Chapter 1 Waking the Demon
Waking the demon!
Where'd you run to?
Walking in shadows!
Watch the blood flow!
There's not much longer, so don't try and hide,
Your body's weakening, walk to the light!
Those painful times so alone, so ashamed!
I'm not coming back, there's nothing to gain!
The snow seemed to swallow the sound of my footsteps as I walked up the slope to the edge of the ridge overlooking the outskirts of my village. Snow is something I’m used to, having lived most of my life here on the frozen tundra.
My name is Bryen Houchin. I’m twenty-one years old and a warrior of the Akkadian wolf tribe here in the far north.
I guess I should tell you; this world is not like the one you’re used to. Humans don’t dominate the world, even though the outnumber us five to one. By us I mean the creatures humans have called demons for centuries. Now before you lose your mind, let me explain. We are not demons in the way most humans understand it. We are not the spawn of some fallen angel, or the spirits of evil humans warped by their sin. We are closer to the concept of yokai, beings with supernatural powers that take the form of animals.
While most demons look mostly human, few of us can completely blend into a human city. My tribe is a good example. All of us have a pair of pointed wolf ears and a tail.
As I said I’m used to the cold, but there was a storm on the horizon that worried me. An icy wind blew towards the village, making me tuck my arms under the bear and wolf pelt cloak I was wearing. Under the cloak I wore minimal armor; just a cuirass, pauldrons gauntlets and greaves.
“My lord,” came a voice from behind me. A middle-aged warrior wolf stood not far below me on the ridge. I looked over my shoulder to regard him. “Your father requests your presence in the Great Hall.”
I nodded and turned my attention back to the tundra and the approaching blizzard. “Tell him I will be there shortly.”
“Yes my Prince,” the warrior bowed as he turned to leave. I guess I left out the fact I’m Beta of the Akkadians, the first born son of the Alpha. I prefer Beta to Prince, but my tribe insisted on being proper.
After a few more moments of watching the storm, I turned and headed back to the village. The architecture is what one could expect of a town this far into the tundra. Mostly stone bricks and wood with some scattered bone accents. The village was bustling, people swarming the roads, hawking wares and trading. We are a hardy people, used to the cold and snow. Despite what most would call dismal weather, everyone was in high spirits. The Winter Solstice Feast was fast approaching. On the coldest and longest night of the year, we gather in the Great Hall, eat and drink to our hearts’, and stomachs’, content.
I moved quickly to the Great Hall, easily the largest building in the village. The sentinels on either side of the main doors stood stiffly to attention at my approach, their war spears held tightly. “My Prince,” they said in perfect unison.
“At ease, gentlemen,” I said as I pushed the heavy stone doors open. Shaking snow from my cloak, I passed through the threshold into the Main Hall. At the far wall sat a large stone throne, carved from onyx by the finest craftsmen centuries ago. Another middle-aged wolf sat upon it, flanked by an advisor, the pair speaking in lowered voices. The man on the throne looked up as I approached and waved off the advisor. “There you are, Pup.”
“You called for me, Father?” I asked with a short bow.
“Yes. I told you about the Chimeran entourage that arrived while you were out on your last hunt, right?” Father asked.
“Briefly, yes. Is there a problem?” the lions of the southern savanna where a recent ally of my tribe, and new trading partners.
“I believe so. They have failed to report in. Now, whether they got lost or something more sinister, I don’t know. I need you to find out for me. I don’t want you going alone. I know you’re the best tracker we have, but even you might get lost in a blizzard. Take a small party; three or four besides yourself.”
“Any idea where they were headed?” I asked, a bit rankled at the doubt of my sense of direction.
“They said they would head towards the coast. Be wary.”
“I’ll head out after I’ve picked up the others,” I gave another short bow and left the hall.
I reentered the marketplace, noticing, not for the first time over the last several years, that it had others besides our own, and other wolves from the outlying villages. A number of gyrfalcon traders were selling their wares. Fine work, the majority of it, made of somewhat exotic materials. At one such stall, I found two of the four I was looking for. “Brandon, Iona!”
The two wolves looked up from examining some jeweled daggers. “Hey, what’s up?” Brandon asked once he realized who’d called. Brandon and I had been friends since childhood. We’d met by chance in the market when we were both small. We’d played while our parents shopped, taking an instant liking to each other. We even went through our final tests alongside each other.
He had been born into a warrior family of little consequence, militarily speaking. They were wealthy, however, owning many of the mines around our territory. This mind for money had allowed Brandon’s father to be lifted politically, even though they had little power in ways of arms. Brandon, however, looked to change that, being born with an extraordinary amount of power, nearly rivaling the royal family. This power got him on the fast track to becoming an elite fighter in the army. When I insisted I needed people I could trust at my back, my father, to many old family heads’ shock and displeasure, named him the head of my personal guard. During battles, they served as my personal squadron, handpicked from the elite of the elite.
“My prince,” said Iona, bowing slightly. Iona was born into an old family, one of the few who looked to the benefits of the tribe as a whole over their own. Like Brandon, she was a naturally formidable fighter, fighting her way onto my personal squad. This surprised and delighted many in her family, the honor and prestige doing much to add credibility to her family in the Gathering of the clans.
I sighed. “Iona, how many times must I say it? Out of uniform, there’s no need to be so formal.” Iona blushed faintly. Formality had been ingrained in her from a young age so it was hard to break her of the habit. “Anyway, the king is sending me out to find the Chimeran squad that was searching for something along the coastlands and he wants me to take a small group with me. Are you two busy?”
