Direwolf:Book 1 of The Forbidden Aura Saga

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~Xeto Alcazar When the sudden growth of otherworldly events throughout the Allied Kingdoms turn violent, the Loridian Demon-Hunt unit known as Direwolf is sent to investigate a sudden collection of disappearances at a nearby crossroads. With the rise of demon sightings reaching an apex, newly promoted Direwolf Commander; Xeto Alcazar and his Sniper-Knightess; Rebecca Orvein embark on a journey that sparks hostility with Zuland, a neighboring kingdom. The duo reunites with old friends and make new enemies as their pursuit leads them across the continent. Now they fight to stop the embers of conflict from igniting a war with Zuland whilst attempting to find the truth behind the demon scourge. ~Sara Eshlon As the heiress to the Kingdom of Zuland; Sara Eshlon wishes for nothing more than a new era of peace. Though her pursuit for amity is threatened when an assassination attempt is made on her life the day of her coronation. After surviving the attack, Sara learns of a secret plot that aims to see her rule brought to an end. Though the failed assassination proved to be only the foundation of newly born problems as the dead begin to return to life as otherworldly creatures that soon plague the entire continent. Now Sara is forced to end those her oppose her crown through any means whilst trying to find out the truth of who or what wishes her dead... and why

Fantasy / Adventure
Age Rating:

Chapter 1: An Inn for Demons

Kingdom of Loradel, Owlen Forest, Present day.

The horizon was a deep shade of orange. The sun cowered behind the northern mountains.
Xeto walked the narrow path dirt path as he rubbed at his neck. This was not what he thought he would be doing after being promoted to Knight-Commander. A year’s service as a scout for the kingdom of Loradel and the highest demon kill count in the northern edge seemingly meant nothing to the higher ups. His palm rested on his blade’s hilt, as he ran eyes across every tree, shrub and bush that surrounded the dirt road. He knocked on the bark the nearest tree. “Rebecca, anything?”
“Looks clear,” called out his companion from the tree above. “Another pointless scouting job.” Her voice broke through the canopy of thick leaves that hid her from view. Thin snapped branches fell from above as she moved through the green maze of hedging.
Xeto sighed. “Alight then let’s get moving. No point in wasting our time here.”
“Aye, sir.” His lieutenant lifted a cloud of dirt as she landed beside him. Her short natural stone-colored hair was lifted by a passing wind. She looked up at him before taking a bite from an unknown fruit. “Mmm. Want one, Commander?” She presented another one of the foreign fruits in her palm as she chewed with a smile.
The apple-sized pod had a soft mushroom-like texture but an uninviting velvet fuzz on its outer layer.
“What is that?” He answered, raising an eyebrow.
“Not fully aware—but it tastes good.” The fruit’s juices trickled down the side of her lip.
“I’m not hungry.”
“If it’s poisonous then we’ll fall together. Here.” She tossed it to him.
He kept his hands on his sides, letting it to bounce off his black iron chest plate and burst as it hit the floor. The dirt turned to mud as it absorbed the velvet moisture.
Rebecca’s emerald eyes were glossy, as if she was close to tears. “You’re not very adventurous, are you aware of that?” She pouted before taking another bite of her own meal. “Your loss.” She pulled on the strap of the sniper that hung off her back, its blue steel shining bright in the sunlight.
Xeto beckoned her to follow as he continued down the path. A ting of guilt pierced his thoughts. Was he really such a stone? He had known many that were just like his lieutenant; joyful and almost always wore a smile, no matter the situation. But he never understood the reason. Why bother with jests and doing things out of the ordinary in the sake of remaining entertained? They were on a job, doing such things would only increase the likeliness of them falling into danger because of their unawareness.
“Feeling guilty for letting that treat go to waste, huh?” she teased, as if reading his thoughts.
“No,” he lied. “Focus, Rebecca.”
