An icy gust of wind stopped Shuichi dead in his tracks, chilling him down to the bone. He had powered through the knee-height snow for around an hour, staff in his gloved hands. His uncle had asked that he herd the sheep back to the barn, before the first winter snowstorm had hit. In the meanwhile, his uncle had headed to the village to stock up on things they may need to last the storm. So far, things were going smoothly, nothing out of the usual thus far. The sound of Haru, his border collie, barking and the bleating of sheep brought him back to his senses. Right, herd sheep back to corral before the storm comes. He shouldn’t be too far away, judging by the amount he’s walked thus far.
He ordered his dog to mush and continued onwards, checking for any lost sheep along the way. Through the dark and grey atmosphere, he could make out his uncle’s house on the other side of the hill. He almost sighed with utmost relief at the sight. Just another ten minutes and he’d be home-
Suddenly, his sheep began to scatter, all bleating in panic. Haru began to snarl, barking like an absolute feral beast.
That could only mean one thing: wolf.
And right he was, just a few feet away from him, a wolf was attacking one of the younger sheep, flinging it around like a chewtoy. Without hesitation, Saihara gripped his staff and rushed towards the beast, bashing it on the head and shouting at it. His dog joined in on the attack, nipping at the wolf’s ears and ankles.
It snarled in confusion, whipping its head around to eye both of its attackers, unsure of who to attack. With a painful bite to the nose from Haru, the canid yowled before scurrying off, limping slightly in one leg.
“Good boy,” Saihara praised, slightly out of breath as he gently pat the dog’s head, recollecting himself before herding the sheep again.
It took a while to find the herd again, but he thankfully managed to remain on schedule and corral all of the sheep, as well as treat the sheep that were injured from the attack. And, before he knew it, he was back home, all warm and cozy inside.
Well, almost warm and cozy.
He still had things to do to prepare for the upcoming storm.
That’s when five loud knocks sounded from the main entrance.
Saihara didn’t even need to open the door to guess who it was.
The herder marched towards the doors swinging it open and coming face-to-face with a familiar grinning captain.
“Yo! Shuichi! How’re you doing so far away from civilization?”
The boy sighed. “Kaito, for the millionth time, a 30 minute trek isn’t the end of the world. Besides, I’ve been living here since what, since I was seven?”
Kaito’s grin flattened. “I know but… you’re one of the only cool kids my age in the entire village. Anyways, let’s go inside!”
The captain stomped his boots on the doormat, before walking past the boy and plopping down onto one of the chairs in the kitchen, helping himself to a cup of cold coffee Shuichi forgot to finish earlier that was left on the table.
“So, how’s everything going? Did you get the herd ready for the upcoming storm?” Kaito said between sips.
The herder shut the door and sat opposite to him, anxiously tapping his fingers against the table. “Yep, though I ran into a wolf on the way though. Thankfully Haru and I had managed to take care of it with little to no injuries. Everyone’s sound asleep in the barn already, food, water and vitamins laid out.”
Kaito’s brows furrowed. “Be careful man. Recently everyone’s been coming to me with complaints about wolves attacking their livestocks. And just last night, Miu came screaming to me that a white wolf attacked her small mutt, completely shattering its leg with one bite. One of my mutuals suspects that it’s a coordinated attack by some werewolves who’re unhappy with Kuroikuma’s stance towards their race, but I’m not too sure about that.” He paused to gulp down the rest of his coffee. “Anyways, be extra cautious this winter. The animals are restless this year, domestic and wild alike.”
Shuichi sighed. “I… I could tell. And don’t you have anything else to do? You know, your actual job besides visiting me every two days?”
Kaito simply chuckled and leaned back in his chair, scratching the stubby beard on his cheeks. “I’ve got an hour of free time between patrols, don’t worry! Besides, I’ve got plenty of time to prepare until tomorrow.”
“But… doesn’t the storm start at around dusk?”
“Huh?!” Kaito suddenly shot up from his chair, making the boy flinch. “But Miu told me that it was tomorrow!!”
Shuichi sighed. “You want someone who spends day and night holed up in their workshop to be able accurately read the weather?”
With this newfound information, Kaito hurriedly buttoned his jacket. “W-Well, I’ve gotta go! See you tomorrow Shuichi! I’ve got to find my cat before its too late!”
Without letting the boy reply, the purple haired man had already rushed outside and was already halfway downhill, kicking up soft snow as he sped away from the residence.
To this day Shuichi still wonders how on Earth he had managed to become Kuroikuma’s main guard AND captain, on top of that.
