So like that years passed. Elaya stayed cute as ever, she only got bigger. I’ve grown considerably more, thanks to my self strengthening. My development was a year or two faster then the rest of the kids, but it didn’t matter much. Even though I was stronger than any child my age, I could barely keep up with Frez. That cheater took my style and learned it to become stronger. With time he only became deadlier. It would be another decade before he would begin to grow old and frail. I would be in peak condition when I would be about sixteen.
The time of the rite of passage crept up on us. Preparations began months before that. Many people wished to see it happening. They all knew me by then, I was a strong swordsman at such young age, not many older boys could keep up with me in duels, much less land a solid hit on me. I was also known to always lend a helping hand. Wise beyond my years, strong, kind-hearted yet humble. Many prayed to Gods for my success, it would be a shame to loose such youth.
There were some talks of me not going through passage to save my life, but neither me nor Frez would allow it. Frez trained me for this, he would rather cut off his own legs than see me back down now. I just wanted to gain power to be able to protect Elaya no matter what. We have grown to love each other long ago, even if the love was pure and innocent.
Strangely, concept of love was somewhat alien to Val people. It happened very rarely and it never interfered with arrangements of marriage. The sense of duty was far stronger within anyone carrying Val blood. Outsiders could experience as much of it as they wanted, we were the protectors of the realm as our duty was given to us by Great Beasts. It was almost unique that two people that would be together fell in love way before marriage.
As of the other princesses, I was sure there was no love. Meriden treated me as a sparring partner, I was sure she didn’t know I was of different gender. Maybe she didn’t even know there was a different gender. Aedim treated me with respect as someone wiser than her. Such thing was almost an impossibility, as she could outwit most of people of Val, safe of few elders. Leah and Lilith took great joy in tormenting me. Nothing else to be said. And Eleanor, oh sweet Eleanor, her hatred for me grew more everyday. Her pride was hurt, because a commoner like me earned almost as much recognition as she did.
At the time I began to doubt that harem would be happening. There were talks of marrying them to some other older or maybe younger boys, but any of that would happen only after my demise. It was bad taste to perform different Rites at the same time. Besides, even if we would not be together, I was still their fated, as we all shared our birth month. Heh, if only I knew.
Weeks before the ceremony Elaya grew distressed. She would often cry, as she despised the Rite and would sometimes beg for me to forego the useless tradition. She didn’t need a guardian, she would love me all the same. It was a viable option too, elders were impressed with me and presented it to me previously. But I stopped her and denied her such possibility. When she was reduced to crying and damning me for the future alone or death, I would just hold her close and whisper to her. It really hurt me to see her like that.
The day of ceremony came. Elaya turned ten some days prior, and I turned ten today. There we were standing, in a clearing surrounded by many warriors. I was worried that if I were to be overcome by the beast, I would want Elaya to survive, so the best warriors in all the tribes were there. If I raised my hand against my betrothed, I would be cut down immediately.
I stood opposite of Elaya, with ten meter of burning coals between us. People who were not armed, had stones and other throwable things at hand. Once I stepped on the bed of cinders, all those objects would be flung at me. The coal was there to symbolise overcoming limits of my human form, as I had to slowly walk across to my indented. I couldn’t do it in one leap or walk across fast. I had to take time. Such was the Rite. Stones and such were also for the whole limits thing, but mostly it was entertainment. It was not an official part of the Rite, it could be omitted entirely. I added it in as it was an option. Whom would it hurt? Besides me…
There was also water slowly coming to boil at the end of the trail. It would symbolise me washing away my previous life as a human, to prepare me for rebirth as a beast. It was an unofficial addition, in case someone threw tomatoes. The boiling part was my own personal touch, usually it would be lukewarm. My training would allow me to easily overcome the trail, I just wanted to show my dedication to Elaya. And to make it somewhat entertaining, just in case it would later turn into a disaster.
