Opening his eyes, Gen felt more alive than ever, his body thrumming with energy. Beside his bed, a bowl of water sat waiting and he gazed into his reflection. His bruises were ugly and purple, his left eye swollen shut, and numerous cuts covered his face but there was no pain or stiffness. Grinning as he realized his dreams had come true he clenched his fist tight, his muscles throbbing as his new-found strength surged through them. This was his discovery, his Insight gleaned in the moments between wakefulness and sleep. He knew that as time passed, he’d become even stronger, his body drawing on the natural energy of the world now that he’d broken down the barriers holding him back. A sheep no more, in a single night, he’d stepped on the path to becoming a wolf.
After gathering his thoughts and organizing the new knowledge in his mind, he strode out of his room and sat at the dining table with Pa as Ma scurried over to check on him. “Oh you silly child, stay in bed and rest, you’re injured. I’ll bring something in for you to eat.”
“I’m fine Ma, though I am hungry.” His voice was stuffy, his lips and gums cut, but he hardly even noticed it. “Starving actually. I’ll eat out here.”
“That’s my boy.” His Pa exclaimed proudly, as if the worthless fool had anything to do with it. “Vigorous and hardy, quit fussing over him and fetch him a meal. Thank the Mother Baledagh was merciful, from the look of you, I’d have thought you down and out for weeks.”
Merciful? Baledagh had meant to kill him, fearing his potential, and the day would come when that bastard regretted it. Soon, a bowl of rice gruel with scraps of meat sat in front of him, a pitiful meal which he ate with zeal, his body craving sustenance. Finishing the bowl, he asked for more, devouring all the food they had while ignoring his parents. Most of their efforts were going towards feeding worthless Baledagh and his whore, leaving themselves with nothing more than scraps, but this would soon change. It would be so pleasing to watch his bright red blood spray into the air, but not until he begged for death. Yes, Gen would take his sweet time, with so many fun new ideas to try. Patience would be needed though, his strength needed time to grow. No matter, Baledagh sat idle in Qing-Qing’s home, too lazy to leave.
Pa’s incessant rambling quickly ruined his plan. “You keep clear of Baledagh, you hear? I finally found myself a seller, heading west two villages over to buy a pair of horses, so I’ll be gone for a few days. He means to travel and we’ll all breathe easier once he’s gone.”
At the unexpected news, Gen let out a small sound of dissatisfaction. How bothersome, he’d expected to have more than three or four days. Baledagh was too strong to fight, but with enough time, Gen would eventually surpass him. Even the meagre meal he’d eaten was enough to invigorate him, and with heartier meals and time, he’d become unparalleled.
Then again, wolves hunted in packs. He could gather more beside him, enlighten them to true strength. Excusing himself, he strode out the door and found his two best friends, Kash and Deng, and after convincing them he was fine, they set out for a hunt. He’d need the extra food anyways, and out in the woods, they could speak freely. Kash was a year older, though not as strong, a perverted scamp who lusted after every woman he met, while Deng was the same age, a meek toady who followed behind the two older boys.
They kept stride as he led them through the forest, moving silently at a run for almost fifteen minutes before Kash spoke. “Damn Gen, you look like death worked over, but you ain’t missed a beat. Don’t you want to slow down and you know… look for tracks?”
“Don’t worry, I know where I’m going.” He wasn’t sure how, gut instinct guiding him, but it felt right. They continued in silence for several minutes before he stopped and turned to his friends. “This is stupid, we’ve known each other since birth, we’re like brothers. Normally you two never shut up, speak your mind.”
His friends glanced at one another panting, their weak bodies unable to keep up with his new self. Deng was the first to speak, wringing his hands like a worthless loser. “Nothing to say, little chief. We’ll steer clear of that bandit and all will be well.”
“Besides, no need to be so sour.” Kash chimed in. “Plenty of other women out there, ain’t like Qing was anything special. That Bei, she’s got the curves a man needs and she’s head over heels for you. I ever tell you how jealous I am? A snap of your fingers and you can have any girl you want.”
Hmph, with the meagre strength he had before, these idiots would kiss his feet if he demanded it, a spineless pair. How would they act if they knew his true strength. “Jealous? You shouldn’t be, you could have the same.”
“Oh, I’m far below young chief Gen, There’s no women pining after me.” Kash gave a self-depreciating chuckle. “After that bitch Lai spread that nasty rumour, none of the girls will give me a second glance.”
“Ha, rumour? You deny peeping on her? That’s no proper behaviour.” Deng wagged his finger in mock sternness.
“You little shit, if you hadn’t bugged out like a startled squirrel, you’d have been caught right there with me.”
“Forget all that.” Waving aside their banter, Gen pushed straight to the point. “What I mean is, so long as you have strength, what woman would dare deny you?”
His friends traded glances before Deng shook his head. “What are you talking about Gen? You mean to force them? That’s not right.”
“Yea, weren’t you the one who talked me out of teaching Lai a lesson?”
