He marched down the corridor toward his father’s quarters, wringing his clammy hands even while reminding himself to stay calm. His heels click-clacked on the hardwood floor, seemingly keeping rhythm to his wildly beating heart.
Guards stood stationed every few feet along the hallway. As he passed them, endeavoring to portray a sense of confidence, he held his head high and his shoulders back. His arms swung freely at his sides.
Just before reaching the door that he sought, a succedunt soldier seemed to appear from out of nowhere. He held a thick chain. Attached at its other end, was what was unmistakably an underworld beast—a grut. Smoky black hair covered the creature, which sported a spiky spine and a razor sharp tail. Greasy black mucus oozed from its bulging red eyes, and its rank smell—the smell of death and decay—filled the air.
The sight shocked Broden, who’d never seen one before. Still, he recognized it for what it was, on sight. Stopping in his tracks, he took note of the spiked, heavy metal collar around its neck.
In that same instant, the beast lunged, displaying its three rows of teeth, curved slightly inward.
Broden jumped back—almost too late. Looking down, he found a tear in his pants on his inner thigh, just inches from his privates. Shocked, he looked back at the guard as he pulled on the grut’s chain, causing the spikes on the beast’s collar to bite into its hide. Drops of thick black blood seeped from punctures they made, ran down the grut’s coarse, steel bristle brush-like hair, and then dribbled to the floor, where they steamed.
The beast’s eyes seemed to pierce into Broden as it stood, prepared to attack again, and stared, its hackles up.
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