So I haven't actually posted about this on SSLF proper yet, but there's a new Wulfgard book releasing very soon! Here are some details and previews--
More promised previews - as well as a preview of an interior illustration of Caiden wrestling with a werebear! You can find a lot more werebear action (and berserker lore for my setting) in the previews below, please be sure to check them out!
For more info on the book itself, you can also check out this post. Also be sure to check out the Hunt Never Ends tag for a whole lot more book previews!
And now in very important news... Wulfgard: The Hunt Never Ends is available for preorder on Amazon.com!
Please note that, while the ebook is now available for preorder, Wulfgard: The Hunt Never Ends will also be available in paperback on October 30 from the same Amazon listing! Paperbacks cannot be preordered using Amazon’s system, however.
Be sure to check back October 30 for the physical (paperback) edition!
In the third section of the book, Caiden and Gwen hunt for a mysterious berserker whom the locals claim is causing trouble... and, for the first time, Caiden truly sees how hard it is to draw the line between man and monster.
If you’re interested in purchasing the book digitally, you can now pre-order it right here and have it immediately on October 30!
(Paperback edition will be available on Amazon on October 30)
“Thoughts?” she asked.
Caiden threw her a quick look. “We check the forest north of here, the direction he was heading. By now, maybe he’s calmed down some, even if he hasn’t turned back.”
‘Turned back.’ It was insane. Humans weren’t meant to turn into anything else, and neither was any other creature. The curses and magic he’d learned about since joining the Venatori, even not being able to read… He still couldn’t imagine a man turning into something he wasn’t.
No way he could imagine what that actually sounded like, what that drunk had to have heard – or what it looked like, for that matter. What it actually involved. It defied all nature, all sense, or at least any he’d known for his entire life.
They left their horses in town, setting off on foot to track the monster. As Caiden pulled his crossbow from his back and loaded it, Gwen nocked an arrow to her bow and spoke.
“So what do we know about berserkers – we know they bond their souls somehow to some kind of magical skins they wear, and this gives them special powers. Usually they bond with wolves, but they say that’s also the most dangerous, so some of them bond with other animals like bears instead. Because if they take it too far, they can lose control and lose themselves, turning into monsters.”
Caiden nodded. “Do we know for sure if they ever turn back?”
“There were at least two cases where they did that I read in some old accounts, but I don’t know how accurate they were.”
Tracking the berserker was easy, like Caiden figured. The monster had carved a swath of maddened destruction leading away from the city, toward the forest. He’d barreled over saplings, charged through streams, knocking aside underbrush and stones as he drove ever deeper into the wilderness.
Then, the tracks stopped.
There, sitting with his back against a tree trunk, was a man clad in little more than a few tattered clothes and furs that barely kept him decent. Every inch of him was made of tattooed muscle, scars, and some fresh bloodstains. A ragged grey beard covered half his face and reached down to his chest, full of unkempt remains of braids…
But he wore no animal skin.
What he did wear was not physical: a palpable cloak of regret. A pain so deep Caiden almost felt inclined to regret along with him as he drew near, the berserker’s emotions filling the air like a cloud of dreary, remorseful rain.
“I won’t fight,” the berserker said at once, showing empty hands and fingers stained with blood. “Show me mercy – I won’t fight.”
Gwen stood a few feet away, bow at the ready again, watching them. Caiden narrowed his eyes at him.
Slowly, the berserker stood, keeping his hands in plain view. Gwen swore under her breath, just loud enough for Caiden to hear. Even if he couldn’t match up to Caiden’s height, that didn’t make him small.
“I never meant to do what I did,” the berserker said slowly, his deep green eyes flicking between the two of them. “Whatever it was that I did.”
“You don’t remember?” Gwen asked.
“I remember some Imperials gathering around me and throwing insults…”
Caiden could hardly focus on the berserker’s words for the emotions churning in the air. Worry, even fear, and some strange anger that seemed to lurk like a monster waiting to spring. But there was a weariness, too. Something old and tired that yearned for only one thing: peace.
