Chapter 1:

What Are You


 The marketplace was alive with the bustling of feet and chattering of those haggling for the cheapest prices. Humans and beasts, sorcerers and plain folk, all gathered in the town’s center to browse and gather wares for their travels and livelihoods. The town of Naddenly was quaint, its buildings short and senescent, with cobblestone roads and flower boxes erupting with new blooms outside the cottage like homes. It wasn’t overly populous like a city, but it was the largest town in the area, and so those from surrounding villages and smaller towns would make their way in to further crowd its roads and purchase its commodities.

A petite girl stood before a stall featuring rice, flour, beans, and other dry goods. A black cloak engulfed her tightly, the hood shielding her face as she delicately bounced between her toes and the heels of her feet while wriggling her fingers in her clasped hands and humming softly. Every now and then, wisps of a sheer, twilight like fabric danced out from beneath the cloaks hem against the tops of her low, ankle length boots. She sighed gently, pursing her rosy lips into a thin line as she listened to the woman and merchant in front her.

It was going to be one of those days.


“There’s no way that anyone would pay six silver for a sack of oats and some dried fruits! It’s insane!” the young woman argued with the older, lanky man, her lips curled in a snarl and exposing her sharp canines. In nearly every respect, she was identical to a human with her smooth, fair skin, desirable curves, and soft, lovely face. However, the cherry red fur of her fox ears and fluffy tail designated her as a demon, one of whom was a product of ancestors who had been possessed by animal or elemental spirits eons before and bore certain attributes and abilities uncommon to a normal human.

“You had the chance to pay less,” the merchant grumbled, irritated with the loud woman and the negative attention she was bringing to his stall.

The girl looked down as she scuffed her toe against the ground. “It’s true,” her voice a mere whisper. “It was lower. Maybe we should just go.” She knew the woman could hear her, but she obviously wasn’t listening. She was in the mood for arguing and had done so all day at every stall they had visited and gotten her way each time. But now she had met her match, and the man was just as stubborn and unwilling to back down.

They’d be here all day.

“Bullshit!” Her hands slammed onto the table, her claw like nails scratching its surface. “Your first offer was as good as robbery. Now you’re just being ridiculous.”

He looked the woman up and down, regarding her knee-high boots, black shorts, and long sleeve shirt that had been torn to expose her midriff and right shoulder and arm. “What’s ridiculous is whatever that is that you’re wearing.” He snorted, his eyes lingering a little too long on her well endowed chest. “Be a good little fox demon and go find your man. Have him buy you a proper dress and take you back to the den where you belong.”

The woman’s eyes became flames of furious emeralds as her hand shot up and grasped at the handle of the over-sized glaive resting on her back, a weapon that by all rights should be nearly impossible for most to control, much less haul around effortlessly. She froze, hesitating, internally agonizing over whether to pull the large blade or if one of the smaller daggers hanging in the holsters around her thighs would be more convenient.

The fox knew that the right choice would be to let it go.

But fuck that.

Violence was the much more satisfying answer.

The cloaked girl quickly stepped forward and latched onto the woman’s free hand. “Sakura,” she whimpered, looking up at the taller woman pitifully. “Please don’t.”

Sakura visibly deflated as her hand fell back to her side. “Fine.” She breathed deeply, exhaling, and pointed at the man with a snarl. “You’re a fucking thief. Come on, let’s go.” Turning away, she grasped the girl’s hand as the man waved them off and led her into the bustling crowd. She soon spotted a few tables outside of a cafe and guided the girl to a seat while she ordered and brought back food and drink.

The girl looked at the small pie and glass of light brown liquid. “What’s this?” she asked, her voice a lovely melody, while gently pushing the chilled glass with the tip of her finger. “We’ve never had this before.”

“They called it apple cider. Said there’s an orchard south of town.” Sakura smiled lovingly at the girl who noticeably perked up. “I know that cloak’s hot, and figured it’d be a nice way to cool down. Let’s hurry up and eat, get what we need, and get out of here. Lannistown isn’t much farther. Hopefully we can find some good leads there.”

