“Land of the Brave” by Dallas Carson

Leo took a long drink of water from the canteen, as he leaned against the oak tree.  Two weeks.  It’s been two weeks since he left the orphanage, and he’s been roughing it ever since.  He didn’t know if he regretted his decision or not.  I mean, sure he didn’t know anyone there, and the overseer lady could make Hitler want to hide under his sheets, but Leo forgot to remember that the real world is full of dragons, orcs, and wargs.
 
What?  Oh, you thought that this story was gonna be realistic?  Too bad.  You see, Leo lived in a world where the “Real world” merged with something out of a Lord of the Rings book.
 
Leo moved a hand through his chestnut hair.  So far he was doing pretty good for a 14-year old.  Before he left, he snuck into the overseer’s study, while the old hag was sleeping, and scrounged up enough money to buy something for self-defense.  An old, rusty broadsword.  It wasn’t much, but it was something.  After that he’s been hiking all over the country, fighting off beasts, ducking the guards, and eating nothing but almost stale bread and the occasional slice of beef.
 
Leo looked ahead to where he was supposed to go.  In front of him was a forest.  A “haunted” forest as one would summarize it.  It was indeed creepy.  The black and gnarled trees, the only things visible through the thick fog, raising their twisted, leafless branches up to the sky.  The mere sight of it was enough to send the bravest warrior screaming.  Not to mention how it was rumored to be infested with wargs.
 
Unfortunately for Leo, the town on the other side of the forest was the only sign of civilization for miles, and he needed supplies and a place to stay.
 
The temperature lowered and he shivered, pulling on his jacket, trying to keep the warmth in.  It would be dark soon, and he didn’t have the proper shelter to survive the cold night.  And let’s face it, if you were dressed in nothing but a t-shirt, jeans, and zip-up hoodie, and you’re so thin one could see your rib-cage, you’d freeze to death.
 
It was official, he needed to brave through the dark woods before sundown. With a heavy sigh, he slung his pack over his shoulder, made sure the broadsword was secure at his side, and trudged on into the evil forest.  He just needed to make it through the thicket before nightfall, without running into any monsters, easy as pie.
 
It only occurred to Leo, three hours later, that he had no idea how to make pie.  He was still marching through the forest, exhaustion evident on his face.  Many of the mutated tree branches were still trying to reach out at him, trying to scratch off his face.  He just avoided them as best as he could, desperate to make it out alive.  It was night time, or at least, that’s what Leo could assume, for the thick fog blocked out any trace of the sky.  He hadn’t run into any monsters so far, that was a good sign, but his insides were frozen solid.  He gritted his teeth, trying to maintain normal body temperature, and sallied on.
 
It was then that he came upon the scene.  He noticed that the trees were starting to thin out, for a moment, his heart filled with hope.  He then looked ahead, and realized that the trees were just as thick as ever.  He looked around and realized why the trees thinned out here.  He was in a wide area, where the trunks were all ripped right off, leaving nothing but splintering stumps.
 
He looked around and saw, to his stomach-curdling horror, corpses.  Yes, corpses.  Littering the ground, around the stumps, were the skeletons of fallen warriors, the flesh on their bones picked clean. Their boney faces somehow managing an expression of pure fear.
Snap!  Leo froze, in pure terror, and it finally dawned on him.
 
Crunch!  He was in something’s territory!
 
Grrrrr…..  And something just came back, after an unsuccessful hunt!
 
Bark!  At that sound, Leo barreled out of the way, just before a huge figure pounced onto the spot where he just stood with so much force the ground shook.
 
Once Leo got up his bag fell to the ground, and he drew the broadsword.  In front of him was what one would call a wolf, except it was much larger.  It was bigger than Leo, and that was saying something, since Leo stood at 5 ft. 8 in.  Its white fur stained with dirt and blood.  Various broken spears and swords stuck out of its sides, showing the weapon of each warrior that tried in vain to kill the beast.  Red eyes flashed in the dark, while yellow, dagger-sized, fangs were bared.  This was a warg, but then again… this was big, even for a warg!  And then there were the aforementioned “weapons in the side” was not a common thing either.
The creature pounced, and Leo barely got out of the way in time.  In a quick reflex, Leo made a diagonal slash across the warg’s side.  It howled in pain briefly, but then shook off the gash like it was a paper cut, and snarled at him.  It then began chasing him around the area, snapping and snarling the whole way.  At one point, Leo decided to retaliate.  The warg made another leap at him, mouth wide open.  Leo swung the sword, horizontally.  The monster once again howled, and once it stopped, what once was saliva drooling down its mouth, was a red liquid.  It glared daggers at Leo with hate filled eyes.
 