And always that remorse. Like someone who’d taken a life out of necessity, not desire – like a soldier in his legion who’d killed a man in self-defense. He’d felt this regret before, this guilt.
But monsters, supposedly, didn’t have remorse.
Caiden blinked, scowled harder against the sensations, and locked his eyes firmer onto the berserker before him.
“I fought for control, but… I am old. My skin took me years ago. I can fight it, but when pressed, it will always win in the end.”
“Yet,” said Gwen, “you came into an Imperial settlement knowing perfectly well you might lose control and kill innocent people there.”
Caiden glanced at her. Gwen kept her bow trained, ready to loose, a fire and distrust in her tone not quite like any he’d heard from her before. Still the berserker didn’t move, maintaining his calm, despite a sorrow in him that deepened to the point of leaving a lead weight setting heavy in Caiden’s stomach.
“Yes,” the berserker said, quieter now. “I was traveling – tired and hungry, in need of only shelter and nourishment.”
“None of that,” Gwen answered firmly, “excuses what you did.”
The berserker’s voice lifted, defensive, and pride came to grapple with his fear. “I am Gundahar of the Frost Raven clan, once a respected warrior. This is the first time I’ve ever harmed another with this curse – do not accuse me of not being careful. I know what I am and what the beast will do.” Wearing a scowl, he let his hands drop at last. “I only wanted a drink.”
Gwen glanced at him. Caiden glanced back.
And he lowered his crossbow.
“Caiden?” she said, perhaps a little stunned, the grip on her bow tightening in a way Caiden didn’t much like.
“Easy, Gwen,” he said, extending a hand toward her, lowering it, motioning for her to back off. “He doesn’t deserve this.”
She wasn’t having it, and she didn’t lower her bow. “Monsters hide in good men. The Venatori have taught it for eons – once someone is cursed, they can’t be trusted.”
Cursed. There was that word again, one he’d heard so often in this order of monster hunters. It meant so many different things, and every time he heard it, he wondered if there was some dark corner of that word reserved for him.
“Maybe not,” he said, stepping nearer to her and looking her in the eye. “If that turns out to be the case, I’ll shoulder the blame. But I’m asking you to lower your weapon.”
Gundahar neither moved nor spoke. He stood there watching with a dark look of jaded weariness etched across his features. Caiden couldn’t help but feel he’d seen a look disturbingly similar in one of the mirrors in Castle Greywatch.
At length, Gwen nodded. She lowered her bow, straightening herself and taking a deep breath, saying only, “I hope you’re right.”
Caiden nodded back. He returned his attention to Gundahar, but the berserker to speak first.
“I am sorry, truly, for what happened… Though perhaps your Imperial youths could use more lessons in how to stay their tongues. I came here peacefully, did nothing wrong, and they ridiculed me. Insulted me. Accused me of witchcraft and devilry – they didn’t know the holy powers of Odin they slandered with their words…”
His voice drifted. The pride faded away again, dissipating, pushed aside by the resurgence of guilt. Caiden’s near-eternal scowl almost softened around the edges. Almost.
“Tell us what happened,” he prompted.
Down in the lamplit streets, a mob surged furiously around their quarry, torches aloft and voices raised. From here, Caiden couldn’t make out much, but he didn’t have to make any guesses to know what was happening.
Turning, he threw his crossbow over his shoulder, grabbed his harness covered in weapons and potions, and pulled it on over only his shirt while he burst through the door to his room and stormed down the stairs. No time for his armor or the rest of his gear.
Not far from the inn doors, where the innkeeper and his daughter stood watching in horror, Caiden found exactly what he’d feared.
In the center of that mob they dragged Gundahar along by a rope around his neck. He struggled, clawing at it, getting to his feet to stand tall around most of the civilians around him. The instant he did, several rushed forward, brandishing cudgels to beat over his arms and legs, trying to force him back down.