“Hmph. Don’t you see? Baledagh opened my eyes to it. With strength, everything else will follow. You’ve seen how that bitch fawns over him? That’s what happens when you have strength. Pa likened us to sheep, and Baledagh a wolf. Well I’m through with being a sheep.” Turning, he strode towards his prey, guided by intuition. His friends followed soon after, without conversation, ruminating on his words.
Before long, his instincts were proven correct when the three of them came across a giant brown bear, ambling about in the fields less than a hundred paces away. Deng froze at the sight of the massive beast and Kash signalled for them to fall back, but Gen shook his head and drew his bow. There was a saying, ‘better to be a hungry hunter than a dead one’, an adage they all followed. Yesterday, he would’ve been like Deng and Kash, tucking tail to run, the beast far too strong for them to handle.
Today, he was a hunter, a killer, and he would not be denied. Better a dead wolf than a live sheep.
Drawing his arrows, he fired twice in quick succession, the projectiles bouncing off its thick hide. Rearing on its hind legs, the creature roared in anger, trying to scare him off. Continuing to fire, a grin spread on his face as the blood rushed through his body, singing loudly in his ears. Without firing a single shot, Deng dropped his bow and fled screaming, but Kash held firm, standing tall to loose his arrows. Yes, Kash would be a good second, he was worthy of strength and had an attitude that suited him. Deng was a worthless coward, he could burn with the rest.
The beast charged towards them, its massive form deceptively swift as Gen put aside his bow and took up his spear. With a scream of fury, he charged headlong at the ursine giant, leaping over its powerful swipes and chomping jaw. Unstoppable, he waited until the last moment before thrusting at a downward angle, his spear piercing through the beast’s fur and skin, forcing aside muscle and sinew to bite deep. Still holding the spear, Gen vaulted over his prey, his body turning gracefully in mid-air before landing on his feet.
The bear moaned as it lay pinned to the ground, blood jetting out in a powerful spray. Not even out of breath, Gen watched his prey, so pitiful and weak, no challenge for him now that he grasped true strength. Kash gingerly circled the dying bear, his cowardice ugly to see, and Gen wanted to tear his throat out. “Fuck me…” No it was only simple prudence, the bear could still lash out in its dying breath. Kash can still be useful. “You were incredible, I’ve never seen you move like that. This thing must weigh close to two tons, bones and all. I knew you were good, but damn… When’d you learn how to do that?”
“I’ve always been able to, I was only limiting myself due to fear and misinformation.” Unsheathing his knife, he moved to carve into the beast, annoyed by its shuddering movements. The words spilled from his mouth unbidden as he spoke over its dying cries. “Last night, I hit a low point. I was beaten half to death, and Pa couldn’t wait to bow and scrape before Baledagh, thanking him for his mercy. Seeing that disgusted me, and I decided I would no longer be weak. I loathed myself for not being strong enough, cursed the Mother for not allow my to be born into a noble house, for being unable to find true Balance.”
Having enough of the bear’s delicious screams, he jammed his knife through its skull, and with a spurt of blood, it fell silent, its body shuddering its last death throes. The death filled him with exhilaration and cheer, the first true test of his newfound prowess. “And that’s when I had an epiphany. All warriors and bandits are so vicious and bloodthirsty, yet supposedly in harmony with the world, at peace with themselves, in Balance. How does that make any sense? Was Baledagh in Balance when he was beating me to a pulp? When bandits rape and pillage, does that seem harmonious? Balance is a joke, a lie set forth by those in power to keep the weak from rising up.”
Eyes wide, Kash backed away, his spear held defensively before him. “What did you do, Gen?”
Grinning widely, he stood and spread his arms, displaying himself. “I gave in to my anger and hatred, and in return, I was gifted with this strength. More than you could ever believe, it’s so magnificent. You could be strong too, all you need to do is give in.”
“But… But that’s how you become Defiled…” Kash’s voice was almost pleading, his body shaking in fear.
“How long have you known me? Aside from the strength, do I seem any different to you? Defiled? Am I a crazed cannibal now?” He rolled his eyes and wiped his chin, tasting the salty blood. “Becoming Defiled is a fairy tale, I see this clearly now. Cast aside your fear, give in to your anger, and seize true power for yourself. Stand at my side and together, we will become warriors without equal, and take what truly belongs to us.”
Smiling at Kash, he eagerly anticipated the look of comprehension, but the idiot was still confused even after Gen explained everything so patiently. What a disappointment. Naturally setting loose the power within him, he watched as it swirled around Kash, whispering to him, enticing him with the secrets of the world. Kash’s concern and confusion melted away and Gen continued to push. “You wanted Bei and Lai? Then take them and anyone else who catches your eye. Who will stop you? Let me ask you this: who stopped that bandit who raped your sister? Or the bastard who killed your cousin because he didn’t like the way he looked? No one, because the strong thrive, and the weak endure. Which would you rather be?”
Through with trying to convince him, Gen turned about and started a campfire, setting slabs of meat down to cook. No sense dragging it back to the village, he’d be forced to offer it to Baledagh, so might as well eat it out here. He made quick work of the carcass, stripping flesh from bone with ease, the powerful giant no longer imposing now that it lay dead. The smell of blood filled his nostrils as it sprayed over him, covering his body in the warm, wet fluid.
