Chapter 14: The desires of youth

“Grandfather, I will bring back to our tribe the honor that was stolen from us. This I swear!” A young Wolf-kin pounded his chest with all his might as he vowed this promise to the old and wizened Wolf-kin before him.

The young Wolf-kin was now a man and had been training every day in anticipation of this moment, when he could bring glory to his tribe and that his tribe might once again be first in the Hierarchy, as they were in his grandfather’s youth.

He looked up at his grandfather proudly, there was no one he admired more than him. His grandfather had once stood as the greatest of all Demi-human warriors but in time he grew old and while still strong and healthy, had been displaced by another. That damnable feline, Rajal Khan!

Khan Rhaegnar chuckled at his grandsons grandiose claims, “Largear, try not to get ahead of yourself my boy. You are strong, there is no doubt, but…. Just do not let anger control you, do you understand?” He wished to say more, but he did not want to dampen his grandson’s confidence. Rhaegnar feared that there were worse demons than Rajal Khan in this competition. There were two in particular that stood out in his mind, but he said nothing.

Largear paid his grandfather’s words no mind and instead nodded to himself, his determination would not falter. He looked one last time at his grandfather before heading out. His grandfather had become old, his beard had fully turned gray and while he had a toned physique for someone his age, it was clear that he no longer had the strength he once had.

He noticed that his grandfather was still wearing the necklace that Largear’s father once gave him. It was made from the bones of a Plains Raptor, a nasty and vicious beast of prey. He smiled thinking of his father who had died young, too young. If only his father were still alive today, then he would surely have defeated Rajal Khan.

“Grandfather, I go now. You will come see me fight?” (Largear)

“Of course! All of your family will be there. We will be cheering you on, be careful and may victory be yours!” Rhaegnar’s lips parted in a smile visibly showing the many wrinkles on his aging face.

They clasped hands and Rhaegnar patted his grandson on the back as he said a silent prayer to the tribe’s ancestral spirits. All of the Khan’s family were present within the tent, men, women, children. They all were here to wish him victory and offer their prayers.

The whole tribe wore their tribal armbands bearing the symbol of their tribe, a shadowed wolf howling at a yellow moon. They would all be dressed in their finest, white cloth shirts with thick fur vests over them, and the women with their light blue dresses embroidered with small moon flowers. Largear was the treasured son of the Wolf-kin tribe and it was a matter of honor that they present themselves in their best.

Largear smiled one last time and left the tent of the Khan, making his way to the battlefield. This was now the final day of the Grand Council competitions and there was an air of excitement all around the Sacred Grounds. Everywhere, Demi-humans grilled meat over open flames and drank to their hearts content. Most stuck with their own tribe, but some intermingled, having friends among the other tribes.

An occasional brawl broke out between rival tribes as they taunted each other over who would win the competition. Usually it was the young who drank and brawled freely, enjoying the thrill of battle which they could not themselves partake in. The older and wiser Demi-humans just shook their hands and laughed at memories of their own youth.

Female Demi-humans looking to attract a mate, flirted with eligible men of their tribes, asking those they showed interest for a dance as music flitted throughout the tents and encampments. The sound of a hundred tribal songs mingled in a crescendo of sound and the exhilaration of dance.

Largear almost wished he could join in on the fun, but he had no love interest yet himself, spending almost his entire life in training for this day. There will be time for that later, once I gain victory here what female will not wish to be my mate? His thoughts spurred him on and he rededicated himself to the fight.

There was some time before the match but he wanted to hurry to the battlefield to do some warm up exercises to prepare himself, he needed to be at his peak. Thinking about the battle to come, he played out in his mind the attacks and counter attacks he might face in the battle. He imagined what his response might be to each and every attack he could come up with. He reached back and checked that his axe, ‘Iron Fang’, was properly attached to the leather straps holding it in place on his back.