She ran ahead of his path, her blue shawl flowed freely in the wind. She chuckled and turned to face him, pacing backwards. “Commander, we rarely get any time to rest between jobs. Demons are a rarity as it stands—more so since we’re within the border. We’ve cleaned up the everything on the northern side, not many others can say the same. We should be doing more than investigating simple complaints.”
He paused on the thought and nodded. She was right, he was tired of being used like a common foot soldier when he was capable of so much more. “I suppose you’re right. But someone has to do this.”
She put up a countering finger. “Someone also has to clean out the camp’s chamber pots. Are you going to volunteer for that too?”
He couldn’t deny her smile as he let out a hesitant chuckle.
“Look, he can smile.” She turned her back to him and matched his pace so that they were no shoulder to shoulder. “If I had the choice…I’d rather be back at the outpost right now.” Her shoulders slumped as her eyes locked on the ground.
“Why’s that?” he asked, regardless of already knowing the answer.
Her voice was almost a whisper now. “More and more refugees every other day. They no doubt walk for days just to reach our outpost only to find out its no better than the homes they left behind. I want to use my time caring for them there. At the very least, I would hope the kingdom would send some provisions to help. I can’t imagine how it must be to be forced out of your home.”
Her words awakened the memories of his time as refugee. His chest felt heavy just as it did then. Living a life on the road alongside his elder brother, Roxas. Having to continue onward not knowing what lied ahead. Unaware if they would eat that day. Unaware if they would spend the night on straw or stone, or if they would have to walk through the night to reach the next safe destination. Roxas always said it was best to remain on the road, having no home meant one less thing to lose. At the age of nineteen he took jobs as a sword-for-hire and left simpler tasks like being a farmhand to Xeto. In exchange they got either shelter or coin, which was more than enough. “You always did your best to take of us,” he mumbled.
“What was that, Commander?”
Xeto snapped back as he realized he had voiced his thoughts aloud. “Nothing.”
“Sorry, I know that you spent some of your years at the world’s mercy.”
His lips parted. “How did you—”
“People talk. Though much of what is said are rumors. I know you have your reasons for not sharing, Commander.” She kept her head low.
Something gnawed at him, forcing him to fashion a way to get a smile back on her face. “Don’t worry yourself. After this job is done, I’ll treat you to a tankard—maybe help some of the refugees.”
His mission was accomplished as her smile returned. “Thanks, Commander. A year and a half under your order and I never thought I’d see you drunk.”
His lips curved slightly. “Pull those reigns back, I never said I would get drunk.”
Rebecca raised eyebrow. “Scared I’d outdo you?” She had her arms out as if painting on an invisible canvas. “Xeto Alcazar: The Wolf in Black Armor, the holder of some of the most honorable badges given to the Demon-Hunt, youngest hunter gifted the rank of ‘Commander’, but alas, he’s a milk-drinker.”
To his own surprise, he smiled once more. How was it that the only person who could break his stale frown was her? His grip on his hilt loosened. Perhaps she was right, just a little bit of respite wouldn’t hurt. He found himself asking the same question time and time again when with her. Why do you choose to follow me… knowing what happened…
“Here we are,” said Rebecca as they stood at the center of where two dirt paths intersected. “What are the details of the job?”
Dirt crunched under Xeto’s boots as he came to a halt. “Nothing solid, just that some travelers and merchants had gone missing around this area.”
“Your orders?”
He pointed into a thicket just off the road. “Check the forest for any signs of demon activity. You know how what we’re looking for.”
“Aye, sir.” She unholstered one of two elegantly-crafted revolvers that rested in a holster on her lower back. It glistened in the sunlight as she spun the cylinder, assuring every chamber held a bullet. The hammer clicked into place as she pulled it back.
His hand instinctively found its way back on his sword’s hilt. “Don’t tread too deep.”
She confirmed his order with a nod.
The surrounding forest appeared the same from all sides. A few large stones wearing blankets of moss, trees with cobwebs tied within the branches and bushes that were dead or dying.
