A few hours before dawn, Madraday the 10th of Tanot, 674 AG
Several miles east of Sandown
Kiba scrambled to his feet and began to back away from Dace. “What's going on? What the ******** are you?” He asked in a shaky voice as Dace got up and faced him. The small boy began to grow in size as he fixed a disturbing grin upon his face. His hair grew longer and wilder, like Kiba's and he slowly filled out the shirt that Kiba had given him until he resembled Kiba in both size and appearance. For all purposes, he was a mirror image of Kiba, albeit with the additional monstrous features of fangs, claws, pointed ears and a row of spikes down his spine.
“Fifteen years,” Dace said quietly, menacingly, “for fifteen damned years I’ve been stuck here, watching you play happy families with that old man.”
“Just stay back, whatever you are,” cried Kiba was he picked up a branch and tried to ward off the thing in front of him. Dace swiped at the branch with an open claw, splintering the wood into fragments. Kiba stumbled back from the splintering branch and backed into the trunk of a large tree. As he tried to dodge around the tree, Dace darted forward and slashed at Kiba's bare chest with his other claw, slicing the flesh. Before Kiba had a chance to respond, Dace gave a him a powerful two-handed shove that sent him to the floor.
“Shut it,” Dace spat as he picked Kiba up by the neck, holding him against tree, “if it wasn't for me, we'd be dead right now. You're just a pathetic weakling and without me, those soldiers would have butchered you like a farm animal.”
“What are you talking about?” Kiba croaked as he struggled for breath. Dace was gently squeezing his throat in a calculated show of strength and dominance, restricting the flow of air into his lungs but not cutting it off entirely as Kiba beat ineffectually at his arms. Dace leaned forward until their faces were just a few inches apart.
“Let me refresh that memory of yours blackout boy. Remember back at the farm when you tried to take on those soldiers by yourself? Remember how they kicked your arse and how one of them sliced open your gut while the other stabbed you in the back?”
Kiba did remember, he remembered passing out from the wounds only to wake up to find them miraculously healed and the three surviving soldiers dead. Although he had been more concerned about his father at the time, afterwards the incident had bothered him more than he had cared to admit. None of it made any sense and by rights, it should have been him who was dead, not the soldiers. However, as Dace spoke, he started to recall things that he hadn't remembered before. The look of sheer terror on the soldiers faces, their screams as they were torn apart and the nauseating taste of their blood. “It was you,” Kiba whispered, “you killed them. The soldiers, somehow you tore them apart like some sort of animal.”
Dace laughed sharply grinning a fanged smile. “You really have no idea what you are, do you?” He lifted Kiba off the floor with both hands and began to strangle the boy. “Not that it matters anyway, you'll be dead in a couple of minutes and then I'll be free. I guess the first thing I'll do is do some finger painting with Jiro's intestines. Of course,” Dace giggled, “removing them is liable to be a little painful. For him at least.” As Dace gloated, Kiba's vision began to fade but as Dace made his threat towards Jiro Kiba's eyes snapped back into sharp focus. Red mist began to creep into the edges of his vision and his stare at Dace was so intense that Dace's speech faltered.
“You. Stay. Away. From. Him.” Kiba growled and the pupils in his eyes starting to glow. He grabbed Dace's arms with a pair of clawed hands and slowly pushed them apart, forcing Dace to release his grip on Kiba's neck. Dace's smug, confident demeanour began to crack in the face of Kiba's unexpected resistance. He strained against Kiba's grip but the boy's hands were locked tight and Dace could not move his arms even an inch from where Kiba wanted them. Suddenly Kiba's head lunged forward, his forehead smashing into Dace's nose. With a crunch, the nose broke spraying blood everywhere. Dace staggered backwards clutching his nose and tripped over a tree root landing unceremoniously on his arse.
“b*****d,” he cursed, “you broke my ******** nose!”
“I don't care what the ******** you are any more,” Kiba yelled as the kicked Dace in the head knocking him onto his side where Kiba continued to repeatedly kick his side, “I'm gonna kill you!” As Dace lay on the floor Kiba picked up a rock and prepared to bring it smashing down on to Dace's head.
Dace laughed painfully, coughing up blood. “You can't kill me, not here anyway. When you were nine and you fought back against that bully despite the fact that he was twice your age and nearly twice your size, I'm the part of you that broke both his arms and continued to beat on him even after he begged for mercy. That little runt that followed you around the village all the time? Busa or something? I'm the part that would have readily wrung his scrawny neck to make him stop bugging you. When those soldiers caught up with him, I would have happily sat there and listened to his screams. Every dark impulse, every violent thought, that's me. I'm the part of you that you inherited from your true father, not that weak human whore of a mother. I'm part of you and I always will be.” As Dace spoke, Kiba's resolve wavered, he started to lower the rock, his claws retracted, and his eyes stopped glowing. “The funny thing is, if it wasn't for the farm, we'd never have met. In that moment when you were dying, all your hate and anger, all that frustration at being unable to save Ren, it opened a doorway. And for a short while, I was free in the waking world. But the thing about that doorway is, once opened, it's impossible to close all the way again. Eventually, you'll let your guard down, you'll slip up. When that happens, next time I'll make sure my stay is permanent. I'll even let you watch from in here as I destroy everything you hold dear starting with that b*****d Jiro.”