Turning at the sound of footsteps, he spotted Kash scrambling to flee into the forest. Whooping with joy, Gen ran down his prey, catching it quickly and throwing it to the ground. Turning around with arms outstretched, his prey pleaded with tears in its eyes. “Please Gen, don’t –” Gen’s knife carved through flesh like tofu and he delighted in the tortured screams echoing out into the otherwise silent forest. Raising his fist again and again, he lost himself in a frenzy, beating his prey until he stared down at a mangled mess of pulp and bone, unrecognizable to anyone who might come across it. Breathing hard, Gen tasted the blood of his former friend sprayed across his lips and all over the forest ground, feeling an odd emotion eating away at his stomach: Guilt.
Dropping to his knees, his chest tightened as he struggled to breathe, warring with the emotions inside him. Screaming into the skies, he pushed aside his guilt and turned his thoughts away. Why should he feel guilty? He’d given Kash every chance to join him, patiently explaining the way of the world to him, sharing all that he’d learned and would come to own, and what did he do? Betray him. Kash would have told everyone that he was Defiled, and that was unacceptable. The worthless idiot didn’t know how to appreciate his wisdom, deserved what happened to him, and it was of no consequence. Gen would find others to join, more acceptable comrades. Sitting down amidst the beautiful, vibrant carnage, he waited for the meat to cook, letting his instincts take over while chewing ravenously on bits of fat. No need to think so much, easier to empty his mind and follow his instincts.
After feasting to his heart’s content, he packed as much of the butchered meat as he could and left most of the carcass behind. Following his instincts north through the forest and away from the village, he moved without thought, running past village after village without slowing, his body full of energy, the twin claws hanging on his belt by a scavenged leather thong. Better for his whereabouts to remain a mystery, so his triumphant return would come as more of a surprise, but before anything could happen, he needed more wolves, more warriors. The sun fell before he stopped to eat, wasting precious time cooking before setting out again, moving through the darkness without difficulty, another wonderful discovery.
When the sun rose again, he didn’t bother stopping to cook, devouring the meat raw as he moved. Much more efficient this way, and far more delicious. The chewy, grainy texture alone made it a better meal, and he wondered why he ever bothered with cooking at all. A second day passed in the same way before he consumed the last of his meat, but it didn’t matter. He’d arrived at his destination, the smell of death embracing him as he strode into a burnt village, meeting the eyes of pillaging bandit and despairing villager alike, smiling at the surrounding carnage. Here were his wolves, his pack, his brethren and together they would tear Baledagh limb from limb.
“Hey, ye one of ours? I ain’t ever seen ye around before” A little bandit sheep approached him with a sneer on his face and weapon in hand, but Gen ignored the worthless lout. Glancing around, he quickly found several kindred spirits interspersed among the sheep, each one acknowledging his presence, seeing him for who he was. One of them intercepted the idiot lout and directed Gen towards the centre of the village. The power was thick here, in the bloodshed and carnage, the anguish and hatred fuelling his brethren and festering inside the sheep, so they too might learn of true power if they survived. Voices rose within his mind, empowered by his surroundings, whispering to him as he wandered through the remains, delighting in the creative expressions found throughout the area, the bodies posed and toyed with in the most imaginative ways.
In the village square, he came across the man he’d travelled so far to find. Standing to one side, Gen enjoyed the show with a smile on his face, the massive warrior toying with a few villagers, their screams filling him with ecstasy and longing. The voices told him to wait patiently, whispering for him to embrace the violence and become stronger through surrender and he relinquished all his senses to them, their satisfaction echoing in his mind. Lost in the pleasure, he stepped forward and drew his knife, grabbing a lovely little maiden with half her face missing, her mouth babbling insensibly from the pain. Beautiful.
A powerful backhand caught him in the face and he reeled from the impact. Snarling at the warrior, he readied to leap forward to kill, but the voices stopped him. Dark-haired and clean-shaven, his assailant looked every bit the handsome hero if not for the gore covering his body. Brandishing a red-hot knife from the brazier beside him, the warrior spoke with a deep gravelly voice. “Yer new so I’ll let it pass this once, but these are my toys. Been expecting you for awhile now, ain’t good to keep yer comrades waiting so long.”
“There are people I need to kill. A village, only a day or two away.” Gen couldn’t tear his eyes off the weeping girl, wanting nothing more than to fight the warrior and take her for himself, but the voices persuaded him otherwise. There were plenty of other sheep to devour.
Looking him up and down, the warrior broke into a grand smile, as if seeing an old friend. “Good, good, you’ll fit in nicely. Why not, one village is the same as another. Call it your welcoming gift, best to remove all traces of your past anyways. We’ll head out in the morning, go have your own fun elsewhere and burn everything when yer done. Gotta cover our tracks ye see, can’t have the army coming down on us. No one cares about dead villagers, but our activities bring too much scrutiny.” Thumping his chest, the warrior proudly exclaimed, “Yer a Firebrand now, working under Xiao HuoLong, the Laughing Dragon. You listen well and we’ll kill to our hearts content.”
Ha, not wolves, but dragons. Yes, Gen was finally where he belonged.
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