Sure, to his credit, he was incredibly fit and well-educated when it came to politics, magic and fighting. However, Kaito was sometimes too emotional for his own good. He’d always managed to get himself into countless fights during training sessions. If it weren’t for Shuichi constantly bribing his way out of trouble (due to him being the leader’s son and well-liked by the officials), he’s certain that he wouldn’t have made it past the first exam.
Not that he’d ever tell his best friend that though. He loves him to pieces, regardless of him being an absolute airhead at times.
Right then, now’s time for his magic practice.
The boy got up and closed the door, shuddering from the cold draft that had wafted in. He waltzed to his room and gently closed his door, sighing before clapping his hands together.
Saihara casted a fire spell and flicked towards a nearby candle, causing it to light up, illuminating his once dark bedroom.
He then proceeded to organize his clothes, folding them and separating them in each appropriate category. He’d store then later, he told himself. Afterwards, he then made sure to feed his dog, who was resting in the kitchen, curled up beside the fireplace. Next, he made sure to check if the animals' pens were closed and locked, before heading inside and getting ready for bed.
Thankfully, when he had finished getting ready, the storm had officially begun, making him grateful to finish his chores beforehand. He worried if Kaito had managed to get inside before the initial winds had hit. The captain wasn’t too good when it came to dealing with cold weather, that much was obvious from the years he knew him. Well, now wasn’t the time to cry over spilt milk. With nothing else left to do, he figured that he’d continue his reading and practice his magic.
He placed the candle on his desk, sitting down and pulling out the spellbook his father had given him. However, he hesitated on opening it, his hands tracing over the letters 'Hayato Saihara' carved into the book.
His father had given the book to him in hopes of making up for lost time, since he had left him in the care of his uncle since he was little. It was no surprise that he could afford a spellbook like this, considering the fact that he was the village's leader. However, despite whatever gifts he got, Saihara could never forgive him for not being there when he needed him the most. He was much happier on his uncle’s farm than being anywhere else, tending to the sheep rather than participating in politics and skirmishes.
Truth be told, one thing he shares with his father is his love for mysteries and investigating. Ever since he was little, he’s had a knack for finding anything that was missing whether it be items or even entire cattle. And that skill proved to be useful when it came to sheep herding, since he could locate deviating sheep with ease.
The boy huffed and opened the book, flipping through its pages and stopping on where he had last bookmarked it: fire magic.
He’d been struggling with fire magic for as long as he could remember. He was mainly specialized in all sorts of psychological magic. Hell, he could even summon a powerful demon if he has the intent and resources to do so. However, unlike all of his friends – or anyone he knew really – he hadn’t been able to grasp certain types of magic, fire included.
So, with courtesy of a local mage friend of his, Himiko Yumeno, he had begun training under her. Despite her sluggish attitude, she proved to a somewhat skilled teacher. So far he’d learned how to boil water and start a small campfire with his mana. However, he was still struggling to even form a fireball in his hands. Thankfully, the girl was more patient than she lets on.
With a small smile of determination making its way onto his face, Shuichi cracked his knuckles and practically three himself into his studies.
Five hours later, he was dead asleep, face plastered on the book and unlit candles circling the boy’s desk. Somewhere around the two hour mark, he had fallen asleep in the pitch darkness, with the snowstorm raging outside, although not as strongly as it was a few hours ago.
A sudden loud series of knocks, followed by the sound of his dog barking roused him from his sleep.
Saihara groaned and hurriedly combed his hair with his fingers before quickly lighting a candle and rising to his feet. That’s when he realized something.
The knocking came from his room's door, not the front door.
The boy’s heart practically stopped beating when the knocking began again, followed by more distant barking. Saihara hurriedly drew his dagger and positioned himself behind the door, cautiously opening the door with his off hand.
Just as expected, an unfamiliar black and white figure came flying in, knife also in hand.
Shuichi charged forward and drove his dagger into the person’s shoulder, putting the candle out by hurriedly blowing on it.
The stranger wasted no time in retaliating, flipping themselves over and delivering a hard kick to Shuichi’s side. The two scrabbled on the floor, delivering various slashes and cuts to each other. However, the herder’s stamina was quickly depleted, causing him to be easily pinned and have his hands be restrained with one gloved hand.
As the boy squirmed, he could make out the thick black hooded cloak the other wore, covering whatever outfit he had on underneath. With his free hand, the assailant drew back his hood, revealing pale skin and snowy white hair, accompanied by bright teal eyes.
“I need your help, and urgently."
Our heroes finally set off, accompanied by an adorable little border collie!