Everything seemed in order and he was so engrossed in what he was doing that he accidentally bumped into another Demi-human. Thinking that he might have hurt the person he bumped into due to his large size, he quickly bowed his head, “are you okay? I am so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going!” It would be dishonorable if he had hurt someone while daydreaming.

“Don’t worry, I barely even noticed and I should have been more careful myself! There are just so many people walking around it is difficult to move freely” Largear was surprised by the melodic voice and looked up only to meet eyes with one he felt surely must be a spirit taken form, a goddess of unnatural beauty.

His voice caught in his throat and he coughed, standing up awkwardly. Standing in front of him was one of the most beautiful Fox-kin women he had ever laid eyes on, he had to blink twice just to make sure she was in fact real and not a spirit as he had first thought. His heart started beating like a drum and he felt his body temperature rise.

He did his best to respond but his words came out clumsier than he intended, “Um.. are you hurt? I bumped into you quite hard….” Not only had she not fallen when they bumped into each other but she appeared completely unfazed which amazed him.

The Fox-kin woman he bumped into laughed pleasantly, “A little bump like that couldn’t possibly hurt me, don’t worry about it.”

But that wasn’t a little bump, I even almost fell down, Largear thought to himself inquisitively. Largear shook away his confusion and was about to ask for the woman’s name, she had left quite the impression on him but he was interrupted.

“There you are! Hurry up, we are going to miss his fight!” A young Demi-human girl came running out of nowhere and grabbed the Fox-kin woman’s hand pulling her away.

“Sorry again, I have to go!” She was pulled away before he could say anything, all he could do was watch her back and a sudden pang of regret hit him.

I couldn’t even catch her name, who is she? Is that a sword… she must be a warrior of the Fox-kin tribe. What is this feeling? He had never felt this way about any females of his tribe and couldn’t believe that a complete stranger was making him feel so uncomfortable, is this love? I must find out who she is!

It was uncommon for a member of one Demi-human tribe to take a mate from another because their union would be infertile but it wasn’t entirely out of the question. He would be Khan one day and Khans would usually take multiple wives so it wouldn’t be a problem if one was from another tribe. He smacked his right fist against his left hand and now had another goal he sought to achieve, first I defeat Rajal Khan and then I will make that Fox-kin woman my wife!

With a new spring in his step he finally made his way to the battlefield, pushing his way through the crowds. He barely even noticed anyone as he daydreamed about the beautiful Fox-kin woman he had been blessed to lay eyes on. He wished she would come see him fight but she had run off to watch someone else fight, maybe one of her tribe. He really hoped it wasn’t a love interest, either way he promised himself he would have her.

Largear spent some time warming up, stretching and practicing his forms with ‘Iron Fang’. He used a double edged two handed battleaxe which was difficult to wield without sufficient strength. The weapon had been a present from his grandfather and was one of the treasured weapons of the Wolf-kin tribe which preferred axes over other weapons.

When Rajal Khan finally arrived for the battle, Largear could only glare at him while flexing his muscles. He had removed his shirt and vest and was completely barechested. His frame was wide, his muscles bulging. He hoped to intimidate Rajal Khan but the Khan ignored him, moving directly into his forms, his spear spinning and flailing like a whip around his body. Largear could only admire his fluid movements and lightning speed. He did not lack in strength either and was a formidable opponent.

Rajal Khan too was barechested, wearing only light cloth trousers, not even boots or sandals on his feet. The grass was smooth to the touch so there was no need to cover his large feet. Rajal wasn’t inferior in anyway to Largear in size and determination. His body was even painted with colored tiger stripes throughout his body, the warpaint of his tribe. Largear was beginning to become anxious but steeled his nerves.

Moments before the appointed time to begin the battle, both opponents ended their warm up exercises and walked towards their starting positions, each looked at the other and grimaced from across the distance. A low growl escaped Largear’s mouth as he gripped his battleaxe tightly, his anticipation growing.

The battlefield was just an open field, the same as all the others. There were no places to hide, nothing to use as a weapon other than the weapon they brought, only the two opponents, the grass beneath their feet and the warm wind to accompany them.