As I step up to the trail I look around. People are concerned, but are ready for me. They know it is what I want, so they would do their part as I would do mine. I notice the princesses there also. Even Eleanor stands there with some stones prepared, with a grin showing. I just know that she will savour the feeling of hurting me. There were rumours of her learning to throw with great precision.
As I take the first step I take in the feeling of burning coal below my foot. It is hot, but I am prepared. I overcame limitations of my body a while ago. It burned but it didn’t hurt as much as it should have. As I stand there, first projectiles reach me. Some wooden balls hit me in various places. A small pebble hits me in the head, probably thrown by a small child. Some metal balls also reach me. Nothing that I can’t endure with little effort.
I take the next step. Now people get serious. With both my feet buried in smouldering hot coals, I truly began to walk the rite of passage. I instinctively feel a rock flying from Eleanor. I don’t dodge it or anything else that is thrown at me. I take them all, I endure. Somehow I can imagine Eleanor smiling that she hit me, only to frown a moment later as she realises it is what I want. I am here for the punishment. Her fury would only make it so much better. Truly all of it hurts, but it would be nothing compared to what I’d feel if I hurt Elaya. I deserve it.
Slowly I begin my walk across. I lift one foot while burying the other deeper. I move it slowly, deliberately. I stretch it out. I lower it and apply force to it. I stand there for a few seconds waiting. All this while taking the beating from stones thrown at me. Someone has thrown a tomato from behind me, splattering a perfectly good vegetable on my back. I take another step. And another. Slowly making my way forward. I take it all in. This is what I must do to overcome the beast. There is no other way. My steps are small.
It takes me a little over five minutes to make it to the end of the ten meters trail. Longer then most. I stand just before the finish, bruised and even bleeding in some places and pause before I end this. I would never take myself for a masochist. I don’t enjoy it, but this is what must be done. I take my foot off the blazing trail and step on the grass. Then I step off completely. I did it. As soon as I lower my foot, stones stop.
Two bulky man lift up a container with boiling water and raise it above my head. I look up and close my eyes. The water hits me and washes away all the filth off me. When it is done I open my eyes and look at myself. Bruises and cuts cover my skin, which now turned red from being showered in boiling water. Just the way I should end this Rite.
I take the next few steps towards Elaya. She stands in ceremonial clothing, barely anything on her. In her left hand a curved dagger. Its first function is to draw blood for me to take. Its main function is to strike me if I turn into a fiend. This a test for both of us. If everything goes well, I gain the power and stay in control, then the Rite ends and we can live on. If I succumb to the power, Elaya get’s a chance to kill me before she is hurt. She looses her fated one, but she survives and passes the Rite on her own. It is a rare occurrence, but it is revered amongst the Val people. Otherwise I kill Elaya and get cut down by warriors.
She brings the dagger to her wrist and slashes it with a swift motion without flinching. I trained her well. The dagger is then raised high above the head, to show the glistening of red blood on its surface. It is now up to me.
I fall down to my knees and lower my head to Elaya’s wrist. Blood trickling down and dripping onto the grass. How wasteful of me. I take her hand with both of mine and raise it to my face. Taking in a small bit of air I can smell how sweet it is. Unnaturally so. Then I put my lips onto the cut and let the blood fill my mouth. It is warm and sweet, like nothing I’ve tasted before. It is warm, yet hot at the same time. The heat is not physical but something beyond that. Firstly it radiates from my tongue, and then from within my throat and my stomach as the blood makes its way down.
I am on fire. I can feel it. The Power. Raw and primal. Strength. In blood.
Elaya let’s out a small sign of relief. She was too scared to breath. Now, thinking the worst has passed and we are in a clear. She does not feel what I feel.
As my body is engulfed in the fire from within, I take in every little bit of blood I can get. Sweet sweet blood.
Then the change comes. It doesn’t hurt. No, it happened peacefully, for me at least. My flesh just changes, the bones, the tendons, they all change. It’s like I melt and reform. As my skin begins to ripple, others notice it. A few defeated gasps are heard. Some murmur “A fiend”. It is swift.