Gwen, groggy and confused, appeared at his side with her weapons in hand.
“Dammit,” Caiden growled.
Charging forward, he shouldered his way straight into the mob with Gwen following in the wake he cleared. They parted around him like water against a stone.
He glanced at her and said, “Talk them down or distract them. I’m going after the berserker.”
Each step he took toward Gundahar, the air seemed to grow thicker. Stuffier. Harder to breathe, full of a desperate fear, a wild need to escape. He felt like he walked toward a cornered animal, one tired and scared – but not wanting to hurt anyone.
They reached the center, where Caiden grabbed one shoulder of a man with his club raised over the fallen Gundahar and shoved him aside hard enough to send him staggering away, teetering awkwardly like a drunk. Judging by the smell, he probably was. As was half the mob.
Somewhere behind him, Gwen tried to raise her voice over the din of confusion, anger, and accusations. Telling them to calm down, that this was their job, to go back home…
Caiden barely listened. He’d trust her with that. With the talking. She liked doing it, after all, and he’d be damned if he had words for these idiots. Not with how he felt something in Gundahar that wanted to snap. He couldn’t let that happen.
Kneeling, he put a heavy hand on Gundahar’s shoulder as he half lay in the street, bruised and bleeding. He’d fallen silent. Gone were all the hoarse yells and pleas and him trying to explain. Spent. There weren’t any words left in him, only ragged, sharp breaths and a hard twitch of the muscles in his neck. The instant Caiden touched him, something almost seemed to lash out – something with claws, and something very intent to kill.
Caiden gripped his shoulder anyway, prompting Gundahar to look up at him. He blinked, locking gazes, sending Caiden almost more pain and remorse than he knew what to do with.
“Gundahar,” he said, “breathe. Focus. Get on your feet – I’m taking you out of here.”
“N-no— no, Venator—” he gasped. “Too late— please—”
Whatever else he might have said died on his lips, fell to a look of resignation that passed over his features in a blink. Caiden knew it was over then, even before Gundahar’s jaw set and frigid determination rushed from him, like a gale from the North.
Gundahar surged to his feet, and with one swipe made of inhuman strength, slammed his arm across Caiden’s head powerful enough to send even him sprawling into the street, skull cracking hard against the cobblestones.
Whatever happened next, Caiden didn’t see it. Didn’t much hear it, either, for the ringing in his ears. Screaming, ripping, popping – strange sounds rippling like water swam through his head as if they were ten leagues away and drowned.
This was new. All of it. The wash of cold, biting down deep, right to the bone, and the fury. It was like nothing he’d felt before, a high-pitched scream tearing on around him, and into him, settling like it wished to stay. Wished for him to scream along with it, to give in to the anger. He almost didn’t even realize that screams – even worse, distorted, full of more pain than he and all his experience could even imagine – were also very real, filling the air around him.
And when Caiden scrambled to his feet again, his head pounding from where he’d knocked it against the ground, Gundahar was already gone.
A monster stood in his place.
Caiden stared straight down a wrinkled muzzle, lips already starting to drip strands of white froth. The thing before him looked like the largest bear he’d ever seen. Massive, hulking, covered in brown, grizzled fur and twitching muscles the size of which no man could ever achieve. Yet its shape looked almost human, with arms, and great hands bearing fingers that ended in long, hooked claws.
No recognition stirred in the green eyes like he’d seen on the man wearing this monster’s skin – or the man skin the monster wore. Maybe Gwen had been right.
Because when the bear-monster turned, it opened its wide, toothy maw and lifted a hand-paw the size of Caiden’s entire head, ready to bring it down on the nearest fleeing civilian.
This was their fault – the civilians.
But right now, that wasn’t important. All that mattered was stopping it.
Enjoy! I'll be posting some of my previous previews as replies to this thread in a few days, and I'll keep it updated with any new promotional posts I make!