Brennen had never ridden a horse before. The Bog was treacherous, best trekked on foot. Winding, discombobulating paths and unstable ground would turn even the hardiest horses into a feast for the Bog's more bestial inhabitants. The look in his eyes screamed uncertainty as he slowly - maybe even warily approached one that stuck out to him, a thoroughbred blood-bay, sturdy and sinewy. The creature looked back on him with black, penetratingly empathetic eyes that seemed to pierce through him like a clean blade. Brennen outstretched a callused, dark hand, placing it on the creature's forehead and rubbing up and down slowly. The horse, as if sensing Brennen's uncertainty, nickered quickly, shaking its head briefly.
Brennen's hesitation had turn into resolve after having broken the barrier of touch. A few of the tribes back home had emphasized the domestication of creatures in the Bog, most typically being the packs of red wolves that inhabited the dryer grasslands outside the marshes. Those tribes seemed to base their entire culture around the domestication and taming of the wolves, using them as hunting aides, companions, and even clothing or raw materials for those that didn't survive. The Bog worked like that. Respect-to-the-dead was an unknown concept to the Pyromancers who emphasized pragmatism above all else. Fallen warriors had their bodies searched for useful resources, weapons, or anything else that might help the survivors last a little longer. Personal effects were left be, and once peace came, their corpses would be cremated, ashes discarded to the tribe's campfire so they may join Valaista forever, truly one with their Inner Fire.
But Brennen could feel something of a bond with this particular horse, despite his complete and utter ignorance in how he would actually ride
it. He was thankful, at least, that the horses were already cleaned and saddled. After grabbing a pack, he made the first, among several attempts to mount it, inwardly cursing himself at each failure. He felt like a child, idiotically failing even the simplest of tasks. But finally, he managed to awkwardly step into the horse's saddle, incurring another annoyed nicker from the creature. Soon, the company was off, with Brennen trailing at the end of the line, struggling in silence to control the horse's movement.
The traffic of people from all different walks of life fleeing to Dramon filled Brennen with a sense of sober reflection. The threat of annihilation, the most terrible kind-of death had swiftly eliminated petty ideals of classism and social elitism. There was unity now in a mutual enemy, civilization falling back to the tribes. But as the party seemed to be the only group riding towards
the danger, it gave off the instinctive sense of dread. Riding into the storm.
As night fell and the Templar dismounted, Brennen grimaced from the ache in his legs and thighs. On foot he could walk miles more than most men without complaint, face hazardous trails with agile quickness. But here he was disadvantaged, outside his element. The road would make swift work of him, were he not able to rise faster.
But everything stopped once that scream pierced through the edge of the forest. In that moment, Brennen remembered the Bog. Those screams all around him, bleeding with the screams from his own brothers and sisters in haunting chorus - the swamp set on fire, scattering the treeline like stars come to earth. How terrifyingly human, yet inhuman at the same time. Endless waves of monsters emerging from the darkness, scores of them burnt to cindered corpses, yet two scores more behind that one. Their screams, noises had stayed in Brennen's head, even longer after they were dead. And now they had come back.
"Scorned." Brennen declared, unaware he was speaking aloud as he swiftly dismounted his horse, temporarily unaware of his fatigue as his body was renewed with adrenaline. Without thinking, he reached to draw his axe, clenching it tightly, ashed knuckles turning white. His fingers tingled, twitching as he felt flame stoke from within, wanting to be let out. There was no telling how many Scorned he, and others had killed in the days before the tribe fell. Fire destroyed them easily enough, as it cleansed nearly all it touched. But still, more would come.
Then It emerged - a large wolf, twisted and deformed by the rot that plagued the Scorned, plagued the Mountain. The unholy fusion of vegetation and flesh, the lesser of both parties. "Brennen, Kean, secure the horses away from here! The rest of you, get ready. Don't let it get a hold of you, or you're as good as dead."
The Templar's commands sent Brennen into swift action, using his free hand to grab his horse's reins and pull it back from the road, strength normally unbecoming of him giving his actions ease.
"Take them to the other side of the road!" Brennen shouted to Kean. The open space would make it easier to corral the horses, keep eyes on the Scorned. But whatever plan he had, they would need to act fast and decisively.