After what feels like forever. Okami is finally coming out in just a week. Read on for a sneak peak of Chapter one.
Shin leapt over a fallen tree. The strong scent of plant decay tickled his nose. Mixed in with it was something unexpected, the musky scent of another wolf. He slowed and lifted his nose to better catch the scent on the wind. The collar around his neck weighed against him, but in the centuries as Akio’s slave, he’d learned to account for it.
It couldn’t be. The few remaining okami packs were located farther to the north. Being weakened by war and isolation after the fall of the dragon, they kept mostly to their territory. They wouldn’t risk venturing into the domain of a powerful yokai like Akio, not by accident. Could it be the dragon had recruited them? When Akio had learned of his return, he’d sent Shin to taunt the him. It was a reminder that even centuries later he still owned Shin. Could this okami be the dragon’s reply?
Duty calls. Shin sighed. Hopefully some hapless wolf had wandered too far from home. Their scent was strongest along the forest path but quickly diverged into the woods. Other than the smell, there was no other sign of the strange wolf. No prints, no hair, nothing. It was as if a spirit moved through the forest. I guess it’s safe to rule out a lost traveler. Just what I needed…
Deeper into the forest he followed the strange wolf’s trail, where the sun struggled to push through the canopy and the darkness swallowed everything. Fog cloaked the forest floor and obscured his vision. But Shin knew this place well and he could navigate it with his eyes closed.
The trail went cold along a river bank. The fog rolled back and revealed a single human footprint in the mud. Shin pressed his nose against it.
The stink of wolf was all over it. A
female wolf. What are you doing here, I
wonder? Judging by the break in the fog, she wasn’t far away either.
An arrow flew past him.
Missing him by a hair, it embedded
itself into a nearby tree and wobbled. Shin growled and ruffled the hairs on
his back, scanning the surrounding forest for the intruder.
“Come out, you coward. Enough games,” he snarled.
A figure stepped out from behind a tree nearby. She wore the red and white of a priestess. Her braided brown hair hung down her back and had been hidden beneath a straw hat. Over her shoulder, she carried a quiver of arrows, and one was nocked, pointed straight at Shin.
He sniffed the air. This was the wolf he’d been following. A wolf in priestess garb? Now he’d seen it all.
Shin transformed from wolf to man and held up his hands. “Hold. There’s no need for violence.” He wasn’t about to fight a fellow okami, especially if she was working for the dragon.
“You were following me,” she responded.
She turned her head, tracking him as he inched around trying to get a better look at her. He’d known all the wolf packs at one time. But there was nothing to indicate what pack she was from. And he was certain they’d never met before. She narrowed her eyes at him as he examined her.
“My apologies, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He held his palms open to show her he meant no harm.
She scoffed and pulled back her arrow until the bowstring was taut. “Do I look stupid? What. Do. You. Want?” She bit out each word.
Her gaze didn’t even flicker from his face. She was doggedly persistent about keeping that weapon pointed at him.
She was brave, he had to give her that. “I think I’m the one who should be asking that question.”
“Do you work for Akio?”
He hated being lumped in with Akio’s lackeys. Working for Akio had never been a choice. But he had to do it to protect Rin. Not that he was going to tell this okami. Shin exposed his canines as he grinned. “I think the better question is: who do you work for?”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” she snapped. She talked big, but her hands were shaking.
They weren’t going to get anywhere at this rate. One wrong move and she was going to stick him with that arrow. But not if he disarmed her.
He lunged toward her.
She loosed the arrow, but it landed ineffectually in the mud. When he came toward her, she couldn’t respond fast enough, encumbered by the bow.
Shin grabbed her around the middle, prepared to throw her over his shoulder. She swung with her bow, clipping him on the jaw and sending him back a few steps.
He recovered quickly, however, and wrenched the bow from her hand. She tried to throw a punch; he dodged it. But she kicked him hard in the gut. It knocked the wind out of him, and she was preparing to hit him over the head when he thrust forward and sent her stumbling backwards and onto her rear.
Shin pinned her arms down before she got the chance to swing at him. She was a capable fighter. If she hadn’t slipped, she might have gotten the better of him.
Her straw hat had fallen off in the
struggle, and he could see her more clearly now. She had a narrow face, brown
eyes, and long pointed ears like himself. Her cheeks were flushed from
fighting, and her gaze was fierce–
“You bastard, let me go.” She kicked and squirmed, cursing him, but pinned as she was it was futile. After a few moments, she exhausted herself and lay heaving beneath him. It wasn’t the most ideal position for gaining her trust, but she was the trespasser here, not him. She did not transform. If she did, she would’ve easily escaped. Curious. Was this all an act perhaps?
“Just tell me: do you work for the dragon?”
“Let me go and I’ll tell you,” she snarled and bared her canines.
He’d have to take her word for it. He let go of her wrists, and as soon as he did, she pushed forward, planting her palms on his chest. It threw him off balance just long enough for her to slide out from beneath him.
She scrambled for her bow, before racing deeper into the forest.
“Hey!” he shouted after her.
Which she ignored. If one of Akio’s lackeys caught her,
they wouldn’t hesitate to bring her to Akio. He chased after her, grabbing her
ankles to bring her back down to the ground. But her legs were too slick with
mud and she slipped out of his hands, grabbed her discarded bow, and ran up the
hill away from him.
He should let her go. Even if she did work for the dragon. It made no difference. The dragon was weakened by centuries of imprisonment. He wasn’t strong enough to break Akio’s hold on him. Hoping for an escape was useless. It had been Shin’s choice to make this sacrifice. There was no turning back. On the other hand, if Akio found her, he’d torture her. Shin couldn’t stand another innocent falling prey to Akio’s cruelty.
He raced after her up the hill. By
the time he reached the rise, she was nowhere in sight. He scanned the forest
trees pegged in the space on both sides, but there was nowhere she could have
gone–it was a dead end against a boulder with a flat face.
“You don’t need to hide from me,” he called out, scenting the air, but the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. “We got off on the wrong foot. I’m not your enemy.”
Shin turned in a slow circle, expecting her to be crouched down or backed into a corner like a wounded animal.
From the corner of his eye, something flashed. As he moved to intercept her, something hard collided with the back of his skull.
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