Thoughts made their way to the girl’s tongue but she clamped her teeth down on them before they could make their way out into existence, instead, focusing on the meal before her. The two sat in silence while eating their pies and drinking their cider as the world buzzed around them, barely aware of their existence.

Sakura finished in a hurry, almost inhaling her food. Leaning back, she stretched her arms above her head and cracked her neck. Her long, wild, calf length hair had cascaded down into a pile of deep red onto the ground that she swept up and laid in her lap as she examined the girl before her with a softness usually reserved for mothers towards their children. “Ivy.” The girl looked up from her meal. “Thank you. For before. I know I can be… hotheaded... sometimes.” Sakura shuffled in her seat, only slightly embarrassed for her behavior. “I’m really trying to be better.”

Ivy nodded, her expression obscured by her hood, but her tone was sweet and bubbly. “It’s okay. He was very rude. Maybe he deserved it.”

Sakura snorted and smiled mischievously. “Well, aren’t we getting ornery?”

A squeak escaped the girl. “Oh! I didn’t mean to be!”

The demon laughed while the girl observed her quietly. It seemed that the fox was in a better mood now, so maybe the rest of the day would end better than it started. Her attention slipped to the mark of a long, ebony feather across the woman’s exposed shoulder and collarbone.

Maybe today was the day?

“Where did you get that feather?” “The words spilled suddenly from Ivy’s mouth, catching the woman off guard.

Sakura’s laughter faded and she raised a brow at the girl, considering the question for a moment. “I’ve already told you. A big, annoying bird bit me.”

The pout was apparent in Ivy’s tone. “A bird bite isn’t going to leave behind the mark of a feather.”

“It does if the bird is big and annoying enough.” She pushed away from the table and got to her feet. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

With a sigh, the girl followed, knowing the conversation was over and she wasn’t going to learn the truth today.

Maybe next time?

The two continued through the streets, making deals at stalls and filling their bags with little fuss from the demon. As they picked their way along, Ivy spotted a narrow, squat building on the corner of the road. The large, storefront window displayed books of all sorts and different writing utensils and parchments.

“Sakura.” Ivy stopped and pointed at the store. “Could I go in there?”

The fox looked between her and the store, seeming uncomfortable with the thoughts floating around in her head. “We really need to finish up and go. I know you need new books, but we really don’t have the time.”

“Please!” Ivy begged, clutching onto both of Sakura’s hands. “It won’t take long. I could go on my own and you can come get me when you’re done.”

A flash of fear dashed through the woman’s eyes before they narrowed with concern. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. You know how these larger towns can get. How these people can get.”

“Please, please, please!” the girl whined. “I’ll keep my hood on and stay quiet. Please! I’m eighteen now! I can handle being alone in a bookshop for fifteen minutes. No one will even know I’m there!”

The demon sighed roughly, her head swiveling back and forth in conflict with herself. A growl rumbled from behind her lips before giving in. “Fine! Fifteen minutes! Don’t leave the book shop and only talk to the shopkeep when you absolutely have to.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Ivy squealed and lunged herself against the fox, squeezing her tightly. “I’ll stay right there. Thank you!” And with that she skipped off and into the shop.

A heavy weight settled into the pit of Sakura’s stomach as she watched the door that Ivy had disappeared behind, choosing to chalk it up to nerves from being overprotective. Ivy was right. She was no longer a child and hadn’t been one for a while. It was time to loosen the reins and give the poor girl some breathing room. Sakura shimmied her body, willing her uneasiness to go away, and hurried to finish her business.

In the shop, Ivy felt an intense combination of euphoria and anxiety, a sensation that made her feel like she was waltzing on air in a dizzying manner. It had been so long since she was allowed to explore on her own, and she didn’t want this short time to go to waste. She walked up to the counter, pulled three books from her bag, and made a trade with the woman managing the shop.

“Just bring the books you choose back here so I can write them off,” the slight, brunette woman with mouse ears informed politely. “Let me know if you need anything.”