“You may be right,” Kiba said quietly, “I might not be able to kill. But that won't stop me from doing this.” He raised the rock above him and smashed it down onto Dace's head. It took three strikes for Dace to stop twitching. When he was done, he dropped the rock and looked at Dace's body for a few seconds without emotion before turning and walking off towards the trees.
Dace cracked upon an eye and coughed up a glob of blood. “You think this changes anything spawn breath?” Kiba paused without turning as Dace spoke.
“What did you call me?” Kiba asked, speaking barely above a whisper.
“You heard me. You're a daemon, an abomination, a creature of pure evil, a plague on mankind, a Titan Spawn. Half human, half titan, on your father's side. You're blood father that is.” Dace laughed coughing up a bit more blood as Kiba clenched his fists and hunched his shoulders. “Oops, I guess it looks like Daddy never told you who your parents were did he ... no wait, that's not it is it? Ren didn't just not tell you, he lied to you didn't he?” Unable and unwilling to hear any more, Kiba ran off into the trees, Dace's pained laughter ringing in his ears.
As soon as Kiba was out of sight, a figure stepped out from the opposite direction. He was the same age as Kiba and like Dace, resembled him physically except unlike Dace he appeared completely human and had short black hair and piercing blue eyes. Around his neck hung a small blue crystal on a steel chain, identical to Kiba's.
“Dace,” the newcomer admonished, “you are such a jerk sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Dace retorted as he slowly picked himself up off the floor, “what you gonna do about it normal boy.” The newcomer backed away as Dace approached. “Yeah, thought so. Now piss off before I drop kick you to the face again.”
Jiro looked over at Kiba's sleeping form, the boy had tossed and turned throughout the night. Occasionally mumbling or groaning in his sleep. Bad dreams, Jiro mused, but who could blame him. The day had been rough for everyone but thankfully, the night had been quiet.
As the first vestiges of light began to show on the eastern horizon, it Kiba's turn to be on watch. Jiro got up, walked around the smouldering remains of the campfire, knelt over the boy, and began to gently shake him awake. Kiba's eyes snapped open and as quick as a blur, he reached under his pack that he was using as a pillow and grasped the handle of the hunting knife. Faster than he Jiro's eyes could follow, Kiba brought the knife slashing upward, stopping just less than an inch from Jiro's throat.
“Whoa, easy! It's just me,” said Jiro as he gently moved the knife away.
With a sheepish grin, and now fully awake, Kiba sheathed the knife. “Sorry, bad dream.”
“Ah-huh,” nodded Jiro, “remind me never to wake you in the morning without putting armour on first. Anyway, time to get up squirt it's your turn on watch.” Jiro was weary from exhaustion and as he picked up a blanket and turned to make part of the ground comfortable to sleep on, he didn't notice that Kiba watched him closely, intently. With his back turned he didn't see the boy silently pick up a heavy and unburned piece of firewood. Stealthily, Kiba crept up behind Jiro and brought the makeshift club smashing down hard onto the back of Jiro's head. The man's eyes rolled upwards and he crumpled to the floor unconscious. Kiba stood over the defenceless form for several seconds holding his breath before dropping the makeshift club and kneeling down next to Jiro. He gingerly felt for a pulse and having found one, released a relieved gasp of breath. Kiba silently thanked the gods that the blow had only stunned him as he had intended as he quickly attempted to make Jiro comfortable.
“Sorry,” he said quietly as he picked up his pack, a few supplies and his weapons, “I wish there was another way, but I hope you take the hint. Where I'm going, you can't follow.” He checked Jiro one last time, tenderly placing both blankets over him. “Goodbye, uncle.” Kiba avoided looking back as he left, running through the woods in the early dawn light holding back tears. If he had, he might have had second thoughts about what he was doing but for Jiro's sake, he needed to put as much distance between the two of them. He had no destination in mind; Kiba hadn't thought that far ahead, he just knew that he had to get away.
When Jiro regained consciousness some time later, he groaned and clutched the back of his head, cursing in several colourful languages. It took him a few minutes to realise what had happened and when he looked around and saw that Kiba was gone, his cursing reached new levels of vulgarity. The sun had just begun to climb into the sky, Jiro saw as he quickly packed up his gear, he couldn't be more than an hour or two behind the boy, whatever that idiot was thinking. Whatever Kiba's reason for attacking him, Jiro thought as he set off in pursuit, it had better be good.
