The Way

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Chapter Four

The sound of a warning growl traveled far enough through the brick and mud to where Caen had been able to hear it. He had made his way into the walled city just a few moments before, unsure what he was even thinking sneaking into a secret city of this size. He had never been this far north, nor had he ever seen a kingdom on any map past the Ancestral Forest. This city felt cold and barren compared to the hilled lands of the Valley. The air here felt bitter and putrid, nothing like the crisp salt air along the beaches of his homeland. He crouched along the slick stone wall, grimacing at the texture. This land was eerie with doom. He could smell the death and depravity in every slab of stone surrounded. This certainly was no home for a descendent of Lupae.

He hurried himself, as quiet at an alley cat through the slosh covered streets. He smelled a vile scent, sour and tangy. It made the hair on his neck stand up.

“A child was born. How fitting for this to happen on the eve of your twentieth unnaming.” A nearby voice hissed, its tongue dragging on the ‘s’.

Caen knew he should not get any closer, but his instincts told him to investigate.

He looked up, and around. Spotting a sign, he could climb to a nearby roof with a large chimney. He silently hoisted himself, holding in the grunt as he struggled to keep a hold of the slippery wood.

Everything here had a slick touch, and that he did not like at all.

He settled himself against the clay chimney, peering around its corner to below the streets. He craned his neck and strained his eyes until he spotted the exact location of who the voice belonged to.

His emerald eyes nearly bulged out of his head at the sight.

A Velosian. Alive.

He had heard legends of this creature, a reptilian man that could shift between the two forms, or merge as one. They had been thought to be long gone, lost to the war.

Its skin was lustrous, pale and frightening against crimson eyes with silted black pupils. The creature blinked horizontally, and the sight alone made Caen want to vomit. It was beyond unnatural; it was disgusting in his eyes.

Blood thirsty freaky things. He stifled the gag forming in his throat.

“Yes, a boy.” Caen perked to her low voice, and how it barely came out louder than a whisper. She was frightened of him.

“The Night prospers.” The creature told her with a smug glint in his eyes.

“The Night prospers.” Her reply was just a breath as she watched him take off into the shadows. Caen angered then. It was obvious she was a hostage, their slave. How had she come to this land, who had she come from?

The Nigh prospers...he wondered what it meant. A promise? A curse? His head was swimming and he honest to God’s felt like he might hurl. He was not queasy in any usual manner, but he had just been a witness to the unthinkable. To the unnatural.

What had a descendent of Lupae done to end up in a place this utterly vile?

Caen lurked in that very spot, waiting for the female to leave. He knew he wanted to follow her, but also knew she likely had a trained ear for anything out of place. He was out of the place. While he waited and listened for complete silence to encompass the area, he thought back to the fog that had led him here. The voice. The feeling in his chest.

He grabbed at his leather studded vest, hand resting right over his pounding heart. Had Lupae himself spoken to Caen? It felt impossible, but also the only possible truth. He was quite possibly one of the two last remaining Lupine’s in all the world. Aeyeon, that he knew of for sure. But what of Criyea? What of this land he had been roaming now for nearly five years since the slaughter of his kin?

Had it been Velosian’s that did it? It all happened in the dead of night, just as he had begun his journey of exile. He was a coward to hide, that guilt he would always carry with him. He hid, forced to crackle of fire as it burned down huts and drowned out the screams of agony and death. He still remembered the wailing of children so vividly. As if the sound was permanently ringing in his ears. He selfishly asked himself what he could have done differently that day. Now he knew the answer, and it was nothing. He could have done nothing. If he had run back to fight, he would not be here to save her. She would have lived out the rest of her life a prisoner. The last female lupine.

His canines flared, nature growling within him with pure, unadulterated rage.

It had to of been his God who brought him to her. His God was showing him the true Way of the Wolf. He was meant to find her and protect her. There was no other Way, only this one. Once he had his mind made up and was sure the young woman was gone, he slipped off the roof and onto the cobblestone. He could feel the slight rise in temperature this icy city allowed in as dawn was breaking and began his mission.

His mind continued to roll around about the possibilities of who she could be. Perhaps the stories were true, and she was the lost princess. But that seemed impossible. The princess had been gone for nearly a hundred years, or so his Gran had said. She would have been well over the life span of a lupine, and not quite as...tight as the young woman he found was.

He shook the thought from his mind, imagining a wrinkly old lupine in her place. She was most certainly not the princess. Perhaps she was born from a rogue, there had been only a few in Aeyeon. The code of the Wolf was all moral, and one that not many broke. He did not know of any deserters, besides himself, off the top of his head. He had not witnessed any in his lifetime.

Perhaps his father would know.

His heart still panged all these years later when his conscious seemed to have a momentary lapse of memory.

He continued down the slick streets, counting the boarded-up houses as he went. He understood how accurate he was when he thought this city smelled of death. It was death, hell on earth to be exact. Only eighteen doors and windows so far had not been boarded up, which told him so far, he only could count twenty or so living mortals. How many had died here, most likely at the hands of the Velosian scum?

It was a strange sight, seeing rows of stucco and mortar built up in a long line, all connected. It was like one giant hut, with doors only a few feet between each other as he walked alongside them. These mortals were cramped together like livestock, and a shudder ran deeply down his spine.

They were livestock.

How had this happened? How had this place existed in the beautiful world that was created by his God and its siblings?

The balance here was wrong, there was no line between good and evil here. It was all evil, down to every crack in the iced crusted stones.

He was angry with himself, with his God. His people. His moral compass was blaring in his mind; save them! Save them all!

But, if there was one Velosian, then there were more. There had to of been. How could he save an entire kingdom of enslaved mortals just by himself? There was no telling at this point if the female was with them or a salve herself. A Lupine’s duty was to keep the balance of nature, and she had no sense of rightful judgement of any kind of balance. If she had, she would not be here. She would not have allowed that reptilian leech to walk away. She would not have allowed these poor mortals to live in such conditions, in such a land.

He kept to the edges of the streets, cutting down alleys and around parked carts. He could not be too sure if the legends of the Velosian’s being nightwalkers were true. The last thing he needed was to get caught just as he began.

He could only think of the Druid’s of Oshiae as his resort for help. He could not do this on his own, but would the peaceful magical monks hear his plea? The questioned blared in his mind as he slipped back up and over the high wall. He landed with a thud, on all fours with his fist pressed into the frozen earth.

There was only one way to find out.

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