Ivy wandered cheerfully through the towering shelves of books, carefully pulling one out at a time before quickly examining their contents and placing them back. Within several minutes, she had chosen two to purchase as the bell on the door rang, informing that someone had entered with its merry jingle.

“Welcome!” the mousey shopkeep peeped with the arrival. “Is there anything…” her voice faltered, and she stuttered. “I...I can you with?”

The girl stifled a giggle behind her hand. It wouldn’t be the first time a demon of the prey variety froze up when suddenly face to face with Sakura. Of course, her fox companion was sweet and kind… most of the time. But certain animal and elemental traits in demons are unavoidable. The giant weapon on her back and smaller ones around her thighs didn’t exactly help her image either.

Ivy looked up and a worn, maroon spine called out to her. The shelves were much higher than she could reach, and she considered waiting for Sakura to find her but noticed a short stool a few feet away. Ivy set it under the book’s place and stepped up. Her fingers grazed against the fabric but couldn’t quite reach the top. Determined, she pushed herself onto her toes and strained her arm for any extra length she could attain.

“Almost,” she groaned, her middle finger barely cresting over the books edge. “Come on.” She tried to will it closer.

She was nearly there.

A large hand enclosed over her own, burning into her skin. Ivy whipped her head towards the hand’s owner and was momentarily met with a flash of crimson. Her heart jumped into her throat as she yelped and fell away from the stranger. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for hard impact.

But it never came.

Instead, an arm snaked around her. Her back arched, flinging the hood from her face. Long, dark amethyst waves spilled out exposing the ethereal beauty that was hidden within.

Ivy dangled there limply, too scared and shocked to open her eyes or replace her hood and conceal herself from the person holding onto her. She had once read that an animal called an opossum would play dead to protect itself against predators and she channeled that creature’s instinct to defend itself into her own being.

Play dead and maybe they’ll go away.

It was as good a plan as any.

The arm pulled her up until she was standing straight before sliding away from her body.

“Are you okay?” a deep but quiet voice asked calmly. It was a man and Ivy froze, uncertain of what to do. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Ivy considered standing there, eyes shut tight, and face tilted down, until the man got uncomfortable enough to leave her alone. But curiosity ate at her, urging her to look at who was before her and reply. She felt a slight pull in her chest, soothing and convincing. Slowly, she willed her eyelids open wide enough to view the bottom of his black pants and boots. Her head raised carefully, following the legs to a pair of katanas on either side of his hips, then to a white shirt and long black jacket, and finally stopping on the face that looked down on hers.

It was like fire raging through her veins, burning up every bit of oxygen in her body as she peered up at the tall, lean boy who seemed to be around the same age as her. He was beautiful, almost impossibly so, with straight, white hair brushing against his eyebrows and around his ears as he stared down at her.


His eyes were the color of blood.

The color that only devils possess.

Fear was what Ivy knew she should be feeling. It’s what made the shopkeep stammer in her greeting. Fear of devils was expected and well warranted. Fear would save you. It would keep you alive.

But fear was not what Ivy felt. The desire to reach out and close the distance between the two was intolerable, but the process of movement impossible.

The boy breathed in deeply and furrowed his brow as he leaned down, closing the gap slowly. The heart that had forgotten how to beat suddenly threatened to rip its way out of Ivy’s chest the closer he came. The pull getting stronger. The heat unbearable.

“What are you?” His breath emptying from his lungs in a gasp.

“Well, that’s no way to speak to someone!” A voice boomed behind the man. Arms hugged around his shoulders, pulling him back, and an even taller man plopped his chin atop the devil’s head. “We need to work on that.”

Ivy was pulled out of her stupor, the warmth subsiding, and stared in awe at the new man. He was incredibly handsome with hair like the darkest night that curled loosely around his ears and the base of his neck. His wide, pearly smile was calming and infectious and his bright, blue eyes reminded Ivy of the times that she had seen the ocean.