Rajal Khan stood patiently ready to counter any strike and already planning a series of strikes of his own in order to press his opponent. He was aware of Largears strength and the battleaxe was a terrifying weapon for one such as him to wield but his battleaxe would leave him with too many openings.

The spear was a much more flexible weapon in the hands of a master. It had a longer reach, greater maneuverability and a faster attack speed. It was a weapon that complemented Rajal Khan well. With his speed and strength, he could easily use the spear for rapid surgical strikes while evading attacks from the slower battleaxe. Perhaps I will toy with the boy a little, he grinned with a slight chuckle as he thought about the battle ahead.

A gong sounded off the start of the battle and the young Wolf-kin warrior charged forward at a breakneck pace. He was fast for his size, but not nearly as fast as Rajal Khan. Largear put all his strength into a mighty downward strike, missing Rajal Khan completely and smashing the ground, sending dirt and debris everywhere. A small crater had formed where Largear had struck the earth surprising Rajal Khan. I knew he was strong, but that much? He no longer mocked the boy in his heart but instead admired his strength from afar.

I will have to take him more seriously, guess I won’t be toying with him then, Rajal Khan prepared his counter attack as Largear’s powerful strike left him somewhat unbalanced leaving an opening.

“Viper’s tongue seven-fold thrust!” Rajal Khan yelled, thrusting his spear seven times in rapid succession like the flick of a viper’s tongue. He pierced Largear only once before the mighty Wolf-kin warrior deflected some of the consecutive strikes and jumped backwards, dodging the rest.

Realizing his mistake, Largear slowed down his attack in order to observe his opponent’s movement, he’s fast, too fast. I could barely make out those spear thrusts. I will need to try to unbalance him a little, put the pressure on.

Largear attempted a feint, charging in similar to what he did for his first attack but instead of putting all his might into one downward strike, he used the downward momentum to activate one of his martial abilities, “Whirlwind strike!”. This propelled his body into a series of side flip kicks and axe strikes which surprised the Khan. His experience in battle and quick response saved him and only his spear took the brunt of the attack, buckling under the pressure of the Wolf-kin’s attack. It was no ordinary spear, though, and it withstood the salvo of attacks without breaking.

Rajal spun away from the attack and using the evasive maneuver to dash around Largear to his rear. His opponent did not fail to notice this and turned quick enough to block the Khan’s attacks. The two pounded on each other for several minutes, trading blow for blow until they both began to show signs of weariness.

“You have done well, boy, to make it this far. I applaud your bravery and offer my admiration!” Rajal Khan was sincere in his words and truly had come to respect the young Wolf-kin as a fellow warrior and combatant.

“And I you, but this fight must end, prepare yourself Khan!” Largear replied in earnest but the pace of his breathing showed that he had little endurance left.

“Aye! Time to end this!” Rajal Khan had already begun preparing his next attack, his strongest martial art, “Thousand arrow piercing rain!’”

His attack was released, catching Largear by surprise. Rajal Khan appeared as a blur, moving at speeds that seemed faster than any he had seen before. To his eyes, it seemed as if a thousand spears rained down upon him. He did his best to deflect and parry as many as he could but the overwhelming number of attacks soon began to pierce his flesh one after the other and his body could no longer handle the strain.

Largear fell to his knees and collapsed on the ground, still alive, but just barely. Members of the Wolf-kin tribe in attendance howled in anguish as they washed their young hero be beaten mercilessly by Rajal Khan and a look of concern spread across his grandfather’s eyes. Healers quickly ran out to the young Wolf-kin and immediately began healing him.

As his eyes flittered in and out of consciousness, he recognized one of the healers attending to him. In his haze, he could see the beautiful and mysterious Fox-kin woman he had seen earlier, calling out to him as she touched him filling him with warmth. As he drifted off to sleep, he thanked the spirits for blessing him with such a wondrous gift.

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