My skin seemingly boils within moments, then turns dark grey. My form begins to grow. Perhaps it is because of how fast it happened, or perhaps Elaya took pity on me, wishing to go beyond along with me once I am slain, but her dagger is buried in my shoulder, missing anything important. It was meant to sever my spine or break my skull, yet it just sticks out of my mutated shoulder.
She drops on her knees just like I did mere moments ago, defeated and resigned to her fate. She is only held up by her hand, which I still clutch with both of mine. Only I am now towering over her and any others nearby. I was barely a meter and a half boy just before. Now I am almost a three meters beast of lupine origin. A werewolf. How strange and pitiful. My body, the body I pushed beyond its limits for years, the body I and Frez honed for perfection is defeated and reformed so easily. Truly pitiful.
I just stand there, contemplating the changes and waiting for the power to take over my mind. My eyes slowly opened after being reformed. The vision is different. I can see so much more. Slow inhale brings forth new and old smells, magnified and expanded, clear as can be. The sweet smell of blood of my Elaya, the fear and panic of the crown around us, the scent of deer a mile away. So much more to take in. My new wolf ears pick up on barely audible whispers.
“What is it waiting for…”
“No, Zern… Why…”
“Should we put it down…”
Every word is so clear. I know who said something, where they stand and how fast their heart is beating.
I stand there taking in my new perception of the world, waiting for the bloodlust, the hunger to come. Yet it never does. I feel something barely scratching at my soul, but it is so faint, it is barely worth mentioning. I also feel Elaya convulse, tears running down her face. Thinking I should comfort her, yet knowing how dangerous it is, I just stand there looking down at her. Poor Elaya indeed.
My thinking is cut short by a thrust of a sword from one of the warriors. They are meant to wait for me to attack, yet the stress and fear takes over one of them. Desperately trying to end it, he charges and plunges the sword into my back from the side. Previously it would cleave me in half, but now it barely draws any blood. My fur and skin offer enough defence against steel. The only reason there is any damage is because I offer no resistance.
I don’t even acknowledge the warrior, instead I decide to stop Elaya from hurting. I pull up her hand with one of mine and envelop her fragile frame with the other. Like that I life her up to me. I know not why, but I know that my saliva can heal. I bring her wounded wrist to my face and using my elongated tongue I lick it, cleaning away the blood and spreading my spit over the cut.
People around us gasp, surprise, fear and slight hope mixed all together. The elders begin to think they are seeing a miracle. I begin to think I am becoming one.
Seeing the wound close quickly, I take Elaya in my arms and embrace her, stopping her sobs completely. She feels that it is me hugging her, not the mindless beast trying to crush her. We stand like that for few moments, and then she tries to reach her arms around me. My frame is too wide for it, but still it is enough for us. Like that, I turn towards the crowd and gaze at them. Reaching for the dagger still in my shoulder, I pull it out, gaze at the dark blood that it is covered with and throw it on the ground. The wound closes immediately, just like the one from the warrior did.
With Elaya still in my arms, now crying tears of joy, I look at the elders. Trying to speak, with the throat made for howling, and lips not made for speaking, I still somehow manage to talk. I coarse, deep voice comes out.
Everyone is stunned. Fiend can talk! This is the first time, such thing never happened even at the times of Lady Malriana. Nobody can comprehend what happened before their eyes. A small boy, albeit amazing, still little more then a foreigner, with blood so diluted, it barely counts, transformed into a beast bigger than any seen before and is able to speak. His yellow lupine eyes, clearly show intelligence unclouded by instinct or bloodlust. What in the name of the Great Beast is he?
If a fiend appears, it immediately lashes out and consumes the one that gave it power. Yet here, a fiend has stood for more than a minute, clearly lucid and sentient, with no sign of danger.
One of the elders manages you talk.
“Zern, previously a boy of Val’Morn, received power from Princess Elaya and has passed the rite of passage. He is now the guardian of Princess Elaya and of the Val’Kira tribe…”
Before the elder finished speaking, crowd began to cheer. Screams of joy, of excitement and of encouragement could be heard all around.
