“There you are, Val,” Emily said with a wide smile as I entered the small house Fen’s family called home. The inside had not changed much in sixteen years, the only differences were the small bouquets of wildflowers sitting on the table and sills. Emily had brought them in to quote, ‘lighten up the place’. I found they at least lessened the smell of wolf over everything.
“The food’s getting cold, so you’d better eat up.” Emily, by human standards, was quite nice to look at. Milky skin, long brown hair, and blue eyes set in a soft heart-shaped face. She was pretty, but not aggressively so. Her happy attitude and perpetual kindness reminded me of a flower in spring, so beautiful you always wanted it to be near.
“I’ll pass,” I replied dismissively, leaning against the wall near the window. I had never been partial to flowers, too fragile for my taste.
The soft breeze blowing in from the window ruffled my hair and tickled my nose with the scent of humans and smoke in the nearby village. How long had it been since I was there to amuse myself in their borders? So much to annoy, so little time to do it. Especially now.
“But Val,” Emily protested, her lips drawn in a pout. “You need to eat.”
“Yeah, Val,” Fen said through a stuffed mouth. “This food won’t eat itself.”
I narrowed my gaze on the two of them, “We’ve been over this before. Unlike you pathetic mortal beings, I do not need to eat to live.”
Emily sighed, her face crestfallen. “No good again, huh?” I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye to see her gripping the cloth of her indigo dress in her hands. A determined look stole over her crestfallen expression. “One of these days, I will make something you want to eat. Just watch!”
“Don’t bet on it,” I muttered, turning my attention back to the field outside the house.
“You don’t have to listen to that old man,” Fen told Emily. I twitched at the insult, but chose to overlook it. “You make the best grub around, Em! Val doesn’t know what he’s missing!”
I assumed I wasn’t missing much. While I did not have to eat to survive, I did do it for fun sometimes. Nothing I had ever sampled prompted me to want to eat on any regular basis. Emily’s cooking would be no different, of that I was sure.
“What are you doing on the island anyhow, Val?” Emily asked, back to kindness. “Did you come to see Fen?”
“Partly,” I kept my response short as to prompt less conversation. “I’m mostly here to talk to Tyr.”
“I think Father’s out on a hunt right now,” Emily mused, “He said he wouldn’t be back until later.”
I gritted my teeth and pushed off from the window. “Then I’ll find him myself.” I was here for a reason and I did not want to wait. Finding him would be no hard task for one like me.
“Have fun, I guess,” Fen sighed, “I think Father’s in the mainland great plains hunting grimm.”
So there were more grimm than there should be on those lands? The Great Beasts weren’t guarding the portals well at all. Not good. Grimm were powerful black dog-like creatures from the Underworld whose claws and fangs could rend souls and who hunted in packs. If they were running wild in the Middleworld, then this was even more of a reason to talk to Tyr. “Thank you,” I nodded, transformed into a fox, and jumped out the window. I called up my foxfire and dove into it, forcing it to burn away the surface of the world so I could dive between the spaces of the worlds. Traveling this way was a gift that I alone possessed. A new ability the Elders could not replicate. It was something that made me just a little more independent from them. Which meant they hated it with every fiber in their beings.
I rode the blue fire until I recognized the point where the land of the plains met with this between-space and burned through that to the plains. I reappeared in a burst of blue fire.
I landed lightly, and cast around to get my bearings. It appeared I had landed in a patch of barren, scorched earth in the plains. Around me, the formerly lustrous golden grass was bent and broken. The stalks were mangled beyond repair, scorched, and blackened from fire. Barren patches in the land where the earth had been violently exposed littered the once-great terrain. The scent of burned flesh and blood was thick in the air, the final stoke in this gruesome mosaic.
This wasn’t the plains anymore, this was a battleground where they had once stood.
What had happened here? What battle had been fought that I had not been aware of? This level of destruction was impressive. It spoke of strength greater than that of which the humans possessed. Which only meant that this was a battle involving the Supernaturals.
I had to find Tyr, and fast.
I called up my fire and swirled it underneath me so that I rose into the air. Another of my powers, though this one was given to me by my predecessors. I flew through the crisp air of the sky, the scent of blood wiped clean from my senses. My fur was pressed against my body, the wind sent my ears flat against my head, but I could not slow down or stop. I had to find Tyr, I had to know what was going on. Was this further proof of what the Elders already suspected? Or was it simply one battle in millions fought between the ever-warring species of the Great Worlds.