Kiba had been running through the woods for a couple of hours when he finally had to rest. He stopped at the bottom of a wooded scar-like ravine. A brook cascaded over the steep sides forming a waterfall that plunged into a pool of crystalline waters before continuing down the ravine. Shrugging off his pack, Kiba cupped his hands in the water, splashing some of it onto his face before refilling his canteen and taking a long drink of the cold water. When he stretched out over the water again to refill the canteen a second time, he winced in pain, his hand moving to his chest. Kiba put the canteen down gently on the grass and proceeded to take his shirt off. When he did so, he could clearly see four ragged and red tears across the skin of his abdomen. A wound identical to one that Dace had inflicted on him last night. Although that had only been a dream, Kiba was sure that somehow, it wasn't just an identical wound, it was the exact same wound.
Whatever its origin it was starting to sting like sin and the skin around the cuts was beginning to turn an angry shade of red. He reached behind him for his pack pulled out a small vial and a bundle of cloth strips. Kiba held his breath as he applied the yellow ointment to the cuts, he didn't know exactly what it was made of but it smelt of cow urine and he suspected that that might be its chief ingredient. Gently he placed cloth strips along the length of the cuts and the ointments adhesive properties held them firm against the skin.
When he placed the vial back into his pack, his hand brushed against a small leather pouch. Hesitating slightly, he pulled it out, opened it and looked at the contents. It contained the gold coins and the envelope that he had retrieved from the box under Ren's bed. Also inside was the small silver disc with Ren's name inscribed upon it. As he held the disc in his hand, it was warm to the touch and the metal felt slick and wet even though it was dry. Kiba held the disc up to the morning sun, letting the soft light play across the gold etched symbol on one side. He had seen that symbol before, he would swear to it but for the life of him, he could not remember where. It was the only thing that he had left that belonged to his father, Ren and as the wind gently rustled the leaves on the trees around him; Kiba undid the chain he wore around his neck. He threaded the steel chain through the eye and let the disk slide down the chain and c***k gently against the blue crystal.
Apart from the gold coins, the only thing left in the pouch now was the letter. Since leaving the farm yesterday, Kiba had not had a chance to open and read it. Since he needed to rest for a few minutes to catch his breath, he decided that now was a good time. However, he was hesitant to open it. Regardless of what Dace had said, Ren was the only father he had ever known even if he wasn't his blood father. All the same, Ren had literally used the last moments of his life trying to tell Kiba the truth about them. With that in mind, Kiba broke the seal and opened the envelope. He was about to take out the letter, when he heard the sound of singing drifting in on the wind.
Quickly he stuffed the envelope back into the pouch, picked up his pack, donned his shirt and slung his quiver and scabbard. Scrambling up the steep side of the ravine, he stopped and turned towards the source of the singing. The voice was gentle and soft, most likely that of a woman. Although Kiba couldn't understand the words, the singing itself was beautiful and extremely soothing. Against his better judgement, Kiba climbed back down the slope and began to creep downstream towards the voice. The brook followed the course of the ravine, bending around a blind corner before tumbling down into a small sinkhole before descending further into the depths. Almost as if he was stalking some game animal, Kiba slowly crawled on his belly towards the edge of the 30ft drop into the sinkhole. Hiding behind and amongst a group of bushes, he peeked over the edge.
Below him, by a pool that covered half of the base of the sinkhole, was a girl that was roughly Kiba's age, perhaps a little older. She was lying back on a rock that jutted out into the pool letting her feet dangle lazily into the cool, clear waters. Her voice resonated perfectly with the natural acoustics of the sinkhole creating an almost ethereal quality to the song she was singing. The girls long brown hair was splayed out haphazardly on the surface of the rock. Shimmering in the sunlight, it created a halo-like effect around her head that framed her face. Her clothing, a pair of rough cloth pants and matching shirt was wet and next to her was a collection of small fishes drying on the rock. A small grey wolf cub lounged on her chest, baring its fangs in a lazy yawn as she stroked its back, singing to it.
Kiba lay on his front as he watched the girl below, barely daring to breath. There had been a few girls his age in Benbridge but none of them had been as beautiful as her. The way the sunlight highlighted her hair, her heavenly voice, the way the cub nestled snugly between her ... Kiba sighed, as if a girl like her would ever give him the time of day. He lingered for a few moments watching her before realising that he should probably go. Shifting his weight, he began to shuffle back while crouching on all fours. As he did so, the ground beneath him gave way pitching him over the edge into the sinkhole. For a few seconds, he fell through the air his arms flailing as he cried out. Halfway down the cliff was a nest of branches and as he fell through them, one of the thicker branches hooked itself onto the straps of his pack. Kiba’s fall was momentarily arrested but the sudden tug by the branch turned him upside down and tore the pack and quiver from his back. His fall resumed and he struck a slope at the base of the cliff, sliding down the steep gravel slope head first for the final few feet before coming to an unceremonious stop sitting on his head, his shirt flopping down to cover his face.
As the dust settled, Kiba heard a low growl and slowly lifted up the flap of his shirt. From his upside down perspective, he saw the small wolf club crouched and growling in front of him, its fangs bared. It would've been cute if it wasn't standing at the feet of the girl who was now scowling and brandishing a spear whose point was only inches from his neck.
Kiba grinned nervously, his cheeks burning. “Er ... Hi?”
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