Fire crackled in the banked pit as Howling Wind Triumphant drew in the earth with one long fingernail.
“This town is ripe for plucking. Two guards, maybe three, on duty and the rest sleeping in their soft beds.”
Around him, his tribe of barbarians watched his movements with the fervor of worshipers. Howling Wind ignored them, the infatuation just a by-product of their absolute loyalty to every word that came from his lips. He flexed his hand tightly, watching as his moonsilver tattoos flickered with his movement, then drew a sharp line to slice the town in half.
“Follow this line, punch through and keep moving. Grab everything that isn’t nailed down. We have until the moon hits its zenith and we keep on running.”
His eyes, silver-flecked amber, looked up to the swollen disk of light high above. He smiled, reciting a prayer in his mind to his mistress above all mistresses, Luna. His eyes narrowed and he returned.
“You are many, so swarm over them like the fire ants back home. Kill only who resists and shove the others out of the way. We want food, money, and treasure.”
Howling Wind focused on his greatest mortal fighter, a human with swollen muscles but huge bug eyes.
“And no women, Kranth. We don’t need hanger-ons this raid.”
Everyone laughed and Kranth licked his face with a long, frog-like tongue. Howling Wind chuckled with his barbarians, watching how each one danced with anticipation of the raid. Their weapons shone with fresh oil, their bodies glistening with war paint. He nodded in satisfaction. He pierced the earth near the middle of the two with a dull thump noise.
“They say a stranger is in town, a soft city man.”
His men chuckled, but he shook his head.
“No, leave him. Avoid him. If he fights, withdraw and escape. You are to handle the mortals. This stranger fights with jade, which means he is one of the Dragon-Blooded.”
The chuckles around him silenced as each barbarian thought hard on Howling Wind’s words. The lunar stood up, reaching back to grab the moonsilver dire lance. It tore up a chunk of ground as he yanked it out, holding it over his head. He stood two feet above the tallest barbarian, easily nine feet in height and filled with muscles capable of ripping the head off a mere Dragon-Blooded. He inhaled, breathing in the smell of excitement, anticipation, and blood in the wind.
“We are ready.”
Around him, the barbarians chanted in response.
“We are ready.”
Spinning the haft of his weapon, he pointed into the darkness, toward their ripe target.
As one, his barbarians stood up and filtered into the darkness. Howling Wind watched his amber eyes, his body trembling with the ache to lunge forward and take on the entire town himself. He held himself in check, watching until the last of his followers disappeared in the shadows of the trees.
Counting his heartbeats, he shifted into movement at one hundred. Powerful legs surged forward and he jumped up to the branches near the top of the tree. His dire lance left a shimmering arc of movement behind him. He landed hard on the limb and crouched down. Using the last momentum of his first jump, he launched himself high into the air. His moonsilver tattoos sparkled, bursting into light as a silvered disk formed on his forehead. The wind howled around him as his body twisted, stretching and expanding, billowing out as immense wings burst out of his limbs. At the height of his jump, his body had transformed into one of the largest flying beings in creation, a roc. Letting out a screech that echoed out across the treetops, he beat his powerful wings and shot forward.
The gigantic frame of the roc still moved faster than his barbarians and he banked around the town to make one last reconnaissance. As he returned, he saw the first of his warriors screaming out in rage as they came flooding into the town, cutting down guards and bursting through a pathetic attempt at a gate. Oiled men streamed through the city, charging with a brutal pace before anyone could rouse themselves.
Howling Wind beat his powerful wings and rose higher into the air. His eyes narrowed as he focused on the town. He watched his shadow stretching out across the buildings and the forests surrounding it but he continued to rise.
Down below, he spotted a flash of light. Brilliant gold, it burst out from the center of the town and Howling Wind grinned with triumph.
Flipping over, he threw himself into a dive straight toward the town. Wings beat hard, accelerating his giant form as gravity clutched him with a hard hand. His body tense with anticipation as the buildings rushed up. His target was merely a slip of a boy, maybe in his middle teen years at the most. However, the teenager had pulled out a green jade rod and slashed out at the barbarians with some measure of skill. As he commanded, his men dodged and melted into the shadows, never giving the Exalted a chance to properly attack.
Wind screaming around him and the ground rushing up, Howling Wind focused a flicker of energy through his body and felt his form changing once again. It returned to the half-man, half-beast form that he favored him combat. His hands gripped his dire lance tightly, holding it with all his strength as he aimed his weapon to slam into the Exalted below.
At the last minute, from a shadow of the moon or something else, his target glanced up. Howling Wind watched as the slip of a man’s eyes grew very wide. Then, his dire lance struck. Gold flared around him as the lunar slammed into the ground. The form of his target melted, flowing out of the way as his dire lance impacted with the ground. Dirt exploded in all directions, carving a chunk out of the nearby inn and sending shards of rock everywhere. The impact left a crater five feet deep and thirty feet across, but Howling Wind didn’t have time to admire his attack. Surging up, he leaped high into the air, saw the golden glow of his target, and brought his dire lance in a powerful overhead swing. Silver tornadoes burst into existence from behind his weapon, but his target managed to fling up his rod and parried the blow. Sparks of silver and gold burst out from the impact. Howling Wind laughed as the slip of a boy slid back from the force of the blow, his feet digging furrows in the solid-packed earth.
It would be an easy fight.
