. “Keep watch for a moment, I’m going to cut them loose." He leapt from the wagon. "Be ready to leave when I get done, I’m sure those elves are still out there.”

He ran to the boars, using his dagger to slice through the thick ropes of their harnesses. Despite the attack earlier, neither boar seemed agitated - something that struck Thordar as odd, but since he needed them to remain still and wait, their unexpected calmness was a blessing he wouldn’t question now.

Returning to the rear of the wagon, he noticed the first wolf he’d shot was no longer there – just a large depression in the mud where it had just been when he ran past. All the carcasses were gone, in fact. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.

“What happened to the wolves?” 

Hilda reached down to help him up. “What wolves? There haven’t been any since earlier.”

“No, the bodies.”

Hilda glanced down at the empty recesses as she passed Hammershot back. “I… I have no idea. Nothing came by here while you were gone.”

This wasn’t the first time Thordar had seen animals disappear in front of him. “We have to go. Now!”

"Wha - why? What's going..."

There’s no time!” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her, stumbling, out of the wagon. Not many things scared Thordar, but elven shamans evoked haunting memories that he'd suppressed for years after the Wars. Everything in his being told him to flee while they still could. They rushed to the boars…

…but stopped short when they arrived. Both beasts were toppled over, arrows jutting from their sides. Somehow, they’d died without making a sound.

“Going somewhere, master dwarf?”

Thordar whipped his head around in the direction of Sylfaen’s voice, pulling Hilda down behind the nearest boar carcass. He readied Hammershot by wedging it between the boar’s chest and a jutting arrow then scanned the boulders, outcroppings, and sparse vegetation. He just needed a hint of movement…

“Where’s Aenidriel? Her rain’s stopped, and I haven’t heard her wolves for some time now. Might you have had something to do with that?” Sylfaen’s voice rose and fell in a melodic, almost playful, pattern.

“I’ve no clue who A-Knee-Drill is, but I'll send her to hell right alongside you.”

“Oh, you dwarves are all the same. How we ever lost to you halfwits confounds me.”  

Sylfaen's voice seemed to come from all sides; Thordar's trained ears couldn't pinpoint where the damned elf was hiding.

“Oh yes,” Sylfaen started again. “Is Araluen still in the wagon? I’d rather we not injure one of our own, you see.”

“Like you don’t know. I’m no fool, I know he joined you the moment he was outta my sight.”

A pause, then, “well, it looks like he’s on no one’s side then. I’ll have to pay him a visit after I finish with you to confirm his allegiance...”

There! It was just for a moment, but Thordar caught a glimpse of Sylfaen’s golden hair behind a boulder 100 feet down the ravine. He closed his left eye, focusing his right down Hammershot’s sights and zeroing in on where Sylfaen would pop his head up next. So focused was he on Sylfaen that he nearly missed the sound of faint splashes to his right.  

Two elves, crouched low, were a few feet from Hilda – who hadn’t seen or heard them. In one swift motion, Thordar rolled towards Hilda, his back pressed to the boar, Hammershot swinging around away from the arrow that had steadied it before. As the barrel neared lining up with the elves, he lifted the rifle so it would hit the second elf in the head. The moment Hammershot's barrel aligned with the elves, he fired.

BOOM! The slug travelled out the end of the barrel and connected first with the leading elf’s chest, exploding out of her back in a red mist. Its trajectory continued, faster than the second elf could process, traveling through his eye socket, brain, then skull. Both collapsed simultaneously.

Thordar breathed deep, relief flooding his senses. With his arm mangled, he knew he wouldn't be able to reload and fire before they were on Hilda. With his wife safe, his relief mutated to anger.

“All you damned elves are the same, sneaky little…” 

The words died on Thordar’s lips as he saw Sylfaen floating four feet above the ground, arms pinned behind his back. It looked like he was yelling but made no sound.  

