Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
Rocks jutted up from the soil and the bright rays of twilight shining off of their surfaces made it look like they were covered in blood. The pale yellow stalks of prairie grasses covered the landscape as far as the eye could see, blowing softly in the harsh, acridic winds of deserts miles off. Twisted limbs of trees too used to having little water stretched to the sky, the few leaves on their bone-pale branches rustling softly. The scent of desert and rust tickled my nose, brought to me from the winds. Crickets chirped loudly in the descending darkness, their buzzing filling the air with nature’s song.
Though the sound was not loud enough to drown out the growling emanating from the creature high up on the rock ledge in front of me. The sun behind it shone in my eyes and only allowed the creature’s black silhouette to be seen. Though, I didn’t need to see it to know what it looked like.
The long, wiry body, the triangular ears sitting atop a grinning canine face, the pelt of red-orange and grey whose patterns shifted every time you looked at him were as familiar to me as my own fur. Once, we had been friends, amusing ourselves at the expense of the people living here on these plains. Now, we were enemies, two tricksters caught in someone else’s conflict.
The creature snarled, the growls growing louder and seeping into my bones. I tightened my grip on the black weapon in my hands. The light of the sunset glinting off of the indigo blade of my scythe, Vulnus.
Was it really just hours ago that I had summoned it for the first time in years for this fight? Was it really just a day ago I had spoken with Tyr about my mission? Was I really fighting this Great Beast in the name of my masters?
The creature leaped at me from its perch, its fangs glinting with my silver blood as it lunged. I rolled away from it and swept up my scythe in an arc as perfect as the moon, cutting into its flank and sending red blood spurting into the sky. I whirled, my boots ripping grass from the ground as the creature howled to the sky, a cry of pain and anger ripped from within.
We had been fighting like this for hours, neither of us making a dent in the other. How could we? One of us was immortal by his creators’ making and the other was as old as the worlds and intricately connected with them. The battle we were fighting, did it even have an end?
Could I hope for one? For a way to leave this wretched mission and my loathsome masters and return to my solitude and freedom? I snarled at my own foolish thoughts. As long as I bore this name, there would be no freedom from my masters for me. My anger turned to energy for this fight. I had no choice, I would win this. I had to.
I leaped into the air, my foxfire swirled around me and whirling towards the canine on the ground. It didn’t move and my foxfire slammed into it. A lesser being than me might think that a hit like that would do my opponent in.
They would be wrong. A mocking, canine laugh echoed off of the rocks surrounding us. As my flames blew away, I could see that the creature had turned from flesh and blood into something resembling colored red and orange smoke. The smoke swirled into the sky straight for me, reforming into the creature, its maw wide open as it sank its fangs into my arm, pulling me back to the earth.
We slammed into the ground with bone-crushing force. The force was so intense, my arm was dragged from its socket and I was thrown away from my opponent.
I cursed when I saw the ragged state of where my arm used to be. Pressing my hands into it, I summoned my powers and a new arm grew from the stump until it was just like new.
“Hah!” the creature laughed at me, his tawny eyes glinting like spoiled honey. He was so cocky he thought he could get away with taunting me instead of attacking. “So this is all the great White Fox can do against me? You may wield the Soul-Rending Scythe, but what do you expect to do against the truly powerful Great Beasts if you can’t even beat me?”
I snarled, anger snapping within me like sparks over a fire at the taunts. “What do you know, you mangy dog? I can defeat you and you will answer me.”
“Dog?” it echoed, its grin growing wider, “Is that any way to speak to your friend, Valarian? I thought we had something, tricking the people of the plains together. The coyote and the fox, a match made in paradise.”
I swung my scythe up, the blade glinting. Coyote’s smile grew wider as he watched it. “I must learn the truth of the breaking Balance,” I said, and it was true. Not just for my masters, but for me as well. “You will tell me or I will make you.”
“A Sidhe like you does not deserve to know the truth,” Coyote laughed, prancing back and forth in the grass in front of me, stretching his neck up to the sky like he was howling, “All the creatures of this world will be punished for their actions. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, order for chaos, and chaos for blood.”
The haunting words chilled me the core. What did that even mean? Order for chaos, chaos for blood.
I understood the first part, more or less. That was the role the Great Beasts served in the Great Worlds. They brought order back from bloodshed. When conflicts between the races popped up and didn't end in fairness, the Great Beasts served to fix that imbalance.
But now...now they weren't. They had stopped trying to fix the Balance, letting the Great Worlds fall to chaos for something we had done.
Suddenly, with frightening clarity, I understood. The Great Worlds were going to descend into chaos for all of the blood we spilled. It was our punishment for the defilement of these worlds. But what sort of chaos? Did Coyote even know, or was he too weak to be able to read the magic like that? I had no way to know short of beating him into submission.