My flight took me quickly over the decimated plains and into an area less destroyed, here the wild grasses of the plans were growing safely, freed from the carnage of their fellows. Their yellow stalks looked from the sky as if the ground was covered in a carpet of swaying gold.
My sharp gaze zeroed in on several black shapes surrounding one brown shape below me in the middle of this carpet. It appeared that the brown shape was fighting against the black ones.
Tyr! It had to be, no one else was stupid enough to take on a pack of grimm on their own. Quickly, I shot downwards towards the shapes, which rapidly expanded into Tyr and the remains of a pack of grimm. A ball of foxfire ignited in my palm and I threw it into the fray, sending the black Paranormal dogs up in blue flames.
They cried out in agony as the flames burned away at their flesh and furr. By the time I had landed as a human, they were all dead.
“Valarian,” Tyr greeted when I turned around. “I take it Fen and Emily told you where to find me?” His tunic and breeches were splattered with the black blood of Paranormals and his own ruby blood from a myriad of wounds on his person. He swung his blade back and forth in two clean strokes and sheathed it on his back. Despite his battered condition, he looked like he was in no pain. I wondered, briefly, how much discipline it had taken him to get to that point.
“They told me you would be coming back later,” I replied. “I could not wait that long.”
“Oh?” Tyr raised an eyebrow at me. “And why would that be? Why would the great Fifth Fox care so much about one human that he would go out of his way to find them?”
I didn’t react to the barb, “What happened back there? What battle was fought?”
Tyr didn’t have to ask me to clarify. He sighed, his gaze older and darker than men twice his age, “What happened was that the Enlightened Ones attacked a battalion of the Northern Army and slaughtered them all.”
I cursed under my breath. Gabriel was getting cocky. The military strength of his angels and other Enlightened Ones was strong, yes. After all, they were the foremost military force in any of the Great Worlds. The denizens of the world of light obeyed Gabriel without question, even when he attacked the humans without reason. But if he continued this path, he risked upsetting the Balance and having the Great Beasts set it right themselves. Although...with a blast of icy fear, I realized that if what the Elders had told me was correct, then possibly the Balance wouldn’t be kept after all.
“Did the humans provoke them at all?” I asked, hoping that that was the case.
“Of course not,” Tyr shook his head. “Since when do the Armies of Light require any reason to attack the humans?”
“Since never,” I muttered. Curse that Gabriel, did he somehow know already? He may have been one of the Dues Kings, the leader of his respective world, but that didn’t mean he had endless intelligence resources. At least, I could only hope that was the case.
“They’ll lie low for a while, though,” Tyr continued, his voice grave, “Even Gabriel doesn’t risk the wrath of the Great Beasts.”
“Actually,” I interrupted, bringing Tyr's wandering gaze back to me, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. The Elders have a task for me.”
Tyr shook his head, “I never thought I’d see the day you obeyed anyone’s orders.”
I curled my lips into something that wasn’t quite a smile, “I am the Sword and Servant of the Foxes. My will is not my own where my creators are concerned.” And oh, how I loathed that fact. “Regardless, what they told me concerns you as well. Have you noticed an unrest in the Middleworld as of late?”
“Yes,” Tyr nodded, looking off into the distance like the answers to his problems would appear over the horizon if he stared long enough. “I have. There are more wild creatures not born of the Middleworld stalking its lands. I have heard of more conflicts between races as well. Tell me, is something wrong?”
“The Elders have told me that they believe we are on the cusp of something terrible,” I said, “They believe that the worlds have finally upset the Balance beyond repair and that the Great Beasts will be punishing us for it.”
“Punishing us how?” Tyr’s voice was darker than ever before. I knew that he was truly grasping the implications of this horror. Out of all of the humans I knew, Tyr knew the most of the conflicts between worlds and what it was like to be a Supernatural. His reality was rife with magic and he was more sensitive to it than any other human I had ever crossed paths with.
“I am not sure,” I shook my head. “That is my task. To discover the truth behind the Elders words and to see what calamity is to befall the Great Worlds.”
“And what does that mean for you?” Tyr asked, sounding worried. Was that worry for my sake? Laughable. I was not a creature to be worried for. I was a sword, a fox, a wild thing, I was not something for a being like Tyr to worry for.
“It means that I will be tracking down respective Great Beasts and dragging the truth from them,” I informed him simply. This was not a task I was looking forward to. I avoided fighting the Great Beasts because they were the only creatures in any of the Great Worlds that had the potential to beat me. I was immortal, but the Great Beasts were something else entirely. They possessed a power unlike any in the rest of the worlds.
Beating something, for the first time in my long, long life, was no longer a matter of certainty.