A small campfire was burning in the open area of the barn. Seven children were spread out around it in a semicircle. Between them and the fire were three puppies that were being fed some watered down porridge by Dyna. Miki had remained up in the lookout on full alert.
When they had seen those little animals struggling out in the snow the group immediately positioned themselves according to plan. Since the last incident with the wolf pack, they were forced to mature after partaking in the bloody act. The children had at least reached the stage where even in fear, they would attack or defend instinctively.
This in itself was a major accomplishment from just over a few months ago. Back then they were all resigned to a path of despair. Now instead of giving up and waiting for death, everyone wanted to live.
All their heightened vigilance was for naught this time. After sometime it seemed these young pups were apparently strays left to fend for themselves. The mother probably died leaving them at the mercy of the elements. During the height of winter even adult wolves struggle to survive. Much less the case for them, this was simply serving up a death sentence.
When the pups were close to the barn, Ming and Chu rushed out armed with swords and large canvas sacks. From Chu’s point of view this was not a dangerous act. Once he was satisfied that this was not a reckless venture they had moved like a well oiled team. In this land he was determined to milk away at any opportunity. Confronting the three starved to death animals was the easiest capture he had ever done.
This venture took less effort than chasing a chicken for dinner. The animals had reached the stage like they were running on fumes. The time taken for Chu to execute his strategy was only a couple of minutes. To say how smooth it went, the last cub didn’t even have the strength to run. It simple dropped down and gazed at them through a pair of listless eyes.
Ming returned with a triumphant look and boasted about his skills to the companions who had witnessed this scene. During the ‘ambush’ they were at the door armed with crossbows and spears. Having a front row seat to the debacle only induced their disdain towards the boaster.
Scrambling some animals that were simply waiting for death could not be counted as a heroic act.
Presently they were around the fire.
“Can we keep…”
Chu was expecting that question after seeing the girls fawn over those wild animals. At the moment the cubs were still weak and possibly in shock. When he had brought them inside and released them they were too weak to even run. Dyna had slowly coaxed one to eat the porridge with a large spoon.
Since they were exhausted they could only sit and receive it. When she had lifted one up to feed it better it tried to bite. That bite was simply it going through the motion and reflex. It was too weak to muster any force through its jaws.
The problem would begin when they regained their strength. Chu really captured them with the intention to earn some more money. Since he was going to the village he might as well try to sell them to Griz.
“Think about it, we still don’t know if the parents of these cubs are searching for them. Even if it’s not a possibility, we are going to have to feed them and take care of them. Whose going to take that responsibility to train them? Worse yet, we are still in the month of winter. What if those dangerous beast and demons show up around here? Who is going to keep these cubs from making a fuss and giving our hideout away?”
When these cubs grow up, they might become useful but that was in the future. Currently it was the month of winter where he was now expecting the unexpected. Because he never knew when they had to hide, these cubs were a liability.
Then he had the issue of food for these new additions. Keeping these growing cubs here, along with the improved Lucy with her improved appetite was going to cut into their food supply.
His earnings were like a first time employee’s year-end bonus. It came in a bulk and left in a rush. If he was not careful then they would be reduced to firewood collection somewhere down the road.
“Chu lets keep them, I will train them. Please, I can do it.”
He looked at Dyna who was pleading.
“You do know these critters will eventually have to eat raw meat? Can you stomach this when they start hunting?”
“Chu can we keep them?”
Dyna was the weakest one among them when it came to the sight of blood. If she and the others wanted to keep the cubs, then fine. He was going to drop some ground rules to follow.
“Let me finish. If after you guys can do everything I say, then I have no problem.”
“Those cubs are wild beast, not some house-pet. As such, they will be raised as wild beast who will obey us. That means they will need an owner. That person will be responsible for training and getting them to listen to simple commands.
The trainer is responsible for feeding and cleaning. That means they are also responsible to teach them how to hunt. If we are forced to hide, then those beast need to be able to keep quite. If not we have no choice but to give them up as bait. Who is willing to do this?”
Chu stressed on the issue of having to leave the cubs in a dangerous situation. He had to let the children know to avoid any risky situations down the road. After some time Dyna spoke out meekly.
“I…Chu I will do it. I have to get strong too, so I will do it.”
Chu looked at her.
“Ok but remember you need to take responsibility for them. I don’t want to be food for these beast when they get older. Who knows if I would get rabies should they bite me.”
Dyna gave her head a nod. Her face was all smiles like a kid getting a surprise present for their birthday.
“Chu what’s Rabies? Is that some skill wolves have that you read about?”
Ming asked him out of curiosity. Since the episode with Lucy this guy was enthusiastic about acquiring one.
With everything settled, Chu headed up to relieve Miki. The girl was obviously dying to head down to see the new additions. He scanned the surroundings searching for any signs of life. Only when dusk descended and the plains were shrouded in darkness was he satisfied that the cubs were alone.
When he came down the others were on the platform waiting. Sue quickly sent up the food she was keeping warm in the oven. The cubs were now resting in the front of the barn. They were intelligent enough to lay down close to the fading campfire to lock in the warmth.
“Ming, tomorrow we are heading into the village. I want to do this trip before the scent from this demon disappears. When that happens those wolf packs might return to roam the area.”
Chu was convinced that the demon scent was probably high in this area. Maybe that was the reason those wolf cubs followed such scent and arrived here. The larger adults would not be so naive and certainly steer clear of this location.
These cubs were a small distraction from one of the most important problems he ever faced.
The wolf demon.
In fact he was doubly sure that a wrong step would lead to him loosing his life. That was one of the main reasons why he was so torn as to sell or simply bury it.