Araluen was walking towards his fellow elf, right arm extended. “By the authority of the Mage Marshal Corps, for the murders of no less than 100 dwarven and human settlers, I'm placing you, Sylfaen Lothoeran, and your gang under arrest. Well, you and Aenidriel; it seems our dwarven host took care of Calantha and Isilme.”

Araluen smiled at Thordar, who realized that Araluen looked nothing like the elf who’d napped in the back of the wagon all day. Gone were the pointed ears and svelte features, replaced instead quite rounded ears and a crooked nose of a human.

With a flick of Araluen’s wrist, Sylfaen was face down in the mud. Another flick, and a pair of dire boars materialized out of thin air - at the same time the boar that the dwarves used for cover disappeared from under them. Sylfaen was loaded onto the back of one boar while another elf, who Thordar had never seen, went on the other.

“Can you hear what's happening?" Hilda had remained so quiet, Thordar'd almost forgotten her.

“I have no idea. Our elf passenger was actually a human? Or a mage? A Marshal? I...” He shrugged, unsure of what else to say.

Araluen approached the dwarves, a tentative smile on his face. “Thank you for your help, though we’re sorry for involving you. We had to trap the whole gang, not just Sylfaen, so we needed a ride with him into the ravine. We’re just lucky you’re such a good shot, Mr. Thordar.”

A million questions flooded Thordar’s mind, and he struggled to grasp at just one to ask as they all seemed pertinent. He settled on, “how did you know we’d need your boars? What if we didn’t need any?”

“Simple, really: it was my job to make sure you would need them. But don’t worry, the Corps will reimburse you.”

July 01, 2023 03:41

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Martin Ross
20:28 Jul 19, 2023

Great cinematically western and fantasy atmosphere and tone! The Good, The Bad, and the Elven😉.


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Ken Cartisano
04:12 Jul 07, 2023

This is very good writing. A very well written piece of work. I'm not into the Elven, Dwarf thing especially, but not against it either. I mean come on, where would 'The Hobbit' be without its Dwarfs and Elves? (The correct answer is: Phoenix Arizona.) This story had so few reads and likes that I began reading with a very cynical eye, but your writing won me over by the end of the second paragraph. It's very colorful and descriptive while showing lots of restraint and polish. You're pushing all the right buttons and levers of sight and soun...


Michael Martin
22:14 Jul 08, 2023

Also: I appreciate the comparison to Tolkien's great work, but I've actually never read the Hobbit or even watched the movie. So if it's a remake of that in western style, my plagiarism was purely accidental!


Ken Cartisano
04:20 Jul 09, 2023

Your welcome. As for the Hobbit comparison, sci-fi-natics like me forget that there were dwarves and elves long before there was 'The Hobbit.'' Shame on me. All the more impressive then that your work not modeled on Tolkien's classic. Do you know what your novel will be about? Care to share? Or what genre? I'm just curious and won't be offended if you want to keep it secret for the time being. I write science-fiction, with an occasional touch of fantasy, (if I'm desperate,) and also speculative fiction, which I took to mean Sci-fi on earth...


Michael Martin
03:49 Jul 11, 2023

Sorry for the delayed response; been super busy lately. I do know what my novel will be about, in fact, I've planned out an entire trilogy around the dual concepts of the Many Worlds Theory of multiple dimensions and the idea that everyone is amazing at something, but oftentimes they're not put in a situation to flourish (for instance, if Michael Jordan was born in a family that forbid him from playing basketball). Across the multiverse, there exists a spectrum of "yous", varying from ones who weren't put in a situation to flourish at all ...


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Michael Martin
22:12 Jul 08, 2023

First of all, I want to thank you; your comment put a legitimate smile on my face. I'm trying to force myself to go back to writing on here every week so I can keep active with my creative writing - as I want to get started on my novel soon. And I need to actually be writing often to keep my skills sharp. Your comments are greatly appreciated; I used to try to garner likes and comments on my stories, those things used to matter more, but I realized it was just a farce, most people just like your story so you can go like theirs. So to see...


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