But, if I couldn’t even beat him, what chance did I have to truly defeat the Master Beasts? The World Serpent Jormungar, the Unicorn, the Sphinx Queen, the Thunderbird, the Nian. All of them were powerful, all beyond my grasp. The only way to defeat them was through their weaker comrades like Coyote. To take the master beasts, I had to take Coyote now, while I still had the chance.
Right now, there was one way to beat him. I had to trap him, force him to submit to me. The magic would recognize that as a victory for me. I was at a disadvantage in this fight because I couldn’t kill him. Not out of anything as pathetically mortal as mercy, but because I needed him to be alive to talk.
Besides, even I wasn’t reckless enough to become a Beast Slayer. Those that killed or consumed the flesh of the chosen beasts of magic would be forever forsaken by magic. Left to live without magic of any kind. A horrible fate none on any of these worlds wished to behold. I was no exeption.
I gritted my teeth, feeling my elongated fangs poking into my gums. The pain served to ground me. I would have to end this soon or we would be dragging this out forever. I did not have forever to waste.
I leapt forward, my scythe skimming the ground. Coyote let out another barking laugh as he prepared for my attack. I had one shot at this, one shot to make it count or I would have to give it all up. I would have to run away.
I hated running away.
Coyote sprang into the air just like I thought he would. I slammed my heel into the ground, throwing all of my body weight into changing the momentum of my scythe. The blade swung up in a cruel arc, slamming into Coyote’s torso and stabbing through his flesh.
He laughed like a demon. Either out of shock or amusement, I couldn’t tell you. But, it had worked. I had impaled him, now all I had to do was trap him. I swung the scythe around and slammed Coyote to the ground, the blade pining him to the hard earth. Then, I clenched my fingers together into a fist. Bursts of blue flames shot up from the ground and surrounded us in an impenetrable firey cage.
I knelt over the pinned body of Coyote and held my clawed hands to his throat. “I have you trapped, Coyote. Surrender to me.”
“Uggghhh,” Coyote groaned, blood bubbling up from his throat. He glanced around, at the scythe still sticking out of his chest and the blue cage around us. He must have realized that he was trapped because he cursed in a very old language and finally said, “I surrender. Just take this stupid thing out from my stomach.”
I grinned. The feeling of victory that soared through me was the greatest thing you could ever experience. I had just fought a Great Beast. And won. I was one step closer to fulfilling the mission the Elders gave me and returning to my life of freedom.
My skin buzzed with happiness and something I couldn’t entirely name as I pulled my scythe free from Coyote’s flesh. As soon as I pulled it out, I sent it away, back to the in-between space it usually inhabited. The flaming cage around us died away as well.
“Man,” Coyote sighed, stretching as the gaping hole stitched itself back together. “I never thought you would be the one to finally beat me. Congratulations, Valarian.”
I smirked, “I wouldn’t have had to beat you if you just answered my questions. Now, spill.” I may have been enjoying my victory. What sane fox wouldn’t? But I still wanted answers. The sooner the better.
“Sorry, no can do,” Coyote didn’t sound sorry in the slightest.
I narrowed my eyes at him, “What do you mean?” There was blood on my hand. I would have licked it away under normal circumstances. But if I ate the flesh or blood of Coyote, I would be marked as a Beast Eater.
Coyote shrugged, his wounds now fully healed. Would I have to open them back up to get answers? “Well, I mean I don’t know what’s to come. I don’t have the power of prophecy.”
Anger roared through me, all this work for nothing!? A pathetic mutt who didn’t have what I was looking for didn’t deserve to live. My rage hit me like the tide, I wanted to kill him. But I couldn’t. And all that did was make me even angrier.
“But,” Coyote interrupted my fuming with a long drawl. “The beasts you really need to go after are the big ones. You know, those that we know you won’t stand a chance against?”
He was taunting me, baiting me. I couldn’t take it, I had to think, to calm myself. I was a fox, we were good at using our cunning to our advantage. I took a deep breath and finally got out, “So how do I go about doing that?”
Coyote cocked his head to the side, “Easy. Defeat more Great Beasts. Every time you defeat one, you get stronger. I know you felt it when I surrendered to you,” he turned towards me, his face level with me. His teeth still glimmered even in the dusky twilight. “The feeling of power?”
I had felt it. That was what I couldn’t name when I had won. I was more powerful than before, just by beating him? If that truly was the case, and Coyote couldn’t lie to me, then suddenly beating the Great Beasts had taken on a new meaning to me.
If I defeated more of the Great Beasts and took their power for myself, then I could get the power to finally break free of the control of the Four Ancient Foxes. I would be their Sword and Servant no more.
A grin just as feral as Coyote’s stretched across my face, lit up by the rising moon.