I met Fen for the first time sixteen years ago when I went to visit his father. Fen’s adopted father was a noble war hero who I had fought with against the armies of some warlord. The warlord had commanded massive armies and large territory, but I slaughtered him and his armies easily. Back then, Tyr had commanded an entire brigade that I saved from getting wiped out. I really hadn’t even meant to save them, I just wanted to kill that warlord. So much death and fighting. That war had definitely been amusing.
Tyr ended up thanking me for saving his troops’ lives by granting me free reign of the island he protected from that day onward. So, whenever I got bored and there was nothing fun anywhere else, I dropped by to annoy some villagers and see Tyr.
On that particular stormy day, I was bored out of my fur and paid my friend a visit.
When I arrived on the island, the wind roaring off of the frothing waters of the ocean was so fierce it almost snapped my scarf away from me. I staggered, trying to catch my balance in the tearing winds and pounding rain. The lashing rain stung and blinded my eyes and muffled the noise reaching my ears. Lightning crackled above me and thunder boomed in the sky, so loud I felt the rumble in my bones. Instantly, the freezing water soaked me to the bone and froze me to the core. It shocked me that this rain hadn’t frozen to sleet yet. It certainly felt cold enough for that.
I cursed in shock and annoyance and transformed into my fox form. While I would still be wet, my snow-white pelt would do the trick of keeping me at least a little bit warmer. I fluffed up my tails to shake the water out of them and then wrapped them together so they looked like they were only one. My tails got too much in my way when they were all out. It was much easier to act like I only had one.
I squinted into the blue grey around me. The howling wind, dousing water, and rumbling thunder all created an environment where my senses were muffled and dull, more like a human's than a fox. I hated that. I felt weak and pathetic and despised it.
How did humans stand this all the time? I would die before I fell to the level of a human.
I was tempted to turn tail and go somewhere warmer and significantly less miserable, but a voice stopped me before I could.
“Valarian? Is that you?” a voice struggled to reach me over the raging storm. My ears perked up and I turned, flicking water out of my eyes to see a vague figure on the very edge of my obscured vision. I could only make out their outline, made blurry by this ghastly rain. But even though I couldn’t see them well, I knew their voice. Tyr.
I scampered forward, eager to get to Tyr and out of this storm. “Yes, it’s me, Tyr.”
“Thank the Dues,” he said, relief flooding his voice. The fur on my spine rose immediately and I halted in my tracks. Why did Tyr sound so happy to see me? I was under the impression he saw me as partly a friend and mostly a nuisance. He had never sounded that happy to see me before, ever.
“Come with me,” Tyr said to me, turning away from me. I was still on guard, but my desire to stop being so wet outweighed those suspicions. Hoping he was taking me somewhere to get dry, I followed behind the intimidating man’s long strides.
Following a mud-slick trail cut in the fields, we traveled inward from the outer edge of the island and towards the stone-and-mortar house on the outskirts of the town that Tyr and his seven month-old daughter called home. While usually stable, the building looked like the storm was wrecking as much damage on the house as it was on my hearing. Even so, the warm orange glow from cracks in the shutters and door frame promised a warm, crackling fire inside.
The thought of that warmth practically had me drooling. I quickly shut it off. I was a fox. Foxes did not drool.
With determined strides, Tyr opened the door of his house and held it open just long enough for me to get my tail inside before the storm wrenched it from his grip and slammed it shut with a bang loud enough to make me jump.
Inside, the fire crackling in the hearth cast a pleasant light over the rough wooden furniture, a lone chair, table, and bed. A small cradle lay near the fire, its delicate white bars a stark contrast to the masculine edges to the rest of the room. I knew, if I desired to look in that cradle, that I would see the small form of Emily, Tyr’s daughter and the person who murdered his wife when giving birth to her.
Why human mothers died upon childbirth confused me. The other species in the Great Worlds didn’t. So why did humans let their females die? Did they not want their mates to survive? It made no sense, even for one who never desired a mate such as myself.
I shrugged, bored already with that line of thinking. Who cared about dead females, there was a fire! I fluffed up my fur and shook vigorously. Water spread everywhere, flung from my fur like shots from a bow. When I was dry to my satisfaction I turned back to a human and got to work wringing out my clothes. When my scarf wasn’t dripping ice water down my back, I let out a sigh and flung myself in front of the fire.
The warmth instantly infused the cold clothes on my back and heated up my skin with its delicious warmth. My eyes fluttered shut in bliss, and I let out a sigh of contentment as all my muscles relaxed.
“I’m glad you’re here, Valarian.” I cracked open one eye. Tyr’s tone made me think that my relaxation wasn’t going to last long. That did not amuse me.
True to my impression, Tyr didn’t look like a man who was thinking of my comfort. He had a hectic expression on his face and was pacing back and forth the small interior of his hut with increasing speed each time. His dark brown hair was plastered to the sides of his face, his tunic and breeches had turned skintight and water was dripping down every inch of exposed skin but he looked like he couldn’t care less. It was making me feel wet just looking at him.
I sighed deeply. I was not getting out of this easily. What a pain, but I might as well get it over with. “Spit it out, Tyr,” I waved a hand in the air, “I’m about to depart for a warmer climate as soon as I’m dry unless you find a good enough reason to keep me here.”
