The Forge of Souls

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Chapter One

Chapter One

In which the umagon owns the human.

Thunder roared.

Alrey Vid clenched his teeth. Now that was a mighty roar. She had earned herself a proper name. It was nice how animals got names so fitting for them. Unless they were not good old descriptive names. If they were, there was never a moment they let you forget it.

"Easy, girl," he whispered, patting the giant umagon serving as his mount at that very moment. Thunder had never been too fond of carrying him around, but she put up with it for the food and thrill of the hunt. She only turned her head, nearly hitting him with her seven, in all ways curled and twisted horns, and flashed her long teeth sticking out of her mouth. Sharp and poisonous, yet as white as the snow underneath them. Her horns, though containing no poison, were the deep colour of the black and green liquid which killed so many, so quickly, so painfully. Alrey hated witnessing it.

Nevertheless, she was his best weapon. Loping swiftly as ever through the freezing cold, she covered the great distance to the northern forest, her long snake-like tail flowing elegantly behind her. Having his exotic chimera pet, Alrey was made the village's hunter. He did not mind it, really. It helped him with calming Thunder's hyperactive behaviour, as well as satisfying her bloodlust. People avoided chimeras because of their curse - bloodlust - and made up stories to scare children. Stories which made Alrey want one as a pet no matter what. Therefore, he got himself one when he grew old enough and they made him a hunter.

Thunder shook him off his back, letting out a satisfied purr as her rider thudded against the cold, hard forest floor, sinking through knee-deep snow. Despite the obvious reptilian elements, she did have the supposed cold heart of a cat.

He cursed as he scrambled to his feet, only to trip over a small bit of a protruding root hidden in the snow and slam back down. He shuddered as he hit a nerve in his knee. He was not the master of silence and stealth in any way. If anything, he was the exact opposite. He had always hoped he would find a decent trainer to become some sort of fighter, but that seemed impossible. Especially if he continued living in his village for much longer.

Frozen leaves and broken twigs cracked and snow screeched under his booted feet and her scaly paws as they wound between the cold trees. As well as their prey would try to hide, Thunder would find them. Being a chimera, her senses were generally amplified, and having feline pads on her mostly reptilian paws only aided the cause. Even when it was cold. Well, not like anyone could hide their tracks in that kind of snow.

Her pawfalls could no longer be heard.

She crouched close to the ground, pale morning sunlight cracking through bare, but many thick branches and glittering on the scales of her tail and legs as she crawled forward. It was blinding against the snow. Alrey halted, restlessly flexing his fingers, watching the magnificence of the umagon slither away in silence, squinting as he did so. If she kept finding the prey as quickly, he would be able to return to his warm home and fireplace sooner than he thought. He breathed slowly, observing puffs of his breath in front of him as he listened, trying to catch any sounds.

He heard several painful yelps, one after another. The last heavy breaths and groans of pain came afterwards. Alrey shuddered.

Thunder strolled back to him, carrying one large deer in her mouth, a male. The antlers did him no good. He noticed a female she carried with her tail and one small fawn. They would need to hunt no more for the day. She seemed satisfied enough. It was not one of her crazy days.

He looked away after a moment, staring in front of himself. Being a warrior or a hunter was not his calling at all; however, he saw it as his only chance to get away. He was seventeen already. If he waited for much longer, no one would take him as their apprentice.

Thunder wasted what seemed like zero effort as she loped back to the village. Village was far from being the right word for it, Alrey thought as he saw six houses huddled around a wide road up the slope which lead to the forest in the low valley. Six homes for six families. Almost. The Vids were long gone aside from Alrey, who had no idea why he stayed. He was alone with Thunder in that house; well, he also gathered all the cats tossed outside the other five houses and fed them, gave them a warmer place to sleep. They did not object.

No one was outside. The... hamlet was covered with a thick blanket of snow, no one bothering to clear it up. It was convenient having Thunder during such weather conditions. She pushed through it like it was nothing, stopping in front of a house full of laughter. The Ans lived there. The men of the family were butchers, the women often left to live in a larger settlement.

Alrey slid off the umagon's furry back and stumbled through the snow. Reaching just above his knee, it was hard to move in. Fortunately, Thunder seemed to understand his worries as always and had stood close to the door. He was only a few steps away from the door, conquered not so easily.

