Roukan scanned the darkened temple grounds while taking in the chorus of whispered prayers that blended with the occasional stifled whimper. The members of the Junsuina Temple were in full mourning tonight, its sacred burial grounds littered with the bodies of its many priests and priestesses.
A year ago, if someone had told Roukan that he and his Hyakuhiro Waterfall pack would willingly stand on sacred land, surrounded by those with the power to purify them, he wouldn’t have believed it. If someone further informed him that his wolf demon tribe would come to ally themselves with such beings in a battle to retrieve the Anamnesis Terrene, he would have flat out laughed.
“How long is this ceremony?” Raiju whispered at his side.
Roukan glanced at his companion. The Beta with whom he shared his rank meant no disrespect with his question, only genuine curiosity.
Shrugging his shoulders, he refocused his gaze upon the many pyres in front of them. There was only one that genuinely held his full attention. Yet, he wasn’t able to bring himself to look at the woman’s face that lay within.
Finally, after what felt like the span of hours, the chanting subsided and the night’s air filled with an eerie calm.
“It is time for the final farewell,” the head priest announced, prompting the gatherers to form a loose line to the right of the pyres.
Roukan and the other members of his pack respectfully fell into step with the holy users. As the attendees took turns approaching the deceased and offering heartfelt whispers for their sacrifice, he wondered what he would say to the woman who died protecting him in battle.
It was funny. He had never liked humans. Up until recently, their species had been nothing more than a source of food for him and his people. And holy users had always been their sworn enemy, existing solely for the purpose of protecting humanity from his kind.
But, Risa had been different.
Nothing about the woman’s appearance courted any notice, yet the woman truly had a strange way about her.
A way that did not go unnoticed by his leader.
Instantly becoming infatuated with the woman, Roukan’s Alpha strictly removed humans from their packs’ menu and dutifully pledged his services to her temple in an attempt to win her over.
Although the priestess was always warm and friendly, even going so far as to tolerate the Alpha’s flirtatious words and never-ending gifts of endearment, she obviously didn't regard their handsome and powerful leader in any romantic way. She made it clear on numerous occasions that she appreciated his friendship, but her heart belonged to another.
Roukan cleared his throat and searched the crowd for Tenrai, the object of Risa’s affections. He caught a glimpse of him standing at the back of the line. The priest’s mix-matched green and brown eyes were unfocused, and his posture was slumping. His short brown hair was disheveled, along with his state of dress.
For all appearances, he looked like a ruined man.
Abruptly, a menacing presence that was intentionally hanging back on the outskirts of the ceremony began to move. With a sudden rush, bodies forming the back of the line dispersed, a sea of bodies splitting to either side as Renji, the Hyakuhiro Waterfall pack’s Alpha, pointedly marched toward his Beta’s position. The demon moved like a stalking predator about to make short work of injured prey, his gait shifting with each of his light steps, his muscles rolling and tensing beneath his smooth skin.
The young Alpha was tall, lean, and muscled. His vibrant, yellow eyes were the color of heated gold, and they almost glowed against the backdrop of his tanned skin and fierce, shadowed features. His long, onyx hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, the abundant length of it swaying in the night’s warm breeze. Renji was clothed in his pack’s traditional black furs which were fashioned expertly over his torso and lower body in many twisting and overlapping pleats. He wore knee-high fur boots as well and a steel breastplate as his armor. Although he had the appearance of a human, the man had a furry, black tail protruding outwards from his tribe's dressings.
The moment he flanked him, Roukan cringed and focused his eyes on his feet.
Renji had not left his private quarters in the two days following Risa’s death. However, Roukan knew very well once his leader’s grief finally turned over to rage, there would be hell to pay. And the fact that Renji’s beloved priestess died while saving his hide would certainly not go unpunished.
As a livid, grief-stricken aura washed over Roukan, he was sure he was done for. However, whatever Renji was about to do was interrupted by a most familiar voice calling over to them.
“Renji…I need…I need your help,” Tenrai hissed as if the words burned his tongue to say.
The Alpha turned and scowled in the man’s direction, making a grand show of his fangs.
The priest didn’t so much as flinch. Instead, he defiantly crossed his arms over his chest. “If you cared for her as much as I did, you will help me.”
“My allegiance to your kind expired when she did,” Renji rumbled, his voice a low and menacing growl. “I owe you and your people nothing, priest.”
Tenrai burst forth, closing the gap between them. When he angrily bumped the Alpha’s shoulder with his own, he whispered, “Death only keeps the flesh, not the soul. My people never truly die. We are reborn. Help me find her again.”