As I look around the crowd I can see different expressions. Still remaining fear, excitement of seeing legend in the making, glances of affection, pride in the face of my mentor. I can see Meriden, with her eyes wet with tears, yet shining with joy. Leah and Lilith both looking at me with their eyes wide open, respect clearly seen. I even see Eleanor with expression other than scorn, it is very complicated and doesn’t really have a meaning, as Eleanor herself doesn’t yet know what to think and feel at the moment.
People begin to congratulate me. I thank them, but don’t pay too much attention. I have the person I hold most dear in my arms, happily whispering her sweet nothings to me and trying to kiss my new face. She treats me more like her favourite puppy rather than a feral beast capable of carnage and bloodshed.
We slowly make our way through the crowd, me sending short replies to people. I try to get the feel on my new body. As I walk, I feel the bulging muscles beneath my skin, I feel a new tail, the claws that can cut through metal, the fangs that are meant to shred through flesh and bone alike. I feel my legs now very much alike that of any beast. Then I look within, I feel the heat still burning within me. The power gained from Elaya still there and still very hot. Concentrating on looking deeper still, I look for the source of this heat. I see my soul, now surrounded by a red flame. I look at and try to touch, to move it. As it slightly flickers through my sheer will, so does my new form. Nobody but me noticed this.
I concentrate more and force the fire down, compress it into a single point. At first it resists, but then it complies and turns into a flicker of light, similar to my soul yet different. The wisp stays compressed and orbits my soul, clearly still present and very much burning with fire, only now small and hidden. As this happened within my core, my form also shifts.
My hair, my skin, my flesh begins to boil once again. This warrants few fearful gasps. The change is too swift for anyone to truly comprehend what happened. Just now I was a towering behemoth of a wolf, mere moments later I am a boy, very much like the one I was before yet different. My muscles feel powerful and lean, clearly more pronounced then before. My senses are just as keen in my human form as they were in my beast form. I know my eyes are human, but the irises are yellow like they were in my lupine form. Fangs could be seen if I smile.
Just like that, I stand there in all my naked glory, with Elaya clinging to me and trying to kiss me, her lips squarely planted on mine. Not that it is the first time, nor the last time, but it produced a reaction unlike any other.
While Elaya was thanking Gods for me overcoming the power in her blood and already beginning to love my new form, deep within she wanted my old one back. I had no lips to kiss, only a feral scowl intended to scare and maim. She would learn to love it, but it was not the same. Now my old form was back. It was mixture of surprise, joy, love… The squeal Elaya produced was high pitched enough to notify every canine in vicinity and the one lupine in her grasp just how excited she was. The rain of kisses resumed once more with renewed power.
People stared at them. They could say nothing, a boy could control the fiend, not only in mind but in body. Reverting the transformation had not occurred before. Before them truly was a legend. Cheers were once more heard, with more volume and more emotion. It took all of us a few minutes to realise that I now was nude, in the middle of large gathering of people. It wasn’t nothing frowned upon or forbidden, but it was unusual. Someone regained their senses quicker than the others and brought me a cloak. It was a welcome change, as my old clothes now lay near the place where few drops of Elaya’s blood were wastefully spilt by me.
We moved and the crowd moved. Today was a great day. A feast was held, and not to mourn of my and Elaya’s passing but to congratulate us on passage of our trials. We were now bound to one another until death and would be married in six years. A great occasion to celebrate.
The feast was long and filled with much excitement. We ate, we drunk, we danced, we fought. I showed off my new strength. Elaya showed off her new guardian. Other showed off something of theirs. Meriden fought me with renewed vigour. Now she simply had to defeat me. The two vixen tried to trick my new senses to no avail. I was beyond their petty tricks. Eleanor was locked with her inner turmoil. Too confused, she didn’t pay attention to how much she drunk, so she lost control and eventually passed out. Nobody cared that 10 year olds were drinking, celebration or otherwise.