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
After the impromptu assault, the stranger eventually got off of him and sat at his desk, legs crossed and opposite to where Shuichi sat, criss-crossed on his bed. The two eyed each other warily for a couple of minutes, arms crossed and lips pursed into a straight line. From what Shuichi could make out from under his cloak, he didn’t seem to be armed, nor did he seem to carry anything magically enchanted. In his opinion, ambushing someone without any magic or arms was beyond stupid.
Shuichi eyed him up and down, before locking his gaze onto his. He seemed to squirm in his chair a bit, clearly uncomfortable under his pressing golden gaze. Finally, after a few minutes of silent confrontation, the white-haired individual sighed and removed his cloak, revealing an oddly detailed and traditional winter outfit primarily colored in various shades of black, dark grey and hints of green, silver, white and blue. It was all topped off with a long and simplistic mint and grey scarf. He cleared his throat to catch the sheep herder’s attention.
“I do apologize for ambushing you like this. It’s just that…” He began, twiddling with his mittens.
“Just what?” Shuichi demanded.
“It’s just that you didn’t hear me when I called for you at the front door. And it is of utmost urgent matter.”
“Well what is it that’s so important that you need to break into my house at night?”
The stranger hesitated, licking his lips before continuing. “I need your help in assassinating a wolf.”
The navy-haired boy stuttered. “W-Wait! What?! What the fuck? What do you mean simply killing a wolf?!”
“I mean exactly what I said.”
“Can’t you choose someone who’s, oh I don’t know, actually skilled in fighting or hunting?”
He shook his head. “No. You’ll do just fine, I promise.”
Shuichi’s words died down on his tongue. First he was being assaulted and now he was practically being pleaded with to help some stranger in an absurdly difficult request, in the middle of a snowstorm no less. On top of that, he fucking herded sheep for a living, not slaughtering forest animals.
“But,” he continued. “I shall reward you with a hefty sum of money.”
The herder’s throat dried up upon hearing this. “J-Just how much?”
“Hmm… Enough to purchase a residence beside the castle as well as ten acres of land.”
Shuichi blinked. With that amount of money, he would most possibly gain enough influence to become one of the higher ranked juveniles of Kuroikuma, and possible even earn his father’s respect. Possibly. If not, he could have enough to help his aging uncle’s health expenses.
It was too much of a good chance to miss out on.
However, if he suddenly left to go on a mission with him, he’d have to place his herding work entirely on his uncle, who already had the rest of the farm to take care of. Kaito would also probably summon the entire guard regime to search for him, causing a massive and unneeded uproar in Kuroikuma. On top of that, he isn’t sure if he’s capable of killing a wolf, knowing just how resilient and deadly they are. Shuichi has heard of plenty rumors where wolves have been able to tear men to shreds in a mere matter of seconds. That alone has kept him out of the woods up until he began herding.
“I… I’ll need time to think about it. I can’t just leave my life behind, my uncle needs me.” He confessed, scratching the back of his neck.
The stranger huffed, before rising to his feet and placing his cloak back on. “I understand your reason for concern. However, please understand that time is of the utmost necessity. If you accept, please meet me by the barn by dawn. I shall wait no longer than that.”
Afterwards, the albino stepped out of his room and out of his house, right into the winter storm. The raven-haired boy pulled his knees up to his chest and sighed, his mind reeling at what had just happened.
Could he really kill a wolf? Sure, they do pose threats to sheep but otherwise, he’d never tried attacking one outside of his job. He didn’t have the courage to kill animals unless it was life or death, hunting or a mercy kill. The only animal he had ever slaughtered was when a sheep was in tremendous pain due to an illness, and had no cure. Hell, he didn’t even have the courage to kill his own farm animals for food, leaving that matter in his uncle’s hands. Besides, why would he need his help to do so? Couldn’t that person do it by themselves, seeing as they had walked all the way over to his house just to ask him? Then again, he was a rather advanced herder compared to his peers, so maybe he unknowingly knew a thing or two that he didn’t.
It was complicated. Everything was complicated. He really needed to think this over.
Shuichi spent his night dozing in and out of consciousness, resulting in absolutely no sleep. His mind was too preoccupied to let him get some well-deserved rest. Thankfully, the storm had stopped long ago, leaving a thick blanket of soft snow in its wake. He could faintly make out the moon gradually disappearing and giving way for light, reminding him that dawn was drawing near and that time was running out. He had to make a choice, it was now or ever.
Shuichi got up and began dressing, putting on his warmer tunic and jacket before buttoning them closed and securing his parka closed with a scarf wrapped around his waist, with it barely touching his ankles. He fastened his boots and neatly tied the shoelaces into a secure knot. Afterwards, he put on a pair of fingerless gloves, before moving on to pack his things.