“Sorry,” the devil mumbled, turning his attention to the ground. He escaped the man’s hold to crouch down and pick the three books off of the floor, fumbling with them before shyly casting his eyes up and offering them to Ivy. “This was the book you wanted? And the ones you already had?”

The girl nodded slowly. “Y...yes.” She stumbled over her tongue. “They are. Thank you.” She took the books and hugged them tightly against her chest, looking anywhere but the two strangers. Anywhere but at the white-haired devil who had returned to standing and obviously couldn’t decide whether to look away or continue gawking at her.

The dark-haired man observed the two uncomfortable individuals before him with glee, his grin becoming more cunning as he absorbed their feelings of insecurity towards one another.

“I’m Ren,” he introduced himself and stepped to the devil’s side. His black sleeveless shirt exposed his sinewy frame and a leather baldric across his chest held an extremely long and wide sword across his back. It reminded Ivy of Sakura’s glaive and of her hesitance to allow her out alone. “Please excuse my adorable friend here. He’s a bit green when it comes to conversing with new people, but he’s harmless.”

“I’m Ivy.” She knew that the woman wouldn’t approve, would be furious in fact, but the words left her mouth before she could stop them. “It’s nice to meet you.” And she felt she meant it, too.

Ren elbowed the boy and nodded expectantly.

“Zero. I’m Zero.” He had chosen to look away for this.

“Zero,” Ivy repeated slowly, feeling the weight of the name fall from her lips. Their eyes met once more, a blaze of heat ripping through them, before quickly looking away.

Ren looked on with pure amusement. “Wow!” He clapped his hands together, startling the boy and girl. “You two are just perfectly precious. Let’s continue this clumsy exchange of formalities elsewhere though. How about we get something to eat? Come on! It’ll be fun.”

Before any response could be uttered, the man guided the two towards the exit. He snagged the books from Ivy’s arms, flashed them at the bewildered shopkeep with one hand while tossing a few coins on the counter with the other, and tucked them back into her embrace while escorting her and Zero from the building. Ivy didn’t even have time to think to tell him that the books were a trade and didn’t require payment.

It was all too much, too fast, too soon. Her mind was a jumbled mess of all that had transpired and was currently occurring. Her body felt on fire every time the devil beside her accidentally brushed his arm or hand against her, but even if she wished to move away, Ren’s hands were placed on their shoulders, craftily bringing the two closer together as he rambled insistently.

Who were these men, and why was she following them? What was she doing? She should know better than this. Sakura had been very honest with the girl about what some men do to women and how she needed to be especially careful around them.

They had made it just outside of the shop and onto the road, Ivy barely feeling her feet touch the ground, when the noise in her head suddenly stopped and her body followed. Her acquaintances took a few steps away before turning and joining her in a stand still.

“I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, but my friend… I have to wait for my friend.”

Ren smiled understandingly. “That’s fine. Let’s go back into the bookshop and wait for your friend. Then we can all…” He froze abruptly, bright, blue eyes suddenly dark and ominous, the look making Ivy’s blood run cold and crushing her lungs. Before she knew it, Ren lunged forward, snatched a handful of Ivy’s cloak and threw her into Zero’s chest, knocking them both backwards. The large sword was unsheathed and held above his head just as a flash of steal slammed into the blade. Zero spun Ivy away from the impact as a portion of the street under the man’s feet exploded outward from the force of the attack.

“Get away from her!” Sakura’s frantic scream ripped through the town. Her eyes were burning with murderous intent and her lips curled up, exposing fangs ready to rip open a tender throat.

“Oh no! Don’t!” Ivy cried out, frantically clawing her way around the devil, who was still holding around her waist, to face the damage.

The sword and glaive were locked against each other, both weapons and fighters refusing to budge. As the haze cleared, Sakura’s look of frenzied rage drained along with the color in her face. She inhaled sharply, as if falling into a river of ice, and her eyes bulged in terror.

Ren stood across from her. A thrilled smile spread like wildfire across his lips, replacing the sinister aura with the surprise of an excited child.

“I found you,” he breathed wistfully. “I’ve finally found you, Sakura.”