“No!” Tyr whirled on me. In a flash, he had crossed the room and gripped both of my shoulders in his iron grip. His hands tightened like chains and he lifted me off my feet and to his face. “You can’t leave!” He sounded desperate. More than desperate, like I was his only salvation.
I grimaced, his hands were so tight. It felt like he was trying to break my bones. Anger roared to life within me. No one handled me like this, much less a pathetic mortal human. “Let. Me. GO!” I roared, my foxfire bursting to life around me with my wrath.
Tyr jerked back as the blue blazes rushed to envelope him. I dropped to the ground and crouched, my nails turned into claws and dug into the stone. “Never do that again,” I snarled, my mouth filling up with my fangs. “I don’t care who you are, I’ll kill you!”
Tyr winced, but he still moved like the trained warrior he was. In a move as fast and deadly as the lightning outside, he unsheathed the sword on his back and sliced through my fire. A normal sword wouldn’t have been able to make a dent in my foxfire. Unfortunately, the sword he was using was made of superior. Superior was, without a doubt, the strongest metal on the face of any Great World. Made from combining each of the Deadly Metals with enchantments, there were only a handful of Supernatural craftspeople who could make it. Swords made of this metal were powerful, able to cut through anything, and cursed as heck.
Those swords, while granting the user power beyond imagination, also granted untold suffering and pain to those same users. I had always admired Tyr for having the guts to wield a superior sword, even if it wasn’t one of the Holy Swords.
Still didn’t mean I wouldn’t kill him.
He had hurt me, he had to pay.
I twitched one of my fingers and the fire curved around his blade and behind him. Tyr’s eyes flickered to the side and he leaped out of the path of fire. The blue flames arced through the air and back to me, hovering in orbs around me as I glared at him. Suddenly, the heat at my back felt more like hands urging me forward to the kill than a sweetly enveloping warmth.
“Val, stop,” Tyr said, holding out a hand to me. I paused, retracting some of my fangs and leaving only my canines elongated. What did he want? It had better be good to stop me from retaliating and burning down his entire village. “I’m sorry for grabbing you, I overreacted. But I do really need you to stay here and hear me out.” He sheathed his sword and held up his hands in surrender. “Please. Stay here and I’ll owe you a favor.”
A favor, huh? That had the potential to be amusing. Favors curried with an Otherworlder like me were impossible to break and incredibly useful. Having a favor owed from one such as Tyr would be more useful to me than killing him.
My eyes stayed narrowed, but I got up out of my crouch and extinguished my foxfire. I would take the deal, but Tyr still had better have a good reason for keeping me here or this storm wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen to this island today. “Fine I accept your deal. What is it you want me here for?”
“Look.” Tyr walked over to the crib and waved me over. I grimaced, I was not in the mood to look at some kid. But I did want this to be over with. With great reluctance, I made my way over to the crib, and glanced in.
Inside were two bundles of fur and cloth instead of one.
“Did you get another spawn?” I asked Tyr. I did not understand humans. Tyr was having enough trouble with one. Why would he want another?
“No,” Tyr shook his head. He reached in and gently picked up one of the bundles, the one wrapped in grey fur. A musty scent tickled my nose and I inhaled automatically. That child was wrapped in the fur of a wolf. Odd, but so were humans. “I found him,” Tyr told me. “Today. Out in that storm, laughing.”
Well, I didn’t know a lot about human spawn, but I was almost certain they didn’t do that. “So why are you showing me this particular human spawn?” I asked.
“Because he isn’t human.”
I stared at Tyr with no emotion. “And you know that, how? Humans aren’t exactly the most magic sensitive of all species.” Diresion dripped from my voice, spurred on by my annoyed state of mind. I had come here to annoy the villagers and ended up soaked and injured. I was not having a good time.
“Look,” Tyr knelt by me, and moved around the fur covering the child’s face. I flicked my gaze down, expecting to dismiss the child as human immediately. I sucked in a breath as my gaze caught and held on the child’s features. Piercing yellow eyes, pointed ears, and skin unlike any in this region of the world.
More than definitely not a human. Tyr was right.
“He may not be human, but I still don’t see why you need me,” I told Tyr with a sneer. Now I was more annoyed than before. I did not like being wrong.
Tyr looked up at me, his eyes shining with worry. “I said I found him, but that’s not totally right. The village elder actually found him first. Lying in the middle of the village totally at the mercy of the storm. The elder was so shocked he summoned the Norns.” If I was in fox form, my ears would be pricked. Now that was intriguing. The Norns were fae who lived in the Middleworld and gave prophecies for any who summoned them. They were not creatures to be summoned lightly. Perhaps this child could be good for my amusement after all.
“And?” I asked, looking back to the child and his eyes. They reminded me of something, but I wasn’t sure what. They weren’t fox eyes, they were something else.
“They gave a prophecy,” Tyr’s voice grew soft. I looked back to his face and almost jumped back from the anguish in his eyes. It was all-consuming, spilling forth from his soul and into his eyes. I had never seen a human look so utterly, heart-breakingly defeated.
“A prophecy?” I quickly looked away from him. His expression was scaring me. I had never seen emotion that deep, it made my chest ache. I didn’t like it. I met the child’s eyes again and jerked back again.
I knew where I had seen eyes like those before.
Tyr told me the prophecy and my brain shut down. All I could hear were those horrible words spelling out a cruel and merciless fate and all I could see were the child’s bright yellow eyes.
The eyes of a wolf.