Clearing his head of all those troubles and worries over the past day, he could finally focus on this problem. And it was one that was equivalent to them opening Pandora’s box.
The information from the ‘monster book’ and those little chats with Simon and Griz was enough for him to understand and outline the important facts.
This was a demon that was highly rated even since hundreds of years ago as being among the top in power. As such it even required the commander of the garrison to urgently dispatch a message requesting help to the city of Frost. Even in ancient times this city that existed still had to be on high alert when faced with such a demon.
Now this demon was lying half-frozen in a barn run by kids. Powerful people will soon arrive at this village under the guise of liberation. Chu was certain that nearly all of them would be accompanied by someone aiming for the lifestone. As such, this little corner of the Empire was going to be flipped upside down.
If he traded this demon, word is going to get out to everyone from village to city. That money in their little hands is going to be simply taken away. There is no possibility of them escaping that fact. Even if he sold it in secret and Griz manages to take it away, it wouldn’t be long before it will be traced back to them. They were too weak.
The Third Fact.
They used the #%$*&^$ lifestone!
Barring the fact that the carcass was now worth less than half the value, the important thing was that they actually used the lifestone and blood. Imagining the scale of mobilization that is going to take place shortly, they could be killed in a fit of anger or just killed.
Worse yet if it was found they had succeeded that was another kettle of fish by itself. From the book, the success of an Ancient talisman was near impossible for a reason. It was because it truly allowed far greater effects than a normal Tower talisman.
Best case scenario would be Lucy taken in to serve one of these factions. As for them, well nobody liked loose ends lying around. Worse case was unimaginable.
He was lacking in information. He didn’t know if the people coming from Frost city would have means of tracking the creature. Suppose they could track the creature by scent. More than half of that wolf demon’s blood was unintentionally scattered across the plain just out their front door. They might as well just stick some signs to point the way.
He still had questions that the book couldn’t provide the answer.
His best option was to head to the village and get as much information from Griz. Only then could he decide on a plan. If things became serious, he would brave the weather and high tail it to another village. Their finances were good enough to start from scratch from another strange place.
Snow fell heavily the next day, crushing Chu’s plans. He decided to make the best of the time and re-read some information from the book and let Lucy recover her health. It was really the blood loss that had her weak. Give a few days and she would be back to peak condition.
At least she was able to control her night vision skills. Unless she willed it, it remained deactivated. This went a long way in placing them at ease in the dark cellar.
Nobody was really to keen to wake up at night and see those eyes staring back at them. Especially so soon after their last ordeal.
One thing of note was that the cubs they left in the open area of the barn had decided to raid the demon wolf carcass during the night.
Small and skinny enough to pass between the inner fence at the trap entrance, they tore apart the canvas and tried to feast on the body. Luckily the fur and skin could withstand their feeble attacks. However they did manage to chew into the frozen heart.
By the time Dyna caught them in the morning, the heart was completely eaten. After a serious beating by Chu who saw his money being swallowed. They cowered behind their new master and trainer.
Dyna started her new occupation and began to feed and train them on the rights and wrongs in this household. For Chu this came a little too late.
“Lucy keep practicing the night vision in the cellar. When you switch with Miki, check if you can see around better during the day.”
Chu instructed her hoping that her eyesight was sharper than before. He was waiting for her full recovery to test her night vision from the lookout post. Her other senses could be tested slowly everyday.
“Ming get our outdoor equipment ready, as soon as the weather changes, we are going. If not this evening, then tomorrow.”
“Clod, make a check on the walls of the barn. I want to make sure that all weak areas are repaired.”
Receiving a grunt and a nod from the two he immersed himself in the book.
The more Chu deciphered, the more worried he became. The fact was that this talisman awakening was next to impossible. The amount of knowledge that flowed over the ages showed countless people at some point in time awakened powers through certain lifestones.
Most of the demon characteristics that were under the title of Low, Medium or Normal had information on abilities gained from their respective lifestone. This indicated that over the few centuries covered by the book, persons were fortunate to activate these lifestones.
The problem was that demons ranked High, Rare, Extremely dangerous and such levels had no such information recorded. This matched the information given under the wolf demon.
This thing was starting to become a major headache.
From the information gleaned of the book, these high level demons were either killed of for safety or provided no chance for a person to awaken during the last couple hundred years.
Now he had Lucy who was an awakened under the lifestone of a wolf demon.
To make matters worse, a Tower talisman usually affords the user a better chance at awakening. However it does so by significantly decreasing the powers absorbed from any lifestone.
An Ancient talisman has near impossible chance to activate, but when it does the awakened one is granted near full power of the lifestone. This short statement from the book under that heading increased his worry.
There were many pages that Chu skimmed through. He was a new reader so this deciphering didn’t come easy. He focused on those pages that introduced the Talismans at the back.
With this limited knowledge he did understand one fact.
Miss Lucy has been the proud owner of an Activated Ancient talisman.
Simon told them he had a tattoo from a low-class demon boar. This was a demon that was just higher than a wild beast. It had not yet leveled up to a humanoid demon as the wolf demon.
With this Tower talisman he could perform rapid charges and overpower a dozen normal guards in a short space of time. His experience and little stories that mentioned Frost city led Chu to interpret that most of the awakened ones were from low-class demons. Only few from the military had intermediate level tattoos according to him. Chu remembered the admiration and awe in Simon’s eyes when he spoke at that time.
Now take Little Lucy who had awakened a wolf demon lifestone on an Ancient talisman. What kind of chaos would that bring when those educated and knowledgeable persons were to find out. Even him with his little mind could understand the massive upheaval this thing was going to bring.
He was in the center of this damn storm!