Then Howling Wind Triumphant met the eyes of his opponent. Liquid green, they were sad and strong at the same time. The lunar froze, a powerful burst of heat rising up in his chest as he stared at the tiny man. His heart pounded, not with the rush of combat but something deeper, something more primal.
A name rose up in his mind, powerful and overwhelming and speaking in the very voice of Luna. His lips spoke them even as he heard them ripping through his thoughts.
“Jade Lies in Honor.”
The strangled noise that came out of Howling Wind’s name couldn’t have been louder than a whisper, but the effect on his opponent was pronounced. The man shoved forward and scrambled back at the same instant, falling over himself as he brought his jade rod back into a parry position.
“H-How do you know my name?”
Howling Wind groaned at the voice, hearing it echo inside his head. The noise that came out of his opponent’s mouth had the accent of Nexus, but almost refined. The one inside the lunar’s head was female, with a thick sound of Old Realm as she said the same words as Jade Lies in Honor.
The half-human beast-man shook his head to clear it.
“Because you die here!”
He brought his dire lance in a low, sweeping blow. The moonsilver head punched through the hard earth, leaving a deep rent in the surface before coming up to attack at Honor. Dirt splattered on Howling Wind’s opponent and their weapons collided each other with an explosion of dust, silver, and gold. With the impact, Howling Wind felt a powerful memory slam into him, throwing him back to a different life where he was a she and stood over the body of her most passionate love, defending his corpse against the hordes of Dragon-Blooded attacking them. Howling Wind growled to break the memory and grabbed the jade weapon. With a surge of strength that lit up his caste mark into a hellish silver fury, he yanked the weapon from Honor’s hands and threw it as far as he could.
Honor stepped back, hands held up high. A golden caste mark glittering on Honor’s forehead. Howling Wind hesitated for a moment, realizing his opponent was not a Dragon-Blooded, but a Solar. An anathema such as himself.
His eyes focused on the Solar’s green eyes and he saw sadness and fear in them. Fighting the maelstrom of emotions inside him, the lunar focused on the fear as the easiest to fight.
Breathing in deep, he let out a powerful screech and attacked again. His dire lance burned with silver fire as a giant bird burst out of his anima, flaring to life. Honor’s body glowed golden for a second and flowed away, reappearing only inches away from Howling Wind’s killing blow.
With the ghostly image of silver, blue, and rose rising up from him, Howling Wind caught a bare-handed blow from Honor. The impact was pathetic, less than a child, but the memory that crushed his thoughts was crippling.
Another life, another time. Him standing in front a woman as she screamed out arcane words of sorcery. He knew that she was also Honor but was different, a different life for both of them. Eldritch energies burned across his back and he prepared to defend his mate from the hordes of demons that came rushing for him. Howling Wind mimicked the movement of his memory, grabbing his dire lance with both hands and using it to bash his opponent. Before Jade Lies in Honor could response, he twisted his haft and brought the weapon up in a arc of silver. It impacted flesh and Honor flew back from the silver cross of Howling Wind’s brutal attack.
The lunar watched as Honor’s body crashed into the ground, shattering a table outside the inn. Memories slammed into him, but he ground his teeth against it and flexed his fingers around the haft of his weapon. Long claws, identical to the ones as a roc, scraped against the moonsilver weapon. His feet pounded the ground until he stood over the barely conscious form of his opponent. Memories that flooded over him told of love and passion, of companions and of protecting, but Howling Wind raged against it.
He brought his weapon up into a killing blow. The moonsilver blade shone in the light of his anima banner and the disk of light at his forehead. He growled and brought it down with all his strength.
In that moment of the blow, the world slowed down. Memories flowed through him, dragging his weapon through the thick mire of emotions. Honor looked up with his sad green eyes and Howling Wind remembered those same eyes in some many lifetimes. He killed for those eyes. He loved for those eyes. And most importantly, he defended those eyes.
His weapon punched through the ground inches away from Honor’s hair. The impact of the attack buckled the earth and stone beneath Honor. Howling Wind glared down at the green eyed man, breathing hard as the memories faded away with the wind.
Liquid green eyes.
He shook his head to clear it once again, but the memories remained. With a snarl, he yanked his weapon free of the ground and stepped away.
Kranth and another of his barbarians watched from the shadows, awed at the fight of their god. He gestured for them to come. They did with their bodies slick with sweat and blood.
“Sound the retreat.”
It hurt Howling Wind to say the words, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the green gaze of Jade Lies in Honor. Honor pushed himself up into a sitting position, barely able to move but just as unable to tear himself away from Howling Wind’s glare.
Kranth cleared his throat, “But-”
Obedience was drilled into the very hearts and minds of each barbarian. Without a second word, Kranth let out an ear-piercing scream, then another. The sound to retreat. They would have won, the town held no defenses his tribe could not defeat. But, weapons didn’t lose the battle. Only memories.
Howling Wind kept staring at those green eyes, long after his barbarians had fled into the shadows. As the townsfolk stirred from their homes, armed with fear and makeshift weapons, Howling Wind finally spoke in a deep rumble.
“I will not kill you. I cannot kill you.”
With a powerful leap, he shot up into the air, his body forming once again into the shape of his totem form. He circled the town once and headed out over the woods. His tribe, his men, his worshipers would wait. His battle would wait. He tried to flee his memories. No matter how hard he beat his wings, no matter how high he flew, Howling Wind Triumphant couldn’t escape the memories of those haunting green eyes.