Xeto stepped over the shrubbery, heading in the opposite direction from his lieutenant. The dried bushes scraped against his boots and legs the further he walked, making him more appreciative that he wore full body armor except for a helm. Seconds turned to minutes as he paced around the maze of trees looking for a sign of disturbance. It could have been anything from dried blood, claw marks, broken twigs or disturbed soil. But to his dismay, there was none. A part of him welcomed the idea that there weren’t any demons within the kingdom’s border. Yet a slight pit of emptiness formed in his chest. It was almost like a hunger, a hunger to swing his blade once more. It had been weeks since he had the chance to wet his sword, enough so that even unsheathing it felt foreign at times. He shrugged to no one in particular, maybe Rebecca had a something. He put two fingers in his mouth and let out a short whistle.
Not three seconds had passed before another two-part whistle pierced the air in the distance.
Xeto recognized the chirp. It was Rebecca’s response that meant ‘No Threat’, or in this instance, no signs of demons. He made his way back onto the lifeless road. Rebecca appeared from behind a tree and shrugged. “Nothing. Have any thoughts?”
“Some.” He put a hand on his chin. Much like wildlife, demons left traces of their hunt behind. Seeing as nothing presented itself, it was more likely that what they were looking for were humans.
Rebecca’s soft gaze remained locked on his, unblinking as she patiently waited for a response.
Xeto broke away as he started down the path once more. “My only guess is slavers.”
“That’s an equally as rare occurrence ever since it was outlawed by the Allied Kingdoms.”
“Actually, only three of the four Allied Kingdoms banned it,” he corrected. “Loradel was one of them, but I doubt it was enough.” He squinted at something in the distance. A closer look revealed a structure.
A building appeared on the side of the road ahead. It was nearly overtaken by the surrounding trees, all but the entrance at least. It had no distinctive values; hay roof, grey stone walls painted green with moss, and door looked like it would topple down with a gentle breeze. An old carving above the door read The Widow’s Lodge.
“An inn all the way out here?” said Xeto.
The building was riddled with cracks, and the windows were fogged with dust. It seemed like the elements and the owner himself had not been kind to it.
Rebecca crossed her arms. “Reminds me of my uncle Benjin’s home.”
Xeto looked down at her. “How so?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never been there.”
He raised an eyebrow.
She threw up her hands defensively “What? It matches what I’ve heard from my brothers.” She pointed to the old wooden door. “The Widow’s Lodge. You could promise me the riches of Hallos and I still wouldn’t lay a night here.” Her nose wrinkled. “Looking at it makes me want to bathe.”
Xeto sighed. Another luxury they didn’t have at the moment. “Maybe the owner has some insight on the disappearances.” He motioned her to follow.
“By your orders, Commander,” she said unamused.
The stench of ale assaulted his senses as he opened the door.
The inn was as expected, a large room filled with grime-infested tables and stools that looked like they were made by an infant-woodcrafter. At a table a burly man cradled his head in one hand, and with the other, ran his finger along the rim of a tankard. At the opposite corner was a skinny man whose snores could be heard from across the room; a lute rested on his stained trousers.
Rebecca’s eyes watered from the stench. She pulled her cloak over her nose. “Gods forbid they open a window. I hate the smell of cardnel ale.”
“Oi! What’s all this blabber now?” The voice came from fat woman behind counter from the end of the room. Her apron was covered in stains and her hair was as untidy as a sparrow’s nest.
I expected nothing less. “Apologies…” He cleared his throat. “…Madam. She meant no disrespect.” He closed in on counter and planted his hand on it, instantly regretting it as he felt a warm slime coat his glove. “Are you the hostess of this inn?”
She picked up a tankard from the counter and began to wipe at it with a filthy tarp. “Bet your gold I am. Name’s Turla. And that good-for-nothing over there is my husband, Benurd.” She bobbed her head toward burly man at the table.