He knocked a few times. No one opened. He tightened his fist and knocked harder. Those young twins had an amazing capacity for yelling all day long.

A slim, tall man appeared, adjusting his glasses, his raised eyebrows lowering into a frown as he glanced at Thunder. "Ah, it's you." Like the rest of the hamlet, Tryan Ril disliked having a chimera in his vicinity. The feeling was mutual. His wife, An Pernelis, peeked over his shoulder as Thunder growled, tossing the deer from her mouth and those wrapped with her tail next to her rider. Alrey backed away, still facing the house and Tryan Ril, and scrambled back onto the umagon's warm back. He held on tightly as she turned around and walked away to the house next door where they lived with the cats. They could both feel their neighbour's eyes burning into them until he shut the door.

During those cold winter days, Alrey was thankful for the heat Thunder always emitted. She was like a walking hearth. She often acted like she enjoyed his suffering, but her pride was gone whenever he was up against his neighbours or in need of her warmth to sleep peacefully at night. She wanted to carry him away, but he wanted to stay. So she stuck around, as well. He had no clue how he would manage in a city, having no money or relatives out there.

As night crept, he curled up in bed. She paced around a little, shaking her head, small in comparison with her large, muscular body. She did not join him.

Alrey shivered, observing her as he tried to sleep. He was tired, but the winter creeping in and staying within the thick stone walls kept jerking him awake with its frozen fingers. Even underneath all those layers, it found a way. It was more like he was under attack from the inside.

He shuddered and twitched and rolled around, trying to warm his gloved hands with his breath, readjusting the woollen hat on his blonde hair. He was in his jacket lined with fur, his thick trousers along with a pair of wool tights beneath it. He even had his warm leather boots with fur on the inside and two pairs of wool socks. He was covered with wool all over. Even his two thick blankets were woollen and he had no clue what was in the quilt, but it was heavy and warm.

Nevertheless, he was cold. It was also barely the last quarter of Heat season. Funny, no?

Thunder nuzzled his bare cheek with her warm nose. Her head had scales only around her eyes and going from her chin all the way across her neck and belly to her tail. Alrey tried caressing her, but she dodged, turned around and left. He observed the open door and the darkness behind them. The blue-green moonlight was strong, but it was still dark. She disappeared down the hall. He frowned.

"Thunder?" he called. She did not reply. He rolled out from his covers. He tried, at least.

Tangled up in the three large and thick layers of wool and cloth, he tumbled to the cold stone floor. Hard cold stone floor. He scrambled to his feet and went outside the room. A large black tom hissed and bolted away as Alrey stumbled, shedding his covers along the way. The cold became worse. He hated living there.

He managed to safely descend the stairs, looking around. The door was broken down, lying in the snow. He stepped outside onto it, looking around. At least he was not half-buried in snow while trying to find her.

Not that he had to look farther than the end of the hamlet to the right of his house.

She sat there.

She roared.

Alrey flinched and flailed his arms about to quiet her down. All she did was roar again. The deep sound vibrated all around the six houses. Some of the cats from his house meowed or hissed in return. The people, however, were on their doors and windows, all of them tired and angry. After all, it must have been nearing midnight.

"Shut that abomination up or I will do it for you!" It was, of course, Tryan Ril, clutching a single-handed sword in one hand and a loaded crossbow in the other, glaring at the two of them. Alrey's jaw dropped and she stumbled and hopped towards Thunder.

"No worries, no worries!" he shouted as he hurried to his umagon. She stood up and jerked her head backwards, moonlight dancing on her black scales and fur. Alrey muttered every curse he knew, inventing new ones on the go, pulling himself onto Thunder's back. His frozen, though gloved fingers were holding tightly onto her neck, threatening to pull out the thick, warm fur.

He leant forward as she spun around and sped up from a quick trot to a steady loping gait down the snow-covered road, claws digging into the nearly frozen ground for better purchase. At least she was warm, contradicting the howling wind and the bite of winter.

She roared again, the sound filling the quiet night. Alrey could not help but hear the note of victory in it; she was dragging him away, finally. He merely wondered why she had never made a scene like that before.

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