Leo visibly gulped and, though it was cold, he began sweating.  It was clear he could not win this fight easily.  So he did what any person with common sense would do.  He ran.  He ran his legs off.  Any branch that was in his way, he hacked it off with his sword.  He heard the warg giving chase knocking down all the branches with its immense size.
 
Leo knew he was in trouble, the warg no longer wanted to hunt him for food.  It just wanted to be rid of the pesky little gnat that violated its territory, permanently.  This was the thrill of the hunt.
 
Leo would have kept running, but the trees were starting to thin out again.  Once again Leo hoped it was the way out, but once again his hoping failed him.  Ahead of him the ground somehow came to a complete stop.  Leo skidded to a halt, his toes just over the edge, flailing his arms to regain balance.  The pebbles he kicked over the edge in a hurry fell down into the dark abyss, echoing off the walls.  He managed to find his feet again, and stumbled backwards, getting to a good, safe place to get a better view ahead.  The ground, apparently, had run a crack right through it.  A giant empty chasm in the middle of the forest.
 
Leo turned around to see the trees getting trampled over by an unstoppable force, the warg.  As Leo guessed, the warg lept through the trees and stuck the ground like thunder.  Leo once again struggled to regain balance to prevent falling over the edge.
 
The warg realized its prey was now cornered, so it decided to tease it.  It stalked forward, slowly, savoring the kill.
 
Leo gripped the handle of the sword so hard his knuckles turned white.  He knew only one way out of this.  He took a deep breath, and charged.
The warg was surprised by this.  This was one of the scrawniest morsels to enter its territory.   And here it was, no advantages, no reinforcements, barely anything to defend itself, charging at something clearly superior.
 
The warg was so astonished by Leo’s bravery/foolishness that it failed to react in time.  Leo slashed the sword across its face.  The warg was blinded, and howled in pure pain.
Leo couldn’t believe his luck!  He managed to get a good hit!  In an instant, he bolted for the wood.
 
But then the warg pounced.
 
It all happened so fast.  Leo heard growling noises and turned around.  He saw the warg in mid-air, arms outstretched, eyes on fire with pure fury.  Leo ducked as fast as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough.  One of the wargs claws grazed his right arm.  And since the warg’s claws were so huge, boy did it graze.
 
Leo was pulled along with the warg with powerful force.  He tumbled and scraped across the gravelly ground, until skidding to a halt.
 
With a very dizzy mind, Leo sat up, and immediately regretted it.  He was hit with a wave of excruciating pain.  He found out why when he looked at the several gashes along his right arm.
He then looked up to see the warg getting up.  His first instinct was to go for his sword.  But then it dawned on him.  He turned his head to see his sword lying on the ground, where he dropped it, several yards away.
 
He stood up to retrieve the sword.  But then he was forcibly reminded of the warg when it pounced again.
 
He was ready for it this time though, and he dodge rolled out of the way.  Thus leading to how the warg’s fangs sunk into the tree trunk where Leo’s torso once was.  The warg tried to free itself, but the fangs had sunk into the wood too deep.
 
Leo backed away hoping he was safe, for the time being.  But by this time you should know Leo shouldn’t hope for things like that.
 
The warg tore the tree from the ground by the roots!  It unhinged the dead plant from its jaw, and threw it at Leo.
 
Leo ducked just in time.  The mighty trunk sailed over his head and crashed behind with a great “thud!”
 
Leo looked over his shoulder to see how close he was to becoming a pancake, but then he noticed something else that wasn’t there before.  A long wolf fang.
 
The warg licked the spot where its valuable weapon once was, and decided to take its frustration out on Leo.
 
It pounced again.  What Leo did next was a blur of adrenaline and instincts.  He whipped around, grabbed the fang embedded in the trunk, and with strength he didn’t know he had yanked it out.  The warg grabbed onto Leo and pushed him back with deliberate force.  Leo chose that moment to strike.  He took the fang and, with all the strength of he could muster, shoved the fang through the left side of the warg’s chest.
 
The beast went limp for a moment.  That was all the time needed to careen right over Leo’s head, collide headfirst to the ground, snap its neck, and sail right over the edge of a cliff into the chasm below.
 
Leo sat there, breathless for a moment.  Only one thought on his mind, “What the heck just happened?”
 
He then decided to brush it off for the time being.  He had to get out of this forest!  He got up and staggered to his sword.  He was feeling unusually light headed.  His vision blurred.  His wounds!  He was losing consciousness from blood loss!  He kept staggering.  Almost there.  He could almost touch it!  He reached out to pick it up.  He collapsed.
-To be continued

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