“Husband?” asked Rebecca. “But your inn is named The—”
“I know what it’s called. The way my husband drinks I soon will be a widow.” She propped herself forward. “Ya hear me, you fat hunk of shite! You’re going to drink yourself into an early grave!”
Xeto fidgeted with the hilt of his blade while avoiding eye contact with woman.
Rebecca snickered. “He’d be doing himself a favor,” she whispered.
“Ah, you never listen to me anyway.” Turla returned focus back to the knights. “So, what is it you two need? Lodging? For pairs it’s twenty silver for the night.” She eyed him down. “Try not to break my beds, will ya? Oh—and no moaning like it’s the best you ever had. The last youths I hosted—”
Xeto felt his face grow warm. “No! No. We’re not here for uh…that. We’re knights from Lunodio outpost back south. My name is Xeto Alcazar, commander of Direwolf, a Demon-Hunt unit.” He held a hand out to his lieutenant. “This is Rebecca Orvein, my second. We caught wind that there have been recent disappearances around here.”
Turla leaned closer, enhancing the stench of ale.
Xeto held his breath, trying not to gag at the smell.
“Awfully young to be demon hunters, aye?” She eyed Rebecca’s revolvers that were at her waist and waved it off. “Never mind it. Well, recently some merchants traveling from Viofell came by not long ago claiming to be attacked by some monsters. They even wanted a night here free of charge, said they lost their coin, ya believe that? Cheap dirt-worths. And merely yesterday, Tonnel was found dead just up road.”
“Tonnel?” echoed Xeto.
“Everyone knows Tonnel. A regular of mine. Though you must think me a fool if you expect me to believe demons did it. Man drank ale like it was water. He just drowned in his bottle if ya ask me.” She smacked her lips. “‘Tis a shame though. He was good for the money. He once—”
“When did these attacks start?” interrupted Xeto. Had he not, she’d go on to share her life’s story, no doubt.
She rubbed at her temple. “My guess is a week or so ago—Aye! Don’t touch that!” Turla pointed her sausage of a finger to Rebecca who stood at the end of the counter, a gilded gold sphere in her hand.
“What is this?” asked Rebecca, she seemed lost in its radiant shine and odd markings.
“Nothing of yours.” Turla leaned over the counter and snatched it.
Rebecca reached out but quickly pulled her hand back. Her gazed locked on the orb like a child whose toy was just taken away. “I…Never mind.” She shook her head at a loss for words.
Odd. Xeto gripped his blade. “What is that?” he repeated.
“Some relic, suppose,” said Turla, as she held it close.
“Where did you get it?
“Benurd found it within the week.”
Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “Wait. What if it has a connection to the deaths? Maybe it’s cursed,” she teased before putting out an open palm.
Turla quickly pulled it away with both hands cupped around it as she snarled. “You sound mad, slattern.” Cursed or not this is a solid piece of steel and it’s going to buy me a way out of this filth.”
Rebecca shot her a glare. Not an emotion she’d often show. “If people are being killed because of this, then we can’t have it roaming about. All we want is to observe it. We’re doing this to protect you.”
Turla gritted her teeth. “There’s always bandit raids up north. Sometimes loads of my ingredients get snatched. Where is the Kingdom of Loradel then, huh? But suddenly I have a something with value and here you are.”
Where is this coming from? Xeto stepped between them. “We’re not here for missing ingredients, we’re here to put an end to whatever it is causing people to vanish into the wind—”
“You too eh?” She cradled the orb closer to her chest. “Out with you two. Never needed the kingdom’s help before and I don’t need it now.”
Droplets of sweat formed on Xeto’s palms. The threat of a headache wasn’t far. “How about barter? Fifty silver suns?”
The large woman clenched her teeth as she eyed him up and down. “What do you take me for? Fifty silver is dirt these days.”
He mirrored her glare. “I won’t go any higher.”
“You don’t know how life is out here!” Her voiced echoed throughout the room. “You don’t have the—”
There was a thundering blast as the entrance window shattered into pieces.