Brandon shook his head. “Not at the moment. Who else are you bringing?”
“I was thinking about asking Remus and Romulus. Any idea where they are?”
“We saw them by the Blacksmith not long ago,” said Iona. “I doubt they got far.”
I nodded and headed towards the blacksmith stalls. As I approached, the young man working the stall Remus and Romulus were standing at called out. “Ah, my lord. Your blade is finished.”
“Excellent,” I grinned, eager to have a sword back on my hip.
“One moment. Excuse me, gentlemen,” he added to Remus and Romulus before disappearing into the back of the stall and into the shop behind it.
“So what brings you out among us common folk, my lord?” Remus asked with a snicker. Remus and his larger twin brother Romulus were two members of my elite unit. Though, if one didn’t know them, they wouldn’t realize the two were twins. Remus was of average height and lightly built, favoring his bow rather than the short sword at his hip. Romulus however, was tall and wide, as well as a true terror with the great axe he had strapped to his back. Of the two, Remus did most of the talking while his brother was content to be seen more than heard.
“I have a job I need help with, boys,” I told them. “I’m sure you heard of the lions from the south sending a patrol. I don’t know what they were looking for, but it seems they’ve failed to check in. The king wants us to find out what happened.”
Romulus grunted. “So we have to brave a blizzard for a bunch of lost kittens?”
I smirked. “Don’t worry, Rom. I’ll keep you safe.”
Romulus rolled his eyes as his brother laughed. “Alright, we’re in,” Remus told me. As the brothers began discussing what they would need for the trip, I noticed a familiar figure approaching the edge of the shop we were standing in front of. I smirked as we made eye contact and the young woman pressed a finger to her lips. My smirk only grew as she peered over the edge. After a moment to gauge the jump she hopped off…
Landing directly on Romulus’s back. The tall warrior grunted in surprise as he hit the ground, the small woman sitting on his back and giggling. Realizing who it was, Rom huffed. “Really, Kit? Was that necessary?”
“Completely!” Denise, better known as Kit, laughed.
This far north it was unusual to find a Kitsune. The tribe found Kit when she was little. Something had happened to her parents and she was alone. So we adopted her and she grew up among the tribe, playing with the other pups as she learned to control her powers and fight alongside the other warriors. She’d gotten quite talented with the pair of daggers she wore strapped to the small of her back.
“So what’s going on?” Kit asked as she climbed off Romulus’s back. The tall wolf stood up and brushed himself off.
“We have to go save some kitties from the cold apparently,” Remus drawled.
“The lions got lost?” Kit asked.
“Maybe. We won’t know until we get out there,” I said.
“Ooh, I’ll go!” Kit exclaimed.
I glanced at her in surprise. Kit wasn’t usually so eager to go out onto the tundra. “Alright. Gather some supplies. We’ll meet out at White Ridge in an hour.”
Kit nodded and ran off. “We’ll meet you there,” Remus told me as he and Romulus walked back towards their huts outside the market place. Not far off, I noticed Brandon and Iona gesturing towards their homes as well, indicating they were headed there too. I nodded and turned back as the blacksmith came back out of his shop, holding a long object wrapped in royal blue cloth.
“Here it is, my lord,” he said, pulling the cloth away, revealing a hand and a half sword in a scabbard of dark grey and black wood. Trailing from a ring near the mouth of the scabbard was a pair of leather strips each wrapped around a wolf fang. I briefly touched the second set around my neck and took the weapon. I felt a rightness as I wrapped my fingers around the hilt and drew the blade slowly from the sheath. The light blue metal, know to us as Mythril, shone in the midday light. When the last inches of the blade left the sheath, I ran my eyes along the length, appraising the craftsmanship. The hilt was wrapped in black leather and given extra strength by a pair of Mythril rings. The pommel was relatively large and set with a blood ruby. The blade itself was long, perhaps three feet in length by itself. Besides a short triangular flare on either side near the cross guard, the blade was almost completely straight, angling ever so slightly as it neared the point.
I rolled my wrist and gave the blade a few practice swings. The weight was perfect, as was the balance. With a smile I slipped the blade back into its scabbard and set the whole thing in the sword belt at my left hip.
“I take it you are satisfied?” the blacksmith asked with a smile.
“It’s perfect,” I said, tightening the leather belts holding the scabbard in place. “How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing. The honor of your patronage is more than enough payment.”
I frowned a bit. “Take this,” I handed him a pouch of gold coins. “And my thanks.”
“This is not necessary, my lord.”
“I know. Humor me,”
The blacksmith smiled again. “As you wish, my prince.”
I nodded and headed off to gather my own supplies. When everything was gathered, I sent a brief report to my father and headed to White Ridge, about a half mile outside the village. Besides food, I had bought a new belt knife, my last one having split over an elk antler on my last hunt. As I approached the point we had agreed to meet, I saw Brandon, Iona, Remus and Romulus. “Everyone ready? Where’s Kit?”
“I’m here!” her voice came from behind me. She breathlessly hustled up the ridge. “Sorry I’m late,” she panted. “I had some trouble finding my boot knife.”
“Where was it?” Iona asked.
Kit was quiet for a long moment. “In my other set of boots.”
I smiled as the group shared a laugh and Kit swatted Remus on the arm. When the laughter died down, we turned our attention to the tundra. We had to be careful as my father was right. It was far too easy to get lost in a blizzard. “We ready?” I asked. Everyone nodded. “Then let’s move out.”