He didn’t have any actual swords on him. The only thing he had was a set of bow and arrows given to him by Kaito when he first joined the guard, as well as a few daggers his uncle had given him for emergencies. Aside from spellbooks, he was poorly armed.
He’d have to make do, he figured.
With time against him, Shuichi got up and began digging through his things, before pulling out the large bow he was looking for. After stocking up on arrows, he hurried out of his room straight to his uncle’s bedroom, seating himself at his desk. The boy hurriedly lit a candle and began writing a note explaining that the reason for his disappearance was for a diplomatic mission, and that he shall return when the sun sets tomorrow.
After that the boy continued packing up, throwing whatever he found necessary into his backpack, before forcing it closed, tying it and stretching with a sigh.
Shuichi slung his backpack over his shoulders, shuffling his way outside and carefully closing the door behind him, as to not cause a scene. Unfortunately, one familiar black and white furry friend had already seen him.
Shuichi turned around and came face to face with his border collie, Haru, staring at him with wide, confused brown eyes. The boy sighed and bent over to scritch behind his ear, earning a small wag from him.
“Take care of the house for me, ok? Be good to my uncle, since he’s not the best when it comes to sheep.” He said, carefully stroking his dog’s plush fur.
Afterwards, he made his way towards the barely illuminated barn, he could make out the silhouette of the man he had met just a few hours shot, dozing off with his scarf covering his nose.
As he neared closer to him, the stranger awoke with a huff, stretching and quickly adjusting his hair. He opened his mouth to say something, before quickly shutting it and glancing down at his feet. “You’re bringing your dog?”
The herder glanced down and saw his dog glued by his side, staring intently at the white-haired individual. Shuichi sighed and met his gaze, frustratingly running his fingers through his hair. “He followed me… He doesn’t like it when I try to leave without him.”
“So uh… Can we bring him?”
The white-haired boy blinked, almost as if he was surprised by the boy’s question. He then quickly recomposed himself and put on his cloak once more. “Well, as long as he doesn’t slow us down I don’t see the problem in him tagging along. But we must hurry if you want to return home as soon as possible. My village isn’t as close to yours as you might think it is.”
Shuichi nodded, following him as they marched through feet of thick snow, with Haru trailing right beside him. The cozy barn the herder called home for his entire life gradually grew smaller and smaller the more they walked, until it was no longer visible due to the darkness, hills and trees that obscured it.
However, one thing did strike him as odd now that he thought about it.
“Wait, what did you mean by our villages being far apart? I thought you were from a nearby one?”
“Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that.” He sighed. “Well… The village in question is LeifrHeimer.”
Shuichi froze in his tracks. He should’ve known that it was him all along. “Wait, that’s a werewolf village! You are…”
The white-haired boy also stopped in his tracks, turning to face him, crystalline blue eyes shimmering in amusement at his realization. “If you guessed Kiibo, you’d be correct. I am the son of Iidabashi, who is the leader of the Northernmost werewolf pack, LeifrHeimer.”
Shuichi’s mind began reeling at the new lot obtained information, fight or flight kicking in as he considered turning back and marching straight home. From what his village's history has taught him, werewolves are the cause for Kuroikuma’s major economic collapse, and the main reason why his father invested time in socio-economic diplomatic missions, rather than raising his own goddamn son. To top things off, Kuroikuma had poor relations with the northern villages, due to their distaste towards lupines. That alone had fueled Kuroikuma’s shared hatred towards them.
“You…” Shuichi’s eyes narrowed, biting his lip.
Kiibo's smirk faded, leaving behind a blank and unreadable expression. “I understand that given your village's… unfortunate circumstances, your family and friends have come to detest werewolves. But I assure you that we also don’t want anything to do with your village after this.”
The werewolf paused to think to himself for a moment before extending his gloved hand. “How about this: we work together for a short while, get things done, you get your reward and then we go our separate ways. How does that sound?”
Shuichi glared at his hand, nervously biting his lip before letting out a sigh, taking Kiibo’s outstretched hand into his and shaking it. “…Deal.”
After their official agreement, the pair continued powering on through the snow, with the dog bouncing along right behind them. After some given time, the herder’s face gradually began to burn uncomfortably from the crisp winter air, painfully reminding him that he forgot to pack an actual blanket, leaving him with three thin ones. One thing however also became painfully real.
He certainly wasn’t returning home tomorrow.
I actually drew what Shuichi's and Kiibo's designs look like, I just didn't clean the library lol
If I ever do, I'll leave a link :^)