Xeto quickly covered himself from the incoming glass.
Rebecca followed suit, ducking behind him.
Sunlight leaked into the dark room. The bard from before was now wide awake. Eyes full of shock he clutched his lute tightly.
Xeto pulled his sword from its sheath. His mouth went dry when he looked through the fractured window.
On the other side was a monstrosity. A being that looked like a hybrid of man and titan. The hulking figure wore shattered tidbits of armor and torn rags. Its face was covered by a black stitched executioner’s hood. It held up its weapon, an axe three times larger than the size of man. At the end of its hilt was two large curved spikes.
“The demons have come! Oh, gods please no!” Turla held up her shaking hands, dropping the orb to the ground.
Rebecca was on her feet in seconds. Magicarm revolver drawn, she met Xeto’s gaze but for a second.
He gave her a quick nod as a confirmation to fire. Through the sound of bullets, he yelled. “All of you, get out of here!”
Suddenly the beast vanished into the air, gone like the wind. Only flakes of ash remained where it once stood.
What in solitude just happened?
A deep growl came from behind them.
His heart froze over as he arched his head back to find the beast now inside the building.
It took hold of Rebecca, lifting her from her neck.
She gagged aloud before training her revolver at the beast’s head. She fired.
Its cranium jutted back from the blow. It groaned aloud before it tossed her aside like a ragdoll.
She landed on a table, shattering it to pieces.
“Rebecca!” His cries were cut short as the demon brought his axe down. He ducked just in time to dodge the rusted steel.
The demon’s eye was now visible, a red glowing light emerged from where Rebecca landed the shot.
Xeto backstepped in attempts to maintain his distance. Its lifeless glare sent a shrill down his spine. There was no way he could get close enough, not with that axe in play. What is this thing? He was going to have to resort to aura. To magic. He exhaled, forming a black crystal at his palm.
The demon shook the building as it stomped towards him.
Xeto swung his arm, shooting the crystal forward. It dug into the demon’s neck with a small splat of blood with no resolve.
Within a second it was upon him again. Its ice-cold hand gripped at throat and lifted him from the ground.
The pressure. He gasped for what little air he could as he swung his blade across the beast’s arm.
Thuuume! A miracle came as a bullet hit its forearm. A geyser of crimson burst from the point of impact.
He felt the pressure around his neck dissipate as he tumbled to the sea of splinters at his feet.
The demon let out vicious growl, reminiscent of anger rather than pain. It looked down at him, towering above like a storm cloud. Then it jerked his head toward his assailant.
A fresh cut decorated Rebecca’s lip as she stood rifle in hand. “Commander!?”
The beast took no second for granted as he stomped toward his new target, chairs and tables reduced to chips under its weight.
No! Xeto tongue went numb. He gritted his teeth as he got back to his feet. In seconds black particles of aura wrapped around the black steel of his sword, encasing it in a dark violet crystal “Damn demon…”
Thuuume! Thuuume! Two more shots from Rebecca made the beast tumble a step back.
This was his chance. He plunged his blade forward. It ricocheted off of the beast’s back, like steel to a stone.
“What?” Xeto’s eyes widened. Why didn’t it pierce?
Ignoring him, the demon was inches away from Rebecca. It readied his axe.
It swung, ripping the air with the rusted steel.
His heart halted. A second came and passed. He blinked rapidly.
The demon had stopped its blade inches away from her and had its gaze focused on ground.
Rebecca leapt a few feet away and pulled the bolt of her sniper, loading another round into the chamber. She fired.
It landed successfully in the demon’s cheek. No reaction. Not even a groan of pain. Its blood dripped onto the wood.
Xeto now noticed what the demon had its eye locked on.
On the ground was the gold orb, coated in a layer of dust.
The beast knelt down as its armor clanked aloud. A cloud of ash formed around it as it took ahold of the sphere. In a blink cloud was gone, and with it…the demon.

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